A Few Words On Christopher Hitchens’ Fondness for Noam Chomsky

Christopher Hitchens’ obsession with Noam Chomsky will fascinate anyone with even a remote interest in psychology. The fixation almost has the quality of a jealous admirer racked by childhood insecurities. Amidst all the horror and bloodshed that envelopes the world, one wonders why Hitchens devotes his energies to denouncing a man whose syllogisms Hitchens once described as “train-wrecked.” After all, if Chomsky’s stupidities are as self-evident as Hitchens suggests, it would appear that Hitchens is insulting his readers by undertaking the task of refuting them in the first instance. Does not idiocy speak for itself? Perhaps Mr. Hitchens is riddled with guilt in his most private moments; how could the man who served as the most obnoxious propagandist for the moral catastrophe in Iraq not be consumed by self-hatred? Does Chomsky’s repeated insistence that the United States carried out an indefensible crime that erased hundred of thousands of Iraqi lives and permanently disfiguring millions more, constitute a painful reminder of Hitchens own moral failures? Does Hitchens worry that he will largely be remembered for the slew sophistries he spoke in defense of this century’s most grotesque and illegal war, and little else?

It appears that in an effort to cope with his own demons, Hitchens delights in heaping scorn upon those who refuse to submit to his imbecilities. Because Chomsky’s political influence is profound, and his credentials unimpeachable, Hitchens cannot ignore the MIT scholar, no matter how much he insists that Chomsky’s writings appeal only to the most naive among the human race. I suspect I am not alone in my belief that it requires considerable eye strain to go through Hitchens’ political writings and, with a machete, hack away at all of the irrelevancies that make an ugly mess of whatever issue he appears to be commenting on. It is no exaggeration to say that often as much 60 or 70 percent of his essays are filled with digressions of the most bizarre sort. Hitches knows that rhetorical chaos is highly effective means by which to avoid a disciplined discussion. His recent piece on Noam Chomsky in Slate Magazine constitutes a paradigmatic example of a writer so preoccupied with offering “eloquent” theater to his audience that basic standards of intellectual integrity are treated with contempt. It will be useful to say a few words (Chomsky’s article may be found here).

True to form, Hitchens’ piece is tastefully titled, “Chomsky’s Follies: The Professor’s pronouncements about Osama Bin Laden are stupid and ignorant.” He leads his essay by noting that “anybody” who has visited the Middle East has surely met an unruly Arab who exults in the September 11th massacre while simultaneously laying blame on the “Jews.” The comment, of course, is inserted for the express purpose of caricaturing Chomsky’s argument and confusing readers into believing that Chomsky subscribes to the fantastical lie that 9-11 was “justified.” Later, the irrelevancies begin to pile on with astonishing frequency as he discusses David Shayler (who the hell is that?), Michael Moore, Gore Vidal’s “croaking” insinuations, and again, yet another entire paragraph devoted to a lunatic fringe that believes 9-11 was a self-inflicted wound carried out by the Pentagon. Hitchens’ bouts with attention deficit disorder could not be more obvious. After all, doesn’t Hitchens’ title suggest that his task is to expose Chomsky’s follies? There is nothing offered by way of organized argument and or a desire to seriously engage the Professor, but rather the kind of cheep innuendo that has become Hitchens’ signature trait. What is incredible is that after pursuing these red herrings with great earnestness, Hitchens, from time-to-time, includes a caveat that Chomsky doesn’t really subscribe to these absurdities. He notes, for instance: “It’s no criticism of Chomsky to say that his analysis is inconsistent with that of other individuals and factions who essentially think that 9/11 was a hoax.” Hitchens has literally said nothing in the essay, so far as one can tell.

In the face of all this wreckage, however, a disciplined reader can perhaps extract at least one argument on behalf of Hitchens (even here the term “argument” is being employed in its most charitable sense). Hitchens appears to be horrified by Chomsky’s belief that due process, the rule of law, and elementary fairness should guide one’s moral principles rather than ugly appeals to nationalism. Notably, Hitchens ignores the bulk of Chomsky’s commentary and chooses, instead, to center his analysis on the one comment that was sure to arouse the most hysterical response, namely Chomsky’s claim that Bin Laden should have been brought before an international tribunal (a right afforded to the worst criminals in Nazi Germany), particularly if an armed commando of some 80 Navy Seals could have likely apprehended the suspect without incident, as many credible reports suggest.

Hitchens notes that the evidence against Bin Laden is built upon such incontrovertible foundations that, to even suggest that the US’ public pronouncements regarding OBL’s role in 9-11 should have been aired in court, with the criminal present, is sheer lunacy. He poses a string of rhetorical questions, asking whether the Professor has bothered reading the 9-11 Commission’s findings, the journalistic reporting of Peter Bergen, Lawrence Wright and others, and taken the time to watch videos in which Bin Laden purportedly appears with some of the 9-11 hijackers, all of which convincingly demonstrate OBL’s exact role in 9-11. Hitchens fails to comprehend that it is perfectly unnecessary to speculate about these matters (although I suspect that Chomsky intimately familiar with all of these evidences), as none of them lead to the conclusion he hopes for: namely that vigilante-style execution is justified.

Let us review the record in the present hour and then return to Hitchens main “thesis” to assess whether one can speak with any degree of confidence on matters at issue. Perhaps the only thing that can be said with certainty is that there now exists a slew of narratives that offer a remarkably inconsistent picture of the entire Bin Laden affair. Restricting oneself only to the events of the past week, consider the following: how does one credibly reconcile the highly contradictory portraits painted by the US and Pakistani governments a mere 24 hours after the assassination, which are inconsistent both internally as well as vis-à-vis one another? Did US and Pakistani intelligence agencies have joint knowledge of OBL’s whereabouts months before the operation, as many reports suggest? If so, did the United States pre-empt Pakistan’s role in the assassination merely to monopolize on the political capital and international prestige that was guaranteed to inure? Was the notorious criminal armed, or shot in “cold blood,” as Alan Dershowitz suggested? Did OBL reside in Pakistan for years, or was his arrival far more recent, and on what basis can either claim be maintained beyond mere assertion? Did Pakistan provide the United States with permission to enter its inviolable territory in accord with a “hot pursuit” clause, or is this a figment of US imagination, as many Pakistan officials insist? If the United States had the opportunity to seize Bin Laden, and if he indeed remained the most formidable threat to US national security, why didn’t the United States interrogate him for months to extract what surely would have yielded excellent intelligence? Why was the suspect’s body dumped into the sea before being subjected to forensic testing, which would have resolved disputes regarding the circumstances under which he was shot? Was OBL still involved in orchestrating high-profile massacres, or had he been rendered operationally defunct and hence merely in survival mode? If it is the latter, did the Obama administration act in the “national security interests” of the United States by entering into the sovereign territory of a state equipped with the world’s fifth largest army and nuclear warheads to carry out an extra-judicial murder in the dead of night?

