Random Stew It seemed like a good idea at the time.

24Feb/092

Great Expectations

Wow. It's been over a month since I last posted an article. I apologize to all those readers who have been anxiously awaiting my next postChange we can believe in.When I posted my last article, the world was aglow with Obamania. The Big Change was coming and with it a new world order. The overwhelming response around the world to Barack Obama's inauguration was one of hope and excitement. Our new president was the media darling and had practically been deified by Oprah and her fawning hordes. Change we can believe in. A New Hope. Abraham Lincoln, F.D.R., and J.F.K. all rolled into one.

A New HopePresidents are judged by the effectiveness with which they met challenges and adversity. Barack Obama has the opportunity to become one of the greatest presidents ever to serve our country. We're facing the greatest economic crisis since the Depression. Our military occupies two countries on the other side of the world. We must deal with a madman in North Korea who may have the capability to deliver nuclear weapons to our soil. Much of the world regards us as overbearing imperialists and even our staunchest allies seem to view us with suspicion.

Heroism is not only in the man, but in the occasion. --Calvin Coolidge

So, into this minefield of challenges steps a great new hope. A man who has fired the fervor of much of America. A man who represents change and a new era. A man who, much of the world believes, can meet these challenges and reaffirm the idea of an America dedicated not to power but to ideals. But can he? How can he possibly meet the expectation level set for him? The bar seems to be incredibly high. What happens if he doesn't meet these impossibly lofty expectations? Will he be considered a failure? Will it harm his ability to accomplish great things? Will the fanatic fervor of his supporters be transformed into a bitter backlash of disappointment?

Being a hero is about the shortest lived profession on earth. --Will Rogers

Abandon hope, all ye who enter here. President Obama must make some very hard decisions that will be unpopular with a lot of people. He's a man, not a messiah. And we're a culture that loves to tear down its heroes -- as witnessed by the recent news frenzies about athletic heroes Michael Phelps and Alex Rodriguez. We can't resist tipping the pedestal upon which our heroes stand. And the higher the pedestal, the more we rock it. It's going to be an interesting ride.

19Feb/080

Juxtaposition

This article is probably the only place you will ever see these two men together. Both of these men played large and very different parts shaping historical currents that eventually culminated in the American Civil War.

John C. Calhoun

On the left is John C. Calhoun, senator from South Carolina and Vice President for both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. He was one of the most powerful politicians in the country until his death in 1850. He was a staunch believer in States Rights and in the "positive good" of the institution of slavery. He was, in a sense, the patron saint of the South's secessionist movement.

John BrownOn the right is John Brown the abolitionist, famous for his roles in the Pottawatomie Massacre in Bleeding Kansas, and the leader of a slave revolt at the Harper's Ferry Armory for which he was hanged. He is hailed by some as a martyr, while others view him as a terrorist.

Isn't it ironic that they look so similar? , Especially the set of their jaw and the zeal in their eyes.

19Feb/081

The First Lady’s Aphrodisiacal Dessert

You can file this under "Strangest Thing I Learned Today". It's fairly well known that James and Dolley Madison popularized ice cream by frequently serving it during their tenure in the White House. As stated on Wikipedia,

Ice cream was introduced to the United States by Quaker colonists who brought their ice cream recipes with them. Confectioners, many of whom were Europeans, sold ice cream at their shops in New York and other cities during the colonial era. Ben Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson were known to have regularly eaten and served ice cream. First Lady Dolley Madison is also closely associated with the early history of ice cream in the United States. One respected history of ice cream states that, as the wife of U.S. President James Madison, she served ice cream at her husband's Inaugural Ball in 1813.

But, do you know what Dolley's favorite flavor was?

Wait for it.......

Oyster!

What would Ben & Jerry call this flavor?Yeah, that's right. Oyster.

So, a quick Google reveals that oyster ice cream is apparently popular in Japan -- big surprise there, eh? However, the version that Dolley served was probably a frozen version of the popular cream-based oyster stew with which most people are familiar.

Imagine the neapolitan possibilities.

16Jan/085

There’s U308 In Them Thar Hills

Uranium ore, that is.

On August 29, 1949, the Soviet Union exploded their first atomic bomb. Needless to say, this created quite a stir in the U.S. which launched a massive bomb building campaign to counter the Soviet threat. American policymakers strategically decided the develop native sources of uranium ore (aka U308) so as not to be dependent on foreign sources. The newly created Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was designated as the only legal buyer of the ore. For several years, the AEC had already been paying top dollar for the ore, touting it as the energy source of the future. AEC chairman, David Lilienthal, crossed the country telling audiences that a uranium pellet the size of a peanut contained the energy of a ton of coal; holding up a lump of coal, he would tell his audience the equivalent size rock of uranium would heat a large city for an entire winter. With the combination of a successful Soviet atomic bomb test, the Korean War, and the beginnings of the domino theory of the fight against communism, the pressure was on the AEC to develop enough weapons-grade uranium to reduce the USSR to pea-gravel several times over.

