Following Up and Following Down: June 2016


It’s pretty hot outside – something like 100° F – and the heat is making WC a little cranky. Which is the right mood to have a look back and do some followup. As always, the Magpie Principle applies. If you are looking for due diligence, you are reading the wrong blog.

Back in February, on the occasion of the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s sudden death, WC posted about his experience birding with the Father of Originalism. To WC’s surprise, the Alaska Bar Rag, the newspaper of the Alaska Bar Association, published WC’s blog post. That was slightly disconcerting. More than a few of you had the temerity to suggest WC had made the story up. Readers should know better by now.

Antonin Scalia at Alaska Bird Observatory's Banding Station, May 2003

Justice Antonin Scalia at Alaska Bird Observatory’s Banding Station, May 2003

From left to right, Luke DeCicco (now an ornithologist himself), Justice Antonin Scalia and the late Ninth Circuit Senior Judge Bob Boochever. Note the banded songbird in Luke’s right hand. WC says to the doubters, with all respect, “Neener, neener!”

WC read that The Trumpster now intended to be more rigorous and focused. WC supposes it depends on your definitions of “rigorous” and “focused.” But whatever The Donald’s definitions, they don’t involve truth, accuracy or substance. In his extended attack on Senator Hilly Clinton on June 22, 2016, The Donald included at least eleven flat out lies and dozens of distortions. The New Trump sure talks an awful lot like the Old Trump.

Guy Christopher Mannino was sentenced on his murder for hire convictions. He got 17 years, to be added on to the three he is serving already for the firearms and bankruptcy charges. If he avoided trouble in prison, JT tells WC, he might get a year or more knocked off. He hasn’t behaved so far, fighting and making pruno – prison made hooch – but it’s possible he’ll be out in 18-19 years, at age 75. Not as long as he deserved, but perhaps adequate to the task. WC is considering taking bets on how long it will be before he asks his cellmate to murder someone.

The Susitna, Mat-Su Borough albatross, passed it sea trials somehow and the sale to the Philippine Red Cross is scheduled to close today. How did the Borough do? Let’s do the math:

$ 1,750,000 sale price, LESS
$ 2,000,000 storage fees for five years
$ 3,000,000 repairs to water-damaged engines
$12,000,000 reimburse federal government
<$15,250,000,000> Total losses

The Borough hopes to recover some of the repair costs from insurance, and to jaw the feds down on the grant repayment, but it still looks like a spendy lesson for the taxpayers of Mat Su. To paraphrase something the late Senator Everette Dirksen (R., Illinois) probably never said, “A million here, a million there, pretty soon you’re talking real money.”

Governor Walker showed the Legislature why the Alaska Constitution is described as creating a strong governor. WC is very pleased that Governor Walker has the courage to act.

In contrast with the Alaska Legislature, which is setting new records for utter failure and massive denial. As we get closer to election season, they are only going to get worse. A nonrenewable resource – the principal of the Constitutional Budget Reserve and the Alaska Permanent Fund – are going to be expended while the legislators whistle and kick the political can down the road. Their cumulative inaction has already given the State of Alaska a lower bond rating, a crippled state university and a statewide recession. Of course, WC no longer lives in Alaska, but here’s a metaphor.

WC was driving down a highway en route to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, following a tractor-trailer rig. Suddenly, the wheels of the truck through a dead animal up in the air immediately in front of WC. The dead critter struck WC’s hood, slid up the windshield and over the top, twanging the radio antenna on the roof. WC knew immediately what the dead critter was: the eye-wateringly awful stench could only be a skunk. WC reversed course and headed back to Caldwell, found a car wash, and after two passes – Super Washes, no less –  the worst of the stink was gone. That’s how WC feels about The Donald and the Alaska Legislature, except, of course, that you can’t make it go away with a couple of runs through a car wash.

On a more cheerful note, there was a second capture of gravity waves. WC reported on the first capture, but science happens when you can reproduce the results. It’s not as glamorous; it doesn’t make headlines. But the tedious business of reproducibility is as or more important. Cold fusion got all the headlines, but it wasn’t science, because it couldn’t be reproduced.

A final bit of science news: there is good and rapid progress on a vaccine for the Zika virus. Zika is genuinely scary, in a visceral way: a pregnant woman infected with Zika faces a grave risk of horrific birth defects to her child. An older person infected with Zika run the risk of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a life-threatening condition where the immune system overreacts to Zika and attacks your peripheral nervous system, causing total or partial paralysis that is generally temporary. While science is still a long ways – it’s just been successful in mice so far – from a generally available vaccine. It’s very impressive, very rapid progress.

All that good news very nearly masks the literal and metaphoric skunk stench. We’ll move on from here.

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