We need to build 200,000 housing units in California every year to keep up with population, but we are only building 80,000, and this has been going on for 20 years. This one fact explains everything. It explains why rent is so high, why house prices are so high, why people are doubling up in apartments, why recent college graduates in California move back home with their parents, and why even high paid software engineers in Silicon Valley are living in RVs. All this is happening because we are building less than half the number of housing units that we need to keep up with population. Why is this happening?
NIMBYism. It’s all due to NIMBYism. California is where the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) movement began. While everyone in California knows that we need to build more housing, everybody wants that housing to be built someplace else, not near them. You can see the effect of this very clearly at BART stations. When our subway system was built 50 years ago, everyone assumed that high density housing would be built around BART stations, but for the most part, that never happened. The area immediately around most BART stations looks exactly like it did 50 years ago. Why? Because the people who live near BART stations want new housing to be built at somebody else’s BART station, not their BART station. Just stand in the middle of the parking lot at the North Berkeley BART station and look around. All the buildings you see are old, built before the subway was constructed. The same is true at the Ashby, Rockridge, Orinda, Lafayette, and most other stations in the BART system. Why? It isn’t because real estate developers wouldn’t like to build high-rise apartment houses and condos near BART stations in desirable neighborhoods. It is because the people who already live in those neighborhoods won’t let them. Unless this attitude changes, and I see no evidence that it is changing, California’s housing crisis will only get worse. It is sad. This is, after all, aside from the high cost of housing, the best place in the world to live.
Late fees on credit cards are a major source of revenue for banks and credit card companies. Some banks make more money on late fees than interest. How can that be? If you make a late payment on a credit card, you will typically find a charge of $25 to $35 on your next monthly statement, but that isn’t where banks rake in the dough on late fees. If you make a late payment on a credit card – just one – the interest rate on your unpaid balance may automatically skyrocket. That’s particularly common on low interest rate credit cards. If you make a late payment on one of these credit cards, the interest rate on your balance may automatically go from 0% interest to 30% a year! Yes, that’s legal and, as I said, it is a very common practice. You agreed to that in the fine print of the terms and conditions of the credit card offer, the fine print that nobody reads. Plus, there are other negative consequences to having a late fee charged against you. The late fee will likely show up on your credit report because banks report late fees to the credit rating agencies. That can lower your credit score, which can lead to other negative consequences.
Leon’s Loan Offer. One of my cousins recently got a loan offer in the mail. (See photo below.) The loan offer says: ‘Skip the Fees‘ in bold type. Then in smaller type it explains what ‘skip the fees’ means. It says: “There are no late fees as long as you pay on time.” Gee, what a great line! Maybe I should use that line the next time I get a move-out notice from one of my tenants. I could say in my rental ad: “No late fees as long as you pay your rent on time, and no returned check fees as long as none of your checks are returned.” I could also advertise: “No cat deposit required if you have no cat.” That reminds me of an ad I once saw from a jewelry store chain. They advertised: “100% Satisfaction Guaranteed! If after you have purchased a diamond ring from us, you are dissatisfied with your purchase for any reason, you can keep it.”
I haven’t figured this one out. The word ‘Indian’ to describe Native Americans (as opposed to people from India) is considered politically incorrect by many people, and not just here in Berkeley. But what term should we use? There is no agreement on this. When American Indians are asked by pollsters what collective name they would prefer the general public to use, most say that they would prefer to be called by their tribal names rather than a term that encompasses all the native people of North America. In Berkeley, the city council passed a law a long time ago that says that American Indians should be called Indigenous People. On Berkeley parking meters, one of the free days is listed as ‘Indigenous People’s Day, formerly Columbus Day.’ The Federal government still uses the word Indian, as in the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Gaming Act. Some states mandate the use of the term Native Americans. In Canada, Indians are called First People. In Mexico, they still use the word Indian. As I said, I still haven’t figured out what is the right term to use.
William Tecumseh Sherman. William Tecumseh Sherman was the nastiest of all the U.S. generals at war with American Indians. He was the person principally responsible for forcing the Indians off the Great Plains and onto reservations. He did this by making total war on Indians, not just on one tribe or another, but all of them. It made absolutely no difference to Sherman whether a tribe was friendly or hostile or whether they had a treaty or not. Sherman’s principle method of forcing Indians onto reservations was starvation. He learned this tactic in the Civil War, where he used it to great effect against the Confederacy. Sherman’s army shot all the American bison they could find, very nearly bringing the species to extinction. This was very popular with White settlers in the West. Killing off the bison got both the bison and the Indians off the land that they wanted for themselves. With their food supply gone, the Indians had no choice but to go onto reservations. Sherman was brutally candid and shameless about what he was doing. When Sherman was called to testify to a Congressional committee, he was asked by a Senator how he defined the term ‘Indian reservation.’ Sherman said: “An Indian reservation is a completely worthless piece of land, completely surrounded by White men, all of whom are thieves.” He wasn’t laughing when he said it. What has always struck me as particularly ironic about Sherman is that he was named after a famous Indian orator and peacemaker, Chief Tecumseh.
Indian Summer. Indian Summer is defined as a period of unseasonably hot dry weather that occurs in the Autumn just before the start of winter. California gets Indian Summer nearly every year, and predictably, this is when we usually have a lot of wildfires. Nobody knows who coined the term ‘Indian Summer’ and it is not clear when it first came into use in the English language. I know that the term Indian Summer predates the Civil War because Indian Summer is mentioned in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem ‘Hiawatha’ which was published in 1855. Indian Summer occurs all over the world in the Northern Hemisphere. In Europe, Indian Summer is known by other names, but these names all seem to be just as politically incorrect as well. In Poland, Indian Summer is called ‘Bable Lato’ meaning ‘Old Woman’s Summer.’ It is called ‘Old Woman’s Summer’ in other Slavic countries as well. In Germany and Austria, it is called ‘Altweibersommer’, which also means ‘Old Woman’s Summer.’ In many Roman Catholic countries, the season has a religious name. For example, in France and Spain the season is called St. Martin’s Summer. In Bulgaria, Indian Summer is called Gypsy Summer. All these names would offend somebody. If we have to rename Indian Summer, I think that we should use the Turkish name for this season ‘Pastrami Yazi’ which means ‘Pastrami Summer.’ In Turkey, early November is considered the best time of the year to make pastrami. I like pastrami; however, I know that the animal rights activists here in Berkeley would have serious (perhaps even violent) objections to renaming Indian Summer ‘Pastrami Summer.’ Well, I give up. I don’t know what we could call Indian Summer that wouldn’t offend somebody.
Indian Pudding. I’m also not sure what we should call Indian pudding. Indian pudding is a traditional New England dessert made from corn meal, eggs, milk, and maple syrup. I haven’t seen Indian pudding in a long time. I never liked it, and it was never popular on the West Coast. I have never seen it on a menu here in California. I suppose we could call it Indigenous People’s pudding here in Berkeley, but I know that some people would have objections to that too.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.