This week, we’re sharing stories from C.J. Chivers, Sheelah Kolhatkar, Libby Copeland, Amanda Petrusich, and Bryan Menegus.
This week, we’re sharing stories from Jane Mayer, David Zax, Christopher Glazek, Farah Stockman, and Alex Mar.
The Sackler family funds top-tier museums (the Met, the Tate, the Smithsonian), universities (Princeton, Cambridge), and scientific research institutes (the Mayo Clinic, the National Academy of Sciences). Where does their cash come from? Writing in Esquire, Christopher Glazek tells us: pharmaceuticals — these days, largely OxyContin, which generates over a billion dollars in sales each year on the back of a campaign built on misleading both doctors and the public about its addictive potential. Over 200,000 people have now died of OxyContin overdoses, and many more from heroin after first becoming addicted to opioids via Oxy.
The Sacklers have experience turning an addictive drug into a household name. In the 1960s, family patriarch Arthur Sackler did it with benzodiazepene:
In the 1960s, Arthur was contracted by Roche to develop an advertising strategy for a new antianxiety medication called Valium. This posed a challenge, because the effects of the medication were nearly indistinguishable from those of Librium, another Roche tranquilizer that was already on the market. Arthur differentiated Valium by audaciously inflating its range of indications. Whereas Librium was sold as a treatment for garden- variety anxiety, Valium was positioned as an elixir for a problem Arthur christened “psychic tension.” According to his ads, psychic tension, the forebear of today’s “stress,” was the secret culprit behind a host of somatic conditions, including heartburn, gastrointestinal issues, insomnia, and restless-leg syndrome. The campaign was such a success that for a time Valium became America’s most widely prescribed medication—the first to reach more than $100 million in sales. Arthur, whose compensation depended on the volume of pills sold, was richly rewarded, and he later became one of the first inductees into the Medical Advertising Hall of Fame.
Later, the company would do the something similar with OxyContin and pain, when it “rebranded pain relief as a sacred right: a universal narcotic entitlement available not only to the terminally ill but to every American.”
Esquire writer Luke O’Neil recalls playing tackle football as a kid, a game where “you can hit so hard that you knock yourself out and wake up confused and distraught on the sideline, seeing yellow.” A new study from Boston University suggests that tackle football is too dangerous for the developing brains of youths from age six to 12, and O’Neil wonders how much damage he did to his still-forming brain.
It was the final game of yet another woeful season for our team against a much larger nearby city. I don’t remember the score, but I know we lost, because we always lost. And yet, even in playing football in futility, knowing you are likely to lose, there are victories to be snatched from defeat. A ferocious tackle. A shuddering block. You can hit people so hard that long after they beat you, they remember you were there …
… The new BU study, which surveyed still-living former players, determined those who began playing at a young age (before 12) showed double the risk of developing behavioral problems like apathy, and triple the risk of getting depression compared to players who started later.
Roughly 1.23 million kids ages 6 to 12 played tackle football in 2015, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, a slight increase over the previous year. That age is significant, because a child’s brain has yet to fully develop by then …
… It’s easy to over-diagnose yourself when looking at a list of symptoms, but for as long as I can remember, these things have been a daily part of my life: sensitivity to sound and light, poor memory, ringing in my ears, apathy, and depression. It may not have anything to do with football — people suffer from mental and emotional disorders for all sorts of reasons.
This week, we’re sharing stories from Rana Dasgupta, Whitney Joiner, Jesse Barron, Kiese Laymon, and David Roth.
In Esquire, Brian Castner walks us through the case of Captain Noorullah Aminyar, an Afghan army officer seeking asylum in the U.S. following threats and retaliation by the Taliban that have already left his younger brother dead. He’s been in a Homeland Security detention center for three years now, his application subject to a system of immigration law that is both incredibly complex and incredibly capricious.
There is no legal definition of “de-facto government,” no clear standard that Borowski was asked to meet. U.S. asylum policy is administered case by case by several hundred immigration judges across the country. That makes decisions nonstandard, increasingly partisan, and—most frustratingly for the participants—unpredictable. Immigration judges have wide discretion, by design. “If I rob a bank and get arrested, I have a pretty good idea what my sentence will be,” said Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute, “but if I request asylum, anything might happen. The immigration legal code is second in complexity only to our federal income tax system.”
The Transactional Records Access Clearing House at Syracuse University publishes the asylum denial rates of every immigration judge. Those rates vary widely from judge to judge and city to city; for example, from 2011-2016, the El Paso, Texas court denied 96.6 percent of its 1,042 requests, while Arlington, Virginia approved 70.3 percent of its 3,717 cases.
