Wrong number: Kraft couldn't have meant to give Putin a ring

Russian President Vladimir Putin used to be a KBG operative for the Soviet Union. By definition, a hard blue vein of deceit runs through his character. The guy was a spy. He has nerves of steel and is well versed in the intoxication of the hustle.Stealing things is like champagne to a guy like him … it gives his ego bubby sensations.Well, Putin didn’t steal any secrets the other day. But he did walk off with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s diamond-encrusted 2005 Super Bowl ring during a meeting with U.S. business executives.The Super Bowl ring now resides in the Kremlin library. Meanwhile, the White House library doesn’t have one. To my untutored mind, the Cold War should be heating up again.Don’t accuse me of having a touch of the dramatist. Sports fans understand one undeniable fact etched in stone tablets: Sex, religion, politics and world affairs all are inconsequential compared to sports.To save face, Kraft now is claiming that the ring — bigger than a Wyomissing mansion and just as pricey — was a gift to Putin, presented out of “respect and admiration.” I believe the Patriots owner is in dire need of a confessional for telling a big white lie. Privately, I’m certain Kraft feels like Putin slapped him in the face with a wet towel. Kraft merely meant to show Putin the ring, not give it to him. But the Russian semi-tyrant simply put the gaudy bauble in his pocket and walked away. A truly audacious move that internally must have flooded Kraft with rage. Only if he could have taken off his rage like a suit coat. Image is everything in the NFL. It has the cocky swagger of a PR machine. So Kraft now is putting on a feigned expression of good faith for the sake of international relations.Well, the joy from the Super Bowl victory is drained from Kraft. But losing the Super Bowl ring is hardly an irremediable loss for a wealthy guy like him. He has the resources to get another one.But what about our national pride? We invented football. Super Bowl Sunday is our high holiday. And now these Russian commie clones have walked off with the very symbol of our most fervent secular religion.I say George W. and his war hawks have got to do something about this. We need to blitz that Kremlin library with elite paratroopers until the the vultures are circling overhead like a maddened carousel.Seizing that Super Bowl ring and returning it to Kraft undoubtedly would restore our national pride and inspire our troops to kick butt in Iraq and wherever else nutso terrorists who despise football may lurk.I want to see Putin grim-faced in monastic gloom after this quick strike by Uncle Sam snatches back the Super Bowl ring.NFL Films should get some spectacular footage of the raucous celebrations here in America as that ring is paraded in triumph across the land.And NFL Films footage of the depression snaking through the streets of Moscow like a gypsy caravan should be as equally compelling.

Democracy can be a motherless child at home and abroad

Irony sometimes is thick enough to slice with a steak knife.While George W. Bush expends lots of blood, guts and money to export democracy to Iraq, it appears as if democracy is dying right in our hometown.Bush yesterday tried to make a case for what could turn out to be another 100-Year War — if the planet lasts that long.Funny, he looked like a man who had just swallowed a cockroach, but he never lost the burning gaze of a zealot. As always, he leaned on the alibi of national security.Oh, well. The wheel in the sky keeps on turning as the rhetoric over Iraq and global terrorism spins round and round.Meanwhile back home in good ol’ Reading, democracy is being ambushed by chaos. The duly elected politicians we have in the city have turned the Antietam Lake controversy into a running joke that could keep Leno and Letterman knee deep in gags if anybody outside of Berks County cared about the issue.Plus, we can’t even elect officials anymore in Reading. Four city precincts had tainted results in the May 17 primary. And now a Berks County judge has denied a request by the county elections board for a special election.Of course, it’s all a matter of legal semantics and eventually they’ll sort it out. Still, I’m certain the process will be as clumsy as a drunken elephant roller skating down Mount Penn.So much for democracy in Reading as we approach the Fourth of July.I wonder what Reading’s founding Penn brothers would think today if they saw chaos virtually painted on all our city street corners and reflected in neon every night.Well, perhaps they would take a philosophical view and say that all politicians play palace games simply because they hold the keys to the kingdom.Well, the kingdoms of Iraq and Reading seem to be cellmates right now. Both are having trouble digesting democracy because insurgents keep poisoning the meal. You hate to admit it, but sometimes benevolent dictatorships are easier to swallow.

