Cancer hits home in Muhlenberg

Cancer engages people in what can be brutal endgame struggles.Cancer is particularly gruesome when it afflicts young people. The disease at that stage of life not only decimates bodies, but chars dreams and flickers potential.So we all were struck with significant sympathy and emphatic empathy for the young cancer victims portrayed in today’s Page One story in the Reading Eagle. Not to make a jarring transition from cancer to commerce, but the possibility that Muhlenberg High School could be a cancer cluster — even though it’s quite problematic to prove a link — can’t be doing much for property values in the Muhlenberg School District.

Walking away from the mild side

One thing you can count on this world: Nothing good lasts forever.For instance, what the hell happened to global warming in Berks County? Did somebody from NASA suddenly spackle all those tears in the ozone layer? I thought I saw some sort of UFO flying over Blue Marsh the other night.OK, I know that I should be grateful that we have had a mild winter.But we live in the here and now, and it’s cold here and now.Granted, it’s not cold enough to make lawyers put their hands in their own pockets. Or cold enough to have drivers use jumper cables to get themselves going in the morning. Or cold enough to make Donald Trump cuddle up with Rosie O’Donnell (even hell freezing over wouldn’t make that happen).But I know it’s inevitable that Greater Reading soon will turn colder than a mother-in-law’s heart. Egad, I even read in the paper today that it might snow Monday. If that happens, I definitely will be ready to defrost my brain. Or Ed Hanna’s.So please do me a favor and fire up those aerosol sprays until the ozone layer looks like Swiss cheese. Perhaps that’s a tad selfish on my part. But baby it’s cold outside and I just can’t have that.

Doing the Ali Shuffle in my mind's eye

Muhammad Ali turned 65 today.May Allah turn back the clock — for Ali, for you and for me.It was my privilege to cover Muhammad Ali during his Deer Lake training camp days — days when he was preparing for his epic fights with Joe Frazier (the second two), George Foreman, Ken Norton and Leon Spinks and not so epic fights with Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick.Ali, of course, was a fascinating subject for a young sportswriter to capture in print.His fistic flamboyance was pure symphony. Blessed with exquisite foot and hand speed that was deliciously topped off with extraordinary reflexes, he fought like no other. With eyes wide open and hands hanging perilously low, he never slipped punches. Especially in his younger, salad days, his lithe body avoided shots by bending back at the waist. He had the most nimble abs in history.And he rarely threw body punches. It was a matter of vanity, not tactics. He didn’t want to expose his pretty face to counter punches. His personality flamboyance was legendary. He was a playful prankster and quipster, a guy with merriment dancing his eyes as he spouted poetry and entertained and annoyed the press with his sass.The Louisville Lip, however, was no lippy upstart as many media types had portrayed him when began boxing as Cassius Marcellus Clay. He became the greatest fighter ever, then the most recognizable face on the planet. The man notable for his ego transcended his sport and became a world figure for his stance against the Vietnam war. Of course, few people now remember how vilified Ali was when the government prosecuted him for draft dodging. That all changed dramatically in 1971 when the Supreme Court exonerated him and he returned to the ring.That is he so universally and glowingly esteemed today in his dotage is astonishing when you look at it through the prism of time. Besides all the hostility he initially had generated by his refusal to be drafted, he earlier had incurred the wrath of the masses by becoming a Black Muslim right after winning the heavyweight title. Cassius Clay became Cassius X and then Muhammad Ali. For years print publications and announcers refused to recognize his new name. The greatness of Ali is that his fights with Frazier, Norton and Foreman all came after his prime had faded like yesterday’s sunset. In fact, he probably never had a boxing prime because his skills kept ascending until the three-plus years of exile took a hiccup or two off his speed and reflexes. Of course, he fought much too long. And his wondrous upset of Foreman in Zaire — which I watched on closed-circuit television (remember that hopelessly dated technology in this era of pay-per-view?) at the old Rajah Theater and wrote a puffy sidebar in about 15 minutes in the crucible of an unyielding deadline — proved his ironic and ultimate Waterloo. He invented the Rope-A-Dope, which means he subsequently began swallowing an inordinate amount of punishment in fights and sparring sessions.As the noted author George Plimpton once wrote: “Oscar Wilde once suggested that you kill the thing you love. In Ali’s case, it was the reverse: what he loved, in a sense, killed him. The man who was the most loquacious of athletes (‘I am the onliest of boxing’s poet laureates’) now says almost nothing.”But what I most remember about Ali is his ballet grace in his younger days when he totally blew away the likes of Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson, Ernie Terrell and Cleveland Williams. I cherish the memory of his all promotional shenanigans. I treasure all those quiet moments we shared just chatting at Deer Lake. The guy loved anybody who had a pen and a notebook. The man who was chronicled by Norman Mailer and all sorts of literary giants literally was delighted to be interviewed by a kid sportswriter from the Reading Times. Finally, I never will forget what a contradiction Ali could be — how sullen and mean he suddenly could be — i.e. Patterson, Terrell, Frazier, some of his ex-wives and mistresses — and how such a religious man could have so many sexual excesses. He literally squeezed life until the juice ran.Ali, indeed, gave the world lots of juice. He was pure electricity inside and outside the ring. And he brought his world circus — when boxing had a global platform — to a sleepy hamlet just north of Reading called Deer Lake. And I was there to see it — all the excitement and energy tumbling like acrobats in my eyes. I’m still pinching myself.Happy birthday, Champ!

A tragedy that pours over us like so much rain

We all are honeycombed for survival. Which is why we’re born with a strong sense of self-preservation. Which usually stays under warranty for life.A human trait that perhaps is even stronger is the maternal bond. Protection of our young is nested in our DNA. So when a 22-year-old mother kills her 5-year-old daughter and herself, which happened Monday in Bernville according to state police, it’s shocking enough to make even an atheist look to the sky for answers.I don’t know any details and I don’t have any answers. Something ruptured somewhere obviously, but who knows what?My heart goes out to the family, which undoubtedly is bivouacked with grief. And will be for sometime. Maybe forever.I just wish somebody would invent a bolt-lock that would keep people safe from irrational behavior.

Nothing current about history

Young people are notorious for not having a sense of history. They’re so wrapped up in today and getting to tomorrow that yesterday is out of sight and out of mind.For instance, a recent survey of college students discovered that some of them think the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. advocated the abolition of slavery.Well, those kids were only off the mark by a century. MLK, of course, fought for civil rights in the 1960s. Slavery in the U.S. ended in the 1860s.Sounds like college kids should start downloading American history on their iPods.

Well said!

Not to pile on poor Andy Reid when a lot of folks around here want to crucify him for punting away the Eagles’ season Saturday night, but the Philly Daily News, doing what tabloids do best, certainly has a killer headline today. Don’t you think?

Eagles gone fishin’

No Super Bowl rings again this season for the Philadelphia Eagles.But then, did we really, really believe the Birds could win it all this rollercoaster of a deliciously insane season?After all, football at its most elemental level has two prime components — blocking and tackling.The Eagles tackle guys as if they are lepers. No wonder they rarely wrap anybody up.New Orleans beat the Eagles 27-24 last night in an NFC divisional playoff at the Superdome because the visitors couldn’t have snagged Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush with a fishing net. Watching the Birds trying to tackle them was like watching a bunch of clumsy oafs trying to scoop up eels. Which is why Andy Reid really was a moron to punt the ball with the Eagles facing a fourth-and-15 at their 39-yard line with 1:56 and two timeouts remaining.”I guess maybe we should have done that, because we didn’t get the ball back,” Reid said. “I figured they would run the football and we might be able to stop them and get the football back.”Stop them? With what? A harpoon? Inevitably, the Saints ran out the clock and the Eagles were denied their fifth NFC championship game appearance in six years.Of course, we can’t pin this loss all on the lack of D and Reid’s lack of brainpower. The offense, which had come up so big much of the night, came up really small at crunch time. Small enough that you couldn’t have seen it with a nuclear microscope.Oh, well. The Eagles did climb back from the bowels of hell this season to somehow win the NFC East and one playoff game. But when a team seems to be riding a wave of karma and destiny, you would think they would have bigger fish to fry.Well, with a big sigh, it’s onto next season. Hope the Birds bring a tackle box or two to Lehigh.By the way, is Andy Reid’s eternal pursuit of a Super Bowl championship beginning to remind anyone of Ishmael’s hunt for Moby Dick?

