May 11 Elections promise wild excitement
By Joe Olvera ©, 2012
If you didn’t register to vote in the May 11 elections by Thursday, April 11, 2013, it’s too late now. That was the deadline for registering to participate in elections which promise to become highly interesting and, perhaps, a bit controversial. The controversy, of course, will occur in the Mayoral race, that features no incumbent this time around. Mayor John Cook will not be eligible to run for another term, so all the candidates are relatively new. Except for perennial candidates Jaime Perez and Jorge Artalejo, who really bring nothing new to the table, except for failed attempts at being elected.
Perez, especially, offers very little to the voter, even though he has run for mayor, both in 1983 and in 1985. He also ran for El Paso County Judge in the election that saw Veronica Escobar gain that coveted seat. Perez is an also ran who makes one wonder why he would run in the first place. But, of course, that’s the gist of our election process; that anyone who wants to, can run for any office he or she desires. It doesn’t mean they will win, but, at the very least they can say they ran for this office or for that office. This, plus the fact, that campaigns are hard to judge and one never knows when a dark horse enters the race and wins in the end. Another candidate who doesn’t seem too serious about winning election is Artalejo – a substitute teacher who refuses to dress in the traditional suit and tie, but, instead, attends forums and events wearing sweat shirts and inordinately uncombed hair.
Then, there are those candidates who are truly serious about winning the election and they include mama’s boy, Oscar Leeser, an early favorite, who owns Hyundai of El Paso and has the money to throw a monkey wrench into the political plans of City Rep. Steve Ortega. Ortega was able to raise substantial amounts of money at the outset of his campaign, but, Leeser, who lent his campaign $50,000, rapidly caught up to Ortega’s fund-raising with more than $80,000 in the bank. Ortega, however, said that he’s not worried because Leeser may be able to raise more money, but, he has the most donors, and that translates to votes.
Well, it remains to be seen, but Ortega’s dream that his run for Mayor would be a cakewalk with very little opposition is turning rather into a nightmare of sorts now that seven people are running for the post – two of them are hardly qualified, but the other five bring experience, business sense, and other elements to the fray. Besides Leeser, other candidates include Robert D. Cormell, a small-business owner; Gus Haddad, who’s headed several city boards and commissions; Hector Lopez, a man with deep community roots and involvement, and retired Dept. of Defense employee, Dean Martinez.
Another element which promises to bring a little more than average excitement to the May 11 elections is the fact that voters will be choosing a new slate of trustees to run the El Paso Independent School District because so many of them were fired or they resigned after being accused of corruption, of transferring students other grade levels so they wouldn’t have to take the state-required exams, of removing them from the classroom for various reasons and for padding test scores so that administrators could earn high marks and bonuses. Disgraced former Superintendent Lorenzo Garcia was indicted for fraud and for awarding $450,000 in taxpayer dollars to one of his girlfriends. Other officers were aghast at the huge oversight which had escaped them, when they weren’t looking someone else’s hand was on the till.
After the cheating scandal was uncovered, Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams appointed a Board of Managers to oversee the district, a move that caused the trustees to reject his efforts and to contest his authority to do so. Board President Isela Castañon Williams has said that Garcia blind-sided the entire board, therefore they shouldn’t be replaced, nor should they act as if they had done something wrong. But, whatever. Voters will decide on May 11 whether an entirely new board will take the district’s helm. One official who has expressed an interest in running, but hasn’t made a decision is City Rep. Susan Byrd, who represents District 3 on Council. If she does decide to run, she will go up against incumbent Alfredo Borrego, who has proclaimed his innocence and non-involvement in the cheating scandal.
For voters, May 11 will bring much to consider in not only who will replace John Cook as Mayor, and who can be trusted to turn the corruption and scandals of the EPISD around. Voters must be doubly careful to not award seats to people who would turn against the children who attend our schools. Coach Cordova, Sal Mena, Mickey Duntley, and Linda Chavez have learned the hard way that it doesn’t pay to fool people. As the saying goes: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, fool all of the people some of the time, but, you can’t fool all the people all of the time.”
A “New Me”
The Sierra Providence Bariatric Center’s “New Me” fashion show took place this past Saturday at the Foundation Room inside the Mills building downtown. The yearly fashion show showcases men and women who have been transformed by the Bariatric program and have lost great amounts of weight of sometimes 100 pounds and way more. The evening had different members of the Bariatric program showcasing different clothes as well as the speaker mentioning how much they have come along in the program.
Dr. Clapp who is the medical director of the Providence Bariatric Center said that it is a lifestyle change more than just a procedure. Dr. Clapp said there is about a 85% success rate with this kind of surgery and a lot depends on the patient and their dedication to continuing to eat healthy and live an active lifestyle. Dr. Clapp also said that the hospital has dietitians on staff for Bariatric patients to use way after the procedure.
