Litkicks

"What’s your road, man? — holyboy road, madman road, rainbow road, guppy road, any road. It’s an anywhere road for anybody anyhow ..." -- Kerouac

If you've hung around Literary Kicks for a while (and, yes, it certainly has been a while), you know this website is always in the process of becoming something else. That's probably why the site is still alive, why it's managed for so long to remain essentially itself.

As the year 2015 begins, I sense a new pivot coming along, and like always the transformation will be gradual. I am beginning a new writing project, though I'm not quite ready to show anything yet. The main result so far has been my lack of activity here. I try to publish at least one new blog post a week, but I think the blogging schedule on this site will have to remain slow for a little while longer, until I get this new thing up and running.

As for what the new thing is: well, all I can say at this point is that the goal I have chosen will challenge me to the core. For this to succeed, I will need to write with greater intensity, frequency and consistency in 2015 than I managed to do in 2014. This challenge frankly frightens me, as do the specters of failure and discouragement, though I know I am committed to pushing through and not giving up.

A couple of teasers. It probably won't surprise my Litkicks peeps that this new writing project will explore questions of history, politics and ethics. Or, let me put it this way: here on Litkicks, philosophy won't be just for weekends anymore.

So this is where I'm going next, and even though I can't say more at this point, I want to share my feeling of excitement about this coming change. I hope you will all join me on the journey that is about to begin.

* * * * *

This blog post is inspired by Lila Lefty Brown Stein, my beloved stepmother, who died in the final week of 2014. I know Lila lived a very happy life, though her last couple of years were made difficult by a painful illness she didn't deserve. Lila and I always got along great, and were even bridge partners for a weekly game that occupied my Sunday evenings for 13 years (she was the only person who could put up with my, shall we say, imaginative approach to bidding, and sometimes we actually won).

Lila was always supportive of this blog, and for some reason I always remember the one time she made a point of mentioning to me that she'd really liked an article I wrote. It was this piece about William James's theory of emotion, and while I'm not sure exactly why Lila liked this blog post, the fact that she made a point of mentioning it to me means it must be the best thing I've ever written. Anyway, for the final word, here's my father's short note about Lila.

And with that ... let our next journeys begin.

12

Holyboy road, madman road, rainbow road, guppy road, any road ...

view /WhereImGoingNext
Tuesday, January 6, 2015 07:47 pm
A lonesome highway by Levi Asher
Story
Levi Asher

The past week was a rough ride on the literary Internet. Thursday brought the sudden death knell of HTMLGiant, a rollicking community website frequented by writers like Tao Lin, Zachary German, Megan Boyle, Noah Cicero, Marie Calloway and Blake Butler along with a wide cast of erratic contributors and scattered postmodernists. This lively website always reminded me of the fun and psychotic days when Litkicks ran message boards.

The good news is, HTMLGiant is staying alive through October for one last gasp, promising to unleash a series of farewell blog posts "because if there’s anything this website deserves it’s an uncontrolled flameout". That's the way to do it, HTMLGiant!

The bad news, though, is that the immediate impetus for HTMLGiant's closing is a charge of sexual abuse that has been leveled against the novelist Tao Lin, who happens to be probably the most successful and popular member of the whole "alt-lit" crowd.

I haven't seen Tao in a few years but I used to enjoy talking with him at New York City literary events. I always had a positive impression of this quirky young writer. I would be very sorry to see his career destroyed for any reason, though I agree with others that if he has committed an act of violence against another person, he cannot be easily forgiven. I don't understand the detailed facts about this case, but it is clear that people have been hurt, and that is sad.

The Tao Lin news wasn't the worst bombshell on the scene for me this week. Ed Champion, one of my closest friends, and my longtime "traveling partner" on the literary blogging scene, has had a severe mental breakdown. This didn't happen suddenly. Several of us have seen this coming for the last few years, especially the last two, as various paranoid tendencies got the better of him.

A dumb offense against another writer has (rightfully) generated tremendous backlash against Ed, who has by this point really hit bottom. Unfortunately for himself, he generated a lot of damaging publicity in doing so.

I felt particularly close to the events this week because the other writer who finally called Ed out on his increasingly offensive behavior was the novelist Porochista Khakpour, who is also a good friend of mine. I reviewed her novel The Last Illusion recently, and saw her read from this novel at a Virginia book festival just three weeks ago.

I wrote extensively about my personal feelings about the really frightening crisis that has occurred between two of my good friends and several others in the publishing/lit-crit community on my Twitter account, particularly in a stream of about 50 tweets on September 30 and September 28. Please go there if you'd like to read my perspective on the whole story.

All I'd like to say here is that I think Porochista did the right thing to speak out loudly when Ed started threatening her, and that I really hope Ed gets well. Many people have enjoyed his work at EdRants.com or Bat Segundo over the years, and I hope the literary community can find some sympathy for a guy who made big mistakes and is now suffering for them.

* * * * *

I call this Philosophy Weekend blog post "From Chaos" because life feels chaotic right now. But the emphasis is on the "From", because I'm making some good changes on Litkicks right now. If you're a regular reader, you may have noticed that I've been gradually reducing the frequency of blog posts, which used to come at the rate of two or three a week. Starting now, I'm going to stick to a slower pace of one blog post a week.

This will help me keep the quality level high (quality is always more important than quantity when it comes to blog posts, don't you think?). It will also help me work on a new project I'm cooking up, something that is currently being born, but will take a little while more before it can emerge from the chaos.

