February, 2012


It's easy to be pessimistic these days. The economy is lousy. The job market stinks. Almost 25% of all American homeowners with mortgages owe more than their homes are worth. A number of European countries are on the brink of default, and there is gridlock in Congress. However, there are good things going on. We just don't hear as much about them. There are reasons to be optimistic. Here are a few:

1. America is importing a lot less oil these days. In 2005, the U.S. imported more than 12 million barrels of oil a day. In 2011, we imported 8.5 million barrels. That's a huge drop, and it's important. Over half of our foreign trade deficit comes from importing oil. Because gasoline has become a lot more expensive over the past few years, Americans are buying more fuel-efficient cars. In addition, oil production in the U.S. is surging. Ten years ago, we were importing 2/3 of the oil we consume. Today it's under 1/2 and still dropping.

2. The wars are winding down. The U.S. is withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, and all of our troops are now out of Iraq. At the war's peak, there were 160,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Now there are none.

3. The economy is getting a little better. The unemployment rate is still high, but it is falling. People and businesses are beginning to spend money. Christmas sales in 2011 were much better than expected.

4. Crime is dropping. The rate of violent crime in the U.S. has been falling steadily since the 1990s. Criminologists aren't sure why this is happening. Some say it's due to the nation's changing demographics. Some credit tougher sentencing laws, and some credit crime fighting technologies like surveillance cameras and DNA evidence which have made it easier to catch and convict criminals. Whatever the reasons, the rate of violent crime in the U.S. is much lower today than it was 10 years ago.

5. Dictators in the Middle East are dropping like flies. Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt were ruled by brutal dictators for decades. Now they are gone. More may follow. It's too early to know what kind of governments will replace them, but the Arab Spring holds real promise that democracy and free speech will take root in a part of the world that has been ruled by thugs and thieves for generations.

6. Most important of all (at least in my opinion), chocolate continues to be abundant! There was a real danger in 2011 that chocolate would become hard to find and very expensive in 2012. Ivory Coast produces almost 40% of the world's cocoa beans. A year ago, the country was on the brink of civil war after Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down as president after he lost re-election. Each of the 2 men claiming to be president of the country was assembling an army. The big shots at Hershey and Mars were very worried. Then in April, French special forces broke into Gbagbo's underground bunker, arrested him, and flew him out of the country. Gbagbo is now awaiting trial at the International Court in Holland. It should be a very interesting trial. The risk of civil war in Ivory Coast has now faded away, and cocoa bean production has returned to pre-crisis levels.

So you see, there really are good things going on!


The Mayan Calendar. The ancient Mayan calendar ends on December 21, 2012. I covered this subject in my November, 2009 Tenant Newsletter. There are dozens of books on the market predicting that the Earth is going to be destroyed when the Mayan calendar ends. Each of these doom-and-gloom books has a different theory as to how this catastrophe will happen. Some predict that the moon or a huge asteroid will crash into the Earth. Others predict that the magnetic field of the Earth will reverse itself, causing cataclysmic floods and earthquakes. Other books connect the end of the Mayan calendar with crop circles, UFOs, Atlantis, the Illuminati, Freemasons, Nostradamus, and Biblical prophesies.

The Dresden Codex of the Maya. The Dresden Codex is the oldest known Mayan book in the world. It contains extensive and highly accurate astronomical tables predicting the future movements of the moon, the planets, and the sun. A number of Mayan calendar disaster books claim that the Dresden Codex also contains a prediction that giant solar flares will engulf the Earth in fire when the calendar ends, destroying all life on our planet. Since there is no such prediction in the Codex, the authors of these disaster books claim that a portion of the Codex has been cut out and is kept hidden from the world by a secret society connected with the Royal Library of Dresden, which has the Codex. (This theory sounds a like the 'The Da Vinci Code' to me.)

Well, I have good news for all my tenants! In anticipation of the end of the Mayan calendar, I am making the following special offer: If the Earth is destroyed in December, 2012; you can take 10% off your January, 2013 rent! There's no need to thank me for this! (There really isn't.)


In my May, 2011 Tenant Newsletter, I ran a story about a woman in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma who was fighting with her landlord and the city council. The landlord was trying to evict the woman for keeping a kangaroo in her apartment. The woman is depressed, and her psychiatrist says that she needs her 'therapy kangaroo.' A few weeks ago, the woman announced that she will be moving out of the building and leaving the city. She plans to live with her parents elsewhere in the state. Apparently, the Broken Arrow city council doesn't want to go through this again. They just passed an law requiring owners of exotic pets, including kangaroos, to get $50,000 liability insurance policies to cover injuries caused by their animals. Exotic pet insurance is expensive and hard to get.

Burmese Pythons. I know of a tenant here in East Bay who has a 100 pound 'therapy' Burmese python in his apartment. The man suffers from panic disorder and says that he needs the python for its 'calming effect.' A large Burmese python is a very powerful snake. It can easily kill and swallow a deer or a sheep. Frankly, I don't get it. I never studied psychology, so I fail to see how living with a snake that can easily crush a man to death in its coils would have a 'calming effect' on anyone. Nevertheless, a surprisingly large number of people do keep pythons as pets. Last month (January, 2012), the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service began enforcing a new rule banning the importation and interstate transportation of Burmese pythons, but the ban comes too late. There are already tens of thousands of Burmese pythons living in the Everglades and the Florida Keys. If you would like to see a fairly large python, go to the Bone Room on Solano Avenue in Berkeley. It is a unique and fascinating store. They have a 12 foot long yellow Burmese python there named 'Rubber Duckie.'

The Santa Rosa Python. Have you heard about the Santa Rosa Python? A tenant in Santa Rosa had a pet python in his apartment. While the tenant was distracted, the 6 foot long snake escaped by slithering down his toilet. When word got out of what happened, there was a general panic among the other tenants in the building. The tenants demanded that the landlord 'do something' about the loose snake before they returned to their apartments, but neither the landlord nor animal control officials could think of anything to do. What would you have done if you were the landlord? I can't think of anything. The snake was never caught.


I love to watch sea lions. I could easily spend an hour watching sea lions doing nothing but sleeping, barking, and occasionally quarreling among themselves over the ownership of a sunny spot to take a nap. The best place to see large numbers of sea lions in one place is Pier 39 in San Francisco. Because there are so many floating platforms there, huge numbers of sea lions can hang out together, catch some rays, and snooze the afternoon away. On one day last summer, 1,700 sea lions were counted at Pier 39.

The best place to see sea lions up close and without a barrier between you and them is the Santa Cruz Pier. There aren't as many sea lions at the Santa Cruz Pier as there are at Pier 39, but at the Santa Cruz Pier, there is nothing between you and them. If you climbed down a short ladder at the bottom of the pier, you could walk among the sea lions; however, you shouldn't do that. Even though sea lions are fascinating and undeniably cute, you need to remember that they are wild animals, not pets, and some weigh over 500 pounds. Also, It is a federal crime to harass sea lions.


CD/DVD MARKERS. Most people use Sharpie pens to label CDs and DVDs, but that's not a good idea. Over time, the chemicals in markers can bleed through disks and make it impossible to recover the information recorded on them. I have a bunch of Staedtler CD/DVD markers. They contain ink specifically designed not to penetrate the data storage layer of CDs and DVDs. These markers are made in Germany and are hard to find in stores. If you would like one of these pens, they are in the chocolate room.

Mark Tarses

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