HERE WE GO! Gavin Newsom pushes gun control in idiotic video targeting the NRA

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is no stranger to the gun control debate. In fact, he’s one of the most outspoken gun control proponents in the nation.

Now that Newsom is running for governor, he decided to take to Twitter to target his arch nemesis: the National Rifle Association. What better way to rally his anti-gun followers than by taking shots at the NRA?

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Jimmy Kimmel brought his adorable son Billy on the show, after his heart surgery

Jimmy Kimmel’s son Billy, who was born with congenital heart disease and who has been at the center of the talk show host’s arguments around U.S. healthcare, had his second open heart surgery last week. So, Kimmel brought him on Monday’s show.

Kimmel has taken time off during Billy’s surgery, instead inviting guest hosts Chris Pratt, Melissa McCarthy, Tracee Ellis Ross andNeil Patrick Harris to keep the seat warm.

Billy’s surgery was a roaring success, and Kimmel thanked the doctors and nurses at the Children’s Hospital LA for his son’s treatment. “Daddy cries on TV but Billy doesn’t,” said a tearful Kimmel during his opening monologue.

Kimmel has been at the forefront of the U.S. healthcare debate recently, slamming the proposed Graham-Cassidy bill for not providing coverage for kids like Kimmel’s son (and rejoicing when it was blocked). On Monday’s show, Kimmel championed the CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program), administered by the Department of Health to cover families with modest incomes that are too high to qualify for Medicaid. Kimmel says Congress has failed to approve funding for it this year. He also urges people to enrol for healthcare before the cut-off date on Dec. 15.

Billy has one more surgery planned for when he’s six years old, then he’s done. Go get ’em Billy!

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The Invisible War Zone: 5 Ways Children Of Narcissistic Parents Self-Destruct In Adulthood

“Adverse childhood experiences are the single greatest unaddressed public health threat facing our nation today.” – Dr. Robert Block, MD, former President of the American Academy of Pediatrics
God & Man

Much of society associates the terms “trauma” and “PTSD” with war veterans. Yet we forget about the children who grow up in war zones at home, who suffer psychological scarring at vulnerable developmental stages of their lives. Neglect, mistreatment, abandonment and/or any form of sexual, emotional and physical abuse (such as the type imposed by toxic, narcissistic parents) have been proven by research such as the Adverse Childhood Experiences study to leave an impact that is destructive and long-lasting.

As trauma expert Bessel van Der Kolk, author of notes, our brains can literally be rewired for fear when it comes to childhood abuse. Studies have confirmed that parental verbal aggression has an impact on key areas of the brain related to learning, memory, decision-making and emotional regulation (Choi et. al, 2009; Teicher, 2009). Childhood trauma can affect our impulse control, increase our likelihood of substance abuse, shape the way we examine our environment for threats, and leaves us exposed to a plethora of health problems in adulthood (Bremner, 2006; Shin et. al, 2006).

According to researchers, early childhood trauma can affect our brains in the following ways:

  • Our amygdala, which controls our fight/flight response, emotional regulation, and our moods, becomes hyperactive and enlarged as a result of trauma. We can become extremely emotionally responsive and hypervigilant to potential threats in our environment due to trauma.
  • Our hippocampus, the part of our brain that deals with learning and memory, shrinks. This makes integrating traumatic memories a lot less effective. The traumatic impact of those memories remain a great deal more impactful.
  • Trauma can inhibit the prefrontal cortex, the center of our executive functioning, decision making and judgment. This can affect our ability to regulate our emotional responses as well as plan, focus and organize.

The good news is, healing can help to mitigate some of these effects. Brains can also be rewired in the other direction – meditation, for example, has been shown by studies to produce the opposite effects in the same areas of the brain that trauma affects. Yet the brains and psyches of children are so malleable that the effects of chronic emotional/verbal abuse, let alone physical abuse, leaves a frightening mark beyond childhood. It creates the potential for complex trauma to develop, especially when one is later re-violated in adulthood.

Without proper intervention, support, validation and protective factors, this form of violence has the potential to shift the course of one’s life-course trajectory.

Here are five ways having toxic parents can shape you as an adult:

1. Your life resembles a reenactment of old traumas.

Freud dubbed it “repetition compulsion,” psychologists refer to it as the effects of childhood “conditioning” or “trauma reenactment” and survivors call it, “Oh God, not this again.” The trauma repetition cycle is real. It’s destructive. And it’s birthed in the ashes of a violent childhood.

Ever wonder why some people always seem to be drawn to toxic people, yet perceive more stable individuals as “boring”? They may have a history of childhood trauma.

For childhood abuse survivors, chaos becomes a new “normal” as they become accustomed to highly stimulating environments which shape their nervous system and their psyche. Their fight for survival in childhood leaves a void in adulthood that is often filled with similar struggles.

Chaos becomes our new normal.

What we have to remember is that narcissistic parents aren’t all that different from narcissistic abusers in relationships. They love-bomb (excessively flatter and praise) their children when they need something from them, they triangulate them with other siblings by pitting them against each other and they devalue them with hypercriticism, rage attacks, verbal and emotional abuse.

They engage in intermittent reinforcement as well – withdrawing affection at critical periods while also giving their children crumbs to make them hope that they’ll receive the love they always desired.

As children, our bodies become so addicted to the crazymaking effects of emotional abuse that we find ourselves more intensely attached to partners who tend to replicate a similar chaotic effect on our bodies as our narcissistic parents.

We feel biochemically attracted to those who resemble our early childhood predators because they mirror the severe highs and lows our bodies went through in childhood. When love-bombing turns into devaluation, our body becomes biochemically bonded to our abusers.

This biochemical addiction leaves us reeling.

In the realm of relationships in adulthood, there are all sorts of chemicals being released when we’re in a bond with a predator. They create a very powerful attachment that’s actually strengthened by intermittent cruelty and affection, pleasure and punishment.

Dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline, cortisol and our serotonin levels are being affected; these are involved in attachment, trust, fear, and stress. In fact, children who have endured maltreatment tend to have lower oxytocin levels due to the abuse, which leads to a greater number of indiscriminate relationships in adulthood (Bellis and Zisk, 2014).

There’s also a psychological component to this addiction.

When we are the children of narcissistic parents, emotionally abusive people fit the profile of what our subconscious has been primed to seek. Yet they often come disguised as our saviors.

Complex trauma survivors, as trauma expert Dr. Judith Herman notes, are in a ‘repeated search for a rescuer.’

“Many abused children cling to the hope that growing up will bring escape and freedom. But the personality formed in the environment of coercive control is not well adapted to adult life. The survivor is left with fundamental problems in basic trust, autonomy, and initiative. She {or he} approaches the task of early adulthood―establishing independence and intimacy―burdened by major impairments in self-care, in cognition and in memory, in identity, and in the capacity to form stable relationships. She {or he} is still a prisoner of childhood; attempting to create a new life, she re-encounters the trauma.”
Judith Lewis Herman, 

Love-Bombing Pulls Us In And Keeps Us Trapped In Loveless Relationships

The children of narcissists are drawn to narcissists in adulthood to fill a void. They are looking for the validation they never received in childhood and narcissists, on the onset, present us with a lot of it in the love-bombing stage when they are “grooming” us into believing that we’re the perfect partners for them. We crave their excessive praise because we lacked the unconditional positive regard we deserved in childhood but never received.

As children, we learned to associate betrayal with love, and were conditioned to see mistreatment as a form of connection. In fact, it was the only form of connection offered to us. Survivors of narcissistic parents have an extra layer of healing to undergo. Not only do we have to unlearn all of the unhealthy belief systems, we also have to clear our bodies and our minds of its familiarity with toxicity.

When the fears from our childhood are finally removed, we meet peace and stability with resistance; our bodies and our minds have to readjust to baseline levels of safety and security before we find healthy relationships appealing.

“The drive to complete and heal trauma is as powerful and tenacious as the symptoms it creates. The urge to resolve trauma through re-enactment can be severe and compulsive. We are inextricably drawn into situations that replicate the original trauma in both obvious and nonobvious ways…Re-enactments may be acted out in intimate relationships, work situations…adults, on a larger developmental scale, will re-enact traumas in our daily lives.” Peter A. Levine,

For example, a daughter who is unloved by her abusive father may end up with emotionally unavailable – or even sociopathic – partners in adulthood due to an instilled sense of unworthiness. To her, cruelty is all too familiar and abusers feed on her resilience and ability to ‘bounce back’ from abusive incidents. She is used to taking a caretaking role – catering to someone else’s needs while neglecting her own. She has been subconsciously “programmed” to seek dangerous people because they are the “normal” that causes her to associate relationships with torment.

Survivors who are abused as children can later get married to and have children with abusive partners as adults, investing time, energy and resources into people who ultimately seek to destroy them. I have read countless letters from survivors who have been raised by toxic parents and ended up in long-term abusive marriages.

If these wounds are not addressed and the cycle is never disrupted, the first eighteen years of life can literally affect the of your life.

2. Verbal and emotional abuse has conditioned you towards self-destruction and self-sabotage.

Narcissistic parents subject their children to hypercriticism, cruel punishment and a callous disregard for their basic needs as human beings. In order to survive, children of narcissists have to depend on their caretakers for food and shelter – which means they have to play by the rules of their toxic parents if they want to live. This creates what Dr. Seltzer calls maladaptive “survival programs” that we carry onto adulthood – habits like people-pleasing, sacrificing one’s needs to take care of others, feeling “selfish” when pursuing our goals and dimming our light so we don’t become noticeable enough to be targeted.

“You may have internalized early in your life that your needs were not as important as others’ needs were. Lack of empathy from a parent or caretaker, neglect, blame, criticism, failure to accept you as you are and appreciate your qualities and other such experiences have shaped your belief that others’ needs should come before your own.” Nina W. Brown,

A lack of safety and security in the crucial developmental stages of life can create destructive, insecure attachment styles when we are adults, causing us to gravitate towards people who will fail to meet our needs and disappoint us, time and time again.

It can also drive children of narcissists to sabotage themselves, due to the put-downs experienced during a time when the brain is highly susceptible to the harmful effects of trauma. In response to psychological violence, children of narcissistic parents develop a sense of toxic shame, self-blame and an unyielding inner critic that makes them feel as if they’re not worthy of the amazing things life has to offer.

Children of narcissists may be convinced they’re not good enough, or they may go in the other direction: they may become overachieving perfectionists in an effort to prove themselves. Either way, they are lacking self-validation and an internal sense of stability that can only come from healthy self-love.

3. Addictions and dissociation become default coping mechanisms.

Trauma can affect the reward centers of our brain, making us more susceptible to substance abuse or other addictions (Bellis and Zisk, 2014). When we’ve been traumatized at such a young age, dissociation, a survival mechanism which detaches us from our experiences, our bodies and the world – can become a way of life. Depending on the severity of the trauma, survivors of childhood abuse may also struggle with addictive behavior as adults.

“The human brain is a social organ that is shaped by experience, and that is shaped in order to respond to the experience that you’re having. So particularly earlier in life, if you’re in a constant state of terror; your brain is shaped to be on alert for danger, and to try to make those terrible feelings go away. The brain gets very confused. And that leads to problems with excessive anger, excessive shutting down, and doing things like taking drugs to make yourself feel better.

These things are almost always the result of having a brain that is set to feel in danger and fear.  As you grow up an get a more stable brain, these early traumatic events can still cause changes that make you hyper-alert to danger, and hypo-alert to the pleasures of everyday life…

If you’re an adult and life’s been good to you, and then something bad happens, that sort of injures a little piece of the whole structure. But toxic stress in childhood from abandonment or chronic violence has pervasive effects on the capacity to pay attention, to learn, to see where other people are coming from, and it really creates havoc with the whole social environment.

