The secret is this

Wil Wheaton was a dick. For many years, that’s what I thought, even though I’d never met him. I’d seen Stand By Me when it showed up cable. I’d even seen him on Star Trek: The Next Generation, even though that was only while flipping past whichever channel was airing it. But I knew. I knew it because it mattered that some guy, some actor, on the other side of the country was a dick. Gossip is the coinage of teenage youth. Besides, no tabloid magazine was necessary. I had a first-person account.

A few months ago, I wrote about my high school friend, John Aboud, and how he was part of the group of friends with whom I ate lunch every day. Also among that group was Grady Weatherford. Grady was a Junior that year, my Senior Year. I don’t remember how we added him to our group, but we did. And he was an actor. And during that year, he landed a role in Toy Soldiers, playing the all-important role of student. I had an “in”.

Never having worked on a movie, we quizzed Grady any day he was in school during filming of Toy Soldiers. I don’t remember who first brought up Wil Wheaton’s name. I didn’t even care about Wil Wheaton. I just wanted to learn the truth about Gordie Lachance, a.k.a. “TV’s Wil Wheaton”.

In what was inevitably a throw-away comment, we learned that Wil Wheaton was a dick. Who needs to question that? That knowledge was good enough for me. And my life continued happily for years.

While in graduate school, I spent the summer between my first and second year staying up late, playing on the new-fangled Internet, and watching random movies on cable. One night, I saw a movie called Pie in the Sky. I’d never heard of the movie, but it starred Josh Charles. Since I’d enjoyed his performances in Threesome and Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, I stuck around when it came on.

So I’m watching and enjoying the movie when “that guy who I heard was a dick” showed up on screen as Jack, Charlie Dunlap’s (Josh Charles) best friend. I’m not going to describe what happened in the scene because you should watch the movie, but this is important: I laughed. So I thought “That guy’s funny. I wonder if he’s still a dick…”. Over the next few years, I watched Pie in the Sky enough to memorize most of the dialogue. Every time I watched, I always laughed at “that guy who I heard was a dick but seems to be funny”.

On November 25, 2002, I read Whitney Matheson’s Hip Clicks in USA Today. This is what she wrote:

The Onion A.V. Club interviews Wil Wheaton this week. The star of Stand By Me and Star Trek: The Next Generation also has a great Web site; if you haven’t checked it out, you should.

“Hey! It’s that guy,” I thought. I wanted to know what he might have to say. There was no investment in clicking, just satisfying a curiousity. I clicked my way to WIL WHEATON dot NET.

I first recognized that his site was set up like this new internet phenomenon I’d heard about called a weblog, or “blog” to the kids in the know. I started reading. The first post I read included this paragraph:

A few months ago, I made this major decision in my life: I would stop applying a singular focus to getting work as an actor. I would continue to accept auditions as they came along, but I wasn’t going to break my back, or sacrifice time with my friends and family to play Hollywood’s game.

“Dicks” don’t sacrifice their career for their family. Do they? I read more. And more, until I noticed a theme. He’d lived his life, faced struggles, and transformed himself into a family man/writer/actor who was not a dick. Having never met him, I couldn’t be sure that he wasn’t a dick, but I could sense enough from his writing to assume the best about him. My old uninformed opinion fell away.

I bookmarked his site and checked in multiple times a day, waiting for each post. Last summer, he self-published a book, Dancing Barefoot, which I bought and read and enjoyed. When I bought Just A Geek, I jumped into the pages immediately and found a writer with a skill few writers possess: he made me laugh, out loud, while riding the subway. (I recommend Just A Geek. For a little more depth in a review, consider reviews here and here.) When a writer can do that, allow me to paraphrase a quote from Richard Bach: I hope Wil Wheaton makes a million dollars from Just A Geek.

As I said, I’ve never watched Star Trek, yet Danielle and I added an extra day to our vacation in Las Vegas when we learned that Wil Wheaton is signing autographs and performing at this weekend’s Star Trek Convention. We’ve already purchased our admission and autograph tickets, so after this
weekend, besides striking Star Trek Convention from my Crazy Things I Never Thought I’d Do&#153 list, as I did with the Miss America Pageant, I’m anxious to confirm that Wil Wheaton is not a dick, that he’s just a geek.

(Was that too much Hallmark to be David Sedaris?)

He ain’t heavy, he’s my keeper

President Bush spoke these words yesterday:

“This broad agenda we will carry into the new term comes from a basic conviction: Government should never try to control or dominate the lives of our citizens,” Bush said. “Yet government can and should help citizens gain the tools to make their own choices and to improve their own lives.”

