An American hero at heart

Sometimes we read a feel-good story that makes our heart skip a beat even without a murmur.For instance, an American heart surgeon was operating on an 8-year-old boy earlier this month during a mercy-mission operation in El Salvador. And they were running out of the boy’s rare blood type, B-negative.The operation had begun 12 hours earlier, a complex procedure in which the boy’s failing aortic valve was replaced with his pulmonary valve and the pulmonary valve was replaced with an artificial valve.Apparently the more life-threatening things can be, the closer the kinship between doctor and patient.After all, a doctor’s mission is to bury all dread, not bury the dead.So with the little boy in peril, Dr. Samuel Weinstein donated his own B-negative blood, quickly inhaled a Pop-Tart for energy, and returned to the operating table.Thanks to the infusion of fresh blood, the boy survived.Even Las Vegas probably couldn’t give you odds on a surgeon and a patient sharing the same rare blood type in a dramatic life-or-death circumstance like that. Sometimes divine providence is absolutely breathtaking.

Retirement a veritable feast of champagne, caviar and lobster for state pols

Well, I must say that the lead story in my favorite newspaper this morning blew my mind and torched my soul.Suffice it to say, I couldn’t have been more shocked if I had found a corpse in my foyer.The story detailed how two prominent state legislators who got the boot in the primary election this month will be getting state pensions of about a gazillion bucks a year.OK, a tad exaggeration there. Still, Senate Majority Leader David J. “Chip” Brightbill, a Lebanon County Republican whose district includes part of Berks County, and Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer, a Blair County Republican, will have ample cash to nosh on hot dogs and orange soda for the remainder of their lives.Brightbill likely will collect an annual state pension of $72,430. Jubelirer’s golden parachute likely will be a balloonish $104,067 a year.Not bad deals for two guys who were voted out of office in the voter backlash over last year’s aborted legislative pay grab in the stealth moments of the midnight hour. Sweetheart pensions, obviously, go a long way to contributing to the bubbly quality of life.So enjoy your golden years, Chip and Bob. In fact, nothing like spending your golden years with a silver spoon — courtesy of the commonwealth — in your mouth.Since I likely will find myself grinding through retirement in the absence of big bucks, a reel of envy definitely unspooled in my mind this morning.Then a rare insightful thought bubbled up in my brain: Perhaps I should run for the state legislature someday.I even have my campaign slogan all cued up: You Can’t Beat Zeke!

The messenger — me — muddled the message

Some of the readers who venture into my blogosphere accused me of being terribly insensitive yesterday because they mistakenly felt I was merely making light of the horrible tragedy where a man was murdered, dismembered and scattered throughout Berks County by, according to state police, his brother.Trust me: That emphatically was not my intent at all.I, like any other rational human being with a moral compass, was outrageously appalled by the horrific enormity of this crime. And for those of you who are faithful readers, you do know that I wax frequently with ponderous and hopefully poignant prose in lashing out against all the heedless and needless murders in our area.So yesterday in my blog I tried a different approach — mixing what I thought were dramatic irony and dark humor to make a compelling and critical point about this barbaric loss of human life.I sincerely apologize to those who missed the point. That’s my fault, not yours. I should have communicated the depths of my revulsion over this incident in a more effective and direct manner.

Oh, brother!

The state cops on Friday arrested a Birdsboro man who they say killed his younger brother in Northampton County, dismembered him and scattered body parts across Berks County. The cops said several body parts including a severed head and two hands were found in garbage bags in the back of Stephen J. Austin’s maroon Jeep Cherokee. They also reported they found a shovel, ax and other bloody items in the vehicle.So the cops deduced that Jonathan N. Austin apparently hadn’t cut himself while shaving and charged Stephen Austin with homicide and related offenses.The cops said Stephen Austin bludgeoned his brother with a crowbar sometime Thursday night following an argument. He then took the body to a field behind the home and dismembered it using a bow saw and the ax, police said.If convicted of this ghastly crime, Stephen Austin hardly will qualify as the poster boy for brotherly love, a bond that The Hollies so eloquently paid tribute to in their hit tune “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.”In an ironic twist on that song’s title, this brother wasn’t heavy because he was in pieces.

A holiday from work is an endangered, if not already extinct, species

The Memorial Day weekend is upon us, boys and girls.Which means it’s now vacation season for all us happy campers.But apparently our vacations are not the holidays our parents and grandparents took.Because evidently our parents didn’t find their jobs to be as toxically addictive as we do.And this gulf between generations has nothing to do with work ethic. But everything to do with technology.According to a recent poll, more than a third of vacationing Americans check office e-mails, telephone voicemails and respond to all their messages.Yep, technology has tethered us to our jobs even when we’re away from our jobs.It’s absolutely impossible for us to shove work to the rear. It smolders on inside us like a fire deep in an old mine. Which means sometimes we’re about as much fun as shaving with sandpaper when we’re supposed to be splashing in the sun and surf.So are we all dumber than a box of nails? Are we a generation of lint brains? Are we suddenly as lively during playtime as zombies on anesthesia? Do we all soak in tubs of Metamucil instead of hot tubs of champagne?No and no and no and no! We aren’t all morons and we do love to party on. But our vacations come with interruptions from the home office.With technology chaining us to our jobs, our mind sets have been altered. It’s easier for us to work a bit during our down time rather than face a mountain of work taller than Everest upon our return.Because of laptops and cell phones, work never is out of sight. And consequently, never out of mind.Paradoxically, we can relax better during our vacation if we don’t go cold turkey from work.Have a fun summer. And don’t let those ocean waves short-circuit your laptop.

