Work dries up for Jordan’s donkeys as coronavirus cripples tourism

Herds of hard-working donkeys once carried hordes of tourists on the rocky paths of Jordan’s Petra, but visitor numbers crashed amid coronavirus and the loyal animals now face the chop. (AFP)
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Updated 10 June 2021
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Work dries up for Jordan’s donkeys as coronavirus cripples tourism

  • In 2019, the number of visitors to the UNESCO World Heritage site topped a million for the first time
  • Since Petra reopened in May, tourist numbers have been slow to rebound

PETRA, Jordan: Herds of hard-working donkeys once carried hordes of tourists on the rocky paths of Jordan’s Petra, but visitor numbers crashed amid the pandemic and the loyal animals are left without a job.
“Before coronavirus, we all had work,” said Abdulrahman Ali, a 15-year-old donkey owner at the ancient rock-carved desert city, where the sure-footed animals carry tourists up steep paths in the blazing sun.
“The Bedouins of Petra made a living and fed their animals,” he said, sitting waiting for a handout of fodder from a charity, explaining that many owners today are struggling to meet the cost of feeding them.
In 2019, the number of visitors to the UNESCO World Heritage site topped a million for the first time.
But in March 2020, the famous tourist destination was closed, and the crucial income from the tourists dried up.
“When tourism stopped, nobody could buy fodder or medicine anymore,” said Ali, who could earn as much as $280 on a good day, supporting his mother and two brothers.
“Anyone who has a little amount of money now spends it on his own food, not his animal.”
Before the pandemic, tourism made up more than a tenth of Jordan’s GDP, but revenues slumped from $5.8 billion in 2019 to $1 billion last year, according to government figures.
Since Petra reopened in May, tourist numbers have been slow to rebound.
Only some 200 visitors a day come to Petra, compared to more than 3,000 before the pandemic hit, said Suleiman Farajat, heading the Petra Development and Tourism Regional Authority.
Farajat said some 200 guides used as many as 800 animals — including horses, camels and mules as well as donkeys — for tourist rides across the desert site.
The economic ripple effect of tourism was widespread.
“Before the crisis, 80 percent of the inhabitants of the region depended directly or indirectly on tourism,” Farajat said.
“With the pandemic, not only working animal owners were affected, but also hotels, restaurants, those with souvenir shops or stores, and hundreds of employees have lost their jobs.”
Many donkey owners are turning to a clinic supported by the animal rights group PETA, where vets treat maltreated and malnourished donkeys for free.
“Before coronavirus, my family and I owned seven donkeys working in Petra,” said Mohammad Al-Badoul, 23, waiting with four other donkey owners to fill a sack with animal feed.
“We had to sell them for lack of income. Now we only have one, and I can barely feed it.”
Egyptian vet Hassan Shatta, an equine surgery specialist who runs the PETA clinic, said he launched a donkey-feeding program late last year.
“During the Covid-19 lockdown, and with the lack of tourism, people could not afford to feed their animals anymore,” Shatta said.
“Some of them ended up starving and we picked them up brought them here,” he added, noting some 250 animals had been treated, with some 10-15 cases arriving a day.
In the past, PETA had treated animals with deep cuts from being beaten or abused, but Farajat, from Petra’s tourism authority, says the working conditions of the donkeys is now “not that bad.”
But there are plans to replace some of the traditional donkeys with a new system of 20 electric cars introduced by the tourism board next month.
The cars will be “driven by the animal owners,” Farajat said.
Switching to electric cars will, Farajat hopes, put an end to the criticisms against the mistreatment inflicted on animals.


