How many friends do we need?

There is no single answer of course but the increased isolation during the pandemic has led to considerable reflection on the effects of solitude on people who have been cut off from socializing with family, friends, and co-workers. This has clearly had more of an effect on some than others and caused them to think about who are the people they really miss and want to reconnect with as soon as possible and whom they may decide to slowly ease away from.

Melissa Kirsch described her apprehension about meeting a friend after a long separation, and that caused her to explore the question of how many friends a person needs to stave off feelings of loneliness.
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Excellent summary and analysis of the situation in Sri Lanka

This 12-minute news report from the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle gives an excellent summary of the situation in Sri Lanka and how it got that way and the extent of the nepotism and corruption of the Rajapaksa family.

At the 2:20 mark, the news reader describes the Rajapaksa family dynasty that has been in politics for eight decades and shows a chart of some of the many family members who occupy senior positions in government. He says that they could not fit all of them on their chart. The Rajapaksa family has been labeled the most unashamedly nepotistic family in Sri Lankan history and that is saying something since nepotism has been rampant throughout the country’s post-independence history.

Meanwhile, a court has barred the former prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa (currently holed up in a naval base), his son, and fifteen allies of theirs from leaving the country, because of their possible involvement in the violence that took place on Monday.

The allure of forbidden foods

The story of Adam and Eve tells how Eve was tempted by the serpent to eat the fruit from a particular tree that God had forbidden them to eat. That story captures well how being ordered to refrain from eating something can make that food particularly alluring. This is especially the case when the ban seems arbitrary. After all, nobody wants to eat food that they are warned against as being poisonous and most people have no difficulty avoiding food that they are told is unhealthy or awful tasting. But being asked not to eat something that so many other people seem to eat and enjoy just because some religious leaders tell them not to makes the food particularly intriguing and must make them wonder what must it taste like. The very arbitrariness of these rules adds to the mystique of these foods and would make people curious about what could possibly happen if they tried it. And yet they usually refrain, out of a mix of obedience, loyalty to their family and community and religion, and fear of what might happen if they break a rule that was supposedly handed down by their god.
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Tense impasse in Sri Lanka as shoot on sight order given by president

After the chaos of Monday when, in response to pro-government mobs attacking the tent camps of anti-government protestors, there was a massive nationwide retaliation in which the homes of 41 pro-government politicians were burned down including three belonging to the family of the president and prime minister, an uneasy calm has returned to the streets. The president Gotabaya Rajapaksa has declared an emergency that has given him even more powers than before, ordered a nationwide curfew until Thursday morning, and given the military orders to shoot ‘lawbreakers’ on sight.

On Tuesday, the government ordered troops to open fire on anyone looting public property or causing “harm to life”.

It also deployed tens of thousands of army, navy and air force personnel to patrol the streets of the capital Colombo.

Despite their presence, the city’s top police officer was assaulted on Tuesday afternoon by a mob accusing him of not doing enough to protect peaceful protesters.

At Colombo’s Galle Face Green, on the sea front, crowds also continued to gather.

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Violence escalates in Sri Lanka: Prime minister resigns

The crisis in Sri Lanka keeps escalating by the hour. After more than a month of protests in which people across the country called for the removal of president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, his brother the prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, and the government over the fact that they had created a massive economic crisis that had led to daily hours-long power cuts, high inflation, and shortages of imported fuel, medicines, and certain foods, events took an even more serious turn on Monday.

Up until then, the demonstrations had been widespread but largely peaceful, with demonstrators setting up tent-city encampments in Colombo called ‘Gota Go Gama’ and ‘Mynah Go Gama’ (‘Gama’ is Sinhala for ‘town’ and a ‘Mynah’ is a small bird and is a recently coined derogatory nickname for the prime minister, so you get the sentiment being expressed by the names) and marching in many parts of the country and organizing successful general strikes that brought the country to a standstill. But on Monday, Mahinda (who has a larger base of support than his brother Gotabaya because he has been in Sri Lankan politics longer, was a former president, and opened the doors for his brothers and the rest of the Rajapaksa clan to occupy many sectors of the government) seemed to have decided to launch a counter-offensive. He had thousands of his supporters from various parts of the country bused into Colombo to his official residence Temple Trees where he and some supporters in parliament gave defiant speeches vowing to fight the protestors. After that session, his supporters went out into the streets and violently attacked the protestors, destroying the two tent cities, the banners, and all the other items that the protestors had with them.
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Why the British House of Commons is more interesting to watch than the US Congress

When you watch proceedings of the British parliament, you cannot help but notice how all the MPs are seated very close to one another, most apparently without designated seating, This level of proximity can lead to situations where an MP can notice, as happened recently, that the member next to them was watching pornography on their phone. The seats are in sets of rows facing each other with the two front rows just 13 feet apart. The Speaker sits on a raised throne between the two rows, looking straight down the center aisle. This arrangement lends a certain intimacy to the proceedings and gives the sense of a real debate going on with people from opposing sides alternating to pop up, hoping that the Speaker will call upon them to speak. In the US House of Representatives, it looks less like a debate and more like a series of speeches given from a central podium to a cavernous room.
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The good and bad of Nextdoor

If you live in the US and a few other countries, you may have joined the group known as Nextdoor. It is a place where people can share information about their neighborhoods and get to know what is going on locally. Most of the time it involves lost and found pets, petty crimes, alerts, and requests for information and assistance. In that respect, it is useful and can serve to bring people in a community together around common interests. But as Andrew Anthony writes, like all social media, it has a dark side with people voicing stereotypical views.
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Tackling the problem of renewable energy storage

The cost of producing renewable energy using solar and wind has been dropping sharply over the years so that it is now comparable and often even cheaper that energy produced using fossil fuels. So why hasn’t it taken over the energy sector completely? The reason is that when it comes to renewable energy, there is an extra cost that fossil-fuel based power plants do not have and that is the cost of storing the energy and this has to be factored in as well.

It is energy in the form of electric current that drives all our devices but the problem with current is that it cannot be stored as current because as it flows in wires, it dissipates its energy as heat. (Superconductors don’t have any resistance and thus do not lose any heat but the commercial applications of that are far off in the future.) The production of current has to exactly match the use of current at every moment. The energy grid is is a true marvel of engineering technology that achieves precisely this. We have various power plants feeding electricity into the grid and this is the sent all over the area covered by the grid to wherever it is needed at that moment. So in the US during the summer months, for example, energy is sent to the hot southern parts of the country to meet the increased demands of air conditioning.
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A Pyrrhic victory for religious symbolism

While much of the week’s legal news has centered on the leaked draft of a US Supreme Court that revealed that a majority of the court have decided to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in the US, there was another ruling on Monday that has much less of a momentous impact, and that was the unanimous opinion that said that the city of Boston could not forbid the flying of a flag at city hall that had a cross on it.

The city of Boston violated the free speech rights of a Christian group by refusing to fly a flag bearing the image of a cross at city hall as part of a program that let private groups use the flagpole while holding events in the plaza below, the US supreme court ruled unanimously on Monday.

The 9-0 decision overturned a lower-court ruling that the rejection of Camp Constitution and its director, Harold Shurtleff, did not violate their rights to freedom of speech under the first amendment to the US constitution.
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