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.

I Was Swallowed By A Hippo
Paul Templer, The Guardian | I Was Swallowed By A Hippo | May 4, 2013

The hippo who tried to kill me wasn't a stranger – he and I had met before a number of times. I was 27 and owned a business taking clients down the Zambezi river near Victoria Falls. I'd been working this stretch of river for years, and the grouchy old two-ton bull had carried out the occasional half-hearted attack. I'd learned to avoid him. Hippos are territorial and I knew where he was most likely to be at any given time.

That day I'd taken clients out with three apprentice guides – Mike, Ben and Evans – all in kayaks. We were near the end of the tour, the light was softening and we were taking in the tranquillity. The solid whack I felt behind me took me by surprise.

I turned just in time to see Evans, who had been flung out of his boat, flying through the air. His boat, with his two clients still in it, had been lifted half out of the water on the back of the huge bull hippo...

Cicadas Prepare To Invade By The Billions
Richard Schiffman, Salon | Cicadas Prepare To Invade By The Billions | May 3, 2013

Cicadas have black bodies, blood-red eyes and legs, delicately veined gossamer wings and oddly ridged faces that resemble the Klingons from “Star Trek.” Entomologist Cole Gilbert finds them “amazing.” And after listening to him discourse about the species over lunch late last month, I think I understand why. Cicadas (Magicicada septendecim) — like many of the species Gilbert studies — are just plain weird.

The Pilgrims called cicadas “17 year locusts,” because some of them survive for that long underground, sucking the sap from roots, between periodic emergences in epic swarms...

99 Life Hacks To Make Your Life Easier
shialabeowulf, IMEIMEI | 99 Life Hacks To Make Your Life Easier | May 3, 2013

99 Life Hacks To Make Your Life Easier...

The Lions' Share
Hartosh Singh Bal, The New York Times | The Lions' Share | May 2, 2013

Volunteers from an Indian nature club in the state of Gujarat are threatening suicide over a recent decision of the Indian Supreme Court to relocate some Asiatic Lions from Gir, in Gujarat, to Palpur Kuno, in the state of Madhya Pradesh. The endangered animals number about 400 in all.

The Asiatic Lion once ranged from India to Iran, but by the middle of the 20th century the number had dropped to less than 200, with the entire population living in the Gir forest. By 1994, after this wooded zone was declared a protected area, the figure increased to 300. But then an outbreak of canine distemper wiped out 30 percent of the lion population in the Serengeti National Park, in Tanzania, alerting Indian wildlife authorities that the entire Gir lion population of India, which was already inbred because of its small size, could easily be destroyed.

So in 1995 the government decided to find an additional home for the lions...

Albert Hofmann, The Father Of LSD, Dies At 102
Craig S. Smith, The New York Times | Albert Hofmann, The Father Of LSD, Dies At 102 | May 1, 2013

Albert Hofmann, the mystical Swiss chemist who gave the world LSD, the most powerful psychotropic substance known, died Tuesday at his hilltop home near Basel, Switzerland. He was 102.

The cause was a heart attack, said Rick Doblin, founder and president of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a California-based group that in 2005 republished Dr. Hofmann’s 1979 book “LSD: My Problem Child.”

Dr. Hofmann first synthesized the compound lysergic acid diethylamide in 1938 but did not discover its psychopharmacological effects until five years later, when he accidentally ingested the substance that became known to the 1960s counterculture as acid.

He then took LSD hundreds of times, but regarded it as a powerful and potentially dangerous psychotropic drug that demanded respect...

The Guantanamo Memoirs Of Mohamedou Ould Slahi
Larry Siems, Slate | The Guantanamo Memoirs Of Mohamedou Ould Slahi | April 30, 2013

Mohamedou Ould Slahi began to tell his story in 2005. Over the course of several months, the Guantánamo prisoner handwrote his memoir, recounting what he calls his “endless world tour” of detention and interrogation. He wrote in English, a language he mastered in prison. His handwriting is relaxed but neat, his narrative, even riddled with redactions, vivid and captivating. In telling his story he tried, as he wrote, “to be as fair as possible to the U.S. government, to my brothers, and to myself.” He finished his 466-page draft in early 2006. For the next six years, the U.S. government held the manuscript as a classified secret...

Why NBA Center Jason Collins Is Coming Out Now
Jason Collins with Franz Lidz, Sports Illustrated | Why NBA Center Jason Collins Is Coming Out Now | April 29, 2013

I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay.

I didn't set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I'm happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn't the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, "I'm different." If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I'm raising my hand...

The Modern American Farmer
Andrea Crawford, Slate | The Modern American Farmer | April 29, 2013

A new magazine hit newsstands last week, and, given the state of print media, that fact alone is notable. But the launch of this magazine also reflects a significant shift in American culture. Its cover resembles that of a design publication: It’s matte-printed on thick paper stock, and it features an arty photograph of a rooster so close up as to appear life-size. The bird’s deep red comb against the dramatic black background directs readers’ eyes upward to where, in an elegant font, the magazine’s title appears: Modern Farmer.         

What kind of person is a modern farmer? That question has been on my mind since I walked last fall into the first meeting of New York City’s Farm Beginnings—a class taught, implausibly, in an old office building amid the concrete canyons of lower Manhattan. Nearly three dozen aspiring farmers gathered every other Saturday over four months to participate in a U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded program to support new farmers. Each developed a business plan, most in preparation to buy or lease land within 200 miles of New York City to meet the requirements for selling at the city’s greenmarkets. The majority of students were minorities and first-generation Americans, immigrants both newly arrived and long established, in their 30s, 40s, and 50s...

How One Tweet Almost Broke US Financial Markets
Nick Baumann, Mother Jones | How One Tweet Almost Broke US Financial Markets | April 26, 2013

When a phony Associated Press tweet reported explosions in the White House, Wall Street's computers reacted as if it were real.

In the January/February issue of Mother Jones, I wrote about Wall Street's embrace of high-speed computer programs that execute thousands of trades per second. These algorithms, some of which can teach themselves and operate almost entirely without human interference, present a new and challenging danger to the stability of global financial markets because they work in timeframes that people can't begin to perceive. By the time an actual person realizes something is wrong, it might already be too late to fix the problem. The concern isn't that one firm's high-speed trading program will make a mistake, but rather that a bunch of them will make the same mistake at once, launching a chain reaction that could undermine the financial system.

On Tuesday, the world saw exactly how fast these sorts of programs can respond to bad news...

The Lack Of Female Road Narratives And Why It Matters
Vanessa Veselka, The American Reader | The Lack Of Female Road Narratives And Why It Matters | April 26, 2013

Siddhartha wants liberation, Dante wants Beatrice, Frodo wants to get to Mount Doom—we all want something. Quest is elemental to the human experience. All road narratives are to some extent built on quest. If you’re a woman, though, this fundamental possibility of quest is denied. You can’t go anywhere if you can’t step out onto a road. To offer some context for my perspective, the year I was fifteen I hitchhiked 15,000 miles alone, mostly through truck stops. By the time I was nineteen I had hitchhiked another 5,000 miles through Turkey, Greece, and pre-war Yugoslavia, also alone...