The 5 Most Violent Killers You’ve Never Heard Of

Killer

A sadist is a person who glorifies in the pain of others and seeks to cruelly exert a form of control over them. Good reason, kindness and forgiveness are not words that are part of their vocabulary. Yet even though their nature is to separate themselves from any form of understanding, OZY has been on the sadist beat from the beginning because, as one expert has noted, killers can teach the next generation how not to create monsters like them. Below are some that might make you want to take a shower after reading about them.

Carl Panzram: The Most Sadistic Person in History

Carl Panzram called himself “rage personified,” and the destructive path he sowed throughout his life more than lived up to that description. The Minnesota native admitted to committing more than a thousand rapes of men and boys and nearly two dozen murders, including the shooting of co-workers whom he subsequently fed to alligators. But Panzram may not have been a killer if it weren’t for a horrible upbringing that included poverty, abandonment and physical abuse.

Charles Salvador, aka Charlie Bronson: The Most Violent Prisoner in Britain

The man formerly known as Michael Gordon Peterson has not actually killed anyone, but his crimes are widely known, mostly because of a performance by Tom Hardy as Bronson a few years ago: assault and kidnappings inside prisons and countless beatings and torturous behavior. Surprisingly, he’s also a well-regarded fine artist, with his work receiving 11 Koestler Trust Awards. “Violence just makes me madder and stronger,” he once said.

charles salvador

Charles Salvador

Source CC

About 36 of [his years in prison], by press reckoning, have been in solitary confinement because of his inability to play well with others. If you’re doing the math, that’s more than 120 prisons, at least 11 hostages, more than half a million pounds in damages and only about four months and nine days out of prison since 1974, when he was arrested for stealing 26 pounds (about $38). That incident set in motion a cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies, since being near other people, if he’s not fighting with them, is an anxiety-ridden affair, according to Salvador, who recoils at being breathed on by other humans, at their smells and at, in total, a lot of what makes humans, well, human.

Thomas Silverstein: The Most Violent Prisoner in America

This is a man who contains multitudes of hatred. He grew up with a Jewish stepfather and later became a member of the racist Aryan Brotherhood. He has also killed a security officer by stabbing him 67 times and has dragged another dead victim, a fellow prisoner, around the tier like a senseless mannequin. Silverstein has been in his cell 23 hours a day for the past 32 years and for very good reasons.

Though I know that I want to live and have always been a survivor, I have often wished for death,” Silverstein said in an Amnesty International report. “I know, though, that I don’t want to die. What I want is a life in prison that I can fill with some meaning.” Complicated in the face of considering what that might mean in light of life at the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado, or ADX, one of the so-called supermax prisons, where Silverstein is currently housed. Along with Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols, and Zacarias Moussaoui, a 9/11 conspirator. 

A portrait of Thomas Silverstein

A portrait of Thomas Silverstein.

Source Anna Vignet for OZY

Erzsébet “Elizabeth” Báthory: History’s Most Prolific Serial Killer

The most prolific woman serial killer in history may have been this late-16th-century Hungarian countess, who used her privilege to get away with hundreds of murders. Báthory lured young women to her home with the promise of work but ultimately attacked them, with the help of her staff, committing senseless violence upon them. Prone to fits of rage and seizures, she was also a sexual sadist, historians believe, in addition to a psychopath.

With the help of a few of her maids and a dwarf manservant called Ficzko, Báthory began torturing and killing dozens of peasant girls, who had been lured to her castle by the prospect of employment. According to the testimony of witnesses, still preserved in the Hungarian archives, Báthory’s victims were beaten with lashes, knives, irons and cudgels; some were doused with cold water and left to freeze in the snow, while others had needles shoved under their fingernails and fingers lopped off if they tried to remove them.

Violette Morris

Source Bibliothèque nationale de France

Violette Morris: The Nazi Hyena

A French gay woman who was also an incredible athlete, Violette Morris used her considerable talents in the service of darkness. One of history’s most notorious murderers, the former swimmer and boxer was known to beat down males in her time. When her home country dismissed her from the Olympic team for wearing a man’s suit, she turned around and became a spy and confidant of the Third Reich.

When Germany invaded France, Morris took her treason public: Now a Gestapo agent, she was in charge of dismantling Resistance operations and interrogating prisoners. Morris was in her early 50s, but her tremendous strength and brutal torture techniques earned her a horrifying nickname: the “Hyena of the Gestapo.” 

 

That Time They Built a King Kong Robot

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Willis O’Brien, the stop-motion pioneer who originally brought King Kong to life in 1933, hit the skids pretty hard by the late ’40s. He spent the last decade of his life pitching assorted Kong scripts around Hollywood with little success. Finally, in the early ’60s, the script for a movie he was calling King Kong vs. Frankenstein (which seems an awfully unfair fight, if you ask me) ended up on the desk of Toho Studios producer Tomoyuki Tanaka. Tanaka had always wanted to make a Kong film, but he had no use for O’Brien’s slow and pricey stop-motion animation when rubber suits and miniature sets worked just fine. Still, he bought the script, made one small correction and was good to go.

