FIFA World Cup frenzy puts strain on Qatar’s camels

FIFA World Cup frenzy puts strain on Qatar’s camels
Since the FIFA World Cup started, the animals are taken for 15 to 20 — sometimes even 40 rides — without a break. (AP)
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Updated 28 November 2022

FIFA World Cup frenzy puts strain on Qatar’s camels

FIFA World Cup frenzy puts strain on Qatar’s camels
  • As Qatar welcomes more than a million fans for the monthlong FIFA World Cup, even its camels are working overtime

MESAIEED, Qatar: Shaheen stretched out on the sand and closed his eyes, but there was little time to rest for the camel. World Cup fans coming in droves to the desert outside Doha were ready for their perfect Instagram moment: riding a camel on the rolling dunes.
As Qatar welcomes more than a million fans for the monthlong World Cup, even its camels are working overtime. Visitors in numbers the tiny emirate has never before seen are rushing to finish a bucket list of Gulf tourist experiences between games: ride on a camel’s back, take pictures with falcons and wander through the alleyways of traditional markets.
On a recent Friday afternoon, hundreds of visitors in football uniforms or draped in flags waited for their turn to mount the humpbacked animals. Camels that did not rise were forced up by their handlers. When one camel let out a loud grunt, a woman from Australia shrieked, “it sounds like they’re being violated!” Nearby, a group of men from Mexico dressed in white Qatari thobes and headdresses took selfies.
“It’s really an amazing feeling because you feel so tall,” 28-year-old Juan Gaul said after his ride. The Argentine fan was visiting Qatar for a week from Australia.
Cashing in on the opportunity are the animals’ handlers who, thanks to the World Cup, are making several times more than they normally would.
“There’s a lot of money coming in,” said Ali Jaber Al-Ali, a 49-year-old Bedouin camel herder from Sudan. “Thank god, but it’s a lot of pressure.”
Al-Ali came to Qatar 15 years ago but has worked with camels since he was a child. On an average weekday before the World Cup, Al-Ali said his company would offer around 20 rides per day and 50 on weekends. Since the World Cup started, Al-Ali and the men he works with are providing 500 rides in the morning and another 500 in the evening. The company went from having 15 camels to 60, he said.
“Tour guides want to move things fast,” Al-Ali said, “so they add pressure on us.”
As crowds formed around them, many camels sat statue-like with cloth muzzles covering their mouths and bright saddles on their bodies. The smell of dung filled the air.
Like other Gulf cultures, camels once provided Qataris a vital form of transport and helped in the exploration and development of trade routes. Today, the ungulates figure into cultural pastimes: camel racing is a popular sport that takes place on old-school tracks outside the city.
Al-Ali said he knows when an animal is tired — usually if it refuses to get up or sits back down after rising to its feet. He can identify each camel by its facial features.
“I am a Bedouin. I come from a family of Bedouins who care for camels. I grew up loving them,” Al-Ali said.
But the sudden rise in tourists means there’s less time to rest between rides, he said. A short ride lasts just 10 minutes while longer ones run 20 to 30 minutes long.
Normally, Al-Ali said a camel can rest after five rides. “Now, people are saying we can’t wait ... because they have other plans they need to go to in the middle of the desert,” he said.
Since the World Cup started, the animals are taken for 15 to 20 — sometimes even 40 rides — without a break.
His day starts around 4:30 a.m., when he feeds the animals and gets them ready for customers. Some tourists have been arriving at dawn, Al-Ali said, hoping to get the perfect sunrise shot, “so we have to work with them and take photos for them.”
From midday until 2 p.m., both handlers and camels rest, he said. “Then we start getting ready for the afternoon battle.”
But not every visitor has been taken by the experience.
Pablo Corigliano, a 47-year-old real estate agent from Buenos Aires, said he was hoping for something more authentic. The excursions start on a stretch of desert by the side of a highway, not far from the industrial city of Mesaieed and its vast oil refineries.
“I was expecting something more wild,” said Corigliano. “I thought I would be crossing the desert, but when I arrived, I saw a typical tourist point.”
Soon after, Corigliano and a group of friends looked for a dune buggy to race into the desert.


Laughing emoji found defamatory by Italy’s top judges

Laughing emoji found defamatory by Italy’s top judges
Updated 28 January 2023

Laughing emoji found defamatory by Italy’s top judges

Laughing emoji found defamatory by Italy’s top judges
  • The defendant was made to pay the claimant over $2,000 in compensation

LONDON: A laughing emoji at the end of a Facebook comment amounted to defamation, Italy’s supreme court has ruled.

The country’s top judges sent a case back to court for the offense to be reassessed.

Phrases mocking a person’s physical disability, when combined with laughing face emojis, amounted to defamation, the supreme court judges said.

