A Free Agent Abroad

A New Yorker can be one of four places in America: home, at the beach, in L.A. or out of town.  The Free Agent has been out of town.

Specifically, she has been in Salt Lake City.  As her sister-in-law observed, “These are the most industrious people I’ve ever seen.  We’ve got full-time students with full-time jobs who came over at eight at night to paint our house.”  “Look,” said her brother, “seven construction workers, every one of them doing something.  I’ve never seen anything like it.”  The Free Agent herself observed house after lovingly cared-for house, all tidy and landscaped.  It all made her remember that these were the values the Agent children were raised on: when you have a job to do, do it the best you can, take care of your things, and don’t feel sorry for yourself, there’s always someone worse off than you.  On the way in from the airport, Sis-in-Law pointed out a grain silo, painted with the name Welfare Square.  “Funny,” she said, “that they have that in such a ‘red’ state.”  Neither funny nor surprising to the Free Agent, who later learned that the Latter-Day Saints Church feed and clothe anyone who needs it, on the one condition that they purchase what they need with some labor.

Even in the aptly-named Beehive State, unemployment has doubled over the past six months, from 3.7% to 7.3%.

But The Free Agent isn’t here to tell you another depressing story.  Oh no!  The Free Agent, whose heart some have called a stone, was moved to awed silence by the final site on her itinerary, Kennecott Utah Copper’s Bingham Canyon Mine.

Once nothing but a useless mountain, the mine is now the biggest excavation on earth, over two and a half miles deep and three-quarters of a mile of stunning terraces, carved by shovels and dump trucks the size of which is impossible to judge with the eye, until a full-size school bus carrying miners passes under the height of a wheel.  Ore was discovered in the mid-Nineteenth Century, but was of such poor grade (today, a ton yields just over ten pounds of copper) that it couldn’t be commercially exploited until Daniel Jackling and Robert Gemmell recommended open-pit mining.  In 104 years of operation, the Bingham Canyon Mine has produced over 18 million tons of copper, more than any other mine in the world, and supplies about 13% of today’s U.S. consumption.

As mining technology developed, it became possible to extract some of those pesky impurities from Bingham’s ore.  In 2006, by-products of 218,000 tons of copper production included 462,000 ounces of gold, 4.2 million ounces of silver, and 16,800 tons of molybdenum.  The Free Agent won’t pretend she knows what molybdenum is or does, but the value of Bingham’s production rose from $20 million in 2002 to $700 million in 2006.

So thank you, people of Utah, for reminding The Free Agent of the best humanity can accomplish.  As usual, Shakespeare said it best, “How beauteous mankind is!  O brave new world/That has such people in’t!”

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