Before we all go broke, let's saw off the legislative branch

Well, it seems that all our state legislators are in dire need of a good shower and shampoo.That’s because the voting public evidently perceives them to be more dirty than an Anthracite coal mine; more crooked than a rural Pennsylvania road; more slick than the glacier that is an Erie winter.Of course you know why. Our esteemed legislators recently approved raises that make them the second-highest paid lawmakers in the land.Early in the wee hours of July 7th when the rest of us were either sleeping or angry because we had just missed last call at our favorite watering hole, our reps voted themselves pay hikes ranging from 16 to 34 percent.Hell, even T.O. doesn’t want to hold up the Eagles for that sort of king’s ransom.For all the details, check out today’s front page of the Reading Eagle. Or click on Kori Walter’s news story or Al Walentis’ Editor’s Blog.Just to warn you, it’s the type of reading that will raise your blood pressure and give you perpetual chills and heart palpitations.It’s greed like this that makes everybody cynical of politicians. This money grab has rendered our citizens shattered and dispirited, their spirits — not to mention their wallets — broken. And just who’s going to pick up the tab to pay all these fat cats? You guessed it, babe. You and me. We may have to rob one of the area’s multiple Wal-marts to cover the nut.I may need a second job. By the way, does anyone still block hats for a living? Is Bollman’s still in business over there in Adamstown?We all have been dipped into the same hot broth of tears. And now we’re running out of tissues. Will it never stop?And, pray tell, just what will our suddenly wealthy legislators do with all their money? Sip champagne and caviar while they ponder property tax reform? Frolic in béarnaise sauce while they try to caulk the cracks in public education?Oh, well. It could be worse. We could live in New Jersey.But do not lose hope, fellow citizens.The ol’ Zekester just had a flash of insight. I think academics would call it an epiphany or something.Whatever, my solution is so simple that it’s pure genius. Oops, I think I just tore my rotator cuff trying to pat myself on the back. So indulge me my ego trip since I now am in considerable pain.Anyway, my solution is to simply eliminate the legislature in Pennsylvania.Now, I’m not saying get rid of democracy.I’m not pushing for a benevolent dictatorship because there hasn’t been a benevolent dictator in the history of the world. Absolute power corrupts, or so I’m told.I’m not pushing for a monarchy, either. If you think our current legislators are stuffy folks, wait till you get a whiff of royalty. We don’t need a Queen Elizabeth or a Prince Charles making Harrisburg stiffer than Stone Man Willie over at Auman’s.Rather, I’m merely saying we should prune our state legislative branch. Simply have the governor’s executive branch. And the judicial branch.If Ed Rendell and his successors as governor wander off into a power trip, let the state Supreme Court put them back on the path to righteousness.And don’t forget us. We can simply vote out or impeach any executive scalawags. Nobody will miss our legislators. They just talk and talk anyway. And since they now are about as popular as rain in the Poconos during the tourist season and have about as much charm as a strangler’s cord, let’s pull the plug on them now!Imagine the enormous savings, not just in salaries but in office supplies as well. Can you imagine how many paper clips and staples, not to mention Scotch tape, those folks go through?Getting rid of all our legislators also will help cool global warming because there will be much less hot air in Pennsylvania.Yep, without all that hot air billowing out from Harrisburg, I reckon we could be seeing some icicles in Berks County by September or so.

A relationship sloppier than a truck stop waitress

The Philadelphia Eagles kicked off training camp at Lehigh today, which means Donovan McNabb had to face the media.That’s what quarterbacks do in the public relations-saturated world of the NFL. Feed the perpetually quote-starved media.Guess what McNabb talked about? You guessed it. The state of his relationship with Terrell Owens.After all, what in the world could be important than the dynamics of this feuding couple? Not since Bill and Hillary Clinton were sparring over the Monica Lewinsky fallout has there been no much ink about a strained relationship.

McNabb, of course, never feeds the media any red meat. His sound bites always are as bland as Puffed Rice.

