One of our own pays the ultimate price

Well, the war really has hit home.With all the force of a jackhammer.Pick up a copy of today’s Reading Eagle and you’ll see a banner headline on the death of Army Spc. William Fernandez, who was killed in a roadside explosion Monday while on patrol in Iraq.Fernandez, 37, of Lower Alsace Township, became the first Berks County native to be killed in the Iraq war.May he find peace in another life for having the bravery to try to bring peace to this life.Still, I find it utterly disturbing that valiant Americans are essentially fish in a barrel in Iraq, waiting to see which unfortunate soldier gets picked off next in that fire zone.I’ve heard plenty of pontifications and posturings about the war on terror, and I understand that it’s a noble and necessary cause.But nobody has yet to convince me that the Iraq war really ever was a part of the war on terror.Sending our troops into an unnecessary poisonous gale was terrible to begin with.And now that the Iraqi occupation drags on and on with neither purpose nor direction, it’s totally inexcusable.When will a viable, sensible, tangible exit strategy surface? Too many lives have been lost already. Too many restless souls have been spawned before their time. Let’s end this folly now.Allow the following words to flow softly and reverently, cradled equally in regret and anger: William Ferdnandez was heroic enough to die for his country, but I dread the thought that he indeed may have died in vain.At least we and his loved ones can take solace in the fact that William Fernandez himself didn’t think so.His sister, Milagro Valentin, was quoted saying in today’s story: “He always said that if he was going to die, he was going to die for something that was worth it.”Words like that are haunting, and hopefully the mess in Iraq finds some worthwhile resolution so they don’t ultimately ring hollow.

The scar tissue on Jennifer's blistered heart no longer is tender

I try not to be a celebrity watcher.Why? Well, I once read in People magazine that celeb watching can spoil your health, slow your mind and make you fat.Thus, I don’t indulge. Which, I know, sort of goes against the grain of contemporary society.Because that’s what adult Americans do for sport –- stuff themselves with food and gorge themselves with pop culture.Now, let me make a hypocrite of myself and dip my toes into the shallow, glittering pool of celeb sightings.I meant to blog about this earlier today, but global affairs, national affairs, state affairs and local affairs (isn’t anybody faithful anymore?) distracted me.Just kidding. Not those kind of affairs. After all, not everybody is Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.Speaking of Brad Pitt, his ex, Jennifer Aniston, says she’s ready to plunge back into the dating game.By the way, Jennifer, good luck finding somebody as good looking as Brad.OK, I know I’m a close second … but I’m taken.I sort of like Jennifer because she seems to have her head on straight.She’s not a diva who does anything she damn well pleases. No egocentric problem child here.In fact, she’s sort of a guy’s chick, a lady who’s not going to get all freaked out if she steps on a cockroach in her bare feet.Still, I think it was a bit pretentious of her to appear on “Oprah” Monday and reveal to a breathless world that she’s so beyond Pitt.But since I’m on the subject, I wonder who she will start dating.Let me guess. It probably will be an actor or a rap singer or a rock guitarist or a film producer or a business tycoon or a trendy restaurant owner.I doubt she will date a plumber, a mechanic, a florist, a sanitation worker, a McDonald’s counter jockey or a toothbrush repairman.Whoever the next lucky guy is in her life, I think their relationship could be best described as ephemeral, but I won’t be certain until I look the word up.

