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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.

Sorting Fact From Fiction On Health Care
Jerome Groopman and Pamela Hartzband, The Wall Street Journal | Sorting Fact From Fiction On Health Care | September 27, 2013

In recent town-hall meetings, President Barack Obama has called for a national debate on health-care reform based on facts. It is fact that more than 40 million Americans lack coverage and spiraling costs are a burden on individuals, families and our economy. There is broad consensus that these problems must be addressed. But the public is skeptical that their current clinical care is substandard and that no government bureaucrat will come between them and their doctor. Americans have good reason for their doubts—key assertions about gaps in care are flawed and reform proposals to oversee care could sharply shift decisions away from patients and their physicians.

Consider these myths and mantras of the current debate...

Argh! Pirate Booty Found From 1717 Shipwreck
Associated Press | Argh! Pirate Booty Found From 1717 Shipwreck | September 27, 2013

This road runs along Cape Cod's shifting seafloor, and undersea explorer Barry Clifford believes it leads to undiscovered treasure from the wreck of the pirate ship Whydah. About two weeks ago, Clifford and his dive team took a trip back to the wreck site, and Clifford returned more convinced than ever that the road he's exploring is a path to riches.

 

"We think we're very, very close," he said.

 

The Whydah sank in a brutal storm in 1717 with plunder from 50 ships on board. Clifford discovered the wreck site in 1984 off Wellfleet and has since pulled up 200,000 artifacts, including gold ornaments, sword handles, even a boy's leg. But just this year, Clifford learned far more treasure may be resting with the Whydah, the only authenticated pirate shipwreck in U.S. waters. Colonial-era documents discovered in April indicated the Whydah raided two vessels in the weeks before it sank. Its haul on those raids included 400,000 coins, the records said...

Ted Cruz's Fake Fight Against Obamcare Is Making Millions
Patricia Murphy, The Daily Beast | Ted Cruz's Fake Fight Against Obamcare Is Making Millions | September 25, 2013

When Sen. Ted Cruz went to the Senate floor Tuesday to block a bill that would fund the federal government for the next two months, he said to the C-SPAN cameras, "We don't need fake fights.  We don't need fake votes.  What we need is real change." 

But at that moment, Cruz was leading a fake fight over a fake vote that nearly all in Washington agree would never actually defund Obamacare the way Cruz said it would. 

As for the “real change” Ted Cruz said he was looking for, that change has arrived in Washington, and the change is Ted Cruz himself.  Almost single-handedly, the freshman Tea Party apostle has upended the clubby U.S. Senate, roiled the tradition-bound GOP, and revolutionized the business of power in the nation’s capital, all thanks to the health-care bill that Cruz, former senator Jim DeMint, and a small army of conservative operatives have essentially made a living out of hating...

A Holographic Big Bang
Matthew R. Francis, Slate | A Holographic Big Bang | September 25, 2013

Did the universe begin with a black hole in a higher-dimensional reality?

Depending on your level of cynicism, that question sounds like either an exciting idea or something you might hear from the stoner in your social circle. The reality: It's a bit of interesting but speculative science from physicists attempting to solve a somewhat obscure problem in cosmology. Despite media coverage in Nature (later picked up by PBS and io9), the paper describing the research is unpublished and doesn't correspond to existing observations. It's still an interesting idea—one that can help us understand the study of our universe...

It's Hip To Be Hip, Too
Luke O'Neil, Slate | It's Hip To Be Hip, Too | September 24, 2013

Those of us in our 30s and younger have come of age during a time of incessant media-based self-reflection. Not of the meaningful, “Where do I fit into the universe?” kind that might've passed for existential maturation in a more philosophical era, but of a more superficial stripe. “What is my personal brand?” we ask ourselves. It's something that was a lot easier to answer in the past, when there were only so many to choose from, and when a career or class did most of the heavy lifting for you. Today the perpetually splintering brackets of contemporary demographic specificity engender an eternal anxiety of self, one in which we're meant to renew our vows of identity with regularity. And the choices are many. Identifying as bros, or tech nerds, foodies, gamers, health-conscious types, fashionistas, politicos, or the sports-obsessed are all viable branding options. There's just one type that we're not supposed to assume for ourselves, which is strange, because we're all obsessed with it: the hipster...

Nukes Of Hazard
Louis Menand, The New Yorker | Nukes Of Hazard | September 24, 2013

n January 25, 1995, at 9:28 A.M. Moscow time, an aide handed a briefcase to Boris Yeltsin, the President of Russia. A small light near the handle was on, and inside was a screen displaying information indicating that a missile had been launched four minutes earlier from somewhere in the vicinity of the Norwegian Sea, and that it appeared to be headed toward Moscow. Below the screen was a row of buttons. This was the Russian “nuclear football.” By pressing the buttons, Yeltsin could launch an immediate nuclear strike against targets around the world. Russian nuclear missiles, submarines, and bombers were on full alert. Yeltsin had forty-seven hundred nuclear warheads ready to go.

