Sarah Palin: McCain’s Pick or Pickle?

The first time I saw a picture of Sarah Palin, I must admit I thought it was an ad for eyeglasses! (and I am not making this up). I read that she a was a former Alaska state beauty pageant queen (No offense to Sarah Palin, but here is an example of an American beauty, Miss Teen USA from South Carolina).

Selecting Sarah Palin as his running mate served as a tactical move to counter the media waves being generated by Senator Obama’s impressive acceptance speech last night which was watched by a record 40M people. You clearly have to do something out of the ordinary to counter that kind of media coverage. Senator McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin certainly achieved this purpose. The former beauty queen tipped the media coverage in her favor despite the historic nature and fanfare following the first ever African American candidate’s acceptance of a major parties’ nomination. A case of short term Mission Accomplished for the McCain campaign.

Sarah Palin’s name was hardly mentioned as a likely pick by any of the visible right wing pundits (though there has been an active campaign on the net). Names of Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, Bobby Jindal and others were being thrown around for the most part, though the same pundits are racing to fall in love with Ms. Palin now. Senator McCain has helped revive some of his fast-fading maverick image of yester-years with this pick.

Selecting Sarah Palin also appears to be a calculated move to reach out to the Hillary voters. However, it remains to be seen if any of the 18M Hillary voters actually end up voting for the McCain ticket just because of Sarah Palin. Most women Democrats are unlikely to find anything in common with Ms. Palin’s position on issues provided they are willing to look beyond the gender criteria. But again, you are talking of white working class, high school educated women from the mid-western swing states.

Senator McCain has plenty of negatives to deal with from his Veep pick. First and foremost, the whole issue of experience — his opponent Senator Obama’s weakest point — At 72, with age and good health not on his side, and Sarah Palin as his VP running mate, Senator McCain can’t credibly attack his opponent for lack of experience. In fact, one could argue that he has put himself first (and didn’t show good judgment) and not his “country first” by placing a relative newbie one-step away from the Presidency while crying himself hoarse that we are living in the most dangerous of times.

The basic GOP advantage of supposedly being stronger on defense has been completely squandered by this selection. In fact, even the most hardcore right wing conservatives are bound to cringe at the thought of Sarah Palin at the helm of affairs were something to happen to President McCain. (One of the geniuses on Fox was suggesting that Sarah Palin had foreign policy experience because Alaska was close to Russia!)

It remains to be seen how things play out over the next several weeks before the polls.

“She’s not bad looking. She looks like one of those women in the Van Halen videos who takes off her glasses, shakes out her hair, and then all of a sudden, she’s in high heels and a bikini. All of a sudden, I am FOR drilling in Alaska.” –Jimmy Kimmel

Sarah Palin could charm her way to the vice-presidency. Biden might end up appearing mean in the debate with Ms. Palin and could spark of a backlash. Obama could have more Saddleback moments in the upcoming debates. The left wingers could go overboard in their criticism of Palin and it might backfire on the Democrats. Any number of things could happen in a country where Dan Quayle became Vice-Presdent and George Bush got elected twice. Time will tell if McCain took a smart bet or landed himself in a pickle with his Veep pick.


Dhoni Leads From The Front

MS Dhoni deserves all the credit possible for India’s ODI series win against Sri Lanka. Winning in Sri Lanka is a tall order by itself. Besides, Indian batsmen had been completely foxed by the magic of Ajantha Mendis both at the Asia Cup and the recent Test series. India lost the first ODI even without a fight. But Dhoni inspired an impressive turn around thereafter winning three ODIs in at a stretch.

Dhoni displayed the ability to adapt his otherwise aggressive batting style to the requirements of the team. He overcame the Mendis threat and inspired overall good performances from his team mates. He has highlighted the need to focus on youth and delivered on that promise. Virat Kohli and S. Badrinath, two of his new additions played crucial innings when it most mattered. While Yuvraj, Gambhir, Rohit Sharma struggled, Dhoni was able to step up and haul India out of trouble along with Suresh Raina. He made the right bets on the bowling combination and adapted to the four bowler strategy at the right time.

