The 'Zero' Chance Lottery Ticket

"Zero" chance lottery tickets stun some players, and some of the most e-mailed, viewed and commented on stories on the Web.

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MIKE PESCA, host:

Welcome back to the Bryant Park Project from NPR News. We are always online at npr.org, and we have a list of the most tsk-tsk stories sent around online, the most-shouted-from-the-rooftops.

DAN PASHMAN: How do you measure tsk-tsk stories?

PESCA: They have very sensitive audio equipment.

PASHMAN: Tsk-o-meters?

PESCA: Yeah, tsk-o-meters. But yeah, in England, they call them tsk-ah-meters.

PASHMAN: All right.

PESCA: But anyway, it's all part of The Most.

(Soundbite of music)

PESCA: Tricia McKinney?

PATRICIA MCKINNEY: Yes, hello.

PESCA: Hello, how are you?

MCKINNEY: I am fine, thank you. I am your Google girl today. This morning when I got up at the top 10 of Google Trends was the term "Heimlich maneuver," which turned out to be because of a tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs used the Heimlich maneuver to save a patron's life in a restaurant in San Diego. The guy was actually a Chargers' fan, but he saved him anyway.

PASHMAN: Tony Gonzalez, one of the best tight ends in NFL history.

PESCA: Was it?

MCKINNEY: Tony Gonzalez, yeah.

PESCA: Wow!

MCKINNEY: And it's a great story. And I'm going to refer you, go on and Google that one yourself, because it's moving down the list. It's sinking fast. It's been replaced, and I want to tell you about this one.

PESCA: There's no way Tony didn't break someone's ribs. He's a powerful man.

MCKINNEY: Yeah, he's a big guy. So the story that's now really high up on the Google Trends, at number two, is a story about a new website called - not actually a new website, but it's a story about a website called implodometer (ph), and it's a website...

PASHMAN: Is this an impl-ah-dometer (ph)?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MCKINNEY: Yeah, I know, you made me wonder if I'm pronouncing it correctly. But you know, when the O is separated from the other two words by a hyphen, I think it's the impl-oh-do-meter (ph).

PASHMAN: All right, fair enough.

PESCA: I agree.

MCKINNEY: So, anyway, this is a website that keeps track of mortgage lenders, and when they implode, they get added to the list. And apparently, this is actually causing some consternation in the mortgage lending industry. There was a big, according to this New York Times article, there was a big conference recently, and one of the speakers was, like, you know, giving people tips on how to keep your name off the list. They said, nobody wants to be number 266. As of the time the article was written, there were only 265 companies on it. Well, today there are 266, and number 266 is Lehman Brothers SBF. Lucky them.

PESCA: Yeah.

MCKINNEY: So anyway, this guy, he's a 28-year-old computer scientist, who started the site, and it's doing so well that he actually got to quit his job and form his own company, which he is now hoping to sell to a media company. So, I don't know, does he think he's the next wave of profitable businesses out of this? I don't know.

PESCA: I - I mean, that's a very useful site, it sounds like, but I really was hoping for a video of things imploding.

PASHMAN: Yeah, me, too.

PESCA: That would have been cool.

MCKINNEY: Well, maybe he can add it to the site, you know? I'm sure he's taking suggestions.

PESCA: Yeah. Fifth Third Bank, Lehman Brothers Bank, a star. Ian, hey.

IAN CHILLAG: Hey, dude. I have a most popular from The Newser. This was actually a story in the Wall Street Journal. This guy in Hong Kong, Lam Sai-wing, he's been building a palace of gold. He calls it the Swisshorn Gold Palace. He's been building it for, like, a decade. Chandeliers, chariots, arm chairs, there's a golden king-sized bed, fixtures.

PESCA: Sounds very comfortable.

PASHMAN: Is the mattress gold?

CHILLAG: I'm hoping not. It's not specified.

MCKINNEY: Is his name Midas?

CHILLAG: No, no. Lam Sai-wing. Not "Goldfinger," either. It's six tons of gold in all, which is a lot, and you know, the value of gold has been skyrocketing over the past few years.

