In an enterprise somewhat resembling "American Idol," amateur performers in China become self-supporting online not by soliciting money directly, but through virtual gifts from enthralled fans, with performers getting a cut of each sale. Beijing's YY.com hosts original performances, and two of the site's favorites, Mr. Earth and Ms. Cloud, earned the equivalent of about $160,000 last year from their universe of 1.8 million fans (according to a November Wall Street Journal report). In an ancillary industry (led by 9158.com), hard-core fans can purchase access (think "virtual limousines," shown "arriving" at a "concert"), giving them bragging rights. (A simple "applause" icon after a song costs about a penny.)

Great art!

The 1968 Cy Twombly "blackboard" painting sold for $70.5 million at New York City's Sotheby's auction in November (higher than experts' estimate of $60 million). The painting consists of six horizontal lines of continuous circular swirls (white chalk on a "blackboard") — perhaps the same swirls that might be made by an extremely bored, aggressive first-grader given a supply of chalk and the absence of the teacher.

New world order

Recently added to the list of words and phrases to be officially discouraged on campus, according to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's website: "political correctness." The phrase is said to be a "microaggression" that might make some students feel uncomfortable or unsafe if they hear it or read it. In November, the University of Vermont held a (voluntary) three-day "retreat" open only to students who "self-identify as white," so that they can study the implications of "white privilege" in society (e.g., "what does it mean to be white?" and "how does whiteness impact you?").

Government inaction

The Queens (N.Y.) Redbird Tourist Information Center was finally ordered to close in July following an extraordinarily unsuccessful seven-year run in which, possibly, not a single tourist ever walked through the door. The New York Post, interviewing neighbors in Kew Gardens, found no one who ever saw a visitor, and the center's lone staff member said she recalled only lunchtime drop-ins from jury duty at the criminal court building down the block.

The continuing crisis

Marshall University (Huntington, W.Va.), seeking a "star free agent" for its medical faculty, hired neurosurgeon Paul Muizelaar in July despite controversy from his previous work at the University of California, Davis. There, Dr. Muizelaar and colleagues introduced live bowel bacteria into the brain — on lab rats — supposedly to stimulate the immune system when other remedies had faltered. However, Muizelaar also introduced the bacteria into brains of a man and two women who had highly malignant glioblastoma tumors (each patient having consented). Two died within weeks, and although the third survived more than a year, UC Davis found numerous protocol violations. Muizelaar's new supervisor told the Associated Press that he nonetheless felt lucky to land him because "not everybody wants to move to Appalachia."

People with issues

Social science Prof. Jeff Justice resigned from the faculty at Tarleton State University (Stephenville, Texas) in October to head off an investigation into whether he supplied alcohol to students and proselytized at least one to undergo a self-mutilation practice. He admitted, post-resignation, that he was a devotee (since age 13) of the "Sundance" ritual, in which he would hang from a tree in his backyard by hooks connected to stakes in his bare chest and that he demonstrated it to some students but apparently interested none. He attributed the incidents to "severe depression." (Bonus: He had won a faculty excellence award in 2015.)

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