Web Analytics Trust People (once an Englishman in Philly): 10/01/2004 - 11/01/2004

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Just what I said yesterday...

The New York Times runs with a headline story today about Republican plans to challenge voters in key battleground states. Exactly what I reported the argument was about yesterday between Democrats and Republicans. I'm going to be busy on election today racing to check the legality of this in Philly.

"Election officials in other swing states, from Arizona to Wisconsin and Florida, say they are bracing for similar efforts by Republicans to challenge new voters at polling places, reflecting months of disputes over voting procedures and the anticipation of an election as close as the one in 2000.
Ohio election officials said they had never seen so large a drive to prepare for Election Day challenges. They said they were scrambling yesterday to be ready for disruptions in the voting process as well as alarm and complaints among voters. Some officials said they worried that the challenges could discourage or even frighten others waiting to vote. "

Friday, October 22, 2004

Presidential court case 2004

Today I went as an independent observer to inspect and trial the voting machines for Pennsylvania. I've included my photos below.

It really was quite an experience. I had a technician who showed me around the machines and the installation with a representative from Kerry-Edwards and a senior campaign lawyer of Bush-Cheney. We inspected a random selection of machines and checked that the (initially fairly complicated) system of voting worked. I must admit to being fairly impressed with the system, having arrived very sceptical about its advantages over the simple British paper and pencil! I think I am now 'persuadable' about the advantage of being able to collate results instantaneously from machines rather than implacably opposed.

Most interesting, however, was interacting with the two campaigns: the Bush team, harsh young men in suits and dark, smart overcoats and the Kerry team, an assortment of pleasant looking but scruffy middle-aged folks who seemed decidedly amateur. At the end of the exercise I was part of a very aggressive 'discussion' (for want of a more appropriate word!) between the two camps about provisional voting papers and the justifications for tactics designed to result in a higher proportion of their voters getting to the ballot box. At the same time, there were representatives of both campaigns being interviewed in the background by television news.

The only part problem we identified, apart from a malfunction with one of the machines, was the status of Ralph Nader. He was taken off the ballot in Pennsylvania last week, at a point when it was too late to reprint the ballot papers (which appear positioned over the buttons which you have to press on the machine for it to register your vote). As a result a white 'address label' had been placed over Nader's name on each machine. Unfortunately you could still make out his name through the label and if you looked at where you were meant to press to vote for him and pressed there the machine would still register it as a Nader vote but it would be ignored as null and void. It was clear what the situation was, but still seemed decidedly amateur.

Well, ten minutes before we left we found out that the Democrats had won a court hearing to have a second label placed over the name. This has caused great problems though because the machines were due to be security-sealed and taken out for the first deliveries to polling stations at 1pm today. The workers said it would take three days to place labels on all the machines and get them ready for the ten day period of distribution. The word on the ground was that it was an attempt by the Democrats to spoil the election procedure by delaying it so that, fearful of losing Pennsylvania as the second largest key state in the electoral college, if things didn't go their way they had an avenue to challenge the result given its likely close result.

As armies of lawyers are deployed all over the country I can't help but feel this is the case with both sides. They know that winning two of the big three states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania will guarantee the Presidency and they know that all three are on a knife-edge. As a result they are positioning themselves now so that if they don't edge the popular vote there theyhave grounds for a second shot in the courts. If the polls are correct with regards to how close this race is, then, from what I've seen, I'm sure the most litigated election in US history will be decided in the courts again.

How exciting to be on one of their legal teams... let us hope that democracy prevails.

EDIT: A diligent reader has quite correctly pointed out Pennsylvania isn't the second largest state in the electoral college. It is the second largest of the swing states. Sorry for such a glaring inaccuracy!!

WORLD EXCLUSIVE: Presidential Election 2004 Ballot Paper Posted by Hello

Pressing the button. Posted by Hello

Inspecting the hordes of machines. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Another notch against Kerry in Bush's favour...

...this time it's Bush's fault for the flu vaccine problems.

And on a serious note...

Take heart from this stirring tale.

Gaius Petronius Arbiter in 210 BC summing all that is wrong about New Labour

"We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams, we would be reorganised."I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganising; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralisation."

I may just have been swung behind Bush....

Just when you thought all was lost and I was going to stay on the fence I may just have inadvertently slipped off. I hate myself for it and, given the immense cock-up in Iraq, feel slightly sordid for saying this, but I might just be swinging behind Bush. The reason?

