18.12.11

Christopher Hitchens RIP and Vaclav Havel too.

'Hitch' as he liked to be known inspired adoration and loathing in seemingly equal measure.  Simon Hoggart in yesterdays Guardian addressed this Janus like aspect of the man.


He was, to put it courteously, a trifle devious with money. When the late Alan Watkins left the New Statesman he helped raise £98 for a leaving present, a fortune in those days. Alan had asked for a copy of Gibbon's Decline and Fall, and was surprised to be given the cheapest edition. Hitchens cheerfully admitted that he had put the rest in his Abbey National account. He liked to organise big lunches and dinners; a hilarious one in Washington was to decide the "Osrics", named after the fawning courtier in Hamlet, which went to the most obsequious political journalist in that town – a closely fought honour, as you might guess. Hitch's technique was to say, "look, you're all busy, why don't you go back to work and leave a blank cheque with me …" I actually fell for that twice.
He loved to attack anything that other people revered. Mother Theresa and Michael Foot enraged him, or so he claimed. He called himself a "contrarian", taking the opposite view to the received wisdom, but I sometimes felt he was more of a "turnip" – a victim of "terrified you're not in the papers" syndrome. He adored publicity – admiration or vilification, it didn't matter. Yet his rejection of Islamofascism and support for Dubya must have taken courage, when you are the darling of the American left, such as it is.
But he could write. Heavens, he could write. He could drink three times as much as anyone else at lunch (four large scotches, followed by a whole bottle of red was typical) then when mere mortals would be in urgent need of a nap, he could produce a dazzling comparison between PG Wodehouse and Raymond Chandler, or a tremendous exegesis of Orwell's later works, or a ferocious assault on Churchill as a war leader. His book God Is Not Great is an astonishing example of sustained and persuasive rhetoric (I suspect his lack of faith was a great source of comfort in the final illness).'

In the same paper on Friday we saw:
Salman Rushdie took to Twitter to mourn the passing of a "beloved friend", writing "A great voice falls silent. A great heart stops." Richard Dawkins said he was "one of the greatest orators of all time", and called him "a polymath, a wit ... and a valiant fighter against all tyrants including imaginary supernatural ones." The former prime minister Tony Blair, who Hitchens bested in a debate over religion at the end of last year, said he was "fearless in the pursuit of truth" and praised his "passion, commitment and brilliance".


Sadly I am unable to forgive any who supported the Bush junta in their despicable Iraqi adventure and consider all involved in the Neo-Liberal imperialist antics of that period to have been guilty by association.  I dream one day we may see Bush and Blair in the dock to answer for their crimes.  That truly would be a great day for Human Rights!  How the dictators and their torturers would shudder in their cells!


Also this mechanistic materialism so energetically espoused by Hitchens, Dawkins, Crick, Diamond et al.  This sense of matter as inertly subject to the whim of evolutionary development.  The haughty dismissal of alternative medicine and all that is spiritual as infantilism.   What a sad bunch of born again atheists they really are.  He was a bit of a toff.  A poor Balliol toff with his donkey jacket in the 60's liberating the poor workers.  A metropolitan toff.  A name dropper.  But a bit of a dude as well.


But Hitch was a colourful and slightly enchanting monster, a great drinking companion and an excellent writer, and I guess in a world of letters that comes to seem ever more bland he'll be sorely missed.
Christopher Hitchens born 13 April 1949; died 15 December 2011

Breaking news today 18th December 2011-   Václav Havel, the dissident playwright who led the Czechoslovakian "velvet revolution" and was one of the fathers of the east European pro-democracy movement that led to the fall of the Berlin wall, has died aged 75.
Reports quoted his assistant, Sabina Dancecova, as saying Havel died at his weekend house on Sunday morning, and the news was announced on Czech television during an interview with the current prime minister, Petr Necas.
Necas called Havel "the symbol of 1989" and said he did "a tremendous job for this country".
Havel's state funeral is likely to draw a crowd of leaders, artists and intellectuals from around the world. Havel was a renowned playwright and essayist who, after the crushing of the Prague spring in 1968, was drawn increasingly into the political struggle against the Czechoslovakian communist dictatorship, which he called Absurdistan. His involvement in the Charter 77 movement for freedom of speech won him admiration around the world.
His commitment to non-violent resistance helped ensure the velvet revolution was bloodless. It also help ensured that the "velvet divorce" three years later, when the country split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, was equally peaceful.
Havel opposed the split and stepped down from his position as president in 1992, rather than oversee the process. However, he stood for the presidency of the Czech Republic early the following year and won. It was a non-executive position but Havel brought to it both moral authority and prestige on the world stage. He stayed in the position, despite bouts of ill health including lung cancer, until 2003.
His role in the east European revolutions of 1989 was second only to Lech Walesa's in Poland. As the twin inspirations of the pro-democracy movement, they were strikingly contrasting figures: Walesa a flamboyant, brash, working-class union agitator; Havel a soft-spoken intellectual from a well-to-do family, who was a reluctant politician.
He was one of a generation who came to political consciousness in the 1960s. Rock stars such as Frank Zappa were among his heroes and late in life he continued to sign his name with a small heart-shaped flourish.
His motto was: "Truth and love must prevail over lies and hate."

I recently interviewed a Czech woman and asked her if Havel was truly as great as he's made out, 'oh yes' she replied ' he was the greatest of men.'


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