A censor’s fat pen and a political party’s Constitutional amendment are tools, I guess, but they don’t strike me as empowering President Bush’s sudden epiphany…

I learned how to spell “fahrenheit”

Last week, Danielle and I saw Fahrenheit 9/11. Everyone who has read knows or can decipher the basics of my political philosophy. I’ve been clear about my feelings regarding the upcoming election, so no one is surprised that I believe President Bush isn’t fit to be President of the United States. I knew going into Fahrenheit 9/11 that Michael Moore wouldn’t change my mind because I already “agreed” with him. He’s aiming for those undecided voters who can be swayed. Like I said, not me. I went into the theater hoping that Fahrenheit 9/11 would sway undecided voters away from President Bush.

Too bad Fahrenheit 9/11 is a piece of shit.

Walking out of the theater, I felt as though I’d been treated to a live-action Jackson Pollack painting. A dab of red here, a dollop of blue there, a dose of yellow on top of all of it. This isn’t what a film should aspire to… lots of pretty pieces but thematically incoherent. No individual part added to a single, obvious revelation. President Bush is “stupid” and “arrogant” and “corrupt”, but what does that have to do with soldiers not knowing why they’re fighting and dying? I can make the connection, but I shouldn’t have to work extra hard to do it with the presented information.

I’m going to ignore the factual misrepresentations and lies because I don’t know the validity of Mr. Moore’s truths. I’ve read enough information on both sides of his arguments to understand that Mr. Moore slants the facts with misrepresentations and/or lies. This is a shame, because I think he could’ve made a great film. At least one that would withstand even a minimum level of scrutiny, which is what I hope anyone would apply when seeing a political propaganda film.

Before seeing Fahrenheit 9/11, I’d had friends and various media recommend it as important. When deciding which movie to see (we also considered Before Sunset, which we saw tonight), a man came up to us and asked if we’d seen it. We said no, so he told us we didn’t need to think any longer, that we needed to see it. His reaction was exactly what I expected from the “I don’t question facts, I only see something that confirms my view” crowd Mr. Moore panders to, especially with this film.

Mr. Moore’s thematic failing with Fahrenheit 9/11 is obvious. The movie consists of three “acts”, with no glue to hold each act with the one before or after. First, he opens with Election 2000 in an effort to show that Al Gore won the election but Bush became president because of influential friends on the Supreme Court. Next, he considers the war in Afghanistan. Last, he addresses the war in Iraq.

I know that Mr. Moore’s theme is supposed to be “the failings of George W. Bush as president”, or something similar. What he shows is anecdotal evidence that President Bush is a puppet for Saudi Arabia, that President Bush didn’t use enough force in Afghanistan (Mr. Moore opposed this war), and that America is a bully to innocent Iraqi civilians. Mr. Moore ignores anything that supports a different view of his beliefs and doesn’t bother to discredit opposing views. To his credit he doesn’t claim to be “fair and balanced” so that he can sway you away from President Bush. That doesn’t make his film’s failing excusable.

While waiting for something compelling to wrap up the movie, Fahrenheit 9/11 lost me when Mr. Moore started Act 3. His presentation of Iraq in Fahrenheit 9/11 is manipulative. He never attempts to put the buildup and eventual war in Iraq in any context. What he does is show U.S. soldiers as militant mercenaries; callous, unfeeling human beings who listen to rock ‘n roll before going into battle. We are to believe they take glee in shooting and killing innocent civilians. Mr. Moore intends for us to hate them and laugh at them for being lower life forms.

A few minutes later, Fahrenheit 9/11 shows dead soldiers as Mr. Moore introduces his tale of a mother who taught her children that the military is the viable option for getting out of lower class life. From the beginning of this segment, we know that her story will not turn out well, so she’s the victim of President Bush’s “crimes”.

I might accept that if Mr. Moore hadn’t followed this with images of soldiers disrespecting Iraqi captives. Again we’re shown that soldiers are bad. We’re supposed to hate these vile soldiers but feel bad for the poor mothers left behind. That doesn’t work for me.

Fahrenheit 9/11 left me feeling incomplete. I knew what I was supposed to believe, but if I’d just flown in from another planet, I wouldn’t understand why I’d sat for two hours watching scene after scene thrown at me. Fahrenheit 9/11 is like an Italian chef who throws boiling spaghetti (real Italians bend and taste the spaghetti) against a wall to see if it’ll stick. When something sticks, it’s done. Until then, keep boiling and throwing.

Michael Moore throws, but none of Fahrenheit 9/11’s spaghetti sticks.

Teaching more than skills and knowledge

From today’s weekly radio address by President Bush:

As yesterday’s report shows, we are making progress in changing the culture of America from one that said, “if it feels good, do it; and if you’ve got a problem, blame somebody else,” to a culture in which each of us understands we are responsible for the decisions we make in life.

