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The thoughts and theories of a guy who basically should have gone to bed hours ago.

I know, I know - what's the point? But look at it this way - I stayed up late writing it, but you're reading it...

Let's call ourselves even & move on, OK?

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I Should Be Sleeping

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Due Process Finds Lack of Due Process

In a "sharp rebuke of President George W. Bush's tactics in the war on terrorism," the U.S. Supreme Court declared the military tribunals in Guantanamo Bay unlawful.

"We conclude that the military commission convened to try (Salim Ahmed) Hamdan lacks power to proceed because its structure and procedures violate" the international agreement that covers treatment of prisoners of war, as well as the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the court majority.

The President, who considers himself all powerful and above the law, said, "Screw You - we're doing it anyway" and ordered the execution of all five justices who voted against him. Oh, no wait - that's not right:

At the White House, Bush said he had not fully reviewed the ruling and would consult with the U.S. Congress to attain appropriate authority for military tribunals. "We take the findings seriously," he said.

So am I the only one who sees the irony here? We are such lawless bastards that we threw these guys in jail with no trial, but then the judicial process back home got them in front of the SCOTUS twice - once to win their right to sue the government, and then again to have their trials declared illegal. Name me another country that policies itself so dilligently.

NOTE: Please spare me the standard Bush bashing on this. I'm talking about how our country responded, not the administration. I realize that this isn't ideal - the prisoners' victories are largely Phyrric, in that they sat in jail for two years while we worked all this out. I also realize that Bush's comment above could be nothing more than words, and "consult with Congress" could be code for "put this in a drawer and never think about it again." Also it's very easy to say you'll consult with Congress when your party controls both houses of Congress, and will likely pass a law saying, "the President can do anything the Supreme Court says he can't do."

BUT: It would be very, very difficult for us to continue holding the trials in Guantanamo, given this SCOTUS ruling. If we tried, the media (and a great many of our politicians) would be all over it and the administration would have yet another meal of "Egg a la face." Also, if Congress passes a law on this, they've got to face their constituents in an election year, so whichever way that goes, there's a better than average chance that the people will get their way. Also, this kind of thing puts us in serious danger of ignoring important congressional discussion topics like preventing flag burning, outlawing gay marriage, and evicting illegal aliens.
So there are plenty of upsides...

posted by Brian at 2:06 PM | 0 comments

Saturday, June 24, 2006

I got an e-mail asking me to register my blog at It's billed as a regional index of websites (in case you're looking for websites published by people who live near you, I guess?)

The presence of "Oy" in the title, suggests it has something to do with Judaism, and that they probably found me because my last name is a common Jewish name.

In any case, it seems relatively harmless, so I gave it a shot.

Now you know. Moving on...

posted by Brian at 4:42 AM | 0 comments

Some More About the SWIFT Story

I wouldn't claim to be an expert on how SWIFT messages work, but I have worked with/for Wall Street firms for more than a decade, so I do know a thing or two about them. The more I read about this story, the more I am dumbstruck at the apparent lack of knowledge being displayed (or, as is more likely the case, ignored for political purposes). So, some facts that might help:

  • A very large majority of banking institutions worldwide use the SWIFT network to send inter-bank messages. This is Metcalfe's Law at work - the more people that use the network, the more valuable it becomes.

  • Many financial institutions have invested money to build the SWIFT network, and each of them collects a portion of the fee that SWIFT charges for each message sent.

  • Because of the above, most banks go through a process called Netting, in which transactions of the same type are added together (both positives and negatives to come up with the "net" value, hence the term), and the netted transaction is sent through the SWIFT message. This is what recent articles are talking about when they say "typical transactions between domestic banks are not in the database." Simple cash or wire transfers between American banks can be netted down to minimize the SWIFT messages (and hence, the associated fees), leaving no record of the individual transactions in the SWIFT database. However, when someone is wiring a foreign currency to a middle-eastern country, for instance, the odds of being able to net that transaction on a given day are relatively slim, so the record is available for surveillance.

