Rare earth mineral reserve found off Japan

In a find that could help lessen China’s stranglehold on the world’s rare earth mineral supply, Japan announced Friday it had discovered a deposit large enough to supply the needs of its own high-tech industries for more than 200 years.

Nearly 7 million tons of rare earth minerals – used in such items as iPods, wind turbines and electric cars, have been located under the seabed near a far eastern Japanese island, Tokyo University professor Yasuhiro Kato told Agence France-Presse.

The samples, taken from an area near Minamitorishima island, approximately 1,250 miles southeast of Tokyo, contained a substantial amount of the element dysprosium, a rare earth element used in the manufacture of hybrid cars, according to the wire service.

“Specifically on dysprosium, I estimate at least 400 years’ worth of Japan’s current consumption is in the deposits,” said the professor, who examined mud samples taken from the seabed at a depth of around 18,000 feet.

Despite their name, nearly all the 17 elements classified as rare earths elements are relatively plentiful in the Earth’s crust.

However, because of their geochemical properties, rare earth elements are typically dispersed and not often found in concentrated and economically exploitable forms.

China is the world’s largest producer of rare earths, generating more than 97 percent of the world’s supply, according to CNN.

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Reconstruction-era church shows artistry of past

One of the great sins of our time is that the artistry evident among talented skilled laborers of yesteryear – talents which once could be found in the best  blacksmiths, carpenters and brick masons – is largely a thing of the past.

Progress has brought with it machinery that can produce fabricated metal at a rate 25 or 50 times what a skilled smith could turn out a century ago.

Carpenters armed with power saws and nail guns can put up a sizeable house in a matter of weeks, compared to months or longer many decades ago; and today’s home has far more amenities, to be certain.

Brick structures, too, are erected quickly and efficiently.

And today’s trades, with their emphasis on alacrity, have meant less outlay for consumers, when adjusted for inflation.

But the gains we’ve realized in convenience, speed and cost haven’t come without a price:

  • Metal bought from home-improvement stores, for example, can be of a lesser quality, weaker and more brittle, than what was once hand-crafted;
  • All but today’s top-of-the-line houses lack the craftsmanship that was a regular feature in many mid-range homes up until at least World War II, when the art of carpentry began to be supplanted by the need for massive amounts of construction on short notice; and
  • Rare today is the structure built completely of brick. The few with any brick at all often have nothing more than a brick veneer and lack the creative flourishes that made many a building a testament to the talents of those who built it.

Consider brick masonry for a moment. It was for centuries a stable trade that valued workers who prized craftsmanship. Today, brickwork is limited to that which can be done the quickest for lowest cost. Indeed, Flemish bonds, barrel vaults and circular arches are largely a lost art among brick masons.

To get an idea of what’s been lost, take a walk around any city with buildings more than 100 years old, and look at the intricate designs found in the brickwork.

French arches, cornice molding and rowlocks can all be found in edifices of all sorts, some of which were of the most pedestrian type when constructed.

Today, one would likely have to scour bricklaying unions around the nation to find even a handful of aging masons able to so much as recall how such ornamentation was done, never mind actually do it themselves.

The photos in this post were taken at the Ebenezer Lutheran Chapel in Columbia, SC. The church was started in 1830 and burned by Federal troops in 1865, in the waning months of the War Between the States.

It was rebuilt in 1870, and the congregation eventually moved next door to a larger structure in 1931.

The older building was retained for Sunday School, and was refurbished in the 1990s.

The brickwork, while perhaps of a common quality for its time, is stunning. It’s unclear how many masons it took to rebuild the church, but they clearly were a talented group who took great pride in their profession.

Ebenezer Lutheran Chapel is unusual only in that it has survived the depredations of time. But many similar beautifully crafted structures remain throughout our nation’s architectural terrain – in bustling big cities and languid small towns, in calcifying Rustbelt communities and reborn Southern hamlets.

Alongside the glass and steel and siding of today’s modern architecture, works such as Ebenezer Lutheran bear witness to an age and time when the term “artist” extended beyond the easel and sketch pad, and included now-forgotten craftsmen who left indelible reminders of their talent each time they placed brick on mortar.

Finally, a flow chart that makes sense

A hat tip to the delightfully named Hookers and Booze blog for the above masterpiece. As for the blog’s name, you gotta respect an entity that’s upfront about what it’s about.

I guess “Hookers, Booze and Bacon” was too long a title. Perhaps it was already taken.

Or maybe it did exist at one time, until a cease-and-desist order from attorneys representing the cured meats industry put a stop to it. (Damn you, Big Bacon!)

Whichever way you slice it, we all lose in the long run.

Disclaimer: No hookers and/or booze was harmed in the making of this flow chart, though a prodigious portion of bacon was endangered.

Amid Mexican chaos, a business thrives

Gunmen with suspected ties to a drug cartel, wearing police uniforms, opened fire and killed three federal police officers at a food court in Mexico City’s international airport Monday, panicking bystanders.

While the incident was the first of its kind at the airport, it was also a reminder for residents of the nation’s relatively safe capital of killings occurring regularly across the country, the result of turf wars between drug gangs that have killed at least 55,000 people since a crackdown on drug cartels began in 2006, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The crimes haven’t been run-of-the-mill killings, either.

Decapitations, dismemberments and other grisly acts have been an all-too-regular feature, particularly in the country’s northern states.

Just last month, authorities found the dismembered bodies of more than four dozen people stuffed into bags and dumped on a highway near the northern industrial city of Monterrey.

But, even in the anarchic state that exists throughout parts of the country, there is opportunity.

Mexico’s armored car business, not surprisingly, is thriving.

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Washington’s Constitution fetches nearly $10 million

A 223-year-old book containing George Washington’s copies of the Constitution and Bill of Rights sold for nearly $10 million at an auction Friday evening in New York.

After an intense bidding war with an unidentified party, the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, charged with the preservation of Washington’s residence just outside the US capital, purchased the book for $9.82 million, according to Agence France-Presse.

The sale price was $8.7 million; with the commission bringing the total to nearly $10 million, according to auction house Christie’s. Original estimates were that the work could fetch between $2 million and $3 million.

The manuscript, bound by Thomas Allen of New York in 1789, was one of a set of three. The other two copies went to future President Thomas Jefferson and John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court.

The 106-page book, bound in white leather, features Washington’s signature on the document’s first page. The documents contain notes in Washington’s handwriting, including notations of the responsibilities of the president.

“It’s an exciting day. We are thrilled to be able to bring this extraordinary book back to Mount Vernon where it belongs,” said Ann Bookout, a spokeswoman for the Mount Vernon Ladies Association.

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Famed British sub found off Turkish coast

Nearly a century after being sunk by Turkish shellfire, a noted World War I British submarine has been located in the Eastern Mediterranean.

HMS E14 was discovered just 800 feet off coast of the Turkey town of Kum Kale, apparently largely intact.

The E14 was sunk in January 1918 with the loss of 25 men while on a mission to torpedo the Yavuz Sultan Selim, the flagship of the Ottoman Empire’s navy.

The Yavuz, formerly the German Imperial battlecruiser SMS Goeben, had been crippled during the Battle of Imbros and the E14 was sent to finish her off after repeated Allied air attacks failed.

The submarine had navigated 20 miles through dense minefields and past a string of enemy positions into the heavily fortified Dardanelles – the narrow straits between modern-day Turkey’s European and Asian coasts, according to The Daily Mail.

Finding the Goeben gone, E14 attacked a merchant ship as she withdrew from the Dardanelles.

She fired two torpedoes but one exploded prematurely, damaging the submarine. E14 was forced to surface because of flooding and came under coastal battery fire off Kum Kale.

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Giant wombat graveyard found in Australia

Australian scientists have uncovered the skeletons of more than four dozen “giant wombats,” extinct creatures that are believed to have been the largest marsupials ever to roam the Earth.

