Star Trek and the law: the case of Captain Kirk vs. The Computer

CBS is now streaming the original Star Trek series for free on its website. Even better, CBS is now providing code to permit episodes of Trek and many other series to be embedded on websites and blogs.  Very cool, and a good step in the direction being taken by others such as Hulu, and soon, ABC.

Here’s the episode Court Martial, first airing Feb. 2, 1967. Kirk’s being court-martialed for the death of a member of his crew.  The most damning evidence is a computer video log that seems to conclusively prove Kirk’s guilt.  The prosecutor says she will present the case as “Kirk vs. The Computer.”


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Enter Kirk’s lawyer, Samuel T. Cogley, who distrusts computers and surrounds himself with his beloved law books.  Around 13 minutes into the episode, you can see Cogley surrounded by what looks like copies of United States Reports and case reporters from West.  (Hmmm.  I wonder what volume Federal Reporter will be up to by the year 2267.  At a new volume every 14 years or so, West should be up to at least F.22d.)

Ultimately, digital skepticism wins the day.  Mr. Spock, believing Kirk to be innocent, tests the ship’s computer.  After winning a seemingly impossible five chess games in a row against the machine, Spock realizes the computer has been altered.  Cogley then moves to present evidence regarding the ship’s computer.  The prosecution objects.  In response, Cogley argues passionately about the importance of not believing digital records blindly:

Cogley: The most devastating witness against my client is not a Human being. It’s a machine, an information system. The computer log of the Enterprise. I ask this court adjourn and reconvene aboard that vessel.

Prosecutor: I protest, Your honor!

Cogley: And I repeat, I speak of rights! A machine has none. A man must. My client has the right to face his accuser, and if you do not grant him that right, you have brought us down to the level of the machine! Indeed, you have elevated that machine above us! I ask that my motion be granted. And more than that, gentlemen. In the name of Humanity, fading in the shadow of the machine, I demand it.  I DEMAND IT!

Cogley and Kirk prevail.  It turns out that the “dead” man was still alive and was trying to get revenge on Kirk for an earlier incident that destroyed his career.  Even in the 23rd century, computers aren’t always right.

Advice for new law students, part III: avoiding your own Universal Studios fire

In an op-ed in the New York Times, UCLA film professor Jonathan Kuntz writes about the recent fire at Universal Studios.  After describing the destruction of the courthouse square from To Kill a Mockingbird and Back to the Future, Kuntz notes:

More serious may be the loss of the circulating 35-millimeter theatrical prints.  While not original masters, these are the copies made for screenings at repertory theaters, art museum retrospectives and in college classes. . . .

. . . .

This latest fire, I hope, will prompt Universal and its fellow majors to better preserve not just key titles like “Duck Soup,” “Dracula” or “Vertigo” — which will surely be reprinted and return to circulation — but also the other 90 percent of their inventories, the less famous and therefore more vulnerable titles that the studio may not feel justify spending thousands to save. These are exquisite samples of 20th-century American culture and deserve to always be seen in their extravagant, sensual, big-screen glory.

It sounds like after the fire, some of Universals’ assets no longer exist beyond a single remaining master copy.  That’s troubling for several reasons.  First, should the masters be destroyed, the best (and in some cases, only) copies will be lost.  Second, for cultural use to be made of the materials, new copies must be made.

What does this have to do with law students?  The same thing: the importance of archiving and the dangers of failing to do so.  Every term, students suffer data catastrophes — hard drive crashes, stolen laptops, etc. — leading to lost class notes, outlines, paper drafts, etc.  Law school is stressful enough without the added strain of losing a 100-page outline two days before the final exam. But sadly, it seems to happen every term.

Back up your essential files, do so regularly, and keep them in secure and geographically distinct places, such as multiple computers, external hard drives kept elsewhere, network storage, and/or online storage.  Or do simple and quick backups: periodically email your essential files to yourself.

Advice part I (life and stress) here.
Advice part II (studying and attitudes) here.
Advice part III (back up your data) here.
Advice part IV (essay exams) here.
Advice part V (conclusory argumentation) here.
Advice part VI (incomplete argumentation) here.

Musings on the Shatman

I have to admit that I’m an unabashed Star Trek fan. (Not a surprise, I suppose.) I recently read William Shatner’s new book, Up Till Now: The Autobiography (co-written with David Fisher). I highly recommend it. It’s well-written, informative, and witty. Shatner alternates between self-effacing charm, unabashed pomposity, and a gleeful hawking of goods available through his website. At times, the book is poignant, such as when Shatner recounts early career disappointments, the break-ups of multiple marriages, and especially the tragic accidental death of his third wife, Nerine.

Among other things, the book details Shatner’s efforts at being a recording artist. In his records, Shatner doesn’t really sing; instead he speaks the words dramatically. His recent recording effort, Has Been, is actually very good and includes musical talents such as Joe Jackson, Adrian Belew, and Henry Rollins. It was well-received by reviewers. (Over 200 readers on Amazon.com gave it on average 4.5 stars out of 5.)

But as Shatner’s book recounts, his earlier musical efforts were not well-received, such as his infamous cover of Rocket Man at the 1978 Science Fiction Film Awards. Shatner also discusses his cover of The Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, which I do think is pretty darn awful.

Below is a wonderful YouTube parody mashing together Shatner’s cover of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds with images to gently mock Shatner, Star Trek, and The Beatles (as well as Lucy Ricardo and Lucy Van Pelt):