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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.

Gut Microbe Makes Diesel Biofuel
David Biello, Scientific American via Salon | Gut Microbe Makes Diesel Biofuel | April 25, 2013

Welding bits and pieces from various microbes and the camphor tree into the genetic code of Escherichia coli has allowed scientists to convince the stomach bug to produce hydrocarbons, rather than sickness or more E. coli. The gut microbe can now replicate the molecules, more commonly known as diesel, that burn predominantly in big trucks and other powerful moving machines.

“We wanted to make biofuels that could be used directly with existing engines to completely replace fossil fuels,” explains biologist John Love of the University of Exeter in England, who led the research into fuels. “Our next step will be to try to develop a bacterium that could be deployed industrially.” Love’s work was published April 22 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences...

The Impossible Decision
Joshua Rothman, The New Yorker | The Impossible Decision | April 25, 2013

Graduate students are always thinking about the pleasures and travails of grad school, and springtime is a period of especially intense reflection. It’s in the spring, often in March and April, that undergraduates receive their acceptance letters. When that happens, they turn to their teachers, many of them graduate students, for advice. They ask the dreaded, complicated, inevitable question: To go, or not to go? Answering that question is not easy...

Cooked: A DIY Manifesto
Michael Pollan, M | Cooked: A DIY Manifesto | April 21, 2013

The following is an excerpt from Michael Pollan's Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, out from the Penguin Press on April 23.

As I grew steadily more comfortable in the kitchen, I found that, much like gardening, most cooking manages to be agreeably absorbing without being too demanding intellectually. It leaves plenty of mental space for daydreaming and reflection. One of the things I reflected on is the whole question of taking on what in our time has become, strictly speaking, optional, even unnecessary work, work for which I am not particularly gifted or qualified, and at which I may never get very good. This is, in the modern world, the unspoken question that hovers over all our cooking: Why bother?...

Meet The Grad Student Who Upended The GOP
Lynn Stuart Parramore, AlterNet via Salon | Meet The Grad Student Who Upended The GOP | April 21, 2013

The party has long relied on a single study to justify austerity measures. Then Thomas Herndon crunched the numbers.

The world of economics has just changed, and somebody has some ‘splaining to do! Please savor the following twisted tale of bad math, academic folly and pundit hubris.

Since 2010, the names of Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff have become famous in political and economic circles. These two Harvard economists wrote a paper, “Growth in the Time of Debt” that has been used by everyone from Paul Ryan to Olli Rehn of the European Commission to justify harmful austerity policies. The authors purported to show that once a country’s gross debt to GDP ratio crosses the threshold of 90 percent, economic growth slows dramatically. Debt, in other words, seemed very scary and bad...

Five Myths About Abortion
Rickie Solinger, The Washington Post | Five Myths About Abortion | April 21, 2013

When debating whether a fetus’s “right to life” trumps a woman’s “right to choose” — or whether the news media has paid enough attention to the trial of a Philadelphia doctor who allegedly killed seven babies born alive during late-term abortions, as well as a pregnant woman — Americans are bitterly divided on abortion. Before abandoning facts for rhetoric, let’s tackle some misunderstandings about this procedure’s history and impact...

Al Neuharth, News Executive Who Built Gannett And USA Today, Is Dead At 89
Herbert Buchsbaum, The New York Times | Al Neuharth, News Executive Who Built Gannett And USA Today, Is Dead At 89 | April 20, 2013

Al Neuharth, the brash and blustery media mogul who built the Gannett Company into a communications Leviathan and created USA Today, for years America’s best-selling newspaper, died on Friday at his home in Cocoa Beach, Fla. He was 89...

Henry A. Prunier, 91, U.S. Soldier Who Trained Vietnamese Troopss, Dies
Douglas Martin, The New York Times | Henry A. Prunier, 91, U.S. Soldier Who Trained Vietnamese Troopss, Dies | April 18, 2013

Henry A. Prunier taught Vo Nguyen Giap, the Vietnamese general who withstood the armies of France and the United States, how to throw a grenade.

The lesson came in July 1945, after Mr. Prunier and six other Americans had parachuted into a village 75 miles northwest of Hanoi on a clandestine mission to teach an elite force of 200 Viet Minh guerrillas how to use modern American weapons at their jungle camp.

The Americans, members of the Office of Strategic Services, the United States’ intelligence agency in World War II, wanted the guerrillas’ help in fighting the Japanese, who were occupying Indochina. The Viet Minh welcomed the American arms in their struggle for Vietnamese independence.

What’s more, in inviting the Americans to his field headquarters, Ho Chi Minh, the Viet Minh leader, could receive medical treatment for his malaria, hepatitis and other ailments. The Americans stayed for two months, and their care may have saved his life...

"A War For No Wise Purpose": Afghanistan Defeats The West Again
William Dalrymple, The Daily Beast | "A War For No Wise Purpose": Afghanistan Defeats The West Again | April 17, 2013

The West invades Afghanistan, tries to control it, and has to retreat in defeat. Sound familiar? It happened in 1842 to the British and it's happening now to America. Historian William Dalrymple explains how in writing his new book, Return of a King, he found eerie historical echoes repeating in the valleys of Afghanistan...

Cycling Past An Afghan Taboo
Jed Lipinski, The New York Times | Cycling Past An Afghan Taboo | April 17, 2013

In November, Shannon Galpin was riding her single-speed mountain bike through the hills outside Kabul. It was her 11th visit to Afghanistan, and she had grown accustomed to the sight of camel caravans, abandoned Soviet tanks and soldiers sweeping the desert for land mines.

In November, Shannon Galpin was riding her single-speed mountain bike through the hills outside Kabul. It was her 11th visit to Afghanistan, and she had grown accustomed to the sight of camel caravans, abandoned Soviet tanks and soldiers sweeping the desert for land mines.

In November, Shannon Galpin was riding her single-speed mountain bike through the hills outside Kabul. It was her 11th visit to Afghanistan, and she had grown accustomed to the sight of camel caravans, abandoned Soviet tanks and soldiers sweeping the desert for land mines...

The Woman Near Kenmore Square
Nicholas Thompson, The New Yorker | The Woman Near Kenmore Square | April 17, 2013

Yesterday, I published a post on the meaning of the Boston Marathon. I explained why I care about the race and noted that, when we find the perpetrator, we may find “someone who saw a reflection of the human spirit and decided just to try to shatter it.”

Above my post, we published a photograph, taken by Alex Trautwig of Getty, of “a woman near Kenmore Square.” Today, that woman sent me an e-mail, and then she told me the story of her day. Like that of so many runners, it’s both ordinary and extraordinary...