Saturday, December 29, 2012


Fear sits near Love
While Loathing and Jealousy
Lounge on the couch together.
Faith stands in the corner with Doubt
Arguing as always.
Joy comes late, no surprise,
And grabs a chair next to Pride
Who is starring at Respect
Who is trying to get Wonder's attention.
Curiosity stands to the side, taking it all in,
Leaning on Friendship, who is trying not to fall asleep.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

He awoke with the sun and dashed downstairs. He rounded the corner, socks sliding across the floor, and saw the tree. Santa had come. Presents lay stacked beneath the branches and all of the stockings were stuffed to bursting. A smile broke out on his face and he raced down the hall. He poked his head in the first door and the second and the third, but all the occupants remained asleep. Slightly crestfallen he scampered back to the tree to await his family's rising.

Mom got up early and crept out the door to avoid waking Dad. He got back late last night, the shipping center had been working until the last minute shipping out presents. She changed in the hall and slipped past the door cracked at the end of the hall. She could hear snoring inside and knew the twins wouldn't be up for a few hours yet. Good. By the time she had the turkey in the oven and the presents under the tree the stars had started to disappear. She left a note on the oven with instructions. Hopefully Dad wouldn't burn it this year. She had agreed to cover only half a shift today, it left her just enough time to be home before the twins awoke.

Dad grinned ear to ear as he turned to the back of the church. The music began and everyone joined in "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing." As they finished the first verse he saw the cross rise and start to march down the center aisle. He knew below it walked his son and smiled again. The cross made its way down the length of the church, past the manger, and came to rest behind the altar. His son's shoes clicked on the marble as he returned to his seat. Their eyes meet and he thought he caught the smallest hint of a grin before his son turned his back again.

She opened the small green present last. Wrapped in gold ribbon it was solid, rectangular. It had to be a book. There was a card inside, but she wouldn't read that in front of her parents. She already knew what it said. The book was a compilation of poetry, typical of him. She flipped through the pages; a card fell on her lap. Turning it over she cracked the faintest smile. He had written her a poem.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Academia: L'Orfeo

'Tis the season to have finals. But through the magic that is the Internet I am able to post this from that beautiful time in the past when I wasn't studying all hours of the day. But in the academic spirit that is no doubt pervading campus at the moment I present to you a selection from my writing for class this semester.

            No single tradition more profoundly influenced European thought and culture than Christianity. Every artistic work since the fall of Rome has, in one way or another, engaged with its legacy. Every age has chosen to deal with Christ and the Church in a different way. The method of the Renaissance humanists deserves particular attention: they applied their faith to the writings of pre-Christian Greece and Rome. Especially evident in the arts, this Christianization of classical antiquity remained a potent intellectual force in the centuries following the Italian Renaissance.
            As a genre, the opera was no exception to this trend. It is especially evident in L’Orfeo, la favola in musica the most widely circulated and influential early opera. Although ostensibly about the classical myth of Orpheus, L’Orfeo is in fact deeply Christian and must be considered within a Christian context. Written by the esteemed poet Alessandro Striggio and composed by Monteverdi, it was commissioned by the Gonzaga family in Mantua, and premiered in 1607 in the Prince’s “Most Illustrious Academy of the Enlightened” (DelDonna).
            One of the major influences on Striggio’s work was the Renaissance humanism that pervaded Italy at this time. Dating back to Petrarch, who is often called “The Father of Modern Humanism,” this brand of humanism stressed a course of study that focused on classical texts (McCauley). The belief was that by studying the work of the ancients, an individual would become a more well-rounded human who better understood how to live. This appropriation of the classics was not entirely without precedent: the Catholic Church had been doing it for centuries. Early Church Fathers, steeped as they were in their own still-classical world, often turned to Aristotle to explain their faith. Aristotle fit so well within the Christian worldview that scholasticism, the method of thinking endorsed by the Church from the ninth century through the Reformation, was based almost entirely upon his work (Soltes). What was new about these Renaissance thinkers is that they did not apply classical thinking to Christianity; they applied Christian thinking to classical texts. And one did not just read the Church Fathers as the scholastics had. One also read Livy, Cicero, Homer, Seneca, Ovid, Catullus, and numerous other classical, pagan writers.
            This is not to suggest, however, that this humanism was not Christian. It was deeply informed by Christian tradition and all of its major proponents were still devoutly religious. This posed a problem for scholars, namely: How to reconcile the pagan, polytheistic writings of Rome and Greece with their own Christian monotheism. They solved this problem in a rather simple manner; men like Seneca and Ovid, who lived entirely pagan lives, suddenly found themselves baptized.
            And so the great works of the Greco-Roman world were reinterpreted through a Christian lens. Humanists found, or added, Christian messages to classical texts to make them fit better within their worldview. Seneca, to use just one example, reached near sainthood, especially in latter works like L'incoronazione di Poppea or Montaigne’s Essays. Other authors endured similar fates. This was all in the name of continuing the classical tradition. But by Christianizing these works, the humanists were creating a new tradition. It is within that tradition that L’Orfeo must be considered.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Words Stand Empty

