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Ben Carson For President Flops After Infomercial

Last weekend, right wing Creationist Dr. Ben Carson tried to jump start a campaign for the Republican Party presidential nomination with an hour-long infomercial. Carson paid for the production and airing of a “documentary” that talks about what a great guy he is, suggesting that Americans are clamoring for a Ben Carson for President campaign.

If Americans were really prepared to support a Ben Carson presidential campaign for the 2016 election, though, the Carson for President infomercial would have touched off a grassroots response, a wave of word of mouth that would have made Ben Carson’s candidacy one of the top news stories of the week.

ben carson and vegetariansThat’s exactly the opposite of what actually happened.

The chart here shows the attention provoked by the Ben Carson for President appointment, as reflected in the Google Trends search engine. The blue line represents news stories about Ben Carson. The red line represents news stories about “vegetarian” people or food.

As you can see, only on one day was Ben Carson able to garner more attention than vegetarian news – quite a small niche. Interest in Ben Carson was a flash in the plan, a blip that failed to garner any sustained attention.

Will Ben Carson be elected President in 2016? I think we’re more likely to see tofu burgers for sale at McDonald’s.

Psychic Vicki Monroe’s Laugh-a-Minute Predictions for 2012

Someone out there is paying Vicki Monroe $250 an hour to issue psychic predictions from the spirit world. The problem is, it turns out “the spirits” really don’t know what they’re talking about. As I documented yesterday, Vicki Monroe used her professional psychic powers to make 21 predictions about the year 2013 for a Maine newspaper — and she got 16 of those predictions dead wrong. That’s a failure rate of 76.2%.

Oh, well. Anyone can have an off year. Maybe “the spirits” were just playing a practical joke on Vicki Monroe. Fortunately, it turns out that Vicki Monroe had made predictions for 2012 to the Lewiston Sun Journal a year before, right at the end of 2011 (unfortunately, the article sits behind a paywall, so I can’t link to it. If you have access to the Quora database, search for “Weird, Wicked Weird: Predictions for 2012″ by Lindsey Tice). This offers a chance for Vicki Monroe to redeem herself.

Did Vicki Monroe nail her “psychic” predictions for 2012? See for yourself:

  • Prediction: Vicki Monroe said the New England Patriots would not make it to the Super Bowl in 2012. Reality: They did.
  • Predictions: Vicki Monroe said that there would be divorces between celebrity spouses Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, and Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner. Reality: even three years later, all of these couples are still married.
  • Prediction: The old Bates Mill in Lewiston would be sold in 2012. Reality: Platz Associates, the real estate company that bought the mill long ago, has kept its ownership of the property and developed it to lease space for apartments and business occupants.
  • Prediction: A new land mass would be discovered on Earth. Reality: anyone notice a new land mass? I didn’t think so. My searches through the news records of 2012 reveal no reference to a new land mass, be it Atlantis, Fantasticana, or by any other name.
  • Prediction: The world won’t end in 2012, but “what the Mayans said as the end of the world is the end of the world as (far as) nations having to beat each other (to be) No. 1.” Reality: War and international conflict continue unabated.

Not a good record, is it? Here’s my prediction: anyone who pays Vicki Monroe $250 an hour for her “psychic” services would be better off shaking a Magic 8 Ball.

US Government Using Airplanes To Hack Into Americans’ Phones En Masse

Late yesterday, the Wall Street Journal revealed that the U.S. Department of Justice is using airplanes equipped with “dirtbox” technology to hack into Americans’ cell phones from the air. (Read all about it in The Guardian) This technology converts an airplane into a fake cell phone tower. When Justice Department planes fly over American cities, they are able to gather information that can be used to identify cell phones, detect where they are, and in these days of multi-use smart phones, gather all sorts of other information as well. The surveillance technique would also gather information from electronic tablets, iWatches and fitness devices – anything that uses cellular data.

The program circumvents the need of the NSA spying program to work with telecommunications companies, hacking directly into their users’ communications without permission. The program doesn’t just gather information from individual targets, either. Instead, it sucks up massive amounts of data from Americans’ cell phones all at once, “snagging a large number of innocent Americans”, in the words of the Wall Street Journal’s Devlin Barrett.

