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Ideas to Save the World - Cheap bed nets

I've been thinking for a while about how to combine the consulting/operations/business knowledge I've gained with the desire to travel and to help people solve problems. I've become fascinated by creative people who are using their abilities to find smart answers in developing countries.  I'm reading up on companies like the Acumen Fund, Root Capital, and Endeavor.

I just picked up a book called The Blue Sweater, by Jaqueline Novogratz, who founded and runs the Acumen Fund. I'm about a third of the way in so far, and it's really eye-opening.  She's very candid about her early naivete and the mistakes she made along the way, but it's also clear that she's incredibly smart and hard-working, and most of all, persevering. Time and time again, she references "patient capital" - the ability to tweak investments, learn what really works, give it time - and she means it.  It seems a much better approach than what we as Americans usually want to do -- throw some money at a problem to assuage our conscience, and then forget about how it's actually working.

I want to keep learning about these things, and to share good examples when I find them. Today I have one example of doing it wrong and one of doing it right.

The wrong way
Novogratz describes a snack shop in Kigali, Rwanda that emplyed 20 women, paying them 50 cents per day through $650 a month in donated funds. The prevailing wisdom was that employing the women was better than simply handing out the money. However, with poor quality, no effective distribution, and little motivation among the women, the project was a continual money-losing venture. As Novogratz observed:

"You could triple their incomes if you just gave them the money. It was a perfect illustration of why traditional charity too often fails: In this case, well-intentioned people gave poor women something "nice" to do, such as making cookies or crafts, and subsidized the project until there was no more money left, then moved on to a new idea. This is a no-fail way to keep already poor people mired in poverty."

If you want to know what she did to address the problem, maybe you should buy the book. ;-)

A better way
Mosquito-borne malaria infects hundreds of millions of people per year, and kills over a million, most of them in Africa. In additionto the death toll, it's a continual drain in worker productivity, it keeps kids out of school, and it taxes an already strapped health care system. Spraying with pesticides has been realtively ineffective.

Mosquitos have a hard time flying in moving air; they need you to be still to get to you. Naturally, most mosquito bites occur when people are sleeping. In Africa, people use bed nets to keep mosquitos away at night, and the if possible, they treat the nets with pesticides. However, the nets traditionally have to be re-treated about six months later. Most people don't do it.

The Japanese company Sumitomo had come up with a longer-lasting way to treat the nets, and a scientist at the World Health Organization worked with ExxonMobil and UNICEF to find a way to manufacture and distribute the nets on a large scale. The genius of Novogratz and the Acumen Fund was to pull in an African manufacturer. Acumen worked with A to Z Textile Mills, Ltd. in Tanzania to transfer the IP and provide startup costs to get them started making the nets.

In the old world, this would have been a one-time donation, or a even a way to help some Western companies sell the nets. Thanks to Acumen, the nets have been turned into a profit center. In just a few years, A to Z has found ways to make the nets more cheaply, is looking into other products (door covers and curtains), and is expanding into Ethiopia and Nigeria. Not only are the nets going out, bt the whole enterprise is heading towards being sustainable and locally-run. It already employs thousands in Tanzania.  A to Z now makes over 6 million nets a year, and in just three years, child deaths due to malaria have been cut 62% in Ethiopia.  These nets cost about $2 to make.

Stuff like this makes me really excited. I hope I can find a way to get an MBA and work on similar projects when the Bean heads off to college.

Some links:
http://www.theglobalfund.org/en/savinglives/ethiopia/ma1/
http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/92/social-capital.html
http://www.rollbackmalaria.org/rbm/Attachment/20041117/arusha2004acumen_fund.pdf







Rock on, Obama

THIS is the kind of stuff we've been waiting for!

Making the process of suing over inequitable pay a bit more sane (the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act)
www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/01/29/obama.fair.pay/index.html

List of Obama's executive orders (you should bookmark this):
http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/executive-orders/2009-obama.html

Five so far, among them:
1. Higher standards for ethical commitments by executive branch personnel - Makes it harder for lobbyists to take positions in the Obama regime, or to leave office and go into lobbying, among other things. This is GREAT.

