As 2012 wraps up, we remember radical journalist and author Alexander Cockburn who is much missed in the worlds of journalism and agitation. Cockburn, who passed away July 21, 2012, was celebrated at a memorial in New York last September attended by (among others) Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali and the extended Cockburn family. This is an edited report.

What follows are the unedited remarks of Patrick Cockburn, Alexander's brother, himself an award winning-reporter for The Independent newspaper. Reading these reflections recently Patrick had this to say: "The only point I would have added is that there was a sort of gaiety and determination about Alexander in almost any circumstances that I always found extremely attractive and uplifting." We at GRITtv couldn't agree more. We're going to need a lot of gaiety and determination in 2013.

Words on Alexander at his memorial in New York on 22 September 2012 Patrick Cockburn  

I think of Alexander as a person who wanted to shape the world around him in large and small ways and to a remarkable extent he succeeded in doing so. More than anybody I have ever known, he had independence of mind and spirit, but without any fanatical underpinnings that often go with these virtues.  He had a sort of sublime self-confidence and self-sufficiency in the way he lived his life and judged life around him. But this was never out of a spirit of automatic rebellion or a mindlessly “ contrarian ” point of view; he was the very opposite from the self-conscious maverick, who plays the role of licensed jester, but knows just how far he or she can go in  opposition to the powers-that-be or in contradiction to some piece of conventional wisdom.  

This genuine independence of mind could be seen in big things – such the rights of the Palestinians – and his disregard for the quite serious enemies he made or the offence caused to friends and sympathisers. One could see it also in the alacrity he would spring to defend demonized groups or opinions regardless of any party line.  

This desire to shape the world around him was evident in small things as well as great. It jumped out at one in any house or apartment where he was living, for the last twenty years at his house in Petrolia in northern California with his pictures, statues, cars, horses and so on, where every object sparkles with personality and interest. His originality of approach encompassed everything from the best way to poach an egg to the equipment you really needed to hike in America -- as opposed to what hikers had been loaded down with by sports shops.  

This freshness of mind always made Alexander immense fun to be with -- I am nine years younger than him but even as a child I felt that I was in exciting but slightly dangerous company.  

I remember in 1989 when our mother Patricia died we were organizing a service for her in the church in Ardmore village in Ireland where she lived.  Alexander rapidly vetoed the lessons that the local clergyman presiding had proposed, which were, so far as I recall, rants from Isaiah and the book of Revelations. He substituted instead the Parable of the Sower that I was to read and I dutifully looked it up in the bible before the service to ensure fluent delivery. But when I did stand up in church I spoke rather incoherently and several times stumbled over the words and had to start sentences again. The congregation probably thought I was overcome by grief -- and of course I was very sad about our mother’s death – but my real problem was that in the copy of the bible I was holding Alexander had heavily edited the parable in black ink with phrases and lines crossed out so I could hardly read the remaining text. I seem to remember that several times he had written “No” firmly in the margin.  

Some of the most striking features of Alexander’s character were similar to Patricia’s. Both had a strong visual sense, always re-ordering their immediate physical environment, and both had the knack of making themselves comfortable in difficult and often financially discouraging circumstances. We were brought up in a large ruinous house – almost completely ruinous when our parents took it over in 1947. My mother hired the local grave diggers to excavate a cess pit and put new glass in the windows which at first fell out and broke because the putty had been eaten by rats. The rat problem was solved by mixing poison with the putty and importing some 15 cats to keep the place rat free. This liking for having plenty of animals around the place stayed with Alexander. After he first he first became ill about two years ago I used to speak to him every few days via Skype  - and our conversations were frequently interrupted by interventions from Jasper the dog or Percy the paraqueet on the necessity of feeding various cats and horses, who became testive if their food was not delivered precisely on time.  

From our father, Claud, whom at times Alexander consciously emulated, he most obviously drew his inspiration as journalist, commentator and thinker. Counterpunch in its conception is similar in many ways to Claud’s anti-fascist newsletter The Week, which he started in 1933 on resigning from the London Times. Both took advantage of a new technology – in Claud’s case the mimeograph machine, in Alexander’s the internet – to circumvent the need to work for some well-established organ.  

I should like to say at this stage that the many generous tributes to Alexander since he died do get one thing wrong in their account of his career. They suggest that when he came to the US in 1972 he was the first in a wave of British writers ready to sink their  mercilessly sharp claws into American journalists and commentators – the implication being that these splendid fellows were used to doing this back home. Actually nothing could be further from the truth – British journalists then as now have always been timid in dealing with their own kind and much given to group solidarity. Alexander’s sharply critical approach was very much his own, however much it was later copied by others.    

Alexander was always convinced that the powers that be are far more vulnerable to criticism than they pretend. Our father once said that the report that God was on the side of the big battalions was propaganda put about by big battalion commanders to demoralise their opponents. On the contrary, both he and Alexander believed they could be harried effectively by journalistic guerrilla warfare. And it is this belief in the effectiveness of the individual that was so much at the centre of Alexander’s life and writings and which I hope will long survive him.  

Patrick Cockburn is the author of The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq.