Sunday, December 3, 2023

Rare Earth Elements and the Sellout of America's Technological Soul

I'd start with a chemistry joke, but I don't know what kind of reaction it would get.

* * * 

I recently picked up Victoria Bruce's book Sellout: How Washington Gave Away America's Technological Soul, which deals with matters related to new technologies and rare earth elements or REEs. Though I have heard references to REEs in the past few years, I'd not taken time to really understand them. This blog post is intended to give you a brief introduction.

One premise of Sellout is that the United States has lost its way with regards to technological innovation, of which it had once been the global leader. According to Bruce the decline is, in part, due to outsourcing of manufacturing and research and development to China and elsewhere. This loss has serious implications for our economy, national security and even the environment.

The Role of Rare Earth Elements REEs are a group of 17 minerals that are essential for the production of a wide range of high-tech products, including smartphones, computers, and electric vehicles. China controls 90% of the world's REE supply, giving it a stranglehold on the global technology industry. Our country is heavily reliant on Chinese REEs, making it vulnerable to supply disruptions.

Bruce's book outlines the story of Jim Kennedy an American entrepreneur who founded Molycorp, a company that once mined REEs in California. Kennedy fought for years to keep the REE industry in the United States, but he was ultimately unsuccessful. Molycorp filed for bankruptcy in 2015, solidifying China's dominance of the REE market.

The point of the book, like others of this illk, is to wake people up. She states that the United States needs to take action to regain its technological leadership and reduce its reliance on China, something we've been hearing from many quarters. This, she explains, will require a combination of government policies and private sector investment. The United States needs to continue developing new technologies, revitalizing its manufacturing sector, and protecting its intellectual property. In short, she believe that the future of American prosperity and security depends on the nation's ability to innovate and compete in the global technology market.

To be honest, I myself had not been aware of REEs til only the past few years. So the purpose of writing this blog post was to share something about what these 17 minerals called Rare Earth Elements were as well as how they are used.

The 17 minerals classified as Rare Earth Elements (REEs) are Lanthanum (La), Cerium (Ce), Praseodymium (Pr), Neodymium (Nd), Promethium (Pm), Samarium (Sm), Europium (Eu), Gadolinium (Gd), Terbium (Tb), Dysprosium (Dy), Holmium (Ho), Erbium (Er), Thulium (Tm), Ytterbium (Yb), Lutetium (Lu), Scandium (Sc) and Yttrium (Y)

They are often grouped into two categories based on their atomic weight:

  • Light Rare Earth Elements (LREEs): La, Ce, Pr, Nd, Pm, Sm, Eu, Gd, Tb, Dy
  • Heavy Rare Earth Elements (HREEs): Ho, Er, Tm, Yb, Lu

REEs are not actually rare in the Earth's crust, but they are difficult to mine and process economically. They are found in a variety of minerals, including bastnasite, monazite, and loparite.

Here are some of the applications in which REEs are used:

  • Electronics: Smartphones, computers, televisions, and other electronic devices
  • Magnets: Permanent magnets for electric motors, generators, and loudspeakers
  • Batteries: Rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles and other portable devices
  • Catalysts: Catalysts for petroleum refining and other industrial processes
  • Glass and ceramics: Polished optical glasses, lasers, and ceramic pigments

And you thought gold was important! The demand for REEs is expected to grow in the coming years due to the increasing demand for electronic devices and other high-tech products.

Here's a detailed breakdown of the specific applications of each of the 17 rare earth elements (REEs):

Lanthanum (La): Used in ceramics, batteries, and polishing compounds.

Cerium (Ce): Used in polishing powders, glassmaking, and as a catalyst in fuel refining.

Praseodymium (Pr): Used in magnets, green phosphors for CRT displays, and nickel-metal hydride batteries.

Neodymium (Nd): Used in high-strength magnets, lasers, and glass.

Promethium (Pm): Used in luminous paints and tracers in medical imaging.

Samarium (Sm): Used in magnets, lasers, and neutron absorbers in nuclear reactors.

Europium (Eu): Used in red phosphors for CRT displays, lasers, and as an activator in luminescent materials.

Gadolinium (Gd): Used in neutron absorbers in nuclear reactors, contrast agents in medical imaging, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners.

Terbium (Tb): Used in green phosphors for CRT displays, lasers, and as an activator in luminescent materials.

