Are you there Randy Cohen? It’s me, your slacking work ethic.

April 4, 2006


Rany Cohen shows us once again that either he or his question screener wouldn't notice if a jumbo jet crashed in their driveway. So Randy's got some real dullards this week. One, a landlords handwringing over the scent of curry and, the other, that re-run formula of duty to my boss or duty to humanity — which do I choose? And they're short enough to quote in full.

The first one:

I use my furnished condo as a summer home and rent it out the rest of the year. A potential tenant, a lady from Pakistan, seemed ideal except for one thing: the condo's ventilation is not very good, and daily cooking with heavy spices would make the curry smell impossible to remove. I felt guilty rejecting her because of her cooking, but a high ethical standard would mean a heavy financial loss. What to do? Chidong Zhang, Seattle

Randy goes into something about Fair Housing Acts and all that. When Randy's feeling hacky he always relies on the law books to make his point. But of course there is nothing inherently ethical about the legal system. Instead, for Chidong, the answer is simple. His premise that somehow curry depreciates the value of an apartment is baffling. Has he ever smelled Indian (or, uhmm, Pakistani, in this case) food? It's heavenly.

The second question, a variation on a tired model:

When I was an insurance-company claims adjuster, I encountered people who were unaware that they might be entitled to general damages — that is, pain and suffering — and who were willing to settle for out-of-pocket expenses. They were not represented by a lawyer. While my company went out of its way to be fair, should I have told such people that they might be able to collect more, or does company duty mean going for the lowest payment? Michael E. Tymn, Depoe Bay, Ore.

Randy loves these questions because the answer is so short — have someone else do it — and he delivers with this admirable line "The best way to avoid being hit by cars traveling in opposite directions is to get out of the middle of the road." A nice analogy but these cars are going to hit someone and if it's not you then it's someone else. If you're in the position — say the middle of the road — to negotiate the traffic, without getting yourself killed in the process, then by all means put on the white gloves. Why can't Michael just tell his clients of all their options? If his company is as willing to go out of their way to be fair as he says it is then certainly they could allow their claims adjuster such a small and decent discretion. Randy's suggestion that Michael's lawyer-less clients get themselves some lawyers is idiotic. There's a good reason people don't hire lawyers when they sign contracts — they're outrageously expensive — and passing the miniscule buck to someone who charges $100/hr is a waste of resources that could instead be donated to the Humane Society of America.

Also, big ups to those in the Northwest with benign problems. Life's simpler there.


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