Wednesday, November 12, 2014

We Had a Birthday

Rotary as a whole is almost 110 years old.

My little club is a mere 95. 

We've come a long way, despite having an idiot for a Club President last year.

As the video shows, we changed a lot.

Marietta Rotary's 95th Anniversary from Holly Enterprises on Vimeo.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Hangover and the WSOP

The Main Event of the 2014 World Series of Poker wraps up this week. It is the biggest poker event of the year. Poker, probably like most endeavors, gets warped by television. Regardless of what you see if you watch the final table tonight and tomorrow, there are good things surrounding the game even when you aren't the lottery winner holding up the $10 million prize.

One such adventure, written by one of my friends, can be found here: The Hangover

It was one of the best nights I've ever had and I could not imagine a better group of guys with whom to share it. A black guy, two white guys, and an Asian guy, all ranging in age from early thirties to mid-sixties, is not exactly your stereotypical poker crew.
I am thankful for this poker game because it has allowed me to meet people whom I never would have met otherwise. I chuckle when I hear certain people talk about how poker ruins lives and hurts families. In fact, these guys have become my family and every interaction I have with them makes me a better person.

I won't spoil it, but I am one of the white guys.

Here's to real poker, not just what you see on TV.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Country Music

For a lifelong country music fan, these are sad times. There is nothing on country radio today worth my 3 minutes, or even my $3.  Every now and then I get nostalgic and I allow myself (usually at the request of my wife) to watch a country music awards show, as I did this week. It never fails to put me in a sour mood and lament for the loss of America's once great music genre. I won't belabor the point, but if you disagree just know that I can win any debate with the following phrase "Florida Georgia Line".

Then today, I found Sturgill Simpson. It was like a bucket of water was tossed on Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney and all the rest, causing them to melt like the wicked witch of the west. Ding dong, the witch is dead and you can go home again.

Friday, September 5, 2014



Telling Blacks How to Think

I live in a Republican stronghold. Most of the elected officials are Republican and the local paper offers "Metro Atlanta's Only Conservative Voice". The local attempt at balance, is a weekly column by a liberal transplant who now lives in the area. (There's not really an independent, or libertarian columnist). The need for a Republican counter is real, but our columnist, Kevin Foley, is mostly just mean. His columns are often full name calling and insults of Republicans, with little policy or philosophy.

Last week, Foley chastised blacks in Ferguson for low voter turnout and suggested they were to blame for Michael Brown's death. 

I find it disgusting that Foley does not respect the choice of blacks not to vote. (Why do liberals shout for choice in health issues but not on other issues?) More sickening is that he tries to alter their choice by laying blame for the death of Michael Brown on those who did not vote. Foley can logically construct a counter-factual where blacks voted, and different leaders were elected, but it does not follow that there would have been a different outcome for Michael Brown. Are cities controlled by blacks, and Democrats, immune to police involved shootings of young blacks? (Of course not).

I know I risk being seen as defending the status quo in Ferguson or supporting Republicans. Neither is true, but it is worth the risk to address Foley's racism.

Dear Editor,
Friday's MDJ included a column by Kevin Foley in which he tells black people what is best for them and criticizes those who have chosen not to vote in the past. Why does Foley hate democracy? Or does he just hate black people?  The beauty of democracy is that it places the power of choice in the hands of each citizen. Those who support democracy by definition support the rights of citizens to make their own choices, including the right to chose not to vote. For Foley to criticize the blacks of Ferguson for low voter turnout is to show disrespect for democracy and for the capacity of black people to decide for themselves what actions (and votes) are appropriate. This is a prime example of what George Bush called "the soft bigotry of low expectations". For Foley to suggest that non-voting blacks are responsible for the death of Michael Brown is disgusting. Were that suggestion made by a Republican, that person would be labeled a racist. We should not let Foley get away with his assault on the authority of black people just because he is a white, male, liberal.
Russ Wood

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Understanding Ethics Complaints

It seems to me there are ubiquitous calls for more and tougher ethics regulations. I doubt it will do much good. The way to reduce corruption, or ethics failings, is to reduce the size of the money pile that politicians and bureaucrats control. When they can give funds to small groups, of individuals or businesses, those who miss out will always cry foul.

