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How many favorite numbers do you have? April 18, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Blog regulars know that our friend Ben loves the lottery, the cheapest form of hope. For less than the price of a Coke or a pack of gum, I can buy a ticket that holds the promise of financial freedom. It’s great motivation to get out of bed in the morning.

This morning, I noticed that my ticket contained an ad for another lottery game called Quinto. It announced, “Pick your five favorite numbers. If you have an exact match, you win $50,000!” Reading this made me wonder, “Do I have five favorite numbers?!!”

It’s sort of like asking someone to pick their five favorite letters. It might be kind of fun (and revealing) to pick your five favorite words. But numbers, like letters, are just means to an end. In the case of letters, that end is words, things with meaning(s) and, usually, layers of meaning. In the case of numbers, the end is just more numbers.

At a guess, if people had to pick favorite numbers, most would choose 7 and 11, the “lucky” numbers. But beyond that? Do you have five favorite numbers?

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The cheapest form of hope. March 24, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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“He that can have patience, can have what he will.”

—Benjamin Franklin

Our friend Ben isn’t sure that I agree with our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, on this one. The ugly old guy is unlikely to get the beautiful young girl unless he’s rich and powerful and she’s shallow and greedy, however patient he is. The person who can barely add 2+2 without a calculator is unlikely to become the next Einstein, however patient he is. A techno-idiot like me is unlikely to become the next Elon Musk or Larry Page or Mark Zuckerberg, however patient I am. Patience will not make an aspiring writer into a bestselling novelist or even get them published (not even talent can do that, it’s all about platform, but I digress).

Perhaps Dr. Franklin would have hit closer to the mark by saying “The person who truly knows himself can have what he will.” I know a 90-year-old widower who wanted to go out with a bang. He bought a Camaro, started throwing his money around, doubtless stocked up on Viagra, and let it be known that he had $2 million in assets. Then he went after a much younger woman in financial distress who liked to wear vulgar clothes that showed every inch of cleavage and was, in complete opposition to him, totally uneducated. He’s been happily married and getting exactly what he wants ever since. He knew himself, much to the surprise and distress of his family, who only thought they knew who he was.

The person who truly knows him- or herself has something the rest of us lack, which is focus, as well as patience. The person who lusts after a scientific breakthrough like that 90-year-old lusted after a young, hot wife will spend a lifetime looking, and will not feel that one second has been wasted. Instead, they will feel a continuous rush of hope. Every day, when they get up, they might find the Higgs boson or the gravitational waves that followed the Big Bang and established our universe and so many others, or a cure for cancer. What a great motivation to get out of bed and get going!

Our friend Ben is not big on getting out of bed, especially in the ongoing cold and dark. (Curse you, Daylight Saving Time.) But one thing helps, and that’s lottery tickets. Every day, I have one lottery ticket, and it could buy me and my family and friends financial freedom for the rest of our lives. I always buy the ticket for the biggest payoff of the day, and I always buy just one, which means I spend $11 a week on lottery tickets. Many of my friends ridicule me for this, since to their minds it’s a total waste of money.

But for me, it’s priceless, since what I’m buying is hope. Sure, I could spend $11 a week on soda or convenience-store hotdogs or candy or gum or some other trash. (I’m not sure if you can even buy a pack of cigarettes for $11.) I could spend it going to a movie if I didn’t buy anything additional from the concession stand. I could spend it on a drink at a restaurant. And then it would be gone.

To my mind, waking up each day with the possibility of financial freedom before me, for just $11 a week, is the cheapest form of hope. As Ben Franklin says, I’m happy to be patient, for each day offers the same promise as the last. It’s hope I’m paying for, not a financial windfall. It would of course be fantastic to win. If I won enough to support myself and Silence Dogood and those we love, that would be a dream come true. To win more than that and be able to support or found causes we believe in would be a lifetime goal achieved. But even if we never win more than $2 or $5 or $11, it’s still a great reason to get up in the morning, because every morning brings a new opportunity for all the world to open.

I feel lucky. January 2, 2013

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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood were passing through Virginia yesterday and stopped for gas and a bathroom break at a convenient Sunoco station. On the way to the bathroom, we passed several large lottery-related signs, including one that noted that the Sunoco station had sold a ticket worth 2.5 million dollars. We’ve never seen anything like that in our adopted home state of Pennsylvania, so we guess our local lottery vendors haven’t been that lucky. Maybe we’ll be the first.

The other thing our friend Ben noted was that Virginia appeared to be considerably more forthcoming about one’s chances of winning big than Pennsylvania. The two remaining signs on the Sunoco wall, advertising the biggest lottery games, Powerball and MegaMillions, actually gave the chances of winning on the bottom of the posters. Again, this is something I’ve never seen in scenic PA.

