AUGUST 2017

AUGUST  2017
FACING DOWN THE RULERS OF WALL STREET A HUNDRED YEARS AGO. THEY ARE BACK.

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Friday, March 14, 2014

THROWING A PARTY

I think of him as just another one of those self-made right-wing technocrats, who used his fortune to finance an ultra-conservative agenda - a 19th century  Ross Perot or the Koch Brothers. In this case the technology was the telegraph, and the agenda was the 19th century version of Islamaphobia. Samuel Finley Breese Morse (above) learned to fear the 'Bavarian Illuminati' from his father's Sunday sermons. As an adult Samuel proselytized that the Roman Catholic Church was flooding America with Irish and German Catholic immigrants intent on establishing a new Vatican City in the Mississippi valley. Wrote Morse, “Surely American Protestants...(will) discover...the cloven foot of this subtle foreign heresy. They will see that Popery is...a political as well as a religious system; that...differs totally...from all other forms of religion in the country.”  And like his 20th and 21st century followers, the poison he was peddling (and funding) would take root.
It sprouted into full flower in the congressional elections of 1854, catching on “like measles”, according to one Democrat. The organization was officially known as “The American Party”, but commonly refereed to as the Know Nothings, because its members were coached to respond to all questions by admitting only, “I don't know”, and because, frankly, in the eyes of their critics, they just seemed to be not very bright. Membership was limited to white males of proven English heritage, and usually self described evangelical Protestants,. And although most of the new candidates had never been active in politics or held public office before,  they won 61 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives that year. They elected a governor and all the other posts open that year in Massachusetts and Maine. They controlled the state legislatures in Pennsylvania and most of New England. They gained advantage in Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky and Tennessee by taking no position on slavery. This hurt them in the south, as did violence and murders in Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, St. Louis, Boston, New York, Columbus, Cincinnati and New Orleans. Still, the Know Nothings looked certain to capture the White House in 1856. And then came Bloody Monday in Louisville, Kentucky.
They held three elections in Louisville in 1855. On April 7th, voters threw out the incumbent mayor, who had converted to Catholicism, and elected a Know Nothing replacement and a majority on the city council. They followed this a month later by electing a Know Nothing majority of county court judges. Then the school board fired every Catholic teacher, save one. The Know Nothings were feeling both confident and paranoid - it was the nature of the party and the movement. Now another Know Nothing, Charles Morehead, was favored to win the governorship on yet another election, Monday August 6th. On the night before, 1,500 Know Nothings staged a torch light march through Catholic neighborhoods, warning them “to keep their elbows in” come morning.
Maybe no one other than Reuben Thomas Durrett (above) could have made the nation face the truth about the Know Nothings. Others wrote about it, but they lacked his resume. R.T., as he preferred to be known, was a defense attorney, and familiar with arguing unpopular causes. He was “intellectually and physically...a magnificent man.” More than that he was a poet, and a lover of truth and history. He had a 50,000 volume personal library. And 300 years earlier, his French Protestant ancestors had barely escaped the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre in France. So when the political spin machine tried to smother every honest voice in Louisville, it was R.T. who validated the reality. “To my mind,” he wrote, “the whole secret of the success of this disgraceful affair was...that the Know Nothing sympathizers were prepared and armed for the conflict...”
According to R.T., the thugs, hired as “special police”, formed a gauntlet in front of the polls. If a would-be voter were an immigrant from Germany or Ireland he was presumed to be Catholic, and was “... ordered by one of the bullies to leave...” And if he refused, “...he was attacked by the whole mob, severely beaten and driven away. If the man showed fight, his life was in great danger. “ Recently ousted Mayor James Speed watched the beatings on the courthouse front lawn from eight in the morning until six. “It was not fighting man to man, but as many as could fall upon a single Irishman or German and beat him with sticks or short clubs...” The clubs were specially made with lead weights in their tips, and mass produced. In the afternoon Speed was told 200 shotgun wielding “Germans” had captured a polling place. Speed knew this to be a fantasy and said so. But the informant, a judge, “replied with warmth showing that he believed it to be true.” About four in the afternoon, things went from bad to worse.
