September 18, 2015

"Haha" and "mama" are considered to be universal words — that is, words that have basically the same sound and meaning across many dissimilar languages. There aren't very many of these words around, but almost by accident, a team of Dutch researchers found another that will have you scratching your head.

Huh?

Yep — 31 vastly different languages say "huh?" to convey confusion, the team found, and the discovery has just won them an Ig Nobel Prize, an award for odder, but totally real, scientific discoveries. That said, the universality of "huh" isn't just a cool piece of trivia to pull out at your next cocktail party; it actually teaches linguists a lot about how languages develop.

It's maybe not so surprising that the word should be so widespread, because it acts as a pretty perfect and speedy solution to a common problem — that is, the need to convey quickly that you didn't quite catch what was said, but without totally derailing the conversational flow. The researchers muse that the seemingly universal use of the word may be the linguistic equivalent to the concept of convergent evolution: "When different species live in similar conditions, they can independently evolve similar traits," they write. "In a similar way, the similarity of huh? across a set of widely divergent languages may be due to the fact that the constraints from its environment are the same everywhere." [New York]

Whoever would have thought that a word that means "help, I'm so confused" could be so interesting? Jeva Lange

9:22 a.m.

It's officially official: the J-Rod era has come to an end.

Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez confirmed to NBC's Today on Thursday they have broken up after four years together, calling off their two-year engagement.

"We have realized we are better as friends and look forward to remaining so," they told Today. "We will continue to work together and support each other on our shared businesses and projects. We wish the best for each other and one another's children. Out of respect for them, the only other comment we have to say is thank you to everyone who has sent kind words and support."

It was previously reported last month that the two had broken up after twice postponing their wedding amid the pandemic. But they subsequently gave fans hope by deeming these reports "inaccurate," saying they were "working through some things" but were still together — though recently, Lopez was spotted not wearing her engagement ring on Instagram.

And now, after this month-long emotional rollercoaster and conflicting information over whether love is, in fact, dead, we can now officially confirm: yes, it is. Brendan Morrow

7:55 a.m.

Moulin Rouge! The Musical star Karen Olivo is set to exit stage right — and she's putting the industry on blast on her way out.

Olivo has announced on Instagram that she won't return to Moulin Rouge! when it comes back to Broadway, calling out the industry's "unacceptable" silence about a recent exposé on allegedly abusive behavior by award-winning producer Scott Rudin.

"What I'm seeing in this space right now with our industry is that everybody's scared, and nobody is really doing a lot of the stuff that needs to be done," she said. "People aren't speaking out."

Rudin, who didn't work on Moulin Rouge! but has produced a number of successful shows including The Book of Mormon, was accused in a recent piece in The Hollywood Reporter of abusive behavior by former employees. In one instance, he allegedly became so angry he smashed a computer monitor on an assistant's hand, leaving the assistant bleeding and forced to rush to the emergency room.

Olivio further explained to The New York Times that the lack of a major response to these allegations against Rudin in the industry "cracked me open" and added to her feeling that "Broadway is not the place I want to be." Olivo is nominated at the upcoming Tony Awards for her performance as Satine in Moulin Rouge!, and she previously won a Tony for her role in West Side Story.

"Those of you who say you're scared, what are you afraid of?" Olivio said on Instagram. "Shouldn't you be more afraid of not saying something and more people getting hurt?"

Moulin Rouge! producers confirmed that Olivo won't return to the show when it resumes performances, and they expressed support for her "advocacy work to create a safe, diverse, and equitable theater industry for all." Brendan Morrow

7:54 a.m.

Joel Greenberg, the former tax collector for Florida's Seminole County and accused sex trafficker who is reportedly cooperating with a federal investigation of his friend Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), made at least 150 Venmo payments to young women, including a 17-year-old, The Daily Beast reports, citing several documents detailing years of online financial transactions. Greenberg is the linchpin of an alleged sex ring, and "according to three people with knowledge of the relationship, Gaetz was among the men who tapped Greenberg to access a large network of young women."