The court reconsidered a dispute that started on Facebook in the northern town of Luino, The Times reported.

A user openly criticized the poor eyesight of another person in a chat, ending his statement with several laughing emojis.

The defendant was convicted of defamation by a court in Varese, northern Italy, fined about $870 and ordered to pay around $2,175 in compensation to the claimant, a local businessman.

The verdict was then overturned by an appeal court in Milan, which ruled that the online conflict amounted to the use of insulting language, but did not constitute a crime.

However, the supreme court in Italy eventually ruled that the phrases, punctuated with the emojis, amounted to defamation, sending the case back for reassessment of the offense.

The defendant’s lawyers, during the earlier appeal hearing, argued that “a sight deficit doesn’t diminish the value of a person,” highlighting that their client had merely “shown himself in a bad light.”

After further studying the legal distinction between an insult and defamation, the supreme court deemed the Facebook exchange defamatory.

Francesco Micozzi, a lawyer and professor at Perugia University, said the use of the emoji in this case emphasized the defendant’s intended mockery.

The use of emojis in online correspondence is becoming increasingly subject to legal analysis. A US study revealed that emojis had been cited in court about 50 times a year between 2004 and 2019.


Iran’s ambassador to Madrid avoids shaking hands with Queen Letizia of Spain

Iran’s ambassador to Madrid avoids shaking hands with Queen Letizia of Spain
Updated 28 January 2023

Iran’s ambassador to Madrid avoids shaking hands with Queen Letizia of Spain

Iran’s ambassador to Madrid avoids shaking hands with Queen Letizia of Spain
  • Instead, Ghashghavi placed his hand on his chest and bowed slightly

LONDON: Iranian Ambassador to Spain Hassan Ghashghavi refrained from shaking hands with Queen Letizia during a reception on Wednesday for Madrid’s diplomatic corps at Zarzuela Palace.

In footage shared on Twitter, Ghashghavi shook hands with King Felipe VI but not Queen Letizia, who was standing beside him.

Royal fans, according to The Daily Mail, believe the Iranian ambassador’s gesture to be “disrespectful” and “awkward.”

Social media commentators, however, highlighted that his placing his right hand on his chest and slightly bowing to the queen instead showed he was following Iranian customs.

Others speculated that the queen’s lack of movement toward the Iranian diplomat suggested that she had been advised by her staff about her guest’s protocol.

In several Islamic cultures, physical contact with the opposite sex, including handshakes, is often discouraged or even prohibited.


US to test nuclear-powered spacecraft by 2027

US to test nuclear-powered spacecraft by 2027
Updated 25 January 2023

US to test nuclear-powered spacecraft by 2027

US to test nuclear-powered spacecraft by 2027
  • A trip to Mars from Earth using the technology could take roughly four months instead of some nine months with a conventional, chemically powered engine, engineers say

WASHINGTON: The United States plans to test a spacecraft engine powered by nuclear fission by 2027 as part of a long-term NASA effort to demonstrate more efficient methods of propelling astronauts to Mars in the future, the space agency’s chief said on Tuesday.
NASA will partner with the US military’s research and development agency, DARPA, to develop a nuclear thermal propulsion engine and launch it to space “as soon as 2027,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson said during a conference in National Harbor, Maryland.
The US space agency has studied for decades the concept of nuclear thermal propulsion, which introduces heat from a nuclear fission reactor to a hydrogen propellant in order to provide a thrust believed to be far more efficient than traditional chemical-based rocket engines.
NASA officials view nuclear thermal propulsion as crucial for sending humans beyond the moon and deeper into space. A trip to Mars from Earth using the technology could take roughly four months instead of some nine months with a conventional, chemically powered engine, engineers say.
That would substantially reduce the time astronauts would be exposed to deep-space radiation and would also require fewer supplies, such as food and other cargo, during a trip to Mars.
“If we have swifter trips for humans, they are safer trips,” NASA deputy administrator and former astronaut Pam Melroy said Tuesday.
The planned 2027 demonstration, part of an existing DARPA research program that NASA is now joining, could also inform the ambitions of the US Space Force, which has envisioned deploying nuclear reactor-powered spacecraft capable of moving other satellites orbiting near the moon, DARPA and NASA officials said.
DARPA in 2021 awarded funds to General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin to study designs of nuclear reactors and spacecraft. By around March, the agency will pick a company to build the nuclear spacecraft for the 2027 demonstration, the program’s manager Tabitha Dodson said in an interview.
The joint NASA-DARPA effort’s budget is $110 million for fiscal year 2023 and is expected to be hundreds of millions of dollars more through 2027.

