November, 2011


No. According to this well-known legend, feudal landlords had a legal right to have sex with women living on their estates. This right was known as 'Droit du Seigner' (pronounced drwa-due-se-noer). It seems that almost everyone has heard this myth or some variation of it; however, no such right ever existed. One variation is that medieval landlords had the right to spend the first night with the brides of their vassals. Nobody knows exactly when or where this myth started, but we know that it's been around in some form for at least 3,000 years. The reason that so many people believe that Droit du Seigneur was an actual legal concept is that it is frequently mentioned in literature, plays, and operas, where it is almost always presented as historic fact, including Mark Twain's 'A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court', Mozart's 'Marriage of Figaro', and George Orwell's '1984'. Voltaire wrote a 5 act play titled 'Le Droit du Signeur.' It was even mentioned in a recent episode of 'Family Guy'. Driot du Seigner is also a major theme in several movies including 'The War Lord' and 'Braveheart.'

MEL GIBSON. At the time of 'Braveheart's' release, Mel Gibson was criticized for promoting xenophobia and Anglophobia (fear or hatred of England) by falsely claiming in the movie that the English tried to breed the Scots out of existence by the use of Droit du Seigner. After showings of 'Braveheart', angry mobs of Scottish extremists burned Union Jacks in a number of cities in Scotland. Mel Gibson was accused of stirring up Anglophobia again with his next movie 'The Patriot.' In nearly all the movies that Mel Gibson has produced, foreigners are evil. That is xenophobia. I recently saw Mel Gibson's movie 'Apocalypto' on TV, in which the Mayans were portrayed as monstrously evil people. Sound familiar?

Mel Gibson and Anti-Semitism. A few years after 'Braveheart', Mel Gibson was accused of promoting anti-Semitism by claiming in 'The Passion of the Christ' that the Bible says that Pontius Pilate didn't want to crucify Jesus, but that the Jews made him do it. In fact, that is not in the Bible. Even before 'The Passion of the Christ' came out, it was already widely believed that Mel Gibson was anti-Semitic. His father Hutton Gibson is a well-known Holocaust denier who claims that there were more Jews living in Europe at the end of World War II than there were at the beginning of the war. Mel Gibson is also a Holocaust denier. (I have an uncle living in Baltimore who was one of the first American soldiers to enter Dachau concentration camp at the end of World War II. He frequently assures me that the Holocaust really did happen.) Mel Gibson is now making something called 'a Jewish movie' for Warner Brothers. Hmmm. I have a bad feeling about this!

The Gibsons vs. the Pope. Hutton Gibson writes a lot about the Pope. On his web site, Hutton Gibson refers to Pope Benedict XVI as 'Benny the Rat.' He claims that Pope John Paul II was a Soviet agent, and that the Vatican is secretly controlled by Freemasons and Jews. He is the author of a book titled 'Is the Pope Catholic?' According to his book, the answer is: 'No.' Mel Gibson's own feelings about the Pope are very similar to those of his father. Mel Gibson has spent millions of dollars building and funding a rival Catholic church, the Church of the Holy Family in Malibu, which rejects both the authority and the legitimacy of Pope Benedict.


Whenever the economy of the United States is in bad shape and unemployment is high, people look for someone to blame. Unfortunately, they usually settle on unpopular minorities or foreigners. Demagogues are always anxious to exploit this xenophobia, and that is happening right now. This time, there are lots of plausible scapegoats to choose from: illegal immigrants, legal immigrants, Al Qaeda, OPEC, Euro debtor nations, but most often - China.

Sinophobia means fear or hatred of China or Chinese people. Listening to politicians running for office these days, you get the impression that the reason that the U.S. is now in a recession and unemployment is high is simply because we buy too much stuff from China, but is that true?

China Trade. Most Americans have a wildly inflated idea of how much stuff we buy from China. According to the Federal Reserve Bank, only 2.7 cents out of every dollar spent by the average American goes to buy things made in China. 88 cents out of every dollar goes to buy goods and services produced here in the United States. How could these numbers be right? We all see Chinese-made goods every day and everywhere.