  • Similarly, the account numbers contained in the SWIFT messages are typically not the customer's account numbers, but the bank's internal settlement account numbers. This is a little complicated, but it relates back to the netting concept described above. Basically, the bank balances each customer's account of a given type (say US Dollar Cash Equities) against an internal account of their own, and then settles with other banks against that internal account. As above, this minimizes the number of messages traveling between banks, which minimizes the fees they pay. It also has the fortunate side effect of minimizing the amount of personal information available to anyone studying the SWIFT database. Unusual transactions (e.g., those in rarely used currencies or rarely used financial products) may have only one settlement account per customer account, or the bank may choose to do inter-bank settlement directly with the customer account number. Again, this wouldn't affect a very large majority of Americans (or citizens of other countries, for that matter.

Based on the above, I think it's fair to say that those calling this an "abuse of power" or an "invasion of privacy" are being somewhat disingenuous. The probability of personal information being present in this data decreases dramatically as the ubiquity of the transactions increase. In other words, the more common your banking business is, the less likely it will be available for "spying."

It's also a bit disingenuous to call this a secret. The 9/11 Commission Report makes several mentions of the US monitoring Al Qaeda's money movements, and Al Qaeda's attempts to foil them. For example, Page 171:

Al Qaeda frequently moved the money it raised by hawala, an informal and ancient trust-based system for transferring funds. In some ways, al Qaeda had
no choice after its move to Afghanistan in 1996: first, the banking system there was antiquated and undependable; and second, formal banking was risky due
to the scrutiny that al Qaeda received after the August 1998 East Africa embassy bombings, including UN resolutions against it and the Taliban.

And this from Page 185:

The second major point on which the principals had agreed on March 10 [,2002] was the need to crack down on terrorist organizations and curtail their fund-raising.

The embassy bombings of 1998 had focused attention on al Qaeda’s finances. One result had been the creation of an NSC-led interagency committee on terrorist financing. On its recommendation, President [Clinton] had designated Bin Ladin and al Qaeda as subject to sanctions under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. This gave the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) the ability to search for and freeze any Bin Ladin or al Qaeda assets that reached the U.S. financial system. But since OFAC had little information to go on, few funds were frozen.

In July 1999, the President applied the same designation to the Taliban for harboring Bin Ladin. Here, OFAC had more success. It blocked more than $34 million in Taliban assets held in U.S. banks. Another $215 million in gold and $2 million in demand deposits, all belonging to the Afghan central bank and held by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, were also frozen. After October 1999, when the State Department formally designated al Qaeda a foreign terrorist organization, it became the duty of U.S. banks to block its transactions and seize its funds.

And one of the report's 41 recommendations deals specifically with this kind of a program (Page 382):

Recommendation: Vigorous efforts to track terrorist financing must remain front and center in U.S. counterterrorism efforts. The government has recognized that information about terrorist money helps us to understand their networks, search them out, and disrupt their operations.

This recommendation goes on to say that "The U.S. financial community and some international financial institutions have generally provided law enforcement and intelligence agencies with extraordinary cooperation, particularly in supplying information to support quickly developing investigations."

Anyone who knows anything about the banking industry (and I think it's safe to assume that Al Qaeda fits into that category) knows that the primary international financial institution referred to here is SWIFT. After all, there aren't that many international financial institutions and SWIFT is far and away the largest and most popular.

Which brings me to another point - it's a bit disingenuous to claim that this revelation will lessen or eliminate the effectiveness of the program. Al Qaeda has been seeking out non-SWIFT ways to transfer money between banks since before 9/11/01, but doing so severely limits their ability to transfer funds. In most cases, SWIFT is their only choice, and the knowledge that we're monitoring those messages doesn't help them in the least.

On a political note, I offer only this thought: The Bush administration has been criticized for doing too little to fight terrorism, for not having a plan, for being incompetent and disorganized, etc. As these secret programs are revealed - tracking of phone calls to foreign lands, data mining of all dialed phone numbers in search of patterns, and analysis of inter-bank financial data, aren't the administration's critics inadvertently providing rather compelling proof of a comprehensive strategy, formulated and put into action by the Bush administration just after the 9/11 attacks?

I applaud the diligence with which our civil liberties are protected, and would encourage healthy debate on the topic (although I don't see what benefit is gained by divulging specifics such as the SWIFT network). Any national security measure, by it's very definition, creates civil liberties concerns, and the fact that we spend so much time focused on these issues is part of what makes this country different from most others.