I will still be writing often about philosophy and politics and ethics, but this weekend's blog post will be the last one called "Philosophy Weekend". Now that I'm doing one blog post a week, they'll all just be "Literary Kicks". This may take some getting used to, but I think it will work out fine.

I began Philosophy Weekend in June 2010 after ending a weekend series devoted to the New York Times Book Review because that had stopped being fun. I wanted to start using the Litkicks platform to share thoughts about the issues that were most on my mind at this time, particularly issues relating to history, sociology, psychology, politics, religion and philosophy. I think the series was a success, and I am thrilled that Litkicks readers embraced the experiment and kept up a steady level of intelligent and provocative debate in our comments. I hope this keeps going, and I have no doubt that it will.

I'll be continuing to write about the same topics, but it will no longer be a separate section. I like the symbolism that the last Philosophy Weekend blog post is named after the primordial Greek god Khaos, while the very first Philosophy Weekend blog post was named after Sisyphus. Pretty cool, eh? That's how I'm going out. I like to think dear Friedrich would approve.

* * * * *

A note about the artwork: before I began writing this article, I googled "primordial chaos" and found this image on the page of an artist named Vivi-Mari Carpelan, who has very nice work.

11

Why this is the last blog post in the "Philosophy Weekend" series.

view /FromChaos
Friday, October 3, 2014 08:47 pm
Primordial Chaos by Vivi Mari Carpelan
Story
Levi Asher

I always wondered how I would react if I ever found somebody else using the "Litkicks" name.

I can't see myself ever sending a "cease and desist" letter through a lawyer. That just wouldn't be my style, and it would betray the various vague but passionate stances I have taken as an artistic libertarian and copyright anarchist. Now that I actually find a community organization in London advertising a series of events as "LitKicks", I'm facing my first test of my ideals. How should I react?

The organization is apparently the Jewish Community Center of London, and they're putting on some good events including a reading by Howard Jacobson, who is the kind of writer we like here at Litkicks (he's also a current Booker Prize nominee for his new novel J).

So, how should I react? Should I be offended that these literary folks in London either a) haven't heard of my own Litkicks, despite all the work I've put into it over the years, or b) have heard of Litkicks, and decided to use the name anyway? Do I send a threatening note? Do I have any ability to actually prevent them from using the name in a different country, or in fact in any part of the world? If I were in their position, how would I feel if I were asked to stop using a certain name? (It would probably make me defiant rather than contrite.)

After thinking hard about this, I realized that of course I have to live up to my ideals. I will not be sending the Jewish Community Center of London a threatening letter. But I will use this page (I assume they'll find it eventually) to ask them nicely to please think of another name for their literary series. I hope they will decide to respect the fact that I've been using the name Literary Kicks for a long damn time, and have certainly put in the sweat equity to earn the exclusive right to the name.

I've told the story before of how the words 'Literary Kicks' came to me in a supermarket vision one day twenty years ago, and how the complete idea for this website only revealed itself to me after I thought of the name. Since then, I have seen other websites come and go with names like "Literary Chicks" (yes, they covered chick-lit) and "Literary Clicks" (apparently their Buzzfeed-like strategy didn't sustain them). I didn't pay any attention in those cases because their names were silly and I knew the sites would disappear. The difference with this community center in London is that they might actually be planning to stick around for a long time. In that case, I hope they'll decide to find a new name. There are plenty of choices out there. "Book Kicks" is available, though admittedly it doesn't trip as nicely on the tongue.

What good is it being an artistic libertarian and copyright anarchist if I don't sometimes have to risk something I care about for the sake of these beliefs? So, my own patience and idealism will be tested as I wait to see if and how the Jewish Community Center of London responds to my public request. If they ignore me and go on using the name, well ... I guess we'll coexist, and it probably won't do me or my website any harm.

It will probably do them more harm than me, since, let's be honest, I've got Google locked down. I'm pretty good with SEO, and I think it's safe to say that they're never going to get to the top of the page on Google (or for that matter Google.co.uk) as long as they're going head to head with me on page rank.

If the JW3 doesn't change the name of their series, people will probably start to think that I'm running these events in England (a neat trick for this American). Well, in that case, at least I can take comfort in the fact that the JW3 is presenting serious literary events with good authors like Howard Jacobson.

That's the kind of false credit I can feel real pride for. If they're going to use my name, at least I hope they never let the quality drop.

16

I always wondered how I would react if I ever found another organization using the "Litkicks" name.

view /SayMyName
Wednesday, September 10, 2014 11:47 pm
British community center swipes Litkicks name
Story
Levi Asher

If there's any part of Literary Kicks that I'm sure is going well as the site celebrates its 20th birthday, it's Philosophy Weekend. These weekend essays consistently get the most enthusiastic feedback, the most comments, and the most Facebook/Twitter shares of all my blog posts. I'm really very happy that this section of the site has taken off.

But these essays are also the hardest to write, and sometimes -- like, well, this weekend -- I just can't bring it. This weekend, I've driven 500 miles, worked for several hours on my grueling day job, went to a poetry/book party at my Mom's apartment, and played basketball in the hot sun. I'd love to write an excellent blog post too, but I've been sitting here trying all Sunday afternoon ... and I just can't come up with the goods.

At times like these, I usually resort to a placeholder post with a title like "The Dog Ate My Philosophy Weekend" or (I think I've used this one a couple of times) "Recharging". But today, I can't even think of a good punchline for a placeholder post. I think this is a sign that I need a slight change of pace.