After Drake battle, Kendrick Lamar turns victory lap concert into LA unity celebration

Updated 20 June 2024
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After Drake battle, Kendrick Lamar turns victory lap concert into LA unity celebration

  • The audience of 17,000 people at the Forum in Inglewood, California included The Weeknd, LeBron James, Ayo Edebiri and Rick Ross
  • The 37-year-old rapper curated a three-hour livestreamed concert featuring a mix of up-and-coming LA rappers and stars

INGLEWOOD: Not content with merely taking a victory lap after winning his battle against fellow rap superstar Drake, Kendrick Lamar turned his Juneteenth “Pop Out” concert at the Forum into a cathartic livestreamed celebration of Los Angeles unity.
Lamar curated a three-hour concert featuring a mix of up-and-coming LA rappers and stars including Tyler, The Creator, Steve Lacy and YG. When it was his turn to take the stage, the 37-year-old rapper powered through a set with Black Hippy collaborators Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul and Jay Rock, performed his Drake diss songs “Euphoria” and “6:16 in LA,” then was joined on-stage by Dr. Dre.
The two West Coast titans performed “Still D.R.E.” and “California Love” before Dre quieted the roaring crowd by calling for a moment of silence. It was a misdirect. He then delivered the “Sixth Sense” quote that opens Lamar’s chart-topping “Not Like Us”: “I see dead people.”
A crowd of 17,000 that included The Weeknd, LeBron James, Ayo Edebiri and Rick Ross rapped along to every word of the biting-but-jubilant DJ Mustard production, which Lamar restarted twice after the first verse and performed four times in full.
Shuffling, frolicking, dancing and spinning around him as Lamar strode the stage in a red hoodie: NBA stars Russell Westbrook and DeMar DeRozan, Mustard, rapper Roddy Ricch and even a teenage dance troupe led by the krumping innovator Tommy the Clown.
Lamar reveled in the moment: “Y’all ain’t gon’ let nobody disrespect the West Coast. Y’all ain’t gon’ let nobody imitate our legends, huh,” he said, referring to Drake’s use of an AI tool to mimic 2Pac’s voice on one of his diss records.
But Lamar had more on his mind, calling out to specific men and women to join him on-stage for a group photo.
“Let the world see this,” he said. “For all of us to be on this stage together, unity, from East side ... LA, Crips, Bloods, Piru — this ... is special, man. We put this ... together just for ya’ll.
“This ... ain’t got nothing to do with no song at this point, ain’t got nothing to do with no back and forth records, it’s got everything to do with this moment right here. That’s what this ... was about, to bring all of us together.”
After the final song, Lamar exited, saying “I promise you this won’t be the last of us.” The stabbing horns of the “Not Like Us” instrumental kicked in once again and the crowd rapped the lyrics without Lamar as they filed through hallways out to the parking lot.


Two beluga whales evacuated to Spain from war-torn Ukraine

Updated 19 June 2024
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Two beluga whales evacuated to Spain from war-torn Ukraine

  • The whales, a 15-year-old male named Plombir and a 14-year-old female named Miranda, arrived “in delicate health” at the Oceanagrafic aquarium
  • They were first transported overland from the NEMO Dolphinarium in Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine to the country’s southern port of Odesa

MADRID: Two beluga whales have been evacuated from an aquarium in war-torn Ukraine to Spain by road and plane in a “high-risk” operation, officials at their new home said Wednesday.
The whales, a 15-year-old male named Plombir and a 14-year-old female named Miranda, arrived “in delicate health” at the Oceanagrafic aquarium in Spain’s Mediterranean port of Valencia on Tuesday evening officials there said.
They had completed “a gruelling journey across the war zone,” the aquarium said in a statement.
They were first transported overland from the NEMO Dolphinarium in Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine to the country’s southern port of Odesa, a 12-hour drive.
After health checks, they were taken across the border to Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, from where they were flown in a six-seat chartered plane to Valencia.
“The high-risk, complex rescue operation presented numerous challenges and required multi-national collaboration,” the statement said.
Experts with the Georgia Aquarium and SeaWorld in the United States took part in the rescue.
A team of medical and nutritional experts are looking after the belugas in Valencia, and two Ukrainian caregivers will stay with them for several weeks to help with their transition.
“This courageous rescue constitutes a historic milestone worldwide in terms of animal protection,” said the head of the regional government of Valencia, Carlos Mazon.
Russian artillery fire against Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, had intensified in recent weeks, with bombs falling just a few hundred meters from the aquarium where the whales lived.
The director of zoological operations at Valencia’s Oceanografic aquarium, Daniel Garcia-Parraga, said if the whales had stayed on in Kharkiv “their chances of survival would have been very slim.”
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, the NEMO Dolphinarium in Kharkiv has evacuated several seals, sea lions and dolphins, but evacuating the belugas required months of preparations due to their size.


