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December 2007
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February 2008

Race in America: The 1950s

Apropos of my item on the Martin Luther King holiday, my friend Richard Dalton submitted this memoir:

I grew up in Los Angeles,  in Baldwin Hills, a development in the hills southwest of downtown LA. It was a very comfortable, middle class place to live. And it was All White. Blacks and Asians lived closer to town in neighborhoods that were typically well cared for. Walter Mosley's wonderful series of Easy Rawlins books captures that era and its character beautifully from an African-American viewpoint.

I went to Susan Miller Dorsey high, a school that fused the hill- dwelling whites and the flatland blacks in a remarkable way. I'm attending the 50th reunion (boy does that make me cringe) of my graduating class in a couple of weeks. I resisted sending in a 50 year recap of what's happened to me since I think those are boring--at best. But then I remembered how uniques that school was, particularly during the racial strife of the late 50s and early 60s. So I sent the organizing committee this.

I've been thinking off and on lately about my Dorsey experience. I was not a great student, in fact, if it weren't for the Dorseygram, I probably would have wasted much of my three years. With one very big exception.

Dorsey was important to me (and still is) because it was such a rich mixture of races and cultures. We all inhabited that space and I recall very little tension or discomfort and I don't think that's just the rosy glow of recollection, I think that's how we were. That experience has allowed me to live a life in which I can appreciate human differences, not feel threatened by them.

It's worth remembering that African-American kids were at the same time wading through angry, violent crowds of white citizens so they could attend schools that were being desegregated in Alabama by court order. I've seen film from those days showing the indignity and terror they had to go through and wondered how different my life would have been if I grew up in that kind of closed-minded society.

Not surprisingly, time and family finances changed that happy way of life. Black families, finding better jobs and incomes, were beginning to move toward and then into Baldwin Hills. Realtors, sensing a commission Nirvana, began employing really slimy "block-busting" techniques. They world call residents and say, "Do you realize that a negro (sic) family moved in just three blocks away? Do you know what's going to happen when three families move into the same house and they start parking cars up on blocks right on the front lawn?"

Those sound like grotesque parodies now. But they aren't. I know, because my parents repeated the same stories to me to justify their panic sale and move out of the suddenly sullied neighborhood.

I've been back a number of times to 5022 Marburn Avenue, where I grew up and yes, the neighborhood is almost all black. And my old house and yard are in better condition than we ever kept them….

At one point, the State Department brought President Sukharno of Indonesia to Dorsey, to speak to the student body. The vice principal told us later that we had been selected as an example of racial integration in America.

By the way, I've always thought that the reference to Baldwin Hills as "the black Beverly Hills" was insulting to both blacks and whites. When I visited the neighborhood a couple of years ago, there was some evidence of whites reintegrating the area. They should--it remains a very desirable place to live.


by Craig Reynolds

Networks: EFF on TW's Beaumont, Texas tiered rate test: Time Warner Puts a Meter on the Internet and AT&T's self-destructive move: 3 Things on AT&T's Proposed Net Filtering Plan. New wi-fi bandwidth?: FCC tests "white space" prototypes, again (unrelated to the ongoing 700MHz auction), and a distributed net for a really big crowd: Wi-Fi Mesh Lights Up Mecca for Hajj. The best engineering has a beauty all its own: When data center cabling becomes art.

Visualization: see these very cool visualization, both static and interactive, of travel time to a given location: Travel-time maps. Lots of related examples of visual complexity: A visual exploration on mapping complex networks.

Copyright: citing The Tech, Slashdot notes MIT Student Plans to Take on RIAA. And why are we not surprised that MPAA's assessment of the monetary loss due to downloading was vastly overstated?:
MPAA Admits Mistake on Downloading Study.

Games: NASA is looking to creating a massively multiplayer game or trainer or recruitment tool: NASA investigates virtual space (I can almost hear the High Concept pitch: "...its The Last Starfighter meets America's Army..."). More on cheap and/or free downloadable games: The Video Game May Be Free, but to Be a Winner Can Cost Money (mentioned last week: A New Front in the Console Wars). Fox commentator broadcasts false hearsay as fact, later admits she "misspoke": Author Faults a Game, and Gamers Flame Back.

