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Daily Briefing

Deep buzz for the content-deprived

Every weekday, while you get showered and dressed, we pluck these dewy- fresh, breaking stories from the info-clogged byways of the datasphere. Pour yourself a cup of coffee and stoke up on everything you need to know, or at least enough to fake it.

At Antietam, Desperate, Bloody Battle Let To A Civil War Turning Point
Michael E. Ruane, The Washington Post | At Antietam, Desperate, Bloody Battle Let To A Civil War Turning Point | September 9, 2012

A spine of gray limestone runs north and south through the legendary cornfield here, just breaking the surface and leaving a path where no corn can grow.

For a century and a half, the elements have scoured the dirt, and crops have come and gone. But the stone has remained, scarred and smoothed by the plow and the weather.

In this stony cornfield, the doomed 1st Texas lost, along with its flag, 82 percent of its men. Here, the Civil War’s Battle of Antietam exploded in fury, and here, a crucial, bloody step was taken toward the end of slavery in America.

“Of all the days on all the fields where American soldiers have fought, the most terrible by almost any measure” was here at Antietam, historian Stephen W. Sears wrote in his classic 1983 study of the battle.

In the late summer and fall of 1862, as the Civil War moved through its second year, it had reached frightful new levels of violence, which would grow as the war went on...

An Open Letter To Wikipedia
Philip Roth, The New Yorker | An Open Letter To Wikipedia | September 9, 2012

Dear Wikipedia,

I am Philip Roth. I had reason recently to read for the first time the Wikipedia entry discussing my novel “The Human Stain.” The entry contains a serious misstatement that I would like to ask to have removed. This item entered Wikipedia not from the world of truthfulness but from the babble of literary gossip—there is no truth in it at all.

Yet when, through an official interlocutor, I recently petitioned Wikipedia to delete this misstatement, along with two others, my interlocutor was told by the “English Wikipedia Administrator”—in a letter dated August 25th and addressed to my interlocutor—that I, Roth, was not a credible source: “I understand your point that the author is the greatest authority on their own work,” writes the Wikipedia Administrator—“but we require secondary sources.”...

The Slaughter Of Elephents In Vietnam Is Nearly Complete
Mark McDonald, International Herald Tribune | The Slaughter Of Elephants In Vietnam Is Nearly Complete | September 7, 2012

The plight of elephants in Africa is being explained, in graphic and saddening detail, in a new series of stories by my colleague Jeffrey Gettleman of The New York Times. “An epic elephant slaughter,” he calls it, with poachers wiping out tens of thousands of elephants a year for their ivory.

The killing has now reached a kind of frenzy, and even military units in central Africa are involved, gunning down elephants from their helicopters. Ivory tusks, most of them bound for China, have become the new blood diamonds.

The poachers have already done their worst in Vietnam. Along with developers, loggers, villagers and negligent bureaucrats, they have conspired to reduce the wild elephant population to just a few dozen...

'The Economy Stole My Retirement'
Sarah E. Needleman and Emily Maltby, The Wall Street Journal | 'The Economy Stole My Retirement' | September 7, 2012

Danny Sullivan dreams of gardening and spending time with his grandchildren, but that's just a fantasy. Retirement is out of his reach, at least for the foreseeable future.

The 62-year-old founder of a small catering company spends his days helping stock bars with beer and ice, wooing potential new clients and juggling the 20 to 30 different events his firm handles daily.

"I am so tired," he says. "I don't know that I'll ever be able to retire."...

On Cellphone Solitude
Matt Love, Coast Weekend | On Cellphone Solitude | September 7, 2012

“Contemporary Western culture makes the peace of solitude difficult to attain. The telephone is an ever-present threat to privacy … and the invention of the car telephone has ensured that drivers who install it are never out of touch with those who want to talk to them.”

So wrote Anthony Storr in his book, “Solitude: A Return to the Self.” I bought it not long ago from a coastal thrift store for a quarter and read it practically in one sitting.

Solitude’s publication date? 1988...

Woodward Book Chronicles Obama's Fiscal Policy Battle With Congressional Republicans
Steve Luxenberg, The Washington Post | Woodward Book Chronicles Obama's Fiscal Policy Battle With Congressional Republicans | September 6, 2012

A combination of miscalculations, ideological rigidity and discord within the leadership of both political parties brought the U.S. government to the brink of a catastrophic default during the 2011 showdown over the federal debt ceiling, according to a new book by journalist Bob Woodward.

“The Price of Politics,” Woodward’s 17th book, chronicles President Obama’s contentious and still unresolved fiscal policy battle with congressional Republicans that dominated the White House agenda for nearly all of 2011. (On Sunday, The Washington Post will publish an adaptation in its print, mobile and Web editions. The book is scheduled for release on Tuesday. Woodward is a Post associate editor.)

As the nation’s leaders raced to avert a default that could have shattered the financial markets’ confidence and imperiled the world’s economy, Obama convened an urgent meeting with top congressional leaders in the White House. According to Woodward, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) pointedly told the president that the lawmakers were working on a plan and wouldn’t negotiate with him...

Saying Goodbye To The Farm
Anne Raver, The New York Times | Saying Goodbye To The Farm | September 6, 2012

It's time to leave the farm in Maryland.

My brother has sold the fields that surround us and the new owner has put “No Trespassing” signs at the end of the lane that goes past our barn to the old tenant house and then down to the stream.

“You and Rock can still walk down there if you ask permission,” the new owner told us.

It would be easier to move than to ask permission to walk over fields that I know like the curve of my own hips. I know where the stream turns, where the otter lives...

The Target Post
Jim Walter, Huffington Post Parents Blog | The Target Post | September 6, 2012

Yesterday I was reading something from a fellow blogger about how he always buys solid-colored shirts at Target. His wife had posted a picture of him on Facebook, and it makes me laugh to tag pictures with ridiculous tags, so I tagged his pic. He was holding a piece of bacon, so I tagged it "Bacon" (duh). I tagged his eyes, "his eyes how they twinkled" and his cheek with "his dimples how merry," etc. I got to the shirt and tried to tag it "Target" and Facebook said I didn't have permission. Meh. But that made me remember I'd been at Target over the weekend with Lily...

Vagine: A New Biography
Naomi Wolf, The Guardian | Vagina: A New Biography | September 5, 2012

In an exclusive extract from her new book, the feminist writer explains how sexist langauge can wreck women's lives...

Bits Of Mystery DNA, Far From 'Junk,' Play Crucial Role
Gina Kolata, The New York Times | Bits Of Mystery DNA, Far From 'Junk,' Play Crucial Role | September 5, 2012

Among the many mysteries of human biology is why complex diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and psychiatric disorders are so difficult to predict and, often, to treat. An equally perplexing puzzle is why one individual gets a disease like cancer or depression, while an identical twin remains perfectly healthy.

Now scientists have discovered a vital clue to unraveling these riddles. The human genome is packed with at least four million gene switches that reside in bits of DNA that once were dismissed as “junk” but that turn out to play critical roles in controlling how cells, organs and other tissues behave...