Interstate Water Treaties, or “Here We Go Again”

Nebraska is invoking a 1923 treaty with Colorado to build a canal and outmaneuver Colorado on the South Platte River. It’s been a while since an interstate water fight made the news, and I can hear water lawyers on all sides organizing papers and smiling at the prospect of a fight. After all, whisky is for drinking but water’s for fighting over.

My first thought when I heard the news was to grin a little, because Colorado has some water policies that make me roll my eyes, especially policies pertaining to the South Platte River. Among other things, the state banned the collection of rainwater runoff by private individuals (no cistern at the end of your downspout) on the grounds that if too many people did it too well, it would affect in-stream flow on the South Platte and violate the river compact. Translated into normal English, if people collected the rainwater, there wouldn’t be enough run-off into the river. The quantity of water would drop below the minimum required by law. That minimum has to go to Nebraska, or else, unless there is a drought or other 100% non-man-made event in progress. Even water lawyers can’t make rain where rain doesn’t want to fall.

An interstate compact is a treaty. It must be ratified by the US Senate, just like any other treaty. Most of the interstate compacts I know of are about water, dividing up the flow of rivers, or discussing quality. The goal of a river compact is to keep, oh, Texas from sending the Guard into NM and doing in a dam, or suing for $$$ in lost income and property if the upstream state dries up the river. The Colorado River (of the West) is probably the most famous of these compacts, and one of the most litigated streams in interstate water law. The Pecos River and Rio Grande are not far behind, then the South Platte, and some rivers in Wyoming. A quick skim of the list shows that most of the compacts involving rivers from west of the 100th Meridian are about in-stream flow, and protecting downstream users from upstream excess usage. Mexico is also a party to some Compacts, notably on the Rio Grande and Colorado.

The first official compacts over in-stream flow date to the 1920s, when irrigation got better and litigation more common. What had been local (except in NM and CO) became a state matter. It’s one thing for Garden City, KS to complain about a lack of water in the Arkansas River. It’s another for Kansas to sue Colorado in federal court. Also, the surge in dam and irrigation-project construction in the 1910s and 1920s led to a surge in lawsuits. Thus the compacts. Some are just quantity, others are quality as well as quantity.

As long as people use water from rivers, or use groundwater that affects rivers, others will watch with beady eyes. “I’d rather be at the head of a ditch with a shovel than at the end of the ditch with a decree.” “Whisky’s for drinking, water’s for fighting over.” “The boy at the spring controls the stream.” [Ein Knabe am Quelle controliert den Fluß.]

It’s been a while since an interstate water compact bobbed up in court. The last time, it was TX and OK vs the US government over control of the banks of the Red River. There’s nothing like the Feds sticking an oar into things to get the states to drop other fights. Now it’s Nebraska making waves, and Colorado backpedaling, at least for the moment.

I encourage you to read the compact for yourself. River compacts are some of the clearest of legal documents, not that it prevents lawyers from muddying the waters. The University of Colorado law school has a water law specialty. Other states have something similar, at least those where “prior appropriation” is the rule for water apportionment.

“Time Passes By”

For various reasons, Kathy Mattea’s song “Time Passes By” has been popping up on my mental playlist recently. That one, and “Record Time (33,45,78)” seem to sum up my experiences at various times, although “Record Time” is probably the more accurate of the two when it comes to describing my world. Anyway. “Time Passes By” is about loving and living while we can, but the point is that things change, no matter what we might want.

A new generation, so to speak, now runs the large museum where I have done a lot of work and research. It has been a few years since I was last digging around in their archives, and the new folks don’t know me on sight the way the older staff did. They have changed some policies, which led to a bit of confusion until credentials were confirmed. Academics and museum research is a small world, but not that small, so I shouldn’t have been surprised by the mild confusion and hesitation. All is well, connections are restored, and tentative plans made for future in-depth research and study.

