Unlucky At Luck

Typically, I don’t play state lotteries.  The odds are astronomical.

The only exception is when the potential winnings reach the $100 million-plus range, and I happen to be passing through some small town in a remote area at the time.  My reasoning is that the winning tickets always tend be purchased from a gas station in East Bejesus, so my approach at least gives me a reasonable chance of getting the lucky numbers.

Of course, I’ve never won the handful of times I’ve tried this technique.

But what if you did win — and then instead of getting cash, you just got an IOU?  That’s the unfortunate reality for some poor schmoes in Illinois.  They won $250,000 in the Illinois Lottery, but because Illinois doesn’t have a budget, state officials can’t cut them a check in the amount of their winnings — so they get a crappy IOU instead.  And with Illinois’ crippling budget problems, I wouldn’t be supremely confident about getting a prompt payout on those IOUs, either.

No word yet on whether the “lucky” winners bought their ticket in East Bejesus.

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Cancer, And Bad Luck

Cancer, in all of its many forms, is a terrible disease, and when you are part of a family where cancer has taken its grim toll you come to dread the very word.  It is not surprising that many people — whether cancer sufferers or survivors and their family members, cancer charities, doctors, or researchers — have passionate views about the disease.

This was illustrated earlier this month when Cristian Tomasetti and Bert Vogelstein of Johns Hopkins University published an article in the journal Science that attempted to quantify the role of random chance — what we might call “bad luck” — in the process that causes normal cells to mutate and become deadly agents.  They found that while there were clear causes for certain forms of cancer, such as smoking and lung cancer and exposure to sunlight and skin cancer, more than half of many cancers appear to be the product of random mutation.

The notion that random mutation plays a role in the development of cancer is not a new idea; our bodies have 50 trillion individual cells, and in a number that enormous there are bound to be anomalies.  Nevertheless, the Science article provoked a huge outcry.  Some people accused the researchers of being shills for industry and overlooking or excusing the possibility that foods, chemicals, and other products and substances that we are exposed to are the cause of the cancers.  Others depict the article as socially irresponsible, because the quantification of the significant role of simple “bad luck” may cause people to throw up their hands and forsake steps that can reduce the occurrence of cancer.  And still others — such as parents of children who have battled cancer — were grateful for the suggestion that the cancers that have affected them and their families wasn’t their fault.

It’s an arbitrary world out there, and bad things happen for reasons, but also for no reason at all.  We would like to think that we can control everything that might affect us, but obviously we can’t.  When it comes to cancer, that reality doesn’t mean we should rush off to buy a pack of cigarettes, but it does mean that we should accept that bad luck plays a role and not reflexively blame the victim, their lifestyles, and their genes.  Avoiding cancer-causing agents remains important — but the unfortunate reality of random mutation and bad luck means that early detection is crucially important, too.

A Day When It All Goes To Hell

It had been a perfectly good day.  A productive day at work, pleasantly mild weather, a nice walk back to my car.  And that’s when the trouble started and the star-crossed day really began.

The car wouldn’t start.  It was completely dead.  Kish was out of town, and I had to get back home and feed and walk the dogs.  But how?  It was too late to catch a bus, even if I had known which bus to catch.  My friends had all left work.  It’s too far to walk, too.  So a cab was the only option.

My cab driver had possibly — possibly — lived in Columbus for a month.  I directed him to take the fastest way back, following the freeways, but because he didn’t know where the hell he was going he kept it well below the speed limit.  It was the slowest cab ride I’ve ever experienced.  A little old lady zipped by in an Oldsmobile and gave us the finger.  I’m not sure, but I think we may have been passed by a toddler on a tricycle. 

Approximately three days and a hefty fare later, I walked to my front door to be greeted by two frantic dogs.  I fed them and decided not to change before walking them, but Kasey elected to have an accident just to teach me a lesson for getting home so late, anyway.  After cleaning that up and doing the poop patrol duty, then restraining two wildly barking and lunging dogs from attacking a clearly worried woman who was walking a tiny furball, we returned home.

The icemaker picked that time to jam, and when I opened the freezer door to investigate the problem one metric ton of ice fell to the floor, fractured into tiny splinters, and had to be swept up.  The first wine glass I picked from the cabinet had a big crack in it, and when I turned to get a new one Penny knocked my plate of food off the counter.

It was the kind of day that made our remote ancestors decide that alcohol needed to be invented.

The Curious Randomness Of It All

There is a tiny building on a corner a block away from our office in downtown Columbus.  Years ago, I think, it was a cell phone store, and before that it might have been a rental car office.  Nothing about it commands your attention.  It’s just a small, anonymous building that you ignore as you pass by every day.

For many months it was vacant.  Periodically you would notice a new sign go up, for a wine shop or a bakery.  The businesses never seemed to last, or maybe even open at all.  I never patronized them.

A few months ago, a new business opened.  I noticed it because the name — Flaxella Cafe & Deli — was a bit weird and sounded like the name of one of Cinderella’s ugly sisters.  The business was so unestablished that the name of one of the prior ventures, L’Appat, was still above the front door.  Still, the proprietor seemed to be making a go of it.

This past Wednesday, a taxi carrying two passengers plowed through the front window of the building.  No one was seriously hurt.  No one knows why the cab driver veered off the road, over a curb, and through the plate glass.  It’s an intersection that thousands of vehicles pass every day without incident . . . until Wednesday.  Who knows if Flaxella will reopen — but I wonder if the proprietor of the business is contemplating why this odd accident had to happen now, when the building is finally being used, and couldn’t have happened on a day during one of the many months where this anonymous little building stood dark?

Powerless

When awful news happens, and bad news strikes again and again, and events are buffeting the little world around you, you feel powerless. Now Mother Nature has decided to take that figurative feeling and turn it into literal reality.

A huge and violent thunderstorm cell blew through Columbus last night, and it has knocked out the power grid for wide swaths of the area. The storm blew down trees and branches and felled power lines, and we’ve now been without power since 5 p.m. last night.

This period of powerlessness is unheard of — and it also shows how spoiled we’ve become. A few hours sweltering in a hot house on a summer’s day, and you’d think from the complaining that we’d been asked to endure the unendurable. We’ll have some spoiled food, and some time without Internet access, and earlier bedtimes than normal. No big deal, really.

Still, I must confess that when I entered an air-conditioned room this afternoon I did breathe an audible sigh of satisfaction.