Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Dimbleby vs. Gore Vidal

As predicted, David Dimbleby's extraordinary interview with Gore Vidal is already available on Youtube, courtesy of twittervlog:

Highlight: Dimbers at the end, "Well, that was fun"!

Expat Election Junkie X

Midnight: Obama's victory speech. I can still not quite believe it when I hear Dimbers speak about him as "the president elect". I'll be expecting a lot of staring into the distance, but I also have my handkerchief ready. Just how many people are at this rally? It looks like thousands.

Obama promises the kids a new puppy. Reminds me of promising the kids two cats when we came to America.

00.19: Very statesman-like speech from Obama. Something about his coolness alongside the crowd's emotion made this a wonderful sight. Great money-shot of Barack and Michelle's embrace and a lip-read "I love you".

00.22: So how come I managed to time my first American election (well, first when I am present here) as this one?

00:49: looks like I might be able to get a reasonably early night. Who'd have thought that we would be past even the endgame by this stage? Ten minutes time and the Today programme (on Radio 4, not the American TV one) will get underway with the serious analysis. Might take that to bed with me. Goodnight on this historic night.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Expat Election Junkie IX

11.34pm: McCain's concession speech was absolutely spot on, spoilt only by some of the boos in the crowd when Obama was mentioned. Looking forward to Obama next.

11.39pm: Over on BBC1, Dimbers points out that we have missed the fact over the last 40 minutes that Obama has been running away with it. Currently Obama 338 / McCain 155. A whopping mandate. Still no news on North Carolina.

11.42pm: Burkeman writes: "Everybody's crying: Rep John Lewis is crying; Jesse Jackson is crying; some of the TV anchors seem close; there's an enormous amount of crying in Grant Park." But it's all stiff upper lip at the BBC.

11.48pm: On BBC1, Dimbers is interviewing Gore Vidal who appears to be drunk or senile, or both. This is probably going to be one of those Youtube moments. Heck, it's embarrassing.

Expat Election Junkie VIII

10.47pm: Long pause to make sure that the kids are getting ready for bed and to do housework; more still to do, of course. My first memory of an American election is 1976, Ford / Carter. I remember coming down for breakfast and my dad having it on the TV; it was interesting to a child because in those days there was no breakfast TV, so having BBC1 on in the morning was something of a novelty. I am pretty sure that our kids will always remember this election.

The story is now clear. It is just a case of waiting for the inevitable. Still Burkeman is the place to go. Obama is at 207, McCain 147. Fox calls Virginia for Obama.

10.51pm: Dimbers on BBC1 says that he thinks we are within 10 minutes of the declaration for Obama. Clips of people being interviewed by John Timpson already celebrating the presumed results. The party is about to begin.

11pm: CNN Projection says "Barack Obama Elected President". Pause while we all get choked up.

11.06pm: the TV pictures are now all about the celebrations. What a wonderful night. CNN: "Transformation in how the world sees us."

11.08pm: delightful moment as one of CNN's analysts (forget his name, but the largish, goaty bearded black guy) gets a bit tearful.

Expat Election Junkie VII

9.34pm: CNN tell us that Obama is out-performing Kerry everywhere. And then they call what Fox has been calling and uncalling of the last twenty minutes -- Ohio. Burkeman says that this is it -- this is the moment:

Unless they've made a bad, bad error, this will almost certainly be the moment the election was decided: McCain would have to flip a solid Kerry state over to the Republicans in order to win now. ...Wow, so apparently what happened is that Fox called Ohio, un-called it, and called it again. They are certainly calling it now. NBC calls Ohio for Obama, too.
9.53pm: CNN note that the popular vote is 49% / 50% in favour of Obama, much closer than the current electoral college count-up, where Obama is up to 200 and racing towards the 270 needed.

9.56pm: Jeremy Vine on BBC1 has at last got some decent graphics going, though somewhat too smart-board like.

10pm: Burkeman continues to report on the Republican denial.