In my local community, pols are using north of $360 million to benefit a professional baseball team. There have been a number of legal challenges and ethics charges, due to the secrecy of the process and lack of transparency and oversight.

The man behind the curtain claims his critics don't understand economic development. I counter that he is the one lacking understanding.

Dear Editor,
In Wednesday's MDJ, Cobb County Commission Chair Tim Lee defended himself against formal ethics charges by claiming his accuser "doesn't have a good, clear understanding of the process and procedures for economic development". In reality it is Lee who lacks understanding.
Economic development occurs every day in thousands of markets via billions of transactions. Most of those transactions occur without direct action by local pols such as Lee, much less the secret meetings and private deals Lee claims are normal. And as economists have documented countless times, when pols and bureaucrats step in, the marketplace suffers. As long as governments spend taxpayer funds to favor specific individuals and businesses, government officials will always come under fire for ethics issues. Lee could avoid these hassles by leaving economic growth to the private sector. But that would require him to gain some understanding of his own.
Russ Wood
West Cobb

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Trip Report: Aruba, No Farting.


Way back in 2010, I signed up for a new credit card for the sole purpose of getting the free 100,000 miles on the British Airways frequent flyer program. The points were easy to get, and the card was free for the first year. These types of offers were common for folks with good credit, as the rest of the economy was still frozen due to the great recession. My original intention was to get a free round trip to Hawaii. The points involved were enough for two to fly round trip to Europe, or South America or for four to fly domestically on British Airways' domestic partners. (If you doubt these offers exist, or are full of catches, bookmark and join the nitcast team). Long story made short, it was time to redeem my miles. Due to my schedule, I could not make Hawaii work, but I was able to book a round trip flight for two to Aruba during the week of my twentieth wedding anniversary. 


We had to leave Atlanta early and there was a line at security, as usual.  After finally getting through the line to the ID check, the agent asked my wife why she didn't use her Pre-check status to skip the line. She looked at her boarding pass and noted she had Pre-check authority. During my research for the trip, I had read that this seemed to happen to some BA members flying domestically, but the assignment appeared to be random. I had checked my pass when printed and assumed both were the same. regardless, my wife would have been stuck waiting for me even if she had known. 

We flew on American Airlines, the BA domestic partner, one stop each way.  Atlanta to Miami is a short, easy flight. We sat in our usual coach. We enjoyed a nice layover, rocking in the rocking chairs and watching tourists, even Americans, take pictures in front of a tequila display near our gate. Our Miami to Aruba leg was a step up. First class seats, first to board, and very good service. We enjoyed mimosas prior to takeoff, cocktails in flight, warm mixed nuts, and a great salmon salad. Still food is just food. What makes first class different for a 6' 4" frame is the amount of room. I fear I've spoiled all future flights unless I somehow luckbox into first class again. The return flights were a reverse itinerary. First class from Aruba to Miami and then coach to Atlanta. The last leg was like a cold shower but it did serve as an adjustment back to daily life.


I generally stay at Marriott or partner properties. For this trip, I opted for the Renaissance in Oranjestad. It is close to the airport, convenient to downtown shopping and dining in Oranjestad, and has lots of amenities. It really is two hotels in one, as it has an ocean front property and a marina property located a few hundred yards away. The marina property is adults only (for lodging) and sits on the high end shopping mall. We stayed in the ocean front complex, to have a traditional beach experience. Or so we thought. Ocean Suites has two nice pools (with swim up bar), and a man made lagoon which opens to the ocean. There is no natural sand beach here, but the hotel has created two, both nice. (click for more relaxing images). The primary beach is just beyond the pool but the second is on a private island owned by the hotel. To access the island, one has to take a 5 minute boat shuttle. The amenities of the island are similar to what is available at the hotel. The allure of the island being that it is secluded from the daily bustle of the hotel. However, it has two detractions. First, the hotel does not allow you to bring your own food or drink to the island, as they want you to pay their high prices. On our first attempt we were kicked off the boat for having a cooler. We weren't too upset until we eventually made it to the island and found others had successfully brought their own drinks. So we were unlucky to get the lone diligent boat crew. The other detraction is that the island is adjacent to Aruba's only airport. when jets arrive there is mild noise. When they depart, there is a tremendous roar. This is much worse on the island than it is on the main hotel property. 

