Investment Advice from Hell

For a few years now (the few years of gainful employment), I have played the stock market with a small E-trade account. I've done fairly well - an initial investment of $2800 is now worth close to $7000 in a period of time where the S&P 500 more or less treaded water. That said, I lost money on three stock trades in the past year, and decided that I needed to reevaluate my strategy.

Then I discovered this guy. Jim Cramer - a brilliant hedge fund investor who not only enjoys teaching people how to invest, but does so while rating a solid 90 on the Unintentional Comedy Scale on his can't-look-away-but-cover-your-ears entertaining show - Mad Money. Here is a clip where he makes the case that we should invest in Wal-Mart because they don't want to give their employees health care...

I bought his book, Real Money, which is the first book I've ever read that explains the nonsensical movement of stocks in a way that, well, makes sense. Cramer's philosophy - diligently do your research, don't tie the price of a stock too closely to the company associated with it, diversify your portfolio, and buy and sell the best stocks without prejudice.

So in the process of doing some research on Yahoo Finance tonight, I looked into buying some oil-drilling stock (it might be a good time). I come across an article from TheStreet.com with something to say on two stocks I'm looking at closely, with what looks to be good technical analysis, when I peek at the name at the writer...

John Bradshaw Layfield. Or to put it another way, WWE's John Bradshaw Layfield. In my mid-20's wrestling phase, JBL was known as Bradshaw, had long hair and a beard, and finished off opponents with his trademark "Clothesline from Hell." Apparently, Bradshaw cut his hair, made some money, and now writes for a serious financial website when he isn't guarding the American border. This is the man I'm taking investment advice from...

(And I'm thinking about taking it...)


Branson, baby...

Ah, vacation. After a long, hard, hectic, eclectic and (relatively) successful year of hard labor, I was sitting in my palatial second floor cubicle at the Bergstrom Technology Center when I got a call from Meemaw (Texas for grandma). She offered me an opportunity to accompany her, my great aunt Barbara, and my cousin Brett to Branson, Missouri. I told her I'd think about it...

Branson: The holiday destination of choice for White Bread, Red State America. The Vegas of the Ozarks (without the gambling and liquor, of course). Counting this trip (obviously I said yes), I have now journeyed to Branson five (!) times in my life, which seems absurd to me considering that 1) It is the complete opposite of most places I go on vacation (I prefer adventurous, non-touristy locales with people different from myself.), and 2) I have never chosen it as a vacation destination (It was generally nearby, and I was generally with friends or family.). I spent time in Branson in 1989, 1993, 1997, 2001, and now 2006, which perplexes, impresses, and depresses me all at once (I just know I'll end up there in 2010 for a conference or something - mark it down). All that said, the 2001 trip prominently involved a good wedding (my compadre Jacob, who played the part of Sancho on the Ohio State trip), the biggest Bass Pro Shop in the world, and Yakov Smirnoff, so Branson is currently on my good side. Throw in an opportunity to see my relatives in East Texas (who number roughly half the population there), to spend time with Meemaw and Brett, and to play as much golf as I want, and the decision was made. Branson, baby. Branson...

Now to understand Branson, you must realize that there they hold the following two truths to be self-evident:

1) America is the greatest nation in the world, and we Americans should be proud, patriotic, and honor those who fought and died to make her free.
2) The good old days were the best there ever were, and wholly worth reliving.

You can see these truths expressed in every show you see in Branson. All of the theaters make a point of honoring both America and her veterans in some way. In both of the shows I went to (more later), the average age probably topped 70, and half of the audience were either veterans or wives of veterans. Yakov Smirnoff's show is patriotic from beginning to end - Yakov loves America so much that he wrote a love song to the Statue of Liberty, which he (of course) performs at the end of his show while waltzing across the stage with the Statue of Liberty. That's patriotism, and though the Yakov act rates almost "fatal" on the Unintentional Comedy Scale, the whole atmosphere makes for a nice break from a culture that has forgotten that, in this world with devils filled, freedom demands sacrifice (But I digress...).