CEO J. Eric Evans was on hand to give more insight on the program and its benefits. Evans stated that it wasn’t just a one time involvement from past patients. Evans said that patients from 7 years ago were still participating in the fashion show and being apart of the small community of patients that are also a friendly support group.
Many of the patients we spoke to kept talking about the great support the wide array of services the program has. The most common thing heard from everyone was that this is a lifelong challenge and complete lifestyle change. The effort that comes from these people in their lives was a perfect reason for this fashion show which was a great night to show off and glow in their hard work.
Are jobs really that hard to find in El Paso?
by Joe Olvera ©, 2013
According to University Medical Center CEO Jim Valenti, the hospital is doing everything it can to create new jobs. What with the new Children’s Hospital bringing in droves of new doctors and medical staff, pediatric specialists and other people who are dedicated to making El Paso a thriving source for caring for children’s health care needs, are finding jobs in the Sun City. But, one wonders. Isn’t it a Catch-22 situation in which more jobs are being created, yes, but, at the expense of increasing taxes and making El Pasoans pay even more for those jobs that are created?
To look at the Internet, El Paso must be booming with new jobs. Just look at all the different sites that claim to have the perfect job for you. Monster has beaucoup job openings, as does Craigs list, the Texas Workforce Solutions, Wic, and others. If that’s the case, however, then why does the city have a 9.1 unemployment rate, a rate that keeps steadily climbing. For awhile, there, El Paso went as low as having 8.7 percent of people looking for jobs. But, alas, these were seasonal jobs and as soon as the Christmas season was over, so were those jobs.
El Paso trails the State of Texas, which lords it over the city with a mere 7.1 percent unemployment rate. While El Paso has a high unemployment rate, it’s not higher than McAllen’s 11 percent, which is the highest in the state. To El Paso’s shame, the city of Midland hovers over a 3.2 percent rate. However, El Paso has gone down from January, when it recorded a rate of 9.5, down to the present 9.1. Since November, different sources say that they have added 200,000 new jobs. But, one must wonder, where are those jobs.
One person who didn’t want to be named, said she thinks that people are not really looking for work, but only pretending to. “People are getting food stamps, free rent in some cases, free medical care through Medicaid, free this, free that,” said the source. “So, why should these people look for work? They don’t need to work because the government will provide for them. Me, I’ve been searching for a job so that I can get off the public dole. But, no matter how hard I look, or how many applications, I submit, I haven’t had any luck. Maybe I should just relax and enjoy being cared for by my government.”
El Paso, which once had a thriving clothing manufacturing industry, such as Farah, Mann Mfg., and others; El Paso which once had a thriving copper refining industry, and El Paso which once had other thriving industries and businesses, must now rely on small businesses to pick up the slack. Even Fort Bliss, which offered a promising future, now faces a doubtful future. Because of sequestration, the Army base now faces a very real problem in having to furlough thousands of its civilian employees. In essence, they would earn less pay, which means that businesses would suffer from that loss of income. Despite the city’s high unemployment rate, El Paso continues to thrive. A recent bond election will soon provide new amenities to keep the populace entertained, and the hope is always there that through efforts by the University Medical Center, the Texas Tech Medical School, and other El Paso institutions, the city will continue to grow and to prosper. Eventually, the unemployment rate will come crashing down in a way that should provide jobs for them that wants them.
History bites the dust with demolition of ASARCO Smokestacks
By Joe Olvera ©, 2013
ANALYSIS: They once were the tallest smokestacks in the world. As part of the American Smelting and Refining Company, the smokestacks have stood for almost 50 years, standing vigil over the city and making people remark over its 828 foot tall stack which, in January 30, 1967, became taller than any other stack in the world. Alas, that distinction gave way to taller stacks, some of which are still in use. For example, the GRES-2 Power Station, in Ekibastusz, Kazakhstan towers 1377 feet into the air, making it the tallest in the world. The El Paso ASARCO smokestacks now only rank number 5, and if things go according to plan, they will drop down to zero in terms of height.
Once upon a time, ASARCO was a power-base, smelting and refining copper from the Phelps Dodge Refinery Company and other smelters to produce a business that hired thousands of workers from El Paso and from Juarez. From the little village of Buena Vista to what later became known as Smeltertown, the smokestacks were both a pride of accomplishment for the City of El Paso, and a source for contamination which spewed dangerous gasses and other poisons over the small communities that dotted the area. But, at that time, there was no danger, or so it seemed, and people went about their business working hard and earning a good salary to support their families.
In the beginning, when El Paso citizens heard that the towers might come down, they united against such an affront. At first, they complained that the stacks should not be demolished because they were a part of El Paso’s history. They were a source of pride, something which El Paso lacked because there was nothing to make the city stand out from other communities, ah, but the stacks were the tallest in the world, weren’t they? Guys who were in the military would point out with pride that El Paso did lay claim to having the tallest stacks at that time. Perhaps it was a small claim to fame, but, there it was. Like silent sentinels, they have stood, firm and steady, lording it over the landscape.
But, then came the bad news. The stacks, it was decided contained pollutants and other dangerous chemicals that were released when they were in use. Failing to halt the proposed demolition, despite strong efforts to change the minds of the Environmental Protection Agency so that they would allow the stacks to remain, opponents of the demolition are attempting a different scenario. Some ideas floated forth that would have turned the smelter into a museum of sorts, or some other public gathering place where history could continually remind El Pasoans of what once had been. But, that wasn’t about to happen. Demolition was slated for April 13, 2013.
Opponents of the knockdown, however, are not giving up. Now they want the powers that be, to allow a “time-out” on the demolition because they want a “thorough environmental assessment” to take place to determine what would happen to the water, air monitoring, soil sampling, plus what would happen due to a lack of transparency and a lack of community involvement and outreach. But, because El Paso is in a demolition mood – attempting to also knock down the Lincoln Rec Center in Central El Paso, knocking down City Hall and knocking down the Insights Museum, knocking down the two stacks is nothing short of a no-brainer. So, is El Paso tearing down the old to replace it with the new? But, what new thing will replace the smokestacks? With arsenic and lead remaining behind due to the smokestacks, what can replace them? Commercial development does not seem to be a viable alternative because medical reports of respiratory difficulties have arisen which have not been addressed.
Mayoral candidate Hector Lopez proposes that the stacks not be demolished in order to build a health and environmental research center which can “turn this industrial wasteland” into a research hub that provides scientific solutions and high profile research. “Fundamentally, I believe that this is a prime opportunity for us to create a health and environmental research center on the U.S.-Mexico border that will address the real legacy of ASARCO,” Lopez writes as part of his platform. “We already know of the poisoning of our land, water, air, residents and workers. Despite the political boundaries that divide our individual states, it is our responsibility to our regional community and future generations to address the issue now.”
Pope Francisco: A new kind of leader?
By Joe Olvera ©, 2013
There are Popes, and then there are Popes. With the recent election by Vatican Cardinals of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, as Pope Francis, the 1.2 billion Catholics throughout the world are praying that this Pope can set the church to rights, and can end the corruption and the scandals that threaten to undermine and even destroy the 2,000 year-old institution. The newly retired Pope Benedict XVI, left the church right at the time when priests and other clergy are being accused of improper behavior, such as committing homosexual acts against innocent children.
Although Pope Francis, seems to be just what the church needs at this time, there are some Popes in history who have left a legacy of corruption and malfeasance who have been anything but godly or holy. Pope Francis fits the bill as a man of great humility and of poverty, despite the trappings which the Church provides for its upper echelons and spiritual leaders. In his city of Buenos Aires, Argentina, he lived in a one-room apartment, cooked his own meals, and like St. Francis, he administered to the poor. Whereas he might turn out to be a great Pope, history will judge him accordingly.
Not all Popes have been held in such high regard and esteem. A website in the Internet lists the ten worst Popes in history. The award for worst Pope, or “the Baddest Pope Ever,” must go to Rodrigo Borgia. As Pope Alexander VI, Borgia is famous for amassing great wealth, which he then used to bribe his way into high office. As Pope Alexander, he was so amorous that he sired at least seven illegitimate children by his mistresses. Said lovers were said to have been rewarded with large amounts of cash at the Church’s expense. When Pope Alexander was broke, he either created and sold new Cardinalships in return for money, or he slammed wealthy people on fabricated criminal charges, jailed or murdered them, and then stole their money. His goals were selfish and ambitious and he drove the City of Rome to ruin and disrepair. He was so corrupt that even Giovanni de Medici, who later became Pope Leo X, remarked: “Now we are in the power of a wolf, the most rapacious perhaps that this world has ever seen. And if we do not flee, he will inevitably devour us all.”
However, in retrospect, Pope Leo X didn’t turn out to be such a honey of a Pope himself. A member of the exceedingly wealthy and powerful Medici family – who ruled in MichelAgelo’s time – Leo was known for being the most lavish and uncontrollable spender who ever ruled the Church. He illustrated his greatest priority by saying: “Since God has given us the Papacy, let us enjoy it.” In addition to living a life of splendor and luxury, Leo practiced nepotism, sold Cardinal seats and other indulgences to finance the reconstruction of St. Peter’s Basilica. He was also accused of being a homosexual and of enjoying the sexual favors of young men. A story goes that when he died, he was with a young man enjoying the fruits of the young man’s labor. Whether this story is true or not, he was known as someone who truly enjoyed the Papacy.
All in all, in the 2000 years of the Catholic Church, there have been 265 Popes. Granted, they were not all corrupt and they did not all abuse their power. So, will El Papa Francisco of Argentina, the world’s 66th Pope, succumb to the wealth and power which all Popes enjoy? Not very likely, because, unlike in ancient times, when not much was known about Vatican City, that is no longer the case. Today the Church is being examined and scrutinized like never before. The Church can ill afford other scandals. Despite the Church’s attempts to hide its more glaring problems, it has not succeeded. Pope Francis will not have the opportunity to act as the Popes of old had. He will be closely watched.
However, indications are that he is a humble man who hopes to ignore the wealth and power of his position and act for the good of all Catholics. Besides eschewing all luxuries, besides catering to the poor, Pope Francis might turn out to be a great Pope. Too, he comes into the Papacy brandishing a series of firsts, including:
*He is the first Spanish-speaking Latino to ever ascend to the Papacy;
*He is the first non-European Pope in over a thousand years;
*He is the first Jesuit to become Pope;
*He was the runner-up to Pope Benedict XVI in the papal elections of 2005;
*As a teenager, he lost one of his lungs due to infection;
*Before working for the Church, he was a Chemist who taught literature, philosophy, psychology, and theology;
*He is known for being humble, shy, and democratic in nature and is considered to be a reformer, but isn’t necessarily considered to be progressive.
Welcoming the new Brigade Commander to Ft. Bliss
Story and photos by: Ricky J. Carrasco
On Monday, a Change of Command ceremony was held on Fort Bliss’ Bulldog Field to introduce Col. Christopher C. LaNeve as the new unit commander of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division “Bulldog Brigade”. Outgoing commander Col. Mark H. Landes assumed control of the brigade in 2011 and oversaw deployment in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in that time.
Ft. Bliss Commander Major General Dana Pittard thanked all for their attendance, including civilian aid to the Secretary of the Army Tom Thomas, the extended families of both soldiers, and all the Army soldiers present. Pittard thanked Landes for training the Bulldogs to be “fit, motivated and offensively minded,” adding that the brigade was a “fine example of counter insurgency success in Operation Enduring Freedom.” He also thank Landes’ wife, Morri, for being active within the Ft. Bliss and El Paso community.
Col Landes served with the brigade, stationed in Ft Bliss and while deployed in eastern Afghanistan, for two years. This will be his last role as a combat team leader. He will be moving on to Pennsylvania to serve in the US Army War College starting this summer. He thanked General Pittard for having “an open command environment” and thanked his soldiers “who refused to accept any outcome other than victory.” He also thanked the city of El Paso for welcoming his family so warmly to this position. He told a story where he found one of his soldiers in Afghanistan in a foxhole. “I asked the soldier if he needed anything. The soldier said no, ‘I got food, water, and ammo. That’s everything I need.'” He told the crowd of civilians and soldiers that story reminded him of his responsibilities. “We lost 26 soldiers in Task Force Bulldog, 22 in combat operations in Afghanistan. Not a day goes by that I don’t remember their sacrifice.”
Col. Christopher LaNeve comes from his previous command in the 82nd Airborne Division out of Ft. Bragg to join the Bulldogs, having served in various infantry divisions over his career. General Pittard recounted the story that LaNeve had just left his office in the Pentagon on 9/11 a few minutes before American Airlines Flight 77 hit the building, killing those still in his section.
The change of command ceremonies involved handing the colors of the brigade from the outgoing commander to the new commander, along with the leash to PV2 Gunner D. Chester VI, the official mascot of the brigade since the 1962. “That’s the first time I’ve ever been handed a dog in an official ceremony,” LaNeve joked to the crowd.
LaNeve was overjoyed to coming to the area. “It’s a great day to join this incredible brigade combat team. The soldiers that stand here represent all that is good in America. I am looking forward to carrying on the traditions of the Armored Division, Team Bliss and the nation.”
LaNeve will be deploying the brigade back to Afghanistan this summer in transition operations after Enduring Freedom.
Money from bond election is not yet being spent
By Joe Olvera ©, 2013
With almost $500 million jingling in city leaders’ pockets, they are smacking their lips in anticipation and rejoicing over how best to spend the money to improve El Paso. On Nov. 6, 2012, election-day voters opted to approve the sale of $475 million in general obligation bonds by a big majority of 70 percent for and only 30 percent against. Voters came out in droves due to its being a presidential election year, plus the contentious bond election which also played a part in the big voter turnout. El Paso should be much better and brighter in a few more years…oh, give it anywhere from five to ten years.
Voters approved $245 million for parks, recreation, open space and zoo improvements. This would also include soccer and sports fields, an aquatic center and new and improved community and senior centers. Voters also approved $228 million to build or improve museums, cultural centers, performing arts and library facilities. This will include a new children’s museum, a cultural heritage center and an interactive digital wall.