And it leads to criminality, and drug addiction, and chronic illness, and people going to prison, and repetition of the trauma on the next generation.”Dr. Van der Kolk,Childhood Trauma Leads to Brains Wired for Fear

This addictive behavior is not just limited to alcohol or hard drugs; it can range from gambling to sex addiction to unhealthy relationships or even self-harm. Survivors of toxic parents can overeat or undereat as a way to regain control and agency over their bodies; they may develop eating disorders, a penchant for risky sexual behavior or other compulsive behaviors to soothe their unresolved grief.

It’s not necessarily about the specific addiction, but the fact that the addiction provides a convenient escape from the day-to-day realities of immense pain, depression, anxiety and rage that often lie in the aftermath of unresolved childhood wounding.

4. Suicidal ideation is devastatingly common and pervasive among childhood abuse survivors.

Suicidality increases as ACEs score (Adverse Childhood Experiences score) increases and so does the risk of developing chronic health problems in adulthood.

When one has been traumatized as a child and then later re-victimized multiple times in adulthood, a pervasive sense of hopelessness and perceived burdensomeness can result. Survivors of chronic, complex trauma are especially at risk for suicidal ideation and self-harm as adults, because they have witnessed time and time again the cycle repeating itself. In fact, survivors who have four or more adverse childhood experiences are twelve times more likely to be suicidal.

This learned helplessness lends itself to belief systems that cause survivors to feel as if nothing will change. They may feel “defective” or different from others because of the immense adversity they experienced. The future may look bleak if a survivor has not been properly validated or gotten the professional support needed in order to heal.

5. There are disparate inner parts that develop which seem out of alignment with your adult self.

While many people have heard of the “inner child,” fewer people address the fact that there can be inner parts that can develop as a result of chronic abuse. Some of these parts are those we’ve hidden, sublimated or minimized in an attempt to mitigate the risk of being abused – for example, when victims of abuse shy away from the limelight to avoid being punished or criticized for their success.

Then there are “parts” which are defensive responses to the trauma itself. These parts manifest in self-sabotaging ways, but they are actually misguided attempts to protect us. Complex trauma survivors may be so protective of sharing who they really are with the world that they close themselves off from the people who might really “see” and appreciate them. This ruins the possibility of authentic connection or vulnerability with others. This defensive strategy may have been a survival mechanism they developed when younger to avoid the threat of being harmed by a violent parent. It served them as helpless children, but it can cause them to shut out the possibility of intimacy with others as adults.

That being said, there are many ways in which self-sabotage can present itself depending on context and even the type of abuse endured. For example, a male complex trauma survivor may find himself developing a hypermasculine side to himself to ward off memories of sexual abuse. The daughter of a hypercritical narcissistic mother may develop an inner part that is overly angry and defensive to criticism, whether constructive or destructive.

Whether they stemmed from childhood or adult traumas, these ‘parts’ have much to tell us. Silencing or repressing them only makes them stronger in their resolve to protect us – so instead, we have to listen to what they want us to know. Integrating these parts in a healthy manner requires that we learn what they are trying to protect us from and find alternative ways to create a sense of safety in the world moving forward.

Cutting the Emotional Umbilical Cord

The children of narcissistic parents can begin their healing journey by working with a trauma-informed professional to navigate their triggers, process their traumas and learn more about healthier boundaries. Using mind-body healing techniques can also be helpful to supplement therapy; trauma-focused yoga and meditation have been scientifically proven to help heal parts of the brain affected by early childhood trauma. A daily exercise regimen is also a great way to replace the unhealthy biochemical addiction we developed to toxicity. It’s a natural way to release endorphins and gives us that “rush” of feel-good chemicals inviting toxic people into our lives.

There are tremendous benefits from going No Contact or Low Contact with toxic parents as we heal. Minimum contact with a narcissistic parent along with strong boundaries can help us to detox from the effects of their cruelty and in essence learn how to breathe fresher air. Grieving our complex emotions is also necessary to recovery, as we are likely to feel a very powerful bond to our parents despite the abuse (and in fact to the abuse) we endured. Seek positive role models, especially of the gender of your toxic parent, that can help remodel what you are looking for in an intimate relationship.

Address subconscious behavior patterns by bringing the true beliefs underlying them to the surface. Many children of narcissistic parents are trained to believe in their unworthiness; it’s time to start rewriting these narratives. Use positive affirmations, journaling, and speak directly to any repressed inner parts that may be sabotaging your success. It is only when you feel truly worthy of respectful, compassionate love on a subconscious level, that you will be able to run in the other direction when you encounter toxicity.

Despite the challenges on their journey, childhood abuse survivors of narcissistic parents have incredible potential to lead victorious lives. They can channel their adversity into freedom, peace, and joy. They have tremendous resilience, an extraordinary ability to adapt and a knowledge of coping mechanisms that will serve them well as they begin to heal.

To learn more about narcissistic abuse and the effects of childhood trauma, be sure to also read:

by Pete Walker

By Karyl McBride

by Bessel Van der Kolk

by Patrick Carnes

by Peg Streep

by Susan Forward and Craig Buick

by Nina W. Brown

Bremner, J. D. (2006). Traumatic stress: effects on the brain. , (4), 445–461.
Bellis, M. D., & Zisk, A. (2014). The Biological Effects of Childhood Trauma. (2), 185-222. doi:10.1016/j.chc.2014.01.002
Brown, N. W. (2008). Children of the self-absorbed: A grown-up’s guide to getting over narcissistic parents. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
Choi, J., Jeong, B., Rohan, M. L., Polcari, A. M., & Teicher, M. H. (2009). Preliminary Evidence for White Matter Tract Abnormalities in Young Adults Exposed to Parental Verbal Abuse. Biological Psychiatry, 65(3), 227-234. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2008.06.022
Harris, N. B. (2014, September). How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime. Retrieved November 15, 2017.
Herman, Judith Lewis. . Basic Books, 1997.
Levine, P. A. (1997). . Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
Lazar, S. W., Kerr, C. E., Wasserman, R. H., Gray, J. R., Greve, D. N., Treadway, M. T., . . . Fischl, B. (2005). Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness.  (17), 1893-1897. doi:10.1097/01.wnr.0000186598.66243.19
Schulte, B. (2015, May 26). Harvard neuroscientist: Meditation not only reduces stress, here’s how it changes your brain. The Washington Post. Retrieved September 5, 2017.
Shin, L. M., Rauch, S. L., & Pittman, R. K. (2006). Amygdala, Medial Prefrontal Cortex, and Hippocampal Function in PTSD.  (1), 67-79. doi:10.1196/annals.1364.007
Seltzer, L. F. (2011, January 07). The “Programming” of Self-Sabotage (Pt 3 of 5). Retrieved November 15, 2017.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2017, September 5). Adverse Childhood Experiences. Retrieved October 10, 2017.
Teicher, M. (2006). Sticks, Stones, and Hurtful Words: Relative Effects of Various Forms of Childhood Maltreatment. American Journal of Psychiatry, 163(6), 993. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.163.6.993
Van der Kolk, B. (2015). . NY, NY: Penguin Books.
Van der Kolk, Bessel. Childhood Trauma Leads to Brains Wired for Fear. 3 Feb. 2015. Accessed 15 Nov. 2017

Want more writing like this? Read the book 

“Shahida Arabi is ahead of our time. I couldn’t have been in a darker place in my life when I found this book, after suffering at the hands of an abuser who was also a narcissist. This book gives you hope above all else, and it’s easily relateable if you have gone through abuse. Arabi is a talented, strong, real force of nature kind of writer. I have learned, survived and thrived in the time that I have made this purchase.” – Desiree

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Voucher Schools Championed By Betsy DeVos Can Teach What They Want. Turns Out They Teach Lies.

PORTLAND, Ore. ― It was late morning in an artsy cafe, the smell of coffee and baked goods sweetening the air, and Ashley Bishop sat at a table, recalling a time when she was taught that most of secular American society was worthy of contempt.

Growing up in private evangelical Christian schools, Bishop saw the world in extremes, good and evil, heaven and hell. She was taught that to dance was to sin, that gay people were child molesters and that mental illness was a function of satanic influence. Teachers at her schools talked about slavery as black immigration, and instructors called environmentalists “hippie witches.”

Bishop’s family moved around a lot when she was a child, but her family always enrolled her in evangelical schools.

So when Bishop left school in 2003 and entered the real world at 17, she felt like she was an alien landing on Planet Earth for the first time. Having been cut off from mainstream society, she felt unequipped to handle the job market and develop secular friendships. Lacking shared cultural and historical references, she spent most of her 20s holed up in her bedroom, suffering from crippling social anxiety.

Now, at 31, she has become everything that she was once taught to hate. She shares an apartment with her girlfriend of two years. She sees a therapist and takes medication for depression, a condition born, in part, of her stifling education.  

Years later, some of the schools Bishop attended are largely the same, but some have changed in a significant way: Unlike when Bishop was a student, parents are not the only ones paying tuition for these fundamentalist religious schools – so are taxpayers. 

Amanda Lucier for HuffPost
Ashley Bishop didn’t find out until after she graduated from Christian schools that she was unprepared for a wider world of education.

These schools are among thousands in the United States that participate in private school choice programs, which most often come in the form of state-level voucher or tax credit scholarships. Voucher programs offer publicly funded financial aid to parents for private schools. Tax credit programs usually offer individuals or corporations tax credits if they donate to a scholarship granting organization, which in turn offers private school scholarships based on various criteria, including income.

President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have openly championed such programs and have encouraged states to embrace school choice, arguing that voucher programs give parents an alternative to low-performing public schools. Currently 14 states and the District of Columbia have voucher programs, and 17 have tax credit programs. DeVos has made it a top priority to push a federal school choice initiative.

Many of the private schools that participate in these state-led programs are run by evangelical Christian churches. They are sometimes unaccredited and can teach a curriculum similar to the one Bishop studied ― all with the help of taxpayer dollars.   

The textbooks used at all of Bishop’s schools were published by three of the most popular, and most ideologically extreme, Christian textbook companies: Abeka, Bob Jones University Press and Accelerated Christian Education. The ideas in these textbooks often flout widely accepted science and historical fact.

But the number of schools using these resources is largely unknown, even in states where they receive support from publicly funded scholarships. No state or federal organization tracks the curriculum being used in private school choice programs. The religious affiliations of schools that participate in these programs are also not always tracked.   

That means there are thousands of kids receiving an extremist and ultraconservative education at the expense of taxpayers.

Several months ago, HuffPost set out to create a database of every private school in the country that receives taxpayer funding. We also tracked the religious affiliation of each school and looked at how many taught from these evangelical Christian textbooks.

HuffPost obtained lists of schools that participate in private school choice programs around the country. We searched for the most up-to-date lists on either a state’s education or revenue department’s website.

Several states did not keep a list of which schools participate in choice programs. In those instances, we went directly to the individual scholarship granting organizations in each state. 

Our list totaled nearly 8,000 schools across the 25 of 27 states that offer private school choice along with the District of Columbia. (Two states that do not allow religious schools to participate in private school choice programs were excluded from our analysis.)

Then we researched the religious affiliations of each school by scouring each school’s website. If a school did not maintain a website, we emailed school representatives and often followed up with a phone call.  

Our analysis found that about 75 percent of voucher schools across the country are religious ― usually Christian or Catholic, with about 2 percent identifying as Jewish and 1 percent identifying as Muslim. There were gray areas: At least six schools identified as non-religious but used a curriculum created by the founder of the Church of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard.

