Japanese Hayabusa asteroid mission comes home

Itokawa photographed from Hayabusa – 500 meters long

A capsule thought to contain the first samples grabbed from the surface of an asteroid has returned to Earth.

The Japanese Hayabusa container hit the top of the atmosphere just after 1350 GMT, producing a bright fireball over southern Australia.

It had a shield to cope with the heat of re-entry and a parachute for the final drop to the ground.

A recovery team later reported they had identified the landing zone in the Woomera Prohibited Range.

“We just had a spectacular display out over the Outback skies of South Australia,” said Professor Trevor Ireland, from the Australian National University, who will get to work on the samples

“We could see the little sample-return capsule separate from the main ship and lead its way in; and [we] just had this magnificent display of the break-up of Hayabusa,” he told BBC News.

The Hayabusa mission was launched to asteroid Itokawa in 2003, spending three months at the 500m-long potato-shaped space rock in 2005.

The main spacecraft, along with the sample-storage capsule, should have come back to Earth in 2007, but a succession of technical problems delayed their return by three years.

Even now, there is still some uncertainty as to whether the capsule really does contain pieces of Itokawa.

RTFA. Terrific tale of engineering and science expertise laboring three years to bring an experiment home.

Who knows? They’ll be out looking for the capsule parachuted into the desert, tomorrow morning. With luck – samples from an asteroid will be there for study.

Death toll grows unchecked in Kyrgyzstan

Sign identifies this neighborhood as “Kyrgyz Zone”
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

Mobs of Kyrgyz men rampaged through southern Kyrgyzstan today, slaughtering ethnic Uzbeks and burning down houses in a third day of ethnic bloodshed.

The country’s interim government granted its security forces shoot-to-kill powers and promised to send a volunteer force to the region – but the violence continued to rage, taking the death toll since Thursday night to more than 100.

At least 1,100 have been wounded in what are the country’s worst ethnic clashes in 20 years.

More than 75,000 terrified ethnic Uzbeks, mostly women and children, flooded across the nearby border with Uzbekistan today. Many of the refugees had gunshot wounds, according to the Uzbek emergencies ministry…

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Here’s the taxpayers’ tab for coppers for the G20 visit to Toronto

Chief William Blair provided answers Friday afternoon about Toronto Police’s $122-million policing budget for the upcoming G20 summit, as well as the police force’s plan for limiting the use of “sound cannons” during the event.

At a special meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board, Chief Blair told board members that $82-million will be spent on salaries for police officers. This includes 3,500 Toronto Police officers, 1,600 police officers from across the country, and 900 Toronto Police civilian employees.

The remaining $40-million will be spent on additional costs such as equipment, vehicles, housing for non-Toronto Police officers, and clothing.

Chief Blair emphasized that the full $122-million will be paid for by the federal government, and will not come out of Toronto Police Service’s budget.

OK. I was afraid there might be some excess.

Like for popsicles.

Republicans in Congress continue to screw Republican governors

Another fight over spending is breaking out between Republicans in Washington and GOP governors across the country. The battle echoes last year’s fight over the stimulus bill, which was backed by some Republican governors and opposed by nearly all GOP members of Congress.

This year’s dispute is over a program created in last year’s massive stimulus bill that increased the federal aid for states’ Medicaid obligations.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other Republican governors want to extend the program. Along with some Democratic governors, they say the extra federal Medicaid funding is still needed to help close state deficits…

Senate Democrats have included a six-month extension of the program, now set to expire at the end of this year, in a tax bill expected to be voted on this week. Senate Republicans oppose the measure unless its $24 billion cost is fully offset with other spending cuts…

Schwarzenegger, Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas (R-Vt.) and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (Fla.) — have publicly praised the state aid in the stimulus as helpful in retaining jobs and keeping the economy from sinking further, a sentiment that has put them at odds with the congressional GOP’s anti-spending message…

Douglas, the chairman of the National Governors Association, has argued that lawmakers must pass the extension of the enhanced federal Medicaid match money soon because state legislatures are readying their budgets for next year…

A total of 16 GOP governors plus Crist joined Democratic governors in sending another letter in February to congressional leaders urging passage of the extension in February.

Congressional Republicans hope to achieve beatification by teabaggers – and reelection, they hope – with their dedication to ideology over the needs of ordinary citizens of the United States.

RTFA. Enjoy the unintentional humor when the author recalls opportunist sluggos like Rick Perry declaiming again how he opposes any stimulus funds – before he accepts them. The dicho bears repeating: “Republicans would have invented hypocrisy if Christians hadn’t beaten them to it!”

So, what two countries will Belgium be next? UPDATED

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Belgians vote in a parliamentary election today for a government that could move toward breaking up the country and that will need to curb the third-highest debt ratio in Europe.

