Friday, October 29, 2004

I Stand Accused

Why is it that the best music is difficult to like at first? I recently purchased Elvis Costello's "Get Happy" on the basis of the fact that I like Nick Lowe (who produced some of the tracks). At first, I was a little dissapointed. It's mostly blue eyed soul, circa 1980, sung by a man whose voice I had at first found grating. After several spins on the cd player, however, I'm revising my opinion. The record is great. I appreciate Costello's misanthropy and many of the tracks rock. "Riot Act," "I Stand Accused," and "Secondary Modern" are my current favorites. Best of all, the bonus disc is one of the best that I have ever seen assembled. It has live tracks, alternate versions with dramatically different tempos or instrumentations, as well as songs that didn't make the original record but should have. All in all, you get 50 tracks for about the same price as a normal CD. All of his other early work is packaged in a similar way, which is great. You get the tight mastework and the sprawling (but appealing) mess all in one.

Posted by Catfish DuBois


Friday, September 24, 2004

Forced Labor

While I'm on the subject, the Washington Post has another article at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A43473-2004Sep22.html reporting on the latest estimate that "10,000 people are working as forced laborers at any given time across the United States" The report, titled 'Hidden Slaves: Forced Labor in the United States,' was released by the University of California at Berkeley's Human Rights Center and the Washington-based anti-slavery group Free the Slaves. I haven't read the report yet, so I can't comment on it, but I will be interested to see what the tiest to immigration are. You can access the report at http://www.hrcberkeley.org/download/hiddenslaves_report.pdf. Hat tip: CIS.

Posted by Catfish DuBois

That's what I'm talking about . . .

David Cho has an interesting article in the Washinton Post about the results of a survey of day laborers in Fairfax County, VA. Read the whole thing at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A41909-2004Sep22.html. Now most of these workers were immigrants. No effort was made to ascertain whether they were documented or not, but the article takes pains to point out that some are likely legal immigrants due to assylum rules and testimony or individuals workers. This article dovetails nicely with the point I was making yesterday. Clearly, many of these workers are able to find jobs that pay a legal (if not reasonable) wage. In fact, overwhelmingly, these workers reported earning more than $5.15 an hour and a sizable percentage earned over $10 an hour. However, as I pointed out yesterday, this informal labor market is clearly open to abuse by employers. Two quick quotes:

"At the same time, 84 percent said they have had problems with their employers. The most frequent issue cited was a lack of breaks. Others complained they were paid less than what was agreed upon, and some said they were not paid at all. Other problems included robbery, police harassment and in some cases violence."


"We are not even covered by the company's insurance when we have work accidents and get injured."

Keep in mind that the numbers interviewed was something like 200, and the reports authors do not make any policy recommendations because of the need for more data.

Hat tip: Center for Immigration Studies (http://www.cis.org/support.html ), a restrictionist group that collects wonderful daily summaries of immigration news.

Posted by Catfish DuBois


Thursday, September 23, 2004

Always a Laborer, Never a Citizen

The above was the title of an article that I read about migrant labor from Mexico in the 1920s. In fact, it was one of the first things that I read on the subject. Unfortunately, I have mislaid the cite, but I seem to recall that it appeared in a collection edited by David Guttierez. The reason that I bring it is that it represents my reall fear about contemporary immigration. Let me say that, in general, I am in favor of liberal immigration policies. In fact, I agree with many of my friends on the right that relatively open borders has provided the best anti-poverty program in US history. Studying immigrants has also given me an admiration in what can be accomplished by even the poorest and "unskilled." Still, the one that I find really worrying is the possible erosion of labor standards that mass immigration somethimes brings. In particular, I am referring to illegal immigration and some guest worker programs in which immigrant workers are denied all three of the basic protections of workers in a free labor society--the right to quit/seek more renumerative employment, the right to organize unions, and the right to basic legal protections. Anything less than this is some sort of quasi-slavery.

The Nation has an article about this very topic. It appears that blacklisting and intimidation of guestworkers has been a problem for North Carolina Tobacco Growers. Now, some progress has been made, but this is the kind of issue that I would like to know more about. Is anyone aware of other sources out there. The Nation article can be found at

Posted by Catfish DuBois


Tuesday, August 31, 2004

New Discoveries

Having recently gone through a Nick Drake appreciation phase (courtesy Musicmatch Jukebox), I'm now on to Nick Lowe, who is actually quite good. As legions of people who are hipper than me have discovered, his work in the 90s was excellent. I wonder why I never discovered it at the time, particularly since I was busy snatching up every alt country CD I could find. I, of course, also endorse his late 70s-early 80s solo work. The Brinsley Schwartz stuff is pretty good too, altough harder to come by.

