I haven’t participated in the Photo Challenge in a while. I put up a post on my French blog last week, but didn’t put a link in the comments, so no one visited. I just haven’t been feeling inspired. Then yesterday, after I saw that this week’s theme was saturated, saw this leaf with the sun shining through it. I looked like stained glass.
I spent way too much time obsessing today and made this picture.
I was fascinated by how few people are represented by these far right radicals. There are 435 voting members in the House of Representatives. What they couldn’t get at the ballot box, they’ll try to get by threatening to trash the economy. Why don’t they just ask for a pony of each of them while they’re at it?
While the negotiations for the affordable health care bill was going on, I was one of those people who criticized it from the left. However, after those negotiations were past, I stopped criticizing it. People on the far left were critical of people like me for “falling in line.” I don’t see it as “falling in line”, or even compromise. It’s a matter of priorities. We live in a democracy. That’s more important to me than having every last detail I want in any given piece of legislation. It seems that the members of the ironically named Tea Party Caucus don’t consider democracy a priority.
The names are hard to read in the picture. Here’s the list:
- Michele Bachmann, Minnesota, Chair
- Joe Barton, Texas
- Gus Bilirakis, Florida
- Rob Bishop, Utah
- Diane Black, Tennessee
- Michael C. Burgess, Texas
- Paul Broun, Georgia
- John Carter, Texas
- Bill Cassidy, Louisiana
- Howard Coble, North Carolina
- Mike Coffman, Colorado
- Ander Crenshaw, Florida
- John Culberson, Texas
- Jeff Duncan, South Carolina
- Blake Farenthold, Texas
- Stephen Fincher, Tennessee
- John Fleming, Louisiana
- Trent Franks, Arizona
- Phil Gingrey, Georgia
- Louie Gohmert, Texas
- Vicky Hartzler, Missouri
- Tim Huelskamp, Kansas
- Lynn Jenkins, Kansas
- Steve King, Iowa
- Doug Lamborn, Colorado
- Blaine Luetkemeyer, Missouri
- Kenny Marchant, Texas
- Tom McClintock, California
- David McKinley, West Virginia
- Gary Miller, California
- Mick Mulvaney, South Carolina
- Randy Neugebauer, Texas
- Rich Nugent, Florida
- Steven Palazzo, Mississippi
- Steve Pearce, New Mexico
- Ted Poe, Texas
- Tom Price, Georgia
- Phil Roe, Tennessee
- Dennis A. Ross, Florida
- Ed Royce, California
- Steve Scalise, Louisiana
- Pete Sessions, Texas
- Adrian Smith, Nebraska
- Lamar S. Smith, Texas
- Tim Walberg, Michigan
- Lynn Westmoreland, Georgia
- Joe Wilson, South Carolina
Blech! Just the other day, I said that I wanted to write more and, to that end, I would try to be more spontaneous. As the former governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, might say, “How’s that spontaneity thingy workin’ out fer ya?” I’ll tell you how that’s working out, I’ve written 1200 words of a post today and got burned out by fact checking.
For the first time since I started this blog, a couple of days ago I deleted a comment. As I mentioned in that post, “A Comment I Almost Made,” the final leg on my journey to a skeptical viewpoint was learning to take received wisdom about health and “wellness” with a major grain of salt. I have no idea why health issues are relegated to the lifestyle section of the newspaper and covered in the media with less rigor than “hard” news. The commenter was understandably unhappy. I’m not sure there is a polite way of deleting a comment. However, I’ve heard that when people are presented with false information, they retain it even after hearing a correction. Somewhere in the box of papers in which I threw everything that was sitting on my desk the last time I moved there is some notes from a lecture I went to go hear in which a philosopher was discussing the question of how we know what we know and he seemed especially disturbed by the spread of false information on the internet. On a similar note, the website of the magazine Popular Science shut down its comment section. However, one of the reasons I wanted to start a blog was to reach out to people and I have not found commenters on this site to be uncivil.
So, if someone makes an incorrect claim, unintentionally in this case, what should I do?
