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Christopher Hitchens writes about his cancer
August 4, 2010 10:18 PM   Subscribe

Topic of Cancer. "One fine June day, the author is launching his best-selling memoir, Hitch-22. The next, he’s throwing up backstage at The Daily Show, in a brief bout of denial, before entering the unfamiliar country—with its egalitarian spirit, martial metaphors, and hard bargains of people who have cancer." Christopher Hitchens writes about his cancer. [Via]
posted by homunculus (94 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
Will I really not live to see my children married? To watch the World Trade Center rise again? To read—if not indeed write—the obituaries of elderly villains like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger?
I can't stand Hitchens and tend to think he's actually a terrible human being but paragraphs like these are one reason I'll really miss him. I respect a man who puts his hatreds up front there with his children as the centre of his universe.

May he long outlive the butcher of Cambodia.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 10:37 PM on August 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


I've recently read his Why Orwell Matters, which defends Orwell against the criticisms of the authoritarian left and the cooption of the right. I disagree with him on a lot, but he's picked his hero well.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:51 PM on August 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Hitchens is certainly polarizing and his politics this last decade have been dismal (and quite unpopular here on the left), but he is always engaging and sincere in his convictions - oh and a great writer to boot. There are very few despicable people I would ever wish cancer on and he doesn't come close. Get well Christopher.
posted by boubelium at 10:58 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I recently listened to the audiobook of Hitch-22 and, despite some misgivings, found it to be quite good. That's not to say the Iraq bits aren't problematic and there are more than a few times my eyes rolled, but it was a nice reacquaintance with a writer whom I hadn't had much to do with in a while. All the best to Hitchens and his family.

Now I'm onto the audiobook of Moab is My Washpot and am beginning to fear that I am developing a vicious addiction to memoirs as read by their respective British authors.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:06 PM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm halfway through his memoir and am really enjoying it, part for the absurdly colorful life he's lived (and hopefully will continue to live for a long while), but mostly for the quality and humor of his writing. It requires attention and rewards you for giving it. Do I agree with him on every issue? Of course not. But would I enjoy hashing it out over drinks? Oh hell yes.
posted by sapere aude at 11:07 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


It is unfair of him to assume there are people cheering on his cancer. Having witnessed all too many times what it has done to dear friends, I would not wish it on my worst enemy. Further proof that there is no such thing as a compassionate God.
posted by three blind mice at 11:17 PM on August 4, 2010


If he wanted to see his children married and outlive those folks, or watch the WTC rise again, then perhaps he shouldn't have smoked 4 packs of cigarettes a day for all those years. This is a horrible, terrible thing to happen to him; but it is the consequence of choices he made. He was born in 1949 the US Surgeon General reported on the health dangers of smoking when he was 15 (1964). He lived his entire adult life knowing the dangers of this drug and the information only got worse. Yet recently he campaigned against smoking bans in bars and public facilities. Part of me just wants to shake him and say, fess up dumb-ass you brought this upon your own self. You are a rich wealthy white guy with access to top rate medical care and a book deal. Some old ex-waitress who can't wait tables anymore because of her chemo is going through the same shit; trying to negotiate with medicaid and keep her chemo on schedule because fucks like you sat at the bar filling the lungs with poison to feed your addiction; while giving shitty tips and making crude passes at her from your intoxicated minds. Hitch you mistook freedom for a smug sense of personal entitlement to be a douche-bag and now you want my sympathy. At least have the decency to show some fucking contrition for your bad judgment.
posted by humanfont at 11:39 PM on August 4, 2010 [14 favorites]


I also can't stand this misogynist, but I wouldn't wish this on anyone. He does write vividly here.
posted by cmgonzalez at 11:39 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's a lot I disagree with him on, but I've always enjoyed his writing and his public persona. He makes for a great character. The world needs more great characters, and I wish him the best.
posted by brundlefly at 11:45 PM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I pity those who thinks they can only appreciate a writer with whom they agree with politically.
posted by bardic at 11:47 PM on August 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


It is unfair of him to assume there are people cheering on his cancer.

I have literally heard people do this (not for Hitchens himself, but for other public figures who they dislike). It's a deeply unpleasant, but very real fact that many people find a sort of cosmic justice in the infliction of horrible death on people who have the temerity to disagree with them.

fess up dumb-ass you brought this upon your own self

He more or less does this in the linked article - notes that he could have (and should have) taken better care of himself:

In one way, I suppose, I have been “in denial” for some time, knowingly burning the candle at both ends and finding that it often gives a lovely light. But for precisely that reason, I can’t see myself smiting my brow with shock or hear myself whining about how it’s all so unfair: I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me

Besides, it's fucking cancer. I don't give a damn how many packs he smoked, he still gets my best wishes, for all the good they'll do him.
posted by AdamCSnider at 11:54 PM on August 4, 2010 [9 favorites]


This is a horrible, terrible thing to happen to him; but it is the consequence of choices he made.

