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.

Mugglemarch: J.K. Rowling Writes A Realist Novel For Adults
Ian Parker, The New Yorker | Mugglemarch: J.K. Rowling Writes A Realist Novel For Adults | September 23, 2012

The conifer hedges in front of J. K. Rowling’s seventeenth-century house, in Edinburgh, are about twenty feet tall. They reach higher than the street lamps in front of them, and evoke the entrance to the spiteful maze in the film adaptation of “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” the fourth volume of her fantasy series. Rowling, who, at forty-seven, is about to publish her first novel for adults—it is set in a contemporary Britain familiar with Jay-Z and online pornography, but is shaded with memories of her own, quite cheerless upbringing—lives here with her second husband, Neil Murray, a doctor, and their children. She has a reputation for reserve: for being likable but shy and thin-skinned, and not at all comfortable with the personal impact of having created a modern myth, sold four hundred and fifty million books, and inspired more than six hundred thousand pieces of Harry Potter fan fiction, a total that increases by at least a thousand stories a week. Ian Rankin, the writer of Edinburgh-based crime novels, became friendly with Joanne Rowling when they were neighbors in another part of the city; he recently described her as “quite quiet, quite introspective.”...

Lynn Zwerling's Knitting Group For Male Prisoners Opens Up Their World
Mary Wittenburg, The Christian Science Monitor | Lynn Zwerling's Knitting Group For Male Prisoners Opens Up Their World | September 21, 2012

The first warden Lynn Zwerling approached with her idea recoiled as if she might bite. The second wouldn't meet with her. The third claimed to love the idea, then fell out of touch. Outrageous, said the fourth.

The fifth, Margaret Chippendale, at a minimum-security men's prison outside Baltimore, didn't have much hope for Ms. Zwerling's plan either.

"She brought the program to me and told me: 'Your inmates will get hooked. It will relax them, empower them,' " remembers Ms. Chippendale, a 40-year veteran of Maryland's Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. "And my gut reaction is: 'Lynn, I'm always looking for ways to do that, but I'm not sure I'm going to get a bunch of big, macho guys to sit around a table and knit.' "...

Brown-Warren Debate: Jabs Span From Tax Policy To Personal Character
Mark Trumbull, The Washington Post | Brown-Warren Debate: Jabs Span From Tax Policy To Personal Character | September 21, 2012

One of the hottest US Senate races in the nation got hotter Thursday night, as Sen. Scott Brown (R) of Massachusetts and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren appeared both self-assured and feisty in the first of several televised debates.

Ms. Warren put pressure on Senator Brown to defend his voting record as a Republican serving one of the most Democratic states in the nation. And she sought to put the race in the context of its larger stakes: A vote for Brown could help put other Republicans, with views much more conservative than his, in charge of the US Senate...

Happy Birthday, 'The Hobbit': The History of J.R.R. Tolkinen's Book
Corey Olsen, The Daily Beast | Happy Birthday, 'The Hobbit': The History of J.R.R. Tolkinen's Book | September 21, 2012

It's the 75th anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit. Corey Olsen, author of the new book Exploring J.R.R. Tolkine's The Hobbit, tells us the history of how the story of Bilbo Baggins changed even after the book was published. Plus, see Tolkien's beautiful illustrations for The Hobbit...

In Plain View: How Child Molesters Get Away With It
Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker | In Plain View: How Child Molesters Get Away With It | September 19, 2012

In a 2001 book, “Identifying Child Molesters,” the psychologist Carla van Dam tells the story of a young Canadian elementary-school teacher she calls Jeffrey Clay. Clay taught physical education. He was well liked by his students, and often he asked boys in his class to stay after school, to do homework and help him with chores. One day, just before winter break, three of the boys made a confession to their parents. Mr. Clay had touched them under their pants.

The parents went to the principal. He confronted Clay, who denied everything. The principal knew Clay and was convinced by him. In his mind, what it boiled down to, van Dam writes, “is some wild imaginations and the three boys being really close.”

The parents were at a loss. Mr. Clay was beloved. He had started a popular gym club at the school. He was married and was a role model to the boys. He would come to their after-school games. Could he really have abused them?...

Review: Joseph Anton By Salman Rushdie
Pankaj Mishra, The Guardian | Review: Joseph Anton By Salman Rushdie | September 19, 2012

"Politics and literature," Salman Rushdie wrote in 1984, in what now seems an innocent time, "do mix, are inextricably mixed, and that … mixture has consequences." Criticising George Orwell for having advocated political quietism to writers, Rushdie asserted that "we are all irradiated by history, we are radioactive with history and politics" and that, "in this world without quiet corners, there can be no easy escapes from history, from hullabaloo, from terrible, unquiet fuss."

Five years later, his novel The Satanic Verses would be abruptly inserted into a series of ongoing domestic and international confrontations in the west and Muslim countries. Sentenced to death by an Iranian theocrat, Rushdie himself would embody the perils of mixing politics and literature in an interconnected and volatile world, where, as Paul Valéry once warned, "nothing can ever happen again without the whole world's taking a hand" and where "no one will ever be able to predict or circumscribe the almost immediate consequences of any undertaking whatever."...

How Anti-Islam Movie Helps The Taliban
Sami Yousafzai, The Daily Beast | How Anti-Islam Movie Helps The Taliban | September 19, 2012

Anti-Islam film gets two thumbs down from Kabul and Islamabad, but Taliban recruiters say it's a smash hit...

The Apostate: Paul Haggis vs. The Church Of Scientology
Lawrence Wright, The New Yorker | The Apostate: Paul Haggis vs. The Church Of Scientoloty | September 16, 2012

On August 19, 2009, Tommy Davis, the chief spokesperson for the Church of Scientology International, received a letter from the film director and screenwriter Paul Haggis. “For ten months now I have been writing to ask you to make a public statement denouncing the actions of the Church of Scientology of San Diego,” Haggis wrote. Before the 2008 elections, a staff member at Scientology’s San Diego church had signed its name to an online petition supporting Proposition 8, which asserted that the State of California should sanction marriage only “between a man and a woman.” The proposition passed. As Haggis saw it, the San Diego church’s “public sponsorship of Proposition 8, which succeeded in taking away the civil rights of gay and lesbian citizens of California—rights that were granted them by the Supreme Court of our state—is a stain on the integrity of our organization and a stain on us personally. Our public association with that hate-filled legislation shames us.” Haggis wrote, “Silence is consent, Tommy. I refuse to consent.” He concluded, “I hereby resign my membership in the Church of Scientology.”...

Inside The Campaign: How Mitt Romney Stumbled
Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei, Politico | Inside The Campaign: How Mitt Stumbled | September 16, 2012

Stuart Stevens, Mitt Romney’s top strategist, knew his candidate’s convention speech needed a memorable mix of loft and grace if he was going to bound out of Tampa with an authentic chance to win the presidency. So Stevens, bypassing the speechwriting staff at the campaign’s Boston headquarters, assigned the sensitive task of drafting it to Peter Wehner, a veteran of the last three Republican White Houses and one of the party’s smarter wordsmiths.

Not a word Wehner wrote was ever spoken...

Obama's Way
Michael Lewis, Vanity Fair | Obama's Way | September 14, 2012

To understand how air-force navigator Tyler Stark ended up in a thornbush in the Libyan desert in March 2011, one must understand what it’s like to be president of the United States—and this president in particular. Hanging around Barack Obama for six months, in the White House, aboard Air Force One, and on the basketball court, Michael Lewis learns the reality of the Nobel Peace Prize winner who sent Stark into combat...