PARTY MYTHS

There are 2 widely-held myths about parties in college towns everywhere that I regularly have to speak to my tenants about.

#1. THERE IS NO ‘RIGHT TO PARTY.’ A lot of tenants (not just college students) think that as an American citizen, you have a legal right to have parties in your apartment, but that is not true. There is nothing in the Constitution about a ‘right to party.’ It’s not in any state or local law either. Lots of leases contain provisions prohibiting tenants from having parties of any kind on the premises or that limit the number of people who can attend a party or that set limits on the dates and hours of parties. Lease clauses restricting and prohibiting parties are legal and enforceable in every state.

#2. YOUR NEIGHBORS HAVE A LEGAL RIGHT TO GO TO SLEEP AT A REASONABLE HOUR EVERY NIGHT. Disturbing the peace is illegal. You can be cited and fined for it, and in some cases even arrested. You are not being considerate or courteous to your neighbors by telling them in advance that you are going to have a party that will prevent them from sleeping. It is legally useless and could be dangerous for you.

Robbing Bank of America. Simply announcing in advance that you intend to do something that is illegal does not give you the right to do it. For example, it is not O.K. to rob a bank providing that you tell the bank in advance that you intend to rob them. Somebody actually did that here in Berkeley. There used to be a Bank of America on Ashby Avenue across the street from the Ashby BART station, 2 blocks from my house. It was where I did my banking. A man once robbed that bank with a gun. He didn’t wear a mask because he didn’t see any surveillance cameras in the bank, and so he assumed that there weren’t any, but he was wrong. This guy wasn’t very smart and was quickly caught. At his trial, the bank robber compounded his folly by acting as his own lawyer. He thought he had an airtight defense that was going to get him off. The bank robber told the jury that that he mailed a letter to the manager of the bank a week before the robbery stating that he intended to rob the bank. He included the date of his planned robbery in the letter. The manager of the bank testified that he received the letter but did nothing about it. He thought the letter was a practical joke or a fraternity initiation prank. The judge told the jury that simply informing the manager of the bank in advance that the defendant intended to rob the bank was not a defense. The bank robber went to prison. Surprisingly, this happens fairly often – that a criminal informs his victim in advance of the crime that he intends to commit in the belief that by doing so, it will give him some sort of legal cover if he is caught. That doesn’t work. As I often tell people – playing amateur lawyer is dangerous.

The idea that it is O.K. to have a loud party late at night providing that you told the neighbors in advance is an urban legend that gets college students into trouble all the time. Berkeley has one of the toughest noise pollution laws in the United States, and they enforce it. Berkeley policeman have decibel meters in their patrol cars. People having loud parties late at night in Berkeley are regularly issued large fines. Also, it can be dangerous to tell your neighbors in advance about your parties. Some people will interpret your notice as an invitation to come to your party, which can lead to awkward situations. Even worse, dishonest neighbors may come to your party to rob your place. Yes, that does happen.

NAZIS, JEWS, AND THOMAS JEFFERSON.

During the 1930s, Nazis promoted the idea that Thomas Jefferson hated Jews. Nazis still believe that is true. At a nighttime rally earlier this year on the campus of the University of Virginia, near Monticello, a large number of Nazis carrying torches circled the Thomas Jefferson monument on campus chanting ‘Jews will not replace us!’ The Nazis were and are entirely wrong about this. Thomas Jefferson was completely devoid of any religious prejudices, and Jews in America and Europe always regarded Jefferson as a reliable friend and ally.

MONTICELLO. Thomas Jefferson died broke and deeply in debt. Soon after his death, Jefferson’s home, Monticello, starting falling into disrepair. It is expensive to maintain a mansion, and there was no money in Jefferson’s estate. The only reason Monticello didn’t just rot away was because a Jewish family bought the house soon after Jefferson’s death in order to preserve it. Uriah Phillips Levy, the first Jewish commodore in the U.S. Navy, bought Monticello in 1832 and immediately began making repairs and repurchasing furniture that had been sold after Jefferson’s death. During the Civil War, there were no battles around Monticello, but the house was extensively damaged by vandals. Even Jefferson’s gravestone was overturned and defaced. Most of the furniture was stolen by looters. After the war, Jefferson Monroe Levy bought Monticello from his uncle, Uriah Phillips Levy, and once again began restoring the mansion and recovering Jefferson’s furniture. In order to get back Jefferson’s furniture from the people who stole it, Levy had to advertise that he was prepared to pay cash for Thomas Jefferson’s furniture with ‘no questions asked’ as to how you got it. Although this was a morally questionable thing to do, from a practical standpoint, it was the only way that Levy could get Thomas Jefferson’s furniture back, and ultimately, he did get most of it back. In 1923, Levy turned the title to Monticello over to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, which still owns it. The Levy family spent over $2 million (inflation adjusted) of their own funds in order to maintain Monticello during the 90 years that they owned it. I don’t think that the Levy family would done all this if Thomas Jefferson was an anti-Semite.

