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.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Currently Reading: _The Origin of Satan_ by Elaine Pagels

Oh, this is a fascinating book, laying out the evolution over time in the course of multiple gospels (each written later and later from the events they described) of the rhetoric used in deflecting blame for the Crucifixion from Rome to Jews in a region suffering from a Jewish rebellion against Rome, where there were political reasons for wanting such deflection, and the concurrent development of the idea of 'satan', of Hebrew origin, from an angel placed by God as an obstacle to someone, to an adversary of God's.

Genuinely fascinating.  I really like Elaine Pagels' writing, I felt the same way about her book _The Gnostic Gospels_, which I read a few years ago.

Now, I'm not a scholar of Christianity, so I don't know how much about the timeline of writing the gospels is taught to the typical Christian, but I had always assumed that the gospels were stories of people with first-person experience, so I tend to be astounded over the fact that that isn't true.

I'm not done yet, but I just had to stop and write about it anyway.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Various and Sundry

My brief for an appellate case before the First Circuit Court of Appeals is due in about 5 weeks. Yikes!

My Legal Research & Writing II class has started.  This is my fifth year teaching legal research & writing here, and every year I notice how I bring my own legal writing game up a notch during this semester-long course.  Every time.  I think possibly the most important lesson I have to teach as a (legal) writer is: be self-aware.  If you're not self-aware, you can never improve.

My article for the New England Law Review on immigration implications of the Supreme Court's decision overturning the Defense of Marriage Act is still in the editorial process.

My short story "District Court Station" - conceived of while on the air with Jordan Rich of WBZ Radio several years ago - is awaiting its fate at Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.  We shall see if they pick it up!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"Rewarding Mediocrity", the Fox News Way

Some idiot opined on Fox News recently (thank you Crooks & Liars for watching it for me) that raising the minimum wage rewards mediocrity.

Mediocrity is a very American term, don't you think? It expresses disapproval for being adequate, or ordinary. I consider it very American because it encapsulates the American Dream, of excelling from humble origins - basically, becoming extraordinary from ordinary stuff - via hard work and gumption, by sneering at those who have "failed" to become extraordinary.

Newsflash: most of us are ordinary ('of no special interest or quality, commonplace'). In order for there to be uncommon, of special quality, more than adequate, there must also be common. Ordinary. Adequate. Mediocre.

Minimum wage is a protection for the average, ordinary, common, everyday, worker. It's not a reward, it's a guarantee of "enough" to live on. The average worker should not have to work 60+ hour weeks. That's why we have 40-hour work weeks. The average worker should not have to work more than 8 hours a day without additional compensation. That's why we have overtime. The average worker should not have to work a second job on top of their full-time job merely to survive. That's why we have minimum wage. To protect the average worker.

If you, personally, are a special snowflake, more power to you. Statistically speaking: you're not.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Renaissance Woman

The curse of being multi-talented (no false modesty here, neighbors): no matter what you do, someone always says "what a shame you're wasting [some other talent]." Sigh.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Book Review: Cobweb Bride, By Vera Nazarian

Cobweb Bride, By Vera Nazarian

This is the first of the Cobweb Bride Trilogy, by Vera Nazarian, published by Norilana Books. The book gets off to a slow start, I found I wasn't absorbed until over 100 pages in. On at least one occasion I found myself thinking I was reading something better suited to the screen than a novel - there wasn't enough meat to characters' thoughts. More depth would have helped.

Once closer to the climax of this story, things took off, and I felt like characters had depth, and individual meaning.

Very interesting concept, uneven execution. I will read the next in the trilogy, definitely - I do want to know what happens next.

Sunday, May 12, 2013


An interview with Sylvia Boorstein was rebroadcast on NPR this morning for Mother's Day. She tells this story about observing how no matter how many times she misses her turn, her GPS in her car never gets mad at her. It just says, "recalculating", and keeps giving her new directions. Here's a quote from the interview on NPR's On Being with Krista Tippet:
I've never said it in a public audience, but I just thought about it recently. I decided that — I'll find out soon if this is a good analogy — but I was thinking about the GPS in my car. It never gets annoyed at me. If I make a mistake, it says, "Recalculating." And then it tells me to make the soonest left turn and go back. I thought to myself, you know, I should write a book and call it "Recalculating" because I think that that's what we're doing all the time.
And no matter how many times I don't make that turn, it will continue to say, "Recalculating." The tone of voice will stay the same.
This isn't the first time I've heard this anecdote or a variation of it, and it causes me endless amusement that this persistent 'recalculating' can evoke discussion of infinite kindness or deity.
When I was working at Alpine Electronics Research, we had quite a lot of fun brainstorming (but not inserting) additions to those very GPS systems that would lose their temper at you if you made too many wrong turns!

