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Katie Kosma

The Sexist Trials of Female Attorneys

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The climate of a courtroom puts female attorneys on trial for their gender instead of allowing them to do their job. Lawyer and professor Lara Bazelon discusses in The Atlantic the pernicious discrimination female lawyers face in the courtroom, including constant degradation and impossibly constricting ‘rules.’

Sexism infects every kind of courtroom encounter, from pretrial motions to closing arguments—a glum ubiquity that makes clear how difficult it will be to eradicate gender bias not just from the practice of law, but from society as a whole.

I hated pantyhose, both the cringe-inducing word and the suffocating reality. They itched miserably and ripped. But showing up in federal court with bare legs was as unthinkable as showing up drunk.

I was practicing law differently from many of my male colleagues and adversaries. They could resort to a bare-knuckle style. Most of what I did in the courtroom looked more like fencing. Reading over my old trial transcripts, I am taken aback by how many times I said “Thank you”—to the judge, to opposing counsel, to hostile witnesses. And by how many times I apologized.

Embracing traits traditionally associated with women seems to pay off particularly well in litigation involving so-called women’s issues. In many of these cases, female trial lawyers are favored and even actively recruited. In the civil arena, for example, women have thrived in high-stakes medical-malpractice lawsuits where the plaintiff claims that the defendant’s product injured her genitalia or reproductive organs.

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Losing the Middle Ground

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Middle children, your worst nightmare may be coming true: you really are fading into the background. In a cruel self-fulfilling twist on the Middle Child Syndrome, statistics show that a family’s ideal size has shrunk to two kids, leaving the middleborns to go the way of the mastadon. More than just numbers, those in the middle often exhibit strong traits of empathy, diplomacy, and liberalism. Adam Sternbergh of The Cut asks: what are we giving up as a culture if we lose the Jan Bradys?

According to a study by the Pew Research Center in 1976, “the average mother at the end of her childbearing years had given birth to more than three children.” Read that again: In the ’70s, four kids (or more) was the most common family unit. Back then, 40 percent of mothers between 40 and 44 had four or more children. Twenty-five percent had three kids; 24 percent had two; and 11 percent had one.

For Hopman, middle children are primarily distinguished by an inexhaustible need for attention, a description from which he does not exempt himself. “Britney Spears: middle child,” he points out. “Kesha: middle child. Nicki Minaj: middle child. Also a middle child: Don King.”

“Middle children are evaporating from life, and that isn’t good for all of us,” says Kevin Leman, who literally wrote the book on the subject, his 1985 The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are, which has sold over a million copies. “Middle children are like the peanut butter and jelly in the sandwich,” he explains. As for the coming extinction event, he says, “If you like a sandwich with nothing on it, enjoy.”

Birth order also appears to play a part in the decisions of Supreme Court justices. A 2015 paper in Law & Society Review found that, among the 55 justices who served from 1900 to 2010, oldest and only children showed a strong tendency toward conservative ideology, while middle and youngest children favored liberal decisions.

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The Big Unsolved Mystery of Little Marjorie West

John Swart for AP

Four-year-old Marjorie West was snatched by someone (…or something…?) from a Pennsylvania park in 1938. Her case remains one of the oldest unsolved mysteries in the U.S. and theories still abound — did a she-bear take her? A wildman? Is she still alive? Caren Lissner details the case’s history and the media frenzy it created for Narratively. The tale includes shoulder-to-shoulder searches, John Walsh’s Stranger Danger, and there’s even a mention of professional wrestler Ric Flair.

Her search was one of the largest for a child since the Lindbergh Baby kidnapping six years earlier. Residents of Western Pennsylvania and Marjorie’s surviving relatives still hold out hope she’s alive. If she is, she may yet celebrate her 85th birthday next month.

If Marjorie was snatched, it could have been for profit. During the Great Depression, child kidnappings became a popular, low-tech way to make a buck. “Kidnapping wave sweeps the nation,” blared New York Times headline on March 3, 1932, two days after the abduction of the son of aviator Charles Lindbergh. At the time, some feared that cars, still a relatively new technology, were going to cause an increase in kidnappings, and they weren’t wrong. Abductions did increase with the use of automobiles and with greater highway usage. Still, many of those who believed Marjorie was abducted thought it was not for ransom, but for a different type of moneymaking enterprise.

Harold Thomas “Bud” Beck, a writer, raconteur, and college professor with a Ph.D. in linguistics, researched the case after he heard about it in a bar he used to run. Around 1998, when internet access was becoming more widespread, he posted a $10,000 reward for information about Marjorie. He included up-to-date photos of Dorothea, figuring Marjorie would resemble her.

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Gene Therapy: God Discusses Its Future Possibilities

Siewert Falko/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

I often wonder what the next generations will consider our times’ alchemy, leeching, and humours. We think we are advanced (lasers! transcatheter aortic valves!), but history proves there’s always further to go. With gene therapy surfacing as perhaps the most imminent frontier, working inside the double helixes could render many of our medical modalities laughable. The “God” of geneticists, George Church, sits down with Medium’s Matthew Hutson to discuss his predictions for the future.

