April 8th, 2014
02:38 PM ET

Why Shakespeare fits with Syria tragedy

For more Last Look, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

This month marks William Shakespeare's 450th birthday, and people around the world are celebrating – from Stratfordians to Syrians.

Yes, Syrians. One hundred Syrian children have just performed an adaptation of King Lear…in one of the world's largest refugee camps. Located in Jordan, the Zaatari camp is home to over 100,000 Syrian refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.

Many of the children are not educated and have never read or seen any of Shakespeare's work. But they are no strangers, of course, to the tragedy of the human condition. And this particular play – a story of exile, a ruler losing grip with reality, a land divided by rival groups, a tale of human cruelty – seems especially relevant.

While a refugee camp may seem like the unlikeliest of places to discover Shakespeare, the playwright himself might not have thought so. After all, mentioning faraway places was common in his plays. In both Macbeth and Othello, in fact, Shakespeare mentions the Syrian city of Aleppo. Another reminder that Syria is one of the oldest centers of human civilization – which makes the current violence there seem even more tragic.

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Topics: Last Look • Syria
April 2nd, 2014
12:46 PM ET

Could wind turbines tame hurricanes?

For more Last Look, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Hurricane season won't begin in the Atlantic basin until June 1. But the South Pacific storm season is in full swing. At any point in time, in fact, it is the season for hurricanes, typhoons, or cyclones somewhere in the world. With winds up to an astounding 190 miles per hour, fierce storms can dump more than 2.4 trillion gallons of rain in a day.

At this point the world really has nothing to defend against nature's fury. But a Stanford study says there may be something that could stand in a hurricane's way. Quite literally. It's not some brand new technology or hypothetical machine we are talking about. It's wind turbines.

According to the study, large numbers of wind turbines could slow down the outer winds of the hurricane, decrease wave heights, and cause it to dissipate faster. The authors say 78,000 300-foot turbines off the coast of New Orleans could have reduced Hurricane Katrina's wind speeds by as much as 98 miles per hour by the time they reached land and decreased storm surge by an incredible 79 percent.

Considering the billions of dollars of destruction a single storm can cause, a solution that provides renewable energy, pays for itself – and saves lives. Where can one sign up?

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Topics: Last Look
March 26th, 2014
01:25 PM ET

Will U.K. drop the Union Jack?

For more Last Look, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

In six months, the people of Scotland will cast their votes on secession from the United Kingdom.

If they vote for independence, Scots have been warned that they risk losing the pound as their currency. London could lose some control over oil and gas in the North Sea, but they might also have to say cheerio to something more symbolic – the beloved Union Jack.

You see, the current flag, which hasn't changed in over 200 years, is a mix between England's Cross of St. George, Scotland's cross of St. Andrew, and Ireland's cross of St. Patrick. If Scotland leaves the Union, would St. Andrew's cross get the boot? People sent ideas for alternatives to the U.K.'s National Flag Charity, and The Guardian asked Brits to choose from 12 options.

Should Britain: Incorporate the Welsh Flag of St. David? Slide the Welsh national flag into the corner? What about adding the Royal Coat of Arms to a modified Union Jack?

The winner? The one in the video. Well, the Brits are nothing if not traditional – Scotland's blue has simply been replaced with black. Perhaps to mourn the loss of Scotland?

Luckily many say this won't be necessary. After all, what would happen to all the British Overseas Territories (and a few countries for that matter) that include the Union Jack in their national flags?

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Topics: Last Look
March 9th, 2014
03:27 PM ET

Crimea and the first photos of war

For more Last Look, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Over the past week, images of troops massing in Crimea have been broadcast to millions around the globe. It so happens that the first ever official war photographs were from the very same region.

In 1853, the Russian Empire fought the allied armies of the Ottoman Empire, France and Great Britain in the short but brutal Crimean War that claimed the lives of three quarters of a million soldiers. And for the first time, photographers were able to give people a glimpse of what war was like.

