Farewell. The Flying Pig Has Left The Building.

Steve Hynd, August 16, 2012

After four years on the Typepad site, eight years total blogging, Newshoggers is closing it's doors today. We've been coasting the last year or so, with many of us moving on to bigger projects (Hey, Eric!) or simply running out of blogging enthusiasm, and it's time to give the old flying pig a rest.

We've done okay over those eight years, although never being quite PC enough to gain wider acceptance from the partisan "party right or wrong" crowds. We like to think we moved political conversations a little, on the ever-present wish to rush to war with Iran, on the need for a real Left that isn't licking corporatist Dem boots every cycle, on America's foreign misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. We like to think we made a small difference while writing under that flying pig banner. We did pretty good for a bunch with no ties to big-party apparatuses or think tanks.

Those eight years of blogging will still exist. Because we're ending this typepad account, we've been archiving the typepad blog here. And the original blogger archive is still here. There will still be new content from the old 'hoggers crew too. Ron writes for The Moderate Voice, I post at The Agonist and Eric Martin's lucid foreign policy thoughts can be read at Democracy Arsenal.

I'd like to thank all our regular commenters, readers and the other bloggers who regularly linked to our posts over the years to agree or disagree. You all made writing for 'hoggers an amazingly fun and stimulating experience.

Thank you very much.

Note: This is an archive copy of Newshoggers. Most of the pictures are gone but the words are all here. There may be some occasional new content, John may do some posts and Ron will cross post some of his contributions to The Moderate Voice so check back.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

More views on Hitchens death

By BJ Bjornson

I have by no means read all of them, and the ones in the papers and mainstream news sites are going to be either bland and unassuming or far too obsequious that I have no intention of doing so. Blog posts, on the other hand, tend to be far more varied and interesting, so I figured I�d share a few of the better ones I came across as we all continue to try and write an epilogue to the man�s life.

The only really unambiguously positive one I came across worth posting was from Rebecca Watson at Skepchick, I�m thinking since it was more personal anecdote than an attempt to sum up the man�s life and works.

Hitchens will be remembered as an eloquent and occasionally vicious polemicist. He�ll be remembered for his brilliant take-downs of politicians like Henry Kissinger and any religious fundamentalist who wandered into his line of sight. He may even be remembered for his early support of George W Bush, and speaking of grievous missteps, I hope he won�t be remembered for that terrible piece of evo-psych bullshit that was Why Women Aren�t Funny.

But I guess all that is why I want to put down for the record that in addition to all those things, Hitchens was incredibly kind and giving with his time. Every time I met him over the past seven years he greeted me like an old friend, and as far as I could see, every fan he met got his full attention. Even when he was dying, he had time to sit down with a little girl to figure out what books should be on her reading list.

That�s not to say there weren�t other positive obits or remembrances on the sites I visit, but they mostly didn�t get beyond a few lines about raising a glass for the man. Of the longer remembrances, this one from Greta Christina probably does the best job of capturing a large part of the atheist community�s often mixed thoughts about the man (or at the very least mine).

I never met the man. And today, I am intensely sad that he�s dead.

A fair amount of what Christopher Hitchens said and wrote irritated the fuck out of me. Some of it even seriously angered me. But the man was brilliant. He did difficult, at times even dangerous work that few others were willing to do. He was fearless about saying what nobody else was willing to say. He debated with an army of facts ready at his tongue and a wit like a stiletto dipped in venom. He was often totally fucking hilarious. He was beyond eloquent.

. . .

A fair amount of what he wrote irritated and angered me. And that�s one of the things I like best about the atheist movement. We don�t have to idolize our leaders and our heroes. We can disagree with them. We can recognize that they�re human. We can say to them one day, �Damn, that was brilliant�� and the next day say, �You�re being a fucking asshole, this is beneath you�� and the next day say yet again, �Okay, that was brilliant.�

Sometimes, Christopher Hitchens was a fucking asshole, and said and wrote things that were beneath him. Most of the time, he was brilliant. I�m deeply sorry that I never met him.

I also quite enjoyed this post from LGM, which praised Hitchen�s in a rather backhanded way.

I know I�ll take flack for this, but honestly, the reason the left reviled Hitchens as strongly as it did was because it realized that it had a formidable opponent. For the most part, the left argues with the likes of Grover Norquist, whose influence is undeniable but whose skills are very much comparable.

