TUNDRANAUTICA

Bringing Home the Freshest Kill

Posts in the Christopher Hitchens category

I recently discovered some interesting insights about love in two unlikely places:

Hitchens’s book is the writer’s account of battling terminal cancer. In the afterword, his wife Carol Blue writes this passage about a secret she and her husband shared prior to a speaking engagement:

By the time I saw [Christopher] standing at the stage entrance of the 92nd Street Y that evening, he and I — and we alone — knew he might have cancer. We embraced in a shadow that only we saw and chose to defy. We were euphoric. He lifted me up and laughed.

We went into the theater, where he conquered yet another audience. We managed to get through a jubilant dinner in his honor and set out on a stroll back to our hotel through the perfect Manhattan night, walking more than fifty blocks. Everything was as it should be, except that it wasn’t. We were living in two worlds. The old one, which never seemed more beautiful, had not yet vanished; and the new one, about which we knew little except to fear it, had not yet arrived.

That passage is interesting because it covers two topics that are obsessive points of interest for me lately: Fear and Love. I suppose one could argue that fear and love are inextricably linked. I sometimes think they are.

In Murray’s book, the author gives marriage advice that seems intuitive, although many of us find ourselves mired in situations where such intuitiveness is out-of-reach. He writes:

…I believe that two people who love each other should be careful to avoid saying anything that will inflict hurt. Occasionally there will be an overwhelmingly compelling reason why the hurtful thing must be said. But if your prospective spouse says hurtful things heedlessly, or seems to take any pleasure whatsoever in causing hurt, break it off.

Some other, random and stray thoughts about love:

  • I think the best married couple on Twitter is the conservative writer Mark Hemingway and his wife Mollie Hemingway. Although my convictions and principles may be slightly different than theirs, they seem to be doing things right.
  • Love typically gets me into trouble, because I approach it with the same impulsive audacity with which I approach everything else in life. I love hard. So naturally, it often blows up in my face. Mega highs and mega lows, or as Frank Sinatra once put it:

…being an 18-karat manic-depressive and having lived a life of violent emotional contradictions, I have an overacute capacity for sadness as well as elation.

Pretty much, yeah. Although I’m not an 18-karat manic-depressive.

Remember this Living Colour song?

 

And then there’s Sailor and Lula, one of my favorite couples from the Silver Screen. Witness one of the most amazingly absurd scenes in cinema history:

 

Clearly, it takes getting pummeled by a gang of street toughs to trigger the realization* that love conquers all.

*(re: a DMT-style mental freakout)
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Chanced upon this old Christopher Hitchens essay about Route 66 while trying to distract myself on public transit the other day. I think I read it once before. It holds up well.

An  excerpt:

Route 66

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A quick public service announcement:

I’m off to the high desert badlands for a few days to contemplate life among the pronghorn and coyotes.

Lest any burglars want to break into my Fortress of Ennoblement, let it be known that the palace is being guarded by a dog that bites and a house-sitter so intrepid that he once incurred the wrath of Christopher Hitchens in a public setting. (It’s true. Hitch lashed out at my house-sitter in a crowded theater one night, using words that only Hitchens uses e.g. prevaricative, splenetic, etc.)

Anyway, I’m excited, because when I get back, I’ll be publishing a guest post from one of my favorite authors.

Coming soon…

Deschutes National Forest

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Friday morning linkage.

  • Mark Scribner at Open Market has a few choice words for urban planners: “…they are merely misdirecting taxpayer dollars and private investment into development projects that no one desires enough to privately provide—another example of the road to Hell being paved (a bit more literally in this case) with good intentions.”
  • The world’s worst vacations: Bali; Belize; the Indian Ocean; Uganda; Thailand; London; Cancun (twice); Yemen; the Jersey Shore; the Great Barrier Reef; Moab, Utah; the Mediterranean; Istanbul; Luxor; Mont Tremblant, Canada; Baja; Yellowstone National Park.
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Well, shit.

Hitch 22

Looks like Christopher Hitchens‘ appearance at Powell’s tomorrow is cancelled. I was looking forward to that.

