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.


I was curious to see which of the items on my Christmas gift list would prove to be most popular. I thought the most popular item would be the electric scooter, but I was wrong. By far, the most popular item was the iPad. I gave away a lot of iPads. I think that’s because nearly all my tenants already have bicycles and also possibly because Berkeley and Oakland streets are in terrible condition and full of potholes. I got an unusually large number of emails from people who I don’t know regarding my tenant gift list. The email exchange below was my favorite.

Dear Mr. Tarses:
Are you the Berkeley landlord who is giving tenants free electric scooters? I read about you on Facebook. I think what you are doing is great!

Dear XXX:Yes, I’m the guy.

Dear Mr. Tarses:Great! My roommates and I are Berkeley tenants. There are 3 of us, and we would all like free electric scooters. We rent a house on Benvenue Avenue. If you want proof that we are Berkeley tenants, I can send you a copy of our lease. What color are the scooters? I’d like a red one, but I’ll take any color you’ve got.

Dear XXX:
I am afraid you misunderstood my offer. I am only giving away electric scooters to my tenants, not all Berkeley tenants. I don’t own property on Benvenue Avenue, and you are not my tenant. If you want a free electric scooter, you will have to get it from your landlord, not from me.

Dear Mr. Tarses:
I was afraid you were going to say that. Our landlord isn’t giving away free electric scooters. He doesn’t give us anything. He wouldn’t even buy us a new shower curtain, and ours has a big hole in it. Do you have any extra electric scooters that your tenants didn’t want? There are 3 of us, but we will take anything you’ve got.

Dear XXX:
Sorry, but I don’t have any extra electric scooters.

Dear Mr. Tarses:Do you have any leftover iPads that nobody wanted?
I didn’t reply to this last email. I didn’t want to continue with this conversation.

THE ALAMEDA SPITE HOUSE.Exactly what is a spite house? A spite house is a house that was built for the purpose of annoying or frustrating a neighbor. A spite house is intended to create a problem for the neighbor, such as blocking views, sunlight, or access to a street or driveway. Because spite houses are built for revenge, not for long term occupancy or resale, spite houses often have strange and impractical shapes and designs. They are often built on small or oddly shaped lots. Bona fide spite houses can be found scattered around the United States and Europe, but there aren’t many of them. That is because because modern building codes prohibit the construction of houses that block a neighbor’s access to sunlight, sidewalks, drainage, etc. As a result, most spite houses are over 100 years old. Spite fences and spite trees are far more common than spite houses, and there are lots of them around. Spite trees are trees that are planted for the purpose of blocking a neighbor’s view or sunlight. I have seen quite a few spite fences and spite trees, but I know of only one true spite house in the San Francisco bay area. It is in the city of Alameda. The Alameda Spite House. In 1908, Charles Froling built a now-famous spite house at 2528 Crist Street at the corner of Broadway on Alameda Island. Mr. Froling owned a lot on Broadway, which was at the time, the city’s most prestigious residential street. Mr. Froling intended to build a fine house on this lot. However, the city of Alameda took away the bulk of Mr. Froling’s land to build Crist Street. The building of Crist Street had the strong support of the the owner of the house next door to Mr. Froling’s lot, a wealthy and politically well-connected woman named Annette Westerdahl. We don’t know why Mrs. Westerdahl didn’t like Mr. Froling, but she did not want him as a neighbor. When the city created the new street with land they had taken from Mr. Froling by eminent domain, Mr. Froling was left with a lot measuring only 10 feet by 100 feet, too narrow a piece of land on which to build a house – – or so they thought. Mr. Froling was enraged by what Mrs. Westerdahl and the council had done, and so he plotted his revenge. Froling built a 2-story house on his 10 foot wide lot, right up to the property line. The house is still there and is still occupied. The Westerdahl house is also still there. You can see it was built for somebody with serious money. All of the rooms in the Westerdahl house facing the Froling house are now in perpetual darkness because the 2 houses are only 3 feet apart.

