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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.

Most Detailed Image of Night Sky Unveiled
David Shiga, New Scientist | Most Detailed Image of Night Sky Unveiled | January 14, 2011

It would take 500,000 high-definition TVs to view it in its full glory. Astronomers have released the largest digital image of the night sky ever made, to be mined for future discoveries. It is actually a collection of millions of images taken since 1998 with a 2.5-metre telescope at Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico. The project, called the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, is now in its third phase...

The Toppling: How the Media Inflated a Minor Moment in a Long War
Peter Maass, The New Yorker | The Toppling | January 14, 2011

On April 9, 2003, Lieutenant Colonel Bryan McCoy, commander of the 3rd Battalion 4th Marines, awoke at a military base captured from the Iraqis a few miles from the center of Baghdad, which was still held by the enemy. It had been twenty days since the invasion of Iraq began, and McCoy had some personal chores to take care of—washing his socks, for one. Afterward, he walked over to a group of marines under his command who were defacing a mural of Saddam Hussein. As I watched, he picked up a sledgehammer and struck a few blows himself. The men cheered. Then he began preparing for the serious business of the day: leading the battalion into the heart of the city. He expected a house-to-house brawl that would last several days...

Algorithms Take Control of Wall Street
Felix Salmon and Jon Stokes, Wired | Algorithms Take Control of Wall Street | January 14, 2011

Last spring, Dow Jones launched a new service called Lexicon, which sends real-time financial news to professional investors. This in itself is not surprising. The company behind The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones Newswires made its name by publishing the kind of news that moves the stock market. But many of the professional investors subscribing to Lexicon aren’t human—they’re algorithms, the lines of code that govern an increasing amount of global trading activity—and they don’t read news the way humans do. They don’t need their information delivered in the form of a story or even in sentences. They just want data—the hard, actionable information that those words represent...

Hezbollah and Allies Topple Lebanese Unity Government

Lebanon's national unity government has collapsed after 11 ministers from Hezbollah and its allies resigned. Energy Minister Gibran Bassil said the decision was prompted by a dispute over the UN tribunal investigating former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's murder. The announcement came as Prime Minister Saad Hariri, his son, was meeting US President Barack Obama in Washington. Tension has been high in Lebanon, amid indications that Hezbollah members could be indicted by the UN tribunal...

Obama Calls for New Era of Civility in U.S. Politics
Helene Cooper and Jeff Zeleny, The New York Times | Obama Calls for New Era of Civility in U.S. Politics | January 13, 2011

President Obama offered the nation’s condolences on Wednesday to the victims of the shootings here, calling on Americans to draw a lesson from the lives of the fallen and the actions of the heroes, and to usher in a new era of civility in their honor. The president directly confronted the political debate that erupted after the rampage, urging people of all beliefs not to use the tragedy to turn on one another. He did not cast blame on Republicans or Democrats, but asked people to “sharpen our instincts for empathy.”...

D-Day Paratrooper Was Immortalized in 'Band of Brothers'
Stephen Miller, The Wall Street Journal | 'Band of Brothers' Inspiration Dies | January 11, 2011

Dick Winters was the leader of a valiant World War II paratrooper company that became famous a half-century later in historian Stephen Ambrose's "Band of Brothers" and a subsequent HBO miniseries. Mr. Winters, who died Jan. 2 at age 92, requested his death not be announced until after his funeral. An intensely private man, he became the subject of widespread adulation after Mr. Ambrose's 1992 book portrayed him as a paragon of military leadership...

Brisbane, Ipswich Homes Inundated By Floodwaters
Paul Tatnell, The Sydney Morning Herald | Brisgane, Ipswich Homes Inundated By Floodwaters | January 11, 2011

Floodwaters have begun inundating Brisbane homes after the city's river broke its banks this morning. The inner-Brisbane suburb of Fairfield has been cut in half, with dozens of homes breached. At one shopping centre, only the tip of a Telstra phone box was visible with traffic lights just peeking above the surface as the waters continued to rise...

Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior
Amy Chua, The Wall Street Journal Saturday Essay | Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior | January 9, 2011

A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it's like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I've done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

 

• attend a sleepover

• have a playdate

• be in a school play

• complain about not being in a school play

• watch TV or play computer games

• choose their own extracurricular activities

• get any grade less than an A

• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama

• play any instrument other than the piano or violin

• not play the piano or violin...

Southern Sudanese Begin Historic Vote on Secession
Jeffrey Gettleman, The New York Times | Secession Vote | January 9, 2011

It’s not every day that a beleaguered, marginalized and persecuted people get a chance to vote for their own freedom. On Sunday, southern Sudan did. Starting in the cool hours of the night, long before the polls even opened, people across this region began lining up at polling stations to cast their votes in a historic referendum on whether to declare independence. Jubilant crowds made clear which was the overwhelmingly popular choice. “I feel like I’m going to a new land,” beamed Susan Duku, a southern Sudanese woman who works for the United Nations...

U.S. Cites Evidence of Assassination Plot
Marc Lacey and David M. Herszenhorn, The New York Times | U.S. Cites Evidence of Assassination Plot | January 9, 2011

Prosecutors accused Jared Lee Loughner, a troubled 22-year-old college dropout, of five serious federal charges on Sunday, including the attempted assassination of a member of Congress, for his role in a shootout that left 20 people wounded, six of them fatally, on Saturday morning...