Anyway, I’m still chewing over this incident because I’m not entirely comfortable with it. Beyond that, I had to ask myself the question, “Was I right.” Because if I’m going to delete comments over facts, as opposed to opinions, then my facts should be correct.
So I started to write a post about diet and skepticism and it’s turning out to be a much bigger job than I thought, even though it’s quasi-autobiographical as almost all my posts are.
Anyway, that’s where I am at the moment.
I wouldn’t have started a blog if I was just going to post frivolous stuff, but on the other hand writing serious stuff is time-consuming.
A sketch of my tabby cat, Little Nemo, when she was a kitten. Done from a photo. She died about a decade ago at the age of about sixteen or seventeen.
A week or two ago, I came across a blog post in which a woman debated the merits of correcting people on the internet. She was referring to things that are easily checked with a quick search on the internet. I was sympathetic to what she had to say having five minutes earlier just corrected someone who claimed that there had been no slavery in Canada. Although it was never an integral part of the economy, a quick search on the internet will bring you to a page on Wikipedia with a brief summary. I already knew this fact because my ex-husband’s cousin had done research on their family and had it privately printed in a book, which I read. One of their ancestors had owned a slave. Also, I once watched a documentary on CBC about blacks in Canada. Slavery in Canada was mentioned. Although my ex-husband’s ancestor was not mentioned by name, the slave he had owned, Olivier le Jeune, was.
However, if you’ve ever gotten into a dispute on the internet, you probably know that even fetching easy to find links is time-consuming. If you’re trying to find reliable information on something a little more controversial, as I was doing earlier today (well, yesterday morning), it can be quite time-consuming. So I wound up not putting up the post I intended to put up today:
Banned Books Week: What Should I Read?
|The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain|
|Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes||
|Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain|
|Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift|
|Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer||
|Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne||
|Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman||
|Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe||
|The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli||
|Diary of Anne Fank, Anne Frank||
|Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert||
|Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens|
|Les Miserables, Victor Hugo|
|Dracula, Bram Stoker||
|Autobiography, Benjamin Franklin|
|Tom Jones, Henry Fielding|
|The Book of Common Prayer, The Church of England|
|Essays, Michel de Montaigne|
|Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck|
|Tess of the D’Urbervilles Thomas Hardy|
|History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Edward Gibbon||
|Origin of Species, Charles Darwin||
|Ulysses, James Joyce|
|Animal Farm, George Orwell||
|Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell|
|Decameron, Giovanni Boccaccio||
|To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee|
|Dubliners, James Joyce|
|Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck||
|Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway|
|Red and the Black, Stendhal||
|Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle||
|Capital, Karl Marx|
|Flowers of Evil, Charles Baudelaire||
|Brave New World, Aldous Huxley||
|Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D. H. Lawrence|
|Jungle, Upton Sinclair||
|Sister Carrie, Theodore Dreiser|
|Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell|
|Lord of the Flies, William Golding||
|All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque||
|Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury|
|Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx||
|Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway|
|Jude the Obscure Thomas Hardy|
|Diary Samuel Pepys|
|Doctor Zhivago Boris Pasternak|
|Critique of Pure Reason Immanuel Kant||
|Praise of Folly Desiderius Erasmus|
|Praise of Folly Desiderius Erasmus|
|East of Eden John Steinbeck|
|Catch-22 Joseph Heller||
|Moll Flanders Daniel Defoe||
|Color Purple Alice Walker||
|Catcher in the Rye J. D. Salinger||
|Autobiography of Malcolm X Malcolm X|
|Essay Concerning Human Understanding John Locke|
|Bluest Eye Toni Morrison||
|Invisible Man Ralph Ellison||
|I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Maya Angelou||
|Leviathan Thomas Hobbes||
|One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn|
|Bridge to Terabithia Katherine Paterson|
|Confessions Jean Jacques Rousseau|
|Gargantua and Pantagruel François Rabelais|
|Women in Love D. H. Lawrence|
|Social Contract Jean Jacques Rousseau|
|American Tragedy Theodore Dreiser|
|Separate Peace John Knowles|
|Bell Jar Sylvia Plath||
