Thursday, November 13, 2014

MORE FEAR AND LOATHING IN ATLANTIC CITY

I never intended to write even once about the Miss America pageant. This is actually my third attempt. My initial effort, was posted in the midst of the racist reaction to having an Indian -American Miss America. A more recent post was about the sorority hazing drama surrounding her successor, and the invective posted on the pageant  bulletin boards in the aftermath. 

When one writes as an observer looking in, it's possible to miss the real story. In this case, it is far less about  the racists of 2013 or the reaction to this year's result . It is about power and control, consolidation of power, and the quelling of dissent. It's about the creation of rules banning entire classes of volunteers and coaches because  of a handful who have asked questions about  real policy concerns, that are no different than those asked in the national press. No matter our differences with Roger Goodell and the National Football League, even "the shield" feels some responsibility to address accountability to public opinion. 

In the case of the 501 (3c) MAO, no such strictures seem to apply. It is hard to believe that an arrangement exists, where no entry fees are said to be charged to participants, but each is required to raise money for a crippled children's charity that sees less than fifty cents on the dollar. Or that a group can still proclaim it provides millions in scholarships that  are never going to be reedemed, falling back on the rather Orwellian term, "Made Available."

The topics raised by the pageant's behavior touches upon so many matters we discuss in the business world, and in the culture.  

"A RIDDLE WRAPPED INSIDE A MYSTERY INSIDE AN ENIGMA." - CHURCHILL

The quote above was about the Soviet Union of Joseph Stalin. And it applies to the world of the Miss America Pageant today. Not because the incumbent is of Russian extraction, but because it appears that a wholesale purge is coming down the line of those not buying into the leadership style of pageant CEO Sam Haskell. Normally this occurrence in pageantry would be unworthy of the bandwidth invested in exposition. But it now appears that at least two of the former titleholders are way off the reservation, along with countless volunteers and longtime coaches and judges.

Kate Shindle was Miss America 1998, and is remembered as one of the most policy savvy as can be seen in this link ......from C-Span. Her well reviewed book Being Miss America , offers insight into the life of a titleholder back in the day where the pageant sought "relevance" and details the challenges facing the nearly century old pageant today. Upon it's publication it became quickly obvious the "powers that be" in Miss America's corporate offices were not amused issuing this non attributed gem to the local press, .....""We have not had the chance to read the book. We were disappointed to learn from a reporter at the A.C. Press that a former Miss America, from 17 years ago, has chosen to take this path to advance whatever issues she might have...."

But the "issues"are substantive. The Press of Atlantic City article continues... "Just days before this year's Miss America finals on Sept. 14, Shindle shares what she sees as "mismanagement and leadership instability" over the course of the organization's history and unethical moves made to maintain television ratings and make money, including partnering with Children's Miracle Network hospitals.

"Keep Children's Miracle Network around; it's a great group that does wonderful things. But stop balancing the books on the backs of kids with terminal illnesses. It's not only ethically reprehensible, it's borderline fraudulent," she said.

Shindle explains that under the terms of the agreement with Children's Miricle Network, Miss America is to serve as an ambassador for CMN during her year, and the Miss America Organization receives "reportedly as much as 60 percent" of the joint profit." 

In a tribute to Karmic retribution, the pageant spokesperson also tossed in this boilerplate statement when questioned about "Being Miss America"....""The Miss America Organization is the largest provider of scholarships for young women in the world, making available $45 million in scholarships each year." That claim was blown out of the water by HBO's John Oliver, and earned the editorial comment, "Take a look at her now: Miss America, lying through her teeth about scholarships."


