Beginning in 2011, about three dozen people in Tokyo have been meeting every Sunday morning at 6 a.m. on a mission to scrub down, one by one, the city's grungiest public rest rooms. “By 7:30,” according to an Associated Press reporter who witnessed an outing in August, the team had left behind a “gleaming public toilet, looking as good as the day it was installed.” Explained the hygiene-intense Satoshi Oda (during the week, a computer programmer), the mission is “for our own good” — work that leader Masayuki Magome compares to the training that Buddhist monks receive to find peace. (In fact, to fulfill the group's motto, “Clean thyself by cleaning cubicles,” the scouring must be done with bare hands.) A squad supporter spoke of a sad, growing apprehension that the younger generation no longer shares the Japanese cultural conviction that rest rooms should always be clean and safe.
Colleagues were stunned in May when ABC News editor Don Ennis suddenly appeared at work wearing a little black dress and a red wig and declaring that he had begun hormone therapy and wanted to be called Dawn Ennis. As co-workers accommodated his wishes (which did not seem so unusual in contemporary professional society), Ennis began to have second thoughts, and by July had blamed his conversion on “transient global amnesia,” brought on by marital difficulties, and had returned to work as Don. Apparently the primary lingering effect is that he must still deal with Dawn's hormone-induced breasts.
The Entrepreneurial Spirit
-Researchers at the University of Tokyo have developed a mirror that makes a person appear happy even when not. A built-in camera tracks facial features in real time, then tweaks the image to turn up the corners of the mouth and to create the beginnings of a smile in the eyes. Of what practical use would such a mirror be? Other Japanese researchers, according to a Slate.com report in August, believe that happy-face mirrors in retail stores would improve shoppers' dispositions and lead to more sales.
-A home ownership boom in China has led to heavily attended housing fairs, in which builders compete zealously to sell their homes, leading to offbeat schemes to draw attention. Among the latest, according to China Daily, is one that dresses female models in bare-backed evening wear, with sample floor plans and other housing information painted onto their skin, and sends them wandering through the crowds.
Animals Gone Wild
-SyFy Channel's recent original movie “Sharknado” briefly became a media sensation in July with a storyline involving large schools of oversized sharks lifted from the ocean by waterspouts and deposited, alive (and angry!) on land to wreak havoc. But as the website Mother Nature News subsequently reported, animals actually have been lifted to land in that fashion in the past. Previous documented news reports of the phenomenon include airborne fish (mudfish in the Philippines, perch in Australia); frogs (in Odzaci, Serbia, in 2005); jellyfish (Bath, England, in 1894); worms (Jennings, La., in 2007); and, according to an 1887 New York Times story, eight alligators in Silverton Township, S.C.
-Two macaques escaped from the Straussberg Adventure Park in eastern Germany in July, apparently on the run from the jealous bullying of “Cornelius,” the resident alpha male. When park officials recaptured the two, they reported that (even though everyone seems to be against “bullying” these days) “Fred” and “Richard” would have to be castrated. It was not punishment, the officials explained; it was to calm them and reduce the overall “hormone imbalance” in the park, since males greatly outnumber females.
The Costa Rican government announced recently that it would close all its zoos, effective March 2014, and free animals either to the wild or to safe “retirement” shelters. Since the country is known for its expansive biodiversity (500,000 unique organisms, despite occupying barely more than 1/100th of 1 percent of Earth's area), it is time, the environment minister said, to allow the organisms to interact instead of imprisoning them. Costa Rica is also one of only four countries to ban the exploitation of dolphins.
Leading Economic Indicators
-In July, following sustained criticism, Thomson Reuters business information company suspended an advance-release service for the crucial monthly “consumer confidence index” that has been known to signal stock markets to abruptly “buy” (driving up prices) or “sell” (sending them lower). The University of Michigan prepares and distributes the index promptly at 10 a.m. Eastern time on its release date, but Thomson Reuters offers two advance peeks. It pays the school about $1 million a year to see the index at 9:55 a.m., to share with its best customers. The suspended program gave an even earlier tip-off — at 9:54:58 — and high-frequency trading firms paid $6,000 more a month for those two seconds, which allowed their computer robots to execute hundreds of thousands of trades before other professional traders had access to the index.
-First-World Problems: Self-indulgent New York City parents have been hiring “play-date” coaches for their preschool youngsters, apparently out of fear that the kids' skill set for just having fun might not impress admissions officers at the city's elite private schools. The CEO of one consulting outfit told the New York Post in July that $400 an hour gets expert monitoring of a 4-year-old in small groups, evaluating, for example, how the child colors in a book, shares the crayons, holds a pencil and follows the rules of Simon Says.
-An unidentified school in the West Coast Conference recently self-reported a violation of controversial NCAA rules that restrict privileges for student-athletes, ordering a member of its women's golf team to pay back $20 after she washed her car using a hose (and water) belonging to the school but which were not available to other students. (A University of Portland coach said he heard about the violation at a conference meeting, and Yahoo Sports, seeking confirmation, reported that an NCAA spokesman soft-pedaled the illegality, calling the school's action a “miscommunication.”)
Fine Points of the Law
The question in a vandalism case before the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston in July was whether Ronald Strong's messy bowel movement in a federal courthouse men's room in Portland, Maine, was “willful” or, as Strong claimed, an uncontrollable intestinal event. Three rather genteel judges strained to infer Strong's state of mind from the condition of the facility. A cleaning lady had described scattered feces as “smeared,” but Judge Juan Torruella took that to mean not “finger smears,” he wrote, but “chunks,” “kind of like chunky peanut butter.” Two other judges, outvoting Torruella, seemed skeptical that feces could have landed two feet up the wall unless Strong had intended it. (Even so, Judge Torruella was unimpressed, implying that if he were intending to smear feces in a men's room, he surely would sully the mirrors, but that all mirrors were found clean.)
People With Issues
John Anderson, the town administrator of Derry, N.H. (pop. 34,000), was accused by police in August of indecent exposure and lewdness after, naked, inviting a DirecTV salesman into his home and performing unspecified conduct in front of the man. Anderson was previously town manager of Boothbay Harbor, Maine.
A News of the Weird Classic (February 2010)
In January, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers confiscated a live, bejeweled beetle that a woman was wearing as an “accessory” on her sweater as she crossed into Brownsville, Texas, from Mexico. Blue jewels were glued onto the beetle's back, which had been painted gold, and the mobile brooch was tethered by a gold chain attached to a safety pin. Even though the woman orally “declared” the animal, the beetle was confiscated because she had not completed the bureau's PPQ Form 526, which is necessary to bring insects into the country. Reportedly, such jewelry is not that rare in Mexico. A spokesperson for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals was, of course, appalled.