Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Peak Fossil Fuel Use is Near: Global Warming Optimism?

One of the most prolific writers on environmental issues related to global warming is Bill McKibben.  His typical efforts will involve telling readers how bad things are and how much worse they are going to get.  It was a bit startling to encounter a piece he wrote recently for the New York Review of Books because it contained what one might dare call a bit of optimism.  It was titled A Future Without Fossil Fuels?.  In it, McKibben reviews two recent reports. 

The first was 2020 Vision: Why You Should See the Fossil Fuel Peak Coming by Kingsmill Bond.  In it, Bond predicts that within the next decade, perhaps in the next few years, consumption of fossil fuels will begin to decrease.  The driving factor is the ever-falling cost of renewable sources from solar and wind power.  McKibben provides this background.

“Over the last decade, there has been a staggering fall in the price of solar and wind power, and of the lithium-ion batteries used to store energy. This has led to rapid expansion of these technologies, even though they are still used much less than fossil fuels: in 2017, for instance, sun and wind produced just 6 percent of the world’s electric supply, but they made up 45 percent of the growth in supply, and the cost of sun and wind power continues to fall by about 20 percent with each doubling of capacity. Bond’s analysis suggests that in the next few years, they will represent all the growth. We will then reach peak use of fossil fuels, not because we’re running out of them but because renewables will have become so cheap that anyone needing a new energy supply will likely turn to solar or wind power.”

Even though reaching peak usage implies there will continue to be significant utilization of fossil fuels, Bond suggests that industrial dynamics and the herd mentality of investors may interpret that event as a time to move from the old technology to the newer ones.  The transition away from fossil fuels could become much more rapid than one might expect.

“The turning point in such transitions ‘is typically the moment when the impact is felt in financial markets’—when stock prices tumble and never recover. Who is going to invest in an industry that is clearly destined to shrink? Though we’ll still be using lots of oil, its price should fall if it has to compete with the price of sunshine. Hence the huge investments in pipelines and tankers and undersea exploration will be increasingly unrecoverable. Precisely how long it will take is impossible to predict, but the outcome seems clear.”

The coal industry is the first to suffer from this ongoing power transition.  Clearly coal use was losing to cheaper natural gas and renewables in the US, but it was hoped that increased usage in other countries would support demand.  However, that has not happened.  Consider the dynamics of the power industry in India, once expected to be a major importer of US coal.

“This transition is already obvious in the coal markets. To understand, for example, why Peabody, the world’s largest private-sector coal-mining company, went from being on Fortune’s list of most admired companies in 2008 to bankrupt in 2016, consider its difficulties in expanding its market. India, until very recently, was expected to provide much of the growth for coal. As late as 2015, its coal use was expected to triple by 2030…”

But India decided to go down another path.  The cost of wind and solar power fell dramatically in 2017 to $35 to $40 per megawatt hour.  With Indian coal, power costs $60 a megawatt hour.  That price goes up to $70 with imported coal. 

“No wonder that over the first nine months of 2018, India installed forty times more capacity for renewable than for coal-fired power.”

Other countries are making similar decisions—including the US.  In spite of Trump’s promises, coal plant shutdowns are increasing not decreasing. 

Natural gas seems to be experiencing a similar transformation.  Although fracking has provided large amounts of fuel and driven the price down, the cost is no longer so low that it can’t be beat by renewables.

“While fracking has produced high volumes of natural gas—especially in the US, where it was pioneered—wells tend to dry out quickly, and despite enormous investment, the International Energy Agency estimates that between 2010 and 2014 the shale industry operated with negative cash flows of more than $200 billion.”

“Even ‘cheap’ natural gas is now starting to look expensive compared to the combination of sun, wind, and batteries. In an essay for Vox, the energy reporter David Roberts listed all the natural gas plants—many of them designed to provide quick bursts of ‘peaking power’ on heavy demand days—whose planned construction has been canceled in recent months, as utilities and banks began to figure out that over the projected forty-year life of a new plant, there was a good chance it would become an uncompetitive ‘stranded asset’ producing pointlessly expensive electricity. The chief executive of one US solar company said in January, ‘I can beat a gas peaker anywhere in the country today with a solar-plus-storage power plant. Who in their right mind today would build a new gas peaker? We are a factor of two cheaper’.”

Oil is mainly used in transportation and has been thought relatively immune to progress in renewable energy.  While analysts—and most consumers—are skeptical about the future of electric vehicles, Tesla, with all its ups and downs, has demonstrated the feasibility of an electric car fleet that can be produced with much smaller capital investment than one with internal combustion engines.  China is the biggest car market in the world, and it is heavily committed to going electric.  Car manufacturers the world over are moving aggressively to get on the bandwagon before it is too late.  Cars driven by power produced from renewable energy—what more could an environmentalist hope for?

“Oil was believed to be better protected than coal and gas from competition because cars have long needed liquid fuel to run. But electric cars are becoming affordable for more and more consumers. In 2017 only three million out of a worldwide total of 800 million cars were electric, but they accounted for 22 percent of the growth in global car sales. The world’s leading car companies have become convinced that electric vehicles will account for all the growth in demand by the early 2020s. That’s why, by January 2018, they had committed $90 billion to developing electric vehicles—and why, by 2017, Tesla was worth more than GM or Ford. And for every Tesla that rolls off the assembly line, Chinese manufacturers are producing five electric cars. Auto analysts are already warning consumers to think twice before buying a gas-powered car, since its resale value may fall dramatically over just the next three years.”

The fossil fuel companies, particularly the oil companies, still talk big and claim ever more resources to burn in the future, but ever more people are beginning to question what that future will bring.

In 2015 Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, began issuing strident warnings about stranded fossil fuel assets, urging the banks he regulated to begin taking close account of their exposure. He gave a memorable speech on the trading floor of Lloyds of London, pointing out that if countries made serious efforts to meet climate targets, vast amounts of money spent on oil wells, pipelines, coal mines, and tankers would be written off. He had to issue the warnings, he said, because the normal time horizon for financiers was too short. ‘Once climate change becomes a defining issue for financial stability, it may already be too late,’ he said, noting that ‘the exposure of UK investors, including insurance companies, to these shifts is potentially huge.’ He urged them to start preparing for a lower-carbon world. Companies, he said, should ‘disclose not only what they are emitting today, but how they plan their transition to the net-zero world of the future’.”

