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RIP Christopher Hitchens

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Dcc001, Dec 16, 2011.

  1. Dcc001

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    Christopher Hitchens has died.

    To be honest, I saw this coming for awhile. He just wasn't getting any better, and he had such an aggressive cancer.

    Focus: Talk about Hitchens

    Alt Focus: Memorable Hitchens moments/writings.
     
  2. Superfantastic

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    Whoa, not everyone all at once...

    Not sure what to say, really. I first heard of Hitchens around 2000 as that guy who wrote a book slamming Mother Teresa. Started regularly reading his Slate and Vanity Fair articles a bit before 'God is Not Great' came out, and have been a huge fan ever since. More than anything, to me he was the model of what anyone who desires to be any kind of intellectual should follow: study all that you can and develop deep, personal beliefs, then study all that you can that goes against your beliefs, and see where you stand. Basically, to paraphrase him and one of his heroes, Socrates, the pursuit of knowledge is the most important thing in the world.

    The most depressing thing for me is that the world lost another journalist who did it the right way. As great as he was, I don't think he'll be regarded as any kind of genius, he simply did what what journalists/pundits should do: mainly, don't take politicians' bullshit answers, expose truths at all costs, and don't be afraid of calling evil dictatoriships/belief systems...evil. In recent years, anytime he went on television he was regarded as "the controversial" Christopher Hitchens, but does anyone who's not a TV star talking head think calling Falwell a piece of shit and Kim Jong Il racist is controversial?

    I love his prose, and his love of writing, Orwell and Spinoza, but my favourite part of what he did was debate. God-fucking-damn was he an eloquent mother fucker, even without the english accent. I've watched pretty much all Youtube has to offer in terms of Hitch Debates, and maybe I'm just being a fanboy, but his winning percentage seemed well over 80%.

    The best was when he shamed his opponents by using their own words and arguments against them. I can't find the exact clip now, but somewhere in this debate, the topic of male circumcision comes up immediately after Hitchens makes the argument that, aside from people using religion to do bad things, the Abrahamic religions (in this particular debate) actually outright command evil actions. Before continuing, the good Rabbi makes a mildly funny, mostly dorky joke about circumcision. A few people laugh, but Hitchens stays stoic until delivering a linguistic punch to the gut, saying something close to: "I apologize to the audience and Rabbi Wolpe, but I cannot make a joke nor find any humour in the forceful mutilation of children's genitals, though I thank you for proving my point that religion can make otherwise intelligent, moral people do and joke about things that non-believers find explicitly repulsive."

    Boom. Roasted. Rip Mr. Hitch.
     
  3. Gatling

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    The look on of shame on the Rabbi's face during that moment is priceless.

    Many writing about Hitchens' passing seem compelled to begin by announcing that they did not agree with everything he said.  No shit.  He wrote and said more in his relatively short life, on a wide range of subjects, than almost anyone.  He got things right; he got things wrong.  We all do.

    I loved all kinds of things about Hitch.

    I have a pretty good vocabulary.  But his writing inevitably required a dictionary.

    I loved God Is Not Great.  His memoir Hitch 22, is pretty good but gets bogged down from time to time.  I am enjoying "Arguably" the recently published collection of essays from the past decade or so.

    The essays he wrote in Vanity Faire over the last year or so (all on-line) about his illness and impending death will take your breath away.

    When Jerry Falwell died Hitchens said on Fox that if they gave Falwell an enima he could be buried in a matchbox.  During that appearance poor Sean Hannity gave it away when he tried to deride Hitch by claiming that Hitch "thought he was the smartest man in the room."  Yet all Hitchens was doing was demonstrating that such was the case.

    Very few people could hold their own against Hitch in a debate.  If you watched Tony Blair during Prime Minister's questions you recognized Blair as a genuinely formidable debater.  Quick, witty, smart.  Yet even Blair admitted that Hitch out performed him in their somewhat recent debate over religion (I think it was in Canada -- its worth watching).