Those concerns aside, though, the existence of these programs suggest to me a concerted effort by our leaders to protect us - not just with words, but with actions as well.

posted by Brian at 4:18 AM | 12 comments

Friday, June 23, 2006

Missed me again...

I was on the 27th floor of the World Trade Center on 2/26/93 when the first bomb went off, and I was in 195 Broadway about two years later when some nutcase tried to blow up the subway with a mayonaise jar filled with gasoline. So it comes as no surprise that two weeks after my first visit to the Sears Tower, a group of terrorists got caught discussing a plan to blow it up. Not that I'm taking any of this personally or anything...

Apparently, these guys had "aspirations, but not the means" to pull off such an attack. They were caught when they approached an FBI informant who they thought was an AL Qaeda operative.

A few thoughts:

1) These guys weren't necessarily all that dangerous (although they could have been if they had actually reached Al Qaeda), but we slam our intelligence agencies when they screw up, so it's good to see them get a pat on the back when they nail something cold.

2) For those who believe privacy concerns have gone out the window, I believe this is the first time in history that an FBI director took time to explicitly state that "whenever we undertake an operation like this, we would not do it without the approval of a judge. We've got search warrants and arrest warrants and the like." This is also a good thing.

3) This was the top story in the New York Post and the Daily News this morning, but it wasn't even on the front page of the New York Times.

Even now (4:15PM, EDT), it's only the number two story, behind (another) scare story about (another) secret program to collect data about American citizens (this time, financial data). These stories, which are so full of news cataloging that they're starting to look like they come from a template, are becoming more and more obscure and less and less relevant to the issue of privacy they supposedly address.

Of course, various Democratic congressmen and an ACLU official blindly condemmed the program as "abuse of power" and the like, while showing little or no knowledge of what the SWIFT network actually is. The Times, amazingly, did so little research on it, that it doesn't even seem to know that it's an acronym (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication), and keeps spelling it in proper case ("Swift").

posted by Brian at 4:25 PM | 0 comments

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Making Yahoo Mail Work with Outlook 2003

Oh my God, I can't believe I didn't think of this until just now...

For a very, very long time, I've been having trouble using Outlook 2003 as a POP3 client for my Yahoo mail account. The replication would download everything in the Inbox just fine, but when it started to download the messages in Yahoo's Bulk folder (the place where it puts potential spam), it would randomly fail with a mail server error (either 0x800CCC90 or 0x800420CD). The failure point was never predictable - sometimes it would fail on the first message, sometimes it would get through dozens of messages and fail then. Sometimes, I would simply click "Send/Receive" again, and the same batch of e-mail that generated the error would work fine. I even found that moving the mouse around or scrolling the scroll wheel while the messages were downloading helped prevent the error (maybe it had something to do with keeping the client side from going idle? I don't know - it sounds strange to me, but I'm very sure it helped...)

This problem was particularly annoying because when the download doesn't finish, Yahoo doesn't delete the mail from the server. So if I walk away from my machine with Outlook running, and it has this problem after the 50th message, I might get 9 or 10 copies of those fifty messages on my hard drive. The only way to stop it was to go to the Yahoo Mail website and manually delete the already downloaded mail.

I spoke with Yahoo when it first started happening, and they sent me here and closed the support ticket. The problem is that this is a known bug with Outlook Express, not Outlook 2003. I tried the fix anyway, but to no avail.

So tonight, it hits me: the problem is only with the Bulk mail folder. For some reason, it never has a problem with the regular Inbox. So I shut off the Spamguard feature, which makes it send all the mail to the Inbox! Now, not only does the download work, but it goes faster than before, and there's no scrolling or clicking required on the client end.

The problem remains unsolved, but it's no longer my problem! Hallelujah!

posted by Brian at 1:25 AM | 4 comments

Friday, June 16, 2006

London, Part 3

Just to wrap-up the UK story:

Another successful day in the office. We split up at the end of the day, so I had to make my way back to the hotel, change clothes, and then head out to Picadilly Circus to meet a colleague for dinner. It's amazing how 24 hours in a new city is enough to get you oriented. I was able to navigate the Tube (including adding money to my Oyster card and transferring lines halfway through the trip), and was able to walk around downtown London enough to find the hotel and Picadilly. Next time I'm there, it'll take even less time to get my bearings, I'm sure...

