23 August 2016



Your cells could soon keep an accurate record of their entire biological history, including attacks from microbial invaders or exposure to harmful chemicals.
By tweaking DNA, US researchers have been able to store markers of biological events inside the cells themselves and read them at a later date, essentially turning cells into analogue recorders.
They believe that capturing the ‘memories’ of these biological events could help to shed light on disease and even unlock the secrets of how cells develop from an embryo to the billions of adult cells which make up the human body.

16 August 2016


About a decade ago, I made friends with a neighbor, I'll call George.
Well, first I made friends with the widow of his best friend, a poet who liked to take after dinner walks around my neighborhood.  I met her, liked her, she wanted to copyright her poetry and we started talking about that.  I began to visit her at the Assisted Living where she was living.  I'll call her Marge.

Marge had only one grandson to visit her, having lost her son, and having a daughter with a serious mental illness that prevented any real relationship.  Her grandson did his best but was working full time and not feeling so hot himself. 

Marge introduced me to George.  George and his wife, who had been childhood sweethearts, and Marge and her husband had been friends for years and when George's wife, who had been his childhood sweetheart died, he went into a deep depression. 

When they'd given up their houses for Assisted Living, they picked one of the swankier ones, and for some time they barely needed any of the Assistance.  It was more than no one felt like cooking or making the beds anymore.

When Marge finally explained her situation to me, I offered to pick up things from the store that she might need when her grandson couldn't.  She held back from taking me up on it.  She just needed company. I started making mini visits with her, usually on my way to or back from work.

I learned she liked mint hard-tac candy but when I offered to bring her some she said I should not and if I did, she would never speak to me again.  I worked till 7 and would call her every night when I got off to see how she was.  I knew she had been to the hospital a few times but it wasn't until another resident whispered to me that she actually had colon cancer and it had been decided that she not know, that I realized she wouldn't be on this earth for long.

One night I called her a little after 7, and she was whispering into the phone.  She said that she was in trouble and that no one at the front desk had been summoned when she rang.  "I'll be right there,"  I said.  And I must have flown on a broomstick because before you could say Boo, I was in the kitchen finding the desk attendant having a long personal conversation on the phone.  "Get off that phone this minute,"  I said,  "Do you not know that Marge is sick and has been waiting for someone to go up to her room?" 

The desk attendant did hang up at once (and I've since wondered about my sudden authority)  Then I said, "Has her doctor been called?"  The desk attendant said yes, but it was a lie, which I found out when I demanded that the doctor be called again, she called back, and I spoke with her.  An appointment was made for her in 2 days.

Then I went up to Marge's room for the first time.  Like most Assisted Living rooms this one had the basics, and her possessions had been pared down to a few family photos.  She was in bed.  The first thing she said to me is "Where is my mint hard-tac!"

"You said you would never speak to me again if I brought you some!

"Well I changed my mind."

In the bathroom, Marge had left her Depends. She told me that it had taken her about a half hour to crawl back across the floor and hoist herself into the bed.
I told her to get settled in.  Then I put on the television and searched for a good station.  There was a Pavaroti concert on.

"Oh I love Pavaroti!"  she said.  And she rested back to just listen, with a slight grin on her face.

I left the room, and downstairs another resident told me that Marge had let the staff know that I was like a daughter to her and that's why I was now allowed in her room.
The next day after work I made my usual call, and found out that Marge had died in the middle of the night.

I may have been the last person to talk to her.

Her grandson came and took her few possessions away.  If there were ever a memorial service, I never heard about it.

But three days later, as I was walking down the street, I saw her face with a huge smile in my mind's eye, and I knew that she had been ready, willing, and able to pass into the next life and that she had made it to heaven.

This left George more alone than ever.
When I would walk past the Assisted Living on my way somewhere, I would see him sitting outside, and I went and said hello to him.  I told him that Marge had really admired him.

One day he decided the heck with the swanky Assisted Living and moved not far away, to one smaller and more humble.  It cost less, the food wasn't so good, but he thought they took good care of him.  The real problem was that he was one of the few people in this place who not only had his wits but who also liked to be opinionated and debate a little, and that there was no one else to talk to.
Oh, he tried their little Bible study - that was enlightening - but he could skip bingo and soap operas on the TV. 

George fought his depression by participating in writing classes and theatre outings with other seniors, and his one child who lived not too far away got him a personal computer, an e-reader, and a few other gadgets, so that he was up on his technology and could read his favorite genre - detective novels - with less strain on his eyes.  He managed to read over 60 of them when he got bad news about his eyesight.  This tweaked the depression, and he started saying his next move was Oregon where suicide was legal!

My friendship with George was much different than the friendship I'd had with Marge.  We talked about writing, but he preferred politics.  An ardent Democrat, George died before he could vote for Hilary Clinton in the California Primaries, and no doubt has been lucky to miss the antics of Presidential Candidate Donald Trump.  George had made it through the Great Depression as a ditch digger, married his childhood sweetheart after his service in World War II, had worked in aerospace but had lived past his retirement savings, and was the esteemed patriarch of a small but loving family.

