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A Special Way to Help Refugees and Other Notes from the Week


We’re pleased to bring you “While You Were Out”—the Verily editors’ quick takes on the happenings of this week.

Star Wars Is Out of This World

In case you were sleeping, a film called The Force Awakens shook the galaxy this week. The latest Star Wars, episode VII—the first one since the franchise was purchased by Disney—opened the week by shattering records at the box office. I’m a big fan of new heroine Rey and am looking forward to episode VIII already. If you haven’t had a chance to see it yet, let this holiday weekend be your chance. —Mary Rose Somarriba

And the Winner Isn’t . . .

Hands down the most awkward coronation I’ve ever witnessed. At the Miss Universe competition this week, host Steve Harvey mistakenly announced Miss Colombia as the new Miss Universe instead of the true winner, Miss Philippines. The look on his face says it all as he trudges onstage to take full responsibility for his gaffe. Some argue that Harvey didn’t ruin Miss Universe, bad design did. But Miss Australia—one of the top five contestants—points out that “Miss Philippines” was clearly posted on the teleprompter. Having competed in the Miss America program a few times, I’d argue that anyone who knows anything about pageants knows that the winner is always announced by naming the first runner-up. While both Miss Colombia and Miss Philippines handled this debacle with utmost grace, this snafu reminds me of a few areas for major improvement in the controversial pageantry. Namely, by what standard a contestant’s beauty is measured. After this fiasco, how about having a female and former titleholder host the Miss Universe competition from here on out? —Krizia Liquido

Here’s One Way to Decrease Divorce Rates . . .

A new Seattle start-up called SwanLuv announced this week that it is willing to bet on your upcoming marriage—but the jury is out as to whether the company is betting for or against your marriage. The company, which will officially launch in February, offers newly engaged couples up to $10,000 toward their wedding, with the only stipulation being that if the marriage ends in divorce, the couple has to pay the money back with interest. (The interest rate is set based on a compatibility test administered by the company.) Supporters for the company praise its goal of encouraging young couples to stay married by helping with the financial burden of the wedding and offering free marriage counseling to all participating couples. Critics point out that the company’s romantic image of swans mating for life is undercut by a business model that needs people to divorce in order to stay afloat, as the repaid money from divorced couples is what funds new couples’ loans. Either way, the start-up is generating a lot of interest from romantics and cynics alike, and it will be interesting to see how it all works out. —Monica Weigel

Need a New Year’s Resolution? Buy the Men’s Versions

Treating yourself to razors, shampoo, or just about any product marketed toward women this holiday? According to a study reported on by the Washington Post, “You should always buy the men’s version of almost anything.” Julie Menin, commissioner of the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs, led the investigation comparing nearly eight hundred male and female products. The results? According to WaPo, “Controlling for quality, items marketed to girls and women cost an average 7 percent more than similar products aimed at boys and men.” Quite the conundrum considering the wage gap between men and women. Experts are pointing the finger at profitability and retailers embracing gender stereotypes to create “tailored” products. As for the razors and shampoo? “The largest price discrepancy emerged in the hair care category: Women, on average, paid 48 percent more for goods like shampoo, conditioner, and gel. Razor cartridges came in second place, costing female shoppers 11 percent more,” WaPo reports. Shaking my (Men’s) Head & Shoulders at you, price discriminators. —KL

Game of Thrones Does What?

In May, Game of Thrones aired an episode portraying newly married Sansa being raped by her husband, while a servant is forced to watch. In response, many viewers expressed that this scene was unnecessary to the show, especially because it was not included in the books. As a result, the director of the episode, Jeremy Podeswa, announced that there would be “a couple things changed” in the future. At the same time, he expressed that GoT does not want to “self-censor” the show and make too many adaptations based on responses from the audience.

As Baleigh Scott noted this week, there is a place in television and cinema for topics such as violence, rape, and sex, but how they’re handled is of utmost importance. “If responding to the discussion means that GoT’s creators will simply shy away from difficult topics such as rape and replace them with more palatable sex scenes, I’m not sure the show will have in any way been improved. In that sense, I am glad to hear that they are seeking not to be overly influenced by criticism.” —Diana Stancy

Great Minds Think Alike

This week a group of five bestselling authors and public figures started the Compassion Collective, an initiative hoping to raise $1 million to assist the European refugee crisis. It is confirmed that more than one million refugees have entered Europe in 2015. In response, the Compassion Collective has made it clear that it wants to choose “love over fear.” While there have been many organizations attempting to raise donations to aid the refugees, the Compassion Collective is different because of the name recognition associated with the founders and because donations are restricted to $25 or less. As Anna Quinlan said this week, “Bravo to the Compassion Collective’s initiative. . . . May we all be so generous.” —DS

