We’re pleased to bring you “While You Were Out”—Verily's quick takes on the happenings of this week.
Death toll from the collapse of Sunrise condos continues to rise
Last week, tragedy struck when a portion of a condominium building in Sunrise, Florida collapsed, leaving almost 200 people missing, at least 16 of whom have now been found dead in the rubble. The others remain unaccounted for as rescue teams from around the world race against time to unearth potential survivors in the massive piles of rubble.
Investigations into the origins of the horrific accident have unveiled a 2018 engineer’s report that warned of “structural issues” that the condo association had just recently begun to repair as part of a million-dollar renovation project. Fire department officials at the scene of the disaster stated that their focus was two-fold: uncover survivors in the rubble and comfort the families of those waiting to hear word on their missing loved ones.
Among those already found dead are great-grandparents married for six decades, a young graphic designer with muscular dystrophy and his mother who cared for him, and the father of two little girls who, along with their mother, are still missing. Jonathan Berkun, rabbi and chaplain with the Miami Beach Police Department, wrote about the ongoing grief striking at the heart of the close-knit South Floridian community in a Facebook post: “The suffering here is profound . . . We are sitting in this dark pit of pain and suffering together . . . May we find a way through this devastation, somehow, together.” —Mariel Lindsay
Bill Cosby is released from prison, after major #MeToo victory is overturned
On Wednesday, Bill Cosby was released from prison, after his 2018 conviction for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand was overturned. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed the decision based on a technicality regarding a prior nonprosecution agreement. The Associated Press reports: “The split court found that Cosby was unfairly prosecuted because the previous district attorney had promised the comedian once known as ‘America’s Dad’ that he wouldn’t be charged over Constand’s accusations. Cosby was charged by another prosecutor who claimed he wasn’t bound by that agreement.”
Bill Cosby’s conviction three years ago was considered the first major victory of the #MeToo movement, breaking the silence on sexual abuse. According to NBC News, 60 woman had accused Cosby of sexual assault, with testimonies that contained similarities such as offering career mentorship, inviting them to his home, and drugging them.
In an article this week at Verily, we share a reaction to this news from a woman who herself survived being drugged and sexually assaulted. —Mary Rose Somarriba
Two female activists are released from Saudi detainment
Saudi Arabia finally released two women’s rights activists from prison this week after they were detained for nearly three years. Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah were originally apprehended “on suspicion of harming Saudi interests.”
Their crimes? Challenging the country’s male guardianship system, under which “every woman must have a male guardian who has the authority to make a range of critical decisions on her behalf.” Badawi was also one of the first women to sign a petition pressing the government to allow women the right to drive, vote, and run for local office.
Badawi’s activism earned her the United States' International Women of Courage Award in 2012. And the international community expressed its support after the women were freed. "These brave women should have never been detained in the first place,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement. “They should have been appreciated for leading change in Saudi Arabia.” —Madeline Fry Schultz
Jamie Lynn Spears shows support for her sister after conservatorship testimony
Jamie Lynn said she “100-percent” supports her sister “as long as she’s happy” and asked fans to “keep praying.”
Jamie Lynn, 30, said she felt that it was not her place to speak publicly until after Britney did. “But now that she’s very clearly spoken and said what she needed to say, I feel like I can follow her lead and say what I feel I need to say,” she added. “I think it’s extremely clear that since the day I was born that I’ve only loved, adored, and supported my sister.”
“I don’t care if she wants to run away to the rainforest and have a zillion babies in the middle of nowhere, or if she wants to come back and dominate the world the way she has so many times before,” Jamie Lynn said. “I have nothing to gain or lose either way. This situation does not affect me either way because I am only her sister who is only concerned about her happiness.”
“I can assure I have supported my sister long before there was a hashtag, and I’ll support her long after,” Spears’ sister shared. “I’ve worked since I was 9 years old, I’ve paid my own bills since I was 10 years old. Not that I owe the public anything because my sister knows I love and support her. That’s the only person I owe anything to. I’m not my family—I’m my own person. I’m speaking for myself. I’m so proud of her for using her voice. I am so proud of her for requesting new counsel.”