Can this program be justified as part of the effort to keep Americans safe from terrorists? No. The government’s dirtbox spy program is being used to deal with matters alleged to relate to non-terrorist criminal matters. That means that none of the dirtbox spying program has to meet any of the FISA Amendments Act’s pretense of gathering dragnets of data that might somehow be tangentially related to foreign people.

Huge numbers of people in American cities, as they walk about minding their own business, are being spied on by their own government. Our own government is hacking and tracking us. There’s no way that meets the requirements of the Fourth Amendment: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Will anyone in Congress do anything about this, or will they be too busy writing laws creating travel bans to to protect Americans from Ebola? I think I know the answer to this question already.

“Psychic” Vicki Monroe’s Predictions for 2013 — And Reality Bites

In December of 2012, the Lewiston Sun Journal featured “psychic” Vicki Monroe and her predictions for 2013. This is the same Vicki Monroe who tells the world “the spirits” tell her the future. Vicki Monroe’s website (search “Maine psychic Vicki Monroe” if you really must see it) features photoshopped glistening false stars orbiting her head, right next to a price list — she sells “psychic” consultations for the low, low price of $250 an hour. She’s that good… in her mind. Is Vicki Monroe’s “psychic” ability worth $250 an hour in reality? Let’s check Monroe’s predictions for 2013 from the Sun Journal Article:

“In 2013, she said spirits see a fiscal cliff averted, more jobs in Maine, good gas prices and something big for Tom Cruise. ‘Top Gun II?’ Nope, even bigger. Congress will reach a compromise to avert the much-discussed fiscal cliff. Republicans will give more ground than Democrats, she said.”

1. Fiscal cliff averted? Yes, on January 1.

Running total: 1 right for “psychic” Vicki Monroe.

But wait…

2. “Republicans will give more ground than Democrats”? “Peter Roff: GOP Got Its Way in Fiscal Cliff Deal”. Atlantic: Ultra-Rich Win.

Running total: 1 right, 1 wrong for “psychic” Vicki Monroe.

3. More jobs in Maine? Well, yes. According to the Maine Department of Labor there were 487,753 Mainers employed at the end of 2012 and 493,401 Mainers employed in 2013.

Running total: 2 right, 1 wrong for “psychic” Vicki Monroe.

4. Good gas prices? According to gasprices.com, gas prices basically stayed unchanged from 2012 to 2013, not dropping back down until late 2014:

U.S. Gas Prices, 2009 to 2014

Running total: 2 right, 2 wrong for “psychic” Vicki Monroe.

5. “Something big for Tom Cruise”? “‘Top Gun II?’ Nope, even bigger”?

Er, no. One movie with Tom Cruise was released in 2013. Oblivion had a gross of $89.1 million, a low figure for a Tom Cruise movie. Oblivion cost $120 million.

Running total: 2 right, 3 wrong for “psychic” Vicki Monroe.

6. “Congress will deal with gun control. Automatic weapons and these high-powered rifles, semi-automatics that belong in war zones will be, I think, removed, and only used in situations where they are absolutely necessary,” Monroe said. “There’s no legitimate reason as far as what they say, that these need to be at homes.”

Actually, no. Congress passed absolutely no gun control legislation in 2013.

Running total: 2 right, 4 wrong for “psychic” Vicki Monroe.

“In Maine, someone will buy and restart the Hostess Brands’ Biddeford plant and the state will see more environment-related employment. Manufacturing jobs should pick up as well.”

7. Hostess Brands’ Biddeford plant bought and restarted in 2013?

Sadly, no. In June 2014, after the plant sat moldering for all of 2013, equipment was shipped off elsewhere. There was no sale in 2013.

Running total: 2 right, 5 wrong for “psychic” Vicki Monroe.

8. The state sees more environment-related employment in 2013?
9. More manufacturing jobs in 2013?

No measurement and no. The Maine Department of Labor doesn’t keep track of environment-related employment, so there’s no way to check. The Maine DOL reported 50,592 manufacturing jobs at the end of 2013, a decrease in maufacturing jobs from 50,790 at the end of 2012.

