British-born journalist, author and critic Christopher Hitchens has died from a complication of cancer, aged 62, in a Texas hospital. He was a creature of vast intellectual appetite, a dismayingly prolific, terrifyingly willing practitioner of the art of the high literary drubbing. His generation’s best pure writer. Yet when people asked how he did it, as they often did, they weren’t referring to his output so much as his intake. “I suppose they mean how do I do all this and still drink enough every day to kill or stun the average mule?” he wrote in 2003. “My doctor confesses himself amazed at my haleness…but then, in my time I’ve met more old drunks than old doctors.”
He wasn't to be one of those old drunks. Hitchens’ unapologetic abuse of liquor and cigarettes will run neck and neck with his actual writing in the race to define his legacy—not that he'd ever call what he did with his beloved Johnnie Walker Black abuse. “Anything…that enhances and prolongs and deepens and sometimes intensifies argument and conversation is worth it to me,” he said last year. In that, he belonged to the Kingsley Amis school of long-haul intoxication. “The human race has not devised any way of dissolving barriers, getting to know the other chap fast, breaking the ice, that is one-tenth as handy and efficient [as alcohol],” wrote Amis. There’s a toll—Kingers was ultimately rather spectacularly undone by his predilection—but it struck Hitchens as a fair one.
Beyond social utility, drinking was of a part with some of Hitchens’ most enduring themes: The contrarian embrace of disrepute; the rejection of nannies who take an unseemly interest in the health of strangers; the celebration of human messiness, happy chaos and hilarity; the cultivation of taste. “Upgrade yourself, for Chrissake,” he once demanded, railing against well liquor. “Do you think you are going to live forever?”
Few have embraced not living forever quite as avidly as Hitchens, and fewer still have shown more grace in the presence of the inevitable reaper. In 2007, he wrote a two-part piece for Vanity Fair, portentous in hindsight, titled “On the Limits of Self-Improvement.” It was based on a stunty, quarter-hearted effort to clean up. The largely fruitless experiment yielded a passage that stands as an epitaph for the old sinner: "Il faut souffrir pour être belle, as the French say. Without suffering, no beauty. As I look back on my long and arduous struggle to make myself over, and on my dismaying recent glimpses of lost babyhood, I am more than ever sure that it’s enough to be born once, and to take one’s chances, and to grow old disgracefully.”
- Executions For Drug Offenses Surge in Iran [Reuters]
- Venezuela Hands Over Suspected Columbian Drug Lord to US [Fox News]
- Kentucky Judge Halts Synthetic Drugs Ban [WLKY]
- Twin Brothers Arrested Selling Heroin in Grandmother's Apt [Detroit News]
- Dutch Government Prepares for Pot Ban [Reuters]
- Man Arrested for DUI In McDonald's Drive-Thru [Officer.com]
Here's something to watch at holiday parties: British researchers say music changes the way booze tastes, encouraging people to drink more. Loud music apparently makes alcoholic drinks seem sweeter than when no music is playing, or when it’s played alongside other distracting sounds. In the study—the first of its kind, published in the journal Food Quality and Preference and funded by Alcohol Research UK—80 subjects aged 18-28 ranked a variety of alcoholic drinks based on perceived strength, sweetness and bitterness. They had to complete this task while being subjected to different kinds of noise, ranging from silence, to loud club music, to music played along with a news report. The subjects ranked their drinks significantly sweeter when they were listening only to the loud music. Since our sense of taste has evolved to prefer sweetness—which signals higher calorie levels—music’s effect on drinking could be important, especially for folks who drink a lot in bars and clubs that spin loud songs. “Although individuals might well expect to consume more alcohol in club-type environments anyway,” says University of Portsmouth (UK) psychologist Dr. Lorenzo Stafford, a researcher on the study, “it is important that they understand how environment can potentially influence over-consumption and act accordingly.”
Back in July wide receiver Sam Hurd signed a three-year contract with the Chicago Bears that could have paid him $5.15 million. Apparently that wasn't enough. Last night the 26-year-old was arrested for buying a kilo of cocaine from an undercover federal agent in Chicago. The drugs weren't for him. At least not all of them. According to police, Hurd told the agent that he and a partner sell about four kilos of cocaine a week in Chicago, and were looking for a new supplier. He then negotiated a deal to purchase five to ten kilos of coke for $25,000 each, and 1,000 pounds of marijuana at $450 per pound every week. The investigation began in July, when an informant told feds Hurd was trying to buy cocaine in the Dallas area. And according to a Chicago radio report, the story's going to get a whole lot worse. A source told 670 The Score that police have a list of NFL players who bought drugs from Hurd and it's "in the double-digits."
At least 143 people have died and dozens more are being treated for poisoning in the Indian state of West Bengal, after drinking from a toxic batch of alcohol laced with insecticide. Bootleg alcohol—known as "desi daroo," or country-made liquors—is commonly sold in India, and consumed primarily by the rural poor and migrant workers. It can bought by the bottle or can for as little as ten rupees (20 US cents), hence its popularity. The illegal breweries responsible for this and other recent cases of poisonous booze, causing numerous deaths in India, are said to bribe local law enforcement in order to operate with impunity. "There is an officer nominated for collecting the bribe. We call this person the 'dak master.' In every law enforcement office, there is one 'dak master'. If you pay him, you can carry on with your activity," says BBC correspondent Amitabha Bhattasali. To increase profits, the illegal breweries and distilleries sometimes resort to extremely hazardous methods of extending a batch, including mixing the liquor with insecticide, as happened in this latest case.
While members of Newt Gingrich's own staff are happy to describe him as a "sociopath," no known evidence has him down as an alcoholic. But politicians are rarely ready to let the truth stand in the way of a possible advantage, and hints about Newt Gingrich’s sobriety or lack of it are now dogging him on the campaign trail. Yesterday, Mitt Romney repeated a line of attack used in Saturday's debate, contrasting his rival's "zany" personality with the idea that "A leader needs to be someone of sobriety and stability and patience and temperance." The attempt to tar Newt with the "alcoholic" brush is clear. Presumably he should be more like Mitt, with his ability to mobilize language most of America hasn’t used since the 1950s. The claim that Newt Gingrich lacks the “temperance” to be president seems to be linked to his embrace of AA-style rhetoric and spirituality.