Saturday, March 10, 2007

What's a Billion

We see more and more big numbers in the news, numbers so big that it's not easy to understand what they mean. A simple way to estimate the meaning is the cost to an individual American. Here are two simple ways to figure out what a billion dollars of U.S. Government expenditure means to such a person:

Way 1 (By the share of the population): The Bureau of the Census estimates the U.S. population to be 298,444,215. So if the Government spends $1,000,000,000 (one billion dollars) your share of it is about $3.35:
     $3.35 = $1,000,000,000 / 298,444,215
= A billion dollars divided by the population.
Say $3+1/3 per billion spent by the government.

Way 2 (By the share of the money): The Department of Commerce estimates the U.S. Gross Domestic Product to be about $13,220,000,000,000 ($13.22 trillion dollars). So if the Government spends $1,000,000,000 your share is about 7+1/2 cents for each thousand dollars you earn:

   $0.076 = ($1,000,000,000 / $13,220,000,000,000) * $1,000
= A billion dollars share of the GDP times a thousand dollars.
Say seven and a half cents per thousand dollars earned per billion dollars spent by the Government.

As an example, what has the war in Iraq cost a somewhat prosperous family, of two people earning, $40,000 each? So far the appropriations for the war come to about $350,000,000,000 (three hundred billion)
Way 1:  350 Billion spent by the Government
2 people
$3.35 cost per billion spent
$2,345 TOTAL = 350 * 2 * $3.35
Not enough to buy a car, but enough to notice.

Way 2: 350 Billion spent by the Government
$80 Family income in thousands
$0.075 Cost per thousand earned per billion spent
2,100 TOTAL = 350 * 80 * 0.075

Sunday, March 04, 2007

One Call rents them all

"...which is only a single line of a verse well known to
the wise"

One call to rent them all
One call to get them
One call to bring them all
And on the job site set them.

Copyright Issues ...

In a recent issue of The New Republic, I read the following:

A scientist's plea for Christian environmentalism.

Apocalypse Now

by Edward O. Wilson
Post date 08.28.06 | Issue date 09.04.06

Because of copyright issues, this article is not available online.
Subscribers can download it in PDF format here. ...

What are these copyright issues? How do they prevent the article from being posted in HTML while permitting it to be posted in PDF? What's going on here?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Washboard of the Lord

Every rocky mountain slope
A corrugated washing board,
Every snowflake Fuller's soap.
And the dirty land
Scrubbed by His hand
On the washboard of the Lord.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Much too much about Iraq

Like the rest of you, I've been thinking about the Iraq war for the last four years. Finally something is written; of course it's much too long.
  • There's only one policy for Iraq that makes any sense. The U.S. must announce that it will remove its forces from Iraq unless the Iraqi government and the surrounding countries can agree on a way to restore order to Iraq; the U.S. should invite them to a conference to arrive at such agreement. If such agreement can be reached and if these powers want it, the U.S. must be prepared to keep forces in Iraq for the foreseeable future, say for as long as ten years. Otherwise we should withdraw them as quickly is possible.

    A serious U.S. threat to withdraw its forces is a powerful one, and likely to bring these somewhat ruthless powers to reason. If the U.S. withdraws without preparations being made to suppress the civil war in Iraq, the consequence is likely to be that civil war will continue and that many of the surrounding countries will intervene: namely Turkey, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria. Also civil war in Lebanon will likely begin again. I don't think any of these countries wants this.

    If it's not possible for these powers to come to an agreement, the U.S. must do as it says and withdraw its troops. Very likely the consequence will be as bad as I fear. Very likely the U.S. will be asked by some or most of these countries to intervene again; but at least in this case we will intervene with allies.

    Unfortunately, under our Constitution, this policy can only be carried out by the President. He's not likely to do it.

  • The Democrats, and the peace party in general, have a very difficult problem. If they force a withdrawal from Iraq and bad things happen, as they very likely will, half the country will blame them for it. A good part of the country still blames them for the U.S. defeat in Vietnam.

    A terrible parallel is the German reaction to their defeat in World War I. After the Allied offensive in the summer of 1918, the German generals knew they were beaten; the best prospect for the preservation of the German state was to end the war as quickly as possible; they forced the Kaiser to abdicate and told the government that the war would have to end. The government did end the war, but they never got the generals to declare publicly what the situation was, so much the German public, seeing German armies everywhere well outside Germany's frontiers, was unable to understand that the army had been defeated, and concluded that the army had been "stabbed in the back" by politicians and revolutionaries. This lack of understanding bred a deep distrust of politics by about half the German public, and was a very important cause for the rise of the Nazi party.

    The danger that the public will blame the peace party for ending the war, and not the national security party (the "military industrial complex") for starting it, is great enough that it may be best for the war to continue, and for American troops and Iraqis of all kinds to die, if this has the result that the truth is made clear to the American people.

  • Therefor, the best thing for the peace party to do is this: to say that foreign policy and war can be carried out only by the president, who has made his decision. The Congress will provide the troops and the money to carry it out, despite the fact that they are convinced that the policy is a bad one, which will almost surely fail. They must say that they hope for its success, as I do hope for its success, but that if it fails, and there must be benchmarks -- a time limit and ways to measure success -- there must be a new policy, which might be a conference, as I proposed above. However by this time there may be nothing to do but simply admit defeat and withdraw the troops.

  • It may be unfortunate that these discussions have to be carried out in public, with the possibility of discouraging the troops and heartening the enemy. That's the way it is in a republic. No-one can whisper in the king's ear in private; the people are sovereign. As for the troops, we can only hope that if they see a better chance of success than the people or the Congress does, they will only redouble their efforts, so as to show us up for the fools that they think we are. As for the enemy, they won't be the first to be confused in this way by the strange workings of republican government.

  • Finally, I think that the President and his Administration have never been serious about this war. They were told at its start by General Shinseki, their best expert in these things, how many troops it would take to police Iraq; they didn't send them. They were told by many people, as soon as the looting started after the fall of Baghdad that Iraq needed rebuilding and civil order, and that in order to achieve this a new policy was needed; they have never considered changing their policy till this year -- too late and too little. They appear to be serious about nothing except about tax cuts and about winning elections, which the war was supposed to do for them.

Friday, February 23, 2007

About a Cat

We have a cat who lives, on cold days, in a basket in our house.
Here's a picture of her.

There once was a kitten tossed up in a basket
Forty-nine times as high as the moon,
And what she was doing I scarcely dared ask it
For in her mouth she carried a spoon
O Kitty! O Kitty! O Kitty! I cried,
What are you doing there up so high.
I'm licking the stars from off the sky.
I shall be with you by and by.