 


New Zealand’s next PM known for his candour, diet, and poor dress sense

New Zealand’s next PM known for his candour, diet, and poor dress sense
Updated 27 January 2023

New Zealand’s next PM known for his candour, diet, and poor dress sense

New Zealand’s next PM known for his candour, diet, and poor dress sense
  • He was arrested and strip-searched in the late 1990s while protesting proposed reforms to university education

WELLINGTON: New Zealand's next prime minister does not draw adoring crowds like his predecessor Jacinda Ardern, but is well known throughout the country for his political nous, poor dress sense and a love of diet Coke.
Chris Hipkins, 44, was on Wednesday morning officially sworn in to replace Ardern, his friend of more than 20 years, who resigned because she no longer had "enough in the tank".
The straight-talking Hipkins was the architect of New Zealand's Covid-19 response, and is widely seen as a personable politician with a safe pair of hands.
"Hopefully New Zealanders know me as someone who is upfront, doesn't mind admitting when they've made a mistake and can laugh at themselves," he told reporters after being touted for the role last week.
Hipkins has somewhat mellowed since his early days as a firebrand of student politics.
He was arrested and strip-searched in the late 1990s while protesting proposed reforms to university education.
Political commentator Josie Pagani has described Hipkins, with more than 14 years in opposition and government, as "sensible, likeable, tough and capable".
He will now be tasked with turning around the sagging popularity of Ardern's Labour government, which has been hampered by a looming recession and a resurgent conservative opposition.
Hipkins won plaudits for his near two-year term as the Covid response minister in a country that shut its borders to keep the coronavirus out, only fully reopening to the outside world in August last year.
Hailing from the working class Hutt Valley in New Zealand's North Island, Hipkins has held high-profile portfolios including police and education.
"I think I am relatively upfront, I'm relatively inclusive. People won't die wondering what I think," he has said.
"My parents came from relatively humble beginnings and worked really hard to provide a good life for my brother and I."
His diet has drawn the attention of his colleagues, with a former boss once remarking that Hipkins "appears to eat nothing more than sausage rolls and diet Coke".
Justice Minister Kiri Allan, one of Labour's senior Maori MPs, who had been considered a potential prime minister herself, has described Hipkins as decisive and an "incredibly strong" leader.
"He is extremely competent, with a track record of delivering for New Zealand as one of our most senior ministers over the past six years," she said.
Hipkins told journalists he liked cycling, gardening, DIY work and being outdoors, but conceded: "Maybe I don't have the best fashion sense in parliament."
Asked whether having a red-haired prime minister would be a historic moment for the country, he said: "I think it was about time we had a ginger at the top."
The incoming New Zealand leader studied politics and criminology at Victoria University in the capital Wellington and then worked in the industry training sector.
Before becoming an MP in 2008, he worked as a senior adviser to two education ministers and former prime minister Helen Clark.
Although known as a personable and laid-back operator, Hipkins is also capable of playing hard-nosed politics -- and was involved in some high-profile spats with Australia's former conservative government.
In 2021, he accused Australia of "exporting its garbage" to New Zealand -- a reference to Canberra's controversial policy of deporting criminals back to their country of birth.
Hipkins was admonished by Ardern in 2017 after he was accused of orchestrating the resignation of Australia's then-deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce.
Information released to Hipkins showed Joyce was a dual citizen of both Australia and New Zealand -- which disqualified him from sitting in parliament under Australia's constitution.

 


US venture capital firm launches Riyadh-based accelerator program

US venture capital firm launches Riyadh-based accelerator program
Updated 24 January 2023

US venture capital firm launches Riyadh-based accelerator program

US venture capital firm launches Riyadh-based accelerator program
  • Program focuses on startups in MENA that are growing their businesses

RIYADH: Techstars, a US venture capital firm, announced a new partnership to continue the Techstars Riyadh Accelerator in collaboration with the Saudi Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, Raed Ventures and the National Bank of Saudi Arabia. 

The accelerator focuses on startups in the Middle East and North Africa that are establishing and growing their businesses, with the goal of paving the way for future innovation in the region’s digital economy. 

“I am very excited about the growth of the startup ecosystem in the Kingdom, and between the Kingdom’s investment in entrepreneurship and its pivotal location, Riyadh can attract global emerging talent to the entire region,” Techstars CEO Maëlle Gavet said. 

“The best entrepreneurs can influence the world no matter where they are, and part of what we do at Techstars is help them connect their innovations to the rest of the world,” Gavet added.

Abdullah Al-Shamrani, director of digital entrepreneurship at the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, emphasized the importance of technological and innovative entrepreneurship in achieving Vision 2030. 

The accelerator is accepting applications for a 13-week program from June to September 2023. Funding and fundraising opportunities, as well as curated workshops and resources, will be available to each company. Participants will also benefit from a network of mentors from the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, the National Bank of Saudi Arabia and Raed Ventures.