Marine Life Flourishes at California Oil Rigs

(p. D1) EUREKA OIL PLATFORM OFF CALIFORNIA COAST — Eight miles off the coast of Long Beach, Calif., the oil rig Eureka, which has stood here for 40 years, is a study in contrasts. From a distance, it looks like just another offshore platform, an artifact of the modern industrial landscape.
But beneath the waves, the Eureka and other rigs like it in the area are home to a vast and thriving community of sea life that some scientists say is one of the richest marine ecosystems on the planet.
“They are more productive than coral reefs, more productive than estuaries,” said Milton Love, a professor of marine biology at the University of California Santa Barbara. “It just turns out by chance that platforms have a lot of animals that are growing really quickly.”
Dr. Love, who has published research on marine life at offshore drilling sites, said the location of these rigs — in marine-protected areas in a cold current that swoops down from British Columbia — have made them perfect habitats for fish and other sea life.
Scientists and divers have been aware of the abundant life here for years, but a 2014 paper that Dr. Love co-wrote, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, confirmed what many experts had already suspected: that most of the life was actually created at the rig rather than having come from other parts of the ocean and settled around the massive concrete pylons.
“For some of these major economic species like the rockfishes, there’s no question that there are more of them out in Southern California waters because the platform is there,” Dr. Love said.
. . .
(p. D4) “I think it’s time for us to step outside the box and think creatively about the resources we have,” said Amber Jackson, an oceanographer and conservation biologist who co-founded Blue Latitudes with Emily Callahan, a marine scientist. “To lose these ecosystems just because they are on an oil platform structure, I feel, is shortsighted.”
. . .
But over the last decade or so, divers and scientists have discovered that the rigs harbor an unexpected bounty of life. Just beneath the surface at the Eureka rig, sea lions prowl in the crystal clear waters; half a dozen species of rockfish and bright orange Garibaldi swim in the swift currents; and florid carpets of invertebrates and crustaceans cling to the rig’s pylons.
“It’s the most amazing diving that I’ve ever done,” said Ashleigh Palinkas, a San Diego-based conservation biologist who came out to dive the rigs last October. “It’s like an oasis. The structure itself is really impressive. It gives you a sense of total weightlessness.”
Over the last few years, word has spread about the pleasures of diving the rigs. In 2014, Ms. Jackson and Ms. Callahan started advocating to allow oil companies to keep large sections of many of the rigs in place after they are no longer functioning.

For the full story, see:
ERIK OLSEN. “Oil Rigs Gushing with Life.” The New York Times (Tues., MARCH 8, 2016): D1 & D4.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 7, 2016, and has the title “Marine Life Thrives in Unlikely Place: Offshore Oil Rigs.”)

Dr. Love’s academic research on the flourishing of sea life at oil rigs, is:
Claisse, Jeremy T., Daniel J. Pondella, Milton Love, Laurel A. Zahn, Chelsea M. Williams, Jonathan P. Williams, and Ann S. Bull. “Oil Platforms Off California Are among the Most Productive Marine Fish Habitats Globally.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111, no. 43 (Oct. 28, 2014): 15462-67.

Tesla Model 3 Excites Venturesome Consumers

America’s venturesome consumers are hungry for products exciting enough to justify enthusiasm. They are desperate for evidence that the future can continue to look bright.

(p. B2) DETROIT — Despite a steady stream of new models from a number of automakers, sales this year of electric and hybrid vehicles have failed to keep pace with the growth in the overall American market.
But if the market for electrified cars was slumbering, Tesla Motors woke it up with a jolt Thursday [March 31, 2016] with the unveiling of its coming Model 3 lineup of affordable, zero-emission vehicles.
Given that electric and hybrid vehicles account for only about 2 percent of last year’s record-setting sales in the United States, the extraordinary reaction to Tesla’s first mass-market model was a vivid demonstration of the potential demand in the segment.
“It shows that the future of electric vehicles is not necessarily bleak,” said Alec Gutierrez, an analyst with the research firm Kelley Blue Book. “Maybe we’ve been waiting for the right products that resonate with consumers.”
Tesla said on Friday that it had booked reservations — at $1,000 each — from nearly 200,000 people for the first Model 3 sedans, which will not be available until next year.
With a starting price of $35,000 and a battery range of 215 miles, the new Tesla is a big leap in the company’s expansion beyond expensive luxury models.
“The final step in the master plan is a mass-market, affordable car,” Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, said at the lavish introduction of the Model 3 held at the company’s design studios in Hawthorne, Calif.

For the full story, see:
BILL VLASIC “In Clamor for new Tesla, Signs of an Electric Future.” The New York Times (Sat., APRIL 2, 2016): B2.
(Note: bracketed date added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 1, 2016, and has the title “Tesla’s New Model 3 Jump-Starts Demand for Electric Cars.”)

