eyes on the U.S.

U.S. Election: Five Things To Know For Final Stretch Before Nov. 6



Sure, it may come down to a few undecided voters in some sleepy town in Ohio, but U.S. presidential elections are also by now very much global events. So as the world prepares to follow the final countdown to Tuesday's showdown between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, here are FIVE QUICK TIPS to guide us through the next four days...on the way to the next four years.

1. TRACK STATES, NOT NATIONAL POLLS: According to just about any national survey of voters, the race is extra tight right down to the wire. The Washington Post has a daily updated "tracking" survey that has shown each candidate circling around 48% virtually every day for the past three weeks.

But it's better to follow how the race is shaping up in certain key states. Remember that the President is elected by the total votes of the "electoral college," which totals the ballots in the individual states' "winner-take-all" contests. (So for example, if candidate X wins Florida by just one vote, he garners ALL 29 of the state's Electoral College votes...270 is the magic number to win the election)

Polls show most of the 50 are firmly locked in for one or the other candidates: dubbed a decade ago Red (Republican) and Blue (Democratic) states. But a few, including big prizes like Ohio and Florida, and suddenly key smaller states like New Hampshire and Nevada, are still considered up for grabs.

Though harshly contested by some, New York Times statistical whiz Nate Silver is wagering as of Friday that Obama has an 80% chance of victory.

Study THIS MAP at Politico.com....

.... and compare it to the one BELOW, which shows the 2008 tally.

2. SANDY EFFECT: The cynics and political insiders (yes there is some crossover between these two categories!) were calculating the effects of the so-called Superstorm Sandy even before it hit land. So far it seems to have given a small boost to Obama, who has generally praised for his handling of the disaster. He also got some unexpectedly effusive praise from Republican Governor Chris Christie when touring the destruction in New Jersey.

Also late Thursday, New York City's influential and self-declared "independent" mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he would vote for Obama, pushed in the wake of the storm to base his vote largely on the question of fighting global warming. Romney, meanwhile, without the benefit of the presidential role, has struggled to figure out how to react to the storm and keep up the partisan campaign push.

3. GROUND GAME With this linguistic reference to American football, campaign watchers say the real key to victory is the behind-the-scenes structure for canvassing voters door-to-door during the campaign -- and getting them to the polls on Election day. Television commercials and unexpected gaffes aside, it may be that it's the better-organized campaign that wins on Tuesday.

4. WHERE, WHAT, WHEN TO WATCH If you're American, go vote. If you're not, you'll want to see how they all ended up voting. Tuesday will be a long day, with lots of chatter on and off social networks... and little worthwhile information. Major media outlets will be polling voters all day, but cannot "call" winners in the individual states until voting is closed. That means it is unlikely that top news organizations will be calling the race before midnight East Coast time.... but if you study the above maps, and the latest polls, you may be able to figure it out earlier. Still, our suggestion to folks in Asia and Europe: Go to bed Tuesday, and follow the results Wednesday morning.

5. BATTLE FATIGUE Tired yet? Well then, you know how she feels...

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Saving The Planet Is Really A Question Of Dopamine

Our carelessness toward the environment could be due, in part, to the functioning of a very primitive area of our brain: the striatum.

Ad scuba-diver and brain coral

Stefano Lupieri

PARIS — Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Addictions to sex and social media

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the 'pleasure hormone.'

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

Transverse section of striatum from a structural MRI image

Lindsay Hanford and Geoff B Hall via Wikipedia

Tweaking genetics 

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Les Echos
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