I HAVE just read average debt levels in Britain have risen to an all-time high of nearly 140 per cent of income, twice the level they reached in the 1980s. Britons have borrowed 1.3 trillion pounds, making their country one of the most indebted nations in the world. And that was before the New Year sales.
But how much exactly is a trillion?
In the UK, a billion (from bi meaning two) has twice as many zeros as a million, a trillion (tri meaning three) has three times as many zeros. So, a trillion in the UK is a one followed by 18 zeros. To confuse the issue, in the United States they have simplified things so George W Bush can understand and ignore just how much the Iraq war is costing. A trillion dollars there is a million million dollars, the number one followed by 12 zeros. For the purpose of this article I will play with US currency, noting the Iraq war is projected to cost at least 1.2 trillion of their dollars, give or take a few bucks.
One trillion US dollars, in dollar bills, would stretch from the Earth to the Sun but journalist Leonard Hardt in the New York Times suggested the way to come to grips with $1.2 trillion is to forget about the number itself and think 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 three and four-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.
The war in Iraq is another.
The poet and critic Al Alvarez observes in his latest book Risky Business that the card game poker is “social Darwinism in its purest, most brutal form: the weak go under and the fittest survive through calculation, insight, self-control, deception, plus an unwavering determination never to give a sucker an even break.” When I first read this description I thought Alvarez was referring to modern British politics, which takes as a given most of us are suckers and they, our elected leaders, can do with impunity almost anything they choose.
Last week Herr Blair refused to answer journalists’ questions about the Cash for Honours affair, saying it would be “wrong” to do so while the police were investigating. Don’t you think it might also have been “wrong” to have gone to war in Iraq, Tony, based on a pack of lies? The heir-apparent, Gordon Brown, when asked to comment on the alleged cover-up in the cash-for-honours investigation, said it would be “inappropriate” to comment. What would be “appropriate?”
PM Blair, through his mate the Attorney General, has also managed to snuff out the enquiry into illegal payments to Saudi Arabian officials, claiming that to publish them would be “harmful to the national interest.” When asked recently whether he would resign before the end of his term he told the House: “No, I will stay on in the national interest.” One wonders that when he does not want to make love to Cherie he tells her: “Not tonight, darling. It is not in the national interest.”
Last week I paid 350 euros for a dead cat. This expenditure was not to purchase the corpse of a rare snow leopard but merely to buy our own unfortunate animal back from the vet so we could bury it under a chestnut tree, rather than have it finish in a rubbish dump down on the coast.
The cat happened to get sick on the Saturday of the same weekend that nature dropped ten inches of snow on our area. Our car was stuck in a snowdrift and we only managed to get to an emergency vet late on Sunday afternoon. The cat was having trouble breathing when we finally laid it on the examining table but, instead of immediately going to it, the vet turned on his computer and we had to undergo fifteen minutes of electronic form-filling. This involved us supplying enough personal data to get a security clearance to the United States. We had finally to ask him to get off the frigging computer and have a look at the cat. After a bit of prodding and listening with in with his stethoscope he told us the cat was not well and we should leave him at the surgery for a few days for tests. We declined the offer, paid over 70 euros and left saying we hoped his computer got bird flu.
We took the cat to our regular vet the next day but after 72 hours in captivity at 40 euros a night, not including breakfast, our poor puss succumbed to his illness and we were called down to pick up the remains and settle the bill. We noted our vet does not seem to have a computer, or at least only uses one in the privacy of her own home.
The current practice of doctors and other medical professionals being more interested in getting down your details electronically than actually examining you is rather alarming. Next time I go to see my doctor I am going to take my laptop with me and suggest we interface. The doc will probably tell me that my internal battery is suspect and that my memory is failing. I will be able to tell him that his liver is enlarged and that he should do something about his gout.
I realize medical records are important but when an MD’s computer skills are more important than a good bed-side manner then we are in trouble. Also in Britain, they now face the appalling prospect that everyone’s confidential medical records are to be uploaded automatically onto a national database and be accessible to goodness knows whom. Probably the US Bureau of Homeland Security for starters.
The Department of Health claims the new central computer will “improve health care for millions as well as saving lives.” At a cost of 12 billion pounds. What a load of bullshit. If the thought of your confidential medical records being accessible to almost anyone worries you, have a look at www.thebigoptout.com
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