Saturday, March 12, 2011

Engaging Stakeholders In Designing Regulation

A couple of notes from the panel Friday morning at the International Regulatory Reform Conference that featured Kai Weigrich (Hertie School of Governance in Berlin), Susan Dudley (regulatory czar during the last two years of the Bush administration), and yours truly.

We took three versions of this shot, and Kai did not look at the camera for any of them. (This kind of reminds me of my Uncle Henry, who we seem to have a lot of profile shots of.)

Kai and I were just about the only two guys at the conference not wearing a tie. (I made the faux pas of putting a tie on the day before, a move that greatly disappointed my German colleague, who had seen my normally casual approach at a meeting in DC a few months back.)

Oh, and we had a pretty interesting conversation between ourselves and the audience as well...

~Steve

Friday, March 11, 2011

What Is A "Walking Dinner?"

The evening program of the International Regulatory Reform Conference called for a nighttime cruise through the canals of Amsterdam. This cruise was followed by dinner at a restaurant called Fifteen Amsterdam. Now, Fifteen Amsterdam is an interesting place on its own merits. Every year, the restaurant provides 15-20 young people the opportunity to train to become chefs. Nice!

But the real reason I am writing about this dinner has nothing to do with a feel good story. No, it was something written about the dinner in the conference program that caught my eye and puzzled me. You see, the meal was advertised as a "walking dinner." This billing left me with visions of grabbing some food and eating it while strolling through the canals, or something like that.

Wrong, Balla!

It turns out that a "walking dinner" is simply an affair where waiters bring around small plates of prepared dishes and the guests mill about at standing tables. Do we have a specific term for this in American English?

No matter, you gotta love English as it is spoken outside of the US!

~Steve

PS: Des, you'll love this one...As I was leaving the canal boat, the captain told me to "mind my head"...

A Bilingual Ash Wednesday Mass

There, in the background, is the cathedral (St. Nicholas) where I attended Ash Wednesday Mass here in Amsterdam. Let me just say that it is an absolutely gorgeous church, with beautiful paintings serving as the Stations of the Cross.

As for the Mass itself, it was quite a lesson in languages. The celebrant was a native Spanish speaker who could also more than hold his own in Dutch. Also on the altar was a native Dutch speaker. With all of this language fire power, the Mass alternated between the two languages, with some songs and responses in Dutch and others in Spanish. There were several places during the Mass where Dutch and Spanish were used sequentially, as in the case of the scripture readings.

And then, as if the proceedings didn't remind me enough about attending Mass in China already, there were the processions to receive ashes and Holy Communion. Both of these processions totally resembled the free-for-alls we have become used to at Beijing's North Cathedral and other locations around the country. And, just like at many Masses in China, people didn't seem to have a sense of certainty about when to sit, stand, or kneel. I know I was out of sync on a number of occasions!

And, just in case you were wondering about the language capabilities of the congregation, the responses that were spoken in Spanish came out much louder than the responses that were spoken in Dutch.

~Steve

Thursday, March 10, 2011

My Facebook Friend Has Had His Account Deleted

Last summer, Michael Anti, a Chinese blogger and Internet activist who is known around the world, took issue with some research I had just presented on political participation on the Chinese Internet. Today I have learned that Michael Anti, whose Chinese name is Zhao Jing, has had his Facebook accounted canceled by Facebook. The grounds for this cancellation? Michael Anti is not his real name. It is not the name that appears on his official, government-issued identification card.

Click here to read the full story from The Huffington Post...

Chinese blogger and activist Michael Anti wants to know why he is less worthy of a Facebook account than company founder Mark Zuckerberg's dog.

Anti, a popular online commentator whose legal name is Zhao Jing, said in an interview Tuesday that his Facebook account was suddenly canceled in January. Company officials told him by e-mail that Facebook has a strict policy against pseudonyms and that he must use the name issued on his government ID.

Anti argues that his professional identity as Michael Anti has been established for more than a decade, with published articles and essays.

Anti, a former journalist who has won fellowships at both Cambridge University and Harvard University, said he set up his Facebook account in 2007. By locking him out of his account, Facebook has cut him off from a network of more than 1,000 academic and professional contacts who know him as Anti, he said.

"I'm really, really angry. I can't function using my Chinese name. Today, I found out that Zuckerberg's dog has a Facebook account. My journalistic work and academic work is more real than a dog," he said.

