Monday, June 29, 2015

Character Insight No. 151: Doohan Takeover Voices, Part 1

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 
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Welcome back to Character Insight! This week, we take a look at a couple of the many recurring characters who showed up originally on TOS and then again on TAS, but the latter time being voiced by James Doohan instead of the original actor.


Robert Wesley, 2268.jpg
(Robert Wesley of the TOS version, courtesy memory-alpha.org)
 

One of the charming aspects about TAS was that thanks to limited budgets, there was not a lot of wiggle room to bring back guest actors for voice roles. Instead, James Doohan and Nichelle Nichols took on some addtional roles. Particularly in the case of Doohan, it showed his great range of voice talent.

Thus, there are a handful of callback characters who were played by other actors in TOS and then taken over by Doohan, and one of these is Commodore Robert Wesley from the TOS episode The Ultimate Computer. He's the commander of the Lexington in the war games that go bad thanks to the takeover of Enterprise by the M-5 supercomputer. His decision to not fire on the Enterprise when its shields go down was a gamble that paid off, thanks to Kirk getting the situation under control where others like Dr. Daystrom could not.

"Our compliments to the M-5 unit, and regards to Captain Dunsel. Wesley out."

After the stresses of this mission and being a commodore for 5 years, Wesley retired to be a governor of Mantilles, the most remote inhabited planet of the Federation at the time. In the TAS episode One of Our Planets is Missing, Wesley appears again in a rescue of the people of Mantilles from a cosmic cloud, albeit with a slightly different voice this time.

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White Rabbit, 2267.jpg
(The White Rabbit, courtesy memory-alpha.com)

Another character, albeit a stranger one, which also shows up in both series is the White Rabbit. This is a robotic representation of the character from Alice in Wonderland, a construct made by the Shore Leave Planet on the episode Shore Leave based on a stray thought from Dr. McCoy about that same story. As you would expect, the rabbit is chased by a girl named Alice and is always concerned about being late. 

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This Amusement Park Planet is visited again by the Enterprise in TAS in the episode Once Upon a Planet. After Alice catches up to the rabbit, they have lunch with McCoy, Sulu and a dragon. Because 1970's cartoons make sense, but once again Doohan took over the voicing for this character.

Barry Russo played Commodore Wesley in TOS, and his final and perhaps most famous role was in the original Hawaii Five-O, 25 years before his death in 2003.  William Blackburn played the White Rabbit in TOS, and he also played Lt. Hadley and acted as a stand in for Deforest Kelley in almost every other episode of TOS.

Until next time, let's be thankful for all the great work we received from Doohan during his life, even though he snubbed one of the best Futurama episodes ever.

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Feedback can be sent to me with future segment suggestions on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy. Until next time, live long and prosper...

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Legal Geek No. 48: SCOTUS Spiderman Decision Update and Texas's Tweeter Laureate

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.

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Welcome back to Legal Geek. This week, we update the result of when Spiderman and patent royalties went to the Supreme Court, and also look at an interesting title conferred on one Texas judge this month.





Back in December, this segment described the Supreme Court case from this term focusing on the patent law doctrine of banning any royalty payments past the 20 year expiration of a patent as compared to private contractual rights.  Specifically, a Spiderman web shooter toy creator was trying to enforce royalties against a third party Marvel when those royalties were not explicitly tied to the patent Marvel bought from him and the contract had no set termination date.

A couple weeks ago, the Supreme Court upheld the so called Brulotte Doctrine, maintaining the rigid prohibition of royalty payments beyond 20 years in the patent context. Considering this doctrine is 50 years old and the contract at issue was related to a patent transfer, perhaps we should not be surprised. However, I had guessed incorrectly in December that this case was taken up by the Court to trim away a bit of the overreaching of patent law into private contractual agreements, so the result is a bit of a surprise at least to me.

Of course, for the many comic nerds among us, the important thing is Marvel wins. Web shooter toys for everyone!

Also, the majority opinion written by Justice Kagan sneaks in a few Spiderman and superhero quotes, which just shows at least some justices have a sense of humor. This includes a statement that "Patents endow their holders with certain superpowers, but only for a limited time."  She also notes that with 50 year old precedents, the authority to overrule such well-established precedents is an authority that should be exercised sparingly because...yes indeed, "with great power there must also come great responsibility."  Well done, Justice Kagan. 