Running total: 2 right, 6 wrong for “psychic” Vicki Monroe.

10. “From what I understand, it is still going to be a milder-than-usual winter, although we will get more of a mixed precipitation,” Monroe said. “The plow people will not like me, but that’s the way it is.”

Yes, according to NOAA, the winter of 2012-2013 was indeed milder than usual.

Running total: 3 right, 6 wrong for “psychic” Vicki Monroe.

“Next summer could bring more rain here, more fires out West.”

11. More rain in Summer 2013? Again according to NOAA, June 2012 was wetter than normal in Maine

We’ll call that one a wash — no winner or loser on that prediction. By the way, did you notice Vicki Monroe’s “could” in the rainfall sentence? Her statement is trivially true, just as trivially true as the statement that a meteor “could” strike my house in 3 seconds. Whoops, didn’t. But it “could” have happened!

12. “More fires out West”?

Actually, the National Interagency Fire Center reports 18,000 fewer fires than average in 2013.

Running total: 3 right, 7 wrong for “psychic” Vicki Monroe.

13. “As far as New England, there could be a few more earthquake-type tremors that we’ve had. Nothing that’s catastrophic.”

Nope. According to the New England Seismic Network, there were 184 earthquakes in New England in 2013 and 153 earthquakes in New England in 2012. That’s a decrease, not an increase. Wrong again!

Running total: 3 right, 8 wrong for “psychic” Vicki Monroe.

14. “No New England Patriots in the Super Bowl”?

Vicki Monroe was right.

Running total: 4 right, 8 wrong for “psychic” Vicki Monroe.

15. “No Boston Red Sox in the World Series”?

Um, the Red Sox not only were in the World Series — they won it. Big time wrong.

Running total: 4 right, 9 wrong for “psychic” Vicki Monroe.

16. “Researchers will make advances linking cancer and stress, she said. They’ll also have news on the drug front.”

That’s not a prediction. That’s a guarantee. Researchers make advances on these fronts every year. I won’t do the honor of counting this. She might as well have predicted that “somewhere, there will be sheep.”

17. “In a gossip roundup, the spirits don’t see newly engaged Kelly Clarkson living happily ever after. (‘That marriage, kaput.’)”

Um, Kelly Clarkson is not only still married, but has welcomed a baby to her family this year. Vicki Monroe is not just talking trash — she’s making it all up as she does it.

Running total: 4 right, 10 wrong for “psychic” Vicki Monroe.

18. The sprits “see Justin Bieber making movies.”


Running total: 5 right, 10 wrong for “psychic” Vicki Monroe.

19. “Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert may be getting pregnant.”

Don’t you love that hedging “may?” Are the spirits timid, Vicki Monroe? Well, “the spirits” were wrong. Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton still have no children. Even the rumor of an impending baby in 2014 was quashed as gossip.

Running total: 5 right, 11 wrong for “psychic” Vicki Monroe.

20. Check out this prediction from “the spirits”: “There was another one they were talking about, that Tom Cruise would leave the church, Scientology.”

No, Tom Cruise is still wearing his Scientology Medal of Valor around town.

Running total: 5 right, 12 wrong for “psychic” Vicki Monroe.

21, 22, 23, 24. “Expect an upset at the Academy Awards: Bradley Cooper for best actor over Daniel Day Lewis. Sally Field for best actress. “Lincoln” for best picture and Quentin Tarantino for best director.”

Let’s strike ‘em down:
No, Daniel Day Lewis won best actor.
No, Jennifer Lawrence won best actress.
No, Argo won best picture.
No, Ang Lee won best director.

Running total: 5 right, 16 wrong for “psychic Vicki Monroe.”

“Finally, will fans be happy with the new Star Wars movies? Maybe. It’s murky.”

Very murky indeed — there’s no new movies and it’s hard to say what fans could or couldn’t be happy about. No tally on this last item.

With our final tally at 5 correct predictions and 16 incorrect predictions, the final conclusion is that “psychic” Vicki Monroe is

76.2% Wrong.

