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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.

Pete Seeger
Stuart Stotts | Singing Together | January 28, 2014

There are ways in which now might be considered a golden age of kids’ music. At the Grammys this week, some excellent recordings were nominated, many with well-produced and well-written songs that speak directly to the experiences of growing up. Funny, thoughtful, and catchy, there is a wealth of rich material to choose from.

Pete wasn’t about that, though. He was about singing together. Better than anyone I can think of he promoted the power and pleasure that comes from being in a room with a bunch of other people making a coordinated sound, filling the air and heart with ancient, mysterious, and yet direct and tangible energies of connection and joy. This is what is most important to me when I perform. I want us all to have an experience of singing...

Pete Seeger, Songwriter And Champion Of Folk Music, Dies At 94
Jon Pareles, The New York Times | Pete Seeger, R.I.P. | January 28, 2014

Mr. Seeger’s career carried him from singing at labor rallies to the Top 10 to college auditoriums to folk festivals, and from a conviction for contempt of Congress (after defying the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s) to performing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at an inaugural concert for Barack Obama.

For Mr. Seeger, folk music and a sense of community were inseparable, and where he saw a community, he saw the possibility of political action...

The State Of The State Of The Union? A Mess
Jeff Shesol, The New Yorker | State Of The SOTU | January 27, 2014

“I must say to you,” President Gerald Ford said to us, in 1975, “that the state of the Union is not good.” In the same spirit of candor, I must say to you that the state of the State of the Union is not good. I don’t mean tomorrow night’s speech. I mean the State of the Union Message as an institution. This may not rise to the level of economic inequality as a national problem, but the speech is no less in need of fixing.

The litany of grievances about the State of the Union is as long as the litany of proposals, ideas, appeals, and admonitions that the speech always contains...

HBO's Herblock Doc Supplies A One-Man History Of Editorial Cartooning
Phil Dyess-Nugent, A.V. Club | HBO's Herblock Doc Supplies A One-Man History Of Editorial Cartooning | January 27, 2014

Herbert Block—better known by the pseudonym “Herblock”—was not the most visually imaginative or bitingly satirical American editorial cartoonist of the 20th century. That was Paul Conrad, who had the honor of being the only member of his profession to make Richard Nixon’s “enemies list.” Nor was he the funniest, or the most influential in terms of inspiring imitators: Both Pat Oliphant and the late Jeff MacNelly have him beat there.

But from his perch at the Washington Post, which he held onto from his discharge from the U. S. Army in 1956 until his death in the fall of 2001, Herblock created and sustained a sort of perfect image of the ideal op-ed cartoonist: Intelligent and sane with no ax to grind...

The Inside Story Of Tor, The Best Internet Anonymity Tool The Government Ever Built
Dune Lawrence, Bloomberg Businessweek | Tor Story | January 26, 2014

Last year, Edward Snowden turned over to the Guardian, a British newspaper, some 58,000 classified U.S. government documents. Just a fraction of the files have been made public, but they outline the National Security Agency’s massive information-collection system. They’ve thrown light onto the methods of an arm of the government used to working in the shadows and started an intense debate over national security and personal liberty. One of the earliest and most explosive revelations was the existence of Prism, a top-secret program giving the NSA direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, and other U.S. Internet companies...

XKCD'S Epic Takedown Of Climate Deniers
Lindsay Abrams, Salon | XKCD'S Epic Takedown Of Climate Deniers | January 24, 2014

XKCD creator Randall Munroe has gotten it absolutely, hilariously right with his newest comic, addressing the polar vortex trolls who insist that cold weather somehow disproves climate change...

A Toast Story
John Gravois, Pacific Standard | A Toast Story | January 23, 2014

How did toast become the latest artisanal food craze? Ask a trivial question, get a profound, heartbreaking answer...

The GOP's Birth-Control Trojan Horse
Amanda Marcotte, The Daily Beast | The GOP's Birth-Control Trojan Horse | January 23, 2014

The right wants to use religion as an excuse to legally discriminate against gays and unmarried women -- and, ultimately, anyone who doesn't share their Christian faith...

...Having spent years building up the case that religion is an appropriate excuse for discrimination against sexual orientation or contraception preferences, it’s now time for the religious right to make the next move. Arizona lawmakers are trying to pass a new law that would grant the right to defend any kind of discrimination against customers, as long as religion is cited as a reason...

Literary Project Honours Baghdad's Devastated Bookselling District
Ellie Violet Bramley, The Guardian | Honoring Baghdad's Books | January 22, 2014

Hundreds of writers and artists prepare tributes to Iraq's historic books hub, Al-Mutanabbi Street, hit by car bomb in 2007.

It's said that when Baghdad was sacked by the Mongols in 1258, the river Tigris ran red one day with the blood of those killed, and black the next with the ink of their books. On 5 March 2007, many of Baghdad's books once again found themselves the victims of war when a car bomb exploded on Al-Mutanabbi Street, the city's historic literary district – home of booksellers, printers, and cafes, such as the famous Shabandar cafe, where Iraqi writers and intellectuals have been gathering for centuries...

Photo Archive Is Said To Show Widespread Torture In Syria
Ben Hubbard and David D. Kirkpatrick, The New York Times | Photo Archive Is Said To Show Widespread Torture In Syria | January 22, 2014

Emaciated corpses lie in the sand, their ribs protruding over sunken bellies, their thighs as thin as wrists. Several show signs of strangulation. The images conjure memories of some of history’s worst atrocities.

Numbers inscribed on more than 11,000 bodies in 55,000 photographs said to emerge from the secret jails of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, suggest that torture, starvation and execution are widespread and even systematic, each case logged with bureaucratic detail...