JOHN TYLER’S GRANDSONS.If you have been reading my newsletter for a while, you know that I like strange history stories, like the one above. I think this story is even stranger. John Tyler was the 10th president of the United States. He was born in 1790 and died in 1862. Tyler was elected governor of Virginia after making a reputation for himself in the War of 1812. John Tyler was elected vice president in 1840 as the running mate of William Henry Harrison. Their slogan was ‘Tippecanoe and Tyler too.’ President Harrison died only 1 month after his inauguration, making Tyler the president. Even though John Tyler was president for almost 4 years, he didn’t accomplish much. He irritated both the Democrats and his own party, the Whigs. The only really significant thing he did as president was sign into law the formal annexation of Texas, which triggered the Mexican War. John Tyler has 2 living grandsons. One of them recently gave an interview about his famous grandfather on CBS News. But wait a minute! How could somebody who was born 230 years ago have 2 living grandsons?! How is that possible? Here is an article that explains it. John Tyler’s Grandsons. The trick, it appears, is to live a long time and marry women much younger than yourself. 

TEMPORARY TAXES.I am very suspicious of temporary taxes. I think that comes from teaching history for a long time. Whenever I hear politicians talk about creating a temporary tax, I think about the federal telephone tax. In 1898, the United States declared war on Spain, but Congress didn’t have the money to pay for it. This war was fought before the Constitution was amended to allow the federal government to collect income taxes from individuals and corporations. To finance the Spanish-American War, Congress passed a temporary tax on long distance telephone calls. The tax was considered a luxury tax because back in those days, only rich people and businesses could afford to make long distance phone calls. A 3-minute phone call from New York to San Francisco cost more than a week’s wages for a typical factory worker. In the law that created this tax, it states that the telephone tax was to be a ‘temporary tax’ and that it was to be repealed when the war with Spain ended. The Spanish-American War only lasted a few months, but the telephone tax continued to be paid by Americans for over the next one hundred years. The telephone tax was finally abolished in 2006. By that time, cell phones had made collecting the tax impossible. Think of it – until 2006, Americans were still paying a temporary tax created to finance the Spanish-American War. The telephone is not unique. There are many other ‘temporary taxes’ that never got repealed.

The St. Louis Rams. Most really big temporary taxes these days are created to pay for building stadiums to attract or keep professional sports teams, but these temporary stadium taxes rarely get repealed or expire. That’s because most taxpayer-financed professional sports stadiums lose money, and sometimes the team a stadium was built for moves away. For example, in order to get the Los Angeles Rams to move to St. Louis, the city built a huge domed stadium in the heart of the city at taxpayer expense. The Rams moved to St. Louis and played football there for 21 years. Then the Rams moved back to Los Angeles in 2015, leaving St. Louis with a football stadium but no football team. Taxpayers in St. Louis have already paid over $300 million in stadium construction debt but are still on the hook for over $150 million more. The 80,000 seat stadium is occasionally rented for events like professional wrestling and monster truck rallies, but the income from these events is far less than the stadium’s annual maintenance costs, and those maintenance costs are rising due to the age of the building. There are huge vacant stadiums like the domed football stadium in St. Louis all over the United States.


I am not going to set up my usual Christmas gift table for my tenants this year. I have been doing that for a long time, but this year I am going to do something different. Here’s why.

In 2017, Congress rewrote the income tax law. It is, in my opinion, a really terrible, terrible law. This law was promoted as a ‘middle class tax cut’, but in reality, most of the benefits went to big corporations. Congress cut the corporate income tax rate by 40%. That’s gigantic! It is the principle reason why the federal government is now running a $1 trillion dollar a year deficit. To make matters worse, Congress then voted to increase military spending by two hundred billion dollars a year. Republican politicians aren’t talking about this deficit. That’s predictable since they created it, but none of the 10 or 20 Democrats running for president are talking about the deficit either. Nobody seems to be concerned about this huge federal deficit – except me! Certain other types of businesses also got tax cuts. We landlords got something called a ‘20% pass-through.’ Essentially, that means that I now only have to pay income tax on 80% of the rent I receive. If, on the other hand, you have a job and get paid a salary, you still have to pay income tax on 100% of the wages you receive. That scarcely seems fair. I don’t believe that any of my tenants got any benefit from this law. When I complain about the injustice of this tax law, people say things like: “If you really feel that your tenants are more deserving of a tax cut than you are, then why don’t you give your tax savings to them?” That’s a good question, and that is what I am going to do. Besides, I believe in goodwill. As I have been telling Berkeley landlords for 30 years, any landlord in a place like Berkeley who spends nothing on goodwill is a fool. A Berkeley landlord I know looked me right in the eye and told me that he doesn’t send Christmas cards to his tenants because: “I can’t afford it.” This guy rents 1-bedroom apartments for $2,500 a month.

