The Scoop: Taking Chances

[Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free -- but only if they can throw 90 with a good curve ... ]Apologies to Emma Lazarus, but that's apparently what ought to be on the Statue of Liberty these days.The United States is allowing a Cuban citizen named Orlando Hernandez and two of his friends into the country. So far, however, it looks like they're sending everyone else in their boat back to Cuba.Why the special treatment? Because Orlando Hernandez is the older brother of Livan Hernandez, the Florida Marlins pitcher who kicked the tail ends of my beloved Cleveland Indians in last year's World Series. Supposedly, Orlando is a better pitcher than Livan.Thus the preferential treatment. See, for all our talk about freedom and liberty and whatnot, it's standard U.S. policy to ship any Cubans picked up at sea right back to Cuba. However, when the Coast Guard caught this latest huddled mass yearning to breathe free, three of the group -- and only three -- were quickly granted entry: the pitcher, his wife, and a catcher he really likes. Everybody else has to go back to Castro.(This just in: at press time, a new report has crossed the AP wire, stating that a fourth member of the group may be granted entry. Go ahead, guess why ... Yup, it turns out he's a pretty good outfielder.)Evidently, all those Salvadorans and Guatemalans whom the INS sent home to dictatorships would have done well to learn the second-base pivot.Meanwhile, Orlando's gonna talk a good game about freedom and democracy. Pay no attention. There's little chance he'll actually set foot in the promised land just yet. Orlando's probably going to voluntarily remain in the detention center in the Bahamas for a while.Why? Well, it also happens that if Orlando can steer clear of political liberty just a little while longer, he'll dodge the baseball draft, become a free agent, and therefore pocket millions of dollars more than if he had arrived ASAP.What price freedom? Apparently, whatever the market will bear.***I didn't know Chris Farley. I met him a couple of times. Nice guy. But I didn't know him, and unlike half of Hollywood, I'm not going to pretend to.I wish he hadn't died, and I feel bad for his family. But I didn't go to the funeral and wouldn't have if it had been next door.That's not disrespect. Quite the opposite. His family and friends have enough to handle without having to deal with a bunch of strangers nosing around. I sincerely hope they find the strength in each other to handle the loss and move on with their lives, just as Chris surely would have wanted them to. And staying the hell out of their way seems like the best way to help.If I wasn't part of somebody's personal life before the event, I surely have no business poking into it afterward.Which is why the steady stream of TV pictures of celebrity funerals strikes me as truly obscene.This burial-of-the-week stuff has as little to do with actual grief as daily helicopter coverage of car chases have to do with actual news. It's all just another yank on our emotions -- and now this word from our sponsor -- and then we'll spend a week dicing up the dead guy (he did drugs and had sex, you know!), and next week we won't even remember the profound loss we all suffered this week.Selling titillating pictures of vulnerable family members suffering through a profound loss is surely as pornographic as any naked body could ever be.And no sooner is Chris in the ground than he gets pushed out of the news by another dead Kennedy, and another national mourning ritual for a guy who, in truth, almost none of us knew or cared about.Next week, it'll be another celebrity -- Sonny Bono, as I hear on the radio during the very moment I'm writing this sentence! -- and more tongue-clucking about a life cut short, and then they'll rehash the dirt about him, and so on.Who's gonna die next? Stay tuned.(Twenty minutes later.)Yup, CNN is showing Cher, swarmed by photographers, as she walks through the airport on her way to the funeral. Dear God ... They're actually selling tickets to Diana's grave. And the only problem most of us have with that is that the lines are too jammed with callers for most people to get through.Something is really wrong with us.And [that's] the only tragedy here you and I have any business worrying about.***Y'ever notice that nobody who wins the lottery ever looks all that bright?There must be exceptions, but it sure seems like it's always a sweaty guy drinking beer in a tank-top shirt who can't get his dog to stop barking.And usually, they're happy they won ... everybody down at the Grease Warehouse is real happy and all ... but they're not going to quit their job.Excuse me? Then why play the lottery in the first place? Isn't that the whole point? I mean, if you really enjoy those vats of steaming grease, more power to you, but don't go hogging the winning numbers when there are plenty of us fellow slog jockeys out here ready to change our lives.Actually, there's a good reason you don't see a lot of smart Lotto winners: basic arithmetic. You know what a payout rate is? Most games in Vegas have a payout of about 96 percent. Which means for every 100 quarters you drop in the slots, you get back, on average, 96. That's how they make their money. Then if you play the 96, you get back about 92. And so on.Now, nobody's that stupid, so they lure you with huge prizes which, mathematically speaking, virtually no one wins. So in Vegas, you're willing to lose a little, but it's basically a 4 percent tax to pay for all the other lunacy.Now get this -- the payout on almost every lottery game in America is only about [fifty] percent. In other words, the state's percentage on every bet is more than ten times what it is in Vegas. You're paying a 50 percent stupidity tax, and you don't even get a floor show. Sure, you might win big, but mathematically, you're way, [way] more likely toa) be elected President of Ghana; b) find God in the next three minutes; c) have sex with me; or d) all of the abovethan you are to win the Lotto.It's [that] unlikely. So smart people usually have better things to do.Now guess who just won a lottery? Congressman James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin. And his office is actually happy to let people know how much money he won.Which surprises me.I mean, we all know that most Congressmen don't understand enough math to do a simple budget. But still, you wouldn't figure any of these geniuses would go around bragging about it ... Bob Harris is a political writer who has spoken at over 275 colleges nationwide.


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