Thursday, March 24, 2011

Debate on Big Government

The following article was originally posted on February 17th. I'm putting it up again because of its relevance both to a recent debate in which I was engaged and to the larger political issues being discussed as the recession starts turning around.

I recently posted a status update on Facebook that said:

I know that few things make right-wingers happier than embracing their delusion about liberals loving Big Government (understanding our actual ideology would be too taxing - pun intended), but this... this is friggin' ridiculous.

This prompted a lengthy debate between myself and a conservative friend of mine named Kevin. Initially it focused solely on the details of Michele Bachmann's statement; soon, however, Kevin made this comment:

Your argument about the Right's "delusion" is delusional. To say that liberals don't support greater government involvement in daily life and services is to deny the basic tenets of liberal philosophy. Your argument here is founded on one case of hyperpartisanship and overreaction.

What follows, unedited and unaltered, is my response to that assertion, which due to its length and importance I felt warranted an entirely separate blog article. For the conservation that preceded it, see:

Let's dissect each facet of your last statement:

- Social Policy: The conservative movement is constantly warring with the liberal movement because, whereas the former wants to use the power of the state to impose its personal moral convictions (i.e., the convictions of the Christian Right) on the rest of society, the latter takes a laissez-faire approach and believes that the government should stay out of people's personal lives (see gay rights, abortion rights, peripheral issues like being allowed to not say the Pledge of Allegiance or burn the flag, etc.)

- Foreign Policy: Once again, liberals are the ones who support scaling down the size of the military-industrial complex and limiting our intervention in foreign conflicts (when they don't, it is invariably because they have allied with a dominant right-wing faction, not because they are adhering to a liberal platform), while conservatives favor increasing the size of government in both of these areas.

- Economic Policy: When conservatives complain about "Big Government", it is this realm to which they are usually referring. That said, although they like to distort liberal economic ideas by depicting them as a paean to state power and a yearning for increased centralization, the reality is that the goal of mainstream American liberals is to protect what they believe to be the economic rights of all American citizens (for a list of these rights, see: Because these rights are frequently imperiled by private entities - be they large corporations that pay substandard wages and arbitrarily lay off thousands of workers when it suits their profit desires, or health insurance companies that gouge the public and thereby deny decent medical care to millions, or banks that foist predatory loans on people buying homes, or big businesses that form monopolies and thus stifle competition - liberals believe that the only way for every citizen's economic rights to be protected is for the government to step in and stop those private individuals and/or organizations that are violating them. This is not something that we support because we savor the idea of a strong central government, any more so than we would savor the idea of putting murderers and rapists in jail for the same reason. Our logic here is that, although "if men were angels, no government would be necessary" (that's a James Madison quote), the fact that men aren't angels means government is a necessary evil, one that can prevent or at least minimize the destructive effects of selfishness and downright malevolence on innocent people. Our desire to pass laws to prevent economic injustices is no more statist than our support of laws that prevent and/or punish crimes of violence.

Conservatives differ from liberals here because either (a) they don't see any problem with the economically strong exploiting the weak, viewing it as natural or even morally right, or (b) they feel that allowing the free market to go about its business unfettered is far more likely to resolve these issues. While I won't delve into why I think both of these opinions are wrong, suffice to say that it is asinine to assert that disagreeing with them, and thus believing the government can and should work to fight economic injustice, means that "liberals love Big Government" (to paraphrase the expression with which you just agreed). It simply means that we believe the government needs to exert its power to correct problems and evils that would otherwise be left unaddressed. Claiming that "Big Government" is our motive is a distortion of the liberal position, just like arguing that right-wingers who supported Bush's policies did so because they wanted to create a military state (as some wrongfully purported) is a distortion of the conservative position. Those arguments involve believing that an ideological group wants to use the power of a certain institution to solve certain problems not because they care about those problems, but merely because their ideology causes them to crave increasing the power of the institution in question. At best, this is a misinformed oversimplification; at worst, it is a deliberate straw man argument (also known as a lie).

After re-reading my rebuttal to Kevin, my only regret is that I failed to mention the other duty of government as it is perceived by economic liberals - i.e., the obligation of the state to not only protect its citizens from active economic malice, but also to provide them with a safety net in the event of "Acts of God." Just as the government should assist people who lose their homes or businesses after a natural disaster or a foreign attack, so too should it help them get back on their feet after a recession or depression causes them to lose their jobs, homes, savings, or other economic necessities.

