Recently in No. 50 Sadovaya St., Moscow Category

Recently, I flipped back through my copy of The Tightwad Gazette. I was pleased by the number of things that I now do and what a fabulous difference they have made in reducing our costs while increasing our quality of life. Our food is better now. My wardrobe is better now. Dieting is easier now. Since she has been right about so many things, I decided it's time to delve into what she regards as her second-best money-saving tip (behind comp-shopping for groceries and having a freezer): thrift-store shopping and garage saling.

In the past, I've never been fashionable enough to actually choose good things at a thrift store. Now that I'm better at analyzing cuts and fits, I think I could do better. Since everyone else is going thrift-shopping in Seattle this weekend, I made up my own tour of Bay Area thrift stores. Believe it or not, I did not include every thrift store known to man. I only included ones people said were fabulous. I have divided them up into tours by city or region. My goal will be to see whether it is truly possible to get items of the same quality as those in my current wardrobe for pennies on the dollar. I remain dubious as to making a wardrobe completely out of thrift store and yard sale finds. Some claim there are quality designer pieces at tremendous discounts as well as funky vintage pieces at the right thrift stores. By augmenting such finds with quality basics that last, I expect one could construct a wardrobe quite affordably. Right now, I have most everything I need, so thrift store find will have to be extra tempting. I do need sundresses, so that will be my main focus. While looking at sundresses, I should be able to make a list something like the grocery price book to help me compile a list of good prices for similar items at various stores. If anyone would like to come on any particular part of this excursion, let me know.

Even better than thrift stores, she says, are garage sales. I didn't think garage sales existed anymore between Craigslist & FreeCycle, but I was wrong. What do you buy at a garage sale you ask? She says she virtually never buys things new at the store. Rather, she keeps in mind things that are likely to give out soon, items that could fill the gap till the perfect thing is found, and tools that would allow her to repair items that break or make things that would lower their cost of living/raise their standard of living. She mostly talks about how fabulous they are for kids stuff, since they usually outgrow it before it breaks. Since I don't have kids, I had sort of skipped that part. There are still supposedly fabulous yard sales in wealthy neighborhoods where you can get designer clothes and fabulous kitchen gadgets. Moving & divorce sales are supposed to be the best. Craigslist usually lists where they will be held on the weekend by mid-week. 'Tis the season!


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So now that you're planning on your own personal reservoir, you're probably wondering about the most efficient way to power the pumps and filters. Solar power probably comes to mind, but Solar power, for all its thrilling potential and the ever-increasing bogeyman of "rising energy costs" is a much tougher row to hoe.

Part of the difficulty is the fact that I don't know what the energy needs would be for an energy efficient large home, let alone one that pumps and filters all its own water or one that tries to replace its natural gas usage with solar, so regard all of this as wild conjecture. The average American family uses 10,656 kWh per year or 888 kWh per month. I figure I can set up a very energy-efficient home (much like the water-conserving home I planned), but I will have additional costs, so let's leave it as is.

This solar calculator ( tells me I would need a 6.79 kW installation to cover those requirements here in sunny California, which would cover 679 sq. ft. of south-facing roof (which agrees with my own calculations). Such an installation would cost approximately $54,000 they say, or about $28,000 after tax breaks and incentives. It guesses that my average monthly savings would be $129.77 for a 25 year savings of $64,851.61. My calculations are a little more grim. By my calculations, even though it pays for itself in energy savings after 14 years, it doesn't beat leaving the $28,000 invested in an interest-compounding investment and paying the energy bills. The capital outlay is simply too large for the return.

However, if you can get a loan for the panels at 5% so you aren't providing the initial capital outlay, and you pay it off within the life of the panels (25 years), the picture is better. You initially pay more than you would just paying the electric bills, but when inflating energy costs overtake your fixed loan payments in year 10, you can start paying yourself back for the extra you initially spent, and in year 17 you break even. At that point, you can start saving the money you would be paying to the electric company in an interest-bearing account. In other words, the investment in solar isn't a good enough investment for your own money, but if you can leverage someone else's, and you don't mind increasing your payments a few hundred dollars a year initially, it can pay you back twenty years down the road.

Some of you may be wondering about the mysterious wonders of leasing solar panels. Basically, you continue to pay the same amount per month for energy, it's just that now you pay half of it to the solar company and half to the electric company. It doesn't really save you any money--it's just for if you want to reduce your carbon footprint (which we all would appreciate. If they ask you to pay a couple grand up-front for the installation on top of the lease, it's clearly a losing proposition.

What is really worthwhile, though, is the new third-generation photo-voltaic cells, which are much cheaper to produce and much more efficient at capturing energy. Unfortunately, they are still in development and won't hit the residential market for another 10-15 years. The question is: how much cheaper will they be and how soon will they come out? I've heard wild rumors that they would be able to be installed for something closer to $12,000, and that they would be able to cover your whole roof, so you might even make money selling energy back to the electric company (at a discount of course). IF something were to come out in ten years and IF you could install it for $12,000, you would make a lot more money by waiting and paying for electricity until that happens. However, if it costs more than $12,000, then your gains from waiting start to dwindle. You're still making money by waiting even if it costs $24,000 then, especially if the cells last longer than 25 years. If it takes 15 years for them to hit the market, you still make money until the projected capital outlay balloons to $20,000. All in all, it's a gamble. Interest rates are low right now, you could lock in a return by getting a low-rate loan and reduce your carbon footprint. Who knows, maybe in 10-15 years, interest rates will be much higher, solar companies will want to recoup their research costs initially, and the price will be more than projected.

