Ray Rice

It’s a real shame that today, on the first day of the Miss America Pageant, which in my opinion is the ultimate celebration of women and values in America, that we are distracted by the story of a man who devalued the most important woman in his life in the most inexcusable way. Coincidentally, the site of both events is / was Atlantic City. I should be writing about the Pageant and all the excitement and surprises that will unfold over the next couple of days. But you read the title so you know I’m not.

Perhaps it is ingrained in my nature as a lawyer to defend due process and demand fairness even for those who are reviled by society. The judicial system is the last place of refuge for those who have already been convicted in the court of public opinion. Those in my profession are duty-bound to uphold the rule of law for the innocent as well as the guilty, and for those who are right and those who are wrong.

Obviously, no one can defend what Ray Rice did to his then-fiance, and now wife, on that summer night in Atlantic City. The evidence is indisputable. They argued in an elevator and he hit her. He did it. Alcohol, anger, don’t even mention it. There are no excuses worth talking about. It was an assault. What happened was awful and it deserved to be punished.

I am equally incensed, however, by the mob “justice” that was doled out today. As far as I know, the NFL knew the facts, and came to the decision that Rice should be suspended two games, on top of the embarrassment and loss of endorsements and whatever criminal consequences he might face. Meanwhile, Rice and his fiancé got married (which certainly doesn’t absolve him because women marry abusive men every day).

Say what you want about the suspension, but it was made with due consideration. On August 1st, just over a month ago, the NFL commissioner defended his decision. http://www.nationalfootballpost.com/Roger-Goodell-defends-decision-on-Ray-Rice.html . The commish explained his decision: “A lot of people are voicing their opinion but it’s important to understand that this is a young man that made a terrible mistake that is inconsistent with what we’re all about. We dealt with it in a serious manner and we’re very confident that this young man understands where he is and what he needs to do going forward.”

A few weeks later, after being essentially blackmailed over how bad it will look if one player is suspended for a season for smoking weed while another gets two games for beating his wife, the Commissioner admits he made a “mistake.”

Then today, a video is released. Rice goes from being suspended for 1/8th of the season to losing his job because people actually see what he did that night. As if the act is somehow made a hundred times worse because we can now see it with our own eyes.

How much sense does that make?

I know sports is a business and I can stand for harsh punishment based solely on public opinion even when I don’t agree it is deserved. Donald Sterling, for example, was punished harshly. The whole charade was ridiculous, but it was done in a consistent manner.

The first injustice here is the arbitrariness. Without a video, he gets two games. With a video, he gets kicked out of football for life. Simply because it makes us angrier to see it happen than to know about it in the abstract.  That type of passion-driven decision making is the antithesis of law and order and has no place in this country.

And let’s not pretend that we didn’t really know what happened before we saw today’s video. We already saw the video of him dragging her unconscious from the elevator.

The second injustice is the harm done to the victim. Can someone please explain how it helps his wife for her husband to lose his multi-million dollar job? Is anyone naive enough to believe that is what she wanted (or anyone in her position would want?) To be victimized by this incident for a second time?

Rice’s wife is out $9.5 million now, though to be fair, she is not hurting for money.

No, mobs don’t think about those sorts of things. They don’t think about the consequences of their actions. Only blood will satisfy them.

Meanwhile, we assure ourselves that we are nothing like those brutes in the Middle East …

Perhaps, I shouldn’t say “we” because I am sure there are many who disagree with how the NFL handled things today. Most will remain silent, because no one wants to be seen as taking the side of a domestic abuser. It’s never a popular stance to take. Everyone wants to feel morally superior and climb on top of the pile. No one wants to be ostracized.  But deep down, a lot of people realize this isn’t right.  Like this writer: http://m.thenation.com/blog/181523-revictimizing-janay-rice .

Maybe you think he should have been ejected from the league immediately, and I respect that opinion. I agree there is deterrence value in harsh punishment. But I hope we can all agree that a video should not be the difference between “this young man understands where he is and what he needs to do going forward” and the end of a promising career. Between receiving a standing ovation in the preseason and a pink slip. That’s not fair, and that’s not justice.

For those of us who are Christian, remember what Jesus had to say about the tyranny of the mob.  May he who has not sinned cast the first stone.

It’s a shame about what happened and it’s a shame how it was handled. It’s also a shame that I had to spend tonight writing about it rather than cherishing the women our country strives to protect.

Miss America 2015: My Favorites

I present to you my list of the twenty strongest candidates for the title of Miss America 2015. The ladies are divided into regional representatives and wildcard contestants. In general, I favor the regional reps over wild cards in the same region, but otherwise they are listed in no particular order.

I have linked each contestant’s video to their name. This year, the pageant apparently required the girls to do their own camera work, so the videos have a “selfie” quality about them.