The rest of the hotel was quite average for a resort. The hotel is being updated, but we stayed in one of the older rooms which had a nice balcony view of the pool and lagoon. The rooms were plenty big, and had a mini fridge which was not stocked so it could be used for our own food and drink. The only oddity of the room was the location of the light switches. There were none in the bathroom. The bathroom light controls were completely outside the room, blocked by the door. Even after a week, I wasn't used to this.

The lobby of the hotel was interesting. It was traditional from the front, street side but was open air in the back facing the pool and lagoon. The front was mostly glass, including all glass elevators. During the heat of the afternoon, this was a problem, as the elevators were easily 100 degrees, and the lobby was in the mid 90s. Our room was on the second floor, so after the first day, we avoided the elevators at all costs. During mornings and evenings, the lobby was ideal. Regardless of temperature, the lobby was always full, as it was the center of the hotel's complimentary Wi-Fi. In the guest rooms, Wi-Fi was $10 per day.  It was funny to see all the teenagers with their devices and the random businessman huddled in the lobby for free internet. Here, we got lucky. Our room was only 3 from the lobby (on the second floor) and the complimentary Wi-Fi was very strong in our room. We weren't in the room often, but scoring free internet was a nice surprise.


Upon check-in, the desk clerk (who, like all the staff, spoke Dutch, English, Spanish, and the native tongue of Aruba, Papiamento) informed us we could purchase an all-inclusive package for our stay.  All our food and drink on the property, was offered for $130 per person per day. That is high, even for the high prices of Aruba. Just for reference, the $260 per couple made the food and drink more expensive per day than the room. We opted to go a la carte. First, night the dinner buffet at Captain's Corner (Mexican themed) was $30 per person, and very unsatisfying. The next morning, the buffet breakfast was much better. So we developed a plan to eat a big buffet breakfast each day, skip lunch as we lounged by the pool, and try different places for dinner. This worked well. We ventured over to Aquarius at the marina property for their surf and turf buffet, which was expensive but quite good. Then we hit several local places out in town. We hit Casa Tua twice, once for really good wood-fired pizzas and once for grilled fish and eggplant parmigiana. Tua is located in the mall next to the hotel, and we also enjoyed a great Chinese meal in the mall at Hung Paradise where I had the best Chinese soup I've ever had. 

Still, by far our best meal on the island was at Yemanja. I enjoyed the grilled triple tail, parmesan risotto, and grilled asparagus. There is a lot to say about this place. You should probably get reservations as this is one of the top restaurants on the island. We went early, and were able to pop in.  The menu is diverse, with great steaks, fish, and desert. But they also have vegetarian and vegan options. That seems unusual for a remote island needing to maximize their appeal to consumers, but it fits with what I call the Tesla model. Tesla markets electric vehicles not to the minority who are focused on the environment but to the majority who are focused on performance. Personally, I think a vegan diet is unhealthy, but if it is to spread, it can probably be done by appealing to the masses, alongside traditional menus, and not by appealing just to those who oppose eating animals.  I was pleased to see Yemanja succeeding by offering good food for all diet types.


We didn't do much out in town. There are several casinos, including one within the Marina property and in the mall by the Ocean suites. However, there is no live poker to speak of. We did a little shopping and walking. Oranjestad is great for this. There are very high end shops near the Marina hotel, and there are many reasonable local shops within short walking distance of the hotel. This is in addition to the small mall right outside the hotel. On the first day, we walked to a local grocery store. They didn't have much selection, so I jut grabbed a cold Bright, a light beer made by Amstel and very popular in Aruba. We ended up getting bottled water in the mall near the hotel. The next day we ventured a few blocks farther to the Kong Hing Supermarket on Havenstraat, directly behind the Marina property. Plenty of American style food, and beer, wine, and liquor. Here we loaded up on drinks and snacks for our week. It was expensive but not nearly as expensive as paying the hotel prices. This allowed us to pack our own coolers and lounge by the pool or lagoon all week.