“Carney’s warning—which reverberated out from the financial center of London—seems to have spurred a reevaluation of fossil fuel exposure by many big financial institutions. ‘The major banks are now addressing this risk, whereas three years ago they were asleep to it,’ Buckley said. ‘Now in Australia all our banks have climate policy, where they didn’t three years ago. We didn’t even have data.’ A report in late February from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis showed that since 2013 a hundred major banks had restricted coal lending or gotten out of the business altogether.”

The second report discussed by McKibben was produced by the Global Commission on the Geopolitics of Energy Transformation.  It was titled A New World: The Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation.  Most countries are net importers of their needed fossil fuels, but almost all countries have significant supplies of sun and wind.  The benefits of utilizing local renewable sources of power would be enormous.  McKibben provides this assessment.

“’A New World,’ the January report on the geopolitics of energy transformation from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), is one of the most hopeful documents I’ve read in a long time: it points out that for the 80 percent of the world’s population that lives in countries that are net importers of fossil fuels, the transition to renewable energy means the end of a crushing import burden. ‘The long-term consequences of a switch to renewables are very positive,’ said Bond, who helped write the report. ‘Fossil fuels are produced by a small number of companies and countries and the benefits flow to a small number of people. With solar and wind you get a lot more local jobs, a lot more local investment. You get a whole new geopolitics’.”

“Take India, the poorest large nation on earth. It imports 80 percent of its oil and 40 percent of its gas, along with much of its coal. Currently that costs the country $240 billion a year; if, as its leaders hope, its economy grows 7 percent annually, that figure would double in a decade—which is economically unsustainable. ‘Renewables also offer developing economies an opportunity to leapfrog, not only fossil fuels, but, to some extent, the need for a centralized electricity grid,’ the IRENA report concludes.”

McKibben ends with an apt conclusion.

“Imagine a world in which the tortured politics of the Middle East weren’t magnified in importance by the value of the hydrocarbons beneath its sands. And imagine a world in which the greatest driver of climate change—the unrelenting political power of the fossil-fuel industry—had begun to shrink. The question, of course, is whether we can reach that new world in time.”

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Evaluating Joe Biden as a Candidate

The Democrats are experiencing the mixed blessing of having a wide range of candidates vying for the presidential nomination.  There are many new faces bringing increased diversity and a leftward shift in policy intentions.  Some observers are concerned that candidates that seem viable in the primaries might be too far left for a general election.  That is a valid concern, but what is the appropriate strategy when the Republican opponents have already moved way far right?  And does a middle of the electorate that could be lost to a left-wing candidate even exist?  Joe Biden is expected to enter the campaign, although as of this writing he has yet to formally announce.  He seems to want to promote himself as the ideal candidate, one who is progressive enough for most Democrats and someone with a record that would suggest he could capture this supposed middle.  Polling suggests he would be a strong candidate among primary voters, but would he really be a good investment for the Democratic voters who seem to be drifting to the left? 

Andrew Cockburn is the Washington, DC editor for Harper’s Magazine.  He delivers not only a “no” to the question of Biden as a candidate, but a definite “Hell No!”  He provided his opinions on Biden in an article for Harper’s titled No Joe!: Joe Biden’s disastrous legislative legacy.  He provided quite the takedown, one that all Democrats should read.

Obama entered the presidency hoping that he would be able to work with the Republicans and presumably selected Biden as his VP because he thought Biden would be an able assistant in that task.  However, the Republicans made it clear that they were never going to collaborate with a Democratic president, particularly a black one.  Obama eventually learned the hard lesson from that experience, but Biden apparently didn’t.  Cockburn provides this perspective.

“Biden has long served as high priest of the doctrine that our legislative problems derive merely from superficial disagreements, rather than fundamental differences over matters of principle. ‘I believe that we have to end the divisive partisan politics that is ripping this country apart,’ he declared in the Rose Garden in 2015, renouncing a much-anticipated White House run. ‘It’s mean-spirited. It’s petty. And it’s gone on for much too long. I don’t believe, like some do, that it’s na├»ve to talk to Republicans. I don’t think we should look on Republicans as our enemies’.”

Cockburn presents his view of the Republicans Biden thinks he can consort with.

“…the practitioners of bipartisanship conveniently gloss over the more evident reality: that the system is under sustained assault by an ideology bent on destroying the remnants of the New Deal to the benefit of a greed-driven oligarchy.”

And we must recognize the benefits that bipartisanship has provided in the recent past.  Bipartisanship has meant Democrats like Biden helping Republicans get what they want.

“It was bipartisan accord, after all, that brought us the permanent war economy, the war on drugs, the mass incarceration of black people, 1990s welfare ‘reform,’ Wall Street deregulation and the consequent $16 trillion in bank bailouts, the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, and other atrocities too numerous to mention. If the system is indeed broken, it is because interested parties are doing their best to break it.”

Biden’s bipartisan activities in the past were often aimed at attaining goals that were rather illiberal then and are quite unpopular now.  Consider his contributions to civil rights for African Americans, an area in which he seemed to relish bipartisan legislating with none other than the late Strom Thurmond, a “tireless defender of institutional racism.”

“One such issue, as Branko Marcetic has pitilessly chronicled in Jacobin, was a shared opposition to federally mandated busing in the effort to integrate schools, an opposition Biden predicted would be ultimately adopted by liberal holdouts. ‘The black community justifiably is jittery,’ Biden admitted to the Washington Post in 1975 with regard to his position. ‘I’ve made it—if not respectable—I’ve made it reasonable for longstanding liberals to begin to raise the questions I’ve been the first to raise in the liberal community here on the [Senate] floor’.”

“Biden was responding to criticism of legislation he had introduced that effectively barred the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare from compelling communities to bus pupils using federal funds…the Washington Post described Biden’s amendment as ‘denying the possibility for equal educational opportunities to minority youngsters trapped in ill-equipped inner-city schools.’ Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, then the sole African-American senator, called Biden’s measure ‘the greatest symbolic defeat for civil rights since 1964’.”

Biden did black citizens no favor when he turned his ambitions to the topics of drugs and crime.

