Article III Groupie is a day late (and more than a few dollars short). But she can't miss this opportunity to bestow birthday baci upon Judge Guido Calabresi (a.k.a. "Guido") of the Second Circuit. This past Monday, October 18, Guido turned 72. Happy Birthday, Guido!
Last week, a reader in New Haven provided A3G with this report concerning the birthday festivities for Guido planned by students in his torts class at Yale Law School:
The 51 1Ls who comprise Guido's Torts class at YLS will throw a surprise birthday party for him this Monday morning. The plan, thus far, is as follows: We walk into class, and for the first 15 or 20 minutes or so, no one will say a word. Then, one of Guido's favorite 1Ls will raise his hand to answer a question. He will answer semi-coherently. When Guido, who is having hearing problems, walks over to hear him better (as he always does), the student will yell: "That reminds me of a song I used to sing when I was little... every year... on my birthday." At this point the whole class will burst into Happy Birthday - IN ITALIAN! People will bust out their party hats and noisemakers, and enjoy Italian pastries and gelato.
Yesterday all went according to plan, according to UTR's correspondent:
A student from Utah raised in hand in class and began the birthday tune in Italian. We had fresh gelato from an Italian pastry shop in Wooster Square, fresh Italian cheesecake, a birthday cake made especially for Guido by one student's young child, and five dozen Dunkin' Donuts. The 90-minute lecture turned into story time (which happens often), and Guido recalled a lot of personal and family stories, which I don't think I am at liberty to share.
During "story time," Guido touched on what this reader referred to as "the Justice Thomas portrait affair" (which you can read about in this article from the Washington Post, part of a fascinating two-day series about Justice Thomas that A3G recommends most highly; the various articles have been collected here and here by How Appealing). According to the Post piece, Justice Thomas, class of 1974, refused to allow a portrait of him to be hung in the Yale Law School library--where portraits of five past justices who graduated from or taught at Yale can be found--in "silent protest against what he still considers Yale's failure to back him against Anita Hill, a Yale alumna, during his bitter 1991 confirmation hearings."
Birthday boy Guido, however, shared this comment with his students: "I am not so sure Thomas has any say in whether we put up his portrait." As explained by UTR's correspondent, "it's more of a money issue. Presidents, Justices, and Chief Circuit Judges have automatic permission" to have their portraits hung in the library, but the school does not pay to commission their portraits (in contrast to the portraits of YLS deans, which the school does pay for). Thus, per UTR's source, whether Justice Thomas's portrait ends up in the YLS library "is up to Thomas only in that if he wants it, he can make arrangements to fund it. If the school finds some other way to fund it, then Thomas has NO say. [Even if Thomas] doesn't [want his portrait hung], but someone else funds it, then Thomas has no say."
In addition, this same correspondent reports that this past Sunday, Guido hosted his class at "Guido Farm," his 140-acre country estate. The sprawling acreage appears to be the main attraction; the house itself is "modest, old, Italianesque." Guido served homemade lasagna and salad and took his young charges on a two-mile hike through the forest.
And now, a bit of backtracking. For those of you who don't recall, or who were not yet reading UTR at the time, A3G blogged in great detail about Guido back in this post, "Kiss Me, Guido." This post, one of UTR's most controversial, generated many responses from A3G's readers, including some rather critical ones. (The post certainly raised A3G's profile in the blogosphere, demonstrating the truth of the old adage, "The fastest way to become famous is to throw a brick at someone famous.")
A long time ago, A3G promised to address reader comments about "Kiss Me, Guido," but she never got around to it. So, with apologies for the delay, she will now discuss them briefly here.
First, many readers wanted to know, "Why Guido?" There was speculation that A3G had some axe to grind with Guido. Some suggested that she was a frustrated clerkship applicant to Guido, while others wondered whether she might be a Yalie who got a bad grade in his torts class.
A3G must emphasize that she has nothing against Guido personally. To be perfectly honest, her selection of Guido was politically motivated. She therefore pleads guilty as charged to the allegations in the following, rather colorful letter from a state court clerk:
Word up dog, or as you white people would say, greetings from a New York ghetto (i.e., the NY Court of Appeals). Yo, why are you trying to diss my man Guido? What's up with that? Don't make me open a can of wop [sic] ass on you. When it comes to that guy you consider your pimp whose last name I am not going to bother trying to spell, you pile on the bull. But when it comes to Guido, a liberal, you pee all over his brand new shoes, and then tell that it is not your urine, but water from the heavens. I think you deserve a b[enc]h-slap, but that's just me. After all, what else are groupies for anyway?
As A3G has previously confessed in these pages, she is conservative. Guido, of course, is the #1 liberal feeder judge, as well as an outspoken critic of President Bush, going so far as to compare the president to Mussolini and Hitler. Should it come as any surprise that A3G selected Guido as a target, um, topic for discussion? And should anyone be surprised by A3G's refusal to prepare comparable profiles for conservative jurists like Judge Alex Kozinski or Judge Frank Easterbrook, two subjects suggested by her readers as ripe for her scrutiny? (A3G would be especially reluctant to criticize Judge Kozinski. You don't bite the hand that feeds you!)