So the jury's still out on solar. I think if you have the credit, and you doubt the pace of technological advancement, you switch over to solar. If, however, you believe in all this alternative energy talk, then you make sure when you renovate or build that your house is wired for solar. And then check your roof insulation. You lose thirty percent of your house's heat through the roof. Make sure that's sealed up tight. Make sure your dryer and stove are gas, or start hanging your laundry to dry (you can use hangers on a free-standing rack indoors). Keep one side of the sink filled with soapy water and do your daily dishes by hand. Switch all your lights to cfl's and then turn them off when you leave the room for more than half an hour. Plug all your appliances and adapters into power strips, and power the strip off when you're not using them. Other than hanging your own laundry to dry, none of those takes any longer than arranging for the installation of panels. Lower your energy costs now and put the difference in an interest-bearing account for the day the new panels arrive. You might just be able to buy them outright.

Saving Water

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While we were in Europe, I developed a new hobby: self-sufficiency. It has led to the recent posts about cooking and shopping and what all it takes to look groomed. Some of you have laughed, but I warn you, we’re about to go swimming in the deep end.

You see, it occurred to me, while sitting on the lakeshore in Bellagio watching the fisherman pull in his nets, that with a suitable location it might be possible to retire from working and live a life that wouldn’t wear so hard on the earth. Mostly it was an intriguing thought experiment, but now with the job market being what it is and the not-too-distant sale of my house, it’s a little more practical to think about. So I’ve been reading up on sustainable living, which includes totally normal things like growing fruits and vegetables in your backyard to crazier stuff like how to farm your own fish in a tank under your tomatoes.

Yesterday, I was looking into catching and storing your own rainwater. I like the self-sufficiency of the idea, but wondered if, like most solar installations, it costs more than it saves. I did some digging and found that the average American family uses 236 gallons of water per day, or 86,447 gallons a year. I added up my own numbers and figured a family of four could get by on 138 gallons of water per day between four showers, 8 teeth brushings, cooking, running the dishwasher, a load of laundry, and five bathroom visits each. 138 gallons per day adds up to 50,370 gallons per year. Coincidentally, about 47,500 gallons of water each year falls on a 3000 sq.ft. roof in the east bay. So that’s good—with some tinkering, you could get by on the amount of rain you get—as long as you can store all the winter surplus for use in the summer.

So this is where it gets fancy. Because we have dry summers and wet winters, by the end of March, on average, you would have to be holding 19,672 gallons of water in storage to get you through to September. That’s a little more than most backyard swimming pools. Obviously, the first best step is to see how little water you could get by on each day. If you saved your laundry, shower, sink, and dishwasher water for use in the toilets and the garden, you could get by on 88 gallons per day, and you’d only need to store 16,104 gallons of water. That’s still a lot, but not impossible. Adam had mentioned seeing something the other day where people sunk massive water tanks under their driveway to store all their rainwater. Since a 5,000-gallon tank runs about $2000, and I can get no clearer indication on how much a complete system costs, I decided to guesstimate $10,000. This could be wildly off, but we’re using the guess-and-check method here. My question is: which offers the better return on investment, leaving the $10,000 invested with compound interest and paying your water bill, or buying your own water system and investing the saved the water bill payments. Like always, I gleefully trotted out my excel spreadsheet and furiously typed in my calculations.

Interestingly, buying one gallon of water in the East Bay costs the same as buying 172 gallons per day, so if you’re going to try to save here, you’ve gotta’ go whole hog. A family using our 138 gallons of water per day and living above 600 ft. in elevation (because who doesn’t want a view?) pays $918.04 per year to East Bay MUD. If that same family saved that money each year and invested it in the same interest-bearing vehicle as they would have had the $10,000 in, they save about a thousand dollars a year, while the $10,000 only makes about $300 in the early years. By buying the water system, the family starts making money in year 11. Now that’s a long time to wait for something to pay you back, but after thirty years, the water tanks are ahead by $41,336,99 (adjusted to today’s dollars). Even if you need a new pump or some filters, I still think you’re ahead. If you’re like my grandparents and you spend 55 years in your East bay house on the hill, the water tanks installed the first year in the house pay you back $199,793.60 (in today’s dollars) more than the $10,000 would.

I’m not yet saying that this is what you should do with your money or your water. There are probably a number of other hidden costs, like maintenance, energy to run the pumps, filters, etc. Let’s say it costs you $200 a year in maintenance. You’re still ahead at year 15. All that additional costs do is move your break-even date. What I’m saying is that it is a financially reasonable decision to save and filter your own rainwater. Now it’s time to look into a pond as storage that would also farm tilapia and fertilize the tomatoes.

I promised awhile back to explain to you all how to get your groceries at the cheapest possible price. This will probably be the craziest-sounding, most exhaustively researched post in the history of this blog, and I realize some of you will frown on the idea of going to such lengths just to save a little money. But the drop in grocery bills is too huge not to share (we’re down about 75% from last year).

So, here goes. Following an example from “The Tightwad Gazette,” I started a price book. A price book is a book you use when grocery shopping to record the ingredients you frequently purchase (one per page), and its price per ounce at local grocery stores. I’m sure in the not-too-distant future it will be possible to take a picture of the item or scan its barcode with your phone and pull up a list of prices at nearby stores, but until then… I kept a list of the items on my shopping list. Not surprisingly, everything is cheapest at Costco. That creates two small problems: 1) Costco doesn’t carry everything, and 2) where do you store two gallons of olive oil?