Dysprosium (Dy): Used in high-strength magnets, lasers, and as an additive to alloys to improve their strength and toughness.

Holmium (Ho): Used in lasers, glass, and as an activator in luminescent materials.

Erbium (Er): Used in fiber optic amplifiers, lasers, and medical imaging.

Thulium (Tm): Used in lasers and as an activator in luminescent materials.

Ytterbium (Yb): Used in fiber optic lasers, high-power lasers, and as an activator in luminescent materials.

Lutetium (Lu): Used in scintillators for medical imaging, lasers, and as an activator in luminescent materials.

Scandium (Sc): Used in aluminum alloys to improve their strength and corrosion resistance, also used in lasers, solid oxide fuel cells, and sporting goods.

Yttrium (Y): Used in stabilizers for ceramics, superconductors, and as an additive to alloys to improve their strength and toughness.

* * * 
Now to be quite honest, I'm not sure I understand why these 17 of the 116 elements in the Periodic Table are designated "rare earth elements" and others are not. There must be a reason, though for me personally I'm especially perked by this fact there are only 17, a number which I first took an interest in as a result of an interview with Portuguese artist Margarida Sardinha and her research on the Alhambra. 

17 is a fascinating number. First, as a prime number, it is indivisible. Second, among other things, it is the only known prime that is equal to the sum of digits of its cube (17 to the third power = 4913 and 4 + 9 + 1 + 3 = 17).

I could continue, but my purpose was to draw attention to something that affects us all, but that we seldom give much thought to. I hope I succeeded in that.

Saturday, December 2, 2023

The Latest Nuclear Energy News Points to Brighter Future

By brighter future I mean a future where the lights will stay on and not be dimmed by the brownouts and blackouts. Here are eleven news stories from the last couple days that should be of interest to many who are watching national and global energy developments.

Support for Nuclear Energy Stronger Than Ever in the U.S. and Growing Around the World

They also want nuclear power plants to be kept running until lower-cost renewable energy becomes available (69 percent), are in favor of nuclear .

U.N. atomic chief backs nuclear power at COP28 as world reckons with proliferation

The world wants more nuclear energy as a means to fight climate change and supply an ever-growing demand for electricity, part of a generational ...

Nano Nuclear Energy - Powergen International 2024

POWERGEN International® exhibition and summit serves as a business and networking hub for 8,000 electricity generators, utilities and solution- 

Arizona State, Idaho National Laboratory team to boost clean energy research

Idaho National Laboratory

INL is the nation's center for nuclear energy research and development, and also performs research in each of DOE's strategic goal areas: energy, ...

Progress in Nuclear Energy | Vol 167, In progress (February 2024) -

Read the latest articles of Progress in Nuclear Energy at, Elsevier's leading platform of peer-reviewed scholarly literature.

Navigating the Nuclear Landscape: Innovations in Waste Management and the Future of...

CEU Events - Central European University

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, nuclear power is a low-carbon energy source unlike coal, oil, or gas power plants. Nuclear ...

At COP28, Countries Launch Declaration to Triple Nuclear Energy Capacity by 2050 

Department of Energy

Declaration Recognizes the Key Role of Nuclear Energy in Keeping Within Reach the Goal of Limiting Temperature Rise to 1.5 Degrees Celsius.

Net Zero “Needs Nuclear Power,” IAEA Says in Landmark Statement Backed by Dozens of ...

International Atomic Energy Agency

The world needs nuclear power to fight climate change and action should be taken to expand the use of this clean energy source and help build “a ...

UN atomic chief backs nuclear power at COP28 as world reckons with proliferation

AP News

The world wants more nuclear energy as a means to fight climate change and supply an ever-growing demand for electricity, Rafael Mariano Grossi ...

Barrasso: We Must Re-establish America as the Global Leader in Nuclear Energy -...

U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

— Today, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (ENR), delivered remarks at a full ...

Nuclear energy no longer a taboo, WNE hears

World Nuclear News

Much progress has been made over recent years in the representation of nuclear in national, regional and international debates on energy and the ...


Friday, December 1, 2023

Flashback Friday: Italy

It's well known that Florence played a central role in the birth of the Renaissance. During my visit to Italy this past spring I learned about the various factors that converged to foster an environment conducive to intellectual and artistic flourishing. These factors included economic prosperity, patronage of the arts, political stability and civic pride.