Momma, don't let your sons grow up to be Cowboys

Maybe it was the lateness of the hour. The Midnight Hour does surreal stuff to folks.Apparently, the Cowboys’ secondary guys were distracted by sleep and were more preoccupied with bedtime than executing their X’s and O’s.Consequently, they got executed.The Redskins took the Cowboys and shoved them under a guillotine. Beheaded them right then and there with their helmets still on.Pardon me if I sound a bit harsh, but it was the kind of loss that I find hard to stomach in “Can You Beat Zeke?” pigskin pickin’ land.I mean, it was a coyote ugly game and I stayed up until the bitter end.They’re subway stations that smell better than this game did.You should never watch an NFL contest that would embarrass your mother if you died while watching it.This is was of those games.Redskins QB Mark Brunell, who seemingly couldn’t throw a ball across a tiny alley for the past couple seasons, somehow rubbed some hot mustard on his tired old left arm and launched touchdown bombs of 38 and 70 yards to Santana Moss in the final 3:46 for an improbable 14-13 Washington win.What frosted me — and I’m certain Dallas coach Bill Parcells as well — was the simplicity of the route.In fact, it was the same pattern on both TDs — a streak up the middle.Cornerback Aaron Glenn and safety Roy Williams — apparently two guys whom the football gods no longer adore — were beaten like snare drums on both plays.I sincerely doubt both guys will be watching the game films with a twinkling, welcoming eye.Anyway, I hope they feel awful. Because I sure do. And anguish needs company.

The Vikings are a shipwreck … and may be out of lifelines

The mind simply reels over how atrocious the Minnesota Vikings are this young NFL season.The Vikes are zippo for two, having crumbled at home 24-13 in their opener against Tampa Bay, then getting mutilated 37-8 at Cincinnati Sunday.OK, I know they traded Randy Moss to the Oakland Raiders in the offseason, and he’s a flamboyant wideout whose extraordinary speed and spider arms stretch defenses to the snapping point.But who knew that the deal would curse the Vikings much like the Red Sox were cursed for decades after they swapped Babe Ruth to the dreaded New York Yankees?After all, the Vikings still have a posse of offensive studs in their arsenal, led by strong-armed monster QB Daunte Culpepper.He was the guy who threw for pinball numbers each and every week last season.And the Vikings went out and spent a lot of dough in supposedly caulking all the oozing seams in their porous defense.Well, so much for all of that. That non-D gave up a whopping 337 yards in just the first half against Cincy. Right now, head coach Mike Tice looks like the biggest whack job in the league. Speaking of getting whacked, the poor dude may not make it through September.The Vikes are teetering towards ignominy. They suddenly have so many weak spots that one would need to hire a patrol to find any sign of a strong spot. All their assets are MIA.Last year they were pterodactyls on offense. Now they’re more like robins.So much for marauding Vikings. They may have to rename the franchise the Minnesota Quakers. The meek may inherit the earth, but that turf has nothing to do with the NFL.Culpepper through two games has thrown for eight picks and nary a TD. In the opener, he chucked two interceptions in the final two series. He threw four picks in the second half Sunday (finishing with five).I know he misses Moss, injured center Matt Birk and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan (who joined Nick Saban with the Dolphins). But Culpepper’s fall from grace has been enough to make an atheist fall on his knees. Indeed, it make take divine intervention to right this Vikings’ ship. But I believe the Viking Norse god, Odin, has been mothballed for centuries.So pray for Mike Tice. And just hope he has a sword in his hand when he gets axed.

