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Interesting Blog: McMansion Hell

February 11, 2017 3 comments

A few months ago, I came across a blog called McMansion Hell. As you might have guessed, it is about the overall poor quality of design and construction of large and expensive houses in suburbs and exurbs. While the blog is mostly about McMansions in USA, it does has some posts about similar monstrosities in other countries- especially Canada.

On another note, I wish that he had not hosted it as a Tumblr Blog as finding older posts can be real pain. Here is the link to the index – McMansion Hell Archives.

It is important to understand the critique (and mockery) in that blog is largely directed towards poorly designed and built houses which happen to be large, as opposed to living in or buying a large house. The person who writes that blog is trying to point out that people who buy such ugly and dysfunctional monstrosities have more money than taste or common sense.

Here are a few of her most interesting posts:

Mansion vs McMansion (Part 1) – The real thing Vs its pale imitation- Part 1

Mansion vs McMansion (Part 2) – The real thing vs its pale imitation- Part 2.

Aesthetics Aside, Why McMansions Are Bad Architecture – Many ways McMansions suck.

The McMansion Scale, Explained! – Quantifying the shiftiness of any given McMansion.

Where and Why Do We Build McMansions – Factors enabling these abominations.

and here are a few examples of her brutal and much deserved take down of these shitty stucco-boxes. Browse her tumblr blog archives for more..

Montville Township, NJ – This lovely home, built in 2004 can be yours for the low price of $2,250,000.

Fort Worth, TX – This week’s house, a Mansard built in 1993 (but is totes 1987) is pushing 5,000 square feet, and is currently on the market for $1.3 million USD.

Scottsdale, Arizona – This house, built in 1996 and boasting around 4,000 square feet can be all yours for just under a million dollars!

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: Nov 18, 2016

November 18, 2016 Leave a comment

Here are links to a few more recent articles by Michael Tracey on the factors underlying victory of Trump and defeat of HRC and her supposedly impressive political machine.

Link 1: How Hillary Lost North Carolina: Most People Disliked Her

As the 7:30pm deadline in North Carolina approached, there was not a soul waiting on line at one Fayetteville, NC voting location. Earlier in the day I had been told by an election judge to expect a late rush, but it never seemed to come. As of 3:00pm, the judge said that turnout had decreased by around 6% in one heavily black precinct. Working that same site was Justin Shumpert, 21, a young black man and aspiring rapper. (Also the claimed cousin of Cleveland Cavaliers defensive monster Iman Shumpert.) He’d been paid $100 to hand out Democratic Party literature in front of the polling site, but when queried as to his own beliefs, he said he wouldn’t vote. “She lied too many times,” he said, explaining why he couldn’t stand Hillary Clinton. Asked who he’d prefer between the two candidates if forced to choose, Shumpert said Trump. “At least he says what he’s going to do. She just hides it,” he said. He added that he would’ve gladly voted for a third term of Barack Obama.

Link 2: Trump Was Always The Republican Candidate Best Positioned To Defeat Hillary

Which leads us to the question: would any of the other 2016 GOP candidates have beaten Hillary? My inclination is to conclude that another GOP candidate could have ran up the votes in traditional GOP strongholds (such as Texas) where Trump won but atrophied support compared to the Republican norm. It’s not clear, however, that any other GOP candidate could have performed as well as Trump did in the electorally-crucial states. One or two of the other GOP candidates could have possibly still beaten Hillary — Rubio, Kasich — but they would’ve had to figure out another path to do so. I don’t think either of them could have replicated Trump’s path.

Link 3: How The Cult of “Fact-Checking” Helped Trump Win

If you want to find someone to blame for Trump, blame your local idiot journalist who spent 1.5 years in 24/7 anti-Trump meltdown mode, overwhelming the vast majority of news consumers with hysterical “FACT-CHECK!!!!!!!” pronouncements and forcing them to tune out most of the coverage, including anti-Trump coverage that was totally warranted, such as his history of stiffing small business owners. Why did the Hillary campaign focus on lunatic Russia conspiracy theories instead of Trump’s bilking of mom-and-pop cabinet-makers? You’ll have to ask them.

