358 stories

The Quietus | Features | Anniversary

1 Share

It’s not remembered much, but in the early eighties Bauhaus were one of the bands signed in the USA by A&M Records as part of a surprisingly vibrant effort from that label when it came to any number of then-new UK acts. Then again, signing the Police and seeing them become superstars probably didn’t hurt, so there was a reason everyone from the Human League to Squeeze to Simple Minds to Joe Jackson found an American home there. Bauhaus never broke through, though, but by the time its various members had found Stateside success on their own in the late eighties, whether via Love and Rockets or Peter Murphy’s solo career, it meant inevitable re-releases -- which means my first memory of Burning From The Inside, the final of the four studio albums that marked the band’s original run, was of a staggered, divided photo of a brightly lit but still ominous, wintry landscape encased in an American A&M-logo-marked CD longbox. Not perhaps what the group originally figured when it came to visual impact.

The thing about Burning From The Inside, turning thirty years old this month, is that there is no one thing -- it’s an album title that lives up to itself, a sound of a tight unit fragmenting, where the centre stopped holding. One factor was uncontrollable: Murphy ended up suffering a bout of pneumonia that required extensive care at the time of the album’s recording, meaning both his performances and overall input were drastically reduced. The impact played out in various ways: the album’s lead-off track and one single, 'She’s In Parties', is disruptive enough to start with, Daniel Ash’s guitar playing one of his darkest, extreme blasts and smears, violent and queasily choppy. But the promotional video for the song tries to present the band as a unit even while Murphy gets in plenty of the glamour shots while the rest of the group sometimes literally stand around doing nothing. At one point the camera cuts away to show David J, Ash and Kevin Haskins doing a kind of kid’s game in the background. It all may be thoroughly intentional, but it’s hard not to read things as shifting rapidly. Before the album had even been released, the group made the decision to break-up following two last London shows a few weeks beforehand, leaving Burning behind as one last full-length sprawl of sound as an unintentional shroud.

But at the same time it’s such a compelling sprawl at its best, a case for fragmentation as beauty, where an alternate band path where the group never broke up would have it seen more as a new, rich chapter in an already varied act’s still unfolding history, taking the sense of multiple impulses that had played out on earlier full-lengths and singles and finding even more directions to explore. J’s particular fascination with the doom-heavy crawl of classic Jamaican dub production from the seventies was always evident from the start of the band -- there’s a reason why 'Bela Lugosi’s Dead' could have been one hell of a King Tubby production, going further in the course of ten minutes what the Clash never quite achieved throughout their own existence. The world of film and that powerful, fluid but anchoring bass recombine again on 'She’s In Parties', the lyrics serving an extended cinematic metaphor rather than a specific tribute, with the extended coda playing with every trick in the book -- backwards guitar, melodica, deep as hell echo, fragmented snippets of singing. It’s no rewrite, but its own vibrant, darkly playful construction. It also helps underscore the no-less-compelling work of Haskins as a drummer, as keen to rework his straightforward performances through production as to blast away, a further indication of how involved he was in the overall sound and composition as much as the rest of the band.

As for Ash’s musicianship, the delicate precision he’d started unveiling on acoustic guitar a couple of albums beforehand started coming completely to the fore. 'King Volcano', which could almost be Dead Can Dance suddenly emerging out of nowhere were it not for Murphy’s unmistakable voice leading a sea shanty singalong, rotates around such a sweet, still alien guitar part while Haskins’s percussion seems even more like something from a long past century, future shock transformed into ghosts emerging into a new light. If you played it at Mumford and Sons or the Lumineers they wouldn’t get it -- then again, they don’t deserve to. But the surprises and twists continue to emerge: one song, 'Wasp', is named after a synthesizer and barely lasts half a minute of a redone wisp of a melody; another, 'Honeymoon Croon', lets Haskins fully bust out the rolling glam-rock beat that he and so many other contemporaries used in the early eighties, not unexpected from them but rarely sounding so pummelling.

'Antonin Artaud' struts, twists and settles into a lyrical coda of “Those Indians wank on his bones,” which might be enough to make most go “Oh please” and tune out. Then again, Artaud himself might well sympathize with such a choice of words -- and when the final minute and a half begins, a tight as hell tempo and arrangement shift on the part of the band that gets crazier and more intense as it goes, you suddenly realize that the epic roar of Drive Like Jehu (or just about any band on the similarly San Diego-based Gravity label) a decade later had deep roots indeed. Allegedly Bauhaus did a version of this song live around this time that went on for something like half an hour -- and rather than being surprising it still almost seems too short. As it happens, though, the longest song on the album, the title track, is indeed just as long as 'Bela Lugosi’s Dead', only with an opposite feeling, like the sense of an experiment finally concluded. In place of the nervous, quick pace and slow ratcheting up of musical and lyrical tension on that debut, 'Burning from the Inside' starts only with Ash’s electric guitar in a steady loop of a riff, Murphy lyric revolving around a key line, “And now I don’t see you anymore.” When J and Haskins step into the arrangement at various points, it’s a stop-start chug, a kind of forcing a way through a song via staccato moments.

This sense of conclusion and other routes can be heard in the full emergence of J and Ash both as lead vocalists -- the latter already had a few releases out with the Tones On Tail name -- as Murphy’s illness meant time to work on their own and, quite literally, more songs to sing, in whole or in part. Whatever ill feelings that might have caused in terms of a larger group effort, their showcase moments are just that, and their two key load vocals capture them to a T. J’s 'Who Killed Mr. Moonlight' locks into the sense of a cinematic 1940s dark bar room jazz and hushed folk music that defined much of his later work, piano and distorted organ forming the lead instrument, Ash’s saxophone adding even more twisted sorrow to already crushed lyrics: “All our dreams are melted down... all our stories burnt... someone shot nostalgia in the back.” When J. plaintively sings towards the end of the song “Extracting wasps from stings in flight,” the arresting image is a simple reversal but feels all the more loaded.

As for Ash, he fully goes to town with a fragile, piercing beauty on the tune immediately following 'Who Killed Mr. Moonlight', 'Slice of Life', the T. Rex connection that the band had from its days of covering 'Telegram Sam' suddenly taking on a new life. But this was Bolan if he had been a slinky purr underpinning quick piercing anger rather than mutating into a strutting star machine, Ash initially singing over and again “What’s the difference” with a feeling of calm resignation backed by his own wordless sung sighs. When the chorus kicks in, swiftly but clearly repeated, you can almost hear him tear across the guitar strings with his fingers more than simply play. He then concludes an extended break on the chorus with the call “And the problem expands inside your HEAD!,” a blistering accusation potentially directed both outwardly and internally. So much of what not only Tones on Tail but also Love and Rockets would later extrapolate musically fully came to the fore here, on songs like 'Real Life', 'An American Dream' and more, but here it sounds like it’s bursting out even while leaving a gentle, calm touch.

At the same time, when Murphy is the one singing lead over these musical combinations, the results suggest other ways forward that might have happened but simply couldn’t after this. 'Kingdom’s Coming' has another stellar, sweet Ash acoustic start, dramatic initially then suddenly flowing, while J’s piano adds to the arrangement, a ruined hint of a sonata. Following a clearly heard sigh that sounds completely resigned rather than romantic, Murphy sounds distant, literally looking heavenward perhaps as the title is delivered, then suddenly dragged and focused back into the final thirty seconds, broodily pronouncing as the others whisper/sing around him, a literalized opposition that might not actually be conflict but doesn’t seem like love.

Yet for all the twists and turns there’s still 'Hope'. Literally: the last song on the album, and for nearly a decade and a half the last song Bauhaus ever did in most of the public eye. If 'Hope' had actually been the end of the Bauhaus story then that might have been a little happier for all concerned, even if that meant never seeing either of the two reunion phases or enjoying the half-completed clutch of tracks that made up the band’s actual last album Go Away White in 2008. ('Endless Summer Of The Damned', at the least, is a keeper from that one.) But 'Hope' would have been a real valediction and hail-and-farewell, if not necessarily on the band’s full terms.