2. Rolling back the use of torture in interrogation - Hell yeah.

3. Directive to close Guantanamo.  We'll see how this one turns out, but it's awesome to be moving forward on it.

Now, Obama's off to the wrong start in some other ways, methinks (a tax cheat to head the Treasury, really?), but I'm really liking some of the initial stances and rollbacks of the Bush crap.

Thanks, Mr. President.


Man, I love living in the future.  In the last couple of weeks, Google has quietly released entire runs of some magazines on Google Book Search.  What do I mean by the "entire run"? Well, take Popular Science as an example. Google has scanned in every page of every issue of Popular Science, since 1870, and put them all online.

All of them.

Every issue.

Since 18-frickin-70.


Right now I don't know which searches will turn up results from that magazine.  I also don't see a way to ask Google which magazines it's scanned and archived up to this point. Looking here, I see Popular Science and Popular Mechanics, Jet, Ebony, Runner's World, Flea Market Fever (!) and others. It's safe to assume that Google will work on agreements with publishers to get whatever it can up there. Some magazines (think National Geographic or The New Yorker) simply make too much money selling collections of old issues to give them away for free. But we can hope that Google will prevail and get most of the good stuff over time.

In September, Google showed off that they have digitized copies of old newspapers going back to the 1920s. Again, it's frustrating that we can't get a list of the papers, but it currently includes at least the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Saint Petersburg Times,  and the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph (apparently the oldest extant newspaper in North America).  It's pretty amazing to go back and read news stories about Taft's election, all Googley-searchable, with the original ads right there, without having to go to the library and schlep through the microfiche.

Eaxmple of newspapery goodness here
.

Ain't the internet neat?

To bail out or not to bail out?

The Question: Bailout or no bailout?

Postulate 1: It's not auto sales that's the problem
I heard a quote the other day from senator Tom Coburn, one of the Republicans filibustering the auto bailout plan:
"In 2007, GM sold 9.37 million cars worldwide. Toyota, that same year, sold 9.37 million cars worldwide. GM lost 38.7 billion. Toyota made 17.7 billion. Therein lies the problem."

Now wait a minute. What I keeping hearing is this: "The problem is that no one will buy American-made cars." In fact, this made the rounds on the 'tubes this week:

Shitty cars poster

So what's the truth?

Turns out Coburn is right and the poster above (while catchy) is wrong.  Google around and you'll find plenty of references (mostly from reports that came out in January of this year):
MSNBC
Washington Post
etc.

In 2007, GM (the biggest and most dramatic example of "trouble" in the US auto industry) beat Toyota in worldwide sales by only a few thousand cars, but they each basically sold 9.37 million cars.

As an aside, GM's sales are going down in the US, but they are going up basically everywhere else:
"Overall, we sold more than 9 million cars and trucks in 2007 for the third year in a row, and only the fourth time in GM history. Of those sales, a record 59 percent were outside the U.S. ... In 2007, our sales in Europe were up about 9 percent to a record 2.2 million units ... Strong demand for GM cars and trucks in the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Italy, Greece and Russia – where sales doubled to almost 260,000 units – made GM the fastest growing major automobile manufacturer in Europe in 2007 ... n 2007, we, with our local partners, became the first global automaker to sell more than one million vehicles there. Other highlights include 74 percent sales growth in India, and 30 percent growth in export sales from GM Daewoo in Korea. ... In our Latin America, Africa and Middle East region, sales were up 19 percent to a record 1.2 million units in 2007. All-time sales records were set in the important Brazilian market, as well as in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Egypt and Venezuela."
From GM's 2007 Annual Report

It's pretty clear that GM is selling plenty of cars, and while the American market is tanking, they're growing rapidly around the world.  Where's the problem, then?


