What Taos has in Common with Facebook

By: Bill Whaley
11 April, 2018


Senator John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder testifying in Wash. D.C. : “Here’s what everyone’s been trying to tell you today, and I say this gently: Your user agreement sucks,” said Kennedy.  “The purpose of that user agreement is to cover Facebook’s rear end. It’s not to inform your users about their rights. Now you know that, and I know that,” he continued. “Tell your $1,200-an-hour lawyers they’re good, and no disrespect. But tell them you want it written in English, and not Swahili, so the average American can understand it,” he instructed. “That would be a start.”


A week ago, Monday night we wrapped up our Monday night culture class re: Taos with a discussion of the Abeyta-Taos Pueblo Water Settlement Agreement. As instructor I had dutifully marked the complex bits about pipelines, mitigation wells, ASR (Aquifer Storage Recovery) systems, and the paragraphs denoting some $48 million here or $30 million there for this or that in the $150 million project. Some 25 community members, more or less (depending on the night) were joined Monday eve. by long-time acquaintances and friends with from fifty to five years of varying expertise and experience in “water” activism.

Among others, a literary critic and reviewer said she had never read the agreement because she was told the language and commensurate understanding were too complex. Other friends (and authors) said something similar. A few amateurs and interested parties had waded into the deluge of endless paper, the appendixes, the supplements, and amplifications.

Abeyta is dull reading and complex, written by attorneys with the occasional dollop from engineers, calculated to protect and preserve the signatories against challenges by parciantes, members of MDWCAs, and average citizens. It’s not about shovels, it’s about the meaning of “is.” Further, the signatories, all, have managed to discontinue any semblance of the public process i.e. “transparency” despite the citizens requests, who are all taxpayers and have furnished the money for the deal.

“You’re not invited to discuss implementation.”

A single participant on Monday evening, who has devoted much time to Aamodt and Abeyta, as a writer and journalist, also understands what’s missing but she, too, reiterated what we all think: like Socrates, we know that we do not know.

(I feel about Abeyta, the way some of the smarter Senators feel about Facebook: Zuckerberg et al are not really interested in “transparency” or controlling the beast. We need Robert Mueller and his team to do a “report.”)

These “water” friends and acquaintances, experienced activists and community members have been down a lot of rabbit holes in Taos: legal, political, bureaucratic, and governmental. They are familiar with the culture of the movida maker, the envidia-driven villager, the liberal academic, and the loyal foot-soldiers, who constitute the community, regardless of parochial or privileged backgrounds.

One experienced local and longtime observer suggested the agreement may die of its own weight and the impossibility of implementing proposed practices. The Town of Taos, El Prado Water and Sanitation District, and Taos Pueblo have millions of dollars in the game. Political power, like water, flows uphill toward money or downstream as it were toward wealthy municipalities, including urban Texas. (Councilor Hahn is shoveling “paper” not dirt when he works at being a parciante, nor does he know what he doesn’t know.)

We concluded that complexity ends in entropy and will be followed by inertia. For the notion of mitigation wells and miles and miles of pipelines requires one to envision playing three-dimensional chess in the unintelligible underground of the world’s second most complex geological system. “Abeyta” could be considered a translation of “custom” and “doings” into the language of the absurd for which there is no handbook “of practice.”

The agreement transforms the most concrete aspects of life in Taos, water and land or the right to quench the thirst of plants, people, and animals into a metaphysical cult meant to serve abstract bureaucratic aliens, who have more in common with UFOs than acequias, streams, and snowmelt.

We can say, however, that after Abeyta, at least for the time being, there will be little fighting among parciantes (this year) because while man plans, God laughs. Except for the appearance of beauty, the divine has withdrawn its blessings from Taos: what snowmelt? what water?

Now we are all attorneys with our gold pens or politicians with our gold shovels. While paper agreements may convert straw, like Rumpelstiltskin, into gold for the signatories, the paper water rights of the Abeyta agreement will not magically convert straw into water.

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