The Chief of the General Staff, General Mikhail Kolesnikov, had a football, too, and he was monitoring the flight of the missile. Radar showed that stages of the rocket were falling away as it ascended, which suggested that it was an intermediate-range missile similar to the Pershing II, the missile deployed by NATO across Western Europe. The launch site was also in the most likely corridor for an attack on Moscow by American submarines. Kolesnikov was put on a hot line with Yeltsin, whose prerogative it was to launch a nuclear response. Yeltsin had less than six minutes to make a decision...

The Honey Launderers: Uncovering The Largest Food Fraud In U.S. History
Susan Berfield, Bloomberg Businessweek | The Honey Launderers: Uncovering The Largest Food Fraud In U.S. History | September 23, 2013

Magnus von Buddenbrock and Stefanie Giesselbach arrived in Chicago in 2006 full of hope. He was 30, she was 28, and they had both won their first overseas assignments at ALW Food Group, a family-owned food-trading company based in Hamburg. Von Buddenbrock had joined ALW—the initials stand for its founder, Alfred L. Wolff—four years earlier after earning a degree in marketing and international business, and he was expert in the buying and selling of gum arabic, a key ingredient in candy and soft drinks. Giesselbach had started at ALW as a 19-year-old apprentice. She worked hard, learned quickly, spoke five languages, and within three years had become the company’s first female product manager. Her specialty was honey. When the two colleagues began their new jobs in a small fourth-floor office a few blocks from Millennium Park in downtown Chicago, ALW’s business was growing, and all they saw was opportunity.

On March 24, 2008, von Buddenbrock came to the office around 8:30 a.m., as usual. He was expecting a quiet day: It was a holiday in Germany, and his bosses there had the day off. Giesselbach was on holiday, too; she had returned to Germany to visit her family and boyfriend. Sometime around 10 a.m., von Buddenbrock heard a commotion in the reception area and went to have a look. A half-dozen armed federal agents, all wearing bulletproof vests, had stormed in. “They made a good show, coming in with full force,” he recalls. “It was pretty scary.”...

Whistling Vivaldi Won't Save You
Tressie McMillan Cottom, Slate | Whistling Vivaldi Won't Save You | September 22, 2013

 

Social psychologist Claude Steele’s book Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do revolutionized our understanding of the daily context and cognitive effects of stereotypes and bias. The title of Steele’s book alludes to a story his friend New York Times writer Brent Staples once shared. An African-American man, Staples recounted how his physical presence terrified whites as he moved about Chicago as a free citizen and graduate student. To counter the negative effects of white fear, he took to whistling Vivaldi. It was a signal to the unvictimized victims of his blackness that he was safe. Dangerous black men do not listen to classical music, or so the hope goes. The incongruence between Staples' musical choices and the stereotype of him as a predator were meant to disrupt the implicit, unexamined racist assumptions about him. It seems an annoying daily accommodation, perhaps, an attempt to make whites feel at ease to grease the wheels of social interactions—unless we fully recognize the potential consequences of white dis-ease for black lives...

Katskhi Pillar Monk, Maxime Qavtaradze, Renews Age-Old Tradition In Georgia
Yasmine Hafiz, The Huffington Post | Katskhi Pillar Monk, Maxime Qavtaradze, Renews Age-Old Tradition In Georgia | September 20, 2013

Maxime Qavtaradze is literally close to the heavens. The 59-year-old monk lives atop a stone pillar in Georgia, scaling a 131-foot ladder in order to leave and enter his lofty home, reports CNN. Photographer Amos Chapple ascended the cliff to photograph his life there.

The Katskhi Pillar has long been venerated by locals in the area, though it's been uninhabited since around the 1400s. When climbers ascended for the first time in centuries in 1944, they found the ruins of a church and the 600-year-old bones of the last stylite who lived there. The stylite tradition is believed to have begun in 423 when St. Simeon the Elder climbed a pillar in Syria in order to avoid worldly temptations, but the practice has since fallen out of favor. However, Qavtaradze is a modern devotee...

How A Prank On Playboy Fooled The Internet
Adrienne vogt, The Daily Beast | How A Prank On Playboy Fooled The Internet | September 20, 2013

No, Playboy did not change its annual party school guide into an article advocating consent on campus. The Daily Beast speaks with one of the students behind PartyWithPlayboy.com.

This week, Twitter was a-flutter with news that Playboy magazine had scrapped its annual party school guide in favor of an anti-rape college roundup.

The article included a very legitimate-looking graphic and active links to Playboy's other stories. But it turned out to be an elaborate and incredibly effective hoax, created by an anti-rape organization and a group of college students...