Friday, January 06, 2006

Now Wanted by the Fashion Police

Robin Givhan over at the WaPo minces no words over Jack Abramoff's attire while pleading guilty to a raft of graft indictments earlier this week:

There has been some discussion around offices and on the Internet that Abramoff, in his time of stress, has drawn more closely to his faith. Because he is a practicing Orthodox Jew, some have suggested that his black attire and his hat are a reflection of religiosity, and not a homage to Don Vito Corleone. It is true that those who are facing prison time -- and Abramoff's plea deal suggests he will get 9 1/2 to 11 years -- often draw closer to their Creator. So it may be that the Almighty was on Abramoff's mind.

But when a man emerges from a courthouse looking solemn and grim, his weightlifter shoulders shrouded in a trench coat, his eyes shaded by the brim of a black hat and his lawyer at his side, any signs of God, prayer and "I'm so sorry" are overshadowed by allusions to thuggishness -- the organized, conspiratorial, horse's-head-in-the-bed variety.

On Wednesday, Abramoff was in a Miami court, where he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud. For this occasion he shed the trench coat and exchanged the fedora for a baseball cap. He wore the hat with his business suit -- a carefree, slacker combination that made one think of his Hollywood days in the late 1980s and early '90s as a producer of the D-list films "Red Scorpion" and "Red Scorpion 2." All he needed was a cell phone the size of a shoe and a flashy, overcompensating sports car.

The hat was embroidered with the word "Cascata," which is a fancy golf resort outside Las Vegas. Cascata's Web site says that "few places on Earth offer such extravagance."

For a man who had just pleaded guilty to bribing government officials with fancy golfing trips -- albeit to a resort in Scotland -- his choice of headgear seemed brazen, inappropriate and not very smart for anyone interested in projecting dignity through attire. But then maybe Abramoff figures dignity, at this stage, is a pipe dream.
By the way, if you get your news only from the Fox News' double-shot of Hannity/Tool and the O'Really Factor, you probably haven't heard much about Mr. Abramoff (and I'm surprised you made it to this blog--congrats!). Here's Tim Grieve over at Salon's War Room:
As we noted earlier this week, the Jack Abramoff scandal has drawn yawns from some on the right. We didn't know it was this bad: According to the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, a Nexis search reveals that Fox's Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly have uttered not a single word about Abramoff so far this week.

[UPDATE - 2pm PST] Stephen Hirsch over at Salon (subscription or waiting through a web ad required) has more on the religious significance of Abramoff's fedora:
The picture of Jack Abramoff walking out of a federal courthouse on Tuesday wearing a distinctive fedora is by now iconic. And chances are, like Howard Fineman and Maureen Dowd, you thought he looked like a gangster. But that wasn't my reaction. What struck me was that Abramoff was wearing my hat, a Borsalino, the ne plus ultra of Yeshiva boy caps. Tucked tight on his head, pinched even, perfectly symmetrical (if a little deep for my taste), it was immaculate.

Maybe the contrition Abramoff expressed in his statements was real. Maybe he even recited "Baruch Dayan Emes," the blessing you make when you hear really bad news, after he went to court. Maybe he was wearing a yami (a diminutive yarmulke) underneath his fedora. While it's no secret that he's an Orthodox (if not Torah-observant, or frum) Jew, I've never seen a picture of him with either a Borsalino or yarmulke before. Why now?


It's a big step, putting on the hat for the first time as a Baal Tshuva. It's awkward. It's uncomfortable. You gain an extra four inches or so in height, so you bump into things you never did before. However, over and above any physical weirdness is the fact that you are clearly separating yourself. You're not like everybody else anymore. You really are frum now, or at least that's the way the rest of the world is going to see you.

For boys who are frum from birth, the hat is also a tremendously important cultural sign. A frum boy puts on his hat when he is bar mitzvah'd. He has to start putting on t'fillin (boxes worn on the arm and top of head that symbolize our connection to the Almighty) every weekday for the rest of his life; he has to fast on Yom Kippur, Tisha B'Av, and other holy days. According to Jewish law, he is a man. The hat shows that to the world.

That the world saw Jack Abramoff wearing this hat for the first time while admitting to such grievous transgressions, that much of the world will now associate this symbol of piousness with the gangster look, is a Chillul Hashem -- an act that shames the name of G_d.


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