Eid and Rosh Hashanah

Eid Mubarak and Shanah Tovah!

Here in Atlanta, Eid is today. We wish everyone a very happy Eid. Eid Mubarak to you!

The Jewish new year started at sundown last night. So Eid and Rosh Hashanah are on the same day. Shanah Tovah, everyone!

Liveblogging Presidential Debate I

I am liveblogging the first Presidential debate between Senator Obama and Senator McCain. It was supposed to be about foreign policy and national security, but there have been questions about the fiscal crisis.

For a while there, it looked like this debate might not happen with McCain “suspending” his campaign.

The first question about debates is: Do they matter? According to Mark Blumenthal, there is a great potential for debates to influence public opinion because they are watched by so many people.

Four years ago, according to Nielsen Media Research, 62.5 million Americans watched the first debate between John Kerry and George W. Bush. That fell short of the record 80.6 million that saw Ronald Reagan debate Jimmy Carter in 1980, but it was an enormous audience nonetheless.

Tom Holbrook looked at all Presidential debates from 1988 to 2004 and found that:

Across all thirteen presidential debates the average absolute change in candidate support was 1 percentage point. There are a few notable exceptions, of course. Two that stand out are the second debate in 1992, following which George H.W. Bush lost 2 points, and first debate of 2004, after which George W. Bush lost 2.26 points.

Gallup also looked at debates in 1960 and 1976-2004 and found that debates have little impact.

In two election years, the presidential debates may have had a meaningful impact on the structure of the presidential races; in most others, they probably have not. The debates were less likely to be catalyst events in years when one candidate was a strong front-runner, including 1984, 1988, and 1996. However, in highly competitive election years, any movement in voter preferences can be race altering, and the debates seem to have the potential to produce such movement. The probable examples of this are 1960 and 2000.

I am looking forward to this debate as it is focused on foreign policy and national security, topics that have receded into the background due to economic turmoil but where McCain inexplicably holds a lead despite his crazy war-like ideas.

9:02pm: I just finished calling voters for the Obama campaign with a number of other volunteers. Now I am watching the debate with 15 other people on MSNBC.

9:06pm: First question is about the financial crisis. Obama going first. Worst crisis since Great Depression. Move swiftly and wisely. Oversight. Helping homeowners. Bush policies, supported by McCain, responsible.

McCain starts with Kennedy being in the hospital. McCain not feeling too great about things lately. Republicans and Democrats together. End of the beginning of the crisis.

9:10pm: Lehrer asked about voting on the plan. Both Obama and McCain try to steer discussion away.

9:12pm: Obama brings up McCain’s statement of 10 days ago about economic fundamentals being good.

9:14pm: McCain criticizing Republican spending.

9:16pm: Obama compares scale of earmarks with McCain’s tax proposal cost.

9:21pm: McCain is stuck on earmarks.

9:27pm: Indepence from oil would be good but what is this foreign oil independence Obama’s talking about?

9:29pm: McCain comes back to cutting spending.

9:35pm: Did McCain just oppose foreign aid?

9:38pm: Obama ties McCain to Bush spending. McCain mentions not winning Miss Congeniality for the second time.

9:39pm: Finally, Iraq!

Obama brings back the question of lessons of Iraq to whether we should have gone to war in the first place. Have to use military wisely.

McCain says next President won’t be deciding decision to go to Iraq.

9:44pm: Why is McCain making faces and smirking so much?

9:47pm: Can everyone stop kissing General Petraeus’s ass?

9:50pm: Now on to Afghanistan. Obama argues for more troops. Did Obama just pronounce Taliban correctly? Iraq had no al-Qaeda. Iraq war a strategic mistake. Afghanistan and Pakistan. Got to deal with Pakistan. Safe haven for Taliban and al-Qaeda. Pakistan not doing enough to get rid of them.

9:53pm: McCain says don’t say out loud about attacking Pakistan. Same strategy as Iraq.

9:56pm: Obama mentions McCain’s song about “Bomb, bomb Iran.”

9:57pm: Obama says we coddled Musharraf and alienated Pakistani people. McCain replies that Pakistan was a failed state when Musharraf came to power.

10:00pm: McCain and Obama are trading stories of soldiers killed in action. WTF?

10:03pm: McCain Iran acquiring nuclear weapons is an existential threat to Israel. Mentions Holocaust. Whatever happened to Israel’s nuclear weapons? McCain talks about League of Democracies. Wow, France is a democracy now. Iranian nuclear weapons are threat around the world.

10:06pm: Obama says Iran has gained lots of influence due to Iraq war. Cannot tolerate nuclear Iran. Arms race in Middle East. Cooperation needed from Russia and China for sanctions. Engage in tough diplomacy with Iran.

10:08pm: How does talking to Ahmedinijad legitimize him? Did Reagan never talk to Brezhnev? That sounds wrong.

10:10pm: Obama citing Kissinger approvingly. I feel like ewww but have to admit Kissinger is right on talking to Iran.

10:12pm: Obama mentions McCain not meeting with Spanish Prime Minister. McCain in response tries to joke about the Presidential seal replica from the Obama primary campaign.

10:16pm: Obama says Russia has to withdraw from South Osettia and Abkhazia. Membership action plan for Ukraine and Georgia: Why, Obama, why? Obama doesn’t want cold war posture with Russia.

McCain says Obama is naive. McCain wants to bolster friends and allies. Talks about oil.

10:20pm: McCain has mentioned his trips to a lot of countries today.

10:23pm: Why did Obama have to mention “clean coal”? Arrrgh!

10:26pm: Stupidest question today: Chance of another 9/11 attack on the US? McCain says much less. McCain just came out against torture. Good for him!

10:29pm: Obama comes out against nuclear suitcases? What about nuclear backpacks? The point about nuclear proliferation is good though.

Obama also mentions torture.

10:31pm: McCain goes back to Iraq with a totally wrong but strong ending.

Obama mentions al-Qaeda and challenges with China and both being neglected due to focus on Iraq. Blames Iraq war for autism too! Too scattershot for a strong summing up.

10:34pm: McCain is now talking again, destroying the impression I had of his strong ending.

10:36pm: And finally McCain mentions his POW status.

I would rate it a draw. Obama didn’t land any knockout punches.

12:47am: CBS News poll of undecided voters:

Thirty-nine percent of uncommitted voters who watched the debate tonight thought Barack Obama was the winner. Twenty-four percent thought John McCain won. Thirty-seven percent saw it as a draw.

Forty-six percent of uncommitted voters said their opinion of Obama got better tonight. Thirty-two percent said their opinion of McCain got better.

Sixty-six percent of uncommitted voters think Obama would make the right decisions about the economy. Forty-two percent think McCain would.

Forty-eight percent of these voters think Obama would make the right decisions about Iraq. Fifty-six percent think McCain would.

That sounds good for Obama.

1:23am: CNN’s polling is even better.

You can watch the debate online or read the transcript.

HOA and Obama Yard Sign

My HOA has told me to remove an Obama yard sign. I need some help in deciding what to do.

Obama Yard Sign

I have had an Obama yard sign in my front yard since the Democratic convention.

Today I got a letter from my Home Owners Association (HOA) which says:

According to the Covenants, signs are not allowed to be displayed. Please remove the election sign.

So I checked the Covenants and found the following:

No sign of any kind shall be erected by an Owner or Occupant within the Community without the prior written consent of the Architectural Review Committee. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the Board and the Declarant shall have the right to erect reasonable and appropriate signs. “For Sale” and “For Rent” signs and security signs consistent with the Community-Wide Standard and any signs required by legal proceedings may be erected upon any Lot.

It looks like they have the right to erect “reasonable and appropriate” signs. I would like a similar right on reciprocal basis since I would guess that a 16” by 26” sign for a major party Presidential candidate during election season is both appropriate and reasonable. But evidently the management company that runs the HOA disagrees.

I am of a mind to send a letter to the Home Owners Association:

I did not know that the Soviet Union was alive and well here in our subdivision. I had heard of its demise some years ago. Anyway, if I am not allowed to display a political sign for the elections, please grant me permission to fly the Hammer and Sickle on the front of my house.

On a more serious note, does anyone know if there are any local (Fulton county), state (Georgia) or Federal laws which the HOA might be going against here? What is the case law like on this issue here?

I had no idea about Home Owner Associations before we bought a house last year. My first interaction with the HOA was earlier this year when we decided to do some work on part of our backyard. We wanted to install a playset and a small vegetable garden as well as grow flowering plants and grass in a part of the backyard which had nothing. This required approval by the Architectural Review Committee of the HOA and I being a law-abiding fellow submitted the application despite protests by Amber about this being our property and hence we being free to do whatever we wanted.

It took the committee 10 days to approve the project. When I talked to the head of the committee, I voiced my disapproval at the length of time they had taken to do so. He pointed out that the Covenants allowed the committee to take as many as 60 days and that the committee members had lives of their own and were doing this only as part-time volunteers. I replied that that was precisely the point, since their time (and mine) was so precious, so project approval should be almost automatic. If they didn’t see any egregious violation at first glance, they should approve it. I don’t think he got what I was trying to say.

To reiterate, what do you know of Georgia law on political signs and HOA covenants? What do you think I should do and why? Should I simply remove the sign? Should I keep it? In that case, what’ll happen and is it worth fighting for?

The Dark Knight

This is one of the better superhero movies with a sterling performance by Heath Ledger as the Joker.

