Last Night’s Democratic Debate

For the first time, Hillary Clinton faltered. Gone was her smile and characteristic pre-programmed laughter. Being the front runner doesn’t come easy. Even Tim Russert, one of the moderators wanted to come after her! She came across as a candidate with calculated positions (as her husband Bill Clinton did). Unfortunately she lacks his charm and presence of mind. If this perception lingers, she could be in for some setbacks.

Obama, despite pre-event rhetoric stuck to his “politics of hope” mantra and went after her rather selectively and somewhat reluctantly. His opponents are bound to say that he does not have the stomach for a hard fight. On the other hand, he seems to be better equipped to win the “who would you rather have a beer with” question. He showed some excellent presence of mind and good humor in responding to the question about life beyond the earth. However, overall, he seemed too serious, sounded like he had a cold, and appeared subdued and unduly restrained. His body language could use some work!

John Edwards on the other hand went on the offensive at every possibly opportunity against Ms. Clinton. I suspect that his attacks helped Obama as much as it helped his own cause.

As for the rest, Bill Richardson has a good resume but can’t seem to engage the audience. Joe Biden sounds the best when he talks about foreign policy (and Guliani!); Chris Dodd brought up the issue of Hillary’s electability and indirectly helped Obama and Edwards’ case; Dennis Kucinich seemed too obsessed with impeaching George Bush than stating his own case!

The moderators particularly Tim Russert appeared blatantly out to attack Ms. Clinton. In summary, this was one of the better debates of this race.

Sehwag did little to regain his place

Some have it easy. Virendra Sehwag is certainly one of them. Despite continued poor performances, Sehwag has returned to the ODI team riding on one good batting performance in the Challenger series. The Week had recently reported that The All India Jat Progressive Front (AIJPF) had approached Pawar to give Sehwag another chance! Sounds like the meeting certainly paid off.

Dropping a player of Dravid’s class to include Sehwag makes no sense whatsoever and completely lacks justification. On the other hand a far more deserving player player like Badrinath continues to have to wait his time to make it to the team despite terrific performances. Gautam Gambhir on the other hand fully deserved his return to the team. Praveen Kumar’s inclusion is a good attempt at exploring some all rounders.

p.s: When asked “Rahul Dravid was a regular in the middle order. Now that he has been dropped, who do you think can take his place?”

Chairman Dilip Vengsarkar said:

At this stage Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni, Gautam Gambhir are the middle-order batsmen, and waiting in the wings are Manoj Tiwari, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma. So we have a lot of options.

Notice that Dinesh Karthick, Robin Uthappa and Badrinath or not on his radar!

Kerala Roads: A Complete Disaster

The roads all across Kerala are in a disgraceful state. Most Keralites will admit that the roads have never been as bad ever in their lifetime. Thankfully the Kerala High court has intervened and some celebrities have started to speak out on the issue.

It is true that the rains have been heavier than usual this year. But rains in Kerala is not new. It about time a long term solution is arrived at. Kerala has been governed alternately by the LDF and the UDF for years. The roads have always been equally bad (or good!) no matter who is in power. The current crisis requires a non-partisan commitment from all parties to make fixing the roads a priority. The present state has adversely affected normal life all across the state. Given the condition of the roads, autos and taxi refuse to travel depending on the state of the roads. Driving time has more than doubled. Deaths due to accidents have been on the rise, many of which have been caused when drivers have tried to avoid dangerous potholes. The road leading to the Medical College Hospital in Trivandrum (Kerala’s capital city), is a prime example. A patient traveling to the hospital on this road should be lucky to survive the drive!

Ironically, Kerala CM has been courting IT companies in Bangalore to setup shop in his state. Interestingly enough, he went over to Bangalore to make the pitch rather than have them visit the state. A smart move considering the state of the roads!

After my travel in Kerala, I did stop over at Dubai for a couple of days. The roads there are as good as the best in the world. Incidentally, a large number of laborers who help lay these roads in Dubai are expatriates from Kerala!

I didn’t have a camera when traveling through Kerala unfortunately, but found another blog with pictures.

T20 Cricket: India Dominate Australia

The recent India-Australia T20 game was a refreshing change. India played like Australia and Australia played like India!

The ODI world champions clearly lack the same self-assurance in the T20 format. They started with a huge strategic error of dropping Brad Hogg on a turning track. Even without a turning track, Hogg has been troubling Indian batsmen. The Aussie bowling and fielding were not up to the mark and India won rather comfortably. It was nice to see Ponting grant the Indians the credit they deserve for the victory.

Gambhir is fast proving to be a T20 expert. He is so calm and composed even when the overs run out and he always looks to be in control. As for the rest of the batting, it was clearly India’s young blood in control. Uthappa seems perfect at number 3 followed by Yuvraj and Dhoni. Viru blew a perfect chance to shine. His failure reinforces the fact that he is not yet ready for a recall to the team. India’s batting in T20 seems very well balanced.

The bowling on the other hand does have holes. Sreesanth is a complete misfit in this form of the game. The man is fast, erratic and prone to giving away runs. RP on the other hand does have the ability to bowl tight like he did in the last over of the match. India could have done well to use Joginder Sharma (India’ last over specialist!) instead in this match. India did well to include the in-form Murali Karthik who alog with Harbhajan played a key role in restricting the Aussies.

There is no doubt the Aussies will return to the drawing board to study the T20 game carefully. In the meantime, India should do whatever it takes to sustain its momentum in this new form of the game.

Ms. Bhutto’s Return Cost Lives

Ms. Bhutto’s return has already taken its toll. Over a hundred innocent people have died and several hundreds injured. Her attempt to gain maximum political mileage nearly cost her her life. “The attack on me was not totally unexpected” she writes in the WSJ clearly indicating that she knew about the potential dangers. Despite this, she chose to gain maximum political mileage and media coverage on her return. Instead she could have slipped into Pakistan with minimum fanfare and then gradually launched into her campaign. Even if it didn’t gain all the instant coverage, it would have at the least saved a few hundred lives. Eight years of exile has not changed her “politics first” mindset.

Despite a symbolic change, unfortunately, between Pervez Musharraf, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Shariff Pakistan has little to chose from. A Bhutto Government with Musharraf as President, which seems like the next step, is a case of a hopeless situation getting no better. At this point, Pakistan can only hope for some hope!

Air Deccan: Dramatic Improvements

Treat this as anecdotal evidence. Air Deccan has show dramatic improvements in its ability to fly on time. In the past I have noticed that their flights were almost always late. They also had a serious image issue. A friend of mine said “Give me a call just before the flight takes off and another call just after you land. Only then you can be sure that Air Deccan has actually landed!” If my most recent experience is any metric, this image is due for a makeover. Not sure if this change has anything to do with the deal with Kingfisher Airlines. Nevertheless, a great sign for a low cost airline.

Dubai: The Mess Starts at the Airport

Dubai has been in the Western media for many reasons of late (the Dubai ports scandal, the recent Nasdaq deal, the burst of construction etc.). None of these reports ever talks about the challenges of everyday living in Dubai. Nothing prepares you for the big mess in the Dubai airport until you actually experience it.

A grand sprawling airport equipped with all the so-called latest features fails to do a decent job of handling the crowds.

  • The flight boarding area (gates) for each flight is behind a check-in counter (similar to London Heathrow but unlike the airports in the US). As expected the check-in counter opens less than an hour before the flights. This means that the large passenger waiting area behind the counter remain inaccessible until just before the flight. The result is that you have an assembly line of gates with empty seats and a long corridor with just a single row of seats which invariably gets filled up in no time. With no where else to go, transit passengers literally sleep all over the place on the floor!
  • Emirate Airlines (UAE’s state owned official airlines) does not issue a day long visa to get out of the airport (unlike for instance in Singapore). They instead insist on transit passengers purchasing a package that includes hotel and visa. Even if I could take care of myself in Dubai for a few hours and return for my connection flight, I had no option but to buy the package or stay put in the airport. (Apart from this, Emirates is an excellent airline — great service, international crew etc.)
  • The smoking areas at the airport are not rooms or complete enclosures. Instead they are small areas bang in the center of the walkways with no clear seclusion. So there is no shortage of second hand cigarette smoke.
  • There is free wifi available at the airport. The bad news is that this service is at best sporadic.
  • The free Internet terminals are cramped in a partial enclosure very similar to the smoking area! Its hard to get in and if you do its even harder to get out! Some of the terminal don’t work and the rest are pretty slow.
  • Emirate Airlines provides one free meal to passengers (at the Sahar restaurant) who have transit time of over four hours. The queue to grab a meal at this restaurant is akin to a line for food at a refugee camp. Its long and painful.
  • There are no courtesy phones for transit passengers to use. If they exist, they are well hidden because I could not find any.
Don’t know if the challenges facing Dubai airport are simply a case of bad planning and design or an inability to deal with unprecedented growth in traffic through Dubai. In any case, Dubai’s mess starts at the airport. As for the rest of the city it is one big parking lot with perennially clogged roads, sweltering heat, and endless construction sites in the midst of tall fancy buildings of various shapes, colors and sizes.

Note: If your destination is Dubai then the airport experience is pretty smooth. It is transit at Dubai that is very painful.