Monday, September 15, 2014

Character Insight No. 112: Birthdays!

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here.


Welcome back to Character Insight! This week, I am recording this segment on my birthday, so why not come out of the long series of movie villains with a look at how birthdays add character to Star Trek? After all, what defines characters more than how we celebrate our aging process?
 Malcolm Reeds birthday cake
("Surprise Parties...still lame in the 24th Century") 

Despite officially only being celebrated by humans, Ferengi, and Krenim in Star Trek lore, birthdays and surprise parties appear with regularity on Star Trek shows. There's nothing more human than pushing your culture on everyone you meet in the spirit of patriotism, colonialism, or discipleship, the Prime Directive notwithstanding. So we get to see that humans still love their presents and parties on birthday occasions

And just like today, there are plenty of weak gifts forced upon people who don't want to think about aging or how old they are. For example, Captain Kirk receives in The Wrath of Khan an antique pair of eyeglasses in an era of medicine perfecting eyesight, as well as an antique copy of A Tale of Two Cities, one of the most boring books you could offer especially when it would be available anytime digitally. But in a cute twist of fate, Kirk pawns that bad gift when time traveling to save the whales because he knows he will once again receive the glasses someday from Dr. McCoy.

Of course, with humans forcing their birthday traditions on their poor crewmates, it does lead to some fun grumpy character lines. Worf is not amused by many things involving merriment, but especially not a surprise birthday party thrown for him in the episode Parallels:

Quote: "(Picard) How old are you?  (Worf) I am...old enough"

Worf is not the only one who can play the grumpy birthday card, as Vulcans are like Klingons and apparently do not celebrate birthdays. When your life expectancy is well beyond 100 years, each individual year probably becomes less significant. But regardless, that does not excuse Mr Grumpyface Tuvok and his nonplussed response to Janeway giving him a candle-laden cake on his birthday in the episode Fury.

Quote: "(Janeway) You're supposed to blow out the candles.  (Tuvok) That is not a Vulcan tradition.  (Janeway) Well...?  (Tuvok) blows out was a fire hazard"

Some cultures take to the birthday parties more readily, such as Kes in Voyager. Of course, when you only live for a small number of years, it makes more sense to celebrate reaching another milestone. That doesn't stop humans like Dr. Bahsir from finding importance or life turning points at certain birthdays such as 30, even with the presumably longer lifespans of humans 300 years from now. If nothing else, birthday celebrations are an interesting social quirk of humanity that leads to some interesting interactions with other species, another good aspect of Trek. Of course, it would be nice if these interactions were focused on more than the silly surprise parties, but it is a television show after all.

At least birthday parties still have cake, meaning the indulgences in a sweet tooth or some favorite flavor is still a thing 300 years from now. And why not, with replication technology at hand? The writers gave some characters some interesting flavor choices for cakes, at least, including Jimbalian Fudge for Kes, Pineapple for Malcolm Reed, chocolate for Deanna Troi, and Cellular Peptide for Worf ("with mint frosting"). OK that last one isn't truly a birthday cake, but anytime you can play the Worf cake clip, you simply do. 

And so, as I revel in a piece of my favorite Lemon cake later today, let's raise a glass to silly human traditions and birthdays. It's good to know we will still be having silly fun and cake in the 24th Century. Birthdays are yet another piece of character in the Star Trek universe, although we will return to the more conventional character profiles again next week. 

Until next time, live long and prosper...

Monday, September 8, 2014

Legal Geek No. 23 - Delaware Data Destruction

This is the latest installment in a series of "Legal Geek" articles and audio segments regarding current events and trends where the geek world crosses streams with legal land.  An audio version will appear on the Current Geek podcast, available for direct download here.

Welcome back to Legal Geek. This week, we take a look at the new personal data destruction law put into effect in Delaware and how this may be the most important development in the hot field of privacy law to date. 

(This looks like a fun way to destroy data, but is it effective? 

A few weeks ago, Delaware's legislators and governor signed into law a new data destruction policy that requires complete destruction of personal identifying information held by companies after it is no longer being used. More specifically, the law states that entities must "destroy…a consumer's personal identifying information within its custody and control that is no longer to be retained by the commercial shredding, erasing, or otherwise destroying or modifying the personal identifying information in those records to make it entirely unreadable or indecipherable through any means."

