Sunday, April 30, 2006

Michael D. Mena-Guitar Recital

Prelude No. 1
Heitor Villa Lobos (1887-1959)

Tango en Skie
Roland Dyens (1955- )

Recuerdos de la Alhambra
-Capricho Arabe
Francisco Tarrega (1852-1909)

Sons de Carilhoes
Joao Pernambuco (1883-1947)

Isaac Albeniz (1860-1909)

Recital at UTPA
Duration:25 minutes, 47 seconds

MP3 File

Jaime A. Garcia-Guitar Recital

Six Lute Pieces of the Reinaissance by Anon.
1. Preludio
2. Bianco Fiore
3. Danza
4. Gagliarda
5. Canzone
6. Saltarello

Variations on a theme by Mozart
Fernando Sor (1788-1839)

Rumores de la Caleta
Isaac Albeniz (1860-1909)

Study in A Major
-Danza Mora
-Recuerdos de la Alambra
Francisco Tarrega

Recital at UTPA
Duration:29 minutes, 41 seconds

MP3 File Part 1, MP3 File Part 2

The Pink Panther

Henry Mancini
Saxophone Quintet

UTPA Recital

MP3 File

Just for Show

Lenny Niehaus
Saxophone Quintent

MP3 File

The Magic Flute

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 1756-1791. Arr. by Manuel Arambula
Saxophone Quintet

1. Andante: "Der Vogelfanger bin ich ja" (Papageno)
2. Largo: "Dies Bildnis is bezaubernd schon" (Tamino)
3. Largo: "Ozritte nicht, mein lieber Sohn!" (Konigin der Nacht)
4. Andante: Marsch der Priester
5. Allegro: "Der Holle Rache kocht in Meinem Herzen" (Konigin der
6. Andante: "Ein Madchen oder Weibchen" (Papageno)

UTPA Recital

MP3 File

Concerto for Piano and Clarinet Choir in Eb, K. 452

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 1756-1791. arr by William O'Neil

1. Largo: allegro moderato
2. Larghetto
3. Rondo: allegretto

featuring Dr. John Raimo, Piano
Manuel Arambula, Guest Conductor
first performance of the Clarinet Choir version

UTPA Recital

MP3 File

Three Preludes

Saxophone Quintet
George Gershwin 1898-1937

1. Allegro ben ritmico e deciso
2. Andante con moto e poco rubato

Don Besig. Arr. by Manuel Arambula
Flying Free

UTPA Recital

MP3 File

Concerto in C for Two Flutes and Piano

Antonio Vivaldi 1678-1741

1. Allegro molto
2. Largo
3. Allegro

Cassandra Sanchez and Dr. Malcolm J. Coleman, Flutes.
Dr. John Raimo, Piano
UTPA Music Recital

MP3 File

May 1st Protests

I'm not going to discourage hispanics from not walking on May 1st. They ought to do what they think is right for them. I do want to address the groups encouraging them to do it, however. Shame on all of you. You don't care for these mojados. You know very well that many of them will get fired over this. This is just like the entire fiasco in Mission, TX over the contaminated land. "Activists" are out working their tails off to sue chemical companies and the train company. Rather than work to raise money and move these people out, they leave them there to die pending litigation. What a bunch of jerks.

Same goes for latino groups. A bunch of talk, but when it comes to doing something meaningful and useful, you turn to Washington. Leave Washington out of it. They don't know their left from their right. If you REALLY wanted to do something useful for these immigrants, you'd raise money and help them become legal residents. Why don't you do that? It's because you'd no longer have "victims". This is why it's obvious to me that Latino groups don't have the interests of illegal immigrants in mind. You are simply making empty promises that if they march they will get something done. Will you guarantee them a paycheck if they get fired? Probably not. Can you guarantee them that they won't get fired? Can you promise them that by marching on Monday that they will get legal recognition? You hope, but can't make any such guarantee. You shouldn't gamble with people's livelihoods for your political gain.

Misspent Youth: Drinking and Riding

There are some things that you have to learn the hard way, unfortunately. When you do, these life lessons stay with you forever. One such lesson I learned while I was a student at UT-Austin. I was up late drinking and got the munchies. It seemed like a good idea to go from my apartment, across from St. David's Hospital on Red River, down to the 7-11 on the corner of MLK and Guadalupe for burritos on my bike. If you've been on Red River by the campus, you know that there is a really steep descent by the parking lots. Well, I decided to ride down on the street and then jump onto the sidewalk on the ascent to stay out of traffic. It was late, mind you, so I did not feel like getting run over, having done it once before, and being left there for dead. So, as I see a corner coming up at high speed on my bike, I missed it by a little and wiped out. The sidewalk around there is not smooth concrete. It's the embedded rock type. Ow! So, instead of buying burritos at the 7-11, I limped in and got a box of band-aids.

I learned that if I get the munchies and I'm drinking, I should either go to bed or walk to the convenience store. I scraped my knee, elbow, and shoulder pretty badly that night. You should believe me when I warn you to not drink and ride. I've never been the sort to drink and drive, one could kill others this way. Now, I am not the sort to drink and ride. It's hazardous to your health.

Real Suffering and Seeking Hope

I just read a really sad story about an Afghan girl. She was married off at the age of 4. She is now 11 and has endured merciless beatings and abuse by her father-in-law and her husband's family. Reading this makes me sad for her. On the other hand, reading about her belief in the kindness of others despite the abuse, it brings me some joy. She had hope that crawling away with a broken arm or leg would lead to a better life; and it did.

There is a saying somewhere about a person who was sad about not having shoes until he met a person who had no feet. The point being, you should not feel bad for yourself because there is always somebody worse off. I was actually sitting here feeling sorry for myself. I've been holed up for a couple of days, not leaving home if I could help it. Some of it stems from being jobless, some of it from having an uncertain future, and some of it accepting my fate for the next couple years as a menial worker. I watched Fun with Dick and Jane last night and I really identified with them. Well, maybe not as much. I've never owned a home or a BMW. I can identify with having high expectations for myself, but having to settle for less than my abilities. I always get complements on my intelligence and abilities, but it never translates into a job. I've tried loyalty and it doesn't get reciprocated. Never mind all that, I'm falling back into loser thought patterns.

Whatever the case may be, things aren't bad. I have a family. My wife has a decent job. I can still get a job at minimum wage (in the RGV, nobody likes to pay more than they legally have to). And, I can get two jobs if I want. I proposed to my wife that I leave the RGV to seek work and then she and the kids could follow. She objected. I'll take that under advisement. I am still considering the move despite her objection. Maybe that contributes a little to my sadness, knowing that I may have to leave my family for a while.

The reason for leaving the Rio Grande Valley to find work is that even though there is work here, nobody cares to pay more than they have to. If employers could legally pay less than minimum wage, they would. Up north, you could pay employees less, but you'd have no employees. Despite high gas prices and other troubles, there is a labor shortage in the country. You'll never hear this in the news because "George W. Bush has created the worst economy ever". Riiight. That's why so many illegals are working in the U.S. Here in the RGV, a Democrat stronghold, we have higher unemployment and lower wages. You might say that it's due to the high population of illegals. Well, who is it that objects to closing the border? Dems have a poor track record in helping me get ahead. At least with Republicans I know I'm on my own. No false promises.

So, I may decide to go up north to find work. If that does happen, I will blog my adventures as a migrant. Having grown up migrant, there are some aspects of the life that I miss. I like traveling. I like the uncertainty, which is different from the uncertainty here. Here, there is the uncertainty of finding a job. Up north, there is the uncertainty of who will hire you first. I like starting from scratch. Some people hate this. But, when you start from nothing, you can always look back and point to what you accomplished. That is something I like.

There is an accounting joke. An immigrant man opens a shop and is able to put his kids through college. One day, one of his sons who is studying accounting complains that the man's books are a disaster. He asks his dad, "How do you even know if you are making a profit?" The father replies, "when I got to this country, all I had was the clothes on my back. Take your college education and this shop, and subtract my shirt and pants. There's your profit."

Similarly, arriving up north with my family as a kid, all we took was a TV and some clothes. We never had a "for sure" job lined up. We just showed up and within a week we had work at some farm with housing. If not a farm where I could work as a kid, my parents could line up work at a factory while us kids went to summer school. We'd then start getting furniture, vehicles, and other assets that we could enjoy and then sell during off-season. When I was 15, I drove a car from Wisconsin to the RGV. I could barely drive when I left and was an old pro when I got here. Each of my parents drove a car as well.

