About Mark

I am a landlord in Berkeley, California. I rent houses to college students. I make chocolate and have a free chocolate store for my tenants.

DOES PRESSURE TREATED WOOD CONTAIN ARSENIC?

I recently had some decks and exterior stairs at my properties replaced using pressure treated lumber. I get questions about pressure treated lumber from tenants quite often, and with good reason. Pressure treated wood used be a very toxic product. For a long time, pressure treated wood was infused with Chromated Copper Arsenate (CCA). As the name implies, it contained arsenic. If termites ate wood that was treated with CCA, they would die. One of the many dangers of CCA was that the arsenic in the wood eventually leached into the nearby soil and poisoned the ground. Pressure treated wood no longer contains arsenic. The federal government banned arsenic in pressure treated lumber in 2003.
 
The History of Arsenic. People have known since ancient times that arsenic is highly toxic. Nevertheless, at the turn of the 20th Century, arsenic could be found in hundreds of household products. Arsenic was commonly used as a dye to make clothing and paint bright green. Many people died as a result of that. Women who wore green dresses in the 19th Century often became sick and died from the arsenic in their clothing. Weavers and dyers also became sick and died from handling thread all day long that was soaked in arsenic. Napoleon Bonaparte died of arsenic poisoning. That has been known for a long time, but until recently, no one knew where the arsenic came from. A lot of people suspected that his English jailers put arsenic in his food, but that isn’t what happened. When Napoleon was living in exile on the island of St. Helena, his friends in France had his bedroom wallpapered to make the room look more cheerful. That house still stands. The wallpaper in Napoleon’s bedroom was recently tested and found to be loaded with arsenic. It is now believed that the arsenic in Napoleon’s wallpaper gasified in the warm humid climate of St. Helena and killed him. A lot of people in Europe and America died that same way in the 19th Century. A lot of cosmetics sold in early 20th Century also contained arsenic, like arsenic face cream, which was sold everywhere. Smearing a blemish on your face with arsenic cream will actually make the blemish go away – but at a price. Arsenic face cream will eventually kill you. Cosmetic companies also sold arsenic wafers, arsenic pills, arsenic shampoo, arsenic hair tonic, and arsenic soap. When Teddy Roosevelt created the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in 1906, one of the first things they did was ban arsenic, mercury, and lead in cosmetics. As a result, many cosmetic companies went bankrupt. Today, there are still some consumer products on the market that contain arsenic. The FDA is still debating whether to ban arsenic from commercial chicken and turkey feed, where it is still in common use.
 
Don’t eat tomatoes grown in arsenic. (That’s actually good advice.) A few years ago, a tenant of mine on McAuley Street showed me tomato plants that she grew in her garden and offered to give me few of them. Her tomatoes looked really beautiful, but I noticed that her tomato bed was full of ant stakes. I recognized the brand and knew that they contained arsenic. I told her the truth about this product and that I don’t eat vegetables grown in soil with arsenic in it (and neither should you!) I know that I disappointed her, and I felt bad about that. I know she put a lot of work into her tomato garden – but arsenic really is very bad stuff. A very small amount of arsenic can kill you. Historically, arsenic poisoning was a common method of murdering people. That’s because until the late 19th Century, there was no way to chemically test for arsenic poisoning, so it was very hard to prove in court. Also, the symptoms of arsenic poisoning can be vague – headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, etc. These are conditions that could have a long list of causes. When in doubt about chemicals that you use in your garden, read the label. If a product contains arsenic, they have to state that someplace on the package. Don’t underestimate the danger of arsenic. Just because a product is legal doesn’t mean that it is safe.

LINCOLN’S GETTYSBURG ADDRESS.

