November, 2009

THE 2012 MYTH.

The Mayan calender does not predict that the world is going to end in 2012. This myth has been around for years, but it is now creating real anxiety as 2012 approaches. There are now over a dozen books in print on this subject, most with frightening titles, like: "Apocalypse 2012: A Scientific Investigation Into Civilization's End" and "2012 And The End Of The World." In a few weeks, a big budget disaster movie titled "2012" opens in theaters nationwide.

The Mayans. The ancient Mayans created a number of calenders. One of their calendars, known as the Long Count, ends on December 21, 2012; but the Mayans didn't predict that the world would end on that date. When a Mayan calender came to an end, they had a big celebration, then they reset the calender to zero and started a new count. Mayan tribal leaders in Mexico are getting letters from people all over the world pleading with them to cancel the expected apocalypse. Chile Pixtun, a Guatemalan Mayan elder, says that he gets e-mails every day from people asking him to postpone the end of the world. "Children write to me: 'Please don't do this! I am too young to die!' A woman with 2 small children wrote to me today begging me to do something because she wants to live long enough to see her children grow up." He says that the belief that the Mayan calender predicts that the world will end in 2012 "comes from Western, not Mayan ideas."

Bank of America. I recently had lunch with a Bank of America loan agent. I've known this guy for a long time. He told me that he personally knows 2 people in Berkeley who have taken out mortgages on their homes and are spending the money in the belief that they won't have to make any more loan payments after December, 2012. One of these people bought a cabin in the woods and is stocking it with emergency supplies like dehydrated food. The other is traveling around the world. Before that lunch, I didn't realize that anyone was taking this 2012 nonsense seriously.

Y2K. This 2012 hysteria seems a lot like Y2K. Remember that? A lot of people predicted that at midnight on January 1, 2000; computers all over the world would crash, airplanes would fall out of the sky, and nuclear missiles would launch by themselves. None of these things happened, except on a very funny episode of 'Family Guy,' where all of these things happened.

1910. Some scientists predicted that when Halley's comet returned in 1910, everyone on Earth would die. Halley's comet came very close to the Earth that year, so close that the comet was visible with the naked eye and could be seen in daylight. Scientists knew that the Earth was going to pass through the comet's tail, and they knew that the comet's tail contained cyanide gas. Just before the arrival of Halley's comet, snake oil salesmen sold 'comet pills' that were guaranteed to protect the user from poisonous comet gas, and some companies sold 'end of the world' insurance. Several thousand people bought these policies. (Why would anybody buy an 'end of the world' insurance policy? How would you collect on it?) Worldwide comet hysteria reached the point that Pope Pius X felt compelled to get involved and calm things down. In 1909, the Pope issued a statement to be read in Catholic churches around the world that "the great commotion about the comet" was unjustified, and that the end of the world was not at hand. The reason why nothing happened when the Earth passed through the comet's tail is that the cyanide gas in the tail is much too diffuse to have any effect.

A tenant recently told me, I hope in jest: "After December, 2012; I won't have to pay you rent anymore." Well, maybe, but don't bank on it.


Bayer Pharmaceutical is Berkeley's largest private employer. Last month, Bayer announced that they going to spend $100 million to expand their Berkeley factory. All of this money will be used to increase production of a single product, Kogenate, a biotech drug used to treat hemophilia. Kogenate is an expensive drug, costing the average patient $150,000 a year. Yes, you read that right, $150,00 a year for a single drug for a single patient, and for the rest of his life. You know, hemophilia is not like acne. If a teenager stop taking his acne medication, he will just have more zits on his face, but if a hemophiliac stops taking his meds, his life will be short and painful. About 400,000 hemophiliacs take Kogenate. I have no idea where they get the money to pay for this stuff. Hemophiliacs are uninsurable.


Real 'half & half' is half milk and half cream. 'Fat-free half & half' is a misnomer. It isn't half one thing and half something else. 'Fat-free half & half' is just thickened skim milk. Most brands are thickened with carrageenan, an extract of seaweed. 'Fat-free half & half' is not a diet or a health food, although the name of the product may give you that impression. Real 'half and half' is a natural product that contains no sugar or preservatives. On the other hand, all major brands of 'fat-free half & half' contain sugar, corn syrup, and a variety of chemical preservatives. Switching from a natural, sugar-free product like real 'half & half' to a very unnatural product like 'fat-free half & half' will not improve your health or help you lose weight.


