January 06, 2004
Oolong

A pot of Golden Dragon Oolong tea at Peet's on a rainy afternoon... I am, once again, overwhelmed with how very, very little I have done to deserve a life in which so many good things happen....

Posted by DeLong at 04:49 PM

December 22, 2003
Christmas Shopping

"Wow!" "Dad?" "Where else but at Williams & Sonoma could you find a waffle iron that makes waffles in the shapes of farm animals?" "You're not thinking of buying it, are you?" "And it's on sale! Only $76!" "Think of how humiliated your children would be to have their friends be served waffles in the shape of farm animals!" "Must... purchase..." "Help! Help! We need to pull him out of the store! He's been trapped by advertising!" [Later] "There. Aren't you glad we pulled you out of that store before it was too late? We don't need a waffle iron that makes waffles in the shapes of farm animals. Nobody needs that." "We don't need very much. All we need is enough food to not be terribly hungry, enough clothing to not be shivering cold, enough shelter to not be miserably wet, and enough books to not be deathly bored. Everything else is a 'convenience' or a 'luxury'." "Why isn't he saying that we need to buy the waffle iron to stimulate the economy?..."...

Posted by DeLong at 07:10 PM

December 11, 2003
Mud

Memo to Self: Put on fancy white long-sleeved starched pressed work shirt with cufflinks after, not before, one takes dog outside to play in mud....

Posted by DeLong at 12:07 PM

November 29, 2003
Her Bridal Bower Becomes a Burial Bier of Bitter Bereavement

Pseudolus: "Very good! Can you say, 'Titus the tailor told ten tall tales to Titania the titmouse'?" Lycus: "And within you will only find hooded men. We are an ancient order--of lepers. Unclean! Unclean! We are also going to watch A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum...

Posted by DeLong at 01:18 PM

Change of Menu

Saturday dinner: Turkey lo mein....

Posted by DeLong at 01:17 PM

November 27, 2003
Menus

Friday lunch: turkey sandwiches Friday dinner: turkey curry Saturday lunch: turkey fried rice Saturday dinner: turkey cacciatore Sunday lunch: turkey soup Sunday dinner: turkey loaf Monday dinner: turkey hash Tuesday dinner: turkey-noodle casserole...

Posted by DeLong at 08:30 PM

November 08, 2003
Movies II

When I gave my throw-away line that Galaxy Quest is the best Star Trek movie ever made, Kip of Long Story, Short Pier responded with the claim that The Hunt for Red October is the second best Star Trek movie ever made, and The Wrath of Khan is the third. What's the fourth? What's the fourth best Star Trek movie ever made? Is it Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World?* Is it Forbidden Planet? Is it something else? *Some may protest that Jack Aubrey is Lord Cochrane (with a few of the serial numbers filed off), not James T. Kirk. My reponse is that Stephen Maturin is definitely Spock, and that James T. Kirk is Horatio Hornblower who is also Lord Cochrane with the serial numbers filed off....

Posted by DeLong at 01:23 PM

November 07, 2003
Movies

Why isn't everybody else's taste in movies like mine? For example, Rat Race. One of my all-time favorite movies. The perfect comedy. The comic moment at which the bus of "I Love Lucy" impersonators which has been hijacked by the disgraced football referee Cuba Gooding, Jr., is suddenly knocked off the road by the impact on its front windshield of the mooing cow dangling from the hot air balloon... Priceless, absolutely priceless. A moment that is unexcelled anywhere in world comedy. But how did the movie do? U.S. gross of $56.7 million. Ran for seven weeks before weekly receipts dropped below $1 million. It did OK, but only OK. Many people said that they didn't like it that much because it was really stupid--but that's the point: really stupid and really funny. Or take Galaxy Quest. Without a doubt the best Star Trek movie ever made. And also funny as hell. How did it do? It grossed $71.4 million in the U.S., and made more than $1 million for nine weeks. It did better than OK. But it wasn't the hit I think it deserved to be. Is it that not enough people have watched too much Star Trek than...

Posted by DeLong at 01:35 PM

October 28, 2003
California Fires

From NASA's Aqua satallite, via SFGate: SF Gate: Multimedia (image):...

Posted by DeLong at 02:00 PM

October 11, 2003
Bilious Dog

Have you ever had one of those days where you return home to find a pile of yellow dog bile on the hall stairs carpet? America's Silliest Dog is also a Bilious Dog. The Thirteen-Year-Old heard it happen. He immediately hustled the dog outside. Hustling the dog outside (1) minimized the problem should the dog vomit more, or again; (2) delayed his having to face the pile of bile; (3) while still allowing him to claim that he was fulfilling his dog-care responsibilities. Once outside, however, the dog was not sick as a dog--the dog was not sick at all. She picked up the scent of a five-point buck just outside the front door, tracked it into the creekbed, flushed it, and then chased it up the hill at full speed. The Thirteen-Year-Old labored up the hill after them, getting his legs scratched by the Armenian yellow star thistle. A healthy five-point buck has nothing to fear from a short-legged undersized Labrador Retriever. But any stern chase is a long chase. "Bilious dog," I said to Ann Marie when she got home. "The dog is not bilious," said Ann Marie. She does not have a liver disease showing itself in...

Posted by DeLong at 12:50 PM

October 10, 2003
I Can No Longer Claim...

Well, I can no longer claim that I have never felt an earthquake. Magnitude 3, epicenter about 4 miles south-south-west, at 10:16 PM PDT....

Posted by DeLong at 11:02 PM

October 07, 2003
Non Sum Dignis

What have I ever done to be worthy of being in a world in which I can listen to Lucy Kaplansky, Richard Shindell, and Dar Williams, sing Julie Miller's "By Way of Sorrow"? It is my nominee for the perfect folk song. Cry, Cry, Cry...

Posted by DeLong at 03:44 PM

September 15, 2003
Soccer Dad After Action Report

Thirteen-Year-Old I ran into traffic coming back from Berkeley and was late to the Thirteen-Year-Old's game, missing the first quarter. The Thirteen-Year-Old was playing right defense--opposite their left forward. The second quarter started. Their coach began yelling, "Bring it down the right! Bring it down the right!" "Last quarter he was saying, 'Bring it down the left!'" Ann Marie said to me. The Thirteen-Year-Old had shut down a good chunk of their offense: they were now eager not to try him any further. It was incredibly, beastly hot: 100 degrees or so on the semi-arid treeless plain that is the Burton Valley School athletic field. Nevertheless, a 6-3 victory. Ten-Year-Old "Pass it to the middle! Pass it to the middle!" their coach (who had coached the Ten-Year-Old last year) kept yelling to his wings. They tried. But the Ten-Year-Old was playing center midfield. And she had a better ear for her last year's coach than his own players did--she was faster too. So every time they made a pass, she would be there, intercepting it and kicking it upfield to her forwards. Her forwards were exhausted: it was still 95 degrees or so. But they would gamely try to score....

Posted by DeLong at 07:46 PM

September 10, 2003
AAUUGGHH! I Want My Nanotechnology Now!

Well, not nanotechnology but microtechnology. I want to find my copy of Donald Kagan's The Archidamnian War so I can sound smart in a long-distance email conversation I am having with my brother. I want to quote the part where Donald Kagan says that Thucydides is completely, completely wrong in his overall assessment of the causes of the Peloponnesian War. If my entire sources on the Peloponnesian War consisted of (a) Thucydides, (b) dubious material from the historical moralist Plutarch, and (c) other scraps of evidence, I would be extremely, extremely wary of contradicting Thucydides on anything. Thucydides was a very smart guy. Thucydides saw and learned lots of stuff that he did not put down in his book. To argue--as Kagan does--that Thucydides's evidence as presented in the book is not strong enough to support his conclusions is not to argue that Thucydides's conclusions are incorrect. Yet Kagan is bold, bold in his declarations that they are. As Chris says: ...the knowledge is so damn spotty that there is a sense in which Kagan's work can be nothing other than a thin gloss on Thucydides. I wonder how much our view of Ancient Greece would be different had the...

Posted by DeLong at 02:55 PM

September 08, 2003
Owl II

One of the curious things about the ten-minute-long owl sighting--20 yards away, sitting on a dead branch--of last night was that America's Silliest Dog had no clue that it was there. The wind was blowing from us toward the owl, so there was no trace of scent. And the owl's coloration--remarkably like oak bark--kept America's Silliest Dog from having even a small chance of seeing what we all, with our African Plains Ape eyes, were watching so avidly. I find this amazing. It was not yet full dusk. The bird subtended a full 1.5 degrees of arc. Yet America's Silliest Dog was totally clueless about the presence of a very large avian close nearby....

Posted by DeLong at 09:30 AM

September 05, 2003
Wifi Everywhere

"La Jolla is beautiful." "Do you think any junior faculty member at the University of California at San Diego can afford to live in La Jolla?" "Ah. Where do they live then? In Orange County, with their parents?" "No. That's the undergraduates. They commute down for Tuesday through Thursday. The junior faculty live south and inland." "How do they get to campus?" "They drive to downtown. And then take the UC San Diego shuttle bus for the forty-five minute drive from Scripps Hospital to the La Jolla campus." "Why not drive all the way?" "The UCSD shuttle bus is wireless-internet-enabled." "Ah."...

