Graeme Wood

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The African country where compasses go haywire

UNTIL THE LAST YEAR, when the Central African Republic’s civil war became a humanitarian crisis too dire to ignore, most Americans thought little about the country at all. It has a low global profile in part because it is exceedingly poor, with four out of five people living on less than $2 a day. It has some natural resources, but because it is landlocked by other troubled countries—Chad, Sudan, Congo, and Cameroon—even if a lull in the war allowed it to extract those from the ground, it would still face formidable problems in exporting them.

But for one group, the Central African Republic is anything but ignorable, and in fact is home to an enduring scientific mystery. Geophysicists who map the earth’s magnetic fields have identified a disturbance in the earth’s natural magnetic fields within the Republic. They still have few clues about what causes it, but at least some think it could be key to understanding one of the most dramatic events in the history of the planet.

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Filed under: Boston Globe, , ,

Take it from a former military deserter: Bowe Bergdahl has suffered enough

Three years ago, I asked an Afghan with ties to the Taliban what he had heard about captured Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. He replied that Bergdahl had briefly escaped, then been found hiding in a tree by Kuchi nomads and returned to his captors.

After that, his captors locked him in a dark room, in a cage “for a dog”.

I had no idea if these details were correct – Afghans spin tales, and I had no way to confirm – but preliminary reports suggest that Bergdahl probably did endure punishment worse than anything a court martial might offer.

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Filed under: Guardian, ,

Sorcery at War

Originally appeared in The New York Times.

BANGUI, Central African Republic — This nation is flirting with genocide. Two barely organized groups — one Christian, one Muslim — have been fighting for control in the last year, and in some areas have tried to hunt each other to extinction. C.A.R. is splitting in two, with Muslims in the north and Christians in the south. Much of the capital is already empty of Muslims.

And yet casting the conflict in religious terms is a poor way to understand it. The war was caused not by sectarian differences, but by political and economic grievances, the products of systematic neglect of Muslim areas by the government once run by François Bozizé, a general backed by Chad and France. Religious divisions mapped onto, and exacerbated, senses of longstanding economic and political injustice. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: New York Times, , ,

Book review: The French Intifada

Review of The French Intifada by Andrew Hussey.  Originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal

Nowadays it’s neither fashionable nor conscionable to feel nostalgic for the colonial era. But it’s clear that some colonial powers left more fragrant legacies than others, and one of the smelliest of them all was that of France. The country amassed a near perfect record of mismanagement, everywhere from Algeria and Indochina to the Central African Republic, and France is the only great colonial power whose misdeeds abroad keep haunting it, more or less constantly, at home.

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Filed under: Wall Street Journal, , ,

The Collectors

The Collectors

I wrote about collectors of “fancy” serial-number bills, for the Boston Globe Ideas section.

Filed under: Boston Globe,

String Theory

I reviewed On the Noodle Road in the Wall Street Journal.

Filed under: Wall Street Journal, ,

Moving the Nile to the Left

I wrote about Farouk El-Baz’s plan to fix Egypt in The Boston Globe.

Filed under: Boston Globe, ,

Tourism Trap

I reviewed Elizabeth Becker’s Overbooked in the Wall Street Journal.

Filed under: Wall Street Journal, ,

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