All that is necessary for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.
But what is there to do?

At moments like these
Questions abound
And our instinct to expound
Falls pitifully short of tragic reality
All that is left is to acknowledge

How many times does this have to happen before we recognize a responsibility to act?

We make promises and stand defiant
We wait a hallowed moment
Then plunge into the politics
And their grief becomes our ammunition
Sometimes silence is the only proper response
While mothers sit weeping in darkness
Enveloped in sorrow

At moments like these
Words stand empty.
But love abounds


Dude! That's so cool!
Quick take a picture!
Muploaded! (Yeah, that's a word...)

Rush home. Check.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5 likes
1 comment, 2!
20 likes. No, 30!
Pixels replace people
You check again
She liked it! Does that mean she likes me?
And did mom have to comment…?
Wow…I'm still friends with you?

Sitting alone
You count friends.
A number takes the place of a moment
Why? Is that 58 more important than last night?
What even happened last night?
And do I care who cares...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Academia: Iranian Nuclear Program

'Tis the season to have finals. But through the magic that is the Internet I am able to post this from that beautiful time in the past when I wasn't studying all hours of the day. But in the academic spirit that is no doubt pervading campus at the moment I present to you a selection from my writing for class this semester.

              Constructivists argue that norms govern the international system, especially concerning the use of nuclear weapons. The most powerful of these norms is the nuclear taboo. The nuclear taboo states that nuclear weapons are so powerful that their power exceeds nations’ ability to fully conceive of their destructive impact. Instead, they think of nuclear weapons in terms of appropriateness and the nuclear taboo states that it is never appropriate to use nuclear weapons as an offensive weapon ("Constructivism"). This norm is incredibly effective; with the sole exception of the United States during World War II, no country has used nuclear weapons in anger. This holds true even when the state has been considered unstable or rogue, like Pakistan (Charnysh). With over 60 years of historical evidence, there is quite good cause to believe that, regardless of its rhetoric, Iran will conform to the nuclear taboo if it develops a nuclear weapon. The consequences of not doing so would be disastrous for the Iranian government and people.
            What the nuclear taboo has done is make atomic weaponry purely defensive. Since no nation would use nuclear weapons in anger, so it says, other nations don’t have to fear nuclear first strikes. Instead, nuclear weapons are purely second-strike weapons, only to be used, if at all, as retaliation for a nuclear strike on the home country. Therefore, they are in the unique position of being able to make one state more secure without lessening the security of any other state. Therefore, an Iranian nuclear weapon acts to increase Iranian security without lowering Israeli security. As long as Israel doesn’t plan on attacking Iran with its nuclear weapons, it need not fear an Iranian nuclear strike.
            The constructivist understanding is that nuclear weapons fundamentally alter the character of the state that possesses them. They are so destructive that they make states hyperaware of the actions they are taking. This argument is supported by the research of John Gaddis on the effect of nuclear weapons on war. Gaddis asserts that any weapon “which increases…optimism is a cause of war. Anything that dampens that optimism is a cause for peace” (Gaddis). Nuclear weapons, and the massive damage they can inflict, have permanently created a pessimistic view of war between nuclear states. This pessimism has the effect of tampering ideological differences between states. Although hateful rhetoric may exist between states, the realities of nuclear war force those states to engage each other in a more measured manner.
            Some would argue, however, history does not bear this out. They would point to the issues surrounding unstable and transitioning states: that these states tend to behave more aggressively than would normally be expected (Mansfield). It can be argued that the Iranian government is inherently unstable, and thus cannot be trusted to act reasonably. While some would argue that this invalidates the operation of constructivist norms, history backs up the nuclear taboo even in unstable nations. For example, Pakistan began developing nuclear weapons during a period of great unrest in the 1970s (Charnysh). The severe security environment in which it exists has provided numerous opportunities for the use of nuclear weapons since the programs completion in 1990. That Pakistan, even in its unstable condition, has not used its weapons strongly suggests that nuclear weapons are so destructive as to be above the realm of consideration even within unstable states.
            If Iran were to develop nuclear weapons, the dynamic between it and Israel would become very similar to that between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. during the Cold War. Both nations stood ideologically opposed to each other, and continually spouted incredibly hateful rhetoric, but both sides recognized that any action on their part could spiral out of control rapidly. And with nuclear weapons, that spiral led directly to the near-immediate destruction of both of their states. So, while their rhetoric remained vitriolic, their actual interactions were as restrained as possible (Gaddis). The same logic would apply to Iran and Israel. Although they could continue to fire words at one another, the ideological demands would have to be tempered by the nuclear reality. Any conflict between the two nations would result in state suicide. And that is something no state wants. This serves to counteract the long-standing animosity between the two nations that constructivism says would lead into conflict. Therefore, the odds of a violent conflict between the two nations would drop dramatically and both would more secure because of it.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Academia: Techies do it in the Dark

'Tis the season to have finals. But through the magic that is the Internet I am able to post this from that beautiful time in the past when I wasn't studying all hours of the day. But in the academic spirit that is no doubt pervading campus at the moment I present to you a selection from my writing for class this semester.