Since a plurality of schools in these programs (42 percent) are non-Catholic Christian schools, we dove deeply into researching the curriculum of those schools. We searched their websites for information on curriculum sources and sent out emails to school leaders if they did not make their academic plan public.

We did not assess Catholic schools, which made up 29 percent of Christian schools, since there is already a large body of research on the outcomes of students who go to these schools. Evangelical Christian schools are newer ― many popped up only a few decades ago – and remain less scrutinized.

Indeed, we found many of the non-Catholic Christian schools (32 percent) were using Abeka, Bob Jones or ACE textbooks in at least one subject or grade.

We found that Abeka was the most popular textbook source ― used in about 27 percent of non-Catholic Christian schools ― and Accelerated Christian Education was the least popular ― used in about 5 percent of these schools. We could not definitively ascertain the curriculum used by about 2,000 Christian schools, because they did not respond to requests for information. Around 200 Christian schools told us they did not use these three textbook sources.  

With taxpayers footing the bill for religious private schools, the separation of church and state, a cornerstone of American democracy, becomes a murky line. So how did it come to be that taxpayers are footing the bill for an evangelical education?

Most states have little oversight on the curriculum used in schools that participate in private school choice programs. Some states have zero regulations on the topic. Others require private schools to follow the state’s broad-based content standards but specify little else. (Rhode Island’s stipulations appear the most strict: Curricula in private schools must be submitted and largely equivalent to what is taught in public schools.)

Additionally, private schools that participate in these programs are not typically subject to the same accountability and transparency rules as public schools, although rules vary on a state-by-state basis.

It is difficult to ascertain exactly how many students use taxpayer funds to attend schools with evangelical curricula, but we do know that over 400,000 students nationwide currently attend school using money from a voucher or tax credit program, according to the education reform group EdChoice.

Some states are more transparent than others. In Indiana, about 4,240 students received over $16 million in scholarships to attend schools that use the Abeka or Bob Jones curriculum, according to 2016-2017 figures from the Indiana Department of Education.

These numbers could soon grow. DeVos is an advocate of school choice and religious education. While she failed in her first attempt to push a federal private school choice program via the Education Department budget, she has repeatedly said she will not stop trying. 

Joshua Roberts / Reuters
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has pushed for a federal school voucher program and tax funding of religious schools.

The prospect of giving kids more access to these schools with public money is deeply upsetting to Bishop, who was recently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of bullying and corporal punishment she experienced as a child. After leaving high school and getting a taste of the outside world, Bishop fell into a deep depression. When she went to job interviews, she had no idea what to say about the education she had received.

What They Learned

HuffPost spoke to nearly a dozen former students and teachers at schools that relied on Abeka, Bob Jones and Accelerated Christian Education curricula. Many of these students, who consider themselves no longer religious, reported feeling traumatized by their educational experiences. A number of them communicate with each other via online support groups for survivors of fundamentalist schools, including Bishop.

Some say these curriculum sources left them woefully ill-equipped to thrive in a diverse society while instilling in them racist, sexist and intolerant views of the world. Bishop said her fundamentalist education made her wary of people from other religious groups whom her teachers and textbooks had demonized.

“Anything that wasn’t Christianity was a strange religion,” said Bishop, who made it a priority to study other religious practices after high school and even spent time with the Hare Krishna. “But even other denominations were evil. Catholicism especially.”

Another former student who spoke to HuffPost under the pseudonym Natasha Balzak, was taught at home that all Muslims hate America, she said. Teachers at her Florida school reinforced this idea, telling students to pray for Muslims and other non-believers, like atheists and gay people.

“When it comes to hateful ideology and rhetoric, I was taught a lot of things to skew my mind into believing ― I guess you could call it brainwashing,” said Balzak, 27, who is using a pseudonym to protect the identity of family members who are still deeply involved in their church.

Balzak recalled that her school, Coral Springs Christian Academy, used a mix of ACE and Abeka materials, but the head of the school said they were not aware of the school ever using ACE and that they currently used only Abeka in lower grades for phonics.

The school participates in Florida’s three private-school choice programs and currently enrolls 172 students on these scholarships. It received $554,418 in taxpayer-funded scholarships this year, according to a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Education.

A HuffPost analysis of Abeka, Bob Jones and ACE textbooks confirms the recollections of these students. These materials inaccurately portray events in Muslim and Catholic history while perpetuating anti-Semitic stereotypes. The materials speak disparagingly of Native Americans and Native culture.

The chart below details some of the inaccurate and biased perspectives in these textbooks compared with the perspective of an academic who studies these issues.

See all the schools we could confirm use one of these curriculums in our full dataset.

A Bob Jones high school world history textbook portrays Islam as a violent religion and contains a title “Islam and Murder.” In the same textbook, when describing the Catholic Reformation, Catholic leaders are described as failing “to see that the root of their problems was doctrinal error.”

When describing the concept of Manifest Destiny, the term used to describe America’s 19th century expansion westward, an ACE textbook referred to the movement essentially as spreading the gospel: “It was considered God’s will that this vastly superior American culture should spread to all corners of the North American continent,” the passage reads. “The benighted Indians would be among the many beneficiaries of God’s provision.”

David Brockman, an expert on world religions, was presented with passages from the Bob Jones and ACE textbooks. Most Protestants would likely disagree with the theological and historical narratives portrayed in the books, he said.

“The textbook simply distorts history,” wrote Brockman, a non-resident scholar at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, after examining the selections. “And given the biblical command not to bear false witness, I would question whether a distorted history is consistent with Christian teaching.”

When Balzak attended a secular college in 2009, it was a shock to the system, she said. In her first environmental science class, she learned about climate change ― a concept she had been taught was a hoax.

“When I took my first real science class, a million light bulbs went off,” said Balzak, who had only been taught creationism in school. “Everything finally made sense.”

The experience made Balzak feel robbed of a fact-based education.

Indeed, Balzak’s former school, Coral Springs Christian Academy, includes a statement of faith in its parent-student handbook, which is posted on its website: “We believe God created the entire universe out of nothing.”

The handbook also describes the school’s attitude toward LGBTQ students. It says administrators will reject applicants or expel current students if they are caught “living in, or condoning, or supporting any form of sexual immorality; practicing or promoting a homosexual lifestyle or alternative gender identity.” 

Coral Springs’ head of school noted that the institution had likely changed a lot since Balzak attended some years ago, although he has worked at the school for only a few years. He said that staff members do not recall the school ever relying significantly on Abeka materials, and says that the student body has become significantly more diverse,

“It’s a very different education I’m sure than 20 years ago,” said head of school Joseph Sanelli. 

But in some ways, Balzak considered herself lucky. She said her childhood wasn’t traumatic, just deeply imperfect.

Bishop didn’t have such luck.

Some of the schools Bishop attended were worse than others. She faced the greatest difficulty from ages 11 to 13, when she attended Franklin Christian Academy in Georgia.

The school appears to no longer be open, according to the Georgia Department of Education list of private schools, and a series of calls to what Bishop said was an affiliated church were not returned.

The school consisted of three rooms, Bishop recalled, with most of the school’s 30-something kids spending all day in the same classroom. The school relied on an Accelerated Christian Education curriculum currently used by at least nine private schools in Georgia that are eligible for taxpayer funds.

ACE classrooms are uniquely designed. Students sit in cubicle-like offices, with barriers separating their desks. Teachers do not lead students in lessons or discussions. Instead, students spend all day silently sifting through a succession of readings and fill-in-the-blank worksheets. When students have a question, they raise either an American or Christian flag to get the attention of a class supervisor.

A 2012 training manual for administrators obtained by HuffPost lists an education degree as a “detriment” for the job. Indeed these supervisors’ lack of qualifications was once the topic of a “Judge Judy” episode about a decade ago. 

At Bishop’s school, she dealt with intense physical bullying and verbal harassment. When she would complain about the harassment, school authorities told her to ignore it. They sometimes implied she was at fault and needed to get closer to Jesus, she said. The school did not employ professionals trained to deal with mental health issues, she added.

As a teenager she went nearly mute and thought about killing herself.

“I didn’t want to get out of bed. I did self-harm,” she said, speaking slowly and deliberately over coffee. “I just hated myself and I didn’t know what to do about it.”

It was also around that time that Bishop realized she was attracted to other girls. She repressed her feelings for decades, even spending most of her 20s married to a man.

An examination of ACE textbooks shows that its materials push strict ideas about gender roles and sexuality. Even now Bishop still sometimes finds herself shrinking in the presence of men, saying that it’s almost like “muscle memory.”

Balzak echoes these sentiments, saying that even her female teachers reinforced the idea that women are secondary to men. When describing the 1920s, a high school ACE textbook criticizes women for wearing short skirts and cutting their hair, calling it a violation of Scripture. Before the 1920s, when women were less likely to work outside the home, they “were comfortable to be discreet, chaste, keepers at house, good, obedient to their own husbands,” says the material.

School, Bishop said, made her want to give up on education. She spent some time being home-schooled, then at another Georgia school before moving to Roxboro Christian School in North Carolina. After less than two years there ― in which she spent much of her time hiding in the bathroom ― she dropped out and got her GED.

Roxboro currently participates in North Carolina’s voucher program, and representatives there confirmed that Bishop was once enrolled. The school also confirmed that they use Abeka, Bob Jones and ACE. Roxboro has received over $8,000 this year in voucher program and currently enrolls four scholarship recipients, per a report from the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority.

Two other schools Bishop attended are also eligible to receive monetary assistance via school voucher or tax credit programs. Bishop attended Beaufort Christian School in South Carolina and Neuse Christian Academy in North Carolina as a child. Beaufort Christian Academy uses materials from Abeka and ACE, per its website. A representative from the school confirmed that Bishop was once enrolled.

Neuse Christian Academy uses materials from Abeka and Bob Jones University, and it received $37,368 in scholarship money for 18 students, per the North Carolina Education Assistance Authority. The school was not able to confirm Bishop’s enrollment because it does not still have its records from that time.

How Did These Textbooks Come To Be?

Abeka, Bob Jones University Press and Accelerated Christian Education started selling textbooks in the early 1970s, a few decades before Wisconsin enacted the nation’s first voucher program. At the time, enrollment in fundamentalist Christian schools was booming. For one, recent Supreme Court decisions had banned school Bible readings and official school prayer. Groups of evangelical Protestants were alarmed.

The founders of these textbook companies dedicated their lives to pushing fundamentalist viewpoints. Abeka leaders Arlin and Beka Horton also founded Pensacola Christian College in Florida, which outlaws dancing and other “satanic practices.” They also founded Pensacola Christian Academy, a K-12 school that currently receives public funding for student scholarships via Florida’s tax credit program.

Bob Jones University Press is affiliated with Bob Jones University, which famously lost its tax-exempt status in 1983 after banning interracial dating, a policy it didn’t reverse until 2000.

Accelerated Christian Education was founded by Donald Howard, a Texas pastor. In his 1988 book, “World Awakening,” Howard describes AIDS as a plague sent down by God intended to punish gay people and other idol worshippers, like “feminists, prochoice, and Planned Parenthood advocates.”

ACE, Abeka and Bob Jones University Press leaders have largely similar educational philosophies, with a few subtle differences. The leaders of all three companies subscribe to an authoritarian vision of education in which students are taught not to question their elders. While ACE’s curriculum barely involves a teacher, Abeka’s promotes the educator as an absolute authority, per research from Binghamton University professor Adam Laats. They all have come under fire for providing children with an inadequate education. 