Finally, a quick news item from early June was worth mentioning as well if you missed it. A Texas Supreme Court judge who is very active on twitter has been deemed the Official Texas Tweeter Laureate by the Texas House of Representatives. His mastery of social media is likely key to winning re-election in a state like Texas that elects judges, and it is refreshing to see a judge not getting into trouble for tweets as is usually the case when these two topics mix. Although the title is meaningless, let's hope for more Tweeter Laureates among the judiciary so we can all have a better understanding of the men and women behind the robes. 

Bottom Line: Although other cases will always receive more public attention than small patent law decisions, it is fun to see that even the Supreme Court can take itself a bit lightly when dealing with fun topics like Spiderman toys.


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Do you have a question? Send it in!  
Thanks for reading. Please provide feedback and legal-themed questions as segment suggestions to me on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy

Legal Geek No. 47: Obamacare Lives (Again)

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.

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Welcome back to Legal Geek. This week, we review one of the two highlight decisions of this Supreme Court term, the healthcare decision in King vs. Burwell issued earlier this week, including a dissent that is one for the ages.


Biden Obama
(photo credit - courtesy Gary Cameron, Reuters)

For the second time, a challenge to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, has reached the Supreme Court. Also for the second time, the administration earned a big victory against challengers to the healthcare law.

No matter what side of the healthcare debate you fall on, two things are notable about this decision: 

First, a 6-3 majority of the Court did not stop as expected at providing deference to an IRS rulemaking decision to allow for federal tax subsidies for insurance purchasers buying on federal and state insurance exchanges; instead, the majority deemed that this is an issue of deep economic and political significance that should not be left to mere IRS rulemaking, which could be overturned by another administration later. 

In other words, the Court decided that the correct reading of the legislative intent of the law must absolutely mandate that subsidies be made available to consumers in all 50 states, regardless of whether a state sets up an insurance exchange or relies solely on federal exchanges. Even though this holding is inconsistent with the way the law actually reads, the decision has bolstered this potential weak point in the healthcare law and has ensured that the critical financial subsidy backing portion of the law works for everyone.

This is yet another case where the more liberal mindset of legislative intent duked it out with the more conservative mindset of strict interpretation of laws as written. This time, the legislative intent won, but Congress and the Obama administration should be happy because the law was not as carefully drafted as it could have been to avoid such weak points, thereby leaving it open to the type of ideological debate common to many Supreme Court decisions.

The second notable part of this decision is the scathing dissent from Justice Scalia, who is a staunch supporter of strict constructionist law interpretation. One can immediately understand why he's not amused that a law that reads one way is being interpreted to mean something wholly different by the majority. 

His dissent is worth a read for entertainment value, but here are some highlights. He says words no longer have meaning if an exchange that is not established by a State is interpreted to be covered by "established by the state."  He characterizes the majority opinion as interpretive jiggery-pokery and PURE APPLESAUCE at different points. Yes, applesauce. He then caps the dissent by observing that the Court rewriting the law to fix it so that tax credits apply everywhere should make people start calling the law SCOTUScare instead of Obamacare.

Bottom Line: With two challenges now defeated, Obamacare appears to remain the signature achievement of the Obama presidency, and one that will not go away anytime soon.

Until next time, where we have something lighter planned, enjoy those big June Supreme Court decisions.

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Do you have a question? Send it in! 
Thanks for reading. Please provide feedback and legal-themed questions as segment suggestions to me on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy

Monday, June 15, 2015

Character Insight No. 150: The Best of Spock, in Abrams universe

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.
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Welcome back to Character Insight!  This week, we celebrate 150 segments the same way we've celebrated 50 and 100, with a profile on Spock! 

This is the character's fifth overall appearance which underlines his importance to this franchise. We did the Best of Leonard Nimoy Spock a few weeks ago in memoriam, so let's do another "Best Of" segment, this time with Spock of the alternate Abrams timeline.

