A Columbia Law Student Blog - Three Years of Hell to Become the Devil

August 25, 2006

And like that... he is gone

So that's it. RIP Three Years of Hell, June 2, 2003 to August 25, 2006. After all these words, there are only a few things left to say.

Two sites, the Imbroglio and the Volokh Conspiracy, have given me a slightly premature sendoff, and their words are very kind. (The site has received its final Kerr Package.) In answer to Ambimb's question as to why the site is closing, the answer is simply that the project is done. I don't know what my next big task will be. I've got two articles in process (much more difficult now I don't have free Lexis access). There's a few chapters written of a novel, a thought made more exciting by three friends who have already written books. The more I look at law and technology, the more I think that an open-source, XML-based framework for writing judicial opinions would bring caselaw closer to the public (as well as weaken the WEXIS duopoly). Perhaps that's a project worth looking into. Whatever the case, I'm sure I'll have no problem coming up with other tasks to occupy my (soon to dwindle rapidly) free time. This story was always meant to have an ending, and after all these months, it is finally here.

Thank you to the professors and students at Columbia Law School who made this journey such a rich experience. The same goes to the bloggers across the 'sphere who've linked, commented and otherwise spread the word. (A special note should go to Martin, who started me on this path.) My family, although asked not to comment on the blog itself, never failed to give me encouragement (and fodder for quite a few posts) throughout my years here.

And finally, of course, thank you to all of you who've read this site over the last three years and a bit. Journeys are made better with travelling companions, and I couldn't have asked for a finer bunch.

Best regards,

A.R.

And for those without blogs...

Dear Wormwood:

Our correspondence over these last few years, put together, may be the single longest thing I've ever written. For old time's sake, however, I hope you'll allow me to give you one last list, a few things I hope you'll take with you in your own purgatorial journeys.

At long last, Wormwood, our conversation is at an end. Please take with you my best wishes, and may your time in law school bring you every joy possible.

Continue reading "And for those without blogs..." »

Advice for 1Ls Starting a Blog: A Much Shorter Part II

Dear Wormwood:

I promised you two letters that might help your friend Scrimgouge in starting a 1L blog. The first letter focused mostly upon matters that any blogger, legal or otherwise, might find useful, be they technical or stylistic. But both you and Scrimgouge are now law student, which makes your efforts (and yes, dear Wormwood, I really am hoping that you too might start blogging) a bit different. So with the basics out of the way, I'd like to make a few quick notes and observations on what I've learned from law school blogging.

  1. Eschew anonymity: I've covered the reasons for this in one of my most oft-read posts. I know I bang on upon this, but anonymity certainly isn't as safe as you'd suspect. Besides, it's only polite that when you violate Godwin's Law, your opponent knows where to send the summons and complaint.
  2. Don't be surprised if your first year makes for the most interesting blogging: First year blogs are great, indeed positively addicting. Most 1Ls find themselves thrust into this bizarro land where Socratic Method suddenly makes sense as a pedagogical technique and everything--and I mean everything--starts being seen through the lense of law. On the other hand, 1L bloggers know that most of their readers aren't other law students, but their friends, family and associates from back in the "real world." The need to explain the pressure-cooker anxiety, and the urge to translate the experience to outsiders, makes for excellent writing.

    1L year is all about learning the game. 2L year, you merely refine it. By 3L, you're looking for another game to play because you know exactly how much class you can snooze through with minimal effect on your grades. Why do you think Scott Turow didn't write a sequel?

