Eve of New Year’s Eve

Looking forward to FC’s year-end entry!

Bizarre Reuters article on Yahoo
, with a curious first line: “Would you pay $175 for a pound of coffee beans which had passed through the backside of a furry mammal in Indonesia?” Apparently, the civet’s digestive system does something to the coffee beans:

“People like coffee. And when they want to treat themselves, they order the Kopi Luwak,” said Isaac Jones, director of sales for Tastes of The World, an online supplier of gourmet coffee, tea and cocoa.

Despite being carnivorous, civets eat ripe coffee cherries for treats. The coffee beans, which are found inside of the cherries, remain intact after passing through the animal.

Civet droppings are found on the forest floor near coffee plantations. Once carefully cleaned and roasted, the beans are sold to specialty buyers. [….]

He expects to sell around 200 pounds of the coffee this year, with orders coming from North America and Europe. So far, most of the orders have been from California.

Indonesia produces only about 500 kilograms, or roughly 1,100 pounds, of the coffee each year, making it extremely expensive and difficult to find.

“It’s the most expensive coffee that we know about in the world,” said Jones.

Umm, sorry – that just sounds weird… (well, I’m not exactly a gourmand, so who am I to say? It better be damn good coffee though).

NY Times’ Sewell Chan profiles the NYS mediator, Richard A. Curreri - the man who helped make the transit strike end possible:

IN grade-school baseball and stickball games, while other children stood out for their fleetness of foot, strength of arm and speed of bat, Richard A. Curreri was already becoming known for his skills as a mediator.

“I tended to be the kid they went to to make a decision in normal disputes,” he recalled. “Whether somebody was safe, whether somebody was out – they’d ask me. I don’t know why. For whatever reason, that was my role. Probably I was a better umpire than baseball player.”

Mr. Curreri’s skill at seeing both sides of an argument has served him well at the New York State Public Employment Relations Board, where he is the director of conciliation and played a critical role last week in developing a framework that ended New York City’s first transit strike in a quarter-century.

Mr. Curreri, 53, a mild-mannered public servant with a wry sense of humor, has helped settle scores of labor disputes over the years, including strikes by teachers in Yonkers in 1999 and in Buffalo in 2000. Nothing in his 29 years at the state labor board, however, had approached the fury and intensity of the transit negotiations. [….]

Born in Brooklyn, Mr. Curreri grew up in Valley Stream, on Long Island, and graduated in 1973 from Cornell University, where he studied government. He did not develop an interest in labor relations until his time at Albany Law School.

ONE of his professors there was John E. Sands, who had been a top New York City labor-relations official under Mayor John V. Lindsay. Mr. Sands saw a spark of talent in Mr. Curreri and encouraged him to enter the field.

“He was born to arbitrate and mediate,” Mr. Sands said. “He has a sense of the process – the pragmatics of mediation as an extension of collective bargaining. He just has a natural feel for it. Plus, he can read parties’ real intentions, behind the rhetoric.”

After getting his law degree in 1976, Mr. Curreri joined the Public Employment Relations Board, a small agency created under the Taylor Law of 1967, which forbids public employees to strike.

Mr. Curreri started as an assistant counsel, defending decisions by the board, which makes rulings in complaints about improper labor practices. He also became a protégé of Harold R. Newman, a former union organizer who was chairman of the board from 1977 to 1990 and who died last month at 84. In 1990, Mr. Curreri became director of conciliation, taking a job Mr. Newman held when he helped settle the last New York City teachers’ strike, in 1975.

Pauline Rogers Kinsella, the board’s chairwoman from 1991 to 1998, has a theory for Mr. Curreri’s success. “He has the ability to listen carefully, which is a critical quality in a mediator,” she said. “He does not inject himself into, or make personal, the mediation process.” [….]

It may seem easy to identify what it takes to be a good mediator, but it’s probably harder to carry it out. So Mr. Curreri’s definitely an inspiration here for taking on the mess that the MTA and the union put out. And, maybe alternative dispute resolution should be a tool used more often!

Hilarious, as NY Times’ Adam Liptak reports: Boston U’s Prof. Jay Wexler came up with a law journal article where he analyzed the Supreme Court transcripts and determined who’s the justice who garners the most laughs: Scalia (no surprise – the man’s a wit, as we can tell from his written opinions). The professor concedes that his analysis is hardly accurate, but it’s fun to consider. The other justices are hardly slouches, even if the transcripts don’t quite reflect that, and maybe Ch. J. Roberts may be on the rise as the new ringleader of wit and verbal jousting:

[….] Jay D. Wexler, a law professor at Boston University, was quick to exploit the new data to analyze the relative funniness of the justices. His study, which covers the nine-month term that began that October, has just been published in a law journal called The Green Bag.