“One of his Senate staffers at the time recalls him remarking, ‘Whenever people hear the words ‘drugs’ and ‘crime,’ I want them to think ‘Joe Biden.’ Insisting on anonymity, this former staffer recollected how Biden’s team ‘had to think up excuses for new hearings on drugs and crime every week—any connection, no matter how remote. He wanted cops at every public meeting—you’d have thought he was running for chief of police’.”

The result of this focus was another Strom Thurmond collaboration.

“Together, the pair sponsored the 1984 Comprehensive Crime Control Act, which, among other repressive measures, abolished parole for federal prisoners and cut the amount of time by which sentences could be reduced for good behavior.”

The pair would also collaborate on producing laws that provided much more severe sentences for black users of crack cocaine than white users of powder cocaine, and allowing civil forfeiture of a person’s assets without being charged or convicted of a crime—perhaps the most disgraceful law on our books.

“The bipartisan duo also joined hands to cheerlead the passage of the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act and its 1988 follow-on, which cumulatively introduced mandatory sentences for drug possession. Biden later took pride in reminding audiences that ‘through the leadership of Senator Thurmond, and myself, and others,’ Congress had passed a law mandating a five-year sentence, with no parole, for anyone caught with a piece of crack cocaine ‘no bigger than [a] quarter.’ That is, they created the infamous disparity in penalties between those caught with powder cocaine (white people) and those carrying crack (black people). Biden also unblushingly cited his and Thurmond’s leading role in enacting laws allowing for the execution of drug dealers convicted of homicide, and expanding the practice of civil asset forfeiture, law enforcement’s plunder of property belonging to people suspected of crimes, even if they are neither charged nor convicted.”

Biden continued through the Clinton years pushing tough-on-crime legislation that resulted in putting more and more of the Democrats’ most reliable voters into prison.

“Despite pleas from the ­NAACP and the ­ACLU, the 1990s brought no relief from Biden’s crime crusade. He vied with the first Bush Administration to introduce ever more draconian laws, including one proposing to expand the number of offenses for which the death penalty would be permitted to fifty-one. Bill Clinton quickly became a reliable ally upon his 1992 election, and Biden encouraged him to ‘maintain crime as a Democratic initiative’ with suitably tough legislation. The ensuing 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, passed with enthusiastic administration pressure, would consign millions of black Americans to a life behind bars.”

Biden was also culpable as the chair of the committee hearings that led to the replacement of Thurgood Marshall by Clarence Thomas.  In so doing he threw an entire race under the bus.  He could have handled Anita Hill and her accusations against Thomas much differently.

“More damningly, Biden not only allowed fellow committee members to mount a sustained barrage of vicious attacks on Hill: he wrapped up the hearings without calling at least two potential witnesses who could have convincingly corroborated Hill’s testimony and, by extension, indicated that the nominee had perjured himself on a sustained basis throughout the hearings. As Mayer and Abramson write, ‘Hill’s reputation was not foremost among the committee’s worries. The Democrats in general, and Biden in particular, appear to have been far more concerned with their own reputations,’ and feared a Republican-stoked public backlash if they aired more details of Thomas’s sexual proclivities. Hill was therefore thrown to the wolves, and America was saddled with a Supreme Court justice of limited legal qualifications and extreme right-wing views (which he had taken pains to deny while under oath).”

Biden’s history and his effect on the lives of so many potential black voters makes one wonder why he is perceived as a “safer” candidate than some of the younger, more aggressively liberal ones.

It turns out Biden also has a less than admirable record with respect to issues important to another large segment of Democratic voters: women.  He has lacked enthusiasm about Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose.

Roe v. Wade “went too far,” he told an interviewer in 1974. ‘I don’t think that a woman has the sole right to say what should happen to her body.’ For some years his votes were consistent with that view. He supported the notorious Hyde Amendment prohibiting any and all federal funding for abortions, and fathered the ‘Biden Amendment’ that banned the use of US foreign aid for abortion research.”

Biden has also generated a reputation for hands-on participation in conversations with females.

“’He has a bit of a Me Too problem,’ a leading female Democratic activist and fund-raiser told me, referring to his overly tactile approach to interacting with women. ‘We never had a talk when he wasn’t stroking my back.’ He has already faced heckling on the topic, and videos of this behavior during the course of public events and photo ops have been widely circulated.”

As a senator from Delaware, Biden has always been cognizant of where the power resided in that state.  As an effective tool of banks and credit card companies, many of his most significant legislative actions are inconsistent with his self-proclaimed label of “middle-class Joe.”

“’It’s a corporate whore state, of course,’ the anonymous former Biden staffer remarked to me offhandedly in a recent conversation. He stressed that in ‘a small state with thirty-five thousand bank employees, apart from all the lawyers and others from the financial industry,’ Biden was never going to stray too far from the industry’s priorities.”

Cockburn summarizes Biden’s efforts to provide restrictive bankruptcy laws in order to protect financial institutions from people who couldn’t pay their debts.

“Unsurprisingly, Biden was long a willing foot soldier in the campaign to emasculate laws allowing debtors relief from loans they cannot repay. As far back as 1978, he helped negotiate a deal rolling back bankruptcy protections for graduates with federal student loans, and in 1984 worked to do the same for borrowers with loans for vocational schools. Even when the ostensible objective lay elsewhere, such as drug-related crime, Biden did not forget his banker friends. Thus the 1990 Crime Control Act, with Biden as chief sponsor, further limited debtors’ ability to take advantage of bankruptcy protections.”

“These initiatives, however, were only precursors to the finance lobby’s magnum opus: the 2005 Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act. This carefully crafted flail of the poor made it almost impossible for borrowers to get traditional “clean slate” Chapter 7 bankruptcy, under which debt forgiveness enables people to rebuild their lives and businesses. Instead, the law subjected them to the far harsher provisions of Chapter 13, effectively turning borrowers into indentured servants of institutions like the credit card companies headquartered in Delaware. It made its way onto the statute books after a lopsided 74–25 vote (bipartisanship!), with Biden, naturally, voting in favor.”

Biden has been around a long time.  This allows him to claim the advantage of “experience” in dealing with foreign affairs that should place him above other candidates.  But experience means you also have a track record that must be defended.  As with his social legislation, Biden has very often showed up on the wrong side of history.  Cockburn examines his career as a foreign policy expert in detail.  He reminds us that Biden was “an enthusiastic supporter” of Bush’s Iraq invasion, and of the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe, a move that mightily upset Russia and set the stage for our sorry current relationship.  His policy of supporting undemocratic regimes in Central America helped generate the stream of refugees from that area that complicate the situation on our southern border.  This summary is provided.

