10 things that I miss about Melbourne

As I sit 10000 meters above sea level, with the monotonous hum of the airplane engines gliding me into stranger shores, flashbacks of Melbourne – the city of my childhood – indelibly sketch themselves upon my mind like a memorable film.

The familiar city skyline, stands proudly on the horizon like the ramparts of a medieval castle; the algae-blue of Port Phillip bay superimposed on the endless ocean licking the curvature of the earth outside my window seat. So without further a due, as my childhood blends into memory which blends into nostalgia, here is, quid pro pro, the 10 things I miss about Melbourne.

1. Graffiti –

Crawling from the pavement – as an outstretched hand clinging to life below the sand – Melbourne’s graffiti is forged in the night, coming to life by day, and then returning to the shadows, only to be replaced again with the rising sun. Weird cartoons, political statements, illegible tags and signatures – graffiti is a subculture unto itself, and reflects on society as a whole. We, the interpreters, the amateur art critics, the lovers of impromptu art –  take away tid bits of inspiration with each passing glance: hours of painstaking, unrecognized work facing the train-line, pleading for recognition from the distracted and uninitiated. Perhaps what inspires me the most, is not the beauty or quirkiness of some of the artworks – but the fact that the work is anonymous. The graffiti artist seeks to leave his mark and gain street cred, but his public displays function as our collective voice. A subculture of the day, that is borne of the night.

2. Crickets

Apart from the occasional severe heatwave or devastating flood – the next worst thing about the Melbourne summer are cicadas. Eating away at your brain with their incessant signature ‘chirp’, the crickets bury themselves deep beneath street lawns and backyards – spawning to life when the temperature hits a cool 35. Accompanying their monosyllabic symphony is the unparalleled beauty of the setting sun, usually throwing an orange backdrop across the city sky. Many times I tried unsuccessfully to track down the army of hidden cicadas and extinguish their mind-numbing mating cries. As yet, each attempt ended shamefully – the cicada would lie low for a couple of hours – only to restart like a broken record once I made it to bed.

Crickets 1. Yours truly, 0.

3. Four seasons in one day.

Each discussion about Melbourne invariably turns to the state of the weather, and every single time – without fail – somebody lets out (mid conversation) the triumphant cliché: “We’ve had four seasons in one day.” And indeed, this overused, trampled maxim does have an element of truth to it. Mornings are cold – the embodiment of winter – with a thin later of dew coating the grass, accompanied by the frosted windows of each car that make for some interesting street art. As the dew melts and lunch trickles by, sanguine autumn leaves line the leafy streets, and a light shower from the bay coats the city in a pluvial mask. By afternoon, you must escape the oppressive heat, as the clouds give way to our neighbouring star – casting down all those who dare to enter the cool murky waters of St. Kilda beach. By dusk, the city recovers – like a newly baked loaf straight from the oven – providing a pleasant “Spring-y” end to the lesser liked three seasons, as they prepare to wreak havoc upon Melbourne’s inhabitants the next morning.

4. Public transport

Everybody in Melbourne says that hate it, but nobody can live without it. This love-hate relationship with the mass transit system has existed in Melbourne from the beginning of time, when our ancestor, John Batman rented out his horse and carriage after losing a poker game to John Faukner. Perhaps Melbourne’s single most identifiable feature is the iconic green tram that snakes its way from the CBD to the suburbs. Every train ride into the city is always an interesting experience: when the train is empty you have the freedom to rest your head against the glass and doze off to the view of abandoned warehouses, parks and family homes. When travelling at peak hour, you squeeze in between a white collar lawyer and patriotic footy supporters, huddling alone in that last gap of fresh air, whilst you listen to the revellers singing the Collingwood anthem al the way to Frankston.

5. Footy

Speaking of revellers, nothing electrifies this city more than footy. It is Melbourne’s very own, born and bred – and our proudest export to the northern states. Whilst I’m not an avid supporter, nobody can escape the media obsession with the Australian game – on and off the field. From the latest player frug scandal, to the injured list, to fantasy football. For 8 months, we all hold our breath to deliberate and argue and bet on, who will win this week. Cricket, rugby and basketball are evicted from the schoolyard and the national psyche – and one game takes over – footy. Luckily I brought one with me overseas, to continue the tradition.

