Weekend Reading: Witch Burnings

In this weekly roundup, we scour the Web for our favorite long-form articles, collecting them here and on Longreads and Twitter. This installment focuses on deep space flight, internal bleeding, and Internet girlfriends.

Age-old practices.     Photo: Wikimedia Commons

With Armstrong it’s less about a moot confession than our desire to see that veneer of self-righteous assholery finally crack.

Hey everyone! Welcome back to Weekend Reading, and what a week it has been. Lance Armstrong finally admitted to the doping and drug use that everyone already knew about (though I suppose it was satisfying to hear him admit it after years of denial), and Deadspin exposed one of the most inspirational sports stories of the year as a complete hoax. It’s almost as if some greater force looked down from the cosmos and said, “And lo, two great men shall be brought low by lies! The seas shall part and fiery frogs shall rain from the sky!”

Alas, there were no fire frogs, but the two stories did bear some similarities insofar as they were both almost entirely inconsequential. Armstrong admitted to nothing in Thursday’s interview that we weren’t already aware of, and Te’o’s offense, even if it was a deliberate fabrication, is on par with lying to your friends about a fictional summer camp romance. NBD, as teenagers say.

Our interest in both stories revolves more around our persistent enjoyment of watching the deserved suffer. With Armstrong it’s less about a moot confession than our desire to see that veneer of self-righteous assholery finally crack. We want to see him finally be affected in some way, by everything that’s happened to him. Similarly, the best part of the Te’o story isn’t his suffering (it’s still very possible that he was just a naïve victim of an Internet dating scheme), but mocking the scores of brand name reporters and publications that bought the story without question. After years of fluffing their favorite athletes with glowing, cliché-laden profiles, they finally got burned. How sweet it was.

Anyway, without further incitement of witch burnings, here is your Weekend Reading!

One of the most unbelievable stories of the college football season, a player on the field in spite of the death of his beloved girlfriend, turned out to be a total fabrication. Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey, Deadspin.

“Manti Te'o did lose his grandmother this past fall. Annette Santiago died on Sept. 11, 2012, at the age of 72, according to Social Security Administration records in Nexis. But there is no SSA record there of the death of Lennay Marie Kekua, that day or any other. Her passing, recounted so many times in the national media, produces no obituary or funeral announcement in Nexis, and no mention in the Stanford student newspaper. Nor is there any report of a severe auto accident involving a Lennay Kekua. Background checks turn up nothing. The Stanford registrar's office has no record that a Lennay Kekua ever enrolled. There is no record of her birth in the news. Outside of a few Twitter and Instagram accounts, there's no online evidence that Lennay Kekua ever existed.”

Tourists have shunned Colombia for decades, fearing violence, drugs, and kidnappings. But now it may be one of the last great unexplored adventure destinations on Earth. Stephanie Pearson, Outside.

"When most people think of Colombia today, they still think cocaine, kidnappings, and guerrillas. In 2011, Colombia produced 760,000 pounds of cocaine. Farmers can sell a paste made from coca leaves, which is later processed into cocaine, for roughly $63,500 per pound. Cacao, the source of chocolate and one of the best alternative crops to grow, sells for 75 cents per pound. This is the very simple reason why, as Becerra told me, ‘as long as there’s a demand for drugs, there will be violence in Colombia.’ Much of the violence involves armed factions—guerrillas, like the FARC and the National Liberation Army, paramilitaries, and even the Colombian military—terrorizing local farmers for their land. Since 1985, more than 3.5 million Colombians, about 10 percent of the population, have been internally displaced. That statistic surpasses Sudan."

Even without probes dotting the surface of Mars and other planets, deep space travel for human beings has always felt like a fantasy. But we may be closer than we ever dared imagine. Tim Folger, National Geographic.

"These days it’s easier to outline why we’ll never go. Stars are too far away; we don’t have the money. The reasons why we might go anyway are less obvious—but they’re getting stronger. Astronomers have detected planets around many nearby stars; soon they’re bound to find one that’s Earthlike and in the sweet spot for life, and in that instant they’ll create a compelling destination. Our technology too is far more capable than it was in the 1960s; atom bombs aren’t cutting-edge anymore. In his office that morning, Les Johnson handed me what looked like a woven swatch of cobwebs. It was actually a carbon-fiber fabric sample for a giant spaceship sail—one that might carry a probe beyond Pluto on rays of sunlight or laser beams. 'Be very careful with it,' Johnson said. 'This is a material that might help us get there.'"

While head injuries are the biggest concern for football safety hawks, they aren’t the only danger to players on the field. Jason Taylor, star outside linebacker for the Miami Dolphins, learned this through a life of pain. Dan Le Batard, The Miami Herald.

“The trainer rushed to Taylor’s house. Taylor thought he was overreacting. The trainer told him they were immediately going to the hospital. A test kit came out. Taylor’s blood pressure was so high that the doctors thought the test kit was faulty. Another test. Same crazy numbers. Doctors demanded immediate surgery. Taylor said absolutely not, that he wanted to call his wife and his agent and the famed Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion. Andrews also recommended surgery, and fast. Taylor said, fine, he’d fly out in owner Daniel Snyder’s private jet in the morning. Andrews said that was fine but that he’d have to cut off Taylor’s leg upon arrival. Taylor thought he was joking. Andrews wasn’t. Compartment syndrome. Muscle bleeds into the cavity, causing nerve damage. Two more hours, and Taylor would have had one fewer leg. Fans later sent him supportive notes about their own compartment syndrome, many of them in wheelchairs.”

Friends or foes? Fliers or fighters? Two friends spend their lives pursuing hang gliding history. A.G. Sulzberger, The New Times.

"They called themselves friends. But, as those who had spent the previous few days with them would attest, rivals better fit the jaunty, ‘sure you’re up for this?’ competitiveness of the daring prodigies. In the sky, where they snacked on protein bars and water and relieved themselves freely over the world below, they were as evenly matched as two hang glider pilots could be. As they flew past the old world-record distance—close enough to hear each other yahooing in celebration—the question turned first to how much farther they could possibly go. But as the sun retreated and they began their inevitable, decisive descent, another, more pointed question began to nag at the two men: who would go the farthest?"

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