Monday, August 17, 2015

Character Insight No. 158: Toral

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 another Klingon character who spans stories in TNG and Deep Space Nine, that being Toral, son of Duras.

 
Toral 2368.jpg

(Toral from TNG days, courtesy memory-alpha.org)

Toral is an illegitimate son of the Klingon Duras household, which leads him to be kept in the custody of his aunts Lursa and B'Etor. As you will recall from our segment on these Klingon villains from the movies, these sisters try to take over the Klingon Empire for themselves on multiple occasions.

In the first of these instances, Toral is put up by his aunts to be a rightful heir to the Klingon throne in the two-part episode Redemption. However, this plot falls apart when it is revealed that the Romulans are assisting the House of Duras, and only Worf's peaceful nature prevents Toral from being killed for his actions in this plot. He likely should have just left the family at that point, but like a good Klingon villain, he doesn't know when to stop.

The next time we see this character is four years later, which is after his aunts had been killed in the plot of Star Trek Generations. After meeting with a drunken Kahar Master, he sends a lackey named Soto to go retrieve the Sword of Kahless from the Gamma Quadrant. Unfortunately for his power-wielding plans, the sword is jettisoned in deep space rather than being turned over to him. So like his aunts, his plans to overthrow the leadership of the Klingon Empire just never pan out.

Toral: "I'm not giving the emperor anything. With the sword In my hand, I'll be leading the Empire."

In a relatively ironic twist of fate, Dax is the crew member who spares Toral's life after this plot is undermined in the Deep Space Nine episode The Sword of Kahless. So Worf and then his future lover and wife are the compassionate Starfleet officers which at least temporarily stop this son of Duras from ending up in the same dead fate as his aunts and former guardians. On the bright side, Toral is a guy, so he doesn't have to wear the incredibly sexist Klingon boob job outfits of this era.

This is another run-of-the-mill Klingon recurring character, but at least this one brings more story and life to the bumbling Duras family, one of the more entertaining plots when dealing with Klingon stories.

It may have been difficult to follow this tie when switching between the series because J.D. Cullum played Toral in the TNG episodes, while a different actor Rick Pasqualone played the role on DS9. Cullum likely earned the role thanks to being the son of Tony-Award winning actor John Cullum, of Northern Exposure fame. He recently appeared in Disney's remake of The Lone Ranger. Pasqualone does a lot of voice acting work for video games like Civilization V and Batman, Arkham Knight.

Until next time, keep busting into that glass ceiling Duras family. It's terribly entertaining to watch.

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

Monday, August 10, 2015

Character Insight No. 157: The Guardian of Forever

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 

Wondering where episode 156 is? I recorded an interview live with Darrell "the Trek Nerd" Skeels at Nerdtacular 2015! Check out episode 199 of This Week in Trek for the full story, but it was unscripted and silly, as most good interviews are.

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Welcome back to Character Insight! This week, we profile a unique character which could be the subject of a future Star Trek movie, the Guardian of Forever.

 
Guardian of Forever, 2267

(The Guardian of Forever in 2267, courtesy memory-alpha.org)

The Guardian of Forever was featured in the TOS episode The City on the Edge of Forever, which is deemed by many to be one of the better episodes of the series. The Guardian is a time portal that allows access to other times and dimensions, essentially acting as a core link between all the timelines of the Milky Way and possibly beyond. For example, time portals to various places like the Egyptian pyramids, the American Revolution, the civil war, and other historical times appear within the Guardian during this episode.

When the Enterprise first discovers the Guardian as a result of investigating the time/spatial ripples or disturbances caused by it, Dr. McCoy runs through a portal to the past as a result of paranoid delusions brought on by an accidental drug overdose. McCoy causes a change in the timeline around 1930 (insert Darrell 1930) that wipes out the Federation, so Spock and Kirk have to also travel back a little farther in time to prevent this from happening.

Kirk: "Are you machine or being?"The Guardian: "I am both... and neither. I am my own beginning, my own ending."

This timeline changing concept was so popular and well done that it has spawned many similar story lines, including arguably the movies Star Trek IV, Star Trek First Contact, and Star Trek 2009.

As for the Guardian itself, the only other time it appears in canon is on The Animated Series episode Yesteryear, where Kirk and Spock and a support team cause more timeline shenanigans while investigating the history of Orion and Vulcan. It also served as an original story piece in the TNG episode that became Yesterday's Enterprise, but it did not end up in the final story.

However, this character or item has a rich history that lived on in more than 10 Star Trek books and many comics. A couple of the more interesting stories involve additional Guardians or similar objects made by the creators of this character, a race that could be considered to have Q-like powers considering their creation. Such a storyline having big science fiction concepts but simple time travel and timeline tropes could be too much for the movie scriptwriters to resist, so I wonder if the Guardian of Forever or its creators will be the subject of an Abrams timeline movie. You could certainly do a lot worse.