Amanda Lucier for HuffPost
Ashley Bishop says the evangelical Christian schools’ curricula kept her from going in directions she might have been interested in.

Eleven separate reviews of the ACE program by experts and academics have repudiated the curriculum, according to research conducted by Jonny Scaramanga at University College London.

A representative of ACE responded to one of these reviews from 1987.

“Our material is not written with conventional viewpoints in mind. We do not believe that education should be nondirective or speculative, or that the final interpretation of facts and events should be left up to immature inexperienced minds as mainline secular curricula do,” wrote a former ACE vice president at the time.

The University of California system refuses to accept certain high school courses that rely on BJU and Abeka materials for credit. The Association of Christian Schools International sued the University of California System over this issue in 2005. A judge eventually ruled in favor of the UC System.

Still, American taxpayers continue to indirectly prop up these curricula through voucher programs.

It is unclear how the proliferation of private school choice programs has affected the bottom line for these textbook companies.

Representatives of Bob Jones University Press did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Representatives of ACE did not respond to requests for comment either, however its website claims they are in 6,000 schools around the globe, although a number of experts told HuffPost that they are skeptical of this number.

A spokesperson for Abeka noted that, while the company is aware its materials are used in private schools that receive public funding, “Abeka does not advocate or encourage the use of state or federal funding for private, Christian schools.” 

“We recognize that academic scholars have differing opinions on historical/scientific content and that this frequently occurs in both public and private educational institutions as reported in the media. We are confident that our content is accurate, age appropriate, and academically rigorous,” wrote Brent Phillips, assistant to the president for business affairs, via email.

Educators Sound Off

Educators who use or are familiar with these resources told HuffPost that not all schools who use them have a fundamentalist approach. Indeed, not all schools who use these curricula are deeply religious, and they are used in a range of Christian schools.  They emphasize that the quality of these publishers’ resources differ based on subject and grade level.

Bishop said that, while her “education did not equip me to get the most basic of jobs,” she praised the rigor of Abeka and Bob Jones vocabulary and reading comprehension lessons.

(Below, a passage on slavery from an Accelerated Christian Education textbook)

Dave Moore, executive director of Pittsburgh Urban Christian School in Pennsylvania, said that he does not use any materials provided by these sources but that “Abeka has excellent elementary grammar resources.” Pittsburgh Urban Christian receives scholarship money through Pennsylvania’s school tax credit program.

“I would still use it if we didn’t already develop our own curriculum. It does such a good job of it,” said Moore of Abeka’s elementary phonics and math resources.

If his school decided to use Abeka materials, he would direct teachers to be on alert for propaganda, he said.

“We do the same thing with secular textbooks,” Moore said.

Some educators told HuffPost they are happy with the education students receive with these resources. Stephen Lindahl, assistant director of Calumet Christian School in Griffith, Indiana, disagreed with characterizations of Abeka and Bob Jones University Press as pushing a far-right worldview. His school uses Abeka materials almost exclusively for elementary school and then a mix of Abeka and Bob Jones in some later grades.

“Abeka and Bob Jones and other biblically based curriculum try to approach academics from a biblical standpoint and from a moral, ethical view, which does not necessarily push any agenda outside of an understanding of God and who Christ is,” Lindahl said.

He noted that secular textbooks, too, often come with a specific point of view.

HuffPost also reached out to multiple national school-choice advocacy groups for their responses on our findings. None of them responded, even sometimes with weeks’ notice. 

However, professors who have studied the curricula say they are dangerous tools for schools to wield.

“I want parents to know their children might be coming home with a book that looks like an ordinary textbook but the messages are not what people would ordinarily learn,” said Kathleen Wellman, a professor of history at Southern Methodist University who is working on a book about these publications. “Many universities don’t require history education, so for many Americans this will be their last exposure to history. And many students say they didn’t realize at the time how thoroughly indoctrinated they were being.”

Sometimes Bishop wonders what her life would have been like had she not attended evangelical schools. She tried taking online university courses once but dropped out after having trouble balancing academics with her job. She still thinks about trying college again from time to time but worries about the financial feasibility. 

(Below, a passage on evolution from an Accelerated Christian Education textbook)

Growing up, her schools had never offered outlets for her interest in art or dance ― things that she maybe would have wanted to explore. The only thing she ever remembers wanting to do was perform, a far cry from her current job, working in the produce department of a grocery store. The only career paths presented to her revolved around the church.

“It would be kind of different if I was at a school that allowed me to head in a direction I wanted to go,” said Bishop, who lights up when talking about the dance classes she has taken as an adult. “I didn’t really get that chance.”

Kaeli Subberwal contributed to this report. Data and graphics by Alissa Scheller. Animation by Isabella Carapella. 

This is the first piece in a HuffPost investigation on the policies and curriculum of schools that participate in private school choice programs.

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The Shirk Report Volume 451

Welcome to the Shirk Report where you will find 20 funny images, 10 interesting articles and 5 entertaining videos from the last 7 days of sifting. Most images found on Reddit; articles from Facebook, Twitter, and email; videos come from everywhere. Any suggestions? Send a note to


Street math
Parenting level: savage
The Amazon reviews on this $1,500 Swiss Army Knife
Poor Suna
You shall not pass
Every day I’m tumblin’
Always keep your guard up
He has become one with the chair
We’re all stuck in 2017 while this kid out here in 4017
I wonder how many times he’s done this
What is going on here
Meanwhile in Canada
Say no to Max
Cat for scale
I wonder what this tastes like
Until next week


TIME Person of the Year 2017
Portugal’s radical drugs policy is working. Why hasn’t the world copied it?
Volunteering Is the Best Kept Secret for Mental Health
AlphaZero Annihilates World’s Best Chess Bot After Just Four Hours of Practicing
The Return of the Techno-Moral Panic
The False Narrative of Damien Hirst’s Rise and Fall
What You Should Know About Bitcoin’s Ridiculous Surge In Value
Surgical Patients May Be Feeling Pain—and (Mostly) Forgetting It
The World Might Be Better Off Without College for Everyone
Where Millennials Come From

5 VIDEOS + fight for your right

The Reviews Are In: The Weekend is Upon Us

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Instagram, Perfection, And The Problem With The Appropriation Of Body Positivity

Rodolfo Sanches Carvalho

The internet exploded this week over reality TV star Louise Thompson’s announcement that she was releasing a book called Body Positive. While books released by those making a living in the public eye, via TV and via social media, are two a penny these days, it is the particular nature of the book which has caused uproar, especially among the body positive community.

The Made in Chelsea actress is accused of blindly appropriating the term without understanding where it has come from or what the term really represents. According to Louise Thompson, 27, she has transformed herself “from anxiety-ridden party girl with a destructive relationship with food and little concern for her health and happiness to someone who has found peace, direction and self-love through nurturing herself.” Her book, which is out in May, is described as a collection of workouts, self-care tips and diet recipes which “keep her on the track to positivity.”

But body positivity is not about keeping “on the track to positivity.” Nor is it about self-care and it is especially not about diet recipes. Body positivity is about self-appreciation and the celebration of a diverse range of body types other than those belonging to people who work and sculpt them on a daily basis. It is certainly not about bodies that generate an income through sponsored posts on Instagram or through reality TV.

The body positive movement, which started in the 1960s, developed out of a need to encourage people to adopt more forgiving attitudes towards themselves in order to improve their mental and emotional wellbeing. The movement was formally established in 1996 by Connie Sobczak and Elizabeth Scott who decided they wanted to re-educate women and girls and help them feel empowered by the way they looked once and for all.

While it is Louise Thompson who has caused outrage, she is by no means the only offender of wrongly using the term. A quick search of Instagram reveals over four million posts are tagged #bodypositive and although many of the posts are of wonky tummies, eye bags or body hair, the majority are photoshopped pictures of tanned, toned and svelte women. Although the body positive movement is for everyone, one thing it is not supposed to do is trigger anxiety, low self-esteem or doubt into the minds of those scrolling Instagram looking to educate themselves on what a real body looks like.

Yet this is where Louise Thompson trips up. Her Instagram gallery is a collection of heavily edited posts that never even show a hair out of place and her book is wrongly confusing bodily positivity as bodily perfection which can only be achieved through a regime of diet and fitness. Her book makes you feel guilty that you don’t look like she does and tricks you into thinking the only way you can is by buying her book, working out and going on a diet. Body positivity is about being proud of the way you look, in whatever shape and form it is, and yes, it does include wanting to change it, but because you want to not because you feel like you need to.

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The One-Week Wellness Challenge To Help You Kickstart 2018

Wellness. It’s all the rage these days, no? Articles discussing the importance of self-care to pieces explaining what self-care actually is are everywhere right now. And understandably so. 2017 was a rough year for anyone with a conscious, so it only makes sense that we’re all scrambling to try and finds ways to make sure we’re taking care of our bodies, souls, and minds.

But it’s hard. After all, if it were easy, we wouldn’t have to be constantly scouring the web for solutions to help us figure it out how to properly do a downward facing dog or how to decrease the negative energy in our life or how to brew tea for maximum health benefits.

But this got me thinking. With all the advice that’s out there, it’s tough to try and implement it all at once. We’re not all going to magically become yogis who exude a sense of calm that would make a monk jealous the first time we say, .

Instead, we should start small.

This is where this one-week wellness challenge comes in! It’s comprised of seven steps, if you will, to help you feel more balanced and healthy. Some are passive, such as deleting apps from your phone for the week. Some will take 15 minutes. Some will be really difficult. But it’s only one week, one week that will be good for your mind, body, and soul, helping you kickstart 2018 with a clear mind.

Challenge 1: Delete all social media apps from your phone for the week. No, not just turn off the notifications. Remove them all. It’s going to be super tough at first. You’re going to go and check Snapchat and realize it’s not there. But soon, you’ll get used to it. You’ll stop opening your phone because there really won’t be anything to check. In turn, you’ll be much more present and in the moment. Life is far more enjoyable that way.

Challenge 2: Learn to cook one new, meal. When we’re stressed out, it’s so easy to want to have something delivered, particularly something of the comfort food variety. Instead, hop on Pinterest and find a healthy meal to cook that isn’t difficult to make. Maybe even make enough to have leftovers so you don’t have to worry about cooking for a few days! You’ll save money, be filling your body with nutrients, and overall feel more in control.

Challenge 3: Replace your vice with something positive. Maybe you like to binge-watch Netflix after a tough day at the office. Try replacing that with reading or exercise. Maybe your vice is coffee. Try tea! For this step, you can tailor to your own lifestyle and habits, but it’s going to take some preparation and self-reflection for this one. You’re going to acknowledge what you’re numbing yourself with and face the facts that it may not be so good for you.

Challenge 4: Journal every evening. The benefits of journaling have been well documented. Even if you’re not a writer, journaling can help you face problems with more clarity, help you self-reflect, and it’s also just a cool way to document your life. You can look back years later and see what your life was like at 22, or how you’ve grown in the past six months. And to be clear, you don’t have to write 17 pages or anything crazy. Simply put a timer on for 15 minutes and just write down what’s on your mind. Ryan Holiday has some great tips for making journaling a habit.

Challenge 5: Find time to be active every day. Exercise is good for you. You know this, I know this, we know this. But with busy schedules, it’s hard to find the willpower and time to go to the gym. And you don’t have to every day. A brisk walk or run, doing bodyweight exercises from your living room, and even turning to YouTube for some free workout videos are great ways to squeeze in some physical activity.

