Sunday, January 28, 2007

In The Bleak Midwinter

I am a bit distracted in typing up these rather long life-update posts right now, as the heaviest snowfall of the season is softly blanketing the area outside.

Those who know me well also know my feelings on winter (and all cold weather in general if we define "cold" as "anywhere south of sixty degrees"), which can be a bit contradictory at times, I suppose. I generally am ill-suited to the cold and I always dread dealing with it year after year, yet at the same time I have no problem whatsoever with snow on the ground during the holidays ... it's just that it can basically piss off for the other 50 weeks of the year for all I care. :)

I can make adjustments in my loathing, however, if a significant snowfall should arrive on a day when I am off work (like today) and provide a kind of mellowing, beautiful counterpart to a relaxing, cozy afternoon and evening. There is something quietly hypnotic and serene in a thick, billowing storm of fluffy white that has always soothed me even when I'm stuck in the middle of a 40 MPH conga line on Route 2. The peaceful, striking sight somehow makes dealing with the stuff tolerable as it's coming down, but always ready to become a grating nuisance the instant it stops.

Heading downstairs now to take in some more of the sight. More updating later.

P.S. - Of course, as our lake effect snow warning appears to be extending into the work week as I type this, I fully expect these warm happy fuzzy feelings to quickly vanish the instant I rise for work on Tuesday morning. Such is life.

NP David Axelrod Song Of Innocence

Friday, January 19, 2007

What $1.2 Trillon Can Buy

Nowhere near 1.2 trillion dollars(The following article was shamelessly swiped from the online edition of The New York Times.)

What $1.2 Trillion Can Buy

By David Leonhardt
Published: January 17, 2007

The human mind isn’t very well equipped to make sense of a figure like $1.2 trillion. We don’t deal with a trillion of anything in our daily lives, and so when we come across such a big number, it is hard to distinguish it from any other big number. Millions, billions, a trillion — they all start to sound the same.

The way to come to grips with $1.2 trillion is to forget about the number itself and think instead about what you could buy with the money. When you do that, a trillion stops sounding anything like millions or billions.

For starters, $1.2 trillion would pay for an unprecedented public health campaign — a doubling of cancer research funding, treatment for every American whose diabetes or heart disease is now going unmanaged and a global immunization campaign to save millions of children’s lives.

Combined, the cost of running those programs for a decade wouldn’t use up even half our money pot. So we could then turn to poverty and education, starting with universal preschool for every 3- and 4-year-old child across the country. The city of New Orleans could also receive a huge increase in reconstruction funds.

The final big chunk of the money could go to national security. The recommendations of the 9/11 Commission that have not been put in place — better baggage and cargo screening, stronger measures against nuclear proliferation — could be enacted. Financing for the war in Afghanistan could be increased to beat back the Taliban’s recent gains, and a peacekeeping force could put a stop to the genocide in Darfur.

All that would be one way to spend $1.2 trillion. Here would be another:

The war in Iraq.

In the days before the war almost five years ago, the Pentagon estimated that it would cost about $50 billion. Democratic staff members in Congress largely agreed. Lawrence Lindsey, a White House economic adviser, was a bit more realistic, predicting that the cost could go as high as $200 billion, but President Bush fired him in part for saying so.

These estimates probably would have turned out to be too optimistic even if the war had gone well. Throughout history, people have typically underestimated the cost of war, as William Nordhaus, a Yale economist, has pointed out.

But the deteriorating situation in Iraq has caused the initial predictions to be off the mark by a scale that is difficult to fathom. The operation itself — the helicopters, the tanks, the fuel needed to run them, the combat pay for enlisted troops, the salaries of reservists and contractors, the rebuilding of Iraq — is costing more than $300 million a day, estimates Scott Wallsten, an economist in Washington.

That translates into a couple of billion dollars a week and, over the full course of the war, an eventual total of $700 billion in direct spending.

