July 2003 Archives

Homer's Odyssey: Part 2

Books III & IV

What does Telemachus learn from Nestor and Meneleus?

It seemed to me/us that though both had arrived home and were with their families, neither were so enviable as Odysseus would be on his day of homecoming.

Nestor attributes just about everything to the gods, surrendering much of the control in his life. He is the opposite of “resourceful” Odysseus who makes his own way. Of the two great counselors at Troy, Nestor proves to be famous only for making it home quickly, while Odysseus wins wide fame for the scheme that sacked Troy. Nestor seems a little bitter and spends an awful lot of time talking about how right he was to leave early.

Meneleus represents the other end of the spectrum in terms of “resourcelessness.” He presents a picture of impotence, being unable to keep his wife at home, wage his own war, save his brother, or even discern how to please the gods and arrive home. Katrina pointed out that he is a man of big words, saying that he would displace a city to have Odysseus near him, and he would trade all his wealth to save those who died at Troy, but he is unable to deliver. Nestor is humble even to the exclusion of glory (kleios). Perhaps Odysseus will represent something like a golden mean, though seemingly a different one from Aristotle’s great-souled man. His a man of many resources who more than the others seems to drive his own fate.

It seems that while on the trip, Telemachus should have seen that simply arriving home is not all it’s cracked up to be, that Odysseus is a greater counselor than Nestor and has a better wife than Meneleus has, but what did he learn about becoming a man, a king like his father? What evidence is there that he learned? There is the lie he tells Meneleus about needing to hurry back to his companions in Pylos, but what other evidence is there that Telemachus understands his father better and is becoming like him?

Why does he keep asking about Orestes?

Homer's Odyssey: Part 1

My friend, Katrina, and I are reading the Odyssey, by Homer. We are suitably
baffled by parts and you are cordially invited to both join us in our inquiry,
and resolve our confusion.

Book I

Questions we pursued:

· Why, out of all the misadventures Odysseus endures does Homer mention the slaughter of Apollo's cattle in the first paragraph? What is recklessness?

· Why is Zeus thinking about "blameless" Aigisthos (we're not totally clear on how Orestes failing to accept Aigisthos shows the need to tame a son's ambitions)?

· Why is Telemachus so hard on Penelope when she asks Phemios not to sing the song about Troy (do his words have a different meaning for the suitors than they do for Penelope, who lays his serious words deep away in her spirit?)?

Questions that remain:

· Why does an epic about homecoming have to have a polytropos hero?

· Does the companions' recklessness with the cattle have anything to do with the recklessness Zeus speaks of in line 34? Is Aigisthos reckless?

· How much of her plan does Athena articulate in the council?

· Why does Telemachus invite the suitors to eat and hear Phemios, then tell them that tomorrow at the assembly he will kick them out, then lie to them about Odysseus being alive? It seems a strange sequence of hospitality, boldness/truth, and lies.

The organization and planning of the dam that should address the engineering problems has been fraught with corruption and embezzlement. The head official of the Three Gorges Economic Development Corporation embezzled US$125 million. Resettlement officials embezzled about $57.7 million, roughly 12% of the total resettlement budget. Jin Wenchao, a senior official, siphoned off more than one billion yuan of state funds and went missing.

Though there are some in China who know what is being lost, they are few. The government controlled media has given little voice to the international protests, and published reports such as "Huge Investment in Three Gorges to Pay off," (06/02/03) "People Are Better Off in Three Gorges Resettlement," "Three Gorges Dam under Smooth Construction," and "Three Gorges Dam Will Improve Climate, Citrus Production." Political leadership and intelligentsia apprear to be the only ones informed on the effects of the project, and they are not supportive. In 1986, a feasibility study was ordered and though many feared not signing off on a project that was already approved, Ecologist Hou Xueyu was among the few who refused to sign the environmental report because it falsely hyped the environmental benefits provided by the dam, failed to convey the real extent of environmental impact, and lacked adequate solutions to environmental concerns. When Li Peng pushed the project through the National People's Congress in 1992, there were no votes or abstentions from a third of the delegates--such actions were unprecedented from a body that usually rubberstamped all government proposals. Still a crowd of 5,000 showed up for the celebration marking the start of construction in 1997, and the project goes forward.

