Mansfield Fox

Law student. Yankees fan. Massive fraggle. Just living the American dream.

Monday, February 09, 2004

MY BOY'S BOY AT AMHERST Justice Scalia is coming to speak at my alma mater tomorrow. And it's getting protested by the faculty. And the whole thing's been mentioned in the Corner. Well, at least they've just decided not to come. The last time Scalia was at Amherst, there was an incident. It was Commencement Weekend 2002. Scalia's daughter Meg was graduating, so the Justice was going to be on campus anyway, and Professor Arkes asked him to give an informal talk to some of his students. (By which I mean of course his brainwashed Arkes-head acolytes. Full disclosure: I was one of those Arkes-heads, and remain a semi-active member in the informal Arkes-head alumni association). So Scalia gave a little talk in a packed-to-the-gills classroom. I can't remember the subject of the speech exactly, but I recall it being relatively innocuous, a discussion, I think, of his general theory of jurisprudence. Then, about halfway through his talk, something very odd happened. A little man with oily hair who had been sitting in the front row stood up and started to talk. He said: "I'm sorry to interrupt, but I think it's only fair since you interrupted the election" in 2000, or something to that effect. He then proceeded to bait Scalia for a minute or so. Scalia, to his credit, handled the situation with grace and class, and as I recall was actually willing to engage the heckler with questions. Arkes eventually got up and said, in effect: sir, this was not intended as a public debate but as a conversation between the Justice and my students. If you want you can ask questions at the end, if there's time, but my students get first crack. (I will not even attempt to recreate the Professor's unique style of speaking. No mortal man, I think, could do such a thing.) Now, up until that point, I'd just assumed the heckler was some local left-winger with an axe to grind and a free afternoon (of which Amherst has a genuine surplus), and it wasn't until he replied to Professor Arkes' suggestion that he hold his questions until the end that I realized who he was. He said, snidely, "I'm sorry, I have to go. I'm receiving an honorary degree this afternoon." Our heckler was film-maker David O. Russell '81E, who for having directed 3 motion pictures, including the classic Spanking the Monkey, was being given an honorary degree that afternoon. (Scalia, whose lame CV is restricted to having been a law professor, a circuit court judge, and an associate Supreme Court justice, did not receive one.) Russell then stormed out of the room, with an associate of some kind in tow (do Hollywood types ever travel alone? Seriously?) and went off to give his talk (honorary degree recipients are expected to give informal talks about their lives and work). I've no doubt that he felt he'd struck a crushing blow against the forces of evil conservatism, but it looked to the rest of us that he'd just exposed himself as a whiny, arrogant prick. (For the record, I thought Three Kings was pretty cool, but never saw any of his other movies and now, for some reason, no longer feel the desire to.)

Oh, I almost forgot the story's charming post-script (which I only know second hand, but I think it's trustworthy). Russell's talk was in large part about his experience at Amherst, how studying with Robert Thurman (Uma's dad! [hubba-hubba]) had led him to Buddhism and the way of non-violence. One of the students at the talk, who knew (I'm not sure how) what Russell had done during Scalia's talk asked him how he could reconcile his belief in non-violence and non-confrontation with the way he'd treated Scalia. Naturally, Russell had no good answer, and just kind of stumbled about for a bit, trying unsuccessfully to justify himself, until he moved on. What a day, what a day.