    I always enjoyed when Hitchens and Andrew Sullivan appeared together.  The did long appearances on the weekend morning CSPAN show with Brian Lamb with the crazy callers.  Great stuff.  They also appeared together on Tim Russert's Saturday Morning show near the end of Russert's life.  I have only found snippets on-line.

    Sullivan compiled a bunch of the good stuff here. 


    <a class="postlink" href="http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2011/12/the-dish-tribute-to-hitch.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;">http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com ... hitch.html</a> 
     
  4. captainjackass

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    Eh, Hitchens is cool. I haven't read much of his stuff, but if he's an atheist and all that, I probably agree with many of his sentiments.


    But really, taking the "there's nothing funny about that" hard-line against a circumcision joke? It might be an effective debate technique to win over the crowd, but lighten up people. Jerry Seinfeld had an episode chock full of circumcision jokes.


    Family guy makes jokes about the Holocaust, George Carlin makes joke about rape at the North Pole vs the Equator --- that doesn't mean we don't find the Holocaust or rape to be completely, utterly repulsive, nor does it mean we are complacent with them.


    It just means we aren't afraid to acknowledge a shitty chapter/ shitty part of the current human condition, however disgusting or foul. If anything, it forces you to examine potentially horrible aspects of reality or truths about the world, albeit sometimes in a humorous or easily digestible way.

    I mean, I personally know how far reaching the effects of the Holocaust still are. My own grandfather died in a concentration camp. He fell out of his machine gun tower, God rest his soul.
     

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  5. hotwheelz

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    #5 hotwheelz, Dec 20, 2011
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 27, 2015
  6. MoreCowbell

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    It should be noted that he did most of this while three sheets to the wind. I watched him debate a Cambridge University professor of theology and absolutely thrash him....while visibly tipsy.

    Christopher Hitchens: smarter when sloshed than the rest of us ever will be when sober.
     
  7. Crown Royal

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    I think this man was a great crusader for common sense. He only had his own agenda and had the drunk Brit charm to him that Pter O'Toole is also infected with. Interviews with him were always a blast, and he was a VERY tough man to defeat in point. In short, an awesome guy. Wish he could stick around longer.
     
  8. Superfantastic

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    Yeah dude, we get that anything can be funny. I'd even bet money that Hitchens had plenty of circumcision jokes that were actually funny. The point is that while both sides can joke about it, only one side actually finds it "completely, utterly repulsive" in the same way as rape or the Holocaust, while the other side is very much "complacent" (encouraging is probably a better word) entirely because of their beliefs. There's also a slight difference between a shitty cartoon/a couple great comedians making jokes, and a Rabbi debating religion with an intellectual in a university. High five if you can figure it out.

    Not sure why you would bother to make a pointless comment about a random example of something we liked about a great man who died and who you don't really know about, in a thread commemorating his life, but I guess that's just the internet.
     
  9. MoreCowbell

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    Christopher Hitchens would approve:

    Hitchens was often an asshole, and depending on who you ask (I have neither the time nor inclination to research specific instances at the moment, but they weren't few in number), occasionally veered dangerously close to racism, sexism, warmongering, and all sorts of other nasty things. He also went on TV to verbally shit on Falwell the day after his death. Hitch wouldn't approve of anyone giving him a pass for it now merely under the guise of a "memorial."
     
  10. captainjackass

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    Yeah, the Rabbi wasn't using Gallows/ Dark Humor really because he didn't find anything wrong with circumcision. I agree with that.


    Nevertheless, Hitchens called him out for "joking about something serious."

    Again, maybe simply a debating technique to take the 'moral high ground', but if not, lighten the fuck up buddy. Nothing is sacred. Hitchens best of all should know that. Let's not sound like a feminist who just got asked for a blowjob here.

    Religion and religious nuts should be made fun of. We should joke about suicide bombers in the fucking Middle East and the ridiculous contradictory tenets of Islam or [insert Religion]. That's the only way we can show how ridiculous they are. Hitchens himself said he was on a quest for truth above all else. Well that doesn't mean we should censor ourselves or not joke about shit. Fuck it all.

