2021
October
04
Monday

Monitor Daily Podcast

October 04, 2021
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TODAY’S INTRO

The voice of silence

How do you “see” silence?

For photographer Pete McBride, who has documented the world’s remotest spots, it’s about understanding that a place derives its beauty as much from its soundscape as from its visual power – something we caught glimpses of amid pandemic quiet.

Mr. McBride’s focus is “natural silence” – what emerges when the human cacophony doesn’t drown out birdsong, or the rush of wind and water. It’s about “exploring ... the importance of natural sounds ... which in many places we’re sadly losing, as we’ve created such a noisy planet,” he told the radio show “1A” in an interview about his new collection of photos and essays, “Seeing Silence: The Beauty of the World’s Most Quiet Places.”

It’s widely accepted that natural sound informs our sense of well-being. But it’s increasingly scarce. In 1984, “audio ecologist” Gordon Hempton found 21 places in Washington state that had no human-made noise for 15 minutes or more at a stretch. By 2007, he found three. Today, he says such spots are rare across the United States and Europe.  

Then came COVID-19 lockdowns, producing what Science magazine called “the longest ... global seismic noise reduction in recorded history.” Cities were less clamorous. Sparrows, no longer needing to “shout,” famously began to sing more operatically.

Will those monastery-like moments have staying power? Last year, Quiet Parks International recognized the world’s first urban quiet park, in Taiwan. As Mr. McBride puts it, “I hope these photos can serve as reminders of what the natural world has to tell us – if we listen.”

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The one case that could define the Supreme Court’s term – and legacy

Is the law really the law, if changes in personnel result in dramatic change? That’s the question Americans are grappling with as a momentous Supreme Court term opens this week.

Amelia

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The Supreme Court opens its term Monday at a fraught moment: Public approval of the institution has dropped below 50% for the first time in decades, according to recent polls. And after a few years marked by relatively slow change in some contentious areas of the law – but significant changes in the court’s personnel – this term could upend the way several cultural wars are fought after decades of established rules.

The court is likely to tackle weighty policy issues, such as vaccination mandates and changes to state election laws. But unlike any recent year, there is one case above all, in the eyes of the public at least, that will define the court’s term, and perhaps its legacy: Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health.

“This all rises and falls on Dobbs,” said Jeffrey Wall, a former acting solicitor general under President Donald Trump, during a preview of the upcoming term held by the Georgetown Supreme Court Institute last month.

In the case of Dobbs, the question is whether the court as an institution can weather the damage of transforming abortion law in the U.S., given that a majority of Americans favor some abortion rights and generations of women have grown up expecting a constitutional right to bodily autonomy.

The one case that could define the Supreme Court’s term – and legacy

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Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune/AP
Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas speaks at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, Sept. 16, 2021. Justices Thomas, Stephen Breyer, and Amy Coney Barrett recently called for the public not to see court decisions as just an extension of partisan politics.

Justice Clarence Thomas, now the most senior member of the United States Supreme Court, admits he’s never been one to regularly hype the court. 

“I’m quite content not to get out on the road,” he said last month, recalling a conversation years ago when his late colleague Justice Antonin Scalia encouraged him to get out “and fly the flag.”

It was a lighthearted anecdote to open a rare public appearance by Justice Thomas, at the University of Notre Dame. But he is one of four justices who has been out flying the high court’s flag recently. And they have all delivered a consistent message: The court is an independent body that serves the entire country, making its decisions without regard for political preferences.

“Knowing all the disagreements” on the court, said Justice Thomas, “it works.”

“It’s flawed, but I will defend it,” he added. “We should be careful destroying our institutions because they don’t give us what we want when we want it.”

The statements have been appearing at a fraught moment for the court. As the justices prepare for a new term, which begins this week, public approval of the institution has dropped below 50% for the first time in decades, according to recent polls. And after a few years marked by relatively slow, incremental change in some contentious areas of the law – but significant changes in the court’s personnel, cementing a six-justice conservative supermajority – this term could upend the way several cultural wars are fought after decades of established rules.

The court is likely to tackle weighty policy issues as well, such as vaccination mandates and changes to state election laws. But unlike any recent year, there is one case above all, in the eyes of the public at least, that will define the court’s term, and perhaps its legacy: Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health.

“This all rises and falls on Dobbs,” said Jeffrey Wall, a former acting solicitor general under President Donald Trump, during a preview of the upcoming term held by the Georgetown Supreme Court Institute last month. 

With respect to the court’s legitimacy, he added, “I don’t think there will be a groundswell among the public unless there’s a major ruling on abortion.”

Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters/File
Derenda Hancock, who leads the Pink House Defenders, a group of volunteer abortion clinic escorts at the Jackson Women's Health Organization, ushers a woman surrounded by anti-abortion protesters into the clinic in Jackson, Mississippi, May 22, 2021.

For the public, however, “the relationship between partisan politics and the court has been cast into particularly stark focus in the past few years,” says Aziz Huq, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School.

Since Republicans mobilized five years ago to block Merrick Garland’s nomination to the high court by President Barack Obama – a campaign that attracted millions of dollars in support from political, mostly conservative, interest groups – three new justices have joined the court, all nominated by President Trump and confirmed in party-line votes.

“The court has been the focus of partisan mobilization in quite explicit ways,” says Professor Huq. And “the change in the composition of the court has led to dramatic changes in jurisprudence.”

