Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Harpsichord Maker

The Stud Life

From NBC Kentucky Derby coverage:

Wow, up to 3 times a day?  Eating, sleeping and sex-hmmmm....

As for my Derby picks, I'll take Gemologist, Dullahan and I'll Have Another.  15-5-19.  With those high numbers it is unlikely, but oh well.

A Day In The Infield

Hunter S. Thompson describing the infield at the Kentucky Derby, at least as he imagined it:
Later Friday afternoon, we went out on the balcony of the press box and I tried to describe the difference between what we had seen today and what would be happening tomorrow. This was the first time I'd been to a Derby in 10 years, but before that, when I lived in Louisville, I used to go every year. Now, looking down from the press box, I pointed to the huge grassy meadow enclosed by the track. "That whole thing," I said, "will be jammed with people; fifty thousand or so, and most of them staggering drunk. It's a fantastic scene — thousands of people fainting, crying, copulating, trampling each other and fighting with broken whiskey bottles. We'll have to spend some time out there, but it's hard to move around, too many bodies."
"Is it safe out there? Will we ever come back?"
"Sure," I said. "We'll just have to be careful not to step on anybody's stomach and start a fight." I shrugged. "Hell, this clubhouse scene right below us will be almost as bad as the infield. Thousands of raving, stumbling drunks, getting angrier and angrier as they lose more and more money. By midafternoon they'll be guzzling mint juleps with both hands and vomiting on each other between races. The whole place will be jammed with bodies, shoulder to shoulder. It's hard to move around. The aisles will be slick with vomit; people falling down and grabbing at your legs to keep from being stomped. Drunks pissing on themselves in the betting lines. Dropping handfuls of money and fighting to stoop over and pick it up."
He looked so nervous that I laughed. "I'm just kidding," I said. "Don't worry. At the first hint of trouble I'll start Macing everybody I can reach."
It just sounds like a minor exaggeration to me.  I think I'll check out and watch some of the festivities on TV.

Exporting LNG Sounds Like A Pain In The Ass

The process is described in the midst of a conspiracy theory about Dick Cheney, Halliburton, fracking and LNG terminals:
Gas is typically shipped via pipeline when taken to market on contiguous land masses, but that is impossible, for obvious reasons, when seeking overseas markets.
LNG terminals super-chill gas at approximately −260 °F to liquid form and load it under extreme pressure into specially designed tankers for shipment overseas. Once at its desired destination, the LNG must be re-gasified before it can be fed into pipelines for domestic markets and local distribution.
Beyond Sabine Pass, there are two other terminals currently awaiting a FERC stamp of approval — in Freeport, Texas, and Corpus Christi, Texas — with other proposed export terminals located in Oregon, Texas, Lousiana, and Maryland in earlier stages of the approval process.
The gas sojourning to these terminals will come mainly from gas fracked from shale basins around the country, ranging from the Niobrara Shale in the western U.S.; to the Haynesville, Eagle Ford, Barnett and Fayetteville Shale basins in the southern U.S., to the famous Marcellus Shale in the northeastern U.S. This, in of itself, has created an underlooked and loosely regulated shale gas pipeline boom.
Industry insiders say exports are necessary due to a market glut created by the shale gas revolution.
“The projected U.S. demand is not sufficient to absorb the supply from these fields,” Richard Gordon of Gordon Energy Solutions told The Wall Street Journals MarketWatch in December 2011.
That doesn't seem like a good energy ROI.  I would think that if there is so much gas in U.S. shale formations, there would be shitloads in other shale formations around the world.  It would seem like the solution would be to drill in those places, not to ship LNG from here to there.  But hey, I wouldn't overproduce natural gas so that we have too much gas to store, if I was in charge.

Chart of the Day

From The Big Picture:

That damn spendthrift Obama, why can't he be more frugal like those Republicans?  What's that?  Oh, right, the facts are a different thing.  I would say that the Reagan economic "miracle" had a lot of government spending help.  What do you think?

Cinco de Mayo

May 5, 1862:
Cinco de Mayo: troops led by Ignacio Zaragoza halt a French invasion in the Battle of Puebla in Mexico.
The Battle of Puebla took place on 5 May 1862 near the city of Puebla during the French intervention in Mexico. The battle ended in a victory for the Mexican Army over the occupying French forces. The victory is celebrated annually in Mexico and some parts of the United States during the festivities of Cinco de Mayo, the 5th of May.
The 1857–62 Mexican civil war known as The Reform War had disorganised the country's finances and the new President, Benito Juárez, was forced to suspend payments of foreign debts in 1861. In late 1861 Napoleon III, Emperor of the French, under the Treaty of London (1861) sent a joint expeditionary force to Mexico, alongside Spanish and British forces, to protect their interests and collect the debts owed by the previous Mexican government. The allied troops occupied the port city of Veracruz on 8 December 1861 and advanced to Orizaba. Napoleon III wanted to seize the opportunity presented by the U.S. involvement in the Civil War to set up a puppet Mexican regime. Napoleon's intrigues led to the withdrawal of the Spanish and British troops in April 1862 at the same time that French reinforcements arrived.
I knew that the French established a short-lived puppet government in Mexico during the Civil War, and I knew that Cinco de Mayo was the celebration of a military victory, but I didn't realize they were connected.  Hey, drinking holidays can be history lessons.

A Dangerous Job

Noah Adams reports on the starting gate crew at Churchill Downs:
Scott Jordan is the starter at Churchill Downs — the guy who pushes the button to open the gates. He directs the start crew and looks for men with experience, agility and alertness. "It's a dangerous job," he says.
Like when the horses are led into the gate, the rear doors shut, and the crew member must stay right there, in the stall, with the horse and the jockey.
"You're in that starting gate, and all [that's] there is steel wrapped around you everywhere; you got a 1,200-pound horse in there, trying to keep him calm before that race starts," Jordan says. "Things happen."
Blankets make some horses feel secure in the gate. They're fastened with Velcro and fly off at the start of the race. That's just the beginning of the tricks the start crew uses to quiet jittery horses.
Out on the track, crew member Jim Douglas shows off steel corners of the starting gate, which can irritate the horses sometimes. "Some of them will kind of lay over, and they'll hit this area here, the corner," he says.
"They'll get to doing what we call 'goosing' — feels like something is biting and biting and biting — and they'll get to jumping," he says. "We give them some pads, where it keeps their hips more square, and they actually stand up better."
That would be an amazingly frustrating job.  When a horse won't load, or even worse, false starts, I would be getting so mad at the horse.  Unfortunately, they know that and respond in a way to make you madder.  Then you crawl up in that tiny space with a jacked up horse. No thanks.  And the Derby is even worse.  The biggest crowd of the year, and 20 horses to load. That would just suck.

