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While You Were Out: Saudi Women Get the Vote, American Heroes in France, Trauma Affects Our Genes, and More


“While You Were Out” is a Friday feature of short notes and commentary from the week. Whether it’s something you’d discuss at the watercooler or at happy hour, you’ll find it on our grid, together with our opinion as to if it’s praiseworthy or cringeworthy. We’re pleased to bring you the Verily editors’ quick takes on the happenings of this week.

Americans Stop Gun Attack on a Train in France

Three Americans and a Briton who helped disable a heavily armed man aboard a train in France last Friday were awarded Legion of Honor medals by French President François Hollande. The four received the medal for “outstanding merit” in preventing what could have been a full-scale terror attack on a train carrying roughly five hundred people. A French citizen and an American–French citizen who were seriously wounded attempting to overcome the gunman will also be awarded the honor.

The three American friends (including two American servicemen) were on a tour of Europe when they took a Paris-bound train across the Belgium–France border and tackled a gunman armed with an AK-47 assault rifle, a box cutter, and a pistol to the ground after they heard a gunshot. One of the men, Airman Spencer Stone, was wounded in the struggle, sustaining cut injuries to his neck, face, and thumb. “One need only know that [the suspect] Ayoub El-Khazzani was in possession of three hundred rounds of ammunition and firearms to understand what we narrowly avoided—a tragedy, a massacre,” Hollande said at the ceremony Monday. “Faced with the evil of terrorism, there is a good, that of humanity. You are the incarnation of that.” The gunman is thought to be a Moroccan 26-year-old who has been suspected of association with radical Islamist groups but has so far denied charges of terrorism, saying that he just wanted to get money from passengers. —Sophie Caldecott

Women Granted the Right to Vote in Saudi Arabia for the First Time in History

For the first time in the country’s long history, women in Saudi Arabia are registering to vote, having recently been given this right and, just as importantly, the right to stand as political candidates in the upcoming elections. The newly introduced rights were first announced by King Abdullah in 2011, in a significant shift from the country’s hard-line conservative culture. This week women began registering for the elections that will take place in December and called the experience “a dream for us.” —Hannah Allen White

Trafficked Minor Is Rescued

This week in Indianapolis, a 16-year-0ld girl was rescued after being kidnapped and trafficked into prostitution by a 24-year-old pimp. In just a few days, the girl had been raped, abused, photographed for online escort sites, and purchased for sex by at least ten men. While the trafficker confiscated the girl’s cell phone, law enforcement authorities were able to track down their location after the trafficker replied to her family members’ persistent text messages with a ransom request. In a remarkably fast investigation, authorities rescued and returned her to her family only a couple days later before her cell phone was discarded, which would have put her completely off the grid and harder to find (as many other trafficked people experience alongside crippling manipulation and sustained abuse from their traffickers that make it harder to escape). Here’s to greater awareness of a growing national scourge of sex trafficking, swift justice for exploiters, and healing and recovery for survivors such as this one. —Mary Rose Somarriba

A $1.5 Million Epic Fail

This week a video went viral that will bring solace to anyone who’s made an expensive mistake. A 12-year-old Taiwanese boy visiting an art exhibit accidentally tripped and fell into a 350-year-old painting by Paolo Porpora called “Flowers,” causing a fist-size gash in the $1.5 million work. Thankfully the museum didn’t require the boy or his parents to pay up, noting that the paintings had been insured. If you watch the museum’s recently released footage from its security camera, it appears very obviously as an accident—and one in all its slapstick glory at that. —MRS

New Evidence Might Change Things for Serial’s Adnan Syed

Adnan Syed’s new defense attorney filed a motion citing a major piece of evidence that could potentially exonerate the convicted killer at the center of the popular “Serial” podcast (which we loved). The evidence in question is the cover sheet of a fax sent from Syed’s cell carrier in 1999 that reads, “Outgoing calls only are reliable for location status. Any incoming calls will not be considered reliable information for location.” Syed has been in prison for the past fifteen years after being convicted of his ex-girlfriend’s murder. The calls were a major piece of evidence in the case, and Syed’s counsel is hoping that this new evidence will be considered in his appeal process. “Serial” raised new questions about the case and stoked national and international debate about whether Syed’s conviction was sound. —HAW