Time passed by. As I said, I’m no longer known on sight, and it’s been a while since I’ve done a presentation at any local museum. My every-day work made it challenging, and the last two years have been heck for trying to do research on pretty much anything. I mean, even field geology and biology were fraught in 2020 in NM, because the governor banned out-of-state residents from having access to state or national parks! It’s hard to study the geology of, say, Frijoles Canyon or the Valle Grande caldera complex when the state police won’t let you get close to the gate. I suspect academic credentials, connections, and a few other things eased into the right in-boxes might have opened access, but I didn’t bother trying to go to the state archives, for example. Everyone I worked with at the state archive in Santa Fe has retired, or moved up to bigger things, archivally speaking. Time passed.

The new generation is different. Museum science and archival practices have changed a lot over the past 30, or even 15 years. Emphasis has shifted in terms of what the goal of a museum or archive is. Now, state government archives will always be about state documents and government stuff. That’s baked in. But the focus of collections, how collections and exhibitions are managed, what is important in the collection and what can be set aside, or not brought into the collection, those have all changed. What stories are the most important to tell? How should those stories be told? Is there a grand narrative of history or should it be more of a jigsaw puzzle or patchwork within a chronology? All of those questions shape museums and history departments. What role to expert amateurs play in museology and curation, or should they? The older generation encouraged the expert amateur, at least in some fields. Today . . . I’m not so sure.

We might be seeing a swing from “museum management and curation as an art” toward “curation as a science.” With “science” comes international standards, and journals, and consensus in the field about philosophy and ideology, and statements of ethics and so on. This is not bad, in and of itself. Some aspects of curation have always been a science. How do you preserve textiles and things made of wood, leather, clay? Art conservation is chemistry as well as learning styles of art and studying framing. Will this kind of light fade or damage the items, and if so, what kind of illumination should be used? How can we make 1000+ year old documents available to researchers without accidentally destroying the documents? All these are questions that materials science and long experience can answer, and should. It’s when the social “sciences” get involved that things seem to become a bit odd, or at least odd compared to what I grew up with.

History museums, especially those that are not very, very narrowly focused, walk a bit of a tightrope. The public wants them to tell a story, and tell it in an engaging and neat way. Academics want to tell different stories, with a different emphasis on presentation. Activists look for certain things, donors look for other things—sometimes—and the curator and exhibit designers have to sort through all of these ideas and stories. I incline toward “tell it straight, as best we can, given what we know now, and update things as we know more.” That’s not always popular. I bristled a little at a new section of an older display, but . . . it covers something very timely and that is part of the current story, even if I disagree with it. I’m a grown-up, so I read the section and went back to the fun-for-me-stuff. I’m not going to throw a fit because I would have used that space for something else, or would have presented the material in a different way.

I liked the older generation’s way of doing things. It was comfortable to me, I fit in, and they did very good work. The new generation is skilled, they are doing good work, and eventually I’ll get back to my research and reclaim my little niche, or find a new niche. Time passes by.

Walking Dogs, Christmas Trees, and Spudding In

All of these terms are from the oil patch, although not all of them are used today. I grew up around family members who were in, or who had retired from, the blue-collar end of the oil business. One great uncle built and maintained derricks, one worked as the chief of a seismograph crew, one had been a roughneck before becoming a toolie . . . I learned about steel Christmas trees, walking dogs that didn’t go places, cat crackers, and other mysterious terms.

I was reminded of the jargon while perusing a local museum. It has a fantastic section about the oil and gas industry, with some updated exhibits about the technology of fracking and “directional drilling.” When I was younger, we called it slant-hole drilling, and it was as illegal as illegal could be. Oil leases were elongated cubes. You had a permit to drill straight down. You were not to wander into a neighbor’s lease, no matter how good his find might be. Today, drilling to a certain depth and then changing directions to make a horizontal hole is common. I suspect it made the lawyers handling the older leases rub their hands with glee, because each lease holder would have to be compensated if the horizontal hole produced. I also suspect that how oil leases and permits are written has changed to match the times and technology.

A “Christmas tree” is the cap put on a well once it is producing and the drilling equipment is no longer needed. When they top an producing well, lights and hoses and valves stick out of the heavy steel cap, which stands about 4-6 feet tall. From a distance they look a bit like trees, and since the royalty money buys stuff, Christmas tree it is, especially the ones with lights on them.

A walking dog is the other name for a pump jack, the large rocking pump that lifts oil up into the storage tank or collecting line.