The most famous image perhaps is Roger Fenton's "The Valley of the Shadow of Death," which showed cannonballs strewn throughout a valley. (Some say it was the first staged war photo, that he moved the cannonballs into the road). The technology didn't allow for action shots, but the images captured the moments between battles.

FULL POST

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Topics: Last Look
March 4th, 2014
11:01 PM ET

America's solar power future?

For more Last Look, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Take a look at the remarkable development in renewable energy in the video. It’s said to be the world's largest solar thermal power plant – 347,000 mirrors covering around 5.5 square miles, moves with the sun as it crosses the sky, reflecting solar heat to three towers, each taller than the Statute of Liberty.

The towers have boilers filled with water that turns to steam, spinning a turbine that then produces electricity. It’s a clean tech version of the Lord of the Rings as one reporter put it. What's notable here is that this contraption is not located in China or Germany or in any other traditional solar power house – the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating system, as it's called, sits in the Mojave Desert in California, and it's expected to power 140,000 American homes.

The economics of the installation have been questioned, but the project caps what many are calling a banner year for American solar power, 2013. The U.S. installed more solar capacity than Germany the world leader, marking the first time in over 15 years according to GTM research. More solar capacity has been installed in the last 18 months in America according to the industry than in the previous 30 years.

Of course, American solar power has still a long way to go – it still provides less than one percent of the nation's electricity according to the government.

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Topics: Last Look
February 25th, 2014
11:59 AM ET

Faux fur the future in Africa?

For more Last Look, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

After the kind of winter we've had here in New York, upgrades on winters coats have been the style of the season. And at the city's recent fashion week, one of the must-have items was what was described as a “fabulous fur.”

Halfway across the world, the South African men in the video are sporting fur of their own during a religious ritual. Carrying Zulu warrior shields, the men are wearing the traditional ceremonial attire of the Shembe religion – a monkey tail loin cloth, ostrich feathers on their head, a leopard skin belt, and a leopard skin cape.

And perhaps fashion designers should copy this African custom. You see, for some of the members the fur is fake. In fact, it’s made in China.

The international trade of leopard parts is illegal, and the skins used in this ceremonial attire usually come from poachers. But thanks to a project by the Wildcat Conservation group “Panthera,” a fake fur material is now being made in China and shipped to South Africa. Ten percent of members are estimated to have made the switch to synthetic fur, and thousands of these fabulous faux shoulder capes have been shipped to the region.

It's a strange day when African animal skins are manufactured in China and shipped via DHL...but it is certainly the bright side of globalization.

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Topics: Africa • Last Look
February 19th, 2014
05:50 PM ET

Paris getting creative with 'ghost stops'

For more Last Look, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Last week, taxi drivers caused gridlock in the streets of Paris, protesting against competition from minicabs in the city.

Driving in Paris can be tricky at the best of times, almost anarchy at the worst of times. So the 1.5 billion Parisian commuters that ride the metro every year probably have the right idea.

The Paris metro opened in 1900 and has grown to 14 different lines and over 300 stations, covering almost 130 miles of track. As is true in many cities, some of the stops are no longer in service. Paris has seven "phantom stations," many of which were closed as far back as World War II.

But these "ghost stops" could soon be resurrected – a Parisian mayoral contest may give these deserted platforms a new raison d'être.

One top candidate for mayor has suggested turning unused stops like the one in the video, which closed in 1939, into a stunning art gallery, a concert hall, a nightclub, a restaurant and even a swimming pool. Not to be outdone, another candidate proposed redeveloping old rail tracks into outdoor gardens and green areas.

While the French might be having a tough time getting their private sector moving, they remain world class at public projects. We look forward to going underground and swimming in Paris soon.

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Topics: France • Last Look
February 11th, 2014
04:27 PM ET

Is bigger Buddha better?

For more Last Look, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

China is home to the world's fastest train, longest bridge, largest freestanding building, longest wall, and is the biggest source of tourists in the world. In China, bigger is most definitely better – even when it comes to Buddha.