Spock (alternate reality).jpg
(Did you want Nimoy Spock, Sheldon...well sorry, you'll have to live with Quinto Spock! Photo courtesy memory-alpha.wikia.com)

The first portion of Star Trek 2009 sets the background for how Spock and Kirk grow up and come together, and we see Spock's struggle dealing with fitting in with Vulcans, even upon acceptance to the Vulcan Science Academy:
Spock: Council... Ministers, I must decline. 
Vulcan Council President: No Vulcan has ever declined admission to this academy! 
Spock: Then, as I am half-human, your record remains untarnished. 
Sarek: Spock, you have made a commitment to honor the Vulcan way. 
Vulcan Council President: Why did you come before this council today? Was it to satisfy your emotional need to rebel? 
Spock: The only emotion I wish to convey is gratitude. Thank you, Ministers, for your consideration. 
[In a tone reserved for telling someone to 'Go to Hell'
Spock: Live long and prosper. 

When the planet Vulcan is destroyed, Spock struggles again with controlling his emotions, which is a good parallel to what we know about prime universe Spock:
Spock: I am as conflicted as I once was as a child. 
Sarek: You will always be a child of two worlds. I am grateful for this, and for you. 
Spock: I feel anger for the one who took Mother's life - an anger I *cannot* control. 

This timeline's Spock benefits from having prime timeline Spock as a guide and possible mentor, as evidenced by this exchange between both Spocks:
Spock Prime: Because you needed each other. I could not deprive you of the revelation of all that you could accomplish together, of a friendship that will define you both in ways you cannot yet realize. 
Spock: How did you persuade him to keep your secret? 
Spock Prime: He inferred that universe-ending paradoxes would ensue should he break his promise. 
Spock: You lied. 
Spock Prime: Aww... I... I implied. 
Spock: A gamble. 
Spock Prime: An act of faith. One I hope that you will repeat in your future in Starfleet. 

It would definitely be cool to have 50 years of hindsight when providing advice to yourself. One major divergence in this timeline is a romantic relationship with Uhura, which leads to some humorous dialogue where Spock has to deal with competing professional and personal interests:
Lt. Nyota Uhura: And while you are well aware of my own qualified desires to serve on the U.S.S. Enterprise, I'm assigned to the Farragut? 
Spock: It was an attempt to... 
[he glances around, keeping his voice low
Spock: ...avoid the appearance of favoritism. 
Lt. Nyota Uhura: [Adamantly] No. I'm assigned to the Enterprise. 
Spock: [He adjusts his roster list] Yes, I believe you are. 
Lt. Nyota Uhura: Thank you. 

The struggles of dealing with this relationship continue in Into Darkness, where Uhura feels betrayed by Spock for appearing non-feeling in a moment of near death until he provided the following explanation:
Spock: You misunderstand. It is true I chose not to feel anything upon realizing my own life was ending. As Admiral Pike was dying, I joined with his consciousness and experienced what he felt at the moment of his passing. Anger. Confusion. Loneliness. Fear. I had experiences those feelings before, multiplied exponentially on the day my planet was destroyed. Such a feeling is something I choose never to experience again. Nyota, you mistake my choice not to feel as a reflection of my not caring. Well, I assure you, the truth is precisely the opposite. 

As important as Uhura is to Spock in this timeline, Kirk is still even more so as a friend and co-leader of the Enterprise. We see this banter develop nicely between these two in Into Darkness:
James T. Kirk: The enemy of my enemy is my friend. 
Spock: An Arabic proverb attributed to a prince who was betrayed and decapitated by his own subjects. 
James T. Kirk: Well, still, it's a hell of a quote. 

That led to the climactic scene where Kirk and Spock end up cementing their friendship, despite it coming in the seeming context of one of their deaths:
James T. Kirk: I'm scared, Spock... help me not to be... how do you choose not to feel? 
Spock: I do not know. Right now, I am failing. 
James T. Kirk: I wanted you to know why I couldn't let you die... why I went back for you... 
Spock: Because you are my friend. 

And even though that was practically ripped off from the script of The Wrath of Khan, it still marks a top moment in Spock and Kirk's relationship in the new timeline. It will be interesting to see how Zachary Quinto's Spock further develops from here in next year's movie, especially relative to Kirk and Uhura.

Until next time, live long and prosper, Spock fans...

Character Insight No. 149: Alynna Nechayev

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 
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Welcome back to Character Insight! This week, we profile Admiral Alynna Nechayev, who appeared in several episodes of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.

Alynna Nechayev 2371.jpg

(The Admiral, courtesy memory-alpha.org)

Admiral Nechayev is an expert on the Cardassian Union and dealing with the issues that come up along that border. That makes her an important figure in the latter season of TNG, when she first shows up as a vice admiral and direct superior to Captain Picard.


It turns out, Picard and Nechayev don't get along all that well. It's pretty easy to see why, as Nechayev doesn't trust Picard's leadership skills and negotiation style when it comes to dealing with more adversarial races like the Cardassians and the Borg. She even relieves Picard of command of Enterprise for a mission when she deems Edward Jellico to be a better expert on negotiating a treaty with the Cardassians. 

As you might expect, Riker doesn't take kindly to this either:
From the episode Chain of Command, Part 1:
Riker: "Admiral, with all due respect, it's not necessary to give Captain Jellico command of the Enterprise just to conduct a negotiation."
Nechayev: "I disagree. The Enterprise will be in a dangerous situation and I want someone on the bridge who has a great deal of experience with the Cardassians. No offense, commander, but that's not you."


After Nechayev is promoted to fleet admiral the next year, Picard tries to make amends with her by buying her a favorite: Bulgarian canap├ęs. Although the relationship is still pretty cold, at least Nechayev begins to respect Picard more and understand him more even when they continue to come to loggerheads over details of a signed non-aggression treaty.

Although the Enterprise only occasionally cuts into the Cardassian and related story lines, Nechayev serves as a logical link between the two concurrent Star Trek shows in the 1990s. Thus, when we see Nechayev leading the Federation efforts against the Maquis after an insurrection on the Cardassians and the kidnapping of Gul Ducat in DS9, she also appears in TNG to recruit Ro Laren to infiltrate the Maquis on her behalf and help her understand and sympathize with the party she has to publicly condemn and sanction.

From the episode The Maquis, Part II:
Nechayev - "The Maquis are a bunch of irresponsible hotheads."

Although Nechayev is a strong character who butts heads with Picard and even Sisko, she is highly dedicated to her principles and her mission. Actress Natalia Nogulich, who played Nechayev, came from a military family, including her grandfather who was a Medal of Honor recipient and her father who participated in World War II, including the invasion at Normandy. Drawing on that experience from family added a legitimacy and authentic touch to her portrayal, including the leader who must make unpopular decisions in the name of the greater good.

Indeed, Nogulich has been told recently by Marines that Generals have watched her interactions with Picard and other subordinates and have modeled their communication and dialogue with subordinates in the same manner. That's a compliment of the highest order, and it shows just how perfect Nogulich was for this role.

When not playing in Star Trek, Nogulich can be found in many television series, including this year on Glee. Her Nechayev character is one of the most used admirals in the Star Trek books for those who want more of this character in their life.

Until next time, don't be afraid to make the tough decisions like a boss.

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Feedback can be sent to me with future segment suggestions on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy. Until next time, live long and prosper...

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Legal Geek No. 46: Will Internet/Use Tax fall afoul of the Dormant Commerce Clause?

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.

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Welcome back to Legal Geek. This week, we answer a listener question from James regarding a recent Supreme Court case on interstate commerce and fairness in taxation.


James asked about why the Supreme Court deemed that double taxation on personal income is not OK under the dormant commerce clause in a recent decision, while internet use tax is acceptable. The case James refers to is Comptroller of Maryland vs. Wynne. 

To briefly summarize, the Wynnes work in a different state and live in Maryland. Maryland, like most states, collect income tax from residents of Maryland who work there or in other states, and also from non-residents who work in Maryland. But unlike most states, Maryland did not provide a tax credit or reduction for income taxes paid by residents who work in other states and have the typical income tax collected by those other states. This means residents of Maryland working outside the state ended up paying income tax twice, to Maryland as well to as the state of employment. This was challenged as unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court ruled in a split 5-4 decision that Maryland's lack of a tax credit to avoid such double taxation was unconstitutional under the dormant commerce clause. The dormant commerce clause is an interpretation of the interstate commerce clause and allows courts to bar states from passing legislation that improperly burdens or discriminates against interstate commerce. Essentially, the majority in the Court deems that this state tax policy is an improper burden on interstate commerce because it hampers the ability of Maryland citizens to work in other states. 

