Vestigial Problems

Unwonk - Episode 6: Vestigial Problems

We learn about citizenship whoring, the silence of the insects that are eating your house, and why egg flipping won't necessarily save your relationship.

Listen with the player below, subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher (links above), or with your favorite podcast app.

Please enjoy the links to additional information relating to the questions on this episode:

"Blah blah blah." - LinkedIn

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” - Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

"Three scrambled eggs with Cheddar cheese, two bacon strips and two sausage links, plus hash browns and choice of bread." - All-American Slam®, Denny's, Inc.

[Episode keywords: marriage fraud, immigration, termite inspection liability, defective product liability, inept chef]


Episode Transcript

UNWONK PODCAST - EPISODE 6: VESTIGIAL PROBLEMS

Hi, friend. This is a rough transcript of this episode of Unwonk. What's that mean? It means that we're just pasting the original script for the show plus unvetted transcripts of any interviews. So, you're likely to see content that maybe didn't make the final cut, maybe not see some content that was in the episode but not the original script, and run across a few typos. 

As with everything on Unwonk, the transcript below is for general informational purposes only - this is not legal advice - if you need to have a legal question answered, please seek legit legal representation. 

On this episode of Unwonk, we learn:

  • When green cards stopped being green for half a century, 
  • Why you suck at breakfast, and 
  • Just because you can’t see termites, doesn’t mean they aren’t watching you...silently.

This is Unwonk. We respond to your questions with relevant and useful information. If you would like to submit a question, please visit our site at Unwonk.com.

At the site, you can also find where to follow us on twitter, facebook, and all that social stuff. And make sure to tell your friends about us.

Even though the general information on this podcast is provided by actual attorneys, you’d be an idiot to think it is actual legal advice, and you’d also be the type of person who doesn’t realize that letting someone ahead of you in traffic out of turn is actually causing traffic behind and all around you - stop it, and follow the rules. You benevolent jackass.

And now, our first question.

A guy I know needs a green card he's willing to pay $10,000 if I marry him and live with him for a year or two. We would just be friends and roommates, he would pay rent, and he would get the green card. Sounds like a great deal. He's a good guy and I'm doing him a favor. Plus I need the money. Should I do this? What are the repercussions if we get caught? Could I go to jail? Also, I’m a guy.

I just got out of a client meeting, so I’m going to talk like a business person right now and use empty busines lingo to start off: 

Let’s pivot, take a deep dive and look at this from a more granular view and ask: what do the numbers say? Our core competency is to be data driven and let the analytics resonate with our instincts, so we’re going rropen the kimono, count the moving parts and see how the calculations impact your bottom line:

What does $10,000 dollars mean to you? Sounds like a lot. But first, let’s start with a two year period (not a year or two), because that’s how long you have to be married in order for his green card to survive a divorce.

Doing the math, the daily value of your cash payment will be… $13.70 per day. Let me say that again, because it’s fun: $13.70 per day. And if a leap year falls in there, you could be looking at $13.67.

Does that number work for you?

Good.

Oh, wait. We forgot to factor in the application process spanning from marriage to green card. That can usually run from 6 to 9 months, and let’s add another 45 days just in case your husband needs to make corrections prior to green card issuance.

So - hang on - I’m doing number things here.

That’s going to be $9.54 per day, $9.53 if a leap year hits.

Wow.

That, sounds like a great deal. I can’t even think right now - kind of blinded by all the possibilities of what you’re going to do with that $9.54 day, maybe scaling those dreams back a hair if it’s a leap year.

Of course, there’s free rent, so that may be something.

So, that’s the positive financial piece for you. We’ll get to the negative in a little bit.

Let’s start from the beginning. A Green Card is shorthand for a United States Permanent Resident Card. It was actually green from 1946 to 1964, took a break from being green for 46 years, and then in 2010, reverted back to being green. Because, it’s not easy. When you have a valid green card, it means that you’re a lawful permanent resident, subject to certain conditions. It does not make you a citizen. Though, it can help set you on that path. 

As messed up, chaotic and insane as the US can be, we often take for granted how awesome being here is. In what other country can you find everything from Starbucks, awe inspiring nature, and representative democracy?

Hang on. Looking at my notes, that’s pretty much anywhere. 

Let me think of something uniquely and bizarrely American. Ah, Florida. Where else can you find Florida? 

Ok, also not a good example.

I think you have some good ideas of why people still want to come here.