This sounds good and it follows the lead of many other states which have put in consumer privacy protection laws, but is it the biggest win for consumer privacy in the war against identity theft? I think it is this important for a number of reasons. 

First, the law applies to a wide variety of data sets that would be maintained by companies, as any data set including personal identifying information is included in the destruction obligation. With personal identifying information requiring only a non-encrypted consumer's name in combination with any other personal item such as social security number, credit card number, tax information, or bank account number, this should ensure any possible consumer data will be subject to destruction immediately upon the company's intent to stop using the information. The law also has broad applicability to paper and electronic records, including those stored in the cloud.

Second, the law as written appears to broadly apply to all companies subject to Delaware law, which would include the nearly 50% of companies in the U.S. which have chosen to incorporate in Delaware because of favorable business and tax laws there. The law has no exceptions for size, revenue, or charitable status, so all of these companies would now be subject to these tough privacy laws for protecting consumers. 

Third, the law has bite on the enforcement side, allowing for the Attorney General to bring regulatory actions as well as allowing for private lawsuits with increased treble damages possible for individual consumers in court. The law applies clear encouragement for companies to destroy documents and information securely, limiting the chance that careless or negligent actions will lead to mass amounts of identity theft. 

Bottom Line: companies are storing more and more consumer private data these days, and the attacks of hackers leading to identity theft are becoming more common. This law in Delaware encourages either encryption of all consumer data or destruction of data in a responsible and prompt manner when not being used, which should limit the leaks and openings most often exploited by identity thieves and hackers. Considering the potential coverage of about half of U.S. companies, this is the best state law consumer advocates could ever hope for and is a huge win in the war against identity theft.

Thanks for reading. Please provide feedback and legal-themed questions as segment suggestions to me on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy or in the comments below.

Character Insight No. 111: Khan (the original)

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here.


Welcome back to Character Insight! This week, we complete our length countdown of best Trek movie villains with the top spot. Who else could be number 1, but Khan Noonien Singh from The Wrath of Khan? 
 Khan Noonien Singh, 2285.jpg
("Ahh, the magic of the Montalban") 

As with the John Harrison Khan of the reboot movies, the original Khan is a genetically engineered human who was developed to help run the world countries in the 20th Century. However, in this timeline his re-appearance happens in deep space as Kirk's Enterprise finds the sleeper ship SS Botany Bay in the Mutara sector with all 84 occupants aboard in stasis. 

Kirk's boarding of Khan's ship triggers his stasis unit to revive him. After Dr. McCoy saves Khan's life, Khan temporarily takes over the ship in an attempt to go take over a local colony, but Kirk is able to fight Khan and subdue him. The Enterprise leaves the human augments on Ceti Alpha V, a habitable world, to start a new life and colony apart from society.

Unfortunately, that planet became a desert wasteland a few years later when Ceti Alpha VI has a cataclysm and alters the orbit of Ceti Alpha V. Indeed, this planet is mistaken for Ceti Alpha VI when the USS Reliant and Pavel Chekov come back to scout an apparent unhabitable planet to test the Genesis Device. Khan uses some local eels to make Captain Terrell and Chekov vulnerable to following all suggestions by Khan. Khan and his crew thus highjack the Reliant and try to track down the Genesis Device while also luring Captain Kirk in a plot to gain revenge for his exile on a wasteland planet.

Indeed, Khan quotes from Moby Dick quite often, a nice allegory by the writers to the crazed obsessive nature and psychology of Khan and his revenge plots. 

Quote: "He tasks me! He tasks me, and I shall have him! I'll chase him 'round the moons of Nibia and 'round the Antares maelstrom and 'round Perdition's FLAMES before I give him up." – Khan

Khan then ambushes the Enterprise by faking communications trouble before firing phasers on the Enterprise to knock out many ship systems including propulsion. Kirk knows more about starship battle though, as he uses codes to override the Reliant's tactical system from outside to fire a few weak shots at the Reliant to take out photon torpedos and the warp power, then he goes into the Mutara nebula to force the battle into a sensor-less three-dimensional battle. 