I think it's pretty clear he knows that:
In one way, I suppose, I have been “in denial” for some time, knowingly burning the candle at both ends and finding that it often gives a lovely light. But for precisely that reason, I can’t see myself smiting my brow with shock or hear myself whining about how it’s all so unfair: I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me.
Having said that, smoking is a hard habit to kick - many people start smoking in their teens. By the time you've grown out of the feeling of indestructibility that most teens have, you're addicted. I'm watching my father-in-law die of emphysema, and it doesn't seem like a major character flaw that he was addicted to cigarettes. It's common, and lots of people did it, and it shouldn't be surprising that they did.
posted by me & my monkey at 11:56 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


d'oh!
posted by me & my monkey at 11:57 PM on August 4, 2010


AdamCSnider: "I have literally heard people do this (not for Hitchens himself, but for other public figures who they dislike). It's a deeply unpleasant, but very real fact that many people find a sort of cosmic justice in the infliction of horrible death on people who have the temerity to disagree with them."

Yeah. I always cringe when a prominent right-winger dies, if only because I've seen how a lot of people here at MeFi respond to it. We're generally a compassionate, nuanced bunch, so it sucks to see the exceptions.
posted by brundlefly at 12:00 AM on August 5, 2010


I'm still trying to figure out where some of you learned that his cancer is attributable to smoking and not his just-as-legendary alcohol consumption.
posted by readyfreddy at 12:07 AM on August 5, 2010


It's probably the fact that, oh, his cancer spread from his throat and not his liver.
posted by raysmj at 12:19 AM on August 5, 2010


Without smoking and drinking there would be no ----ing jazz.

Legalized whoring was more responsible for jazz, actually, and mass-manufactured cigarettes were a new thing at its inception. But that's another story entirely.
posted by raysmj at 12:28 AM on August 5, 2010


I have literally heard people do this (not for Hitchens himself, but for other public figures who they dislike). It's a deeply unpleasant, but very real fact that many people find a sort of cosmic justice in the infliction of horrible death on people who have the temerity to disagree with them.

I suppose now is as good a time as any to link to Christopher Hitchens on Jerry Falwell's death. I mean, I'd prefer a million Christopher Hitchenses to a single Jerry Falwell, but I don't think Hitchens is really the hill to die on as far as this particular point goes. Hitchens is, for all his fault, a guy who really does believe people should say what they mean and I don't think people should hold back in his case.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 12:29 AM on August 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


"It's probably the fact that, oh, his cancer spread from his throat and not his liver."

Long term consumption of alcohol is a significant risk factor for esophageal cancer. Not quite as high as smoking, but a close second.
posted by puny human at 12:36 AM on August 5, 2010


humanfont I know the words are the kind of similar but cancer isn't another word for karma. Assuming people who have cancer brought it on themselves is a hate-filled way to go through life.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:38 AM on August 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


I haven't seen anyone cheering on the cancer, but I've certainly seen a fair bit of "well it serves him right!"
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:45 AM on August 5, 2010


If God occasionally intervenes in the world to shoot down an atheist—to show who's boss, or simply to vent—it makes sense for Him to target the esophagus.
posted by Sparx at 1:50 AM on August 5, 2010


Long term consumption of alcohol is a significant risk factor for esophageal cancer. Not quite as high as smoking, but a close second.

And the combination of the two is more than doubling down.

Assuming people who have cancer brought it on themselves is a hate-filled way to go through life.

See above. His "father had died, and very swiftly, too, of cancer of the esophagus" so he had to know his risk factor was high, but he choose to smoke and drink all the same. It is not entirely unreasonable (albeit rather cruel) to say that he "brought it on himself."

But as Frank Zappa (who died from pancreatic cancer) said about his smoking: "It's food." For some people it is and I respect that.

This is how I feel about alcohol and I would rather live a shorter life with it than a longer life without it.

I haven't seen anyone cheering on the cancer, but I've certainly seen a fair bit of "well it serves him right!"

"Against me is the blind, emotionless alien, cheered on by some who have long wished me ill. But on the side of my continued life is a group of brilliant and selfless physicians plus an astonishing number of prayer groups."

Those prayer groups are probably not on the same side as his physicians, but "their pathetic bleating to heaven" (as Hitchens one described prayer) isn't going to change anything one way or the other.
posted by three blind mice at 2:00 AM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I love how they describe him as insensitive to altruism and then mention his excoriation of Mother Theresa. The whole point of The Missionary Position is that her entire public image was a lie, that she was motivated not by altruism (and indeed, treated those in her care and in her charge very harshly and in ways that cannot be any sane person be described as charitable or altruistic) but by a horrifying interpretation of the Gospels which interprets suffering not something which is to be alleviated but which in and of itself is for the glory of Christ, denying painkillers and in many cases even simple analgesics to those in her homes for the dying.

He wrote an entire book demolishing the myth of the altruist Mother Theresa, and the Chronicle describes him as insensitive to altruism because he criticized her. What a sick joke.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:04 AM on August 5, 2010 [27 favorites]


"Long term consumption of alcohol is a significant risk factor for esophageal cancer. Not quite as high as smoking, but a close second."