Mr. McCabe and the bees

Some Irishman — reportedly sober but I have my sincere doubts — spent a portion of his weekend trying to coax more than 350,000 bees to land on his body.Evidently, a quirky tide must run through his persona and then up and down his spinal cord and finally out his ears.Something chillingly ugly must have imprinted itself on his mind during childhood. Perhaps when his dad told him about the birds and bees, the guy developed a kinky attraction to bees.Anyway, Philip McCabe — no word if his nickname is Sting, by the way — failed miserably. In nearly two hours, he got only 200,000 black bees – or 60 pounds of them – to cover him.Little wonder that many of the bees wanted no part of the same zip code where McCabe was standing.You see, the 59-year-old wore only underwear, a back brace and goggles. Hopefully he at least tried to suck in his stomach.Afterwards, embarrassment flushed McCabe’s faced redder than baked brick. His attempt to break the Guinness world record of 350,000 yellow bees on the body, or 87.5 pounds, had turned out not to be the stuff of true theater.By the way, McCabe blamed the weather for his lack of bee appeal.He claimed since it was only 63 degrees, the bees’ ardor to cling to his flesh was chilled. He said if it had been at least 80 degrees, the bees would have been warm enough to follow their docile queen bee, which McCabe had perched on his chin. If you’re wondering, this Irish nut was stung only seven times by the swarm. Obviously his flesh isn’t all that tasty.Call it unrequited love.However, I do give the guy his props. No way in hell would I want even 20, let alone 200,000, bees smeared all over me like so much barbecue sauce.The trick, McCabe said, is staying calm. Easy for him to say, considering the circumstances. Hell, the guy HAD to be drunk.”If I was giving off a strong smell of aggression or anxiety, they’d sting me,” McCabe said.Apparently his emotion is their emotion.I suspect Mr. McCabe and the bees also share similar IQs.

Schuylkill River running wet with tears

When the weather turns into a blast furnace, water can be a cool friend. Nothing like a refreshing dip to dampen the heat.But water also can be a deadly substance, especially if you plunge into the wrong body of water.City kids for years have been spitting in the eye of danger by plunging into the nasty waters of the Schuylkill River. Truant in judgment, they sometimes get torpedoed by tragedy.It happened again Sunday. Some city boys opted to swim in the river, they said, because the city raised the daily fee from $1 to $3 at the Schlegel Park pool and they couldn’t afford it.The sun-splashed Sunday suddenly was splashed by panic when two brothers waded into danger. The older boy, 13-year-old Ronald Michel, died trying to save his younger brother, who fortunately was saved by others.The real tragedy is that the drowning wouldn’t have happened if the boys had the money to swim in a pool. Economics is hardly a gelatinous structure. Either you have the currency or you don’t. These boys didn’t and now one of them is dead.When you’re young and hot, your instincts often are at war with your judgment. You think you’re invincible, never vulnerable.And if you have meager financial resources, you pay no heed to the danger of swimming in unsupervised and unsafe waters.It’s shaping up like a long, hot summer. Hopefully our city youth will save their pennies and use the Schlegel Park pool or find their way to Blue Marsh.One river drowning this summer is one too many.

So much for beauty being skin deep

When I read the news that the reigning Miss World, Peru’s Maria Julia Mantilla, may sue her plastic surgeon over what she says are his exaggerated claims concerning the body work he did on her, I almost fell in open air as if seized by a stroke.Nothing like a she-said, he-said squabble between a lady and her plastic surgeon. Evidently the raging emotions are running nip and tuck between them.Personally, I don’t care how extensive her plastic surgery was. The real issue is the utter integrity of beauty pageants. Call me a traditionalist, but I think beauty pageants should showcase natural beauty.There should be no rejuvenation before coronation. Any crossing of that line in the sand is a violation of a sacred trust.And don’t give me any grief about that being a rather cruel demarcation. Nobody said life’s fair.Granted, Miss World should have a sculpted, finely tuned physique. Otherwise, she’d merely be Miss South Dakota or Miss Yukon.But her best-in-the-world carriage and looks should be God’s creation, not the handiwork of some plastic surgeon adroit enough to play chopsticks with a scalpel while he gives a mere waif an hourglass figure. There should be no artificial enhancements to alter the mindset of the judges. And if a contestant wasn’t born with a sirloin strip of a body, well, water must find its own level. She always can become a plumber. Nobody expects them to be gorgeous. And they’re well paid, especially on weekends. Mantilla, who evidently didn’t want to settle for a life fixing leaky pipes, said Cesar Morillas, one of Peru’s most sought-after plastic surgeons, gave her a nose job and breast augmentation in February 2004.Ten months later, she was crowned Miss World.More than a coincidence, evidently. She denied that Morillas operated on her ears, chin, eyebrows and lips as was suggested in before-and-after photographs of her profile supplied by the plastic surgeon to a Spanish newspaper.At least her legs evidently are all hers.No matter. The point is that Mantilla did have some plastic surgery, making her a manufactured, synthetic beauty rolling off a plastic assembly line.And her fellow contestants who relied on their natural charms were denied fame, not by fate, but by deceit.I realize that some may say that plastic surgery epitomizes the modern woman.I respectfully disagree. I just hope that such thinking doesn’t become contagious.Because then mankind will forever more be deprived of beauty queens who are the real deal.When we no longer can believe in the truth of packaging, it’s time for all of us to go sulk.

