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March 2016

Spit here at your own risk

A modest prediction: Two companies at the forefront of DNA testing for individuals will soon go from promising to virtually out of business now that law enforcement agencies have noticed they exist. From The Associated Press:

“Ancestry.com and competitor 23andme report a total of five requests from law agencies for the genetic material of six individuals in their growing databases of hundreds of thousands. … The company law enforcement demands for genetic information are rare. But privacy advocates and experts are concerned that genetic information turned over for medical, family history research could be misused by investigators – and that the few known cases could be the start of a trend.”

The potential for abuse by cops and prosecutors is immense. The AP story cited a case in which Idaho Falls police “believed” an Ancestry.com donor might be related to someone wanted in connection with a rape. A warrant was obtained, and the man’s son was interrogated for six hours – at his home in New Orleans – before giving up a DNA sample that definitively cleared him a month later. Until then, he remained under suspicion.

The Idaho Falls cops say the investigator who obtained the warrant has retired; otherwise they aren’t talking. (Nobody asked how many perps they tend to collar in New Orleans.) More from the AP:

“ ‘Privacy is our primary concern,’ said 23andme privacy offer Kate Black, who said the company has never turned over genetic information despite receiving four court orders. But Black said 23andme has so far convinced investigators that the company’s data won’t help their cases – and the agencies have withdrawn their demands.”

Keep in mind that government DNA databases already cover millions of people. If you insist on spitting for Ancestry.com or 23andme, mistakes could be made. The cops and prosecutors won’t care.

Well done, Maury Povich

Maury Povich, he of the “Who’s the daddy?” brand of talk show, long ago lost credibility as a journalist. That said, he is from good stock. His father was sports editor at The Washington Post for four decades. Back in the day Maury excelled in the TV business as a reporter and anchorman, along the line marrying another star, Connie Chung.

Those facing the career decisions he faced likely would have done exactly the same things he did. But not everyone starts a weekly newspaper in an obscure county in Montana. From the Columbia Journalism Review:

“Creating a new outlet for traditional local journalism was a way to honor his father’s legacy, Povich said. He chose Kalispell, which was already served by a local daily, as the base for his new enterprise because he and Chung had bought a home in the area in 1998. They hired Kellyn Brown, then a 28-year-old city editor at The Bozeman Daily Chronicle, to launch the paper. The first edition of the [Flathead] Beacon, totaling 24 pages, was published in May 2007.”

From the celebrity owners on down, this weekly tabloid is anything but typical. It averages 64 pages per issue, prints 25,000 copies and draws about 100,000 unique visitors a month to its website. It has all the local news you’d expect plus stories like a Super Bowl week visit with Flathead County native Brock Osweiler, an NFL quarterback. (Brock didn’t get into the big game as some guy named Manning hogged the glory.)

Maury, at 77, gets the final word: “I look at the Beacon like a father who’s very proud of a child. I’m here to help you, but as you get older you’re going to have to figure out some things on your own.”

A special snowflake’s torment

A professor at the University of North Dakota, Heidi Czerwiec, recently suffered through a harrowing experience. Seeing two young men wearing camo and carrying guns on the university quad, she dived under her desk and called 911.

You guys are too quick; you know the punchline. The college guys were not representatives of ISIS, nor from any law enforcement agency, nor stray hunters of grouse or pheasant who made a wrong turn. They were from the campus ROTC unit.

Ms. Czerwiec’s bosses were not pleased with the overreaction and likely even were less so when she fired off a letter to the editor of the Grand Forks Herald. Told that scheduled ROTC drills would continue over the objection of special snowflake poets who teach English, she huffed:

“I guess I’ll be calling 911 for the next couple weeks – and I will. Every time. It’s not my job to decide whether people carrying guns at school are an actual threat. It’s my job to teach and to get home to my family.

“It’s already highly inappropriate to conduct unnecessary military maneuvers in the middle of the quad. But with school shootings on the increase and tensions at UND running high, it’s especially irresponsible. We’re already under financial and emotional attack. We don’t need to feel under physical attack, too.”

Geez, and I thought the biggest problems up there were the price of shale oil and the possibility of freezing to death. Now I’ve got to add college professors who double down on stupid. Ms. Czerwiec will be heartened to know that North Dakota does not allow concealed carry on campuses. But there is an exception — if the weapon is in a locked vehicle. Hope one doesn’t jump out and scare her to death.

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