No The Fall, But . . .

I’m miffed that The Fall‘s new LP, Imperial Wax Solvent, has not actually arrived on these shores this week, though our British brethren (’cause none of the sistren like The Fall) are merrily snatching copies of it out of bins in England’s green and pleasant land, and then going home to wax poetic about their acquisitions via their internet pipes. Neither eMusic nor iTunes has it available yet, and Amazon appears to have sold the two copies they had, so I’ve had to order from the label in the UK and patiently await the disc’s arrival. I guess this a good thing. Reminds me of those days when music wasn’t an instant gratification product, and you had to hunt for your prey before bringing it home to devour it. Made it taste better that way.

That said, it’s fortunately been a very, very good month for other music, so I’ve got a good base of new stuff to listen to. First and foremost, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! is a true masterpiece. I had written about Cave’s ferocious Grinderman project last year, and was vaguely nervous that when he returned to the fold of the larger, more baroque Bad Seeds that the energy would be sucked away again. Nothing doing, friends. This album is a beast, with instantly accessible melodies anchored atop some monstrous grooves and riffs. The lyrics are excellent, funny and wise at the same time. A great, great record by a band who I’d almost given up on.

On an emergent (i.e. not by people my age or older) music front, I’ve been enjoying listening to Colour Revolt‘s Plunder, Beg and Curse, Frightened Rabbit‘s The Midnight Organ Fight, and Plants and AnimalsParc Avenue. Colour Revolt are a pretty solid indie rock band, with a singer who occasionally evokes Bono, but not to his or anybody else’s detriment. Frightened Rabbit is odd and Scottish and noisy, with acoustic instruments making strange noises and a lot of quirky arrangements and vaguely creepy lyrics (witness the album’s title) sung in a strong Scottish accent, and I did I mention they are from Scotland? Plants and Animals are a little bit groovy, but they cover a lot of ground, and the opening cut on their album has the most spot-on perfect duplicate of Queen’s three-part vocal harmonies that I’ve ever heard, so that’s worth something.

 

Paper Papers

I’m sitting here at my desk looking at the three research papers I have to turn in this week for school, all printed out and tidy with their little black clips and minimalist cover sheets. There’s about 100 pages of paper between the three of them. And all of those little black words on them fell out of my brain, onto the sheets, oftentimes accompanied by migraine headaches.

I feel a palpable sense of relief and release as I look at my piles, as these are the last three research papers I have to write for my degree. It only took me 22 years to get from Bachelors of Science to Masters of Art, and these three papers mark the end of that process. Well . . . almost the end, anyway. I still have to present my Masters Essay and attend a few classes and process some paperwork and attend the graduation ceremony, but those things are all pleasurable and manageable compared to actually having to research and write papers from scratch.

I feel I should write more here on the blog tonight, but I’m flat and without emotional affect right now, benumbed by the moment and its momentousness with regard to my quality of life in the weeks and months and years ahead.

The only thing I can think to add right now is this advice to people in or recently graduated from college: if you think you want a graduate degree, then go get it as soon as you finish your Bachelors Degree. There will never be an easier, simpler time for you to do it, and you are still practiced in the academic arts.

Me, on the other hand? I’m old. Those school skills had dried up inside me years ago, and rekindling them was no mean feat, especially since I’m at a point in my life where all-nighters and cramming aren’t really viable options. Undergraduate work came easy to me. This didn’t.

So there’s my tidbit of wisdom for the day. Go get your MA or PhD or JD now, while you’re young and fresh! That said and done, I’m now going to go sit out back in my hot tub and boil out all the kinks and knots in my neck and back while looking at the stars above. I suspect I might smile more than usual while doing it.

Alive?

Yes, though feeling like I’m in some sort of time vortex as I’m wrestling the final pieces of my masters degree into shape, on top of work, on top of family, on top of life in general. I’m almost not sure how I will feel when this burden is finally lifted in a couple of weeks. I’m certainly looking forward to finding out.

Sad to see the Caps go down last night in a Game Seven overtime, and to the Flyers, of all teams, my least favorite NHL franchise of them all. Looks like the Wizards are gonna get swept too, after they stupidly declared LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to be over-rated. The Royals started out hot, but after losing four in a row dropped below .500 day before yesterday. Glad to see that my sports universe is falling back into its proper order. I don’t know how to handle pulling for a successful team. I get all embarrassed, assuming that everyone else considers me a bandwagon jumper, since no one could really root for such bad teams for so long, right?

A week from today the new album from The Fall, Imperial Wax Solvent, hits the shelves. Can’t wait. The geekoisie who are into them and post regularly on the obsessive sorts of websites that I frequent are declaring this one a masterpiece based on advance promos, which I refuse to download. I want the real deal.

