We're pleased to bring you "While You Were Out"—Verily's quick takes on the happenings of this week.
Brittney Griner sentenced to nine years in Russian prison
WNBA player Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison for cannabis possession, receiving a near-maximum sentence after being detained in the country for almost six months.
“Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney,” President Joe Biden said in a statement, calling for her immediate release.
Griner’s case has garnered international attention since Russian authorities arrested her in February after they found vape cartridges containing a cannabis derivative in her suitcase.
Griner pleaded guilty but said she didn’t mean to bring the cartridges into the country. According to the New York Times, “Her legal team said she was authorized to use medicinal cannabis in Arizona, where she has played for the Phoenix Mercury since 2013.”
“It feels very clear that Griner is being used as a pawn here—she possessed less than a gram of cannabis oil when she was detained,” one writer notes.
The State Department has said Griner was “wrongfully detained,” and the United States and Russia have discussed a prisoner swap. Despite the nine-year sentence, the conclusion of the trial is good news, as it means that a deal between the two countries may begin to move forward. —Madeline Fry Schultz
Biden signs another executive order on abortion
President Joe Biden signed an executive order on expanding abortion access, expanding on another order he signed in July. This new order includes directives on supporting women who cross state lines in search of abortion access (including by offering Medicaid). It also clarifies the obligations and legal limits of healthcare providers and provides data on maternal outcomes “to accurately measure the impact that diminishing access to reproductive health care services has on women’s health.”
This latest executive order, which Biden signed Wednesday, comes as the president has been attempting to strengthen abortion access in the U.S. after the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade in June. The White House has created a Task Force on Reproductive Healthcare Access to expand abortion access to women in states where abortion has recently been restricted. The Democrat-controlled Congress has tried to pass sweeping abortion legislation, but such attempts have been blocked by Republicans.
Biden’s latest executive order is limited in scope, news that will be encouraging to pro-lifers but disappointing to pro-choice advocates.
“As unilateral exertions of presidential power go, this was neither particularly remarkable nor what abortion rights supporters have been hoping for,” the New York Times reports. “But executive orders directing members of an administration to study this or that issue have become common in recent years as a way for chief executives to project the image of bold action even in areas where their power may be limited.” —MFS
Monica Lewinsky asks Beyoncé to change her lyrics
After Beyoncé responded to backlash by removing the word “spaz” from a song on her latest album, Monica Lewinsky took the opportunity to ask Beyonce to rectify a nearly decade-old slight: to remove Lewinsky’s name from “Partition.” In the song, which came out in 2013, Beyoncé sings a crude lyric referencing Lewinsky’s affair with Bill Clinton. “uhmm, while we’re at it… #Partition,” Lewinsky tweeted, sharing an article about Beyoncé’s recent lyric change.
Lewinsky had complained about the lyric since 2014 when she wrote for Vanity Fair that the song should reference Clinton, not her. Social media users pointed out that Lewinsky has “rap song muse” in her Twitter bio, implying that she’s actually not too bothered by the publicity that came from Beyonce and dozens of other artists referencing her in their music. To that, Lewinsky responded that “learning to laugh about things which hurt or humiliated me is how I survived.”
When social media users complained that Beyonce’s song was one of many with similar lyrics and that Lewinsky seemed to enjoy being infamous, Lewinsky noted that she had also mentioned Miley Cyrus and Eminem in the Vanity Fair interview and repeated, “I have learned to find humor in painful/humiliating things.” No word from Beyonce on whether she’ll be revisiting her “Partition.” —MFS
Primary elections are revealing
This week’s primary elections saw many wins for Trump-endorsed candidates, thanks in no small part to Democrats, who poured more than $20 million into funding candidates they think will be easier to beat in the general midterm elections this fall.
In Arizona, Trump ally candidate Kari Lake beat her more moderate challenger for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. “Lake said she would not have certified President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory and put false claims of election fraud at the center of her campaign,” the AP reported.
In Michigan, Rep. Peter Meijer lost to Trump-endorsed John Gibbs. Venture capitalist Blake Masters, who garnered Trump’s support and donations from billionaire entrepreneur Peter Thiel, won the Republican primary in Arizona for an open U.S. Senate seat, for which he will challenge Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly.
In Kansas, voters decided on an amendment to remove the right to abortion from the state’s constitution. Much to the surprise of the pro-life movement, the red state chose to keep the right to abortion. Tuesday’s election saw a massive turnout, leading some Democrats to predict that abortion will be a significant issue in November’s midterm elections. Republican strategist John Feehery told NPR that the vote was a “wake-up call” for Republicans, who need to pay attention to what voters really want. —MFS
The Earth had its shortest day in recorded history
On June 29, the Earth completed its shortest rotation in recorded history—the rotation was 1.59 milliseconds less than 24 hours. The Earth’s rotation speed varies, but generally, the rate is slowing—the speed up is a mystery.
Scientists aren’t sure what the root cause is of this speed up, but it could be impacted by its inner or outer layers, the mood, oceans or the climate.
Each rotation of the earth takes 24 hours or 86,400 seconds. Because the Earth’s spin is generally slowing, a leap second—an extra second every 1.5 years—is added to help our clocks catch up. Multiple leap seconds have been added since 1972. However, despite the slowing, in 2020, scientists recorded 28 of the shortest days since 1960. If this continues, scientists may need to consider skipping a second. —Gabriella Patti
Warner Bros. drops nearly finished ‘Batgirl’ movie
The upcoming Batgirl movie starring Leslie Grace with Michael Keaton returning as Batman has been scrapped by Warner Bros. The DC superhero adaption was set to be released on HBO Max and was reported to be nearly finished. The movie’s budget was $70 million, but inside sources claim the actual figure was closer to $100 million.