Posted by DeLong at 06:11 PM

September 01, 2003
Retrievers

Innumerable dogs on the Lafayette Reservoir Lower Trail this morning. Of the innumerable dogs seen, a large proportion--48 animals--were retrievers, and of those 48 retrievers some 22 were yellow labradors......

Posted by DeLong at 11:52 AM

August 30, 2003
Summer Dawn Comes to the Big Teat Mountains

Every morning in the summer that you are in Jackson Hole, you must do the following: You must rise, wash, and dress when it is full dark. You must then head out to some place where you can get a full view of the Teton Range. Arriving at your view point at 6:00 AM in late August is early enough. ou must face west, not east. You must then sit still and watch--maybe drinking a cup of coffee--as dawn comes, and the Grand Teton range slowly emerges out of the darkness. You must continue to watch as the first pink rays of the sun light up first the cumulus clouds above, then the tops of Grand Teton and Mt. Moran, and then the whole rocky mass of the Teton Range. There is nothing to match the morning sun on the Grand Teton Range anywhere on the North American continent. (I would have said that there is nothing that comes even close to matching it, but earlier this summer I went to the Icefields Parkway in the Canadian Rockies: they come close.) This morning, alas--for the first time in my experience ever--rain and a low cloud ceiling of 1000 fee are...

Posted by DeLong at 07:56 PM

Flying Into Jackson Hole

There is that moment when you realize that when the captain says that the plane is "passing through 10,000 feet," he means 10,000 feet above sea level, not 10,000 feet above the valley floor. And you realize that you are already nearly 4,000 feet lower than the peak of Grand Teton itself, and that those things to the right blocking out the stars are not clouds but mountains....

Posted by DeLong at 07:55 PM

August 26, 2003
Pride and Prejudice

The Ten-Year-Old is blasting through the complete works of Diane Duane, while nibbling at Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice on the side. She has decided that the book version of Pride and Prejudice is better than the five-hour movie version. You can reread pieces of the book whenever you want to, and you can read chapters fast or slowly. Moreover, the book has more and more detailed information: "in the movie, you have no idea that she cries for half an hour after turning down [Fitzwilliam] D'Arcy's first marriage proposal." She's learning that watching movies is an activity that takes place primarily in the visual cortext, while reading takes place primarily in the forebrain....

Posted by DeLong at 09:04 PM

August 21, 2003
Obsolete Business Models

The children routinely use the "mute" button on the remote to silence TV commercials, for no reason other than that they are annoying. If they are representative of the younger generation, the effectiveness of TV advertising is about to take a *big* dive....

Posted by DeLong at 04:50 PM

August 20, 2003
Can Radicchio and Endive Be Far Behind?

Today Virginia Postrel is bemused by the fact that McDonalds is offering salads with radicchio and balsamic vinegar in the ingredients list: Dynamist Blog: MUCH BETTER THAN SUBWAY: Forget Jared, here's a better fast food diet tip: McDonald's mighty tasty grilled chicken caesar salad with balsamic vinaigrette dressing has only 250 calories if you leave off the croutons, which aren't that great to begin with. Who ever thought McDonald's would serve salads with arugula and balsamic vinaigrette dressing? It's another sign of the aesthetic age. Me. I'm not sure that our age is any more "aesthetic" than any other: I remember Jan de Vries's paper on how seventeenth-century middle-class Dutch households would spend a fifth of their income "upgrading" from whole wheat to higher-class and more easily digestible (albeit nutritionally inferior) white bread. Now that's a serious sacrifice for style--a much more serious sacrifice than those who shop at T.J. Maxx and Target make. Me, I'm fascinated by the fact that McDonalds can afford to put arugula and balsamic vinegar on its ingredient list: it's not an eleemosynary institution, after all. But there's a sense in which our two views are two sides of the same coin... (And why does...

Posted by DeLong at 12:56 PM

August 11, 2003
False Advertising

"Why, yes," I said. "We can certainly go see the giant sequoias. Instead of taking Interstate 80 back from Lake Tahoe, we will take 89 South to 4 West, cross the main crest of the Sierra's not at Donner but at Ebbetts Pass, and stop at Calaveras Big Trees State Park." Ha! I repeat myself: Ha! Donner Pass is a pass--a smooth route through a mountain chain avoiding the steep peaks and the heights. Tioga Pass is a pass (albeit one that they do not plow in winter). Ebbetts Pass is not a pass. It should be called "Ebbetts Saddle that is marginally lower than the highest Sierra Nevada peaks, but that should not be driven by the faint of heart and acrophobic, especially not in a poorly-made Ford Taurus with 130,000 miles on it and a twice-rebuilt transmission." The other members of my family say that it was absolutely beautiful. I was concentrating on avoiding the RVs on a road with hairpin turns that was so narrow that they forwent painting a yellow line down the middle, when I wasn't watching the temperature gauge or listening to the thunk-thunk-screech of the transmission......

Posted by DeLong at 08:44 PM

Only in California...

In recent news the Contra Costa Sun reports that, with more than 100 different candidates on the ballot for the California governor recall election (thus making it conceivable that the winner will be somebody with a plurality of 20%--now that's a mandate for the exercise of legitimate political authority you), my fair state of California has recaptured the proud title of Doofus State that Florida had snatched away with its impressive performance in the 2000 presidential election. But it's not just in politics that California is the Doofus State. Consider the Odwalla Company, manufacturer of the excellent--delicious--wonderful--ambrosianic--Summertime Lime Quencher, which may be the best cold drink in the universe (and if it isn't, adding some vodka will surely fix that). Look on the side, where the Odwalla Company lists the ingredients: Water. Lime juice. Organic evaporated cane juice (10%). Now I ask you, would a company anyplace other than California call "sugar" by the name of "organic evaporated cane juice"? It's C6H12O6 either way. Does the Odwalla Company think that we are too stupid here in California to know that when you take "organic cane juice" and "evaporate" the water from it, what is left is what the hoi polloi...

Posted by DeLong at 03:04 PM

August 08, 2003
On the Pacific Crest Trail

Highly recommended: The trail to Donner Summit Lake. The lake itself--beautiful and unvisited on a weekday morning, even in August. The trail is very nice. Unfortunately, you can always hear I-80 in the distance. The marching song of the Pacific Crest Trail: Everywhere we go People want to know Who we are So we tell them: We are the unacclimated The feeble feeble unacclimated Unacclimated to the high country With too few red cells in our blood The feeble feeble unacclimated We get too tired too easily And our morale is very low The feeble feeble unacclimated We need lots of rest stops And our pace is very slow The feeble feeble unacclimated Work, bone marrow, work Make more red blood cells......

Posted by DeLong at 09:01 AM

July 20, 2003
In Praise of Fruit

An Ode to White Flesh Nectarines I bought some yesterday, but they are not ripe yet....

Posted by DeLong at 02:19 PM

July 07, 2003
Athabasca Glacier

Note to all: If you ever go to the Canadian Rockies, you must go out and stand on the Athabasca Glacier. It is simply non-negotiable. (Stay far back from the ice avalanches, however.)...

Posted by DeLong at 07:06 PM

June 30, 2003
Eating Dinner

Inside the kitchen, we are eating dinner. Outside the kitchen--thirty yards outside the kitchen, on the grassy scrub of the hillside of our small private canyon--other mammals are eating dinner too. Two bucks--a six point and a four point, with their antlers still covered with velvet. Me: I'm glad I don't have to grow and shed those every year. Just think at what a biological energy load that must be! The Ten-Year-Old: Plus they got caught on branches when you flee from coyotes and run past trees. They seem too large to make evolutionary sense. Me: Ah! But female deer love them. "Let me mate with the one with the biggest antlers," they think to themselves. The Thirteen-Year-Old: Plus they're good for fighting. Ann Marie: How come we never find any antlers around here? There are a lot of deer. They shed a lot of antlers. Where do they go? I'm going to offer a bounty this winter... Me: Are those bucks or stags? The Thirteen-Year-Old: Bucks. Definitely bucks. A stag would be much bigger. It would have more points on its antlers. Note: A male fallow deer [i.e., mule or white-tail] is called a fawn in his first year;...

Posted by DeLong at 05:13 PM

June 24, 2003
By the Waters of Babylon...

...we lay down and wept when we remembered what Teresa Nielsen Hayden calls la cuisine de nouvelle Zion. Actually, we did not weep: we giggled because we had not imagined that there were so many things you could cook for which "Is it a vegetable or a dessert?" was a meaningful question. The secret appears to involve the use of lots and lots of marshmallows in non-standard ways....

Posted by DeLong at 11:28 AM

June 22, 2003
The Bear Sighting Count

The bear-sighting count now stands at five: One black bear mother plus cub on the road to midge-infested Lake Maligne. One grizzly bear feeding across the valley just north of Bow Lake on the Icefields Parkway. One black bear feeding by the road just south of Bow Lake on the Icefields Parkway. One black bear at Kicking-Horse Pass. And then there are the bear-activity signs: Bear activity along this trail. Recent bear activity along this trail. Recent grizzly bear activity. Recent grizzly bear sow with two cubs. Grizzly bear sow with two cubs who has lost her caution around humans. Grizzly bear sow with two cubs who has lost her caution around humans and been involved in aggressive incidents. Grizzly bear sow with two cubs who has lost her caution around humans and been involved in aggressive incidents but has not (yet) approached a group of more than five people. We turned back....

