Tuesday, July 10, 2012

I Saw Neon Trees on a Tuesday Night

Today was the day of our field trip. Our destination was the district court house in lower Manhattan. This area features the town hall, as well as many traditional court buildings. In this field of stone walls and marble pillars, the district court certainly stood out; it's a 24+ story skyscraper.

The first stop was a Q & A with the Honorable Judge Nathan. She was really interesting. She seemed very intent on answering our questions as truthfully and extensively as possible. She didn't shortchange us or give stock answers. She had a very interesting background, too. Before becoming a judge, she worked as a defense lawyer, as well as an attorney for the white house. Apparently, after having been a judge for almost a year, she has only presided over three criminal cases, but has worked on dozens of civil cases.

After the Q & A session, we went to observe a real court case. Have you heard Larry Seabrook? He's a New York City council member. In 2010, he was charged with money laundering, extortion and fraud. His initial trial led to a hung jury (no unanimous decision), so they had to start the trial over, with a new jury. We got to sit in on part of this re-trial.

The witnesses and evidence were hilarious. It took me a while to understand what was happening, but when I got a hold of it, I couldn't stop giggling. One of the witnesses was the owner of a local deli, who Seabrook's staff had ordered a sandwich from. This meal should have cost less than $10, but the receipt listed it as a $177 dollar expense. Jeffrey explained that this was likely an attempt to cover up illegal expenses (or at least that's what the prosecution was trying to prove).

We left the courthouse at the lunch break, to get some food. Luckily, China Town was nearby, and Jeffrey knew a great place for us to sit down and have lunch. This may not have been as extravagant as any of the dinners the ILC has taken us, but the food was fantastic, and the company made it fun. In the end, that's all that matters.

After lunch, we went back to campus. I was drenched after the walking around the city in dress clothes, so I took a quick shower.

Around 4:00 PM, we met Ms. L. outside of Low Library. Andrea (a Columbia student who we had dinner with) came to give us a tour of campus. Up until then, we had only seen the bottom half of campus, and we didn't know what many of the buildings were for, so it was really useful to hear from her.

After the tour, I went to the cafeteria to get dinner. After Aurea, Morvarid and Tomi left, I sat with some friend I had made from my hall. I found out that there was an RA trip to Neon Trees Concert this evening. I jumped on the opportunity, and went with Jason (someone from my floor) to buy tickets from the RA who was heading the trip. We took the subway down to Union Square, and walked to the performance location: Webster Hall.

There were three acts tonight: the two openers, JJAMZ and Penguin Prison, and the headliner, Neon Trees. The location was amazing. It's hard to describe it. I feel like I'd seen places like this in movies before. It was a really small venue, but they were able to fit a lot of people, because everyone was standing. I guess it was similar to a night club, but with rafters and a big stage. All of the bands were talented, but the final act was the most fun because everyone was so excited for it. I don't think I can express through this blog just how intense and fun this was, but I can tell you that I will remember this night for a LONG time.

I don't have much time left in New York, so I'm probably going to be cramming a lot of events into the next few days.

A Bagel and a Snapple, for $177

Rather than head to class at 10 AM like I normally would, today, I was down at the subway station at 8:30 AM with all my classmates for a field trip to the District Court! We were all dressed up up semi-nicely; I just wore a dress shirt and some slacks. There were about 20 of us meeting at Columbia, as some of the students commute from their houses and decided to meet us at the courthouse. We hopped on the 1 and took it at all the way down to Franklin Street, about 20 stops down, and from there, we walked 4 or 5 blocks east to the courthouse. Like I said yesterday, I've finally gotten to know my classmates really well, and hanging out with them is like hanging out with my friends. So I spent the entire trip down to the courthouse talking with these kids like I had known them for years, when in reality, I've known them for only a few months.
After going through security, we went up to the court room of Judge Alison Nathan, who had agreed ahead of time to meet with us, tell us about herself, and then answer our questions. She was very nice and gave very descriptive, well-thought-out to all of our questions. She was a bit hesitant in answering our questions about her politcal leaning, or her opinion of the recent Affordable Care Act decision, although it's completely 100% understandable considering the importance of neutrality and an unbiased approach to her job. She has only been a judge for six months, but gave the advice of someone who has been doing the job for years. One thing she said which I found interesting was her answer to the question about what the biggest flaw of the judicial system was; she answered that the biggest flaw was the fact that those who couldn't afford the best attorneys, or any attorneys at all, were at a major disadvantage regardless of the strength of their case.
Immediately following this session with her, our group of what was now about 30 people entered a court room on the 24th floor (AMAZING views of the Brooklyn Bridge and Empire State Building, although we weren't allowed to bring electronics past security), where the a New York city councilman, Larry Seabrook, was being tried for using city funds to, basically, pay for a ton of things that he was not supposed to use those funds for. I don't know what the charges were, or what exactly it was that Mr. Seabrook is accused of doing, but I kind of got the gist of things, which was that he had supposedly misused money that his job had trusted him to take care of.