“Biden’s claims of experience on the world stage, therefore, cannot be denied. True, the experience has been routinely disastrous for those on the receiving end, but on the other hand, that is a common fate for those subjected, under any administration, to the operations of our foreign policy apparatus.”

There is yet one more claim that Biden can make to support his candidacy: electability.  Wrapping his mantle of “middle-class Joe” about himself he will claim the best connection with the white working class that presumably fled to Trump in the last election and will return if the right Democratic candidate comes to woo them.

“To be fair, Biden has earned high ratings from the AFL-CIO thanks to his support for matters such as union organizing rights and a higher minimum wage. On the other hand, he also supported NAFTA in 1994 and permanent normal trade relations with China in 2000, two votes that sounded the death knell for America’s manufacturing economy. Regardless of how justified his pro-labor reputation may be, however, it’s far from clear that the working class holds Biden in any special regard—his two presidential races imploded before any blue-collar workers had a chance to vote for him.”

It is difficult credibly assume one’s electability when one has already had two presidential campaigns end in disaster.  Biden seems unable to keep from sticking his foot in his mouth, and people who have worked on his past campaigns claim he was lousy at organizing them.

“It is this fact that makes the electability argument so puzzling. Biden’s initial bid for the prize in 1988 famously blew up when rivals unkindly publicized his plagiarism of a stump speech given by Neil Kinnock, a British Labour Party politician. (In Britain, Kinnock was known as ‘the Welsh Windbag,’ which may have encouraged the logorrheic Biden to feel a kinship.)”

“Another gaffe helped upend Biden’s second White House bid, in 2007, when he referred to Barack Obama in patronizing terms as ‘the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.’ The campaign cratered at the very first hurdle, the Iowa caucuses, where Biden came in fifth, with less than 1 percent of the votes.” 

Democrats and their constituencies seem about as excited as they have ever been about the upcoming election.  They succeeded in 2008 and 2012 when they had a charismatic candidate who excited their base.  There is much more to gain by increasing the turnout of those sympathetic to your policies than could ever be attained by trying to convince your enemy to come over to your side.  Placing your hopes on a candidate who claims that the opponents are not the enemy and that he is willing to compromise with them seems a strategic blunder of the first order.  Compromise is a tactic one occasionally uses when the limits of one’s power are reached.  The strategy must be based on reaching one’s goals without compromise.  Go for it!  Cockburn seems to agree with this sentiment.  He finishes with this comment.

“Regardless of the current election cycle’s endgame, though, it’s safe to assume that his undimmed ego will never permit any reflection on whether voters who have been eagerly voting for change will ever really settle for Uncle Joe, champion of yesterday’s sordid compromises.”

Friday, March 15, 2019

Understanding Cancer: Mosaicism, Metastasis, and the Immune System

Advances in technology have led to research producing improved understanding of the nature of cancer, how it can grow and spread, and new ways in which to combat it.  This new knowledge is both exciting and troubling.  It does provide options for prolonging the lives of those who suffer from cancer, but instead of producing a hope that cancer will one day be conquered, it raises the specter of a process that is inevitable and ultimately unavoidable.  One is led not to the conclusion that cancer will one day be cured, but to recognize that all of us are lucky to still be alive.

A mosaic is a plant, animal, or human with two or more populations of cells with different genetic makeup.  This situation can develop when a mutation occurs which produces daughter cells that are able to reproduce and propagate that mutation.  Carl Zimmer, in his book She Has Her Mother's Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity, provides a detailed description of mosaicism and how science gradually learned not only that mosaicism was very common in the human population, but that cancer was a form of mosaicism

Zimmer tells us that mosaics were first recognized in plants where a tree or a shrub might suddenly send off an unusual branch that was obviously dissimilar to the rest of the structure.  Scientists recognized that cellular reproduction was not a perfect mechanism and observed that mosaicism was often accompanied by variations in the chromosomal content of daughter cells.  If such variations existed in plants, why wouldn’t they be expected in animals, including humans.

“A single fertilized egg will multiply into roughly 37 trillion cells by the time a person reaches adulthood.  Each time one of those cells divides, it must create a new copy of its three billion base pairs of DNA.  For the most part our cells manage this duplication with stunning precision.  If they make a mistake, one of their daughter cells will acquire a new mutation that is not present at conception.  And if that daughter cell produces an entire lineage a potentially vast pool of cells will inherit it too.  Based on estimates of the somatic mutation rate, some researchers have estimated that there might be over ten quadrillion new mutations scattered in each of us.”

Zimmer concludes that scientists were so concerned with genetic variations between individuals, that they gave scant thought to the notion of genetic variability within an individual. 

“But modern science was slow to recognize that we humans were mosaics as well.  It’s not as if human mosaics were invisible.  Some were downright impossible to miss.  Human mosaics might be born with port-wine stains on their face.  Others looked as if a charcoal artist had applied stripes and checkerboards to their skin (a condition that came to be known as the lines of Blaschko…).  One human mosaic even became a celebrity in Victorian England.  He called himself the Elephant Man.”

The evidence is beginning to accumulate that indicates mosaicism is common to all of us—and it begins early in our development.

“In the first few days of an embryo’s existence, over half of its cells end up with the wrong number of chromosomes, either by accidently duplicating some or losing them.  Many of these imbalanced cells either can’t divide or do so slowly.  From their initial abundance, they dwindle away while normal cells create their own lineages.  If the supply of chromosomes is too abnormal—a condition called aneuploidy—then the mother’s body will sense trouble and reject the embryo altogether.”

“But a surprising number of embryos can survive with some variety in their chromosomes.  Markus Grompe, a biologist at Oregon Health and Science University, and his colleagues looked at liver cells from children and adults without any liver disease, most of whom had died suddenly, by drowning, strokes, gunshot wounds, and the like.  Between a quarter and a half of their liver cells were aneuploids, typically missing one copy of one chromosome.”

He notes that a particularly prescient researcher named Theodor Boveri recognized that cancer is a form mosaicism in 1902.  It would be 1960 before Boveri would finally be proved correct.