Fair Use under Creative Commons. Original source here:

A cat cracker is a now out-dated term for the cracking towers, the long tubes in a refinery where fractional distillation takes place. This is the process of separating crude oil into all the various components, by weight, from gasses at the top to automotive fuel to naphtha to paraffins (kerosene) to diesel fuel and down to asphalt.

A toolie was someone in charge of the different tools, and sometimes other equipment, used on the rig and around the well. He made sure things were in good repair, and checked equipment in and out as needed. You don’t want to hear “has anyone seen [critical thing]?” at the wrong moment. Nor do you want to discover tools where they ought not to be.

A doodlebugger worked with the seismograph crew. He set out the dynamite used to make the thumps needed for the seismographs to do their magic and tell the geologist what hid below the surface. The little crater looked like the nest of an ant-lion, or doodlebug, thus the name. Today they use thumper trucks and other things, since toting around explosives is either illegal, bad for the environment, or seen as an invitation to “borrow” the dynamite for other purposes (like terrorism. Or at best, for fishing. Which is also illegal).

Romantics, Romances, and romances: Pop-Cultural Confusion

“It can’t be romantic! It’s too dark and scary!” Ah, the travails of art-history students* railing against the influence of popular culture. Or against the confusion of Romantic and romantic, at least.

The root of the word “romance” is Roman, just like the Romance Languages are all descended from Latin (Spanish, Italian, French, Romanch, Romanian, Portuguese). It then wandered into Old French and took on the sense of both the vernacular language, and of a work of literature in verse form, or a tale in verse form. From then it jumped to English as something written in French (the adventures of French knights and kings), and thus to a tale in verse form recounting the deeds of heroes and the like. When printing came along, fiction readers spread a wider net. By the late 1600s, “romance” as a type of work included adventure stories with love and kissing. By the early 1800s we get “romance novel” as a distinct type of novel centered on love and kissing.

Since the Romantic [cultural] Movement was all about emotion and passion and being true to one’s heart, you can see how it would borrow (or others would borrow) “romance” as a specific thing that once again included adventures dark and grim as well as warm and fuzzy.

I grew up with both meanings. I read the Romances of Charlemagne and His Paladins, and sampled a few romance novels. And studied a Romance language. I seem to write romances in the older sense, except that they are not in verse. Chesterton might be the last romance-in-verse writer in English, if you take The Ballad of the White Horse as a romance in the medieval sense.

Ah, English, once more muddling the heads of another generation of native speakers with your bad habit of mugging other languages for vocabulary and grammar!

*That was nothing compared to the, ah, vehement denials from some English students a few years back. “No way! ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ is no way a Romantic short story. Eeeeewwwww.” Sister Grammatica and I smiled beatifically at each other in passing and pretended to be deaf.

Memento Mori

I was sorting through pictures and found several from 2015, when I saw three different Totentanz scenes, one in a museum and two in situ, still in the churches or charnal houses where they had first been painted. They are one of many forms of memento mori, reminders of death, created to encourage viewers to remember that they, too, are mortal and will pass from this life. What waits beyond? Well . . . That’s why one is to meditate and consider one’s deeds and thoughts.

Some saints are depicted with memento mori. St. Jerome is often shown with either a lion, or a skull, or both.

Remember, that Thou Art Man . . . Used under Creative Commons Fair Use. original source at:

Many years ago, I read a humorous comparison of the US and Great Britain. The author argued that one large difference was that Americans assumed that death was optional, and if you keel over, you did something wrong. You should have eaten more bran, or jogged, or taken more multi-vitamins, or something. Ever since reading that, I have moments where I wonder if the author was a bit closer to the truth than I gave him or her credit for. Certainly, when I listen to popular medical news, or read articles about this or that nostrum, or how “a cure for cancer” is just around yet another corner, a slightly tired smile appears on my face. Or when I hear solemn intonations of Covid numbers, almost like monks chanting vesper psalms, I wonder, “Don’t you remember that death is not optional?”

At the moment, life has a 100% mortality rate. There might be four? exceptions to that, depending on one’s belief system, but otherwise, everyone who has lived on this sublunary sphere has died of something or other. Awkward that. At least, awkward for those who insist that age and mortality can be postponed indefiniately. (A friend of the family has spent considerable worry and funds trying not to age, seeking medical solutions for what comes from the passing of time. I sometimes want to tell this person, “Look, you’re just getting older! Accept it and go on with life.” But I won’t.)