Challenge 6: Practice mindful drinking. If you’re someone who likes to drink, this one is for you. A lot of wellness articles say to cut out alcohol, but for a lot of us, that just isn’t realistic. Instead, try and practice mindful drinking. The theory behind it is that if you’re consciously consuming your wine, taking slow and deliberate sips so you’re really tasting and experiencing it, you’re less likely to go overboard and wake up needing 13 Advil and a new identity after hitting on the bartender shamelessly all night (yes, hi, I did this). With a clearer head because of lack of hangover and a clearer conscious because of lack of doing stupid shit, you can still drink socially, enjoy your wine, and feel productive and healthy the next day.

Challenge 7: Prioritize sleep. I know. We’ve all heard how important sleep is. However, sleep should be your number one priority above all else this week. When we’re struggling to take care of ourselves, sleep often goes on the backburner. We live in a culture of do more, sleep less, and this hurts us on every level of our life. So on Saturday night when your friend is pestering you to stay out for just “one more drink” or on Sunday morning when you want to get super early for whatever reason, stop. Unless it’s absolutely for you to be up at six a.m., let your body rest. Sleep in. And be prepared to say “No thanks” to your friend. Because you and I both know that it’s never just one more drink anyway.

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Obituary: Rodney Bewes

Rodney Bewes, who has died aged 79, found fame as the aspirational Bob in the BBC sitcom The Likely Lads.

Teaming Bewes with James Bolam, it regularly drew audiences of more than 20 million.

Despite the success of a sequel, the two fell out in spectacular style – effectively ending the chance of the series being continued.

It turned out to be the peak of Bewes’s career and he later found himself reduced to playing a series of less distinguished roles.

Rodney Bewes was born in Bingley, Yorkshire, on 27 November 1937.

His family later moved to Luton in Bedfordshire where his schooling was often interrupted by ill-health.

He answered a newspaper letter from a BBC producer asking for children to appear in the corporation’s Children’s Hour.

Image copyright Rex Features
Image caption He appeared alongside his friend Tom Courtenay in Billy Liar

By the age of 14 he had appeared in a number of BBC TV productions including a role as Joe in a 1952 adaptation of The Pickwick Papers. He also secured a place at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art’s preparatory school.

“All the kids were posh and they were the children of actors in the West End of London and I’m just this boy from Bingley, near Bradford, and broad Yorkshire,” he later recalled.

After completing his National Service in the RAF he returned to Rada.

He financed his studies by washing up in hotels at night, something that caused him to fall asleep during the day which culminated in him being asked to leave the academy.

He managed to secure some small stage roles, as well as parts in TV productions including Dixon of Dock Green, Emergency Ward 10 and Z-Cars.

New wave

He made his film debut in 1962 in Prize of Arms, a yarn about a gang that attempts to rob an army payroll convoy. The film is notable for early performances by a number of later well-known actors including Tom Bell, Jack May and Fulton Mackay.

A year later he secured the role of Arthur Crabtree in Billy Liar, alongside his friend Tom Courtenay.

It was the age of British cinema’s so-called new wave, when film-makers were turning their attention to gritty working-class dramas and desperate for actors with regional accents.

Image caption There was a brief spell as straight man for Basil Brush

Despite Bewes hailing from Yorkshire, rather than Tyneside, he was cast as Bob Ferris in The Likely Lads, a sitcom conceived by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais.

His aspirational character was in direct contrast to that of his friend, Terry Collier, the workshy, cynical figure played by James Bolam. Much of the comedy revolved around Bob’s attempts to become middle-class in the face of constant derision from Terry.

The final series ended in 1966 and Bewes played a number of TV parts and was also in films including Man in a Suitcase, Spring and Port Wine and a star-studded musical version of Alice in Wonderland in which he played the Knave of Hearts.

He spent a year as Mr Rodney, who was one of a series of stooges for the puppet Basil Brush, before creating and starring in the ITV sitcom Dear Mother… Love Albert. It showcased his skills as a scriptwriter and proved to be popular with audiences.


In 1973 he teamed up with James Bolam again for Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads, a sequel to the original series.

The series saw Bolam’s character Terry return from his time away in the Army to discover that Bewes’s Bob has bought his own house, secured a managerial job and is engaged to the boss’s daughter.

Off stage the pair enjoyed a warm relationship.

“We were great friends,” said Bewes.

“When my babies were born, his was the first house I went to.”

In 1975 there was a film spin-off which proved to be the last time the pair worked together. Bolam was famous for guarding his privacy and was furious when Bewes let slip to a newspaper that Bolam’s wife, the actress Susan Jameson, was pregnant.

Image caption Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads was even more successful than the original series

After a fraught phone call the two did not speak to each other again. Bolam was so incensed that he refused to appear on an edition of This Is Your Life, which featured his former acting partner.

“It’s this actor’s ego thing – he thinks he is important,” Bewes once said.

“Actors aren’t important. I’m not important; I have fun. I think Jimmy takes himself very seriously as an actor.”

Bewes’s acting career never again scaled the heights of Likely Lads. There were bit parts in the films Jabberwocky and The Wildcats of St Trinians and he was able to use his abilities as a serious actor in a 1980 TV adaptation of the Restoration play ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore.

One-man shows

Earlier in his career he had appeared in productions of She Stoops to Conquer and there was a role in a 1984 production of George Gascoigne’s play Big in Brazil at the Old Vic Theatre in London, with Prunella Scales and Timothy West.

In the same year he also appeared in a Doctor Who story entitled Resurrection of the Daleks. It was one of his last significant appearances on the small screen.

He had some stage success with his one-man shows, Three Men in a Boat and Diary of a Nobody, which he toured for more than a decade. He won a Stella Artois Prize for the former at the 1997 Edinburgh Festival.

Image caption His role in Resurrection of the Daleks was one of his last TV appearances

His wife, the designer Daphne Black, whom he married in 1973, acted as his helper, setting up the stage and the props for his various performances.

Bewes never gave up on the idea of a revival of The Likely Lads, feeling that the characters were still relevant 40 years on.

“Instead of being the Likely Lads, we’d have been the Unlikeliest Granddads,” he said.

“We would have been sitting on a park bench in a pair of grubby grey anoraks, feeding the pigeons and grumping about youngsters.”

Related Topics

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When Losing A Pet Feels Like Losing A Person

Japheth Mast

Last week, I lost my roommate of eight years. All that time, it was just me and him. He was the only being in my life that was always happy to see me, always giving me unconditional love, always missing me when I departed and overjoyed when I returned. It didn’t matter that he was tiny, furry, and greeted me with meows instead of words. He thought he was speaking to me, and in a way, he was. He was my buddy for so long that I grew to understand him through his specific sounds, like we had our own special language. He took up a whole lot of space in my world for such a little guy, and I didn’t realize just how integral he was to my life until he left it.

I was beyond lucky to have him as a constant source of love through the ups and downs of my life. He provided cuddles, emotional support, and unrelenting affection. He never cared what I looked like or minded when I was grouchy. He simply wanted to be near me, no matter what. No wonder he meant more to me than any boyfriend I’ve ever had. Animals are much better at relationships than people most of the time.

Some might call me a crazy cat lady for sharing the deep pain I feel at losing the companionship of my little buddy, and I don’t care. The people who have truly loved a pet understand how hard it is to sever that bond. My kitty was the first animal I owned alone as an adult, and he was the first pet I’ve ever had to put to sleep. He was with me through most of my life as a self-sufficient person living independently in a city far from my family. In moments of self-doubt, sadness, and frustration, he was always there patiently allowing me to bury my face in his fur and escape reality for a little while. He followed me around like a dog, always keeping me in eyesight, and he always ran to me when I called him. He didn’t like anyone else much, but he sure did love me a whole lot.

I’ve been through a lot of breakups, but nothing else made me feel this empty. My tiny studio apartment is suddenly cavernous, swallowing me whole into a chilly pit of unwelcome sadness every time I turn the key in my lock and remind myself that he won’t be there to greet me. I see him exactly where he would be in any given moment even though I know he’s not actually there. I cry in frustration every time his little cat friend across the hallway comes to my door and tries to barge in and play, because I can’t explain that his buddy won’t be around to spar and tumble with him anymore.

One minute he was okay and then, three weeks later, he was gone. He had no health problems in the entire eight years I owned him. He was always good-tempered and never gave me any trouble, and then suddenly his body collapsed. I don’t know if you can ever prepare yourself to lose a pet, but I certainly wasn’t prepared for him to leave me so soon.

I wish I could have explained to him the depth of my love. I hope he felt it. I hope that he had the happiest life possible. I know I made the best decision for him because he would’ve been in constant pain, but I can’t help feeling that I betrayed him. He trusted me to protect and take care of him. The most painful part of making decisions when it comes to a pet’s health is knowing that they don’t understand what’s happening. I hope he somehow knows how very sorry I am, that I miss him all day every day, and that I will never forget him.

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The Overwatch Videogame League Aims to Become the New NFL

Stefano Disalvo is a professional athlete.

He has the physical gifts of a professional athlete, the dedication and drive of a professional athlete, the monomaniacal schedule of a professional athlete. He wakes up at 6:30 in the morning and spends some time reviewing game tape of his own performance before calisthenics begin around 9—jogging, frisbee, soccer—followed by practice, seven straight hours of it, where his team plays against some of the finest competition in the world, testing new strategies. Then a team meeting at night to discuss the day’s mistakes and how to correct them, after which he will spend another few hours practicing alone or interacting with his fans or studying his rivals or, sometimes, all three. Then bedtime, before doing the same thing again tomorrow.

It’s likely you’ve never heard of Stefano Disalvo. You probably haven’t heard of his team either. You maybe haven’t heard of his sport, and even if you have heard of his sport, you wouldn’t know him as Stefano ­Disalvo—he’s known as “Verbo,” one of the top players in the world at a videogame called Overwatch. He’s 18 years old, and he has just signed his first major professional contract: He’ll get a nice salary, a robust health insurance plan, free housing, and a 401(k). And beginning this month, his team, the newly formed Los Angeles Valiant, will be one of 12 competing in a first-of-its-kind global esports league, a grand experiment involving some of the biggest names in sports and entertainment who believe Overwatch can rival traditional sports in audience and revenue. If this league succeeds—if its players, coaches, franchise owners, and front-­office executives can overcome a skeptical audience, a complicated and sometimes baffling game, and big problems of inclusion and harassment—then gamers like Disalvo, who have mortgaged their entire adolescence for this one shot at glory, could be among the first athletes to get very rich playing videogames, in front of people, for money.

Welcome to the future of sports.

If you are, like me, of a generation where videogames were not a spectator sport except for maybe gathering around the arcade to watch someone who’s really good at Street Fighter, then you could be forgiven for not knowing all of this was going on. The phenomenon of esports—people playing against each other in live videogame competitions—is still so new that there isn’t even consensus about how to spell it: I’ve seen esports, e-sports, E-sports, and eSports.

I should say, actually, that esports are relatively new—that is, new for some of us. But for the professionals who play, who are almost uniformly between the ages of 17 and 26, it’s something that’s been around for most of their lives and something they take for granted. When Disalvo was a 16-year-old high school student in Toronto, he already knew he wanted to be an esports professional. He knew this mostly through a process of elimination: He had tried every other thing, and none of them felt transcendent or even interesting. He played hockey and tennis, he swam. He took all the classes you’re supposed to take, and when ­people asked him what his favorite subject was, he’d say lunchtime. “I was trying to find something that I loved doing,” Disalvo says. “I honestly didn’t really enjoy anything.”

There was one thing he did enjoy, though, a secret he kept from almost everyone: He loved playing videogames, and he was extraordinarily good at it. And when he saw players winning tournaments for games like League of Legends, he decided that he wanted, more than anything else, to do that.

