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.

The Acela Spy: The Shocking Things I've Learned By Eavesdropping On Amtrak

On Amtrak, powerful people talk loudly and spill secrets.


This is my conclusion based on five years’ field research commuting on Amtrak’s Acela between cities along the East Coast.

By now, you’ve heard about former NSA director Michael Hayden, who on Thursday talked nonstop to a reporter—on background—as the train went north from Washington, D.C. toward New York City. A few seats behind Hayden was Tom Matzzie, former Washington director of political group MoveOn.org, who started live-tweeting his eavesdropping...

Outsider Whose Dark, Lyrical Vision Helped Shape Rock 'n' Roll
Ben Ratliff, The New York Times | Outsider Whose Dark, Lyrical Vision Helped Shape Rock 'n' Roll | October 27, 2013

Lou Reed, the singer, songwriter and guitarist whose work with the Velvet Underground in the 1960s had a major influence on generations of rock musicians, and who remained a powerful if polarizing force for the rest of his life, died on Sunday at his home in Amagansett, N.Y., on Long Island. He was 71...

"I Quit Academia," An Important, Growing Subgenre Of American Essays

arah Kendzior, Al-Jazeera English’s firebrand of social and economic justice, suggested this week that there should be a Norton Anthology of Academics Declaring They Quit, among whose august contributions she would place Zachary Ernst’s “Why I Jumped Off the Ivory Tower.” Ernst’s Oct. 20 essay is a deeply honest account of his acrimonious departure from what many would consider a dream job: a tenured position as a philosophy professor at the University of Missouri...

Marty Sullivan Figured Out How The World's Biggest Comp;anies Avoided Billions In Taxes. Here's How He Wants To Stop Them.

It was a humbling experience for the chief executive of the world’s most valuable company. Hauled before a Senate panel, Apple’s Tim Cook had to explain how an American company whose American engineers had created the iPhone and the iPad was able to avoid paying any taxes on billions of dollars in profits generated by those products — not to United States, not to any country. The only defense the Cook could conjure up for Apple “stateless” income was that it was all perfectly legal...

Some Iranians Seek To Renew An Old Chant
Thomas Erdbrink, The New York Times | Some Iranians Seek To Renew An Old Chant | October 27, 2013

Born during the hostage crisis days after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the chant “Death to America” has enjoyed a long run on the Iranian stage. But it has been getting a little threadbare in recent times, and has even come under threat, with no less a person than the newly elected president, Hassan Rouhani, suggesting that the country no longer needed slogans...

Vincent Van Gogh: The Paris Years
Nina Siegal, The New York Times | Vincent Van Gogh: The Paris Years | October 25, 2013

In February 1886, Vincent van Gogh was so poor that he could not pay his rent in Antwerp, Belgium, so he hotfooted it to Paris to move in with his brother, Theo. “Don’t be cross with me that I’ve come all of a sudden,” he wrote in a hand-delivered note. “I’ve thought about it so much and I think we’ll save time this way. Will be at the Louvre from midday, or earlier if you like.”...

The Starbucks Guide To World Domination
Rachael Larimore, Slate | The Starbucks Guide To World Domination | October 24, 2013

Step 1: Serve coffee, not just coffee beans.

Step 2: Offer employee benefits.

Can you remember the last time you walked down a busy urban street, schlepped through a mall, or reported for day-job duty and didn’t see someone toting a tall paper cup with a green mermaid logo? If not, then you’re living in a world Howard Schultz envisioned more than 30 years ago. But it almost never happened...

History Tricked the Tea Party
Ira Chernus, Salon | History Tricked The Tea Party | October 24, 2013

For decades, Democrats across the country have been holding Jefferson Day dinners, filling their coffers by honoring their party’s founder. Suddenly, along comes the extreme right wing of the Republican Party, snatches up poor old TJ, and says, “Sorry, he’s actually ours. After all, didn’t he say, ‘That government is best which governs least’?”Well, no, in fact he didn’t. But perhaps he should have...

Christian, Not Conservative
Robert Long, The American Conservative | Christian, Not Conservative | October 22, 2013

At a White House ceremony in July, President Obama told this year’s recipients of the National Humanities Medal, “Your writings have changed me—I think for the better.” He then turned directly to novelist Marilynne Robinson and said, “Marilynne, I believe that.”

It was a spontaneous acknowledgement of Robinson’s prominence in American life and letters, another honor atop the Pulitzer, National Book Award, and host of other prizes her work has collected. For a writer whose novels barely have plots and whose essays plumb the thought of John Calvin, Robinson is astonishingly popular—and not just among readers who share the president’s politics...

Why Have Young People In Japan Stopped Having Sex?
Abigail Haworth, The Guardian | Why Have Young People In Japan Stopped Having Sex? | October 22, 2013

Ai Aoyama is a sex and relationship counsellor who works out of her narrow three-storey home on a Tokyo back street. Her first name means "love" in Japanese, and is a keepsake from her earlier days as a professional dominatrix. Back then, about 15 years ago, she was Queen Ai, or Queen Love, and she did "all the usual things" like tying people up and dripping hot wax on their nipples. Her work today, she says, is far more challenging. Aoyama, 52, is trying to cure what Japan's media calls sekkusu shinai shokogun, or "celibacy syndrome"...