“Pssst. More carrot juice won’t cure this.” Memento Mori. Fair Use:
“As we are, so shall you be!” Fair Use:

Many of the Totentanzen include the Holy Roman Emperor, a pope, cardinals, kings, queens, and everyone down to beggars and servants. No one is safe from death. The pattern of the people dancing with the dead comes from the Black Death, at least as best as art historians can tell. The command to remember the coming of the afterlife has been part of several religions before that, but the artistic design first appears in the late 1300s, and bloomed in the 1400s-1500s. It fades away for a while, but returned to popular art in the Twentieth Century with the world wars and aftermath. There is no confidence or joy in a Totentanz, unless it is the grinning skulls of the half-decayed dancers, laughing at the follies of the living.

“As we are, so shall you be.” All of us die. Most of us don’t spend too much time thinking about it, most days. Some subcultures are more interested in death than others, sometimes to an unhealthy degree. The Goth subculture has been blamed for suicides, and looking funereal is part of the culture, at least for some. The Victorians romanticized death, not so much dying, and sometimes seem to have wallowed in grieving and funerals and the trappings the living sported around the dead. Women, at least those who could afford it, had mourning dresses, and social convention commanded certain periods of strict mourning, half-mourning, then returning to mourning on anniversaries of people’s death. When you see how much a good black dress cost, yipes. The poor and working folk didn’t have the luxury of wearing black all the time, like Queen Victoria and the heroines of Gothic novels. And black shows fuzz, fur, dust, and a lot of other things. Not coal soot, no, but black also fades.

There are times when I look at parts of current society and wonder if I’m seeing a Totentanz of sorts, but reversed. People with no faith in an afterlife, often with no children or no hope for grandchildren, claw and fight to protect “my legacy,” “my creation.” They cannot or will not accept that life always ends in death, and that immortality doesn’t come from a piece of legislation, or a work of digital art, or a social cause. A frenetic, wild dance of proclamations and “you dare not touch my creation, my legacy!” fills the air. They stare at the dancing skeletons around them and refuse to accept the natural course of things. One more medical procedure, one special cosmetic pomade, and youth will return or at the very least death will retreat.

I do not seek out death. I don’t long for it, or at least have not since the last time I was really, really “Oh G-d take me home please because everything hurts even things that can’t hurt and I’m sick as a dog” sick with influenza. A little Edgar Allen Poe goes a long way. But I’m not terrified of it, either. I’ve nodded to the Grim Reaper in passing, but he’s kept going, thus far.

Memento mori. You don’t have to keep a skull on your desk (although there are moments when I’ve considered it, either natural or artificial. I have a raven instead.) We’re not all St. Jerome, for which I give thanks. He didn’t sound like a fun guy to hang out with – a bit too intense for my tastes. But a little less society-wide panic about, well, whatever everyone is supposed to panic about this week might be good. Would be good.

(If you have seen Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, you saw a Totentanz acted out.)

Vienna 1: “Old Stones”

A re-post from 2014. It is based on a visit in the 1990s.

Paris is the city of light, the city of romance, the heart of all culture and art. And it sprawls, has too much traffic, and do not get me started on the crowds in the Southern European side of the Louvre. Or how “wonderful” and “romantic” it is to walk from the Louvre to your hotel on a 100 degree F afternoon in June when you can’t find a cab. I’ve seen what I wanted to see: the Musee de Cluny and the Northern European art at the Louvre. Send me back to Vienna, please.

Ah, Vienna. It’s a little too trite to talk about “faded splendors” and “an air of nostalgia, wistful yearning for past glories, like a faded beauty,” and all those other things people say about the city. Once you take off the Empress Elizabeth-tinted glasses, there’s a  great deal more to Vienna, which may explain why I enjoy spending time there.  I am aware of the dark side, Karl Luger and the anti-Semitism of the 1900s-1940s. I’ve seen the soldiers patrolling Judengaße and Salztorgaße, protecting the synagogue and Simon Wiesenthal’s offices. The century or so between 1848 and 1955 were not happy years in south central Europe for a number of reasons. But Vienna’s history goes back much farther than the unhappy postcard painter and the sad story of Empress Elizabeth.

