eight to sixteen McMansions
Sunday, January 8 2006
I saw a headline today claiming that the total cost of this second Iraq War, just to the United States, will run somewhere between one and two trillion dollars. The operative word here isn't one, two, or dollars. It is trillion. (Shouldn't trillion always be capitalized?) This figure takes into account the expense of rehabilitating wounded soldiers, the damage to the American economy, and other expenses beyond those things that end up in budgets.
Later today when I was talking about this with Gretchen, the magnitude of this figure sent me in search of a better way to visualize it. I'd long heard that $100,000 in $100 bills (the highest US currency available) fits in a standard briefcase, and that this is why $100,000 is a common figure for untraceable transactions. On the web, though, I found that one million dollars will actually fit within a volume of 643 cubic inches, or somewhat more than a third of a cubic foot. That's about half of a typical 1400 cubic inch brief case.
But my line of thinking here really wasn't about briefcases, it was focused instead on houses, particularly our house. I wanted to know how much money our house could hold if it were crammed from slab to rafters with $100 bills, and how its burning down with that much money inside of it would compare to the waste of the Iraq war. The usable square footage of our house is usually given as 4200 square feet, a typical size for a starter McMansion. But that figure doesn't include things like bathrooms, closets, the garage, and shop area. And much of the upstairs space has low ceilings due to the fact that they come all the way to the floor along either wall. So I calculated the volume of the house to be 4200 square feet multiplied by an average ceiling height of 10 feet. That's 42,000 cubic feet. Multiply that by the amount of money that will fit in a cubic foot ($3 million) and you get a figure of 126 billion dollars, or about a third of what has already been budgeted for Iraq.
To equal the waste of American treasure caused by the Iraq war, killing no one and costing Iraq and our "coalition" nothing, would require 8 to 16 McMansions crammed with $100 bills, a gallon of gasoline, and a single disposable cigarette lighter.
While we were busy quantifying things, Gretchen and I decided to take accurate measurements of each others' heights. For years I'd thought that the five foot nine inch height I'd been giving on my driver's license was an exaggeration and that I was closer to five foot eight. But today's measurement revealed my height to be just a quarter inch shy of five foot ten, nearly two inches more than I'd suspected. Honestly, I think I must have grown since I was last measured. As for Gretchen, she is a 5/8ths of an inch shy of five foot four. We left the lines of our heights there on the wall so we can marvel at them years from now when we stagger about with the assistance of canes.
Whatever intestinal ailment plagued me yesterday seemed to have vanished by today. I'll spare you the details of what was happening and what wasn't, but suffice it to say everything was behaving in a healthy manner. Unfortunately, though, the intermittent low-frequency tinnitus in my left ear has become more persistent. But perhaps there really is a hum somewhere in the house; I haven't noticed the "tinnitus" when I've been in other places (or even in the laboratory).
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