I imagine these fact-check cultists screaming “Fact check! Fact check!” in an obnoxious, nasally nerd voice, all in unison, as if they’re so convinced that they are the final arbiters of truth in the universe. They are so insulated, and cocky, and lack any capacity for self-criticism or self-awareness, that they don’t realize their “fact-checking” crusade is the product of ideology, not direct communion with universal divine wisdom.

This gets to the “fake news” craze now sweeping the punditocracy. Rather than reckon with their own profound failures, the pundit set wants to turn its attention to the abyss of the internet, and get rid of all news they deem “fake.” First amendment implications of the endeavor aside, “pivoting” to this effort gets them off the hook for failing every step of the way for 1.5 years straight. (“You had one job!!!!!!!!!”). How about instead of going to town on random internet content-makers, these elite content-makers grapple with their own failures? That should be step one.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: Nov 6, 2016

November 6, 2016 5 comments

Here are links to a few recent articles by Michael Tracy which explain the extent of corrupt, unethical and criminal behavior by Hillary Clinton, her husband and her cronies.

Link 1: Yes, The Clintons Are Uniquely Corrupt: A Grand Finale Essay

A question asked far less frequently, however, is how the Democratic Party entered the thrall of a widely-despised, historically unpopular, scandal-ridden candidate who at present appears to be statistically tied in the polls with the beauty pageant proprietor. Hillary Clinton’s flaws are manifold and have been well-known for ages; as just one example, prominent Democratic operatives groused behind the scenes long before the 2016 campaign formally began that malfeasance related to the Clinton Foundation would certainly become a major electoral liability. Their surmise was correct.

Link 2: Here’s Exactly How We Know That Hillary Is Under Criminal Investigation

When an investigation is “closed,” it’s not necessarily “closed” for all eternity. “Closed” isn’t a technical term. It just means the investigation is no longer being actively pursued. Any criminal investigation can be “re-opened” if additional evidence were to surface. According to Comey’s letter today, just that has happened: additional evidence has surfaced. As Comey put it, the newly-recovered emails “appear to be pertinent to the investigation.” By “the investigation” he is referring to the “investigation of former Secretary Clinton’s personal email server.” That investigation was unambiguously criminal in nature, as demonstrated above. Therefore, if the investigation has resumed in light of newly-surfaced evidence, Hillary is once again under criminal investigation as of today, October 28, 2016.

Link 3: Hillary’s Harassment Brigades

As of late I’ve been on the receiving end of an absolute torrent of 24/7 vitriol. I can perfectly understand why this is so. First, we’re nearing the climax of a highly cantankerous presidential campaign, and tensions are heightened on all sides. On top of that, I regularly expound firm opinions about contentious topics, and some segment of internet users are bound to disagree with what I say. I like to think that my opinions are amply grounded in reporting and facts, but nevertheless, some readers will inevitably take exception and state their objections accordingly.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: Sep 1, 2016

September 1, 2016 2 comments

Here are links to a few interesting articles I came across recently. They are all about how the “security” or “law and order” agencies in the USA (and other western countries) have become addicted to uncontrollable growth- with openly voracious and cannibalistic behavior. One of the linked pieces also makes the point that such growth creates new vulnerabilities for the host society which are far worse than the problem this growth was supposed to solve.

Link 1: Former Anti-Terror FBI Employee now finds Himself a Target

As a FBI surveillance employee, Ray Tahir spent the last decade tailing Muslims in counterterrorism cases. Among the investigations whose surveillance Tahir led were those of the charity Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development in Texas and North Carolina’s Daniel Patrick Boyd, who with others was convicted of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and conspiracy to commit murder, maiming, and kidnapping overseas. Both FBI cases had their critics. The American Civil Liberties Union described the prosecution of Holy Land Foundation as “discriminatory enforcement of counterterrorism laws.” In the Boyd case, as in other informant-led FBI stings, there are questions about whether the men convicted would have done anything at all were it not for the FBI’s involvement. As the FBI targeted Muslims in the United States following the 9/11 attacks, Tahir was among the front-line employees who made some of these cases possible. Now, he alleges, he has become a target himself.

