Saturday, July 11, 2009

More on Hitchens

A few more thoughts on Christopher Hitchens ...

In my previous post I failed to mention how rough he looked. He limped out to the podium, the result of a spider or insect bite on his leg. He appeared to be sweating profusely, and didn't seem quite as quick on his feet as the one time I'd seen him speak before. But he managed to stay articulate and sharp through it all.

The questions asked to him were moderated, and they were pretty much all softballs. No questions regarding the legitimacy of the Iraq war were posed.

I find him a far stronger journalist than forecaster. Not many risk their well being to sneak into North Korea to offer first-hand reporting. Fewer than that have themselves voluntarily water boarded.

The times when he simply describes the atrocities of these regimes and leaves it to the reader/listener to decide how to act are, in my opinion, his strongest moments. And in this talk he pretty much did just that - he didn't offer much in the way of recommendations on what the U.S. or the any other nation should do in response to North Korea or Iran.

But when he starts trying to extrapolate how likely a country is to develop nuclear arms, or what they will do when they get them, I just don't think he's got a better idea than anyone else.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Hitchens in Palo Alto

I organized an event with a local atheist group to go see Christopher Hitchens in Palo Alto last night. The talk was hosted by the Commonwealth Club but not advertised very much - I stumbled across the event on GoldStar about 5 days earlier.

He only spoke for about an hour. The topic was "Iran, Iraq, North Korea". When I mentioned the talk to Derek he predicted Hitchens would mention that he's the only writer to have visited all 3 countries, and he did so in about the first 30 seconds. He told several interesting stories of totalitarianism in all 3. These that stand out in my mind:
  • Iraq - The tale of Hussein's cold-blooded rise to power (related here in an Atlantic article), noting the similarities to mafia tactics.
  • North Korea - The almost comical similarities to Orwell's 1984.
  • Iran - He was mostly hopeful in discussing Iran, noting that it is a moderate country ruled by an extreme minority, and the demographics are shifting the right way (something like half the country is under 25). He made a similar point of Palestine.
His overarching them was that any government that considers its people iis property are dispicable, and we should not shy from labeling them as evil.

Overall it was good, but short. He didn't mentioned any major ideas I hadn't read or heard before. He made the requisite joke about whiskey. But he's smart and articulate and funny and skeptical, so I dig him.

After the talk we had a lively discussion at a local pub.