Six Ideas That Made Us Think

1. Understanding Baywatch

This is how you write a movie review. Instead of gleefully trashing a soft target (that got 15% on Rotten Tomatoes), Megan Garber at The Atlantic treats the cinematic homage to the 1990s TV series as a cultural benchmark. Her review is so compelling, you might sneak out and see the movie: 

To the extent that reboots are measures of cultural progress, Baywatch is a movie that is, yes, also a metaphor — a muscle-bound and liberally spray-tanned status update on behalf of all of America. We have come so far since the ‘90s … but also, Baywatch reminds us, repeatedly, not far enough. Here is a movie that, like the place that created it, is decidedly ambivalent about progress itself. 

2. Big Data's Opening Move

Twenty years ago, IBM’s Deep Blue defeated reigning chess champion Garry Kasparov. Now, Mark Robert Anderson explains why this was the moment that launched the age of big data. Still fascinating:

We still don’t have chess machines that resemble human intelligence in the ways they play the game – they don’t need to. And, if anything, [recent chess computer victories] further strengthen the idea that human players lose to computers, at least in part, because of their humanity. The humans made errors, became anxious and feared for their reputations. The machines, on the other hand, relentlessly applied logical calculations to the game in their attempts to win. One day we might have computers that truly replicate human thinking, but the story of the last 20 years has been the rise of systems that are superior precisely because they are machines.

3. The Saudis are Modernizing - But How Quickly?

Harvard’s Steve Kelman, a veteran student of how governments operate, recently attended a conference in Saudi Arabia. The subject was Vision 2030, a government initiative designed to privatize and modernize the Kingdom. Kelman’s balanced account suggests that progress may move at glacial speeds:

At the conference I attended six years ago, there were women participants, but they were seated in a separate room and listened to the proceedings, or participated in making statements, only through closed-circuit television. This time, the women were in the same hall, albeit in a separate section, and in my panel two of the three audience questions came from women.

4. The Birth of Rip City

As this year’s NBA finals begin, Portland Monthly offers a game-by-game look back at the 1977 championships in which the Portland Trailblazers triumphed over Dr. J’s Sixers. The long-awaited victory marked a turning point in the northwest:

Starting in roughly 1955, Harry Glickman pursued a franchise in the up-and-coming National Basketball Association. It was a tough sell. “I’d go to Madison Square Garden to meet with [Knicks cofounder] Ned Irish,” Glickman says. “His great comment was, ‘How am I going to put the name “Portland” on the marquee at Madison Square Garden?’ The question today is, ‘How are you going to put the name “New York Knicks” on the marquee at the Moda Center?’”

5. Nut Job

A new crime spree is underway in California: nut theft. Since 2013, more than 35 loads of pistachios, almonds, and walnuts – worth at least $10 million – have been stolen from the state’s central valley. Outside reporter goes on the trail with Tulare County sheriff Mike Boudreaux:

Boudreaux assigned half a dozen detectives to a new unit – the Nut Theft Task Force. I met most of them at a conference for nut processors in Modesto last year. The men were barrel-chested and serious, wearing jeans, cowboy boots, and blousey white dress shirts. They looked as if the department had just then switched their assignment from bailing hay to organized crime.

6. Hospitality at Cannes

Thirteen years ago, celebrity producer Bret Ratner told a fantastic story about being banned for life from the legendary Hotel du Cap, home to Hollywood honchos during the two weeks of the Cannes Film Festival. Now under new management, the hotel has welcomed Ratner back – and he is happy oblige them with a new, friendly review. But he does remind us what he hated about the hotel in the first place:

My pre-booked room in the main hotel was taken away and given to someone deemed more VIP. I was moved to the Annex, the building where the drivers, assistants and publicists are unceremoniously housed. I dragged my luggage because there was no bellman, and when I turned my key, I stepped in a room so small that I could lay on the bed and practically touch all four walls with my hands and feet.


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