Of course, this oversight proved irrelevant, as Kevin never bothered responding to my post.

Review of "Life Stinks"

This is an article I wrote back in September 2009. Although I've made some revisions for grammar and flow, it is essentially the same.

A montage of images depicting urban blight (in this case culled from downtown Los Angeles) greets the audience. In the background one can hear news reports discussing matters of great consequence to and about individuals of great consequence. The indigent shuffle about their daily lives, indifferent to the voices that are responsible for reporting the human story, since it is well-known that those voices are already indifferent to them. As if to punctuate this point, a limousine carrying an important man - the kind of human being about whom those voices do care - whisks past a bum sleeping on a sidewalk curb, drenching him with water and mud.

Life Stinks! is my favorite Mel Brooks movie, and one of my all-time favorite films, because it insists on telling us what would happen if a man of consequence (the one in the limousine) had his story dovetail with the millions of human beings whose stories are often dismissed as being inconsequential. Goddard Bolt, a billionaire industrialist with a penthouse office in a Los Angeles skyscraper, wants to destroy a decaying neighborhood in his own city so that he can build a massive shopping complex on its ruins. Another corporate nabob, the deliciously unctuous Vance Crasswell (Brooks has a real knack for finding names for his characters so perfect that they're practically onomatopoeias), also has his eyes on the real estate prize. Soon a wager is made - Bolt bets that he could survive for thirty days among society's most economically misfortunate while Crasswell places odds that he cannot. The winner gets to destroy the neighborhood.

The idea of forcing one of society's privileged to see what it's like on the other side is hardly original to Brooks's film. Its literary origins can be traced as far back as Arthurian legend, and even its comic potential has been mined before, most famously in Mark Twain's 1881 classic The Prince and the Pauper. Yet Life Stinks! stands out as a particularly special entry within this genre for three reasons:

1) It has a compelling story and tells it well.

Movie critics, in their unending quest for the original and innovative, sometimes fail to appreciate that which is old-fashioned but, on the sheer strength of its execution, manages to remain powerful, effective, and even fresh. Although Life Stinks! does tread on ideological and narrative terrain that has been visited before, it does so with vivid and fleshed out characters, a story that remains interesting from start to finish, and the ability to seamlessly transition in tone between the comic and the dramatic, without at any time allowing one to cheapen the other. The fact that it is very funny, considering that Mel Brooks is its auteur, isn't particularly noteworthy (although the humor in this film doesn't quite measure up to Brooks's comic masterpieces, particularly The Producers, Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein). On the other hand, the simple power of Brooks's story is quite surprising. While Brooks was never a slouch when it came to the art of telling a tale, none of his other movies have ever reached the level of Life Stinks! in either socio-political prescience or sheer poignance.

2) The comedy is an endearing blend of fundamentally innocent vaudevillian hijinks and biting satire.

The slapstick, stomach churning gags, and nyuk nyuk-inducing misunderstandings that one would expect from a man who cut his comic teeth working as a writer for The Sid Caesar Show are all here, and perfectly unapologetic about the fact that they constitute a throwback to an era when comedy didn't rely on shock value and chic in order to receive approval. Yet the more important throwback is the way in which Brooks satirizes his subjects. At a time when too many filmmakers believe that the only way to make a movie socially relevant is to become as savvy and sophisticated as possible, it is refreshing to watch Life Stinks! express the confidence to make its point through the tried-and-true technique of simply allowing the absurdities of life to overtly display themselves, rather than by piling layers upon layers of irony or taking that which is already ridiculous and exaggerating it until it bears little resemblance to its original target. For one example, look at the scene when the now destitute and desperate Goddard Bolt pleads for food and shelter outside a church, only to be turned away by a nun (voiced to perfection by the late Bea Arthur) whose refusal to open the door denies him not only Christian charity, but even the most basic dignity of being able to talk to a human face:

BOLT knocks on the door. NUN's voice can be heard from inside.
Nun: Kindly. Who is it?
Bolt: Desperate but maintaining a semblance of composure. Please let me in. I need shelter.
Nun: Regretfully. I'm sorry. We're closed... my son.
Bolt: Slightly more agitated. But I haven't eaten all day. I need food!
Nun: Regretfully. We'll be open in the morning... my son.
Bolt: Hysterical. You don't understand! I don't have a place to sleep. I'm tired, very tired, very... Please! Please let me in! Please let me in!
Nun: Shouting. Now listen! You're wakin' everybody up! You get out of here or I'm callin' the police! Beat. My son.