Technobits: Kite-powered ship sets sail for greener future --- Best Buy Sold Infected Digital Picture Frames --- Vista virtualization move opens real doors --- Yale Profs push for major uniting computers, art --- way cool: Polymer Vision unveils rollable display mobile phone (see also this and this) --- New website advances the science of turning 2-D into 3-D (visit the do it yourself site: Make3D) --- Entrepreneur Unveils New Tourist Spacecraft --- OK, presumably its just a Martian rock, but dang if it don't look like a woman with an outstretched arm --- kids love politicians: exhibit 1, exhibit 2.

Food for thought about Oscar and Film Reviews

Mick LaSalle, Chronicle Movie Critic, wrote about Oscars and criticism:

"There Will Be Blood" demonstrates [Paul Thomas] Anderson's bold and unmistakable talent, but the film itself has serious problems. It's just the kind of film that critics often laud, if only out of intellectual intimidation or laziness: When dealing with a serious talent, it's simply easier to review the movie the director tried to make, rather than the one he actually made. It's the path of least resistance. The intimidation factor also accounts for half the positive reviews that Quentin Tarantino has received in the past 10 years.

I missed this line in the article, which Neal pointed out to me:

There's Daniel Day-Lewis, nominated for imitating John Huston for 10 hours (or was it 2 1/2?) in "There Will Be Blood."

Casandra's Dream

4 stars out of 5

OK, I admit it, I love Woody Allen films. The good ones and the bad ones. For my money, he is the greatest living American film maker, and I wish him a long life. In this film, he continues to abandon New York for London. Heaven alone knows why, but he makes good films wherever he sets them. And, as always, he pulls the performance of a lifetime out of his actors, in this case. Ewan McGregor, Colin Farrell and Tom Wilkinson (and the performance of Wilkinson's career is really saying something). I am fascinated by Allen's fascination with murder and getting away with it. He also has a unique take on family dynamics and working class life that is as fresh today as it was three decades ago. As I usually say of Allen films, if you like his work, go see it, and if you don't, skip it.


3 stars out of 5

Stomach churning "amateur" camerawork, combined with an adequate script, over the top CGI and characters you really never care about makes for a scary movie that leaves you uninvolved. And the fright is momentary; it scarcely outlasts your stay in the theater. Let me add my voice to the chorus of other reviewers who warns you: don't eat just before seeing this. Also, if you have severe memories of 9/11, this is not the film for you. And if you're the kind of person that gets sick on amusement park rides, don't go at all. Plot holes you could drive a truck through: the cellphone system and power grids would be out and would stay out after about 30 seconds of the attack shown. The NYC subway runs 24/7, so all the scenes in the subway would involve them being run over--but at least, since the subway has its own power system, it is vaguely plausible that the lights would be on down there.

Lasusa Links, Bush Lies, More on Cats, Positive Spin On A Life, More Thoughts on Journalism, Dan Grobstein File

Tom Lasusa surfs the web so you don't have to: Extreme Skier Dies Jumping Off Cliff.. (well yeah, like duh)… ... Super"Friends"... Unfortunate naming... The evolution of Coca Cola... cool video -- How Evolution Happens ... Beware of the (Portland) Blob... Bluetooth helps double amputee walk again ... Gamers prove their metal as rock starsPistol ring and other unusual guns... Books that make you dumb...

Who knew they were lying about the Iraq War? Almost 1,000 times. And NYPD analysis opposed WTC command center site: paper.

Piqued by my recent reference to a Jon Carroll cat column, Robert Malchman writes:

I was reminded by your cat column link that you like cats. If so, I think you will enjoy this (entirely G-Rated) website. It's so stupid, but it cracks me up no end.

I also wrote a little about what makes it work for me in my journal:

Chuck Carroll, who can be found in my blog-rolling section, doesn't really need to put a positive spin on his life, but he's done so anyway. Here is an excerpt (you'll really enjoy reading the whole entry, Ahead of the Curve:

Observed and recorded Nature becomes Data, when categorized becomes Information, when interpreted becomes Knowledge, when interrelated becomes Understanding, when contemplated becomes Wisdom, when lived becomes Godliness, which ultimately leads to the ability to create Nature.

Richard Dalton found The Growing Importance of Nonprofit Journalism, from the Shorenstein Center at Harvard.