Posted by DeLong at 10:51 AM

June 21, 2003
I Can't Believe It!

Eight days tramping around the Canadian Rockies in good health. And on the ninth day--sitting from 8 AM to 6 PM in a chair at a conference, with occasional breaks--I strain my left hamstring. How does one strain one's hamstring in a day when one does nothing but sit in a chair? I admit I got a bit excited when the conversation turned to Depotstimmrecht. Still, it's pathetic....

Posted by DeLong at 08:49 PM

June 20, 2003
A Sinister Conspiracy

The malign and malicious midges of Lake Maligne. Unbelievable. Unmentioned in any guidebook. Clearly a sinister conspiracy of silence orchestrated by the National Tourist Board of Canada or SMERSH or the Illuminati or some equally sinister organization....

Posted by DeLong at 09:35 PM

June 02, 2003
Let's Play "Telecommunications Corporation Bankruptcy"!

We are driving south on 101 through the southern half of the Santa Clara--"Silicon"--Valey. In the vehicle are a bunch of ten year old girls. We are all headed for the Pfeiffer State Park Campground at Big Sur. They are playing a game: "Telecommunications Corporation Bankrupty." "Hello. This is Cingular Wireless*. We are now bankrupt. We are shutting down. We are shutting down. Your phone service will end tomorrow. Thank you for your patronage. Goodbye." Where else but in Silicon Valley would ten year old girls play "Telecommunications Company Bankruptcy"? *This is an accurate transcription of ten year old dialogue. It is not meant to convey any information about the financial status or business prospects of any telecommunications company whatsoever....

Posted by DeLong at 07:47 AM

June 01, 2003
At Girl Scout Camp

"Oh. You managed to get the Coleman propane lantern lit. How did you do that? What was I doing wrong?" "You were neglecting to: Turn the gas valve on hard and far Push your fingers holding the lighted match as close to the jet of propane as you can All the while completely ignoring everything you know about the explosive flammability of hydrocarbon compounds." "So what you are saying is that Coleman propane lanterns are designed so that only a man can be stupid enough to successfully light one?" "Something like that. I love this 'safety' message: 'in case of fire, leave area quickly'."...

Posted by DeLong at 04:02 PM

May 29, 2003
Learning to Become Who You Are

Ah. Here it is. I found it--a big book, American Journey. And that reminds me of a moment two weeks ago... "I think I've lost it." The Thirteen-Year-Old was standing before one of the middle school librarians. Three weeks before he had borrowed one of the library's copies of the next year's history book, American Journey. He had loved it, and had blazed through it in three days. But then the book had gone missing someplace in the house. So we were reporting this--expensive--lost book at the middle school library. The librarians were very kind. They said they were certain the book would turn up. They restored his borrowing privileges. "We know you are telling the truth," one of them said, "It's a textbook. It's not a book you would ever want to keep." I could see a wave of dismay pass over the Thirteen-Year-Old's face. For, of course, it is a book he wants to keep--very much. Then I saw his jaw set and his shoulders square as he told himself, "Yes. I am the kind of person who reads history textbooks for fun. This is who I am. And that is fine." Now he?s going to have to...

Posted by DeLong at 10:58 AM

May 22, 2003
Maran! Atha!

Me (opens refrigerator): Maranatha organic peanut butter? "Holy Lord! Come!" organic peanut butter? Seems an awfully extravagant sentiment for peanut butter... UPDATE: The children have informed me that peanut butter is indeed Holy: it is one of the four foods that can be added to make anything taste better. (The other three are sugar, salt, and ketchup.)...

Posted by DeLong at 07:13 AM

May 19, 2003
Vital Information

In between the gloating over basketball victories and the professional kitten porn, The Poor Man tells us the most important piece of knowledge he has: "If you remember only one thing you have read on this webpage, remember this one fact. There will be a question and answer session afterwards, in case you find this at all confusing, because it is really vitally important that everyone completely understands this thing I am about to tell you. Here it is, in boldface, all caps, and underlined italics so you don't forget: WATER BOILS FASTER WHEN YOU COVER THE POT." I want to second him, and to add another equally important piece of information: LIFE IS MUCH, MUCH EASIER IF YOU BUY PLASTIC LEFTOVER CONTAINERS SO THAT THEY ALL--NO MATTER WHAT THEIR VOLUME--TAKE THE SAME SIZE LID....

Posted by DeLong at 04:36 PM

May 07, 2003
The Glorious Ninth

By what right is Beethoven's Ninth Symphony so damn good? Why do we like it so much?...

Posted by DeLong at 09:59 AM

A Dialogue on Evolution, Plumbing, and Other Subjects

The Thirteen-Year-Old: I'm depressed... Me: Why?... The Thirteen-Year-Old: I'm a teenager. It's expected of me. Besides, our president is a real idiot. Iraq's weapons of mass destruction are now in the hands of real terrorists. And the world is full of poverty and hunger and war and terror. Me: I know that you find this hard to believe, but... The Thirteen-Year-Old and Me in chorus: When I/you was/were growing up things seemed much, much worse. Me: Remember Mao Zedong? The Thirteen-Year-Old: Old, "nuclear war would be terrible, terrible! I would lose 400 million people! I would only have half a billion left" Mao? Me: Yep. The Thirteen-Year-Old: But that doesn't change the fact that our president is an idiot. Me: He's not that big an idiot... The Thirteen-Year-Old: He doesn't believe in evolution. Me: But... The Thirteen-Year-Old: He's never looked at the skeleton of a whale, noticed the hipbones, and thought, "Hmmm..." Me: He probably does believe in evolution. But Karl Rove has told him that a lot of people who will vote for him if he says he doesn't believe in evolution won't vote for him if he says he does... The Thirteen-Year-Old: So not only an idiot but...

Posted by DeLong at 01:35 AM

May 06, 2003
Eight on a Ten-Point Scale

Me: I read in the newspaper that business at Chinese restaurants in San Francisco is way down because people are scared of catching SARS from the Mu-Shu Pork. So I stopped at Uncle Yu's and bought take-out food to counteract this trend. Ann Marie: Good job! As a way of turning a lazy desire not to cook into a social virtue, that one rates on eight on a ten-point scale....

Posted by DeLong at 09:38 PM

May 04, 2003
Spaceship and Planetoid

An image I've seen thousands of times in movies and on TV--a spaceship crossing the terminator of a planetoid. This time there's a difference: this one is real: the ISS transiting across the moon. From http://members.aol.com/mrtsp91/iss.htm....

Posted by DeLong at 10:20 AM

May 02, 2003
Only Nine Math Problems?

Me: Only nine math problems for homework? The Thirteen-Year-Old: That's all she assigned. Me: Is that enough to learn the material? The Thirteen-Year-Old: If I were in advanced math, like Stephen, you wouldn't be asking this question, would you? I would have to do fifty problems a night. I would have no time to be a kid! And when I went off to college, I would run wild and free! I would behave like a Bush! I would do stupid things and threaten my long-run future! And you would be sorry! Instead, if I only have a limited number of homework problems to do, I can lead a normal life and learn how to balance responsibility, tasks, freedom, and leisure. Me: You're saying that nine problems is enough? The Thirteen-Year-Old: Yes! Definitely! Me: OK....

Posted by DeLong at 07:43 AM

April 30, 2003
Dropping the Kids Off at School

A Small Mammal in the Jurassic Here I sit in my Acura Integra, a small car with a back seat clearly lacking in legroom. I cannot go forward: I am blocked by a Chevy Suburban. I cannot go backward: I am blocked by a Dodge Caravan Special Edition--a vehicle substantial enough to carry all the supplies of a substantial expedition across the Oxus and into the shadows of the Tien Shan. To my left is a Mercury Villager. To my right a GMC Yukon. Peering th rough them I can see the next circle of surrounding vehicles: here a Jehovah Behemoth, there a Tiamat Leviathan, over in that way a Ford Expedition Limited Edition Brutalizer, behind that one is a full raiding party of Cherokees, and is that the Great Sun Barge of Amon-Ra not-so-patiently waiting behind the Hummer? I feel like a very small mammal trapped in the Jurassic. Yes, it is morning drop-off time at the elementary school. The idling horsepower in this small parking lot alone amounts to twice the steam horsepower of all industrial Britain in 1800. "Have a good time at school," I say to the Ten-Year-Old. "Dad, it's school. I can't have a good...

Posted by DeLong at 08:28 PM

April 28, 2003
Rain!...

...in California! At the end of April! How unusual! How droll! How ludicrous!...

Posted by DeLong at 09:17 PM

March 22, 2003
Corn Maiden Tamales

It's not often that we in San Francisco envy los Angelenos. But today we do. We are sitting around eating Corn Maiden tamales, and envying los Angelenos for their proximity to the source... Corn Maiden: The Gourmet Tamale Company: 8635 Kittyhawk Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90045; with a restaurant opening soon at 11726 W. Pico Blvd., in West LA....