Expat Election Junkie VI

9.20pm: Can't help thinking that it's as good as over for McCain. Is that just because I don't understand these things? How can McCain win from here? Great piece in Oliver Burkeman's live blog:

In Phoenix, Dan Glaister tells me, the big screen broadcasting the results to the McCainites suddenly cut out when the Pennsylvania calls started coming in; instead, they were treated to a Hall & Oates song, and now they're listening to Kool and the Gang. Two different realities...

9.23pm: Ridiculous argument on BBC1 between an American with a moustache who refused to understand the nice British reporter's point, that Sarah Palin did not manage to attract independent voters. The moustached American keeps repeating that Palin energized the base of the Republican Party, which the nice British reporter was not disputing.

9.28pm: How come BBC America, CNN and MSNBC all have adverts at the same time? Surely I am not going to have to go to Fox, am I?

Expat Election Junkie V

8.54pm: Of real local interest, Kay Hagan defeats Elizabth Dole in North Carolina. This is the one that we have heard a lot about down our way; some grim adverts have been on TV, including the notorious "Godless" one.

8.56pm: Back to BBC America: at last Jeremy Vine is on, but his graphics are really disappointing -- worse than CNN. I am afraid the BBCTV coverage is lagging behind tonight. Not the same energy, not sufficiently up to speed. Mind you, three cheers for Dimbers who is talking now about how brilliant the British voting system is, and how rubbish the American system is. I couldn't agree more. "Recipe for chaos", Dimbers says, in an enjoyable rant in which he comments on the lawyers circling to check that the voting machines are in order. Up pencils and paper! Up the UK system and common sense!

9pm: Republicans are still holding out for the possibility of a McCain victory but I can't see it happening. BBC has it at Obama 171 / McCain 49 at the moment. Obama half-way there.

Expat Election Junkie IV

8pm: back from swimming a mile. The NPR coverage on the radio on the way back is still at the filling in stage, talking about turn out and the like; no major news yet. I love that about election nights, both here and back in the UK -- there is that period of phony war in the early stages and then the sudden rush of energy as the results come piling in.

Back at home, Viola has got the toasted sandwiches going, and I grab my first beer from the fridge. We go straight to the BBC America coverage and enjoy that for a bit; the girls enjoy the fact that they are wearing poppies -- nobody wears poppies here. But the BBC America coverage feels a little bit slow and it is time for a bit more energy. We have switched over to CNN and will probably stay with them for much of the evening.

8.11pm: It is already looking like Obama's night. Is it going to be a landslide?

Expat Election Junkie III

6.13pm: The BBC America coverage began at 6, with David Dimbleby in the chair; hearing his voice makes the night feel like election night; he has been at the helm of election coverage for as long as I can remember. I will probably switch around a bit tonight to CNN and MSNBC too, but the BBC coverage, which is currently also on BBC1 in the UK, will be the main channel for us, not least because it gives a nice link with home. Oh, and because Jeremy Vine's graphics look like they are going to be about ten times better than the CNN equivalents, which are distinctly lacklustre.

All day, the BBC News website has been running a live text update service, which has been fun. And over at The Guardian, Oliver Burkeman's Campaign Diary is going to be live blogging. That will certainly be worth watching.

At the moment, the main news revolves around the enormous queues (in America called "lines") at the polling stations. This seems quite remarkable to me, never having had to queue to vote in my life. Why don't they plan ahead and organize things a bit better and open some more polling stations?

6.20pm: Dimbers is getting excited on BBC1; interesting to hear him say "black" lots of times. I have got used to hearing the American media always using the term "African American". But I have to head out for a bit now. Back for the serious action later.

Expat Election Junkie update

11.34am: I am not surprised that there are queues at the polls. Before leaving home this morning, I watched Obama casting his vote live on CNN and it appeared to take a good fifteen or twenty minutes. Surely he wasn't spending all that time making up his mind on who to vote for? Without wanting to sound like a Luddite, and with memories of 2000, I can't help thinking that the British method of a black pencil cross on a piece of paper remains the most efficient and reliable way of voting.