So, even though I am absolutely intent on continuing to grow this space, and I have not the slightest lack of enthusiasm for what we've all been talking about in these discussions, I have decided to slow down Philosophy Weekend to an every-other-week deal for at least the rest of the summer. Come autumn, we'll see if I want to bring it back to every weekend or not.

I think this will ensure that the quality control doesn't drop, and I won't have to come up with any more cute puppy pictures or use the title "Recharging" again. Thanks for understanding, and I'm sure I'll be able to come up with something lively for us all to argue about by next Saturday. See you then!

1

If there's any part of Literary Kicks that I'm sure is going well as the site celebrates its celebrates its 20th birthday ...

view /TheNewSchedule
Sunday, July 27, 2014 07:00 pm
A 1958 Philco TV set
Story
Levi Asher

(Literary Kicks is twenty years old today. This fact has left me speechless, so I asked Jamelah Earle to send some retrospective thoughts. -- Levi)

When I was 16, I was on my high school forensics team. This was not in any way related to anything you might see on an episode of CSI, but instead was competitive speech and dramatic performance. That year, I had chosen poetry as my event, and I was looking for a poem to perform. The trick with forensics events, I had learned in a previous season, when I did storytelling with Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, was to come up with something that nobody else would be performing — Alexander was a popular piece, and more than one time I would be in a competition round with another person doing the same story. So, when I switched to poetry, I was determined to come up with something nobody else would do.

My coach gave me a copy of Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems to see if anything in it would work for me. I eventually ended up choosing the poem "America" and I had a great season. I think I would've made it to the state championships that year, had I not gotten laryngitis so severely that I was rendered essentially mute during regionals. Alas, I'll never know, so I can just imagine that I would've gone all the way. Maybe I could have even won the chance to tell my hometown newspaper how to spell "Allen Ginsberg".

What I do know is that I read Howl and Other Poems cover to cover several times over the second half of my 11th grade school year. This was both an easy feat — it's a small book — and a not-so-easy one. I'd never read anything like Howl before. It wasn't the type of book that came up in my school English classes, and though I was (and still am, to a degree) a voracious reader — basically, put anything that has printed words in front of me, and I will read it, regardless of how interesting or dull it may be or how many times I've already read it, which is why I have the ingredients list on the back of my shampoo bottle in the shower memorized. But I'm not sure I would've come across Ginsberg on my own had it not been for my coach Amy handing me that book.

I wanted to know more, though, so I fired up my coal-powered modem and looked Ginsberg up on the internet. It was then that I found a site at charm.net called Literary Kicks. It was broken up into different pages about different writers. I read more about Ginsberg, I read about Burroughs and Kerouac. I liked the site; the writer, Levi Asher, was engaging and interesting, and I would check back from time to time and read the updates on the Beat News page, which was essentially a blog, before the word "blog" existed. I never sent Levi an email, because he said he didn't answer them, but Literary Kicks was a go-to website for me. I learned from it, and I got a lot of reading recommendations.

Not long after, I started my own website at Geocities. The site was mostly links to other sites I liked, but I also had a page where I'd write thoughts about things. This was just a static HTML page that I'd update from time to time with a paragraph or two, and it was the genesis of the site that I run these days. Nothing of it even remotely exists now; I cleared out the last vestiges of it in, I think, 2005, when I was using Blogger to create updates and I decided that since the blog (the word "blog" existed by then) was the only really active part of the site (the other sections were pages of photographs, fiction and poetry), I would convert to having only a blog and get rid of the rest. I used my website to learn how to create things for the internet — I taught myself HTML and CSS and my site was always under construction, because I always had to try out this new thing I just learned. When Litkicks became a blog in 2004, it went live with my design (tweaked, because Levi and I never agreed about colors).

I'm getting ahead of myself.

During my last semester of college, in 2001, I went back to Litkicks for the first time in a long time, and I noticed that the format had changed: there were message boards. I didn't post anything for awhile, but I did read them from time to time, figuring out the lay of the land, as it were. I think my first post on the boards was in April or May 2001, right around the time I graduated. I posted a little, here and there, but didn't really get sucked in until later that year. I always wanted to be a writer, whatever it means to be a writer (I'm still not sure, except that it involves writing — beyond that, the particulars are sketchy), and in Litkicks, I found a community of people who also wanted to write, who wrote, who shared. It was in this community that I began creating work and sharing it for comment, an act that had seemed so terrifying when I was a student that I stayed out of all possible creative writing classes in college.

I learned a lot, and I wrote a lot. I've never been so prolific since (there was something strangely magical and compelling about that little text box I would type into when writing a Litkicks post — a blank Word document just doesn't have the same pull). I also met a lot of people, made a lot of friends. I talked to people from all over the world about books and writing and everything else; I still talk to some of those people to this day. (I also got my very first stalker and death threats thanks to Litkicks — it really was a wealth of experience.)

In August 2002, about a year after I started hanging around Litkicks, I traveled to New York to perform at a reading at the Bowery Poetry Club, and I stayed at Levi's apartment. I had fun that weekend, doing a practice run at the famed Chelsea Hotel, performing at the Bowery Poetry Club, shooting pool at a bar after the show, hanging out with Levi and Caryn. It was during this weekend that I learned that Litkicks was run from a computer in Levi's kitchen, and not from some magical room full of computers and servers like I'd imagined. It was also during this weekend that I agreed to become part of the Litkicks staff.

