Heatwave causes Julian Assange envy

2012-08-23 10:26

Ever since the heat wave struck here, I’ve had Julian Assange envy.

The world’s most notorious journalist is holed up in the embassy of Ecuador in London in a cool, dim room away from the windows so he doesn’t get papped by the media, while I crouch like a vampire at dawn behind a wardrobe in my architect-designed glass house in southern France as the sun beats the temperature up to 37, 38, 39 …

I heard Assange’s mum on the radio. She was worried about Julian not getting any natural sunlight – his Australian birthright – and was thinking of sending in a sunlamp.

I, meanwhile, fantasise about murdering the architect and being extradited to Sweden.

Nevermind Julian Assange’s troubles. It is so hot here I had to take off my lipstick. Using a hairdryer would be suicidal. A towel dropped on the bathroom floor buckled.

We can’t all be in Sweden or a swimming pool, but there are other ways to beat the heat. This week national radio stations dispensed warnings and advice: drink water, take cold showers, seek out free air con.

Go to the movies, go to the supermarket, get in your car and drive.

The Dark Knight Rises dubbed into French was hard going, but the supermarket was freezing fantastic. I managed to stretch out my shopping list for an extra hour, surveying every aisle and being amused all over again by the absolute lack of interest ordinary French folk show in foreign food. The grandly named “world food” aisle is a couple of shelves of dry tacos, soy sauce and tins of Lyle’s Golden Syrup.

I noticed other people, clutching token lettuce heads or a bag of flour, gazing intently at the frozen foods and wondered if they were doing the same as me – just cooling their heels.

Then an invitation to join friends at a beach resort near Biarritz gave me the perfect excuse to get in my car and drive. A four-hour journey on the autoroute with air con seemed a good way to pass heat-tsunami time. And it was.

The French are justifiably proud of their freeways. The roads are bitumen smooth and immaculately maintained. There are SOS phone laybys every 2km and, every 15km, there are rest areas called aires.

The aires range from shady spots with picnic tables and public toilets to the Petrol, Pee & Flee super-stops featuring grisly sculptures and muzak in the parking lot.

It is August – high holiday season in Europe, like December in South Africa – and everyone and their kid, campervan and cooler bag is on the road to somewhere.

The autoroute was busy, occasionally even backed up. But it wasn’t scary. Drivers used the overtake lane only to overtake, and breakneck speeding is kept in check by licence penalties and hefty fines that arrive by post (I got two this summer) and increase sharply if they are not paid on time.

The frequently-placed digital autoroute signs dispense precise information about what is happening on the road: “14km traffic jam at Exit 36”, or “Accident ahead. Expect delays of 20 minutes”.

There are also friendly tips, designed to keep drivers on their clutch-brake toes and fully engaged in what is, after all, the delicate and dangerous business of driving at 130km/h.

“Take a rest break every two hours,” they urge, or, “Respect the lives of the men in yellow” (road workers). And, on the very hot day that I barrelled down the A64 between Toulouse and Biarritz, this advice: “Heatwave: keep hydrated”.

Snailing along in the designated 14km traffic jam, my thoughts returned to Julian Assange in his Ecuadorian asylum.

I have mixed feelings about him. As investigative journalists go, he’s a bit of a hero. As human beings go, he’s distinctly unattractive.

In 2010 Assange’s WikiLeaks released hundreds of thousands of classified US government documents and diplomatic cables that put “good guy” Western politicians and their powers in perspective: you know, torture, corruption, coercion – supported, sanctioned and enabled, even when not directly executed.

As Seumas Milne writes in The Guardian this week: “WikiLeaks' explosive release of secret US military reports … disgorged devastating evidence of US war crimes and collusion with death squads in Iraq on an industrial scale, the machinations and lies of America's wars and allies, its illegal spying on UN officials …”

So why aren’t we falling at Julian Assange’s vitamin D-deprived feet, hailing him as the most effective guardian of freedom of information this century has yet seen?

Because, like several investigative journalists I’ve known and not loved, I suspect that Julian Assange is a self-serving twat. And this is leaving aside the alleged crimes for which he is wanted in Stockholm: rape and sexual assault.

In my experience, investigative journalists tend to exhibit similar personality traits to their quarry. There are brilliant exceptions. But in the main they exist at the weird, outer reaches of any newsroom – self-absorbed, fixated on the singular importance of their work and wrapped up in a miasma of impenetrable mystery. They may not be corrupt of pocket like the bad guys they seek to expose and destroy, but their egos are for sale.

And because such journalists essentially inhabit the same murky, delusional world as their subjects – like cops and robbers – they tend to rub off on each other.

So it’s difficult to decide what I think about Julian Assange, especially in this appalling heat.

I want him to face justice in Sweden for his alleged sex crimes.

I don’t want him to be extradited to the US where he may face the death penalty for exposing the corrosive barbarity of the so-called free world.

I want his mom to send him a sunlamp, but I also kind of hope he gets burned.


AB praises selfless skipper

2010-11-21 18:15

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