3) The movie has the courage to buck the prevailing socioeconomic, political, and cultural assumptions of its time.

Although Life Stinks! takes aim at many targets in its survey of poverty in America - the prevalance of drug use in slums, the degree to which facilities available to the indigent can be exploited at the whims of the powerful, the inhumane ineptitude and neglect that marks the health care received by those without money or insurance, the ways in which our society dismisses its suffering citizens as mere nuisances, and even small touches such as how the ashes of the cremated rich are placed in urns while the poor have to settle for shoeboxes - its greatest value lies in the comic eloquence with which it dispenses one of the central ideological convictions of its time. It is important to bear in mind that, when Life Stinks! was released in 1991, the era of Ronald Reagan (at the time presided over by President George H. W. Bush) was in full swing. Despite the growing disparity in the quality of life between the rich and the poor, as well as the ever-shrinking middle-class, entertainment as well as news media insisted on reflecting the popular notion that times were good, opportunities for socioeconomic advancement were available to all, and that those who were in distress had only themselves to blame. To this mentality, Life Stinks! had - and still has - a powerful rebuttal. As Roger Ebert noted at the time:

It's easy to sit inside an air-conditioned car and feel scorn for some poor wretch who is trying to earn a quarter for wiping a rag across the windshield. But if we were out there on the streets without a home or money, what bright ideas would we come up with? Donald Trump can make millions selling condos to other millionaires, but could he make 10 bucks in a day if he had to start from scratch? The conventional wisdom in these situations is that the poor and homeless should get a grip on themselves, should pull themselves up by their bootstraps. But if they have no boots, what then? Wasn't it Anatole France who said that the Law, in its magnificent equality, prohibits the rich as well as the poor from sleeping under bridges and begging in the streets?

Unfortunately, Life Stinks! marks a nadir in Mel Brooks' career, at least financially - this socially conscious satire became the first Brooks movie to ever bomb both among critics and at the box office. That said, it has in many ways aged better than any of his other films. At a time when New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg decided to "solve" his homeless problem by buying them one-way tickets out of town, when popular pundits like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh can denounce tax increases on those who make more than a quarter-million dollars as "punishing our most productive citizens", when the de-regulation and laissez-faire philosophy of Ronald Reagan and the two George Bushes can be directly traced to the current economic crisis, when the growing gap between rich and poor has made it so that the rich (much to their befuddlement) can't sell their goods and services to the poor (who lack the income to afford them), and when despite all of this, the ideological right (and the big businesses that control them) have convinced the intellectually deficient, paranoid, and hateful all across the land that they should shout down and bully liberal congressmen and labor unions who want to increase taxes on the wealthy, use taxpayer dollars to create more jobs and raise wages, and provide high quality healthcare for all ... at a time like this, Life Stinks rings as true as ever.

PS: In a special feature "Making of the Movie" documentary on the Life Stinks! DVD, the question is posed to Rudy DeLuca, one of the writers, "Does life actually stink?" His response makes for a fitting close to this article:

"You have to weigh what stinks and what doesn't. You know, when you're out of work, life stinks. When your girlfriend or your wife gives you a hard time, life stinks. When you have a bad meal, life stinks. When you're out of money, life stinks. When you're in traffic, life stinks. When you're in heavier traffic, it REALLY stinks. And when you don't get along and have fights with your friends, it REALLY STINKS! And other times, there are times... when you just can't stand it."

Actually, as an incorrigible optimist, I much prefer the answer given by Mel Brooks:

"We should just enjoy whatever life we have, and pop around and jump around and eat spaghetti and dance as much as we can. If we're capable of dancing, we should dance."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Debate on the Minimum Wage: Part Two

For Part One, see:

Matthew Rozsa
Santini's response to my post is pasted below. Incidentally, despite his reference to knowing me in high school, I still have no idea who the hell he is:

"Your response is incredibly ignorant, juvenile, and conceited. I can see you haven't changed at all since high school.