Second, some readers were troubled by the tone of "Kiss Me, Guido." These comments from a reader are representative:
I confess I was a little taken aback by the tone in some places. You were properly careful to temper your criticisms with statements of regard for the work of Professor Calabresi and Dean Calabresi, and rightly so. Still, at times your prose, normally delightfully snarky, had rather an acid taste to this tempered admirer of the Guido I knew (as dean, to be sure, not as Judge). But I suppose I am always free to set up my own Web site and write my own profile. And I did recognize the Guido I know in your Guido, every last quirk in place. (As far as I know, though, your theory -- facetious? -- about an unloved infant Guido later seeking praise from all is not founded. The behavior -- yes, certainly. But not the cause. Possibly his parents held out impossibly high standards? Well, armchair speculation.)
Shortly after she wrote "Kiss Me, Guido," A3G was feeling quite defensive about it, so she was not yet ready to process criticism. With the benefit of hindsight and the passage of time, she now admits to making some stylistic miscalulcations. A3G prides herself on calibrating her writerly tone with great precision, to produce a distinctive voice that is definitely irreverent, even "snarky," but not downright nasty. In rereading "Kiss Me, Guido," she sees that perhaps she may have crossed the line into nastiness in that post. (It should be noted, however, that some of the harshest comments about Guido appear in direct quotations from her readers.) And so she would now like to apologize, to her readers and to Guido, for her transgressions.
Finally, some readers suggested that "Kiss Me, Guido" was less about Guido and more about A3G, as well as too "heavy" or "deep" for an irreverent, ironic, and superficial blog like UTR. Consider this letter:
I have been highly entertained by your fresh, original blog. You manage to write with intelligence and wit, but within a relatively restrictive literary form--pop culture gossip rag--that usually displays neither attribute. I particularly loved the super hottie competition.
But my reaction to Guido's story was different. I found it very moving, but less with respect to Guido, than to you. Frankly, even within the context of your E! channel sensibility, I found the discussion a bit unseemly. Engaging in arm-chair psychoanalysis (though I suspect you are quite right) in a very personal criticism of his behavior seems to me to be quite different from the obviously tongue-in-cheek discussions of relative "hotness." I usually have a pretty high tolerance for edgy humor, but this seemed too personal, your qualifications and disclaimers notwithstanding. Perhaps I am becoming an uptight fuddy duddy in my dotage, I don't know. I llike the Buddhist saying: Generally, it is more important to be kind than it is to be right.
You seemed to acknowledge that the narrative -- your choice of what to say and how you said it -- expresses more about you than it does about him. Perhaps because I share and have not come to terms with some of feelings you express -- being among the great unwashed, as a lowly former 3d Circuit clerk, who left a top 5 Wall Street firm before partnership consideration, which was not a realistic possibility, and who since has more or less Daddy-tracked himself into professional underachievement. I wonder more about you than the judges you write about. You hint at some very fundamental questions about how one should live one's life, what goals one should set and how to choose those goals, how one should deal with disappointments, and whether being disappointed in the first instance is ever a useful reaction to life events.
Maybe that sort of self-expression belongs elsewhere -- you are, in effect, the Joan Rivers of the judicial red carpet, and no one expects her to segue from discussing Julianne Moore wearing Vera Wang to Susan Sontag on literary criticism.
Just some rambling thoughts from a loyal and appreciative reader.
A3G thanks the reader who sent her this very eloquent and thoughtful letter. She agrees that some of the discussion in "Kiss Me, Guido" is somewhat discordant with the typical contents of "Underneath Their Robes," and she will do her best going forward to maintain a tone that is as fun and frivolous as possible.
Before she abandons substance completely, however, A3G would like to leave you with some Reflections on Life, which she has been prompted to share by the series of profound questions raised near the end of her loyal reader's missive. Before doing so, she must issue a "Spoiler Alert": if you're in a good mood right now, stop reading here, before the depressive A3G ruins it for you.
Still here? Okay, you've asked for it--don't say she didn't warn you! In a nutshell, here's A3G's Philosophy of Life:
1. Some people are Important. Within the legal profession, the ranks of the Important include federal judges, Supreme Court clerks, and a handful of others who have, by dint of their professional achievement, managed to transcend their Great Unwashed status (e.g., Ted Olson, David Boies). The rest of us--including A3G--are Unimportant.
2. For the Important, Life is a never-ending parade of triumphs and joys. Victories follow one after the other, in rapid succession; everything they touch turns to gold; their paths are showered with rose petals.
3. For the Unimportant, including yours truly, Life is an entirely different affair. To be sure, the Unimportant can try to walk through the brick wall that separates them from the Important; we can try our best to become federal judges, or the next Olson or Boies. The chances of that happening, however, are exceedingly low.
4. And so, for the Unimportant, Life is the process of coming to terms with our own mediocrity. Life is what we call that intervening period of years--between youth, before the doors have closed in our faces, and death, the great and merciful equalizer--during which we struggle to make our peace with our own insignificance.
One of the best ways to achieve some measure of contentment is to create a false consciousness within yourself, by convincing yourself that because you have "subjective" importance, i.e., importance within a limited sphere--you're important to your spouse, or your kids, or your clients--you are therefore just as worthy a human being as people with objective or widespread importance, i.e., "the Important," capital "I." There is nothing wrong with this effort at self-brainwashing. Indeed, it is a dignified and noble response to the disappointments of life--certainly more dignified than airing your psychological dirty laundry in the blogosphere, which is what Article III Groupie does...
P.S. Yes, A3G realizes that people come to "Underneath Their Robes" seeking humor and entertainment, not gloomy musings. She believes, however, that comedy and suffering are profoundly and inextricably linked. She also hopes that these glimpses into her disordered mind are at least interesting or engrossing for her readers--admittedly in a somewhat lurid way, like a car accident that you can't stop staring at...