The only people I've known that died from esophageal cancer were chronic alcoholic non-smokers.

/anecdote
posted by readyfreddy at 2:43 AM on August 5, 2010


"It's probably the fact that, oh, his cancer spread from his throat and not his liver."

Still wondering where you learned this "fact".
posted by readyfreddy at 2:45 AM on August 5, 2010


IANAD, but isn't it silly to ask whether it was the smoking or the drinking or his diet or his genes or sheer dumb bad luck that was directly responsible for this cancer? Wouldn't a doctor say that in Hitchens' own particular case, it was probably one or a couple or all of the above, unless it happened to be something else instead/as well?
posted by marmaduke_yaverland at 3:04 AM on August 5, 2010


because fucks like you sat at the bar filling the lungs with poison to feed your addiction; while giving shitty tips and making crude passes at her from your intoxicated minds.

Seems like a bit of a sweeping generalization to me, which appears to be more about the person commenting than the subject being commented on.
posted by Hickeystudio at 3:13 AM on August 5, 2010 [7 favorites]


Still wondering where you learned this "fact".

From the article:

"Working back from the cancer-ridden squamous cells that these first results disclosed, it took rather longer than that to discover the disagreeable truth. The word “metastasized” was the one in the report that first caught my eye, and ear. The alien had colonized a bit of my lung as well as quite a bit of my lymph node. And its original base of operations was located—had been located for quite some time—in my esophagus."
posted by three blind mice at 3:22 AM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, fucking smokers deserve to die, that's the ticket.

So do you feel bad about driving a fucking car, humanfront? Assuming you drive, you're putting out far more toxins a day than any smoker.

How about your cleaning products, all non toxic?

Etc. Easy hate isn't always honest hate.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:49 AM on August 5, 2010 [8 favorites]


Hitchens is one of those people who think that their facility with words makes their arguments valid. He went down his own rabbit hole and never came back.

I wish him luck with his treatment.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:55 AM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


fourcheesemac: the point humanfront was (poorly) making is that Hitchens used his formidable skills to campaign against smoking bans which were/are intended to create a safe work environment for restaurant/bar workers - and patrons.

As a frequent patron of bars, but not a smoker, Hitchens was wrong about this (too) and deserves more than a little scorn for defending the rights of smokers to inflict their habit on non-smokers.

I was living in London when the ban was introduced. It was a glorious day to be able to go into my local, drink a pint, and not leave smelling like Hitchens.
posted by three blind mice at 4:17 AM on August 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


He's a great guy, and we're lucky to have him in our generation. God is great to have given us good writers and fascinating characters like Hitchens and Stephen Fry in our time. He now stands at the threshold of -- what -- who knows? But we'll all stand there sooner or later. Yes, you too. (Chick comics, whether or not you agree with their theology, bring this chilling fact home as well as any works of art can.) So it's silly to ask whether he brought it upon himself or not, or whether he deserves it or not. None of us deserves to die! We're born into this world as innocent, naked babies, and we writhe and tumble through our years on earth half in ecstasy, half in pain. Then, often at a time when we've grown rather used to living, and have kind of gotten the hang of it -- like Hitch -- we're abruptly faced with our impending extinction. What are any of the transient opinions of politics and religion compared to this awful fact? How can you hate in the face of the face of death, which obliterates all hate and love, and begins a new something that none of us can "know" in any sensed until we cross that fatal threshold ...
posted by Faze at 4:31 AM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hitchens is certainly polarizing and his politics this last decade have been dismal (and quite unpopular here on the left), but he is always engaging and sincere in his convictions - oh and a great writer to boot. There are very few despicable people I would ever wish cancer on and he doesn't come close. Get well Christopher.

I could not have said it any better. I am currently making my way through Hitch-22 and while I find his politics a bit odd and sometimes disingenuous, his writing is wonderful and enjoyable to consume.
posted by Fizz at 5:09 AM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


smoking is a hard habit to kick

John Coltrane was a disciplined man. Such was the intensity of his desire to master his instrument that even after he had become the jazz world's most acclaimed tenor, his wife sometimes found him asleep with the reed of his saxophone between his lips - having practiced until he could no longer stay awake.

John Coltrane quit heroin cold turkey.

Despite his best efforts, and though inspired by a deep-rooted spiritual conversion, he was never able to quit smoking.
posted by Joe Beese at 5:33 AM on August 5, 2010 [11 favorites]


One of the problems with Hitchens is just when you think he's a old dinosaur, a reactionary idiot and a person the world wouldn't miss he writes something half decent and you realise that for all his politics, writers who shoot from the hip, uncover their inner thoughts without descending into mawkish sentimentality or cliché are pretty rare.

Cancer's shitty any way you cut it. Good luck, Christopher Hitchens. I'd like to be able to call you a dick another day.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:51 AM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Cancer's shitty any way you cut it. Good luck, Christopher Hitchens. I'd like to be able to call you a dick another day.

