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Thanks to certain communities’ fear of vaccines, illnesses such as the measles, which had been wiped out for decades in America, have come back into existence. This resurgence of diseases is dangerous for a number of reasons, the first being that a lot of doctors and nurses are no longer trained to treat or look out for them.

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My late friend Ron Silver, the actor and political activist, once asked me a question that I have continued to think about ever since. On the afternoon of his last New Year's Eve, when he surprised me by coming to California, he wanted to know if I had found any great "big history" books.I have been thinking about my late friend Ron Silver's last words to me for months: "Find someone to start a big history Web site," he urged.

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