The Venmo payments, in installments of $300 to $1,000 or more, were typically labeled as being for "food" or "school," though Greenberg also wrote "ice cream," "salad," "stuff," and "ass" in some transactions, or just use emojis like the lipstick kiss, The Daily Beast reports. The documents show only one new Venmo payment from Gaetz to Greenberg, "for $300 on November 1, 2018, with the love hotel emoji in the memo field."

But the documents also show Greenberg in 2017 making at least 16 Venmo payments totaling nearly $5,000 to a woman who would go on to date Gaetz (not his current fiancée), plus another $1,500 via Cash App over two days in April 2017, The Daily Beast reports. "That woman — who came to Washington, D.C., as an intern in January 2018 — has said she dated Gaetz during and after her senior year in college. Federal investigators seized Gaetz's phone in December 2020, and they took his ex-girlfriend's device shortly after."

Gaetz has denied paying for sex or having sex with a 17-year-old, and the one payment he Venmo'd to Greenberg tied to the the underage girl was after she turned 18, The Daily Beast reports. That woman has recently changed all her identifying information on Venmo and apparently defriended Gaetz and two other women Greenberg paid, The Daily Beast says, and Gaetz has lost at least seven Venmo friends in the past week, since the news organization started reporting on the payments. Peter Weber

6:23 a.m.

The House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to advance legislation that would set up a committee to study the idea of paying reparations to the descendants of enslaved Black people in America. The party-line 25-17 vote will send the legislation to the full House for the first time since the late Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) first introduced it in 1989. Conyers kept introducing the bill every year until his retirement in 2017, after which its current sponsor, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), took over.

The bill, HR 40 — after the broken post-Civil War promise to give former enslave people 40 acres and a mule — would create a 13-member commission to study the history of slavery and subsequent discrimination against Black Americans, then recommend possible remedies to address the lasting impact of those racial injustices.

"The goal of this historical commission and its investigation is to bring American society to the new reckoning with how our past affects the current conditions of African-Americans," said Jackson Lee. "Reparations are ultimately about respect and reconciliation — and the hope that one day, all Americans can walk together toward a more just future."

Republicans argued that slavery ended in 1865 and reparations are unjust because, as Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) phrased it, "paying reparations would amount to taking money from people who never owned slaves to compensate those who were never enslaved." Rep. Burgess Owens (R-Utah), the only Black Republican on the panel, argued that "reparation is divisive, it speaks to the fact that we are a hapless, helpless race and never did anything but wait for white people to show up and help us, and it's a falsehood."

The typical white U.S. households has 10 times the net worth of a Black household, Black Americans are less likely than other racial groups to own a home, and the Black poverty rate is twice the rate for white Americans. Much of that is due to decades of policies that hindered Black homeownership and other accumulation of generational wealth. By one estimate, the cost of compensating the descendants of enslaved Black people could be up to $12 trillion, USA Today reports.

If passed by the full House, HR 40 faces long odds overcoming a GOP filibuster in the Senate, where Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) has introduced a companion bill. Peter Weber

4:52 a.m.

The war in Afghanistan was always a U.S.-led NATO operation, and on Wednesday, the 30-member alliance unanimously agreed to follow President Biden's lead and withdraw all its forces from the country by Sept. 11. As in the U.S., the European reaction to Biden's announcement was positively ambivalent.

The decision was "unanimous," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a press conference after Wednesday's closed-door meeting. "This is not an easy decision and it entails risks," he added, but "we've said for many months we face a dilemma, because the alternative to leaving in an orderly fashion is to be prepared for a long-term, open-ended military commitment with potentially more NATO troops."

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin both attended the meeting in Brussels. A European official told The Washington Post that Austin set the tone by strongly endorsing Biden's plan, referencing his military service and personal knowledge of the sacrifices NATO forces made in Afghanistan. The officials from the other member states broadly supported the plan, the official said, but there was some grumbling from the Czech Republic and Belgium.

Blinken and Austin both said publicly that the U.S. and NATO achieved their main objective in Afghanistan, neutralizing the ability of Al Qaeda to use the country as a base for terrorism.

After Al Qaeda launched an attack on the U.S. from Afghanistan, NATO invoked its Article 5 mutual-defense clause for the first time, and there are now more non-U.S. NATO troops in the country, about 7,000, than America's 2,500-strong force.

