Thursday, June 23, 2011


I don't think this caught on.

Behind the scenes here at Confessions of Ignorance, I've been uncharacteristically fumbling a bit for a topic. There are tons of topics, of course, but none of them has felt 'hot', or hot enough to spend a lot of time on here. However, I'll make up for it now by making two confessions of ignorance. The first is that, until a couple of days ago, I had never heard of Whitey Bulger, gangster, terrorizer, and alleged murderer of Boston. Which of course makes it rather hard to celebrate with the same glee as others his capture yesterday. All the same, I have seen quite a bit of news about him in the past twenty-four hours, and besides being captured in the town of my birth, Santa Monica, California, my sister now lives in the town just north, and could easily have passed Bulger and his girlfriend on the Third Street Promenade or countless other places.

Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica

Anyway, that little bit of ignorance may well have cost her, or even me ( since I've been known to visit) two million dollars.

Well, never mind, I'm sure I can make it up by writing this blog somehow.

The second bit of ignorance, though, is a bit more shocking. As the bio of Bulger was divulged the term 'racketeering' came up a couple of times. I know of course that racketeering is a crime and one those that gangsters get imprisoned for, but realized that I don't actually know what the activity consists of. Running a racket is running some kind of illegal scheme, but is it anything more precise than that?


Okay, essentially, a racket is an illegal business. We've all heard of a protection racket, in which money is extorted from businesses to protect them, when the real villain they are being protected from are the gangsters behind the racket themeselves. There is also the numbers racket, which is an illegal lottery, and since it seems to have been an Italian phenomena in poorer neighborhoods from at least 1520, I'm wondering if the numbers racket proceeds the other kinds of rackets as a term, especially since it had a system in place where runners ran money and betting slips back and forth between betting parlors and the headquarters, known as a numbers bank. Just an idle guess on my part, though.

The term racketeering, however, has a specific date of origin. This was in June, 1927, when Gordon Hostetter of the Employer's Association of Greater Chicago used it to describe not the local mafia, but the local trade unions. An article in the Journal of Urban history by Andrew Cohen says that Gordon was an anti-union activist and wanted to imply and association between "bootleggers like Al Capone" and the trade unions. The unions eventually were able to fight back against this image, and convince the public that they were the victims of extortion,  not its perpetrators. But this picture of unions continued to shape the legal status of collective action.

Hmm. This is all beginning to sound very familiar. Very recently, somehow...

This is not Whitey Bulger.


  1. A thousand thanks, O, daughter of honorable parents!

    I can’t remember the last time my brain got stuffed with so much new knowledge at one time.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  2. Well, thanks, although I think it's more a combo of knowledge, idle speculation and perplexing pictures.

  3. As the reigning Queen of Coincidence, I am here to say that Tom Ashbrook, the subject of my last two blog entries, mentioned Whitey Bulger in his speech on Friday in the context of his residence in Boston and work with the Boston Globe, etc.!

    Enjoyed learning about racketeering from you.

  4. Thanks, Kathleen--though people just walking into that conversation might take that the wrong way...

    I'll look forward to reading your blog after work.

  5. I think it's more a combo of knowledge, idle speculation and perplexing pictures.

    That's an intoxicating stew.

    If you're an ace at aromatherapy and you know every kind of massage there is, with or without scented oils, then you're my current v-word:


  6. Spapro is good. Definitely sounds like he or she could be involved in some kind of a racket, though.

  7. Yes, a spapro could well be a racketeer, the kind who would sell you dirty soap.

    My v-word is one of my favorite old Don Martin sound effects from Mad magazine: CLOON

  8. Which he probably would have gotten from laundering dirty money.

    And what did CLOON represent as a sound?

  9. Probably a face coming into sudden, violent, unexpected contact with a frying pan.

    Another, the sound of a foot stepping in some unpleasant substance, is more familiar: GLITCH

  10. I had never thought of this until now, but I don't suppose it's an accident that the acronym for the federal anti-racketeering act is Little Caesar;s first name: RICO.

  11. I like the story in one of the papers that Bulger went on a tourist trip to Alcatraz while on the run. That of course would have been his second visit to Alcatraz - the first was for a four year stretch in the 1950s.

  12. I've been there too, but it was for a Thanksgiving Day Indian celebration.

    Bulger must have had a bit of nerve. On Rachel Maddow they had a brief allusion to a mysterious old guy burglar in the Santa Monica area. It's purely speculation that it might have been him, of course. But I wouldn't put it past him.