MONTICELLO INVENTIONS. Visit Monticello if you get the chance! You may be surprised at the many inventions and innovations you will see there. Jefferson was quite an inventor. Thomas Jefferson invented the first hideaway bed and dumbwaiter for wine bottles, both of which are still there. Jefferson also invented the pedometer and the polygraph (not a lie detector, but a copying machine.) Jefferson enjoyed fine food and was the first person in the United States to make waffles, ice cream, and macaroni. In the photo below, you can see Monticello’s pond. This pond was not just ornamental. Jefferson enjoyed eating fish, but Monticello is not on a river, so Jefferson had live fish delivered to his home and dumped in the pond. When Jefferson was in the mood for fresh fish for dinner, he would go to the pond, point to a fish, and have his cook scoop it up and cook it.

NIGERIAN EMAIL SCAMS.

Email scams, also known as 419 scams, are Nigeria’s second biggest industry, just behind oil. These scams bring in billions of dollars to Nigeria every year. I don’t know why so many people still fall for them. Nigerian scam emails almost always contain obvious signs they are frauds. They are usually poorly written with lots of grammatical and spelling mistakes, and the stories they tell don’t make sense. They come from people who you have never heard of before, and who for some improbable reason want to give you a lot of money. Below is a Nigerian email scam letter that I received recently. It has all of the telltale signs of a 419 scam. The thing about this letter that I found interesting and unusual is that it was written by a dead man. Notice that the author of this letter repeatedly refers to his wife as ‘my widow’. If the author’s wife is his widow, then the man must have already been dead when he wrote the letter.

CONFIDENTIAL

Dear Sir,

Good day and compliments. This letter will definitely come to you as a huge surprise, but I implore you to take the time to go through it carefully as the decision you make will go off a long way to determine the future and continued existence of the entire members of my family.

Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is General Agoda Abacha, the late head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces of the federal republic of Nigeria.

My widow’s ordeal started immediately on the morning of 8th June 1998, and the subsequent take over of government by the current administration. The present democratic government is determined to portray all of my good work in a bad light and have gone as far as confiscating all my assets and properties, freezing my accounts both within and outside Nigeria. As I am writing this letter to you, my son Mohammed Abacha is undergoing questioning with the government. All these measures taken by present government is just to gain international recognition.

The entire members of my family have been held incommunicado, hence I seek your indulgence to assist us in securing these funds. We are not allowed to see or discuss with anybody. Few occasions I have tired traveling abroad through alternative means all failed.

It is in view of this I have mandated DR GALADIMA HASSAN, who has been assisting the family to run around on so many issues to act on behalf of the family concerning the substance of this letter. He has the full power of attorney to execute this transaction with you.

I had Eighty Million USD ($80,000,000.00) specially preserved and well packed in trunk boxes of which only I and my widow knew about. It is packed in such a way to forestall just anybody having access to it. It is this sum that I seek your assistance to get out of Nigeria as soon as possible before the present civilian government finds out about it and confiscate it just like they have done to all our assets.

I implore you to please give consideration to the predicament of my widow who is in need.

May Allah show you mercy as you do so?

Your faithfully,

General Agoda Abacha

DON’T INVITE BURGLARS INTO YOUR HOME!

That may seem like very obvious advice, but the fact is that thousands of burglaries are committed every year by thieves who gained entry into their victim’s homes by being invited in! There are many tricks that burglars use to get their victims to let them into their homes. Once inside, it is much easier for a criminal to rob a house, ‘case the joint,’ or assault the occupant.

Fake Building Inspectors. One very common trick is the fake building inspector. This is an old trick that never goes away – because it works! What should you do if a stranger shows up at your door and says he’s a building inspector, a health inspector, the fire marshal, or some other government official, and asks you to let him in?  Just Say No!  Give him my phone number and tell him politely, but firmly, “Speak to my landlord.” Do not let him in! Real building inspectors make appointments in advance and will normally contact the landlord or property manager first, not the tenant.