In the face of these and many other unanswered questions, and despite the United States’ established record of fabricating heroic military incidents out of whole cloth (i.e. the Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch affair, to name only the most recent), Hitchens thinks we can be confident about the US’s public pronouncements on Bin Laden. Is Hitchens serious, or has he taken comedy to another level? That is, simply on the narrow issue of the facts surrounding Bin Laden’s assassination, there is a shocking degree of confusion and contradiction at every turn; yet Hitchens insists that the public can speak with unwavering confidence about Bin Laden’s precise role in perpetrating the greatest massacre on American soil. Can he explain, in rational and organized way, why he believes this? Does Hitchens maintain that the American public should swallow, without a hint of suspicion, every press release that issues from the very government that lead the nation into the most embarrassing war in modern history? Even if one imputes the best of intentions to the US government, did not example of Iraq show that government “intelligence” is susceptible to error of the worst sort? How does he explain the Pentagon’s massive cover-up of the recent pre-mediated murders of unarmed civilians  in Afghanistan, as reported by Rolling Stones Magazine? Should this incident inspire heightened confidence in the military apparatus? What about the scandals at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, even more confidence? Furthermore, would the investigative reporting and video footage Hitchens cites to cure any and all potential deficiencies in government intelligence? How would he deal with “mass of evidence” that undercuts the findings of the journalists he regards as authoritative?

In short, it is precisely because government intelligence is notoriously unreliable, and information in the public record so inconsistent, that a criminal trial should have been held to give the American people a full picture of Bin Laden’s culpability in the 9-11 horror. To raise these questions is not to nurture conspiracy theories, but merely to defend the rule of law and afford Americans and, indeed the world’s citizens, a complete unveiling of Bin Laden’s machinations. It seems to me perfectly reasonable that American citizens should maintain a healthy balance between denial and conspiracy theory on the one hand, and servile acceptance of the any government’s public pronouncements, be it Pakistan or the United States.  I wonder if Mr. Hitchens would be willing to furnish his personal analysis of the evidence he knows so intimately so that it may be subjected to public scrutiny. His clumsiness is apparent when he writes, “However, it is remarkable that [Chomsky] should write as if the mass of evidence against Bin Laden has never been presented or could not have been brought before a court.” Can Hitchens corroborate the incredible claim that Chomsky believes the evidence “could not have been brought before court?” Why would the Professor argue in favor of an international criminal trial, if not for the express purpose of allowing evidence to be brought before a competent court?

Consider also the following: only hours after news of OBL’s death surfaced, Hitchens’ close friend, Salman Rushdie, called on the nations of the world to declare Pakistan and its 170 million inhabits a “terrorist state.” Note that Rushdie based his entire plea on the hollowest conjecture and a foundation of “facts” that, as noted above, are mired in inconsistency. It is only if one uncritically accepts every statement from the White House, and denies anything to the contrary, that Rushdie’s outrageous speculations can be sustained. Moreover, the implications of Rushdie’s public statement would surely have tragic consequences for the civilian population of Pakistan, as the example of Cuba and Iraq amply demonstrate. Upon declaring a Pakistan terrorist entity, the US would likely proceed in the usual manner: a sustained boycott and economic strangulation designed to punish, famish, and terrorize the people of Pakistan. Why did Hitchens allow Rushdie’s reckless stupidity to go uncontradicted and instead choose to focus on Chomsky’s rather banal comment about bringing Bin Laden before an international tribunal, much like his Nazi predecessors? Again, why the obsession with Noam Chomsky?

What I have presented here is only a sample of Hitchens silliness. At one point he states, without a hint of irony, that Chomsky still enjoys “some” reputation as a public scholar and intellectual. This, he says, about an international icon who was conferred MIT’s highest professorial honor, holds honorary degrees from every one of the world’s best universities, and has received numerous prestigious scientific prizes from every quarter of the world. I wonder if Hitchens can point to equivalent credentials—his scholarly contributions to Vanity Fair Magazine, perhaps?

A final word, if only for my own amusement: in the signature pose of a narcissist, Hitchens appears on the cover of his book, Letters to a Young Contrarian, in ruffled trench coat with a cigarette dangling from his hand. Whether one should respond to such imagery with pity or laughter is not altogether clear. But what is beyond argument is that few public “intellectuals” today exhibit a self-absorption as profound and unjustified as Christopher Hitchens. Having read Hitchens for ten years, I have made many heroic attempts to give him the benefit of the doubt—perhaps there really is some hidden political genius that lies beyond the verbosity and hysterical ranting, I thought. But I’m afraid the poor fellow has again-and-again shown himself to be a model charlatan. His recent diatribe on Chomsky is but one example of the kind of excitability, hotheadedness, and utter lack of self-control that has earned Hitchens such impressive notoriety.

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71 Responses to A Few Words On Christopher Hitchens’ Fondness for Noam Chomsky

  1. James says:

    You are right that Hitchens wanders pretty far from Chomsky’s position to all the way to deniers of 9/11. But you must admit that Chomsky is crazy to equate George Bush with Nazis. Since Chomsky has gone senile, he likes to compare lots of people to Nazis. Here is another one:

    Noam Chomsky Compares Right-Wing Media to Nazi Germany

    • Peter says:

      I hate and avoid Nazi analogies or comparisons as much as anyone, including those from “my side,” but I have to say, after viewing this video, that I see no evidence of Chomsky (1) comparing Bush to Hitler, (2) going senile, or (3) drawing close comparisons between today’s right-wing media figures and the Nazis – at least twice saying he didn’t want to draw the analogies too closely. What he said was that both offered wrong, but “coherent” explanations, despite their failures to connect with the real world or with logic. The Nazis claimed “the Jews” owned everything and were responsible for the evils of both capitalism AND communism. The Right in this country, especially the TV and radio talk-show media blowhards, claim the Liberals own everything, especially (and ironically) the media and are trying to take the country away from its rightful owners – implying “we the people,” but really meaning the corporate warfare-state power elite. They even defend tax cuts and special breaks for the rich, with “first they came for the rich … then they’ll come for you.” (I paraphrase Howard Fineman’s reporting on the subject.)