PESCA: Because he's been hoarding it.

PASHMAN: Yeah, seriously.

CHILLAG: So, he started, you know, cashing out on this, melting down parts of his palace. He has a jewelry business, and he's kind of funding franchises. He's unloaded, this year, three tons, and he's got about 64 million dollars for it. But...

PASHMAN: So what's that, like, the cabana? The guest room?

CHILLAG: Yeah, no. The chariots are gone. The armored knights got melted down, pretty much. I think everything is on its way out. But his golden toilet, his throne, he's not letting go of it. He loves the golden toilet. It's fully flushable.

PASHMAN: Is that going to effect the same price as the other elements of the house?

CHILLAG: What's that?

PASHMAN: Isn't there some sort of a markdown on the golden toilet?

CHILLAG: No, no, I mean, you know, it's functioning. I don't see the problem with it. You can wipe it off. But they've been melting it down. He - the golden toilet came first. The reason he wants to hang on to it is he feels like it's the cornerstone of his business. I did notice there's a slideshow on the Wall Street Journal site, and there's a golden bidet as well, and a golden bathtub. I don't know.

PASHMAN: Is he getting rid of those?

CHILLAG: I hope so. I'm not sure.

PESCA: Let me just say this. This guy is classy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHILLAG: Yeah! No...

PESCA: That much I know.

CHILLAG: It really looks like a - dominating "Cribs," basically.

PESCA: That is where the magic happens. Speaking of toilets, headline, Denver Post, "City lake 'like a commode.'" On the 4th of July weekend, Rinn Swoboda saw hope vanish for her hat, her favorite hat. She was on a paddleboat in the city park, in the lake there. It fell in the water, and she wouldn't go after it because it's disgusting. The lake, quote, "looks like it has cancer," said Swoboda, a 28-year-old native. Is she anti-Denver, this Swoboda woman? No, she loves Denver so much that she has the 303 area code tattooed on her calf.

PASHMAN: Is there any actual science in this? Or this is just one woman's assessment of the lake?

PESCA: Not only is there science, there's a picture, and I've never seen a picture of cancer, but if it were a lake, and that lake had some paddleboats on it, this would be the lake, a lot of algae, and also Rinn Swoboda's cap not helping the situation. Disgusting lake in Denver, welcome, Democrats! Dan.

PASHMAN: I've got a most-emailed here, most-popular from Yahoo! News. "Study: Military gays don't undermine unit cohesion." According to a study, it's supposedly a bipartisan study. It was conducted by the Michael D. Palm Center at the University of California. Palm, himself, a staunch supporter of civil rights in the gay community, but they had four members of the armed services, one of whom was a military - the Air Force lieutenant general, who in early '93 was tasked with implementing President Clinton's policy of don't-ask/don't-tell, and they came back and said basically that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly is unlikely to pose any risk to morale, to good order, to discipline or to cohesion.

PESCA: Dan, thank you. Mark, what've you got?

MARK GARRISON: Yes, sir, I've got a most-emailed, read, variously Mostastic from cnn.com. Lottery tickets, scratch-offs, that is, with no chance to win. A Virginia man bought a scratch-off, and he didn't win. Usually you don't. That's OK. But then he found out that the 75,000-dollar prize had been awarded well before he bought it, so there was no way he could have won. So he sued, and his lawyer says the Virginia lottery has sold about 85 million dollars in tickets, with a top prize that had already been won. Now, Virginia is not commenting on the particular suit, but they say, well, games are fair because you can still win the second prize, or the third prize, or the fourth prize...

PESCA: Right, because that's what they advertise, win the second prize.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARK: Exactly, your dream can happen to you, in second or third place. And most of the states, actually, when the top prize is won, they'll still continue selling the scratch-offs.

PESCA: Of course they will. "Win your tertiary dreams" does not sell well. What do you have there, Matt Martinez?

MATT MARTINEZ: I have - you know, the most-viewed and emailed at NPR right now have been stories out of the presidential candidate series courting the Latino vote, and they're really focusing on New Mexico, the presidential candidates. And the reason they're looking there is Hispanics are 40 percent of the state's electorate, mostly Democrats, but they're really interested in New Mexico because lots of those voters crossed party lines back in 2004 over the Iraq war. And here's Jennifer Ludden with that story.