As for my cowardice, I sent you a private message because your privacy settings didn't allow me to respond on your wall.

I entertained the idea that you might enjoy discussing the economics of interventionist policy but you are clearly more interested in grandstanding and hurtling personal insults. I thought about "friending" you for the sake of your audience but have now chosen not to since we were never friends then and certainly aren't now.

As for your attempted arguments, I haven't the time nor desire to rebut them. I can see that you have fallen for the conceipts to all forseeable knowledge, central economic planning, and coercive redistribution of wealth. These are often uncurable maladies the unforseen consequences of which humanity has lived with for as long as pin headed wannabe planners like yourself have struggled to use government force for economic intervention. How well did price controls work in ancient Egypt or tarriffs for the nationalist parties of europe? Hint hint they didn't. The sooner you realize that the laws of economics cannot be repealed by politicians, the sooner you will understand the faults in your current logic.

Btw. I am not a conservative, but an Anarchist so fuck off. It absolutely takes cajones to oppose all government intervention and none to go with the statist status quo."

Here was my reply:

"I can't help but notice that, in the midst of all the insults you threw at me, not one of them addressed any of the arguments I presented in my rebuttal. While I'm not going to criticize you for insulting me - your insults may be wrong, but I can't fault you for doing something that I did in my previous letter - I am definitely going to hold you accountable for failing to address any of my arguments in your reply. While being a dick doesn't discredit someone's position, being intellectually incapable of responding to a rebuttal - or being too cowardly to do so - doesn't only discredit your position, but your individual merit as a debater. While intellectuals like Bill Maher on the left and William F. Buckley on the right are/were pompous asses, they have earned respect because they use logic to substantiate their positions and are rigorous in rebutting whatever anyone else says to them. If any of them had used your cowardly "I haven't the time nor desire to rebut them" cop out in public, they would have become the laughingstocks of their own movements. That's why, even though I absolutely did "hurl personal insults" at you, I also made a point of meticulously addressing every one of the points you made. Apparently you didn't like being debunked in a public forum, given the temper tantrum you just threw.

You say that the privacy settings on my profile wouldn't let you post a response? I'm not sure I buy that, since I'm pretty certain non-friends have posted there before, but just to be on the safe side I'll friend you, so that way you won't be able to hide behind that excuse any further.

Incidentally, the notion that libertarians and anarchists are "fighters against the status quo" is absurd. Libertarian theorists have dominated the economics wing of the Republican Party for decades now, and anarchists are so popular on college campuses that they vie with latter-day hippies for intellectual attention. If you want to masturbate your ego by believing that you're somehow brave or a freedom fighter, you might want to find another groundless basis on which to do so.

Three final points:

1. It's "conceit", not "conceipt."

2. As a graduate student in history, I urge you to not cite examples from the past, as you did ancient Egypt and nationalist parties in Europe. You clearly have no idea what you're talking about, and even if people nod at you and act like they're impressed when you do it in public, I assure you that anyone with an IQ above 110 will be snickering behind your back as soon as you walk away.

3. As I mentioned in my blog post and in my last rebuttal to you, moronic conservatives like you love insisting that liberals are "statist" and advocate "central economic planning" and "coercive redistribution of wealth" because - without those lies to fall back on - they'd have no means of rebutting anything liberals say. The fact that you have no means of proving that this is what liberals believe, but insist on it nonetheless, just further demonstrates why intellectually lacking blowhards like you are the lowest forms of life in today's political ecosystem.

PS: Any additional letters you write to me will be deleted, unread. If you want a response, post it on the thread. I'm not going to waste my time copy-and-pasting your idiocies because you're too lacking in testicular fortitude to post them in a public forum."

Debate on the Minimum Wage: Part One

The following transcript chronicles, complete and unabridged, the first half of a recent Facebook debate on the minimum wage.

Matthew Rozsa

Hypocrite - a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings

Example - a person who says he/she supports "family values" but then opposes raising the minimum wage or providing free daycare for working single parents

Kevin Brettell

I support both of those things. However, I'm not really certain that that not supporting them is inconsistent with supporting "family values."

Kevin Brettell

Actually, I take that back. I support raising the minimum wage. I support public daycares, but not necessarily free.

