Monthly Archives: August 2002

Comic Prejudice

I’m sure I’ve got the quote wrong, but I believe there’s an episode of the old Mary Tyler Moore show in which Mary is complaining to her boss Lou about her pay. In typical Lou fashion, he tries to reassure her that

“It’s not because you’re not doing a good job. It’s just because you’re a woman.”

I was reminded of this by a story that Bill Dennis and Eugene Volokh are writing about. It’s been reported that Jewish comedian Jackie Mason had local Chicago comic Ray Hanania kicked out as his opening act at Zanie’s comedy club because Hanania is a Palestinian.

There’s some question as to what really happened, but quotes from Mason’s manager don’t sound too good:

“It’s not exactly like he’s just an Arab-American. This guy’s a Palestinian. We were not told about it ahead of time,” said Jyll Rosenfeld, Mason’s manager. “Jackie does not feel comfortable having a Palestinian open for him. Right now, it’s a very sensitive thing, it’s just not a good idea.”


“Nothing personal against this fellow,” Rosenfeld said. “Jackie doesn’t even know him.”

Of course, that’s exactly backwards: It’s precisely because this is “nothing personal” that it is wrong.

If it had been personal, if Mason thought Hanania was humorless or that his style was wrong for opening the show, that would have been a reasonable artistic judgment on the merits. Heck, even if Mason simply didn’t like Ray Hanania, at least he knew the guy before he judged him. People might have called him “childish,” but no one would have called him a racist.


(Wrong already. I’ve softened the original piece slightly to reflect some new information.)

Either the Mason folks are improving their spin technique or this is turning into a non-story. (Not that it was ever much of a story.) Another Chicago Tribune Article makes it sound more like a clash of styles: Hanania, a Palestinian whose wife is Jewish, has obvious opportunities to use the Israel-Palestinian conflict as background for his humor. Mason, on the other hand, (1) doesn’t think the violence and terrorism can be made funny, (2) felt that Hanania’s publicity for the event was further exploiting the conflict, and (3) felt that Hanania wasn’t experienced enough to be his opening act.

It seems that either Jackie Mason and staff made a nuanced artistic decision, or they’ve offered three excuses for the same bad behavior.

I should have known better than to try to talk about showbiz

Bill Dennis Rocks!

I just noticed in the stat logs that Bill Dennis gave me the traditional Bloggerville house-warming gift: A link from his Bill’s Content page.

There’s only one referral in the logs, so I assume that was just Bill checking the link, but it was still cool. Thanks.

[Note: This article has been updated to remove dead links.]

“You monster. You beast. You unspeakable bastard.”

The Miami Herald has reposted Leonard Pitts’ columns about the events of September 11. The very first one, written on the 11th and published the next day, is the best thing ever written about the attack.

They pay me to provide words that help make sense of that which troubles the American soul. But in this moment of airless shock when hot tears sting disbelieving eyes, the only thing I can find to say, the only words that seem to fit, must be addressed to the unknown author of this suffering.

You monster. You beast. You unspeakable bastard.

It keeps getting better. Read the whole thing.


His October 20th column on the subject of handling your fear is pretty good too.

in 9/12

Whither Joe Batters?

I’m a generally law-abiding person. Yet as a life-long Chicagoan, I sometimes find myself strangely resentful of all the attention the New York mob gets from the entertainment industry.

From Godfather to Goodfellas to Donnie Brasco, all the movies are about New York. Even Ben Siegel’s creation of Las Vegas (as depicted in Bugsy) is about the New York mob, although Chicago took it away from them. Dammit, the Chicago outfit was huge! They controlled (and may still control) everything west of the Mississippi, and they deserve some respect. Despite all their activity, there are few news stories and fewer movies.


What’s that you say? Al Capone? Yeah, well, Al Capone ran Chicago a long, long time ago. A lot of stuff has happened with the Chicago mob since then, and you probably haven’t heard of any of it. There are two reasons for this.

First of all, for many years, Hoover’s FBI pretended that the Mafia did not exist, which saved them a lot of investigative work. However, they finally had to admit there might be something to those Mafia rumors in 1957 when some local cops in Appalachian, New York decided to find out more about all the strangers in town and accidentally broke up a nation-wide meeting of 60 mob leaders. Eventually, the FBI launched an investigation into the possible “reactivation of the Capone gang,” as if jailing one guy, even the top guy, had somehow dealt the Mafia a destructive blow from which it was only just recovering. Look, if Tony Soprano got whacked, don’t you think Paulie would move to take over?

Well, when Capone went away, the Chicago Mob was taken over by Frank Nitti. If you’ve seen The Untouchables, this was the guy that Kevin Costner threw off the roof. In the real world, Frank Nitti ran the outfit for about five years and then committed suicide by shooting himself.

No, really. He just walked out into a public park and pulled the trigger. There were witnesses and everything.

Mr. Batters.

This brings us to the second reason you don’t hear much about the Chicago mob: They got smarter. And most of the smarts came in the form of Tony “Joe Batters” Accardo. As some anonymous mobster once put it, “Accardo has more brains before breakfast than Al Capone ever had all day.”

Oh, he made a few mistakes, but he learned from them. During his first few years in charge (running things for Nitti’s successor, Paul “the Waiter” Ricca, who was in prison), Accardo lived a typically lavish mob lifestyle, and consequently attracted the attention of the IRS. To let the heat die down, he stepped out of the limelight and turned control of the mob over to Sam “Momo” Giancana, who was expected to keep a low profile. Ricca and Accardo realized they had made a mistake at about the time Giancana started hanging out with Frank Sinatra and dating one of the McGuire Sisters. Accardo was put back in charge. (Giancana was whacked a few years later.)