Dobbs could soon be the latest example.

A term defined by a single case?

For decades, the high court has been cautious in reviewing its abortion precedents. The Mississippi law at issue in Dobbs bans most abortions after 15 weeks, and the justices spent over seven months deciding whether to review it.

The law has been struck down by lower courts, citing Supreme Court precedent guaranteeing a woman’s right to abortion pre-viability – considered to be around 24 weeks – as established in Roe v. Wade in 1973.

The justices are focused on the weightiest question posed to them: whether all bans on pre-viability abortions are unconstitutional.

That question doesn’t specifically name the court’s landmark abortion precedents – Roe and 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey – but in its brief Mississippi argues that both should be overturned, calling them “egregiously wrong.” (In its petition to the court a year earlier, it argued the case was an “opportunity to reconcile” those precedents with new understandings of viability.) In that sense, Dobbs is the most direct threat to the right to abortion the court has heard in a generation.

The “basic rule” from those decisions “was no pre-viability bans,” says Elizabeth Sepper, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, “and Mississippi has passed a pre-viability ban.”

“If they uphold Mississippi’s law,” she adds, “they will have effectively reversed Roe v. Wade, even if they don’t say the words.”

Federal courts have enabled the gradual restriction of abortion access, permitting state regulations like mandatory waiting periods, parental notification requirements, and required counseling. More restrictions have been enacted in the first six months of this year than in any year since Roe, reported the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion access.

Rogelio V. Solis/AP
Neddie Winters, president of Mission Mississippi, a conservative racial reconciliation organization, delivers the opening prayer at an anti-abortion protest outside the Jackson Women's Health Organization clinic in Jackson, Mississippi, Sept. 22, 2021. The clinic, the only one of its kind in the state, is at the heart of a Supreme Court case that could overturn Roe v. Wade.

But the Supreme Court has still upheld the core right to abortion, always with a conservative justice joining his liberal colleagues. In a 5-3 ruling in 2016, Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the majority in striking down a Texas abortion regulation, with Chief Justice John Roberts dissenting. Then, last year, Chief Justice Roberts voted to strike down a Louisiana law almost identical to the Texas one – though he emphasized that, while he was now bound by the 2016 ruling, he still disagreed with it.

Thus, when the court holds oral argument in Dobbs in December, Chief Justice Roberts will be watched closest, most experts agree. 

If he’s in the majority, he decides who writes the opinion, “and with that power he can assign narrower-crafted opinions,” says Professor Huq.

Enough of his colleagues have been attracted to these narrower opinions in the past to form a majority, note court watchers, including in high-profile cases last term on religious liberty and the Affordable Care Act. 

“There is now a six-justice majority to overrule Roe,” adds Professor Huq, “but there’s differences over timing and pace and the way of achieving that.”

Gun rights, death penalty also on docket

Dobbs will not be the only significant case the justices hear this term.

For over a decade the court had avoided hearing a gun rights case, but in November the court will hear a challenge to a New York restriction on concealed carry permits that could see gun restrictions loosened nationwide. October and November will also bring major cases on death penalty jurisprudence – including an appeal from Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev – and state funding for religious schools.

Yet for this term, the court still only has 41 cases on its merits docket – the cases that are heard in full during the year – according to SCOTUSblog. While it has issued its smallest number of merits decisions since the Civil War in the past two terms – 56 and 53, respectively – there could still be some major petitions taken up for next year. (The justices are currently deciding whether to hear a challenge to Harvard University’s affirmative action policy, for example.)

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
A deeply divided Supreme Court allowed a Texas law that bans most abortions to remain in force, stripping most women of the right to an abortion in the nation’s second-largest state. The court voted 5-4 to deny an emergency appeal, while saying it was not deciding that the law was constitutional.

And all that doesn’t even account for actions the court could take on its increasingly busy “shadow docket” – petitions the justices decide on an emergency basis with limited briefing and no oral argument. High-profile issues like vaccine mandates and changes to state voting laws could all end up before the justices, either on the merits or shadow dockets, before the term ends next summer.

Indeed, it was a controversial month of shadow docket activity that preceded the justices’ public reassurances about the court’s institutional integrity. In quick succession this summer, the court issued brief orders that halted the federal government’s pandemic-related eviction moratorium, required the Biden administration to reinstate a Trump-era immigration policy, and allowed a Texas law effectively banning abortion in the state to remain in effect pending appeals.

Judicial philosophies versus partisan politics

Justice Stephen Breyer, in interviews last month while promoting his new book, called the court’s Texas abortion decision “very, very, very wrong.” But the Clinton appointee – and oldest member of the high court – has also defended his colleagues as responsible jurists who decide cases based on judicial philosophies, not partisan affiliations.

“There are many jurisprudential differences” on the court, Justice Breyer told CNN last month. “It isn’t really right to say that it’s political in the ordinary sense of politics.”

A week earlier, the court’s newest member, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, made a similar claim in a speech in Louisville, Kentucky. The high court isn’t “a bunch of partisan hacks,” she said at an event for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Louisville Courier Journal reported. “Judicial philosophies are not the same as political parties.” 

Others skeptical that the court has become politicized point to recent high-profile rulings where the court bucked expectations of conservative victories, such as when it upheld “Obamacare” last year and voted to not shield President Trump’s tax returns.

“None of those things came to pass,” said Roman Martinez, a lawyer at Latham & Watkins and a former clerk for Chief Justice Roberts and then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh, at the Georgetown Law event.

