Tag Archives: esquire

Should Youth Football be Banned?

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.

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from Rana Dasgupta, Whitney Joiner, Jesse Barron, Kiese Laymon, and David Roth.

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A Roll of the Immigration Law Dice

In EsquireBrian 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.”

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from Libby Copeland, Patrick Blanchfield, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Cory Taylor, and Tabitha Blankenbiller.

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Miles to Go Before You Sleep

a very dark cave, with some light shining in from a far-off entrance

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.”

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from Lizzie Presser, Linda Villarosa, Maurice Chammah, Mike Giglio, and Will Storr.

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They’re (Almost) All Good Tweets, Brent

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.

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In Your Dreams: A Reading List

I dream often. Every night, actually. Sometimes my dreams are sexy or scary. Mostly, I dream about school. It’s the first day, and I don’t have my schedule. It’s the last day, and I didn’t take a math class and now I won’t graduate. I’m lost. I’m running late. I skipped too many English classes, didn’t do the reading, and won’t pass the final. I can walk in my commencement ceremony, but I have to return to campus in the summer to finish my degree. Everything looks familiar but wrong somehow, like it does in all of our dreams. I look at numbers or words and realize they’re jumbled, unintelligible symbols. Sometimes, I know I’m dreaming, but I can’t control what’s happening; I’m not a lucid dreamer. Occasionally, I throw myself into the dream-ground and fall into bed. The dreams where I don’t want to wake up are the best ones, of course, and the next night I won’t fear sleep.

1. “A New Vision for Dreams of the Dying.” (Jan Hoffman, The New York Times, February 2016)

Hospice Buffalo is integrating their patients’ dreams and visions into their treatment and comfort routines, breaking with old-school care traditions.

2. “Loose But Lucid: A Dreamer in Paradise.” (Bucky McMahon, Esquire, February 2002)

Bucky McMahon travels to Hawaii to learn how to lucid dream (successfully!) from expert Stephen LeBarge.

3. “Can You Die From a Nightmare?” (Doree Shafrir, BuzzFeed, September 2012)

In 2012, after two years of writing and almost a decade of night terrors, Doree Shafrir published this essay about her violent, unpredictable sleep behaviors. Investigating potential causes and cures for her parasomnia led Shafrir to check in at the New York Sleep Institute, phone up comedian Mike Birbiglia, and sit down with Tim Dubitsky, the boyfriend of the late artist Tobias Wong, who killed himself in the midst of a night terror.

4. “Angry Signatures.” (Ursula Villarreal-Moura, Nashville Review, December 2016)

Short fiction from a Texan author about a mother-daughter pair and the manifestation of their prophetic dreams.

5. “Why We Dream About Our Childhood Homes.” (Janet Allon, The New York Times, July 1998)

What do New Yorkers dream about? Subways, manholes, expanding apartments, and flying over Central Park. Janel Allen includes each dreamer’s profession, and I enjoyed trying to make connections between their dream and waking lives.

6. “What Escapes the Total Archive.” (Rebecca Lemov, Limn, March 2016)

Pursuing the twentieth-century dream of capturing all sociological data in a single clearinghouse, a group of American social scientists in the mid-1950s attempted a bold, if not completely unprecedented, experiment. They would test the limits not only of content (what was collected) but also of format (how it was collected, saved, circulated, and distributed). The resulting data set of data sets, which I call the “database of dreams,” but which its creators referred to by the somewhat less evocative Microcard Publications of Primary Records in Culture and Personality, took shape between 1955 and 1963. Meanwhile, its more extensive vision—the total archive it portended and evoked containing all ephemeral data from the domain of subjectivity collected from peoples around the world, and available in turn across the globe—never did come about. Yet its would-be creators spoke of it as if to invoke it into existence.

The Complicated Power of DIY Justice

Don’t you ever get tired of waiting for the system to deliver justice? In Esquire, Suzy Khimm enters the underworld of Canadian vigilantes who hunt pedophiles and make popular videos of busts. They have names like Creep Hunters and Creep Catchers. Some members were molested themselves, and they’re done waiting for authorities to help. But going rogue requires walking the line between avenger and criminal, and mistakes have led to widespread changes in the movement. Now some are asking what they want more: to be famous or effective?

When he took over the Creep Hunters last fall, Brady boasts, he created a culture of professionalism for their work: All chats and videos were required to be posted to the “head office” (a virtual workspace) and vetted by a “legal team” (a law student) before being published online. The group required members to sign a service agreement and complete a training program, using a manual called The Book of New Blood. The group even appointed an “office manager,” a 55-year-old former HR assistant who organized all the chat logs—the smutty propositions, the overwrought confessions of love, the dick pics—to send to the police.

So far, Creep Hunters hasn’t gotten anyone convicted, and only one catch—snaring a deputy sheriff in British Columbia—has resulted in charges of child sexual exploitation. But Brady insists that Creep Hunters could be the ideal complement to traditional law enforcement. Compared to the U.S., Canada has been slow to toughen its laws on child sexual exploitation: In 2008, it raised the age of consent from fourteen to sixteen years—the first time it had changed since 1892. Brady believes that the country needs to take America’s lead in cracking down on sex offenders, and that groups like his can help close the gap. Since predator catchers don’t have the ability to make arrests, they aren’t subject to the same entrapment laws that limit how police carry out their own sting operations; they can go where the police don’t, then turn their evidence over to the authorities.

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Obama’s Aesthetic of Cool

barack obama

On stage a young black man, the president of the United States, warmly embraced an older white woman in front of god and all the world. It is now an iconic photograph. If it had occurred on a weed-choked street in Mississippi within the lifetime of many of the people who were cheering the moment, the young man might have been beaten, burned, hung, thrown into a river with a cotton fan tied to his neck. A song began to rise through the history of the moment:

Southern trees bear a strange fruit/Blood on the leaves and blood at the root/Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze/Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees…

But it was not those days any longer. The young man was the President of the United States and he has rung his changes on that song, and on an occasionally baffled democracy.

– Charles Pierce, writing in Esquire, on President Obama’s Democratic National Convention Speech and uniquely American brand of “cool.”

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