Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A walk through Harlem on the eve of the election

Tonight after work I decided to take a walk down 125th street in Harlem to capture a little bit of history. How is the center of the African American community in the United States preparing for the first African American president?

There's a lot of smiling faces with the answer below.

How things have changed in the last 4 years...

From, a comparison of how much each state has shifted since the week before the 2004 election. Pay most attention to the last column, which shows the difference between polls taken the week before the last election, and the polls this week. It's pretty overwhelming.

By my counting, 42 states have become more Democratic in the last 4 years, and 22 states (22!) have shifted Democratic by at least 10 points. A somewhat meta way of thinking about this graph is, states on the top are more open to "change", and states on the bottom are a little more stuck in the mud. (In the case of places like DC and RI, maybe because they were already very strongly Democratic) But, I'm proud to say, Kansas is right about in the middle, at #30 - with a Democratic shift of +7 points.

One more thing: For some reason there's a looooooooooooong scroll, but it's worth it, I guarantee you. =)

Comparison of 2004 and 2008
It is instructive to compare the state of polling in 2004 as of the Tuesday before the election with state of polling yesterday. The table below shows the the Kerry - Bush score on Oct. 26, 2004 in column 2. Hawaii is an outlier because there was one freaky poll, but, on Oct. 26, 2004, the map showed Kerry ahead of Bush by 9 points in California, by 8 points in Illinois, and behind Bush by 8 points in New Mexico. The third column is the Kerry - Bush election result. For example, the prediction of a 9-point lead in California and an 8-point lead in Illinois were pretty good as Kerry won those states by 10.3 and 10.0 points respectively. The mean of the second column was a Bush lead of 4.4 points whereas the final results was a Bush lead of 6.0 points. These averages are not weighted by population, so they are not predictors of the popular vote, but they do give an idea of how good the 51 polls were a week before the election.

State Kerry - Bush Election Obama-McCain 2008-2004
Hawaii -1.0 8.7 41.0 42.0
Montana -21.0 -20.8 0.0 21.0
North Dakota -20.0 -27.4 0.0 20.0
California 9.0 10.3 27.0 18.0
Illinois 8.0 10.0 26.0 18.0
New Mexico -8.0 -1.1 10.0 18.0
Indiana -13.0 -20.9 3.0 16.0
Georgia -17.0 -16.7 -3.0 14.0
Iowa -3.0 -0.9 11.0 14.0
New York 21.0 17.3 34.0 13.0
South Dakota -22.0 -21.5 -9.0 13.0
Wisconsin -2.0 0.4 11.0 13.0
Wyoming -36.0 -39.9 -23.0 13.0
Alaska -27.0 -26.9 -15.0 12.0
Connecticut 9.0 10.3 21.0 12.0
New Jersey 7.0 6.2 19.0 12.0
Texas -23.0 -22.9 -11.0 12.0
Washington 5.0 7.3 17.0 12.0
North Carolina -10.0 -12.6 1.0 11.0
Michigan 8.0 3.4 18.0 10.0
Nebraska -29.0 -34.5 -19.0 10.0
Virginia -3.0 -8.7 7.0 10.0
Delaware 7.0 7.5 16.0 9.0
Maryland 10.0 12.4 19.0 9.0
Nevada -6.0 -2.6 3.0 9.0
Oklahoma -33.0 -31.2 -24.0 9.0
Ohio -1.0 -2.5 7.0 8.0
Pennsylvania 3.0 2.2 11.0 8.0
Vermont 13.0 20.2 21.0 8.0
Kansas -19.0 -25.7 -12.0 7.0
Oregon 6.0 4.0 13.0 7.0
South Carolina -18.0 -17.2 -11.0 7.0
Colorado 1.0 -6.2 7.0 6.0
Minnesota 5.0 3.5 11.0 6.0
Maine 11.0 8.1 16.0 5.0
Massachusetts 14.0 25.1 19.0 5.0
Missouri -5.0 -7.3 0.0 5.0
Florida -1.0 -5.0 3.0 4.0
Kentucky -17.0 -19.8 -13.0 4.0
D.C. 67.0 80.2 69.0 2.0
Rhode Island 20.0 20.6 22.0 2.0
Utah -37.0 -44.7 -36.0 1.0
Idaho -29.0 -38.1 -29.0 0.0
Arizona -5.0 -10.4 -6.0 -1.0
Louisiana -15.0 -14.6 -16.0 -1.0
New Hampshire 9.0 1.3 8.0 -1.0
Tennessee -12.0 -14.3 -14.0 -2.0
Mississippi -9.0 -20.3 -12.0 -3.0
West Virginia -3.0 -12.9 -8.0 -5.0
Alabama -12.0 -25.7 -20.0 -8.0
Arkansas 0.0 -9.8 -11.0 -11.0
Average -4.4 -6.0 3.9 8.3

Monday, October 27, 2008

Who I'm voting for and why

Like a few others have done, I just want to share a few thoughts on the upcoming election. I'd especially like to put these thoughts in perspective of my personal story - and how my upbringing and values have remained with me and shaped my current outlook on the world.

