Damon Runyon once said that all life was six to five against. I haven't decided yet whether Runyon was being optimistic — myself, I'm lucky to face five to two most of the time — but the important thing to remember was that it doesn't come out even.

That said, though, there are apparently millions of people who believe, at some level, that they can beat the odds, a situation which routinely fills the coffers of states which impose a tax on stupidity in the form of a state lottery. This isn't any kind of Thou Shalt Not Have Any Fun moral argument here, either; it's simply that to make the maximum amount of money from the game, the state has to retain as much of the imcoming money as possible, which reduces the potential payoff, which in turn makes buying a ticket that much poorer a bet. Does this mean you shouldn't go play Powerball? Of course not. But if by merely possessing a handful of tickets you feel empowered to go set up a trust fund and start negotiating for your chalet in Gstaad, you're loonier than I am.

And you don't have to be a gamer (which we used to call "gambler") to run afoul of probabilities. At least part of the reason why Toyota and Honda manage to move some 800,000 midsize sedans every year is that the Camry and the Accord are generally high on somebody's reliability chart — usually Consumers Union's. This does not mean that every last one of these cars is going to be bulletproof. You and I know this. You and I, however, aren't the ones wailing on message boards about how despite their best efforts and their superior research, they wound up with something with that subtle hint of citrus. (Me, I like those cars, but I'd rather drive something else.)

Finally, there's the whole question of life insurance. At its very core, you're betting some company that you're going to croak within X amount of time. Of course, you are going to croak at some point, and not just because you have all these things with a lifetime warranty, but there's still something a trifle disqueting about the concept, something I will probably not be in a position to mention while my kids divvy up the proceeds from my 401(k).

The Vent

1 February 2000

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