Fun with neodymium magnets

Neodymium magnets are extremely strong, as anyone who has ever handled them knows. This video shows how strong the forces generated by them are. One should be very careful though, because you can hurt yourself and any nearby electronic equipment with these magnets.

One of the practical uses of these magnets is to have cows swallow them. Yes, really. This is because cows often swallow bits of metal (nails bits of wore, staples, etc.) that are in the pastures where they feed and this can harm them. These powerful ‘cow magnets’ settle in a part of the digestive system called the rumen, where they collect the metal pieces that pass by and prevent them from going further into the system and causing harm.

Can Trump’s usual strategy succeed with the Ukraine scandal?

Donald Trump has a strategy for dealing with bad news that has worked for him so far in retaining Republican support, especially in Congress. When news starts breaking about some major transgression, what he does is to first deny that there is anything there and then slowly but steadily concede the truth of elements of the story until the full story (as far as we know) is out in the open. The strategy works on several levels. One is that when he does say that something did happen, his supporters assume that it cannot be that bad if he is willing to publicly acknowledge it. Also since each little bit, by itself, is not seen as too bad, his supporters go on record publicly still supporting him for that little bit until finally they are on the hook for the whole awful mess and there is no going back. They then say that this is old news that ‘everyone’ knew about so it cannot be that bad. It is like the metaphor of the frog in slowly heated water. (I know, I know, that the basis for the metaphor is false and frogs do jump out of slowly boiling water.)
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UK Supreme Court emphatically slaps down Johnson’s prorogation of parliament

The UK Supreme Court today unanimously ruled that Johnson’s prorogation of parliament, which was clearly a move by him to limit the time that parliament had to thwart his attempts to force through a no-deal Brexit, was unlawful.

The UK has a tripartite system, where parliament, the government and the courts each have a defined role in balancing out the others’ decisions. O’Neill successfully persuaded three senior Scottish judges 13 days ago that Johnson was abusing the government’s powers to suspend parliament to prevent it from carrying out its constitutional duties to scrutinise and approve the government’s decisions on Brexit.

Yet judges in London and Belfast had ruled in two very similar cases that Johnson did have the power to do so: they supported the government’s views that prorogation was a political decision and that courts had no right to interfere.

The competing English and Scottish court decisions were immediately sent to the UK supreme court on appeal; the judges rushed back from holiday to fast-track the hearing, allocating 11 judges – the largest number they can convene, to hear the case. (There are 12 judges on the court, but it must have an odd number sitting on the bench to prevent deadlock.)
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Physics envy of economists

Physics has long been considered the canonical science. It is not the oldest mathematical science, since astronomy predates it by centuries but that discipline lacked an experimental basis. Physics deals with the inanimate world and so is free of the messiness and ethical constraints that complicate other disciplines that deal with living things. It has an empirical basis of observations and experiments and yet has a high level of abstraction that enables simplified models to approximate reality. And the mathematical framework in which its theories are expressed gives its predictions a level of precision and rigor.
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Advice for people if they are questioned by the police

Two lawyers who call themselves the Pot Brothers At Law give advice on what you should do if you are in the marijuana business and get questioned by the police. Their advice is applicable to almost any police questioning situation actually, not just those that are pot-related. (Language advisory)

I believe that the reasoning behind their advice is that when people talk, they tend to say things that are incorrect or mistaken and then they can get charged with lying to law enforcement and that charge can be used to put pressure on them to admit to other things.

(Via Rob Beschizza)

Kareem Abdul Jabbar weighs in on the Shane Gillis/SNL issue

The basketball star who has become one of the sharpest social analysts has an excellent take on the firing of comedian Shane Gillis from Saturday Night Live soon after his hiring was announced, when it was revealed that Gillis’s past comedy routines indulged in sexism, racism, homophobia, and transphobia.

I will excerpt just two paragraphs to whet your appetite to read the whole thing.