Predictably, he glossed over the T.O. situation by assuring everybody that everything is just going to be peachy keen between the two of them.

Well, McNabb just isn’t confrontational in the public arena. Still, he said enough to convey that, as far as he’s concerned, his relationship now with Owens is one merely of co-workers.

To Donovan, the only thing they now have in common is football. And since there’s only one football on the field, they won’t even have to share it in their little game of pitch and catch.

So much for fireworks. So much for fisticuffs.

They may not punch each other out. But once they punch out, they won’t be doing ab crunches together after hours in front of T.O.’s mirror.

The relationship between a quarterback and his top receiver is an important one. They at least need on-field chemistry. They have to be in sync between the lines.

If they’re not tight outside the lines, it is a delicate thing to ensure that the nuts and bolts are tight enough on their on-field mechanics.

Well, Donovan and T.O. may have been bosom buddies last season. But when Owens took a verbal shot at McNabb’s level of fitness in the Super Bowl, their friendship was sacked.

The core of their quarrel really was triggered by Owens’ war of economics with the Eagles’ brass. But the bottom line is McNabb felt disrespected.

It was bad enough that he apparently barfed on the field while the clock was ticking on the Eagles’ Super Bowl destiny. It was worse when T.O. rubbed his face in it.

McNabb indicated Saturday that their relationship now is strictly business.

Who can blame him?

McNabb got burned once, and evidently he won’t allow himself to be vulnerable to any future T.O. barbs.

McNabb definitely sounds determined not to allow chaos to infiltrate his huddle. So he’s adopting a hear-no-evil, see-no-evil stance about off-the-field issues. His conversations with T.O. likely will be limited to X’s and O’s.

McNabb’s personal alarm system doesn’t shriek at intruders because he simply disables it and ignores their intrusion.

Perhaps he’s onto something here. Discontent explodes on the gunpowder of T.O.’s personality. So perhaps it’s best to ignore his flamboyant rhetoric and egocentric shenanigans.

McNabb has found out that if you lift the gate on your life just a crack, a T.O.-generated breeze of disruption will waft in to torment you.

So Donovan has slammed the gate down hard. Their relationship now seems colder than congealed grease.

So how hot will be their passing connection?

Stay tuned. The Eagles’ flight of fancy is just taking off.

Your move, Mr. Owens.

Andy Reid anesthetizes himself to any and all distractions

There has been a lethal legacy of late in the National Football League for teams coming off Super Bow losses: They get flushed down the sewer.Well, as you may recall, the Philadelphia Eagles lost the last Super Bowl. It was in all the papers.Ever since, their offseason has been buffeted by megadoses of distractions.But you would never know it by the calm, stoic demeanor of head coach Andy Reid.He held his first press briefing of training camp Friday at Lehigh and he’s the same old Andy. He still is an All-Pro at making sure he has the door to the outside world bolt-locked.My read on Reid is that his tunnel vision serves him and his team well. He sets the tone for the squad. And with his players sharing his narrow focus, any and all distractions fall outside their radar screen while they’re on the football field. Reid expressed a what-me-worry? approach Friday while addressing the litany of issues infecting his team.One of his projected starting defensive ends, Jerome McDougle, was shot in the stomach Thursday night.

Starting defensive tackle Corey Simon wants more green stuff in his wallet so he likely won’t be wearing Eagle green for most of training camp.

Pro Bowl offensive tackle Tra Thomas is still taking blood thinners to cure a clot that will prevent him from participating in football contact at least through August.

Punter Dirk Johnson will miss all of camp with a sports hernia. How punters get hurt, especially in the offseason, remains a mystery for medical researchers to pursue once they’ve come up with a cure for the common cold.

Nevertheless, Reid professes that he simply must go to the big dance with whatever bodies are healthy enough and available to do the fox trot with him. Imagining Reid’s porky physique doing any sort of hip-hop routine simply boggles the mind.

Guess what? Reid’s approach has worked so far. The Birds have made the NFC title game an annual event, a watershed accomplishment in this era of free agency and salary cap constraints.