To everybody.

Who argues.

About anything.

Hitchens was different. We can turn a phrase, but he could cant and pirouette it. As I wrote after learning he died:

He�s basically our generation�s G.K. Chesterton: wrong about it all, but beautifully so.

I stand by it. He attacked Mother Teresa, and justifiably so, when he felt it necessary. And he embraced an unjust war, unjustifiably so, when he felt it necessary. But he also waterboarded himself, to justify himself, because he felt it was necessary, and he backed down. He was the opposition we should hate, because he makes his case so strongly; but he was also the opposition we should love, because he challenged us to make our argument in its strongest form and changed his mind to fit the facts.

Would that we always had opponents so eloquent and wrong.

And just to round things out, a couple of the �We hates �em� variety, from a one-sentence condemnation on the Freethought blogs, to Ian Welsh�s somewhat more detailed takedown.

I was going to keep my mouth shut, but the hagiography is making me hurl.  Yes, he was a good writer.  Yes, when he was young he seemed to want atrocities to stop.  After 9/11, however, he realized that people like him could die senselessly and became an apologist for an unprovoked war (the same war crime the US hung Germans for) and for torture.  Atrocities were ok to protect lily-livered upper class white people like himself.

. . .

Also a quick note to my atheist friends.  Because someone is an atheist does not mean they are in any way, shape or form a good person or someone who has made the world a better place.  Richard Dawkins is a noxious human being and was before he defended an inappropriate pass. Hitchens was a war crimes apologist.

While I am a little confused as to why Ian thinks Dawkins is a noxious human being, I can�t argue with his criticism of Hitchens� views on the Iraq War in particular, which is one of those points where he was �a fucking asshole� at the very least. Frankly, had Hitchens died suddenly a year or so ago, my own remembrance of his passing would likely be entirely similar to the above.

He didn�t just up and die a year ago though, and it is what he did with his last year after getting the news of his approaching departure from mortality that has tended to soften my view of the man, or at least shift my focus from his noxious views of the last decade to the message his last year has provided. I will leave the description of that message to Dawkins.

Before his illness, it was as an erudite author, essayist and sparkling, devastating speaker that this valiant horseman led the charge against the follies and lies of religion. During his illness he added another weapon to his armoury and ours � perhaps the most formidable and powerful weapon of all: his very character became an outstanding and unmistakable symbol of the honesty and dignity of atheism, as well as of the worth and dignity of the human being when not debased by the infantile babblings of religion.

Every day of his declining life he demonstrated the falsehood of that most squalid of Christian lies: that there are no atheists in foxholes. Hitch was in a foxhole, and he dealt with it with a courage, an honesty and a dignity that any of us would be, and should be, proud to be able to muster. And in the process, he showed himself to be even more deserving of our admiration, respect, and love.

This is the area that has defined the last year of Hitchens life, and has flown directly against one of the most common myths about atheists and non-believers, that they will turn to faith when things get really bad. Starting from when he was first diagnosed, when a writer said that God was being kind by giving him a lingering and painful death so that he would have time to reconsider his atheism right to the comments about him �knowing the truth now� that popped up immediately upon news of his death and the almost inevitable cartoons of him reaching the pearly gates, death in our culture is seen as the sole property of the religious and religions.

Hitchens has been a very public example of the lie of that representation, and for that at least, those of us without faith can be thankful to him.


  1. Here are a couple more Hitchens references for your collection, one loving, the other not so much.
    In the aftermath of his death he is being remembered with much the same mixture of awe and contempt that followed Steve Jobs. He was many things, but inconsequential or trivial are not on the list.
    The first impression is not published but strikes me as on the mark. Margit Oberrauch is the wife of Abbas Raza, founder and editor of 3 Quarks Daily. He put it up in his Facebook feed.
    Hitch was the Muhammed Ali of the world of letters. He may not always have been right, or the smartest, or the strongest or biggest, but he was always the most beautiful, the most interesting, the most surprising, the most agile heavyweight in intellectual combat, the quickest in dodging the blows of opponents, and someone who inspired people the world over. Like Muhammed Ali, one HAD to love the Hitch.
    Another recollection came up in a Twitter message I got yesterday. Saifedean Ammous is a Palestinian, an academic living in Lebanon. He also published it at Anti-War.com where he gets beat up pretty bad in the comments thread.