            Distinct shifts in style were taking place within the scenography of late seventeenth and early eighteenth-century opera (Bianconi). The shift that had the greatest affect on scenic design was the change in subject matter. The focus on classical subject matter, such as in Dido and Aeneas, allowed for the involvement of mythological creatures and gods, which meant numerous flying machines to take them to and from heaven. It also allowed for sets without specific place markers, since classical myths could take place in any wooded area. While this had the advantage of letting designers recycle sets from one show to the next, it limited the influence of the set to established iconography. Clouds were indicators of the supernatural and the divine. Woods symbolized mystery, while gardens were extensions of human-imposed order. The “mouth of hell” was a particularly potent image that’s metaphor is rather obvious (Bianconi). This iconography, while quite useful in a classical context, fell short of the needs of opera by the mid-seventeenth century.
            The move away from classical to contemporary subject matter placed greater demands on the scenic design and consequently the role it played in the production of opera increased. Being set in specific locations allowed for greater specificity in set design. The meeting of European and non-European cultures provided ample opportunity for creative costuming. By removing the mythological and divine presence in the libretto, librettists allowed stage designers to forgo traditional cloud machines in favor of more unique, specialized effects. Ironically, while the librettists of the time ceased focusing on classical subject matter, their attention to the classical style of theater increased. Following the method laid out in Aristotle’s Poetics, they emphasized the unity of time, place, and action. With those unities came a rejection of what was seen as the gaudiness of Baroque art. Simplicity and reason, not emotion and grandeur, were the order of the day. Together, these thematic and artistic shifts were crucial in scenic design’s movement from an ancillary consideration towards playing a central role in the production.
            Vivaldi’s Motezuma is a representative example of an opera making use of the scenic design to support the dramatic action. Written in 1733 by Giusti, it is one of the first operas grounded in contemporary issues. In this case the issue is Cortez’s conquest of the Aztec Empire and his defeat of Montezuma at Tenochtitlan. The opera opens upon a scene of devastation: bodies scattered about a raked wooden platform, with a large Aztec mask overlooking the stage (Motezuma). Immediately the set indicates two things. First, it would have made the audience aware that the story is taking place in an exotic, distant, yet real locale. This sets up one of the most important contrasts in the opera. This place is not Europe, it is somewhere new and foreign: the New World. The details of the location would have been unfamiliar to a European audience. This unfamiliarity was antithetical to the earlier operas, where the choice of classical stories assured that the educated members of the audience, at least, knew the basic story. Few, if any, of the audience members would have had prior knowledge of this opera’s subject matter.