Also, in Branson, the "good old days" are alive and well. The vaudeville-style variety acts that formed the backbone of entertainment from pre-radio era through the early years of television are the dominant format. Jim Stafford's show (which we took in on the second night) featured Jim singing songs that were big hits for him in the 1970's (apparently, he was a big star or something), his kids playing numbers on the piano, lots of clean humor, gentle ribbing of the audience, and a trap door illusion. It reminded me of something one might see on the Ed Sullivan Show (which was before my time) or the Carol Burnett Show (which, shockingly, wasn't...). As a lover of tradition, I enjoyed Stafford's show. For the majority of the Audience, who grew up watching Bob Hope, Red Skelton, Sid Caesar and the like, it must have been a welcome trip back to another time.

(Tangental note: Prairie Home Companion on NPR is a living legacy of vaudeville that remains contemporary due to great writing and a resurgence in American Roots music. I highly recommend the movie - it may be the best movie I've seen this year. Well, either it, or Snakes on a Plane...)

A few more Branson items:

1) If I were made the benevolent dictator of Branson, my first act would be to put an end to the canned music in the shows. On our second night there, we went to a show that featured highlights from about 20 popular Broadway shows. It starred Merrill Osmond and a cast of young performers from England. In the opening number, a medley from 42nd Street, the company broke into a tap number... which seemed amiss, and as I processed it... I realized that the tapping was canned, and the cast were only acting like they were tapping! What the crap? Well, needless to say, I was shocked and chagrinned, mortified and stupified. Fortunately, the rest of the show acquitted itself nicely with real singing and a legitimately impressive ballet number to "Memory' from Cats, but why on earth would someone use canned tap anywhere? ANYWHERE?!? Canned tap does not belong ANYWHERE other than a 2nd grade Christmas pageant. Anywhere else, canned tap is an outrage. AN OUTRAGE I TELL YOU!

(Taking a deep breath...)

(Counting backwards from 10...)

(I'm alright. Maybe I should write about golf...)

2) I played some of the best bad golf of my life in Branson. I shot a consistent 102 on the first day, including a beautiful 5-wood to two feet on a 170-yard par 3 (of course, I missed the putt). I shot a 49-59 108 on the second day, which left me somewhat disappointed in the finish. My cousin Brett, who hopes to be a golf pro someday, didn't shoot his best (he only beat me by 20-30 strokes a day), but he did help me work out the kinks in my putting stroke, so needless to say I was grateful.

3) I grew to miss the cornicopia of healthy eating options in Austin after travelling for 4 days in the "Steak and Shake" region of the country. When you pass a Barbeque shack and start thinking, "Hey, that might be healthy...", you know you're in trouble.

4) Sportscenter Highlight of the trip: On the way home, we made a pit stop at a convenience store in Arkansas. Arkansas people hate Longhorns, and aren't shy about expressing it (some Longhorn fans refer to Fayetteville, the city where the University of Arkansas resides, as Fayettenam). I asked the clerk (who was wearing a Arkansas shirt) how he thought the Razorbacks would do this year, and had a nice discussion with him about the team. I then casually added that I was a Longhorn, and that we were still trying to figure out who would replace Vince at quarterback. The look on his face said, "I know I have to be nice to you, but [censored], I can't believe you [censored] Longhorns won the [censored] championship after we were a [censored] fumble away from beating you." Meemaw then came up to pay for her water, and overheard us talking about football, precipitating this exchange...

Me (insincerely): "Well, I hope that you guys do well until the next time we play you (in 2008)."
Clerk: "Yeah, I think we'll beat you then."
Meemaw (not missing a beat): "No, you won't! We're going to beat the pants off you!"

Brett and I then walked to the car, laughing our butts off as the clerk stood there dumbfounded. Needless to say, we "got on down the road" as soon as we could.

So that was Branson, and so begins what I'm calling "the year of pilgramages." I plan to take a lot of trips to see family and friends, and places where God is moving, and hopefully I will come out with a better idea of what I want to do with my life. At this point, my options are certainly open. During this year, I will try to update the blog once a week or so with my thoughts and progress.

That's all for now...


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Another Snakes on a Plane Item

In an ingenious marketing ploy, you can now create personalized messages from a virtual Samuel L. Jackson that instruct your friend to go see "Snakes on a Plane." Brilliant. Needless to say, I lot of [censored] people will be getting a lot of [censored] calls from Samuel L. Jackson tomorrow...