Learning Education Lessons From Ontario

Michael Fullan at The Atlantic:
It's simple. Ontario public schools follow a model embraced by top-performing hospitals, businesses, and organizations worldwide. Specifically, they do five things in concert -- focus, build relationships, persist, develop capacity, and spread quality implementation.
In practice, this meant refocusing the way Ontario schools delivered education. Like many school systems, Ontario had too many "top" priorities. The Ministry of Education selected three--literacy, math, and high school graduation--with a commitment to raise the bar for all students and close achievement gaps between all groups. There are other goals, of course, but these three are non-negotiable and take precedence because they leverage so many other learning goals.
Focus and persistence ensure that these priorities are not going to be discarded along the way. The history of education innovations has generated a "this too shall pass" mindset among teachers. One of our colleagues calls this phenomenon "the law of innovation fatigue." Any attempt to create a high-leverage priority (like the three adopted by Ontario) requires that the education system as a whole commits to them long-term.
But priorities don't mean anything if you don't develop the relationships necessary to enact them. The provincial government set out to develop a strong sense of two-way partnerships and collaboration, especially between administrators and teachers, and in concert with teachers' unions. This required providing significant leeway to individual school districts to experiment with novel approaches to reaching the province's three main educational goals, and focusing significant reform efforts on investments in staffing and teacher development.
By focusing on teacher development, Ontario was also able to raise teacher accountability. Decades of experience have taught Canadian educators that you can't get greater accountability through direct measures of rewards and punishments. Instead, what Ontario did was to establish transparency of results and practice (anyone can find out what any school's results are, and what they are doing to get those results) while combining this with what we call non-judgmentalism. This latter policy means that if a teacher is struggling, administrators and peers will step in to help her get better. (There are, however, steps that can be taken if a situation consistently fails to improve.)
Wait, you can improve the educational system without denigrating the teachers as lazy and overpaid, and trying to force public money to for-profit charter schools?  Maybe the Republican governors of the midwest might want to pay attention.  But really, they aren't interested in fixing problems, they just want to get rid of the public school system which has served the United States for generations.

I recognize there is some irony in posting about management buzz words then posting this: Specifically, they do five things in concert -- focus, build relationships, persist, develop capacity, and spread quality implementation. But honestly, I can explain what this means, and all it is is common sense.  My favorite is build relationships.  I don't understand the Republican infatuation with assholes (Christie, Kasich, Scott, et al.).  One of the more common folk sayings is that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.  Insulting folks who could help you reach a goal doesn't make much sense.  If you make half the population in a democracy think you are the enemy, you are making things really hard on yourself.  Writing off large groups of minorities seems like the wrong strategy.  Same with serving the interests of the top 20% of the economic scale at the expense of everybody else.  But hey, that's why I'm not a Republican anymore.

Buzz Words And Management Speak

Art Markman:
 Find an object you use daily (a zipper, a toilet, a stereo speaker) and try to describe the particulars of how it works. You're likely to discover unexpected gaps in your knowledge. In psychology, we call this cognitive barrier the illusion of explanatory depth. It means you think you fully understand something that you actually don't.
We see this every day in buzz words. Though we often use these words, their meanings are usually unclear. They mask gaps in our knowledge, serving as placeholders that gloss concepts we don't fully understand.
For example, several years ago, I attended a corporate meeting where the vice president spoke about streamlining business practices in the coming year. During the talk, executives around the room nodded in agreement. Afterward, though, many of them discussed what streamlining actually meant. None of the people who had nodded in agreement could exactly define the mechanics of how to streamline a business practice.
That's one thing I've really noticed about when management speaks.  They say a bunch of important sounding things, but what it comes down to is, "things aren't going the way I want, so you need to figure out what's wrong and fix it.  If you do, I'll say nice job, and if you don't, I'll replace you."  They never seem to know what is actually wrong or how to fix it.  I could (and probably will) live my entire life without moving away from a job dealing with actual production, as opposed to the Potemkin world of management. As for how things work, there are a lot of things I can't explain accurately, but if I study it for a little while, I can usually come up with somewhat of an explanation.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Church League Softball Fist Fight

Well it's that time of year:

Watch out all you Protty bastards, here come the Catholics, and we're drunk.

Kent State Shooting

May 4, 1970:
Kent State shootings: the Ohio National Guard, sent to Kent State University after disturbances in the city of Kent the weekend before, opens fire killing four unarmed students and wounding nine others. The students were protesting the United States' invasion of Cambodia.
The Kent State shootings—also known as the May 4 massacre or the Kent State massacre—occurred at Kent State University in the U.S. city of Kent, Ohio, and involved the shooting of unarmed college students by the Ohio National Guard on Monday, May 4, 1970. The guardsmen fired 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds, killing four students and wounding nine others, one of whom suffered permanent paralysis.
Some of the students who were shot had been protesting against the American invasion of Cambodia, which President Richard Nixon announced in a television address on April 30. Other students who were shot had been walking nearby or observing the protest from a distance.
There was a significant national response to the shootings: hundreds of universities, colleges, and high schools closed throughout the United States due to a student strike of four million students, and the event further affected the public opinion—at an already socially contentious time—over the role of the United States in the Vietnam War.
One thing about the sixties that seems amazing to me is the amount of violence.  The Watts riots, the riot in Detroit, the civil rights marches and all the protests involved tons of beatings and deaths.  It is hard to imagine that many deaths and beating happening in today's news cycle.  

Junior Seau Jamming The Uke

Part of an email at Deadspin remembering a night spent with Junior Seau:
After a couple of hours of talking, Junior then began to brag about his musical talent. That he had sat "first chair" in his high school band and that was something most people didn't know about him. I called him on it and he was up to the challenge. Junior said, "You sit right there, Captain, I'm gonna go to my car and get my ukulele. We're gonna spread some joy around here." I didn't know it at the time, but over the next two hours the way in which I look at football players would be changed forever.
Junior returned to the bar with his Ukulele and started to play. The tune from "Brown-Eyed Girl" was coming from Junior's Ukulele at it was surprisingly good. Then, he started to sing ... and he was amazing. One of the most ferocious tacklers in the history of football was playing a ukulele in an empty bar at 11:00 p.m. and serenading the few that remained. He then started to play some more and his cousin and uncle joined in the chorus. They were a harmonic family full of melodies ... and they were good—real good.
We sat there for another two hours, talking, listening to Junior and his uncle play the ukulele and having a good time. Time and again, Junior thanked me for my service and reminded me how proud he was that his hometown was in the heart of Marine Corps territory, just outside Camp Pendleton. I tried to remind Junior that I was the one that was thankful for the evening. That I was amazed at how real of a person Junior Seau was and not just No. 55 on my television screen on Sunday afternoons. Junior Seau was a man of smiles, laughter, family, respect and he loved his country.
That is one of those tremendous stories that can get a person through most any social gathering.  Nobody knows what the reason for Seau's suicide is, but the NFL couldn't get much worse publicity right now.

Here's Bohemian Rhapsody on the uke, for all those ukulele fans out there.