Directed by Ishirô Honda, 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla would go on to become the most successful Godzilla picture Toho ever made, even if its giant gorilla looked more like an orangutan with mange. The film was such a huge financial hit in both Japan and the States that a follow-up was inevitable. O’Brien had since died, but with Kong now an indelible American icon (even after being Japanified into a mangy orangutan named Kingu Kongu), it only made sense for Toho to make the film as a U.S.-Japanese co-production.

King Kong vs. Godzilla

Source Flickr CC

Unfortunately, the Americans they teamed up with turned out to be Rankin/Bass, the insidious duo who’d inflicted Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer and other holiday-themed nightmares on an unsuspecting public. At the time, Rankin/Bass had a popular Kong cartoon series on the air, and it jumped at the chance to expand the series into a live-action feature. Although most of Toho’s giant monster pictures to that point worked as sociopolitical allegories, 1967’s King Kong Escapes was strictly a Saturday-morning affair.

So there’s this Madame Piranha, see? She’s a tall, evil government agent, anxious to get her hands on a massive stockpile of the extremely rare and highly radioactive Element X, which would allow her country to rule the world. To this end, she has contracted the services of the cadaverous and equally tall mad scientist Doctor Who (no relation) — who has uncovered an enormous deposit of Element X at the North Pole.

Now, despite all the heavy-duty mining equipment at his disposal, Who, being a mad scientist, concludes that the only creature with the strength and manual dexterity to remove the radioactive ore is, of course, King Kong. But since he has no simple way of moving Kong from Mondo Island to the North Pole, his only alternative, see, is to build a life-size robot Kong that he calls, well, MechaKong. Are you following me? It’s a pretty big leap, even in mad-scientist terms, but we’ll let it slide. As Who is tinkering away on his insane and ludicrous MechaKong, Madame Piranha is becoming increasingly suspicious (and who can blame her?) that this mad doctor she has hired might be padding his expense accounts.

OK, let’s stop right here. You can just go watch the damn movie yourself. I’m more interested in this MechaKong.

See, as cool as he looks — a combination of Robby the Robot and Rudolph’s Bumble, with a little gizmo on the top of his head that shoots laser beams or receives radio signals or something — the sad fact is he simply doesn’t work very well. Not nearly as well as the real Kong anyway, which even Dr. Who has to admit.

Every time I see this movie, I always think Dino De Laurentiis should’ve taken a long, hard look at it before undertaking his own ballyhooed Kong remake in 1976 — and especially before spending half the film’s budget to have special effects whiz Carlo Rambaldi build a life-size mechanical Kong. And he should’ve taken still another look before deciding to focus the film’s publicity campaign on the giant robot Kong when he knew goddamn well it didn’t work and would appear in only two laughable second-long scenes. Like Dr. Who, De Laurentiis was forced for the rest of the film to resort to, yes, a man in a gorilla suit. But had he simply come out and admitted his failure as Who did, he could’ve save himself a lot of grief down the line.  

Anyway, as for King Kong Escapes, let me just say this: As far as I’m aware, it remains the only G-rated film released in the States that ends with the villain vomiting blood after being pinioned against a wall by a sliding table.

 

Hey, Millennials: Here’s How to Get Yours

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Losing your parents is terrible enough. So it just adds insult to injury if your folks had some investments managed by an old-line firm that starts acting like a clingy ex the moment you want to see other financial managers. Maybe your broker doesn’t dedicate songs to you on the radio or threaten to hurt himself if you don’t give him a second chance. But often enough, forms mysteriously go missing, or you get repeated notices that you haven’t signed documents the right way, or the broker goes AWOL and won’t return calls or emails for weeks.

“They use stall tactics,” says Allan Roth, founder of the investment advisory firm Wealth Logic. “When a client comes to me, their old firm makes it difficult for them.”

Not that Wall Street has ever been famous for cuddly customer service. But there’s about to be a big reason to care. Make that 36 trillion reasons: That’s how many dollars baby boomers and Gen Xers are expected to pass along to their kids and grandkids over the next 50 years or so as part of what Boston College researchers call the largest transfer of wealth in U.S. history. (Yes, even given the market’s recent thrashing about; it’s a long-term projection that assumes markets will fluctuate.) As that money changes hands, the Merrill Lynches of the world have reason to worry: On average, half of the family assets these firms manage walk out the door when investments transfer between generations, consultants at PricewaterhouseCoopers found. Small wonder the firms are eager to fend off the inevitable any way they can.