The Flemish separatist N-VA (New Flemish Alliance), which advocates the gradual dissolution of Belgium, is forecast to be the largest party in Dutch-speaking Flanders and possibly the country.

“The ballot box question is not whether but by how much the N-VA will win,” said Dutch-language newspaper De Morgen…

This is the first federal election from which a party advocating the end of Belgium could emerge the winner, although the N-VA were allies of the Christian Democrats in 2007.

The party’s lead in opinion polls has triggered a nationwide debate about the possible break-up of the 180-year-old nation, with Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia going their separate ways…

In the midst of a euro zone crisis, with financial speculators ready to attack budgetary laggards, Belgium, a country of 10.6 million people, can ill afford drawn-out coalition talks.

Belgium’s debt-to-GDP ratio, set to rise above 100 percent this year or next, is behind only Greece and Italy…

Some 7.7 million Belgians are eligible to vote. Voting is compulsory, with first-time offenders risking a fine of up to 55 euros.

Wow. Try that one on in some of our lazy-ass primaries.

UPDATE: Flemish separatists were the biggest winners in the election.

Office of the Repealer? Lazy Republican bureaucrat!

In some corners of the country, people seem to have grown so grumpy about the tangle of government rules and regulations that it may be easier for politicians to promise not what they will do, but what they will undo.

Take Senator Sam Brownback, the Republican from Kansas who is hoping to become governor. In his journeys in this region lately, he has proposed a new Kansas entity, the State Office of the Repealer, whose job it would be to start disposing of all the silly, needless, over-the-top regulations that state officials have dreamed up…

In Missouri, lawmakers passed legislation this spring that repealed more than 200 sections of statutes, including some dusty ones pertaining to the regulation of steamboats, steam engines, pool halls and margarine. In Michigan, lawmakers did likewise, agreeing, for instance, to repeal statutes that had designated as crimes prizefighting and dueling.

The thought of an official designated repealer draws nods (if mildly puzzled ones) from Kansans, but aides to Tom Holland, a Democratic state senator who is also running for governor this year, sound dismissive.

This is the same empty sloganeering Sam Brownback and Newt Gingrich did 16 years ago,” said Dana Houle, Mr. Holland’s campaign manager…

Mr. Brownback, who said he came up with the idea after traveling around Kansas with a former state lawmaker, said he had grown increasing frustrated with the sense, in government, that “it’s always, ‘Well, we need this, we need that, we need this.’ Nothing is ever subtracted in the system…”

Still uncertain, he acknowledged, is what the new position might cost or where it would fit, exactly, into the existing layers of government in Topeka, the state capital.

Americans avoid responsibility whenever possible. Climate change can’t involve human beings. We aren’t responsible for wars our elected scumbag politicians vote for. Republican forms of government delegate responsibility – as long as no one is charged with that responsibility.

Brownback and his lust for teabagger votes might just consider getting off his rusty dusty and using some of that staff Kansas voters pay for – searching out useless laws and fight to have them remaindered. After he checks to see whether or not he’s offending any bible-thumping loyal members of the couple hundred fundamentalist sects he relies on to keep him in office in the first place.

Heart attacks diminish in northern California

Heart attacks dropped by 24 percent in a large cross section of Northern Californians over the past decade, most likely due to less smoking, better blood pressure control, and lower cholesterol, a new study reports.

What’s more, rates of the most severe type of heart attack dropped by 62 percent, according to the study, published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“We believe improvements in targeting risk factors are in part responsible,” says the study’s senior author, Dr. Alan Go, M.D., the assistant director for clinical research at Kaiser Permanente, in Oakland, California. “We’ve observed in our population that fewer people are smoking, and there’s better control of blood pressure and cholesterol…”

The plunge in heart attack rates may not reflect trends elsewhere in the country, or even in other Northern Californians, however. Although the study patients were ethnically diverse and ranged in age from 30 to 90-plus, they all had one thing in common: They were insured and received quality preventive care…

While heart attack rates were falling among the people in the study, Brown points out, rates of diabetes and obesity continued to climb across the nation as a whole. “We are still facing an epidemic that is causing a gradual-to-rapid increase in heart disease-related deaths,” he says.

And heart disease is not equally distributed across the U.S., Pearson notes. Southeastern states, and especially the regions lining the Mississippi and Ohio River Valleys–a swath collectively known as “Coronary Valley”–are among the hardest hit, he says.

Though the population in the study isn’t representative of the nation as a whole, the findings do highlight the changes that need to be made to heart disease care, Brown says.

If the health-care system can transition from “dealing with problems” to “creating sustainable lifestyle changes in our communities,” Brown adds, “we can prevent the onset of chronic illness in our country beyond that of heart disease alone.”

Hrmph. That requires moving politicians in general and Congress in particular to decisions that challenge the insurance and health care establishment in America. Should I hold my breath waiting for that to happen?

Does that sound too cynical?