Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Sheriff of Nottingham plan: rob the poor, give to the rich

The greatest financial scam ever perpetuated on the American public.
How much do Americans spend on lottery tickets?
Billions of dollars thrown away  
Americans spent $70 billion on lottery games in 2014. That's more than $300 per adult in the 43 states where lotteries are legal. In fact, Americans spent more on lottery tickets that year than they did on sporting events, movie tickets, books, video games, and recorded music.
Americans spent more than $73 billion buying lottery tickets in 2016, the latest year for which I could find figures. The odds of a ticket winning the PowerBall's jackpot is one in 292 million. Quick, how many people do you know personally who have been struck by lightning twice (even if the second time killed them)?
Your odds of being struck by lightning this year are 1 in 960,000.  In your lifetime those odds drop to about 1 in 12,000.  Your odds of being struck by lightning twice in your lifetime are 1 in 9 million, which is still a higher chance than winning the Powerball.
What about getting struck by lightning while drowning?  Those odds are 1 in 183 million which 63 percent higher than hitting the Powerball.
And the odds against winning the Mega-Millions jackpot are 302 million to one. Yeah, good luck with that. You are 159 times more likely to be killed by a falling meteorite than winning Mega-Millions. 

Who buys lottery tickets? Well, this kind of guy (men are far more likely to buy tickets than women):


But ticket buyers have been studied probably more than any other customer base in the country. Who buys? The answer reveals why for many years lottery critics have called lotteries the Sheriff of  Nottingham plan, robbing from the poor and giving to the rich. By far, lower income and net worth persons buy more lottery tickets and by far the middle and upper classes are more likely to use non-payout benefits, such as lottery-sales-funded college scholarships. Lotteries are literally a wealth-transfer program from the poor to the relatively wealthy.
An even broader look at the dynamics between demographics and lottery purchases is the subject of a 2012 study from researchers at the University of Buffalo, also published in the Journal of Gambling Studies. That study, titled  “Gambling on the Lottery: Sociodemographic Correlates Across the Lifespan,” analyzes telephone survey data from a random sampling of nearly 5,000 Americans; the data were compiled from two surveys conducted at different times, one with persons ages 14-21 (though 18 is technically the legal age to play) and the other survey with those 18 and older. The survey asked respondents about all forms of lottery play in the past 12 months, “including instant scratch tickets, daily numbers or Lotto….”

The study’s findings include:
  • “With regard to lottery play for respondents of various racial/ethnic groups, non-Hispanic whites and Native Americans had the highest proportion of gambling on the lottery (51% for each group); however, with regard to mean levels of gambling on the lottery, blacks and Native Americans had the highest averages (20.6 and 25 days, respectively).” 
  • Those in the lowest fifth in terms of socioeconomic status (SES) had the “highest rate of lottery gambling (61%) and the highest mean level of days gambled in the past year (26.1 days).” Moreover, there were “very few observed differences in lottery gambling for those in the three upper SES groups — 42–43% gambled on the lottery and the three upper groups averaged about 10 days of gambling on the lottery in the past year.” 
  • The data show that “blacks have lower rates of gambling on the lottery than whites, but blacks have a higher average number of days gambled on the lottery than whites. However, in the analysis containing all of the sociodemographic variables, including socioeconomic status and neighborhood disadvantage, black and Hispanic groups are not significantly different from the white reference group in number of days gambled on the lottery.” 
  • The tendency to play the lottery in a given year increases for people in their twenties and thirties — the proportion hovers around 70% in those age groups. It dips slightly to about two-thirds for people in their forties, fifties and sixties; and then declines to 45% for people 70 and older. 
  • Men play more frequently than women do — 18.7 days over the past year for men, versus 11.3 for females.
See also this article in The Atlantic. When the PowerBall lottery first went before the voters here in Tennessee, I was a member of the anti-lottery task force (we lost) and was cited in the post-referendum book, Lottery Wars: Case Studies in Bible Belt Politics, 1986-2005.

