Lebanese Ibrahim Maalouf Wins César, The French Equivalent Of The Oscars, For Best Original Music In a Movie

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Establishing himself as one of the most coveted musicians in France for this past year, French-Lebanese musician and trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf added another accolade to his growing list of achievements with his first César for his work on the movie “Dans les forêts de Sibérie.”

The César Awards are considered as the French equivalent of the Oscars, which will be held tonight. They are the highest French honor that can be given to the movie industry. It was Ibrahim Maalouf’s second nomination and first win.

Maalouf was competing against another Lebanese composer, Gabriel Yared, who has previously won an Oscar and a Grammy for his work on The English Patient.

The César adds to Ibrahim Maalouf’s achievements this year as he has previously won “best musical spectacle” at Les Victoires de La Musique almost two weeks ago.

Ibrahim Maalouf is considered by many to be a pioneer musician with his adaptation of Oriental quarter notes to Western music, by custom-made trumpets that have four valves instead of three. This has allowed Maalouf to create outstanding music over his career, including a Western version of Oum Kalthoum’s music in a 2015 album that was titled “Kalthoum.”

He credits his Lebanese immigrant background in shaping his musical voice and giving him a message to pass on through his work.

You can check the video of Maalouf winning here. He will be coming to Lebanon for a concert at Baalbek on July 22nd.

 

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When A 63 Year Old Militia Member & Minister of Sports & “Youth” Bans MMA in Lebanon For Being “Too Violent”

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I will never get how a politician whose background is education and who’s nearing the Lebanese legal retirement age has the qualifications to head the Lebanese department of Sports and Youth, but here we are – as usual – and that person is Mohammad Fneish.

The Lebanese minister of sports and youth is usually inconspicuous. They sponsor a few tournaments here and there, issue statements in support of our national teams every now and then, but the sports situation in the country is improving at a pace slower than a snail’s, the clearest indication our athletes not bringing in any medals at the Olympics and barely receiving governmental aid. In fact, those athletes had to pay for some of their expenses at the previous Olympics.

Today, Mohammad Fneish decided that MMA, which stands for mixed martial arts, would be banned in Lebanon and have all its licenses revoked, according to Sports-961. The resolution, which was published yesterday, says the following:

  • Article 1: Resolution 67/1/2016 on 10/4/2012 regarding MMA is annulled, and so the said game becomes one of the non-practiced sports in Lebanon.
  • Article 2: It is prohibited to any party, and under any title, to hold games, competitions and events of MMA or any similar sport in which a cage and violence are used, and that, under the risk of applying the laws in force.
  • Article 3: This resolution will be published and divulged where needed.

Before going into the benefits of a sports like MMA, I can’t but note the irony in anyone banning a sports in Lebanon because it’s too “violent.” Our basketball games have a tendency to break out in riot just because. Our football games have the same tendency as well. MMA is one of the few sports in the country that is not synonymous with “violence” at this point, but it’s the one that banned.

It was a few weeks ago that all hell broke loose between Homentmen and Riyadi because the latter team’s fans raised Turkish flags to tease the Armenian-Lebanese team. Riyadi and Sagesse basketball games have been held more frequently without fans than with them because of how disruptive and violent they tend to become. Football games featuring Al Nejmeh and Al Ansar have also often managed to turn violent. What’s next, should we ban sports altogether just because the actions of a few individuals taint the bigger picture?

The even bigger irony is that the politician banning MMA is member of a Lebanese militia whose ideological existence is mostly based on the premise of “resistance,” which is inherently violent. How often does Hezbollah brag about its missiles, about its power to stop its enemies in their track? How many times has that party threatened the Lebanese interior to get its way? How many times has that party, in the past decade, launched mini civil wars against fellow Lebanese to get its way? I guess violence is only as such when it’s between two consenting adults in proper gear, but never with tanks and brigades in neighboring countries.

If anything, Lebanon needs MMA for the many benefits it contains which would better our society. It’s a discipline that has been shown to grow the confidence of the person training in it. It teaches them self-defense and is a good medium for them to release pent-up energy. It boosts self-discipline and forms bonds of friendships between those who are training and is known to be a huge stress- relief.