Dan Grobstein File

  • From the Washington Post:
    She Brakes for Ideology
    By Fred Hiatt
    The next time you are stuck in traffic (and when are you not?), you might take a moment to ponder Mary Peters's contribution to the fix you are in 

  • | January 20, 2008
    Books: Jimmy Breslin's Perpetual Deadline
    Still pounding the pavement at 77, a reporter keeps alive the grit, vitality and maverick spirit of New York’s phone-booth-and-fedora days.

  • Health Self-Advocacy

    It's very simple, really

    You're sick. Very sick. Maybe life-threateningly sick. And your health insurance company has just rejected your claim. What will you do? What will you do???

    Thankfully, Parade magazine is here to help. Sunday they published an article called Fight for Your Health Care. That's right: Fight. Just what every sick person enjoys doing between bouts of vomiting and dizziness and organ failure and trips to the hospital. But never fear...the process is simple, and I'll give you the lowdown here.

  • Words that every Democratic politician needs to tattoo on his or her forehead in reverse, So they'll be reminded of them every time they look in the mirror: Conservatism failed in the 1890s, again in the 1920s, again in the 1980s, and again at the beginning of the 21st century ? Conservatives failed because conservatism is a failed ideology. The greatest periods of American history all rejected conservatism in favor of the ideals our nation was founded on.
  • The Case of the Vanishing Emails
    The Bush administration's ability not just to outrage, but to so frequently surpass and resurpass one's capacity for outrage is striking. All that's left now is a cold, callous, cynicism. My understanding is that the country was genuinely shocked to learn about 18 missing minutes on the Watergate tapes. Now what can one say about the hundreds of days of missing White House emails and all manner of dissembling and mumbo-jumbo lurking around the question of what's gone missing.
  • I wish that the Democrats had a cellar full of gnomes that did these viral emails like the Republicans do.
    2029 Headlines
    Ozone created by electric cars now killing millions in the seventh largest country in the world, Mexifornia , formerly known as California White minorities still trying to have English recognized as Mexifornia's third language. ... Spotted Owl plague threatens northwestern United States crops and livestock.... Baby conceived naturally! Scientists stumped. ... Iran still closed off; physicists estimate it will take at least 10 more years before radioactivity decreases to safe levels. ... France pleads for global help after being taken over by Jamaica . No other country comes forward to help the beleaguered nation! ... Castro finally dies at age 112; Cuban cigars can now be imported legally, but President Chelsea Clinton has banned all smoking. ... George Z. Bush says he will run for President in 2036. ... Postal Service raises price of first class stamp to $17.89 and reduces mail delivery to Wednesdays only. ... 85-year $75.8 billion study: Diet and exercise is the key to weight loss. ... Average weight of Americans drops to 250 lbs. ... Global cooling blamed for citrus crop failure for third consecutive year in Mexifornia and Florexico.... Senate still bloc king drilling in ANWR even though gas is selling for 4532 Pesos per liter and gas stations are only open on Tuesdays and Fridays. ... Massachusetts executes last remaining conservative. ... Supreme Court rules punishment of criminals violates their civil rights. ... Average height of NBA players is now nine feet, seven inches. ... New federal law requires that all nail cl ippers, screwdrivers, fly swatters and rolled-up newspapers must be registered by January 2030. ... IRS sets lowest tax rate at 75 percent. ... Florexico voters still having trouble with voting machines.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Most of America, at least those parts of it that don't teach U.S. history, probably have no idea how close America came to a second civil war, or an extended guerilla war, during the 1960s. Apparently, 100 years is as much segregation and degradation a people can take. The African-American community was offered two starkly contrasting styles of leadership.

I was reminded of this because, by coincidence, I'm teaching about Henry David Thoreau. He is the father of the idea of civil disobedience--defying unjust laws while willing to be jailed for that defiance. Thoreau refused to pay a Mexican War tax and was jailed. When Ralph Waldo Emerson came to visit the jail, he asked, "Henry, what are you doing in there," to which Thoreau reputedly replied, "Ralph, what are you doing out there?" The story is too tidy to be true, but reflects Thoreau's character. Please note one sometimes-overlooked aspect of civil disobedience; you can disobey the law, but you must then surrender to authorities for punishment. Your presence in jail "pricks the conscience" of the good, silent majority, and they take action.

