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.
Don to Dawn to Don
Colleagues were stunned in May when ABC News editor Don Ennis suddenly appeared at work wearing a 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.
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 homeownership 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.
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.
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.)
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