HAWAII

Regional Rep: Miss Hawaii

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Hawaiians have always stood out in the pageant for their unique talents, and the hula is a tried-and-true path to the judges’ hearts. Does not hurt one bit that her platform is promoting the STEM fields of study, a major pageant initiative in recent years.

RUST BELT

Regional Rep: Miss Pennsylvania

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Nothing gets me revved up for the pageant more than a girl with spunk and charm. A girl with big dreams and a twinkle in her eye. That’s Miss Pennsylvania.

Wildcard: Miss Ohio

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Something about ventriloquism makes it go well with pageants. Most recently, Miss Arkansas 2010 Alyse Eady’s puppet act landed her 2nd place at Miss America. My gut says Miss Ohio might have a little show-and-tell up her sleeve, too. Also, at 22 years old and a recent college graduate, she is in a good place in life to take a year off serving our country.

Wildcard: Miss Michigan

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What would the pageant be without a Michigan-Ohio State rivalry? Also 22 years old and a recent graduate from the arch-rival University of Michigan, Miss Michigan is sure to give recent Buckeye grad Miss Ohio a run for her money. This regional matchup also draws interest because it pits a exceptionally talented contestant against one that is more notable for her beauty and physique.

THE SOUTH

Regional Rep: Miss Mississippi

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Miss Mississippi has already achieved fame as an American Idol finalist and now brings her world class voice and loyal base of followers to the Miss America stage.  There’s no question this girl has the pipes to bring down the house and bring home the crown, Vanessa Williams style.  She stands out as the front runner in this year’s most competitive region.

Wildcard: Miss Tennessee

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If she’s blond and she sings, she must be from Tennessee.  This year marks the sixth consecutive year that a blond vocalist has won the Miss Tennessee pageant.   The current titleholder will try to capture the crown that narrowly eluded former Miss Tennessee and Miss America runner-up Stephanie Wittler in 2010.

Wildcard: Miss Arkansas

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Nearest to my heart is the girl who hails from the State of Arkansas.  Little known fact: Arkansas is the state that provides the most scholarship and personal allowance benefits to its delegate.  Miss Arkansas is no doubt grateful for the support of her home state and eager to make her country proud.  With a genuine demeanor, a practical platform, and realistic goals, this small town girl from the hills of the Natural State may have what it takes to pull off a surprise in Atlantic City.

Wildcard: Miss Florida

20140826-214240.jpgMiss Florida already pulled off the shocker of the year when she was crowned five days after narrowly losing the Miss Florida pageant.  As it turns out, the judges incorrectly tabulated the scores, and announced the wrong contestant as the winner.  Nearly a week after the balloons and confetti had fallen, Florida officials noticed “chads” hanging from a number of ballots.  After further inspection everyone realized that a terrible mistake had been made and Mr. Bush — I mean Ms. Cowen — was the true winner.  God Bless Florida.  The state where every vote counts, eventually.

But as surprised as (the real) Miss Florida was, can you imagine how traumatic it must have been for the girl who had the crown taken from her?  Imagine dreaming your whole life of becoming Miss Florida and then being crowned the winner, only to have your bubble burst days later.  Fortunately, she handled it like a champ.  Her only regret was that the true Miss Florida was robbed of her crowning moment.  Will Miss Florida finally get her crowning moment on the Miss America stage?  Will she seize the title many believed should have gone to her predecessor last year?  Will anyone from Florida be allowed within ten feet of the scorer’s table?  Tune in on September 14th to find out.

Wildcard: Miss South Carolina

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They can’t all be singers.  Say hello to Miss South Carolina, pride of the Palmetto State and clogger extraordinaire.  I am still trying to figure out what it means to be a “professional buyer”, but when I do, I’m pretty sure I’ll be switching careers.  This Southern Belle might just seal the deal with those big brown eyes and that sweet-as-honey Dixie drawl.  Lawd have mercy.

THE LOWER MIDWEST

Regional Rep: Miss Kansas

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If there’s one thing you need to become Miss America, it’s grit.  Miss Kansas, who lost her father to suicide as a teenager and then worked her way through college, has plenty.  Her academic credentials are impeccable, and her advanced public speaking skills make her a natural fit for the job.  She reminds me of our Miss America 2011, Teresa Scanlan, except six years older than Teresa was then.  If you’re looking for a highly motivated young woman with major leadership potential, Miss Kansas is your girl.

Wildcard: Miss Oklahoma

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Oklahoma has become an “automatic bid” state.  Ladies who win Miss Oklahoma will make my list of twenty, and most likely the Miss America finals, too — in fact, they’ve made the Top 5 for five years in a row, making Oklahoma the undisputed pageant powerhouse of this decade.  Fortunately, this year’s titleholder doesn’t need to flash her sash to prove she’s a contender.  She stands out just as much on stage as she does on paper.  The smart money is right here.