Gandhi used Thoreau's ideas in India. And Martin Luther King, Jr. used them in the United States.

Things didn't have to turn out the way they did. African-Americans could have chosen to follow Malcom X (by any means necessary) or the violent radicals Stokely Carmichael (we were never fighting for the right to integrate, we were fighting against white supremacy) or H. Rap Brown (Die Nigger Die), or the Black Panthers. Instead, overwhelmingly, they chose, as did Dr. King and Gandhi, to "prick the conscience" of the overwhelming majority of whites, whose racism was, at worst, passive. They discovered that many die-hard segregationists did not have consciences, but that most of America did.

Now you could say that it was simply a strategic decision, made upon the realization that African Americans would be outnumbered roughly 10-1 in any direct conflict. I don't believe that. From everything we know, Dr. King was committed to non-violent civil disobedience. He was right. And White America dodged a bullet, both figuratively and literally.

Kent Peterman's friend Steve Hurst wrote this about the day Dr. King was assassinated:

My memory of Martin Luther King: the day he was killed

The memory of Martin is special to me. I was a part of that era. He spoke at my grammar school when I was in 5th grade. As he was leaving, I shook his hand just before he got into his car. I was sixteen when he was killed.

I grew up in racist, segregated Chicago, run by the equivalent of a Mafia goombah, Irish-born Richard Daley. Following the shooting of Martin Luther King, Mayor Daley issued a shoot to kill order for blacks "acting up." Displeased with what he saw as an overly cautious police response to the rioting that ensued, Daley chastised police superintendent James B. Conlisk and subsequently related that conversation at a City Hall press conference as follows: "I said to him very emphatically and very definitely that an order be issued by him immediately to shoot to kill any arsonist or anyone with a Molotov cocktail n his hand, because they're potential murderers, and to shoot to maim or cripple anyone looting."

I remember that day King was killed, I mean assassinated, so poignantly. I was visiting Janice Crup when the news came over the radio that King had been shot. She broke into tears and I, for the first time in my life, experience what it feels like to be stunned with disbelief. We embraced and then I left her apartment in a daze, headed toward home. It was just a 4-block walk from her newer project high-rise building to my three-story one. Folks started pouring into the streets. Females were crying and the brothers were screaming their anger. It was eerie.

I called my best friend and partner in the struggle, Moqua (Reginald Chandler), he of the family of fourteen kids, then headed over to his place. We tried to reach some other brothers and sisters in our organization, "Umoja Black Student Center" and somehow, ended up following the gathering throngs of brothers and sisters toward "somewhere." No one knew what to do. We were like stranded sheep in need of a shepherd to guide us. Masses started forming and we followed the masses.

I don't even remember how all these candles got into the hands of so many people in the ghetto that evening, but in what seemed like just a few minutes, a peaceful crowd of a few hundred people had gathered on the streets with raised, lit candles, singing "We Shall Overcome." As I recall, there was no violence. No smashing of windows. No turning over of cars. No fires. Just a mass of sad black people mourning the death of one of our leaders. It was very powerful. Up until then, I had no idea that so many of us militants possessed such a level of sweet love for Martin. After all, Malcolm X was our leader because, at that time, he fulfilled our lust to react angrily and violently through "whatever means necessary."

The peace of the candlelight march was shattered by the sound of police sirens, screeching tires, barking canines and mean-ass, blood-thirsty cops jumping out of squad cars and paddy wagons (police vans). As if King's shooting wasn't unbelievable enough to me, I looked on in further disbelief as the cops began swinging billy clubs over people's heads and spraying mace into everyone's eyes. I was astounded. They started beating up these peaceful brothers and sisters and blinding them for nothing. I saw them beating people to the ground, kicking and stomping-clubs raised high in the air, then coming down full force. People were screaming and running every which way, just to get away from these maniacal servants of Richard Daley and James Conlisk. A woman near me, who was being handcuffed and who had just been sprayed with mace, was crying and said to the officer "We ain't doin' nothing but marchin. Why y'all doin this to us."

When it really started to get frantic, I started yelling repeatedly "Don't panic. Don't panic." Then I became another victim. I can't remember being struck, but a cop tried to spray me with mace, but I closed my eyes and turned away. At the same time, another officer handcuffed me. Then I got shoved violently into a paddy wagon. That night, I was arrested and charged with inciting to riot.