      So yes, James, one can draw SOME legitimate parallels without going over to the dark (or silly) side of saying “Rush (or Savage or Beck or Hannity) is like Hitler.” And Chomsky here has clearly not gone over to that side.

      • Joseph Miller says:

        Peter’s right, I could compare the police force to soldiers in the nazi army in the following way, ‘having to follow orders without question leads to abuse.’ Well this is an institutional feature that is the same, but this is not drawing deeper and more nonsensical comparisons like the police force have killed 6 million Jews. You seem to be making this mistake in regard to Chomsky.

    • Mike C says:

      Chomsky is speaking of the Weimarization of disenfranchized groups such as the Tea Party. A very reasonable observation. Bush’s name didn’t even come up.

    • I’d like to see a debate between Chomsky and Hutchens. I bet Hutchens would never agree to it, though.

    • Mazdak says:

      If that’s ‘senility’ then the entire world should be senile. Chomsky is as clear-headed as ever. Listen carefully and study history. He is absolutely correct; fascism provided an answer to the masses that were enfranchised, and that answer in its logic and structure was very close to the ones the legions of hate mongers are spouting on talk radio and other venues. Note that he is clearly stating that he is saying this by way of analogy, and it’s a very useful one. And where the hell does he even mention Bush and comparing him with Nazis? Why don’t you blowhards learn to listen before spouting stuff. Ironic that this comment comes in a same piece that criticizes Hitchens for misrepresenting Chomsky.

    • bp says:

      James, it’s not Chomsky who “has gone senile,” it’s you who is ignorant. Chomsky talks of Weimar Republic, not Nazi Germany.

    • Atem says:

      James: I am not sure what you were watching but Chomsky is just pointing out the dangers of scapegoating and is drawing an accurate parralel with the scapegoating of the Jews that took place in the Weimar republic. He is just pointing out that these wrong answers to peoples real problems seem plausible when no alternative and more reasonable answers are given. There is nothing senile or crazy in what he is saying; it is entirely sensible.

  2. Meera Ghani says:

    Very well said. Sadly Hitchens has a cult celebrity status especially amongst those who are drawn to provocative rants and emotional outburst. I have yet to find any appeal in what he says or writes. He has never once made me rethink my ideas or political outlook. Unlike Dawkins whose work on evolutionary biology I admire, Hitchens doesn’t have much I can draw from. I respect atheists but using atheism to bash other religions is not the way to go. I say other because I see atheism to be a religion without a divine or supernatural being. Its an ideology just like any other, whether its adherents like to believe that or not.

    People hate Chomsky for being a champion of the left they also despise the fact that sometimes his arguments are picked up by the right to further their agenda, which couldn’t be more different to Chomsky’s views. But what they fail to recognize is that they have their own set of champions in the form of Hitchens and Dawkins whose narratives are often used by the left and the right.

    I just don’t see the world in black and white. One doesn’t have to belong to any one camp….you just need to be open to what others have to say and if you agree with their point of view it should be regardless of what camp they belong to.

    • angryrat says:

      Good comment, except for the atheism part… calling atheism a religion is -as others already said- is like calling not collecting stamps is a hobby. It’s not just play with words -it’s a very important distinction. Having said that as an atheist, Dawkins leaves a bad taste in my mouth, too…

      • Anonymous says:

        I disagree with your analogy, atheism is not just the failure to do something, it is a assertion concerning the nature of the Universe, sounds a lot like a belief system, and that’s damn close to a religion.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Great read. And yes, Hitchens is a charlatan who wants to whitewash his responsibility in supporting a criminal war.

  4. Anonymous says:

    The intellectual contortions that you conspiracy theorists go to in order to justify your paranoid ideology always amazes me. The fact that all the evidence (including his own confession) points to OBL’s planning and executing the 911 terrorist act will never be accepted by you, because it doesn’t fit your paradigm of an always misleading, conniving and mostly evil U.S. government. You appear to be an intelligent person who apparently wasted many hours writing a defense of an indefensible position. I suggest spending your time doing something else worthwhile.

    • Calvin says:

      Chomsky doesn’t believe that Osama Bin Laden is guilty. Chomsky merely believes Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat, the fundamental legal principal that one is innocent until proven guilty. OBL has copped to orchestrating 9/11, an act he admires. Claiming responsibility for an act one did not commit is not unprecedented. Also, one of the points is that if the US were to engage in due process as it is legally obligated, Bin Laden would likely reveal CIA connections and/or the fact that much of Al Quada and the Taliban were taught terrorist tactics in the Mujahideen by the CIA. Likewise, it is probably that Saddam Hussein’s show-trial was such in order to prevent Hussein from having a global stage from which to bring up his personal and amiable relationship with Donald Rumsfeld, or the fact that the US supplied Saddam with the helicopters and gas he used to carry out genocide against the Kurds as Colin Powell acknowledged to the press at the time.

  5. A Soldier says:

    As is always the case, the reflexive and reactionary extremes on the left and right react with frothiness and spittle to any critique of their demigods. Anyone who dares to criticize the deity Chomsky is summarily dismissed as a ‘supporter of a criminal war’ by people who have never seen war or even met an Iraqi.

    You’re clown shoes. Hitchens is the finest essayist on the planet, the finest intellectual alive, and Chomsky is unable to hold his jock with a crane.

    • Calvin says:

      Can you back up one iota of what you’ve said?

    • Peter says:

      One thing the author of this article failed to note was that Hitchens’s original piece on Chomsky claimed that the professor had dared to compare Al-Qaeda’s demolition of the Twin Towers with President Clinton’s bombing of a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan. The fact is, Chomsky never made that claim – it was Hitchens, in his earlier left-wing incarnation, who did.

