July, 2010


A U.C. Berkeley student recently asked me: "Do you accept credit cards?" I am asked this question fairly often. I said: "No." He said: "Why?" I said: "Frankly, I don't want to pay the fees." He said: "They let me pay the rent with a credit card where I'm living now." I said: "Where are you living now?" He said: "Hillside Village." Hillside Village is a large and relatively new apartment complex on north Shattuck Avenue. I said: "How much is your rent, and how big is your apartment?" He said: "We're paying $4,000 a month for a small 3 bedroom apartment." I said: "Well, if I was getting $4,000 a month for a small 3 bedroom apartment, I would accept credit cards too." A growing number of apartment houses in Berkeley accept credit cards for the payment of rent and security deposit, but the ones that do are usually at the high end of the price scale. Many of the new Berkeley apartment houses also have washing machines and dryers that accept credit cards. At $5 a load, so I suppose they have to take credit cards. That's an awful lotta quarters.


Last month, I did an article about kitchen fire, the most common of all home emergencies. Another very common home emergency, at least in this area, is wild animal invasion. Wild animals sometimes get into people's homes, usually through open windows. I have a friend named Jeanne who opened her patio door, left the room, and a short time later, found a deer eating from a bowl of fruit that was on her dining room table.

A squirrel or a raccoon in your apartment may not seem like a emergency, but these critters can do a lot of damage, and very quickly. What should you do if you discover a wild animal in your home? First, try to isolate the animal. Close the doors to the other rooms. Open a window in the room the animal is in and then shut the door. The animal will usually find its way back outside. Do not chase a wild animal or attack it. The animal will likely panic and hide or try to bite you. Chasing the animal will just make it harder to get it to leave. Don't let your dog or cat help you with the eviction. That could result in an expensive trip to the vet or a bloody mess.

PETA. PETA (People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals) doesn't like the term 'wild animals.' PETA prefers 'free roaming animals.' According to PETA guidelines, you shouldn't say: 'The boy was killed and eaten by a pack of wild dogs.' You should say: 'The boy was devoured by a family of free roaming dogs, which was a natural behavior for them as carnivores.' Hmmmm. I think I'll stick with 'wild animals.'


I've been telling people that over any time period real estate beats stocks, but very few people agree with me.

Risk. Even in the best of times, stocks are a risky investment. It isn't just stock in small companies. Stock in big companies is risky too. If you want proof of that, just ask people who owned stock in General Motors, Lehman Brothers, Circuit City, Washington Mutual, or Fannie Mae. And what about people who own stock in BP? A few months ago, BP was rated 'very low risk' by all the major brokerage firms. What about now?

Bonds Often Beat Stocks Too. Consider 2 brothers, each of whom put $10,000 into an IRA (Individual Retirement Account) 10 years ago. One brother bought U.S. Treasury bonds, a risk-free investment. Short of nuclear war, there is no possibility that the government will default on them. He invested in Vanguard's U.S. Treasury Intermediate Term Bond Fund. Assuming he reinvested his interest, he would now have $19,000. The other brother bought stocks. He put his money into Vanguard's S&P 500 common stock index fund. Assuming he reinvested his dividends, he would now have $8,000. That's mainly because the S&P 500 index is 30% lower than it was 10 years ago. So, what would you rather have, $19,000 in government bonds or $8,000 in stocks?

Shearing the Sheep. When I was a registered financial adviser, I reviewed the portfolios of a lot of people. Frankly, I never met a single person who made money in the stock market (that is over and above what he could made with government bonds.) I used to ask my clients: "You've never made money in the stock market, so why do you own stocks?" The usual answer was: "Everybody I know owns stocks (or mutual funds.)" It's the herd mentality - thinking that you are safe because you are in the middle of the herd. That way of thinking works well in the natural world, like if you are a sheep, and you are being followed by a hungry wolf, but Wall Street is not part of the natural world. In the stock market, nearly all the sheep get sheared, including the ones in the middle of the herd.


Gerber Singles. In 1974, the folks at Gerber, the baby food company, had a bright idea - pureed meals for college students and busy singles. The case for this product sounded logical: many college students don't know how to cook, they don't have time to cook, and many live in rooms without kitchens. Choices included strained corned beef and cabbage, liquefied beef burgundy, and pureed chicken madeira. The product line was a flop. It turned out that college students did not want to eat strained baby food. For some reason, that came as a big surprise to the brainiacs at Gerber.

Is the Gerber baby Humphrey Bogart? No. However - this popular myth is very close to the truth. Humphrey Bogart's mother was named Maud Humphrey. She was a very successful commercial illustrator 100 years ago. When Humphrey Bogart was a baby, she drew a picture of him in 1900 that appeared on the label of every jar of Mellin baby food. Pictures of Humphrey Bogart drawn by his mother appeared in advertisements for many well-known products, including Ivory soap. She always drew Humphrey Bogart as a cherub; an infant with a pudgy body and face, apple cheeks, an angelic smile, and curly hair. It's not the way most people think of Humphrey Bogart. To the right is a birthday card drawn by Maud Humphrey containing a picture of Humphrey Bogart.


Have you been wondering about the big construction project at Shattuck and Hearst? U.C. Berkeley is preparing the site for the construction of their Helios Lab, a huge energy research facility. Despite the name 'Helios', it will not be a solar energy lab. Concerns have been expressed about the hazardous materials, including radioactive materials, that will be stored and used on the premises. The university has assured the city and local residents that the lab will be safe. Operation of the lab and safety monitoring will be principally under the control of the university's corporate partner in the project - BP. (Really!)


A Worrisome E-Mail Address. I got an application for an apartment from a guy who told me that he needed a place to live that was available for immediate occupancy. The apartment house where he had been living burned to the ground the previous day. After reviewing his application, I said to him: "I see that your e-mail address is How did you come to pick that e-mail address?" He said: "I was born in 1975." I said: "I guessed that. I meant why did you pick the word 'firebug' as your e-mail name?" He thought about that question and then started laughing. He laughed for a long time, and he laughed so hard that he couldn't speak and doubled over on the couch. I thought he was going to fall on the floor. My question was not intended to be funny, and I was not amused by his response. I decided to rent the place to somebody else.

Resume Trouble. Before you apply for a job, you should consider whether it's time to get a new e-mail address first. High school and college students often pick e-mail names that are designed to be funny or to amuse their friends, but a funny e-mail name could cost you a real job. I know a woman who hires people for a hospital. She says that she takes note of peculiar e-mail names. She rejected applications from 'bostonslut' and 'potheadjoe.' Yes, it is legal for a landlord or an employer to reject an application because he finds the applicant's e-mail name disturbing or distasteful.

Mark Tarses

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