So, what are your chances of winning the jackpot in either game? According to the posters, 1 in 176 million. Needless to say, this doesn’t sound too promising. But it gets worse. To put it in perspective, our friend Ben went to the website of the U.S. Census Bureau, which maintains an up-to-the-minute population “clock” of the U.S. According to the Bureau, as of today, January 2, 2013, the population of the U.S. was precisely 315,099,094. Double 176 million and you get 334 million. Which basically means that you have about as much chance of winning the grand prize in the country’s two biggest lotteries as half the population of the U.S. The odds aren’t exactly in your favor.

Nonetheless, somebody has to win. And as our friend Ben has often remarked, the lottery is the cheapest form of hope. Where else can you spend a dollar and have a chance of waking a millionaire? Silence and I think it’s harmless fun—certainly a far better use of a dollar than buying a candy bar or soda—as long as you only spend a dollar (or two, for the two-dollar tickets).

Gambling on the lottery to free you from financial misfortune is like thinking that ordering a margarita at the local cantina will make you Jimmy Buffett, with his devoted fan following, Caribbean lifestyle and estimated $404 million fortune. (Our friend Ben recently read that he was the third-wealthiest living musician, ranking behind Paul McCartney and Bono but ahead of Elton John and Mick Jagger.) And that, if the first margarita didn’t quite do it, maybe if you ordered 50 you’d find yourself in Margaritaville.

At least if you ordered 50 margaritas, you’d find yourself with something to show for it (such as a colossal hangover or a massive bill from the emergency room, or possibly the mortuary). If you put on your flip-flops and Hawaiian shirt, cranked up “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” and confined yourself to a couple of margaritas, you’d probably enjoy yourself. At worst, you’d think that maybe something a little less sickly sweet might be even better next time. (I suggest a Paloma.) But if you buy 50 tickets for the same lottery game, all you’re doing is throwing away $50 to $100 without significantly improving your odds of winning.

One ticket? Why not. More than one? Save your money. In this economy, you’re going to need it.

If you won the lottery… May 25, 2012

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“Silence! Are you thinking prosperous thoughts?”

“Ben, I’m always thinking prosperous thoughts. So… have we finally won anything?”

“Er.”

“Not again!”

“Oh well, there’s always tomorrow.”

Silence Dogood and our friend Ben are fortunate to live in a state that has a lottery. We consider it the cheapest form of hope. For less than the cost of a bottle of Coke or a candy bar, you can buy a ticket to financial freedom. We buy exactly one ticket a day, and first thing in the morning, we go online to see if we’ve finally won. We’re not morning people, so wondering if we’ve become instant millionaires is a great way to get us out of bed in the morning. And when we discover that, yet again, our ticket is not a winner, our spirits aren’t dampened, since, after all, there’s tomorrow’s ticket already waiting for its chance.

Admittedly, this is the only sort of gambling we indulge in. We don’t see much sense in sinking the minute amount of financial resources at our disposal into efforts that promise no more than our dollar-a-day lottery habit. But we do think that $7 a week invested toward our potential financial security is a better investment than, say, $20 spent for us to go out to a movie, which after all we can rent on Netflix along with bazillion others for $13 a month. Not to mention that in our state, Pennsylvania, the lottery directly supports services for the elderly, so our money is being used in a very good cause. 

Having lottery tickets on hand not only boosts our spirits, it’s a spur to self-knowledge and creative thinking. What would we do if we actually won? We like to split our plans into categories based on the amount of takehome money:

$500,000 or less: Pay off any debts, put the rest in the bank.

$600,000: Previous, plus buy new cars to replace the 240,000- and 180,000-mile models we bought used and drive now. This would be the first time we’d bought not-used cars in our lives. But we’d still probably stick to the VW Golf and Honda CRV that we know and love. If there was any money left over from that “extra” $100,000, we’d love to finally be able to travel, to Greece and Crete, by ship to Europe, to the Southwest and West Coast.

$1 million: Previous, plus upgrade from our tiny, falling-apart cottage home to one of the marvelous Colonial-era stone farmhouses with amazing outbuildings in our area. Um, who are we kidding? This would probably cost between $500,00 and $1 million-plus all by itself. But at least we could afford to fix our Hawk’s Haven homestead and get someone in for regular landscape and home maintenance.

$1.5-2 million: Maybe now we could get that gorgeous historic home, or at least finally be able to afford to live in and maintain OFB’s family’s National Historic Register home, Mile End, between Nashville and Franklin, Tennessee. 

$7 million, after taxes: We think this is the line in the sand for financial security in these times. Once we’d done all the things we needed with the interest income, we’d hopefully have lots left over to give our families and friends the gift of financial independence.

Anything more than $7 million: Yes!!! At last, a chance to create and contribute to scholarships, museums, college endowments, Native American and environmental causes, and everything else we think would be worth pursuing. A chance to give back to a world that has been so generous to us. We don’t need more than $7 million in the bank. Anything more than that is free money to give to help everyone else. If we get there, believe us, we’ll let you know!

Meanwhile, what would you do if you won the lottery?!

