Saturday, November 06, 2004

A Late One

New Orleans

Some British guys went down the local off licence and came back with a huge jug of red wine for $7 so that was the early part of last night taken care of. An American listening to us talk said it was just like being sat around with the Beatles. I'm not entirely sure what she meant by that but I decided I'd make it clear I'd rather not be Ringo, just to be on the safe side.

We were already well drunk by the time we ventured out to Bourbon Street, which certainly helps. All the bars seemed to have cheesy covers bands in residence but we checked a couple out anyway. The time fairly raced on and before long it was 3am back at the hostel and we were setting up for some more poker. My losing streak sadly continued and the sun was coming through the trees by the time I got to bed.

Friday, November 05, 2004


New Orleans

I stayed around the hostel last night and ended up playing some poker. At only $3 in a few rounds of Texas seemed like a good way to spend the evening and for a while I was well up with a dizzying stack of Monopoly $500 notes in my corner. But the cans of cheap Red Dog beer I was slowly putting away ended up eroding my judgement just enough to force me into second place. But it was still good value entertainment for three hours.

I've also taken in two museums over the last couple of days. Yesterday I went to the Civil War museum in the very grand Memorial Hall. It was small but had plenty crammed in and managed to tell the story without too much misty-eyed guff about the Confederacy. The curator told me the impressive nearby statue of Robert Lee was made by an Aberdonian stonemason, more proof the Scots get bloody everywhere, almost as much as the Irish.

The National D-Day museum is also here in New Orleans, a piece of planning only matched for its strangeness by the siting of the Film and TV museum in Bradford. It's expensive to get in but there's lots to see, the many oral histories of the soldiers definitely the highlight. I spent so long in there they had to throw me out at closing time.

I've decided to stay here for an extra night, so I suppose I'd better go and make the most of it, starting off by tracking down what's left of my stash of Red Dog.

Thursday, November 04, 2004


New Orleans

There's a good crowd at the hostel I've found here and a bunch of us went out to the French Quarter last night to see some music. There's squally jazz blaring from every corner down there and we settled into a club on Frenchmen Street away from most of the madding crowd. On the way we stopped by one of the booze kiosks (unlike most American cities you can drink on the street here) and I ended up with one of those huge cups you get in fast food joints filled with a kind of slushie White Russian. It took ages to finish but the nice people in the bar let me drink it there as we enjoyed the jazz. The second band who came on obviously had quite a local following and suddenly the admittedly small place was full of people dancing away to the Afro-Cuban sounds. The drummer looked a bit like Danny Devito's dad but he kept everyone spellbound during a five minute solo. Great stuff.

Before bed a few of us hardy souls went to a nearby quiet bar for a few nightcaps. It had a fantastic jukebox and I ended up ploughing money into it. There was some Stevie Wonder, early Bruce Springsteen and even Whiskeytown's fantastic "Faithless Street" album. When people down here aren't eating, they're listening to music.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Some Final Thoughts

Baton Rouge

After finally getting to bed I woke up to find John Kerry had called George Bush to concede the election, now the speeches are all that's left. Quite right too, an avalanche of futile lawsuits in Ohio would have done nobody any good.

You might wonder why a President can win a state like Ohio when tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs have been lost there over the last four years, a budget surplus has been turned into a huge deficit and there's an ever-more unpopular war continuing in Iraq. And this is what people in the rest of the world will have most trouble understanding. Most people who backed Bush didn't vote on the basis of the economy and jobs, or even on security and Iraq. Most people voted for him because of his stance on the so-called moral issues, like gay marriage. Gods, gays and guns, if you will. For John Kerry, being a decorated Vietnam veteran, experienced politician and more skilled debater wasn't enough. Too many people in the South and Midwest just didn't trust him on those 'hot button' issues. Presuming Bush carries New Mexico, it's possible for Kerry to leave Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland and fly all the way to San Diego without crossing a single state he's won. And that's why he lost.

The media were far too cautious last night. None of them wanted to declare Bush the victor, even when it had long since become obvious he was going to win. The two networks who called Ohio in his favour last night both refused to put Nevada in his column too, because that would have won Bush the election. As this was going on, the three who didn't call Ohio were quite happy to give Nevada to Bush, as long as they weren't the first to give him the whole election. White House staffers were apparently not best pleased at this, as in the absence of a concession from Kerry they were waiting for the media to declare Bush the winner so the President could go and make his victory speech. The media were waiting for Bush to give a speech so they could declare him the winner. As a result it all fizzled out last night, but I suppose the result isn't any different in the end.

The main problem for the media to address now is the reliability of exit polling. The secret data yesterday all pointed to a Kerry victory in Ohio, Florida and overall, and yet he ended up several million votes behind Bush and losing in both those states. Whether exit polls can ever be a credible tool in future elections is now highly debatable.

What's not debatable is that the people have spoken and Bush is still the President. Four more years.