“It would take until 1960 for scientists to observe chromosomes carefully enough to test Boveri’s theory.  David A. Hungerford and Peter Nowell discovered that people with a form of cancer called chronic myelogenous leukemia were missing a substantial chunk of chromosome 22.  It turned out that a mutation had moved that chunk over to chromosome 9.  The altered chromosomes drove cells to become cancerous.”

As technology improved, scientists were able to detect small mutations that were capable of producing cancerous cells as well.  What this picture of widespread mutations suggests is that cancer is inherent in bodily function.  However, if it is so prevalent, how do most of us get to live to a ripe old age?  Humans and other animals could not have evolved as they have without mechanisms to protect themselves from the development of dangerous levels of cancer.  The issue is not whether we will encounter cancer, it is how will the cancer evolve in our particular bodies.

An article produced by Siddhartha Mukherjee for The New Yorker provides a deeper look into these issues.  It is titled Cancer’s Invasion Equation and begins with this lede.

“We can detect tumors earlier than ever before. Can we predict whether they’re going to be dangerous?”

Much effort has gone into early detection of cancerous tumors, but what if cancer is prevalent but not always dangerous.  What if most cancers never become a health issue?

“In 1985, pathologists in Finland assembled a group of a hundred and one men and women who had died of unrelated causes—car accidents or heart attacks, say—and performed autopsies to determine how many harbored papillary thyroid cancer. They cut the thyroid glands into razor-thin sections, as if carving a hock of ham into prosciutto slices, and peered at the sections under a microscope. Astonishingly, they found thyroid cancer in more than a third of the glands inspected. A similar study regarding breast cancer—comparing breast cancer incidentally detectable at autopsy with the lifetime risk of dying of breast cancer—suggests that a hyperzealous early-detection program might overdiagnose breast cancer with startling frequency, leading to needless interventions. Surveying the results of prostate-cancer screening, Welch calculated that thirty to a hundred men would have to undergo unnecessary treatment—typically, surgery or radiation—for every life saved.”

Studies like this corroborate the notion that cancer is very common, but that most incidences do not become a threat to us.  The real issue according to Mukherjee is prediction not detection.

Mukherjee also provides us with some startling data related to the issues of metastasis, the spread of a cancer from one location to other organs.  Women who die from breast cancer will generally die because the cancer had metastasized and spread to other organs rather than from the effect of the original breast tumor.  By inducing breast cancer in mice, researchers were able to tally cancerous cells that might be shed by the tumor.  The results were startling.

“The results baffled the investigators. On average, they found, the tumor was sloughing off twenty thousand cancer cells into every milliliter of blood—roughly three million cells per gram of tumor every twenty-four hours. In the course of a day, the tumor molted nearly a tenth of its weight. Later studies, performed with more sophisticated methods and with animal tumors that had arisen more ‘naturally,’ confirmed that tumors continually shed cells into circulation. (The rate of shedding from localized human tumors is harder to study; but available research tends to confirm the general phenomenon.)”

The issue with metastasis is not how cancer cells get from one organ to another, it was what happened to cancerous cells that prevented them from flourishing on other organs.

“The real conundrum wasn’t why metastases occur in some cancer patients but why metastases don’t occur in all of them.”

There is additional data on metastasis that suggests breast cancer cells find more welcoming terrain on some organs than on others.  This effect was first documented by a doctor named Stephen Paget in the late nineteenth century.

“But when Paget collected the case files of seven hundred and thirty-five women who had died of breast cancer, he found a bizarre pattern of metastatic spread. The metastases didn’t appear to spread centrifugally; they appeared in discrete, anatomically distant sites. And the pattern of spread was far from random: cancers had a strange and strong preference for particular organs. Of the three hundred-odd metastases, Paget found two hundred and forty-one in the liver, seventeen in the spleen, and seventy in the lungs. Enormous, empty, uncolonized steppes—anatomical landmasses untouched by metastasis—stretched out in between.”

“Why was the liver so hospitable to metastasis, while the spleen, which had similarities in blood supply, size, and proximity, seemed relatively resistant? As Paget probed deeper, he found that cancerous growth even favored particular sites within organ systems. Bones were a frequent site of metastasis in breast cancer—but not every bone was equally susceptible.”

The most likely explanation for this collection of observations was that most of the cancer cells being shed by a tumor were killed in passage and the ones that made it to another organ were mostly unwelcome in that environment and either went dormant or were subsequently destroyed.  Yet a small fraction could reach an environment in which they were capable of interacting with the surrounding tissue and media and cultivating another tumor. 

Two words appear frequently in Mukherjee’s discussion: environment and ecology.

“Paget coined the phrase ‘seed and soil’ to describe the phenomenon. The seed was the cancer cell; the soil was the local ecosystem where it flourished, or failed to. Paget’s study concentrated on patterns of metastasis within a person’s body. The propensity of one organ to become colonized while another was spared seemed to depend on the nature or the location of the organ—on local ecologies. Yet the logic of the seed-and-soil model ultimately raises the question of global ecologies: why does one person’s body have susceptible niches and not another’s?”

“Paget’s way of framing the issue—metastasis as the result of a pathological relationship between a cancer cell and its environment—lay dormant for more than a century.”

With this view of the cancer cell-tissue interaction comes the need to understand not just the nature of the cancer cell, but also the nature of the environment in which the interaction takes place.  One needs to understand why some people are susceptible to tumor formation and others are not.

“For decades, our standard explanation for those…people who meet the criteria of the diagnostic test, who are at risk for a disease, but who may not actually have it—was stochastic: we thought there was a roll-of-the-dice aspect to falling ill. There absolutely is. But what Medzhitov calls ‘new rules of tissue engagement’ may help us understand why so many people who are exposed to a disease don’t end up getting it. Medzhitov believes that all our tissues have ‘established rules by which cells form engagements and alliances with other cells.’ Physiology is the product of these relationships…There are tens of trillions of cells in a human body; a large fraction of them are dividing, almost always imperfectly. There’s no reason to think there’s a supply-side shortage of potential cancer cells, even in perfectly healthy people. Medzhitov’s point is that cancer cells produce cancer—they get established and grow—only when they manage to form alliances with normal cells.”

“Once we think of diseases in terms of ecosystems, then, we’re obliged to ask why someone didn’t get sick. Yet ecologists are a frustrating lot, at least if you’re a doctor. Part of the seduction of cancer genetics is that it purports to explain the unity and the diversity of cancer in one swoop. For ecologists, by contrast, everything is a relationship among a complex assemblage of factors.”

