Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Coming to America: The Life of Frederick Trump

Friedrich_TrumpRegardless of your politics, I think we can all agree that Donald Trump is by no means a humble man, and he’d be the first to admit that the Trump Family comprises something of a rich and powerful dynasty. As it turns out though, Trump’s wealth and influence can all be traced back to a bizarre confluence of good fortune that befell, ironically, an unemployed barber who immigrant to the United States to find work- his grandfather, Frederick Trump.

Born in 1869 in a small village located in what was then the Kingdom of Bavaria called, Kallstadt, Frederick (who went by the decidedly more German sounding “Friedrich” prior to moving to the states) had a fairly humble upbringing. One of 6 children, he was the son of not terribly well off grape growers in the region. Matters got worse for the family in 1877 when Fred’s father, Johannes, died at the age of 48, leaving a wife, 6 children, and quite a bit of debt.

To get by, five of the six children were expected to work the fields, but it was decided by his mother, Katharina, that Frederick lacked the physical constitution for manual labor, being a sickly child. Instead, the decision was made by his mother for him to do something a little less labor intensive, and thus, she sent him off to apprentice as a barber in 1883. The young Trump was just 14 at the time.

By all accounts Friedrich was an eager student of the trade, working almost literally every day for two years straight to hone his hair care craft. However, upon completing his training and returning to his small village, Friedrich found that Kallstadt simply did not have enough people living there for him to support himself as a barber. It was at this point that he decided that he, like so many immigrants before and after him, would seek work and his fortune in the land of opportunity- the United States.

The exact conditions under which Friedrich left his homeland aren’t clear, with Friedrich himself later claiming that his mother urged him to emigrate and that he did so to comply with her wishes. However, others claim that Friedrich essentially fled the country, stealing away at night, leaving behind only a note explaining his departure to his family. It is sometimes suggested that this latter claim is supported by the fact that the government received no formal notification from Friedrich in 1885 declaring his intentions before he left- something that he was required to do and will become important later. That said, it would also appear his sister, who had already made the trip across the pond, knew he was coming, so seemingly it wasn’t a surprise to everyone.

Whatever his motives, the 16 year old Friedrich, along with hundreds of other immigrants, sailed into New York aboard the S.S. Eider, hoping to find a better life for themselves. With only a single suitcase of belongings to his name, Friedrich was quizzed by immigration authorities where, amongst other things, it was recorded that he had no listed occupation.

Yes, regardless of one’s position on the political spectrum, I think we can all appreciate the irony of Donald Trump and his amazing hair being the direct descendant of an unemployed immigrant hair care specialist who came to the United States looking to find a job…

Although he had little to his name upon arriving in America, as alluded to, Frederick did have an advantage over other immigrants in the form of his sister, Katherine, who’d similarly moved to America a few years earlier and had settled and married a clerk named, oddly enough, Friedrich. Frederick’s sister put him up in her modest apartment located in modern day Chinatown, which at the time was an area filled with businesses operated and owned by German immigrants. Frederick soon took a job that could have otherwise been filled by a U.S. citizen, 😉 by securing himself work as barber, with some reports saying he had a job within 24 hours of first setting foot on American soil.

Whether that’s true or not, Frederick stayed in New York for 6 years, amassing a little nest egg of several hundred dollars (equivalent to about $10,000 today). While nothing special, it was enough that, in 1891, Frederick was able to move to Seattle where he invested his money in the thing that would eventually form the basis of the later family fortune- property.

Frederick first headed for an area of Seattle known as the Lava Beds, which was smack bang in the middle of the red light district. There, he leased a restaurant called, and we’re not making this up- The Poodle Dog. The Poodle Dog, later renamed the Dairy Restaurant, offered weary travellers food, alcohol and the company of a woman- for the right price of course.

You see, like many restaurants and saloons of the era, Frederick’s establishment advertised that it had “private rooms for ladies”, which was a standard way to advertise that your business offered the services of prostitutes. This has led to a persistent idea that the Trump family’s fortune was made primarily by selling alcohol and sex to the masses. However, this isn’t really accurate as you’ll soon see. Or, at the least, if you’d still consider it accurate after we explain, it would arguably be just as accurate, and infinitely more humorous given his grandson’s world famous hair, to go with the basis of the family fortune being Frederick working as a barber.

In any event, from here, Frederick re-invested the profits from his little saloon/brothel into other ventures about Seattle, particularly in the nearby mining town of Monte Cristo. Not one for mining, Frederick similarly invested in property and slowly grew his net worth that way- a decision described by a biographers as “mining the miners”.

Most importantly, while operating in Monte Cristo, Frederick decided to fund a pair of miners working in Yukon, mere months before the Klondike gold rush of 1896. This would become one of the first of many bizarrely fortunate business decisions made by Frederick in his adult years.

During the Klondike gold rush, Frederick decided against personally heading to the region at first, instead opting to move away from Monte Cristo back to Seattle, selling most of his property there. This again proved to be miraculously fortunate for Frederick as it soon turned out that prospectors had greatly overestimated the value of the silver deposits in the area leading to a collapse of the town’s economy a short while after Fred vacated the area.

As if that wasn’t unusual enough, it’s noted that a year after Frederick sold off the last of his property in the region, it was devastated by both floods and avalanches, ruining the livelihood of many who still had investments in the town. (We’re pretty sure given this and other key events required to produce The Donald as we know him, that the Adjustment Bureau was definitely involved…)

By 1898, the miners Frederick had funded made several claims worth the modern equivalent of thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars, convincing him to sell off the remainder of his property to reinvest it in the Yukon region. As before, Frederick didn’t invest his money into mining endeavours themselves, instead opting to make his fortune providing food, drink and female companionship to lonely miners.

Note here, Frederick’s business partner during this time was a man called Ernest Levin, whom he met while travelling to Bennett in British Columbia.

Showing a hint of the flair for opulence and grandeur his grandson would eventually make his trademark, Frederick’s first investment in the area- a hotel/restaurant called The Arctic- was billed as the grandest and most luxurious around. Starting as a simple tent that sold frozen horse meat, the Arctic soon became the premier destination for miners to spend their profits on pleasures and drown their sorrows respectively. As one contemporary report that appeared in the Yukon Sun noted of the establishment,

For single men the Arctic has excellent accommodations as well as the best restaurant in Bennett, but I would not advise respectable women to go there to sleep as they are liable to hear that which would be repugnant to their feelings – and uttered, too, by the depraved of their own sex.

When the town of Bennett no longer became the first port of call for miners looking to make their fortunes after the construction of a railway that bypassed it entirely, Frederick simply moved the hotel to the new hottest destination for miners, Whitehorse. And, note here, when we say “he moved the Arctic”, we mean that literally- as in, he paid to have the whole thing dismantled and rebuilt in the new location from the same materials as the original.

In 1901, despite the Arctic making massive profits, including at its peak apparently serving a few thousand meals a day to hungry miners, and being a hotbed of gambling and other ways for lonely men to spend their money, Frederick suddenly decided to call it quits, selling his share of the enterprise to Levin.

Frederick’s decision was partly inspired by issues with his rather frequently inebriated business partner, but also due to a desire to return to his hometown and allegedly due to rumblings he’d heard that the government was about to try and curb instances of public rowdiness by cracking down on establishments selling alcohol and the services of the ladies of the night- basically everything that made the Arctic popular.

Once again Frederick showed an almost uncanny level of business foresight and a year later the businesses profits were massively hampered by governmental interference. This drove his former business partner further to drink himself into a stupor at which point he was promptly arrested and the business was taken over by Canadian Mounties. A few years later, in 1905, the Arctic burned down.

But here’s where things got weird for the patriarch of the Trump empire. He returned to his native Kallstadt for a visit. While there, he encountered a former neighbor who had been just 5 years old when he last saw her when he was 16. However, Elizabeth Christ was all grown up now at the age of 21 and Frederick became absolutely smitten with her. Despite strong objections from Fred’s mother owing to the supposed lower social standing of the Christ family, Frederick ignored his mom’s wishes and eventually proposed to Elizabeth. She accepted and the pair got married. While apparently hesitant to immigrate to America, Elizabeth ultimately agreed and the couple moved to New York.

Back in the U.S., Trump invested his money in a hotel that he not only managed, but worked as a barber in. However, almost immediately after the birth of their first child, Elizabeth, in April of 1904, his wife became extremely homesick and the pair decided to move back to Kallstadt a few months later- at the time, apparently intent on remaining there forever.