            The other important piece of information the set initially conveys is that one side has just lost a bloody battle. In keeping with theatrical practice at this time the violence itself is not shown, but here its results are quite obvious. The bodies declare that this is going to be an opera of conflict, with more devastation to come. Moreover, that the bodies are from two distinct cultures indicates that that conflict will be intercultural (DelDonna). All of this information is available to the observant viewer, so the librettist is able to do away with most of the exposition and focus on the action; confident that the set will answer many of the questions that the first few scenes raise. It is this confidence in scenic design’s ability to convey information that is so important to its increasingly important role.Operas set in exotic locals, like Tenochtitlan, require far more contextualizing information than operas set in Europe. But that contextualization would have cluttered the libretto, so much of the exposition was shifted to the scenic design. That shift, a direct result of the shift in subject matter, gave the scenic design a far more important role in opera than it had previously been allotted.

Sunday, December 9, 2012


Suffering makes good art
Or so we've been led to believe
But what of it?
Is it not enough to simply be

To wake up and live
And return to bed
To share a smile across a room
To fall asleep on your books
To see someone day after day
But never know their name

There is art to be found
But is it good?
Do people want to hear
Of homework undone
Dishes unwashed
Laughter shared over a joke unfunny

Art forces us to think
Challenges us
Lets us escape
But do we really want
To flee to a world no different than our own?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Storm Surge

A sound awakens him. Tap tap tap tap. It must be his roommate typing. He rolls over and sees a shape asleep in the bed across the room. Tap tap tap. Confused, he looks to the desks. No lights, no laptops. Tap tap tap. He finally looks to the window. Rain and window beat against the pane. The trees, bent over, wave across the parking lot. The storm has begun. Tap tap tap.

She lays, curled up with her blanket and book. The storm howls above her head. Without power, only a faint flashlight fights through the darkness. Mom and Dad are somewhere else, unseen. She reaches for her bear. Finds him. Holds him tight. He smiles up at her as the storm rages.

They race up the stairs, searching frantically for missing key. The battery had to die now! And they had bought a new one just yesterday. Only it wasn't in the car, it was in the garage. The locked garage with the missing key. Clothes and shoes and books are scattered in their path. A glint in a pile by the dresser. Is it? Yes! The longed-for key. They rush down the stairs. As they open the door, a glance up the street stops them in their tracks. Sea-water mixes with rain at the bottom of the hill. A second later the water surges up toward them. Too late.

The crack of the tree's branch sent her scurrying. She dodged it as it fell and slide into the storm drain. The water was higher than normal, but at least the rain couldn't reach her. Drawing up short, she spies a family of mice. Her usual quarry looks up at her, frightened by this second threat to their ever more fragile existence. But she only shakes her head. "Not tonight."

He sits, warm and dry, with his computer. She wraps herself in the blanket, bear drawn close. They watch their car fill up for a second time. She ducks her head as the branch slams into the grate. The crack makes her jump and the book falls to the floor. The water comes in under the door and begins to soak the floor. The door slams and he jumps.