Two Louisville (above) Catholic activists, Theodore Rhodes and David Doughtery were warning everyone in their east side neighborhood on Main, to stay off the street. They stopped at Micheal O'Connor's grocery store, at the corner of 10th street and warned him to close. As they came out a Know Nothing ran up to them. Basil Rhodes, Theodore's father, standing in front of his home a block away, saw the man shoot his son dead. The gun shot drew Know Nothings from all directions, and it quickly became accepted that a Catholic had killed a Know Nothing. What followed was wholesale murder.
The worst of it was Quinn's Row, a block of 12 three story row houses along Main between 11th and 12th streets. Around eight that evening a Know Nothing mob set fire to a ground floor corner grocery run by a family named Long. Recorded a Catholic newspaper, “Seeking to escape...the wretched inhabitants reached the street only to meet death in another form. As soon as one appeared at a door he was fired at...” Mr. Long and two of his sons died that night, as did several of the residents of the upper floor apartments. “A number were taken off badly wounded, and others...returned to the burning houses, preferring rather to be burned than to meet the infuriated mob. One man escaped in woman’s clothes, was detected and shot. Another, who came out covered with a blanket, and, leaning on the arm of his wife, was torn away, and deliberately shot.”
While the first building was still raging, the feed store next door and its apartments went up, followed by a vacant house, then a tobacconist. Noted the newspaper, “How many of these miserable people thus caged in their own houses were burned alive there can be no computation.... Two men were hanged from their banisters of their own homes and also consumed in the flames.” In the last structure on the street, a rooming house, Patrick Quinn, who owned the entire block, was driven outside like the others. Recognized because of his investments around the city (and his brother, who was a priest) , he was singled out, beaten to death, and his corpse was thrown back into the fire.
The official version said that 22 people had been killed in the entire city on Bloody Monday It is much more likely that the number was at least 100. The death toll would have been higher but in the German district one of the first buildings looted was Armbruster's brewery. The rioters got so drunk they could only satisfy themselves with torching that building before passing out. The new Know Nothing Mayor, John Barbee, managed to save two Catholic Churches from the rioters, but no one was ever prosecuted for the murders, the beatings or the arson. In response the despised immigrants voted with their feet. Ten thousand left Louisville over the next few months, almost 25% of the cities' population. In the city left behind businesses failed, unemployment soared and city coffers dried up. Charles Morehead was easily elected governor. but it was the classic tale of “be careful what you wish for”.
Most of the Irish moved to Chicago. Typical was ex-Mayor Speed, who became active in Republican Party politics and served in the Lincoln administration. The Germans mostly moved to St. Louis and Milwaukee, and some to Kansas City, Kansas – ensuring that state would remain in the Union come the Civil War. It was that war which put the entire Know Nothing movement into perspective.
The Civil War made the Know Nothing agenda obsolete. Immigration was the great enemy in the eyes of Samuel Morse. But the actual cause of the war was the industrial revolution, and the refusal of one half of the nation to recognize mechanization had made human slavery obsolete. The mathematician Alfred Whitehead observed, “The major advances in civilization....all but wreck the societies in which they occur.” And in his book “War and Peace in the Global Village” Marshall McLuhan explains why that is so. “When one has been hurt by a new technology, when the private person or corporate body finds its entire identity endangered...it lashes back in a fury of self-defense...But... the symptom against which we lash out may be caused by something about which we know nothing.” McLuhan calls that symptom “Phantom Pain”, and compares it to the agony amputees report they feel in missing limbs.
Although America has institutionalized such cultural revolutions, and has succeeded by taking advantage of them in the past, that does not make our politics, and did not make the politics of our ancestors, any easier to live with. Politics are never a solution. Politics are only another symptom.
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IDES OF MARCH AWARD - 2014

I greet you on this The Ides of March 2014, memorializing the day 2,057 years ago when the top one percent of Roman politicians imposed terminal term limits upon Julius Caesar. On this day each year I award some deserving political hack the PUNishment of the odious “Knife-in-the-Back” plaque for his or her ineptitude and arrogance during the preceding 12 months. Recent winners have included New York Democratic Governor Elliot (Ho-No!) Spritzer, Illinois Democratic Governor Rod (The Sleaze) Blagoevich, the Big Giant Republican Head from Dunwoody, Georgia, Newton Leroy “Newt” Gingrich, and the bumbling cat herder from Ohio, the Republican Tan-Man Crier of the House, John Andrew Boehner.