“If you talk to people on the right,” he added, “you will see a lot of frustration with the court, that they haven’t acted in a way the politics would suggest.”

Whether this term will yield similar surprises remains to be seen, but one member of the court’s liberal wing recently voiced her own frustrations at decisions the court reaches.

“There is going to be a lot of disappointment in the law, a huge amount,” said Justice Sonia Sotomayor last week, at an event hosted by the American Bar Association. “Look at me. Look at my dissents.”

A frequent dissenter to the court’s conservative opinions, she added that they help her “explain how I feel.” But other justices prefer different approaches, she explained, such as Justice Elena Kagan, another member of the court’s liberal wing.

“Justice Kagan believes that the best way to influence the majority is to try to narrow their holdings, to try to figure out how to keep the impact of a holding as narrow as possible,” said Justice Sotomayor. 

That way, she continued, there will be a pathway later to “change the direction of a bad ruling.”

In the case of Dobbs, the question is whether the court as an institution can weather the damage of transforming abortion law in the U.S., given that a majority of Americans favor some abortion rights and several generations of women have grown up expecting a constitutional right to bodily autonomy. For the term as a whole, the overarching question is whether narrow rulings are possible after the court has chosen to confront major constitutional questions they have reinforced – or, in the case of gun rights, avoided – for decades.

“The court’s legitimacy rests on showing the public that a change in personnel doesn’t mean a dramatic change of law,” said Farah Peterson, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School and a former clerk for Justice Breyer, during a preview event in September.

“That’s what’s at stake in this term.”

Solar energy is a new cash crop for farmers – when the price is right

Can you "farm" solar power? Across the United States, more farmers are looking with fresh eyes at their flat, sunny land and shifting their answer toward “yes.”

Amelia
Dane Rhys/Reuters
Construction workers install actuators for tilting panels at the Duette solar site, which is being developed on previously agricultural land in Bowling Green, Florida, March 24, 2021. Solar and agricultural land use can overlap, but there is rising demand for flat, open properties where solar panels can feed power to U.S. electric grids.

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Much to his surprise, Ely Valdez has become a full-time solar grazer. Back in 2015, the Texas resident was working in the oil industry, but the jobs were insecure. He was raising sheep as a hobby, and noticed his neighbor across the road had begun developing a 100-acre solar project. Realizing that the land might serve double duty as pasture, he cut a deal with the landowner to raise sheep to graze around the solar panels. 

Now the Valdez family has nearly 900 sheep grazing more than 1,000 acres across three sites. It’s also diversified its business to include site maintenance around large-scale solar projects. “We call it sheep paradise,” he says. “They have food and shade all day.” 

His experience parallels a rising number of U.S. farmers who are growing solar energy alongside crops or livestock. It’s an idea with big promise at a time of rising focus on climate change and the need to transition away from fossil fuels. 

For Gregory Sigue, who owns some farmland in New Iberia, Louisiana, a solar installation is a goal that could bring new income. “There hasn’t been an opportunity this lucrative,” he says, “since they started drilling for oil and gas in Louisiana.”

Solar energy is a new cash crop for farmers – when the price is right

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Gregory Sigue can feel the sun on his back as he points to a soybean pasture behind his home. Though he’s only been outside in the Louisiana heat for a few minutes while he surveys his family’s 300 acres it leases to local farmers, ringlets of sweat have begun to collect around Mr. Sigue’s tanned neck. 

Mr. Sigue’s family has been on the property in its part of south Louisiana dating back to his great-grandfather’s generation. In his youth alongside his siblings, he helped work the land.

“It taught me values,” he says.  

A winding career path included time in California as an ironworker and, later, working on several green energy projects in that state. It was there, Mr. Sigue says, that a flash of inspiration came. He had always planned to return to south Louisiana with the intention of maintaining his family’s land. Why not develop a utility-scale solar project on the family’s cropland?

He is now pursuing his dream, in parallel with a rising number of U.S. farmers who are opening their thought to growing solar energy alongside crops. It’s an idea with big promise at a time of rising focus on climate change and the need to transition away from fossil fuels. But Mr. Sigue’s tale also indicates the challenges some farmers face. So far, the energy companies he has talked to as possible partners aren’t offering as much money as he can get leasing land to other local farmers. 

But for many farmers, a land use revolution is already underway. 

“In some regions, there is huge excitement for many landowners, with the opportunity to have a solar project on their land, because it does give them sort of a guaranteed source of revenue” that often beats their traditional income per acre, says Jordan Macknick, the lead energy, water, and land analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. 

Xander Peters
Gregory Sigue stands in front of one of his family's pastures in New Iberia, Louisiana, Aug. 9, 2021. The family has worked the land for generations. These days, it leases the land to local farmers. Mr. Sigue hopes to convert part of his family's 300 acres into a solar farm.

States creating incentives

Spurring it on are local policies and rising demand from energy companies that need places to build. States such as Massachusetts, Michigan, Colorado, California, Maine, Illinois, and Virginia have amended zoning laws for cropland solar projects, as well as offered tax rebates in some cases.

“Farmland serves as almost a perfect location for solar developers wanting to develop these utility-scale, ground-mounted solar projects,” Dr. Macknick says. “Farms are flat; farms have access roads; farms have access to electric transmission lines. They are an ideal setting.”