Eagles, McNabb are audaciously super hot

Undoubtedly Eagles fans at this very moment are celebrating with student-council enthusiasm.Yep, they’ve ripped the babushkas of gloom from their tousled heads. It’s party time.Their Birds shivered the synapses of the Niners seemingly from the opening kickoff this afternoon en route to a 42-3 walk in the park at the Linc.Perhaps Donovan McNabb, playing with a bruised chest that supposedly creaked with every movement, should play hurt more often.The guy was almost dead solid perfect.He completed 23 of 29 passes for 342 yards and five touchdowns before retiring early.He spread the ball around flawlessly, something he hadn’t done in the opening loss to the Falcons. He just let the bullets fly and never seemed to run out of ammunition — or accuracy.There are times when McNabb exhibits an almost preternatural comfort in the pocket and today was one of those games.Of course, it helped that the Niners’ pass pressure was completely inconsequential.The game was significant in that young tight end L.J. Smith finally was a force strong enough to split a tree, catching nine balls for 119 yards and a TD.In the first half alone, McNabb was 18 of 23 for 279 yards and four touchdowns, including TD bombs of 68 and 42 yards to Terrell Owens. In fact, Donovan had four touchdown passes 19 minutes into the game. Even Olympic sprinters don’t start that fast. Owens was like a large peacock commanding center stage on those two TD snags, but he refrained from any celebratory theatrics in the end zone.But he did – stop the presses here! –- run back to McNabb and low-five his QB after his first touchdown catch. They then ran to the sideline with smiles beaming through their facemasks.So much for the most publicized Family Feud in years.Those mighty heaves to T.O. were particularly fitting in they came against his former team. Owens finished with five catches for 143 yards – all in the first half as the Birds cruised to a 28-0 intermission lead.The Eagles’ dominance over the Niners, who somehow had stunned the Rams in their opener, continued throughout the game as Koy Detmer went 9 for 9 for 94 yards and Mike McMahon hit his only pass for 22 yards. The running game was crisp as well as Brian Westbrook rushed 15 times for 89 yards and newcomer Lamar Gordon carried 12 times for 40 yards and a TD. The Eagles had a whopping 583 yards of total offense, with 443 passing yards and 140 rushing yards. They rang up an incredible 30 first downs. In stark contrast, the Niners managed just 58 yards rushing and 84 yards passing as the Birds picked off inept Tim Rattay three times. Philadelphia came out flicking a snake tongue of aggression. Whoo-eet! Whoo-eet!The Eagles quickly slowed and then deadened the Niners’ nerve, setting waves of depression cascading all over them. It got almost surreal as the Eagles threw over and ran by and through the Niners as if they were somnambulists.The Niners played like a bunch of drunks trying to hang onto a speeding subway strap. Indeed, they smelled like a hangover.They stumbled and slipped as if the Lincoln Financial Field turf was shellacked under their spikes.By halftime they were faced with ascending an unendurable slope and they had a better chance of scaling Pikes Peak on roller skates.The game was so astonishingly lopsided that even when Eagles kicker David Akers had some down time because of an injured hamstring, linebacker Mark Simoneau filled in and kicked an extra point.When you’re hot, you’re hot and good karma sticks like glue to your shoulder pads. But let us not carried away. This was just one game, and the Niners were strangled by a contractive spasm of insufficient skill.Still, it was encouraging to see how resounding the Eagles bounced back from the Atlanta debacle.They reacted to losing like a beautiful woman to cleaning toilets.

The pollination of Greater Reading

Now that we’re on the road to Greater Reading, it won’t be long until the corridor from Wyomssing to City Park gets a new shampoo.Because our gateway has to be clean and spiffy if we want to scrub out the notion that Reading has streets so mean that even God hesitates to park there.Of course, one doesn’t transform vinegar into champagne or coal into diamonds or Cracker Jacks into caviar without some divine assistance — and plenty of cash.Money always holds the key to the vault.And we got some cash Friday to funnel towards giving Greater Reading a new main artery where visitors and residents someday can flow through and wolf through the pastry tray of all sorts of goodies. Hundreds of area leaders celebrated the release of a new business-attraction plan Friday, including the welcome news that the state has approved a $175,000 grant to design one of the plan’s recommendations. The money is going to the Reading and Berks County Visitors Bureau to help design an entertainment, arts and cultural corridor from Wyomissing to City Park. This all stems from the Initiative for a Competitive Greater Reading group that Friday released its 67-page report, “Greater Reading: A Call to Action,” that says bringing new jobs to the region is the only way to grow. The plan calls for regional thinking, urges creation of the entertainment corridor as a way of raising the area’s quality of life, and using that zone to attract the so-called creative class of workers. The money will be used to hire Sasaki Associates to create the design. Sasaki, of Watertown, Mass., currently is finishing the riverfront master plan for RiverPlace Development Corp. With the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts opening this weekend as well, Greater Reading could someday be more than just a grand marketing strategy.A major plus that everybody is touting right now is the wonderful level of collaboration among so many business and community leaders in galvanizing and fertilizing significant, tangible change.Momentum is the prime ingredient needed to sustain this initiative.It’s great to sense all this irrepressible, a fabulous-tomorrow-is-possible gleam in everyone’s eyes.But today’s buoyancy’s must be unflagging to ensure that the envisioned magical tomorrow does indeed dawn in our town.We’ve got to keep this going and keep this real. Because if it all turns out to be just pie in the sky, well, the promise will be flushed down the toilet and wind up further clogging the pipes at Fritz’s Island.