With Murphy disappearing in echoed expulsions of words on the title track right before it, 'Hope' is again an Ash number in many ways, but different yet again from the earlier efforts, sweet guitar that could have been courtesy of the Byrds or Gram Parsons almost, J’s apparently fretless bass sounded similarly yearning, like throwing open a window to escape from everything gone before. The only words to the song, repeated several times, lock into that feeling perfectly -- “Cause your mornings will be brighter/Break the line, tear up rules/Make the most of a million times no” -- and they’re sung by several voices at once, no actual lead vocal as such. It’s a pep-up-your-spirits number after trawling through depths that somehow avoids treacle, it’s the least obvious thing one might think of when the name Bauhaus is invoked, and it’s precisely that fact that makes it the most appropriate way for such a band, always bigger than its stereotype, to step away.

Read the whole story
4016 days ago
New York, New York
Share this story

What Seven States Can Agree to Do: Deal-Making on the Colorado River

1 Share

The Central Arizona Project carries Colorado River water to Phoenix. (Photo: John Fleck)

By John Fleck

As western water leaders converged on Las Vegas in  December 2001, Southern California’s inability to contain its voracious appetite seemed finally to be bumping up against reality - there is only so much water in the Colorado River.

Shared among seven states and Mexico via a shifting, uncertain set of bargains, the river was running up against the era of limits.

For years, California had been living large off the surplus of others. It slurped Colorado River leftovers other states weren’t using, pumping it 250 miles to rapidly growing coastal cities. But as the rest of the southwest grew and began taking its rightful share of the Colorado, California faced an urgent deadline. It had to come up with a plan to cut its use or see a large share of its water supply simply cut off on Jan. 1, 2003.

Testifying at a Dec. 10 House field hearing, Larry Anderson, head of Utah’s Division of Water Resources, was blunt. If California did not tame its appetites, the other states dependent on the Colorado River expected the federal government to step in and enforce the “Law of the River”, the maze of laws that govern distribution of the river’s water. “Appropriate enforcement is critical to protecting our rights,” Anderson said. 1

In response, Southern California Congresswoman Grace Napolitano's question to the federal government’s top water official sounded more like a plea. If California is making a good faith effort, she asked, could the Golden State have more time? Coming from a representative of the region’s largest state and economic powerhouse, the plea also contained a hint of a threat: “California cannot afford the immediate reduction by that amount of water,” she said. “Our economy reaches out to the neighboring states so that if we suffer, so do the rest of the states around us.”

Sitting at the witness table, Interior Department’s assistant secretary Bennett Raley responded with what, in the coded language of western water law, amounted to an ultimatum. His boss, Interior Secretary Gale Norton, was ready to cut California’s share. If the state missed the deadline, “the Secretary will have to use all means at her disposal to ensure that she is in compliance with the Law of the River.” 2

Carving a course

The Colorado River carves a defining course through North American geography and history. Winter snow falling in the Rockies, mostly in Colorado and Wyoming, feeds it. The Colorado and its longest tributary, the Green, spend much of their lives in the deep, arid canyon country of the arid interior western United States.

The river and its tributaries pass through seven U.S. states – Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California – before making a short run between the Mexican states of Sonora and Baja California to the Gulf of California. (Read more)

As the United States expanded westward in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Colorado tended to be more hindrance than help to the young nation’s immigrant settlers. The water was a long way from the best lands. The good land that did lie along its banks was at risk of flooding from its highly variable flow, but because runoff came early in the year, farm fields were dry by late summer.  The land’s native inhabitants long understood this, but the lessons came hard to the newcomers.

In the early 20th century, engineering seemed to offer the answer. Dams would control floods and save water during high flow times for use when things were dry. Canals and pumping systems would move the water out of the Colorado’s river valleys where it was needed. “Canals move water in space,” the old hydraulic engineer’s saw explains. “Dams move water in time.” But before the engineers could go to work, the politicians would have to decide how to divide up the river.

Drinkin’ and fightin’

For all the times it has been attributed to him, Mark Twain seems never to have said “Whiskey’s for drinkin’. Water’s for fightin’ over.” 3

The quote lives on in descriptions of water politics in the arid Southwest, invariably with Twain’s name attached, because of the power of the idea behind it: that the allocation of scarce water is an enduring source of conflict.

But the history of Colorado River management is a more complex story. It is easy to focus on the fighting, and the battles make for some great yarns. But there also is a remarkable history of not fighting - of negotiated agreements - that suggests there is more than one path for dealing with the West’s water problems. Westerners have done their share of fighting, but they also have a remarkable record of cooperation. “History has shown that collaboration is a necessary ingredient for action in the Colorado River basin,” Jennifer Gimbel of the Colorado River Water Conservation Board told members of Congress in a 2010 hearing 4 .

Deals don’t end the problems faced by those who depend on the increasingly scarce water of the Colorado. But they do provide the constraints to water users in the seven states that share the river - boundaries to their available water supply that force them to choose among farms and swimming pools and lawns.

Economist Herbert Stein once famously wrote what has come to be known as Stein’s Law: “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” 5 In water, simply put, it means when there is no more, the use to which it was being put must end.

We have seen Stein’s Law in action among Colorado Basin water users:

  • Albuquerque’s decision to begin weaning itself from groundwater when it realized its supplies were running low
  • Tucson 6 and Las Vegas 7 driving down their consumption as they realized they were bumping up against water supply limits
  • The collaboration of farmers on the Arkansas River in Colorado to temporarily fallow land and lease water to thirsty Front Range cities. 8

Some of these cases involve more foresight than others, and much environmental damage has been left by decisions to put human use of water above the rivers themselves. Figuring out how to leave water in rivers for recreation and for the environment remains a hard problem for the people who make decisions about water in the Colorado River Basin. Too often, those interests do not get a seat at the table as decisions are being worked out.

But every case where water use has been reduced began with a realization that Stein’s Law looms somewhere in the visible distance. The question in Las Vegas in December 2001 was whether California would get a pass, or would be made to confront Stein’s law.

Calling out the National Guard

The closest we have come to a real shooting war over the Colorado River sounds more like comedy than violence.

There was genuine outrage when Arizona Gov. Benjamin B. Moeur dispatched the Arizona National Guard in 1935 to try to block the construction of Parker Dam.

Since the early days of U.S. attempts to divide the Colorado, Arizona harbored a grudge, feeling it had been cheated out of water. The grudge came to a head when Moeur declared martial law on a stretch of the Colorado River’s eastern bank where the Bureau of Reclamation intended to anchor Parker Dam. Parker was to be the jumping off point for the Colorado River Aqueduct, which would send Colorado River water to Los Angeles. Arizonans felt entitled to the water, but had no way to use it yet. To see it sent to California was more than they could bear.

The armaments triggered a war of legal briefs rather than bullets. The federal government went to court asking for an injunction to force Arizona to allow construction. When that failed, California’s powerful Congressional delegation pushed through legislation allowing the dam’s construction, and the National Guard withdrew. 9

The 1935 “War on the Colorado” was the most visible manifestation of a longstanding tension among the states of the Colorado River. The states needed to cooperate to ensure the development of the river. But at the same time each state was looking out for its own self-interest, trying to ensure the biggest possible share of the river for itself.

Rapidly developing California encapsulated the dilemma posed by the river. Its water, judiciously spread across the land, had the potential to turn the Imperial Valley into an agricultural giant. But the river also devastated the valley when it flooded.

An upstream dam would solve that problem, and allow the storage of water for California’s farmlands and rapidly growing cities. A failed history of private sector development made clear that only the federal government had the resources to pull it off. But the federal government would not embark on the project until the other six states Colorado Basin states joined California in an agreement about who was entitled to how much of the river’s water.

Under U.S. law, each state governed water use within its own boundaries, but federal law was fuzzy about what happened when water crossed states lines.