As for the evening, we had dinner at a small Italian place right off Trafalgar Square (by the way, why is that one a square, while everything else is a circle/circus?) After that, we walked toward Buckingham Palace, and then down the Thames' bank to see Westminster Abbey, Parliament, Big Ben, and the Millenium Eye. By the time we got to Big Ben, it had grown dark. IMHO, Big Ben's much more impressive when it's lit up at night. At any rate, it was great to see some of the sights before heading home.

And oh, by the way, for all the political bickering that goes on around here, there is still something indescribably comforting about touching down in the United States after having been away.

posted by Brian at 1:47 PM | 4 comments

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

London, Part 2

More goings-on from the UK:

We had a successful day at work, including navigating the commuter trains to & from the office. Here's a neat fact, by the way: some of the commuter trains divide in the middle of their trips, with the first four coaches (cars) going to one destination and the second four going to another. So you can get on the right train at the right time and still wind up in the wrong place! This must be why Britons don't fall asleep on commuter trains as often as Americans do.

Of course, they still haven't solved the same problem we have in the States, namely: how in the name of all that is holy am I supposed to figure out if I'm in the first four cars? It's not like I can get out of the train and count them. My only real option is to start walking forward until I'm either in the front car, or can see the front car from where I'm standing (i.e., the second car). If they're going to make announcements like that, why don't they just list the car numbers. And if they're not going to list the numbers, why did they bother numbering the cars at all?!? <soapbox>

Anyway, after work, we grabbed some fast food and headed over to a stereotypical English pub to watch a World Cup Match (Brazil def. Croatia, 1-0). Great fun (and Guiness) was had by all. I know this isn't really news to anyone (not even me), but these folks root for soccer teams like they're the New York Yankees. I will admit, though, soccer is a whole lot more exciting when you're in a room with a couple hundred drunk Europeans who are really excited about it.

Two folks asked me during the game if I was from Brazil. I guess my New Yawk accent is fading... ;-)

posted by Brian at 2:23 PM | 2 comments

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Greetings from Jolly Old England

OK, so a quick summary of what I did today:

- Woke up at 6AM Eastern Daylight time.
- Went to work at 50 Rockefeller Plaza, across the street from NBC World Headquarters.
- Took a train to a plane to a train to a taxi cab and checked into the historic Langham Hotel in London at approximate 4AM EDT the following morning. Historic, by the way, is defined here as having many winding hallways between the eleva...oh, sorry - the lift and my room. I'm pretty sure I'll never find my way off the third floor (which is really the fourth floor, since the lobby is "G", not "1") again.
- The Langham Hotel is across the street from BBC World Headquarters, so the whole trip is basically a tour of the world's largest television studios.

Three interesting points about the cab ride:

1) The cabbie called me "governor." I seriously thought they only did that in the movies.

2) A few blocks before my hotel, we drove past Baker Street. Yes, that Baker Street. According to the cabbie, 221b did not exist when Conan Doyle wrote the books, but the tourists started coming in search of it, so now there's a small museum there with an English Bobby posted outside, just for the tourists to take pictures. The website contends that it was built in 1815, occupied by Holmes and Watson (two fictional characters) from 1881-1904, and is "faithfully maintained for posterity exactly as described in the published stories." Tourists...

3) The cabbie also told me that BBC headquarters is where television was invented. Turns out he's almost right. This was the site of the first mass broadcast, although the invention actually encompassed several people working over a number of years. Still, pretty cool...

I should also point out that this is the first post on this blog during which I'm really not sure if I Should Be Sleeping. On the one hand, it's 5AM now, on the other hand, I took many small naps between the hours of 6PM last night and 2AM this morning, while flying over here. I'm not really tired, so I'm on the Internet instead of lying in bed staring at the ceiling. I guess I'll know for sure by this evening, when I'll probably wind up at some English pub watching World Cup socc...oh, sorry - football.