One of my students was wearing a big Obama t-shirt in class. There is no voting at Duke, as far as I can see, the "one stop voting" of the last couple of weeks apparently now over. Some of the schools are closed, including the one that our girls go to. Others begun with a two-hour delay in order to allow people to vote, or to help ease traffic congestion.

Expat Election Junkie

Resident Aliens do not get a vote (I believe it is called "taxation without representation") but that does not mean that they are uninterested in this election. I am something of an election junkie. I have put in all-nighters for British General Elections since 1987, and in 2000 I decided that the American Presidential election was interesting enough that it needed the all-nighter treatment too. Likewise 2004. In the UK, where we are five hours behind Eastern Time in the US, the serious coverage begins at about 11pm, so following the American Presidential election live is for hardened election junkies only. It's pretty exciting for me, then, to be able to follow this one, for the first time, as it happens. In fact, I'll still be out swimming as the coverage proper starts.

This is serious stuff; I'll have the beers in the fridge, the toasted sandwich maker out, and I will be ready to be up as late as necessary. As for coverage, I am delighted to see that BBC America are carrying the full BBC News coverage, with David Dimbleby, from 6pm. So we will naturally have the BBC coverage on much of the time. I'll probably channel hop a bit, though, from time to time. I watch a lot of CNN and some MSNBC and I'll take both of those in on the night, and will have the laptop handy to check out the websites regularly, I hope too to IM a few friends who are in the know about these things.

This election does feel, of course, like it has gone on for ever. One notices the length of the campaign far more being present here in the USA without the distractions of the all important British stories like the Daily Mail orchestrated baying for BBC blood last week. The election is simply not off the news at any point. Every time I go to the local bank, the TV is on broadcasting one of the candidates compaigning. There are things to admire here, not least the fact of live TV debates, which we still do not have in England, even if it is somewhat infuriating to see the lack of debate in those debates. I still think that the sometimes bland campaign would become much more spicey with the injection of some serious grilling of the candidates from the likes of a Paxman or Humphrys (The American Presidential Debates: Time to Let the British in).

The election is all the more interesting for us here locally because North Carolina is one of the battleground states. Down our way, McCain / Palin are winning that battle. The vast majority of houses in our neighbourhood have no signs outside, but those that do generally favour McCain / Palin over Obama / Biden by about three to one. And when Viola and I went out for a sandwich the other day, the lady in the shop told us that she would be "voting for Sarah Palin. I like her". It is something of a contrast with DC, which we visited a couple of weeks ago, and everywhere we looked we saw Obama hats and stickers. A lady on the open-top bus there had a word with my mother-in-law to try to persuade her to vote Obama and was a bit disappointed to hear that we did not have the vote. There is a contrast again with Durham, where Duke is located and where I work, and where one sees a far great proportion of Obama-Biden signs.

And it is signs in people's gardens ("yards") that are the sign of which way that they are voting. It would be pointless to do the British thing and put a poster in your window -- no one would see it. Nor are lamposts taken over by candidates' posters as in England, though at intersections of roads, there are more of the signs clustered together, the same kind that you see in people's gardens. I am tempted to take a couple of photographs tomorrow to show you what I mean.

One big contrast with the UK is that apparently people often have to queue here for ages in order to vote. I have never had to do that in England. In fact, I feel like I am often the only person there when I wander into the school building to put my black cross down next to the Labour candidate. I am not sure why it is the case here that people have to queue. Perhaps there are fewer polling stations than in England. Certainly lots of schools appear to be open, which suggests that they are not being used as polling stations. Then again, there has been something called "One stop voting" for the last couple of weeks, including at Duke, from which people come away with a sticker saying "I have voted". The "one stop" element makes me smile since it would never occur to me that one would have two or three stop voting.

These are my thoughts on the eve of a historic day. CNN has already begun its coverage, with its count-down showing 16 hours to go, and counting, until the first polls close.