Projects such as these often come in one of two forms: solar installations and agrivoltaics. 

An example of a solar installation would be similar to what Mr. Sigue is attempting to develop on his property, with solar panels mounted to the ground, and only gravel or grass in between. Meanwhile, other landowners are opting into agrivoltaics, which involves agriculture, including built-in pollinator habitats, sheep grazing, and planting crops underneath solar panels. 

A recent study by researchers at Oregon State University found that if America’s farmers could share just 1% of their farmland for clean power – about 13,000 square miles – it could produce as much as 20% of the country’s electricity, renewably.

Courtesy of Ely Valdez
Ely Valdez worked in the oil and gas industry before deciding to try his hand at a "solar grazing" business at sites near San Antonio. He has partnered with a neighboring landowner who recently had a solar farm installed on his land. Their agreement allows Mr. Valdez to graze his sheep on the property.

In the minds of many farmers, meanwhile, the benefits of such solar projects are hard to ignore.  

Where sheep may safely graze

Ely Valdez, the founder and CEO of EVA Ranch and Solar Farm Services in San Antonio, is among them. Back in 2015, Mr. Valdez and his family began raising sheep as a hobby. Their herd was small at first. Mr. Valdez was working in the oil and petroleum industry at the time, but his job security ebbed and flowed with the price per barrel. 

Like Mr. Sigue, Mr. Valdez had an idea when he noticed his neighbor across the road had begun developing a 100-acre solar project. He mentioned to the landowner that he had seen sheep grazing solar farmland on social media and offered to do the same. Mr. Valdez named his price, realizing that there was a profit to be made in the venture, and then he and the landowner next door set about placing 27 sheep on the property. 

That was six years ago. Today, the Valdez family has nearly 900 sheep grazing more than 1,000 acres across three sites – three in San Antonio, and the other in nearby Somerset, Texas. It’s also diversified its business to include ground maintenance for large-scale solar sites across Texas, including washing solar panels and fixing roads going into the property.

“It went from an idea of ‘what if’ to a small family-owned business,” Mr. Valdez says. 

Today, much to his surprise, Mr. Valdez considers himself a full-time farmer and solar grazer. 

“We’re not landowners; we just offer the service, but I think it’s a win-win for both ways,” Mr. Valdez says of their operation. “We call it sheep paradise. They have food and shade all day.” 

Selling or leasing the land? 

For some small-scale agriculturalists, the matchmaking opportunity between their land and solar energy is ideal as they inch their way into retirement, too. The average age for the country’s farmers has increased by about a decade since 1978. Today, about one-third of America’s 3.4 million farmers are at least 65 years old, according to data compiled annually by the United States Department of Agriculture. 

And projects such as what Mr. Sigue is attempting to install on his family’s land could potentially serve as an economic lifeline for modest-scale farmers who are struggling to compete in an increasingly consolidated industry. Today just 36% of all U.S. cropland is operated by midsize farms (100 to 999 acres), down from 57% in 1982, according to USDA data.

Mr. Sigue says one energy company offered just $400 per acre to lease and build a solar project – the same offer the company offered neighboring landowners, he later learned, but far below the $650 per acre he’s making by leasing it to local farmers. From there, each company he approached gave him an ultimatum if they were to work together: Lease the land for under market price, or sell it to the company for its own solar development. 

Mr. Sigue balked at the idea. In no way did he intend to hand over his family’s property after their lifelong investment in it. He knows it’s a feat for a Black Creole family in the South, like his, to hold onto its land for as long as they have. By some estimates, Black Americans lost about 80% of the land acquired during the post-Civil War Reconstruction era due to a predatory federal loan system and other forms of discrimination, including racist violence. 

Revenue isn’t the only hurdle for farmers. Neighboring landowners sometimes decry the aesthetic changes on the land. With overall farm acreage in decline due to factors like rising operating costs, depressed crop prices, and water shortages, some argue for caution in the land use transformation. 

“The last thing you want to do is have solar and agriculture competing, even in a country like the U.S. that has something like two-thirds of our land is agricultural,” says Oscar Serpell, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania’s Kleinman Center for Energy Policy. “Avoiding that competition is going to be essential both for preserving food production and for promoting solar development and wind development, and any other kind of renewable development.” 

“It’s about creating that wealth here”

For his part, Mr. Sigue sees the opportunity for clean power, cropland, and jobs to coexist happily. He remembers the heyday of his family’s farming lifestyle. Their family worked hard and were pillars in the community, he says. When their farm was doing well, the people of New Iberia benefited. 

It’s about keeping Louisianans’ money in Louisianans’ pockets, Mr. Sigue says. He worries that if large corporations begin developing their own cropland solar projects, then money that is desperately needed in a low-income state like Louisiana will be exported someplace else. 

“If you offer opportunity to Louisianans first, then guess what? It’s about creating that wealth here and the wagon wheel of different effects that can stem off from that,” Mr. Sigue says. “There hasn’t been an opportunity this lucrative since they started drilling for oil and gas in Louisiana.”

Points of Progress

What's going right

New respect for Black hair in Illinois, and for Josephine Baker in France

A preschooler and a Jazz Age icon are two symbols of progress in this week’s roundup. Their families argued for recognition and against discrimination – and won.

