All of us here at Zeke’s Blog are all for bringing more sheen and gloss to downtown Reading. After all, we live in a crassly materialistic society and why not keep up with the Joneses?So it’s good news that the Berks County Community Foundation’s new headquarters near the proposed GoggleWorks Center for the Arts at Second and Washington streets will be the first environmentally friendly “green” building in downtown Reading.The foundation’s $1.5 million, two-story headquarters will feature geothermal heat pumps, water recycling, solar power and – get this – a grass roof. OK, I will squelch the temptation to make a cheap remark that perhaps all female visitors will be required to wear grass skirts.The grass roof will help reduce energy use by keeping the building cooler.By the way, if the term “green” building isn’t yet stitched into the binding of your vocabulary, its prerequisites are: Encourage urban redevelopment; be accessible by public transportation; use landscape and building design to reduce heat pockets; reduce water use by 20 percent to 30 percent; optimize energy conservation and use renewable energy sources; use local and regional materials or recycled materials; maintain indoor environmental quality; and use innovative design.All laudable goals, I might add. Can you imagine Cotton Street lined with such “green” buildings? People will be double-parked on every block as motorists rubberneck in awe.“I hope this building will be an example to other developers that it is possible to build environmentally friendly buildings in an urban setting,” said Foundation president Kevin K. Murphy.Hopefully, all the slumlords and crack house owners in downtown Reading won’t envision this “green” building concept as merely a fool’s façade.If all their blighted buildings suddenly would adopt the “green” house format, the abandon and fury that characterizes city zoning undoubtedly would vanish quicker than a street corner drug transaction.Of course, slumlords and crack dealers aren’t by nature exactly meticulous craftsmen, so the jury still is out. Still, there’s always the hope that they will realize that syntax and structure are everything.For instance, the Berks County Community Foundation’s posh new digs will make extensive use of technology. Computers will monitor the building’s internal systems and its conference center will be equivalent to meeting rooms owned by Fortune 500 companies. Sounds like a great place to hold state-of-the-art City Council meetings.Already the hi-tech wizardy of the proposed edifice has attracted Mayor Tom McMahon’s eternal optimism. “If it’s done right, it could be a national attraction,” McMahon said. Murphy, to his credit, kept things in a bit of perspective by saying: “This doesn’t mean that the average family, instead of packing up and going to Disney World, will come to this. But it will have somewhat of a tourism element for people interested in the technology.” I, for one, have canceled our family’s planned trip to Disney and instead will save our bucks to tour the Foundation’s fancy joint.I imagine, tucked away in the Second and Washington ambience, it’s going to sparkle like fireworks in a catacomb.
Danica Patrick never once flinched in the white gauze of the spotlight Sunday.A symphony in flamboyance, she showed plenty of pluck and grit in finishing fourth in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.Of course, everybody fell in love with the 23-year-old rookie and this time it wasn’t because of her flowing black hair and photogenic features.Rather, 300,000 people at Indy and millions watching on ABC echoed with thumping heartbeats alternating between stiletto and hatchet as Patrick made the strongest showing by a woman in the storied race’s 89-year history.In an unforgiving sport in which brave souls race at supersonic speeds all the while knowing that metal and flesh can be reduced to poisonous ash in the twinkling of a panicked eye, Patrick flashed fireworks in her eyes and displayed an indomitable will in her heart. Yes, she’s a sexy woman. But she’s also a thoroughbred behind the wheel — strong, fast and elegant.While America and the world had their throats gulp into their mouths, Danica courageously and miraculously overcame two rookie miscues.In so doing, she not only became the first woman to lead a lap at Indy, but she had the lead with a mere 10 laps to go. For fleeting moments, the Earth stopped spinning on its axis.Global emotions definitely were dancing the Bulgarian polka as we all screamed: Can she do it?Alas, her crew had gambled that she could make to the end of the 200-lap race when she took the lead on lap 172 when everyone in front of her pitted.And in the dramatic final laps that somehow seemed to be moving in terrifying slow motion despite speeds in excess of 200 mph,, she couldn’t run at full power, eventually sliding back to fourth as her fuel tank grew agonizingly drier than an empty promise. Had she taken the checkered flag, the marketing aftershocks hardly would have been baleful. No matter. Sprinkle her with stardust because she already glitters like jewel box awash in moonlight.You can wager we will be seeing plenty of her charismatic sun-kissed profile.