Everyone should have the ability to get sequenced. We could save hundreds of billions of dollars, because about 5 percent of all babies are born with very severe genetic disorders. They die young, and there’s a lot of pain along the way and a lot of money spent.

And the third [sequencing] I think is very exciting: wearable sequencing, where the device is so small and so fast that it can almost keep up with where you are, and it can tell you whether the environment around you has allergens or pathogens, and maybe even identify the animals and people that are near you.

If you take cells from late-onset Alzheimer’s patients and age-matched controls and use them to grow brain organoids, you can see how they develop differently.

Aging reversal is something that will buy me and many of my colleagues a lot more time to make many more contributions, so you might consider that a meta-level contribution, if we can pull that off.

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White Men On The Edge of a Nervous Breakdown

Marchers at Portland, Oregon's Women's March, Jan. 20, 2018 (Dave Killen for The Oregonian / AP)

The rights and priorities of white men have always overshadowed those of people of color and women in the United States. They are, however, a ruling minority — white men comprise only a third of our national population.  at The Cut credits shifting demographics and destabilizing movements like #metoo with making white men itchy enough that they’re trying to minimize and invalidate their disruptors.  

White men are at the center, our normative citizen, despite being only around a third of the nation’s population. Their outsize power is measurable by the fact that they still — nearly 140 years after the passage of the 15th Amendment, not quite 100 years after the passage of the 19th Amendment, and more than 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts — hold roughly two-thirds of elected offices in federal, state, and local legislatures. We have had 92 presidents and vice-presidents. One-hundred percent of them have been men, and more than 99 percent white men.

The suffocating power of our minority rule is evidenced by the fact that we’re always busy worrying about the humanity — the comfort and the dignity — of white men, at the same time discouraging disruptive challenge to their authority.

And yes, some of the upholders of minority power are themselves women — women working in service of a brutal white patriarch and the brutal white patriarchal party he leads. Similarly, a majority of white women voted for Trump, and always vote for his party, because they benefit from white supremacy even as they are subjugated by patriarchy. This same dynamic explains why higher percentages of men in every racial category voted for Trump and his party: They gain through the patriarchy even as they are oppressed by white supremacy. This is how minority rule persists.

To publicly rebuke a black woman’s support for protest and not the powerful white patriarch’s thinly veiled call to violence against her is to play on the very same impulses that Trump himself plays on: racist and sexist anxiety about noncompliant women and nonwhites, and the drive to punish them.

These people had nice dinners in restaurants interrupted. They did not have their children pulled from their arms, perhaps forever; they were not refused refuge based on their country of origin or their religion or the color of their skin; they were not denied due process; nor were they denied a full range of health-care options, forced to carry a baby against their will, separated from their families via the criminal justice system, or shot in the back by police for the mere act of being young and black.

One reason that the fury of women is regularly dismissed as theatrical and marginal and unserious is precisely because, on some level, the powerful must sense that it is the opposite of all of those things. That, in fact, it presents a very real threat.

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Twenty-five Years After Breaking Brandon Teena’s Story: An Apology

Lane Hickenbottom for AP / Fox Searchlight Pictures

Village Voice journalist Donna Minkowitz apologizes 25 years after breaking the story of Brandon Teena, transgender murder victim and subject of the film Boys Don’t Cry. Realizing in hindsight it was “the most insensitive and inaccurate piece of journalism I have ever written,” Minkowitz examines what she recognizes now as her own internalized homophobia and ignorance of trans issues. 

For years, I have wanted to apologize for what I now understand, with some shame, was the article’s implicit anti-trans framing. Without spelling it out, the article cast Brandon as a lesbian who hated “her” body because of prior experiences of childhood sexual abuse and rape.

At the time, I was extremely ignorant about trans people. Like many other cis queer people at the time, I didn’t know that there were gay trans men, trans lesbians, bisexual trans folks, that being trans had nothing to do with whether you were straight or gay, and that trans activism was not, as some of us feared, an effort to stave off queerness and lead “easier,” more conventional heterosexual lives.

I was apoplectic with Feinberg for decades because she’d publicly called my article “sleazy, salacious psychosexual babble,” and falsely claimed the “article [let] the cops off the hook for their culpability in instigating the violence against Teena in the first place.” But in many of her criticisms, Feinberg was correct. I shouldn’t ever have suggested that Brandon wanted to be a man because he was sexually abused, and I should have listened to his own wishes as reflected in the memories of his survivors, and called him trans.

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Mining Britain’s Recent Past to Save Our Future

Miners coming off the last shift at Kellingley Colliery in Knottingley, northern England, on the final day of production, Friday Dec. 18, 2015. John Giles/PA via AP

Coal once fueled the British Empire, yet with little industry pushback the United Kingdom announced plans to stop burning it by 2025. Carolyn Beeler of Public Radio International chronicles the decision’s instigating events including divisive strikes, climate change awareness, and a levy on coal usage. Digging through this history unearths a glowing ember remaining staunchly reliant upon coal: The United States.

The announcement signaled the dethroning of King Coal in a country where it had reigned for more than a century, and where just six years prior it provided more than 40 percent of the nation’s energy.