If I do choose to take up my migrant heritage, I have two options. I could go to Wisconsin, where I have relatives and can network to find a decent job. Or, I can go for something really uncertain by heading for one of the states along the Rocky Mountains. I don't know which would be best insofar as jobs, but the mountain states would be great for mountain biking.

In summary, I need a good kick in the pants to get over my slight depression. There is real suffering in the world (and you liberals can stuff it with the "plight of undocumented workers"). I will concede that things could be worse. I'll be working on plans for the summer. In the meantime, I am looking forward to a book by Ben Stein:

I need to read something inspirational along those lines. I will also be working to pass my finals at UTPA. I should probably start working out in case I have to work in the fields this summer.

Friday, April 28, 2006

General Disclaimer

When reading RGV Life, you are seriously in danger of getting bent out of shape. The intent of this blog is to share the experience of living in the Rio Grande Valley with people who do not live here. A secondary purpose is to give the author(s) a place to comment on or criticize local government and politicians. Failing miserably at both, RGV Life has a backup purpose: proving how stupid one CAN get. RGV Life proudly proclaims our success at the last goal.

Shaine Mata, that would be me, is totally unqualfied, according to critics, to form any opinion on any topic, ever. That is the level of consideration you should give the content contained herein. Shaine is moronic, offensive, sophomoric, ... adjectives fail me. Shaine has been known to be spectacularly wrong in order not to half-ass the effort. Shaine even goes so far as changing his mind when the facts require it. Reading my posts is like watching with fascination at something that just keeps getting worse.

The author assumes no responsibility for anything. This is a stupid blog amongst millions on the web. Nothing gets resolved here and nothing gets started here. RGV Life does one of the simplest things in the world. See things happen, write about it. No serious talent is required. There are guest bloggers added to RGV Life to give the blog some credibility. If you read their posts, you'll see their capacity to form intelligent, coherent arguments about their respective interests.

For your continued pleasure, I will keep interviewing people and making a fool of myself. You will still get the occasional picture of my activities. And the audio posts will still be available. By providing this general disclaimer, I absolve myself of having to ever say I'm sorry. You know what you're getting into. You have been warned.

Having said that, thanks for reading RGV Life. I hope I've provided you with some laughs. I know I've ticked some of you off. C'mon, you like it. I don't suspect these will change in the foreseeable future. Thanks for your tolerance (don't be a hater).

Get those gas prices down!

There is a Senator who has an idea to lower gas taxes who is being ignored by the media. It took me forever to find a link to this guy, even after watching him on Your World with Neil Cavuto. No media bias, my $$$. Anyway, his idea is to shift the taxation of gasoline from the federal government to the states. This would eliminate the inefficiency of sending money to Washington and having them send the money back.

His idea is this. The federal government used the gas tax, which is a little over 18 cents per gallon, to build the Interstate highway system. The highways are complete and only need maintenance. By taking out the federal tax, states can raise their gas tax and save taxpayers money by eliminating federal administration costs. Currently, our gas taxes are roughly 20 cents federal and 20 cents state. So, on the $2.72 price at the pump, about 40 cents is taxes. Let's say that taking out the federal portion and giving it to the state results in some efficiency. Even a 10 cent difference would be great.

Want to raise money for I-69? Hey, Texas could build their part of the highway and coordinate with other states to connect all the way to Canada. Why wait for the feds? We'd be cutting out the naysayers in the federal government. Rather than wait for the feds to expand U.S. 83, TxDOT could do it with less trouble.

How much influence do you have on a US Congressman versus a State Rep? By shifting gas taxes to the state, we would have more control over road projects and gas taxes. If Austin were smart, they'd jump all over this for total control of Texas road money.

Of course, this is all a sham, just like the immigration issue. They're pulling your chain. Just watch how prices will go down as we get closer to the elections. If we're lucky, according to Bill Krystol, the Dems will win one of the houses of Congress this year so that they have a chance to screw things up in time for the 2008 elections for Republicans to recapture it. I could care less at this point. I sold my truck and get around on a bike. My roads are built by the city. Stick that in your calculator!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Adj. Prof. Israel Ramon: Tail end of class

This is the tail end of Business Law class at UTPA. We had a couple guest speakers. You can visit for audio of Hidalgo County District Attorney Rene Guerra and a San Juan Police Officer.

MP3 File

et tu Little Buddy?

I got this comment on The Rep's blog. I don't want to hijack the blog on this issue. still don't get it. Tax revenue is collected from many
sources. The abolishment of the manifiesto tax refund is just one way to raise
tax revenue. The Texas Legislature decides how to raise and spend this tax
revenue. I do not expect to fund public education only from tax revenue
collected from abolishing the manifiesto tax refund. At the same time, a simple
increase in cigarette tax or used auto sales tax or a different franchise tax,
alone, will not solve the issue. You get it. Bonds are totally different. The
voters decide if a bond is approved and the school districts decide how to spend
it. Now, if I did not persuade you with my research on the issue and the
excellent report from the comptroller's office, then I don't know what it will
take to convince you that from a policy perspective, it is a great idea!Your
analogies are totally off base and your commentaries are all over the place.

I know that the Legislature has the ability to tax anything that moves, and if it still moves, tax it again. You only brought up the issue of manifiestos. Never once did you mention combining it with other taxes. Besides, it is an a priori; it's established that one tax will not take the place of all taxes. You only kept your comment on one tax, and we replied on the one tax.

In your first comment, you only address manifiestos. There is no mention of additional taxes. In any case, the U.S. Constitution prohibits states from taxing foreigners, according to the comptroller's report. If Texas wanted, we could not legally do it. If you read the report in context, their goal is to reduce fraud, not raise tax revenue. So the extra money is not from eliminating manifiestos or taxing portions of them, an illegal act. The extra money comes from ensuring that goods are exported, which would probably cost whatever the state hoped to recover and more to enforce. Common folk like myself get stuck on details like legality and cost of implementation. I will grant you that I was all over the place on my comment. Too much thinking makes me ramble and my common sense shuts off.

In your second post, you essentially call the Rep, who was in session, a coward for not replying.

In the third post, you stay on the manifiesto issue and tell the Rep how to do his job. You mention adding to the tax base by taxing Mexican shoppers, which Texas cannot legally do.

In the fourth post, you explain your reasoning in more detail. You are right in that Mexicans will probably still shop in the RGV even if they have to pay a little more. I'll give you that. However, there is no remote connection between the shoppers and the influx of students from Mexico other than nationality. They are distinct groups of people. You are suggesting that to stop our hurt on one front we should hurt ourselves on another.

Fifth post was apologetic for being pushy.

Post number six provides links from your research on the issue. For future reference, research first and provide links so that others can follow your ideas easier. Good job on that. Keep up that habit.

In your last comment on The Rep's post, you won't let up on the manifiesto repeal as a revenue generator. If you stick to one topic, everybody else will stick to one topic. We common people were not discussing other taxes because you were insisting on addressing one.

If we all truly want equity with Dallas schools with respect to finance, we are going about the problem all wrong. Instead of arguing about whose ox to gore, we should look into creating wealth in the Rio Grande Valley. What can we do to attract more industry, more tourism, and more commerce in general? Only by making the RGV wealthy on the scale of Dallas, can we hope to finance our schools better. Mexican shoppers are one of the hands that feed us.

The money local shops make from selling to Mexican tourists goes towards their ability to buy homes, cars, and other goods. The wealthier the RGV gets, the higher our property values will go from appreciation and new construction. This will generate more revenue for our local schools to rid us of our dependence on state funds. By screwing over Mexican shoppers, we are creating a roadblock to our prosperity. Instead, we should focus on getting more Mexican shoppers to come here to spend their money. Although we can't legally tax Mexican shoppers directly, we can tax the shopkeepers who spend their earnings. That is the point I'm trying to make. We skip one cycle of taxation with the Mexican shoppers, but we have many opportunities to tax the money they leave behind.

Of course, common people like myself only see that the legislature is creating new tax streams to make up for the lost revenues stemming from the Texas Supreme Court's decision that the Robin Hood plan is unconstitutional. We're ignorant of the fact that the state cannot have a property tax, which is reserved for local government entities; and that the court decision cut off an indirect property tax by the state, creating a budget shortfall for education. It never occured to me that the state is scrambling to find billions of dollars in new and various revenues just to stay even. The nuances are just too subtle for us common people in the Valley to grasp. Sorry, we went to public schools.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

What are crops?