Given the uncertainty, the other states of the Colorado River Basin feared California, and with good reason. 10 Within the western states, development had generally happened under the “doctrine of prior appropriation”. It gave water rights to the first people who put it to beneficial use. Latecomers would get water only after the earlier first users had taken their share. As farms sprung up along the arid West’s rivers, the doctrine made sense. It prevented a new farmer upstream from taking all the water from a river and leaving an established farmer downstream dry.

In the early 20th century, the question was whether the same rules would apply as rivers flowed across state boundaries. Could established water use in a downstream state trump new uses in an upstream state?

It was clear California would be first to develop its share of Colorado River water. If the doctrine also applied to water flowing across state boundaries - and the U.S. Supreme Court, in a ruling handed down in June 1922 in a suit between Wyoming and Colorado over use the Laramie River suggested it might 11 - then California could end up with rights to most of the Colorado River’s water, with little left for the other six states that shared the big river.

They needed a framework that would give California what it wanted - dams, and soon - while preserving the future water rights of states upstream that would not be able to use the water for years to come.

A clever Colorado lawyer named Delph Carpenter is generally credited as the mastermind behind the deal that became the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

Deciding how much water each state would get seemed like an insurmountable problem in the negotiations among the seven states, so Carpenter proposed a shortcut. The states in what has come to be known as the “Upper Basin” - Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico - would get half the river’s water. The remaining “Lower Basin” states - California, Arizona and Nevada - would get the other half. The states in each basin would then decide among themselves how to share the bounty. Even though the Upper Basin states had far smaller populations, and were developing much more slowly, this approach meant their full share would be there when they finally needed it. Growing California could not trump their rights. 12

The negotiators wrote some fudge factors into the deal that have bedeviled efforts to manage the river since. There was ambiguous language about Arizona’s share that led to lengthy litigation before the U.S. Supreme Court, and a “we’ll figure this out later” approach to dealing with Mexico’s share of a river that terminates south of the U.S. Mexico border. 13

The Compact cleared the way for a century of dam building that created Lake Mead (behind Hoover Dam on the Lower Colorado) and Lake Powell (behind Glen Canyon Dam on the Upper Colorado) and a host of smaller water storage and diversion projects.

Ironically, there were early fears that Mexico might claim too much of the river’s water. 14 But the opposite happened, in what has become one of the great tragedies of Colorado River management. A 1944 treaty settled Mexico’s share at less than one tenth of the Colorado River’s water. With Mexico’s share consumed by farms and cities, the once ecologically rich Colorado River Delta rarely sees water any more. 15

Arizona v. California

The Compact deal showed the seven states could make a deal in principle, but what followed showed that no deal on the Colorado River would ever be easy in practice.

After signing on to the Compact in 1922, Arizona backed away, refusing to ratify the deal and eventually dispatching its troops to prove a point.

Arizona’s 1935 “war” over the construction of Parker Dam was one episode in its long struggle, and its legal battles over the Colorado River Compact didn’t end for another 70 years. In 1952 it sued California over its share of the Colorado. 16 The suit dragged on in one form or another for more than five decades, with the final decree settling the issues raised not filed until 2006.

In the process, Arizona won some of legal arguments, but it also lost much. By fighting in court rather than cutting deals, it ended up nearly last in line for allocation of the Colorado’s water. The Central Arizona Project, Arizona’s piece of the federally subsidized engineering used move the Colorado’s water, was not completed until 1994. 17

The age of deal-making

The 2001 showdown in Vegas between California congresswoman Grace Napolitano and the Interior Department’s Bennett Raley had its roots in Arizona v. California.

The Law of the River said California could use surplus Colorado River water if any was to be had. For decades, California had become accustomed to living off of that surplus. But with the settlement of Arizona v. California, the days of surplus were numbered. The deal cleared the way for the construction of the Central Arizona Project (CAP). Its canals stretched 336 miles from Lake Havasu (ironically, the reservoir Moen’s guardsmen tried to block) uphill to Phoenix and Tucson.

On paper, Arizona’s share of water from the main stem of the Colorado all along had amounted to 2.8 million acre feet of water per year. But until the completion of the CAP, it had no way to use it.

In the 1980s, Arizona’s use only topped 2 million acre feet once. In the 1990s, that went up to seven of ten years. Since then, thanks to the CAP, it has been taking close to its full allotment every year. 18

California had been living off of Arizona’s extra water since the beginning. But with the completion of CAP, it became clear to everyone that California needed to reduce its consumption from the  5 million-plus annual acre feet it had been taking to the 4.4 million acre feet allotted by the Law of the River. The Supreme Court’s decision in Arizona v. California made that clear, Interior Secretary Gale Norton told members of the Association of California Water Agencies in November 2002. 19

“I am enjoined by the Supreme Court Decree from delivering water to California beyond its 4.4 million acre-feet allocation unless surplus water is available or there is unused water from Arizona or Nevada. Until recently, the lack of demand in other states allowed California to obtain significant amounts of Colorado River water. This scenario is changing today,” Norton said.

Boulder Harbor on Lake Mead in October 2010, left dry by the dropping reservoir. (Photo: John Fleck)

Negotiations began in the 1990s during the wettest period in nearly a century of record keeping. Storage in Mead and Powell at the end of the 1999 water years was the highest it had ever been. 20 It seemed like a comfortable cushion.

The resulting “Interim Surplus Guidelines” weren’t meant to be a drought plan. They were meant to give California a “soft landing”, an orderly process of taking advantage of surpluses on the river as it slowly reduced its use over 15 years. The Metropolitan Water District, California’s giant municipal water agency that serves Los Angeles, San Diego and a host of smaller communities, estimated it had a 90 percent chance of surpluses in Lake Mead out through 2015. 21

But even as the deal was being finalized, nature was pushing the river basin into the 10 percent side of Met’s equations. From 2000 to 2005, flow on the river was 64 percent of the long term average. The reservoirs were being drained, and the “Surplus Guidelines” turned into a drought plan. For the first time in the river’s history, a state was forced to cut its use.

The ax fell Jan. 1, 2003, with an edict from the Secretary of the Interior: California would get 4.4 million acre feet that year, and no more. 22

The Metropolitan Water District, Southern California’s primary water wholesaler, had been running its Colorado River Aqueduct full bore since it was built, moving 1.2 million acre feet of water per year. That number was cut to 500,000 acre feet, literally overnight. 23

Remarkably, the deal stuck. But the reservoirs kept dropping.

Shortage Sharing Agreement

The Colorado River at Lee’s Ferry, where the river is divided between upper and lower basins (Photo: Lissa Heineman)

In 2005, the states of the Upper Basin were nervous. Lake Powell, their buffer against the Compact’s requirement that they deliver water every year past Lee’s Ferry for Lower Basin use, was running low after a devastating drought. In 2003 the National Park Service abandoned the marina at Hite, Utah, leaving nothing but a muddy river in its wake. 24 Powell kept dropping. By the spring of 2005, it had fallen 140 feet since the fat and happy surplus that had filled the reservoir in 1999.

In an April 18 letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, the Upper Basin states asked the federal government to slow down its releases of water from Lake Powell, holding some water back. Quirks of that year’s weather meant Lake Powell was dropping faster than Lake Mead. T Upper Basin states worried that continued drought could force them to cut back their water use to meet the requirement under the Colorado River Compact that they deliver water downstream for Arizona, Nevada and California.

As Norton’s staff considered the request, the snow was falling in the rockies. Between April and July, Lake Powell rose 50 feet, and Norton said “no” to the Upper Basin’s request to hold back water. 25 But she added an ultimatum. The troubles of 2005 suggested the need for a clear plan for what to do when the reservoirs dropped. She called on the states to come up with a “shortage sharing” plan, and set a deadline of 2007 to complete it.

Everyone on the river knew that the Upper Basin states, while not currently using their full share of Colorado River water, continued to grow. The Lower Basin, which had been living since the beginning off of surpluses left by the Upper Basin’s under-use of water, needed a plan to adjust. But who would take the hit?

In the negotiations, it was clear the concept of prior appropriation, codified in Arizona v. California, was an unmovable reality. California had been forced to drop its use to 4.4 million acre-feet, but for the foreseeable future, it would drop no more. It stood first in line for its remaining share. If there were any additional shortage, Arizona and Nevada would take the hit. But the details of how were the subject of intense argument among the state’s representatives.

Many was the night Terry Fulp, who helped steer the negotiations for the federal government, would go home thinking, “We’re never gonna make it.” 26

Hoover Dam during construction, circa 1935. (Photo: Courtesy US Bureau of Reclamation)

Finally, representatives of the seven basin states joined Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, Norton’s replacement, for a signing ceremony in December 2007 in Las Vegas. The deal for the first time provides clarity for the states of the lower basin. If the surface elevation of Lake Mead drops below 1,075 feet above sea level, Arizona and Nevada will have to begin curtailing their use of Colorado River water. 27

It hasn’t happened yet. At 9 p.m. on Nov. 27, 2010, the reservoir level reached 1,081.85 feet, less than seven feet from the shortage trigger. 28 But a remarkably wet winter of 2010-11, the wettest since the late 1990s, pushed Mead back up, and pushed the risk of shortage out years. The 2007 shortage sharing agreement has yet to be tested.

Climate change poses a harder problem

Article III (d) of the Colorado River Compact sounds simple on its face:

“The States of the Upper Division will not cause the flow of the river at Lee Ferry to be depleted below an aggregate of 75,000,000 acre-feet 29 for any period of ten consecutive years reckoned in continuing progressive series beginning with the first day of October next succeeding the ratification of this compact.” 30

The paragraph’s core phrase - “will not cause … to be depleted” lies at the heart of the problems that come next.

The idea behind the provision was twofold. First, it provided specific legal language dividing the river’s water between the Upper and Lower Basins - Delph Carpenter’s idea of providing 7.5 million acre feet each for the Upper and Lower basins. It also takes variability into account. Because of the difference between wet years and dry years, the compact allowed the upper basin states to under-deliver in dry years as long as they over-delivered in wet years, spreading the accounting over 10 years.

But what if, through no fault of water users in the upper basin states, the flow in the river drops for a long period below the required 7.5 million acre feet delivery - or forever? The men who gathered in 1922 to frame the Law of the River never contemplated the possibility. “The hydrographers and experts advise me that a twenty-year record on a river is adequate in its completeness and includes enough years to warrant an assumption that the average there deduced would be the average flow of the river in the future,” Carpenter said. 31

In the early 1990s, scientists began warning that climate change caused by rising greenhouse gases would reduce flows for good in the Colorado River. 32 By the 2000s, the warnings were becoming more insistent. 33

How much the flow might drop is a question fraught with uncertainty. In its most recent attempt to assess the state of the science, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation put the number at 8 percent on average by 2050. 34 Any such attempt to nail down the number with precision is a fool’s errand. There uncertainties in the climate modeling effort. More importantly, the dominant variable in any such calculation - humanity’s future greenhouse gas emissions - is inherently unknowable.

But all the studies point to reduced flow. If there is less water in the Colorado River, who takes the hit? Eric Kuhn, head of the Colorado River Conservation District in western Colorado, in 2007 wrote a provocative white paper that has become required reading in the basin: “The Colorado River - The Story of a Quest for Certainty on a Diminishing River.”

Kuhn’s argues that there remains inherent uncertainty about III (d) and related provisions in the compact. In a severe, sustained drought, or a river sapped by climate change, must the states of the Upper Basin cut back their own usage of their share of the river so they can continue to deliver the full 7.5 million acre feet past Lee Ferry for lower basin use?

Kuhn thinks the answer is “yes”. “Unfortunately for the Upper Basin,” he wrote, “the answer appears to be that the Lee Ferry obligations trump the Upper Basin’s 7.5 maf/year.” 35

But Kuhn’s “appears to be” is key. No one really knows until one of two things happen. On the “fightin’ over” path, the U.S. Supreme Court could, if push comes to legal shove, settle the Compact’s ambiguity. Down that road lies enormous legal uncertainty. “That route takes the decision out of the water managers' hands,” said John Entsminger, a smart water lawyer who as senior deputy general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority was one of the key architects of the 2007 shortage sharing agreement. “Are we going to let guys and gals in black robes start making these decisions for us, or are we going to come together and maybe not have a perfect solution from everybody's perspective, but a solution that works for everybody?” 36

Or, afraid of the downside risk of losing that battle, the seven basin states could work out a deal among themselves about how to share shortages on the Colorado River that climate change may make inevitable.

Therein lies the path suggested by the past success of the surplus guidelines and shortage sharing agreement.

The Law of the River was once seen as fixed and inviolable. “It was tantamount to having been written on tablets,” said Pat Mulroy, head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. But the deals of the last decade suggest pliability, Mulroy argues.

 Mulroy’s central point is that deals to share the Colorado’s water, rather than fightin’, are possible: “Seven states can do what seven states can agree to do.” 37

So what can seven states agree to do?

A few miles west of the river town of Yuma, Arizona, the Colorado River makes a hard left turn, headed south toward Mexico and its abrupt end. What used to flow another hundred river miles or so to the Gulf of Mexico, big and unruly, now stops three miles to the south at Morelos Dam. There, Mexico’s share of the shrinking river is diverted to the rich farming region of Mexicali. Beyond Morelos Dam, the Colorado’s ghost wanders through dry scrub land where a river once flowed, kept company by the U.S. border patrol and a levee meant to protect the surrounding flood plain against an eventuality – flowing water – that seems almost comical today.

Standing on a bluff above the Colorado’s last bend, you can see the river’s past, along with some clues about what its future might hold. Below, along the river’s west bank, is an old abandoned diversion structure that once provided water to Imperial Valley farmers. Up the hill to the west is the All-American Canal, which does that job today – a far bigger artificial river carrying water west toward California’s lettuce farms while the natural river below heads toward its imminent demise.

The Yuma Desalting Plant being prepared for its test run, April 2010. (Photo: John Fleck)

Across the river, poking out of Yuma’s farm fields is the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Yuma Desalting Plant. From May 2010 to March 2011, an experimental run at the plant processed 10 billion gallons of salty, mineralized Arizona agricultural drain water. Using that water to meet U.S. delivery obligations to Mexico, the theory goes, could free up water upstream for U.S. users. 38

The YDP’s history suggests the changes underway as the Colorado River’s managers grapple with life in the age of limits. Completed in the early 1990s to meet U.S. water delivery obligations to Mexico, the plant operated only briefly before being shut down by a flood. For much of the time since, it was unneeded, as high flows on the Colorado allowed the United States to meet its water delivery obligations without it. But that is now changing as the Colorado reaches its era of limits. 39

As Colorado River projects go, it is a small one, but it can tell us something about what might lie ahead.

First and foremost, it is an example of collaboration rather than warfare. The major urban water delivery agencies from Southern California, Arizona and Nevada chipped in together to share the cost of the project in return for the resulting water credits. They did it under the bureaucratic umbrella created by the 2007 shortage sharing agreement among the seven basin states, which allows the agencies to account for the “new” water they are creating by storing water upstream, in Lake Mead.

Using that accounting trick, it is as if dirty agricultural water flowing out of Arizona had been cleaned up and sent north to Las Vegas, or west to Los Angeles. Such water transfers across traditional boundaries – from state to state, or US to Mexico – are likely to play a crucial role in future deal-making on the Colorado. Such transfers do not come without an environmental price. The salty, seemingly useless agricultural drain water being cleaned up would otherwise have flowed to the Cienega de Santa Clara, an accidental wetland formed in what once was the Colorado Delta. But here too, we see signs of the future in U.S.-Mexico agreements among the water agencies and non-governmental organization to try to find alternative sources of water to keep the Cienega alive. 40

Twenty miles to the west of the YDP is another example of water users’ willingness to scrap for bits of extra water. The $172 million Warren H. Brock Reservoir was built to capture, in the words of Arizona Republic water writer Shaun McKinnon, “the dribbles lost downstream to Mexico when farmers in Arizona and California don't take water they ordered, usually because rain filled the need.” 41 The Southern Nevada Water Authority – Las Vegas – is footing most of the bill, with help from the Central Arizona Water Conservation District and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, in return for rights to the water saved. 42 “Lost downstream” is a value-laden way of describing it. Environmentalists point out that the water being “saved” was in fact some of the last to reach what was once the lush Colorado River Delta. 43

The Yuma Desalting Plant experiment and the Brock Reservoir and other similar projects real and imagined are baby steps toward what many see as a key to future Colorado River water management, as boundaries are broken to allow water to be moved across them. A spring 2011 study by the University of Montana’s Center for Natural Resources and Environmental Policy found support for the idea among river managers: “Some argued in favor of cross-boundary water exchanges, including interstate water banks. Several suggested economic arrangements in which water users and states pay others to forgo water use and allow water to flow to more economically valuable uses.” The Montana study acknowledges the impediments; chiefly a belief by some that such cross-border movement of water might not be politically or legally viable. 44 But it is clearly the direction the basin conversation is headed.

In the spring of 2011, Mulroy made an odd appearance in Albuquerque, New Mexico. New Mexico is an upper basin state. Nevada is a lower basin state. Moving water creatively from one basin to the other, beyond the legally mandated 7.5 million acre feet delivery required each year by the compact, has proven the most difficult nut for water managers to crack. The upper basin has a longstanding suspicion that Phoenix, Los Angeles and Las Vegas are out to get their water.

Yet here was Mulroy, emblem of Las Vegas and all its voracious excess, speaking before a group of upper basin water conservation advocates, trying to explain how we all need to figure out how to share the Colorado.

Mulroy, a forceful leader in the search for long-term solutions on the river, is not acting out of altruism. Her job is to provide water to what was, until the real estate crash of the late ‘00s, the fastest growing major metro area in the Basin. But Nevada’s Colorado River allocation is the Basin’s smallest, and is junior to California’s. As problems set in, Las Vegas has the most to lose, which means Mulroy has the most to gain from creative solutions of a certain sort.

Part of Mulroy’s proposed solution to her own problems, a proposed groundwater pipeline from rural northeast Nevada to met Las Vegas water needs, has made her a lightning rod for opposition to large-scale engineering solutions to the West’s water problems. 45 But she also has adopted for herself the role of roving ambassador, pushing for collective water management solutions.

“The upper basin, where you sit, is very nervous,” Mulroy told the Albuquerque audience. “The lower basin has a little ace card. If the upper basin cannot make its compact deliveries to the lower basin, the lower basin can enact a ‘call’. That means the upper basin has to cut off all its uses until it has delivered to the lower basin the amount that it committed to in 1922. That is a very scary proposition. It affects Albuquerque, it affects Denver, it affects Salt Lake City, it affects innumerable Indian tribes, it affects any number of agricultural areas. It is something that is to be avoided at all costs.”

Mulroy’s version of what she wants seven states to agree to do is not to fight when the shortage happens, but rather to create a framework to share it: “If I have a shortage the easiest way to manage through a shortage is for everyone to share that burden. The larger the base I can spread that shortage over, everyone's relative share of that shortage is manageable. But if I take my shortage and offload it on my neighbor and live under the delusion that I can keep on going as if there wasn't a drought, the burden to my neighbor becomes unbearable.”


Arizona v. California, 373 US 546 (Supreme Court 1963).

Barnett, Cynthia. Blue Revolution: Unmaking America’s Water Crisis. Beacon Press, 2011.

Bergman, Charles. Red delta: fighting for life at the end of the Colorado River. Fulcrum Pub., 2002.

Breitler, Alex. “Whiskey is for drinking, and… well, you know.” Newspaper. Alex Breitler environmental blog, October 13, 2011. http://blogs.esanjoaquin.com/san-joaquin-river-delta/2011/10/13/whiskey-....

“Bureau of Reclamation: Lower Colorado Region - Lower Colorado River Operations”, n.d. http://www.usbr.gov/lc/riverops.html.

“Bureau of Reclamation: Upper Colorado Region Historic Data”, n.d. http://www.usbr.gov/uc/crsp/GetSiteInfo.

“Bureau of Reclamation: Upper Colorado Region Historic Data”, n.d. http://www.usbr.gov/uc/crsp/GetSiteInfo.

Colorado River Commission. “Colorado River Compact”. Govt. print. off., 1923.

Colorado River Commission. Minutes and record ... of the Colorado River Commission negotiating the Colorado River Compact of 1922. S.l.: The Commission, 1922.

Coyle, Diane. The Economics of Enough: How to Run the Economy as If the Future Matters. First Edition; First Printing. Princeton University Press, 2011.

Fleck, John. “Abandoned Marina a Sign of Major Drought.” Albuquerque Journal, July 19, 2009.

“Water-Wise Tucson Recycles, Conserves.” Albuquerque Journal, June 15, 2003.

Fulp, Terry. “author interview”, April 2010.

Gimbel, Jennifer. Written Statement of Jennifer Gimbel, Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, before the Subcommittee on Natural Resources, US House of Representatives. Las Vegas, NV, 2010. http://naturalresources.house.gov/UploadedFiles/GimbelTestimony04.09.10.pdf.

Green, Emily. “Not this water.” Las Vegas Sun. Las Vegas, NV, June 22, 2008. http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2008/jun/22/not-water/.

Hundley, Norris. Water and the West: The Colorado River Compact and the Politics of Water in the American West. 2nd ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.

John Entsminger. “author interview”, October 2010.

Kenney, Doug, Andrea Ray, Ben Harding, Roger Pulwarty, and Brad Udall. “Rethinking Vulnerability on the Colorado River.” Journal of Contemporary Water Research & Education 144, no. 1 (March 1, 2010): 5-10.

Kightlinger, Jeffrey. “author interview”, June 2011.

Kuhn, Eric. The Colorado River: The Story of a Quest for Certainty on a Diminishing River, May 8, 2007.

McKinnon, Shaun. “New Yuma reservoir is a water saver.” Arizona Republic, November 26, 2010. http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/news/articles/2010/11/26/201011....

Mulroy, Pat. “Navigating the Future of the Colorado River”, Boulder, Colo., June 2011.

Nash, Linda L., and Peter H. Gleick. “Sensitivity of streamflow in the Colorado Basin to climatic changes.” Journal of Hydrology 125, no. 3-4 (July 1991): 221-241.

National Research Council (U.S.).;National Research Council (U.S.).;National Academies Press (U.S.). Colorado River Basin water management : evaluating and adjusting to hydroclimatic variability. Washington  D.C.: National Academies Press, 2007.

Norton, Gale. “Remarks at Association of California Water Agencies”, November 21, 2002.

Olson, Reuel L. The Colorado River Compact. Wildside Press, 1983.

Thinking Like a River Basin. Center for Natural Resources and Environmental Policy, University of Montana, April 2010. http://www.carpediemwest.org/colorado-report.

Tsai, Catherine. “Water lease test aims to end ‘buy and dry’ trend - Houston Chronicle.” Associated Press, September 25, 2011. http://www.chron.com/news/article/Water-lease-test-aims-to-end-buy-and-d....

United States. Implementation of the California plan for the Colorado River : oversight field hearing before the Subcommittee on Water and Power of the Committee on Resources, U.S. House of Representatives, One. Washington: U.S. G.P.O.  ;For sale by the Supt. of Docs.  U.S. G.P.O. Congressional Sales Office, 2002.

US Bureau of Reclamation. “Drop 2 Reservoir - FAQs”, February 2009. http://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/programs/drop2/faqs.html.

Final Environmental Impact Assessment, Yuma Desalting Plant, August 2009.

