The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Strange 4th Amendment Bedfellows

When I agree with Antonin Scalia (and so do justices Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor), and disagree with Stephen Breyer (who agrees with Thomas and Alito), something has gone wrong with the universe. On Monday, the inversion of reality happened when the Supreme Court announced its decision in Maryland v. King, finding that police can go fishing with your DNA:

The police may take DNA samples from people arrested in connection with serious crimes, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday in a 5-to-4 decision.

The federal government and 28 states authorize the practice, and law enforcement officials say it is a valuable tool for investigating unsolved crimes. But the court said the testing was justified by a different reason: to identify the suspect in custody.

Justice Scalia went apeshit, and for once I think he's absolutely correct to do so:

With rigor and wit, Scalia meticulously demolishes this made-up claim. “The Court’s assertion that DNA is being taken, not to solve crimes, but to identify those in the State’s custody, taxes the credulity of the credulous,” Scalia begins. He then describes the “actual workings of the DNA search at issue here” on which the Court is “strangely silent.”

Scalia concludes his inspiring dissent by noting the tremendous stakes in the case, and the dangers posed by the Court’s uncritical approval of DNA testing of arrestees—a decision that will affect the “nearly one-third of Americans [who] will be arrested for some offense by age 23.” He predicts that although “the Court disguises the vast (and scary) scope of its holding by promising a limitation it cannot deliver”—namely, that DNA testing will be limited to those arrested for serious crimes such as felonies—the logic of the decision would, in fact, allow DNA tests to “identify” those arrested for traffic offenses. He then directly addresses American citizens, in rousing words that he read from the bench: "Make no mistake about it: As an entirely predictable consequence of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national DNA database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason.” And he ends with one of his most memorable images: “Perhaps the construction of such a genetic panopticon is wise. But I doubt that the proud men who wrote the charter of our liberties would have been so eager to open their mouths for royal inspection.”

I honestly don't get Breyer joining the majority on this one, though. That's just weird.

Largest. Tornado. Ever.

The twister—as much as a 4200-meter-wide monster can twist—that hit Oklahoma last week broke all kinds of records:

In the rare category of EF5 tornadoes, the one on Friday in the El Reno area was “super rare,” a National Weather Service meteorologist said Tuesday.

The Weather Service updated its estimate Tuesday of the tornado that struck El Reno Friday, determining it was an EF5, the strongest classification for a twister. It was a record 4.2 km wide and tracked across 26 km.

During Friday's storm, the University of Oklahoma RaXPol — a rapid-scan, polarimetric mobile Doppler radar — measured winds greater than 475 km/h at several times and locations within 150 m of the ground along the south side of subvortices on the south side of the tornado.

Fortunately (there's an understatement), the tornado struck a rural area some distance from Oklahoma City, and no one got seriously hurt That's one hell of a storm.

Spectralia publicity photos

On Sunday the Spectralia Theater Company had me shoot their publicity stills for this summer's Comedy of Errors production. The play goes up this summer at several Chicago Park District parks as part of the Bard in the Parks program.

Doctor Pinch (Don Johnson) and Antipholous of Ephesus (Peter Ash):

The Courtezan of Ephesus (Mary-Kate Arnold):

The play opens June 29th at Ravenswood Manor Park in Chicago.

Doctor Who rumors and alternate history

On the heels of the BBC's announcement that Matt Smith will leave Doctor Who after this year's Christmas Special, some outlets have reported that Helen Mirren may play the 12th (13th?) Doctor. The rumors are almost certainly false, but it's fun to imagine.

Others have imagined female Doctors, including two blokes back in February who wondered, what if they were all women?

10th Doctor-Sue Perkins

Fans still reeling from the 9th Doctor’s surprise exit were more than a little surprised to see Sue Perkins step into the role. In stark contrast to Suranne Jones’ mercurial, often grim take on the role, Perkins brought a lightness of touch and cheerful eccentricity that hadn’t been seen since the Grenfell years. Complete with brainyspecs, a new found joy in her work and remarkable chemistry with Rose, the 10th Doctor was a massive hit. The burgeoning romance between Rose and the Doctor, heartbreakingly cut short in ‘Doomsday’ and revived in ‘Journey’s End’, was praised by fans and critics alike, as Perkins became the first openly gay Doctor in the show’s history. Her final episodes, featuring the return of Sheridan Smith as the demented Mistress (Having regenerated from an award-winning cameo by Dame Judi Dench as Professor Yana), remain two of the highest rated episodes in the show’s history.