I'm not sure where this case ranked on the spectrum of "interestingness" in comparison to all the cases being heard at the courthouse. Last year, Jeffrey told us, they had attended a murder trial in which a Korean gang member (and some of friends) had murdered a Chinese man. At first glance, it looked like one of the more interesting cases, but they discovered that the trial went extremely slowly due to the fact that every question had to be translated into a few different languages before the question could be answered. As a result, each question took a few miuntes, and the class understood less than half of what was said. This case, though, I found to be pretty interesting, although they may have had to do less with the charges and more with the specific content of today's proceedings; there was one witness who's answers were a bit amusing, and a very funny piece of evidence presented. I have no idea what the legal terms for this are, but today's proceedings consisted only of the government presenting testimonies of their witnesses. As a result, I haven't heard Mr. Seabrook's side defend him, so as far as I know, he may be as a innocent a man as there is.

Anyway, the first piece of evidence presented was a receipt from a deli on Park Place called "Bits, Bites and Baguettes." The receipt from the deli had two items: a bagel/turkey sandwich and a Diet Snapple. Under the "cost" column, it said that the sandwich cost over 155 dollars, and that the Snapple cost $21.45. Aside from the ridiculous receipt, it was very funny that the attorneys had to remain entirely serious and unbiased, without asking any leading questions. For example, the attorney questioning the owner of the store could not say, "Isn't that expensive??" he had to ask "How much does a Snapple usually sell for at your deli?" and "Does your deli usually sell bagels for 155 dollars?"

Obviously, someone had thought that these receipt weren't being checked when they tried to sneak the charge of $177 for a Snapple and a bagel. Jeffrey explained to us that those extra 150 dollars probably ended up someplace else, someplace that the person using the city funds could not use city funds for. I also found this very interesting because my dad, who is a journalist, has reported on this exact type of corruption back home in the Bay Area.

The witness, an inspector/advisor at a non-profit organization (NEBRC, or "Northeast Bronx something something") receiving city funds, was asked to read many of her reports on the organization. When asked questions of what she thought of the organization, she would answer with things like "Do you want the politically correct answer?" She also made very visible the fact that she had zero desire to be in court, as she was told about 10 times to slow down her reading so that the court reporter could catch what she was saying. After being told, she would continue reading, except she would sarcastically read three words and then pause for a second, and then three more words, and so on, as if she were reading to a little kid. Everyone also laughed when she described her conversation with the man running the organization. After he asked her to look the other way regarding about 60 falsified documents, she responded with "No, I ain't going down with you!"
After eating lunch as a class in Chinatown and arriving back to campus, we took a tour of Columbia with one of the Columbia students from our dinner, Andrea. The tour was not very long, as Columbia's campus is small and we have already seen parts of it, but she answered lots of our questions regarding social life on campus, the residence halls, core curriculum, and community outreach programs. Interestingly, the four students from the dinner all talked about how, even though it had a lot of requirements, they loved Columbia's core curriculum. One thing that we loved, also, was the fact that even in a huge urban area, Columbia's campus was  kind of a small community within that big city where you don't feel like everything is always moving 100 miles per hour.

