26 February 2006

illegal aliens or self-leveraging entrepreneurs?

What does it mean to cross into another country, stay illegally either avoiding border guards in the first place or overstaying a tourist visa, find a series of short-term jobs that pay cash, all while staying out of sight of the government whenever possible? According to a popular NYT article , it means "having international experience under your belt" (about which "employers are enthusiastic"), demonstrating that you are "inquisitive, flexible and adaptive---valuable skills in today's workplace," and, (contrary to what the cynics say), "it's not a money-making move," but rather "It puts you in a position to leverage yourself."

At least for some people. Meanwhile, Congress is starting to consider a guest worker bill for immigrant labor from south of the border. What are some of the key provisions for the budding Mexican entrepreneurs?

Applicants would be sponsored by employers — though they would be allowed to switch employers during their time here — and would undergo background checks and medical screening.


The draft bill would also authorize millions of illegal immigrants who arrived in this country before Jan. 4, 2004 to remain here indefinitely, along with their spouses and children, as long as they registered with the Department of Homeland Security, paid back taxes and remained law-abiding and employed, among other conditions.

Elsewhere in the paper, the Times editorial page argues that in "a nation that insists on paying as little as possible for goods and services, and as long as it remains impractical to send lawns, motel beds and dirty dishes overseas," we need a more humane and reasonable immigration policy. It says that "Congressional action is long overdue," and closes with
Laws that make it a crime to help illegal immigrants find work will make outlaws out of local leaders whose only crime is to want to live in orderly, humane communities.

Setting up a hiring site with bare-bones amenities like benches and bathrooms is not an indulgence of lawlessness. It is a common-sense tactic to help prevent the exploitation of workers, to rein in unscrupulous contractors and to impose some order on the chaos. It is smarter and more humane than the cruelty of harassing legislation that hopes, somehow, to make all those men and women disappear.

In other words, taking a practical approach to migrant labor as a solution to our demand for low wage, unregulated, seasonal work isn't about coddling illegal immigrants; it's the only realistic and humane solution to prevent them turning into a social problem for us and our communities.

(Not that I don't agree with the policy position of the NYT in both cases: I think living abroad as soon as you're able to be independent of your parents is a good idea, and most of the immigration reforms proposed right now would help people. It's just the terms of the debate, and the implicit assumptions that shape them, that are fucked up. This sentence lightly revised 9 July 2008.)

On a vaguely related note, I have at least one more data point supporting this essay: a white Parisian woman I talked to who distinguished the Maghrebians (French citizens living in Paris of N. African descent) from the French. As in, les Maghrebins in this neighborhood of Paris do X, but les Français living there do Y. I still love it here! And in my very limited experience, I still see a decent amount of social mixing between natives and immigrants. But I had to point this out.

12 February 2006

Senegalese recipes

general principles: Almost everything is in big pots on high heat. Use lots of mustard and garlic, and add the mustard early so it infuses the onions.

fish balls

Mash up pepper, garlic, parsley, Maggi (basically bouillon cubes, but the Senegalese version has MSG too), tuna and a little flour---in that order---in either a food processor (Western version) or a giant mortar and pestle (Senegalese version). Form into little balls (it helps to rub your hands with oil for this) and deep fry in batches, turning only once or twice through the whole process. Remove from oil with a slotted spoon when each side is done.

Next, dice onions and fry in the leftover oil (preferably peanut oil) until light brown, then mix in a good deal of mustard (something like smooth Dijon) and keep cooking for a few minutes. Meanwhile you should be boiling some vegetables (like eggplant, cabbage and carrot) in a sepearate pot. Once the onions have absorbed the mustard, add the vegetables and just enough of the water to cover them (using water that's been boiled means tap water is fine). Add salt, more Maggi and a little vinegar. Boil till everything is soft enough, then add the fish balls, and cook on low a little more. Serve with (short-grain) rice.

Fermented lemon juice: Add salt to lemon juice and let it sit in the sun for awhile. Here I've only tasted the final result.

Yassa chicken

Again, food process peppercorns, then garlic. Then combine with (optionally fermented) lemon juice, Maggi, lots of mustard, and a little water and boil chicken in this. Once the chicken is nearly cooked, remove it from the marinade and grill it on both sides. Meanwhile boil vegetables separately (carrots, eggplant, "African eggplant", whatever). Meanwhile, slice onions and fry in a ton a of (peanut) oil until brown. Then add mustard, cook for a little while, add the chicken marinade, the vegetables and, if necessary, some water. When the chicken has been grilled on both sides, add that too, but cook on low, and only long enough for the chicken to absorb some of the sauce. Optionally separate chicken, vegetables and sauce for serving. Serve with rice.


Mix flour, salt and yeast, then add just enough water until it's nice and doughy. Knead well, brush with a little oil, and leave covered in a warm place; then repeat. Prepare tuna as for fish balls above, but cook in oil for awhile, then mix tomato concentrate with water and cook in this mixture until most of the water is gone. Then let it cool. The tuna should be breaking into smaller and smaller pieces, but by the end it may be necessary to further shred it. Grab a small ball of dough and flattened on an oiled surface, put a little bit of tuna in the middle, fold over, and press the edges shut with a fork. Deep fry in batches until golden brown, turning once or maybe twice. Sometimes served with a tomato-onion sauce, but instead this recipe combines the tomato with the tuna.

These really are tasty, but I'm not sure my sketchy description is good evidence for this. A shout-out goes to our femme de menage Yaye, for among other things, cooking all this, and then having the patience to teach me. At some point, Shefali will enter a recipe for Mafe into the comments and I'll update the post.

09 February 2006

Her voice is full of money

"She's got an indiscreet voice," I remarked. "It's full of---"

I hesitated.

"Her voice is full of money," he said suddenly.

That was it. I had never understood it before. It was full of money---that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals' song of it... High up in a white palace the king's daughter, the golden girl...

From The Great Gatsby.

This same idea (substitutability of desire) can also be illustrated using more scientific language. The link is via Tyler Cowen, who also argues that in general, fiction and science have more in common than one would think.

Update: After reading that last paper, I can say that you get everything you need out of it from the abstract, or even just spending awhile thinking about the title and its implications. To me the overlap can be seen by looking at the questions: how do you argue that your claims are true, that they are interesting and/or that they generalize? In both cases a blend of precision and ambiguity is necessary, a specific insight together with a claim to reflect a larger truth, etc... The differences between a novel and a scientific paper then come from different definitions of truth, interestingness, and so on. We can see this by looking at how these concepts have changed over time: for example, many early English novels were meant to scare girls away from sex, so they were much more didactic and specific than, say, a Salman Rushdie novel. The "interest" of these novels is clearly related to their educational/social value; in some ways not so far from a modern social science paper, but with a more condescending relation between author and reader. Similarly the concepts of truth and universality change over time and across fields. But these are just the sort of things I was hoping were explored in Cowen's paper! I'm not actually going to go through them myself...