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Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013

Chuck Shepherd's News Of The Weird

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Happiness Is a Clean Toilet

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 restrooms. “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 restrooms should always be clean and safe.

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 Network 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.

Perspective

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 one 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

© 2013 CHUCK SHEPHERD