Greenland Glacier Melting Not Worst Case

All Things Considered:
A few years ago, the Jakobshavn glacier in Greenland really caught people's attention. In short order, this slow-moving stream of ice suddenly doubled its speed. It started dumping a whole lot more ice into the Atlantic. Other glaciers also sped up.
"Some people feared if they could double their speed over two or three years, they could keep doubling and doubling and doubling and reach very fast speeds," says Ian Joughin of the University of Washington's Polar Ice Center.
If the world's big glaciers were on their way to a 10-fold speedup, that could lead to a staggering 6 feet of sea level rise by the end of this century. So Joughin and colleagues have been trying to see if that acceleration is under way.
They pored over radar images of 200 Greenland glaciers gathered over the past decade. Graduate student Twila Moon says some of Greenland's glaciers picked up the pace and started surging forward more than 5 miles in a year.
"It turns out that glacial pace isn't very slow," she says.
It also turns out that glacial pace isn't consistent. The glaciers like Jakobshavn that started surging haven't kept on picking up speed. In fact, some have slowed down. And glacier speeds vary dramatically.
Picture streams of ice that start out as one giant river and then split into two on their way toward the ocean.
"We saw cases where one of those might be consistently speeding up, while the one right next to it might speed up one year, slow down the next, speed up again," Moon says.
When they added up what all those glaciers were doing during the past decade, they saw a 30 percent increase in speed overall.
That's a little less bad news than I've been seeing recently.   I don't think climate change skeptics can't start crowing abou this, though.  Saying that at least it isn't 6 feet doesn't seem all that good.

The Stages Of Overtime Hockey

Katie Baker on the Rangers-Caps Game 3 overtime battle and overtime hockey in general:
As with grief, there are many stages of overtime hockey. There is guilt: You knew you shouldn't have written that cocky Facebook post during intermission. There is bargaining: Just please clear the puck from the zone. I'll do anything! There is denial: Whatever, it's only Game 3, this isn't the end of the world. There is anger: I mean, this is hockey, so there's always anger.
And there is even acceptance, though it typically doesn't set in until deep into a third overtime period, when the teams have played for nearly twice as long as they were supposed to. Just let anyone win it, the acceptance phase goes. Just let anyone win it before there's a freak knee injury or some confidence-shattering mistake or — oh god Dan Girardi is bleeding and Ryan McDonagh may have just broken his hand just will anyone please score now!!!
The sports betting house Bovoda set the overtime over/under at 17.5 for the entirety of the playoffs, and it only took a few games into Round 2 until no. 18 had been hit. But Wednesday night's Rangers-Capitals game made all those prior outcomes, none of which went more than a few minutes into double OT, seem swift. It wasn't until 14:41 of the third overtime that Marian Gaborik buried a pass from Brad Richards to give the Rangers the 2-1 win and the 2-1 series edge.
The same part of the brain that makes you think that an adjacent lane of traffic is better or that you're always the one who has to get randomly patted down in airport security or that your iPod is plotting against you probably also believes that your hockey team never wins these sorts of games. But for the Rangers, this selective conclusion didn't take much selecting: New York hadn't earned an overtime victory in the playoffs since 2007. (And the last time they'd done it on the road was in 1997.)
I was impressed with the fact that the overtime over-under for the playoffs was eclipsed in the second round.  One of those times when the line is way off from reality.

The Real Story of American Decline

David Rothkopf interviews Edward Luce, the author of Time to Start Thinking: America In The Age of Descent:
FP: So in the U.S., what has the political situation gotten us?
EL: People tend to make a fetish out of Washington and blame Washington on itself, as if somehow it is just in suspension from the society that elected it. But some of the reasons for my skepticism about how easy it will be for America to rejuvenate itself stem from that fact that polarization in Washington is deeply rooted in trends beyond the Beltway, in the real America. This is the case with the gradual hollowing out of the middle class and the decline in income or benefits and all the social problems that come with that.
The American system is designed to work best when there's cooperation between factions and parties and when there's some degree of working together. It's no surprise, therefore, that when you get the wrong kind of parliamentary politics, namely discipline and ideological divisions, cooperation becomes impossible, gridlock becomes the norm, and it becomes almost inconceivable to imagine the kinds of reforms that in a parliamentary system a majority government can very easily push through.
FP: What's the most broken in our system? Is it fiscal fecklessness? Is it gerrymandering? Is it the way the Senate works? Is it filibustering? Is it campaign finance?
EL: Those are all symptoms. As a foreigner, I do sometimes see campaign finance as the root of all evil, but I also understand that the First Amendment makes it very hard for people to envision a scenario where it's going to be properly controlled. And I think the Supreme Court's going in the wrong direction. But when you ask ‘What's the most broken?' there's a richness of embarrassments to select from. Take the Supreme Court, for example. I don't know how they're going to rule on "Obamacare" in June, but I do know that eight of them are pretty much spoken for and there's one swing vote.
You could also look at the polarization of the Senate, which can't be explained by gerrymandering since state boundaries are fixed. [It] now has an essential tool of paralysis -- the filibuster -- that the minority use as a matter of routine, as they do in California. I do think in this respect California is very much America's future, in positive technological ways, but also in the political sense. Sacramento is barely capable of functioning. I think Washington is taking on those features and that makes governing really difficult. If you believe that America is a story of essentially the government being out of the way and then the nation flourished, then this might all look fine. But if you have a proper understanding of American history and you know what role government played in American development and in American capitalism, then this isn't fine at all.
The whole thing is worth reading.  I found his take on casinos interesting.  I agree that often fools and desperate people gamble at the casino, but I've always figured most folks expect to lose some when they go there.  To me, the casino issue is, why not have Ohioans blow their money in Ohio casinos instead of Indiana casinos. Now that the fout casinos have morphed into four casinos and seven racinos, I'm thinking that it might not work out as rosily as I imagined.   In a way, his analysis made me feel a little culpable that I welcomed giant money suckers into the state.  I generally don't look at things that way because I just don't figure on ever really gambling there.  Point taken.

Idiots and Demographics

From the Dish:

Republicans are screwing themselves so badly for the future.  Heck, that's their problem, not mine.

