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.

Who Was The Girl With The Pearl Earring?
Benjamin Binstock, Slate | Who Was The Girl With The Pearl Earring? | October 31, 2013

Johannes Vermeer’s iconic Girl With a Pearl Earring has arrived at the Frick Collection in New York, drawing unprecedented crowds. We might therefore ask: Who was she? Several authors, ranging from Marcel Proust’s friend the journalist Jean-Louis Vaudoyer to New Yorker writer Lawrence Weschler, have suggested she might be the artist’s eldest daughter, Maria. Many Vermeer scholars dismiss that notion as a Romantic anachronism, a projection onto an earlier period of a modern view of art as a reflection of the artist’s circumstances. In the wake of this denial, Tracy Chevalier’s novel Girl With a Pearl Earring provided an alternative, fictional answer: She was the family maid’s assistant, Griet (played by Scarlett Johansson in the film), who became Vermeer’s love interest.


But the evidence suggests Vermeer’s daughter Maria was his likely model and a crucial part of his art. More provocatively, I believe that Maria Vermeer was also a gifted artist who painted roughly one-fifth of the works currently assigned to her father...

Eeek, Snake! Your Brain Has A Special Corner Just For Them
Jon Hamilton, NPR | Eeek, Snake! Your Brain Has A Special Corner Just For Them | October 29, 2013

Anthropologist Lynne Isbell was running through a glade in central Kenya in 1992 when something suddenly caused her to freeze in her tracks. "I stopped just in front of a cobra," she says. "It was raised with its hood spread out."


Isbell, who is at the University of California, Davis, says she has spent the past couple of decades trying to understand how she could have reacted before her conscious brain even had a chance to think — cobra!...

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...