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.

New Film Captures Ai Weiwei's Defiance
Dan Levin, The Daily Beast | New Film Captures Ai Weiwei's Defiance | July 27, 2012

A new documentary captures how China's most famous artist has also become the country's most well-known dissient.

Known for their smug brutality, police in China do not, as a matter of course, get interrogated—especially not by the people whom they beat and harass. Yet there’s a remarkable scene in Alison Klayman’s new documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry in which Ai, the Chinese artist-turned-dissident walks into a Chengdu police station, trailed by his camera-wielding entourage and demands an investigation into his assault months earlier by the city’s police force. Surprised, the officers respond by taking out their own cameras, as the scene turns into a tense face-off that serves as a metaphor for the artist’s harrowing four-year battle against the Chinese state. The film, which opens in the U.S. on Friday, is a riveting look at Chinese tyranny and the people who fight back...

Mystery Tug On Spacecraft Is Einstein's 'I Told You So'
Dennis Overbye, The New York Times | Mystery Tug On Spacecraft Is Einstein's 'I Told You So' | July 27, 2012

It’s been a bad year to bet against Albert Einstein.

In the spring physicists had to withdraw a sensational report that the subatomic particles known as neutrinos were going faster than light, Einstein’s cosmic speed limit; they discovered they had plugged in a cable wrong.

Now scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have reported that they have explained one of the great mysteries of the space age, one that loomed for 30 years as a threat to the credibility of Einsteinian gravity...

Florida At The Forefront As States Plan Fresh Assault On Voting Rights
Ed Pilkington, The Guardian | Florida At The Forefront As States Plan Fresh Assult On Voting Rights | July 26, 2012

Voting rights groups are struggling to hold back a tide of new laws that are likely to make it harder for millions of Americans to vote in the presidential election in November and could distort the outcome of the race for the White House.

Since January 2011, 19 states have passed a total of 24 laws that create hurdles between voters and the ballot box. Some states are newly requiring people to show government-issued photo cards at polling stations. Others have whittled down early voting hours, imposed restrictions on registration of new voters, banned people with criminal records from voting or attempted to purge eligible voters from the electoral roll...

Ferrigno Rift, Antarctica 'Grand Canyon,' Discovered Beneath Ice
Andrea Mustain, Our Amazing Planet | Ferrigno Rift, antarctica 'Grand Canyon,' Discovered Beneath Ice | July 26, 2012

A dramatic gash in the surface of the Earth that could rival the majesty of the Grand Canyon has been discovered secreted beneath Antarctica's vast, featureless ice sheet.

Dubbed the Ferrigno Rift for the glacier that fills it, the chasm's steep walls plunge nearly a mile down (1.5 kilometers) at its deepest. It is roughly 6 miles (10 km) across and at least 62 miles (100 km) long, possibly far longer if it extends into the sea.

The rift was discovered during a grueling 1,500-mile (2,400 km) trek that, save for a few modern conveniences, hearkens back to the days of early Antarctic exploration. And it came as a total surprise, according to the man who first sensed that something incredible was literally underfoot, hidden by more than a half-mile (1 km) of ice...

IED Blasts Spike In Afghanistan War As The Wounded Flow Home
David Wood, The Huffington Post | IED Blasts Spike In Afghanistan War As The Wounded Fly Home | July 26, 2012

Roadside bombs in Afghanistan are taking a growing toll on American troops this summer as blasts from improvised explosive devices tear off arms and legs of soldiers and Marines, including one who survived the traumatic amputation of both arms and both legs.

They are the latest of almost 50,000 Americans wounded during 11 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, including some 16,000 catastrophically wounded. IEDs and other blasts have shorn off 1,653 limbs during the two wars, according to Pentagon records. Among the wounded are five who lost all four limbs...

Brand Police Are On The Prowl For Ambush Marketers At London Games
David Segal, The New York Times | Brand Police Are On The Prowl For Ambush Marketers At London Games | July 25, 2012

It is one of the fiercest contests at the Olympics, but it is not on any list of events. Every two years, the International Olympic Committee and the host city battle companies that want to bask in the Games’ prestige and global exposure but have not paid the small fortune required to be an official sponsor.

Ambush marketing, as it is called, has been around for decades, and no company has practiced this dark art with more verve and success than Nike. The triumphs of the sportswear giant, and other ambushers, have compelled the I.O.C. to impose ever more stringent rules to keep corporate crashers away from the party...

Greenland Ice Melt, Measured By NASA Satellites, Reaches Unprecedented Level
Joanna Zelman, The Huffington Post | Greenland Ice Melt, Measured By NASA Satellites, Reaches Unprecedented Level | July 25, 2012

Unprecedented melting of Greenland's ice sheet this month has stunned NASA scientists and has highlighted broader concerns that the region is losing a remarkable amount of ice overall.

According to a NASA press release, about half of Greenland's surface ice sheet naturally melts during an average summer. But the data from three independent satellites this July, analyzed by NASA and university scientists, showed that in less than a week, the amount of thawed ice sheet surface skyrocketed from 40 percent to 97 percent.

In over 30 years of observations, satellites have never measured this amount of melting, which reaches nearly all of Greenland's surface ice cover...

Pennsylvania Voter ID Law Trial Set To Begin As State Concedes It Has No Proof Of In-Person Voter Fraud

Defendants in a case against one of the nation's strictest voter ID laws in Pennsylvania made a major concession to plaintiffs this week, just days ahead of the start of the trial over the measure.

In a stipulation agreement signed earlier this month, state officials conceded that they had no evidence of prior in-person voter fraud, or even any reason to believe that such crimes would occur with more frequency if a voter ID law wasn't in effect.

"There have been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania; and the parties do not have direct personal knowledge of any such investigations or prosecutions in other states,” the statement reads...

Global Warming's Terrifying New Math
Bill McKibben, Rolling Stone | Global Warming's Terrifying New Math | July 24, 2012

If the pictures of those towering wildfires in Colorado haven't convinced you, or the size of your AC bill this summer, here are some hard numbers about climate change: June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States. That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere – the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average, the odds of which occurring by simple chance were 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe.

Meteorologists reported that this spring was the warmest ever recorded for our nation – in fact, it crushed the old record by so much that it represented the "largest temperature departure from average of any season on record." The same week, Saudi authorities reported that it had rained in Mecca despite a temperature of 109 degrees, the hottest downpour in the planet's history...

Going Postal: What Would A World Without Mail Look Like?
Dave Jamieson, The Huffington Post | Going Postal: What Would A World Without Mail Look Like? | July 24, 2012

The post office in Syria, Va., is pretty easy to miss, but then so is the village of Syria itself. Lying in the eastern foothills of the Shenandoah mountains, about 90 miles from Washington, D.C., Syria has just a few hundred residents, mostly natives and recent retirees. The village has no stop lights and one general store, the Syria Mercantile Company, which serves as a grocer, a hunting-and-fishing outfitter and a meeting ground for town gossip.


Inside, near the cash register up front, a single employee of the U.S. Postal Service helms a tiny, wood-paneled office about the size of a generous walk-in closet.

Except for when it was briefly displaced after a pair of long-ago fires, the post office has occupied this same spot inside the general store since 1898...