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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
April 29, 2002

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


Truth in Advertising, Potato Chips, and Joshua

Every now and then, advertising is actually true.

For instance, Road Runner, Time-Warner's high-speed cable internet system, is every bit as fast and convenient as they say. And, just as the ad says, once you're used to getting online that way, you can't go back to dial-up.

As for those cloyingly cute ads for Dell Computers ("Isn't that your father's car?" Aaargh!), loathsome as they are, the fact is that Dell is the best computer maker and the best computer seller around right now.

Over the years, our little business has used computers by Micron, Gateway, Compaq, Sony, Toshiba, and others. Except for Sony, whose computers have been flaky in the extreme, all of these are good companies that make good computers.

But at present every computer we use comes from Dell, and our electronic lives have never been better. Everything works together smoothly, and when a computer has a defect they make it right or they replace it.

You can find computers that cost less initially or that advertise better features. But you can easily end up paying a lot more -- and wasting a lot more time -- trying to get them working and keep them working.

Just because some ads are true doesn't mean they all are.

Take the car ads that imply that you'll be sexy and chic if you buy certain cars -- they're all false. Those ad campaigns are designed to appeal to dorks who wish they were sexy and chic, so driving those cars is pretty much a confession that you belong to the dork segment of the automotive market.

Real men drive bland cars like my boring blue Crown Vic. That shows confidence. That shows security. (That shows that I needed a car big enough to hold lots of people, and Ford is the only carmaker still putting out a full line of six-passenger sedans.)

*

Potato chips. They sell by crunch, mostly, though of course there has to be plenty of fat and salt. Right now we're seeing a lot of Star Wars-related faces on packages of Lay's potato chips, but Frito-Lay has some far more interesting offerings in the chip department.

Their new line of Kettle chips out-crisps any other potato chip on the market. It's my wife's favorite, and I like them a lot, too.

My favorite new Frito-Lay product is their line of Bistro chips. I have long rejected any flavored chips except "barbecue" (have you ever had a barbecue sauce that tastes remotely like these chips?), but these are extraordinary.

Now, these new Frito-Lay products have not lured me away from the brilliant Olive Oil chips that you can often find at Fresh Market (though the plain ones are rarely there, since they seem to sell out first -- for good reason).

And you mustn't overlook Terra Chips -- if you have any sense of adventure in your fattening salty snack foods. I have long enjoyed this mix of taro and sweet potato chips, but the taro chips tend to be so thick that they don't so much crunch as fracture when you bite them.

But Terra has come out with a new version: Terra Stix. They're the same chips, but now they're shoestring style. This solves all the problems. Indeed, the mix of flavors is one of the best snack foods I've ever tasted.

I just bought four bags at Harris-Teeter, right in the chips and snacks section. Of course, my mentioning them here guarantees that Harris-Teeter will soon discontinue them, so hurry and check them out while they're still there.

*

If you have ever (a) helped somebody fix a computer problem, (b) gone ape over a fantasy or science fiction novel or movie, or (c) played a fantasy role-playing game, you'll get a kick out of the comic strip "Dork Tower." Check it out online at www.dorktower.com.

If you aren't connected to the internet, don't feel left out -- you wouldn't get the jokes anyway.

*

One reason I like to shop at Circuit City is that they have created a nationwide computer network that works. There are times when, for business or family reasons, I need to buy an electrical item for someone in a faraway exotic place like Utah or California.

In the old days, I would have to buy it, then pack it up and ship it.

Now, though, I can pay for the item in Greensboro, and within moments, the Circuit City of your choice in that faraway exotic place has a record of the transaction and will allow the relative/business associate to pick up the item.

No packaging, no shipping. That saves money and aggravation.

Of course, to get to Circuit City I have to drive through the traffic hell of Wendover, one of the worst-designed commercial streets I've ever seen. In other cities, new hyper-built-up commercial areas are supplied with frontage roads so that you don't have to get out onto the main road in order to go from store to store.

But apparently Greensboro's road planners, taking their cue from the designers of the original freeway system around here, think it's much more fun to put in a completely inadequate road system, and then keep adding new lanes and reconfiguring intersections so that drivers can have uninterrupted annoyance and suffering for years and years and years.

It's as if, when designing the Wendover road system, it never occurred to them that anybody would actually shop at more than one store on the same trip.

I bet I'm not the only person who tries to avoid going down to that part of town if I can possibly help it. When the driving is so nerve-wracking, the turns so impossible, the lights so long (and yet too short for the traffic built up during the wait), it makes me dread the process of getting to the stores.

*

Note to waiters everywhere: Those delicious tomato-oil-and-basil-on-toast appetizers are called "bruschetta" (singular) or "bruschette" (plural), and the "sch" is pronounced like the "sch" in the word "school," not like the "sh" of "shop."

If it were a German word, then your pronunciation would be correct. But it's an Italian word, and in Italian, the letter combination "ch" is pronounced like our letter "k." When they want to make an "sh" sound, they spell it "sci" or "sce."

But then, this is a world where a shockingly large number of furniture salesmen pronounce "suite" of furniture to rhyme with "suit" of clothes, and in clothing stores the French word "lingerie" is pronounced to rhyme with "laundry day." (So prevalent are these gross mispronunciations that "suite" as "suit" is listed in the dictionary as an alternate pronunciation, and "laundry day" is the preferred pronunciation.)

*

The movie Joshua is much better than I expected. Pious film-making always leaves me cold, since it usually seems to consist of one set of believers congratulating themselves for being better than all the others, and certainly this one falls in that category.

But the acting is excellent -- indeed, Tony Goldwyn (the actor who played the bad guy in "Ghost") manages to find that delicate middle way, so that his version of a modern-day Jesus is neither too cute nor too holy. It's a pleasure to watch him act.

Nor is he the only good actor in the group. F. Murray Abraham turns a badly written bad guy into a complex character, and the actor who plays Theo (the stuttering man) is extraordinary. There were no bad performances.

Unfortunately, the script was not very good. An intrusive narration never added even a speck of interest and always interrupted the action by telling us things we either already knew or didn't need to know until they came up in the ordinary course of the story.

What bothered me most, however, was the doctrine. This is the official nice-guy forgive-everybody feel-good Jesus that is only believable if you ignore half the New Testament. Where's the Jesus who said he came to bring not peace, but the sword? Where's the Jesus who said his law was even more rigorous than the law of Moses?

No, they showed only a Jesus who doesn't actually expect you to obey commandments or, really, do much of anything except be helpful and say pious things about God. As if the gospels were just chapters in James Redfield's Celestine Prophecy.

Most annoying, however, was the depiction of the priest who opposes him. Yes, I know the movie ends with Joshua visiting the Pope and calling him Peter, thus confirming his authority, but until that moment all the depictions of F. Murray Abraham's down-the-line priest showed him -- and the official church -- as dark, oppressive, and condemning.

Am I the only one to whom this movie seemed deeply anti-Catholic?

And, in the end, the movie fails the way most feel-good theology projects fail. In the effort to show us how Jesus doesn't want us to judge anybody, the film judges "judgmental" people very harshly, cruelly, and unfairly.

It's just like all politically correct puritanism: It becomes intolerant in the name of tolerance, unfair in the name of fairness.


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