Graeme Wood

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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, , ,

Burmese Daze

Originally appeared in The Atlantic.

The Drug Elimination Museum, a brutalist eyesore about the size of Grand Central Station, occupies a weedy lot next to the state-television headquarters in Rangoon, Burma’s most important city. The building is silent and sepulchral, like a cavernous opium den whose patrons have set down their pipes and slipped into nap time. Since 2011, the military-allied government of Burma has softened restrictions on tourism, but hardly anyone seeks out this particular attraction. A mile and a half away is the golden spire of Shwedagon Pagoda, the foremost Buddhist monument in Burma and an architectural, aesthetic, and spiritual must-see. But for fans of irony and unintentional humor, this vast temple of propaganda should be a pilgrimage site in its own right. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Atlantic Monthly, ,

Review of Words will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot by Masha Gessen

Originally appeared in The Barnes and Noble Review.

One of the virtues of thuggish dictators is that their thuggishness makes their opponents look good — even opponents who have glaring faults of their own. Masha Gessen’s previous book, The Man Without a Face, argued that Vladimir Putin’s thuggishness borders on psychopathy; in her current one she turns to a portrait of three of his female antagonists. These antagonists are callow, juvenile, and sometimes vulgar. But as if by alchemy, the juxtaposition with Putin makes them into heroes, and makes their publicity stunts into sublime acts of political defiance.
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Filed under: Barnes & Noble Review, ,

Ethnic Cleansing Just Went From Bad to Worse in Burma

Originally appeared in The New Republic.

The ethnic cleansing in Burma’s northwest has followed a jerky rhythm, coming in fits and starts since the first Buddhist-on-Muslim attacks in the middle of 2012. I visited the area for an article in the current issue of the magazine, and found it in a dangerous lull, with many Burmese Buddhists thrilled by the prospect of driving out the remaining Muslims and killing those who resisted.

The lull has broken over the last two weeks, according to reports gathered by a Bangkok-based human-rights group. On January 9, eight Muslims were kidnapped, and soon after, others “discovered a fresh grave with visible body parts.” In subsequent attacks, forty Muslims were killed and many more forced from their homes. The Burmese government has responded in part by ignoring the issue: The lead story in a state-run newspaper today is an urgent report about advances in organic farming. When asked directly, government spokesmen are propagating the story that Buddhists are blameless but Muslims murdered a Buddhist policeman on January 14. The implication is that even if the Muslims were attacked, they kinda had it coming.
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Filed under: New Republic,

A Countryside of Concentration Camps

Originally appeared in The New Republic.

 

On November 19, 2012, Barack Obama visited Burma to keep a promise he made in 2009 to tyrants everywhere. The promise: Stop being so tyrannical, and we’ll make it worth your while. “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent,” he said in his inaugural address, speaking to the Burmese military junta all but directly, “know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” Burma’s generals held up their side of things starting in 2010, by preparing for elections, freeing political prisoners, and relaxing controls on speech. Until then, Burma might have merited a spot on a junior varsity Axis of Evil, alongside such fellow totalitarian states as Cuba and Belarus. But in his address at Rangoon University, when the jackboot prints still hadn’t faded from the faces of the political prisoners, Obama said Burma’s “remarkable journey” toward freedom was on the right track, and he pledged U.S. support and money if reform continued.

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Filed under: New Republic,

Death at the Summit

Originally appeared in Pacific Standard.

More than 200 climbers are entombed in the ice on Mount Everest. When wind clears the snow away, clothing and limbs sometimes surface like saplings in a spring thaw. You can tell the older victims by their mid-century ice axes and crampons. The latest are recognizable by their branded parkas and iPhones, still loaded with text messages and snapshots.

The 2011 climbing season drew its usual clientele of rich mountaineers, and it left four more dead, at least one of whom had been trading messages with his office until days before his death. A goateed Irishman of 42 with the gaunt, taut look of a fitness obsessive, John Delaney ran the Dublin-based betting site Intrade, a playground for speculators whose interests extended beyond sports and stocks. At the time, Intrade allowed users to bet on the outcomes of a wide range of events—elections, legal cases, TV talent shows, hurricanes—and to buy and sell their bets using a dynamic stock market-like interface. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Pacific Standard, ,

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, ,

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