OK. Here are the rules for this year’s Christmas gifts: Every tenant can pick one item from the list below. That’s one gift per tenant, not one gift per rental unit. If you are named as a tenant on a current lease with me, you are entitled to a gift from the list below. Now please understand, I don’t have these items on hand. You tell me which item you want, and I will order it for you. Here are your choices.

1. Xioami M365 Electric Scooter. I have one of these myself. I am amazed at how much power this thing has. If you would like to look at my scooter before making your decision, come on over to my chocolate room. If you want one of these scooters, you may have to wait a few weeks for me to get it. There is often a shortage of this brand. Lime, Bird, Lyft and all the other electric scooter rental companies use Xioami scooters. (That’s pronounced ‘shall-me.’)

2. KitchenAid Professional 6 Quart Mixer. This comes with several accessories not pictured, including paddle and dough hook. Made in the United States. These things are virtually indestructible and become family heirlooms, passed from one generation to the next. I can get you the 5 quart mixer if you would prefer a smaller one.

3. Go Pro Camera Bundle. Waterproof. Bundle includes: 32SD card, floating hand grip, wi-fi and bluetooth.

4. iPad, 7th Generation. 10.2 inch screen. I just got one of these for myself. Boy! These things just keep getting better and better. The color and clarity is just amazing. I could only download 2 or 3 movies onto my old iPad before it ran out of storage space. It had 16GB. This one has 128GB.

5. Safari West. Admission for 2 with a private Wild Walk Behind the Scenes. Would you like to hand-feed a giraffe? I once did that. It was a lot of fun! Giraffes have big soulful eyes, long eyelashes, and really long purple tongues. They are very shy and gentle. I know someone who has a pet giraffe! It is at his parent’s home in South Africa. Safari West is located in Sonoma County. With this deal, you get an escorted tour through different parts of this safari-themed animal park.

6. Roomba iRobot Vacuum Cleaner. This model is wi-fi connected so you can turn it on and off from your cell phone or Alexa device. I saw one of these recently in my cousin’s home in Montana. They had 3 big dogs in the house, including a St. Bernard that weighed more than me! The St. Bernard didn’t like it when people left the house without taking him along, so he would plop down in the doorway preventing people from leaving the house without him, and because of his size, it was hard to walk around him. This robotic vacuum cleaner worked very well sucking up dog fur, and there was a lot of that in the house. The vacuum cleaner terrified the dogs. There is something about vacuum cleaners that seems to frighten all dogs. My stepmother had a dog that hid under her bed shivering in fear whenever the vacuum cleaner was turned on. I sometimes crawled under the bed with the dog to calm her down until the vacuuming was done. Dogs never seem to get used to and ignore vacuum cleaners. I wonder why.

7. Bose Noise Canceling Wireless Headphones. These have lithium batteries that deliver 20 hours of listening on a single charge. Includes microphones so you can make a receive phone calls using a Bluetooth device.

8. Fitbit Charge 3 and Fitbit Aria 2 Bathroom Scale. You probably already know more about what a Fitbit does than I do. You may not know about the Fitbit scale. The scale does a lot more than just tell you your weight. It also calculates your lean mass, body fat percentage, BMI (Body Mass Index), etc. The scale can recognize up to 8 different users and keeps records on all of them.

9. Napa Valley Wine Train with Gourmet Lunch for 2. You will travel through the Napa Valley on this beautifully restored antique train on a 3 hour trip. You will be served a gourmet meal prepared on board using locally produced seasonal ingredients by world class chefs, including local wines. This train does not stop at the wineries along the way, but several of them are near the station and you can visit them before or after the trip. Here is a brief video explaining the train: Wine Train.
Well, this list gives you an idea of just how generous Congress was in 2017 with small landlords like me. They were a lot more generous with big landlords, because most of them are corporations – like the people who own those big new apartment houses in downtown Berkeley and San Francisco. They got a 40% tax cut. Now – I have an alternative offer. If you don’t want any of the things listed above and would prefer to get a Christmas or Hanukkah card from me instead, just say so! I have very nice greeting cards on hand! Frankly, I am not expecting to get many requests for this alternative offer. 