Posted by DeLong at 05:03 PM

March 18, 2003
Psychic Powers!

The Nine-Year-Old: I have magic powers! I am psychic! I can predict the plots of movies! I can see the future! The Nine-Year-Old is sick with a virus. We are sitting at home during the middle of the school day, watching The Importance of Being Earnest. It is the end. Jack Worthing is just asking his newly-found Aunt Augusta, "Madame, will you please tell me who I am?" The Nine-Year-Old whispers, "He's going to learn that his name is really Earnest, isn't he?" "Yes," I whisper back. She is elated. Another piece of the cultural code has been unlocked......

Posted by DeLong at 07:19 PM

February 22, 2003
Operational Risk Management

Looking at the Navy Safety Center's photos of the week has certainly made me a believer in "operational risk management"... or, rather, made me realize that the world is filled with people who should not be trusted with large pieces of self-propelled or other machinery... P.S.: Note the name of the boat. What happened to the Temporary Insanity I?...

Posted by DeLong at 05:37 PM

February 18, 2003
Full Panoply

Since January 1, I have been keeping a list of things that I have at some moment regretted that I had not been carrying on my person: palm pilot, cellphone, ipod, sweater, raincoat, laptop, laptop charger, extra battery, laptop bag, readings for next week's course meetings, articles to comment on, articles I should have read six months ago, students' dissertation chapters I should have read last week, sportcoat (when more formality was called for), tie (which much more formality was called for), paperback (to read while waiting), swiss army knife, extra incandescent lightbulb, dog treats, pruning shears, plastic bags (for when dog defecates in an inappropriate place), extra dog leash (don't laugh), dog-drying towel, loung key, fax room key, office key, house key, car key, dress shoes, hiking boots, sneakers, water bottle, pants with more pockets, shirt with more pockets......

Posted by DeLong at 07:15 AM

February 16, 2003
Presidents' Day Weekend in Monterey

Ann Marie, staring at a line on a menu offering kung pao chicken pizza: "I think we can safely say that fusion cuisine has gone too far." I think it's the combination of hoisin sauce, peanuts, and mozzarella cheese that is distressing... First pelican sighting. Five sea otters inside the breakwater... $75 of MBAQ membership is tax deductible. Snapping shrimp. Mother-and-child sea otters. Many people are really clueless: "Look! He has a baby on his chest!" Why does kelp have brown leaves? Two more wild otters: one swims right up to us and we look down.... Carmel Mission: Rio and Lasuen, Carmel.... Eat artichokes! 11:00 am high tide... The life of a seal is one of constant activity and danger. There is not a moment's safety or rest......

Posted by DeLong at 01:55 PM

February 11, 2003
A Short Dialogue on International Trade in Agricultural and Fishery Products

"Okay. One of the things that we are going to eat for lunch has travelled 9000 miles--almost halfway around the world--to land on our table. What is it?" "Bananas!" "Very good guess. But no. Bananas come from the Caribbean and Central America, and travel only 3000 miles or so to get here. It's the smoked salmon, from Tasmania, island off of the southeastern tip of Australia." "I've heard that most animals native to Tasmania are endangered. Is that true?" "BA-NA-NAS!" "It's certainly true that large Tasmanian marsupials are under very heavy pressure from introduced Eurasian forms that fill the same niches..." "BA-NA-NAS HAVE NO THUMBS!" "But does anybody have an idea why I would buy smoked salmon from Tasmania--Royal Tasmanian brand?" "So that you can torture your children with another boring lecture about international trade, the international division of labor, and the importance of human pwogwess through the mutual weduction of twade bawwiews?" "Plausible, but not true in this case..." "BANANAS STAND UP STRAIGHT!" "Because they were cheap?" "Yes, exactly, why were they cheap--half the price of Alaskan smoked salmon?" "BANANAS HAVE NO THUMBS!" "Either because you got a bargain, or because you don't know something about the quality of...

Posted by DeLong at 03:05 PM

September 10, 2002
Strangeness-Squared

I just got home from a Berkeley administrative meeting that seemed very strange to me. And I have just realized why it seemed strange. Let me back up. The Berkeley administration has asked for a proposal to hire six new faculty and create a teaching-and-research program-center-committee-group engaged in the study of "New Media." And they asked me--along with a bunch of other people--to go to an organizational meeting to try to decide what sort of proposal to write. I talked about how a huge honking new-media studio would have allowed my cousin Philip to try out alternative ways of creating and then distributing animation. A music professor talked about how new media interacted with old media--about "Switched-on Bach" and how often one of the first things you did with new instruments was to try to make them sound like old instruments. One of the Information Management School people talked about how new media would flourish only if it could be built on top of viable revenue models. And those were--in fifty minutes of conversation--I swear I am not making this up--the only points made in the discussion that even touched on actual new-media concepts or examples. People talked about how...

Posted by DeLong at 08:52 PM

September 07, 2002
Death Knights!

"Oooh!" the twelve-year-old whispered, clearly excited. "Death Knights!" We were watching the movie The Fellowship of the Ring. The Nazgul, the Ringwraiths, the Dark Riders, the terrible servants of the Dark Lord Sauron had just appeared on the screen for the first time. I am transported to Tolkien's Middle-Earth. But the twelve-year-old saw The Lord of the Rings as a knock-off copy of the computer game Warcraft, itself a descendant of Dungeons and Dragons, itself a descendant of Tolkien's universe. I looked over at the twelve-year-old. He was clearly loving it--but the "it" wasas much what he sees as a renaming and a translation to the screen of the battles between the Horde and the remnants of Azeroth and Loredan that he has fought on the computer, as much as the raw power of the vision of Tolkien's fevered brain. He sees the Ringwraiths as the anti-paladins of the Horde from Warcraft. Afterwards there was much discussion of whether a ranger like Strider could "really"--with the canons of reality set by the "rangers" in Warcraft--be as competent and as powerful as he is in the movie. I wondered: is he being cheated? It's supposed to be hard for people to...

Posted by DeLong at 09:04 PM

Traffic Engineer Sadism

I grew up in Washington DC. We lived here for a few years in the early nineties. But this morning is the first time I have driven in Washington DC since we moved to California in 1995. And, by California standards, DC traffic patterns and engineering are very strange indeed. I didn't have any problems--I did, after all, grow up here. I simply drove from my father's house to the airport now known as Ronald Reagan George Washington National Airport and back. But I could not help noticing that: The signage was terrible. In addition to the signage being terrible, every crucial exit sign was hidden--save for its wordless, green bottom-left corner--behind a tree in full leaf. There were always either zero or two left-turn lanes. There was never any guidance in the intersection as to which of the two left-turn lanes fed into which of the cross-street lanes, so everyone turning left slowed to a crawl. The coup-de-grace, however, came when coming back I arrived at the intersection of Canal Road and Foxhall Road at the western edge of Georgetown. There was a small sign saying "Maryland--Interstate 495" and it pointed to the right, telling everyone on Canal Road...

Posted by DeLong at 09:02 PM

September 06, 2002
Figures of Speech

Figures of Speech "It's amazing how many dead figures of speech become alive and fresh again when you get a dog," said Ann Marie. The dog was lying on the floor, as if it were (a) completely boneless, and (b) lacking the energy to move a single muscle. "Like?" I said. "Well, the obvious--dog-tired," said Ann Marie, pointing at the dog. The dog eyed her, got up, walked over and began licking her feet. "Bootlicking," she said. "'Wolfing' your food"; "all bark and no bite"; "showing your belly." The dog rolled over, and showed her belly to be scratched. She has a good rule for her life: if you don't understand what's going on, be sure to show that you are submissive. Today during the conference Bill Nordhaus began talking about how Gross Domestic Income is a "mongrel statistic."...

Posted by DeLong at 05:54 PM

September 05, 2002
Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings The nine-year-old is reading the Lord of the Rings. "Dad?" "Yes?" "I'm on page 168, and very little has happened. They're just meeting Strider!" "I agree. The pace is quite slow at the beginning." "Why?" "I'm not sure. Perhaps Tolkien didn't have sufficient control over his book. Perhaps he was more interested in describing the world the hobbits lived in than he was in advancing the plot." "It's a good book. But it's so big. I think it must only be for fast readers."...

Posted by DeLong at 05:49 PM

Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out

Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out You cannot read Eric Alterman's weblog for very long without getting out your Springsteen CDs and putting them on. And I cannot listen to Springsteen CDs for very long without going out and buying another one--in this case, a three-CD collection of Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band live from 1975-1985. The music is wonderful. The CDs also include a lot of stories--Bruce Springsteen tells stories before, in the middle of, and after songs. The stories are mostly about growing up, and about fighting with his father as he grew up. Back at the start of the 1980s, when I was 20 or so listening to concerts in the old Boston Garden, my sympathies were all with Bruce Springtsteen--wanting to make his career with his "god-damned guitar" in the face of a father who wanted him to become a lawyer, get a little something for himself, and stop being such a hippy freak. This time, however, I'm not 21: I'm 42. I'm not terribly interested in stories of people establishing boundaries vis-a-vis their parents and shaping their own lives. Frankly, I'm now on the other side. My heart goes out to the elder Mr. Springsteen, clearly keenly...

