Archive for March, 2012

WALT’S OPINION

WALT’S OPINION

ON

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

BY

REBECCA SKLOOT

The cover of this book displays the picture of an attractive young black woman, full of life and will soon die.

In 1951, Henrietta Lacks would lose her battle with cancer. During that battle, cells were taken from her body that would change science forever.

Let me interject that I was a scientist for 34 years, the last nearly ten years using tissue culture in the projects I was assigned. Today I’m sure many young scientist use tissue culture to answer life’s mysteries, a powerful tool for studying disease. To this day, Henrietta Lacks’ contributes to this work. For the cells taken from her body had a unique property sought but not yet discovered. They had the ability to grow and continue to grow to this day, somehow gaining the property of ‘immortality’.

Let me take a moment to explain the importance of this property. Today scientists take the use of immortal cells for granted in their work. What constitutes an immortal cell line? Immortal cells are cells that can be passaged forever. Passaging involves taking containers of cells, harvesting them by releasing them from the container and transferring those cells to multiple containers where they will multiply and fill the container. The process can be repeated over and over again with the same results.

The reason I write this piece is that any scientist who works with tissue culture owes a debt of gratitude to Henrietta Lacks for making the initiation of this branch of science possible. I have worked with her cells, and before I read this book, had no idea of their source other than cells taken from a tumor. I feel that any scientist involved in cell culture, and especially if they use a certain cell type, have an obligation to read this book. Those cells taken from Henrietta were named using the first two letters of her first and last name. They were called HeLa cells. Now you scientists know the importance of this book. I’m sure her cells are the most studied cells used in tissue culture in the world. Her cells are responsible for major scientific advances. Please read this book and learn the life of the woman that made those achievements possible.

There is a dark side to this story. Some members of Henrietta’s are unable to get health insurance. Unfortunately, this is all too important in this country. Also, until the author of this book began looking into her life, the family had no idea that her cells were harvested and the importance of her contribution to science.

I hope both scientist and nonscientist read this book. It was on the N.Y. Times nonfiction bestsellers list for some time. It’s an awesome read.

March 25, 2012 at 7:29 pm Leave a comment

WALT’S OPINIONS

WALT’S OPINION

ON

REALITY STARS VS REALITY

Consider this the rant of someone not attuned to today’s values i.e. an old fart.

I have never watched a reality show. I choose to live my reality. But I have seen advertisements of reality shows, and from this short glimpse of that world, I do not understand the interest. I have also learned of the life of the ‘stars’ from the news which is something I do not understand. I will devote a future article about what the ‘news’ has become.

From this input, I see shallow individuals playing the clowns that I hope is not their authentic reality. I assume viewers watch these show for entertainment. I also recall that a few years ago writers for reality show went on strike, causing some shows to be postponed. What does that tell you?

Do not get me wrong, there are reality stars. If we choose to look closely, we will see that they live among us.

Reality stars are the people that live in this damaged economy and do not give up. They are the ones that provide for their families. They take multiple jobs to make end meet. Reality stars are those bravely facing disease, the diagnosis of a terminal illness that will not take away the individual that they are. The list is endless of those that deal with life as bravely as they can. These are the reality stars, not the freaks we watch for entertainment.

March 23, 2012 at 6:59 pm 2 comments

REPRISE OF ST. PATRICK’S DAY

I thought I’d revisit this memoir entry.

MEMOIR
As a kid growing up in Newark, the only significant occurrence associated with that holiday was the local parade.
Here is my remembrance.

DOWNNECK ST. PATRICK’S DAY PARADE

The section of Newark, New Jersey I called home was referred to as the ‘Downneck Section’, why, no one could ever explain. And on the Sunday afternoon, on or before St. Patrick’s Day, the residents of my street were treated to what had to have been the shortest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the country.
Our local Catholic Church sponsored the parade. I could see the church’s steeple from my parlor window. It was that close. The parade had to be held on Sunday for between my house and the church stood Balentine Brewery. Weekdays were filled with the rumble of trucks quenching the thirst of a parched city. Sunday was a day of rest for the trucks, making the parade possible.
Magically, sometime before the parade, a green line appeared down the center of our street, the first harbinger of a gala event. I never witnessed this lines creation, but every year it materialized. Around one-thirty the residents began to gather on the sidewalk. We all walked out our front doors with anxious anticipation. The brewery and Catholic school took up one side of the street, multiple family houses stood opposite. Of course, there were always the annoying boys riding their bikes down the center of the blocked-off street before the parade began. I was proud to add to their number.
I assumed the parade began at the church. I never did discover where it finished.
There was always a band, not a school band, but one made up of adult men most of whom had almost mastered the instruments they were assigned. Before the band came a few ruddy-faced Irish men, decked out in their top hats, waving to the minuscule crowd. At the front of this procession were the parish priests. The parade took thirty seconds to pass. The procession turned the corner on to Ferry Street and marched on, melting into the Downneck neighborhood.

March 17, 2012 at 6:51 pm 2 comments

WALT’S OPINIONS

WALT’S OPINION

ON

MICHAEL DIRDA

If you love to read as much as I do, and have missed books that ‘you should have read’ there is still hope. By any means possible, purchase the book, Bound to Please, by a phenomenal author and critic, Michael Dirda.

Dirda reviews books for the Washington Post, and every review not only profiles the book, but borrows from his extensive readings. When it comes to literature, he is more like a machine remembering apparently everything he has read. Just as an aside, his other books are most enjoyable giving a glimpse of the life of a true reader.

Bound to Please begins with is a review of books written about great books, beginning with Herodotus: The Histories, on to Writers of the Times. I cannot begin to mention all the information contained in this work. The book also delves into science fiction and horror, my favorite genres.

