We’re pleased to bring you “While You Were Out”—Verily's quick takes on the happenings of this week.
Texas is devastated by unprecedented power loss amid winter storms
In the early hours of Monday morning, power was shut down across Texas by ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) amid record-breaking low temperatures and winter storms. As a result, more than four million Texans have been without power, or even water in some cases, for up to five days and counting, as this column goes to press. “Governor Greg Abbott on Wednesday detailed his plans to restore power to millions of residents [saying] nearly 40,000 megawatts of power remain offline, due to mechanical problems, lack of gas and weather issues,” CBS News reports.
Furious and confused citizens, freezing in their homes, many without access to food or water due to water outages and icy roads, have been demanding to know how and why this happened, given that the state leads the nation in energy production, providing more than one-fifth of domestically produced energy.
ERCOT itself, the organization that manages the Texas electric grid and ordered the power shutdown of numerous homes, claims that they had to do so to “make sure that we are not going to end up with Texas in a complete blackout,” CEO Bill Magness told Dallas Morning News, adding that they could not predict exactly when power will be completely restored. Texas Governor Abbott, for his part, has ordered an investigation into the organization, to "get a full picture of what caused this problem and find long-term solutions."
USA Today reported Thursday that more than 30 people across the South have died from the severe cold, with one family in Houston poisoned by carbon monoxide from car exhaust while trying to keep warm in their garage. In Houston, three children and their grandmother perished in a house fire after leaving the fireplace lit overnight. —Mariel Lindsay
Perseverance Rover Lands Successfully on Mars
NASA’s Perseverance rover successfully landed on Mars at 3:55 ET on Thursday, and swiftly sent its first images back from the planet’s surface.
After a six-month, 292.5 million-mile journey, Percy, as the craft is affectionately known, landed in the Jezero Crater. This crater is home to an ancient lake that dates back 3.9 million years. Perseverance’s mission is to explore the crater for microfossils and other signs of life.
"Perseverance is the first step in bringing back rock and regolith from Mars,” Thomas Zurbuchen, a NASA official, told CNN. “We don't know what these pristine samples from Mars will tell us. But what they could tell us is monumental—including that life might have once existed beyond Earth."
This landing is one of the most difficult NASA has attempted, due to the hazardous and topologically varying nature of landing in a crater, rather than on a smoother surface of the planet’s face. Perseverance is the most refined rover to date, equipped with advanced terrain navigators to facilitate this landing.
Perseverance is NASA’s ninth Mars landing. Its mission will traverse 15 miles at a pace of approximately .01 miles per hour—three times faster than any other rover—and holds the possibility of finding signs of life, paving the way for future exploration, and gathering rocks to return to Earth. —Maggie Sicilia
Single mom is arrested for leaving her kids to go to work
24-year-old Shaina Bell of Liberty Township, Ohio was arrested last week for child endangerment when she left her two children, one of whom is ten-years-old to work at a Little Caesar’s pizza kitchen. Shaina was taken directly to jail and her two children were turned over to their father. Though released the next day, Shaina’s story raised attention to the struggle of working moms during the pandemic to make ends meet.
Since the arrest, Bell’s mother created a GoFundMe page, with a goal to “help Shaina and her children raise the money they need in order to secure permanent and safe housing.” Having already raised over $125,000, the fundraising page also features supportive notes from donors. As one writes, “I too was a single mother once. I see your hustle and am so sorry this happened... I also was once a social worker, such misguided handling of this situation where resources for childcare vouchers could have changed this mother’s life.” Others shared similar sentiments, some noting that Bell’s elder child, age 10, was old enough to be left alone to babysit the younger, a toddler. Bell’s compelling dilemma also attracted the attention of a high-level music executive, who donated $10,000 to her cause and shared: “My mom used to have to do the same thing when we were young.” —ML
Rush Limbaugh, conservative media pioneer, dies at 70
From Monday through Friday for the past 32 years, Rush Limbaugh spent three hours a day speaking to millions of listeners on his radio show. On Wednesday, his wife took to his show to announce that the conservative firebrand had died at age 70. “I know that I am most certainly not the Limbaugh that you tuned in to listen to today,” Kathryn Adams Limbaugh said. “I, like you, very much wish Rush was behind this golden microphone right now, welcoming you to another exceptional three hours of broadcasting.”
Limbaugh announced in February 2020 that he was battling lung cancer. One day later, President Donald Trump awarded him the country’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, during Trump’s State of the Union address. When Limbaugh launched The Rush Limbaugh Show in 1988, conservative media was limited largely to print publications, rather than radio or television.
Some credit Limbaugh’s show with enabling the rise of media personalities such as Ben Shapiro and even the Fox News channel. Limbaugh’s influence is indisputable, but not all conservatives were supportive of his wholehearted embrace of Trump. (The feeling between Limbaugh and Trump was mutual, with Trump making his first media appearance since Biden’s inauguration on Fox this week to call Limbaugh a “legend” and a "great gentleman.") Those on the opposite end of the political spectrum had little love for Limbaugh, whose shock-jock style was aimed more at firing up his listeners than appealing to the other side. One of his most infamous controversies involved him calling a woman who advocated for contraception to be covered in employee healthcare plans a “slut” and a “prostitute.”
