Friday, June 26, 2015

Same Sex Marriage a Right, Supreme Court Rules

The Supreme Court has announced its opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, observing that "As the State itself makes marriage all the more precious by the significance it attaches to it, exclusion from that status has the effect of teaching that gays and lesbians are unequal in important respects. It demeans gays and lesbians for the State to lock them out of a central institution of the Nation’s society." The Court holds that "the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty....[S]ame-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry."

My article on the immigration effects of same-sex marriage after the Court's decision in U.S. v. Windsor sets out the different ways in which a same-sex couple could seek immigration benefits after the Court overturned the federal definition of marriage in the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as solely heterosexual, and allowed immigration agencies to recognize same-sex marriages and give federal benefits to same-sex married couples. Sidra Vitale, Immigration Equality: How DOMA's Repeal Affected Immigration, 48 New Eng. L. Rev On Remand 7 (2013).

These effects are unchanged by this decision. What is changed is that immigrant couples won't need to go to another state to be lawfully married and then return home to seek their immigration benefits. What is also changed is the panoply of state rights and benefits associated with marriage that have been denied to same-sex couples until now. The DOMA decision opened up various federal rights to same-sex married couples (including immigration), this decision brings true equality under the law by ensuring recognition at the state level as well.

Friday, April 10, 2015

National Poetry Month: Oasis


Oh, dusty beloved:

Eat of my dates.
Bathe in cool water.
Lay your rug down and face Mecca.

Without you, I am empty.

04/10/2015, Sidra M.S. Vitale

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Sane Thanksgiving Cooking

My mother taught me how to cook (except for breads, cakes, pie and pastries - she's a quickbread girl and that's about it), and that includes our quintessential Thanksgiving meal. She also taught me not to get so frantic over doing something awesome for a meal. Keep it simple. Just roast a turkey, serve some mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, a veggie, maybe some rolls, and a pie for dessert. Phrased that way, it's not quite so intimidating, is it? Even when you're multiplying by a factor of 6 or something.

How to Sanely Produce a Thanksgiving meal:

Step Zero. Figure out how long it will take the turkey to defrost, and make sure it will be ready.

Step One. Bake pumpkin pie(s) and cornbread one night before. Also, hard boil a half-dozen or more eggs. Feel free to make the cranberry sauce, too. Your call. Ditto if you plan on making a yam or sweet potato casserole type dish - cook the yams/sweet potatoes the night before so they're ready when you need them. Maybe buy a couple baguettes as your backup bread. If you make your pie crust from scratch, now is the time.

Step Two. Bake any other pie(s) the next morning and clean up before starting everything else. Meanwhile, simmer turkey neck, maybe giblets, in a pot of water with a stalk of celery for however long you feel like it. Congrats, you just made broth. Make yourself some oatmeal and a pot of tea and relax and figure out how long you're going to cook that poultry. If you are stuck offering guests breakfast, keep it simple - oatmeal or something similar, toast/bagels and cream cheese or jam, and tea or coffee.

Step Three. Prepare cornbread stuffing - melted butter or broth, sage, onion, cornbread, any other herbs that strike your fancy. Maybe set the table for later.

Step Three. Put turkey stuffed with stuffing in oven at the appropriate calculated time. Put lard, butter, or vegetable shortening on breast. Additionally, take a paper bag and cut it to lie flat, then 'oil it' by rubbing it with the same sealant. Put over turkey. Make the cranberry sauce (cranberries, water, sugar) if you didn't last night. Take last night's hardboiled eggs and peel, then slice them lengthwise, smush all the yolk pieces together in a bowl with some mayo or yogurt and whatever seasoning strikes your fancy (dill is nice), and decant back into the half-egg shells. Congrats, you just made deviled eggs. Chop up some pieces of vegetables, and toss all that on a platter with a hunk of cheese, knife, and crackers. Open that jar of salsa and that bag of tortilla chips. That's your nibblies! Serve them in the living room, since the dining table is already set.

Step Four. Ignore turkey for appropriate hundreds of minutes. Occasionally, consider basting. Maybe even actually baste. Assemble any casserole dishes and put them in the oven at the appropriate time. Watch a movie, this is supposed to be a fun day for you, too. Put your feet up, you've been standing a lot and those deviled eggs are good.