The upshot of all this is that I have come to realize that stylistically, I don't really appreciate popular music that sounds more modern than mid-80's roots rock. I feel like I should seek out the cutting edge of today's music or at least buy some old Massive Attack CDs, but my heart is just not in it.

Oh well.

Posted by Catfish DuBois


Thursday, August 05, 2004

Ignorance on Display

Sometimes I think the above would be a better title for this blog. I have begun a cautious foray into literary criticism and like just about everyone, I am interested in the odd debate over the "canon." So far, I have read some of Terry Eagleton's work, who seems to argue that literature be replaced with a study of rhetoric. I have also begun to look at Harold Bloom's work, who seems to argue that we can locate a sort of Western Canon by paying attention to which works have proved most influential to subsequent writers. This seems more defensable to me than an apeal to abstract aesthetic standards. Still, it seems likely that determining influence may be a bit circular. How do decide which writers are important enough to bother with tracing their aesthetic geneology. I'ld appreciate any suggestions from folks familiar with literary criticism about where to look next in my attempts to understand the debate over the canon.

Posted by Catfish DuBois
Little Boxes

As my suburbs class is winding down, I'm begining to question some of the assumptions that I had going into it. Originally, I had designed the course to be interdisciplinary in the sense of looking at the same issues or phenomenon (in this case the suburbs) through different disciplinary lenses. These lenses ended up being history, literature/film, and poltical science. The tie in was the question "how did the post 1945 suburbs change America socially, politically, and culturally." In some ways, the course has been a success, but like all interdisciplinary endeavors, it threatens to require too little attention to each disciplinary assumptions. In particular, I feel like the literature section of the course has suffered, partically because my training is weakest in the area, but also, because it is much different methodologically than social history or political science.

When I designed this course, I specifically did not want it to be an American studies course. That is, I did not want to seemlessly integrate different disciplinary perspectives, nor did I want to rely on cultural studies methods. Instead, I hoped to stress how different discplines could attack a problem in different ways, with different advantages and limitations. This, I think, has come through ok in the parts that focused on history or political science (I also threw in a bit of sociology by throwing in Herbert Gans' _The Levittowners_). Anyway, I would be interested in hearing anyone elses experiences regarding the planning of interdiciplinary courses. See below for a sketch of the course outline:

Week One--Introduction, comparing US and European suburbs
Week Two--Historical Origins of suburbs through gov. subsidy and industry innovations
Week Three-Social life in 1950s mass suburban developments (Levittowns)
Week Four--Early social commentary on suburbs (1950s)
Week Five--The suburban short story (cheever)
Week Six--Feminism and the suburbs
Week Seven--Return of the Surburbs (Suburban film and fiction in the 1990s)
Week Eight--Suburban residence and politics (qualitative investigation)
Week Nine--Suburban residence and politics (quantitative investigation)
Week Ten--Political Consequences of suburban segregation

Posted by Catfish DuBois

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

History in the Garden

I'm teaching a class on the suburbs right now, and we are on the literature/culture section. I really enjoyed picking out the novels, films, and shortstories for this class--I've read more Cheever, Updike, etc. than I ever thought that I would. As the class progresses, a theme seems to be emerging--the imperviousness of the suburbs to "the world" or historical events. Let me give an example: the reading/films in question consit of _The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit_, Cheever's "The Country Husband," Updike's _Rabbit Redux_, Levin's _Stepford Wives_, and Boyle's _Tortia Curtain_. In each of these works, suburbia resists history--whether it comes in the form of World War Two, the Civil Rights Movement, the Women's Movement, or mass immigration. I'm not saying that this was always the reality, but there is certainly a romanitc, almost pastoral sense that history can, and should, be avoided. The irony is, of course, that the suburbs were possible because of transportation technology and the organization of the building industry along mass production lines. The irony of the commuting train bringing Tom Rath or Francis Weed to their pastoral suburban retreat would not be lost on Leo Marx (or Ralph Waldo Emerson for that matter).

Posted by Catfish DuBois

Monday, June 28, 2004

Summer Reading--Help!

This weekend was a working weekend for me. By Sunday afternoon, I was tired of grading, writing tests, and responding to student questions, so I went to the libary to lose myself in a book. For some reason, I was in the mood for a fantasy novel. Unfortunately, with the exceptions of Tolkien, I've never really read a fantasy novel that I liked. Even as a kid, I found Terry Brooks, David Eddings, and folks like that unsatisfying. I read them anyway because I had lots of free time, but by my midteens, I gave up fantasy reading altogether. Since then I've reread LOTR every five years or so and that has satisfied me. For the next few weeks, however, I have more free time than usual, all of which I cannot spend working, and I'm looking for a decent fantasy novel. It needn't be too deep (something along the lines of those Thomas Covenant Books would be fine), but I don't want a retread of LOTR. Any suggestions?

Posted by Catfish DuBois

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