Well, the money’s there, but, it hasn’t yet been allocated. The looming projects can’t all be done at once, city leaders say. There has to be great design, great location, good participation and good stockholders. District 2 City Rep. Susie Byrd, said none of the money has been spent. “We haven’t spent any of the bond proceeds from Proposition 1 and 2,” she said. “We have authorized the first three years of projects and work is already beginning now on those, but we won’t spend money on them until we bid the work or buy land. On Proposition 3, I don’t know that we have used any of the funds authorized by the Hotel Occupancy tax rate yet, but, we have hired architect, engineer, the construction company and have started to work on relocation.”
Proposition 3 turned out to be the most contentious of the complex issues because it required the demolition of City Hall to build the multi-million dollar stadium in its stead. This caused a lot of heartache and confusion to El Pasoans who were not opposed to building the stadium, but, were opposed to destroying city hall and moving city services to other locations. A back and forth court battle finally resulted in officials approving the tearing down of city hall and the stadium being built there. Opponents fought what they considered the unnecessary destruction of the 30-year old building, still in what many considered good repair. Proponents, however, insisted that building the new baseball stadium to house a Triple-A baseball team – once removed from the major leagues – will do much to revitalize downtown and to attract people to the downtown area, where new hotels, restaurants, and other amenities will also be built.
The stadium itself is on a fast track to completion, but, the other projects will take much longer; in some cases up to 12 years. Some improvements will be in place more quickly, such as improvements to the zoo, libraries, existing museums and the Fox Plaza. Other projects, like the soccer stadium, aquatic center, children’s museum and a multi-purpose entertainment center will take longer. The city is currently looking at possible sites and buying land. The next major step for city council will be to accept the bond passed by voters, and approve the Hotel Occupancy Tax rate at 2 percent, up from one percent. Citizens must also be approached to join oversight committees to ensure that the work goes according to plan. So, hang in there, El Pasoans, big changes are coming – and, for the better.
Roasting coffee beans: The pleasure from drinking it is the reward
By Joe Olvera ©, 2013
It’s known all over the world as Java, Cuppa Joe, Liquid Energy, Go Juice, and by other colorful names. But, these concoctions are often made the traditional way. However, did you know that there’s another tried and true method to getting the best cup of Morning Mud? That’s to roast the beans yourself. And there are many different ways to do it.
Paulina Salazar, lead coffee roaster at Bldg. 6, Coffee Roasters, 11385 James Watt Dr., B-6, says that the store with the unusual name is a locally-owned green coffee bean micro-roastery that focuses on producing small batches of crafted coffee that are selected by a number of techniques, such as “cupping” to ensure taste and quality in every single batch.
“Roasting is what sets us apart from other companies and coffees,” Salazar said. “Our passion for coffee is what made us open a business that would do coffee justice.” The business is relatively new to El Paso, but larger cities already have it. “We are what they call the third-wave in the coffee business. It is a new movement where coffee from different regions of the world is roasted by micro-roasteries, producing high-quality coffee and it is considered an artisanal production.”
Third-wave coffee include free-trade coffee, direct-trade coffee, specialty high quality beans, single-origin coffee – not blends anymore – lighter roasts of the beans, different methods of coffee brewing, including individual drip-brewing. As in the making of fine wines or in the production of 12-year-old scotch, for the coffee lover, the taste is the mother of invention. Salazar said that roasting coffee is a hand-crafted job. “It is similar to wine, cheese, beer, chocolate crafting, just to name a few. It takes a lot of knowledge, and love to the art of roasting coffee in order to produce great quality batches of coffee. This art form is very popular in the east and west coasts, but, it is still new to El Pasoans.”
The Bldg. 6 Roastery sells specialty, single-origin, freshly-roasted coffee either by the bag or by the cup. They also sell the required brewing equipment and they really promote the right brewing techniques in order for their customers to brew a high quality coffee at their home. They buy green coffee from various coffee producing countries and roast it at Bldg. 6. “Since we buy the raw green coffee beans and roast it in store, we are able to give our customers specialty, fresh-roasted coffee, which means better quality and flavor for better prices than other coffee sellers. Freshly-roasted coffee makes a difference,” Salazar says. “Know it and love it.”
Lenten foods from around the world
By Joe Olvera ©, 2013
For many Mexicans and Mexican Americans, the Lenten period brings about many traditional goodies that come about but once a year. For the one billion Catholics around the world, the comfort foods run the gamut from the ever-popular lentils to anything that does not contain meat. Meatless Fridays are observed throughout the world, except in the United States military, where GIs are allowed to eat meat even on Fridays. But for laypeople, the rules are strict and must be observed at all costs.
In a Mexican kitchen, Catholics not only prefer the lentils to meat, but, they also prepare other concoctions such as little tortitas made of camaron (shrimp), tortitas made of papas (potatoes), and other foods containing fish – safe to eat during the 40-day fasting in Mexican and Mexican-American households. Top it all off with a pan-ful of Capirotada, and your Lenten celebration is complete. Capirotada is a sort of bread pudding made of many ingredients, such as French bread, bananas, peanuts, apricots, prunes, and many other products that are considered safe to eat and delicious.
