Monday, October 24, 2016

Westword: Are They Even on Earth?

All this talk of Orion and constellations got me wondering: Are they even on planet Earth?

A civilization advanced enough to create lifelike robotic humans and other animals might well have the technology for terraforming.

What if the carving depicts the constellation Orion from a planet where four stars appear to form the belt of Orion?

Imagine, for example, that Westworld is located in a star system like Alpha Centauri. That's close enough that the constellations would look basically the same, while still being far enough away to shift the perspective slightly.

Now check out this picture of Orion.

The red dot right below the western end of Orion's belt is a star system called Sigma Orionis. Perhaps that's the fourth star in the belt when viewed from Westworld.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Mr. Robot: Tyrell Is Dead... Long Live Tyrell

My friend Paul B has a theory. He thinks Tyrell Wellick is dead. That the season is building to this revelation. But it won't be the end of Tyrell on the show.

Rather, Wellick will "live" on as one of Elliot's alternate identities. One opposed to Mr. Robot. The two will be the angel and devil on Elliot's shoulders.

I think Paul B might be right. And I have to say, I won't be disappointed if he is.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Night Of: Muslim Rage Defense

One fascinating theme of HBO's fantastic miniseries The Night Of is the lengths to which criminal-defense attorneys will go to represent high-profile defendants for publicity.

In the most recent episode, we met Alison Crowe, a Gloria Allredeqsue attorney who's clearly at home in front of the cameras. Crowe stole Nasir Khan as a client from his then attorney, John Stone, by offering to represent Naz pro bono and savvily pitching his parents with an Indian-American associate at her side.

Like Stone before her, Crowe clearly sees Naz's case as a source of publicity. To really hold the viewing public's attention, however, she'll have to do something more sensational than merely represent him.

I think that sensational something is a Muslim Rage defense.

Think about it. The show made a point of emphasizing the casual racism toward Muslims with the comments in the first episode about "Mustafa" leaving his bombs at home. And when we meet Crowe, she's giving a speech about how another client's botched plastic surgery wasn't really "voluntary."

I think Crowe's going to pressure Naz to admit he killed Andrea but under extreme mental duress. She's going to argue the cumulative effect of anti-Muslim racism caused him to snap. That his act merits no more than a manslaughter charge, if it's not completely excused by reason of insanity.

Naz will balk at admitting to something he doesn't believe he did, opening the door for Stone to retake control of the case.

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Americans: The Toll of Spying

One of the hallmarks of great writing is when all of the storylines illustrate and reinforce the main theme. And S4E8 of the Americans was a paragon of thematic coherence.

The theme of the episode was the terrible psychological toll that spying takes on the spies themselves. One example of this theme was the subplot involving Lisa, the alcoholic Northrop worker whom Elizabeth recruited back in S2. As Lisa explained to Elizabeth, the lying and pressure of spying caused her to "crack" and resume drinking.

Perhaps the clearest example was Philip and Elizabeth's tension over Martha and EST. Yes, there were proximate sources for that conflict. As Gabriel noted, however, the real problem was the two had never had a break from spying. That was the point of the time jump -- i.e., to show the contrast between Philip and Elizabeth before and after their rejuvenating "vacation."

The point was driven home further by the contrast with Paige, who spent the last seven months spying on Pastor Tim. Unlike her parents, Paige got no such break, which was why she seemed so much more stressed and tense than the rest of the family.

As I say, it was a model of great, thematically coherent writing. Hats off to the writers.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Better Call Saul: The Nana Problem

With due respect to The Good Wife and The Grinder, the best lawyer show on television right now is Better Call Saul, the Breaking Bad prequel that tells the origin story of shady attorney Saul Goodman.

I’m working on a longer piece about what Better Call Saul gets right (and wrong) about the legal profession. But I thought I’d do a quick post on the most recent episode because there seems to be some confusion over what was so problematic about the television commercial Jimmy aired without permission to attract prospective plaintiffs in the Sandpiper case.

Many people seem to think the ad is potentially defamatory because it basically accuses Sandpiper of stealing. Ordinarily, that might well be problematic. One company generally isn’t allowed to accuse another of misconduct in advertising. That’s a good way to get yourself sued for trade libel.

In this case, however, that’s probably not an issue. The reason is that libel laws typically have an exception for communications related to a legal proceeding. Indeed, law firms routinely issue press releases seeking plaintiffs in cases against specific companies accused of fraud.

It’s true that commercials in mass tort cases often don’t mention specific companies by name. But that’s more for practical reasons than fear of liability. Victims are more likely to recognize the condition they have or the drug they’re taking than they are the name of manufacturer who caused their injuries. Moreover, there may be multiple manufacturers of the products at issue, so it’s not always clear which defendant is responsible for which plaintiff’s injuries.

In the Sandpiper case, mentioning the company’s name was necessary because prospective clients likely wouldn't know the commercial was referring to them otherwise.

The real issue with the commercial is that most attorneys view advertising as unprofessional. For many years, in fact, the ethical rules governing attorneys actually prohibited all advertising. That changed  in 1977, when the Supreme Court ruled such total bans violate the First Amendment. Even now, however, advertising on TV is still considered by many attorneys to be low class. Just one step above ambulance chasing.

Davis & Main is more open minded than most firms about attorney advertising, but even they have strong reservations about looking unprofessional. We saw this clearly in the old mesothelioma ad Jimmy’s assistant showed him. The partners were so preoccupied with protecting the firm’s image they approved something more like a dry legal filing than a commercial.

That’s why Kim was so surprised Clifford Main liked Jimmy’s ad. She knows that, even when firms like Davis & Main advertise, it doesn’t look remotely like what Jimmy did.