270 (22 June 2016)

Welcome to week 270!  The articles below caught my attention this week.  Please note that what are intended to be relatively objective “briefs” are preceded by dashes (——–), whereas additional material or relatively subjective comments are preceded by asterisks (********).  The links to articles preceded by [SR] require a subscription to be read in their entirety, although complete articles may frequently be found by an Internet title search.

(18 June 2016): “The economics of Broadway: No business like show business” (http://www.economist.com/news/business/21700674-our-analysis-art-and-science-creating-hit-show-no-business-show-business)

——–The hip-hop musical “Hamilton” serves “as a reminder that although Broadway is rarely regarded as a big business in the same way as Hollywood is, the most successful musicals can outperform the silver screen.  No film has ever banked $1 billion at the box office in North America, but three musicals . . . have exceeded this benchmark on Broadway, admittedly over long runs.  The gap widens further when counting performances worldwide.  Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Phantom’ began life on the London stage in 1986 before transferring to Broadway and beyond.  It has earned $6 billion globally, more than twice the worldwide take of ‘Avatar’, the film industry’s record-holder.”

********The Economist examined a data set of the Broadway League that shows “weekly revenue and attendance figures for every show going back to 1984” to examine a variety of factors that would affect the likely financial success of a production.  “Two approaches appear relatively reliable paths to triumph on Broadway.  One is to put successful films on the stage. . . . A second tried-and-tested approach is to bring in a Hollywood star.”  The musical “Hamilton” has neither.  But what it “does have is a proven hitmaker in [Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose] . . . previous musical, ‘In the Heights’, won four Tony awards” and had revenues exceeding $100 million.  The statistical (logistic regression) analysis used to examine the data is discussed at: http://www.economist.com/broadway-business.  This seems like a great starting point for further study for a variety of productions.

(20 June 2016): “The Panama Canal Expands” (http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-panama-canal-expands-1466378348)

——–On June 26 the Panama Canal expansion will open amid “one of the worst shipping industry slumps ever.  While it won’t do anything to help the dire state of the industry near-term, the changes are critical to Western trade in the long run. . . . The nine-year, $5.4 billion expansion more than doubles the canal’s cargo capacity.  A third lane has been added to the canal that accommodates ships large enough to carry up to 14,000 containers, compared with around 5,000 currently. . . . It is expected to shift about 10% of the Asia-to-U.S. container traffic from West Coast ports to East Coast terminals by 2020, according to a recent report.”

********The very largest container ships, which can haul up to 20,000 containers, will not be able to use the expanded Panama Canal, but those ships tend to be confined to routes between Asia and Europe.  The article is visually appealing, with maps and a two-minute video discussing the history and current configuration of the Canal.  As alluded to in the article, the expansion is likely to increase the demand for East Coast (U.S.) port facilities, decrease the demand for West Coast port facilities, and decrease the demand for land-based transportation services moving goods west to east.

********Another factor that will affect the demand for East and West Coast port facilities is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).  You can read an update on the TPP in an interview with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman at http://www.wsj.com/articles/michael-froman-tells-where-the-tpp-stands-1466388124.

(22 June 2016): “Federal panel approves first test of CRISPR editing in humans” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2016/06/21/federal-panel-approves-first-test-of-crispr-editing-in-humans/)

——–“A National Institutes of Health advisory panel on Tuesday approved the first human use of the gene-editing technology CRISPR, for a study designed to target three types of cancer and funded by tech billionaire Sean Parker’s new cancer institute.  The experiment, proposed by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, would use             CRISPR-Cas9 technology to modify patients’ own T cells to make them more effective in attacking melanoma, multiple myeloma and sarcoma. . . . The experiment still must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, which regulate clinical trials.”

********Gene editing in humans is surely on its way.  The recent book The Gene: An Intimate History (https://www.amazon.com/Gene-Intimate-History-Siddhartha-Mukherjee/dp/1476733503/), by Siddhartha Mukherjee, provides some popular background for these developments.

********While we are on the subject of technological change, Bloomberg Businessweek has an interesting article on “How Intel Makes a Chip” (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-06-09/how-intel-makes-a-chip) that is worth a look.  The scale (nanometers) at which chip production works is breathtaking.  The additive manufacturing (http://additivemanufacturing.com/basics/) of 3-D printing and the manufacturing of chips seem related.

