News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

WEEK OF MARCH 19, 2012

LEAD STORY -- 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. [Thanh Nien News (Ho Chi Minh City), 2-9-2012]

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. [BBC News, 1-19-2012]

-- Each year, the town of Chumbivilcas, Peru, celebrates the new year with what to Americans might seem "Festivus"-inspired (from the Seinfeld TV show), but is actually drawn from Incan tradition. For "Takanakuy," with a background of singing and dancing, all townspeople with grudges from the previous 12 months (men, women, children) settle them with sometimes-bloody fistfights so that they start the new year clean. Said one villager to a Reuters reporter, "Everything is solved here, and after(ward) we are all friends." [Reuters via CBS News, 12-14-2011]

-- In a tradition believed to have originated in the eighth century, the village of San Bartolome de Pinares, Spain, marks each Jan. 16 with the festival of Saint Anthony, commenced in style by villagers riding their horses through large fires in the streets ("Las Luminarias"). As horses jump the flames, according to belief, they become purified, demons are destroyed, and fertility and good health result. (Apparently, no horses are harmed, and an on-the-scene priest blesses each for its courage.) [ABC News, 1-17-2012]

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.) [Daily Mail (London), 12-31-2011; Deseret News (Salt Lake City), 12-30-2011]

-- 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.) [Flint Journal, 1-5-2012]

-- 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.) [WHTM-TV (Harrisburg, Pa.), 2-21-2012; Carlisle (Pa.) Sentinel, 3-3-2012]

Questionable Judgments

-- According to a municipal street sign in front of Lakewood Elementary School in White Lake, Mich. (filmed in February by Detroit's WJBK-TV), the speed limit drops to 25 mph on "school days only," but just from "6:49-7:15 a.m., 7:52-8:22 a.m., 8:37-9:07 a.m., 2:03-2:33 p.m., 3:04-3:34 p.m. (and) 3:59-4:29 p.m." [WJBK-TV, 2-15-2012]

-- Jack Taylor, 18, of Worcester, England, was given a lenient sentence in January for an August burglary he admitted. He and another youth had tried to steal a resident's motorcycle but damaged it in the process. Since he was remorseful, made restitution, observed a curfew and did community service, he was released by the judge when he secured full-time employment. (However, the employment, the court later learned, was as a slaughterman in Norway, where he was to take part in the culling of Alaskan baby seals.) [Worcester News, 1-17-2012]

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. [WPTV (West Palm Beach, Fla.), 2-6-2012] [Associated Press via WHBF-TV (Rock Island, Ill.), 2-8-2012]

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). [Staten Island Advance, 2-7-2012]

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). [Houston Chronicle, 12-9-2011]


Sherwin Shayegan of Bothell, Wash., has apparently been acting out again. News of the Weird first mentioned, in 2007, an adult "troll" who hung out at high schools and befriended male students, especially athletes, ultimately beseeching them for piggyback rides. In some cases, he jumped on without permission and was arrested and ordered to get treatment and to stay away from schools. He reportedly began his piggyback "career" in 2004 with incidents in Washington and Oregon, and though there were periods of dormancy, it flared up again recently as he traveled to Montana, Bismarck, N.D., and Minneapolis (perhaps to outrun restraining orders). (Fondness for piggyback rides is not a widely practiced obsession, though the legendary illustrator R. Crumb liked to receive them in lieu of sex, according to an ex-girlfriend in the 1994 movie "Crumb.") [Associated Press via KOMO-TV (Seattle), 2-16-2012]

Thanks This Week to Kathryn Wood, Gerald Sacks, Barbara McDonald, Kyle Gray, Lance Allen, and Joel Rippel, and to the News of the Weird Board of Editorial Advisors. (And for the accomplished and joyous cynic, try News of the Weird Pro Edition, at