Justice Scalia was the funniest justice, at 77 “laughing episodes.” On average, he was good for slightly more than one laugh – 1.027, to be precise – per argument.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer was next, at 45 laughs. Justice Ginsburg produced but four laughs. Justice Clarence Thomas, who rarely speaks during arguments, gave rise to no laughter at all.

Of course, what passes for humor at the Supreme Court would probably not kill at the local comedy club. Consider, for instance, the golden opportunity on Halloween this year when a light bulb in the courtroom’s ceiling exploded during an argument.

It takes two justices, it turns out, to screw up a light bulb joke.

“It’s a trick they play on new chief justices all the time,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who joined the court that month, said of the explosion.

“[Laughter.]”

“Happy Halloween,” Justice Scalia retorted.

“[Laughter.]”

And then, the kicker. “We’re even more in the dark now than before,” Chief Justice Roberts said.

“[Laughter.]”

On the other hand, in a January argument in a statute-of-limitations case, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy made an amusing observation about the absurdity of modern life.

“Recently I lost my luggage,” Justice Kennedy said. “I had to go to the lost and found at the airline, and the lady said has my plane landed yet.”

“[Laughter.]”

Professor Wexler concedes that his methodology is imperfect. The court reporters who insert the notations may, for instance, be unreliable or biased.

The simple notation “[laughter]” does not, moreover, distinguish between “a series of small chuckles” and “a joke that brought the house down.” Nor, Professor Wexler said, does it separate “the genuine laughter brought about by truly funny or clever humor and the anxious kind of laughter that arises when one feels nervous or uncomfortable or just plain scared for the nation’s future.” [….]

Justice Scalia’s numbers may similarly overstate his wit, if only because the courtroom expects quips from him and may laugh at the least provocation. Also, he tried hard.

“He plays to the crowd,” said Pamela S. Karlan, a Stanford law professor and Supreme Court advocate who has garnered her own share of laughter notations in the transcripts.

Sometimes, the laughter that apparently filled the courtroom is hard to comprehend. Chief Justice Roberts, for instance, got a laugh for this observation at an October argument on assisted suicide: “The relationship between the states and the federal government has changed a little since Gibbons v. Ogden,” a landmark decision in 1824 about national regulation of the economy.

Lawyers get laughs sometimes, too, but it is a dangerous business. In the guidebook the court provides to lawyers preparing to argue before it, there is this stern warning: “Attempts at humor usually fall flat.”

Thomas C. Goldstein, a Washington lawyer who appears before the court frequently, said humor “is a land mine.”

“You have to follow the justices’ lead,” Mr. Goldstein said. “You have to be a straight man.”

Lawyers confuse one justice with another surprisingly often, and those mix-ups are, of course, an opportunity for humor.

Last November, Sri Srinivasan, a government lawyer, apologized to Justice David H. Souter for referring to him as Justice Scalia.

“Thank you,” Justice Souter said, with characteristic self-deprecation, “but apologize to him.”

“[Laughter.]”

The New York Times, building on Professor Wexler’s pioneering work, analyzed the available transcripts for the term that began this October. The mood under Chief Justice Roberts has brightened, the analysis found, with the average number of justice-generated laughs per argument rising to 2.9 from 2.6 the previous term.

In the current term, the Times analysis found, there has also been movement in the funniness-of-individual-justices department. Justice Breyer has taken the lead, at 28 laughs, edging out Justice Scalia, with 25. They also tied in the largest-number-of-jokes-in-a-single-argument category, each squeezing five into a single hour.

Chief Justice Roberts made a strong early showing, coming in third, with 13.

“It looks like he’ll be competitive,” Professor Wexler said in an interview.

Justice Clarence Thomas continues to bring up the rear, with what is shaping up to be another jokeless term for him. [….]

So, there will be much to look forward to in the new year. Winter Olympics. A new Supreme Court Justice. NYS Gubernatorial and attorney general elections. And so on. Happy New Year everybody (in case I don’t post again before 2006). Peace and good will and all that good stuff. And, hmm, let’s see how those resolutions will hold or not… ;-)

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