      And yes, Hitchens did “support… that criminal war.” What part of that statement do you disagree with? Hitchens did support the invasion of Iraq, so I guess you’re taking issue with its “criminal” characterization. Just what part of it was legal? Just to take one, but the major, point: It was a war of aggression (more politely termed a war of choice), which the international laws that the U.S. helped write after World War II describe as: “not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

      The U.S. asked for, and received, the status of “occupier” from the U.N., then proceeded to violate many of the laws governing the behavior of an occupier, including radically altering the occupied nation’s economic system (Paul Brenner’s privatization and “flat tax” fiats, just to name two).

      Then, of course, there’s torture, which Pres. Bush and Defense Secy. Rumsfeld have already admitted they authorized (though they refused to use that word, of course) – violating the Geneva Conventions on torture, ratified by Congress and signed by Pres. Reagan. The treaty forbids “violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture” or “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment” and closes with the most eloquent sentence in the history of legal language – eloquent for its simplicity in a field noted for its obscurity: “There are no exceptions.”

    • Peter says:

      Despite the length of my previous reply, I still have to take another exception: to your “summary dismissal” of Chomsky’s defenders as “people who have never seen war or even met an Iraqi.” While Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, might have met an Iraqi (Ahmed Chalabi, maybe? or maybe you have Rumsfeld’s friendly meeting with Saddam Hussein in mind?), none of them served in wartime (Cheney never served at all) and none of them ever saw a war.

      A number of anti-war journalist have seen war and met Iraqis – Naomi Klein, Jeremy Scahill and Robert Fisk come to mind, but I’m sure there are many more. But really what was the point of your childish macho posturing? Or have I answered my own question?
      But really, what was the point

    • samy says:

      Well, if you have read his latest slate peace, and you don’t see that he is misinterpreting Chomsky in a way that is incredible and further that he is smart enough to know that, if you don’t see through the absolutist arguments for the iraq war, i just rest my case. But maybe you should ask yourself for one second not just if hitchens r e a l l y is a free moral person, but if y o u are a free moral person without the need of the glorification of a personal hero but with the ability to even critizise his views and to even condemn h i s follies.

    • anonymous says:

      http://www.iraqbodycount.org/

      Stay classy, “soldier”

    • angryrat says:

      You forgot to put the “/s” at the end.
      Here; I fixed it for you.

    • Miguel says:

      You’re doing the exact same thing you’re blaming others for, dude. Hitchens is apparently your “demigod”.

      Suffice it to say, people argue against Hitchens claims of Chomsky because they genuinely believe that he is flat out wrong.

  6. Sayeed says:

    It’s always a pleasure to find Hitchens punctured with gaping holes so large through which one could drive a coach and three horses. The man’s poor health has colonised his brain and threatens to undo him. Poor widdle thing.

  7. Pingback: A Few Words On Christopher Hitchens’ Fondness for Noam Chomsky (via Blood is No Argument) | Rolandrjs's Blog

  8. John Wallace says:

    Why is Hitchens considered a scholar, lol what has he published???? Great essayist??? To be a great essayist requires the putting forth of truly remarkable ideas. Hitchens Decorates filler with amazing command of the english language. No one is going to debate, that Hitchens can make even the silliest idea seem deep and profound with remarkable eloquence. But if one were to strip away frosting, you’ll find really crappy cake. To even put Hitchens name in the same sentence as Chomsky is an incredible disservice to Chomsky. I mean Hitchens wrote for vanity affair, lol I could probably write for Vanity affair.

    • Meshack says:

      Chomsky’s contributions to linguistics earns him an undeterred legitimacy in his field..transferring that legitimacy to his opinions about geopolitical issues is a great mistake…Hitchens has significant credibility in dealing firsthand with war and foreign relations issue..He is an autodidact who has been in the left camp for a considerable period, and you cannot compare with the disengagement of disciplined scholarship that Noam Chomsky has much waddled in

      • Tietsu says:

        I’ve always had a great issue of Chomsky’s geopolitical credentials. This weird transference of weight from one’s studies to one’s opinions.

  9. Jeff Hoffman says:

    Maybe in the hereafter he’ll run into one or more of the conveniently ignored innocent dead from the war he advocated and offer up his half baked but eloquent explanation.

  10. Doug Tarnopol says:

    Two poems that might be relevant, by yours truly:

    1. On Chomsky

    The father of modern linguistics
    Marshaled with facts and statistics
    A crushing critique
    Of his country’s mystique
    That commissars met with ballistics.

    The commissars hated his bent
    But failed to dispel his dissent
    Which spread like the flu
    ‘Cause everyone knew:
    Elites manufacture consent.

    Disciples anew gain in traction
    Which drives the elites to distraction.
    As Chomsky insists,
    His value consists
    In organizational action.

    Disciples of old kill the father.
    You wonder why any would bother.
    To do such a murder
    Could not be absurder
    Since all that is shown is their pother.

    This classic reaction formation,
    A typically strong indication
    Of blessings denied
    By mentors who eyed
    Their progeny once with elation,

    Accounts for the whole situation.
    Like Hitchens’ most recent creation:
    A bargain-rack Blair
    With none of the flair —
    A bar mitzvah boy in deflation.

    Yes, Chomsky’s a man and thus flawed.
    His acolytes are overawed.
    But as Orwell said
    Of Gandhi’s life’s thread,
    There’s far less to blame than to laud.

    So, now let me end with a mention
    Of Chomsky’s most precious extension
    Of wisdom long noted
    Which ought to be quoted
    Until you are sure of retention.

    It’s not about Language or Reason
    Or theories that go out of season
    But, rather, advice
    Astute and precise
    Applicable always, but treason.

    It’s not all that subtle, my pets,
    So proffer I will, with regrets:
    It ought to be clear
    That notions held dear
    View logic and data as threats.

    2. To CH, from His Throat Cancer

    I chose for repose the location
    From which the Great Hitch, with elation,
    Encouraged the slaughter
    Of mother and daughter
    To lubricate word-masturbation.

    Like you, I prefer emulation
    Of Rove’s propaganda creation:
    The cells of disorder,
    Whatever the border,
    Must suffer complete immolation.

    I infiltrate all combinations
    Of cellular organization.
    I stick in your craw,
    Dispense shock and awe,
    Fallujah-like, post-radiation.

    I hope that my peregrination
    Before it destroys cogitation
    Enforces this view:
    The cancer is you
    And all who would rise to your station.