A day hijacked from heaven

I don’t want to sound as melodramatic as a B movie, but gorgeous weather makes us all better people.Today is such a day in a little corner of paradise also known as Berks County.An inordinate amount of sunshine, a refreshing temperature hovering in the 70s and a profound absence of humidity all team up to haul scowls away.Indeed, even people who regularly trip over their own nastiness seem nicer on nice days.I imagine it’s a glandular and psychological response.How else to account for the universal radiance in our fellow man that rides in tandem with a day dappled with Mother Nature’s best?For those of you who can never abide a leash, a perfect day like today ushers in a welcoming sense of freedom. It’s easy to feel independent and invincible on such an empowering day.Walking down Penn Street to the office after a long meeting this morning, I was sorely tempted to yank the cork out and let it flow. I almost walked right past my office to head to my car, but then swooned at the thought of being AWOL.It’s a damning Catch-22 to be irresponsibly responsible.But experience has taught me to temper my enthusiasm. If I had driven home to enjoy the day, an unexpected cloud burst undoubtedly would have dampened the day.In retrospect, perhaps I should have. My flowers, shrubs and lawn could use the rain. For there can be no gain without rain.Then again, some things are immeasurable. Enjoy the picture-perfect day. We can leave growth for another day.Besides, like suburban sprawl, crabgrass and expanding waistlines, not all growth is good anyway.

The roots of destruction likely to sprout somewhere

Ever since 9.11 2001, we all somewhere within our core have been waiting for a doomsday sequel.The whip of that infamous day came down and left an everlasting welt on our hearts and minds.Granted, with the passage of time and with daily lives more raging than flood-bloated rivers, fear of another massive terrorist attack isn’t always percolating on the front burner.Still, like oxygen, it’s always there even though we can’t see it.It’s a fact of life in a world of lost innocence. And we also know that while we can stagger terrorists, we never can slay them all. There are just too damn many of them.So a sense of foreboding does flick its snake’s tongue in our faces from time to time, tormenting us while at the same time reminding us to always keep an eye out for a possible ambush.Of course, there have been a number of false alerts that have made us too cynical and too comfortable.In fact, talk of weapons of mass destruction is supposed to shiver our synapses, not awaken the scoffing critic residing within us. Well, a report released Tuesday spilled more fear and loathing on the soiled sunlight of our serenity. The chance of an attack with a weapon of mass destruction somewhere in the world in the next 10 years runs as high as 70 percent, arms experts predicted in a U.S. survey.Talk about some heart-stoppingly cold odds. After all, that somewhere in the world could be our backyards.The sight of a nuclear explosion by our grills and swing sets never will be confused with bonfire brilliance.None of us can accept the slap of mortality without a fight again terrorism. And nothing empties the mind of mindless clutter quicker than hearing cannon fire at dawn.Hopefully Tuesday’s report will serve as a wakeup call and restore the threat of terrorism to the crosshairs of our gun sights.

A pill to remember

Not to put a downer on what is a truly delicious Tuesday morning here in ol’ Berks County, PA, but ultimately we’re all dead men.Which doesn’t mean we can’t have fun while we’re engaged in life’s brutal endgame struggle.Yep, it’s best to squeeze life until the juice runs. Navigate this world with a swagger and a snarl and you can control your destiny as much as possible.Of course, it helps if you have most of your faculties. Indeed, the toll of advancing years has this knack of making some of us mind-blown, brain-bruised, stupefied and mystified.And it all starts with gradual memory loss. Today you forget whether you actually did shampoo, tomorrow you forget your name and by next week you twinkle with the unbalance of a madman. Oh, well. When you’re as airy as a soufflé, you won’t even notice. Well, some things are what they are. After all, you can’t make a chicken bark. But there are things you can do to avoid memory loss.Like pumping lots of folic acid into your system.At least that’s what some Dutch scientists are saying. And, yes, it’s true. The Dutch actually do have scientists.Evidently the Dutch have moved onto other endeavors since they plugged the hole in the dike.Oops, I almost forgot the point of this blog. Obviously I need to pop a folic acid pill. Because these Dutchmen are postulating that such a pill just might slow the mental decline of aging.The Dutch research adds to mounting evidence that a diet higher in foliate — a B vitamin found in grains and certain dark-colored fruits and vegetables — could spare us from becoming hollowed-out shells in our dotage.Granted, depending on what sort of life we’ve led, perhaps it’s not always a bad thing to be hijacked from our memories by the time our wrinkles begin posing as beef jerky. But for good people like you and me, pop those folic acid pills at the first peep of dawn every day. Because if you wait until the day fades into dusk, you’ll forget.