It was one of the first days of Summer. School had been out for a few days in La Joya and already it was pretty boring at home. Chano wasn't having any luck keeping busy. The small black and white TV was showing soap operas and it would be a while before the 3 o'clock cartoons started. He was looking forward to another episode of GI Joe and He-Man. He stepped up on the 5 gallon bucket to reach the TV and turn it off. His mom was taking a nap in her bedroom. He looked out the back door to see if maybe Johnny was home. He saw the Valdez station wagon in the driveway, so he put on his shoes to go play with his neighbor.

Chano walked out of the house and headed to Johnny's. He walked into their back yard and went around the front of the house. Johnny was inside playing with his little sister, the sound of her giggles could be heard through the window. Mr. Valdez was outside working on the station wagon. Chano looked down on the floor and picked up some beer bottlecaps. There were always bottlecaps in front of the house where Mr. Valdez would drink beer. The bottlecaps had rebus puzzles on them and were fun to figure out. Mr. Valdez heard Chano approaching and looked up from the station wagon and said, "hey, Shaine, Johnny is in the house. Just knock on the door."

"OK, thanks", Chano replied. He stepped up on the wooden steps and knocked on the door. There was some shuffling and the giggling stopped. After a couple footsteps, Johnny opened the door.

"Hey, Shaine! I was wondering if you were going to come over today." For some reason, Mr. Valdez never allowed Johnny to go to Chano's house. The closest Johnny would go is to the wooden platform that he and Chano built on a mesquite in Chano's back yard.

"Do you want to go play outside?"

"Mom! Can I go play with Shaine out back?"

Mrs. Valdez was Johnny's stepmom and Sara's mother. She told him it would be alright if he put on his shoes. Johnny reached under the bed to grab his shoes and put them on. They ran to the back yard. Mr Valdez had a stack of pallets in the back that he used to make pens for the pigs. The family had come to the Rio Grande Valley from California, so they were hispanic, but did things a little differently. Chano liked playing with Johnny because he only spoke English. The other kids in the subdivision all spoke Spanish.

They grabbed some pallets and made a box out of them, adding a piece of plywood for a roof. One thing that the kids in the neighborhood shared was that they were all poor. Their parents all bought lots in the Valdez (no relation to the neighbors) Subdivision on Old Hwy 83 because they were affordable. All the parents also built their own homes as best they could. So, imagination went a long way when the kids went out to play. Today, they were space explorers orbiting around a new planet making preparations to land. They looked out between the slats on one of the pallets to survey the planet.

Johnny reported on the view from the window while Chano worked on steering the ship. "There's clouds below us, we're still pretty high".

"OK, I'm turning down the rockets a little so we can slow down," Chano replied.

"We got through the clouds and I can see the ground. I think I see something down there. There's big squares."

Chano wondered where Johnny was headed with this so that he could play along and add his two cents to the imaginary mission. He informed Johnny about the reduced rockets.

"I think there is life on this planet. There's people!" Johnny gestured Chano to the window.

Chano got up and looked out the window. It was just dirt outside, so he looked where Johnny was looking to play along. "How do you know there's people?"

"Look over there at those fields, there's crops". Johnny pointed at some weeds.

"Some what?"

"Some crops, over there." He pointed at the weeds for Chano to see.

"What are crops?" Chano had never heard that word before even though his family worked in the fields. He thought that maybe it was a certain kind of plant.

"They're food plants. Like tomatos, onions, and carrots." Johnny looked at Chano quizzically, wondering if Chano was pretending not to know as part of the game.

Just then, Mr. Valdez called Johnny to get ready to leave and get his mother some water. Both of the boys got out of the make-believe spaceship and walked over to the well. They pulled the cover off the well and dropped a bucket down into the hole to get some water. They filled a 5 gallon bucket halfway and then covered the well. They said their good byes for the day.

Chano walked back home. He stopped at the platform up on the mesquite and sat there in the shade a while. In all his 7 years, he had never heard the word "crops" before and he thought of ways to use it. He hopped off the platform and went back inside. It was hot in South Texas, so he decided to lay down and read some revistas in front of the fan until the cartoons started.

Sales Tax and the Mexican Economy

Hi Hector,

I didn't want to hijack the rep's blog for a side discussion. I'll also add this to RGV Life for public comment. Here is what you wrote:

What would this do to Mexico's economy if the majority of wealthy Mexican nationals were faced with the decision to either spend money in their own country or ours during peak holiday seasons? Would this improve Mexico's economy?
I'd like to know, please respond either here or email me..

I don't have hard facts to which to point, it's just my best guess from talking to many of my Mexican customers. The average Mexican doesn't shop for taxable goods. They will go to the flea markets in Hidalgo, here in Mission, or other places. They are looking for goods for resale. So, they don't bother with manifiestos because they don't pay taxes on the stuff anyway. These shoppers don't typically come here and stay at a hotel and fill their suburbans with goods during peak holiday seasons.

Those who do come here for peak holiday seasons are, not suprisingly, business owners or executive level employees. They have disposable income that they intend to use on quality goods and services. So, they will stay at the nice hotels. They will dine out, shop, and seek entertainment. They are not average Mexicans, but they LOVE getting a bargain. One of the most asked questions in retail here in the RGV is "si compro en cantidad, hay descuento?" Of course, for wholesale prices, you need to buy a few hundred or thousand items to make the price break worthwhile. So, I'd tell them that we did not offer price breaks because we simply did not have enough quantity to justify it. Still, they would buy $200 to $300 in goods. But, it must be something in the Mexican psyche that demands that they try to find a bargain. That 8.25% they save goes towards buying more stuff. In contrast, the average Mexican will buy $20 to $30 of goods after much debate on the right mix. There is a big difference in purchasing power between the upper class and the typical person.

Your question is what would happen if they stayed there? Would it help the Mexican economy? It is unlikely. The upper class shop here because of the quality of our goods. Mexicans do have products on their shelves, but they are priced and marketed for the majority, who aren't generally wealthy. The quality of their goods is different from the quality of ours (not necessarily inferior, but perhaps perceived that way). So, they'll come here to shop anyway, but will buy fewer goods due to the increased cost from sales taxes. We'll see slower inventory turnover, which is bad for business. Mexico does not have substitutes for the products we offer, except for services or imported products at inflated prices. So, it is vital to us here in the RGV and Texas, to keep them shopping.

Many of the wealthy families who have homes here have their businesses back home in some part of Mexico. One of the good things about being in business is that you can buy stuff below retail cost, keep what you want, and sell the rest. So, many of the people who come here to shop can already buy Mexican goods at below retail prices because they are business owners. They have more money to spend than the average Mexican, but it is still finite. They may have cases of products for sale to the general public in their shops or factories back home, but those goods are not necessarily a good value for their personal tastes. Average Mexicans, on the other hand, can get everything they need back home at better prices. They are more willing to substitute with lower quality than the wealthy.

There was an answer in there somewhere. I believe it was that the shoppers who support the RGV economy would still shop here, but would buy less if we got rid of the manifiestos. Therefore, the impact to the Mexican economy would be negligable as they can already get bargains for Mexican products. The people who shop here ARE the Mexican economy. If there is an increase in the middle class and there is higher demand and production of high quality goods, perhaps the Mexican elite will stay home to shop. But, they can't buy what isn't there.

Does that make sense? I should note that my response is RGV and Texas centric. After all, it is not Austin's duty to worry about the Mexican economy. It is not in the RGV's interest to keep shoppers away. I believe that I live in a great country. I believe that I live in a great state. And, I believe that the Rio Grande Valley is a great place to live (most of the time). So, my thinking goes along the lines of what is good for Shaine Mata here in Mission, Texas, USA. More commerce in the RGV means more jobs that can turn me down when I apply for them. I'll get something eventually. If we slap a big source of our revenue in face with a sales tax, my chances for getting a job go down with slower sales.

More with Davis Rankin and Aaron Pena

State Representative Aaron Peña stopped by the KURV studios in Edinburg to talk with Davis Rankin about some of the battles going on in Austin over school finance reform. As you may be aware, some bills have passed out of the House of Reps and is on the way to the conference committee where it will be changed from its current incarnation.

The battle is far from over. There are multiple nuances, according to Peña, beyond the Sharp-Perry plan. Over the last two days, an uprising has come out of the Houston area by radio show host Dan Patrick, who is also headed for the Texas Senate. He is one of the conservative Republicans opposed to raising taxes. Suffice it to say that negotiations are still going on. There are also struggles within the Democratic Part in Texas, with 3 different groups trying to steer the party in different directions. So, there is more going on in Austin than just the debates over school finance, there are battles going on within the parties. The more meaningful split is within the Republican party. This, of course, benefits the RGV because it puts backers of the legislation in a position where they need Democrat votes. So, Rep. Peña is amongst the deciders.

