Being a words guy, numbers often seem a little crazy to me. But I’ve found that the trick is to slowly absorb stories with a lot of statistics. That way it becomes apparent that, rather than being a little crazy, they’re totally insane.
For example, with oil prices above $80 per barrel, the oil game has become such a license to steal that Chevron plans to use $15 billion of its Iraq-gotten gains to buy more of itself. Finding its profitability too sexy for its shirt, the company will buy its own stock instead of investing in alternative technologies or giving the money back to the consumers or the Iraqis it basically stole it from. ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil recently announced similar masturbatory moves. Essentially funneling Bush-era oil-company tax cuts from taxpayers to stockholders, the move is brazen enough to make J. P. Morgan wake up and blush. And then die again from jealousy.
Speaking of ExxonMobilBushCheney, the Iraq Quagmire tossed off some staggering financial numbers again last week, when Defense Secretary Robert Gates asked Congress for $190 billion to keep the festivities going another year. If approved, the war tab, which the administration originally estimated at $10 billion, would climb to $611 billion (not counting the $127 billion spent in Afghanistan). Kentucky taxpayers’ portion? $4.7 billion.
Just the $11 billion Gates wants to spend on mine-resistant vehicles alone exceeds the original cost estimate for the entire war, and would pay for about seven bridges over the Ohio River. It’s also about twice the annual amount Senators Mitch McConnell and Jim Bunning voted not to pay to fund health insurance for the nation’s 9 million uninsured children. The measure passed both houses of Congress but President Bush pledged to veto it.*
Here’s a doozy of a stat: According to Purdue researchers, the United States has paved approximately 6,000 square miles into parking lots. That’s an area larger than the entire state of Connecticut (which is coincidentally also encrusted in emeralds). There are now 11 parking spaces for every family in the nation. The sprawl, pollution runoff, heat and automatic-weapon shootouts generated by big-box stores are becoming an environmental catastrophe on their own.
In other auto-related number news, Metro plans to synchronize traffic lights on Shelbyville Road and Dixie Highway, at a cost of $790,000. I hate to sound like those anti-tax crackpots who want to drown government in the bathtub while also riding on its roads, sending kids to its schools and enjoying basketball in its palatial college-sports arenas, but isn’t $790,000 a hefty price tag for switching some lights off and on? Can’t some poindexter attractive and charming engineer with, I dunno, Excel 2007 knock out something like that in about 20 minutes? In fact, can’t a $15 timer from Keith’s Hardware pretty much accomplish the same thing? Hey, if stoplights are so expensive, maybe we could buy everybody in town those mine-resistant vehicles and just remove the lights altogether! Half the drivers on Shelbyville Road drive them already anyway.
In other brain-twisting numbers news, a Courier-Journal poll showed that Attorney General Greg Stumbo’s approval rating is a surprisingly high 42 percent. With 54 percent either disapproving or having no opinion, he is within striking distance of defeating himself in a future election.
Meanwhile, the Metro Council is debating an ordinance that would fine panhandlers $250 for “aggressive panhandling,” which is considered by many to be a gateway drug to gainful employment. Local homeless advocates dismissed the measure, explaining that most Louisville panhandlers are actually passive-aggressive. When asked to comment, local panhandlers issued a statement saying, in part, “If you cared about me, you’d see how much I want you to give me a dollar.”
In other mind-boggling numbers news, philosophers are arguing over the precise duration of the theoretical “present” — the moment of time it takes for a future event to move into the past. The current issue of “Philosophy Now” (not a Gannett publication) describes the debate between the William James camp, which believes the present lasts about 12 seconds, and the St. Augustine camp, which believes the duration of the present is too infinitesimal to calculate, and therefore doesn’t exist.
Which would provide some relief for those uninsured children.
*Find this depressing? For a quick pick-me-up, buy Chevron!
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