Christopher Hitchens has left for the undiscovered country. Like many of you, I found him maddening at times, and his advocacy for the Iraq war was insane. It goes without saying that his boosterism of that tragedy was a grave mistake, but he was frequently a contrarian, and even though a lot of his writing on that subject made me think he was simply a faltering alky with a clever pen, you could never write him off. He was too smart and his writing too entertaining for that. What can I say? I respected the talent and the work ethic. He was writing for publication to the very end.
And I’ll give him this: He opened my eyes about Mother Teresa. His attacks on her frequently turn up in the one-paragraph summations of his life — her name was in her lifetime and even after her death shorthand for selflessness and God’s love embodied in human form, a living saint, but once you looked past the surface, you had to admit he had a point. Here’s the short version of his argument, and here’s the shorter one: Mother Teresa and her order exalted suffering, and provided “comfort” to the dying of Calcutta, but refused to take any active steps to prevent it in the first place, or even to treat it beyond prayer and a little brow-mopping. They’d pick a dying man up out of the gutter and bring him inside, but give him a shot of morphine? No. (Christ didn’t get any morphine.) When they did administer drugs, her untrained, ignorant nuns didn’t follow standard medical protocols — reusing needles, etc. Meanwhile, she flitted around the world for photo ops with monsters like Charles Keating and the Duvalier family, serving as sort of a moral money-launderer.
(He wrote a book about this, if you’re interested.)
It’s hard to get more contrarian than that, but he managed. A part of me thinks he became a warmonger simply because he wanted to be the guy everyone paid attention to at parties.
For a lighter version of the man’s work, I recommend his first-person account of getting a “crack, back and sack” wax, from Vanity Fair some years back:
Here’s what happens. You have to spread your knees as far apart as they will go, while keeping your feet together. In this “wide stance” position, which is disconcertingly like waiting to have your Pampers changed, you are painted with hot wax, to which strips are successively attached and then torn away. Not once, but many, many times. I had no idea it would be so excruciating. The combined effect was like being tortured for information that you do not possess, with intervals for a (incidentally very costly) sandpaper handjob. The thing is that, in order to rip, you have to grip. A point of leverage is required: a place that can be firmly gripped and pulled while the skin is tautened. Ms. Turlington doesn’t have this problem. The businesslike Senhora Padilha daubed away, took a purchase on the only available handhold, and then wrenched and wrenched again. The impression of being a huge baby was enhanced by the blizzards of talcum powder that followed each searing application. I swear that several times she soothingly said that I was being a brave little boy … Meanwhile, everything in the general area was fighting to retract itself inside my body.
What a baby. I’ve had many waxes in that area, and it’s not THAT bad. Take two Tylenol half an hour previous and lay off the caffeine for a while. Excites the nerve endings.
I have to get moving, so let’s hop to the bloggage:
I’ve noticed that with the Republican fringe’s insistence on repeating the old “40 percent of Americans pay no income tax at all” line — which is another way of saying 40 percent of Americans are too poor to owe anything — has come a refreshing new attitude among its low-level pundits, a willingness to scold the impoverished for their circumstances. We might call this the Are There No Workhouses school, and encompasses the Gene Marks piece discussed earlier here, “If I Were a Poor Black Kid.” Yesterday our own Jason T. pointed me to this graybeard’s reminiscence in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, which begins:
Nobody scolds the needy anymore.
Can you guess what he then proceeds to do? Yes! Scold the needy! You’ve read many versions of this before, a why-in-my-day-by-cracky lament that if you’re not starving or if you have a cell phone or cable TV, you can’t really consider yourself poor. He points out a couple cases of people who have no cause to complain over having to downgrade from ground sirloin to ground chuck, etc. I always want to ask these folks why they have problem with the poor living better than they did a century ago, but never mention how the rich have similarly upgraded. Wealthy people live like pashas today; how many of you grew up, as I did, next door to a doctor, who lived in a pretty standard three-bedroom house? Today that would be the size of his ski condo. His third home.
Finally, because I know we’ve noted this before, more carnage in Waterloo: A cop shot, his killer dead. You have to check out the mugshot of the guy, with what looks to be a Chinese character tattooed on his face. Guess what he was wanted for? Anyone? It starts with M.
OK, must run. Have a great weekend.