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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.

"We Were The Ones Who Shot Them"
Kevin Sites, Salong | "We Were The Ones Who Shot Them" | January 29, 2013

An Army specialist recounts the horrible story of realizing he's just fired on -- and killed -- fellow Americans.

Southwest of Baghdad in the cooling dusk of late November, a blue, Korean-made Bongo truck, commonly used by Iraqis to haul everything from goats to cinder blocks, was barreling toward Specialist Michael Ayala’s four-Humvee convoy. Though two football fields away, Ayala felt the vehicle was accelerating with bad intentions. His thoughts were confirmed when he saw muzzle flashes from the back of the speeding truck. His body and mind went through the natural physiological responses to imminent battle. His central nervous system’s hardwired “fight or flight” response was activated: adrenaline was released into his bloodstream, and he began breathing deeply to provide more oxygen to his body’s vital organs while blood was shunted away from the digestive tract to the muscles, providing them with the fuel for physical reaction. Ayala’s pupils dilated to give him a broader range of vision, his senses were heightened and his threshold for potential pain increased. This is the point for a civilian where the rational mind subsides and instinct takes over, but Ayala was a trained soldier. While biology could amplify his physical response, he couldn’t let fear overtake his mind. The thousands of muscle-memory repetitions of his training had to now give him the confidence to make rational choices even while his body was focused only on survival. He steadied himself and readied his weapon.

Join Cartoonist Lynda Barry For A University-Level Course On Doodling And Neuroscience

Cartoonist Lynda Barry, who has helped legions of adults grope their way back to the unselfconscious creativity of childhood, is teaching at the university level. Barry’s Unthinkable Mind course is designed to appeal to students of the humanities.  Also hardcore science majors, the sort of lab-coated specimens the first group might refer to as “brains.” The instructor describes her University of Wisconsin spring semester offering thus:

A writing and picture-making class with focus on the basic physical structure of the brain with emphasis on hemispheric differences and a particular sort of insight and creative concentration that seems to come about when we are using our hands (the original digital devices) —to help us figure out a problem.

...You should be warned as well, if you elect to audit this course from home. Enrollment is not necessary....Who's in?


Alexandria The Great
G. Willow Wilson, Newsweek | Alexandria The Great | January 28, 2013

An ancient city that's alive once more with books...

The first and last thing, of course, is the harbor: that perfect blue-green keyhole to the Mediterranean, sheltered by two slender spits of land extending toward one another. Sphinxes sit underwater at the old shoreline, long ago submerged by rising sea levels. Today the ancient harbor is nearly ­empty—it’s not large enough for the tankers and barges of modern commerce—but looking out over it toward open water, one is tempted to imagine fleets of triremes decorated with painted eyes. Conquerors have looked upon that harbor and dreamed of empire: Alexander the Great (after whom the city is named), Caesar, and Napoleon. The Arabs broke with centuries of tradition when they built their capital at Fustat, an old military encampment on a bluff overlooking the Nile to the south, which became the city we call Cairo. For almost 1,000 years, Alexandria was the seat of power and learning in Egypt...

Beyond 'Downton Abbey': Preeclampsia Maternal Deaths Continue Today
Eleni Tsigas and Christine Morton, The Daily Beast | Beyond 'Downton Abbey': Preeclampsia Maternal Deaths Continue Today | January 28, 2013

American fans of PBS’s Downton Abbey might be in a state of shock after last night’s episode, in which beloved Lady Sybil Crawley gave birth and then died from “eclampsia.” While some of the hit show’s millions of viewers may dismiss the dramatic plot twist as unrealistic or express relief that women today no longer die so tragically in childbirth, those viewers would be mistaken on both counts...

Linda L. Bray, First Woman To Lead Platoon In Combat, Thrilled With Lifting Of Ban
Michael Biesecker, The Huffington Post | Linda L. Bray, First Woman To Lead Platoon In Combat, Thrilled With Lifting Of Ban | January 25, 2013

Former U.S. Army Capt. Linda L. Bray says her male superiors were incredulous upon hearing she had ably led a platoon of military police officers through a firefight during the 1989 invasion of Panama.

Instead of being lauded for her actions, the first woman in U.S. history to lead male troops in combat said higher-ranking officers accused her of embellishing accounts of what happened when her platoon bested an elite unit of the Panamanian Defense Force. After her story became public, Congress fiercely debated whether she and other women had any business being on the battlefield.

