Authoritarian toilets: Sales recently passed 1.8 million units for German inventor Alex Benkhardt's WC Ghost, a toilet voice alarm activated when the seat is lifted, which scolds a man who tries to urinate while standing up. It is a difficult sell for some Germans, though, in that a slang word for "wimp" (sitzpinkler) is, literally, a man who sits to urinate. The scolding German voice resembles Chancellor Gerhard Schroder's, and the planned British version might use a voice resembling the queen's. And in the Netherlands, artist Leonard van Munster outfitted toilets in an Amsterdam cafe with more versatile sensors, able not only to admonish stand-up urinators, but to offer, for example, anti-smoking messages if it detects that the user is lighting up.
Things are rarely as they seem: In August, The Washington Post profiled a staunch pillar of the community of Kalispell, Mont., Richard A. Dasen Sr., who is widely respected for the many good things he has done for the town and its citizens over the last 40 years. According to recent revelations, however, his beneficence is marred by one eccentricity (which has resulted in a criminal charge): In the course of counseling the many local women who have come to him for help, he has spent well over a million dollars (at $1,000 to $6,000 per episode) in gifts to some of the women in exchange for sex (including, allegedly, one who was underage).
The sacred institution of marriage: In the village of Ceres, South Africa, in August, the family and friends of David Masenta staged a posthumous matrimonial ceremony so they could remember him forever as married to his beloved fiancee, Mgwanini Molomo. Actual marriage had become impossible because Masenta murdered the pregnant Molomo and then killed himself.
The continuing crisis: California's budget crisis, explained: In August, the state Legislature reached a compromise in a long-standing, intensely debated issue with the state's owners of pet ferrets. Though the animals are banned by the state as crop menaces, the legislation would grant legal status to all existing pet ferrets whose owners pay a $75-per-head fee. Even though the state desperately needs the revenue, however, the money raised cannot be used for anything except a study to determine whether the state can tolerate more ferrets.
People with issues: Michael J. Sterkins, 51, was arrested in Lockport, La., in July and charged as the man who, in five incidents, grabbed girls and women in cemeteries and cut off their ponytails. (One ponytail was recovered from his home, with the ends glued, placed underneath the Bible at his bedside.)
Least competent criminals: At an August hearing in Calgary, Alberta, in which four prostitutes testified against a 17-year-old male customer who had allegedly committed post-sex armed robbery against them, one of the four described the incident that eventually led to the youth's capture. While the boy held a dagger to the woman's chest and rummaged through her purse, he came upon her recent eviction notice, prompting him to ask her if she would like to rent the basement apartment in his home (and he gave her his phone number).
2004 CHUCK SHEPHERD