The Furnace Inspectors. I used to own a house on Milvia Street near campus. Many years ago, one of my tenants there, a U.C. Berkeley student, let 2 men into his house who showed up unexpectedly. They said they were Berkeley city furnace inspectors. Once they were inside the house, these so-called furnace inspectors tied up my tenant and robbed the place. Fortunately, my tenant wasn’t physically injured, but he and his roommates lost a lot of property. After the robbery, I asked my tenant: “Why did you let these guys in? Weren’t you suspicious?” My tenant told me that he that he was suspicious and asked these men to show him I.D. before he let them in. One of the men handed my tenant a flyer titled ‘Furnace Safety’ with the City of Berkeley logo on it. Based on that – and that alone – my tenant let these 2 men into his house. My tenant showed me the flyer. I recall looking at the flyer and thinking: ‘This is pathetic.’ The flyer was just a list of furnace safety tips. It began with: ‘Don’t store flammable liquids like gasoline next to your furnace.’ I told my tenant that I had seen this flyer before, and that it was not I.D. You could pick up one of these flyers at any public library in Berkeley. I also told my tenant: “There are no city furnace inspectors. The city of Berkeley doesn’t have any furnace inspectors.” I don’t know of any city that has furnace inspectors.

Don’t Be Fooled By Appearances. Professional burglars don’t look or sound like burglars. If they did, nobody would let them in! Some burglars wear business suits, carry attache cases, and come with phony I.D. and documents that look authentic. Criminals posing as government officials often try to gain entry by intimidation. They may threaten to have you fined or arrested for refusing to allow them to come in. The more intimidating a person is, the more suspicious you should be! The fact is this – you cannot be fined or arrested  for refusing to allow a government inspector into your home unless he has a Search Warrant signed by a judge and stating exactly what it is that he is looking for. That’s in the Constitution!

The Boston Strangler. How dangerous is it to let uninvited strangers into your home? In 1962 and 1963, 13 women in the Boston area were killed by the Boston Strangler. All of these women were murdered in their own homes. All were raped and then strangled with articles of their own clothing. They were all respectable women who led quiet lives. The police were baffled because there was never any sign of forced entry. The Boston Strangler was front page news all over the U.S. and around the world. In 1964, Albert DeSalvo was arrested and confessed to all 13 murders. When he was asked how he gained entry into his victim’s homes, he said he simply followed a woman home, knocked on the door of her apartment and asked if he could come in. He claimed to be a handyman who had been hired by the landlord to check the apartment’s plumbing. He wore work clothes and carried a bucket of plumbing tools. If a woman showed any reluctance to let him in, he just left and then followed another woman to her apartment. He never tried to force his way in. All of the women killed by the Boston Strangler voluntarily let him into their homes, even though everyone in Boston knew there was a strangler loose in the city. OK. I know that this story sounds scary, but I am telling it to you because it could save your life!

THE HOMELESS EXPLOSION EXPLAINED.

 
30 years ago, there were no huge homeless encampments in Berkeley, Oakland, or San Francisco. Now, thousands of people live in them, and they are getting bigger all the time. A lot of people are baffled by this, but the explanation seems obvious to me. The number of extremely poor people in the U.S. has exploded over the past 30 years. The real inflation-adjusted income of the average American has been declining since the 1970s. The minimum wage adjusted for inflation has fallen by over 25% since 1970. For reasons that I don’t understand, very few people make a mental connection between the declining income of poor and middle class Americans and the rise in homelessness.

In 1960, the largest private employer in the United States was General Motors. The average non-managerial employee at GM made $25.00 an hour, adjusted for inflation. Like most unionized industrial workers of the time, GM employees also got a generous fringe benefits package.

Today, in 2017, the largest private employer in the United States is Walmart. The average non-managerial employee at Walmart makes $9.15 an hour, and with relatively few fringe benefits.

When I see people working at Starbucks and Walgreens here in Berkeley, I sometimes wonder: “Where do these people live?” These people make $11 to $14 an hour, and a 1 bedroom apartment in Berkeley costs $2,000 to $3,000 a month. So where do these people live? In a city where the average 1 bedroom apartment costs over $2,000 a month, where can a person who makes $13 an hour live besides a tent, a friend’s garage, or the back seat of a car? What I can’t understand is why so few politicians and TV commentators see any connection at all between rising poverty and rising homelessness. The connection seems very obvious to me. What am I missing?

$70 TO GET INTO YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK?

Here’s an example of how the lives of poor people are becoming even poorer in America. Our national parks were intended to be places that anyone could go to. The poor as well as the rich could visit a national park. Things were different in Europe, where the most beautiful places and scenic vistas were made royal estates, available only to aristocrats and their friends. Last week, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that the price of admission to Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Glacier, Yellowstone, and many other national parks will be going up from $25 now to $70 next year. This story didn’t get a lot of publicity, but I think it should have. For a lot of people, $70 is a lot of money. $70 is more than a whole day’s take-home pay for somebody working at minimum wage. Obviously, far fewer poor people will be able to go to a national park once it costs $70 to get in. I think that’s sad. Don’t you?

WHAT DOES ‘DISRUPTIVE’ MEAN?

 
‘Disruptive’ is a hot buzz word these days. You hear TV commentators and politicians using the word ‘disruptive’ all the time, but it sounds like most of them don’t know what the word means. ‘Disruptive’ does not mean ‘destructive’; however, that appears to be what a lot of people think it means. An angry child smashing the family’s porcelain dinnerware is not being disruptive. He is being destructive. So – what does ‘disruptive’ mean? The word ‘disruptive’ has 2 very different meanings, one negative and one positive.

In politics, ‘disruptive’ usually refers to something bad. ‘Disruptive’ can describe a person who is undisciplined, disorderly, unruly, chaotic, or who just won’t play by the rules. For example, in the first presidential debate in 2016, candidate Donald Trump interrupted Hillary Clinton 22 times in the first 30 minutes of the first debate. Constantly interrupting somebody who is speaking during a debate is very disruptive, and in the negative sense of the word.

However, in high technology, ‘disruptive’ usually refers to something good. That is because ‘disruptive’ has a second meaning. ‘Disruptive’ can refer to something new, innovative, or groundbreaking that radically changes the way business is conducted or how a product or service is produced, displacing the existing way of doing things. I was thinking about this last month at the annual BoxWorks conference in San Francisco. During his keynote address, Box CEO Aaron Levie interviewed Brian Chesney, the founder of AirBNB. Both of them referred to AirBNB as a ‘disruptive business’, and it is. Mr. Chesney created a new business model for temporary housing that was cheaper for travelers and that provided new income for property owners. However, as a result of this, established hotels and motels lost a lot of business. This is an example of ‘disruption’ in the positive sense of the word. The next time you hear someone on TV using the words ‘disruptive’, ‘disrupter’, or ‘disruption’; think about what he means. If he is using the word in a story about a politician, it almost always means something bad. In high tech, it almost always means something good.

Auto Antonyms. There are a lot of words like ‘disruptive’ in the English language, words with 2 very different and sometimes opposite meanings. An auto-antonym is a word with 2 opposite definitions. My Uncle Maurice got me interested in auto-antonyms a long time ago. Consider the word ‘citation’, which is an auto-antonym. A citation can be a an award for good behavior ‘The Boy Scout received a citation for saving the drowning camper’ or a penalty for bad behavior ‘The policeman gave the driver a citation for parking in a bus stop.’ Words with 2 opposite definitions creates a lot of confusion and and sometimes start pointless arguments.

NEW IN MY CHOCOLATE ROOM. Chocolate Covered HYDROX COKIES.

What is a Hydrox? Hydrox was the original sandwich cookie. In 1908, the Sunshine Biscuit Company began selling Hydrox cookies, and they were an immediate success. Hydrox was so successful that in 1912 the much larger National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) starting making Oreos, a copycat of Hydrox. Oreos quickly began outselling Hydrox. In 1999, Sunshine stopped making Hydrox cookies after the company was purchased by Keebler. Hydrox cookies looked like Oreos, but they didn’t taste the same. Hydrox cookies were not as sweet as Oreos. I think that is because Hydrox cookies were made with sugar, and Oreos were and are made with corn syrup.  Hydrox cookies are back on the market, but they can be very hard to find in stores or online. Hydrox cookies are still made with real sugar and contain no corn syrup.

Jews & Hydrox. When I was a kid, Jews who kept kosher ate Hydrox cookies, never Oreos. Oreos were made with lard, and therefore, were not kosher. Hydrox cookies were always made with vegetable oil and were always kosher.  In the 1990s, American consumers began shifting away from products made with lard as part of a general interest in eating healthier food. As a result, many products, like Bisquick, replaced the lard in their products with vegetable oil. In 1997, Nabisco stopped putting lard in Oreos and replaced it with vegetable oil as well. As a result, Oreos are now kosher.

Kosher Hot Dogs. Surprisingly, the great majority of American buyers of kosher foods are Christians. A lot of people will pay extra for kosher certified processed foods because they know that if there is a kosher seal on a product, that means that it doesn’t contain pig snouts, mechanically separated cow butts, or a long list of other unappetizing animal parts and also that a rabbi is regularly inspecting the factory looking for unsanitary conditions, and inspecting it more frequently than government food inspectors. I sometimes see 1 pound packages of hot dogs at dollar stores and wonder: ‘What are all-meat hot dogs that sell for $1.00 a pound made out of?’ Perhaps it is best not to think too much about such questions. You sure can’t buy kosher hot dogs for $1.00 a pound!

Donald Trump vs. Oreos. President Trump has urged Americans to boycott products that used to be made in the U.S. but that are now made in Mexico. In 2015, Nabisco moved the production of Oreos from Chicago to Mexico. Then-candidate Trump said: “I’m never eating another Oreo again!” and told his supporters to boycott Oreos as well. Donald Trump talked about Oreos frequently during the presidential campaign. Hydrox cookies were always made in the U.S., and they still are. So what do you think?  Will eating Hydrox cookies ‘make America great again’?

DEFECTIVE SMOKE ALARMS.

If you have a defective smoke alarm, contact me, and I will replace it. Do not try to open it up the smoke alarm and replace the batteries yourself. Smoke detectors with replaceable batteries are now illegal in California. The batteries inside the smoke alarms in your apartment are in a sealed chamber and cannot be replaced or removed without damaging or destroying the smoke alarm. About nuisance false alarms…..If you have a smoke alarm in or near your kitchen that goes off when you are cooking, let me know about it. I may be able to change the alarm with a different type of smoke alarm, a photoelectric smoke alarm. This type of smoke alarm is less likely to go off when you are frying onions or broiling a steak.

MARYLAND, MY MARYLAND. The worst state song in the U.S.

‘Maryland, My Maryland’ is the official state song of Maryland. The tune is that of ‘O Tannenbaum’ (O Christmas Tree). The lyrics are just nasty Confederate propaganda. The song was written in 1861 by a Maryland native serving in the Confederate navy. Maryland was a border state, that is, a slave state that stayed in the Union. Maryland never joined the Confederacy. The majority of people in Maryland were Unionists. About 75% of Marylanders who fought in the Civil War fought for the North. The other 25% fought for the South. When I was a kid growing up in Baltimore, I was sometimes required to sing “Maryland, My Maryland”, but I never liked it. I was never sympathetic to the Confederacy. Most people in Maryland have never actually read or thought about the words to this song, but they should! ‘Maryland, My Maryland’ refers to Abraham Lincoln as a despot, a tyrant, and ‘the vandal’, which seemed odd to me since Maryland was a Union state.  However, the nastiest line in this song refers to the United States Army as ‘Northern scum.’ Northern scum. Really? Northern scum? The United States Army is just Northern scum? I don’t think a line like that belongs in any state’s official state song. It’s an insult to everyone who has ever served in the United States Army. There have been many efforts to revise or replace this song, but all efforts have failed. In 2016, some Maryland state legislators tried to get just the words ‘Northern scum’ removed from the official version of ‘Maryland, My Maryland’, but that too was voted down. In 2017, the University of Maryland marching band announced that they will no longer play ‘Maryland, My Maryland’, something that I think was long, long overdue.

The official state song of California is ‘I Love You, California.’  I don’t think that even 1 in a 1,000 Californians has ever heard it sung, including me. Every state has an official state song except New Jersey. Many state songs have nothing to do specifically with that state and do not mention the state in their state song. For example, the official state song of Connecticut is ‘Yankee Doodle’ and in Kansas, it is ‘Home On The Range.’ My personal favorite official state song is ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’, the state song of West Virginia, written and sung by John Denver.

PRESIDENTIAL TRIVIA.

What U.S. President Ate Cottage Cheese Covered With Ketchup For Breakfast?
That was Richard Nixon. Richard Nixon did not have a sophisticated palette. Nixon usually started his day with a big plate of cottage cheese covered with Heinz ketchup. If for some reason he ate something else for breakfast, he would have cottage cheese over canned fruit for lunch. Here is a photo of Nixon’s last meal in the White House – a scoop of cottage cheese over canned pineapple slices with a glass of milk. It looks like a very sad meal to me. The White House has a well-paid celebrity chef, but many presidents preferred junk food to the high class stuff the White House chef is paid to prepare. Bill Clinton was famous for jogging to McDonalds in the early morning with Secret Service agents jogging behind him and then loading up on Sausage McMuffins. George H.W. Bush was famous for his love of fried pork rinds. Sales of fried pork rinds skyrocketed during his presidency. Pig skinners ran out of inventory and had to import the stuff. Franklin Roosevelt’s favorite meal was a grilled cheese sandwich on white bread. Warren Harding served knockwurst, sauerkraut, and bootleg beer at White House dinners. He was president during Prohibition. Donald Trump’s favorite restaurants include McDonalds, KFC, and Wendy’s; although he doesn’t serve that kind of food to guests at the White House.