Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What does a "Trillion" look like?!?!?

(excerpted from an LJ comment I made about current budget claims by the Bush administration, which I will not dignify by citing here)

Does anyone have any conception of what a "trillion" dollars looks like?

The last time I looked, it cost about $4.5 billion to buy a modern aircraft carrier (warship) and another $5 billion to buy its aircraft. So call it $10 billion per carrier.

We have about ten carriers, counting two conventional carriers in place of the one nuclear carrier which is typically refueling, in refit, etc. and thus unavailable.

A trillion dollars is ONE HUNDRED AIRCRAFT CARRIERS, or TEN TIMES the US Navy's present carrier fleet. This is enough military power to operate at sea over 7,000 combat aircraft, able to handily devastate any armed power on the planet except maybe Russia or China (and even then, give them hives and fits).

The University of California system plows through something like $8 billion per year. That's right, the entire UC system with its training and education benefits, libraries, repositories of scientific knowledge, cutting-edge scientific research and medical advancements . . . costs less than one carrier. Given all of the long term benefits to society and civilization generally, a cheap bargain for taxpayers despite amazing levels of waste and corruption.

A "trillion dollars" is ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY Universities of California, or a UC caliber higher education system for every nation on the planet.

The UC hospitals cost another $4 billion and provide four (4) Level I trauma centers out of nine hospitals, treating 135,000 inpatients; 240,000 emergency cases and 3.6 million outpatients while training over 12,000 medical professionals.

A "trillion dollars" is TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY UC hospital systems providing First World outpatient care to 900 million people, or four times the population of the United States. Call it buying a hospital system for all of China.

California's state budget is $145 billion.

A "trillion dollars" is the state budget (including schools, prisons and three (!) college systems) for SEVEN states the size of California! In rough terms, this is buying a strong, multi-tiered K through grad school educational system for the entire United States of America -- plus large chunks of a police and prison system, just in case.

A back-of-envelope calculation elsewhere suggested that $1 trillion could purchase enough solar panels to provide 15% of America's electric power.

Best estimate of the Iraq War to date costs range from $500 billion to $1 trillion. This does not include care for disabled veterans, loss of productivity from casualties, or secondary effects of retasking of persons and companies from civil to military work.

A single trillion is a scary amount of power, makes a megawatt look tame.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


I am pleased to see that one of my favorite Spider Robinson stories has been posted to the Internet as part of his Lifehouse trilogy.

"God Is An Iron" by Spider Robinson

I can't promise that it's a fun read. But it makes a worthwhile point.

The entire series is quite good. Among other feats, Spider makes a reasonable case for circumstances under which torture is morally acceptable, and a hypothetical (if wildly unlikely) way in which humanity could retroactively invent God.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

What Do We Owe Our Iraq Veterans?

Rather a lot.

If you've been reading my blog at all, you know that I am a bit left wing. As a friend of mine puts it, "[drewkitty], you're a moderate, but the country went so far right you fell off the left wingtip about a decade ago."

That said, recent events have caused me to think a bit about what we as a nation owe our soldiers and sailors and Marines and aviators who have gone in harm's way and paid with sanity, limb and life.

My opinion about the Iraq War boils down to "We broke it, we bought it." Having committed to this strategy in the Middle East, we simply MUST see it through. The national security and perhaps the ultimate survival of the United States now depend on a victory in Iraq or a departure that does not weaken us in the eyes of our (more numerous) enemies worldwide.

The members of our armed forces have lived up to their side of the deal. Sign up for dangerous work (that sometimes kills in peacetime), some training, mediocre pay and benefits . . . and receive the indifference of a distracted nation.

What about our side of the deal? Yes, the Iraq War is a stupid and unjust war. So? We called, they hauled. Consider how much harder it is to fight a war under these conditions, when it's pretty blatant that it's an American power grab.

What about military objectors to the war who chose to suffer disciplinary action or courts martial instead of going? Good for them, putting their lives and futures where their hearts and mouths are. Better, that they serve our nation by challenging and helping to define our rules while pricking our conscience. Sad but necessary that they will be found guilty and do their time. We need an armed forces that does what the civilians tell them to do, that goes where directed and stays where needed.

Thank a vet. Be nice to a vet. No matter how you feel about the war, they deserve your respect and your thanks. The Iraq War may have more to do with protecting your SUV's gas tank than the city of New York, but that does NOTHING to lessen what we as a nation -- and those of us who are civilians individually -- owe to those who put their bodies between "home and the war's desolation."

Also we need to do our part. VOTE VOTE VOTE! You don't like America's foreign policy, vote in a President who will do something about it! Unhappy with the Iraq War? Look up your Congresscritter's voting record and decide how much blood is on whose hands, and vote accordingly.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Golden Compass

Apparently, the most coherent objections to the new movie "The Golden Compass" are hidden behind a $5.00 download of an E-pamphlet from the Catholic League. The best Web search I was able to conduct (with limited time on breaks) found five major points of objection.

On the drewkitty scale of morality, we are zero for five! Let's throw down.

* Blasphemy against the Judeo-Christian concept of God

Even if I were devout, this one would be silly. Blasphemy is a religious crime to begin with. If God's a fact, all He has to do is laugh and point and say "Here I am!" If their version of God is a lie, those who call it blasphemy are double liars; triple if they're hypocrites.

* Depiction of Catholic Church as evil, and religion in general as obscurant

No disagreement on either point. If the movie portrays this accurately, more power to them. I have held for a long time that "If the Devil were to set out to create an organization to promote and maximize human suffering, he could do no better than to create the Catholic Church."

* Promotion of the occult

Um, hey, I'm Wiccan.

* Endorsement of relativism as an acceptable system of belief

Depends. If the right to make your own decisions as to what is morally right and wrong is relativist, I'm four square on the side of human empowerment. If the definition of "relativism" is situational ethics or "do-it-if-it-feels-good" then I have a problem with relativism.

* Heretical portrayal of the human person

What the dickens is this supposed to mean?

"Every man and woman is a star!"

If you deny the spark of divinity that is in every person, in my opinion you deny the essence of deity itself.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

LJ "Content Protection Feature"

Back when I was an academic (yes, I know, shameful) I wrote a few papers on issues of content regulation and the Internet. In that research I identified "the default" as a most important variable. Most people can't be bothered* to change their technical settings, so the decision of the program author as to what privacy / security settings are automatic tends to be final for a big chunk of the installed base.

LJ just forced all LJ users into accepting "filtered content" as their defaults, and worse, created a misleading system by which any user who responsibly selected "adult concepts" found their material cut-tagged and blacklisted.

This is a horrible act of censorship. I recognize this and therefore I'm gone. Blogger it is.

* Bothered could mean not knowing how to change the settings (12:00 blinking VCRs anyone?); not having time to read the manual or the fine print; or simply trusting in the program authors to know what is best.

Abandoning Live Journal

The "adult content protection" change on LiveJournal has been the last straw. I went from being a paid user back to unpaid out of frustration with how LJ has been treating its user base.

Now I'm switching to Blogger. I'll read LJ and you'll see my posts there (a little late) courtesy of syndication, but I refuse to contribute another sentence of my copyrighted work (i.e. everything I type) to these pixel thieves.