Florida-where I grew up-began having a lottery
when I was 9 or 10. The lottery excited me;
I wanted my parents to win. Dad would
buy a tickets or two sometimes. I thought
he should buy more tickets more often. The news
regularly showed people who bought ten,
twenty, even a hundred tickets. Their odds seemed
better than ours. Dad felt the odds didn't
justify spending-or wasting-more than the
occasional dollar. "Lotteries are a tax on stupidity"
he said, "and I think that's about how stupid I
am." He explained the odds of winning
this way: "Imagine 200 Tampa Stadiums
in a row, each filled with people." Tampa
Stadium sat about 75,000 people. "Every person in every
stadium has a lottery ticket. You are in a stadium
with a ticket too. You have a one in two hundred
chance of being in the same stadium as the winner."
I was astonished; the lottery was hopeless.
But ever since I have used the Tampa Stadium
model to conceptualize large numbers of people.
Like the CDC estimates there are 40,000 new
HIV infections in the US each year
equals slightly more than half a stadium.
I read recently that in the event of an invasion of Iraq,
relief agencies estimate that 500,000
Iraqis would die. There are approximately
24,000,000 people in Iraq-enough to fill
320 Tampa Stadiums. So each individual Iraqi
would have a 1 in 48 chance of being seated
in a stadium in which everyone will die.
The odds of having won $1 playing SuperLotto
in California last week were almost exactly the same.