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 Methodless Method
Alice Bolin, The New Yorker | The Methodless Method | March 27, 2013

The summers I spent at my grandmother’s house were defined by reading—particularly reading, with extreme interest and feeling, the oddest and most unsuitable things I could find lying around: an ancient issue of Good Housekeeping or a collection of Dave Barry columns or the “Catechism of the Catholic Church.” It’s not like I had nothing to choose from. The house contained hundreds of books. I could have easily selected from my grandmother’s cache of Agatha Christie and Bess Streeter Aldrich, or from any of the books left by my grandfather, who, when he was alive, was known for reading a book a day. It’s baffling now to think of the things I chose to read, and it was baffling to my family at the time.

But these choices were evidence of an important beginning. Growing up can mean growing into a sense that what one reads has a larger personal and cultural significance, starting to read into things. For so many adolescent readers, this process of forming deeper connections and insights is about random discovery, following boredom, never analyzing or judging—which is how the summer I turned thirteen came to center on Rudolf Flesch’s “The Book of Unusual Quotations.”...

Musician's Cry: Take The Lien Off, Landlord
Tim Stelloh, The New York Times | Musician's Cry: Take The Lien Off, Landlord | March 27, 2013

In the decade that Michael Piazza has been a landlord in this small Hudson Valley city, he has dealt with only a handful of nonpaying tenants.

On a recent afternoon at the storage warehouse he owns, Mr. Piazza was rummaging through a brightly lighted space that contained the eclectic belongings of one such tenant. There were heaps of cardboard boxes and old catalogs strewn across the floor. There were empty musical instrument cases and handwritten letters. There was even an unopened bar of soap.

But while Mr. Piazza has dealt before with a small number of people who have fallen behind in their rent, the owner of this particular trove is certainly unexpected. He is a member of a group enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

"I've had other deadbeats," Mr. Piazza, 66, said. "But nothing like Garth."...

Orders Cut, As Publisher And Retailer Quarrel
Leslie Kaufman, The New York Times | Orders Cut, As Publisher And Retailer Quarrel | March 26, 2013

A standoff over financial terms has prompted the bookstore chain Barnes & Noble to cut back substantially on the number of titles it orders from the publishing house Simon & Schuster, raising fears among other publishers, agents and authors that the conflict may harm the publishing industry as a whole.

Industry executives, as well as authors of recently published Simon & Schuster books and their agents, say that Barnes & Noble has reduced book orders greatly, to almost nothing in the case of some lesser-known writers. They contend that the move is damaging their sales. Authors say the retail chain has taken other steps, like not giving them display space or allowing book tour appearances in its stores.

Simon Lipskar, the president of Writers House, a literary agency in New York, said, “Without pointing fingers, authors are being hurt by this, and I think it is despicable.”

The conflict, which is being closely watched by other publishers, underscores the pressure on the publishing industry and Barnes & Noble as they try to compete with online retailers like Amazon...

A Last Smile And A Wave For Bay Area Commuters
Norimitsu Onishi, The New York Times | A Last Smile And A Wave For Bay Area Commuters | March 26, 2013

To hear Jackie Dean tell it, it all started more than 18 years ago with her cousin Peaches’s beat-up Lincoln, a tip from her friend Gayle and possible betrayal by her own mother. But, really, it may have actually started back in the second grade, in Mr. John’s class, when Jackie and her classmates read the most books in their school in Oakland and won a choice of a field trip.

“We had Great America, Marine World, Frontier Village — we had all kinds of places we could’ve gone to,” Ms. Dean said. “Why we chose the Golden Gate Bridge, I couldn’t tell you.”

So maybe the Golden Gate chose her, the way she sees it. Ms. Dean began working as a toll collector on the bridge 18 years ago. “It was an 18-year adventure,” she said. “I met people from all over the world. I kissed babies from different countries. I’ve taken pictures for people from all over the world. I’ve seen cars that aren’t even out, the prototypes.”

On Wednesday, Ms. Dean, 43, and the other 27 full-time toll collectors on the Golden Gate Bridge are scheduled to be replaced by a fully automated system...

How Groucho Marx Was Saved
Sean Cole, Salon | How Groucho Marx Was Saved | March 26, 2013

Groucho Marx began hosting the TV game show “You Bet Your Life” in 1947. This was after his classic films with Chico, Harpo and Zeppo, and unlike those movies, Groucho didn’t dance around in a painted-on mustache. He sat in a chair with his cigar, wisecracking with the contestants for a long time, and the results were the stuff of classic TV.

