Vantage point

Friday, September 26, 2008

Two Beauty Queens

Runner up in the 1984 Miss Alaska contest, Sarah Palin, when asked how being Governor of Alaska enhances her foreign policy credentials, says -

It's very important when you consider even national-security issues with Russia. As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border. It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right next to, they are right next to our state.

Winner of Miss Teen South Carolina 2007, Caitlin Upton, responding to why she thinks 20% Americans can't locate America on a map says -

I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some, people out there in our nation don't have maps and, uh, I believe that our, uh, education like such as, uh, South Africa and, uh, the Iraq, everywhere like such as, and, I believe that they should, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., uh, or, uh, should help South Africa and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries, so we will be able to build up our future, for our children.

There is a good chance that Upton might be on the Republican ticket in 2032.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Jeff Dunham is REALLY Popular!!

Last night, Jeff Dunham performed his Spark of Insanity show at Penn State. We went there expecting a medium sized crowd. After all, how popular could he be? I thought his appeal would be of a strictly cult/niche nature. Imagine my surprise when he performed in front of an almost packed house... easily 10-12,000 people. Quite an achievement in a town with a population of just 40,000. To put it in perspective, the two previous shows I attended at the same venue, concerts by Bob Dylan and Korn, did not have more than 5,000 people in attendance. The audience for the Dunham show however was not just massive, it was also diverse and varied, with college students, middle aged folks and seniors represented in equal numbers.

For those of you who have no idea who he is, Jeff Dunham is a comedian-ventriloquist. He has a handful of dolls which he uses. The oldest, both literally and in terms of how long he has been doing it, is Walter, a bitter geriatric. But what arguably catapulted Dunham to such broad mainstream success is Achmed, the dead terrorist, whose youtube videos have about 75 million views so far (and growing). Dunham is stingingly funny, very un-PC, and quick on his feet with lots of ad-libs.

The opening act was Brian Haner, the "Guitar Guy", who has the potential to have shows of his own. He started off with a hilarious ditty "Oh Sarah", about, who else, Sarah Palin. Some helpful soul has already uploaded it on youtube. Then a long bit, interspersed with excerpts from classic songs, about his whole life so far. Most of what he performed can be seen here -

Then Dunham came on stage. He first brought out Walter. Walter was at his acerbic best, insulting Jeff, and the audience, with his signature line "shut the hell up" peppered in. After about half an hour of Walter, it was the turn of the "star" of the show, Achmed. when he introduced Achmed, the audience cheered like crazy. And Dunham noted how weird it must feel to those members of the audience who had never seen him before - that a terrorist is being cheered!

The Achmed bit was not as funny as the ones I have seen on youtube. But at least it was new material. Oh, I should mention, almost everything Dunham performed was new material, which was a bit of a relief. I had expected that we'd go to the show and basically sit through everything we have already seen on youtube many times. But that wasn't the case. So anyway, Achmed sang "Jingle Bombs" with help from the Guitar Guy, made several jokes about blowing people up, and that was that.

Found the Jingle Bombs song on youtube too -

Next it was the turn of Peanut, the most neurotic character, and Jose Jalapeno (search 'em on youtube yourself). After that came the freakiest part, and even Dunham was flummoxed by it. He ended the show with Bubba J, a drunken redneck character, that he said he was performing after a long time. So he kept a cheat-sheet ready in case he forgot some of the jokes. Turns out Bubba J is so popular at Penn State, that half the audience knew the act word-for-word. The act started with a few people saying out the punchlines, and by the end, at least 5,000 people were yelling out the lines in sync with Jeff Dunham. In the end, it was like the whole audience performing the act. Dunham might as well have stopped voicing Bubba J and just let the audience do it for him.

Whatever Dunham performed last night is going to be on his next Comedy Central christmas special, which airs in November. Do check it out.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Some Support for the Tie Prediction

A couple of weeks back, I predicted a tie in the US Presidential elections. I even posted the likely electoral map. Now, it turns out that the website, which runs simulations based on polling results finds that -

As you may have noticed from our scenario chart, the probability of a tie has increased dramatically in recent days and now stands at 3.2 percent. This is partly because, as we draw closer to election day with the race remaining tight, the probability of any one candidate running away with the election diminishes -- meaning that all "close" electoral permutations, including ties, become more likely.

However, there is one specific scenario that is driving this outcome. That is the scenario wherein Barack Obama wins the Kerry states plus Iowa, New Mexico and Colorado, but loses New Hampshire. Of the 320 times that our simulation ended in a tie, this particular scenario was responsible 294 times. Indeed, we presently have Obama winning precisely the Kerry states plus Iowa, New Mexico and Colorado, so all that would be needed to make a tie occur is to flip New Hampshire back to McCain, and entirely reasonable possibility.

So the scenario I talked about last week, is the most likely tie scenario. It would be so awesome if it happened.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Has to be Fox News

Was on the john this morning. Could hear the TV. The wife was flipping through channels between the morning news shows. And I hear Tony Blair's voice. The guy has been hitting the news circuit since yesterday to talk about some course he is teaching on faith and globalization(!). he talks a bit about the course and other things. Then I hear,

Anchor: Before you go, one last question. I am sure you have been following the rise of Governor Palin. A lot of people have been comparing Sarah Palin to Margaret Thatcher recently. Do you agree with the comparison?
Blair: Well, I don't really want to comment about America's domestic politics.

I came out and said to the wife "That had to be Fox News". And sure enough it was. Only people on Fox News and/or people under the influence of unusually strong hallucinogens would even think of mentioning Palin and Thatcher in the same sentence. You could almost sense Blair's desire to laugh out loud, but he made a good save with the diplomatic answer.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A Highly Politically Incorrect Post

First Bear Sterns collapsed. And now Lehman has filed for bankruptcy and Merrill Lynch has sold itself. Most of the world is looking at these events as the collapse of reliable and crucial investment banks. But there is a small subset of people (of which I am one), who are thinking of these events in a different way. These people are the MBAs in non-investment-banking and even non-financial-sector jobs, who are saying "Ah.... those Day Zero bastards are getting what they deserve". I am not proud to entertain such thoughts. But I can't help thinking them.

You see, in MBA courses all over the world, those seriously vying for, and landing I-banking jobs, are like the cocky quarterbacks in the typical high school movie. They are the "cool studs", the ones who are universally considered "gods", and are profiles by newspapers, especially in India, as the ones with a six-figure-foreign placement. As if to rub it in the faces of other "commoner" MBAs, Indian newspapers love to convert the dollar/pound salaries into rupees and report them as "crore-plus" packages. The rest of us meanwhile, get jobs in sales, marketing, IT, operations, HR, etc etc.... which still pay pretty well, give us a cushy lifestyle, and more or less shettles us in life. But that resentment exists.

Now of course, this resentment towards the I-banking-types has two possible sources, not mutually exclusive - one, that they actually are dickheads who are arrogant, snooty, and look down upon others, and so deserve to be kicked when they are down; and two, that they are actually just smart folks and hard-working, who got the right breaks they deserve, so envying them is the work of petty and churlish minds.

Whatever the case might be, and whatever the validity of the resentment, one thing is for sure. 95% of the MBAs in the world, even as they are publicly shaking their heads at the downfall of these investment banks and bemoaning the resulting stock market meltdown, are chuckling privately and thinking to themselves - "Hahhh.... that asshole who was preening around for landing a job in Lehman must be clearing out his desk and updating his resume right now. There IS a god!".

And yes, I am one of them. And again, I am not proud of feeling what I feel. But it is a cheap thrill I thought I would never experience.

I Heart Tina

I won a bet Saturday night. I had bet that even with all the impending writing, acting, producing etc. work for the new season of 30Rock, it was a cinch that Tina Fey would return to SNL to portray Sarah Palin. Tina, the SNL alumnus who tasted greater success with 30Rock, a sitcom clearly based on her experiences as a writer on SNL, looks too much like Sarah Palin for anyone else to even be considered for the role. In fact, Sarah Palin apparently went for a Halloween party last year as Tina Fey. No one else on the current SNL roster comes even close. And sure enough, Tina was back -

Friday, September 12, 2008

Mind It!!