A basic problem, though, was that League of Legends already had a well-established and very competitive esports scene, and the path to becoming a pro in that game seemed very narrow. However, in November 2014, Disalvo saw that Blizzard, the company behind such massive franchises as Warcraft, StarCraft, and Diablo, was developing a new game. It was called Overwatch, and it looked to be a first-person shooter. Knowing that most of Blizzard’s games eventually generate big esports scenes, Disalvo decided to switch. “New game,” he says. “Everybody’s starting at the same level. It’s not as if I have to catch up to all the other professional players.”

Stefano Disalvo, better known as Verbo, is one of the world's top Overwatch players.
Damon Casarez

I was surprised to hear this, as I’d assumed that pro gamers began playing a game because they enjoyed it and then gradually became good enough to turn pro. But Disalvo decided to make Overwatch his young life’s work before he’d ever even played it. “I saw the esports potential,” he says with a shrug. “I didn’t care if the game was fun.”

He got access to the Overwatch beta and committed himself to mastering the game. He stopped eating lunch with his friends, using that time to finish homework so he could go home and play Overwatch for seven hours straight. He didn’t go to parties, he didn’t go out with friends, he didn’t date, he wasn’t in any way social.

If you’re thinking that Disalvo fits the stereotype of a friendless, socially awkward gamer, disabuse yourself of that notion. He’s an affable and confident young man who’d been a swim instructor, a lifeguard, and an excellent hockey player. He has a good sense of humor, and when he laughs, he looks startlingly like James Franco. In other words, if he’d wanted to date, he probably could have. But he didn’t, and his classmates didn’t know what to make of it.

Playing the beta, and before Overwatch was even officially released in May 2016, Disalvo began competing in amateur tournaments. He started playing even longer hours, and his studies suffered. His mother demanded he focus on school, but he announced he was going to be an esports professional. His mother said no, he was going to college. He said no, he was skipping college to go pro in Overwatch. Looking back, he’s not sure how that standoff would have been resolved were it not for a job offer that came two weeks after his mother’s ultimatum. A professional esports outfit wanted him on its Overwatch team, and it wanted to move him to Southern California to live and train with his teammates.

Armed now with an official contract, Disalvo went back to his mother, and she eventually agreed to let him leave school early, on the condition that he would finish his diploma online. Most of his classmates were mildly puzzled by his sudden disappearance. There were rumors about California. Were it not for a yearbook article about his new career, it’s possible that his classmates would still be asking: Whatever happened to Stefano Disalvo?

Mei is one of dozens of heroes in Overwatch.

Blizzard Entertainment

Jeff Kaplan, who oversees all things overwatch at Blizzard, says that when developers began work on the game in 2013, they felt the need to create a world wholly apart from the trio of worlds that the company already offered: the high fantasy of Warcraft, the space opera of Starcraft, the gothic horror of Diablo. What would be the most unexpected, most fantastical place they could take gamers next?

The answer, they decided, was Earth.

The team ultimately began working on a game that would be Blizzard’s first entry into the popular first-­person-shooter genre, and they would set it on Earth, sometime in the not-too-distant future.

But when they began researching other earthbound first-person shooters, they found a surplus of what Kaplan calls “cynical, borderline post­apocalyptic dystopia.” In other words, morbidly dark, gritty, and depressing. Lots of blood and gore. Games you’d feel a little weird about if you played them in front of your kids.

This led the team in a different and sort of radical direction: optimism. “We wanted it to be a future worth fighting for,” Kaplan says. “So it’s a bright, aspirational future, and when conflict happens you have to go out and defend it, because this world is so awesome we can’t let anybody ruin it. So it really led us to a place of hope.”

The basic premise of the game is that AI robots, designed to usher in an economic golden age for humanity, try to take over the world. To respond to the crisis, the United Nations forms Overwatch, a team of fighters and adventurers recruited to quash the robot rebellion. The Overwatch forces defeat the robots, and then end up battling each other.

These characters—they’re called “heroes” in Overwatch lingo, and there are 26 of them as of this writing, though Blizzard tends to update this a lot—are the beating heart of the game. As opposed to many other first-person shooters, where your avatar is just a kind of anonymous good guy or bad guy, the heroes you play in Overwatch have personality. They have persuasive origins and very human hopes and fears and complicated relationships with the other heroes. There’s Mei, for example, a climate scientist who was stranded in her research station in Antarctica and has since become this gallant adventurer who never­theless still wears these huge, nerdy round glasses and an adorable poofy coat. Or Bastion, an anthropomorphic machine gun who’s friends with a tiny delicate bird that he gently cares for. This game doesn’t just have backstory, it has lore, which is all explicated in animated web movies and comic books that are intended to drive “deep engagement,” to borrow the language of Blizzard’s quarterly reports.

Overwatch super fan Marcus Silvoso dressed as the healer hero Lucio.

Damon Casarez

Overwatch super fan Dorothy Dang as the tank hero D.VA.

Damon Casarez

The game is team-based, six versus six. If you’re playing Overwatch, you are playing with and against other real people who are connected to the internet and seeing and hearing the same things as you. You can play as any of the 26 heroes, even swapping from one hero to another during the course of the game. Mostly, the game is played as a series of timed rounds: The attacking team has four minutes to capture certain areas or move a payload (think: the pigskin going downfield) while the defending team tries to thwart them. Once time’s up, attackers and defenders switch roles for the next round. Whichever team captures more areas or moves the payload farther wins the game, and if a player is killed in action, they have to wait 10 seconds (sometimes more) before rejoining the fight.

The formula—refreshing optimism plus interesting heroes plus shoot-’em-up action— was an immediate hit. Overwatch became Blizzard’s fastest-growing game ever, a best seller that, after a little more than a year, has 35 million players and generates more than a billion dollars annually.

Nate Nanzer, who was Blizzard’s global director of research and consumer insights leading up to Overwatch’s launch, says the game’s popularity comes, in part, from gamers’ love for the heroes, noting particularly the significance of a lineup that “looks like what the world looks like,” by which he means racially diverse, multinational, and equitably gendered.

The other thing Nanzer noticed early in Overwatch’s development cycle was a surge in interest in video­games as a spectator sport. Esports originated largely in South Korea, with the game StarCraft: Brood War, roughly 20 years ago, and eventually found its way onto Korean television. Then it jumped to Korean internet streaming platforms around 2003, which is when North American gamers began getting clued in. The popularity of gaming streams eventually gave rise to Twitch, a platform that launched in 2011 and specializes in videogame livestreaming. By 2014, when Amazon purchased Twitch for almost a billion dollars, the total number of minutes that people spent every year watching other people, mostly strangers, play video­games on Twitch was 192 billion. By the end of 2016, it had risen to 292 billion.

Even while Overwatch was in beta, fans and entrepreneurs were already organizing Overwatch tournaments, broadcasting matches live on Twitch. It was completely grassroots, seriously hardcore, totally decentralized, and kind of a mess. Nanzer wondered what would happen if Blizzard could take control of the tournaments. “If we structure a league the right way and put the right investment behind it, we can actually monetize it in a way that’s not too dissimilar from traditional sports,” he says.

Enter Overwatch League.

Blizzard announced the venture in November 2016 at Blizzcon, the company’s annual convention. Overwatch League would be the world’s first esports venture to follow the North American sports model: franchised teams in major cities, live spectator events, salaried athletes. Along with all the revenue opportunities offered by sports leagues—ticket sales, media rights, licensing, and so on—there were also opportunities for “team-based virtual merchandise.” For example, fans might be able to buy a “skin” so that when they’re playing Overwatch at home, their hero will be wearing the jersey of the Los Angeles Valiant.

“We are literally building a new sport,” says Nanzer, who was appointed the league’s commissioner last year. “We’re trying to build this as a sustainable sports league for decades and decades to come.” And while you might think, at first glance, that such an ambition is outrageously optimistic, the expertise recruited may change your mind. The co-owner of the Boston Overwatch franchise, for example, is Robert Kraft, who also owns the New England Patriots. The owner of the New York franchise is Jeff Wilpon, COO of the New York Mets. Philadelphia’s Overwatch team is owned by Comcast, which also owns the Philadelphia Flyers. Blizzard hasn’t made public the cost of a league franchise, but the reports are $20 million, and when I asked Nanzer about that number, he neither confirmed nor denied it, saying: “You know, if you hear the same rumor over and over again, you can figure out what that means.” So, OK, $20 million.

“There’s going to be kids who can say ‘I play professional Overwatch for the same guy that Tom Brady plays for,’” Nanzer said. “That’s pretty cool.”

Perhaps the most high-profile executive recruit for Overwatch League is Steve Bornstein. One of the early architects of ESPN and a former president of ABC Sports, he left his most recent job as CEO of the NFL Network to become Blizzard’s esports chair. When asked why he made the change from traditional sports to electronic, Bornstein borrows an old Gretzky quote: “Skate to where the puck is going.”

“When I left the NFL, the only thing I saw that had the potential to be as big was the esports space,” he says. “What fascinated me was just the level of engagement, the fact that we measure consumption in billions of minutes consumed.”

And it’s growing, especially among younger people, which is not something that can be said of traditional sports. For the cord-­cutter and cord-never generations, sports tend to be behind what is, in effect, a giant paywall. The big, exclusive contracts that leagues sign with the TV networks mean there are few other ways to access sports content—which seems annoying or downright bizarre to ­people accustomed to getting their entertainment for free on YouTube.

The kill cam says, This is how you were killed, so let's avoid that in the future.

Every major sport in the US has seen the average age of its viewership increase since 2000. The NBA’s average fan is 42. The average NFL fan is 50. The average MLB fan is 57. What’s more, these audiences are limited almost entirely to North America. The Overwatch League, meanwhile, will begin with nine US teams and three from abroad—Shanghai, Seoul, and London (with more, I’m told, on the way)—and its average fan is a demographically pleasing 21 years old.

There’s no better symbol for Blizzard’s confidence in the game’s potential than the place it chose for its new home: Burbank Studios, Stage One. If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because it’s the very same soundstage that Johnny Carson used when he brought The Tonight Show to California. Every match of Overwatch League’s inaugural season will be played here, while the teams work with Blizzard to bring matches to their respective hometowns in future seasons.

The studio’s centerpiece is the long dais up front, big enough for two entire Overwatch teams—six players on the left, six on the right. Each player will have their own personal pod (Blizzard’s term for what appears to be a simple table), and each pod is separated from the adjacent pods by a space of a few inches, because apparently some players can get a little excited during a match and bother their neighbors with their table-tapping or knee-banging or fist-pounding. Every player is issued a standard desktop computer and a standard monitor (144 hertz), though many players like to choose their own keyboard and mouse. Above everything are three enormous LED screens, approximately 20 feet by 11, that will be showing the audience the in-game action, as well as intermittent close-ups of the players themselves, their faces, their twitching hands.

The studio’s centerpiece is a long dais, big enough for two entire Overwatch teams—six players on the left, six on the right.

Damon Casarez

Kitty-corner to the players, stage right, is an elevated desk for the on-air talent—the hosts and analysts and interviewers. Backstage, these folks get their own hair and makeup room, one of the few places still serving its original Tonight Show function. Next to the analysts’ desk is a room for the “shoutcasters,” which are what play-by-play commentators are called in esports. The term was coined in the earliest days of esports, before high-speed broadband made video streaming possible; the feeds were audio-only, and commentators used a Winamp plug-in called SHOUTcast to broadcast their voices. The name lives on, though. There’s even a paper taped up on the door that says shoutcasters.