Beauty is in the eye of a beholder looking up

I read with some amusement this morning that the Reading Downtown Improvement District will conduct the first Beautiful Buildings of Downtown Reading contest.Indeed, one of the strawberries I was eating with my morning Cheerios almost lodged in my throat while I was giggling.Which, of course, would have served me right for being so cynical.Because, to be honest, I figured downtown Reading, except for the spanking new Sovereign office complex, had abdicated all claim to beautiful buildings years ago.Upon reading the story, I immediately intended to respond with coruscating wit in a blog. Granted, I know downtown Reading is doing a slow U-turn, so I figured brevity would be the soul of my blog. Forgive me for that superficial response. I wasn’t seeing the whole picture. I was looking through a straw at ground-level only.I wasn’t looking up.As fellow blogger Susan Miers Smith pointed out during a conversation, downtown Reading is chock full of beautiful architecture. Unfortunately, a lot of it isn’t apparent on the first-floor level.I guess I’ll have to walk around downtown with my eyes looking up. Just hope I don’t step on anything I shouldn’t.

Schwank on the right track for Berks commuters

I know it’s going to take an astronomical amount of dough, but it would be outstanding if we could hurdle through time, stand in Wyomissing, and sing: “I hear a train a comin’, it’s comin’ round the bend.”Yep, that train being the Schuylkill Valley Metro, a proposed passenger rail service that would run from Wyomissing to Philadelphia. Greater Reading is becoming more and more an extended suburb of Greater Philadelphia. Which means more and more that Route 422 is becoming the Highway to Hell. Check that: The real highway to hell is the Schuylkill Expressway that should be renamed the Schuylkill Parkway.So it was great to read that Berks Commissioner Judy Schwank stressed to the Route 422 Corridor Coalition Monday that thousands of Berks residents who commute to the Philly area would be flat-out delighted to ride the rails instead of other vehicles’ bumpers. They could have a relaxing commute instead of combating road rage. And their wallets wouldn’t have gas pains.The Greater Valley Forge Transportation Management Association oversees the coalition, which has endorsed the Schuylkill Valley Metro.SEPTA and BARTA have proposed creating the service to ease congestion along Route 422. A state task force is reviewing plans to reduce the estimated $2 billion cost. Schwank said it is important that municipal officials in neighboring counties know how important passenger service would be to Berks. “Berks County can’t fall off the radar screen,” she said. Good for her. Because Berks, a.k.a. Greater Reading, has to remain a pin on the map.

Barbaro's future: feast or famine

Mike Golic, the former Philadelphia Eagle lineman who co-hosts ESPN Radio’s “Mike and Mike in the Morning” with Mike Greenberg, had an interesting observation about Barbaro todayGolic remarked that Barbaro faces an all-or-nothing proposition.Indeed.Barbaro, whose gallop to greatness was smashed to smithereens when his right rear leg snapped under the bucking weight of expectations in Saturday’s Preakness, either is going to succumb to his horrific injury and head to the nearest glue pot or he’s going to live a life at stud.The surgeon who performed a five-hour surgery on Barbaro estimates the horse’s chances for survival at 50-50.Since Barbaro blew by all his fellow horses like so much road kill in the Kentucky Derby, he (actually, his owners) could command some princely stud fees.And the horse, an unbeaten stud on the racetrack until his mythic misadventure in the Preakness, evidently has the right instincts to be a stud in the bedroom, oops, stable as well. His surgeon said Barbaro showed interest in a group of mares who stopped by to visit.The super horse faces a long recovery, but here’s hoping — for his sake as well as for the potential of future Triple Crown prospects — he’s able to survive and sow his expensive oats.

“The Da Vinci Code” is boffo at the box office

Despite all the harrumphing by the Christian pious and all the reviews foaming with negativity, “The Da Vinci Code” is kicking butt at the box office.The movie adaptation of Dan Brown’s best-selling novel had a whopping $224 million worldwide opening, the second-biggest debut ever at the global box office. And it sold about $77 million worth of tickets at movie theaters in the United States and Canada during its first three days.Impressive numbers, indeed. Especially in an era when folks aren’t exactly flocking to movie theaters. Nothing moves product like a gushing storm of controversy.I guess it just goes to show that some people like to think for themselves instead of abdicating that function to pastors and movie critics.