A Gentle Encounter with an Alligator at Wakulla Springs State Park Trail

So if you get eaten, you'll also get fined!

So if you get eaten, you’ll also get fined!

Alligators are a common Florida attraction.

Growing up near the Everglades my friends and I could ride our bikes westward on Wiles Road until it abruptly terminated into a watery ditch dividing our civilization from their 1.5 million acre wet-wonderland of mangroves, sawgrass, stalking panthers, and the occasional 18 foot Boa that was once a pet to an owner unknowledgeable that baby snakes too grow up. At the apex of midday, they would lazily sunbathe on the distant bank totally unimpressed and disinterested in our human presence.

Short of doing something objectively stupid–say diving in blindly splashing vaguely toward their young while screaming Marco Polo–we were never on their diet.

Driving from Fort Lauderdale to Fort Meyers on Alligator Alley there are stops in the desolate nowhere of the 137 mile segment of highway where you can  stretch your legs and snap a photo of a malicious-enough looking hyper-predator as it also eyes you immobile from just a thirty-feet gulf of canal and indifference.

Every Florida Zoo has one as do many gas stations near Orlando. Florida is home of Gatorland and several Native American reservations where you watch non-Native American actors practice the decidedly non-Native American tradition of alligator wrestling. (Alligator wrestling was touted to Native American tribes as an exciting, albeit, inauthentic, way of generating revenue–prior to the more lucrative, but equally inauthentic, tradition of gaming.)

As my friend and I had toured Wakulla Springs by boat, we had just that morning viewed a half dozen alligators separated from us by the hull of our boat, twenty feet of water, and their severe disinterest in humans not actively teasing them.

A view from a Wakulla Springs State Park riverboat.

A view from a Wakulla Springs State Park riverboat.

Learn about how to spot your own personal alligator here:

Other alligator sightings:

But despite having seen dozens of alligators in my time, there had always been some protective barrier–a fence, a canal, a boat, or even just simply a large gathering of people.

I had abandoned my unenergetic friend at the Wakulla Springs Lodge to hike part of the linear six mile Wakulla Springs Trail as I wanted to see the forested confluence of the Wakulla River with the Sally Ward Spring. Upon my desolate arrival there was the obligatory “Warning Alligators” sign. I slowly crossed the bridge looking toward the banks and upriver. Nothing. I allowed my body to serve as a mosquito and fly buffet for a few minutes longer–still nothing.

Nuts.

I hiked another couple of miles before turning around. When I reappeared at the river crossing I saw a distant floating log. I paused on the shallow bridge now devoid of bugs and other annoyances and fantasized that I was being offered a lonely alligator encounter all my own in the middle of the north Florida woods.

Then I noticed the log had quite sharp teeth and a thrashing tail. Either the arborous victims of the logging industry had evolved into shape shifters and were seeking revenge on humankind, or I was being offered a lonely alligator encounter all my own in the middle of the north Florida woods.

The alligator then noticed me, and turned toward me at an accelerated rate of speed.

I did what anyone would have done–I retrieved my Samsung and proceeded to record a two-minute YouTube video to be followed by several pictures where I leaned into the lethal creature as if attempting to offer notes and stage direction.

Quickly it identified me as either being too big or too stupid to attack and tried to hide underwater.

The alligator tried to hide underwater in one of the cleanest springs in the world. It didn't work.

The alligator tried to hide underwater in one of the cleanest springs in the world. It didn’t work.

Eventually it needed air and allowed it’s head and front legs to float buoyantly to the surface.

A fresh breath of air.

A fresh breath of air.

I interpreted this series of movements–minding it’s own business, noticing me staring and wading over to investigate, strategically estimating my size, hiding, and now remaining still in the hopes that my sight was based upon movement like his Jurassic cousin–as this: “You scare me. Please go away.”

I smiled into it’s dark eyes, whispered “thank you,” and walked calmly away with the totally irrational   feeling of having communed with nature.

Ready to attack--Wakulla Springs State Park Trail

Ready to attack–Wakulla Springs State Park Trail

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Irish Citizens Abroad Returning Home to Vote for Marriage Equality

Ireland is hugely predicted to vote "yes" in today's constitutional referendum on marriage equality.

