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Daily Office:


4 May 2010


Matins: At Surprisingly Free, Jerry Ellig observes that taking procedural shortcuts (resorting to "fast tracks") can lure regulatory rule-makers into carelessness. He urges the FTC, which may be given enforcement power over online firms, not to repeat the errors of the FCC's recent "net neutrality" fiasco. 

The FCC lost its case against Comcast on appeal, precisely because the FCC tried to take shortcuts. The FCC tried to promote net neutrality by enforcing a set of “principles” that originated in a former chairman’s speech and were never promulgated in a notice-and-comment rulemaking. The FCC commissioners endorsed these principles without investigating whether there was a systemic problem (ie, more than a few anecdotes of misbehavior). Indeed, Chairman Martin’s Notice of Inquiry on “Broadband Industry Practices” that was launched around the same time the FCC took its enforcement action against Comcast turned up no evidence of a systemic problem. If the FCC now tries to impose net neutrality by reclassifying broadband as a “Title II” common carrier, it will have to do the difficult but necessary work of demonstrating, with real factual evidence, that broadband is more like a common carrier than like the lightly-regulated “information service” the commission previously decided it was.

We don’t need Congress to free the FTC from Magnuson-Moss. Instead, Congress should impose the same requirements on the FCC. Sometimes, taking the time to do your homework leads to better decisions, sooner.

Lauds: Lauren Wissot loves Enron — the musical. In spite of itself. (The House Next Door)

But perhaps the biggest question surrounding this show written by Lucy Prebble and directed by Rupert Goold is why it's even on Broadway in the first place. Not only does Enron lack both the Disney brand and any star wattage (hello, Denzel!), it's just downright weird. Which is also what makes the musical so exhilarating. While Prebble's writing is quite tame and mainstream accessible, Goold's production itself is about as avant-garde as they come—more suited to a downtown venue like the Public Theater (which, heaven knows, could use a work like this instead of the current Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson). Indeed, the behind-the-scenes quartet of Anthony Ward (scenic and costume design), Mark Henderson (lighting), Adam Cork (music and sound design), and Jon Driscoll (video and projection) are the true stars of the show.

Prime: At the Times, Dan Bilefsky and Landon Thomas present a lucid explanation of why the proposed Greek bailout is unlikely to make anybody happy.

For all the effort that has been put into creating the rescue package, doubts remained whether Greece would be able to follow through on what amounts to a cultural revolution in the social contract between state and citizen.

In a sign of the challenges ahead, Greece’s largest public sector workers union, ADEDY, said on Sunday night that the harshness of the cuts had prompted it to extend a 24-hour strike previously scheduled for Wednesday to two days beginning on Tuesday.

Mr. Papandreou has thus far largely escaped blame for a crisis that has been pinned on the profligacy of his predecessors from the center right.

But Yannos Papantoniou, a former finance minister from the ruling Socialist party, said that while Greeks understood the need for sacrifice after years of excessive borrowing, their patience was limited and they would expect to see positive results soon.

Tierce: Hugo Mercier reports on a study showing that, to soccer players at least, there's something more important than scoring points. (International Cognition and Culture Institute; via The Morning News)

What of the penalty kickers? Are they more ‘rational' in their choices than the goalies? According to the observation of the Bar-Eli team, the optimal behavior for a penalty kicker is to target the upper third of the goal. In the sample they analyzed, not a single kick in this part of the goal was stopped, as compared to 30% in the central third and 57% in the lower third. So, do the kickers consistently aim at the higher third? No. Why? Because the way of failing varies, and seems to be more important than the actual rate of failure. When the kicker targets the lower third, most failures will come from the goalkeeper having stopped the ball, an ‘honorable' defeat, brought about by the goalie's skills. On the other hand, when the kick is aimed at the upper third, most failures will come from kicks that miss the goal altogether. In such cases, the kicker only has himself to blame. And everybody else only has the kicker to blame. In this light, it makes sense that the kickers should act in a way that is going to minimize reproach rather than only the chances of missing.

In the end, I think that the behavior of the footballers in this case is quite rational.

Sext: John Hargrave tests his VISA card's concierge service. (Not surprisingly, this "service" helps cardholders spend more money.) It'll be interesting to see how long this sort of thing is tolerated: (The Blog of Tim Ferriss; via The Morning News)


“I’m a writer on deadline,” I told Bruce, my new concierge/manservant, “and I need to find out a little more about this Visa Signature concierge service. Are you familiar with this service?”

“I’ve heard of it, yes,” he said.

“Here’s what I need to know: is there anything you won’t do? Like, I assume you won’t help me find a contract killer, or overthrow a government. But what else? Where do you guys draw the line?”

There was a long pause. “May I place you on hold while I check on this for you?”

“You betcha.”

He came back a few minutes later, sounding a little bit shaken. “Okay, we can get you a list like that, but we’ll need about three days to put that together.”

“Oooh. That’s not going to work. I need to deliver this article tomorrow.

Nones: How do you feel about Jonestown tourism? Good idea? Not so much? (NYT)

For now, Jonestown seems plucked from Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us, a book that imagines how the remnants of civilization would crumble as nature reclaimed land freed from man’s grasp. The forbidding bush stands in contrast to the muddy roads of Port Kaituma, about seven miles away, bustling with pork-knockers (miners, in Guyanese English), gold-buying shops, flophouses and brothels.

“We’d like some diversification, and that’s where tourism would fit in,” said Dane Peters, 46, owner of Port Kaituma’s Beacon’s Hotel. He said he built the plaque at Jonestown last year to attract visitors. “We need to start somewhere, with something small,” he said.

At another boarding house, the Triple-R Sky View International Hotel, the owner, Rio Cadorna, agreed about Jonestown’s potential. “What this area really needs is a casino,” said Mr. Cadorna, 64, an immigrant from the Philippines. “We could justify it if we had some high-quality foreign visitors flowing in.”

Vespers: Maud Newton celebrates her blog's eighth anniversary by offering a tour d'horizon of today's better bookish blogs. She also notes a spot of fatigue.

Which is to say: If my perspective and voice are the strengths of this site, they are also its limitations.

The truth is that, nowadays, there are so many excellent sites keeping up with book news, interviewing authors, reviewing novels, and commenting on publishing, my own appetite for participating in generalized literary talk has dwindled. I read other sites as widely as ever, though, and I’ve been interested to observe the evolution of book blogs.

Whether you’re just stopping by or are a regular reader, I’d like to direct you to some other bookish venues that you might enjoy (and want to send copies of your books to, since I, as only one person, can really only get to so much).

Compline: At The Bygone Bureau, staff members contribute to a collection of cooking-disaster stories that are not so much sidesplitting as illuminating: what does cooking look like to people who don't really cook?

I was in college, and I had yet to learn that “high heat” does not mean “leave the pan over a red-hot electric coil for like five minutes before using.” I was making Mark Bittman’s super simple garlic stir-fry, and by the time I threw my minced garlic into the pan, the oil in there could have passed for lava. The fat hissed and spat into the air, and the bits of garlic browned, blackened, and then — pop! pop! pop! — started exploding like tiny firecrackers filled with scalding oil. I dumped in the meat, but it started to sear instantly, so I rushed to get the vegetables in too. I grabbed my plastic cutting board and shoveled the bell peppers and scallions into the pan. I finally poured in the soy sauce, which scorched and nearly boiled over before finally settling down, leaving the kitchen stinking of dirty sulfur. When I tried to pick up the cutting board, it had melted to the coil I’d just cooked my rice on.

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