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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.

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...

Nature's Trespassers
Ian Winstanley, Intelligent Life (via The Dish) | Nature's Trespassers | June 11, 2013

Are weeds a category of plants or of human reflex? Are they a cultural creation more than a biological one? We might, as house-proud gardeners or municipal jobsworths or agri-businesspeople, dream of a world without them, but we don’t often pause to think why they are there, or what our planet might be like without them. Rather brown, probably. Rather damaged and impoverished, certainly. Take out all weeds and we’d not have the wild grass that was developed into wheat and led to the birth of civilisation. We’d have no Velcro, inspired by the hooked fruits of burdock and their obstinate clinginess to dog’s fur. Gardens would have no sweet violets, or Shirley poppies, or variegated ivies. At least half the world’s medicinal substances, from gripe-water to morphine, would never have been discovered. And gone would be the child’s lingua franca of daisy chains, dandelion clocks, Chinese-burn grasses...

Daniel Ellsberg Calls Edward Snowden A 'Hero"
Jack Mirkinson, The Huffington Post | Daniel Ellsberg Calls Edward Snowden A 'Hero' | June 10, 2013

By publicly identifying himself as the leaker behind last week's NSA revelations, Edward Snowden has secured his place in media and political history.

ABC News called the leak "one of the greatest national security leaks in recent American history," and in publishing his identity, the Guardian compared Snowden, a 29-year-old contractor with the NSA, to Daniel Ellsberg, perhaps the most famous leaker in history. It was almost exactly 42 years earlier, on June 13th, 1971, that the first batch of the Pentagon Papers were published in the New York Times...

Blogger, With Focus On Surveillance, Is At Center Of A Debate
Noam Cohen and Leslie Kaufman, The New York Times | Blogger, With Focus On Surveillance, Is At Center Of A Debate | June 7, 2013

After writing intensely, even obsessively, for years about government surveillance and the prosecution of journalists, Glenn Greenwald has suddenly put himself directly at the intersection of those two issues, and perhaps in the cross hairs of federal prosecutors.

Late Wednesday, Mr. Greenwald, a lawyer and longtime blogger, published an article in the British newspaper The Guardian about the existence of a top-secret court order allowing the National Security Agency to monitor millions of telephone logs...

Answering Harvard's Question About My Personal Life, 52 Years Later
Phyllis Richman, The Washington Post | Answering Harvard's Question About My Personal Life, 52 Years Later | June 7, 2013

"...Our experience, even with brilliant students, has been that married women find it difficult to carry out worthwhile careers in planning, and hence tend to have some feeling of waste about the time and effort spent in professional education. (This is, of course, true of almost all graduate professional studies.)

Therefore, for your own benefit, and to aid us in coming to a final decision, could you kindly write us a page or two at your earliest convenience indicating specifically how you might plan to combine a professional life in city planning with your responsibilities to your husband and a possible future family?"...

Discovered At 64, A Brooklyn Artist Takes His Place
Jim Dwyer, The New York Times | Discovered At 64, A Brooklyn Artist Takes His Place | June 7, 2013

Rafael Leonardo Black, hermit and artist in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, keeps all his tools in elbow’s reach in the studio where he lives. A coffee mug with nine No. 2 pencils, each razor-whetted to the sharpness of a spear. A single brand of tracing paper. Shelves of art books, surrealists mostly.

In a shoe box of clippings is a photograph of three beautiful women that he cut out of a Vogue magazine in 1968 and used for a drawing in 2005. The drawing was sold last month.

For more than three decades, Mr. Black, 64, has made a portal to the world in dense, miniature renderings of ancient myth and modern figures...