  3. Give your fellow students (and professors) some space: TYoH followed two pretty simple rules. First, don't mention a non-blogging professor by name. Refer to them instead as "Prof. Contracts" or "Prof. CivPro." It's not much, but it does mean that your blog entries won't end up as Google hits for their name. Secondly, if you have a story to tell about a fellow student, even if you're not mentioning them by name, shoot them a quick email with a draft of the post before you publish. They may not want their lives appearing online. Most of the time, no one will care, but it's a good habit that saves trouble later on.
  4. Blog about what fascinates you: Your text really comes alive when you have an interesting story to tell, or when you're passionate about an issue. All law student bloggers eventually create their own niche. I've posted quite a lot on gay marriage, for instance, but also on the appropriateness of professional status for legal practitioners (much more obscure) and strange tax issues. The Ambivalent Imbroglio should be one of the first reads for any law student thinking of becoming a public defender (or a prosecutor, for that matter). You don't have to comment fully on everything. If you find something interesting but don't have anything to say on it, an entry with a quick link is perfectly fine. Write in depth on those issues you care about.
  5. Engage others: Yesterday I wrote about connecting to other bloggers, but focused mostly on law professors or major players. Yet the real and lasting relationships in blogging will come from your own cohorts, your peers out there on the great wide internet. I've copied fair amounts of code from Heidi's effort. I've made fast friends with Chris. I've pimped Jeremy's book. These are the things I smile about when I remember TYoH, and I'll bet I do so a decade from now. Your cohort will be a source of support when things go wrong, both scholastically and technically. They'll also be something you'll carry away from law school.
  6. Keep a sense of humor: All too often, you'll be inspired to shout. When you do, put the post in "draft" and leave it to the next day. Remember that at the right moment and you'll thank me later.
  7. Keep in touch: Perhaps not advice, so much, but if there's a 1L out there starting a blog and they need a bit of help, don't hesitate to ask. I'm sure it's going to be a lot of fun reading your work in the years to come.

And that, dearest Wormwood, is that. I hope that Scrimgouge finds the next three years as exciting as I did.

Welcome to the Continuum! or Passing the Torch

Say hello to Luis Villa, a 1L at Columbia law school. He's another coder turned lawyer, and his musings on code and law strike a cord.

If there's any other Columbia Law School bloggers who would like to tie their blogs into the Columbia Continuum, feel free to email me. (I will be keeping that site working, and maybe even improved, after this site goes quiet.)

UPDATE: Welcome also to Legal Economics, another Columbia 1L. This guy will have no trouble in Reg State. Too bad it's not a required class anymore, eh?

(Please note that the Continuum requires an RSS feed, so if you're on Blogger or Blogspot, you should get a Feedburner account.)

Down to the Wire

Right... self-imposed deadline of tonight to finish this thing off, and still four or five posts that I need to complete. Right now all that quick typing in exams is coming in handy!

August 24, 2006

Advice for 1Ls Considering a Blog: A Very Long Part One

Dear Wormwood:

Who is this Scrimgouge whose email address you've forwarded me? It's certainly very flattering that he's asking you to ask me for advice on starting a law school blog. Nevertheless, there's no good reason for him to ask me at one remove. [1] You know full well I'd speak at the opening of a Doritos bag, and give away advice just as profligately.

Since your friend has asked, I'm happy to oblige. This particular project has run for over three years, and I'd like to think that in that time I've learned a few things that might help out a beginner. Of course, with the start of the fall semester, there is currently no shortage of advice for new law students, and I'm sure that similar wisdom about blogs is a dime a dozen. Hopefully your friend Scrimgouge will find one or two chestnuts here that he hasn't managed to gather elsewhere. Sadly for him, however, whatever angels generally look over my shoulder and force me to be brief have taken a tea break. What follows is quite lengthy indeed.

To help out a bit, I've divided the post into five sections that continue after the cut:
First, the commonplace.
Second, decide what you want to do.
Third, learn a bit about the technology.
Fourth, connect, connect, connect (to the Web).
Fifth, connect, connect, connect (to other bloggers).
Finally, have fun.

I hope it helps.

Continue reading "Advice for 1Ls Considering a Blog: A Very Long Part One" »

Could Be Worse

A friend of mine just gave me a "post bar exam gift": a copy of Ichisada Miyazaki's China's Examination Hell: The Civil Service Examinations of Imperial China. From the first page:

Competition for a chance to take the civil service examinations began, if we may be allowed to exaggerate only a little, even before birth. . . . Prenatal care began as soon as a woman was known to be pregnant. . . .

Legal education system take note: you have something to aspire towards.

Grumpy Old Man Alert: "In My Day, We Didn't Have the 'SONI' System Like You Youngsters. We Read Two Hundred Spam Emails From Every Society Imaginable, And We LIKED It."

Forwarded from a current Columbia Law Student, from one of Student Services' fantastic new staff members:

We have put in place a new system, the Student Organization News and Information (SONI) System, which allows student organizations and journals to email students directly and allows you to select to which student organization and journal email lists you wish to subscribe or unsubscribe.
We hope that you find this system a helpful way to receive information from student organizations, and a good way to cut down on your email traffic.

The SONI system works as follows. All students in the Law School are initially subscribed to each student organization's email list. You may choose to unsubscribe from any list, at which point you will no longer receive email from that particular organization or journal. If you wish, you can later choose to resubscribe.


What a fantastic idea! I'm sure this entry will attract a lot of groans from the Class of 2006 and older, though. They can take heart: scuttlebutt is that you still can't avoid the daily deluge of emails from the public interest folks.

August 23, 2006

New York Pungent

Strange circumstances conspire to bring me back to New York just before the blog ends. I drove through Jersey late last night. A blind man could smell his way up the Jersey Turnpike. My memory of New York will be forever mixed with the smell of garbage. Tokyo has its sweating salarymen with natto-breath crowding the subway. Summer winds blow stinging road dust into your eyes in London. But the smell of rotting dinners sets New York apart, simply because it's always there, and especially strong in the summer. No part of Manhattan escapes it. Walk up from a Times Square subway exit, the cleaned-up area for tourists, and spoilt meat assaults your nose. Walk down Broadway for a romantic meal and you're certain to pass at least three corners reeking of fish. Take a badly air-conditioned cab through slow traffic to a job interview on 54th street and you have a choice: roll up the windows and sweat or arrive with your suit smelling as if you cleaned a drainage ditch in it. Maybe as the years go by I'll grow nostalgic and I'll forget. But for the present, summer in New York is remembered with my nose.

August 18, 2006

The Beginning of the End

Dear Wormwood:

The bar exam is over. I've moved away from D.C. to Another State. [1] And today the last signs of law-student living left me: my free Lexis account no longer works.

I feel I shall soon have withdrawal symptoms.

In any event, it's about time for this project to end. After all, Wormwood, while your journey through law school is beginning, it's time for me to go on about my life. There's still a little left I have to say, mostly about blogging, school, and a few observations to send you on your way. But even of that, there's not much. I'm going home to visit my parents this weekend, but I should be back to writing on Monday.

So by way of forewarning, Wormwood, you can expect the final entry of TYoH to appear one week from today, on Friday, August 25th. Now I just have to get everything in order. There is, of course, a project plan.

[1]: Incidentally, if I hadn't believed it before, this move would have convinced me that the Scion xB is great value for money. Over 30 miles to the gallon and I can fit massive amounts of cargo in the back.

Giving The Devil His Due

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Law Firm Technology (5)
Len Cleavelin wrote: I find it extremely difficult to be... [more]

Post Exam Rant (9)
Tony the Pony wrote: Humbug. Allowing computers already... [more]

Symbols, Shame, and A Number of Reasons that Billy Idol is Wrong (11)
Adam wrote: Well, here's a spin on the theory o... [more]

I've Always Wanted to Say This: What Do You Want? (14)
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Death and Dying in Varanasi

 Death and Dying in Varanasi

Morning puja along the ghats of Varanasi

When I look back on this year of travel, I am sure of one place that will stand out in my mind. That place is Varanasi, India. I can’t say I loved it. I can’t say I hated it. What I can say about this place is I felt it.

Varanasi is said to be one of the world’s oldest cities. It’s also India’s holiest. Pilgrims come to Varanasi from far and wide to cleanse their souls in the sacred River Ganges. The river’s edge is lined with resting spots, known as ghats, made of concrete slabs where pilgrims come to wash away their sins.

Bathers1 e1272568982440 Death and Dying in Varanasi

Bathers entering the Ganges at dawn

To get a proper taste of the city’s unique mystical energy, we took boat ride on a wooden paddle boat along the river at sunrise. Here we witnessed hundreds of pilgrims gathering along the ghats to partake in their daily session of puja (prayer). Some remove nearly all their clothing to completely submerse themselves in the water. Others splash the water all over their bodies or sit in complex yoga poses, eyes closed, facing the rising sun. And at sunset, too, the ghats are crawling with pilgrims along a river dotted with thousands of flickering candles and flower petals.