"This is the biggest project China has undertaken since it began the Great Wall. The Great Wall was totally obsolete before it was finished. The only other comparable project in Chinese history is the Grand Canal, which never functioned. It isn't a very good big project record."--Arthur Zich.

On the night of August 27, 1993, a dam burst high in a remote western province of China , sending torrents of water crashing down on nearby villages, killing more than 200 people, and rendering thousands more homeless. Though no official reason has been given for this latest human-made disaster in a country plagued by them, one government spokesperson admitted that a destructive earthquake which hit the region of the Gouhou dam in 1990 "may have had some effect" in causing the dam to collapse under this year's flood waters. The Three Gorges Dam is situated near six active fault lines and above 15 million people. A dam burst at Three Gorges would, says engineer Philip Williams, president of the San Francisco-based International Rivers Network, "rank as one of history's worst man-made disasters." Perhaps saving the lives of the thousands of people annually killed by floods could justify the environmental and cultural costs, if the dam works, yet early inspections by international teams of engineers indicate otherwise. An international team of engineers who assessed the dam said, "the chosen approach to the design and implementation of the coffer dam appears to us to indicate a surprisingly cavalier attitude to risk." The dam is built to withstand earthquakes up to 7.0 on the richter scale, and the largest recent earthquakes have been below 6.0. However, filling the reservoir behind the dam creates seismic pressure which triggers earthquakes. In fact, earthquakes between 6.0 and 6.5 are expected once the reservoir is filled in 2009. One of the dams designed to hold back sedimentation farther up is subject to even worse seismic problems. "The Jinsha has bad geological conditions, and there is a more severe seismic area upriver from Xiangjiaba," said a Chinese geologist in Sichuan. He added that near this site, dam projects "should not be encouraged." Should the Jinsha dam hold out, .5 on the Richter scale is not a large margin of error, and earthquakes are not the dam's biggest problem. In 1992, the expert group identified 260 landslides and collapses containing at least 100,000 cubic metres of rock and earth; 140 of these had a volume of 1 million cubic metres or more. At least 14 landslides are considered likely to be activated by the filling of the reservoir. Already major cracks have developed in the dam, and even after extensive repairs, they have reappeared. Pan Jiazheng, one of China's top engineers recently acknowledged, "It appears that during the concrete pouring, we put too much emphasis on the goal of achieving a very high degree of strength. But it has turned out that a high degree of strength does not necessarily mean good quality in a concrete dam. We have achieved an unnecessarily high degree of strength and a lot of cracks in the dam by pouring too much concrete and spending a great deal of money. "I feel that it's too early to be proud of ourselves, and we have a long way to go. As we enter the third phase of the dam construction, I hope we will do our best to build a first-class project rather than a dam with 10-metre-long cracks!" In addition to problems with the strength of the dam, all three of the dam's principal benefits, flood control, power generation, and improved navigation, depend on a solution to the problem of reservoir sedimentation. Over 700 million tons of sediment are deposited into the Yangtze annually, making it the fourth largest sediment carrier in the world. The Chinese officials have decided to halt the flow of sediment higher up in the Yangtze tributaries by building four smaller dams, including one that will be second only to the Three Gorges in size. What will happen when sediment builds up behind these dams? There is little to address the primary source of flooding: the loss of forest cover in the Yangtze watershed, and the loss of 13,000 square km of lakes which stored excess water but now contain the topsoil from the lost forest cover. Probe International recommends dykes, channel improvements, overflow area designation, better zoning, flood proofing, and flood warning systems instead of more dams. Some question whether it will even be possible to accomplish all the purposes of the dam. Flood control requires the reservoir to maintain low levels of water to allow for the inflow of flood waters, while power generation requires high levels of water in the reservoir.