Wildcard: Miss Iowa

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She may be redheaded, but Miss Iowa is nobody’s stepchild.  Ok, maybe she is, but she refuses to be overshadowed by the competition.  Miss Iowa has some sleeper potential, but it’s an uphill battle when you’re from such a small state.  Another thing working against her is her platform, which is essentially the same as the reigning Miss America.  I sense this girl has legitimate talent — she’s majoring in vocal performance after all — and that will likely make or break her chances.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

Regional Rep: Miss California

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Another perennial contender, California was runner-up last year and is due for a win.  The nation’s most populous state has not pulled off a victory since 1982.  That definitely works in Miss California’s favor.  Another thing working in her favor is her superior public speaking skills, a trademark attribute of California delegates.  Although the sash supplies much of her appeal, sometimes it’s what doesn’t meet the eye that makes all the difference.

BIG SKY

Regional Rep: Miss South Dakota

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The Big Sky region never ceases to draw me in, and then burn me, time and again.  But I’m willing to put my finger back on the stove for Miss South Dakota.  Her rich sense of humor and confident, perhaps even cocky persona is a sure sign that her aim is as high as the stars over the Dakota plains.  South Dakota will always be a long shot.  But don’t tell her that: she’s in it to win it.

THE UPPER MIDWEST

Regional Rep: Miss Minnesota

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Tied for youngest on the list, say hi to nineteen-year-old Miss Minnesota.  Fresh out of high school, she blew away the field at the Miss Minnesota pageant by winning both the preliminary talent and preliminary swimsuit competitions.  With polish beyond her years,  the girl from the Great White North is a force to be reckoned with in Atlantic City.   And, she has a message for Miss South Dakota: keep your hands off of Joe Mauer.

Wildcard: Miss Illinois

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Aspiring professional opera singer Miss Illinois is looking to put her home state back on the map.  This year’s Prairie State princess is the strongest Illinois contender that I’ve seen in my five years of handicapping the pageant.  And it was only three years ago that another opera singer, Miss America 2012 Laura Kaeppler, took home the crown.  I know what you’re thinking: we already have a Chicago president, why do we need a Chicago Miss America?  And that’s a problem the Republicans in Congress are desperately trying to solve.

THE NORTHEAST

Regional Rep: Miss New Jersey

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“Never count out the hometown girl.”  Those words were uttered by someone who never watched the Miss America pageant in Las Vegas, where Nevada finalists were as rare as unicorns.  Nonetheless, the Jersey Shore has a way of taking care of its own, and I’m not sure Miss New Jersey needs much help anyway.  A Rutgers cheerleader and self-professed “nerd”, Miss New Jersey comes off as down to earth and well-rounded.  And home stage advantage will not hurt her chances.

Wildcard: Miss District of Columbia

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If you get Stephen Colbert’s endorsement, you make my list.  Plus, I’m a sucker for pianists.

TEXAS

Regional Rep: Miss Texas

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I don’t try to fight it anymore.  I’ll admit that Miss Texas was one of the last to make the cut.  But Texas is a perennial contender and must be given the respect it deserves.  A professional ballerina and aspiring doctor, this soon-to-be college graduate has dreams and potential that are as big as the state where I live.  Trust me, the judges will like her more than I do.

THE PSUEDO-SOUTH

Regional Rep: Miss Virginia

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Last but not least we have the darling Miss Virginia.  She was inspired to adopt her platform by her brother, who suffers from cerebral palsy.  Her brother overcame the doctors’ dire predictions that he may not progress beyond a vegetated state.  Now he competes in the Special Olympics.  With any luck, his big sister may be able to defy the odds, too.

So there you have it, my list of 20.  If I have time, I’ll update this post with videos for some of the other 32 contestants.  I hope you enjoyed the preview and are as excited about the pageant as I am.

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An American Inspiration, Nina Davuluri

It’s almost that time of year again.

Yesterday fifty-three Miss America hopefuls released their introduction videos explaining why they should be the next to wear the crown.  Yours truly has reviewed each video and has narrowed the field down to the true contenders.

The timing just doesn’t feel right.  I am used to the pageant being a winter spectacle.  The one thing to look forward to after the holidays are over.  Now, it’s smack dab in the middle of baseball’s pennant races (not like my Texas teams are going anywhere), the second week of NFL football season, the first week of conference play in college football, and great weather for camping, boating, golfing, you name it.  Americans are not exactly starving for entertainment in the middle of September.

Meanwhile, what do we have to look forward to in the month of January?  A few football games between teams most people can only pretend to care about?  The Victoria Secret Pageant?  No offense, but . . . if I wanted to see models prancing around in next to nothing I would buy a TV and subscribe to Cinemax.