Ireland is hugely predicted to vote “yes” in today’s constitutional referendum on marriage equality.

Huge numbers of Irish citizens are returning from abroad to vote “yes” in today’s constitutional referendum on marriage equality. Is it just because they want to be there for a historical moment?

Maybe, but also, probably because that is the only way they can vote. In Ireland, a voter must vote in person and be named on the official registry of voters.

There are exceptions for military, national guardsman, diplomats and their spouses, whom are eligible to vote by mail. Potentially also eligible are people with disabilities, students studying away from home, people who work abroad, prisoners (yes, prisoners can vote in Ireland), and residents of hospitals and nursing homes.

Those living abroad are ineligible to vote because their names are not on the official registry of voters. Thus, they have to return “home” to vote.

Another tidbit U.S. citizen’s may find interesting, certain categories of non-citizens are able to vote in specific elections. Non-citizen residents can vote in local elections. British citizens may vote at Dáil elections (lower house of Irish Parliament), European elections (such as elections for European Parliament) and local elections. E.U. citizens can participate in European elections and local elections.

If you happen to be reading this and you are Irish, in the U.S., not only don’t U.S. citizens have to vote in person, political parties and candidates actively encourage “early voting” (limited voting stations sometimes open weeks in advance of the official “election day.”) and vote-by-mail, a program which is open to any U.S. citizen and also begins weeks in advance of the official “election day.” The reason for this is it allows political parties and candidates to track who had voted and concentrate further messaging toward those known to have not yet voted. The reason voters like it is because it allows them more flexibility in how and when they vote. Conversely, many political activists wait to vote in person on election day because then they continue to get campaign mailers until the day of the election and thereby know what the opposition is messaging.

Residents of most U.S. territories may also vote in U.S. elections provided they reside in the U.S. at the time of the election. Anybody convicted of a felony may not vote in any election until their civil rights have been restored. In some jurisdictions this happens automatically upon a prisoner’s completion of sentence (including non-incarceration probation and payment of fines and restitution) and in others there is a formalized application process.

Non-citizens are ineligible to vote in all elections without exception. The mere notion of such an idea might make a very socially conservative’s head explode.

To learn more about voting in Ireland you can visit here.

A Picture of a Bench from My First Trip to a Conflict Zone

Latin Bridge in Sarajevo

Latin Bridge in Sarajevo

My first trip to a conflict zone was to Serbia and Bosnia in 1999. This bench, located on the Latin Bridge in Sarajevo, commemorates the location where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated on June 28, 1914, the immediate cause of World War I. The historical plaque that had been attached to the bench to explain its significance had been recently stolen because it was written in Cyrillic and also because, as the gunman was considered a hero at the time of the assassination, the plaque was rather laudatory in nature.  Today the plaque has been replaced with something more neutral and reads, in English, “From this place on June 18, 1914 Gavirlo Princip assassinated the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophia.”

Vegas Day Trips: Because, You Know, Vegas is Boring.

I briefly lived in Vegas back in 2000 to try a summer as a bellhop (it had been rumored that they can earn upwards of $2000 a week). Anyway, it didn't work out and I took no photos. So here is me standing in another desert which according to Googlemaps is a mere 6,947 Kilometers away. (It is taken a few miles east of the oasis village of Huacachina, Peru.)

I briefly lived in Vegas back in 2000 to try a summer as a bellhop (it had been rumored that they can earn upwards of $2000 a week). Anyway, it didn’t work out and I took no photos. So here is me standing in another desert which according to Googlemaps is a mere 6,947 Kilometers away. (It is taken a few miles east of the oasis village of Huacachina, Peru.)

Why be bored in the neon bathed glitz and glamor of Las Vegas, which merely offers circus and travel themed casinos, about a million restaurants, tower-rooftop nightclubs, hotel lobbies decorated with roller coasters, and storefronts selling expensive jewelry unaffordable to all but the rich (who get it for free in an award show gift bag anyway) when you can instead drive into the empty desert and explore abandoned towns, search for rational explanations for claimed paranormal activity, and, with a heroically oblivious confidence, wander into a disused mine in disrepair that managed to kill hundreds of experienced people even back when it was regularly maintained by engineers?

