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March 30, 2006

A Scalian gesture -- UPDATE

Despite all my perspicacious, witty, and stunningly erudite commentary, many readers, I'm forced to admit, will not re-read a post simply because there's an update (if they even read it at all the first time).

So after I updated my post about Justice Scalia's gesture with new and breaking information, it occurred to me that hardly anyone would actually read those updates. To spite those readers -- I mean, to help those readers -- I'm going to re-post the updates here. So now, if you want to ignore them, you'll have to close your eyes and scroll down to the next post. Hey, don't click on that little X in the upper right corner!

Here are the updates:

UPDATE (3/29): Original meaning? Or merely original intent? The author of the gesture in question writes a letter to the Boston Herald trying to set the record straight by explaining what he meant with his gesture:

To the Editor:

It has come to my attention that your newspaper published a story on Monday stating that I made an obscene gesture - inside Holy Cross Cathedral, no less. The story is false, and I ask that you publish this letter in full to set the record straight.

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.

That this is in fact the import of the gesture was nicely explained and exemplified in a book that was very popular some years ago, Luigi Barzini’s The Italians:

“The extended fingers of one hand moving slowly back and forth under the raised chin means: ‘I couldn’t care less. It’s no business of mine. Count me out.’ This is the gesture made in 1860 by the grandfather of Signor O.O. of Messina as an answer to Garibaldi. The general, who had conquered Sicily with his volunteers and was moving on to the mainland, had seen him, a robust youth at the time, dozing on a little stone wall, in the shadow of a carob tree, along a country lane. He reined in his horse and asked him: ‘Young man, will you not join us in our fight to free our brothers in Southern Italy from the bloody tyranny of the Bourbon kings? How can you sleep when your country needs you? Awake and to arms!’ The young man silently made the gesture. Garibaldi spurred his horse on.” (Page 63.)

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.)


Antonin Scalia
The letter is in image form here.

UPDATE (3/30): Confirm Them posts a link to the photo, supposedly the actual one taken of the gesture by Scalia.

UPDATE (3/30): Via NRO Bench Memos, we learn that you have to keep reading the Boston Herald. The Herald not only published the photo mentioned in the previous update but also published an article that begins -- and I swear I'm not making this up -- "Amid a growing national controversy about the gesture U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia made Sunday at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, the freelance photographer who captured the moment has come forward with the picture." A growing national controversy? Well, maybe if you include one that's made it all the way up to, oh, say, 37th place.

And as a bonus for trolling the Herald site, I found an article that discusses a disagreement about the meaning and appropriateness of Scalia's gesture among various members of the cast of "The Sopranos." (Excerpt: "'It's not that bad, but I wouldn't do it to my mother. No way. Would I do it in church? These days, maybe. It depends if the priest was giving me the hairy eyeball,' said Stoneham native John Fiore, who played Sopranos capo Gigi Cestone.")