The New York Times’ obituary reads: “With a following of 15 million and a divisive style of mockery, grievance and denigrating language, he was a force in reshaping American conservatism.” Whether you were a fan, a foe, or someone whose dad always listened to Limbaugh when he picked you up from class (like this author), there’s no question that Limbaugh was one of the most influential figures in the modern conservative movement. —Madeline Fry Schultz
FKA twigs opens up about her lawsuit against Shia LaBeouf
In December, singer FKA twigs sued ex-boyfriend Shia LaBoeuf, alleging that he physically, sexually, and emotionally abused her. This week, she sat down for her first television interview since the lawsuit, explaining that she didn’t think LaBoeuf’s apology was genuine.
After the lawsuit became public, LaBoeuf responded, "I have been abusive to myself and everyone around me for years. I have a history of hurting the people closest to me. I’m ashamed of that history and am sorry to those I hurt. There is nothing else I can really say.”
FKA twigs (whose real name is Tahliah Barnett) said on CBS This Morning that the comments reflected his pattern of manipulation. “I think it reminds me of some of the gaslighting I experienced when I was with him—the taking some of the blame, but not all of it and then denying it,” she said.
FKA twigs’ account reflects similar stories of women who’ve been abused. The National Domestic Violence Hotline reports that nearly 3 in 10 women have experienced violence or stalking by a partner. The gaslighting FKA twigs describes is a typical tactic of abusers meant to make victims doubt their own experiences.
“There wasn't one set moment,” FKA twigs alleged of the realization that she was experiencing abuse. “But it's very subtle. That's the thing about domestic abuse, domestic violence, that it’s a real gradual step-by-step process to get somebody to a place where they lose themselves so much that they accept or feel like they deserve to be treated in that way. It's not one thing, it's loads of tiny little things that get sewn together into a nightmare.” Now she says she’s speaking up to help others with similar experiences. —MFS
Emma Stone stars in Disney’s new ‘Cruella’
Emma Stone stars in the new Disney film Cruella, giving an origin story to the infamous Dalmatians villain. Premiering May 28th, Cruella features Stone as a glamorous de Vil aiming to break into the 1970s London fashion design scene. The movie will be directed by I, Tonya’s Craig Gillespie and produced by Glenn Close, whose 1996 portrayal of Cruella DeVil popularized the character. Emma Thompson and Mark Strong also act in the cast alongside Stone.
The feature’s trailer debuted this week and was met with mixed enthusiasm online, with some skeptical of both the movie’s execution and Disney’s varied levels of success with live-action remakes. Many have also compared the trailer to 2016’s Suicide Squad and 2017’s Joker for its darker ambience.
Cruella is currently slated to premiere in theatres, but could also make its way to Disney+ either in lieu of or in conjunction with a theatrical release. —MS
Mount Etna erupts, causing stones to rain from the sky
Italy’s Mount Etna, one of the globe’s most active volcanoes, erupted this week, sending ash and stones descending on a range of small Sicilian villages.
Tuesday’s eruption was largely anticipated and the neighboring towns were able to take necessary security measures. This strombolian eruption, however, was unusual in that, in addition to ash, chunks of volcanic stone also rained down from the mountain.
Though this explosion was not deemed dangerous by Italy’s National Institute for Geophysics and Volcanology, emergency authorities in nearby villages maintained a close eye on the eruption. Residents and local clean-up teams mobilized to begin removing ash and debris after the explosion, and no deaths or injuries were reported. —MS
Good News of the Week
This week, a viral TikTok made the rounds featuring a story of Rachel Sullivan, a wife who found her husband’s “secret Instagram account.” She was scrolling her feed when the app recommended she follow her husband on an account she hadn’t seen before. The handle was @MealsSheEats and, Sullivan recounted to TODAY Food, “I was like ‘who is this she?’”
When Sullivan clicked “follow,” she found a collection of recipes her husband makes her for dinner. “When she clicked on photos in the account, Rachael said she was touched. Each image in Tom's feed contained photos and recipes of food he's been cooking her for the last year to help regulate her hormones,” TODAY reports.
“I have this condition that could affect my fertility, so for the last year my husband's been helping me regulate my hormones through food,” Sullivan shared in her TikTok video. “I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome. They recommend you do a gluten- and dairy-free diet, and Tom just went full force into it,” Sullivan told TODAY. Now, she says, "Tom knows more about menstrual cycles than most women do."
To top off the good news of the week, Sullivan reports that after eating her husband’s nutritious and hormone-sensitive meals, her menstrual cycle is “six months regulated right now, which is super exciting." —Mary Rose Somarriba
Watch of the Week
Try not to be moved by this boy’s chubby cheeks and soft voice.