I would much rather spend those bleary winter days appreciating the most driven and well-rounded young women our country has to offer.  Instead, I now have to appreciate them during the summer.

Look, I understand the history and tradition revived by last year’s return to Atlantic City — but it still doesn’t feel right to me.

Timing aside, I will say that in the five years I have been handicapping the pageant, this is the strongest field I have ever seen at first glance.  Many of these girls come off as extremely polished, focused, and mature.  At this stage, all I am looking for is potential, and there is plenty to go around.

But before we get to this year’s class, I want to recognize our current Miss America, Nina Davuluri.

 

Nina is a future MBA student of Indian-American descent.  She comes from from a family of wealthy New York physicians.  At 25 years old, she is the most mature Miss America to serve in the last 15 years.

As you may recall, Nina did not make it into my top 20 projected finalists last year.  On the night she was crowned, I acknowledged that she would not have been my choice, but conceded that she was “a deserving winner.”  Admittedly, this was at best a half-hearted congratulations.

Oh, how a year can change one’s opinion.

In the aftermath of her victory, Nina was the target of blatant racism on social media.  Rather than lash out at her attackers, Nina used the controversy as fuel for her platform, promoting diversity and cultural dialogue.  She continued to be positive and push forward with her message of bringing people together.  Nina offered concrete ideas for achieving this goal — such as involving children in hands-on activities that allow them to experience other cultures — and used her title to promote such programs.  In her many interviews across the country (most of which focused on the social media backlash), she always stayed positive.  Even when she was asked questions like, “shouldn’t Miss America be American?”

Her words had a profound impact on those who listened.  One Yale student had this impression:

“In addition to being all-around well spoken, graceful and sassy, she thoughtfully explained her platform of cultural competence and stressed that patiently answering people’s questions is one of the strongest ways to combat ignorance [….] Responding to offensive questions with tolerance and patience might be more effective than harsh words. As we can see from Davuluri’s response to her critics, tolerance begets tolerance.”  — Lorraine James, February 2014

In every regard, Nina is an embodiment of compassion, poise, intelligence, and professionalism.  She is a symbol of diversity of our country and the persevering spirit of our people.  She inspired us.  She challenged our perceptions of our country.  She showed us what it means to handle adversity.  And she did it all with a smile.  We all should be proud to have her as our national representative.

Add it all up, and you’re looking at one of the most heralded Miss Americas in recent memory.  Looking back, I shudder to think that her exceptional reign could have been derailed by a trivial dance.

You see, in America, we don’t just want the substance; we want the show, too.  The Miss America pageant brings both to the table.  It’s not just an contest to see who would be the best spokesperson.  By the same token, it’s not just a competition to see who the best stage performer is, either.  Like most things in life, it’s a combination of both.

Last year, the judges saw what we at home could not — the substance.  A transcendent young woman with every quality you could want in a Miss America.  That’s why her Bollywood dance was good enough.  That’s why the fact that last year’s winner was also from New York didn’t matter.  That’s why no one cared that she might been have been outperformed by others on stage.  The reason she won is now obvious to all.

So tonight, rather than post a list of contenders, I wanted to first recognize our current Miss America for all that she has accomplished and become.  Truly a job well done.  (And if there is any doubt about her legacy, I would point out that her Wikipedia page is already much longer than her predecessors.)

Now our task is to choose a new Miss America.  We can only hope she will live up to the high standard set by her predecessor, the remarkable Nina Davuluri.

The Lion Hunter

So I heard about the Texas Tech cheerleader who has caused an internet “uproar” by hunting dangerous game in Africa and posting pictures of her trophies online.  My thought is, how is this news?

She’s not doing anything illegal.  People hunt animals every day, people take pictures every day.  I suspect a lot of the outcriers are jealous because she is a pretty girl who obviously comes from a very wealthy family.  So they find something to be judgmental about.

The word “endangered” gets thrown around in every column.  They gave her a license to hunt.  Take it up with the government, not the girl.  And let’s not pretend the African savannah is a petting zoo.  Lions, leopards, and rhinos are deadly animals which, while not toting rifles of their own, certainly don’t qualify as “helpless.”

The truth is that it takes money to preserve endangered species and the $160k her parents spent on the trip to Africa will probably go a long way toward doing that.  In a day and age where seemingly every form of enjoyment has to be for a “good cause” in order to be acceptable, even that box has been checked.  Save the moralization.

A Commentary On The Budget Crisis

I have decided to do something I have not done in a long time: remark on a political issue.

The budget crisis that is gripping our country has seized my intrigue.  And, since I have been in a pretty intellectual mood lately, I can’t resist the temptation to weigh in.

