In America: Never mind the pollsters - ask those little green men

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* With the US election over, the question remains: how can the impatient pundit or journalist or political junkie figure out who's won before the actual returns come in?

* With the US election over, the question remains: how can the impatient pundit or journalist or political junkie figure out who's won before the actual returns come in?

In this year's race, the final polls were inconclusive. The exit polls were flat wrong, predicting a Kerry victory. Even the more superstitious but hitherto reliable indicators - like the outcome of the last Washington Redskins football game - let everyone down.

So is there any reliable indicator? Well, yes there is. How about the extraterrestrial endorsement, courtesy of the supermarket fantasy tabloid the Weekly World News? Turns out the aliens have got it right every time since they started forecasting in 1992. In the tabloid's 1 November issue, the little green men said firmly: "Four more years for Bush!"

Then there's the Halloween mask test, the electoral gods favouring the candidate with the larger mask scales. By this measure - accurate since 1980 - Bush beat Kerry 53 per cent to 47 (extremely close to the actual outcome). Or, failing that, the bushy eyebrow test. The candidate with the bushier brows has lost every time since 1988, and Kerry's qualified as "eyebrows of mass destruction", according to the website Groominglounge.com.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, of course, and it's all too easy to say we should have known. But at least next time we will.

* WAS BUSH'S re-election all the fault of one man, San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom? Some angry Democrats are pinning it all on him, saying his decision to defy state law and marry thousands of gay couples last February and March was the opening the Republicans needed to get out the evangelical Christian vote, especially in the 11 states where anti-gay marriage propositions were on the ballot.

California's senior Senator, Dianne Feinstein, a former San Francisco mayor herself, suggested as much after the election. "I believe it did energise a very conservative vote," she said. "The whole issue has been too much, too fast, too soon."

As for Newsom, he is clearly feeling the heat. "Hey," he said, not entirely in jest, to one interviewer, "I'm responsible for the end of the free world."

* DEMOCRATS ARE seeking even the smallest signs of solace in what was, for the most part, an electoral rout. Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor who knows a thing or two about political disappointment after his passage from soaring presidential hopeful to has-been in a matter of days last January, has been found a silver lining on behalf of his still-faithful band of internet supporters. "Montana, one of the reddest states, has a new Democratic governor," he proclaimed on his website. Not quite as good as the White House (Montana's population is barely 900,000), but under the circumstances it will have to do.

* FROM THE annals of political correctness comes the tale of a high school student from Grand Rapids, Michigan, who was altogether too effective in scaring his classmates at a Hallowe'en party. The student, who has not been named, won top prize for his get-up as a Ku Klux Klansman. Then school officials turned around and suspended him for five days. The Klan is a sensitive issue in the plains of south-central Michigan, since this is a hotbed of the kind of far-right militia groups who inspired Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber. Still, if it was such a problem, one wonders why the student wasn't challenged immediately. "There are a number of questions I have and don't yet have answers to," a local school superintendent admitted.

* Fat people are directly responsible for higher airfares, and that's official. A new study by the US government's Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows that airlines spent as much as $275m more on fuel per year during the 1990s because of the extra heft of their passengers. (The average American put on 10 pounds over the decade.) The extra fuel, in turn, dumped an estimated 3.8 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, meaning that fat people are also bad for the environment. Feeling guilty yet? It's enough to make you reach straight for the chocolate box.

pandora@independent.co.uk

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