It’s too easy to target 2005 like an open firing zone

Want to know why they invented the calendar?It’s simple.So there could be some demarcation of time, thus giving pundits the opportunity to pretend they have the wisdom of seers.When the old year expires and the new year inspires, its time to review and preview.Suddenly, we have a plethora of junk commentary and snippets of file tape to choose from on our New Year’s Eve menu.Of course, the immediate reflection of instant history sometimes lacks the context belonging to archivists who allow their work to brew a bit.For instance, most years seem broken in spirit and body by the time December 31st rolls around. People are so giddy with hope for the new year that they usually give the outgoing year a quick black eye or two.And this year that compulsion is even stronger because bad weather knocked us around like a volleyball in 2005.The eternal war against terrorism and the Iraqi morass make it even easier for us to smell the desolation and pungent sweat of 2005.Wars seemingly without end have this nasty habit of making all of us feel the deadened clank of hope rattling within ourselves.Consequently, 2005 seems to be barely ambulatory as it gimps toward the finish line tonight at midnight.But we can’t write off 2005 as a total abyss where, if you fell into it, you would not hit one solid accomplishment on the way down.Some good things happened this year, as they do every year.We don’t even have to look beyond downtown Reading to see that 2005 did have some signature moments.For instance, the GoggleWorks and Sovereign Plaza are more tangible signs that Greater Reading is turning it around, even if too many young people still are swallowing bullets and the crummy creed of the streets.I’m sure we all can savor precious things about 2005 even as we relish the promise of 2006.Just keep in mind that a year from now 2006 will be staggering, too, looking like an old man wishing to be hit by a bus.But assuming Doomsday isn’t rude enough to intrude, there always will be 2007 to look forward to.Isn’t the calendar a dandy invention?

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Alamo Bowl loss sucks the lungs out of Henne and Michigan

Once upon a time, the Michigan football program was a hallowed entity. Highly successful seasons were as automatic as breathing.This year, however, unexpected losses have smothered the program. Indeed, losing is slow suffocation from breathing stale air over and over.Michigan tried mightily to inhale last night against Nebraska in the Alamo Bowl, and ride a breeze of fresh air to victory.The Wolverines came within a hot breath or two of doing just that.But in the end they couldn’t sweat out a victory, falling 32-28 and failing to thaw that empty feeling that is losing.The Wolverines, ranked as high as No. 3 in September, finished 7-5, with their losses coming by a combined 21 points.Wilson grad and sophomore quarterback Chad Henne, whose rapid-fire quick release deprived Penn State of an unbeaten season, has been the focal point of Michigan’s highs and lows.Which comes with the territory. By definition, a quarterback is a lightning rod. For good or bad.There were times against Nebraska when Henne was stone-cold efficiency, his body all wiry sinew, his arm loaded with lightning. In fact, he tied an Alamo Bowl touchdown record by throwing for three and running for another.His 7-yard TD scramble with 11:40 left gave the Wolverines a 28-17 lead.Their lungs were feeling just dandy at that juncture. It appeared as if victory would float in the air like a sweet smog for the Wolverines. The players seemingly had rediscovered their gulping, carnivorous appetite for winning. But then Henne made a crucial mistake, fumbling on his 24-yard line with 5:56 left in the fourth quarter. Nebraska scored the decisive touchdown three plays later on a 13-yard pass from Zac Taylor to Terrence Nunn.Suddenly, Henne was sharing negative attention along with the Michigan defense, which surrendered two short touchdowns in a mere four-minute span.To their credit, the Wolverines tried to ignite some fireworks until the clock expired.The game had a circus-like finish.Henne completed a short pass on a hook-and-ladder play. His teammates wound up lateraling eight times up and down the field before the play – and their season – fizzled out at the Nebraska 13.While all this turmoil was transpiring, extra players and coaches from both teams were spilling out onto the field like so many tumbling clowns. No matter. Hissing through the leftover haze of those fireworks for naught was another big L for Michigan.Chad Henne and his teammates deserved better.

A dedicated follower of fashion

Give Britney Spears her props. She certainly is no centerpiece of vanity.The once-upon-a-time pop princess, now in a desperate fight not to be marginalized in the ephemeral world of entertainment, evidently finds shopping to be a tourniquet for the pain of being married to a lousy rapper like Kevin Federline.Of course, nothing new there. A fusillade of shopping always is good for a girl’s spirits.So Britney took her little sister, Jamie Lynn, for some post-Christmas shopping in Malibu the other day.Hopefully Britney was shopping for some jeans and t-shirts.Because the jeans she was sporting on this shopping spree looked as if they were swimming in determined bacillus.And her t-shirt of material mom Madonna was way too retro.At least good ol’ Brit is consistent.Whether she’s soaring through good times or spiraling through bad times, she remains perpetually tacky.

All in the family

I guess trying to figure out just who is the black sheep of the family is a matter of perspective. I guess it all boils down to your definition of scandalous behavior.For instance, there is Osama bin Laden, Islamic zealot and world terrorist whose avowed mission is the death of millions.Then there is his niece, Wafah Dufour, a musician/model who certainly doesn’t dress like a Muslim woman but apparently has no blood on her hands.I’m sure Uncle Osama considers his niece to an outcast from the mainstream.Conversely, it seems that she’s no big fan of his lifestyle either.While Uncle Osama seemingly still is lurking in caves, plotting world destruction and wondering if George W. Bush still is looking for him, Wafah, who took her mother’s maiden name after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, is appearing in the January issue of GQ. Suffice it to say, both likely inspire revulsion in the other. It’s hard to imagine that the two inhabit the same universe, let alone family. Well, as many of us have found out over the years, you can’t pick your relatives.

