The collapse of the economy in 2008 might have reached the far corners of Earth, but evidently not to Planet Calypso, the make-believe asteroid containing make-believe real estate in the multiplayer online game Entropia Universe, where resort entrepreneur Jon Jacobs recently cashed out his properties for $635,000 — in real (not make-believe) U.S. dollars. Since Jacobs’ original 2005 investment was $100,000 (a record at that time), he thus has earned an average 35 percent annual return. As players landed on Jacobs’ properties, to hunt or to mine precious substances, they paid fees, and Jacobs’ buyers are obviously optimistic they can maintain that income stream. A recent study by the marketing firm In-Stat estimated that online players will spend $7 billion in 2010 on make-believe property and goods.
Government in Action
• In September, the U.K.’s coalition government announced the imminent consolidation of anti-discrimination laws known as the Equality Act — despite critics’ warnings that it could stunt economic growth by tying up the workplace in a morass of lawsuits in which workers could sue for almost any perceived offense. Under the new concept of “third-party harassment,” for example, an employee who merely overhears another person — even a customer of his employer — say something he finds offensive could sue the employer. Critics also complained that the law adds to the traditional group of specially protected, oppressed people the minorities vegans, teetotalers, Gypsies and “travelers” (grifters).
• In October, Freddie Mac (the government-sponsored but privately owned home mortgage financier — whose massive debts have been assumed in a federal “bailout” administered by the Treasury Department) filed a claim in Tax Court against the Internal Revenue Service, denying IRS’s claim that it owes $3 billion in back taxes from 1998-2005. Should taxpayers care? If Freddie Mac wins, IRS (which is also housed in the Treasury Department) loses out on the $3 billion in alleged back taxes. If IRS wins, it gets its $3 billion, which will undoubtedly be paid with taxpayer bailout money. Lawyers for both sides seem to think that pursuing the lawsuit is important.
• In November, patrons using rest rooms at City Hall in Chandler, Ariz., were stunned to see wall signs warning users not to drink out of the urinals and toilets. (Actually, as officials explained, the environmentally friendly facilities flush with “reused” water — from the building’s cooling system — which must normally be colorized to discourage inadvertent drinking, and if it is not so harshly colored, must, by regulation, be accompanied by warning signs.)
• After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005, Congress underwrote $7.9 billion in tax-free bonds that Louisiana could sell in order to rehabilitate the area. According to an August status report in Newsweek, $5.9 billion in bonds have been sold by the state, but only $55 million of that (1 percent) is for projects inside New Orleans (and none in the devastated Lower Ninth Ward). By contrast, $1.7 billion (about 29 percent) is going to projects that benefit the state’s oil industry.
• One of New York City’s (midtown Manhattan’s) favorite meet-up spots, according to an October report in The New York Times, is Colombian artist Fernando Botero’s 12-foot-tall “Adam” statue at Time Warner Center. However, since Adam is nude and the statue is so pedestrian-friendly, maintaining it has become a problem, according to the center’s general manager. As the Times described it, “Most of Adam is deep dark brown,” but the easily-accessible penis “is worn golden from extensive handling.” (The Times also noted that “(a)t the Botero” is a less-popular meet-up suggestion than “(u)nderneath the penis.”)
• Artist Noam Braslavsky’s life-size sculpture honoring the great Israeli army general and prime minister Ariel Sharon went on display in Tel Aviv in October. However, Braslavsky chose to depict Sharon (who he said is “kind of an open nerve in Israeli society”) not in battle nor as a international statesman — but in his hospital bed, where he has been confined, in a medically induced coma, since suffering a massive stroke in January 2006.
• Sheriff’s deputies in Manatee County, Fla., arrested two men in October after a traffic stop when, following a thorough search of the car’s trunk, they found marijuana. In fact, the search of the messy trunk was so thorough that they also turned up a bong, which driver Mark Fiasco said he had lost and been looking for for seven years.
• Irresistible: In September, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing appointed Ralph Godbee police chief — a job he had held on an interim basis for several months. Godbee had ascended to the job when Warren Evans was fired for, among other things, having an affair with a subordinate, Lt. Monique Patterson. Before turning to Evans, Patterson had had an affair with Godbee, also.
(1) “Service” Animals: In July, Wayne Short’s iguana was certified by the National Service Animal Registry and thus allowed to attend to him on the Boardwalk in Ocean City, Md., where she had previously been barred. Mayor Rick Meehan, eyeing the NSAR card, asked Short what sort of “service” Hillary provided, but Short declined to answer. (2) Wandering Kids: In October, firefighters were once again called to a claw-toy vending machine to extract a boy who had crawled up the toy-release chute — this time at a Walmart in Sun Prairie, Wis. As is often the case, the boy appeared to be joyously in his element among the toys and not immediately receptive to coaxing from firefighters or his parents.
Guilt-Ridden New Jersey
When law enforcement officials staged a “Safe Surrender” program in Franklin, N.J., in November (inviting fugitives to give up in exchange for lighter punishment), 3,900 came in over four days, but it turned out that 550 of them were not wanted on any warrant. Said a parole officer, “For some people, this seemed to be a way to check.” A few days later, in Wayne, N.J., hospital pharmacy manager Leonardo Zoppa, 34, was summoned to a meeting with the hospital’s security director but arrived noticeably nervous, inquired about the agenda, and eventually volunteered that it was he who had set up that secret surveillance camera in a men’s rest room — and that he has “a problem.” The security director said he was taken aback because the only purpose of the meeting was to advise Zoppa of routine security code changes.
An Odd Files Classic (February 2006)
Dave “The Dragon” Lockwood and his tournament-tested sons Max, 16, Jon, 13, and Ben, 10, of Silver Spring, Md., might become to competitive tiddlywinks what the Manning family of quarterbacks is to football, according to a January (2006) Washington Post story. Dave was previously ranked No. 1 in the English Tiddlywinks Association (and is currently No. 8, with Max No. 52). “Tiddlywinks doesn’t sound very serious,” said Max, but “(t)here’s so much strategy.” (For the uninformed: You mash a “squidger” down on a “wink” to propel it either into the “pot” or to “squop” it onto an opponent’s wink to temporarily disable it.) Dave said he plans to get Britain’s Prince Philip, a winker, to suggest tiddlywinks as a demonstration “sport” at London’s 2012 Summer Olympics.