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,


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.

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Let’s Talk About Sex, Thailand

Photo courtesy of Vitaly Shepelev.

Bangkok always seemed to have a naughty ring to it, I thought, and now I know why. The city of six million is more than just the nation’s governmental capital; it’s also the sex tourism capital of Southeast Asia. People – Thai women, adolescent boys and girls and those that walk the increasingly precarious gender gap line – “ladyboys” and “toms” – are all for sale here in Bangkok.

Of course, it’s not just Bangkok. While there is certainly no comparison to the volume of hedonistic pleasures taking place in Thailand’s biggest city, other cities in Thailand’s north and south make their bid to claim a piece of the sex tourism pie. Our first stop in Thailand brought us to Chiang Mai, the cultural capital of Thailand and the biggest city in the country’s northern area. As such, it is also the place to be in the north for sex tourists.

The Oldest Profession in the World

Photo courtesy of Vitaly Shepelev.

On our night out in Thailand we were struck by the number of middle-aged, white, Western men who seemed to be travelling alone. Or so we thought. One bar after another, we were seeing Aussies, Americans, Canadians, Brits and a host of other fair-skinned fellows saddled up to the bar, only to be greeted warmly by a young, scantily-clad, dark-skinned and beautiful Thai woman.

Here’s how it works. The ladies (so far, they’re still just ladies), are “employees” at the bar. If a man would like to talk to one of these employees, it’s proper and assumed that he will buy himself and her drinks from the bar where she is employed. Sometimes, this is the extent of it – flirting over drinks while watching the latest Premiership football match on the tellie. But, if the discussion and flirting leads the man into wanting to take this bar employee home, well, then he has to ask permission from her boss to leave her work station. This requires some financial compensation to the bar-owner, usually in the range of 500 baht (between $15 and $20). Now that he and his new lady-friend have smoothed things over with the bar-owner, the night is their oyster (maybe not the best analogy here…). Remunerations for sexual acts can then be worked out between the man and woman with no intermediary.

This is where my guidebook explanation and personal experience (strictly visual, people) ends. But what Laura and I recognize early on in our Chiang Mai stay is that many of the men we see here are not just on holiday. They live here. Some have apartments, jobs (maybe they even own a bar?), etc. Others seem to visit several times a year and are familiar with the bar staff, café owners, masseuses and store clerks we see them talking to around town.

So, we see some men who are solo during the day and have girls at night. But others are walking around with their female partners during the day, grabbing lunch, getting pedicures (yep, the men, too), massages and even visiting the Tiger Kingdom to play with tiger cubs. This leads me to believe one of a few things. 1) Some guys think they are Richard Gere and are living out their Pretty Woman fantasies sans the polo matches. 2) What begins as a pay-for-sex relationship matriculates over time into a bona fide boyfriend-girlfriend relationship, where the man stops paying for sex and just buys her things for sex. No, my grandma reads this. That’s a joke.

Really, I don’t fully understand the specifics, but I could gather that such a partnership could (this is a huge could) be mutually beneficial. The young Thai woman who typically comes to Chiang Mai from smaller, farm towns nearby to make money and a better life for her and her family now has a dependent, semi-reliable source of income. And she no longer has to work. Or she’s always working, depending on how you view it. The man, stereotypically driven by sex, but often just lonely and looking for a partner, gets what he wants in the form of the beautiful, young girlfriend he now has on his arm. These relationships are so common and so sought after that we even saw books in Bangkok’s airport titled “How to Get (and Keep) a Thai Girlfriend.”

Lions and Tigers and….Ladyboys – Oh Chiang Mai!

Photo courtesy of Vitaly Shepelev.

Cue Lou Reed and his Warholian anthem to transvestites, Take a Walk on the Wild Side, and you have a pretty good intro to the other side of sex tourism visible in Thailand.

Holly came from Miami, F.L.A.
Hitch-hiked her way across the USA
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she
She says, Hey babe
Take a walk on the wild side

Not all sex tourists coming to Thailand are looking for a lady. Some are looking for a man. And there are others who coming looking for a man dressed up as a lady – hence the “ladyboy.” A ladyboy, or Kathoey in Thai, is defined by Wikipedia as “a male-to-female transgender person or an effeminate gay male in Thailand.” (Now, if you’re bored at work or have a lot of time, look up kathoey on Wikipedia and the rest of your afternoon is shot. I promise you this is interesting stuff.)

The beautiful truth is that ladyboys are an integral part of Thai culture and are viewed and treated much better than transgendered people in any Western country. Many believe that due to Thailand’s strong Buddhist beliefs transgenders are accepted more. There are kathoey beauty contests all over Thailand and their presence in newspapers and magazines is quite common. In fact, many are used as models and a slew of books and films have been produced featuring kathoey subjects. While in Chiang Mai, we visited many bars with only ladyboy staff and rode with bus companies who had all-ladyboy service. It seemed almost chic to do so.

The hard reality is that life and law can still be cruel for transgenders in Thailand. Thai laws do not accommodate many of the ambiguities that go along with being transgendered; many jobs are unattainable or difficult to get due to employment discrimination and amenities given to Thai females are not available to kathoey women, even if they were to undergo sexual reassignment surgery.

Middlesex, Intersex and Tom-Dees

Photo courtesy of Vitaly Shepelev.

Every coin has two sides. Such is the case with transgender representation in Thailand. For every ladyboy bus attendant or waiter (waitress?) I spoke to, there was a “Tom”, or female-to-male transgender taxi driver or bouncer. Our first night in Thailand, we had a Tom that I likened to the Fonz from Happy Days. She was cool and tough in her leather jacket and cigarette hanging from her lips as she drove us around town. She had all the mannerisms of a male. If we were home, I’d probably ask her to come over on Sunday to drink beer and watch football.

I never saw women dressed as men accosting foreign men or women at bars, but I assume there is a market for this. What I do know is that in Thailand many relationships exist between said “toms” and “dees” – heterosexual women known for their diva-like tendencies. In these relationships, “toms” will act as the caretaker and breadwinner and carry out the common niceties we associate with chivalry: holding doors open, pulling out a woman’s chair at restaurants and even carrying their dee’s purse. This is not always a sexual relationship but can be. Often, the tom will “please” his dee sexually, for which he/she will receive nothing in recompense, nor is it expected.

Bangkok – The Big Apple

If the apple in New York’s sobriquet were to signify the temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden, then perhaps Bangkok is the true Big Apple. For, temptation certainly abounds in the Thai capital. One is quick to realize how prevalent this temptation is even before they arrive to Bangkok. When booking a hotel online, our hotel made it very clear on its website that “sex tourists are not allowed.” When checking out several other hotels we encountered the same, signaling to us that this is a serious issue if it even has to be mentioned.

NoSexTourists e1284467371171 Let’s Talk About Sex, Thailand

Other hotels take a more passive (or capitalistic) approach, keeping passports at the front desk and charging guests for “visitors.” As you can imagine there are also many “o’clock” hotels that charge per hour instead of by room.

Before visiting, the first Bangkok image that came to mind was of that super-creepy, weirdo bobble-head that alleged he had killed JonBenet Ramsey. I remember the footage of him in handcuffs being extradited back to the US and the media reports claiming that he had been living in Bangkok and preying on child sex slaves. This is something that one doesn’t easily forget.

That people, even today, are sold into slavery, many of whom are young children, is absolutely repulsive and extremely disheartening. Many are tricked into coming to the “big city” for some other type of work, where upon arriving they find that the job they’ve been promised never existed and are forced into a life of prostitution or slavery. Fortunately, this type of prostitution is not accepted, but sadly still exists. I don’t know much about this so I will defer to the laudable work being done by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and HumanTrafficking.org. Hopefully, you can learn more from the people who dedicate themselves to combating such injustices.

Sex tourism in Thailand comes in all shapes, sizes and genders. I left with more questions than I had when I started, but one thing is for certain: you’ll learn more about the birds and the bees and all the in-betweens when you visit this incredibly unique country.

pixel Let’s Talk About Sex, Thailand

Comments (5)

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  1. Rob says:

    An excellent article in all respects – thank you.

    I’ve been living here a long time and have come to recognise a specific mind-set – the one that goes “. . . it’s disgusting to see all these dirty old men with young Thai women . . .” Sadly, what these dismissive Westerners are unable to grasp is that this is a sought-after way of life for an enormous number of young Thai women. The living conditions of millions of rural Thai farmers and their families are similarly beyond the imaginings of the same mind-set.

    “Working with farangs” is a job,and a well-paid one, too. In the early part of this ‘career’ the young woman will play the field and usually not want to be taken out of the bar (or certainly not be looking for a full-time ‘boyfriend’). The ideal is three or four ‘boyfriends’ on the go at once, in a holding pattern, each of them coming to stay in Thailand with the girl for three or four weeks each year. Each of the men (usually) think that the girl has stopped working in the bar and is living off the money they are sending her each month.

    As the girls begin to age and they start to notice that they are not drawing the same attention that they did when they were younger, they begin to look for a more-permanent partner. They look for a man to settle with, one who will buy some land and build her/them a house – often in or close to where her family are based.

    They value the financial security, yes, but every one will tell you (and mean it) that Thai men treat their women badly, are aggressive, assertive, often violent and always unfaithful. A farang man (generally older) is thoughtful, considerate and gentle, and shows his affection and appreciation for his woman, being a steadfast husband and a good surrogate father for her (often several) children, and they are both pleased for him to add one or two kids of his own to the brood.

    There is no system of Social Benefits or State Aid in Thailand, no government handouts, family allowances or pension schemes – another unimaginable aspect for those with a fixed Western mind-set. Every one of the 60-plus million people here is dependent upon either generating a continual income or being taken-care of by a family member who has access to such.

    So, in the scheme of things, an older Western man, divorced or separated, with collateral from the sale of his house or business, annuities, insurance, investments or even a pension, can find companionship and affection with a young(er) attractive Thai woman. And she, in return, finds a steadfast partner who can help both her and her extended family. Plus he’ll end up living in a pleasant country where everything is 25% of the cost of living back home.

    This is what is at the core of the whole sex-tourism industry: financial stability. And, whatever the surface packaging of this, whatever the tales of violent lady-boys or scheming bar-girls out to cheat the farangs, this is an element that established itself in the 1950s and 60s, after the War(s) had exposed the attractions of Thailand to millions of soldiers who were drafted over here. And, as such, has now become an established fact of life here – one which I can’t imagine is going to fade-out for a very long time indeed.

  2. Great article, guys – very well written! We’ve had many of the same thoughts that you shared here since we got to Thailand last month. In some places we were disgusted by the large amount of ugly, old Western dudes trying to impress the way-too-young Thai girls.
    Globetrottergirls´s last [type] ..Hotel Tip of the Week: Hotel Helix | Washington, DC

  3. Denise says:

    It’s rare that I read a post right to the end…and without skimming through it. Really well-written. This is probably one of the reasons why I think I’ll never go to Thailand. I just couldn’t stand the site of sex tourists (not the sex workers, who are only trying to earn a living).
    Denise´s last [type] ..Back from Bali…and already worrying about Vietnam and Australia

  4. Khon Kaen says:

    Been going on since the beginning of time in Thailand and will continue – not just for men any more. More and more sex tourists are ladies from abroad.

  5. Sex Tourism ain’t it? Rife all over the world. Some destinations are for the men and others are for the women. Some destinations are just not so discrete about it.
    Natalie – Turkish Travel Blog.´s last [type] ..Solo Traveler – Wandering Earl In Turkey