Opera DJ

The second episode of "Lost Music: Exploring Literary Opera" is out! This one tells the story of how I turned myself into an opera freak by forcing myself to listen to nothing but opera music — 100 selected arias in random order, eight hours a day every day while I worked for months — until osmosis took effect and I eventually started recognizing, differentiating and deeply enjoying the melodies. It was an odd experiment that succeeded beyond my own expectations. It resulted in my decision to start this podcast to explore the bountiful connections between literature, history, religion, politics, culture and opera. It's the first of what I hope will be several new Literary Kicks podcasts to come.

Lost Music: Exploring Literary Opera - A New Podcast!

Lost Music: Exploring Literary Opera
Episode 2

Osmosis: How I Got Over My Lifelong Inability To Love And Understand Opera

How I holed up in an apartment and listened to nothing but opera for months until I started to love it. Featuring an interview with soprano Nicola Mills about her own unique journey to opera.

Music: Cosi Fan Tutte, La Traviata, Barbieri di Siviglia, Die Zauberflote featuring Guiseppe de Luca, Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavoratti, Rita Streich, Nicola Mills.

Episode 1

Otello: Is Verdi's Shakespeare Better Than Shakespeare's?

Introducing the new podcast! We begin with a look at how Verdi transformed and illuminated Shakespeare's Othello, talk about the interplay between opera and literature from past centuries today, and enjoy Virginia Woolf's description of a visit to the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden.

Music: Otello by Giuseppe Verdi and Arrigo Boito, featuring Placido Domingo, Maria Callas, Kiri Te Kanawa, Piero Cappuccilli and Mirella Freni.

Please support Litkicks and "Lost Music: Exploring Literary Opera" on Patreon! Your support will really make a difference, and you will also receive access to a special hour-long "Literary Opera Secret House Mix" - lots of music, just a little bit of talking at the beginning - that will feature several of my personal favorite musical opera moments.

Satori in Brooklyn: Our Shared Spaces

A few days ago a friend told me she was worried about my rage. "You seem upset a lot," she said.

Another friend told me the same thing after seeing my photos of a protest march. This friend says I need to "relax" about Donald Trump, Mike Pence, stolen seats on the US Supreme Court, the global resurgence of white nationalism and fascism, atrocities in Yemen and Gaza, abuse of immigrants and refugees, corrupt hyper-capitalism, environmental ruin. I'm letting it get to me, he says.

I'm glad my friends are concerned about my state of mind. But I'm having a hard time these days figuring out how to respond to people who worry about my level of rage, because I don't think the rage I'm expressing is my rage at all.

This is the world's rage. I hear it loud and clear all around me — here in New York City, and all over America and all over the world. I am a writer, and I am a political activist, and so I write about this rage and go to protests. Maybe some of my friends are confused about what it is that writers and activists do ... because telling either a writer or an activist not to express rage in 2018 is like telling a baseball player not to swing at a fastball. Huh? It's our job. This is what we were put on this earth to do.

When I write about the major problems around the world in 2018, I'm not thinking about my own personal feelings at all. Rather, I'm trying to dwell within a shared space, a place of community. But these shared, social spaces themselves have shriveled and sickened as a result of the political fiascos of the last couple of decades. Confusion, cynicism, paranoia and hopelessness have especially come to define the public mood in the United States, which was still reeling from the shock of the Al Qaeda attacks in 2001 and the disaster of Bush's Iraq War of 2003 when the fiscal crash of 2007/2008 happened, hurtling us eventually towards the racist kakistocracy of Donald Trump. Do we ever stop to mourn the common trust that has been lost within the various societies that enrich and sustain us? I don't think we do. It's hard to mourn and fight at the same time. Instead, we channel this unconscious sense of loss into feelings of anger, dislike, refusal, disgust.


I'm in a reflective mood lately. Looking within, through a glass darkly and all that. That's my excuse for the fact that it's March 2018 and this is my first post of the year.

I also have another excuse: I've been working on a really good Litkicks article about opera. If you follow my Instagram (and I wish you would, because I'm really into expressing myself with images lately) you know that I've taken up regular attendance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City for the past couple of years. This followed a couple of other developments in my life: first, I've managed to transform myself from someone who has to slog to work in an office every day into a work-from-home arrangement, which makes me very happy. I now spend most of my daylight hours coding in a solitary room, which means I get to play whatever music I want in the background while I work. I've discovered that opera is the perfect background music for coding. It's dramatic and dynamic and continuous, which keeps me awake and engaged. But it's also in a language I don't speak, so the words can't interrupt my thinking as they would if I knew what the singers were singing about.

