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July 4, 2007
Today at 2pm Eastern time: ring your church's bell, if you have a church. Ring it thirteen times, one for each of the original thirteen American colonies.

Our beautiful and varied land is as old as anyone else's, but our nation is quite new -- not even 250 years old yet. A nation declared, in 1776, and then designed by an argumentative group of men from each of the 13 very different colonies, in an act that seemed not at all certain of success at the outset. Today the BBC was telling us about a movement to create a United States of Africa, and one or two speakers came on air to scoff at the very idea. I am not so sure.

Throughout the world, the political order never stays the same forever. Scattered city-states band together into nations. Representative governments replace and alter monarchies. Kings thought to be gods give way to presidents and prime ministers who are all too human. A political system based upon the idea that the state will wither away becomes itself the most totalitarian of all, and then curiously dissolves into a push-me-pull-you of competing business interests and party conformity. And beneath it all, the economics change, too, feudal loyalties left in the dust as currency replaces every product it symbolizes, itself becoming a product, portable and mobile, counted out upon the table in the 18th century or sent through the ether in our own.

I look out onto the street from my office window. It called Middlesex Avenue here, the Lincoln Highway elsewhere along its length, and is part of what would become the first transcontinental highway. Mostof the colonial milestones are gone, but some are still here, worn down by the wind and the acid rain. This road wasn't much in the 18th century: a sleepy road, muddy in the spring, along which the houses sat with their doorways opening right onto the street. Now the cars whiz back and forth, a steady sound that takes some initial getting used to. Then, it was the clip-clop of the occasional horse, the creak and rattle of a coach passing by.

And of course, the steady tread of marching soldiers. Right here, right along this street outside my window.
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