Saturday, December 17, 2011

Death of a scribbler

I am uncomfortable with the gloating which the death of Christopher Hitchens has caused here on the Upper Left Side of Blogenheim. Here is the entirety of yesterday's post by esteemed blogger Roger Ailes:

Ashes to ashes. Smoking will do that you.

Christopher Hitchens has died. He is not survived by thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed by America's occupation of Iraq.

Hitchens was a great, and sometimes misguided, polemicist, but he wasn't a politician or a bureaucrat. It seems a tad excessive to hold him responsible for a war, any war. Me, I'd save this kind of snark for the death of, say, Dick Cheney. They have to run out of heart valves eventually.

It's always sad when people of ability lend their talents to evil, but Hitchens was not Albert Speer or even Leni Riefenstahl. He worked for no government or political campaign. And exactly how much power did his gorgeous prose have? His hatchet job on Mother Teresa is unlikely to carry much weight when canonization time rolls around. (Or has it? I'm not clear on her position in the vast Catholic pantheon.) His irrational hatred of Bill Clinton, apparently dating from some Oxford slight, did not prevent Clinton from winning, and serving, two full terms. His equally bizarre fondness for George Bush was hardly decisive, except insofar as it led him to take up US citizenship and presumably vote for the shit. Unlike Judith Miller and other hacks, his cheerleading for the Iraq war did not carry the imprint of the Newspaper of Record. True, he never acknowledge being "misled" about the war, but few polemicists ever admit their mistakes, or Sunday morning television would be nothing but cartoons. (An exception was David Brock, who retracted his smear of Anita Hill, but so what? Professor Hill's onetime harasser continues to sit on the Supreme Court despite his manifest lack of ability and integrity, and there isn't even a movement to impeach him.)

God Is Not Great is a terrific read, and I can see it influencing a bright adolescent on the brink of agnosticism, but it hasn't exactly emptied the houses of worship. It adds little to Bertrand Russell's Why I Am Not a Christian except to extend the argument: a sort of Why I Am Not a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Mormon Or Anything Else. (Actually, Hitchens decided some years ago that he was a Jew, or as he might say, echoing Jonathan Miller, "Not a Jew -- just Jew-ish," but he didn't let it slow him down. It turned out that the things he admired about Jews -- love of argument, secular culture -- where precisely the things he admired in himself. I couldn't help thinking of Moliere's Monsieur Jourdain, who is delighted to learn he has been effortlessly speaking prose his entire life.)

Nobody is right all the time -- George Orwell was apoplectic on the subject of men who wore sandals, for some reason -- and everybody has the right to be an ass without being blamed for appalling and unnecessary wars. Had Hitchens with his last breath dictated an apology for the WMD fantasy, the shambles we have opted to call "Iraq sovereignty" would be just as bloody. Millions would be without electricity or reliable water, Sunnis and Shiites would still blow up each other's shrines, the dead would still be dead. If a man goes from being the scourge of Henry Kissinger to flattering the likes of Paul Wolfowitz in exchange for drinks and meals, let us not rejoice in his death. Let us rather pass over his errors with silence and pity, and be grateful for the lovely writing he did.


Sunday, December 04, 2011

End of days

December has come round, and soon all the usual suspects will be publishing their lists of the famous dead and the crucial events of 2011. Time Magazine will reveal its Whatsit of the Year, to the delight of Charlie Rose and literally dozens of others. Given the hostility of Nature and the fragility of world peace, we at the Sky are by no means certain of seeing the ball drop, so let the reminiscing begin early.

Some fucking year, huh?

I can just remember a more innocent time, when we were caught up in the shenanigans of Anthony Weiner and Charlie Sheen. Was it mere months ago? Weiner never demanded that a woman give him a blowjob in return for a real job, and Sheen didn't rape children on the Penn State campus (or cover for anyone who did). I feel as if we owe these two guys an apology. The goalposts have been moved way back for skeevy behavior, out of reach of most politicians and celebrities. Being a public scumbag is now a twenty-four hour job, with the glittering prizes for the best/worst being "reality" TV and the White House itself.

At this point in the runup to a presidential election, the party out of power has usually winnowed its field down to two or three, with the no-hopers and the designated joker already at work on their ghost-written books. But there's a different Republican front-runner every two weeks, out of what seems like dozens of candidates, as The Base swings like a compass needle vainly seeking True Right. "I say you are the Messiah, and I should know -- I've followed a few!" John Cleese exclaimed in The Life of Brian. So many messiahs, so many disappointments. And instead of one joker, they have a whole deck, even without Sarah Palin, Fred Thompson and Donald Trump.

There's Mitt Romney, who makes Thompson look almost lifelike. When Romney bought a house in Crazytown a couple of years ago, he set about changing his position 180 degrees on absolutely everything, from Afghanistan to zygotes -- and still his neighbors view him with suspicion. He has nothing left to change, unless he shows up in New Hampshire next month as a woman named Mitzi.

Then there was Herman Cain, who studied ethics under Clarence Thomas and made Palin look like a foreign policy expert. Yesterday his campaign was "suspended," which is the political equivalent of putting a sitcom on hiatus: you won't see it again. Credit The Base with consistency -- they won't support someone who has plausibly been accused of the stuff that would get a Democrat impeached, no matter how much they might love his cockamamie tax proposals.

From out of the west came Rick Perry, with hollow promises of Texas secession. Whatever is causing his incoherence, it's easy to see why Perry has been called "Bush without the brains." When he was unable to remember the Cabinet departments he wants to abolish, supporters in Florida became uneasy, perhaps afraid he might mistakenly close the office that mails out their Social Security checks.

Michele Bachmann's public statements have been so unhinged, people are starting to whisper the "N" word -- neurosyphilis. We could try sprinkling her lunch with penicillin; if she starts sounding like Bella Abzug, she's cured.

Who's that climbing out of the clown-car? The old perennial, Newt Gingrich! Accused of collecting large sums of money to represent corporate interests in Washington, the Georgia Leech retorted that it isn't lobbying because he isn't registered as a lobbyist. Which is like telling the cop who just pulled you over, "I can't possibly be driving this car -- I don't have a license."

Jon Huntsman, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, the voters wander aimlessly from one to another, finding all wanting, yearning in their hearts for Ronald Reagan to return from the blessed isle of Avalon (or Catalina), to rescue them from the enforced vegetarianism and gun confiscation of the Kenyan Muslim Usurper, to lead them into the Promised Land of small government, no taxes, hermetically sealed borders, and non-white people working in the kitchen or mowing the lawn. But you can't always get what you want. Probably none of us will.