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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.

Syrian Rebels Retreat From Bab Amr In Face Of Army Onslaught
Liz Sly, The Washington Post | Rebels Retreat From Bab Amr In Face Of Army Onslaught | March 1, 2012

The Free Syrian Army announced Thursday that it was retreating from the shattered Bab Amr neighborhood in the Syrian city of Homs, citing concerns for the welfare of civilians and the inability to withstand an escalating offensive by better-armed government troops.

The rebels’ decision came a day after Syria’s army launched a fresh push to retake Bab Amr, which had become a powerful symbol of resistance to the regime led by President Bashar al-Assad. The district has been under siege by government troops, bombarded on a daily basis for nearly four weeks...

Silicon Valley Homeless Feel The Grip Of Recession's Long Reach
Peter S. Goodman, The Huffington Post | Silicon Velley Homeless Feel The Grip Of Recession's Long Reach | March 1, 2012

The first time Michele arrived at the Maple Street homeless shelter three years ago, she was still driving her BMW 325xi, the final remnant of her Silicon Valley affluence.

Her paper wealth of more than $2 million had evaporated a decade earlier, she says, via a stock options fiasco. She had used the options to buy stock in her high-flying software startup, netting a seven-figure profit by the government's reckoning, but then held the shares until they were nearly worthless. That left her with no cash and a $200,000 tax bill. She had sold nearly everything to cover it: her house, her remaining stocks, her art collection...

A New Look at Music Therapy
Spencer Michels, NPR | A New Look at Music Therapy | February 28, 2012

The interesting thing about music therapy is that nobody I could find understands how it works on the brain -- just that it does. The subject is newsworthy right now because former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was badly injured in a Tucson, Ariz., shooting a year ago, apparently recovered her speech though music...

Rick Santorum, Meet Hamza Kashgari
George Packer, The New Yorker | Rick Santorum, Meet Hamza Kashgari | February 28, 2012

President Kennedy’s 1960 speech on religious freedom makes Rick Santorum “throw up.” “What kind of country do we live in that says only people of nonfaith can come into the public square and make their case?” Santorum says. It’s a central part of his campaign strategy to distort such things as a Kennedy speech, or an Obama speech, to whip up outrage at the supposed war on religious people in America. Here’s what Kennedy said:...

They're, Like, Way Ahead of the Linguistic Currrrve
Douglas Quenqua, The New York Times | They're, Like, Way Ahead of the Linguistic Currrrve | February 28, 2012

From Valley Girls to the Kardashians, young women have long been mocked for the way they talk.

Whether it be uptalk (pronouncing statements as if they were questions? Like this?), creating slang words like “bitchin’ ” and “ridic,” or the incessant use of “like” as a conversation filler, vocal trends associated with young women are often seen as markers of immaturity or even stupidity.

Right?

What is Facebook Worth? A View From India
Prashant Agrawal, The New York Times | What is Facebook Worth? A View From India | February 27, 2012

I couldn’t help but notice my taxi driver’s spanking new Nokia phone on a recent ride in Mumbai.

No, he wasn’t carrying the high-end Lumia “smart phone” (retail price about 30,000 rupees, or $611), but it certainly wasn’t a basic phone either. It had a qwerty keyboard, wi-fi and Internet access. Pankaj, the taxi driver, said it cost him a cool 6,000 rupees, roughly a third of his monthly income...

Magic Mountain: What Happens at Davos?
Nick Paumgarten, The New Yorker | Magic Mountain: What Happens at Davos? | February 27, 2012

The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland, was well under way when it officially commenced, early on a Wednesday evening in January, with an address, in the Congress Hall of the Congress Center, by Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany. She had a lot to say about Europe. Some of it—“Do we dare more Europe? Yes, we do dare”—made the news. But outside the hall many Davos participants paid her no mind. They loitered in various lounges carrying on conversations with each other. They talked and talked—as though they hadn’t been talking all day. They had talked while sitting on panels or while skipping panels that others were sitting on. “Historic Complexity: How Did We Get Here?,” “The Compensation Question,” “Global Risks 2012: The Seeds of Dystopia”: over the course of five days, a man could skip more than two hundred and fifty such sessions.

Many Davos participants rarely, if ever, attend even one. Instead, they float around in the slack spaces, sitting down to one arranged meeting after another, or else making themselves available for chance encounters, either with friends or with strangers whom they will ever after be able to refer to as friends...

Wikileaks Pairs with Anonymous to Publish Intelligence Firm's Dirty Laundry

In an unprecedented collaboration between Anonymous and WikiLeaks, the secret spilling site began leaking Sunday night portions of a massive trove of e-mails from the private intelligence firm Stratfor that Anonymous obtained by hacking the company in December.

WikiLeaks did not mention the source of the reported five gigabytes of e-mails in its press release, but did say it has been working for months with 25 media outlets from around the world to analyze the documents...

Art in the Streets of Kabul
Emma Graham-Harrison, The Guardian | Art in the Streets of Kabul | February 25, 2012

Inside the blackened ruin of Kabul's cultural centre, a spray-painting of a woman in a burqa sits at the foot of a staircase to nowhere, beside a line of poetry mourning everything that has been lost to Afghanistan in three decades of violence.

The painting is the work of Shamsia Hassani, 24, probably her country's first serious graffiti artist...

The Great American Novel
Roger Kimball, The Weekly Standard | The Great American Novel: Will there ever be another? | February 25, 2012

A couple of years ago, I was asked to give a talk about “The American Novel Today.” It wasn’t my first choice of topic, frankly, partly because I read as few contemporary novels as possible, partly (here we get into cause and effect) because most of the novels that get noticed today (like most of the visual art that gets the Establishment’s nod) should be filed under the rubric “ephemera,” and often pretty nasty ephemera at that...