Are you planning to travel at Thanksgiving or during the Christmas break? Remember, you should NEVER discuss or even mention your travel plans plans on social media web sites until you are back home from your trip. If you want to tell your friends about your trip to Acapulco or Paris on Facebook or Twitter, do it after you return, not before you go or while you are there! Professional burglars are constantly scouring the internet looking for houses to rob! No foolin.’ They really do that! Criminals have software that allow them to identify people who are traveling or who will be traveling soon and then identifying where they live. And Yes, people actually do get burglarized this way. Lots of people.  Also, remember that many burglars look for houses to rob the old-fashioned way, by driving around and looking for houses with obvious signs that nobody is home. (Did you see ‘Home Alone’?) Before you travel, arrange to have someone check your porch regularly for signs that nobody is there, like parcels sitting on the porch or an overstuffed mailbox.

(P.S. – If you did see ‘Home Alone’, remember that a 10 year old Macauley Culkin look-alike cannot protect your home from burglars.)


My father used to use the expression, ‘the dead fish look’. I think he invented this expression because I have never heard anyone else use it. My father used this term to describe a look of feigned surprise. The dead fish look is looking at someone with your eyes and mouth very wide open, pretending to be surprised. If you’ve ever seen dead fish, they actually do look like that. When people pretended to be surprised in this way, my father would say: “Oh, don’t give me the dead fish look. You know what I’m talking about.” I hadn’t thought about this expression in perhaps 30 years; however, Rudy Giuliani has refreshed my memory. Giuliani does this quite often, and he is not convincing when he does it. When he is asked a tough question, Giuliani frequently goes into ‘the dead fish look.’ He looks away from the interviewer with his eyebrows up, his eyes bulging in their sockets, and with his mouth wide open, and sucking in air. Then he says something like: “Well, I never heard that before!” It’ is painfully obvious that he is just pretending to be surprised, and he is terrible at this! Really terrible! Look at the photos below. These photos have not been photoshopped. These are actual photos of Rudy Giuliani pretending to be surprised by a question. I think he looks ridiculous. Don’t you? The next time you see a dead fish, look at the expression on its face.


I just ran across something that I wrote in 2010 for an American history class I was teaching at that time. Here is what I wrote:
“In 1973, at the start of the impeachment investigation by the House of Representatives, President Nixon relied on a 3-point defense strategy, which he repeated often.
1. The Watergate investigation is a witch hunt. (A witch hunt is defined as a search for or harassment of a person or persons with unpopular views or opinions.)
2. The press has a liberal bias and is out to destroy me, led by the Washington Post and the New York Times.3. I am not a crook. The real criminals are the leakers.”
Hmmmm. This sounds vaguely familiar, doesn’t it? In 1973, the Washington Post reported that Richard Nixon was going around the White House telling people that the Watergate investigation was just a ‘witch hunt by the Democrats and the Washington Post, who he claimed were trying to overturn the results of the 1972 election. Of course, the Watergate investigation proved to be more than just a witch hunt, but Nixon was right in his belief that leakers in the White House were doing great damage to his presidency. The 2 leakers who did the most damage to Nixon were the anonymous ‘Deep Throat’ and Martha Mitchell, the wife of Nixon’s Attorney General, John Mitchell. Martha Mitchell was an alcoholic, and when she got drunk, she would call reporters on the phone in the middle of the night and tell them about crimes being committed by President Nixon and her husband. Although she was drunk, her calls were surprisingly detailed and verifiable. John Mitchell went to prison as a result of his wife’s drunken phone calls. (Not surprisingly, John Mitchell divorced Martha.) After Nixon resigned as president, he said in a TV interview that: “Without Martha Mitchell, there would have been no Watergate.


A lot of people (including a few landlords I know) hire unlicensed plumbers and handymen to do plumbing work that really should be done by professionals. People do this for the obvious reason – to save money. Licensed, insured plumbers are expensive. I know mine is! However, here is what happens when amateur plumbers fix things. Many of the things pictured below are actually very common plumbing mistakes.

