Opinion Columns & Blogs

What’s in a number? Many things

Journalists have a distinct penchant for placing enormous numbers into everyday perspective. For example, a million seconds is 12 days; a billion seconds is 31 years; a trillion seconds is 31,688 years.

Instead of time, though, let’s use distance to quantify a trillion. A trillion $1 bills (a number our government leisurely tosses out in talking about debt) laid end-to-end would stretch from the Earth to the sun — with change to spare. If you stacked $1,000 bills to equal a trillion bucks, the stack would be 67.9 miles high.

I got to thinking about numbers and everyday applications the other day after reading that The Associated Press now offers a moment-to-moment update on how many gallons of oil are spilling into the Gulf of Mexico.

As of Wednesday (when BP, after 85 days, was to begin testing its cap on the gusher), the amount of oil thought to have erupted was 182-plus million gallons, according to the AP Oil Spillmeter — 171 million gallons more than the Exxon Valdez disaster.

What does that mean? Well, you can fill 2 billion 12-ounce cans with that amount, which comes down to 6.3 cans for every person in the United States.

At $73 a barrel, BP has allowed $317 million in oil to pollute the Gulf. My questions are: How many billions of dollars will it take to rebuild the ecosystem and economy of the Gulf and afflicted states? How much time? A billion seconds?

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OK, those numbers are as disheartening as they are frustrating as we watch from afar. But, closer to home, here’s a number for which we can be grateful: $25,000. That’s how much Richard and Gloria Cowles of Arroyo Grande have generously donated to Ride-On’s veteran shuttle.

If you’ve followed this space, you’re aware that the shuttle — a service that takes vets to Santa Maria, where they get rides to medical appointments at Santa Barbara and Los Angeles VA hospitals — was running out of money last month.

When word got out that $26,000 was needed to keep the shuttle running through next year, a variety of angels stepped forward. One such guardian was a semi-anonymous gentleman named Dell who immediately cut a $10,000 check with a pledge of $16,000 more.

According to Mark Shaffer, executive director of Ride-On, others stepped up to the plate with a wide variety of denominations. Bless you all.

And then there are the Cowles. Other than wanting to know whether a donation is tax-deductible (it most assuredly is), they simply, humbly added that Richard is a World War II veteran.

Their $25,000 gift arrived at Ride-On this week, which means the service has almost two years of operating capital raised strictly through the local generosity of those looking out for our veterans in need.

With that in mind, my question remains: What are Reps. Lois Capps and Kevin McCarthy doing at the federal level to finance this most needed service? Don’t those who gave their minds and bodies for our country deserve their attention?

After all, we’re not talking trillions here.

Bill Morem can be reached at bmorem@thetribunenews.com or 781-7852.