You can watch the show on Netflix now, or YouTube – which might not have been possible if it weren’t for the efforts of Andy Marx, the grandson of Groucho Marx. Andy’s a writer and photographer now. But in 1973 he was instrumental in saving this vital piece of Marxianna and Hollywood history from the garbage dump...

A War, Before And After, Part 3
Matt Gallagher, Matthew Mellina, and Brian Van Reet, The New York Times Opinionator | A War, Before And After, Part 3 | March 19, 2013

This is the third part of a six-part series.

Ten years ago this week, on March 20, 2003, the United States invaded Iraq.

The war officially ended on Dec. 15, 2011 — eight years, eight months, three weeks and four days later — when the last American forces withdrew. In the days between, hundreds of thousands of lives were altered irrevocably. Home Fires asked 16 veterans who served in Iraq to reflect on how their lives changed on the two dates bracketing the war. Their accounts will be published in Home Fires on consecutive days this week...

The Last Letter
Tomas Young, TruthDig | The Last Letter | March 19, 2013

To: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney
From: Tomas Young

I write this letter on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War on behalf of my fellow Iraq War veterans. I write this letter on behalf of the 4,488 soldiers and Marines who died in Iraq. I write this letter on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of veterans who have been wounded and on behalf of those whose wounds, physical and psychological, have destroyed their lives. I am one of those gravely wounded. I was paralyzed in an insurgent ambush in 2004 in Sadr City. My life is coming to an end. I am living under hospice care.

I write this letter on behalf of husbands and wives who have lost spouses, on behalf of children who have lost a parent, on behalf of the fathers and mothers who have lost sons and daughters and on behalf of those who care for the many thousands of my fellow veterans who have brain injuries. I write this letter on behalf of those veterans whose trauma and self-revulsion for what they have witnessed, endured and done in Iraq have led to suicide and on behalf of the active-duty soldiers and Marines who commit, on average, a suicide a day...

Iraq, Ten Years Ago And Now
George Packer, The New Yorker | Iraq, Ten Years Ago And Now | March 19, 2013

On an ordinary street corner in the South Bronx stands a four-story, nineteenth-century brick house: the home and office of Michael Kamber, a former Times correspondent and one of the Iraq War’s best photographers, who lives on the top floor and not long ago converted the ground floor into a gallery called the Bronx Documentary Center. Kamber is also the editor of “Photojournalists on War: The Untold Stories from Iraq,” to be published in May by the University of Texas Press—a monumental, eloquent, and devastating compilation of spoken testimony by photographers who covered the war over many years, along with their searing and, in some cases, never-before-published pictures, and a beautiful foreword by Dexter Filkins. This book will be one of the essential documents to come out of the Iraq War. “At the very least,” Kamber writes, “there should be a record of what happened.”...

Smoked Fish Surrealism: Ben Katchor's Comics of NYC Neurotics
Jake Siegel, The Daily Beast | Smoked Fish Surrealism: Ben Katchor's Comics of NYC Neurotics | March 19, 2013

Like all New Yorkers, Ben Katchor is obsessed with real estate. The characters of his imagined Gotham don’t pine for spacious lofts in SoHo or the grandeur of The Dakota; their mania is for obscure but resonant architectural detail—doorknobs, tissue dispensers, and cornices rule their minds. The distortion—bending familiar scenes away from the expected totems of modern living and toward seemingly trivial details—gives us a satire that illuminates as much as it skewers. At his best, Katchor creates a lucid derangement of the ordinary, revealing the power of all the cluttering artifacts that surround us but go unnoticed. His new collection of comic strips, Hand-Drying In America, is a dark, funny, and compelling experience, as engrossing to view as it is to read...

Bloomberg Proposal Would Require NYC Retail Stores To Keep Tobacco Products Out Of Sight

A new proposal would require New York City retailers to keep tobacco products out of sight under a first-in-the-nation proposal aimed at reducing the youth smoking rate, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday.

The legislation would require stores to keep tobacco products in cabinets, drawers, under the counter, behind a curtain or in other concealed spots. They could only be visible when an adult is making a purchase or during restocking...