I think you can still call him a dick. You just don't wish him death.
posted by Fizz at 5:52 AM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


because fucks like you sat at the bar filling the lungs with poison to feed your addiction

This is such unadulterated horseshit.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:07 AM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


tl;dr for the lazy.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:08 AM on August 5, 2010


Without smoking and drinking there would be no ----ing jazz.

Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington's brilliant arranger and songwriter (he was responsible for "Chelsea Bridge," "Take the "A" Train," and "Lush Life"), died at age 51 from esophageal cancer. That's 30 years of additional songwriting stolen from us by disease.

I would suggest that, without smoking, there would be a whole lot more jazz.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:15 AM on August 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


> That's 30 years of additional songwriting stolen from us by disease.

Not that it's a fair trade-off or anything, but it did inspire Strayhorn to write Blood Count, so there's that.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:25 AM on August 5, 2010


Despite his best efforts, and though inspired by a deep-rooted spiritual conversion, he was never able to quit smoking.

That's your characteraization: "he was never able to quit smoking." He didn't quit smoking; that doesn't mean he wasn't able.
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:28 AM on August 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


You are a rich wealthy white guy with access to top rate medical care and a book deal.

I should have known that, somehow, we'd find a way to bring his whiteness into this. Being rich gives him have access to health care; being white doesn't. I wish Metafilter would stop using "white" as a veiled putdown.
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:30 AM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is such unadulterated horseshit.

Is it?

It is rather nice that you repeatedly link to a study funded by Philip Morris. Hey, here's some quotes about the researcher's work as a scientist:

“The study is fundamentally flawed.” --British Medical Association

“The editors believe that this opinion piece is full of speculative assumptions of doubtful scientific value. We could not judge the merits of your criticisms because your own data and methods were so inadequately described. I should add that your article contains pejorative comments that should have no place in responsible scientific discourse.” —Letter from the Journal of the American Medical Association to James E. Enstrom

Have you looked at more recent studies? Here's one from this year that shows increased risk of psychological problems from second-hand smoke. How about one from 2008 that shows reduced fecundity and fetal loss. 2008 - increased risk of diabetes. 2009 -- increased risk of dementia.

Horseshit is an awfully strong word, don't you think?
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:33 AM on August 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


This is such unadulterated horseshit.

Scrolling down on that link, it would seem, FWIW, that many responses to that paper held that view of that article itself.
posted by gspm at 6:37 AM on August 5, 2010


Whenever I hear the absurd debate over the propriety of wishing someone death I think of the great Louis CK great bit on the topic and it puts it all into perspective.
posted by any major dude at 6:38 AM on August 5, 2010


Civil_Disobedient: "because fucks like you sat at the bar filling the lungs with poison to feed your addiction

This is such unadulterated horseshit.
"

Except:

James E. Enstrom, Ph.D., M.P.H., Researcher, Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of California at Los Angeles, and President, Scientific Integrity Institute. Received $150,000 from Philip Morris for a 2003 study on older Californian's mortality and second-hand smoke. (http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/picrender.fcgi?artid=155687&blobtype=pdf and http://legacy.library.ucsf.edu/cgi/getdoc?tid=afk37d00&fmt=pdf&ref=results; accessed 6/12/06) Received research funding from the Electric Power Research Institute for a cohort study (1973-2002) on the effect of fine particulate on mortality. (Inhalation Toxicology. 2005;17:803–16.) (see Integrity in Science Database)

Please, a study funded by a tobacco firm found that tobacco is not as dangerous as we think? Amazing...
posted by NiteMayr at 6:39 AM on August 5, 2010


Being rich gives him have access to health care; being white doesn't.

If you take away the money, then, yes, race has quite a lot of impact on access to health care.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:40 AM on August 5, 2010


fourcheesemac:

"So do you feel bad about driving a fucking car, humanfront? Assuming you drive, you're putting out far more toxins a day than any smoker."

True, but we're not piping the bulk of the toxins directly into people's lungs. A portion of them, yes.

(and for whoever: throat is not the same as esophagus.)
posted by etherist at 6:50 AM on August 5, 2010


AZ: I would suggest that, without smoking, there would be a whole lot more jazz.

I don't know if this is necessarily true. Billy Strayhorn may have lived longer, but without the cigs who knows if he would have produced the work he did.

Again I am reminded of Frank Zappa's comment "It's food".

JON WINOKUR - Have you ever tried quitting?

FRANK ZAPPA - A couple of times. The one time I really tried the hardest was when I had a chest cold and I was in the middle of a tour. We were in Canada and I had to travel every day and sing every night in these cold, hockey rink-type places. I really didn't feel very well and every time I would smoke with this cold it just made it worse. So I decided to try to quit for a while, and I managed not to smoke for about a week or ten days. Then my sense of smell started coming back and the hotel we were staying at, which *looked* okay, actually smelled very, very bad. Something in the hall- the rugs maybe. In fact, the whole world didn't smell very good, and within a week my cold went away and I was smoking again.


