Where were the Dignity Police when we really needed them? Justice Antonin Scalia, who apparently couldn’t bother to act to protect purportedly undignified pitbull lawyer ads, is certainly willing to act like a tasteless goombah in public — and right outside of a church, “Minutes after receiving the Eucharist at a special Mass” for Catholic lawyers. See Boston Herald, “Judicial intemperance – Scalia flips message to doubting Thomases” (summarized here); Editor & Publisher,” ‘Herald’ Says Justice Scalia Gives the Press the Finger, He Denies It,” March 27, 2006; via Igor and Wonkette)
“You know what I say to those people,” Scalia, 70, replied, making an obscene gesture under his chin when asked by a Herald reporter if he fends off a lot of flak for publicly celebrating his conservative Roman Catholic beliefs.”
See our update below: original Peter Smith/Boston Herald
— as if the two concepts are inconsistent. That’s based on a statement from Scalia’s spokeswoman, who said Nino used a “hand off the chin gesture,” which Italians commonly use to show displeasure.
Hmmm. She’s got a point: No one ever uses the middle finger to show displeasure.
Scalia might want you to believe that his little Sicilian chin action was harmless, but a lot depends on the attitude displayed along with the gesture. [Both of my sainted Southern Italian-born grandmothers could definitely make it look obscene.]
It’s too bad the Justice apparently bullied the photographer who captured the moment into keeping it unpublished. No, it wasn’t someone from the Herald — it was a photographer for the Archdiocese of Boston newspaper, The Pilot.
[update: March 28, 2006): As expected the Boston Archdiocese Newspaper, The Pilot, won’t print the Scalia “gesture-message” photo. Why not? “Because it won’t,” archdiocese spokesman Terrence Donilon responded. Boston Herald, via JudiPhilly at tj&p]
If you had taken our advice last October, when Sam Alito was nominated for the high court, you’d be fluent in Italian hand-gestures by now. We pointed you to Italian Without Words, by Don Cangelosi, from Meadowbrook Press (1989). There’s an entire section on Insults, with photographs that demonstrate the hand positions, facial expressions and body language. With Amazon.com‘s Search Inside feature, you can be ready for just about anything Nino throws at you. The next time he’s asked about conflicts of interest, I bet “mind your own business!” or “the hell with you!” might be useful.
update (March 28, 2006): Evan Schaeffer wasn’t sure what a “gumbah” is, so I changed the spelling above to the more popular form of “goombah.” It is also spelled “goomba,” as in Steven R. Schirripa’s Soprano-related book, A Goomba’s Guide to Life. The American Heritage Dictionary says that goombah is slang for “A companion or associate, especially an older friend who acts as a patron, protector, or adviser.” The term is usually applied by Italian-Americans to other Italian-Americans. I’ve put more information about goombahs in this Comment and in “goomba goombah gumba gumbah“.
My paisano, Robert Ambrogi, collects some good quotes and links on Scalia’s GestureGate at Inside Opinions (Mar. 28). I like the observation of Workbench blogger Rogers Cadenhead, who notes that Scalia was on his way out of a special Mass for lawyers and politicians and states:
“I didn’t know the Catholic Church was singling out these groups for extra attention, but it makes a lot of sense.”
I wonder if the Confessional got a lot of traffic prior to Mass.
update (March 29, 2006): Justice Scalia writes to The Herald, defending himself and his heritage. Although Scalia disdains to cite to foreign legal sources, he quotes from Luigi Barzini’s The Italians (at 63), in his own defense. Barzini says:
“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.”
That begs the question: Did Nino move those fingers slowly, or with the rapid, single motion that is far more insulting (and one might deem obscene)? Can any witnesses resolve this factual issue? There is one thing with which I agree: we are both American [or Italian-America] not Italian.
original Peter Smith/Boston Herald
update (March 31, 2006): With the printing of the Scalia Gesture photo in the Boston Herald, and the explanation of Peter Smith, the photographer, I’m more certain than ever that Nino was being vulgar and obscene. To be honest, that does not offend me half as much as his half-assed, dishonest defense of himself. (Boston Herald, “Photographer: Herald Got It Right,” March 30, 2006; “Church Fires Photog Over Scalia Picture,” March 31, 2006) Smith, noted: “The judge paused for a second, then looked directly into my lens and said, ‘To my critics, I say, “Vaffanculo,” punctuating the comment by flicking his right hand out from under his chin.” The Herald reporter added: The Italian phrase means “(expletive) you.”
While “Va fa’n culo” or “vaffanculo” can indeed be translated as “[expletive] you,” you should know that we are not talking the Missionary Position. [click for a variant on the gesture from Italian Without Words.] As we said here tonight, It seems pathetic to Your Editor that a purportedly courageous Jurist has to prevaricate like a ten-year-old after making an obscene gesture — and even utilize a U.S. Supreme Court spokeswoman to make his excuses.
update (April 13, 2006): See Scalia chin flicks the “appearance of impropriety” rule
backyard bocce –
the noisy neighbors
me in one hand
a belt in the other
dads sings a lullaby
the shape her hands make