Happy Horrorween

Fright is a torsion spring-loaded device that is being wound ever tighter by merchandisers.Welcome to Halloween, everybody, where the decorations, costumes and props are laying the gore on so thick it’s making shrieks and screams leap from one throat to the next. Halloween is becoming more steeped in violence because it resonates with the dark side of Americans. And if the cash registers ring, retailers are howling in delight over selling corpses, severed limbs and butchered body parts.The Halloween home decorating business is booming and is second only to Christmas. Total consumer spending on Halloween is expected to top $5 billion this year.Halloween, of course, used to be a more benign celebration of witches and goblins. But some experts finger the slasher movies of the ’70s — specifically the 1978 horror flick “Halloween” — for the evolution of horror in Halloween. Whatever, it’s clearly time to tear up the old assembly manual on Halloween and distribute a bloody new one.

Come on, city kids: There's a right way and there's a wrong way to play hooky

Leave it to the kids in the city to take what used to be a lark known as playing hooky and mess it up.Once upon a time, cutting class was something most kids (with the exception of yours truly, of course) did now and then when they had blown off their homework assignments the previous night or simply were tired of their teachers’ dirty looks. According to a major piece in today’s Reading Eagle, Berks kids who live outside the city follow the relatively innocent hooky template as forged in the comedy classic “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” more than two decades ago.When Berks kids are truant, they don’t knock off school so they can rob banks, sell drugs or plot Third World revolutions.Instead, they amuse themselves with more innocent pursuits, like sleeping late. And if they do have a violent streak, they’ll amuse themselves by pulling off a butterfly’s wings. But Reading kids cut class at much higher frequency than their suburban counterparts. And when they do, city kids create big headaches for the cops. The district blames a high number of single-parent households and transient families for the plague of truancy. Perhaps district officials should screen “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” for all students so they can watch Ferris skip school and spend the day with his girlfriend and his best friend while creatively avoiding his school’s dean of students, his resentful younger sister and his parents.And he manages all of that without resorting to gunfire. Which means nobody dies and Ferris isn’t left with a ruin of a life.What a role model.

Big bucks and Brit saddle up with this Cowboy

The Cowboys are coming to town (OK, actually Philadelphia but Reading now is an extended suburb of Philly) Sunday night.Which could be bad news for the Eagles, considering Dallas once again is triggering an eureka or two from its faithful.Then again, Cowboys quarterback/party boy Tony Romo could be a tad distracted come game time at the Linc.Indeed, one wonders if Romo will be able to keep his balance after the tumult he’s been through lately.For instance, according to sources (only they know who they are but they are in the know), the Cowboys have reached an agreement with Romo on a six-year, $67.5 million contract extension, $30 million which is guaranteed. Think the dude will be looking at tax shelters this week instead of his playbook and game films?Also messing with his focus is a cluttered heart as well as mind.Romo, who has been linked with Carrie Underwood and Jessica Simpson, was hanging out in Hollywood with Britney Spears during his bye weekend. Brit, of course, specializes in messing with anybody’s serenity.No word yet if Spears and Romo will be walking down the aisle shortly. But every fire starts with a single spark. It could be time for him to delete Carrie and Jessica from his cell phone. Think Romo can stay relaxed in the pocket against the Eagles pass rush with all these knots in his life?Stay tuned.

McNabb hurls the Vikings into Valhalla

It would be dipping my prose into the thick ink of hyperbole to write that Donovan McNabb was in a special zone Sunday, riding an awesome wave en route to a supernova of a game.But he was close. Doing a strong impersonation of a younger Donovan McNabb with two healthy knees, he gunned 23 completions in 36 attempts for 333 yards and a touchdown to help the Eagles rise from the coroner’s slab with a 23-16 victory over the Vikings in the Metrodome.Donovan even looked as frisky as a colt in the pocket at times.Granted, the NFL season is a marathon, not a sprint. And it’s a journey chockfull of hairpin turns that have squads crashing into as many walls as NASCAR teams.So it’s premature to say that the Birds now are back on course. It’s way too early to tell if the Birds at 3-4 eventually will be able to see the checkered flag of the playoffs, especially with the Cowboys and the Giants sitting atop the NFC East at 6-1 and 6-2, respectively.But who knows? If the Eagles can pass their emotional litmus test against Dallas at the Linc next Sunday night, perhaps all those folks who tore ligaments and tendons trying to stick a fork into the dense beef of Andy Reid were wasting their time while abusing their medical coverage. Hell, anything seems possible now that the Eagles can score from the red zone. Prior to Brian Westbrook’s two touchdowns from there Sunday, the Birds had found the red zone to be a cookie full of arsenic this season as they scored just six TDs in their first 20 trips inside the enemy 20.And wideout Reggie Brown stopped portraying The Invisible Man by fleshing out to catch eight balls for 105 yards. Then again, we should view McNabb and Brown’s heroics today through the lens of reality — the Vikings entered the game with the league’s worst pass defense.And while the Eagles’ D looked stout in utilizing an effective scheme of run blitzes to limit super rookie Adrian Peterson to 70 yards on 20 carries, it’s not that difficult to shut down a running game when a team’s passing attack is limper than a wet noodle. Memo to Vikings head coach Brad Childress: Give your scattered-arm QBs some Viagra before your next game.In summary, the Eagles may have stubbed their toe too often this year. But I’m not quite ready to give them a toe tag.