The first problem is solved simply—FoodsCo (FoodMaxx/Kroger’s) carries many things, including usable quantities of fresh produce, at Costco prices. The first time I shopped there, I got a full cart of groceries for $60. The parking lot is a little off-putting (bring handi-wipes), but the values are well worth it, and the people are super-friendly. The few items I can’t find at Costco or FoodsCo are usually available at Lucky, which is the next cheapest and often has things on special for lower than Costco prices. It pays to scan the circulars for Safeway and Lucky online once a week to check for produce or meat specials (this is how you find the fifty-cent-a-pound pears). Specialty items can be gotten at Rainbow Co-Op or Safeway. Now that I virtually never shop at Safeway, when I do go for something I’m shocked by the prices. Oatmeal at Costco costs a tenth of what Safeway charges. A trip to Safeway for dinner that night costs about a fourth of our average non-Safeway grocery bill for the month.

Problem number 2 is really a matter of how much you enjoy the concept of a pantry. I, personally, love the idea of an entire closet full of delicious food that virtually never perishes. Honestly, what could be more comforting? Most everyone has a closet full of junk, a cupboard housing pots and pans you never use, or an awkward space that could be used for storage. I moved all my vitamins to the bathroom and put lazy susans in my corner cupboards to get more storage, then I stocked up on the canned goods we use and oatmeal. It really wasn’t hard to fit an extra bottle of olive oil, or six extra cans of tomatoes. I passed on the 25 lb. bag of sugar, and it turns out that’s fine since it periodically goes on sale at the grocery store for the Costco price. By only buying things I know I will use, and then using them, finding space for Costco purchases hasn’t been a problem.

So far, so good. However, meat & vegetables are hard to get through in bulk. It helps to use the Debbie Meyer Green Bags (available at Bed, Bath, and Beyond) and to store all your produce properly. You can also organize your freezer better to get more in, but sooner or later, you come to the line in the sand. There is no turning back from an incredible sale on fifty pounds of frozen meat (or in my case, free turkeys). You can purchase an extra freezer for less than $500, and over the course of a year, it will almost certainly pay for itself in what you save on meat. It allows you to keep just about everything you eat nearly indefinitely. You can freeze shredded cheese, nuts, egg whites, cream—anything with a reasonably high fat content. You can pour leftover liquids (juice, tomato paste, chiles, soft cheeses, pesto, etc.) into ice cube trays, then store the cubes in freezer bags. You can save batches of soup, casseroles, fresh bread—just about anything that might go bad in your fridge can be saved in the freezer. Additionally, it allows you to cook in large batches and freeze half, cutting your cooking time in half. You can track down your most expensive food purchases, like pasta sauce, and make and freeze your own when the vegetables are in season. Or increase the quality of your eating by always having things like homemade toaster waffles and pancakes on hand. The freezer makes life so much easier (and better!). Now I can aim to go to the grocery store once, maybe twice a month. I only have to cook a couple days a week, and we eat better than we ever did before.

If you want to go whole hog, you can can your own fruits and vegetables. Unless you get a fabulous deal on produce and the thing you’re making is really expensive, it’s probably not worth it. However, for things like making your own Pad Thai sauce or your best Mango Chutney, you can save yourself quite a bit, so I thought I’d mention it. All it takes is a pressure cooker and some jars (which Wal-Mart carries at the best price year-round). There are ample government and university websites covering the various food safety measures that must be taken, but none of it is that difficult. You just need a timer.

So now that it’s all out there, before you go calling me crazy, take a look at the USDA's cost to feed families at different levels of spending. Many who work at meal planning and bulk shopping come in well under their thriftiest plan (I think I manage for about half that). Adopt some or all of these strategies as they suit your needs. The difference between the most liberal plan for a two-person family and the thriftiest is about $4200 a year--and they're not including eating out. There are a lot worse things you could do for an after-tax $5000 per year.

My new favorite elections fact

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As governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin sued to remove polar bears from the list of Endangered Species because it "will cripple offshore oil and gas development."

I'm not sure how you lack enough political acumen to admit that that's your reason. Look at that face!

In a way, I feel sorry for the poor woman. If you're interested, you can read more here.

This year’s Miss America Pageant will take place Saturday January 21, 2005, and the usual attendees will be placing bets (of social capital) in the following week. Having won (or tied for first) both of the previous times we have played, I hesitantly announce my killer app. Here’s how it works:

There are contestants from the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Early in the broadcast (after a hello from each of the contestants and a massive dance/costume number) the number is whittled to fifteen (or perhaps ten) finalists. Each of us chooses ten contestants before the fifteen (or ten as the case may be) are named. Whoever picks the winner, wins. If no one picks the winner, or two people pick the winner, whoever picks the first-runner-up wins.

Simple enough. Most people (and by most I mean two or three of the girls who play with us) choose by reading the Bios. Some even attempt some sort of racial equality in their picks. I, bold as it may seem, find that these cloud the issue. The trick, as with sports betting and the stock market, is to play the odds.

Tonight, at the 77th annual Academy Awards, Martin Scorsese joined the illustrious ranks of Robert Altman, Stanley Kubrick, Federico Fellini, Alfred Hitchcock, and Ingmar Bergman--impossibly influential film directors never honored by the Academy with a Best Director statue. Tonight, however, he set a new record, passing Alfred Hitchcock by for most nominations without a single award. "But surely he's had movies win for Best Picture" you say. Nope. Again, five nods, no trophies (Hitchcock at least got one of those). Scorsese's only got three more best picture misses to go before he knocks Mervyn LeRoy out of the "Batting Zero" title. He does however hold the third-place spot for movies with most nominations and no wins (for 2002's "Gangs of New York"). He's not even the Academy's biggest loser (though the Academy prefers the term "non-winner"). That dubious distinction goes to Kevin O'Connell who got passed by for the seventeenth time tonight for sound on Spider Man 2. "I'd like to thank the Academy..." for consigning one great film director after another to the world of cult classics. Thanks.

Current Lunacy


Yesterday I received a pyramid-style chain letter promising over 880,000 dollars if I would merely send out 200 copies of the letter and five one dollar bills, one each to the five most recent senders in my branch of the chain. As usual, there are a number of ridiculous testimonials, including one claiming that he is now buying a house "WITH CASH!!!" This brought to mind the image of someone sitting down with a mortgage broker and diligently counting "873, 426... 873,427... 873,428..." What would you do with 880,000 one dollar bills?

How do you explain your new house to the IRS? Do you declare your 880+ thousand dollars as income from "chain letter"? If so, it immediately puts you into a 35% tax bracket, plus whatever alternative minimum tax applies, so you're probably out a good 300,000 Georges right there. Since it's cash, you could try to hide it, but then you can't make any huge purchases, like houses, and you have to spread them out over long enough that the IRS doesn't notice. Even spending 50k a year would take you 16 years to get through, by which time compounded interest rates have devalued your "assets" by 35% anyway.

Suppose you try to hide it, converting it to some asset that's immune to inflation, and spread it out over the sixteen years or so. You still have to change all those ones somehow, and you can't use bank accounts that would show up to the IRS. Can you trade ones for 100s at a bank where you have an account without creating a record? I guess you could tell them you were a street performer, but then you'd have to use a bunch of different banks, because no one's going to believe a street performer who pulls down 880k+ a year. What do you buy that will hold your investment better than cash, but that doesn't show up in a bank account? I initially thought of diamonds, but this whole "cultured diamonds" development may chip away at the DeBeers cartel over the next sixteen years. Cars? Can you pay for a car with actual greenbacks and not set off some kind of red flag?

Maybe you declare as much as you can each year that will keep you in the 28% tax bracket (total income up to $143,500 or $174,700 if you're married) and pay for everything else in your life with cash. The grocery store, gas, utilities, books, gifts, airline tickets... all in ones. Maybe you just leave a giant sack on the doorstep of your favorite charity. In four years you could get through all of it, paying only 28% on about half of it (if we're including a sizable charitable donation), which is only about $126,000, saving you a grand total of $175,000.

Clearly I am not cut out for money laundering. There's surely an entirely legal way to do it with limited liability partnerships and trust funds that I don't know about.

All of this has led me to two conclusions: 1) On Monday I should call my broker to schedule a meeting about my long-term financial goals, and 2) I should send letters to the five addresses on the chain letter, with one dollar each, a self-addressed, stamped envelope and two questions, "How much money have you received so far?" and "What will you do with all the ones?"

What Can You Really Test?

Another criticism of standardized tests is that they cannot measure the sort of understandings we expect the schools to be teaching such as writing and scientific inquiry. As Audrey Qualls, a co-author of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, one of the most widely used standardized tests, states, �It may be very, very important to teach students how to actually set up an experiment. That's a major goal of science. ... I can't measure that very well with a multiple-choice type test.� There are a number of important skills that a test can�t measure: �Whether or not a student actually asks questions. Whether they use background information appropriately. Whether they're part of a conversation.� She goes on to put this line of thinking better than I could, so I�ll quote her at length: When I think about what a school should do or what makes a school good or bad, it's far more than how well they teach a few sets of skills. When we think about what we've [asked] schools and teachers to do, it's the developmental growth of these little five-year-olds and six-year-olds that come in a door, all the way to being productive citizens, able to go to college or able to go on to work. And if I think about, what does that mean, it truly has to be more than just achievement in a few basic areas. One, I want them to develop an appreciation and value of societal norms. Being a good citizen. Caring about learning. Contributing to your community. I can't measure that with a test. When I think about what makes a good school, I want to think about, do teachers have the commitment to help a student who may not be the traditional student, who needs a little bit more? ... A test score doesn't capture that. ... So if I were to try to say, "OK, all of that sounds wonderful. And I want the school to do it," but all that I can easily measure is your achievement over some basic skills, I've cheated the schools. ... All quotes from interview for frontline.

The testing is the most contested part of this whole program. One of the first things to understand is the difference between the sort of tests your teachers made in high school and standardized tests. When teachers make a test, they survey the facts and skills they expect students to have and design a task that will require those. Standardized tests are designed to spread students out over a normal curve so they can be compared; the items are chosen because they are easy, medium, or hard, not because they represent all the material to be taught. So the first and most obvious criticism is that the tests aren�t actually measuring what the standards say they should. What�s worse, though, is that standardized tests are created so that no matter what, 50% of the kids who take it score below average (that�s what average means after all). But that means by definition, if we set the 50th percentile as proficient, it is impossible to have 100% of students score at the proficient level. This is such an obvious criticism, it is hard to believe a satisfactory response is not part of the policy itself. Yet California uses the SAT-9, a standardized test said to be sufficiently aligned with the standards to measure them, even though it was designed as a norm-referenced achievement test and will continue to fail half the students in the state. What�s needed, clearly, are new tests designed to verify the subject-knowledge outlined by standards, but such tests are very, very expensive, and take three to seven years to develop. NCLB set aside quite a bit of funding for developing such tests, but this year Congress approved less than two thirds the amount the bill called for.


