Monthly Archives: November 2003

From Tbilisi to Telavi – My Georgian Adventure

On November 2, 2003, Georgia held watershed parliamentary elections.

No, I’m not talking about Georgia, home of Ralph Reed and Newt Gingrich … I’m talking about the other Georgia – the one that lies just south of Russia and north of Armenia and Azerbaijan. I’m talking about the Georgia that borders the Caucus Mountains and the Black Sea. The birthplace of both Ed Shevardnadze and Joe Stalin. And yes, the place where they want to name a mountain after Governor Schwarzenegger.

I went to Georgia as a delegate to observe the elections through IRI – the International Republican Institute – an organization (formed in 1983) funded by Congress to promote Democracy abroad. IRI is led by the able George Folsom, the South Carolina native with a long history of helping the world become a better place.

IRI issued its own statement of the elections that I agree with – and I’ve included my random and unstructured thoughts that follow:


– Not being a world traveler – my first observation is that lines are for losers. In the Vienna airport – running to catch my flight on Airzena (Georgian Airlines) and going through security and passport control … I was there … waiting dutifully on line … with people cutting in front of me left and right … just totally blatantly cutting in … and I’m the loser … just taking it … being a silly American…

– Most of the highway billboards in Georgia are blank … no, not filled with old advertisements that have long since expired (like Silicon Valley circa 2001) … but blank. The billboards that have ads are generally feature election candidates or cigarettes…

– We stayed in the Tbilisi Marriott (for four days) – which was actually quite luxurious – and the bathrooms were ADA compliant! Odd … here, in the old Soviet Union, they are starting to build to American code.

– Georgia is an interesting place. They’ve got only five million people – yet they have their own culture, their own religion (Georgian Orthodox), their own language, and even their own alphabet!

We head to Telavi for three days where I am stationed to do election monitoring. The trip of only 120 kilometers took three hours because of the poor roads … with me is IRI staffer Liz Ruedy, Keti (our translator), Zaza (our driver), and some guy named Iragli (I have no idea what he did but he got mad and took a bus home half-way through the trip). Telavi is beautiful … it is the wine region of Georgia … and it is located in the shadows of the Caucuses … which is also near the Pankisi Gorge – one of the more dangerous regions in the world that is dominated by Chechen rebels (but I did not tell my mother that) …

– After arriving in Telavi, we head to the best restaurant in town … and it is huge! The place can fit maybe 1000 people with lots of seating outdoors – probably was an old soviet banquet hall … and … we are the only ones there! (they’re obviously very happy to see us) … We order chicken and roast beef … it takes an hour for us to get served the chicken … we are pretty sure they actually went out and killed the bird for us … and we are all worried about the roast beef …

– one thing about Georgian food … in every place we went to eat (even the really cheap places), they serve massive portions. I mean MASSIVE. We were usually served triple what we could eat. And the food is extremely delicious … so we were eating a lot … and gained much weight (its all bread and meat) …


– Profile of Zaza: our driver. Zaza dressed in all black – shoes, socks, pants, turtleneck, and jacket – all black. He doesn’t say much and he doesn’t like fish. He’s a great driver – can maneuver even the tightest corner … but Zaza ALWAYS gets lost (in fact, it seems everyone always gets lost in Georgia as the roads rarely follow a set pattern and streets are not clearly marked) … he’s got a big smile and he likes to blast his Sade tape while driving … SMOOTH OPERATOR

– Profile of Keti: our translator. When I ask her — “what do you want to eat?” she answers “cow” — which I assume is the literal translation for “beef”. Keti is 25, married, and has a 7 year old son (she was married at age 17) — which is all pretty common in Georgia. She and her husband (an economist) live in Tbilisi with his parents and his brother (also very common). She asks me many questions about America. She asks about the differences between men and women, about American weddings, about the plight of black people, and asks if Armenian Americans are rich. She thinks it is weird the people might live with a roommate they never met before and she does not know many people that “date”. Keti thinks Internet dating is really crazy. Most of her friends (all married) are part of only one-income families. But in all those cases … it is the women that are the bread winners … the men would rather be unemployed than “settle” for a job as a waiter, cashier, etc. The men sit … at home … watching TV … and are philosophers … while the women toil ….

