You pay local and (mostly) Federal taxes but where does it all go? Maybe you blow a tire on an interstate highway that’s full of potholes and needs fixing, lament the condition of your kid’s school, and shake your head as Dubya’ and his legions continue to divvy up the take to pay for their war agenda. But how much money is that taking off the table that could have been put to less destructive use? Perhaps not the best examples, but putting abstract numbers in perspective is difficult and that’s where Many Eyes and GapMinder come in.

For instance, this illustration showing the relative US Government spending since 2004 starts putting Fed spending in sharp focus. (Hint: the big blue circle is the 1,102 billion spend on the Department of Defense; the smaller circles are everything else.)

This chart (and illustrations from many other data sets) was generated by Many Eyes, a just-out-of-alpha experimental project at IBM. You can enter and chart your own data as well using more than 15 different visual models, like these Wordle charts that Wired used to parse the speeches at the Democratic National Convention.

Not that I’m trying to make a statement about the distorted, nay criminal, priorities of our country’s political leadership (sic). I do, however, gravitate to visualizing data so I can understand what’s going on.

Another source  outstanding data visualization toolset comes from GapMinder, a company that Google acquired last year. Though you can’t make your own charts — yet —  they’ve provided some pretty good examples. Like this interactive chart of real estate prices, sub-prime loans, unemployment and population from 2000 through 2006. If nothing else it paints a pretty picture of some grim numbers and in the process argues even more persuasively for regime change.