Digging Holes in Virginia

pointer mediumIn the world of hole-digging our dog, Lady, surpassed any competitor.  As a child I spent hours digging holes with her, learning her art.  Today, Lady a purebred English Pointer, would cost a lot.  In 1965 her only value to her Virginia breeders would have been in her ability to hunt.  The sound of gunshot didn’t sit well with her, so she moved to the Maryland suburbs.  We took her in and thought her fantastic.  She possessed many skills including chasing cars, sitting on top of her doghouse and let’s not forget the always entertaining eating turds.  Lady developed a unique but not often practiced crayon trick.  She’d eat all your crayons, and then later make a multi-colored poop.  What kid wouldn’t like that?  To me, however, she was at her best when digging holes.  She was a great dog, and we thought the Virginians were a funny lot for letting her go.

Since 1965 the Old Dominion has changed.  Northern Virginia, the Washington suburbs, has grown tremendously.  Politically, socially, and economically Northern Virginia couldn’t be more different from the rest of the state.  Fairfax and Arlington counties are among the wealthiest in the United States.  Arlington County boasts one of the highest number of holders of graduate degrees per capita in the US.  Many who live in Northern Virginia come from elsewhere, and after waiting the requisite time in heavy traffic have adapted to Virginia’s peculiarities.  These include driving 20 miles per hour over the speed limit on highways, making up for the time you were stuck in traffic.  Of course Northern Virginia is not the only part of Virginia to change.  Norfolk has also rapidly grown, and while Norfolk is not in Northern Virginia the occupants of the Pentagon are, and they make sure a lot of money gets shuffled down to the Norfolk Naval base.  While Northern Virginia and Norfolk have changed much of the state remains as it once was – conservative, rural, and ramshackle.

For years the state tried to attract people to drive investment and economic growth, tourism being an important part of this.  In 1969 the state launched the Virginia is for Lovers campaign, begging the question lovers of what?  Originally the campaign featured slogans that varied the lovers theme.  Virginia is for History Lovers, then Nature Lovers, Sailing Lovers and so on.  As you can imagine somebody eventually said, “Hey, that’s going to be expensive, why don’t we just make it Virginia is for Lovers, it’s cheaper.”  So much for clever advertising.  Millions of people read Virginia’s promise and flocked to the commonwealth.  Nobody told the state legislature, however, who neglected to alter the Virginia Code leaving sex outside marriage a class four misdemeanor.  Virginia is for Lovers, provided you’re married, otherwise, mind how you behave and keep your hands to yourself.

Virginia has produced more than its fair share of famous lawmakers.  George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Tyler and Woodrow Wilson all born Virginians and elected US Presidents.  The words of Patrick Henry, another of Virginia’s well-known legislators, are known to many Americans.  “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, Give me Liberty, or give me Death!”  Henry knew a lot about the sweetness of liberty and the chains slavery, himself having a lot of sweet liberty and keeping 64 men and women in the chains of slavery.  Presumably, Henry didn’t think the impulse to freedom applied equally.

Since those early days the Richmond legislature has stood out as an unmatched and boorish deliberative body.  In the 1950’s, in keeping with the values of past famous Virginians, they sought to oppose desegregation of schools by supporting ‘massive resistance’.  Massive resistance was the brainchild of Harry Byrd, one time governor of the state and later a U.S. Senator.  The Senator encouraged states to use their powers to cut off funds from schools that integrated.  Another feature, later known as the “freedom of choice” plan involved providing vouchers to parents allowing them to send children to segregated schools.  School vouchers remain a conservative favorite, winning support from both Presidents Reagan and G.W. Bush.  Years later another bird-brained idea came from Delegate Dave Albo.  In 2007 he sponsored legislation imposing stiff fines — $3500 to be exact –on speeding drivers using Virginia’s highways.  Possibly known as the Virginia Highway Robbery Act the public rose up in opposition citing their constitutional right to view speed limits as suggestions.  (I don’t recall which article of the constitution covers speeding, but I think it’s probably related to the other one making turns signals optional.)  Albo’s legislation was rescinded, but he enjoyed the limelight so much so that in 2012 Albo supported the bill amending the Virginia Code section 18.2.76, otherwise popularly known as “that stupid piece of legislation”.  That stupid piece of legislation called for women seeking an abortion to first obtain a trans-vaginal ultrasound.  In an act of natural justice if there ever was one, Mrs. Albo refused to have sex with her husband until he got his priorities right.  In the end, the proposed amendment was withdrawn and Mr. and Mrs. Albo got what they wanted — happily we don’t need to know any more.

