Thursday, August 2, 2007

Will Seattle Learn from the I-35W Bridge Collapse?

Will Seattle learn from Wednesday's tragic I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis? The short answer is no.

Almost 20 years ago, the Loma Prieta earthquake woke Seattle up to the possibility that the Alaskan Way Viaduct was in danger. Today, there still isn't a plan to replace the aging structure, despite the very real possibility of structural failure. Meanwhile, the nearby 520 bridge, a vital link between Seattle and the Eastside, is nearing the end of it's lifespan, and must be closed during windstorms due to the age of the bridge.

Although design concerns have delayed the replacement of these two structures, mostly the issue has been one of cost. Replacement costs for the Alaskan Way Viaduct have ranged from $2 to $4 billion, while costs for a new 520 bridge will likely be in the range of $4 to $5 billion.

Neither of these projects are funded. They are, for some reason, not a priority for the region. Instead, a new, $17.8 billion transportation package is being put to a vote in November. (The $17.8 billion projected cost is a conservative estimate that excludes the cost of inflation.) The new package would spend $10.8 billion on the extension of Seattle's (still not operational) light rail system, leaving $7 billion for all other projects.

Thankfully, that $7 billion does include some money for a 520 replacement, plus a host of new interchanges and widenings around the Seattle metro area. But at the end of the day, after we've committed $17.8 billion to a new regional transportation plan, we still don't have funding to replace either the Alaskan Way Viaduct or the 520 Bridge. We do, however, have a $10 billion light rail package that hopes to help serve 370,000 daily public transit users by 2030. That figure includes people riding buses, and those who would switch from bus to mass transit.

Does this seem like a good use of public money? $10 billion for a train? Meanwhile, Seattle's aging structures will still be in danger of collapse. Maybe the people of Seattle ought to rethink their priorities. There's work to do. We can play with our trains later.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Princeton Economist: No Causation Between Terrorism and Poverty

Princeton economist Alan Krueger has come to the conclusion that poverty is not what breeds terrorism, but rather a lack of civil liberties.

From the Wall Street Journal:

"There is no evidence of a general tendency for impoverished or uneducated people to be more likely to support terrorism or join terrorist organizations than their higher-income, better-educated countrymen.... The evidence is nearly unanimous in rejecting either material deprivation or inadequate education as an important cause of support for terrorism or of participation in terrorist activities." Mr. Krueger asserts."

So poor people are no more likely to support or join terrorist activities than those who are rich. But how does poverty affect complacency? Does poverty create a situation where terrorist activities are more likely to be tolerated, as opposed to supported? The article doesn't answer that question, unfortunately. It does, however, offer this:

So what is the cause? Suppression of civil liberties and political rights, Mr. Krueger hypothesizes. "When nonviolent means of protest are curtailed," he says, "malcontents appear to be more likely to turn to terrorist tactics."

Hey, Terrorists! Regime change begins at home, don't you know?!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Why Aren't Christian Movies Successful at the Box Office?

Ever since the success of both The Passion of the Christ and The Chronicles of Narnia, we're always hearing about how certain movies are looking to the Christian market to succeed at the box office. The interest in the untapped Christian market is understandable, since those two movies grossed a combined $662 million in the United States alone, and an astounding $1.3 billion worldwide. The problem is that these movies are the exception, rather than the rule. According to Box Office Mojo, the other 51 Christian theatrical releases produced since 1980 have grossed a combined $178 million.

Why? Take the example of Left Behind. The book series has been a massive success, selling 65 million books. By comparison, The Lord of the Rings sold approximately 100 million books, and the theatrical trilogy grossed over $2,900 million worldwide (with a little over $1 billion of that from U.S. theaters.) Left Behind? An astounding $4.2 million! The two sequels were released direct-to-DVD.

Granted, the movie wasn't exactly Oscar material. The DVD for the film was available before wide release in theaters. Last but not least, the producers promised an epic, big-budget flick, and underdelivered with an hour and a half picture starring Mike Seaver. But the movie received heavy promotion from religious broadcast networks, televangelists, and even grassroots efforts within churches. Christians were well aware that success at the box office would lead to potential buzz, and the possibility of crossover interest from the mainstream market. So why did it, and so many others, fail?

I don't have the answer. But there are a few possibilities worth speculation. (Because, I mean, why not?) My theory? Christians tend to be more family-oriented, which means adults who wish to spend the night at the multiplex need a babysitter. The cost of $10 tickets, popcorn and soda, and $10-20 for a babysitter for the night mean a movie date runs somewhere between $30-50. And who knows what the kids will have done by the time you get home. So if you're going to go out to the movies, Christian or not, it better be worth your while. Christians may have an interest in religious-oriented programming, but the convenience of staying at home with the kids and watching it on the small screen outweighs the desire to support Christian filmmaking endeavours.

That doesn't mean they're not a viable market. Narnia (like the books it is derived from) is a mediocre mish-mash of fairy tales and anecdotal religion, yet it was the second highest grossing movie of 2005, losing to Revenge of the Sith, but beating out Harry Potter 4, King Kong, and Batman Begins. So Christians may set the bar high when determining whether or not a movie deserves the hassle of a night out, but once the bar is high enough, you don't necessarily have to set it much higher.

Your thoughts?