6. The ‘alternative’ image

If I had to stereotype ‘The Melbournian’ – it would be the alternative, inner-city ‘trendy’, sipping latte in a gentrified bohemian café in Carlton, whilst plotting the next Youtube revolution. Besides the fact that the Melbourne electorate was the first in the country to vote in a Greenie, Melbournians have always had a tendency to aim for the ‘hip’ offbeat style – like a cross between a self-aware hippie and a struggling musician with an obscene amount of hair gel. And I like. There is something about being ‘alternative’ that encourages self-thought and innovation. There is a war raging against conformity and Melbourne is in the middle of it. Kudos.

7. The beach

As you’ve probably figured, Melbourne is not the #1 summer tourist destination of Australia, although it does have a few iconic beaches that line the bay. My personal experiences of swimming in Port Phillip range from vomit-induced cholera to radioactive poisoning, however as long as one doesn’t enter the polluted waters, Melbourne’s beaches have something for everybody (except swimmers). From the over-hyped beach huts in Brighton to something further down the Mornington Peninsula, I’m gonna miss predicted a series of wavefronts when a supertankers waltzes by on the horizon.

8. Multiculturalism and food

The last time I heard anybody brag about plain ‘ol steak and mashed potatoes was …. never. And with such a wide diversity of cultures and cuisines, why would you? My suburb – as a microcosm of Melbourne – contains an eclectic sample of Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Mexican and 7-elevens, so there’s never a boring day when experimenting with a new palate. Since there is no distinctive ‘Australian cuisine’, we seem to have adopted the entire range as are own – but then again, this might just be a consequence of globalization in our society. Nevertheless, still missing it.

9. Queen Victoria Market

There is a humble modesty in earning a living at the market. Each person inquisitively doting along is a potential customer. Each vendor guards his produce like a hawk, waiting for the next sale. One would expect in a capitalist paradigm, that so many similar stalls grouped together would drastically bring prices down in fierce competition. Not so aboard Queen Victoria. The produce might be fresh, but Big W is often cheaper. But just wandering amidst the flurry of shoppers, buskers, ethnic vendors and tourists is a serene experience. Finding parking is a separate issue. For some reason I’ve always romanticised the market vendor. Not as a career prospect, but whenever I think of them a certain image comes to mind: Arriving at the market before the break of dawn, unloading the carts in the icy cold, and putting on that ubiquitous apron, in preparation for another day of hopes and dreams, customer and hagglers, and the continuous sounds of life.

10. Family

Ye, corny I know. But this is probably the thing that I miss the most in Melbourne. Because at the end of the day, it’s just another city, with people and transport and buildings and everything that goes with normal cities. But my family and loved ones quietly wait there in subdued anticipation – as I move ever farther to a distant land. Now that’s definitely something to long for.

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Illegal downloads – free music with a guilty conscience

Everyone I know does it. Most of my friends nonchalantly boast about it. My iTunes library is littered with it. My external hard drive is infested with an obscene amount of it – ready to put any muso to shame. This is the reality of acquiring music or videos online today. Illegally downloading copyrighted material, is as easy googling a title with the words “free download” as an addendum. Websites such as Isohunt, Limewire, The Pirate Bay, voxy, youtube – are just the tip of the media-industry nightmare, costing artists and record companies billions of dollars, whilst delivering everything on demand to bedrooms and living rooms everywhere – for free. From personal experience, the temptation to download a song or movie without paying for it is huge. After all, why should you need to whip out your parent’s credit card if there is simply no need. It doesn’t feel illegal. You can’t touch it, like a thief can touch a stolen wallet. You don’t have to hide it, like a robber would hide stolen jewelery. It only takes a couple of minutes to sink yourself into the amoral vortex of copyright infringement, yet you will almost never get caught – because it is so prevalent, anonymous and unregulated. No substantial legislation exists in Australia to punish illegal downloading – so you essentially have every piece of music ever recorded at your disposal, like a kid in a candy store.

Which begs the question: Is it correct to download music illegally? The answer is unequivocally: no. There is nothing correct about stealing profit from someone who has worked long and hard on composing, writing and creating a piece of art. However, because the lines between piracy and legitimate file-sharing are so blurred, there are those who justify illegal downloading of intellectual property through a loophole. For example, if I purchase a CD from the store, and my friend borrows the CD to listen for his enjoyment – is this an illegal act? no. Is it considered file-sharing? no. Now consider that my friend goes home and copies the contents of the CD to his computer. Is this considered file-sharing? Yes. Is it illegal? Yes and no. Ripping a CD for personal use is not considered illegal – so long as one does not distribute the contents globally via a file sharing program. As Mark Harris notes on his mp3 blog:

For those of us who just want to convert our original CDs to digital music files for use in MP3 players etc., the good news is that the RIAA still don’t have a problem with this as long as you don’t use file sharing programs. It’s also OK to burn a copy onto CDR as long as it’s from an original you own.

However, my friend technically commits an illegal act

Borrowing an original CD off someone to make a copy for yourself or others is illegal.

Now this is American copyright law, but the Australian record industry faces a similar uphill battle. The following statement released by the Australian Recording Industry Association reads:

“Unauthorised uploading or copying is not free at all—it is the musicians and the people who invest in the music who are paying the price. The artists, first and foremost, the labels that have invested in them, the publishers who manage the copyright of their songs and the thousands of people involved in the many different areas of the music industry are all affected. Downloading and burning without permission doesn’t fairly reward the efforts of those who create, develop and record music, and who depend on it for their livelihood.”

Clearly this issue isn’t simply about rich, hedonistic artists or decadent record companies. It’s about smaller, less well known artists: local bands, undergrounds bands and indie producers. These are the people that really lose out when you decide to download their music. The only positive aspect about distributing their music illegally is that it increases their exposure and popularity – leading to higher attendances at live shows. I remember once watching a TV documentary, in which a struggling artist noted that he only makes money from live shows, and that his entire fan base downloads his music illegally. This is the sad reality of music today.

There have been a select few cases where offenders have been caught, but these are just a drop in the ocean of copyright infringements. Fancy a song? How about this one for $675,000. . . .

Boston PhD student, Joel Tenenbaum, who was found guilty of illegally downloading music in August 2009, is to challenge his $675,000 fine. The announcement which was made via his blog, details the new motion.

As time progresses, and legislation is put forward to prevent file-sharing,  reasonable punitive measures will be meted out to offenders. The upcoming lawsuits demanding half-a-million-dollars are merely attention-grabbing feats of desperation by record companies, seeking to make an example of the unlucky few who are caught. Outrageous, preposterous, unlucky. You can only sympathize and hope that you’re not the next chicken who doesn’t make it across road.

Every time you download a torrent file, your ISP keeps a log of your ip address which can be used to reveal your identity. Most offenders who are caught, readily agree to pay the $3000 fine to record companies. Nobody in their right mind would challenge the record companies with the blatant evidence of guilt stacked against them. Only those  with the foolhardy fortitude of nothing to lose, would take on a media conglomerate (Warning: Do not try this at home, in the workplace, at an internet cafe or in your dreams). Anyone who wishes to do the same should note that his/her shy smirk will wipe away once he/she realizes that notoriety can’t keep one warm at night – even when challenging a row of the record company’s overpaid, celebrity lawyers.

A federal jury in Duluth, Minn., on Thursday ordered a Minneapolis woman to pay $220,000 to six music companies for illegally downloading and sharing copyrighted music over a peer-to-peer network.The 12-person jury said Jammie Thomas must pay $9,250 for each of the 24 songs that were the focus of the case. In their complaint, the six music companies that sued her had claimed that Thomas had illegally shared a total of 1,702 songs over the Kazaa file-sharing network, but they chose to focus on a representative list of 24 songs.

Thus it’s quite clear that the chances of getting caught  are rather unlikely, but if you do get caught, be prepared to weather a music-mortgage of Goliath proportions. But all of this still raises more questions than it answers for those who wish to remain dutiful, law-abiding citizens: What if my friend were to borrow my mp3 to listen to my music. Is this illegal? What if I were to use legally purchased music in a school video or a home-made movie. Is this illegal? What if my friend borrows my music in a non-digital format for a year, such as a tape or record. Is this illegal? What if I were to record a TV show with copyrighted music playing in the credits – and then I were to replay the recording at a family gathering. Is this illegal? If the answer to all of the above is yes – then unless you’re living naked in the middle of a forest eating gum-nuts – you too are guilty copyright infringement.

