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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.

Jonathan Winters, Unpredictable Comic And Master Of Improvisation, Dies At 88
William Grimes, The New York Times | Jonathan Winters, Unpredictable Comic And Master Of Improvisation, Dies At 88 | April 13, 2013

Jonathan Winters, the rubber-faced comedian whose unscripted flights of fancy inspired a generation of improvisational comics, and who kept television audiences in stitches with Main Street characters like Maude Frickert, a sweet-seeming grandmother with a barbed tongue and a roving eye, died on Thursday at his home in Montecito, Calif. He was 87.

His death was announced on his Web site, JonathanWinters.com.

Mr. Winters, a rotund man whose face had a melancholy basset-hound expression in repose, burst onto the comedy scene in the late 1950s and instantly made his mark as one of the funniest, least definable comics in a rising generation that included Mort Sahl, Shelley Berman and Bob Newhart...

Maria Tallchief, A Dazzling Ballerina And Muse For Balanchine, Dies At 88
Jack Anderson, The New York Times | Maria Tallchief, A Dazzling Ballerina And Muse For Balanchine, Dies At 88 | April 12, 2013

Maria Tallchief, a daughter of an Oklahoma oil family who grew up on an Indian reservation, found her way to New York and became one of the most brilliant American ballerinas of the 20th century, died on Thursday in Chicago. She was 88.

Her daughter, the poet Elise Paschen, confirmed the death. Ms. Tallchief lived in Chicago.

A former wife of the choreographer George Balanchine, Ms. Tallchief achieved renown with Balanchine’s New York City Ballet, dazzling audiences with her speed, energy and fire. Indeed, the part that catapulted her to acclaim, in 1949, was the title role in the company’s version of Stravinsky’s “Firebird,” one of many that Balanchine created for her...

Maggie And Me: How Thatcher Changed Britain
John Cassidy, The New Yorker | Maggie And Me: How Thatcher Changed Britain | April 11, 2013

When Margaret Hilda Thatcher took over as Prime Minister, in May, 1979, I was sixteen. To Britons of my generation, she wasn’t merely a famous Conservative politician, a champion of the free market, and a vocal supporter of Ronald Reagan: she was part of our mental furniture, and always will be. The day after her electoral triumph, Mr. Hill, my fifth form English teacher, an avuncular fellow with longish hair and a mustache, who had never previously expressed any political opinions, came into the classroom and shouted, “Right, you lot. Shut up and get down to work. It’s a new regime.” My father, a lifelong Labour Party voter, was equally aghast, especially when he discovered that my mother had voted for Mrs. T., on the grounds that “it’s about time we had a woman in charge.”...

Roger And Me
Alan Zweibel, The New Yorker | Roger And Me | April 11, 2013

So here’s what happened the first time I met Roger Ebert.

Friday, September 18, 1992.

The Friars Club was roasting Billy Crystal and, because I’d written a few jokes for this verbal onslaught, I was in the ballroom of the New York Hilton that afternoon. As was Roger Ebert, who, along with his much thinner partner, Gene Siskel, possessed the most highly regarded opposable thumbs in the country.

It was in the pressroom prior to the festivities that I went up to him and introduced myself. We exchanged a few pleasantries and that was it. He seemed nice enough. Perhaps a little taller than I thought he’d be, though I’d only ever seen him sitting in a chair on television so maybe I was unfair to have prejudged...

Grave Robbers And War Steal Syria's History
C.J. Chivers, The New York Times | Grave Robbers And War Steal Syria's History | April 11, 2013

Ali Shibleh crawled through a two-foot-high tunnel until reaching a slightly larger subterranean space. He swung his flashlight’s beam into the dark.

A fighter opposed to President Bashar al-Assad, Mr. Shibleh was roaming beneath Ebla, an ancient ruin that for several decades has been one of Syria’s most carefully studied and publicly celebrated archaeological sites. He had just made another of his many finds: he lifted something resembling a dried stick, then squeezed it between his fingers and thumb.

It broke with a powdery snap. “This is human bone,” he said...

As VA Backlog Grows, 'Baffled' Veteran Allies Begin To Turn On President

America’s 23 million veterans are facing an unprecedented crisis as the backlog of disability claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has grown to nearly 1 million—more than double what it was when President Obama took office.

The situation has reached a tipping point. Newspaper editorial boards and magazines call it a “national disgrace” and insist VA Secretary Eric Shinseki should resign. Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, is calling for the resignation of Allison Hickey, the VA’s head of benefits...

The Slow Death Of The American Author
Scott Turow, The New York Times Op Ed | The Slow Death Of The American Author | April 9, 2013

Last month, the Supreme Court decided to allow the importation and resale of foreign editions of American works, which are often cheaper than domestic editions. Until now, courts have forbidden such activity as a violation of copyright. Not only does this ruling open the gates to a surge in cheap imports, but since they will be sold in a secondary market, authors won’t get royalties.

This may sound like a minor problem; authors already contend with an enormous domestic market for secondhand books. But it is the latest example of how the global electronic marketplace is rapidly depleting authors’ income streams. It seems almost every player — publishers, search engines, libraries, pirates and even some scholars — is vying for position at authors’ expense...

Roger Ebert As A Builder Of An Empire
David Carr, The New York Times | Roger Ebert As A Builder Of An Empire | April 9, 2013

At journalism conferences and online, media strivers talk over and over about becoming their own brand, hoping that some magical combination of tweets, video spots, appearances and, yes, even actual written articles, will help their name come to mean something

As if that were a new thing.

Since Roger Ebert’s death on Thursday, many wonderful things have been said about his writing gifts at The Chicago Sun-Times, critical skills that led to a Pulitzer Prize in 1975, the first given for movie criticism. We can stipulate all of that, but let’s also remember that a big part of what he left behind was a remarkable template for how a lone journalist can become something much more...

 

Remembering Margaret Thatcher
Amy Davidson, The New Yorker | Remembering Margaret Thatcher | April 8, 2013

The British will have the final say on the legacy of Margaret Thatcher, who died on Monday morning at the age of eighty-seven. She was their leader, Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, the first woman to lead a European (or North American) country. But she has a presence in so many political images and ideologies—and world historical and cultural moments—that the rest of the world has some reckoning to do, too. She was a grocer’s daughter. She died as Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven. She went to war with Argentina. She seemed ready to provoke the Soviet Union to a civilization-ending conflict, bringing American nuclear missiles to Europe, and instead was present at the Warsaw Pact’s mostly peaceful disintegration. She once told George H. W. Bush that it would be “wobbly” of him not to go to war with Iraq. She met with Nelson Mandela, smiling, after years of what might generously be called ambivalence on her part about what he represented for South Africa. If the relationship with Northern Ireland was still as it was when she was in charge, her obituaries today might have a sharper tone—from both sides. She was the most powerful woman in the world and went regularly to pay homage to a Queen...

Book Review: The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth, by Mark Mazzetti

On May 1, 2011, CIA Director Leon Panetta was in command of the single most important U.S. military operation since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001: the Navy SEAL Team 6 assault on a mysterious compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden was suspected to be hiding. The SEALs were sneaking into Pakistan without the permission of its government on a covert “deniable” mission in a country that was supposedly allied to the United States. Because U.S. law forbids the military to do this kind of work, the SEALs were turned over to the control of the CIA and were “sheep-dipped” to become, in effect, spies under Panetta’s nominal control.

Yet isn’t the CIA’s real job to steal other countries’ secrets, rather than to carry out targeted killings?...