So why did they come back to the United States?

Well, soon after returning to Germany and depositing the equivalent of half a million dollars in today’s money into an account there, his entire net worth at the time, authorities revoked Frederick’s citizenship.

You see, not only had Frederick failed to de-register himself when he left, but he also left shortly before he would have been eligible for mandatory military service. Thus, the German government deemed that he’d intentionally left the country to avoid it.

If this is true, it’s always possible given he had been a sickly child and his mother had deemed him unfit for physical activity that she really had encouraged him to move to America, perhaps to avoid military service.

Whatever the case, accounts do seem to indicate that when he left Germany, he hadn’t bothered to de-register or worry about the military service issue as he had never actually intended to move back to Germany permanently, so didn’t think it would matter.

In the end, Frederick pleaded with the government to reverse their decision on his citizenship status, including in his note to Prince Regent Luitpold calling him “the much-loved, noble, wise and righteous sovereign and sublime ruler” to butter him up.  Proving once again that the Adjustment Bureau were involved, fortunately for Fred given events in Germany that were just around the corner, this bit of buttering the Princely roll didn’t work, nor did his legal argument on the matter.

You see, the law that decreed anyone who immigrated to North America to avoid mandatory military service would lose their citizenship wasn’t a thing until 1886- the year AFTER Frederick had already left the country. Thus, he didn’t think he should be subjected to that loss of citizenship for doing something that wasn’t a law at the time he did it.

In the end, his pleas fell on deaf ears, however, and he was unceremoniously asked to leave the country within 8 weeks, with his daughter, and pregnant wife, who at the time was carrying Donald Trump’s father, Fred.

And so it was that on July 1, 1905, the little family were deported from Germany and headed back to New York, with Donald Trump’s father, Fred, born just a few months later an American citizen instead of a German one.

Frederick’s later life was relatively unremarkable, simply continuing to work in the hotel, hair, and lodging industry throughout the early 20th century until his untimely death from pneumonia at the start of the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic- one of the early deaths attributed to that particular pandemic.

Frederick was 49 when he died and left behind an estimated net worth of around $32,000, the modern equivalent of about $550,000 today. This, again, is why it’s not quite accurate to say the Trump family fortune was made from gambling, hair cutting, and prostitution. While that’s no small amount of money, for a lifetime of reasonably successful business and hair care work, it’s not exactly a remarkable net worth for that age bracket. Certainly comfortable, but not a fortune- more like a great seed for a very comfortable retirement had he lived long enough.

The real rather large family fortune wouldn’t come until later, with Frederick’s wife, Elizabeth, taking over management of the tiny real estate company, which at the time held 14 mortgages, a few stocks, and a handful of vacant lots of land.

She did well in this and, at the same time, Donald’s father, Fred, began learning the trade of carpentry, including building his first home when he was still just a teen. The goal was to use these skills to build houses on lots of land and sell or rent them for profit. On that note, teaming up with her son, Elizabeth formed the company Elizabeth Trump & Son, which she ran until Fred turned 21. It is this company that would eventually evolve into the more famous The Trump Organization.

And so it was that, finally, with mother and son working together, the reasonably successful little small business began to grow into something much greater, with the company having built a couple dozen homes by 1926 when Fred took the lead. Within a decade, they had expanded into all manner of real estate projects, including creating one of the earliest supermarket stores- the Trump Market.

It was during this period, The Donald’s father met a Scottish Immigrant by the name of Mary Anne Macleod who had come to American when she was 18 to escape the rather extreme poverty that was ravaging her native land. With about $50 to her name and sisters already having immigrated to America, she crossed the pond in search of a better life- one she found. While initially working as a nanny and other similar domestic jobs where she could find them, one fateful day in the early 1930s she attended a dance where she caught the eye of Fred Trump. In January of 1936, the pair were married. About a decade and three other children later, in 1946, she gave birth to her fourth of ultimately five children- future president Donald Trump.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Bonus Facts:

  • As you might expect given the political climate the first half of the 20th century, Both Fred Trumps are known to have greatly downplayed their German heritage once that became a thing to hide in many regions of the world. As to the younger Fred, during WWII, he even went so far as to claim he was actually the heir of Swedish immigrants. Even after the war, he maintained this ruse because he was worried that many of his Jewish tenants wouldn’t want to continue to buy or rent property from a person of German heritage. Interestingly, Donald was reportedly annoyed by the fact that his father insisted that the family was of Swedish descent, supposedly asking his father “Do I have to do this Swedish thing?” while writing The Art of the Deal in the 1980s. Apparently he did have to do the Swedish thing because the book claimed that Trump’s grandfather “came here from Sweden as a child”.
  • Donald Trump is a self-admitted germaphobe who dislikes both shaking hands and touching food. In fact, Trump often refers to the practise of shaking hands as “barbaric” in his books and notes that he usually refrains from doing it with people he doesn’t like. Curiously, when Trump floated the idea of running for president in 2011 this very fact was touted by some as a reason he could never be elected, as shaking hands is seen as such an integral aspect of establishing the character of a candidate that his inability or unwillingness to do it would be his undoing. When asked if his aversion to shaking hands in an interview would prevent him from doing it on the campaign trail, Trump begrudgingly acknowledged that he would shake hands with the public, before adding he’d personally prefer to kiss babies though.
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The post Coming to America: The Life of Frederick Trump appeared first on Today I Found Out.

from Today I Found Out
by Karl Smallwood - June 24, 2020 at 12:05AM
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Monday, June 22, 2020

“King Con”- The Conman Who Simply Walked Out of Prison Four Times

At the time of writing this, conman Steven Jay Russell is sitting in a 6×9 ft maximum security isolation cell where he is sentenced to spend the next century and a half- 22 to 23 hours per day, only let out for things like showers, a little exercise, and to see the occasional visitor during visiting hours. However, even then he is only allowed to see people through a rather thick pane of glass, and not allowed to touch or be touched by anyone other than the guards who strip him any time he leaves or enter his cell.

While such extreme isolation, even for relatively brief periods, is almost universally only ever for exceptionally violent or death row inmates, Russell is neither of those. In fact, beyond having never committed a violent crime, at this point he is in his 60s and can’t even walk well. No, the extreme nature of Russell’s sentence is officially for fear he will escape the maximum security prison… in his wheelchair we guess… Because of this, he alleges the real reason he is kept in such isolation is mostly due to the embarrassment he caused law enforcement by literally casually strolling out of prison four times during the 1990s in order to be with his partner- one who was dying of AIDS and the other who he simply missed.

Born in 1957, Russell spent much of his childhood believing that he was the son of devoutly religious Virginia natives who ran a large food produce company. However, at age 9, Russell discovered that he’d been adopted and that his biological mother had given him up because she didn’t want to raise a child out of wedlock. Russell would further later learn that his mother had eventually married his father and had a few other children together, but the couple hadn’t chosen to even try to take their first born back or have any contact with him at all. Learning all of this shook the boy. He states, “I felt rejected… I had a little bit of a problem when I found out.”

This was apparently putting it mildly. He began to act out in rather extreme ways- everything from getting into regular fights to setting random things on fire, and generally engaging in various other acts of minor criminal mischief.

Not knowing what to do about this, Russell’s adoptive parents attempted to curb this behaviour by sending him to a boy’s home. During his time at the home, Russell had a number of homosexual experiences with other boys there- something he would remain confused about for a number of years, noting in later interviews that he didn’t admit to himself he was gay until he was in his late 30’s.

Prior to realizing this, Russell met and fell in love a female secretary whilst, somewhat ironically given his later criminal exploits, working as a volunteer deputy police officer. The couple would later marry and have a daughter together named Stephanie.

If this all seems relatively typical, you’re right- outside of the brief period of acting out when his mind was a bit rocked to learn what his biological parents had done, the man who would come to be known as “King Con” lived an unassuming early life, including as a young adult being a devoted family man who occasionally played the organ for his local church. However, in 1985 Russell had another mental crisis when his adoptive father passed away.

Among other things, this triggered him to reflect on his own life and, eventually, contemplating his sexuality. After discussing it with his wife, Russell came to the realization that he was, in fact, gay, and he and his wife agreed to an amicable divorce. In regards to all this, Russell states, “People use the term ‘sham marriage’, but I don’t think it was a sham because there was a sexual attraction towards women, but there was always a stronger attraction towards men. I finally let go and it became easier to deal with my sexuality because I wasn’t trying to hide it.”