As a proxy for the genuine article, I’ll supply links to a January interview with Hitchens conducted by local journalist Michael J. Totten. It’s in two parts. Hitch goes for the throat from the get-go. Regarding the January attack on Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard by an angry Muslim with an axe, Hitch says (emphases mine):

Let’s do a brief thought experiment. I tell you the following: On New Year’s Eve, a man in his mid-seventies is having his granddaughter over for a sleep-over, his five-year old granddaughter. He is attacked in his own home by an axe-wielding maniac with homicidal intent. Your mammalian reaction, your reaction as a primate, is one of revulsion…

…then you pick up yesterday’s Guardian, one of the most liberal newspapers in the Western world, and there’s a long article that says, ah, that picture, that moral picture, that instinct to protect the old and the young doesn’t apply in this case. The man asked for it. He drew a cartoon that upset some people. We aren’t at all entitled to use our moral instincts in the correct way.

This is a sort of cultural and moral suicide, in my opinion.

Classic, unmitigated Hitchens, for sure. But as always, he throws us some curve balls, particularly in his praise for Barack Obama:

There’s something everyone has forgotten, and Obama has never tried to remind them. He doesn’t get credit because he’s never asked for it. Do you remember when the American crew was taken by the pirates off the coast of Somalia? It’s the same country of origin of the axe-wielding maniac who just tried to murder Kurt Westergaard in Denmark.

Someone went to the Oval Office and said, “Mr. President, you have three choices. We can have a standoff with the Somali government, we can negotiate with the pirates, or you can order the Navy SEALs to fire four shots.”

I wouldn’t like to be a newly elected president and have that dumped on my desk. He must have said, however long it took him, “Use the SEALs.”

But that’s not what impresses me. The point I’m making is not the one you thought I was going to make. What impresses me is that he didn’t give a speech later about it. If Reagan had done that, everyone would remember it. There would be hubris. “They can run, but they can’t hide.”

I like his nature. Those who need to know, know. We don’t have to make a big fucking circus out of it.

Fair albeit arguable points, I suppose. At some point, though, I’d like to hear Hitchens’ take on Obamacare and aspects of his governance that don’t involve war. The cynic in me thinks Hitchens is wealthy enough that matters like health care don’t hit him in the pocketbook as much as the rest of us, so he has no interest in discussing it.

But that’s merely a guess. (FYI: Yes, I do know that Hitchens endorsed Obama in the 2008 election.)

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I’ve been anti-Bill Maher for a few years now, ever since POLITICALLY INCORRECT transitioned from a unique and contrarian TV show to a vehicle for the no-brain comments of whatever four ABC sitcom actors the show was able to book at the last minute. A more notable flashpoint, though, occurred in the early 2000s. Maher said something dumb about medicine or pharmaceuticals and delivered the remark with such an odd combination of arrogance and ignorance that I wrote him off forever.

Then the Braying Little Man received an over-generous gift: a bumbling, inarticulate American presidentat war, no less! Deliciously, for Bill Maher, every day of George W. Bush‘s post 9/11 presidency was caked in controversy and incompetence (whether real or perceived). A gold mine for inconsequential comedians everywhere.

Thus, Maher became Johnny One Note. Joke-telling became a simple matter of “Which ‘Bush is Dumb’ Gag Do I Go With Tonight?” The display reeked of intellectual laziness. Shooting cetaceans in a barrel. Naturally, it worked extremely well. Maher’s  TV audiences laughed on-cue and Maher became an ass-kicking weisenheimer fighting for the good of the Left! Fuck yeah!

Not everyone was so easily fooled. You might recall that Christopher Hitchens once confronted Maher on his Bush-is-Dumb shtick to great effect. And some of us wee commoners in the blogosphere have pointed out Maher’s lameness for years, a practice that usually netted derisive sneers from our liberal friends.

We were in the minority, though. Maher was a pop culture hero; a frisky champion of “correct” politics who espoused faux-skeptic views to the delight of faux skeptics everywhere.