    • Spencer J Follows says:

      Composing a limerick about another person’s cancer? I hope I never sink as low.

      • Doug Tarnopol says:

        You might take some thought for the cancers, deaths, dismemberments, and so forth that Hitchens cheerled with notable savagery and vitriol in your search for things to be outraged about. Having supported an egregious example of “the supreme crime,” he’s fully earned the disgust he’s engendered; the truth hurts.

      • Spencer J Follows says:

        I think you’re in danger of being swallowed up by your own bitterness Doug. Hitchens clearly did no such thing – he was for the removal of Saddam Hussein because he believed (rightly or wrongly) that more lives would be spared by this course of action in the long-run and the world would be a safer place.

        Anyway, you may hate him for it and you may be right to do so, but your self-righteousness seems a little shallow whilst rejoicing in another’s suffering.

        It’s also a little bizarre that you would think I am on a “search for things to be outraged about”; especially when one considers how nonsensical that would be, and the fact that your little poem didn’t anger me at all – I just felt disgust more than anything, and pity, that someone could get their kicks in such a way. Hope that clarifies.

  11. mojo.rhythm@gmail.com says:

    Very cogent article Abid Qureshi, and extremely well written I might add. I fully agree with your observation on Hitchens’ excessive flair for verbal acrobatics and loquacious prose. He is a extremely gifted polemicist that can express even the most superficial ideas via oratory that would make Francis Bacon weep with joy, yet his arguments sometimes fall quite short from the mark, as you have demonstrated.

    I find that the easiest way to filter the underlying syllogisms out of a Hitchen’s article is to copy the article into notepad, remove all the adjectives, simplify the nouns, and then re-read the whole thing; typing down each proposition that you find in a separate notepad window. I did this with the Chomsky article and only managed to fish out approximately 3 or 4 arguments, all of them soggy, easily refutable ones at that.

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  13. johnny dawson says:

    Hitler was born in the industrial age. If he had been born in the information age, would the Nazi ideology really look all that different from America’s ideology under Nixon (“Peace with Honor”) Reagan (Iran Contra, the Central American genocides) or Bush (“You are with us or with the terrorists”) ??? Has any American president ever apologized for the death of two million civilians in South East Asia? Instead of equating Bush with Hitler, historians should invoke a less emotional nomenclature, like “National Socialism.” Maybe the Right would find it less offensive if “the N word” were not used. Don’t call the Republicans Nazis, that turns people off. Just call them “neo-National Socialists.” One must be politically correct!

  14. Anonymous says:

    beautifully written article and brilliantly argued

  15. Jason Boiss says:

    Christopher Hitchens has “had a seat change” as Gore Vidal put it. His political views are confusing to anyone who has followed him long enough.

    Here’s a video of Hitchens praising Chomsky as one of the most important moral voices of our time.

    One can only speculate on the reasons for such an apparent difference.

  16. Mathew Toll says:

    Nice article, Hitchens is obviously on shallow ground here and his critique of Chomsky isn’t really one at all. Martin Amis was partially right, when it comes to politics Hitchens does think like a child and his now throwing a little tantrum without a sound thought-out reason.

  17. Robert says:

    If the evidence of Bin Laden’s guilt in 911 so overwelming, it seems all the more reason to present it in an international court.
    Until it’s in a court, it’s not evidence.

  18. Mike C says:

    Chomsky definitely has something to say and it stands on its own.

    Just FYI, Hitch- Apache and Tomahawk are both weapons. The Commissar shifts into his role as religious fanatic for State-Capitalism. And without so much as a word about Iraq or Sadaam Hussein.

  19. Mike C says:

    Hitch tried to imply that Chomsky was aligned with 9/11 conspiracy theorists, or that his comments were tantamount to them. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

    Anyone bothering to investigateabsurd claims about Chomsky for themselves will find them unfounded.

  20. Spencer J Follows says:

    A very well written and argued piece in my view. However, I don’t necessarily agree with it. I certainly don’t think that Hitchens is obsessed with Chomsky at all; read his memoir and you’ll find that Chomsky is briefly mentioned once or twice.

    Chomsky’s article was a perplexing one, to equate Bin Laden’s confession for 9/11 with a claim to have won the Boston Marathon is simply idiotic. All the evidence points to Al Qaeda as being behind the attacks, whereas the Boston Marathon is televised and the winner clearly observed as not having been Chomsky (may be next year though!).

    I think there is a very clear argument for having captured Bin Laden in order to put him on trial and to extract intelligence, here Chomsky has a point but he fails to consider that Bin Laden was a self-confessed warrior and murderer in a war against the West, and therefore made himself a legitimate target for military action.

    Chomsky draws a parallel between OBL’s death with that of the execution of Bush by Pakistani forces. This is total nonsense; Bush was the elected leader of a democratic state, Bin Laden wasn’t. Whether you agree with the war in Iraq/Afghanistan or not, only the most deluded of people would see an equivalence between a leader sending his country to war (where the deaths of innocents are an unfortunate bi-product, rather than a goal) with a terrorist who flies planes full of civilians into buildings full of civilians for the sole purpose of killing civilians. It is laughable to say that Bush’s crimes far exceed that of Bin Laden’s.

    Chomsky cannot have it both ways – if he believes that Bin Laden is a mass murdering terrorist then his emphasis should be on that rather than how evil the US is; if he doesn’t think this then he should tell us who did actually commit 9/11. Chomsky makes the false point that the nomenclature of US weapons (he forgot Comanche) is an insult to Native Americans, when he must realise that these names are due to an appreciation for the ferocity and prowess of an old adversary rather than a slight to them. He also has nothing to say on the clear fact that Pakistan has been harbouring the world’s most wanted man for years – does Chomsky condone this action?

    One may not like or appreciate Hitchens but don’t be fooled by Chomsky either. He employs distraction and misdirection to make statements of false equivalence and much of what he says is either illogical or disingenuous. As for Hitchens, if you are critical as to his support for the war, read Hitch-22 where it is fully explained. You may still disagree with him and the war after this but you may understand his reasoning a little better.

  21. Avonido says:

    Hitchens’ latest submission on Slate isn’t only beneath reason, it’s a shame to him and an insult to his readers. Hitchens’ flowery style blossoms in full form when unmbraging religions and religionists; but when dissecting issues and thinking clearly, Hitchens just appears to be beyond his familiar depths. Nowhere else is this as apparent as when Hitchens attempts to validate himself by pretending to attack Chomsky’s views.