I'll try to be brief - I know you all are busy, but I also think that voting is one of the most important responsibilities we have as American citizens. Equally, maybe more important, is that - before we vote - we have a responsibility to become informed and give a fair shot to both sides. I try not to vote Republican just because Kansas is historically Republican, or Democrat just because most of my friends are Democrat - but I try to listen to what both sides have to say, weigh the pressing issues of the time, and decide who best represents my values, and the direction I'd like things to go. I think most of you do the same thing.

My parents taught me this. They taught me to put myself in other people's shoes before thinking of myself, to work hard, and to stay grounded. Like I said above, my Catholic faith, and growing up in a loving family in the midwest (thanks mom and dad!) have formed the basis of my life, the core of who I am today. Since I left Kansas (10 years ago, wow!), I have been blessed with the opportunity to travel around the world, meet an amazing diversity of people, and attend some wonderful schools. The way I view my life so far, these more recent experiences have just helped clarify the values that I learned growing up.

I voted for George Bush in 2000 in my first election in college - because of his message of "compassionate conservatism", but also because my interpretation of my values hadn't solidified yet. I was torn between "being true to my roots" and an uncertain feeling I couldn't quite place. Honestly, another primary motivation was the abortion issue. Since then I have read, discussed, and learned a lot about that issue, which as a Pro-Life Catholic, I still feel to be one of the biggest social injustices in human history. Most importantly, I wanted to figure out the best, most effective way to limit the number of abortions (which, is the ultimate goal anyway, right?). After much back and forth, this was the issue that finally made me switch to registering as a Democrat for the first time. I know that might be surprising - given that Republicans have been known to take the abortion issue as their own - but since Roe vs Wade made abortion legal nationwide, abortion rates under Republican or Democratic presidents have been virtually identical. In fact, Democrats have been slightly more effective at reducing abortions. In a way this mirrors my own research on hurricane deaths - that countries with better health care systems, better preparedness and prevention programs suffer vastly fewer deaths during hurricane disasters - much better than countries that focus on evacuations AFTER the fact. In essence, the abortion issue is a development issue. Most abortions around the world occur in poor countries (like in Africa, where abortion is generally illegal), where women are driven to desperation and have few options. In the United States, Republicans attempt to limit abortions by making them illegal (even if RvsW was overturned - it wouldn't make all abortions immediately illegal, it would turn the decision back to the states. Women could still cross state lines for abortions, making them even more unsafe. Estimates are that in total it would reduce abortions only by 10%), and Democrats attempt to limit abortions by focusing on women's health - by preventing unwanted pregnancies before they ever happen (and by increasing resources available for teenagers and women in poverty, the two groups most likely to have abortions. Sen. Bob Casey, a pro-life Democrat from Pennsylvania (and former Jesuit Volunteer!) has put forward a plan to reduce the number of abortions by 95% in the next 10 years). To me, that approach seems to make more sense, and the studies have backed it up. I think as Catholics, we should decide the lesser of two evils between advocating for increased focus on women's health which involves the use of birth control methods to prevent unwanted pregnancies, or a less effective strategy - trying to make abortions illegal. If we can agree that saving lives is the most important issue, the first strategy seems clearly more effective.
Here's an article that explains some of these points about abortion in more detail

As a result, in 2004, I voted for John Kerry, holding my nose. To me, he seemed too much of the "east coast liberal" type to be the charismatic leader we needed at that time. During the time since 2000, I had also learned a lot more about the world. After learning about the abortion issue, I gained a much deeper understanding of other injustices that exist in the world - from child soldiers in Africa, to poverty and the environment, all these issues started to come clear for me during my time in college at SLU. For example, I learned that more children die of malaria and other easily preventable diseases in Africa each year (4 million per year) than in abortions in the United States (1.5 million per year). I started to think of these things as an extension of my parents desire for me to put myself in other people's shoes and to do the right thing. Suddenly, it became very clear for me that "sticking up for the little guy" was the right thing. For me, Democrats, in general seemed to support that view of the world. Health care for those who don't have it, lower taxes for those who can't afford it, and a calm, measured approach to moving things forward. Policies of hope rather than policies of division. As a Catholic, I couldn't be true to my faith and still vote Republican any more.