Proposed Annual Operating Plan For Colorado River Reservoirs, 2012. US Bureau of Reclamation, October 14, 2011. http://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/g4000/AOP2012/AOP12_ProposedFinal.pdf.

River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, Interim Report No. 1, 2011. http://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/programs/crbstudy/report1.html.

Verburg, Katherine Ott, United States, United States, and United States. The Colorado River Documents, 2008. Denver, Colo.: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation, Lower Colorado Region, 2010.

Wyoming v. Colorado, 259 US 419 (Supreme Court 1922).


1 United States, Implementation of the California plan for the Colorado River.

3 Breitler, Alex, “Whiskey is for drinking, and… well, you know.”

4 Gimbel, Written Statement of Jennifer Gimbel, Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, before the Subcommittee on Natural Resources, US House of Representatives.

5 Coyle, The Economics of Enough, 104.

6 Fleck, “Water-Wise Tucson Recycles, Conserves.”

7 Barnett, Blue Revolution, 145.

8 Tsai, “Water lease test aims to end ‘buy and dry’ trend - Houston Chronicle.”

9 Hundley, Water and the West, 294.

12 Olson, The Colorado River Compact, 26–35.

16 Arizona v. California.

17 Kenney et al., “Rethinking Vulnerability on the Colorado River.”

18 Verburg et al., The Colorado River Documents, 2008, 2–16.

19 Norton, “Remarks at Association of California Water Agencies.”

20 “Bureau of Reclamation: Upper Colorado Region Historic Data.”

21 Kightlinger, “author interview.”

24 Fleck, “Abandoned Marina a Sign of Major Drought.”

25 “Bureau of Reclamation: Upper Colorado Region Historic Data.”

26 Fulp, “author interview.”

27 Verburg et al., The Colorado River Documents, 2008, A–385.

28 “Bureau of Reclamation: Lower Colorado Region - Lower Colorado River Operations.”

29 The acre foot is the arcane unit used to measure large volumes of water in the western United States. As the name implies, it is the amount of water needed to cover an acre of land to a depth of one foot. It is enough to serve two to three typical households in the region for a year. A typical irrigated farm uses three or more acre feet of water per acre per year.

30 Colorado River Commission, “Colorado River Compact.”

31 Colorado River Commission., Minutes and record ... of the Colorado River Commission negotiating the Colorado River Compact of 1922.

32 Nash and Gleick, “Sensitivity of streamflow in the Colorado Basin to climatic changes.”

33 National Research Council (U.S.).;National Research Council (U.S.).;National Academies Press (U.S.), Colorado River Basin water management.

34 US Bureau of Reclamation, River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, Interim Report No. 1.

35 Kuhn, The Colorado River: The Story of a Quest for Certainty on a Diminishing River, 78.

36 John Entsminger, “author interview.”

37 Mulroy, “Navigating the Future of the Colorado River.”

38 US Bureau of Reclamation, AOP.

39 US Bureau of Reclamation, Final Environmental Impact Assessment, Yuma Desalting Plant.

40 US Bureau of Reclamation, AOP.

41 McKinnon, “New Yuma reservoir is a water saver.”

42 US Bureau of Reclamation, “Drop 2 Reservoir - FAQs.”

43 McKinnon, “New Yuma reservoir is a water saver.”

44 Thinking Like a River Basin, 30.

45 Green, “Not this water.”

< Back to top 

Last modified Fri, 3 Aug, 2012 at 12:43

Read the whole story
4017 days ago
New York, New York
Share this story

The Good Worker, Property Destruction, and Trayvon Martin

1 Share

Even before the city street fully absorbs the resonant sounding of shattering glass, the press—mainstream media or citizen journos, it doesn’t matter which—introduces us to a stock figure whose words are nonetheless accorded a special status. You’ve met him or her before. We’re now all old friends with The Worker Who Doesn’t Like Property Damage. The prolie who picks up the shards after the anarchists have had their smashy-smashy fun.  The employee who tells us he is sympathetic to the anger, but there must be another way. Days after Trayvon Martin suffered his second death—the juridico-political death that retroactively strips him of property in himself, the juridico-political death that came after but always came before, the juridico-political death that laid down the path that Zimmerman would follow—media outlets have dusted off the Good Worker and set her to work to chastise those whose outrage at Martin’s second death has taken the form of smashed windows, burning dumpsters, courthouse graffiti admonishing us to kill all the pigs.

The Good Worker knows that property damage is no way to protest the fact that Martin had no property in himself. The Good Worker knows that violence dishonors Martin’s memory. Of course, everyone already knows that; this is the USA, after all. But the Good Worker knows something special, something more. She possesses a particular knowledge derived from a quotidian detail of her life. She is the one who has to sweep up the glass. He is the one who has to wash off the paint. After the party of anarchy, the Good Worker appears on the scene and, with a sigh, dispenses his special knowledge: the infantile leftism of the anarchists and the outraged hurts no one but those whom they claim to defend.

Through the Good Worker’s resigned affect—“I’m the one who has to clean up”—liberals convert dependence on capital into an alibi for capitalism, transform the worker’s binding to the propertied as property’s normative basis. Relations between capital and labor never seem so free from compulsion as when the Good Worker laments the extra work imposed upon her by…other workers, maybe, but more likely dropouts and nogoodniks. The discordant symphony of shattering glass resolves itself in Careyite harmonies. One is encouraged to imagine that the Good Worker’s Good Boss never demands a little overtime, never subjects her to work that go beyond the parameters of the job. But that is precisely what is happening, and not just because he is sweeping up a window: the very articulation of the lament is itself a form of surplus extraction. After all, the political geography of smashy-smashy and political economy of U.S. cities ensures that the Good Worker’s skills will tend toward the communicative, the affective. He doesn’t work in a factory, but in a shoe shop, a restaurant, a boutique cheese store. And she possesses the corresponding skills: she can read inchoate desires and conduct them toward an object, respond to pressing demands, defuse awkward situations. After the windows come smashing down, the general capital exploits these affective competencies. It shoves a microphone, recorder, or someone with a Twitter account in his face and asks him to work a little bit longer, to piece the shattered norms of capitalist society back together with his words. And she does, bearing tidings that an assault on property is an assault on workers, because workers have nothing but the property of others. To harm property is to harm ourselves. The Good Worker’s stoic acceptance of her lot is converted into a quasi-proprietorial care that simulates a property in something that could never be hers.

This equation has been literalized in the case of the Oakland protests over the juridical fact that Martin had no property in himself. In an article entitled “Waiter attacked, freeway blocked in 3rd Oakland protest,” the reader is informed, “As the night wore on, violence grew. About 11 p.m., a masked protester hit a waiter at Flora Restaurant and Bar on Telegraph Avenue in the face with a hammer as he tried to protect the restaurant, whose windows were broken two nights ago.” That this happened is undeniable, terrible, and has been condemned by pretty much everyone (minus some with what I think are fantasies of an agent provocateur). I can’t think of any anarchist who would approve non-defensive violence, particularly against a worker, during a demo; we’d gladly leave a window untouched so as to not harm a human. As the masked protestor’s action strikes us all as aberrant and abhorrent, what intrigues me is the description and naturalization of the waiter’s (named Drew Cribley) act. The causal determination of the worker’s intention is established—windows had been broken before. The deeper emplotting of the event comes at the end of the sentence, and retroactively accords his action—tensed with “as he tried…”—a drawn out, durational quality where one might only read temporal simultaneity or, indeed, spontaneity.

Cribley said his black-masked attacker passed him on the sidewalk, then started pounding on windows with a hammer when Cribley turned and told him to stop. "I kind of instinctively pushed him away," Cribley said. "That's when he turned back at me and cracked me in the cheekbone."[…] "Looking back on it, it was a really stupid thing if you thought I was going to interfere," he said.

