Suffering from Triskaidekatwinkia

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By John Pawlak

Twelve trillion bottles of beer on the wall, 12 trillion bottles of beer. You take one down and toss it around and before you know it, you’ll see 13 trillion bottles up there!  No, no, no, I shouldn’t use beer in this analogy.  The last thing I would ever want to do is bad mouth beer.  

What I wanted to talk about is dollars and yes, the nearly inconceivable has happened again.  Our national debt has hit yet another trillion dollar mark.  As news stations continued to focus on the Gulf oil spill, violence in Gaza and mounting tensions between North and South Korea, our national debt quietly crept over $13 trillion.

Thirteen trillion.  That’s a big number and much bigger when you are talking dollars.  Then again, the dollar isn’t what it used to be.  If the world market continues to deteriorate, we might be able to barter off that debt for a small chest of trinkets and a few cases of cigarettes.

Anyway, as I’ve said before, a trillion is a big number.  I know that it gets tiring to hear about this, so maybe I should only rant about the national debt every time we hit another trillion-dollar mark.  Of course, that’s getting more and more common these days

The real problem with the national debt is that it’s so big, it’s no longer scary.  It’s kind of like comparing the sun to a volcanic eruption.  Volcanoes can be pretty terrifying, but who’s afraid of the sun?  Sure, it’s 800,000 miles wide and those cute little solar flares up there can be equivalent to 20 million atomic bombs. But who’s afraid of a solar flare?

It seems that 12 zeroes numb the brain.  A trillion (1,000,000,000,000) is a million million, or a thousand billion.  These numbers mean nothing to the average person.  A billion?  Isn’t that what we spend in Iraq every three days?  So what?  Well, a billion $1 bills would be a stack about 68 miles high.  A trillion pennies would form a copper cube over half a mile wide.  A trillion seconds is about 32,000 years.  

Scary?  No, of course not.  

Well, that’s okay.  Most people can barely comprehend a thousand, much less a million million.  It’s hard to be afraid of a bunch of zeroes.  The human brain just isn’t equipped to handle numbers like 13 trillion.

After all, the national debt is more than twice the number of brain cells in your head.  Maybe we should just be happy we don’t have bigger brains?

Okay, so pennies and dollars don’t quite cut it.  

How about something our brains are designed to comprehend better?  You know, like perhaps, Twinkies?  Yeah, let’s look at 13 trillion Twinkies.

The Hostess Company bakes 500,000,000 Twinkies a year, so it would take you 26,000 years to bake 13 trillion.  

A thirteen trillion pound Twinkie would be 3 1/2 miles long.  Thirteen trillion Twinkies would cover a football field with a 184 mile-high creme-filled sponge.  If you ate 100 Twinkies every second of the day, it would take you more than 4,000 years to get through those 1

3 trillion Twinkies.

Think about it ... a national debt of 13 trillion Twinkies!  That’s

53 times more than the total number of burgers sold by McDonald’s in the past 70 years.

Perhaps this is a better way to get people’s attention.  Would people be bothered by a debt of 13 trillion Twinkies? Would it bother you to know that every man, woman and child in the United States owes the government 42,000 Twinkies?  You have three kids?  Well then, your family owes the government 210,000 Twinkies.  Are you ready to start baking?

So what’s the solution?  Or indeed, is there a solution?  Does this country have the fortitude (or sweet tooth) required to fight off 13 trillion Twinkies?

Triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number 13.  Perhaps being in debt for 13,131,313,131,313 Twinkies would do the trick for most people?  If that’s not scary enough, then let’s just wait until we hit 14 trillion.  Maybe I should then write about 14 trillion White Castle burgers?