Litkicks already had been such an integral part of my life, but after joining the staff, it became even more so. Levi, Caryn and I had regular meetings on AIM (remember AIM?!?) about what we were doing with the site. We did some cool events (The QUEST, 24-Hour Poetry Party, October Earth), we published a book (Action Poetry), we had some ideas that barely made it out of beta into production (Indie Writers' Marketplace). I remember it as a somewhat frenetic time, though my personal life was also somewhat frenetic in those years so I'm sure that's related, and we had fun.

Since 2004, when Litkicks switched from message boards to blog, I've been around here and there — weekly at the beginning, and much less frequently in recent years. I will say this, though: out of all the places on the Web, there's still just the one place that feels like home, and that's Literary Kicks. In the past decade, I've worked with another online community, and restructured my personal website too many times to count, but these days, when I barely turn on my computer when I get home from work, if there's a site that I drop by, this is it.

This is how my own internet history has gone full circle, I suppose.

I've been around Litkicks for most of my life. I've learned so much here, about writers, about writing, about graphic design and user interfaces and maybe trying the fluorescent green. I've laughed, I've cried, I've traveled, I've argued about all sorts of things, from CSS to whether jam bands are listenable to if we'll ever have world peace. I was hanging out with Levi and Caryn a couple of weeks ago, and I thought how funny it was that back when I was a teenager, I looked up Allen Ginsberg on the internet, and then, nearly 20 years later, I was having a beer and talking with the guy who created the website I'd found way back when. Life is funny, and that's the best thing about it.

Happy birthday, Literary Kicks.

22

On the 20th birthday of this website, Jamelah Earle remembers her first encounters with Literary Kicks.

view /GrowingUpWithLitkicks
Wednesday, July 23, 2014 12:42 pm
Growing Up With Literary Kicks by Jamelah Earle
Story
Jamelah Earle

Every once in a while I find myself wondering why I run a blog series called Philosophy Weekend that doesn't necessarily resemble anybody else's idea of what philosophy is, and maybe also doesn't necessarily resemble anyone's idea of what a weekend is.

I was in one of these questioning moods a few days ago when I watched an excellent film on late-night cable TV that gave me the insight I needed at the moment: Happy-Go-Lucky by Mike Leigh.

I love Mike Leigh's humble, amusing movies, which are almost always about ordinary British people dealing with ordinary problems. In Secrets and Lies, an adult woman finds the mother who gave her up for adoption. Nuts in May takes place in a nature camp where a boisterous partier sets up a tent next to two stern hippies. Vera Drake is about a woman who secretly performs illegal abortions. Leigh's masterwork Topsy-Turvy imagines the backstage action behind Gilbert and Sullivan's premiere of "The Mikado".

A Mike Leigh movie doesn't look or feel like anybody else's movie. The sets and performances aim to be completely natural, and his sensitive performers don't overact for the cameras but rather move and speak like real people do: polite, hesitant, often unsure of themselves. In a typical schlocky Hollywood movie, a married couple having an argument will often yell at the tops of their lungs, even when they're standing face-to-face only inches away from each other. In a Mike Leigh movie, a married couple having an argument looks like a real married couple having an argument. When a Mike Leigh film suddenly explodes into a sneaky emotional climax (as they tend to do) we are reminded of the communicative power of a quiet speaking voice.

Happy-Go-Lucky is a classic Mike Leigh setup. Poppy, a London schoolteacher played by Sally Hawkins, has a strange quirk: she's relentlessly cheerful, gabby, upbeat. Everywhere she goes, she compulsively cracks jokes, breaks rules, calls attention to herself. She knows that people find her energy level odd amd annoying, and she also knows that her manic style amounts to one of many life choices she's implicitly made that have not worked out particularly well.

She finds her opposite when she signs up for driving lessons with a tense driving instructor played by Eddie Marsan. He objects to her chattiness, asks her to wear proper footwear, makes racist remarks about other drivers. The confrontation that finally erupts between this dour man and this ebullient woman is the transformative event in this film, as Poppy learns the full impact of her behavior on others, and comes to realize what her quirky commitment to joyful living is grounded in.

The first time you watch a Mike Leigh movie you might think he doesn't know how to make movies at all, because he avoids all the conventions other film directors employ. A Mike Leigh film seems to exist in its own private universe. The sets look exactly like the world we live in: shopping centers, highways, kitchens, banal office buildings, public parks. He doesn't even use actors who are familiar from other films (though many of his best ensemble actors later went on to play minor roles in Harry Potter movies, which sadly squander their sensitive talents).

I consider Mike Leigh one of the great film directors of the modern era, along with David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino. But he stands apart from the others. There's never any doubt that Lynch and Kubrick and Coppola and Scorsese and Tarantino learn from each other and refer to each other's movies. Mike Leigh makes movies that don't connect to other movies. He just keeps doing it his own way, year after year.

This feels personally significant to me because I often worry that my Philosophy Weekend blog posts don't seem to connect with what anybody else is writing about or blogging about or even thinking about. When I write, say, a 9-part series on the causal relationship between war and genocide, I know that I'm not doing philosophy "the right way", and I'm also not doing political punditry "the right way". I know I'm reaching readers, which makes me very glad -- but I also feel very "alone out here" in the sense that I am not regularly connecting with other political philosophers or bloggers, and often not even paying attention to the topics or formats that are trending around me.

