Thursday, January 10, 2008

What's in a number?

One million (1,000,000). This a delusion-based figure representing the number of dollars in a "Pray (sic) For Damages" included in a pro se prisoner's civil rights complaint that crossed my desk during my clerkship with U.S. Magistrate Judge Hugh W. Brenneman, Jr. in the Western District of Michigan. The inmate's gripe, as I recall, had something to do with the quality of the bedding in his cell.

One billion, gagillion, fafillion, shabolubalu million illion yillion (numeric symbols unknown). This is a gag-based figure representing the number of yen contained in Dr. Evil's ransom demand to the world in the movie "Austin Powers in Goldmember." Quick side note for the uninitiated: Dr. Evil is frozen in the 1960s and thawed out in the late 90s. The movie characters zip between the two decades via time travel. Dr. Evil is bent on destroying the world unless his demands for cash are satisfied. Dr. Evil's first ransom demand after he is defrosted is $1 million (laughably small by 1997 standards). In a later movie, he time-travels to the 60s and demands $100 billion (that kind of money simply wasn't around back then).

Five trillion, eight hundred seventy eight billion, four hundred ninety nine million, eight hundred fourteen thousand, one hundred eighty six and one-half (5,878,499,814,186.5). This is a reality-based figure representing the number of miles a beam of light travels in a year - the light-year. Astronomers use this number to measure unfathomable interstellar distances. Proxima Centauri, the star closest to Earth, is 4.3 light-years away.

Three quadrillion, fourteen trillion, one hundred seventy billion, three hundred eighty nine million, one hundred seventy six thousand, four hundred ten (3,014,170,389,176,410). This is a frustration-based figure representing the amount of a claim filed against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the failure of flood walls and levees following Hurricane Katrina on Aug. 29, 2005.

The Associated Press reports that

Of roughly 489,000 total claims, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it has received 247 for at least $1 billion apiece, including the one for $3 quadrillion. ...

Some residents may have grossly exaggerated their claims to send a message to the corps, which has accepted blame for poorly designing the failed levees. ...

Little is known about the person who claimed $3 quadrillion. It was filed in Baker, 93 miles northwest of New Orleans. Baker is far from the epicenter of Katrina's destruction, but the city has a trailer park where hundreds of evacuees have lived since the storm.
And it's not just residents who are seeking astronomical figures. The Big Easy itself has a claim pending for $77 billion. Area-wide, insured losses are estimated at $60 billion and Gulf Coast states are looking at a $125 billion bill.

The claims cut-off was Aug. 29, 2007 but the Corps says claims are still being filed - 100 or so in the last three weeks.

Some of the numbers may be fanciful but they sure don't lie.

They're still hurting out there, folks.

1 comment:

Maria said...


I wonder the numbers are for how many claims have been settled, how much has been spent on clean up, how much has been spent on rebuilding, etc in the 862 days since?

My sister, niece, daughter and I spent a few days there helping to gut and build houses this past June and the city was still very ghosttownish in much of the affected areas.