TP Goes High Tech
China's public-park restrooms have for years suffered toilet-paper theft by local residents who raid dispensers for their own homes—a cultural habit, wrote Hong Kong's South China Morning Post, expressing taxpayer feelings of "owning" public facilities—but the government recently fought back with technology. At Beijing's popular Temple of Heaven park, dispensers now have facial-recognition scanners beside the six toilets, with pre-cut paper (about 24 inches long) issued only to users who pose for a picture. Just one slug of paper can be dispensed to the same face in a nine-minute period, catastrophic for the diarrhea-stricken and requiring calling an attendant to override the machine.
Latest Religious Messages
The church-state "wall" leaks badly in Spindale, N.C., according to former members of the Word of Faith Fellowship (reported in February by the Associated Press). Two state prosecutors (one a relative of the church's founder), in nearby Burke and Rutherford counties, allegedly coached Fellowship members and leaders how to neutralize government investigations into church "abuse"—coaching that would violate state law and attorney ethical standards. Fellowship officials have been accused of beating "misbehaving" congregants, including children, in order to repel their demons. Among the Fellowship's edicts revealed in the AP report: All dating, marriages and procreation subject to approval; no wedding-night intimacy beyond a "godly" cheek kiss; subsequent marital sex limited to 30 minutes, no foreplay, lights off, missionary position.
• Babies born on the Indonesian island of Bali are still treated regally under an obscure Hindu tradition, according to a February New York Times report, and must not be allowed to touch the earth for 105 days—in some areas, 210. (Carrying the infant in a bucket and setting that on the ground is apparently acceptable.) Each birth is actually a rebirth, they say, with ancestors returning as their own descendants. Accidentally touching the ground does not condemn the baby, but might leave questions about negative influences.
• Catholic priest Juan Carlos Martínez, 40, apologized shortly after realizing, as he said, he had gone "too far" in celebrating March's Carnival in a town in the Galicia area of Spain—that he acted inappropriately in dressing as Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner, reclining on a red satin sheet on a parade float carrying men dressed as classic Playboy "Bunnies." Despite apparent public support for Father Martínez, his archbishop asked him to attend a "spiritual retreat" to reflect on his behavior.
The Bedroom of Tomorrow
In March, vibrator customers were awarded up to $10,000 each in their class-action "invasion of privacy" lawsuit against the company Standard Innovation, whose We-Vibe model's smartphone app collected intimate data (vibrator temperature and motor intensity) that could be associated with particular customers—and which were easily hackable, and controllable, by anyone nearby with a Bluetooth connection. The Illinois federal court limited the award to $199 for anyone who bought the vibrator but did not activate the app.
• The company British Condoms is now accepting pre-orders for the iCon Smart Condom, with an app that can track, among other data, a man's "thrust velocity," calories expended "per session" and skin temperature, as well as do tests for chlamydia and syphilis. Projected price is about $75, but the tech news site Cnet reported in March that no money will be collected until the product is ready to ship.
The U.S. House of Representatives, demonstrating particular concern for military veterans, enhanced vets' civil rights in March by removing a source of delay in gun purchases. A 2007 law had required all federal agencies to enter any mentally ill clients into the National Instant Criminal Background Check database for gun purchases, but the new bill exempts veterans—including, per VA estimates, 19,000 schizophrenics and 15,000 with "severe" post-traumatic stress syndrome. An average of a dozen veterans a day in recent times have committed suicide with guns.
Fine Points of the Law
Police and prosecutors in Williamsburg, Va., are absolutely certain that Oswaldo Martinez raped and killed a teenage girl in 2005, but, though he was quickly arrested, they have—12 years later—not even put him on trial. Martinez, then 33, is still apparently, genuinely (i.e., not faking) deaf, illiterate and almost mute, and besides that, the undocumented Salvadoran immigrant has such limited intelligence that test after test has shown him incapable of understanding his legal rights, and therefore incompetent to stand trial. Police made multiple "slam-dunk" findings of Martinez's DNA on the victim's body and also linked Martinez via a store camera to the very bottle of juice left at the crime scene.
On the morning of March 20 in Winter Park, Fla., Charles Howard, standing outside his home being interviewed live by a WFTV reporter, denied he had committed a crime in a widely reported series of voicemail messages to a U.S. congressman, containing threats to "wrap a rope around your neck and hang you from a lamppost." He boasted that proof of his having done nothing wrong was that if he had, he would have already been arrested. Three minutes later, according to the reporter, agents drove up and arrested Howard.
People Different From Us
Royce Atkins, 23, told the judge in Northampton County, Pa., in March that he was so sorry he did not stop his car in 2015 and help that 9-year-old boy he had just hit and killed. However, Atkins had earlier been jailhouse-recorded viciously trash-talking the boy's family for "reacting like they're the victims. What about my family? My family is the victim, too." Atkins got a four-year sentence.
• In February, in a Wayne County, Mich., court during sentencing for a DUI driver who had killed a man and severely injured his fiancée, Judge Qiana Lillard kicked the driver's mother out of the courtroom for laughing at the victim's sister who was tearfully addressing the judge. Lillard sentenced the mother to 93 days for contempt, but later reduced it to one day.
Among the facts revealed in the ongoing criminal proceedings against U.S. Navy officials and defense contractor Leonard "Fat Leonard" Francis, who is charged with arranging kickbacks: In 2007, Francis staged a party for the officials at the Shangri-La Hotel in the Philippines during which, according to an indictment unsealed in March, "historical memorabilia related to Gen. Douglas MacArthur were used by the participants in sexual acts."
The Passing Parade
A 23-year-old Albuquerque woman performed cartwheels instead of a standard field sobriety test at a DUI stop in February, but she did poorly and was charged anyway. On the other hand, student Blayk Puckett, stopped by University of Central Arkansas police, helped shield himself from a DUI by juggling for the officer.
• Oreos fans sampling the limited-edition Peeps Oreos in February expressed alarm that not only their tongues and saliva turned pink, but also their stools (and leaving a pink ring in the bowl). A gastroenterologist told Live Science it was nothing to worry about.
Thanks this week to Anthony Yeznach, Robin Daley, Michelle Jensen, Michelle Collier, Mark Lillicrap, Mel Birge and the News of the Weird Board of Editorial Advisors.