Remember when the conventional wisdom of a few years ago was that downtown Reading was facing doomsday? Experts and non-experts alike seemingly proclaimed that our city’s diagnosis was terminal.But that fatal snapping point never transpired. Still, back in the day when our downtown was deader than a convention of funeral directors, we all were scared witless about Reading’s future.After all, nothing stabs so straight at what is weak in an urban core, and bleeds it so pale, as an absence of hope.Fortunately, our frustration has ebbed because it found drainage and no longer floods our fair city with despair. The gates of urban renewal are opening a crack at a time and little breezes of hope are wafting in.Now it seems the city is close to a deal that would bring a 200-room convention-type hotel to a site across from the Sovereign Center arena in the 700 block of Penn Street.The upscale, full-service hotel would contain 200 rooms as well as ballroom-banquet space, an exhibition hall and meeting rooms. The meeting rooms are the marquee appeal because they could help Reading become a magnet for the convention trade industry.Since the outlets in Reading have drifted into the mists of yesterday, the city needs a new reason to become a destination. After all, the Pagoda alone isn’t going to attract the masses like moths to a light bulb.With the new hotel, tourists could be multiplying like locusts around here.At first blush, the hotel would seem to be a definite depot for dreams promising untold delights. Conventioneers dancing and prancing downtown when the daylight is dying would splash us with more nocturnal neon. Of course, mischief is curling all over my mouth as I ask this, sort of tongue in cheek: Will a healthy influx of tourists be a total positive?For instance, more tourists will mean more traffic. And more traffic will mean more folks scraping our fenders. And we all know that traffic jams make all of us children again when road rage hitches a ride in the driver’s seat.My role as a blogger is to reduce complexities to root matters. And I say the success of conventions in terms of economic impact depends on the type of conventioneers we attract.We need conventioneers who are willing to get loose and spend bucks in our restaurants, bars and stores.If we get milquetoast conventioneers who have nothing but moths in their wallets, the only winners will be the hotels. Granted, that’s not a bad thing. But the economic tourism windfall will be one-dimensional. So if Reading is to evolve into Destination City, we need conventioneers willing to party hardy to terminate the long days of ennui and frustration.So once the hotel sprouts from the sterile macadam of a parking lot, don’t be shocked and awed if you spot an army of conventioneers frolicking downtown while wearing nothing but party hats and whipped cream. That will be a good thing for all of us.I think.