The facts are these.  Republicans control the House of Representatives; Democrats control the presidency and the Senate.  A bill must be passed by October 1st (Tuesday) to fund the federal government, or it will be forced to shutdown.  If a bill to increase the borrowing limit is also not passed by mid-October, the federal government will default on its debts.

The House of Representatives is refusing to pass any bill that funds the government unless Obamacare is defunded or delayed.  The Senate and the President are refusing to pass any bill that defunds or delays Obamacare.

Public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans oppose the implementation of Obamacare.  The polls also show that a majority of Americans oppose shutting down the government.

Neither side appears willing to compromise.

The Democrats have accused the Republicans of using illegitimate tactics and have called some of them “anarchists” and “legislative arsonists.”  The Republicans have argued that their tactics are supported by James Madison’s Federalist No. 58.  They argue that this is the way our government is supposed to work.

James Madison is the father of the American Constitution and, accordingly, his writings carry great weight on issues of concerning the mechanics of our government.  He was, after all, the chief engineer who designed the machine.

A testament to his genius, Madison foresaw the exact dilemma we are faced with.  He wrote that the “power of the purse” — the House of Representative’s authority to fund or defund the government — is a key aspect of our democracy. Madison envisioned that such power would be used “address grievances” and to “carry into effect every just and salutory measure.”  James Madison wrote the following:

The House of Representatives cannot only refuse, but they alone can propose, the supplies requisite for the support of government. They, in a word, hold the purse that powerful instrument by which we behold, in the history of the British Constitution, an infant and humble representation of the people gradually enlarging the sphere of its activity and importance, and finally reducing, as far as it seems to have wished, all the overgrown prerogatives of the other branches of the government. This power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.

However, Madison believed that both chambers of Congress would have an interest in avoiding a government shutdown.  He wrote as follows:

But will not the House of Representatives be as much interested as the Senate in maintaining the government in its proper functions, and will they not therefore be unwilling to stake its existence or its reputation on the pliancy of the Senate? Or, if such a trial of firmness between the two branches were hazarded, would not the one be as likely first to yield as the other? These questions will create no difficulty with those who reflect that in all cases the smaller the number, and the more permanent and conspicuous the station, of men in power, the stronger must be the interest which they will individually feel in whatever concerns the government. Those who represent the dignity of their country in the eyes of other nations, will be particularly sensible to every prospect of public danger, or of dishonorable stagnation in public affairs. To those causes we are to ascribe the continual triumph of the British House of Commons over the other branches of the government, whenever the engine of a money bill has been employed. An absolute inflexibility on the side of the latter, although it could not have failed to involve every department of the state in the general confusion, has neither been apprehended nor experienced. The utmost degree of firmness that can be displayed by the federal Senate or President, will not be more than equal to a resistance in which they will be supported by constitutional and patriotic principles.

To summarize, Madison recognized that giving the House of Representatives the power to fund the government could lead to a government shutdown. However, he noted that such a thing had never happened in Great Britain.  He thought it was unlikely to ever happen, because the representatives would view it as an embarrassment to the country and a threat to their own personal security.

Dear Mr. Madison . . . it’s happening.  (And it has happened before.)

Of course, Madison is right.  Shutting down the government does not benefit anyone.  And it may cause severe damage to our international reputation and economy.

That being said, the power to defund the government exists for a reason.  If the President and Senate believe the government will never do it, the power means nothing.  The real question that faces us today is, “what are the legitimate goals that can be accomplished by that power?”

Madison had something to say about obstructionist behavior, too.  He advised against requiring a quorum of more than 51% in order to pass new laws for fear that doing so would result in minority rule.  He wrote the following:

In all cases where justice or the general good might require new laws to be passed, or active measures to be pursued, the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed. It would be no longer the majority that would rule: the power would be transferred to the minority. Were the defensive privilege limited to particular cases, an interested minority might take advantage of it to screen themselves from equitable sacrifices to the general weal, or, in particular emergencies, to extort unreasonable indulgences.

It is interesting that Madison used the word “extort” which is the same term that has been used by President Obama.  Terms aside, Madison clearly saw obstructionism as an evil to be avoided — at least in cases where it was a minority doing the obstruction.

In sum, our Constitution gives the House of Representatives the power to shut down the government.  However, that power should not be used for the purposes of minority party oppression.  It should be reserved for rare situations where the interest is great enough to justify the disruption.

Turning to the crisis at hand, a majority of our representatives apparently feel that repealing Obamacare is worth shutting down the government to make a point.  These are the people we elected to Congress and I respect their decision, whether or not I agree with it.  If we don’t like the consequences, we can voice our opinions and vote them out next term if they don’t listen.  I predict they will come to their senses soon enough and realize that our national reputation and solvency is more important than the type of healthcare system we have.