The movie all of us have been breathlessly waiting for is almost here. A thriller starring a cowboy so upright and dashing, that he makes Blondie, Monco and Bill Munny look like Frankie Dunn.

Link ricocheted from Rahul Bhatia

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Thoughtless Thought of the Day

Considering that the country being referred to in "Aye mere pyaare vatan, aye mere bichhadey chaman" is Afghanistan, I propose that the lyrics originally written in the 60s be altered, in light of the events of the past few decades, to - "Aye mere pyaare vatan, aye mere ujadey chaman"

P.S. If you are wondering, yes, this thought occurred to me while watching Bigg Boss.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Another Prediction

A reader wrote in an reminded me of something even I had forgotten. He pointed out that what I wrote in this post two years ago, starting with "One can't help but wonder which infinite-optimism-inducing drug is responsible for the almost-finalised decision of Tata Motors to set up a car plant in West Bengal" has been vindicated with the Tatas' decision to pull out of Singur. Of course, in that post, I talked about union troubles, and finally it was land acquisition issues that caused the Tata exit. Nevertheless I will gloat happily.

So I can't resist making another prediction. Yesterday, one of experts on one of the news channels said that the real battleground states in the US Presidential election are Colorado, New Hampshire, Ohio and Virginia. According to him, all the traditional red and blue states will stay red or blue. Among the other swing states, the current polls show a clear trend one way or the other which will be difficult to overturn, so he assumed their results (for example, Obama wins Pennsylvania, McCain wins Florida, etc.) It all comes down to the 4 states which are too close to call as of today.

Let's say he is right. And let's say, Obama wins Colorado, and McCain wins NH, Ohio and Virginia. In that case, both candidates will be tied at 269 electoral college votes. I have always wondered why the electoral college has an even number of votes, making a tie mathematically possible. This time it is a distinct possibility. So I am going to stick my neck out and say there could be a tie.

What happens next? Well, according to the constitution, in such a scenario, the decision goes to the Congress. The Congress currently is, and will most like be, even after the elections, Democrat-dominated. So Obama could become President on their vote.

What will make it even more interesting is, if despite the tie, McCain wins the popular vote. For the last 8 years, Dems have been whining about how Bush was awarded the Presidency in 2000 in spite of a whole host of other problems, one of which is that Gore won the popular vote. In a tie scenario, the Democrats could end up doing the same thing - giving the Presidency to a guy who lost the popular vote. And much acrimony will ensue.

So that's my prediction. Tie in electoral college. McCain wins popular vote. Congress makes Obama President. And there are all sorts of fights in the media and in the Supreme Court.

This is how the tie scenario map would look

Friday, September 05, 2008

Finicky American Ants

A week back or so, I realized that there were ants in our kitchen. A steady row of red ants stretched from the wall behind the stove to the crumbs of bread lying around on the kitchen counter. I cleaned up the counter, and the ants retreated to their lair. This is the first time that I have seen ants in the house since I came to the US. I moved into this apartment only in December so this is my first summer in it. I tried to recall if I remember ever reading that ants hibernate in the winter. All the ant-grasshopper stories suggest so, since in them ants dutifully collect food for the winter. So I wondered if I should tell the apartment supervisor about the ants and ask for an exterminator. Haven't done that yet. Procrastinating. But I might soon.

Anyway, the point of the story is the curious pattern I have observed in the ants' behavior. If there are crumbs or remains of "neutral" food lying around.... like bread, sugar, fried eggs, etc., the ants come out and get to work. But whenever we cook Indian food at home, and there are remnants of curry, dal, subji, or anything like that, the ants stay away. Just last night, we cooked some achari gosht and were too lazy to clean up later. The kitchen counter and the stove is covered with a lot of the same. And yet, not a single ant!

Turns out even the American ants find Indian food too spicy for their tastes.