Amelia

New respect for Black hair in Illinois, and for Josephine Baker in France

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Staff

Along with reports of individuals winning respect, there are two ocean treasures in our briefs, including the discovery of Arctic bacteria that can degrade diesel and crude oil. It was prompted by a concern that the remote area is vulnerable to potential oil spills.

1. Canada

A new study has discovered ocean microbes capable of breaking down fossil fuels in the Canadian Arctic, which will help inform oil spill response plans in the region. The Labrador Sea, which rests between Canada’s Labrador Peninsula and Greenland, has seen more industrial shipping activity and offshore oil projects in recent years. Meanwhile, coastal communities have grown concerned about the possibility of a major oil spill occurring in Arctic waters. This concern prompted a study by University of Calgary scientists on bioremediation, or how naturally occurring organisms might be used to cleanse environmental pollutants. The study is one of the first to investigate bioremediation in the northern latitudes.

The research team replicated an Arctic oil spill in bottles containing mud from the seabed, artificial seawater, and either diesel or crude oil, all kept at 4 degrees Celsius. It found that three types of bacteria present in the Labrador Sea – Paraperlucidibaca, Cycloclasticus, and Zhongshania – were able to biodegrade the oil, according to results published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Dr. Casey Hubert, an associate professor of geomicrobiology and co-author of the study, says it’s important to understand how microorganisms in the Arctic would respond to a spill because the area is so vast and remote that the human response would likely be slow. “Our simulations demonstrated that naturally occurring oil-degrading bacteria in the ocean represent nature’s first responders to an oil spill,” he said.
EuroNews, American Society for Microbiology

2. United States

Illinois schools can no longer ban Black hairstyles, according to a law that goes into effect Jan. 1, 2022. The Jett Hawkins Law – named for a 4-year-old Chicago boy who was ordered by his school to remove his braids in March – calls on the Illinois State Board of Education to review school handbooks and ensure they allow styles such as locs, braids, cornrows, and twists. The board will also create materials about the history of protective styles and hair discrimination. Schools risk funding cuts and loss of ISBE recognition if they refuse to comply.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File
A sophomore attends Wendell Phillips Academy High School in Chicago, the city where a new antidiscrimination law was drafted.

Illinois joins several states that have moved to make hair discrimination illegal in schools and the workplace. At the federal level, CROWN Act advocates say targeting school bans is essential to ending the school-to-prison pipeline, which begins with disproportionate disciplining and policing of Black students. “I know from my childhood what it’s like to be regularly belittled, humiliated, isolated, and shamed by adults in the school setting,” said state Sen. Mike Simmons, who drafted the Illinois bill and wears his own hair in long locs. “Black youth should be able to learn and become who they are without being traumatized and constantly targeted for who they are.” (Here’s a link to related Monitor coverage, a Q&A about the debut book, “My Beautiful Black Hair.”)

Block Club Chicago, Brookings Institution

3. Egypt

Artifacts discovered in the sunken remains of Thonis-Heracleion offer insights into the ancient city’s history. For centuries, Thonis-Heracleion was Egypt’s largest Mediterranean port and a hub of international trade. Greeks were allowed to settle in the city during the late Pharaonic period, until a series of earthquakes and tidal waves collapsed the Nile delta city into the sea. With the cooperation of Egypt’s Tourism and Antiquities Ministry, a team from the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology (IEASM) explored two distinct parts of the city on its latest dive.

The discovery of a traditional Greek funerary area “beautifully illustrates the presence of Greek merchants and mercenaries who lived in Thonis-Heracleion,” IEASM said in a statement. Offerings buried in the area include ceramic vases and wicker baskets containing 2,400-year-old fruit. In another spot, archaeologists found a Ptolemaic-era galley using a sub-bottom profiler, a kind of sonar technology used to detect layers of sediment beneath the seafloor. The ship was moored next to the city’s main temple during a cataclysmic event. Falling stone likely pinned down the galley, says IEASM, protecting it as the canal filled with debris. “The finds of fast galleys from this period remain extremely rare,” said marine archaeologist Franck Goddio, who leads the team. “The only other example to date being the Punic Marsala Ship. ... Before this discovery, Hellenistic ships of this type were completely unknown to archaeologists.”
CNN, Greek Reporter

4. France

Josephine Baker will become the first Black woman to be memorialized in France’s famed Panthéon mausoleum. The ancient Rome-inspired complex houses important political, cultural, and scientific figures from French history, as chosen by the president. Only five of the Panthéon’s 80 current honorees are women.

AP/File
Josephine Baker poses in her dressing room in New York City in March 1961.

Baker will soon join their ranks, although her remains will stay in Monaco, where she was buried in 1975. The Missouri-born entertainer not only rose to fame performing in Paris, but also served as a spy for the French Resistance during World War II. She was an international celebrity, civil rights advocate – refusing to perform for segregated audiences – and an icon of the Jazz Age. In 1937, she married a Frenchman and became a French citizen. Baker’s family and others have been campaigning for her induction into the Panthéon for eight years, gathering thousands of signatures for their cause. President Emmanuel Macron approved the measure after meeting with advocates on July 21, says an aide, and Baker’s memorial is set to be added in late November.
Agence France-Presse

Francois Mori/AP/File
The Panthéon mausoleum in Paris will honor Josephine Baker. The performer lived much of her life in France and worked with the French resistance during World War II.