They Think It's All Over

Baton Rouge

For John Kerry the game is up. Over the last twelve hours or so he's gone from hot favourite to strong contender to a man facing defeat. A few moments ago his running mate John Edwards emerged onto the stage in Boston to say the campaign would make sure every vote is counted. That's just the problem, the votes are being counted and Bush has more of them than Kerry. Not a huge amount more, but the President looks like taking the popular vote by millions rather than thousands.

Two of the five major news networks here (Fox, who were first, and NBC) called the key state of Ohio for Bush a good couple of hours ago and have spent the time since waiting for another state to drop into the red column to win him the election. The networks on the whole have been far too circumspect as they try to avoid a Florida 2000-style error, looking at the numbers it's almost unbelievable CBS, ABC and CNN haven't called Ohio for Bush too. I know they're just covering their backs but in any other year they'd have made the decision by now. The stuff about provisional ballots and possible litigation is all whistling in the dark from the Kerry camp as far as I can see. Ohio is nothing like as close as Florida was and there's little anecdotal evidence of any problems in voting in that state.

It looks unlikely Kerry will concede tonight but if he insists on prolonging the race he's only going to end up looking a bit silly. Fair enough fight for every vote, but there is no chance of him becoming President now. It's best for everyone if things come to a full conclusion as soon as possible.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The Choice

Baton Rouge

The campaign's finally over and already people across the country are putting crosses in boxes, or even punching chads. It's taken a long old time to get to this point.

The prominence of certain issues in this campaign has completely baffled me. One in particular. As Jay Leno said last night, "At long last, we can say the Vietnam War is over!" Whether the issue of what Bush and Kerry did or didn't do in the 1960s has any impact on how people vote is impossible to tell, but I doubt it. Even the now-infamous Swift Boat Veterans smear campaign against Kerry was more of a firestorm in the media than something that will genuinely affect today. The same goes for almost all the policies the two men have been promoting, they've both been preaching to the converted. I don't think the last few months has changed many people's minds, the difference between the candidates' popularity has barely been outside the margin of polling error since March. Apart from a handful of people who have gone from backing Nader in 2000 to Kerry this time out of anti-Bush spite, I've not met a single undecided voter or voter who has switched from four years ago. But then there really isn't as much difference between Bush and Kerry as they'd like us to believe.

Turnout will be higher this time. I must have been asked 20 or 30 times in various places if I'm registered to vote. But despite that the whole country hasn't been swept with election fever. The system means only a handful of states are in a position to really affect the outcome, so the two sides concentrate all their advertising in those places. When I was in Colorado (a close Senate race there has given Kerry hope of winning too) in a lot of commercial breaks every single advert was political. Every single one. There were posters everywhere. Down here in Louisiana where Bush is likely to win handily almost all the TV spots are for local races and I've not seen a single ad for Kerry. The two men don't bother going to all the states either. For example Kerry hasn't campaigned in Texas, although given some of the signs I saw there ("Time to Reload - Bush 2004!") I don't really blame him.

So who's going to win? Probably Bush, but only just. He's been consistently 1 or 2 points ahead in the polls in recent days and that goes up slightly when only 'likely' voters are counted. But even if Bush takes most of the popular vote Kerry could still win. Some polls yesterday put him edging in front in Florida and possibly even Ohio. Victory in those two states along with the other major battleground of Pennsylvania would almost certainly put Kerry into the White House. Even after two long years of this, it's still too close to call.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Home Thoughts From Abroad

Baton Rouge

So Berti Vogts has finally resigned. It's a bit rich of him to blame the fans or the papers for his departure, the real reason he had to go was because the results haven't been nearly good enough. No matter how mediocre the players or how difficult the opponents, Scotland still ought to be at least competitive and too often in recent times we haven't been. Despite that I'm sorry to see him go. He was a man with impeccable credentials and the right ideas on how to structure the national setup. He just couldn't turn that into victories out on the park. Maybe he would have been better employed in a more hands-off technical director's role with a homegrown coach alongside, but that would never have been agreed to.

The field to replace him seems to consist of Walter Smith and Gordon Strachan, and either would be an excellent choice. But the SFA has a history of throwing curveballs and I wouldn't be surprised if a lesser known candidate such as Eric Black, who I suspect has been groomed to take the job throughout his coaching career, emerged to take the position. Either way, a resounding win over Sweden followed by three points in Italy and everything will look rosy again. Simple, eh?

Trick Or Treat

Baton Rouge

It was Halloween yesterday and that's a huge deal over here. For the kids it seems like it's second only to Christmas and Kathy invited a few over to the house for a little barbecue before the serious trick or treating began. You're only allowed to go round the houses from 6 until 8 but then here it's more for younger kids than back home I think. Abby went dressed as a witch and overcame her usual shyness to trot up to the houses and ring the doorbells. Shyness doesn't apply when there are sweeties involved and soon everyone had more than they could carry. All a far cry from pennies and monkey nuts, that nonsense just doesn't cut the mustard over here.

Kathy's sister Kristi showed me a great thing to make at barbecues. Take a couple of digestive-type biscuits, then make a sandwich with a thin piece of chocolate and a sticky toasted marshmallow. A bit like an ice cream slider really. They taste far too good, you could do yourself a serious nasty with them.