Our only meaningful sight-seeing was crammed into a single day. We rented a jeep to cruise the island. However, the rental company said they couldn't locate me, so they gave away all the jeeps and we settled for Suzuki. It was smaller, with smaller tires, but it had four wheel drive. 

We took off around 10am and headed up the west side of the island. At the northwestern tip of Aruba is the California Lighthouse. It is no longer operational (or necessary) but it does offer great views of the ocean and the northern part of the island. (click for more touristy view).

From the lighthouse we drove south down the eastern coast of the island. This area is mostly uninhabited, but borders the ocean and protects the nice homes and golf course in the center of the island. It is an easy drive with lots to see. We saw wish rock gardens (thousands of zen statues put up by tourists), coves, the natural rock bridge, and an old gold smelter ruins. Here are a few shapshots worth clicking for larger images.

From there we drove south, got lost, but eventually found the Arikok National Park. The entire southeastern edge of the island is consumed by this park. Lots of hiking trails for those who like to walk through the desert. Not much landscape other than hill after hill covered in grey brush. There are a few interesting caves. We visited the Huliba Cave (tunnel of love) and then continued past the windmill farm down to the southern tip of the island. 

We got lost again after we left the park, as Valero has built a huge refinery which wasn't on our map. But we made our way back up the coast, past the airport and back to the hotel. Overall, a great way to see the island.


Two interesting sights. At the natural rock bridge there was a tourist trap selling souvenirs, cold drinks, and restrooms. That's right, they collect a dollar from everyone wanting to use the bathroom. Here's their rationale (click to read):

Makes sense. And they take the treatment of waste seriously. This sign was posted at the bar of the same establishment.

This has nothing to do with our trip, other than the music is a fitting soundrack for Aruba.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Letter to the SEC

Earlier this week, Richard A. Fleming, the Investor Advocate at the Securities and Exchange Commission gave a speech to the 38th Annual Southwest Securities Conference, Dallas, Texas.  The title of the speech was The Case for User Fees. For those unaware, the SEC is charged with, among other things regulating financial advisors. Just as the IRS only audits a tiny fraction of tax returns, the SEC audits a small percentage of financial advisors. The primary reason given for this by the SEC is budget constraints. Since Congress is unlikely to give the SEC the necessary funding, there have been proposals to have the SEC charge a fee for every registered advisor (or firm). The Investor Advocate was making the case this week.

I think he is unaware of some serious concerns raised by user fees. I outline them below. 

Full Disclosure: I work for a registered advisory firm, so these fees would impact me and my firm. 

Dear Sir,
In your speech on The Case for User Fees on August 19th, you noted "the main objection to a user fee is a philosophical resistance to growing the government."  While that is a valid criticism of user fees, I think it is not the strongest argument against user fees.
One significant problem of putting the burden of higher SEC funding on advisors, is that higher costs will drive marginal firms out of business, as there will be no corresponding rise in income. This will happen either as firms shutter or consolidate. The end result will be a landscape of fewer, larger firms serving the investing public. As history has shown, most recently with the banking crises, a system of fewer, larger firms is less robust than one consisting of more and diverse entities. User fees would make the investment advisory industry more fragile, less robust.
User fees also present a potential conflict of interest for the regulators. If regulators find evidence sufficient to prevent a firm from further operations, proceeding in the best interest of the public will cause them to reduce their own budget. Regulators could face the prospect of sanctioning the very firms that pay their salaries. This seems like a terrible burden to place on the SEC employees. In the investment industry, current laws and regulations bestow fiduciary status (and responsibility) on those advisors who align their interests with the investing public. I suggest the same should be true of regulators. Regulators are to serve the public, and thus should be paid by them. For regulators to be paid by a third party, the one they are tasked with monitoring, is not in the best interest of the public.
Russ Wood


The experiment continues. I read a random tweet.