Then there is the email posted online from the well respected Miss America 2013 Mallory Hagan. In it she notes the following to  New York Pageant Executive Director Deb Cantoni, "If your instructions are, in fact, coming from Marc (Marc Angeli, MAO Vice President of Field Operations) to discontinue ..... involvement with the Miss New York Organization",....The ongoing reaction from readers writing of their experiences online, include those asserting they have been "blackballed" from involvement with MAO.  was breathtaking.  
  • "Another instance of Marc dictating to the state who can and cannot be involved then lying about it when confronted. He needs to go. Since when has a grassroots volunteer organization devolved into such a nasty clique enforced by incompetent people whose loyalty has been bought by a disliked and disrespected CEO? "
  • "Paying people more money than their skills allow turns them into henchmen. We are witnessing this everywhere. Only way to clean it out is thru the IRS and the court system. shame on Deb and Marc." 
  • "I have been on the fence on whether to continue my sponsorship of MAO (in my State). This email has solidified my thought process and actions to discontinue support for MAO on all levels. Volunteers need to take a stance against MAO and their current direction. Unless ALL THE VOLUNTEERS in MAO speak up and require change, then MAO will continue to be less important for those of us who have been supporters and sponsors.
  • "I think that Mallory is great. Whether or not one agrees with her on this matter or not, she is willing to identify herself with her beliefs. I supported Sam Haskell and acknowledge that his tenure has seem some positive things. But the undercurrent of how that office operates is nothing short of sad and appalling. It frankly sucks so profoundly, it has made many of ask if the cure is worse than the disease. Marc is a bully."
  • "no human being, let alone volunteer, deserves to be treated so coldly...."
  • "After serving as a volunteer in the Miss America organization for over 20 years and serving on a state board, I have been blackballed because I reported abusive behavior to MAO that was happening at the hands of the State ED where I live. Marc went back to this state E.D. with my complaints and the complaints of all others and took her word for it, as this person lied their way out of it. Now, all of us who stepped forward have been blackballed and we can't judge state pageants and we can't get badged for Miss America. When I was asked to judge a state pageant, MAO claimed I was "a coach" and I was removed from the panel. Miss America is run by incompetent people, and Sam's so busy admiring himself in the mirror and being fawned over by his Board of "yes men" that the organization is falling apart. "
  • "MAO is paranoid that when two or more people get together they will plot a coup! As they should IMHO!!! Seriously can you imagine the leadership of a volunteer organizations telling its volunteers that while they are gathered for the pageant they cannot get together and you know... VOLUNTEER!!! And for heavens sake why would MAO want the state leaders to get their titleholders together for a few days of fund and you know...education and empowerment of young women..those things the MAO is supposed to stand for. Once Fran Skinner lost the fixed arbitration the states lost their strongest voice. She was fearless. Valerie is also a strong voice for the states who leads thru collegiality something Sam! Sharon and liar liar pants on fire Marc do not understand."
  • "I sent an email to Marc with my concerns about a local pageant one time. He sent a boiler plate reply and forwarded my email to the state ED. Not long after I received a scathing email from the state ED suggesting that I support the organization rather than tearing it down. And how about purchasing tickets to the upcoming fundraiser the state was sponsoring. Never again will I contact MAO about anything."
  • "Marc and Sam go after anyone who dares to ask questions, speaks truth to power, or fits their often times completely made up agenda to keep some other lie going. They will do it to their own Miss Americas, banning them from partaking in events, shunning them when they meet them on the board walk, chastise them for loving the organization and its ideals instead of kissing Sam's ass...it is ugly. Imagine ignoring the complaints of families and titleholders for eight years...real abuse and mismanagement...because of some fake excuse they have made up. It is happening folks."
  • "The coaching thing .....seems to me to be far less about coaches and far more about controlling who's allowed in "the club." IMHO that's an absolutely, unequivocally damaging approach to building a company. I could write another book on the phone calls Marc makes to the states to tell them who they are not supposed to work with. It's just gross."
  • "It is quite concerning to me, though, that this organization is supposed to empower young women, but it seems that now it's spending more time trying to control them. At the end of the day, Miss ___ is a girl's experience and she should be able to do what she feels she should do in order to put her best foot forward. " 
It bears noting that both Ms. Shindle and Ms. Hagan are engaged in businesses that could be construed as coaching, and that the association of state pageant organizations was dissolved by MAO under Mr. Haskell's leadership. I will leave it to the reader's judgement if Mr. Angeli's alleged activities/conversations falls under the definition of "Tortious Interference ."