A big reason why is because Reid refuses to acknowledge distractions.

By extension, so does his team.

Reid simply ignores anything borne on a threatening breeze, less it mess with his football focus. Anything not a part of the here and now on the Eagles’ football field is suspicious.

His one-dimensional approach provides a layer of insulation that prevents him and his team from becoming susceptible to chilling winds.

Reid’s skies never are blue or gray, simply green.

For instance, we still haven’t gotten to two core issues that could shake a joist or beam inside Reid’s massive frame: Egotistical wideout Terrell Owens’ contract soap opera and his perceived feud with quarterback Donovan McNabb.

Will T.O. hold out or not?

Will T.O. be totally disruptive as a petulant unhappy camper if he does report?

Will T.O., after dissing McNabb’s hurling other things besides the football in the clutch moments of the Super Bowl loss, be all over his quarterback the next time he bounces the football at his piggy toes or – God forbid – hits another open receiver?

Will McNabb, in turn, freeze out T.O. like the departed and disgruntled Freddie Mitchell accused the QB of doing to him last season?

Questions, questions everywhere.

Distractions, distractions everywhere.

Are the Birds headed for the Sewer Bowl, not the Super Bowl?

Once again, Reid won’t allow himself to be ambushed by any emotional jackknifing. He never sweats anything, so his spirit never gets dehydrated.

One undoubtedly would need a nuclear microscope to detect the slightest fissures in his rock-hard serenity.

“I can put it very simple to you,” Reid said Friday. “I expect T.O. to be in here and I expect T.O. to help us win a Super Bowl and that is the way that I am going to approach it. We will take it day by day as it goes forward.”

And what about the possibility Reid might need a crowbar to pry apart Owens and McNabb in the huddle?

“Whatever problem there is, if there is a problem, will be worked out,” Reid said. “I have talked to both guys and there does not seem to be a magnified problem there. So I’m sure they will get together and will talk out whatever issues they have, if they have any issues.”

Now, I’m not smart enough to know if Atlas actually ever shrugged.

But I do know that the Atlas-like Reid shrugs off distractions like a cocker spaniel sheds water.

“You used the word distraction, but I wouldn’t call it a distraction,” he said. “There are always things that are going to happen. I think any time you deal with 88 guys, things are going to happen. You are always going to have a number of injuries.”

Other vanquished Super Bowl finalists may have fallen on their swords recently. No matter to Andy Reid. He feels his Eagles have their swords drawn and are ready to resume the battle even with some of their warriors MIA.

“It’s great to be back and get this thing rolling,” he said. “We look forward to the season. We feel very good about our football team.”

Certainty in his core beliefs remains his constant comrade.

We shall see if they remain hearty companions throughout this NFL crusade. In the meantime, Reid and his not-so-merry band of Eagles will try to flash through the trail of satisfaction and disappointment that leads to the Holy Grail of another Super Bowl.