When the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority recently established a hotline for elderly investors, heirs who couldn’t jilt their parents’ brokers were the most frequent callers. The securities watchdog, which is funded by the financial industry, acknowledges there’s a “trend” here, though it mostly just points people to a June “investor alert” that guides people through the process of moving their inherited stash to wherever they want to stash it. Brokerage firms and their industry association, the Financial Services Roundtable, generally declined to comment. One exception was Morgan Stanley, which informed OZY that “our policy is to promptly transfer assets to legally established beneficiaries.”

 

Brokerage firms do have reason to be cautious. Legal restrictions prevent them from sharing account information with anyone but designated beneficiaries or a few other specific people. And elder fraud — say, when the kids or caregivers connive to relieve mom or dad of their dough prematurely — is on the rise, says Shirley Whitenack, an elder-law attorney in New Jersey. Ripping off older folks is getting easier, she says, because fraudsters can gain access to online accounts instead of having to sweet-talk a broker face to face. On the other hand, delayed inheritances can also be a huge burden to adult children who were counting on the money to cover late-life medical expenses and other costs their parents incurred, says Christian Weller, a professor of public policy at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Two big shifts are leading young’uns to ditch their family moneymen. After watching their parents’ net worth get whacked twice — first in the dot-com bust of 2001 and then in the Great Recession of 2008 — many millennials developed an allergy to high-risk, high-reward stock picking, also known as “active” investing. Instead, “passive” investing in big mutual funds and index funds that mimic, say, the Dow Jones industrial average, are in vogue, says Mike Piper, founder of the popular blog Oblivious Investor. “Young folks have bought into the idea that boring is good,” he says.

The same younger investors are also jumping to fee-only financial advisers in place of traditional brokers who work on commission. The latter, who typically get compensated with a percentage of every trade, often prefer the high turnover of active investing, putting them in conflict with more risk-averse investors. Millennials are also drawing financial advice from a variety of new sources ranging from social media and blogs to robo-advisers, which makes big brokerage firms much less authoritative when it comes to dictating mainstream investment practice.

Matthew Sheppard, a 27-year-old marketing manager in Oakland, California, manages a lot of his own funds instead of working with an adviser because, he says, “I didn’t just want to be at the whim of some guy getting a lot of his info from the same places I could be.” And since he has no real relationship with his parents’ financial adviser, he’s not likely to stick with the fellow when the time comes. “If I get an inheritance, I’ll probably take that and throw it into my own portfolio,” Sheppard says. “Unless I’ve failed miserably at solo investing.”

Some traditional firms are already moving to bridge the gap between baby boomer clients and their younger heirs. Some are simply hiring younger advisers. Others, such as Fidelity, are employing the services of consultants like the Institute for Preparing Heirs to learn the tech-savvy ways of the new generation. Those who fail to make their case to millennials “have a pretty profound risk of asset loss,” says Steve Crosby, a private-banking analyst for PricewaterhouseCoopers.

When Wall Street Exploded — in 1920

Aftermath of the Wall Street explosion in 1920.

He was walking near the corner of Wall and William streets — the hub of New York’s financial district — when a violent roar made him turn around. Two walls of flames “seemed to envelop the whole width of Wall Street,” exporter Elwood M. Louer said, recalling how fire shot as high as the 10th story of nearby buildings. But Louer wasn’t there on September 11 or even this century. His close shave came almost a 100 years ago in one of America’s earliest terrorist attacks.

On September 16, 1920, a bomb planted on a red horse-drawn wagon exploded into the lunchtime crowd at Wall and Broad streets. This was just outside the House of Morgan (now known as J.P. Morgan), then the world’s most powerful financial institution. The force of the explosion, which killed 38 and wounded hundreds, was strong enough to lift people off the ground and fling the mangled horse halfway down the road

He escaped, white-faced and dazed, along with hundreds of others, as the dead lay flattened “like tenpins.”

The wagon carried 100 pounds of TNT, with 500 pounds of cast-iron bolts packed around the explosives that detonated at 12:01 p.m., when the streets were teeming with lunch-hour traffic, according to the anthology Tools of Violence: Guns, Tanks and Dirty Bombs, by Chris McNab and Hunter Keeter. To this day, nobody knows who did it or why. And the mystery has been all but forgotten, apart from the deep gouges left in buildings by the blast. 

Louer was lucky. He escaped, white-faced and dazed, as the dead lay flattened “like tenpins,” writes Beverly Gage, quoting articles from 1920 for her book, The Day Wall Street Exploded. Gage, a Yale professor, tells OZY that she’s amazed such an event has garnered so little attention in the annals of U.S. history. It was the first and deadliest of a spate of mail and suitcase bombs at the time that struck fear among thousands across America. So why was it so underplayed?

