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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
October 11, 2009

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


Fatal Rumors, Furniture, Cheeburger

I hate injections.

When I lived in Brazil back in the early 1970s, I was appalled at the casual way people got injections -- almost as if it were a pleasure. And they didn't go to the doctor to get them -- they went to the drugstore.

That's right, pharmacists gave injections there all the time. Somebody would have the flu or a cold and they'd say, "I'm going to go get an injection." In my infinite American wisdom I'd say, "There is no injection that will do the slightest good against flu or a cold," and they'd look at me sadly and say, "You mean they don't have them in America yet?"

Flu shots didn't come for another decade, and only recently have American pharmacists started displaying signs that say "flu shots here." So I guess we've finally caught up to Brazilian medicine of the 1970s.

Well, maybe not. American medicine is still the best in the world, in terms of safety and quality, unless you ask a select group of Canadians. (Select a different group, you get a different answer.)

But there are still Americans who want to keep you from getting it.

I don't know if any of you will remember the Bendectin scare of the late '70s. Bendectin was the only drug that helped my wife with her scary morning sickness -- each pregnancy, but especially the first two, involved bed rest, constant vomiting day and night, weight loss, and a diet consisting of dry toast and cups of hot water.

That was with Bendectin; without it, she was so much worse.

So when Bendectin was taken off the market because of completely unfounded rumors (no evidence was ever found that linked Bendectin with anything bad), simply to avoid lawsuits, we were furious at the idiots whose idea of science was, "This baby has a birth defect; the mother took Bendectin; therefore we can sue."

Post hoc ergo propter hoc ("It happened afterward, therefore it must have been caused by it") is a classic logical fallacy -- i.e., an obviously idiotic assumption. Just because I sneeze a moment before sunrise doesn't mean my sneeze brought the sun. (Or does it?!? <cue: eerie music>.)

Fortunately, Bendectin was actually a composite of two drugs, both of which were still available. My wife's doctor prescribed them for her and she made it through the later pregnancies.

But the people who start or spread rumors about harms caused by medical treatments apparently don't know what country they live in.

We're the country where people have to sue the FDA to try to get them to release new drugs to save lives before the tests are complete, unlike the countries where you have to sue the equivalent agency later for having released a drug without sufficient testing.

A good friend forwarded us a panicky email that tells of an RN at a hospital where in a meeting discussing the H1N1 vaccine, "the doctors at Baptist are advising that their staff and patients NOT get this vaccination."

Why? Because of a supposed lack of testing and because "one nurse at Baptist, has a son that took the vaccination and has developed Guillain-Barre's."

This is such an obvious lie that I can't believe anyone forwarded it. Why? Because this letter was already circulating before the new H1N1 vaccine was available to anyone. Whatever happened to that nurse's son (if he exists) could not have been the result of a shot that no one could get at the time, unless they were part of the controlled testing.

It is simply incredible that a group of doctors at a hospital would all agree not to prescribe a potentially epidemic-stopping vaccine because of the supposed risk of G-B syndrome.

Somebody actually sat down and made this stuff up. Maybe it was based on old stories from the early days of flu vaccines, but the fact is that it could not have been true of the new vaccine. So they were fabricating a panicky "warning" whose only result would be to keep some people who needed the vaccine from deciding to get it.

So let's see ... in order to avoid GBS, which is rarely fatal or permanent, and which has only been associated with flu vaccines in the past thirty years at the rate of one person per million, people should avoid vaccinating themselves against an influenza strain that is known to have a much higher death rate?

As far as I'm concerned, irresponsible emails like that are murder weapons -- even though it does end with "of course you should ask your doctor about it if you have any questions."

My wife is an inveterate vetter of crapmail like that -- when someone forwards it to her, she immediate goes online and checks it out.

Here's the website that discusses the need for the vaccine and who should take it.

Here's a website that deals with the science concerning GBS and flu vaccines:.

These are U.S. government sites -- but the information comes from the doctors and scientists whose life's work is to heal or prevent disease.

There is always a slight risk of complications from an injection. There is no evidence that any flu vaccine has a higher risk than normal. This was true of smallpox vaccine, which eventually wiped out the disease, as well as polio and diphtheria-tetanus vaccines.

In America, vaccines are not released to the public unless the disease poses a significant threat, much higher than the slight risk of vaccination complications, and the vaccine has been shown to be both safe and effective.

Furthermore, GBS (which is usually linked with a disease, not a vaccination) primarily affects people over 50 -- while the H1N1 vaccine is being prioritized for people not in that group.

None of this information was hard to find. Everyone who passed on the deceptive, dangerous, panic-evoking email could have checked it out before forwarding the email.

But we've seen this nonsense before. Every now and then I get suckered -- too lazy to look up a story that seems to be likely (i.e., it fits into my preexisting worldview), I pass it on without checking.