The 50th Anniversary Special will air November 23rd; the Christmas Special, December 25th.

Comedy of Errors photo shoot

Yesterday I had a fun but abbreviated time at Jarvis Beach doing publicity stills for Spectralia Theater's Comedy of Errors. The play goes up this summer at several Chicago Park District parks as part of the Bard in the Parks program.

I've just finished the first batch of shots, so I haven't got clearance from the production to publish any yet. I can, however, post a shot of the least helpful photo assistant on the planet, here lying down next to Spectralia member Don Johnson:

BBCA made me a little sad yesterday, but I'll get over it

BBC America launched the Canadian sci-fi series Orphan Black in March, and I got immediately hooked. Last night both the show and the Beeb gave me mild disappointments, neither one entirely unexpected.

First, the big disappointment: Doctor Who star Matt Smith announced he's leaving the series after this year's Christmas Special. Four years as the 11th (12th?) Doctor is a lot when you're a talented 27-year-old actor. His departure was inevitable, of course, but he'll be missed.

Now Orphan Black. The first nine episodes built up Sarah Manning's world as she discovered she was one of at least eight clones (all of them played by brilliant Canadian Tatiana Maslany), possibly more, somehow connected to the mysterious Dr. Aldous Leekie (Matt Frewer).

The series has entertained me every week, with consistently solid writing and directing, and even taking Maslany off the league table for a fair comparison, above-average acting. Then last night happened. I still really like the show, don't misunderstand. But series creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett had too much to do in 46 minutes, which, while predictable, was still a little disppointing.

Before I go into details (with spoilers), it's important to point out that stuffing a full season into 10 episodes, and needing to set up the next season, is challenging for any writer. Sometimes writers take shortcuts. Sometimes they have bad days. Manson did his best, but a couple of things didn't work for me at all, and took me out of the story.

Cosima and Delphine discovering the hidden message

Near the end of the episode, Delphine and clone Cosima realize that the DNA watermarks hidden in each of the clones's genomes may contain real information. Now, I understand that most people haven't a clue about DNA, or how it works, requiring some Basil Exposition action; but these two characters have Ph.D.-level biology skills.

Cosima and Delphine would know that DNA has only four possible base pairs the way a software developer would know that 1 and 1 is 1. In a synthetic DNA sequence, that gives you either two or four possible values for each base pair, depending on whether you care about which side of the strand a nucleotide is on. (If you care, you can get 2 bits out of each base pair. Trust me.)

This means you can use DNA to store binary data. This is treated as a revelation. But it's obvious. Not only is it obvious, it's been done.

So what annoyed me? The scene's emphasis. It's not shocking that the clones have watermarks; it's shocking that someone was able to do this to their DNA in 1983.

The clones' reactions to the hidden message

The same scene concludes with Cosima and Delphine discovering that the synthetic DNA sequence encodes a text snippet implying that the clones are patented. From this Cosima concludes that they're property, which motivates Sarah and Paul to bolt from their meeting with Rachel Duncan.

Two things bothered me: first, as a matter of law, people can't be property. The UK abolished slavery in 1833, the U.S. in 1865, and Canada never allowed it as an independent nation. So even if the clones' DNA could be patented, that would not make them "property" in any way.

Also, even if the clones' DNA could be patented, they're all 28 or 29 years old. Patents taken out before 1989 in Canada have 17-year lifespans; in the UK it's 20 years. So the clones' DNA would be in the public domain at this point, regardless.

But human beings can't be patented; only processes based on human DNA can be patented. The question of whether fragments of human DNA can be patented is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court with a decision expected this month.

Notwithstanding everything I've just written, in order to get a patent, you have to file a public patent application. So, it's 1983, and you're about to implant at least eight clone embryos into unsuspecting surrogate mothers, some of whom will go on to believe that the resulting children are their own biological offspring. And you want to file a written patent application with the USPTO?

My conclusion from all this is that the clones were so worked up by this point—Sarah has to be on her last nerve, and well along the road to serious PTSD—that none of them stopped to think, "how the hell does the evil corporation intend to enforce this patent?" The corporation doesn't intend to enforce the patent; they intend to continue their illegal and unethical research, which requires the clones' cooperation. The fewer idiots in this plot, the better the chances that everyone gets what he or she wants.

