Because I have been a landlord for a very long time, newby landlords often ask me for advice, especially when dealing with odd situations. About a month ago, a young man who recently bought a 6 unit apartment house here in Berkeley began getting complaints from tenants in his building about loud rhythmic banging noises. His tenants reported hearing these noises every morning and every evening but none of them could tell where the noise was coming from. I told the landlord that the most likely explanation for this noise was air hammer, a common plumbing problem. Unfortunately, air hammer in an apartment house is often hard to trace back to its source, which is usually inside a wall. I advised this landlord to walk through the common areas of his building with one ear against the wall to try to find the source of the banging noise. He did that, and eventually he traced the banging noise to one apartment. (It turned out that my guess was wrong. The problem wasn’t air hammer.) The tenant in the apartment admitted that she was the source of these noises. She explained to the landlord that her apartment had a lot of ‘negative energy’ in it, and that every morning and every evening she walked through her apartment banging the bottoms of pots and pans together to drive away the negative energy in her apartment. The landlord told her that she had to stop doing this because she was violating the rights of the other tenants in the building to the quiet enjoyment of their apartments. ‘Quiet enjoyment’ is an important legal concept in housing law. The woman said she would stop banging her pots and pans together, but only if the landlord found some other way for her to get rid of the ‘negative energy’ in her apartment.
I don’t know what this landlord should do. Banging pots and pans together in your apartment is a violation of the nuisance clause which you can find in nearly every lease, but I’m not sure that a Berkeley judge or jury would allow a landlord to evict a tenant for doing what this woman is doing. She has a letter from her ‘psychic advisor’ that says that: “the negative energy vibrations” in her apartment are “off the charts.” (I wonder how you measure negative energy vibrations.) A lawyer advised this landlord to: “tell the tenants who are annoyed to call the police every time they are disturbed. Police reports would document the problem in such a way that the landlord would be less likely to be characterized as some sort of villain and would make it easier to evict if the problem persisted.” The landlord tried that, but the other tenants in the building don’t want to call the police. They told the landlord: “We want you to take care this.” I think they may be afraid of retaliation by the woman who is banging her pots and pans together.
I went to Google and looked up ‘negative energy’ in apartments. I was surprised to find that there are a lot of web sites that offer advice on how to remove ‘negative energy’ from an apartment. Several web sites specifically advise people to bang pots and pans together with their doors and windows open to drive out the ‘negative energy.’ Other web sites advise people to get rid of the ‘negative energy’ in their apartments by doing things that would create other problems for a landlord. For example, several web sites advise tenants with ‘negative energy’ in their apartments to walk though the building holding smudge pots full of burning sage. I think that might be even worse than banging pots and pans together. Walking though an apartment house holding a pot full of burning sage would be a huge fire hazard, it would likely set off the smoke alarms, and the other tenants in the building would undoubtedly complain about the smoke in the halls and the smell of burning sage. As I said, I don’t know what advice to give this landlord. I’m stumped. Have you got any ideas? I haven’t read all the web sites on Google on this subject. There’s too many of them. (Yeah, I know this sounds like another ‘only in Berkeley’ story.)
Four Corners is the place where 4 states meet at 1 point: Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona. This is the only place in the United States where 4 states touch at 1 point. Four Corners is marked by a plaque on the ground where quite literally ‘X marks the spot.’ Unfortunately, that’s all there is at Four Corners. There is nothing else there. Nothing. Just an ‘X’ on the ground. The surrounding landscape is a featureless desert. Four Corners National Monument should not be confused with Monument Valley, 100 miles away. Monument Valley has spectacular scenery. John Ford filmed many famous Westerns in Monument Valley. Nobody makes movies at Four Corners. Four Corners National Monument is a 5 hour drive from Albuquerque, the nearest big city. I know a number of people who have gone to Four Corners. I know one couple who spent their honeymoon driving from San Francisco to Four Corners and then back home. They drove for 3 days to get there, looked at at the ‘X’ on the ground, and then spent 3 more days driving back to San Francisco. A lot of people drive to Four Corners from faraway places. Four Corners National Monument is visited by over 400,000 people a year, but I can’t figure out why they go there. The U.S. Park Service charges $5 per person to look at the ‘X’ on the ground, which is all there is to do at Four Corners, just look at an ‘X’ on the ground. There’s nothing else there aside from a few picnic tables and a souvenir stand. There is no running water or electricity at Four Corners National Monument, there’s no cell phone or internet service, and there’s nothing for kids to do. There’s no umbrellas or shade over the picnic tables, and the temperature in summer can be over 120 degrees.
To top it all off, the ‘X’ on the ground is in the wrong place. The location of the ‘X’ was based on a survey conducted in 1875; however, in 2009, a new and more accurate survey of the site showed that the place where the 4 states come together is actually about 1,800 feet away from the ‘X’. Rather than incur the cost of moving the entire monument and the road, the 4 states agreed to just leave the marker and surrounding concrete circle where it is – in the wrong place. So – in addition to everything else that makes this my choice for worst major tourist attraction in the U.S. – it is also in the wrong place. A lot of people who go to Four Corners from faraway places already knew before they left home that Four Corners Monument is in the wrong place and that there is nothing to do there, but they went there anyway. Can you explain to me why 400,000 people go to this place every year? I don’t get it. Have you gone there?
If you have any doubt about how much influence the internet has over the people who use it – people like you and me – just consider Morgellons Disease. (The ‘g’ in Morgellons is a hard ‘g’, like in ‘getaway.’) Morgellons is a rare, but often debilitating disease. The first known case of Morgellons Disease appeared around the year 2000. It is a skin disease. The symptoms include rashes, sores, intense itching, a stinging sensation under the skin, fatigue, and thin threadlike fibers growing in the sores. It is estimated that about 20,000 Americans have been diagnosed with Morgellons Disease. Many of them report that because of this disease, they have been forced to quit their jobs or have become disabled. Joni Mitchell, the songwriter, has been hospitalized repeatedly due to Morgellons Disease.
