Space spots closeup

Back in March I posted a picture of Ceres, a dwarf planet in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It had bright spots which were puzzling NASA.

Well, new pictures have come back from the probe called Dawn, which is now in its first full orbit of Ceres. This picture was taken from 13,600km away.


Look at the spots. There aren’t just two, as previously thought. There are several smaller ones as well.


Dear Vladimir,

Perhaps the western alliance would have been interested in helping you celebrate the end of the Great Patriotic War and the defeat of Nazi Germany had you not invaded Ukraine with a fifth column of Russian soldiers.

The allies might also have been more amenable to a party had you not been diligently trying to rewrite history to minimize the effect on Europe of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939, claiming that Ukraine was never an independent country, and threatening Denmark with nuclear missiles.

Face it, Vlad. Nobody likes you very much.

UK Election shocker

The citizens of the UK voted for the party which intends to cut public spending by another $50 billion beyond the ostensible $100 billion the Tories cut in their first term in office.

This is akin to saying “give me more Castor Oil, Mom.”

Besides the proposed cuts, Prime Minister Cameron and his crowd face two major problems: firstly, he promised a referendum on staying in or getting out of the European Union. If the vote is “OUT!” the disentanglement might be devastating to the UK economy for quite a while, and it’s not in the best of shape as it stands now.

Secondly, the whole of Scotland essentially voted for its separation from the UK. The Scottish National Party took 56 of 59 possible seats allocated to it in Parliament. The party has said it has no plans for another referendum on leaving anytime soon, but its constituents might push it to do so despite its statements. If that occurs, the UK is reduced to England, Northern Ireland and Wales. Apparently there’s little appetite for full independence in Wales, but they want more power and local control devolved from the Parliament in Westminster to their own Assembly in Cardiff.

Mr. Cameron may have won the right to preside over a much smaller United Kingdom.

If he was insufferable before…

what’s Bibi Netanyahu going to be like now that he’s had to form a coalition government with two little parties which are even more far-right than Netanyahu’s Likud?

The late-night deal saved Netanyahu from the almost unthinkable scenario of being forced from office. But it set the stage for the formation of a narrow coalition dominated by hard-line and religious parties that appears to be on a collision course with the US and other allies.

With a slim majority of just 61 seats in the 120-seat parliament, Netanyahu could also struggle to press forward with a domestic agenda.

Negotiations between Netanyahu and the Jewish Home leader, Naftali Bennett, came down to the wire on Wednesday night due to Bennett’s last-minute demands, chief among them that the justice ministry be headed by controversial party member Ayelet Shaked. Netanyahu ultimately agreed to hand over the ministry but will insist on limiting some of Shaked’s powers.

A politician for only two years, Shaked has been very vocal about her contempt for the liberal-leaning supreme court. As part of the deal, she is expected to be a member of the security cabinet and head the ministerial committee for legislation. However, Netanyahu does not want her to head the committee overseeing the nomination of new judges, or have the authority to appoint rabbinical judges.


The coalition talks were first plunged into crisis on Monday by the surprise announcement by Lieberman that he intended to resign and lead his party into opposition, unhappy with the shape of the emerging government. Before Lieberman pulled out, Netanyahu had hoped to forge a rightwing religious lineup with a majority of 67 of parliament’s 120 seats.

Now the ruling coalition has only one majority seat, making it extremely narrow. Analysts say it is unlikely to survive for long, as any Knesset member can block a vote when it comes to the floor, making it extremely difficult to pass the budget or any reforms.

Maybe this will mean that Bibi has to focus on domestic issues for a while and will be too busy with that to try to meddle in the ongoing P5+1 talks with Iran.



Well, not really. More like “Get away, get away!”

SpaceX, the private company designing rockets and capsules to provide passenger and freight service to NASA and presumably anyone else who wants to send stuff into space, is about to test an “Eject” capability for its Dragon capsule. Should there be a failure of the rocket, the company is trying to build a way for the entire payload to escape.

Sounds like a good plan to me, but boy, it’ll need some forceful rockets to get loose. The plan is to build eight of them into the walls of the capsule.

Think there’s room?


Nobody’s in line, so everyone wants in

The Republicans usually have a Presidential candidate in waiting, someone who’s more or less “next in line.” In 2008 it was John McCain, since he’d lost to GWB in the primaries in 2000. In 2012 it wasn’t quite so clearcut, but Mitt Romney had competed in 2008 and lost to McCain, so the party fell into line after flirtations with a half-dozen lesser-known lights.