Still, my vote for Kerry was mostly a vote against George Bush - against what I still believe to be a grossly unfair, unguided war, and against the culture of fear and division that was fostered as a result. I knew that we could do better. America is better than its recent past. In 2008, I will vote for Barack Obama. Finally, I am voting FOR someone. To me, he is a symbol of America's future. You've all heard his speeches. Like millions of other people around the country and the world, I too have been inspired by his vision of what America can be if we come together. Many people have compared him to John F. Kennedy, or Martin Luther King as a generational figure in American, maybe world history. Like these historical figures, Barack Obama embodies the same values and ideals I have learned from my upbringing and my faith. He IS America - the 21st century America - with midwestern roots and values but a true global citizen. To solve the big issues, like climate change, global poverty, the economic crisis, health care, and terrorism, we need someone grounded in strong values with practical solutions, who knows that unity is better than division, and hope is more powerful than fear. We need someone to inspire us, to help us to believe in ourselves again. Because although many people might think "Barack Obama will save the world", he won't - he can't - it will be us, average people that will save the world. We just need to believe in ourselves.

Obama's 'closing arguments' in Ohio

Today, Barack Obama returned to the campaign trail to deliver a soaring, inspiring speech - like the beginning of his campaign so many months ago - and to lay out the reasons why now, at this moment in history, we must decide to come together.... and why he's the person to lead us there.

Watch the end of his speech below, and be sure to vote next Tuesday.

Trend: Obama.

From, a quick recap of how we got where we are today. As you can see, in the final days before the election, Obama is having some of his best (and McCain some of his worst) polling days so far.

8 days to go.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

One small step on the path to 26.2

I finished my first Central Park road race this morning... 5 miles in just under 40 minutes, my target time. It was a bit chilly, but I warmed up quickly. And what a beautiful day it turned out to be!

Friday, October 24, 2008

ice cubes' new meaning

i'm just sorry that more people don't get to witness this on a daily (or MAYBE twice daily ;)) basis.

or this.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Today's Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby Poll: Obama 51.6%, McCain 42.0%

Pollster John Zogby:

Three big days for Obama. Anything can happen, but time is running short for McCain. These numbers, if they hold, are blowout numbers. They fit the 1980 model with Reagan's victory over Carter -- but they are happening 12 days before Reagan blasted ahead. If Obama wins like this we can be talking not only victory but realignment: he leads by 27 points among Independents, 27 points among those who have already voted, 16 among newly registered voters, 31 among Hispanics, 93%-2% among African Americans, 16 among women, 27 among those 18-29, 5 among 30-49 year olds, 8 among 50-64s, 4 among those over 65, 25 among Moderates, and 12 among Catholics (which is better than Bill Clinton's 10-point victory among Catholics in 1996). He leads with men by 2 points, and is down among whites by only 6 points, down 2 in armed forces households, 3 among investors, and is tied among NASCAR fans.

This is Obama's biggest polling day so far for the Zogby poll, and only his second day above 50%. Yesterday was his first.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

BREAKING: McCain concedes CO, NM, and IA - letting it all ride on PA

With 14 days to go until the election, CNN is reporting this morning that McCain has conceded to Obama all but a clear path to victory.

Per CNN: McCain could begin pulling resources this week from Colorado, New Mexico, and Iowa - all states that went to Bush in 2004 - to focus on a bigger state, Pennsylvania.

As I wrote earlier this week, Obama's easiest path to victory is to hold all the states Kerry won in 2004, and add New Mexico, Iowa, and one other swing state - like Colorado.

Today's decision by the McCain campaign means that if Obama holds Pennsylvania (where he currently leads by double digits), he will win the election.

Guess I'm going back to Scranton.

UPDATE on the McCain PA strategy from

Also, I signed up for a trip this Saturday to Wilkes-Barre, PA, a small working-class community south of Scranton where Obama struggled during the primary. Communities like this will decide the state.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Colin Powell endorses Barack Obama

Watch the video:

The former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and George Bush's first Secretary of State, Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama for president this morning. As he is known to do, he gave a very clear, level-headed assessment of the situation and stressed the importance of choosing a leader whose direction you believe in. Watch the video above -

As much momentum as Obama has gained since the first Sarah Palin skit on SNL, and the economy turning sour, and the perfect 4-0 debate performance by his ticket, there's still a little over two weeks until election day on November 4th.