The ultimate uncontested shot

Robert Horry’s nickname is “Big Shot Bob” because nobody in the NBA is better in the clutch. Icicles reside in his veins. When he shoots with a game on the line, his eyes settle into a stare so icy you could skate across his corneas.Some of us are wired differently under pressure, and Robert Horry definitely is a breed apart. He never becomes unwired. His mind and body never short-circuit when dipped into a pressure cooker.Indeed, his clutch baskets have helped the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Lakers win five NBA titles.Horry moved closer to a six-pack of NBA crowns Sunday night when his three-pointer with 5.8 seconds left in overtime gave San Antonio a 3-2 Finals series lead over Detroit. Horry, who finished with 21 points, was exploding all over this morning’s ESPN highlights. When he gets locked into a rhythm, he enters a zone of exquisite concentration and execution.He needs little assistance when he’s residing in that supernova sector of shooting.Nevertheless, for some inexplicable reason, the Pistons’ Rasheed Wallace gave him a huge assist anyway.Horry was all set to cut through the lane after inbounding the ball with 9.6 seconds left when Wallace went into a gigantic brain drain. Wallace curiously and stupidly went to double-team Manu Ginobili in the corner, leaving no one within 15 feet of Dead Eye McGirt, a.k.a. Robert Horry.Horry throttled breath back into San Antonio while most of Detroit probably wants to throttle Wallace. Rasheed now is looking for some quiet place where can let the trauma of his tactical mistake scratch its way out of his stomach.Horry had such a great open look he could have taken a moment to hand out 8×10 glossies of himself before pulling the trigger on the game-winner.It was a monumental mental mistake by Wallace, which happens in a game of fastbreak chess.Basketball, in addition to all the running, jumping, shooting and rebounding, is essentially a rapid debate between two dueling intelligences Ping-Ponging between offense and defense.Wallace is an intense, talented player. But after Sunday night, one wonders what his SAT scores were.

The towering figure that is my father

It’s Father’s Day, and every son naturally thinks of the father.My old man is what God had in mind when he created man. He’s always been a man’s man.Even advanced age hasn’t taken much jut out of his jaw.He grew up hard and stayed hard. He had little choice.The oldest son in a large family trying to stake its way through the Great Depression, my old man in his early teens helped his own old man work in a foundry where flesh burned as routinely as a smoker’s matches. It was hard, horrible work. And it was hard to come by.Then came World War II and my old man as a young man saw plenty of action in the North Atlantic while his kidneys bounced around on a Naval destroyer. Dad always has been brave enough to stick his nose into the noise and thunder.Which served him well when he had to wade into the flaming foam of liquid steel and gushing blood that was D-Day at Normandy.Forged by those early experiences that were enough to raise the hair on his arms each and every day, he has remained a strong man who only gets on his knees before his God.A man of firm beliefs and steel scruples, he made a strong contribution to the Baby Boomers generation by spawning seven children.Seven kids eat a lot, so my dad for years worked two jobs. And when he wasn’t on the job, he was always remodeling our home. With hammer or saw in hand, he had the arm strength of Atlas.He was a taskmaster, especially with the older kids. As the oldest, I took the brunt of his tough love. He had a deep abiding love for his kids, but it never was a gushy type of love.To put it mildly, Casey Zielinski always has been the absolute monarch of his own principality. When you crossed the line, as I was prone to do, my old man had a temper that could melt the bumpers off a pickup truck.He preached the value of three things over and over to us: faith, education and work. They were and are his holy trinity.Scene changes inherent in the passage of time bring a subtlety we seldom see except through the prism of reflection.As I look at my old man, I realize I do for him more now than he does for me. But the little I do now is absolutely dwarfed by all he did for me then.When I look back at his life, my awe for him ruptures into profound appreciation.I will never be the man my father is. But I’m more of a man than I would have been without the force of his heavy father’s hand.His whole life was defined by work. Now, in his twilight years, he enjoys the luxury of relaxation. It’s long overdue. A lion in the winter of his life, he finally has the time to notice and appreciate the little things in life.Here’s praying that the dusk of his life has a last streak of violet that is too stubborn and strong to give in and be swallowed by death’s darkness anytime soon. Stubborn and strong just like my old man.