For the moment, the Perry-Sharp plan is the only choice Republicans have and find themselves having to go along with it, except that raising taxes while having a surplus is rubbing the conservatives the wrong way. The Senate is a little liberal, so when the legislation comes out of committee, some more conservatives are expected to peel off from the group of supporters. It is almost certain that the Perry-Sharp plan will pass after committee with a little arm-twisting.
When the Bill gets to the Senate, it will pass a little quicker. They already know what they want to do.

Other tidbits of information are that The Rep is hearing a lot of concern about immigration and taxes from other districts. There are those who want to tax illegal immigrants through sales taxes. More significant along the immigration front, is that people are concerned that the state and our way of life is changing as a result of immigration. These aren't The Rep's opinions, just things he's hearing in Austin.

That's all I gathered from the conversation between Davis Rankin and Aaron Peña on today's show.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Wouldn't You Know It?

It's s0 funny, my luck, sometimes. My wife went out and got a 95 Ford Windstar at Spikes Ford in Mission. It was in pretty good shape. The only annoying defect we knew about was that the front windows did not open. This is fine, we just use the A/C.

In time, it developed another defect. The door ajar sensor keeps sensing the door ajar. It happened within about a month. It was intermittent at first and progressively got more permanent. Now, it occasionally doesn't sense a door ajar (it doesn't say which one).

Lately, the Windstar has been developing a rough idle. I did a quick web search and checked a Hayes manual, it could be a vacuum leak or clogged fuel injectors. After more searching, it turns out that the 95 model also has a well known defect that could cause similar problems. If it's the injectors, the additive I put in will fix the problem. If it's vacuum hoses, I'll have to learn how to check that. If it's the defect, I'm looking at a $900+ repair whether I do it when the van breaks down or as a preventative measure. I haven't a clue how to change a head gasket.

I'm going outside to curse.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Got an Interview

I had a phone call today for an interview with the Boys and Girls Club in McAllen. I had turned in an application during a job fair at UTPA. I'll be going in this week. It's somehow exciting; moreso than the HEB interviews last week.

KURV Interview with Aaron Peña

This morning, Davis Rankin interviewed State Rep. Aaron Peña on KURV, 710 AM radio. I jotted down some notes and tried to keep up. Here is what I got regarding the quest for school finance reform.

The Rep says that Dan Patrick is leading the charge for Republican grass roots effort against the margin tax. The claim is that the Perry-Sharpe margin tax is bad for business. Currently many businesses in Texas are not taxed because they are not corporations. Meaning that they operate as LLC, LLP, and other passive income type organizatios. The proposals are basically meant to expand the tax base to include those types of businesses. Obviously, large corporations are all behind the proposals.

There are bomb throwers on both sides of the aisle. Reps on the left and right are trying to break up the coalition that is trying to push this legislation through. Any criticism about raising taxes while having a budget surplus can be fended off by pointing out that this is the Governor's plan. For those actually trying to make the legislation happen, the thinking is that either they put something out or the Supreme Court will do it for them.

The Rep's biggest concern about what is happening in Austin is that the plan that Sharp presented is not the plan before them now. It's been altered significantly. Of major concern is that the first bill has a provision that allows local entities to raise money that is not subject to recapture. This change has caused a lot of moderates to not support the bill. The coalition is both Democrats and Republican representatives from rural districts who face some of the same challenges that the RGV delegation does.

The bill with the biggest support is the third, which provides for a broad-based business tax. Some of the strong-arming going on, the Rep states, is based on the politics of getting a bill through. The house wants to have a strong bill go to the Senate, which tends to be a bit wishy washy. For now, the Rep and his allies are trying to negotiate the state school funding standard from 80% of current levels to 95% of current levels.

That's all I was able to keep up on the conversation. Aaron did mention something about marrying a bedouin lady with a mustache. I don't know what that means. I may have mixed things up. If I did, go over to his blog for clarification.

RGV Life Podcast #15

Commenting on RGV blogs and the headlines of the week. Doing some blog promos for the rest of you.

MP3 File

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Recent Police Corruption and Maybe More to Come

I recently received an email from Scott Henson over at Grits for Breakfast with a summary of incidents of corruption along the border. I've been aware of the latest in which five brothers, one a police officer and another a former officer, were arrested with other men in connection with a drug smuggling operation. Reports indicate that they provided logistics in crossing the border. So, with the available information, they basically got drugs on the Mexican side, crossed them over the river, and then handed the drugs off to other operators on this side.

So far, no information has come out indicating that the police officer and his brother, who was also an officer, used their jobs to help the operation. But, information is scarce at this point. Officials have been tight-lipped about the particulars.

I'm jaded. It's not unexpected. This sort thing does affect public perception of local police because you always wonder if the officer writing you a ticket has a side business. Going back to the whole corruption question, it's likely the officers were corrupt in their jobs. After all, it takes a bit of two-facedness to be a law enforcement officer who willingly and blatantly breaks the law or allows it to occur with a blind eye. And the thing is that we know that we don't pay our police nearly as much as they can make in criminal ventures. For some of these guys, they like being cops. They like being out and about, being on the scene when stuff goes down. For many, this in itself is satisfying. Where else can you get the opportunity to kick some ass and get paid for it, legally? I've known police officers who confess that this is a large part of the appeal. They love some of the wierd situations that occur when they deal with the public. If you chat with an officer, have him tell you some of the wierd things they've seen while on patrol. You'll be laughing the whole time. But, as they get older and start having families, money starts to be a concern more than actually enjoying the job.

For some, the solution is going over to the other side. They are trained, after all, on how to detect strange things, so they are able to capitalize on their experience. If you are a criminal, you are actually better off becoming an officer for the training too. I suspect that the brothers who were police officers fall under the second category. After all, if the family business pays much better than being a police officer, and let's be honest, these guys aren't spring chickens, why not work in the family business? They probably entered law enforcement to learn how police operate. The best way to defend against your enemy is to know how they think.

I don't see that two of the bothers would become officers for love of the profession knowing about their other brothers. After all, most people whom I've known to be in that sort of business, will eventually get caught. Why would you go into law enforcement knowing that it's a matter of time before your brothers get caught and bring shame and suspicion on you?

I do think we ought to pay our police well, but I don't think that pay is the only solution to the problem. We would end up paying people to NOT become corrupt. They ought to do it for the sake of doing it. It comes down to a character problem. There is no way to assess a person's character. If you've ever taken a personality test, you know that you can make it say whatever you want it to say about you. It all comes down to figuring out what the questions are trying to gauge and answer the way a person with the desired character would. So, we have little defense against smart criminals entering our law enforcement agencies. Sometimes, their character flaw is latent and becomes pronounced with time and experience. The best we can do is keep an eye on our law enforcers and nail them to the wall when we catch them doing illegal stuff.

I am also watching a story that comes out of the South Texican about the possibility of Hidalgo County Judges being indicted. I'm completely in the dark about this. I hope nothing comes of it, but I'm prepared for the headlines.

Visit to Hillbilly's

After leaving the wedding reception for my cousin last night, my sister, my wife, and I decided to go out for a drink somewhere. My wife and I just hit our 30s and my sister is still in her 20s. We tried to think of somewhere to go. There are clubs like XS, Club Mint, and others that are popular, but it's mostly kids. A bunch of 18 to 24 year olds trying to look cooler than each other. Guys trying to look more badass than the other guys and the girls trying to wear as little clothing as possible. You have to be trendy and look like you've got money, even if you don't. That's cool when you're younger and have no sense. After a certain age, conversation starts to become important.
So we discussed some options. City Breeze is cool, but it hurts, physically, to buy a drink there. They nail you pretty good for a beer; don't even mention a mixed drink. Good thing there at City Breeze is that you can be outside and don't have to shout so loud to chat. None of us had been to Hillbilly's, which is just north of Dove in McAllen, by the tracks. So, we decided to try something new. It's an alright place. True to the name, it's decked out in a country theme. There's a mechanical bull. There are big bouncers inside. Most importantly, they have country music. The only place I've seen that many jeans and cowboy hats was at the Freer Rattlesnake Roundup. It was pretty neat.
I don't know if it is was part of the decor or the result of cowboy anger, but the men's room door has some holes punched through it. I was kind of hoping there would be a brawl breaking out to complete the stereotype. What I really dig about Hillbilly's is that they have the big, grey Rubbermade trash cans around the interior where people just walk by and toss their empty beer bottles. The result is a loud impact of a bottle upon bottles. The whole experience is a bit raw and Texan. I'm sorry that I don't have any western wear. I'm not that big into country, although I can two-step and look good in tight jeans and boots. My wife who does like country music, can't dance it or dress it. How's that for wierd? We'll probably go back, someday.