Link 2: Leaked Catalogue reveals a Vast Array of Military Spy Gear offered to U.S. Police

A Confidential, 120-page catalogue of spy equipment, originating from British defense firm Cobham and circulated to U.S. law enforcement, touts gear that can intercept wireless calls and text messages, locate people via their mobile phones, and jam cellular communications in a particular area. The catalogue was obtained by The Intercept as part of a large trove of documents originating within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, where spokesperson Molly Best confirmed Cobham wares have been purchased but did not provide further information. The document provides a rare look at the wide range of electronic surveillance tactics used by police and militaries in the U.S. and abroad, offering equipment ranging from black boxes that can monitor an entire town’s cellular signals to microphones hidden in lighters and cameras hidden in trashcans. Markings date it to 2014. Cobham, recently cited among several major British firms exporting surveillance technology to oppressive regimes, has counted police in the United States among its clients, Cobham spokesperson Greg Caires confirmed.

Link 3: Hacking the US with only a Sound

Unlike the classic example of yelling “fire” in a crowded movie theater, this panic can be induced by anything that sounds/looks/feels like a threat rather than the claim of a specific threat (like “fire”). Nearly anything can set them off. Here’s three examples of that over the last two weeks (there have been many more): JFK Airport- Unfounded reports of gunfire led to an evacuation of terminals. Police march passengers out of the terminal with their hands up. Police speculate that it was started by load fans of the Rio Olympics. CrabTree Valley Mall (NC)- Unfounded reports of an active shooter leads to a panicked evacuation of the mall. LAX Airport- Unfounded reports of a shooter led to people storming the jetway doors and spilling out onto the tarmac, people barricading themselves into bathrooms in multiple terminals, and more.

This public reactiveness may become the new normal both here and in Europe. If so, we can expect people take advantage of it. Here’s how. All it takes is a single audio clip. Like this or this either near a public space or done remotely on a timed playback device is all it would take to ignite the FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) that leads to a large-scale evacuation. In fact, people are so reactive now, I suspect it wouldn’t even take a sound that is explicit, only something that sounds similar. Think about this for a moment. The ability to shut down a public space for hours: anytime (just walk in and play the sounds); remotely (low-cost playback device on timer/remote activation); or on a large-scale (thousands of people playing the sounds on their smart phones in public spaces simultaneously)

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: June 13, 2016

June 13, 2016 3 comments

Here are links to a few interesting articles I came across recently. They are all about a still little talked about angle of the Omar Mateen story. To make a long story short- it appears that Omar was deeply in the closet. Will write a longer piece about that incident soon.

Link 1: Orlando Shooter Was Reportedly a Regular at Pulse and Had a Profile on Gay Dating App

But according to witnesses, Mateen was also a regular at the club and exchanged messages with at least one gay man on a gay dating app. “It’s the same guy,” Chris Callen, who performs under the name Kristina McLaughlin, told the Canadian Press. “He’s been going to this bar for at least three years.” Ty Smith, who also goes by the name Aries, also said he’d seen Mateen being escorted drunk from the club, Pulse, on multiple occasions. “(He’d get) really, really drunk… He couldn’t drink when he was at home—around his wife, or family. His father was really strict… He used to bitch about it,” Smith told the Canadian Press. “Sometimes he would go over in the corner and sit and drink by himself, and other times he would get so drunk he was loud and belligerent,” Smith also explained to the Orlando Sentinel, which spoke with at least four clubgoers who remembered seeing Mateen at Pulse at least a dozen times. “We didn’t really talk to him a lot, but I remember him saying things about his dad at times… He told us he had a wife and child.”

Link 2: Reports: Ex-Wife and Classmate Say Orlando Killer Was Gay

Mateen’s former classmate, who was not named in the story, tells the paper Mateen asked him on a date when they were both students at the Indian River Community College police academy in 2006. His account, via the Palm Beach Post: He said Mateen asked him out romantically. “We went to a few gay bars with him, and I was not out at the time, so I declined his offer,” he said. He believed Mateen was gay, but not open about it. Mateen was awkward, and for a while the classmate and the rest in the group of friends felt sorry for him. “He just wanted to fit in and no one liked him,” he said. “He was always socially awkward.” Mateen was married at least once, to a woman named Sitora Yusufiy, who said Sunday that he was unstable and abusive during their brief marriage. Yusufiy, who is now dating a Brazilian man, also sat for an interview with Brazilian TV Monday. Speaking in Portuguese, her boyfriend said in the interview that she had described Mateen as having “gay tendencies” and said his dad had called him gay in front of her on several occasions.