How Health Insurance Slows Medical Innovation

(p. A8) A recent study led by Wendell Evans at the University of Sydney supports growing evidence that early tooth decay, before a cavity forms, can often be arrested and reversed with simple treatments that restore minerals in the teeth, rather than the more typical drill-and-fill approach.
The randomized, controlled trial followed 19 dental practices in Australia for three years, then researchers checked up on the patients again four years later. The result: After seven years, patients receiving remineralization treatment needed on average 30% fewer fillings.
. . .
There is a substantial body of research supporting remineralization as a treatment for early tooth decay, and little opposition in the dental profession, says Margherita Fontana, a professor of cariology at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry. Tradition, however, has been an obstacle to widespread use of the treatment. “For older generations [of dentists], it just feels wrong to leave decay and not remove it,” Dr. Fontana says. “That’s how they were trained.”
Reimbursement is another obstacle. Insurance typically covers application of fluoride varnish in children, but not adults. The cost ranges from $25 to $55, according to the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute. Other preventive treatments also generally aren’t covered.

For the full story, see:
DANA WECHSLER LINDEN. “Simple Dental Treatments Can Help Reverse Decay.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., APRIL 12, 2016): D3.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 11, 2016, and has the title “Simple Dental Treatments May Reverse Decay.”)

Former Goldman Sachs Banker Predicts “Green Bubble”

(p. R5) Sustainable investing and clean energy are hot topics, but one Danish financier is warning that people might be getting carried away.
Per Wimmer, a former Goldman Sachs banker and the founder of Wimmer Financial LLP, a London-based corporate-advisory firm specializing in natural resources, foresees a “green bubble” that could have similar consequences to the dot-com and housing bubbles.
. . .
WSJ: What are the main issues behind the so-called bubble you see forming in green energy?
MR. WIMMER: Very simply put, for green energy to be truly sustainable, it must be commercially sustainable. The reality today is that when it comes to politicians allocating subsidies, it seems like they are being allocated almost religiously across the board. As long as there is a green element, then [politicians believe] it is fine and deserves funding from tax dollars. I argue that is a little unsophisticated.
We have got to look at supporting and subsidizing the technologies that stand a chance at becoming commercially independent from subsidies within a reasonable time period–about seven to 10 years.
. . .
WSJ: In your book “The Green Bubble,” you highlight infrastructure problems involved in large-scale green-energy projects in the U.S. Tell us about those.
MR. WIMMER: There are a number of challenges that green energy faces, and one [involves] infrastructure, meaning that if you were to target, say, 20% green energy including wind farms in the U.S., you would have to build an awful lot of transmission grid, which is quite expensive.
Somebody is going to have to pay for it–the taxpayer, perhaps?

For the full interview, see:
TANZEEL AKHTAR. “Renewable Energy Is a ‘Bubble,’ Says Financier.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Jan. 11, 2016): R5.
(Note: bold and italics, in original; ellipses, added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 12 [sic], 2016,)

The book mentioned in the interview, is:
Wimmer, Per. The Green Bubble: Our Future Energy Needs and Why Alternative Energy Is Not the Answer. London, UK: Lid Publishing, 2015.

Feds’ Regulatory Delay Supports High-Fare Trans-Atlantic Airline Oligopoly

(p. B1) In the past three years, Norwegian, one of Europe’s biggest low-cost airlines, has quietly established a beachhead in the trans-Atlantic market by offering low-fare, no-frills service on long-haul flights.
Thanks to a small but expanding fleet of fuel-efficient planes combined with deeply discounted ticket prices, Norwegian Air Shuttle has attracted a growing number of leisure travelers looking for cheap flights.
It is all part of the vision of Norwegian’s outspoken chief executive, Bjorn Kjos, who is determined to force the same kind of low-fare competition on international routes that has been so successful in domestic markets for airlines like Southwest and Spirit, and Ryanair in Europe.
. . .
But Norwegian’s expansion has been stymied by vigorous opposition. Legacy airlines on both sides of the Atlantic see a low-cost competitor on their cash-cow routes as a major threat to their long-term profitability. Labor unions object to Norwegian’s plans to hire flight crew from Thailand, a practice they have repeatedly described as “labor dumping.”
The airline has also faced lengthy delays in receiving regulatory approvals in the United States.
. . .
(p. B4) A spokeswoman for the Transportation Department did not give any reasons for the delays that have left Norwegian in bureaucratic limbo in the United States. The airline’s first request was filed more than two years ago. . . .
The long delay in approving the application “does not reflect well on the political independence of the Department of Transportation with respect to the free trade principles behind the E.U.-U.S. open skies agreement,” according to a report by analysts at the CAPA Center for Aviation. “The calculated inaction only serves to restrict competition and to deny consumer choice.”
. . .
“There is still a lot to do,” Mr. Kjos said. “We have to think about how to fly more people more cheaply. There are hundreds of millions of people that don’t have access to cheap flights.”

For the full story, see:
JAD MOUAWAD. “Norwegian Air Flies in the Face of the Trans-Atlantic Establishment.” The New York Times (Tues., FEB. 23, 2016): B1 & B4.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 22, 2016.)