Mouse shakers, power naps: Corporate America fights ‘keyboard fraud’

Updated 19 June 2024
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Mouse shakers, power naps: Corporate America fights ‘keyboard fraud’

  • In one viral Reddit post titled “My manager caught me with a mouse jiggler,” an employee noted that the transgression was the “last straw” after he excused himself from several meetings citing “power outages” and “thunderstorms”

WASHINGTON: A US banking giant fired more than a dozen employees for “simulating keyboard activity,” highlighting a battle within productivity-obsessed corporate America to tame a culture of faking work with gizmos such as mouse jigglers.
The sackings by Wells Fargo come as employers use sophisticated tools — popularly called “tattleware” or “bossware” — on company-issued devices to monitor productivity in the age of hybrid work that took off after the Covid-19 pandemic.
Some workers seek to outsmart them with tools such as mouse movers — which simulate cursor movement, preventing their devices from going into sleep mode and making them appear active when they may actually be getting a power nap or doing laundry.
The cat-and-mouse game — no pun intended — has spurred a wider debate in corporate America about whether screentime and the click-clacking of keyboards are effective yardsticks to measure productivity amid a boom in remote work.
The Well Fargo workers were dismissed last month following a probe of allegations involving “simulation of keyboard activity creating impression of active work,” Bloomberg reported, citing the company’s disclosures to financial regulators.
Wells Fargo “holds employees to the highest standards and does not tolerate unethical behavior,” the company said in a statement, without elaborating.

Multiple US surveys show that demand for employee monitoring software — systems that track activity via desktop monitoring, keystroke tracking and even GPS location — has shot up since the pandemic.
One Florida-based social media marketing company, according to the Harvard Business Review (HBR), installed software on employees’ devices that took screenshots of their desktop every 10 minutes.
Such surveillance has given rise to what human resource professionals call “productivity theater” — in which some employees seek to project that they are busy while doing nothing constructive.
A series of “tutorials” on platforms including TikTok and YouTube even teach how to appear busy on computer screens, which generally go black after a few minutes of inactivity.
Those include fake PowerPoint techniques for “when you need to take your afternoon nap.”
“Just hit ‘slideshow’ and you’re good,” Sho Dewan, an influencer who identifies himself as an “ex-recruiter sharing HR secrets,” said in a TikTok video that garnered millions of views.
The device will stay “active” while the presentation is on, he said flashing a thumbs up before a slide that read: “Really important work meeting.”
Among the hundreds of comments under the video, one viewer quipped: “At one point I taped a mouse to an oscillating fan — why couldn’t I have found (this) sooner?“

Another trick noted in the tutorials involves opening a notes application and placing a lock on any keyboard letter. The worker thereby appears active to tracking devices while the page fills up with row after row of the same letter.
But the most popular trick appears to be the deployment of mouse jigglers, widely available on Amazon for as little as $11.
“Push the button when you’re getting up from your desk and the cursor travels randomly around the screen — for hours, if needed!” reads one product review on Amazon.
But there remains a serious risk of getting caught.
In one viral Reddit post titled “My manager caught me with a mouse jiggler,” an employee noted that the transgression was the “last straw” after he excused himself from several meetings citing “power outages” and “thunderstorms.”
He noted that he had installed a software-based jiggler, prompting some readers to suggest using “non detectable” physical ones.
HR professionals warn of the dangers of surveilling employees and confusing keyboard activity with productivity.
One survey cited by HBR suggested that secretly monitoring employees can “seriously backfire.”
“We found that monitored employees were substantially more likely to take unapproved breaks, disregard instructions, damage workplace property, steal office equipment, and purposefully work at a slow pace,” the HBR report said.
A.J. Mizes, chief executive of the consulting firm Human Reach, said the use of mouse jigglers demonstrated a “work culture driven by metrics rather than meaningful productivity and human connection.”
“There has been a growing troubling trend of excessive surveillance in corporate America,” Mizes told AFP.
“Rather than stirring up innovation and trust, this surveillance approach will only push employees to find additional ways to appear busy.”
 