This time around, Accardo kept a much lower profile. How low? Well, Al Capone ran the mob for seven years, and everybody in the world knows his name. Sam Giancana ran it for nine years, and you might have heard of him. But unless you’re a mob watcher, you probably don’t know that Tony Accardo ran the mob for forty years until his death in 1992.

Mob Tales.

Accardo’s story is certainly interesting enough to make a movie. For one thing, he was probably involved in the St. Valentine’s day massacre. For another, he was one of Al Capone’s bodyguards and enforcers. There’s a scene in The Untouchables where Al Capone beats a guy to death with a baseball bat at a lavish dinner party. That actually happened, except that two guys were beaten to death. Nobody really knows who swung the bats, but right after that Capone gave Tony Accardo his “Joe Batters” nickname. You figure it out.

In the late 70’s, a burglary crew ransacked Accardo’s house, looking for anything worth stealing. Nothing happened for a full year, and then their mutilated bodies started turning up all over town.

Another time, some guys burgled a jewelry store and got away with a huge haul. The owner was not involved with the mob, but he knew Accardo from around the neighborhood, and decide to ask him if anything could be done. Accardo agreed to help. This wasn’t really mob business, so nobody got killed this time, but the thieves did give it all back.

When the FBI first started investigating the Chicago mob, a few suspicious characters dropped in to visit the agents’ families while they were working. There was no overt threat, but the implication was clear. The FBI agents retaliated by visiting the colleges where some of the mobsters’ kids were taking classes. They made a huge show of it, asking lots of questions guaranteed to embarrass the kids and letting everyone know about the suspected mob connections. Shortly afterward, the mob and the FBI cut a deal that whatever happened in the future, they would leave each other’s families alone. Both sides stuck to the deal, although some of the mobsters were later shocked to discover that, to the FBI, mistresses didn’t count as family.


In all those years, despite everything that went on in Tony Accardo’s empire, he never had to spend even a single night in jail. Perhaps the closest he came was when the cops picked him up for something and threw him in jail in the evening. With the courts closed for the day, it looked to the cops like even Tony couldn’t get out of spending the night. To their surprise, a judge showed up later that night at the jail with an order to release Tony Accardo.

He was the most powerful mob boss of his time, and at least as important to the history of the Chicago mob as Al Capone, yet most people have no idea…because that’s how Mr. Batters wanted it to be.

Sex Slaves to the Mob!

(Yes, I’m trying to get some hits with that title.)

The Sun-Times articles I mentioned below include a story about some apparent Russian mob types who brought several Latvian women to Chicago with promises of big money for go-go dancing and then forced them to work in all-nude strip clubs and took all their money. The situation apparently came apart when the women began to realize that their captors did not control the police here the way they did in Latvia. The women were all freed and U.S. attorney Terry Kinney put the leader in jail with an extremely rare conviction for the crime of slavery.

While playing “sex slave” may make your marriage more exciting (so I’ve heard), in real life it’s just pathetic and sad. Yes, organized crime really does hurt innocent people.


Looking back, this story is strange for two reasons. First, although the article calls them “sex slaves,” there’s no indication here or in other articles I found that the women were forced to have sex with anyone. It seems unlikely to me that a newspaper would be squeamish about reporting rape or forced prostitution if that’s what happened. Second, there’s no clear connection between this story and the Chicago mob. The perpetrators here were Russians. I guess the Sun-Times just wanted to add a little sex to the story series.

A Great Chicago Traditions Lives On!

The Sunday Chicago Sun-Times has an article about the decline of the Chicago mob. No story about the mob would be complete without mentioning Al Capone, and this is no exception. (As a Chicagoan, I’m still amazed by Capone’s lasting fame. Visiting college students from Egypt, India, and China all knew they were coming to study in Al Capone’s town.) The gist of the story is that the mob is a lot smaller than it was during the Capone years. In real dollars, Capone’s mob did about 10 times as much business.

The article also mentions the most recent scandal in the suburb of Cicero. An allegedly mob-connected insurance company allegedly ripped the town off for $12 million with the alleged help of Town President Betty Loren-Maltese. (All those “allegedly”s are in there because the jury is still deliberating as I write this.) The article doesn’t have room to mention previous Cicero scandals, such as Loren-Maltese’s husband and predecessor as Town President, who went to jail on other mob-related charges. Nor is there room to mention the police scandals that so depleted the Cicero police force’s manpower that the state police had to take over law enforcement for a while. They don’t mention all the strip clubs and brothels that flourished there before being cleaned up in the 90’s. They don’t even have room to mention that Cicero has been like this since Al Capone first took over the town.

As an indication of how slow business has been for the Chicago mob, consider that the last suspected mob hit was way back in 1999, when Ronald Jarrett was killed outside his home in the Bridgeport neighborhood. There was also the Anthony Chiaramonti hit in 2001, but technically that was outside the city limits, so it probably shouldn’t count…



Jonah Goldberg Defends Bill Clinton!

Jonah Goldberg Defends Bill Clinton? No, not quite, but Jonah writes in defense of hypocrisy by society’s leaders, advancing the proposition that leaders should lie to hide their unseemly side, lest the masses mistake it for virtue and try to emulate it.

I wonder if he felt that way about Bill Clinton. By this theory, weren’t Clinton’s enemies revealing information that was best kept quiet?

Actually, this is not a bad idea. Every time the cops bust some professional athlete for drug possession, they say it was necessary because he was supposed to be a role model for the kids. They’ve got this exactly backwards. The athlete was being a role model by carefully hiding his vices from the fans. It was the cops who told everyone about the really great athlete who’s been doing all these drugs.