Zappa died too young also, but if not for the smoking would he have produced the corpus of work that he did? That is not certain.
posted by three blind mice at 7:38 AM on August 5, 2010


It's really not ever worth it to wish someone would die. I mean, they will. Eventually. They're gonna die. Better save your wishes for world peace or cake (or world annihilation, if that's how you roll).

Hitchens makes an interesting point about cancer - that it's always referred in terms of a battle or a struggle and other diseases don't really get the same treatment. I suppose you could read an obit where someone "battled" heart disease, but it's not really the norm, whereas cancer - it's always "after a long struggle" or "after battling cancer." Makes me think you should get a sword with your diagnosis.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:42 AM on August 5, 2010


Here's one of the last interviews Zappa gave: "It's food. Tobacco is my favorite vegetable" at about 10.20.

That is how a lot of smokers look at it and frankly those of us who do not smoke have no clue what they are talking about. I don't understand it, but I respect it.
posted by three blind mice at 7:46 AM on August 5, 2010


fess up dumb-ass you brought this upon your own self

Wow. By this reasoning, everyone who has contracted pretty much ANY disease is at fault because everything is pretty much bad for you.

AIDS? Risk taking behavior, just roll over and die, you deserve it. Parkinson's? Alzheimer's? Drinking from aluminum cans. Die already. Skin cancer? Well, dumbass, maybe you shouldn't have spent those years outside being a farmer or fisherman, out in the sun. ALL cases of lung cancer? You dirty smoker, we all know it was that and not years of working in shipyards or factories where asbestos rains down from the ceiling. You deserve to die, because I live a better life than you, and you are a bad person for being lesser than me.

Probably the cruelest thing I've heard in a while. GG, you make me sad.
posted by From the Fortress at 7:49 AM on August 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Billy Strayhorn may have lived longer, but without the cigs who knows if he would have produced the work he did.

I would love to hear the mechanism by which smoking becomes creativity. I do not, for one second, believe it exists.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:50 AM on August 5, 2010


Is it?

Yep.

Please, a study funded by a tobacco firm found that tobacco is not as dangerous as we think? Amazing...

Ad hominem much? I'll just let the researches respond for themselves.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:58 AM on August 5, 2010


Well, this is not a discussion of the effect of passive smoking, so I will let it go. This is not my hobby horse, and, even if it were, this is not the thread to ride it in.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:01 AM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would suggest that people bandying about the idea that smokers get what they deserve do not have a very good idea of how karma works - particularly for themselves.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:08 AM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I feel bad for people who died in car wrecks, even though we all know we've got 1:100 odds of dying in one.

Most people die earlier than they otherwise might because of their lifestyle choices. Cast your stone if you're eating nothing but quinoa and broccoli, living in a walkable community, sleeping 10 hours a night and living stress-free.
posted by pjaust at 8:20 AM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Smile! You've got cancer! Cancer is not a problem or an illness – it's a gift. Or so Barbara Ehrenreich was told repeatedly after her diagnosis. But the positive thinkers are wrong, she says: sugar-coating illnesses can exact a dreadful cost
posted by homunculus at 8:26 AM on August 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


There is not much to agree with him on for almost everything these days, but this is terrible. It feels like a whole generation of people who can put their political positions into words instead of feelings, with humour and some self awareness, is disappearing.

Michael Foot dying made me want to cling to anyone willing to state their moral position and stick to it even if I disagree with them. Even to have an articulated ethical position in the first place is getting rarer, or it feels like it. I don't want them to win necessarily, I just want them to be around, being loud and crabby and pointing out hypocrisy where it lives.
posted by shinybaum at 8:43 AM on August 5, 2010


Civil_Disobedient: "Is it?

Yep.

Please, a study funded by a tobacco firm found that tobacco is not as dangerous as we think? Amazing...

Ad hominem much? I'll just let the researches respond for themselves.
"

Read their responses, must have missed the substantive defense for being paid by the very industry they are defending for defending them.

This; however, is a real gem in their defense " Finally, I compare many aspects of ETS epidemiology in the U.S. with pseudoscience in the Soviet Union during the period of Trofim Devisovich Lysenko"

Essentially saying that every other researcher is some kind of braying jackass without providing substantive statements to support it, save a comparison to the very type of scientist he himself is being made out to be, a patron, paid, shill of a scientist.

If you're not familiar with the comparison, (save for Lysenko being a Statist stooge rather than a private one) you may have missed the hilarious tragedy of using him has a deflective argument.

