There was a curious irony in the fact that the BBC voice-over announced last night's Newsnight Special as an interview with Peter Hitchens, the younger brother of the actual interviewee, Christopher.
Peter has moved inexorably from his Marxist, atheist youth to his current position as the Mail's 'fulminator-in-chief' and a prominent, communicant member of the Church of England who is totally opposed to the liberalism of the current Archbishop of Canterbury.
By contrast, Christopher remains a 'leftist' polemicist and contrarian; he is clear that he still 'thinks like a Marxist', believes in the dialectic and the materialist conception of history. He is also, as Blair discovered at the Toronto debate last week, a highly erudite and articulate critic of the role of religion in the world.
Christopher Hitchens is suffering from cancer. He is 'probably mortally sick'. So one of the more interesting moments in the interview was when Paxman asked him about Pascal's wager.
This is the French philosopher's argument that one should bet one's life on the existence of God on the basis that if God does exist, you win; if there is no God, then you've lost nothing. Despite the medical prognosis, Hitchens rejects this absolutely. He calls it 'contemptible' and 'necessarily, therefore, to entail a rather contemptible human being'.
But if there is a God?
He would argue that at no time did he try to curry favour. And he would not under any circumstances be 'servile'.
Which, in a nutshell, is why I have admired him and his writings for around forty years. He has never tried to curry favour with anyone, allowing his intellect and principles to take him where they will. Even if it costs him friendships, for he has been as ruthless with the left as the right. There have been occasions - notably his support for the Iraq war - when I have disagreed fundamentally. But always he has forced me to think through my positions in a (more) rigorous manner.
If his prognosis is correct, and he dies in the next year or so, still in his early 60s - we are the same age - it will be a terrible, terrible waste.
The interview with Jeremy Paxman is available on BBC iPlayer, and the full transcript of the debate with Tony Blair can be read here:
Today's listening: Blind Willie Mctell, Atlanta Strut. "Nobody can sing the blues like Blind Willie Mctell."
The WikiLeaks site is inaccessible right now, so I'm relying on The Guardian for nuggets from the letters home of various US embassies.
I know that The Guardian is an incomplete source, because its editor, Alan Rusbridger, justified the publication of the leaks on the grounds that the newspaper had 'redacted' much of it. In so doing, of course, he has managed to achieve what the US State Department failed to do.
My first reaction, however, is that what governments call 'intelligence' is very similar to what the rest of us call gossip. Nor is much of it particularly surprising.
Obama thinks Cameron is a lightweight, and doubts the ability of the egregious Osborne. Extraordinary.
Andrew Windsor made 'inappropriate remarks' about a foreign country. Who would have thought it?
American diplomats spy on allies as well as enemies. Never crossed my mind.
There are grave suspicions of corruption within the Afghan government. Wow.
Sarkozy is an 'emperor sans clothes'. Quelle surprise.
Gaddafi has a 'voluptuous blonde' nurse. Actually, I didn't know that, but I'm not clear how my new knowledge will help me in my analysis of Libyan political manoeuvres.
There are now calls for WikiLeaks to be designated a terrorist organisation. Apparently, it represents a 'clear and present danger' to the US.
Now that is a surprise.
Today's listening: Hot Tuna, 1991-03-08. With thanks to Wolfgang's Vault.
It gives me great pleasure to announce that ... we are to have a happiness index.
Ant Cameron is quoted as believing that "the country would be better off if we thought about well-being as well as economic growth". I'm sure that Dec Clegg agrees but he's busy justifying himself to people to whom he lied. ("No more broken promises" he promised.)
But back to our reasons to be cheerful. Marx believed that: "it is not the consciousness of man that determines their being but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.’
(This has been shortened and simplified by people like Clinton into "It's the economy, stupid".)
And because that is the case, the happiness index is probably going to end up as a measure of misery.
Today's listening: Jean-Luc Ponty/Frank Zappa, America Drinks Up and Goes Home".
Last night's second of episode of Jimmy McGovern's Accused was compelling. But I didn't realise quite how good it was until I turned on the radio this morning to hear General Sir Richard Dannatt arguing that it bore no resemblance to reality and should never have been broadcast whilst 'our boys' were fighting out there.
The bully Corporal Buckley was played superbly by Mackenzie Crook. In fact, he was so good he reminded me (in gesture, attitude, body language and actions) of a prefect at my boarding school who made my life a misery when I was 12 or 13 and he (the prefect) was 17 or 18.
He too had institutional backing for his viciousness. Other prefects, the housemaster and headmaster were in awe of him: he was, after all, captain of the XV. Those of us who were a few years younger were scared shitless merely at the sound of his voice. He had total control over our lives and our happiness, and he knew it, and abused it. To this day, I loathe him.
I've just googled the name. I expected him to be in the army, a Brigadier perhaps by now; or a senior civil servant; or running his own business.
It turns out he's a solicitor in a small practice in a provincial town. He specialises in wills. Seems like it's all been downhill since 1962. Good.
Today's listening: Grateful Dead, 1981-05-22, with John Kahn. A great acoustic set with a kick-ass Friend of the Devil and a cool Cassidy.
Facebook apparently has a limit of five thousand friends per person; personally, I don't see this as a problem.
I've just checked and I have 101 Facebook friends, which is less than the average but I like the ring of it. Friends 101 sounds as if it should be the introductory course of a degree in social networking. I shall be very careful about culling or accepting in the future in order to maintain it.