Lenny Moore: A Knight among men

There were so many stars at the Stirling Guest Hotel Thursday night they formed a constellation that warmed Reading with a kaleidoscope of intense light. Of course, the brightest star was the man himself, Lenny Moore, the Reading High, Penn State and Baltimore Colt great.Moore was eloquently saluted at “A Knight to Remember” tribute that undoubtedly will be etched into the memory banks of everybody who shared bread and sweat under a sweltering tent for four hours.But nobody was cowed by the sauna-like conditions even though the humidity was thick enough to shovel.After all, inconveniences of the flesh are no match for the soaring octaves of renewed spirits.Because although the night was supposed to be about football, it was about much more.It was about people and relationships, and how desperately they need each other.And how they need God in their lives.It was a tent revival meeting, and it was riveting. One of the superstars on hand was the guy who organized the whole evening, Reading High food services manager Stuart Eberly.He should be amply saluted for his yeoman work. He’s the primary catalyst behind the weekend-long celebration of Moore’s return to Reading.Lenny Moore truly is a Reading treasure and he should never get lost in the fog of time.On hand to enhance Moore’s legacy were former Baltimore Colts Gino Marchetti, Lydell Mitchell and Milt Davis; former Philadelphia Eagles Tommy McDonald and Pete Retzlaff; former Penn State All-American Charles Blockson, who was Moore’s college; and former Reading High and Maryland star Dave Pacella.The documentary on Moore by Karen Quinn was a vivid, enchanting retrospective on Moore’s remarkable football career, including enough highlights of him in high school, college and the pros to provide compelling evidence that he truly was one of the most gifted runners ever.Moore had searingly quick reflexes. He was a marvel in the open field, a mosaic of movement at warp speed.His ballet of nimble moves gave the distinct impression he could cut at full speed even on a thimble. He was the ultimate slasher, a running back whose sirloin strip of a body knifed off tackle with the explosion of a powder keg. Blockson and Davis were particularly eloquent in their remarks, but nobody could touch Lenny.He touched everyone’s hearts by relating that in his post-football life he floundered until the Good Lord showed him that he could only flourish once he began giving to others.Davis, McDonald and Moore mentioned God frequently in their remarks, ample evidence that in the winter of their lives they’ve placed their mortality in the Lord’s hands.Speaking of the Lord, he abundantly blessed Lenny Moore twice -– as a football player and as a man.He clearly is a man who isn’t awed by ego. He clearly is a man with direction in his life –- thanks to a moral compass that has survived the batterings of significant trials and tribulations. It was a privilege to be a part of the celebration. I shall not forget it.

And you thought had a bad week

I think Atlanta cornerback Kevin Mathis won’t circle this week on his calendar for posterity.Because his mythic misadventures this week probably have him in dire need of a mental relief convoy.First of all, he and Eagles middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter engaged in a pregame tussle Monday night, earning the rare distinction of being ejected from the game before the game actually started.That scenario in stupidity had both of them looking like knuckleheads in helmets on national television.And their transgressions cost them 5 grand apiece as the NFL geek police dipped into their wallets.Then the week really turned bone ugly for Mathis on Wednesday during practice.He suffered a catastrophic injury to his left knee, which could end the nine-year veteran’s career.Mathis landed awkwardly while defending a pass, shredding the ACL and two other ligaments.No word yet on whether rabid Eagles fans stuck pins into the knee of a Kevin Mathis voodoo doll for causing Trotter to miss the game and rendering the Eagles’ run defense softer than Andy Reid’s stomach.Because Mathis’ NFL future seems to be in tatters. It’s tough to cover wideouts with knee ligaments that resemble linguini.Hopefully the Falcons have a good orthopedic guy.Because I’m sure Mathis wants to live to fight, ahem, play another day.