Lotteries are here to stay, that's for sure. But it is simply impossible to find the slightest shred of social good in them.

Monday, October 1, 2018

A pastoral reflection on last week's politics

In the beginning of Matthew 19, " Some Pharisees came to Jesus, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?”

Jesus did not respond directly, as he often didn't to such questions, but his paragraph-long answer was, "No."
They said to him, “Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?”

He said to them, “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not what God intended."
But this reflection is not about divorce, but last Thursday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, featuring Dr. Christine Ford in the morning and Judge Brett Kavanaugh in the afternoon. This nomination generally and that day's hearing specifically have become a defining day in our country. Some commentators have said that it may become a generational "moment," much like the assassination of JFK was for Boomers or the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger was for the next generation.

"Where were you when watched the Ford-Kavanaugh hearing?" one might be asked in 2040 or 2045, to answer, "I was streaming it over my phone at work listening on my Bluetooth earpiece."

Whether you are Right or Left, no matter whom you believed or didn't, I think we surely can all agree that what we saw last week was not what our country was intended to be. And we should remember that as Jesus pointed out, we are at this point because of the hardness of our hearts -- all  our hearts, not just the hearts of those who happen to disagree with us.

This controversy is not between angels on one side and demons on the other. It is not between the Children of Light and the Children of Darkness. As Reinhold Niebuhr pointed out in a (slightly) different context, political conflicts are exclusively between sinners, not between the righteous and the unrighteous.


I am presently preaching a series on Jesus' parables, and yesterday's was the Good Samaritan, in which Jesus pointedly tells us to consider, "Who is my neighbor?" Even as hard as the politics are in our country today - and they are very hard -- even as strongly as we believe what is right in this controversy - and I do believe about it very strongly - when we lose sight that we are, in God's eyes, still neighbors with one another, especially those we may detest because of this issue, then we all stand condemned.

Nowhere do the Jewish Scriptures or the New Testament tell us, "Love your neighbor as yourself - unless they vote differently than you. Pray for one another - unless you despise their politics." The commandments of Christ are simple but also absolute:
“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. ... If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. ... Can the blind guide the blind?  person? Will not both fall into a pit? ... Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye." Luke 6.27-42, excerpted
"If all men were angels," said Thomas Jefferson, "no government would be necessary." We certainly are not angels. But neither are we demons.We are a fallen people who can still be redeemed by our Lord and who can still move on to perfection. But our country will not change unless we change. America cannot become different unless Americans become different.

That, I fear, is what we will not accept. We want "change for thee but not for me." Are our politics leading our culture (which means leading us personally) or following our culture? I do not know which case is worse. But this is our culture: "As another prep official quits, a call for crazy parents to dial it back."
A few days ago, a northwest Ohio man took his job and shoved it, citing the poor working conditions.

Which made us wonder: What, was he a sword-swallowing birthday party clown? A candy-coated beekeeper? A sword-swallowing beekeeper?

Turns out, it was worse. He was a high school ref.

The Northern Lakes League announced that it “lost another soccer official” because of the “constant verbal harassment from players, coaches, and spectators.”

It was a midseason walkout as unsurprising as it is alarming, and if that’s not enough of a wake-up call, consider what another official told me this week: “I wouldn’t be surprised if high school sports are a thing of the past in 20 years.”
And this is our culture:

The report is from USA Today last June, that almost a third of Americans believe the United States is heading toward another, literal, Civil War. Not a metaphorical one, but one with Americans actually killing one another.

We are all alike the blind leading the blind, and unless we do change, we will all fall into the pit. My present fear is not that we know what we have to do but simply refuse to do it, which would be bad enough. It is that we are progressively losing sight of what we have to do.

It is really quite simple, but as Carl von Clausewitz observed about simple concepts, "Even the simplest things can be very difficult."


Rethinking Marriage

What the Christian religion has to do with marriage is a huge subject, so at best this is an overview. I call it Rethinking Marriage becaus...