Playing the odds. June 9, 2011

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Our friend Ben was standing in line at our local grocery’s lottery line yesterday when the man in front of me asked for $20 in tickets—20 tickets—for today’s Cash 5 lottery game. Cash 5 has a smaller prize than, say, Powerball or MegaMillions, so presumably the odds of winning are higher. And the prize had crept up from its $125,000 baseline to over a million dollars. Our friend Ben could see why the man was excited.

When my turn came, I asked for a single ticket ($1) for the same Cash 5 game. “Just one?” the cashier asked. “It only takes one,” I answered. “That’s what they say,” said a guy in the next line. “But my wife and I never win anything.”

Well, neither do Silence Dogood and I. At least, not in terms of money. The odds against winning are, after all, astronomical. As our good friend Rudy once pointed out, “You have as much chance of winning as of having Skylab fall on your head.” Our friend Ben was extremely humiliated when someone pointed out that Skylab had actually returned to Earth several decades earlier, highlighting both Rudy’s sarcasm and my own ignorance. Ouch!

So why do we put our (single) dollar down? We try to buy a $1 lottery ticket every day. It’s not hard to do the math: That’s a $365 investment every year for what seems to be no return on investment, a total net loss. But our calculation is somewhat different: We’re investing $365 a year in pure, unadulterated hope.

To put this in perspective, let’s say you buy a coffee or latte or whatever from Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts on your way to work every morning, or grab a Coke or Pepsi from the vending machine or grocery cooler to enjoy with your lunch. More than $1? You betcha. What if you decide to go to the movies once a week with the kids? At $9-plus a ticket (let’s not even think about 3-D or iMAX), plus drinks, popcorn, and candy from the counter vendor, you’re talking about $80-plus for four. A week. Silence and I don’t spend our money on coffee, soda, or first-run movies (if we want to see them, we’ll catch them through Netflix later for $15/month for as many as we can watch). Instead, we spend our $365 a year buying hope. 

Our friend Ben thinks of the lottery as the cheapest form of hope. For only a dollar a day, you could win financial freedom for life! What other investment offers this sort of payback? Imagine spending a dollar a day for an elixir that would let you get up every morning thinking, “Today I might have won millions of dollars and never have to worry about anything ever again!” If you could bottle this, you’d make more money than Warren Buffett and Bill Gates combined.

Silence and our friend Ben are not what you’d call morning people, so it takes a lot to get us going in the morning. The promise of the lottery and financial independence really helps get us out of bed in a better frame of mind. And if, as usually happens, we don’t win? There’s always tomorrow. Another day, and hope renewed. It was just a dollar, after all, less than a single 16-ounce Coke. (And, as Silence points out, without the calories!) No disappointment, just eternal hope. We think that’s priceless.

Yes, you’re right if you think we failed to win today’s Cash 5 drawing. Our friend Ben hopes the guy who plumped down $20 on tickets won. But you can bet the prospect brightened our day, and we’re already looking forward to tomorrow.

So, if you won the lottery… September 21, 2009

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Silence Dogood here. I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of hearing how no one should play the lottery, because if you win, you’ll just blow all the money and end up a pathetic, burned-out wreck. I myself would love to have the chance to prove these bad-mouthers wrong.

Why, just this morning I won the lottery. My ticket won a whole $12. (When I mentioned this to our friend Ben, he started dancing around shouting “We’re rich! We’re stinkin’, filthy rich!!!” GRRRRR.)

So at noon, I took my winning ticket to the local grocery store where I’d bought it and cashed it in. With my winnings, I bought five cans of pinto beans (on sale for five for $3), three cans of kidney beans (also on sale for 85 cents a can), and a jar of oregano (I’d—gasp!!!—run out). Then I went to the post office and bought a sheet of stamps so I wouldn’t run out next time I had to pay bills.

All told, I think I spent my winnings pretty wisely. With those cans of beans, I’ll be able to make two batches of Silence’s Top Secret Disappearing Refried Beans (for the recipe, see our earlier post, “Fiesta Time! It’s Cinco de Mayo!”) and a big batch of my famous, or possibly infamous, Pumpkin Chili (the recipe’s in our “Weird, Wonderful Chili” post). They’ll be good for main courses, taco salad toppings, and dips, making several meals from every batch. Oregano, basil, and thyme are my three essential dried herbs, and I use them at least once a day. (Basil and cilantro are my two essential fresh herbs, in case you’re wondering. I don’t think I could get through a single day without scallions—green onions—but I don’t really think of them as herbs.)

To sum up, I’d say my $1 ticket has bought us six to twelve dinner entrees, six lunch taco salads, and at least three nights’ worth of before-dinner dip-and-chip snacks. Not to mention two months of bill-paying without running out of stamps. (We seem to receive a lifetime’s worth of address labels free from all over the place, so we’ve never had to buy those or worry about running out.)

As for OFB, I think I’ll have to put him on a bread and water diet until his sarcasm rate has been reduced by at least a third.

          ‘Til next time,

                       Silence