Strikingly, Cribley didn’t think he was going to interfere, he didn’t intend to, not consciously, but a “kind of instinct[]” drove him to “turn…and [tell] him to stop.” It is as if the thump of the hammer on the window sounded out like Althusser’s policeman’s hail: Cribley can’t not turn, even if he doesn’t know what he’s turning toward, turning for. With its direct access to the habits of head and heart of liberal capitalism, the newspaper reveals why. Cribley turned to “protect the restaurant”—not himself, not a window, but the corporate/fictive entity of the restaurant. According to the paper, he wasn’t protecting an object so much as the idea of property itself.

It seems perfectly natural, even laudable, that a worker’s body would absorb the blow intended for a capitalist’s window. Indeed, the article establishes a striking fungibility between (capitalists’) objects and (workers’) bodies. Both are, in effect, absorbed into the fictive person of the firm and, indeed, are little more than the business’ precipitates, the accidental bearers of capital’s personhood. (The assault on Cribley doesn’t even make it into the lede; it is only reported after destruction of other property is detailed.) After the windows come smashing down, the press impresses the Good Worker to restore the commensurability of bodies and objects, people and things.

It was this form of commensuration that killed Trayvon Martin, and killed him twice. The trial of Zimmerman briefly extended to Martin something that could never be his—a proper claim to himself, a juridico-political identity that did not position him as some bizarre thing midway between object and person. If the court’s decision confirmed Martin’s status as a being that could be killed but not murdered, the discourse surrounding property destruction in Oakland confirms neoliberal capitalism’s commitment to reproducing and repairing that order. Through the Good Worker, it first indicts those who actively refuse this commensuration with the charge of exposing its ugliness, for directing conversation from Trayvon Martin to smashed windows (as if anarchists are to blame that the media cannot control its vulgarity, as if anarchists are to blame that the media can’t not stop a conversation about Martin because a violated property hails). It then tells us that Martin would not approve of this violence, that violence against property is no way to honor Martin. Indeed, it posthumously transforms Martin into the Good Worker, someone who knows that to harm property is to harm ourselves. Someone who knows that because we have no property, because the property of others has subsumed any claim to property in ourselves, we have to identify ourselves with it. Someone who knows that our being can be exchanged with objects and things and that, indeed, we should be prepared to “protect” windows—even if we risk extreme bodily harm in so doing.

Feigning outrage, the media is hard at work restoring the logic of racial, neoliberal capitalism that killed Trayvon Martin twice. But there’s grumbling in the ranks: the Good Worker isn’t complying. The follow up article on Cribley concludes with the paper asking him to play his appointed role.

Cribley said he sympathized with protesters and their right to voice outrage, yet feared the violence would overshadow their goals. "It sucks for the people who are really trying to be heard because it starts to take away from their message," he said. "People around the country look at Oakland and feel like there's a bunch of vandalism and violence rather than intelligent people with an actual cause they believe in. Instead of talking about that, you're talking about the guy who got hit in the face with a hammer."

Note the striking disparity between the paper’s gloss and Cribley’s words. Cribley’s final quote is introduced as if what follows is pure Good-Workerism. He’s sympathetic to the protestors, sure, but, like, he wonders: this couldn’t be the right way. But, as his words actually reveal—his words, what he thinks when his personality is not subsumed into the indirect discourse of capital’s mouthpiece—he does not disavow property destruction. He does not oppose “vandalism and violence” to “an actual cause.” Rather, “people” do, people who “feel” a certain way about Oakland because the reporter, instead of talking about the cause of the demonstrators, is busy “talking about the guy who got hit in the face with a hammer.” Cribley is basically asking the reporter, the you of his address, to write about something else, to write about the actual cause of the violence, the actual meanings it conveys. Cribley refuses to be the Good Worker, to simulate investment in an order of property, of proper being, that left him with a hammer to the head, that left a black boy twice dead in Florida.

But the propertied order has the last word: “Cribley said he'll return to work Thursday.” And the windows will be repaired by then, too.

Read the whole story
4017 days ago
New York, New York
Share this story

Shyness cannot be ‘cured’ – Joe Moran – Aeon

1 Share

If I had to describe being shy, I’d say it was like coming late to a party when everyone else is about three glasses in. All human interaction, if it is to develop from small talk into meaningful conversation, draws on shared knowledge and tacit understandings. But if you’re shy, it feels like you just nipped out of the room when they handed out this information. W Compton Leith, a reclusive curator at the British Museum whose book Apologia Diffidentis (1908) is a pioneering anthropology of shy people, wrote that ‘they go through life like persons afflicted with a partial deafness; between them and the happier world there is as it were a crystalline wall which the pleasant low voices of confidence can never traverse’.

Shyness has no logic: it impinges randomly on certain areas of my life and not others. What for most people is the biggest social fear of all, public speaking, I find fairly easy. Lecturing is a performance that allows me simply to impersonate a ‘normal’, working human being. Q&As, however, are another matter: there the performance ends and I will be found out. That left-field question from the audience, followed by brain-freeze and a calamitous attempt at an answer that ties itself up in tortured syntax and dissolves into terrifying silence. Though this rarely happens to me in real life, it has occurred often enough to fuel my catastrophising imagination.

The historian Theodore Zeldin once wondered how different the history of the world might seem if you told it, not through the story of war, politics or economics, but through the development of emotions. ‘One way of tackling it might be to write the history of shyness,’ he mused. ‘Nations may be unable to avoid fighting each other because of the myths and paranoias that separate them: shyness is one of the counterparts to these barriers on an individual level.’ The history of shyness might well make a fascinating research project, but it would be hellishly difficult to write. Shyness is by its nature a subjective, nebulous state that leaves little concrete evidence behind, if only because people are often too uncomfortable with their shyness to speak or write about it.

For Charles Darwin, this ‘odd state of mind’ was one of the great puzzles in his theory of evolution, for it appeared to offer no benefit to our species. However, in research begun in the 1970s, the Harvard psychologist Jerome Kagan suggested that about 10-15 per cent of infants are ‘born shy’. Being easily fearful and less socially responsive, they reacted to mildly stressful situations with a quicker heartbeat and higher blood cortisol levels.

At around the same time, the American animal behaviourist Stephen Suomi, working at an animal centre in Poolesville, Maryland, observed a similar percentage of shyness in monkeys, with the same increased heart rate and rise in blood cortisol. Blood testing, and reassigning shy infant monkeys to outgoing mothers, suggested that this shy trait was hereditary. Suomi’s work might also have inadvertently pointed to the evolutionary usefulness of shyness. When a hole in the chain-link fencing around the centre’s primate range gave the monkeys a chance to get out, the shy ones stayed put while the bolder ones escaped, only to be hit by a truck when they tried to cross the road.

Until a few hundred years ago, life was lived far more in public: whole families would eat, sleep and socialise together in the same room

Higher primates are social creatures, hard-wired to want to meet and mate; but there might also be some value in their being cautious and risk-avoiding, traits that might over-evolve into excessive timidity. Neither Kagan nor Suomi suggest that shyness is fixed at birth. They see it as a case study in the rich interplay between nature and nurture. Similarly, for Antonio Damasio, professor of neuroscience at the University of Southern California, shyness is a ‘secondary emotion’. Unlike primary emotions such as anger, fear and disgust — where there is a large biological and universally felt component — shyness is ‘tuned by experience’, leaving it open to a huge amount of cultural conditioning, historical variation and definitional ambiguity.

If shyness is something that adjusts to different cultural and historical contexts, then it must surely have taken on oppressive new forms with the emergence of modern notions of privacy and private life. Until a few hundred years ago, life was lived far more in public. For example, it was quite normal for people to urinate or defecate in public places. Even in private houses, whole families would eat, sleep and socialise together in the same room. Then, gradually, bodily functions and aggressive language and behaviour were rendered increasingly invisible in polite society, thanks to what the late sociologist Norbert Elias called the ‘civilising process’ that took place in the Western world from the 16th century onwards. As greater physical and psychological boundaries grew up around individuals, particularly among relative strangers in public, there were more opportunities for awkwardness and embarrassment about when these boundaries should be crossed.