Donald Trump recently said that Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was “ridiculed” at the time by the “fake news” press. Mr. Trump said: “You know when Abraham Lincoln made the Gettysburg Address speech, the great speech, you know he was ridiculed. And he was excoriated by the fake news. They had fake news then. They said it was a terrible, terrible speech.” Well, I teach Civil War history, and I have a lecture that I give on widely-held myths about Abraham Lincoln, and this myth is high on my list. It is widely-believed that Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address got universally bad reviews at the time, but in reality, the reviews of Lincoln’s speech mostly fell along party lines. Republican newspapers thought the speech was great. Democratic newspapers thought it was mediocre, and predictably, Confederate newspapers thought the speech was just awful. There was one thing that everyone who was at Gettysburg did agree upon –  everyone was surprised at how short Lincoln’s speech was. Lincoln only spoke for 2 minutes. Just before Lincoln spoke, Edward Everett, a famous orator of the day, delivered a speech that was 2 hours long, and most people assumed that Lincoln would speak at least as long as Mr. Everett. Here is the review of the Gettysburg Address that appeared the next day in the Providence Journal (a Republican newspaper.) “We know not where to look for a more admirable speech than the brief one that the President made at the close of Mr. Everett’s oration. Could the elaborate and splendid oration be more beautiful, more touching, more inspiring than those thrilling words of the President? They have in our humble judgment the power and charm of the very highest eloquence.” That sounds like a pretty good review to me! Lots of other Republican newspapers gave the speech their highest praise. Another widely held myth about the Gettysburg Address is that Lincoln wrote it on the back of an envelope while he was on the train to Gettysburg. That isn’t true either. Lincoln knew that this was going to be an important event with lots of famous people and newspaper reporters present. Lincoln worked on his speech for weeks. 5 early drafts of the Gettysburg Address still exist and are at the National Archives. A lot of what people think they know about Abraham Lincoln is really just a collection of popular myths garnered from politicians and movies – two equally unreliable sources of historic information.
 
Vampire Hunting. The movie ‘Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter’ has been on TV a lot lately. Just in case you were wondering, this movie is not historically accurate. At various times in his life, Abraham Lincoln worked as a farm hand, a railsplitter, a boatman, a storekeeper, a postmaster, a soldier, a surveyor, a lawyer, a state legislator, a Congressman, and President of the United States. However, I am unaware of any evidence that Abraham Lincoln hunted vampires.

I DON’T GET GOAT YOGA.

Goat yoga is popping up everywhere. There are goat yoga studios all over the country now. There are several of them around the bay, including one in Berkeley. I do not understand goat yoga. What is the appeal of doing yoga exercises with a goat standing on your back? I don’t understand what the goats do or what benefit anyone receives from this. I heard about goat yoga just a couple of months ago at a magic convention in Las Vegas. When I first heard about it, I thought the guy who was telling me about goat yoga was pulling my leg, but he told me to check it out on Google, which I did, and I was amazed to discover that he was telling the truth. I looked at photos on Google of people doing yoga exercises with goats standing on them. I said to this guy: “I notice that the goats in these Google photos are not wearing diapers. Are these goats housebroken?” (You know what I mean.) He said: “I don’t know. That’s an interesting question.” Yes, that is an interesting question. If you are going to be doing yoga exercises with a goat standing on your back, it would be nice to know if the goat is toilet trained.  But besides that, what do these goats do besides stand on your back – or your stomach? What is the point of this? As I said, I don’t get goat yoga. I’m not being coy. I really don’t get it. Don’t misunderstand me – I like goats. I petted a goat just recently at the Oakland Zoo. So did my sister. However, I had no desire for the goat to stand on my back, and as I recall, my sister didn’t express any desire for a goat to stand on her either. Can somebody explain to me what is the appeal of goat yoga? I don’t get it.
 
Update: BEER YOGA. I just got an Eventbrite invitation to go to a ‘Beer Yoga Session’ in San Francisco. See picture below. I just checked this out on Google. Beer yoga is now a real thing. There are dozens of beer yoga studios in the U.S. and Europe. This sounds almost as bizarre as goat yoga. Is anybody doing chocolate yoga?

NEW GRADUATE STUDENT HOUSING COMES TO MY NEIGHBORHOOD.

The apartment house at 2711 Shattuck Avenue is nearing completion and will be ready for occupancy soon. The entire building has been rented to the university, which will sublease individual units to individual graduate students. The apartments are all 310 square feet, which is very small. These apartments were built in China and arrived at the Port of Oakland in standard 8′ x 40′ shipping containers. The apartments came fully furnished and ready to move in. Each studio apartment will rent for $2180 a month and are all single occupancy (one student per apartment). This apartment house has no amenities aside from a coin-operated laundry room on each floor. There is no lobby, no yard, and no elevator. That means that if you live on the 4th floor of this building and have 4 or 5 bags of groceries, you have to shlep them up 4 flights of stairs as best you can. There is only one parking space (that’s not one parking space per unit. It’s one parking space for the whole building.) Pre-fab apartments from China are popping up in San Francisco and more are planned for Berkeley. Try to imagine what it would be like to live in an apartment that is only 8 feet wide.

WORLD WAR II WORDS & EXPRESSIONS.

Big wars always add new words to our language. All the words and terms below were invented during World War 2. During the war, every American soldier knew the meanings of all the words below. How many of them do you know?

AWOL. Acronym for Away Without Official Leave. A soldier who left his base without permission was AWOL. After a certain amount of time, he became a deserter.
Bite the Dust. Killed or wounded.
Blitzkrieg.
Most people assume that the Germans invented the word Blitzkrieg, but they didn’t. The English invented this word from 2 German words: blitz (lightning) and krieg (war). Eventually, the Germans started using the word themselves.
Blockbuster. A very large bomb, usually weighing 2 tons or more, and capable of destroying or ‘busting’ an entire city block.
Brass.
Officers. American officers in World War II wore brass insignias of rank.
Cash & Carry. Under Cash & Carry, a belligerent nation could buy weapons in the U.S. if they paid cash and picked them up here. England could buy tanks made in the U.S. and drive them across the Canadian border, a few miles away. Franklin Roosevelt invented the term Cash and Carry.
Chow Hound. A man who always winds up at the head of the mess line.
Dear John Letter. A letter from a wife or sweetheart saying that their relationship is over.
Duck Soup. An easy job or assignment.
Eisenhower Jacket. A short fitted belted jacket popularized by General Dwight D. Eisenhower during the war. (The blue zippered jacket that I wear is an Eisenhower jacket.)
Flat Top. An aircraft carrier.
Flying Blind. A date with a girl who you have never seen.
Get Cracking. To get something started. The term was created by RAF pilots.
G.I.
An American soldier, an abbreviation for Government Issue.
Gremlins. Imaginary creatures that sabotage airplanes. The word was invented by British pilots. Any mechanical problem with an airplane was blamed on gremlins.
Haywire. An operation that went wrong or machinery that doesn’t work as it should.
Jeep.
You know what a Jeep is. We don’t know who was the first person to call this vehicle a Jeep.
Joe or A Cup of Joe. Coffee. During World War 1, American soldiers called it ‘A cup of Java.’
Kamikaze. A military suicide mission.
Margarine. Imitation butter. Originally called oleomargarine.
Milk Run. An uneventful and easy bombing mission.
Molotov Cocktail. A gasoline bomb. Named after Vyacheslav Molotov, Stalin’s Foreign Minister. He encouraged Russian partisans behind German lines to make their own improvised weapons.
Pineapple. A hand grenade. American hand grenades during World War 2 were shaped somewhat like pineapples.
Pinup. A picture or poster attached to a wall of a sex symbol. The famous picture of Betty Grable, looking backwards with her hands on her hips, was the first and most famous pinup picture of the war.  The word ‘pinup’ was coined by Yank magazine.
Quisling. A traitor. Named after Vidkum Quisling, a Norwegian politician who assisted the Germans in the invasion and occupation of his country.
Radar and Sonar. Radar is an acronym for Radio Assisted Detection And Ranging. Sonar stands for Sound Navigation Ranging. Radar and sonar were among the most important inventions of World War II.
Roger. Meaning ‘Message received and understood.’
Sad Sack. A sad sack is a pitiable or luckless person. This was another of the many terms coined by Yank magazine.
Section 8. A soldier sent to a psychiatric hospital or discharged from the military on grounds of insanity.
Snafu. An acronym for “Situation normal, all fouled up.” Popularized by the Private Snafu cartoons made by Warner Brothers for the U.S. Army as a training aid for soldiers.
Stinkeroo. Something of very poor quality, often used to describe bad movies.
Take Home Pay. Take home pay is what is left of your wages after tax withholding and other deductions. Income tax withholding began during World War II.