1. First, you need to remember that the United States is now a service-based economy. 2/3 of all consumer spending in the U.S. goes to buy services, like medical care, education, insurance, and rent. Virtually none of this money goes to China. The Chinese have never been very successful in their efforts to get into the international services market. Americans buy very few imported services, but we export lots of them. Most of the big companies in Silicon Valley (Google, Facebook, etc.) get the majority of their income from foreign markets, including China.
2. There are a lot of products that the Chinese don't export to the U.S. For example, they build a lot of cars and trucks in China, but they don't sell them here. Have you ever seen anyone driving a Chinese-made car? I haven't.
3. While the U.S. does have a huge foreign trade deficit, it's not due to imports from China. It's oil. 2/3 of the entire U.S. foreign trade deficit comes from importing oil. In the 1950s, the U.S. was the world's leading oil exporting country. Now we import over 2/3 of the oil we consume, and none of it comes from China. Like the U.S., China imports most of the oil they consume.

Walmart. Politicians who want to blame China for America's economic woes love to make campaign commercials in Walmart stores. It's easy to see why. You really can get the impression by walking through a Walmart store that nearly everything we buy is made in China, but that's just because of the nature of the merchandise that Walmart sells. General merchandise discount retailers like Walmart, Target, and Kmart sell the kind of products that the Chinese make very cheaply: inexpensive clothes and shoes, small electrical appliances, consumer electronics, and toys. However, if you go to other types of big box stores, you could get the opposite impression - that almost nothing we buy is made in China. Go to a supermarket. Very little of the food we buy comes from China. Or go to a store that sells large appliances, like stoves, refrigerators, dishwashers, and washing machines. Most of them are still made in the U.S., and very few come from China.

As the election season ramps up, remember that hard times always brings out demagogues. Be on the lookout for politicians who blame China, immigrants, or spendthrift Greeks for this recession. That's just a trick to shift the responsibility to foreigners. The sad fact is this - we got into this mess all by ourselves. This recession was made right here in the U.S.A.


Now here is a product that is a complete mystery to me - Calms Forte sleeping pills. They come in 2 varieties, 'regular' and 'non-drowsy formula.' I don't get it. What's the point of buying sleeping pills that according to the manufacturer 'will not make you drowsy'? They sell these pills at a drugstore near my house. I asked the pharmacist: "What's the point of taking sleeping pills that don't make you drowsy?" She said: "Well, these pills have one big advantage over all the other sleeping pills we sell. You can't drive a car or operate machinery after taking most sleeping pills because you could get drowsy and fall asleep, but you can drive a car after taking these pills because they won't make you sleepy." As I walked home from the store, I thought about the pharmacist said - and I still don't get it!


In the United States, maple syrup is sold in 2 grades, 'Grade A' and 'Grade B.' Unfortunately, these names are misleading. Normally, when something is labeled 'Grade A', that means that it is top quality, and 'Grade B' is normally inferior to 'Grade A'; but maple syrup grading doesn't work that way. 'Grade A' maple syrup is not better than 'Grade B.' The grading of maple syrup depends on its translucence and flavor, not it's quality. 'Grade A' maple syrup is light in color and has a mild maple flavor. 'Grade A' maple syrup is further divided into 3 sub-grades: 'Light Amber,' 'Medium Amber,' and 'Dark Amber.' 'Grade B' maple syrup is darker in color and has a stronger flavor than 'Grade A.' 'Grade A' maple syrup is sold primarily for table use, like pouring over pancakes. 'Grade B' maple syrup is usually best for cooking and baking.

Granola. Did you know that I am now making granola? It is sweetened with maple syrup instead of sugar. It's in the chocolate room. It's mighty tasty! Give it a try.


Jamba Juice Gift Cards. Each card is good for $10 at any Jamba Juice store. There's one in downtown Berkeley on Shattuck Avenue.

Mark Tarses

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