(22 June 2016): “Preexisting Condition” [SR](http://www.wsj.com/articles/preexisting-condition-1466548802)

——–[A review, by Patrick Allitt, of Love Canal: A Toxic History from Colonial Times to the Present, by Richard S. Newman.]  “Between 1942 and 1953, the Hooker Chemical Co. dumped thousands of 55-gallon drums of chemical waste . . . in the bed of a disused canal.  The dumping was lawful, licensed by the city government.  After covering the dump with a layer of topsoil, Hooker sold it and the surrounding land to the local school board for $1, explaining what it contained and warning the board not to build there.  The area’s baby-boom-era growth, however, led the board to ignore this advice.  First it built a school, then it sold the rest of the land to developers, who built several hundred houses.  Buyers moved in, unaware that they were living of top of barrels of dioxin, benzene and PCBs.”  Ultimately, the health issues that arose led the federal government to declare an emergency and resettle home owners.  In due time, Congress passed “the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, better known as ‘Superfund,’ which created a nationwide process for identifying, remediating and paying for toxic-waste cleanups.  It has always been controversial because it imposes retrospective sanctions on polluters, making them financially liable even if their conduct, at the time of the dumping, was lawful.”

********The reviewer notes: “Mr. Newman’s ‘Love Canal’ is a superb history of what happened before, during and after the weeks in 1978 when the area made national headlines.  His lucid explanation of the issues at stake shows why so many intelligent people disagreed so sharply about toxic waste in general and Love Canal in particular.  Each group—residents, politicians, the EPA, the media, local academics and the chemical company—created its own narrative.”  You can learn more about the book at: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0195374835/.  Wikipedia also has a useful entry at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_Canal.  Allitt concludes his review, writing that Newman’s “book is a wonderful study in ‘contested memories’ and a sophisticated addition to American environmental history.”

********Asheville, North Carolina has long had its own Superfund site—CTS.  You can read a recent article at: http://www.citizen-times.com/story/news/local/2016/05/16/epa-eyes-new-parties-superfund-site/84458196/.  You can learn more about the site from the EPA at: https://cumulis.epa.gov/supercpad/cursites/csitinfo.cfm?id=0402598.

(22 June 2016): “Not Just the 1%: The Upper Middle Class Is Larger and Richer Than Ever” (http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2016/06/21/not-just-the-1-the-upper-middle-class-is-larger-and-richer-than-ever/)

——–“A range of data after the recession and the housing bust supported the idea that only a tiny elite of U.S. society, generally seen as the top 1%, had rebounded and was doing well.  But a growing body of evidence suggest the economic expansion since the 2007-2009 financial crisis has enriched a much larger swath of the upper middle class, and that a deeper income divide is developing between that top quarter or so of the population and everyone else.”  According to evidence from Stephen Rose of the Urban Institute, “the upper middle class has expanded from about 12% of the population in 1979 to a new record of nearly 30% as of 2014.”

********Interesting information given the current political discussions.  The author of this article points out that there is no universally accepted definition of upper middle class, so that might raise an issue.  However, the article provides a valuable reminder that it is necessary to look at the whole picture and not simply focus on one part of it.  You can learn more about “The Growing Size and Incomes of the Upper Middle Class” (and download the 28-page report) at: http://www.urban.org/research/publication/growing-size-and-incomes-upper-middle-class.

(22 June 2016): “Is It Ever OK to Quit on the Spot?” (http://www.wsj.com/articles/is-it-ever-ok-to-quit-on-the-spot-1466531589)

——–“For almost all of us, there comes a moment when we are tempted to quit our jobs on the spot.  A growing number are actually doing it, many employers say.  Some bosses blame young employees who feel frustrated by limited prospects or have little sense of attachment to their workplace.  But employment experts say some older workers are quitting without notice as well.  They feel overworked or unappreciated after years of laboring under pay cuts and expanded workloads imposed during the recession.”

********As is alluded to in the article, quitting without notice is invited by firing without notice.  No doubt, both of these behaviors are increasing.  Sue Shellenbarger, who author of this article, provides a list of six bulleted points to consider “Before You Quit . . .”  No doubt there should be a similar list of points to consider “Before You Fire . . .”  The article gives a number of examples of exit behaviors and their consequences, all of which are worthy of reflection.

May you have a good week!


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