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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Monday, January 21, 2019



They're predicting snow.... 

My Favourite (US) TV New Anchors – Part 1.

I’m finding myself watching far too much YouTube at the moment – everything from history documentaries, TED talks, book vlogs, game walkthroughs, and, of course News. I’ve been a newshound for decades. Even as a teen I always made room for the 6 o’clock news and, just to be sure probably at least the 9 o’clock or 10 o’clock news later that night. At Uni I was in a group of news addicts who would channel hop between news shows. We must have been amongst the best informed students there. So it’s no surprise that I zeroed in on news shows on YouTube. The surprising bit is that I got hooked on US News shows so easily.

First was the shock. US News, it seemed to me, was frantic, shouty, argumentative, full of what we see as a bad thing – editorialising. Our news readers are dignified, reserved, and neutral. US news anchors seem to be, and indeed are, the polar opposite: involved, opinionated, and loud. I don’t think I’d seen a news reader laugh out loud so much and so often before I saw Nicole Wallace in full flow. But you know what? After the shock faded and I got used to the frantic pace and the noise levels I really started to like it. So much so that I get an actual thrill whenever my favourite anchors have a new upload. So, who are they?

My top favourite, at least for now, has to be Nicolle Wallace who hosts Deadline: White House on MSNBC. Not only is she great fun to watch (I just love her energy and enthusiasm to say nothing of her laugh) but I think she really knows her stuff and has great guests (listed maybe for a future post). Whenever she pops up on my YouTube feed I always end up watching this ‘lapsed Republican’ do her thing. Personally I think she’s brilliant.

Brilliant in another way, indeed I honestly find her riveting, is Rachel Maddow who hosts her own show again on MSNBC. I find that I’m learning reams of things about the American political system (something I’m really only just coming to grips with) every time I watch her show. Not only does she delve into seemingly obscure details in order to reveal a larger reality she does it in a way that reminds me of a classic detective story. It’s just so well done and has, more than once, kept me on the edge of my seat waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Finally, for now, is the double act of Ali Velshi and Stephanie Ruhle (yet again on MSNBC!). Velshi is definitely the straight man to Ruhle’s intensity and emotion (and so much fun to watch compared to the rather staid UK version) which makes them such an entertaining team to watch together. I love the way that Ruhle leans into a conversation when she’s interested in the topic at hand. It’s very visually arresting.

As you can tell this things I like about all of the above anchors and shows is the intensity, the energy and the obvious enthusiasm (and deep knowledge) that each brings to the subject under discussion. That’s something missing from UK TV news which honestly could do with a bit more pep!     

Saturday, January 19, 2019


Saturn's spectacular rings are 'very young'

By Jonathan Amos for BBC Science

17 January 2019

We're looking at Saturn at a very special time in the history of the Solar System, according to scientists. They've confirmed the planet's iconic rings are very young - no more than 100 million years old, when dinosaurs still walked the Earth. The insight comes from the final measurements acquired by the American Cassini probe. The satellite sent back its last data just before diving to destruction in the giant world's atmosphere in 2017. "Previous estimates of the age of Saturn's rings required a lot of modelling and were far more uncertain. But we now have direct measurements that allows us to constrain the age very well," Luciano Iess from Sapienza University of Rome, Italy, told BBC News. The professor's team has published an account of its work with Cassini in Science magazine.

There has long been a debate about the age of Saturn's rings. Some had argued these gorgeous loops of icy particles most likely formed along with the planet itself, some 4.5 billion years ago. Others had suggested they were a recent phenomenon - perhaps the crushed up remains of a moon or a passing comet that was involved in a collision. The US-European Cassini mission promised to resolve the argument in its last months at the gas giant. The satellite's end days saw it fly repeatedly through the gap between the rings and the planet's cloudtops. These manoeuvres made possible unprecedented gravity measurements. Cassini essentially weighed the rings, and found their mass to be 20 times smaller than previous estimates: something on the order of 15,400,000,000,000,000 tonnes, or about two-fifths the mass of Mimas - the Saturn moon that looks like the "Death Star" weapon in the Star Wars movies.