A+ for Timeliness

Coca-Cola has announced that it will reach its goal of replenishing 100 percent of the water it uses by the end of 2015, five years earlier than anticipated. Currently, Coca-Cola replenishes 94 percent of the water it takes in through a combination of methods including reforestation and waste treatment. The soda company originally set the goal in 2007 to assure customers in areas of the world concerned about droughts that it was protecting the shared resource and to make sure that the company has access to the water it requires. According to Greg Koch, global director of water stewardship at Coca-Cola, local access to water is imperative for the business to run. Whatever the reasons, it’s nice to see a company—especially one so large and influential—making environmentally conscious business decisions. —Baleigh Scott

Beyoncé is on Vogue’s September Issue Cover But Without an Interview

Beyoncé is gracing Vogue’s coveted September issue cover but continues her recent unbroken trend of declining traditional media interviews. Apart from the photo shoot, all that accompanies the images is a short comment piece by journalist Margo Jefferson on Queen Bey’s “star quality,” which is unusual for Vogue’s biggest issue of the year. “I had no contact with her camp,” Jefferson told the New York Times.

In an article titled “Beyoncé Is Seen But Not Heard,” the New York Times sparked a debate about why the singer has chosen to stay silent; some see her choice as a disappointing missed opportunity to use her voice, whereas others see it as an empowered choice in an age when “the public expects an unreasonable amount of disclosure from its icons.” I have to agree with Daphne A. Brooks, a Yale professor who teaches on black women and popular music culture, who is quoted as saying that Beyoncé’s reticence in talking to the media is a “refreshing” way to challenge our assumption that we have to be allowed to get close to an entertainer as well as enjoy their art. —SC

Carrie Kemeling, Job Huntress

A 28-year-old’s unorthodox approach to job hunting paid off this week. Carrie Kemeling, who recently left her job as a salesperson for a jeweler after being passed up for a promotion, literally took to the streets to find a new position. Refusing to “sit on my butt and collect unemployment,” Kemeling planted herself at a busy intersection in Buffalo, New York, dressed to impress and with a smile on her face, with a sign that said, “Not Homeless but Hungry for Success!! Take a Resume.” Kemeling, who has only a high school diploma and a resume that she admits needs work, hoped that the tactic would gain her a part-time job or some temporary work. After three days, however, she was offered a job at Stampede Global, an audiovisual and IT company with a branch in Buffalo. Not only is the job full time, but the company has offered her affordable benefits and tuition assistance. “I just want to let people know to use your creativity, market yourself, and don’t take no for an answer,” Kemeling says. What a wonderful reminder that sometimes breaking from the traditional route is worth the risk. —BS

TV Journalists Slain by Disturbed Former Employee

In a tragic event this week, two television journalists named Alison Parker and Adam Ward were shot to death by a disturbed man who used to work with them. The gunman, Vester Lee Flanagan, who professionally went by the name Bryce Williams, had formerly worked for the news team and harbored resentment for what he claims was racism from coworkers, but records at the Virginia TV production company cited “bizarre behavior” and threatening coworkers as the reasons for his termination. What’s striking about this story is that the gunman made a point to record the incident and post it online—all before ending his life mid–police chase. When it comes to the temptation to watch video-recorded crimes online, one thing’s for sure: If we think killings like these are atrocities, we should beware of the desensitization that could occur if we watch them like TV. —MRS