For the first time we have an Indian cricketer who is getting as much if not more credit for the victories of the team rather than jusr his individual performances. For someone who has never really had any captaincy experience in the past Dhoni’s ascent as captain is truly a revelation. Hopefully, the selectors will give Dhoni more freedom in team selection. After all he has already proven so far that he has the uncanny ability to make the right decisions at the right time.

p.s: It is not a surprise that the Dhoni brand is ahead of even the Sachin brand the days!

Dems in Dilemma: To Attack or Not to Attack?

With the Democratic party convention underway in Denver, the pundits are out in full swing. Many on the Democratic team believe that its time to attack,  — Kerry didn’t attack enough, Democrats need to respond with attacks etc. Several of these “attack dogs” seemed to be pretty disappointed with day 1 of the convention and are dreading that the remaining days will remain attack free.

There is a very interesting piece in the NY Times which addresses this dilemma and recommends a strategy.

At the core, Obama’s best message has always been this: He is unconnected with the tired old fights that constrict our politics. He is in tune with a new era. He has very little experience but a lot of potential. He does not have big achievements, but he is authentically the sort of person who emerges in a multicultural, globalized age. He is therefore naturally in step with the problems that will confront us in the years to come.

Its a very nicely written article. When you read this article you get the feeling that the author David Brooks (despite being a conservative) actually likes Obama and wouldn’t mind seeing him getting elected!

Given that the Democrats have been repeatedly beaten by the Republicans in the game of attack, it can be very tempting for the Democrats to go on the offensive. But David Brooks does raise some interesting points when he argues that differentiating is more important than simply attacking.

The Veep Picks: Needless Hype

The selection of Senator Joe Biden appears to be a pragmatic move, one that is likely to bolster Senator Obama’s chances of a victory. Experience, ability to reach out to the white working class (Hillary voters) and foreign policy expertise — seem to have been the key reasons for selecting Biden. The conventional wisdom is that even if the VP does not hugely help the ticket, he or she shouldn’t hurt the ticket. At the moment Biden is unlikely to hurt the ticket provided he can avoid any major gaffes over the next several weeks. On the other hand, it does appear as though he can help the ticket particularly on Obama’s perceived weaknesses. Obama’s choice of Biden is akin to Kennedy’s choice of Lyndon Johnson – the seasoned hand behind a young, charismatic chief.

The choice of the VP candidate gives voters an insight into how the aspiring Presidential candidate thinks, and  hence how he is likely to govern. Barring this, the selection of the vice-president, despite all the hype, is relatively a formality. The top of the ticket is what really counts the most.

By selecting Biden, Obama has shown once again that he is capable of adapting his positions to do what it takes to win, an essential ingredient for governing in partisan-ridden Washington. The selection also signifies a transition for the Obama campaign from doing what it took to win the primaries (taking on the Clinton machinery) to doing what it takes to win the general election (appearing centrist and taking on the Republicans). Despite all the accusations of Obama’s lack of experience, he has proven once again, that he can be a very astute politician, another attribute that will come in handy when trying to get things done if he were to come to power.  Ironically (given that he beat the Bill Clinton at his own game), it appears as though Senator Obama has modeled himself on Bill Clinton (themes of Change, Hope, Washington is broken etc.) and it is highly possible that he would govern like Clinton himself (if he comes to power).

The choice of Biden appears to have complicated John McCain’s task of selecting a VP. Since the Obama-Biden announcement, Republicans have done everything from labeling the Democratic ticket as the Liberal Dream team, referring to Biden as Obama’s Cheney (ouch!), to suggesting a McCain Lieberman ticket, to kissing up to Hillary voters, to saying that the choice is an admission of Obama’s weakness — his lack of experience.

With Karl Rove’s proteges in charge of his campaign, McCain’s choice is also likely to be a very calculated one – one that appeases the party’s base, addresses his self-proclaimed weakness on economic matters, and ensures a decent match-up against Biden in the debates. It would be way too risky for McCain to select an inexperienced politician to match up against Biden in the debates. Going by these criteria, Mitt Romney appears to be the most likely choice (if you recall the primaries, all his positions were completely flexible).

(How many houses does a McCain-Romney ticket own? 🙂

p.s: The grand plan to text message supporters of the choice before the media picked up on the announcement turned out to be a flop. In this Twitter age, it is not in the least bit surprising that the news leaked. For an otherwise tightly run campaign, this was a setback of sorts, though the attempted stunt does have some benefits for the campaign.