This Refugee Just Won a Prestigious Music Award

Back in April, a 27-year-old Palestinian refugee named Ayham Ahmad became famous the world over when he posted a video of himself playing the piano amid the rubble and ruins of the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria. He fled Syria for Germany in September, when militants destroyed the piano that he was using to perform to his fellow refugees in the camp and to the world via the Internet. Speaking to Syria Deeply back in February, he said these powerful words: “We either have to join one of the parties supporting the conflict or wait for death; I say it’s better to be singing while waiting for death.” Last Friday this incredible young man was awarded the 2016 International Beethoven Prize for Human Rights, Peace, Inclusion, and the Fight Against Poverty. —Sophie Caldecott

Books Are Making a Comeback

Print lovers, rejoice! “Against all odds, print books are on the rise again,” read the headline of a newly released report from Quartz. According to the data provider Nielsen BookScan, over the past year sales of print books in the U.S. alone have risen a small but noteworthy amount, from 2014’s 559 million to an approximate 571 million as of early December 2015. Apparently, the adult coloring book phenomenon has played a large part in the popularity of the physical book, as well as the publication of Harper Lee’s historic second novel, Go Set a Watchman. And they said print was dead . . . —SC

You Have to See Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s Amazing Bad Blood Parody

Oh, Tina and Amy, just when I thought I couldn’t love you any more than I already do, you go and make a hilarious and awesome parody of T. Swift’s Bad Blood music video. The pair hosted Saturday Night Live last week, and in response to the question, “How do you juggle it all?” the skit pays tribute to Fey and Poehler’s “Dope Squad”: the nannies, gynecologists, and mammogram technicians in their lives. Because “it takes a village, y’all,” right? —SC

An Exciting Week for Harry Potter Fans

The cast for the new Harry Potter play, billed as “the eighth Harry Potter story,” has just been announced, making headlines for the casting of a black actress named Noma Dumezweni as the adult Hermione Granger. J. K. Rowling took to Twitter yet again to clarify her views on the casting decision, saying, “Canon: brown eyes, frizzy hair, and very clever. White skin was never specified. Rowling loves black Hermione.” Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will premiere next July and is based on an original story written by Rowling.

Meanwhile, a teaser trailer for the Potter spin-off film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, has also been released, giving fans a little taste of what to expect in November 2016. —SC

Kenyan Muslims Shield Christians in an Attack on a Bus

A group of Kenyan Muslims reportedly shielded their fellow Christian passengers from harm when the bus that they were traveling on was attacked by a group of militant Islamist gunmen on Monday. The Somalian al-Shabab group says that it carried out the attack on the bus, which was near the northeastern village of El Wak on the Somali border traveling from Nairobi to Mandera. Two people were killed in the attack, but the Muslims surely saved many lives by refusing to split into Muslim and non-Muslim groups as they were ordered to do, telling the militants that they would have “to kill them together or leave them alone.” Last year in a similar attack, the death toll was twenty-eight, proving the power of standing as a unified front against an enemy. —SC

Mother Teresa Toward Sainthood Is ‘Like a Christmas Gift to Us’

. . . so says Archbishop of Kolkata upon Pope Francis’ approval of a second miracle on behalf of Mother Teresa’s intercession: the 2008 healing of a Brazilian man with a brain and kidney infection. The Wall Street Journal reports, “The Catholic Church normally requires one ‘medical’ miracle before a deceased Catholic can be declared ‘blessed,’ and another such miracle, occurring after that declaration, before he or she can be canonized as a saint.” Her canonization is slated for September 4, 2016, which will be thirteen years after her cause was opened by Saint John Paul II in 2003. Good tidings to all for whom Mother Teresa has been a model servant preserving the dignity of “the poorest of the poor.” Interested in learning more about how “Mother” brought light and caring—despite resistance—to those living in the slums of India? The Letters, a film exploring her life through her writings to her spiritual adviser, is playing in theaters now. —KL

This Makes Me Happy for the Holidays

I never thought I’d get teary-eyed to a rendition of “Jingle Bells,” but just watch this flash mob performed by the U.S. Air Force at Union Station in Washington, D.C., this month on the seventieth anniversary of the end of World War II. In honor of that anniversary, the USAF sang and danced in the style of the day when the war ended. Watch, love, and be merry. —MRS