Link 3: Orlando shooter Omar Mateen was gay, former classmate says

A former classmate of Omar Mateen’s 2006 police academy class said he believed Mateen was gay, saying Mateen once asked him out. Officials say Mateen shot and killed 49 people and injured 53 others at an Orlando nightclub early Sunday morning. The classmate said that he, Mateen and other classmates would hang out, sometimes going to gay nightclubs, after classes at the Indian River Community College police academy. He said Mateen asked him out romantically. “We went to a few gay bars with him, and I was not out at the time, so I declined his offer,” the former classmate said. He asked that his name not be used. He believed Mateen was gay, but not open about it. Mateen was awkward, and for a while the classmate and the rest in the group of friends felt sorry for him. In Orlando, the Los Angeles Times reported that Mateen attended the Pulse nightclub possibly as many as a dozen times before the rampage. Kevin West said he had messaged Mateen back and forth over a year’s time on the gay dating app Jack’d but never met him until he saw Mateen crossing the street about 1 a.m. Sunday. “He walked directly past me. I said, ‘Hey,’ and he turned and said, ‘Hey,’” and nodded his head, West said. “I could tell by the eyes.”

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: May 31, 2016

May 31, 2016 3 comments

Here are links to a few interesting articles I came across recently. They are about the close linkage of prolonged economic downturns, widespread disillusionment with the ‘system’ and rise of populist politicians. As usual, note that you should not believe any author just because you agree with one or two of their opinions.

Link 1: An entire class of Americans misunderstood and rejected: Dismissing white workers is profoundly reactionary

The white working class is under the microscope. Facing bleak economic prospects and opioid overdose, wage-labor rage is alternatively credited and blamed for propelling the Sanders and Trump insurgencies. But a growing number of dissident analyses contend that this new conventional wisdom rests on lazy assumptions: Trump supporters are well to do, Sanders’ advantage is based on age rather than income, and whites aren’t really that poor anyhow compared to black and Latino people. The debate is an empirical one but emerges from general elite agita over just what to think of these people who many comprehend with the nuance that generally pertains to cartoon characters. From the liberal establishment, it’s about painting Sanders as a phenomenon rooted in white college students. On the right, it’s a plain meltdown over Trump’s usurpation. But whether it be derision or dismissal coming from liberals or conservatives the upshot is diminishing the import and possibility of class politics in the United States.

One finding that’s hard to ignore: Trump support is highly correlated to areas where the death rates of middle-aged white people, fueled by opioid overdoses, are spiking. No doubt xenophobia and white nationalism is driving Trump’s rise. But its the admixture of economic populism, however phony, that makes him so potent. Not only are people in the bottom and middle getting squeezed, many in the middle are falling into the bottom or fear that they will. Wages have been stagnant. Median household income and wealth plummeted during the Great Recession. At the same time, healthcare, childcare, higher education, housing and retirement costs have risen. Since 1979, the share of working-age American households making within 50-percent of the median has steadily declined. Importantly, class self-perception has shifted too, with many fewer Americans identifying as middle class and many more identifying as lower class. In particular, the number of young people identifying as lower or lower-middle class has skyrocketed. It should be expected that voter incomes exceed those of larger populations including non-voters. Missing that distorts analyses of any given candidates’ class appeal.

Link 2: The Elites and the Rise of Donald Trump

The “privilege” that these working class whites are looking to defend is middle class factory jobs paying between $15 and $30 an hour. These jobs generally came with decent health care benefits and often a traditional defined benefit pension, although that has become increasingly rare over the last two decades. This is certainly a privileged position compared to billions of people in the developing world who would be happy to make $15 a day. It is also privileged compared to women, whose pay still averages less than 80 percent of their male counterparts. And, it is privileged compared to the situation of African Americans, Hispanics, and other racial and ethnic minorities who have frequently been trapped in the least desirable and lowest paying jobs. But these factory jobs and other blue collar occupations are hardly privileged when compared to the high flyers in the financial industry, the CEOs and other top level managers, or even professionals like doctors and dentists. These groups have all seen substantial increases in their pay and living standards over the last four decades.