"As long as the U.S. consults, gives at least a veneer of co-decision, and withdraws responsibly enough that it doesn't leave the Europeans high and dry, then the Europeans won't be hard to deal with on this issue," ­Jeremy Shapiro, research director at the European Council on Foreign ­Relations, told the Post. "In the end, the ­Europeans went into Afghanistan for America and NATO; they'll accept to leave for the same reasons." Peter Weber

3:35 a.m.

President Biden just announced an end to the Afghanistan War, "and people, it's about time," Trevor Noah said on Wednesday's Daily Show. "It's been what, 19 years? No war should ever be old enough to serve in itself."

Biden critics say Afghanistan will become a failed state after the U.S. leaves, but what's the alternative, staying there forever? Noah asked. If so, "America should at least make Afghanistan a U.S. state. And the good news with that is it would eliminate Afghanistan's terrorism problem completely, because we all know that once terrorists are American, they're not terrorists anymore, they're just frustrated citizens who are having a bad day."

The war has "been going on so long, the first Iron Man movie opens with Tony Stark in Afghanistan," Stephen Colbert said at The Late Show. "This conflict's older than the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It's an Infinity War with no Endgame." To put nearly 20 years in Afghanistan another way, he said, "this war is too old to date Matt Gaetz."

The Gaetz news "gets more disturbing/more entertaining," Colbert said. "This morning we learned that Gaetz attended champagne-fueled sex parties with other GOP officials." Gaetz's "wingman" Joel Greenberg, who also attended these house parties, has reportedly flipped on Gaetz, he added. "And we know that Greenberg threw his buddy under the school bus because last winter, federal agents seized Gaetz's phone. On the bright side, that just gives Gaetz another thing in common with his dates. 'Hey, Madison, I just lost my phone privileges, too.'"

Between Greenberg cooperating with the feds and those wild house parties, "the odds of Matt Gaetz going to prison are now higher than his hair," Jimmy Kimmel said at Kimmel Live. "Two women who said they were at the parties told CNN they saw Gaetz taking pills they assumed were party drugs, and he had sex with the women, after which money would change hands. That's crazy. Has Matt Gaetz learned nothing from Donald Trump? You're supposed to have your lawyer pay the women after you have sex with them, in secret."

"With all the allegations and salacious details that are out there," Kimmel said, "the one Matt Gaetz is pushing back on the hardest" is the report "he was denied a meeting with Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago, and Matty and Fatty are both crying 'fake news.'" Kimmel wasn't buying it. Watch below. Peter Weber

1:39 a.m.

At "White Lives Matter" rallies held in cities across the country last Sunday, turnout was very low, but experts who track extremist movements online warn that this doesn't necessarily mean white supremacists are losing ground.

Having just a few people show up could have been the strategy all along, Peter Levi, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in Orange County and Long Beach, told the Los Angeles Times. When a handful of supporters face off against vocal counterprotesters, this "feeds into the agenda that white men no longer have constitutional rights," Levi said. "They try to assemble, and they can't assemble. They try to have free speech, and they can't."

Before the Sunday rally in Huntington Beach, California, some organizations tried to dissuade counterprotesters from going to the event, saying they would play right into the white supremacists' hands. "They use this for lawsuits," Black Lives Matter Los Angeles co-founder Melina Abdullah told the Times. "They use this for PR. They use this for media attention, and it's hugely problematic. We don't want to buy into their narrative; we don't want to feed their narrative."

It's also possible the low turnout wasn't strategic, and was aided by a lack of leadership. The "White Lives Matter" rallies were first promoted on Telegram in March, but no one stepped forward as a central organizer, the Times reports. Huntington Beach Police Department spokesman Lt. Brian Smith told the newspaper officers tried to reach organizers to remind them of laws and municipal codes ahead of the rally, but they were never able to track down anyone behind the event.

Many white supremacist groups are using hot topics like immigration and police brutality to get their followers riled up and attract new members, experts who monitor these groups told the Times, and this could lead to lone-wolf attacks. "Don't think the extremists are out of commission — they've just realigned in ways that are disturbing," Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, told the Times. "Now we're seeing a leaner, meaner, and less publicly brazen type of extremism taking place." Read more at the Los Angeles Times. Catherine Garcia

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