A parental bond forged by hot lead

We can mute alarm clocks, but we can’t mute the incessant clanging of grief. I can’t imagine the searing ache of losing a child. And when your child is murdered, well, that is a bitterly hot broth of tears that only those who have experienced it can relate to.Which is why Donald and Donna Stormer have bonded with Tina Stief. The Stormers lost their daughter Shawnee Koch to a murderer’s bullet. As did Stief, whose son Jason exited this world courtesy of another murderer’s bullet. The grief of their parents is further tethered by the tragic circumstances of both shootings. Koch and Stief both were gunned down at the McDonald’s at Ninth and Spring.I imagine the Stormers and Tina Stief have had more than one impassioned chat with their maker since the murders. Three people somehow trying to make sense out of the senseless. Nobody in their circumstances can lose the numbing pain. Their wounds will never heal because the scar tissue keeps rupturing.Which is why they need each other. The Stormers took two days to drive to Reading from their home in Battle Creek, Mich., to be at Thursday’s preliminary hearing for a 15-year-old boy accused of killing their 40-year-old daughter.No one has been charged in Jason Stief’s killing, which police said is unrelated to the Koch case.Koch was fatally shot July 18 about 3:30 a.m. as she worked at the drive-through window at that McDonald’s. The same fast-food restaurant where Jason Stief was fatally shot Oct. 14, 2004 while sitting in a car in the drive-through lane waiting for an order. “It was nice to meet her (Tina Stief) but under the circumstance it sucked,” Donna Stormer said Thursday.Amen.The Stormers said they have talked to Tina Stief several times since their daughter’s murder. They finally had the chance to meet her Wednesday night in their hotel room.Tina Stief gave the Stormers lapel pins for Berks County Parents of Murdered Children, a support group she formed last year.And how sad is it that there is even a need for a support group for the parents of murdered children in Berks. The Stormers said Stief has been supportive and helped Donna, in particular, cope with a range of emotions. When you’re trying to punch out demons only to find it’s as futile as trying to punch out shadows, it’s comforting to have someone who shares your intolerable grief to be in your corner.

Finger Dr. Lee as the man who set O.J. free

I’m glad that renowned forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee was in town last night as part of the Reading Reads series because his visit rekindled in me why once upon a time I thought O.J. Simpson was innocent of killing Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman in June of 1994.OK, in retrospect, O.J. seems guiltier than Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack the Ripper. In fact, the Juice is now such a pariah that his once beloved image can’t be patched up even with the efforts of all the king’s men, to say nothing of his horses and an army of PR spinmeisters.Still, before you knit your brows in disgust at those of us who thought O.J. wasn’t guilty during the 1995 trial, blame it on Dr. Lee.In six days of testimony, Lee questioned whether Simpson could have used a knife to murder the two so quickly that they would drop near each other on the sidewalk. It’s more likely, he concluded, that there were two killers.Simpson could have been one of them, but Lee said he would have been covered with blood. Investigators found no bloody clothes and not even a trace of blood in the drain of Simpson’s shower.Only a speck was found in the Ford Bronco when, five days later, Simpson and ex-football teammate A.C. Cowlings led police on a 60-mile chase on a California freeway. With no blood on his hands, Simpson — with a big assist from Dr. Lee — got away with bloody murder.