It may be tempting for an organization under fire to act in a manner, inspired by the right wing Republicans portrayed in West Wing, who famously said, "We have enemies without and within and must purge them all until we are purified" But a Stalinist inspired "revolution from above " management style is not the way to lead a troubled American Institution  away from the abyss of a 25% year over year decrease in ratings , much less the PR disasters of recent weeks. One must question the thought process of any group that has fallen from the heights as far as Miss America , that apparently is working as hard as is evidenced, to circle the wagons rather than open the tent. 

It seems very obvious that whatever optimism was present at the pageant's 90th Anniversary, and whatever hope there was in Mr. Haskell's leadership has drastically abated. As seen in the clip below, he certainly has a unique public persona . History does not seem on his side either, as MAO has seen many leaders in recent years. As Sam Haskell is both the Chairman of the Board and the salaried Chief Operating Officer of the MAO, his odds of survival seems better than his predecessors, no matter how many voices are raised calling for  "regime change." I'll give the last word to Ms. Shindle 

"I don’t think the current leadership will make wholesale change on their own. They’ve already got “my way or the highway” so embedded in the volunteers’ minds that everyone is terrified to step out of line. The EDs and contestants and volunteers have far more power than they are using. Until everyone demands change, I’m not optimistic. There’s already so little accountability at the top that ONE PERSON is both boss and employee, and basically oversees himself, and his “friends on the board” gave him $500k as a thank-you for his past volunteer work. I mean, whaaaaa?"

Click here for more of Kate Shindle's recent chat room courtesy of www. thepageantfile.com.




MANY BLESSINGS- NOEL





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Monday, November 10, 2014

REDEMPTION AND MONICA

A story that briefly trended last month along with the midterm elections and the Brittany Maynard saga, was the return of Monica Lewinsky. With due disrespect to all the critics n the blogosphere, I was happy to see that she had come back into the world, even setting up a Twitter account.  The reaction online was a different case, which points out how we often assert that Americans are forgiving people, but the reality is that most will tell you, "Not so fast" when it comes to cutting those seeking redemption a break. In Monica's case there should be a statue of limits on judging the acts of a love struck twenty four year old intern, eighteen years ago. She deserves another chance. We all do. 


One reality in life is the pervasive belief that people cannot truly change. Whether the conversation concerns people in recovery, criminals who have paid their debt to society, or simply those whose lifestyles we disapprove of, there are some those who are never going to give somebody a second chance. There are those who are incapable of letting go of the past. And these folks are always quick to point proof that people like you/me/them never can truly change.  We are all leopards, incapable of changing our spots. 

All of this runs counter to the religion, many of the most judgemental claim as their own. One of the most famous parables Christ spoke of, was the one featuring the "Prodigal Son" in Luke. As we saw then (and now)  when a person reforms their past selfish and sinful ways in order to return to their loving father, some are livid about the return. In that story, in the background of celebration that marked the Prodigal’s homecoming, the faithful older brother stood off in the distance, and resented resentful the obvious injustice of a party for a sibling that had lost his way. 


People often forget another notable parable, about sinners casting the initial stone. Though their attitudes and judgement are humiliating for those trying to change and do better now, it is also an opportunity for growth as we seek to live lives defined by love and service. Whether we are people in recovery, sinners seeking to reform, or  seeking growth in faith , there are lessons that we must gather to help weather our own journey to forgiveness and redemption. 

