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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.

How ISIS Leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi Became The World's Most Powerful Jihadi Leader
Terrence McCoy, The Washington Post | Al-Baghdadi | June 11, 2014

For all his power and new-found notoriety, there are only two authenticated photos of a man now called the world’s “most powerful jihadi leader.” One shows a serious man with an olive complexion and rounded countenance. The other, released by the Iraqi government last January, depicts an unsmiling bearded figure in a black suit. The image is cracked and blurry, as though someone had taken a picture of a picture...

Silicon Valley Tries To Remake The Idea Machine
Claire Cain Miller, The New York Times Magazine | The Idea Machine | June 10, 2014

Like any supersecret lab that’s supposedly trying to invent the future, Google X looks rather nondescript from the street. Besides the occasional hot pink driverless car parked out front, the facility is an archipelago of unmarked, low-slung, redbrick buildings, more Sunset Park than Silicon Valley. Inside, however, whiteboards offer clues about what exactly the future — at least as Google sees it — might look like. And while some diagrams — including one with parts labeled “snooze” and “set time” — suggest more mundane inventions, others, like one outlining a “space elevator,” seem a bit more ambitious...

This Story Just Won't Write
Calvin Trillin, The New Yorker | A History Of Time Magazine | June 10, 2014

For a long time now, of course, newsmagazines have borne little resemblance to the sort of publication that was invented at Time in 1923 and loosely replicated at Newsweek ten years later — a magazine designed to present the week’s news succinctly to “busy men” who were too involved in their important endeavors to spend time wading through a lot of newspapers. Starting as strictly a rewrite operation, Time eventually had reporters and stringers around the world...

The Documentaries That Help Explain Bergdahl
David Denby, The New Yorker | 'Restropo' And Bergdahl | June 9, 2014

Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, whose behavior has enraged and mystified so many people, was serving, in 2009, at Outpost Mest Malak, in Paktika Province, in eastern Afghanistan. In recent days, many soldiers in Bergdahl’s platoon have offered a fragmentary impression of what Bergdahl was like. What they haven’t conveyed—what they may not want to convey—is the reality of living and fighting for months at a remote outpost surrounded by hostile members of the Taliban.

But such an account exists—an extraordinarily visceral and intimate record of something very close to Bergdahl’s experience...

Talk To The Computer That Passed The Turing Test, A Historic Artificial Intelligence Milestone
Gregory Ferenstein, VB News | Chatbot Passes Turing Test | June 9, 2014

Since programmers began seriously grappling with the impending reality of intelligent computers in the 1950s, pioneering Inventor Alan Turing said that the first big milestone would come when we cannot distinguish between computers and humans in conversation.

Well, that day has finally come...

The Drunken Downfall Of Evangelical America's Favorite Painter
Zac Bissonnette, The Daily Beast | Kinkeade's Downfall | June 8, 2014

Thomas Kinkeade's death shocked his legion of fans -- not only had the Painter of Light died at 54, but the cause was alcohol and Valium. How did the evangelical darling fall so far?

The Pinter of Light was pissed off. It was November 20, 2010, less than two years before he died, and Thomas Kinkade was at the Denver Broncos’ stadium to unveil Mile High Thunder, his painting for the Tim Tebow Foundation...

Oh! You Kid!
Jody Rosen, Slate | Oh! You kid! | June 6, 2014

How a sexed-up viral hit from the summer of 09 -- 1909 -- changed American pop music forever.

In the spring of 1909, American popular song got sexy. Of course, love and courtship, and by extension sex, had been Topic A in pop music for decades. But while songwriters had long trafficked in euphemisms and innuendo—coy talk of “sighing” and “spooningbeneath the old oak tree and by the light of the silvery moon—it was a 1909 hit by composer Harry Von Tilzer and lyricist Jimmy Lucas, “I Love, I Love, I Love My Wife—But Oh! You Kid!,” which opened Tin Pan Alley to brasher, bawdier, more raucously comic songs of lust...

Four More New York Times Columnists And Malcolm Gladwell Get Really High: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
Sarah Jeong, The Guardian | Columnists Get High | June 5, 2014

Maureen Dowd is off today, recovering...

Bob Bergdahl: A War Captive's Father And His War At Home
John M. Glionna, The Los Angeles Times | Bob Bergdahl's War | June 5, 2014

In 2011, during his long five-year vigil, waiting helplessly at home while his son was held by Taliban extremists half a world away, Bob Bergdahl made a personal video for the Pakistani government that he hoped would be delivered to his boy, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.“These are my thoughts. I can remain silent no longer,” the father began...

Kepler Space Telescope Spies A 'Mega-Earth'
Joel Achenbach, The Washington Post | Mega-Earth | June 3, 2014

Astronomers have discovered a surprising planet, a rocky world with 17 times the mass of Earth. There have been “Super-Earths” discovered before, but this one is in a league of its own. The scientists call it a “Mega-Earth.”...