The Pentagon's longstanding prohibition against women serving in ground combat ended Thursday...

Game Of Foam: 500 Mages, Orcs, And Warriors Get Medieval In A Maryland State Park
Sean Gallagher, Ars Technica | Game Of Foam | January 24, 2013

On a cool Sunday morning in November, I found myself heading south from Baltimore with three warriors from the nascent nation of Asaheim, their swords, spears, and banner stashed beside them in my minivan. War was brewing, and as we drove, they discussed battle plans and the revenge they would take on a particularly bothersome foe. But before they could unleash hell upon their opponents, I was told, we needed to make a quick stop. Their mage had mislaid his "burning hands" and needed a new pair.

As we strolled through a discount department store in Glen Burnie, Maryland, people stared at my costumed companions. A middle-aged woman whispered, "Are they Goths or something?"

"No, wrong tribe," I answered...

Do We Really Want To Live Without The Post Office?
Jesse Lichtenstein, Esquire | Do We Really Want To Live Without The Post Office? | January 24, 2013

The postal service is not a federal agency. It does not cost taxpayers a dollar. It loses money only because Congress mandates that it do so. What it is is a miracle of high technology and human touch. It's what binds us together as a country.

Gold Hill, Oregon: The eleven hundred residents of this lingering gold-rush town, mostly mechanics and carpenters and retail clerks in other places, wake with the sun and end their day with a walk to the aluminum mailbox bolted to a post at the edge of their yard. In between, Carrie Grabenhorst heads out of town on highway 99, follows the Rogue River, and turns right on Sardine Creek Road. She turns left at a large madrone tree and heads up a quarter mile of dirt road, takes the right fork, goes past the sagging red barn to a white clapboard house with green trim, where she takes a dog biscuit from her pocket and offers it to the large golden retriever. It's a Monday, about 2:00 p.m. The dog stops barking. This is the usual peace, negotiated after thousands of visits over eighteen years...

 

The Mysteriously Memorable Twenties: Why Do We Remember More From Young Adulthood Than From Any Other Time Of Our Lives?
Katy Waldman, Slate | The Mysteriously Memorable Twenties | January 23, 2013

Twentysomethings are having a moment. They’re inspiring self-help guides (see Meg Jay’s The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter—And How To Make the Most of Them Now), hit television shows, Tumblrs-turned-handbooks, and lyrical New Yorker think pieces. What is it about twentysomethings? Robin Henig asked in the New York Times Magazine not too long ago. In part, she was talking about the current crop of young adults. They are dreamy—they have their own fairy tales!—but also deflated and recession-squeezed; peculiarly savvy and adrift, connected and lonely, knowing and naïve. But she was also voicing a perennial obsession. What is it about twentysomethings in general? Why are we so fixated on the no-man’s-land between childhood and stable adulthood?...

At The Edge Of America: The History Of The Prepper Paradise Known As The Citadel

One day in late October, one of the organizers of a dreamed-up prepper community called The Citadel took a moment to share part of his vision on the project’s blog.

“Something that I can’t predict, but am hoping for, is a greater level of social interaction,” the organizer, who blogs under the names Vernon and VJ, wrote. “Neighborhood barbeques, musical jam sessions and plays at the amphitheater or the Citadel Society club house, interest groups, clubs, organized and spontaneous activities of all sorts. I enjoy board games, myself, and used to go to a game club every Friday night. We’ll have some great pubs with local brews, walking and bicycle paths, a firing range you don’t have to drive a half hour or more to get to. Maybe a hill with a rope tow for sliding down on inner tubes in the winter time. Militia training will also have a unifying social aspect to it.”

Vernon’s is just one post picked from many, but it’s a good example of the wholesome-until-they’re-extremist ideas behind The Citadel...

Hemingway Family Mental Illness Explored In New Film
Elizabeth Landau, CNN | Hemingway Family Mental Illness Explored In New Film | January 22, 2013

Every family, even famous ones, have secrets. The Hemingways are no different.

"We were, sort of, the other American family that had this horrible curse," says Mariel Hemingway. She compared her family to the Kennedys -- but the Hemingway curse, she said, is mental illness.

Hemingway, granddaughter of acclaimed author Ernest Hemingway, explores the troubled history of her family in "Running from Crazy," a documentary that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Sunday. Barbara Kopple is the director; Oprah Winfrey is the executive producer...