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September 20, 2007

The Economics of Street Charity

I've spent a fair amount of time in cities, living, working, learning, hanging out, you name it. As diverse as the cultures, economics, and opportunities of cities across the world may be, however, they always share one thing in common: the street beggar.

This person comes in many forms and may even not be noticed as a beggar at first glance. The messy drunks sitting on dirty sidewalks while wearing torn clothing are probably the easiest to spot, but I've also been approached by a guy who made up a freestyle rap involving my name and occupation, a migratory South African with a story about being held at gunpoint and forced to give up all his cash, and a lady who thought her shoes might have been in Montana. Those odd things happened in Portland, Buenos Aires, and Seattle, respectively.

A New York City hot dog vendor. Image borrowed from hu:User:Totya at Wikipedia
A bit more than a month ago, Stephen Dubner wrote a blog entry about street charity over at The New York Times. To some friends of his, who include Mark Cuban (and whose succinct response is my favorite), he posed the following question.

You are walking down the street in New York City with $10 of disposable income in your pocket. You come to a corner with a hot dog vendor on one side and a beggar on the other. The beggar looks like he’s been drinking; the hot dog vendor looks like an upstanding citizen. How, if at all, do you distribute the $10 in your pocket, and why?

The article, titled Freakonomics Quorum: The Economics of Street Charity, is very interesting and definitely worth a read.

The situation of concern is far more academic than it is a practical treatment of reality (since both beggars and hot dog vendors are everywhere in New York City, for example), but I provide my answer to it here, nonetheless. Four years ago, I gave a $20 bill to a beggar to eliminate any future moral objection I might have to walking past a beggar without so much as a glance. Thus, I feel my "street charity" work is complete, and if, at any point during the remainder of my life, I feel the need to further assist the impoverished, uneducated, war-stricken, or neglected, I will write a large check and send it to an aid organization that operates in Africa. As such, if I were in the situation described by Dubner, I might buy a hot dog (with chili, cheese, and onions, thanks), but I would not give $10 or any portion thereof to the beggar.

Also, in a peculiar twist of fortune, it should be noted I found his article by searching for information on the nutrition of vendor-bought hot dogs.

September 13, 2007

Six Weeks of Studying Pays Off

I passed my Series 7 exam today with a score of 86.4% (216 correct out of 250), well above the 70% required to pass and a far cry from the 73% national average score. The two parts of the exam took about three hours to complete, only half the allotted six hours. I can't say as much for the guy sitting next to me, who started before I did and was still on the first part when I started my second part, after I took a 45 minute break. Ah, well, I guess these things come more easily to certain people!

Tired, mentally exhausted, and still upset about waking up before 6:00 AM today, I think it's time to play some video games and veg out. I start work at 9:15 Monday morning, so I have three days to do absolutely nothing. Fantastic.

September 08, 2007

In Times Square with Aidan

My friend Aidan was in New York City yesterday for some interviews, so we met for dinner at Triomphe, which was fantastic. After spending a few hours there, Aidan wanted to check out Times Square, so we dodged tourists for a couple blocks and exchanged group photos with some other people standing in the middle of all the fuss. The upshot of this is the following picture, which, well, shines an interesting light on how people look in the glow of Times Square, I guess.

Click to enlarge

After visiting Times Square, we had a Scotch or two at St. Andrew's and parted ways. Two and a half hours mostly involving standing on train platforms later, I walked through my front door, took a couple Tylenol, and resigned myself to sleep. It was an exciting night, and it was really good to see Aidan again.

September 06, 2007

Luciano Pavarotti

Luciano Pavarotti, one of only a few true opera legends of our time and, arguably, the most globally well-known artist of the past century, has passed away today. He died of kidney failure at his home after a year-long battle with pancreatic cancer. The BBC is covering the story.

I have been a fan of opera since the mid-to-late 1990s, after being exposed to a selection of operatic works during my time with my high school's Academic Decathlon team. I still have the CD that was provided as part of that program, and it remains one of my favorite compilations of opera music. In fact, a number of my friends have requested copies of it over the years because it provides such a varied range of musical styles and evokes the entire gamut of emotions.

The world will remember Pavarotti alongside other great contemporary artists like Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Frank Sinatra, and Andy Warhol. I'm sure the Italians will have an amazing memorial service for him, and it is truly unfortunate I will not be able to attend.