Long Story Short: Winners, losers, and saying goodbye

8/20/18



Illustration by JP Thimot

 

We have a winner

Twenty-nine-year-old Ramiro Arreaga, of Lancaster, hit the 3 million dollar jackpot playing New York State Lottery Mayhem. Lottery ambassadors Yolanda Vega and Anna Lichorat were on hand at the Erie County Fair on August 12 to present Arreaga with a giant photo-op check. Arreaga is a roofer, a real working class guy. He and his wife are very happy.

 

New York State lottery officials made sure Arreaga’s story was in all the papers, because they would like you to imagine what it would be like to win 3 million dollars. They also want you to know that there are still two more $3 million Mayhem tickets out there. Ramiro Arreaga was interviewed by the media, and he has a message for other potential lottery players: “Just have fun when you buy your ticket. When you win, you can’t believe it!”

 

You often see people in convenience stores spending their paychecks buying lottery tickets. They do not look like they are having fun. People will want to know where Arreaga bought his ticket, because that location is considered lucky. The location will put a sign up announcing that they sold a $3 million dollar ticket, because that will lead to even more sales. Hey, you can’t win if you don’t play, right?

 

What are the odds?

To understand the chance of winning $3 million dollars playing the Mayhem lottery, imagine holding a stopwatch in your hand for forty-five days. Now imagine that a precise second of time between the start and end of the forty-five days has been randomly selected by New York State. The chosen time could be one second after the start or it could be the final second of the forty-five days. Every second of every day has exactly the same chance of being the selected time. To win, you have to stop the stopwatch precisely on the chosen time somewhere in that forty-five days—to the exact second. It costs you ten bucks each time you stop the stopwatch. That’s the odds of winning $3 million dollars playing the Mayhem lottery.

 

This is what’s known as a sucker bet.

 

 

Taking stock in ethics

Certain investment stocks are safe bets. Companies like Disney, 3M, and AT&T provide reliable dividends that remain relatively strong during times of financial crisis. Other stocks are risky. Innate Immunotherapeutics—the company Congressman Chris Collins invested in and got others to buy into—had only one product, which was unproven, making it a high-risk investment. If you buy risky stocks, you accept the possibility that you’ll lose money. It’s the nature of the game. It’s not ethical to invest in a company knowing that if it fails—as Innate Immunotherapeutics did when its drug was unsuccessful in trials—there is a sneaky way to get your money back. In fact, it’s impossible to do that without breaking the law, as Chris Collins’ family and associates are accused of doing.

 

In other words, when investing in an uncertain company, you assume risk in the hope of winning big, and you live with the consequences of your decision. That’s the way it’s supposed to be anyway.

 

An analogy

Something similar to gaming the market is happening within the Republican Party, now that Collins has been indicted for insider trading. Republicans backed Collins for reelection despite years of ethics complaints, and an ongoing ethics committee probe into his dealings with Innate Immunotherapeutics. They backed him all the way. In other words, they chose to invest in a risky candidate.

 

Now that Collins’ stock has dropped through the floor, they want to employ their own sneaky tactics to get a do-over. It’s too late to take Collins’ name off the November ballot by any legitimate means, so Republicans are openly discussing legal loopholes to remove him and invest in a new candidate.

 

There are three possibilities for removing Collins from the ballot and replacing him with another name: 1, They can kill him (kind of extreme even for politicians); 2, they can nominate him for some obscure position everyone knows he doesn’t want, and isn’t really running for, like a local judgeship or county clerk (of course, Collins would have to accept the nomination, which would further bruise his ego); or 3)  Collins can pretend to hightail it out of the state, moving his primary residence to a home he owns in Florida, which everyone knows is not where he lives most of the time.

 

Democrats will sue

Should the Republicans pursue any of these options, they will be challenged in court by Democrats. Will a judge allow this sort of gaming of the system? Or will the court tell Republicans to accept their investment losses, and go home?  We’ll see. If the tables were turned, Democrats would likely try the same tactics to retain a House seat. It’s politics.

 

Bipartisan agreement

Either way, Republicans and Democrats are discussing the possibility of introducing new House ethics rules, including blocking Congressional members from sitting on the boards of corporations, which experts agree is ethically irresponsible. Some lawmakers are advocating barring House members from investing in individual stocks entirely and placing existing holdings in blind trusts. Watch for Democrats, in particular, to make ethics a major issue in the next election. Something good might yet come out of the Collins debacle.

 

 

Pachyderms sent packing

As many Buffalonians do as they get older, Jothi and Surapa are heading south to a warmer climate. The two thirty-something Asian elephants will be checking out of their cramped, 106-year-old home at the Buffalo Zoo this fall. Caretakers at the zoo believe they can no longer provide the level of attention the middle-aged girls deserve in their golden years.

 

Jothi and Surapa are headed to the Big Easy, New Orleans. Their pachyderm retirement village is located at the Audubon Zoo, where the ladies can bask in a newly renovated $10 million state-of-the-art facility, designed to address the needs of aging elephants. The exhibit features multiple pools, shaded areas, a newly-built barn with heated and padded floors—great for arthritic elephant joints—and an interpretative center offering multiple guest vantage points and education opportunities. It’s ideally suited to meet the specialized and unique veterinary needs of elephants. So, after years of cold winters and smallish quarters, Jothi and Surapa will be living the good life.

 

All this is with the blessing of the zoo staff and board of directors. The fact that the zoo has no plans to replace the aging elephants with younger ones, leaving it without the popular attraction for the first time since 1900, suggests that caretakers there realize the facilities are simply not suitable by today’s standards.

 

The elephants won’t be leaving until later in the fall, when they will bid Buffalo a fond farewell, and climb into their giant shipping crates aboard a semi-trailer truck for the trip south.  There’s still time to visit the zoo to say good-bye.

 

 

Artist and educator Bruce Adams is a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.

 

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