The two best-known analyses of the war’s costs agree on this figure, but they diverge from there. Linda Bilmes, at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate and former Clinton administration adviser, put a total price tag of more than $2 trillion on the war. They include a number of indirect costs, like the economic stimulus that the war funds would have provided if they had been spent in this country.

Mr. Wallsten, who worked with Katrina Kosec, another economist, argues for a figure closer to $1 trillion in today’s dollars. My own estimate falls on the conservative side, largely because it focuses on the actual money that Americans would have been able to spend in the absence of a war. I didn’t even attempt to put a monetary value on the more than 3,000 American deaths in the war.

Besides the direct military spending, I’m including the gas tax that the war has effectively imposed on American families (to the benefit of oil-producing countries like Iran, Russia and Saudi Arabia). At the start of 2003, a barrel of oil was selling for $30. Since then, the average price has been about $50. Attributing even $5 of this difference to the conflict adds another $150 billion to the war’s price tag, Ms. Bilmes and Mr. Stiglitz say.

The war has also guaranteed some big future expenses. Replacing the hardware used in Iraq and otherwise getting the United States military back into its prewar fighting shape could cost $100 billion. And if this war’s veterans receive disability payments and medical care at the same rate as veterans of the first gulf war, their health costs will add up to $250 billion. If the disability rate matches Vietnam’s, the number climbs higher. Either way, Ms. Bilmes says, “It’s like a miniature Medicare.”

In economic terms, you can think of these medical costs as the difference between how productive the soldiers would have been as, say, computer programmers or firefighters and how productive they will be as wounded veterans. In human terms, you can think of soldiers like Jason Poole, a young corporal profiled in The New York Times last year. Before the war, he had planned to be a teacher. After being hit by a roadside bomb in 2004, he spent hundreds of hours learning to walk and talk again, and he now splits his time between a community college and a hospital in Northern California.

Whatever number you use for the war’s total cost, it will tower over costs that normally seem prohibitive. Right now, including everything, the war is costing about $200 billion a year.
Treating heart disease and diabetes, by contrast, would probably cost about $50 billion a year. The remaining 9/11 Commission recommendations — held up in Congress partly because of their cost — might cost somewhat less. Universal preschool would be $35 billion. In Afghanistan, $10 billion could make a real difference. At the National Cancer Institute, annual budget is about $6 billion.

“This war has skewed our thinking about resources,” said Mr. Wallsten, a senior fellow at the Progress and Freedom Foundation, a conservative-leaning research group. “In the context of the war, $20 billion is nothing.”

As it happens, $20 billion is not a bad ballpark estimate for the added cost of Mr. Bush’s planned surge in troops. By itself, of course, that price tag doesn’t mean the surge is a bad idea. If it offers the best chance to stabilize Iraq, then it may well be the right option.

But the standard shouldn’t simply be whether a surge is better than the most popular alternative — a far-less-expensive political strategy that includes getting tough with the Iraqi government. The standard should be whether the surge would be better than the political strategy plus whatever else might be accomplished with the $20 billion.

This time, it would be nice to have that discussion before the troops reach Iraq.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

(Youtube): "Ya Gotta Respect The Ice, Georgie"

We haven't really had to deal with winter yet, though it appears some people on the West Coast are having one hell of a lousy time with it.

Here is some footage of a few people who can't seem to maneuver their SUV's very well on a very icy hill in Oregon the other day.

Watch the tail lights: one guys rides his brakes all the way down the damn hill. Derrrr.

Amazing. Not to mention more than a little sad.