Moderates and swing states have been flocking to Obama recently - as more and more people see him as the only reasonable option to put the country back on a positive path (in a poll this week, 89% of Americans believe the country is heading in the wrong direction - a record high - only 7% believe the country is heading in the right direction). The inspiring rallies in St. Louis and Kansas City yesterday, drawing his two biggest crowds of the campaign so far (100,000 in St. Louis under the Arch, and 75,000 in KC at the Liberty Memorial) are further evidence that people are eager for a new vision.

As I hinted above, the math is really starting to pile on Obama's side - but that doesn't mean it's over. The easiest path for Obama to get elected is to win all of Kerry's states in 2004 (CA, CT, DC, DE, HI, IL, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, NH, NJ, NY, OR, PA, RI, VT, WA, WI) + Iowa + New Mexico + any one of the following states (in order of likelihood):

North Carolina

As of today, Obama is leading in all of these states. Remember, he needs just one to win. McCain on the other hand, needs to win all 7, plus a major Kerry state (MI, MN, PA or WI) to be elected. Right now, that's looking like a tough challenge.

And the "new" battleground states have been a fixture of the Republican base of the last few decades:

West Virginia
North Dakota
South Dakota

If Obama were to take one or more of these states, we'd really be looking at a game-changer - something that could re-define American politics for the next generation.

Here's the current electoral map:


Bottom line, VOTE, VOTE, VOTE - even if you think your vote won't matter, VOTE! This is a historic election. Be a part of history.

If you're one of those that are still undecided, take a look at Obama and McCain on the issues, or a tax cut calculator to see how your beliefs match with the candidates. Or, follow my favorite new website, to get some detailed analysis.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Way to go Katie!

Quick update from Arlington, VA - and from the exact same computer I wrote my updates from during JVC in Oregon, 5 short years ago!

My good friend Katie finished her first marathon yesterday in Baltimore... awesome accomplishment. We had ice cream and beer last night to celebrate.

It's great to see her (it's been 2 years!) and to know those bits of my past (like this computer) are still running along, as healthy as ever.

Katie's going to be busy volunteering next summer in Tanzania, but if she makes it back in one piece, we're going to register for the New York Marathon together next fall. Here's to setting goals, and making them happen!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

This is New York

I just had dinner at a Mexican restaurant with a New Zealander, in town for a one-day conference on weather insurance products in Africa, who works for an insurance company based in England but lives in Belgrade, Serbia with his Bosnian girlfriend. Whoa!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Yet another reason why scientists sometimes make poor communicators:

"INDEX-BASED financial risk transfer mechanisms are being tested in the context of development and climate change adaptation. These instruments show the capacity to dramatically reduce conditions of chronic underdevelopment by both enabling investment and reducing shocks in agricultural livelihoods. However, important issues have been raised, including the potential for scaling up and the role of climate-informed science to help overcome some of the challenges to scale up. The IRI is convening experts from fields as diverse as reinsurance, climate science, economics and food security to participate in an upcoming workshop, in an effort to gain insight on how innovative tools and research can best serve development, today. "

Why not just say, "We are trying to save poor farmers in Africa from droughts. Do you want to come here for a day conference and talk about it with us?"

Friday, October 3, 2008

What next?

Now that the bailout/rescue/whatever has passed... what next?

We are at one of those turning points of American history-
The Revolutionary War
The great push West
The War between the States
Pearl Harbor
The civil rights movement
Now: The making of the green economy. The realization that we're all connected. The end of poverty.

This moment entered our consciousness on September 11th - that maybe we aren't as strong and dominant and destined to rule the world as we might think - but it has its roots going all the way back to the end of World War II. America as victor, and the entitlement that comes with it. And now, that moment in world history with America at the top is beginning to end.

But that doesn't mean we have to go all the way to the bottom. Everything we're experiencing now (now, meaning the last 10 years or so) - the rise of the internet, globalization, the energy crisis, climate change, terrorism, the stock market crash - are all related. It's just the world's way of leveling the playing field. How long have people in Africa, India, and China waited for their shot? How long have we kept them from getting it? It's not an either/or game. Everyone can be better off if we work together, if we're more respectful, if we keep each other in mind.

To me, the election this year is a fundamental part of this narrative. John McCain embodies the past. Vietnam War veteran, Iraq war supporter - both symbols of failed American influence abroad - if elected, the oldest 1st term president in history. Barack Obama - who has mobilized more than 2 million volunteers on the internet - the largest grassroots political coalition in American history - son of an African immigrant and a single mother from Kansas - a picture of 21st century America.

I can see how this is a little scary for many people. The future, the unknown, is always scary. But it is necessary if America is to survive. America has always stood for hope, as a refuge for the outcast. We can still be an example to the world - not of the power of the individual, but of the power of everyone - working together.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Listen well. Some thoughts on silence...

