April, 2011


Final exam season will soon be here, the time of year when energy drinks fly off the shelves in college towns everywhere. But before you go out and stock up on energy drinks, consider this - the 'energy' in all brands of energy drinks is just caffeine, often bolstered with sugar. Energy drinks can perk you up when you are physically exhausted and thirsty, but loading up on caffeine just before taking a test is more likely to hurt your performance rather than help it. Caffeine makes people feel more stressed in already stressful situations, causing them to perform mental tasks poorly.

Manufacturers of energy drinks are careful to avoid making specific claims for their products because if they did, they come under F.D.A. jurisdiction and would have to prove those claims were true. So ads for energy drinks rely on slogans, humor, and meaningless catchphrases instead. A number of brands claim that they 'boost performance', but 'boost performance' can mean nearly anything. Red Bull claims that it 'gives you wings.' What does that mean? Monster claims that it lets you to 'release the beast.' Is that a good thing? That sounds a lot like Mr. Burns telling Smithers to 'release the hounds.' Rockstar claims that after drinking 1 can of their product, 'you can party like a rock star.' Hmmm. That sounds worrisome. After all, it is common knowledge that a lot of famous rock stars OD'd and died at parties. Nutritionally, the worst energy drink may be Rockstar. There is more sugar in 1 can of Rockstar than 6 Krispy Kreme glazed donuts. Try to picture that! A can of Rockstar contains 62 grams of sugar. A Krispy Kreme glazed donut only contains 10 grams. So if you want to ace that final exam, don't load up on energy drinks. Instead, get a good night's sleep and eat a nutritious breakfast before heading off to campus. Mother was right.


The Apple Store being built on Fourth Street in west Berkeley will not open in May, as scheduled. In March, the entire building collapsed while under construction. One side of the building sank 4 feet into the ground, and a wall on the opposite side fell onto the building next door, home of The Builder's Booksource, a store that sells construction books. Both buildings were red-tagged by the city's building inspection department. Doesn't this story sound bizarrely ironic? What are the odds of something like this happening - an improperly constructed building falls onto a store that sells books on how to construct buildings!


Last month, Daiso Japan opened a store in Berkeley on Telegraph Avenue. You ought to see it. They sell a lot of unusual and interesting merchandise. Daiso is Japan's largest chain of 100 yen shops. 100 yen shops are similar to 99 cent stores here in the U.S. Everything in their stores costs 100 yen, about $1.20. Daiso has over 2,500 stores in Japan and another 500 stores overseas. Everything in their Berkeley store costs $1.50. Most of the products sold at Daiso are made in Japan.


There is only one restaurant directly across the street from Berkeley High School - Sumo Grub at 2235 Milvia Street. This place is very popular with students. They food is cheap, and everything is made to order. Unfortunately, they may have the unhealthiest food in town. Nearly everything on the menu is deep fried, and not just the obvious things, like onion rings. They also batter dip and deep fry pizza, hamburgers, and macaroni and cheese. Here are some items from the menu. Each of these items costs $1.75. Tempura Twinkie, tempura Oreos, tempura Snickers, tempura Reese's peanut butter cups, tempura Kit Kat, tempura Twix. Tempura fried cheesecake is $3.50 a slice. Tempura fried ice cream is $3.00. There is an item on the menu ominously named 'Tempura Heart Attack'. Price: $7.00. I wonder what that is. I know people who eat at this place. They tell me that the food is tasty, but think about the name - Sumo Grub. Do you know what sumo wrestlers look like? Do you want to look like that? Sumo Grub has been featured on several national TV shows, including Food Network and Outrageous Food.