Of course, we went to the theater to watch The Dark Knight when it came out.

Like Batman Begins, it is one of the better superhero movies. However, I liked Batman Begins better. While overall The Dark Knight was very good, the Harvey Two-Face plotline wasn’t fleshed out very well.

Heath Ledger as the Joker was great. I loved the Joker. On the other hand, the hoarse voice Batman used bothered me a bit.

Overall, it is a movie worth watching. I rate it 8/10.

Obama Campaign Volunteer

It’s been a lot of fun volunteering for the Obama campaign. We have registered voters, made phone calls and gone door to door for voter canvassing.

I first got contacted by the Obama campaign some time in Spring 2007 for a donation. I refused, not because I didn’t support Senator Obama but because I thought it was too early for a Presidential campaign.

After the primary campaign was over, I signed up online to volunteer for the campaign and soon received a call to do voter registration with the GA-400 for Obama group. So one Saturday morning, I went to the Roswell Farmer’s Market where the group was meeting. Someone from the group told us the basics of how to register voters, went through the registration form etc and sent us on our way in teams. I was paired with two others to go to Sandy Springs.

We drove to a strip mall and stood in the parking lot in front of Whole Foods, asking everyone if they were registered to vote. The reaction we got varied from person to person. Most people just said they were registered and thanked us. Others just tried to ignore us. Some said they were Republicans or supported McCain. We also ran into some Obama supporters who seemed excited to see our Obama buttons and shirts. A few people were rude as well. One woman told us she had complained to the store management because our Obama paraphernalia was screaming to her or something. So we were asked by the store to move and we went to the next strip mall and registered some voters there. We also handed out a few voter registration forms to people who wanted them for someone else. Overall, it was a decent experience for about 3 hours of work, though we didn’t get too many registrations. That was expected since most people up here in north Fulton are already registered. It’s in downtown and south of the city that there are a large number of unregistered voters.

Georgia is a very red state — Kerry lost 41%-58% to Bush in 2004 — but the Obama campaign is the first Democratic Presidential candidate to compete here since Clinton won here in 1992. There has been a large number of staff and thousands of volunteers plus 40 offices.

So I joined the local neighborhood team here in Milton organized by Alex from the campaign staff. We have had several meetings to decide our course of action, recruit volunteers and have fun.

I have been to two more voter registration events. Once our local team took Marta to Five Points. As I got on the train, someone saw my clipboard and the voter registration forms and asked me for one so she could register. We actually registered quite a few people on the train ride. Then we stood outside the Five Points station and asked everyone if they were registered to vote. Later we tried to register voters in Underground Atlanta, but it was almost deserted there and we didn’t register anyone until the mall security asked us to leave.

On the Friday before Labor day, I was in Atlanta and so I joined a group registering voters in Westside. We registered a few voters, but someone stole a volunteer’s blackberry.

We have also organized several phone bank meetings where we call voters. We have called Democrats to firm up their support. We have called Obama supporters to ask them to volunteer. Also, we have called voters who could be persuaded to support Obama.

Last Saturday, we went door-to-door canvassing in teams of two. We printed out maps and voter lists and knocked on doors. We asked them about their Presidential preference and gave undecided voters some campaign literature about issues they might be interested in. It was a pleasant experience. Most McCain supporters were very nice to us too. Only one person told us not to come campaigning to their house.

While the Obama campaign is moving some staffers out of Georgia and into more competitive states, even more local offices are opening and the volunteer network is still in place and we are still registering voters, making phone calls and going door to door.

Volunteering for the campaign has been an interesting experience. I’ve met a lot of people who are passionate about politics. Also, I have been amazed at the way modern campaigns work in a systematic fashion with a lot of available data. I think Alex related an anecdote about Abraham Lincoln sorting voters into different groups based on their support for him and then targeting voters to move them to the next group which was more supportive, e.g. from supporter of other candidate to undecided or undecided to leaning towards Lincoln, etc. So this systematic approach has a long history, though now we have computers and databases. BTW, if anyone has a reference for this anecdote, please let me know.

Please do donate to the Obama campaign (US citizens and permanent residents only).

Pine Mountain, GA

We went to Pine Mountain, GA for the Independence Day weekend. There are some photos from Callaway Gardens and the Wild Animal Safari there.

For the Fourth of July weekend, we went to Pine Mountain, GA with some friends.

The kids loved the Wild Animal Safari there.

deer
zebras
zebra
deer
cow
camel
buffalo
rhea
zony
rhinoceros
antlers
peacock
 

We wanted to go to Callaway Gardens for the July 4 fireworks, but there was a huge rainstorm. So we visited Callaway Gardens the next day.

butterfly
butterfly
butterfly
butterfly
flower
lake
duck
turtle
flower
leaf
plant
bananas
leaves
colorful plants
colorful leaf