Taped to the next door, a piece of paper says observers, which strikes me as sort of sinister, like the Eyes from The Handmaid’s Tale. The Observers are actually cinematographers who operate in the game’s digital space. If you’re watching an Overwatch match, you might be watching it from the point of view of one of the players or from the point of view of one of the Observers, who float around the players and capture the in-game action as it unfolds. Imagine a camera operator at a hockey match skating around on the ice with the players and yet magically not interacting with them in any way. The Observers are like that.

Directly across the hall from the Observers is where the technical stuff happens, all the wizardry needed to create a professional-looking sports broadcast: a whole room for instant replay, two rooms for audio, two control rooms with walls of flatscreen TVs. All told, it takes between 80 and 100 people to broadcast one match of the Overwatch League. Some of the people who work here say there’s a special significance in the league’s broadcasting from The Tonight Show’s old home. It’s an obvious metaphor: new media replacing old media. It all reminds Steve Bornstein of the moment in the early ’80s when he came aboard the fledgling ESPN, then only three months old. He says all the critics at the time argued there wouldn’t be any interest in a whole channel devoted to sports. Who would ever watch that?

Shoutcasters provide real-time game commentary for both in-studio and streaming audiences.

Damon Casarez

My first time playing Overwatch was astounding to me for two reasons: first, for the sheer amount of onscreen information I was asked to digest at any given moment, the bullet tracers and grenade explosions, the bright blossoming energy shields and walls of ice that were sometimes mysteriously erected and then shattered, plus the head-up display overlaying various timers and health bars and glowing mission objectives, and sometimes floating yellow plus-sign things (which I eventually figured out meant I was getting healed by someone, somehow), plus all the pretty little environmental details like streetlamps that flicker a bit of lens flare onto your screen when you accidentally aim at them, the wooden chairs that splinter and the wine bottles that shatter when they take stray fire, not to mention the outlines of your teammates and all the enemy players who (for reasons that will become clear momentarily) tend to jump around constantly, spasmodically, almost insectoidally—all of this happening at the same time in a way that felt not only disorienting, not only mentally taxing, but more like New York City air-traffic-control-level overwhelming.

The second thing I was astounded by was the number of times I died.

It was a little surprising to me how quickly, simply, and even sort of eagerly my character bit it. I was playing a hero called Reaper, whose whole basic deal is to be an updated video­game version of the Undertaker character from WWF wrestling, circa-1990s, but with guns—a pair of shotguns that, instead of reloading, he tosses to the ground and replaces by grabbing two new ones from under the folds of his black overcoat. I’m running to get into place with my teammates, wondering what exactly I’m supposed to be doing, and also idly wondering how many shotguns Reaper can hide under that coat. (The answer, it turns out, is infinite. Infinite shotguns. He never runs out. Just go with it.) Suddenly a firefight erupts ahead of me and I run up to aid my companions and promptly get killed. Swiftly and abruptly and bewilderingly, I am dead. I have no idea why. This is when I am introduced to the kill cam.

Let me tell you about the cruelty of the kill cam.

After you die in Overwatch and the camera pans back to show your now lifeless corpse on the ground, you endure the kill cam, which shows you what you looked like and what you were doing the moment before you were killed, from the perspective of your killer. It’s like being able to watch your own face while getting dumped. As I died over and over, I would be treated anew to kill-cam footage showing just how long someone had me in their sights, how many shots they took before I even noticed, how I just stood there and sort of spun in place, dumbly looking around while my killer patiently picked me off. According to the game’s developers, the kill cam’s primary function is not actually sadistic, but educational. The kill cam says: This is how you were killed, so how about avoiding that in the future, eh?

Reaper is an updated video­game version of the Undertaker character from WWF wrestling, circa-1990s.
Blizzard Entertainment

The fact that it’s so easy to be killed means that players in Overwatch are never still for a second, which presents a cognitive challenge: You must keep track of 11 other players who are always in motion while you yourself zig and zag. Overwatch is, above all, a team game, and you have the responsibility not only to avoid constant death but also to avoid constant death while helping your team execute the proper strategy. The 26 Overwatch heroes fall into four categories: eight are primarily damage-­dealers (offensive players that specialize in eliminating enemy players); six are defensive; six are “tanks” designed to soak up a lot of damage to protect their team; and six are healers who work as in-game medics. That works out to 230,230 possible six-hero “comps” (gamer lingo, born when the gaming community took the phrase “team composition” and nouned it), and to be good at Overwatch you have to recognize each of these comps, understand what effect they’ll have on your own team’s comp, and react accordingly.

And by “react accordingly” I mean that you not only execute a certain strategy correctly, but you also, if necessary, do so with any number of different heroes. Overwatch involves constant on-the-fly improvisational skill, an almost instinctive reaction to ever-changing conditions inside the game. If you play a really great damage-dealer but the other team is running a comp that neutralizes your particular hero, you must be able to extemporaneously and at any time switch to a different hero with a different specialization that disrupts the other team’s strategy. Plus, each hero has up to four different abilities that they can deploy at various times, including an “ultimate” ability that takes a long time to charge up and, when spent correctly, can be a total game-changer. 
So that’s about a hundred different abilities from 26 different characters teamed up in one of 230,230 different combinations. It’s mind-boggling. The sheer number of variables in play seems to exceed the human brain’s ability to grasp the scale and scope of big things. Which raises a question: How is it even possible to be good at this? I decided to travel to Redondo Beach, California, to the house where Stefano Disalvo lives with his team, to find out.

I arrive at the house at 11 am on a late September Friday, and ­Disalvo is sitting with his teammates in a large living room that has been completely transformed for gaming purposes. Seven small office tables have been arranged in two rows, each table equipped with a computer monitor, keyboard, mouse, and mousepad, with a mass of cables and wires spread out around the PC towers on the floor. Actually “towers” is the wrong word for these machines, which are enormous hexahedrons that look less like computers and more like glowing, diamond-shaped relics in a science-fiction movie about the future. All but one of the curtains are closed (to eliminate glare, I assume), though the windows are open for the welcome and pleasant California sea breeze.

The house they’re sharing is a six-bedroom, 4,100-square-foot grand Spanish-style building with orange roof tiles and a three-car garage. The kitchen is ambitiously large, with a double oven and a wine fridge that is poignantly empty. Almost no one who lives here is old enough to legally drink.

The team wakes early each day, and after reviewing footage of their performance from the previous day’s practices, they eat breakfast and walk to the beach for an hour of exercise. (Shane Flanagin, the team’s PR manager at the time of my visit, says the organization takes player health very seriously: They hire physical therapists, sports psychologists, and an in-house chef, and they have a daily fitness routine. “We don’t want them to be stuck in chairs for nine hours without moving,” he says—though from what I can tell, the players, left to their own devices, literally, would be happy to remain in their chairs for even longer.) By the time I arrive, the players are seated and warming up for their first “scrim” of the day.

A scrim is the primary way a pro Overwatch team practices. The team’s coaches set up scrims with other pro teams, and the players will do three two-hour scrims a day, every day. Once the day’s first scrim begins, everything gets very serious, very fast. The players hunch their shoulders, and their eyes are about even with the top bevel of their monitor so that they’re looking down at the screen, which makes them appear, in profile, something like carnivores eyeing dinner. They give one another constant updates about what the other team is doing, what heroes are in use, what special abilities are available. Their shouted instructions and updates sound to me like soldiers speaking some kind of wacky code.

“Monkey monkey monkey!”

“Are they right or left?”

“Clear left!”

“Inside! Saloon! Saloon!”

“EMP! EMP! EMP!” which, shouted very quickly, sounds like “empee empee empee!”

In the kitchen, meanwhile, the team’s chef is busy cooking lunch. She seems to be successfully ignoring all of this.

Members of Team Valiant practice—or play "scrims"—for at least seven hours a day.

Damon Casarez

Despite living together, the players do not call each other by their real names. They exclusively use their screen names, so much so that I find it odd and even jarring to call Disalvo “Stefano.” Here, he’s Verbo, and the teammates he’s playing with today are GrimReality (which everyone shortens to Grim), Fate, envy, and KariV, who, among all of them, seems the most likely to spontaneously shout or giggle or exclaim “What the fuck!” very loudly and, I would think, distractingly, though the other players don’t seem to care or even really notice.

This is one of the ostensible reasons they all live together, so that they can get accustomed to each other’s tics and moods and can develop the kind of shorthand with one another that I usually associate with best friends or intimates. They come from very different places—Verbo is Canadian, Grim is American, while Fate, envy, and KariV are from Korea—but they need to communicate in the quickest way possible. Like the game itself, the team must operate with no lag.

Sitting in an adjoining room, the team’s manager, Joshua Kim, and one of its coaches, Henry Coxall, observe that morning’s scrim in the game’s spectator mode. They discuss failures of strategy, how one player was baited into a disadvantaged position. But they also seem very attentive to their team’s emotional state. Any blip of negative emotion from any of the players is immediately registered and discussed. Kim talks about not bringing bad emotions to “work,” and how living together presents a challenge on this front.

At 27, Kim is the old man in the house. I ask him whether it’s hard sharing a living space with a bunch of teenage boys—and, yes, they’re all boys, and with the exception of one 20-year-old, they’re all teens. The house itself bears the filthy evidence of this. The boys’ discarded shoes litter the front foyer. Their bedrooms are totally bare but for mattresses sitting on the floor surrounded by clumps of wrinkled clothes. The kitchen counters are covered with jars of peanut butter and Pop Tarts and a family-­size box of Frosted Flakes and protein powder in big bulbous jugs and a few spray bottles of Febreze.

I won’t even tell you about the condition of the bathroom.

But if this bothers Kim, he tries not to show it. “It teaches me patience,” he says.
As the first scrim ends, the players blink back into the reality of the living room, almost like they’re surprised to be there. There’s a sort of incorporeal quality to the players while they’re in the game: They play with such focus and intensity that, as soon as a match is over, it’s as if they suddenly realize they have bodies. They crack their knuckles and stretch and shake out the stiffness in their hands. They wander into the kitchen, where the chef has prepared a meal of mostly Korean fare: barbecued short ribs, glazed chicken drumsticks, and a really fantastic fried rice. The players consume all of this in less than 10 minutes.

During their break I’m able to ask the questions that have been on my mind: How do you learn to play this game at a high level? And how do you possibly keep track of everything that’s happening onscreen?

It’s Grim who first suggests the concept of “mental RAM.” The basic idea, he says, is that there is only so much the mind can process at once, an upper limit on the number of things any player can pay attention to; the key, then, is to put as many things on autopilot as possible, so you have fewer things to consciously think about. “For a lot of people who aren’t pro, aiming takes a lot of concentration,” Grim says. “It gives you less room to think about other things. So that’s why I practice really, really hard on my aiming, so I can think more about my positioning and what I need to do next.”

Grim, whose real name is Christopher Schaefer, is 18 years old and from Chico, California. He is one of the team’s primary damage-dealers. Like Verbo, Grim wanted more than anything to be an esports professional. And like Verbo, he decided to go pro in Overwatch before he’d ever played it. When he first began the game—at 16—he was “really bad,” he says. “I would spend hours at a time just practicing flicks.”

I interrupt to ask: What’s a flick?

“It’s basically starting from one point of the screen and then snapping to the enemy’s head or something. And so it’s a very fast muscle-memory movement.”