Sure, this leaves me feeling isolated -- but when I watch a Mike Leigh film I am reminded how much creative energy we can generate by simply doing our own thing and not worrying about whether or not we're conforming to external standards. Rather than work harder to meet the expectations of what a political philosophy blog should be, I prefer to pursue my own style to its maximum extent -- and it happens that the personal style I would like to maintain also resembles that of a Mike Leigh film. Like this unique director, I want to always keep it down to earth. I want to write about ordinary topics that ordinary people think about. I want to sacrifice bombast for warmth, commercialism for connection, hype for honesty.

So I find every Mike Leigh film a bracing personal inspiration, and I also find special inspiration in Happy-Go-Lucky, the movie I happened to catch on TV this week. Even though I'm not a gabby extroverted British woman like the character played by Sally Hawkins -- actually, I'm zero for four there -- I do share one strange quirk with this character. Like Poppy, I'm an optimist, and I always try to always see the positive side of a bad situation, and I definitely prefer to see life as a comedy rather than a tragedy. I think this comes out often in the arguments I try to lay out here on Philosophy Weekend: my strong belief that world peace is inevitable, my conviction that money is not very important, my belief that people who commit evil acts do so because they are confused rather than intrinsically evil.

If I ever get better at this philosophy of life stuff, maybe I'll be able to express more clearly than I can today how all of the various points I'm discussing here connect, and what it all adds up to. For now, the best I can do is decide to keep going, to keep doing what I'm doing, because I enjoy doing it. Sometimes it takes a late night film by a British director that runs on cable TV to remind us that what we're doing is okay, and that we want to keep doing it.

2

Every once in a while I find myself wondering why I run a blog series called Philosophy Weekend that doesn't necessarily resemble anybody else's idea of what philosophy is, and maybe also doesn't necessarily resemble anyone's idea of what a weekend is.

view /HappyGoLucky
Saturday, April 26, 2014 08:25 pm
Happy Go Lucky by Mike Leigh
Story
Levi Asher

I didn't start a blog series called "Philosophy Weekend" so I could write the same old shit you've already read. That's what a lot of other philosophers and ethical theorists and historians seem to be good at.

I don't know what their problem is; our universities are packed with professors and writers and academic bloggers with impressive degrees and credentials. But they don't seem to be writing what needs to be written about real world problems that need to be solved, so I guess it's up to me, a humble software developer with a humble bachelor's degree, to put two and two together and ask if you agree that it adds up to four.

We've been discussing the causes of genocide here for several weeks, and I think we've reached a surprising conclusion. Let's retrace our steps.

We began with a querulous blog post in which I proposed that we must not be thinking creatively or constructively enough, since there are obviously answers that we're not finding. I observed that typical debates or conversations about problems of global politics tend to be packed with emotional keywords and frustrating misconceptions and sensitive "don't go there" areas, and suggested that we try to put aside our emotional responses and try to analyze the known facts about the genocidal disasters of the last hundred years in a systematic way, with a puzzle-solver's mentality. This is where it all began:

1. Ethical Sudoku

Observing that a puzzle-solver tends to apply a few simple methods repetitively and patiently, I laid out two principles or concepts that I think can be valuable in finding the deep root cause of large-scale atrocity and government-sponsored mass murder. This required two blog posts:

2. The Ashley Wilkes Principle
3. Blood Alienation

Now equipped with two powerful tools that we could apply to the historical record, we returned to our original mission of analyzing genocide with a puzzle-solver's mentality. I now began using Rubik's Cube rather than Sudoku as an illustrative metaphor, noting that it doesn't matter what puzzle metaphor we employ, since it's obviously nothing more than a metaphor, and since genocide is obviously a harder problem to solve than any simple puzzle.

But, I pointed out, we must not allow this discouraging fact to stop us from trying to think in new ways about an old problem. I tried to address my nagging feeling of self-doubt and discouragement in another blog post that pointed out the fact that genocide does appear to be a problem that can be solved, since there is no reason to think that genocide is a force of nature.

4. The Atrocity Cube
5. Genocide Is Not A Force Of Nature

At this point, several pieces started to fall together for me. I found much value in the observation that it's a category mistake to believe that genocide is caused by individual human emotions or motivations like hatred or prejudice or sadism or innate aggression, since these are actually (surprisingly) not the emotions or motivations that caused any of the actual genocides of the last hundred years. For some reason, we have a tendency to personalize atrocities like the Holocaust and the Holodomor and the disasters of Biafra and Rwanda and Bosnia and Sudan and explain them in terms of human emotions. But a close examination of the historical record shows that in fact hatred and prejudice and sadism and innate aggression played virtually no role in the worst genocides of the past hundred years. They were all -- all, all, all, without exception -- motivated by military strategy. I tried to spell this out (with a shout-out to Aristotle) in my most recent two blog posts:

6. Can A Person Be Guilty Of Genocide?
7. Genocide And Drunk Driving And Causality

That's where we're at today, and I think we've covered enough distance to justify me using this space today to wrap up our progress with a summary. But, okay, now that we've reached a conclusion, what do we do? It's all too easy to come to a big conclusion on a blog, just like it's all too easy to solve a puzzle on paper. Are we now prepared to follow up our intellectual discovery with the courage of conviction?

We have now determined that military strategy is the primary and essential cause of genocide, and that we will be stuck with the problem of genocide as long as we are stuck with the problem of war. This is the negative formulation of the big idea I am proposing: unless we can get rid of our addiction to war, we will never stop committing genocide.