Step Five. At an appropriate time based on when you plan to serve, cook mashed potatoes and one or two side vegies of your choice. Want some extra stuffing? Throw the rest of your stuffing into a pan, make sure it's nice and moist with broth or some turkey drippings or both, cover with foil, and pop in the oven. Make gravy, either from Bisto, or scratch, as the spirit moves you.

Step Six. Are you a roll or biscuit aficionado? You can make a plain biscuit from scratch in about 20 minutes (or cook biscuits from a can) - while the turkey is cooling after you pull it out of the oven. No joke. Or pull out the backup baguettes and warm them in the oven or microwave. Meanwhile, delegate opening any booze to someone else. Then, chow down.

In my experience, the people for whom Thanksgiving is more burden than anything else are the ones who expect themselves to produce a stuffed turkey, and potatoes, and a yam dish, and a green bean casserole, and brussel sprouts in a bacon maple reduction whatever, and a rice dish, and asparagus, and corn on the cob, and pumpkin, cherry, pecan, and apple pies baked from scratch, and a jello salad, and bread pudding, and bread/rolls/biscuits, and hot hors d'oeuvres. PARE IT DOWN. Whatever your signature, it'-ain't-Turkey-Day-without-it dish is (mine is cranberry sauce and the mashed potatoes) make sure you've got that precisely how you want, and then MANAGE the delivery of the rest. Steam your veggies in the microwave. Or cook the extra stuffing that way. Buy the canned cranberry sauce. It's the cook's day, too.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Immigration Update

Muy busy. Lots of people asking about the effect of President Obama's announcement Thursday. The short version is: did you come here as a kid, or do you have kids with green cards or who were born here? Have you been here for years? Got a clean criminal record? Then you might be eligible for something called 'deferred action' status and a 3-year work permit.

Someone called it amnesty this morning and I laughed. Amnesty would be the program implemented under President Reagan, which granted temporary residency and then lawful permanent residency (green cards) to people. This is just a decision (in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion) to not deport you right now, but maybe deport you later. A work permit is better than nothing, but it's not a green card.

The Citizenship and Immigration Service will be releasing more instructions, so we immigration lawyers know what forms to file, etc., but won't be accepting applications for at least a couple of months. This isn't like the President snaps his fingers and a whole new system springs into existence. It's a bureaucracy. It takes time to promulgate stuff.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Old Street Woman

Old Street Woman
Sidra M.S. Vitale

Every day she occupied the same spot on the street: grey, grimy. She, too, was grey and grimy. Not the kind of panhandler who cracks wise with passers by, the kind who flirts with the public. She was too tired for that. A broom that looked her age leaned against the wall behind her.

After the lunch rush, one of the baristas from the ubiquitous mermaid-encrusted corner coffee shop brought her a small bag with food in it. She ate it slowly, carefully, then sprinkled the crumbs out where the birds, and the three o'clock dog, could get it.

At three o'clock, a dog trotted purposefully down the sidewalk toward her, its owner inattentively dragging along at the end of a long leash behind it. Finding its offering of crumbs, it stopped briefly to accept them, made a brisk acknowledgement of the gift, then moved on, owner none the wiser.

Time ground past. Day after grey day, perpetually shortening, so that the people who might stop and give began wrapping up in scarves and hustling past to their next warm destination.

Occasionally, do-gooders would stop and ask her what she needed, shaking their head when she told them her cat was missing. “How long have you been on the streets, sister?” “Many years.” They'd exchange kind looks and not say the obvious: any cat of hers was long gone. A product of dementia, even, never existed.

On the coldest days of winter, she slept under the vent behind a hotel, broom propped up against the wall. A little circle of thaw, drawn out by man's machines, as an afterthought. Thrown-away heat.

But always she returned to her spot on the street, grey and grimy, with her broom propped behind her.

Year after year slowly eroded to smooth concrete dust, covering the old woman, until there was only fall, never autumn, in her hair, in her eyes, in her hands. Only the grey season and the three o'clock dog's daily walk remained.

But. One day, there was a sound of squabbling. Children, perhaps.