I remain unconvinced that any employee (directly or indirectly) of a given industry would give a substantive or even unbiased paid opinion of that industry. I may know that sitting on my ass in front of a computer is killing me, but I'm not about to publish a paper acknowledging it. No, I'm paid to say the opposite and I suspect, that our Integrity in Science team here is in the same trap.
posted by NiteMayr at 8:47 AM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


humanfont, is that you?
posted by jtron at 9:06 AM on August 5, 2010


I agree with Hitchens maybe half of the time. I grudgingly understand and respect his viewpoint without agreeing with it perhaps another 25% of the time. The remainder I always have the feeling that he phoned that piece of writing in, and that it could have at least joined the latter quarter. But I almost always find his writing to be interesting, original, and often brave. Love or hate his ideas, nevertheless, the world needs people like Hitch. It will be a great loss if Hitch-22 turns out to be a complete recap of his life after all.
posted by rusty at 9:13 AM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


You know, for all Hitchens' bad habits and lack of concern for his health I'd rather spend a year in the company of a "douche-bag" like him than one grim, joyless, miserable second in the company of the sort of finger-wagging, judgemental, neo-puritan douche-baggery typified by a certain comment early in this thread from someone whom I suppose I'd better leave nameless, since I've only just returned to MeFi and I'm trying to be good.
posted by Decani at 10:28 AM on August 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


MetaFilter: one grim, joyless, miserable second in the company of finger-wagging, judgemental, neo-puritan douche-baggery
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:30 AM on August 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


Deserving has nothing to do with it. I have no magical powers standing the sky to bestow punishments on sinners. The Heartmate II keeps the blood flowing through Cheney's body and a drug cocktail sometimes allows the afflicted to walk out of the AIDS hospice. Some will live to see their enemies in the grave and their children happily settled into the fullness of adult hood, others will come from the womb so horribly broken that they are given only a few breaths of life.

Hitchens wrote: "Instead, I am badly oppressed by a gnawing sense of waste. I had real plans for my next decade and felt I’d worked hard enough to earn it. "

You don't earn it. If you want a long life you can play the actuarial tables and stop drinking and smoking; it probably will pay off. No matter how carefully you set the cams and check your gear, some person standing on a cliff in the middle of nowhere might decide at that moment to drop a rock down on your head. You might go out into the wilderness to climb some lonely mountain and end up cutting the rope to drop your companion into the abyss. Days later having mourned him and readying to return to civilization you may see him crawl into camp.

The moment you start thinking you have earned it, you are simply falling for illusions of pride and vanity that cloud your judgment and prevent you from taking the actions which may well p reserve your lifespan. The illusion that you've somehow gained some advantage on the cosmos from your virtue is dangerous and destructive to yourself and others. It leads all kinds of crazy places from the cleric ready to stone the adulterous woman in Iran to the sense that you have your right to foul my food, clothes and lungs with the noxious fumes of your ill considered habit.
posted by humanfont at 10:31 AM on August 5, 2010


humanfont, I was totally with you and then...

It leads all kinds of crazy places from the cleric ready to stone the adulterous woman in Iran to the sense that you have your right to foul my food, clothes and lungs with the noxious fumes of your ill considered habit.

Nope. You lost me.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:33 AM on August 5, 2010


Poor fucker. I think Hitchens is an egomaniac, prone to disguising personal vendettas as politics, and I think that his Iraq War cheerleading is to his lasting discredit and, if he has any left, shame. But I've read him for twenty-five years and I'll probably read Hitch-22 as well. At twenty, I thought Hitchens was worldly, wise, committed, romantic, possessed of a rapier wit, a devastating pen, and an implacable scorn of lies. He was everything I wanted to be. I still think he's some of those things. I'd wish him the best now, but that doesn't mean much, so I'll just hope he gets some good writing out this.
posted by octobersurprise at 10:36 AM on August 5, 2010


I would love to hear the mechanism by which smoking becomes creativity. I do not, for one second, believe it exists.

For better or worse, the creative arts is not dominated by the most mentally stable people. I say this as a member of the creative arts ... You can't just point the finger at smoking. There are reasons why people are driven to create that have correlation with self-destructive behavior. Not everyone, and it's not a rule, but it's not uncommon.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:49 AM on August 5, 2010


No one deserves cancer. No one. It's a horrible fucking disease that slowly (sometimes rapidly and almost always painfully) eats away at your body and soul. It tortures the people who love you because as much as they desperately may want to, they cannot help. Chemotherapy and radition therapy "cures" are often far worse than the disease itself and in many cases merely prolong suffering and postpone the inevitable. Friends and relatives have died from various forms of cancer. I have friends and relatives who are fighting the disease now. I would never wish that on anyone. Nor pray for their deaths, unless doing so would be a mercy.

I have admired Hitchens' facility with words for years, even though I disagreed strongly with much of what they said. I hope he pulls through this.
posted by zarq at 10:57 AM on August 5, 2010


I would love to hear the mechanism by which smoking becomes creativity. I do not, for one second, believe it exists.

For better or worse, the creative arts is not dominated by the most mentally stable people. I say this as a member of the creative arts ... You can't just point the finger at smoking.


