Christopher Hitchens, RIP

Friday, December 16th, 2011

Nick Gillespie has a a fine tribute up at Reason. The first of many we’ll see today, I’m sure.

More than anything, the world lost one of its most gifted writers last night. The guy could put words together in a way that could only inspire envy from those of us who do this for a living, even when we disagreed with him. I’ve also long admired Hitchens’ willingness to trample on the tradition of venerating the recently dead. Some people don’t deserve veneration. (Though I didn’t always agree with his assessments.) I imagine we’ll see some of Hitchens’ detractors attempt to out-Hitchens him on that front in the coming days. And I imagine he’d have appreciated a well-executed corpse-prodding as much as the glowing tributes.

Gillespie’s comment on Hitchens personal generosity resonates, too. The only time I drank with Hitchens, I remember being struck by his social awareness and graciousness. He didn’t need to, but he went out of his way to bring the fawning young journalists around him into the conversation, to probe and debate them. He then entertained us with dirty limericks. But the guy’s vocabulary and syntax were so beyond me, I really only know they were dirty because he said so. (That’s an exaggeration. But only a little.)

My only other personal Hitchens story comes from a few years ago, when Washington, D.C. was fist considering passing a ban on smoking in the city’s bars. I had gone to the city council hearing to speak against it, and was one in a long line of speakers. Hitchens showed up and sat down next those of us opposing the ban. He had a commitment later that afternoon, and the wait to speak was a few hours long. So I offered to switch slots with him. When he started to speak, he reminded Councilman Jim Graham, the sponsor of the smoking ban, that he lived in Graham’s district, and had actually hosted a fundraiser or two for him. Graham’s face lit up. Here was a titan of the left, come to praise him, Jim Graham!

Hitchens then lit into Graham with a tirade against paternalism that included the phrase, “you’re treating us as if we were helpless retarded children.” Graham was crestfallen. It was a beautiful thing.

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23 Responses to “Christopher Hitchens, RIP”

  1. #1 |  KPN3% | 

    A well stated tribute to a very controversial chap. Agree or disagree with him, did not matter, he had a way of speaking and firmness of conviction that is all too lacking in our current malaise. I respected that in the man.

    Nicely done, Radley.

  2. #2 |  MassHole | 

    Hitchens will be missed:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=doKkOSMaTk4

  3. #3 |  CyniCAl | 

    Watched a rerun of Big Bang Theory last night and it had this zinger about church:

    Amy Farrah Fowler: “I have no problem with the idea of a deity, but I do find the idea of a deity who takes attendance laughable.”

  4. #4 |  picachu | 

    “Hitchens then lit into Graham with a tirade against paternalism that included the phrase, “you’re treating us as if we were helpless retarded children.” Graham was crestfallen.”

    I’m guessing the ban passed anyway?

  5. #5 |  Omri | 

    Your fans at The Exile will have the definitive schadenfreude-filled obituary on Hitchens, probably today.

  6. #6 |  Christopher Hitchens has died « Blunt Object | 

    [...] Radley Balko relates another amusing anecdote: My only other personal Hitchens story comes from a few years ago, when Washington, D.C. was fist considering passing a ban on smoking in the city’s bars. I had gone to the city council hearing to speak against it, and was one in a long line of speakers. Hitchens showed up and sat down next those of us opposing the ban. He had a commitment later that afternoon, and the wait to speak was a few hours long. So I offered to switch slots with him. When he started to speak, he reminded Councilman Jim Graham, the sponsor of the smoking ban, that he lived in Graham’s district, and had actually hosted a fundraiser or two for him. Graham’s face lit up. Here was a titan of the left, come to praise him, Jim Graham! [...]

  7. #7 |  Doubleu | 

    The Palm Beach Post called him a “militant pundit”, which made me laugh.

  8. #8 |  Corneliusm | 

    Just putting this out here:
    http://www.explosm.net/comics/2645/

    RIP, Hitchens. You will be missed.

  9. #9 |  Doubleu | 

    picachu, Children never know what is good for them.