The positive formulation of the same idea (which I think ought to get a lot of people as excited as I am) is this: if we can get rid of our addiction to war, we will successfully end the problem of genocide. The facts we've gathered and analyzed make this crystal clear: genocide always happens in the context of total war, and there is not the slightest reason to think that genocide can or would ever occur in the modern world except in the context of total war.

So, that's where we stand today, and I think we now need to shore up our courage to take the next move. Are we prepared to speak boldly about the fact that war is the sole cause of genocide? Are we prepared to "out" ourselves as pacifists, or are we still too afraid that we will be made fun of for this, that we will be criticized for sounding foolish and naive?

The photo at the top of this page was taken in 1967, when a group of hippies including Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Ed Sanders, Allen Ginsberg, Dr. Spock, David Dellinger and Peter Paul and Mary gathered at the Pentagon near Washington DC and tried to encircle and levitate the building. The building didn't rise, but I think it was worth the try.

There aren't many good photos of this famous event, unfortunately. The vivid photo above doesn't show the levitators and exorcisers, but rather shows the military police who protected the building while the attempted levitation occurred. I put the image on this page as a reminder of what a solid wall of opposition to a good idea can look like.

Today, do we have the courage to stand against strong opposition, to risk failure, to risk appearing foolish for peace again? It seems to me that this is the crossroads upon which we stand.

Myself, maybe I needed to go through this whole long sequence of blog posts in order to recharge my sense of courage and continue to write about what I've already been writing about. We need to think boldly and write boldly. We can't sit back and wait for other smarter people to solve the puzzle, because they're not solving it, and the puzzle isn't so hard to solve that we can't do it ourselves. Will we have the courage to take the next turn?

2

A simple study of recent history turns up some surprising conclusions. Will we have the courage to take the next step?

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Sunday, April 20, 2014 11:05 am
Levitating the Pentagon in 1967
Story
Levi Asher

Sometimes I find it hard to believe that my blog is almost twenty years old. Well, sometimes I also find it hard to believe that my youngest daughter is almost twenty years old. (They were born the same year, and they both grew up so fast.)

Literary Kicks will turn twenty on July 23, 2014. I have no idea how I'm going to celebrate, but I might keep it low key. For the 5th birthday in 1999, I threw a big party at the Bitter End nightclub in Greenwich Village. For the 10th birthday in 2004, I hosted an all-night online poetry jam with Caryn and Jamelah during which I remember falling asleep at least once. For the 20th, I might just stay home and feed the cats.

It's not that I'm not as psyched about Litkicks as I was ten and fifteen years ago -- but over the years I've learned the importance of focus, and I don't welcome the distraction that a big birthday celebration would create. Running a blog or a website for many years is an endurance test, and I've gradually learned that endurance doesn't need a lot of celebration, and that too much celebration can get in the way of endurance.

I'm making a couple of changes to the site -- well, I've never stopped tinkering with the formula, really, so this is nothing new. But there is one major decision I've just made that I'm honestly not happy about. After relaunching a new version of our long-running Action Poetry feature just half a year ago, I've decided to put it on hold.

We began running free-form poetry message boards on this site in 2001, and it's been an absolute joy. But an interactive poetry site is always high maintenance: editorial maintenance, spam filter maintenance, technical maintenance, emotional maintenance. I think it was the emotional maintenance that became a problem for me with the latest version of the website. You see, I've always known that a well-managed social network of collaborative poetry was an amazing idea, and I always felt that it had tremendous potential if it could be done right.

But that's the problem -- the potential has always felt overbearing to me. As both a webmaster and a poet and a techie, I kept trying to perfect the concept for Action Poetry -- first it was a Jive message board, then a Drupal message board, then a Facebook-integrated service. But the more I tried to perfect it, the more I kept realizing that I didn't have the time needed to do it right. Since Action Poetry wasn't my main gig, or even my second gig -- I have a day job as a website developer, and I run Litkicks -- I always felt that the actual Action Poetry site I was running was a failure because it wasn't everything it had the potential to be. Ironically, what it was was damn good: an incredible amount of excellent poems by contributors from around the world -- all ages, all races and religions, all sensibilities.

Anyway, the efficient cause of my decision to shut down Action Poetry is that my day job (building an awesome health-related community website for a federal government agency) has been running me ragged and I've also been kinda knocking myself out writing about philosophy and genocide for the 20th anniversary (lot of that going around) of the Rwanda massacre of April 1994. In the midst of all this, the ActionPoetry.net website just crashed. It's a fairly complex site -- Facebook hooks, the latest Drupal, my first attempt at a responsive design using Bootstrap -- and I can think of a few reasons why it might have crashed, and I don't have time to fix any of them.

I will fix the website soon so that the tens of thousands of really beautiful poems in the Action Poetry database can live on. But I'm not going to reopen the poetry site for new contributions until I feel like I have more time to pay the right amount of attention to running the site as well as it deserves to be run. The truth is, my heart hasn't been in it as much as it should have been. My attention has just been too divided. So there it is again: focus, endurance.