After coming out, Russell initially endeavored to earn an honest living. However, after his manager at a Los Angeles based food company he was working at as a sales manager found out Russell was gay, he promptly fired him. (The 1990s everybody.)

Russell states of this, “When I lost my job, that really screwed with my head. I lost control of my life.”

As to whether he’d react the same way again if he could go back, he states, “I would never put myself or anyone else through that. Instead of feeling sorry for myself when I lost my job, I would have got another job. I didn’t know how to react because I was angry. I’m not angry anymore.”

Speaking of that anger, it was at this point that he unilaterally decided to devote all of his time and energy to sticking it to the man.

Starting small, Russell first began selling fake Rolex watches and later defrauded an insurance company out of $45,000 (about $85,000 today) by pretending to have hurt himself in a fall. Amazingly, neither of these things attracted the attention of the law and it wasn’t until he submitted a false passport application that Russell was arrested for the first time in 1992.

He was subsequently given a ten year sentence in Harris County Jail when all of this was uncovered. This was something that didn’t sit well with Russell, whose thoughts turned to James Kemple- a man he was dating at the time and who’d recently tested positive for HIV- at the time a death sentence for most. Needless to say, sitting in a cell while the man he loved was dying did not sit well with Russell, who states, “Keep in mind that Texas was asking me to serve ten years for insurance fraud, another six months for passport fraud and Virginia wanted 90 days of jail time from me for theft. By the time I was to get out of prison, Jim would be dead.”

So how’d he escape? After observing the shift patterns of guards, Russell rustled himself up a pair of sweatpants and a tie-dye t-shirt from a room he stumbled across designed to hold the personal effects of female inmates. Realising that this outfit didn’t exactly confer the air of authority needed to fool the guards, he decided to accessorize with a radio the guards typically carried. How he “acquired” this isn’t clear.

A few days later, Russell patiently waited for the guards to go on their usual smoke break, put on the outfit, casually walked over to the door leading to freedom and soon found himself on the other side.

He states of this, “My first escape worked because I used that portable police radio to tap on the window of the guard’s picket. The guards thought I was an undercover police officer. It was such an adrenaline rush. Those first moments of freedom felt amazing. Best of all I knew I would get to see and take care of Jimmy. He lived another 26 months after my escape.”

As alluded to there, after escaping, Russell made a beeline for his apartment where Kemple was staying and informed his love that they had to leave. While there were some shenanigans in between, ultimately they made it to Mexico.

Russell’s freedom wasn’t to last, however. This was not because the police tracked them down in Mexico but, rather, Kemple got really sick and they needed to return to the U.S. for proper treatment. While in the states again, Russel attempted to commit insurance fraud to drum up money to support he and Kemple. Unfortunately for him, he was caught and arrested, having at this point been free for around two years.

A few weeks later, Kemple died while Russell was imprisoned.

The following spring of 1995, Russell met and fell in love with an inmate called Phillip Morris. He states, “I didn’t think it was possible. I mean, we were in prison! He was softly spoken, with a deep southern accent. I saw him in the law library trying to get a book. He’s short – he’s only 5ft 2 and I’m 6ft 2, and I said, ‘Hold on, I’ll get that for you.’ And that was it.”

After both men were paroled later that year, Morris set about providing for his new boo.

In this case, in addition to cashing in multiple fraudulent life insurance policies he’d taken out on his previous love, Russell applied for a job as the CFO of a massive medical management company called NAMM with a wildly embellished resume, the references on which were all just numbers that led back to him. It’s probably important to note here that Russell apparently has an incredible talent at changing his voice and speech patterns to sound very naturally like different people.

After being hired, Russell set about embezzling some $800,000 (about $1.4 million today) under the nose of other executives. Amusingly, despite Russell having no real experience in such a job, the founder of NAMM would later sheepishly admit that Russell was much easier to work with than other CFOs he’d met and had seemed to do his job well.

With such a high paying, comfortable gig, you might be wondering why Russell didn’t just go straight and simply resume a rather normal life working for NAMM. Well, according to Russell, his decision to defraud NAMM was, in part, his way of getting revenge for how Kemple had been treated by similar companies when trying to seek treatment for HIV, as well as how NAMM were treating people. In his own words,

The HMOs put Jim and I through hell during his illness. They wouldn’t cover the cost of certain treatments. At NAMM I watched executives badger their medical directors to put pressure on network physicians to get patients out of the hospital as soon as possible because otherwise it would affect their bonus. That got my revenge genes all greased up. I decided to make NAMM pay for their deeds as well as the other HMO’s deeds towards Jimmy.

As you might expect, however, stealing $800,000 in about 5 months was bound to get discovered eventually, and ultimately the cops were sent out to arrest him. Thinking quickly and apparently not wanting to go back to jail, Russell told officers he was diabetic and grabbed all of Morris’ insulin shots. Not knowing any better, the arresting officers then allowed Russell to inject himself with 40 doses of insulin, at which point he went into shock. Russel would later claim this was an attempt to kill himself. His boyfriend, however, would later state that Russel actually did it just to buy himself time to think while recovering in the hospital. However, given Russell’s very apparent intelligence and how dangerous such a course of action was, we’re going to go ahead and give Russell the benefit of the doubt on this one.

Whatever the case, he lived.

As you can imagine, the judge was none too impressed with Russell’s previous mockery of the judicial system and extreme risk for flight, so set his bail at $900,000 (about $1.5 million today). This was an amount Russell didn’t think was fair. Thus, he decided to reduce it by calling the district clerk from jail and doing a spot-on impersonation of the judge’s voice. In the end, all he had to do was tell the clerk to reduce Russell’s bail to a much more affordable $45,000. The next day, Russell paid his bail and walked home.

A few days later, the authorities noticed their mistake, in part because the funds Russell used to pay bail didn’t end up clearing, and arrested Russell again. This was something that was once again easy because rather than going into hiding, he, as ever, simply returned to his partner. He states of this, “I did those things because I wanted to be with Phillip. I was out of control.”

This time he got a prison sentence of 45 years.

Not at all happy with this turn of events and missing his man, over time Russell acquired a few dozen green felt tip permanent markers from the prison commissary and emptied the ink into his sink. How would this facilitate an escape? Well, after he had his dye solution, he placed his white prison uniform in, dying it green. This just so happened to be the same color worn by visiting doctors. Russel offers a pro-tip to anyone else interested in doing the same, “You have to be very careful because if you wring them out, you get streaks in the material.”

A few days later, he donned his doctor’s outfit and once again simply walked out of prison, in this case maximizing his odds by waiting to approach the door until the person manning it was on the phone, and thus she ended up opening and letting him through without any awkward questions.

The key in all of this was simply acting natural. He states, “If you are scared, you really mustn’t show it. You have to act like you’re meant to be there… [But] you do get a huge adrenaline rush. I walked to the woods just outside the penitentiary and after about 100 yards, I turned round and went like this [flipping the bird]. I guess it was kind of arrogant.”

From here, he naturally needed to get away from the prison as fast as possible and so used his outfit to good advantage, convincing a random citizen that he was a doctor who needed a ride into town after having gotten into a little accident with his car. He states, “By the time they had their helicopters and search teams out, I was drinking margaritas in a bar in Houston.”

Once again, Russell could have likely successfully disappeared except that he made it easy for the authorities by returning to Morris who the investigators were now paying extremely close attention to in order to find Russell. To make it not so easy for the fuzz initially, the pair absconded to Mississippi where they were eventually tracked down.

Now thoroughly embarrassed by Russell’s behaviour, which had been gleefully reported upon by the press given the apparent ease in which he was penetrating the prison walls, the authorities threw the book at the conman who accepted his sentence with an unusual air of sadness about him. When questioned about why he was no longer being his usual jovial self, Russell solemnly informed authorities that he had tested positive for HIV and likely didn’t have long to live.

For the next 10 months prison officials watched as Russel became a shadow of his former self, down to skin and bones, as well as showing all the signs of the late stages of dying from this particular virus.

Once death seemed close, he was sent to a prison nursing home. While there, the prison officials got a phone call from a physician noting Russell had been selected for an experimental drug trial and needed to come for that treatment immediately.

And so it was that Russell was granted medical parole and simply walked out of the prison. A couple weeks later, the prison received word from that same physician that Russell had passed away.

Of course, Russell did not have HIV.

Naturally, having watched his former partner dying of AIDS, he knew the symptoms well and otherwise just did everything he could to mimic them over time- perhaps the hardest of which was choosing not to eat very much for many months and otherwise taking laxatives when he did to try to rush everything through his system.

