This is the archive for Thoughts.
- Giving to beggars: My policy, reasons, and recent outcomes
I have a policy when it comes to giving to people who come up to me in the street and ask for money to buy food or some basic necessity: I tell them that I do not carry cash (this is the truth, I do not carry cash), then offer to purchase for them what they say they need the money for. (I won’t purchase them alcohol, drugs, weapons, cigarettes, or things like that. But, who actually tells you they need those things?)
For a month and a half at the beginning of the summer, no one took me up on my offer. I would get uneasy looks, then the person would decline and walk away. Two examples:
1. A man told me a story about how he had AIDS and how he was in a shelter, and he stands in front of the post office (where he and I both were) opening doors for people so that he can get money to go to Publix and buy juice to drink. It just so happened that I was going to Publix (directly across the street), so I made him my normal offer: “I don’t carry cash, but go across the street with me and I will buy you juice at Publix.” Unsurprisingly to me, he did not take me up on my offer. He said, “Oh, I can’t go to Publix. I’ll manage.” It was obvious to me that he didn’t want to get juice… he just wanted money for other things. (By the look of him, it was likely drugs.) So, I walked away, and he continued asking people for money. (I wonder if he changed his story?)
2. I work in downtown Atlanta right now. I walk down the street multiple times a day, and get asked for money at least once a day, usually more. This story is true (and typical of what usually happens): As I was walking between my office and Georgia Pacific, a man approached me and asked me if I could spare a dollar for a sandwich. I told him that I do not carry cash, but I would walk one block down the street with him to the food court and buy him a meal. He looked kind of worried and said, “No, that’s okay,” and walked away. This happens most of the time. I can only assume these people want something other than a sandwich, but don’t want to admit it. It is strange to me that they do not take me up on my offers, though. [EDIT: It was pointed out to me that it does not necessarily follow that people want this money for other things. See the comments.]
After a month and a half, I actually had two people take me up on the offer, just a day apart. One was a woman, the other a man. The woman took me up on buying her a MARTA (Atlanta’s metro system) ticket to somewhere on the other side of town so she could get to a women’s shelter. The man wanted soap, a toothbrush, toothpaste, and deodorant so he could be clean for an interview. I have no idea whether the stories they told me were true or not, but that does not matter to me. I made an offer, and I held up my end of it once they accepted. I can only pray that these individuals use what I bought them to help alleviate their situation.
Some people have asked me why I do this. Here are my reasons:
-Offering to buy someone food or basic necessities instead of immediately rejecting them and walking away acknowledges that person’s human dignity. These people get treated as less them human all day, so the least I can do is acknowledge their dignity and offer to help them out.
-Offering to buy someone food or basic necessities weeds out most people who want money for something else, such as drugs or alcohol. I’ve made the over dozens of times with only two people taking me up on it so far. This way, I can help people who really need it. I know this isn’t a perfect system, but I think it is better than just giving out cash. If people actually need help, I feel an obligation to help them.
-In 2008, when I attended my first FEE seminar, Dr. Anthony Carilli finished out the week by telling the attendees that, besides being a professor, speaker around the US, and an umpire for minor league baseball, he is a volunteer fireman. Why? In his words, “If you believe in the free market, you have to be willing to do your part to support it.” I’ve thought about that statement a lot in the last four years. If I advocate abolishing government welfare programs, I have to be willing to help people out with my own time and money. I am trying to do that.
Some people I know have objected to my practice. One guy said that I am just providing temporary relief to their problem and it doesn’t really help them. So, when I asked him what he recommends, he cited a privately run homeless shelter that has strict rules about work, but actively helps people get jobs and is surprisingly good at doing so. But the guy who told me this does not donate to such shelters or individuals, and isn’t actively trying to start one. That is fine with me. It is his time and his money, which he can do what he wants with it.
One of my favorite professors at Hillsdale always says, “Once you confront a situation or possibility, you have to own it.” The situation I am confronted with on a daily basis is people asking me for help. This is my way of owning it. I know it is not perfect, but I am trying to do what I can.
- Answer to Logic Quiz
Here is the answer to the logic quiz I posted a week and one day ago.