The Yangtze river valley is one of the richest cultural sites in China. Archaeologists were not supported in the area until 2000, at which point they could only rescue about 10% of the artifacts now under water. The area contains extensive late-Neolithic remains from the Daxi culture (ca. 5000-3200BC) and the Chujialing culture (3200-2300BC), but the most promising finds are from the Ba culture, an obscure group that archaeologists are discovering formed the foundations for far more of China's cultural heritage than previously thought. They appear to be 1,000 years older than was believed and to have had more sophisticated art than the Yellow River societies of the same period.
    828 Artifacts will be lost, including:
  • Vast Tang Dynasty (618-907) ruins at Mingyueba, which cover 150,000 square meters and contain at least 20 stone buildings, 20 tombs, and Buddhist sculptures that constitute the best preserved Tang Dynasty site in the region.
  • The Da Zu Stone Sculptures, created during the Southern Sung Dynasty (1127-1279) when a Bhuddist monk and his followers spent 70 years engraving Buddhist figures into the rock slopes and cave, and include a 31-meter-long Sakyamuni sleeping on his side.
  • Feng Du, a "Ghost City" representing both heaven and hell.
  • The Shibaozhai, an eleven-story Stone Treasure Storehouse, whose sloping tile roof, spiral staircase and delicate classical entrance have long been considered an architectural miracle.
  • The Qu Yuan Shrine in the Wu Gorge, where people pay their highest respects to the earliest poet-in-exile in Chinese history.
  • The White Crane Ridge and the Dragon Bone Rock, which have marked the water-level for 1200 years and contain vital information about the changes in climate, navigation and water management. On them are carved the calligraphy of more the 300 of the most famous writers, poets, and artists in Chinese history.
  • 1800 year old walkways along the cliffs of the Daning River, constructed by digging holes into solid rock seven hundred meters above the water, inserting beams, and paving the road with planks of wood.
The cultural elite won't be alone in their suffering. Approximately 2 million people will have to relocate to accommodate the new reservoir. Already hundreds of thousands have been moved, but serious problems are starting to arise. Government Officials admit that there is insufficient land for those needing to relocate, and many are returning to their homes in protest. In August of 2002, nearly 900 people returned to the town of Guonho to live in tents and shacks for lack of available jobs at the site of relocation. Dr. John Byrne says, "one of the tragedies of this [project], if just from a regional standpoint, is that the land that is going to be flooded is some of the most fertile in China. The land to where the population is to be relocated is much less fertile." The compensation due to those who resettle is well below market value, to the point that in combination with the poor resettlement options, foreign nations are calling the resettlement a violation of human rights. Those going through the government-sponsored resettlement program are receiving as little as one third what those who organize their own resettlement are receiving.
In truth, the Three Gorges Dam is to be the last of the great Leninist Projects. Originally conceived by Sun-Yat Sen, father of the Chinese revolution, in 1919, the possibility of conquering and ruling the largest river in Asia has long tempted men who dream of Imperial power. Since Cyrus the Great of Persia redirected the Gyndes, and Achilles conquered the river God, breaking the flow of a river has meant man's mastery over the forces of nature. Mao was attracted to the idea, even to writing a poem entitled, "Swimming." Li Peng, the man who ordered the army to suppress the students in Tiananmen Square has been driving the project for the last 15 years. In the spirit of socialism, the Chinese government has supported the project, each official taking his part of the credit for "the pride of China." China's president Jiang hailed the event as "a remarkable feat in the history of mankind to reshape and exploit natural resources" and said it "embodies the great industrious and dauntless spirit of the Chinese nation."

Unfortunately, the world's largest dam comes at great expense, not only financial, but environmental, cultural, and human.

