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Posted by on Oct 25, 2012 in Blog, Book Reviews, Essays | 0 comments

Staring Death in the Eye and Not Blinking: On Christopher Hitchens and “Mortality”

 

hitchens-book-review

 

Readers and friends, sometimes one and the same, sometimes not, know of my profound affection for the words and ideas of the late writer and polemic Christopher Hitchens.

Hitchens, who died nearly a year ago, penned some 15 books over the course a bombastically bountiful career that spanned nearly three decades — the first half spent in the U.K., the nation of his birth, and the later half in the U.S., the country to which he eventually attached himself as a naturalized citizen.  But his real citizenry was to free thought, ideas, and debate.

His writings which later morphed into hundreds of speeches and lectures, weren’t merely a concoction of loose words and phrases, they were carefully calculated steamrollers which flattened centuries’ accumulation of myths, trouncing the idolatry attached to those he so deservedly disdained, including most famously — Henry Kissinger and Mother Theresa.

Love him or hate him, you had to respect the man everyone who was fortunate enough to be included his inner circle of Vanity Fair elite lovingly called “Hitch.”

Hitch was unquestionably the bravest writer of our generation, almost recklessly unafraid of the fallout he would inevitably encounter for expressing what would both literally and figuratively be blasphemous to all aspects of our popular culture.  I mean, you may not like to hear the things he said or read the things he wrote, and might not agree with the man, but one must admit — it takes balls to tear down Mother Teresa.  Henry Kissinger, less so.

Consider the answer he once gave to a question as to what’s the most overrated virtue.  Without any hestitation or ambiguity, Hitchens roared — “Faith, closely followed – in the overall shortage of time – by patience.”

There would indeed be a sad irony to Hitchens’ blistering answer here, which would be prophetic.  No doubt, Hitchens’ life did finally run out of time, at a far less than complete 62 years.  During the later stages of physical decline, mentally as strong as ever, he expressed his greatest regret at not being able to go another twenty more years, continuing to wage the war against intellectual servitude, where ever he saw it.  And yet, faced with his own impending death and awareness thereof, Hitchens never once wavered from his own faith, a faith not cast towards some imaginary heaven, but the faith focused inward to the self.  Hitchens never compromised his beliefs nor wavered in his consistency.  One had to admire that.

During the final excruciatingly painful year of his life, when he was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus, and as he became increasingly aware of the fate awaiting him which would have no happy ending in spite of all the best doctors and alternative therapies, many who followed his career were eager to see the final fateful chapter played out.  Instigated by his ceaseless bashing of religion with such veracity, some wondered if he might actually undergo a “foxhole conversion.”

That final melancholic year of his life, while being perhaps the most poignant era of his writing and speaking career, was also the most gripping.  It was a car crash, a rubber-necking vouyeristic exercise for many driving by on life’s conjested highway, particularly for those who may have relished in the twisted irony of seeing a man put the ultimate test of his own “faith.”  And that is the faith in one’s own constitution and belief set.  Which, no matter what one’s views, are not always easy things to stand by.

Mortality is the final book written by Hitchens.  It’s a far more personal narrative than anything previously written by the Oxford-educated iconoclast who made a career of arguing with cozy intellectual comfort zone of conventional wisdom.

To those unfamiliar with Hitchens – the man and his writings – the biggest surprise might be the absence of metaphorical violins in the narrative.  Alas, there are no strings attached to these words, though if you admired the man as I did, his brave personal toil ultimately does pull at the heartstrings.  To those more familiar with the man, remaining steadfastly convinced and comfortable with his position on matters of the spirit was hardly a surprise at all.  It was, in fact, to be expected.  It’s a walk to the gallows with a head held high.  Even deviant.

At only 104 pages long, this is by far the shortest book of the author’s career.  One plainly sees this is an incomplete work, just as it should be.  There’s really no way to wrap it all up and put a pretty bow on top, as other memoirs of famous dying people often do, and Hitchens’ previous release Hitch-22 pretty much already covered all the bases of a career from A to Z.  This is a closer examination of the “W-X-Y-Z” period of a man’s existence, embellished with far more personal revelations that previously released.  We all know how this book is going to end, and the engrossment comes not from some 24th-hour surprise or late conversion, but rather from Hitchens’ poignant honesty, his refusal to airbrush his own angst which ultimately becomes the acquiescence of fate.

