Over the finish line at long last

It’s been a long time coming, but these two stories note how it panned out over the last 24 hours. The first reference is ABC News and the second is from Go Gentle Australia.

A race against time as Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill faces long list of amendments in the NSW upper house, By Ursula Malone. ABC News, Wednesday 18 May 2022 

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-05-18/voluntary-assisted-dying-third-reading/101075382

Independent MP Alex Greenwich says he is hopeful his Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill will be passed by the NSW upper house by midnight tonight and is pleading with MPs to not use stalling tactics.

Key points:

  • The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill will have its third reading in the NSW upper house today
  • Around 100 amendments have been listed for debate
  • The upper house has set aside time until midnight tonight 

More than 100 amendments will need to be dealt with as the Legislative Council holds a third reading of the bill, which was passed in the lower house in November last year by 52 votes to 32.

The upper house has until midnight to debate and vote on the proposed legislation.

“I hope members of the upper house respect the mandate the lower house has provided them with and respect the will of the people of NSW to pass this bill and I hope that time is not wasted,” Mr Greenwich said.

“Not only will that be disrespectful to the parliament but what it really does is prolong the unnecessarily cruel and painful deaths of some people with advanced terminal illness.”

Mr Greenwich said he would be in the chamber to watch what he hoped would be a “robust and respectful debate”.

But he is fearful that opponents of the bill will purposely try to extend the debate so that the house runs out of time.

“It’s a bit late now to be lobbing in hundreds of amendments when the parliament has had this bill for the past 12 months,” he said.  

“I would ask you to focus on the people this reform is for rather than the politics of delay.”

Politicians from both major parties have been given a conscience vote on the bill.

NSW is the only state yet to pass legislation to allow Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD).

“People with advanced and cruel terminal illness in NSW deserve the same end of life chance as in every other state,” Mr Greenwich said.

………………………………………..

NSW makes history, passes Voluntary Assisted Dying law

At last! After 50 years of tireless advocacy, the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2021 has passed NSW Parliament.

The Lower House voted the Bill into law after the Upper House also approved the Bill with just a handful of amendments.

This is a revolution in end-of-life care, and an evolution in compassion.

Terminally ill people in NSW finally have a choice not to suffer – like Australians in every other state.

The law will come into effect in 18 months time.

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We can learn from older ways that haven’t died out

When it seems like we are stuck with the same old same old ways, it’s good to find that not far to our north we have traditions that are still being practiced and getting some attention.

In this story: What the extraordinary funeral rituals of Tana Toraja and Trunyan in Indonesia can teach us about living a better life, by Smriti Daniel (ABC RN,  for Return Ticket, Sat 14 May 2022) we get to learn about another culture that doesn’t hide from death.

A new definition of death

It is no surprise that this place drew in Paul Koudounaris, a photographer with a PhD in art history and three books – The Empire of Death, Heavenly Bodies and Memento Mori – under his belt.

Koudounaris has many years of experience documenting sacred human remains as well as photographing buildings and vaults as well as smaller rooms and even wells and containers where human remains are stored.

In places like Trunyan, he sees the boundaries between the dead and the living stretch and blur. The space between is where he goes to grasp what death actually means.

“I finally just understood death as a border between two potential socialised groups, the living and the dead,” he explains.

In much of the Western world, in which he includes Australia, the United States and most of Europe, Koudounaris sees many “hard”, wall-like boundaries. To try to transgress that wall, to interact with the dead, is considered perverse or unnatural.

“The funny thing about that is if you look cross-culturally and if you look historically, it’s always been the exact opposite,” he says.

“If you look at most cultures in the world still to this day outside the West, if you look at the way Europe used to be, if you look at most ancient cultures, you’ll find that they always had a very soft boundary.

“The living and the dead were encouraged to interact. That’s what we’re seeing in Indonesia, for instance; we’re seeing this invitation to cross the border to interact with these people who have passed on.”

A family feeling

This soft boundary is also evident in Tana Toraja, in the Indonesian province of South Sulawesi.

