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.

Wendell Berry Expounds On Gay Marriage
Bob Allen, American Baptist Press | Wendell Berry Expounds On Gay Marriage | January 31, 2013

A Kentucky farmer, essayist, writer and activist, sometimes described as a modern-day Thoreau, criticizes theological strategies used to marginalize gays.

Christian opponents to same-sex marriage want the government to treat homosexuals as a special category of persons subject to discrimination, similar to the way that African-Americans and women were categorized in the past, cultural and economic critic Wendell Berry told Baptist ministers in Kentucky Jan. 11.

Berry, a prolific author of books, poems and essays who won the National Humanities Medal in 2010 and was 2012 Jefferson lecturer for the National Endowment for the Humanities, offered “a sort of general declaration” on the subject of gay marriage at a “Following the Call of the Church in Times Like These” conference at Georgetown College. Berry said he chose to comment publicly to elaborate on what little he has said about the topic in the past.

“I must say that it’s a little wonderful to me that in 40-odd years of taking stands on controversial issues, and at great length sometimes, the two times that I think I’ve stirred up the most passionate opposition has been with a tiny little essay on computers (his 1987 essay “Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer” published in Harper’s led some to accuse him of being anti-technology) and half a dozen or a dozen sentences on gay marriage,” Berry said...

The Surprising Connection Between Food And Fracking
Tom Philpott, Mother Jones | The Surprising Connection Between Food And Fracking | January 31, 2013

In a recent Nation piece, the wonderful Elizabeth Royte teased out the direct links between hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and the food supply. In short, extracting natural gas from rock formations by bombarding them with chemical-spiked fluid leaves behind fouled water -- and that fouled water can make it into the crops and animals we eat. But there's another, emerging food/fracking connection that few are aware of.

US agriculture is highly reliant on synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, and nitrogen fertilizer is synthesized in a process fueled by natural gas. As more and more of the US natural gas supply comes from fracking, more and more of the nitrogen fertilizer farmers use will come from fracked natural gas. If Big Ag becomes hooked on cheap fracked gas to meet its fertilizer needs, then the fossil fuel industry will have gained a powerful ally in its effort to steamroll regulation and fight back opposition to fracking projects...

Back To Kindergarten! A Modest Proposal For A College Of The Future
Lawrence Weschler, Public Books | Back To Kindergarten! A Modest Proposal For A College Of The Future | January 29, 2013

A visit to that marvelous Century of the Child design show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York last summer set me to musing all over again. Marvelous, I say, albeit a bit of a missed opportunity. And musing, as it happens, not so much about children past as about colleges future. Regarding that latter, as you will presently see, my musings have in the meantime grown somewhat ornately utopian. But for starters, maybe, that missed opportunity, because the exhibit’s very first vitrine contained the seeds of an entire show all its own, one whose contours barely got hinted at in this iteration.

Spread before us there, at the very outset of the exhibition, were a sampling of artifacts from the kindergarten movement of the latter half of the nineteenth century: some wooden blocks, a bit of paper-tile work, colored thread grids, a few teachers’ workbooks—with two or three mild paragraphs by way of explication. Nothing, that is, to suggest the literally world-transforming dimensions of the drama being played out across such seemingly staid objects. To learn about that, it might be best instead to consult the writer/collector Norman Brosterman’s revelatory 1997 volume Inventing Kindergarten...

Fate Of Timbuktu Manuscripts Uncertain As Library Burns
Hector Tobar, The Los Angeles Times | Fate Of Timbuktu Manuscripts Uncertain As Library Burns | January 29, 2013

The fate of tens of thousands ancient manuscripts in Mali remained uncertain Monday as French troops liberated the city of Timbuktu from Islamic insurgents who were said to have set fire to the library there.


Timbuktu is the last major city occupied by the insurgents, who have held sway there for 10 months, imposing the strict Islamic version of religious law, including carrying out public executions and amputations for crimes.

The city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was an especially vibrant center of Islamic thought in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries....

"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...