Different reasons have been given as to why the film has been dropped—one source said that audiences reacted poorly to text screenings, promoting them to abandon the movie. Others have told The Hollywood Reporter that it was dropped so that Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav could take a tax write-down.
“We are saddened and shocked by the news,” Batgirl filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah wrote in a statement Wednesday. “As directors, it is critical that our work be shown to audiences, and while the film was far from finished, we wish that fans all over the world would have the opportunity to see and embrace the final film themselves.” —GP
Chrissy Teigen announces pregnancy 22 months after pregnancy loss
Model and chef extraordinaire Chrissy Teigen and her husband, singer John Legend, have announced that they are expecting a rainbow baby after suffering a pregnancy loss less than two years ago.
On Wednesday, Teigen announced her pregnancy with a photo of her bump on Instagram. She said that the pregnancy was achieved via IVF.
"The last few years have been a blur of emotions to say the least, but joy has filled our home and hearts again," she wrote in the caption. "1 billion shots later (in the leg lately, as u can see!) we have another on the way."
Teigen and Legend are parents to Luna (6) and Miles (4). In 2020, Teigen shared that she had lost her third pregnancy. Teigen shared vulnerable images of herself and Legend from the hospital as they mourned the loss of their baby.
"We are shocked and in the kind of deep pain you only hear about, the kind of pain we've never felt before. We were never able to stop the bleeding and give our baby the fluids he needed, despite bags and bags of blood transfusions. It just wasn't enough," she wrote in a lengthy and emotional Instagram post at the time.
"We never decide on our babies' names until the last possible moment after they're born, just before we leave the hospital," she continued. "But we, for some reason, had started to call this little guy in my belly Jack. So he will always be Jack to us. Jack worked so hard to be a part of our little family, and he will be, forever. To our Jack—I'm so sorry that the first few moments of your life were met with so many complications, that we couldn't give you the home you needed to survive. We will always love you," the grieving mom wrote. "Thank you to everyone who has been sending us positive energy, thoughts and prayers. We feel all of your love and truly appreciate you."
In an interview with People in 2021, Teigen spoke about her fertility struggles and said that she was struggling to come to terms with the fact that she may never be able to carry a pregnancy again. However, in February 2022, she shared that she was undergoing IVF treatments again and asked people to stop inquiring whether she was pregnant.
"But also like please stop asking people, anyone, if they're pregnant," she added. Teigen promised her followers that should she get pregnant, she would "be the one to tell (them)." —GP
Legendary Star Trek actress Nichelle Nichols passed away
Nichelle Nichols, known for her role in Star Trek, passed away at 89. Nichols, who was being treated for dementia, died of natural causes.
Nichols shattered stereotypes and paved the way for other black women with her role as Lt. Nyota Uhura in the science-fiction TV series Star Trek, which first aired in 1966. She broke ground by sharing one of the first onscreen television interracial kisses with William Shatner’s Captain James Kirk.
Following her time on the show, Nichols worked with NASA to recruit women and people of color as astronauts. She also continued to act and would appear at Star Trek fan conventions well into her 80s.
“Every time I sat down at my console on the bridge of the Enterprise, I felt that I was in the twenty-third century, that I was Uhura. The promise of that imaginary universe was real to me,” Nichols wrote in her 1994 autobiography, Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories. “I am still very proud of Uhura: proud of who she was (or will be) and what she represented, not only in her time but in ours, and in those of people who will discover Star Trek decades from now.”
Costar George Takei tweeted in honor of his former costars, calling her “trailblazing” and “incomparable.”
"For today, my heart is heavy, my eyes shining like the stars you now rest among, my dearest friend," he wrote. "We lived long and prospered together." —GP
Good News of the Week
Tyler Perry reveals that he paid the late Cicely Tyson a million dollars for a day of work
In a cover story with AARP’s The Magazine, actor and filmmaker Tyler Perry revealed that he paid screen legend Cicely Tyson “a million dollars” for a single day's work on his 2007 movie, Why Did I Get Married?
Tyson, who passed away in 2021 at 96, had a revolutionary career in Hollywood spanning over 60 years. She refused to be in roles that demeaned Black people, shattered racial stereotypes and won a Tony, Emmys and an honorary Oscar.
“This woman had done so many amazing things, but she wasn’t well compensated for it,” Perry said of Tyson. “She made $6,000 for Sounder, you know? I wanted to make sure she knew that there were people who valued her.”
Perry also revealed that he took care of Tyson for the last 15 years of her life. When she died, Perry shared a post on Instagram in her honor, saying that she called him “son.”
“To think that she lived for 96 years and I got to be a part of the last 16 brings me great joy. She called me son. Well, today your son grieves your loss and will miss our long talks, your laughter from your belly, and your very presence,” he continued.
“Always so regal, always so classy, always a lady, always a queen,” Perry added. “Every time we would talk I would ask, ‘How are you?’ and you would say, ‘I'm still here. He must have something he wants me to do.’ Well, I think it's safe to say you have done all you were put here to do, and we are all better for it.” —GP