|Mein Kampf Adolf Hitler|
|James and the Giant Peach Roald Dahl|
|Red Pony John Steinbeck|
|Affluent Society John Kenneth Galbraith|
|Little House on the Prairie Laura Ingalls Wilder|
|Institutes of the Christian Religion Jean Calvin|
|Lolita Vladimir Nabokov||
|Slaughterhouse Five Kurt Vonnegut|
|Clan of the Cave Bear Jean M. Auel||
|Black Boy Richard Wright||
|Spirit of the Laws Charles de Secondat Baron de Montesquieu|
|Julie of the Wolves Jean Craighead George|
|Steppenwolf Hermann Hesse|
|Power and the Glory Graham Greene|
|Black Like Me John Howard Griffin|
|Sylvester and the Magic Pebble William Steig|
|Sanctuary William Faulkner|
|As I Lay Dying William Faulkner|
|Sorrows of Young Werther Johann Wolfgang von Goethe|
|Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood|
Didn’t like the list over at the website of the organization that’s promoting Banned Books Week. Actually, if you read the fine print, it’s banned and “challenged” books. This is a different list from the one promoted by Banned Books Week. I found it over at OCLC. It’s a list of books that are on both their “Top 1000” list and have been frequently challenged, so it contains more classics. Still, I thought it might be fun to read something but I haven’t decided what yet. Pardon me for getting lazy with the formatting halfway down the list. Actually, there’s 120 books on the list and I’ve only typed the first ninety-nine. The ones with an “x”, I’ve already read.
Now, suddenly, I’ve been doing some reading on nutrition and my reading plans for the week may have changed. Still, if you’ve read any of the books I haven’t and would like to make a plug for them, please go ahead.
I rarely reblog posts, but since I just wrote something in which I declared myself to be a “materialist” and found myself hoping some naive person doesn’t come by and “challenge” me with a silly question like “do thoughts exist.” I have decided to preemptively counter that possibility by reblogging this post.
During a recent online discussion I discovered, somewhat to my surprise, that there is no general agreement on what the word “exist” means. Everyone has an intuitive understanding of it but when it comes to an explicit definition of the word there is no consensus, and indeed philosophers have written a vast literature on the topic of ontology, or what exists.
Dictionaries don’t really help; for example Oxford Dictionaries gives a nicely circular set of definitions:
Exist: 1. have objective reality or being
Reality: 1. the state of things as they actually exist
Being: 1. existence.
Of course physicists have a perfectly good operational definition: something exists if it is capable of making a detector go ping. Try arguing that, however, and you’re immediately accused of materialism, physicalism, scientism, being blind to possibilities beyond a very narrow world-view, and a host of similar sins (I plead guilty to at…
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I tried to post a comment on someone’s blog a minute ago and received an error message. Then I realized that it might make a decent short post all on its own. The post, entitled “Atheist by Default“, was on the The BitterSweet End.
For me personally, when I think of my non-belief in a formal fashion and think of all the different -isms out there, I have to be honest. I can relate to all of them, and to a degree they all define me.
I am all the above skeptic, atheist, agnostic, free-thinker. humanist. Ignostic, non-theist, anti theist. I am all of the above by definition, but no one defines me.
It reminded me of another post I came across recently, the link for which I do not have at the moment and, being more spontaneous, for which I will not look. The other post also had a list of the names associated with atheism, however it went through them in a table.
It was an interesting way of breaking it down.
-Agnostic; By definition of epistemology I am an agnostic, because I don’t know if God exist or does not exist. This is more of scientific and academic stance. It would be ignorant of us to say I know for sure that God does not exist. Even Dawkins admits of this.
Of course the ideological concept of God is not solely based on the… parameters of Christianity But that does not mean a deistic God does not God, (even thought is no empirical evidence supporting this viewpoint.) It could just mean, that I have wrong the wrong concept of God. And that is why I don’t know either way. But I typically like to stay away from agnosticism because it comes off to some evangelicals as I am confused, and don’t know what to think and that I simply need to do is just accept Jesus into my life. The issue I have with agnosticism, is that we can prove a Type of God does not exist. For example, If Religion A, says their God created the world on the back of a turtle. We can improve empirically that that type of God probably does not exist. (And yes, that is a real creation story.) Or that a God, with two conflicting characteristics, like God is Love and God is Wrath, then we could assume that that God probably does not exist.