OK, I’m watching “Today” on NBC this morning and I’m in trouble. I’m running late and I can’t figure out if my slacks are gray or brown.It’s tough being colorblind when you’re in a hurry. So I’m squinting at these pants, trying to decide whether to wear blue socks or brown socks or to walk on the wild side and go sockless to the office.And it’s not even a dress-down Friday.Suddenly, I no longer care about my pants or my socks. Matt Lauer is airing a segment about the nuclear fallout from a spicy TV spot by Carl’s Jr. starring a scantily clad Paris Hilton sudsing up a Bentley to the tune of “I Love Paris in The Springtime.” For the record, I can’t imagine how this sorry riff-raff ever gets on the air. I obviously find such trashy, sleazy attempts to sell a product to be utterly loathsome.But that’s just me. So I try to avert my eyes and recast my focus on my fashion nightmare.Yeah, right.I never even heard of Carl’s Jr. But I have now. I watch the entire segment, figuring if my boss is annoyed that I’m late — well, tough!By the way, Carl’s Jr. sells hamburgers. Not as many as McDonald’s or Burger King or Wendy’s, but they’d like to.Enter the saucy Paris Hilton into the equation. The heiress, who seems to have taken the invention of celebrity to an even higher (lower?) dimension, appeals to those 18-to-24-year-olds whose volatile hormones love to zealously swallow hamburgers. So I have a message for the poor dupes running those parental watchdog groups. Sex sells! Carl’s Jr. is merely doing some savvy marketing.They obviously can’t match McDonald’s or Burger King or Wendy’s media dollar for media dollar. So they opt for the provocative big-bang theory. Indeed, the traffic to see the ad on a URL Carl’s Jr. set up crashed the site for several hours. How’s that for a media buy, baby?Many folks love to roam into the realms of frothy fantasy. And Paris Hilton is hot and edgy right now among some demographics (males ages 13 to 96).So advertisers capitalize on her charms. Do some companies dilute the standards of good taste to pitch their products?Hello there! Of course they do. The monastic approach is for monasteries. And you won’t find any monasteries with a Madison Avenue address. The core of the quarrel, of course, is that this racy commercial shouldn’t be airing on children’s programming, etc.But for those of us who are 12 and over, it’s empowering to know that there’s a hamburger option out there besides McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s.And if we’re forced to ogle Paris Hilton in leather and lather while expanding our horizons, well, life’s a series of tradeoffs and compromises.
Dusty Rhodes, a self-proclaimed fat, bug-eyed slob of a pro wrestler, used to thunder from the ring: “I AM the American Dream!”Well, hardly, thank God. Otherwise, our dear Republic surely would be in the trash heap by now.Now, we have the “American Idol” competition holding America’s psyche hostage. Quite frankly, some of the past Idols have been false idols. Well, the wailing and gnashing of teeth across our land may end shortly. America could have a true Idol tonight. Live and in living color on Fox.The season finale starts at 8, so make sure the dishes and the kids’ homework are done before Ryan Seacrest flashes his pearly whites and Paula flashes her cleavage. Bo vs. Carrie. For all the marbles.Since this is my blog, I get to pick favorites even though I’m only good at picking my toenails.Although this whole business is ultimately decided by the vagaries of the voters in a mammoth parlor game of politics, Bo should be a slam dunk.Bo Bice is a Southern rocker with energy bubbling out of him. He spews charisma with every note, every movement.Carrie Underwood is a country singer whose strong voice is betrayed by a wooden delivery. Her stage persona is somehow robbed of vitality.Both have talent that hardly is threadbare. But Bo has style and substance — a dynamic double play.Not to mention that he’s skinnier than Dusty Rhodes.
Medical studies, I believe, exist in a vacuum. They’re unmindful of the past, uncaring of the future, existing only for the moment.How else to explain why scientists and doctors seemingly just ache for contradiction?By the time there is an emergence of a consensus, patients morph into cadavers. OK, a bit of hyperbole there, but you get the point.Here’s the latest evidence on why we should all develop attention deficit when reading these reports (actually, instant amnesia would be even better):Dermatologists have long preached that sunscreens are needed to prevent skin cancer. Now some scientists are questioning that because vitamin D increasingly seems important for preventing and treating many types of cancer.Indeed, some researchers think that splashing on sunscreen may actually contribute to far more cancer deaths than it prevents.Talk about shifting gears with facile ease! Now good ol’ sunshine and vitamin D are supposed to kick butt against lymphoma and cancers of the prostate, lung, colon and — get this –the skin.And here’s the real kicker: Getting enough vitamin D from food and fortified milk alone is hard to do, and supplements are problematic.So it’s best to work on those tans. Scientists now claim even if you get skin cancer, it’s rarely gonna kill you. But prostate, lung or colon cancer could put you on a cemetery shopping spree.Evidently folks now will be healthier and even look healthier. Nothing like a good tan to smooth out the dents in ugly ducklings!Of course, all this could change dramatically when the next study touting the benefits of living on the far side of the moon hits the medical journals. Stay tuned. And get some sun while you can.