Becks and Posh in LA LA Land won't presage dazzling things to come for soccer in America

Pardon me for not buying into the hype and tripe that David Beckham coming to America will indelibly turn the Earth into one bloated soccer ball.Yep, I realize that once upon a time he could kick a soccer ball with the best of them. And I know he and his Spice Girl wife Posh, a.k.a. Victoria Beckham, are awash in celeb glitz and will be an even hotter couple once they trudge upon American shores. But we’re talking soccer here. And not too many people here give a damn about soccer because we have much better sports to watch like real football, baseball and basketball.Soccer, even if you Bend It Like Beckham, is and always will be more boring than a party of creaky spinsters sipping prune juice. Just because the nutjobs running the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer are insane enough to pay Becks $250 million in salary and endorsements over five years doesn’t mean the dude and his trophy wife are going to turn the vinegar that is soccer into champagne.They’d have much better luck trying to punch, or rather kick, their shadows.Now if Becks signed to kick for the Eagles and Posh agreed to be an Eagles cheerleader, then I would be excited.

An uneven playing field

Sports and drugs seem destined to be eternal cellmates.Apparently San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds, who has blasted home runs with military precision for years, failed a test for amphetamines last season and originally blamed it on a teammate. Bonds, who always has maintained he never has tested positive for illegal drug use, already is under investigation for lying about steroid use. Earlier this week retired Oakland A’s and St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire, who used to rip homers with a rolling thunder, was essentially ignored by Hall of Fame voters because of steroid suspicion.Bonds and McGwire, however, shouldn’t be thrown under the same microscope. Because their careers didn’t run on exact parallel tracks of time, they should be held to different standards. McGwire never failed a drug test because he never had to take one in the major leagues. When McGwire had “Andro” in his locker, it was perfectly legal under baseball rules at the time.Nevertheless, McGwire’s baseball legacy has suffered the most intense public wood shedding. Meanwhile, the sporting public holds an acute double standard for baseball and football players.San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman, who plays with the fury of a clenched fist, failed a drug test for steroids this season and still was elected to the Pro Bowl.And nobody across America seemed to mind in the least.So while McGwire suffers the shame of having morphed from adored icon to reviled pariah, Merriman will be basking in the redemptive sands of Oahu next month.Perhaps the sporting public has such a narrowing of focus — like sighting down a rifle barrel — when it comes to baseball players because they hit balls, not people, for a living.I imagine football players are given more latitude to steel themselves for their sport’s crunching collisions by artificially putting a hot blue flame in themselves.I guess the sporting public is too myopic to see beyond its blatant bias.

A beauty to behold!

Beauty, of course, is a subjective matter.So asking who’s the most beautiful woman in the world probably would elicit as many names as there are in the Manhattan phone book.But perhaps not.It seems there just could be a definitive most beautiful woman in the world after all — at least to those folks who somehow know these things.And that lucky lady is Aishwarya Rai. Her coronation may not be a total consensus, but like the game of horseshoes, close enough counts for something.Granted, Aishwarya Rai, unlike Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, is not a household name in America. But she’s boffo box office in India, where she’s the reigning queen of cinema.The amazing thing about this is that Bollywood, which is India’s film capital, produces movies so squeaky clean it’s a wonder audiences don’t get soap in their eyes just watching them. Believe it or not, there’s no kissing, let alone sex scenes. What a novel concept! Who said modesty was buried long ago at the bottom of the Dead Sea? And even sweeter is that Aishwarya Rai apparently is just like the women she portrays — wholesome, dutiful and deeply religious.God as a scriptwriter can be pretty good at times.Indeed, Aishwarya Rai is ample proof that this isn’t an ugly world after all.