The bill�s basic mechanism is to set standards and then test to see if schools are meeting them. Not surprisingly the two most contended parts of the policy are standards and testing, and that is where most of the research has been done.
Standards are supposed to spell out simply and clearly precisely what students whould understand and be able to do at the end of each year. However, most of the standards include too much material to be feasible and are too vague about what students should understand. William Schmidt, who studies education systems in �competing� first-world countries explains, �We're, for example, at eighth-grade telling teachers to teach 35 topics. Other countries are telling their teachers to teach 10 to 15. So there's one aspect of it. But secondly, the standards themselves are often times not very clear or focused, so that a teacher could say, �Of course, I cover that.� And in some sense, they do. But they're over on this corner of it, versus the real depth of the standard, which is over here.� For example a standard may say "Students will understand historical events in the twentieth century," leaving a teacher to wonder whether students should merely be able to list the events, or be able to offer illustrative accounts of each. In sixth-grade Social Studies, teachers are supposed to cover world history from the agricultural revolution through the Rennaissance, about seven thousand years including the incredibly dense cultural innovations of irrigation, myth, writing, democracy, literature, philosophy, the scientific method, and guns. Amy Wilkins of The Education Trust explains the way the standards were created, �in general, there were very open processes, with lots of people, mathematicians, parents, all sorts of people deciding what kids should know and be able to do. And they produced these very thick documents, and sort of threw them at teachers and said, �Here, do this,�� As a result, the standards are not as clear or focused as many had hoped.
When the standards are so impossible to cover and vague, the standardized tests used to measure them become the guide for classroom instruction. In such cases, teachers must �teach to the test,� perhaps the most prevalent problem with No Child Left Behind.

Preliminary Results

NCLB went into effect two years ago, meaning that each state should now be 1/6th of the way to having all students proficient in all subjects. Schools are starting to fail and be put on the underperforming list. In New York and Chicago, so many parents of students at underperforming schools have requested to have their children transferred to schools that are meeting the standards that the districts are swamped. There are not enough vacancies at schools performing well to accommodate all the inner-city school refugees. Both school districts now stand in violation of the federal law (as well as many others I expect) but no one has yet brought suit. In Florida, Tennessee, Missouri and West Virginia, nearly half or more of schools are not meeting the new benchmarks (source). We are beginning to see the effects of Bush�s policy and the failure of the federal government to afford the amount of time and money it will take to �leave no child behind.� Clinton had a similar program called �Goals 2000� that failed to make any difference and simply faded into dust when schools did not meet the mark in 2000. Will No Child Left Behind simply be ignored and forgotten? For all its flaws, I hope not. Many inner-city school districts have said that it�s pressure is their only hope for the reform they need.

Or Else...

There is also an �enforcement clause� No Child Left Behind, which follows:
  • A Title I school that has not made adequate yearly progress, as defined by the state, for two consecutive school years will be identified by the district before the beginning of the next school year as needing improvement. School officials will develop a two-year plan to turn around the school. The local education agency will ensure that the school receives needed technical assistance as it develops and implements its improvement plan. Students must be offered the option of transferring to another public school in the district--which may include a public charter school--that has not been identified as needing school improvement.
  • If the school does not make adequate yearly progress for three years, the school remains in school-improvement status, and the district must continue to offer public school choice to all students. In addition, students from low-income families are eligible to receive supplemental educational services, such as tutoring or remedial classes, from a state-approved provider.
  • If the school fails to make adequate progress for four years, the district must implement certain corrective actions to improve the school, such as replacing certain staff or fully implementing a new curriculum, while continuing to offer public school choice and supplemental educational services for low-income students.
  • If a school fails to make adequate yearly progress for a fifth year, the school district must initiate plans for restructuring the school. This may include reopening the school as a charter school, replacing all or most of the school staff or turning over school operations either to the state or to a private company with a demonstrated record of effectiveness.

NCLB: The Framework

At its heart �No Child Left Behind� is about holding American schools accountable for giving each child an equal chance at a good education. No one disagrees with the sentiment. What is debated is precisely what has always been debated in education and what will probably continue to be debated forever. That is, (1) What should our children be taught? (2) What is the best way to teach them? (3) How can we know that the way we�re teaching works? (4) How can we know if we�re teaching the right things? (5) What makes a good teacher? (6) What do teachers need to do their jobs well? (7) How can we make sure our answers to such questions are carried out? John Dewey himself could not concoct a more daunting list. NCLB advances some concrete answers to these philosophical questions:

  1. Children should all be taught the same thing throughout a state, to be determined by the state and set out in a series of �standards� for each subject and grade level that name facts, skills, and even attitudes. Most states have modeled these standards on national prototypes.
  2. Children should only be taught with methods and materials that have been scientifically researched and determined to effectively accomplish the standards.
  3. We can know that education methods work in the same way we can know that medical methods work: data collected in accordance with the scientific method.
  4. A good teacher is an expert in his or her subject matter who has received training in pedagogy.
  5. Teachers need cash incentives and professional development resources to do their jobs well.
  6. The education system can be held accountable by testing every student every year and publishing all the data. Furthermore teachers and administrators will lose their jobs if their students consistently fail to make �adequate yearly progress.� *

There are some other selling points, like parents getting to choose to send their children to another school if it is underperforming and fewer strings on federal grants, but otherwise that�s the gist of it.