The first time he visited the region in 2016, photojournalist Putu Sayoga took an eight-hour bus ride to the small town of Rantepao, the capital of North Toraja, before switching to a motorbike for the last hour and a half.

Says Koudounaris: “We’ve invented this stigma around death – that we have to be very formal around the dead – but they [the locals] don’t necessarily see it that way. They enjoy the interaction and they like seeing us interact as well. It is just a very different relationship.”

Funerals comfort the living

Koudounaris hasn’t spent any time planning his own funeral — he believes those are meant to comfort the living.

Read the full story here … What funeral rituals can teach us

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Facing the future

In the end-of-life and funeral space, there is always the possibility of being boxed in and limited, such that we don’t bring to the table the rich diversity of life’s offerings.

Over the years we tried to keep the subject matter somewhat narrow, so as not to digress into economics or media or transport or community planning or vegie gardening. But life in fact embraces all these things and much more. Since we aren’t dead, each of these play a part in how we live to the end. So over the next year or so we’ll expand the horizon to be more inclusive of the bigger picture.

For this post we offer a couple of thought provoking pieces by John O’Donohue., the first written for his mother, Josie …

Beannacht / Blessing

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets into you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green
and azure blue,
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

John O’Donohue,
from Echoes of Memory (Transworld Publishing, 2010) reproduced by permission of the author’s Estate.

For Equilibrium, a Blessing:

Like the joy of the sea coming home to shore,
May the relief of laughter rinse through your soul.

As the wind loves to call things to dance,
May your gravity by lightened by grace.

Like the dignity of moonlight restoring the earth,
May your thoughts incline with reverence and respect.

As water takes whatever shape it is in,
So free may you be about who you become.

As silence smiles on the other side of what’s said,
May your sense of irony bring perspective.

As time remains free of all that it frames,
May your mind stay clear of all it names.

May your prayer of listening deepen enough
to hear in the depths the laughter of god.”

― John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings

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More choice, but not in Australia

When it comes to dying and death within the world of animals, it’s a matter of carcass decomposition at the spot where body finally keels over – to be blunt about it -and nature begins to reintegrate it back into the soil, or water, in the case of marine life.

It’s only the human species has interrupted this natural cycle by boxing up bodies and burying them in holes we call graves. The introduction of cremation added one other choice, but that’s been about it for a long while.

The ecological costs of this intervention are considerable to put it mildly. In fact the Earthly costs are huge, which has led to innovation to the point where there are now a few other options, mainly in the US, but one day perhaps also Australia. This post outlines a couple of approaches currently on offer, both of them use composting of the body. The names are more about proprietary difference, but the principles are the same. Both use the descriptive term Natural Reduction. One is called Chrysalis, the other Terramation.

Chrysalis

Body Composting (Natural Reduction) is our newest ecological offering to families who care about leaving the earth with a gentle, loving touch. This simple method of Body Composting transforms human remains into soil. Our process occurs in a vessel that is safely sheltered in an environmentally-controlled facility.

PICTURE: Seth Viddal, who co-owns The Natural Funeral, stands behind a nearly completed human body composting vessel in Arvada, Colo. On Sept. 7, Colorado became the second state after Washington to allow human body composting, and Oregon will allow the practice beginning next July. The vessel will be packed with wood chips and straw and will be able to compost a body in six months. About the size of a standard grave, the rectangular insulated wooden box is lined with waterproof roofing material and packed with wood chips and straw. Two large spool wheels on either end allow it to be rolled across the floor, providing the oxygenation, agitation and absorption required for a body to compost. (AP Photo/Thomas Peipert) August 11, 2021

Over the course of a few months, natural microbial activity converts the body into a rich, organic, life-giving soil. The temperature in the vessel naturally rises during the Body Composting process. This sterilizes and stabilizes the contents as the conversion takes place.

Once the reduction process is complete, about a cubic yard of soil remains. We can return this to families or donate it to farms.