Until then, though, back to the grindstone: three presentations, five classes, one major paper yet to finish. Not that I’m counting or anything.

Boston Grits?

I was in Boston for a conference last week, popped into my hotel’s restaurant and was tickled to see “Shrimp with Cheese Grits” on the menu. There’s not a lot of places up here in Yankonia willing to serve that fine Southern breakfast staple, especially with cheese. Which is one of the few things that you are allowed to put in grits, along with butter, salt, shrimp, Old Bay Seasoning and pepper. If you try to put sugar or syrup or fruit in your grits in front of me, like they’re stinking Cream of Wheat or something, we’re going to have words.

So anyway, I ordered up a bowl of Boston Grits with a side of sausage and some toast, both of which are great when dipped in grits. I merrily read the USA Today sports section while awaiting the goods, tingly with expectation.

There was a problem, though, when my meal arrived. The grits themselves looked good: they weren’t instant (yeah, I can tell), and they’d been cooked the right amount (you need to preserve a little bit of the rough corn texture, the grit as it were). But the cheese? Oh, the cheese. It was some kind of really sharp, white Vermont cheddar, crumbled up and stirred in so it couldn’t be scraped off the top. No amount of salt, pepper and butter could overcome that tangy New England taste, which had no business masking the gentle flavor of lye-soaked corn, coarsely ground and boiled. Tragedy. Woe.

The  proper role of cheese in cheese grits is to provide fat, salt, and orange color. Two slices of pasteurized cheese food product does the job, just right. Velveeta will work, too. If you must use cheddar, it has to be mild, and it has to come in a bag that is labeled “fancy” because it’s been shredded up really tiny-like, the better to blend. As a good rule of thumb, if you can’t find the cheese at a typical gas station mini-mart, then it doesn’t belong in your grits.

You can’t foo-foo up the grits. That’s just wrong.

Understanding Immigration: A Primer

Immigration policy in the United States has always hinged on two key questions: who is allowed to enter the country and, once here, who is then accorded the rights of citizenship?

Today, immigration falls under Title 8 of the US Code. Its volatility over the years is notable in that chapters 1-5 and 7-10 of Title 8 have been repealed or transferred over the years, while only Chapters 6 and 11-14 still govern.

From 1870 to 2003, immigration policy was administered by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), which at different times in its history was part of the Departments of Treasury, Commerce and Justice. Most of its functions were subsumed into the Department of Homeland Security in 2003, where it is now known as the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Questions about citizenship and immigration were pressing even at the dawn of the Republic; the United States Constitution (1787), Article One, Section Eight states “Congress shall have the right . . . to establish a uniform rule of naturalization.” The Naturalization Law of 1790 responded to Article One, Section Eight by allowing naturalization of “free white persons” “of good moral character” who had been in the country for two years and in their claimed state of residence for a year. While it was racially restrictive, it was considered radical in its day for its inclusion of people of all religious faiths.

The residency time limits for citizens were expanded by the Naturalization Laws of 1795 and 1798 (the latter, one of John Adams’ infamous Alien and Sedition Acts, was later over-turned); today the time limits are generally five years, (three years if married to a U.S. Citizen).

In the Supreme Court case Dred Scott vs. Sandford (1857), Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote a decision ruling, among other things, that slaves and their descendents could never become citizens of the United States. The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution (1868) over-turned the Dred Scott decision, making former slaves born in the United States citizens, and guaranteeing equal protection under the law for all persons.

Since the Civil War and the Fourteenth Amendment, immigration policy has tended to be cyclical; during periods of economic prosperity requiring an expansion of the labor force, policies tend to reduce barriers to immigration; during periods of economic malaise when labor forces contract, xenophobic reactions tend to fester, and pressures for more restrictive policies increase.

Take for example the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which suspended immigration from China, after large numbers of Chinese laborers and their families has come to the United States to work in the California gold fields and on the Transcontinental Railroad. This act was not repealed until 1943.

European immigration rose in the years that followed, which, again, resulted in restrictive legislation once the economic situation led to rising unemployment among native-born citizens and the resultant xenophobia that followed it; The Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and Immigration Act of 1924 established quotas for numbers of immigrants from selected nations, typically Asian, African, and Southern/Eastern European ones.

The quotas were reaffirmed by McCarran-Walter Act of 1952, but were finally abolished by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which was both an attempt to right past wrongs (paired with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights of 1965), and an attempt to curry favor in the Third World and among the “Non-Aligned Nations” during the peak years of the Cold War; the provisions of this act are still largely in effect, though numbers of visas issued, etc., have changed.