I have the same understanding of the word Agnostic and used it for a long time, until I realized that it meant to many people that I was “undecided.” It wasn’t “evangelicals” who gave me a problem, however. In fact, the biggest pushes towards “would you like to come to my church with me this Sunday” were from Episcopalians. They actually thought they were being helpful and would have never been so pushy if I had said atheist. I realized this when one friend introduced me to another describing me as a “seeker.” I was suddenly taken aback saying, “Yo! Wait! No!” as the other person was making the usual offer to take me to her church on Sunday. That was the evening I became an “atheist.” Ironically, in retrospect I suspect that those mild-mannered, politically progressive, Protestants with a Platonic notion of God probably thought that I was an escapee from a fire-and-brimstone sect. In other words, the people most eager to convert me were those who least identified with the word “evangelical.”
My biggest difference with M. Rodriguez would be where he says, “I truly do lack a belief in god. But this focus is more surrounding Christianity in that I am an atheist because I have rejected and come to the conclusion that the Christian God of the Bible does not exist. And from there, why should I believe in any other god.” Since I grew up in a pluralistic society that was not dominated by Christianity, the existence of the Christian God was something that I never even considered with any seriousness. It seems just as obvious that it is not true as the fact that the world wasn’t created on the back of a turtle, a story I also heard at a young age. I gave them both the same degree of consideration, which is none at all. What I had to reject was all the more abstract and vague definitions of divinity. God is Love. God is Energy. God is the “creative force” in the Universe. By the time I was thirty, I was as likely to be invited to a sweat lodge ceremony or a Wiccan ritual as I was to be invited to church. Oddly, because I don’t identify with the word “skeptic” much, it was probably the position of skepticism that brought me to where I am today. At some point, I realized that even this abstract notion of a divine presence led inexorably to magical thinking that I see as very detrimental in people’s lives, and it was widespread.
Finally, I began to realize that I was a “materialist.” There’s no spirits, no ghosts, no magic, no witchcraft.
It was online dating that made realize that I, as I rejected non-material world views, had become utterly incompatible with the religious of any stripe. Since online dating involves filling out forms, I had to identify my religion, which I did as “atheist”, and I had identify whom I was willing to date. At first, I only nixed people who identified themselves as devout. A great many men who contacted me, the majority by far, called themselves “spiritual but not religious.” At first, I though it was okay. Eventually, I found that they were wedded to woo, a term I would not learn for a few years but which I have since found useful. Frequently, they would spout something on the order of the power of positive thinking, which I started conceiving as “the power of magical thinking.” “Good vibes” and complicated diets will not cure cancer, unfortunately.
I really liked what M. Rodriguez had to say about ignosticism.
-Ignostic; Ignostic is really the position that all conversations about God are meaningless unless is first defined. And to a degree I agree with this, because my definition & perception of God will be different than someone else’s perception of God. Therefore I would I rather not jump into the conversation of if God exist, until God is accurately defined. Because if you say God is love, than I agree..God is an emotion, and emotions exist. But if you say God is a celestial all loving and all powerful being who wants to have a personal relationship with me, but can’t physically talk to me, than I would say you are loco.
The only reason I don’t use Ignostic more often, is that I would probably spend half the time explaining Ignosticism, because most people are not familiar with it.
Maybe, I’ll comment on some of these other terms at a later date and explain why I don’t call myself a Humanist.
…which I think means that I have to be more spontaneous if I don’t want blogging to take over my life. Right now, I have three or four posts I’ve started within the past week that I haven’t finished because they involve double checking some facts. Believe it or not, I do try to do that before posting, or I indicate when I’m speaking off the cuff. I know that I’m as subject to biases as anyone else, but I try to check things. After all, I don’t want to continue to hold beliefs that are untrue.
So I feel a bit torn. For instance, I read a short historical article the other day and it made me think of a few other things I’ve read in the past. I began to write about it, but then I figured that I should check and make sure I remembered what I read years ago correctly. It’s just a matter of rereading a chapter of a book that I read about a decade or so ago, but I haven’t been in the mood and the post is just sitting there.
