Friday, September 30, 2005

Shark Point

PHOTO: Courtesy of, an online resource for diving articles and discussion.

Today was an ideal day during my stay in Thailand which included -- going to the gym, breakfast by the pool, client work, purchasing some local oil paintings after I met the artist to discuss his work, and ending with a half day scuba diving trip at two dive sites known as 1.) Koh Kai Nui and 2.) Shark Point (although some dive staff called it "Fish Point" to make it sound friendlier I guess) which are located off the southeast coast of Phuket Town. More later on this below but I did spend some time with a leopard shark as my "dive buddy" on this trip!

The day itself was glorious with mostly clear skies on the way to the dive sites and a light, cool rain on our return boat trip that ended quickly. Overall the diving was impressive in terms of quantity and variety of fish plus the wide range of corals and fans. However visibility was rather limited to probably 20 feet due to rains this week. Between the two dives the dive boat provided us with water, sodas, pineapple slices, and watermelon slices which made for a refreshing lunch.

Overall the dive shop was professional, knowledgeable, and personable in term of staff but it was lacking in some basic dive practices such as their failure to provide any safety equipment briefing including where fire extinguishers, first aid kit, and life buoys are located on the boat AND their failure to verify divers had current dive certification cards (aka "C-cards") and recent dives logged in their log books. As it turned out these items were the least of my concerns because on the second dive of the day at "Shark Point" I became separated from my dive group when the Dive Master leading our three (3) diver group turned back to help one diver's husband (she stopped to watch the two of them) descend faster but since the Dive Master never indicated to me that he was dropping back and ascending I kept swimming forward by myself. Since visibility was probably 15 feet at the time it took just a few fin kicks until I was out of their field of vision and on my own!!

While I do have my PADI Dive Master certification let me give full credit to PADI's "Rescue Diver" course -- -- which a diver must take to progress on to Dive Master. Due to my Rescue Diver training I did not panic deciding to stop to try to find my fellow divers by looking around me but once that failed to produce any clues where the group was located I continued on with our planned dive path which was basically circling Shark Point. I kept moving around the point until I saw scuba exhaust buddles which I swam to and joined another group of divers who were on our dive boat. This experience reinforced for me what I have said for years in diving -- ALL divers should progress through Rescue Diver which would make the sport even safer than it is today.

As a Dive Master I used to teach the "Refresher Course" for already certified divers but sadly I would usually have at least one student in class who had no idea of how to do one or more of the basic scuba skills such as clearing your mask or recovering your regulator. The likely cause of such skill deficiencies is the resort area mindset of "train the divers enough to get them in the water..........." versus teaching the beginner certification course with the intensity that it requires.

My best advice to friends and readers is that if you plan to get certified in diving please complete all the classroom sessions and pool sessions in your home area and NOT while on vacation. Not only will you waste valuable vacation time sitting in class you simply will not receive the training every beginner diver needs and deserves.

See you in the water,


Thursday, September 29, 2005

David Ricardo is smiling :)

The economist David Ricardo is credited with the first clear articulation of the concept of "Comparative Advantage",, via his 1817 book, The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation. This rather simple concept states that all parties/countries involved in commerce (domestic or foreign trade) are better off if there is a "specialization of labor" -- perhaps with one trading party producing guns and another party producing butter for those of you who have fond memories of Economics 101.

I was reminded of Mr. Ricardo's 188 year old concept today while reading the following story in the Bangkok Post newspaper during my trip to Thailand:

"Singapore to host world's first Toilet College"

The purpose of this college is described as -- "We are going to train the toilet cleaners to upgrade himself or herself to a level where he or she (no gender bias in this industry mind you!!!) can take care of the entire toilet, including changing bulbs, repairing leaky tabs, technical cleaning, taking away salt urine inside the toilet..........." , said Jack Sim, President of the World Toilet Organization (WTO) which is based in Singapore. The WTO (no, not those free traders in Geneva) is the founder of the toilet college. One final note here is that the college curriculum will not just be limited to cleaning because in 2006 they will offer courses in "toilet design and architecture" which is a great subject for a future posting regarding how dynamic, service economies constantly create higher-paying, value-added jobs as newly developing economies take over the lower-value added products and job functions (such as removing salt urine from toilets!!).

Now that is what I call comparative advantage and specialization of labor!!

Working to expand free trade,


Thailand headlines

Yesterday was consumed with flights so I am just catching up on postings now. I flew from Brussels to Frankfurt to Bangkok and finally to Phuket, Thailand where I am participating in a free market think tank conference focused on Asia.

As is my practice I read one of the local newspapers, "The Nation," , in this case a daily English language newspaper. So I thought I would provide a review of the local news stories:

"Minister Ordered to Review Reshuffle" -- an article on Thailand's Public Health Minister's attempt to change the job duties of 10 senior health officials

"Low Cost Clay Homes win over judges" -- an article on a group of Sri Pathun University students who designed a model home for "people currently living in slums" which would be built from -- clay, sand, chaff, straw, and cement.

The news story which caught my attention was an article outlining the Thai government's plans to make learning Mandarin Chinese a requirement for students. Since there are daily stories in the American and European media outlets that I read and watch this Thai angle was not a surprise given the "neighborhood geography" of Thailand and China. However, what I am reminded of is my country's general lack of interest in learning foreign languages. NO, of course I not advocating a new US Department of Education program requiring American students to learn any given language but I am highlighting this lack of "multi-lingual infrastructure" we have in this very globalized economy but more on this subject in a future posting.

I am off to see Phuket's beaches and Thai restaurants now so stay tuned for future postings.


Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Bob Plunkett

How people respond to "competition" is fascinating don't you think? Most people love competitive sports -- well except those social engineers who feel sports don't build the "cooperative spirit" society needs, instead they argue we need to have Little League Baseball games where scores are NOT kept, yea that is a great lesson for later in life when your child has a real job in a corporation that does "keep score" and fires your child for not achieving anything such as closing on new sales - but often people fear or even fight competition from entering incumbent markets.

I saw this public fear first hand when I was about 12 years old in my very small home town of Ida Grove, Iowa USA with a population of about 2,500 people. This is when "Casey's General Stores" opened a convenience store selling gasoline and grocery items. I remember how the locals complained this "big outsider corporation" would drive local business owners out of business which is what happened with a few of the local gas stations. But a few years later a "Pronto" convenience store opened across the highway from "Casey's" which clearly increased competition again (a market correction) plus it essentially forced "Casey's" to upgrade and expand their aging building thus providing another benefit to local residents.

So did Bob Plunkett own a local gas station, Casey's, or Pronto in Ida Grove you might being wondering? No, Bob Plunkett was a high school teacher and one of my instructors who has been deceased for years but I want him remembered via this blog since for me he was the personification of competition itself. Mr. Plunkett was a science teacher who taught a special course for motivated, self-directed students such as myself (big dreams you know!!). This course was essentially a college-prep, honors course which he taught at a given hour each day but the difference was that each student (probably 8 of us total if my now fading memory serves) CHOSE which course they wanted to study during Mr. Plunkett's class session. The range of subjects our class studied included -- Advanced Electronics, Human Physiology, and Advanced Biology. Mr. Plunkett would move from table to table talking with students on a one to one or small group basis. The class readings were completely self-directed but we had to reach oral agreements with Mr. Plunkett regarding when we had to complete his various quizzes and exams to test us on our selected course material. Now that, is student empowerment, which clearly prepared us for the "sink or swim" culture of university life.

The lesson for a believer in "school choice" such as myself is that the basic demographics of small towns like Ida Grove, Iowa (2,500 population) do not offer the market size needed to create a competing charter school, private academy, or parochial school for students/parents to choose from so we must have "competition from within" the incumbent school. Based on the current salary model most school districts use to pay teachers Mr. Plunkett was probably one of the highest paid teachers in my high school simply because he worked for numerous years until he retired as a teacher. However, given Mr. Plunkett's obvious talent for teaching and ability to "compete for students" since the course was strictly voluntary and provided a service the "incumbent system" -- think of the incumbent gas stations discussed earlier -- did not provide namely consumer choice he would have thrived both professionally and financially at any high school which offered performance-based compensation to its teachers.

I know I never thanked Bob Plunkett, exceptional teacher that he was, properly when I last saw him years ago so hopefully this blog posting will help memorialize him properly.

Rest in Peace Mr. Plunkett,


Monday, September 26, 2005

Getting to Know You.....

Undoubtedly this posting is inspired by the fact that I live in both the USA and Europe where the word "liberal" has a negative connotation in both regions BUT has two completely different meanings!!

Say again?

Here is the short explanation since I am confident my educated audience has some sense of what I mean:

USA/American "Liberal" -- typically defined as a: big government advocate, a believer in class warfare, and a promoter of "tax and spend" policies.

European "Liberal" -- typically defined as a: believer in a greater degree of economic freedom, a greater reliance on market forces, and , now sit down for this one!!! Lower Taxes!! (but not all of them I have learned :)

Well enough of the background -- the central purpose of this post is to move my audience from the tiresome "conservative OR liberal" labeling that is thrown around at dinner parties, during election campaigns, or via a range of colorful (both physically and verbally) bumper stickers to an entirely new vocabulary. NO, I am not advocating Orwell's "New Speak" here but I am promoting the use of this very user-friendly web-based tool:

I love this short quiz because it never fails to educate people as to what their worldview actually is such as a friend in Iowa -- name withheld to protect her from ridicule :) -- who discovered that she is a "Statist" according to the quiz. This of course provided me with the opportunity to mention some of history's famous statists with which she shares this label -- Stalin and Hitler come to mind.

