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.

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 Despite media coverage in Nature (later picked up by PBS and io9), the paper describing the research is unpublished and doesn't correspond to existing observations.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...

Bring Back The Lyme Vaccine
Stanley A. Plotkin, International Herald Tribune Opinion | Bring Back The Lyme Vaccine | September 19, 2013

In August 2005 my son Alec, then 39 years old, collapsed into unconsciousness while walking his dog in the suburbs of Philadelphia. By the time he arrived at the hospital, his heart rate had slowed to 30 beats per minute. Fortunately, an experienced physician recognized that Alec was having a cardiac complication of Lyme infection. Installation of a pacemaker and an infusion of antibiotics saved his life.

Each year there are more than 30,000 cases of Lyme disease reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But last month, the C.D.C. announced that the real number of annual infections was closer to 300,000...

Senator John McCain: Russians Deserve Better Than Putin
Sen. John McCain, Pravda | Senator John McCain: Russians Deserve Better Than Putin | September 19, 2013

When Pravda.ru editor, Dmitry Sudakov, offered to publish my commentary, he referred to me as "an active anti-Russian politician for many years." I'm sure that isn't the first time Russians have heard me characterized as their antagonist. Since my purpose here is to dispel falsehoods used by Russia's rulers to perpetuate their power and excuse their corruption, let me begin with that untruth. I am not anti-Russian. I am pro-Russian, more pro-Russian than the regime that misrules you today...

Yoko Ono Details Why She Posted Lennon's Bloodied Glasses On Twitter
Jennifer Preston, The New York Times | Yoko Ono Details Why She Posted Lennon's Bloodied Glasses On Twitter | September 19, 2013

On what would have been her 44th wedding anniversary Wednesday, Yoko Ono said, she walked through a park, remembering how much she and her husband, John Lennon, had laughed and smiled on their wedding day. “Then I felt the emptiness more acutely because of the beautiful memory,” she said.

That evening, Ms. Ono, 80, posted on her Twitter account four antigun messages with an image of the blood-splattered glasses that Lennon was wearing when he was gunned down outside their Manhattan apartment building on Dec. 8, 1980...