A monkey flipping a coin could have done better. Do monkeys rake in $250 an hour?

Celebrate Mockus For His Blaspemy

Mykolas Mockus was a Lithuanian who wasn’t afraid to say what was on his mind. Because he spoke his mind freely, Mockus was seized by the police, who had infiltrated a private meeting to record what he was saying by a speech. Mockus was thrown into a jail cell and criminally prosecuted for what he said.

Mykolas Mockus wasn’t in Lithuania when he was arrested. It wasn’t the Soviet Union, during the Cold War, that accused Mockus of the crime of free speech. It was in the United States, in the town of South Paris, Maine, that Mockus stood trial.

It wasn’t just freedom of speech for which Mykolas Mockus was prosecuted, either. Mockus was also put on trial for the crime of exercising freedom of religion. The year was 1919.

Mockus was accused of blasphemy – specifically, of violating a law that declared, “Whoever blasphemes the holy name of God by cursing, or contumeliously reproaching God, His creation, government, final judgment of the world, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, and the Holy Scriptures as contained in the canonical books of the Old and New Testament, and by exposing them to contempt and ridicule, shall be punished.

Mockus was put on trial on eight charges of criminal blasphemy, which stated that, “in a public address made by him the said Michael X. Mockus then and there in the presence and hearing of divers persons there assembled, did pronounce, publish, and proclaim the following blasphemous words…”

What did Mockus say, to merit his criminal trial? “All religions are a deception of the people,” he said. “Mary had a boyfriend. When the boyfriend came to visit her one evening, both of them being young, he seduced her. He brought her a flower and made her pregnant. No woman can give birth to a child without a man… There is no truth in the Bible. It is humbug.”

It wasn’t the only time that Mockus was arrested. He was also put on trial for blasphemy in Waterbury, Connecticut in 1921.

Whether you agree with Mykolas Mockus about the worth of religion, he merits your respect for his defiance of the theocratic laws of his day. Even in our time, there are many in America who make loud demands that all criticism or mockery of their religious beliefs be censored.

The difference is that, in our time, such demands no longer have the support of law – in most places in the United States. In Massachusetts, the same legislative language that was used to prosecute Mykolas Mockus is still on the books today.

When the government has the power to silence blasphemous speech, no one has freedom of religion. When respect for religion is mandatory, a religious life cannot be freely chosen by anyone.

Can A Conservative Strikeforce Buy Active Engagement?

This week, a political action committee called Conservative Strikeforce wrote a check to a business called Active Engagement Limited Liability Corporation.

I see that the spending was on behalf of Bill Cassidy, who is running against Mary Landrieu in Louisiana’s U.S. Senate runoff election, but I don’t understand:

– Who is the Conservative Strikeforce striking? Is it hitting Mary Landrieu? How does the Conservative Strikeforce decide who it’s going to hit, and who it will leave alone? If I give the Conservative Strikeforce my lunch money, will it allow me to go home without breaking my glasses?

– How much force is it striking with? It is aiming for a slap across the face, or punch to the nose? Am I thinking too small? Is the Conservative Strikeforce going for something more along the lines of an air strike, killing Mary Landrieu and destroying her house in the process?

– What does it say about voters in Louisiana that their active engagement can be bought with a load of cash from a strikeforce?

– Is it possible to have active engagement and limited liability at the same time?

– Just what is Active Engagement Limited Liability Corporation doing to voters, that it’s worried about liability?

In politics, language matters. I don’t like the sound of the company that Bill Cassidy keeps.

Breaking Down the Sex Gap in Pay: Where is Pay for Men and Women More Equal?

Head to American FactFinder, a project of the U.S. Census Bureau, and you can get information about the American people on a wide variety of subjects, all the way up to the national level and all the way down to the level of your town or city. The information provided by the Census Bureau can sometimes allow us to look at the context in which certain trends exist, and that’s where matters get really interesting.

