The Weather

Bum Logic: Organized and Goal-Driven

This is the tenth installment in Peter’s “Bum Logic” series, about his investigation into our inadvertent complicity in climate change, continued from his last post, Time Conflated.

After being denied an audience with the law offices of McKenna Long & Aldridge, I was left to educate myself. The focus of my research was to be “eminent domain.”

As I typed my focus into the Google search, I watched the algorithm try to guess my intentions.

e — ebay, espn, expedia, etsy

em — eminem, email, emma stone, emma watson

emi — eminem, emily blunt, emirates, emily owens md

emin — eminem, eminent, eminem’s daughter, eminent domain

Thar she blew, right next to Slim Shady’s daughter. After clicking the mouse a couple of times I downloaded a PDF published by Columbia University.

What is eminent domain? How is it defined?

Eminent domain, broadly understood, is the power of the state to seize private property without the owner’s consent. Historically, the most common uses of property taken by eminent domain are public facilities, highways, and railroads.

Traditionally the power of eminent domain has been exercised for the construction of large public projects, but its use is beginning to be broadened to projects involving not ‘public use’ but ‘public benefit.’ The decision in Kelo v. City of New London, a case that came before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2004, set a precedent for property to be transferred to a private owner for the purpose of economic development. The court found that if an economic project creates new jobs, increases tax and other city revenues, and revitalizes a depressed or blighted urban area it qualifies as a public use.

“Hmmph,” I hmmphed and refined my search to “TransCanada eminent domain.” In the blink of a jaundiced eye, I was looking at a New York Times article dated August 23, 2012. 

The Canadian energy company TransCanada can take over land owned by a Texas farmer to build its Keystone XL pipeline, a county judge ruled on Wednesday night. In a 15-word ruling sent from his iPhone, Judge Bill Harris of Lamar County Court at Law upheld TransCanada’s condemnation of a 50-foot strip of land across Julia Trigg Crawford’s pasture here. The pipeline is being built to carry oil to Texas refineries from Canada.

I choked on that bit about justice being served via txt msg, but managed to read on and learn that the meat of the contention lay in TransCanada’s designation as a common carrier—a designation granted by The Railroad Commission of Texas. A designation granted to those “claiming the status itself on a one-page form.”[1] A practice the State Supreme Court of Texas has unanimously condemned, using the term conventionally, as unsound. That precedent was set in the case of Texas Rice Land Partners v. Denbury Green.[2] One of the presiding ombudsmen, Don R. Willet, wrote in explanation, “No notice is given to affected parties, no hearing is held, no evidence is presented, no investigation is conducted… private property is constitutionally protected and a private enterprise cannot acquire power merely by checking boxes.” Nevertheless, anachronisms like Judge Bill Harris persist.

And perhaps of greater concern are quotes like this one from our Commander in Chief: “As long as I’m president, we’re going to keep on encouraging oil development and infrastructure, and we’re going to do it in a way that protects the health and safety of the American people.”[3] A quote that ignores its own fundamentally flawed, unacceptable, obscene logic. Encouraging oil development and infrastructure exposes the health and safety of the American people to disease and danger. It commits us to another significant period of environmental degradation when we desperately need to be limiting or even abolishing that tradition. It stinks badly of eminent domain for personal gain. It stinks badly of the failure to recognize that our quality of life is not predicated on our GDP but on our air and water quality and on our confidence in our access to food, shelter, and community. Economic development is impossible without ecologic cultivation, husbandry.

Feeling like a dog with a sore throat from barking at passing cars, from howling at the moon, from chewing on my trapped leg, I found myself repeating a prayer my mother kept taped to an inner wall of her tea cabinet. I performed a minor redaction to help it better fit the formatting requirements of my agnosticism.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

Then I recovered a piece of folded paper from my wallet. After flattening it, I read the glorified chicken scratch: Noble things to get did, vis-a-vis divestment. Eager to believe in the conceptual continuity of my character, I read on.

1) Get student council to drink the Kool-aid.

2) Establish contact with the board of trustees.

3) Explore alliance with faculty. *esp. those with tenure.

4) Shave/shower/laundry/groceries/clip toenails.

At that, I set about realizing my dreams like the organized and goal-driven individual that I am.


[2] A decision handed down on Aug. 26, 2011, a full year before Mr. Harris’s belch.

[3] President Obama, March 22, 2012 Cushing, Oklahoma.

Peter Nichols is a poet, rock climber, and vagabond originally from Toledo, Ohio.