Those in twelve step programs learn to "make amends" for the past. For often the enmity and anger of those condemning us was earned. Those hurt and affected by addictive acts or the selfishness of sinners,  often have valid reasons to be hurt , angry, or disgusted. Part of earning another chance, is acknowledging our pasts unconditionally, no matter how awful that life review might be. Addiction to drugs or alcohol, sex, gambling, and the rest... is not an excuse for those mistakes. Owning mistakes in twelve step programs is facilitated by the Fourth Step ( taking inventory) and the Ninth Step (making amends.) 

Understanding the causes for our past transgressions is not the same as excusing their existence. Christians should not get to excuse past errors on the grounds that they are forgiven, have gone to confession, and that they are sinners who cannot help it. Bonhoeffer called this “cheap grace.”  Any program of change and growth requires fully embracing and addressing our pasts, and whether we are speaking of a recovery program or religion, its not an option. 

We are promised by Scripture that if we are genuinely remorseful and repentant,  a loving and gracious God will greet us with open arms, and allow us to have a new and better life. Often forgotten is a huge caveat, which is that we must do all we can do to right our past wrongs. Only by taking a new path, are we allowed to leave our history behind. Though we have no hope of having a better past, we are told God will "cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And we are then allowed to be freed from our past, with the gratitude and joy of a prisoner saved and released.

God's freedom and forgiveness is not given simply for our benefit. It is given freely so that we might be of service to others. The shame and baggage of an ugly past interferes with our ability to reach out to our fellow travellers in the sinful and imperfect world we inhabit.   The grace given freely to us is so that we can demonstrate of that same grace to another. There is a saying that says we cannot take anything with us when we pass, which is another way of stating we cannot keep what we do not give. Only by taking what we are given and "paying it forward" can we avoid becoming self-absorbed and unable to avoid past pitfalls.  If our primary purpose in life is to be of service to each other. it bears noting that no matter how far we have fallen our experience will potentially benefit another. 

Those who are unforgiving, those directing harsh comments towards those seeking to change , are in some kind of pain. In some cases we were the cause of such pain, but reflection reveals that there must be some kind of deep hurt driving such bitterness. I have known very few people who seemed incapable of letting go of a past wrong but I have known a few. My immediate family comes to mind. (And on occasion myself). Once I learned how to overcome the impact of having my past thrown in my face, I realized simply that “Hurt people hurt people.”  The only real response is to find compassion in our hearts, kindness with no retort, and to pray for them and for something to change. Regardless of the reason that someone considers themselves our “enemy, the only real solution is to “Love your enemies and do good to them that hate you.”  

We seek to have compassion and pray for unforgiving people.  When confronted with those unable to let go of the past, accept our changes and our attempts to make amends, we can "bless and release" the person and situation, and simply walk away. We are not obligated to stay in toxic relationships, or remain in soul killing situations that are harmful to us , our growth and our ability to be useful to others. 

Looking back at my life, I see where I failed other people.  Sometimes I still do.  Even with God’s grace , change comes slowly , but it does come if we try long and hard enough. When confronted with angry or hurting people who cannot let go of the past, we must try to change the dynamic, while accepting that what other people think of us is none of our business. For those of us who too much care about what people think , it is one of the hardest things on earth to accept. But it is one of the essential steps we must take if we are ever going to move beyond our darkest times. 

MANY BLESSINGS- NOEL

Saturday, November 8, 2014

THE FINAL EXIT OF BRITTANY MAYNARD

We all know the basics of this story. Brittany Maynard was only 29 when she took a barbiturate prescription and ended her life.  In the weeks leading up to that act, she had become the best known advocate for the right to kill ourselves in the face of illness, and the videos she made justifying her decision were literally everywhere. In the aftermath of her passing she has become a social media rock star, residing somewhere between Joan of Arc and Princess Diana on the pantheon of young (and "hot") Caucasian women who have died too young. New York Magazine's Lisa Miller notes...

"On my Facebook feed and on Twitter, in articles passed around friend-to-friend, I’ve watched Maynard be called courageous, inspirational, an angel; she is resting with the stars, her admirers say. For an unknown woman, especially, facing a difficult disease, cancer, that nevertheless kills almost 600,000 people annually, choosing to end her own life before the disease does it for her, like countless thousands who refuse nourishment in the end and “turn their face to the wall,” it has been an astonishing outpouring of reverence and support."

