We’re pleased to bring you “While You Were Out”—Verily's quick takes on the happenings of this week.
Explosions at Kabul airport kill escaping Afghans and U.S. soldiers
As thousands of U.S. citizens and U.S.-friendly Afghans are still trying to flee Afghanistan, explosions at the Kabul airport on Thursday reportedly left at least 12 U.S. troops and at least 60 Afghans dead. Many others were injured.
The two explosions, one by an airport gate and another close to a nearby hotel, were the work of suicide bombers, according to a British security official. “A lot of people got hurt,” one bystander told the Wall Street Journal. “I helped a little girl. I think she died.”
Since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan last week, Americans and their Afghan allies have been frantically looking to escape likely death or torture by flying out of Kabul airport, from which more than 82,000 Americans and Afghan refugees have been rescued so far. According to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, about 1,500 American citizens were still in Afghanistan on Wednesday. Even more Afghans are still looking for a way out, even as evacuations become difficult.
The Wall Street Journal reports: “Western governments have repeatedly warned of an imminent attack by Islamic State and urged their citizens not to approach the airport. After the blasts, the U.S. Embassy told all Americans to leave the entrances to the airport immediately.” —Madeline Fry Schultz
Kathy Hochul is sworn in as New York’s first female governor
Just two weeks after former Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he was resigning due to sexual harassment allegations, Kathy Hochul was sworn in Tuesday as New York’s first female governor.
“I feel the weight of responsibility on my shoulders and I’ll tell New Yorkers I’m up to the task,” Hochul told a local station in Buffalo, New York. “And I’m really proud to be able to serve as their governor and I won’t let them down.”
Hochul served as Cuomo’s lieutenant governor and as a congresswoman from Buffalo. She said she was not close with Cuomo while she was lieutenant governor and that they had not spoken since February. Cuomo has denied the sexual misconduct allegations made by 11 women in a report from the state attorney general, after a damning investigation that Cuomo claimed was a “political and media stampede.”
After taking office, Hochul almost immediately made a clerical change that added 12,000 deaths to the total number of COVID-19 casualties in the state. Cuomo had been widely criticized for using data that misleadingly downplayed the coronavirus death toll. “There’s a lot of things that weren’t happening, and I’m going to make them happen. Transparency will be the hallmark of my administration,” Hochul told MSNBC. Unfortunately, Hochul didn’t get off to a consistent start: She held a maskless fundraiser despite voicing support for a statewide mask mandate in New York public schools. —Melanie Wilcox
The FDA approves the Pfizer vaccine
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Monday it has fully approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, which will now be marketed under the name Comirnaty, for the prevention of COVID-19 disease in individuals 16-years-old and older.
Until now the vaccine was available under an emergency use authorization, or EUA, to combat the coronavirus pandemic. The EUA will continue to provide access to doses for children ages 12 to 15, and to allow the administration of a third dose in certain immunocompromised people.
“The FDA’s approval of this vaccine is a milestone as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. While this and other vaccines have met the FDA’s rigorous, scientific standards for emergency use authorization, as the first FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine, the public can be very confident that this vaccine meets the high standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality the FDA requires of an approved product,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock.
“While millions of people have already safely received COVID-19 vaccines, we recognize that for some, the FDA approval of a vaccine may now instill additional confidence to get vaccinated,” Woodcock added. “Today’s milestone puts us one step closer to altering the course of this pandemic in the U.S.”
Pfizer’s vaccine first hit the market in December 2020. The rival vaccine from Moderna is also in the pipeline to be fully approved, with that company recently wrapping up its application to the FDA. —MW
After Mike Richards’ departure, Mayim Bialik will host Jeopardy!
In the wake of Mike Richards’ sudden departure from hosting Jeopardy!, Mayim Bialik will be the first guest host of the weekday edition of the show.
Bialik taped episodes this week, an anonymous source told CNN. Because the show tapes a week of episodes in one day, that suggests Bialik will host at least three weeks of Jeopardy! The show’s producer, Sony, confirmed the news and said, “Additional guest hosts will be announced.”
Richards was forced to apologize after past remarks on a podcast came to light. As host of The Randumb Show, Richards reportedly made derogatory comments about Jews and others and complained that one-piece swimsuits made women look frumpy. Now that he is out at Jeopardy!, Bialik may still not be the frontrunner for the job.
“The studio loves Mayim but at the time of the decision for the current season, her schedule for Call Me Kat was set and she wouldn't have been able to juggle the syndicated show and her Fox sitcom,” someone familiar with the matter told CNN.