Mark’s Job Hunting Tip #3: Don’t Get a Conspicuous Tattoo.

20 years ago, it was unusual to see a student at U.C. Berkeley with a tattoo. Back then, there was only 1 tattoo parlor in the city of Berkeley. Today, there are 8 tattoo parlors in Berkeley. Lots of Cal students now have tattoos. Tattooing has become far more socially acceptable than it used to be. One quarter of all Americans between the ages of 18 and 50 have a tattoo. But wait! Before you get a Chinese dragon tattooed on your wrist or your name in Hebrew tattooed on the back of your neck, have you considered how a tattoo might affect your ability to get a job or a promotion?

A recent national survey of parents of teenagers and college students found that 68% of parents didn’t want their kids to get tattoos. The Number 1 reason parents gave was their concern that having a tattoo might hurt their kid’s chances of getting a job. Those parents have good reason to worry about that. Careerbuilder.com, a job search web site, asked HR (human resource) managers what they considered the #1 physical attribute that would most likely limit a candidate’s chances of getting a job or getting promoted. 37% said body piercings and 31% said tattoos. A similar survey conducted by philly.com put tattoos at #1. According to The Patient’s Guide, when people having tattoos removed by laser surgery were asked why they were having their tattoos removed, 50% of respondents cited ’employment’ as the principle reason. A lot of employers have dress codes and refuse to hire people with visible tattoos or piercings. Yes, that is legal. People with tattoos are not a protected class under labor or discrimination laws. If you are going to get a tattoo, my advice is to have it put someplace where it can’t be seen when you are wearing work clothes. Your friends may tell you that employers no longer care about tattoos, but that isn’t true. Some employers don’t care about tattoos, but some do.

FREE WI-FI AT AIRPORTS.

Most major airports in the U.S. have free wi-fi. That’s important to remember because cell phone and 4G reception at airports is often very poor. At San Francisco airport, if you connect to #SFO FREE WIFI, you get unlimited free wi-fi with no strings attached. At Oakland airport, you get 45 minutes of free wi-fi, but you have to watch a 30 second commercial first. You can get an additional 45 minutes of free wi-fi if you watch another commercial. I remember the first time I used the free wi-fi at Oakland airport. It was about 4 years ago. I had to watch a commercial for a movie titled ‘Non-Stop’ in order to log onto the airport’s free wi-fi. I remember that commercial because it seemed so inappropriate. ‘Non-Stop’ is a movie about a terrorist and an alcoholic air marshal who shoot it out on an airplane while the plane is in flight. I seem to recall that there was also a suitcase full of cocaine on the airplane and a plot to kill the passengers one at a time. I thought that was a very poor choice for a commercial that people had to watch at an airport while waiting for their flights to take off. I remember thinking: “Didn’t the thought occur to somebody that this is a really bad movie to be advertising at an airport?”

BEDROOM INFLATION.