Khan does not appreciate the 3-dimensional submarine-like nature of this battle, which allows the Enterprise to flank the Reliant and attack from behind to win the battle. Khan tries to activate the Genesis device as a bomb to sacrifice himself and kill the Enterprise, but Spock repairs the warp core damage just in time, at the cost of his life, to enable the Enterprise to escape for another day. 

Quote: "From hell's heart, I stab at thee...For hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee..." - Khan

Khan is one of only two villains to successfully kill off a main character, the other being Dr. Soran in Generations. Khan is also only one of two villains to appear multiple times in live action against Kirk's Enterprise, the other being Harry Mudd, who also got a shoutout in the reboot Into Darkness. Khan has a descendant Noonian Singh who redirects his efforts away from human augments to perfecting artificial intelligence, leading to the creation of Data. So the line of augments does eventually provide some serious good in the Star Trek universe. 

This villain has it all: a salty history with Kirk, deep and interesting motivations for his crazy revenge obsession, infinitely quotable, an outstanding acting performance, a suspenseful and tension-filled battle with the Enterprise, and true impact on the crew of the Enterprise. He also brings Star Trek another ethical/moral dilemma of the times, this time the risks of genetic engineering, and it makes you think. That's when Star Trek is at it's best, when it faces the biggest and toughest questions of humanity. 

For more on this great character and his back story, check out the trilogy of novels by Greg Cox including The Eugenics Wars Volumes I and II, and To Reign in Hell, The Exile of Khan Noonien Singh. 

Ricardo Montalban played Khan in these appearances. He passed away in 2009, but in his 88-year life, he has many memorable film and TV appearances including Fantasy Island and The Naked Gun. 

Until next time, live long and prosper...

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Character Insight No. 110: The Borg Queen

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here.


Welcome back to Character Insight, coming to you this week from the beach in North Carolina!  While cooling off my sunburn, let's take a look at the next villain on our countdown, a lady who has a complexion even paler than my own. That's The Borg Queen from Star Trek First Contact, who comes in at number 2 on our best Trek movie villains countdown. 
("Data, don't trust that face!") 

The Borg Queen represents a central nexus or representative member of the Borg Collective, introduced for the first time during the conflict where the Borg try to travel back in time to stop Zephram Cochrane's first warp flight for the human race, which eventually led to the formation of the Federation. 

In order to assimilate the Enterprise and finish her plot, the Borg Queen tempts Data with the possibility of becoming partly human, grafting a real human forearm onto his body. For most of the movie, it appears angry Picard with a gun and his crew will lose this conflict at the hands of Data. But Data proves to be loyal to his longtime Enterprise crew in the end, as he causes the torpedoes aimed at the Phoenix warp-capable starship to miss right before destroying the Queen's organic parts with warp core plasma coolant. 

Quote: "Resistance is Futile" (Data)

Her role is relatively controversial because the Borg were previously presented as a large collective hivemind with no leaders, and indeed they had to assimilate Captain Picard to serve as a spokesman during one of the initial conflicts with the Enterprise. But the movie writers struggled without a lead villain, so this queen became a new facet of the Borg Collective. When asked by Data for an explanation of how the queen relationship works, the response adds little clarity:

Quote: "bring order to chaos..."

The concept of the Borg Queen was further developed in the Voyager series and the TNG books. Essentially, the Borg hive mind operates with better decision-making efficiency when a queen is active, but the collective still functions without the queen when one is lost. This explanation kind of undermines the entire point of stopping the Queen in First Contact, but it at least harmonizes better with how the Borg were shown earlier in TNG. 

The quality of a villain can often be evaluated based on how many different stories can be told using the villain, and the top 5 of this countdown is mostly characters that show up in both TV episodes as well as movies. The Borg Queen just misses the top spot because while she is a truly memorable and evil representation of the greatest TNG villain race, the lack of explanation for her sudden appearance contrary to what we knew about the Borg before First Contact is a lazy writing choice taking slightly away from this villain. Still, the Borg and its Queen stand beside Q as the quintessential antagonists for Picard's crew and this #2 ranking reflects that.

Alice Krige played the Borg Queen in the movie, and she reprised the role one of the times the character appears in Voyager. She can recently be seen Thor: The Dark World and also in the new television series Tyrant.

Until next time, live long and prosper...

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Legal Geek No. 22: Race Riots and Constitutional Rights

This is the latest installment in a series of "Legal Geek" articles and audio segments regarding current events and trends where the geek world crosses streams with legal land.  An audio version will appear on the Current Geek podcast, available for direct download here.

Welcome back to Legal Geek. This week, we take a look at the ongoing protests in Ferguson, Missouri and whether constitutional rights are being infringed by acts of the local police and government in that area.

(Tear Gas being used, image courtesy Wikimedia user loavesofbread)  

Following the fatal shooting of black teenager Michael Brown by a police officer on August 9 in this suburb of St. Louis, a series of memorials and protests began the next day. The largely white police department was believed to have acted too harshly in trying to apprehend Brown, and the conflicts have escalated multiple times over the past two weeks.

The highly militaristic gear and responses to protests used by the local police departments in Ferguson have been largely shunned in the media and across the nation. This period of race riots has become the most notable in the U.S. since the 2001 race riots in Cincinnati and the 1992 race riots in Los Angeles following the Rodney King incident. With social media now a factor, the world is watching closely and some organizations like the Islamic Republic News Agency and the Russian Foreign Ministry have called the U.S. and Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama hypocrites for ordering other nations to provide human rights while not taking care of the same problems within their own borders.

However, have these police departments infringed on constitutional rights of the people in Ferguson by the actions taken to date?

The first amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the right of the public to peaceably assemble together and also protects the freedom of the press to cover events. Missouri governor Jay Nixon has imposed nightly curfews in Ferguson to try and curtail the violence and riots, which is a strategy that worked to end the week-long 2001 Cincinnati riots. But this curfew has led local police to arrest numerous journalists trying to cover the story as well as organizers of peaceful protests.

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution and Supreme Court decisions in the 1930's (Near vs. Minnesota and DeJonge vs. Oregon) have incorporated these two constitutional rights so as to apply to state and local governmental agencies, such as those acting in Ferguson. By imposing a curfew across the board and enforcing it without acknowledging the exceptions used for workers in the Cincinnati curfew of 2001, the Ferguson police are almost certainly infringing the freedom of the press right under the 1st Amendment.

Even Barack Obama has publicly come out against some of the actions that have occurred against the press. The curfew likely also is infringing the right to peacefully assemble, but that is more of a gray area with the protesters frequently turning to violence which can and must be curtailed by the police for public safety reasons.

Bottom Line:If the actions of governor Nixon and the local authorities is ever challenged in court, it is hard to see how their actions will be deemed anything but unconstitutional. Until police forces are more representative of the communities in which they operate and operate with the utmost caution at all times, these sad incidents and the subsequent protests will continue to happen over time. Hopefully future incidents can be handled better and in compliance with the U.S. Constitution, which is the most important mandate of our government.

Thanks for reading. Please provide feedback and legal-themed questions as segment suggestions to me on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy or in the comments below.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Character Insight No. 109: General Chang

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here.


Welcome back to Character Insight!  This week, we profile General Chang from Star Trek VI, who comes in at number 3 on our best Trek movie villains countdown. 
 Chang (General).jpg
("One distinctive bald Klingon, right there") 

General Chang was chief of staff to Chancellor Gorkon, who led the Klingon High Council. Chang earned the sobriquet "the Merciless" after commanding many punitive attacks on Klingon rebels and others who dared oppose the Klingon empire. It was rumored that Chang lost his left eye in one of these battles, leading to his distinctive eye patch. 

But what makes Chang even more memorable is his strong fondness for Shakespeare, quoting the bard at every possible opportunity. 

Quote: "You do prefer it this way, don't you, as it was meant to be? No peace in our time. "Once more unto the breach, dear friends."

Chang leads the plot to try and sabotage the peace talks between the Federation and the Klingons, joined of course by Admiral Cartwright and Lietenant Valeris, among others. He uses an experimental Klingon ship that can fire while cloaked to cast suspicion on Captain Kirk for the assassination of Gorkon, which he had Valeris perform. He then becomes a prosecutor against Kirk and Dr. McCoy in front of the Klingon courts, turning in a great legal entrapment of Kirk. 

Quote "Admiral Kirk was broken for taking matters into his own hands in defiance of regulations of the law. Do you deny being demoted for these charges? DON'T WAIT FOR THE TRANSLATION. Answer me now."

When Kirk and Bones are sentenced to life in prison on Rura Penthe, Chang again employs more bad guys led by Martia to try and get the Federation crewmates killed in an escape attempt. However, the escape works and Chang has to hunt down the Enterprise and do combat with it and Captain Sulu's Excelsior. 

General Chang: [over the public address speakers] "I am constant as the northern star."
Commander Leonard 'Bones' McCoy, M.D.: I'd give real money if he'd shut up.

Unfortunately for Chang, the Enterprise crew is smarter than the average bear, as Uhura and Spock develop a way to cause a photon torpedo to track the plasma trail of his cloaked ship. And thus, Chang and his devious plot exit stage left, allowing the historic peace to happen. 

Quote: ""Tickle us, do we not laugh? Prick us, do we not bleed? Wrong us, shall we not revenge?"

Actor Christopher Plummer requested that he receive less prominent head ridges and makeup because he thought the look was not perfected well in previous iterations. Between his small ridges, bald head, and eye patch, General Chang looks more like a human than a Klingon. That actually syncs up well with his love of Shakespeare, although it does not jive well with other Klingons at the time. 

Chang's role is a lot like the historical German figure Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, who conspired to kill Adolf Hitler to stop a World War (but was unsuccessful). The depth and uniqueness of this character, plus an outstanding acting performance by Plummer, pushes this baddie into the top echelon of this countdown. This is easily the best of the Klingon villains, and it would be wrong to have an iconic race much farther away from the top of this list. 

As previously mentioned, Christopher Plummer played Chang. His best role likely came in the animated movie Up, although he also has memorable performances in A Beautiful Mind and The Sound of Music. Plummer continues to act today, some 60 years after his debut in 1953.

Until next time, live long and prosper...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Legal Geek No. 21: The Legal Effects of Suicide

This is the latest installment in a series of "Legal Geek" articles and audio segments regarding current events and trends where the geek world crosses streams with legal land.  An audio version will appear on the Current Geek podcast, available for direct download here.

Welcome back to Legal Geek. This week, we honor the recently-passed Robin Williams and take a look at whether there are any legal effects caused by the commission of suicide. 


On Monday, news broke that famous comedian and actor Robin Williams had died at the age of 63. He certainly made the world a better and happier place with his art, and he will be sorely missed. Sadly, it appears that his death was a suicide likely fueled by the depression he has battled with for many years. Even though the subject is hopelessly morbid, this begs the question: what, if anything, are the legal ramifications of suicide?

Certainly if you've ever looked over a life insurance policy, you are likely aware that most policies deny payout in the event of suicide, but only if that happens within a set time period in the contract such as the first two years the policy is in effect. While insurance payouts are hopefully not an issue for the family of Robin Williams, it is something to be aware of. This is just based on contract though, not the law itself. 

Almost all current laws dealing with suicide are criminal laws regarding assisting someone else commit suicide. Many states had laws on record making suicide itself a felony up through about the 1960's, but no state still has any such law on the books (and they were rarely, if ever, enforced back when these laws existed, because the person is already dead). Regardless, some states still hold that suicide is a common law crime, under judge made law, and this can bar damages recovery for the deceased's family in an ongoing lawsuit, in some circumstances. Essentially, this long shot is the only significant effect of suicide that may be legally binding on the survivors. 

There is no automatic loss of copyrights or other IP rights as a result of suicide. Indeed, the estate of someone artistic like Williams may very well hold some valuable copyrights for the next 70 years past his death, and this may be a continued revenue stream for his heirs for many years to come. So beware bloggers, you may want to be careful with using the copyrighted clips and pictures of Williams that will inevitably be shared like wildfire over the next few days and weeks. 

Bottom Line: Suicide and depression simply stink, and we lost a great one this week. Although his family will have plenty to grieve about in the coming months, at least this act carries essentially no adverse legal consequences for them. Let's hope we as a society find better ways to help those who need it in the future, as none of us should have to experience the devastation that is suicide. 

And Robin, we will miss you. "You ain't never had a friend like me." Indeed, we haven't.

Embedded image permalink
(copyright Carter Johnson, check out her stuff @carterejohnson)

Thanks for reading. Please provide feedback and legal-themed questions as segment suggestions to me on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy or in the comments below.