An RGV Wedding

Last night I had the honor of seeing my cousin Alexandra married. She and her older sister, Aidee, are daughters of my uncle, Guadalupe Humberto Silva, who died when Alexandra was months old in an auto accident in Montana. My aunt, Emma, and my uncle met in Reynosa and lived as migrants while they were married. That is why they were in Montana.
My mother was crying as she saw Alexandra in her wedding dress. My uncle was my mother's baby brother. She wished that he were here to see his beautiful daughter on this day.
The reception was nice. There was a DJ and mariachis for music. There was family from both sides of the border in attendance. The reception hall catered with brisket, potato salad, spanish rice, dinner roll, and iced tea.
I could go into more detail about what a wedding is like here in the RGV for the majority of residents here. Believe it or not, most people here don't have multi-thousand dollar budgets for their weddings. For most of us, a wedding and reception are about sharing a special time with family and friends. So, the demands on guests are not as princess stingent. I'll save that for another post.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Merck got a slap on the wrist

Starr County is known to give out ridiculous awards in civil suits. If you are going up against deep pockets, you want to somehow fall under the jurisdiction of one of their courts. Juries are likely to find against the deep pockets whether or not they had anything to do with the wrong and give out a huge award.
In the $1 Billion Vioxx case, the jury found against Merck and awarded $32 million in damages. The award breaks down into $25 million for punitive damages and $7 million for actual damages. However, since we have a cap on punitive damages at $750,000, Merck won't have to sweat most of the $32 million. This is a long ways off from the $1 Billion the family was seeking. Combined, the award is 0.775% of what they sought. It's a loss, but not a major loss. Of course, there will be appeals, which could overturn the decision or send it back for retrial. What will definitely be changed is the punitive damages award. The appeals court will reduce that to the maximum allowable.
This is bad for Merck because it lowers the bar for future lawsuits. In this case, the Vioxx user had only taken the drug for one month. In similar cases, juries found Merck not liable.
Adj. Prof. Israel Ramon, my Biz Law teacher, tells us that you never know how things will turn out in a trial. In his estimation, all you can do is take a shot and hope for the best. Many times, it's not a legal question, it's how the jury perceives the case.

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You thought I was kidding

I know you all think I'm kidding when I write that we are not in the U.S.A., and that this is the Republic of Texmico. I have proof of my assertion that the United States starts at Falfurrias. Have you noticed that the Minutman (minutemen?) group that is out helping the Border Patrol find illegal aliens is working out in the farms around the checkpoints? Well, have you? If the true border were in the Rio Grande Valley, these guys would be hanging out on the Rio Grande and not at ranches north of here. This is why we don't get any respect from Austin or Washington. They don't consider us part of the country.

Texas was a buffer for Mexico to keep out the gringos from the silver mines in the Mexican interior. It kept them out of the silver mines, but they took Texas. As part of the U.S.A., the RGV is basically a buffer to keep out mojados. It slows them down, but the mojados run the place. The valley is like Puerto Rico. We're a commonwealth. We can vote, we get benefits, we get taxed, and once in a while they throw us a pork barrel bone. But, this isn't the U.S. And we're not Mexico either. Just ask el Presidente.

Friday, April 21, 2006

What do you do with them?

In my Biz Law class on Tuesday, we touched on a topic that has stuck in my mind. I think we were talking about torts and we got off topic and started talking abouth the "loquitos" in our towns.

One story was about a man in Edinburg who would just call people from payphones and tell them all kinds of things. He even maaged to get through to the White House to threaten the President. The Secret Service called the chief of police, who just happened to be nearby and could see the guy calling. He explained that the guy is not all there. They thought he was kidding, how could he be standing there watching the guy do it? He assured them that he was not joking. Sometimes, the PD would arrest him and dump him over in Pharr.

In Mcallen, there is a man who goes through people's trash and takes out aluminum cans. People have complained about him. You know, there are people here who are poor, believe it or not. If you have a decent life, why are you complaining about a guy looking through your TRASH to make a living? Some people are just jerks. Of course, McAllen Police feel bad about harrassing the guy when they get called. I don't know if he's crazy or just found a way to make some meager cash.

In Mission, there is this one guy who is always walking around town. He wears a jacket all year, even in mid-Summer. It doesn't look like he changes clothes very often. You can count on him listening to a radio on his earphones. Some of the local restaurants already know him. Apparently, he has money to buy lunch and batteries for his radio. So far, he's harmless. He minds his business and just walks around town.

I'm sure other cities in the Rio Grande Valley have a loquito wandering around. You feel bad for them, but then they are doing what they want to do. They are usually happy to be left alone. Do we help them against their will? Do we allow them to continue freaking people out? I don't have an answer.

Riding around

I rode to McAllen from home today to get my bike serviced at Bicycle World. I've put a few hundred miles on it and it really needed a new chain and to have the gears adjusted. I also picked up a lock and some Teflon lube. I was looking for screws for the headset and other parts to replace the rusty ones on my bike, but Bicycle World does't carry them. Fortunately, Thor (yes, that's his name), a bike mechanic there, recommended a bolt and screw shop on 23rd that can fill the order. Apparently, each vendor uses different threads and the store has no interest in stocking all the varieties. If you're new to biking, you can buy a whole bike for a few hundred dollars. What distinguishes good bikes from what are called POS bikes, is that you can buy and replace every single component on a good bike from one of many different brands that all cost a geat deal. What you end up doing is replacing a good part with a really good part. So, as far as savings go, it's worthwhile to spend $400 to $500 or more on a good bike, up to $3,000 for road bikes, because you get a good deal on components and they are more durable. I'm not crazed enough yet to spend $100 for a handlebar that is 2 ounces lighter. Anyway, after Thor serviced my baby, I rode back to Mission.

These are pics of a tough job. These are City of McAllen guys working to run pipes under this drainage ditch, under and irrigation canal, and out the other side. In order to accomplish this, they have to dig really deep holes on both sides. As you can see here, the drainage ditch is pretty deep.

In the second photo, you'll see the backhoe on the other side. Fortunately for the other side, The ground is lower than in the first photo, so they don't have to dig as deep. Still, it can't be that easy to accomplish, even with equipment.

I took a photo from a distance to show how far these guys have to tunnel under. There is the drainage ditch, the dirt road, and two canals side by side. This project is on Bentsen Rd north of FM 495.

Going under is nothing new here in the RGV. Since the valley is so flat, engineers have no choice than to tunnel under waterways if they get in the way. In this photo, you can see the drainage ditch coming from the distance. It goes under the canal and then travels alongside on the opposite side. Bentsen Road is the bridge crossing over the canal on the right.

This is an example why I prefer a mountain bike to a road bike when I go out on rides. This looks like a tranquil scene somewhere out in the country. You can't tell that FM 495 is less than half a mile away. The biggest challenge with a mountain bike is that I can't rack up the miles like you can on a road bike. The best speed I can muster is roughly 10 to 12 MPH on dirt roads. I can up that to about 12 to 17 MPH on the street while worrying about getting hit by a car and shaking off dogs.

This is an old, unused irrigation bridge that crosses the Edinburg Canal, which starts in Mission. I had to cross the bridge on my bike because a gate was erected on the opposite side, blocking the path. I thought about walking across, but the concrete is pretty dilapidated underneath. I chose to ride across to cross faster. These bridges were used to bring irrigation water across to the orange groves. So, yes, you have a bridge for water to cross over water. Both the irrigation water and the drinking water for Edinburg come from the Rio Grande, but for some reason they are kept separate.
I took this photo because I like the house being built. I kept riding, but then decided to turn back and snap a picture. As you can see, it has a Spanish design. That's common down here in the Rio Grande Valley, given our heritage. However, the design went a little further by adding a small courtyard. When I become a rich bastard, I'm going to have a courtyard in my home.

When I got back to Mission, I saw this and thought it was cool. I don't support graffiti. I know it costs the community money to clean up the crap. On the other hand, this doesn't look bad and has a positive message. It says Jesus Loves Children.