Postulate 2: Maybe it's the employee costs?
A lot of folks assume that non-American cars are made mostly in non-US plants, but that's no longer true. Most Toyotas sold in the US are also made in the US. However, those Toyota plants are non-unionized. The hourly rate for union GM workers versus non-union Toyota workers is about the same, but when you add in benefits, there's a HUGE margin:

"Currently, UAW workers at Ford, GM and Chrysler earn an average of $28 per hour, plus benefits. At the Toyota and Honda non-union plants in the United States, the hourly rate, excluding benefits, is $26 and $24, respectively. ... the hourly compensation cost for labor, including benefits and retirees' costs, at the Big Three is $73 per hour, compared with $44 per hour at a Toyota factory with American workers in the U.S."
From blog.mises.org

It takes roughly the same number of hours for Toyota to make a car as GM, but the cost-per-hour is hugely different. GM's unionized workers have a sweet deal, but it may be a deal that runs their company into the ground. When you get the average profit or loss per vehicle (total profit loss/vehicles sold), you see this stark statistic:

"For Toyota, that was roughly $1,800 in profit for every vehicle sold. For GM, it was an average loss of $4,100 for every vehicle sold."
From blog.mises.org

In other words, every time GM makes and sells a vehicle, they LOSE four grand. Unbelievable. They simply can't afford to research, design, manufacture, deliver, and sell cars at a price that makes a profit.


Postulate 3: Maybe it's everything EXCEPT sales?
Unions don't account for all of it. There are other issues, such as distribution costs (Toyota sells through a MUCH smaller network of dealers, apparently), supply chain efficiencies, the fact that a lot of GM's sales are cheap sales to rental fleets, and so on.

If, as it appears, GM is selling plenty of cars but hemmorhaging money everywhere, then it's hard for me to see doing anything to prop them up. It seems the demand is there, and they just need to go through a painful period of slimming down. You know, the kind of thing companies do when they go through a Chapter 11.








Good job SC!

In case you missed it, The State Newspaper reports (by way of AP, by way of the NBPTS) that South Carolina was fourth in the country in the number of new national board certified teachers added in 2008:

"States with the highest number of teachers achieving National Board Certification in 2008 were: Florida (1,826), North Carolina (1,453), Washington (918), South Carolina (754) and Illinois (703)."

Note that that's a pure count, and those other states have higher populations. If someone were to get "newly-certified teachers added per 1,000 teachers" statistic, we would probably rank even higher.  In fact, further down the press release, we learn this:

"NBCTs make up at least five percent of the total teaching force in seven states. They are: North Carolina (15 percent), South Carolina (13.7 percent), Mississippi (9.4 percent), Florida (7.8 percent), Oklahoma (5.7 percent), Delaware (5.5 percent) and Washington (5.3 percent). "

Turns out, South Carolina has the second-highest percentage of national board certified teachers in the entire country!  And why is that? Because this state has committed to giving board-certified teachers huge pay raises, currently $7,500 per year. And that's just at the state level; there are district incentives as well, such as Richland 1's $5,500 per year incentive. There are even efforts to make sure those certified teachers make their way into the lowest-performing (i.e., poorest) areas. Good on ya, SC!

So for all of those who complain about our local educational system, take note: this state has put a lot of money behind getting our teaching workforce certified, and it's working incredibly well. 

Now we just have to see how much that board certification translates into actual, you know, results.


Iron and Whine

Last Thursday night, wahya_goingback and I drove up to the Orange Peel in Asheville to see Iron and Wine. I've had a good run of concerts these last few months - Wilco, Bon Iver, Flogging Molly, and now Iron and Wine, certainly near the top of the Must See List for both of us. We wound our way up into the almost-bare mountains of North Carolina, taking turns dj-ing on her iPod and my Zune, our hopes high for a great show.

We arrived uneventfully, and drove around looking for a place to park. Asheville neo-hippies were everywhere - every guy had a beard and scraggly hair, every girl had arm warmers and knitted accessores and piercings and tats. Finally we decided to park in the parking lot of a nearby appliance repair shop which was closed for the night.



We made our way into the Orange Peel. This place has got to be one of the best music clubs going in the southeast right now - great ambiance, several bars, good acoustics, a nice crowd up in the mountains. This show was obviously sold out, but packed in as we were, there really wasn't a bad spot in the whole joint.

