1. What to do about the ritual of recommendation letters? The USA has a very particular (or peculiar, take your pick) letter-writing culture: it is unacceptable to say anything negative about the candidate or the candidate's project, unless there is something so sublimely awful that even the least delicate of souls would quail at the prospect of sharing a department with said individual. Even then, the negative observations are likely to be couched in dainty euphemisms, lest the candidate be sneaky and do an end-run around the confidentiality waiver. By contrast, letters from across the pond tend to be, shall we say, bracing in their judgments. ("Fascinating project! Utterly without merit from start to finish, but still, nice try.") Even helpful letters have to be carefully parsed: is this the standard-issue canonization letter, or genuine praise? In my experience of reading these things, I can think of very few instances in which a candidate's viability was materially affected by his/her letters of rec in either direction.
There's something to be said for the committee phoning instead of the recommender writing, despite the obvious logistical problems--you need to get two (or, depending on your HR rules, three) people in the same place for about thirty minutes in order to run through a thorough script. However, the advantages are all on the side of the committee & the recommender, not the candidate: there's no way for graduate directors to vet the recs beforehand, no way to do the aforementioned sneaky end-run around the confidentiality waiver (which you shouldn't do! but people do it anyway!), and no way to recover if the professor waxes nostalgic about that time you led a discussion section while spinning a hula hoop and wearing purple-and-orange striped socks.
I think one can overstate the extent to which "famous name" recommendations are helpful--some famous names write consistently terrible/superficial recs. That being said, a candidate further along in his/her career should start acquiring letters from people not on their doctoral committee. (And update the letters: it does raise red flags if the letters are from, say, five or even ten years ago.)
I'm all in favor, however, of capping the number of rec letters at three.
2. Strange as it may seem, you should, in fact, come to class during the first week. Odd, I know. I have missed the first day of class twice in my career, both times because the relevant airport was under several feet of snow and I was trapped somewhere else (moral of the story: I return from winter break much earlier). But I'm reminded of the professor from my undergraduate days who had this unfortunate reputation for coming to class and announcing, "You know, I just don't feel like teaching today." Students: THANKS FOR BEING SO "PROFESSIONAL," AND WE'LL BE TAKING A VACATION NOW.
3. No, no, not the sex thing again. The LP has by now earned a reputation for being a cranky young fogey when it comes to the "why can't we have fun sexy-times with people half our ages" crew. Intellectual excitement does not necessarily equate to the excitement of other regions of the body, despite all the poetic sighs about academic "erotics." In any event, I'm baffled by the persistent belief that saying "no, no sexy-times with the students" means "you believe that all students are LITTLE INNOCENT BABIES, and must be protected from MEAN EVIL PROFESSORS, and isn't that infantilizing?!" Indicating the existence of a power imbalance does not mean that the person with the shorter stick is a child, let alone that the indicator is a rampaging Podsnapper. It means that the person with a shorter stick is likely to bear an unequal burden when the end is nigh and sexy-times have turned into recrimination-times. Some people have more institutional oomph than others, and that matters. Yes, this does mean that there are times when even those in the grips of Pure Twoo Luv may have to restrain themselves temporarily, because rules necessary to protect the general may conflict with the desires of the particular. But, as Louise Antony bluntly reminds us, most serial-student-sexers will never be officially reprimanded. Moreover, fun sexy-times do not occur in a vacuum; other students notice and wonder, sometimes correctly, about the concrete effects on their own prospects. If there's truly a grand passion, it can wait until the student has actually graduated, changed majors, or otherwise passed out from under the relevant faculty member's purview. It's called maturity and delayed gratification, both of which, I have been given to understand, are old-fashioned conservative values.