More Ag Whining About HSUS

Ohio Country Journal:
As most readers may be aware, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) masterfully ramrodded tougher poultry welfare standards into place in California through the Proposition 2 ballot initiative. It is apparent that HSUS isn’t about to stop with California. Their goal is to legislate similar rules across the U.S., one state at a time.
Proposition 2 was extremely expensive for all parties involved, and the UEP pragmatically realized that fighting this battle in every state would exhaust its resources, energy and patience. Plus, the HSUS, with its alleged $40 million budget, could outspend all of the other parties to promote its animal rights agenda.
Consequently, UEP agreed last summer to work with HSUS to establish federal legislation for one welfare standard on poultry across the U.S. Naturally, this agreement will make it much easier for HSUS to establish national standards. In fact, HSUS has said that Ohio voters are more likely, by a 10-to-one margin, to support this legislation when they learn that it’s also supported by the Ohio Egg Processors Association, as well as the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Consumer Federation of America. In addition, HSUS says voters are more likely, by a two-to-one margin, to support the measure when they learn that groups like the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and National Pork Producers Council oppose it.
I believe that food animal agriculture is making a proactive effort to improve animal welfare.  However, animal agriculture groups also have been encouraged to support the HSUS-UEP backed legislation. Several organizations have agreed to endorse these standards because it embodies the essence of animal welfare principles that most of us endorse. The problem is, however, that rather than calling for an industry endorsement of best animal welfare practices, HSUS’s plan is to legislate standards. This is troublesome.
Wait, HSUS's $40 million war chest is a lot of money?  How many billions of dollars does animal agriculture represent?  You mean Big Ag can't outspend them, or Big Ag can't win the general public over to the need for animal confinement operations?  Iowa made it a crime to lie to get a job at a farm operation and then film what goes on there.  What is there to hide?  I'm not opposed to confinement operations, and I'm not a huge fan of HSUS, but I do have to admire the political instincts of Wayne Pacelli.  He has done a tremendous job in getting his way on animal agriculture rules, while showing he's willing to accept the existence of meat production, at least for the time being.  I would guess that his political instincts tell him that banning hamburger will undermine the political goodwill he has been able to create with the public.  Big Ag, on the other hand, has been dragged kicking and screaming through the process, and has done their part to use political clout to get their way.  To the average citizen, I think Wayne Pacelli is winning the battle for the general public.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Ways Woodie Was Ahead of His Time

There were at least a few ways in which Woodie was ahead of the agricultural curve.

First, he was a no-till farmer from the late sixties on.  He got in on no-till the first time it came along, and he stayed with it, even with his four crop rotation.  At the same time, he switched to 20 inch corn and soybeans.  So when Marion Calmer was building his 20 or 22 inch corn head in the late '90s, Woodie was using his 30 year-old 20 inch corn head manufactured by Gleaner. 

Woodie also told me time and time again that he'd been saying for years that farmers needed to boost the corn seeding rates and cut their bean populations.  The rest of the world has come around to his conclusion. 

USS Carl Vinson

A Century of Whistling

The Unsustainable Economy

Robert Reich (h/t Mark Thoma):
Payrolls used to account for almost 70 percent of the typical company’s costs. But one of the most striking legacies of the Great Recession has been the decline of full-time employment – as companies have substituted software or outsourced jobs abroad (courtesy of the Internet, making outsourcing more efficient than ever), or shifted them to contract workers also linked via Internet and software.
That’s why most of the gains from the productivity revolution are going to the owners of capital, while typical workers are either unemployed or underemployed, or else getting wages and benefits whose real value continues to drop. The portion of total income going to capital rather than labor is the highest since the 1920s.
Increasingly, the world belongs to those collecting capital gains.
They’re the ones who demanded and got massive tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, on the false promise that the gains would “trickle down” to everyone else in the form of more jobs and better wages.
They’re now advocating austerity economics, on the false basis that cuts in public spending – including education, infrastructure, and safety nets – will generate more “confidence” and “certainty” among lenders and investors, and also lead to more jobs and better wages.
None of this is sustainable, economically or socially.
The whole post is excellent.  The concept is pretty simple, and Henry Ford understood it when he started the $5 a day wage.  His employees had to be able to buy his cars.  I'm not sure why today's business elite don't understand the concept.  Trickle down just doesn't happen.  Today, the holders of capital pocket the fruits of the productivity increases of labor.  That can't continue at the current trend.

Lying To People For Their Own Good

Core Economics (h/t Ritholtz):
In a study that just came out, we (myself, David Johnston at Monash and Gigi Foster at UNSW) found that optimistic expectations are key to making  people happy with their lot in life. People are much less affected by regret than previously thought, nor do they tell themselves things will be bad in the future so that the present will be a pleasant surprise: people systematically over-estimate how rosy the future should be and this is crucial for their well-being.
Our study, of which the working paper version is here and the on-line article is here (for those with access) has the following highlights:
  1. In a sample of over 10,000 Australians followed for 9 years (the HILDA), it turns out that people’s expected future health has about 1/6th the effect on current happiness as their actual current health, with any difference between the health that was expected and that eventuated having very little effect.
  2. Future imagined health was more important to Australians over 35 and to women than to men and those under 35, for whom future imagined health was not important for happiness.
  3. As a result, we concur with the medical literature that has long argued that hope is important in itself for health, as witnessed by the strong placebo effect. In the medical literature hope has now become the default standard for new medicines in that new medicines have to be better than placebos if they are deemed to be of real use. Our advise is also to err on the side of optimism whenever possible.
Now, to classically trained economists, the fact that hope itself is a consumption good quite apart from realised consumption may be surprising, but in the reality of economic policy the big lesson from this kind of finding has been incorporated long ago: always pretend the economy will keep going strong or will soon improve unless there are really strong indications to the contrary. Hang on to see many an overly optimistic statement in the Federal budget next week …. and rightly so.
I'm pretty fatalistic.  Even if somebody told me I was super healthy and would not have any issues in the future, I'd assume I was going to anyway.  To me, that makes things seem better when they are more positive than I expected.  A good example, last year's Bengals season.

Longer CBOT Day To Affect Elevators

Progressive Farmer:
Grain buyers and elevators are going have to deal with issues of the settlement price in the CBOT open pit as well as a closing price on electronic trading nearly three hours later under the push for 22-hour electronic trading of grains and oilseeds.
Moreover, grain merchandisers could be faced with making quick market calls on USDA report days as electronic trading rolls right through release of USDA production and stocks reports.
Those are a few of the concerns raised after CME Group announced Tuesday that it would expand electronic trading hours for CBOT grain and oilseed futures to 22 hours a day, running effectively from a 6 p.m. CDT open to 4 p.m. close on Monday through Friday, and starting up trade again on Sunday at 5 p.m. CDT.
Yet, the open-outcry, or trading floor, at CME Group will continue to trade those contracts from 9:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. CDT Monday through Friday.
USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service and its board are discussing the implications of a 22-hour trading day on the agency's report calendar. "Any change to the report release schedule is complex, has far-reaching impact, and would be taken very deliberatively," said Hubert Hamer, chair of the NASS Agricultural Statistics Board.
The CME's move comes after the IntercontinentalExchange, Inc. had announced earlier that it would offer corn and soybean contracts starting May 14 as part of a foray into more North American agricultural markets. The ICE trading will begin at 7 p.m. CDT and close at 5 p.m. EDT.
Fun, fun.  This will let the speculators screw up more markets more of the time.  No rest for the wicked.