And, I think you know the answer to at least part of your question: What you are contemplating is called Marriage Fraud. This is as a result of the Immigration Fraud Amendments Act of 1986, which provides a maximum penalty of $250,000 and five years in prison for any individual who knowingly enters into a marriage for the purpose of evading any provision of the immigration laws. Also, the husband using you for a green card can be deported. The US agency that coordinates enforcement is the United States Citizen and Immigration Service, which we’ll call “Immigration Department” here. 

At least as of 2007, the number of foreign nationals getting green cards through marriage had quintupled since 1970. In 2011, the number of applications for marriage-based green cards was 270,761. The number denied: 7,290. That’s a 2.7% rejection rate. The number of cases found to fraudulent? 3,924. That’s 1.4%!

So, you can be the judge of the risk you’re looking at here, and there’s no telling how strongly things are going to be enforced at any time - it is the federal government, after all - I can’t even tell whether my local post office is going to be open on time day to day. Given that estimates of pay-for-vows marriages, as they’re also called by many, or, Citizen Whore Arrangements, as I just made up, are usually way above 1.4%, there’s clearly a margin of success there that some might find comfortable.

And don’t forget the interview process. There’s two kinds: the first interview, and then, if you trigger a red flag, the the marriage fraud interview. Or, as it’s known, to the immigration department, the Stokes interview, obviously named after 19th century British landscape painter Adrian Scott Stokes, who in his marriage fraud interview was famously unable to reply with the correct color of his sham wife’s favorite panties - he said Brighton Sunset, she insisted it was Salamander Orange - should have been such an obvious answer for a painter. 

The Stokes interview is not to be confused with “stoked” in any way. It’s a painful interview where you will be separated and questioned about each other and your relationship - and it’s pretty much the last clear chance at making your sham marriage look plausible.

Here are some sample questions from a Stokes interview:

Where did you meet your spouse?
What TV shows does your spouse enjoy that you sit through but secretly judge him or her for?
Exactly how far away from your spouse do you need to be when he or she is eating crunchy food in an otherwise silent room and not have the urge to harm them? Please use linear imperial measurements rather than metric.
Why is there suffering in the world? 

If you can clear easy ones like these, you’re in.

I think it goes without saying - but I will say it - that you’re going to need a very good immigration attorney if you move ahead with this.

At the end of your question, you state “Also, I’m a guy.” Congratulations on having a gender (by the way, we recognize all gender states on this program, so it would be OK if you had no gender at all. We are very sensitive.). Taking that a step further, I’m assuming you’re asking if same sex marriages are recognized for green card purposes. The answer is, yes. In 2013, the defense of marriage act - clearly named by someone being a little too defensive, was eviscerated. Since then, the federal government recognizes same-sex marriages from states where same-sex marriages are recognized.

But let’s get to the real question you’re asking: Should I do this?

Only you can answer that. There are a lot of risk issues here, obviously. You’re talking about breaking federal and possibly some state laws. 

One big thing to think about is that marriage - even one entered into under dubious circumstances - comes with real legal obligations and consequences. If you don’t have all your documentation done just right, this person - who sounds like someone you don’t know super well - could not just have claim to your assets going forward, but even have your life in his hands with critical decisions. He would essentially be presumed to be the person that knows you best. And if it doesn’t work out, you could go for a divorce, which could get very expensive and emotionally taxing, or unravel the whole thing with an annulment on the grounds that the marriage was fraudulent in the first place, which may amount to a legal admission of fraud and, in turn, get you into trouble with the federal government.

So, unless you’re so hard up for cash that $9.54 a day - that’s $9.53 if it’s a leap year - plus rent is going to transform your life, you may not find that it’s worth the risk. Especially if you can’t keep the bidet when you move out.

Finally, I’m very pleased that I made it all the way through this question without once mentioning the 1990 movie, “Green Card.” 

Which I just did. 

Shit.

I bought a house that had passed all inspections. After living here for 6 months, we find out there are termites. Not a few of them, but a serious termite problem. Now the price to fix the house is $100k. Can I sue the inspector? Is it worth the price and the hassle of a lawsuit? Doesn't he have some sort of insurance for this kind of thing?

Termites are horrible. Not just for the damage they cause, but the reminder that event though they’re tiny, there are just… so many of them, lurking silently just out of site. Just a completely different scale of life. 

The first time I was made aware of this scale difference was in the month of April in the early 1980s. Even though our basement at the time was technically unfinished, my brothers and I spent a lot of time hanging out and playing around there. It wasn’t a true basement - as in fully submerged - because a sliding door opened out onto a small concrete patio, about 30 feet from the lakeshore.