Goodb...oh sorry, Cheers! Man, it's going to be a long couple of days...

posted by Brian at 5:21 AM | 2 comments

Monday, June 12, 2006

How People Find Me (Catch-Up Edition)

Inspired by Jeff Porten, I finally went ahead and wrote the query to pull back search phrases people used to access this blog. I'll try to check in once a month or so like Jeff does, so we'll know what people are looking for (and what they're actually finding). Anyway, let the fun begin:

  • Billy Joel concert review (3 / 1,100,000)

  • What prevents crime (4 / 7,590,000)

  • bad billy joel songs (>100 / 2,510,000)

  • microsoft outlook 2003 is not responding (>100 / 3,360,000)

  • anna kornikova nude pictures (68 / 81,800)

  • jeff porten (12 / 68,500)

  • ibaby duck (7 / 1,140)

  • grease platypus (>100 / 79,100)

  • scotus interruptus (25 / 591)

  • congressional decorum <>100 / 147,000)

  • i'll be watching you from above <>100 / 22,400,000)

  • sleeping with someone (>100 / 26,100,000)

  • is sleeping with your children ok (>100 / 10,900,000)

  • leahy wiretapping (3 / 120,000)***

  • embarrasing photos of people in their underwear (>100 / 25,000)

***: Jeff's How people find me, May version, in which he points out that I "still kick [his] ass" on the "leahy wiretapping" query, now ranks #2, ahead of my post, which is #3. I'm sure that in a couple of days, this post will outrank his. So at what point are we just intentionally messing with the Google algorithm?

posted by Brian at 12:23 AM | 0 comments

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Sorting Out the Same-Sex Marriage Debate

Well, it's election time again and the conservative, Republican President has low approval ratings, so it must be time to talk about same-sex marriage again. Before we begin, let me establish two facts:

1) I don't believe for a second that we're discussing this in an attempt to change anything about the laws governing marriage or the U.S. Constitution. This is a political ploy intended to make the conservative base feel better about President Bush, who campaigned on this position in both 2000 and 2004. Since it really won't affect public policy much and I disagree with his position, I'm more than happy to just hang around until the issue goes away.

2) I, personally, would be thrilled to see same-sex couples granted the full rights and privileges of marriage as it exists today in the United States. My thoughts below are more about what I think is the best practical approach to helping those who are disadvantaged by today's laws. I do not presume to speak for these folks, and fully recognize their right to tell me to mind my own business and go away.

OK, now that we've covered that, here is what I perceive to be the problem: There are many different definitions of marriage in the United States today, and allowing same-sex couples the right to marry under one definition has significant implications under another. People for whom a given definition is prominent, therefore, see the objections of another group (who are using a different definition) as wrong-headed, bigoted, or hateful. In order to have a rational debate that might actually resolve some of the inequalities in the current law, it's important to clearly delineate these groups and their definitions.

Clear as mud, right? Let me try some specifics. When my wife and I got married, I believe we did three things simultaneously:

1) We made a sacred vow to love each other for the rest of our lives, and to live our lives as partners in everything we do.

To some people, this concept, in and of itself, defines marriage. Note that it doesn't require government or religious sanction. All it requires is two people who share a common definition of the word "sacred." People in this group often say things like "Do we really need the piece of paper?" In doing so, they voluntarily opt out of the various benefits and protections afforded to married couples under state and federal law.

2) We participated in a Jewish ritual that has remained basically unchanged for thousands of years.

In the Jewish religion, this ritual actually involves the signing of two binding contracts. The Ketubah, written in the original Aramaic, which spells out the rights and responsibilities of a Jewish husband and a Jewish wife, and the Get, which is a sort-of Jewish pre-nuptual agreement, in which the husband promises to give the wife the religious equivalent of a divorce if the marriage should end (without it, according to Jewish law, the woman would be unable to remarry).

To some people, being married in the "Eyes of God" is of paramount importance. A Justice of the Peace wedding, to these folks, would not constitute a "real marriage," despite its financial and legal implications for the couple.

3) We signed a binding contract with the State of New York and the federal government of the United States.