If anything, MMA controls the violent tendencies that we all have inside us especially in a country where daily life serves to boost our anger. Punches and kicks are not “violent” when they’re performed in a controlled medium. It’s like they want people to be on edge all the time and not want them to find media in which they can release all the crap they have to deal with daily because of the inadequacy of our governance.

People can get hurt doing all kinds of sports. You’d think a minister of sports and youth would know that.

10 Things Lebanon Hasn’t Discovered Yet (Or Ever?) As NASA Reveals 7 New Habitable Planets

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At a time when everyone and their mother is still talking about the irrelevant Marine Le Pen and the headscarf that could have been, NASA unveiled the single most important news of the year so far – even trumping Trump – with their discovery of 7 habitable planets in a solar system 30 light years away.

So as NASA leads the world onto new universe frontiers, and inspired by a tweet from Adeela, I decided to come up with a short list of how stuck this country is:

1. An electoral law:

To quote Titanic: “It has been 84 years….” Maybe it hasn’t been that long but it sure feels like it. Parliament has extended its mandate TWO times because they couldn’t agree on an electoral law to replace the current one and even though elections should be held towards the end of May, they still have not come up with one and by the looks of it they will never do so. Bl 3arabe, ma fi at3as men hek.

2. 24/7 electricity:

At a time when almost every modern country in the world provides its people with the basic requirement of 24/7 connectivity to the grid, Lebanon not only has failed to do so, but the situation is getting worse as the demand for power increases while the supply stagnates. What’s worse is that our current Secretary of Energy decided the reason we don’t have electricity 24/7 is the presence of Syrian refugees, because logic? Bref, te3tir. 

3. Internet that is fast enough to stream NASA’s live video without buffering:

At a time when Canada has declared 25Mbps internet and up is a human right, the average speed of Lebanese internet is still 1/25 that much and it doesn’t look like it’s going to improve anytime soon. It’s so ironic that our internet is so slow that most of us couldn’t even stream the NASA live video announcing their astonishing discovery without buffering.

4. Continuous running water all year long:

It was only recently, and by recently I mean December, that we stopped needing to buy water for our apartment in Beirut. We have more water supplies than almost any other Middle Eastern or North African country and yet we still have water shortages because of our severe inability to use that resource. Even Israel – with its recurrent droughts – has found a solution to water shortages. Not us, though.

5. A modern public transportation system:

“Service” cars and buses that are so random and disorganized they’d run you over to get to their next customer is not a modern public transportation system. If only they knew how much traffic they’d cut off by devising and enforcing a system people would want to take and use instead of their cars. Just have a look around you when you’re stuck in traffic: thousands of cars with one person each.

6. A secular political system:

If you’re sick of being told what you can’t or can do in governance because of your religion, clap your hands!

7. Politicians whose pride and ego aren’t as fragile as the status quo they love:

Over the past few weeks, American senators and congressman are being humiliated by their constituents at town hall events across their states and congressional districts as they get bombarded with one question after the next about their policies, to the point where Trump called them “paid protesters.” Bless him, he’s so Lebanese.  You will never ever see that here. Not only that, but when some of our politicians’ pride is hurt, they send their thugs to wreck havoc. The latest example is barely a week old.

8. A solution to the trash crisis:

Costa brava, airports with seagulls, trash on the streets, the need to recycle. Do we need to keep repeating this? Sigh.

9. The fascination and complete adoration of some Lebanese for far-right politicians in other countries:

I know most of our politicians would be considered right-wing. Even our socialist party is right-wing. But with Facebook pages for Trump’s Lebanese friends and a new Facebook page for Le Pen’s Lebanese friends, as well as utter adoration of some parts of our society to these politicians, and many more, I guess we’re taking it to a whole new level. What can you expect though from a people who love Hitler and still paint swastikas on buildings?  

10. More green spaces in our cities:

Just look at that picture of Beirut from space and let’s play a game of “find a green space other than AUB and Horsh Beirut.” You probably can’t, because for Lebanese urban jungles that make them money are more important than them being able to breathe.

Bonus: A solution to Gebran Bassil’s aspirations:

#StopGebran2017. Make it happen!

