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.

Science: It's Really, Really Hard, And That's Something To Celebrate

It was my high school physics class and I must have been 17, all gangly and goofy, with an embarrassingly ratty "trash stache" (though I recall thinking my black Springsteen concert T-shirt elevated me into the stratosphere of cool). We were doing an experiment designed to measure the wavelength of visible light. At the time I still didn't get math. It always seemed really, really hard. I was never sure why, or what, I was doing with the calculations. On that day something shifted. All of a sudden I understood why math and science needed to be hard...

Three Scenes Inspired by the Gingrich Campaign
Calvin Trillin | Three Scenes Inspired by the Gingrich Campaign | February 21, 2012

he C.E.O., in his usual crisp manner, began the meeting without any small talk. “Let’s get to the business at hand,” he said. “We have to find ourselves a historian, and we have to do it A.S.A.P.”

“Maybe a historian could figure out how we got this silly name,” the vice-president for marketing said. “Freddie Mac!...

John Glenn, A Hero Well Before Orbiting Earth
Scott Simon, NPR | John Glenn, A Hero Well Before Orbiting Earth | February 20, 2012

Fifty years ago, John Glenn was alone on top of a rocket waiting to blast into space and around the Earth. In these times, when people can become suddenly famous for doing so little, it may be good to recall the daring and imagination of that moment on Feb. 20, 1962.

Two Russians, Yuri Gagarin and Gherman Titov, had already dauntlessly orbited the Earth. The Soviets kept their missions secret until they were under way, but John Glenn would fly with the eyes of the world watching every second...

Embracing the Drone
B.C. Henning, The New York Times | Embracing the Drone | February 20, 2012

Drones — more formally armed Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or UAVs — are “in.” Since a Predator strike in Yemen against Al Qaeda in November 2002 — the first known use of a drone attack outside a theater of war — the United States has made extensive use of drones. There were nearly four times as many drone strikes in Pakistan during the first two years of the Obama administration as there were during the entire Bush administration...

Hypnotized Into An Endless Dirty War
Gary Kamiya, Salon | Hypnotized Into An Endless Dirty War | February 20, 2012

If in the year 2000 the U.S. president had told the American people that the government would soon begin using robot planes to track people, including U.S. citizens, all over the world, and would reserve to itself the right to kill them without trial, it is safe to say there would have been an enormous uproar. But that is exactly what is happening today, and nobody cares...

Attack Dog
Jane Mayer, The New Yorker | Attack Dog | February 18, 2012

The creator of the Willie Horton ad is going all out for Mitt Romney...

Eugene Hoskins Is His Name

Eugene Hoskins is his name. He lives at Oxford, Miss., a University place of about three thousand people. He is well known about town for his eccentricities.” Thus begins the 1920 account of a 24-year-old black man whose constellation of neuropsychological symptoms—that is to say, his “eccentricities”—are now immediately recognizable as those of an autistic savant. Remarking on his “uncanny knowledge of dates,” the case report relates how “a bystander said to him: ‘I was married on the 8th of June, 1901.’ Without a moment’s hesitation Eugene said: ‘Dat was a Satu’day.’ Given the month, day and year, he will give the day of the week. He never fails, never hesitates. Vary if you will by giving the year and month and asking what day of the month was the second Tuesday, or the fourth Friday—he answers just the same.”...

Shell Clears Major Hurdle in Its Bid for New Arctic Drilling
John M. Broder and Clifford Krauss, The New York Times | Shell Clears Major Hurdle in Its Bid for New Arctic Drilling | February 18, 2012

In a crucial step toward the ultimate approval of new oil drilling off the North Slope of Alaska, the Interior Department on Friday tentatively approved Shell’s plans for responding to a potential spill in the frigid Arctic waters...

At Work in Syria, Times Correspondent Dies
Rick Gladstone, The New York Times | At Work in Syria, Times Correspondent Dies | February 17, 2012

Anthony Shadid, a gifted foreign correspondent whose graceful dispatches for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and The Associated Press covered nearly two decades of Middle East conflict and turmoil, died, apparently of an asthma attack, on Thursday while on a reporting assignment in Syria. Tyler Hicks, a Times photographer who was with Mr. Shadid, carried his body across the border to Turkey....

Bonding With Horses
Forrest Wickman, Slate | Bonding With Horses | February 16, 2012

Two horses that stumbled while filming racing sequences for the first and seventh episodes of HBO’s Luck were deemed inoperable and euthanized. Dead and dying horses are often said to be “sent to the glue factory.” Why are horses good for making glue?...