A squad of baristas from the mermaid's coffee shop were moving very quickly down the sidewalk, one of them carrying a cardboard box. Exclamations of “I can't believe it!” “Just left them there!” “Cruelty!” peppered the air around them.

“Here,” said the one who gave the old woman food sometimes, when they drew even with her. “Do you want to see? It's kittens.”

The old woman drew forward. A little litter of five peered back from their box, its holder suddenly proprietary. “How cute!” she told them. But did not touch. (Old street women don't touch.)

“We're taking them to the animal shelter.” “It's a disgrace.” “Who could do such a thing!”

“Yes,” said the old woman, to none of them in particular. “It's a disgrace to abandon kittens. You're doing the right thing.”

No one saw the black one disappear from its place in the box, masterfully, as all cats can.

It did not emerge again until escape was certain, and the box bound for a no-kill shelter was well away.

A small, all black, kitten. Blue eyes.

Slowly, as if re-learning the route, it climbed up the old woman and touched her cheek with its paw, looking intently at her face.

She looked back, concrete and dust and age falling away. “I have been waiting for you.” she said. And placed the kitten gently on her broom, pulling herself astride in one smooth, practiced motion. “Please don't fall off again. We have a lot of time to make up.”

High up above the clouds, the sky is not grey.


Monday, May 12, 2014

Book Review: The Extinction Parade, vol 1

I got the chance to read this through my subscription, and I'm so glad I did. It's a fascinating premise by Max Brooks (World War Z), even for those who aren't huge fans of zombie stories (like me). The zombies aren't really the point, or at least not so far. What is, is the threat to the way of life of vampires. Equally fascinating (and quite logical) that the main characters, as vampires, live in the developing world or elsewhere where there is sufficient room to fake papers and never seem to age. A very nice change from the traditional European motif.

Well-written and lovely art.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Fearing Me is a Good Idea

This is the world I am working toward:

If I do not say 'yes', you may assume that if you touch me, I will kill you.

A world where you don't get to say, "Oh, I didn't know you wouldn't be OK with my touching you," and get away with it.

A world where you don't get to push my boundaries at a bar and claim innocence and non-reprisal.

Nope. The world I am working for is the world of swift, merciless reprisal.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Observations on Studying The Great War

Observations On Studying The Great War
by Sidra M.S. Vitale, July 2012

The inhabitants of these British Isles
Are the descendants of berserker invaders,
and mad hillmen known never to yield the field of battle.

Only the mightiest survived those bitter clashes.
Their offspring have proven unquenchable heroes
on red European fields.

I still think this is one of my better poems.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Stooping to Ad Hominem Attacks Is Stupid

It's so much easier to attack a person than think critically about their (and your own) ideas.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Wonder Woman, I guess

We bent - you read that right, bent - TWO acupuncture needles in my ears at my acupuncture appointment yesterday. It was weird because I could feel that somehow my skin was more resistant to the needle than usual (these are super-skinny, slide-between-cells kinda needles), so I was expecting the insertion into different points of my outer ear (not inside the canal, jeez) to require more effort. My acupuncturist inserted a couple and then she was putting in the third, I think, and poof! I bent the needle with my ear.

And then it happened AGAIN on the other ear. I have needle-deflecting ears!

So, where do I pick up my invisible jet and bullet-deflecting bracelets? Clearly, I could use a pair.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Belated Birthday Care Package for Yours Truly

My folks sent me a belated birthday present care-package! How nice!

Contained within:

  • Movie swag:
    • 'Gravity' T-shirt and matching baseball cap;
    • 'The Hobbit' movie soundtrack including complete score by Howard Shore
  • Two tickets to any AMC or Leows Theater;
  • A copy of Margaret Atwood's _The Handmaid's Tale_;
  • And some homemade goodies from the garden:
    • sundried hot peppers,
    • dried figs,
    • spiced dried apple slices,
    • along with a jar of hot pepper jelly.

I am one lucky duck.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Framing as Opinion Instead of Judgment

I teach legal research and writing every fall, I've been doing it for about 5 years, now. One of the things that I must consistently train out of my students, and out of myself, is the tendency to equivocate and fail to actually state a position as a position, in favor of stating an opinion, or preference.

