Thursday, April 30, 2009

Young people throwing things at each other!

This weekend, Amherst will be invaded by young people from all over the Northeast, who are going to run around and get sweaty (maybe muddy if it rains) and throw things at each other!

It's the Amherst Regional High School 2009 Ultimate Invitational, happening at Hampshire College on Saturday, and at the Middle and High schools on Saturday and Sunday. So on Saturday go to the Amherst Farmer's Market (opening day, and free cake!), then stop by the League of Women Voter's book sale on the common (9AM-7PM), then go cheer on kids playing withFrisbees® (err, I mean "flying discs"), and finish up by stopping at the Artists & Atisans Mayfaire at the Amherst Women's Club on Triangle and Main Street (9-5).

Happy Spring!
UPDATE: I missed one: stop at the RideBuzz free music festival at Kendrick Park (noon-6) as you walk from the book sale to the high school.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Amherst Train Station...

This morning's Daily Hampshire Gazette has a story on how some folks are trying to get Amtrack rerouted through Northampton. Right now, the trains travel from Springfield, take a detour to Palmer, then come through Amherst on their trip North. A while back I spent over an hour stuck on a siding in Palmer with two tired and cranky kids, waiting for a freight train to clear the tracks so we could proceed to Amherst, so I definitely see the benefit of taking a more direct route. Northampton isn't THAT far away, and I'm sure the students who take the train would adjust to riding a bus to the Northampton station.

So... one of the few Federal Stimulus projects for Amherst involves the train station:
FEDERAL ECONOMIC RECOVERY SPENDING. PRJ Number PRJ29116011 Title NEW ENGLAND DIVISION - STATION UPGRADES Description Upgrade platforms to conform with Amtrak standards and ADA regulations at stations in: Amherst MA, Hartford CT, Mystic CT, and Providence RI. Project detail MA Amherst MA Stations to receive a new ADA compliant, 550', 8" ATR concrete platform. $500,000
Half a million dollars for a train platform sounds like a lot, but we're talking about a lot of train platform. Mr. Google tells me that the blue line I drew on the map over there on the right is 550-feet long.

One might argue that it's OK to build a train platform for a train station that may soon be closed; that the economic activity will stimulate the economy and make us better off. That's the Broken Window Fallacy (follow the link for a good description); spending money on useless projects is a bad idea.

UPDATE: basic arithmetic failed me again; I realized eating lunch that in the first version of this post I'd managed to divide 500,000 by 550 and somehow end up with about 10,000. Too many fives, I guess...

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Drugs! On the Common!

So I was driving to the Mall to buy Will new soccer stuff, and had completely forgotten that ExtRavaGanja is happening downtown today until I drove past the Common and saw all the, uh, interesting-looking people walking around.

I've never actually been to the Amherst ganja festival; I don't like crowds or loud music, and I decided halfway through college that I don't need or want any mind-altering substances. My mind is just fine the way it is; altering it made it different, but not better. Well, except for caffeine. It makes me perky. Oh, and beer and hard cider. They're tasty.

Anyway, I'll enjoy Extravaganja from a distance again this year. I've loaded up the soundtrack to Weeds (Soundtrack: highly recommended. Series: season 1 was great, then it went downhill) on my iPod so I can groove to Ganja Babe as I take down our storm windows.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Drugs! In our Water!

I ran across this AP News story, about millions of pounds of drugs being released into our water, yesterday on Digg. And then again this morning, on the front page of the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

I think it's an excellent example of out-of-context fear-mongering. We're living longer, healthier lives and we're safer than we've ever been before, and yet we're constantly bombarded by new things we're supposed to worry about. Last years it was agricultural Armageddon because of Colony Collapse Disorder.

This morning, it's "at least" 271 million pounds of drugs released into our water supplies. Wow, 271 million pounds. That sounds like a lot!

Is it?

If I'm reading the article correctly, that's 271 million pounds over a period of 20 years. We're an awfully big country; 300 million people here, so that's less than a pound per person over 20 years. Or less than an ounce per person per year.

Given the amount of water an average person uses in a year (about 1,400 gallons per person per day), that's the proverbial drop in the bucket.

The article also mentions that:
Two common industrial chemicals that are also pharmaceuticals — the antiseptics phenol and hydrogen peroxide — account for 92 percent of the 271 million pounds identified as coming from drugmakers and other manufacturers. Both can be toxic and both are considered to be ubiquitous in the environment.
Both can be toxic? WATER can be toxic if you drink too much of it!

Sheesh, what next, a hard-hitting AP report on the dangers of DiHydrogen Monoxide?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

GREAT source of inexpensive homeopathic medicine!

For some odd reason,'s recommendation system thought I'd be interested in Boiron Camilia homeopathic teething medicine. Only $11 for 40 doses (on sale).

Ooh, but I see in the related products list Humphreys Teething Tablets, which are even cheaper-- $4.34 for 135 pills.

Hmm, but you're supposed to take three of the Humphreys at a time. Still, the Humphreys is cheaper per dose (10 cents versus 27 cents).

