April 2009 Archives

P040709PS-0809 by The Official White House Photostream.

"Yes, Mr. President we do have someone in here with a white shirt but we're working on it."

Found here.

Illustration by Charlie Powell.

I review his new record here.

There's been a lot of talk about Twitter recently, which is a shame because my biggest hope for Twitter had been that it would spark a brevity movement. I'm not here to defend Twitter or run it down. (Or there is a third option: knocking it while using Twitter to boost my career.) I do have some 140-character observations, though:

more here...
(c) Magnum Photos

From a Slate slideshow

Via Core77

President Obama can't walk very far from his office without being confronted by a picture of himself. One hundred and forty-seven frames hang throughout the White House, displaying images of the daily life of his presidency. Known as "jumbos," the 20-by-30-inch prints are a long-standing presidential tradition that goes back to the Nixon administration. These pictures don't hang in the grand spaces of the White House. They line the hallways and staircases of the cramped quarters where the work gets done. There are grand offices in the White House, but much of the work area is dim, with low ceilings and such crowded work spaces that it almost seems as if the staff sit two to a chair.

more... or just jump to the slide show here.

CBS News

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In April, 1954 CBS News hired Nancy Hanschman, my mother. 55 years later, in addition to my Slate job, I now also work at her network.

My 6-year-old son is playing baseball. I'm delighted. I didn't push him into it. Honest. I'm trying hard not to be one of those fathers. I even stood out of sight at his first T-ball practice, so he wouldn't see me and feel pressure. (It was harder to hide the film crew.) But I'd be cruel not to play with him, right? So I roll him grounders and teach him how to squash the bug.

Read the rest here.
An extraordinary and grim look at what the housing disaster has done to one city block.

(via kottke)

Writing on Twitter has brought to high relief one of the irritating aspects of journalism. People conclude that because you've reported a fact you support it or because you've passed along a comment from someone else that you are ignorant to the motivations behind that person's comment.

So when I passed along that RNC Chairman Michael Steele was sending out emails asking people to send virtual tea bags to Barack Obama many people wrote in to criticize me for supporting the idea. Actually I thought the idea was silly on its face and assumed everyone else would too.

A Twitter about an event does not = approval of event. Ex: "A car crashed in the road" does not = I like car crashes. Nor does passing along a quote from a man in the street yelling "The world will end tomorrow" mean that I believe him or that I think he's a rare genius. Sometimes I might respect you enough to let you figure out what a person is saying and stay out of it.

This isn't the first time this has happened. It happens all the time when I write longer pieces. Today I learned there's a formal name for it from the always excellent Frontal Cortex post about business books which pointed me to this Wikipedia page on the Fundamental attribution error which included this experiment:

Classic demonstration study: Jones and Harris (1967)

Based on an earlier theory developed by Edward E. Jones and Keith Davis, Jones and Harris hypothesized that people would attribute apparently freely-chosen behaviors to disposition, and apparently chance-directed behaviors to situation. The hypothesis was confounded by the fundamental attribution error.

Subjects read pro- and anti-Fidel Castro essays. Subjects were asked to rate the pro-Castro attitudes of the writers. When the subjects believed that the writers freely chose the positions they took (for or against Castro), they naturally rated the people who spoke in favor of Castro as having a more positive attitude toward Castro. However, contradicting Jones and Harris' initial hypothesis, when the subjects were told that the writer's positions were determined by a coin toss, they still rated writers who spoke in favor of Castro as having, on average, a more positive attitude towards Castro than those who spoke against him. In other words, the subjects were unable to see the influence of the situational constraints placed upon the writers; they could not refrain from attributing sincere belief to the writers.

Reading a story about a new exhibit of photographs of Warsaw during the war I came across this statistic:

Around 85 percent of Warsaw was reduced to rubble during the war, with most of the damage coming in pitched street battles during the 1943 Ghetto Uprising and a year later between Polish insurgents and the Nazi occupiers in the Warsaw Uprising. After crushing the 1944 revolt, the Germans systematically dynamited most of the remaining buildings and shipped many of the surviving residents to concentration camps.

I had not remembered that the devastation was that thorough. Unfoirtunately the pictures in the story aren't online. Here are some though and here's a LIFE picture from the time.

Desolate City
Another great piece by Jonah Lehrer about romance has this great tidbit. It's from a spreadsheet of Charles Darwin's thinking on the pros and cons of marrying Emma Wedgewood:

In the "Marry" column, Darwin entered: "Home and someone to take care of house--Charms of music and female chit-chat. These things good for one's health. Forced to visit and receive relations but terrible loss of time. My God, is it intolerable to think of spending one's whole life, like a neuter bee, working, working, & nothing after all." The antipode to those points, in the "Not Marry" column, was: "Freedom to go where one liked--Choice of Society and little of it. Conversations of clever men at clubs. Not forced to visit relatives, and to bend to every little trifle."
I once spent two hours on my hands and knees carefully picking up little beads of mercury off my son's floor after he broke a thermometer so that he wouldn't get brain damage. (It required using a flashlight to find the tiny beads and then coaxing them onto the sticky side of duct tape). Now this guy's just throwing cannon balls into a vat of it.

via (kottke)
Also another of his songs, Feel a Change Comin' On.

but that might be because I stopped listening after they went electric.

Great Kate Hepburn interview with Dick Cavett. "I was supposed to be a wicket fascinator...I never did figure out how to be a wicked fascinator." She came in to test the set and they just did the interview then:

via Merlin Mann at kungfugrippe