There’s a question that I’ve tossed around with my sister a few times recently. I’ve said many times recently that I don’t remember religion as being important during my childhood. I keep asking her if I’m remembering things correctly. She assures me that I am, or that my memories parallel her experiences. Some people have suggested that I grew up in a marginal subculture. I guess that’s possible, but it doesn’t seem that way to me. It seems to me that people who were raised in a fundamentalist household that limited or policed their interaction with people of other backgrounds were in a more marginal subculture.
It was only about five years ago when I realized quite how freaky fundamentalist Christianity is. One day, I was listening to Earth Wind and Fire and I was singing along with the music when I realized that the words I thought I heard in “Serpentine Fire” were a little weird and I decided to look up the song on the internet if it really said, “Going to tell a story, Morning Glory, wow, about the Serpentine Fire.” Now, I thought about it, and having read Foucault’s Pendulum right after reading The Name of The Rose way back when, the possibility that it could be about the Serpent Kundalini crossed my mind. Now, admittedly, that goes along pretty well with ankhs and the Egyptian symbolism that Earth Wind and Fire used. Still, I was flabbergasted, really totally blown away, when I came across a site that said that “Christians” shouldn’t listen to Earth Wind and Fire because of the pagan symbolism. Wow. I’m sorry that I have put scare quotes around Christian in that previous sentence, but if your church tells you that there are things you shouldn’t listen to or shouldn’t read you belong to a cult, not a mainstream religion.
I think there are a lot of these cults out there that fly under the radar because they call themselves “Christian” and members of the mainstream culture don’t think to question it. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Earth Wind and Fire is “harmless”, exactly, because if art and music can be credited with affecting the way people perceive the world good art can’t be anodyne, still, it was widely popular. According to Wikipedia, Earth Wind and Fire was the first African-American band to sell out Madison Square Garden in New York City.
There were ways in which my childhood was not mainstream and I like to think I know what they are. For instance, as a teenager, I watched late night drag shows on the far west side of Manhattan from the lighting booth. Not typical. I know that. However, when people seem to suggest that having sex with my high school sweetheart or not going to church is indication of having grown up in a marginal subculture, it really makes me feel a little disoriented.
According to the Center for Disease Control in the U.S., in nineteen eighty-eight, fifty-one percent of girls between the ages of fifteen and nineteen reported being sexually active. I graduated from high school in the early eighties, not the late eighties, but that was the best I could do with a quick search. It’s apparently declined significantly since then, which most people probably think is a good thing, but I would disagree. Self-reporting differs from the actual numbers, but it seems that the majority of Americans don’t go to church regularly.
Aw, damn. I looked that up. I’m already wrecking my intention of being more spontaneous.
I actually have a pretty good memory. Another way in which I was not mainstream: I didn’t take drugs and I didn’t drink until I was seventeen or eighteen. I’m not going to look this up to confirm this so you’ll just have to take my word for it: I once saw a graph of drug use among high school students and the peak was my sister’s cohort, one year ahead of me. I remember casual drug use as being rampant in New Jersey around 1980.
So, when I’m told I don’t know things I’m pretty sure I do know, it’s disorienting and it makes me want to withdraw.
The other day, Greta Christina, over on her blog, asked for atheists’ “coming out” stories. “Coming out” is, I assume, terminology borrowed from the old Gay Liberation movement and refers to coming out of the closet. Of course, this presumes that there was a closet in the first place. Although my parents never discussed their lack of belief, I was vaguely aware that they didn’t follow a religion. My mother likes to laugh about the time when I was three or four and I asked her if we were “Hanukkah or Christmas.” If we had lived in a village, my grandfather, grumpy and cantankerous, would probably have been the village atheist.
However, Greta Christina says she’s looking for not only the dramatic coming-out-to-the-folks story, but stories about coming out to fellow students and others. I do have one of those.