Now, you might think that surely the doctors in the prison must at some point have actually tested Russell for HIV. But no. No such test was ever done as they already had all the records they needed showing it- all made by Russell of course who simply typed them up on a prison typewriter and made sure these health records got slipped into the appropriate internal prison mail inbox.

He states of this particular escape, “That… was the most difficult… I had to completely discipline myself… You do whatever you have to do. I get my ideas from studying. I watch, I look for weaknesses. You look the whole way around something and you never let yourself get blocked in… I don’t think I’m cleverer than the police, but I managed it because they think anyone who is a criminal is stupid and they’re complacent. I think anyone can escape from anywhere.”

Unfortunate for Russell, when he was later attempting to get a $75,000 loan from NationsBank in Dallas (at the time posing as a rather wealthy individual), the bank became suspicious of him and decided to get the authorities to look into the matter. Not long after, it was discovered that in fact the man in question was that thought to be dead Mr. Russell. Once this was determined, he was promptly arrested.

He did initially try to trick the arresting officers that he wasn’t the man they were looking for, and was apparently quite convincing. However, they had apparently been forewarned by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to not listen to anything he said no matter how believable. Said Glen Castlebury of the TDCJ, “We told them in Florida if he comes out of the apartment and says he is Bill Clinton don’t believe him even though you may want to.”

Keen to punish Russell for the embarrassment he had caused the authorities and manpower needed to continually track him down over the years, the judge ultimately sentenced him to 144 years in prison- 45 years for his various scams and 99 years for his multiple prison escapes.

Despite being on lockdown literally 22 to 23 hours per day for many years now, prison officials are still convinced that Russell is plotting to escape again, with one guard saying of the matter, “If I know Steven, he’s in touch with Phillip Morris right now. I’m absolutely positive that his little brain is constantly turning.”

They also, as ever, note nobody should believe a word he says being, after all, a master conman with infinite charisma and penchant to get people to believe his lies.

As to what he says, Russell states he has no intention of escaping, despite the rather abhorrent situation he currently finds himself in, which he does have a rather lot to say about.

Solitary confinement is designed to weaken and destroy a human being. It’s a perverse form of retribution. Over the years, I’ve known 21 men that have died by suicide from hanging, cutting their jugular vein or femoral artery or overdosing on prescription medications. The sign of impending suicide is usually when a prisoner throws all of their personal property out of their cell. Other than that, they are typically quiet about their intentions until it is too late. I’ve also witnessed hundreds of self-mutilations. Cutters will shred their arms, legs, face or neck. Some have cut out their testicles and thrown them out onto the floor outside their cell. A death row inmate once plucked out both of his eyes.

I have not been immune to the effects of 22-plus years of solitary. About four years ago, I was diagnosed with recurrent major depression… My body is now broken in more ways than I can list, with my spine and hips the chief casualties due to the discomfort of my surroundings ― no chair, nothing to support my back except the cell walls ― and the restrictions placed on my movement. I am obese because of the poor quality of the food I’m given and the near-impossibility of exercise. Were my survival instincts weaker, I too might have succumbed to self-harm.

[However,] unlike others, I’m blessed with the love of my family and friends. Linda and David, my best friends from Houston, come to visit me nearly every weekend. My friend Helen visits me twice a year from Oslo, Norway….

In my opinion, solitary confinement should only be reserved for the most violent of inmates and should never be used for more than two years at a time. It destroys the human spirit. Put simply, it makes men mad. It is the only legal form of torture in today’s prison system, but it’s a slow maltreatment of the body and mind that, in the short run at least, leaves no visible signs. That’s why it’s permitted. Plus, society tends to view anything that happens to inmates in prison as no more than they deserve. Prisoners, however, aren’t necessarily evil or beyond redemption… If we expect prison to rehabilitate offenders or if we expect inmates to reintegrate into society once they have done their time, the less broken they are when they finally come out, the easier that will be.

While, again, you might think this would have him even more likely to try to escape, he notes that all of his previous escapes were motivated to be with his partner- by love. Unfortunately for him Morris is no longer in the picture, never having visited Russell since the life sentence, though Russell doesn’t begrudge him this, stating, “I miss him. But I’m also realistic. I don’t want to ever do anything that would hurt him again and any action I took now would cause him problems. I can’t be with him, there’s no way they would let that happen… It doesn’t make any difference how I feel about it. [But] you can’t feel sorry for yourself. I did this to myself.”

Further, he claims a different type of love motivates him NOT to escape- the love of his daughter. He explains, “My daughter, Stephanie, travels from the East Coast several times a year so she can spend time with her dad. She deserves all of the credit for my change in behavior. It’s because of her that I stopped trying to escape. The power a daughter has over her father is strong. She helped me see that my actions weren’t just hurting me, they were hurting her as well. All of my escapes had been acts of unthinking selfishness. In order for me to stop hurting the ones I love, they had to stop.”

He goes on,

[Extreme isolation has] given me time to consider who I am and how I got here. It’s a daily battle though, full of regret, flashbacks, self-doubt, paranoia, boredom, self-loathing, questioning and futility. There are days when I break down and cry. My daily life, if you can call it that, is barely worth living… All by myself… not touching another individual, not being able to [hug] my daughter… And it’s my fault… It is only the future that gives me hope.

I’m now almost 61 years old. Do I belong in prison? Yes, I do. I understand and accept why I’m here. I most definitely do not belong in solitary, however. That is a cruel and unusual punishment completely disproportionate to my crimes. It’s also unnecessary. Setting aside my decision to give up trying to escape, escaping is now a physical impossibility for me. My spine is now so impacted that I have to be pushed around in a wheelchair whenever I leave my cell. Escaping also makes no sense now that I have served so much time. Because all of my crimes were nonviolent, I may make it out of here legitimately one day, on parole. That is an infinitely better option for me than trying to escape again.

On this note, given he has been a model inmate and has for years been saying and doing all the right things to convince a parole board to let him go when the time comes, whether he’s being honest or not, it really would seem his fifth escape plan is for once the legitimate way, and maybe soon. His first possibility of parole will occur in December of this year.

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The post “King Con”- The Conman Who Simply Walked Out of Prison Four Times appeared first on Today I Found Out.

from Today I Found Out
by Karl Smallwood - June 22, 2020 at 06:53PM
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Do Expert Fighters and Military Personnel Really Have to Register Their Hands as Deadly Weapons?

Anyone who’s ever watched pretty much any movie in the history of ever or otherwise watched professional pugilists spar words with one another in a media session knows that those trained in the art of kicking ass are required to register their hands as deadly weapons in the United States. Further, if they use their fists of fury against the general public, not only will they get thrown in the slammer for a rather long time for assault with a deadly weapon, but afterwards they’ll go on a high flying adventure with the likes of Cyrus The Virus Grissom and his band of lovable ragamuffins. But is any of this actually true in reality? Well, as the universe hates simplicity and basically nothing is black and white- no, and also yes, and then nuance.

As to the easiest part of this particular topic to address- are those highly trained in hand to hand combat required to register their hands as deadly weapons in the U.S.? Nope… except for in one U.S. territory- Guam. There, in Title 10- Health & Safety Division 3- Public Safety, Chapter 62, it states,

Any person who is an expert in the art of karate or judo, or any similar physical in which the hands and feet are used as deadly weapons, is required to register with the Department of Revenue and Taxation…

An exception to this is that U.S. military members, as well as law enforcement, are not required to register. The fee for such a registration is a mere $5 and does not ever need to be renewed. Should such an expert fail to register and this is discovered by the authorities, said individual will be found guilty of a misdemeanor crime.

As to the end result of such a registration, in a nutshell the Department of Revenue and Taxation keeps a database of those registered and it further states in section 62106, “Any registered… who thereafter is charged with having used his art in a physical assault on some other person, shall upon conviction thereof, be deemed guilty of aggravated assault.”

Interestingly, no part of this section of the law seems to give any guidelines about how long you have from entering Guam to register yourself. And it does seem to require you show up in person to register, so there will always be a period between entering Guam, or reaching “expert” status while living there, and when you actually register.

And if you’re wondering, they define “expert” as “a person trained in the arts of karate, judo or other hand-to-hand fighting technique, whereby the hands, feet or other parts of the body are used as weapons, who shall have completed at least one level of training therein and shall have been issued a belt or other symbol showing proficiency in such art.”