This “seed and soil” approach to metastasis is beginning to bear fruit.  Our immune system is undoubtedly the reason why many cancer cells are destroyed before they can do harm.  After all, it is designed to detect cells that are not part of our normal tissues and destroy them.  The question then becomes why do some cancer cells manage to take root?  It turns out that there are chemical signals that inform immune system cells when tissue it encounters is “normal” tissue not to be attacked.  If cancer cells are capable of producing the correct chemical signals, they can trick the immune system into leaving them alone.  Researchers have moved in the direction of developing what has become known as immunotherapy.

“There are important consequences of taking soil as well as seed into account. Among the most successful recent innovations in cancer therapeutics is immunotherapy, in which a patient’s own immune system is activated to target cancer cells. Years ago, the pioneer immunologist Jim Allison and his colleagues discovered that cancer cells used special proteins to trigger the brakes in the host’s immune cells, leading to unchecked growth.  When drugs stopped certain cancers from exploiting these braking proteins, Allison and his colleagues showed, immune cells would start to attack them.”

Such an approach can be useful, and it is a good beginning, but immunity can only be one factor in a complex problem.

“Such therapies are best thought of as soil therapies: rather than killing tumor cells directly, or targeting mutant gene products within tumor cells, they work on the phalanxes of immunological predators that survey tissue environments, and alter the ecology of the host. But soil therapies will go beyond immune factors; a wide variety of environmental features have to be taken into account. The extracellular matrix with which the cancer interacts, the blood vessels that a successful tumor must coax out to feed itself, the nature of a host’s connective-tissue cells—all of these affect the ecology of tissues and thereby the growth of cancers.”

Jerome Groopman provides a discussion of the status of immunotherapy in countering cancer in The Body Strikes Back, an article that appeared in the New York Review of Books.

Both Allison and a Japanese scientist independently discovered “braking” molecules that restrain our immune system from attacking tumors.  For that they shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 2018.  Notably, they discovered two different molecules that served this function.  Groopman describes some successes that have been achieved with therapies that block the effectiveness of those “brakes.”  One of the issues with these therapies are that they succeed slowly and can take many months to exhibit a success.  Treatment of metastatic melanoma was one of the first attempts at therapy.

“Instead of assessing efficacy in the short term, as was usual for radiation and chemotherapy, the researchers measured patient survival over a period of years. In 2010 the study results were presented at a major cancer meeting: a quarter of the patients treated with blockers for widespread melanoma were alive after two years; their predicted survival had been a mere seven months.”

Former President Jimmy Carter was the most famous recipient of this therapy and provided an example of a “miracle” drug that worked.

“One of the most stunning successes of this treatment is the case of President Jimmy Carter. In the summer of 2015 he was diagnosed with melanoma that had spread to his liver and brain. With standard radiation and chemotherapy his prognosis was dismal, measured in weeks to a few months. Carter received a new PD-1 blocker and remains in remission nearly four years later.”

Turning off brakes to our immune system to allow it to attack cancer tumors also puts normal tissues at risk.

“The advent of successful immune therapy for cancer comes with a price. It often causes toxic side effects, as the unleashed immune system attacks not only the tumor but normal tissues as well. Patients can suffer intense inflammation of the bowels, skin, and thyroid and adrenal glands. Then there is the cost of the treatments, typically more than $100,000 per year.”

As exciting as these developments are, they remain consistent with Mukherjee’s warning that immunity can be only part of the solution.

“Metastatic melanoma has proved to be one among several previously intractable cancers that has yielded to immune therapy. Clinical trials in lung cancer, Hodgkins lymphoma, bladder cancer, Merkel cell carcinoma, and others have shown dramatic remissions and raised the prospect of some patients being cured. In general, a quarter to a third of treated patients react positively.”

 The notion of “winning” a war on cancer seems ever less appropriate.  Perhaps the best we can hope for is that we will die more slowly than we did in the past.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

How Media’s “Fairness” Helped Elect Donald Trump

One might expect journalism majors to emerge from school determined to call a fact a fact, a non-fact a lie, and a fool a fool.  But that is not what seems to happen.  Objectivity seems to be what they are taught to seek.  This objectivity, at its best, is what was just described, at its worst, it is merely reporting on contrasting opinions.  Balance in reporting opposing views is seen as a path to “fairness.”  But not all views are of equal value, so presenting two sides of an issue is not necessarily fair.  In fact, it can be decidedly unfair when an acknowledged expert on one side is contrasted with a crackpot on the other as if both were equals.  This is the easiest path for a reporter or editor to take, and they too often take it.

Paul Starr wrote a review of a couple of books on the health of journalism in this country, both as a business and as a public service.  It appeared in the New York Review of Books as  Fall from Grace. One of the books reviewed was Network Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics by Yochai Benkler, Robert Faris, and Hal Roberts.  These authors studied news media over the past few years to assess how political news was treated and how it was propagated.

“In Network Propaganda, Yochai Benkler, Robert Faris, and Hal Roberts illuminate this new “media ecosystem” through an analysis of how political news was linked, liked, and shared from 2015 to 2018 and how the news media either amplified or checked the diffusion of falsehoods. The study is based on four million political stories from 40,000 online sources, as well as case studies of conspiracy stories, rumors, and outright disinformation.”

Their study concluded that the left and the right were two different beasts in how news was created and propagated, making balance and “fairness” something quite problematic as a concept.

“The pattern that emerges from the data contradicts the idea that there are two symmetrical echo chambers on the right and left. On the right, Benkler and his colleagues find an insular echo chamber skewed toward the extreme, where even the major news organizations (Fox and Breitbart) do not observe norms of truth-seeking. But from the center-right (for example, The Wall Street Journal) through the center to the left, they find an interconnected network of news organizations that operate under the constraint of established journalistic norms.”

Fake news tends to be suppressed and not propagated by organizations that actually check facts before printing things.  That is the way it works on the left according to the study.  But on the right, there is an industry focused on creating and propagating fake news.

