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.
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
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
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
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
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.