Thursday, 31 July 2008

Alcohol licensing

I wasn't sure whether to be pleased or dismayed when I was asked to provide ID to prove that I was old enough to drink. It turns out that I am not alone.

State governor Christine Gregoire was denied entry to a bar because she was unable to provide ID. She is 61 years old.

It may have been inconvenient for the Governor, and possibly embarrassing for the bar involved, but it shows that when the law is strict, and strictly enforced, you really can cut down on underage drinking; at least in respectable establishments.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

An historic occasion

It did. For the fourth time in 60 years. And here's the proof:

6 hours to go

This is the day to get married in Spokane.

It hasn't rained on 29 July for 47 of the last 60 years.

It's not the best weather we've had all week (I've found it really pleasant) but by the look of the grey clouds, statisticians won't be able to sleep for another six hours.

The boundaries of acceptability

There's a row in the US after a 'shock jock' made controversial remarks about Autism. He suggested that "in 99 percent of the cases, it's a brat who hasn't been told to cut the act out".

Advertisers have cut and run and the show has been cut from some schedules. It led to the usual (and superficially entertaining) two way debate on a news channel with someone attacking him as needing psychiatric treatment and someone else saying that he's just increased awareness of autism.

However, the part of the debate that received no attention at all, anywhere, was when his defender claimed that 'all Savage was doing was to be outrageous to increase listeners and generate advertising revenue.'

Apparently this behaviour is well within the realms of acceptability, even if the misrepresentation of autism was not.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

The price is right

I'm surprised by the similarity in prices (petrol / gasoline not withstanding) between the US and UK.

  1. A coffee at Starbucks is about 1.70
  2. A main meal at a chain restaurant is about 8.00
  3. A pint of Guniness is about 2.00
  4. A regular price CD is about 13.99
And sales tax at eight per cent in Washington state is three per cent more than Washington DC, and two per cent more than PA - the other two states I've visited.

But of course, the prices I've given are payable in dollars, which is currently 1.8 to GBP.

So what does that mean for the cost of living?
* a big caveat - the US definition of the poverty line is absolute rather than relative. The UK's is 60 per cent of average earnings. That's a lot of people living in poverty.

Interestingly, income tax doesn't appear to be significantly different (there's no state income tax in WA).

Sunday, 27 July 2008


So, I broke my fast after almost 24 hours of not eating (I fell asleep when I should have gone to dinner).

I put breakfast and Spokane into Google and went to the top recommendation - Frank's Diner. It's based in an old railway carriage (old by US standards) and has served the best breakfast in Spokane for 11 of the last 12 years.

Here's the view from my seat at the bar:

It was quite a wait (which is always reassuring) although the locals mostly said that the food was horrible upon leaving the restaurant; a local custom I wasn't going to try.

I had a homemade waffle (about 12 inches in diameter) served with Priest Lake Hucklberries and cream on the top. I poured on the maple syrup to try and fit in. And I got three refills of coffee (at no extra charge).

It was fantastic food and a good atmosphere - I'll be back to try the six egg omlette (even though they can't spell it).

American media

The American media gets a lot of criticism, certainly in the UK. Barack Obama presents a problem for them. How do I know? Because in the last 30 minutes I've seen:
  • a debate on CNN talking about concerns that the media over-reported Obama's tour of Europe
  • a preacher's sermon saying that the US news media can't criticise Obama for fear of being labelled racist
  • a complaint from John McCain that the US media in Europe were his biggest fans
The consensus of commentators was that the pictures were the problem because they were so powerful.

Moreover, there was a clip from CBS where a reporter posed a question and the answer that McCain gave was, in fact, an answer from another question. CBS has apologised for the 'mistake of a junior producer'.

What impact will this have on the rest of the campaign? One possibility is that the media are starting to turn, conscious of their own ethics or goaded by McCain. Alternatively, it will start to become mocking so they will continue to portray Obama as a rock star (CNN's phrase, not mine) but with jokes such as 'Obama stopped by the manger in Bethlehem to visit his birthplace'.

It could of course continue as is. Why? Becuase the polls are still incredibly close.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Campaigning for change

As before, I was more struck by the similarities of campaigning in the US and the UK than the differences.

The key similarities were that:
  1. There were six people - including me and the Democrat campaign coordinator - there for the canvassing session.
  2. It took 30 minutes for everyone to feel happy that they understood what was required of them
  3. The basic script and activity was the same: who are you going to vote for? how likely are you to vote?
  4. The majority of residents weren't at home to open their door
  5. We wished that we'd remembered the 'sorry you were out' cards
The differences were mostly due to the housing. It took 4 hours to knock on 38 doors, thanks (mostly) to the amount of space between houses. The area was affluent and some of the houses were the most desired in the county. They would have looked comfortable in Hertfordshire or Alderley Edge. They are worth around $1m or £500,000.

It was strange because we were only knocking on the doors of known Democrats. Four months before an election, I expected the net would be cast slightly wider. We saw little evidence of Clinton supporters turning to McCain although we did discover some Republicans for Obama.

I learned that there had been over 60 activists at the caucus (selection meeting) which was considered a sizeable turnout. And apparently there were 900 people at a $40 per head fundraising dinner. Despite these big numbers, they still struggle to turn out activists. Apparently they struggle with getting people holding office to stoop to street level activism. Also, the apparent lead of Obama is already seeing complacency set in.

At least this campaign had a clear, simple message unlink John Kerry (for a stronger America here at home, more respected abroad). People knew that Obama = change.

On a personal note, I was honoured to meet welcoming people once more. Whilst there were a couple of people who didn't understand why someone would come from England to campaign in the US, they weren't offended (and no one on the doorstep minded either). But, as ever, I found people to be warm, friendly and happy to give up their time to answer my questions and hear about the UK.

Yes, we can

On the day that Obama meets Gordon and calls for strong links with the UK, I'm doing my bit by attending this event.

I'm curious to find out how it compares to Kerry in PA in 04 in terms of clarity of message and organisation.

Also, how many people will show up? The city is about the size of Northampton where you could expect anything between 6 and 14 activists to show up for an event four months before polling day. I wonder how Obama's message is affecting activist participation on the ground.

Company offices

The company offices are on a small plot of land with four or five other businesses. You can see the mountains in the distance. It's not open plan but they've kitted them out nicely.

The branding is strong and you get a real sense of how global their operation is from the timezone clocks in the reception area.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Thanks, BA

This was my upgraded seat (unrequested) which made the journey over a lot more enjoyable. The food was pretty good and the leg room was ample. Much better mode of transport than standard class, although I would have to have a LOT more money before I would pay 5.5 times the price for the extra space. I'm not convinced that the difference is worth £6 per minute.*

* based on the price difference at £3500, a flight time of 9.75 hours.


This is my blog, detailing my US trip for my wife and daughter.
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