Since Richard Nixon (Republican winner emeritus, 1973-74) it has been axiomatic that any politician who must assure voters that “I am not a crook”, is, and any forced to insist “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”, in fact, did. This year's winner s sought to reassure his state's voters, “I am not a bully”. Our political putz of 2014 is that arrogant bully builder of a political bridge to nowhere, the Jersey lane hog, the donut-tello from Soprano country, the EZ Pass troll, the narcissist from Newark, the Luca Brasi of the weigh station, fifty-one year old Governor Christopher James "Chris" Christie.
Has there ever been a political reversal of fortune as rapid and as absolute as the one just experienced by Chris Christie?...One minute, he was releasing jokey vanity videos starring Alec Baldwin and assorted celebrity pals; the next, he was being ridiculed by his lifelong idol, Bruce Springsteen...a liar, a bully, a buffoon....”
Alec MaCgillis - 12 February, 2014 “The New Republic”
In the day we sweat it out on the streets, stuck in traffic on the GWB
They shut down the tollbooths of glory 'cause we didn't endorse Christie
The Irish/Italian Chistie first won the governorship by less than four percentage points, but within weeks of his January 2010 inauguration he assumed the mantle of a mandate, overseeing the unprecedented quashing of a 43 count criminal indictment of two prominent supporters. The three prosecutors who had obtained the indictments were permanently parked. Governor Christie had taken the off ramp to partisan-ville, and there was now something rotund and rotten in the state of Jersey.
"Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”
Peter Clemenza
Shortly thereafter, Christie began a four year long argument with the senate that left the state supreme court short one justice Then, on 12 August 2013, Christie announced he had such truss issues he was withdrawing the re-nomination of a conservative justice because he did not want to expose her “to the animals.” At 7:35 the next morning, Christie's deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly emailed David Wildstein, a Christie appointee at the Port Authority for New York and New Jersey. The email read “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Wildstein's email reply simply said, “Got it”.
Sure he’s a bully. But he’s OUR bully. Yes, his manner and demeanor can be brash, strident, even gloating. But those very traits are also what many of us have come to like about him.”
Fran Wood, columnist Star Ledger, 6 January 2013
The Newark Star Ledger called Christie's half of the Port Authority a “patronage mill”, because he had appointed more supporters than the previous four New Jersey governors combined. Two of those new hires were Chairman David Samson and David Wildstein. According to the Bergen Record, Wildstein's real job was to be Christie's “eyes and ears”, imposing “strict adherence to the Christie agenda”. And as Elizabeth Kolbert noted in the New Yorker, “By September 2013...top-level Christie appointees were barely speaking to their colleagues from across the Hudson.”
On many occasions I heard (Wildstein) say (he had) only one constituent: Chris Christie, said a former official.”
Steve Strunsky, The Star-Ledger, 5 February 2014
Email Chains, Lanes and Automobiles: The GWB is a one mile long double decked, 14-lane suspension bridge that collects $1 million a day in tolls from 150, 000 vehicles crossing between New Jersey and 177/178 streets in Manhattan. More than 10,000 vehicles an hour use the four toll lanes at Fort Lee alone during the morning rush. On Friday 6 September Wildstein ordered Robert Durando, director of the GWB, to close three of those lanes beginning Monday morning. He also ordered the action remain secret from Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye, who had been appointed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo Wildstein did update Bridget Kelly in an email that Saturday: “I will call you Monday AM to let you know how Fort Lee goes.”
I have always said about Governor Chris Christie; if there is one thing he’s good at it is clogging major arteries...There are skeletons in his closet. Of cows.”
Bill Maher Real Time
The cones went up before five Monday morning, 9 September, and almost immediately all of Fort Lee was suffering from carpool funnel syndrome, with 600 vehicle traffic jams on every street. At 8:32 am a 911 call to Fort Lee EMS reported a 91 year old widow, Florence Genova, was in cardiac arrest in her home on Harvard Place. The coordinator of EMS services complained, “Paramedics were delayed due to heavy traffic...and had to meet the ambulance en-route to the hospital instead of on the scene”. Later that day Florence died at Englewood Hospital. Fort Lee mayor Mark Sokolich began to complain before 9:30 am., and added late in the day that Authority police were “advising commuters... (this) is the result of a decision that I, as the Mayor, recently made.” It was a lie.