It doesn't invalidate any of the observations or anything - it's just an anecdote that is a bit different for me than for others.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Book Review: Amity & Sorrow, by Peggy Riley

Damn, this is a good book. Hard to read, in some ways, because it's the story of two girls and their mother, who fled the (literally) burning temple of their cult, ran as far as the mother could take them, and washed up somewhere in Oklahoma. Because the story is told from the inside - the education of the girls doesn't include reading, for example, so clearly their lives and backgrounds are dramatically different from that of the average reader - the story of the history of the cult, the polygamous family that it constituted, unfolds from their perspective, slowly. Hard to read, because they believe so hard, and that belief is fundamentally corrupted at its very heart, and you know it reading from the outside.

Anyway, damn.  Good book. Very good book.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Today's Feminist Commentary

Upon reading I Blame the Patriarchy on Steubenville, I offer what should be, but aren't, Frequently Answered Questions:

Q: What makes a man a rapist?
A: The belief it's OK to visit sex upon a woman without taking her desires into account.

Q: What does patriarchy teach men (and, coincidentally, women)?
A: That men's desires to visit sex upon a woman are the only desires that matter.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Cool! "Science for Adults"

Otona no Kagaku (Science for Adults) is a magazine + science project line popular in Japan.  I just think it's so darn cool. - gramaphone project. - steam engine project.

Sometimes I really wish I lived in Japan.  Not because I'm dying to do one of these projects (although I think any of them would be way cool fun to do), but because American attitudes toward science, math, and technology are so dismissive and generally hateful.  

I always remember how dismissive someone was in one of my college math class "discussion" sections (as opposed to the actual lecture) when I jumped up to work a problem on the board, because I was excited to do it (I also had the wrong solution!), like it was wrong to be excited about math.  It was my major, asshole!  (Double major, physics w/a concentration in astrophysics and mathematics.  And I shouldn't have been made to feel defensive about it, dammit.)

20 years later and I'm still angered by that moment, whether it was shut-me-up b/c math isn't supposed to be cool, or shut-me-up people aren't supposed to be passionate and engaged, or shut-me-up because I am female.  (Not that America has a lock on the latter, to be sure.  I'd sure hate to be pigeonholed as an "office lady" in a Japanese company.)

Anyways, popular science is a wonderful thing.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

There are Days

There are days when I am tempted to become a beauty blogger (in part so I can sing the praises of Besame Cosmetics - love their lipsticks and their crimson cream rouge is wonderful, wonderful stuff), but overall I'm sure it would require me to break my cardinal rule of No Photos Online.

You know, I've been online since what, 1991?  And I've managed to keep the number of photos of me down to about 5, and nearly all are professional in one way or another (whether they are about writer Sidra, or lawyer Sidra, or whatever).

Why have I bothered?  Well, plenty of reasons, but first and foremost, I'm a feminist, and when I say "I don't appreciate being policed or having my appearance made a point of argument," what I really mean is "this world is so stupid that we actually gauge the merits of people's ideas based on their looks".  That's like the "I have an owl, your argument is invalid" memes.  And I object so strongly to that idiocy that I will not enable it.

Dying to decide what kind of person I must be based on my looks?  Well, your loss, if you've never met me in person. Consider reading me instead.  Trying to divine my character or capability based on a headshot is stupid.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Over a Month Since a Post

Chalk it up to the flu.

Link of Note: Revival of nearly extinct Yurok language is a success story

Last fall, Eureka High became the fifth and largest school in Northern California to launch a Yurok-language program, marking the latest victory in a Native American language revitalization program widely lauded as the most successful in the state.
At last count, there were more than 300 basic Yurok speakers, 60 with intermediate skills, 37 who are advanced and 17 who are considered conversationally fluent.

This is damn cool.

Otherwise, I've lost 30 pounds and am mostly keeping it off, had my photo taken for professional purposes and didn't immediately hate it (obvious corollary there), and have really enjoyed several books recently, in addition to sending the first few Clockwork Century books by Cherie Priest to my nephew for his birthday which I think HE will enjoy greatly, and...well, I guess that's about it.

Oh, and there's a couple feet of snow out there, but if you've been paying any attention to newscasters in the United States at all, you'd know that already.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Emily Barker - Wallender theme

So, thanks to Wallender w/Kenneth Branagh, I'm now hooked on Emily Barker, and quite thankful for it.  A small selection of her work is available for download on iTunes, enough to call a self-assembled album if you like.  Good stuff.