1. Attaching a grounding wire to a plastic pipe. Although this plumber used the right clamps and wire, apparently he didn’t know that plastic pipe does not conduct electricity. I have seen this a number of times. I have also a pipe with a grounding wire clamped onto it that was connected to another section of that same pipe. I am often surprised at the number of people who do not seem to understand the most basic principle of electrical wiring – that electricity flows though a wire. If there is no place for the electricity to go, it can’t just pile up inside the wire.
2. Vent pipes that go down and then up. This is actually very common. It can be dangerous.
3. Leaving in place old worn-out plumbing fixtures. People do this to save money on hauling and dump fees. This guy left the old water heater in place and just attached a new water heater to it.
4. Using inappropriate materials to make plumbing connections. I am very suspicious of flexible drain pipes, even when they are done properly and with the right materials.
5. Not thinking about where you are placing things in a bathroom. Look at where the toilet paper holder is mounted. How would you use it? I have also seen toilets placed in a bathroom in a way that prevents the door from opening or closing.
6. Bad judgment by tenants. This isn’t the plumber’s fault. The tenants in this apartment left candles on a plastic toilet tank unattended. Something like this once happened to me. A group of U.C. college students rented the house next door to me. They placed a bunch of candles on the top of the wall furnace in their living room. Then they turned on the furnace. The candles melted, the wax flowed into the hot furnace, the wax erupted into a ball of fire, and that set the living room on fire. After the fire was out, one of the tenants said to me: “There is something wrong with your furnace.” Fortunately for them, I never yell at people, so I didn’t tell them what I thought of that explanation.


About Muir Woods. If you have never been to Muir Woods, go there as soon as you can! Muir Woods is a pristine old-growth redwood forest in an isolated canyon 25 miles from Berkeley. You can walk for miles among redwood trees that are 300 feet tall. Many of these trees are over 500 years old. Some are over 1,000 years old. I love the smell of this place. The odor of a redwood forest is just amazing. Nobody forgets a visit to Muir Woods. Before you go, remember that there is no cell phone or wi-fi reception in Muir Woods, so make your phone calls before you get there. Also, stay on paths and don’t touch unfamiliar vegetation. There is poison oak in Muir Woods. And whenever you walk through a forest anywhere, it’s wise to wear long pants and closed shoes. The park entrance fee is $15 for adults. Children age 15 and younger are free.

Parking at Muir Woods. The parking rules have changed. Until 2018, Muir Woods didn’t have parking reservations. You could just drive your car to the parking lot, park your car (if you could find a space), and walk into the park. Now if you want to drive to Muir Woods, you need to make a parking reservation in advance. Go to Go Muir Woods. If you drive to Muir Woods without a parking reservation, you may not get into the parking lot, and there are no parking lots nearby. How far in advance you need to make a reservation depends on the time of year. In the summer and on holiday weekends, parking lot reservations can sell out months in advance. Parking a car costs $8 a day. The drive to Muir Woods from Berkeley passes a lot of beautiful scenery. The road also wraps around San Quentin Prison, the most famous prison in the United States. Whenever I drive past San Quentin, I think about some of the infamous men who live or lived there, men like Charles Manson and Sirhan Sirhan. San Quentin Prison has a gift shop where they sell handicrafts made by the prisoners, but I’ve never been to it.

Public Transit. You can get from Berkeley to Muir Woods by public transit, but it’s a long trip. Take BART from Berkeley to the Embarcadero BART station in San Francisco. Walk to the Ferry Building, 1 block away. Take the Sausalito ferry. Check the schedule before you go. The ferries can be far apart. At the Sausalito ferry terminal, get the Marin Transit #66 Muir Woods bus. It goes from the ferry terminal to the entrance of Muir Woods. There are frequent buses during the day. The bus ride is 1 hour each way. 

Uber and Lyft. Can you take Uber or Lyft to Muir Woods? That’s a tricky question. You can take Uber or Lyft to Muir Woods, but since there is no cell phone reception at Muir Woods, how would you get back? How would you order an Uber car to pick you up at Muir Woods, and how would the driver find you? I found out about this problem recently from somebody I know who drove to Muir Woods without a parking reservation. The parking lot was full, so he parked his car several miles away and took Uber to Muir Woods. It was only when he was ready to go home that he found out that cell phones don’t work at Muir Woods. He had a lot of trouble getting back to his car.

Why is top quality redwood lumber so expensive? It’s a matter of supply and demand. The demand is high, and the supply is low. Redwood trees only grow in a small area along the California coast. Most of the old-growth redwood trees were cut down a long time ago, and young redwood trees produce relatively little top quality or ‘heart’ redwood. Heart redwood is the lumber that is all red. Redwood is beautiful and is naturally resistant to rot and termites. Redwood is more resistant to rot and termites than any other kind of commercially available lumber.