Then my wife checks it (since I always pass everything on to her) and sends me the email explaining how inaccurate the email was; then I write to everybody I forwarded mine to and apologize.

Not everybody does the apology and correction step, alas. In fact, my wife had one acquaintance who kept sending forwarded crapmail even after my wife corrected several of them and then asked her to stop forwarding things to her.

My wife finally blocked this woman's email address completely -- because even asking her to stop didn't work.

Folks, it's fine to forward things on the web -- if you forward rarely and do your homework so you know the story is correct before you pass it on.

But when we're talking about medical advice about an epidemic-preventing vaccine, forwarding it without checking is worse than annoying -- it's a wicked thing to do.

It's like handing a child a gun, but you're too lazy to check to see if it's loaded.

*

I'm a compulsive snacker when driving. It helps keep me awake and focused; it also helps calm me so I'm less likely to feel road rage. (Being over fifty also helps; I have now fully adopted the attitude, "Speed on, brother! Hell ain't half full!")

I was driving back home from DC last week and stopped in at a Wawa Market, one of those roadside gas station/snack food stores. The name was dumb-sounding (a shop for crying babies?), yet the building was new and classy looking, so I actually crossed the highway to get to it.

Inside, I learned that Wawa Market is actually named for a Pennsylvania town; or was the town named for the corporate headquarters? Anyway, it comes from a Native American word fo a particular kind of goose.

What matters, though, is the quality. The one I entered was well designed -- lots of open space -- and it was clean as a whistle. The surprise was the food. Of course it had your standard array of snack food and candy, but it also had plenty of healthy things.

I bought small packets of grapes and carrots (not mixed, separate packages), along with a small bottle of Wawa's own "100% Valencia" orange juice "not from concentrate."

The juice wasn't as perfect as the Tropicana Pure Valencia, but it was way better than any other snack-store orange juice; only Tropicana's regular not-from-concentrate comes close.

And having grapes and carrots to snack on was far, far better than what I had expected myself to buy. The grapes have the slight drawback of making your fingers sticky -- not a plus on a long car trip, where the steering wheel can become a bit nasty -- but there was nothing at all negative about the carrots.

In fact, because carrots don't have the compulsive-eating component of most snack foods, they last longer and yet satisfy the need for munchies. I came home feeling much better than I usually do after a long car trip.

Now, you can get those little packets of washed and cut veggies and fruit at the grocery store before you leave, or at Subway sandwich shops (they usually have apples prepared that way). But then, you can't buy gas there.

Wawa is competing directly with Sheetz. Nothing wrong with Sheetz. But if I have a chose, I'll be pulling into Wawa Market to refuel my car and myself.

*

People wonder why I insist on taking US 29 when I drive to DC. Of course, the main reason is that from Greensboro, it's faster than the I-85/I-95 route -- by an hour. And cheaper, tollwise and gaswise.

But even if they were exactly equal, I'd still take 29 because it has scenery and towns and there are real places along the road.

Of course, a lot of that is now going away because of the bypasses. First Danville and now Lynchburg have disappeared from the route, which is a shame because I used to have regular places where we'd stop for treats, meals, or restrooms and now they far out of my way.

Because of course I stick with the bypass, not going into town. That means I no longer drive the luge-like urban freeway in Lynchburg, which I don't miss, but I also no longer drive along the shores of the Dan River in Danville, which I do.

And that Dairy Queen across from a McDonald's on your way out of Lynchburg -- they'll no longer have our business, because it's just too shameful to go out that far of your way to get a good milkshake.

I dread the day when the busy commercial stretch of 29 north of Charlottesville is also bypassed, because there's a great bakery there in a shopping center behind the Outback restaurant -- good rolls are a way better snack than, say, Baby Ruth bars.

And when US 29 is completely replaced by freeway, I'm afraid I'll mourn. I'll still drive the new route, because speed wins. There's just something more humane about non-freeway traveling.

For instance, on my recent trip to DC I was approaching Culpeper when I saw a delivery truck whose side panels proclaimed that Swetman's Amish Furniture was located right on 29.

We won't comment on the unfortunate name "Swetman." I'm sure it came from a name meaning "candymaker" or something, but still ... Yet a guy named Card cannot afford to ridicule someone else's name.

I found the address; I stopped.

From the outside, it looked like your standard roadside antique store -- rustic windows displaying countrified knick-knacks. But when I walked inside, what I found was a good selection of very well made wooden chairs, tables, desks, and other odds and ends.

Now, my wife and I use our living room differently from most people. When we have small-group conversations we usually do it sitting around the kitchen table; the living room is for larger groups. Which means we need a lot of seating.

To show how indulgent my wife is, she tolerated my idea of having only a couple of smallish couches, and providing the rest of the seating by buying a bunch of one-of-a-kind old-fashioned-looking wooden chairs.

Really. No two alike. As if they each came from a different attic (though in fact we bought them all new).