This document, called a Marriage License, entitled us to a Marriage Certificate. That certificate guarantees us various benefits and protections under U.S. law. It governs, among other things, the way in which we would inherit each other's money and maintain custody of our children upon one of our deaths, our right to share health insurance, the way we pay our taxes, our ability to jointly own property (e.g., a home), and many other important domestic issues.

To some people, a legal marriage is of the utmost importance. In fact, many people dispense with any sort of religious ritual and get married in a courthouse by a Justice of the Peace (a government official).

I'm sure there are many other definitions of marriage, but let's just examine these three for a minute.

Regarding #1, those who oppose same-sex marriage have long since lost the battle. Gay men and women have been living together as spouses for decades, and there is nothing anyone else in the world can do to stop them. This is such a universal truth that it is rarely argued in the debate over same-sex marriage.

Regarding #2, most of the world's major religions define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. This has been true for millennia, and quite frankly, I can't imagine it changing now. I also suspect, although I don't presume to speak for anyone but myself, that most same-sex couples have strong disagreements with the major religions on homosexuality in general, and as such, don't much care to have their marriage defined or blessed by a particular church/temple/mosque/etc.

Regarding #3, the laws in 49 of the 50 states (Massachusetts being the exception) provide these benefits and protections only to man/woman marriages, and deny them to same-sex couples that have the same kind of relationship. The effects of this situation can range from inconvenient (the need to explicitly adopt your spouse's children) to tragic (the inability to inherit a spouse's estate or collect his/her life insurance claim after an unexpected death, if proper documentation isn't established beforehand).

When the political debate over this issue is conducted, it is my strong belief that the proponents of same-sex marriage argue for equal recognition under the law (definition #3), and the opponents argue that expanding the definition of marriage would violate God's law (definition #2). The relatively low polling numbers for same-sex marriage and the relatively high numbers for gay rights suggest that many who oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds would be happy to grant same-sex couples the benefits and protections that the law provides man/woman married couples.

One solution to this conundrum has been to create a new category under the law called "Civil Unions," which could be granted the same rights and privileges as married couples, but leave the concept of marriage consistent with the prevailing religious views. Unfortunately, the term "civil union" has become synonymous with those that oppose same-sex marriage, and has come to be seen as the "not-really-a-marriage marriage," calling up images of the "separate but equal" arguments that preceded the Brown vs Board of Education case in 1954. This turn of events, in my opinion, has cost many same-sex couples a legal avenue to secure the benefits and protections that they so desperately need and deserve.

So what's left? Another option that has been kicked around in the blogosphere (and maybe elsewhere) is to eliminate the term "marriage" from U.S. law, and make it the exclusive purview of religion. In a sense, this amounts to converting all marriages to civil unions (in a legal sense). Couples could profess their undying love for each other by themselves (#1), get married in a church/temple/mosque (#2) and create a Civil Union in the eyes of the government (#3) to secure the above-mentioned rights. This, in my opinion, is a promising solution, but it does not come without it's detractors. Those who are married in a civil ceremony, for instance. They consider their relationship a "marriage" today, and probably would not take kindly to being told they are not married, simply because they did not go through a religious ritual recognized as a marriage. There are also people who did go through a religious ceremony, but still see this plan as a lessening of their marriage in the eyes of the government, and therefore oppose it.

At the end of the day, the religious concept of marriage (#2) and the legal concept of marriage (#3) are two separate concepts. However, people view the laws of the land as a reflection of what our society accepts as permissible. Some religious people see a variance between the #3 definition and the #2 definition as a rejection of their religious principles by American society, and therefore oppose it.

This posture, coupled with the negative, "separate but equal" reaction to using a different legal term, creates a semantic paradox. And while it is semantic in nature, it is causing real financial and legal pain for thousands of couples across the country, and so it must be resolved.

I believe the solution lies in stressing the distinction between #2 and #3 above, and working in good faith to make both groups happy. This would involve either agreeing to separate terminology (with appropriate guarantees of equal protection) or agreeing to use the same term to refer to the different concepts, with broad understanding that a change in one does not imply a change to the other.