I didn't outdo yesterday's ride by much. I only did 18 miles today. I was going for 20, but I stopped to do a job and had to leave as it started to get dark. I was without a helmet and without lights, so I didn't want to risk night riding. Today started out cloudy, like when I started riding. Later, the sun came out and the air was humid. You're ok while riding, but when you stop the sweat just pours off you in streams.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Went Bike Riding

Today was a good day for bike riding. There was a nice breeze that kept the temperature outside tolerable, even at midday. I was able to do 14 miles. I bought a computer for my bike, so now I don't have to guess how far I ride. It wasn't easy, but it wasn't a strain. I doubt I'll feel any soreness. I did, after all, ride about 6 miles last week. Those of you who engage in a sport know that it doesn't take too long to get reconditioned.

Today's route was from my apartment to Quick Wok, to Mission City Hall, to Mission CISD, to Mission Library, and then just puttering around town. I even stopped by Hollywood Video to pay late fees. I have some pictures on flickr.

Later, I'll be posting what will be on the MCISD ballot for May on I found out that the City of Mission is not having any elections this May.

Getting Ready for Da Vinci

My wife and I are preparing to watch The Davinci Code.

She bought the book and has read it. Now it's my turn to read the book. We like reading a book before watching a movie. We have discussed some of the history mentioned in the book as she graduated with a Bachelor's in History from UTPA. Some of the classes she took involved the bible. One thing that bothers her is that people are making a big deal about the book as if it were some authoritative book on the life of Jesus Christ. It's a work of fiction that borrows some historical evidence and twists it. Nobody got upset when Indiana Jones actually found the Holy Grail or when Constantine unearthed the Spear of Destiny. They didn't deserve any protest because they are works of fiction. Similarly, Dan Brown's book is a work of fiction.

Some of the facts that he does borrow is that historians do seem to think that Mary Magdalen was the wife of Jesus. The reason for this is that she was his "companion", which can mean both a friend or a wife. It is unlikely that she would have been another apostle. Why bother if society would not have taken her seriously. Women also didn't have the leisure to go around following a prophet. And, finally, people of the time kind of just hooked up and stayed together. Common Law marriage is nothing new to society.

At this point, without a marriage certificate or some other document showing Jesus and Mary M. as husband and wife, it's speculation. Things point that way, but nobody knows for certain. It's still and interesting story. I used to read comic books as a teen. On occasion, Marvel Comics would print a What If? issue where they would explore an alternate universe if a hero had made a different decision in life or had lost a battle. The Davinci Code seems to me like a What If? story. What if Jesus was married and had a family?

You can take any history and twist it into a tale. Take Moses, for example. We know that he grew up as an Egyptian Prince before his exile. The Egyptians dealt with their Hebrew immigration problem by turning them into slaves. They were Red Sea mojados. So, what if Moses hatched a plan to rid the Pharaoh of his undesireables and to form his own kingdom? Moses would have been an educated man. He would have maintained some level of a relationship with his brother, the Pharaoh. Given the facts, you could probably say the he spoke to his brother and asked him to "Let my people go". Every visit would basically be a strategy session to develp a plan to fool the Hebrews into thinking that God was punishing the Egyptians for the Pharaoh's stubborness.

What about the plagues? Moses wrote the Old Testament. He could have taken some artistic license when he wrote it. You know, some exaggerations. Being educated, he wrote Jewish Law and appointed the families who would take care of the temple and other jobs. Remember it took him forever to come down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments so that the people started building a golden calf? Chiseling stone tablets is no easy feat, it takes time.

Finally, recall that the generation that fled Egypt did not make it to the promised land. They all died off in the desert. So, how would the new generation know if Moses did or did not part the Red Sea? How would they know about his staff turning into a snake? How would they know about the Angel of Death killing the first-born males in Egypt? Their parents told them and Moses wrote it down. The family running the temple had a vested interest in keeping up the story because the were set for life. The other families with assigned duties also had an interest in keeping up the deception.

I'm not saying all this about Moses is true. My point is, you can take a true story, and add some fiction. Suddenly, you have a whole different story. This is how conspiracy theories are built. The most shameful being the theory that some people knew about the attacks on Sept. 11 in advance and let them happen for political gain. Lies and fiction are more believable when you mix them with facts.

So, we are going to watch the movie when it comes out to see how it differs from the book. I will be reading the book to see how well the tale is woven into the truth. It's funny when family members try to disprove the Davinci Code. It's fiction!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Too Late

Too late seems to be the theme of my life at the moment. I found out too late that I was scheduled for an interview for a tech job at Hidalgo County. I found out too late that I had a court date at the Mission Municipal Court. I'm getting notices for cool events AFTER they have passed.

Consequently, I am living with the results. I'm jobless, I will have a warrant out for my arrest, and I'm missing the cool stuff.

The jobless thing, I can deal with. I'm still getting requests for handywork. It's not tech-related, but at least there is challenge and variety. The hours are flexible and it pays OK.

The court thing, I may end up with a warrant out for my arrest in Mission due to failure to appear in court. Back in June last year, I think they got some grant from DPS or some program that had Mission PD out in force giving out citations for traffic violations. I got one too for driving 52 in a 30. The thing is, he clocked me long before I arrived at the posted speed limit. I pulled over just a few yards past the sign because I saw the police car get in gear and turn to chase me. Being the only driver around, I knew he was coming for me. Technically, I was driving below the speed limit by the time I passed the sign to stop on the side of the road. I can't argue that I was not speeding, but I can argue that I was doing 52 in a 40. Hey, that's $24 savings.

Anyway, the municipal court could not keep up with all the tickets and I finally got my day in court on April 13th. Given their lack of concern for a timely court date, I have only checked roughly once a month. I checked more frequently in back in June, July, August, and September last year. I requested a reset yesterday and hope it will be granted. If it isn't granted, then I'll have the traffic fine and the fine for failure to appear. I'm going to walk to court in case, given my luck I should say "when", I have no luck fighting the ticket. Given that I have more time than money, I'll push for jail time. I don't suspect it will be pleasant, but I'll let the City foot the bill. Yep, I'm a hardened, cheapskate criminal.

In my Business Law class, Prof. Ramon wrote in the syllabus that he will teach us how to get out of jail. I can't wait for that class. You bet I'm going to take notes. That reminds me, we'll be having Rene Guerra, Hidalgo County District Attorney as a guest speaker in class tomorrow night. Maybe he can tell me how to get out of jail too.

So, overall, I'm having bad luck with finding out things in time. I'm going to be one of those guys that goes around being a day late and a dollar short. It cracks me up how hopeless I am sometimes. I wish I could be sad about my luck, but it's fascinating to see how much worse it can get. It's like watching the movie Monkeybone with Brendan Frasier. That was a horrible movie that I kept watching at the drive-in movies, back when we had one here in McAllen, thinking that it couldn't possibly get worse; and it did. I could really use a good depression right now, but my stupid optimist switch is stuck on the "ON" position.

If you need me, I'll be reading about court procedures. Please leave a comment after the post.

UTPA Salsa Band

I didn't record this, but ran into it.

Valley Symphony Orchestra Practice 5

Short clip of Valley Symphony orchestra practicing. Not a complete piece. This is the last.

Valley Symphony Orchestra Practice 4

Short clip of Valley Symphony orchestra practicing. Not a complete piece. Following are more of the same.

Valley Symphony Orchestra Practice 3

Short clip of Valley Symphony orchestra practicing. Not a complete piece. Following are more of the same.

Valley Symphony Orchestra Practice 2

Short clip of Valley Symphony orchestra practicing. Not a complete piece. Following are more of the same.

Valley Symphony Orchestra Practice 1

Short clip of Valley Symphony orchestra practicing. Not a complete piece. Following are more of the same.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Brain Dump 4-18-06

I was able to visit the elections office last week and gather some information. For elections run by the county, you can request a copy of campaign finance reports with a written request. You will pay 10 cents per copy. You may also purchase a list of candidates in an election run by the county. This eliminates city and school district elections.

For the May election, Hidalgo County has been contracted to run elections for Mission, Sharyland, and McAllen school districts and the City of San Juan.

Other available information from the County Elections Office are lists of contributors. You can request lists of registered voters, which include certificate number, name, and address. No other personal information will be included.

You can also buy a CD of voter history in various formats. They can provide you with printed reports, but with several hundred pages each, you are better off paying $17.95 for the CD.

