Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Wicked Hitch of the West

Like Harry Hutton, I am obsessed with Christopher Hitchens. We just approach him from different sides, as it were - I love the Hitch with an uncritical adoration which borders on the teenage crush. Oh dear. What a shameful thing to do to one of our top public intellectuals, turn him into some kind of adolescent fantasy object. Still, better than fancying Peter Hitchens, I suppose.

Anyway, I fulfilled one of my few remaining ambitions (not that I have fulfilled lots of my ambitions; I just have very few) on Saturday by talking to the Hitch. OK, so there were hundreds of other people there, but still, he was looking at me with those piercing blue eyes, saying things like 'a priori' and quoting Homer. Hot. Oh, and he's shaved off that horrible Trevor Eve beard and was looking, er, sleeker than he has recently.

It was the Intelligence Squared London Paris Festival, and he was there to talk about Thomas Paine (totally coincidentally, he has a book out on Thomas Paine), and his contribution to the American and French revolutions. Dammit, I thought, I must ask a question. Even if it's lame. Question. Question!

Eventually I came up with some fluff about why was Paine underappreciated in Britain, and raised my arm. But some American got about and started yakking about the Norman Yoke. Eventually, the Hitch discarded the yoke. This was it! My moment!

No! Some other American started asking a question. "If you don't mind," cut in the Hitch, "I think we should hear from a female questioner next." The Hitch had noticed I was female! Joy!

Later, I saw him smoking outside the refreshments tent. Boyfriend suggested I picked up his discarded cigarette butt and put it on eBay. I laughed, but also genuinely considered keeping it for myself.

From the recent New Yorker profile of the Hitch:

  • "Hitchens claims to be unperturbed by his critics... 'People say, "What's it like to be a minority of one, or a kick-bag for the Internet?" It washes off me like jizz off a porn star's face.'"

  • "Hitchens told me, 'When I was younger— this will surprise you, seeing now the bloated carcass of the Hitch— I used to get quite a bit of attention from men. And, um. It was sometimes quite difficult, especially when you hadn't seen it coming. I was considered reasonably pretty, I suppose, between seventeen and twenty-five. I remember noticing when it stopped, and thinking, Oh dear. What? None of these guys want to sleep with me anymore?'"

  • "Hitchens has the life that a spirited thirteen-year-old boy might hope adulthood to be: he wakes up when he likes, works from home, is married to someone who wears leopard-skin high heels, and conducts heady, serious discussions late into the night."


    Blogger Wyndham said...

    Trouble is, if that photograph is anything to go by, he's starting to look a bit to much like Donald Sinden these days.

    10/12/2006 12:29 pm  
    Anonymous taste said...

    I think perhaps the best thing about him is how slowly he talks. It's sort of Tony Blair speed but flowing rather than halting. Darth Vader but higher, slightly more breathy.

    Which makes the bugger easy as piss to follow. The down side of being able to follow what he's saying though, in the midst of sometimes quite ridiculously convoluted sentences, is that the audience goes all cromagnum whenever he 'drops' a lengthier and/or French word into the mix.

    Unless you're a bit clever of course. Nurrggh.

    10/12/2006 3:54 pm  
    Blogger Emma said...


    I'll link you if you link me. :D

    10/13/2006 8:06 pm  
    Blogger Paul B said...

    Despite how frequently he appears in both this site and Hutton's, I have to confess I had no real idea who Hitchens actually was.

    Having read his wikipedia entry, he strikes me as something of a borderline psychotic with a nice turn of phrase (I particularly liked 'I'm working for the devil pro bono'). Noam Chomsky has a lot to answer for, I'd say.

    Plus, along with Boris Johnson, he confirms Balliol's reputation for producing nutcase graduates. Of which I'm all in favour, of course.

    10/17/2006 10:07 am  
    Blogger Nick Scott said...

    Ironically I had never heard of Christopher Hitchens until today. I still do not know much about the man other than that I fundamentally disagree with one piece of writing he posted recently and which I read today on (here:

    Hitchens wrote a piece in response to a study published by British Medical Journal 'The Lancet' on 11 Oct 06. The study entitled '"Mortality after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: a cross-sectional cluster sample survey" is a comparative survey of death rates in Iraq prior to the US-led invasion and in the three years since that invasion. The study is available free at and I would encourage you to read it (it is only 8 pages in length) even if you have to register (for free).

    The study is a scientific peer-reviewed document. It was mainly funded by the Massachusetts Institute for Technology. It is an independent report without political agenda, was conducted according to a strict pre-determined protocol designed to minimise bias and exposes all its envisageable shortcomings with the potential of limiting its accuracy.

    The study estimates that since 19 March 2003, 655,000 deaths in Iraq can be attributed to 'the war' which began with the US-led invasion. This figure is an excess figure. Deductions have been made based on pre-war death rates. Of those 655,000 excess death, 601,000 were violent in nature and roughly a third of those were caused directly by coalition troops, it is estimated.

    Hitchens' article entitled "The Lancet's Slant: Epidemiology meets moral idiocy" does so little to address the scientific facts reported in the study and brings so few challenges to bear upon the methodology used by The Lancet team that one can only conclude he finds no issue there.

    Instead, Hitchens' article postulates that those behind the study have compromised the reliability and accuracy of the research due to their political agenda. He dismissed Dr. Richard Horton, the editor of the Lancet, as a "full-throated speaker at rallies of the Islamist-Leftist alliance that makes up the British Stop the War Coalition". What says that of his own political agenda?

    In essence, Hitchens fails to see that the figures expressed in the study are unimportant.

    Whether we think that 100,000, 200,000, 300,000, 500,000 or 655,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the invasion of Iraq, regardless of the legitimacy of the mandate to invade, regardless of the motives for war, forgetting all the lies, the fact remains that there is currently such chaos in Iraq that even if we were only to count the deaths reported in the media, there is a 9/11 happening there every month. That's two London bombings a day. On a good day.

    The Lancet report Hitchens ridicules (did he read it only once? did he skim-read it perhaps? True, this is not easy reading - owing largely to the fact it is rather heavily statistic-based and complex) clearly details the reasons why media reports of iraqi deaths, coalition statistics on Iraqi deaths and morgue reports will in almost every conflict reveal only the tip of an iceberg of death and casualties. The Lancet could only find one example of comparable statsitics in recent history with the 1990's Bosnian conflict. All other conlicts revealed that body counts based on media or health minitry reports would cover only 20% of the deaths which could be attributed to the war through the extrapolating of data gathered from tried-and-tested survey techniques.

    In conclusion I leave you with this quote attributed to Mr Hitchens himself which can be found here (

    "By some reliable estimates, the Sudanese government or "National Islamic Front" has slain as many as 400,000 of its black co-religionists—known contemptuously as zurga ("niggers")—and expelled perhaps 2 million more."

    It just so happens that those "reliable estimates" were produced by the Lancet.


    10/17/2006 4:59 pm  

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