    Also, what the guy above me said.
     
  11. Aetius

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    I think my favorite had to have been when Jerry Falwell died, Hitchens said during a TV broadcast, "If you gave him an enema you could bury him in a matchbox."
     
  12. Superfantastic

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    Absolutely. In no way did I mean we shouldn't criticize him or his beliefs because he's dead. But that's not what Captainjackass over there was doing (love that I can say that without it being an ad hominem attack). I used that line about circumcision as an example to show how skillfull a debater he was, and while Captainjackass briefly acknowledged that it was an "effective debate technique to win over the crowd", he was mostly posing it like he thinks Hitchens was actually butthurt over the offensiveness of the joke, which shows how little he knows about Hitchens, which made me wonder why he'd even bother to post.

    No, he didn't. Read my last post again or, better yet, watch the actual clip. He wasn't angry the Rabbi had the audacity to make a completely tame joke about something that he considers off limits, he was using the joke to prove his own point, which was that religion can make completely upstanding citizens approve of and do things that non-believers find reprehensible. Obviously I can't prove it, but I guaran-fucking-tee that Hitchens wasn't offended by the joke itself, he was offended by the fact that the Rabbi would approve of such a horrible act. The Rabbi trying and mostly failing to make a funny simply gave Hitchens the opportunity to use his words against him, because he was such a skilled debater, and that's the thing I admired most about him, which is why I mentioned it in a fucking thread about him.
     
  13. Stealth

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    I found this online.

    By Hitchens in Letters to a Young Contrarian.

    "Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the 'transcendent' and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don't be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you."

    Also.

    From the NYT Obituary:

    "He became a staff writer and editor for The New Statesman in the late 1970s and fell in with a literary clique that included Martin Amis, Julian Barnes, James Fenton, Clive James and Ian McEwan. The group liked to play a game in which members came up with the sentence least likely to be uttered by one of their number.
    Mr. Hitchens’s was “I don’t care how rich you are, I’m not coming to your party.”


    Sounds like a potentially interesting/fun game for TIB'ers to play with each other.
     
  14. RCGT

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    Here's an alternate viewpoint, focusing partly on his support for the Iraq war. Remove if too political. I know pretty much nothing about Hitchens, but I've been finding that all the right people dislike the man's actions.
    <a class="postlink" href="http://flyingrodent.blogspot.com/2011/12/not-on-their-own-merits-but-according.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;">http://flyingrodent.blogspot.com/2011/1 ... rding.html</a>
    Not On Their Own Merits, But According To Who Does Them
    As is the way when controversial figures die, the obituary season for Chris Hitchens has now firmly moved from ludicrously overblown hagiography to withering disparagement of his supposedly immense intellect and allegedly high principles.


    He's been mourned by many of the great political and literary writers of the modern era, and also by Martin Amis*. He's been equally damned by others. I've read enough of both to discern the traces of truth in both analyses.

    As writer and debater, he was capable both of soaring, rousing rhetoric and of the most idiotic jiggery-pokery, sometimes simultaneously. Hitchens contained multitudes, more so than most, for he was large in every sense of the word.

    I'm one of those whom his eulogists regretfully refer to as "People who only read him in his later years". I recall his extended TV smackdown of the Princess Diana debacle well and agreed with much of it. I thoroughly enjoyed The Trial of Henry Kissinger, although I suspect much of that is due to Dr Hank's shared position with Nixon in my all-time list of Men I Would Dearly Love To Kick Up The Arse Very Hard Indeed. I avoided his Orwell book, since excerpts made it sound much like Why Orwell Agreed With Me About Everything. I read and remember nothing of his Tom Paine tribute. Letters To a Young Contrarian was far too irritating to finish, thanks to its intense and florid focus upon Hitchens' favourite subject - himself.