The elections office also provides maps of the counties with delineated precincts and school district boundaries. The maps are available for purchase in whatever configuration you need that they can manage.

The elections office has recently started working with GIS (Geographic Information System) which is a great new information technology that uses maps. Cities use GIS to map resources like water lines, sewer lines, and other infrastructure. In addition, it can be used to track things like crime density or other demographic information. I know that the City of Mission has started working on GIS in addition to McAllen and some other cities. Unfortunately, not all cities are on board with the technology. Going back to the elections office, they are using GIS to code voter cards more accurately. One problem this is designed to solve is one my wife and I have had. We both lived at the same address, of course, but we had to vote in different precincts. Using GIS, the county wants to fix that sort of thing.

One important note is that it is important for the 911 system to be fully implemented so that the county can really implement GIS. In the meantime, whenever they have the chance, they go in and manually input the additional coding on voter records.

I learned that McAllen is the only city that does not hold city elections by precinct. They have elected to hold elections by district, which can span multiple adjacent precincts in whole or in part.

Unrelated to all of that, I also got a chance to talk to an old Edinburg political observer and have learned much about the history of the current crop of politicians. I have learned why the Palacios family is considered influential. I have learned about the factions involved in the power struggle for the city. Of course, the education I have gained is based on readily available public information that has been gathered by this veteran observer.

I don't have a dog in the Edinburg fight as I am a resident of Mission and cannot vote in Edinburg. Still, as there is plenty of blog representation of Edinburg, I would like to fuel the fire by doing what I did during the primaries and going out to meet the candidates. I'm working on getting an interview with Mayor Garcia. I haven't a clue how to get a hold of Joe Ochoa, his signs don't have a contact number. If anybody has a clue on how I can reach the former Mayor, please comment. Of course, I'll try to get the interviews on MP3.

For residents of Mission, I'll work on getting Mission election information. I do have a stake in at least the school election. There is still plenty of time before May 13, but I will be worrying about exams and finals over the coming weeks, so I want to get as much groundwork laid before then.

On another front, I went to visit Jason, my former concurrent boss at China Wok. I had a beer to take the edge off today's frustration and chatted. I have an open invitation to be a waiter there if I need some cash in the future. After work at the store, I used to hang out with him at the restaurant and bus tables, chop veggies, and other stuff for fun. I've learned a few things about Chinese cooking over the years. Of course, without the secret brown sauce recipe, it never tastes the same.

And finally, biking through the backroads and canals around Mission is on my radar screen again. I really missed biking. I'll take pictures of my trips to share with RGV Life readers. That is all. Good night.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Job Interview at HEB

This morning, I had an interview with Human Resources at HEB. I ran into them at the job fair at UTPA. I have a follow-up interview tomorrow morning, so I was doing some reading up on the industry. Invariably the question always comes, "Why do you want to work at XYZ, Corporation?" I thought I'd prepare for that.
There is some difficulty in coming up with something more substantial than "because you are hiring and I need a job". I've been researching the industry. One of the benefits of going to school at UTPA is that there is plenty of information lying around waiting for you.
I can't compare HEB to other grocery stores directly because HEB is a privately held company. All I can assume is that they follow the industry norms for grocery stores. This would mean that HEB has roughly a 30% Gross Margin, 6.5% Operating Margin, and a 2% Profit Margin as compared to national retailers such as Kroger, Safeway, and Albertson's. One thing to bear in mind however, is that HEB does not have any serious competition in the RGV except for Wal-Mart Supercenters and, if Target dares, Target Supercenters. I don't give K-Mart serious consideration because of their tendency to try to fool the public on prices. You can't raise the price on an item and then discount it to call it a sale.
Wal-Mart falls under a different type of retail industry segment. Their gross margin last year was 24%, with a operating margin of 6.6% and a profit margin of 3.6%.
The reason I mention this is because if you look in the History of HEB, you'll notice that they list the 2004 opening of the HEB Plus in San Juan, Tx as a major event. The future of HEB is going towards more general merchandise. I can understand the reason why. That extra 1.5% profit margin makes the endeavor worthwhile for the company. The way I understand the dynamics, grocery and general merchandise are considered different projects. So, the company is due for some growth in the coming years with the addition of their new product lines. Of course, where there is growth, there is opportunity for advancement. So, I'm going to get my foot in the door as an overnight stocker (which is the best starting pay for entry-level). Hopefully, with the retail experience I have, I can get a little bit more. It should help me stay in school and finish my degree as well. Also, they have an in-house management training program, for which I intend to apply repeatedly.
I wasn't expecting to find this opportunity for advancement at HEB. I'm glad I took the time to investigate what's going on. With any luck, I'll have good news tomorrow.

It don't get dumber

I normally don't criticize fellow bloggers out of courtesy. There is a certain amount of license that we can take when expressing our opinions about things and I give other bloggers some leeway in doing so. But I just read two posts at Edinburg News:
Edinburg News: Mayor Richard Garcia: A Republican in Democratic Clothing and Republican Throws Money in Mayor Richard Garcia's Campaign.

The premise of the author's posts are, to put it politely, absurd. What does taking money from a Republican have anything to do with your performance as Mayor? I worked for a Democrat campaign and will probably work another. That doesn't mean I believe in the Democrat ideals. I believed in the candidate. So what if Roy Ibañez supports Richard Garcia's campaign. Perhaps Roy thinks that the Mayor is a better alternative to Joe Ochoa. I'm sure the logic is,"If I MUST give to a Democrat, I'll give to (fill in the blank)". In fact, I'd give Mayor Garcia kudos for his ability to attract bipartisan support.

Are we to believe that Joe Ochoa would turn away campaign money simply because of party affiliation? I'd like to express some really rude things over how insulting to the public's intelligence those two posts are, but I shall bite my tongue. I can deal with the political bias in Edinburg News as a counter-weight to Edinburg Politics. But, come on. Give the public some credit. I'm going to start a list of the Top 10 dumbest posts on Spin RGV to discourage this sort of thing.

While I agree that doing things in secret is not cool and I would have given the author credit for that, the author goes on to imply that UTPA leans Republican. I'm sorry, April Fool's Day is long past. Think about it further, it's one thing for Democrats to overwhelmingly hold offices in Edinburg, but the author further brags that Dems practically OWN Edinburg and any support for Garcia by other Dems is tantamount to crossing party lines. Pish posh! So long as Roy Ibañez is not a criminal, what does it matter in a local race? The Mayor is not going to decide on a major abortion case. He's not going to fire all the Union workers in the city. He's not going to cut taxes for everybody who pays taxes (although I can hope). He's not going to reduce the size of government in Edinburg. He's not going to start a school voucher program. He's not going to do anything Republican. Last I checked, money is green, not red or blue.

Proceed with your political bias, but don't make out the Rio Grande Valley to be a bunch of fools. For shame.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

RGV Life Podcast #14

Interview with Esteban Anaya during Easter Sunday. Chit chatting about his experiences traveling the U.S. In Spanish. Unedited. He was in his teens and early 20s in the 1960s and traveled the U.S. as a migrant worker.

MP3 File

Happy Easter

Easter is obviously a Christian Holiday that celebrates the resurrection of Christ from the grave. This miracle is central to the Christian faiths. If you cannot believe that Christ arose from the dead, then you will find it difficult to believe that he was the son of God and that he performed miracles.
In the Rio Grande Valley, the majority of the population is Catholic. Whether we believe the miracle or not, most of us celebrate Easter. When you drive around in the week prior to the Easter Holiday, you will see vendors lining the the main streets with gift baskets, piñatas, and cascarones. The baskets are usually pastel colored with gifts for the children including stuffed animals, candy , toys, and other trinkets. The piñatas are made in bright pinks, blues, yellows, and other quasi-pastel colors. They are in the shapes of rabbits, eggs, chicks, and other commercial symbols of Easter. Cascarones are egg shells that have been emptied, washed, decorated, and filled with confetti. The cascarones are a great deal of fun because you crack them over the heads of friends and family. So, you'll see plenty of valley residents walk around with confetti in their hair. Some people also fill the eggs with flour, which is more difficult to take out. If your arm is fast enough, you don't have to catch somebody to crack a cascaron on their head, you can toss it hard and the egg's velocity will cause it to smash open on impact. It stings a little too.
Other customs of this region include the ubiquitous barbecue. People in the valley don't need an excuse to fire up the grill. But today, it is a for sure thing. The common fare at most barbecues are fajitas, chicken, and sausage. For those of us who have been anglicized, you may see hot dogs, hamburgers, and maybe even bratwursts. Side dishes include frijoles a la charra, which are beans with peppers, bacon, tomato and onion. These can be spicy, depending on the cook. Other side dishes are common to other parts of the country, such as mashed potatos,  potato salad, corn on the cob, etc. Some families may not have had enough of lentils, nopales, fish or shrimp patties, and capirotada (a sort of bread pudding) for lent and will bring those out too.
The parks are generally packed during Easter Sunday. In Mission, Anzaldua's park is a favorite destination, and is right on the Rio Grande River. Of course, there are plenty of parks around. If you have a large home, you may find that your family comes over to your place for Easter. The reason you need a park or large place is, of course, for the Easter egg hunt. After the hunt, you get all the kids together and take a whack at the piñata. Afterwards, you let the kids run around while you chat with other adults and enjoy a cold beer. Life is good.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Is the RGV a good place to retire?