  2. Hey John,
    I have to agree with the comments on Saifedean Ammous' article. Hitchens was quite clear in many encounters that he detested Zionism. (The anecdote of Hitchens being rendered speechless by the question also strikes me as highly unusual given the man's near-legendary debating and verbal skills, something even his opponents are usually willing to concede.) Beyond that, the whole thing strikes me as one in the long line of articles and opinion pieces that attempt to belittle or discount a critic�s opinion of one or the other side of the Israel-Palestinian debate because their particular criticism of crimes or stupidity by the side the author supports isn�t �balanced� by bringing up the crimes of the other side in the conflict. Basically every time I see one of those kinds of articles I just feel that the author lacks the understanding, occasionally deliberately, that being critical of one side of a conflict does not automatically make one a supporter of the other side. Hitchens hatred of Hamas didn�t make him a supporter of Zionism, and Ammous� contention that it did undercuts the credibility of his whole essay.
    Hell, if you want to get an idea of how wrong Ammous is, just hit Hitchens� Wikipedia entry and read through the Israel-Palestine section.

  3. No argument from me. (That's why I left that hit piece in the Mormon Links thread.)
    Here's another link, a couple of first-person anecdotes.

  4. He helped get over 100K people killed. He worked really hard to do that. That is more than being "an asshole". He could personally be an asshole, and I would not give a damn. He was a public figure and I do not judge public figures based on whether they are "nice" in person. Anyone who does so is morally defective. That sort of "I'd like to have a beer with him" reasoning led directly to George Bush, Jr.

  5. Ian, I don�t judge public figures by their personality either, though I do understand why people who knew them well would think of their personal relationship first when writing about their passing. Think of your family and friends, would the first thing you eulogize about them be their political views? That said, there is a considerable difference in degree between enjoying a beer or a talk with a columnist and thinking that he should be running the country, like the person millions of people elected to be �the decider�, and then went on to re-elect after he made the decision to invade Iraq with the willing assistance of most of the U.S. Congress and numerous other allied governments.
    That should not be read as a defence of Hitchens views, just a note that however much he shrieked and argued, he wasn�t actually one of the people with the power to make the actual decisions.
    In any case, you�ll probably enjoy PZ Myers� post on this side of Hitchens� character.
    We all take away what we want from public figures. For myself, I never read any of Hitchens� books, and for a long time, even the columns I agreed with him on tended to throw me off with their tone. For me, the only thing I�m likely to take away from him is what I concluded my post with, how he faced his imminent demise, publicly and honestly, and proudly as a non-believer.

  6. So he was articulate and could turn a phrase. So what? Plenty of monstrous scumbags, throughout history were witty, charismatic, and intelligent. The fact remains, he supported and helped to give cover to the biggest blunder in US history, and his record will be permanantly stained for that. So called Hitchens fanboy psuedo intellectuals are no different than some idiot who buys a book for its cover. Hitchens' best work came about by shooting fish in the barrel. When it counted the most, Hitchens FAILED. He was a polemicist for the sake of being a polemicist and died the way he lived, pathetically and weakly. Later Chris you sodding drunk.

  7. I watched a bunch of CSPAN this weekend that showed various Hitch interviews, debates. In a long chat with Brian Lamb about 18 months ago, Hitch mentioned that getting the diagnosis of impending death had done much to "concentrate the mind". A few minutes later he repeated the same phrase (with a short "apology" for its reuse) and made another point. Then a clip was shown of him describing how he felt when he saw a published photo listing him has the "late Christopher Hitchens". In that clip he again used the phrase "tends to concentrate the mind". I wondered if his inner writer was cringing at that point.
    His force of personality sucked lots of folks in (me, included). He made a striking impression in person and in print with his quick wit and ability to remember so much of what he had read. But a longer view of his work shows that each virtue was arguably offset by a vice. What sounded so fresh in a sound bite was perhaps just a recycled thought.
    There are so few articulate public speakers these days. Some of us are desperate to latch onto them. About the best thing I can say about Hitch is that he didn't whine about the hand he was dealt. And that is admirable.