January, 2012


No, they don't. Based on insurance claims for over 70 million cars, the Highway Loss Data Institute found "no overall reduction in theft losses" for cars with alarms. That's because false alarms are so common that most people just ignore them. The only time I ever call the police when I hear a blaring car alarm is when the alarm is going off repeatedly, and I want the police to send someone over to tow the car away. Now tell the truth - have you ever known anybody who called the police because he heard a car alarm go off and thought the car was being stolen? There is second reason why car alarms are useless. Most car thefts are carried out by professionals. A professional car thief can disable a standard car alarm in under a minute. Most insurance companies used to offer discounts on vehicles with car alarms, but now, most don't. However, many insurance companies do offer discounts for cars with recovery devices like OnStar or LoJack. These devices broadcast a car's location, which helps the police recover a stolen vehicle. When buying a new car, you are probably much better off buying a recovery device than an alarm.


Is it Hershey? Nestle? Mars? No. By far, the largest chocolate company in the United States is the Blommer Chocolate Company. You may wonder: "Who is Blommer, and how come I've never heard of them?" Blommer doesn't sell chocolate to the public, but you have probably eaten chocolate made with ingredients produced by them. Blommer processes huge quantities of cocoa beans, breaking them down into their individual components: cocoa powder, cocoa mass, cocoa butter, etc. They sell these components in addition to bulk chocolate to a variety of industries: confectionery, baking, dairy, pharmaceutical, and cosmetics. Very few chocolate makers start off with cocoa beans. Most chocolate companies, including the big boys, buy ingredients that are already partially processed by companies like Blommer. Blommer has a huge factory in Union City, about 30 miles south of Berkeley. I get a few specialized products from them.


It's the St. Regis penthouse in downtown San Francisco. Bank of America got ownership of this condominium in lieu of foreclosure. The St. Regis is next to the Museum of Modern Art. The penthouse was built by a local real estate developer at the peak of real estate boom, but by the time the penthouse came on the market, the boom had busted. The initial asking price was $70,000,000, but even after several price cuts, it didn't sell. Bank of America is now offering the penthouse for sale for 'only' $35,000,0000. The penthouse contains 6 bedrooms, 12 bathrooms, 4 fireplaces, a library, an office suite, a conference room, a wine room, 2 laundry rooms, and a home theater. The entrance foyer has a 2-story waterfall. The living room has a 22-foot-high ceiling. The master suite covers 2,500 square feet and contains its own gym, sauna, and steam room. If you would like to see what the penthouse looks like, or if you would like to make an offer to buy the place, go to: St. Regis Penthouse Listing.


Most people wouldn't eat a chocolate bar for breakfast, but many popular breakfast cereals contain more sugar than a chocolate bar. My dark chocolate bars average 38% sugar by weight. Compare that to these popular kid's breakfast cereals.

  • Kellogg's Honey Smacks. 55.6% sugar
  • Post Golden Crisp. 51.9% sugar
  • Kellogg Fruit Loops Marshmallow. 48.3% sugar
  • Quaker Cap'n Crunch. 44.4% sugar
  • Quaker Oats Oh's. 44.4% sugar

  • Plus, the days are gone when almost everybody drank coffee, tea, or milk with breakfast. Almost half of all Americans now drink soft drinks, energy drinks, or orange juice at breakfast, and 100% of the calories in those beverages comes from sugar! A 20 ounce bottle of Coca Cola (that's the size bottle they sell in the vending machines on the U.C. Berkeley campus) contains 65 grams of sugar, but a standard size Hershey bar (1.5 ounces) contains only 24 grams of sugar. A lot of people would be better off eating a big chocolate bar for breakfast rather than what they are eating now, although I don't recommend that.


    Red velvet cake is now the most popular cake in the U.S. You see it everywhere, from cheap fast food restaurants to pricey steakhouses, and red velvet cupcakes are the #1 selling item in cupcakes stores. But just what is red velvet cake? Red velvet is not a flavor, so a red velvet cake can taste like anything. Red velvet is also not a texture. It can be light or dense, moist or dry. Most red velvet cakes have 2 or 3 layers, but some have only 1 layer. Red velvet cake usually has white frosting, but sometimes the frosting is another color. In other words, red velvet cake is just a cake - any kind of cake - with a lot of red food coloring in it. I don't know who coined the term 'red velvet cake,' but the idea of dying a cake red is not new. During World War 2, some bakeries made red cakes by adding beet juice to the batter in order to give their cakes color, as eggs and chocolate were often unavailable. When wartime food rationing came to an end in 1945, red cakes disappeared. Frankly, I don't understand why so many people get excited when they see red velvet cake on a menu or why people think that it's a gourmet dessert. Its just a cake with a lot of red food coloring in it. Really. That's all it is. The appeal of red velvet cake is a complete mystery to me. And by the way, almost all of the red food coloring sold in the U.S. is made from either petrochemicals or coal tar.


    Last week, I saw the Muppets movie with my great-niece Lauren. Surprisingly, this movie has become politically controversial. Fox Business News claims that the Muppets movie is Chinese Communist propaganda and that the Muppets are 'teaching our children class warfare'. This is because the villain in the movie is an oil magnate named Tex Richman. I have to disagree with Fox's conclusion. I do not believe that the Muppets are trying to brainwash American children into becoming Maoists. Of course, I could be wrong. Who knows what the Swedish Chef is actually saying.


    When people ask the question: "Did Hitler do anything good?", the usual answer is: "Well, he built the Autobahn", but that isn't true. If any one person deserves credit for the Autobahn, it is Konrad Adenauer, not Hitler. Construction of the Autobahn began long before Hitler came to power. In 1924, the German government worked out a plan for a national highway system with high speed, limited access roads. Konrad Adenauer, then mayor of Cologne, became internationally famous by getting the Autobahn started. In 1926, construction of the Autobahn began between Aachen and Cologne and Cologne and Bonn. Cologne was the first city in the world to have a beltway, a limited access highway circling the city. Above is a photo of an exit on the Cologne-Bonn Autobahn taken in 1932, a year before Hitler came to power. Hitler admired Adenauer's work, but Konrad Adenauer was staunchly anti-Nazi, so Hitler threw him into a concentration camp, where he managed to survive the war, but just barely. Hitler dramatically increased spending on the Autobahn when he came to power in 1933, but construction stopped in 1941 due to the war, and much of what Hitler built was destroyed by the war's end. Some of the Autobahn was destroyed by Allied bombing, and even more was destroyed by the Germans themselves. When the war started going badly for Germany, Hitler ordered a scorched earth policy. Hitler ordered that anything that could be useful to Allied armies was to be destroyed, so as the German army retreated, they destroyed as much of the Autobahn as they could. Above is a photo of the Autobahn at Kaiserslautern after it was blown up by the German army. At the end of World War 2, not much of the Autobahn was still intact.

    The Adenauer Era. In 1949, Konrad Adenauer became head of state in West Germany. He was still an enthusiastic supporter of the Autobahn and was now in a position to make it happen. I don't think Adenauer gets enough credit for his accomplishments. For example, most people give the credit to Hitler for building the Autobahn, but Konrad Adenauer got the Autobahn started, Adenauer built more miles of roads than Hitler, plus he rebuilt all of the Autobahn that was destroyed during the war. When Adenauer came to power, Germany was in ruins. When he left office, West Germany was one of the most prosperous countries in Europe. Adenauer was also a very competent diplomat. He repaired relations with former enemies, including France and the United States, and he was well liked in Israel. Konrad Adenauer was Chancellor of West Germany from 1949 to 1963.

    Mark Tarses

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