Marine Le Pen Refusing To Wear A Headscarf To Meet Lebanon’s Mufti Is A Publicity Stunt, Not Standing Up For Women

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It was almost going to pass without the media splash that Marine Le Pen wanted her Lebanese visit to generate, but she finally got her wish towards the end of her visit to the only country so far whose officials have agreed to receive the far-right presidential candidate.

From her first-ever handshake with a head of state, to the visit making fake news website Breitbart headlines with it being to see Lebanon’s persecuted Christians, the biggest splash is how Marine Le Pen refused to wear a headscarf to meet Lebanon’s Sunni Grand Mufti Abdel-Latif Daryan.

It was only a matter of time that the Vice President of Le Pen’s party tweeted the following:

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His tweet, attached to a screenshot of a Le Figaro headline saying “Marine Le Pen refuses to wear the veil,” translates to: “In Lebanon, Marine refuses to wear the veil. A wonderful message of liberty and emancipation sent to the women of France and the world.”

Of course, this whole affair is anything but a “wonderful message of liberty emancipation sent to the women of France and the world.”

As she arrived to meet the Mufti, Marine Le Pen was faced by a man – as pictured above – holding out a veil for her to cover her head. She feigned surprise before refusing to wear it with the argument being that she had met the Mufti of Al-Azhar previously and didn’t face such requirements, in reference to a 2015 visit.

Her argument, however, is worthless. Marine Le Pen was informed yesterday that the Mufti would only meet her if she covered her head with a scarf, but she still showed up anyway with the only purpose to be as controversial as she possible.

It was nothing but a publicity stunt, and it worked. These are the current top news google results about Marine Le Pen:

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People like Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump know that the best way to get attention is to be as controversial, loud, and offensive as possible. In a world of post truth and alternative facts, that is the only thing that gets attention and gives them the spotlight they so desperately seek.

By orchestrating a charade of refusing to wear a headscarf even though she had known the day prior that she’d be required to do so, Marine Le Pen acquired the brightest spotlight of her Lebanese trip: one in which those that support her will think – as her VP said – that she’s standing up for women rights, except she’s not.

This is not about the validity of the request to wear the headscarf, per se, as that is another topic and a whole other discussion. I’m personally against forcing anyone to do something against their will, be it Le Pen or headscarf or otherwise. But I also believe that is my duty as a person to be mindful of the situation I am willingly putting myself in. If that situation – in this case being asked to put a scarf on – isn’t something I’d be comfortable in, then I simply would opt out of it.

Women in Lebanon don’t need Marine Le Pen to stand up for them, especially when the only facet of Lebanese women she cares about are those who wear a Cross around their neck or who roll their R’s as she does. Simply put, Lebanese women are not required to cover up. They are not coerced to wear the veil to walk on our streets. They can wear whatever they want as long as they’re comfortable wearing it. They are the most liberated of women in the region. Anything other than this is misinformation.

That is not to say that Lebanese women have equal rights with their male counterpart. The struggle is continuous. They are fighting for their rights as diligently as possible. It was only a few days ago that they scored a major victory with having a penal code law that’s detrimental to their well-being be completely scraped off. That occurred without Le Pen’s help. Lebanese women don’t need a woman who fosters the kind of hateful, divisive, phobia-centric rhetoric that Le Pen spews, and they sure as hell are not represented by having such a farce as this be painted as “fighting” for them.

It is unfortunate that Lebanon’s mufti played right into Le Pen’s hand. If I were him, I would’ve simply not put that requirement in place in order to meet someone who’s as notoriously anti-Muslim as she is, or I would’ve refused to meet her in the first place. He wouldn’t be the first religious or political figure to shut her out, and the message sent through such a refusal or through refusing her the controversy she so desperately sought out would’ve been much better.

Regardless, if Marine Le Pen wants the presidency she’s seeking with desperation, she should learn to respect the various cultures of a world in which she’ll possibly be heading one of the top states, some of which require her to let go of her hate and phobias in order to have a conversation. But she is who she is. I bet she’s the kind of people who refuse to take off their shoes before entering a mosque, or who refuse to wear a yarmulke before entering a synagogue.