Despite the close decision, we will assume that the controlling legal theory is now that unbalanced income tax laws are improper. Which brings us to James's question: why is the similar unbalance in state use tax laws permissible?

Use taxes are assessed upon tangible personal property purchased by a resident of the assessing state for use, storage or consumption in that state, regardless of where the purchase took place, including online. This is a way for states to make up for lost sales and sales taxes within their state, especially in the modern era of heavy internet commerce.

On its surface, this type of tax policy looks unfavorable to residents in a similar way as the Maryland income tax law was for the Wynnes. Indeed, the recent Supreme Court decision could potentially apply to use taxes as well. But one key difference from double income taxes is that use taxes applied to out-of-state purchases is arguably not discriminatory against interstate commerce, but instead, evenhanded by making all sales to residents within a state subject to the same level of tax. 

In addition, in rare circumstances where a sales tax is collected by an out of state business shipping to a customer in another state, the customer's state generally allows a tax credit to reduce use taxes by this sales tax paid to the other state. Thus, there does not appear to be a true double taxation problem in the sales and use tax context. Quite frankly, that could be the type of factual situation needed to prompt Congressional or judiciary action under the commerce clause.

Bottom Line: although the dormant commerce clause may someday be used to help better regulate sales and use taxes, for now, the generally evenhanded nature of these taxes when taken in combination probably protects them from constitutional scrutiny, so long as states don't make the mistake of disallowing tax credits for the rare sales tax collected on out-of-state transactions. In all other respects, any inequality is simply the same as states which charge different income tax rates, which has not been deemed a violation of the dormant commerce clause either, for what it's worth.

Thanks James for your thought-provoking question!


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Do you have a question? Send it in! 
Thanks for reading. Please provide feedback and legal-themed questions as segment suggestions to me on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy

Monday, June 8, 2015

Character Insight No. 148: Jannar

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.  
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Welcome back to Character Insight! This week, we return to Enterprise and profile Jannar, now that you have the required background on the Xindi Council and Degra from last week.
(insert enterprise theme)

(We found Jannar, courtesy memory-alpha.org)

Jannar is the personal friend of Degra on the Xindi Council. Jannar, like Degra, was of the same mind when it came to how to handle the humans after the Enterprise first entered the Delphic Expanse. To this end, he was vocal about using the Xindi super weapon instead of taking rash actions of war against Earth, and he was also strongly opposed to developing and using a bioweapon.


From the episode Azati Prime:
Jannar: Better their world than ours. 
Degra: That's what I keep telling myself. But the reality is, a good number of the dead will be innocents. And children. 
Jannar: It's best not to think about it. 
Degra: That's difficult when you have children of your own. 
Jannar: What we do is for them - for our children's future. Remember that. 
Degra: I wonder how they'll... remember us. 

As a scientist, he has strong reservations about hurting innocents like children, unless absolutely necessary. Thus, Degra has his biggest ally in Jannar, and this is the council member that helps convince the rest of the Xindi Council to listen to Captain Archer after being convinced to review the evidence himself of the Sphere Builders being the only potential beneficiaries of using the super weapon.

Jannar has his arboreal people launch their vessels in support of Enterprise when Captain Archer then has to defend against the super weapon being launched. Jannar also helped fill the crew of Degra's ship after Degra was executed, to provide a chance for Captain Archer and company to catch the super weapon and have a chance to stop it before Earth's destruction.

Unlike the Oppenheimer role that Degra plays, Jannar is more straightforward for a role. However, he provides another deep glimpse into the complicated decisions and nature of the Xindi side of this conflict. And another ally for Archer's crew, which is critical to the end result of saving the planet.

Rick Worthy played Jannar, and despite making 10 appearances in this season of Enterprise, he was never deterred by the long days in the makeup room to get ready to play this character. He personally enjoyed the similarities in appearance of Jannar to Chewbacca, the legendary Star Wars character. When not in various Trek roles, Worthy can be found in TV shows like The Vampire Diaries, CSI, Heroes, and Battlestar Galactica.

Until next time, enjoy Chewie-like characters, regardless of the show or movie they appear in. 

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Feedback can be sent to me with future segment suggestions on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy. Until next time, live long and prosper...