Those of us in the paddy wagon could not believe what had happened. None of us had ever experienced anything like this before. As angry as we were, the disbelief was even more profound. (Can you remember the disbelief and shock you experienced when the World Trade Center collapsed? Well, that's how we all felt).

I spent the night in jail and was released the next day.

I still cry when I think of Martin. I cry even more when I see to what extent today's youth have, in my opinion, destroyed the dream.

Take some time today to be loving today.



Thoughts On The State of Journalism and Teaching

Regular readers will recognize the name Larry King, a friend of mine who is an expat journalist in London; or rather, he was. He has left the field. Here's his report:

I can sum up most of my reasons for the career switch fairly quickly. I now make more money, have shorter hours, and get longer holidays. And I was getting fed up with the Spartan mentality at [insert name of journalism organization here], where increasingly over the past few years the professional competence of me and my colleagues seemed to be measured in how much blood, sweat, toil, and tears we shed, regardless of whether the shedding was called for and despite considerable evidence that it was counter-productive.
One final reason would take longer than I've got right now to go into in any detail, but as a quick gloss, I have also over the past few years begun to feel that journalism as a profession was turning into something I was no longer much interested in. Psychoanalytically minded historians or historically oriented shrinks could spend years in an excruciatingly dull debate over whether it was me or the craft of journalism that had changed the most, but that seems to me like debating whether the guy on the dessert island died of malnutrition or dehydration. The guy's dead either way, right?

I could cite a whole host of things as either causes, effects, or some of each -- the growing dominance of the Internet as the first deliverer of news, the economically dispiriting outlook for newspapers, the pandering after celebrities and the search for the latest sleaze in most magazines, the astonishing stupidity of virtually all television. But the upshot as far as I was concerned was pretty simple. I used to read The New Yorker and the New York Times and Time and any number of other publications, and in any given issue, I'd see something and say, hey, I'd like to have done that. Written the story, helped conceive of it and edited it, whatever -- I would just like to have been part of putting it in front of people. That seldom happens any more. I see stuff that holds my interest well enough on the Tube or on a plane or in the toilet, but if it's time to get up before I finish reading it, well, that's okay, too.

You can see where that kind of thinking leads. If I wasn't interested in most of the journalism now being produced, how could I stay interested in producing it? When I thought about that, I realized I wasn't much interested in what I was doing any more, and from that concluded it was time to look for something else.

My response:

I remember all the Southerners who said in the late 60s and early 70s, "I didn't leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left me." I feel the same way about journalism.

Yes, I was laid off, but in part because I said I was willing to be laid off to save a bunch of lower-paid employees. I said this because I was ready to leave. I did not consider another journalism job or freelancing. Not for an instant.

Journalism was changing in ways I could not tolerate, in ways that are really similar to the ones you witnessed. The Internet is not the culprit. I spent my last five years working on the Internet, doing podcasts before there were iPods on which to listen to them. The problem is journalism management and Wall Street. Even in flush times, all journalism management always beats the reporters and puts them away wet. Most journalism outfits I have worked for were understaffed, with insufficient resources.

I hear there was a golden era at the LA Times and the NY Times and the three television networks when you had enough people and money to do the job. No more. And Wall Street, greedy Wall Street (God, I wish John Edwards had a chance), says the double-digit profit margins of journalism companies are not sufficient (many times the profit margins of most businesses). So it hammers their stocks until they are forced into ill-advised mergers, which further weaken the basic product in a massive wave of layoffs.

Thank you, Larry, It is always heartwarming to have one's own feelings reconfirmed independently.

And by the way, while I do not expect it to be any consolation, teaching is going to the dogs as well. No Child Left Behind is a farce; increasingly, we are all teaching to the test, and forgetting about the rest. This country has been the world leader in innovation because of our free-form educational system. With it's "if it isn't broken, let's break it," approach, the Bush administration is striving to reduce our school system to the level of Japan or Britain. They have more engineers and mathematicians, true, but do they innovate at the rate we do? No, they do not, and in a few years, we won't be innovating at that rate either. Just let this over-tested under-taught generation grow up and the consequences will be there for all to see. Of course, the architects of this disaster will be long gone by then, and since we don't have the time and freedom to properly educate our students, many of them will not be aware that cause and effect are rarely proximate in time. Heck, they won't know the meaning of the word proximate.