Pressure treated lumber. The principle alternative to redwood in outdoor construction is pressure treated wood. Pressure treated wood is not pretty to look at, and it is infused with chemicals designed to prevent rot and kill termites if they try to eat it. You may have heard that pressure treated wood is soaked in arsenic. That used to be true, but arsenic has been banned in pressure treated lumber since 2004. Nevertheless, pressure treated wood is still not food-safe. You should never grow vegetables in pressure treated wood planter boxes. If someone gives you a planter box or kitchen cutting board made out of pressure treated wood, put it in the garbage can! Also, never burn this stuff! The smoke from burning pressure treated wood is dangerous to inhale.


The California state legislature just passed statewide rent control. It goes into effect January 1, 2020. If you want to know what’s the problem with rent control, just take Econ. 101 at Cal. Whenever there is a shortage of a commodity, the price of that commodity will go up. (That’s in ‘Microeconomic Theory’,  the Econ. 101 textbook.) When the government fixes the price of a commodity, including rental housing, at a price that is below the market rate, it creates a shortage and make an existing shortage worse. (That’s also in ‘Microeconomic Theory.’) The truth is that it is hard to find a noted economist anywhere who supports rent control, even here in Berkeley.

Why is the rent in California so damn high? We have a huge rental housing shortage in California, and it is getting worse every year. In 1970, the population of California was 20 million. Today, it is 40 million. In 1945, the population of California was only 8 million. That means that for every 1 person who lived in California in 1945, there are now 5 people living here. Up until the 1960s, new apartment construction kept up with population growth, but then a gap started developing, and the resulting shortage has grown with time. This happened for a long list of reasons: the NIMBY movement ‘Not In My Back Yard’ started here. I know people who are perfectly willing to concede that we need to build a lot more housing, but they just don’t want that housing built near them. We also have high permit fees, restrictive zoning regulations, historic landmarking, environmental laws – including greenhouse gas emission restrictions, and lawsuits – lots and lots of lawsuits. And now we have to add to that list statewide rent control.

We need to build 200,000 new housing units in California every year just to keep up with population growth, but we are building less than 100,000 units a year, and this has been going on for over 20 years. Here in the Bay Area, the shortage is even worse. In San Mateo County, the heart of Silicon Valley, for every 4 jobs created over the past 10 years, 1 housing unit was built. It is this gap between supply and demand for housing in California that explains why house prices and rents are so high. We need to build a lot more rental housing in California, but who is going to build that housing and where will the money come from to build it? Rent control is not an incentive to build rental housing. It is a disincentive.

I have been expecting statewide rent control for a long time. It’s the reason why I never bought an apartment house. I prefer to rent houses and condos, which are exempt from rent control. I once owned a 3 unit property in Oakland, but I converted it to condos. Now that we have statewide rent control, I expect that a lot of apartment house owners across the state will convert buildings to condos and then sell them to owner-occupants, but that will just make the rental housing shortage even worse.

What happens to the poor? Statewide rent control in California is especially bad news for the poor. Whenever there is a shortage of a commodity that everybody wants, like housing, who gets it? Do the poor really get an equal shot at it with the rich? Suppose a landlord has an apartment for rent, and he receives 10 or 20 applications for it. Who is he going to rent to? How will he choose among the many people who want it? Will he rent this apartment to a wealthy applicant who can easily afford to pay the rent, or will he rent the apartment to a much poorer applicant, someone who can pay the rent, but only with difficulty? You know the answers to these questions. Whenever there is a shortage of something that everybody wants, it is the rich who get it first, and the poor who get it last, if they get any at all. Throughout the history of the world, this has never changed. You may not like that, but it’s the way things are.

Trump’s Trade War With China Is Making Things Worse. The California Building Industry Association estimates that President Trump’s tariffs on Chinese imports have increased the cost of building a new home in California by $30,000, a figure that they expect will rise. The National Association of Home Builders agrees, pointing out that over 500 types of products commonly used in housing construction are imported from China, including appliances, lighting, countertops, cabinets, tiles, nails, and laminates. The price of some lines of Chinese kitchen and bathroom cabinets has doubled since the trade war began. Needless to say, these costs are ultimately passed along to the people who live in newly constructed houses and apartments.


