Election blogging and tweets

I‘ve been asked by one of our blog followers where the information for our last blog on the US elections comes from. Was the framework drawn from some wider blogging source? If only! The short answer is that we’ve been reading loads of newspapers and blogs, searching the web, talking to people, listening to a supporters’ web conference call with Barack Obama and watching television. All to try to get a fair overview of US style 2012 electioneering.

I should add that we’ve also been out on the streets in Seattle, picking up vibes from anywhere that looks promising. Our picture above was taken on 4th November, two days before the election, when the family was out for an early Sunday breakfast in Queen Anne’s 5 Spot diner. The numbers chalked on the windows tell the story – 23,109 and 17,160. Entry by the left blue door is a vote recorded for Obama and by the right red door is a vote for Romney. The percentages are not far different from the final voting figures for Washington State – 55.3% for Obama and 42.4% for Romney!

Though the BBC has had a big presence in the US for the election, they did not get that indicator! And a careful reading of our original post, ‘US Elections matter’ also shows that the first three words (‘Four more years’) of the post were to be the tweet from Obama posted on Twitter when he was sure he had won.

Interesting? Why yes, because this three word tweet has of today been re-tweeted a record 802,000 times! (See tweet and photo opposite) It’s an indicator of the extent to which the new social media has been used with such success by the Democratic campaign. Our UK blog followers know they first read these words a day earlier!

For the record Obama received 50.5% (61,122,638) of the popular vote, while Romney received 48% (58,130,991). This represents 332 seats to 206 seats in the Electoral College. Votes cast represented about 54.5% of total voters. Of the 9 ‘battle ground’ states, Obama took 8 with 49.9% to 52.8% of the votes cast.

US Elections matter

‘Four more years’ and ‘Four more days’ were the respective chants of the supporters of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on Friday night as both addressed huge crowds in Ohio in the final days of the US presidential election, which concludes on Tuesday 6th November.

It’s hard not to get engrossed in this election if like us you’re here in the US. Not least it’s because the outcome can have a considerable impact on policies in the UK and elsewhere. Elections are very different from what we are used to in the UK. Different voting by state, millions of dollars on the campaigns, ‘attack advertising’ and super PACs (political action committees) – in receipt in 2012 of almost $100 million for independently promoting candidates.

All this plus a complicated system of converting votes into electors in the electoral college, which elects the President. The interactive map opposite from the Huffington Post shows from a variety of polls the approximate voting intentions by state, which can help newcomers like us!

The marginal states count a lot, which is why both candidates were in Ohio on Friday. Here Romney had accused President Obama of providing massive subsidies for Chrysler only to have the company move Jeep production to China – a charge denied by the company and generally seen as a clear falsification.

Indeed it’s hard to disagree with New York Times columnist, Charles Blow’s view that “Evidence continues to emerge that Romney is one of the most dishonest, duplicitous candidates to ever seek the presidency.” (Is Romney Unraveling? 2 November 2012)

The outcome of the election is still hard to predict although most polls appear to show a slight advantage to Obama. He has been helped this last week by getting backing from New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg. An independent and formerly Republican, Bloomberg has been buffeted by last week’s Hurricane Sandy, and now believes that Obama has a far better understanding about the importance of tackling climate change. ( New York Times, 2 November 2012)

A constant claim of Romney’s is that Obama has failed to promote bipartisan approaches to policy making or as he puts it “refuses to cross the aisle”. It’s a claim that unraveled this week, when New Jersey’s Republican Governor, Chris Christie praised Obama for the work he had done to support the state in the aftermath of the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy. (See Washington Post, 4 November 2012)

There’s no doubt that there isn’t quite so much fervour this time about the Democratic campaign. Obama’s 2008 promises have often got bogged down in disputes with the Republicans in Congress. But his success in pushing through a Medicare programme against strong opposition has benefitted many.

Unemployment, a key issue in the campaigning, has risen as in other countries, but statistics issued last month have shown an increase in new jobs, and a fall in unemployment rates to below 8%, the lowest since Obama took office.

His $787 billion stimulus package of federal monies for job schemes and infrastructure projects – like the new corridor route in downtown Seattle, pictured above – may now be starting to pay off. Tomorrow we will know if this has convinced enough voters, worried about declining living standards, to give him a second term in the White House.

Warning – trees in danger

A report out recently from the Forestry Commission (See Guardian 31 October 2012) warning of the prevalence of fungal diseases affecting a range of native UK trees, will not come as a complete surprise to anyone walking in the Thornthwaite Forest vicinity.

Last year I was warned that larch forests were at risk from a fungal infection and as a result the Forestry Commission was having to cut down a three acres site above the footpath that leads across the fields from Thornthwaite to Braithwaite.

Now even more serious is the threat to the native English ash tree, which could be decimated if the spread of the ash dieback fungus, appearing last month in East Anglia, is not stopped. The cause appears to be unregulated importing of plants from other countries. The Government needs to act soon to address this serious threat to the countryside. Spread the word if you can.

One positive development to note (See story in Guardian, 29 October 2012) is that a group of academics and developers has just developed an AshTag app for smartphones, which will allow users to send details and photos of suspected examples of the fungus (the leaves of the ash droop and go black) to a central point for the Forestry Commission to investigate. It’s a great example of crowdsourcing to deal with a potentially country wide problem and the app is from today available for download by clicking on the AshTag app website.

Rain forecast: stay inside?

You know the scene, only too well these days! You’re inside the house and have finished off a job, sent off some emails and now want to go to the shops, stretch your legs in the park, go biking or have a short fell run up Cat Bells above Derwentwater.

You put your hand out of the window. Is it spitting or just my imagination? You go outside and see a lot of clouds. Which way is the wind blowing? Will it pass over? Do I need a cag? How long have I got before the rain starts? The usual questions.

Well this last week, while we’ve been on the US west coast in Seattle, we’ve been introduced to the answer! It’s a new app for iPhones and iPads called Dark Sky. The design and a display are shown in the illustration opposite.

We were out in the city’s Discovery Park last weekend, with an overcast sky. Rounding a bluff as we reached the shoreline of Puget Sound, I asked my daughter ‘Is it going to rain?’ Pulling out her iPhone, she said ‘Hang on a moment. Yes I have it now. It’s saying could be sprinkling coming’. Thirty seconds later we felt the first drops! Amazing and it wasn’t the only time this happened.

The app uses GPS information for your position and deploys weather radar data and some sophisticated software and algorythms to predict type, extent and timing of the rainfall. It does not attempt to predict weather over more than one hour in advance. It is not clear how accurate it will be in very mountainous terrain where weather patterns can change very fast and unpredictably. The app was developed by a small company, kickstarter.com with financial backing from 1200 people. A detailed account and visualisation by the developers of what the app does can be found here.

It’s a must have app, but there is a snag for anyone outside the USA. It depends upon the developers getting the weather radar data, which can involve detailed and legal issues with individual countries. They want to extend the app for wider use and invite people to indicate an interest in getting the Dark Sky app in their own country.

Why not sign in and indicate your interest and country – and while you are doing that, just send me a note in our ‘Comments’ section (below) that you have done this!