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Articles by Francis Stokes

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  • Hell comes to frogtown

    A new report from leading conservation experts suggests that a third of all amphibian species are at risk, and calls for an urgent rescue to save frogs, newts, and other amphibians from extinction. Disease, habitat loss, and climate change are the major culprits -- amphibians are "delicate sentinels of environmental change." But frogs must carry some of the blame themselves. Frog celebrities have been poor role models: Mr. Toad's reckless driving and compulsive behavior have led some to call his life a "wild ride," and Kermit the Frog's heroin thin physique has raised suspicions of anorexia and drug use. While the Amphibian Survival Alliance is doing its best to aid the crisis, I offer a few survival tips for our frog friends:

  • Coconuts: Good for more than just tropical drinks and bras

    As fuel prices soar, the smaller and more remote the land mass, the bigger the crisis. But Pacific Islanders may have found their solution: coconuts. An article in Reuters today details efforts to make biofuel out of coconut oil.

    It began when the Professor developed an idea for a bamboo boat motor, but the Skipper said they lost all their fuel when the Minnow ran aground. Gilligan suggested, "I have an idea. If we have phones made of coconuts, and a space shuttle made out of coconuts, and small tactical explosives made from coconuts, then why can't we have biofuel made from coconuts?" Then the Skipper hit Gilligan with his hat, which looks like a hostile act but is really a sign of affection.

    The new discovery may also be an industry incentive, bringing much-needed revenue to rural-island populations, whose coconut supplies until now have been used to meet the massive demand for carved souvenir monkey heads with wire-rimmed glasses.

  • South Africa kills sport of shooting rhinos at close range (in closed pens)

    "Canned" always signals a welcome improvement -- whether it's canned meat, canned asparagus, or canned hunts. A canned hunt is one in which the prey is an animal raised in captivity and confined in a small area so the "hunter" can shoot it at close range. Usually with some trees around, for that authentic woodsy feel. Not quite as easy as firing a few rounds into a venison steak, but close. Canned hunts are popular in the states, for those hunters-on-the-go who just can't wander around all day looking for prey, and because they're fairly idiot-proof (unless you go shooting your partner in the face).

    But sadly, South Africa just passed a law that takes the best part out of going on a big-game safari in the deepest jungles of Africa: the convenience. Canned hunts for wealthy tourists, or "tinned hunts" for wealthy British tourists, are a multi-million dollar industry in South Africa.

    Prices paid ranged from $25 for pigeons and quail to $25,000 for a white rhinoceros. Breeders have used crossbreeding and genetic manipulation to make the potential trophies more appealing -- by producing large numbers of albino lions, for instance.

    When the new law was passed, breeders were working on their most appealing hunting trophy yet: animals with their heads pre-mounted on wooden plaques.

  • America outsourcing its pollution to China

    Yet another successful American export product is facing stiff competition from China: pollution. China, where factories are springing up like dandelions and whose labor force is cheap and plentiful, is able to churn out pollution at an unprecedented rate. And the prices! Now you can afford to get emphysema and lung cancer. Once, America was the world leader in the bad-air industry -- so much so, a recent Nova episode credited export of American pollution as a contributor to the disastrous famine in Ethiopia in the 1980s. Ah, those heady days of world power ...

    Today, sadly, China has surged ahead in the game and left America in a paltry second place. A recent AP article points to China as the producer of Seattle's hazy new skyline. But a message to all you Grist office workers, from here in Los Angeles: Before you go bragging about your beautiful new orangey red sunsets, remember that down here our smog is homegrown, and yours has that little sticker that says "Made In China."