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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True

If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.

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Images via Canva and Unsplash

If there's one thing that everyone can agree on, it's that being in a pandemic sucks.

However, we seem to be on different pages as to what sucks most about it. Many of us are struggling with being separated from our friends and loved ones for so long. Some of us have lost friends and family to the virus, while others are dealing with ongoing health effects of their own illness. Millions are struggling with job loss and financial stress due to businesses being closed. Parents are drowning, dealing with their kids' online schooling and lack of in-person social interactions on top of their own work logistics. Most of us hate wearing masks (even if we do so diligently), and the vast majority of us are just tired of having to think about and deal with everything the pandemic entails.

Much has been made of the mental health impact of the pandemic, which is a good thing. We need to have more open conversations about mental health in general, and with everything so upside down, it's more important now than ever. However, it feels like pandemic mental health conversations have been dominated by people who want to justify anti-lockdown arguments. "We can't let the cure be worse than the disease," people say. Kids' mental health is cited as a reason to open schools, the mental health challenges of financial despair as a reason to keep businesses open, and the mental health impact of social isolation as a reason to ditch social distancing measures.

It's not that those mental health challenges aren't real. They most definitely are. But when we focus exclusively on the mental health impact of lockdowns, we miss the fact that there are also significant mental health struggles on the other side of those arguments.

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True

If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.

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True
Gates Foundation

Once upon a time, a scientist named Dr. Andrew Wakefield published in the medical journal The Lancet that he had discovered a link between autism and vaccines.

After years of controversy and making parents mistrust vaccines, along with collecting $674,000 from lawyers who would benefit from suing vaccine makers, it was discovered he had made the whole thing up. The Lancet publicly apologized and reported that further investigation led to the discovery that he had fabricated everything.

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via Budweiser

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We can't forget the "Wassup?!" ad that premiered in December 1999, spawning the most obnoxious catchphrase of the new millennium.

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