September 21, 2018

The Roadside Motel” Bill

Elizabeth and I were watching Ken Burns’ documentary on the Vietnam War as we weaved our way through the backcountry of Laos.

In 1973, Henry Kissinger negotiated the Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam, a peace treaty meant to end the war in SE Asia.

But after both sides signed the agreement, the bombs kept dropping. The violence continued. Even though Nixon heralded the agreement as a success, it may as well have been called the Continuing War And Ignoring Peace” treaty.

Neither side really believed that peace had arrived. The name was merely chosen as a political weapon.

Other Congressional bills use the same marketing tactic of having a name that’s the opposite of the actual bill’s effect.

The USA PATRIOT Act is an obvious example. Mass surveillance is not very patriotic.

It reminds me of interstate motels. When you’re driving along, and you see a billboard for Clean Rooms” and Hot Showers,” it’s typically a clue that you’re in for cockroaches and wilting water pressure.

Marketing like this smells. The messaging seems to be over-compensating for a real weakness.

September 19, 2018

Province Tax

We were eating dinner at Viman in Vang Vieng. The owner is a German-born Thai expat living in Vang Vieng, Laos.

He was explaining how the woman who cooked our food had to pay the government every month a Province Tax.” Since she was born in Vientiane, but now lived in Vang Vieng, she had to pay a foreigner’s fee.”

If you want less of something, tax it.”

What sort of implications could this policy have on the country?

Could the smart business people, engineers, and government officials decide to never move to the city centers?

Intellectual inefficiency is an obvious side effect. People aren’t going where they would go when they need to go there.

What are the second and third level ramifications, though?

September 19, 2018

The bridge is broken”

By 2020, the Laos government has promised to bring electricity to all of its citizens. Based on the quality of the roads, it’s hard to believe they’ll pull it off.

It took me and Elizabeth 12 hours to go about 120km from Vang Vieng to Nong Kiaw.

  1. A minivan from Vang Vieng to the Luang Prabang Northern Bus Station.
  2. A Local Bus” Tuk-Tuk from Luang Prabang to the broken down bridge” we kept hearing about.
  3. A 100-degree walk over the bridge.
  4. A private” minivan from the far side of the bridge to Nong Kiaw.
  5. A short roadside stop for the driver to (using his belt) fix the dangling spare tire knocked out of place by a pothole.
  6. Another roadside stop as we waited our turn to go around a washed-out riverside road.

There are mudslides everywhere which narrow the roads to one lane.

Potholes abound.

We passed a couple flipped big-rigs.

It’s remarkable that anything gets transported anywhere. They need Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Footnote: When we got to dinner, the power went out. Hammer and sickle.

The minivan driver repairing the car with his belt. Sums up our day.

September 19, 2018

Hike up to the Nong Kiaw Viewpoint

Just before sunset

Just before sunset

September 14, 2018

Munger, Wal-mart, and Louis C.K.

Charlie Munger gave a talk at USC in 1994 about worldly wisdom. In it, he takes a contrarian (at least contrarian among the elite) view of Wal-mart:

You can say, Is this a nice way to behave?” Well, capitalism is a pretty brutal place. But I personally think that the world is better for having Wal-Mart. I mean you can idealize small town life. But I’ve spent a fair amount of time in small towns. And let me tell you you shouldn’t get too idealistic about all those businesses he destroyed.

Plus, a lot of people who work at Wal-Mart are very high grade, bouncy people who are raising nice children. I have no feeling that an inferior culture destroyed a superior culture. I think that is nothing more than nostalgia and delusion.1

I agree with the sentiment. But expressing this opinion is difficult.

Louis C.K., meanwhile, illustrates Munger’s point - without using any big words - by wrapping the essence of Wal-mart into an illustration:


  1. A Lesson on Elementary, Worldly Wisdom As It Relates To Investment Management & Business

September 14, 2018

Exploring Vang Vieng, Laos

Rest area halfway up Pha Ngeun, a hike in Vang Vieng A rest area halfway up Pha Ngeun.

Panorama from the top of Pha Ngeun, a hike in Vang Vieng From the top of Pha Ngeun, outside of Vang Vieng.

Biking Biking after our hike.

Dune buggy ride to Blue Lagoon 3 Our dune buggy adventure to the lagoons.

Blue Lagoon 3 Blue Lagoon 3.