In March 1951, the AEC doubled the price it was paying for uranium ore and offered a $10,000 bonus to anyone who developed a productive new mine. The AEC also provided guidebooks and geology reports, built supply roads, and constructed ore processing mills -- all in support of uranium miners. A uranium rush occurred in Utah. Moab, Utah went from 500 to 5,000 people virtually overnight. There were stories of prospectors renting planes and throwing out claim stakes in an massive mineral rights grab. Not coincidentally, Moab was the first place in Utah to allow alcohol.

Charlie Steen after he bought new bootsInto this rush came Charlie Steen, an unemployed geologist from Texas, hitchhiking into Utah in 1952. Until this time, most uranium was either found on the surface or in excavated mines. Steen believed the ore could be found using drilling derricks to bore vertically to the ore. Legend has it that, in July 1952, he was down to his last dollar, wearing boots so worn his toes stuck out through holes, when his drill bit broke off in his bore hole. In disgust, he collected his samples from that day and drove home.  On the way, he stopped at a service station where a friend had a Geiger counter. Apparently, everyone in Moab had a Geiger counter in those days. When he put the counter on his samples, the needle pegged all the way over. Steen had found a huge vein of uranium ore. His mine eventually produced over $100 million of ore. Steen had his worn-out boots bronzed.

The AEC continued its favorable pricing policies until 1966. By the early 70's the price of uranium ore had bottomed out. Then came the oil embargo of the 70's, and ore prices again skyrocketed as America was again electrified about nuclear power as the solution to America's energy needs. The partial meltdown at Three Mile Island -- less than 2 weeks after the opening of the movie The China Syndrome -- violently swung the public opinion pendulum against nuclear power. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) halted the construction of any new nuclear power plants. In 1986, the Chernobyl reactor explosion occurred, releasing 400 times the radiation as the Hiroshima bomb, further contaminating the reputation of nuclear power.

Russian ICBMIn the late 80's the fall of the Soviet Union, was another shock to the price of uranium ore. Ironically, much of the former Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal was recycled into fuel for nuclear power plants in the U.S. In fact, 20,000 Russian warheads have been dismantled and recycled into fully half of the uranium used for power generation in U.S. reactors. By the year 2000, uranium ore was selling for roughly the same price as it was 50 years before. In summer 2000, Invention and Technology magazine published an article detailing the history of uranium mining and its demise, saying that "uranium mining will not be a profitable venture any time soon." The market was dead and its prospects for a recovery were very dim indeed.

Now, however, the U.S. government is on the verge of granting permits for the first new nuclear power plants in 30 years. The soaring price of petroleum in recent years has again highlighted the folly of  U.S. dependence on foreign energy sources.  Growing concerns over global warming and greenhouse gas emissions are fueling the demand for forms of energy other than coal and oil. Even hard-core anti-nukes are warming to the idea of nuclear power; Patrick Moore, one of the founders of Greenpeace, said in an op-ed piece in The Washington Post, that nuclear energy is "the only large-scale, cost-effective energy source that can reduce greenhouse emissions while continuing to satisfy a growing demand for power."

And the U.S. isn't the only country with a re-energized nuclear power industry; Russia has unveiled plans to build 24 new nuclear reactors, and China has scheduled building more than 30 reactors (two 1,000-megawatt plants every year for the next 20 years). India is also going nuclear at a rapid pace.  Worldwide, there are 160 power plants proposed or currently under construction.

Historical prices of uranium ore.Today, demand for uranium is outstripping the supply and the price for uranium ore has not just risen, it has absolutely skyrocketed. There's an ore rush occurring in Moab, Utah again -- almost 60 years after the first rush. And recently, a landowner in Virginia is trying to mine the largest deposit of uranium in the U.S.. A supply that is worth an estimated $10 billion and is the estimated energy equivalent of 7.4 billion barrels of oil. In the 80's, Virginia banned uranium mining but, of course, uranium ore wasn't extremely lucrative then -- and money talks.

Personally, I favor nuclear power despite its dangers and by-products; both of which I believe are far less than all other ready-for-primetime energy sources. But as a history addict, I find it interesting to compare the previous uranium rushes to the current one. The first rush in the 50's was fueled by fears of national security from a military perspective. The 'expert' responsible for U.S. energy policy for the last 40 years.The second rush of the 70's was generated by national security concerns over the U.S. over-reliance on foreign oil. Today's rush is plugged into America's growing concerns over rising petroleum prices, our voracious appetite for energy, our continued over-reliance on energy imports, and recognition of the need for clean yet economical energy sources -- in other words, economic national security tempered with a bit of environmentalism.

Yogi

 It's deja vu all over again. --Yogi Berra