This is why I've been feeding Mozart and Rossini and Bellini and Donizetti and Verdi and Wagner and Puccini and Strauss into my brain at an advanced pace lately. I also happen to be currently crashing in upper Manhattan, with the Met at Lincoln Center just a pleasant walk away. This is why opera has suddenly begun rocking my world. I'm almost ready to publish a really exciting article for this site about the literary, cultural and historical significance of opera. But that article is not ready yet. This Litkicks post is not that Litkicks post, but I have a few other things to share today ...

Dystopia Weekend: America's Ayn Rand Problem

It was only six years ago — but it seems so much longer than that — that I wrote a book called Why Ayn Rand is Wrong (and Why It Matters). This book emerged from a series of blog posts I was composing (under my then-pseudonym Levi Asher) called Philosophy Weekend.

Philosophy Weekend was a wild ride and a big success on Litkicks, generating an incredible number of intelligent comments from highly engaged readers who wished, along with me, to delve deeply into the topic of morality and political ethics. I loved every minute of this, but eventually had to halt this series because work, family and other projects were demanding my attention. I hope Philosophy Weekend is still happily remembered by the hundreds of people who kept up a vigorous debate with me in our comments section — often about hot topics of the day, which we discussed in light of the writings of various progressive social philosophers like Socrates, Aristotle, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, Auguste Comte, William James, Dorothy Day, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Carl Jung, Yoko Ono and Abbie Hoffman (all of whom I respect and consider important) ... along with those of several influential materialists or conservative "realists" like Thomas Hobbes, Friedrich von Hayek, Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman (whose asses I tried to kick in these debates).

Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Chekhov: Russia's Eternal Literary #Resistance

Because I love literature, I bristle when I hear Russia described as my country's enemy.

Certainly Vladimir Putin is our enemy, because he is a tyrant who murders journalists. And certainly Donald Trump is our enemy, not only because he's a racist and a sexual predator and a con-man, but also because Vladimir Putin is clearly his role model, his idea of an effective leader.

But Putin does not own the epic Russian soul or mind, and Russia's historic intellectual achievements have formed bridges of human connection that no crass politician can ever tear down. Even if the entire planet explodes this weekend (as it might, since the ignorant Trump thinks he can solve the Korean problem with nuclear weapons), we will burn in friendship with the land that produced some of the most searingly brilliant writers of all time.

It was 196 years ago that the first of the three greatest of the many Russian greats was born. This is the fire-hot Fyodor Dostoevsky, who somehow found the formula to turn existential expressions of rage about the cruel absurdity of human life into taut, gripping works of fiction. I most recently read for the first time his The Idiot, which brought to me once again the special joys of a Dostoevsky novel: the twisted humor, the irony upon irony upon irony, even the simple gorgeous moments of innocent pleasure that enflame his tortured characters, because these moments tie them to their own tragic lives, and to the faulty, impossible Earth.

Miami Diary, August 2017

I've been communing with a view of the Atlantic ocean all summer.

I don't get to spend as much time out there swimming in it as I'd like, because I'm a workaholic no matter where I live. But the view out my window helps keep me centered. The great ocean sparkles and gently churns as I plug away on endless coding errors, architectural conundrums, bug reports. The gorgeous wide sky beckons to me too, swirls of orange fire in the morning, steady pale blue at noon, dusty maroon and magenta in the late afternoon.

I drifted down to southern Florida this summer for no special reason, except that an empty apartment became available to me, and my remote location job (for a very hip and innovative magazine/digital publishing company based in the Midwest) allows me to work anywhere I want. I'll be back in New York City in September, but I'm enjoying the getaway and the mellow Miami lifestyle. Well, I haven't had any margaritas yet, nor smoked a good cigar ... but I have played a bit of poker, done a lot of swimming and listened to a lot of Reggaeton, and I guess I'm getting a decent tan.

Some of you may remember the memoir of my technology career in the Silicon Alley years that I drafted on this blog several years ago. I got a great response to this work in progress, and I'm still planning (yes, really, I am!) to do a final draft of this memoir and publish it as a book. This autobiography covers my life and work from 1993 to 2003. Since then, I've remained fully in the game as a web developer as well as a literary/political blogger. On the web development side, I guess the technical challenges that vex me and my co-workers have only become more overwhelmingly difficult and paradoxical since 2003.