That line is in the middle of a paragraph, so I admit that I’m extracting a piece of his speech to prove a separate point. But I’m not twisting the meaning. President Bush said that and it applies.

How am I trying to apply it to another issue? The CIA offered inaccurate evidence to prove that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, which led to the war in Iraq on a false pretense. When the prison abuse scandal appeared, President Bush swept it away. Everyone in his administration took a “get over it” posture.

I’d give more examples, but that’s enough in the recent past to prove what I’m about to say. I’m not saying President Bush lied to America because I’m not privy to any information that would make me think that. I don’t think he’s sinister and evil as many others believe. He’s human and makes mistakes like the rest of us.

I do believe that, as the Commander-in-Chief, he is responsible for what happens within the government. By acting on the information from the CIA, he accepted it as truth. When it became clear that the CIA was wrong, President Bush did nothing. When we learned that Abu Ghraib was not an isolated incident, President Bush did nothing. (On both examples, when I say “nothing”, I mean “nothing public with any substance”.)

I offer a wiser example of presidential responsibility with this quote from Harry Truman:

“The President–whoever he is–has to decide. He can’t pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for him. That’s his job.”

That applies to the consequences of his decisions, as well. While admitting mistakes as a politician can be dangerous to a re-election, as the President, George W. Bush is granted an amazing power over the reputation of the United States. He must represent that well, regardless of the personal outcome to himself. President Bush can’t encourage teenagers to accept responsibility for their actions when he won’t take responsibility for his own. If he wishes to be the true leader of “traditional values”, he’ll teach through his example rather than his rhetoric words.

(For the full speech that contains the above quote, click here. Please decide for yourself.)

They have a saying for this in Tennessee

President Bush is looking out for us. Even though the FMA is “dead”, our president believes that this issue must continue. Consider his statement from yesterday:

“Activist judges and local officials in some parts of the country are not letting up in their efforts to redefine marriage for the rest of America and neither should defenders of traditional marriage flag in their efforts,” he added.

“It is important for our country to continue the debate on this important issue, and I urge the House of Representatives to pass this amendment,” the president said.

Pass this amendment, even though the Senate has already shown that sufficient support doesn’t exist? As opposed to focusing on real issues like national security? Worry not, though. Anyone who is fretting that Republicans don’t have an alternate plan, they do. It’s called HR 3313 IH, and it passed the House Judiciary Committee yesterday. It states:

`No court created by Act of Congress shall have any jurisdiction, and the Supreme Court shall have no appellate jurisdiction, to hear or determine any question pertaining to the interpretation of section 1738c of this title or of this section. Neither the Supreme Court nor any court created by Act of Congress shall have any appellate jurisdiction to hear or determine any question pertaining to the interpretation of section 7 of title 1.’.

Do you read that text the same way I do? Let me offer a statement that sums up my interpretation:

“This simply defers to the states,” said Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

This is hypocritical. While promoting a Constitutional Amendment, Republican leaders have stated that we, the right-thinking Americans, can’t trust state-level “activist judges” to continue defining marriage correctly. By extension, they claim that the Defense of Marriage Act isn’t safe. Yet, now that the FMA is on life support, Republicans wish to eliminate all federal jurisdiction over marriage? What about those “activist judges”? Won’t they do exactly what we’ve been told they’ll do?

Oh, wait… I know why… They’re using HR 3313 IH to remove any association of the “full faith and credit” clause with marriage. It’s good to know that they’re looking out for me. This will be a great precedent that Congress can abolish the federal judiciary from considering any argument I might make that one state won’t honor a contract entered into in another. Good idea.

Given the obvious fallacy of this legislation, I suspect it will not hold up. I guess I should be cheering, but I’m not. Congress is playing politics with our law. While this is not new, it’s hard to recall such a blatant attempt to redefine American democracy into something less than itself. That is my fundamental problem with the way our leaders are undertaking this “debate”. This is shameful, but it’s not going away.


Republican officials also said it was possible they would stage other votes on gay marriage before the fall elections.

In addition, several officials said a constitutional amendment may be brought to the floor in the fall, closer to the election.

At least this issue is not politically motivated, as critics have suggested.

Na na na na, hey hey-ey, goodbye

How a situation can change in just a few hours. I was going to post at lunchtime, but decided to wait until this afternoon. Now, of course, the FMA is dead for the year. In a 48-50 vote, the FMA failed to get the necessary 60 votes to reach the floor of the Senate. Too bad…

But I do offer Senator Rick Santorum’s latest quote during the debate, just because it highlights his agenda:

“I would argue that the future of our country hangs in the balance because the future of marriage hangs in the balance,” said Sen. Rick Santorum, a leader in the fight to approve the measure. “Isn’t that the ultimate homeland security, standing up and defending marriage?”



(Here’s the original post, since this debate isn’t going away.)