  22. Mike C says:

    Hitchens himself wrote shortly after 9/11 that the event paled in comparison to “Crimes of the Empire.” This was just before his miraculous conversion to the Church of State.

    Hitch must have received a visit from the FBI who threatened to pull his greencard. The tone of his writing made an abrupt turnabout and hasn’t changed since.

    Chomsky’s fundamental points are very simple and uncontroversial:

    -The evidence against bin Laden may not have stood up in court; his grandiose claim of responsibility may not have resulted in a death penalty conviction. Ask any Deputy DA.

    – “Wacking” one’s enemies without a trial is Mafioso behavior.

    – There is long-standing hypocrisy in US gov’t foreign policy and action, much of which would not stand up to the Nuremberg Principals.

    Hitchens’ article actually seems very mild, as if he’s tossing Chomsky a few easy lob-balls. Perhaps this is Hitchens’ way of blinking in Morse code at the spot-light that’s been shining in his face since his own notorious 9/11 comments.

    • Ryan Wilson says:

      Hey, can you give me link or citation for that ‘crimes of the empire’ article?
      I’m pretty familiar with his work and I haven’t come across it yet.

      Much obliged

  23. anonymous says:

    All Hitchens fans should know this piece:

    http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2005/seymour261105.html

  24. Doug Tarnopol says:

    For some reason, I couldn’t reply directly to this comment: “Spencer J Follows says:
    May 15, 2011 at 12:36 pm”, so I’ll do it here.

    I’m not getting my kicks or jollies; I’m pointing out CH’s appalling hypocrisy and selfishness. He cheerled an aggressive war, period. Unlike most people who did so, he had intimate knowledge both of past crimes of a similar nature and of how obviously illegal and immoral this little adventure in Iraq was. He decided to ignore all that and “unconvince” himself of his previously long-held beliefs. On a dime. And while trashing all his until-ten-minutes-ago comrades. And somehow managed in his conversion to cozy up to power, the direction in which these changes of hearts-and-minds usually go. For obvious reasons.

    Not at all bitter beyond reviling opportunist scumbags like CH. The guy’s definitely a narcissist of epic proportions who would like to claim the mantle of Camus and Orwell, would like to be some kind of Lone Brave Man thinking and writing for the ages against the powers that be. The problem is, he’s suckling at the teat of the powers that be and taking on — so courageously — academics like Chomsky, former mentors, I might add. It’s pretty obvious and pretty despicable — and all for his own greater glory, with a very long list of deaths and needless pain that is no doubt merely collateral damage to him; nothing next to his little career turn.

    Ergo, my two poems, including the one that apparently made you cry. Why that poem disgusts you more than CH, and what he’s written for ages, which has led to killing innocents — and why you can’t tell the difference between his writings and their effect and my little poems and their effect — well, quite telling. Some animals are less equal than others.

    Now, that reply above is on the off chance that you’re actually serious about understanding CH, my poems, the serious problem people have with him and his disgusting little outbursts, thankfully soon to cease. Low probability you actually are seriously concerned with anything like that, of course.

  25. Spencer J Follows says:

    I feel you’ve missed my point, regardless of whether Hitchens is Satan incarnate, the act of celebrating his contracting of a terminal illness is disgusting in my view. Perhaps one day, when you die, your children will read poems from people celebrating your demise.

    Personally, I’m not a supporter of the war, but I have taken the time to listen to Hitchens’s explanations for his pro-war position (which was not made on a dime). Again I will state, whether you think that a pro-war stance leads to death and destruction, Hitchens has reasons for his views and his writing is not, as you claim, responsible for the deaths of innocents.

    It’s ironic how many of the attributes you ascribe to Hitchens could be found in your posts; malice, cowardice, narcissism, hypocrisy (and I could add condescension and sarcasm). However, it is clear to me from the man’s writings that he has a huge amount of integrity and values human life and freedom above all else. In his view, the war was necessary and will probably save lives in the long-term.

    That’s not a view I share but I don’t hate people just because they disagree with me. The situation in Iraq is an incredibly complex one – I don’t think it can be simplified as “war is bad”. Take your own advice and read Hitch-22, to see if you can understand the reasons for his beliefs, if not agree with them.

    • Doug Tarnopol says:

      Point to where I was celebrating his cancer, rather than using it as a metaphor. A rather obvious one, of course, if the Fallujah reference somehow escaped you.

      If I had done things as despicable — truly despicable — as Hitchens has, then I would deserve what I didn’t even do to him — celebration of imminent demise. What I was doing was using his cancer as a met-a-phor, one that heightens i-ron-y. Well or not is beside the point; that’s clearly the intent. As I’m sure you well know.

      Hitchens’ reasons have more to do with the cover above — trying to claim the mantle of Camus (cigarette, trench coat), as he has that of Orwell (turning on fellow lefties for the higher good). Two writers who, despite failings, Hitchy couldn’t touch on his best day with a forty-foot pole. But he clearly sees himself as A Courageous Pen-Warrior in that mode. It’s hilarious.

      But not as hilarious as you, who, even though Hitchens was head cheerleader for a war of aggression based on patently obvious lies that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, has maimed far more, and which has displaced millions of people, perhaps permanently, still seem to think CH values human life and freedom above all else.

      I read that exercise in self-advertisement, not without much effort to keep my bolus from rising past failsafe. I get it. He’s an apologist for empire, a dirty little scribbler for murder, and, as that last link someone posted shows in detail, pretty obviously one who gets his fat little jollies over the powerful murdering the not powerful. Being a fan, you’ll have to reject that obvious truth because accepting it would lead to very uncomfortable questions rather quickly. Better to squelch them by getting your panties in a bunch over my little poem.

      Now, if you’d known CH personally, that’d be something else. Even pricks have other sides; had I known CH personally, yeah, maybe I’d have something to put in the other pan, and that might have balanced out the deaths of all the people I didn’t know. Not that I should be proud if that were the case, of course; having water under the bridge with someone doesn’t excuse saying nothing when they throw someone off of it. But, being human, yeah, that might make a difference. If, however, you don’t actually know him, then you’re not really protecting or defending CH but rather the private little thrill you get when you pretend he’s writing what you’re thinking. Is all.