Taking the interpretation of the word "grande" to new heights.
After the tour, I went to my room and lay down for a nap. I had planned to wake up at 6:30, in time for dinner in the dining hall, but my roommate walked in at 8:30 PM surprised to find me asleep. Instead, we went out near campus and bought some food at a taqueria on Amsterdam. There was a Chipotle that was a bit closer, but Chipotle and Rubio's, and many other chains are far more American, I feel, than they are actually Mexican, and to get real Mexican food, you need to go to the taquerias. This place did not disappoint. I ordered a grande burrito, which completely left in the dust any other interpretations of the term "grande." The burrito I recieved was more than double the size of what you would normally receive when ordering a burrito. "That burrito cannot fit into a human stomach; you can't finish that," one friend told me. "It's impossible, you have no chance," said my roommate. They don't know me that well, yet, I guess. While I did feel like the walls of my stomach were about to rupture by the time I finished, I ate the entire thing, and even cleaned the plate. I hate leaving food on my plate; even if I order double what I was planning on eating, I try to finish it all anyway (even if my stomach explodes). It was well-worth it, I thouroughly enjoyed it.
Also, let me make clear that the soda in the top right corner of the photo is not mine. I haven't had a soda this entire trip, and I don't want anyone to think I've let my guard down.

Doing the Impossible

(Note: At the Southern District Court, all electronics are taken away by security, including cell phones and cameras. Unfortunately, we were not able to get any pictures with the federal judge we met today or of the courthouse. However, I have obtained a picture of the judge from Google Images and will post it here.)

I awoke at 7:30 and took a shower so I would be fully awake for the day ahead of me. Then I got dressed in my turquoise dress and sandals and went downstairs for a quick breakfast. I met Luke and the residential students in our Con Law class by the Columbia gates. We took a long subway ride before making it to Lincoln Street, and after walking a couple blocks, we met up with Jeffrey and the commuter students in our class.

After going through security, we went upstairs to meet Federal Judge Alison Nathan. She was appointed seven months ago so she was very fresh about everything. Judge Nathan went to Cornell University for undergraduate studies and then came back to Cornell Law School. She was a lawyer in the Obama Administration and clerked for a judge for two years. She wasn't sure if she wanted to be a judge, but decided to go for it and went through a rigorous selection process. While she is still figuring out her judicial philosophy, it is apparent to me that she loves her job. I asked her if there are any easy parts to her job, seeing as though when she spoke about it, it all seemed very complicated and rigorous.

And I was right - being a judge is complicated and rigorous. Judge Nathan said that the only easy part of her job is singing requests for lawyers and parties to get all the information/evidence they need for a case. She follows a schedule such as giving them 3 months to organize oral questions.

Judge Nathan has a life term and gets about 300 civil cases, which sounds like a lot because it is a lot. She told us she felt that jury trials are good for criminal cases and that she has had cases with people representing themselves but she tries to be as fair as possible. It was a pleasure meeting her! She even let us sit in the jury chairs and then her own chair!

Judge Nathan 
After meeting Judge Nathan, we went upstairs and saw a court case! The government was presenting it's case against Larry Seabrook, a councilman being charged with fraud. Since no verdict has been stated I won't reveal any of what we heard, but I will say it was all very interesting. At first I was disappointed at how "bland" the lawyers were being, but then I realized that's how it is in real life. All the drama and waving of the hands and throwing files on the floor is just television. Sometimes the lawyers would ask basic questions to the witness that I knew the lawyer's knew the answer to, but I realized that they are doing this because they have to lay out all the facts.

Once the court recessed for a lunch break, we decided to get lunch as well. We went to a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown, which was a block from the courthouse. I sat at Luke's table and our conversation varied from AP classes to debate to German!

Lots of restaurants 
My meal of vegetable rolls and chicken fried rice (no I did not finish the whole thing, it would've been impossible) 
Class Photo - Unfortunately a lot of us are blinking (including myself), but I like this picture nonetheless and I'm sure we'll get a better one by the last day 
After eating we took the subway back to Columbia. I was able to get a quick nap in before our campus tour with Andrea, who attended the Columbia on Columbia dinner two weeks ago. To be honest, Columbia's main campus is not very big and I felt like we walked around in a circle, but I got to see a lot of buildings I hadn't seen yet and learn more about the school. Andrea really explained the Core Curriculum as well, and to be honest as I learn more about it, it doesn't appeal to me. It just seems much too rigid and like I wouldn't have time to take classes that I  really wanted to take. I feel like I'd be forced into classes I may not like or would be too rigorous for me. I'm still really grateful that Andrea gave us the tour, it was nice of her to take time out of her day to do that for us.

We had a meeting with Ms. L and then we went to dinner. However, after dinner I went back to my dorm and completely fell asleep. Tomorrow we have a quiz, and I'm going to get some studying in at breakfast and in between classes. Should be fun - not.

Federal Courts & What They Do

Today, my Constitutional Law class was taking a field trip to the United States District for the Southern District of New York to speak with a court justice, and then later sit in for a trial. On the bright side, the entire class day was dedicated to this trip, meaning that today was basically a free day--which was really appreciated after that stressful paper. On the not-so bright side, we had to be ready to leave the school at 8:30 AM, which meant that we had to wake up early. Not only that, but since we were going to a district court, we were required to dress accordinglyHonestly, seeing so many well-dressed kids reminded me of the Ivy League Connection program!

As it turns out, both of our teachers were present for once--Luke took the residential students to the courthouse, whereas Jeffery was already at the there in order to meet up with any commuter students who decided to go ahead of the rest of the class.

While meeting with Justice Nathan, we were asked her questions about why she decided to pursue a career in law, how she acquired her job, and how she carries out her duties as a district court judge. Initially, I was intimated by the idea of meeting with Justice Nathan, but she turned out to be was surprisingly friendly and eager to answer our questions; she was even nice of enough to let us sit in her chair!  Jeffery theorizes that the reason that she's so nice is because she's fairly new to the job and "the years haven't made her bitter yet."

The case that we attended was a criminal case concerning the alleged acts extortion, bribery, fraud by a local politician. I'm actually not sure of whether or not I'm allowed to talk about the exact details of the case outside the courthouse--it's comparably information, after all--but overall, it was a very interesting thing to witness, but at times it seemed to be very drawn out and tedious. By the end of the field trip, we left with a better understanding of the happening of our judiciary branch and more importantly, free brochures and pens! 

Afterwards, we decided to go out to lunch as a class. We ended up eating at a small Chinese restaurant in China Town. Since we were such a large group, it took quite sometime to find a place that could fit all of us--and even then we had to spread ourselves across three tables. I'm proud to announce that my table ended spending the least amount of money, since we shared our meal family style instead of ordering individual plates. One thing that I've learned while in New York is that things here are really expensive, which has taught me to become a lot more cheap. We didn't even break $100!

When lunch was over, we returned back to campus, and then finally dismissed. My day was far from over, however, because Mrs. L had scheduled one final tour for us. 

This time, we were finally touring Columbia. At first, I thought that I was already fairly acquainted with the campus, but I soon found out that I was only familiar with the quad and it's surrounding area--this school is a lot more intricate that I initially thought. Our tour guide was Adriana, who was also one of our guests at our Columbia alumni dinner. Adriana led us through the campus grounds, giving a little tidbits of information along the way. Some of the new areas that I saw were Uris Hall, Furnald Hall, and Avery Hall. 

The rest of the day played out like any other, we me meeting up with the girls for dinner in the dining hall before returning to my dorm room to study.

 Through all of these tours, information sessions, and dinners I've gained both a lot of information and a lot of weight. I'm somewhat sad that our last tour is over, since it means that our entire trip is almost over. I feel as though there are so many things that I'd still like to do, but that there's not enough to do it all--not only because we're leaving soon, but because of school as well. Hopefully, I'll be able to squeeze in one or two more major events before Saturday!

Meet Me Halfway

Today was simply just like yesterday. Again, I did not go on any trips, or do anything in particular besides working on my paper. I've understood the importance of prioritizing and time management, so every minute of my day has been calculated in order to work efficiently. 

I woke up, again at 7AM and did all the same morning routines from the days prior to today. During lunch, I took a 10 minute break from working on my research paper to make tie-dye shirts with my friends Brittany and Rowland. They insisted I'd accompany them, and since I had never made tie-dye shirts before, I agreed to try it out. It was a lot of fun, and I'm glad I tried it out. Since it was my first try, my shirt did not turn out as pretty as I expected, but it was a fun regardless. 

Right after making the shirt, I went right to my room and grabbed my laptop to go straight back to Butler library. I was exhausted from lack of sleep the past few days, but I worked regardless in homes of sleeping after the session was over. Keep in mind, I went an hour early so the session hadn't even started yet. 

