Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | May 21, 2005

Fast reading, slow bureaucrats

A wise man once said to me, “If you want something done quickly, ask a busy person to do it.” If my reading habits are any indication, there’s a lot of truth to this statement.

I really ought to have little time and brainpower left over for reading for pleasure. After all, I read lots of newspapers stay abreast of current events so that I can write columns and participate intelligently on the newspaper’s editorial board. I read technical documents at work. I’m taking a class with a heavy reading load.

So what did I do over the last two weeks? I found the time to read three books, not because I had to, but because I wanted to.

First (and I’m a little behind, because this book was published in America in 2004), I read “Eats Shoots & Leaves,” a slim, hilarious volume by British author Lynne Truss on the unlikely topic of punctuation.

I loved this book for several reasons, not the least of which was how delighted I was to learn that I’m not the only person who has to bite her tongue when she sees an out-of-place apostrophe in a shop window. I’m not alone in having strong opinions on the proper punctuation of compound modifiers. I don’t agree with all of the ideas Truss advocates, but it certainly is nice that someone else thinks apostrophes are important, too.

Truss describes precisely the typical stickler reaction to the sight of wholly inappropriate apostrophes (for example, “Book’s for sale,” or “Egg’s $3 per dozen”): “… it will trigger a ghastly private emotional process similar to the stages of bereavement, though greatly accelerated. First there is shock. Within seconds, shock gives way to disbelief, disbelief to pain, and pain to anger. Finally (and this is where the analogy breaks down), anger gives way to a righteous urge to perpetrate an act of criminal damage with the aid of a permanent marker.”

If you’re a fellow stickler (Not sure if you’re a stickler? Here’s a test: Do you know what an Oxford comma is?), or just want to understand a stickler in your life, “Eats Shoots & Leaves” is for you.

I also finished an eminently readable book by an economist, and doesn’t that sound unlikely? Even if you hated Econ 101 in college, pick up a copy of “Freakonomics” by Steven D. Levitt. Besides repeating the sound advice that just because two things happen at nearly the same time doesn’t make one the cause and the other the effect, this book also guarantees to irritate people of every political stripe. If you’re intrigued about why the crime rate dropped dramatically in the 1990s, or what teachers and sumo wrestlers have in common, or why most drug dealers live with their moms, you’ll enjoy this book.

Finally, I also finished “Shuffle Up and Deal” by Mike Sexton, co-host of the World Poker Tour. Hey, at least the time I spent reading this book was time I didn’t spend watching televised poker, which is definitely a guilty pleasure of mine.


A Connecticut delegation (and the spelling of that state’s name is the topic of an amusing section in the Truss book) wants the U.S. Senate to put the brakes on the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ system for approving applications for tribal acknowledgment. It’s hard to believe, but apparently a decades-long review process apparently isn’t quite enough time for the bureaucrats to get it right.

Members of the Connecticut delegation, including Gov. Jodi Rell, are alarmed because approval of two Native American tribes’ applications for acknowledgment was overturned by the U.S. Department of Interior’s Board of Appeals. These applications are the first to ever be overturned.

Rell and her cohorts are advocating the moratorium to give the agency time to reform policies and conduct long-term planning.

Are government bureaucrats incapable of doing two things at once? Most private enterprises of which I’m aware conduct business and make long term plans at the same time! Imagine that! Considering that it takes decades for BIA bureaucrats to review an application, one has to wonder why Rell and company are in such a hurry to slow the agency.

Val Lopez of the Amah Mutsun Indian tribe told reporter Serdar Tumgoren that “In 1991, when we applied for federal recognition, we knew at that time that it would be about 25 years before our petition was up for review.”

I just don’t understand why a moratorium is needed on a process that takes a quarter of a century to complete.


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