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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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October 08, 2005 6:50 PM  

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