Anyway, It was a productive afternoon, and I remembered towards the end that we were actually going to meet with one of the Columbia students we had dinner with, Andrea, for a private campus tour. I rushed over to Low Library to meet with Mrs.L, and Andrea met us there too. It's crazy how I've been on this campus for almost a month now, passing by all the majestic buildings of Columbia University, but I did not know the use the significance of each one. I'm really thankful for the tour because the information allowed me to appreciate Columbia University even more than before.

Right after the tour I ate with some of my friends to fuel my mind before my intense research. When I was done and approached my room, I noticed a flyer that said "sky lounge, Hartley 10th floor." I thought someone was just being silly and referring to their dorm as the "sky lounge," but I decided to go and check it out regardless. Turns out they weren't joking, there's really a library-like lounge on the very top of the Hartley building! The room was completely empty so I gathered all my things and came up to the room to study and finish my paper. The endless books and bookshelves kept me company while the comfy chairs and tables allowed me to work efficiently. Having the bright room all to myself, I've been working here ever since I discovered it's location. I have hit the halfway mark of my paper as of now, and hopefully by tomorrow, I can say this halfway mark has been long passed. 

I usually consider myself a good writer and I enjoy writing papers, but this essay weighs so much on my mind. I have my coffee to the side, my pack of chips, my brownies, and my ice-cream packed in the freezer. Sweet food for a working mind. Research paper, BRING IT.

Research Paper v. Riboroso

Only sixty-three hours between me and my deadline. Looks like I need a 1-up mushroom to get through this.

As you have probably read from my previous blogs, my research paper and I are not getting along so well. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve started my research and the paper itself; the only obstacle deterring me from finishing is my own fickle mind. And the distractions around me. I can’t concentrate on my paper for more than ten minutes without having to do something else. Whether it be going to the bathroom, eating, or even taking a walk, I just feel so restless.

My day began as usual at 8 AM trying to beat my suite mates to the bathroom for a shower. And I prevailed today! But being the courteous person that I am, I made my shower as quick as possible to let my suite mate have her time to groom. I then headed down for breakfast with Morvarid and Rowland since the Constitutional Law kids were on their way to the federal court for a field trip. I wish my class did something cool like that, maybe go the White House? Oh well, once can always dream.

Once we had our fill, we made our way to class for our daily discussion. Today we discussed the article we read prior on George W. Bush’s policies after the 9/11 attack. Although the contents of the article were somewhat biased, I could not sympathize on the dealing of Bush Jr. If I recall correctly, I remember my anger at reading what types of strategies Bush used for “the best interests of the country.” Civilians in foreign countries were subjected to forms of torture that although did not inflict “severe pain,” left impressions of mental and physical damage. Sleep deprivation, food deprivation, wall standing and hooding were all forms of “enhanced interrogations” that the nation used to gain information on Al Qaeda. Thankfully we finished about thirty minutes before class ended so Professor Porwancher gave us that time to read through our homework for the night. The article is very interesting, most likely my favorite one so far; it talks about empathy and how useful of a tool it is in politics. Seems like something Lucas would enjoy reading, considering he’s into ethics and politics, you know all that jazz.

Class ended and we made our way to the dining hall for our usual lunch. Considering my fatigue, which comes from nowhere really, I headed back to my dorm to take a nap. And thank the above I did because if I didn’t I would have fallen asleep at Butler library. After going back and forth with my thesis, I finally started on my paper. Unfortunately for me, I had to look through books and documents to have write most of the historical evidence before getting to my central argument; therefore I spent more time reading than writing.

My usual session at Butler Library ended and I made my way to Low Memorial Library for our daily meeting with Ms. L and our tour guide Adriana from our Columbia dinner. We got a personalized tour with her, so now we know more historical background on the buildings as well as the resources available for us on campus. Did you know Columbia University was originally an insane asylum? It’s probably from all the twenty-five page research papers students do. Adriana also explained her own tidbit on Columbia, such as the feeling of a different environment it sets off compared to the robust vibe of NYC. What excites me the most is the dual study abroad programs that Columbia allows, such as those at New York University.

Our tour then finished and a few of us made our way to the dining hall for what we all knew was a busy night ahead of us. While the Presidential Powers girls have research papers to work on, Constitutional Law students have a quiz to study for. So now each of us is probably slaving away in front of books, articles, and laptops trying to get our work in. Well maybe not me, I spent a good time looking through the stack at Butler Library for books. It’s quite frightening here at night when no one else is looking through the stacks.