Study of Holocaust Survivors Finds Trauma Passed Through Children’s Genes

A research team at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital has given the scientific community’s clearest example of human transmission of trauma from a parent to a child via what is called “epigenetic inheritance”—the idea that environmental influences can affect the genes of your children and possibly even grandchildren. For this study, the team looked at a group of thirty-two Jewish men and women who had either been interned in a Nazi concentration camp, witnessed or experienced torture, or forced to hide during the Second World War. Then they analyzed the genes of their children, who are apparently known to have an increased likelihood of stress disorders, and compared the results with Jewish families who were living outside of Europe during the war. The researchers concluded that the gene changes in the children could only be attributed to Holocaust exposure in the parents. The same correlation, however, was not found in any of the control group and their children. The idea is controversial, as scientific convention states that genes contained in DNA are the only way to transmit biological information between generations, but it is certainly an opportunity to learn a lot of important things about how we adapt to our environment and how just maybe, we might pass on environmental resilience. —HAW

Banksy Opens Depressing Pop-Up Theme Park

Banksy, the famous British street artist best known for his social commentary graffiti, opened a dystopian theme park last week in a seaside town in the United Kingdom. Dismaland Bemusement Park, “a festival of art, amusements and entry-level anarchism,” is a dark take on Disneyland and features a ruined fairy-tale castle, a twisted truck sculpture, a boat pond full of asylum seekers, and an anarchist training camp, among other things. The event, which will run for a limited period of five weeks, features collaborations with other modern artists and will host performances by various musical acts such as Massive Attack and Pussy Riot. Dismaland’s official brochure sells the park as “a chaotic new world where you can escape from mindless escapism” and “a theme park whose big theme is: Theme parks should have bigger themes.” Dubbed “the U.K.’s most disappointing new visitor attraction” (a marketing line that Dismaland embraces with glee), opinion is divided over it, with comedian Mindy Kaling calling it lame via her Twitter account on Tuesday. —SC

Ashley Madison Fallout Continues

The repercussions of the Ashley Madison hacking, including the outing of famous people who used the site, at least two suicides, and a researcher who claims to have determined the hacker, continue to make headlines this week. At Verily, writer Anna Quinlan commented on what the occasion tells us about the state of marriage. —MRS

Tinder Article in Vanity Fair

Last week the Vanity Fair article on Tinder and the “dating apocalypse” exploded online, causing a national conversation on whether technologies like the tryst-inducing site are responsible for the death of dating and romance, the prevalence of hooking up, and a culture of using women as sex objects. Among the voices in the debate have been those who say it’s “gender imbalance in the dating market” that has led to the dating demise, whereas Verily featured a gentleman this week who proclaimed, “Tinder’s not to blame for the dating apocalypse, I am.” However dismal the Tinder landscape has made dating appear these days, it’s good to see us calling it what it is and looking for ways to turn it around, starting with ourselves. —MRS

The New Bar Where You Don’t Drink Alcohol, You Breathe It In

A newly opened concept bar in London called Alcoholic Architecture makes it possible for customers to inhale an alcoholic vapor instead of drinking. One hour in the mist (which smells like gin and tonic) is approximately equivalent to one strong drink, the designers say. Upon entering the bar, you’re given a plastic poncho to wear and encouraged to breathe deeply in the “misting chamber,” where visibility is apparently less than three feet. Call me old-fashioned, but something about this idea freaks me out a little; people feel the effects of alcohol differently, after all, and not being in control of how much you imbibe sounds a bit iffy to me. I am thoroughly enjoying the thought of what the Portlandia comedy sketch duo (or SNL’s Stefon, for that matter) could do with this if they got hold of the material, though . . . —SC

A Holiday That Works

Normally, I like to leave work behind when I go on vacation, but this new listing on Airbnb is making me reconsider. Visitors to Wigtown, Scotland’s National Book Town, can book a stay (pun absolutely intended) at The Open Book, where they will have the opportunity to run the bookstore for a week while living in the apartment above. Volunteers are on hand to help with logistics, but the creative aspects—readings, window displays, and so on—are up to the renter. Imagine You’ve Got Mail coming to life with Scottish accents! Scotland not your cup of tea? In September of this year, Book and Bed Tokyo will offer guests sleeping accommodations right in a bookstore. Turns out that whoever said opening a book could take you anywhere in the world was speaking quite literally. —Lindsay Schlegel