If Le Pen wanted to meet the Pope she’d be asked to wear black clothes and a matching mantilla, or a lace veil worn over the head. I bet she won’t have an issue with that. Respecting differing cultures is key, and with people like her that will never happen. Until then, I hope people can see through the bullshit.

Alt-Right News Website Breitbart Thinks Christians In Lebanon Are Persecuted

breitbart-lebanon-christians-persecutedApart from having her as their French presidential poster child, alt-right news website Breitbart, whose spread of fear, hate, xenophobia, and racism under the guise of “political-uncorectness” had a lot to do with the rise of Trump and friends, decided that Marine Le Pen is in Lebanon to meet the country’s persecuted Christians.

Of course, the purpose of this visit was always for the French far-right candidate to “express solidarity with Middle Eastern Christians.” As I said in my post on the matter, perhaps that purpose is better served in areas where Christians are actually persecuted?

Not according to Breitbart, of course. To them, what are countries over there *points disgustingly to the Middle East* but a pile of horrifying terrorist places feeding off Christian pure-blood and ruining the world for everything else?

So dear Breitbart, can you please point me – a Lebanese who was raised Maronite Christian – in the direction of this scary entity that is persecuting me, as I enjoy this fine Lebanese morning while Marine Le Pen enjoys her visit to the only country that’s accepted to host her so far, while I get nauseated reading your website?

I am sorry to inform you that your feisty title to get your Western Islamophobic readers up in arms and to portray Marine Le Pen as the Joan of Arc of France’s fight against the world will not come at the expense of my country or your dramatization of my situation in it.

You see, if you had any inkling about Lebanon or about the Middle East in general apart from it being one big blur in your eyes, you’d know that the political system in Lebanon allocates political power to Christians and Muslims equally. You’d have known that the president Marine Le Pen met has to be Maronite by law and that to be elected that persecuted Christian man held the entire country hostage for almost two years. But please, by all means, tell me more about how I’m persecuted.

I don’t feel unsafe in my country for being a Christian. I won’t get beheaded for going to Church. I won’t be shot down for reciting an “Our Father.” I won’t be knifed for crossing myself. Please, keep your disgusting concern to yourself and don’t reflect it on this country to try and pass on your agenda.

Are Christians persecuted in the Middle East? Sure, they are. But that persecution is happening in actual war zones, where everyone is getting killed regardless of how they pray. It’s sort of like the war zone in your minds where facts and common sense are getting massacred. Should we hold vigils for those? R.I.P. Logic. Waiting for their article about Marine Le Pen refusing to wear a veil to meet the mufti. That one should be exquisite.

Does Breitbart know what threatens Christians in the Middle East? It’s their constant advocacy – both Breitbart’s and those Christians – for far-right politics that only serve to fuel the hate in the poor minds of those who persecute those Christians in the first place. But I would assume that’s a lot of conjectures for them to wrap their heads around.

I daresay we can’t blame Breitbart for being this ignorant. It comes with the territory of being them. Even the comments on that Marine Le Pen article are horrendous, of which here’s a sample:

The more troubling part is that their sentiment is echoed by some Lebanese politicians and a lot of Lebanese-French (check the comments on these pictures 1234):

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The age of change and reform in Lebanon has begun with the election of General Michel Aoun, followed by Donald Trump. Will the triad be complete with the election of Marine Le Pen? God willing.

This is also not the first time that this level of misinformation and ignorance is spread about the situation of religious communities in Lebanon. During the American presidential campaign, Jeb Bush said: “if you’re a Christian in Lebanon, you’ll be beheaded.”

I suppose both Jeb and Breitbart would be disappointed to learn that I still have my head?

In Lebanon, everyone is screwed. The beauty of it is that it’s not the threat-to-their-lives kind and they are all screwed together, for better or for worse. Sorry to disappoint you Breitbart, but you’re barking up the wrong tree here.