Discovery of Proof of Concept of Transition from Fish to Land Vertebrates

(p. A4) It’s one of the most famous chapters in evolution, so familiar that it regularly inspires New Yorker cartoons: Some 375 million years ago, our ancestors emerged from the sea, evolving from swimming fish to vertebrates that walked on land.
Scientists still puzzle over exactly how the transition from sea to land took place. For the most part, they’ve had to rely on information gleaned from fossils of some of the intermediate species.
But now a team of researchers has found a remarkable parallel to one of evolution’s signature events. In a cave in Thailand, they’ve discovered that a blind fish walks the way land vertebrates do.
. . .
The researchers published their study on Thursday [March 24, 2016] in the journal Scientific Reports.
Dr. Flammang said that the waterfall-climbing cave fish eventually might give scientists hints about how fish originally arrived on land. “The physics are the same,” she said.

For the full story, see:
Carl Zimmer. “Researchers Find Fish That Walks the Way Land Vertebrates Do.” The New York Times (Fri., MARCH 25, 2016): A4.
(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 24, 2016.)

The academic article presenting the research summarized above, is:
Flammang, Brooke E., Apinun Suvarnaraksha, Julie Markiewicz, and Daphne Soares. “Tetrapod-Like Pelvic Girdle in a Walking Cavefish.” Scientific Reports 6 (March 24, 2016): 23711.

Government Regulations Protect Health-Care Incumbents Against Innovation

(p. A15) As people age, the main valve controlling the flow of blood out of the heart can narrow, causing heart failure, and sometimes death. In the past the only way to repair the damage was risky open-heart surgery. But an ingenious medical device now allows the heart to be repaired using a catheter that introduces a replacement valve through a main artery in the leg–another miracle of modern medicine.
In 2011, more than four years after they hit the European market, the Food and Drug Administration finally approved aortic heart valves for use in the U.S. The total cost of the new procedure is about the same as open-heart surgery. But government bureaucrats feared that the new replacement valve’s lower risks and easier administration would mean that many more elderly patients would seek to fix their failing heart valves, pushing up Medicare’s total spending. To limit their use, regulators created coverage rules based on a set of strained medical criteria. It was a budget prerogative masquerading as clinical reasoning.
This episode is a vivid example of the government’s increasing practice to regulate medicine and ration care. A series of landmark studies published earlier this month in the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine, and presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology in Chicago, makes clear how contrived the original Medicare guidelines were.
For a patient to be qualified for the aortic valve device, Medicare required two cardiac surgeons to certify first that a patient wasn’t a candidate for the open-heart repair. Also mandated was the presence of a cardiothoracic surgeon and an interventional cardiologist in the operating room during the procedure.

For the full commentary, see:
SCOTT GOTTLIEB. “Warning: Medicare May Be Bad for Your Heart; Aortic valve replacements are superior to open-heart surgery and less risky. So why are they hard to get?” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 12, 2016): A15.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 11, 2016.)

The Lancet article mentioned above, is:
Thourani, Vinod H., Susheel Kodali, Raj R. Makkar, Howard C. Herrmann, Mathew Williams, Vasilis Babaliaros, Richard Smalling, Scott Lim, S. Chris Malaisrie, Samir Kapadia, Wilson Y. Szeto, Kevin L. Greason, Dean Kereiakes, Gorav Ailawadi, Brian K. Whisenant, Chandan Devireddy, Jonathon Leipsic, Rebecca T. Hahn, Philippe Pibarot, Neil J. Weissman, Wael A. Jaber, David J. Cohen, Rakesh Suri, E. Murat Tuzcu, Lars G. Svensson, John G. Webb, Jeffrey W. Moses, Michael J. Mack, D. Craig Miller, Craig R. Smith, Maria C. Alu, Rupa Parvataneni, Ralph B. D’Agostino, Jr., and Martin B. Leon. “Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement Versus Surgical Valve Replacement in Intermediate-Risk Patients: A Propensity Score Analysis.” The Lancet (April 3, 2016), DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(16)30073-3.

The New England Journal of Medicine article mentioned above, is:
Leon, Martin B., Craig R. Smith, Michael J. Mack, Raj R. Makkar, Lars G. Svensson, Susheel K. Kodali, Vinod H. Thourani, E. Murat Tuzcu, D. Craig Miller, Howard C. Herrmann, Darshan Doshi, David J. Cohen, Augusto D. Pichard, Samir Kapadia, Todd Dewey, Vasilis Babaliaros, Wilson Y. Szeto, Mathew R. Williams, Dean Kereiakes, Alan Zajarias, Kevin L. Greason, Brian K. Whisenant, Robert W. Hodson, Jeffrey W. Moses, Alfredo Trento, David L. Brown, William F. Fearon, Philippe Pibarot, Rebecca T. Hahn, Wael A. Jaber, William N. Anderson, Maria C. Alu, and John G. Webb. “Transcatheter or Surgical Aortic-Valve Replacement in Intermediate-Risk Patients.” New England Journal of Medicine (April 2, 2016), DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1514616.