Six Ideas That Made Us Think

1. Shakespeare for Dummies 

 Actor Tom Hanks made headlines when he took on the role of Falstaff in an LA production of Shakespeare’s Henry IV. Hanks’s performance seems to have confused one reviewer at Deadline, who must have been raised on a cultural diet that extended no further than Forrest Gump and You’ve Got Mail:

Attempting to read or view any work by Shakespeare requires a certain kind of attention, because, well, no one talks how Shakespeare writes anymore — and if you do use phrases like “anon good nurse” on a daily basis, it’s totally pretentious. That aside, I continue to admire works by the Bard, but when it comes to historical plays like Henry IV, there’s an intimidation that is attached to it because: 1.) There’s a lot to digest when taking in the dense vernacular on the page and 2.) It’s history.

2. Ship Shape

Earlier this year, Royal Caribbean christened Symphony of the Seas, a cruise ship five-times longer than the Titanic, with 40 restaurants, 23 pools, a zipline, and two full-sized theaters. A report in Wired explores how super-sized cruisers have become industrial design’s most demanding stage:

Cruise-ship architects face constraints that would confound their land-based counterparts. Ships need to be able to face North Atlantic storms, Baltic snow and blistering Caribbean heat in equal measure… A ship at sea is its own island: it must generate its own energy and water, and treat its own waste. There is no fire service nor ambulance, so every crew member is fire trained and the on-board medical centre must be able to handle almost any kind of emergency (including death: all ships have a small morgue, a necessity for a pastime so beloved by the elderly). 

3. Do-Over on the Comb-Over

Once in a while, the literary reputation of a famous author must be reassessed. Without mercy, Roger Lewis performs the service for Anthony Burgess, author of A Clockwork Orange:

Starting with his horrible greasy nicotine-stained comb-over, on view in any number of back-flaps, was there ever a more preposterous author than Anthony Burgess? It wasn’t so much the baroque vocabulary (hexateuch, anaphrodisiastical) or the misogynist swagger (women authors “lack a strong male thrust”) that grew increasingly ludicrous. What made him particularly preposterous — much in evidence in The Ink Trade, a selection of his journalism — was his mad vulgar boasting: “At fifteen, I could quote Dante and Baudelaire in the original”; I’ve read Hemingway’s Fiesta in German”; “I’ve read three Sherlock Holmes stories in the Indonesian language.”

4. Is It Possible to Improve Teacher Performance? 

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation invested nearly $300 million in an initiative to make teachers more effective and raise student performance. The initiative failed. An assessment by the Rand Institute found that the program had “no big payoffs in terms of improved graduation [rates] or achievement of students in general, and low-income and minority students in particular." What happened?  

While all sites initially had approval from most involved parties to adapt their teacher-evaluation systems, teachers' unions began to object a few years into the process.  "When the results started being used to give cash rewards or to identify teachers for required planning and ultimately, perhaps, termination, the teacher organizations reacted defensively… Over time, fewer and fewer teachers were identified as low-performing.  

5. "Give me your tired, your poor"

Of the thousands of articles written in the past month on US immigration policy, Jonah Goldberg’s may be the most compelling. According to Goldberg, “So long as there are very poor countries, very poor people will understandably want to move here.” Goldberg elaborates on this irresistible economic draw:

William Lewis, the former director of the McKinsey Global Institute, found that illiterate, non-English-speaking Mexican agricultural laborers in the U.S. were four times more productive than the same sort of laborers in Brazil. Take a Yemeni bus driver and put him behind the wheel of a bus in the U.S. According to economists Michael Clemens, Claudio Montenegro, and Lant Pritchett, the Yemeni bus driver will become 15 times more productive doing the same job, mostly because the people he’s driving around are more productive too.

6. Russia's Own Goal

The Economist points out that the World Cup provides more proof that authoritarian countries are hopeless:

Autocratic regimes such as China and Russia can ruthlessly drill track-and-field athletes—indeed, the Olympic games sometimes resemble an authoritarian pageant. But dictatorships are rubbish at football, which requires more creativity and flair… Only four countries rated “not free” by Freedom House, a charity, have qualified for this year’s World Cup, and none is likely to get far… The women’s contest has only ever been won by democracies (America, Germany, Japan and Norway), though China once made it to the final.

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