McDougle shot just as he was poised to take flight as an Eagle

Jerome McDougle is hardly a man of meager gifts. The Philadelphia Eagles defensive end was a marauding menace on the field for the University of Miami, the model assembly line for the production of pro football players.Which is why the Eagles made McDougle their first-round pick in 2003.But potential doesn’t always translate into performance. Promise and fulfillment don’t always share the same zip code.McDougle was plagued with injuries in his first two NFL seasons, managing a paltry 18 tackles and two sacks in 19 games.This, however, was to be his breakout season. He was supposed to have an ideal chance of being the starting right defensive end, assuming he could hold off the training camp challenges of N.D. Kalu and Hugh Douglas.Notice the use of the past tense in the preceding paragraph.Because McDougle’s golden opportunity has been placed on hold. You could say that his life hasn’t been touched by much good karma lately.McDougle was shot in the stomach by armed robbers Thursday night, Miami police said Friday.Obviously, McDougle won’t be reporting, as scheduled, to the Eagles’ training camp at Lehigh on Monday.He underwent surgery Friday and the club said he was in good condition.It’s definitely premature to speculate on what repercussions the shooting will have on McDougle’s NFL season.The important thing now is that he escaped with his life. Football is a secondary consideration.The early prognosis is encouraging. The Eagles said they were optimistic the injury is not career threatening. “We’re told it (the bullet) didn’t hit any major organs, and that’s a plus,” Eagles head coach Andy Reid said.Nevertheless, there seems to be a murky tide of choppy waters washing away McDougle’s enormous potential.Three armed teens approached McDougle in his silver Mercedes coupe late Thursday, police said, and one of them shot him in the stomach.The night in certain neighborhoods becomes crowded with hostile voices and vices. And rich guys in rich cars wearing rich bling obviously have bull’s eyes on their backs, no matter how broad those backs may be.Indeed, the violence at the line of scrimmage is a much better alternative than the violence of the streets.A cruel fact that McDougle was brutally exposed to Thursday night.New York Giants star tight end Jeremy Shockey, McDougle’s college teammate, said Friday that it’s not uncommon for Miami players, or other athletes, to be targets in tough neighborhoods.”You’ve just got to be careful where you go and what you (are) seen wearing and everything like that,” Shockey was quoted as saying from the Giants’ Albany, N.Y., training camp. “I don’t really wear jewelry. I don’t really dress up with diamonds. I try to stay out of bad neighborhoods.”Shockey is notoriously nocturnal and gravitates towards neon like a moth is enchanted by a lit bulb. So he knows of what he speaks.As big and tough as professional athletes are, they’re as fragile and mortal as the rest of us when they’re confronted by an ounce or two of hot lead.The NFL is controlled savagery.Hard, mean neighborhoods have no such restraints when they erupt in anarchy.Thank God the bullet McDougle swallowed directly into his gut didn’t kill him or paralyze him.In the wake of the shooting, it remains to be seen how his NFL season and career play out.For his sake, I hope he recovers robustly and is a real stallion for seasons to come for the Eagles.The guy, after all, deserves a break of good fortune for a change.

Lord and lady of the rings

We all know that Paris Hilton, the hottie heiress, is a bit over the top.Evidently, so is her fiancé, Paris Latsis.Yes, for the one or two of you out there who may not know, Paris is engaged to Paris. And vice versa.With identical names, perhaps the lovely couple is conducting some sort of social experiment. It says here that they’re in dire need of nicknames. But that isn’t the point of this blog.Rather, our subject today is apparently there is too much zing in the bling for Paris — the Ms. Paris as opposed to the Mr. Paris. Her 24-carat engagement ring is weighing her down. Sad to say, her rock — shall we say boulder? — is so heavy that her dainty ring finger screams in protest.And she simply can’t have that. After all, painful yelps are a real bummer for a party girl.Mr. Paris, the heir to a Greek shipping fortune (why aren’t there ever Polish shipping fortunes?), obviously was trying to rock her world with an engagement ring big enough to land a 747 on. But after Ms. Paris found the gigantic bauble to be too painful to tote around while shopping, mulching and cleaning the toilet, Mr. Paris had to spring for a second ring — a more manageable diamond-less platinum Cartier band.No word yet on whether this ringing problem has resonated negatively on their romance. Still, no matter how long their journey together down’s life’s merry path lasts, expect it to follow the road to excess.By the way, those squealing tires you just heard belong to cars of the anxious paparazzi following Paris and Paris in hot pursuit.And if Ms. Paris is sporting the 24-carat mountain of ice on her throbbing finger at the moment, it’s apt to slow the couple down.