So if it’s illegal, and I know it’s wrong and morally incorrect, why do I keep doing it? The answer is not peer-pressure – and whilst I realize that there is no justification, but here’s a little insight into my train of thought: I hear it on the radio. The song. My pupils dilate, saliva builds up under my tongue and my ears vibrate to the heavenly rhythms of the tune that will continue ringing in my ears for hours. I hurriedly find a computer to make a Google search, piecing together half-remembered lyrics so that I can find its name, and satisfy my musical cravings.  And there it is – freely available at my disposal on youtube, the repeat button wearing down with a cacophony of obsessive-compulsive mouse clicks – listening through it again, again and again. At this point, I have the potential to:

1) Bookmark the music video, and return to the youtube link (which is available to listen for free), so that I can continue listening to it every day

2) Download the music illegally on Limewire in a couple of minutes to my iTunes library, so that I can continue listening to it every day

3) Purchase the music legally on iTunes for $2.79, so that I can continue listening to it every day.

4) Ask a friend to put the music on a USB, so that I can add it to my my iTunes library, and continue listening to it every day

5) Use one of the numerous ‘online video downloaders’ and simply download the music track from the youtube video, so that I can continue listening to it every day.

Almost everyone I know, bar a couple of exceptions will have no hesitations of selecting option 2, 4 or 5. This is the contemporary reality of acquiring music, videos and e-books online. Only one person I know risks actually paying for their music, and she is guilty nonetheless of other, far more heinous infringements such as borrowing CDs and recording movies. Which leads to a further question: Why should I stop downloading music if it’s free, easy and (subjectively at least) it doesn’t hurt anybody? And the only acceptable answer is the moral one. Until people become too afraid to download due to widespread punitive measures taken by record companies, there will simply be no practical reason to stop. If you empathize with the artists, if you want to support them and to see them continue with their work, then you will pay them for it. Of course, one could argue: why do Jay-Z and Taylor Swift need my money to add another Lexus to the 7 car garage? Well they probably don’t – but if everyone were to download illegally, even the biggest artists would feel the financial strain.

Yes, nobody is stopping you from adding another single to your dirty music library, but every time you listen to your favourite tracks, the artists can only hope that your guilty conscience will come back to haunt you.

Victorian state elections 2010: Underwhelming. The Greens cash in on voter apathy.

Today was supposed to be a momentous occasion in my life. Having recently turned 18, I was able for the first time to exercise my democratic right to vote, and to finally take the future of Victoria into my own hands and make a difference – if at least by one vote. Needless to say, the Victorian state elections have been painfully underwhelming and drop-dead-boring to follow. In my previous post on the 2010 Federal elections, I noted that there is no longer any passion in politics: same boring ads, same staged debates, same cliched speeches masked over with fancy promises and sweet nothings. Politicians are in slumber mode, and the electorate wearily shows up to the voting station once more – feeling numb and expecting nothing at all. In many ways, these elections are similar to the recent Federal elections, in that they have been exceptionally uninspiring – except in the case of state elections, nobody really cares anyway.

One thing that I’ve found odd (someone please explain this to me), is that the Greens are so fashionable. Not politically of course. Their policies carry little substance. I’m talking about Green’s supporters and the way they dress.  It’s as if they’ve realized that no sane person would vote for a haphazard party, hastily put together on a vague idea of “saving the planet”, so they resort to Mac-style tactics by appealing to the lowest common denominator: looking ‘cool’ appealing to the smug, hipster demographic. That’s right, if you’re an artist, in a band or you buy your jeans from a grocery store, chances are you fit the Greenie stereotype.

At the polling station, I was met by the usual crowd of party-fanatics handing out as many fliers as possible, in the hopes that they could win me over in the last minute. There was something different about the Greens supporter. Let’s just say off the record, that not even that attractive 20-something Greenie girl, waiting for me at the entrance with short-shorts and a handful of glittering ‘eye-candy’ fliers, could get me to vote for The Greens. If this is what I think it is, then it is: Desperation. If they can’t win you over logically because of sound policies, then they go for “plan b”: trendiness.