The find, in Queensland, Australia, of about 50 diprotodons, believed to be between 100,000 and 200,000 years old, has been called a “paleontologists’ goldmine,” according to the BBC.

The plant-eating giants grew to the size of a rhinoceros and had backward-facing pouches big enough to carry an adult human, the report added.

“When we did the initial survey I was just completely blown away by the concentrations of these fragments,” said lead scientist Scott Hocknull, from the Queensland Museum in Brisbane.

“It’s a paleontologists’ goldmine where we can really see what these megafauna were doing, how they actually behaved, what their ecology was,” he added. “With so many fossils it gives us a unique opportunity to see these animals in their environment, basically, so we can reconstruct it.”

Diprotodons were part of a group of unusual species collectively called the “Australian megafauna.” They existed from approximately 1.6 million years ago until extinction around 46,000 years ago.

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Researchers say Baltic wreck not a Stuka

It now appears that the aircraft German researchers have been working to recover from the floor of the Baltic Sea over the past week is not a Stuka dive bomber, as originally thought, but a Junkers Ju88 bomber (see example above).

Researchers say that in addition to reclassifying the German aircraft, they’ve also found human remains in the wreckage.

Enough of the plane has now been recovered to make clear it is not a single-engine Stuka, but a twin-engine Junkers Ju88, according to German Military Historical Museum spokesman Capt. Sebastian Bangert.

The two Junkers-manufactured planes shared several parts – including the engines on many models – and from the way the aircraft in question sat on the seabed, it appeared to have been a Stuka, according to an Associated Press report.

However, now that a wing section has been recovered, it’s clearly part of a larger Ju88, Bangert said.

“It looked just like the Stuka in the underwater pictures – everything that we had brought up had been pieces that were used in the Ju87 – so there was no reason to doubt it,” he said. “But this find is perhaps historically even more important.”

Among the remains found by divers is a partial skull, which researchers hope to be able to identify, according to the wire service.

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Reading great literature for its own sake

James Joyce’s masterpiece “Ulysses” is the subject of The Economist’s most recent “Books, Arts and Culture” column, with a focus being, not surprisingly, on the work’s place in the canon of Western literature.

One of the best points made in the piece is the excuse given by many today about why they’ve never picked up the 750-plus-page book: “(A) complaint with “Ulysses,” or smart books in general, is that they are too long or too dense, or both, and we simply don’t have the time to ‘waste.’”

Yet, as The Economist correctly points out, some of these same folks will also brag of finishing the 4,000-odd pages of George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” (i.e., the Game of Thrones books), or of blowing through all four seasons of “Breaking Bad” in a weekend.

Unfortunately, though, at some point in the not too distant past, it became trendy to bray about one’s lack of literary chops.

Whereas even 50 years ago many aspired to read the great works, and, therefore, appear as something other than a half-educated cretin who couldn’t tell Balzac from a baseball box score, today there exists a significant number who are not only unapologetic for their lack of erudition; they, in the fact, revel in their lack of learning.

But the point here isn’t to castigate those who would rather spend their idle time watching “Family Guy” or create an endless loop of “Friends” episodes so that that wacky gang of 20-somethings will always have a place in their homes.

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Soldier’s remains found at Waterloo

The remains of a soldier who died from wounds suffered during the famed Battle of Waterloo nearly 200 years ago have been uncovered, possibly at the spot where he died.

The skeleton of the soldier, who was probably British and whose initials may have been C.B., was found last week when a mechanical digger working a few hundred yards behind what had been the British and Allied front line uncovered the remains.

The skeleton, found under 15 inches of soil, was lying on its back with a spherical musket bullet still between its ribs, according to Agence France-Presse.

The find is unusual not only because of its age, but because the British were particular about recovering their war dead and bringing them home, according to Reuters.

“One possibility was that he crept away wounded from the front and settled down to die here. Another is that he was carried here by comrades,” said Dominique Bosquet of the archaeological department of Belgium’s Walloon region.

“Again, we can only speculate about why he was apparently left behind, he added. “Perhaps comrades buried him, perhaps an explosion nearby covered him with earth.”

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