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This is what irony is, Alanis.

February 8th, 2008 · No Comments

One of my guilty pleasures/indulgences that I have continued over many years is getting home delivery of The New York Times.  It goes great with a fresh cup of coffee (or two) on the porch or in front of the fire on a Sunday morning.  I think I’ve been doing this since I lived in Cambridge, so we’re talking over twenty years now.

It used to be that I went straight to the Arts & Leisure section, then the Weekend section, then the front section, landing eventually in the Magazine.  There I would tear out the crossword puzzle – which I collected to send to my mother, who is a crossword fiend – and work my way through the articles.  Lately, I find that Randy Cohen’s column, The Ethicist, has become the first thing I turn to after ripping the plastic bag off of the paper.  Yes, even before Arts & Leisure.

Cohen’s snarky comments sound unlike any ethics discussion I’ve ever heard, favoring humor over gravity, or perhaps it is that he makes the serious subject matter more palatable with his wit.  He certainly lightens up what could otherwise be a very dry topic.  This week’s ironic Ethicist column made me laugh out loud (and, yes, I couldn’t even wait for my paper delivery and went online to read it today!):

At the end of a long flight, I gathered my children’s scattered belongings and scooped up someone’s lost flash drive, planning to mail it to its owner. A quick check showed that the drive contains a company’s proprietary information. Some employees are named, but I cannot identify the drive’s owner. If I send it to the head honcho, he may castigate the person who failed to protect this information. If I send it to someone else, he or she may have inappropriate access to this information. What to do? — CAROLYN CANNUSCIO, PHILADELPHIA

Ethics requires not just good intentions — those you have — but deft execution, and that you . . . well, did I mention that your intentions are admirable? And your smile. I’ll bet you have a nice smile.

You should do now what you should have done when you first spotted the little lost drive: give it to an airline official or at least let the airline know you have it. When its owner realizes it’s gone, he is likely — or certainly able — to contact the airline; he has no way to contact you. Anyone might be frazzled after a long flight, particularly when traveling with kids, but your tactics impeded the joyous reunion of owner and thumb drive and led you to rummage through someone’s private files.

UPDATE: After additional, more tech-savvy, sleuthing, Cannuscio unearthed the name and address of the drive’s owner — the founder of the company, which develops theft-protection products. (The jokes just write themselves.) She adds, “The flash drive is on its way home.”

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