The Natural Funeral actively supported the introduction of legislation to legalize Body Composting, which became legal in 2021. We are the first Colorado funeral provider to offer this service through our own Body Composting (Natural Reduction) system, in the Chrysalis.

Terramation

Composting is the natural process of decomposition. It turns organic materials into a natural, nutrient-rich matter than can be returned to the earth. You may have heard of composting food scraps such as vegetables, eggshells, and coffee grounds to keep waste out of the landfill. And maybe you even have your own kitchen compost bin. But have you heard of human composting?

Many of us don’t usually think about what happens after we die. But in this week’s episode of Good Together, Laura Wittig speaks with Katey Houston, Service Manager at Return Home, and Brie Smith, Services Director at Return Home, to understand the environmental impact of dying—and how we can mitigate the impact.

Return Home is the world’s first large-scale green funeral business that specialises in human composting. And Houston and Smith, both licensed funeral directors and embalmers, say human composting could make the “deathcare” industry more environmentally friendly than traditional methods, including cremation.

“We know that cremation uses about 30 gallons of fuel, which is enough to drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco and back,” Katey Houston, Service Manager at Return Home says. “And it puts everything that was good in your body up into the atmosphere as greenhouse gases.”

PICTURE: The Terramation process is a commercial body composting product available in some USA states.

The traditional burial method is also harmful to the environment because it uses a lot of natural resources and chemicals. Specifically, the embalming process—or the process of preserving human remains using chemicals—can release toxins into the soil. Embalming prevents natural decomposition, and while Smith says some embalming may be necessary, there’s still a time and a place for it.

“We know about traditional burial that each year, about 20 million feet of wood, and 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete are all put into the earth as we separate people between layers and layers of these materials,” Smith adds. “And they never really decompose and give any organic matter back to the earth.”

However, human composting may be the solution to decreasing our carbon footprints after death, offering a sustainable and ethical alternative to burial and cremation.

We gently transform human remains into life-giving soil using a process we call Terramation, also known as human composting. This allows families to travel the journey of grief at their heart’s pace, and empowers them to make meaningful end-of-life decisions that give back to our planet. Your loved one is wonderfully unique, and it’s our privilege to care for them.

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In praise of prose

There’s something about words that rhyme that seems to give them extra meaning. So here’s an offering to get the month of April underway. Four verses of four lines each …

The Joys of Living

Taking the time to smell the flowers,
Counting smiles instead of hours,
Delighting in the simplest things,
Letting all your thought have wings.

Feeling peaceful deep inside,
Facing everything in stride,
Balancing both work and play,
Learning all along the way.

Moving towards a dream or goal,
Nurturing your heart and soul,
Understanding true success,
Choosing love and happiness.

Showing others that you care,
Finding beauty everywhere,
Knowing all you gain in giving –
Welcome to the joys of living.

Emily Matthews.

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We never know when the last minute might crop up

This is a story about perception, about the story in our heads as it relates to our funeral narrative .. who owns the funeral space? Who is in charge when we’re gone? Is what we believe to be our funeral, realistic when we aren’t there to keep an eye on it – to orchestrate it? All things considered, maybe we need to admit that our funeral is their funeral also. Let’s not be in denial, let’s be proactive and considerate of those who come after our eventful lifetimes, such that the remainder of their lifetimes is not made any more complicated than it needs to be.

Taking the time to record our funeral preferences is a gift of love to family and friends. It doesn’t have to be onerous.

Arranging a funeral is not rocket science, but it can become needlessly stressful, if the person ‘doing-the- arranging’ doesn’t know what the person ‘doing-the-dying’, and is now dead, wanted.

Sure as eggs, sure as day follows night, we will all die one day.

There’s no doubt about that, so why not make it easier on those left behind? Why not begin today, as the old saying goes, by writing a list of your funeral essentials.  I am bent on having this; I’d prefer not that. Sometimes it’s easier to explain what we do care about, by starting off with what we don’t. By a process of elimination, we end up with our preferred options.  That boils down to agreeing that, in the first instance, some basic planning is a good idea. More than that. Experience tells us, it’s important.

