Economist 7/28/16

  1. JUST like cooking a culinary masterpiece, making a hit Broadway show requires the right ingredients.On the whole musicals tend to be more lucrative than plays, especially if they are based on Disney movies. Using data from the Ulmer Scale, an index which rates Hollywood actors on their “bankability”, we found that having a big movie star boosted income tremendously.Factors outside the producer’s control also affect revenues. We found that productions which eventually win major Tony awards, performed better in their first year, though newspaper reviews seemed to matter less.shows tend to do better around Christmas and New Year. Even though its turnover has been artificially suppressed by its producers’ reluctance to raise ticket prices too sharply, “Hamilton” already has a strong claim as the most successful Broadway show of all time, and is on pace to shatter all existing records.
  2. Lawyers and indigenous leaders have long called for government action to cut Australia’s high rate of aboriginal youth imprisonment.The Northern Territory, a federal dependency, has one of the worst records. Indigenous people are almost a third of the territory’s population, compared with 3% for Australia as a whole. But they account for 96% of youngsters aged between 10 and 17 in detention.Nationwide, Amnesty says young indigenous Australians are 26 times more likely to be in detention on an average night than their non-indigenous counterparts. The high detention rates echo broader problems: indigenous Australians are poorer, unhealthier and do worse in school than their compatriots. 
  3. LUFTHANSA lowered its revenue forecast last week amid declining bookings, particularly on long-haul flights to Europe, citing “increasing political and economic uncertainties.” “Luxury Awaits Above the Clouds” is the title of Lufthansa’s Airbnb listing, the first flight to be offered on the site, according to Quartz , which first reported the curious manoeuvre. Simply posting it to Airbnb required some creative contortion on the part of the airline, which had to check all the boxes required for more typical Airbnb hosts.The listing, of course, is little more than a gimmick. Airbnb charges a hefty fee for bookings, and it’s hard to imagine anyone paying that when they can book for free on more traditional platforms.Still, it is not inconceivable that the model could change. As more travellers, and business travellers in particular, look to Airbnb instead of hotels, booking sites like Orbitz and Priceline that can package flights and lodging lose some of their appeal, since they don’t have options for private accommodation.
  4. 1MDB was launched in 2009, the year Mr Najib became prime minister of Malaysia. It was supposed to bring investment to Malaysia by forging partnerships with foreign firms. But by 2014 it was struggling to service debts of more than $11 billion. Questions about it multiplied last year when it was discovered that around $700m had entered Mr Najib’s bank accounts shortly before a close election in 2013. On July 20th America’s Justice Department began proceedings to seize more than $1 billion of assets, which it alleged had been purchased with funds siphoned out of the firm. It is the largest single action the department has ever launched.The goodies concerned include luxury properties, artworks by Van Gogh and Monet, and a jet, according to court filings. Authorities say 1MDB’s money was also spent on gambling and used to make the “Wolf of Wall Street”, a film about a high-living swindler starring Leonardo DiCaprio. It was made by a production company co-founded by Riza Aziz, the stepson of Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak.
  5. Rajinikanth is no preening Bollywood star, but a balding 65-year old doyen of Tamil cinema who has acted in over 200 films, generally playing a lovable rogue. He is paid around $10m-12m a picture for this shtick.Whatever the storyline, Rajini’s movies tend to do well. His recent release ‘Kabali’, raked in $16m on its opening weekend in India and another $12.6m overseas, smashing box-office records. On Friday July 22nd, tickets fetched 1,500-5,000 rupees ($23-$75) on the black market. Indeed, for all his onscreen brio and dash, the bus conductor-turned-superstar is a courtly man off it. He wears a white dhoti, drives his own car, sports no makeup, donates money to charity and pleads with his fans not to treat him like God.