* The department of ed web page defines AYP as follows:

�Each state begins by setting a "starting point" that is based on the performance of its lowest-achieving demographic group or of the lowest-achieving schools in the state, whichever is higher. The state then sets the bar--or level of student achievement--that a school must attain after two years in order to continue to show adequate yearly progress. Subsequent thresholds must be raised at least once every three years, until, at the end of 12 years, all students in the state are achieving at the proficient level on state assessments in reading/language arts and math.�

Perspectives on No Child Left Behind

I discovered while talking to Allan at Kristen�s birthday brunch that most of you have never heard of George Bush�s revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that was signed into law last year. There are, so far as I can tell, three different perspectives being consistently offered on the bill instead of the usual two party lines, making good faith examination of claims and evidence a little more complex. The three groups, politicians, educational researchers, and teachers seem almost to be talking about three entirely different agendas. The politicians are talking about money, the amount that has been invested in the past, the results they should be able to expect for it, and the amount they are putting in now. The educational researchers talk about the extraordinary opportunity to finally coordinate the education system under a national framework of standards, curriculum, and assessments. Teachers have been fairly quiet in the public forums on the issue. Many are in favor of the improvements that could come from coordinating education, but they�re not seeing any of the money, and the whole burden of meeting the new standards is on them. It is particularly odd then that they have been so truculent with the media, when it is the number one topic within professional circles. Unfortunately, a group we are hearing even less from is students. I don�t even know what they would have to say.

PBS aired a Frontline documentary called, "Testing Our Schools" that contains extensive interviews, summaries, and links.

Peltier Revisited


Last pub night Sean pointed out that the Leonard Peltier Defense Team may have a stronger argument than I have represented. There is a legal standard, he pointed out called �fruit from a bad tree,� which states that one cannot use evidence gotten illegally and that if, in fact, Peltier was convicted on such evidence, he deserves a fair trial. I had not gone into much depth about the particulars of the FBI�s mis-dealings simply because they were not often relevant to the evidence presented at trial, and I feared boring you further with such minutiae. Nonetheless, criticism from such informed friends is not to be cast aside lightly, so I felt compelled to go back and get my facts straight, to give it another, possibly fairer look.

The biggest loophole, in terms of FBI misconduct is the testimony of the three boys placing Peltier at the agents� cars. All three maintain that they were questioned after they had requested attorneys, and threatened with physical harm before they were given representation. By any reasonable legal standard, such testimony should be excluded, but it was not, at least not completely. Whether or not this is sufficient grounds for a new trial, I don�t know, but I do know that when the Leonard Peltier Defense Council filed for an appeal on the basis of that testimony not being excluded, the court found that there was no evidence that the boys had been induced to lie during the trial (as opposed to during the investigation) and that the jury was instructed sufficiently regarding credibility and impeachment to make up their own minds. The other evidence regarding FBI misconduct had to do with the bogus extradition, which couldn�t be undone, and failure to sufficiently investigate other American Indian deaths on the reservation. Neither of those was relevant to the case against Peltier.

There is also, in the same appeal decision, an account of the circumstantial evidence viewed as most favorable to the government. As the footnote explains, ���The verdict of a jury must be sustained if there is substantial evidence, taking the view most favorable to the Government, to support it.� � Hamling v. United States, 418 U.S. 87, 124, 94 S. Ct. 2887, 2911, 41 L. Ed. 2d 590 (1974), Quoting Glasser v. United States, 315 U.S. 60, 80, 62 S. Ct. 457, 86 L. Ed. 680 (1942).� That summary includes conclusions from evidence that I left out of my summary because I was not trying to view it as most favorable to the government. Altogether it is a pretty damning case. If there is room for reasonable doubt, it is in the credibility of Michael Anderson�s eyewitness testimony placing Peltier at the agents� cars with the AR-15, the possibility that the actual culprits left the scene in a different red vehicle before backup arrived (the Mr. X scenario), and that someone else may have been carrying another weapon capable of firing high-velocity, low-caliber ammunition but that the defense never found out about it. Of the three possibilities, the only one that is truly �reasonable� is that the FBI persuaded Michael Anderson to offer false testimony. Again, if that's the case, Peltier deserves a new trial, but there's no proof of it, not even circumstantial evidence.

At bottom, the defense proved that the FBI dealt unfairly on a consistent basis with the American Indians, but the prosecution proved that Leonard Peltier murdered the FBI agents "with malice aforethought."

Why All the Fuss?

