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.