Britney testified in court and pleaded for an end to her 13-year conservatorship that is managed by her father, Jamie Spears. Britney called the conservatorship abusive because she was forced to work, take lithium, and be on birth control when she wants to have children with her boyfriend. —Melanie Wilcox
New weight-loss product that prevents mouths from opening is criticized as “torture device”
A bizarre new device called “DentalSlim Diet Control” is being panned online as barbaric. The controversial product, meant to combat obesity, uses magnets and locking bolts to clamp users’ mouths mostly shut, resulting in a lower calorie diet.
The Guardian reports that DentalSlim was created by a team of U.K. scientists and researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand. After a patient has the device fitted by a dentist, she will only be able to open her mouth 2mm, or about 1/16th of an inch, which isn’t wide enough to allow solid food to be eaten. Instead, users must stick to an all-liquid diet.
Professor Paul Brunton, the lead researcher on the project, was quoted in a university press release claiming that the DentalSlim will help with “compliance” and is an “attractive” alternative to other weight loss procedures.
Reaction on Twitter was swift. “A world-first, and world-last, I sincerely hope,” said one poster, while another instructed the University of Otago to “Delete this. Delete the research team. Delete everything.” In a study, patients complained the device made it hurt to talk and reduced their quality of life, surprising no one. One desperate participant even reportedly melted chocolate to bypass the DentalSlim. Patients did lose pounds—on average, a relatively paltry 5 percent of body weight. —Margaret Brady
'Game of Thrones' author says HBO ending doesn’t match forthcoming book ending
Author George R. R. Martin told PBS Chicago this week that his ending to the Game of Thrones book series does not match the TV series' ending.. The HBO series, which took its own screenwriting direction after Martin struggled to complete the book series in a timely manner, was known for its explicit sex and violence and was widely criticized for its rushed and sloppy finale.
"Looking back, I wish I had stayed ahead in the books," he said in the interview. "My biggest issue there was when they began that series, I had four books already in print and the fifth one came out [when the show] just was starting in 2011. I mean, I had a five-book head start—and these are gigantic books, as you know, if you've seen them—I never thought they'd catch up with me. But they did."
Martin attributes his trouble keeping up with the HBO producers to writer’s block, which he says has improved since the pandemic. “I'm still working on the book, and you'll see my ending when that comes out." For the time being, fans can hold out hope this ending doesn’t include ditching the wit of Tyrion, the strength of Brienne, the integrity of Jon Snow, or the power of Daenerys. —MRS
Harvey Weinstein musical will open this fall—and it’s written by a survivor
Screenwriter Louisette Geiss’s Hollywood career ended in 2008 after Harvey Weinstein lured her into his office under the guise of discussing a script. Instead, the notorious producer exposed himself. Now, more than ten years later, Geiss has penned a musical about Weinstein and the experiences of women he targeted for abuse.
The play is called The Right Girl, and it will premiere October 13 at Proctors Theater in Schenectady, New York, a few hours away from Weinstein’s prison in Buffalo. The musical’s synopsis says: “Join Eleanor Stark on her first day as Chief Creative Officer of the legendary film and television studio, Ambrosia Productions. As Eleanor rises to the top of her game working side by side for years with the industry’s most respected men, we learn that one of them is real trouble. What role does she play in the story of Hollywood’s most fiercely guarded secret?”
Geiss wrote the music along with Diane Warren, who has been nominated for a dozen Academy Awards, most notably for Starship’s “Nothing’s Going to Stop Us Now” and Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” from the “Armageddon” movie soundtrack. The choreography is by Susan Stroman, who won Tony awards for her work on “Show Boat” and “The Producers.”
Geiss was inspired after participating in an agonizing email thread with other women Weinstein had abused. “I woke up one morning and I thought, ‘How can I change it?’ These are all artists, all creatives,” she said, according to The Wrap. “We need to create a show about it that would uplift these women and allow them to focus on something that’s positive.” —MB
In France, lesbians and single women can now use IVF
Previously only legal for straight, married women, in vitro fertilization is now available for lesbians and single women trying to conceive in France. In fact, the country is offering the ethically fraught fertility treatment for free to all women under the age of 43. Before, gay and single women who could afford to were traveling abroad for treatment. Every year, about 3,000 Frenchwomen reportedly sought IVF in countries such as Belgium and Spain. Approximately 150,000 straight French couples use legal IVF annually.