Now there is no need to share your "quiz label" with me but if you take the quiz and the results disturb you please don't hesitate to contact me for advice on how to evolve your statist views via some good books or websites such as these: -- free markets ARE moral

and -- "trade not aid"

Yours in tax slavery,


Sunday, September 25, 2005

Gap Years = education reform

Well my trip in Portugal ends today so as I leave for the airport I am reminded of the concept known as "Gap Year" which is primarily a British cultural practice from what I have seen. If this "Gap Year" concept exists in other countries I look forward to hearing from you.I guess I am reminded of Gap Years since Portugal has such a large presence of British ex-pats, retirees, etc. Basically the concept is that a graduating high school student (in USA language terms) has their university slot/place reserved for them while they take the next year following high school graduation off to explore the world, work, volunteer, etc.For example -- let's say that Alice graduates from Worthington, Minnesota High School in May 2006 and has been accepted by Yale University to study Economics. Alice opts instead to take a "Gap Year" until August 2007 at which time she enters Yale University as a freshman. So what does she do during her gap year? Let's say she works for six (6) months in a factory near Worthington so she can save enough money to travel for the next six (6) months to be a literacy volunteer in Peru. Once Alice completes this gap year she enters Yale (ideally of course) a more mature, worldly, and motivated student.I am intrigued by this gap year concept given the peer and societal pressure we place on American high school students to "go to college right after high school or you will slip beyond everybody else............." plus I have lived in the United Kingdom in 1986 as a student and again from 2002 to 2004 as a consultant so I was exposed to this gap year concept.From my own university fraternity experience I simply saw too many freshmen who should have pursued other options instead of university life -- they failed academically due to immaturity, lack of academic credentials, or simply an inability to self-manage their new found freedom. Inserting the gap year concept into American society would save parents, students, and governments money.For more on education reform please consider visiting the work of the Heartland Institute, a think tank based in Chicago, Illinois USA -- -- and look for their "School Reform News" newspaper.


Saturday, September 24, 2005

Northwest Airlines

Since I have been working in Europe for the last two weeks I have lost track of the current details in the mechanics' strike against Northwest Airlines (NWA) -- a labor dispute of local concern to me since I live in NWA's headquarters state of Minnesota.

Now what really caught my attention as I read the local media was the quote from one of the mechanics' union leaders which I paraphrase as -- "........we aren't going to simply agree to their (NWA's) terms, we would rather see this airline go bankrupt first.................." So now we have NWA in bankruptcy protection.

Let me extend my commentary on this trade union mindset since it was also reported that several union members were tapping their home equity value to get cash to fund themselves during this strike.

QUESTION -- if these strikers are willing to take such a risk with their home equity why don't they take a more positive risk by using this cash money to create their own small businesses??

Since the private jet business is a growth industry and oldline carriers like NWA are a declining business I have to believe a few of these striking mechanics could start a business to service private jets AND hire some of their union brothers and sisters as their business grows. Why do people insist on retaining such a collective mindset of "dividing up a static economic pie" versus growing "a dynamic, expanding economic pie" by starting their own business and generating new job opportunities?

Wealth is health,



Bon Noite!!

I am attending a European political party and think tank conference in Lisbon, Portugal for a few days. This is my first visit to Portugal which is a beautiful country and the September weather is some of the best I have experienced in my travels!

A group of us met for dinner this evening at a restaurant called -- Restaurante D'Avis at in the Beato neighborhood of Lisbon -- which was almost impossible to locate despite my having written the exact address for the taxi driver plus we called the restaurant along the way!! Now this was a great local, out of the way restaurant, the kind of place travelers should visit versus some American fast food chain restaurant. The staff was extremely personable and the sliced pork main course I had was excellent. My top recommendation is their "almond, pumpkin pie" which was the best dish I ate on this trip.

Lisbon is a beautiful, historic city but the Sintra mountain area just northwest of Lisbon was clearly the highlight of the trip. This would be an excellent vacation spot.

Safe travels,



Hello friends and future readers,

The creation of this blog was inspired by my extensive business and personal travel over the last three years primarily in Europe.

I intend to have this blog capture my observations from my travels, reflections on current events, restaurant reviews, travel notes, and general thoughts on how best to create a world with more freedom and quality of life not government "solutions."

I look forward to your thoughts,