Since we have a choice, would you prefer to be buried, cremated or do you have an unusual wish for the disposal of your bodily remains? Does this come down to a price thing, or an environmental thing? What drives this choice over another? 

Do you want a simple or elaborate coffin?  Flowers or some other floral arrangement or non at all?

Do you have a preference for who might do the arranging in addition to the family member or friend.  In other words, the company that the family might employ?

The same goes for how we’d like to be remembered. By way of a service such as a church service, and if so, what sort of service?  Or maybe we think it should be what the funeral industry people call a NSNA – No Service, No Attendance – in other words no one turns up?  But that might not be what others think.  Remember the title of this piece is ‘how your funeral is, not your funeral’.  Family and friends might think it’s important for them to get together and celebrate or reflect on a life well lived. 

Expanding on this. It’s not about us, it’s about how others deal with the ‘non-presence’ of the person who until a few days before had been ‘present’ in their lives and is no longer answering the phone or answering the door, welcoming visitors, or in this day and age, visible on the screen of a mobile phone or tablet or computer screen. In other words we’ve shifted from being in ‘present’ column to the ‘absent’ column. For them it’s not the same and they’d like to have a yarn about it.  It’s all a part of letting go and moving on. Before being so adamant about a nothing funeral. Just think about it. 

At this very moment – this being written in early March 2022 – people are dying in very difficult circumstances in the Ukraine, in a war not of their making.  How these things are processed matters, since it is about how we tell the stories, that help us mentally deal with trauma and manage the grief and put into words the thoughts that muddle our minds and prevent us from sleeping at night.  We need to do this, so that we are not haunted by death, that we know happens, but not able to control the circumstances of the happening.  It’s said that: the time of our dying is always the right time.  Well this can be hard to process when we have no or little say in the timing due to the actions of others, in this case the leader of another country.  It’s totally out of our control.   Not so overwhelming, not as terrible as a war, it might be a car crash, caused by another person. Nothing is as simple as it seems, when it comes to this dying business. Which, by the way, has become a huge multi-million dollar business largely because we have passed the arranging over to strangers in a shop front or a fancy office, they call a home, but is nothing of the sort.

Some say it can be made easier for those left behind, if we prepay.  That is, buy a pre-arranged funeral plan. This is not always the case.  The family needs to know that it has been organised and there can be additional costs, so it’s not necessarily as convenient and straight forward, as the industry makes out.

Importantly, make sure that your wishes fit within your budget or your family’s capacity to pay.  The best way to deal with the money side of a funeral, is to have ones bank balance sufficiently in credit that it can pay for all the necessaries, listed / included in this plan. There’s no sense going into debt over a funeral.  There are many examples of families who have arranged and conducted respectful, dignified funerals with little expense.  Family arranged funeral are more common than people think.

The best course of action is to pre-think and pre-plan your funeral such that it is for all intents and purposes pre-arranged.  Consider it time well spent and money well saved, so much so that you could ‘ear-tag’ an equivalent amount of money now quarantined for your / our funeral.  Another job ticked off.  Rest easy.  Sleep well.  A bonus is the message it sends to family that this is doable and well within our skill set.  It should be considered a burden lifted off the shoulders of those remaining and a gift of love to the relos. You could even go so far and make it a good news story in the eulogy that’s delivered during the memorial service or wake, depending on what eventuates. 

Back to the arranging.  This will need to include your / our personal information for registration purposes with Births, Deaths and Marriages.  Also required is a certified copy of the death certificate available from the doctor who confirmed the death.  Apart from name, date and place of birth, the registration requires information about a partner – if you were married or where in some permanent relationship- children and your parents.  All part of verifying who we are.  It’s best to get all this information together now rather than leave it to the last minute, because we never know when the last minute might crop up.

Your / our funeral and the lead up to it, can be stressful enough without having to collect all this rather ordinary information for the sake of form filling.  We can make it easier on everyone involved by doing this little bit of pre-planning, now, rather than leaving it to others, later.  They’ll have enough on their minds – or an old saying: enough on their plates – so why burden them with these things.