McNabb's chest pains could give Andy Reid a heart attack Sunday

Playing in the NFL isn’t all strut, strength and sweat sandwiched between heaping globs of glamour.A lot of it is running smack dab into splattering train wrecks.While the big guys up front essentially mimic dueling mountain goats trying to de-horn each other, the glory guys like quarterbacks are the ones who frequently have to stick their head in a lion’s mouth.The vortex of violence gobbled up Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb Monday night. Falcons DT Chad Lavalais launched himself and struck McNabb in the chest with the crown of his helmet.You could hear the thud all the way to Berks County. Fortunately, McNabb is somewhat chunky or his spinal cord may have resembled saltwater taffy. The pain hampered McNabb the remainder of the game as the Eagles dropped their opener to Atlanta.Well, McNabb’s bruised chest forced him to sit out practice today and he’s listed as “questionable” for Sunday’s game with the surprisingly unbeaten 49ers.Donovan, as tough as rawhide, says he will play Sunday. Grit his teeth and let it fly.Hopefully his passes won’t fly too high or too wide like they did Monday night.But beggars can’t be choosers. Let’s just pray to God that he can play this week.Koy Detmer, nominally the No. 2 QB essentially because he holds for kicker David Akers, ain’t what he used to be. He used to have a swagger. No more. Because you can’t swagger when you can’t deliver. He has a spaghetti arm these days. Some guys throw darts. Some guys fire bazookas. Detmer flings wet noodles.No. 3 guy Mike McMahon, who probably is the real No. 2 guy if you follow that convoluted math, is as athletic as a decathlete but was prone to be a hyperkinetic mess when he played with the Lions. Of course, playing with the Lions would make anybody skittish.No wonder Coach Andy Reid put on his poker face today and refused to speculate who would start should McNabb be sidelined.I don’t blame Reid at all. It’s good to play it close to the vest when you’re playing a lousy hand.

Stuck in traffic can make you come unglued

I don’t know about you, but I seem to live in a state of constant overdrive.There’s seemingly always something to do and not enough time to do it.There constantly is a restless energy bubbling inside me, making it difficult to pull the plug and just vegetate.Which is why traffic jams drive me crazy.Happened to me again this morning coming to work. The Penn Street Bridge was backed up big time.I didn’t realize that so many folks worked in Reading. The Greeks sent less bodies to burn down Troy.Of course, it’s a good thing the Trojan Horse wasn’t on the Penn State bridge today. The Greeks inside it would have dehydrated waiting for traffic to clear.So I sat in my car, trying to chill while pulsating through my mind were all the things I had to do the instant I popped into the office.And it’s not like I cure cancer or give sight to the blind in my job.But I go insane being inert.There’s something always gnawing at the back of my mind that compels me to scrawl a checkmark next to everything on my to-do list each and every single day.Obviously living fast can be addictive, and the cycle feeds on itself.There is a subtle distinction between driving and being driven.This morning when I couldn’t drive, I realized with even more clarity that I am being driven.When you’re moving too fast, you fail to notice when the crossover occurs and compulsion takes hold. As I sat in traffic, I looked at other drivers to detect any signs of stress or impatience.I found no visible signs of acute annoyance.One lady was smiling as she talked on her cell phone.One guy was yawning.A young man was tapping his steering wheel as decibels of music poured out of his car and spilled all over nearby vehicles.An older lady was beaming a smile much too bright for that hour of the morning. I apparently was the only idiot getting frazzled.Then I felt really foolish when I finally inched my car towards the reason for the major backup: Three crumpled cars were strewn in shattered debris on the Penn State Bridge while a cop car and an ambulance stood by as sentries.The people involved in the accident were the ones whose day had gotten off to a terrible start.In comparison, my morning had been a lark.In fact, the traffic jam had given me some unexpected down time.Suddenly, a flash of insight buzzed my brain: There was no rush to get to work. It would be there waiting for me whenever I got there.It certainly was.You know what?Even though I got off to a late start, the universe didn’t collapse upon all of us.Guess I’m not as important as I thought when I awoke this morning.