Record Den Top 100 Sellers Of 2006

On An Island

10,000 Days
2. TOOL 10,000 Days

Stadium Arcadium
3. RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS Stadium Arcadium


Broken Boy Soldiers
5. THE RACONTEURS Broken Boy Soldiers

6. WOLFMOTHER Wolfmother

Savior Sorrow
7. MUSHROOMHEAD Savior Sorrow

Living With War
8. NEIL YOUNG Living With War

Pearl Jam
9. PEARL JAM Pearl Jam

Back To Mono
10. PHIL SPECTOR Back To Mono

A Matter Of Life And Death
11. IRON MAIDEN A Matter Of Life And Death

The Eraser
12. THOM YORKE The Eraser

Sam's Town
13. THE KILLERS Sam's Town

Greatest Hits
14. NEIL YOUNG Greatest Hits

Live At The Fillmore East
15. NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE Live At The Fillmore East

Magic Potion
16. THE BLACK KEYS Magic Potion

Face The Promise
17. BOB SEGER Face The Promise



The Dark Side Of The Moon
20. PINK FLOYD The Dark Side Of The Moon

21. DONALD FAGEN Morph The Cat
22. BOB DYLAN Modern Times
23. SHAGGY 2 DOPE Fuck The Fuck Off!
24. PINK FLOYD Wish You Were Here
25. AUDIOSLAVE Revelations
27. GEORGE HARRISON Living In The Material World
28. TOM PETTY Highway Companion
29. THE DIXIE CHICKS Taking The Long Way
30. BEYONCE Bday
31. QUEENSRYCHE Operation Mindcrime II
32. INCUBUS Light Grenades
33. A.F.I. Decemberunderground
34. GNARLS BARKLEY St. Elsewhere
35. THE FLAMING LIPS At War With The Mystics
36. EVANESCENCE The Open Door
37. THE NEW CARS It's Alive
38. THE BEATLES The Capitol Albums, Volume 2
39. T.I. King
40. THE STROKES First Impressions Of Earth
41. MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE The Black Parade
42. SLAYER Christ Illusion
43. MUSE Black Holes And Revelations
44. KEANE Under The Iron Sea
45. BECK The Information
46. ANGELS AND AIRWAVES We Don't Have To Whisper
47. MADROX Phatso
48. JAMES BLUNT Back To Bedlam
49. PINK FLOYD Animals
50. DEFTONES Saturday Night Wrist
51. LAMB OF GOD Sacrament
52. MORRISSEY Ringleader Of The Tormentors
53. RAY DAVIES Other People's Lives
54. JOHNNY CASH I Walk The Line
55. JET Shine On
56. THE MARS VOLTA Amputechture
57. HINDER Extreme Behavior
58. TOM WAITS Orphans
60. NICKELBACK All The Right Reasons
61. VAN MORRISON The Best Of Van Morrison
62. TODD RUNDGREN Something/Anything
63. TEDDY GEIGER Underage Thinking
64. SHE WANTS REVENGE She Wants Revenge
65. THE KILLERS Hot Fuss
66. THE PRETENDERS The Pretenders
67. SNOW PATROL Eyes Open
69. ROB ZOMBIE Educated Horses
71. OASIS Stop The Clocks
72. SUFJAN STEVENS Songs For Christmas
73. THE WHO Endless Wire
74. TWISTED SISTER Twisted Christmas
76. JOHN MAYER Continuum
77. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions
78. JOE SATRIANI Super Colossal
79. ARCTIC MONKEYS Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I Am
80. 30 SECONDS TO MARS A Beautiful Lie
82. THE BEATLES Abbey Road
83. THE BLACK KEYS Chulahoma
84. MATTHEW SWEET & SUSANNA HOFFS Under The Covers Vol. 1
85. EMINEM Curtain Call: The Hits
86. BOB SEGER Greatest Hits
87. THE CARS Greatest Hits
88. VARIOUS ARTISTS Eminem Presents: The Re-Up
89. MICHAEL STANLEY The Farrago Sessions
90. R.E.M. The Best Of The IRS Years: 1982-1987
91. JOHNNY CASH American V: A Hundred Highways
93. LES CLAYPOOL Of Whales And Woe
94. PEEPING TOM Peeping Tom
95. PRINCE 3121
96. THE PRETENDERS Pirate Radio
97. FALL OUT BOY From Under The Cork Tree
98. RUSH The Spirit Of Radio
100. PINK FLOYD Meddle