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.

Marijuana Crops in California Threaten Forests and Wildlife
Felicity Barringer, The New York Times | Marijuana Crops in California Threaten Forests and Wildlife | June 21, 2013

It took the death of a small, rare member of the weasel family to focus the attention of Northern California’s marijuana growers on the impact that their huge and expanding activities were having on the environment.

The animal, a Pacific fisher, had been poisoned by an anticoagulant in rat poisons like d-Con. Since then, six other poisoned fishers have been found. Two endangered spotted owls tested positive. Mourad W. Gabriel, a scientist at the University of California, Davis, concluded that the contamination began when marijuana growers in deep forests spread d-Con to protect their plants from wood rats.

That news has helped growers acknowledge, reluctantly, what their antagonists in law enforcement have long maintained: like industrial logging before it, the booming business of marijuana is a threat to forests whose looming dark redwoods preside over vibrant ecosystems...

City Lights Bookstore Celebrates Its 60th Birthday
Denise Lee, The Daily Californian | City Lights Bookstore Celebrates Its 60th Birthday | June 20, 2013

Published in 1956, Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl and Other Poems” is City Lights Bookstore’s most famous title. With its frank and vivid descriptions of drug use, “pubic beards” and people “who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists,” “Howl” garnered national attention and notoriety for Ginsberg and City Lights. The success of “Howl” and its riotous effect on literary censorship reflects the fundamental anti-authoritarian, free-speech, fuck-the-system philosophy at City Lights’ core.

City Lights is celebrating its 60th birthday this Sunday with a party in Jack Kerouac Alley...

Developer: Kansas Caverns Could Preserve Human Race
Bill Draper, The Yakima Herald | Developer: Kansas Caverns Could Preserve Human Race | June 20, 2013

After most of the world’s population is wiped off the map by a wayward meteorite or hail of nuclear missiles, the survival of the human race might just depend on a few thousand people huddled in recreational vehicles deep in the bowels of an eastern Kansas mine.

That’s the vision of a California man who is creating what he calls the world’s largest private underground survivor shelter, using a complex of limestone caves dug more than 100 years ago beneath gently rolling hills overlooking the Missouri River...

Iceland Resumes Fin Whale Hunting After Two-Year Break
John Vidal, The Guardian | Iceland Resumes Fin Whale Hunting After Two-Year Break | June 19, 2013

Iceland has resumed its commercial hunting of fin whales after a two-year suspension by landing the first of an expected 180 whales in Hvalfjördur. The first kill prompted protests from environment and animal welfare groups that the hunt is "cruel and unnecessary".

Undercover pictures taken aboard the Hvalur 8 by Greenpeace show the harpooned whale being cut up for meat that is likely to be exported to Japan. Fin whales are the second largest animal on earth after the blue whale and are listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list of threatened species...

Why You Should Care About Solar Impulse And Renewable Energy's Long, Long, Journey
Dominic Basulto, The Washington Post | Why You Should Care About Solar Impulse And Renewable Energy's Long, Long, Journey | June 19, 2013

It has now been more than 45 days since Solar Impulse took off from San Francisco for an across-the-nation journey powered only by the sun, and already there’s fatigue in some corners. When Solar Impulse finally landed in Washington, DC this weekend, there were no jubilant crowds of the type that met Charles Lindbergh when he arrived in Paris after his epic transatlantic flight.

In fact, if you’re not getting regular e-mails from the Solar Impulse team or following along on social media in real-time, there’s a good chance that you missed the landing of Bertrand Piccard at Washington Dulles International Airport – it was just past midnight eastern time on Sunday, a time when most of the nation was already asleep...

Here He Goes Again: Sam Harris's Falsehoods
Scott Atran, This View of LIfe | Here He Goes Again: Sam Harris's Falsehoods | June 19, 2013

Re Islam and the Misuses of Ecstasy (posted on Daily Briefing, 6-13-13):

Sam Harris posted a recent blog about my views on Jihadis that is unbecoming of serious intellectual debate, if not ugly. He claims that I told him following a “preening and delusional lecture” that “no one [connected with suicide bombing] believes in paradise.” What I actually said to him (as I have to many others) was exactly what every leader of a jihadi group I interviewed told me, namely, that anyone seeking to become a martyr in order to obtain virgins in paradise would be rejected outright. I also said (and have written several articles and a book laying out the evidence) that although ideology is important, the best predictor (in the sense of a regression analysis) of willingness to commit an act of jihadi violence is if one belongs to an action-oriented social network, such as a neighborhood help group or even a sports team (see Atran, TALKING TO THE ENEMY, Penguin, 2010)...

India To Send World's Last Telegram. Stop.
Shivam Vij, The Guardian | India To Send World's Last Telegram. Stop. | June 18, 2013

At the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), India's state-owned telecom company, a message emerges from a dot matrix printer addressing a soldier's Army unit in Delhi. "GRANDMOTHER SERIOUS. 15 DAYS LEAVE EXTENSION," it reads. It's one of about 5,000 such missives still being sent every day by telegram – a format favored for its "sense of urgency and authenticity," explains a BSNL official.

But the days of such communication are numbered: The world's last telegram message will be sent somewhere in India on July 14...

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...