Sometimes months would go by and I wouldn't have contact with George, but then I'd call or go visit.  He continued to claim that he couldn't get around but could be hard to get because he was so often out!

One day I heard on the radio that there had been a violent crime at the store right next to this Assisted Living, and I knew that the more mobile residents went in there to get themselves snacks and drinks.  The whole town was shocked.  I decided to visit George on my way home and got there right before his dinner time.  Though George claimed to be bored with most of the other residents and opted out of so called activities, he had a few woman friends who loved to have their meals with him at the table - a man!  George looked white, the only time I had ever seen him looking sick, and told me that he had just returned from two months in the hospital.

"So that's why I wasn't able to get ahold of you.  Tell you what, I think I will call you or come by here again when you're up to it to talk to you.  How did they treat you at the hospital?"

"Terrible!" he growled.

I didn't believe that, but I knew he was in a terrible mood.

Two days later I called and was told that his daughter had come and moved him out. He had been put in a hospice.

I called her.

"When did you see him and talk to him?"

"Just two days ago!"

"We had just taken him out to dinner.  It was like you said.  He had clarity.  But now he doesn't know where he is and he can't recognize me."

Sam died two days after that."

I wasn't the last person who talked to him.  Just the last person who had talked with him where he had his wits.

He was 95 years old.

The other day I saw his face in my minds eye. 

Mom used to say, "Two things never change.  Death and Taxes."

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06 August 2016


Hitler's Forgotten Children
by Ingrid Von Oelhafen and Tim Tate  C 2016
A True Story of the Lebensborn Program and
One Woman's Search for Her Real Identity

Publisher is Caliber Rundon - Berkely Penguin House

What if knew in your gut that something was very wrong about your adoption?  Something so secret that you were not told that you were adopted until you were in adulthood and then given no clues.  Your mother was a cold, distant, and uncommunicative woman. You grew up without love.  As your curiosity gets to you, you do what you know how to do to find out the truth, and because you were raised a German,  you start out figuring that your birth parents must have been German too.

All of these things could have been true if you were born during Hitler's Lebensborn program, during a time and a place when being accepted into the SS and your rank had much to do with your genealogy chart.  A common soldier had to prove his Aryan or Nordic heritage back to 1800, officers to the mid 1700's.  To be considered fit  you had to prove that  you had no Jewish, Slavic, or other heritage that might label you a Mongrel.  A man had to also be over 5'6 tall and prove his physical superiority.  Then he, and such German women, were encouraged to reproduce. SS men were expected to marry and have families, but suddenly the government was promising that children born illegitimate with the proper background would not suffer for it financially.  Four German grandparents was good proof and so you would receive an "Aryan Certificate" or a "Greater Aryan Certificate."  By 1939 it was considered sacred to copulate to conceive children with the right physical and mental characteristics such as blue eyes and light hair.  Hitler wrote that if they could just get rid of 700,000 to 800,000 of the weakest people and have one million children a year, Germany would be a strong nation.  Forced sterilization and euthanasia were popular methods to get rid of the weakest.  At least 320,000 people had been sterilized by the beginning of World War II.

Ingrid Von Oelhafen learned the details of the Lebensborn program as she searched for her heritage. She had a terrible time accepting that she could be part of such a breeding program.  As it turned out she was part of the program, but a different part.  It took much of her adult life, off and on, to find some documented evidence of who she was, to figure out the puzzle. Unmoved and conspiratorial bureaucrats, silent relatives with fuzzy memories, the International Red Cross, support group members, and finally DNA figure in her story.

Maria Dolezalova's story was an example.  In Maria's case about 200 women from her village were transported to Rovensbruck concentration camp where 184 of their children were snatched to be examined by RuSHA.  103 children failed, 74 were handed over for immediate extermination by gas on a rigged truck, and only 7 including Maria were transferred to be raised as German by Germans. 

Now there is a point in this book where I was incredibly frustrated for and with Ingrid and all the other people involved in this search.  As soon as she learned that she was born Erica Matko on November 11, 1941 in Saint Sauerbrunn, genealogy myopia set in, no one used maps or other information akin to a village finder or index of old and new names for towns and villages, and so this all became a block that could have been more easily broken.  Her birth surname isn't German and the town wasn't in Germany and she needed to think about looking in countries were a Slavic surname was more common.

She had suffered and had to stop searching at times, but eventually she had the PARISH RECORDS for OLD YOGOSLAVIA including the birthdates of her parents and the name of the Village they lived in, Rogtaska Slatina.  But woops!  There was another living Erica Matko, so maybe this was wrong.  DNA testing gave her the answers she needed.  Indeed, she was the Erica Matko born of this couple and snatched from them.  She found she had a living brother in 2000.  Success finally!

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