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.

One Afghan's Three-Generation Quest For Peace
Adam Klein, The New York Times / At War | One Afghan's Three-Generation Quest For Peace | June 1, 2012

Two years ago, I began working with Afghan writers in workshops, introducing them to short narratives from around the world, frequently from postwar writers. Most of my students weren’t raised reading stories in English, and very few had ever sat down to write their own in a second or third language. Unlike an American workshop, it was rare to find an Afghan who felt their story warranted such attention, theirs or mine, or who wanted their work to ever appear in print. Through a process of close conferencing, the stories developed, as did trust, and eventually a desire to see their work published — preferably outside Afghanistan, where candor is still risky...

Are Literary Classics Obsolete?
Laura Miller, Salon | Are Literary Classics Obsolete? | June 1, 2012

You have only to look at the one-star reviews given to classic novels on Amazon.com to recognize that quite a few contemporary readers find these immortal works of literature unreadable. Stories that don’t begin with a Hollywood-style bang or that skimp on action are dismissed as “boring.” Subtleties of character and context are overlooked. But more than anything else, the one-star brigade hates the prose of the past. Any writer whose sentences contain multiple clauses typically gets labeled “wordy” or “flowery” (a term that only seems to be used by people who don’t know what it means)...

The Opposite Of Loneliness
Marina Keegan, The Yale Daily News | The Opposite Of Loneliness | May 31, 2012

The piece below was written by Marina Keegan '12 for a special edition of the Yale Daily News distributed at the class of 2012's commencement exercises last week. Keegan died in a car accident on Saturday. She was 22.

We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life. What I’m grateful and thankful to have found at Yale, and what I’m scared of losing when we wake up tomorrow and leave this place. It's not quite love and it's not quite community; it's just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team...

The Syria Dilemma
Philip Gourevitch, The New Yorker | The Syria Dilemma | May 30, 2012

In April of 1993, President Bill Clinton and Elie Wiesel presided over the dedication of the Holocaust Memorial Museum, in Washington, D.C. Wiesel spoke first. He asked, “What have we learned?,” then went on to say, “Mr. President, I cannot not tell you something. I have been in the former Yugoslavia last fall. I cannot sleep since for what I have seen. . . . I am saying that we must do something to stop the bloodshed in that country.”...

Taylor Receives 50 Years for 'Heinous' Crimes in War
Marlise Simons and J. David Goodman, The New York Times | Taylor Receives 50 Years for 'Heinous' Crimes in War | May 30, 2012

Charles G. Taylor, the former president of Liberia and a once-powerful warlord, was sentenced on Wednesday to 50 years in prison over his role in atrocities committed in Sierra Leone during its civil war in the 1990s.

The judge presiding over the sentencing in an international criminal court near The Hague said Mr. Taylor had been found guilty of “aiding and abetting, as well as planning, some of the most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history"...

Hope: The Sequel
John Heilemann, New York Magazine | Hope: The Sequel | May 30, 2012

David Plouffe sits in his White House office, just a few steps from the Oval, staring at an oversize map of these United States. It’s late afternoon on May 9, two hours after Barack Obama’s declaration that his evolution on gay marriage has reached its terminus. The president is down the hall and on the phone, discussing his decision’s theological implications with several prominent African-American pastors—while Plouffe is being queried about its political dimensions by a querulous Caucasian reporter. The map at which Plouffe is gazing isn’t the electoral kind with the states shaded blue and red; as a federal employee, he notes wryly, “I’m not permitted to have one on the wall.” But given the way his head is hardwired, I’m pretty sure Plouffe is seeing those colors regardless...

Secret 'Kill List' Proves a Test of Obama's Principles and Will
Jo Becker and Scott Shane, The New York Times | Secret 'Kill List' Proves a Test of Obama's Principles and Will | May 29, 2012

This was the enemy, served up in the latest chart from the intelligence agencies: 15 Qaeda suspects in Yemen with Western ties. The mug shots and brief biographies resembled a high school yearbook layout. Several were Americans. Two were teenagers, including a girl who looked even younger than her 17 years. President Obama, overseeing the regular Tuesday counterterrorism meeting of two dozen security officials in the White House Situation Room, took a moment to study the faces...

'Hell and Back Again': PBS Airs Documentary on Wounded Marine
Jesse Ellison, The Daily Beast | 'Hell and Back Again': PBS Airs Documentary on Wounded Marine | May 28, 2012

Sergeant Nathan Harris has a tendency to pull down his pants to show strangers the Frankenstein-like scar that runs across one buttock and all the way down his right leg. He shows it to an elderly greeter at Walmart, and to the guy who escorts Harris and his wife around a house they hope to rent. It’s as if he needs to prove something --to show that there’s a reason he’s driving a motorized wheelchair; to excuse the fact that a stranger catches Harris doubled over his walker, in a drugged-out stupor. Harris is the subject of Hell and Back Again, an Oscar-nominated documentary that premieres nationwide Monday night on PBS’s Independent Lens...

'I Was There': On Kurt Vonnegut
William Deresiewicz, The Nation | 'I Was there': On Kurt Vonnegut | May 28, 2012

“The cruelest thing you can do to Kerouac,” Hanif Kureishi has a character say in The Buddha of Suburbia, “is reread him at thirty-eight.” If that was true, I wondered as I opened the first two volumes of the Library of America’s ongoing series of the complete novels, then what of Vonnegut at a decade older still? The two are linked, of course, as items on the syllabus of adolescent male samizdat that used to go like this: Mad magazine at 13, Vonnegut at 15, Salinger at 17, Hunter Thompson at 18, Kerouac at 20. (When you got real big, you read Kundera.)...

How The Chicken Conquered The World
Jerry Adler and Andrew Lawler, Smithsonian | How The Chicken Conquered The World | May 28, 2012

The chickens that saved Western civilization were discovered, according to legend, by the side of a road in Greece in the first decade of the fifth century B.C. The Athenian general Themistocles, on his way to confront the invading Persian forces, stopped to watch two cocks fighting and summoned his troops, saying: “Behold, these do not fight for their household gods, for the monuments of their ancestors, for glory, for liberty or the safety of their children, but only because one will not give way to the other.” The tale does not describe what happened to the loser, nor explain why the soldiers found this display of instinctive aggression inspirational rather than pointless and depressing. But history records that the Greeks, thus heartened, went on to repel the invaders, preserving the civilization that today honors those same creatures by breading, frying and dipping them into one’s choice of sauce. The descendants of those roosters might well think—if they were capable of such profound thought—that their ancient forebears have a lot to answer for...