One article by Mark Steyn in today's British paper the Daily Telegraph. As well as almost entirely removing any doubt over who wrote the controversial article about Liverpool and Ken Bigley in the Spectator last week, he writes a bullish article, much of which, to my surprise, I exceptionally agree with. The killer paragraph for me, however, was this:

"The Islamists have made a bet – that the West, in its twilight days, is too soft and decadent to muster the strength for this long struggle. Would you say the Britain on display to the world in the weeks before Mr Bigley's murder would have disabused them of that analysis or confirmed it?"

I am worried that a victory for Kerry will be one more nail in the coffin of Western world dominance and the prevalence of Western values. This article makes it seem even more poignant.

Yes, I know that Iraq hasn't helped. I know that the gun-toting neo-Christian zealots of the bible-belt are scary (although they at least will use the 'democratic' process), I know that this will mean returning a big state deficit-pumping President who struggles to string together coherent points in public, I know that Kyoto won't be approved (even though Kerry may not do that anyway...). I also know that the West has to appear strong and resolute and that we must not fight our internal fights in a way which shows we have lost our nerve.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Kerry's few words which may be debatable.

As I posted on here straight after the Vice-Presidential debate, I thought John Edwards snipe about Dick Cheney's daughter was unnecessay and unbecoming - but I thought Cheney's response was genious. Well, in the final Presidential debate Kerry raised it again in what I thought was a genuinely cynical and unnecessary way. It even elicited an exclamation of "oooh": not something this hardened political cynic is want to do often! As such it is no surprise the furore that it is engendering here and here and indeed all over the country.

To a certain extent they're right, that it's the best hand the Bush team have got after allowing Kerry back into the race over the debates but it is also right that Kerry shouldn't have said it.

Comments such as these make me feel very reticent indeed about supporting Kerry, even though, as is well documented here, I have great and grave problems with Bush's presidency:

-The pro-Kerry columnist Margaret Carlson put her finger on it, finding that Kerry and Edwards "realize that discussing Mary Cheney is a no-lose proposition: It highlights the hypocrisy of the Bush-Cheney position to Democrats while simultaneously alerting evangelicals to the fact that the Cheneys have an actual gay person in their household whom they apparently aren't trying to convert or cure." (Italics mine.)

-After the outspoken Lynne Cheney blasted this unsought intrusion of her daughter's private life as "a cheap and tawdry trick," the Kerry campaign hustled forward John Edwards's wife to charge that such motherly outrage "indicates a certain degree of shame with respect to her daughter's sexual preferences." That's a low blow in my book.

I have great issues deciding which side to come down on in this race. I was opposed to the War in Iraq but struggle to rationalise my dislike of 'neo-conservative' thinking. I am a fiscal conservative who believes in a balanced budget and a small state which neither candidate is offering. I believe in healthcare for all: something neither candidate is realistically offering. I believe the greatest challenge domestically facing my generation is the pensions system, something Bush is offering reform over, but I feel very uneasy around the religious zealots with whom Bush strongly associates. I agree with a lot of Kerry criticisms but when he suggests his 'plan' or alternatives I wince at the substance and the rhetoric. I find it hard to associate with many of the Michael Moore-like lefties who worship at the Kerry altar, and don't wish to see them in the ascendance, but I worry about the effect of a Bush Supreme Court on basic liberties and protection from the state. I naturally prefer an underdog fighting passionately with his back to the wall, but Bush has backed himself against the wall and fails to inspire himself.

I am normally very quick to castigate and criticise those who say "a pox on both their houses", but in this question I have a luxury I don't normally have. It's not a choice, thankfully, that I have to make. I don't have to choose between a President who has undertaken a war I wouldn't have done and run up massive deficits with a tax-and-spender who doesn't inspire supported by those who scare me. And I thank the Lord for that every day. Unless Kerry can find it in him to do the right thing and apologise for any offence he may have caused, then it may well be a case of "a pox on both their houses". Unless one of them does something to make me positively abhore them, then I may be climbing up the fence and taking in the view from the top for the first time in my life!

Watch this space...

Loony LibDems

I couldn't help but be amused by this. Who'd have thought it? A LibDem used to be a loony!

Missing the point

The problem is not the exam format so much as the quality of the papers. Unfortunately, the Tomlinson report focuses on this to enable the UK Government to push through the diploma system it has advocated to lesser or greater degrees since it was elected, thereby blurring the lines between different subjects, academic and otherwise, to an even greater extent. A-Levels did and can still work. You have to want to use them the right way though.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

How many Philadelphia government employees did it take to change a lightbulb at Philadelphia International Airport at the time the city went bankrupt in the 90s? FIVE!