For me, the biggest cringe moment didn’t arrive until Maher made Religulous. As an atheist and an admirer of such legitimate and genuine skeptics as James Randi, Michael Shermer, Phil Plait and Penn and Teller, I worried that Maher’s popular film would wrongly perpetuate his status as a “person of reason.” And it did. Worry confirmed.

English: Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins after ...

THEN! EVEN WORSE!

Along came theAtheist Alliance International yahoos with a big trophy for Maher: the 2009 Richard Dawkins Award. I felt a crushing blow of sadness and frustration when Dawkins, of all people, revealed that he was “delighted” to have Maher receive the honor.

But, dammit, a few determined voices would not abide this profanity. “Hold the fucking phone,” is what brilliant medical blogger Orac seemed to say in a series of scathing anti-Maher posts at Respectful Insolence. Orac took a sledgehammer to Maher’s ridiculous views on “Western” medicine, vaccines and pseudoscience. Respectful Insolence soon became a white-hot scalpel that cut through the idiot flesh of Maher Quackery.

Orac’s hyper-articulate diatribes woke up the slumbering giants of the skeptical community. Such lefty skeptics as PZ Myers seemed to get the message: Maher had been given a free pass. Worse, he’d been granted, for all intents and purposes, the Dawkins seal of approval. This did not look good.

Thus, many angry atheists and skeptics decided that Maher needed to take his medicine. And this time it would be “Western”…administered rectally. The arrogant little clown was going to suffer for exposing woo-proof skeptics. Maher did something kind of remarkable, after all — he revealed that lots of skeptics fit the criteria of skeptic only nominally. Many of them see no problem with Bill’s PETA ties and anti-vax craziness but will go after Ben Stein or Sylvia Browne with fangs bared and mouths frothing. Does anyone besides me find this troubling?

Bill Maher and Ingrid Newkirk

So, for most of September and October, the criticism rained down hard on Maher. Worse, the little dummy added fuel to the fire when he “clarified” his junk views on REAL TIME. Maher was setting himself up for a big fall.

Soon, the pièce de résistance arrived: Michael Shermer, blogging at the Huffington Post, of all places — Maher’s home turf, basically — sent a brilliant open letter to the braying little man, pleading for him to re-think his horseshit take on vaccinations and “Western” medicine.

Shermer’s letter was excellent. It drove home a number of good points. But after reading it a second time, this passage gave me pause:

…Bill, please consider the odd juxtaposition of your enthusiastic support for health care reform and government intervention into this aspect of our medical lives, with your skepticism that these same people–when it comes to vaccinations and disease prevention–suddenly lose their sense of morality along with their medical training. You excoriate the political right for not trusting the government with our health, and then in the next breath you inadvertently join their chorus when you denounce vaccinations, thereby adding fodder for their ideological cannons. Please remember that it’s the same people administrating both health care and vaccination programs.

This is a fine point, and it forced me to scrutinize my own views.

In some ways, my take is the flip side of Maher’s. I’m against nationalized health care yet I’m pro-vaccination. So, am I all that different from Maher? A bit, because my beef with health care reform is not based on a distrust of government, per se (although the current administration has several ignoble pipsqueaks whose behavior I find…disconcerting).

Instead, I fear that health care reform will diminish my autonomy and make seeing my doctor a less-than-economical proposition. If I have to pay through the nose more than I already do to see my preferred provider, then I’m not left with much of an option at all.

So, strangely enough, I find myself sharing common ground with Maher. I even feel a little sympathy for the jerk despite the fact that my “inverted” version of his position has more to do with diminished consumer rights than government conspiracy theories. Thus, I’m going to lay off of him for awhile; the Maher-bashing bandwagon is getting a little crowded. Plus, it’s worth noting that Shermer provided the dolt with a perfectly honorable resolution: admit that he is wrong. If Maher does that, I may soften my stance and start watching his show. (He does have good guests on occasion, despite the omnipresence of such annoying contributors as Matt Taibbi and Janeane Garafolo.)

In sum…Bill Maher: peace be with you. Just don’t dispense medical advice to your loyal viewers. Like Oprah‘s legion of dimwit housewives, your audience of 30-something snark-fucks does whatever you tell them to do; thinks whatever you tell them to think.

Be careful, jerky.

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