The Guardian: "Many such journeys are possible. Let me be your gateway"

The Guardian was supposed to look far different than a silly-looking lopsided donut, but the regular set designer in charge of this script was out with the flu that week and his backup created the iconic donut. Despite this, the light effects added to the Guardian and the great voice work by Bart LaRue and James Doohan overcome any silliness in appearance.

Until next time, let's hope that if a retread character comes back in another Star Trek movie, it is something truly alien like the Guardian and hopefully it is done right.

Big congratulations to Darrell and Mike on 200 episodes and 4 years of this show. Thank you for making Character Insight a part of this fun ride Where No Man Has Gone Before.

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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, August 6, 2015

Legal Geek No. 50: SCOTUS Gay Marriage in Obergefell: One for the History Books

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 the second of the two highlight decisions of the most recent Supreme Court term, which is Obergefell v. Hodges, all about gay marriage. I will also explain why I think this decision, while deemed as groundbreaking as Roe v. Wade and Brown v. Board of Education, is actually less important today than the healthcare decision we covered last month.


(photo credit - courtesy wsoctv.com)

Coming back from Nerdtacular, it strikes me that decisions like Obergefell is built on similar principles as our Frogpants, tadpool, diamond club etc. community. Regardless of your politics and beliefs, there's no denying that the decision to legalize marriage for all persons regardess of sexual orientation is a move for equal treatment of more people, and when we follow the Golden Rule and treat people equally, good communities tend to result. 

The decision was based on the Equal Protection clause and due process under the 14th Amendment. The due process clause stops the government from depriving citizens of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Many previous Supreme Court decisions have deemed "liberty" under the due process clause to include the fundamental rights to marry and have private sexual relations. 

This includes decisions protecting interracial marriage in Lawrence v. Texas, protecting the right of prisoners to marry in Turner v. Safely, and protecting the rights of women as equals in marriage in multiple 1980's decisions. Furthermore, Obergefell was a logical extension of the decision 12 years ago making sodomy laws unconstitutional for infringing the liberty of gay people, and the decision 2 years ago to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, which was just enacted to limit marriage to one man and one woman in 1995!

Furthermore, even Justice Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion, noted that public opinion was already moving in the same direction as this decision. Thus, this was just the next logical step based on court precedent as well as public opinion.

The right to marry has long been established as a fundamental right, which means there must be a compelling government interest to restrict this liberty. The states argued that the compelling government interest was keeping bonds between biological parents and their children, but this was gutted during oral argument by noting that not all marriages are intended to result in children, and adoptions are just as likely for homosexual couples as for heterosexual couples. There just was not enough argument for leaving this decision to the states instead of applying the Equal Protection clause. 

So gay marriage is now legal in all states. The reason I believe this is not as big a deal as the healthcare decision is because healthcare would have gone away completely had that decision gone the other way and perhaps have never come back, while public opinion was eventually going to result in most if not all states reaching this conclusion about gay marriage. Furthermore, this is one small step in the large scale of obtaining equal rights for all parts of the LGBT community, as evidenced by the just-beginning public awareness and discussion of transgender people, so there's still a long way to go here. 

The Bottom Line: for at least this court watcher, the decision to uphold Obamacare is a bigger deal than legalizing gay marriage, but both cannot be denied as highly memorable decisions that definitely craft the future of this country, and that is fun to watch, regardless of if you agree with the decisions or the logic.

Until next time, let's continue to strive for and make communities that treat everyone equally and with compassion, as that will make the world a more positive place to be in.

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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

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Character Insight No. 155: Keenser, is he a pet?

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 Scotty's engineering shadow, Keenser, in an effort to solve the important debate of our time: IS KEENSER A PET?


Keenser in uniform.jpg


(Keenser from Into Darkness, courtesy memory-alpha.org)

Keenser is an engineering crewmember who serves aboard the Enterprise in the Abrams timeline movies. Well, "serves aboard the Enterprise" may be a stretch, as he follows Scotty around everywhere and as we've previously criticized, Scotty doesn't spend enough time on the ship in either new movie to date.

About the only time these two characters are apart is when Scotty first transwarp beams to the Enterprise with Kirk in the '09 Star Trek. Thus, it's difficult to tell if Keenser is just a BFF coworker, a sidekick, or as Darrell posits, a pet.

