Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The New York Times lets a committee of camels write an Op-Ed piece about “Internet transparency.” Or something like that I, uh, think.

I saw an article called “How To Regulate the Internet Tap” on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times this morning. A little voice started screaming frantic warnings in my head.

“Don’t bust your brain or your eyeballs reading this,” warned the voice.

The article is relatively short (I've just counted 525 words). It had six authors. This means that if they all contributed equally, each one wrote 85 and 8/10ths words. And the most ominous sign of all was, they were all academics. And what the hell is an “Internet tap?”

This article was clearly a prime example of a committee effort. And it instantly reconfirmed the wisdom of the old saw, “A camel is a horse created by a committee.”

To give the prose its due, I confess that I actually find it less impenetrable than Fort Knox. But not much less. Or perhaps a more suitable description of the text would refer to the flow of extra-heavy molasses along a one-degree incline, or watching paint dry.

At any rate, those six professors from various departments and centers at Georgetown, Stanford, NYU and UC Berkeley somehow put their heads together (Were there travel expenses involved? Is that why tuition costs at those universities are so high?) and came up with this stirring penultimate thought:

As American policymakers decide what should be done about net neutrality, they would do well to consider the precedents set by Europe’s new framework. The goal should be to develop — through a deliberative process involving regulators, the public and affected companies — industry-wide disclosure requirements that provide consumers with easy-to-interpret information on company-based limitations on access, use of services or applications.

If you read that to yourself slowly a few times, you should get it, more or less. I love the part about “easy-to-interpret information” best of all.

Finally there’s this rousing conclusion:

When it comes to the Internet and net neutrality, ensuring transparency promises to enhance the evolution of this dynamic market. Imposing heavy-handed rules about how providers can operate will only hinder it.

Speaking of heavy hands, who on the copy desk let this clunker in? I mean, I know you feel sorry for professors so desperate to avoid perishing that they gang up in groups of six to publish 500 words that come down to encouraging more or less everybody not to regulate the Internet with a heavy hand so we can have "transparency." Who except Joe Stalin and Adolph Hitler could be against that?

But journalists are in much deeper economic peril than tenured professors. It ought to be the other way around. Professors ought to invite journalists—while there are still any competent journalists left—to present original ideas in plain English at universities.

Oh sorry, I forgot. If you present original ideas in simple language, you might make the whole faculty look bad.

No comments: