Bench Memos

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Scalia Gestures to His Critics


The latest thing to rile up those on the left who are obsessed with Justice Scalia comes in a news story in the Boston Herald, telling us that when one of the paper’s reporters asked him the astoundingly boneheaded question whether “he fends off a lot of flak for publicly celebrating his conservative Roman Catholic beliefs,” Scalia replied, “You know what I say to those people?” and then “flick[ed] his hand under his chin” in what the reporter called “an obscene gesture.” Scalia then added, “That’s Sicilian.”

Reactions I’ve seen so far range from finger-wagging to purple outrage. My reaction? It’s to laugh. Look, I’m part Italian, and grew up around a lot of people who remembered and passed on these gestures (I can think of two of them that might fit the Herald’s description). In the later-generation Italian-American community, these once “obscene” gestures have lost a lot of their force and become playful taunts, in my experience. People in my family would make these gestures to each other over the dinner table, meaning nothing much except to punctuate a comment or respond to a joke at their expense, in a way they would never flip the universal bird at each other (a wholly American gesture fatal to good fellowship).

The reporter’s question was stupid and insulting, and she got off easy with a little of the old Sicilian hand-flick. The only part of the story that makes me wag my finger at Scalia is that he had just come out of Mass in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. But this is between Justice Scalia, his conscience, and his confessor.


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