Laney Wallace, 16, won the beauty contest at the 53rd Rattlesnake Roundup in Sweetwater, Texas, in March and the next day fulfilled the first duty of her reign: to behead and skin a western diamondback. “You have to make sure you don’t pop the bladder,” the 2011 Miss Snake Charmer said shortly after taking a few swipes with a machete. “That (would be) a huge mess.” (Three years ago, News of the Weird informed readers of the annual beauty-contest/muskrat-skinning festival in Maryland’s Eastern Shore region, in which the “beauty” part and the “skinning” part are separate—but in which that year, two teenage girls entered both, with Dakota Abbott edging out Samantha Phillips for the crown.)
Compelling Explanations Record companies have enjoyed recent successes in court by suing individuals who have shared music by trading files through specialized websites that avoid paying copyright licensing fees, including Lime Wire (which shut down last year). Thirteen record companies won a summary judgment last year, and, applying a formula they believe was set out in federal law, the companies demanded that Lime Wire pay damages of up to $75 trillion—an amount more than five times the entire national debt. In March 2011, a federal judge said the companies should modify the formula and lower their expectations.
• Waterloo, Iowa, schoolteacher Larry Twigg was arrested for “lascivious conduct” with a teenager, a crime that requires proof of “sexual motivation.” Though Twigg allegedly had a teenage boy strip, take a chocolate syrup “bath,” make a “snow angel” while in his underwear, and play a video game nude, his lawyer said in March that the court-appointed psychiatrist would testify that Twigg had no sexual motivation.
• Convicted heinous Minnesota sex offender John Rydberg, 69 and still detained after having served his sentence because he is still a “danger,” exhibited an upbeat demeanor for a three-judge panel in March, hoping for release. He said his number of victims was far fewer than the “94” he previously admitted to, explaining that he offered a purposely high number because he was afraid underplaying his crimes might make it appear that he was lying. “What can I say?” offered Rydberg. “I’m a work in progress.”
Ironies On March 30, several hours before addressing the nation on TV about Libya, President Obama received a prestigious open-records award presented by five freedom-of-information advocate organizations for running a commendably “transparent,” accessible administration. However, news about this award came about only because the presenters leaked it to the press. As noted by The Washington Post the next day, there was no White House notice to the press; the presentation was not on the president’s calendar; no photos or transcript were available; and the award was not mentioned on the White House website.
Go Figure: (1) The author of most of the text of The New York Times obituary on Elizabeth Taylor, published on March 23, was Times reporter Mel Gussow, who passed away almost six years before Taylor. (2) At George Washington University’s men’s basketball game on March 5, accountancy department professor Robert Kasmir was honored at halftime for being one of the elite financial donors to the university, but he was not around for the end of the game. He was ejected from the stands in the second half for harassing a referee about the officiating.
Leading Economic Indicators According to a February 2011 analysis of 2007 IRS statistics by a columnist for Tax Notes, the average taxpayer residing in New York City’s posh Helmsley Building (owned before her death by Leona Helmsley, who once reportedly said that “only the little people pay taxes”) paid only 14.7 percent of his income in federal taxes while New York City janitors and security guards (such as those employed by the Helmsley Building) paid about 24 percent. Helmsley residents were taxed less for Social Security and Medicare, and much of their $1.17 million average income was in capital gains, which are taxed at the same rate as the wages of modestly paid (up to $34,000 a year) workers.
• In February, Wisconsin state Rep. Gordon Hintz was caught up in an ongoing investigation of prostitution at the Heavenly Touch Massage Parlor in Appleton that resulted in six arrests. Police merely issued Hintz a municipal citation (indicating that he might just have been in the wrong place at the wrong time). Nonetheless, Hintz refused to discuss the matter. “I am willing to take responsibility for my actions,” he said, but “(m)y concern right now” is not to be “distract(ed) from the much more important issue” of “stand(ing) up for Wisconsin’s working families.”
The Litigious Society The family of the late Roger Kreutz filed a lawsuit in St. Louis in March over the fatal head injuries he received when a car knocked him down in a Starbucks parking lot in 2008. The driver was Aaron Poisson, who was trying to get away from Kreutz, but Poisson was not sued. According to the lawsuit, the cause of the fatal injury was negligence by Starbucks—because it had mindlessly placed its tip jar in full view on a counter, thus (according to the theory of the lawsuit) goading Poisson into snatching up the money and running out the door, and inspiring Kreutz, as a good Samaritan, to chase Poisson and try to retrieve the employees’ tips.