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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.

Cast Adrift in the Milky Way, Billions of Planets, All Alone
Dennis Overbye, The New York Times | Cast Adrift in the Milky Way, Billions of Planets, All Alone | May 19, 2011

Astronomers said Wednesday that space was littered with hundreds of billions of planets that had been ejected from the planetary systems that gave them birth and either were going their own lonely ways or were only distantly bound to stars at least 10 times as far away as the Sun is from the Earth. There are two Jupiter-mass planets floating around for each of the 200 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, according to measurements and calculations by an international group of astronomers led by Takahiro Sumi, of Osaka University in Japan, and reported in the journal Nature...

Paul Ryan Barbecues His Backyard
Andrew Roman, The Daily Beast | Paul Ryan Barbecues His Backyard | May 18, 2011

The House GOP's fiscal star touted his "Path to Prosperity" anew Monday. But a Daily Beast analysis of the numbers shows his plan would squeeze the hell out of his own constituents...

Can Newt Gingrich Control Newt Gingrich?
Michael D. Shear, The New York Times | Can Newt Gingrich Control Newt Gingrich? | May 18, 2011

The problem for Newt Gingrich does not appear to be a lack of self-awareness. But self-awareness is not the same thing as self-control. During his appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last Sunday, the former House speaker clinically diagnosed what he called his own “great weakness” as he pursues the presidency: a lack of personal and political discipline...

Atchafalaya
John McPhee, The New Yorker | Atchafalaya | May 17, 2011

Three hundred miles up the Mississippi River from its mouth—many parishes above New Orleans and well north of Baton Rouge—a navigation lock in the Mississippi’s right bank allows ships to drop out of the river. In evident defiance of nature, they descend as much as thirty-three feet, then go off to the west or south. This, to say the least, bespeaks a rare relationship between a river and adjacent terrain—any river, anywhere, let alone the third-ranking river on earth. The adjacent terrain is Cajun country, in a geographical sense the apex of the French Acadian world, which forms a triangle in southern Louisiana, with its base the Gulf Coast from the mouth of the Mississippi almost to Texas, its two sides converging up here near the lock—and including neither New Orleans nor Baton Rouge. The people of the local parishes (Pointe Coupee Parish, Avoyelles Parish) would call this the apex of Cajun country in every possible sense—no one more emphatically than the lockmaster, on whose face one day I noticed a spreading astonishment as he watched me remove from my pocket a red bandanna.

“You are a coonass with that red handkerchief,” he said...

U.S. Speeds Up Direct Talks With Taliban
Karen DeYoung, The Washington Post | U.S. Speeds Up Direct Talks With Taliban | May 17, 2011

The administration has accelerated direct talks with the Taliban, initiated several months ago, that U.S. officials say they hope will enable President Obama to report progress toward a settlement of the Afghanistan war when he announces troop withdrawals in July...

Life and the Cosmos, Word by Painstaking Word
Claudia Dreifus, The New York Times | Life and the Cosmos, Word by Painstaking Word | May 17, 2011

Dr. Hawking sat with me for a rare interview. Well, a kind of interview, actually. Ten questions were sent to his daughter, Lucy Hawking, 40, a week before the meeting. So as not to exhaust her father, who has grown weaker since a near-fatal illness two years ago, Ms. Hawking read them to him over a period of days.

Record Water for a Mississippi River City
Campbell Robertson, The New York Times | Record Water for a Mississippi River City | May 16, 2011

Late Sunday morning, as the Mississippi River was rushing faster and higher past this town than it has in 183 years of record-keeping, Dontaye Buck was sitting perfectly still. He was staring at a calm puddle of water in which his house sat. A man standing beside Mr. Buck’s mailbox was casting a fishing line into a neighbor’s yard...

Morganza Spillway: Flooding Farmland to Save New Orleans
Mark Guarino, The Christian Science Monitor | Morganza Spillway: Flooding Farmland to Save New Orleans | May 16, 2011

One hour. That’s all it took for the farmland located beside the Morganza floodwall, untouched for 38 years, to turn into a great lake...

How Drudge Has Stayed on Top
David Carr, The New York Times | How Drudge Has Stayed on Top | May 16, 2011

For most big news Web sites, about 60 percent of the traffic is homegrown, people who come directly to the site by dint of a bookmark or typing in www.latimes.com or www.huffingtonpost.com. The other critical 40 percent comes by referrals, the links that are the source of drive-by traffic, new readers and heat-seekers on a particular story.

By far, most of the traffic from links comes from the sprawling hybrid of Google search and news, which provides about 30 percent of the visits to news sites, according to a report released last week by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, part of the Pew Research Center. And the second? Has to be Facebook, right? Nope. Then Twitter must be the next in line. Except it isn’t. Give up? It’s The Drudge Report,...

Marital Matters and the 2012 Election
Sheryl Gay Stolberg, The New York Times | Marital Matters and the 2012 Election | May 14, 2011

Cheri Daniels, whose aversion to politics appears to be the reason her husband, Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana, is dithering about running for president, had no shortage of stories during her much-hyped speech in Indianapolis last week. There was the one about her driving a dump truck, the one about how she attended a senior citizen’s prom, about how she took a prize for cow milking at the state fair. But the story Mrs. Daniels did not share is the one that politicos and pundits are dying to hear: the one about how she married her husband — twice...