 


Noam Chomsky discharged from Sao Paolo hospital

Updated 19 June 2024
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Noam Chomsky discharged from Sao Paolo hospital

SAO PAULO: American intellectual, linguist and dissident Noam Chomsky was discharged from a hospital in Sao Paolo Tuesday, the facility said, and would continue an undisclosed treatment at home.
The report came as the 95-year-old’s wife, Valeria Wasserman, dismissed media reports that Chomsky had died, saying in an email to AFP: “It’s false. He is well.”
The newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo reported that Chomsky was recently taken to a hospital in the city after a stroke a year ago left him with difficulty to speak and move the right side of his body.
The couple have a home in Sao Paulo.
Chomsky first became known in the 1950s with the revolutionary theory that the ability to form structured language was innate.
He became an outspoken activist on an array of issues from US intervention in Vietnam to labor rights and the environment.


Unveiling Tunis: mural celebrates ‘invisible’ talents

Updated 19 June 2024
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Unveiling Tunis: mural celebrates ‘invisible’ talents

  • Supported by a Swiss foundation, the project utilized clay bricks for their availability and wide use in Tunisian construction

TUNIS: In the old medina of Tunis, a wall installation titled “1001 Bricks” showcases the talents of “invisible” creators, including art students, people with disabilities and school dropouts.
Led by Swiss artist Anne Francey, the project took shape over a year through workshops that culminated in a large bas-relief made of carved and painted clay bricks, reimagining the cityscape.
The massive artwork now graces a square in the UNESCO-listed old town of the Tunisian capital.
Its main creators are “the invisible, all these people who are on the margins of society, who have disabilities” and whom “we tend keep in the shadows and not really acknowledge,” said Francey, 68.
Despite challenges, the project engaged a wide spectrum of 550 participants including art professionals, students and members of AGIM, an association for people with motor disorders.
Mohamed Boulila, an AGIM trainer, said all those who contributed to the project left a personal touch.
“We have the power to do things despite everything and show society that we shouldn’t only be considered disabled,” Boulila, who also lives with a disability, said during a workshop.

Samia Souid, 56, a longtime teacher at AGIM, said the project had a positive impact on youths.
“Children who cannot speak expressed their feelings and their ideas” through the project, she said.
Each group of creators “imagined a metaphorical city,” with AGIM participants focusing on a city of challenges, producing sculptures akin to contemporary art.
Supported by a Swiss foundation, the project utilized clay bricks for their availability and wide use in Tunisian construction.
The initiative follows Francey’s 2019 project “1001 Hands,” inspired by the “One Thousand and One Nights” fairytale, emphasising stories that intersect endlessly, she said.
Francey noted the rarity and difficulty, on a global scale, of such a “participatory art project,” since it challenges the tradition of top-down artworks.
The installation helped blend the creations of “people of all social status,” from architecture students to youths in reintegration — people facing unemployment, substance abuse and other forms of social invisibility.
It is “a way of coming together around a constructive project that makes us dream of a harmonious society despite the hardships the country is going through,” she said.

Beyond that, the mural is a statement on public space, as the square it occupies has endured years of neglect, serving as a garbage dump and parking lot until recent renovations.
Raouf Haddad, a 42-year-old porter in the commercial neighborhood of Hafsia, said he checks in on the artwork every day and helps whenever needed.
“The entire medina should have initiatives like this,” he said.
“There are collapsing roofs and walls, alleys devoid of public lighting where people cannot pass.”
He hopes the square will one day become like Batman Alley — a once-neglected passageway in Brazil’s Sao Paulo which artists turned into a tourist attraction with a myriad of graffiti tags.
For now, however, what matters most is that “1001 Bricks will lead to new projects” in a neighborhood full of “abandoned and unexploited public spaces,” said Firas Khlifi, a 28-year-old project manager working on children’s awareness on global warming in the neighborhood.
The installation “will bring more animation because there are several festivals” in the medina each year likely to use the square for artistic performances and exhibitions, said Khlifi.
“With families there and children playing, it will increase the community’s commitment and belonging to the project.”