Julian Assange, a Man Without a Country

Assange often describes himself in simple terms—as a fearless activist—but his character is complicated, and hard to reconcile with his considerable power. He is not merely the kind of person who will wear socks with holes; he is the kind of person who will wear socks with holes and rain fury upon anyone who mentions the holes in public. He can be mistrustful to the point of paranoia, but he can be recklessly frank. He tends to view human behavior as self-interested, driven by a Nietzschean will to power, but he runs an organization founded on the idea that individuals can be selflessly courageous. He is a seeker of hard, objective truths who often appears to be unable to see past his own realities. He can be quick in the moment, an impressive tactician, and he is often fairly blind to the long arcs of strategy.
The Justice Department, it turns out, held the same misgivings about the Espionage Act that journalists did. “The biggest problem was what some of us called ‘the New York Times problem,’ ” Matthew Miller, a former Justice Department official, told me. “How do you prosecute Julian Assange for publishing classified information and not the New York Times? I think it went on for a long time because prosecutors were hoping they would find some obvious criminal act that could support a charge, but it was evident pretty early that, absent that, there was no clear way to bring this case.” Within months, the department had quietly allowed the case to stall.

More from the long profile in the New Yorker here

Days Without End

Terrific new novel by Sebastian Barry, Days Without End:

In this brief business of existence, he explains, “we have our store of days and we spend them like forgetful drunkards.” Atrocities come and go, love flourishes where it can, and justice turns out to be fickle, for the wicked and the innocent are punished alike. With uncommon delicacy, Barry reminds us that individual humans buzz about the land like mosquitoes: causing mischief, dying, being born, forgetting. Our recompense comes in those private moments when “love laughs at history a little.”
Barry’s business extends beyond intense and visceral description, though that persists through a narrative that eventually encompasses the American civil war as well as increasingly complex interactions with indigenous communities. It also captures the development of Thomas and John’s relationship, the men’s sexual attraction to one another announced early in the novel by the simple, paragraph-long sentence: “And then we quietly fucked and then we slept.” What makes this strand of storyline unexpected is that it ushers in an exploration of gender fluidity and a redefinition of family that seems to scream anachronism but is nonetheless convincing.
Barry’s prose can take brilliant turns without sounding implausible coming out of Thomas’s mouth. A mordant vein of comedy runs through the book as Thomas recounts his wild swings of fortune. Deadly storms, attempted robberies and financial panics — “The bottom was always falling out of something in America far as I could see” — are all part of the picture. By the novel’s end, the verdict the lovers reach on the cruelties they’ve endured and inflicted is sobering: “Everything bad gets shot at in America . . . and everything good too.”

Reviews herehere and here

North Korea & Iran

Trump’s speech was a full-throated embrace of the Saudi view of Iran as the region’s chief malefactor and cause of its troubles. Trump’s reference to Tehran as the Middle East power that has “for decades…fueled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror” is a more accurate description of the Saudi kingdom, with its long record of exporting an unforgiving brand of Wahhabi Islam to madrasas and mosques around the world.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent description of the [Iran nuclear] agreement as “the same failed approach…that brought us to the current imminent threat that we face from North Korea” is simply bizarre, betraying either ignorance of the facts or a willingness to wholly distort them. A “failure” like this would be an unimaginable success in North Korea.

More from Jessica Matthews in the NY Review of Books here

A Walk in the Woods

These days the question of what it means to be a “true” American resists rational analysis. Whatever one can say about Americans that is true, the opposite is equally true. We are the most godless and most religious, the most puritanical and most libertine, the most charitable and most heartless of societies. We espouse the maxim “that government is best which governs least,” yet look to government to address our every problem. Our environmental conscientiousness is outmatched only by our environmental recklessness. We are outlaws obsessed by the rule of law, individualists devoted to communitarian values, a nation of fat people with anorexic standards of beauty. The only things we love more than nature’s wilderness are our cars, malls, and digital technology. The paradoxes of the American psyche go back at least as far as our Declaration of Independence, in which slave owners proclaimed that all men are endowed by their creator with an unalienable right to liberty.
Thoreau declared that he went to the Walden woods “to front only the essential facts of life,” for he did not want, when it came time for him to die, to “discover that I had not lived.” In her poignant and eloquent book, When I Came to Die, Audrey Raden shows how, for Thoreau, death and dying were among the most essential facts of life, and that to live life to the fullest meant to live it in full awareness of its mortality.

More from the NY Review of Books here