[Note to readers: Please don't write and tell me accountability is needed, and poor students are being undertaught, and No Child Left Standing is the solution.You're absolutely right about the problem, and could not be more wrong about the solution.]

Larry concluded:

Yeah, that pretty much sums it up for me -- I didn't leave the party, it left me. But you mentioned in your earlier message that you feel teaching is going to the dogs, too. A friend of mine from college just retired from teaching, as soon as her pension kicked in after 25 years, and she says more or less the same thing. It's no longer the kind of job that she loved when she first started. Since you still are a teacher, presumably you don't want to say anything too scathing in your column, but if you've got a moment to drop me a line sometime, I'd be interested in seeing your thinking on the subject. Journalism and teaching are both in the general business of delivering information or knowledge, and I have a vague, inchoate feeling that what's happening to each is related to how people are getting more and more information but know less and less what to do with it.

I showed this exchange to a thoughtful friend of mine who's still in journalism. I have found his vision of the future to be clear and accurate for three decades.

It seems to me the essential change in journalism is that control has passed to the end-user. Journalists used to occupy a position like university faculties. They could decide what was important. They set their own goals and standards and measured their own success. That was a good deal while it lasted. You could bore people or piss them off and they might leave you for a time, but they’d eventually drift back. Now every story, not just every edition, has to compete for attention. The markets are fragmented, the margins are thinner (and even negative, in some places) and the audience has its own ideas about what’s important and how best to deliver it. Journalists, as a group, were never the most adaptable sorts. Some good ones have left the business, and that’s a shame. I sympathize and respect them. No, it isn’t the same and can’t ever be again.

I suspect the changes in teaching may be analogous. The complaints I hear most often and most vigorously suggest a loss of control. You’re following someone else’s agenda.

I don’t think that’s either good or bad. It’s just how the world works. Nearly every job in our society involves pleasing somebody else – somebody who sets requirements and defines quality without consulting the poor guy who must deliver the goods. You could wish it weren’t so, but that wouldn’t do any good. When you’re on the receiving end – i.e. the customer – it’s a pretty good deal.


by Craig Reynolds

Network risks and policies: the CIA decided to go public with word of successful network-based attacks: CIA Says Hackers Have Cut Power Grid ("Several cities outside the U.S. have sustained attacks on utility systems and extortion demands.") Despite some early sniggering that this administration would look the other way FCC Earns Kudos for Net Neutrality Inquiry. An ISP decides to charge extra for "heavy usage," but by their definition essentially everyone is a heavy user: Time Warner: Download Too Much and You Might Pay $30 a Movie. Similarly, by RIAA's definition, it doesn't matter if anyone actually downloaded your files, and intent is irrelevant: EFF Files Brief in Atlantic v. Howell Resisting RIAA's "Attempted Distribution" Theory. (Speaking of tortured readings of copyright law: Ford: Car owners are pirates if they distribute pictures of their own cars.)

Messenger at Mercury: NASA's MESSENGER probe makes its first swing by Mercury in an intricate years-long orbital path: Spacecraft Zipping Past Mercury and Spacecraft Beams Home New Images of Mercury.

Post-Macworld analysis: Enhancing Its Hits, Apple Adds Movie Rentals, Ultralight Laptop, MacBook Air's tradeoffs and MacBook Air doesn't have a user-replaceable battery. Added 1-20-08: Macbook Air vs. Commodore SX-64 (via, via).

Technobits: anti-cholesterol snake oil: Drug Has No Benefit in Trial, Makers Say --- inadequate gusset plates: Plates focus of Minn. bridge collapse probe --- Team Creates Rat Heart Using Cells of Baby Rats (see images) --- A tenfold improvement in battery life? --- A New Front in the Console Wars --- Stanford Computer Scientist Gets Academy Award for Fluid Simulation --- 'Darkest ever' material created (see related items from 2006 and 2007) --- in the wake of MIT's fumbling after Star Simpson was arrested at Logan Airport, The Tech: At Meeting, Faculty Vote Not to Restrain MIT Press Releases --- Top 10 Telephone Tricks --- Best Science Images of 2007 Honored.