5. Bangladesh

Training programs in Bangladesh are helping women move up in the garment industry. Researchers say gender imbalance in the South Asian nation’s garment industry, which employs about 4 million people, not only limits women’s socioeconomic mobility, but also hurts productivity. More than 50% of sewing machine operators in the country are women, but more than 90% of their supervisors are men, which can lead to a lack of trust and transparency. Nonprofits, development groups, and factory owners are tackling this imbalance by offering training programs for women. Because managerial skills are transferable, these programs also help protect women’s livelihoods as factories adopt more sophisticated and environmentally friendly machinery to meet climate goals.

Mahmud Hossain Opu/AP
Women work in the sewing section of the Snowtex Outerwear Ltd. factory in Savar, Bangladesh, Aug. 9, 2021.

Kulsum Bibi, who worked as a machine operator at a Dhaka factory for 10 years, was promoted after participating in a women’s leadership program run by a development organization based in Bangladesh. In her new role, she’s made enough money to double her family’s living space and has become more ambitious in her career goals. “Despite my poor education, I became a supervisor. ... Now my goal is to move even higher,” she said. “I want to become a controller or a line manager. If men can do it, why can’t I?”
Thomson Reuters Foundation

Staff

Jordanians get a taste of history in their daily bread

Jordan’s “wheat is a blessing” initiative seeks to revive cultivation of a hearty ancient wheat. At stake are food security, self-sufficiency, and appreciation for a fast-disappearing pastoral culture.

Amelia
Courtesy of Zikra Initiative
A Jordanian woman takes part in the harvest of wheat grown in western Amman, Jordan, through the Al Barakeh wheat project in the summer of 2021.

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For millennia, Jordan has been home to a high-quality, hard durum wheat. This is because in this arid country, home to a rich soil, wheat crops get just enough water to grow, leading to a sturdier, durable wheat with a richer, more concentrated taste.

But the rolling windswept hillsides of golden wheat that once extended from central Amman south and westward to the horizon only two decades ago have been replaced by a sea of white concrete apartment buildings and industrial complexes. Lost too, say activists trying to bring back the crop, is a culture of cooperation and self-sufficiency.

Now the original whole-wheat bread is back on the market, thanks to Al Barakeh wheat, or the “wheat is a blessing” project of Jordanian activists Lama Khateeb and Rabee Zureikat.

“To us, this is about more than reviving local wheat,” says Ms. Khateeb. “This is about regaining our independence as a society. It is a political issue as much as a food sustainability issue.”

Deema Salah, whose family owns the Qabalan Bakery chain, is one of the converts to the cause. “I was convinced of the importance of showing people: This is local wheat, this is from our ground, this is part of our heritage.”

Jordanians get a taste of history in their daily bread

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As soon as the staff plopped the loaves on the shelves, the line formed.

A woman nervously made a beeline to the shelves and snatched two bags as if they were about to run away. Another woman grabbed an armful.

“Do you still have that local wheat I keep hearing about?” an older man anxiously yelled across the counter. “I came across the city just to try it!”

Moments later, he walked out of the Qabalan Bakery with 8 pounds of doughy bounty.

In Amman, the hype is real.

After a decadeslong absence, in a land that fed empires and where archaeologists have discovered the oldest bread loaf in history, the original whole-wheat bread is back on the market.

It is a harvest of heritage years in the making.

The reintroduction of the original, whole-wheat Jordanian bread this past month is part of Al Barakeh wheat, or the “wheat is a blessing” project. It’s an effort by Jordanian activists Lama Khateeb and Rabee Zureikat to generate a renewed interest in, and save, Jordan’s wheat farms – educating Jordanians on the importance of the thousands-year-old crop along the way.

Taylor Luck
Lama Khateeb of the Zikra Initiative inspects flour produced through the Al Barakeh wheat project at a mill in Madaba, central Jordan, Sept. 22, 2021.

Society’s priorities

The pair started the project through their Zikra Initiative three years ago after watching the disappearance of local farming, self-sufficiency, and the local baladi wheat – and of the pastoral culture that has long been the core of Jordanian society.

“We got a sense that the society is accelerating with the priorities completely in the wrong order,” says Ms. Khateeb. “What’s the point of deluxe apartment buildings or giant shopping malls if you can’t even feed yourself?”

It is by many measures both a cultural and culinary loss.

For millennia, Jordan has been home to a high-quality, hard durum wheat – the type that is today prized in Italy for pasta.

This is because in this arid country, home to a rich soil, wheat crops get just enough water to grow, leading to a sturdier, durable wheat with a richer, more concentrated taste.

The discovery of these weather conditions led the Romans to convert much of modern-day Jordan and the Levant – stretching through western Syria and Lebanon – into the breadbasket for their empire 2,000 years ago.

This area continued to be a key wheat producer under the Byzantines, later the Umayyads, and finally the Ottomans.

Taylor Luck
Farmer Salah Ghananeem cups a handful of durum wheat kernels destined to become "baladi" Jordanian wheat bread at a grain processing plant in Madaba, central Jordan, Sept. 22, 2021.

From exporter to importer

But due to 20th-century agricultural policies and rapid urbanization, modern Jordan has gone from a net exporter to an importer of the vast majority of its wheat. To fill its annual needs, 1.2 million tons come from abroad. Only 20,000 tons are grown locally. 

With the government using subsidized foreign wheat and white flour to set low bread prices, many wheat farmers either sold off lands to developers or switched to better-earning fruits and vegetables.