Which is interesting, because as we tried to make an inroad into the crowd (leaving our spot by the merch table where someone bumped into us every few seconds), we were accosted by a preppier-looking chick, five dollar beer in hand, who leered over at us and said, "Are you two planning on standing there?" We had stopped briefly to survey the Road Ahead, and I informed her that we were trying to get closer to the stage. "Well, you need to move along," she sneered.  She was among a little knot of six or eight people. Not wanting to argue, we pressed on, only to be rebuffed. There may have been interstices somewhere in that crowd, but we weren't getting any farther without a crowbar. We parked ourselves to watch the show - just in front of Ms. Stay-Away-From-Us.

"No way. I KNOW you did not just do that," she hissed. "Do you think you can just stand in front of us like that?" I told her sorry, but that we hadn't found a way forward (keep in mind that wayha and I sre pretty damned short). "You are GOING to move - " she replied. "we've been here for two hours." I told her that we had driven two and a half hours, and we'd be getting home awfully late, and besides, had she ever been to a concert? Everybody finds the best spot they can, them's the breaks.

She wasn't having it, and she got louder, waggling her face in front of[info]wahya_goingback  who, it should be noted, takes no shit from anyone. Other invectives were thrown at us, including "You must not be from around here." I love that one.

Finally, wayha would having no more of it. She lowered her shoulder and fell back into our bitchy friend, in one swift motion pushing the whole circle back about a foot. I can't properly express how fun it was to watch their collective expression shift from "you guys are scum" to "Oh SHIT!".  Had I not restrained my friend there would have been nothing but a puddle of hippie on the floor in short order. But we turned around and ignored them for what turned out to be a FANTASTIC show. This is clearly one of their favorite venues, and I have never been part of such a quiet and respectful crowd. It really was like being in the world's largest living room. Wonderful.



Which is good, because when we went back to my car, it HAD BEEN TOWED.

So there we were, at midnight, 2.5 hours from home, with no car, weather maybe in the upper 30s.

It took us a while to find out who towed it, try (and fail) to get a cab, walk several blocks to a bar, call a cab, get to the towing place, call them several times, wait for a guy to come let us in, pay the $150 to get the car (ouch.), and start our late night trip home.  All of that had taken a bit of a shine off of the night of great music and almost-stompin-bitchez.

But then, as we open the car doors, we looked up. Because out of that cold Asheville night, among the stars, snow was falling down.

Wayha is right.

It was worth it.

Tags:

I'm starting a new series of blog posts. Occasionally I run across people (historical figures, typically) who are badass. These people are the rightful subjects of our awe/adulation, and someone should spread the word, lest they be missed or forgotten.  So, without further adieu, installment 1 of

People You May Not Have Known Were Badass: Sir Thomas Malory

When one looks at the storied history of English literature, there is a great gaping hole between Chaucer in the late 14th century, and the age of Shakespeare in the late 16th century/early 17th century. For a space of about two hundred years, you'd be hard pressed to find a literary giant.

Unless of course you count Sir Thomas Malory.

Sir Thomas Malory wrote Le Morte d'Arthurwhich collected a passel of old stories from various sources and forged from them the modern conception of the Arthurian romance. Oh sure, stories of courtly love and knights and whatnot were common currency across Europe from the dark ages. However, it was Sir Thomas Malory who put them together into a readable, semi-coherent plot, worked with William Caxton (the first Britich printer and publisher of books, and somewhat of a badass himself) to print them, and provided the source material for romantics for generations to come. 

T.H. White and The Once and Future King and Disney's The Sword and the Stone? All due to Malory, who in fact has a cameo at the end of White's book.

Tennyson and The Lady of Shalott? That's coming from Malory as well.

All of that old Victorian capital-R Romance, with knights and chivalry and saving maidens and wizards and castles and all of that stuff, which spawned so much art and so many other stories, both classic and crappy?

The posters in the dorm rooms of female college freshmen, like this


and this?


Malory, baby. It's all due to him.  In fact, Amazon.com has 289 results for books by Sir Thomas Malory. If you could count all of the different editions of Le Morte d'Arthur as a single book, it would still be a bestseller, more than 500 years after his death.

Pretty badass, ain't it?

Well, you don't know the half of it.

Turns out that this writing career of Malory's was just the capstone on a life of violent and bawdy rabblerousing.  While the details of his life are up for some debate (I mean, we are talking centuries ago, here), here are some things we are fairly certain of:

- He became an honest-to-god knight, at a time when that was expensive to do.

- He was elected to Parliament. Twice.

- He was accused on more than one occasion of extortion. Back then, extortion wasn't a namby-pamby affair; it involved telling someone basically face-to-face that "You need to give me money, because I'm more badass than you."

- In January 1450, Malory "and 26 other armed men were said to have laid an ambush for [the Duke of] Buckingham in the Abbot of Combe's woods near Newbold Revel". So there's the attempted murder thing.

- On more than one occasion he allegedly raped Joan Smith and stole money from her. However, it should be noted that the husband brought the charges, and she did not corroborate them. This was very unusual at the time, and most historians think that Malory seduced Mrs. Smith and her cuckolded husband brought the charges for this reason.

From an account by P.J.C. Field: On March 5, 1451, a warrant is issued for his arrest, and a few weeks later "he and various accomplices were alleged to have stolen cattle in Warwickshire -- 7 cows, 2 calves, 335 sheep, and a cart worth 22 pounds at Cosford, Warwickshire. Buckingham, taking with him 60 men from Warwickshire, attempts to apprehend Malory, but "in the meantime Malory apparently raided Buckingham's hunting lodge, killed his deer, and did an enormous amount of damage" -- 500 pounds worth. I'm sorry, but when the local sheriff goes after you for theft and in the meantime you raid his house? That's just badass, my friends.

- Also according to Field, Malory was "arrested and imprisoned at Coleshill, but after two days escaped by swimming the moat [at night]. He then reportedly twice raided Combe Abbey with a large band of [one hundred] men, breaking down doors, insulting the monks, and stealing a great deal of money". You know all of those movies where the clever medieval ruffian escapes by swimming the moat? Yeah. He did that. Then he celebrated by attacking monks and stealing their money, and history makes sure to record that he insulted them as well.  

Because the man had style.

- Overall, he was imprisoned something like six or eight times, though never brought to trial. He was so badass that he was specifically excluded from general pardons. When the king says, "Yeah, let everyone go free. EXCEPT that Malory guy," then you know you're badass.

- Eventually he was imprisoned for the last time in his life. He died either in prison, or shortly after being released. And what did he do during that last three-year prison stint?

He wrote the book that would basically launch our modern concept of chivalry and medieval romance.

So next Hallowe'en, when half of your friends are dressed up like stupid pimps, with fake purple fur and giant plastic diamonds on their canes, I'll be the guy dressed up like Thomas Malory.  And most people will think I'm just a knight. But I'll wink at you, while stealing some food, insulting the host, makin' it with the women and writing a timeless bestseller, and you'll know who I am.

References:
Clearly, you should buy yourself a five dollar Penguin copy of Le Morte d'Arthur (though be careful you don't get the original Middle English version, yeesh), but you might also look at the following references:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Malory
http://www.malory.net/bio_%20frame.htm




Tags:

The Obama era begins

Congratulations to President Elect Barack Obama. Regardless of how the next few years go, he has inspired people and broken a glass ceiling that should have been broken long ago. We should always support the office of the president, and I wish Obama the best as we head into some challenging times.

Having said that, I want to bookmark for future reference my Hopes (tm) and fears concerning his victory.

Good things about Obama's victory
1. "Hope": For all the hokiness of political slogans, Obama has created hope - among minorities, among the Left, among everyone who thought that the Neoconservatives had a lock on things. I have a lot of friends who are normally intensely cynical about politics, who have a bright and shining stainless faith in this man. It's good for us to periodically cleanse ourselves of that venom against the system.

2. Race relations: It's time we white guys got used to the fact that women and minorities can do the Important jobs. Racism is still with us, regardless of what people say, but this election is a huge step in the right direction.

3. Image: In a lot of ways, I see Obama as a paper candidate - someone who looks good, dresses well, can speak eloquently (at least by today's diminished standards), but doesn't have much in the way of actual accomplishments. But let me give him credit here - the President is largely a human symbol - someone who leads us all along the same path, inspires us, makes us look good around the world. Obama , more than anyone since Reagan, has what it takes to do that.

4. He's a wonk: When I say "wonk," I mean someone who lives and breathes by a set of ideals, who thinks all the time about the minutiae of governance. While he might not quite be the visionary that Al Gore is, Obama is a very smart guy, a thinker, and someone who is willing to listen to others. Let me give a couple of examples:

4a. Read this essay from Obama to the crew over at the DailyKos. He thoughtfully and intelligently takes a moderate position against some left wing extremists (in particular, he defends John Roberts as a good choice for the Supreme Court). Precious few modern day politicians would take the time to write such an essay.

4b. Obama is tech-savvy, and has been in contact with people like Stanford professor Lawrence Lessig on tech. policy. Don't know who Lessig is? Doesn't matter; suffice it to say that he is the intellectual leader in a complex field. Obama didn't try to use the pre-built Democrat platform. He went to the experts.

So these are all good things. A smart guy who thinks a lot about governance, projects a snazzy image and consults with the experts.

Here are my worries
1. Inexperience: No matter how you slice it, Obama is unusually inexperienced for his new job. He has never had executive experience of any kind, and now will hold the highest executive office in the land. He only arrived on the national stage in 2005, and half the time since has been spent campaining. Basically, we are giving the presidency to a guy with 1.5 years of full-time experience about the state level. I like my leaders to have a proven track record and some experience under their belt. I think we have a lot of words to judge Obama by, but few actions.

2. Almost socialist stance: Keep in mind that I'm an independent generally, and was a fervent Ron Paul guy this time around, voting for him in the Republican primary before voting for Obama in the general election.  However, it's clear from everything we do know about Obama's upbringing, his associations, the legistlation he's brought forward, his speeches, and his ratings from the various agencies that Obama is very much on the far left of the political spectrum. Both the National Journal and Michael Moore called him the "most liberal senator," for instance.

And that's fine. Every point on the political spectrum, from the far right to the far left, has an internal consistency that can be espoused by well-meaning and intelligent people. But let's at least be honest about it. I think it's highly likely that a strongly Democrat Congress with Obama at the helm will take us down the road to socialism post haste. The middle-of-the-road rhetoric of "tax cuts for everybody while all the stuff you want receives better funding" simply can't be tenable over the long run.

Here's an excerpt from a 2001 interview in which Obama seems to see the Constitution as an obstacle in the way of "redistribution":

"And to that extent as radical as people tried to characterize the Warren court, it wasn’t that radical. It didn’t break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution, at least as it’s been interpreted, and the Warren court interpreted it in the same way that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties."

Well, yes. The Consitituion is exactly a list of what the government can't do, as a protection from an overreaching, socialist style government. Obama seems to wish it were otherwise.

I'd like for us to be more transparent.  If Obama were to say, "I'd like to tax you at 50%, and in return you'll get x, y, and z," I'd know what to do with that.  But instead, we've been given a portrait of the candidate that's inconsistent with his past. Why?

3. Troubling associations: Obama seems to have extensive connections to ACORN and similar groups, who at best have little respect for truth in their electioneering, and at worst are actively (and illegally) sabotaging the system. He did sit in a pew for 20 years learning at the feet of one of the leading black liberation theologians, hearing America slandered every possible way. He does have a lot of connections to (and support from) socialists/communists, America-haters, wannabe terrorists, and so on. Maybe it's just that he came up from the "rabblerousing Left". Maybe that's fine. But it makes me wonder how Machiavellian he may truly be. The campaign already has shown a quick fist in dealing with anyone who is critical. How will things be when he has all the machinery of the White House at his disposal? Could he end up the left wing equivalent of Nixon? I hope not.

In the end, I voted for the guy, and my vote was a vote for "hope," too. I have a hard time taking anything at face value. I let the accusations sink in and worry me. Hopefully he'll succeed in most of the ways we've hoped for, and four years from now we'll all be in a better place.

The best thing I can do is to wish him all the best and support the office of the President.  I will try my best to believe in the Change We Can Believe In.


New improv games!