The development came this week after two years of heated debate between LGBT activists and traditionalists. In 2019, President Emmanuel Macron supported legislation legalizing IVF for women outside of married, heterosexual relationships. Health Minister Agnes Buzyn also supported it, claiming, “All the studies show children born to gay couples or raised by single women have no particular difficulties.” Jordan Bardella, vice president of the far-right National Rally party, disagreed. “Children have a right to have a father and a mother and this law creates children without fathers.”
One poll found that a majority of French people supported the change. Ominously, a majority also favor surrogate pregnancy, which is still outlawed in France. This goes for commercial surrogacy (where the surrogate mother is paid) and altruistic surrogacy (when she is not).
In the United States, surrogacy laws vary by state, where many Americans share concerns that commercial surrogacy can be exploitative and rife with human trafficking. In January, Grace Emily Stark wrote for Verily: “To ask a woman to take on such a role, to make her feel as if it is her only option for work and survival, or even to allow her to volunteer herself for such a purpose, is, in fact, to use her as a means to an end—and to reduce a woman to what her body can provide—to a womb for hire.” As for in vitro fertilization, one veteran of the procedure told Verily in 2016 her take, that when it comes to serving women struggling with infertility, “IVF is not a good answer for us,” especially since there are other less expensive and less risky technologies available. —MFS
First transgender person wins Miss Nevada USA
For the first time in history, a biological male won the Miss Nevada USA title, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported on Sunday. Kataluna Enriquez, 27, will represent Nevada in the Miss USA competition on November 29 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“It’s a huge honor to win, especially during Pride Month,” Enriquez said. “I wasn’t nervous. I knew that I had worked really hard and I had my one shot at making history.”
Enriquez began participating in pageants in 2016 and won the Miss Silver State USA title in March. The gowns Enriquez wore to compete in the Miss Nevada USA pageant, held at the South Point Hotel and Casino, were handmade and self-designed, including a pastel blue and pink gown resembling a transgender pride flag and a floor-length halter with rainbow sequins.
“I told the judges that as a transgender woman of color and a survivor of physical and sexual abuse, I am everything that is underrepresented in this country,” Enriquez said. “Our voices matter. Those whose voices aren’t always heard deserve the chance to be heard.” —MW
FDA adds heart inflammation warning to Moderna and Pfizer vaccines
Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration added a warning to patient fact sheets for both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. The decision comes just a week after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called for an emergency vaccine advisory committee meeting, in which experts discussed growing evidence of an increased risk of conditions related to inflammation of the heart in those under thirty years of age, particularly in males.
Acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock released a statement soon after the decision reiterating that the risk “appears to be very low given the number of vaccine doses that have been administered.” Days later, however, news broke that an adolescent boy in Saginaw County, Michigan had died suddenly, three days after receiving the second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. It’s not yet clear whether his death is related to the shot. The case is being examined at the federal level, with the CDC declining to comment “until the investigation is complete.”
Meanwhile, the delta variant of the virus, which appears to be more transmissible, has been reported in all 50 states and is said to account for 25 percent of all new COVID-19 infections in the United States. —Mariel Lindsay
Good News of the Week
Husband with dementia forgot he was married—but proposed to his bride all over again
Peter Marshall, 56, of Connecticut, has early on-set Alzheimer’s disease, diagnosed 3 years ago. The illness has taken his memories of his marriage to his beloved wife of 11 years, Lisa, who has become his devoted caregiver.
But Peter still thinks Lisa is the one for him, and he’s remained a romantic at heart. He recently proposed to the woman who is constantly at his side— unbeknownst to him, for a second time. Lisa said “yes” and the couple renewed their vows, making new, beautiful memories.
“He fell in love with me twice. I feel honored. I feel like a princess, like Cinderella. I’m the luckiest girl in the world,” Lisa told CNN. “We will be together until the end. Nothing can take us apart.” Congratulations to the happy couple! —MB
Watch of the Week
Mom Maggie Mundwiller was laid off due to COVID-19, and finally, she recently got a job interview. There was just one problem: she didn’t have childcare. Thankfully, the awesome workplace told her it was OK to bring her one-year-old son! She documented the journey with an adorable viral video on TikTok, including her toddler’s very own résumé.