A female android straight out of the sci-fi pages

Well, it’s certainly about time that reality crosses the Rubicon into the realm of science fiction.And leave it to the Japanese to have the technological savvy to pull it off.After all, they can’t spend all their time building cars, snapping photos and trying to find elbow room for all of them in their tiny country.Heck, my sister-in-law has a bedroom closet bigger than Japan. But I digress.Anyway, the news — certainly more startling than dog bites man or dog addresses hydrant — that Japanese scientists have unveiled the most human-looking robot yet certainly snapped my synapses to attention.It seems they have devised a female android called Repliee Q1 (not a name as cute as Bambi or as enticing as Bubbles, but what do you expect from a bunch of droll, dull scientists?).Repliee Q1 has flexible silicone for skin rather than hard plastic, and a number of sensors and motors to allow her to turn and react in a human-like manner.She can flutter her eyelids and move her hands like a human. She even appears to breathe. She is designed to look human and although she can only sit at present, she has 31 actuators in her upper body, powered by a nearby air compressor, programmed to allow her to move like a human. By the way, I know she’s an android and perhaps I shouldn’t be gender specific in referencing her, uh, I mean it. Still, it’s easy to forget she isn’t human. Indeed, this remarkable invention may be heralded as our portal into a Brave New World.If the Japanese can manufacture a whole sorority of Repliee Q1s, we definitely will be scratching around inside the unhatched shell of immense possibilities.This absolutely is more exciting than reading Tennyson’s poetry about the British cavalry.Having human-like robots to serve at our beck and call definitely ushers us into the 21st century.Having a cute robot on hand can save all of us from a life of domestic drudgery. And, like a pet and unlike a spouse, this android won’t give us any static unless she pops a gasket or flywheel or whatever in her programming.Plus, I imagine Repliee Q1 would be ideal for road trips. After all, nobody wants to dine alone at a sidewalk café in Paris.The charm of Repliee Q1 is that she definitely would be a cheap dinner date, considering her lack of appetite. While Repliee Q1 isn’t likely to be amusing or sympathetic, the android apparently can interact with people and respond to touch.The majesty of this moment of passage cannot be overstated.Consequently, we need to pay homage to science in general and these Japanese scientists in particular. Especially in this age when the idolatry of science no longer is a given.You scoff? Trust me. I’m not being overly cynical.There are some among us still having trouble digesting the theories of evolution and gravity.Those same folks also think the theory of relativity simply refers to the marriage license bureau in West Virginia.And they likely feel that the earth is flatter than chords played by a neophyte guitarist.So don’t expect Repliee Q1 to be hanging out in George W. Bush’s White House.

Hot enough to sear souls and melt soles

Global warming, it seems, has its sweaty fingers around Berks County’s neck right now and it’ll take a crowbar to pry them off.Yep, heat and humidity have squatted here in Berks and are flashing teeth-baring ferocity in drenching us with their blast-furnace fury. In fact, I just walked up Penn Street next to a heavy-set lady. Four blocks later, the poor woman was as thin as a dowel.Of course, she had so many puddles of perspiration pooling in her shoes she should have been wearing scuba flippers.I imagine this weather is pure catnip to folks who savor heat and humidity with the same zeal I crave cool swimming pools and air conditioning set colder than a witch’s heart.When I walked down Penn Street on my return to the office, I looked at some buildings and swore their bricks were melting.I just hope the Sovereign Center doesn’t dissolve into a sea of sweat.Then, pray tell, where will all the retro rockers perform? I know the sidewalks I traversed on Penn Street today were covered in rivulets of sweat (hopefully it wasn’t the residue of a pit bull with a bladder infection).Indeed, I’ve already walked up and down Penn Street twice today, not a cool gig unless you don’t mind a little heatstroke.Torrid days like today at least bring me closer to God. After all, can you imagine how hot hell must be? If you hate the heat, don’t cross The Big Guy. Speaking of prayer, I’m praying that the polar icecaps don’t suddenly completely melt and flood downtown Reading with some Arctic cold water.Granted, that would help the DID guys keep Penn Street free of debris. And it would cool off the town a bit. But a flooded downtown would put a crimp in business at the pawn and porn places.And the GoggleWorks would have to forsake its cultural endeavors and start manufacturing and selling goggles again to serve as accessories to our flippers.Come to think of it, doing a little scuba diving in downtown Reading could be a novel experience. And it could open the floodgates to all sorts of aquatic touristy things for the Visitors Bureau.Try to stay cool in the meantime.