In Northern Vietnam, Much Rides on a Man’s Phallic Aim An annual spring fertility festival in Vietnam’s Phu Tho province is capped by a symbolic X-rated ceremony rendered G-rated by wooden stand-ins. At midnight on the 12th day of the lunar new year, a man holding a wooden phallus-like object stands in total darkness alongside a woman holding a wooden plank with a hole in it, and the act is attempted. As the tradition goes, if the man is successful at penetration, then there will be good crops. Following the ceremony, villagers are ordered to “go and be free,” which, according to a February report by Thanh Nien News Service, means uninhibited friskiness during the lights-out period.
Cultural Diversity In the remote state of Meghalaya, India, a matrilineal system endows the women with wealth and property rights and relegates the men to slow-moving campaigns for equality. A men’s rights advocate, interviewed by BBC News in January, lamented even the language’s favoring of women, noting that “useful” nouns seem all to be female. The system, he said, breeds generations of men “who feel useless,” falling into alcoholism and drug abuse. In maternity wards, he said, the sound of cheering greets baby girls, and if it’s a boy, the prevailing sentiment is “Whatever God gives us is quite all right.” The husband of one woman interviewed said, meekly, that he “likes” the current system—or at least that’s what his wife’s translation said he said.
A Special Place in Hell (1) John Morgan, 34, was charged in February in Port St. Lucie, Fla., with embezzling over $40,000 from a trust fund that had been established for his daughter, who has special needs because of cerebral palsy. Because of the theft, she is unable to have dental work necessitated because a care provider failed to lock her wheelchair, sending her sprawling face-first. (2) Police officer Skeeter Manos, 34, was charged in February in Seattle with embezzling over $120,000 from a fund for the families of four colleagues who had been shot to death in the line of duty. Manos’ alleged expenditures included several trips to Las Vegas.
Latest Religious Messages Prophet Warren Jeffs, of a breakaway Mormon cult, is serving life (plus 20 years) in a Texas prison for raping two underage parishioners, but insists that his power has not been diminished. He was disciplined in December for making a phone call to his congregation announcing several decrees, including barring marriages from taking place until he can return to “seal” them and prohibiting everyone from having sex. (Since Jeffs retains his “messiah” status among many church members, and since life-plus-20 is a long time to wait, and since the cult is reclusive, it is difficult for outsiders to assess the level of sexual frustration in the compound.)
• Recovering alcoholic Ryan Brown recently moved his licensed tattoo parlor into The Bridge church in Flint Township, Mich., which is one more indicator of Rev. Steve Bentley’s nontraditional belief that mainstream religion had become irrelevant to most people. Tattooing is a “morally neutral” practice, Bentley said, although Brown, of course, does not ink tattoos lauding drugs, gangs or the devil. (The Bridge has also loaned out its plentiful floor space in a shopping mall to wrestling, cage fighting and auto repair facilities.)
• In December, Pennsylvania judge Mark Martin dismissed harassment charges against Muslim Talaag Elbayomy, who had snatched a “Zombie Mohammad” sign from the neck of atheist Ernie Perce at last year’s Halloween parade in Mechanicsburg, Pa. (Perce was mockingly dressed as an undead person, in robes and beard.) In tossing out the charge (even though Elbayomy seemed to admit to an assault and battery), Martin ruled that Sharia law actually required Elbayomy to take the sign away from Perce. Judge Martin later explained that the technical basis for the ruling was (he-said/he-said) lack of evidence. (The December ruling did not attract press attention until February.)
People With Issues What Do You Mean, I’m Not Mentally Stable: Ms. Fausat Ogunbayo, 46, filed a federal lawsuit against New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services because it had taken away her kids (aged 13 and 10 at the time) in 2008 for questions about Ogunbayo’s mental stability. The lawsuit, for “recklessly disregard(ing)” her “right to family integrity,” asks the city to pay her $900,000,000,000,000 (trillion).
Least Competent People LaDondrell Montgomery, 36, had been sentenced in November in Houston to life in prison for armed robbery despite his vigorous protestations of innocence, and about a week later, in December, he was exonerated in fact. Although he had testified at his trial, he had not mentioned that he had an ironclad alibi—that he had been in jail during the time the robbery was committed. Once jail records were reviewed, Montgomery was freed. The prosecutor hadn’t checked the records before trial, and neither had Montgomery’s attorney, but then neither had Montgomery ever mentioned it (because, he had told his lawyers, he had been in and out of jail so many times in his life that he just could not remember if he had been locked up at the time of the armed robbery).