Christmas is a long time coming … and a blink of an eye going

Here it is, the day after Christmas, and I dare you to stumble across a Christmas carol on the radio.I always find it a matter of supreme irony that radio stations that have been blaring Christmas carols incessantly seemingly since early August or so completely put a muzzle on the format the moment Christmas night tolls midnight.Whatever happened to the Twelve Days of Christmas, the time between Christmas and the Epiphany?I guess that slice of time only exists in the religious world. The secular world moves on quickly from Christmas, sliding it into past tense like a drawer being slammed shut. A drawer, by the way, that will be eagerly and prematurely pulled open by next September or so.Oh, well. I guess there’s no reason to stay spongy with the spirit of the season now that it’s December 26th. We’re all too busy getting drawn to after-Christmas sales like vagrants to a warm shelter on a frigid night.Come to think of, I wonder if the Three Wise Men — Balthazar, Gaspar and Melchior — shopped at an after-Christmas sale for the gold, frankincense, and myrrh they brought to the Baby Jesus.

The Eagles have folded like a carpenter's ruler

OK, the NFL schedule says the Eagles have one game remaining in this sorry spectacle of a season.But that is a mere formality.The Birds’ funeral end came on Christmas Eve.A team that played in the Super Bowl last season was whipped by the crummy Cardinals 27-21. By the way, the Cardinals had lost by 11 points to the woeful Texans the previous week. Philadelphia is a team now covered with pyramids of hurt. It has faded like a sick flower.All their big guns have been silenced. They have no more shells to explode. The Eagles are a franchise caught in an immense, violent wave of disintegration. Their eyes have taken on a terrible softness and they likely will not return to glory anytime soon. This is now an Eagles’ team populated with imposters.Their quarterback, Mike McMahon, plays as if in a trance. He’s so inaccurate that one must wonder if he indeed is legally blind. He completed a mere 12 of his 33 passes against Arizona.He directs an offense that is so utterly inoffensive that it’s downright offensive. They don’t run and pass, they sputter and stutter.And the sudden evil of impotence has infected and decayed the Eagles’ once valiant defense.They have been burned for an alarming 23 touchdown passes this season, the most since 1990. In contrast, they have a mere 28 sacks. With so little pass pressure, their secondary gets torched again and again. The National Arsonists Society has just named the Eagles their favorite NFL team. It’s going to take a lot to paste back this unit to a semblance of one piece.After the debacle that was nowhere near as close as the final score might indicate, Andy Reid – as he always does after a loss – blamed himself.”Obviously, we weren’t good enough,” Reid said after it became official that this would be his second losing season in his seven years as the Eagles’ head coach. “That’s my responsibility. I did not have this group ready to go, and there’s no excuse for that.”Damn right there’s no excuse for it. Sure, they have suffered significant injuries. And, yes, T.O. was a major distraction. Still, there is no way that Reid and Joe Banner and their precious salary cap arithmetic should have allowed the roster to get this depleted.”It was a frustrating day all around,” McMahon said. “They played aggressive and came after us all day. They were just too much for us.”He was talking about the 5-10 Cardinals, who have been awful for generations. What an indictment that is.“When you can’t cover anybody and you can’t put pressure on anybody, you’re going to lose the game,” said Eagles Pro Bowl middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter.Amen, brother!The Eagles have plunged on a runaway elevator from the penthouse to the basement. Climbing back the staircase to respectability could be more difficult than opening a contrary bottle of wine while drunk out of your mind.

'Twas two days before Christmas and all through the Berkshire Mall parking lot, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse

The final days before Christmas seem to radiate their own manic energy.The hustle and bustle of the commercial crush of Christmas leave all of us bleary and weary from shopping overload.Fortunately for me, I finished my Christmas shopping Wednesday night at the Berkshire Mall.Thank the Baby Jesus I was nowhere near the Berkshire Mall Friday afternoon.The breadth and tonnage of the traffic gridlock there was astonishing. Motorists were stranded for hours — some of them up to an incredible four hours — trying to leave the mall.It must be easier to escape from Berks County Prison than a exit a parking lot that constricted with inert vehicles.All those holiday shoppers probably arrived at the mall yesterday with their spirits filled with a giddy Christmas glow. But as they sat behind the wheel for hours, I bet their frustration levels boiled over into molten lava and had them spewing murderous intentions. I’m sure you couldn’t find enough figurative language to evoke the enormity of their impatience in any dictionary or thesaurus.By the way, neither mall security nor Wyomissing police directed traffic while the mall parking lot was paralyzed.A Wyomissing police lieutenant told the Reading Eagle for this morning’s A1 story that one of the reasons the Wyomissing cops couldn’t help was because their 22-member department is stretched thin with holiday vacations. Jeez, I wonder if most of those vacationing cops were among those holiday shoppers whose vehicles were glued in place in the mall parking lot.The mall manager blamed the road system, saying it’s inadequate to handle such a volume of traffic. Well, I’ll drink some holiday eggnog to that. As someone who lives near the Berkshire Mall, I can tell you that the traffic gridlock during the holiday shopping season is monstrous. Well, when Wal-Mart erects its super-sized store on Paper Mill Road, the traffic glut in that vicious vortex of suburban sprawl around Christmas is going to be malicious. Indeed, Malevolent Christmas will replace Merry Christmas in that Spring Township/Wyomissing clogged corridor.The only consolation those poor souls who were parked in yesterday’s asphalt hell had was that the weather, for a change, was gorgeous.Having your suffering backlit by an afternoon 24-karat sun does at least ease the anguish a scintilla or two.Of course, I wouldn’t be caught anywhere near the Berkshire Mall today. With family ties, goodies to consume, Christmas Eve Mass, and football to watch, I have better things to do than have my bumpers tangled up with a bunch of holiday shopping procrastinators who should know better.