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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.

How Caffeine Can Cramp Creativity
Maria Konnikova, The New Yorker | How Caffeine Can Cramp Creativity | June 18, 2013

Honoré de Balzac is said to have consumed the equivalent of fifty cups of coffee a day at his peak. He did not drink coffee, though—he pulverized coffee beans into a fine dust and ingested the dry powder on an empty stomach. He described the approach as “horrible, rather brutal,” to be tried only by men of “excessive vigor.” He documented the effects of the process in his 1839 essay “Traité des Excitants Modernes” (“Treatise on Modern Stimulants”): “Sparks shoot all the way up to the brain” while “ideas quick-march into motion like battalions of a grand army to its legendary fighting ground, and the battle rages.”...

Japan's 'Science Women' Seek An Identity
Miki Tanikawa, The New York Times | Japan's 'Science Women' Seek An Identity | June 17, 2013

When she meets people off campus, Junko Tsuchiyagaito, 23, does not usually let on that she studies chemistry at the graduate level. She does not deliberately withhold the information, but she does not volunteer it, either...

The Prism: Privacy In An Age Of Publicity
Jill Lepore, The New Yorker | The Prism: Privacy In An Age Of Publicity | June 17, 2013

An extraordinary fuss about eavesdropping started in the spring of 1844, when Giuseppe Mazzini, an Italian exile in London, became convinced that the British government was opening his mail. Mazzini, a revolutionary who’d been thrown in jail in Genoa, imprisoned in Savona, sentenced to death in absentia, and arrested in Paris, was plotting the unification of the kingdoms of Italy and the founding of an Italian republic. He suspected that, in London, he’d been the victim of what he called “post-office espionage”: he believed that the Home Secretary, Sir James Graham, had ordered his mail to be opened, at the request of the Austrian Ambassador, who, like many people, feared what Mazzini hoped—that an insurrection in Italy would spark a series of revolutions across Europe. Mazzini knew how to find out: he put poppy seeds, strands of hair, and grains of sand into envelopes, sealed the envelopes with wax, and sent them, by post, to himself. When the letters arrived—still sealed—they contained no poppy seeds, no hair, and no grains of sand. Mazzini then had his friend Thomas Duncombe, a Member of Parliament, submit a petition to the House of Commons. Duncombe wanted to know if Graham really had ordered the opening of Mazzini’s mail. Was the British government in the business of prying into people’s private correspondence? Graham said the answer to that question was a secret...

From Fox News To Rush: Secrets Of The Right's Lie Machine
John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney | From Fox News To Rush: Secrets Of The Right's Lie Machine | June 15, 2013

Conservative media plays by its rule, and bends truth to back whatever argument they've decided to make that day.

Excerpted from Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America

One key factor that has altered campaign coverage comes from the corporate right in the form of “conservative” media. If there has been a vacuum created by the downsizing of newsrooms, conservative media have filled it with an insistent partisanship unseen in commercial news media for nearly a century. The conservative media program has been a cornerstone of the Dollarocracy’s — the big money and corporate media election complex — political program since at least Lewis Powell’s 1971 memo. Initially, the work was largely about criticizing the news media for being unfair to conservative Republicans and having a liberal Democratic bias. Although the actual research to support these claims was, to be generous, thin—one major book edited by Brent Bozell actually claimed corporations such as General Electric were “liberal” companies with an interest in anti-business journalism because they had made small donations to groups like the NAACP and the Audubon Society—the point was not to win academic arguments. The point of bashing the “liberal media,” as Republican National Committee chairman Rich Bond conceded in 1992, was to “work the refs” like a basketball coach does so that “maybe the ref will cut you a little slack” on the next play...

The Power -- And Beauty -- Of Solar Energy
related to article by Bryan Walsh, Time | The Power -- And Beauty -- Of Solar Energy | June 15, 2013

The solar thermal technology behind Ivanpah—which is being jointly developed by BrightSource Energy, NRG Energy and Google—uses thousands of mirrors to reflect sunlight. That light is collected in one of Ivanpah’s three solar towers, where the intense heat transforms water into steam. That steam is piped to a turbine that generates electricity. It’s the same basic technology behind a coal or natural gas plant—only the sun provides the heat...