If memory serves, tobacco smoking helps "stabilize" (for lack of a better term) the subjective experience of people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Someone with better medical knowledge please correct me if I'm in error.

humanfont: your last comment is inconsistent. Smokers deserve what they get for smoking, but rock climbers dying from rock-climbing accidents is the unpredictable nature of life? Similarly, when you write
The moment you start thinking you have earned it, you are simply falling for illusions of pride and vanity
you seem to be missing a bit of a beam in your eye. "Earned it" by not smoking, for instance?

Additionally, your calls against pride and vanity would seem less risible coming from someone showing any measure of, oh, say, COMPASSION.
posted by jtron at 11:15 AM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


There are reasons why people are driven to create that have correlation with self-destructive behavior.

I have been in the arts for 24 years, and have yet to meet an artist who is improved by self-destruction. If they succeed, it is in spite of it.

I have met many who glamorize their self-destructive tendencies, though. And there is glamor to it. I just prefer they not blow the smoke in my face.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:16 AM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


If memory serves, tobacco smoking helps "stabilize" (for lack of a better term) the subjective experience of people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Interesting. Back in the 70s and early 80s when my mother lived in secure psychiatric units, she would always spend her free time in the smokers lounges - she said they were less fighty even though she didn't smoke. I assumed it was because they were too breathless and unenergetic to work up a decent head of steam. I wonder where psychiatric ward smokers do smoke now that we have all the health regulations.
posted by shinybaum at 11:46 AM on August 5, 2010


Well, with the massive deinstitutionalization in the US, I think they pretty much smoke on the street or wherever they live. Dunno about the wards themselves, though.
posted by jtron at 12:12 PM on August 5, 2010


Hitchens used his formidable skills to campaign against smoking bans which were/are intended to create a safe work environment for restaurant/bar workers - and patrons.

As a frequent patron of bars, but not a smoker, Hitchens was wrong about this


And as a frequent patron of bars but not a smoker, I believe he was right (about this). Guess what? Not everyone agrees with you, just as not everyone feels bad for people who choose to hang out or work in smoke-filled environments and then get sick from it. The dangers of smoke (even second-hand) have been well-known for 40+ years -- it's hard to feel bad for people who choose to ignore them.

As an adult who generally minds my own business and expects others to do the same, I don't want the government to tell other people not to do things they enjoy just because I don't like them.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:23 PM on August 5, 2010


I dislike Hitchens for the usual reasons, but rebuking anyone for bringing on the cancer that will likely kill them is despicable.

My father died from throat cancer that spread to his lungs. He was a heavy smoker and drinker for many years, but it never crossed my mind to shame him for it while he was ill.
posted by jokeefe at 12:49 PM on August 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


his cancer spread from his throat and not his liver.

Drinking alcohol is a risk factor for head and neck cancers. Not just smoking.
posted by Ouisch at 1:24 PM on August 5, 2010


humanfont: your last comment is inconsistent. Smokers deserve what they get for smoking, but rock climbers dying from rock-climbing accidents is the unpredictable nature of life? Similarly, when you write [The moment you start thinking you have earned it, you are simply falling for illusions of pride and vanity] you seem to be missing a bit of a beam in your eye. "Earned it" by not smoking, for instance?

There is no earning it period. There is no deserving it. It is just simple probability. If you drink and smoke heavily; you probably will die from liver failure, cancer, heart disease or stroke earlier than those who didn't. Expecting that you will be an outlier on the graph because of a book deal, or essays you wrote in magazines and the celebrities you hang out with is pretty ridiculous. It opens the door that in fact despite your protestations to be driven by reason and beyond the simple theistic tendencies of your fellow primates you are in fact just another silly monkey flinging shit around the zoo.
posted by humanfont at 2:04 PM on August 5, 2010


Expecting that you will be an outlier on the graph because of a book deal, or essays you wrote in magazines and the celebrities you hang out with is pretty ridiculous.

True enough, but I'm willing to bet that everyone who over indulges imagines they are immune because of their own particularly wonderful qualities. Paul Fussell discusses a similar phenom of men in combat who go from thinking that they will survive because they are younger, faster, smarter, nicer, luckier, better loved, basically more special than the next guy.

They get over it fast, only because things happen faster in combat than in peacetime.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:33 PM on August 5, 2010


I would love to hear the mechanism by which smoking becomes creativity. I do not, for one second, believe it exists.

Since quitting smoking (about a year ago), I find that I am far less likely to write for hours at at time. I suspect it may be a focus thing. I would like to believe this will eventually subside without the introduction of a new set of chemicals, but so far no amount of tea or excercise or herbal supplements seems to help. Not that I am in danger of falling off the wagon. Quitting smoking was too hard to do again. But I used to be able to write pages at a time, barely coming up for air. These days I'm lucky to get 2000 words in a day. And these are projects I'm excited about writing.
posted by thivaia at 2:53 PM on August 5, 2010


I would love to hear the mechanism by which smoking becomes creativity.

Here you go.


posted by IndigoJones at 4:58 PM on August 5, 2010


humanfont
eponantithesis
posted by madamjujujive at 5:42 PM on August 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't want the government to tell other people not to do things they enjoy just because I don't like them.