Since the few small farmers who produce wheat mainly sell their crops to the government for strategic food storage, Jordanian wheat had become impossible to find on the local market.

The rolling windswept hillsides of golden wheat that once extended from central Amman south and westward to the horizon only two decades ago have been replaced by a sea of white concrete apartment buildings, industrial complexes, and an Ikea.

Lost too, say the activists, is a culture of cooperation, sharing, and self-sufficiency tied to harvests, fraying Jordan’s social bonds.

Yet where there is soil, wheat can still thrive. Which is why Ms. Khateeb and Mr. Zureikat approached landowners in Amman and elsewhere last year to convert their unused lots into wheat fields.

They invited Jordanians to learn from veteran wheat growers and participate in the planting and harvest. Businessmen and women, students, and schoolchildren reenact a part of their ancestors’ daily life, learning the motion and songs of the harvest.

Courtesy of Zikra Initiative
Amman’s modern towers loom beyond a wheat field planted by the Al Barakeh wheat project, which seeks to revitalize the market for an ancient local wheat and build food security in Jordan, in the summer of 2021.

Jordanians of a certain age kiss bread that has fallen to the ground and press it to their forehead as if asking for divine forgiveness for being careless with a key life source – a ritual some trace back to the Roman period.

And it is taboo to throw away even stale bread in the kingdom. Instead, it is placed in plastic bags and tied to the edges of trash bins for entrepreneurial Jordanians and sheepherders to collect, dry, and reuse as animal feed.

In a country that relies on foreign aid, the activists say, producing local bread through a project completely funded by the Jordanian people themselves is symbolically important.

“To us, this is about more than reviving local wheat,” says Ms. Khateeb. “This is about regaining our independence as a society. It is a political issue as much as a food sustainability issue.”

Old knowledge

But when they asked local bakers to make a full, 100% local whole-wheat bread, Ms. Khateeb and Mr. Zureikat initially were told “it can’t be done.”

Jordanian wheat is simply too hard, too difficult to make bread with, bakers said. They insisted it had to be blended, in a mix that’s at least half white flour.

“People have become so disconnected from their roots, they no longer know how to cook or bake like their parents or grandparents did a generation ago,” says Mr. Zureikat. “They don’t know how to use what’s on their own land.”

Taylor Luck
Whole-wheat Jordanian bread, made using local wheat, fresh from the oven at the Qabalan Bakery in southwest Amman, Jordan, Sept. 22, 2021.

Instead, the pair learned from village elders, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers who still knew how to make whole-wheat baladi bread, kneading and pounding it into the traditional crepe-thin shrak, the heavy loaflike taboon, and the more modern pita.

The secret recipe? Simplicity.

“It’s just wheat, water, salt, yeast. Everywhere you go in Jordan it is the same recipe. It’s the wheat that makes all the difference,” Mr. Zuriekat says.

And the taste: rich, smooth, with a slightly earthy undertone – fluffy but filling.

Taking the plunge

Deema Salah is one of the converts.

She took part in an Amman harvest. She also happens to be a manager of one of the largest family-owned bakery chains in Jordan. The chain and Zikra decided to team together to mass produce the first 100% whole-wheat Jordanian bread.

“To be honest, it was a big risk for us as a business,” says Ms. Salah as she watches the midday rush for baladi bread.

Her family’s Qabalan Bakery sold white-and-whole-wheat mixtures, but never full Jordanian wheat. With the higher cost of unsubsidized local wheat, it priced five discs of pita bread for $1, the same price as a 2.2-pound bag of all-white-flour pita.

“I was convinced of the importance of showing people: This is local wheat, this is from our ground, this is part of our heritage, this is what our ancestors ate for generations.”

Taylor Luck
Wheat farmer Salah Ghananeem holds up wheat kernels at a mill in Madaba, central Jordan, on Sept. 22, 2021.

After selling out its first batches within hours, Qabalan has ramped up its production to 2,000 bags of baladi bread a day.

Many Jordanians say they are switching to local wheat despite the increased cost.

“We always ate white bread at home, but decided to try this because it’s local,” says Mohammed Rashid. “We can taste the difference; we aren’t turning back.”

Keeping up with demand

The two activists now are crisscrossing the kingdom to process wheat to keep up with demand, working with 18 small farmers and buying up their wheat at prices 25% to 50% higher than government rates.

Not only is the surge in demand keeping these farmers in business, but 13.5% of the proceeds goes back to directly support Jordanian farmers.

It has been welcome relief for Salah Ghananeem.

On his 9-acre farm in central Jordan, he grows wheat that he normally sells to the government.

“The government lowballs us on prices for grains and wheat; only large farms receive agricultural assistance,” Mr. Ghananeem says as he watches sacks of his golden wheat kernels – destined to become baladi bread – pour into a concrete mill near Madaba, central Jordan.

“But if we can sell all our wheat directly to the people, and there is a demand, that is a godsend. It would help us keep our farmlands alive for the next generation.

“When it comes from your own land, it’s not just bread,” he says, scooping up a handful of kernels. “It is a blessing.”

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How reconciliation can enlarge Europe

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On Wednesday, leaders of the European Union will try to patch a big hole in their own efforts to create a unified Continent. They will again consider whether to admit six states in the western Balkans, perhaps within the next decade.