As a brief aside, we’re just saying, but if Guam really wanted to make some nice side money for their Treasury, they’d allow this registration and issuance of such a certificate to be done via the internet and then raise the price considerably, as well as offer worldwide shipping on officially embossed and laminated registration cards. With some good word of mouth marketing, this would be an extremely popular gift to get martial arts students the world over who reach certain proficiency levels, whether they ever have any plans to visit Guam or not.

On that note, other than Guam, the only places where you can even try to register your deadly hands as such are in various fighting schools we could find who sell novelty certificates to students who reach a certain threshold in their training.

So that’s the yes and no. What about the nuance?

While it is true that in most of the world you do not have to register your deadly hands, it turns out the fact that you do have that training is extremely likely to come up in any court case in which you used your skills in a fight, with potentially very serious consequences, as we’ll illustrate later in the famous Con Air Cameron Poe fight, among some real world examples.

But before we get into that, this might all have you wondering how the myth that expert fighters do have to register their hands as deadly weapons became established and so prevalent. While nobody is sure who first got the bright idea, it is the case that professional fighters in the past have occasionally claimed they had to do this. Most notably, for a time it was all the rage for boxers. In these cases, the boxer might, for example, hold up their fists during a press conference and proclaim they had to register said extremities as deadly weapons upon arrival into town and come SUNDAY, SUNDAY, SUNDAY their opponent will find out just how valid that registration is.

Beyond publicity stunts spreading the myth, Taekwondo 7th Dan Grandmaster and former police officer Darwin J Eisenhart states that some among the particularly well trained actually find getting or making these novelty certificates very practical. It would seem a side effect of being a relatively high profile fighter is that random drunk or “tough guys” at bars like to challenge said fighters to fights, similar to what frequently happened to Abraham Lincoln once he gained the reputation as an expert fighter.

Such official-looking certificates help forestall these conflicts via the fighter flashing the certificate or card they made and explaining to the individual suffering from small penis syndrome that the fighter cannot engage in such a contest of manhood because it could result in said fighter getting charged with assault with a deadly weapon, regardless of the outcome of the fight.

As Eisenhart elaborates, “There was no legal standing for these claims, and no one was actually ‘officially’ registered or required to announce in advance that they had training, but most of them did this to avoid fights rather than state it as a brag or boast…”

Hollywood, of course, has done a great job further spreading the myth as well.

Now, all that said, it turns out that while the cards themselves weren’t official, the reasoning these fighters were stating it wouldn’t be a good idea for them to get into such a fight was completely valid.

You see, much like as you’re not required to register a walking stick, car, steak knife, or a dog as a deadly weapon, all four can unequivocally be considered such by the courts in the right set of circumstances. Similarly, regardless of whether you’re an expert fighter, pretty much every part of your body can be considered by the courts to be a deadly weapon in the right set of circumstances, depending on how you use said body part. For example, in the past, U.S. courts have found everything from knees to elbows to teeth to be deadly weapons in court cases.

A very important thing to note about all this is that, again, in many regions of the world, those who are highly trained in hand to hand combat will often have a much greater chance of having a court decide that the person’s body parts are to be considered deadly weapons.

The result of this is that it’s much easier for that person to be found guilty of a criminal or felony assault than a normal person who might be charged with a simple misdemeanor assault for the same set of actions and events.

On top of that, in some regions and sets of circumstances, it doesn’t even matter if you were the one being attacked and simply were defending yourself, as we’ll get into in a bit.

The distinction between these two legal classifications is rather important as, in the U.S. and many other regions, something like a misdemeanor assault might result in only a small fine to pay and/or a little bit of jail time, but not usually significant. In contrast, a Felony assault’s minimums will probably see a fine of at least several thousands dollars and very likely also include lengthy incarceration, even up to life in prison if the assault resulted in a death.

Thus, in all of this, while technically outside of Guam the letter of the law doesn’t distinguish between a random Jimmy Layabout and Bruce Lee, it turns out in criminal and civil proceedings this is most definitely going to be factored in.

As a real world example here, consider the words of Judge John Hurley who was ruling over a road-rage case that included an ex-marine and very skilled mixed martial artist by the name of Fernando Rodrigues. Judge Hurley states, “I’ve always thought that if you are a black belt in karate or you are an expert in martial arts, that your hands and feet would be considered weapons.”

Perhaps it is no surprise from this that said judge ruled, “The court believes at this time that [Rodrigues’] hands and feet are considered, for probable cause, to be deadly weapons.”

Similarly, many a jury member may hold the exact same opinion, ultimately biasing them somewhat against the professional fighter in a given assault case, especially as the opposing attorney will absolutely be shoving this fact down the jurors’ throats.

For yet another real world case, we have an incident involving one Jamal Parks of Texas in 2013. Parks first got in a fight with one of his friends, resulting in the police being called. When police arrived to the scene, Parks beat the crap out of one of the officers as well. In this case, because Parks was a mixed martial arts fighter, the court went ahead and considered his hands to be deadly weapons and he was charged with Felony Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon, rather than going with a lesser charge as would have likely been the case if he was just some Jimmy Crapface. District attorney Bill Vassar noted on this one, “It’s pretty unusual, but in this instance — because he is an MMA fighter — we thought it was appropriate to charge his hands as deadly weapons.”

Jumping across the pond to Merry Ol’ England, we have a rather tragic assault against an 18 year old named Daniel Christie. Christie was walking with friends on New Years’ when they encountered a scuffle where a rather large individual was attacking some much smaller teens, prompting Christie to apparently approach and yell at the man “Why are you hitting kids?”

Well, it turns out the group of teens had offered to sell drugs to the rather muscular man, Shaun McNeil, as well as apparently made some comments about McNeil’s girlfriend which McNeil apparently wasn’t too happy about. The slightly inebriated McNeil declined the offer for drugs, but after the comments about his lady, there was some sort of fight between them, with McNeil knocking one of the teens down.

When Christie and his group approached and Christie yelled his question at McNeil, McNeil subsequently misinterpreted Christie and his friends with being with the other teens and punched Daniel in the face, as well as punched Daniel’s brother, Peter.

Unfortunately for McNeil and the Christie family, while you wouldn’t normally expect a single blow to the face to cause serious long term damage, in this case when Christie hit the ground, said unyielding surface shattered part of his skull. The result was that, 11 days later, Daniel’s family had to say their goodbyes and had the doctors turn off life support.

As to the court case, given McNeil was a highly trained fighter, it was decided to charge him with murder instead of manslaughter, despite it being very questionable that there was any murderous intent.

The court did, in the end, rule McNeil not-guilty of murder. But he wasn’t off the hook. They instead convicted him of manslaughter. As to the ultimate ruling and sentencing, Justice Hulme cited McNeil’s training in MMA and background in body building (thus his hands being more deadly than most), as well as McNeil’s rather large size compared to Daniel’s (thus Daniel could have not possibly posed any real threat to him). On top of that, witnesses claimed that once McNeil approached to punch, Daniel attempted to retreat the situation and put his hands up and said “no”. This, again, demonstrated Daniel had posed no threat to McNeil, despite the somewhat inebriated McNeil allegedly interpreting the situation as him being surrounded by a unified group of drug dealing, potentially hostile teens.

Further going against him, McNeil had something of a history of getting into random, often alcohol induced, fights with his rather deadly hands and seemingly had not learned his lesson from previous more minor run-ins with the authorities over such. Thus, after explaining all his reasoning, for this single punch, Justice Hulme sentenced McNeil to a maximum of 10 years in prison, with the earliest possibility of parole after 7.

The point being in all of this- if one is an expert fighter and is considering attacking anyone, they are in many regions of the world going to be at a higher risk of having the courts level much more severe charges against them than Jimmy Couchpotato.

Now, of course, Jimmy Couchpotato still could potentially have similar charges leveled against him if the court deems he used extreme degrees of force, such as curb stomped someones’ head into the ground or the like- even if that someone had been the one to initially attack. But should Mr. Couchpotato punch someone in the face once and accidentally kill a person with that single blow, they are more likely to face lesser charges than if Bruce Lee did the exact same thing.

So how can Mr. Lee (and indeed your average Joe) help ensure things go smoothly in court when it comes to self defense?

It’s important to note that what constitutes acceptable self-defense is an incredibly nebulous concept with varying laws from region to region, including even varying from state to state in the United States. Beyond varying laws, determining culpability can be extremely difficult, especially when factoring in both civil and criminal courts and often conflicting first hand accounts of what happened and exactly when and how.