Knowing the mass was a key piece in the puzzle for researchers. From Cassini's other instruments, they already knew the proportion of dust in the rings and the rate at which this dust was being added. Having a definitive mass for the rings then made it possible to work out an age. Prof Iess's team says this could be as young as 10 million years but is no older than 100 million years. In terms of the full age of the Solar System, this is "yesterday". The calculation agrees with one made by a different group which last month examined how fast the ring particles were falling on to Saturn - a rate that was described as being equivalent to an Olympic-sized swimming pool every half-hour. This flow, when all factors were considered, would probably see the rings disappear altogether in "at most 100 million years", said Dr Tom Stallard from Leicester University, UK. "The rings we see today are actually not that impressive compared with how they would have looked 50-100 million years ago," he told BBC News. "Back then they would have been even bigger and even brighter. So, whatever produced them must have made for an incredible display if you'd been an astronomer 100 million years ago." Cassini's investigations cannot shed much light on the nature of the event that gave rise to the rings, but it would have been cataclysmic in scale. It was conceivable, said Dr Stallard, that the geology of the moons around Saturn could hold important clues. Just as rock and ice cores drilled on Earth reveal debris from ancient meteorite and comet impacts, so it's possible the moons of Saturn could record evidence of the ring-forming event in their deeper layers. Maybe we'll get to drill into the likes of Mimas and Enceladus... one day.

[How intriguing. It’s actually hard to imagine Saturn *without* rings. What a much duller Solar System it was over 100 million years ago!]

Thursday, January 17, 2019


Just Finished Reading: Britain in the Nineteen Thirties by Noreen Branson and Margot Heinemann (FP: 1971)

It was called the ‘Hungry Thirties’ for a good reason. After the effects of the Crash of ’29 reverberating around the world governments, including in Britain, cut back on essential services and all aspects of government spending. Building projects were cancelled or postponed, pensions curtailed, civil service pay cut, teachers pay cut, unemployment pay cut. As the ripples spread and unemployment bloomed the primitive social security system strained, buckled and cracked. As working class destitution spread so did strikes, protest marches and civil disobedience. The police responded with a heavy hand and tensions grew. More and more people moved to political extremes, not just in the working class but throughout the whole structure of society. What was happening in Europe was clear to anyone who read the newspapers. With Communists and Fascists fighting on the streets throughout the Continent it was only a matter of time before it happened here – in England. So it did, with the rise of Moseley’s Blackshirt’s and widespread talk of the failure of democracy to solve the economic problems evident throughout the western world.

A good chunk, at least half if not more, of this detailed and often fascinating book covers the plight of the working class and the growing army of unemployed in this period of economic stagnation and political upheaval. Complete with charts, graphs and statistics is shows just how badly those on the lower end of the social scale suffered disproportionally to pay for the government’s clear inability to cope with the Great Depression (despite admittedly radical advice from JM Keynes). Although definitely dry in places and very clearly coming from a Left wing perspective (not at all subtle and hard to miss) this section laid the foundations for the rest of the book dealing with Unionisation, the spread of left wing and often Communist ideas amongst the working class, the structural changes in the class system during the period with a growing technological able middle class gaining strength year on year, the growth of education and educationally opportunity, the change in house ownership, the rise of mass media and much else besides.

Several things really jumped out at me in the second half of the book. One of which was the beginnings of public opinion survey’s which, for the first time actually gauged the thoughts of all classes of people to events of the day. One of the most important of the time were questions around the government’s policy of Appeasement. It actually really surprised me that most of the public were against appeasing Germany and Italy despite wanting peace – just not at any price. I had always thought that the government was essentially doing what the people wanted – avoiding war. But apparently a large percentage of people thought that the government’s behaviour was deeply troubling and that our throwing the Czechs to the wolves was particularly bad. The final thing that jumped out was the fact that a significant number of the establishment either actively or passively supported, or at worst turned a blind eye to, the rise of Fascism in England until the ‘bully tactics’ became so blatant that they could no longer be ignored. Oddly (or maybe not) the Labour Party didn’t want to seem to aggravate those on the far-right and left it to local trade unionists and other activists to show that such forces can be overturned by violent street protests. Because of this Fascism never rose to prominence here.

Despite being a rather old volume, which I’ve had on my shelves for many years, this was an excellent foundation and introduction to my delving into the early years of the war (1939-41) and the rise of Churchill. I now have a pretty good handle on the situation which placed us in the position to oppose Germany so effectively in 1940. Much more to come on this theme. Recommended if you can get a copy.