It is awful and hideous when someone with Brittany Maynard's gifts dies before their time. Part of the reason premature death is often a perversely great career move for folks such as Elvis and Michael and Whitney, is that the public rushes to purchase and possess a relic of the departed. This case is awful in another way, for it has breathed life back into the moribund "death with dignity" movement, and has allowed its image to be tragically rebooted from the creepy Kevorkian era.



The Compassion and Choiceswebsite now stars this obviously attractive young woman as the face of the arguments that lost when the rather malodorous Dr. Jack was appearing on 60 minutes and demonstrating his "Mercitron". No matter how it's packaged, no matter how beautiful the music, the pictures, and the imagery of the now iconic videos, it's still all about suicide. Given the public circumstances of her death, I find myself amongst those asking how free was Brittany's ultimate decision, given that a once major advocacy group, had found new life by packaging her story for their once moribund purposes?


Brittany's second video came out on October 29th. At the time of its release it seemed as Maynard was rethinking at minimum the timing of her demise. She states the following,  “I still feel good enough, and I still have enough joy, and I still laugh and smile with my friends and family enough that it does not seem like the right time,”


The news came on November 2nd. Brittany Maynard had ended her life on the date originally planned. My question is this. Was the timing ultimately driven by choice, or was it also driven by the expectations of the Assisted suicide movement leadership? By the very act of publicizing Brittany's projected death date across the planet, the suicide advocates made it exponentially harder for her to change her mind.

Maynard's tragic illness was manna from heaven for an advocacy group that had seen better times, and gave them a youthful and beautiful spokesperson.  The movement executed an expensive and well executed media campaign to use Brittany's planned suicide to reopen the debate on physician's aiding and abetting death. Her story went immediately "viral." That was not coincidental. The message was clear, kill yourself and you will become an icon. Don’t, and you will seem like a cowardly idiot. Only by finally doing the deed, could Brittany Maynard escape the dark side of internet celebrity with a measure of dignity. 

The media's behavior in this story was predictably south of ethical. People Magazine in particular highlighted the Maynard story, ignoring the truth that by doing so, the media is essentially advancing the acceptability of killing oneself. Those of a certain vintage, remember well the journalism class discussions of the way to handle suicide stories., in the aftermath of the publication of the assisted suicide movement's do it yourself manual, Final Exit by Derek Humphry. That was due to the increase in suicides by usage of the author's stated methods .  

An interesting  sidelight to the Maynard coverage are the words of the World Health Organization which details how "the degree of publicity given to a suicide story is directly correlated with the number of subsequent suicides," and notes "suicides involving celebrities have had a particularly strong impact. " The WHO noted "an increase in suicide up to 10 days after television news reports of cases of suicide." with "  highly publicized stories that appear in multiple programmes on multiple channels seem to carry the greatest impact - all the more so if they involve celebrities. " The WHO guidelines for reporting suicide stories states these best practices for the media to follow, in order to prevent one suicide from leading to others....

" • Don’t publish photographs or suicide notes.
   • Don’t report specific details of the method used. 
   • Don’t give simplistic reasons. 
   • Don’t glorify or sensationalize suicide. 
   • Don’t use religious or cultural stereotypes. 
   • Don’t apportion blame."

Besides the violation of best ethical practices, most of the stories read as if Brittany Maynard had no alternative but to off herself. Rare was the mention of hospice and the other care available to alleviate suffering. The confusion of this suicide with a "death with dignity", coupled with the viral nature of the coverage, is nothing more or less than the media telling others that suicide is an option for their problems no matter their scale. For when the door of acceptability is opened, the other value judgements become fair game for consideration. If a suicide in the context of illness is an acceptable act, is suicide when confronting other tragedies essentially really wrong? If Brittany Maynard's suicide is an act of courage, how do we redefine when suicide is cowardly? 