Sometimes the delegates in Richmond get it right, but I’m sure this more a statistical aberration than good judgment.  In 1982 the legislature imposed a moratorium on uranium mining, ostensibly to make sure that the state had adequate regulatory protections in place.  Few consider Virginia when thinking about uranium.  Mostly, they think about Iran, which doesn’t necessarily make sense, but when thinking about Iran what does?  Leading Iran is President Ahmadinejad, which my brother-in-law helpfully pointed out is pronounced, “I’m a dinner jacket”.   President I’m a Dinner Jacket actively defends Iran’s nuclear aspirations, though many worry that his government is anti-Semitic and will attack Israel.  Ahmadinejad sets public opinion straight noting that Iran has “never been anti-Semitic” and then helpfully clarifies his views explaining, “Anybody who recognizes Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation’s fury”.  I’m a Dinner Jacket has never, as far as I know, expressed an opinion on the Virginia moratorium and I only mention him here because both he and Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell share conservative views, lead wacky governments and are bedeviled by restrictions in the radioactive arts.

It turns out that the uranium in southern Virginia is one of the larger deposits in the world.  The moratorium on uranium mining in Virginia may not last much longer.  The legislature has been progressively marching the state closer to permitting mining.  One of the proposed methods for extracting the uranium is in situ leaching.  It just sounds bad.  I can’t see somebody sporting a t-shirt proclaiming, “I’m for in situ leaching!”  The World Nuclear Association helpfully describes it as:

In situ leaching (ISL), also known as solution mining, or in situ recovery (ISR) in North America, involves leaving the ore where it is in the ground, and recovering the minerals from it by dissolving them and pumping the pregnant solution to the surface where the minerals can be recovered. Consequently there is little surface disturbance and no tailings or waste rock generated. However, the orebody needs to be permeable to the liquids used, and located so that they do not contaminate groundwater away from the orebody.

Miners prefer their solutions pregnant and orebodies permeable — who wouldn’t.  For an orebody to be permeable, making it accessible to the solution, miners sometimes use explosives to fracture the ground.  Of course, miners must remember that fracking outside marriage is illegal in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Once the solution enters the orebody it liberates the uranium from the surrounding rock.  The now pregnant solution is then pumped out of the ground and the uranium extracted from the liquid.  Once completed miners have a cigarette followed by a quick nap.

If everything works, in situ leaching gives birth to uranium which can be used to generate electricity.  And when the uranium no longer possesses sufficient energy to be effective, the still radioactive material retires, stored out of sight, out of mind.  In Virginia, retired uranium lives in an assisted living facility, the North Anna Nuclear Generating Station.  The station is conveniently located just forty miles from downtown Richmond, the state capital.  Virginia boasts two seismic zones, and planners hoping to provide a little excitement opted to situate the nuclear power plant in the Central Virginia seismic zone.  Nerves rattled on August 23, 2011 when an earthquake erupted measuring 5.8 on the Richter scale, the epicenter of which lay only 10 miles from the nuclear power plant.  The Washington Monument, some 80 miles away, remains closed from damage sustained from the earthquake.  The beds in which the retired fuel rods snuggled were moved by the quake, but we had better let sleeping dogs lie.

Our dog, Lady, knew how to dig holes.  Happily for us, her original owners lacked the judgment and wisdom to appreciate her skills.  Our gain was Virginia’s loss.  It turns out that Virginia’s politicians don’t know much about holes, except for the political kind at which they excel in digging.

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One Response to Digging Holes in Virginia

  1. Jeanette says:

    Sure the Keep the Ban folks would find this fun

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