But maybe it's not as good. They both get five-star reviews, but what about the active ingredients? The Camilia's main active ingredient is a 5C dilution of pokeweed plant-- that 1 part pokeweed to 10,000,000,000 (ten billion) parts water. Pokeweed is poisonous, but that's good because the whole idea behind homeopathic remedies is that a little bit of poison is good for you.

Humphreys is a 3X dilution of pokeweed (1 part pokeweed to a thousand parts water). In the homeopathic world, less active ingredient is better, so that's not good (a 5C dilution-- diluted 1-to-100 five times-- is better than a 3X dilution-- diluted 1-to-10 three times). But, you also get a 3X dilution of Belladonna (aka Deadly Nightshade) for your money.

How's a concerned parent supposed to decide? Should you give your baby the more expensive remedy that only has one poison in it, or the cheaper one that has two?

Personally, I'd opt for the least expensive option. I found these fantastic homeopathic pills online, and they cost less than 2 cents per dose! They contain a 60C dilution of BOTH pokeweed AND belladonna, and they even come in three kid-friendly flavors!

I'm pretty sure I saw the same product being sold at Big Y; I'll have to pick some up next time I'm buying groceries.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Should we grow more food in Amherst?

Image by SCWebster via flickr.

April 14, 2009
First Floor Meeting Room, Town Hall

The Agricultural Commission will host an open discussion from 7:00 – 8:00 PM on “How can we grow more food in Amherst?” Farmers, gardeners, educators, food providers, consumers, and anyone else who is concerned about increasing our food self-sufficiency in Amherst is invited.
I recently finished reading "The Myth of the Rational Voter," in which Bryan Caplan argues that there are certain subjects where people are "rationally irrational" -- we vote based on our own preferences (which is rational), but the result of each of us voting selfishly results in a Tragedy of the Commons, with the world ending up worse overall.

I know this will be a very unpopular idea, but I think the whole Buy Local / Food Self-Sufficiency movement is rationally irrational.

Don't get me wrong-- I like farms. I like silos and barns. I like racing tractors on my bicycle in the summertime. We absolutely, positively lose something every time a farmer goes out of business.

And that's exactly why I'm suspicious of efforts to get more food grown in Amherst. It's easy to see what we lose when a farmer goes out of business, but there are good reasons most of our food is grown in Iowa or California or Mexico or Argentina. I lived in California, and it's a lot easier to grow things there. Especially in February.

There are bad reasons, too-- farm subsidies, highway subsidies, water subsidies, import quotas and duties, minimum wage laws, etc. We should get rid of those bad reasons.

Maybe we should buy only food grown within 100 miles of where we live, because transporting food across the country generates lots of CO2 and increases global warming.

Maybe. Then again, maybe growing corn in Iowa uses less CO2 than growing corn in Massachusetts because the farms are bigger and more efficient. I have no idea if that's true or not, but assume for the sake of argument that it is true.

Even if it was much better for the environment to grow food far away, I think there would still be a strong "Grow Local" movement. I don't think Grow Local is really about saving the environment; if we really wanted to save the environment, then encouraging everybody to move into apartments built near workplaces someplace where it doesn't get so cold in the winter would probably be the way to go.

I don't think it's really about saving the local economy, either. If I pay $1 less for a head of lettuce grown in Mexico than I do for one grown in Hadley then that's $1 I can spend on some local business-- maybe I'll buy a little extra Hadley maple syrup. Producing maple syrup here makes sense; we've got the right climate for it.

It would be dumb for folks in Florida to decide that they're not Maple Syrup Self Sufficient-- that they need to figure out how to make maple syrup from oranges so they don't waste money importing it from Vermont and Massachusetts.

Just as it would be dumb for folks in Massachusetts to try to become Orange Juice Self Sufficient. Trade is a good thing!

Deep down, I think the Grow Local movement is really about aesthetics. Farms are pretty, and seeing cows and tractors as we drive to the mall gives us the warm fuzzies. Maybe it all works out-- maybe the economic and environmental rationalizations for local farms balances out all the bad policies that support Big Farming.

But I think the world would be a better place if we were more rational about the benefits and costs of what we eat, where we live, and how we behave.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Kitchen Remodeling is Fun! (right?)

After we remodeled the kitchen in our tiny, 900-square-foot bowling-alley-of-a-house in Palo Alto ten years ago we swore we would never do it again.

Hah! Just three houses later we're doing it again. Michele has been documenting the process in photos on Facebook. It's actually a great time to remodel; interest rates are low, scheduling subcontractors is pretty easy, and we've had no trouble at all getting permits and inspections out of Town Hall (our contractor was very pleasantly surprised that our permit arrived in two days).

And we can feel patriotic that we're doing our part to stimulate the economy as we try to get the drywall dust off the ficus...

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Best Homepage Ever!

The folks at Google always announce their most interesting projects the first day of April, and this year's no exception.

Check out the home page for Cadie, their latest.

All I can say is: OMG!!!