That caveat out of the way, while rules differ, there are a handful of things you can do to help yourself out in the general case. First, if evidence shows that you attempted to de-escalate the situation in words or actions, that’s a point in your favor. Further, if it can be shown that you attempted to exit the situation, that’s another point. In fact, there are actually some regions where you are required, if at all possible, to attempt to retreat before defending yourself. (Note even in these regions, if you’re in your home, you usually are not required to attempt to exit the situation. Though, contrary to popular belief, in most regions this still doesn’t give you carte blanche to use whatever force you please to the person who entered your home without your consent. Proportional force to the perceived threat still applies.)

Just another quick note here as well, also contrary to popular belief, in most regions, you are not required to wait for the attacker to throw the first blow. If the attack is very clearly imminent, such as someone running at you and yelling they are going to put a dent in your face, you can strike first and have that be considered self defense. It’s simply that, once again, in many cases it can potentially be another point in your favor if the other person is the one that attempts the first blow.

So you’ve done all that, and the fight starts anyway. What now? Most laws concerning this sort of thing in many parts of the world usually say something like that the person defending themselves is free to use up to the minimum force required to protect themselves from harm.

As you can imagine, what constitutes “minimum force required” can vary considerably from case to case. You can also see from this why an expert fighter might be much more prone to getting into trouble while defending themselves. They are much better at inflicting an awful lot of damage with a single blow compared to most, and, on top of that, have much more experience than most at knowing what kind of damage they will do with a given blow- thus more likely that a judge or jury might deem that inflicting that excessive damage was intentional.

So, for example, if Jimmy Crapface comes at Bruce Lee with his fists, and Lee responds by a quick and decisive kick to the head which then breaks Jimmy’s skull, killing him, there’s a non-zero chance the prosecutor might level some rather serious charges against Lee and leave it up to a judge or jury to sort the matter out. After all, while Jimmy was the attacker- and being Jimmy absolutely deserved death- he only brought fists and being a Grade A asshole to the fight. In contrast, Bruce Lee knowingly brought a deadly weapon- his foot, and then used it in a way that he was expert enough to know could cause deadly damage. Thus, Lee could be deemed to have, essentially, brought a gun to a fist fight, and then used it.

Further, even if the criminal court ultimately decided to let Mr. Lee off (because Lee did the world a favor by offing Jimmy), should Jimmy’s family choose to sue Lee over the death, there’s yet another round of proceedings to contend with where the ruling very much might go against Lee. (That said, on the civil case side of things, this is region dependent as, for example, 22 states in the U.S. have rules against an attacker suing for subsequent injuries, even if excessive force was ultimately used by the defender.)

Of course, if you feel your life is in danger for some reason, such as if the attacker is coming at you with a knife, you are free to use deadly force to a point. As to the limits, let’s say the attacker comes at you, tries to stab you, and you then deflect the blow. In so doing, you cause the attacker to drop their knife. After the knife is dropped, you then use a severe blow that has the possibility of causing deadly damage. Unfortunately for you, given that the attacker no longer offers a deadly threat to you, having just dropped the knife, you once again are in danger of the court ruling that you used excessive force and, given you are an expert fighter, more likely they’ll also rule that your hands be deemed deadly weapons.

Of course, in all of this, a variety of factors are also considered including, among many other things, your size relative to your opponent (such as was brought up in the aforementioned Daniel Christie case), whether there are multiple attackers, whether it was likely that the attacker might recover the knife and try to use it against you, if the attacker seemed to be on some sort of drugs that might require deadly force to get them to stop, even if they are unarmed themselves, etc. etc. And, of course, what the exact sequence of events were in the fight is going to be closely looked at, though is a rather difficult thing to accurately determine in many cases, further muddying the waters.

So let’s now look at the Con Air fight which illustrates many of these points. In it, at no point did Cameron Poe try to de-escalate the situation with words, nor try to exit the approaching fight. In fact, when the attackers first started to approach from a distance, Poe was standing right next to his open car door with no imminent threat present. Thus, he could have simply got in and drove away, as his wife was begging him to do. Instead, he stepped away from the car towards the attackers, actually purposefully escalating the situation. The group of “hounddogs” then attacked and Poe defended himself against all of them but one in a perfectly reasonable way that would have caused him no issue in court.

But, of course, there was the matter of the person he killed. Unfortunately for him, there were no witnesses other than the combatants to that part of the fight. It was simply his word against the remaining attackers that the one he killed tried to use a knife against him. With no physical evidence that the attacker posed a deadly threat, as the knife was taken (and presumably the other attackers claiming no such knife existed), it is not out of the question for the court to rule both that Poe used excessive force to defend himself, and that he intentionally brought and used a deadly weapon to a fight where the attackers only brought fists.

Granted, there were multiple attackers and one Cameron Poe, so it might have been possible for Poe’s lawyer to try to argue that even without evidence of a knife, Poe feared for his life given he was surrounded- as ever nothing is black and white. However, given Poe more or less willingly entered the fight, arguing that he was afraid for his life is a bit of a stretch. Further, at the point he killed the attacker, he had already incapacitated everyone else. So it was just one on one. So that argument probably wouldn’t have gone far.

Thus, given all the pertinent facts that the court was aware of (including, again, no evidence of a knife outside of Poe saying there was), the ultimate ruling was perfectly reasonable given the letter of the law. Just because someone attacks you doesn’t give you the right to intentionally use deadly force against them, and the court is especially not going to be on your side if they know you had a chance to leave the situation and, rather than doing that, actually willingly entered it.

Granted, what the Judge said in his ruling about Poe not being subject to the same laws as a normal person was all a bunch of crap, and his lawyer seemingly screwed him over to boot, but the ultimate ruling even if he hadn’t plead guilty wasn’t unrealistic.

At least one thing Poe did have in his favor was that Alabama law does not allow attackers to sue for damages should the one they are attacking inflict such. So while he was convicted in the criminal court, he at least wouldn’t have faced any civil suits later.

But to sum up, while outside of Guam nobody is actually registering their hands as deadly weapons, should you actually be highly trained in hand to hand combat, you still want to approach any fight as if the courts will consider your body parts deadly weapons, whether you are attacking or are the one being attacked.

If being attacked- attempt to de-escalate the situation with words and/or leave. If that fails, then use the absolute minimum force possible to end the fight, and then resist the urge to do anything else after your opponent is incapacitated. Even a single blow after they are no longer a threat to you could be awfully expensive for you in a civil court proceeding, and may have very serious criminal ramifications on top of it.

The plus side of all of this is that, while you the expert fighter might not be able to use “my hands are registered as deadly weapons” as a pick up line for the ladies, you could technically rephrase it a bit for the same effect- “Parts of my body are more likely to be considered a deadly weapon in court given the right set of circumstances, varying based on region and exactly what I do with them in the fight. And baby, I know what to do with my body parts.”

And when that doesn’t work. Well, move to Guam. No doubt the ladies will throw themselves at you when you have the official certificate.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

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The post Do Expert Fighters and Military Personnel Really Have to Register Their Hands as Deadly Weapons? appeared first on Today I Found Out.

from Today I Found Out
by Daven Hiskey - June 20, 2020 at 06:59PM
Article provided by the producers of one of our Favorite YouTube Channels!

Friday, June 19, 2020 June 19, 2020 at 04:24AM - Rockstar stops hackers spawning KKK in Red Dead Online

Following in the footsteps of GTA Online, Red Dead Online has faced problems with hackers for a good while now - and more recently, things took a severe turn for the worse. Community members noticed a marked increase in hackers spawning Ku Klux Klan NPCs, often accompanied by a barrage of racist slurs, and took to Twitter and Reddit to express their concerns.

As reported by Polygon, it seems Rockstar Games has finally found a way to stop hackers being able to spawn KKK into online sessions. Dataminer Tez2 found that the game now checks if you are online, detects if an event is trying to spawn peds with KKK models, and instantly deletes it. Rockstar later confirmed to Polygon that the cheat had been disabled.

KKK NPCs appear in Red Dead Redemption 2's story mode, but hackers were able to use mod menus in Red Dead Online to find the KKK models ("peds") and spawn them into the game world, something which is no longer possible.

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from June 19, 2020 at 04:08AM - Retailers are selling off loads of 3DS games from just £2

For most, the Nintendo 3DS has probably been relegated to the back of the cupboard now the Switch has taken the limelight. However, you may want to dig it out again now a couple of retailers are running a huge clearance sale on loads of 3DS games.

