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.

Giving The Devil His Due

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One Day in Cairo

I can’t say we weren’t forewarned by other travelers who’d gone before us, but Egypt is, in a word, intense. It is the single place on our journey I have no desire to return to, and with my thirst for adventure, that’s saying a lot.

They say first impressions are often the truest. Nowhere did this ring more true than in Egypt. On our first day in Cairo I arrived curious, excited and intrigued. I went to bed angry, bitter and distressed. All we needed was one day in the sprawling metropolis of Cairo to realize Egypt was not for us.

Our Arrival

Landing in one of the world’s oldest cities we found ourselves standing for the first time on African soil yet entrenched in the Arabic culture of the Middle East. I could hardly believe we were here, that our journey had brought us all this way from Argentina to Egypt.

From our first steps on the streets of Cairo, I could tell we’d left Asia behind. Sandstone minarets, domed-mosques and satellite dishes dominated the hazy skyline. We passed restaurants touting shawarma and koshari while the smell of mint tea, apple sheesha and exhaust fumes enveloped the air. We passed bakeries selling salty pretzels and cookies and eyed pastry-filled windows with puddings and cakes dripping in honey syrup.

Traffic-choked street corners were lined with tea vendors dressed in what looked like knee-high, rubber rain boots. They clung to massive silver urns slung around their shoulders while doling out cups of sweetness for pennies. And then there was the army of young boys winding through the labyrinth of tight alleyways balancing enormous, wooden break baskets on their heads while carpet sellers sunk their teeth into the morning stream of tourists passing by their storefronts. Yes, this was Cairo.

What was most noteworthy was our first introduction to the Muslim world. We’d visited Muslim Quarters in a handful of cities in Asia, however, here we experienced Islam in full-throttle. The entire city of 20 million seems to beat to an Islamic drum, and the myriad of cultural differences stemming from this were innumerable.

The Dress

4818799211 15ef020323 z One Day in Cairo

First there was the dress. For Egyptian women revealing skin is taboo. Here women still dress in the traditional, black burqua covering, in many cases, every square inch of their bodies, often with only slits of their eyes revealed. Even at meal time women don’t remove the black cloth covering their faces, and witnessing them spoon food behind the black drape was fascinating.

While Western clothing has become a part of the Egyptian male identity, many still dress in traditional garb. They wear long, flowy robes that reach down to their ankles. In most cases they are white but always a mute tone. Some men even wear a kind of headdress with their robe, usually red and white checkered and stretching from their forehead to the back of their neck.

What I found most fascinating was seeing the two worlds collide. While the culture remains predominantly conservative, you can see some people are pushing the limits. Many women simply wear head scarves with Western clothes on bottom. What really caught my attention was seeing a woman wearing a full, black burqua yet rocking a pair of fire engine red, four-inch heels, peeping out the bottom. So fierce, in fact, even Tim Gun would be proud.

The Religion

Islam takes center stage in Cairo and all over Egypt. Five times a day, Muslims are required to bow down in prayer. Whether walking the streets or tending their shop, they stop everything they’re doing to lay down their mat and face Mecca. From the guy working the reception desk at our hotel to the tea vendor working the corner, they bowed their heads, prostrated their bodies to Allah.

The distinctive adhan, or call to prayer, was the soundtrack of our time in Cairo. Each day, yes five times a day, the melodic sound boomed across the sprawling city calling the faithful to prayer. The wildly chaotic cacophony of voices resounded through the city over loud speakers attached to the sides of minarets and mosques. Witnessing a tradition perhaps as old as Islam itself in one of the world’s ancient cities, was pretty surreal (except maybe when it woke us up each morning at sunrise!).

The Scene

4643536842 77c5de3db2 z One Day in Cairo

Reflecting on the extreme cultural difference and sensory overload we were experiencing in our first steps in Cairo, we set out to explore the Old City, known as Islamic Cairo. Our first stop was the main bazaar known Khan al-Khalili, or simply known as The Khan. Amidst the hustle and bustle of one of the Middle East’s most famous bazaars, we wound down the tight alleyways lined with vendors hawking all sorts of metallic treasures. There were brass lamps, copper pots and silver antiques sold along side spice stands and perfumes sold out of delicate, glass bottles. This was Egypt at its most intoxicating.

4837129995 01326e8a69 z One Day in Cairo

Late afternoon brought us to al-Azhar Park, an expansive green space perched high above the city. The park offered a peaceful, green respite from the chaos and congestion of Cairo and turned out to be a spectacular place to watch sunset. With a 360 degree view over the city we watched the sun drop behind towering minarets and as the sky turned orange we could hear the call to prayer reverberating in the distance.

The Reality

What could have been a captivating experience soaking up the sights and sounds of one of the world’s ancient cities turned sour quickly. More than anywhere else on our travels, we were treated as walking dollar signs, and Egyptians go to extremes to get into your pockets. Wherever we went, we couldn’t walk more than five steps without being hounded, hassled and downright harassed. What started out as a mild annoyance soon turned aggressive. Hellos and where are you from became handshakes and violent tugs physically pulling you into a storefronts. Making eye contact with a stranger turned into being followed and hunted down for five blocks.

Most alarming was experiencing first-hand being a woman in the Arabic world. You are property and truly a second-class citizen. Every conversation was directed to Ryan, even if I was the one asking the question. It was almost as if I didn’t exist. But when it came to stares, they were all over me. Unlike India where the staring seemed to stem from a genuine curiosity, here it felt more like an attack. Bare skin, and I’m talking even just from the elbow down to the wrist, was eye candy for every man in town. Trying to cover my body in the 110 degree heat was exhausting and didn’t seem to curb any attention coming my way anyway.

On a visit to a local teahouse known as an awa, I realized I was losing the battle. Briefly stepping behind a tall bar and out of Ryan’s sight, I found myself being physically attacked. Our waiter held me tightly behind the bar out of Ryan’s view as he fondled me and ran his hands all over my body.

Needless to say I was quite shaken up and equally enraged. It certainly wasn’t the best introduction to Egypt or the Arab world.

I know what you are thinking. How can you generalize an entire country after a few isolated experiences? It’s just that we continued to experience the aggression and hostility of the people throughout our week-long stay in Egypt. This was just the beginning…

A week in Egypt would change me. It would take away that innocent, possibly naïve, outlook I suppose I bring to the table. I’d start questioning my innate trust in others and my desire to befriend total strangers. I learned that here, especially in the Arab world friendliness can be read the wrong way, and that it was time I toughened up. One thing was sure, Egypt was going to leave me hardened.

pixel One Day in Cairo

Comments (6)

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  1. roundwego says:

    @Garrett – Thanks for the comment! Egypt was certainly not an enjoyable place to travel, but definitely think it goes beyond my treatment as a women. Know my husband can attest that just being a Westerner traveling through is downright exhausting. The hassling really gets to you! Definitely agree that the group tour thing may allow you to avoid much of this, but guess it would also distance you from experiencing the few redeeming cultural experiences. Ah, Egypt…Thanks for following our journey.

    @Art – It was quite alarming experiencing how women are treated and it really made it hard to enjoy all the other fascinating parts of the Egyptian culture. While we don’t regret going, it was a tough place to travel, no doubt. Will be interested to read about your experiences if you guys do decide to go in October. At the very least you should have better weather, as 115 degree temperatures made it that much harder. Thanks for following our adventures!

    @Katie – Glad to hear you had such an positive experience traveling through Egypt. That’s the funny thing about travel, you can visit the same place and come out with a totally different perspective and also have completely different experiences. My experience being attached by the guy at the restaurant, however, really left a sour taste in my mouth for the people and it continued to get worse throughout our week there. I definitely won’t let it hinder us from traveling through other parts of the Arab world, I’ll just be a lot better prepared.

    @Melissa – Thank you for your kind words! It’s a hard subject indeed. I can only imagine what it is like to travel through Sudan and Somalia. I’m sure you had some tough days and I completely agree with where you are coming from: Human dignity trumps culture. Well said! Yes, I have trouble accepting the fact women are treated that way and just because I’m visiting there as a female tourist, doesn’t mean I will accept that treatment, too. I am a bit turned off with traveling through the Arab world, but I definitely will go back. Just need a bit of time ;) …Thanks for following our adventure!

  2. Todd Dillon's Roomie says:

    Hi guys!

    I’m Todd’s roommate. Just spending an early autumn night in Chicago on our back porch drinking some wine and talking about how we wish we travel more than we do. Amazing pictures, great stories from what I’ve read and coming from someone in digital advertising, your blog looks great for many reasons :)

    One recommendation-I traveled to Beirut this summer due to dating someone from that area, all bias aside, I would HIGHLY recommend that you both travel there to experience what the Middle East has to offer in this region. It is a known to be one of the more liberal places in the ME, and when I use liberal lightly compared to the US, but the culture, food, landscape, livelihood is like no other.

    I think it might provide another perspective on a region that is made up in part of an islam community.

    And if I can’t convince you, NYX in 2009 said it was the #1 travel destination and Anthony Bourdain recently made a trip back…

    Yalla! ;)

  3. Melissa says:

    I cannot even tell you how much I appreciate your honest, intelligent approach to this extremely difficult issue. I had the worst time you can imagine travelling in Sudan and Somalia (I know, I know….not the smartest places to go. I probably would not make the same decision again!) It infuriates me when people try to give a simple response (“it’s just their culture”) to what is actually an almost insanely complex issue. At the end of it, I came to a conclusion similar to yours: my beliefs are simply incompatible with the way that some cultures accept. I will staunchly refuse to accept the term racist for saying that. Human dignity trumps culture, period. I’m really sorry you had such a bad time though, and I want to tell you how much I *love* your writing!
    Ottawa, Canada

  4. Katie says:

    I’m really bummed to read that you were so put off by Cairo and Egypt as a whole. Egypt is probably one of the best trips I’ve ever taken, so I’d like to offer an alternate point of view.

    I visited for just over 2 weeks in 2008 and had an amazing time, visiting Cairo, Aswan, Luxor, Sinai and Dahab.

    I’m blond and female, so I definitely stood out, but I dressed very conservatively and didn’t experience anything close to the type of harassment you experienced. And for a good part of my trip I was with a group of other women, also dressed conservatively and to my knowledge none of them had any problems either.

    It was a bit of culture shock to see things like separate lines at the ATM for men and women or to see the occasional woman in a full burka (although our tour guide explained most of those women aren’t Egyptian, but immigrants from other Arab countries). According to the tour guide I had for part of the trip, there is actually a lot of respect for women and the penalties for crimes such as sexual harassment or rape are so extreme that they are very rare. At the same time, he told us there is the view of Western women as being “easy” so showing any skin or wearing tight-fitting clothing would attract a lot of negative attention. I was there in January/February when it was cooler, so it was not difficult to stay covered.

    Yes, the vendors in the markets were annoying and it was usually best to avoid eye contact – I generally made it a policy to only go into the stalls of those who did not try to lure me in and I found that worked quite well. And while I definitely was scammed a couple times, most of the Egyptians I met were incredibly friendly and helpful.

    You can read about my experiences at http://katiegoingglobal.com/category/travel-journals/egypt-2008/.
    Katie´s last [type] ..Five Steps to Choosing a Group Tour

  5. Garrett says:

    It sounds like the worst part of your experience resulted directly from your treatment as a woman. I think if I travel to Egypt with a companion, especially a female one, to avoid mistreatment the group-tours a la the Nile and beyond may be the best option.

  6. Art G says:

    Very well written. We are/were bound for Egypt the end of October. I have traveled to many countries and enjoyed immersing myself in the culture. But, after reading this from a stand point of a traveler entering a country where women are treated thusly, I will find it difficult to understand or even try to understand the culture. Your article sounds like you made every attempt to remain neutral but were overwhelmed and slowly became negative. The actions of the waiter are beyond tolerable. While things could happen once or twice to any traveler, it sounds as though this is not only tolerated, it is permitted and excused as “tradition.” We may rethink our travel plans.

    Art G´s last [type] ..Skagway and CarrCross- Briish Columbia- Canada — Skagway- Alaska- United States