That’s not to say that the two major parties, Liberal and Labor ran anything resembling a campaign either. The only admirable thing I can say, is that, scare tactics and campaign smearing have been at a minimum. Perhaps that’s because neither party has the budget to launch a successful smear campaign – or they just didn’t have the imagination to make anything up. No-wonder then, that voter apathy is skyrocketing and becoming the norm. At times like these, a quote by Elie Wiesel comes to mind:

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.
The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference.
The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference.
And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference”

click to enlarge

Indifference is what many people feel in regards to politics today. The only way to get voters’ attention is with novelty: “Provide me with a revelation of TigerWoods-esque proportions, or leave me alone to play golf”. In a world dominated by political-correctness (pun intended) and a clinical dissociation between the leaders and the people, no wonder people are thronging to vote for the Greens. At least they seem ‘alternative’, and hey, it makes you feel good about saving the environment! Now stand aside as I park my hummer and guzzle a can of coke that 12 Chinese children died to make. But what have the Greens really got going for them? Well nothing. And here’s the election flier they hand out at polling booths to prove it:

There are so many things wrong with this flier, that it practically embodies what is bad with politics today. Firstly, the slogans “Your vote is powerful” and “Because who you vote for matters”, is the kind of crap I’d expect to hear dished out of a Nivea hair ad: “because you’re worth it”. These slogans lack any context as to why we should vote Greens, and leaves a glaring question unanswered: does my vote still matter if I don’t vote Green? Perhaps, you’re “powerful” enough to make that decision on your own – without having fake Green guilt shoved down your throat by misguided friends. But they’ll have you know – that they’re very capable at branding you as a right-wing bible-belt fascist if you don’t agree with them.

The list of their policies is even more ludicrous. They represent an over-simplified summary of nothingness, and I kept thinking to myself: this must’ve been a project given to Grade 5 kids, because there is no way this was written by an adult. These are simply milk-n-cookies feel good goals that you would come up with, if you posed the following question to a primary school: “What can make Victoria better?”. So unless you can be bothered reading through their flier, their policies are essentially:

Water: Save more water!

Health: More money for health!

Education: Make it better!

Public transport: Put more buses on the road!

Climate Change: DUH!

At least The Liberal party were respectable enough to give out a no-nonsense, one-sided simple flier. Because unlike the Greens, they realise that they have no need to appeal to uninformed constituents in a last-ditch scramble for votes:

Labor wasn’t exceptionally terrible either. At least they can vouch on John Brumby’s good record and that killer automatic smile with nothing behind it:

The one thing that all the fliers shared in common? They were each printed on “100% recycled fibre” and certified as “Carbon Neutral” and “Greenhouse friendly!” Wait: did they just steal the Green’s “green” message? Nope – because if  The Greens get the votes, they’ll be sure to put a “Carbon tax” on everything imaginable: next election, you’ll be paying to see each flier, and you’ll feel guilty about it as well.

According to an article in the Australian:

The acceleration in the Greens vote, he says, is being driven more by instinct than specific issues: “It goes across a range. At one end it is almost apathy: ‘What have I got to lose?’, ‘I’ve tried the other two, they are just going to be more of the same, so why don’t I try these other guys?

All the major parties ran underwhelming campaigns, and The Greens are standing on the side, looking trendy and snatching up votes, not based on the party’s merit – but simply the fact that they’re a ‘change’ and they represent an idealized version of what most kids hope to emulate. Well here’s one teenager in the key ‘Youth Demographic’ (18-24) that is bucking the trend. By voting for one of the major parties, I might be voting for crap – but at least it’s the kind of crap that I’m familiar with.

2010 Australian election guide (written before the election)

In Soviet Russia, an air conditioner is called a politician because it makes a lot noise, but it doesn’t work very well. Keeping a close eye on the Australian federal elections makes one squirm – because there is a tangible sense that the people running for the ballot are by and large politicians rather than leaders. (Politics: “Poli” a Latin word meaning “many”; and “tics” meaning “bloodsucking creatures”).