Posted by DeLong at 05:47 PM

September 03, 2002
Failure of the Suspension of Disbelief

"I am sorry," says Ann Marie. "I can't find this movie credible." We are watching The Shawshank Redemption. "These people are in prison in Maine, right? Maine. M-A-I-N-E. Does a single one of them talk like anyone from Maine? No. They all talk like they're from LA, or New York, or Alabama. If you want me to believe a movie is set in Maine, have people talk like people do in Maine." She has a point. Why does nobody ever do a true down-east accent in this movie? Do they just not care? Is it too hard? "I haven't seen anything like this since they cast Julia Roberts as a second-generation Portuguese-American from an immigrant family in Mystic Pizza."...

Posted by DeLong at 06:27 PM

More From Civilization: Democracy Is Way Too Hard!

"Dad?" "Yes?" "Democracy is way too hard!" "Yeah! Democracy is way too hard!" It is the twelve-year-old and the nine-year-old, speaking in chorus from the back seat. "In democracy, when you move one military unit out of its home city two people become unhappy," says the nine-year-old. "And if you don't spend a complete and total fortune on entertainment and luxuries, your people riot," says twelve-year-old. "It's impossible to wage an aggressive campaign of conquest," says the nine-year-old. "They force you to make peace prematurely." "But aren't your people much more productive? Aren't people richer? isn't scientific progress faster? Isn't total production much, much higher?" I ask. "Yes. But what good is that if I want to conquer the world?" asks the nine-year-old. "Remember. Civilization is not just a war game. It's a peace game too. You can win by creating a great and peaceful civilization," I say. "Not if another civilization on earth happens to be led by Genghis Khan and possesses nuclear weapons," says the twelve-year-old. "You're looking at it from the wrong perspective," I say, changing the subject, hoping to distract my children from the moral question--unsuitable for Berkeley--of whether it is possible for a preemptive war...

Posted by DeLong at 06:15 PM

September 02, 2002
The Care and Feeding of Redwoods

"Look." says Ann Marie. "Those redwoods have a huge amount of brown on them too." We are in Tilden Park, just east of Berkeley, just over the first range of hills separating us from the Pacific Ocean. And the redwood trees do, indeed, have a lot of brown--a lot of dead branches--maybe one in ten branches is dead. We worry about this because the builder and previous owner of our house planted some twenty-five redwood trees on the property about eighteen years ago. Some of these guys are now huge--seventy feet tall. On is dead: it grew to twenty feet and then joined the choir invisible. The rest are of varying heights (but fifty feet is a good guess as an average). The problem is that this isn't redwood tree habitat: the last redwood tree grew here at least twelve thousand years ago. It gets very dry: it doesn't rain at all from May to November, our creek dries up by the end of June, and the spring at the northeast end of our property is now turning into a patch of damp mud, and will stay that way until the winter rains come. And so, in the summer, large...

Posted by DeLong at 09:20 AM

Science Labs

The Nine-Year-Old and I spent a considerable amount of time yesterday with a Science Kit Minilabs Electric Motor kit. It was harder to assemble than I had thought, largely due to the large size of my fingers coupled with an armature assembly that is only one inch in diameter. The Nine-Year-Old wandered off several times during the 150-fold wrapping of the wire around the armature assembly--a time-consuming and boring part of the assembly of the motor. But--and here's the remarkable thing--it worked, and worked well, the first time: the D-battery drove the (unloaded) motor at some 600 rpm. The Twelve-Year-Old was impressed. The Nine-Year-Old wondered why so much energy was being dissipated in vibration and noise, and couldn't this energy be trapped and used for something? I worry, periodically, about the kids and science. The things they deal with are--in so many ways--so far removed from basic scientific principles. You could build an AM crystal radio back when I was a kid. You can't build a DVD player. You could fix a car--change the spark plugs, look at the distributor cap, monkey with the carburetor--when I was a kid. You can't today. I thought it was really neat the first...

Posted by DeLong at 09:10 AM

August 23, 2002
Fundamentalism and Civilization

"Fundamentalism is a really great form of government for the twenty-first century." It is the voice of the twelve-year-old, apropos of no previous conversation, coming from the back seat of the Worst Car I Have Ever Owned (a Ford Taurus station wagon) as we drive to the grocery store. "What?" I say. "In Civilization. The game. The major thing wrong with Fundamentalism is that it halves your science production. But by the twenty-first century you've already discovered everything useful. All you can research are 'Future Technologies', and they don't do anything real." Silence for a while. "It's a flaw in the game. If the Future Technologies did something real to make your civilization better and more powerful, Fundamentalism wouldn't be such a good form of government late in the game." "That sounds like a really smart thing to have thought of," I say. Do you want to write to Sid Meier--the game designer--asking him to make the Future Technologies more real and more powerful?" And I wondered: by the time his kids are twelve, what things that I think of as Future Technologies will they accept as commonplace?...

Posted by DeLong at 11:29 AM

August 21, 2002
Raptors (and Others) of Summer

It's early on a typical summer morning in a typical local park in typical suburban California: a lot of grass, a bandshell, a playground, a grove of trees arching over a small creek that is called year-round mostly by courtesy, and most of whose water at this time of year is derived from humans irrigating their lawns and gardens. The interesting thing is that--even though we are a good mile and a half from the closest thing that could be called serious water--a great blue heron has just landed in the top branches of the tallest tree, and is looking down at us. It's been a very good year for spotting large birds that catch and eat things. Bald eagles at the reservoir. A bald eagle over the next ridge. Ospreys at the reservoir. Larger flights of pelicans than I have ever seen before at Point Reyes. On the east coast, large flights of pelicans and a few ospreys at Virginia Beach: when I was a child at Virginia Beach, we never saw pelicans or ospreys. And then in Maine: puffins at Mt. Desert. Ospreys all along the coast--including a family of six in their nest on a deserted pier...

Posted by DeLong at 08:49 PM

August 17, 2002
Cracked Feet!

I can't believe it! Less than five days back in the low-moisture environment of California, and the soles of my feet have cracked! It's painful. I like the low-moisture environment much better than the high-moisture east coast summer--where sweat simply does not evaporate, ever. But... Time for some serious moisturizers, that's what it is......

Posted by DeLong at 08:06 AM

Recolonization

Recolonization I open the door and throw the tennis ball out, hard. The Labrador Retriever bounds out the door and heads as fast as she can for the ball bouncing down the driveway. I follow her out the door. I hear a noise to my left, turn and look, and see six deer thirty yards away prancing down the driveway--a six-point buck, a two-point (yearling?) buck, three does, and a fawn. Clearly they had been hanging out under the trees close to the front door before the sudden appearance of the Lab sent them running. Still, they are not running too fast. This happens everytime we go on vacation. The deer move in. For weeks after we come back, we drive up the driveway to see some doe--who has been sleeping under the lemon tree two yards from the front door--get to her feet and gallop away. We hear the tapping of their hooves on the deck at night. Large swathes of our carefully-planted flora are gone. One of them even took a chomp out of a prickly-pear cactus. It will take a couple of months before they recognize that we are back for good, and start to give us...

Posted by DeLong at 04:16 AM

August 16, 2002
Green Consumption

Richie Abrams, Professor of History here at Berkeley, and my part-time boss in his role as Associate Dean for International and Area Studies, has bought a Toyota Prius--one of the hybrid internal combustion-electric motor cars, that achieves extraordinary fuel efficiency (60 miles to the gallon?) by using the kinetic energy reduction accomplished during braking to charge up the battery. The only thing wrong with the car seems to be a lack of rear legroom... As he talked about the car, I couldn't help doing the math in my head, and finding that the financial side seemed to make the car's purchase nearly irresistible. Seven years of free maintenance--that's got to have a present value today of $2500. Increased efficiency implying a savings of $600 a year in gasoline costs at current prices--that's got to have a present value of $5000 today, plus whatever allowance for the risk of gasoline price changes we wish to include ($6500 in total?). Thus in buying a--fully-loaded--Prius, Richie paid $25000 and got back $9000 worth of maintenance, repair, and gasoline cost savings, for an NPV cost of only $16000. Plus he got enormous ecobragging rights, living as he does in North Berkeley. In a...

Posted by DeLong at 10:48 AM

August 15, 2002
Identify Things Before Eating Them

Memo to self: It is best, when snacking on the salad ingredients, to identify that what you think is an almond mixed in with the olives actually is an almond--rather, than, say, a whole garlic clove--before eating it....

Posted by DeLong at 05:52 PM

More Questions, This Time From the Nine-Year-Old

"Dad, why do they teach us things in school that are untrue?" "What do you mean? Can you give me an example?" "At school they teach us that the earth spins on its axis once every twenty-four hours." "But... Oh, I see what you mean." "Well, Dad, why?"...

Posted by DeLong at 04:11 PM

At Least Some Berkeley Boyfriends Are of Alarmingly Low Quality

At least some Berkeley boyfriends are of alarmingly low quality. As interesting, however, is the willingness of people to say in public on cell phones things that they would never say in public if the person they were talking to was walking beside them. Is it the belief that because only half of the conversation can be heard it is unintelligible? In Passing...: "I thought asking to borrow my toothbrush was weird, but I thought hey, it was better than him wanting to bring his own over. But you don't ask to borrow contact lenses. That doesn't even make sense." --A girl talking on a cell phone outside La Burrita...