Team India’s surprise victory in the third ODI

India won their second ODI in a row against Sri Lanka, this time far more convincingly than the first victory. Positive signs for India from this match: Dhoni’s form, Raina’s return to form, Rohit Sharma’s useful contribution with the bat, and India’s early breaks thanks to the fast bowlers, particularly Zaheer Khan. The issues for concern: Yuvraj Singh’s continuing poor form, and lack of a strike bowler/wicket taking bowler.

As for Sri Lanka the two main areas of concern: the repeated failure of the top order and the fact that many in the Indian batting ranks are getting more comfortable playing Mendis. With just rtwo more matches to go, Sri Lanka will be under extra pressure in the upcoming match to keep the series alive. Dhoni and his boys should be eager to wrap this up despite appearing to be the weaker team at the start of the series.

Dhoni deserves credit for choosing to persist with Rohit Sharma. Pathan’s bowling fom has been suspect and in the current circumstance, he is unlikely to suffice as the strike bowler that India badly needs. So its likely that India will persist with the four bowler combination for the rest of this series. Yusuf Pathan with his off-spinners and big-hitting capabilities might have been a useful alternative.

The best part about this ODI series continues to be the nature of the pitches. Bowlers have a very good chance of performing well on these wickets. So batting is a lot harder and hence all matches so far have been low scoring games. Cricket playing countries around the world will do well to prepare such bowler friendly wickets for ODIs and T20s.

Wow! India Actually Won The Second ODI Against SL

Dhoni and his boys managed to scrape through and win the second ODI! It was hardly a convincing victory, but a victory nevertheless. Zaheer Khan’s return to form was timely.

India decided to recognize Badrinath for his consistent domestic performance by giving him a chance to play in the second ODI and he didn’ disappoint. He produced two lovely catches and played a crucial knock. Most importantly he showed that he could take on Murali and Mendis.

The composition of the Indian team raises many questions. It remains a mystery as to why players like Badrinath have to wait so long while others like Virat Kohli are fast tracked to the team. Kohli might be a great talent but it makes no sense to play him as an opener when he is not one. Since he is a middle order batsman, players like Badrinath should get the nod ahead of him. Besides, why has Uthappa not been brought in as a replacement for Sehwag? Why was Yusuf Pathan dumped after one tour? Isn’t India still in search of a reliable all-rounder?

Given that Mendis is still a mystery for many in the team, it might make sense to factor form and ability to play him as criteria for going higher up the order. Yuvraj Singh seems to have serious difficulty facing the spinners. Yet on his day Yuvraj could be a winner. So it might make sense to open with Yuvraj (since there are no regular openers) or send him at number 3 so he can get his eye in well before the spinners step in. Raina and more so Rohit Sharma appear to be in poor form. On the other hand Dhoni and Badrinath seem to be better off in confidence at the moment. Re-working the Indian batting order might be the way to solve India’s batting woes. Its good to see India persisting with five bowlers in the eleven.

The best part about this series so far has been the pitches. Both pitches so far have assisted the bowlers. This ensured that runs were hard to come by, and made these games that much more exciting. Hopefully the remaining ODIs will follow the same pattern. Sri Lanka clearly holds the upper hand at the moment. Do Dhoni and his boys have what it takes to turn this around?

India’s Olympic Medal Tally is soon going to be 3!

India has three medals so far at the Beijing Olympics This is an all time record for India.

First it was Abhniav Bindra. The two new additions to the list are Sushil Kumar (bronze medal) and boxer Vijender Kumar (at least a bronze medal).

The medal count might be small, but it is a huge step for India. The Indian media should soon be going “gaga” over a resurgent India!

Book Review: The Last Lecture

Title: The Last Lecture

Author: Prof. Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow

If you have never heard of Prof. Randy Pausch a good place to start is here. He died of pancreatic cancer on July 25, 2008 after battling the disease for over a year and a half.

This book is based mostly on his lecture at CMU (where he was a Prof.) and was written along with Jeffrey Zaslow of the WSJ. The book follows the lecture for the most part except for some additional details. However, despite their similarities, their impact is very different. The talk is engaging and gives you a good feel for Prof. Randy Pausch himself – his love for his teaching, his passion and commitment despite his deteriorating health, his excellent public speaking skills, his energy and overall positive attitude among other things. The book on the other hand gives you the opportunity to empathize with the author, soak in the emotions and reflect on life in general. Here is a small excerpt from the latter part of the book where the author puts things in perspective.

