Miss Universe 2012, Part 2: Another Digression [UPDATED With the Thales Joke]

Honestly, I haven’t gotten over the election yet, and scanning the news produces a numb sense of impending doom. Moreover, being a resident of Minnesota, I can’t seek comfort in sports, unlike some people we know. So what’s left? Let’s focus on the Miss Universe pageant, set to climax in Las Vegas on December 19.

The pageant is in a preliminary stage. The Miss Universe web site is up, and it includes photos of most, but not all, of the contestants–but generally only one picture apiece. (It is odd, by the way, that the big pageant sites, Miss Universe and Miss World, typically have mediocre photography. Does it not occur to them that in the pageant business, photography is of the essence? Apparently not.)

But I digress. Betting on the pageant has not yet begun, but some preliminary assessments of the candidates are possible. If you consult sites like Missology, they have begun handicapping the competition, often on a basis that seems impenetrable to an amateur. Missology really likes Miss Czech Republic, Tereza Chlebovská:

Well, okay, I thought. But after watching this brief video of Miss Chlebovska in the Czech pageant, I am a convert:

You can see more of Missology’s rankings here, but they are still incomplete.

The Miss Universe site itself is around one-third finished. Among other things, there are no, or virtually no, swimsuit photos. Still, some competitors do jump out at you, like Miss Peru, whom we highlighted a few weeks ago. And then there is Miss Venezuela, Irene Sofia Esser Quintero. Venezuela is a perennial pageant power, and Miss Quintero promises to continue the tradition. In addition to her other virtues, her family owns a chocolate factory:

The Miss Universe site has started posting information about the contestants–like how much they care about the environment, admire Nelson Mandela, and so on. But some of the personal touches are more eccentric and, to me, anyway, more appealing. Thus we learn that Miss Finland, Sara Yasmina Chafak, is “specially trained in close combat fighting which she learned as a member of the Finnish Defence Forces.” Not only that, she is currently studying International Marketing at the School of Economics of the Estonian Business School. Sounds like our kind of girl:

Miss Montenegro is one of several contestants who has saved several people from drowning. She is also a law student at the National University of Montenegro. Being a lawyer is a fallback in case her modeling career doesn’t work out. I’m guessing she won’t have to worry too much about torts and contracts:

There are other law students in the competition, but sometimes the information is a little confusing. The pageant’s site tells us that Miss Russia, Elizaveta Golovanova, has a degree in piano and “is currently studying Law at the Moscow State University of Railway Engineering.” Hmm. Law, railway engineering, who knows? Anyway, here she is:

Miss Netherlands, Nathalie Den Dekker, looks like a serious contender to me. But she doesn’t seem to have quite gotten her spiel together. The pageant web site tells us, “Nathalie believes that the biggest problem facing the world today.” Hmm. She may be hedging her bets until she sees who is on the panel of judges. Anyway, here she is:

As long-time readers know, I sincerely admire the smart, ambitious and courageous young women who compete in international pageants. But some have backgrounds that are especially endearing. Like Lynn Tan of Singapore. What is so special about Miss Tan? “Lynn has competed on her high school’s debate team.” She reminds me of my own high school debate days, back in South Dakota:

When I read that Miss Tan is a former high school debater, I thought that she would be my early favorite for the Miss Universe crown. But, to my surprise, her debate background was trumped by Miss Cyprus, Ioanna Yiannakou. The pageant site tells us:

Ioanna enjoys watching documentaries about ancient Greek philosophers.

Whoa! I had no idea that anyone had ever made a documentary about an ancient Greek philosopher, let alone several. Nor did I imagine that anyone–let alone a Miss Universe contestant!–would watch such documentaries. Other than, say, Paul and me. I imagine a date with Miss Cyprus…I tell my Thales joke, and she gets it! She laughs uproariously!

Well, just kidding about that. But Miss Yiannakou deserves our support. You can vote for her (or someone else) to reach the semifinals here. Here she is:

That’s all for now. If things don’t improve on the political scene, we will have much more to say about the Miss Universe pageant between now and December 19.

UPDATE: Several readers have asked whether there really is a Thales joke, and if so, what it is. Actually it is kind of a long story, and the reference to Thales isn’t as much a joke as a quip. But, for what it’s worth, here it is:

In 1973 I was a summer clerk at the law firm where I have subsequently worked for several decades. One Saturday evening the summer clerks were invited, along with a few junior associates, to a party at the home of the senior partner in the firm’s corporate group. The invitation was for 6:00. I was an eager–some might say over-eager–summer clerk, and I approached this event with my usual intensity.

I put on one of the two suits that I owned, a winter-weight wool, charcoal grey, even though it was July in Minnesota. I borrowed my roommate’s car and set out an hour or so before 6:00, when the party was scheduled to begin. I found the correct address in Edina and, congratulating myself on my excellent navigation, drove around the block and parked around the corner from the partner’s house. I sat there for fifteen minutes or so until the second hand on my watch indicated that it was 5:58:30. I started the car, pulled around the corner, and parked in front of the partner’s house. If I had been more alert, I might have noticed that there were no other cars parked along the street, but I was fixated on my watch. I turned off the car, strode up the walk, and rang the doorbell at precisely 6:00 p.m.

This is when I got the first inkling that things might be going astray. There was a moment of silence, and then I heard a woman’s voice say, from inside the house: “Jerry! Jerry! Someone is here already. Can you get the door?” Already? I thought. Isn’t it 6:00? For a minute or two I listened to scurrying sounds inside the house, and then the door opened. The senior partner stood in the doorway, clad in a polo shirt and Bermuda shorts. He looked at me, sweating in my wool suit, with an air that seemed by no means favorable. But he invited me in; better yet, he invited me into his library.

I was relieved, to say the least–the library, the only room in a house that I really understood! All four walls were lined from floor to ceiling with books. This was clearly a man after my own heart. We made desultory conversation while I scanned the bookshelves for ideas–for quite a while, since it was at least a half hour before the next guest arrived. But I was in luck–my eye fell on a book about the pre-Socratic philosophers.

By normal standards, the pre-Socratic philosophers are pretty obscure, but as it happens, I had studied them. Their writings exist only in fragments, and scholars debate their significance. Of the pre-Socratics, Thales is generally considered to be the first. So, when I saw that volume in the senior partner’s library, I was reminded of a quip I had come up with back in my college days. “I see you have a book on the pre-Socratic philosophers,” I said, more or less out of the blue. This drew a somewhat puzzled response. I pressed on. “Thales was the first philosopher,” I said. “He held that everything is water. And”–here comes the quip–“it turns out that he was 75% right, which is the highest percentage ever achieved by any philosopher!” Rim shot.

I had imagined that this clever observation, reflecting my deep understanding of ancient philosophy, might guarantee me a place in the law firm. It didn’t. We were now a good half-hour into what must have seemed, to the senior partner, a singularly unprofitable conversation, and this last gambit seemed to leave him wondering whether he was conversing with a lunatic. It was only a few minutes later when the doorbell rang, signifying the arrival of more guests. It is hard to say which of us was more relieved.

So, anyway, that is the Thales joke, or quip. I still think it is rather clever, but I have pretty much given up on convincing anyone else of that proposition.


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