The dam will threaten the river's wildlife, especially the fish population by limiting access to spawn sites and potentially increasing pollution. It will affect the habitat of a number of species, including the Yangtze dolphin, the Chinese Sturgeon, the Chinese Tiger, the Chinese Alligator, the Siberian Crane, and the Giant Panda. Already the numbers of Yangtze dolphin have dropped dramatically from 400 in the early 80s to six in 1999. In 2000, 70 researchers looked for two months and found none. Yangtze dolphin only live in the Yangtze. Construction of the dam will require extensive logging to clear areas to be submerged. Without the silt that will be caught behind the dam, the water flowing to the sea will erode the mudflats on the coastline which protect it from storms and rising tides.

The environmental effects of the dam are not entirely unknown, even in Communist China. In 1989, one Chinese environmentalist, Dao Qing published a book of essays from prominent scientists and ecologists criticizing the Three Gorges Dam Project. In the midst of heavy pressure from the Communist government to conform to its ideology, the publication of "Yangtze! Yangtze!" marked what Far Eastern Economic Review would call "a watershed event in post-1949 Chinese politics." For the first time since the cultural revolution, the country's intelligentsia dared attempt to influence the political process. The book was produced in under four months in order to reach delegates attending the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference meetings in March and the National People's Congress (NPC), where they were expected to make a final decision concerning the dam project. Dao Qing was subsequently imprisoned for 10 months, and many believe that the protest contributed to the government's (read Li Peng's) response to the student protests in Tienanmen square.

Unfortunately the evironmental damage does not stop with endangered species, it may also poison those who depend on it. In 2001, 23.4 billion tons of raw sewage and industrial waste were dumped into the Yangtze and subsequently flushed to the sea. The dam would keep back the waste along with the water. Even after putting new environmental protection laws in place, the government still expects that one billion tons of waste will be dumped into the Yangtze annually. Parts of the riverbank are already too polluted for human use. Moreover, the river now submerges more than 1,600 factories and abandoned mines that may create a hazard for the people and animals who live on the river. As if that weren't enough, before the river was dammed, the operation to remove toxic waste from the reservoir fell behind schedule.

This series of posts was originally written as an assignment for a modern Chinese history class, and the blog created to solve an email problem preventing my professor from receiving the paper. However, in the conversion to HTML, the paper lost some of it's organization and most of the citations.*

On June 1, 2003, the sluice gates of the Three Gorges Dam closed for the first time, halting the flow of the third largest river in the world, the Yangtze. During the following two weeks, it rose 400 feet, submerging abandoned towns, historical sites, cultural landmarks, and countryside that has been immortalized in Chinese art and literature for thousands of years.

Peal S. Buck described it as the "wildest, wickedest river" on earth in her 1931 novel The Good Earth. Over the last century, between 500,000 and a million people have been killed in floods from the Yangtze. In 1996 alone, far from the worst year, approximately $7 billion of property was lost in floods. When the dam is completed in 2009, it will save 15 million people from the floods and over 20 million acres of land. Moreover, the dam will produce 18,200 megawatts of hydro-electric power from 26 generators; that's more than 80 billion kWh of electricity each year equal to the energy produced by 18 nuclear power plants or the burning of 40 million tons of coal. China currently obtains more than 70% of its energy from burning coal, causing widespread acid rain, and pacing it to overtake the US as the world's largest producer of greenhouse gases in a little over 20 years.

However, the dam as planned is five times wider than the Hoover dam, will create a lake 365 miles long, the length of California's Central Valley, and six hundred feet deep. It will require almost a trillion cubic feet of concrete, 350,000 tons of rebar, and 310,000 tons of metal. It is officially expected to cost US$29 billion (double China's military budget in 2000) though outside estimates range as high as US$70 billion.

While it will certainly more than match the powerful Yangtze, a single dam that large is not required merely to generate energy and control flooding. That aim could be accomplished by a number of smaller dams spread out across the Yangtze and its tributaries. There are also much cheaper forms of energy production, such as gas-fueled>combined cycle plants and co-generators, which are cleaner, more reliable, and fuel-efficient, do not require long-distance transmission systems, and carry no risk of black-outs. Dr. John Byrne, director of the University of Delaware's Center for Energy and Environmental Policy says, "I think China has embraced an energy dinosaur."

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