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News of the Weird 11/07/13

by Chuck Shepherd

A Piece of the Action “Fantasy sports” are hugely popular, but when fans “draft” players for their teams, they “own” only the players’ statistics. Recently, Wall Street and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs created Fantex Holdings, which will allow investors to buy actual pieces of real players—namely, rights to 20 percent of the player’s lifetime earnings (including licensing and product endorsement deals). The firm told The New York Times in October that it will soon stage an “IPO” for budding NFL star Arian Foster and hopes to sign up many more athletes, plus singers and actors similarly early in their careers. (On the other hand, Fantex’s lawyers drew up a 37-page list of potential investment risks, such as injuries, slumps and scandals—and the fact that the stock will trade only on Fantex’s private exchange.)

Cultural Diversity “For Japanese boys, the train driver sits alongside footballer, doctor and policeman as a dream job,” according to a September Agence France-Presse dispatch, and consequently, the system for the Tokyo metro area (covering 35 million people) runs with the “precision of a finely crafted Swiss watch,” where delays, even for as long as a minute, seldom occur. (When they do occur, operators repeatedly apologize and hand out “notes from home” to commuters to present to their bosses to excuse the tardiness.) Among the system’s drawbacks is the still-irksome groping of
females on packed rush-hour trains, when operators routinely shove as many as 300 riders into cars designed for 150.

• Among the surprising legacies of the oppressions of communist East Germany is modern-day Germany’s commonplace “clothing-optional” lifestyle (FKK, or “Freikoerperkultur”—free body culture). A September Global Post dispatch counted “hundreds” of FKK beaches across the country and referenced a turned-up snapshot (not yet authenticated) of a young Angela Merkel frolicking nude in the 1960s or 1970s. Foreigners occasionally undergo culture shock at German hotels’ saunas and swimming pools, at which swimsuits are discouraged (as “unhygienic”).

• In December China joined only a handful of countries (and 29 U.S. states) by strengthening the rights of elderly parents to demand support from their adult children—not only financially (which has been the law for more than a decade) but now allowing lawsuits by parents who feel emotionally ignored, as well. An October Associated Press feature on one rural extended family dramatized China’s cultural shift away from its proverbial “first virtue” of family honor. Zhang Zefang, 94, said she did not even understand the concept of “lawsuit” when a local official explained it, but only that she deserved better from the children she had raised and who now allegedly resent her neediness. (A village court promptly ordered several family members to contribute support for Zhang.)

Latest Religious Messages Recent separate testings in 21 springs in Austria and 18 fonts in Vienna yielded a conclusion that 86 percent of the holy water in the country’s churches was not safe to drink—most commonly infected with diarrhea-causing E.coli and Campylobacter. University of Vienna researchers found samples with up to 62 million bacteria per milliliter of water, and the busier the church, the higher the count.

• Various studies show “churchgoers” to be happier, more optimistic and healthier than other people, leading some atheists and agnostics to wonder whether the church experience could be fruitfully replicated but minus the belief in God. Hence, the “Sunday Assembly” was created in London, and has now spread to New York City and Melbourne, Australia, with 18 other hoped-for openings by year’s end, according to a September report in The Week. Founders seek such benefits as “a sense of community,” “a thought-provoking (secular) sermon,” “group singing” and an “ethos of self-improvement,” exemplified by the motto “live better, help often, wonder more,” and they hope that eventually Sunday Assembly will organize Sunday school, weddings, funerals and “non-religious baptisms.”

• First Things First: An alleged drug ring in the Brooklyn, N.Y., neighborhood of Sheepshead Bay was busted in September after police cracked a stream of Internet messages offering heroin (called “DOB”) and cocaine (“white girl”). Among the messages was one sent at 6:45 one Friday evening advising customers that they had “45 minutes” to get their orders in for the weekend because the sellers would obediently shut down at 7:30 (i.e., sundown) for the Jewish sabbath.

Least Competent Criminals Ariel Sinclair, 23, an assistant manager at a Rite Aid drugstore in Virginia Beach, Va., was charged in October with stealing $6,000 from the store’s Virginia State Lottery machine. According to police, access to the machine requires an authorized fingerprint, which she supplied, apparently failing to think ahead that this would eventually be difficult to explain. “We work a lot of different cases,” said a police spokesman, and “some are (easier) than others.”