Monday, May 21, 2007

Assessing Risk

Daniel Bonevac at Right Reason asks a question about how likely a terrorist network is to detonate or even try to detonate a nuclear device in a US city in the next five to ten years.

Overall I believe that there is some risk of a nuclear or other spectacular attack by terrorists on the United States, but to try to go much behind that and to assign say a low, moderate, or high risk so such an attack is beyond the scope of my ability to obtain and process information about the threat. In fact it is probably not possible for any member of the general public. Nonetheless I think that it is reasonable for me to take a shot at discussing some of the risk factors that I have to consider when assessing the risk. Listed below, in roughly descending order of importance are some of the factors that contribute to the threat.

My assessed risk of a nuclear or other spectacular attack on the United States:

is higher now than before 9/11, the Bali bombing, the Madrid bombing, and the London bombing due to the terrorists' demonstrated ability and will to execute these attacks.

is higher to the extent that our actions in Iraq and Afghanistan encourage more individuals to engage in terrorist activities, but is lower to the extent that terrorists focus their efforts and resources on attacking US military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. I view the net result of these to effects as lowering the threat of an attack on the US, but that assessment is open to interpretation.

is higher due to the presence of both terrorist networks and nuclear weapons in Pakistan.

is lower to the extent that incidents like the Virginia Tech shooting illustrate the ease with which individuals could carry out this sort of small scale attack. Why do we not see more of this type of attack?

is lower due to the extent that the predominant terrorist network,Al Queda is Sunni Muslim and that Sunni versus Shitite conflict in Iraq illustrates lack of cooperation between the two groups - assuming Iran as a source for a nuclear weapon.

is higher to due to the demonstrated terrorist abilities of Shiite organizations like Hezbolla - again assuming Iran as a source for a nuclear weapon and that Hezbolla would gain the ability to target states other than Israel and Lebanon.

is higher to the extent that natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina illustrate ineffectiveness at various levels of government.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

NBC Online Video

Last week I watched the final episode of The Black Donnellys, a fairly mediocre organized crime drama that premiered on NBC in January. The noteworthy thing about this is that NBC actually canceled the show after the first few episodes, but still made the show available on their website. This is the first time that I have been able to continue watching a show via the Internet after the network canceled it from their prime time lineup, which makes me think that this could become an increasingly popular entertainment delivery mechanism.

NBC actually made a few bucks from my watching the episodes on their website. In place of the regular commercial breaks, they played a single 15 or 30 second commercial and all of the commercial breaks were for the same company. Although the commercials certainly do break up the show - it is not quite like a DVD - I found that the commercials really did not bother me because they were so short. Actually I found it a better viewing experience than skipping through the commercials on a DVR with the benefit that the advertiser actually has a chance to get a message to me.

In addition to the website that I linked to above, NBC also offers episodes of the show for download on iTunes. Each episode costs $1.99 so I assume that NBC probably charges their website advertisers something less than that.

Given that NBC decided to cancel The Black Donnellys halfway through the season I assume that the series was probably a loser financially, but the fact that NBC was able to make some of their money back through online advertising sales and through iTunes. This probably changes the equation for new episode launches to some extent because the network does not automatically have to forfeit all revenue from the later episodes when they cancel a show. My guess is that networks will probably try to launch more new series to try to find winners because they now have an additional option for monetizing a show that does not pick up a following large enough to justify keeping it in their regular lineup. Hopefully this exciting development will encourage networks to take more risks on innovative programs.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Becoming Catholic

David Howard shares some interesting commentary in the Wall Street Journal's Taste page on the recent conversion of Francis Beckwith form Evangelical Christianity to Catholicism. It is nice to see that Howard, who remains an Evangelical, has acknowledge "that we nevertheless have much in common as fellow Christians."

To me, the interesting dynamic between Catholicism and Evangelical Christianity is that Catholics view Evangelicals as wayward members of the Christian flock, while many Evangelicals view Catholics as a separate non-Christian religion. Hopefully this new development will help to heal the wounds of division in God's Church.

The Changing Politics of Ethanol

Kimberly Strassel has a great article in her Potomac Watch column about the changing politics of the corn Ethanol debate. Predictably after the federal government mandated the use of more ethanol as motor fuel the price of corn, from which U.S. ethanol is made, has more than doubled. This increase means that various groups of food producers are being hit with higher costs. This combined with environmentalists' laments about increased use of land for corn farming has put the politicians who implemented ethanol mandates in the tough spot. As usual when the government gets involved no one will be happy with the results.

The real way to resolve the "energy independence" problem is two fold: 1. Remove the quotas on sugar and sugar ethanol so that less expensive alternatives to corn ethanol can enter the motor fuel market; and 2. increase federal taxes on gasoline so that we use less oil products.