 MANY BLESSINGS- NOEL

Friday, November 7, 2014

THE CENTRE DOES NOT HOLD

"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."

- William Butler Yeats

Like many others, I welcomed Election Day for one very important reason. It meant the cessation of ad after ad after ad, that points out more eloquently than words, how divided amongst ourselves our country seems to be. What should concern us all, is that 2 out of 3 Americans opted out of the election Tuesday last. It is hard to find another statistic that speaks to how disaffected the majority of our citizens are with our politics and our system. 

If a soundtrack is needed to illustrate my point, a few minutes of AM Talk Radio and Cable News easily suffices. We have seen years of "gridlock" in Washington, and the rhetoric has escalated in to a juncture where we actually can’t agree with each other, even when we really want to. The need to feed "raw meat" to an ever hungry audience, escalates the commentary from the TV and radio commentators, and (of course) the politicians. And creates this tastelessness. 



The posturing and name-calling raises ratings and campaign funds. It is also destroying our politics, our system, and by the constant appeals to the darker impulses of the human spirit. Those of us who have roots in Arizona, remember well the words of Barry Goldwater in 1964, "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice....moderation in the pursuit of Justice is no virtue." Given the events of the past few years in our one state alone, it's questionable if the sainted Senator could even be nominated for his old office today. I question whether he would still utter his most famous words. 

There are some who minimize the acts of lunacy we have collectively witnessed, as the actions of psychos disconnected to politics and the culture that animates them. That denial ignores much deeper truths. We permit our politics to be conducted in a backdrop of violent terminology, violent graphics on web sites and video games, and ignore transparently outrageous comments like the often uttered "second amendment solutions." And when our divisions cause short term disasters and longer term calamities, nobody ever takes responsibility for the environment we have created. That group includes both the politicians and each of us. And we do bear a collective responsibility, for allowing it to go on and on and on....

Many claim to love God while using his name to justify the most horrible things imaginable. We hear too many voices of condemnation in the midst of this broken world. We hear far fewer teaching us how to respond to the anger, aggression, and hate , these times of danger and uncertain futures have created. Like it or not, our collective fear and frustration has created a metastatic disease that seeks to tear asunder anything outside of narrowly defined ideas and opinions. The same spirit of disillusion and dissension that permeated the country in the sixties has re-emerged in our society today. We hear too little about the implications, and even less about what is to be done about it.

If this is God’s world, it is not "mine" or "yours" or even "ours." We are called to live together, despite all our disagreements. A belief that God's work on earth is our doing, includes ordering society in a manner that business, government, and how we treat one another moves towards both justice and compassion, responsible citizenship, and awareness of our own imperfections in this fragile and fleeting life .

The world is the only place available for faith to be implemented. Our elections are often defined by talk of being "tough on crime." But "Law and Order" is not just about incarcerating ever growing numbers of people. In times of fear and bitterness, law and order also means refraining from echoing the irresponsible talk and drama heard over the air, and seen online. There is something shocking when we see people with high levels of education, continually posting on Facebook that they “hate the president of United States.” I was deeply troubled to know that less than a week ago, a man was almost elected to Congress, whose wife confided to a group, a measure of pride that her children only referred to the President of the United States by a racial epithet at home. 

The one third of us who voted in 2014, did so against a backdrop defined by well paid purveyors of hate. We wonder why there is "gridlock", while permitting campaign consultants to define even sincere holders of public office as traitors or worse. We allow "hired guns" to fill our inbox with e-mailed lies, and too often confuse their bitter harangues and accusations with fact. And then there are those who give approval to extremists through their tacit approval and ever increasing financial support when it helps win elections. The promotion of hate in 2014 was supported by large contributions, and the wearied indifference of all those who have given up.

MANY BLESSINGS - NOEL 


PS- MY FAVORITE SPOT FOLLOWS




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