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sitdown sunday

Sitdown Sunday: 7 deadly reads

The very best of the week’s writing from around the web.

IT’S A DAY of rest, and you may be in the mood for a quiet corner and a comfy chair. We’ve hand-picked the week’s best reads for you to savour.

1. Room 348
Mark Bowden looks back at the unremarkable death of Greg Fleniken and how a private investigator, with the help of his widow, ended up finding the murderer that no-one believed existed. (Vanity Fair)

Fleniken’s wallet was still in the back pocket of his jeans and had a stack of $100 bills in it, so robbery wasn’t an issue. Those staying in nearby rooms had heard nothing. As Apple questioned the neighbors, he told them it was probably a “natural-causes thing.” Sad. He poked around Fleniken’s bags, looking mostly for pills—some clue to his collapse. There were none. Susie and Michael later told him that Greg never went to a doctor. He was a stubbornly independent man, suspicious of authority and unmoved by the modern passion for health and fitness.

2. The red planet
Burkhard Bilger recalls the events that led to the most in-depth exploration of Mars that has ever been undertaken, and the secrets it may hold.  (The New Yorker)

On November 26, 2011, NASA sent the world’s most sophisticated mobile science lab to explore it: the robotic rover Curiosity. The project’s scientists were quick to lower expectations: they were just looking for places that might once have been habitable, they said. Yet Mars, even dead, may answer some very old questions about life: What sets its machinery in motion? Why here and not there? Why us and not them?

3. Life online
Amy O’Leary meets Jenna Marbles, a real-life, modern-day YouTube sensation whose videos are watched by millions. (The New York Times)

On a bright Monday this winter, Ms. Mourey allowed the rare reporter inside her rented $1.1 million Santa Monica town house. The décor could be called contemporary teenage mess. Pizza boxes and a parking ticket littered the countertop. A fruit bowl held two bananas, turned solid black. Nerf darts spilled across the floor. A lonely dart clung to a high window, just out of reach. Any chaos in her daily life, however, sits neatly out of frame. When she pulls her laptop out and records a new video at the kitchen table, viewers typically see only her and a blank wall.

4. Saying no to saying ‘no’
Katie Manderfield gets an insight into the magic of Disney and the lengths to which it goes to keep its customers coming back for more. (TheCredits)

One of the most popular questions asked at the park is: ‘What time does the 3 o’clock parade start?’ “We call it the 3 o’clock question,” Giannetta said with a chuckle. “But the quality of your response is what matters. You need to think: what are they really asking?” This might mean pointing customers towards an air-conditioned spot to relax at while waiting for the parade, or suggesting a refreshment hut, restrooms, ride suggestions, or just a little interaction. In Disneyland, customers aren’t morons for asking obvious questions; they just might need guidance; both in maneuvering the park and in creating the kinds of memories they came for in the first place.

5. Cuba’s American spy
Jim Popkin writes about Ana Montes, the Cuban spy who fooled everyone, including her brother and sister who both worked for the FBI. (The Washington Post)

Montes spied for 17 years, patiently, methodically. She passed along so many secrets about her colleagues – and the advanced eavesdropping platforms that American spooks had covertly installed in Cuba – that intelligence experts consider her among the most harmful spies in recent memory. But Montes, now 56, did not deceive just her nation and her colleagues. She also betrayed her brother Tito, an FBI special agent; her former boyfriend Roger Corneretto, a Cuban-intelligence officer for the Pentagon; and her sister, Lucy, a 28-year veteran of the FBI who has won awards for helping to unmask Cuban spies.

6. Waking up to Waco
On the 20-year-anniversary of Waco, a former Branch Dividian tells Tim Madigan what made him a believer, and the scars that remain. (Star Telegram)

Killed that day near Waco were cult leader David Koresh and 73 followers, including Doyle’s 18-year-old daughter, Shari, and 20 children under 14. Before the fire and the 51-day standoff with the federal government, Doyle’s daughter had been one of many women and girls of the cult taken into Koresh’s bed. Koresh – who preached that he was the Lamb of God, drove a sports car and motorcycle, and had a rock band and an arsenal of illegal weapons – had ordered his male followers to be celibate. Doyle has had two decades to reflect on these things, and clearly he has.


In 1996, Lisa Pollak wrote a Pulizer Prize winning piece for The Baltimore Sun about how one family dealt with the death of their child.

Michael Hirschbeck learned to play gin in the hospital, too. His father taught him, during the long weeks of waiting, between the chemotherapy and bone marrow transplant and seizures and pneumonia and days when he was too sick to even eat a cup of ice chips. He never asked a lot of questions, even the day his parents told him he had the same disease as his older brother, who was already dying, and that it would take his baby sister’s bone marrow to save his life. He was 5 years old. “If you want to cry, it’s OK,” John and Denise Hirschbeck told Michael, and he did, and so did they.

More: The best reads from every previous Sitdown Sunday >

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