But, of course, Mexico isn’t the only spot in the world that observes Lent, which runs from Ash Wednesday – this year’s celebration started Feb. 25 and runs through Easter, March 31. Easter Sunday is a Christian festival and holiday that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day of his crucifixion atop Calvary as described in the New Testament. Easter also marks the culmination of the Passion of Christ, preceded by Lent, a forty-day period of fasting, prayer and penance. Easter is linked to the Jewish Passover by much of its symbolism, as well as its position on the calendar In many languages, the words Easter or Passover are related. Easter customs vary across the Christian world, and are celebrated by coloring Easter eggs, symbolic of the empty tomb from which Christ resurrected, Additional customs include egg hunting, the Easter bunny and Easter parades.
While observances vary, the foodstuffs are the most widely observed in different parts of the world. For example, during Lent, Russian Orthodox Christians omit meat of any kind, including fish and fowl, as well as animal byproducts, such as milk and eggs. During the strictest days of Lent, oil and wine are eschewed. The idea is to not focus on food. “We’re focusing on prayer. We’re focusing on bettering ourselves,” says the Rev. Seraphim Holland. Meals during Lent are simple, such as cabbage soup, called shchi , and borscht, which is shchi plus beets. Boiled potatoes, beans, lentils, rice, onions and bread are also common. In addition to the people of Russia, other food favorites in other countries are:
*Ukraine – Catholics in this country abstain from eating meat on Fridays, and they are encouraged to give up meat throughout the year. They break their fast on Easter Sunday with such fare as sausages, ham, eggs and cheese. Ukranians also eat a lot of pickled herring, since fish is allowed.
*Greece – Greek Orthodox Christians also give up all meat and animal products during Lent. But, they do eat numerous bean dishes during this period. They also eat tomatoes and pasta. There is also tabouleh, falafel, and hummus, as well as fresh fruit and4 olives and pita bread. Cookies and cakes are adjusted to omit the dairy products. The Greek break Lent with an enormous Easter feast that can last well into the morning, with lamb being the central dish, served with bean salads, vegetables, rice, seafood and a lemony soup called magiritsa.
*India – In India’s western state of Goa, there’s a strong Catholic community that dates back to Portuguese colonialism in the 15th century. Spicy fish, cooked with vinegar, is popular during Lent.
So, it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, Lent is observed in different way. As tastes vary, so do the foods which make up the holiday. For one billion Catholics and other Christians, they are as varied as they are delicious. So, enjoy.
Kudos to the El Paso Police Department
By Joe Olvera ©, 2013
ANALYSIS: Once again, it’s kudos to the men and women in blue from the El Paso Police Department for helping make the city the safest large city in the United States. For the third year in a row, El Paso has helped to create an atmosphere of safety and security for its more than 500,000 residents. But, that’s not all, According to CQ Press, who compiles statistics from FBI reports, El Paso has ranked in the top-three safest cities in the U.S. since 1997. In the crimes of murder, robbery, rape, aggravated assault, burglary-larceny, car thefts and arson, El Paso stands proudly above the rest.
But, there’s a rhyme and a reason behind El Paso’s lofty standing, Thank goodness that the Police Department does not operate on a four-day work week as other city departments are currently doing. In a move to permanently create this perk, the El Paso City Council recently approved extending the four-day work week through the summer months, from May 1 to Sept. 30. In an earlier experiment, in 2009, the city was able to save up to $225,000 for the four-month period, according to City Manager Joyce Wilson. However, that comes with a price. That is, for city employees to qualify for the four-day work week, they will be required to work ten-hour days from Monday through Thursday, working from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. However, if people would have their d’ruthers, they would rather work an extra two-hours per day so that they can stay home all day on Friday.
While employees for El Paso County must continue working the five-day week, others have also experimented with the shortened work week. The communities of Canutillo, Anthony, and even the Ysleta ISD, have toyed with such a move in previous years. El Paso County, while it hasn’t reached a decision, is still considering what many employees see as something that they would very much enjoy. A spokesperson for the YISD calls it a win-win situation because it bolsters employee morale and it helps large organizations save money. According to some, having Fridays off helps to alleviate the boredom of working all day Friday, especially during the afternoon when energy levels have tapered off. City governments, however, are not the only entities making such a move, the United States Postal Service is considering curtailing its mail delivery from six days to five, eliminating Saturday as a regular day for mail delivery.
One wonders, however, how the four-day work week will affect city services now that city offices will be moving from a centralized location to one that will move city offices to other buildings, such as the El Paso Times building and others. To make room for the new baseball stadium, city hall will be no longer. Razing the 33-year old building is in the works in order to make room for the new muti- million-dollar stadium. Until the public grows accustomed to finding city offices in the disparate buildings to which they would have moved, doing business with the city could create consternation. Fortunately for residents, however, essential city departments such as police, fire, trash pick-up, the airport, Sun Metro, and others will remain on its usual five-day work week.
