Open Thread: Geese


Geese!
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Saturday Recommendations!  What have you been reading/writing/listening to/playing/watching lately?  Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about - the weekend’s ahead, give us something new to explore!

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Open Thread: One eyed flower turtle sculpture thing


"Turtle sculpture thing," said in the cadence of  the last three words in "this sort of mission... quest... thing."

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Friday Recommendations!  What have you been reading/writing/listening to/playing/watching lately?  Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about - the weekend’s ahead, give us something new to explore!

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Narnia: Bother the Signs

[Narnia Content Note: Depression, Misogyny, Death by Exposure]

Narnia Recap: The trio have met the Green Lady and are now obsessed with going to Harfang.

The Silver Chair, Chapter 7: The Hill of the Strange Trenches

I've mentioned throughout this book that I really like the traveling parts of this tale. I like travel tales, probably because I can't travel so there's a vicarious interest there. I was one of those who really liked the bits in The Hunger Games where Katniss had to, like, iodize water or whatever because I think shit like that is cool. One of my biggest gripes when I tried to read the unabridged version of Journey to the Center of the Earth (it's awful) was that they took meat and biscuits "enough to last six months" but "of water, not a drop". Instead they took gourds expecting to find all the drinkable water they'd need on the way. Gah!

I mention all that to now mention this: I'm in a spring cleaning mood because of the nice weather, and I've been reading a lot of DIY organization sites which are a real head-trip for me, but in a good way. I got to a tip about storing nails and screws and tiny things in DYMO labeled Altoid tins and I was like "aha! something I can do!" because fuck putting up shelves and things on my nice empty walls. (Empty walls for the win, is all I'm saying.) Anyway. I was startled and pleased to realize that there is an entire industry of used Altoid tins on eBay and you should never throw your Altoid tins away because you can sell them for, like, a dollar each.

Why? you ask. Because survivalists and campers and such have all these lovely instructions for making first aid kits and camping kits out of Altoid tins. I read up on several of these and was fascinated and very amused to find that the survivalist kits recommend carrying condoms in the Altoid tin because a condom can hold a gallon of water. One, I am dubious about this measurement. Two, I was sad to see that not every instruction site mentioned getting condoms which are not pre-lubed or spermicided, as this seems an important detail to neglect like that. Three, one site suggested that in the absence of purification tablets, a day in the sun will kill all nasty things in the water, and I'm dubious about this as well. Four, mostly I really just want condoms to be handed out at, like, Boy Scout meetings in order for the Texas politicians to have a fit, because this would amuse me.

Open Thread: Footprints

If anyone wants context, go here.  Sadly, I have since lost the hat.
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I dreamed that I was walking down the beach with the Goddess.
And I looked back and saw footprints in the sand.

But sometimes there were two pairs of footprints, and sometimes there was only one.
And the times when there was only one pair of footprints, those were my times of greatest trouble.

So I asked the Goddess, "Why, in my greatest need, did you abandon me?"

She replied, "I never left you. Those were the times when we both hopped on one foot."
And lo, I was really embarrassed for bothering Her with such a stupid question.

--Carl Muckenhoupt

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Narnia: Gentle Giants and Strange Women

[Narnia Content Note: Racism, Animal Cruelty, Misogyny]

Narnia Recap: Jill and Eustace are on an adventure with Puddleglum.

The Silver Chair, Chapter 6: The Wild Waste Lands of the North

Sorry I haven't updated sooner; life got busy and then Husband got sick (and still is, poor bab) and Jill ended up taking kind of a backseat for awhile.

Chapter 6 is difficult to pull apart because it's simultaneously sorta empty and full at the same time. Not a lot happens, but we're finally on our journey and there's a lot to see and look at, and in terms of just "reading for enjoyment", this is probably my favorite chapter in all of the Narnia series just because we're finally allowed to look around us for a little while and drop all the theologies. The problem is that Lewis couldn't drop both the theologies and the racist xenophobia so... hang on to your hats.

The chapter opens with the trio setting off over the moor. The going isn't hard but it's clearly not comfortable, and a decent balance is struck between the two, I think. Again I'm reminded of the traveling bits in Lord of the Rings, which I also liked because there's something fundamentally nice and warm and cozy (to me) to be found in reading about long cold wet travels when you're in your warm dry comfy home.

Open Thread: Remnants of Solstice


This thread brought to you by what has been left behind.  Or rather left up.  It was either that or someone playing hockey by himself on the pond these trees surround.

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Open Thread: Ducks


And their reflections.  The last time I was over that way there were still ducks in the area.  They were all crammed together in the only un-frozen spot, which wasn't really big enough to hold them.  From a climate perspective there is no way that that should be true (should have frozen completely long ago), but that risks going down a dark and depressing path which would miss the important point which is: Ducks!

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Friday Recommendations!  What have you been reading/writing/listening to/playing/watching lately?  Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about - the weekend’s ahead, give us something new to explore!

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Narnia: Tea in Tins

[Narnia Content Note: Depression]

Narnia Recap: Jill and Eustace have attended a parliament of owls and are ready to start their adventure.

