Thursday, August 16, 2007

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

I recently saw an old boyhood friend whom I hadn't really talked to in about forty years or more. He's now a serious math & stats prof with an Ivy League degree whose specialty is probability. He's the go-to guy whenever the media need a quote or sound bite about the lottery: "Your chances of hitting the lottery are...", that kind of thing. David Mamet has a probability friend too (they're all the rage now) and in Bambi vs Godzilla he cites his friend who told Mamet that the chances of buying a winning lottery ticket are not significantly different to finding the winning lottery ticket lying in the street. So save the buck.

Yeah, I know, I still buy them anyway.

Because I have faith. You know what faith is, don't you Susan: "Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to." If that sounds familiar, it's because you hear it every year during the gifting season. Thank you George Seaton and "Miracle On 34th Street".

Not only do I have faith that I'm going to win, I have faith that I'm going to win BIG.

See, that's what I get for the buck.

Like the ad says, you get to dream. And my dreams
involve money. Wait a minute, that's Mamet again. In the Spanish Prisoner, Ricky Jay's character says: "We must never forget that we are human, and as humans we dream, and when we dream, we dream of money." Okay so my dreams involve leather as well money but I have a shallow fantasy life, so never mind.

And while not quite like Pascal's Wager, in the end, what do I have to lose? A couple of bucks that I probably would have spent on Purdy's English Toffee (just sooo good.) And if you factor that couple of bucks a week over twenty or thirty years with the miracle of compound interest what do I end up with?

Paying one more month of the night nurse's salary so she can sail through the cryptic crossword (in pen) while pretending not to hear me gasp for air as I croak out a vale dictum and the shemah?

I'll take the dream.

And that's why the lottery works, why they can give millions away and still rake in the dough. Because they're not selling you lottery tickets, bucko, they're in the dream business. And as Hollywood and every dope dealer know, the dream business can be very, very lucrative.

I better go check my numbers.

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