Here Are All The Fines Of Lebanon’s New Traffic and Driving Law

Almost two years ago, there was talk about a new traffic law to be implemented in the country in order to make driving here more civilized. From a new driver’s license that can actually be used abroad and is the size of a regular ID card, to regulations such as those present in developed nations, the law met the fate of almost all other Lebanese laws that try to advance the country: it died at the hand of no enforcement, wastas and Lebanese people who are too macho to follow laws.

Over the past few days, cameras have been set up across the Greater Beirut area to enforce proper stopping at red lights. That is not only actually stopping at a red light, but stopping behind the pedestrian crosswalk which many cars tend to pass mostly because few are those who know those dashed lines – when they can see them – should not be crossed.

With all the confusion surrounding those new fines, I figured the best way to approach this is to find what fines are included in the new law and how much are they. Thanks to Joe Maalouf, I was able to procure pictures of how those fines are classified and, through another source, how those fines are priced.

In general, fines are divided into 5 categories, with increasing severity. Not stopping at a red light (or a stop sign when found) or not stopping before a crosswalk are only a first category fine that would cost you 100,000LL (or about $70). Driving under the influence, however, or doing dangerous maneuvers while driving (betweens and whatnot) or driving with an expired license are category five fines that would cost you 3,000,000LL or $2000.

Of course, all of this wouldn’t be complete without enforcing better driving exams for new drivers as well as enforce those updated driver’s licenses on everyone with the application of a point system from which points are deducted for each fine the driver commits.

Until then, one wonders: where is all the money from these fines going? Will we ever get a country where we, as citizens, can trace how the money the government takes from us is used to make our roads, infrastructure and our lives better? Will those who have wastas also be subject to this? How will the law be enforced on everyone equally?

Until then, don’t fret too much. I landed in Lebanon less than 7 hours ago. On my way home, drivers were doing those $2000 betweens, political convoys almost caused a multiple car crash in their attempt to flex their street muscles and red lights and street lanes were not obeyed, all to the sight of policemen in the vicinity. Crickets.

Welcome to Lebanon. Behold the fines:

Category One Fines:

Illegal parking: 100,000 LL.
Parking on sidewalks: 150,000 LL,
Transportation of workers in pick-up trucks: 150,000 LL,
Using illegal sirens: 150,000 LL.

Category Two Fines:

Going 20km/h above the speed limit: 200,000 LL,
Driving under the speed limit: 200,000 LL,
Modified or worn-out license plates: 200,000 LL,
Doing illegal u-turns: 200,000 LL,
Having non-licensed tinted windows: 250,000 LL,
Driving with an expired driver’s license: 250,000 LL,
Transporting items on a motorcycle: 300,000 LL.

Category Three Fines:

No seatbelt: 350,000 LL,
Wearing an unfastened helmet: 350,000 LL,
Unpaid mechanique: 350,000 LL,
Using the phone while driving: 350,000 LL,
Not wearing a helmet: 400,000 LL,
Children under 5  not placed in a car seat: 450,000 LL,
Children under 10 sitting in the front seat: 450,000 LL,
Not obeying a traffic cop: 450,000 LL.

Category Four Fines:

No license plates on cars: 600,000 LL,
Violating traffic lights: 700,000 LL,
Driving unregistered vehicles: 700,000 LL,
Driving at 40-60km/h above speed limit: 700,000 LL,
Violating one-way roads: 700,000 LL.

Category five fines:

Driving without a license: 2,000,000 LL,
Driving at >60km/h above speed limit: 3,000,000 LL,
Racing: 3,000,000 LL,
Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs: 3,000,000 LL,
Dangerous maneuvers while driving: 3,000,000 LL.

Dear Lebanese Government, Can You Not Add New Fines & Increase Taxes When You’re Offering Nothing In Return?

Over the past couple of weeks, the Lebanese government has devised two ways with which it will be taking away the hard-earned money of Lebanese everywhere: new taxes and new traffic fines.

In absolute value, taxes and fines are not always bad news. My uncle in California was telling me how the state voted to actually increase sales tax because the extra revenue would go into infrastructure enhancement. But that’s California, and we’re in Lebanon where the government is currently convening to vote on a budget for the first time in 12 years when the deadline for the electoral law they’ve been slacking off about for the past 8 years is in 2 days. This is to say that while Lebanon is a pretty country, its governance is shit. This isn’t a matter of debate.