Yeah, lay off those serial killers. They're just engaging in the pursuit of happiness.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 6:29 PM on August 5, 2010


I'm a drinker, but not a smoker. I'm glad that Australian bars and clubs are now smoke free a) because it's now more pleasant to indulge in my own preferred vice but mostly because b) it's reduced overall smoking, which is a private as well as a public good. Lots of smokers' habits link drinking with smoking; there's that many fewer cigarettes being smoked since the pub bans came in.
I don't want the government to tell other people not to do things they enjoy just because I don't like them
But the Government's expected to pick up the bill for the inevitable cancer treatment and for palliative health care. On that basis the Government has every right to regulate the major risk factors, just as it does with speed limits on roads, helmets for motorcyclists and salt and sugar levels in food.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:38 PM on August 5, 2010


I'm amused at how fast and how far this thread got derailed. Especially since Hitchens is usually enough of a subject himself to keep us occupied for hundreds of comments.
posted by AdamCSnider at 6:51 PM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


AdamCSnider, Hitchens is seriously ill. Wouldn't he want people to support him with a bit of acrimonious, bitter, gratuitously personal argument?
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:58 PM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you drink and smoke heavily; you probably will die from liver failure, cancer, heart disease or stroke earlier than those who didn't.

I don't smoke but I drink and I say GOOD. My fear is dying from alzheimer's. All the better if I go to something else before it hits.

You will always end up on Somebody's List when you die. Whether it's the Cancer List, or the Heart Disease List, or the Kidney Failure List, or whatever. The doctors have their job of shoving you off *their* list onto somebody else's. You still end up on a List, though.

Looks like Hitchens may well end up on the Cancer List. I think in general things are pretty grim if they don't catch it before it has already metastisized. At least one can hope he will not lose his mental sharpness before he leaves us.

I wish him the best.
posted by marble at 7:17 PM on August 5, 2010


You will always end up on Somebody's List when you die. Whether it's the Cancer List, or the Heart Disease List, or the Kidney Failure List, or whatever. The doctors have their job of shoving you off *their* list onto somebody else's. You still end up on a List, though.

Yeah, but I used to drink heavily and smoke like a train, and I decided that some things were not worth dying over. Sooner or later is true. My uncle is permanently tied to an oxygen tank, and is slowly dying because he couldn't quit smoking. He will leave people behind who wish he could have done something about it. My mom, his older sister, is in good health, but she quit smoking back in the '70s. I can't begrudge my uncle his weaknesses, and it does nobody any good to dwell on resentment, but it's not cool watching someone you love waste away at a young age due to an addiction they knew well enough was fatal. My uncle watched his dad die from smoking, my grandfather. He just retired and could have had decades to travel with his wife. I don't want to put other people through that, you understand?

Anyway, I had cancer once, and it had nothing to do with any habits. But I don't want to go through that again knowing I had a hand in bringing it about. It would be too difficult facing other people who would be in pain because of it.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:06 PM on August 5, 2010


Christopher Hitchens talks with Anderson Cooper about cancer, death, God and why you shouldn't believe any stories of a deathbed conversion.

This is a good interview, but damn chemo's done a number on Hitchens.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 11:26 PM on August 5, 2010


My father had a deathbed conversion. It made my mother very happy. That's exactly why he did it.

If I go before her, I suppose I'll do her the same favor.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 5:52 PM on August 6, 2010


The longer cut of the interview is now up on CNN. Anderson Cooper doesn't give up easily on the question of whether Hitchens really does not have a teeny bit of prayer in him.
posted by Anything at 12:57 PM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have been in the arts for 24 years, and have yet to meet an artist who is improved by self-destruction. If they succeed, it is in spite of it.

I wouldn't say anyone is improved by it. However, I would say that in many cases an artist's most interesting work is during difficult periods. That is not to say that self-destruction is a catalyst to creativity. People who deliberately ride this edge in order to live out the sort of life they envision is necessary to being an artist are missing the point.

Someone once asked James Taylor why he didn't write the sort of songs he used to. He said that he wasn't unhappy anymore, and so his songs reflected who he was at this point in time. At one point he went through heroin addiction and some depression issues, which is when he wrote most of the songs we think of as being definitive James Taylor. I would not wish those things on anyone, but his use of music as an outlet did produce some spectacular results. Again, this is not a rule. Dizzy Gillespie warned Miles Davis about this when Miles started to slip into heroin use, which he never fully kicked for the rest of his life. It could be argued that Miles Davis was more groundbreaking and influential, but it's not hard to argue that Dizzy had a happier life.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:58 PM on August 7, 2010


I am not praying for you, Christopher Hitchens! But I do hope it goes as well as is possible.
posted by theredpen at 7:42 AM on August 10, 2010


If you have an hour or so to kill, Charlie Rose's recent interview with Hitchens is as excellent as you'd expect.
posted by dhammond at 7:46 PM on August 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


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