When Gutenberg finished inventing the printing press — and before the Earth could turn much further — he quickly printed the catchphrase: Truth is stranger than fiction.It still is, my friends.For instance, as I write this, red-faced federal officials are panting to plug a legal loophole that allows convicted rapists and sex offenders to receive Viagra paid for by Medicaid.Isn’t that a wonderful use of our tax dollars, Mr. and Mrs. America?Poor guys who suffer from erectile dysfunction have to buy their own Viagra. And then there are convicted felons who obviously have no erectile dysfunction issues and we’re giving them Viagra!Won’t Jay Leno and David Letterman get a rise out of this! We should be giving these sex freaks a good whiff of emasculation, not chemically fanning their hardly flickering flames.For society’s sake, we should be helping sex offenders exorcise their dark demons. These guys — and us — are better off when they’re visibly relaxed.Instead, we instilling in them — on our nickel — a passion bordering on the pathological.And we all know what happens when we put out fires with gasoline. All hell breaks loose as these perverts pretty much go gangbusters.Apparently this perverse loophole is an unintended consequence of Medicaid law. Whatever the technical mumbo jumbo, somebody should have taken a hard look at the details.In fact, if you read the Gutenberg Bible the next time you’re bored in a hotel room, look for another catchphrase: The devil always is in the details.
Dick “Old Pete” Peters, the former star columnist and managing editor of the Reading Times, had -30- written next to his stay on earth Sunday at age 84.By the way, -30- was a newspaper-industry copy symbol back before computers that signaled an article’s ending.”Old Pete” had a remarkable career at the Reading Times. His monumental achievement was helping clean up the city’s rampant rackets in the 1950s as his front-page “Old Pete” columns lit a fire under governmental officials to expunge the sordid mess.Peters was a crusader because passion burned white hot inside him and never ebbed into mere embers. Indeed, intensity beamed from his eyes. He had the right stuff and the write stuff when newspapers made a profound difference. In his heyday, ink-stained wretches were the media heroes. And newspaper ink overflowed from the dungeons of his soul.Of course, being a newspaper man, Peters hardly was one-dimensional. Neither were his columns. When they weren’t crusading against crime and corruption, his columns were a place where clowns of comedy tumbled and frolicked with tales of his woes as a Pirates fan and bowler and his creative recipes for dandelion wine.I guess this sort of serves as a requiem for a mentor because “Old Pete” gave me my start in this business when he hired me as a Reading Times sportswriter. He was a tough but fair boss.In the 1970s I penned a weekly sports humor column that managed to raise some hackles of ire among a populace used to sportswriters who genuflected before their subjects. There were some folks who wanted me run out of town on a rail at Seventh and Penn. But “Old Pete” always had my back. For that, I will be eternally grateful. For that, Mr. Peters always will hold a prime spot in the attic of my mind.Of course, he would call you out when you deserved it. He used to mark up the daily paper with red comments. There were called hell sheets. I made it more than once.My favorite listing on “Old Pete’s” infamous hell sheets came after I had made a reference to FBI director Edgar J. Hoover. On his hell sheet, Peters scrawled: “Any relation to J. Edgar Hoover?”The guy was as sharp as a pinprick. And just like a pin, always to the point.