Cunnilingus and psychiatry brought us to this”
Tony Soprano
Word finally filtered up to Executive Director Patrick Foye who, at 7:44 am on Friday, 13 September, ordered the lanes reopened. Foye warned, “"I will get to the bottom of this abusive decision which violates everything this agency stands for...” Foye need not have worried because of the forty three thousand commuters and 35,000 residents of Fort Lee being punished over those four days, were a couple of editors for the Wall Street Journal, who sent reporters to find out why they had been inconvenienced.
Mr. Christie, a Republican, complained in a private phone call to (NY Governor) Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, that Patrick Foye, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was pressing too hard to get to the bottom of why the number of toll lanes onto the bridge from Fort Lee, N.J. was cut from four to one in early September.”
Wall Street Journal, 12 December 2013
In May of 1972 a Gallup Poll found President Richard Nixon led his probable Democratic opponent by twenty percentage points. The following month, five men working for the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP) were caught inside the Democratic Party National Headquarters. Forty years later, the only remaining unanswered question about Watergate is why, given Nixon's comfortable lead, the risky “plumbers op” was even considered
Christie did not have sexual relations with that bridge.”
Ann Coulter - tweet
In the monthly Quinpac polls during his 2013 re-election campaign, Christie's popularity never fell below 57% Two months before the October election, on September 9, 2013, traffic cones blocking two of the three access lanes to the George Washington Bridge went up in Fort Lee. The following month, Christie won re-election as Governor by twenty-two percentage points. Seven months later, post his bridge over troubled waters, and with a Rutgers-Eagleton poll showing his popularity down 19 points to just 46%, the central unanswered question is why such an arrogant frat boy prank was even considered.
I didn’t even know Fort Lee got three dedicated lanes until all this stuff happened, and I think we should review that entire policy ’cause I don’t really know why Fort Lee needs three dedicated lanes, to tell you the truth.”
Governor Christie. Press Conference in Trenton, N.J., 2 December, 2013.
We do not have to give each other assurances as if we were lawyers.”
Emilio Barzini The Godfather
It is possible that he knew nothing, nothing, nothing. But it does seem a little bit like a coach claiming he never could keep all those players’ numbers straight. And Christie’s political quarterback...turns out to have formerly worked on Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign. What kind of resume is that? And the lawyer Christie hired to represent him during the ongoing bridge investigation used to be Giuliani’s mayoral chief of staff. And now that we think of it, the congressman who threatened to throw the reporter over the balcony was a Giuliani favorite. Can we work out a conspiracy theory in which everything terrible that’s happened in New York or New Jersey politics is Rudy Giuliani’s fault?
Let the games begin.”
Gail Collins New York Times 31 January 2013
"If you ask me, Christie is almost dead but too stubborn to lie down."
Rick Wilson, Republican strategist  7 February, 2014 "Politico" 
"Chris Christie has been the front runner—but even before the traffic scandal, he was not far out front. And his response to the scandal is highlighting his most troubling trait, which is not bullying but impulsiveness.
Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor National Review  7 February, 2014  "Politico":
"If this charge proves true, then the governor must resign or be impeached. Because that would leave him so drained of credibility that he could not possibly govern effectively. He would owe it to the people of New Jersey to stop the bleeding and quit. And if he should refuse, then the Legislature should open impeachment hearings...By the governor's own standard, lying is a firing offense."
Newark Star-Ledger Editorial   31 January, 2014 
"The problem with Christie isn’t merely that he is a bully. It’s that his political career is built on a rotten foundation... He wasn’t out to line his own pockets, or build a business empire. He wasn’t even seeking to advance a partisan agenda..Christie used a corrupt system to expand his own power and burnish his own image, and he did it so artfully that he nearly came within striking distance of the White House...It was one of the most effective optical illusions in American politics—until it wasn’t."
Alec MacGillis  12 February, 2014  "The New Republic".
