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.

China's Copycat Cities
Jack Carlson, Foreign Policy | China's Copycat Cities | December 4, 2012

Chinese tourists may be flocking to Europe in record numbers, but now they can see some of the continent's top historical attractions without ever leaving the People's Republic. The Alpine village of Hallstatt, Austria, (a UNESCO World Heritage site on the picturesque shore of the Hallstätter See) has been re-created in full-scale replica in Boluo, in southern China. Complete with European-style wood houses and the town's signature Roman-numeral clock tower, the made-in-China version of Hallstatt opened this summer for visitors and new residents. The Chinese developers, Minmetals Land Ltd., even got the real mayor of Hallstatt to fly in from Austria to mark the occasion. Strange as it sounds, the Hallstatt replica is hardly unique in China. The Middle Kingdom is cloning Western monuments, palaces, and entire towns -- often at a frenetic pace and with uncanny accuracy. But why?...

The Golden Age For Writers
Stephen Marche, Esquire | The Golden Age For Writers | December 3, 2012

Writers have always been whiners. For nearly a hundred years, since at least the time of F. Scott Fitzgerald, the death of the novel has been presaged. And now, egged on by BuzzFeed and video games and just general hypercaffeinated, e-mail-all-the-time ADHD, the book is apparently, finally, about to die. At least we'll have good stuff to read while we wait. This fall alone, the number of big books published by major writers is astounding: Michael Chabon, Zadie Smith, Junot Díaz, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, and about a half dozen others. Not that the list has stopped anyone from complaining. Literary circles have been so full of pity for so long that they can't accept the optimistic truth: We're living in a golden age for writers and writing...

The Hunt For Genghis Khan's Tomb
Oliver Steeds, Newsweek | The Hunt For Genghis Khan's Tomb | December 3, 2012

In the eight hundred years since his death, people have sought in vain for the grave of Genhis Khan, the 13th-century conqueror and imperial ruler who, at the time of his death, occupied the largest contiguous empire, stretching from the Caspian Sea to the Pacific. In capturing most of central Asia and China, his armies killed and pillaged but also forged new links between East and West. One of history’s most brilliant and ruthless leaders, Khan remade the world.

But while the life of the conqueror is the stuff of legend, his death is shrouded in the mist of myths. Some historians believe he died from wounds sustained in battle; others that he fell off his horse or died from illness. And his final burial place has never been found. At the time great steps were taken to hide the grave to protect it from potential grave robbers. Tomb hunters have little to go on, given the dearth of primary historical sources. Legend has it that Khan’s funeral escort killed anyone who crossed their path to conceal where the conqueror was buried. Those who constructed the funeral tomb were also killed—as were the soldiers who killed them...

Hitler's Strange Afterlife In India
Dilip D'Souza, The Daily Beast | Hitler's Strange Afterlife In India | December 1, 2012

Hated and mocked in much of the world, the Nazi leader has developed a strange following among schoolchildren and readers of Mein Kampf in India. Dilip D'Souza on how political leader Bal Thackeray influenced Indians to admire Hitler and despise Gandhi.

My wife teaches French to tenth-grade students at a private school here in Mumbai. During one recent class, she asked these mostly upper-middle-class kids to complete the sentence “J'admire …” with the name of the historical figure they most admired.

To say she was disturbed by the results would be to understate her reaction. Of 25 students in the class, 9 picked Adolf Hitler, making him easily the highest vote-getter in this particular exercise; a certain Mohandas Gandhi was the choice of precisely one student...

Death Of An American Original
David Talbot, Salon | Death Of An American Original | December 1, 2012

Spain Rodriguez, the celebrated underground cartoonist, died Wednesday at his home in San Francisco at age 72. Along with friends and co-conspirators like R. Crumb, Art Spiegelman, S. Clay Wilson, Bill Griffith and Kim Deitch, Spain turned comics into a powerfully subversive medium. None of his illustrious pen-and-ink contemporaries were better at capturing the raw, weird beauty or the macabre humor of growing up in Cold War America. He was a master at evoking the sensual power of the city streets: thickly built bad girls, greaser Romeos, ducktailed doo-wop singers. He was an American original...

ACLU Suit To Allow Women In Combat Is About Equality & Recognition
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, The Daily Beast | ACLU Suit To Allow Women In Combat Is About Equality & Recognition | November 29, 2012

The female veterans who filed the lawsuit say combat exclusion is unfair and outdated, based on stereotypes, inhibits recognition and promotion of servicewomen -- and ignores the realities of the modern battlefield.

Women have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq for the past decade, serving in a slew of military roles on a murky battlefield that knows no formal frontlines. Now, four veterans who have served tours in both countries—including those who have won Purple Hearts for their efforts—are suing for recognition of that reality, and the end to the rules that officially bar them from combat...

In Afghanistan, Dinner And Then A Coup
Steve Coll, The New Yorker | In Afghanistan, Dinner And Then A Coup | November 29, 2012

On March 7, 1990, I was in Multan, Pakistan, in southern Punjab province. I can’t remember why; it had something to do with my duties as the Washington Posts South Asia correspondent. In those primitive days before cell phones and the Internet, the home newsroom, mercifully, had great difficulty reaching a correspondent in the field, so we were often free to report as we chose, but we also had to monitor breaking news. My habit was to tune in by shortwave radio to the BBC for hourly world-news bulletins, supplemented by the occasional “Newshour” of in-depth, worldwide radio reporting. (It’s still a great program, and now easily accessed on an iPhone.)...

Think Like a Doctor: The Circus Trainer's Headache
Dr. Lisa Sanders, The New York Times | Think Like a Doctor: The Circus Trainer's Headache | November 29, 2012

Every month the Diagnosis column of The New York Times Magazine asks Well readers to take on a difficult case and offer their own solution to the diagnostic riddle. This week, you’ll find a summary of a case that really does involve a zebra — and a circus trainer with a headache so severe that it sent him to the emergency room. We will provide notes and images ordered by the doctors who originally were faced with this medical mystery and lay the dilemma at your feet.

The Challenge: Can you solve the case of an animal trainer who develops an excruciating headache after a run-in with a zebra?...

The Secret Lives Of Supercutters
Seth Stevenson, Slate | The Secret Lives Of Supercutters | November 27, 2012

Since the beginning of time, humans have reshaped the creative works we encounter. Oral tradition invited storytellers to embellish existing narratives. Sheet music was powerless to prevent the parlor pianist’s reinterpretation. In the '70s and '80s, turntable jockeys led a sampling explosion. And today, of course, we have the “supercut.”

As YouTube crawlers well know, the supercut strings together rapid-fire, out-of-context movie or TV scenes to create a sort of video essay. Many supercuts provide hard evidence of the existence of tropes long suspected but never quite proved: imperiled characters fretting that they have no cellphone signal; high-tech investigators asking their imaging software to "enhance"; action movie toughs girding for battle by announcing, "We've got company." But what motivates the supercutter to slog through hours of footage to compile these minute observations? And what distinguishes the masters of the form?...

These Tiny Dioramas Have Seen Some Big Disasters
Francesca Bates, Slate | These Tiny Dioramas Have Seen Some Big Disasters | November 26, 2012

Lori Nix thinks she may be "a little obsessed" with the apocalypse. It began as a child, when she would watch with awe as blockbuster disaster flicks "magnified" the natural disasters and dangers she saw around her growing up in the Midwest. In her latest series, “The City,” the photojournalist turned fine-art photographer imagines a human-less world where Mother Nature has reclaimed our cities; and she makes these breathtaking images all without the help of Photoshop.

Citing her strong ability to "build and construct [her] world rather than seek out an existing world," Nix would rather not utilize digital manipulation to create her post-apocalyptic futures, choosing instead to build tiny, painstakingly detailed dioramas. Ranging in size from 18"x12"x33" (see Beauty Shop) to 92"x42"x100" (see Mall), each diorama takes up to seven months to build with the help of her partner...