An annual spring fertility festival inVietnam'sPhu 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.
• 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.
• 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."
• 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.)
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