As we say, it might be your funeral, but it’s theirs too.

Reference for this story: How your funeral is not your funeral: The Voice, CPSA-NSW, February 2022.

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Mortal coil – the chaos and confusion of life

The books just keep on coming. For a subject that many people shy away from, it attracts a lot of literary work and this new book is a worthy addition to those already on offer.

PICTURE: Book cover

With a somewhat ambitious title: This Mortal Coil: A History of Death, this book delves into the how we’ve arrived at that point in history where we live longer, but not necessarily as accepting and comfortable with death as our ancestors. Even though the dictionary notes that ‘mortal coil’ refers to the chaos and confusion of life, many would claim they’ve life sorted and thinking about – let alone planning for – death in any way shape or form is to be avoided and put off. We don’t think this is good for us nor healthy mentally, since it comes with far too many consequences of an unhelpful kind – that if faced up to them, would make life much better for us all.

Author Andrew Doig is professor of biochemistry at the University of Manchester (UK). He keeps the subject manageable by focusing on death as a scientific phenomenon, while not losing sight of what it means for us ordinary mortals and society at large.

Nothing much has changed across the centuries – how we live, to a large extent determines how we die. In the medieval world for example it was plagues, famines and wars that were the most common causes of death. Fast forward to today, it’s heart disease, stroke and cancer.

Doig notes that medical breakthroughs in understanding and treatment of disease, sanitation and nutrition have done wonders to keep the mortal body bouncing along way past those young years. It’s not uncommon for people to live into their 70s and beyond, but and it’s a big but, inequalities in living standards remain a major concern.

Even within societies that have so-called healthier citizens, supposedly due to higher standards of health care, there can be what others would call sub-standard diets that lead to painful dying experience, not only for the dying, but also for families and friends. This is a controllable aspect that many choose to ignore, placing unnecessary stresses on the health system.

How death comes to us all, at whatever time of our lives, that’s what this book deals with.

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Gratitude and thankfulness are good for the soul

At times of loss and grief it can help us rebalance with some tried and true ways of dealing with these situations.

There’s nothing magical or mysterious about them. And whereas we would once have said they are common sense, the science now backs them up as being good for us.

To have a sense of gratitude and thankfulness as a standard part of who we are, can go a long way to warding off extreme bouts of the blues and feelings of depression.

Sana Qadar, All in the Mind presenter, ABC Radio National

In this program of All in the Mind (ABC RN, Sun 5 Dec 2021), presenter Sana Qadar, introduces two guests … Dr Kerry Howells – Researcher; Author, Untangling You: How Can I Be Grateful When I Feel So Resentful? and Dr John Malouff, Associate Professor of Psychology, University of New England.

The amplification of gratitude, helps to make the good more positive than the bad, which for many people is the default state of mind they live with. To amplify gratitude and be aware of the benefits that can come from being grateful, demonstrates how much we need of a cycle of gratitude to be ever present. Not only present in our private thinking but also to express appreciation, where we hear ourselves saying how much we appreciate the good and the beautiful in other people and of mother earth who is the source of our lives

In fact getting out into nature and having a sense of gratitude for the wonders of the natural world does us the world of good, mentally and physically.

Listen to the program here: All in the Mind – Gratitude

Hands of woman writing letter.
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You don’t need to have a hearse or a church or hire a funeral director

This is the kind of story we like to feature at Die-alogue Cafe. It fits with our way of thinking about doing end of life events right down to the shroud and the natural burial ground site.

This is the story of John Reid who died at home surrounded by family on 16 September 2021. Loved and cherished by many his memory will endure for all the right reasons.

The hand made coffin on the hand built hand drawn cart

His body was wrapped in a shroud sourced by a family member – Wendy – decorated by family members then placed on a cart built by a friend Jamie (?) Friday

The cart with John on board was walked along a creek for two hours before being laid to rest in a natural burial grave site at a local cemetery. Covered with flowers, when filled in the grave area was planted out with tree seedlings in memory of a man who loved nature and the bush.

