Book Review (Posted on 08-03-2012)
In the interest to pursue a complete understanding of the world's 'admired' gangsters know for getting paid millions of dollars for "living the life," and their involvement in sports, I went and read this book. Let me get one thing clear: those of you hoping to get an understanding how they corrupt sports, you won't find any of it here. How they infiltrate an enterprise and/or a business, however, you will certainly find in here (likely the same tactic infiltrating the sports leagues, anyway).
After watching The Godfather
series, back when I took a Cinema class, I thought I knew everything about the mafia. Both my parents heavily enjoy watching everything and anything mob-related (not that they're members of one, nor do they know a member of one!), and having asked them about it really made me curious, with the corruption I already learned about the involvement of organized crime in sports. And what better way to get a beginner's guide on it?
Author Finckenauer said it best:
"...for understandable reasons, the eyes of the world's security forces are presently focused on fighting terrorism, more people die and more lives are ruined every year from mob-related violence, from narcotics, and from the systematic exploitation of vulnerable women and children than al-Qaeda could ever dream of." (Finckenauer, 2007 ed. p. x)
This was barely written at the beginning of the book, and was enough to get me hooked despite us Americans' feelings toward terrorism and the media's obsessive concerns and panic towards it. However, terrorists do their thing for religious purposes; as for the mobsters, it's the money despite its illegality. And how can one not want to make millions of dollars a day, as opposed to investing your life savings and honing your discipline come spending time, until you finally reached the million-dollar mark late in your life?
With James explaining what, how and where (transnationally, as well) the organized crime groups do what they do, what I liked was why they do such thing. Some simply need to escape from a barren wasteland they've lived on since childhood, some struggled living a "normal life" and some just have connections, and the access to make money in a flash without a formal education or job skills is hard to turn down. James also explains the entertainment business and how well TV shows like The Sopranos
and movies like The Godfather
and video games portray the lives of these mobsters. It may seem that the public feels mixed when confronted with an Italian person, causing the stereotype(s) that Italians are mobsters (not all are, obviously). James explains that groups, such as the Irish and the Jewish, that migrated to the US had criminal operations before the Italians arrived (interesting). Because the most popular and successful family La Cosa Nostra
were all over the media, and were of Italian descent, I can see why many folks would perceive most Italians as alleged gangsters. (I can imagine how hard it is to live with folks assuming you're a criminal before a single word is exchanged.)
As with any of the Beginner's Guides
series, the author readily explains the terminology and how the terms "mafia" and "organized crime" are different. My hope is that, having written this review, my correct usage of either term doesn't confuse!
My favorite chapter happened to be about the many faces of organized crime. I had no idea that Taiwan had one! Those guys specialize in distributing pirated CDs, VCDs and DVDs. You also learn the Russian, the Japanese and the Chinese mafia as well. Another favorite of mine was where the drugs are grown, involving an excessive amount of the 'good fellas,' especially in places like Columbia. As James describes it, Columbia seems like the closest thing to Hell: an insane amount of corruption and organized crime involvement, making it impossible to live as a resident. Violence, as well as kidnappings and torturous murders, never sleep in Columbia (traveling aficionados, beware).
The one thing throughout the entire book that startled me was human trafficking and human smuggling. Since these criminals acts have been greatly reenacted in movies, this time it's serious; it's as perverse as you can get. These chapters about it hit me hard because my parents arrived in the US from the Philippines. Their lives vastly improved, thankfully, when they acquired their visas and became residents here in the US. Near similar stories are told from my fellow friends' parents who are of Filipino descent, and parents of folks who also came from broken countries. Some were fortunate, and some had it much worse than my parents. James made no mention of trafficking and smuggling occurring from the Philippines (PI), but that wouldn't make much difference because PI is a poor country. (Mind you, the US isn't the only destination country with opportunities and a civilized society; countries like Japan and Israel are on the list.) The fact that trafficking/smuggling involves paying traffickers to transport then being coerced into humiliation, like prostitution or pornography, depending on who they're transporting, is staggering. (This means that porn videos/scenes showing a guy forcing/selling his 'girlfriend,' 'wife' or 'sister' to have sex with strangers in front of him to make money must be viewed as senseless, as opposed to sensuous. I know I know, it's just acting (I hope), but yet anyone who watches and is aroused by such idea will never understand the meaning behind it, or they're just creepy.) Some of these folks wanting a better life are forced to work in ways they're not comfortable doing, regardless of the jobs' immorality. Strangely enough, some of these folks have no choice because it earns them a living, something James mentioned is arguably of the toughest acts when combating against organized crime—a sort of dishonest way to live.
Everything about everything on organized crime/the mafia, was what I learned. The last few chapters discuss human trafficking and smuggling, which became the one criminal act that made me stay up all night reading about. Just remember, this isn't an analysis about the mafia portrayed from the movies, as James did well in explaining, but the criminal acts these 'good fellas' do happen in real life! People are getting killed, and some are forced to work in conditions and in such way they would never dream of doing (i.e. prostitution). Like I said, some of these poor souls have no choice, especially how much money they get out of doing it (a devout Christian woman would feel her sentence to eternal damnation come if she succumbs to the idea of prostitution in an effort to earn a decent living even if she knows it's the wrong thing to do, for example). Regardless of what they're forced to do, sexual services or not—women, children, and yes, men—I really sympathize these victims. All these sound like an excellent snippet for a mob movie, but these things happen before our very eyes.
James is right: al-Qaeda is nothing compared to the mafia. The stunning part is some government agencies and security divisions have worked along side groups of organized crime. And if by golly they don't, their lives and the lives of their families are at risk using violence to manipulate them. (My guess is they tell the authorities, or they and their families "do what we want you to do, or you and your loved ones are going to see God very soon." You're asking, how do you get to see the Almighty God? You die first.) You also learn a brief overview in Sicily, Italy, and the Sicilian Mafia's involvement against Vita Rugnetti—a woman who runs a furniture store and why she hasn't sold a single piece of furniture.
The final chapter, learning how to "face the enemy," was unique (an excellent read to anyone looking to pursue a career in criminal justice, working in the police force, FBI, etc). James also stated discreetly the pros and cons of each of the ideas on how to diminish the cowardly acts down by organized crime. "As above, so below," says James.
If you were like me and thought you knew all about the mafia and organized crime through the movies and TV shows you watched and the video games you played, think again. From owning brothels and cartels to child prostitution and human trafficking, you may never relish to the glamourous idea of being a 'good fella.' With all due respect to the movies and TV shows brilliantly portraying mobsters in general, in real life, it's not a lifestyle worth envying as you read this book (I suppose the same could be said to you anarchists; I don't know). A stunning read to say the least, but packed full of useful information for the curious (as was I).
Oh, and that MOB museum they opened in Las Vegas, Nevada? Don't enjoy yourself too much, especially if you have read this review, and/or the book, first. You'll now get a strong sense of what, how and best of all, why they do it.
"We have met the enemy, and he is us!"
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