Being able to flick effectively is essential to pro play. It requires you to understand the exact ratio of mouse-movement to game-space distance, plus how to compensate if, for example, you’re moving left and your target is to the right, which will require an extra milli­meter or so of flick, and you have to possess the kinesthetic body awareness to do this with your hand and wrist perfectly almost 100 percent of the time. This is why pro players’ mouse choices are so personal and why the team insists that, with any sponsorship deal with any company that sells peripherals, players always get to choose their own mouse. Grim uses a Logitech G903 with a DPI of 800 and an in-game mouse sensitivity setting of 5. He is now, suffice it to say, extraordinarily good at flicking.

“A lot of people think that I just have natural talent,” he says, laughing. “No, no, not at all. It took a lot, a lot, a lot of practice to be able to aim properly.”

After the lunch break, the teammates return to their stations for more sitting, more scrims, more shouting.

“Monkey’s up for a jump! Monkey monkey! I’m dead.”

“Small regroup! Regroup!”

“I’m on soldier, I’m on soldier!”

“We have numbers! Let’s go!”

“Monkey monkey!”

About the monkey: One hero named Winston is a supersmart, genetically engineered gorilla who has the ability to jump really far, right into the middle of the scrum. And when an enemy team’s Winston lands nearby, he’s automatically your team’s number one target. If you take down Winston, you can really disrupt the other team’s strategy. So when he lands, everyone shouts his name. But because “Winston” is hard to say many times fast, Overwatch players started calling him “monkey.” The effect is that, for the many hours I watched the Los Angeles Valiant play scrims, as I was dutifully taking notes and thinking earnestly about how this might be the future of sports, every few minutes this whole pack of teenage boys would suddenly burst out shouting, “Monkey monkey monkey monkey!”

Overwatch super fan Joe Silvoso as the defensive hero Junkrat.

Damon Casarez

In late September, three months before the league’s first regular-season game and a mere 60-some days from the start of preseason play, Disalvo shakes his head in disbelief at the prospect of playing for the Los Angeles Valiant. “It feels like I’m part of something that’s going to be big, like very big,” he says. “There’s going to be billboards? I’m gonna be representing a city like Los Angeles? Like … what? That’s crazy.”

It’s especially crazy given that he didn’t actually move to LA to join the Valiant. His first professional esports contract, the one that achieved peace with his mother, actually came from an organization called the Immortals, one of the independent esports brands, known as endemics, that field teams in a number of different video­games. (The Immortals, for example, have teams that play Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and League of Legends, among others.) Endemic teams have been in esports for a long time and have been essential to its growth. They’re well known within gaming circles, but they are not billion-­dollar organizations like Blizzard or the New England Patriots, and thus they are not able to be as generous with their players.

Jake Lyon, a 21-year-old from San Diego whose screen name is the refreshingly straightforward “JAKE,” is one of the best damage-dealers in Overwatch. He earned about $2,000 a month as a member of an endemic called Luminosity Gaming—that is, until the Luminosity Overwatch roster disbanded in mid-2017, as Blizzard began consolidating control over professional Overwatch play. “In the past there’s been no security in an esports contract,” he says. “Even though we were signed to a two-year contract with Luminosity, there’s always a clause—and it’s not just them, every single esports contract looks like this—that says they can buy you out for one month’s salary. When they decide it’s your last month: goodbye.”

Lyon went on to sign with the Overwatch League’s Houston Outlaws, and he says the new league is a “huge improvement.” Contracts are guaranteed for at least a year, after which the team will have a second-year option with a prenegotiated salary. And, critically, players cannot be fired during the length of their contract, unless they’re guilty of something that would get them fired from any job.

Players are provided with housing, health insurance, a retirement plan, and a minimum league salary of $50,000, though Lyon believes that most players who are among a team’s starting six will earn much more than that. (Most teams also have a few backup players.) Plus, there’s revenue sharing and a prize pool of $3.5 million for successful teams, $1 million of which is reserved for the inaugural season’s eventual champions.

When he signed his contract with Houston, Lyon sat at his computer clicking his e-signature to the document’s relevant places, and he realized how different it was from what had come before. “Maybe this could be the way esports is going forward,” he says. “That it can be a legitimate career, and that it’s not like someone is going all-in on some fragment of a dream.”

Inside Blizzard arena, three enormous L.E.D. screens, approximately 20 feet by 11, show the audience the in-game action and player reactions.

Damon Casarez

It's hard not to notice that, as of this writing, there are no women on any of the rosters of any of the 12 teams in Overwatch League. “They are all dudes,” Nanzer says, shaking his head. It’s something he’s been thinking a lot about, and he admits that part of the problem is cultural. Gaming can be seen as acceptable and normal behavior for boys, but not necessarily for girls. (Though many studies show that roughly equal numbers of men and women play videogames casually, competitive play remains overwhelmingly male.) “There was never a question that I was going to sit and play games with my son,” he said. “But then the other day my daughter asked me, ‘Can I play Overwatch too?’ and I was like, oh shit, I gotta be better about this. I gotta treat it equal.”

And the women who do play Overwatch often find themselves to be targets of harassment. Glisa is the screen name for a 19-year-old Overwatch player who lives in Portland, Oregon. Despite being busy with her college studies, Glisa is one of the top 100 Overwatch players in terms of time spent in the game. She has so far logged thousands of hours of gameplay, and she keeps a YouTube channel with highlight reels. But sometimes she posts videos of her interactions with other gamers. She uploaded a montage recently called “Online Gaming as a Girl.”

“That was spawned after I had several different, very toxic encounters with people who brought up the fact that I was female many times and tried to use that to degrade me,” she says.

This will sound familiar to anyone who has followed the horrors of Gamergate over the past few years, and the video is hard to watch. The gamers she encounters aren’t just being a little insensitive—they are straight-up knuckle-dragging misogynists:

“You’re such a bimbo.”

“You’re probably ugly.”

“Grab her by the pussy.”

“Women’s rights are a fucking joke.”

And on and on and on.

“The internet is a very angry place,” Glisa says. After posting the video, she received emails and comments from people criticizing her “for not being able to deal with it, for being weak, for finding this upsetting.”

She was also contacted by other female Overwatch players who’d had similar run-ins. “Other women who were like, this is why I don’t join voice chat and never talk to people; this is why I use a male-style username. And that’s what upsets me the most. I don’t feel like people should have to hide who they are to be able to feel safe.” (Glisa didn’t want to use her real name for this article. She says she’s going to be applying for jobs soon, and if potential employers ­Google her, she doesn’t want them to think she’s someone who complains about sexual harassment. Which sort of proves her point.)

I ask her how it made her feel that something she loves can also be so hurtful. “Disappointed,” she says, “in life, in the universe, for being this way. Sometimes it affects me a lot more, and I leave the voice channel so I don’t have to deal with it. There are days that are just a lot harder than other days, and I try to insulate myself more from the anger.”

The sheer number of variables in play seems to exceed the human brain’s abilities.

Overwatch executives are quick to point out there’s a system in place for players to report toxic behavior, and hundreds of thousands of accounts have been disciplined for the type of harassment that Glisa describes. (She reported each of the players who harassed her, but she is not sure whether they received suspensions or bans. The system needs work.) Still, the problem persists, and if Overwatch is a game that requires constant communication between players, and women are made to feel uncomfortable communicating within the game, then perhaps it’s clear why few of them go pro.

Ysabel Müller is an Overwatch player who lives in Rodenbach, Germany. She began playing the game while it was still in beta, and she became highly ranked and friendly with a lot of the pros she played with. She says she had designs on going pro herself but found that getting useful feedback from her teammates was difficult. They treated her, she says, like she couldn’t endure criticism—that if criticized she would be offended and accuse her teammates of sexism and get them kicked out of the game.

“That’s a big fear of some of the male players, and so they’d rather distance themselves,” she says. She didn’t ultimately go pro in Overwatch. Instead, she helped organize regional tournaments. She’s now sending out applications to Overwatch League teams, hoping for a job in team management and player relations.

“I think it will change over the years, once more female players come in and it gets more accepted,” she says.

Blizzard seems to be trying to solve this problem from within. Kim Phan, Blizzard’s director of esports operations, says the company has been proactive in hiring women, including for key on-air shoutcaster jobs, which she hopes will promote female involvement in esports.

And while she says these kinds of visible women role models are essential, Phan also stressed the importance of men advocating and supporting women in gaming.

“Having mentors, advisers, who are men is very impactful,” she says. “It gives you the courage to stay because you know that the toxic voice is just one among many other voices. It’s a reminder that not everyone is like that.”

When asked what the Overwatch League was doing to attract more female players, nobody at Blizzard could point to any specific outreach or recruiting efforts. Nanzer says he’s been looking at data from women-only sports leagues like the WNBA that suggest a women’s league would bring more women into the game. “The idea comes up all the time: Should we have a women’s-only tournament or league?” he says. “I think there’s a way to do that where it’s awesome and supportive and grows the sport. I think there is a way to do it where it’s actually detrimental and it makes it seem like, oh, you’re not as good as men. We kind of go back and forth on that.”

Back in Redondo Beach, the early evening sunlight is streaking in through gaps in the curtains as the Los Angeles Valiant begins its last scrim of the day. Tonight’s match is against another Overwatch League team, the San Francisco Shock, which recently made headlines by signing superstar damage-dealer Jay “sinatraa” Won for a rumored $150,000 a year.

And while I’m still a noob at Overwatch, even I can tell that this San Francisco team plays with an unusual intensity. “They’re a team of 17-year-olds who just do not stop,” says Coxall, the Valiant coach, making the Shock sound young and insane as opposed to the Valiant’s qualities of wisdom and tactics. “If you think you’ve won a fight, you haven’t,” he tells the team. “These guys will keep throwing themselves at you. And one of them will clutch. Always expect that.”

I ask him about that word, “clutch,” and he explains that it refers to someone overcoming dubious odds to win. In other words, the Shock’s strategy is not necessarily to maneuver as a team but rather to have their players engage in seemingly suicidal encounters and trust that they have the skill to pull it off. It’s unrelenting, high-intensity pressure designed to fluster opponents.

It’s a reminder that this is truly a young person’s game—not just in its audience but also in its players. When I asked Christopher Schaefer, aka Grim, how long he thought he’d be a pro, he didn’t have high hopes. “Normally you can compete until you’re about 25,” he says. “Right now, up until when I’m around 21, 22-ish, I’m going to be the sharpest. But as soon you hit 25, your reaction speeds are going to slow down.”

Stefano Disalvo said the same thing: “How long do I think I’ll play? I say maybe four years, five years.”

When he decided to become an esports professional, Disalvo did not know that Overwatch League would exist. He committed to going pro during a time when the pay was uncertain and there was no job security, despite knowing that it would last only five years max.

Which seems just astonishingly irrational. What drove him to do it? “I saw everybody doing the norm: college, university, major in something,” he says. “But I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to do something more because I felt like I wanted to prove something. I don’t know. It felt like this thing that I had to prove.”

Which makes sense to me. That, yes, for the people who go pro in esports, there’s a certain happiness in playing videogames for a living. But maybe more than that, esports allows people an avenue to do something different, to be special. Like musicians or actors or writers pursuing an unlikely dream, it strikes me as both romantic and brave.

Meanwhile, to try to absorb the Shock’s frantic offense, the Valiant team has figured out a new strategy. They go with a hero lineup that’s bigger—more tanks, more health.

“Niiiiiiice,” comes a chorus from around the room when they finally win a round.

“There you go, boys,” Coxall says into his headset’s microphone. “You took control. ”

The sun has gone down, but nobody seems to have noticed. By the end of the last scrim of the day, they are playing in the dark.

Nathan Hill (@nathanreads) is the author of The Nix. This is his first piece for WIRED.

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