Whew! That was a long sentence. I should have never taken that creative writing course on James Joyce.

Anyway, here is a handy resource for when you want to abandon the strip for adventuring in abandoned towns. If you find any gold I want 10% and if you find any ghouls I want unfuzzy photographic evidence!

http://www.lvlg.com/lasvegas/attracts/ghstwns.htm

My Condolences to Singapore on the Passing of Founder Lee Kuan Yew

Lee Kuan Yew, founder and former Prime Minister of Singapore, 1923-2015

Lee Kuan Yew, founder and former Prime Minister of Singapore, 1923-2015

Dear Singapore:

The world has lost a giant today. A political strategist of the highest intellectual caliber, he is survived by three children, including current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (who I have had the honor to meet), seven grandchildren, and the proud and prosperous island nation he founded, cultivated, and governed.

To all my Singaporean friends, colleagues, teachers, and leaders whom I have had the privilege to serve, learn, teach, research, organize, and bond over a meal or drink with, I offer my deepest heartfelt grief, sadness, and respects on the passing of your nation’s founder, Minster Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.

Minister Lee was an iconoclast with a vision to turn a small, poor, vulnerable and recently occupied island into an economic powerhouse with respect for the rule of law, gender equality, religious tolerance, and ethnic harmony.

While there will always be debate about his means–he used both carrot and stick to bring and retain power, authority, and order–there can be little reasonable debate about the ends. While there is a wealth gap (as there is in the country where I write this and almost everywhere else in the world), and an odd clause in our countries’ bilateral free trade agreement requiring Singapore to legalize chewing gum for “medicinal” purposes, where once were a collection of sleepy undeveloped villages–like the ones that remain today in nearby countries which are presently embroiled in political and religious conflict and with even more pervasive economic troubles–today is a multi-cultured cosmopolitan metropolis where CEOs of banks pick up their chicken rice from the same stall as the migrant workers who built your city-state at a wage (albeit with unequal bargaining power) they negotiated. Literacy is high (in multiple languages) and distributed without discrimination. The government is transparent and is quickly responsive to its citizens (though they encourage them to voice their grievances in a rather controlled and courteous manner suspicious to those in some other wealthy, stable nations).

Though he has left this world, he has left Singapore with a hugely gifted, talented, and potentially more liberal son in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Under his stewardship, I am certain investors, nations, foreign talent, and all of Singaporeans can look forward to continued stability, prosperity, and the always achingly slow, but inevitable evolution toward liberalization of civil and political human rights.

As the only lawyer (that I know of) practicing in Florida with a law degree from the National University of Singapore (LL.M. in International and Comparative Law) I will continue to advocate Floridians to invest in a Singapore that invested in me.

It is Singapore that allied with the United States during the cold war, is our partner in free trade, uses much of its huge Sovereign Wealth Fund to invest in the United States and its partner countries and in return encourages U.S. foreign investment by offering low (sometimes no) tax rates on income earned in Singapore.

Very importantly, Singapore kindly provides a safe harbor and home to the U.S. Navy’s sailors and ships of the 7th Naval Fleet.

With love, friendship, and respect,

Richard Junnier, Esq. (NUS Alumni, 2009 cohort)

Richard Junnier's 2009 gradation ceremony at the National University of Singapore College of Law with an LL.M. (a legal post-doctorial masters' degree) in International and Comparative Law.

Richard Junnier’s 2009 gradation ceremony at the National University of Singapore College of Law with an LL.M. (a legal post-doctorial masters’ degree) in International and Comparative Law.

Richard Junnier with Simon Chesterman at the reception celebrating the graduation of the 2009 NYU@NUS cohort. Mr. Chesterman is currently Dean of the National University of Singapore and is considered one of the world's foremost experts on International Law. Richard was his research assistant.

Richard Junnier with Simon Chesterman at the reception celebrating the graduation of the 2009 NYU@NUS cohort. Mr. Chesterman is currently Dean of the National University of Singapore and is considered one of the world’s foremost experts on International Law. Richard was his research assistant.