The original statement took the form “If p, then q” where p: “the red car is broken” and q: “John drives the blue car.”
The only statement in a)-g) which is equivalent to that is statement c, which is the contrapositive of the original statement. The contrapositive takes the form “If not q, then not p.”
Reason: The original statement means exactly what it says: If the red car is broken, then John drives the blue car. Think if this as two circles, a smaller one inside a larger one. The larger outer circle is statement q: John drives the blue car. The smaller inner circle is p: the red car is broken. Whenever you are inside the circle p, then you are automatically inside circle q. There is no way out of this. You can, however, be inside circle q without being inside circle p. (Draw it out if you can’t visualize it.) What we can conclude from this is that if you are not inside circle q, then there is no way you can be inside circle p. Thus, if John is not driving the blue car, the red car is not broken.
There are other reasons why a, b, d, e, f, and g are false. If you can’t figure it out, post your question to the comments and I will be happy to answer it for you.
- Logic Quiz
Here is a little logic quiz for you:
Given this statement, which of the following is correct?
List your answer in the comments. (The answer can be any combination of the statements.)
Statement: If the red car is broken, then John drives the blue car.
a) John drives the blue car only if the red car is broken.
b) If the red car is not broken, then John does not drive the blue car.
c) If John does not drive the blue car, then the red car is not broken.
d) If John drives the blue car, then the red car must be broken.
e) The red car is broken only if John drives the blue car.
f) John drives the blue car if and only if the red car is broken.
g) If John drives the red car, the blue car is broken.
- Palindrome Dates
I didn’t have time to post about it yesterday, but yesterday’s date was a palindrome! (For those of you who don’t know, a palindrome is something that reads the same backward as it does forward- Yesterday’s date was 01022010.) It was only the second palindrome date of the 21st century. The first was 10022001 (October 2, 2001), and before that the last palindrome date was August 31, 1380! (Note: I am talking about palindromes of the form MMDDYYYY or YYYYMMDD. Both of these forms, when reversed on the dates listed below, read the same.)
Though palindrome dates are pretty rare, there will be 12 in the 21st century. When there is a new millennia, it turns out there are usually 12 palindrome dates each century–one for each month–for the first two centuries. The exception to this was in the 1300s, which only had 7 and was the third century of that millennium.
Anyway, while I was waiting for my food at a restaurant last night, I took a moment and figured out the 12 palindrome dates of this century. Two have already passed, so 10 remain.
Here are the ones for the 21st century:
- Day 363 – New Year’s Resolutions
I did a little thinking on New Year’s resolutions today, and they do not make much sense to me. Why resolve to do something that you think will better your life in some way starting at a future date? Whether what you are doing is trying to break a bad habit (smoking, drinking, overeating, procrastinating, etc.) or doing something positive (reading your Bible and praying more, saving money, becoming more disciplined, getting in shape, etc.), why not start as soon as it occurs to you to make a resolution for the upcoming year? January 1, 2010 is really not much different than December 31, 2009, or even December 10, 2009. If you have a change you want to make in your life, it is best to implement that change immediately. Waiting to make a change does not make much sense to me (with one exception, stated below.) If, for example, you want to lose weight but keep overeating until January 1, what have you accomplished? You have only made it more difficult for yourself. If you’ve waited until January 1, what is one more day? Pretty soon those “one more” days might add up… If you are going to do something, do it now.
The only reason I see to wait until January 1 to start a resolution is if the new calendar year offers some strategic advantage not available beforehand. Examples include a discount on a gym membership, daily Bible reading plans that go in order and start on January 1, or something similar. Keep in mind, however, that there are two sides to resolutions–the overarching ideas and the specific details. Waiting until January 1 because of a discount on a gym membership falls on the details side. If your resolutions are detail-specific, find the idea behind those details and implement other complementary details now that help you stay true to the idea behind the resolution.
A loophole I see to this is if you are a type of person who absolutely needs structured dates to start something and thrives on that. In that case, waiting to start resolutions until January 1 might help you. For everyone else, I suggest you start now. If your resolution is so unimportant that you can wait until January 1, why even start it then? If it will really make a difference, start immediately.