To start with the simplest case, the pundits, who are all free traders, get really blank faced when the topic of protectionism for doctors, dentists, lawyers and other highly paid professionals comes up. Just as there are hundreds of millions of people in the developing world who are prepared to do factory labor for a fraction of the pay of our manufacturing workers, there are tens of millions of really smart ambitious people in the developing world (and Europe) who would happily train to U.S. standards and work as professionals here for a fraction of the pay of our doctors and lawyers. The difference is that we have designed our trade deals to subject our manufacturing workers to competition, while we have maintained or increased the protection for our doctors and lawyers. Then we have our financial sector where the bankers benefit from “too big to fail” insurance from the government. We also exempt trades of stocks, bonds, and derivatives from the same sort of sales tax that applies to clothes, cars, and most other products.

Link 3: Ascended Economy?

The part about replacing workers with robots isn’t too weird; lots of industries have already done that. There’s a whole big debate over to what degree that will intensify, and whether unemployed humans will find jobs somewhere else, or whether there will only be jobs for creative people with a certain education level or IQ. This part is well-discussed and I don’t have much to add. But lately there’s also been discussion of automating corporations themselves. I don’t know much about Ethereum (and I probably shouldn’t guess since I think the inventor reads this blog and could call me on it) but as I understand it they aim to replace corporate governance with algorithms. For example, the DAO is a leaderless investment fund that allocates money according to member votes. Right now this isn’t super interesting; algorithms can’t make too many difficult business decisions so it’s limited to corporations that just do a couple of primitive actions (and why would anyone want a democratic venture fund?). But once we get closer to true AI, they might be able to make the sort of business decisions that a CEO does today. The end goal is intelligent corporations controlled by nobody but themselves.

The more ascended corporations there are trying to maximize shareholder value, the more chance there is some will cause negative externalities. But there’s a limited amount we would be able to do about them. This is true today too, but at least today we maintain the illusion that if we just elected Bernie Sanders we could reverse the ravages of capitalism and get an economy that cares about the environment and the family and the common man. An Ascended Economy would destroy that illusion. How bad would it get? Once ascended corporations reach human or superhuman level intelligences, we run into the same AI goal-alignment problems as anywhere else. Would an ascended corporation pave over the Amazon to make a buck? Of course it would; even human corporations today do that, and an ascended corporation that didn’t have all human ethics programmed in might not even get that it was wrong. What if we programmed the corporation to follow local regulations, and Brazil banned paving over the Amazon? This is an example of trying to control AIs through goals plus injunctions – a tactic Bostrom finds very dubious. It’s essentially challenging a superintelligence to a battle of wits – “here’s something you want, and here are some rules telling you that you can’t get it, can you find a loophole in the rules?” If the superintelligence is super enough, the answer will always be yes.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: May 13, 2016

May 13, 2016 16 comments

Here are links to a few interesting articles I came across recently. They are about the democratic party and its republican counterpart betrayed (and are still betraying) the working and middle class in USA.

Link 1: Our awful elites gutted America. Now they dare ring alarms about Trump, Sanders — and cast themselves as saviors

The worst offenders of all are the American left’s cultural warriors, who daily wage some new battle over some imagined cultural offense, which has nothing to do with the lives of normal people but only the highly tuned sensibilities of those in the academic, publishing, and media ecospheres. The Hillary supporters have the authoritarian mentality of small property owners. They are the mirror image of the “realist” Trump supporters, the difference being that the Trump supporters fall below the median income level, and are distressed and insecure, while the Hillary supporters stand above the median income level, and are prosperous but still insecure. To manipulate them, the Democratic and Republican elites have both played a double game for forty years and have gotten away with it. They have incrementally yet quite comprehensively seized all economic and political power for themselves. They have perverted free media and even such basics of the democratic process as voting and accountability in elections. Elites on both sides have collaborated to engineer a revolution of economic decline for the working person, until the situation has reached unbearable proportions. The stock market may be doing well, and unemployment may theoretically be low, but people can’t afford housing and food, they can’t pay back student loans and other debts, their lives, wherever they live in this transformed country, are full of such misery that there is not a single word that an establishment candidate like Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush says that makes sense to them.