If it's so clear that Peltier did it, why make a martyr out of him? The FBI didn't exactly keep their nose's clean either. During the trial of Butler and Robideau it was found that the FBI had threatened a key prosecution witness to change his testimony completely. Peltier was extradicted from Canada on the strength of an affadavit by a mentally incapacitated women who had never met him. The FBI had used her before to swear that she was the girlfriend of a suspect and had seen him commit the crime. All three of the Indian boys who testified to seeing Peltier, Robideau, and Butler walk down to the cars were denied lawyers when they requested them. However, the government isn�t alone. There is evidence that the organization defending Peltier also pressured witnesses into changing their testimony. Really, any faith I once might have placed in the image of the oppressed Indian activists was destroyed when I discovered that earlier this year a grand jury indicted two AIM members for the murder of Anna Mae Aquash, another AIM activist whose body was found by the side of the road on the same reservation just a few months after the incident. AIM had long claimed her murder was part of an FBI conspiracy because of an unbelievably incompetent first autopsy (the doctor failed to notice the gunshot wound to the back of her head), the failure of the lead FBI officer in search of her to identify the body, and the bizarre decision by that same FBI officer to cut off her hands and send them to Washington for fingerprint identification. As it happens that FBI officer was also responsible for the bogus affadavit used to extradite Peltier. The grand jury which convened in her case seems to believe testimony that the leaders of AIM believed Anna Mae to be an FBI informant and ordered the hit. There were plenty of other actual FBI informants in the organization at the time, and they were spreading rumors that Anna Mae was the mole to cast suspicion away from themselves. The bottom line is that foul play runs so deep on both sides that there is really no one you can trust. I remain unconvinced of any orchestrated FBI conspiracy, but the behavior of the particular agents involved in this case was reprehensible, and I doubt that is uncommon.

Did He Really Do It?

Three questions you must ask:

    Why first-degree murder (as opposed to manslaughter in a firefight)?

  1. The two agents were killed virtually point-blank, while already lying on the ground. One was unconscious, the other raised his hand to the mouth of the AR-15 just before it was fired, taking away three of his fingers.
  2. The two sides were far from evenly matched; the FBI agents were firing revolvers (with a range of 50 yards) from the middle of an open field at Indians 250 yards away. The Indians were firing semi-automatic weapons from a protected ridge. Several people heard the FBI agents' radio transmissions for help, and the first shots are almost immediately heard after the agents said, �It looks like they�re going to fire on us.�
  3. Peltier had a motive. He told Canadian mounties that the FBI agents had been killed in a firefight when they attempted to arrest him on an outstanding warrant. The FBI officers had no idea Peltier was there, nor that there was a warrant outstanding for his arrest.
The FBI originially arrested four suspects for the murder, but one was acquitted when it was discovered he was absent the day of the murders. Two (Bob Robideau and Dino Butler) were tried separately from Peltier who was resisting extradition in Canada. They were found 'not guilty' in the absence of some of the evidence that was later found and used against Peltier.

    Why Leonard Peltier, Bob Robideau, and Dino Butler?

  1. Angie Long Visitor testified that a red and white van matching the description of that the FBI agents followed onto the compound belonged to Peltier (Sam Loud Hawk gave it to him after Peltier fixed it up).
  2. Three young Indian men testified to seeing Peltier, Robideau, and Butler walk down to the agents� cars.
  3. Among the shell casings found were some .35 caliber ones that matched the gun used to kill Jean Bissonette, a murder from months earlier when the ammo was traced back to the location where Leonard Peltier, Bob Robideau, and Dino Butler were staying (i.e. the three of them were connected to a previous murder investigation).
  4. The two FBI agents� guns were taken after their murder. They were later recovered when Butler, Robideau, and Peltier were arrested. All three were arrested in different states and each was in possession of one of the agents' guns used in the shootout.

    Why Peltier?

  1. The agents heads were blown apart by high-velocity, low-caliber (.30 and under, including .223 caliber) ammunition. From testimony offered by the other Indians present, Leonard Peltier was firing an AR-15, the only weapon any of the three sighted at the cars was firing that was capable of firing .223 caliber ammunition.
  2. A shell casing from a .223 was found near the dead agents (in the trunk of one of their cars) apparently expelled from the murder weapon, but only that one was found despite three shots having been fired. The marks on that casing were consistent with those made by an AR-15 attributed to Peltier that was later found in Bob Robideau�s station wagon.
  3. Because the bullets fired at the agents exploded, it is impossible to know precisely what caliber they originally were. One bullet remained fairly intact in the ground beneath one agent�s head, and this bullet was a .223, though it had no blood on it. There was one other person there firing a .308, bolt-action rifle (the only other weapon present that day capable of causing the wounds the agents sustained), but no one claims to have seen him down at the cars.

Basically, Peltier was close enough to shoot the agents and the only one carrying a gun that matched the bullets. He wasn't convicted of first degree murder though. He is serving on aiding and abetting, which he would be guilty of simply for having been there when the two were shot.

Free Leonard Peltier!

Leonard Peltier is serving two consecutive life sentences in Leavenworth for the first degree murder of two FBI agents. Those of you who attended reasonably liberal colleges have probably witnessed the hippie with telltale dreadlocks asking you to sign his or her petition for the president to grant clemency to Peltier and other American "political prisoners." Spurred on by a number of pop culture references such as �Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee� sung by the Indigo Girls, the Ken Burns PBS Documentary �The West,� Howard Zinn�s A People�s History of the United States, and our recent trip through the South Dakota Badlands, the Black Hills, and Yellowstone, I decided to look into the history of Wounded Knee, SD, the site of Peltier's alleged crime.