"Now that there is some more time to figure things out, she has become a real viable choice for Sony,” the source said. "It just makes sense to ask her to step in for several weeks while they figure out next steps.” Bialik has also come under fire from fans who apparently would prefer Reading Rainbow’s LeVar Burton get the hosting gig. —MW
OnlyFans suspends decision to remove porn from its platform
The content service OnlyFans announced this week it was abandoning its plans to drop explicit sexual material. Just a week ago, the site had pledged to “evolve its content guidelines,” reportedly under pressure from its financial services providers.
OnlyFans technically allows creators of all kinds to produce subscription-based content, in exchange for a 20 percent cut of the proceeds. But in practice, the site has gained a reputation as a platform for raunchy sex media. It has over 17 million users, with growth fueled by the economic woes of the pandemic era.
The original plan to block explicit content prompted a backlash from pornographers and performers who had come to rely on the site as a reliable source of income. They complained they would have to find a way to rebuild audiences elsewhere.
“Thank you to everyone for making your voices heard… The proposed changes are no longer required due to banking partners’ assurances that OnlyFans can support all genres of creators,” the company said on Wednesday.
Like all porn platforms, OnlyFans leaves women vulnerable to violence and exploitation: Women have reported consequences ranging from stalking to having their images stolen and uploaded elsewhere on the web. And, just like Pornhub, women report their images are appearing on the site itself without their consent. One victim in Texas discovered her roommate had been selling topless photos of her for four months. In an investigation, the BBC found that OnlyFans only requires proof of consent if the porn aficionados who have paid for access happen to report an account. Fat chance. —Margaret Brady
All-female Afghan robotics team escapes from the Taliban
Five women from Afghanistan’s famous robotics team have landed safely in Mexico, just before the Taliban announced they were no longer allowing Afghans to evacuate the country.
CNN reports that the women arrived on Tuesday via a commercial flight organized by several different groups. "We are very happy to be here and it is an honor that the government of Mexico has honored us with being here and having saved our lives," team member Fatemah Qaderyan told the press. The women are able to remain in the country for six months on a humanitarian visa, which can be extended. They are being provided food and housing in Mexico at no cost.
The team became famous several years ago after being denied entry to the United States for a robotics competition; they were eventually let in after former president Donald Trump intervened. According to CNN, they also have won accolades for engineering make-shift ventilators out of used car parts for COVID-19 patients in their impoverished home country.
Also on Tuesday, the Taliban announced that Afghans will no longer be allowed to leave, as a frantic airlift from Hamid Karzai airport continues. Crowds of civilians have gathered around the airport gates, desperate to escape Taliban rule as an August 31 deadline approaches. Many would-be refugees are educated women likely to be targeted for reprisal by Taliban thugs.—MB
Ancient Chinese skeletons found in unusual Buddhist ‘love burial’
Researchers in Northern China have made a shocking discovery after construction unearthed an ancient cemetery containing hundreds of tombs. Archaeologists stumbled upon one particularly poignant grave: inside were the skeletons of a man and woman from 1,500 years ago, during a time frame called the Northern Wei period, in which Buddhism grew and flourished in the region, deeply influencing cultural ideas about love and the afterlife. Indeed, the two skeletons were found clinging to each other, and it is believed by researchers that the most likely scenario is that the man died of an apparent wound and the woman offered herself up in sacrifice in order to die in love with him.
Those researching the ‘love burial’ wrote in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology about the cultural and spiritual implications of this funerary practice: “[The] skeletons of an adult male and an adult female were found placed in loving embrace posture with a ring situated on the left ring finger of the female, displaying the desire for eternal love of the couple, and the respect to their love by people who buried them as well.” What’s more, they added that the burial was unique as a “display of human emotion of love in a burial, offering a rare glimpse of people's views towards love, life, death, and afterlife in northern China during a time of intense cultural and ethnic exchange.” —Mariel Lindsay
Good News of the Week
Plucky feline saves human friend
A loyal cat saved an 83-year-old woman who fell down a ravine in Cornwall, England, Sky News reported. The woman’s black cat, named Piran, meowed where she fell in the corner of a maize field, which caught the attention of a neighbor who had been assisting search crews.
“Without the cat waiting at the gate to that field, it could have been hours later that I or anyone else would have checked there," the neighbor, Tamar Longmuir, told Sky News.
Members of the search team are calling the cat a hero.
The owner fell down the side of an embankment, plunging 70 feet—or 21 meters—into a wooded area. Firefighters from Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service extricated the woman with help from a specialist on the water rescue team.
They used a line rescue stretcher to lift the woman out of the embankment and back to the field. Cornwall Air Ambulance, with the help of South West Ambulance Service, then took her to the hospital where she is in stable condition, according to local police. Police added, “Piran the cat saved the day!” —MW
Watch of the Week
Kristen Stewart looks amazing in the new teaser trailer for Spencer, due in theaters in November. The movie chronicles the fateful Christmas holiday in 1991 when Princess Diana realized her marriage to Prince Charles was ending. Watch it here: