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.

If Health Insurance Mandates Are Unconstitutional, Why Did the Founding Fathers Back Them?

In making the legal case against Obamacare’s individual mandate, challengers have argued that the framers of our Constitution would certainly have found such a measure to be unconstitutional. Nevermind that nothing in the text or history of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause indicates that Congress cannot mandate commercial purchases. The framers, challengers have claimed, thought a constitutional ban on purchase mandates was too “obvious” to mention. Their core basis for this claim is that purchase mandates are unprecedented, which they say would not be the case if it was understood this power existed. But there’s a major problem with this line of argument: It just isn’t true. The founding fathers, it turns out, passed several mandates of their own...

AP's Approval of 'Hopefully' Symbolizes Larger Debate Over Language
Monica Hesse, The Washington Post | AP's Approval of 'Hopefully' Symbolizes Larger Debate Over Language | April 18, 2012

The barbarians have done it, finally infiltrated a remaining bastion of order in a linguistic wasteland. They had already taken the Oxford English Dictionary; they had stormed the gates of Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition. They had pummeled American Heritage into submission, though she fought valiantly — she continues to fight! — by including a cautionary italics phrase, “usage problem,” next to the heretical definition.

Then, on Tuesday morning, the venerated AP Stylebook publicly affirmed (via tweet, no less) what it had already told the American Copy Editors Society: It, too, had succumbed. “We now support the modern usage of hopefully,” the tweet said. “It is hoped, we hope.”...

Hatsune Miku, Japan's Hologram Pop Idol
Melissa Leon, The Daily Beast | Matsune Miku, Japan's Hologram Pop Idol | April 18, 2012

The surprise revival of Tupac Shakur in hologram form at Coachella this weekend stunned audiences -- but Japan's been onto the hologram game for years. Meet Hatsune Miku, Japan's biggest (fictional) pop star...


Six Degrees of Aggregation: How the Huffington Post Ate the Internet
Michael Shapiro, Columbia Journalism Review | Six Degrees of Aggregation: How The Huffington Post Ate the Internet | April 18, 2012

Of the many and conflicting stories about how The Huffington Post came to be—how it boasts 68 sections, three international editions (with more to come), 1.2 billion monthly page views and 54 million comments in the past year alone, how it came to surpass the traffic of virtually all the nation’s established news organizations and amass content so voluminous that a visit to the website feels like a trip to a mall where the exits are impossible to locate—the earliest and arguably most telling begins with a lunch in March 2003 at which the idea of an online newspaper filled with celebrity bloggers and virally disseminated aggregated content did not come up...


Afghan Security Forces Kill 36 Insurgents to Quell Spate of Deadly Attacks
Kevin Sieff, The Washington Post | Afghan Security Forces Kill 36 Insurgents to Quell Spate of Deadly Attacks | April 16, 2012

A spate of insurgent attacks across Afghanistan on Sunday left four civilians and 11 members of the security forces dead, the government said Monday. Three dozen assailants, including some suicide bombers, were killed by Afghan security forces who — after many hours — succeeded in halting the attacks.

The rare coordinated attacks spanned some of the country’s most important population centers but resulted in relatively few deaths — illustrating the insurgents’ ability to penetrate well-fortified sites but raising questions about the potency of their attacks...

Does Fracking Cause Earthquakes?
Alyssa Battistoni, Mother Jones | Does Fracking Cause Earthquakes? | April 16, 2012

There are plenty of reasons to worry about fracking—groundwater contamination, methane leaks, that flaming tapwater thing. But can it really cause earthquakes? That's the question the US Geological Survey set out to answer after a spate of tremors in the Midwest—an area not usually known for earthquakes—alerted scientists to the possibility that some of them might be manmade...

Ai Weiwei on the Pen and the Gun
Mark McDonald, International Herald Tribune | Ai Weiwei on the Pen and the Gun | April 16, 2012

When we last looked in on Ai Weiwei, the feisty, plus-sized Chinese artist was suing the Beijing tax authorities over their charges against him. The Public Security folks had pulled the plug on Weiweicam, his project that was streaming live video feeds from inside his house to the Internet. And he has kept breaking the rules of his release from prison, blaming his lack of self-discipline, telling The Economist, “C’mon, I can’t even lose weight!”...

Earth Music: The Great Animal Orchestra, by Bernie Krause
Jeremy Denk, The New York Times Book Review | Earth Music: The Great Animal Orchestra, by Bernie Krause | April 13, 2012

Instead of visiting the zoo, spend some time in the native habitat of your local symphony orchestra. You will meet the badgering bass player, whose disparaging wisecracks you cannot quite hear; the flustered, quivering flutist who just wishes the oboist would play in tune (the feeling is mutual); and many other creatures, docile and gruff. Bernie Krause’s new book, “The Great Animal Orchestra,” is not about this beastly symphony; it is about the symphony of beasts that surrounds us, a vast orchestra in the process of being silenced, perhaps even more endangered than our human animal orchestras.

Sweden's New Gender-Neutral Pronoun: Hen
Mathalie Rothschild, Slate | Sweden's New Gender-Neutral Pronoun: Hen | April 12, 2012

By most people’s standards, Sweden is a paradise for liberated women. It has the highest proportion of working women in the world, and women earn about two-thirds of all degrees. Standard parental leave runs at 480 days, and 60 of those days are reserved exclusively for dads, causing some to credit the country with forging the way for a new kind of nurturing masculinity. In 2010, the World Economic Forum designated Sweden as the most gender-equal country in the world. But for many Swedes, gender equality is not enough. Many are pushing for the Nordic nation to be not simply gender-equal but gender-neutral...

The Great Oasis
Burkhard Bilger, The New Yorker | The Great Oasis | April 12, 2012

Can a wall of trees stop the Sahara from spreading?...