Only time will tell what the Federal Attorney for New Jersey will do with whatever information he uncovers, or how far the Democratic legislature will push their investigation. But as in most scandals, it is the cover up that seems to be falling apart first. We may never have proof that Christie ordered, or even pre-approved the closing of the bridge lanes in Fort Lee. But it is already abundantly clear it was an arrogant, stupid, vulgar and unnecessary act . And that story line fits the new image of Chris Christie. Christie is a bully and a thug. He built that image, he nurtured it himself, and perfected it himself. And he has no one to blame for it, but himself. He has exploded his own political career, plunging the knife into his own back. So bully for you, Governor Christie, would be Republican Presidential candidate in 2016, and deserving winner of  the Ides of March Knife in the Back Plaque for 2014 -   "Veni, Vidi, Verecundia", baby.
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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

END OF THE WORLD...AGAIN


I believe the world ended on 5 April, 1761. If you haven't heard of this tragic event, well, your ancestors were just not paying attention. In a world  that where most people still believed in the literal history of a real Adam and Eve, a certain William Bell, trooper in the Life guards horse cavalry, went about London, telling everyone and anyone who would listen that doomsday was nigh. And on the date predicted thousands, perhaps  tens of thousands of people listened and believed him. And what was amazing was that Corporal Bell was right. The world did end on that Sunday. But  Corporal Bell was right for the wrong reasons. And the reason made all the difference. 
February 8, 1761 dawned cold, as was to be expected in a world still in the grip of “The Little Ice Age”. Most winters the Thames froze over allowing people to cross the ice. And the great city was chocking on her own coal smoke to keep warm. This Sunday The “Picadilly Butchers”, as the members of the Life Guards Household Cavalry were called, were gathering for their parade, set then, as now, for 11:30 A.M.Then, from Greenwich below London on the south bank, to Richmond, on the upstream north shore, the entire Thames valley shuddered. In Hampstead and Highgate houses shook. Among the ship construction ways in Limehouse the chandler’s tools were vibrated off their frames.In the tiny village of Poplar across from the Isle of Dogs in the great bend of the Thames River, chimneys were shaken apart, their bricks crashing to the ground. In ‘The City’ itself pewter keepsakes slipped off mantles and chairs were upended. It was over in a few seconds. The dust settled. Nerves calmed. Normality returned.
On Sunday, March 8, 1761, between five and six on in the morning, the Thames valley shuddered again. This time the shaking was stronger and lasted longer, roiling from north to south and back again.
In St. James Park a section of an abandoned canal in the private gardens behind Buckingham House (above) collapsed. In the churches of London, words of reassurance offered after the first quake, now fell on deaf ears.Reason and logic were forgotten. All that people could think of was their fear. Panicked, the richest and poorest citizens of central London both ran from their beds at the slightest suggestion of another quake, convinced their homes were about to collapse around their heads, as some already had.But the most well known collapse caused by the twin London earthquakes of 1761 was the collapse of sanity in the person of William Bell. He was one of the “Tinned Fruit”, aka a “Picadilly Butcher", a corporal in the Household Cavalry. And he became convinced that the shaking of 8 February (the second Sunday in the month) and 8 March (the second Sunday in that month), would be followed by a truly catastrophic shaker on the second Sunday in April - the twelfth.
Bell, in his mind,  saw the earth split open. The mighty Thames River boiled and roiled. The bridges cracked and fell. The fires of damnation burst forth from the bowels of the earth. Sinners and Saints were cowed before the angels of the Lord. Spirits of the dead rose up. And the earth was laid bare, swept clean of the sins and works of man. Corporal Bell's visions became so intense and detailed, that he began to share them with any and all who would listen. He related them with such passion that Bell's visions took hold of the entire city like a fever.
