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.

Sea Change
Andrew Testa, Mother Jones | Sea Change | August 9, 2013

Most of us were introduced to the Moken last winter, when there was a brief flurry of stories on how the "sea gypsies" of Thailand and Burma managed to escape the tsunami by reading the language of the ocean—a language exceedingly familiar to a people who spend all of their lives in or very close to the water. It was a heartening tale, in a context where those kinds of tales were hard to come by, and it gained intrigue from the other tidbits we learned about this remote tribe: how their four-year-olds can swim in waters 20 feet deep and adults can dive to 200 feet (most of us conk out by 30 feet); how throughout most of history they lived on boats, coming in to terra firma for only a few months each year; how Moken children have learned to constrict their pupils to see 50 percent better under water than we can, enabling them to go harpooning without goggles and find tiny shells on the ocean floor. All of which is true, and amazing. But there’s one more story that, perhaps, we should also have heard: how the Moken have been struggling to maintain their lives and livelihoods in a world that claims to admire them but has little room for their expansive relationship with the natural universe...

The Washington _______
David Plotz, Slate | The Washington _______ | August 8, 2013

This is the last Slate article that will refer to the Washington NFL team as the Redskins.

For decades, American Indian activists and others have been asking, urging, and haranguing the Washington Redskins to ditch their nickname, calling it a racist slur and an insult to Indians. They have collected historical and cultural examples of the use of redskin as a pejorative and twice sued to void the Redskins trademark, arguing that the name cannot be legally protected because it’s a slur. (A ruling on the second suit is expected soon; the first failed for technical reasons.) A group in the House of Representatives also recently introduced a bill to void the trademark. The team has been criticized from every different direction, by every kind of person. More than 20 years ago, Washington Post columnist Tony Kornheiser, no politically correct squish, urged the team to abandon the name. Today, the mayor of Washington, D.C.—the mayor!—goes out of his way to avoid saying the team’s name...

Creator of xkcd Reveals Secret Backstory Of His Epic 3,099-Panel Comic

When xkcd creator Randall Munroe first posted a new installment of his webcomic titled “Time” on March 25, it looked deceptively simple: a picture of two black and white stick figures, a man and a woman, sitting wordlessly on the ground. There was no story, no punchline, no words. 30 minutes later, the image changed; the figures shifted slightly. And they continued to change every half-hour for the next week–and every hour for months after that–slowly coalescing into a story as the two characters discovered disturbing changes in the landscape around them, and set out on an epic, time-lapsed journey to discover the truth about what was happening to their world. ...

Mitch McConnell Gets Barbecued: Politics At Its Weirdest, Kentucky-Style

Let’s start with records, and not the political kind.  The sheer tonnage of pulled sinew at the annual Fancy Farm barbecue picnic is cited in the Guinness Book of World Records — this year, 8,500 pounds of mutton and 9,500 pounds of pork, or nine tons of meat, every last shred smoked onsite in a battery of cement pits the size of a football field.

If Sen. Mitch McConnell loses his reelection bid in 2014, his downfall officially began here, in the far western Purchase region of Kentucky, where for the last 133 years political adversaries have traded barbs on a small stage in the country hamlet of Fancy Farm.  The picnic kicks off and frames every major political race in the Commonwealth, a throwback to the long-gone days of unscripted hot-around-the-collar partisan rallies, a sweaty, boisterous, old-fashioned political speaking slugfest and barbecue pig-out...

The Sale Of The Washington Post: How The Unthinkable Choice Became The Clear Path
Craig Timberg and Jia Lynn Yang, The Washington Post | The Sale Of The Washington Post: How The Unthinkable Choice Became The Clear Path | August 7, 2013

Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth presented her uncle, company chief executive Donald E. Graham, with a once-unthinkable choice at a lunch meeting at downtown Washington’s Bombay Club late last year.

The paper was facing the like­lihood of a seventh straight year of declines in revenue, with one preliminary budget estimate showing the possibility of $40 million in losses for 2013. And despite years of heavy investment in new digital offerings, there was little sign that robust profits were about to return, she reported.

That left three choices...

