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Big Numbers (but not astronomical) - In the Shadow of Leaves
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Big Numbers (but not astronomical)
bellatrys on Nothing New Under The Sun (the ARX acta diurna) tries to help us get things in perspective.
USA Census: What 298 Million looks like (21-Jan-2006)
First, download this PDF ( oddlots.digitalspace.net/ARX/downloads/100k.pdf ). It contains 100k dots in approx 5pt type (Times Roman), arranged in blocks of 1000 (4 columns of 25 blocks = 100,000) on an 8.5 x 11 sheet of digital paper (standard US letter - slightly different to A4) thanks to the wonders of step-and-repeat.
Then, get 6 reams of paper and print out the "100k" pdf onto all but 2 of them. You will now have one dot for every person in the United States, as of the latest census estimates (www.census.gov/main/www/popclock.html), give or take a few ten thousand.
— No, don't really go print off 6 reams of dots, wasting toner and paper. But stack up six reams and look at them, (but don't drop them on your foot, paper=wood), six blocks of 500 sheets, and imagine every one of them covered in all those tiny dots, and every dot standing for a name, as if microfiched down in a spy story... [more]
[NOTE: I highly recommend this writer, and blog. There is very much good analysis & information in it; this little note is just a small thing that caught my imagination, like this this in Hello Cruel World, a while back now.]

A comparable Australian number
Imagine each of those dots is an Australian dollar note — if you can remember what they looked like — or dollar coin. Don't leave off those last two pages, making up the full 300 sheets. That's the amount of money that our wheat farmers (and other taxpayers, I suspect, less directly) paid supposedly to transport our wheat exported to Iraq under the "Oil for Food" program. These were seen as payments to 'facilitate' the process (= bribes) by the Australian Wheat Board (now a private company called AWB), which was iffy enough, but is often seen as the price of dealing with "different cultures". (I won't discuss that problem here.)

It turns out, however, to have been funneled fairly straight to the higher levels of Saddam Hussein's regime, rather than the standard excuse that bribes support poorly-paid lower levels of the government. Whether much of it went towards supporting their extravagant way of life, got socked away in secret overseas bank accounts, paid the army & secret police, or was spent on armaments is probably less important than just the fact that it didn't go into the "Oil for Food" program to buy food, medicine or public health works for the general Iraqi public, whose sufferings were used for propaganda by their regime. The population of Iraq is somewhat larger than the population of Australia, which is 20 million people, but not huge (Iraq is about one-third the area of New South Wales, or twice the area of Victoria). So $300M would buy a fair amount to spread among them. At least it seems they did get the wheat in good condition. One hopes it made some difference to the people's hunger.

Moodiness: numb numb

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