Both Amazon and Argos have a variety of 3DS games on offer, with prices starting at just £1.99. Naturally, at that end of the spectrum, we're dealing with some serious bargain bin stuff like Yo-Kai Watch. Still, for only a little more cash you can start getting games from the Professor Layton, Paper Mario and Legend of Zelda series for just £7.49.

There's even much-maligned spin-off Metroid Prime: Federation Force for £4. I'm half-tempted to get it just to have something Metroid-related in my life again after the deafening silence on Metroid Prime 4 over the last few months. Although, it might just be safer to play through the Metroid Prime trilogy once again on the Wii.

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from June 19, 2020 at 04:02AM - Disintegration review - a quirky but troubled sci-fi shooter

Back at last year's E3 - an event that now feels like a lifetime ago - I had a chat with V1 founder Marcus Lehto to pin down what Disintegration was all about. Due to the game's dystopian sci-fi setting and Lehto's background as the co-creator of Halo, I came away thinking Disintegration's narrative had the potential to explore some fascinating topics, including post-humanism and the threats to our world today.

In the end, Disintegration doesn't ever delve too far into these ideas: but what I didn't expect was a silly yet genuinely convincing shooter hidden beneath the surface.

Disintegration bills itself as a first-person shooter with real-time strategy elements, half campaign and half multiplayer, set in a future version of Earth ravaged by every bad thing under the sun. Climate change, pandemic, war - all things so alien to us here in 2020... The premise is that swathes of the Earth's population have chosen to "integrate" in order to survive the harsh conditions: a process of transplanting someone's brain into a robot body to preserve their consciousness. It was intended to be a temporary measure, but a nefarious group called the Rayonne decided integration was actually the future of humanity. The motives for which aren't really established at the start of the campaign, unfortunately, but at least you can tell they're bad guys from their glowing red eyes. As Romer Shoal - a celebrity who previously convinced people to integrate - you and your band of robot outlaws team up to take down the Rayonne using a combination of your Gravcycle (a weaponised hoverbike) and ground units, each of whom boast special abilities and can be commanded to attack specific enemies.

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from June 19, 2020 at 03:44AM - EA-published Rocket Arena arrives next month

EA has scooped up Rocket Arena for launch on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One next month.

Originally announced a year ago, this mash-up of Overwatch-style heroes and Quake-style rocket gameplay is a three-versus-three shooter from new developer Final Strike Games.

Combat is entirely centred on rockets, as the game's name suggests, while each hero has a unique special ability. New heroes will be added for free over time.

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from June 19, 2020 at 03:12AM - Here's over an hour of new Baldur's Gate 3 gameplay

Larian livestreamed over an hour of new Baldur's Gate 3 gameplay last night - and it looked great.

Larian boss Swen Vincke played the hotly-anticipated fantasy role-playing game live, showing off new narration, the tweaked user interface and player choice. During the presentation, the viewers could decide which path to take: venture into the underdark or kill the hobgoblin Dror Ragzlin. I won't spoil the result!

What I will spoil, however, are some of the improvements that have been made to the game during development this year. For example, the narrator that leads players through the game has changed to present tense/second person narration from past tense.

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from June 19, 2020 at 02:36AM - Cyberpunk 2077 PS4 will get a free upgrade for PlayStation 5

Cyberpunk 2077's PS4 version will be playable on PlayStation 5 as soon as the game launches, developer CD Projekt Red has said.

Anyone with a PS4 copy will be able to play that on PS5 and receive a free update to improve the game's visuals on Sony's next-gen machine.

The news, confirmed last night in an investor call, follows CD Projekt Red's announcement in February it would support Microsoft's Smart Delivery initiative for Xbox - meaning the free upgrade will work the same there for Xbox One copies on Xbox Series X.

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from June 19, 2020 at 02:03AM - Google Stadia timed-exclusive Crayta out in July

Stadia timed-exclusive Crayta comes out 1st July 2020, Google has announced.

This "First on Stadia" game is a bit like the streaming service's answer to PlayStation's Dreams. Crayta is a set of tools that lets users create games that can support up to 20 players.

The game launches with State Share Beta, an early version of the Stadia feature called State Share. Here, players hit a button to generate a link to share their in-game creation, then others use the link to start playing and collaborating. The video below shows how it works:

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from June 19, 2020 - The Double-A Team: The thrilling convenience of Torchlight

I spent a lot of last week zooming around in Disintegration, which is a fascinating and pretty lovely game. It's lovely because everything in it feels so good, and because - not an insult - there is a warming, comforting Double-A-ness to it in its sparsity and its obvious desire to get the most out of absolutely everything. And it's fascinating because... well.

Disintegration feels a bit like Halo 2 to me, or rather the Halo 2 that might have been. It takes the lovely tree-scattered setting of Halo, the flat metallic heft of the classic Spartan weaponry and the precision staging of the encounters, and it then throws in a big new idea: you scoot around and direct troops in a sort of blend of FPS and RTS. Halo 2's big idea was dual-wielding (and dual leads). Disintegration feels like the Halo 2 we might have gotten if everyone had been more able to explore new ideas - which, given Bungie's background, would also have been old ideas.

Disintegration is made by ex-Bungie people, and in this respect it sort of seems to parallel the work of the team at Runic Games. In Torchlight 2 - the numbers are about to get confusing - we got both another version of Diablo 2, which some of the core team had helped make, and also a glimpse of an alternate version of Diablo 3. Torchlight 2 felt like the Diablo 3 these veterans might have made, the same way that Disintegration reminds me of a mirror-world Halo 2.

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Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Lesser Known Perks of the Medal of Honor are Better Than Being Knighted by the Queen

In the early going, knighthood was an honor earned by those who had distinguished themselves in battle in some significant way or otherwise had made themselves into an absolutely exceptional soldier through many years of training. Later, the honor became somewhat more exclusive, generally limited to nobility or those who were the children of knights, but still typically requiring extensive military training. In modern times of course, in places like the UK, knighthoods are typically granted for all manner of services to a nation, regardless of whether the person has any military training whatsoever. As for the U.S. Medal of Honor, first introduced in 1861, much like in the earliest days of knighthood, this is earned via some extremely heroic act done in aid of the U.S. military. But what do you actually get out of either of these things (or both, as it’s possible to both be knighted and receive a Medal of Honor)? And, if you only received one, which would be more beneficial to you post honor?

As we’ve covered before in great detail, it turns out getting knighted entitles you to just about nothing, other than getting to attend a special ceremony where you’re knighted and then afterwards you can adopt a title, such as “Sir”. That said, there are more intangible perks, such as a slightly higher profile, more impressive looking resume, potential invites to parties one would otherwise not have been, quicker seating at some exclusive restaurants, etc. But, on the whole, you officially get basically nothing.

This lack of official perks is in keeping with historical precedent, with the title of Knight throughout history being largely ceremonial in nature, especially in the United Kingdom. For example, as noted by the Royal Collection Trust, the title in ancient times didn’t confer any monetary benefit upon a person since anyone granted the title of Knight would, to quote them, “Be expected to have the financial ability to support the honour of knighthood, so that he could provide himself with arms, armour, horses and the required number of armed followers to render military service to his Sovereign for a minimum period each year.”

Thus, disappointingly, being knighted today by the Queen does not come with a fiefdom and peasants to work the land, nor any such tangible award- not even a badass custom forged sword or armor. Although, we do know of at least one case where an individual knighted, British author Sir Terry Pratchett, went ahead and had such a sword made to commemorate his knighthood and then lamented the laws of the land didn’t allow him to carry it around in his day to day life, despite him officially BEING a knight.

Perhaps because there is little incentive to accept other than the pure honor of it, a surprising number of people (reportedly about 2% in recent decades, including John Cleese and David Bowie) have refused knighthoods for various reasons. Although, what those reasons are aren’t typically publicly revealed, with exceptions like John Cleese who stated he felt he’d already received a much greater honor- having a lemur, Avahi cleesei, named after him.

In contrast, we could find only one instance of a Medal of Honor recipient requesting not to be considered for it- John J. Pershing. However, it didn’t matter because his letter requesting to stop the nomination process wasn’t received until after it was decided his actions weren’t quite worthy.