  10. #10 |  Hitch « David Klion | 

    [...] Radley Balko [...]

  11. #11 |  Christopher Hitchens… « White Rock Kitchens | 

    [...] The Agitator [...]

  12. #12 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    I had the privelege of seeing Hitchens speak at Illinois State University some time ago. And I say it was a privelege, even though I disagreed with him on Iraq and other aspects of the so-called “war on terror.” The way he cooly skewered some of his more fanatical detractors was amusing educational and amusing, no matter how I felt about his support for the war. He was erudite without being stuffy. And, as Radley suggests, he was quite a funny guy, especially if you are open to mockery of religion, superstition, and all the other sacred cows out there.

  13. #13 |  Elliot | 

    I disagreed with him on the Iraq invasion in 2003, Obama, his assessment of Lenin … basically about 75% of any supportive political position.

    But he was a master wordsmith and an excellent debater on the topic of religion. On Twitter, the Christians are showing their true nature by making violent threats against anyone using the #godisnotgreat hashtag and, rumor has it, that Twitter caved in to pressure to delist that hash on the trending topics.

    The coward Bill Bennett attacks Hitch after he cannot defend himself. Probably just one of dozens of similar “pious” dancing on the grave and adding more evidence to Hitchens’ assessment of many believers as cruel and hypocritical.

  14. #14 |  Cynic in New York | 

    Hitchens’ ability to piss off theocons was one of the few reasons that made me like him.

  15. #15 |  Long Live Hitch | 

    I saw him absolutely demolish Dnesh D’Souza in a debate on religion a couple years ago in my hometown. A brilliant writer, debater and brave human being.

  16. #16 |  Juice | 

    I think most people could demolish D’Souza though. He’s not that bright.

  17. #17 |  Robert | 

    @ #4 “I’m guessing the ban passed anyway?”

    Of course it did. Nanny knows best.

  18. #18 |  FloO | 

    He was so cool for having the balls to state some truths about Agnes Bojaxhiu when no one else would dare.

  19. #19 |  JOR | 

    “The coward Bill Bennett attacks Hitch after he cannot defend himself.”

    Oh, come the fuck on. If “attacking” (which in this case means expressing fondness for and differing metaphysical beliefs from) the recently deceased like this constitutes cowardice, then Hitchens was the biggest coward of them all.

    Jesus fucking Christ.

  20. #20 |  buzz | 

    ““He was left, I was right, but we had great debates, great drinking bouts,” conservative radio host Bill Bennett said on CBS Thursday. “And I hope as the big atheist that he was, he’s in for a big surprise.””

    Wow, how beyond the pale. What a vicious attack.

  21. #21 |  Laben | 

    awesome that you got to spend time with him like that…..jealous

  22. #22 |  whit | 

    love Hitchens. brilliant man, and the perfect example of somebody i can disagree with on lots of stuff, but always respect him for being fair, offering well thought out arguments, and of course an incredible wit and gift for language

    his exchanges with galloway were classic.

    sad, but not surprising , to see how some of his “friends” at the nation turned on him due to his iraq war stance. i still read the nation, but it was much better when it had hitchens

  23. #23 |  jdb79 | 

    Hitch wasn’t particularly insightful–the Missionary Position “exposed” Mother Theresa as a Catholic fundamentalist who considered her primary duty to be to the welfare of the Church rather than her homes for the dying, which should have come as a surprise to no one other than religious neophytes–but his combination of eloquence, wit, improv, and naked vitriol was unmatched. Hitchens was a polemicist of the first order, and a handful of those are handy to have around to stir the pot, even if they don’t necessarily have anything to offer in terms of dialogue. With Hitchens gone, political polemics is left with little more than Coulter and Limbaugh, neither of whom is witty nor amusing. Sound bites and caustic three-minute interviews just became a lot less interesting.

    “If he had been given an enema, he could have been buried in a matchbox.” Can’t say for sure, but I suspect Hitchens would welcome a sendoff as vicious as the one he gave Jerry Falwell. Undoubtedly he’d be disappointed that Franklin Graham hasn’t taken the bait.

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