In 1890, in retaliation for the massive defeat suffered at Custer's Last Stand, the U.S. Army massacred between 150 and 300 Lakota (Sioux), most of whom were the unarmed widows and orphans of plains warriors, at Wounded Knee. It was said to be the last "battle" of the Indian Wars, after which American Indians were concentrated onto reservations where it was hoped they would quietly go extinct. The historical marker for this "battle" stands in the middle of the bleakest landscape I have ever laid eyes on. There is nothing but dirt and low-lying scrub in the gulleys. The Pine Ridge Reservation, which encompasses Wounded Knee is the poorest place in the entire US, with an unemployment rate ranging from 40-75%. There is a green piece of wood reading "Massacre" nailed over the the word "Battle" on the US-government-authored history of the site.

Thus the American Indian Movement of the mid-1970's chose it as the site of its protest against the Government's treatment of native peoples. Leonard Peltier was a Lieutenant in the organization in 1975 when he went to help protect the residents from the corrupt tribal chairman and his GOONs (Guardians of the Oglala Nation). A number of AIM activists were staying on the Jumping Bull compound when two FBI agents drove in and the Indians opened fire (perhaps thinking they were GOONs). At the end of the firefight, the two FBI agents lay dead of execution-style shots to the head.

The people of have their own version of the story to tell, but after days of research reading articles and trial transcripts, I have come to the conclusion that he had a fair trial, does not deserve an appeal, and is most likely guilty not only of aiding and abetting, but of the murders for which he was convicted. Much as I wanted to sympathize with the clearly oppressed Native Americans, Peltier seems not to be one of them.

CLAD Certificates for Everyone

California currently has approximately 1.5 million limited English proficient students representing 25% of the overall student population. According to the 1968 Bilingual Education Act, which ammended the 1964 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, it is a violation of their rights to not to offer instruction in a language they understand or to refuse them services. However, in 1998, the people of California passed proposition 227, which limits bilingual education to one-year transition programs. In order to comply with both policies, California school districts have been requiring more and more teachers to become CLAD certified. The Crosscultural, Language, and Academic Development certificate is offered to those who have been identified as having knowledge of how to work with English language learners. One can earn it either by taking approved series of courses or passing the series of four certification tests. How qualified are you to teach students from other cultures with limited English skills? Below are questions selected from the CLAD certificate examinations:

Test 1: Language Structure and First- and Second-Language Development

1. Which of the following parts of speech can be used to complete the sentence "The ________ jumped high"?
A. noun
B. adverb
C. pronoun
D. adjective

2. Which of the following statements about dialects is most accurate?
A. The use of dialects hinders language development.
B. Dialects are valid tools for communication.
C. The use of dialects indicates a disadvantaged student.
D. Dialects represent a stage in an individual's language development.

Test 2: Methodology of Bilingual, English Language Development, and Content Instruction

1. Which of the following is the most appropriate way to make a social studies lesson delivered in English understandable to students whose primary language is other than English?
A. Include a filmstrip as part of the lesson.
B. Use a larger number of worksheets than used with fluent English speakers.
C. Teach a comparable lesson from a lower grade level.
D. Simplify the lesson by focusing on only a few of the key concepts.

2. Which of the following is the most appropriate first step to take for a student whose primary language is not English, who has been in U.S. schools for several years, and who has still not made a successful transition to English?
A. Refer the student to special education for testing.
B. Provide the student with a bilingual paraprofessional for tutoring.
C. Conduct a comprehensive assessment of the student's language skills.
D. Determine gaps in the student's content knowledge and reteach missing knowledge.

Test 3: Culture and Cultural Diversity

1. Which of the following is not an example of an intragroup cultural difference?
A. Hmong immigrants engage in different religious practices than Laotian immigrants.
B. Many third-generation Puerto Ricans are less proficient in Spanish than are their grandparents.
C. Chinese immigrants from Hong Kong celebrate the New Year differently from Chinese immigrants from Vietnam.
D. Filipino immigrant children of professionals face less difficulty in adapting to the U.S. school system than do Filipino immigrant children of farm laborers.

2. Compared with earlier waves of immigrants, the people who came to the United States during the 1980s:
A. were poorer and less educated than previous immigrants.
B. concentrated in urban rather than rural areas.
C. were victims of political oppression or economic deprivation.
D. represented a more diverse range of cultures.

Test 4: Methodology for Primary-Language Instruction

1. Which of the following strategies is most appropriate to use first with a student whose primary language is other than English and who is having difficulty understanding a concept explained in an English language textbook?
A. Encourage the student to follow along in the text while another student with strong English skills reads the passage aloud.
B. Use the student's primary language to determine whether the student is familiar with and understands the concept.
C. Show the student how to look up unfamiliar words from the textbook passage in a dictionary or the book's glossary.
D. Have the student read about the concept from a primary-language textbook written for younger students.

2. When evaluating the multicultural perspective of supplementary materials in languages other than English, it is most important that the materials:
A. highlight human commonalities as well as cultural and social differences.
B. highlight outstanding individuals, both past and present, in various cultures.
C. emphasize the positive as well as the negative features of various cultural groups.
D. stress cultural commonalities and de-emphasize that which makes individuals of a cultural group different.

Providing students with a teacher who has passed the CLAD certification tests, regardless of training, meets the federal requirement to provide limited English proficient students with services.

Answers: Test 1-- 1A, 2B, Test 2--1A, 2C, Test 3--1A, 2D, Test 4--1B, 2A

For more sample test items visit California CLAD/BCLAD Examinations Study Guides for tests 1-6.
Statistics and executive summary of California's limited English proficient population from Review of Research on the Education of Limited English Proficient Students: A Report to the California Legislature by Patricia Gandara (1999).

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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