February, 2011


A lot of tenants engage in wishful thinking about about renters insurance. They tell themselves: "I don't need renters insurance. The landlord has insurance. If there is a fire, and my stuff is destroyed, I'll just file a claim with the landlord's insurance company." Sorry, but that is not the way insurance works. Yes, I do have insurance on my properties, but my insurance only covers the buildings and the personal property in them that belongs to me: stoves, refrigerators, etc. My insurance doesn't cover your property. Your roommate's insurance doesn't cover you either.

Renters insurance costs between $10 and $20 a month, a small price to pay for a lot of coverage. It protects your property from losses due to fire, theft, water, smoke, vandalism, etc. It also provides you with personal liability insurance, like if somebody slips on a banana peel in your kitchen, breaks his clavichord, and sues you. It also protects you when you are away from home, like if somebody steals your laptop while you are on vacation. If you don't have renters insurance, do yourself a favor and get it NOW!


NEVER, NEVER PUT LOOSE STYROFOAM PELLETS IN YOUR GARBAGE CAN!! Berkeley garbage collectors dump your garbage can into a larger garbage can and then dump that into their truck. Even in a slight breeze, pellets can fly all over the neighborhood, and they are almost impossible to gather up afterward. Styrofoam pellets do not degrade, fall apart in the rain, or get eaten by squirrels! Styrofoam pellets should always be put into a plastic bag and sealed up or tied up before placing the bag in your garbage can. If you have a lot of foam pellets, you can drop off bags of them at most packaging stores, where they will get reused. The UPS store in downtown Berkeley will accept bags of foam pellets if they are clean and there is nothing else in the bag. Loose styrofoam pellets in your garbage can are a disaster waiting to happen!


The myth: The Constitution requires that the President must be born in the United States. (I know a lot of people who believe this myth is true.)

The truth is that the President can be born anywhere in the world! There are only 3 Constitutional requirements for the job of President. The President must:

1. Be 35 years of age or older.
2. Have lived in the United States for 14 years.
3. Be a natural born citizen.

Unfortunately, the Constitution does not define 'natural born citizen', and there are a lot of conflicting opinions about what this term means; however, there is one thing that nearly all Constitutional legal scholars seem to agree upon - it does not mean that the President has to be born in the United States. The 'born in the U.S.A.' myth is now a major political issue because according to recent polls, 30% of Americans believe that Barrack Obama was probably or definitely not born in the United States.

The 'born in the U.S.A.' myth has come up many times in Presidential campaigns.

  • In 2008, some people argued that John McCain could not be President because he was born in the Panama Canal Zone. The Panama Canal Zone was never part of the United States, and the United States government always recognized that the Canal Zone was located within the Republic of Panama.
  • In 1968, a lot of people questioned whether George Romney, father of Mitt Romney, could be President. George Romney was born in Mexico in a Mormon polygamous colony. His parents were U.S. citizens, but Mexico was their home. They moved to the U.S. in 1912 during the Mexican Revolution because living in Mexico had become too dangerous. (I once met George Romney at the Oakland Airport Hilton. He didn't seem to know much about Mexico and didn't speak Spanish.)
  • In 1964, some people said that Barry Goldwater could not be President. He was born in Arizona Territory, which was not then part of the United States.
  • There have been many attempts to amend the Constitution to define 'natural born citizen' and and/or allow naturalized citizens to run for President. The most recent attempt was in 2003, when Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) proposed amending the Constitution to allow California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to run for President. Hatch dropped the idea after Schwarzenegger said he wasn't interested in the job.


    Kitchen Mace. I recently received a kitchen tool as a gift that is a complete mystery to me. The label says: "Kitchen Mace." See photo below. It is well made, about 9 inches long, and rather heavy. There is a spice called mace, but I don't think this tool has anything to do with that. There is also a medieval European weapon called a mace, and this looks a lot like one of them. The person who gave me this kitchen mace told me that she bought it at a gourmet cooking booth at the Marin County Fair. I think it was expensive. The salesman told her: "If your friend likes to cook, he'll know what a kitchen mace is used for." He was wrong. I have no idea what this thing is used for. I have shown this tool to several professional cooks. None of them had ever seen anything like it before. Does anybody know what a kitchen mace is used for? If you know, please tell me.


    You can easily and quickly make chocolate dipped strawberries for your next party that are just as good as the ones they sell in chocolate stores for 5 bucks each. All you need is chocolate ganache and a basket of strawberries. I'll supply the ganche. I keep tubs of the stuff in my freezer. It contains heavy cream, so it's perishable. To make chocolate dipped strawberries, just defrost the ganache, warm it up in your microwave, dip the strawberries, place the strawberries on a sheet of waxed paper, and then put them in your refrigerator for an hour or two. Delicious!


    It's expensive to fly with checked luggage. Checking on 2 pieces of luggage at American, Delta, United, and many other airlines costs $120 round trip; $25 for the first bag and $35 for the second bag each way. A third bag costs a whopping $200 round trip. Most airlines lose money on ticket sales. All of their profit now comes from 'ancillary income,' or charges for things that used to be free, also known as 'nickel and diming you to death.' The most profitable of these charges are baggage fees, but it's easy to avoid them. I never pay baggage fees myself. Here's how to do it.

  • Only take things you need. Do you really need two coats or three pairs of shoes on this trip?
  • Find out what's at your destination before you go. You don't need to bring a hair dryer or an iron if there's one in your hotel room. You can usually find out what amenities are at your hotel from the hotel's web site.
  • Buy stuff at your destination. Check Google Maps to see if there is a supermarket or a Walgreens near your hotel. Buy your toiletries, snacks, beverages, etc. there. The last time I flew out of San Francisco Airport, the man just ahead of me in line checked on a 20 pound bag of Purina Dog Chow. He paid United Airlines $35 to transport a $10 bag of dog food to Omaha. I've never been to Omaha, but I'm sure they sell dog food there. I also saw a couple check on a big box of disposable diapers, which the airline counted as a piece of luggage. I wondered: "Are these people flying to some place where you can't buy disposable diapers? Where might that be? Antarctica?"
  • Is there a laundromat at your hotel? If there is, you can take half as many clothes as you need.
  • Fly on Southwest or Jet Blue. Southwest allows you to check on 2 bags for free, Jet Blue 1 bag. Southwest and Jet Blue are America's 2 most profitable airlines and, interestingly, are the only major carriers that still allow passengers to check on luggage for free.
  • Pack your stuff in the biggest carry-on bag you can. To find the maximum allowable dimensions of carry-on bags at various airlines, go to: Baggage Chart.
  • In addition to one free carry-on bag, all airlines also allow you to bring one 'personal item.' A personal item can be a brief case or a personal computer bag.
  • If you still can't fit all your stuff into one carry-on bag, try this - wear your bulkiest coat and shoes onto the plane. You can take off your coat as soon as you get on the plane and stuff it in the overhead. Lots of people do.
  • If you visit certain relatives regularly, keep a few things there, providing they have room to store them. I visit my sister in Baltimore at least once a year. I keep an overcoat and a few other items in a closet in her house.
  • Ship your stuff ahead by UPS or FedEx Ground. Before I go to Baltimore, I always ship the bulk of my luggage and chocolate 2 week in advance by FedEx Ground. Shipping a big box costs around $10. Not only is that cheaper than checking a bag on an airplane, it is a lot more convenient because I don't have to drag suitcases though the airport like a Volga schlepper. ('Volga schlepper' is a Yiddish expression. In czarist times, schleppers used to drag ships up the Volga River against the current. It was one of the worst jobs in the world.)

    Mark Tarses

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