Economist 5/22/14

  1. Lufthansa’s decision to install humidifiers in its first-class cabins, ensuring that the people at the front of the plane enjoy air with 25% humidity, as opposed to 5-10% in coach.Delta and United whisk their first-class passengers to connecting flights in Porsches and Mercedes, respectively. A first-class ticket on Emirates Air from Los Angeles to Dubai entitles you to a private compartment—complete with a sliding door, a lie-flat seat and mattress, a vanity, a minibar, a flat-screen TV and luxury bathroom with shower—for a tidy $32,840.Airlines are responding to market pressures—specifically, the unwillingness of air travellers to spend a little extra to fly in a bit more comfort.But there is already an airline that offers better service and more comfortable seats. It’s called Virgin America, and it lost $671 million between 2007 and 2012. Meanwhile, Spirit Airlines—the airline that draws the most customer ire in America, and is also very cheap—was doing just fine
  2. In a world first, Collins Dictionary is going to add a word to its dictionary based on votes collected via Twitter. Collins has narrowed down your choices, which you can vote for by tweeting your choice and including the hashtag #twictionary. lexicographers have seen it as their job to find the words that people actually use and then to record them. They are not gatekeepers or guardians but a certain kind of slow-moving stenographers.That said, and with a tip of the cap to Collins for being creative, this seems a bit of a gimmick. First, lexicographers can easily monitor Twitter without inviting people to vote.Plus, the overlap of the “ack” sounds makes for a nice portmanteau. (A portmanteau differes from a compound in that one or both elements are trimmed before joining, like brunch.) The same goes for “gaybourhood”, the meaning of which is obvious. 
  3. THE net makes tragedies global events: a missing plane, a capsized ferry full of kids, kidnapped schoolgirls. Even the infamous squabble between Jay-Z and Solange, a pair of pop idols. Our chart compares the attention each event received on Twitter, measured by how much messages were re-tweeted with descriptive hashtags in English. The situations usually capture immediate attention and quickly settle down. Just as online activism (known as “hacktivism”) is considered “slacktivism” (or armchair activism) because it is rarely sustained, so too the concerned tweets might be called “twactivism”. The crossover came around May 7th for the Nigerian kindapping, when—partly fuelled by Michelle Obama joining the campaign—more retweets came from America (38%) than Nigeria (24%). But eventually, the data show, the twitterverse moves on.
  4. IT HAS been a rough month for Joko Widodo, universally known as Jokowi, the governor of Jakarta who had been expected to stroll to victory in Indonesia’s presidential election on July 9th. First, on April 9th, came a setback in parliamentary polls. His Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) won only 19% of the popular vote, a long way short of the 25% that it needed to nominate a presidential candidate on its own.His team set about trying to regain the initiative and on May 14th they scored a success, announcing an alliance with Golkar, the party of Suharto, the late dictator, to form a new coalition with which to contest the presidential election and form a government. Golkar is now the political vehicle of Aburizal Bakrie, a tycoon, and came second in the parliamentary elections with 15% of the vote.Jokowi has also been spelling out what he would do if he wins. He has promised to scrap fuel subsidies and channel the money that saves to the poor and into infrastructure.
  5. In much of the world, traditional mood-altering substances such as cocaine and heroin are in decline. But a pharmacopoeia of synthetic drugs is rapidly taking their place. By 2013, 348 new psychoactive substances had been reported to the agency, almost all of them since 2008 (see chart). T In America and Britain, where the authorities conduct regular surveys of drug-taking, cocaine use has fallen steeply since around 2008. In most of Europe heroin addiction is becoming rare. Wholesale cocaine prices have risen sharply over the past decade, partly thanks to eradication efforts in Colombia and elsewhere squeezing supply, pushing up prices and hitting quality.  In 2010, when ecstasy (MDMA) was particularly scarce, 4.4% of British 16- to 24-year-olds tried mephedrone, an ecstasy-like drug, and 2.1% tried ketamine, a powerful tranquiliser used most often in veterinary medicine. One in nine Americans in their last year of high school now report having tried a synthetic form of cannabis. All of these were unknown a decade ago. In parts of the developing world ketamine is the latest poison of choice. Among those imprisoned for drug use in Macau, 18% have used it, second only to methamphetamine. Seizures of ketamine in China made up almost 60% of the global total between 2008 and 2011.In poorer countries methamphetamine remains the rage. In Central and South Asia it seems to be taking the place of heroin as the product of choice for drug gangs. Between 2011 and 2012 the quantity of methamphetamine seized in Myanmar more than tripled.Meth labs have even been found in Afghanistan, where the poppy crop has long sustained farmers. Ketamine has proven far more addictive and physically damaging than ecstasy, and some synthetic cannabinoids have worse side-effects than real cannabis.