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.

Save The Movie!
Peter Suderman, Slate | Save The Movie! | July 19, 2013

If you’ve gone to the movies recently, you may have felt a strangely familiar feeling: You’ve seen this movie before. Not this exact movie, but some of these exact story beats: the hero dressed down by his mentor in the first 15 minutes (Star Trek Into Darkness, Battleship); the villain who gets caught on purpose (The Dark Knight, The Avengers, Skyfall, Star Trek Into Darkness); the moment of hopelessness and disarray a half-hour before the movie ends (Olympus Has Fallen, Oblivion, 21 Jump Street, Fast & Furious 6).


It’s not déjà vu. Summer movies are often described as formulaic. But what few people know is that there is actually a formula—one that lays out, on a page-by-page basis, exactly what should happen when in a screenplay. It’s as if a mad scientist has discovered a secret process for making a perfect, or at least perfectly conventional, summer blockbuster.

The formula didn’t come from a mad scientist. Instead it came from a screenplay guidebook...

The Taliban's Letter To Malala Yousafzai
The Daily Beast | The Taliban's Letter To Malala Yousafzai | July 17, 2013

Not quite an apology, the open letter from a senior jihadist quotes Kissinger and British philosopher Bertrand Russell. Read the bizarre letter here...


"Why Did You Shoot Me? I Was Reading A Book": The New Warrior Cop Is Out Of Control

SWAT teams raiding poker games and trying to stop underage drinking? Overwhelming paramilitary force is on the rise.

Sal Culosi is dead because he bet on a football game — but it wasn’t a bookie or a loan shark who killed him. His local government killed him, ostensibly to protect him from his gambling habit.

Several months earlier at a local bar, Fairfax County, Virginia, detective David Baucum overheard the thirty-eight-year-old optometrist and some friends wagering on a college football game. “To Sal, betting a few bills on the Redskins was a stress reliever, done among friends,” a friend of Culosi’s told me shortly after his death. “None of us single, successful professionals ever thought that betting fifty bucks or so on the Virginia–Virginia Tech football game was a crime worthy of investigation.” Baucum apparently did...



The Enduring Rift: Understanding Our Inner Trayvons And Inner Zimmermans
Joshua DuBois, Newsweek | The Enduring Rift | July 17, 2013

By this point, all Americans know the facts. A teenager, Trayvon Martin, was pursued and killed.

The shooter, George Zimmerman, was acquitted, his claim of self-defense validated by a jury. We have lined up to state our views about what should happen next: vocal protesters and advocates (I count myself among them) think that the system failed at critical points and should be corrected, from the “stand your ground” law that empowered Zimmerman to the investigation and prosecution of the case itself. Others are assembling to protect gun rights and the right to self-defense.

In service of these goals, we will march. We will tweet. The Justice Department will investigate, talk radio will opine, and some laws and policies will hopefully, needfully, be changed.

But when it is all over—when the political debates have run their course, when the pundits have moved on—we will still be left with something else. Something harder to describe. A set of noxious gut feelings about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman—and where we all stand on the issue of race...

Why Barnes & Noble Is Good For Amazon
David Carr, The New York Times | Why Barnes & Noble Is Good For Amazon | July 16, 2013

On Thursday night in Clifton, N.J., Barnes & Noble was a way station, a third place between work and home where people sought respite and diversion. With its high ceilings, wide aisles and a large Starbucks, it is the kind of retail outlet that gives big-box stores a good name...

Lizard Fossil Found: 23-Million-Year-Old Remains Preserved in Amber In New Mexico
Meredith Bennett-Smith, The Huffington Post | Lizard Fossil Found: 23-Million-Year-Old Remains Preserved in Amber In New Mexico | July 13, 2013

A beautiful gem or a scientist's dream? You can have both, as researchers in Mexico recently discovered after finding the remains of a 23-million-year-old lizard fossil, well preserved with soft tissue samples, in a small piece of amber.

Amber often contains small remains of plants and animals, but it is rare to find complete vertebrates such as this lizard...

Hubble Telescope Spots Azure Blue Planet Where It Rains Glass

Astronomers have found a deep azure blue planet orbiting a star 63 light years away -- the first time they've been able to determine the actual color of a planet outside our solar system, NASA and the European Space Agency said Thursday...

'This Town': D.C. Awaits Book's Tales Of Big Shots And Ultimate Insiders
Jennifer Skalka Tulumello, The Christian Science Monitor | 'This Town': D.C. Awaits Book's Tales Of Big Shots And Ultimate Insiders | July 12, 2013

Summer is reading season for vacationers, and as the nation’s capital clears out next month for its annual August sabbatical, there’s no doubt that most Washingtonians will tuck one book in particular into their beach bags and backpacks. If they haven’t already snagged an advance copy, as notables are wont to do, and set out for a marathon read.

"This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral – Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking! – in America’s Gilded Capital," by New York Times Magazine chief national correspondent Mark Leibovich, skewers the inappropriately chummy, often insufferable incestuousness that is Washington today. It was a book so feared before publication that Politico, the city’s online chronicler of every tick and tock, did “some reporting on his reporting” several months ahead of its release, which is scheduled for next week...

The Unread: The Mystery Of The Voynich Manuscript
Reed Johnson, The New Yorker | The Unread: The Mystery Of The Voynich Manuscript | July 12, 2013

Stored away in the rare-book library at Yale University is a late-medieval manuscript written in a cramped but punctilious script and illustrated with lively line drawings that have been painted over, at times crudely, with washes of color. These illustrations range from the fanciful (legions of heavy-headed flowers that bear no relation to any earthly variety) to the bizarre (naked and possibly pregnant women, frolicking in what look like amusement-park waterslides from the fifteenth century). With their distended bellies, stick-like arms and legs, and earnest expressions, the naked figures have a whimsical quality, though their anatomy is frankly rendered—something unusual for the period. The manuscript’s botanical drawings are no less strange: the plants appear to be chimerical, combining incompatible parts from different species, even different kingdoms. (Click on the images to expand.) Tentacled balls of roots take the forms of animals, or of human organs—in one case, sprouting two disembodied heads with vexed expressions. But perhaps the oddest thing about this book is that no one has ever read it...

Cornell Scientist's Quest: Perfect Broccoli
Michael Moss, The New York Times | Cornell Scientist's Quest: Perfect Broccoli | July 10, 2013

There it sits, a deep-green beauty at the farmers’ market: that sweet, crisp nutritional dynamo we know as fresh local broccoli.

And then there’s this: a bitter, rubbery mass that’s starting to turn yellow around the tips, all bumped and bruised from its long trip from the field to the supermarket...