Monday, September 29, 2014

Never Be Royals Suddenly Kings

For 29 years, fans of the Kansas City Royals have been craving "a different kind of buzz."  This year their team finally "cracked the code" by winning a wild-card berth in the Major League Baseball playoffs.  When Lorde wrote her George Brett-inspired megahit song, Royals, most baseball fans outside Kansas City could claim "no postal code envy."  Now, they may regret that they'll "never be royals," while Royals fans get a chance to "live that fantasy."

Friday, September 26, 2014

Saurians Set Sail

The theory of island biogeography posits that the amount of biodiversity - usually species richness - present on a landmass is positively correlated to the area of the landmass and negatively correlated to the distance the landmass lies from other landmasses.  In general, the larger a landmass, the lower the rate at which species tend to go extinct, but the further the landmass is from other source populations, the less likely will be replenishment via immigration.

In an elegant study on the island biogeography of Anolis lizards throughout the Caribbean, Helmus et al. suggest that economics, rather than natural processes, has become a dominant driver of biodiversity.  As they explain,
Economic isolation determines Caribbean biodiversity in the Anthropocene—both exotic and present-day (that is, native + exotic) anole richness were negative functions of economic isolation.
The authors identify commercial shipping as a major culprit for remixing the species complements of islands throughout the Caribbean.  These days, stowaway Anolis lizards seem to be island hopping less on logs or leaves than on massize metal container ships sailing from port to port.  Forget leaping lizards;  sailing lizards may be more accurate.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Growing Influence Of Chinese Law

Imagine a company ("AgCo") complies with all relevant United States laws in inventing, producing, marketing, and selling seeds of an innovative genetically-modified corn plant ("UberCorn") within the United States.  Imagine, further, that farmers buy those seeds to grow corn whose kernels subsequently mix with kernels from other breeds of corn in common storage facilities owned by an agricultural commodities trading company ("TradeCo").  If TradeCo then ships that corn mixture overseas to China, where the entire mixture is banned from importation due to the presence of some UberCorn, does TradeCo have a legitimate cause of action against AgCo for "contaminating" the corn mixture with UberCorn?  Such a drama is currently playing out in the Louisiana 40th Judicial Court Cargill, Inc. filed suit against Syngenta on September 12, 2014, for allegedly violating its duty of care to the corn industry by selling its genetically-modified, insect-resistant Agrisure Viptera (MIR162) corn in the U.S..  I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Reuters' Andrew Chung for an article on this case published on September 16, 2014.  Agrisure Viptera was approved in the U.S. for commercial cultivation in 2010.  However, China has not yet approved the import of this variety of corn.  A state court just west of New Orleans now must grapple with a fascinating legal issue:  can Chinese law trigger liability in the U.S. for actions taken in the U.S. that comply fully with U.S. law?  Like corn, the influence of Chinese law is also growing around the world.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

On The Up And Up

According to the World Meteorological Organization ("WMO"), 2013 was a record year for atmospheric greenhouse gases.  On September 9, 2014, the WMO GREENHOUSE GAS BULLETIN reported the following:
The latest analysis of observations from the WMO Global Atmosphere Watch Programme shows that the globally averaged mole fractions of CO2, CH4 and N2O reached new highs in 2013, with CO2 at 396.0±0.1 ppm, CH4 at 1824±2 ppb and N2O at 325.9±0.1 ppb. These values constitute, respectively, 142%, 253% and 121% of pre-industrial (before 1750) levels. The atmospheric increase of CO2 from 2012 to 2013 was 2.9 ppm, which is the largest year to year change from 1984 to 2013.
The climate is an extremely complex and dynamic system, so reasons for this recent rapid rise in measured atmospheric greenhouse gases remain poorly understood.  Hypotheses could include limits on the capacities of the oceans or forests to absorb additional carbon dioxide.  Determining the causes of this greenhouse gas spike is devoutly to be wished.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Franklin Finally Found

No one expressed it better than Stan Rogers:
Ah, for just one time I would take the Northwest Passage,
To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea,
Tracing one warm line through a land so wide and savage,
And make a Northwest Passage to the sea.
On September 9, 2014, just as the snow began to fall in earnest in Resolute, Nunuvut, the government of Canada announced that one of the ships from the ill-fated Franklin Expedition had finally been located.  Although the precise identity of the ship - HMS Erebus or HMS Terror - is unknown as yet, this discovery marks huge progress in solving the mystery of what happened to Sir John Franklin and his crews after they set sail from England in 1845 to find and navigate the Northwest Passage.  They were lost in 1846.  Now we may discover why.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Organ Transplant Crisis

A group of concerned scholars has written "An Open Letter to President Barack Obama, Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Attorney General Eric Holder and Leaders of Congress" on "HOW TO END THE WAIT FOR ORGAN TRANSPLANTS."  I am one of the initiating signers of the letter, which
calls for action to increase kidney donations by implementing pilot studies that will evaluate whether government regulated and provided benefits to donors will result in more kidneys and do so in ways that safeguard the rights and health of donors.
 We hope this initiative may be a step towards helping alleviate the current crisis in organ donation.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Okie Joe's No More

The best barbeque restaurant - Oklahoma Joe's BBQ - in the best barbeque town - Kansas City - is going native.  The home of the Z-Man, named by Anthony Bourdain as "One of Thirteen Places to Eat Before You Die," and third on Yelp's list of the top 100 places to eat, Okie Joe's announced it will become Joe's Kansas City by the end of 2014.  Subtle signs of this transition have been around for several years, including the expurgation of "Oklahoma" from the names of the sauce and fries seasoning.  To paraphrase the Bard,
O! be some other name:
What’s in a name? that which we call a rib
By any other name would taste as sweet;
So Okie Joe's would, were it not Okie Joe's call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which it owes
Without that title.
Even so, many will lament the tossing of the original moniker onto the dustbins of history.

Friday, August 22, 2014

New Who

The most venerable television science fiction series, Doctor Who, renews itself again on BBC Television on August 24, 2014.  Fan from the very first Doctor, William Hartnell, and brilliant portrayer of political vulgarian extraordinaire, Malcolm Tucker, Scottish actor Peter Capaldi dons the mantle of the most famous Time Lord in the 242nd canonical television Doctor Who adventure, entitled Deep Breath.  I will attend a première party of the Twelfth Doctor's first episode dressed as my favourite Third Doctor, who was played by Jon PertweeDaleks, beware!  The Doctor is back.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Significant Conservation

In response to a new federal government interpretation of the Endangered Species Act ("ESA"), Profs. John A. Vucetich (Michigan Technical University) and Michael Paul Nelson (Oregon State University) published an interesting critique on August 20, 2014, of how the ESA phrase "throughout all or a significant portion of its range" should be understood.  In their view, the proposed new conservation approach by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service could result in isolated relict populations of once-widespread species instead of protection and restoration of species across their historical ranges.  Vucetich and Nelson suggest that the new statutory interpretation "falls far short of the conservation aspirations the law once embodied."  The ESA has long been beloved of the public, regardless of political stripes, so wise and effective implementation of its goals remains sound public policy.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Remix Species

Tions and ligers, and pizzlies, oh my!  The August 17, 2014, New York Times Magazine features a timely article about hybridization among species, entitled "Should You Fear the Pizzly Bear?". Although there is little coverage of the raging scientific debate over what "species" are, and whether they even exist, the discussion of how habitat alteration, overhunting, and climate change may be driving widespread genomic remixture across previously-divergent phylogenetic lineages.  As Dr. Peter Venkman exclaimed in Ghostbusters, "dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!"