The World Today for September 08, 2022

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The Best, the Worst, of Times


It was a time of lavish spending on ambitious projects. It was a time of brutal repression. In Saudi Arabia, it was business as usual.

Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman recently unveiled plans for The Line, a 656-foot wide, 1,640-foot tall city that would stretch for 100 miles or more from the desert into the Red Sea, wrote Architectural Digest. As part of a plan to diversify the oil-rich country’s economy away from fossil fuels, the green city aims to use innovative design, artificial intelligence and cutting-edge transportation systems to make as little impact on the planet as possible.

“We committed to a civilizational revolution that puts humans first based on a radical change in urban planning,” bin Salman said in a statement. “The city’s vertically layered communities will challenge the traditional flat, horizontal cities and create a model for nature preservation and enhanced human livability.”

Part of a larger $500 billion project called NEOM, the city will cost between $100 and $200 billion, Reuters reported. Eventually, as many as 9 million people could live there.

It’s a lingering question as to whether or not those 9 million people will be happy or free. While bin Salman has been planning his utopia, he has also been doubling executions in the desert kingdom and cracking down on women activists who want to enjoy the same rights as men in the ultra-orthodox Muslim country.

Executions have been occurring at a record rate in Saudi Arabia this year despite bin Salman’s pledge to reduce them, the Washington Post explained. On a single day in March, 81 men were put to death. Around half happened to be Shiites, a Muslim sect that bin Salman and his fellow Sunni Muslims view as heretics.

A Saudi court recently sentenced Saudi women’s rights activist Salma al-Shehab to 34 years in prison, Middle East Monitor wrote. A doctoral student in Britain, she was arrested while on vacation in her native country and sentenced to six years in prison for following and retweeting content by Saudi activists and dissidents on social media. When she appealed, she received a harsher sentence.

Another Saudi woman recently received a 45-year sentence for daring to express her opinions about her rights on social media, the BBC added. Such cruelty testifies to other horrors perpetrated by bin Salman. Remember, the crown prince stands accused of ordering the murder and dismembering of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018.

Some might wonder how bin Salman and his regime reconcile their riches and 21st-century vision with their cruelty and medieval values. But they don’t see any inconsistencies.


Closure, Sort Of


Germany delivered an official apology to Israel and the families of the 11 Israeli athletes slain by Palestinian militants at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, as both countries this week commemorated the 50th anniversary of the attack, the New York Times reported.

German politicians, including President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, acknowledged Germany’s failure to properly protect the Israeli athletes and apologized for failing to disclose information related to the murders.

On Sept. 5, 1972, eight militants from the “Black September” group gained access to the Olympic village where they killed two Israeli athletes and took hostage another nine from the Israeli delegation. Efforts to rescue the Olympic team culminated in a shootout between the terrorists and German security forces – with all the hostages killed.

The incident led to a deterioration of German-Israeli relations, which both countries had worked to build following the end of World War II. The victims’ families blamed the German government for mishandling the response to the attack and said it failed to take responsibility for its role in the tragedy.

Still, the German government has now reached a last-minute deal with the relatives, which includes compensation of $28.1 million. The agreement also promised the establishment of an Israeli-German historical commission that would probe the event.

Shlomit Romano Barzilay, daughter of slain weightlifter Yossef Romano, called the deal “a kind of closure for us after 50 years.”

“Finally, everything is being worked through,” she added.

Meaty Problems


The Dutch city of Haarlem will ban most meat ads from public spaces, the first city in the world to do so, the BBC reported.

The new rules – drafted by GroenLinks, a green political party – will prohibit advertisements showing meat products in the city of 160,000 people, located nearly 19 miles from Amsterdam.

City officials said the move is aimed at curbing meat consumption and reducing the meat industry’s environmental impact. They added, however, that it had not been decided whether sustainably-produced meat would be included in the ban, according to the Evening Standard.

The ban is set to take effect in 2024 but it is currently facing opposition from the meat sector and other political parties.

Critics called it “almost dictatorial” and an “unacceptable violation of entrepreneurial freedom.” Legal analysts cautioned that the new rules could infringe on freedom of expression and lead to lawsuits from wholesalers.

Around 95 percent of Dutch people consume meat, although more than half do not eat it every day, according to Statistics Netherlands.

The United Nations estimates that farmed livestock produces more than 14 percent of all man-made greenhouse gases worldwide, including methane. Beef is the top contributor, followed by lamb.

Elsewhere in the country, cities like Amsterdam and The Hague, which still have ads for meat, have still banned ads for the aviation and fossil fuel industries.

Help For The Vulnerable


Queensland is planning to decriminalize public intoxication, the last Australian state to do so in an effort to tackle discrimination against the Indigenous community and other minorities, a move service providers say is “long overdue,” the Guardian reported.

During a recent parliamentary inquiry, human rights groups and service providers expressed support for decriminalizing offenses, such as public intoxication, begging and urination.

Kaava Watson of the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health said such moves were needed because these offenses “have a disproportionate impact on Indigenous people.”

“Shifting from a criminal justice response to a health and welfare response is compatible with human rights,” Watson added.

These offenses often lead to the incarceration of homeless or other vulnerable people, who struggle to pay the fines or bail conditions.

Bridget Burton, director of human rights and civil law practice at Caxton Legal Center, told the Guardian how one client was remanded after police found him lying on a bench next to a sign asking people to donate money for food. Police charged the man with begging and claimed they arrested him for his own welfare, Burton said.

The Center also had other clients who’ve been held for over a month on remand before being given bail conditions that they could never comply with because of their underlying disability, then being put back into remand. “So what we have is homeless people … [dealing with] some quite considerable periods of incarceration, relative to the very minor nature of the offense,” Burton said.

The proposed changes come more than 30 years after the royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody released a final report recommending the abolition of public intoxication as a criminal offense.

Queensland is the only state that hasn’t adopted the recommendations.


The Lost River

Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, has always inspired scientists to theorize about its construction.

A new study is shedding some light on that mystery.

Constructed around 2560 BCE, the structure and its adjacent pyramids were made to commemorate the reign of Pharaoh Khufu, with the Great Pyramid alone being over 480 feet tall and spanning 13 acres of land. Scientists could only wonder how Egyptians at the time managed to quarry and transport so much stone.

But archaeologists recently uncovered a long-lost branch of the Nile River that helped builders in ancient Egypt transport 2.3 million limestone and granite blocks, the New York Times reported.

Evidence of a lost branch emerged in 2013 when researchers came across a series of papyrus fragments dating back to Khufu’s reign hinting at how officials organized the movement of limestone up the Nile to Giza.

The problem was that there was a four-mile stretch of desert in between the Giza pyramid complex and the Nile, which prompted researchers to wonder if there was a lost river branch – known as the Khufu branch.

The team collected five sediment cores around the Giza site. Looking for pollen grains, they discovered 61 species of plants in different parts of the cores, which gave them a window into how the local ecosystem had changed over millennia.

Using data from the pollen, scientists recreated Giza’s waterlogged past and determined that the region was underwater around 8,000 years ago. By the time ancient Egyptians started building the monumental wonders, the Khufu Branch retained around 40 percent of its water, which allowed builders to easily transport the heavy blocks, the researchers noted.

However, the branch eventually disappeared as Egypt became drier over the years. When Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332 BCE, the area around the parched Khufu Branch had been converted into a cemetery.

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