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.

A Triage to Save the Ruins of Babylon
Steven Lee Myers, The New York Times | Ruins of Babylon | January 3, 2011

The damage done to the ruins of ancient Babylon is visible from a small hilltop near the Tower of Babel, whose biblical importance is hard to envision from what is left of it today. Across the horizon are guard towers, concertina wire and dirt-filled barriers among the palm trees; encroaching farms and concrete houses from this village and others; and the enormous palace that Saddam Hussein built in the 1980s atop the city where Nebuchadnezzar II ruled. Something else is visible, too: earthen mounds concealing all that has yet to be discovered in a city that the prophet Jeremiah called “a gold cup in the Lord’s hands, a cup that made the whole earth drunk."...

Prosperity Starts With a Pea
Jessica B. Harris, NY Times Op-Ed Contributor | Black-Eyed Peas | January 1, 2011

At year’s end, people around the world indulge in food rituals to ensure good luck in the days ahead. In Spain, grapes eaten as the clock turns midnight — one for each chime — foretell whether the year will be sweet or sour. In Austria, the New Year’s table is decorated with marzipan pigs to celebrate wealth, progress and prosperity. Germans savor carp and place a few fish scales in their wallets for luck. And for African-Americans and in the Southern United States, it’s all about black-eyed peas...

Veterans of Recent Wars Confront Grim Employment Landscape
Michael A. Fletcher, The Washington Post | War Vets Struggle | December 30, 2010

During the seven months that he was stationed in Iraq, Joe Janssen served as an assaultman, a job that involved manning the turret gun in a Humvee and using shoulder-fired rockets and other explosives to support his fellow Marines...

Seven Ways the Blizzard Still Lingers
Mark Trumbull, Christian Science Monitor | Seven Ways the Blizzard Still Lingers | December 30, 2010

The harshest effects of this week's Northeast blizzard are starting to fade as snowplows reclaim New York City roadways and airport travelers rebook their way home. But the massive post-Christmas snowfall had some impactds that may linger for a while to come...

New Look for Mecca: Gargantuan and Gaudy
Nicolai Ouroussoff, The New York Times | New Look for Mecca | December 30, 2010

It is an architectural absurdity. Just south of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the Muslim world’s holiest site, a kitsch rendition of London’s Big Ben is nearing completion. Called the Royal Mecca Clock Tower, it will be one of the tallest buildings in the world, the centerpiece of a complex that is housing a gargantuan shopping mall, an 800-room hotel and a prayer hall for several thousand people. Its muscular form, an unabashed knockoff of the original, blown up to a grotesque scale, will be decorated with Arabic inscriptions and topped by a crescent-shape spire in what feels like a cynical nod to Islam’s architectural past. To make room for it, the Saudi government bulldozed an 18th-century Ottoman fortress and the hill it stood on...

A Book Token is Worth a Thousand Words (or more)
David Barnett, The Guardian | Book Tokens | December 28, 2010

A book, as we all know, is the gift that keeps on giving, and I certainly hope that Santa fulfilled your festive reading wants at the weekend. But can there be any gift more bursting with potential energy than the magic that is the book token?...

In Russia, an Advocate Is Killed, and an Accuser Tried
Clifford J. Levy, The New York Times | Accuser Becomes Accused | December 28, 2010

In a small courtroom in Moscow, friends of Natalya K. Estemirova crowded onto wooden benches, clasping photographs of her. It was 16 months after the murder of Ms. Estemirova, a renowned human rights advocate in the tumultuous region of Chechnya, and now the legal system was taking action. A defendant was on trial, and his interrogators were demanding answers about special operations and assassination plots. But the defendant was not Ms. Estemirova’s suspected killer. It was her colleague Oleg P. Orlov, chairman of Memorial, one of Russia’s foremost human rights organizations...

Retailers See Holiday Sales Jump
Ann Zimmerman, Justin Lahart and Rachel Dodes, The Wall Street Journal | Retailers See Holiday Sales Jump | December 28, 2010

American shoppers expanded their year-end purchases this holiday season by the biggest margin since the boom year of 2005, but retailers still face daunting challenges in the new year, from rising gasoline and cotton prices to an overabundance of stores. U.S. retail sales, excluding automobiles, rose 5.5% between Nov. 5 and Dec. 24 compared with a year ago, according to MasterCard SpendingPulse, a unit of MasterCard Advisors that tracks sales by all types of payment. Last year, sales rose 4.1% during the 50 day period, but those results were easy comparisons against the recession in 2008, when sales fell 6.1%. "To sum up, the holiday season is a joyous one," said Sherif Mityas, a partner in the retail practice of A.T. Kearney, a global management consulting firm...

Huge Blizzard Halts Travelers on East Coast
Robert D. McFadden, The New York Times | Huge Blizzard Halts Travelers on East Coast | December 27, 2010

A monster two-day blizzard barreled up the coast and invaded the New York region and the Northeast on Sunday with barrages of wind-driven snow that closed airports, disrupted rail and highway travel and transformed a dozen states into enchanted and borderless white dreamscapes...

What WikiLeaks Revealed to the World in 2010
Glenn Greenwald, Salon | What WikiLeaks Revealed | December 24, 2010

Throughout this year I've devoted substantial attention to WikiLeaks, particularly in the last four weeks as calls for its destruction intensified.  To understand why I've done so, and to see what motivates the increasing devotion of the U.S. Government and those influenced by it to destroying that organization, it's well worth reviewing exactly what WikiLeaks exposed to the world just in the last year:  the breadth of the corruption, deceit, brutality and criminality on the part of the world's most powerful factions...