October 29, 2003

OK. I give up. All buildings in Berkeley need air conditioning. 93 degrees Fahrenheit in my office on October 28 is just too much, even if it is a dry heat. The frightening thing is that on October 28 the sun doesn't even get 45 degrees above the horizon at noon. How can such a feeble star produce such heat?...

Posted by DeLong at 11:29 AM

September 08, 2003

Earlier this evening, at dusk, I found myself 20 yards away from an owl. I was standing on my beck deck, with my wife, the thirteen-year-old, and America's silliest dog. It was perched on a dead branch, blending in almost seamlessly--its feathers are the color and apparent texture of oak bark--looking around for some small, shy woodland creature to catch and devour. About 1 1/2 feet tall. And then we saw its five-foot wingspan. But it must have been light, very light: nothing at all heavily could move so silently into the gathering night. Small, shy woodland creatures beware......

Posted by DeLong at 01:20 AM

July 10, 2003
The Cost of Doing Laundry in Berkeley

Eve S. Dropper says that she knew it was expensive to do your laundry in Berkeley, but she did not know it was that expensive. In Passing...: "I have to pack. I'll get to Minnesota and have nothing to wear." "They will have clothes there, you know. It's just whether you spend time packing here, or shopping for new clothes there. It's probably more efficient to buy them there, given the money you'd spend on doing laundry tonight." --Two girls at Peet's coffee...

Posted by DeLong at 01:20 PM

July 03, 2003
I Am a Total Wuss!

Pull into the grocery store parking lot to pick up the Ten-Year-Old where the day camp bus drops her off. (The day camp's insurance company has decided, in a fit of rationality, that it really isn't a good idea to have twenty-year-olds driving vans down our one-lane road to give us door-to-door service.) I'm early. It's hot. "Hmmm..." I think. "An iced coffee would be nice." I go into Peet's Coffee. I order an iced coffee. Someone pours me a dark ice-filled glass out of a large receptacle that says "ICED COFFEE" in big letters. I pay. I head outside. I take a drink. Either I have gone insane, or this is iced tea--very, very strong and very, very dark iced tea, but iced tea. "Should I go back inside?" I wonder. "Bang my fist and demand my iced coffee, in fulfillment of my rights as a consumer? Naahhh..." I wait for the bus and drink my iced tea (not even demanding the 25-cent price difference back). What a wuss. The interesting thing is that everyone else ordering iced coffee is getting iced tea too, and nobody has yet informed Peet's that this is the case....

Posted by DeLong at 07:56 PM

June 26, 2003
Summer Is Icumen In!

Summer Is Icumen In! As a rule, summer does not "icumen in" ever in Berkeley, where my office is. Recall what Mark Twain said about the summer he spent in San Francisco: "the coldest winter I ever saw." Berkeley's almost the same--fog drip in the morning, followed by a cold wind, followed by perhaps a few hours of warm afternoon sun before the fog creeps back across the Bay. The image is of the lifeguards and swimming teachers at Berkeley's Strawberry Canyon pools wearing their neoprene semi-wetsuits in the pool, and enormous fleecy wraps out of the pool. (Lafayette, where I live, is different.) But today is different. Today is one of the four days a year in which Berkeley temperatures get into the mid-90s. I find myself spending such days in one of two places where the air conditioning is powerful enouhg for the load: the bottom floor of the Doe Library stacks, and the Business School cafeteria....

Posted by DeLong at 02:12 PM

September 10, 2002

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

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
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 12, 2002
How Far Can the Division of Labor Expand?

How far can the division of labor expand? Is there any limit to the kinds of bizarre things we can think up to pay people to do? Remember that the eighteenth-century physiocrats were horrified at the prospect of agricultural employment in France dropping below 2/3 of the labor force. Remember that in the twentieth-century there were people horrified at the prospect of manufacturing employment dropping below a quarter of the labor force. "What will people do?" they asked, raising the imminent spectre of massive technological employment. Eve S. Dropper--Berkeley's short attention-span voyeur--comes to the rescue, with a new job category I had never thought of: In Passing... "Do you really save money by paying her to follow you around and remember what you already have in your wardrobe?" "Well yes, because she reminds me of things like that I already have a black skirt." --Two women outside Berkeley Bowl (which is a grocery store, not a bowling alley, oddly enough.)...

Posted by DeLong at 04:13 PM

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 01, 2002
Micro Climates

One day last week, I left downtown Lafayette--the town east of Berkeley where I live--at about 11:00 AM after walking the dog and running a bunch of errands. It was a perfect day in Lafayette: clear, sunny, a nice breeze blowing from the west, and the temperature in the mid-70s headed for the high 70s. I drove west toward my office in Berkeley proper. I crested a hill. And there it was: the fog wall--700 feet tall, with its feet on the east side of the Berkeley Hills. As I watched, I could see streamers of it blown by the wind to the east extend their tentacles, and then vanish as the warm sun evaporated them. I passed into the fog wall. The sun vanished. The temperature dropped by a good 15 degrees. I hastily closed the sunroof as I felt the fog drip and saw the drops it spattered on the windshield. It was a cold grey day in Berkeley....