The current status of this debate - that of political football - erodes the likelihood of either scenario playing itself out and, as such, hurts Americans in very real and immediate ways.

posted by Brian at 12:04 AM | 0 comments

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Movie Review: The Da Vinci Code

At this point, everybody basically knows what this movie is about, how it came from a best-selling novel, and all of the associated controversy, etc. So I'll just get right to the point: I liked it. A lot.

Which is not to say I disagree with the vast majority of reviews out there - it's very detailed, very hard to follow, and very slow moving at times. I just don't see why this makes it a bad movie. In fact, having read the book, these are the very things about the book I enjoyed most. So the fact that the same traits exist in the movie doesn't put me off, it meets my expectations.

At the end of the day, this is not a summer/popcorn movie. It's a murder mystery wrapped in an Indiana Jones film, served on a bed of James Bond. It makes you think. If you're the kind of person who has to go back in the book and re-read chapters to understand the backstory, the movie might be frustrating for you. If that's the case, I suggest seeing it twice (Note to Ron Howard: please send the check to my home address), or renting the DVD when it comes out so you can pause and rewind to your heart's content.

Ironically, the movie does a very clever job of bypassing some of the most tedious scenes in the book. [Don't worry, I'll avoid spoilers here, I promise.] The one that jumps out in my mind is a long scene in the book where the main characters go to a public library to research one of the story's many riddles, running various queries through the library's super-computer to eventually discover the answer. In the movie, they borrow a cell phone from a stranger, and use the phone's web browser to find the answer on the first try.

The other thing about the movie that surprised me was the degree to which the main character, Dr. Randall Langdon (Tom Hanks) disputes the theories that have caused all the controversy in the real-life press. Other characters (most notably Ian McKellan's Lee Teabing) advance the theories of Mary Magdalene as the wife of Jesus, etc., and Langdon rushes to point out that all of this is unproven theory. Teabing eventually wins the argument, of course, but Langdon is always in the background, shaking his head and rolling his eyes. Even when educating the overwhelmed and naive Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), Langdon couches his explanations in phrases like "Some people claim..." and "The story goes that..." At one point, Neveu asks Langdon, "Do you really believe all of this?" and Langdon responds, "We've been sucked into a world where people do believe it . . . enough to resort to murder." Some of this exists in the book, but it seemed much more prominent on screen. I would call it a nod of respect to the Catholic Church by director Ron Howard, but the Church has been so vocal about the movie before seeing it that I can't imagine they'd acknowledge it at this point.

If I had to offer any criticism of the movie, it would be the lack of chemistry between the two main characters. These folks go through hell and back together (no pun intended), so one would naturally expect them to grow close to each other, worry for each other's safety, rejoice in escaping a close call, etc. In the book, there's even an undercurrent of sexual tension, with Langdon noting his attraction but putting it on hold while the actions swirls around him. In the movie, the two seem to be all business, all the time. At the very end, when the excitement is over, there's a touching scene, but it comes across as the blossoming of a romantic interest, rather than the satisfying opportunity for the couple to stop, take a breath, and acknowledge their feelings for each other. After reading the book, I assumed the two would begin dating the very next day. After seeing the movie, I think he might wait a few months and then decide to ask her out for a casual cup of coffee. Opportunity lost, if you ask me.

To sum up: if you liked the book, I think you'll like the movie. If you haven't read the book, I think you'll like the movie even more (my wife loved it), but only if you're willing to put your thinking cap on and pay close attention.

Also, I heard that if you re-arrange the words in the closing credits, they form a quote from the New Testament.

(Just kidding).

posted by Brian at 10:53 PM | 0 comments

Smacking Around Your Mac...

There have been lots of stories floating around the web about that guy that made his Macbook change desktops by smacking it on its side. CNET just published video instructions on how to do it, including links to all the relevant sites.

Question 1: How long you think until Apple puts out the press release asking people to stop this, because their support lines are being overrun with people who's hard drives have crashed from excessive smacking around?

Question 2: How long until Apple puts out laptops that switch desktops this way as part of the OS, using a separate sensor, rather than relying on the hard drive protection sensor that folks are using now?