I received this email from an RGV Life reader:

Estimado Shaine,

Stay with it. You're going to find a good job.
Anyone who is trying as hard as you are,...... will have success.My name is Thomas Chubco Bear, currently retired in Mexico (Queretaro, Queretaro) and I have a question. For medical reasons, we have to move back stateside and I was wondering if you think the Rio Grande Valley is a good place for retired folk like us? We have been here in Mexico about three years and love the weather and inexpensive living, but think RGV may be a good second choice.Your opinion, please.

Thank you so much.

Thomas C. Bear, Queretaro,

I'm sorry to hear that health reasons bring you back to the U.S, señor Bear. I think that living in the Rio Grande Valley is a good compromise. The U.S. doesn't actually start for another hour north of here at Falfurrias. However, we do enjoy the quality of life experienced with other parts of the country. Our cost of living is cheaper than other parts of the country as well due to our proximity to Mexico. So, labor and goods are generally less expensive. Most retired people I have known like to keep expenses low, so this is a plus. You can save more money by taking the occasional trip across the border.

Many people who retire here come from up North. The pattern I have seen from my Masonic friends is that they come here for a season or two in their RV before finding a lot somewhere and setting down roots. There are plenty of 55+ retirement commmunities around. We do get flooded with Winter Texans every year, but in the early Spring, they start heading home. This is good because you can always strike bargains for things that they don't want to schlepp back home.

The only thing that makes it tough living here is the heat and high humidity. This is easily solved by doing activities during the morning and evening hours while taking the afternoon hours off. Of course, you'll spend about $150/month on electricity for the air conditioning. You'll save more than 50% of that during the Winter as there will be days you can leave the windows open and you will rarely need to turn on the heater.

Depending on which county you choose, the heat is mitigated. As you get closer to the coast, the temperatures become more moderate, but your insurance goes up due to the hurricane threat. The further west you go, with my hometown, Mission, being the practical limit, your insurance rates go down, but it gets hotter.

An important decision on where in the RGV to live will depend on the medical condition that brings you here. If it is general medical, Harlingen may be a good area in which to live. They have plenty of doctors and the Valley Baptist Medical Center, which I understand gets high marks for excellence. If your condition is heart related, McAllen has the McAllen Heart Hospital and also plenty of doctors. They are really good at what they do. They specialize in and only treat heart conditions. McAllen also has the McAllen Medical Center and the Rio Grande Regional Medical Center. My father, who had heart problems before a bypass, stayed at the heart hospital a few days. I was impressed.

As the RGV Life description says, hardly anybody leaves the Rio Grande Valley. Many of the people who leave eventually come back. And those who come here by choice stay here. Believe or not, a large part of the population in McAllen are middle to upper class Mexicans who have second homes here and come over on weekends. Of course, their children often end up staying here during the school season and go home for the summers. It's not a bad place to live.

I hope this helps. If you have any more specific questions, I'd be glad to reply. Good luck.

Volunteer Work

Saturday morning next week, I will be volunteering for a project for the Mujeres Unidas Nueva Vida Housing Program. Some of the work will be laying down sod, resurfacing, repairing the playground, and building/painting picnic benches. Transportation will be provided by the organizers.

The end is near

Denise asked me to find the article where Al Gore predicts the end of life on Earth due to global warming. So, I found it.
The whole thing started with my assertion that Gore went nutty after losing the election. The context in wich I wrote it was that the current County Judge should not go MIA. He should continue to serve to the best of his ability and keep his head high because he lost by just the slightest margin. If this were a landslide loss, I would understand him feeling rejected. But with slightly less than 50% of the vote, he has a chance to do other things, including taking on Juan Maldonado.
If you recall, after the election, Al Gore lost his seat in Tennessee and went MIA. When Gore reappeared, he was all Grizzly Adams and had dreams of starting a TV network. He also went around doing speaches eviscerating the President for any decision. Every time he showed up on a TV show, he kept making jokes about his loss and how he has moved on, despite not being asked about it.
I think Judge Garcia is smarter and classier than that. He should continue to give us his best to the very end of his term. This way, he can hand JD Salinas the keys to the county in great condition, hoping all the while that JD runs it into the ground. Hey, Garcia can hope too.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Busy, busy

What a busy day. I went to the Job Fair at UTPA and met several people. Here is a pic of the University Ballroom when I got there. There weren't that many people yet as it was scheduled for 10 AM and I got there at 9:48. Still, the recruiters were ready to go. I signed up for a raffle and got a bag with a t-shirt and some stuff. I then walked around and met some people.

I first chatted with Amy Navarro and Rebecca Romeo of Red Bull Energy Drink. They are looking for people to promote their product. I'll be checking out the website to apply and get more details later. I'm not above embarrassing myself to promote a product, I do it for free everyday anyway.

Another notable person I met was Denise Juarez from the McAllen Boys and Girls Club. It seems like such an organized place by her description of the program. I applied there. I'll visit to see what I can offer. For certain, I want to sign up my daughter for the Summer program.

I also talked to military recruiters. I can join the National Guard, it appears, up until age 38. The only thing is that I may have to get a medical waiver because of the metal parts in my leg from my accident as a teen.

I spoke with the UTPA Police recruiters too. I applied for the positions there directly, bypassing Human Resources.

I also spoke with recruiters for HEB. Suprisingly, they set me up for an interview on Monday. That's quick decision making. I did write that I'm not available to work until May 1st to give me time to get other offers.

I spoke with UTPA Peer Advisement Services. They are looking for peer advisors. There aren't enough hours for me to make a go at it, but I'll pass along the information given to me by Mary de Leon and Carina Torres. Academic Advisors help incoming freshmen learn how to navigate the University's departments and resources. If you know somebody who would like to earn a little cash here and there, have them call 381-2529. The job is for 10-15 hours a week until December.

I applied with the Edinburg Teachers Federal Credit Union. I know now that it was a waste of time filling out the ap. They run a credit check and it has bearing on their decision. I've had a tough time scraping by these past few years, so my credit it shot. I guess I can give up on working at a bank.

I did meet a fun bunch of people from the Outback Steakhouse. I would love to work there. They seem to be very easygoing and fun. They'll let me know today if I'm in.

The Disney College Program Rep was there too, David. I didn't catch his last name. Man, he had a perfect smile and was really enthusiastic. Best of all, he explained that they look at more than just your GPA. Being primarily an entertainment company, they try to look at you as a whole before making a selection.

From there, I made my way to the Hidalgo County Elections Office to learn more about the services they provide. On the way, I stopped by the Richard Garcia campaign headquarters and picked up a push card. At the elections office, Belinda Sagredo, who could answer my questions wasn't in, so I went to HR to turn in my application. On the way back, I stopped by the courthouse to visit a high school friend, Belinda Salinas, who works for the DA's office. I also asked, while going through security, about the foreclosure auctions. They are held on the first Tuesday of each month starting at 9 or 10 AM. Now I know for next month. I then went back to the elections office and spoke with Belinda Sagredo. I'll write more details on another post. I wanted to stop by City Hall to see if I could set up an appointment to interview the Mayor, but I was running short on time. So I came back to Pan Am to upload the pics and post this blog.

Last night while preparing, I saw that the City of McAllen pays pretty well for custodians and street maintenance. I may just have a go at it. At $9 an hour, I'm willing to refill paper towels and sweep at the airport. I'm going to check out jobs at the City of Mission as well. One HR person I met today told me that the school districts also need techs and pay better than government jobs. Now, I gotta race back home to pick up my wife from work and pick up the kids. Oh, and before I go, here is a pic of my in my fancy clothes. I'm one sexy bitch.
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