Art Arthur, a fellow at the conservative Center for Immigration Studies and a former immigration judge (2011-2016 denial rate: 90.4 percent), said that his challenge as a judge was that “the law is very narrowly tailored. You want to be empathetic, to alleviate pain and protect someone. But asylum law doesn’t say that if something bad will happen to someone in their home country, they should be granted protection. There are specific guidelines, and it’s important to maintain fidelity to the law.” He is adamant that clear standards exist—”there’s fifty years of case law to follow,” he said—but he also admitted “at the end of the day, you can’t take human nature out of the system.”
This week, we’re sharing stories from Libby Copeland, Patrick Blanchfield, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Cory Taylor, and Tabitha Blankenbiller.
A new Discovery Channel show, Darkness, sends three strangers into a cave or abandoned mineshaft, giving them six days to find each other and a way out — with no light, at all, at any time. For Esquire, Patrick Blanchfield takes a deep look at the premise, the participants, and the crew, who also have to spend the week in the dark. Leaving aside the cold, and the hallucinations, and the high potential for physical injury, there’s the issue of sleep: how do you sleep normally with no light or social cues? You don’t.
Brandon’s experience gets at another challenge of surviving underground, in the dark or otherwise: what happens to your sense of time. Brandon fell asleep twice, and only for thirty or forty minutes at a go. But when he awoke, he was certain that he’d been asleep for two eight-to-ten-hour stretches. When the safety crew came to retrieve him, Brandon was adamant he’d been underground for two full days. In reality, he’d only been below for twelve hours.
Scientists have documented this phenomenon extensively. Researchers who have undertaken simultaneous but separate sojourns into caves for extended periods will emerge with radically different estimates of how long they’ve been below—different from one another by weeks, and different from the calendar by yet more. Absent cues from the aboveground natural world or data from clocks or phones, our conscious perception of time can get weird, fast.
But that’s nothing compared to what goes on inside our bodies. When people talk about your “circadian rhythm,” they’re actually referring to dozens of different physiological processes, cycles governing everything from your heart rate to your breathing to your immune system to your digestion to your body temperature. These sub-systems operate on their own timelines, but are largely kept in sync with each other as long as the body follows a roughly 24-hour cycle that tracks changes in ambient light and various social cues. In situations of irregular light and darkness, everything goes out of whack within a couple of days. It is not uncommon for test subjects living underground to start sleeping and waking in forty-eight-hour cycles, or to experience bizarre changes in their behavior or sense of self. Michel Siffre, a European scientist, spent months at a time in half-lit caves in the Alps and Texas as part of research he carried out for NASA. Siffre not only got hypothermia, but also went off the rails, in one instance desperately trying to befriend a mouse for companionship but instead accidentally crushing it and falling into near-suicidal despair. When asked about the impact of those experiments on his mind and body, Siffre, who’s now in his seventies, describes it as “hell” and speaks of feeling like “a semi-detached marionette.”
This week, we’re sharing stories from Lizzie Presser, Linda Villarosa, Maurice Chammah, Mike Giglio, and Will Storr.
Meet the man behind the ratings: Matt Nelson, college sophomore and creator of WeRateDogs. In Esquire, Megan Greenwell traces the evolution of WeRateDogs from spur-of-the-moment joke to data-driven fav-machine and profiles its creator, who’s always been driven to win — whether at golf, Easter egg hunts, or Twitter.
Stories about social-media fame are generally told as stories about happy accidents—an unknown user posts something intended for a few friends, but through some act of providence or alchemy it “goes viral” and turns its creator into a star overnight. That is not the story of WeRateDogs. To Matt Nelson, Twitter has always been a game to be won.
Of course, to Nelson, everything has always been a game to be won. His sister, Amanda, now twenty-two, was the academic star; she graduated this year from the University of Michigan. His brother, Mitchell, now seventeen, was the laid-back one; he just finished his junior year in Charleston, West Virginia, where the Nelsons moved when Matt was eight. Matt, his mother Barbra said, was “the intense one.”
“As a kid, he was very competitive no matter what was going on,” she said. “It could be as simple as Easter-egg hunting, and he wanted to win at all costs. Not every event in your family can be a competition; it doesn’t always go over well with your siblings.”
“If breathing was a competitive sport, it would be his goal to out-breathe everyone,” his dad, Mark, added.