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The Best Stuff We've Read This Week

Bad Blood: They mysterious life and brutal death of a Russian dissident. On Medium, writer Will Storr provides a glimpse into the dangerous world surrounding the seats of power in post-Soviet Russia and the radioactive poisoning death of a former KGB official who turned on his agency.

My First Mistake. In Lapham's Quarterly, Simon Winchester recounts his brief career as a young mortuary assistant in London and rather large screw up he made while in that position.

Reverse-Engineering a Genius (Has a Vermeer Mystery Been Solved?) In Vanity Fair, Kurt Andersen writes about the controversial investigation by a 21st-century inventor into the possible mechanical assistance used by one of the Dutch Masters, the 17th-century photorealistic painter Johannes Vermeer, which is the subject of an upcoming documentary by Penn and Teller.

Tens of thousands protest, over 100 arrested in Black Friday challenge to Wal-Mart. On Salon, Josh Eidelson provides an update into the growing protests against wages and working conditions of Wal-Mart workers by a group called OUR Wal-Mart.

How Small Savings Can Replace Small Borrowing: A well-designed savings product can help low-income consumers avoid costly short-term credit. On Next Billion, Thea Garon briefly covers a small pilot study that found making savings accounts available to users of pre-paid debit cards provided a means of avoiding the need for short-term credit like pawnshops to cover emergency costs.

Diagnosing the Home Alone burglars' injuries: A professional weighs in. In The Week, writer Laura Hansen consults a physician to learn the prognoses of the two burglars in the movie Home Alone after they endure all manner of injury at the hands of the sharp-witted abandoned child, Kevin.

How Wall Street Has Turned Housing Into a Dangerous Get-Rich-Quick Scheme-Again. In Mother Jones, writer Laura Gottesdiner exposes another, astounding potential real estate bubble built by speculators. Having downgraded Americans from homeowners to renters, hedge funds are purchasing foreclosed homes, turning them into rental properties, and bundling the payments into securities for sale in precisely the same way as sub-prime mortgages.

The Time Ohio and Michigan Almost Went to War. In Mental Floss, Rob Lammle goes over the Toledo War, a short-lived standoff in the early 19th-century between the states of Ohio and Michigan over the once-valuable stretch of land occupied by present-day Toledo.

The Windows to the Soul Part 2: Colour Vision. On Quadrivia, the blogger writes about color-blindness and color vision both among humans and elsewhere in the animal kingdom.

1938: Robert Lee Cannon and Albert Kessell, the first gassed in California. On Executed Today, the blogger Headsman writes about the first executions by gas chamber, at Folsom Prison.

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