Fatal shootings are even more tragic when they're all in the family

What a waste when a human life is wasted by an escalation of emotions.A Union Township man told police his daughter-in-law was coming at him with a butcher knife when he shot and killed her in his home.Burl Corbett admitted to state police that he shot Carolyn Corbett of Birdsboro during an argument in his home Saturday, investigators said.According to police, Burl Corbett told troopers he grabbed a .22-caliber rifle, aimed it at her and fired. He said he tried to aim the weapon over her head, only intending to scare her. The bullet struck Carolyn Corbett in the center of the forehead.The Corbetts had been drinking in two Birdsboro-area bars and on the Corbett property before the shooting, police said.Alcohol, hot emotions and weapons never are a good mix, of course. One can only speculate how much of a role booze played in this tragedy. But we all know that alcohol can remove the restrictor plates on impulse; can impair the ability to pull the plug on a quarrel and just mellow out.And then in the frantic flicker of a molten moment, you wind up with the sort of regret you can bottle.

Well, here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into, Andy!

Since the Eagles pulled off a pretty nifty resurrection last season, it might be a serious stretch to suggest that their 19-16 killer of a loss to the Bears Sunday at the Linc smashed their season to smithereens.Then again, it indeed may have sabotaged their season. At 2-4 they’ve stuck themselves in quite a quagmire, seemingly as dead as Laurel and Hardy. But they delivered themselves into the hands of evil today. Once again, they repeatedly broke down in the red zone and settled for three goals until they finally broke the hermetic state of the end zone to take a 16-12 lead on a 13-yard Donovan McNabb touchdown pass to Matt Schobel with 4:57 remaining.Then it was the defense’s turn to inhale the choking plumes of boos as they allowed Brian Griese to torture them with a series of pitiless air strikes as the Bears somehow, someway marched 97 yards in 11 plays with no timeouts –- winning on a 15-yard touchdown strike to Muhsin Muhammad with a mere nine seconds left. Unless the Birds and Andy Reid can somehow climb back from the dead for the second straight year, they now are facing a bitter trek of grinding through a lost season.Bear up, Eagles fans!

The war on cancer flares into a civil war at Reading Hospital

First of all, let me concede that I know nothing about the practice of medicine other than hopefully practice makes perfect.Alas, apparently it doesn’t. Medicine is obviously a science. But since there seem to be so many gray areas concerning treatment options, medicine evidently is merely an art because nothing in the profession seems to be totally black and white.Color me confused. Case in point: Two top Reading Hospital Cancer Center executives resigned Thursday, claiming the administration lacks commitment to a holistic wellness program for cancer patients.Center director Dr. Michael Torosian and his wife, Dr. Veruschka Torosian, who headed the Mind Body Medicine program, resigned after a two-hour meeting where patients tried unsuccessfully to persuade administrators to reinstate the program.The hospital suspended the after-care program led by Veruschka Torosian on Oct. 3, the day after she spoke at Breast Cancer Support Services of Berks County’s annual meeting. Hospital officials have said the psychotherapist made unsubstantiated claims about environmental cancer causes and natural treatments such as herbal and vitamin supplements.I blogged about her speech, one in which she said she believes all cancer is preventable — by reducing stress, paying attention to nature and eliminating environmental factors she said cause the disease.Chief Executive Scott R. Wolfe said Veruschka Torosian’s program had been under review for months for seemingly being out of balance with established medical methods. Her speech on Oct. 3 apparently ratcheted the tension even higher.Michael Torosian said Thursday that Reading Hospital has turned its back on its mission by cutting the lifeline of patients in need.Hospital officials said the facility remains committed to the diagnosis, treatment and support of cancer patients and their families.Philosophical and professional differences among medical colleagues obviously leave patients and their families wondering just whose voice they should listen to. Conflicting opinions can topple into dissonance and despair at times when it’s critical for patients to maintain an optimistic outlook. The dilemma, of course, is what doctors are truly visionaries and what doctors are whackos? What doctors are free thinkers and what doctors are so bogged down in mechanics that they’ve lost their intuition?The best course of action we laymen can take is to treat our bodies like a temple and stay healthy. And if we do get seriously ill, do all the homework we can and find a doctor whose methods resonate with us. After all, it’s our bodies.

You can't pick your relatives

Even though our planet is teeming with billions and billions of people, Walt Disney called it right when he said it’s a small, small world.The world discovered that the other day when its axis wobbled upon hearing the news that vice president Dick Cheney is a distant cousin of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. Cheney and Obama’s knees probably wobbled like drunken ducks upon hearing the news. I doubt whether either one of them wants to be a kissing cousin.Lynne Cheney said her husband and Obama are eighth cousins, saying she traced a common ancestor of the two men to a 17th century immigrant from France. Sure, blame it on those frisky French. Makes all of us wonder just who we would find hanging from the branches of our family trees if we did the research.