More recently, shyness, like other awkward personality traits, has been seen as an affliction to be treated medically rather than as a temperamental quirk. In 1971, the psychologist Philip Zimbardo conducted the Stanford Prison Experiment, with student volunteers acting as prisoners and guards in a pretend prison in the basement of the Stanford University psychology building. The study had to be stopped a week early because the guards were treating the prisoners so brutally, and many of the inmates had adapted by internalising their subordinate positions and sheepishly obeying their tormentors. Zimbardo began thinking of shy people as incarcerating themselves in a silent prison, in which they also acted as their own guards, setting severe constraints on their speech and behaviour that were self-imposed although they felt involuntary.

In 1972, Zimbardo began conducting the Stanford Shyness Survey, starting with his own students and eventually including more than 10,000 interviewees. The odd thing about Zimbardo’s work was that it revealed that feeling shy was very common — more than 80 per cent of those interviewed said they had been shy at some point in their lives, and more than 40 per cent said they were currently shy — but that it also pioneered the modern tendency to see shyness as a remediable pathology. Methods of calibrating shyness were developed, such as the Cheek and Buss Shyness Scale (after its Wellesley College researchers Jonathan Cheek and Arnold Buss) in 1981, and the Social Reticence Scale, formulated by the psychologists Warren Jones and Dan Russell in 1982. Extreme shyness was redefined as ‘social anxiety disorder’, and drugs such as Seroxat (also known as Paxil), which works like Prozac by increasing the brain’s levels of serotonin, were developed to treat it. As Christopher Lane argues forcefully in his book Shyness: How Normal Behaviour Became a Sickness (2007), this was part of a more general biomedical turn in psychiatry, with its ‘growing consensus that traits once attributed to mavericks, sceptics, or mere introverts are psychiatric disorders that drugs should eliminate’.

A small, self-regarding part of me thinks there is something glib about easy articulacy and social skill

In 1999, noting that the number of people identifying as shy in his survey had risen to 60 per cent, Zimbardo told the British Psychological Society that we were on the cusp of ‘a new ice age’ of non-communication. Computers, email and the replacement of cashiers and shop assistants by cashpoint machines and automated checkouts were all contributing to what he called an ‘epidemic’ of shyness as the possibilities for human contact diminished. Shyness, he suggested, was no longer an individual problem; it was now a ‘social disease’.

Today Zimbardo’s prediction of a new ice age created by technology seems wide of the mark. On the contrary, the rise of social networking has made it normal for people to lay bare their private lives without inhibition online, from posting photos of themselves in states of inebriation to updating the world on their changing relationship status, in ways that would have seemed inconceivable a generation ago. The internet, far from cutting us off from each other, has simply provided more fodder for our own era’s fascination with emotional authenticity and therapeutic self-expression — a shift in public attitudes towards personal privacy that Eva Illouz, professor of sociology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, has called ‘the transformation of the public sphere into an arena for the exposition of private life’.

In her recent book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (2012), Susan Cain worries about a world ruled by what she calls the ‘extrovert ideal’. This, she suggests, found its most malign expression in the excessive risk-taking of those who brought about the banking crisis of 2008. Much of Quiet consists of telling introverts how wonderful they are: how we think more deeply and concentrate better than extroverts, are less bothered about money and status, are more sensitive, moral, altruistic, clear-sighted and persistent. If you’re an extrovert, the book probably isn’t for you.

Yet introversion is not the same as shyness, as Cain is careful to point out, although the two do often overlap. Introverts are people whose brains are overstimulated when in contact with too many other human beings for too long — in which case I am most definitely a shy introvert. If I’m in a noisy group of people for more than about an hour, my brain simply starts to scramble like a computer with a system error, and I end up feeling mentally and physically drained. Introverts such as me need to make frequent strategic withdrawals from social life in order to process and make sense of our experiences.

Shyness is something different: a longing for connection with other people which is foiled by fear and awkwardness. The danger in simply accepting it, as Cain urges us to do with introversion, is that shyness can easily turn into a self-fulfilling persona — the pose becomes part of you, like a mask that melds with your face. There is always something we cling to in an unhappy situation that stops us escaping from it. In my case, it is the belief that lots of voluble people do not really listen to each other, that they simply exchange words as though they were pinging them over a tennis net — conducting their social life entirely on its surface. A small, self-regarding part of me thinks there is something glib about easy articulacy and social skill.

The human brain is the most complex object we know, and the journey from one brain to another is surely the most difficult

My more sensible self realises this is nonsense, and that shyness (or, for that matter, non-shyness) has no inherent meaning. There is nothing specific to shyness that makes you more likely to be a nice person, or a good listener, or a deep thinker. Shyness might have certain accidental compensations — being less susceptible to groupthink and more able to examine the habits and rituals of social life with a certain wry detachment, perhaps. Mostly it is just a pain and a burden.

Yet shyness remains a part of being human, and the world would be a more insipid, less creative place without it. As Cain argues, we live in a culture that values dialogue as an ultimate ideal, an end in itself, unburdening ourselves to each other in ever louder voices without necessarily communicating any better. Shyness reminds us that all human interaction is fraught with ambiguity, and that insecurity and self-doubt are natural, because we are all ultimately inaccessible to one another. The human brain is the most complex object we know, and the journey from one brain to another is surely the most difficult. Every attempt at communication is a leap into the dark, with no guarantee that we will be understood or even heard by anyone else. Given this obdurate fact, a little shyness around each other is understandable.

I have often found myself in a circle of people at a social gathering that has suddenly closed up like a scrum and left me standing outside it, as its constituent parts became animated in conversation, forgot I was there, and absent-mindedly nudged me out of the loop. I have fought all my life this sensation that shyness is a personal affliction that has left me viewing our herd-loving, compulsively communicative species from the edges. Now I am coming to see it more as a collective problem, an inevitable by-product of the thing that separates us from other animals: our unique human cargo of self-consciousness. For all our need for intimacy, we ultimately face the world alone and cannot enter another person’s life or mind without effort and difficulty. Shyness isn’t something that alienates me from everyone else; it’s the common thread that links us all.

Published on 17 July 2013

Aeon magazine on Facebook

Receive our Newsletter

We will not share your details

Read the whole story
4017 days ago
New York, New York
Share this story

One Minute of James Baldwin…Four Centuries of US History — Crooked Timber

1 Share

Several people have emailed me to ask why no one at CT has posted on the George Zimmerman verdict. It’s a good question. I can’t speak for anyone else; as Chris said, we’re a loose-knit crew. I know that I’ve simply not felt up to the challenge. And not able to say anything as cogent as I’ve read elsewhere.

But this clip from 1968 of James Baldwin on the Dick Cavett Show seems apposite. (The Milton Friedman lookalike trying to get a word in edgewise is the Yale philosopher Paul Weiss.)

Read the whole story
4018 days ago
New York, New York
Share this story

Dangerous Minds | The Indefinable Leigh Bowery: Vintage documentary presented by Hugh Laurie

1 Share


“Fashion is a bit of a problem with me, because you have to appeal to too many people, and I like appealing to maybe one-or-two. Then, I like them to be interested in me, but never dare copy me.”

Leigh Bowery admitted he couldn’t tell the difference between a stage and a street. They were both platforms on which to present himself. But if asked he was asked to explain himself, that presented problem that Leigh thought best solved by being thankful he existed.

Well, of course, as Leigh gave much to be thankful for.

Though Leigh Bowery defied definition—the media tick-box to solve the world’s problems—he is best remembered as a fantastical character whose talent, energy and discipline gave others the chance to be themselves, and thus to be free.

In this episode of the London-centric TV show South of Watford, Hugh Laurie (yes, him off House) trails around with Leigh, and takes a close-up look at all of his different creations: from fashion and dance, to clubs and films. It includes interviews with dancer Michael Clark, director John Maybury and gender illusionist Alana Pellay.

Posted by Paul Gallagher

Read the whole story
4018 days ago
New York, New York
Share this story
Next Page of Stories