 

( main article here: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2145499,00.html )

Egypt's Terrible FGM Death
Alastair Beach, The Daily Beast | Egypt's Terrible FGM Death | June 13, 2013

The death of a girl who was having an operation to have her clitoris removed puts a new spotlight on the widespread practice of female genital mutilation in Egypt.

In the mind of Hasanat Fawzy, ten dollars was a small price to pay for her daughter’s honor. Ten dollars, and her little girl, Soheir, would be ready to take her first step on the road to womanhood. All it required was a trip to the clinic. There, the local doctor would take a sharp knife and slice off the 13-year-old’s clitoris.

Young Soheir was no exception. Generations of women in her family and village had undergone the same procedure. If they ever objected, it hardly mattered. After all, this is what happens to honorable women—they are professionally mutilated to prepare them for the world of men.

But last week, while the doctor was carving up Soheir’s genitalia, the operation went catastrophically wrong...

Islam and the Misuses of Ecstasy
Sam Harris, Sam Harris Blog (via The Dish) | Islam and the Misuses of Ecstasy | June 13, 2013

I have long struggled to understand how smart, well-educated liberals can fail to perceive the unique dangers of Islam. In The End of Faith, I argued that such people don’t know what it’s like to really believe in God or Paradise—and hence imagine that no one else actually does. The symptoms of this blindness can be quite shocking. For instance, I once ran into the anthropologist Scott Atran after he had delivered one of his preening and delusional lectures on the origins of jihadist terrorism. According to Atran, people who decapitate journalists, filmmakers, and aid workers to cries of “Alahu akbar!” or blow themselves up in crowds of innocents are led to misbehave this way not because of their deeply held beliefs about jihad and martyrdom but because of their experience of male bonding in soccer clubs and barbershops. (Really.) So I asked Atran directly:

“Are you saying that no Muslim suicide bomber has ever blown himself up with the expectation of getting into Paradise?”

“Yes,” he said, “that’s what I’m saying. No one believes in Paradise.”...

Behind Kanye's Mask
Jon Caramanica, The New York Times | Behind Kanye's Mask | June 13, 2013

From Shangri-la Studio here you can see the Pacific Ocean just over the fence lapping calmly at Zuma Beach. And this compound is just as Zen, with recording equipment set up in various locations, including an old bus and a spotless white house with all the mirrors removed.

But there is no rest at Shangri-la, at least for Kanye West. For several days in late May and early June, he and a rotating group of intimates, collaborators and hangers-on were holed up in service of finishing “Yeezus” (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam), Mr. West’s sixth solo album, out Tuesday, and one that marks a turn away from his reliable maximalism to something more urgent and visceral...

My Grateful Dead
Joanna Colangelo, The Huffington Post | My Grateful Dead | June 12, 2013

The passing of time has always struck me by its strange subjectivity and distortion. It's that warped sense of years that seem like eternities as a child, but the older we get, months blend into each other and the swiftness with which the years pass can be terrifying. I've done my best to avoid marking time, instead, opting to think that each month is only a continuation of the day before. But every June reminds me of another passing year, right when the cool summer evening breezes are preparing to turn into hot July nights. These are the nights of a distinct, and now distant, time and place that lives on through a wistful blend of music and memories. These are the nights that I miss the Grateful Dead -- "my" Grateful Dead -- the most...

Tiny Patients, Major Goals
Gina Kolata, The New York Times | Tiny Patients, Major Goals | June 11, 2013

Here at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a black mouse lies on a miniature exam table, his tail dangling off the end. A plastic tube carries anesthetic to his nose and mouth. He is asleep.

Before he was born, the mouse was injected with two mutated genes often found in human prostate cancer. As he lies on the table, a technician is measuring his two-millimeter prostate tumor with a petite ultrasound machine — the very exam a man would undergo, only on a dollhouse scale...