Had police taken anyone to court, the scene would’ve been one of the “great show trials” of its day, says Gage. But authorities were embarrassed because they couldn’t find their villain. Rumors of who planted the bomb swirled, with fingers pointing at anarchists, communists, socialists and Bolsheviks, who, many claimed, didn’t want to see America’s financial empire succeed. The Bureau of Investigation — precursor to the FBI — and the attorney general were quick to find a scapegoat in these “radicals,” often stereotyped as bomb-wielding bearded foreigners. At least 25 suspects were arrested, but none were charged. There was very little proof, aside from five copies of a flyer, printed by hand with rubber stamps and riddled with spelling mistakes, found in a mailbox near the explosion site. The note read, “Rimember, We will not tolerate any longer. Free the political prisoner or it will be sure death is all of you,” and was signed by “American Anarchist fighters.”

Aftermath of the Wall Street explosion in 1920.

Aftermath of the Wall Street explosion in 1920.

Source Getty

One lead came from an unlikely informant, a Pole named Wolf Lindenfeld (alias: William Linde). He had approached authorities months before the attack, predicting that Wall Street would be bombed, but nobody believed him. It wasn’t until after the bombing that he was hired as an informant, given $3,000 and sent to Europe to catch the culprits. But he vanished, along with the cash. His granddaughter, Livia Linden, who lives in California, tells OZY he was always known as a “bad apple” in the family. Newspaper headlines referred to how Linde had double-crossed the government and what a slippery character he was, but that was most obvious with his family: “He abandoned his young wife and children,” Linden explains.

Another theory came from historian Paul Avrich, who thought Mario Buda, a Croatian national and a Galleanist (a follower of Italian anarchist Luigi Galleani), was responsible. Avrich believed Buda was avenging the imprisonment of his fellow Galleanists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. But police never got a chance to question Buda, who left for Italy, never to return.

The Wall Street attack came to symbolize the postwar social unrest, labor struggles and anti-capitalist sentiment in the U.S. while showcasing the authorities’ failures; what started as an investigation transformed into a cover-up. The newspapers stopped writing about it, and folks were encouraged not to egg on the radicals by talking about them.

No memorials commemorate that fateful day, but walk to the corner of Wall Street, and you can run your hands over the deep pockmarks left by the bombing. While the incident seems dated, it hits closer to home than we care to think, serving as a reminder of an early American brush with terror and of the near-daily vehicle bombs spreading mayhem to this day.

 

5 Gadgets That Could Transform Your Life

Ninebot One

The future moves incredibly fast nowadays and it’s a constant struggle to keep up with all the innovations around us. This is especially true in the consumer electronics arena. IPhones didn’t exist nine years ago but now everyone is an expert in iOS mobile application development. That’s the way Silicon Valley goes. So what’s the next great technology that might be commonplace in a few years – or even better – is already out in the wild but few have actually used? Our reporters have chosen some of the most interesting tech around that will be ready in a few years or is available now. Check them out below.

The Stamped-On Body Tracker

Epidermal Electronics Media

Epidermal Electronics Media

Source John A. Rogers, University of Illinois

The Biostamp is a spray-on bandage that will make it easier to detect body temperature, hydration levels, UV exposure and more. Unlike current body trackers, the Biostamp can stretch, wrinkle and flex with the skin and incredibly, harvest power from radio waves. It will also be able to measure a wide range of health data beyond what current gadgets can monitor, from hydration levels to muscle fatigue. The professor leading the development of the gadget says sophisticated, clinical quality measurements in ordinary daily life will be a differentiating factor of the product.

The Keyboard That Will Help You Type Faster

The bee raider keyboard.

Bee Raider Keyboard

Source Ray McEnaney

Inventor Ray McEnaney is convinced his oddly-shaped keyboard, which resembles a bee in flight with two “wings” of keys arranged on either side of a radial center, will help make typing faster and easier. It’s a buzzy concept: The layout is larger, with the keys you need most at the center (which gives you less fatigue, McEnaney says). He promises that anyone can become a capable BeeRaider typist in 20 minutes through mnemonic learning tools. Reporter Melissa Pandika says it feels a little weird to use at first but that it became natural after awhile. She says having the alpha characters — the keys used most often — grouped together really helped memory retention as well.

The Water-Powered Mobile Device Battery

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Blue Freedom

Source Blue Freedom

There are millions of portable chargers available but some companies are developing alternative technologies that might improve upon them. The Blue Freedom is one of those gadgets. It uses moving water, such as a river or stream, to recharge any device that can be connected to its two USB ports. Using it is simple. With the base on shore, the rotor is tossed into a water source such as a nearby brook, where the rotor top spins and churns and charges the 5-watt generator. You can even tow the rotor behind a canoe to charge the 5,000 mAh capacity integrated battery pack, which can revive a fully-dead iPhone 6 a couple of times.

This Fitbit for Smoking Will Make Quitting Fun

tosee smoking device

This product could actually save your life. 