These musings are prompted by events this weekend. First was a dinner on Friday with 'old' friends at which conversations initiated months - and in one case years - ago were continued and developed as if we had merely nipped out to get another bottle of wine. And then a 60th birthday party on Sunday at which - I'm guessing - 150 or so people turned out for the celebrations.
The birthday boy, John, is probably the most social and sociable person I know. He can and does talk to anyone and everyone about anything and everything. He has an amazing ability to find common ground in unlikely places, and the celebrants yesterday were as diverse a group as you could ask for.
I envy him this. My position is closer to that of one friend who, when I wanted to introduce her to someone I knew she would like, said that she didn't want any more friends: she found it difficult enough maintaining the half-dozen or so friendships she already had.
As someone said, "It takes a long time to grow an old friend". It occurs to me, with regret, that my friends are better friends than I am.
Today's listening: Dylan, Freewheelin' Out-takes.
"He was a friend of mine."
Yes, of course I'm delighted. They seem like a nice couple.I know he's a royal and she's a commoner. I know she went to Marlborough and he went to Eton. But what the hell, it's a cause for celebration at the tax-payers' expense.
One word of warning, Kate. And it's from very recent history.
Nick Clegg was a nice enough guy. Good family (if a bit middle-class). Bright (but modest). Clearly going places (though not too overtly).
And then he met this young, attractive old Etonian who courted him and promised him the world. Suddenly, he had no time for many of his old friends as he was introduced to a new milieu.
It was not long before he had lost touch with his roots. Now, he had no time for his old friends. His new chums were Bullingdon Boris and the egregious Osbourne.
It's true that his new family may have been a tad dysfunctional; but they were good to him. He had an important role: he was to act as apologist for the marriage and all the things that they did together.
Because, yes, he was now part of what he had previously argued against.
Remember the end of Animal Farm: "The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."
Good luck, Kate.
Today's listening: Railroad Earth, Fox Theatre, Boulder, 2007-04-06. The boys are really on form.
"That's a sin" said Iain Duncan Smith, successor to Norman Tebbit as MP for Chingford, failed Tory leader and now Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, on the Today programme last week.
No-one is quite sure what he meant. He had been discussing jobs, and the lack of them; immigrants taking those jobs and British people refusing to take those jobs; plus a number of other issues relating to work, working and workers of various kinds and nationalities.
"Sin" is an interesting choice of word in this context, even - or especially - from a man who makes no secret of his devout Christianity and/or Catholicism.
It can't be a slip of the tongue: it's an important word for people like him, a wilful transgression of religious law. It's not to be used flippantly or irreverently.
So what exactly is sinful here?
4.5 million people unemployed? Or 70% of them taken by foreigners? Or 20% of households on welfare despite the so-called New Labour boom? Or what?
As a listener, I couldn't tell exactly what he was talking about. But it was clear that his religious feelings were offended in some way by these people, and that the unemployed are in serious breach of some unspecified moral law.
It was scary. He'd been almost rational up to that point. And then, something fundamental rose up from his gut.
Religion is no longer the opium of the people; it's the crystal meth of right-wing politicians.
PS. Someone else who won't know exactly what Duncan Smith meant is Bullingdon Boris, who wrote in his Telegraph column that "Bruce Forsyth could present Newsnight and they could bring back Basil Brush to present the Today programme. It wouldn't make the blindest bit of difference to my state of knowledge about the world".
Of course it wouldn't, Boris. Your world view was formed many years ago, and your education at Eton and Oxford (including of course the Bullingdon Club) merely reinforced it. Listening to impartial, objective and disinterested news items is only going to confuse you.
Today's listening: The Tubes, What do you want from life?
Yesterday, searching for my birth certificate in an ancient box file, I came across an old Labour Party membership card.
It's from the pre-Blair era, when Labour was Labour rather than New Labour. And it's notable for the paragraph on the reverse, the seminal Clause IV.
"To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service."
Can someone remind me of the problem with this?
It seems to me to be a wholly legitimate and laudable aspiration. Had we (Labour) practised what we no longer preach, we may have avoided - inter alia - the banking crisis, the deficit and Ant and Dec. We might even be a bigger and better society.
Today's listening: Alice Coltrane, Journey in Satchidanada. Sublime.
One of the more extraordinary stories in Bush's self-justification, Decision Points, is that of the competition between Bush and Karl Rove to see how many history books they could read in a year.
Bush lost. He tells us, "The final tally was 110 to 95 in books; 40,347 to 37,343 in pages; and 2,275,297 to 2,032,083 in total square inches."
An hour or so after reading this, I saw, in a completely different context, the following from Mortimer J Adler:
"Regarding great books, the point is not how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you".
Today's listening: Garcia, Grisman and Rice, The Pizza Tapes. Three great musicians enjoying themselves.
I was in Dublin over the weekend, so when Rebecca Ferguson sang Make You Feel My Love on Saturday's X Factor, I was raising a glass to James on his birthday in Peploe's - or maybe it was Shanahan's.
Make You Feel My Love is a Bob song for people who don't like Bob. The lyrics are glib; the melody is schmaltzy; and the whole is even less than the sum of its parts.
I hate it.
But then I was sent this YouTube link. Rebecca Ferguson performs it superbly. She makes it a better song than it really is. She sings it better than Adele. And yeh, better than Bob.
Last time I said that, Jimi had just released All Along the Watchtower.
Check it out below - X Factor don't allow embedding but you should be able to scroll to the clip once you've clicked on play.