Take the sex gap in pay, for instance. Calculated as the median annual income of female full-time, year-round workers divided by the median annual income of male full-time, year-round workers, the result times 100 tells you how many pennies full-time women workers earn compared for every dollar that full-time men workers earn. For the nation overall, averaged across the years 2008 to 2012, the sex gap in pay was 0.775. But that’s not where the story stops. The sex gap in pay varies fairly strongly depending on whether or not a person is working for a for-profit business, as the following graph of Census data shows:

Sex Gap in Pay by Type of Workplace, 2008-2012. Source: American Community Survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau

If you think the sex gap in pay is a problem, it should interest you to find out that the problem is concentrated in private, for-profit business and alleviated in the sectors of non-profit and government work. If the sex gap in pay is a problem, something about non-profit and government work offers a solution.

Hindus Threaten Violence Over Image Of Krishna With Coca-Cola

How would you feel if someone took an image that you hold as sacred, and then copied it, and altered it in a way that changed its meaning?

You might feel upset, but how upset would you feel?

Would you feel upset enough to write a message of protest?

Would you feel upset enough to demand the censorship of the image?

Would you feel upset enough to threaten violence against the person who altered the image?

krishna arjuna coca colaThreats of violence are a growing part of the Hindu reaction to an image created for a small discussion group that meets to talk about mythology.

The group, which meets in a small city in the United States, created the picture in order to provide visual foundation for consideration of the different expectations people have for sacred imagery and mundane imagery. The “mashup” of sacred and mundane in the image was designed to elicit critical questions about the function of symbolism in both forms of art, and to provoke contemplation about possible common ground between the two categories.

The picture shows a scene from the Bagavad-Gita in the Mahabharata, in which Arjuna, an aristocratic archer, and Krishna, his charioteer and a divine being disguised in human form, decide, after hesitation and soul-searching, to blow on conch shells as a signal to begin a bloody battle against Arjuna’s own cousins, to decide who shall have the right to rule an ancient kingdom. The picture has been changed so that the conch shells are bottles of Coca-Cola. Instead of issuing a call to war and destruction, Krishna and Arjuna are pictured as enjoying a nice cold drink.

To many Hindus, it seems, this change is an outrage. This week, the web site of the mythological discussion group has been flooded by angry comments from Hindus.

Many of the messages call for the image to be censored.

“What foolish idea! Whose the stupid imagine this immediately remove it and don’t repeat”

“anyone check for the host provider and complaint. We can remove the entire site from public domain. And cancel his account as per international rules.”

“Please Dont hurt the feelings of hindu’s. Delete the picture immediately”

Other messages call for the creator of the image to be brought into court for legal punishment.

“I strongly condemn this. How dare this foolish coca use such advertisements and insult the feelings of Hindus.This web site and the coca co should be dragged to court for legal action.”

“Please remove this picture as quick as possiblr and say sorry for this. Try to respect the God’s of other religion. You can be booked for this. Hope u will understand this and do it quuckly.”

“Warning : Delete this photo in 48 hours, this make Shame of Hinduism, otherwise we will take legal action on you. (Hindu Nayay Petth)” (This warning was issued almost one year ago. Hindu Nayay Petth appears to have decided not to take any legal action.)

Other messages threaten violent punishment of the image’s creator.

“No respect to religion. these people should be hanged”

“you, motherfucker! remove this picture from your site. otherwise Hindu will teach you lession.”

“who do such things joking hindu gods must b punished”


This last message, in all caps, makes a reference that most Americans will not be familiar with. Shiv Sena is a hardline Hindu nationalist organization. Shiv Sena has been repeatedly involved in instigating mob violence against non-Hindus in India. In 1984, Shiv Sena started riots in the towns of Bhiwandi, Jalgaon and Mahad, killing over 250 Muslims there. Not one single member of Shiv Sena was ever put on trial for participation in the violence. A government commission, investigating riots in Mumbai that killed about 275 Hindus and 575 Muslims in the early 1990s, found that “there is no doubt that the Shiv Sena and Shiv Sainiks took the lead in organising attacks on Muslims and their properties under the guidance of several leaders”.

When the commenter promises to “reply you in our Shivsena style”, it’s a threat of mob violence in the United States.