Last week, the Art Bar Players got together for our usual Monday night practice, but we brought new games with us. I'd been watching the UK "Whose Line...", and Andy had been trolling the tubes for new stuff, and then before we knew it, basically everybody had brought in a sheet with new ideas.  Now it looks like we may try to work in a couple of new bits per show for a while.  I think it'll be a blast, and it's fun watching the troupe evolve.

A couple of spoilers for my loyal readers (both of ya!):

"More Specific!"
Much like our classics "Say It Again Sam" and "Rhymin' Simon". A couple of people are given a scene, and as they progress, the host will periodically stop them and ask them to repeat what they said, only "Be more specific!". So, you could get the following progression:

Player A: "She's really hot."
Host: "Be more specific!"
Player A: "She's hotter than Britney Spears."
Host: "Be MORE specific!"
Player A: "She's hotter than Britney Spears covered in chocolate sauce, reciting the latest World of Warcraft patch notes."

You can see that this would get silly.

"Confession"
Similar to our dramatic irony guessing games, in this one someone is confessing their sins to a priest, only the confessor doesn't know what their sins are.  

"Slogans"

This may remind you of our game 185, where we take a single theme and the group riffs on it, then grabs another starter. Here we take commercial products, and come up with new slogans for them. My favorite from last time:
"Cornflakes: Much better than our pancreas flakes"
"Cornflakes: Fuck it. You gotta put something in that bowl."

Hee.

I'm really looking forward to tonight's rehearsal and the next show.

Political frustrations

This may be a bit of a rant; thanks for putting up with me.

First: Obama/Biden will win. This is now clear beyond any real doubt, unless we see a very widespread incidence of the "young people don't vote phenomenon".

I think an Obama win is a good thing for the following reasons:
1. Obama is black. I'm excited about having a black president. One glass ceiling down.
2. Obama seems to me to be a real political thinker, much like Al Gore. After the blathering idiot we've had in the White House these past eight years, that's a refreshing change.
3. I look forward to having an all-Democrat power base at the national level. More on this later in this post.

I think an Obama win is (potentially) a bad thing for the following reasons:
1. He is very inexperienced for this job. He has zero executive branch experience, and only a couple of years of national experience, most of which has been spent campaigning. He talks a lot about things, but we have precious little evidence of his actions.
2. He has a lot of troubling associations with divisive and anti-American people.

Having said all of that, I think I have to give the guy the benefit of a doubt and vote for him.  But it's fairly close for me. I'm an independent - maybe the only true independent in my regular crowd. I believe that there is trult not much difference between Republicans and Democrats. They are basically one party with the same goal - extending and expanding power and making money.  I really wanted Ron Paul to have a shot, and the way he was torpedoed and character assassinated was quite disheartening for me. I think George Bush is one of our worst presidents ever, and the neocons really frighten me.  But John McCain is a truly great man.

And this is where my frustrations set in.

I mostly hang out with dyed-in-the-wool liberals. If you're reading this, you are probably one of them. And in fact, you're probably seething to tell me that John McCain is terrible, he's mean, he's dumb, he's old and senile, that I have drunk the Republican Kool-Aid on my Obama cons above, and so on. 

I have never seen such vitriol and hate, such a lack of willingness to talk about real issues and have a civil discourse as during this election.  It seems that the default position of all libs now is the following:

Every Republican is:
1. Dumb and /or uneducated
2. Unkind
3. Furthermore, "Republican" and "intolerant Christian bigot" are for all practical purposes the same terms.

Intelligent, well-meaning people must be able to admit that there are rational worldviews on both sides of many of these issues, but that has all been thrown out in the political feeding frenzy.  I have tried to have civil conversations about actual issues with my friends, and it has become impossible. At this point, I am resigned to simply saying "You're right, McCain is dumb and hateful, you're right, please stop, yes, you're right." and waiting for next January when there are no major Republicans in power for my friends to bitch (constantly) about.

So yes, I want Obama to win, based on the merits I have thus far seen from him. He's convinced me that he's worth gambling on, inexperienced or no. But at this point, I mostly want to see if in fact the Dems, once they are totally and completely in control of everything, will just make it all magically better as my friends seem to believe. 

Because if everything isn't better, I have zero doubt that it will still, somehow be the fault of those mean, dumb Republicans.