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Dublin: 5°C Monday 6 December 2021

Sitdown Sunday: Solving the murder of Peter Falconio

Grab a comfy chair and sit back with some of the week’s best longreads

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. The graffiti kids who started the Syrian war

Mideast Syria Source: AP/Press Association Images

This incredible story is about how a teenage rebellion sparked civil war in the Middle East.

(Globe & Mail, approx 78 mins reading time)

Naief Abazid had no inkling that he was about to launch a revolution, or anything else that has followed. He was just doing what the bigger kids told him to. Trying to make them laugh. “It’s your turn, Doctor Bashar al-Assad, ” he painted, just under the window of the principal’s office of the all-boys al-Banin school in his hometown of Daraa. The date was Feb. 16, 2011.

2. Eat bread

Nathan Myhrvold is out to change our mind about bread – and no, he’s not against us eating it, he just wants us to realise that we could change things up a bit. This interview with him isn’t just about bread though, it’s about food, how we think about food, and one man’s obsessive journey with food.

(Eater, approx 40 mins reading time)

Well, but all of our ancestors did at some point in time, depending on exactly who your ancestors were — that could have been relatively recently or could have been 200 years ago — but they did live on bread and porridge and other kinds of foods as the bulk of their calorie consumption. So if we release bread mentally from being this pillar of all these things and say, “Yes, I’m willing to spend more for it,” if I can spend $25 on a plate of risotto or pasta — which is not expensive by New York standards at all — well, I ought to be able to be willing to spend that for an equal serving of bread.

3. 50 Shades of Green

Fifty Shades Darker European Premiere - London Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson at the Fifty Shades Darker premiere. Source: Empics Entertainment

La Donna Pietra takes a look at the new film Fifty Shades Darker, and decides: It’s all about the economy. A sideways and smart look at the movie.

(Birth Movies Death, approx 10 mins reading time)

Fifty Shades Darker does not do a very good job of hiding its actual motivations, any more than Ana’s sleazetastic new boss Jack Hyde. Financial concerns drive the plot from start to finish, and the sex everyone showed up for is just window dressing. This is not a huge surprise; the book remains the only erotic/porn/romance novel I have ever read to include student loan payments as a plot point, and E.L. James’ notably clunky writing gets significantly better when she’s describing consumer goods.

4. The death of Karen Batts

Karen Batts was found hypothermic and dying in a parking garage in Portland. Her shocking death forced the city to look at how it treated the homeless.

(The Guardian, approx 24 mins reading time)

The city’s image of itself as a bastion of liberal values and affable quirkiness is increasingly undermined by the plight of its homeless residents. Amid unusually brutal weather, Batts was among four homeless Portlanders who died of exposure in the first 10 days of 2017. In the same period, a homeless woman was found holding a dead infant at a bus shelter; the medical examiner ruled it a stillbirth.

5. Life on drugs

Cocaine and ecstasy sold at 'unprecedented levels of purity' Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Music journalist Barney Hoskyns was young when he got involved in drugs – they made life more interesting, helped him escape his problems, but left his life in tatters.

(The Guardian, approx 12 mins reading time)

To this day I don’t know why I said yes – why I rolled up my sleeve and told my old friend: “Do it.” I can’t say it was peer pressure. I harboured no secret longing to be a junkie. You’d think that, having just graduated with a first from Oxford, I might not have stuck my hand in this particular fire. In a moment of existential recklessness, I did it anyway.

6. Immortal technique

Irish writer and journalist Mark O’Connell has a new book out about humans and our obsession with death. In this extract, he introduces us to ‘transhumanist’ Zoltan Istvan, a presidential candidate who undertook a trip in a coffin-shaped bus in order to make people think about immortality.

(New York Times, approx 34 mins reading time)

Although I was not sure I wanted to live forever, I was sure that I didn’t want to go down in a blaze of chintzy irony, plunging into a ravine strapped into the passenger seat of a thing called the Immortality Bus. For all that Istvan railed against the tyranny of death over human lives, his attitude toward basic road safety was at times wildly cavalier. The fact that he was piloting a 38-foot coffin bus through New Mexico did not, for instance, stop him from looking at his phone every couple of minutes, responding to texts and emails, checking the social-media analytics on his latest piece for TechCrunch, etc\


COURTS Falconio Northern Territory Supreme Court handout of British backpackers Joanne Lees and Peter Falconio in their camper van. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

In 2001, British backpacker couple Peter Falconio and Joanne Lees were flagged down by a man in Australia’s Northern Territory. The man shot and killed Peter and abducted Lees. Here, former detective Colleen Gwynne looks back on an incredibly tough case.

(The Guardian, approx 16 mins reading time)

In the darkness, Gwynne recalled the details of the crime: a Kombi van with two British backpackers headed north; a man in a white utility pulled off to one side of the highway, hazard lights blinking; a helpful Falconio coaxed to the rear of the vehicle; male voices discussing something about exhaust pipes and then a gunshot ringing through the night; a terrified Lees pulled from the front seat, stunned by a blow to the head, hands bound, forced into the ute; an anxious killer returning to Falconio’s body; a tiny, wild window of opportunity for Lees to scramble out into darkness and run to this very place, under the saltbush.

More: The best reads from every previous Sitdown Sunday>

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