Keenser was banished with Scotty on the remote outpost at Delta Vega, which seems to indicate he might just be a coworker or sidekick. Much like a good sidekick does, at a critical juncture of Into Darkness, he gives Scotty the look that forces Scotty to reconsider Kirk's request to investigate the coordinates received from Khan. As Scotty listens to him, that makes it seem like Keenser is more of an equal than just a subordinate pet.

Of course, Scotty gets on Keenser all the time for climbing up on high things and not eating much food...which are two very cat-like qualities. Plus, Keenser just follows along like a dutiful dog when Scotty resigns over the mystery photon torpedos Admiral Marcus puts on board to stop Khan. It certainly blurs the line between dutiful sidekick and just a pet.

One reason that Keenser may be deemed a pet is a lack of lines, but that was an intentional change made by the filmmakers after originally having some dialogue for the character. One line still slips though, albeit a short one:

Keenser: "Me!"

And that one word, even though it is a minor thing, proves this is just an alien that chooses to use silence and gestures and looks rather than try to speak a foreign language. That falls outside the definition of pet and right into the definition of sidekick. So I'm with Star Mike on this one, Keenser is not a pet (but just barely).  Sorry Darrell, you can take it out on me this week in Utah.

Speaking of Utah, I will be at Nerdtacular this weekend with The Trek Nerd, so please come say hello and let me know if you like the segment or what I can do to make it even better.

Mohinder Purba, better known as his stage name Deep Roy, is the actor who plays Keenser. At 4 foot, 4 inches tall, he has been able to play some highly iconic roles such as the stunt R2-D2, the stand-in for Yoda, and an Ewok named Droopy McCool in the original Star Wars trilogy. Most notably, he played all 165 oompa-loompas in the 200 remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He's a perfect fit for a small alien role intended to bring some humor and wit into the often-serious storylines of science fiction.

Until next time, remember: captains have pets, engineers have sidekicks because they don't have time for pets.

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

Monday, July 20, 2015

Character Insight No. 154: Best of Chakotay

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 the "Best Of" series with a look at the second in command on Voyager, Commander Chakotay.

Chakotay 2371.jpg

(Chakotay, once a Maquis but back to Starfleet, courtesy memory-alpha.org)
 

In Initiations, we are introduced to Chakotay's background as he performs the ritual called Pakra, to commemorate the death anniversary of his father:

Chakotay: A-koo-chee-moya. I pray on this day of memories, to speak to my father - the one whom the wind called... Kolopak. Though I'm far from his bones, perhaps there is a spirit in these unnamed skies who will find him, and honor him with my song. A-koo-chee-moya. 


In the same episode, we also learn more about the way of his native people:

Chakotay: My people taught me, a man does not own land. He doesn't own anything but the courage and loyalty in his heart. That's where *my* power comes from. 


A few weeks later in the aptly-named episode Tattoo, Chakotay explains the distinctive facial tattoo he carries as being a relic of his father:

Commander Chakotay: [about his father] We weren't on very good terms when he died. Once he was gone, I didn't know how to reconcile our differences, how to heal our old wounds. I returned to my colony and continued the fight in his name. I took the mark that he wore to honor his ancestors. I spoke to him in my vision quests. But he never answered - until now. 


In the episode Nemesis, Chakotay is captured on an alien world and made to fight in a civil war. This is one episode where he is the sole star, and the opportunity is not wasted as we see Chakotay deliver such wisdom from his past as this:

Chakotay: There's no shame in being afraid of fighting. Having the trembles is natural. 
Rafin: How do you fathom that? 
Chakotay: Because I've been in battle before, fighting to free my people, from a nemesis called the Cardassians. 
Rafin: These Cardassians... were they beasts? 
Chakotay: Let's just say they weren't very friendly. The point is: even though I believed in what we were doing, I always felt fear before a fight. 



Chakotay and Captain Janeway learn to trust each other over time, including on missions where the two are stranded together for long periods of time. In the episode Shattered, the friendly dialogue between these characters shows a bit of Chakotay's good spirit:

Captain Janeway: You're late. Unfortunately, so's dinner. 
Chakotay: Let me guess: you burned the roast again. 
Captain Janeway: Once, a long time ago, I called this replicator a glorified toaster. It never forgave me. 
Chakotay: I didn't realize replicators held grudges. 



and later...

Captain Kathryn Janeway: Doesn't seem like my first command is shaping up the way I expected. 
Chakotay: "In the middle of the journey of our life, I found myself astray in a dark wood, where the straight road had been lost." 
Captain Kathryn Janeway: I didn't know Dante's Inferno was on the Maquis reading list. 
Chakotay: Actually, I borrowed your copy. 
Chakotay: Anyway, I agree with Dante: if you always see the road ahead of you, it's not worth the trip. 
Captain Kathryn Janeway: A soldier *and* a philosopher. Your intelligence file doesn't do you justice. 