Only electricians were allowed to touch lightbulbs to unscrew them, but they couldn't touch screwdrivers to get the fittings loose. Only carpenters could touch screwdrivers, so you needed both an electrician and a carpenter to begin with. A labourer had to carry a ladder so that the carpenter and electrician could climb up to the light fitting, which makes three, but labourers were at a higher pay level than a sweeper, so a fourth was needed to sweep up dirt falling from the fitting. Then, union rules stated that any work event involving four or more workers needed a supervisor! As a result they had teams of five travelling all over the airport to change a lightbulb.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Sleep sex?

Is it April 1?!

Thursday, October 14, 2004

So Prince Harry's teacher did his coursework for him at Eton, back in the UK. All a very important hoo-ha I'm sure. My only thoughts were "what on earth is she doing teaching at Eton if she can only get a B in Art A-Level herself for Harry?!" Surely the Prince should expect better?

Tonight is the big one in the Bush-Kerry battle. It is the last chance for them to get a big swing either way (unless Bush either finds Osama Bin Laden or announces there's an increased terrorist threat.

I shall come back with my comments after it's finished. 40 minutes to go....

Apologies for the sporadic blogging. I will get back into it shortly!

Mandelson back in the front-line

Tony's mate is helping with the New Labour spin brigade again by trying to help him get closure on misleading the British public in Iraq.

Thursday, October 07, 2004


I have never seen Cheney speak before but I was very impressed. For me he really hit the hammer blows when he had to against Edwards and at times was a consummate political operator. I was genuinely almost persuaded by the Bush ticket by his performance last night. On gay marriage when Edwards made (what I think was really trying to harm Cheney in deepest America) a bit of a dig about his daughter and he replied just with "I'd like to thank the senator for his kind words about my family" I thought it was classic politics. Very clever. A Cheney win after they moved off foreign policy where it was more a sparring along the lines of the Presidential debate, in which I thought no-one stood out. Not as much of a blinder as Howard's on Tuesday though!

I have kept promising a long blog on this...I am halfway through drafting it now. It'll come before November 2!

Today I went out into one of the worst, exclusively African-American high schools in West Philly to help with tutoring for the first time. I found it enjoyable, interesting, frustrating and thoroughly depressing in equal measure. I shall no doubt be talking a lot about this in coming months.

Spot the difference

Mr Straw, speaking in Baghdad, said "the threat from Saddam Hussein in terms of his intentions" was "even starker than we have seen before".

Iraq had no stockpiles of biological, chemical or nuclear weapons before last year's US-led invasion, the chief US weapons inspector has concluded.

Missing the point?!

The road is long, but we've found it.

I am now much more pragmatic about and resolved to the fact the Tories won't return overnight. We saw a poll in the Times putting the Party on 28%, with the SocialLiberalDemocrats just 3% behind and Labour way out on 35%. Kilroy told us we were dead. After the dreadful Hartlepool result and the UKIP teacup storm over the weekend I was a little down and worried. Then I came out of shock at the knifing of Margaret Thatcher. The Party has finally realised it has to work and we have no right to be at the fore-front of politics. There is no quick fix, only the work offered us by Michael Howard. I put the opinion polls in perspective, as the Conservatives were the only ones still to have their conference 'bounce'. I realised we wouldn't die, but may become also-rans. I rediscovered my desire to actually stand up and make a difference rather than watching from the sidelines. I remembered why I was a member of a political party.

I have been delighted by the Conservative Party conference. I really do think it is the best I have seen in my (albeit few) years. I have been reminded what once made the Tory Party so great and why it can never really die. The Party has shown a renewed purpose and energy, a renewed focus on what the problems actually are - notably voter trust - and has outlined how it will tackle them in a believable way (as opposed to the LibDems who just repeat how bad the problem is and seem to point their fingers). We are coming up with sensible policies and aspirations for Government; I have long said that Howard's actions as Shadow Chancellor on tax were most sensible. We will always be lower tax than Labour and the LibDems, but it is possible we may not be able to keep everything low while we are overcoming serious structural changes. What is more we are sounding confident again and not apologising, while not pretending that the country must love us right away.

It is a long hard road back to Government, but if we keep going the way we have been this week we can finally see it unwind ahead of us. We must, however, hold our course and not be put off by snake oil traders along the way who promise they have the cure-all which can send us straight back to Downing Street. It will not be easy and will require much more work and fight. Two things which you cannot substitute. We have to show that we are not Conservatives because we wish to be vindictive. We have to show we are Conservatives because we genuinely our policies will help everyone: not holding back and constraining the luckiest in our society while trying to provide a solution to the plight of many people in the country. I finally believe we are doing this coherently. There is still a long way to go. It can be done though, if we really care.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

I like the Tories'...

...flash new website. Just what is needed and the sort of positive message the Party has to be putting forward.

My agonising over the US Presidential election

..will follow soon when I have time to blog it and think about it!