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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.

The Man Who Killed Osama Bin Laden... Is Screwed
Phil Bronstein, Esquire | The Man Who Killed Osama Bin Laden... Is Screwed | February 12, 2013

The Shooter and the rest of the team made one last night run on the mock-up of the compound in North Carolina, then drove back to their homes and headquarters in Virginia for a brief break.

There were goodbyes to his wife and sleeping children. Normally she'd say, 'I'm fine, just go.' This time there was nothing fine about her. Like this would be the last time we'd see each other.

Saying goodbye is just horrible. I don't even want to talk about it... this is the last time I'm going to see these children.

The Shooter had bought himself $350 Prada sunglasses over the weekend, and much less expensive gifts for his kids. Which makes me a horrible father. But really, he just figured he'd die with some style on...

Ex-Virginia Executioner Becomes Opponent Of Death Penalty
Justin Jouvenal, The Washington Post | Ex-Virginia Executioner Becomes Opponent Of Death Penalty | February 11, 2013

Jerry Givens executed 62 people.

His routine and conviction never wavered. He’d shave the person’s head, lay his hand on the bald pate and ask for God’s forgiveness for the condemned. Then, he would strap the person into Virginia’s electric chair.

Givens was the state’s chief executioner for 17 years — at a time when the commonwealth put more people to death than any state besides Texas.

“If you knew going out there that raping and killing someone had the consequence of the death penalty, then why are you going to do it?” Givens asked. “I considered it suicide.”

As Virginia executed its 110th person in the modern era last month, Givens prayed for the man, but also for an end to the death penalty. Since leaving his job in 1999, Givens has become one of the state’s most visible — and unlikely — opponents of capital punishment...

Frank Ocean Can Fly
Jeff Himmelman, The New York Times Magazine | Jeff Himmelman, The New York Times Magazine | February 11, 2013

Frank Ocean did not want to ride in my rented Ford Fusion; that much was clear. After I parked the car, he met me outside his modernist apartment building in Los Angeles and led me to the garage where he rents three parking spots for three different BMWs. He was dressed casually — gray hoodie, jeans, high-top Vans with red laces, baseball cap — and he jumped lightly from the curb to the parking blocks as we walked toward his late-model blue BMW M3. Ocean no longer had driving privileges as a result of some recent violations, on top of which he was cited for marijuana possession a few weeks earlier. “You can drive,” he said, though I could tell that it was killing him.

At our first official interview earlier in the day, Ocean spent the first five minutes staring down at his phone. He didn’t so much as look up at me, as I made small talk with his managers and awaited his attention. Eventually he said, “Here’s what I think about music and journalism: The most important thing is to just press play.” He followed that with, “All in all, I just don’t trust journalists — and I don’t think it’s a good practice for me to trust journalists.”...

Sir Geoffrey Hill Is Our Greatest Living Poet
Peter Popham, New Statesman | Sir Geoffrey Hill Is Our Greatest Living Poet | February 11, 2013

It was in Afghanistan nearly 11 years ago that Geoffrey Hill came back to me. The war was the biggest story in the world: I was the Independent’s south Asia correspondent and, as the Taliban fled Kabul, I filed seven days a week. Meanwhile, colleagues were dropping like flies – four killed with the Northern Alliance, a personal friend and three others butchered on the road from Jalalabad. And all this among the untended debris of earlier wars, the blocks of buildings so shattered and hollowed by bombs and mortars that only their skeletons remained.

Everything – the treeless hills, the hovels in which people lived, the smashed-up university, the ubiquitous weapons – compounded the impression of a land degraded and debased by centuries of abuse by mischievous foreigners. And here we were, glad forward party for the next lot.

In all my years out of England, I had never been homesick but now I got it bad. And nostalgia attacked me in an odd way – peppering my brain with snippets of half-remembered verse by the poet who, with blazing eyes, had lectured us on Shakespeare when I was an undergraduate at the University of Leeds...

Japanese Flying Squid's Abilities Confirmed, Speed Measured By Scientists
Jacqueline Howard, The Huffington Post | Japanese Flying Squid's Abilities Confirmed, Speed Measured By Scientists | February 9, 2013

There have been numerous sightings of a certain type of Japanese squid "flying" above the ocean's surface, and now scientists have offered an explanation.

How does the Japanese flying squid catch air? It releases a high-pressured water jet for propulsion, and then spreads its fins like wings to glide above the water, according to a new study from marine biologists at Hokkaido University...

