How Do You Spell Yttrium?

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has a very nice house on the beach in Southern California. Let’s stop right there for a massive ooh and a heartfelt aah. We do not know if Gidget or Annette Funicello are regular visitors, but if I owned a beach house in Southern California they would be.

Mitt feels that his 3,000 square foot abode is no longer big enough for his needs. A spokesman has mentioned that Romney has five grown sons and 16 grandchildren, and that when they get together for family barbecues and volleyball parties there is simply not enough room. So they are knocking down the old pile of rubbish and building a new 11,062 square foot mansion there in La Jolla, just north of San Diego.

If we calculate the approximate number of party-goers involved, we have Mitt and his wife Mittsy, the five sons and presumably their wives, plus 16 grandchildren, which gives us 28 people. (That does not include the Southern California standard number of servants per rich person, which is 2.25, giving an additional 63 people.) Divide the original 28 into 11,062 square feet, and we have roughly 400 square feet per rich person. By comparison, my wife and I used to live in a 457 square foot Boston condo, which works out to about 230 sq ft per person, which was OK when an elbow wasn’t in your ear or your nose. We didn’t have to worry about 16 grandchildren visiting us, which might have been a little cramped, whether we counted the cat or not.

Some critics have jumped up to say, “Good heavens!”, does he really need a house that big?!? Why does it have to be so much bigger than the average American home, that is, the average American home on a Southern California beach. How often are all these kids and grandkids going to be there anyway, and don’t they have their own palatial homes on beaches somewhere? Could there be another use for a structure almost as big as the Pentagon? Does Romney have an ulterior motive?

This intrepid reporter has been poring over building plans, architectural sketches and other publicly available documents in libraries, museums and briefcases buried under twenty feet of dirt. The results are astounding. If the results were not astounding, you wouldn’t be glued to your computer screen as you are now.

You may have read recently that there are scarce and valuable minerals used for all sorts of modern products, like cell phones, hybrid cars, and glow-in-the-dark breakfast cereals. A few of these special elements are cerium, scandium, and of course yttrium. (If you had never heard of yttrium, you should be ashamed of yourself.) These are called rare earth elements, and their prices have been skyrocketing lately, because, according to experts, the Chinese have been playing a sort of cat and mouse game, which in that part of the world would be called a ‘dragon and lotus blossom’ game.

The Chinese like to roam the earth, investing in whatever they want, enjoying unfettered access in this mostly free-market world. But when it comes to outsiders investing in China, the government insists on carefully controlling the flow of foreigners salivating to get in, like a bouncer at an exclusive nightclub keeping the undesirables on the wrong side of the velvet rope.

Let’s get back to our discussion of rare earth elements, and for this you had better break out your old high school chemistry book and look up lanthanoids. What’s that? You didn’t keep your high school chemistry book? What were you thinking? Didn’t you believe that it — and your trigonometry book and your geography book and all your other textbooks — would come in handy one day? Harrumph.

By the way, the label “rare earth elements” is a bit of a misnomer, because some of them are relatively plentiful, it’s just that they are bloody difficult to find and are very expensive to get at. Anyway, China boasts the world’s largest known supplies of these rare earth metals, and the Chinese government is playing its usual version of supply and demand hardball with other countries and other companies.

As China has become the world’s low-cost manufacturer, and makes more and more of the things we want, these rare earth materials are becoming more important, so supplies are crucial; China wants to keep an iron grip on the supply. (No, iron is not one of the rare earth materials.) It’s kind of like the competitive display the Chinese put on recently during a “goodwill” basketball game in China.

This exhibition game was between the Georgetown University college team, the Hoyas, and a professional Chinese team, the Bayi Rockets, made up of men who serve in the Chinese army. The game must not have been lopsided enough in favor of the Chinese, since the officials — Kung Pao, Krak Sznap and Zhap Bhonk — started calling three times as many fouls on the Hoyas as for the Rockets, for infractions like having wavy blonde hair. These same officials did not call the vicious fouls committed by the Chinese players, who evidently wanted to reshape the multitude of American ears and noses by using their elbows and knees. It soon turned into a full-blown brawl, with the Bayi players throwing punches, stomping on the Georgetown boys and using folding chairs to gladiatorial advantage.

I guess you could say that the Chinese didn’t want to lose.

And now, using what the World Trade Organization has determined to be unfair trading practices, the Chinese don’t want to risk losing the rare earth game either. Which takes us back to Romney’s very capacious house. Companies controlled by him have been quietly buying up the biggest drilling and earth moving equipment in the world. Geologists from Harvard, MIT, Oxford and Switzerland have made visits to San Diego for secret meetings with Romney people.

If you start in Southern California, and drill way down into the Earth, and then turn left a bit, and keep going, you will come up in China. You can look it up in your trigonometry book. That is what Romney is working on! He is calling it the Romney Undetected Drilling Enterprise (RUDE). They plan to use the huge new house as a cover for the enormous drilling and excavation equipment, and then to dig all the way to China — well, not ALL the way to China, since they want to stay under the surface. Then, while still underground, they can extricate the rare earth elements at will and transport them back through the big tunnel and right up into Californian markets. It’s a very cunning plan.

Another cunning aspect of this ambitious plan is to raise money while the project is in progress. My sources tell me that Libya’s Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi is already tired of hiding in the warren of tunnels under his beleaguered palace. There are plenty of South American drug lords who would love a vacation. And Casey Anthony is tired of being hounded wherever she goes. The smart money inside the Romney camp says that the new mansion will provide a safe and comfortable haven for selected refugees with big wallets. Security for the entire operation will be handled by Romney’s old Boston friend, Whitey Bulger, who has extensive ties with law enforcement.

An insider so close to Romney that he knows that after the great man has had a wee-wee, he doesn’t even put the toilet seat back down, says that Romney has one final wish after scoring big in rare earth metals. After he corners the market, an odd thought considering that we live on a sphere, he plans to build, at the North Pole, an exact replica of the Fortress of Solitude, and live there like Superman for the rest of his days.


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