A mighty long loaf of locally crafted bread made in the Redbeard Historic Bakery, Trentham, Victoria

John Reid was owner and operator of a well know bakery in Trentham, Victoria, (Australia) where the staff baked this enormous loaf of bread to be served at the celebration for John after the funeral.

What a story to pass on the family and friends. You can watch the funeral that was broadcast on YouTube at this link: John Reid on Living It Live

Continue reading
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Economic growth as if it can go on forever on a finite planet

You’ve got to be kidding.

The obsession with money seems to be so pervasive that it has sidelined important conversations about more pressing aspects of our lives such as the ecology.

The nightly news has a segment devoted to finance. Radio current affairs program often finish with a report on the market, meaning the share market. Newspapers also dedicate several pages to money and investment. There are magazines devoted to money and investment. ABC RN has a program titled The Economist and another titled The Money.

It’s not an if or but, it’s a fact of life that we are utterly dependent on nature and ecological transactions – if we want to use a money type description. These are the exchanges that take place every second of the day, enabling all other transactions to occur. The money cycle is a bit player when compared to the carbon cycle, the water cycle, the nitrogen cycle and so on. Without each of them, there’d be nothing else, literally. And yet these are taken for granted. Money is given a disproportionate amount of time and attention. Why would anyone dream of questioning this human constructed arrangement – artificial and concocted though it may be.

Yet the domination of financial reporting elevates it to be front and centre, when it should take a back seat.  Money has moved from being of service to us, to being the driver of much of our lives.

When money is traded it supposedly represents an exchange of goods and services and it does just that for many of us.  But is has also become an end in itself, being traded with other currencies and hijacked by those who launder it through gambling outlets or illicite activities connected with illegal social behaviour.

Money has not only become an essential part of modern society,  it has been given so much status that it obscures our worldview, such that nature – the ecology – have to be downgraded.  Should it not be the other way around?  How would we reapportion our media broadcast time if we allocated / applied equal opportunity principles to the ecology.  Nothing we do is done externally of mother earth.  We live on a finite planet, we breath her air, we drink her water, we eat her food, we rely on her to reabsorb our leftovers – be they peelings from preparing veg and fruit preparing for a meal, to tail pipe emissions from vehicle exhausts, to the rubble from demolished buildings, to the contents of our three bins kerbside collections, the sewage from toilet flushing, the carbon and other gases from coal fired power stations, the list goes on.

This is a finite planetary system where there is no away – we all live downstream.  The cycles of nature apply whether or not to acknowledge them. And the consequences of our chosen ways of living and social organization need to be factored into all the transactions being made, ecological, social and financial.

There is no capacity to opt out.  This being the case it would seem useful to reframe many of our ways of viewing human actions, such that they are discussed within an ecological context first, then a social context, then a financial context.   This would more accurately reflect the reality of our lives, as earthlings, as mammals, as fauna.  We could re apportion our media time to reflect this.

Money and finance would take their rightful place at the back of the queue, as passengers, not drivers, as lubricants, not as cogs and wheels.

We would report on ourselves less and on non-human beings (other species) much more.

We can’t eat money.  We can eat carrots, beans, lettuce, cucumbers, apples, you name them, but they get little attention by comparison to money.

We would have a Chief Ecological Officer as well as a Chief Health Officer – surely ecological health comes before human health.  Without a healthy functioning ecology, not much else matters.  This has been clearly demonstrated by recent programs i.e. Australia Story, highlighting the benefits of regenerative farming methods.  Soil health, precedes plant health, precedes animal health, and is essential for human health. (Also ref: Soil, by Matthew Evans)  

First things first, as Stephen Covey would say in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  Firstly think about the outcome, what do we seek to achieve?  What are the basic building blocks, foundation stones of any society?  First things first: healthy soil, 99 per cent groundcover and everything else will follow, abiding by the first and second laws of thermodynamics – earth law, within which the laws of thermodynamics are located.

It all makes sense, when earth law comes first, since it informs how societal law and financial law fit into the equation.

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