The 2016 campaign, though, is shaping up as wide open. Some of the men who ran in 2012 are trying again, but none of them save Rick Santorum did very well in the primaries in that campaign. So here it is May of 2015, 18 months from Election Day, and the Republicans have three already-declared candidates in Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio. None of them have distinguished themselves in the Senate; Paul and Rubio both arrived there in 2011, while Cruz first took office in 2013.

Today we got two more candidates, and the story is that a third (Mike Huckabee) will announce this week as well. Today’s crop was Ben Carson, a highly-regarded neurosurgeon with a penchant for saying outlandish things and then whining that the “politically correct” crowd is mean to him, and Carly Fiorina, a former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, noted mostly for laying off some 30,000 people and arguing with the company’s Board until they forced her out.

Hoo boy. I hope the rank-and-file party member looks at these people with as much disdain as I do. I can’t imagine any one of them in the Oval Office except as a guest.

Pretty eventful scoreless game

The Dodgers got a walk-off home run from Yasmani Grandal in the bottom of the 13th inning, ending a scoreless duel between the Diamondbacks’ and the Dodgers’ pitching staffs, both of which were stellar.

That was after a remarkable play in the top of the 13th in which the Dodgers’ pitcher J.P. Howell threw a wild pitch which didn’t get very far away from the catcher (Grandal) with a man on third base. Grandal scrambled after it and threw back to the left-handed Howell, who got his right (glove) hand down between the runner’s foot and home plate resulting in an inning-ending out rather than a go-ahead run.


Rand Paul, panderer

Time Magazine has put out a special issue every year for a while now called The Time 100. It picks the 100 most influential people it can think of and then asks other influential people to write a hundred words or so flattering them. It’s mostly harmless, but sometimes you find nuggets that tell you things about the flatterer. Case in point, Rand Paul, writing about the libertarian Koch Brothers:

Charles and David Koch are well known for their business success, their generous philanthropic efforts and for their focus on innovation in management. Some also know them for their activism in the political realm. All of these are important contributions to society. What is underappreciated is their passion for freedom and their commitment to ideas. Unlike many crony capitalists who troll the halls of Congress looking for favors, the Kochs have consistently lobbied against special-interest politics.

Senator Paul, you have just confirmed to me that you’re a damned fool. I know that you share their libertarian point of view. I don’t agree with it, but that’s fine. But to tell me that they lobby “against special-interest politics” is just disingenuous. When they spend millions on political-action committees, what are they doing but acting as their own special interest? When they say they’ll spend $900 million to

influence legislation and campaigns across the country, leveraging Republican control of Congress and the party’s dominance of state capitols to push for deregulation, tax cuts and smaller government.

that’s certainly a special-interest goal.

I think Senator Paul is hoping some of that $900M will flow his way.

Baseball standings, April 30, 2015

Let’s see who’s leading each division, shall we?

AL East – Yankees by a game over the Rays and Red Sox. The Os are 2 games back and the Jays 2 1/2. Nothing particularly unusual there. Next!

AL Central – The Royals by a 1/2 game over the Tigers. The Twins, White Sox and Indians are all 5 games back or even more. Okay, that’s not much of a surprise. Next!

AL West – The Astros lead the Angels by 4 games. What? The Astros? The team that lost over 100 games in 3 of the last 4 seasons? My goodness, what’s going on in Houston? The Mariners, Athletics and Rangers are all within 7 1/2 games. Next!

NL East – The Mets lead the Braves and Marlins by 4 1/2 games. What’s going on here? The Mets have had six straight seasons in which they lost more than they won! The Nationals were picked by many to win the World Series, but they’re 3 games under .500 and 5 games back. The Phillies are even worse. Next!

NL Central – The Cardinals lead the Cubs by 2 1/2 games. The Cards aren’t a surprise, but the Cubs, prophesied by “experts” to be vastly improved this season, actually seem to be living up to the hype so far. The Pirates are 3 1/2 back, the Reds 4 1/2 back, and the Brewers are already out by 10 1/2 games. Next!

NL West – The Dodgers lead the Rockies by 2 games, the Padres and Diamondbacks by 3, and the Giants by 4 1/2. The surprise here is the Rockies.

So there you have it after one month. Two surprise division leaders in the Mets and Astros, and everybody else performing more or less as expected.