The book, at first, can appear to be an intimidating read, but if you enjoy literature and want it fill in the holes in your reading, once started, you will be unable to put it aside. At first, I intended to read a page or two but found myself devouring the work, taking notes and marking pages.

If you want to read a comprehensive survey of world literature, please treat yourself to this book. It is a work you will keep for the rest of your life and reference often.

March 14, 2012 at 7:30 pm Leave a comment

WALT’S OBSERVATIONS

WALT’S OBSERVATIONS

ON

RETIREMENT

This piece is meant for those poor souls that are compelled to write.

As reported recently on my blog, my wife, Joni, and I went on a cruise last January. The experience, much to my surprise, was most enjoyable. At my age, it is wonderful to have all your needs met, even some you didn’t know existed (all legal of course). However, this reflection is more about the people I encountered and my thoughts, contrasting my mindset and that of those wonderful people at a similar stage in our lives.

Joni and I joined a large group while taking the cruise, including my sister, Shirley and her husband Matt. They now live in South Carolina in an over 55 retirement community and were joined by about eight or nine other couples from the same community. I had the opportunity to talk to most of them and those feelings generated are the source of this article.

All retired, the exuded the joy of life. They had all worked hard and now it was time to enjoy the fruits of their labor. In the many conversations I shared with them, I came to appreciate the image of retirement, having time to relish the simple things that life now offered whether it be gardening, walking or spending time with grandchildren.

As I listened to them I reflected on my life. I have always been one to pursue a goal and that drive offers no peace. I envy those who, in retirement, can put aside their past efforts and enjoy their twilight years.

I am reminded of the legend of Sisyphus, doomed to role a stone up a hill only to have it fall down the opposite side where he must again begin his effort. There is no end to his toil.

Those retirees I encountered have defied Sisyphus, for the most part. Some still work part-time, victims of the current economy. But for the most part, they have rolled the stone of their careers to the summit and now enjoy the gentle coast downward in retirement. They have reached the point where the repetition of failure no longer exists. They are at peace with their life and the world.

But for us writers, the scenario is different. I am one of your legions and share the Sisyphus of the written word with you. You and I will never retire. For to retire to us would mean we have ceased to think, to imagine. We roll the rock of our creation up a slippery slope only to have, for many of us, have it roll down in rejection and lack of appreciation. We are compelled to continue this effort to the end.

Fellow writers, these are my observations. God help us all.

March 12, 2012 at 7:45 pm 2 comments

WALT’S OBSERVATIONS

WALT’S OBSERVATIONS
ON THE WEATHER

TORNADOES

I cannot comprehend the destruction tornadoes have brought to this country the last few days.

I have spent years in the Midwest, attending college in Oklahoma and stationed, during my air force experience, in Wichita. While in Wichita I was once close to a tornado but never witnessed it. It was on a spring afternoon and the sky filled with storm clouds. They grew denser and the bottom edges were edged in green. While out looking at the sky, the wind howled and then stopped. The temperature dropped, the wind returned, this time accompanied by huge hailstones. Miles away a tornado was reported.

The only place I witnessed a tornado, and I saw a few, was while living in Miami, Florida. From the lab window where I worked, I had a clear view of the ocean and twice observed water spouts. And then one Saturday afternoon I was fishing with friends in the Everglades when a line of storms approached from the north. We decided to return to Miami, and as we were driving, I could see a delicate black finger, in the distance, descend from the clouds. That was the only land tornado I witnessed and never did reach the ground before dissolving back into the clouds.

But in the last few days communities in the west and south have witnessed the destruction of this force first-hand, and many did not live to tell the tale. We have all seen the images, but I feel that unless you see the massive amount of destruction first-hand, you have no appreciation of the force of a tornado, and are truly unable to comprehend to impact on the communities involved.

How do you prepare for the destructive force of a tornado?

As a snow storm approaches, as we are accustomed to here in the east, you have days to prepare. There is the traditional raid on grocery stores for eggs, bread and milk. (Perhaps in some future piece I will discuss why I think we do this.) Then there are the camera crews stalking the hardware stores as people rush to buy snow shovels and salt. Just as an aside, one newscaster comment, “How many shovels do people need?” For with the approach of every snow storm, snow shovels sell out.

We have the same advanced warning in the case of hurricanes. The vastness of the impact cannot be fully predicted, as with Katrina, you know for days that a storm is approaching. Sometimes, however, human error adds to the magnitude of the loss, take Katrina for example. With the approach of a hurricane, the news is full of people boarding up window and leaving town, at least those that can.

But what do you do when a tornado outbreak is predicted? With today’s technology, we have warning, perhaps a day in advance, that tornados my appear over a vast area. Not until these vast machines of destruction are truly set into motion does one truly know where the danger exits. There is no way to protect your house and belongings. It is useless for the destructive forces are so haphazard.

Do you run?

You may be leaving a safe haven only to enter death’s door. You can only wait, take what cover you can, while this traveling fiend does its devil’s dance across the landscape, sparing one home and destroying the house next door.

I know all our hearts go out to those having experienced the recent mayhem. Wish them well in their recovery. Time will heal the landscape and erase the physical carnage. Hopefully, time will eventually soften the loss and experience of those affected.

March 5, 2012 at 8:44 pm Leave a comment

WALT’S OBSERVATIONS

WALT’S OBSERVATIONS

INTRODUCTION

Once again I am beginning a new section of my blog. I began to realize, while compiling subjects for my opinion are, that some of the subjects were not opinions but my observations of the world around me.

Granted, they have been filtered through my brain, but there is nothing I can do about that. I can only stand and gaze with confusion, amazement and sorrow at the visions I take in.

March 4, 2012 at 9:19 pm Leave a comment

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