Now here’s where this story gets weird. (As anyone who knows me can tell you, I know a lot of weird stories.) It appears that the only way that you can get Morgellons Disease is by reading about it on the internet. (Yes, you read that right!) The only thing that everyone who has this disease seems to have in common is that they, or some member of their immediate family, already knew about this disease and knew its symptoms from things they read online before going to a doctor for diagnosis or treatment. In other words, Morgellons Disease is an internet meme. An internet meme is an idea that spreads from person to person via the internet.
It is not unusual for someone to go to a doctor and tell the doctor exactly what is wrong with him if what is wrong is common and common knowledge. For example, consider someone going to a doctor and telling the doctor: “I’m allergic cats. I start sneezing whenever I’m around cats.” That’s normal. A lot of people are allergic to cats, and it is common knowledge that a lot of people are allergic to cats. That happens with common medical problems like a cat allergy; however, that doesn’t happen with rare diseases. When people have rare diseases, like Waldenstroms Macroglobulinemia, (which I cannot pronounce), they don’t go to the doctor and tell the doctor what they’ve got. The doctor tells them. But just the opposite happens with Morgellons Disease. Even though this is a rare disease, nearly everyone who went to a doctor and was diagnosed with Morgellons Disease already knew that he had Morgellons Disease before he went to the doctor and knew more about the disease than the doctor did. That’s not normal.
The U.S. Center For Disease Control (CDC) studied Morgellons Disease for several years and concluded that Morgellons Disease is psychosomatic. The CDC studied 115 people diagnosed with Morgellons Disease selected at random. The CDC analyzed the fibers in the skin sores of these people and found that the fibers were cotton. The CDC concluded that the constant scratching of the skin by people with Morgellons Disease forces fibers of the clothing they are wearing into the wounds they create themselves by their scratching. The CDC no longer tracks reports of Morgellons Disease. The mostly commonly prescribed drugs for the treatment of Morgellons Disease are antidepressants and olanzapine, a drug used for the treatment of schizophrenia and manic episodes of bipolar disorder.
Think about it – Every year, thousands of people around the world are diagnosed by licensed doctors with Morgellons Disease, even though that it appears that the only way you can get this disease is by reading about it on the internet. That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? This disease is not alone. It turns out that there are several other diseases that are also spread by the internet. It seems to me that most people still do not realize the awesome power of the internet to shape the way we think and act – and drive us crazy!
Bankruptcy. In 2005, Congress changed the nation’s bankruptcy law. Before 2005, student loans were discharged in bankruptcy just like other debts. However, since 2005, student loans are no longer discharged in bankruptcy. What does that mean? Consider this situation – there are 2 brothers, Brother A and Brother B. Brother A runs up a debt of $100,000 in student loans to become a doctor. Brother B doesn’t go to college. Instead, he becomes a full time surfer dude. He runs up $100,000 in credit card debt traveling around the world so he can surf all year long. (There are people like that.) In July, he surfs in California; and in January, he surfs in Australia. Both brothers declare bankruptcy because neither can repay his debts. Brother B, the surfer dude, will leave bankruptcy court owing nothing. His credit card debts, including principle, interest, and late fees will all be completely wiped out by bankruptcy because it is credit card debt. On the other hand, Brother A, the doctor, will leave court still owing 100% of his student debt, plus interest, late fees, and penalties.
‘Undue Hardship.’ The bankruptcy law of 2005 does contain a provision that allows people with student loans to have their student debt discharged in bankruptcy court if they can prove that the repayment of their student loans would create an ‘undue hardship’; however, the law does not define the term ‘undue hardship’, and it does not delegate to any government department the right to define the term ‘undue hardship’ or to establish hardship standards. Some bankruptcy courts around the country have established their own standards for defining ‘undue hardship’, but these rules are strict and tough to prove. As a result, it is very hard for a person with student debt to have his debt discharged in bankruptcy court on any grounds.
I ask you – What kind of country will the United States become if a college education becomes just another luxury for the children of rich people?
The problem is probably the cheese you are using. Most people use pre-shredded mozzarella cheese to make pizza at home. Even though mozzarella doesn’t have much flavor, its texture and elasticity make it the ideal pizza cheese. The problem with mozzarella is that it is that it has a lot of water in it compared to cheddar, Swiss, or American. Because mozzarella is soft and has a lot of moisture in it, pre-shredded mozzarella sticks together very easily. Because of that, nearly all the pre-shredded mozzarella cheese sold in the United States is coated with cellulose, or sawdust. (Yes, you read that right. I did say sawdust.) The next time you are planning to buy a bag of ‘pizza cheese’, read the ingredients on the bag. Most brands will list the cellulose. A few brands use potato or corn starch instead of sawdust. All these all powdery coatings keep the cheese from sticking together into one big glob, but they also prevent the cheese from melting the way you want it to. The solution is simple. When making pizza at home, don’t buy pre-shredded mozzarella cheese. Buy a ball of mozzarella and shred it yourself when you are making your pizza. Its a little extra work, but the texture and appearance of your finished pizza will be entirely different from what you get when use supermarket ‘pizza cheese.’ Also, try to get mozzarella that is made from fresh milk. A lot of mozzarella cheese is made from condensed skim milk or nonfat dry milk, both of which are cheaper than fresh milk but they make inferior cheese. A good mozzarella cheese ball costs about the same price per pound as pre-shredded mozzarella cheese covered with sawdust, so why not use the good stuff?