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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.

Peter Pan, Alzheimer's Patient
Brad Leithauser, The New Yorker | Peter Pan, Alzheimer's Patient | January 2, 2013

...“Peter Pan” is another matter: a different book whenever you pick it up. In this year, the seventy-fifth anniversary of Barrie’s death, I read it twice. Recent rereadings have left me increasingly feeling that the book’s preoccupation with forgetfulness—an utter lack of fixity—is a little chilling. Naturally, the book’s heroine, the levelheaded girl-child Wendy (an instinctive nanny and nursemaid, or, in modern parlance, a born primary care-giver) sees the issue most clearly. Peter’s hopeless. He can’t retain anything. I know of no other children’s book in which forgetfulness is so pervasive and disquieting a theme. Wendy begins fretting about Peter’s memory even before they reach the Neverland. While still in mid-flight, he seems to forget the names of Wendy and her two younger brothers. The book’s high jinks haven’t yet begun, and already, debating within herself, she’s worried about his ability to retain them: “ ‘—And if he forgets them so quickly,’ Wendy argued, ‘how can we expect that he will go on remembering us?’ ” Wendy is confronted with the prospect of Peter Pan, Alzheimer’s patient...

50 Shades Of Vulgarity
Christine Haughney, The New York Times | 50 Shades Of Vulgarity | January 2, 2013

Cindi Leive, editor in chief of Glamour, was searching for the best way to draw readers’ attention to an article in the November 2011 issue about how women could better organize their closets and bank accounts. “12 ways to get your act together” didn’t have much punch. “12 ways to get your stuff together” also fell flat. So she decided to substitute “act” with a word unprintable here and waited for the angry letters to pour in. They never came.

“It appeared I was the last person on planet Earth to care about it,” Ms. Leive said about the decision to put an expletive on a magazine cover. “It has not been an issue.”...

2012 Year In Review
Ann Telnaes, The Washington Post | 2012 Year In Review | December 31, 2012

A look back at some of the years highlights and lowlights...

'Gangnam Style,' 'Call Me Maybe' & More of 2012's Best Viral Videos
Ben Teitelbaum, The Daily Beast | 'Gangnam Style,' 'Call Me Maybe' & More of 2012's Best Viral Videos | December 31, 2012

Was 2012 the best year ever? If you're the Internet, the answer might be yes. From 'KONY 2012' to Felix Baumgartner's skydive from space, watch our countdown of the videos that almost made the Internet explode...

The Great Smog Of China
Clarissa Seabag-Montefiore, The New York Times | The Great Smog Of China | December 31, 2012

My mornings in my home in Beijing always follow the same routine. Wake up. Make coffee. Check Air Quality Index online. Feel faintly depressed.

The AQI is tweeted by the U.S. embassy hourly. The rating ranges from “good” to “hazardous” to off the charts, and it determines my day: whether I bike or take public transport to work, whether I go for a run outside, and in the summer, whether I eat dinner in my balmy courtyard or huddle indoors with the windows shut and the air filter on.

It is a relief, then, to be back in London for the holidays; here, rain, not pollution, dominates small talk. I joke that driving into Beijing on a bad day is like entering the Gates of Mordor. England’s endlessly shifting tableaux of clouds, by contrast, seem sublime...

Minnesota Theater Offers 'Tweet Seats' To Smartphone Addicts
The Huffington Post | Minnesota Theater Offers 'Tweet Seats' To Smartphone Addicts | December 28, 2012

Good news for those who can't go two hours with out checking their phone: A Minnesota theater is giving smartphone and Twitter addicts a break with the introduction of "tweet seats," where audience members are not just allowed, but encouraged to tweet about the performance as they are watching it.

 

The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis announced last week that those seated in a certain section of the audience would be encouraged to tweet during four consecutive Thursday evening performances of "The Servant of Two Masters," Minnesota Public Radio reports.

 

The seats are located in the balcony-level of the theater so that the tweeting won't be disruptive to other audience members.

"Tweet seats" are part of a growing trend in theaters across the country...

In A Time Of Crisis, Humanists Seem Absent
Samuel G. Freedman, The New York Times | In A Time Of Crisis, Humanists Seem Absent | December 28, 2012

Since the Newtown massacre on Dec. 14, the tableau of grief and mourning has provided a vivid lesson in the religious variety of America. An interfaith service featuring President Obama, held two days after Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, included clergy from Bahai, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and both mainline and evangelical Protestant congregations.

The funerals and burials over the past two weeks have taken place in Catholic, Congregational, Mormon and United Methodist houses of worship, among others. They have been held in Protestant megachurches and in a Jewish cemetery. A black Christian youth group traveled from Alabama to perform “Amazing Grace” at several of the services.

This illustration of religious belief in action, of faith expressed in extremis, an example at once so heart-rending and so affirming, has left behind one prickly question: Where were the humanists? At a time when the percentage of Americans without religious affiliation is growing rapidly, why did the “nones,” as they are colloquially known, seem so absent?...

The Whole Nine Yards About A Phrase's Origin

When people talk about “the whole nine yards,” just what are they talking about? For decades the answer to that question has been the Bigfoot of word origins, chased around wild speculative corners by amateur word freaks, with exasperated lexicographers and debunkers of folk etymologies in hot pursuit. Does the phrase derive from the length of ammunition belts in World War II aircraft? The contents of a standard concrete mixer? The amount of beer a British naval recruit was obligated to drink? Yardage in football? The length of fabric in a Scottish kilt (or sari, or kimono, or burial shroud)?

Type the phrase into Google and you’re likely to get any of these answers, usually backed by nothing more than vaguely remembered conversations with someone’s Great-Uncle Ed. But now two researchers using high-powered database search tools have delivered a confident “none of the above,” supported by a surprise twist:

Before we were going the whole nine yards, it turns out, we were only going six..

Charles Durning, Prolific Character Actor, Dies At 89
Robert Berkvist, The New York Times | Charles Durning, Prolific Character Actor, Dies At 89 | December 25, 2012

Charles Durning, who overcame poverty, battlefield trauma and nagging self-doubt to become an acclaimed character actor, whether on stage as Big Daddy in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” or in film as the lonely widower smitten with a cross-dressing Dustin Hoffman in “Tootsie,” died Monday in New York. He was 89. He died of natural causes, The Associated Press reported, citing Judith Moss, his agent and friend. Charles Durning may not have been a household name, but with his pugnacious features and imposing bulk he was a familiar presence in American movies, television and theater, even if often overshadowed by the headliners...

At A Sacred Site, A Fight Over Women And Prayer
Jodi Rudoren, The New York Times | At A Sacred Site, A Fight Over Women And Prayer | December 23, 2012

The face-off at the security gate outside the Western Wall one Friday this month was familiar: for more than two decades, women have been making a monthly pilgrimage to pray at one of Judaism’s holiest sites in a manner traditionally preserved for men, and the police have stopped them in the name of maintaining public order.

But after a flurry of arrests this fall that set off an international outcry, the women arrived for December’s service to find a new protocol ordered by the ultra-Orthodox rabbi who controls the site. To prevent the women from defying a Supreme Court ruling that bars them from wearing ritual garments at the wall, they were blocked by police officers from bringing them in.

“How can you say this to me?” demanded a tearful Bonna Devora Haberman, 52, a Canadian immigrant who helped found the group Women of the Wall in 1988. “I’m a Jew. This is my state.”...