Author Archives

Katie Kosma

It’s a Small Paycheck After All

Illustration by Katie Kosma

While Disneyland’s employees tirelessly spread joy and maintain a spotless park, they don’t make enough money to pay their most basic bills. Some have to live in their cars. Jaeah J. Lee reports for Topic on how the low wages create an environment of princess costumes on the outside, poverty on the inside.

Out of the 5,000 people who completed the survey—one-sixth of Disneyland Resort’s workforce—73 percent reported that they didn’t earn enough money to pay for basic expenses like rent, food, and gas.

Since 2008, her hourly pay had risen $2, from $13.70 to $15.70 today. After adjusting for inflation, that equaled a ten-cent raise over ten years.

… up to five princesses share a small apartment.

After a coworker who was living in her car suffered a heart attack and died, Diaz quit her job at Disneyland.

Read the story

Rob Delaney and His Son’s Cancer

Charles Sykes / Invision / AP

If you watch the show Catastrophe, you already know Rob Delaney is a wizard alchemist at combining wit and empathy. He now uses this trademark combination in a piece for Medium, sharing his family’s gut-wrenching story of having a young son with cancer.

My baby was getting smaller, and that is a fucked up thing to see. The total amount he weighed was less than the amount of weight I should lose.

Henry’s tracheotomy tube prevents him from speaking, so I haven’t heard him make a peep for over a year. My wife recently walked in on me crying and listening to recordings of him babbling, from before his diagnosis and surgery. I’d recorded his brothers doing Alan Partridge impressions and Henry was in the background, probably playing with the dishwasher, and just talking to himself, in fluent baby. Fucking music, oh my God I want to hear him again.

Henry just turned two. We didn’t dare assume he’d have a second birthday with the prognosis he received after they took out the tumor and confirmed what kind it was. It was a real cunt of a tumor.

Read the story

There’s No Discrimination in Baseball!

Moodboard / Getty

Historically girls have been excluded from baseball and pushed into softball instead. Baseball for All seeks to change that, empowering girls to stay in the game. At Lenny Letter, Britni de la Cretaz catches the organization’s annual tournament in Rockford, Illinois (home of the inspiration team for A League of Their Own). Almost 300 badass young girls from around the world take to the diamond, cultivating confidence and sisterhood.

The league was the first and only women’s professional-baseball league in U.S. history; it existed from 1943 to 1954. The [Baseball for All] tournament is this generation’s chance to make women’s-baseball history of their own.

It’s not that most girls grow up preferring softball, or that the development of girls’ softball sprung up because American girls decided they liked it better. The exclusion of girls from baseball in the United States was deliberate and systematic.

Often, when girls go to try out for their school teams, many of them are told they can’t play baseball if their school also has a softball team, citing Title IX’s “separate but equal” clause: if there is a comparable women’s team, a girl cannot play on the boys’ team.

Ella Comfort-Cohen, thirteen, wants people to “get logical: I’m a person who plays baseball, it doesn’t matter if I’m a girl or a boy!” Katrina is even more blunt about it: “One day it won’t be interesting anymore that I’m a girl playing baseball.”

Read the story

Pathologizing Black Communities: Chicago Violence Receives the Wrong Attention

Chicago Police investigate a person shot August 19th in the 13100 block of South Rhodes. (Tyler LaRiviere/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

When discussing racially-charged news, a loaded response in the U.S. is What about Chicago? This ‘question’ ripples in racist ways akin to What about black on black violence? – it leans on a need to pathologize and sensationalize black communities. Breanna Edwards at The Root reports Chicago homicides receive inordinate media attention, yet its statistics actually fall in the middle of national averages (St. Louis currently has the highest rate).

In the wake of recent violence, city officials responded by deploying an extra 430-600 police officers to affected areas. Edwards questions this as a solution. She instead cites uneven resource allocation and widespread school and health center closings — not a racial proclivity requiring policing — among the many critical factors creating unrest.

To be sure, no one can argue that guns are not an issue in the city, but gun violence aside, as the report notes, Chicago is more or less “unexceptional.” To be clear, I’m not insinuating that we should shrug our shoulders and let the issues in Chicago go unresolved, but in the same breath, the city is certainly not deserving of the stigma attached to its name.

“It tells a story that black people are pathological, that we don’t make moral decisions and that we don’t actually have community values as [Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel] pretty much said this past week and so it allows them to displace people from our communities and it allows them to continue to divest from our communities.”

Who can forget the controversial closing of more than 50 public schools in 2013, the largest school closure in Chicago’s history, closings that disproportionately impacted black and brown children and those living in poverty? Then there’s the fact that Emanuel closed half of the city’s 12 mental health clinics about 6 years ago, effectively gutting the mental-health care system, again, disproportionately affecting underprivileged communities, leaving those in the community who need help vulnerable.

Read the story

North Carolina’s Military Toxic Waste Negligence

iStock / Getty Images Plus

Living next to North Carolina Naval Base Camp Lejeune, Lori Lou Freshwater grew up drinking and bathing in water contaminated at levels 240 to 3400 times the safety standard. A candidate for “the worst water contamination case in U.S. history,” the area’s carcinogens caused her mother to lose two sons, one born with an open spine, the other with no cranium, and to develop two kinds of leukemia. The toxic dumping lasted from the ’50s through the ’80s, and as a stopover base for military personnel, up to a million others could be affected. With her harrowingly ironic last name, Freshwater returns to her hometown for Pacific Standard to report on the Superfund-status location’s history of negligence and pollution

Camp Lejeune has been characterized as a candidate for the worst water contamination case in U.S. history—and I am one of up to a million people who were poisoned. The tragedy, though, is hardly all in the past.

In other areas on the base, waste was generated and discarded into empty lots, forests, roads, waterways, and makeshift dumps. That toxic waste was then taken by the Carolina rains and summer thunderstorms down toward sea level, into water wells, and into the barracks, houses, trailers, offices, and schools—and finally into the bodies of thousands of Marines and their families: into our cells, into our bones.

The EPA has established a maximum contaminant level goal of zero parts per billionfor benzene in public drinking water systems. In 1980, Naval Facilities Engineering Command testing showed that one of the wells at Camp Lejeune measured 380 parts per billion.

Through this work, I’ve learned more about the military’s cover-up of the water contamination, and how the culture that says “Stay Marine” also ensures that some problems remain entombed in secrecy.

Read the story

The Sexist Trials of Female Attorneys

CSA Archives / Getty

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.

Read the story

Losing the Middle Ground

Bettmann / Getty

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.

Read the story

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.

Read the story

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.

Read the story

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.

Read the story