Posted by DeLong at 12:12 AM

August 14, 2002
One of the Ultimate Questions...

The twelve-year-old just asked a series of three questions, the last of which was one of the Ultimate Questions: What is this ln - e^x button on my calculator? What is e=2.718281828... good for? If e is defined as the number for which the curve y=e^x has everywhere a slope equal to its y-axis value, why is e=2.718281828... ? Needless to say, I could not answer the third question. Fathers really don't know very much, do they?...

Posted by DeLong at 12:56 PM

August 02, 2002
Grapefruit Juice

When the daily high is less than 85 degrees, I hate grapefruit juice: it is bitter, ugly, and disgusting. When the daily high is less than 95 degrees, I love gratefruit juice: it is pleasantly tart, sparkles prettily in the glass, and soothes thirst most excellently. What other of my tastes and preferences can be quickly and substantially modified--at the biochemical level--by simply shifting to a different environment?...

Posted by DeLong at 11:22 AM

August 01, 2002
It's a Party

It's a Party Forty yards offshore there is a party. The dolphins are jumping out of the water. Some of them are slapping the water with their tails. Fish are jumping out of the water as well. Pelicans are wheeling overhead, occasionally stooping to splash into the ocean. Other pelicans skim the surface. And two ospreys have joined the party--at least, they look like ospreys, and are definitely hawks. The contrast between the pelicans and the fish hawks couldn't be greater. Graceful swift taloned fliers with hooked beaks on the one hand--splay-footed big-beaked awkward soarers on the other. Yet they seem to fill close to the same niche, today at least: one has sacrificed all grace for big webbed feet to drive it underwater, and a huge bill... Overhead, four F-18s fly by......

Posted by DeLong at 06:16 PM

July 31, 2002
Caffeine

Caffeine Last month I decided to stop drinking caffeine: to switch to decaf coffee always, and to drink caffeine-free diet coke, et cetera. Why? Because the last time I took a trip to the east coast, coffee did not wake me up sufficiently. Throughout my thirties, whenever I would hit the ground in some unfamiliar time zone and started to feel tired, a cup of coffee would do the trick. It would wake me up. It would perform wonders in synchronizing my internal biological clock with the external sun. It was a wonder concentration drug. But as I entered my forties, it no longer seems to work as well. Too large a normal daily dose of caffeine for too long had gotten my neurons into the habit of expecting to have this extra neurotransmitter-like substance floating around in the synapses. The effect of coffee on trips seemed to be gone--or at least greatly diminished. So now I'm conducting an experiment: if I save coffee for truly unusual times--dealing with jet lag, et cetera--will it regain its old effect? Or has the biological clock turned so far that I will never again be able to recapture that college-years caffeine rush, and...

Posted by DeLong at 09:14 AM

July 28, 2002
Twelve-Year-Old Humor

Twelve-Year-Old Humor: Picture the twelve-year-old seated in the back of a summer day camp bus with the rest of his group. Picture the bus being driven by the counselor, Darryl, who is trying to park the 16-person vehicle at a swimming pool. All of a sudden Darryl hears, from the back of the bus, "Hey! Darryl! There's a spider back here!" Others add to the chorus: "Yeah! It's a spider!" "Watch out for the spider!" "We're not kidding! It's a spider!" I can imagine what Darryl was thinking, something about smart-ass pre-adolescents... CRUNCH! You see, they meant that there was a Toyota SpYder with its nose occupying the last foot or so of the parking place......

Posted by DeLong at 07:46 PM

July 20, 2002
The Dreaded Yellow Star Thistle

Our five suburban acres have been attacked by the Dreaded Yellow Star Thistle--a really nasty late summer plant. The source? Seed blown down from the ridgeline on the ranch above our property, whose owner seems not too concerned with keeping nasty, pricky, aggressive plants controlled on his own property (let alone anyone else's). At the moment it's flowering. But we need to take steps to kill it all soon or else we'll have a huge amount of seed broadcast over all our five acres to sprout next spring. It's weed-whacking time! Arastradero Preserve | Yellow star thistle plague ...the now-ubiquitous nonnative weed has blossomed into a major menace throughout much of the West -- ruining rangeland, choking out native plants, killing horses and stabbing both man and beast with its needlelike spines. "The star thistle has become the most common plant in the state, and it is out of control," said Joe Di Tomaso, a weed ecologist in the Department of Weed Science at the University of California at Davis. "It already occupied the valleys and foothill regions. Now it is expanding into the coast ranges and in the Sierra up to 5,000 feet." Found along roadsides in grasslands, landfills,...

Posted by DeLong at 09:17 PM

Does Phonemic Awareness Matter?

"Desoptism," said the nine-year-old. "What do you call the leader of a desoptism?" she asked. She was playing Civilization on the computer. "Despotism," I said. "The word is 'despotism'. The ruler of a despotism is a 'despot'." Along many axes my daughter is a potential genius. But she has low "phonemic awareness." She learned to read, by herself, whole language: starting with guess the word from its first letter and its length, and proceeding to learn how to read from the shape of the word itself with little awareness of what phonemes were inside it, or how they were strung together. She reads voraciously. Her comprehension is, I think, excellent. Yet she can still look at "despotism" and say "desoptism." How can this be? An email that came over the transom suggests that there is much, much more redundancy in English prose than I had imagined possible: "... randomising letters in the middle of words [has] little or no effect on the ability of skilled readers to understand the text. This is easy to denmtrasote. In a pubiltacion of New Scnieitst you could ramdinose all the letetrs, keipeng the first two and last two the same, and reibadailty would hadrly...

Posted by DeLong at 08:03 PM

July 17, 2002
Small-Scale Terraforming

I was going to think about this, but Brink Lindsey has already done so... 100 YEARS OF AIR CONDITIONING: On July 17, 1902, one hundred years ago today, Willis Carrier designed the world's first modern air conditioning system for a Brooklyn printing company. There's a nice centennial tribute in today's Washington Post.Growing up in north Florida -- where for many months of the year it is, to use a local expression, hotter than dog's breath -- I took the view from an early age that air conditioning topped the list of Western civilization's accomplishments. Youthful hyperbole perhaps, but not too far off. Other than antibiotics, it's difficult to think of a single technological advance that has done more to abate human misery. If you've never lived in a hot climate, you may not be able to appreciate fully the miracle that is climate control. Well, as the saying goes, the best thing about smashing your hand repeatedly with a hammer is how good it feels when you stop -- and by the same token, the best thing about living in the South is how good it feel when you go inside. When it's so hot it actually hurts to put...

Posted by DeLong at 09:17 PM

Brushfire

While I was in New York, flames were racing across the grass less than one-tenth of a mile from my house on a very hot, windy day. Fortunately, the flames were only 100 yards from the end of Lucas Drive, and very visible to everyone there. Fortunately, they called the fire department. When my kids were driven up in their camp bus, the fire was out, only one fire truck was there, and the firefighters were spraying water to make sure there were no embers left. Nevertheless, close to half an acre was scorched. And it is easy to imagine that, had the fire started a tenth of a mile further west, houses and trees would have hidden it from the people who called it in. My house was empty that afternoon until 3 PM. And with variable winds of up to 25 miles an hour, fires can move very quickly. I might have come back from New York to find that Mother Nature had arranged an involuntary asset conversion event plus a roasted dog. So I want higher taxes! More fire trucks! Higher water pressure! Helicopter-based fire watches! Infrared-sensing spy satellites! And we don't even have any eucalyptus...

Posted by DeLong at 06:56 PM

July 11, 2002
Driving an SUV in Manhattan?!

Why would anyone drive an SUV in Manhattan? I've been stuck behind an SUV stuck behind a garbage truck while heading west on 72nd Street from FDR to Park for fifteen minutes now. We inch forward. And the SUV driver doesn't dare try to pass the garbage truck on its left--the SUV is just too wide. Driving an SUV in Manhattan must really cramp your style--too many places you can't go, too many times it just slows you down to a crawl. Why would anyone do it?...

Posted by DeLong at 09:59 AM

July 06, 2002
Everything You Feared About Interns

Eve S. Dropper--otherwise known as the "short attention-span voyeur"--reports on life in Berkeley. I think that her chosen avocation has become much more interesting since the widespread diffusion of the cell phone: people talking on cell phones are often amazingly unaware of just how many people can hear what they are saying. In Passing... "It's really hard not to go up to an intern in the middle of surgery and say, 'Don't freak out, but you're doing that all wrong.' I try not to do it if the patient's only under local." --A man talking to a group of men on the patio at Raleigh's....

Posted by DeLong at 11:40 AM

July 05, 2002
Variants of the Game of Chess

Home page of The Chess Variant Pages It is generally assumed that chess originated in India, 5-7 centuries after the birth of Christ. At that time, the game was not as we know it. During the course of history, many variants of the game were tried. Some were discarded immediately, some had for some time an enthusiastic following and then died out, while others stayed, and replaced the game as it formerly was known. Today, the game chess as we know it, has remarkable differences from the original game. At the same time, in different parts of this world, different chess games are played. These are also believed to originate from the same Indian / Arabic origin......

