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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.

One Is the Quirkiest Number
Steven Kurutz, The New York Times | One Is the Quirkiest Number: The Freedom, and Perils, of Living Alone | February 25, 2012

If there is any doubt that we’re living in the age of the individual, a look at the housing data confirms it. For millenniums, people have huddled together, in caves, in mud huts, in split-levels and Cape Cods. But these days, 1 in every 4 American households is occupied by someone living alone; in Manhattan, mythic land of the singleton, the number is nearly 1 in 2...

How Exercise Fuels the Brain
Gretchen Reynolds, The New York Times | How Exercise Fuels the Brain | February 24, 2012

Moving the body demands a lot from the brain. Exercise activates countless neurons, which generate, receive and interpret repeated, rapid-fire messages from the nervous system, coordinating muscle contractions, vision, balance, organ function and all of the complex interactions of bodily systems that allow you to take one step, then another. This increase in brain activity naturally increases the brain’s need for nutrients, but until recently, scientists hadn’t fully understood how neurons fuel themselves during exercise. Now a series of animal studies from Japan suggest that the exercising brain has unique methods of keeping itself fueled...

Battle-Hardened By The Climate Wars
Suzanne Goldenberg, Slate | Battle-Hardened By The Climate Wars | February 23, 2012

It is almost possible to dismiss Michael Mann's account of a vast conspiracy by the fossil fuel industry to harass scientists and befuddle the public. His story of that campaign, and his own journey from naive computer geek to battle-hardened climate ninja, seems overwrought, maybe even paranoid.

But now comes the unauthorized release of documents showing how a libertarian think tank, the Heartland Institute, which has in the past been supported by Exxon, spent millions on lavish conferences attacking scientists and concocting projects to counter science teaching for kindergarteners.

Mann's story of what he calls the climate wars, the fight by powerful entrenched interests to undermine and twist the science meant to guide government policy, starts to seem pretty much on the money..

Insane Art Formed By Carving Books With Surgical Tools
Karan Arora, Karan Arora's Posterous | Insane Art Formed By Carving Books With Surgical Tools | February 23, 2012

Using knives, tweezers and surgical tools, Brian Dettmer carves one page at a time. Nothing inside the out-of-date encyclopedias, medical journals, illustration books, or dictionaries is relocated or implanted, only removed.

Dettmer manipulates the pages and spines to form the shape of his sculptures. He also folds, bends, rolls, and stacks multiple books to create completely original sculptural forms...

Flowers Regenerated from 30,000-Year-Old Frozen Fruits, Buried by Ancient Squirrels

Fruits in my fruit bowl tend to rot into a mulchy mess after a couple of weeks. Fruits that are chilled in permanent Siberian ice fare rather better. After more than 30,000 years, and some care from Russian scientists, some ancient fruits have produced this delicate white flower.

These regenerated plants, rising like wintry Phoenixes from the Russian ice, are still viable. They produce their own seeds and, after a 30,000-year hiatus, can continue their family line...

In Din Over Iran, Rattling Sabers Echo
Scott Shane, The New York Times | In Din Over Iran, Rattling Sabers Echo | February 22, 2012

The United States has now endured what by some measures is the longest period of war in its history, with more than 6,300 American troops killed and 46,000 wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan and the ultimate costs estimated at $3 trillion. Both wars lasted far longer than predicted. The outcomes seem disappointing and uncertain.

So why is there already a new whiff of gunpowder in the air?...

Navy SEALs: Obama's Secret Army
Daniel Klaidman, Newsweek | Navy SEALs: Obama's Secret Army | February 22, 2012

At a time when many Americansthink their government is inept, the 'Special Operators' get the job done. Just ask the President, who is doubling down on the Navy SEALs...

Postscript: Marie Colvin, 1957-2012
David Remnik, The New Yorker | Postscript: Marie Colvin, 1957-2012 | February 22, 2012

Last night, after a long day and before a late dinner, I sat down with my wife to watch the news on CNN. Anderson Cooper was broadcasting from a studio in New York, but his tape was from Syria. He rightly demanded that we watch a two-year-old child in the besieged city of Homs die of shrapnel wounds inflicted by the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The camera stayed on the child until the last breath was out of him. His father cradled him and kept asking what his poor son had ever done to anyone to deserve it...

Can Romney Break the Hoover Curse?
Abby Ohlheiser, Slate | Can Romney Break the Hoover Curse? | February 21, 2012

Americans haven't put a successful CEO in office since 1928. If Romney is to end the drought, he'll want to avoid appearing to be the second coming of our worst president...

Science: It's Really, Really Hard, And That's Something To Celebrate

It was my high school physics class and I must have been 17, all gangly and goofy, with an embarrassingly ratty "trash stache" (though I recall thinking my black Springsteen concert T-shirt elevated me into the stratosphere of cool). We were doing an experiment designed to measure the wavelength of visible light. At the time I still didn't get math. It always seemed really, really hard. I was never sure why, or what, I was doing with the calculations. On that day something shifted. All of a sudden I understood why math and science needed to be hard...