Here’s a little piece I wrote some twenty-eight years ago, after my first visit. At the time I had no idea I would end up making what would be eight trips to the city.

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It’s Funny, but It’s Not . . .

“Son of the Father, begotten, not created . . . ” It’s one of those theological ideas that reaffirms my thought that theologians are people with far too much time on their hands. And people were killed, and driven from their homes, because they differed over 1) how many natures did Jesus have, 2) was he fully human, part human, fully-human yet fully-divine, or 3) adopted by the Lord when the Holy Spirit entered into him at baptism, and/or 4) was of like/similar substance or of the same substance with the Father* . . .

Some of it depends on how heavily the thinker leaned on which parts of the New Testament. Other parts depended on the local political winds. “Our enemies say this, so we’ll say that!” When Christianity became respectable in the early AD 300s CE, and the Roman emperor announced, “One emperor, one creed, one church,” well things got messy. Not that everything had been sweetness and light before then, but the theological wranglings of the 300s-400s often come across as one of the lower points in church harmony and peace. (Let’s face it, any religion that involves people is going to get messy.)

I try to stay away from the theological fights, because I’m a heretic by most every denomination’s creeds and teachings. *shrugs* My beliefs are between me and my chosen deity, and I’ll answer for them at some point. Although, you have to figure that any deity who came up with aardvarks, platapodes, puffins, and sea-cucumbers must have a far better sense of humor than some believers seem to have had at times.

So, speaking of “Um, OK, that’s different,” I present two recordings of Christmas music by groups that one usually associates with things other than Christianity and Christmas.

Erasure isn’t the last group I’d expect to record this tune, but close.

Now, Souxie and the Banshees IS about the last group I’d expect to do “Il est né.”

It’s different!

*There was one iota (Greek letter) difference between homoousios and homoiousios. Thus the “not one iota of difference between . . .” saying in English.

Wolf’s Head and Out-law

Once upon a time, one of the worst things that could happen to a man was to be declared a wolf’s head. That meant that he was now outside the protection of the law, that he had no weregeld to be paid should someone kill him. Women too could face a similar penalty if their crime or crimes were truly heinous. Among the Romans, it was declared that a person was to be denied “fire and water.” No assistance could be given to the person and he’d better leave Roman territory as fast as he could.

Since wolves could be killed with impunity, and doing so might even be seen as a good deed, killing a law-breaker had no penalty once the man was declared “to have the head of a wolf.” He had forfeited the protections of society by breaking the rules of society. He now stood outside of civilization. Anyone might kill him, a mob might attack him, and he had no recourse for protection. His best option was to flee as fast a possible. It was truly a scary prospect, because word spreads. Granted, the wolf’s head might outrun his crime, and establish a new life elsewhere, but he’d best be very, very careful, because should he cross paths with anyone from his old life . . . He’d be on the run once more, quite likely. Or dead.

I was thinking about this because of a post at Mad Genius Club about loyalty and oaths. Someone being true to his salt and, oh, smuggling the true heir out of the castle past the enemy, or remaining faithful to a vow, are staples in fantasy works, especially medieval-Europe-flavored stories. Back in the day, to break one’s vow meant that you went back on a promise made before man and in some cases before the Most High. (No, it didn’t always stop people, but it probably gave a goodly number pause.) If a vow no longer bound someone, they no longer had to fear the penalty for oath-breaking. This was why Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV ended up camping outside a castle in northern Italy, pleading with the (warm, dry, cozy) Pope Gregory VII for forgiveness. Leaving all theological matters aside, when Gregory had declared Henry excommunicate, it nullified all vows the German lords had made to Henry. You know, promises not to rebel and try to take the title “King of Rome, King of the Germans” away? That sort of thing. Henry wasn’t quite outside the law yet, but being outside the Church had serious consequences.