Posted by DeLong at 09:05 AM

A Supermarket Epiphany

James Lileks has an epiphany about modern America and its economy in the grocery store, after staring at some people with weird tattoos. | LILEKS (James) The Bleat | Ever seen photographs of old grocery stores? Rent "Double Indemnity" some time, and watch the scene where Fred MacMurray and Babs Stanwick meet at an A&P. Four aisles of soap flakes and lousy coffee. My neighborhood has two old grocery stores from the post-war era; one is now a small restaurant, the other a liquor store. People are surprised to learn they were once grocery stores, because they look so small.Look at grocery stores today: gigantic. And look who they're for: not the lotus-eaters, but everyday folk. They're for people who aren't doing fabulous - but they're doing all right. Money's tight, the Visa's a bitch, but they have a house - not big, not new, but it's home, and if it's in this first-ring burb they have a huge yard, tall trees over the street and a decent school around the corner. They have a car - no Saab, but it runs great and you can fit six bags of groceries in the trunk. They have a couple of TVs,...

Posted by DeLong at 09:01 AM

July 03, 2002
A Matter of Economics

Two San Francisco Chronicle reporters investigate why there are no good, cheap, fresh fish restaurants next to the Pacific Ocean near San Francisco. The answer, I think, is a matter of economics: fish is too expensive for the fish shack concept to be profitable. On the east coast, a fish shack restaurant can still make a good profit. But once you charge as much as you would need on the west coast to cover your costs, consumers start demanding not wooden benches and plastic tablecloths but yuppie surroundings, and so on the west coast you are better off buying the fresh fish in the supermarket and cooking it at home than looking for a fish shack. | Shacking up / Two intrepid diners search the coast for the best seafood on stilts | Tori Ritchie, Sam WhitingWednesday, July 3, 2002 San Francisco Chronicle. It is a Bay Area restaurant axiom that the closer you get to the water, the worse the seafood. Despite 100 miles of coastline (not to mention bays) between Point Reyes and Santa Cruz, it is next to impossible to find what is taken for granted on the Eastern seaboard -- the fish shack. An ideal fish...

Posted by DeLong at 06:59 PM

June 26, 2002
Climate Illusion

So here I am in Washington DC for a 30-hour in-the-city visit (46 hours door-to-door). I am massively overscheduled: one seminar (albeit a brown-bag one), one three-hour dinner, eight hours of meetings I have my laptop to draft an introduction for an article due next week, four papers by graduate students to read, three books for when my willpower is weak and I find myself unable to either read gradute students' work nor write my own, my shorts and t-shirts, and my dress clothes: dress shoes, wool slacks, two dress shirts, two ties, and... my heavy tweed jacket. It is 10:00 AM in late June in Washington DC. The temperature is already in the low 90s with huge humidity here in Dupont Circle, heading up to a high of 97 degrees, and at the moment one question is foremost in my mind: Why in God's name do I have my heavy tweed jacket, rather than my lightweight navy blue sportcoat? There are several possible answers: Idiocy. I am secretly a devotee of some masochistic sweat-lodge sect, and I am desperate purify my inner fluid balance and to lighten my karmic burden. I suffer from climate illusion. Climate illusion, n.p.,...

Posted by DeLong at 11:25 AM

Red Eyes

I kissed my wife and children goodbye, shook hands with the dog, and drove to a spot on the shores of San Francisco Bay. Then there followed a nightmarish seven hours: I heard the rush of the wind at 600 mph; I heard the roar of hydrocarbon bonds being broken and fire kindled at temperatures that would have scorched, melted, or consumed all the materials people knew how to make even as recently as sixty years; I saw cloud castles; I saw a full moon that seemed mysteriously near; I saw the stars shine with an unnatural clearness and beauty never seen at the bottom of earth's thick, hazy, and turbulent atmosphere; I was borne aloft by wings that had ten times the span of the mightiest flying creatures of the age of reptiles; and when the night was over the world I saw was transformed--the climate was (unfortunately) different from that of greater San Francisco, the trees were different, the accents were different, in short, I was 3000 miles away. In other words, I took the non-stop red-eye across the country: United Airlines flight 236 departing Oakland Airport 11:45 PM PDT, arriving Washington Dulles Airport 7:40 AM EDT. In...

Posted by DeLong at 09:15 AM

June 19, 2002
The Math Club in Bedford, Mass.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden reports on yet another check-your-stereotypical-assumptions-at-the-door moment. America is truly a wonderful place. "McDonald writes: 'After this --- it was nine o'clock, and we went over to the Wendy's in Bedford (the other side of the Merrimack from Manchester, but essentially part of the same city).... I had a bowl of chili, Doyle had a baked potato, and we sort of hung out. And while hanging, in came a group of Minority Youth, in the colorful costumes that such lads assume. They take the next table, and whoop and yodel, and carry on in the ways that make Upright Citizens tremble. I, however, listen to their conversation. They're throwing numbers at each other, and extracting the square roots in their heads.'"

Posted by DeLong at 03:55 PM

June 17, 2002
Osprey Afternoon: Life as a Raptor on the Shore of a Trout-Stocked Artificial Lake Is Good

"Look! That's a big bird." "Is it a seagull?" "It looks too big to be a seagull." "Its coloring is wrong." The grey-and-white bird soared slowly, 40 feet above the surface of the lake as we stood on the shore. It was perhaps 100 yards away. It continued to slow. Suddenly it saw something. In half a second it folded its wings in so that they were no longer lift-creators but steering vanes, killed its forward velocity, and turned itself head-downward. Then it stooped. It seemed to hold motionless for a split second. Then it began to fall toward the water. In the first half-second of its dive, it fell only four feet. In the second half-second, it fell twelve feet. In the third half second, it fell twenty-feet, disappearing behind a tree just before it hit the water. About ten seconds later we saw it climbing slowly, with something large still wriggling in its claws. It painfully gained altitude, and headed off toward the western ridge. "Well, seagulls don't do that!" "An immature bald eagle or an osprey," I said. "An osprey," said Michael the twelve year-old. "Eagles and ospreys perch in trees near the water to eat their...

Posted by DeLong at 11:56 AM

June 11, 2002
13 Conversations About One Thing

Ann Marie and I went to see "13 Conversations About One Thing" last Saturday night. It was excellent: a serious movie that grabs your guts, and manages to tell four different but interconnected stories very well as you slowly piece the non-linear narration together. I wouldn't say that it has a happy ending, but you leave the theater well aware that things could have turned out much worse. You watch these people--almost all of them behaving badly at one moment or more--and hope that they will turn and behave better, and also get a little luck on their side. And in the end luck does come through--for some. But then Ann Marie, enthusiastic about non-linear arty movies, decided that we should rent "Mulholland Drive." And, for us at least, it did not work. Part of it was the fact that the first half of it set up one (or two, or three) seasons' worth of plot and theme threads to be raveled up, and the last third of it tried--unsuccessfully--to resolve everything. Part of it is that the DVD did not come with any chapter marks, so there was no effective way to go back over the movie looking...

Posted by DeLong at 08:46 PM

Bird-Brained

"Hey! A car's coming!" "Great! Let's all run across the road in front of it!" "That's a wonderful idea!" "Yes!" "Genius!" "A good plan!" "Go! Go! Go!" That is what my wife Ann Marie claims goes on in our local covey of California quail. You see, it happens about one in every three times that we turn our cars into the one-lane road that leads to our house, and nose them down the hill. About one time in three, as we head down, suddenly California quail burst out from the side of the road and run straight across it, right in front of the car, at a distance of between three and ten yards. We slam on the brakes, not wanting mashed quail on our tires. Children squawk, "Dad!" "Ow!" And then they are gone--having passed from one side of the road to the other, and disappeared under the thorny blackberry bushes. Last time there were about twenty of them: six adults and fourteen chicks in two clutches, each clutch led by its mother and trailed by its father as they ran pell-mell willy-nilly across the road. They ought to win a Darwin Award or something. They seem to...

Posted by DeLong at 06:48 PM

June 08, 2002
Megafauna Morning

At dawn this morning I headed out the front door with the dog--and we came face-to-face with two stags: an eight-point buck and a six-point buck. They wheeled away and trotted off, stopping a third of the way up the hill to look down at us, and be sure that we maintained our distance. I looked up. A red-tailed hawk that had been perched on a branch of one of the oak trees spread its wings--it looked like a huge one with a nearly three-foot wingspan--and took off on its morning search for mice. It was a megafauna morning. Yesterday morning there were the California Quail. Thirteen of them. The stupidest birds alive. As the car comes close to the quail, all of them on the right side of the road, they seem to suddenly decide, "Quick, we must cross the road in front of the car!" And all thirteen of them run across the road in front of the car: first a couple, then a male, then a female, and then---last of all--a mother with eight chicks. Why do they suddenly decide that they would be safer on the left hand side of the road? God knows. Yesterday afternoon...