Miss America Recap

Last Sunday’s Miss America pageant was one for the ages.  That was probably as much drama and suspense as I’ve ever seen in the pageant.

Now it’s time to toot my own horn a little about how everything unfolded exactly how I envisioned.  Well, maybe not exactly, but close enough.

For the second straight year, a Miss New York won the pageant.  And for a second straight year, Miss New York was not in my Top 15 finalist picks (or even my Top 20).  Naysayers out there might say I blew it again.  I say phooey to that.  Just read this prophetic passage I wrote on the eve of the pageant:

As a final comment I would like to make a special shout-out to all the contestants from the Northeast region.  The Northeast, which is usually one of the weaker regions, produced by far its finest class since I started following the pageant.  I could see almost all of the girls from that region doing very well.  Until last year, a girl from the Northeast had not won the pageant since Vanessa Williams won it in 1984.  I could easily see two in a row.

Now if that’s not calling it, I don’t know what is.  The Northeast had more contestants in the Top 10 (3) than any other region.

And, I carefully explained why I didn’t choose Miss New York as one of my finalists.  It was not because I didn’t think she had potential.  I just didn’t think her Bollywood dance would go over well at an American pageant.

So consider that criticism dismissed.

Overall, I feel like my picks did well this year.  Once again, I did not pick the winner but at least my #1 pick made it to the finals (unlike last year).  In fact, Miss Oklahoma came very close to winning it — she finished 3rd.  That makes the 3rd time in the last 4 years that the contestant I chose to win it all has finished in the Top 3.  Not a bad track record if you ask me.  Unfortunately, none of them took home the crown.

My #2 pick, Miss Texas, also finished in the Top 10, and probably would have made the Top 5 if she had not forgotten the words to her song!  I better not say anything bad about her because she lives here in Dallas and is a law student, so it’s possible that our paths might cross in the future.

My #3 pick, Miss Mississippi, made the Top 15.  I was shocked that she got knocked out after the swimsuit competition considering she won the preliminary swimsuit award.  Not sure what happened there.

Eight of the Top 15 finalists were on my finals list.  Miss Connecticut, who finished in the Top 10, was also on my initial list of 20.  I also explained why I did not choose Miss Florida or Miss Kansas.  Then Miss Florida passed me the salt and Miss Kansas passed me the pepper.  The show they put on was incredible.

For someone who “learned how to sing opera on YouTube” shortly before the pageant, Miss Kansas had a pretty amazing voice.

And we might as well call Miss Florida the Adrian Peterson of pageantry.  Not only did she grit out a swimsuit competition on an torn ACL (and advanced), she also powered through a evening gown competition (and advanced), and a talent competition that required her to spin and twirl while juggling three batons at once (and advanced).  I got some serious chills while watching her talent.  That was the moment when I felt like the pageant was over, and everyone else was playing for 2nd place.  What Miss Florida did on Sunday night was one of finest performances I’ve ever seen in a competitive event.  Ironically, the only thing that tripped her up was the one thing that did not require her to use her knee at all — the onstage question.

Last year, Mallory Hagan took the pageant by storm and claimed a decisive victory.  This year, the pageant turned into a BCS poll.  You could make the case for Miss Florida, Miss Oklahoma, Miss Maryland, Miss Connecticut, or Miss New York.  I think all five deserved the crown.  All five brought their A+ game.  But sadly, only one could win.  It was a tough call.

I have to hand it to Miss New York.  I felt like she won the swimsuit and evening gown competitions.  Based on her performance in those phases alone, she deserved to win.  With that said, she would not have been my choice.  My vote would have gone to Miss Oklahoma, because I felt like she would make the best Miss America all along and her impeccable performance confirmed my feelings.  My second choice would have been Miss Florida because she deserved it the most.  Although I originally wasn’t convinced she would make a good Miss America, after seeing her perform I was convinced she wanted it the most and that no one with that kind of heart could be anything but a good representative for our country.  My third choice would probably have been Miss Maryland, because I felt she was a solid overall contestant and her talent performance was exceptional.  It would have been tough to choose between Miss Connecticut or New York, but I feel Miss Connecticut would have made the better Miss America due to her immensely charming personality.

There is usually a moment in every Miss America talent competition when the winner emerges.  You immediately realize that what your seeing is about to played and replayed on every news network that evening, above the headline “Miss X _________ crowned Miss America.”  It happened in 2009, when Katie Stam sang Via Dolorosa.  It happened in 2010, when Caressa Cameron belted out Grammy-quality notes.  It happened in 2011, when Teresa Scanlan set the piano on fire.  It happened in 2012, when Laura Kaeppler delivered a spell-bounding rendition of “Il Bacio.”  And it happened last year, when Mallory Hagan took the pageant by storm with her tap dance routine.