That southeast corner of Europe remains a hotbed of ethnic and religious nationalism, or exactly why the EU was created after World War II. In a tour of the region last week, the president of the EU’s executive arm, Ursula von der Leyen, told local leaders the main reason for a delay in the promised membership – a promise made 18 years ago: “It is clear that the region has to build the most important bridge of all – and that is the bridge of reconciliation.”

In a report last year, the EU said that a “credible enlargement policy is a geostrategic investment in peace, stability, security and economic growth in the whole of Europe.” The Oct. 6 summit is an opportunity to make good on that investment. The EU’s power of attraction provides a strong incentive for the people of the Balkans to finally reconcile their differences.

How reconciliation can enlarge Europe

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AP
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen speaks while on a visit to six Western Balkan countries in September.

Leaders of the European Union say they want to “step up” the EU’s role in the world. Some seek “strategic autonomy” from the United States. Yet at a summit Wednesday, the 27-nation bloc will try to patch a big hole in its own efforts to create a unified Continent. It will again consider whether to admit six states in the western Balkans, perhaps within the next decade.

That southeast corner of Europe remains a hotbed of ethnic and religious nationalism, or exactly why the EU was created after World War II. In a tour of the region last week, the president of the EU’s executive arm, Ursula von der Leyen, told local leaders the main reason for a delay in the promised membership – a promise made 18 years ago:

“It is clear that the region has to build the most important bridge of all – and that is the bridge of reconciliation. We count on you to cross this difficult, but so beautiful, so necessary bridge of reconciliation. We owe it to the victims of the past conflicts that have torn this beautiful region, and we owe it to the youth that have a European dream.”

Balkan nations have made some progress to integrate with the EU project. Slovenia and Croatia have already joined. Three others – Albania, Serbia, and North Macedonia – pledged in July to bolster economic integration among themselves by ending border controls in 2023. Kosovo, Bosnia- Herzegovina, and Montenegro still have problems, such as corruption, that hold them back.

The EU itself is divided over admitting new members. It has yet to recover from Britain’s exit or a financial crisis more than a decade ago. Yet it places long-term security in a Europe united around ideals of freedom and equality, something still missing in parts of the Balkans. It also eyes Russia’s attempts to influence the region toward its model of authoritarian rule.

In a report last year, the EU said that a “credible enlargement policy is a geostrategic investment in peace, stability, security and economic growth in the whole of Europe.” The Oct. 6 summit is an opportunity to make good on that investment. The EU’s power of attraction provides a strong incentive for the people of the Balkans to finally reconcile their differences.

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Forever complete and useful

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Sometimes it can seem that our ability to productively and meaningfully contribute to society is at the mercy of factors beyond our control. But the realization that we all have a God-given purpose and identity opens the door to fresh opportunities and capabilities.

Forever complete and useful

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Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

Advancing technology continues to open up new ways of increasing efficiency and productivity and expanding humanity’s ability to accomplish things not possible before. But at every stage of such progress, concerns arise about the workers whose jobs are being lost to technology, such as robots that are able to do those jobs.

Progress that helps humanity accomplish more good will continue and is to be welcomed. But it’s also important for us to give compassionate thought to those whose lives seem to be negatively impacted by this progress.

In my prayers about this, it has struck me how important it is for each of us to realize our inseparability from God, and to realize that this is true for everyone. God, who is supreme good – the loving Father and Mother of us all – is the eternal provider of all that is necessary for our well-being. Because each one of us is a child of God, forever embraced in His love, it’s not really possible for anyone to become a castoff, no longer useful or needed, having no fulfilling activity.

Those spiritual facts may not be so evident when our circumstances seem otherwise. It can appear that we are vulnerable mortals separated from God by our very nature. But Christ Jesus came to show the fallacy of this materialistic sense of man’s nature and being. He taught and proved that all men and women are truly one with God. He emphasized God’s ability and willingness to provide all good for His children.

For instance, in a passage in the Holy Bible, after telling his disciples that God provides for our every need, Jesus says, “Seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you. Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:31, 32).

Among those things that we all need are a useful purpose, fulfilling activity, and comfortable supply. All of these are found in God, infinite good. The first chapter in the Bible makes the emphatic declaration that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Genesis 1:27). To be the image of God is to express God, to actively express the intelligence and abilities of divine Mind, the unchanging vitality and ongoing purpose of divine Life, the active goodness of divine Love. Being God’s expression, man and woman are wholly spiritual and complete, eternally blessed with the fullness of God’s goodness.

Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Monitor, writes: “Man reflects infinity, and this reflection is the true idea of God.

“God expresses in man the infinite idea forever developing itself, broadening and rising higher and higher from a boundless basis” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 258).

There are no dead ends in this spiritual truth, which applies to you and me and everyone. A growing understanding of our true spiritual nature brings greater evidence of it in our experience. It opens up abilities and opportunities we may not have seen before. But even more, it brings the peace of knowing that nothing can separate us from God, who forever upholds the completeness and usefulness of our God-given identity.

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A heart for autumn

Maxim Shemetov/Reuters
A lake in the shape of a heart is seen surrounded by autumn-colored trees outside Balashikha, Moscow region, Russia, Oct. 4, 2021. The picture was taken with a drone.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

Thanks for joining us today. Tomorrow, in addition to perusing your Daily, please join us for a free, online conversation titled “Overcoming adversity: How the pandemic revealed resilience.” Register for the Oct. 5 discussion, at noon ET, at www.CSMonitor.com/resilience. We look forward to seeing you there!

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