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.

The Whole Nine Yards About A Phrase's Origin

When people talk about “the whole nine yards,” just what are they talking about? For decades the answer to that question has been the Bigfoot of word origins, chased around wild speculative corners by amateur word freaks, with exasperated lexicographers and debunkers of folk etymologies in hot pursuit. Does the phrase derive from the length of ammunition belts in World War II aircraft? The contents of a standard concrete mixer? The amount of beer a British naval recruit was obligated to drink? Yardage in football? The length of fabric in a Scottish kilt (or sari, or kimono, or burial shroud)?

Type the phrase into Google and you’re likely to get any of these answers, usually backed by nothing more than vaguely remembered conversations with someone’s Great-Uncle Ed. But now two researchers using high-powered database search tools have delivered a confident “none of the above,” supported by a surprise twist:

Before we were going the whole nine yards, it turns out, we were only going six..

Charles Durning, Prolific Character Actor, Dies At 89
Robert Berkvist, The New York Times | Charles Durning, Prolific Character Actor, Dies At 89 | December 25, 2012

Charles Durning, who overcame poverty, battlefield trauma and nagging self-doubt to become an acclaimed character actor, whether on stage as Big Daddy in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” or in film as the lonely widower smitten with a cross-dressing Dustin Hoffman in “Tootsie,” died Monday in New York. He was 89. He died of natural causes, The Associated Press reported, citing Judith Moss, his agent and friend. Charles Durning may not have been a household name, but with his pugnacious features and imposing bulk he was a familiar presence in American movies, television and theater, even if often overshadowed by the headliners...

At A Sacred Site, A Fight Over Women And Prayer
Jodi Rudoren, The New York Times | At A Sacred Site, A Fight Over Women And Prayer | December 23, 2012

The face-off at the security gate outside the Western Wall one Friday this month was familiar: for more than two decades, women have been making a monthly pilgrimage to pray at one of Judaism’s holiest sites in a manner traditionally preserved for men, and the police have stopped them in the name of maintaining public order.

But after a flurry of arrests this fall that set off an international outcry, the women arrived for December’s service to find a new protocol ordered by the ultra-Orthodox rabbi who controls the site. To prevent the women from defying a Supreme Court ruling that bars them from wearing ritual garments at the wall, they were blocked by police officers from bringing them in.

“How can you say this to me?” demanded a tearful Bonna Devora Haberman, 52, a Canadian immigrant who helped found the group Women of the Wall in 1988. “I’m a Jew. This is my state.”...

The Nenets Of Siberia Ensure The Annual Reindeer Migration
Sebastiao Salgado, The Washington Post | The Nenets Of Siberia Ensure The Annual Reindeer Migration | December 23, 2012

Using their skills as hunters and fishermen, the indigenous people of northern Russia preserve the tradition of herding reindeer across the forbidding Arctic...

(Photographs by Sebastiao Salgado.)

U.S. Shooting Deaths Since Sandy Hook Top 100
Jason Cherkis, The Huffington Post | U.S. Shooting Deaths Since Sandy Hook Top 100 | December 23, 2012

In the week following the Sandy Hook massacre, a body was found inside a vacant house, at a car wash, in a bodega. They were discovered on a bike trail, in a backyard, inside the front office of a motel, in an idling Chevy pickup. They were the 67th murder in their city and the 88th and the 124th.

All had one thing in common: the murder weapon. All died from gunshots. Shots to the head. Multiples to the chest. And so on.

This week, as mourners gathered in Newtown, Conn., to bury Sandy Hook Elementary's dead, and a nation renewed its debate over guns, the shootings did not stop. The Huffington Post spent the week tracking gun-related homicides and accidents throughout the U.S., logging more than 100 from Google and Nexis searches. This is by no means a definitive tally. In 2010, there were more than twice that many homicides alone in an average week...

What's With The Chinese Mayan-Doomsbury Cult?
Evan Osnos, The New Yorker | What's With The Chinese Mayan-Doomsbury Cult? | December 21, 2012

China has rounded up five hundred or so members of a fringe Christian group known as the Church of the Almighty God, which contends that the world will end on Friday. It had been distributing pamphlets and sending out cell-phone messages around the country warning, as one pamphlet put it: “December 21st is approaching, and on that day half of the world’s good people will die, and all evil people will die out—only if you join the Almighty God movement can you avoid death and be saved.” The group also predicts that “the sun will not shine and electricity will not work for three days,” according to the state press...

Leonard Cohen Rocks Madison Square Garden
Margie Goldsmith, The Huffington Post | Leonard Cohen Rocks Madison Square Garden | December 21, 2012

Last night, 20,000 of us in the audience sat mesmerized, collectively holding our breath as Leonard Cohen, performing his Old Ideas World Tour 2012, sang "Bird on the Wire" at Madison Square Garden. Except for Cohen's low gravely voice, the Garden was so silent you could have heard a finger slide across an iPhone. He was the preacher, the stage was his altar and the venue was his cathedral. The backdrop was a wall of silk curtains which rose from the floor to the rafters and changed colors with each song. The sound system was so perfect you could hear each syllable and chord from everywhere in the Garden.

Like a bird on the wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free...

Witnessing Grief And Compassion In Newtown
Jeff Benedict | Witnessing Grief And Compassion In Newtown | December 21, 2012

Dave Checketts is not a professionally trained clergyman. The former chairman of Madison Square Garden and the New York Knicks is currently CEO of Legends Hospitality, the concessions and merchandise company he jointly owns with the New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys.

But he's also a lay minister for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with oversight of 10 Mormon congregations in Fairfield County, Conn., including the one in Newtown.

On Friday morning, Checketts had left his New Canaan, Conn., home and headed to his Park Avenue office to prepare for a weekend business trip to Dallas for Sunday's Cowboys-Steelers game. He and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones planned to host a group of new investors. But late morning he got an email about a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. From his laptop, he accessed the church records for Mormon families in Newtown. Five of them had children that attended the school...

1.2 Million Years Of Porn Watched Since 2006 On Just Two Sites: Report
Weird News, Huffington Post | 1.2 Million Years Of Porn Watched Since 2006 On Just Two Sites: Report | December 20, 2012

With all the porn watching humanity has been doing, it's a wonder we ever do anything else.

The search engine PornWatchers.com (warning: if you go there, you will see porn) released a report that claims people have watched 1.2 million years worth of porn since 2006 — and that's based on data from just two porn sites...

The Best Astronomy Images Of 2012
Phil Plait, Slate | The Best Astronomy Images of 2012 | December 20, 2012

The Universe is beautiful.

Which is interesting. It doesn’t have to be; it could be all colorless and weird and lumpy. Instead, it’s bursting with color, sculpted by vast forces, molded into fantastic shapes that please our eyes and delight our brains—especially once we understand what we’re seeing.

Every December I pick my favorite images from the previous year to display, a task that is extraordinarily difficult. I always wind up with a list of about 60 or 70, and I have to cull it down mercilessly. Such is the case this year again, and I could pare it only to 21, a score and more of gorgeousness for you to soak in. I choose the pictures not just for their beauty but also because they are interesting, and different—ones that stand out from the crowd somehow. I usually put them in order with my favorite one last, but this year I just can’t. I’ll let you know my favorite when you get to it—I expect you’ll agree—but other than that it’s just a dead tie...