Charles Mackay’s excellent book, “Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds” (Harmony Books – 1843) records that, “…all the villages within a circuit of twenty miles …(were) crowded with panic-stricken fugitives, who paid exorbitant prices for accommodation to the housekeepers of these secure retreats. Such as could not afford to pay for lodgings at any of those places, remained in London until two or three days before the time, and then encamped in the surrounding fields…...and hundreds who had laughed at the prediction a week before, packed up their goods, when they saw others doing so, and hastened away. The river was thought to be a place of great security, and all the merchant-vessels in the port were filled with people, who passed the night between the 4th and 5th on board, expecting every instant to see St. Paul’s totter, and the towers of Westminster Abby rock in the wind and fall amid a cloud of dust.”One enterprising chemist even advertised pills which he claimed to be “good against earthquakes”, although exactly how the pills proposed to save the swallower, was never fully explained.Needless to say, the world did not end on Sunday April 12, 1761, at least not in the way Corporal Bell had anticipated. As Mackay recorded, “The greater part of the fugitives returned on the following day, convinced that the prophet was a false one; but many judged it more prudent to allow a week to elapse before they trusted their dear limbs in London.”Corporal Bell became a man scorned, a repository for all those angry with themselves for having believed his prediction. And although he tried his hand at other doomsday prognostications, Corporal Bell was confined for some months in an insane asylum, probably, in part, for his own protection. Edward W. Brayley recorded in his book “Londoninania” (Hurst, Chance and Company – 1829) that Bell “…afterward kept a hosier’s shop in Holborn Hill during many years, and …retired to the neighborhood of Edgeware where he died a few years ago”.Some things did change because of the twin quakes. His royal highness King George II picked up the damaged Buckingham House at a bargain price.He kept the gardens but filled in the collapsed canal behind the structure and turned it into the Parade for the Household Cavalry. He renamed the residence “The Queen’s House”, but over the years, as additional wings were added, the old name returned and it became known as “Buckingham Palace”.The channel between the Isle of Dogs and the hamlet of Poplar was bridged at two points and eventually the inside of the bend in the Themes became the East End of London (above). But something more fundamental had changed with the Earthquakes of 1761, and while the superstitions of William Bell were largely forgotten, another man was inspired to a vision which indeed gave birth to a new world.His name was James Hutton. He was an ugly little man with a great big brain who was trained as a lawyer, a chemist, a doctor of Medicine, a businessman, and late in his life, a farmer. But the earthquakes of 1761 had awakened his curiosity as to what had caused them.He had already come to the observation that the forces of erosion he saw on his farm, (streams and rivers, wind and rain) must be have been working in the time of Adam and Eve. But how long ago was that? Hutton did not know - nobody did -  but Hutton was curious and sure enough of his God given brain to believe that he could understand the process. He allowed the idea to percolate in his mind until 1788, when he went sightseeing with the mathematician John Playfair. And while walking at the cliff edge at Siccar Point in Scotland, Hutton saw a single formation of rock that utterly lifted the veil of superstition from his eyes.There, in front of Hutton (above), was a bed of schistus, (to the right) thrusting up vertically from below. And sitting directly on top of this was a bed of sandstone, (left side of picture) lying in opposition to the schist. The junction point between the two kinds of rocks came to be called an “Angular Unconformity.” They were different kinds of rock and they could not have been formed in the same place or the same time, or even close to each other in time or place. Something between them must be missing; that something was the unconformity.Sandstone is produced by compressing desert or beach sand under tons of more dessert sand or other rocks. Any water present will chemically alter the rock, so we know this particular sandstone had to be formed when England was at the same latitude as the Sierra Desert is today, and looked very similar.The schist was created by lava cooling deep under water, then reheating the rock almost to the melting point and letting it to cool, still under pressure but without the presence of liquid water. Each of these processes takes millions of years by themselves. But the schist must form in the presence of water, and the sand in the absence of water. So the missing layers at the angular junction of the two beds was like the missing pages in a book, missing pages that must tell a story of mountains perhaps rising and wearing down to nothing, of seas and river valleys  filling in and closing. Those millions of years whose record has been destroyed; between the crystals of the schist and the grains of the sandstone.The Angular Unconformity that Hutton stood over that day demanded an untold millions of years, and hinted at why earthquakes happen in England -  not because God is seeking to destroy a sinful humanity, but because that is how God made the world, with earthquakes, one after another, millions of them over four billion years. 
And how she is remaking it every day, out of the remains of the day before, a single grain of sand and a single crystal of schist at a time - the same way our minds were formed, and out of the same stuff. It is a world without end, because everything in it is reused, time and time again, Even us. Even time.
- 30 -

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