During the nearly twenty years that I've been running Literary Kicks -- and these have not been calm and quiet years -- I have sometimes felt like I was an online-culture trendsetter, and that the rest of the Web was years behind the cool stuff I was doing. For instance: I was into profile-based social community way back when Mark Zuckerberg was still in freshman dorm slugging the cheap stuff and pounding the Perl. I was also ahead of the curve on XML, web video, indie advertising, AJAX, e-books, Twitter, Drupal. I've sometimes flattered myself that I've been helping to pull the Internet in the direction it should go in -- the creative web, the intelligent web, the community web. The moments when I've had this sensation have been the most satisfying for me of the past twenty years.

But there's a flip side to this. There have also been times when I felt like I was an online-culture trendmisser. There have been times when I didn't feel like I was pulling the creative web along, but rather I was dragging my feet and the web was pulling me along. The most comical example is the emergence of the literary blogosphere between 2002 and 2005. I was one of the last literary webmasters to get the ditto.

This is why, even though I was certifiably one of the first literary webmasters in the world (along with Jason Snell, Mark Amerika, Joseph Squier, Ron Hogan, Carl Steadman, Christian Crumlish, Frederick Barthelme, Stacy Horn, Marisa Bowe, Kyle Shannon, Janan Platt, Josh Harris and countless others), I can't claim to be one of the first literary bloggers. I totally missed the boat on blogging, and had to run to catch up.

Today, in 2014 as I evaluate the state of the site as it approaches the beginning of its third decade, I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about where it stands today. Sometimes feel like I'm still pulling the creative web along, that I'm still an active force for good. Other times, I feel like I don't know what the hell direction everything is going in, and I'm not leading the trends and I'm barely even following them, and really I'm just trying to cling on and not fall off the track completely.

It's a steep mountain trail, this literary websphere. It's a long, long slog. I've seen many of my fellow travelers drop off the side of this mountain trail, usually in bleak silence.

I feel honored that I haven't fallen off myself yet -- even though I'm not quite sure what purpose I'm serving by clinging on.

18

Sometimes I find it hard to believe that my blog is almost twenty years old ...

view /LitkicksHeadsForTwenty
Tuesday, April 15, 2014 08:12 am
Litkicks on my bookshelf
Story
Levi Asher

I hope my pick for the most significant book of 2013 will surprise you. It surprises me. For one thing, it's not a book. It wasn't published in 2013. And I've never mentioned it on Litkicks before.

Before I explain, here's a quick wrap-up of my year of reading and blogging. There was a lot of philosophy, history and politics. Early in 2013, I got into Jacques Derrida. This was for me a belated discovery (isn't Derrida supposed to be sophomoric? I'm no sophomore) but a happy one. In July I took a trip to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for the 150th anniversary of that amazing Civil War battle, and then went back home to begin obsessively reading a whole lot of books about the American Civil War. I'm planning to write more about the literary legacy of the Civil War as the battlefield sesquicentennials of Wilderness and Spotsylvania loom. Continuing my weird march through what may seem to my readers to be randomly assorted moments (ahh, but they're not!) in American history, I also read and blogged extensively about disgraced Vice-President Spiro Agnew this year.

I wrote a lot about music and film in 2013. The death of Lou Reed, one of my all time favorite singer-songwriters, inspired in me a vast blast of sudden blogging, which was exhausting. As I mentioned in a comment to one of the above posts, I sure hope Bob Dylan has a good doctor, because I don't want to blog that much again anytime soon. I also continued my series of articles about musical memoirs, because it pleases me to do so, and I hope it pleases some of you too. The next installment in the "Great Lost Rock Memoir" series drops in January.

I got pretty excited about Baz Luhrmann's film version of The Great Gatsby in 2013 -- not so much because Baz treated F. Scott Fitzgerald well (he didn't) but simply because he tackled the classic with such audacity and fresh verve. That's what I like to see in a film adaptation -- let the source material be damned. I also approved of another literary film, the Beat Generation-inspired Kill Your Darlings, and I hope I'll get to write about the new Kerouac adaptation Big Sur soon, if the movie can manage to show up anywhere in my vicinity of possible viewing.

Now, let's talk about the most significant book of 2013. This book wasn't published in 2013, but the second installment of the popular movie series came out this year, and it was a knockout. I'm talking, of course, about the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (which is why I say it's not a book -- it's three books -- hah!).

I read all three Hunger Games books because my kids told me too; in this case, as in so many others, my kids were right on target. These are gritty, painful stories about an oppressed society about to burst into revolution. The grim scenes of downtrodden enslaved communities is matched by subversive satire about wealth and excess whenever the protagonists leave their homes to visit the Capitol, a bright city in which everybody dresses like Lady Gaga. The knowing send-up of reality television and high-stakes entertainment is wonderfully clever. The love triangle between Katniss Everdeen and her two suitors Gale Hawthorne and Peeta Mellark is brilliantly drawn and recalls the fine agony Scarlett O'Hara faced when trying to weigh the relative merits of Ashley Wilkes and Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind.

I'm picking the Hunger Games trilogy as the most significant book of 2013 not because of what Hunger Games is, but because of what the world in 2013 is. I sense hope in the air. I hear the song of the mockingjay, distant but approaching.