As the beating heart of the Hindu universe, Varanasi is also the place where people come to cremate their loved ones. Upon arriving, we discovered our hotel was conveniently (and I say this with the heaviest hint of sarcasm) located directly next to Varanasi’s main burning ghat. At the burning ghat, on the shores of the Ganges, bodies are cremated in public 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

 Death and Dying in Varanasi

Elderly woman resting on the ghats

Due to the religious significance that comes with being cremated along the holiest of rivers, many people come to Varanasi to die. Others arrange to have their bodies shipped here shortly after their death. But no matter how they arrive, nearly all of them go in the same way. First the bodies are wrapped in beautiful cloths. Red fabric is used for young unwed women, orange for married women and gold for older women. Men are wrapped in white cloth. The bodies are then carried to the ghat on a bamboo stretcher by sons and relatives of the deceased. The sons shave their heads (sometimes leaving a little patch on the back unshaven) the day before the cremation ceremony as a sign of grieving.

Once the bodies arrive at the river’s edge, they are unwrapped from the cloth and dunked into the river. The sons then open the mouth of the body, dip their hands in the river and fill the mouth with holy water. The body is then carried a few feet away from the river where a pile of firewood awaits. After the body is laid down the sons and male relatives are given a torch. The eldest son, with blazing torch in hand, leads the others in circling the body five times before lighting the body in flames.

 Death and Dying in Varanasi

Public cremation at the burning ghat

Some visitors may catch a glimpse of the burning ghat from afar or possibly a brief look from a boat ride down the river, but due to the close proximity of our hotel, we were given a brutally up-close-and-personal experience. Each time we left our hotel, we were face to face with death. We found ourselves in the middle of funeral processions. We had to fight our way around dead bodies and grieving families. We watched sons as they lit their dead mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers on fire. We witnessed the unforgettable smell of burning flesh and the sight of arms, legs and heads set ablaze.

Cremation, however, isn’t for everyone. There are a select few whose bodies go directly into the river. Pregnant women, children, holy men and (strangely enough) anyone bitten by a cobra are instead tied to a stone and dropped off a paddle boat into the middle of the river.

 Death and Dying in Varanasi

Young boy steers us down the Ganges River

As you can imagine, the Ganges is notorious for being one of the dirtiest rivers in the world (second only to China’s Yangtze River). On top of the hundreds of corpses, bones and ashes lining the river floor, sewage lines from the city run directly into the water. You can certainly imagine our concern when we witnessed our 10 year old boat driver quenching his thirst with a big gulp of water from the river and hundreds of locals brushing their teeth and washing their clothes at the river’s edge each morning.

More than 100 bodies are cremated in Varanasi each day and around 200-300 when the sweltering heat of the summer brings even more its way. With customs and traditions so different from my own, it’s so easy to judge with a critical eye. What I’m slowly but surely learning, however, is that just because we do things differently, doesn’t mean it’s the right and only way. Really, who is to say putting a body in a wooden box in a hole in the ground is all that better?

More than a month later, the sights, sounds and smells of Varanasi are still with me. I can’t say I’ll be running back any time soon, but I can say it’s a place that has burnt an indelible mark on my mind.

pixel Death and Dying in Varanasi

Comments (4)

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  1. Antonio Pedro Silva says:

    Fantastic description. First i saw images in internet without understand what happen in that city. Only understood that was a powerful and very emotional place. And your description is amazing. Fantastic moment reading this text

  2. Elise says:

    wow is all i can say….great post. i love hearing about this stuff!

  3. Varanasi is such a unique place, glad you were able to experience it! Thanks for sharing your journey!
    .-= TravelingCanucks´s last blog ..Photo of the Week: Inside the Temple, Thailand =-.

  4. Courtney Callahan says:

    Wow, I am speechless. I can’t imagine witnessing this and it is amazing the way that each culture handles death. Again, your blog has provided me with an insight on something I will never experience. Love and miss!