      • Spencer J Follows says:

        How perceptive of you to notice that a memoir is a form of self-advertising – not as gratuitous as posting one’s own sad little poems on other people’s blogs though I guess. Odd that such a master of irony as yourself missed that little gem. But then I imagine you’re too consumed by your own verbose prattling to have any sense of introspection.

      • W says:

        Doug Tarnopol may be the angriest, most overly sensitive blog commenter I have ever come across. Mr. Follows gave you a bit of a ribbing in his responses, but I don’t think it warranted your ferociously mean spirited attack on him. We get it, you hate Hitchens. You’ve given us a clear, if not over-the-top, preview to your opinion of the man. He’s right up there with Hitler and Stalin to you. But good Lord you don’t need to hate on every person who doesn’t happen to agree with your assessment of Hitchens’ character.

        And for the record, you did appear to celebrate Hitchens’ cancer and his demise in your posts. Just one example is when you said, “Now, that reply above is on the off chance that you’re actually serious about understanding CH, my poems, the serious problem people have with him and his disgusting little outbursts, thankfully soon to cease.”

        That little “…thankfuly soon to cease,” tid-bit seemed to indicate a bit of excitement on your part. I happen to agree with Mr. Follows, that no matter how evil you believe Hitchens to be, eagerly looking forward to his death is in very poor taste. But do what ever you want I guess if you don’t mind coming across as a douche bag.

        Oh, and as a person who enjoys reading poetry, I have to say that you’re a below average poet at best. If you happen to be an undergraduate English major, then I think you have potential. Keep practicing.

    • Anonymous says:

      Well said. Certainly the most open-minded and mature approach to the various topics contained herein. A distinct connection between many of these contributions appears to be the tendency of reactionary and black and white viewpoints:Neither of which are useful. Personally, I was and remain a fan of Hitchens writings, and an advocate of his general outlook with key

  26. intheslowlane says:

    The idea that Nuremberg was about trying criminals as if their guilt was in doubt entirely misses the point of that exercise. We did not send an army to Europe in order to capture Nazis, but to stop their aggression by killing any who resisted. No one — absolutely no one — doubted the guilt of those men. The ones on trial just happened to survive; summary executions of the captured leaders of a surrendered foe caught in acts of mass murder, while quite justified in this case, were less preferable than an airing of the record for millions of Germans to see. OBL was a declared enemy still leading his troops who continue to fight. Chomsky’s piece is offensive because it so completely misunderstands Americans as a people and treats them as abstractions to be compared and contrasted with anybody else, shorn of cultural context or national history, like a mathematical exercise; were he to repeat such babble on a street corner in downtown Cedar Rapids he’d be laughed out of town. Only in the cultural fortresses of the left can he say such things and be treated seriously; the vast majority of the people he so blithely condemns as unwitting accomplices in a genocidal foreign policy are well beyond the reach of his rants.

    And are government press releases the only evidence of OBL’s complicity? Does belief in his complicity require that one accept every government edict about the case? *Any* evidence can be questioned and doubted; I suppose every event in history is somehow open to question. In the end, only a tiny minority of skeptics with little else to do could argue against the essential truth that this man planned, blessed, celebrated, and financed 9/11. It’s about as willful a suspension of disbelief as I can think of short of Holocaust denial.

    • Mike C says:

      “Chomsky’s piece is offensive because it so completely misunderstands Americans …were he to repeat such babble on a street corner in downtown Cedar Rapids he’d be laughed out of town…”

      lol So I did a survey here in Iowa (Cedar Rapids is nearby) of a few people for their reaction to Chomsky’s comments. Your assertion is quite incorrect. They weren’t offended and they didn’t laugh. In fact, there was worry that bin Laden has been made into a martyr.
      ————–

      “…. We did not send an army to Europe in order to capture Nazis, but to stop their aggression by killing any who resisted…”

      The war with Germany in the 1940’s was a kill or be killed situation for soldiers on both sides of the battle. Grandiose idelogies went out the window after the first day of combat. Approximately 300,000 GI’s were killed fighting the Third Reich in about a 3 year period. That’s nearly 3000 US casualties per day on average. That exceeded the total number of US soldiers killed in both Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 10 years AFTER THE SECOND DAY OF COMBAT! (based on the average figure).

      Your description sounds more like the US invasion of Grenada.

  27. Doug Tarnopol says:

    Yeah, Spencey, you’re right. You don’t fawn over an especially obnoxious apologist for imperialism and straight-up war crimes. You’re just like Hitch, a brave soldier for the truth fighting off poets and blog critics — and while you, like Hitch, will dress it up in moralisms and bravery, it’s all just to protect your own ego. You’ll have to maintain this fawning devotion to Hitch forever, since doing anything but that will mean that you may have been wrong about him and about what he supports, avidly.

    I mean, hey, what’s a million dead against your momentary discomfort in having to admit you were duped by some pretty prose? I mean, why be honest when you can grandstand and posture about caring about life and liberty as camouflage for simply being unable to admit you were wrong — painfully and obviously wrong — about a self-serving little scribbler who gave you the vicarious thrill of creation when he seemed to write your thoughts.

    Of course, it may well be that you totally agree with that war and are thus just as much of a scumbag as Hitch, but there’s a possibility you’ve just been duped and can’t admit that you were wrong.

    And you may now claim victory — Glorious, Thrilling Victory — over the Forces of Evil, as embodied by the comments of those who disagree with you on this blog, because I have to go back to the real world now and continue my small efforts, not nearly large enough, against people like the man you fawn over. Toodles.

  28. Spencer J Follows says:

    Doug,

    I imagine our conversation is boring and unfair to the other visitors to this site, so we should stop monopolising the thread. Your posts are becoming increasingly bizarre and your analysis of my opinion seems to be based on no knowledge whatsoever and a complete refusal to take-in any of what I have said.

    For the record, I’m not a supporter of the war and I read Hitchens because of his views regarding religion, not politics. I am however willing to listen to his reasons for supporting the war however, particularly because of his previous political leanings and I’m not prepared to simply swallow everything that Chomsky says.

    I don’t see how any of this squares with your latest rant. Again, what I objected to was your poem which I found distasteful, and would also have done so had it been about exalting in the death of bin Laden. I don’t have any more to add about it so will leave the matter there.