Last month, Mike Huckabee (Fox News commentator and former governor of Arkansas) said that Barack Obama grew up in Kenya. Huckabee said Barack Obama's "perspective as growing up in Kenya with a Kenyan father and grandfather, their view of the Mau Mau Revolution in Kenya is very different than ours because he probably grew up hearing that the British were a bunch of imperialists who persecuted his grandfather." Huckabee added that this explains why Obama removed a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office, "a great insult to the British." Huckabee's story is just pure rubbish! Barack Obama didn't grow up in Kenya, and none of his relatives were involved in the Mau Mau Rebellion. Barack Obama didn't visit Kenya until he was in the 20s. He barely knew his father and never met his grandfather. It is true that soon after Obama entered into the White House, a bust of Winston Churchill was removed from the Oval Office and returned to the British Embassy. However, this wasn't done to insult the British. The bust was on loan to President George W. Bush from the British ambassador, and it was scheduled to be returned to the British Embassy before Obama took office.

Huckabee's absurd story piqued my curiosity about where Barack Obama's mother grew up. Ann Dunham was the mother of Barack Obama, and she spent her early childhood right here in Berkeley. Ann lived in Berkeley while her father attended the University of California just after World War II. I don't know exactly where the family lived. I have asked a number of people about this, but nobody seems to know. If anyone knows where Barack Obama's mother and grandparents lived when they were here in Berkeley, please tell me. I am curious. When Ann was 13 years old, the family moved to Washington state. Ann's father got a job selling furniture in Seattle. The family lived in an apartment on Mercer Island, a nearby suburb.


The myth: The word mortgage comes from 2 French words, 'mort', meaning 'death' as in mortician; and 'gage', meaning 'pledge', as in engaged. Therefore, a mortgage is a death pledge. In Medieval England, you didn't pay your mortgage, the penalty was death.

The truth: This myth is partially true. The word 'mortgage' does come from Old French words for 'death' and 'pledge', but the penalty for not paying a mortgage was never death. A mortgage is a dead pledge, not a death pledge. That means that if you fail to repay your mortgage, then the land secured by the loan becomes legally dead to you. Failure to repay a loan was never a death penalty offense in England. I think people may have gotten that idea from 'The Merchant of Venice.'

'THE KING'S SPEECH' - AND MINE. 'The King's Speech' has raised public interest in speech impediments and speech therapy. This movie brought back a lot of memories for me. When I was about 5 years old, I started stuttering, and it got progressively worse. My stuttering reached the point that I sometimes could not complete a sentence. Fortunately, my elementary school had a speech therapist. She came to the school 1 afternoon a week. Kids who wanted to go to the speech therapist could sign up for it as an after-school activity. I eagerly signed up. I really wanted to get rid of my stuttering, but I never did. What I learned from my speech therapist was how to cover it up. If you listen for it, you will notice that I sometimes take little pauses between words and draw out certain words slowly. That's to control the stuttering. I am very aware of the fact that I still have a stuttering problem, but most other people are not aware of it. My only criticism of 'The King's Speech' is that it may have left viewers with the impression that all speech therapists are quacks and kooks because all the speech therapists in this movie are quacks and kooks. While that makes for a more interesting movie, the truth is that most speech therapists do not use such whacky methods of correcting speech defects. My speech therapist never asked me to read a book while sitting on me!


Here in the U.S., Kit Kat bars are made by Hershey under license from Nestle. Hershey bought the license to make Kit Kat bars in the U.S. decades ago from Rowntree, an English candy company that was later purchased by Nestle. Hershey occasionally makes limited edition versions of Kit Kat bars, including dark chocolate, white chocolate, mint, mocha, etc. Nothing particularly strange. However, outside the U.S., Nestle makes Kit Kat bars in some truly bizarre flavors. When my tenants go on vacation to foreign countries, they sometimes bring me back unusual chocolate bars. One tenant recently brought me 2 Kit Kat bars from Japan. One bar was filled with apple vinegar. The other bar was filled with wasabi, a green Japanese horseradish. They were awful! They also make Kit Kat bars in Japan that are filled with sweet potatoes, seaweed, green tea, soy sauce, grilled corn, wine, and Camembert cheese. So - what would you prefer - a Kit Kat bar filled with vinegar or a Kit Kat bar filled with horseradish?


If you want to get rid of styrofoam packaging pellets, just bring them to me. I can use them! Please be sure that the pellets are clean and that there is nothing else in the bag, like garbage. And as I said in my February newsletter, please, never put loose foam pellets in your garbage can.

Mark Tarses

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