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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A Round-the-World Travel Blog: Devil May Care (A new round-the-world travel blog, co-written with my wife)
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It’s Istanbul, Not Constantinople

Once upon a time, the city of Constantinople was the center of civilization. If you were to visit the bustling meyhanes (bars) in present-day Istanbul’s back alleyways, you would be forgiven for thinking it still is.

Today, the 2010 European Capital of Culture is doing its best to reassert its former glory and give proof that history does repeat itself. Women in burqas walking side by side with scantily-clad friends, churches converted to mosques – these are just a few examples of the East-meets-West juxtaposition that is so prevalent in Istanbul. While London and New York, and to a lesser extent Paris, offer incredible displays of diversity, none are as deeply rooted in their historical underpinnings and offer the unique sense of self that Istanbul displays.

The Sights

Laura and I stayed in the Old City of Sultanahmet, which is home to the city’s most famous sights. From our hotel rooftop terrace we had a view of two of the best: the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya in Turkish) and the Blue Mosque (officially Sultan Ahmed Mosque or Sultanahmet Camii in Turkish). Architecture is not immune to the East-West dichotomy found in every other facet of Istanbul life. Many of Istanbul’s greatest sights are churches from the early Christian periods converted to mosques when it was brought into the Ottoman Empire.

Almost all agree the exterior of the neighboring Blue Mosque is superior in beauty to the Hagia Sophia. But the most beautiful interior, that is the Hagia Sophia’s alone. The clean lines, beautiful Arabic calligraphy and lack of ostentatious ornamentation found in many churches and Hindu and Buddhist temples make the Hagia Sophia a sight to see. Combine those qualities with the massive and inconceivable vaulted domes, stone-textured walls and cream-white latticework and you have the most beautiful place of worship anywhere in the world.

Staying in Sultanahmet, we were able to avoid the crush of tour buses visiting the Blue Mosque and see it as the Muslims who come to worship here do. I snuck in just before the call to prayer when they close the mosque to outside visitors and witnessed the hushed tranquility of its interiors. I was quickly taken aback by the mosque’s restrained beauty. Raised Catholic, watching the prostrating worshippers awakened me to the stark contrasts of the two religions. The Blue Mosque, like most other mosques, is carpeted throughout. Instead of the hollow sound of my shoes meeting a marble church floor, I instead enjoyed the warmth of the simple but intricately-patterned carpet under my bare feet. It’s virtually impossible not to notice the blue Iznik tiles adorning the interior and give cause for the mosque’s nickname. Inside wrought-iron chandeliers holding 21st century votive candles, glass cups filled with energy-efficient light bulbs, endow the mosque with an incredible atmosphere, especially so in the evening.

Because Istanbul was named the 2010 European Cultural Capital the city is looking extra-swish, with flowers in full bloom and grass never looking greener. The history and beauty continue away and out from the main square to include the lesser-known but equally fascinating sights Little Ayasofya and Basilica Cistern. The cistern, an underwater chapel replete with sculptures of Medusa, dates back several hundreds of years before its rediscovery by a visiting historian and scholar who had heard locals’ talk of drawing water and even catching fish from buckets lowered from their apartment floors.

The Sounds

On top of possessing a dizzying array of sights Istanbul has to be the city that truly never sleeps. It makes New York City or Buenos Aires, the two giants of nocturnal activities in my experience, seem like Springfield (take your pick) on a Tuesday night. I am not exaggerating when I say thousands of people, mostly Istanbulites and other Turks, are out in the streets until 2 or 3 a.m., even on weeknights.

The back alleys of the bohemian Beyoglu neighborhood are chock-full of tables soaking themselves in raki, an anis-like drink similar to ouzo, and Efes Pilsner, the Turkish beer of choice. We witnessed the power of alcohol and the subsequent lowering of inhibition as locals displayed Turkish dancing en masse and sang along to Turkish anthems being belted from rowdy pubs.

We arrived on a Tuesday and watched each night as the crowds swelled larger and the party hours lengthened. By Saturday, it had reached full tilt. Only at 3:30 a.m., when we decided to call it quits, were the masses moving from Beyoglu’s back alleyways and into clubs where the party would continue until seven or eight in the morning. Sunday, presumably reserved for family time (or as the only buffer between weeknights and the weekend for Turks), was the only night there seemed to be some sense of calm in the city, and even then the scene was livelier than most big cities on a weekend night.

The Smells

Istanbul smells spicy. Really. Perhaps all that eclecticism has to manifest itself through some physical outpouring because there were some funky smells swirling about. Bad body odor aside, there are plenty of good smells in the city, such as the wonderful aroma of a kebap roasting on a spit. For travelers on a budget (we were), a daily doner fix is a must (make sure to order it with French fries and pita).

4839689007 2c383fa42b z It’s Istanbul, Not Constantinople

Istanbul, I should add, is a very expensive city. Although Turkey is not on the Euro (yet), prices are equivalent to or even greater than many Euro-using capital cities. That being said, Laura and I tried our best to gravitate to the other good smells of the city. The smell of grilled fish sandwiches near the Galata Bridge, which connects the old and new towns, reeks of an institution as old as the bridge itself. As long as there has been fish, water and fire there have been fish sandwiches underneath the Galata Bridge. The sandwiches themselves are nothing special, but the ritual and tradition that goes along with it certainly merit the modest $3 price tag.

Istanbulites typically dine in big groups and eat meze, appetizers akin to Spanish tapas or Italian antipasti. In almost any traditional Istanbul eatery the waiter will bring a wooden platter to the table to show the goods firsthand, whereupon the table selects from a variety of meze: eggplant, stuffed peppers and tomatoes, vine leaves, tapenades, kofte (minced meat rolled into meatballs) and different types of salted fish. If you haven’t smelled, or better yet, sampled a fair share of meze, you have not been to Istanbul.

The Ultimate Border Town

Over the years and through my travels I’ve developed an odd fascination with border towns and crossings. The strange ambiguity of border towns, representing two different worlds and a melting of cultures is for me a microcosm of what it is to travel: to perceive as normal what others view as new and different.

Over the course of hundreds, thousands of years even, Istanbulites have prospered, fallen down and picked themselves back up to assimilate into a culture they have created through war and trade and love and lust. It is not this distinctive blend of cultures and customs, however, which makes this city straddling both sides of the Bosphorous so exceptional. It’s how easily the people carry these differences and similarities with them that make Istanbul one of the unique cities of the world and worthy of a visit, don’t you think?

pixel It’s Istanbul, Not Constantinople

Comments (4)

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  1. Turkey is probably one of the countries I’m very excited about… didn’t expect it to be that expensive. But now we know.

    We might be too old for Istanbul’s night life though. Kinda sad… :)
    Jill – Jack and Jill Travel The World´s last [type] ..Would We Have Enough Money — October Budget Outlook

  2. Brilliant article. I love Istanbul, especially the Sultan Ahmet area.
    Natalie – Turkish Travel Blog´s last [type] ..Turkish Night Tacky Or Tasteful

  3. Clark says:

    Istanbul was one of our favorites. I was also disappointed when I saw the prices. Still, as I am sitting in my dusty room in Cairo, I wish we had an extra day or two in Istanbul.

    By the way, I think your post on Cairo sums up the city pretty well. I don’t think I want to retire here.

  4. Patrick Shuff says:

    doner kebobs. impressive.