I was the new kid in school. In my previous school I was being bullied and it had turned physical. Bullying was not the cause it is today. Not only did the school administrators do nothing about it, but during a conference with my parents the principal looked at me and directly asked what I was doing to bring it on. To this day, I don’t know. I think the girl was looking for a convenient target and I happened to fit the bill. In any case, this reaction on the part of the school alarmed my parents. Now that I’m an adult, I think they made the right decision. They pulled me out of school. As it happened, both my parents worked in public schools in different towns. My father worked in a large city with a big bureaucracy, but my mother worked in a small town. She talked to the relevant people and a day or two later I found myself listening to the song “Tell Me Why You Don’t Like Mondays” as we drove to the high school. She dropped me off before heading to the middle school where she worked and I sat on the lawn in front of the school for about an hour or so every morning waiting for school to start.
There were some demographic differences between the town where my former school was located and the new one. There was a distinct class difference. In terms of money, the difference was not huge, but the parents in my first town mostly had college degrees while in the second town most of the parents had learned trades. It was a prosperous blue-collar town of union members with steady jobs. In retrospect, it was a world that seems almost anachronistic today. Where the students in the first town were ethnically and religiously diverse, the new town was split almost evenly between people of Irish descent and those of Italian descent. They had one thing in common, however, the town was solidly, although not exclusively, Catholic. However, it was Catholic enough that, the first week there, someone helpfully pointed out to me in the lunch room the one Jewish student and attempted to identify the handful of Protestants. There was no hostility in this that I could detect. The Jewish girl was head of the cheerleading squad and one of the most popular girls by far. My guide seemed to think it was something of a novelty. Coming from a town that was about a third Jewish, this seemed frankly weird, but I don’t recall that I said anything.
Around this time, I had a minor injury which kept me out of gym class for an extended time. The gym teacher thought it was silly for me to sit on the sidelines watching the other kids several times a week, so it was arranged that I would go to the library where I would help the librarian shelve books. I’ve always been a bit of a loner, and this was generally a pleasant time for me. I would try to make myself useful, but there wasn’t always much to do. After putting away the cart full of books, I would take a novel and sit at one of the big library tables. One day, while I was reading, if my memory serves me well, Jane Eyre, several senior boys walked in. Although it was a small school, as a freshman I had never talked to any of them, but I recognized them because they were tall, handsome, buff and popular. They sat down at my table and started chatting with the confidence that popular students have that their presence is welcome, smiling as if we’d been friends for ages. They asked my name and what I was reading. They pretended to be fascinated by the romantic problems of Jane and Mr. Rochester with a seriousness that could only mean that they were flirting. They asked where I had gone to school before. They asked if I was Irish or Italian.
This shook me up a bit because I had been brought up to believe that there were certain questions that should never be asked and they were about occupation, ethnicity and religion. I can’t say I was offended, but I was taken aback, but the boys continued to be friendly and flirtatious as I answered, “Neither,” and gave a list of eight if they really wanted to know. They didn’t seem to care.
Then they asked, “What is your religion.” I said I was an atheist.
One of them said, “What’s that?” Another asked if I worshiped Satan with less apparent interest than he had shown in the plot of Jane Eyre.
I said, “No, that would be Satanists.”
So what did I worship, he wanted to know. Nothing, was my answer.
“Do you have a nickname?”
No, I regretted to tell them, I did not.
“You should have a nickname,” they all agreed with confidence. They mulled it over a bit. I was wearing a dark purple pullover. One of them decided that I looked like an eggplant. This seemed to tickle their collective funny bone and it was quickly decided that my nickname would be “Eggplant.”
The bell rang and the boys got up to go. One of them punched me on the shoulder and said, “See you around, Eggplant.”
This story could be entitled “How I got the world’s stupidest nickname.” Unless, of course, there’s someone called Artichoke.
Of course, this is a terrible story because, as we know, a good story contains drama and conflict. In a way, it’s packed with assumptions about ethnicity, identity, class and religion, but in the end it’s all rather anti-climatic, and that’s a good thing in real life if not in stories. Yet I think it’s a good story to tell because there is no need for these things to create conflict. We live in a pluralistic world that’s becoming more pluralistic by the day. I think the boring stories need to be told, too, because they’re part of a bigger picture.