“On the right, major news organizations amplified stories concocted in the right’s nether reaches, such as Pizzagate (Democrats were purportedly operating a child-trafficking ring out of a pizza shop in Washington) and the Seth Rich murder conspiracy (an aide at the Democratic National Committee was killed supposedly because he divulged its e-mails to WikiLeaks). False stories originated on the left as well, but they were generally not relayed to a wider public. The right-wing media failed to correct falsehoods or to hold their journalists accountable for spreading them, whereas the rest of the media checked one another, corrected mistakes when they made them, and in several cases disciplined or fired those responsible for errors.”

“These differences contributed to the greater susceptibility on the right not only to home-grown propaganda but also to Russian disinformation and commercially fabricated clickbait whenever these were consistent with what the authors call the ‘tribal narrative’.”

Although most of the media had good intentions, their interest in “fairness” led them to foolishly highlight many of the outrageous claims emerging from the far-right.

“In 2016, Benkler and his colleagues argue, the right was able to ‘harness’ the press to its cause because of journalists’ preoccupation with ‘balance’ and eagerness for scoops. They note that the press had an institutional problem: How would it maintain balance if reporters did hard-hitting stories about Trump? Borrowing from a study by Thomas E. Patterson, they conclude that the solution was to run equally hard-hitting stories about Hillary Clinton. Journalists ‘performed’ neutrality with harshly negative coverage of both candidates.”

The media countered many articles about real Trump misbehaviors with even more articles about “alleged” Clinton misbehaviors.  The net result was that Hillary Clinton was accorded more negative coverage than Donald Trump. 

“In fact, according to Patterson’s analysis, negative coverage of Clinton outpaced positive coverage 62 percent to 38 percent, while coverage of Trump was 56 percent negative to 44 percent positive.”

Even the New York Times comes under criticism for its treatment of Clinton.

“A clear instance of this pattern is the coverage of the Clinton Foundation. The Times entered into an arrangement that gave it advance access to Clinton Cash, a book by a Breitbart editor, Peter Schweizer, sponsored by a project founded by Schweizer and Steve Bannon and funded by Robert Mercer. The resulting Times article insinuated that in exchange for money for the Clinton Foundation, Hillary Clinton had enabled a Russian firm to acquire control of American uranium assets, even though the Times had no evidence that she had intervened in the decision to approve the deal, which a committee representing nine government agencies had made. The Times article and other overwrought and often misleading pieces in the mainstream press about the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton and DNC e-mails became some of the most widely shared news items in 2016, thus helping the Republican effort to depict Clinton and the Democrats as corrupt.”

The book provides this conclusion about the 2016 election.

“The negative mainstream coverage of Clinton, according to Network Propaganda, mattered far more than Russian disinformation to the outcome of the 2016 election.”

Paul Starr provides his own conclusion about the current state of journalism.

“But when so much of journalism is at risk of disappearing and so many Americans inhabit a right-wing echo chamber, we ought to recognize that our country is in a crisis that strikes at its foundations.”

 The interested reader might find the following articles informative:

Monday, March 4, 2019

History, Nationalism, and Politics

One tends to think of history as a collection of facts and dates answering the questions “what happened and when.”  But history is more than that; a historian tells a tale of what happened and why in the past, but he/she tells it from the perspective of someone living in the present.  And since the historian can pick and choose what is deemed important, the historian is assembling an opinion, one which is intended to teach a lesson to the modern reader.  History thus becomes critical in politics.  There is no more vigorous political dispute than that over who gets to say what is included in the history textbooks provided to our children.  Jill Lepore provides a discussion of the issues relating a nation and its nationalism to its view of its history.  She provided A New Americanism: Why a Nation Needs a National Story as the opening article in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, a volume focused on “The New Nationalism.”

Lepore provides us with some terminology and a perspective.

“The United States is different from other nations—every nation is different from every other—and its nationalism is different, too. To review: a nation is a people with common origins, and a state is a political community governed by laws. A nation-state is a political community governed by laws that unites a people with a supposedly common ancestry. When nation-states arose out of city-states and kingdoms and empires, they explained themselves by telling stories about their origins—stories meant to suggest that everyone in, say, ‘the French nation’ had common ancestors, when they of course did not. As I wrote in my book These Truths, ‘Very often, histories of nation-states are little more than myths that hide the seams that stitch the nation to the state’.”

Lepore attributes the first serious history of the nation to George Bancroft, and his effort provides an example of the role a history plays in creating viable politics.

“One way to turn a state into a nation is to write its history. The first substantial history of the American nation, Bancroft’s ten-volume History of the United States, From the Discovery of the American Continent, was published between 1834 and 1874. Bancroft wasn’t only a historian; he was also a politician who served in the administrations of three U.S. presidents, including as secretary of war in the age of American continental expansion. An architect of manifest destiny, Bancroft wrote his history in an attempt to make the United States’ founding appear inevitable, its growth inexorable, and its history ancient. De-emphasizing its British inheritance, he celebrated the United States as a pluralistic and cosmopolitan nation, with ancestors all over the world…”

Assembling a “national story” for the United States is complicated because it does not have a common past for its people to refer to—at least not one whose inventions can be masked by resorting to ancient happenings.  The United States was not formally constructed as a nation-state.  Rather, it was a federation, one that must be recognized as such no matter what the intentions of the founders might be.  And it also carried within its origins the issue that would constantly contradict the notion that we are a single people with a single national story.  When slavery was legalized, it created two distinct regions, two distinct classes of people, and a minority population whose story could never be consistent with that of a proud nation.  The need to justify the enslavement of African Americans required an assumption of white supremacy.  This “truth” would inform attitudes toward all nonwhite peoples.  People in non-slave states might also believe in white supremacy, but their societies, livelihoods, and consciences did not demand it.  Within the non-slave states would arise a movement of abolitionists determined to end slavery.  Ultimately, the Civil War would bring it to an end, but the “nation” was left with two major stories to tell.

“…the nationalism of the North and that of the South were in fact different, and much of U.S. history has been a battle between them.”

“In 1861, the Confederacy’s newly elected vice president, Alexander Stephens, delivered a speech in Savannah in which he explained that the ideas that lay behind the U.S. Constitution ‘rested upon the assumption of the equality of races’—here ceding Lincoln’s argument—but that ‘our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery is his natural and moral condition’.” 

“The North won the war. But the battle between liberal and illiberal nationalism raged on, especially during the debates over the 14th and 15th Amendments, which marked a second founding of the United States on terms set by liberal ideas about the rights of citizens and the powers of nation-states—namely, birthright citizenship, equal rights, universal (male) suffrage, and legal protections for noncitizens.”