Study Shows Climate Change Impacts On Plant Life

Scientific American:
They said plants had been the focus of study because their response to climate change could affect food chains and ecosystem services such as pollination, nutrient cycles and water supply.
The study, published on the Nature website, draws on evidence from plant life cycle studies and experiments across four continents and 1,634 species. It found that some experiments had underestimated the speed of flowering by 8.5 times and growing leaves by 4 times.
"Across all species, the experiments under-predicted the magnitude of the advance - for both leafing and flowering - that results from temperature increases," the study said.
The design of future experiments may need to be improved to better predict how plants will react to climate change, it said.
Plants are essential to life on Earth. They are the base of the food chain, using photosynthesis to produce sugar from carbon dioxide and water. They expel oxygen which is needed by nearly every organism which inhabits the planet.
Scientists estimate the world's average temperature has risen by about 0.8 degrees Celsius since 1900, and nearly 0.2 degrees per decade since 1979.
We're really rolling into this thing blind.  I hope the scientists are overly pessimistic, but I fear they are overly optimistic.

Chart of the Day

From Big Picture Agriculture:

More On The Mad Cow Case

Mother Jones gives a little more detail on the recent BSE case (h/t nc links):
The California cow's BSE might have come from feed—and cows are still being fed cow protein. Now, as noted above, the USDA reports that the California case had "atypical" BSE, which, it says, is thought to derive spontaneously, not from feed. "USDA confirmed the animal was positive for atypical BSE, a very rare form of the disease not generally associated with an animal consuming infected feed," the USDA wrote in a Wednesday statement. In a Friday morning email, a USDA press officer confirmed to me that the atypical BSE in question is of the L-type, which, as I showed in my last post, has been shown under lab conditions to be far more virulent than what scientists call "classical" BSE, the kind that wrought havoc in the UK in the 1990s.
The feed question is vital. If the cow indeed developed BSE through some genetic mutation and not through feed, then this particular mad cow instance can be viewed as a random and extremely rare event. But if feed was the pathway, then we have to ask hard—and for the dairy and beef industries, extremely uncomfortable—questions about just what we're feeding our nation's vast herd of cows. And if that cow contracted BSE from what it ate, wouldn't other cows have been exposed, too?
Paul Brown, a scientist retired from the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke, questions the USDA's assertion that atypical BSE isn't associated with feed. "The most likely explanation is that it arises from the same source as typical BSE," he said, which is infected feed. He added that it's a "theoretical possibility" that the California BSE case arose spontaneously, but "there's no evidence for it."
Linda Detwiler, a clinical professor in the Department of Pathobiology and Population Medicine at Mississippi State University, told me via phone that the current scientific thinking is that "atypical" BSE types do probably arise spontaneously, but "feed certainly can't be ruled out." Ermias Belay, associate director for epidemiological science at the CDC's  Division of High-Consequence Pathogens and Pathology, echoed that assessment in a phone interview.
The story goes on to discuss feeding chicken litter, which will contain chicken feed which may have rendered cattle protein.  It also mentions that the U.S. screening process for BSE is extremely lax, and that the cow which tested positive in California had been a downer cow from a dairy which had been euthanized before it was dropped off at the rendering plant, and that it was tested as part of the random testing.  Those are both interesting points which the beef industry and government should investigate.  Something tells me they won't look very far into this case.

Stephen King Is Shrill

Stephen King on making rich folks like himself pay more in taxes (h/t Anne Laurie):
I guess some of this mad right-wing love comes from the idea that in America, anyone can become a Rich Guy if he just works hard and saves his pennies. Mitt Romney has said, in effect, “I’m rich and I don’t apologize for it.” Nobody wants you to, Mitt. What some of us want—those who aren’t blinded by a lot of bullshit persiflage thrown up to mask the idea that rich folks want to keep their damn money—is for you to acknowledge that you couldn’t have made it in America without America. That you were fortunate enough to be born in a country where upward mobility is possible (a subject upon which Barack Obama can speak with the authority of experience), but where the channels making such upward mobility possible are being increasingly clogged. That it’s not fair to ask the middle class to assume a disproportionate amount of the tax burden. Not fair? It’s un-fucking-American is what it is. I don’t want you to apologize for being rich; I want you to acknowledge that in America, we all should have to pay our fair share. That our civics classes never taught us that being American means that—sorry, kiddies—you’re on your own. That those who have received much must be obligated to pay—not to give, not to “cut a check and shut up,” in Governor Christie’s words, but to pay—in the same proportion. That’s called stepping up and not whining about it. That’s called patriotism, a word the Tea Partiers love to throw around as long as it doesn’t cost their beloved rich folks any money.
This has to happen if America is to remain strong and true to its ideals. It’s a practical necessity and a moral imperative. Last year during the Occupy movement, the conservatives who oppose tax equality saw the first real ripples of discontent. Their response was either Marie Antoinette (“Let them eat cake”) or Ebenezer Scrooge (“Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”). Short-sighted, gentlemen. Very short-sighted. If this situation isn’t fairly addressed, last year’s protests will just be the beginning. Scrooge changed his tune after the ghosts visited him. Marie Antoinette, on the other hand, lost her head.
Think about it.
 I'd really like to think that other extremely wealthy folks realize that they didn't get there all by their lonesome, but that this society (and government) had something to do with it. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Riding A White Horse

Frank Deford on the rare color of derby entrant Hansen:

But as rare as white horses are — fewer than 8 percent — it is amazing how they have fascinated virtually every culture. White horses are chosen to stand for good and for bad. One of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse rides a pale horse, but the unicorn — which is invariably depicted as white — stands for purity. Only virgins can capture unicorns. But contrariwise, in some cultures white horses represent fertility.
White horses stand for power and glory, too.
In the book of Revelation, not only Jesus, but all the armies of heaven will descend astride white horses. In politics, "the man on the white horse" invariably refers to the leader who is going to save us. Peale and Trumbull famously painted George Washington with his white steed. For the Confederacy, Robert E. Lee's famous mount, Traveller, really was a white horse.
White horses are just as common in fiction. Pegasus is a white horse. In Shrek, the donkey turns into a white horse. Even in nursery rhyme: "Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross to see a fine lady upon a white horse." And currently, Taylor Swift sings: "It's too late for you and your white horse to catch me now."
Even though nobody but the infamous Peeping Tom is supposed to have seen Lady Godiva ride in the buff through the streets of Coventry, she is invariably portrayed sitting on a white steed. And of course after Dusty, his noble chestnut, was killed by bad guys, the Lone Ranger found a new mount.
It definitely is notable.  During the derby prep races, I was reading a story in which Hansen was included in a photo.  My dad looked over and said something along the lines of, "wow, you never see a white race horse."  Well, you do, just not too often. However, art and literature appear to be outliers.

