This week, kind words for Randy

This is really late, but I don't have any issues with Randy's advice from last weekend (I'm using multiple sources because I don't know who moves the article to a pay-archive when). I'm both impressed and confused by the medical doctor who is worried he is unethical if he accepts a reward for medical care from an airline which is having financial trobule. Since that last sentence reads like he provided medical care to the airline (Help! We need to perform an appendectomy on our pre-flight safety check policy), I'll clarify that the doctor was on a flight and responded when there was a call for help. Now, while I find his desire to be ethical very impressive, I don't understand what wrong he is worried about committing. He is in the business of receiving financial compensation for providing care to sick or injured people. He provided care to a sick or injured person. Someone else voluntarily offered to provide him with compensation. What could be wrong with that? In fact, accepting a reward is a way to allow someone who is "in your debt" to feel as if things are now even. So it may be better for all parties involved.

As far as question two goes, I again agree with Randy. Charging high school students for recommendation letters is a) just icky and b) means there is no reason to believe a word of the recommendation letter, since the teachers incentive is now to be asked by as many people as s/he feels s/he can handle writing for to write letters. A good way to do this is to spread the information around the high school that the teacher writes very positive and helpful letters, irrelevant of the quality of the student. As for ways to solve the problem which the teacher said led to the policy of charging $20/ letter, namely students asking for more letters than they plan on using and then "letter shopping" to get the most beneficial package of recommendations, there are other ways of doing that. The most obvious, which Randy hits on, is asking the student to provide postage, and addressed envelopes to the teacher directly, and taking the student out of the recommendation sending process. But I can imagine colleges not liking this, since it would be more convenient for them to have all of their submissions from a given student in as few communications as possible.

In that case, I would suggest a fairly elaborate system in which the school announces a policy of having every teacher include, as the first and last line of each recommendation: If the sealed envelope containing this recommendation has been tampered with in anyway, please assume that the student in question is undeserving of attending your fine institution. Then bring back wax seals for envelopes, or some other interesting way of indicating they've been tampered with. Or charge the students money per recommendation, but make all funds payable to the school itself or another charity. Though that still gives an advantage to wealthier students in "letter shopping."

Finally, on the third letter, I think the letter-writer could win a judgment in civil court over the person who was parasitic off of their advertisements. The judgement would probably be less than the cost of makingthe case, so it will never happen, but on the facts of the letter, the other party fraudulently and knowingly misrepresented their garage sale as the one which was advertised, and caused economic harm to the letter-writer by doing so. Maybe they'll settle the law suit.