Wednesday, March 29, 2006


I see that Antonin Scalia has written to the Boston Herald to insist that his reportedly obscene gesture a couple of days ago at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross was not obscene. The Herald has a follow-up story here; Scalia's letter is here and here.

Scalia wrote:

Your reporter, an up-and-coming "gotcha" star named Laurel J. Sweet, asked me (o-so-sweetly) what I said to those people who objected to my taking part in such public religious ceremonies as the Red Mass I had just attended. I responded, jocularly, with a gesture that consisted of fanning the fingers of my right hand under my chin. Seeing that she did not understand, I said "That's Sicilian," and explained its meaning -- which was that I could not care less....

He goes on to cite (accurately) a passage from Luigi Barzini's book The Italians that suggests he's right -- if the gesture described in the book is the gesture he actually made. Personally, I never saw anyone gently fan fingers under the chin back in my old Italian neighborhood; then again, I'm only half-Sicilian. I did, however, see plenty of people flick the back of a hand abruptly at an object of their anger, often accompanied by a Sicilian curse (see my previous post on this).

Scalia's letter concludes:

How could your reporter leap to the conclusion (contrary to my explanation) that the gesture was obscene? Alas, the explanation is evident in the following line from her article: "'That’s Sicilian,' the Italian jurist said, interpreting for the 'Sopranos' challenged." From watching too many episodes of the Sopranos, your staff seems to have acquired the belief that any Sicilian gesture is obscene -- especially when made by an "Italian jurist." (I am, by the way, an American jurist.)

OK, maybe the gesture wasn't obscene; maybe the reporter confused two (very similar) gestures. Apart from that, though, what we have here is Scalia responding to a reporter's question with a specifically ethnic gesture, which he then explained was a specifically ethnic gesture, yet now he's pissed off that someone mentioned his ethnicity while writing about it. What a jerk.

And by the way, I wouldn't say Scalia's an American jurist or an Italian jurist; he's an Italian-American jurist. That's certainly what we should call him if he's going to play the ethnicity card every time it suits him and then whine every time it's played back at him.

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