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Nerd Spot

A shout out to the nerdy and proud.

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Location: Massachusetts, United States

Lifelong nerd, shameless Constitution-hugger, unreconstructed Democrat and thoroughgoing misanthrope

Sunday, June 19, 2005

If oonuh ent kno weh oonuh dah gwine, oonuh should kno weh oonuh come f'um

According to a story in The Beaufort Gazette, which I again found through the daily headlines on the Archaeology magazine site, archaeologists are using radar in an attempt to find slave cabins on Coosaw Island, South Carolina. If any of evidence of the cabins remains, they most likely were part of plantations owned by the Bull or Butler families, although the families rose to prominence about a century apart. What makes this project especially interesting is that the project directors hope it will be driven by local volunteers and that oral history will be given a prominent role. Research through the state archives and the Library of Congress will also supplement the archaeological record. To date, archaeologists have uncovered slipware pottery, daub, nails and tobacco pipe stems. No cabins have yet been located, but a likely trash put has been located. Trash pits are excellent sources for determining how people actually lived, what they ate, what kinds of material resources they possessed, etc.

The story also tickles another my more nerdly interests, i.e., linguistics. The South Carolina Sea Islands – of which Coosaw Island is one – are home to the Gullah language and culture. Census data show that the language is fast disappearing. In 1979, 100,000 South Carolinians were speaking Gullah, but 1990 Census data show only 180 listing it as the language they spoke at home.

Here are some links on Gullah language and/or culture:

Because I am such a ginormous nerd, I found that the story tickled another nerdly interest of mine: law-talking guys. Justice Scalia, who most assuredly deserves to be a cartoon villain or superhero depending upon one’s point of view, authored the opinion in Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council a few years back that had to do with a South Carolina barrier island and the Takings Clause. Now I know you’re thinking, “this could not possibly get any more exciting. I best buckle my seat belt, stow away my tray table and return my seat to an upright position so that I can safely handle all of the turbulence.” And you would be right. This will not get more exciting.

It seems that in the mid-80s, this guy named Lucas bought two residential lots on a barrier island in order to develop them. The adjacent lots already had residences on them. At the time, the lots were not subject to state coastal building permit regulations. Alas for poor Lucas, the legislature then enacted a law that prevented him from constructing residences on his parcels. No doubt having a clever, free-markety, laissez-faireish lawyer, Lucas filed suit against the state, arguing basically that the construction ban was an act by the state that robbed him of all “economically viable use” of his land and effectively worked a taking under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. So the state could no show him the money, so to speak, as the takings clause requires just compensation to people like Lucas. The case winds through the courts for a few years and eventually makes it to the Supreme Court. So Justice Scalia dons his shiny black helmet, affects an asthmatic wheeze and tells the plaintiff “Lucas, I am your justice.” (Yeah, that was bad, I admit it. Humor me. I’m tired.) To make a long story somewhat shorter, Scalia basically agrees with Lucas. State regulation that acts to deprive a property owner of all economically viable use of his land is one of the types of takings that require just compensation. To allow otherwise would be inconsistent with “the historical compact” supposedly undergirding the Takings Clause. For those awake or truly interested, there is also an entertaining exchange between Justices Scalia and Blackmun. See footnote 15 for a paradigmatic example of Justice Scalia both eating his cake and having it, too.

Incidentally, Justice Thomas grew up speaking Geechee (which what the Gullah language is called in parts of Georgia and North Florida). Check out his brief comments.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Today's Least Shocking News: People Hate Finneran

So today's Least Shocking News that people hate Tom Finneran came in the release of a 7 NEWS/Suffolk University poll which showed that 43% of Massachusetts likely voters believe that former House Speaker Thomas Finneran should go to jail, and 54% belive that he should lose his license to practice law, a peculiarly specific question if you ask me. But then again, you didn't ask.

The best part of the release was this:

"'Voters believe that justice is more responsible than politics for this indictment,' said David Paleologos, Director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center. 'It's surprising that while people haven't heard any of the evidence, they still want to throw him in jail and never let him practice law again.'"

I'm not sure to whom this would be surprising. Even my self-involved Gen X friends know who he is and vaguely hate him, even though they can't name their own legislators at any level of government. Given the media coverage of him over the past several years, I would not have been surprised to see the above completely unadulterated, unedited and untampered photo in the paper -- and the Globe at that (I hear they have a photographer with a True Soul camera -- patent pending).* The Herald would have him eating babies, too, or perhaps wiping his backside with Clean Elections petitions.

Poor Mr. Finneran, fallen from heaven like so much lightning. It probably doesn't help that the Finneran series of questions in the poll start off like this:

Former Speaker Tom Finneran has been indicted for allegedly lying under oath and obstructing justice. Some people argue that the charges against Finneran, a prominent Democrat, were politically motivated from the Republican US Attorney. Others say that if Finneran broke the law he should be punished accordingly. Which is closer to your view?

This is like the questions that candidates get from every interest group under the sun. **

Do you support interest group's x bill that will save babies and the rainforest while lowering cholesterol by ending burdensome regulation by Big, Mean Agency that Regulates Interest Group x's industry or do you support the continued unjust, inequitable, and possible heretical regulation of Interest Group x's industry by Big, Mean Agency whose employees we hear like to kick puppies for fun?

When the candidate doesn't answer the survey with 100 similarly-framed questions, there will certainly be some media coverage pointing to his/her arrogance for not answering a simple survey about key issues that the public is burning to know about. But as usual, I digress.

Of course, that wasn't the only interesting thing in the survey. There were questions about health care coverage and affordability which everyone on Beacon Hill is hoping to solve and take credit for in the coming months. These are the health care questions and the results:

Should the Commonwealth of Massachusetts provide health care for every resident?

Yes 67%

No 28%

Undecided 22.6%

Can the Commonwealth of Massachusetts afford to provide health care for every resident?

Yes 34%

No 52%

Undecided 14%

Should people who can afford health care be compelled to pay for it?

Yes 69%

No 20%

Undecided 12%

The press release contains a quote on this point: "'These numbers show the confusion that people feel,' said Paleologos. 'They want it, but they can't pay for it.'"

If anyone can appreciate these poll results, it would be former Speaker Finneran, a man who spearheaded the Coalition Against Taxpayer Funded Political Campaigns, in order to prove a point about the electorate or perhaps about interest groups. When styled "Clean Elections", the people voted for it. (text). When asked"Do you support taxpayer money being used to fund political campaigns for public office in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts?" four years later, they rejected it. (text).

There's other stuff about Romney running for President, Kerry Healy v. Charlie Baker, all of the Democrats running for Governor, Hillary Clinton v. Aquaman, etc. but I'm already bored of those stories. You can check them out yourself here.

*Compare with yesterday's nigh hagiographic coverage of US Attorney Michael "Maximum Mike" Sullivan replete with obligatory "I'm an Average Joe just like you, Joe Voter, and I am the incarnation of the American Dream, because my dad was a _________ (insert working/middle class job here)" tidbit. Of course, he couldn't hope to top Barack Obama's son-of-a-goatherd narrative. Who could, though?

**I don't use "interest groups" in a pejorative sense. I'm a member of many interest groups.

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