While there I learned how much the Florentines valued intellectual exchange and the love of learning. Purportedly the literacy rate in Florence was twice that of other cities in Europe and Italy itself. (EdNote: I read this in a book about booksellers row during the Renaissance. Fact-checkers are welcome to correct me here.) Books were highly valued and ancient books most of all.

All this to say that my selection of Florence as a destination was richly rewarded when I planned my Italy trip, a 70th birthday gift from my daughter and son-in-law, this past spring. While there I took 40 pages of notes and what seemed like a thousand photos. Upon my return I began processing my experience by writing about it. Here are 16 blog posts about my trip abroad.

1. Initial Thoughts after my first trip to Italy

2. A Brief Overview of My Italy Adventure

3. 850 Years Old and Still Looking Good: The Battistero di Parma
4. The Galileo Museum in Florence Is Worthwhile Destination

5. Liberation Day: Italy Celebrates Victory Over Fascism, With Expressions of Gratitude to the U.S.

6. 1000 Rooms of Splendor: The Palazzo Pitti
7. Bob Dylan in Italy

8. The Death of Galileo

9. The Scarpelli Mosaici

10. Michelangelo’s David… A Showstopper

11. Daniela Meza Sigala: Florence Artist’s Seriously Whimsical Paintings

12. The Teatro Farnese in Parma

13. The Duomo in Florence: A History, plus Photos

14. One of the Most Famous Paintings in Florence: Ecce Homo (Behold the Man), by Antonio Ciseri

15. The Bargello: Another “Must See” Museum In Florence

16. L’Ippogrifo Stampe d’Arte: Mastery of a Grand Tradition 

Have you been to Italy? 

Where should I go next?
Leave a comment.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Agamemnon: The Names Have Changed but the Players Remain the Same

Greek philosophers, literature and history... who studies this stuff any more? I'd have to admit that Greek lit and history had little interest to me much of my life. I do remember studying the Odyssey at some point in high school, but it wasn't until much later that its significance struck a chord.

Many of the names from these ancient stories have glittered across pop culture, from Achilles to Zeus, Ulysses to Sysiphus, Poseidon to Prometheus, and Aphrodite to Helen of Troy, the face that launched a thousand ships. (See; Backstory on the Trojan War.)

It was Andre Gide's Two Legends: Oedipus and Theseus that first brought to life in a seriously new way for me. In 2017 Harvard professor Richard Thomas, in his book Why Bob Dylan Matters, made many of us aware of how Bob Dylan had been immersed by or influenced by the Greek classics.

When I say "Greek classics" do you yawn? You might think, "What does a play written 2500 years ago have to do with life in the 21st century?" 

Let's start with who was Aeschylus? 

Aeschylus was a renowned ancient Greek playwright who lived from roughly 525 BC to 455 BC. He was widely regarded as the "father of tragedy." He's credited with introducing significant innovations to the genre, including the addition of a second actor to the stage, the development of dialogue between characters, and the incorporation of choral songs that explored themes of justice, fate, and the relationship between humans and the gods.

In his play Agamemnon there are four main characters plus a chorus. If you're familiar with. the Trojan War, you would know that Agamemnon was the brother of Menelaus, king of Sparta, whose wife Helen was abducted by Paris and taken to Troy. Agamemnon responded by assembling a coalition of Greek kingdoms to avenge this insult and ransack Troy.

So... here are the characters in the play. Do any of these sound familiar or resonate with people in our own time frame? ("If the shoe fits...")

Chrysus appeals to Agamemnon (ancient urn)

The highest-ranking official at the beginning of the play, he is its tragic hero. He's proud of his rank and accomplishments. Yet despite Agamemnon's leadership, he is less admired now by his subjects for fighting an unpopular war. He is portrayed as less intelligent and less forward thinking than his wife, believing prosperity will shield him from misfortune. Agamemnon attempts humility, saying he does not want to be treated as a god. But like other Greek tragic heroes, he is fatally flawed by hubris (pride).

Driven by the desire for vengeance and power, the shrewd, audacious Clytaemnestra is the play's most developed and complex character, even if her name is the most difficult to pronounce. She professes loyalty to Agamemnon and praises him at the same time as she plots his death. She also is argumentative, defending her thoughts and opinions to the Chorus when they disagree

Agamemnon's war captive, Cassandra is emotional and distraught by the destruction of her homeland. Given the gift of prophecy by Apollo, she can see accurately into the past, present, and future. However, after Cassandra refused to bear his child, Apollo cursed her so no one would believe these prophecies. (How much wisdom and insight is lost today because the voices of those most prescient are ignored?)