Question 3: How long until people start making the Mac do other things when you smack it (like play a sound file telling you to cut it out)?

posted by Brian at 9:42 PM | 5 comments

Saturday, June 03, 2006

My First (and Likely Only) Hanson Update

Remember Hanson? Those three kids that had a pop hit with a song called MMMBop?

Well, the keyboard player/lead singer has been married for five years, and has two kids. Wait, it gets worse: that little kid who played drums? He's getting married tomorrow. And here's the worst of it: their latest album (now two years old) is called The Best of Hanson: Live and Electric.

posted by Brian at 2:13 AM | 0 comments

Friday, June 02, 2006

Welcome to the Year 2176...

Quick - when was America born? 1776, right? They made a really big deal about her 200th birthday in 1976, after all. So you can imagine my surprise when I saw a link to this site:

Turns out it's not some Star Trek inspired wormhole into the year 2176, but rather a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, VA, the first permanent setttlement in the New World (well, OK, the first permanent settlement by Europeans in the New World - the Indians were already here if I remember correctly).

Now, I'm all for anniversary parties, especially when the anniversary number has two whole zeroes in it and all, but the 400th Anniversary of America? Isn't that just a bit disingenuous?

I wish people would just call things what they are. So Happy 400th Anniversary to the town of Jamestown, VA. Join us a month from now for America's 230th. I hear they're having fireworks this year...

posted by Brian at 9:21 AM | 1 comments

Depth of Activist Group's Anger Revealed...

(Hat tip: Instapundit)

Before President Bush touched down in Pennsylvania Wednesday to promote his nuclear energy policy, the environmental group Greenpeace was mobilizing.

'This volatile and dangerous source of energy' is no answer to the country's energy needs, shouted a Greenpeace fact sheet decrying the 'threat' posed by the Limerick reactors Bush visited.

But a factoid or two later, the Greenpeace authors were stumped while searching for the ideal menacing metaphor.

We present it here exactly as it was written, capital letters and all: 'In the twenty years since the Chernobyl tragedy, the world's worst nuclear accident, there have been nearly [FILL IN ALARMIST AND ARMAGEDDONIST FACTOID HERE].'


The aghast Greenpeace spokesman who issued the memo, Steve Smith, said a colleague was making a joke by inserting the language in a draft that was then mistakenly released.

'Given the seriousness of the issue at hand, I don't even think it's funny,' Smith said.

The final version did not mention Armageddon. It just warned of plane crashes and reactor meltdowns."


posted by Brian at 12:48 AM | 2 comments

Thursday, June 01, 2006

A Democrat to Defend...

This one goes out to Jeff Porten, who's been accusing me of leaning too far to the right lately:

The Canadian Free Press has uncovered the shocking news that Jimmy Carter's Carter Center of Atlanta has accepted over $1 million in donations from Bakr Bin Laden, Osama Bin Laden's brother.

"An investigation by the Censure Carter Committee into the financing for The Carter Center of Atlanta, Georgia founded by President Carter and his wife to advance his "Blame America First" policies reveals that over $1,000,000 has been funneled from Bakr M. Bin Laden for the Saudi Bin Laden Group to the Carter Center," says Censure Carter.Com in a mainstream media-ignored recent media release.

"In fact, an online report accuses former President Carter of meeting with 10 of Osama Bin Laden's brothers early in 2000, Carter and his wife, Rosalyn followed up their meeting with a breakfast with Bakr Bin Laden in September 2000 and secured the first $200,000 towards the more than $1 million that has been received by the Carter Center."

OK, let's assume for a minute that all of this is true. Here's the thing:

Big Deal.

Osama Bin Laden has more than fifty brothers and sisters. Many of them are on friendly terms with the United States. Several of them cooperated fully with our intelligence agencies just after 9/11, and several others have shown up in American pop culture - writing books or appearing on reality TV programs. There is no evidence of any sort that any of them are terrorists, or have any ties to terrorists (including their estranged brother Osama). The Bin Laden Group that these folks refer to is the largest construction company in the Middle East and, from what I read, a perfectly respectable company.

Michael Moore criticized President Bush and his family for having ties with the Bin Ladens in his movie, Fahrenheit 911 for the same misleading reasons. It was stupid then, and it's stupid now.

posted by Brian at 9:27 AM | 4 comments