Zuckerberg recently set up a Facebook page for "Beast," complete with photos and a profile. Unlike Anti's, however, the page for the puppy doesn't violate Facebook's policies because it's not meant to be a personal profile page. Rather, it's a type of page reserved for businesses and public figures that fans can "like" and receive updates from on their own Facebook pages.

Facebook said it does not comment on individual accounts, but added that it believes a "real name culture" leads to more accountability and a safer and more trusted environment for people who use Facebook.

"This viewpoint has been developed by our own research and in consultation with a number of safety and child protection experts," Debbie Frost, Facebook's director of international communications and Public policy, said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

Facebook said in an e-mail to Anti that the company has "tried to keep the rule simple and fair by saying personal profiles must always be set up in the real legal name of the individual concerned."

Dissidents in a variety of countries have argued that Facebook's policy can endanger human rights activists and others if their identities become known.

Anti said there is a long tradition in China for writers and journalists to take pen names, partly as protection from retaliation from authorities. If Facebook requires the use of real names, that could potentially put Chinese citizens in danger, he said.

"For my fellow Chinese, this policy could easily help Chinese police identify them," he said.

It's not the first time Anti has had problems with an Internet site. In 2005, his blog on a Microsoft website was shut down by the company following pressure from Chinese officials. Microsoft's action led to a public outcry.


~Steve

Anne Frank And Other Amsterdam Observations

During an afternoon divided between working on my ACUS project and strolling around Amsterdam (all while dealing with some serious jet lag!), the real highlight was a visit to the Anne Frank House. This is the place where Anne Frank and her family hid out for several years during the Holocaust. It was amazing to see the way in which a movable bookcase provided a cover for the stairs leading to the Secret Annex. It gave me chills to think about the employees from Otto Frank's company working in such close proximity to an entire group of people they did not even know were on the premises.

But, most of all, my eyes got watery when looking at the pencil marks on the wall where the growth of the kids was tracked during the hiding out period. If that doesn't bring it home, then nothing will. These were just human beings, with the same kinds of hopes and dreams as anyone else. Right, Des?

My afternoon wanderings were not just limited to a moving lesson in history. There was also the Amsterdam of the present. And so it was just a wee bit shocking to watch the sale of narcotics of some sort go down right on the street. This was not a main thoroughfare where the exchange took place. No, it was just a side alley. Nevertheless, the transaction was happening right out there in the open.

And then there was the international flavor of the city. To wit, I sat in an Argentinian beef restaurant, ordered fish and chips, and was waited on by a Chinese guy.

~Steve

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Sweeney Todd Is A Comedy!

I have to say that with all of the gray scenery (was 19th century London really than dark and dreary?), bright red blood, and stylized throat slashings, we did more chuckling than screaming when we watched the Johnny Depp version of Sweeney Todd the other day.

And one other thing we've all been wondering...Why do the same actors get recycled for every film set in England these days? Helena Bonham Carter is certainly an excellent performer, from A Room with a View to Twelfth Night to Harry Potter to The King's Speech. But is there anyone else alive out there!?

~Steve

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

International Regulatory Reform Conference

I'm heading out today to Amsterdam, where I will be a speaker at the 4th International Regulatory Reform Conference. Click here for the conference announcement and here for the program and speaker bios.

~Steve

Monday, March 07, 2011

Happy Birthday From The Cheesecake!

When you go to the Cheesecake Factory for a birthday dinner, as we did last week in celebration of Z's 14th birthday, the staff come over to your table and sing this rendition of "Happy Birthday"...

Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday from the Cheesecake,
Happy Birthday to you!


Here's the exchange that I have been imagining in my head ever since...

Cheesecake Factory Corporate Executive 1: Hey Bob, we need to come up with a Cheesecake Factory-themed version of "Happy Birthday" that will be sung in all of our restaurants.


Cheesecake Factory Corporate Executive 2: How about this..."Happy Birthday from the Cheesecake"...What do you think!?


Cheesecake Factory Corporate Executive 1: Are you crazy!? We'll be the laughing stock of the restaurant industry with a ridiculous theme song like that.


Cheesecake Factory Corporate Executive 2:
You got that wrong, Stan. Our focus groups tell us that the lyrics are catchy. People will be walking around for days afterwards, singing about our cheesecake. Before long, we'll have cornered the dining out birthday market!

Sad to say, based on what's been in my head, I've got to go with Bob on this one...

~Steve