    As someone who came late to his work, I'm in a good position to assess where Hitchens' many manias led him. I can't comment much on his lit crit or his non-political writing - his pieces on why women aren't funny and the joy of blowjobs, respectively, quickly put me off following him into the darker recesses of his mind.

    If I can contribute one thing to the debate, I'd like to correct the major flaw in the reporting of his life and death - the idea that he was despised by many on the left because they felt "betrayed by his support for the invasion of Iraq".

    Well, yes and no, folks. This is a bit like saying that lots of people dislike Alex Ferguson because he's been so successful - the basic point is true, but it omits certain very relevant details of Sir Alex's character and behaviour. Hitchens, like Fergie in defeat, was constantly obstinate, mendacious and entirely ungracious when it came to his Great Personal Battle Against Fascism. Like Ferguson, he attracted fierce criticism, much of it entirely justified.

    Lots of people, many of them far smarter than me, supported the invasion of Iraq and yet didn't suffer the same vilification. To pick just one example - Johann Hari was at least as vicious and one-eyed in his Iraq hawkery as Hitchens, and yet many who should have known better leaped to his defence when he was later caught telling porkies. The same people would've damned Hitchens.

    From the very start, Hitchens' writings on Iraq exceeded some of the wildest predictions of the second-rate history professors of the Bush administration. His invasion would be a mighty demonstration of arms, followed by a rapturous welcome and a heavenly shower of laptops and consumer goods. Would it increase the threat of terrorism? Not likely.

    He had open contempt for those who warned that the invasion was a deadly disaster in waiting and worse for those who suspected the motives of the Bush administration. He was quick to attribute pro-Hussein, terror-loving fascistical sympatheticalness to both and dished out such condemnations promiscuously, to those who deserved it and those who didn't.

    The most glaring example came in the immediate post-invasion period, when he offered us a stark, either-or choice between the now-legendary thieves and looters of mercenary services company Halliburton and Saddam Hussein himself.


    When it later became clear that Halliburton and other such contractors had ripped off bajillions of dollars in Iraqi and American cash in exchange for goods and services that were faulty or non-existent, Hitchens neither apologised nor justified. Rather than re-examine a critical failure of the war, one that he had defended aggressively, he demanded to know which corporation a President (John) Kerry "should after all have got the contract to reconstruct Iraq's oil industry".


    "Not invading Iraq in the first place", of course, was always off the table.


    And this was the Hitchens method of political writing in the 2000s all over. He'd make a series of highly risky claims; inflate a tendentious reading of the situation into an issue of world-historical significance; declare that precise agreement with him was a black-or-white test of character and then, when events proved him wrong, move the goalposts as far as it took to reach a position of being sort of half-right. Maybe.


    If you looked at it with your eyes screwed up a bit.


    His writings throughout the decade were chock-full of such banalities. How important were Hussein's supposed weapons of genocide as a war aim? It depended on how Hitchens was feeling on any given day. "Just you wait", he famously told doubters. When no weapons were found, he announced that this proved the righteousness of the operation. Later, the sound of scurrying would announce that Hitch had moved the goalposts again - now, the invasion and quest for mythical WMDs was Hussein's fault, since he pretended to have weapons.


    When a US patrol responded to an insurgent attack by going berserk in Haditha, Iraq, killing a large number of civilians, the pro-war case for the defence should've been obvious - simply, say that war exerts terrible pressures on soldiers, some of whom may be bad apples themselves, but that one incident didn't invalidate the entire war.


    Hitchens' response was an exercise in jaw-dropping hackery. Rather than confront the issue head on, he rooted out some joker comparing Haditha to the My Lai massacre in Vietnam; pronounced the comparison an intolerable slur on the nobility of the Viet Cong (!), and proceeded to lecture us all for the millionth time upon the awfulness of the Iraqi insurgents. In the same column, he assigned blame to those who called for less violence by the US armed forces for the disasters of our wars.