The four-day work week for some employees is one element that makes El Paso a unique city. Although other communities are considering the change, El Paso is one of the first to get it done on a permanent basis. And, once again, our hats are off to the El Paso Police Department and to El Paso residents for making it the largest city of its kind to continually be named the Safest Large City in the United States. Would the El Paso Police Department take such a hiatus and would never consider working only a four-day work week. Then, and only then, would chaos prevail. Perish the thought.
Valentine’s Day: It’s all about love
By Joe Olvera ©, 2013
Aliyah Isabel Garcia is only five years old, but, she already knows about love.
Are you in love with anyone, we asked her? “Yes,” she replied. In love with whom? “Justin
Bieber” Why him? “Because of the way he sings.” But, he already has a girlfriend, and
her name is Selena Gomez. “That’s okay, I’m not going to marry him or anything. I just
like him because of the way he sings.” Oh, so you don’t love him, you just like him. “Well
whatever. But, I do know what Valentine’s Day is for.”
And so do people all over the world, including, of course, El Paso. Also known as
Saint Valentine’s Day, or the Feast of Saint Valentine, the unofficial holiday takes second
place only to New Year’s Day as the day most observed by different people in different parts
of the world. Observed on February 14 each year, it remains a working day for followers.
However, it’s when the loved one comes home after a day of work that the fun begins.
But, before the fun begins, a little history. For lovers both young and old, they
have Chaucer to thank for turning what was a religious observance into one with
romantic connotations when he wrote his “Valentines” in the 14th century. The first
recorded association of Valentine’s Day with romantic love is in Parlement of Foules,
written by Geoffrey Chaucer in 1382. He wrote: “For this was on Valentine’s Day,
when every bird cometh there to choose his mate (English translation). Chaucer
wrote his poem to honor the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II
to Anne of Bohemia. Oh, yes, and they were both young, only 15.
Since then, sonnets, poems, romantic verses and many other tomes of
love have been written by, for, and about loved ones. Valentine’s Day cards,
proclaiming a love for one another have been on the scene since the 19th century
cast in so many different forms that they were cast in factories and sold around
the world. Fancy Valentines were made with real lace and ribbons. In the United States
the first mass-produced Valentines made of embossed paper lace were produced
and sold shortly after1847 by Esther Howland of Worcester, Mass.
Thus, from greeting cards professing love, to all manner of gifts such as
chocolate hearts wrapped in satin, candy hearts with romantic sayings such as “Roses
are red, violets are blue, monkeys like you belong in the zoo.” Wait a minute, that’s not
a romantic saying. But, anyway, Valentines’ Day has become such big business that
the U.S. Greeting Card Association estimates that about 190 million Valentines cards
are sold each year. Half of those cards are given to family members – mostly children –
not just husbands and wives. But, wait, it gets better. In the 1980s diamonds became a
great gift for a loved one, mostly women. So, will Aliyah Isabel Garcia give a diamond gift
to Justin Bieber? “No, I don’t even know what that is. But, I still love him.”
Groundhog Day: A worldwide tradition
By Joe Olvera ©, 2013
Are we going to have six more weeks of winter? Or are we going to be blessed with the beginning of Spring? Don’t look to your favorite weather person, look instead to Punxsutawney Phil, your favorite rodent-like creature who has been emerging from his cubbyhole underneath the earth since 1886 when the tradition began in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Punxsutawney Phil then became even more famous than even the most famous weathermen. Including Al Roker of the Today Show. The main difference is that Phil doesn’t need a ton of maps and other weather devices, he simply emerges from his hole, and, legend has it that if he sees his shadow six more weeks of frigid weather will prevail. If, however, the day is cloudy and overcast and if Phil doesn’t see his shadow, Spring is just around the corner.
But, lest you think that our Phil is the only groundhog who predicts the weather, you’re sadly mistaken. There is also Dunkirk Dave, Shubenacadle Sam, Wharton Willie, General Beauregard Lee, Peewee the Woodchuck and Staten Island Chuck. Oh, and let’s not forget Balzac Billy, also known as the Prairie Prognosticator – a young upstart who hails from Alberta, Canada.
All Groundhogs look alike, however. They are 20 inches long and can weigh anywhere from 12 to 15 pounds. Our friend, Phil, however, weighs a hefty 20 pounds and is longer than your average groundhog at 22 inches. Most of them are covered with coarse grayish hairs, tipped with brown, or sometimes red. They have short ears, a short tail, short legs, and are very quick movers. They have exceptionally strong jaws. Groundhogs eat mostly greens, fruits and vegetables, but don’t drink a lot of water, getting their moisture from dewy leaves. Groundhogs can whistle when they are alarmed, they can also whistle in the Spring, when they are courting. Phil is also long-living, being able to survive for seven more years due to a special liquid which he is fed by members of his elite club.
