Sunday, February 14, 2016



Anita Hill

Just at bedtime, checking for late messages, I ran my eye over the headings of this-and-that and saw “Scalia dies in his sleep.”  I went right on.  It didn’t hit me.  I couldn’t grasp it.  But when it did I was gob-smacked.  Backing up, it took another hour of reading stories to really understand what had happened.  I confess that my first reaction was what some are already labeling “racist,” that is, how will Clarence Thomas know how to vote?  Then, I thought, without his shield and guide, maybe he’ll just resign. At least I strongly suspect he went to bed drunk.

U of Chicago Law School

For a living in the school year of 1981-82 I typed out transcriptions of dictated-to-tape law professors’ papers.  This was at the U of Chicago Law School where Scalia was parked while he waited for the Supreme Court and Cass Sunstein was hurtling down hallways and into his office because a thought was nudging to be born.  I never typed anything for him because he went straight to the keyboard himself.  Sunstein was fifteen years younger than me, Scalia was three years older.  They were both very intense, but so were all the other professors, especially the three or four women who comported themselves like nuns.

My interaction with Scalia was of two sorts: accidentally riding the elevator with him (never alone) and delivering the mail to his office.  To him I was clearly furniture only.  He never smiled at me or said thanks, or gave any sign that I existed.  (I was middle-aged, white, and about the same percentage of overweight as he was.)  In the elevator the other men, some of them professors, loved to tease Scalia about his ambition and opinions, which he always parried cleverly, laughing.  It was assumed that he was going to be on the Supreme Court.  

It was a little as though they were teasing the Bishop of Boston.  That is, under the joking was pandering and under that was a consciousness of great power and secret understandings.  The whole place was like that, even the espresso bar where the young aspiring pre-law men created exquisite cappuccino, the first I’d ever consumed and very welcome to jet-propelled academia, fated to interfere with justice in America.  And elect conservative presidents.

Sara Benincasa

Much is made of Scalia’s friendship to the Supreme Court women, whom he invited to his home on secular holidays (New Year’s) and took shooting.  I see it as the generosity of the father to his daughters, even if — like Cheney’s gay daughter — they don’t stick to Papa’s program.  

Someone should write a comic dialogue between Scalia and Thomas, sitting by a fireside with whatever elite alcohol they preferred, demonstrating the total cultural mismatch between them that made true communication impossible.  One of the principles of good narrative is dialogue in which two people talk past each other, each believing he is persuasive and on target.

publicity still from "Agnus Dei"

There is nothing in anything I’ve read since Scalia's death that mentions his rumored connection to Opus Dei.  But just now at Sundance there is a movie called “Agnus Dei.”  It is about Polish nuns who have been raped by soldiers and are about to give birth.  That is, cruelty to draped women who respond as human beings variously rather than dogmatically.  There is irony in the timing.

Quotes from Wikipedia, therefore anonymous:

Opus Dei is a clandestine Catholic organization based in Chicago, Ill. In size, it is insignificant, a mere 85,000 members (only 3,000 members in the US) compared to the one billion Catholics worldwide. But, its membership boasts of some of the most powerful and wealthy people in the country. The group catapulted to national attention when spymaster, Robert Hanson, was arrested and convicted.  . .    Navarro-Valls was particularly important as a press liaison during the last few years of the reign of Pope John Paul II (reigned 1978–2005). . . .With the election of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI — and with the new pope's approval — Navarro-Valls continued in his post for almost two years. . .Navarro-Valls was devoted to the Catholic prelature Opus Dei (The Work of God) as a secular member. His involvement with this organization dates back to 1970-75, when he lived in the central headquarters with Msgr. (later Saint) JosemarĂ­a Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei.
John Paul II and Navarro-Valls

The secrecy, the pomp and circumstance of power, the rumors of self-mortification, and writers’ use of the group as a presumed cult with a secret near-magic agenda are easy to attach to Scalia.  This is a link to a sensational article.   One wonders what the autopsy will record in terms of scars: “CSI Vatican” or rather "CSI Washington,DC."  Scalia’s will asks for cremation.  Autopsy may be resisted by the family, but as a matter of national concern, assassination must be ruled out.  Shadows of S/M, spy torture, and the Spanish Inquisition lurk.

Besides Opus Dei, Scalia (like Cheney) loves shooting.  NRA owes him big-time.  He doesn’t exactly project John Wayne, but he certainly has protected the Second Amendment.

Some stories are noting that lately he has become more cruel in his joking, more impatient and intolerant in other ways.  As a fellow septuagenarian, I understand that one can become a little slip-shod in self-monitoring.  A little inclined to flare when irritated.  I will not be surprised if autopsy reveals organic deterioration and possibly a stroke as the cause of death.

Since I’ve been considering the impact of thinking that is produced and recorded as “writing” (not just ink on paper, but in all forms that are composed and valorized as law or religious precepts), I note that both our justice system in America and the international Roman Catholic system rest on written law, with the primary status of the Bible and the Constitution of major importance.  Scalia was right in enforcing the stability of these documents, but he was wrong in thinking there was any inviolable content that only he could recognize and that could accommodate such radical changes as our cultures are enduring.  He was another of the Old Testament Christians.

He forgets that Jesus didn’t arise from an elite in palaces, but rather from the village life of fishermen and craftsmen.  We don’t even know whether Jesus was literate.  It was Paul who was the scribbler.  (If he’d been in an elevator with a woman, he would have tried not to notice.)

Francis I

Now that Scalia’s death has changed the politics of deadlock and polarization into something much more practical and far-reaching, I hope it kindles a cleansing fiery discussion that can lift us to a much higher level of concern.  And I pray for the health of Francis I.  But I was already doing that.  

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