It’s tempting to open this column by repeating Shane Gillis’ homophobic, anti-Asian and misogynistic slurs that got him fired from Saturday Night Live to show just how desperately unfunny, derivative and dripping with flop sweat they are. But their level of funniness is not the point. Comedians have the right to be unfunny sometimes, just as athletes have the right to lose games, and actors to be in bad films. But when a comedian makes hate-based comments, as Gillis did on his podcasts, we do have an obligation to take a closer look to see whether they are insightful provocateurs of culture and the human condition, or just another middle-schooler blowing milk out their nose for a quick laugh, not caring who they spatter with milky snot in the process.

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Where does the word ‘teetotaler’ come from?

I almost never drink alcohol and used to consider myself a teetotaler, though I never actually used the term because it seemed somewhat Victorian. But I had never thought about how the word originated and this article clued me in.

It dates back to the 1820s and 1830s when alcohol consumption in the United States dramatically increased. Back then, drinking was an all-or-nothing habit, explains Jon Grinspan, curator of political history at the National Museum of American History. The “tee” in “teetotaler” likely refers to temperance activists who were totally opposed to alcohol with “a capital T” (or “tee”). Similar to the way people used the label of capital-R Republicans or W-Whigs, being a T-Totaler was a distinct identity. It was only after Prohibition ended that drinking in moderation became more popular and the label fell out of fashion.

Since I am not totally opposed to alcohol and have on occasion consumed small amounts of wine and beer, it looks like technically I am not a teetotaler.

On social occasions when I ask for a non-alcoholic drink, my hosts often think I must have religious objections to alcohol, which I find amusing. My lack of interest in alcohol is mainly because I do not like the taste. Also, Sri Lanka used to have a lot of heavy drinkers and growing up I have seen too many people drink too much at parties and then say and do things they later regretted, or at least should have regretted. I vowed never to let that happen to me so have never drunk more than a token amount since. On the one occasion in my twenties where I drank a little more than usual at a party, I did not enjoy the sensation that I was slowly losing control of my words and actions and so stopped at once. Fortunately, my group of friends were also not heavy drinkers, so I did not face much peer pressure to do so.

The Libet free will experiment revisited

I have long been interested in the question of free will and back in 2010 even wrote a 16-part series (!) looking into what was known about it. Many people are Cartesian dualists where they view the brain and mind as distinct, the former being a physical organ while the latter is an immaterial entity, dubbed the ‘Ghost in the Machine’ by Gilbert Ryle, that controls the cognitive processes of the former, though how that actually happens has not been made clear.
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Trump suffering from memory loss would be worse than being a brazen liar

It is a given that Donald Trump lies brazenly. It is assumed that Trump’s lies are done deliberately to serve his immediate needs. But Robert Mackey provides a recent example that suggests that Trump may be showing alarming signs of memory loss.

AS HE THREATENED to bomb Iran at Saudi Arabia’s behest, President Donald Trump also intensified his battle with objective reality on Sunday, by railing against what he called “The Fake News” media for “saying that I am willing to meet with Iran, ‘No Conditions.’”

Since there is video of Trump saying exactly that in June, and at a news conference last year, there are only two possible explanations here: The president is either suffering an alarming memory loss or flat-out lying.

It is easy to put the blame for aberrant behavior on some sort of cognitive malfunction, as we can see with the NRA and its supporters who are quick to put the blame for mass shootings on mental health problems and shift the attention away from the easy availability of guns.

I have been reluctant to fully accept that Trump may be suffering from some form of cognitive degeneration and is not just a lying, manipulative, narcissist. But it may be time to face that that is a real possibility.

Sonic attack? Crickets? Insecticide? Update on the Havana mystery

There is a new twist to the long-running saga about the mysterious ailment that struck personnel working at the American and Canadian embassies in Havana, Cuba. Initially the US accused Cuba of using some kind of sonic weapon to attack their diplomats. But this seemed highly implausible, not least because there did not seem to be any evidence that such a weapon existed and it was not clear why the Cuban government, even if it had such a weapon, would do such a thing at a time when they were trying to improve relations with the US.
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