THE BLOG
11/05/2012 03:59 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Fun With Numbers

Damon Dahlen, AOL

I'm looking at numbers here. I'm looking at Britney Spears' 2004 marriage to Jason Alexander, her childhood friend. After getting hitched in Las Vegas, the couple stayed married a grand total of 55 hours before Britney's parents stepped in and had it annulled. Even for celebrities, 55 hours is a short marriage.

I'm looking at the life-span of the mayfly. A mayfly lives only a few short hours. In fact, a mayfly's life-span is so brief, the little bugger didn't even evolve to have a mouth, because it doesn't live long enough to eat. It's true. All a mayfly does is get hatched, procreate, and die. To a mayfly, 55 hours would be an eternity.

I'm also looking at the number of times Roger Maris was intentionally walked in 1961, the year he broke Babe Ruth's single-season homerun record. As dangerous a hitter as Maris was, he was intentionally walked zero times that season. None. Why was he never intentionally walked? Because Mickey Mantle batted behind him.

And I'm looking at the estimated amount of money New York City claims it will lose by having canceled the 2012 NY Marathon as a result of Hurricane Sandy. According to "CBS Money Watch," the figure the city came up with is $340 million. That's right. $340 million for one marathon. How on earth did they come up with that crazy figure?

Yes, there are application fees (which vary, but are in the $150-300 range), and yes, there were a whopping 46,795 finishers in the 2011 NY Marathon, so, obviously, entry fees are a source of revenue. But on the other side of the equation there is prize money to be doled out, and because the race meanders for 26 miles through the city, the licensees can't charge admission, so there is no "gate" from the marathon. Attendance is free.

Do U.S. corporate sponsors and television networks pay this kind of money for a foot race, particularly one weighted so heavily in favor of foreigners? It's true. This is more a foreign celebration than an American one. Each year a couple dozen Kenyans and Ethiopians travel to the U.S. and proceed to run the legs off of tens of thousands of Americans, and it not only happens in New York; it happens in the Boston and LA marathon as well. Do commercial sponsors actually profit from this event?

Of course, it's very possible that that $340 million figure is based on estimates of what would have been spent at NYC restaurants, saloons, hotels and tourist traps had the marathon been run. But when municipalities do that sort of thing (factor in all the "What ifs...."), they tend to wildly inflate the figures, not unlike the way police departments in the 1960s and 1970s used to wildly inflate the value of seized drugs.

The cops would bust into a house, confiscate a pound of low-grade marijuana, and then estimate its so-called "street value" based on what it would sell for if (1) it were A-1 primo, instead of ragweed, and (2) if it were sold one solitary joint at a time -- rolled cigarette by rolled cigarette -- to desperate high school students. That's how they came up with those outlandish appraisals.

But if they aren't exaggerating -- if that $340 million is anywhere close to a legitimate figure -- then NYC needs to rethink the whole thing. Clearly, the city needs to have more than one marathon a year. Kick up the prize money, buy more advertising, and stage the event three times a year. Given how financially strapped our cities are, an extra billion dollars a year in NYC's coffers would be a bonanza. What are they waiting for?

David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and author ("It's Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor"), was a former labor union rep.

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