Massive Buddha statues have been built around the country over the past few decades. The 160-foot Buddha in the video towers over crowds, almost as much as another 300-foot Buddha in eastern China does. In 2002, the tallest statue in the world – the 500-foot Spring Temple Buddha – was unveiled in China. It is almost 200 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty!

So why is Buddha on steroids? One word: Tourists.

Last year, this Buddha reportedly brought in 3.8 million visitors and $200 million.

Not every large statue has been met with appreciation though. Two giant Buddhas in their birthday suits recently unveiled in Eastern China were taken down after an uproar.

Maybe someone out there thought a bit about the core teachings of Buddhism, which are about a rejection of materialism, inner strength, meditation, and mindfulness – not super-sizing.

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Topics: Last Look
January 28th, 2014
09:03 AM ET

Canada’s Harper tries some ‘musical diplomacy’

For more Last Look, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Take a listen to this rendition of the Beatles classic “Hey Jude.” Not the best you've ever heard of course, but perhaps the best by a world leader. That is Stephen Harper, prime minister of Canada, rocking out on the keyboard.

Harper was serenading Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his visit to Israel last week and yes, that's Bibi singing along.

If there's any doubt about the state of Israeli-Canadian friendship, yes, that is Harper singing "With a Little Help From My Friends."

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Topics: Canada • Last Look
January 22nd, 2014
05:02 PM ET

Protesting, French style

For more Last Look, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Here in the United States, Congress’ approval ratings are near their lowest levels in history. Nearly half of those polled in the U.K. said they were angry at their nation’s politicians. There were riots last week near a Spanish political party headquarters. And protestors in Ukraine continue to call for the government to go…

It would seem that the whole world is tired of government!

Perhaps the most expressive protest came from Paris last week, where despite the French reputation for snooty and uninterested citizens, protests there have always been big and creative. Furniture barricades during 19th century rebellions famously depicted in Les Miserables come to mind. In more recent decades, farmers protested falling grain prices with tractors blocking the streets and by burning hay on the Champs Elysees.

FULL POST

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Topics: France • Last Look
December 11th, 2013
11:18 AM ET

Which is the world's most generous nation?

For more Last Look, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Keeping with Nelson Mandela's generosity of spirit, we thought we'd bring you good news about the world's capacity to give. The Charities Aid Foundation in London published its annual world giving index last week, and it turns out that the world was more generous in 2012 than it was in the previous year.

The Foundation crowned the United States the world's most generous nation, up from fifth place last year. The report is based on Gallup polls involving 135 countries and measures three factors. Who said they donated the most money to charity, who said they volunteered the most time, and who said they helped out strangers most often. The U.S. was only 13th when it came to donating money, but third place in giving time and first place when it came to helping out someone in need.

So what country is the least charitable? Well, according to the report, that distinction goes to Greece, and while economic troubles in Greece were rampant in 2012, this report proves it's not always about the money. Even Syria made the top ten list for helping out a stranger.

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Topics: Last Look
December 4th, 2013
10:18 AM ET

Can an ad bridge a divide?

For more Last Look, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

We want to show you a video that everyone in India and Pakistan is watching right now. It's about an old man in India and an old man in Pakistan. They may live in different countries today, but before 1947 – before partition, under British rule – they grew up in the same town, playing games together. How could they reconnect all these years later?

Well, try Google, which of course made the ad to promote its product. A few quick searches of their childhood haunts by tech-savvy grandkids, and a reunion is arranged. Watch the video to listen in.

The ad has been seen by millions of people and it's generated an outpouring of support and nostalgia in India and Pakistan. Now, according to a Pew survey, four out of 10 Indians say Pakistan is their biggest national threat. Six out of 10 Pakistanis say the same about India. But on the flip side, consider this: 70 percent of Indians and 62 percent of Pakistanis say improving relations between the two countries should be a priority.

Hopefully, more Indians and Pakistanis can watch Google's ad and remember that they have far more in common than they have differences.

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Topics: Last Look
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