The World's Oldest Continually Operating Baseball Field

May 3, 1877:
Labatt Park, the oldest continually operating baseball grounds in the world has its first game.
Labatt Memorial Park (formerly Tecumseh Park, 1877–1936) is a baseball stadium near the forks of the Thames River in central London, Ontario, Canada. It is 8.7 acres (35,000 m2) in size, has 5,200 seats and a natural grass field. From home plate to centre field the distance is 402 feet (123 m); from home plate to left and right field down the lines, it is 330 feet (100 m).
Labatt Park is the "oldest continually operating baseball grounds in the world", with a history dating back to 1877. Since December 31, 1936, the park has been owned by the City of London.
On September 7, 2011, Baseball Canada announced that historic Labatt Memorial Park in London, Ontario, had won its six-week-long, favourite ballpark contest, winning the final round where it went head-to-head with Port Arthur Stadium in Thunder Bay, Ontario. During the two-week-long, final round of online voting, where more than 19,000 votes were cast, Labatt Park won with 63 per cent of the vote.
However, Fuller Field in Clinton, Massachusetts made it into the Guinness Book of World Records in September 2007 as the "world’s oldest continuously used baseball diamond/ field", dating back to 1878—a year after Tecumseh Park-Labatt Park opened in 1877—as Fuller Field's home plate and bases have purportedly remained in the same location since 1878, whereas home plate at Labatt Park has been moved (within the same field) from its original location in 1877.
In September 2008, however, Labatt Park replaced Clinton, Massachusetts' Fuller Field in the 2009 Guinness Book of World Records (page 191) as the "World's Oldest Baseball Field." Then on October 10, 2008, Guinness's online record for the World's Oldest Baseball Field was switched back to Fuller Field in Clinton, Massachusetts. World's Oldest Baseball Field.
I didn't realize the oldest baseball field title would be so contentious.  It reminds me of the longest highway record.  It seems like the folks at Guinness have something against Ontario.

One World Trade Center

Via the Dish:

Are Bigger Purses Bad For Horse Racing?

NYT, via nc links:
To survive amid a riot of new, technologically advanced gambling options, track owners have increasingly succumbed to the gambling industry’s offer to sweeten racing purses with slot machine revenue. But if casinos promise to prop up a struggling sport, they can also erode the loyalty that owners and trainers feel toward their horses, turning them, in the words of Maggi Moss, a leading owner, into “trading cards for people’s greed.”
The casinos’ impact is greatest at the sport’s low end, the so-called claiming races, a world away from the bluegrass pageantry of Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. In the claiming ranks — where some of the cheapest horses fill starting gates at tracks like Aqueduct, Penn National, near Harrisburg, Pa., and Evangeline Downs in Louisiana — the casino money has upset the traditional racetrack balance of risk and reward.
“It’s strictly self-centered greed of not thinking about the horse but thinking about maybe I can get one more race out of him and get a piece of the game,” said Dr. Tom David, until recently the chief veterinarian for the Louisiana Racing Commission.
The Times has been dragging horse racing over the coals.  Maybe the attention will improve the sport.  Like boxing, horse racing has a number of shady characters who don't cover the sport in glory.  This definitely isn't the attention the sport wants during the week of its biggest event.

The End of the Road For Amarillo Slim

Famed poker legend Amarillo Slim, the man who entertained people with his crazy stories of giant bets and even bigger cons, prior to pleading guilty to charges of indecency involving his granddaughter, died April 29 in Amarillo.  Greg Dinkin, the co-author of Slim's memoir remembers the man he knew:
Thomas Austin "Amarillo Slim" Preston Jr. is the most entertaining raconteur I've ever met. He's also the most ornery and energy-sucking. You have every right to assume the worst and condemn him for a crime for which he pleaded guilty. Or, you can choose to remember him by his "book voice" and cherish the stories of one of the most brilliant, fascinating, and colorful characters the world has ever known. Whether his tall tales are the truth or just Amarillo Slim's truth, he has now taken them to his grave.
I'll miss that old cowboy, even if on his deathbed he would still put a rattlesnake in my pocket and ask me for a match.
As Dinkin said, the man was one of the most entertaining storytellers I've ever heard, but his indictment and guilty plea cast a shadow over him from which he couldn't escape.  His looseness with the truth made his pleas of innocence fall on deaf ears.

Of All The Crazy Ideas

Delta Airlines is buying an oil refinery:
The latest business innovation from the perennially struggling airline industry is that this morning Delta announced that it's going to purchase a recently idled oil refinery near Philadelphia. All the press coverage of this I've seen echoes the company's official line that this is a smart way to deal with the rising cost of jet fuel. But if that's true, it seems like a damning indictment of an American financial sector that for all its talk of innovation is supposed to be in the business of creating more elegant solutions to these kind of problems.

Airlines buy jet fuel from refineries, who manufacture jet fuel after purchasing crude oil. So airlines lose out if either the refineries' spread goes up or if the price of crude oil goes up. If you merge an airline with an oil refinery, than the merged entity still loses out if the price of crude goes up. What you've done is created a merged entity that's less exposed than an independent airline would be to an increase in refineries' profit margins. On the other hand, the merged entity is also less exposed than an independent airline would be to the benefits of an decrease in refineries' profit margins. And the price—$100 million to buy the refinery and $150 million in new investments to improve its infrastructure—is a rather expensive way of switching one risk for another. The state of Pennsylvania is kicking in an additional $30 million to save the jobs at the refinery, which sweetens the pot, but presumably a similar amount of subsidity would have been available for anyone willing to keep operating the plant. There's no special reason there to combine it with an airline. In fact, what Delta is trying to achieve here is supposed to be what financial markets are for. The airline wants to tweak its risk exposure and is willing to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for the privilege. They should be able to spend that money hiring some clever folks to engineer the right set of market bets to achieve the level of risk exposure that Delta wants. That way you achieve the hedging without taking on the practical diffculty of a company with no fuel manufacturing experience entering a highly technical new line of business.
Well, maybe they figure that all extremely low margin, extremely highly capital intensive businesses are the same.  It seems like one of the stranger business decisions around.

Garrett To Join Reds Farm Club

Reds draft pick and St. John's basketball player Amir Garrett will be playing baseball as soon as school is out:
The glove is in his gym bag, untouched since last summer, when the Cincinnati Reds drafted him out of high school based on a left arm they believe is full of potential.
The Reds were undeterred that the 6-foot-6 Garrett had committed to play basketball and baseball at St. John’s. They signed him to a $1 million contract, agreed to let him play forward for the Red Storm this winter and asked him to be ready to report to their player development complex in Goodyear, Ariz., once the academic year ended.
Now a month away from doing just that, Garrett is in a springtime no man’s land. The basketball season is over. N.C.A.A. rules prohibit him from playing baseball for the Red Storm. Classes remain. Eligibility pitfalls abound. And a question lingers.
“Everybody asks me which sport I like more,” Garrett said. “I can’t really pick between the two right now. They’re both the same. I love them both.”
Since Aug. 15, when he signed with the Reds, Garrett has not pitched a baseball. His only diamond-related activity comes as a member of Angelica’s Omelets, a team in a unisex campus softball league he plays in every Sunday.
It never hurts to have an athlete in the system, especially if he's a pitcher:

The Reds discovered him in May at an arranged tryout in front of 22 scouts at the College of Southern Nevada; he had played his senior basketball season in Henderson, Nev. He had not pitched a game in almost a year and had resumed throwing just three weeks before the tryout. Yet his pitches were clocked in the mid-90s.
Wow.  You've got to like that. Now if he could learn a knuckleball....