We had all been in our sleeping bags watching TV one evening, and two of us went back up to our beds, leaving behind my other brother, who had fallen asleep on the floor. The next morning, while the scent of pancakes drifted through the house, a scream shot up from the basement. I ran down the stairs to see what was going on. Even though I had flipped the lightswitch, it was still dark at the bottom of the stairs. As I turned the corner, I realized that the floor, ceiling and walls were rippling. My brother stood in the middle of the room, mouth clamped shut, air whistling in and out of his nose. The rippling was thousands of mayflies. We had left the sliding door open a couple of inches. Left it open the same night the mayflies came out to breed. I didn’t know it then, but mayflies have mouths that are purely vestigial - which means they cannot eat - so I thought my brother was going to be eaten from within his sleeping bag - he had sealed the top of the sleeping bag so that the only visible part of his body was his head from the chin up - his arms flapping around inside so that he looked like a combination pez dispensser /jiffy pop in full swing. He was in trouble and I was next. So I did the first brotherly thing that came to my mind - I turned, ran back up the stairs, unable to even scream.

They only live a day or two. And even after my dad cleared the basement of the mayflies. I didn’t go down there for awhile. Basements are scary enough to begin with.

The next week, during movie day, we watched a short film that starts with a couple having a picnic on a lakeshore. The camera pulls further and further out by factors of 10, showing the grand scale of the universe. But what interested me more, was when the camera returned to the couple on the lakeshore, and zoomed into the man’s hand, closer and closer by factors of 10, down to the proton of an atom. This combined with the mayfly incident cracked open my mind to the seeming infinite mass of life that’s everywhere and rarely seen. Even now, the current media focus on microbes and bacteria in the human body - the fact that you are made of more bacterial cells than, well, you cells - a majority of your corpus is not your corpus - fascinates me. That movie was called Powers of Ten by Charles & Ray Eames.

And don’t get me started on Junebugs on the windshield during the summer.

But I never had termites cause $100,000 of damage to my house. I’m no mathemetician, but if your house was worth $100,000, then those termites ate everything in your house and it no longer exists. Can’t really verify that conclusion, though.

I’m also not a termite specialist, but $100,000 seems like A LOT of damage for 6 months. Have you seen how tiny their mouths are? This seems to indicate that there was a termite problem before you bought the house. This also leaves two parties that may be at fault (aside, of course, from the millions of termites treating your house like a Las Vegas casino buffet - don’t eat the hollandaise sauce at those things, by the way - at least at Caesar’s): the seller and the inspector.

Depending on your state, a seller is only liable for failing to disclose things they don’t know about. There may be an argument that a seller is required to disclose something the seller should know about. The seller would likely be liable if there was something that should have been disclosed but he or she intentionally concealed it or misled you. So, if there was termite damage to wood, and the seller went and covered it up or masked it, there’s likely some liability there. Might be pretty hard to prove, though.

Let’s think about the inspector. If you pulled a mortgage to get the house, you were likely required to use a bonded and insured pest inspector who is licensed by your state’s pest board, if it has one (like california). You never want a general inspector to do a pest inspection - generally leave the pest inspection to the expert. In general, an inspector is only going to be responsible for visible issues. They’re not going to check concealed areas - walls, floor, dirt, etc. unless you unconceal it for them. Note that in California, inspectors must re-inspect at your request within for months of the original inspection date. Inspectors are very aware of their potential liability, so they usually will use a video camera or still camera to document everything. If there are any visible signs - like those nasty tunnels made of termite poop and spit - kind of like disgusting versions dozers from Fraggle rock - they generally will let you know.

While researching this topic, I found the following sentence incredibly chilling: “The absence of finding live termites does not mean that they are not present in the structure.” Say, I’m wiggling through my crawlspace and run across a complex series of poop tunnels. No visible sign of live termites. Which means… they are watching me from the darkness. I’d rather be rolling in a swarm of live termites. It gets worse with this, regarding running across piles of termite wings: “The shed wings of swarmers indicate termites have entered their next phase of development.” Not only does a termite have the horrifying nickname “swarmer,” but they have yet to reach their final form. Time to slowly back out of the crawl space and pay some other sucker to get ambushed by wingless former swarmers.

This is a very fact-based problem that a good real estate attorney can help you with. There are all sorts of ways sellers and inspectors get in trouble with disclosure issues - anything from rotting foundations to whether the house is haunted by ghosts (that’s a story for another day - so, house-eating insects fall squarely within that spectrum. The question is whether the seller knew about it and whether the inspector should have seen it. And I’d find $100,000 to be well worth the expense of a legal consult - if there is liability by either the seller or the inspector, you may even get your legal fees back. If you’re stuck with the repair expense, you may be able to pursue your own insurance for reimbursement.