There's a sense in which Aegisthus is like Clytaemnestra. Both crave power and payback. Aegisthus, driven by the need to avenge some family wrongdoing, has this whole authoritative and menacing vibe. He's all about establishing a firm, in-control government, and he's not afraid to throw out threats about enslaving anyone who doesn't see eye to eye with him. Total power move, right? 

The Chorus represents the townspeople of Argos. They have a stake in whatever goes down and tend to drop some moral wisdom based on what the central characters decide. Aeschylus gives these Chorus folk their own opinions, throwing in a line or two, but it doesn't change how the drama unfolds. While they're generally Team Agamemnon, the big boss of Argos, they're not too keen on his war plans. When Agamemnon bites the dust, it makes an impact on the Chorus in a deep way.

The murder of Agamemnon

* * * 

See any parallels to what's happening today? I see plenty.

* * * 

For a full list of characters visit:

If interested, read the plot summary here:

The character analysis above is based on this:

The deed is done.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Putting Napoleon in Perspective: Insights, Notes & Quotes from "The Campaigns of Napoleon"

How significant was Napoleon? How large was his footprint on history? Is Napoleon worthy of a "big" Hollywood epic like Ridley Scott's latest production? 

In answer to the last question, Napoleon is indeed a worthy subject for a major motion picture. It waits to be seen if Hollywood can produce a film worthy of the man himself.

I myself became interested in Napoleon after reading the intro to James A. Arnold's Grant Wins the War: Decision at Vicksburg. In his prologue Arnold wrote that according to military historians there were only two military campaigns from the U.S. Civil War worthy of comparison to the genius and skill of Napoleon, Stonewall Jackson's Shenandoah Campaign and Grant's conquest of Vicksburg. Naturally this sparked in me a desire to learn more about Napoleon, so I did a little research and found the best book I could find, Chandler's 1200 page The Campaigns of Napoleon. His battlefield exploits were so astonishing that twelve of his battles are cited in the top twenty military campaigns of all time. For more than twenty years the battles of Napoleon consistently rose above the expected.

The quotes and observations below were primarily taken from the 120 page introduction to that volume.  

* * * 

"His powers were his own, but circumstances rendered them effective."

"All that is to happen is written down. Our hour is marked and we cannot prolong it a minute longer than fate has predestined."

His great skill: Translating (War) Theory into Activity.

· Napoleon was a Man of Action... not necessarily Original. He borrowed from history.

· He was "a developer and perfecter of the ideas of others." (p. 135)

He drew his major ideas from books.

· "I have fought sixty battles and I have learned nothing which I did not know at the beginning."

· "Read and meditate upon the wars of the great captains. This is the only means of learning the art of war."

Importance of Speed

· Seize the initiative & Keep it at all costs.

· The Objective: Swift destruction of the enemy's will to resist.

Importance of Planning

· Napoleon was "extremely thorough in his planning. Very little was left to chance.

· Yet, at the same time, he recognized Chance as a variable and believed

every plan should allow a period of time to remedy or exploit the unpredictable.

Importance of Time

· The loss of time (in war) is irreparable.

· Strategy is the art of making use of time & space. However, "space we can recover, time never."

· "I may lose a battle but I shall never lose a minute."

Importance of Moral Force

· The Moral is to the Physical as three is to one.

· Moral force, rather than numbers, decides victory.

Two Main Qualities of a Soldier

· "If courage is the first characteristic of a soldier, perseverance is the second."

Summing Up

I took an interest in battle strategies not because I wanted to be a soldier some day but, rather, because of a book by Al Ries & Jack Trout called Marketing Warfare, which AMSOIL founder Al Amatuzio loaned me more than 35 years ago. The twin topics--marketing and battle strategies--became a lifelong interest. 

Many people remember Napoleon only for Waterloo. Few Americans realize that Napolean was the most written about human being of the nineteenth century, with more than 100,000 books devoted to analysis of the man, his actions, his ideas and his life.


Bonus Tracks
A.I.-generated images based on Jacques-Louis David's Napoleon Bonaparte

Popular Posts