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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.

Pacific Voyagers Expedition: A Solar-Powered Journey
The Huffington Post | Pacific Voyagers Expedition; A Solar-Powered Journey | August 15, 2011

In April, seven traditional Polynesian ocean-going vessels called vakas, and their 16 member crews, set sail on a 15,000 nautical mile journey across the Pacific. Powered only by solar energy, guided solely by celestial navigation, these seafarers are on an expedition to reconnect with their ancestors and raise awareness for the environmental issues threatening the Pacific.

Each vaka has a crew made up of Pacific Islanders from Aotearoa (New Zealand), Cook Islands, Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Vanuatu, and Tonga. This is the first time in modern history that a voyage like this has been made...

Afghan Widows Form Community On Kabul Hill
Joshua Partlow, The Washington Post | Afghan Widows Form Community On Kabul Hill | August 15, 2011

The hills of this capital stand as monuments to men in battle, topped by crumbling forts and rusted tanks, ancient ramparts and gleaming tombs of kings. One is different but no less a testament to war. It is known as Tapaye Zanabad — the hill that women built.

For the past decade, war widows have converged here and built by hand their mud hovels on a slope above a cemetery in an eastern neighborhood of the Afghan capital. They came at first because the land was free and they were poor. Police would fine or beat men for raising a settlement on government land, but the widows found that they could build if they were clever...

New Drug Could Cure Nearly Any Viral Infection
Anne Trafton, MIT News | New Drug Could Cure Nearly Any Viral Infection | August 15, 2011

Most bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics such as penicillin, discovered decades ago. However, such drugs are useless against viral infections, including influenza, the common cold, and deadly hemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola.

Now, in a development that could transform how viral infections are treated, a team of researchers at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory has designed a drug that can identify cells that have been infected by any type of virus, then kill those cells to terminate the infection...

Virtuosos Becoming a Dime a Dozen
Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times | Virtuosos Becoming a Dime a Dozen | August 14, 2011

The latest young pianist from China to excite classical music audiences and earn raves from critics is the 24-year-old Yuja Wang, a distinctive artist with a comprehensive technique. That Ms. Wang is already a musician of consequence was made clear this year when Deutsche Grammophon released her first recording with an orchestra: performances of Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and Second Piano Concerto with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. The conductor is Claudio Abbado, no less, a towering maestro who is extremely discriminating in his choice of collaborators. Mr. Wang's virtuosity is stunning. But is that so unusual these days? Not really...

Slowpoke: How to Be a Faster Writer
Michael Agger, Slate | Slowpoke: How to Be a Faster Writer | August 14, 2011

Hunched over my keyboard, I'm haunted by anecdotes of faster writers. Christopher Hitchens composing a Slate column in 20 minutes—after a chemo session, after a "full" dinner party, late on a Sunday night. The infamously productive Trollope, who used customized paper! "He had a note pad that had been indexed to indicate intervals of 250 words," William F. Buckley told the Paris Review. "He would force himself to write 250 words per 15 minutes. Now, if at the end of 15 minutes he hadn't reached one of those little marks on his page, he would write faster." Buckley himself was a legend of speed—writing a complete book review in crosstown cabs and the like...

Are Women "Pornified" by Popular Media?
Barbara and Shannon Kelley, Huffington Post | Are Women "Pornified" by Popular Media? | August 14, 2011

A new study by University of Buffalo sociologists suggests the answer is yes, indeed. This may be well-tread territory, but we think we need to go there anyway. One reason is what we call the "tyranny of the shoulds." The study, entitled "Equal Opportunity Objectification? The Sexualization of Men and Women on the Cover of Rolling Stone", will be published in the September issue of the journal Sexuality & Culture. The researchers, Erin Hatton, Ph.D., and Mary Nell Trautner, Ph.D., analyzed covers of Rolling Stone magazine over the past three decades...

Me and the S&P
Sam Tanenhaus, Slate | Me and the S&P | August 12, 2011

This will read like a confession: John Chambers, the chairman of Standard and Poor's sovereign debt committee, which downgraded the nation's credit rating—pitching global markets into panic and roiling the political battle in Washington—has been my friend for many years. We were classmates at Grinnell College, in Iowa, in the 1970s, both English majors—hyperstimulated juveniles competitively wringing obscure meanings out of Chaucer and Eliot and then bruising one another in debates carried over from the classroom to the student union...

Five Myths About the Dow
James K. Glassman, Washington Post Opinions | Five Myths About the Dow | August 12, 2011

Down 600 points one day, up 400 points the next, down another 500 points a day later, then up another 400 points the day after that — yes, the Dow Jones industrial average is back in the news. Charles Dowdevised the index in 1896 to give investors a snapshot of the performance of big manufacturing stocks (and of the U.S. economy) each day. The Dow still has an antique feel to it, but as a metaphor for the stock market, it remains unsurpassed: endlessly cited, parsed, followed, predicted — and misunderstood...

The GOP's Fiery Debate
The Daily Beast | The GOP's Fiery Debate | August 12, 2011

Ahead of Iowa's straw poll this weekend, eight GOP candidates attacked each other in the second debate of the primary season. Daily Beast contributors weigh in on the winners, the losers -- and the elephants who weren't in the room...

The Dark Lord of the Debt Mess
Lloyd Grove, The Daily Beast | The Dark Lord of the Debt Mess | August 10, 2011

Here’s one possible narrative of how and why Monday’s Dow Jones industrial average went on a harrowing toboggan ride into a tree: The market was still freaked out over Friday’s S&P downgrade, which in turn was influenced by the refusal of congressional Republicans to consider even the teensiest of tax hikes in the debt-ceiling sweepstakes—which in turn was the absolute edict of a powerful yet unelected Washington operative who chirpily answers his cell phone: “Grover G. Norquist!”...