    When US soldiers slaughtered innocents in hot blood, Hitchens' responded by booming in high dudgeon that the Iraqi insurgency were more evil than the lovely VC. Well, no shit, Chris, you told us that a thousand times and we said we agreed. And? Are there perhaps some issues going unadressed in your critique here?


    Evasion, retrenchment, misdirection, ad hominem assaults. These were his weapons in his Great Intellectual Struggle, a cause in which he clearly regarded himself as an intellectual Field Marshall, sending his fellow word-warriors into combat.


    Pick your Iraq-related controversy, and Hitchens had a highly-conditional, deeply duplicitous argument ready for deployment. When a survey revealed a massive death toll resulting from the war, Hitchens invoked a nebulous "some percentage" of the bodycount who were maybe, probably murderous baddies.


    What percentage? Hitchens neither knew nor cared. All that mattered was reducing the damage to the war effort, to allow it to continue unimpeded in all it's righteous violence.


    On the torture, rape and murder of prisoners at Abu Ghraib: Bad, but not Guernica and anyway, not as bad as Saddam.


    Cindy Sheehan, a woman with some wacky opinions who also happened to be the mother of a dead US soldier? Not so much an exploited, grieving woman as a moral blackmailer, said his angry hatchet job.


    When he was embarrassingly suckered by the obvious fraudster Ahmad Chalabi - Other candidates would be worse.


    On Iraq's horrifying civil war, a situation resulting entirely from the decision to invade in the first place - your problem, you fucking deal with it if you want to end the war so much... Or, in one of his favourite gambits - Al Qaeda ate my homework.


    He was a shameless propagandist for the US government's most crass lies. On the fraudulent connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda, he shoehorned the most credulous horseshit into print: "It was, I was told... '70 percent likely' that Atta came to Prague to meet [the Iraqi secret policeman Ahmed] Al-Ani." That lie about the 9/11 attacker Mohammed Atta stayed in play for years afterwards.


    Long after the neo-conservatives themselves fell silent on Hussein's supposed weapons programmes, Hitch was still flogging the corpse of the Niger uranium claim. When the Bush administration fell prey to its own idiocy in the Plamegate affair, Hitchens was there to defend its honour once more.


    Quibbles, distractions, irrelevant diversions. When the President of the United States recently claimed for himself the right to murder any person that he may regard as a threat, including US citizens, Hitchens was on hand to pimp the most idiotic argument of all...


    "Those who share my alarm at the prospect of (state-sanctioned murder beyond judicial oversight) and of the ways in which it could be abused, are under a heavy obligation to say what they would do instead".


    That's Christopher Hitchens, the courageous opponent of tyranny, demanding that you provide an alternative to state murder. Whatever, Hitch - I thought you said pathos, not bathos.


    Policemen would recognise all of these tactics from interrogations. Caught out in a lie, criminals don't confess - they back up and tell half the truth. They admit to minor wrongdoing here and to errors of judgement there, then retreat to a fresh, fortified position of essential innocence.

    A court psychologist would recognise a criminal's refusal to face the human toll of his misdeeds, and would diagnose denial. If the subject declared his intent to continue in the same behaviour - in Hitchens' case, by demanding the invasion of Iran - the shrink would most certainly diagnose psychopathy. "A lack of empathy and remorse, shallow emotions, egocentrity and deceptiveness".


    That was Hitchens in the last decade; a man who bayed for the blood of jihadists yet shrank from reality when his favoured policy inflicted a far higher toll on the innocent. A man who spent countless hours attempting to turn advocacy for official US government policy into an act of astounding courage; a man who regarded denouncing former friends in his purplest prose as an enterprise of awesome significance and consequence.


    He travelled to the far-flung places of the Earth, only to discover upon arrival that he was even more right about everything than even he had previously suspected. He spent the decade building himself a platform with rebellious, outsider indignation, from which to better side with the most powerful people on the planet. The type of man who non-ironically denounces "Iranian interference in our affairs" when he means American-occupied Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine.


