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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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less