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Jan 15, 2016 - Uncategorized    No Comments

I’ll get you next time, Powerball

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A hopeful Barbara Lombardo prior to Wednesday night’s drawing.

I hate the Lottery.

I hate governments that cheerfully and powerfully promote this wasting of money.

I hate that governments pretend the rationale is to benefit education, as if education would not be funded through traditional taxes. Would sales drop if they said the betting covers toilet paper in public office buildings?

I hate when people throw away their pocket money on an investment that promises to pay off way better than a savings account, but is actually more likely to end up with a zero balance.

And yet, on Wednesday, I made it a point to plunk down two bucks for a shot in the almost $1.6 billion Powerball drawing.

A shot in the dark, that is.

I – and you – had a one in 292.2 million chance of hitting the jackpot for each ticket, according to the New York Times’ Daniel Victor, who provided the math (that is too complicated for anyone who hasn’t taken a Regents exam in the last five years) and put it in perspective. He wrote that if you put the names of every American (about 300 million) “in a giant bowl and selected one at random, the odds of picking President Obama are not far from the odds of winning the Powerball.”

Not to brag, but I picked Obama, twice.7c687debe61f4b5aca1f1465811bbd05

Okay, it was on a ballot, not in a bowl. But what I heard, Victor, is there’s a chance. Yeah! Jim Carrey couldn’t have said it better – though his odds of winning the girl of his dreams were only a mere one in a million.

I could write this column for any big drawing that captures the public’s imagination and I doubt that I won’t ever have to change the lead to “I WON! I WON! I WON!” I won’t be any richer than I was the before. In fact, I’ll be another two dollars in the hole. We all know it’s a sucker bet.

So what’s the pull of Powerball?

The fun of it.

The camaraderie that comes with holding one of more than 440 million tickets tucked into people’s wallets or fastened onto their refrigerators. The fantasy of getting something really huge for practically nothing. The ridiculous optimism that the New York Lottery targets: Hey, you never know. The fun of what you’d tell your boss (20-plus years ago, in a perfunctory pre-jackpot drawing newspaper story, my then-boss had two words in mind for his boss, and they weren’t “happy birthday”).

Besides, this time people won. Wednesday’s was the 20th Powerball drawing since the last time a winner was picked, back on Nov. 4, according to Reuters. The jackpot will be shared by the holders of three winning tickets, each worth about $528.8 million.

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Shattered dreams…

So what if, as CNN’s Jacque Wilton Smith reported this week in an article about Powerball, “You’re more likely to die from a bee sting (one in 6.1 million), be struck by lightning (one in 3 million) or have conjoined twins (one in 200,000).” (Wonder what those last odds are if you’re past child-bearing age – or male?)

“People keep playing,” he continued, “most likely because the thought of winning is much more fun that the thought of being attacked by a shark (one in 11.5 million).”

Very true, Jacque. But I have a cousin in Montreal who years ago was attacked by a shark in Florida and survived, all limbs intact. If he could beat the odds in the ocean, why not me at the corner store?

Jan 12, 2016 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

Hunger in Saratoga is real – and so are ways to help

Twice a month a cadre of volunteers deliver three days’ worth of no-frills food to people in Saratoga County who are homebound, shut in, or otherwise unable to pick up — let alone buy — basic groceries.

I’ve been a third-string back-up delivery driver ever since my adult sons were barely big enough to get their arms around the food-filled boxes. I wanted the boys to see that poverty and hunger are neither abstract nor far away – and that every person can do something concrete to help.

Together we headed down dirt roads to unnumbered trailers. We lumbered up creaky apartment steps and along hallways that hadn’t seen a paintbrush in years. We’d get buzzed into cheerful senior housing and knock on bell-less doors in mobile home parks.

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Volunteers prepare food for delivery at the Presbyterian-New England Congregational Church in Saratoga Springs

We left boxes where requested, sometimes on a clear kitchen table in a nicely kept apartment and sometimes on the frighteningly crammed counter of a hoarder. Occasionally we’d see a kid or two; more often we’d meet an old person grateful not just for a box of food but for a few minutes of company.

This past Saturday I participated in another part of the program, filling the boxes for delivery. It was quick and easy, because more than 30 people had responded to a call for helpers, even at 8 a.m. on a weekend.

“We usually have a core of 16 regulars, but we were down to eight,” explained Chuck Kochheiser, who runs this terrific program at the Presbyterian-New England Congregational Church and was heartened by the turnout. Read more »

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