– On election day we wake up at 5:30 am … and get ready for a big day with a big breakfast … and then off to open the first poll where we watch the set up, the ballots being unlocked, the voter rolls being posted, and more. The ballot box was secured with post-it notes and crazy glue – and for some odd reason, the only thing I could think about was that no one there should sniff the glue. I’m glad that there was no helium there – we all might have been talking like Donald Duck …

– We headed to polling station 4 — the room is filled with pictures of old Georgian chess champions — some as far back as the 1890s — their faces look down at us … Some smiling … Some just looking away … The men and women look down at us and make us want to yell “checkmate!” Ever play chess in the nude? Ok, I haven’t either …. But I wish the chess board was made of card board rather than wood — I want to throw one on the floor and start break-dancing … you know … doing that butt spin thingy … that might impress the Georgian voters … ok … I was getting pretty delirious at this point … maybe it was all that crazy glue …


– One thing I noticed … and we went to eight different polling places … is that most of the poll-workers and the party representatives watching the volunteers (there were usually 15 poll-worker and another 15 representatives) were women – about 80% of the people in the room at any given time were women.

– We arrived at our last polling station at 7:30 pm to watch the polls close and the count … you can’t leave the room during the count … and there is no bathroom in the room … so my strategy of drinking Coke throughout the night to keep me awake was shot … they finally started counting the ballots at 12:24 am … and finally finished around 5:00 am … we were home … asleep … by 5:30 am … exactly 24 hours from the time we started …

– It turns out that though things went pretty smoothly in Telavi, the elections were not free and fair throughout the country and I kept thinking about how analogous the country was to America in the early 20th Century (or to current places like Cook Country, IL) … I just hope no one there voted for Pat Buchanan by accident …

– Later on in Tbilisi … with the country in an uproar over the election … I watch the protests in the streets … and I see how much the Georgian people care about the future of their country … and it is a beautiful country with massive scenery changes, a great beach in the summer … amazing skiing in the winter … but no infrastructure (roads, power, heat, security) to support tourism for them to profit on their country’s beauty … Georgia is rich in people, but is also rich in corruption … it is a place that could have a very bright future … or could be mired for a long time … and this past election and the next one (for President in April, 2005) are key barometers for where Georgia is heading …

Check out my pictures from Georgia

implications of outshoring

I was talking to Geoffrey Moore today on the politics of outshoring (outsourcing services to people outside the US) and he brought up a very interesting point …

Are Americans entitled to a certain uber lifestyle?

We Americans live at a standard exponentially greater than most of the rest of the world — even greater than most of the first world. Is that an entitlement such that we need to worry about outshoring and leveling the playing field overseas? Or is it a classic example that our price is too high and that we are inviting competition?

Social Software Weblog

The Social Software Weblog

Jason McCabe Calacanis’s weblog on social networks software is the most comprehensive news site on the industry … period.

i’ve recently got turned on to the the site but now i will be sure to read it every day. Calacanis gives very detailed information and he is remarkably accurate and informed with rumors in the space.

Spoke Raises Another $10 million

Spoke Software announced that it recently raised $10 million.

As many of you know, I am a huge fan of Spoke for me personally. For a salesperson, it is an extremely compelling tool. Spoke, of course, is not a good tool for traditional scial networking (dating, selling an television, finding a roommate) — but Spoke is compelling if you are looking to sell software or services (something that I do everyday).

I’m averaging about six requests per week on Spoke and I am completing about half of those requests. On LinkedIn, I get about two requests per week, and I am also completing about half.

Summation: if you haven’t yet signed up for Spoke, I highly suggest you do so.