JENNIFER LUDDEN: New Mexico has four military bases, and between active duty and National Guard, it can seem like just about everyone here has served or knows someone in the military.

Mr. ANTONIO GANDARA MARTINEZ (Student, University of New Mexico; Member, College Democrats): My grandfather, Jake Martinez, was Air Corps in World War II. And my Grandpa Gandy, on my mom's side, was fighting in Okinawa, I believe. A long history, it goes back three generations now and ending with my brother, who's a Marine.

LUDDEN: Antonio Gandara Martinez says his older brother and his mother have both had tours in Iraq. At first, Gandara Martinez says he believed the Bush administration when it said there was a connection between Iraq and 9/11. But as that rationale has fallen apart, so has his faith in the war.

Mr. GANDARA MARTINEZ: I felt betrayed, and I think a lot of Hispanics got disillusioned.

LUDDEN: A poll last year for the nonpartisan Latino Policy Coalition found two-thirds of Hispanic voters believed going to war with Iraq was a mistake.

Mr. GANDARA MARTINEZ: Are you registered to vote?

LUDDEN: That's why Gandara Martinez joined the College Democrats at the University of New Mexico. On this afternoon, clipboard in hand, he's signing up new voters.

Mr. GANDARA MARTINEZ: You just need to fill this basic information on the top. Anything under here, that's...

Unidentified Student: Should I wait until I have a residence in New Mexico first?

LUDDEN: Gandara Martinez supports Barack Obama because the candidate considers the Iraq war a mistake. He hears others on campus defend the war and says Iraq is a topic that comes up all the time.

Dr. CHRISTINE M. SIERRA (Political Science, University of New Mexico): This is not an abstract issue for the Hispanic community and certainly not an abstract issue in New Mexico.

LUDDEN: Christine Sierra teaches political science at the University of New Mexico. She says that while Hispanics were early supporters of the Iraq war, she can understand why polls show a majority turned against it, even before the rest of the country.

Dr. SIERRA: When you add class, rural areas, race and ethnicity to who serves in the wars, folks from certain groups are paying disproportionately in terms of their lives or sacrifices.

LUDDEN: In fact, that Latino Policy Coalition poll found nearly half of Hispanic voters said they had a family member or close friend serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. The community's large, extended families likely make the war's impact greater, and yet, those very family connections to the military could also help John McCain.

(Soundbite of mariachi music)

LUDDEN: Two mornings a week, this mariachi band plays in the lobby of Albuquerque's VA Medical Center. New Mexico is full of Hispanic veterans, many older, many conservative, even though they may be registered as Democrats. Republican activists say McCain's military service resonates with this group.

Mr. DAN GARZA (Chairman, New Mexico Chapter, Republican National Hispanic Assembly): In the Hispanic culture, family comes first, and the military sort of falls right into that. It's a family.

LUDDEN: Dan Garza heads New Mexico's Republican National Hispanic Assembly. He says while some may be uneasy about the Iraq war, they're also are uneasy about a quick U.S. pullout. Garza believes many Hispanics trust McCain more to find the right time and way to withdraw, and not just Republicans.

Mr. GARZA: My father has voted Democrat his whole life. He's 79 years old, God bless him, and he has told me that he will probably vote for McCain.

LUDDEN: In his first general-election TV ad, McCain certainly played up his military experience while seeming to acknowledge opposition to the Iraq war.

(Soundbite of McCain campaign ad)

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): I hate war, and I know how terrible its costs are. I'm running for president to keep the country I love safe.

LUDDEN: For a senator from Arizona who is supposed to be the favorite son of the Southwest, John McCain may have to work harder than he had hoped for New Mexico's Hispanic voters. Iraq is one issue he'll likely keep pushing.

PESCA: And that is NPR's Jennifer Ludden. You can hear that story and all the stories, including all of the ones about our ongoing Hispanic voter series, on our website, npr.org.

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