Matthew Rozsa
If you support "family values", then presumably it is because you believe that strong families are the building block of a healthy society. As anyone who has either experienced or witnessed the ramifications of poverty can tell you, it's pretty hard to raise children in an emotionally, psychologically, and morally healthy environment when the parents (a) are incapable of effectively providing for their needs, as is inevitably the case on a minimum wage (or even slightly above minimum wage) salary and (b) are unable to find a reliable, safe, and affordable place to deposit their children during workdays when they aren't in school.

In short, this is just one more example of how conservatives claim to support an abstract ideal but then oppose the concrete steps that would need to be taken to make it a realistic possibility.

Max Price

lots of folks in my town cant get a minimum wage job to support their children because the first half of their day is spent in high school. damn those family values! seriously though, this is such a loaded subject, matt. you can't just apply certain elements in order to shame conservatives.

Lacey A. Sparks
I think "family values" needs a definition here. Many conservatives probably believe that if parents just worked hard enough, they could provide adequately for their families without sucking the teat of the nanny state. This model does not account for race, class, and/ or gender, etc, obstacles such as work place discrimination, but instead believes everyone, in true American Dream fashion, can go from rags to riches with some hard work. Additionally, single working mothers, who are most in need of affordable day care, have already opted out of the "family values" club according to many conservatives, because single motherhood is not itself considered a family value. Basically, conservatives may not see the contradictions because to them, the definition of "family values" may not include the poor or single parents because "family values" only refer to providing a financially comfortable lifestyle with two opposite-sex parents.

Matthew Rozsa

A man I've never met named James Santini somehow saw this status update and saw fit to reply to it although, as is often the case with conservatives, he preferred to do so in a private letter, rather than in a public forum where he would be forced to accept accountability for his opinions (right-wingers apparently love the concept of accountability only insofar as it doesn't apply to themselves).

Here is what he wrote:

"Minimum wages create institutional unemployment by raising the costs of businesses requiring unskilled labor. If I could hire 3 people at 5 dollars an hour, now I can only afford 2 at 7.50 per hour.

This incentivizes outsourcing or the employment of capital improvements to further reduce staffing requirements.

Low skilled jobs are often the best opportunity for uneducated single parents to enter the workforce and build skills and experience needed to improve their conditions. These jobs are the first rung on the corporate ladder. You are supporting policies designed to eliminate or raise this rung.

For these reasons, minimum wage price controls are in fact antithetical to the alleged economic ends aimed at.

Of course, as a New Deal Democrat you probably don't know this and or if you do, support this effect as it drives more of the huddled masses into your redistributive welfare web. If these are Family Values than I want none of them.

Rethink your stance please."

Here is my rebuttal:

1. Conservatives will often cite the ridiculous belief that raising the minimum wage causes business to cut jobs. This is an assertion that they tend to insist upon even after well-respected economists have refuted it (see, and even after it is pointed out that all of the downsides they identify as existing with raising the minimum wage - such as an increased cost of operations for small businesses and a consequent tendency to outsource jobs - can easily be rectified by additional policies that won't insist on paying the average worker substandard wages (i.e., creating tax cuts and financial subsidies to small businesses to cover the cost of wage increases, raising tariffs on foreign goods so as to make it more difficult for companies that ship jobs overseas to continue selling their products to consumers in the United States).

2. The argument in the third paragraph (i.e., the one beginning with the phrase "Low skilled jobs...") is perhaps the most ridiculous one of all, since there isn't any reason to believe that entry-level positions would be any less "entry-level" if they were paid $8 or $10 an hour than they are at the current wage. After all, plenty of jobs in hiring paying industries DO have entry-level positions at these or higher rates; it is only the businesses that have gotten away with either preventing their employees from unionizing or crippling the bargaining power of their unions (see retail outlets, manufacturing jobs) that force their entry-level workers to subsist on such inadequate incomes.

3. In the final paragraph, Mr. Santini then resorts to the standard smear against New Deal Democrats, i.e., that we want to "drive... the huddles masses" into a "redistributive welfare web." This boils down to a formula that I have recently deduced exists within the conservative community whenever they address a liberal opponent (usually one they can't rebut using actual fact and logic):

X + Accusation of supporting "socialism" or "big government" = Shut the fuck up!