Beware the rhetoric regarding the Federal Marriage Amendment. Now that the Republican leadership in the Senate realizes that it won’t win passage of the FMA. Despite my joy at the potential for political suicide undertaken by the religious wing of the Republican Party, I’m still frightened that a United States Senator could make this statement and believe it.

“If you support … a mother and a father for every child, you are a hater. If you believe that men and women for 5,000 years have bonded together in marriage, you’re a gay-basher. Marriage is hate. Marriage is a stain. Marriage is an evil thing. That’s what we hear,” said Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa.

This proposed Constitutional amendment is not about marriage. If it were about marriage, there would be one sentence in the wording proclaiming marriage as between one man and one woman, but that’s not what it says. There is a second line eliminating any potential rights for same-sex couples from civil unions or other such arrangements. This is about stopping the implied homosexual master plan to “redefine marriage”.

As for Senator Santorum’s facts, I’ll offer an alternate viewpoint about the history of marriage. Consider Andrew Sullivan’s responses to President Bush’s Saturday radio address, which focused on the Federal Marriage Amendment:

Then there is his second premise: that allowing gay people to enter into civil marriage would “fundamentally redefine” marriage. In fact, of course, gay couples want to enter marriage as it is currently defined. And the fundamental redefinition of civil marriage to which the president refers occurred decades ago–when contraception became widely available, severing the link between procreation and civil marriage; and with the advent of women’s equality, ending the notion that civil marriage was a way in which men affirmed domestic control of women. If civil marriage is therefore not procreative and not based on distinct gender roles, on what grounds is the admission of gay people a “redefinition”? In fact, under the current definition of civil marriage, the exclusion of gay couples is a blinding anomaly.


But it is simply a fact that marriage is “an evolving paradigm.” For the first millennium after Christ, Christianity didn’t even recognize marriage as a sacrament. It was regarded as a purely secular matter of property ownership. Marriage also once meant the ownership of women by men. It was once permanent, and no divorce was possible. It was once restricted to couples of the same race. The notion that it has never changed is simply untrue. The only relevant question is whether the current change is a good one. The president doesn’t answer that question. He simply asserts it, based on nothing but bad history and ignorance.

I’ve made it clear that I support legalizing same-sex marriage as a civil arrangement because the different-but-equal aspect of civil unions is absurd. (Don’t even get me started about the nonsense going on here in Virginia concerning private contracts between same-sex couples.) Not everyone is going to agree with that, and I respect that. But that doesn’t mean an amendment is the right option. I’m happy to see that many conservatives are agreeing and intend to vote against the FMA for the correct reasons (marriage is a state issue and this amendment would damage the Constitution). Insert pithy, feel-good ending here… Isn’t democracy great?

Shhh… we’re really cousins

At some point in the recent past, Danielle pointed me to the fine comedy stylings of The Sneeze. I’m grateful. Over the last month or so that I’ve been reading the site, I’ve laughed out loud. Catching up on the archives, I laughed. With each new post, I eagerly anticipate the joke. When there is no intended joke, I marvel at every interesting turn of phrase. In short, it’s good.

This morning, I checked for an update. When I saw the title “Reviews You Can Use: Identical Twins”, I laughed in anticipation after reading the first line. I quote:

The concept of identical people is an intriguing one.

Being an identical twin, I laughed. In a few paragraphs, a short list, and a final assessment, he mocks every person who has ever treated my brother and me as one person. People are always “shocked” when they see us together, until they get to know us. Then they realize how easy it is to tell us apart. Because we’re not “identical”.

I recommend The Sneeze. Too bad he doesn’t know that every cheeseburger my brother eats dumps another pound on my gut.

Mud incoming! Duck!

Walking by newspaper vending machines yesterday, the headlines struck me as informative, highlighting the journalistic approach of each newspaper’s editorial board. Each had its presentation of John Kerry choosing John Edwards as his running mate. Consider:

The New York Times reported the story to imply that Senator Edwards is a skilled politician. Hidden clue: Vote for Kerry/Edwards. Because they’re smart. And those other guys are dumb.

The Washington Post reported the story to imply that Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards are focusing on what matters to Americans. Hidden clue: Vote for Kerry/Edwards. Because they care about what you care about. And those other guys don’t.

The Washington Times reported the story to imply that Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards have much in common with each other. Hidden clue: Vote Bush/Cheney. Because they’re the right guys with real values. And those other guys are vapid, out-of-touch liberals.

Reporting the news is essential, but doing so with an editorial slant is wrong. I don’t like reading marketing material on the front page of a newspaper. While I believe that speaking of “good hair” in the front page headline is the most egregious error of the three, all three are bad. Whether liberal or conservative, bias is bias. I’m concerned about how much worse it’s going to get before November 2nd.