Last night I attended a reading of two short stories at Symphony Space on the Upper West Side. Salman Rushdie hosted - and Anthony Rapp (Mark in the original cast of Rent) read the second story, "The Year of Silence" by Kevin Brockmeier, originally published in the literary journal Ecotone. Both stories were part of the 2008 edition of "30 Best American Short Stories" which, by chance, also includes my friend's sister, Karen Russell. It was a fun night, and I don't normally do this sort of thing, but I'm glad I did.

So, my thoughts on silence... (as a firetruck siren blares outside my window, and the subway rattles by...)

First, a quick synopsis of the story (skip ahead if you're planning on reading it yourself): For no apparent reason one spring morning, for a few seconds the entire city spontaneously becomes quiet - as if all the pauses of ordinary life lined up at the same moment. The next week, it happens again, for a few seconds longer. Pretty soon, these moments of silence begin to make their way into the collective consciousness in the city, people start looking forward to them, start to appreciate the sense of peace, of contentment, of being that these moments bring. The city passes a law banning all noise. Streets and sidewalks are paved with rubber, pretty soon the only sound is the birds, the rain, and the wind. And, the city is peaceful. Crime rates drop, romances begin and end as people begin to experience life in a deeper way than anyone thought possible. After several months, people begin to settle in to their new world - but something is missing. One day, all the spontaneous sounds of this nearly quiet city align - coughs, stubbed toes, dog barks. It happens again the next week. Sounds, noise, start to overtake the city again. Eventually, the ban on quiet is lifted - as people realize that their worlds had become too predictable... they needed the spark, the energy that their noisy city brought them.

As performed by Anthony Rapp (an amazing performer, and an amazing person), Kevin Brockmeier's story resonated... I could feel the entire audience in quiet assention on this. Now this was quite a liberal crowd, and some of them very well may have regular moments of voluntary silence in their lives, but they were still New Yorkers. And New Yorkers are noisy. But, it was a great thought experiment. How would we react to a world with no noise? Could we handle it?

For the times in my life where I've been able to be in silence (JVC, SLU retreats, Africa) it has been something to treasure. Now, in New York, at times I feel all the jumble that the noisy city brings, and it is overwhelming. I tell my friends that I couldn't survive the city if I didn't have a job that let me leave every day - and see the green trees of the Hudson Valley. Sometimes I wish I could quit my job and just be. Silent, reflective, contemplative. Just be. But then, what would be the fun in that?

MLB playoffs.... Day 1

“I’m just being Manny,” Manny said.

Don't worry too much yet, Cubs fans.

TBS has Dennis Eckersley and Cal Ripken as commentators throughout the playoffs.... blast from the past!

This will be fun.

Ok, now you can worry, Cubs fans. =(

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Huge polling day for Obama

The Obama train has officially left the station, and it looks like it's going to be hard to stop.

Quinnipac, a very well-respected national polling agency, released this morning a series of pre- and post-debate swing state polls from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida. All of these polls show Obama ahead by 5-8 points. All of these polls show Obama gaining 1-2 points immediately following the first debate. Remember, assuming Obama holds Michigan and Pennsylvania (which went to Kerry in the 2004 election), Obama needs to win just one other major swing state to win the election. McCain needs to win them all.

This is quickly becoming a show-stopper for McCain. His ship is sinking, and I think he knows it.

Next up: Palin gets the boot.

You heard it here first... the next trick up the sleeve of John McCain will be to unofficially send Sarah Palin on the next flight back to Alaska. Of course, this would be under the pretext of Sarah 'deciding for herself' that family comes first, and that another choice for VP might be better suited to put 'country first'. With the economy crashing by the minute, the obvious choice would be Mitt Romney - someone with economic experience that would need little or no introduction on the national scene. It just might be crazy enough to work.

This has happened before, and with McCain's flair for the dramatic, I wouldn't put it past him. Even conservatives are starting to turn against Palin. The debate tomorrow vs. Biden should go a long way in deciding Palin's short term fate (and long term future as a national political figure). If the boot happens, the guys at seem to think it would mean surrender for McCain. But then again, you never know. Maybe this is the October surprise that brings the race back to a tie.

Polling-wise, the combination of the stock market crash (and how both candidates handled it) and the first presidential debate (the first introduction to the candidates for a lot of armchair voters) seemed to solidify support for Obama on the national level (the race has gone from basically a tie 10 days ago to Obama +5 today). Most importantly, a lot of swing states have recently also been strongly trending toward Obama - namely Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida (and to a lesser extent, Ohio, Indiana and Missouri). Assuming Iowa and New Mexico go to Obama - he needs to win only one of these 6 to win the election.