I recently replaced the smoke alarms in all my properties, including the smoke alarms in my own home. These alarms hadn’t expired, so you may be wondering why I did it. When smoke alarms first came on the market, they worked by ionization. Ionization smoke alarms contain Americium, a radioactive man-made element. Americium is far more radioactive than Plutonium, from which it is made.  I can’t explain to you how ionization smoke alarms work or how much Americium is in them. I know nothing about nuclear physics. My new smoke alarms are photoelectric. They work on a different scientific principle than ionization and contain no radioactive material. Photoelectric smoke alarms work much better than ionization smoke alarms. Photoelectric smoke alarms are far less likely to emit false alarms than ionization smoke alarms. My old ionization smoke alarm used to go off every time I broiled a hamburger, but since I switched to a photoelectric smoke alarm, that doesn’t happen anymore.

Are radioactive household products safe? The Federal government says that radioactive smoke alarms are ‘safe’, but I am suspicious of that claim. I am old enough to remember lots of consumer products that the government said were safe but that were later off the market because they emitted too much radiation, like wristwatches with radium dials and chemistry sets with uranium in test tubes for kids to play with. I didn’t have a chemistry set, but I did have a wristwatch with a radium dial. Back in 1920s and 1930s, several companies in Germany made chocolate bars with radium in them. People often ask me to make chocolate bars with weird stuff in them, but nobody has ever asked me to make radioactive chocolate bars – at least not yet.

Have You Ever Heard of Vaseline Glass? If you’ve never heard of vaseline glass before, and you may find this story hard to believe. Vaseline glass is glassware that contains uranium. It’s called vaseline glass because the color of this glass is similar to that of petroleum jelly. Under black light, vaseline glass turns a bright iridescent green from the uranium in it. The amount of uranium in vaseline glass can vary a lot. Some vaseline glass is only 2% uranium by weight, but some of it is 25% uranium. Vaseline glass that is 25% uranium is dangerous to touch or even be around. Unfortunately, you can’t tell how ‘hot’ a vaseline glass item is by looking at it. In the 1920s and 1930s, millions of vaseline glass household products were made and sold in the U.S. The manufacture of vaseline glassware briefly stopped during World War 2 because the government bought all the uranium available to make atomic bombs. A lot of people collect vaseline glass, even though they know it is radioactive. There are thousands, literally thousands, of vaseline glass objects for sale right now on eBay. Some are quite beautiful. Just take a look at the pictures of them on eBay. A lot of vaseline glass objects were made for children, including toys, dolls, cups, and mugs. What sort of parent would serve their children milk or juice in radioactive glasses? I knew a woman in Oakland who had display cases in her living room containing hundreds of vaseline glass objects. She invited me to her home to show me her collection and to have a meal on her vaseline glass dinnerware, but I made an excuse for not going. Frankly, I wouldn’t feel comfortable eating food on radioactive plates. Would you? I have known several people in my life who were big-time collectors of weird and disturbing things like radioactive dinnerware. My stepmother collected tobacco jars. She began collecting them late in life and after a number of people who she knew well had died from lung and throat cancer caused by smoking. At the time of her death, my stepmother had over 300 tobacco jars in her home. They were everywhere. She also collected carved elephant ivory figurines, an even more antisocial product in my opinion. I don’t understand why people collect creepy stuff like this, but many people do. The federal government says that uranium glass is ‘safe’; however, if you have vaseline glassware in your home, my advice is to get rid of it.


The 6X6 Mall on Market Street between 5th and 6th Streets is the biggest shopping mall in downtown San Francisco. This huge 5-story mall is beautiful and has everything you would expect to find in a luxury shopping center, including a 4-story greenhouse atrium and a double helix escalator that can be seen from the street. There is only one thing missing from this shopping mall – stores! There are no stores. There are no restaurants. There are no kiosks. This mall was completed in 2016, but it is still completely vacant. The owners have tried everything to lure in tenants, but nothing has worked. The problem is the location. The 6X6 Mall is in a bad section of the Tenderloin district. All of the stores adjacent to this mall and on the other side of the street are abandoned and boarded up, with homeless people sleeping in doorways. This is another example of: ‘What were they thinking?“, building a luxury shopping mall in the poorest and most depressed area in the city. A few weeks ago, the 6X6 Mall was sold to a couple of major commercial real estate investment firms. They haven’t said what they plan to do with it.