I did not feel that at all when Miss New York performed.  At no point during her dance did I envision her winning Miss America.  It wasn’t that the dance had a distinctly foreign flavor — it just didn’t impress me.  Too many hand movements, not enough footwork.  Seemed like something anyone could do given enough practice.

On the other hand, there were moments in Miss Oklahoma’s, Miss Maryland’s, and Miss Connecticut’s performances where I felt like the stars had aligned for them.  And of course Miss Florida’s performance was off the charts.  But none of those girls did as well as Miss New York in the swimsuit or evening gown competitions.

Now a lot has been written lately about the hurtful remarks that have been directed at Nina Davuluri on social media.  Obviously there are idiots out there.  Although I personally excluded her from consideration due to the fact she was performing a Bollywood dance, I think we should be careful before labeling something un-American.  After all, how is a Bollywood dance any more “un-American” than the Irish riverdance that Miss Connecticut performed?  Or the Italian opera song that Miss Kansas sang?  There is a fine line between nationalism and racism.

The bottom line is, the dance just wasn’t done well enough for my tastes.  Regardless, I still feel that Nina Davuluri was a deserving winner based on the other phases of the competition and have high hopes that she will make a fine Miss America.

Miss America 2014… Nina Davuluri!

Congratulations to our new Miss America, Miss New York Nina Davuluri!  A very deserving winner of a fantastic thriller of a pageant.

Tonight was probably the best Miss America pageant I’ve ever seen.  The competition was incredible.  I thought there were several ladies deserving of the crown, including my pick to win it, Miss Oklahoma, who finished 3rd.  Very proud of her.  Also proud of Miss Arkansas, who made the finals despite me counting her out.  If only I had more faith.

And of course Miss Florida and Miss Kansas lived up to the hype… Boy did they ever.

More to come later….

The Rankings

It’s time to announce my 2014 Miss America rankings!

1.  Miss Oklahoma

2.  Miss Texas

3.  Miss Mississippi

4.  Miss West Virginia

5.  Miss South Carolina

6.  Miss Utah

7.  Miss New Hampshire

8.  Miss Tennessee

9.  Miss Minnesota

10.  Miss Georgia

11.  Miss California

12.  Miss Missouri

13.  Miss Indiana

14.  Miss Maryland

15.  Miss North Carolina

Interestingly, I noticed that there are two contestants named Crystal Lee — Miss Hawaii and Miss California.  What are the odds of that?

Here is a link to Good Morning America’s preview of the pageant, which predictably focuses on Miss Kansas and Miss Florida.  They actually show the video clip of Miss Florida tearing her ACL . . . looked very, very painful.  It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out this evening.

Miss America Preview

It is time to announce the contestants that I feel will be contenders at the Miss America pageant this year.  These are my initial Top 20 selections from which I will choose and rank my 15 finalists for tomorrow’s pageant.

Regional Representatives — to make sure I am not unfairly favoring one part of the country over the other, I choose contestants that represent at least 10 different regions of the country.  I generally hold these contestants in higher regard that any “wild card” contestants who are also from the same region.  This year, due to my late start, I have the benefit of knowing the preliminary winners.

Here are my ten regional reps: Miss Mississippi (South), Miss Oklahoma (Lower Midwest), Miss Minnesota (Upper Midwest), Miss New Hampshire (Northeast), Miss Washington (Pacific Northwest), Miss West Virginia (Psuedo South), Miss Indiana (Rust Belt), Miss California (Central California), Miss Utah (West), and Miss Texas (Texas).

And my ten wildcard contestants are: Miss Georgia, Miss New Jersey, Miss Delaware, Miss Tennessee, Miss North Carolina, Miss Ohio, Miss Missouri, Miss Maryland, Miss Connecticut, and Miss South Carolina.

I should temper expectations by recalling that last year, the contestant crowned Miss America was absent from my original Top 20.  She did not even have the courtesy to send me a text message in advance letting me know she was going to win.  And even if she had, I would not have believed her because she was a tap dancer.  A tap dancer had never won Miss America.  Until last year.

I watched the pageant and felt she was an excellent choice for Miss America.  I then kicked myself.

I also whiffed on Miss America in 2011.  Let’s not talk about that.

This year, the only thing I will be kicking is kicking back a tall, cold glass of victory when the ticker tape falls tomorrow night.  Unlike last year, this is not a pageant wrought with parity.  Don’t get me wrong, all the girls are quality contestants.  But this year, there are several ladies that are a cut above the rest.  That is why I am pretty confident that tomorrow’s winner will come from the group listed above (and hopefully my chosen winner).

And last year I actually did surprisingly well in picking the finalists, except for overlooking the girl who actually WON it.  A very minor detail.

Here’s to even better luck this year.