There is only one Punxsutawney Phil, however. He has been used for offering support of political events, to rooting for area sports teams, to having a movie made of him that starred Bill Murray, and many other events to which he has lent his famous name and presence. Today’s celebration which honors Phil on Feb. 2 each year attracts tens of thousands of fans from all over the world. They are as excited about viewing Phil’s emerging from his underground lair, as they are in viewing their favorite rock stars. The first observance of Phil is credited with a newspaper called the Punxsutawney Spirit who first recorded the appearance of the famous rodent. Throughout the years, Phil has been part and parcel of some famous events, including:
*During Prohibition, Phil threatened to impose 60 more weeks of winter if he wasn’t allowed a drink;
*In 1958, Phil announced that it was a “United States Chucknik rather than a Soviet Sputnik that circled the earth for the first time
*In1981, Phil wore a yellow ribbon in honor of the American hostages in Iran;
*Phil travelled to Washington D.C. in 1986 to meet with President Ronald Reagan;
*Phil appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 1995;
*In 2001, Phil’s prediction was shown live on the JumboTron at Times Square in New York City. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell attended the ceremonies, becoming the first governor to ever do so.
Running for El Paso Mayor, an iffy situation at best
By Joe Olvera ©, 2013
Running for Mayor of El Paso requires that a candidate be quick on his or her feet, that beaucoup bucks be available, and, most important – name recognition. In the case of the current campaign, it features a candidate that meets all three qualifications, namely Steve Ortega. He is running against an unknown Robert Cormell, who has no name recognition and has never held political office of any sort. But, lest Ortega thinks the election is his, he must reflect and realize that there are no guarantees.
Ortega, a two-term city representative for District 7, has served in a quiet capacity, making noise, for example only in backing the city’s providing health insurance for the partners of gay employees, and supporting the destruction of the current city hall to build in its place a $50 million baseball stadium to house El Paso’s future sports team – the El Paso Padres, or some such.
Cormell, however, has made no noise at all and has very little name recognition, outside of business circles. He is a small business owner who has managed to raise so far $4,300 and Ortega $57,000 according to their latest expense reports. Cornell said he has raised very little money because he’s been focusing on developing his mayoral platform. He promises that his next campaign report will show a stronger contributor base. Ortega, on the other hand, has raised his money from what he calls numerous $50 to $500 donations, including a $1,000 donation from newly-elected Congressman Beto O’Rourke. He has also said he would not accept donations from the folks who have been pushing the new stadium, including Woody Hunt, because that might constitute a conflict of interest.
But, again, raising large amounts of cash does not guarantee victory. As witness the race a few years ago that featured City Rep. Raymond Telles against Carlos Ramirez for Mayor. Ramirez, who worked with then-Mayor Bill Tilney, had only raised $30,000. Telles, however, had raised about $250,000. He even used that money to hire a consultant from San Francisco. All that money, however, didn’t guarantee Telles a victory, because he lost to Ramirez. Of course, Telles made many mistakes, such as hiring a P.R. firm from Juarez to develop a newspaper that touted his qualifications and everything that was good about his campaign. Telles himself short-circuited a campaign that had him leading Ramirez 40 to 21. Ramirez played it cool and won that race.
A more recent campaign proved that money isn’t everything. The race for State Rep. between incumbent Dee Margo and his challenger, Joe Moody, showed that money came in a close second. Republican Margo raised more than $600,000 while Moody raised a mere $100,000. Guess who won that race – Joe Moody, of course. The two candidates had all the required necessities to win the race, such as name recognition, and political experience and savvy. The money, however, seemed to give Margo the edge. However, much as he would’ve liked to keep his seat, all that money in his war chest didn’t help. He lost.
So, there’s hope for Cormell. Remember, too, that it’s a long haul before the election in May. Other candidates are, perhaps, waiting for the right moment to jump into the fray. Who knows who will jump in and truly challenge Ortega. One possibility is former State Senator Eliot Shapleigh. Although Shapleigh has not done anything to indicate that he would be running, if he did suddenly decide to run, he already qualifies under the three requirements – money, name recognition and a track record. Shapleigh outscores Ortega in every category, except money. But, he could clear that hurdle very quickly with his connections and his ability to run winning campaigns.
But, for now, the only candidates are Ortega and Cormell, although, again, that could change very rapidly. There is still plenty of time for anyone who dares to run a strong campaign with the intent to win. Ortega still does hold a good hand in his campaign. His refusal to accept donations from the power-brokers who want to bring a Triple-A Baseball team to El Paso may stand him in good stead. From all appearances, Cormell is against Triple-A baseball coming to El Paso, although he hasn’t said as much. He probably figures that he could get the voters who oppose such a move to support him. But, then, in El Paso politics, anything could happen. Stay tuned.