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Shisha ban leaves Malians divided



“Shisha-abana,” exclaims Bilal, a grocer in Mali’s capital Bamako, in the national language Bambara: “Shisha is finished.”  His is a common reaction.

An unexpected ban on hookah smoking in this West African country has stirred surprise as well as division, leaving devotees dismayed but health advocates delighted.

Bars where small groups of smokers — primarily young men — hang out to chat and puff on water pipes have flourished in Bamako in recent years.

Mali is an overwhelmingly Muslim country, and interpretations of Islam are generally unfavourable to cigarettes and to shisha.

But it is also a secular nation that tolerates alcohol, even if consumption is limited to certain public places and most shops and restaurants do not serve it.

Shishas, or hookahs, typically burn a tobacco flavoured with fruit to provide a sweetened taste. The smoke is inhaled in through a long rubber tube, passing through water to cool it down. “Shisha” is also the term sometimes used for the tobacco product.

The government’s sudden decision on August 15 to ban shishas took many by surprise — the ruling junta, in power since 2020, had not been particularly known for its concerns about tobacco.

The law, co-signed by six ministries, including the ministry of security, health and youth, “prohibits the importation, distribution, sale and use of shishas (water pipes) or any similar device throughout the national territory”.

Any shisha smoker will be punished with a prison sentence of one to 10 days and a fine of 300 to 10,000 CFA francs ($0.45 to $15.00).

Shisha bars have six months to close.

The authorities did not provide any reason for the ban.

But in his shop in the centre of Bamako, Abdramane Daff is fuming as he shows off his pile of stock.

“We can’t sell all this in six months, it’s impossible”, he said.

“We beg (the authorities) to look for another solution — maybe they could limit themselves to banning consumption in the streets and spare shisha sales”.

– ‘Thank you’ –

On the consumer side, there are questions about the authorities’ ability to enforce the decree.

“Is it possible to stop smoking shisha for good?” asked one occasional smoker on condition of anonymity.

Measures such as the closure of restaurants during the Covid-19 pandemic had little effect in a country where many businesses are informal and law enforcement resources are limited.

On social networks or in conversations in street hangouts in Bamako, the news was rather well received.

“Thank you for the ban on shisha in Mali, I think we should now ban cigarettes as they are also a drug!” posted Abdoul Karim Maiga on Twitter.

“I think the decree is very important,” Ousmane Toure, a representative of the association of tobacco victims, told AFP.

“In terms of mortality and disease, if we took into account shisha and tobacco, we would see that frankly it is better to stop,” he said.

Salif Kone, a tobacco specialist, points to a study conducted in schools in Bamako showing that “about 70 percent of young people use shisha”.

– Health risk –

A working group of the World Health Organization (WHO) warned in 2017 about the danger of shisha smoking.

The practice is up to 10 times more harmful than cigarettes but is not targeted by the same awareness campaigns as with tobacco, it said.

It is “up to us, the doctors, the parents of these children, to combine our efforts with those of the government to (make them) stop using shisha”, Kone said.

Countries such as Saudi Arabia and Lebanon have taxed shisha consumption. Others, including Jordan and Cameroon, have banned it.

In Mali, where free speech has been increasingly threatened since 2020, few critical voices have been raised apart from shisha bar managers.

“Was this the most urgent thing, when our country is in the grip of a multi-pronged crisis?” asked one social scientist on condition of anonymity.

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Indonesia Passes New Law To Criminalize Sex Outside Of Marriage




GETTY There were protests against the new code on Monday

Indonesian lawmakers passed a sweeping new criminal code on Tuesday that criminalizes sex outside marriage, as part of a tranche of changes that critics say threaten human rights and freedoms in the Southeast Asian country.

The new code, which also applies to foreign residents and tourists, bans cohabitation before marriage, apostasy, and provides punishments for insulting the president or expressing views counter to the national ideology.

“All have agreed to ratify the (draft changes) into law,” said lawmaker Bambang Wuryanto, who led the parliamentary commission in charge of revising the colonial-era code. “The old code belongs to Dutch heritage … and is no longer relevant.”