I have posted some pageant-related links below.  Now I must mention some of the noteworthy women who I didn’t pick for my Top 20.  One is Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail, who made headlines this week by becoming the first ever contestant to compete at Miss America with visible tattoos.  If that does not make her interesting enough, she is also in the army and speaks Chinese.  And as any heterosexual man would tell you, she is super attractive.  However, she did not make my list for one simple reason.  Her talent was archery, and the Miss America Organization disallowed her from using a bow onstage.  So, she changed her talent to singing at the last minute.  Now, I am 100% impressed with this young lady, and would love nothing more than to see her buck the odds and suddenly become a pageant-winning singer overnight.  I just don’t see it happening.  Nothing is more important at Miss America than talent, and barring a miracle, she just ain’t got it.

Also, I’ve learned from past experience to stay away from contestants who generate controversy prior to the pageant, as it never bodes well for their chances.  But if this girl was to win the pageant tomorrow, it would be the story of the year.  And I would gladly, gladly eat crow to see it happen.

Another girl who didn’t make the cut is the heartwarming story of Miss Iowa, Nicole Kelly, who is competing despite having only one arm.  As with Miss Kansas, I am rooting for her big time, and would love to see her beat the odds and win.  But this isn’t my first rodeo.  Movie-script stories rarely have happy endings at Miss America.  It is survival of the fittest out there.

I actually feel kind of bad that this next girl did not make my list.  Miss Florida, Myrrhanda Jones, whose talent is baton twirling, was warming up for her routine this week when — prepare to grimace — she tore her ACL.  As in the type of injury that would immediately end any NFL player’s season.  Her kneecap was flipped around on the side of her knee.  Awful, hideous injury.  Clearly, her pageant was over.  Right?  No.  Oh no.  She goes to an orthopedic surgeon who twisted her kneecap back into place and fits her with a brace.  She then get back on the stage, brace and all, and proceeds to compete in the pageant by twirling 3 batons at once!  Hobbling around with a torn ACL!  You can’t make this up.  And apparently did it well enough to win a preliminary talent award.  Now that’s damn impressive.  She also lost her little sister in a 4-wheeler accident, which she said was a pain far worse than the ruptured knee ligaments.  Another girl I would love, love, love to see win it.  But let’s not forget she has a torn ACL.  I don’t see how she can even walk on the stage.  If she was on my fantasy football team, she would be listed as “doubtful.”  So to call her a long-shot would be sugar-coating it.  That’s why she didn’t make the list.

With that said, I would not be surprised if Miss Florida made the Final 15 since she was a preliminary winner.  Also, I think she completed her other rounds before the injury happened.  I cringe at the thought of having to watch her grit out a swimsuit competition with a torn ACL.  Hopefully, the pageant judges will spare us that sight by finding her a nice comfortable place to sit with the other 37 non-finalists.

The last girl I would like to mention who did not make my list is Miss New York Nina Davuluri.  It is rare for a state to miss the finals the year after it wins.  And I think Miss New York is a perfectly fine contestant with solid credentials.  The problem is that her talent is “classical Bollywood fusion.”  If she can pull that off, more power to her.  I just don’t see it happening.

As a final comment I would like to make a special shout-out to all the contestants from the Northeast region.  The Northeast, which is usually one of the weaker regions, produced by far its finest class since I started following the pageant.  I could see almost all of the girls from that region doing very well.  Until last year, a girl from the Northeast had not won the pageant since Vanessa Williams won it in 1984.  I could easily see two in a row.  It was hard to pick a regional representative, but I eventually settled on Miss New Hampshire as the only preliminary winner.  I must say, however, that Miss Delaware had the best intro video I’ve ever seen in my several years of watching the pageant.  A+++!

I can’t wait til the lights go down in Atlantic City tomorrow night!

Goodbye Xanga, Hello WordPress

Xanga has gone up in smoke, so I have decided to give WordPress a try.  I never did much blogging on Xanga anyway.  I mostly enjoyed reading other people’s blogs, which is probably what I will end up doing on here too.

One thing I’ve blogged about for several years now is the Miss America pageant.  I usually get started writing about it weeks in advance, but this year it snuck up on me.  Believe it or not, the pageant is this weekend.  Yes, as in Sunday.  For as far back as I can remember, the pageant has been held in late January.  One of the few things to look forward to after New Year’s, when the weather is still cold and icky.  It will be strange watching Miss America in September.  It’s not like people need anything else to watch in September.  We already have more sports than we can shake a stick at — NFL football, college football, baseball playoff races, and NASCAR, for those of us who like to drink beer and watch cars drive in a circle.

I may even blog a little about my life since it has become notably more interesting lately.  The elevator music of my life has changed tracks from Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville” to “In The City” by the Eagles.

Speaking of which, can we play music on here?  Does anyone know how to play music on here?