Frederick Douglass would become an effective spokesperson for a view that would support a liberal history and a liberal future for the nation.

“The most significant statement in this debate was made by a man born into slavery who had sought his own freedom and fought for decades for emancipation, citizenship, and equal rights. In 1869, in front of audiences across the country, Frederick Douglass delivered one of the most important and least read speeches in American political history, urging the ratification of the 14th and 15th Amendments in the spirit of establishing a ‘composite nation.’ He spoke, he said, ‘to the question of whether we are the better or the worse for being composed of different races of men.’ If nations, which are essential for progress, form from similarity, what of nations like the United States, which are formed out of difference, Native American, African, European, Asian, and every possible mixture, ‘the most conspicuous example of composite nationality in the world’?”

But there would be no victory over the southern viewpoint.  Instead, whites from both north and south would conspire to agree to disagree.

“Emancipation and Reconstruction, the historian and civil rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois would write in 1935, was ‘the finest effort to achieve democracy . . . this world had ever seen.’ But that effort had been betrayed by white Northerners and white Southerners who patched the United States back together by inventing a myth that the war was not a fight over slavery at all but merely a struggle between the nation and the states. ‘We fell under the leadership of those who would compromise with truth in the past in order to make peace in the present,’ Du Bois wrote bitterly. Douglass’ new Americanism was thus forgotten. So was Du Bois’ reckoning with American history.”

Instead of coming to terms with the evil of slavery, the South was left free to exercise its policies of white supremacy for almost another century.  And the story told by the United States was that African Americans were not capable of governing themselves.  This view and its resultant treatment of African Americans served as justification for the colonial powers who needed to oppress native, darker-skinned populations in Africa and Asia.  Hitler recognized the Jim Crow reign in our South as just the example he needed in order to begin his oppression of Jews.  Lepore provides this curiously familiar observation.

“Hitler, for his part, expressed admiration for the Confederacy and regret that ‘the beginnings of a great new social order based on the principle of slavery and inequality were destroyed by the war.’ As one arm of a campaign to widen divisions in the United States and weaken American resolve, Nazi propaganda distributed in the Jim Crow South called for the repeal of the 14th and 15th Amendments.”

There were, of course, historians who would write histories of the postwar Reconstruction Era that would support southern attitudes about racial inequality, and political scientists who would propagate tales of racial inequality to support national oppression of other peoples.  But it was mostly tales of liberal consensus that would emerge from white male historians.

“In the wake of World War II, American historians wrote the history of the United States as a story of consensus, an unvarying ‘liberal tradition in America,’ according to the political scientist Louis Hartz, that appeared to stretch forward in time into an unvarying liberal future. Schlesinger, writing in 1949, argued that liberals occupied ‘the vital center’ of American politics. These historians had plenty of blind spots—they were especially blind to the forces of conservatism and fundamentalism—but they nevertheless offered an expansive, liberal account of the history of the American nation and the American people.”

It was not only people of color who needed liberation, there were the women also.

“Beginning in the 1960s, women and people of color entered the historical profession and wrote new, rich, revolutionary histories, asking different questions and drawing different conclusions. Historical scholarship exploded, and got immeasurably richer and more sophisticated.”

Emerging from Lepore’s criticism of the profession, is one notable hero: Carl Degler.

“In a there-goes-the-neighborhood moment, many older historians questioned the value of this scholarship. Degler did not; instead, he contributed to it. Most historians who wrote about race were not white and most historians who wrote about women were not men, but Degler, a white man, was one of two male co-founders of the National Organization for Women and won a Pulitzer in 1972 for a book called Neither Black nor White. Still, he shared the concern expressed by Higham that most new American historical scholarship was ‘not about the United States but merely in the United States’.”

She credits Degler with lecturing his profession on the reality of nationalism and the need for historians to provide a story that will deal with the two versions of the nation’s history that have been propagated.

“In 1986, the Pulitzer Prize–winning, bowtie-wearing Stanford historian Carl Degler delivered something other than the usual pipe-smoking, scotch-on-the-rocks, after-dinner disquisition that had plagued the evening program of the annual meeting of the American Historical Association for nearly all of its centurylong history. Instead, Degler, a gentle and quietly heroic man, accused his colleagues of nothing short of dereliction of duty: appalled by nationalism, they had abandoned the study of the nation.”

“’We can write history that implicitly denies or ignores the nation-state, but it would be a history that flew in the face of what people who live in a nation-state require and demand,’ Degler said that night in Chicago. He issued a warning: ‘If we historians fail to provide a nationally defined history, others less critical and less informed will take over the job for us’.”

Parts of our nation have already become the “composite nation” touted by Douglass—and that version of the nation works.  And it is a composite nation towards which economics, politics, and climate change are driving us.  There is no escape—for us or any other country.  Somehow, a heroic story must emerge that reconciles this composite world with that of people raised with a tradition of white supremacy.  Lepore believes it is the duty of historians to create the necessary story.

“’The history of the United States at the present time does not seek to answer any significant questions,’ Degler told his audience some three decades ago. If American historians don’t start asking and answering those sorts of questions, other people will, he warned.”

And as Lepore points out, they have.

“They’ll echo Calhoun and Douglas and Father Coughlin. They’ll lament ‘American carnage.’ They’ll call immigrants ‘animals’ and other states ‘shithole countries.’ They’ll adopt the slogan ‘America first.’ They’ll say they can ‘make America great again.’ They’ll call themselves ‘nationalists.’ Their history will be a fiction. They will say that they alone love this country. They will be wrong.”

Lepore’s faith in historical writing may be misplaced in this instance.  Clearly, the nation would be in better shape now if historians had done a better job years ago.  However, there is another perspective that suggests a more drastic chain of events is in our future.  It took the tragedy of the Civil War to eliminate explicit slavery.  It took blacks forging a revolution in the South to finally eliminate Jim Crow and explicit racial discrimination.  This also involved sending troops into the South to enforce the law a second time—Civil War Part II?  Will it take a Civil War Part III (or more) to finally reconcile our two nations?

Jill Lepore is a Professor of American History at Harvard University, and has recently produced a comprehensive history of her own: These Truths: A History of the United States.

The interested reader might find the following articles informative:

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