- Day 355 – Calendar Question
I visited my friend David Wagner today, and we drove all around the Huron/Sandusky/Port Clinton area this afternoon. David just got home for Christmas from his teaching position on Bordeaux, France. I haven’t seen him since the beginning of September, so it was wonderful to spend all afternoon and evening with him. If everything goes according to plan, I am going to fly to France to visit him (and take photos!) over spring break at the end of March.
Anyway, after reading the Blue Eyes logic puzzle question, he posed a calendar question to me. He is fascinated with the intricacies of calendars, so this is a question he has already solved and he wants to see if I can figure it out. If you figure it out, please don’t post the answer in the comments. I want to figure it out. I just wanted to post it so other people can work on it, too. Here it is:
In our lifetime, every 28 years there is a year with two 31-day months each having a Friday the 13th. Find the next year when all of this will occur and list all months in that year with a Friday the 13th.
- Day 339 – Logic Puzzle Answer
Here is the answer to the Blue Eyes Logic Puzzle I posted.
This answer comes from mathematician Terence Tao, and has to do with common knowledge.
100 days after the Guru’s comment, all the blue eyed people will leave. This is proven as a special case of
Proposition. Suppose that the tribe had n blue-eyed people for some positive integer n. Then n days after the traveller’s address, all n blue-eyed people leave the island.
Proof: We induct on n. When n=1, the single blue-eyed person realizes that the traveler is referring to him or her, and thus leaves on the next day. Now suppose inductively that n is larger than 1. Each blue-eyed person will reason as follows: “If I am not blue-eyed, then there will only be n-1 blue-eyed people on this island, and so they will all leave n-1 days after the traveler’s address”. But when n-1 days pass, none of the blue-eyed people do so (because at that stage they have no evidence that they themselves are blue-eyed). After nobody leaves on the (n-1)st day, each of the blue eyed people then realizes that they themselves must have blue eyes, and will then leave on the nth day.
If you need any explanation of this, let me know.
- Day 334 – “Blue Eyes” Logic Puzzle
As you probably know, I love logic puzzles. I came across a particularly difficult one today, so I thought I would share it with you. I first came across it on mathematician Terence Tao’s blog, but I saw another formulation by xkcd creator Randall Munroe, and I like his formulation better. It is his formulation which is reproduced below. This puzzle is not of my own thinking. It has been around for a long, long time.
The Hardest Logic Puzzle in the World
A group of people with assorted eye colors live on an island. They are all perfect logicians — if a conclusion can be logically deduced, they will do it instantly. No one knows the color of their eyes. Every night at midnight, a ferry stops at the island. Any islanders who have figured out the color of their own eyes then leave the island, and the rest stay. Everyone can see everyone else at all times and keeps a count of the number of people they see with each eye color (excluding themselves), but they cannot otherwise communicate. Everyone on the island knows all the rules in this paragraph.
On this island there are 100 blue-eyed people, 100 brown-eyed people, and the Guru (she happens to have green eyes). So any given blue-eyed person can see 100 people with brown eyes and 99 people with blue eyes (and one with green), but that does not tell him his own eye color; as far as he knows the totals could be 101 brown and 99 blue. Or 100 brown, 99 blue, and he could have red eyes.
The Guru is allowed to speak once (let’s say at noon), on one day in all their endless years on the island. Standing before the islanders, she says the following:
“I can see someone who has blue eyes.”
Who leaves the island, and on what night?
There are no mirrors or reflecting surfaces, nothing dumb. It is not a trick question, and the answer is logical. It doesn’t depend on tricky wording or anyone lying or guessing, and it doesn’t involve people doing something silly like creating a sign language or doing genetics. The Guru is not making eye contact with anyone in particular; she’s simply saying “I count at least one blue-eyed person on this island who isn’t me.”
And lastly, the answer is not “no one leaves.”
A word of warning: The answer is not simple. This is an exercise in serious logic, not a lateral thinking riddle. There is not a quick-and-easy answer, and really understanding it takes some effort.
I am willing to talk this over with anyone who is struggling with it. Puzzles like this are fascinating to me.