That said, there is one Medal of Honor recipient who would later publicly reject the honor, though still be awarded it- Army Chaplain Charlie Liteky. As to what he did to earn it, in 1967, his Medal of Honor citation states:

…He was participating in a search and destroy operation when Company A came under intense fire from a battalion size enemy force. Momentarily stunned from the immediate encounter that ensued, the men hugged the ground for cover. Observing 2 wounded men, Chaplain Liteky moved to within 15 meters of an enemy machine gun position to reach them, placing himself between the enemy and the wounded men. When there was a brief respite in the fighting, he managed to drag them to the relative safety of the landing zone. Inspired by his courageous actions, the company rallied and began placing a heavy volume of fire upon the enemy’s positions. In a magnificent display of courage and leadership, Chaplain Liteky began moving upright through the enemy fire, administering last rites to the dying and evacuating the wounded. Noticing another trapped and seriously wounded man, Chaplain Liteky crawled to his aid. Realizing that the wounded man was too heavy to carry, he rolled on his back, placed the man on his chest and through sheer determination and fortitude crawled back to the landing zone using his elbows and heels to push himself along. Pausing for breath momentarily, he returned to the action and came upon a man entangled in the dense, thorny underbrush. Once more intense enemy fire was directed at him, but Chaplain Liteky stood his ground and calmly broke the vines and carried the man to the landing zone for evacuation. On several occasions when the landing zone was under small arms and rocket fire, Chaplain Liteky stood up in the face of hostile fire and personally directed the medivac helicopters into and out of the area. With the wounded safely evacuated, Chaplain Liteky returned to the perimeter, constantly encouraging and inspiring the men. Upon the unit’s relief on the morning of 7 December 1967, it was discovered that despite painful wounds in the neck and foot, Chaplain Liteky had personally carried over 20 men to the landing zone for evacuation during the savage fighting.

And we’ll also just throw in here that, as a priest, Liteky was not armed during any of this.

Liteky would later state of his days in the military, “I was 100 percent behind going over there and putting those Communists in their place. I had no problem with that. I thought I was going there doing God’s work.”  However, after his time in the military, he became a pacifist and very public advocate for peaceful resolution of any conflicts. Ultimately in 1986, he gave up his medal as an act of political dissent against the U.S.’s activities in Central America, particularly the U.S. backing various military groups there.

As for the rest of the approximately 3500 recipients of the Medal of Honor, there has been no such other rejection, including from any of the over 800 non-U.S. citizens awarded this.

And note here, as alluded to, it’s perfectly possible for a UK citizen to be knighted and receive a U.S. Medal of Honor if they perform a sufficiently brave and heroic act while serving with the U.S. military. However, very unfortunately, we found and sifted through just shy of 300 UK born Medal of Honor recipients and couldn’t find a single one who was also knighted.

On the flip-side, the Queen may also give an honorary knighthood to a U.S. Medal of Honor recipient, but we couldn’t find any instance of this happening. And even if it did, an honorary knighthood does not allow the person to use the main perk of being knighted- the well known title. That said, they can potentially append the suffix of their rank in the particular Order they were appointed to if they want. But something like Bill Gates KBE doesn’t exactly have the same ring to it as Sir Bill Gates. (And, yes, both Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, have been given an honorary knight and damehood. If either of them were to become citizens of the UK at some point, it is usual for such individuals to then be able to officially use their titles, with the knighthood no longer being considered honorary at that point.)

So that’s knighthood. What are the perks of earning the U.S. Medal of Honor? Well, they are many it turns out. We’ll start with arguably the most monetarily valuable, if how much you’d have to pay for the same from commercial airlines is any indication- free flights for life for you and your family (so long as you accompany them) basically anywhere in the world the U.S. military is flying.

This occurs via something known as the “Space A” program. In a nutshell, if there is space aboard a military plane flying somewhere, you can request to join the flight. As you might imagine, extra space on these flights can sometimes come at a premium, but if you happen to be a Medal of Honor recipient, not only is it free for life, but you’re bumped way up the priority queue from where you’d normally be for a given flight.

As we’ve previously covered, when airlines have offered similar “fly free forever” perk packages, they charged an arm and a leg for that sort of unlimited flight access. For example, in 1981 American Airlines sold these at $250,000 (about $641,000 today) per ticket, and then later up to $1.01 million (about $1.7 million today). Despite this, they were still losing money on the program so jacked the price up to $3 million per ticket (about $3.7 million today) before finally canceling the program and also trying where possible to revoke previously purchased lifetime passes if they could find any fine print to wiggle themselves out of the deal.

Moving on from the free flights, Medal of Honor recipients these days also get a boost of just shy of $1400 per month in their pay and pension. And not only this, but that boost starts on the day of the deed of the action that earned the person the Medal of Honor, even if it’s awarded many years later. This came up recently when Sergeant David Bellavia earned a Medal of Honor during the Second Battle of Fallujah in 2004. In a nutshell, his platoon were clearing a house when they became dangerously pinned down and with one enemy fighter about to shoot a rocket propelled grenade at them.

Rather than sit around and see his entire platoon wiped out, Bellavia decided to go Rambo on them, simply jumping up and running at the enemy gun ablazing. From there, he not only eliminated the immediate threat, but also single handedly cleared the rest of the house of five total enemy fighters, including one in a room filled with explosives, where he had to switch to hand to hand combat due to his concern about blowing up the place.

The actual Medal of Honor for these acts wasn’t granted until 2019- a full 15 years after the event. Thus, he was apparently entitled to well over $200,000 in back pay. Though due to official policy, the exact amount he was given here isn’t public information.

On the note of money, another financial perk is an additional 10% boost in retirement pay. On top of this, the Medal of Honor recipients also get special parking at various military installations, as well as access, even after retirement, at military Morale, Welfare, and Recreation facilities. These can include all manner of benefits, such as access to gyms, pools, financial counseling, etc. etc.

Moving on from there, Medal of Honor recipients also have the ability to wear their uniform any time they please (except for for certain political, commercial, or extremist action purposes). They also get a special uniform allowance stipend of $830.56, exemption from the co-pay on their health insurance, automatic invitations to presidential inaugurations and subsequent ball, among other events. They also take home a nice Medal of Honor Flag, and, in many states of the U.S., receive educational benefits for themselves and their family, as well as a special license plate for their car.

Further, should one or more of their children wish to enroll in a military academy, said child can bypass the normal quota restrictions and, so long as they are otherwise eligible, will be granted admission.

Finally, the Medal of Honor recipient gets a place in the Arlington National Cemetery for their remains, as well as a special gold lettered tombstone.

One last perk is not actually official, contrary to what is often said, but is nonetheless common- being saluted by other military personnel regardless of their rank, and even regardless of setting or whether the person is in uniform. So you could potentially have a 4 star General saluting a lowly sergeant standing in his boxers if the latter was a Medal of Honor recipient and the General felt so inclined.

Of course, depending on one’s personality, some of these intangible perks aren’t exactly always appreciated. For example, Medal of Honor recipient Col Barney Barnum states one of the downsides is, “You’re on parade all the time, and I tell you, there are times that [you’re] just gonna walk away from everybody because you get tired of being patted on the back.”

On the note of downsides, one issue of the Medal of Honor compared to how most earn knighthoods these days is that the very nature of the requirements to get a Medal of Honor tend to see about half of all recipients since the start of WWII receive theirs posthumously. So, unfortunately, they are not able to directly take advantage of the perks, though for some of the perks their families will at least.

Before we finish, we should also mention what happens if you earn more than one Medal of Honor, which 19 of the around 3,500 people who’ve received a Medal of Honor have done. Unfortunately for them, according to the Code of Federal Regulations, section 38 3.802 in part b, it states, “… a person awarded more than one Medal of Honor may not receive more than one special pension.”

Incidentally as another quick aside, there have been two father/son Medal of Honor recipients- one being Arthur and Douglas MacArthur; and, of course, as should come as a surprise to no one- the manliest man to ever man and one of the most amazing people in history, President Theodore Roosevelt, tacked on a Medal of Honor to his obscene number of accomplishments. Later, his son, Theodore Roosevelt Jr., also earned himself one.

But in the end, while there is something perhaps more Hollywood-cool about getting to tack “Sir”, “Dame”, or “Lady” onto your moniker instead of the optional and non-standardized “MOH” or “MH”, as with Medal of Honor recipients, at the end of the day, the perks of the U.S. Medal of Honor pretty definitively outweigh that of being knighted by the Queen in the UK. Accomplishing both, however, is entirely possible, but hasn’t yet happened.

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by Daven Hiskey - June 18, 2020 at 11:20PM
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