You can either say "I have a problem with XXX," or you can say "XXX is wrong." One is a statement of your personal opinion or preference. The other is a judgment. Preference-framing (I just made that word up) is a tactic we use, especially when unsure of the response of our listener, of minimizing the statement as a threat to the listener's worldview.

(You'll have noticed by now that women get to do this a lot. Because a woman who dares to say something as blindingly obvious as rape is wrong without wrapping it up in personal opinion or feeling, and words like "may" and "could" and "some" to be as non-threatening as possible, can, will, and does promptly get threatened with it.)

Amongst legal writers, we are less likely to say "I have a problem with XXX" but quite prone to shifting the subject of the sentence from I (or an implied I, since we almost never say I in legal writing) to some court (or other decision maker) that made a statement to the effect that XXX is wrong. When we do that, we practice a different, but similar, distancing mechanism, which is also implicitly a minimizing mechanism, because observing that a court said something lacks the power - is minimized in the same way as if you say "I have a problem with sexual assault at conventions" rather than "sexual assault at conventions or anywhere else is wrong" - of an authoritative moral judgment or statement of principle (legal or otherwise).

Statements of principle have power that statements of preference do not.

This is a problem for legal writing, which must, above all else, be clear and direct. It is imperative that we speak plainly because law is the tool by which we humans forge ourselves into distinct, moderately harmonious, communities. We don't all worship the same gods, but we do follow the same law. (Or are expected to follow the same law.) Lives are on the line, in law - therefore always make your case as powerfully as you can.

As I noted, this is properly a problem in all communication, not just legal writing.

We must all be on guard against our equivocating tendencies. Do not shy away from saying something is wrong, if it is wrong.[*] Otherwise, those around you may think you don't mean it to apply to them.

[*] Unless you must to protect your own safety, and rest assured I am intimately familiar with situations where that is true, but a discussion of such threats and responses to them is outside the scope of this post.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Consent: Only 'Yes' Means Yes

I tweeted a while ago to EverydaySexism about getting hit on and the guy not taking no for an answer (escalating to a proposal of marriage, a promise to cook dinner for me, and that he knew how to "treat a woman right" - the tone clearly encompassed "in bed" - in that order).

So, two men respond to my tweet (I didn't notice this until much later) in the "maybe it was a misunderstanding, it's not wrong for a guy to ask you out, is it?" type vein, which is just another way of telling me not to be so uptight. Which makes the interaction MY fault, and conveniently lets these men ignore any possible culpability or responsibility to change on THEIR part.

So, I respond this past week about the escalating to a marriage proposal part. This is Twitter, there's not room for me to say more. (Instead of accepting 'no', my self-proclaimed suitor escalated, basically, nagging me to get me to break down and say yes, or at least validate his value as a potential date/suitor/etc. Common tactic. We get it all the time, woman says 'no', man doesn't take her seriously because HE wants her. Her wants aren't part of the equation.)

I don't know why I bothered responding in the first place except I thought I was potentially dealing with an ally. I wasn't really thinking it through.

What do I get in response? "Well, if a guy asks you to marry him after you turn him down for a date, that's not sexism, that's insanity." Which, again, pushes any possible responsibility for accepting a woman's 'no' off men's shoulders, by marking the behavior I criticize as outlying or "insane" so as to avoid having to examine it and accept that this kind of nagging or escalation IS a common tactic that needs to stop. It's not like the proposal was sincere, the guy just didn't pay attention to my 'no'. It's the escalation, not the fact that the escalation included a cutesy proposal of marriage. That behavior IS definitely sexist.

No means no. In fact, unless there is a clear 'yes', any non-no, silence, polite disengaged smile, etc., ALSO means no.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Small Favors

It's a good thing you can't actually cast spells like Petrificus Totalus, because I'd probably wind up playing a horizontal Tetris game with all my fellow T riders.

And then I'd never get anything done. You know how addictive Tetris is.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Not what you want to read in an order from a Judge

With an order entered denying Defendants' Motion to Seal:

Motion denied. This conclusory memorandum is utterly bereft of specificity as to what exactly is a trade secret here or why disclosure of this dated material in any way impairs [Defendant]'s legitimate interests.

Today's Lesson: legal writing skills matter! At a minimum, they may save you from embarrassment. At a maximum, they may save much, much more.