Posted by DeLong at 01:45 PM

June 05, 2002
Terraforming Breakdown

We live with two layers of hills between us and the Pacific Ocean: the range of hills that makes up San Francisco itself, and then the Oakland/Berkeley hills. Further to the west of us are two more ranges of hills that separate us from the Central Valley: a first range--Las Trampas/Briones--that separates us from the Diablo Valley, and a second range--the Diablo Range--that separates the Diablo Valley from the Central Valley. Why should anyone care? Because the first two ranges of hills are, at times, enough to disrupt our terraforming. Even though we are only 14 degrees north of the Tropic of Cancer--which means that at noon on June 21, the sun is only 14/90 of the way down from the zenith to the southern horizon--we have this enormous heat sink and source kept at a near-constant 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. It's called the Pacific Ocean and the Alaska Current. It moderates our climate so that our summers are cool and pleasant and our winters are warm and pleasant (if rainy). Except for today. Today our terraforming has broken down. A strong wind blowing to the west has pushed the "marine layer" of air out to sea. The high in...

Posted by DeLong at 06:43 PM

June 03, 2002
Indignities

The indignity was that when I left the eye clinic my pupils were so dilated that I couldn't read normal books...

Posted by DeLong at 01:59 PM

May 23, 2002
Wow! We Are Californians After All!

2002-04-23: Wow! We Are Californians After All!

For some time--years, actually--my wife Ann Marie and I have been sneering about how we will never be true Californians. We don't have even a trace of any of the California accents. We don't believe in human potential, or in the consumption of royal jelly hand-gathered from organic hives. We have even been known to say that they shook the country, and the flakes fell down to the west coast. But then came the moment when we were driving around Somerville, Massachusetts, at 7:00 AM on a Sunday morning, wondering, "Why aren't any of these gas stations open?"

It started innocently. We had a late morning plane to catch back to the west coast. I wanted to stop off and see my college roommate Paul Kafka-Gibbons, his wife Patty, and their children before going to the airport. But we also wanted to fill up the rental car--paying Avis $4 a gallon for gas struck us as highly uncool. So before going to bed the night before, we discussed whether we should get gas before or after breakfast. "Before," we decided, and went to bed

So we set out the following morning. "There's a gas station!" one of us would carol. Then, "Oh! It's closed."

After this had happened about five times, Ann Marie said to me, "Dear?"

"Yes?"

"This is Massachusetts."

"I know Dear."

"Gas stations aren't open 24 hours a day 7 days a week in Massachusetts."

"I'm beginning to realize that, Dear."

We're really Californians now, aren't we dear?

Posted by DeLong at 03:38 PM

May 07, 2002
Free Pants!

"Free pants!" I say, coming into the bedroom, waving them around. "Yes, dear," says Ann Marie.

Posted by DeLong at 03:09 PM

April 11, 2002
Slicing Time More Finely

How is it possible that I have this illusion of living in the present, rather than a fraction of a second in the past, in my normal daily life? Given that I have this illusion, how come I could override it back when I was playing 'It's Academic'?...

Posted by DeLong at 03:57 PM

March 28, 2002
BART

Ann Marie came out of the subway--excuse me, the BART [Bay Area Rapid Transit]--a couple of days ago late, sweaty, and tired. "I really should pack a full change of clothes every time I get on that thing," she said. "About once every two weeks the same thing happens. It gets delayed by 30 minutes. It comes--but is so so crowded you can barely wedge yourself in. The climate control system can't cope. You can't even read for the first four stops. This is the kind of experience that makes people drive." It's true. At non-commuter times the BART is comfortable enough. But at commuter time--unless you're lucky enough to get on at the end of the line and have a route that avoids transfers--you are a strap-hanger, and being a strap-hanger is much less comfortable than being in your own car, even if it's an old, junky car. Add to that the fact that BART costs nearly as much as gas plus wear-and-tear on the car, and it's hard to see how BART has a long-term future for anything other than trips across San Francisco Bay itself, where the bridge choke points create large, variable, and unpredictable delays. But...

Posted by DeLong at 10:06 PM

March 25, 2002
Better Raincoats

12:30 in the afternoon, and it is time to take the recovering-from-expensive-knee-surgery dog out for her extremely short (in distance), extremely placid walk. We'll stay out for half an hour, sniffing things, because we all feel sorry for her. As we head out the door it begins to rain--hard. I grab my raincoat, put it on, and we head outside. Ten minutes later I'm standing there in the pouring rain, bored, watching the lame dog sniff something totally fascinating in the grass. And I think, "What a kick-a** raincoat..." I remember the raincoats I had as a child. They all leaked at the seams. Stand outside too long in too heavy a rain, and you could feel drops forcing themselves through the stitching and onto your clothes. They all had no ventilation. Zip them shut, and soon your skin would begin to sweat as your body heated up the air inside the raincoat and it had no place to go. Leave it unzipped, and you stayed more comfortable but got wet faster. Today's raincoat has excellent ventilation. Today's raincoat has very tight stitching. Today's raincoat has excellent systems for keeping your wrists water-tight, your neck covered, and your hood drawn...

Posted by DeLong at 10:03 PM

March 23, 2002
Laptops Outside!

paradise regained...

Posted by DeLong at 04:10 PM

March 15, 2002
Erdos Number

I have an Erdos number! I have an Erdos number of 8! Wild Excitement!...

Posted by DeLong at 09:55 PM

March 07, 2002
Pneumonia

Ann Marie's pneumonia continues to hang on. Very scary--that our medical tools take so long to work and work so very incompletely when faced with viral pneumonia....

Posted by DeLong at 09:53 PM

February 28, 2002
Strawberries!

The strawberries are no longer shipped by sea from Chile, or trucked and trained from Mexico. They are grown in the nearby Salinas Valley, setting of so many John Steinbeck novels! The strawberries are no longer pink with white spots; they are red, red, red! The strawberries are no longer hard and tart; they are soft, juicy, and sweet, sweet, sweet! The strawberries are no longer $2.99 a pint; they are $1.49 a pint--soon to be $99 a pint, and then offered on special for $5.00 for an eight-pint flat! The strawberries are no longer small; they are humongous honking huge! Memo: buy lots more stain remover for the clothes-washing machine. Garden of Earthly Delights (Try Not to Think of the Real Wages of the Berry Pickers) > :-) How sweet. >Ciao, Roxanne >Didn't buy cauliflower last week because they were 5$ @ lb. $5/lb for cauliflower? Where are they grown? In their own private greenhouses with crystal channelers talking to them all day? The person behind me in the fruit market as I bought my strawberries and other things was buying... cabbages... 25 cabbages... nothing but cabbages. They were clean, large, and beautiful, but they were still... cabbages. "That's...

Posted by DeLong at 04:42 PM

February 09, 2002
Family expedition on the very hilly Lafayette Reservoir upper rim trail: 5.1 miles horizontal; 1000 feet vertical up-and-down

Hill of the approach. Hill of the viewpoint. Hill of the hawks. Hill of the turkey vultures. Hill of the water tower. Hill of the side trail. Hill of death. Hill of the medium-sized cactus. Junior hill....

Posted by DeLong at 04:39 PM

February 01, 2002
Patrick Gliddon: "Why I Eat Meat"

the seductive smell of roasting flesh overcomes all obstacles, shuts down my rational faculties, and drives me into a feeding frenzy...

Posted by DeLong at 04:17 PM

January 02, 2002
Places Where the Lord of the Rings Movie Is Superior to the Book

I'm sick and tired of reading about how the Lord of the Rings movie is different from the book and hence inferior, so I thought I would start keeping a list of elements in Peter Jackson's movie that I think (and that others think) are clearly superior to their counterparts in Tolkien's book: Improvement in the Logic of the Plot: Galadriel's opening, explaining just how it happens to be that the ring is still around--just why Isildur did not wish to/could not destroy it: "But the hearts of men are easily corrupted. And the ring has a will of its own." Improvement in Characterization: Gandalf's panic when he discovers that it is indeed the One Ring that Frodo possesses, and Gandalf's desperate desire to seek help, especially the help of his friend, mentor, and leader Saruman, for "he is both wise and powerful. He will know what to do." Major Plot Hole Closed: Recall what happens in the book when Gandalf discovers that Frodo has the One Ring. Gandalf keeps the news a secret, and tells Frodo, "Hang out in the Shire for six months or so, and then we will all mosey on off toward Rivendell." This makes no...

Posted by DeLong at 10:24 AM

October 12, 1999
Retail Politics in Suburbia

Dialing for Dollars: The Politics of Getting Money for California Schools "Hello. My name is Brad DeLong. I'm the parent of two kids at Burton Valley. I'm volunteering tonight to call people to ask for their support for Measure E, the parcel tax measure for local Lafayette schools." Note the words parent, volunteer, local. I'm not Washington calling: I'm your neighbor. This isn't big government: this is volunteerism. This isn't for some federal construction boondoggle: this is for the school in your neighborhood. This isn't the high politics I used to do: "Yes, Mr. Congressman. Your Republican opponent next year will say that you voted to raise taxes. But did you know that only 3,246 (estimated) households in your district will pay those higher income tax rates? And that 13,245 (estimated) households in your district will benefit from the enhanced Earned Income Tax Credit?" This isn't the long-range politics that I try to do: trying to become one of the "academic scribblers" to whom "madmen in authority" are listening when they hear their voices in the air. This is low--but very real--politics......

Posted by DeLong at 04:09 PM