Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Million is a Billion is a Trillion

Quite a few years back, one of my favorite television shows was the "Cosmos" series hosted by Carl Sagan on PBS. For someone who was going through a childhood fascination with astronomy (due in part to my parent's gift of a subscription to Odyssey magazine), I loved Sagan's explanations of time travel and the formation of the planets and the "billions and billions" of stars in the universe.

Billions was a lot then. Now, not so much.

Trillion dollar deficits; trillion dollar budgets. Trillion dollar problems fixed with trillion dollar solutions. Where does it end? I get so incredibly aggravated watching money get thrown at problems as a band-aid solution, rather than fixing the root of the problems and thus fixing the problems themselves (and Republicans are just as guilty of Democrats, so there's plenty of blame to go around). And with the release of the President's FY 2010 budget proposal this morning and the passage of the FY 2009 omnibus appropriations bill (which includes 9,000 earmarks that really aren't earmarks; they're "special projects"), I get to get all fired up again

In the midst of the numerous news clips that I read at my job each morning, I ran across an excerpt in an article in Politico which quotes David M. Schwartz, author of the children's book How Much is a Million? He tries to give a good way for folks to get their minds around what a trillion really is; I liked it enough that I wanted to share it here.

"I think that the best we can hope for is to make them more concrete. Nobody will ever get a real feel for a trillion dollars. But relating them to human-sized things, or a human time scale, I think we can wrap our minds around them.

"Each step from a million to billion to trillion is times a thousand. If you think of it in terms of time - seconds - and go to a point a million seconds from that, you'll have gone 11-1/2 days into the future. A billion seconds turns out to be 32 years. You'll reach that in 2041. A trillion seconds is 32,000 years. I like to say that I have a pretty good idea of what I'll be doing a million seconds from now, I have no idea what I'll be doing a billion seconds from now, and I have an excellent idea what I'll be doing a trillion seconds from now."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Economic Analysis by My Daughter

The recent passage of the economic stimulus bill designed to improve public parks, protect San Francisco field mice, semi-socialize our the American medical system -- sorry, I meant to say create jobs -- has been something I've been thinking a lot about lately. What is it going to mean for me and my family? How will we be impacted in the months and years ahead by what proponents continue to claim the bill will do and which I am not fully convinced will ever happen? And how quickly will the public's hero worship of the President collapse when they don't have a new job, a paid-off house, and more money in their pocket by June of this year?

My oldest daughter, on the other hand, boils it down to very simple terms. When I came home from work yesterday, A. said, "MB, tell Daddy what you told me about the stimulus bill." MB looked at me and said, "It's going to be very tall. It has a lot of parts to make it tall."

What fantastic insight from a child -- it will be very tall; a tall order...

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Real Purpose of Education

A marvelous passage by Frederick Buechner which I read today and wanted to share...

"But the absolutely fundamental purpose of education, as I see it anyway, is to show you that what's most important of all is to be the one thing that nobody else in the whole wide world can be except you, and that is your own unique and precious self. Whatever you do with your life - whatever you end up achieving or not achieving - the great gift you have in you to give to the world is the gift of who you alone are: your way of seeing things, and saying things, and feeling about things, that is like nobody else's. If so much as a single one of you were missing, there would be an empty place at the great feast of life that nobody else in all creation could fill."

(Taken from "The Emerald City: A Commencement Address," in The Clown in the Belfry.)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Great Blossom Dearie

"'Deed I Do."

"When Sunny Gets Blue."

"Surry with the Fringe on Top."

"They Say It's Spring."

The list of songs in the catalogue of the great Blossom Dearie is as long as her career, which ended earlier this week at the age of 82. She brought a new voice to the world of jazz beginning in the 1950s and put a new spin -- her spin -- on several old standards. However, I don't think there's anyone alive who, having watched the old Schoolhouse Rock episodes on Saturday morning television, doesn't know one of her most familiar songs.

This song doesn't define her career, but it is the one that introduced millions to a great lady with a small, shy voice.

Friday, February 13, 2009

An Office Break

I really have to get back into the swing of posting, but decided the easiest way to cheat at a post is to put up a video clip. This is perhaps the funniest five minutes of "The Office" I've ever seen.