Amidst all the mawkish display of phony thankfulness one is subjected to this time of year, I want to give a small cheer for the articulate, opinionated work of Christopher Hitchens. On Larry’s suggestion, I’ve been reading some of the essays in that doorstop of a collection, Arguably. This morning, I happened on the little gem, “Charles, Prince of Piffle,”  in which Hitchens characterizes Prince Charles as:

“…a morose bat-eared and chinless man, prematurely aged, and with the most abysmal taste in royal consorts,” who “seems to possess the ability to surround himself–perhaps by some mysterious ultra-magnetic force?–with every moon-faced spoon-bender, shrub-flatterer, and water-diviner within range.”

The essay goes on to make a case for the “hard-won principles of reason and science” the prince discredits and to remind us that these principles are bulwarks against religious fanatics.

After this wonderfully acerbic appetizer, the next essay in the book, “Afghanistan’s Dangerous Bet,” is a serious, compelling, scary summary of the tenuous balance between possibility and deadly bureaucratic stupidity in Afghanistan. These few pages did a great deal to elucidate genuine feeling about the importance of what is going on in Afghanistan and the people and contradictions he encountered. Not enough people paid attention to this essay, and things have not gone so well there in the seven years since he wrote it. It ends:

“Afghanistan is not in our past: It’s astonishing inhabitants are our formerly abandoned and now half-adopted relations. And one can so easily fall for a place where everybody thinks about sex, where bombing has blasted a society out of the Stone Age, and where opium is the religion of the people.”

I have fallen for Hitchens, at least to the extent that I am thankful for his acerbic, original voice. Despite his grave illness, I hope he continue to be able to explain the world to us from his particular vantage point for many years to come.

2 thoughts on “Thankful

  1. Hitchens is a wonderful and entertaining comic, but not a deep thinker in my experience. I am grateful for this post, regardless, because it reminded me of a chance encounter I had with ‘His Royal Highness’ the Prince of Wales in 1981 during his visit to UC Berkeley on a diplomatic tour. Prince Charles made a point of walking from Sather Gate past Doe Library and up to the Campanile during the lunch hour, wading into a mixed mob of protesters and royalists. It was pure accident that I met him, and a surprise since his visit was not generally announced. I was leaving Wheeler Hall and noticed the crowd downhill from me. Helicopters overhead. SWAT sharpshooters positioned on every rooftop. I started walking down from Wheeler Hall toward Dwinelle Hall, where I had my next class, hoping to figure out why this river of humanity was blocking my path. Pretty soon I was caught up in the flood of bodies and didn’t know how to escape. After being carried along (slowly) for almost 10 minutes, I was about halfway through my crossing, and that’s when I found myself face-to-face with Prince Charles. He smiled at everyone, completely calm, and he was happily speaking to those in his path and shaking hands. His entourage consisted of four men in British military garb; no sign of US Secret Service. In other words, he was completely exposed to anyone who felt the urge to do him harm. He made eye contact as we shook hands and that’s the moment I recognized him and the cause for such hurly burly. In that same moment, I remember thinking how brave this man must be. What political advantage did such public risk afford him? It wasn’t like he was running for office. When I showed up late for my class, my professor of Spanish gave me a withering look. “I had an important meeting,” I explained, then got to work.

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