So even if your new home is being consumed from the inside-out, and even if nobody ends up being liable for it, at least you’ll be able to say that you got to experience the power of the massive scale of our universe, up close, and personal.

That probably didn’t make you feel any better. Sorry.

I was trying to make some breakfast for my girlfriend last weekend. I was flipping the scrambled eggs in the pan, but the handle separated from the pan when I tried to flip them the tenth time. The round part rolled off the stove, and landed on my foot - this caused me to knock over the mixer I had running with pancake batter in it. I got a bruise and burn on my big toe, and the mixer broke. Do I have a case against the pan manufacturer for making a defective item?

I do see some major issues here. And they all have to do with the fact that you clearly have no idea how to make scrambled eggs or pancakes.

First, why are you constantly flipping scrambled eggs in the pan? This isn’t pageant of the well done omelettes. It’s scrambled eggs. Pay a little more detailed attention. Stir them in the pan with a soft spatula, faster for small curds or slowly for large curds. Heat should be from medium to low, depending on your tastes, removing from heat, stirring as necessary, and returning to heat. 

Unbelievable. Flipping the eggs in the pan over and over. Like a feral child chef. 

If you’re going for a richer texture to the eggs, Just add butter or olive oil. Aside from that, eggs already have a perfect balance of texture. A little cream is acceptable. At least, that’s my opinion. If you want fluffier eggs, that’s more work with a whisk, and you might as well make an omelette at that point. 

If you want to add some flavor, I’d add some finely chopped herbs or a cheese that’s going to melt nicely. Of course, if you’re the kind of person who orders up a scramble with everything in it - sausage, mushrooms, olives, ham chunks -  you’re not going to listen to anything I say and will likely continue to live like a food slob for the rest of your life, treating eggs as a delivery system for a bunch of chopped up crap you can eat on a plate.

And, this has been repeated in every cookbook, cooking show, food blog and article about eggs ever written: remember that your eggs will continue to cook after you take them off the heat. So take them off the heat before they look done, so they can cook that extra smidge of time, just enough to land some nice eggs on your plate. 

 Also, for the love of amber maple syrup, why on earth do you have your pancake batter in a mixer, just churning away like an 19 year old state school sorority girl dancing at her first phish concert? You only mix the batter until the dry ingredients and wet ingredients are combined. The gluten in the flour sho uld bind just enough to trap air bubbles in the batter, resulting in fluffy and soft pancakes. Putting the batter in a mixer is going to over-activate the glutens, creating a tight protein network which is going to result in a tough, rubbery pancake. I’m going to say this with professional confidence: this shitty pan, which prevented your idea of eggs and pancakes from being served, probably saved your relationship. 

One of the biggest complaints I get about lawyers is that lawsuits for the most petty things are out of control. And, yes, without those lawyers, they wouldn’t exist, but those lawyers would have nothing to do if it wasn’t for people looking to extract cash from whatever they can at any cost. 

A lot people point to the famous McDonald’s coffee case as frivolous - but it wasn’t necessarily so - the woman in that case - actually did receive real and severe injuries from scalding hot coffee - she received third degree burns and was hospitalized for over a week for skin grafts - and it was the media that spun it as a joke. For a really interesting take on that case, and similar stories, check out the documentary Hot Coffee.

Speaking of which, based on your cooking skills so far, am I correct in thinking that you make coffee by just mixing coffee grounds and hot water in a mug? You do know how to heat water, yes?

Over the line. That was over the line.

Now, as for your question, unless you got severe damage or third degree burns, exchange your defective pan at Bed, Bath and Beyond - which probably wasn’t defective but just committing suicide at your scrambled egg cooking technique - and bear the scar on your toe as a red badge of courage that will remind you to do it the better way every time. Unless, of course, you’re a foot model. Then lawyer up.

Thanks for listening to this episode of Unwonk. 

Please visit our site at Unwonk.com to submit your questions, and for lots of bonus material about the topics discussed on today’s episode. Please also follow us on twitter, facebook, and generally tell everyone you know to subscribe to this podcast.

On the next episode, we learn about:

  • An alternative to divorce and separation in wisconsin involving consumption of large quantities of cheese and muffled self-hatred,
  • How the usda successfully fought against the genetic modification institute on the creation of flying pigs, and
  • How the cryptic symbols on the tags of your clothes aren’t washing instructions, but masonic symbols re-coding your free will with every spin cycle - regardless, just wash it on regular and warm no matter what, right?