Indeed, while all of Hitchens other masterful works challenged us to think and taught us how to live, Mortality teaches us how to die, with honesty and dignity, while remaining true to ourselves.  And that might be Hitchens’ most poignant parting gift to us all.

 

hitchens-book-review

 

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Posted by on Sep 18, 2012 in Blog, What's Left | 0 comments

R.I.P. Steve Sabol — NFL Films

 

 

Pro football lost a giant of a man today.

He wasn’t a player.  He never coached.  You rarely saw his face.

But you must certainly know his astonishing body of work which spanned more the four decades, and which left an indelible impression on the game that’s now been America’s real ‘national pastime” for two generations.

Steve Sabol was the architect of NFL Films.  Together with his late father, Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Ed Sabol, the first family of NFL historians made football into something far more than just a game.

They made football into art.  Their productions were grand theater on the gridiron.  Many of their shows were inspirational and epic.  Everything they did set the bar higher, not just in sports journalism but in all media.

Their narrative often accompanied by blaring trumpets, NFL Films programming was often better than the actual games they covered.  They created legends out of players and coaches most of us had never heard of.  They tore down myths.  Indeed, Steve Sabol wore many hats — writer, historian, filmmaker, journalist, announcer and marketer.  Everything he did showed pro football in a more interesting light.

Steve Sabel’s body of work is extraordinary.  Dating back to his early days as a rival-league AFL cameraman during the mid-1960s, Sabol used his natural talents and creative energies to push the bounds of sports coverage into something grander and greater.  He not only helped to transform many athletes into heroes and legends.  More important, he made them human.

All NFL fans everywhere owe a great debt of gratitude to the late Steve Sabol.  He passed away today at the age of 69.

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Posted by on Sep 3, 2012 in Blog, Rants and Raves, What's Left | 2 comments

Breaking News: Deranged Fuck Dies

Deranged Religious Leader

 

In case you missed the news, a sick fuck named Sun Myung Moon died today.

Moon was best known not only as the creator of the Unification Church, but for claiming to the entire world that he is/was the messiah.

People, I am not making this up.

That’s right — some crazy fuck living over in South Korea actually woke up one day when he was in his 20s and thought he was on par with Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, and Donald Trump.  Seems this Korean guy was pretty powerful, or at least was persuasive as hell, since he ended up with so many adoring followers.  Estimates are that Moon had about seven million believers in his line of bullshit.

Moon’s millions of fantatics became better known as “Moonies,” an appropriate sticker since just about all of them might as well have been living on the moon.  The accounts of what this beast did to his devotees are well-publicized, so I won’t launch into a lengthy tirade here — as appetizing at that propsect might be.  However, all one must do to measure the degree of brainwashing that this deranged man had on disciples is to recall the horrific mass marriages that he and his church arranged.

That’s right — arranged.

In a ritual right out of the Middle Ages, the Unification Church held mass “weddings” with stadiums full of followers, joined in matrimony by a sick fuck standing at the podium.  Many of the young people who came to the ritual to be married at the instruction of this wacko church had never met the person they were about to marry.  You can imagine the pain and misery of such a medieval practice.  Again, this is all documented.

A few years ago, this man wed 360,000 couples in one mass ceremony.  That’s not a typo.  360,000!  Imagine getting stuck with that fucking bill.  What did they do for a wedding cake — invade fucking China?

How’d you like to be the guy who owns the tux rental shop down the street from the stadium?  That guy must have made a killing!

So, might there be any possibility that this self-described “messiah” really was who he says?  You know — the Korean commoner born when his nation was under Japanese rule, the man burned through two wives, the man who evaded his taxes, the man who served time in prison, the man with a child out of wedlock, and the man who is alleged to have built his vast empire by getting his followers to fork over all their money to the church?  Out of six billion people on the planet, this was God’s “chosen one?”

If Moon is who he claims to be, then I’m in some serious trouble.  Or, at least my soul is in serious trouble.  It’s going to end up looking like a charred sirloin at the Outback Steakhouse.  But hey, I’ll take my chances.  Make mine medium-rare, Rev. Moon.

If all this sounds mean spirted, I do not mean it to be so.  But when some joker claims to be “God” and then wrecks the lives of millions of susceptible people with his preposterous teachings about the world and who he is, such a death does not desere respect nor sanctity.  Instead, this deranged fuck’s life and mass charade should be exposed for what it is.

