News of the Weird April 09 2008

Pageantry, booze pouches and more

LEAD STORY: Dakota Abbott, 16, edged Samantha Phillips, 17, to become Miss Outdoors 2008 in February in Maryland's Eastern Shore region's annual beauty-contest-and-muskrat-skinning festival. The two were the only beauty contestants (out of eight) who entered both competitions. Abbott won her skinning division, but while she sang a song for the judges, Phillips won the talent trophy by skinning a muskrat on stage. "I'll be honest," she said to a Washington Post reporter. "I can't sing. I can't dance, and I don't play any musical instruments." But she took her 4-inch blade, sticking it just above the tail, and sliced. "You want to take your knuckles and separate the meat from the hide, just like this," she told the judges, with her hand inside the muskrat.

Compelling Explanations: In the 2006 take-off crash of a Comair commuter airliner at the regional airport in Lexington, Ky. (which the FAA blamed on pilot error), all 47 passengers were killed, and 21 lawsuits have been filed, with attorney William Johnson defending the only cockpit survivor (the first officer). The Lexington Herald-Leader reported in January that, in court papers filed in the lawsuits, Johnson had offered the defense that the seat-belted-in passengers should share the blame for their own deaths, in that they should have chosen other airports that might have been safer. (Shortly after the newspaper report, Johnson withdrew the defense.)

A prominent British novelist (former winner of the prestigious Whitbread Prize) announced in January that she had won a settlement of the equivalent of more than $200,000 from a shoe manufacturer in the town of Totnes because fumes from its factory so sapped her creativity that she was forced to write down-market thrillers instead of literary works. Joan Brady said numbness in her hands and legs, caused by pollutants, made her settle on simpler plotlines involving violence as she worked out her aggression toward the factory owners.

William Harvey, defending a DUI charge in court in Perth, Scotland, in February, told the judge that his high blood-alcohol reading was because he has a "balloonlike" pouch in his neck that collects most of the alcohol he swallows and therefore makes it seem that he is much more inebriated than he really is. (He was convicted.)

Ironies: Instant Karma: 1) In January, a man in Citrus Heights, Calif., had a one-car accident that left him with serious head and body injuries that were perhaps exacerbated because he was not wearing a seat belt (even though the 12-pack of beer on the seat beside him was securely buckled, and survived). 2) Daniel Thompson, 31, was so upset by the sex, profanity and violence in movies today that he opened a video store in Orem, Utah, offering major Hollywood films but with the objectionable parts manually removed. Hollywood studios got a court order shutting down the store in December because of copyright infringement, and in January, Thompson was arrested after police said he paid two 14-year-old girls for sex.

3) Miss Fayetteville (N.C.) 2007 Jenna Walters is scheduled in court in April to answer for her November arrest in which police said she had veered recklessly through traffic in Southern Pines, N.C., to harass driver Angela Thomas. She pulled in front of Thomas, blocked her path, then got out, screaming and taunting the woman, but then quit and drove off, only to return moments later from the other direction, bump Thomas' car and resume screaming, She then left but returned yet again, bumped Thomas' car from behind and yelled some more. In the 2006 Miss Fayetteville pageant, Walters was voted Miss Congeniality.

4) Almost half of the 47 members of the United Nations' Human Rights Council are not "free democracies" (according to Freedom House rankings), and several, such as China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia, have been widely criticized as human rights violators. Consequently, the council has failed to address any of the most prominent rights abuses around the world (including some that were called genocide) in Sudan, North Korea, Chad, Zimbabwe and Iran, among other places, but in January, the council voted its 12th "condemnation" of Israel (out of only 13 condemnations it has ever issued).