2,4-D Ready Corn Has Non-farmers Fired Up

Global number of weed populations resistant to two or more types of herbicides. Image: Mortensen et al./BioScience

These superweeds now infest 60 million acres of U.S. farmland, a fast-growing number that foreshadows a time when agriculture’s front-line weedkiller is largely useless. Enlist, which Dow estimates will save $4 billion in superweed-related farm losses by 2020, represents the industry’s main response to the problem: Bringing back old chemicals in new ways.
Of 20 genetically engineered crops under federal regulatory consideration, 13 are designed to resist multiple herbicides. They suggest a future in which more farmland is treated with more herbicides in ever-higher doses, and have been criticized by activists and researchers worried about possible chemical dangers to human and environmental health.
Largely overshadowed in the health furor, however, is the issue of new superweeds: If glyphosate-drenched Roundup Ready fields were evolutionary crucibles that favored the emergence of new, glyphosate-resistant weed strains that threaten multi-billion-dollar damage, what might new herbicide regimes create?
“Resistance happens, particularly when the selection pressure is largely from one or two tactics,” said weed ecologist David Mortensen of Penn State University. “Plants are wired to protect themselves from troublesome compounds in some interesting ways.”
In January, Mortensen and Maxwell co-authored “Navigating a Critical Juncture for Sustainable Weed Management,” a BioScience paper on superweed control that described two routes for evolving resistance to multiple herbicides.
There are going to be some major issues down the line, but the battle between weeds and farmers will rage forever.  It is interesting how much attention super weeds and super bugs are getting.  Farmers are going to have a public relations nightmare on our hands.

The Largest Private Companies In America

H/t Ritholtz.

The Perfect Dairy Sire

The Atlantic:
When you add it all up, Badger-Fluff Fanny Freddie has a net merit of $792. No other proven sire ranks above $750 and only seven bulls in the country rank above $700. One might assume that this is largely because the bull can help the cows make more milk, but it's not! While breeders used to select for greater milk production, that's no longer considered the most important trait. For example, the number three bull in America is named Ensenada Taboo Planet-Et. His predicted transmitting ability for milk production is +2323, more than 1100 pounds greater than Freddie. His offspring's milk will likely containmore protein and fat as well. But his daughters' productive life would be shorter and their pregnancy rate is lower. And these factors, as well as some traits related to the hypothetical daughters' size and udder quality, trump Planet's impressive production stats.
One reason for the change in breeding emphasis is that our cows already produce tremendous amounts of milk relative to their forbears. In 1942, when my father was born, the average dairy cow produced less than 5,000 pounds of milk in its lifetime. Now, the average cow produces over 21,000 pounds of milk. At the same time, the number of dairy cows has decreased from a high of 25 million around the end of World War II to fewer than nine million today. This is an indisputable environmental win as fewer cows create less methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and require less land.
At the same time, it turns out that cow genomes are more complex than we thought: as milk production amps up, fertility drops. There's an art to balancing all the traits that go into optimizing a herd.
While we may worry about the use of antibiotics to stimulate animal growth or the use of hormones to increase milk production by up to 25 percent, most of the increase in the pounds of milk an animal puts out over the pastoral days of yore come from the genetic changes that we've wrought within these animals. It doesn't matter how the cow is raised -- in an idyllic pasture or a feedlot -- either way, the animal of 2012 is not the animal of 1940 or 1980 or even 2000. A group of USDA and University of Minnesota scientists calculated that 22 percent of the genome of Holstein cattle has been altered by human selection over the last 40 years.
Wow, 22 percent?  I would like to see a chart of the top producers' family trees.  That has to be a tangled mess.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Lange's Brewery

Today at work, somebody mentioned the Lange family, which ran a Coca-Cola bottling plant in the city of Piqua back in the fifties and sixties.  I mentioned that before they ran the Coke plant, they had a brewery at the site.  That reminded me of one of my favorite Woodie stories of all time. 

He told me that when he was young, he would assist a local plumber in the winter to make extra money.  He said his favorite job was when they would work at the Lange Brewery.  According to Woodie, they carried tin cups around with them all day when they worked there, and in every room they went into, there would be a keg tapped.  They could just fill up their cups whenever they wanted.  He further told me that the plumber always waited until the late winter/early spring time frame to work at the brewery, so that there would be bock beer on tap when they were there.  I think that other than on the farm, this was Woodie's favorite place he ever worked.

I have to admit, that does sound like a pretty enjoyable workplace.

Lest We Forget

May 1, 2003:
In what becomes known as the "Mission Accomplished" speech, on board the USS Abraham Lincoln (off the coast of California), U.S. President George W. Bush declares that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended".
Worst. President. Ever. Ok, maybe there were a few worse, but not much worse.

Equal Justice Under Law?

 Not so much:
The same team of researchers behind a recent study finding that older jurors convict at higher rates than their peers used a similar methodology to look at the more contentious issue of race.
Again, they looked at felony trials in Florida, from 2000 to 2010. And again they concentrated on the fluctuation in the composition of the jury pool, from day to day, rather than that of the seated jury (the former being more random than the latter, and therefore permitting the researchers to see more clearly the variables at work). They find evidence, they write, that
(i) juries formed from all-white jury pools convict black defendants significantly (16 percentage points) more often than white defendants, and (ii) this gap in conviction rates is entirely eliminated when the jury pool includes at least one black member. The impact of jury race is much greater than what a simple correlation of the race of the seated jury and conviction rates would suggest. These findings imply that the application of justice is highly uneven and raise obvious concerns about the fairness of trials in jurisdictions with a small proportion of blacks in the jury pool.
I've always wondered how a black person with an all white jury is getting tried by a jury of his peers.  I think it is fascinating that having at least one black juror swings the conviction rate so much.  Any time I hear some white person claim that there isn't any racism in the country, or that the real racists are black, I ask them if they'd rather be black, because I know I sure wouldn't want to take that deal.