    There are many words that would describe this type of behaviour, and none of "courageous", "principled" or "humanitarian" fit the bill. Courageous people don't invent ridiculous schemas to make their minor controversial acts seem more brave, nor do men of high principles revise and retrench their positions in adversity. Humanitarians do not make war gladly and recklessly, with a song of joy in their hearts.


    No, the appropriate words are "Hack", "Bullshitter" and "Fraudster". I don't use these richly-deserved insults to imply that he wasn't talented. He was a highly-gifted hack, an awe-inspiring bullshitter and a first-rate fraudster. These are disciplines which require inventiveness, initiative and application, and Hitchens had them in spades.


    Still. His much-vaunted principles were so crooked that they wound up resembling corkscrews. If he'd been Russian, he'd have spent his declining years denouncing Putin's foes as traitors and demanding ever-heavier firepower be brought to bear on Grozny.


    "Georgia On My Mind - Putin Rescues Russian Civilians From Genocidal Terrorist Aggression". You know it and I know it.


    Hitchens loved him some Orwell and quoted him as extensively as possible. Appropriately, Saint George once had relevant words to say about the Chris Hitchenses of this world...

    “Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians — which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side.”

    You can be sure that Hitch was aware of those words, as are all of his current boosters and sycophants. It's to his friends' and supporters' great discredit that his most ludicrous contortions were most directly insulting to them. We just read this stuff and laughed, but they were expected to defend it.

    And yet I recall few, if any, ever saying Yo Hitch, I think you might be gilding the lily a little there.

    Anyway. When Hitchens famously debated George Galloway in New York, I can remember firing up the Youtube video in great anticipation, to see which of these two hulking beasts of the bullshit business would emerge triumphant.

    What I saw was two overweight, middle-aged men trying to outdo the other's outrage over some violent acts of some violent men against certain innocent people. Both used every rhetorical weapon in their armoury to crush the other; both made liberal use of insult and hyperbole and as far as I could see, neither one gave a flying fuck whether their words were truth or bluster. They barked and snapped at each other like angry terriers for what seemed like hours, imparting not a sentence worth of reliable information between them.

    I looked from Chris to George and from George to Chris, and from Chris to George again. What a pair of puffed-up, lying cockweasels, I thought.

    And then, I closed the browser and read something else, written by somebody who would do me the basic favour of not cheerfully lying to my face.

    I can't speak for Chris Hitchens in his youth or early middle age, so I can't evaluate his work in that era. What I will say is this - the older Hitchens was so full of shit that you could use him to fertilise all of Texas for decades.

    I'm sorry that he died and I'm horrified that he went in such a godawful manner. His friends describe him as warm-hearted and charitable, even if many acquaintances don't, and even I struggle to think of him as actively bad - more clownish, buffoonish, ridiculous.

    Nonetheless, if truth means anything at all, let's drag it all into the memorial and let history be the judge.

    *This joke copyright Splintered Sunrise, 2011
     
  15. downndirty

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    I just got his massive book "Arguably". I'm excited, because he's one of the few writers I will read that is always challenging.
     
  16. Stealth

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    Off topic.

    In my earlier post Clive James was mentioned.

    For those that don't know of him: <a class="postlink" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clive_James" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;">http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clive_James</a>

    His autobiography, Unreliable Memoirs is a very funny book, well worth a read.
     
  17. HeavyLifter

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    Christopher Hitchens' work has had a huge impact on me. Reading God is not Great, The Portable Atheist, Hitch 22 and watching him embarass countless religious apologists in debates has helped me to finally realize, after enduring a childhood of brainwashing in Catholic school, that religion is nothing but bullshit fairy tales and wish-thinking. Though other leading atheists like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett will continue the fight against religion, none of them can replace him in my book.

    I suppose another lesson that could be learned from his life is that chainsmoking cigarettes and drinking enough Black Label everyday to stun a mule is bad for your health and should be avoided.... Yeah right, Im not doing that. I would rather live a short, fun life than a long boring one. Perhaps that is why he said he would do it all over again even if he knew it would eventually kill him. Total badass.