Have you ever heard of Cookbook Sugar Inflation? Probably not, since I just made up the term. Cookbook Sugar Inflation means that the newer the recipe, the more sugar that is in it. Consider bread pudding. In the 1920 edition of the Fannie Farmer cookbook, the recipe for bread pudding called for 2 cups of milk and 1/4 cup of sugar. In the 1970 edition of The Joy of Cooking, the recipe called for 2 cups of milk and 1/2 cup of sugar. In 2000, the Gourmet magazine recipe called for 2 cups of half & half and 3/4 cup of sugar. In 2007, the recipe from Paula Dean's Home Cooking called for 2 cups of milk and 1+1/2 cups of sugar, plus an additional 1/4 cup of sugar for the sauce. That's 7 times as much sugar as the 1920 Fannie Farmer recipe. Admittedly, this is an extreme example, but Cookbook Sugar Inflation can be found in recipes everywhere. Perhaps this is why old editions of famous cookbooks sell for a lot of money on E Bay. Old recipes are usually made with natural and wholesome ingredients, like fresh fruit and vegetables, milk, and butter; and have less sugar in them. Bread pudding is easy to make. If you would like to make great bread pudding using a recipe that is over 100 years old, go to: Bread Pudding.


Dogs. When I show apartments to prospective tenants, most dog owners are happy to talk to me about their pets. They want me to know that they are responsible pet owners and that they have well behaved dogs. When an applicant clams up or becomes hostile when I want to talk to him about his dog, that means that there is a problem with the dog and that the applicant knows that if I found out what the problem is, I would refuse to rent the apartment to him.

"My Dog Looks Like a Pit Bull." I once received an application for a house on Canning Street in Oakland. The applicant told me that had a dog, but he wouldn't volunteer any information about his dog. After asking him a number of questions, all I learned was that the dog's name was 'Powder Puff'. I asked: "What is your dog's breed?" He said: "I don't know." I said: "What does your dog look like?" He said: "I don't know." I said: "Is your dog with you, out in your car?" He said: "No." I said: "Do you have a photo of your dog with you?" He said: "Yes", but he didn't offer to show me the photo. I said: "May I see the photo?" He said: "I'd rather not show you the picture." I said: "Why?" He said: "I heard you tell somebody that you don't allow pit bulls, and my dog looks like a pit bull." I said: "That's OK. Show me the photo." He opened his wallet, took out a photo, and handed it to me. I looked at the picture and said: "Yes, your dog does look like a pit bull. You know why your dog looks like a pit bull?" He looked confused and said: "No. Why?" I said: "Your dog is a pit bull." The man flew into a rage. He stood up and said: "Damn it! That's why I didn't want to show you that picture. I knew you would say that! Everyone says that! Powder Puff isn't a pit bull! He just looks like a pit bull!" I tried to calm the guy down, but it was no use. He walked out in a huff, and I never saw him again.

Delusions. I shouldn't have challenged this guy's delusion. A delusion is a false idea that somebody believes is true with absolute certainty and is incorrigible (incapable of correction). A delusional person will not change his mind by evidence that he is wrong or even by proof that what he believes is impossible. There are a lot of delusional people in the world. On several occasions, pit bull owners have told me: "There is no such thing as a pit bull," but that's not true. While there are a number of breeds that are commonly mistaken for pit bulls, such as the American Bulldog, pit bulls really do exist. Pit bulls are not mythical creatures like unicorns.

Tarses' Dog Equation. Based on my experience, I have concluded that the mass and strength of any dog is inversely proportional to the dog's name. In other words, the dogs with the most innocuous names are always the biggest and most powerful. I am very suspicious of dogs with cutesy or baby-like names. I once had an application for an apartment from a man who owned a dog named Fluffem Uppems. The guy had to move because Fluffem Uppums pulled a water pipe off the kitchen wall and crushed the pipe in his teeth, causing a flood in the building. That is just the sort of behavior I would expect from a dog with a name like Fluffem Uppems.


Bissell LIttle Green Cleaning Machine. This compact cleaning machine does a great job removing stains and odors from carpets and upholstered furniture. It also does a good job cleaning car seats and carpets. Comes with cleaning solution. All you need is hot water and electricity.


Caffe Giovanni $25 Gift Certificates. Caffe Giovanni is located at 2420 Shattuck Avenue. It is one of the oldest restaurants in Berkeley. Everything on their menu is good, but most people get pizza or pasta. Each gift certificate is good for $25 off a bill of $35 or more.

Mark Tarses

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