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News and Trends
October 9, 2006


Frogs Airlifted to Safety
Skull Overkill
Shooting Some Spice Into Space
Judge Turns to Child's Play
Banking for Their Future
Downloading a Slice of America

Frogs Airlifted to Safety
In a race to rescue amphibians threatened by a lethal fungus, two biologists from Atlanta recently boarded a plane carrying several suitcases filled with frogs gathered from a Central American rain forest. The waterborne fungus was making its way toward their natural habitat in Panama's El Valle national park. Joseph R. Mendelson, a curator at Zoo Atlanta, has discovered 50 new species of frogs, only to see half of them become extinct because of the fungus. With the permission of Panama's government, Mendelson and a conservationist from the Atlanta Botanical Gardens collected and evacuated 600 frogs, who traveled to Atlanta in style, snuggled in damp moss inside vented plastic deli containers. The fungus has since reached El Valle and is expected to destroy 90 percent of the frogs there.

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Skull Overkill
With the full force of American consumer marketing behind it, the skull is a hot item—but it's losing much of its fearsome "outsider" meaning. Beyond the sea of skull wear like belts, T-shirts, ties, sneakers, cashmere sweaters, and swimsuits, there are now skull umbrellas, packing tape, watches, party lights, and a skull toilet-brush caddy. "Skulls are a rock icon," says Cindy Levitt, vice president for marketing at the Hot Topics clothing chain. "We've always had them. We see this as more of a fashion trend." Perhaps the skull has simply become the Smiley Face of the 2000s. "This is such a gripe of mine," says Voltaire, a musician and author of What Is Goth? "Throughout hundreds of years of history, what the skull has communicated is, 'I am dangerous.' That's where the irony is. You can buy dangerous for $11.99 at Kmart."

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Shooting Some Spice Into Space
Meals served in orbit have come a long way from the gelatin-coated food cubes and aluminum tubes of applesauce that sustained Gemini astronauts in the 1960s. NASA food scientists now know to add lots of spice to space fare because the senses of smell and taste are dulled in microgravity. "We crave anything with a nice, sharp flavor," says William S. McArthur Jr., who served this year as a commander aboard the International Space Station. The food might not look appetizing in its pouches, but it can taste surprisingly good. McArthur's favorite was shrimp cocktail in a tangy sauce. And in July, the shuttle Discovery crew savored jambalaya created by Emeril Lagasse of the Food Network. Vickie Kloeris, manager of the space-station food system, says her next challenge is preparing food for Mars expeditions. It requires a long shelf life because it will be sent to Mars months before the astronauts show up for dinner.

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Judge Turns to Child's Play
A federal judge in Florida recently borrowed from the culture of the schoolyard to resolve a dispute between two lawyers in an insurance lawsuit: He ordered them to "convene at a neutral location" and "engage in one game of rock, paper, scissors." The judge, Gregory A. Presnell of Federal District Court in Orlando, called his innovation "a new form of alternative dispute resolution." The two attorneys in the case had been unable to agree on a location for taking a deposition (testimony given outside court) from a witness. Presnell's order called for the lawyers to hold their rock-paper-scissors showdown on the courthouse steps if they were unable to agree on a location for the game as well. But the adversaries got together the next day and quickly agreed on a location for the deposition. So as not to be held in contempt of the judge's order, the lawyers filed a motion asking him to call off the game. Judge Presnell responded: "With civility restored (at least for now), it is ordered that the motion is granted."

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Banking for Their Future
For students at Theodore Roosevelt High School in the Bronx, N.Y., remembering their lunch money may never be easier. This fall, North Fork Bank plans to open a full-service branch in the school lobby. It will be staffed by 17 students in the school's Fordham Leadership Academy for Business and Technology. The students worked last summer in North Fork branches in the Bronx, training as tellers and customer-service representatives. The school branch is intended to help students gain skills in banking services, and to promote basic financial literacy throughout the school. But customers needn't look for an ATM—in this bank, the students do all the work.

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Downloading a Slice of America
By day, Ding Chentai, 23, works for a large bank in Shanghai. By night, he is obsessed with TV shows, like Lost and CSI, that cannot be seen on Chinese television. So Ding spends his evenings adding Chinese subtitles to American sitcoms and dramas for the booming Chinese audience that downloads the programs from the Internet. Dozens of teams of volunteers like Ding are working to bring American popular culture to Chinese audiences, while dodging Chinese censors and American copyright lawyers. Ding and other fans say they improve their English and pick up useful information from watching American TV. "When I first started watching Friends," says Ding, "I found the show was full of information about American history and showed how America had rapidly developed. It's more interesting than textbooks and other ways of learning."

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