An abomination.

Rev. Sun Myung Moon, may you not rest in peace.  May all the lies you have propagated upon millions be buried forever.

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Posted by on Aug 23, 2012 in Blog, Book Reviews, Essays | 2 comments

Remembering “Doctor Love” — Leo Buscaglia

 

Dr. Love Photo

 

I chose to define courage differently than most.

To many, courage is associated with conflict.  The most obvious example of conflict occurs with war.  Sometimes brave acts are performed by extraordinary people in the most trying of circumstances which, no doubt, merits the badge of courage.

But courage is manifested in other ways, as well.  In more everyday settings, not by brave soldiers, but by common people.  By us and people like us.

Alas, we all have the capacity to perform courageous acts and be courageous.  Our challenge is to avoid taking the easy road in life and pursuing the paths of greatest resistance.  To do the things that are the most difficult.  To stand for the things that are least popular.  To fight for the things that are noble and good.

Indeed, courage can manifest itself in much simpler ways.  It need not be a grandiose undertaking.  It need not be associated with parades of publicity.  Rather, some of the most meaningful acts of courage begin with a simple spoken word, a phone call, a smile, or a touch.  Which is not to say these simple acts of kindness are easy.  Some are painstakingly difficult.  Which is what makes them courageous.

The man I’m writing about today spoke, wrote, and lived with passion.  Sadly, he  is no longer with us.  But his many inspirational thoughts and ideas remain with us.  They have become his legacy.  They were his gift to us.  One of the most profound things he wrote was the following:

“It’s not enough to have lived.  We should be determined to live for something.  May I suggest that it be creating joy for others, sharing what we have for the betterment of personkind, bringing hope to the lost and love to the lonely.”

What a beautiful idea.

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Posted by on Aug 2, 2012 in Blog, What's Left | 0 comments

An Intellectual Lion: Gore Vidal (1925-2012)

Gore Vidal Photo

 

Gore Vidal died yesterday.

In obituaries which appeared over that last 24 hours, he’s been described as a writer and protagonist.

He wrote.

He ran for office (losing both times).

He commented.

He thought.

And, he provoked — and he certainly did that far better than most.

Like his more recent now deceased contemporaries Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, and William F. Buckley and in the mold of great thinkers of yesteryear such as H.L. Mencken, Upton Sinclair, and even Mark Twain, he was a fixture on the intellectual circuit.  He basked in the spotlight in a time when writers were afforded the same celebrity as rock stars.  One colleague pined, “he was the man who knew everyone.”

Vidal was a wildly controversial figure, no doubt.  Audiences — those who cared enough about society and culture to follow his ceaseless parade of provocation, now increasingly dissolved in what’s spawned into a grotesque 140-character Twitterized world — would describe his ideas as eccentric and hopelessly out of touch.

As if that’s a “bad thing.”

To the contrary.  We need more eccentrics.  We need more thinkers who are out of touch.  And, we need more Gore Vidals.  And sadly, we now have one less.

The intent of a great writer and meaningful prose should not be — to be right all the time.  Writing, discussion, debate, inquiry, and ultimately provocation is not about prim and proper conformity to expectations and comfort zones.  Indeed, great writers should shun such a horrifying prospect.  You will forgive me for admitted bias, but whatever inside the box “is,” the thinker should be standing on the outside and perhaps as far away from the middle as possible.  And few stood any further from the apex of old-fashioned traditions as Gore Vidal.

Indeed, great writer does not necessarily implant what one must think.  But he (or she) should inspire one TO THINK.

There is a profound difference.  And no one understood that different better than Vidal and his fellow lions of intellect.

Gore Vidal did plenty of thinking, urging others to contemplate their own existence, their own sense of right and wrong, during an 86-year adventure, ultimately a fruitful life filled with the handiwork of books, plays , articles, essays , debate appearances, speeches, and participation in all forums which encouraged the free exchange of ideas.

This has been a tough year for writers, no doubt.  Eight months ago, we lost Christopher Hitchens, a thinker of extraordinary immensity.  Now, we have lost another.

Although I never met Vidal, I think of myself as someone who knew him — through his words and ideas.  Perhaps his greatest contribution and of those like him was to inspire others to carry on and push the envelope of ideas, to challenge conventionalism, and blaze new paths towards enlightenment.

In your memory, Mr. Vidal.  Thank you.

 

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