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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
September 19, 2004

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.


Eisner, Altoids, Brush-Ups, and Asimov

So Michael Eisner is going to "retire" from Disney ... in 2006.

I guess he never heard of the term "lame duck."

If you intend to stay for two more years, you don't announce you're leaving. It makes it impossible for you to do anything significant for the years you're hanging on.

And if you have some compelling reason for announcing your retirement right now -- for instance, you're doing a really bad job and people hate you -- then don't just announce it, do it. Resign. Retire. Walk away.

But Eisner still has no clue. First he drove away Jeffrey Katzenberg, the guy who was actually making Disney a great animation studio again. Apparently Eisner thought the creative guy was replaceable, while the empty suit was essential.

Wrong.

And now, he emptied the suit even further. In fact, there's not even a suit. Just a chair. With a shadow in it. Or maybe just a stain.

*

Remember back when the only thing you could do about bad breath was either chew Dentyne or suck on Certs?

Now we have so many more choices.

I've seen the Altoids ads but I recognize candy when I see it. And since I don't much care for mints and my breath is always minty sweet without artificial aid, I was able to resist the sales pitch.

Until someone offered me a tangerine-flavored Altoid recently. Curiosity trumped wisdom and I discovered that yes, Altoids are candy pretending to be breath medicine, but they're very good candy.

My favorite Altoid? The citrus flavor.

But sour as they are, they only made me wish for the Danish-made Regal Crown sour candies -- sour cherry and sour lemon used to be my favorite mouth-wrecking treat. Alas, those candies are no longer made. So Altoids are as close as I can come.

By the way, if you remember candy that no longer seems to be around, join the club. Sometimes the candy lost its distribution or became regional, and suddenly it pops up again. For years I couldn't find Ferrara Red Hots or Lemon Head anywhere; then they were back and I was happy.

Ditto with Necco wafers -- some people hate them, because they're hard without being smooth, or because the multiple flavors often put something they don't like in their mouths. But I'm old enough now that I even like the flavors I don't like ... if that makes any sense.

I mean, nobody in their right mind likes bitter flavors. Yet as I get older, I find that bitters in a salad make a nice contrast. It's not that I like bitters. Individually, they still stink. But as part of something else, they make it all better.

Neccos work that way. I don't like the pink ones at all. But I eat them, because they make the white ones and yellow ones taste even better.

But that's all in the realm of tooth-rotting sugar-coating candy. Another breath remedy, Oral-B Brush-Ups, also offers to clean your teeth. So it's kind of the opposite of an Altoid. Altoids taste great and rot your mouth. Oral-B Brush-Ups give you cleaner teeth and don't rot anything, but it's about as pleasant as rubbing chalk on your teeth.

What you get in a package is a pad with a slot into which you insert a finger. Then you use that finger to rub the pad on your teeth.

It works. Your teeth are cleaner. Not between the teeth, necessarily, because it's not floss, it's just a surface rub. But that nasty coating you notice on your teeth about a half-hour after you run out of Altoids is nicely eliminated by Oral-B Brush-Ups.

Here's a hint, though: drink some water right after you use a Brush Up and swish it around in your mouth. It gets rid of the chalkiness. And maybe it'll clean a little between your teeth.

I notice that the Brush-Ups packaging doesn't make any extravagant claims about preventing cavities. The website talks about cleaning teeth and freshening breath, and it's very proud of the packaging, but it never says it fights tooth decay.

But at least you feel like you're not actively attacking your teeth by using Brush-Ups.

Then again, if you like really sour candy as much as I do, you start rationalizing. "I'm 53. How long do I actually need these teeth? What if my teeth all outlive me? What good does that do me?" The idea is to eat just enough citrus Altoids that my teeth will fall out the day after I die.

*

After watching the movie I, Robot, I bought Asimov's original book, as read on tape by my friend Scott Brick -- who was one of the writer/actors involved with Posing As People. Because I was listening to it as I drove around Greensboro and then L.A., I arrived at our first rehearsal with Scott's voice still ringing in my ears. It took him a moment to understand why I greeted him with, "Not another word out of you, Scott, I've heard enough for today."

The thing about the book I, Robot is that it hasn't aged well. Especially the first stories in the collection. This was in the era of sci-fi writing when science was finally being taken seriously -- but characterization wasn't. The characters are little more than place-holders, offering rather juvenile banter as they try to solve the scientific puzzle at the center of the tale.

The later stories get markedly better, but by the end of reading the book, you realize that while Asimov's exploration of ethical dilemmas and rule manipulation remains fascinating, as fiction these tales are relics of an earlier era. Asimov's writing, as always, is crystal clear, and gradually they become more modern in their sensibility.

But it's obvious why the movie did not stick with any of the stories in the book. Not one of them would make a good movie. And yet the story they did film would be perfectly appropriate.

The irony is that while robots are really nothing but small computers in control of a machine that moves and does jobs, neither Asimov nor any other sci-fi writer of the era guessed that computers would become miniaturized and ubiquitous.

So we have the anomaly of reading about robots with "positronic brains" coexisting with massive computers that fill huge buildings.

But that's nothing compared to having somebody in Second Foundation, a story set many thousands of years in the future, use a slide rule.

Which brings me to the next Asimov book I decided to reread: The Foundation Trilogy. These three books (Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation) are vintage Asimov from his own personal golden age. He no longer relies on empty banter to keep his characters busy while they solve a puzzle. Now they are more believable human beings, and the puzzles are part of an overarching storyline that has genuine grandeur.

In other words, the Foundation Trilogy absolutely holds up. Yes, there are technological faux pas that make it clear these books were written before most of the world's population of today was born, but what of that? Asimov's plan was to use Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" as a plan for a future history in which a great galaxy-spanning empire is on the verge of collapse.

In this story, however, a psychohistorian named Hari Seldon comes up with a plan that will enable the human race to avoid thirty thousand years of chaos, barbarism, and war, and achieve a new and better empire to establish peace and prosperity within a mere thousand years.

Asimov still relies on the tried-and-true puzzle-story format that dominated sci-fi in that era, and some of his readings of how historical forces work are also dated. (Part of the problem comes from Gibbon's anti-religious bias, which is not supported out by the historical record.) But you can nitpick any work of fiction that purports to reflect the real world.

What matters to the reader is that nearly fifty years after these stories were first written, they are still a major work by a major writer, and however dated they sometimes feel, they still deliver both grandeur and serious ideas. Asimov was and remains one of the giants of an American-born literary genre, and the Foundation series is a classic.


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