Posted by DeLong at 09:00 PM

June 11, 2002
Wa-Hoo! I Got My Grades!

I got my grades today--no, not the grades that I gave out to my students, the grades they gave me on my teacher evaluations. They're good! They're great! They're my best ever! Almost uniformly 6.5 out of 7 across the board (with the exception of "uses blackboard effectively": 4.8). I must be doing something right. Alas, however. One of the somethings that I am doing right is teaching a small class. What with administrative burdens--chair of the PEIS major, chair of the Economics graduate student admissions committee--overrunning my teaching points in past semesters (which gave me a sizable positive balance going into this year), and so on, I had the luxury of teaching only one course this spring. And it had only ten people in it. This gave me unusually high teaching ratings for two reasons. First, I could work extra-hard at running it because it was the only course I taught. Second, small courses get better ratings. When I was Head Tutor of Harvard's undergraduate economics major, I once amused myself by regressing professor teaching ratings on (a) whether the course was required of majors or not, (b) a professorial fixed effect, and (c) the log of the...

Posted by DeLong at 06:36 PM

June 06, 2002
Wake-Up Message

Some time ago you (or perhaps somebody acting on your behalf) signed this email address up for my semi-weekly thoughts/notification list. I am now about to bring this list back to life, and wish to check whether all the email addresses that signed up still want to receive my thoughts/notifications If you do *not* wish to receive my mailings, please send me an email at asking to be taken off this list. Thank you. Sincerely yours, Brad DeLong...

Posted by DeLong at 05:26 PM

PEIS--Notes on Reform...

For my sins, I have wound up as chair of an interdisciplinary studies major, Political Economy of Industrial Societies, here at Berkeley. The major has lots of eager and enthusiastic students--those who want to do interdisciplinary work are, in my experience, the most eager and enthusiastic, and often very capable as well. The major has next to no money. Therefore we survive through exploitation: paying lecturers $7000 a pop to teach courses, thus taking advantage of the large excess supply of academics in history, political science, and related disciplines that have--in an appalling failure of workforce planning--been pumped out of America's universities over the past decades. I had coffee with one of my lecturers yesterday. Jesse Goldhammer, a guy who has just moved to Berkeley from Austin, a newly-minted Berkeley Ph.D. in political science, a political theorist, with a just-completed dissertation (and, hopefully, soon a book contract) on French political thinkers' conceptions of violence as both foundation-making and foundation-breaking for political regimes. We have him slotted to teach one course--PEIS 101, Modern Theories of Political Economy--this summer, and two courses next spring. He is--as are all of our lecturers--smart, enthusiastic, a very good teacher, intellectually curious, and convinced at some...

Posted by DeLong at 10:54 AM

May 17, 2002
Berkeley Graduation

I felt Friday night that I was laying a burden on those students who had majored in PEIS. All graduating California residents knew that the citizens of California had invested $100,000 in each of their Berkeley educations in the belief that the education will help them accomplish great things. And we need great things from all of our graduates. Never has the pace of scientific and technical advance beeen greater, never has the world been more closely linked, never has the world economy been richer, never has the world seen faster economic growth, never has the world been more democratic. But never has the world been more unequal. Never before have we known how to make such destructive weapons. Never have waves of hatred been able to propagate themselves so rapidly around the globe.

Posted by DeLong at 02:40 PM

March 29, 2002
Closing the Campanile

If your campus does not have many tourist attractions to which graduating seniors can take their parents, make sure that those it does have are shut because they are unsafe. It's called "deferred maintenance": "In the interest of public safety, the Sather Tower elevator will be closed to visitor use effective Monday, March 25, 2002. Engineers from Physical Plant-Campus Services and an independent consulting firm specializing in elevator certification inspections agree that the condition of the aging hoist motor is such that the probability of failure is now fairly high. Failure would cause the elevator cab to be stuck in place, possibly for several hours, requiring passengers to exit via a hatch on the top of the cab. "With Cal Day and graduations on the horizon, we can expect increased use of the tower elevator with a concurrent increase in the risk of motor failure. Rather than put members of the campus community and our visitors at risk, I feel it is prudent to close the elevator pending the start of a planned tower renovation scheduled for completion no later than the end of November 2002. "Out of necessity, interim access to the tower must be limited only to the...

Posted by DeLong at 10:08 PM