Which leads me to:

Why did Paul and Sarah bolt the interview?

Again, I have to accept that Sarah is so far out of her depth and so stressed out that she would have trouble counting to 20 in one try, let alone working out the best way to gain tactical advantage over Leekie. Remember, she's just lost her birth mother and killed her "twin" sister. After being attacked by said twin. Probably with a nasty concussion, a cracked rib or two, and other injuries. Still, Paul knows who's in the room they're heading to, because he was just in it. He's armed, and so is Sarah. What does he suppose the two lawyers will do to them once Sarah signs the agreement? (An agreement which, because it's predicated on an illegal premise, is completely unenforceable.)

The last minute of the season, then, became an idiot plot, leaving only one question: who would abduct Sarah's daughter? I wouldn't suspect Leekie, if he's not an idiot. He's going to need Sarah's cooperation if he hopes to derive any useful information from Kira.

Predictions for Season Two

All right, Manson and Fawcett got a little hurried in the last few pages of the script. But now I think it's possible to see the larger pattern. Here are my guesses:

  • Sarah and the other clones were created to be super-soldiers. All of them have displayed above-average intelligence, adaptability, and some degree of sociopathy. They're also physically stronger than they look, and seem to heal a lot faster than normal people. Kira, certainly, has some strange characteristics. And with the military already aware of them—where did Paul come from, after all?—there's a clear path through that garden.
  • Mrs. S. escaped with Kira when Leekie's people tried to take them.
  • Detective Deangelis is working for Leekie. Art, though, is pretty much who he appears to be, and will make good on his promise to protect Sarah.
  • It's a long time until next spring. But I'm looking forward to Season 2.

I like Orphan Black. The season finale got me thinking and speculating about what will happen next—a sign of a good story. So, naturally, I've pre-ordered the Blu-Ray, so I can see what I missed during the first pass.


After a two-and-a-half hour rain delay, last night's Cubs game ticked along with the Cubs ahead 3-1 until the last time I checked the score before going to bed.

This morning I woke up to a 12-4 Cubs loss. Why? Marmol, again:

After escaping two bases-loaded jams early, the Cubs were unable to do so when they needed it most, as D-backs first baseman Paul Goldschmidt launched a tie-breaking grand slam off Carlos Marmol (2-3) in the eighth inning to make it 8-4.

"He's a good hitter," Marmol said. "I left one up there and he took advantage."

Marmol walked Willie Bloomquist and Didi Gregorius and allowed a double to Gerardo Parra before Goldschmidt's slam.

I'm going to the game today. The only good thing about Marmol's loss yesterday is that he won't pitch today's game.

Priorities in the Illinois House

Sometimes, the Illinois General Assembly reminds us that Molly Ivins had it right: the only state legislature worse at their jobs than Illinois' is Texas'.

Yesterday, the only legislature we have adjourned for the summer, after passing the least popular bill on its agenda this year and failing to pass one of the most popular:

Illinois had appeared poised to become the 13th state to approve same-sex marriage. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn promised to sign the bill. Democrats held veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate. President Barack Obama called for its passage during a Thursday night fundraiser in his home city, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was a major backer as well.

Under the bill, the definition of marriage in Illinois would have changed from an act between a man and a woman to one between two people. Civil unions could have been converted to marriages within a year of the law going on the books. The legislation would not have required religious organizations to perform a marriage of gay couples, and church officials would not have been forced to allow their facilities to be used by gay couples seeking to marry.

But as the hours wore on, the optimism and energy dissolved in the face of strong opposition from Catholic and conservative African-American church groups, leading [Rep. Greg] Harris [D-Chicago] to rise on the floor and tearfully announce that he would not call the bill — there wasn't enough support after all.

Thank you, churches, for confusing conservatism and Christianism once again. And thank you, Illinois House, for cowering behind procedure in the face of criticism from a small minority of constituents. Failing to take a vote means we actually don't know which of our representatives would have chosen to side with history and which ones with the past. Well-played, troglodytes, well-played.

Oh, and the legislature also failed to pass pension reform, about which the bond markets will probably have something to say on Monday.

Good thing it's now legal to carry concealed guns in Illinois. Because nothing keeps your kids safe (from gay germs, one must assume) like a .380 in your purse.