What it feels like to be the president. Plus, the best of the web this week

An intimate portrait of President Obama. The amazing things American diplomats do on our behalf. What school lunches look like in 20 different countries. A profile of the man who may revolutionize space travel. And more! Enjoy.


Politics and World Affairs

Obama's Way / Michael Lewis / Vanity Fair

This article is as close as you're likely to get to understanding what it's like to be president of the United States of America.




America's Other Army / Nicholas Kralev / Foreign Policy

The author interviews hundreds of American diplomats and shares some of their stories to remind us of the difficult, wide-ranging, and sometimes dangerous job they do on our behalf. (via @joshdan)




"Everything People Think They Know About The Stimulus Is Wrong" / Ezra Klein / The Washington Post

Lots of interesting insights — both political and economic — in this interview with Michael Grunwald, author of a new book about the stimulus.




The Tweeps On The Bus / Marc Tracy / The New Republic

Fascinating article on how Twitter is changing political coverage, and how BuzzFeed went from Lolcats to Lolcats and serious political reporting.




Arts and Culture

Natives On The Boat / Teju Cole / The New Yorker

A jewel of an essay on Cole's encounter with V.S. Naipaul, the brilliant and problematic writer. Deeply rewarding reading.





The Disappeared / Salman Rushdie / The New Yorker

Riveting: Rushdie tells the story (in the third person) of writing "The Satanic Verses," of having the fatwa issued against him, and of trying to hold on as his life fell apart.





20 School Lunches From Around The World / Amy Graff / San Francisco Chronicle

A revealing slideshow and short article. Oh, to be a child in France. Woe to the poor child who goes to public school U.S., though...




Who Does Your College Think Its Peers Are? / Andrea Fuller and Bryan O'Leary / The Chronicle of Higher Education

A map displaying "comparison data" submitted by colleges, showing connections — both actual and aspirational — between various schools. (via Sujin)




Going Forward / David Mitchell / YouTube

Entertaining two-minute rant: "If people I like are going to start saying 'going forward,' then I can no longer write it off as a thing awful people say."





Business and Economics

Black Swan Farming / Paul Graham

Outstanding essay by the founder of innovative venture capital firm Y Combinator on the struggle between intuitions and data when investing in startups.




Who Wants To Be A Billionaire? / Randall Stross / Vanity Fair

Good profile of Y Combinator's methodology in action, following one startup all the way through the process from application to selection to demo day.




Elon Musk, The 21st Century Industrialist / Ashlee Vance / Bloomberg BusinessWeek

Fun profile of the entrepreneur said to be the model for Tony Stark in the "Iron Man" movies, and whose Tesla Motors and SpaceX could revolutionize both cars and space travel.





Amazon's Play / John Gruber / Daring Fireball

Very interesting take on Amazon's strategy for the Kindle, which is not only clever but also effectively undermines Apple.





Global Debt Clock / The Economist

Want to feel better about America's debt? Roll over Japan, where the public debt per person is over $100k, on this interactive map.




Science and Technology

William Moggridge, Designer and Laptop Pioneer, Dies at 69 / Leslie Kaufman / The New York Times

Obituary of the man who cofounded the iconic design firm IDEO and invented your laptop's clamshell design.




Creativity / Om Malik / GigaOm

An important point: "Instead of space, the true limitation of the Internet is attention." (Though he undermines the broader point of the post with a clumsy second paragraph.)




Revolights / Kent Frankovich and Adam Pettler

This is a really smart idea for how to improve bicycle safety, and it's beautiful to boot.




GetHuman

Another smart idea: a site listing customer service numbers that put you in touch with real people instead of automated menus at over 8,000 companies.





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Anne Hebert, a marketing writer living in Austin, TX, jokes that her closest friends think that her hobby is "low-key harassment for social good". She authors a website devoted entirely to People Doing Good Things. She's hosted a yearly canned food drive with up to 150 people stopping by to donate, resulting in hundreds of pounds of donations to take to the food bank for the past decade.

"I try to share info in a positive way that gives people hope and makes them aware of solutions or things they can do to try to make the world a little better," she said.

For now, she's encouraging people through a barrage of persistent, informative, and entertaining emails with one goal in mind: getting people to VOTE. The thing about emailing people and talking about politics, according to Hebert, is to catch their attention—which is how lice got involved.

"When my kids were in elementary school, I was class parent for a year, which meant I had to send the emails to the other parents. As I've learned over the years, a good intro will trick your audience into reading the rest of the email. In fact, another parent told me that my emails always stood out, especially the one that started: 'We need volunteers for the Valentine's Party...oh, and LICE.'"

Hebert isn't working with a specific organization. She is simply trying to motivate others to find ways to plug in to help get out the vote.

Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

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via KrustyKhajiit / YouTube

Thomas F. Wilson played one of the most recognizable villains in film history, Biff Tannen, in the "Back to the Future" series. So, understandably, he gets recognized wherever he goes for the iconic role.

The attention must be nice, but it has to get exhausting answering the same questions day in and day out about the films. So Wilson created a card that he carries with him to hand out to people that answers all the questions he gets asked on a daily basis.

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Courtesy of FIELDTRIP
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The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected diverse communities due largely in part to social factors such as inadequate access to housing, income, dietary options, education and employment — all of which have been shown to affect people's physical health.

Recognizing that inequity, Harlem-based chef JJ Johnson sought out to help his community maximize its health during the pandemic — one grain at a time.

Johnson manages FIELDTRIP, a health-focused restaurant that strives to bring people together through the celebration of rice, a grain found in cuisines of countless cultures.

"It was very important for me to show the world that places like Harlem want access to more health-conscious foods," Johnson said. "The people who live in Harlem should have the option to eat fresh, locally farmed and delicious food that other communities have access to."

Lack of education and access to those healthy food options is a primary driver of why 31% of adults in Harlem are struggling with obesity — the highest rate of any neighborhood in New York City and 7% higher than the average adult obesity rate across the five boroughs.

Obesity increases risk for heart disease or diabetes, which in turn leaves Harlem's residents — who are 76% Black or LatinX — at heightened risk for complications with COVID-19.

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Sometimes a politician says or does something so brazenly gross that you have to do a double take to make sure it really happened. Take, for instance, this tweet from Lauren Witzke, a GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate from Delaware. Witzke defeated the party's endorsed candidate to win the primary, has been photographed in a QAnon t-shirt, supports the conspiracy theory that 9/11 was a U.S. government inside operation, and has called herself a flat earther.

So that's neat.

Witzke has also proposed a 10-year total halt on immigration to the U.S., which is absurd on its face, but makes sense when you see what she believes about immigrants. In a tweet this week, Witzke wrote, "Most third-world migrants can not assimilate into civil societies. Prove me wrong."

First, let's talk about how "civil societies" and developing nations are not different things, and to imply that they are is racist, xenophobic, and wrong. Not to mention, it has never been a thing to refer people using terms like "third-world." That's a somewhat outdated term for developing nations, and it was never an adjective to describe people from those nations even when it was in use.

Next, let's see how Twitter thwapped Lauren Witzke straight into the 21st century by proving her wrong in the most delicious way. Not only did people share how they or their relatives and friends have successfully "assimilated," but many showed that they went way, way beyond that.

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via WatchMojo / YouTube

There are two conflicting viewpoints when it comes to addressing culture from that past that contains offensive elements that would never be acceptable today.

Some believe that old films, TV shows, music or books with out-of-date, offensive elements should be hidden from public view. While others think they should be used as valuable tools that help us learn from the past.

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