Walked home from work today, as it was _pouring_ outside, lovely weather. It was really warm, and it felt great to be soaked in water. On the way, I met this man named Patrick. First he asked for $3.60 for the Metra. His car broke down, and he had to walk to Wicker Park, where I met him (in front of Plywood Town). I only had a ten, and he didn't have change, but I thought 'What the hell' and gave it to him. Then he mentioned that he was diabetic (going blind in the right eye, and they were going to have to amputate his heel) and that he had to get back in time to take his insulin, so he asked for $15 for a cab. I thought about it for a while, and then went in to find an ATM. He told me that he worked for the pharmaceuticals industry, and made $50K a year. I gave him my name, and he promised to Western Union me $100 in return for my loan.

Do I believe him? No, I do not. However, I know that if someone had walked up to me and said, 'Want $30?' it would have made me very happy indeed... and Patrick, by the looks of him, was have a much more rough time than I am, so I'm certain that he was even happier to receive it. I hope he spends it on something that makes him really happy, like good booze or nice pot.
One of the main things that bothered me, afterward, was the idea that I had given $30 (an awful lot of money, for me) to someone who had probably used me very poorly indeed. to a thief. That if I had given my hard-earned cash to someone else, (not a scam artist) it would have been better, somehow. Upon reflection, however, I realized that that is absurd. I strongly dislike the idea of a retributive world view, where criminals are punished for their crimes. For me, punishment is exclusively useful for prevention; no one _deserves_ punishment. In other words, I may not be a theist, but I am certainly a universalist. From that point of view, thieves have as much right to charity as honest people, and heaven is available to saints and sinners alike. Why shouldn't I give $30 to the man who lied to me? I don't plan to make a habit of it, and he deserves it just as much as anyone else does.
On the other hand, perhaps he really was in trouble. Maybe he was even a rich diabetic, or maybe he just couldn't afford cab fare back home and was lost in Wicker Park. Plato's Socrates is rapidly climbing the charts as one of my all time heros (ie Bertrand Russell) and his take on it was 'Never avoid a possible good in favor of a known evil'. Maybe I really helped the guy out, maybe I just bought him a drink -- a possible good. I chose not to coddle my nascent cynicism, and deny some their basic humanity -- a known evil.
So, if you're out there, Patrick Colombo, good luck to you.