Brutality On Ice

Nick Paumgarten:
This much is worth saying, though: Hockey is a violent, dangerous game. It is not, as my colleague Adam Gopnik suggested last week, played at the same tempo as soccer or rugby. The players are on skates, on ice, going full-tilt at speeds no human could hope to reach in cleats or running shoes. They must come off the ice every forty-five seconds, to recover their breath, whereas in soccer they can carry on at a jog for the entire ninety minutes. Also, in hockey there is no out-of-bounds. The playing surface is smaller and is enclosed by boards and Plexiglass. They play not with a bladder of animal skin filled with air, but with a disc of vulcanized rubber (sometimes even, I was told as a kid, containing bits of metal from reconstituted steel-belted radial tires). The puck moves very fast. To take it away from an opposing player, you are supposed to hit that player, hard—to separate him from the puck, yes, but also to make him think twice about doing things with the puck later in the game, and perhaps to break his spirit. If this sounds barbaric to you, then perhaps you are not a hockey fan. Maybe you prefer a milder variant—European hockey, maybe, or rec-league hockey, both of which are great fun to play, but frankly usually boring to watch. (An exception must be made for kids’ hockey, which should be, and usually is, clean, exciting, and hilarious.) The head shots are a plague; concussions are an epidemic. And fighting (most of it) is silly. But fighting is not the cause of most hockey concussions. The scolds who wish away the ferocity of North American hockey and pine for the Euro variety must not have watched much of the latter. Playmaking without peril is like the Stones without Charlie Watts. Also, the players are covered in advertisements. It looks ridiculous. Before anyone accuses me of being Don Cherry, 1) Cherry looks even more ridiculous and 2) I’m not knocking European hockey players. In fact, over the years, many, if not most, of my favorite N.H.L. players have been Swedes, Czechs, and Russians (Larionov, Fedorov, Forsberg, Datsyuk, etc.). It’s the fact that they can bring forth such artistry amid the menace of an N.H.L. game that makes the mere recitation of their names an act of hockey prayer.
Isn't the international rink bigger than the NHL variety?  I would think that alone would hinder the European players and give the big hitters the edge in the NHL.  The NHL and North American hockey in general makes the guys who can't skate gracefully or handle the puck, but can blast somebody from the blind side a valuable player.  I don't know think that is for the best.  I will agree with him that Don Cherry looks ridiculous, especially when he's celebrating Burns Day.

First Black Player In The Majors

May 1, 1884:
Moses Fleetwood Walker became the first black person to play in a professional baseball game in the United States.
In 1884 Toledo joined the American Association, which was a Major League at that time in competition with the National League. Walker made his Major League debut on May 1 against the Louisville Eclipse. In his debut, he went hitless and had four errors. In forty two games, Walker had a batting average of .263. His brother, Welday Walker, later joined him on the team, playing in six games. The Walker brothers are the first known African Americans to play baseball in the Major Leagues.
Walker struggled at first with the bat, but was well regarded for having a rocket for an arm. In 1884, he batted .264, which was well above the league average. A testament to how good Walker was, his back-up was a player named Deacon McGwire, who would go on to a 26 year career, catching 1,600 games.
Walker's teammate and star pitcher, Tony Mullane, stated Walker "was the best catcher I ever worked with, but I disliked a Negro and whenever I had to pitch to him I used to pitch anything I wanted without looking at his signals." Mullane's view hurt the team, as there were a number of passed balls and several injuries suffered by Walker, including a broken rib. There were games where Walker was so hurt, he could only play in the outfield.
Walker suffered a season-ending injury in July, and Toledo folded at the end of the year. Walker returned to the minor leagues in 1885, and played in the Western League for Cleveland, which folded in June. He then played for Waterbury in the Eastern League though 1886.
In 1887 Walker moved to the International League's Newark Little Giants. He caught for star pitcher George Stovey, forming the first known African-American battery. On July 14, the Chicago White Stockings played an exhibition game against the Little Giants. Contrary to some modern-day writers, Anson did not have a second encounter with Walker that day (Walker was apparently injured, having last played on July 11, and did not play again until July 26). But Stovey had been listed as the game's scheduled starting pitcher, in the Newark News of July 14. Only days after the game was it reported (in the Newark Sunday Call) that, "Stovey was expected to pitch in the Chicago game. It was announced on the ground [i.e. "at the ballpark"] that he was sulking, but it has since been given out that Anson objected to a colored man playing. If this be true, and the crowd had known it, Mr. Anson would have received hisses instead of the applause that was given him when he first stepped to the bat." On the morning of that same, International League owners had voted 6-to-4 to exclude African-American players from future contracts. 
In the off-season, the International League modified its ban on black players, and Walker signed with the Syracuse, New York franchise for 1888. In September 1888, Walker did have his second incident with Anson. When Chicago was at Syracuse for an exhibition game, Anson refused to start the game when he saw Walker's name on the scorecard as catcher. "Big Anson at once refused to play the game with Walker behind the bat on account of the Star catcher’s color," the Syracuse Herald said. Syracuse relented and someone else did the catching.
Walker remained in Syracuse until the team released him in July 1889.
Shortly thereafter, the American Association and the National League both unofficially banned African-American players, making the adoption of Jim Crow in baseball complete. Baseball would remain segregated until 1946 when Jackie Robinson "broke the color barrier" in professional baseball playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers' minor league affiliate in Montreal.
Wow, among others, Tony Mullane and Cap Anson were tremendously racist assholes.

Particulate Emissions Versus Global Warming

Project Syndicate (h/t Mark Thoma):
The combustion of fossil fuels, wood, and other biomass increases the amount of airborne particles, which, in a somewhat simplified manner, we can describe as “white” or “black.” Both types can be found in varying amounts in all emissions. Most black particles stem from small-scale and inefficient burning of biofuels, and, in Asia and Africa, from the burning of agricultural waste. By contrast, white particles consist largely of sulfur from the burning of coal and oil.
CommentsBecause black particles contain soot and absorb sunlight, they are believed to increase global warming. White particles, however, reflect some of the incoming sunlight back into space, producing a cooling effect on Earth’s climate.
CommentsIndeed, according to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the cooling effect of white particles may counteract as much as about half of the warming effect of carbon dioxide. So, if all white particles were removed from the atmosphere, global warming would increase considerably.
CommentsThe dilemma is that all particles, whether white or black, constitute a serious problem for human health. Every year, an estimated two million people worldwide die prematurely, owing to the effects of breathing polluted air. Furthermore, sulfur-rich white particles contribute to the acidification of soil and water.
Unfortunately, I think we're going to be screwed no matter what as far as global warming goes.  I get the feeling we're getting into that famed hockey stick stage, and in a few years we'll be cussing the climate change deniers.  Hopefully I'm wrong.  Again.  As far as ag is concerned, some people are considering what may be coming (h/t Big Picture Ag):
Scientists at Stanford University in California and Purdue University in Indiana say global warming is going to hit hard in Corn Belt states where it most matters — the corn market. The study, financed by the U.S. Department of Energy, says that the corn market will be walloped in the coming years by climate change.

Factors such as market policies or oil prices have comparatively little effect on corn prices compared to global warming, the study says. In fact, heat waves sparked by rising global temperatures are expected to become more common, withering crops in the Midwest, scientists say.

Farmers would be forced to increase their crops’ heat tolerance or move northward to farm near the Canadian border to avoid the heat waves.

“Severe heat is the big hammer,” Noah Diffenbaugh, an assistant Stanford professor of environmental Earth system science, has said in recent media interviews. “These are substantial changes in price volatility that come from relatively moderate global warming.”

“U.S. corn-price volatility exhibits higher sensitivity to near-term climate change than to energy policy influences or agriculture-energy market integration,” wrote researchers Diffenbaugh, Thomas Hertel, Martin Scherer and Monika Verma in the article published on Sunday.
That's my big concern, changes in climate making the land we've got less productive.