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BEING DUBBED A DORCAS IS A COMPLIMENT - REALLY

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* NAME CALLING: The other day I told a young girl she was going to grow up to be a real Dorcas.

She looked at me like I'd shown up at school with cooties in my hair.She didn't know she'd been given one of the highest compliments in the Johnston vocabulary.

Dorcas was a biblical soul - a woman with a real social conscience. In fact, she was the John Stockton of her day - always assisting other people, shying from the spotlight, avoiding the glory.

She spent her days making clothing for widows and poor people.

I thought a Dorcas was a nice thing to be. But to sidestep any phone calls from angry parents, I decided to get the Good Book and let the girl read the story for herself.

"It says here her name was really Tabitha, but she went by Dorcas," she said.

"I know," I said. "I guess back then nobody liked the name Tabitha, but Dorcas sounded pretty cool."

"It says when she died all these widows stood around chewing the clothes she made for them."

"I know," I said. "A lot of people back then must have had low-fiber diets. No, I'm sorry, it was probably a ritual of some sort."

Still, chewing holes in the last clothes Dorcas made for you did seem odd, especially since she wasn't going to be around to make you any more.

"Read on," I said. "The story gets better."

"It says here that Peter brought her back to life."

"There you go," I said. "Dorcas was raised from the dead. I even think Dorcas is a ahead of Lazarus in all that."

She looked puzzled.

"I think Lazarus was raised as a lesson, as a teaching device," I said. "Jesus wanted to show people he could give them all a new spiritual life, so he brought Lazarus back as an object lesson, as a visual aid of what he meant. But Dorcas, she was such a great and kind soul the people couldn't get along without her. They had to have her back.

"So being called Dorcas is a compliment."

The girl thought that over.

"OK," she said slowly, then she paused.

"Just don't call me a Dorcas in public."

"It's a deal," I said.

* MOVIE MADNESS: I try very hard to avoid being cynical, but the movie industry makes it very tough for me.

Take this year's Oscar nominees. Am I the only one who thinks the Academy included the family film "Babe" on the list because Hollywood feels stung by criticism from Dole and Clinton? They just grabbed a kid's flick and tossed it in there. The little talking pig is a sacrificial lamb, a gesture, a token concession to make us think making modern movies is a sensitive and sweet occupation.

What's more, the Academy already has one adolescent movie on its best picture list: "Braveheart." The Mel Gibson flick is a paint-by-the-numbers epic. When my son was 6, he concocted better plots with his He-Man and Skeletor action figures.

"Apollo 13" was fine. So was "Il Postino."

And though the Academy lost my respect long ago, it might keep my interest if it comes across with a best-picture Oscar for "Sense and Sensibility."