Key immigration legislation since then has included:

  • Immigration Reform and Control Act (1986): Made it a crime to knowingly hire illegal aliens, while providing amnesty to those already here.
  • The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (1996): Significantly tightened processes for prosecuting and deporting illegal aliens.

Today, the primary issues associated with immigration have to do with the differences between immigrants who entered and remain in the country legally, and those who either entered legally, but remained past the expiration of their visas, or those who entered the country illegally and still remain.  The Center for Immigration Studies notes that immigrant population in the U.S. (legal and illegal) reached an all-time high of 37.9 million in 2007. Immigrants tend to be less educated, are younger, have larger families, and earn less than native-born citizens also per Center for Immigration Studies research.

Pew Hispanic Center estimates there are about 12 million illegal aliens (nearly 1/3 of all immigrants) currently in the United States, a number supported by independent GAO analysis. Of these, 57% are from Mexico, 24% are from Central America, and the remaining 19% are from the rest of the world.

Note that illegal immigration from Mexico is not a new issue; in 1954, the INS embarked upon “Operation Wetback,” designed to deport 4 million illegal Mexicans from the country. Ultimately, they deported ~130,000, while another 1.2 million fled the U.S. rather than be deported.

Today, there are two primary fears driving the illegal immigration debate today: (1) post 9/11 fears of terrorists illegally entering the country to cause harm to its citizens, and (2) economic fears about native-born workers losing jobs to illegal immigrants, who also consume an inordinate amount of social service resources.

Interestingly, given the press this issue has received in recent years, the Center for Immigration Studies conducted a survey in 2008 which revealed that most voters in the Presidential elections generally didn’t know what their chosen candidates’ positions on immigration were—and often disagreed with them when they were informed.

The bottom-line fact of the matter today is that it would be physically and economically impossible to deport 12 million illegal aliens; even finding and identifying them would be an immense task. We can close the gates now, but we can’t remove those who have already arrived.

The legal side of the immigration issue also has its share of policy problems today, first and foremost involving the H1B Visa, which is issued to highly skilled immigrants. There are only 85,000 issued per year. Last year, 163,000 applications were received. The USCIS uses a lottery system to decide who gets them, so they are all consumed immediately each year. The most skilled workers often simply lose out to luckier applicants who may not be the best candidates.

Ultimately, the key issue for America’s policymakers is to identify how to incorporate illegal and legal aliens into the fabric of American life in a way that doesn’t cause undue hardship either to the government, the taxpayers, the social service and educational infrastructure or the aliens themselves. We can wall off the border with Mexico to our hearts’ content (at absurd expense), but there’s no way a modern “Operation Wetback” is going to reverse the cross-border flow of the past quarter-century.

Recommended Further Reading:

  • Urrea, Luis Alberto. The Devil’s Highway, Little Brown and Company, 2004.
  • Higham, John. Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, Rutgers University Press, 2002 (originally published in 1963).
  • Swain, Carol (editor). Debating Immigration, Cambridge University Press, 2007.
  • Tichenor, Daniel J. Dividing Lines: The Politics of Immigration Control in America, Princeton University Press, 2002.
  • Ford, William F. “Immigrationomics,” Economic Education Bulletin, Vol. XLVII, No. 10, American Institute for Economic Research, October 2007.
  • Hing, Bill Ong. Defining American Through Immigration Policy (Mapping Racisms), Temple University Press, 2004.
  • Center for Immigration Studies Website, http://www.cis.org.

Go Caps! Go Wizards!

I’ve written before about the heartache of being of long-time loyal Kansas City Royals fan. I may also have mentioned that I’m a long-time fan of the Washington Bullets-Wizards (NBA) and the Washington Capitals (NHL). While the Royals season is yet young (and they’re above .500 still), I actually have something to be happy about on my other sports fronts: with the Caps victory last night, they clinched their division and a number three seed in the playoffs. The Wizards clinched their playoff berth earlier in the week.

Believe it or not, this is the first time I’ve been able to root for both teams in the playoffs in the same season since 1987-88. They’ve had some playoff experiences, and even some successes, during that time, but never in the same year. The Caps have been hot hot hot for the past couple of months, and their squeaking into the playoffs was primarily a function of their slow start. The Wizards are, like most teams in the Eastern Conference, just jostling to see who will be the sacrifice set before whoever emerges from the far dominant Western Conference. They do have Gilbert Arenas back, so maybe they’ll get through a series if they get a good first round draw.

Either way, it’ll be nice to root for two of my favorite teams for the first time in two decades, however short lived the experience may be!