The world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, Indonesia has seen a rise in religious conservatism in recent years. Strict Islamic laws are already enforced in parts of the country, including the semi-autonomous Aceh province, where alcohol and gambling are banned. Public floggings also take place in the region for a range of offences including homosexuality and adultery.

A previous draft of the code was set to be passed in 2019 but was postponed after nationwide protests prompted Indonesian President Joko Widodo to intervene. In a televised address at the time, Widodo said he decided to delay the vote after “seriously considering feedback from different parties who feel objections on some substantial content of the criminal code.”

In the lead-up to Tuesday’s vote, rights groups and critics warned that the new code would “disproportionately impact women” and further curtail human rights and freedoms in the country of more than 270 million people.

Human Rights Watch Indonesia Researcher Andreas Harsono said the laws are “a setback for already declining religious freedom in Indonesia,” warning that “non-believers could be prosecuted and jailed.”

“The danger of oppressive laws is not that they’ll be broadly applied, it’s that they provide an avenue for selective enforcement,” he said.

Under the laws, sex outside marriage carries a potential one-year prison term, and the crime of blasphemy, already on Indonesia’s books, could now lead to a five-year prison sentence.

Rahmat Purnama, from the University of Indonesia’s law faculty, said the laws would be implemented after a transitional period of three years.

Source: CNN

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Elon Musk Hopes to Test a Brain Implant in Humans Next Year




In this still image from the Neuralink presentation video on YouTube, a presenter, lower left, described how a monkey used a wireless transmitter to “type” characters on a keyboard.Credit...Neuralink

Neuralink, the startup Elon Musk founded to link our brains directly to computers, showed progress Wednesday in two medical areas: helping blind people to see and helping people with spinal cord injuries to walk or use their hands.

The company, one of five that Musk leads, is working on technology to drop thousands of electrodes thinner than a hair into the outer surface of human brains. Each electrode is a tiny wire connected to a battery-powered, remotely recharged, quarter-sized chip package that’s embedded into a spot that once held a circle of skull. The chip, called the N1, communicates wirelessly with the outside world.

The technology is still far from the initial medical uses, much less Musk’s ultimate vision of using Neuralink to hang out with superintelligent AIs. But the company is making significant progress, including applying with the Food and Drug Administration to begin human trials it hopes to start within six months, the company said at a “show and tell” event lasting more than two hours.

“Our goal will be to turn the lights on for someone who’s spent decades living in the dark,” said Neuralink researcher Dan Adams, who’s working on the effort to repackage camera data into a brain-compatible format and pipe it directly to the visual cortex.

Musk has some cred when it comes to revolutionary tech. His electric-vehicle company Tesla is profoundly changing cars and his SpaceX outfit is transforming space access with reusable rockets. His reputation as a tech genius has taken a beating, though, with the chaos at Twitter after his $44 billion acquisition. Musk’s Boring Company, which aims to revamp auto transportation with tunnels, also hasn’t lived up to its promises yet.

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US President Joe Biden turns 80 Today: New Generation’ of Democratic Leaders Takes Control in Congress




President Joe Biden will celebrate his 80th birthday on Sunday, marking the first time a sitting president has reached that milestone while in office and fueling speculation about how his advancing age will affect his political future.

Biden — who was the oldest person to assume the presidency in January 2021, just 61 days after his 78th birthday — has said he intends to make another White House bid, even as his age-adjacent peers, including 82-year-old House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have made the decision to step away from leadership in order to make way for a younger generation.

“My intention is that I will run again. But I’m a great respecter of fate and this is ultimately a family decision. I think everybody wants me to run but we’re going to have discussions about it. And I don’t feel any hurry one way or the other to make that judgment.” he said last week, after helming what many say is the most successful midterm election for a sitting president’s party in decades, though noting that those results would not have an impact on his decision to run again.

PHOTO: President Joe Biden greets guests before speaking at an event at the White House complex, Nov. 18, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

Biden is the oldest person to serve as commander in chief in the nation’s history. Should he seek reelection in 2024 and win, the president would be 86 by the end of his second term. He has said he’ll talk over his future with his wife and the rest of his family over the holidays.

Biden has said he is hoping that he and his wife “get a little time to actually sneak away for a week around between Christmas and Thanksgiving” and that his decision to run for reelection will likely “be early next year we make that judgment.”

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