    • Doug Tarnopol says:

      What’s bizzare is:

      1. That you persist in thinking I was celebrating CH’s death — he’s not quite dead yet, btw — or illness. You either don’t or won’t get it, so not much to be done about that. Apparently, you’re so in love with CH that you can’t or won’t see that obvious point.

      2. That CH is a champion of human liberty and suchlike. He isn’t; obviously, and this essay is one of many that show exactly why he isn’t. You’ll never admit to any of that, either, for reasons ample and obvious.

      Nothing to do with Chomsky. More to do with your intellectual love affair with CH. His work on atheism was so great; I guess I’ll ignore supporting war crimes.

      Btw, I’m a lifelong atheist, and his work, along with that of the other New Atheists, is pointless and actually harmful. But that’s another story.

    • W says:

      Spencer,

      Thank you for attempting to have a reasonable, emotionally grounded dialogue about Christopher Hitchens and his views. Unfortunately Doug Tarnopol’s excessive hyperbole and over the top hysterics made it impossible to have an adult conversation. I was starting to wonder whether or not Doug was a troll, but I think he was actually being sincere. Trolls usually don’t write undergraduate caliber poetry that reeks of pretentiousness.

  29. Ramon says:

    “Only the most deluded of people would see an equivalence between a leader sending his country to war (where the deaths of innocents are an unfortunate bi-product, rather than a goal) with a terrorist who flies planes full of civilians into buildings full of civilians for the sole purpose of killing civilians.”

    This is wrong on legal and moral grounds. For thing, under international law there is no differentiation IF the leadership of a country deliberately violates the terms of the Fourth Geneva Convention as the Bush administration had done in Afghanistan and Iraq. Several examples include the mess that was Abu Ghraib prison. It was reported that in 2003 Donald Rumsfeld instituted a policy that “encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners in an effort to generate more intelligence about the growing insurgency in Iraq.” Another example is the use of white phosphorus in Fallujah in 2004 during the US counterinsurgency where up to 6000 civilians were killed throughout the operation due to what was a clear use of indiscriminate force.

    Also, by your logic OBL could as morally argue that he didn’t intend to harm civilian casualties in the Pentagon attack for example since it was a military target and was “an unfortunate bi-product, rather than a goal” of crippling US military power. Moreover, this failure to equivocate the terrorists act of 9/11 with state terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq is even more problematic since we used the former as a pretext to (illegally) initiate a war which created the context for the latte

    • Spencer J Follows says:

      It is absolutely frightening that we live in a world where some people can think as you do.

      Al Quaeda wants to bring about the destruction of the Western non-Islamic world, they flew planes full of passengers into buildings full of workers. Do you really see no difference between this and the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq to depose cruel despotic regimes and establish democracy for the indigenous populous before leaving the country?

      I don’t agree with the invasion of Iraq because there was no credible link between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein and no imminent danger to the US from the Iraqi regime, but no sane person could argue against a military intervention in Afghanistan in order to smash the Taliban and Al Quaeda and prevent another 9/11. If you don’t agree with that then I guess absolutely anything is permissible and should not be opposed.

  30. Doug Tarnopol says:

    Re: W says:
    May 17, 2011 at 7:41 am

    For an expert on verse, your grasp of prose seems lacking. I’m thankful that CH’s disgusting outbursts will soon cease. That’s different from being excited that CH will die. If he’d stop the disgusting outbursts through a means other than death, I’d be equally thankful.

    Hitchens is a ridiculous poser, a despicable war-mongering sadist. He’s not Hitler or Stalin — more like a hired pen for aggressive war, the supreme international crime.

    I know that pointing that out makes one a “hater” or “angry.” One should be oh so polite to hired apologists who support mass murder. Or to the apologist’s apologists, such as Spence and yourself. Otherwise, you’re not being “civil.” I see.

    Spencey-boy, as we now see in his latest comment, equates the golden-rule principle of universality that underlies international law (or any law under which people are equal) with insanity. No wonder he loves Hitchens. That and swallowing the notion that “we” great people — the kind Hitchens loves so much he switched his citizenship — went into Iraq “to spread democracy.” Very Hitchlike, very wrong.

    It’s not really about Hitch. It’s about self-congratulation and self-justification. Hitch fits into that; his recent rightward shift guaranteed him a far larger audience of people with similar “intellectual” motivations. Who cares about the collateral damage of a few hundred thousand deaths when one can feel puffed up about one’s prejudices and other features of one’s “identity”, as reflected by this bloated gasbag’s outbursts. Thankfully soon to cease.

  31. ZB says:

    I’m the duh football player in a room of fine fellows from the debating society. But I’ve got the drift – a certain C.Hitchens is one confused bitch.

  32. Roberto says:

    You can read about past, present and future of this Chomsky-Hitchens controversy in this article:
    CHOMSKY AND HITCHENS: TWO AUTHORS WITH MUCH MORE TO SAY TO EACH OTHER.
    http://www.zcommunications.org/chomsky-and-hitchens-two-authors-with-much-more-to-say-to-each-other-by-pepe-crespo

    In my opinion Hitchens mistake is to deduce “moral equivalence” in Chomsky words, when the later only wants to denounce the hipocrisy of US.

  33. xavierobrien says:

    This is an extremely well written and cogent blog post. Christopher Hitchen’s apologetics for war crimes is emblematic of the intellectual servility that Chomsky wrote about in his famous “The Responsibility of Intellectuals.” But I was also appalled by the general acceptance of lawlssness that followed the Bin Laden killing. Many of the points that Chomsky raised in his article about Bin Laden could have easily been applied to the extra-judicial killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who was also denied a fair trial. I wrote an article about this if you’re interested (http://xavierobrien.wordpress.com/2011/09/30/killing-the-devil-weak-men-cruel-men-the-extrajudicial-killing-of-anwar-al-awlaki/).

    Anyway, I enjoyed reading this article. I’ll be subscribing to this blog.

  34. Anonymous says:

    you have an incorrect spelling (“cheep” instead of “cheap”) in the text.

  35. Clotilde says:

    hi there,
    very interesting piece.

    I would like to enquire with regard to the picture of Chomsky featured above – does it belong to you? I would like to know who owns the copyright so as to ask for permission to use it.

    Thanks

  36. Alex Brown says:

    At least that smug prick is now gone! lol

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