We also prefer them to be really, really comfortable.

Needless to say, I came out of Swetman's with a new chair. But I also bought a little stool that was hinged up like a porch glider.

It was meant to be an ottoman that would be used with a regular glider-style rocker, but someone had bought the rocker without the ottoman. So in our house, it's going to be the fun stool for a three-year-old to sit on when watching television.

They also had a clever piece of furniture they call a three-in-one. Stand it up on end, and it's a well-designed pull-up-to-the-table booster chair with a safety strap. Lay it down one way, and it's a toddler-size desk with built-in chair. Lay it down the other way, and it's a rocking horse you can't fall off of.

It's a really clever piece of finely crafted furniture, and the only reason I don't own one right now is that there wasn't room in the car. (The car was otherwise filled with coolers full of Tropicana Pure Valencia orange juice from Wegman's.)

I can't say that Swetman's is so wonderful that it's worth driving nearly four hours from Greensboro just to get there. But since US 29 is both the fastest and the most pleasant route to take to DC (or, for that matter, anywhere beyond it to the north), you might want to plan your next trip so that you have time to stop.

Heading north on 29, Swetman's is on the right, just a few miles beyond Prince Michel's winery, at 10049 James Monroe Highway (US 29), Culpeper VA 22701. Their phone number is 540-547-4767. They don't do mass mailings, but I bet if you ask for a catalog, they'll send you one.

*

Have you ever heard of Cheeburger Cheeburger? I certainly hadn't, till some friends took me there. The concept is "50s diner," of which there's no shortage. But the quality is very, very good, and it has some unique features.

Probably the coolest feature is their array of flavoring syrups. Instead of being dependent on your standard Coke or Pepsi product line, they also have make-your-own sodas.

You start with a base of carbonated water, and then add one (or a combination) of flavor syrups: blackberry, blueberry, cherry, Granny Smith apple, kiwi, lemon, mango, orange, peach, pear, pineapple, raspberry, and watermelon; or sugar-free raspberry and peach.

Or you can add the same flavors to lemonade or tea.

The milkshakes compete favorably with Dairy Queen's. And the burgers, fries, and onion rings are excellent.

Cheeburger Cheeburger is competing with places like Johnny Rockets and Fuddruckers for top-of-the-line burger-joint dining -- and as far as I'm concerned, Cheeburger wins.

You can check out the cool website at www.cheeburger.com, where the full menu is available. Unfortunately, there is also a location map that has North Carolina as one of the totally blanked-out states.

The one I ate at was across the parking lot from Wegman's on VA route 28 north of Dulles Airport. There's also one in Roanoke, which I drive through rather often. It's only a matter of time before it comes here.

There's a pattern to the way these places come to North Carolina. For instance, a friend in Raleigh wrote to me after my review of Pei Wei last week and told me that there are already several locations in Raleigh.

That means that Pei Wei will be in Charlotte by 2012 (if they don't have them already) and in Greensboro by 2017. I can hardly wait!

So I expect that I'll soon be able to get the Cheeburger Cheeburger experience in Raleigh. And then, after I've lost a few teeth and most of my hair, it'll come to Greensboro, too.

Unless one of the Rhino's enterprising, entrepreneurial, capitalist readers visits the website and clicks on franchising, where North Carolina is listed -- as a "prime opportunity."

Cheeburger Cheeburger stresses its "non-traditional development" -- i.e., it likes to locate, not near McDonald's, but close to colleges, stadiums, or in Friendly Center.

No, it doesn't actually mention Friendly Center, but that's the kind of place it should go. They even say, "If you currently own a restaurant, it may qualify for our conversion program."

Look, I'm never going into the restaurant business myself. It's too much hard work for me. But I admire and respect the brave and talented people who do run great restaurants, and I give them as much of my money as I can so they'll stay in business.

The least you can do is reward me by bringing this great diner to Greensboro and locating it reasonably close to my house.

Meanwhile, I've tried to figure out why nothing seems to come to Greensboro first. Oh, I'm sure Raleigh and Charlotte get first dibs on everything because they're so big.

But I can't help but suspect a kind of discrimination here. Charlotte is all "We're a banking town, we're the Big City" and Raleigh is all "Research Triangle proves we're the smarty-smartest."

Sure, Greensboro's roots are in blue collar jobs and the old segregated colleges, but Raleigh can't be all that smart because the state government is there, bringing down the average IQ. And you can get a great education here in Greensboro -- you just can't get a meal at Cheeburger Cheeburger or Pei Wei.

*

Wow. I can't believe I've already run out of the already-generous space our fearless publisher grants to me every week. I was going to review two great old books I just listened to, downloaded from Audible.com and played on an iPod Nano. And then a series of historical novels about Julius Caesar that I have been compulsively reading during a bout with a very bad cold.

But there's always next week.


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