Link 2: Unnecessariat

Prince, apparently, overdosed. He’s hardly alone, just famous. After all, death rates are up and life expectancy is down for a lot of people and overdoses seem to be a big part of the problem. You can plausibly make numerical comparisons. Here’s AIDS deaths in the US from 1987 through 1997. The number of overdoses in 2014? 47,055 of which at least 29,467 are attributable to opiates. The population is larger now, of course, but even the death rates are comparable. And rising. As with AIDS, families are being “hollowed out” with elders raising grandchildren, the intervening generation lost before their time. As with AIDS, neighborhoods are collapsing into the demands of dying, or of caring for the dying. This too is beginning to feel like a detonation. There’s a second, related detonation to consider. Suicide is up as well. The two go together: some people commit suicide by overdose, and conversely addiction is a miserable experience that leads many addicts to end it rather than continue to be the people they recognize they’ve become to family and friends, but there’s a deeper connection as well. Both suicide and addiction speak to a larger question of despair. Despair, loneliness, and a search, either temporarily or permanently, for a way out.

In 2011, economist Guy Standing coined the term “precariat” to refer to workers whose jobs were insecure, underpaid, and mobile, who had to engage in substantial “work for labor” to remain employed, whose survival could, at any time, be compromised by employers (who, for instance held their visas) and who therefore could do nothing to improve their lot. The term found favor in the Occupy movement, and was colloquially expanded to include not just farmworkers, contract workers, “gig” workers, but also unpaid interns, adjunct faculty, etc. Looking back from 2016, one pertinent characteristic seems obvious: no matter how tenuous, the precariat had jobs. The new dying Americans, the ones killing themselves on purpose or with drugs, don’t. Don’t, won’t, and know it. Here’s the thing: from where I live, the world has drifted away. We aren’t precarious, we’re unnecessary. The money has gone to the top. The wages have gone to the top. The recovery has gone to the top. And what’s worst of all, everybody who matters seems basically pretty okay with that. The new bright sparks, cheerfully referred to as “Young Gods” believe themselves to be the honest winners in a new invent-or-die economy, and are busily planning to escape into space or acquire superpowers, and instead of worrying about this, the talking heads on TV tell you its all a good thing- don’t worry, the recession’s over and everything’s better now, and technology is TOTES AMAZEBALLS!

Link 3: Burying the White Working Class

The media takeaway was clear: somehow, someway, West Virginia’s vote for a Jewish socialist Brooklyn native was a vote for racism. “I don’t want to say it,” said Chris Matthews on election night “but West Virginian voters are, you know — conservative on social issues — but there’s another word for that …” MSNBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald claimed, “Many attributed the outcome to West Virginia voters’ discomfort with Obama’s race. The state is one of the whitest in the country.” To be fair, it’s now widely known that Hillary Clinton keeps hot sauce in her purse at all times. These kinds of statements are the name of the game for today’s Democratic elite. The party has established a clear line on the white wage-earning class: they’re all either dying (demographically or literally), irrelevant in an increasingly nonwhite country, or so hopelessly racist they can go off themselves with a Miller High Life-prescription-painkiller cocktail for all they care. As liberal hero and Sanders nemesis Barney Frank put it a couple of weeks ago, “the likelihood that fifty-eight-year-old coal miners are going to become the solar engineers of the future is nil.”

But even with such “dangerous” and “unrealistic” expectations why do elite liberals seem to focus so particularly on white wage-earners? Part of the explanation is that unlike with the white working class, many of the hardships workers of color face fit neatly within an acceptable liberal narrative about what’s wrong with our society: racism. And when racism can be blamed, capitalism can be exonerated. Liberals can delude themselves into believing that it is nothing more than the accumulation of individual prejudices stashed away in the minds of powerful white people that has destroyed black and brown communities in Detroit, Ferguson, and Chicago’s South Side. Class stratification, capital flight, and the war against organized labor are thus sidestepped completely. The liberal elite is spared from having to question the fundamental injustices of capitalism. Unfortunately, the miseries, hardships, and exploitation of white workers don’t fit into an easy capital-friendly framework. Liberals then have two options: blame the individual moral failings of white workers or call into question the very nature of capitalism itself.

What do you think? Comments?