Source Tosee

A small startup based in Guangzhou, China, is using data tracking technologies to curb your smoking habit. The Tosee gadget (pronounced toe-SEE) is a smart cigarette holder that tracks how much you smoke and how much that translates to poisonous inhalation. The Tosee connects its sensor to smartphone applications and Eason Wu, Angmi’s co-founder, told OZY he believes that the more smokers know about the numbers associated with their habits and come to understand how much they’re being hurt by them, they will eventually quit.

The Self-Balancing Unicycle

Alternative ways to commute aren’t any much more fun, futuristic and weird than this. The Ninebot One robotic “personal transport system” looks like a mini Segway and unicycle rolled into one cool Tron-like system. It looks hard to ride but reporters who have tried it say it’s actually easy after a few minutes. You only have to place your feet on the shelf-like platform protruding from the main wheel and then, when balanced, you have to adjust your body weight to move. Lean forward to speed up, like with the Segway, and move back to slow down. The gadget is powered by an internal battery that charges in two hours and can go up to 9-12 miles per hour up to 18 miles per charge. Oh, yea, and it’s available now for less than a $100.

 

OZY Test: Best Phone-Charging Devices

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The first portable mobile-phone charger debuted at the Las Vegas International Consumer Electronics Show in 2001, and in the past decade the market has exploded. As a way to differentiate from the millions of battery pack options available (this isn’t an exaggeration — there are actually millions of portable chargers available on Amazon), a number of companies have developed new, alternative methods for charging your phone. 

From the useful (wirelessly and water) to the seemingly useless (with a toaster), it’s hard to not get sucked in by the bizarre appeal of some of the newer charging devices. But determining which methods actually work and are worth the cost can be a bit tougher. To get some context, we sent Matt and Kenyon to the streets to test three of the devices OZY has featured in the past year. Watch how the Siva Cycle Atom, Phaz Music P2 and the Flamestower hold up against the good old-fashioned portable battery pack.

 

The Rogues Making Shakespeare Roll in His Grave

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Try writing a sentence without using a verb. Go ahead, we’ll give you a minute.

Couldn’t do it, could you? That’s OK, neither could we. But don’t call it impossible: Michel Dansel, under the nom de plume Michel Thaler, wrote an entire novel without the pesky part of speech in 2004. How much could you possibly write without what most of us consider a crucial part of speech? Le Train de Nulle Part (The Nowhere Train in English) is 233 pages long. Dansel isn’t the only one playing with our preconceptions about prose.

“Constrained writing” uses strict rules or patterns.

It can take many forms: postapocalyptic stories in a single sentence, a tragedy using a third grader’s vocabulary. Ernest Vincent Wright’s Gadsby, written in 1939, excludes the letter “e” altogether. Just think of it: 50,000 words, not one “e.” Inspired by Wright, Georges Perec, part of the literary movement Oulipo, managed to go 300 pages without an “e” in A Void. Harry Mathews’ Singular Pleasures tells 61 stories, each in a different style, in which 61 different people masturbate. (Some critics call the whole thing masturbatory.)

Why mess with perfectly good syntax? Dansel says that since he was a kid, he has viewed verbs as “punches in the face that can’t be avoided.” To him, they are “devoid of nuance, sensitivity, humor, emotional power and poetry.” (Upon publishing Nowhere Train, he actually threw the verb a funeral.) Mark Liberman, a professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, says constrained writing is a great exercise for writers, and points out that metered verses fall in the same category. That new (old) Dr. Seuss book? Constrained writing. Grant Faulkner, executive director of National Novel Writing Month, uses vowels and verbs, but writes his stories short. Very short: The author of Fissures, a collection of a hundred 100-word stories, likens supershort stories to poems but also points out their practicality. You can write a 100-word story in an email or a Facebook post, he says. “It’s like the perfect post.” 

Not all wordsmiths are down with this kind of wordplay. Leslie Epstein, former director of Boston University’s creative writing program, calls Dansel’s verbless novel an “act of idiocy and despair.” Others write it off, no pun intended, as a stunt. Or a cop-out from doing the work required to create real literature.

But constrained writing isn’t all experimental, at least not in the sense of verbless novels. Most of us accept poetry as legit — just as most of us avoid poetry readings. And haiku and sonnets are nothing if not constrained writing. Bottom line, OZY is partial to people who work with words, however much they mess with them — or, like Dansel, dismiss certain types as “inert, stupid, soulless.” As Faulkner says, “Even if it is a literary stunt, they find meaning in it.”

Taylor Mayol contributed reporting.

 

Why Medieval Knights Were Just Bros on Horseback

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Mark Twain was a better bullshit detector than most, and when he got a whiff of a particularly foul piece of propaganda or pomposity, the American satirist usually took it upon himself to expose it with his mighty pen. In his novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Twain lays into the glorification of medieval life and courtly chivalry found in popular works of literature and history such as Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe

“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus,” observes Twain’s narrator, an engineer from Connecticut accidentally transported back in time to the court of King Arthur. But it’s a sentiment that could also apply more broadly to our own romanticized imaginings of medieval knights — still just as strong, and misplaced, as in Twain’s time, no matter how many violent fantasies like Game of Thrones we may consume. In fact, chivalry, like most norms of behavior, came about gradually and imperfectly; and even when perfected by its gallant practitioners, it was still a bloody business.

The image of the noble knight was much more a courtly ideal than a reality.

The first knights, a class of semiprofessional servant-soldiers mounted on horseback, emerged in the eighth and ninth centuries in continental Europe as the Franks and others began to deploy mounted cavalry to gain an advantage on traditional foot soldiers. Indeed, the French word for knight, chevalier, from which chivalry derives, comes from cheval, or horse. From the outset, as historian Nigel Saul chronicles in For Honour and Fame: Chivalry in England, 1066–1500, knights served their lords by taking an oath of loyalty to fight for them in return for sustenance and security. It was a practical, somewhat ad hoc arrangement, one that often ended in blood and barbarism in the frequent disputes between feuding nobles. 

At its heart, chivalry was a response to a Hobbesian world, representing a more humane means of waging war, and sometime in the early 11th century, the Norman elite who ruled over France began to embrace the chivalric lifestyle. “The nobility and knights were by this time,” observes Saul, “beginning to appreciate the value of treating one another in such a way as to permit mutual self-preservation.”

By the time the Normans and William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066, they brought with them not only a mounted cavalry but also an emerging code of honor, one that preached restraint even to those one had bested on the battlefield — a sort of medieval Geneva Conventions. And with no shortage of conflicts demanding a knight’s employment, their role became more time-consuming and expensive, requiring full-time training and costly equipment and weaponry. Over time members of this warrior class moved up the social ladder, acquiring property and status. Knighthood became a way for men of humble means to make a name for themselves, and in an age where eldest sons inherited all, younger sons (and bastards) took up the calling to seize their chance at fame and fortune.

 

In the 12th century, fueled by romantic stories of knightly adventure, including early Arthurian tales by the French poet Chrétien de Troyes, the knight was transformed from mere warrior to a noble icon at the center of a growing aristocratic value system that would change the course of medieval society. By the time Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales appeared at the end of the 14th century, it was possible for him to speak of the “verray parfit gentil knyght,” a lover of “trouthe and honour.”

The image of the noble knight, however, was much more a courtly ideal than a reality. Knights formed their own dangerous subclass, prone to plundering and misconduct when unoccupied by official violence, and codes and stories of chivalry were partly a response by the Church and others to tame this bloodthirsty band of troublemakers. And the tales of gallantry, according to historian Richard W. Kaeuper, were more than just a form of entertainment; they were a “form of literary legislation that attempted to shape the behavior of a very powerful group of men.”

Such medieval spin-doctoring was helped along by the rise of the tournament, a convenient outlet for channeling aggression and curbing the lawlessness of idle warriors. Early tournaments were savage mock battles, but the high rates of mortal injury led organizers to reform the popular spectacle into jousting and other nonlethal competitions. But violence remained the sine qua non of the knight’s existence, Kaeuper argues in Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe, and whatever their lofty ideals, knights, as “the privileged practitioners of violence in their society,” operated in a world where death and dismemberment were constant companions.

“It was hard to associate them with anything cruel or dreadful,” Mark Twain’s Yankee narrator remarks of the quite civil personages he meets in King Arthur’s court, “and yet they dealt in tales of blood and suffering with a guileless relish that made me almost forget to shudder.”

Romantic notions of chivalry may color our conception of the medieval knight, but a knight’s true color was blood-soaked red. As Kaeuper reminds us: “We must not forget to shudder.”

Charles King: Hollywood’s Next Mogul?

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At a Hollywood premiere after-party, nostalgic hip-hop bumps, slinkily dressed women and casually blazered men take to the dance floor, and stars are aplenty: comedian Hannibal Buress, Harold & Kumar’s John Cho, Victoria’s Secret angel Chanel Iman, Orange Is the New Black’s Dascha Polanco. New hip-hop prince ASAP Rocky and the artist formerly known as Puff Daddy are wandering around somewhere, and Pharrell has just hopped in a black SUV for a quick getaway.

On the fringes of the fête, The Wire’s Michael B. Jordan is chatting with a slight-framed man in glasses and a chic goatee. Jordan and Charles King — don’t worry, you’re not supposed to recognize that name — are busy plotting the future of entertainment. Their plans, in sum: more digital, more color. 

And more eyeballs. It may just be starting to get noticed, but there’s an emerging market for entertainment by, about and for people of color. Actually, it’s more than emerging, whether we’re talking Shonda Rhimes or Issa Rae, or the Sundance darling Dear White People. And smack dead center in this movement is 45-year-old King, who’s trying to leverage his longtime top-agent status (he’s represented Oprah, Janet Jackson and Tyler Perry) into a whole new bid to finally make Hollywood look and feel as multicultural as tonight’s crowd. He’s less than a year into his new project, Los Angeles-based media startup Macro Ventures, but he’s already got the backing of top executives from places like Netflix and Citibank. For King, it’s a chance to move out from behind the entertainment curtain and into the business world’s spotlight. 

Blacks, it turns out, watch significantly more television than any other group, according to a 2015 Nielsen report. And digital media, according to 2014 eMarketer predictions, was projected to hit $574 billion in ad spending this year, an increase of 5.3 percent over the previous year. People of color who might not have gotten studio backing before have taken to social media platforms, and the big money is following. As Jamarlin Martin, CEO of the booming Black digital media company Moguldom, puts it, a venture like King’s is “a billion-dollar opportunity.” And with an unspecified eight figures of seed funding and a very fat black book of everyone who’s anyone — especially everyone who’s Black and anyone — off King goes. He just “knows everyone,” says Justin Simien, writer and director of the aforementioned Dear White People. “I see Charles and I just scream, ‘Black Excellence.’”

That’s a lot of gushing, but you could argue that his resumé induces such cries. Educated at Vanderbilt and Howard University Law School, he traded his JD for a mail-room gig at “old and stodgy” William Morris Entertainment, where he became the company’s first Black partner in its century-long history. 

It was, he reflects immodestly, “a historical moment.” 

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Charles King has represented Oprah, Janet Jackson and Tyler Perry.

Source Matthew Jordan Smith

Those 90-hour workweeks saw him assisting on various agency desks all day, then reading slush-pile scripts at night. The vibe was “like the floor of the New York Stock Exchange,” he recalls. Rotating on those desks meant a chance to network within the company, as King saw it: He found and  introduced himself to every agent, imitated them, sat in on calls. Dressed, as they say, for the job he wanted. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop him from getting fired from his first desk during a pilot season for simply being a “terrible assistant,” he says. He still got to stay at WME, but his career stalled, and he had to ingratiate himself to a whole new set of bosses.

Yet before he was officially promoted, King found himself coming in handy. He had a trump card — thanks to law school internships at MTV and AOL, he knew and pulled in Missy Elliot. And when Spike Lee visited and the top dogs realized they needed some agents of, um, a “certain” (read: POC) “background,” in came young King in a kind of “we found one!” moment, he says. That’s how it went through the early years. He didn’t always shine, like the time he landed at a party at Prince’s as the one guy not exactly decked out in the stuff he should have been. “The worst-dressed guy there.” 

When King reminisces, he sometimes literally shakes his chair in delight, a habit that breaks his otherwise creamy composure. The guy “isn’t a used car salesman,” Simien says. His buddies at WME call him “the Duke” — seems a shame to trade his actual last name for lesser royalty, but for them, he’s Duke Ellington: suave, elegant. Indeed, watching him work the party, which is celebrating the LA premiere of a zany indie comedy — Sundance- and Cannes-blessed — called Dope, isn’t unlike watching a jazz musician kiss piano keys. He and his inimitably confident wife Stacey don’t so much work the room (they don’t need to) as glide it. He represented Dope’s writer-director Rick Famuyiwa and model Chanel Iman in the film, among others. Everyone knows him, everyone congratulates him, everyone would love to grab dinner. 

It makes for a nice tale, this arc, from mail room to agent star to the ultimate title today: entrepreneur. King grew up in Decatur, Georgia, son of a private-practice pediatrician father and a writer mother (who had her fair share of rejections, making him, he says, deeply sympathetic to entertainment-world rejections). This was Atlanta in the 1970s: white flight, integration. King’s high school, once heavily white, grew to be majority Black by the time he graduated. But he felt the real impact of race in the city after he went to college, when, at age 19, he found himself harassed by a cop in a mall. King, a future lawyer, did as you might expect: He filed a lawsuit, which ended in a nice settlement. It was enough to power him through the first few years of slogging it in LA. 

***

Today finds King reigning over a small empire, in a market that wouldn’t have existed had he not helped draw attention to it in the first place. Not so different a tale from other Black leaders in their respective fields: Take Toni Morrison’s years in publishing, her creation of a Black literary canon. Famuyiwa, a longtime client and friend, reminds me, however, that King is a top agent period — not just a top Black agent. The thing is, though, that being a top Black agent in Hollywood kind of means being a top agent period these days. 