Pakistani Militant, Price On Head, Lives In Open
Declan Walsh, The New York Times | Militant, Price On Head, Lives In Open | February 7, 2013

Ten million dollars does not seem to buy much in this bustling Pakistani city. That is the sum the United States is offering for help in convicting Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, perhaps the country’s best-known jihadi leader. Yet Mr. Saeed lives an open, and apparently fearless, life in a middle-class neighborhood here.

“I move about like an ordinary person — that’s my style,” said Mr. Saeed, a burly 64-year-old, reclining on a bolster as he ate a chicken supper. “My fate is in the hands of God, not America.”

Mr. Saeed is the founder, and is still widely believed to be the true leader, of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group that carried out the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, in which more than 160 people, including six Americans, were killed. The United Nations has placed him on a terrorist list and imposed sanctions on his group. But few believe he will face trial any time soon in a country that maintains a perilous ambiguity toward jihadi militancy, casting a benign eye on some groups, even as it battles others that attack the state...

Phillip Lopate's Book Bag: The Essay Tradiiton
Phillip Lopate, The Daily Beast | Phillip Lopate's Book Bag: The Essay Tradiiton | February 7, 2013

I did not come to essay writing immediately, but fell in love with the form after fiddling around with fiction and poetry, even publishing books in those two genres. In time I came to see the essay as so capacious and flexible that it could accommodate the storytelling impulse of fiction and the associative, quicksilver moves of poetry, enabling me to draw on my training in both. But this is how it first came about. By chance I happened on a Selected Essays of William Hazlitt in the bookcase of a summer bungalow I was renting in Wellfleet, and the passionate, hot-headed Hazlitt turned me on to his gentle, humorous friend Charles Lamb and their literary forerunner, Michel de Montaigne, and by then I was hooked. Virginia Woolf came next, with her dazzling, sensuous essays and literary criticism. She too wrote about Montaigne and Hazlitt, because all the great essayists seem to refer to, draw strength from, and converse with one another...

The NRA vs. America
Tim Dickinson, Rolling Stone | The NRA vs. America | February 6, 2013

Eleven days after the massacre, Wayne LaPierre – a lifelong political operative who had steadied the National Rifle Association through many crises – stood before an American flag and soberly addressed the nation about firearms and student safety: "We believe in absolutely gun-free, zero-tolerance, totally safe schools. That means no guns in America's schools, period," LaPierre said, carving out a "rare exception" for professional law enforcement. LaPierre even proposed making the mere mention of the word "guns" in schools a crime: "Such behavior in our schools should be prosecuted just as certainly as such behavior in our airports is prosecuted," LaPierre said.

This speech wasn't delivered in an alternate universe. The date was May 1st, 1999, at the NRA's national convention in Denver. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold's rampage at Columbine High School in nearby Littleton, Colorado, had just killed 13 students and teachers, shocking the conscience of the nation...

All US Farms Now Have Superweeds
Tom Philpott, Mother Jones | Nearly Half Of All US Farms Now Have Superweeds | February 6, 2013

Last year's drought took a big bite out of the two most prodigious US crops, corn and soy. But it apparently didn't slow down the spread of weeds that have developed resistance to Monsanto's herbicide Roundup (glyphosate), used on crops engineered by Monsanto to resist it. More than 70 percent of all the the corn, soy, and cotton grown in the US is now genetically modified to withstand glyphosate.

Back in 2011, such weeds were already spreading fast. "Monsanto's 'Superweeds' Gallop Through Midwest," declared the headline of a post I wrote then. What's the word you use when an already-galloping horse speeds up? Because that's what's happening. Let's try this: "Monsanto's 'Superweeds' Stampede Through Midwest."...

Football's Death Spiral
Andrew O'Hehir, Salon | Football's Death Spiral | February 5, 2013

If baseball is, or at least used to be, a languidly paced sport played on an asymmetrical greensward that recalls America’s agrarian past, football is an industrial product of the modern age. Confined to a precisely measured rectangle that mimics the electronic screen, football plays out in staccato bursts of violence, interrupted by commentary and meta-commentary, near-pornographic slow-motion replays and scantily clad young women selling you stuff. Though I’m not sure that the commercials during the Super Bowl, or any lesser football game, really have much to do with consumer products as such. Instead, they’re selling an idea, the idea of the sort of person you must be if you’re watching the game: Funny, alert, sexually alive, a bit self-mocking, surrounded by friends and endlessly loyal to football, to America and to television.

Also, you’re apparently the kind of person who enjoys watching men do irreversible damage to each other’s brains. A bit of a buzzkill, I know...