Bits and Pieces

Wednesday, April 28, 2004


In a conscious echo of a famous, Vietnam War-era issue of Life magazine, the ABC News program "Nightline" will broadcast Friday night the names and faces of every soldier killed by hostile fire since the start of the war in Iraq.

Ted Koppel, the program's anchor, will deliver a brief introduction before reading the more than 530 names, as photographs and captions with the ages and hometowns of the dead appear on the screen. "Nightline" will not include those who died by accident and other causes because of time constraints; Mr. Koppel will barely have two seconds for each name. (Hat tip: James Joyner)

Two seconds each?

But William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, said the message was clear to him. "This is a statement with a capital S, and it's a stupid statement," he said. The program's conceit, he added, was a selective one, chosen to emphasize the controversy over the war in Iraq while neglecting to mention the casualties in Afghanistan or those killed by terrorists.

If Kristol wants to talk about stupid statements, how about starting with the fact that Iraq had nothing to do with terrorists (read 9/11)? As he is surely aware there has not been a scrap of evidence to link the two. There is as little reason to talk about those killed by terrorism as there is to talk about the hundreds of Americans who are injured every year crashing their cars into moose (meese?).

Anyway... reading that story reminded me of an old article by Bill Bryson, printed in Notes From a Big Country, in which Bryson attempted to describe how mind-blowingly huge the US national debt was.

Imagine you were in a vault with the whole of America's national debt and you were told you could keep each dollar you initialled. Say too, for the sake of argument, that you could initial one dollar bill each second and that you worked straight through without stopping. How long do you think it would take you to count a trillion dollars? Go on, humour me and take a guess. Twelve weeks? Five years?

If you initialled one dollar per second, you would make $1000 ever 17 minutes. After twelve days of non-stop effort you would acquire your first million. Thus it would take 120 days to accumulate $10 million and 1,200 days - something over three years - to reach $100 million. After 31.7 years you would become a billionaire, and after almost a thousand years you would be as wealthy as Bill Gates. But not until after 31,709.8 years would you count your trillionth dollar.

As Bryson says, it's difficult to comprehend numbers. They're the definition of subjective. 530 skittles? Not so much. 530 corpses? There aren't words. If nightline wants to dedicate 17 minutes of programming to make the nation think about the numbers, what's the problem?
powered by web hosting provider