Now King will have to manifest the next future of entertainment — the Web world. And though those of us who can’t pull ourselves away from House of Cards might think that future is already here, it’s still got a long way to go. “It’s not clear how to monetize it yet,” Simien acknowledges. We can expect legal battles over revenue, says entertainment lawyer Larry Zerner, and some artists fear the risk. And, says Moguldom’s Martin, “I don’t see a lot of money pouring in … a lot of VCs don’t see that African-American market as big enough.”

These concerns were absent as the crowds stream from the LA Live theater to the downtown after-party. People worth billions cheek-kissed and trampled the red carpet en route to the bouncer-guarded staircase. King had lost the wristband he needed to flash to get past the proverbial velvet ropes. “I’m, ah, I’m … ,” he stumbled vaguely. The gatekeeper had no idea who he was, but he let him in.

An earlier version of this story included a mischaracterization of Michael B. Jordan and of Charles King’s professional history.

 

Here Comes the Bionic Brain!

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Braaaaiiiinnnns. It’s the zombie national anthem. But these days, the undead aren’t the only ones trying to get inside your head. Now you’ve got to worry about the goddamn robots. Or, more to the point, the scientists who make the goddamn robots. But before you scurry into your bunker and tell all the Dr. Frankensteins of the world to back off, hear us out! It’s a matter of life and … memory.

Researchers from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, recently figured out how to cook up devices with bionic memory. At first, that might sound like just another gadgetry advance, but here’s the thing: They can save information the way our own brains do. It’s sort of like transitioning from the old days when cameras could snap only black-and-white photos to now, where we have “memories in full color with shade, light and texture,” says Hussein Nili, lead brainiac on the RMIT study. In a few years, researchers estimate, the discovery could lead to manufacturing improvements with pint-size, souped-up memory chips. And those new memory cells could become the starting point for building a bionic brain, giving a boost to one of the most coveted areas of robo-research: artificial intelligence.

But the race to replicate the human mind is a global one that’s still revving up — and it’s anyone’s to win. The Australian Academy of Science’s High Flyers think tank has already requested millions of dollars to conduct bionic brain research, while the Europe-based Human Brain Project is investing more than $1.8 billion over the next decade in a bid to better understand the old noggin. Meanwhile, scientists in the U.S. have launched the decade-long, $3 billion BRAIN initiative to map all 100 billion neurons typically tucked inside a cranium.

These steps could help lead to developing machine psyches.

Creating a bionic model remains the holy grail, though. With one in hand, scientists could finally do away with the ethical quandaries over animal testing. After all, mice or pigs are often used in brain studies, and if they’re not diseased, “the researchers have to introduce the disease into them,” says RMIT project leader Sharath Sriram. And studying humanlike minds could also accelerate drug testing and speed up research into severe mental conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, experts say.

Some of this may sound eerily familiar, and that’s because — for years — bionic parts have been often portrayed as a sort of bogeyman in pop culture. There was that bionic hand (and eye) in The Terminator, and, decades before he wrote about flesh-eating dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, the Harvard-trained biologist and author Michael Crichton warned of the bionic brain’s existential threat to humanity in his thriller The Terminal Man. (Think of a mind-mimicking microchip rather than a brain floating in a vat.)

Now, some of that seemingly sci-fi fluff is becoming nonfiction. After creating a bionic ear decades ago, scientists in the land Down Under now plan to get a working bionic eye into human trials next year. Meanwhile, the first mechanical mind is expected to be seen in many of our lifetimes — in “decades, rather than centuries,” says Steve Furber, a professor of computer engineering at the University of Manchester in England. He says scientists are close to replicating the way humans store long-term memory in chips, which could eventually be mass-produced for much less than it would cost today. These steps could help lead to developing machine psyches.

Sure, some of this technology is still in its infantile stages. In May, American researchers at UC Santa Barbara and Stony Brook University became the first to teach machines how to recognize specific letters in an image — meaning, basically, robots had just graduated kindergarten. Under Furber’s direction, British engineers are now building a machine capable of simulating the activity of 1 billion neurons.

That’s an impressive-sounding feat, until you realize it represents only 1 percent of the human brain’s total computing power. So don’t expect a human trial anytime soon. “It’s a problem that keeps turning out to be harder than we thought,” Furber says. And some aren’t convinced bionic brains are ultimately the way forward. All they do right now, says Colin Masters, executive director of Melbourne’s Mental Health Research Institute, is try to help with sensory deficits such as hearing loss or blindness.

Then there’s the “what if” issue. In the film I, Robot, Will Smith famously fought off his suddenly sentient android counterparts — but how would humanity fare in a similar scenario? After all, computers with artificial intelligence would certainly be stronger and smarter than the best mankind has to offer. Which is the kind of doomsday scenario Oxford University’s Nick Bostrom outlines in Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, his recent best-selling book. In essence, he’s told the IBTimes UK, we would “want the solution to the safety problem before somebody figures out the solution to the AI problem.”