By the turn of the millennium, environmentalist and lawmaker Baroness Bryony Worthington says, the issue of climate change was starting to work its way into the UK’s politics.  “There was a real sea-change in attitude toward climate change,” says Worthington, who today is a member of the House of Lords and heads the Environmental Defense Fund’s European branch.

To meet the requirements of the act, the UK established a carbon tax in 2013. That tax eventually made coal more expensive than natural gas, and when that happened, Wilson says, it’s like someone flipped a giant switch.

Just ahead of the UN climate change summit in Paris, the UK’s Energy Secretary Amber Rudd announced the country would stop burning coal for electricity in a decade.  “It cannot be satisfactory for an advanced economy like the UK to be relying on polluting, carbon intensive 50-year-old coal-fired power stations,” Rudd said. “Let me be clear: this is not the future.” A month later, the very last deep mine in the UK closed.

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Frailty, Thy Name Is Immigration Control

Culture Club/Getty, Illustration by Katie Kosma

A Philadelphia judge quoted a line from Hamlet in a recent ruling fighting against the presidential mandates of immigration control. Lawyers and judges have long set a precedent for citing Shakespeare; during these murky, divided days the Bard’s words may ring truer than e’er. Clemson University Professor and The Atlantic author Walt Hunter writes how a play like Hamlet, so imbued with political chaos, holds a mirror up to our own legal and ethical confusion. 

Hamlet makes sense in 2018. Almost too much sense. The contours of his tragedy, as with many of Shakespeare’s doomed characters, are startlingly familiar at a time when Americans are deeply divided over the fate of the country and its people. The story of a man exposed to the political violence of a kingdom under usurpation, some would argue, offers an eerie parallel to the lack of sanctuary or safety in the United States for many of the people who seek to make their lives here.

Shakespeare’s frequent treatment of ethical and legal questions is marked far more by its ambiguity and unresolved tensions than by clear directives and propositions—this is part of what makes his work simultaneously playful and vexing. Yet the choice of the quotation from Hamlet, “No place indeed should murder sanctuarize,” responds directly to the present political moment—and uncovers the play’s contemporary relevance.

The meaning of Shakespeare’s works, or for that matter of any literary work, is not preprogrammed by the monumental status of the plays, but rather set loose by their malleability and the time-bound nature of any single interpretation.

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TPS Reports All Day Long

Simon & Schuster

Existentialists with agita, rejoice. We now have an anthropologist’s confirmation that what we do means nothing. At the New YorkerNathan Heller writes about David Greaber’s Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, a book that examines our current work economy and how we attribute meaning to our lives with possibly (probably?) meaningless tasks.

[Bullshit] jobs are endemic even to creative industries. Content curators, creatives—these and other intermediary non-roles crop up in everything from journalism to art. Hollywood is notoriously mired in development, an endeavor that Graeber believes to be almost pure bullshit.

In a famous essay drafted in 1928, John Maynard Keynes projected that, a century on, technological efficiency in Europe and in the U.S. would be so great, and prosperity so assured, that people would be at pains to avoid going crazy from leisure and boredom. Maybe, Keynes wrote, they could plan to retain three hours of work a day, just to feel useful.

Is it possible that bullshit jobs are useful? In Graeber’s view, they simply reinforce their premises. “We have invented a bizarre sadomasochistic dialectic whereby we feel that pain in the workplace is the only possible justification for our furtive consumer pleasures, and, at the same time, the fact that our jobs thus come to eat up more and more of our waking existence means that we do not have the luxury of—as Kathi Weeks has so concisely put it—‘a life,’” he writes. 

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Across the World in 80 Days

“Do I believe the Earth is shaped like a Frisbee? I believe it is." (Illustration by George Diebold/Getty)

The Flat-Earther movement is gaining momentum. The New Yorker’s Alan Burdick spent two days at a North Carolina convention discussing lies we’ve been fed, rotating primarily around the alleged shape of our planet. In a post-truth era, should more people shed their spherical beliefs and admit science may not be science at all?

To be clear, Hughes did not expect his flight to demonstrate Earth’s flatness to him; nineteen hundred feet up, or even a mile, is too low of a vantage point. And he doesn’t like that the mainstream media has portrayed things otherwise. This flight was just practice. His flat-Earth mission will come sometime in the future, when he will launch a rocket from a balloon (a “rockoon”) and go perhaps seventy miles up, where the splendor of our disk will be evident beyond dispute.

“Look around you,” Darryle Marble, the first featured speaker on the first morning of the conference, told the audience. “You’ll notice there’s not a single tinfoil hat.” He added, “We are normal people that have an abnormal perspective.”

To insiders, the message is empowering. Trust in your senses. Don’t accept the word of a talking head. (Set aside the paradox of a man onstage imploring his large audience to ignore him.) “We all live in the world; we can see what’s real and what’s not,” Campanella said. “Science is really an excuse for people to be stupid.” Mike Hughes, the rocket builder, told the A.P. in November, “I don’t believe in science. I know about aerodynamics and fluid dynamics and how things move through the air. But that’s not science, that’s just a formula.” 

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