Until next time, don't assume that facial tattoos are only for crazy people.

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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, July 16, 2015

Legal Geek No. 49: Amazon Search Functionality vs. Trademark Law

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 take a look at a recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Decision that may change the way online retailers do business, all in the name of a stronger trademark law.



(courtesy amazon.com)
The case was Multi Time Machine vs Amazon, and the decision was handed down earlier this month. Multi Time Machine makes high end military style watches under certain brand names and trademarks like MTM Special Ops. Because MTM closely controls its own distribution, these watches are not available at places like Amazon.

However, when consumers type in MTM Special Ops Watch or similar searches into Amazon's search system, the internal search engine returns a list of other multi-function watches from MTM's competitors, but no statement is made that Amazon does not carry MTM watches. In other words, Amazon tries to be helpful for consumers looking for a type of goods. The only difference from other online retailers is that Amazon does not explicitly respond first with a statement that MTM watches are not available at Amazon.

When MTM sued Amazon for trademark infringement, citing consumer confusion in this process, the Federal District Court ruled in favor of Amazon. But the appeals court reversed this decision, with a 2-1 majority revitalizing a doctrine called initial interest confusion. This is a trademark doctrine that was thought dead in most jurisdictions, but the Ninth Circuit defined it as follows: "initial interest confusion occurs not at the time of purchase, but earlier in the shopping process if the customer confusion creates initial interest in a competitor's product." 

If that definition sounds ridiculous, it's because it is. That would cover many other clearly legitimate and long-accepted retailing practices like selling house branded products with similar labeling adjacent to name brand products. The dissenting judge put it best when he responded that "the search results page makes clear to anyone who can read English that Amazon only carries the brands of watches that are clearly and explicitly listed on the web page, as the search results page is unambiguous."

So apparently the fluffy doctrine of initial interest consumer confusion still lives, which means this zombie doctrine could come back to bite unsuspecting litigants. What's most disappointing is that this case is better formulated as a "bait and switch" false advertising claim if anything, but the Ninth Circuit validated the trademark claim by making the law bend to the facts. 

On the bright side, the opinion is limited to the Ninth Circuit along the western coast of the U.S. and is also likely limited on its face to internal search functionality of online retailers like Amazon, which makes it easy to design around. Plus, this was just a panel decision sending the case back to a jury, which could still determine that there is no actual consumer confusion here. Worst case scenario, this doctrine could still be gutted by a full en banc panel of the entire Ninth Circuit or even taken to the Supreme Court, if necessary.

Bottom Line: Trademark law serves the interests of business owners and consumers, but it has reasonable limits. When it doesn't, as in this case, it harms businesses trying to help consumers as well as consumers in the long run.

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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, July 13, 2015

Character Insight No. 153: Admiral Hayes

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 a recurring character from Voyager and the movies, Admiral Hayes.

Hayes, First Contact.jpg
(The Vice Admiral, courtesy memory-alpha.org)
 

Hayes first shows up at the beginning of First Contact, as he leads to charge against the Borg invasion of Earth. Although he orders Picard and the Enterprise away from the battle, Picard ends up disobeying this order and leading the fleet to victory after Hayes has his ship destroyed in the fight.

Insert Quote

The next time we see the Vice Admiral, he is sending a message through the experimental Hirogen communications network to the Voyager. An alien decodes the message first and makes it into a false message to try and trip the Voyager for his own purposes, but Janeway figures out the ruse just in time. Which leads to this great line from her about Admiral Hayes:

"Admiral Hayes. Good man. Fine officer. Bit of a windbag."
– Kathryn Janeway ("Hope and Fear")

Hayes shows up one more time a couple years later, sending another message to Voyager through the MIDAS array. He is one of a few officers leading the charge to help Voyager get back home from the Earth side, and he therefore plays an important role in this storyline despite his limited appearances. In this regard, he is a lot like Admirals Ross and Nechayev, who also appear in multiple series and/or seasons and play a big role in long term stories, and who were covered by this segment in the past couple months.

Admiral Hayes is another admiral who is likely a good character, but he's not always shown in the best light thanks to being in contradiction to the Captains we follow more closely in these stories. It's good to see him reused after that first appearance in the movies, as the trope of disposable jerk admiral had grown quite tedious by the time of Voyager.


Hayes was played by Jack Shearer. He made his most recent appearances a little over 5 years ago as a judge in the TV show 24 and also as Justice Antonin Scalia in Boston Legal. Which, if you haven't seen it, is a good campy show featuring William Shatner as well.

Until next time, don't worry about Locutus, he's your best weapon against the Borg.

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