There are so many things Jai and I are discussing as we come to terms with what life will be after I’m gone. “Lucky” is a strange word to use to describe my situation, but a part of me does feel fortunate that I didn’t get hit by the proverbial bus. Cancer has given me the time to have these vital conversations with Jai that wouldn’t be possible if my fate were a heart attack or a car accident.

The fact that the book is written by a person (has a family with three small kids) who is terminally ill makes the book that much more poignant and moving. In other words, it is the painful real life context of the book that makes it an interesting read. Those who have been faced with a personal tragedy or trauma of any sort will find this book particularly engaging.

McCain and Obama At The Saddleback Forum

I happened to watch live the back to back one on one sessions of the two Presidential candidates with Rev Rick Warren at the Saddleback Church, CA. Senator Obama took questions for an hour followed by Senator McCain. The format was interesting in a number of ways. Firstly, the questions were quite different from those asked by conventional TV channels. There were hardly any follow on questions (which has its positives and negatives). On the flip side, the person who goes second has a huge advantage (as was suspiciously evident in Senator McCain’s urgency to respond to questions, though one can probably give him the benefit of the doubt). Besides, the setting was an evangelical Church and understandably the crowd was mostly pro-McCain (as confirmed by the frequency of the applause for him when compared to those for Obama).

This event clearly showed the contrast between the two candidates. Senator Obama’s responses were thoughtful, nuanced and often long-winded. McCain on the other hand was mostly “cut and dry” in his responses. Overall the night belonged to Senator McCain. He seemed better prepared (perhaps because he went in second). He faced and spoke directly to the audience and intermittently addressed Rev. Warren. He came across as self-assured and confident. His short and crisp answers interspersed with anecdotes really helped him connect with the casual viewer.

Senator Obama on the other hand almost never looked at the audience. Unfortunately, he rarely looked at Rev Warren either except when listening to the question! The format didn’t quite suit his style. He simply didn’t look in control or portray the authority and self-confidence expected of a Presidential candidate. In this day and age where elections are mostly won on TV and public opinion is shaped largely by TV pundits and bloggers, Obama put up a relatively weaker show. Even on the humor front, Senator Obama was outshone by his opponent.

Some of Senator Obama’s responses, like for instance, his response to the question of Evil were intelligent and thoughtful in comparison to Senator McCain (who was all George Bush on this one). On the other hand, Senator Obama was needlessly long winded (and seemingly evasive) on topics such as abortion. If Senator McCain can perform similarly in the upcoming debates, he could be a tougher opponent than the Obama team ever imagined.

Check out Rev Warren’s post-event interview

SL India ODI Series: Dhoni Has His Task Cut Out

Sri Lanka first destroyed India’s ODI team at the Asia cup final. They then won the Test series against India rather convincingly. The common factor behind these victories was the new cricketing sensation, Ajantha Mendis. He baffled Dhnoi’s boys in the crucial Asia cup final. Then, he also destroyed India’s fabulous four (Dravid, Sachin, Ganguly and VVS). And now the young turks return. This is easily Dhoni’s biggest ODI challenge since he took on the mighty Aussies after insisting on dumping the veterans from the ODI team.

If Dhoni can win this series against SL, cries for phasing out the Fab four from the Test team are going to increase and understandably so. Dhoni has a lot going for him and his team. Firstly, he himself has had some much needed rest by choosing to skip the Test series. His key batsman, Yuvraj Singh is hungry for runs and understandably deeply motivated to re-establish himself after being dropped from the Test team. Gambhir and Sehwag are in top form and Badrinath, Raina and Rohit Sharma make up a solid middle order to follow Yuvraj. The key to India’s success will revolve around the batsmen’s ability to pick Ajantha Mendis. If he continues to torment the Indian batsmen, India has little hope of winning because clearly India’ bowling is a lot weaker than its batting.

For now Sri Lanka clearly holds the upper hand both on paper and psychologically. Despite starting as the underdogs can Dhoni and his boys turn this around? This should be a very interesting ODI series.