Following Up and Following Down: May 2020

Looking back, mid-spring

Looking back, mid-spring

WC had summer afternoons in junior high school that lasted longer than May 2020. But, regardless, it’s time for the end of the month look back at developments on stuff WC blogged about, other stuff WC almost blogged about and whatever else attracted WC’s Magpie Sensibility. Disclaimer: No journalism was committed in writing this post.

WC has received complaints from readers that there have been too many posts about birds this past month. WC’s response: (1) It is impossible to have too many blog posts of birds; as Ernest Hemingway said about fishing, “Too much fishing? Can’t be done.” Too many bird photos? Can’t be done. (2) WC, at least, needed a break from the unending stream of BS streaming from the White House. (3) It’s Spring Migration, of course there are going to be a lot of bird-focused blog posts.

The Mat Su school board’s book burners got a whole lot of blowback in response to their banning of five classic American books. Hours of public testimony, almost uniformly telling them it was a stupid decision. That was in addition to making the Mat Su School District a national disgrace. So what the school board do after more than three hours of public opposition? In the time-honored tradition of Alaska politicians, and especially Mat Su politicians, they kicked the political can down the road and postponed action to the next meeting. Those voting to postpone were pretty much the same ones who voted to ban. Finally, on May 20, the board voted 6-1 to rescind the ban.1 Not without several school board members embarrassing themselves first. Over to you, Mat Su voters.2

WC’s postal mail this month included a letter from the I.R.S. At least the return address said it was from the Internal Revenue Service. A letter from the I.R.S., in WC’s experience, is never good news, even if your tax conscience is reasonably clean. But the contents were worse than even a deficiency notice from the I.R.S. It was a letter from Donald Trump. It’s on White House stationary, too. Not I.R.S. letterhead. Presumably Trump used the I.R.S. envelope to make it more likely that Americans would open the envelope, rather than something useful, like stockpiling it with your toilet paper. The “letter” is Trump congratulating himself on sending WC an Economic Impact Payment. It’s flinking a campaign brochure. The other side is in Spanish, thereby destroying any notion it is a personal communication. WC won’t pretend to speak for his readers, but WC’s price is higher – a lot higher – than $1,200 if he’s being asked to buy anything Donald Trump is peddling.

WC wrote about the terrible damage Trump has caused to the international reputation of the United States. That was reinforced by an opinion piece forwarded to WC by reader Gary Lundgren recently. Carlos Alberto Montaner is a widely respected journalist and scholar who writes in the Latin American Herald Tribune. He draws a nice anaogy to the fate of President Herbert Hoover. WC very much hopes Montaner is right. The column is worth a read.

A reader who saw WC’s note on the Yellow Rail asked if WC had seen and photographed the species. Yes, for a given definition of “photographed.” Chasing a Yellow Rail, at least on the Upper Texas Coast, is a team effort, and all you get a glimpse. Here’s the best photo.

Yellow Rail, Upper Texas Coast, April 2012

Yellow Rail, Upper Texas Coast, April 2012

WC has written several times about the serious problems facing his profession; more correctly, the profession from which WC has recently retired. One of those problems is evident from the declining pass rates for the Alaska Bar examination. Most recently, some 49 young law school graduates took the bar exam; only 23 of them passed, a dismal pass rate of just 47%. If you narrow the focus to just the candidates taking the exam for the first time, there were 34 applicants and 20 of them passed, a nearly as dismal rate of just 59%. Until a few years ago, the over all pass rate was about two-thirds, and first time takers were in the 80-90% range. So what has changed? Is the quality of law school graduates declining? Has the exam somehow gotten harder? Or is Alaska now selecting for less able candidates? The thing about all of those questions is that it has bad implications, very bad implications, for the quality of legal work in Alaska in the long term. Alaska has enjoyed an overall very high quality of lawyers and judges in the past. These results suggest it’s a concern.

This month saw the 40th anniversary of the first eruption of Mt. St. Helens. Readers may wonder why WC’s frequent blog posts on geology haven’t included Mt. St. Helens. There’s a reason. Spirit Lake was WC’s favorite place in the Lower 48. It was beautiful, beyond WC’s poor powers of description. WC isn’t strongly spiritual, but if there is any place that was sacred, it was that place. The St. Helens eruption absolutely obliterated Spirit Lake, leaving it a steaming, treeless plain of ash. WC had absolutely no interest in visiting the grave. Twenty years along, well, maybe. There’s greenery there now, if not the 150 foot tall Douglas Firs. So maybe some day.

Several readers in the Matanuska -Susitna Valley in Alaska have complained that WC “picks on Wasilla” with this “Tales from Wasilla” series. Despite what those readers think, WC does not turn every Wasilla foible in to a separate blog post. Consider this Alaska State Trooper dispatch from May 15:

On 05/15/2020 at 2323 hours, MATCOM received a report that gunfire was coming from vehicles being driven in the area of Wiliwaw Way in Wasilla. Alaska State Troopers along with the Wasilla Police Department responded to the area. WPD located one of the involved vehicles as it was leaving the area and the other involved driver contacted Troopers who were in the area. Joshua D. Payton, age 28 of Wasilla was contacted along with his 13 year old passenger. Investigation determined that the unidentified driver believed that he observed suspicious activity and attempted to contact Payton and his passenger. Payton drove away and the other driver followed. Payton had his passenger steer the vehicle while he partially hung out of the window and fired multiple rounds at the other vehicle. The victim’s vehicle was struck at least once. Payton was arrested for MIW 1, MIW 2 , Assault 3 and Criminal Mischief. The 13 year old was released to a legal guardian.

The 13-year old driver is a nice touch, don’t you think? Despite the temptation, WC did not transform this scene from a bad Hollywood movie into a blog post.

Nor did WC write up events this past Sunday at the Three Bears Alaska store on Pittman Road, where 32-year-old Jared Sukert of Seward “was using the restroom when his handgun, with a round in the chamber and hammer cocked, fell out of a concealed holster and discharged,” according to a statement from troopers. “The bullet shot through a wall in the vicinity of store patrons,” troopers wrote. You never know when you might need a loaded, cocked revolver at the grocery tore. No injuries were reported. A charge of misconduct involving weapons was forwarded to the District Attorney for review, troopers said. Seriously, packing a cocked revolver and dropping it while taking a leak? Do you see why there are so many Tales from Wasilla here at Wickersham’s Conscience?

WC will leave that question unanswered, along with all the others, and move on. Happy June, everybody. May it be better than May.

Edits: Fixed an error in the date of the Mt. St. Helens eruption.


  1. There was nice lawyering involved. The attorney for the school board “determined” that there was a procedural irregularity in the original action. That gave political cover to the school board members who had voted to ban: they could vote to rescind because the ban was procedurally wrong, without admitting they had, you know, stupidly banned books. Sometimes the best lawyering is just giving your client cover to change their mind. 
  2. A special message to Mat Su School Board member Jim Hart, who called Maya Angelou’s description of her rape as a child “a sex scene”: No, Mr. Hart, it’s a description of a child rape from the victim’s point of view. If you think that is a “sex scene” you need counseling. 

2 thoughts on “Following Up and Following Down: May 2020

  1. Hate to nitpick your otherwise wonderful posts, but Mt St Helen’s iconic eruption – which I witnessed from the vantage of Bellevue, WA – was in 1980, 40 years ago by my reckoning, not a mere twenty.


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