Hunger Games is about a revolution that badly needs to happen, that finally begins to happen. Here in the real world, it seems that Edward Snowden's well-placed revelations about the privacy invasions required to maintain a hyper-military state have made a wide impact. My favorite President Barack Obama had a rough year -- the launch of Obamacare was a mess, and I'm sorry to see that many voters who dislike Obama are taking the opportunity to blame our government's privacy invasions personally on him (I think this misses the point) -- but it's good news that as of December 2013 the vitally important healthcare legislation known as Obamacare has managed to stand. In Kiev, Ukraine, the citizens are protesting in the streets. All over the planet, there is a growing awareness of ecological concerns. Maybe the happiest surprise of all in 2013 was the arrival of Pope Francis, the first Pope from South America, who stunned the world by declaring some truths that many of us already knew, but never expected the leader of the Catholic Church to say: that gay people may seek God, that a politicized obsession with the legality of abortion has harmed the Catholic Church's greater message, that vast income inequality is a growing problem that must be addressed, and that trickle-down economics has not proven itself to be a humane policy.

In the first book of Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen discovers the extent of her own strength and skill. In Catching Fire, the second book and second movie, Katniss's discovery is not about her own strength and skill, but about the strength and skill of the community that supports her. Perhaps this is why the second book/movie is even more thrilling than the first.

I'm not in the habit of embracing the products of pop culture, or of seeing violent flashy movies in theaters packed with teenagers. But there is great value in opening one's mind, and this book/movie franchise really is that good. But anyway, that's not why I'm picking it as my favorite for 2013. I'm picking it because it has inspiration to offer. It's a story about hope for the future. And I think 2013 was a mockingjay year.

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I hope my pick for the most significant book of 2013 will surprise you. It surprises me. For one thing, it's not exactly a book. It wasn't published in 2013. And I've never mentioned it on Litkicks before.

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Thursday, December 26, 2013 06:40 pm
Mockingjay scene from Catching Fire
Story
Levi Asher

The secret to creating great and enduring websites, I'm pretty sure, is to have the nerve to launch stuff that's totally not ready. This is something I've always been good at.

If you've hung around Litkicks for any amount of time, you know I've been trying to launch a new version of our long-running Action Poetry space for over a year now. I've also solicited your ideas along the way. One idea arrived that seemed to make a lot of sense to me, and this idea finally spurred me to, well, action. After a furious month of development and testing, I'm ready to show a beta today.

The big idea that got me moving? Integration with other social networks, especially Facebook. When I originally launched Action Poetry on these sites now defunct Jive message boards in 2001, the poetry community that grew around the boards existed in Internet isolation, and this isolation always felt to me like a dead end. I designed rudimentary member profiles for contributing poets, but I never wanted Literary Kicks to be in the business of social networking. Litkicks is about the content, the words -- I want my site to hook into social networks, but I don't want my site to be a social network.

With an all-new website called Action Poetry, launching in a primitive beta version today, I am ready to test this idea and see if it works. I hope that people will share their poetry on this site, will enjoy and respond to poetry contributed to others -- and I hope they will use other social networks (Facebook is the first one to be integrated, but Twitter and others will follow) to spread the word and share the love.

As I mentioned last week, the technical task of integrating Facebook login functionality turned out to be more challenging than I expected. The Facebook API is simple and tends to deliver the requested functionality with little effort -- but that's where the difficulty begins. Suddenly you have a site with multi-dimensional user scenarios -- Facebook-connected users, native log-in users (the site will not require a Facebook login, of course), anonymous users. How do the scenarios all work together? What happens when a user logs out of one connection and opens another? How many browsers does the developer need to install to test all the possible combinations? (Let's just say I've got Chrome, Firefox, IE8, Opera and Safari all blazing away on my test environment right now, and I could use a few more).

On top of that, I also decided to push my technical envelope by making the new Action Poetry site responsive to multiple screens and devices. This is pretty much a required feature for any website in 2013, but many current websites don't actually manage to handle multiple screens and devices well, and Action Poetry is my first attempt to follow a single responsive methodology (based on Bootstrap) for an entire site.

I also did my best to restore the large Action Poetry archive, and have so far managed to restore all poems dating back to 2004. The earlier poems between 2001 and 2004 are stored in a different format, and I will need more time to upload these. Still, I think many Litkicks poets will be glad to have the 2004-2013 archives back. In the midst of the technological fog that blearily surrounds me as I write these words and take a much-needed break, let me just say this: I think many of these poems are really, really great.

So, why do I say the site is not ready? Well, as a professional techie, I am painfully aware of several problems with the visual design and the responsive layout. I have strong doubts that the Facebook login feature will work correctly for all users. I would love to have more time to whip the archives into shape. I know the search engine is highly imperfect -- to give one pathetic example, all results from the search engine will currently have the title "Poem" instead of displaying the actual title of each poem. Slick, right?

But, like I said, the secret to launching great and enduring websites is to just launch sites as soon as remotely possible, as soon as they are barely able to function. Otherwise, a developer can work forever and never launch anything. I want your feedback and your bug reports -- feel free to post your findings as comments here, or send me an email at actionpoetry@gmail.com.

Most importantly, if you have contributed to Action Poetry before, I would love to hook up your old poems with your new login (whether you choose to login with Facebook or create a new native user on the site). The only way to do this, for those who have shared their poetry here before, is to email me with the name of your new and old username/email address. I'll be happy to manually resolve the new username with the old one for you.

As a proud technologist, it really pains me to launch a beta site with as many flaws as this one currently has. But, then, isn't that the spirit of Action Poetry, to just get it out there, and see how people like it? I think it is.

Thanks for checking out the new site, which is here: http://actionpoetry.net.

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Beta version of new Action Poetry site is open for testing.

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Thursday, September 19, 2013 11:06 am
Screen shot from new beta Actionpoetry.net site
Story
Levi Asher