It comes as a surprise, therefore, that there’s current talks about increasing the tax on alcohol over 500%. While the initial tax is super low (60 liras on beer) and therefore a 500% increase is not that significant (300 lira is still okay), it’s the idea behind the tax increase that matters here: where will the money go and what’s the point of it?

The tax increase in question will have even worse effects on those who sell it, with repercussions on the consumer, and it comes at an odd time given the rising anti-alcohol sentiment in certain Hezbollah-controlled areas.

Yes, alcohol is a luxury item, and luxury items should be taxed, but there’s a degree of accountability to trace how our tax money goes and if it’s going to good use. As far as the Lebanese way goes, I’d say that extra 500% on alcohol would go towards more chopper rides for Gebran Bassil and friends. That’s how our tax money is used, ladies and gentlemen: to allow our politicians to enjoy their lifestyles and maintain them as high as possible. Isn’t it ironic, therefore, that there’s actual tax increase discussions when parliament and the government low-key passed increases in compensation for families of past MPs. Moreover, let’s not pretend this is to improve the health of the Lebanese populace. If they cared they’d have taxed cigarettes but those are not religiously controversial items.

The other new added source of income for the government is with them installing red-light enforcement cameras across the Greater Beirut area. How those cameras work is as follows: when you reach a red light, you’re supposed to stop. YES, THIS IS BRAND NEW INFORMATION. Anyway, when you stop at that red light you’re supposed to stop BEFORE the pedestrian crosswalk because those stripes in the middle of the road are supposed to be used by, you know, pedestrians crossing the road. The current state of the country is not like this at all.

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I’m all for extra traffic fines in the country. Lord knows our driving is horrendous and needs as much measures for it to be improved as possible, but how can you improve driving through negative reinforcement when the notion of what you are trying to reinforce has never been taught in the first place? As in, Lebanese drivers are not taught how to obey traffic laws in the first place so how are they to be aware that they’re supposed to stop before a crosswalk?

Our driving tests go as follows: you show up after having paid that astronomical $300+ fee, with whatever you paid extra for that wasta, you do that computer exam about street signs and are helped by whoever is present there because they just want to be done with it, and then go do your practical test which involves you parallel parking and then going in reverse in a manual-transmission car which has been modified so much that to drive it, you don’t even have to use the pedal.

So how can you expect drivers whose only experience with actual “official” driving is that corrupt and silly to suddenly be aware of rules that are strictly applied in countries that have way more detailed and elaborate driving tests?

This is most obvious with the fact that with a trial run of the new cameras, they collected fines every 8 seconds. But I digress.

The question is: how am I supposed to stop at a crosswalk if I can’t even see the crosswalk in the first place? How much actual investment from the fines that are already incurred has gone into the roads around Beirut to make sure that, say, those roads are up to standard you want to put the drivers to?

Have all those parking fines they’ve been collecting since enforcing the paid parking system around Beirut improved our sidewalks? No. Did it improve our roads? No. Did the speeding tickets they’ve been collecting for ages now, with increasing values since that new law they passed, contribute to better roads and infrastructure? No.

So where the hell is all the money going? No one knows.

Does our government know that there are more rules for “civilized” driving around Beirut that have to be applied as well, such as, at the top of my head, enforcing the fact that the direction of lanes (as in lanes with a left arrow or lanes with straight arrows, etc..) should be obeyed could cut down on so much traffic, as in when someone from the right lane decides they want to go to the left and cuts off the entire left lane in doing so?

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The problem with such new measures, whether new taxes or new fines, is that they’re always half-assed and poorly thought out. They’re never the first step in actually improving the system to begin with and always come at a cost to us as citizens. You want to put on cameras to make sure people stop properly at red lights? How about you make sure those people can properly drive in the first place by making sure our driving test process isn’t a joke and that the roads they’re supposed to drive on are up to far? You want people to pay more taxes on alcohol? How about you make sure the alcohol in the market is up to par?

In short, you want us to pay more taxes and fines, you have to pay up first in services and improvement. And to be honest, at the rate we’re going, that’s not asking for much.