The single most important factor in determining the market rent of an apartment is the number of bedrooms. People will pay additional rent for additional bedrooms, but little else. An apartment with a separate dining room will rent for the same amount as an apartment without a dining room. Therefore, landlords always try to maximize the number of bedrooms in an apartment that they are getting ready to rent. Sometimes, that isn’t hard to do. With just a little remodeling, like moving a wall or adding a door, a dining room can become a perfectly acceptable bedroom. (I’ve done that myself.) On the other hand, landlords sometimes call rooms ‘bedrooms’ that is just plain fraud.  ‘Bedroom inflation’ is a term I created to describe the practice of inflating the number of bedrooms in a Craigslist apartment listing. Some landlords think that if you can put a bed in a room, then you can call it a bedroom, but that isn’t true. There are laws that define the minimum standards for a bedroom. Take a look at this listing photo. The owner of this apartment counted this room as one of the bedrooms in his listing. It is, in fact, just a walk-in closet. Yes, it is a room, and the landlord has put a bed in it, but that doesn’t make it a bedroom. I tell landlords not to engage in this sort of deception. This isn’t going to fool anyone. Nobody is really going to think that this walk-in closet is actually a bedroom just because there’s a bed in it. This is just going to make prospective tenants angry. Everybody hates the feeling that someone is trying to play him for a sucker. The most common form of bedroom inflation is counting a living room as a bedroom. Because of the high rent and housing shortage here in Berkeley, a growing number of college students are sleeping on living room couches. However, just because somebody is sleeping on a futon in a living room doesn’t make that room a bedroom. A living room with somebody sleeping in it is still a living room. I always advise landlords to tell the truth. Its OK for a landlord to brag about the features in his apartment that will make it look more desirable to prospective tenants. I do that. All rational landlords do that. But that’s different than lying or trying to play prospective tenants for suckers. (As you can tell, bedroom inflation is one of my pet peeves.)

CAN YOU CRACK AN EGG?

I received 3 emails this month from a company trying to get me to buy an EZ Cracker. This thing is a handheld device that cracks eggs. That appears to be all that it does. Their price is $40.00. The ad says ‘Are you finding that because of advancing age that cracking eggs is getting hard to do? Do you need help cracking eggs? EZ Cracker makes cracking eggs fun again!’ Now I ask you – are there really people who are too old to crack eggs? I went online and found that a lot of companies sell egg cracking machines, including Amazon, so maybe there are a lot of people who are too old and weak to crack eggs. I am not one of them – yet.

WILL THE U.S. GET BACK THE BUSINESS WE ARE LOSING IN TRUMP’S TRADE WARS?

In reaction to Donald Trump’s tariffs on Chinese-made products, China has stopped buying U.S. soybeans, and China buys a lot of soybeans. China will now be getting their soybeans from Russia. As a result, the price of soybeans in the U.S. has fallen by about 20%. For soybean farmers, that’s the difference between making money and losing money. However – the bigger concern is this – once this trade war is over or when Trump leaves office, will China ever come back and buy U.S. soybeans in the future? Maybe not. Once a country determines that they don’t want to be dependent on a particular foreign source of some commodity, they often find new sources and never go back. That happened in the Civil War.

In 1860, the manufacture of cotton textiles was Europe’s biggest industry, and European textile mills got over 90% of their cotton from the American South. However, as soon as the Civil War began, the Union navy began blockading Southern ports. Within a year, European textile mills began running out of cotton. Hundreds of thousands of Europeans lost their jobs. It was called the ‘Cotton Crisis’ in England, which was especially hard hit. Britain and many other European countries started looking for other sources of cotton. The British began getting their cotton from India. (Cotton is native to India.) Other European countries with overseas colonies also started growing cotton in lands they controlled. By the time the Civil War was over, the big European cotton buyers all had new sources for their cotton. Growing cotton for export to Europe had made Southern cotton plantation owners rich, but they lost the European market as soon as the Civil War began, and they never got it back. Southern cotton plantations were never as profitable after the Civil War was over as they had been before the war. I wonder – will history repeat itself? Will China and other countries that have been buying agricultural and mineral commodities from the U.S. come back and buy these products from the U.S. again after this trade war is over? Or – have we lost these markets forever?