A Reunion With My Younger, Hitchhiking Self
Roy Hoffman, The New York Times | A Reunion With My Younger, Hitchhiking Self | August 6, 2013

Summer of 1972: a slender 19-year-old (curly black hair, florid beard, 155 pounds) stood beside a Montana highway, thumb in the air. A truck pulled over. “Going as far as Missoula,” the driver said, opening the cargo doors. In the hold, others crouched, blinking back at him. “Thanks, man,” he said, hopping in. The doors shut; the latch turned.

“Four or five other youths inside looking gaunt, forlorn, anxious,” he wrote in his journal, “as if we were refugees in a cattle car. Dark in truck except for crack of light and fresh air coming through small interstice between back doors.”

He was not anxious, though (unbelievable to me as I look on), but exhilarated. In that halcyon summer before sophomore fall, he was hitching the country, hearing midnight confessions of loners in VW Beetles and yearning lyrics of rock ‘n’ roll hopefuls in beat-up vans...

20 Years Ago Today: The First Website Is Published
Matt Blum, Wired | 20 Years Ago Today: The First Website Is Published | August 6, 2013

It was August 6, 1991, at a CERN facility in the Swiss Alps, when 36-year-old physicist Tim Berners-Lee published the first-ever website. It was, not surprisingly, a pretty basic one...

India's Pink Sari Vigilantes
Amana Fontanella-Khan, The Daily Beast | Indian's Pink Sari Vigilantes | August 6, 2013

Amana Fontanella-Khan's new book, Pink Sari Revolution, delves into the astounding success of India's gang of fearless women, who have taken it upon themselves to protect the poor and call out the country's most corrupt officials.

...For all the dreariness of Bisanda Road that morning, Sampat felt a certain pride when she looked at the road, for it did not exist before her arrival here in 2005. Before, a rocky, rutted path made the axels of wooden carts jolt out of their wheels and doubled the journeying time of anyone who took it. “See this road?” people in Atarra will say. “It’s thanks to Sampat Pal that it got laid.” One day in 2006 she and a group of disgruntled women had convened on the road and, with wooden hoes in their hands, proclaimed loudly, “This is a road, what? Looks like a field to me! Come on, let’s grow vegetables here, at least we can eat them!” They started sowing seeds, tilling the stony dirt road and blocking the traffic. Passersby stopped and stared. People got off their carts, or gearless Atlas bicycles, to get a better look. Sampat had called the district magistrate to show him the state of the roads and made him make a promise in front of the crowds: “Yes, Sampat-ji. We’ll fix the road. Definitely.”...

The Mystery Of Bee Colony Collapse
Tom Philpott, Mother Jones | The Mystery Of Bee Colony Collapse | August 5, 2013

What's tipping honeybee populations into huge annual die-offs? For years, a growing body of evidence has pointed to a group of insecticides called neonicotinoids, widely used on corn, soy, and other US crops, as a possible cause of what has become known as colony collapse disorder (CCD).

Rather than kill bees directly like, say, Raid kills cockroaches, these pesticides are suspected of having what scientists call "sub-lethal effects"—that is, they make bees more vulnerable to other stressors, like poor nutrition and pathogens. In response to these concerns, the European Union recently  suspended most use for two years; the US Environmental Protection Agency, by contrast, still allows them pending more study...

Sarah Stillman, The New Yorker | Taken | August 5, 2013

Under civil forfeiture, Americans who haven't been charged with wrongdoing can be stripped of their cash, cars, and even homes. Is that all we're losing?

On a bright Thursday afternoon in 2007, Jennifer Boatright, a waitress at a Houston bar-and-grill, drove with her two young sons and her boyfriend, Ron Henderson, on U.S. 59 toward Linden, Henderson’s home town, near the Texas-Louisiana border. They made the trip every April, at the first signs of spring, to walk the local wildflower trails and spend time with Henderson’s father. This year, they’d decided to buy a used car in Linden, which had plenty for sale, and so they bundled their cash savings in their car’s center console. Just after dusk, they passed a sign that read “Welcome to Tenaha: A little town with BIG Potential!”...