I mused that perhaps, given how little respect a goodly percentage of “leaders” seem to have for agreements and oaths, that the practice of formally declaring someone wolf’s head and outside the law, might be due for a revival. It would have to be incredibly carefully done, with strict rules of evidence and proof. Given how some people seem to consider themselves above the law, one is tempted to suggest that they just finish stepping outside of the law. I’m not suggesting hunting-down these individuals once they are so declared. I am suggesting that the idea of casting a person out of the protection of the law might be worth considering. If the concept were to make a come-back it would have to be formalized and brought back very, very carefully. It might be especially useful to apply to oathbreakers, those who willfully break their vows. No, not for marital infidelity or other things that we already have penalties for, and that people might have done out of weakness. No, I’m thinking things closer to treason, but not treason to the country. Again, we have laws that address that. I’m thinking of the grey cases, people who betray employees with malice aforethought, or just because, “Well, those are the little people, who cares what happens to them?”

It’s one of those ideas that has tempting moments. What is so severe that it renders a person outside society entirely, that strips them of all protection of the laws? I suspect getting people to agree on that would be the hardest part. Or, perhaps more worrying, it might be the easiest.

Eighty Years

December 7, 1941.

Others will pen more eloquent tributes and meditations on the events of that day. But on December 7, 1991, I observed that “This is Pearl Harbor day.” And a fellow college student said, in complete honesty, “What’s that?” She truly did not know the significance of the day or the anniversary. At that moment, my interests, my major, and other things took a hard turn, leading to a decision to do whatever I could to ensure that my generation knew, truly knew, what WWII meant, and why warbirds, floating museums, and other things were important, and that they were real, not made-up stories. In a way, it led to my being where I am, doing what I do, to keep the past alive. I am two steps from Pearl, fewer if you count my having gotten to meet and to hear Gabby Gabreski and others who where there.

Today isn’t for “What if’s” and “We now know that . . .” No, it is to remember the day and the moments, the feelings at the time, the men who fought the fires, who tried to defend their ships and bases, who lost comrades and kin, and the civilians who did what they could in the aftermath of the attack.

Fair Use from: The USS Shaw exploding. A selection of images from the attack and aftermath. We tend to forget that color film was available, just rare and expensive.

A Golden Age of Information (And Music)

Mike raised the point that these days, it is amazingly easy to learn about topics that once required travel to the location, or travel to archives that had records and information by or about the participants in the event. Or to newspaper offices, county courthouses, county historical societies, perhaps a knowledge of three or more languages . . . And now a whole world is open to the curious and determined.

I had not thought about music until a few years ago, when a classical DJ was rhapsodizing about all the medieval and other “early music” now available. It may have started with either Telarc or Naxos, both early adopters of CDs and “odd music.” Telarc leaned toward the popular and movie-score genres, while Naxos hunted around for “odd” classical like Alan Hovahness, Renaissance ensembles, and so on. Other recording labels joined in, and once the internet became more of a sales option, smaller European and Asian companies, as well as direct-sale from organizations, became easier. Never really easy, and some things are not found outside of very small regions and museums, but if you want, oh, music from the pilgrimages of on the Camino Del Santiago, you can find it. (MomRed likes that for walking music. I wonder why? 😉 )

I red an excellent book about the history of western Europe between 600-800, written by an Australian, using the now-digitized Vatican Archives and other on-line sources. He could do all the research on-line, and send e-mail questions to archivists and scholars about translations and “hard to read handwriting” puzzles on scanned documents. Granted, he had to start by knowing where to look, and how to read the languages and writing, but he didn’t need to travel to Rome and get access to the “live” documents. That’s amazing! Military history? There is an amazing trove of things out now, diaries as well as official documents, personal photos, uploaded videos by people doing “staff rides” over battlefields . . . If you know how to start searching. That’s the down side to so much information.

How do you sort the wheat from the chaff? You can listen to a CD or MP3 and decide if it is good or not. How do you verify someone’s diary? If you already know a lot about the episode being described, then you are probably OK. But without having background knowledge? That’s the problem a lot of people are discovering now. Just because you can search for it doesn’t mean you know what to do with it, or how to understand it. Or if the source is valid. Academic researchers get bitten, so I don’t feel so bad when I get half-way through something and only then start to think, “Hold on a moment, here. Something smells off.”

It’s the best of times, it’s the most frustrating of times, it’s a glorious time for finding stuff of the document and musical sort.