In Keith Mayer’s excellent Crime Time blog on the three young men being charged Thursday in the fatal shooting of 15-year-old Tiffany Colon in the 500 block of Maple Street, he closes with a very poignant question:Would they do it again if they really understood the significance of their actions?This question frequently pops up in my mind when I read about young adults routinely being convicted of popping people on our city streets.Didn’t they realize the profound consequences before squeezing the trigger? Didn’t they realize they were blowing away their own lives as well as their victims?Compounding their stupidity, frequently these murders are over relatively insignificant drug trafficking and fiefdom disputes.Their quick-trigger motives for murder are eruptions of fury that put many people through hell for pathetically trivial reasons.Their distorted perception of transgression ignites in too-quick-to-heat coals that burn their victims, themselves and their community. We can rail all we want about what the police, the courts, the politicians, the educators, the parents and the neighbors should be doing to stick a muzzle on all these city shootings.But the bottom line is the ultimate responsibility falls on the triggermen.Many of them are obviously trapped in the contemporary culture of the streets. Still, didn’t they pay attention when other young punks from the street got nailed for murder and now are trapped in the contemporary culture of the jailhouse?If these losers are blinded by the swirling mists of macho, it’s time for them to blink away the fog and realize they’re terribly narrow-minded in their rush to bloodlust.They must be in considerable pain, psychological if not physical. Because, by its nature, pain involves a narrowing of focus — like sighting down a gun barrel.People who are hurting are too myopic to see beyond their pain.Hopefully a lot of potential killers on our streets looked long and hard at the front page of the Reading Eagle today and saw the lost faces and forlorn souls of the three young men charged in Tiffany Colon’s slaying.And hopefully they also looked at the haunting face of Tiffany Colon, a teenage girl cut down in cold blood before her time.Murder and mayhem crowd each other on our busy city streets.And all because too many people allow self-restraint to fracture and burst into terrifying explosions of anger.What’s lost in all of this is a sensitivity to just how priceless human life is. What’s missing is a compassionate dimension that rounds out a community’s values.Our community cannot flinch an inch from the yoke of responsibility that goes with instilling that sense of self-restraint in our young people.The desire to dam the riptide of raw violence must become so powerful in all of us that it bursts and becomes a need.But it all starts with the punks with gun in hand. Wise up, dudes! When you do the crime, you’re gonna take a deep fall.So when your trigger fingers are getting itchy, don’t succumb to the rash of impulse and flush your victims and yourselves down life’s toilet.
Someone once said — and I could be wrong, but I believe it’s been repeated once or twice over the years — that you can’t judge a book by its cover.Evidently, the same thing goes for names.Granted, there’s always a fat guy named Slim and a gorgeous babe called Beast. OK, I made up the second one, but you get the point.To cut to the quick, I was absolutely astonished and indeed became perched on the precipice of being utterly flabbergasted when I read this morning that the Dead Sea is dying a slow death.I’ll pause for a moment here while you recover. Hopefully the shock didn’t permanently raise your voice an octave (bad news for guys) or make your jaw muscles lose their grip (bad news for pretzel lovers). OK, now that you’re no longer dizzy, it’s apparently true. The Dead Sea ain’t dead yet. Who knew?I thought the Dead Sea had croaked from old age shortly after Moses had parted its waters for the Israelites to cross while they were hot-footing it away from Pharaoh’s elite Egyptian chariots.My mistake. The Israelites went through the Red Sea. Which isn’t red, it turns out.So let me get this straight: The Dead Sea ain’t dead and the Red Sea ain’t red.Not to trip over an omen or get picky about details, but I pray that the rest of the Old Testament is a tad more accurate. By the time of Christ, I assumed that the Dead Sea had been resting in peace as generations begat generations begat generations, etc. Another mistake.For some reason I was under the false impression that the Dead Sea Scrolls were a collection of the sea’s obits compiled by historians and then buried in the sand to give archaeologists something to do on their Middle East field trips.Well, apparently the Dead Sea eventually will live up to its name by dying.Its water level has dropped more than 80 feet and its size has shrunk by more than a third in the last 50 years. In the next two decades, the sea is expected to fall at least 60 more feet. Evidently the culprit is the River Jordan, which is going dryer than an AA meeting. By then, kids frolicking in the Dead Sea may not need water wings to stay afloat. Of course, perhaps their elders may preclude them from swimming in a sea on its death bed.After all, the real elderly who remember when the Dead Sea was young may harbor a certain reverence toward such a biblical if misnamed body of water.