These Hindus are expressing anger because the creator of the image has “No respect to religion.” When a religion advocates censorship of speech and the killing of dissidents, and seeks to make blasphemy a crime even for non-believers, however, what makes that religion merit respect?

This case illustrates the importance of blasphemy in a free society. Religious believers like to cast themselves as victims of blasphemy, but what are they really the victims of? Blasphemy causes no physical or financial harm. It merely hurts feelings and offends sensibilities.

When religious people tell nonbelievers that we are not allowed to engage in visual or verbal communications that offend their religious sensibilities or hurt their feelings, they are declaring that religious people have a special legal right to be protected from ideas that they don’t like. They’re stating that religions should have the special power to censor nonbelievers’ speech when it fails to obey religious rules.

Essentially, the Hindus who are seeking to legally prohibit or violently punish blasphemy against Arjuna and Krishna are asserting that everyone in the world, Hindu and non-Hindu alike, must obey the behavioral codes of Hinduism. They’re demanding that we all act as if the mythological events described by Hindu texts really happened. They’re insisting that we all accept the assumptions of Hinduism – that we place ourselves under the power of Hindu religious leaders to tell us what is real and what is not real.

I, for one, refuse to grant that power to the Hindu extremists. I refuse to accept that Hindus have the right to not have their feelings hurt, and have the special privilege of never having their religious beliefs contradicted in public.

That’s why I’ve uploaded to this article the image that the Hindus want censored. Because I see Hindus threatening to kill anyone who shows this picture, I am deciding to join in the blasphemy, and to amplify it. If a Hindu activist group succeeds in pressuring the web host of the mythological discussion group to remove the blasphemous image, I want the image to survive, in defiance of the censorship.

I am posting the image here, not because I believe in the importance of saying that the god Krishna drank Coca-Cola, but because I believe in the importance of the freedom to say that Krishna drank Coca-Cola, if that’s what a person wants to say.

If we allow Hindus to threaten us into silence, and the destruction of images that fail to meet their religious codes, then we will quickly become subject to the demands of other religious groups as well. We won’t be able to say anything that contradicts the beliefs of any religion, or produce art that satirizes even the most outlandish religious beliefs.

If we were all to live in a blasphemy-free world that the Hindus demand, by the way, Hindus would have to change their ways as well. Islam, after all, prohibits any use of any artistic depiction of the human form for the purpose of worship. It’s a blasphemy, to Muslims, the way that Hindus use human-shaped statues and paintings of divinities as part of their religious worship. So, if everybody in the world has to obey Hindu religious codes for religious imagery, wouldn’t the same standard apply to Hindus? Wouldn’t the Hindus have to destroy their own religious artwork, so as to avoid hurting the feelings of Muslims?

In a world where everyone is required to refrain from offending everyone else’s religious sensibilities, no religious art could be made, and speaking about religion would become impossible.

In a world where blasphemy is allowed, we are all free to practice religion as we see fit, or not to practice it at all.

True freedom of religion is worth living with the risk of an violent attack by religious zealots. I don’t want to live in a world where I have to be afraid of the righteous brutality of Hindus, Christians, Muslims, or members of any other religion.

The Lilies Of November

This photograph shows just one of the manifrstations of climate change. This morning, I took this photograph of day lilies coming into blossom in my garden.

It’s mid-November, and we still haven’t had a killing frost. I live within 100 miles of the border with Canada.

november day lilies

November 11: Armistice Day Declaration

Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and

Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and

Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.

Declaration of November 11 as Armistice Day by the United States Congress, June 4 1926.

With Zero Ebola in the United States, the #Obola Meme Spreads Virally

November 10: Craig Spencer, the last Ebola Patient in the United States, is declared virus free, bringing the number of people infected with Ebola in the United States to Zero.

Number of posts on Twitter on November 11 using the #Obola hashtag to criticize Barack Obama’s policy for containing Ebola in the United States: 245

November 11 2014 Tweet, when there was absolutely no Ebola infection in the United States: #EbolaCare, don't leave home without it #Obola.  For Pete's sake!

Your ‘Merican flag background doesn’t make you right.