Catchphrases like “working families”, “the Australian people”, and “for our future” have become so redundant this election, that they no longer make an impact. So if the speeches won’t swing you, here, gratis, is a brief election guide of the contenders, and my bets for the winner. [written prior to the election]

Labor: So Keating dumped Hawke, and Julia dumped Kevin. As the tribulations of our intimate relationships, so too are the chronicles of the Labour party and the extended trade union family. The party has experienced 3 traumatic splits (1917, 1931 and 1955) which debilitated it and kept it out of office for many years. In a stunning victory, Kevin 07, toppled Johnny “go for growth” Howard, and since then he and his party have been spending like mad to get the economy squeaky clean. That is, until he was kindly ‘let go’ a couple of months ago. It turns out that the public wasn’t actually asking for insulation or school halls – just a solution to housing unaffordability, unsecure borders, and an economy over-reliant on the transient mining boom [thanks China!]. Under Ms. Gillard’s helm, the party is trying to do what the Liberals should’ve done with Costello – use a fresh face to win the election (and scream “work choices” loud enough so that everyone can hear). Whilst Australia under the Labour Government has successfully weathered the global financial crisis, the question must be asked: Is it sustainable to throw billions of dollars at your problems to wish them away? Maybe, although the last time I tried I was grounded for weeks. My odds: $2.30

The Liberals: The underdog in this election, the Liberal party seeks to confuse everybody, because the only thing liberal (small ‘l’) about it, is Tony Abbot’s lycra bike short-shorts. Often termed as “fiscally responsible”, “economically conservative”, “financially sound”, or any other two word variant comprised of the aforementioned synonyms, this party has the policies and the know-how – just not the leader. From popular sentiment, Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop form the ultimate political dream-team to lead our country into the nebulous future – perhaps the elephant in the room for the Liberal party. These guys tick all the boxes – internal democratic debate and dissent, strong foreign policy and a business minds – but it turns out that voters judge a book by it’s cover and vote for the person running the party, and not the party itself. Thus, there is a chance that the Liberals may languish in the opposition for another term, simply because Mr Abbot is portrayed rather negatively by the media. Let’s just say that his personality doesn’t particularly effervesce with charisma, emotion or politically correct opinions. It’ll be a close one, but Labour hasn’t particularly screwed up the country, and the Liberals are still waiting on that winning team. M

y odds: $2.50

The Greens: These guys appear green on the outside, but really exude a bloody socialist red buried deep within – contributing to the flight from rationality that plagues our society. And I’m not just talking about their illogical polices or complete lack of economic understanding – the main problem with this party is primarily ideological, as it goes with left-wing politics in general. For the record, most of the so-called “environmentally friendly” policies are simply attempts at furthering government control and impeding economic progress. The solution to global warming is not neo-luddism, apocalyptic scaremongering or carbon trading schemes – the solution is alternative energy – after all, you guys aren’t really ready to give up your tv, transport, refrigeration, computers [and yes facebook too], or pay more for them either. Without the green veneer, this party is simply a latent attempt at Trotskyism – and that means that every greeny is just as equal as the last one, comrade! Too bad they’re predicted to become our third major party, mostly thanks to the army of 30 something, latte-sipping bohemians on Flinders Lane. My odds: $4.30

Family First: Brother and Sisters of Australia, can you hear me? Can I get an ‘Mhmm’? A concoction of grassroots evangelical fundamentalism and a vague political attempt to legislate based on family values, this party may alienate everyone left of the centre right on the political spectrum. In fact, the only thing these guys are putting first is a copy of the St. James bible, a gun and an insistence that all debates be conversed through glosollalia. Jokes aside, this party advocates banning abortion, banning euthanasia, and banning everything on the internet that doesn’t conform to their narrow ‘moral standards’. The law of the political jungle states that if you ban too many popular things, then you’re basically banning any hope of making it to the lower house. Of course, you can always fall back on the pure, unadulterated love from your family, and die hard supporters in Midwestern United States. My odds: $6.70

It seems that this election, the important issues such as the war in Afghanistan, the failures of the Capitalist system, and our reliance on China are not discussed – not only because both sides of politics hold similar views on these matters, but more for fear that open, unregulated debate will expose the personal views of the debaters, and maybe a controversial headline on the front page of The Age. Ultimately, the Liberals are likely to regain a few seats, particularly because people are becoming disenfranchised by state labour parties. Labour though is in for a close victory, mostly because after preference deals with the Greens, they’ll have enough seats for a majority in parliament. There is also an acute possibility of hung parliament – and perhaps come this election, it may be better to leave it that way.