Unfortunately for Santini, I have encountered this imbecile approach so many times that I've already written a blog article thoroughly debunking it, one that I'm ready to whip out whenever the occasion calls for it.

In conclusion, I hope that Mr. Santini will post his future replies on this thread, rather than being a coward about it.

Matthew Rozsa

To Max:

I'm not sure what you meant by your post, but I believe my response to James Santini addresses the points you raised (minus the accusations of cowardice, which do not apply to you since you did have the integrity to post your thought...s on my wall). That said, if I inadvertently did leave one of your major arguments unaddressed (which is entirely possible, since I'm a little confused as to what you were trying to articulate), please let me know so I can fix that.

For Part Two, see:

Monday, March 14, 2011

Anti-Semitism and the Conflict in Israel

I submitted the following article to "The Rutgers Observer" a couple of weeks ago. However, after they kept requesting that I modify its contents (basically insisting that I change it from a personal opinion piece to a survey of the views of faculty members), I decided that I would (a) withdraw it and (b) no longer contribute to their newspaper. While I respect the right of editors to make legitimate adjustments to op-ed pieces (i.e., cutting down on length so that they abide by a predetermined word limit, removing profanity and other offensive language), some become so wrapped up in their own egos and personal ideological agendas that they stop being editors and instead become tiny tyrants within their self-proclaimed literary fiefdoms.

It's a shame, too, since I actually thought this piece was pretty good.

Sometimes a point can be best illustrated, or at least introduced, by starting with an anecdote.

While attending a history department luncheon, I was involved in a conversation in which a casual reference was made to the fact that I’m Jewish. Almost immediately, a stranger who overheard my comment sauntered over to our corner of the room and asked, with a polite but unmistakably accusing tone, “So you’re Jewish? What do you have to say for Israel?”

To better understand the implications of this challenge, imagine some comparable situations:

What if someone walked up to a random Arab and demanded to know, “What do you have to say for the PLO?”

Or approached a random Muslim and queried, “What do you have to say for the Ground Zero Mosque?”

Or confronted a random black person with the question, “What do you have to say for Barack Obama?”

If you think that only a bigot would ask those questions of someone simply because he or she is Arab, Muslim, and/or black, you are absolutely right. It is bigoted to assume that an entire group of people is directly or indirectly answerable for, or at least in some way connected to, individuals and institutions that share their ethnic or religious background. Unfortunately, many of the people I know who agree with that conclusion for other groups believe an exception should be made for Jews. In their minds, Jews are different.

How exactly are they different? Some say it’s because Jews are disproportionately supportive of Israel, and as such can be held answerable for Israel’s human rights violations – but, of course, Arabs and Muslims in this country are just as disproportionately supportive of anti-Zionist causes, and yet the “Jews are different” crowd would rightly protest if it was claimed that all or most Arabs and Muslims could be connected with the words and deeds of the various terrorist groups in the Middle East. Others assert it’s because Jews have a great deal of sway in Washington, given the presence of several dozen Jewish congressmen and powerful lobbies like AIPAC – yet, once again, even though the president is black, and lobbying groups like the NAACP remain well-funded and influential, the people I know who believe “Jews are different” would never argue that all or most African-Americans can be connected to the policies of those people and groups.

No, ultimately, the “Jews are different” argument is rooted in one source alone: anti-Semitism.

This isn’t to say that anyone who speaks out against Israel or its Jewish supporters is anti-Semitic. Indeed, when the label “anti-Semite” is affixed to critics of Israel and Zionism who haven’t displayed prejudice in their motives, from liberals like Jimmy Carter to conservatives like Ron Paul, it serves to intimidate thoughtful dissent and stifle public debate. Just as it is wrong to accuse everyone who opposes Obama or Park51 of being a racist, it is also wrong to brand all opponents of Israeli and Zionist policy as anti-Semitic.

At the same time, a binaristic oversimplification has now emerged, one which holds that either all detractors of Israel are anti-Semitic or else none of them are. The reality is much more complex. While many of the people who speak out against Israel aren’t prejudiced, others use criticism of Israel as a vehicle for hate which they eventually extend to the larger Jewish community. In the last decade alone, this has resulted in anti-Semitic outbursts from England, France, and Sweden to Canada, Argentina, and New Zealand.

So what do I have to say for Israel? Here is a better question: Why do you ask?