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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.

SNL'S Race Problem: It's America's, Too
Tanner Colby, Slate | SNL'S Race Problem: It's America's, Too | January 9, 2014

The fact that a history of racial integration at Saturday Night Live can fit within the confines of a Slate article is, in itself, a pretty clear indication of the problem at hand. And the current struggles with race in Studio 8H offer us a sadly useful illustration of what’s wrong with “diversity” in this country generally.

The entire roster of black performers from the show’s 39-year history can be quickly broken down into three simple groups:

a) The disgruntleds, the washouts, and the walk-offs.

b) The ones who stuck around.

c) Eddie Murphy.

Afghanistan Games: Robert Gates, Obama, and Karzai
Amy Davidson, The New Yorker | Afghanistan Games | January 8, 2014

“If I believe I am being gamed…,” President Barack Obama said, in a “blast” at an unhappy meeting about Afghanistan in March, 2011; that’s how Robert Gates, the former Secretary of Defense, remembers it, according to early reports on his memoir. (Bob Woodward and Greg Jaffe at the Washington Post and Thom Shanker at the Times got their hands on copies of the book, which comes out next week.)...

Saudis Back Syrian Rebels Despite Risks
Robert F. Worth, The New York Times | Saudis Back Syrian Rebels Despite Risks | January 8, 2014

On his eighth trip to fight with the rebels in Syria, in August, Abu Khattab saw something that troubled him: two dead children, their blood-soaked bodies sprawled on the street of a rural village near the Mediterranean coast. He knew right away that his fellow rebels had killed them...

Ahmed Maher, Jailed Egyptian Activist, Describes Prison In Smuggled Letters
Shadee Ashtari, The Huffington Post | Letters From Prison | January 8, 2014

"I met with some of the most famous and important figures of Europe, America, India, Korea and Turkey ... And here I am now looking for a loaf of stale bread to eat." In 2011, the letter's author, Ahmed Maher, played a central role in the movement that deposed former President Hosni Mubarak and earned a Nobel Peace Prize nomination for his work toward democratic reform through peaceful revolution. Today, he is kept in solitary confinement under maximum security surveillance, and only permitted two hours a day outside of the cell, according to Michelle McElroy, a human rights activist and spokeswoman for Maher. Since his imprisonment in December, he has managed to smuggle out more than 10 letters, scrawled on toilet paper and napkins...

'Downton Abbey' With Cats
John Hodgman, The New Yorker | 'Downton Abbey' With Cats | January 6, 2014

Look, I never want to tell stories about my children, because it always seems a little lazy. Children tend to be sort of dumb, and, in the end, the stories are always the same: children say hilarious things, and I am old and dying.

So when I tell you these stories about my children let’s just pretend they are about my cats...

NSA Seeks To Build Quantum Computer That Could Crack Most Types Of Encryption
Steven Rich and Barton Gellman, The Washington Post | NSA Seeks To Build Quantum Computer That Could Crack Most Types Of Encryption | January 5, 2014

In room-size metal boxes ­secure against electromagnetic leaks, the National Security Agency is racing to build a computer that could break nearly every kind of encryption used to protect banking, medical, business and government records around the world.

According to documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the effort to build “a cryptologically useful quantum computer” — a machine exponentially faster than classical computers — is part of a $79.7 million research program titled “Penetrating Hard Targets.” Much of the work is hosted under classified contracts at a laboratory in College Park, Md...

Obamacare Advocates Struggle To Convince Rural Uninsured
Melissa Nelson-Gabriel, The Huffington Post | Obamacare Advocates Struggle To Convince Rural Uninsured | January 5, 2014

In this rural part of the Panhandle, Christopher Mitchell finds few takers when he delivers his message about the importance of exploring insurance options under the federal health overhaul. People in the conservative-leaning area tend to have a bad impression of President Obama's signature law because of negative messages they hear on talk radio or from friends, said Mitchell, marketing director for a network of nonprofit health clinics...

Eons Before The Yoga Mat Became Trendy
Holland Cotter, The New York Times | Eons Before The Yoga Mat Became Trendy | January 4, 2014

Yoga, in this instance, is not a matter of meditation mats and Whole Foods Wellness Clubs. It’s a shattering personal revolution. It’s about leaving home, going naked, fasting for years, freezing in winter, roasting in summer, being shunned by the living and lying down with the dead. It’s about perfecting your body in order to lose it, loosening your mind till the cosmos floods in. Whether, in the end, you glow like a god or blow away like an ash, pain and pleasure will be a thousand yesterdays in the past...

Beirut's Captured Mastermind
Jamie Dettmer, The Daily Beast | Beirut's Captured Mastermind | January 4, 2014

The identity of a captured jihadist leader who masterminded attacks in Israel and Lebanon—most recently, the deadly November twin suicide bombings on the Iranian embassy in Beirut that left 30 people dead and 160 wounded—was finally confirmed yesterday through DNA testing, say Lebanese officials...

A Speck In The Sea
Paul Tough, The New York Times Magazine | A Speck In The Sea | January 3, 2014

Aldridge grabbed for the side of the boat as it went past, his fingertips missing it by inches. The water hit him like a slap. He went under, took in a mouthful of Atlantic Ocean and then surfaced, sputtering. He yelled as loud as he could, hoping to wake Sosinski, who was asleep on a bunk below the front deck. But the diesel engine was too loud, and the Anna Mary, on autopilot, moving due south at six and a half knots, was already out of reach, its navigation lights receding into the night...