The Silver Chair, Chapter 5: Puddleglum

Chapter 5 is aptly named "Puddleglum" because that's who the chapter introduces and it largely revolves around dialogue with him. And I want to give props here: if you don't dislike Puddleglum, this is a reasonably good chapter. It's maybe not as tight as might be imagined in a perfect world, since we're still hitting the Narnia trend of the first 5+ chapters not actually having much in the way of action, but we're at least planning now, instead of backstorying, and there's some nice character development and fleshing out and nothing here is too offensive to me. So massive props, Lewis, for writing a chapter I can't pick on too much.

'Course, you'll have noticed I said "if" you don't dislike Puddleglum, which is going to be a matter of personal mileage. I'm going to note upfront that adult characters in children's fantasy stories are difficult to write. If the adults are too competent, then the children can't make as many mistakes, and their victories are perhaps shared more than might be satisfying for the reader, since the child character starts to lack a sense of agency when they're just following around the more competent adults. For instance, if Trumpkin or Caspian had provided an armed escort, then Jill and Eustace would have been boiled down to a guide, at best, or a good luck charm that Aslan had provided.

The ideal solution in these situations is usually to provide an adult who can do all the Icky Hard Things (for example: Puddleglum will hunt their food and skin and clean and cook it on the road), but will be respectful enough of the children's opinions (or enough of a pushover) to let the kids call the shots and run the show. (This is not unlike my basic philosophy for NPCs being dragged along plot rails by the PCs, ha.) At the same time, you have to justify as the author why the kids aren't turning to the vastly more experienced adults and saying, "So what do you recommend here?" and then just doing that. (If you don't justify this, the children come off as ridiculously arrogant to an almost unrealistic degree. I was a pretty stubborn child, but I still would have delegated all adulting to Puddleglum the second a blizzard hits later.)

Open Thread: Legos


Once upon a time Legos were the go to toy for gender-neutral innovation limited only by the child's imagination and the parent's bank account.  There's no reason they couldn't be that again.  Would be nice.

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Saturday Recommendations!  What have you been reading/writing/listening to/playing/watching lately?  Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about - the weekend’s ahead, give us something new to explore!

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Narnia: The Parliament of a Parliament

[Narnia Content Note: Death, Poisoning, Snakes, People / Children being killed on adventures, Violent Kings, Misogyny]

Narnia Recap: Jill and Eustace have had a lovely evening and now shit's gonna get real.

The Silver Chair, Chapter 4: A Parliament of Owls

Alright people, once more into the breach!

I think it's a little interesting, the more we go through these books, to see the author struggle with keeping the action going and you guys, this is a legit hard thing to do. There's always this tension between whether to keep the characters stumbling towards the goal line or to actually slow down and info-dump all the world-building and backstory and there really is no One Right Way to do it because there are readers who couldn't give a toss about the backstory and there are readers who want pages and pages of this stuff, so I am inclined to give Lewis a touch of a pass on this just because this is genuinely hard and he tried. You Tried, Lewis.

Like, I'm reminded of all the early parts of The Fellowship of the Ring where, okay, it was genuinely in-character for Frodo to drag his feet on everything but as a kid I was like oh my god this is the most boring thing ever just go already THIS IS NOT HARD and then they FINALLY get on the road and exciting things happen but HAHA NOPE now we're going to sit around in Rivendell for what feels like YEARS AND YEARS so that people can recite poetry at you and I realize that there are fans for whom this backstory stuff is like sweet, sweet candy--and omg I respect the fuck out of these people, I really do--but all I wanted to do was read about this damn ring being melted, okay? So let's give Lewis props for at least not making us sit through eighteen pages of poetry about the Horse and His Boy but then I must immediately take those props away because he then made a full book out of the story so I GUESS WE'RE EVEN.

Anyway, like all the books that have come before it in this series, we are now going to have backstory and politics vomited at us, but it only takes one chapter this time instead of the three (or more??) chapters that it took in Prince Caspian so... yay, I guess?

Narnia: Far Worse Than You Think

[Narnia Content Note: Death, Old Age, Insensitive Treatment of Hearing Disabilities]

Narnia Recap: Jill has been given really unhelpful instructions by Aslan and now we can get on with it

The Silver Chair, Chapter 3: The Sailing of the King

I really liked the comparison last time to the prophetic instructions being given to Jill by Aslan as being "plot coupons". I've been writing a lot in my quiet sabbatical from the internet, and I think I also mentioned that I've been running a role playing game. In both cases--as writer and storyteller--it actually is pretty hard to give clues and plots to the reader/players such that they feel like they're participating actively in the story as opposed to just being pulled along by the nose.

Here again I wonder if Narnia wouldn't have been a better story if Lewis had left out the religion, because I really do think that the plot coupons could have been done so much better if he hadn't felt the need to make them all vague and prophecy-like to suit his religious bent. All this stuff about memorizing the signs and rules seems to be a combination of the commandment in Deuteronomy to remember god's laws, filtered through the modern Christian interest in being ready for the future because (a) Jesus' Second Coming or (b) your own personal death and judgment, whichever comes first.

But, first, remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. 
--Silver Chair, Chapter 2

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth. 
--Deuteronomy 11:18-21

As a means to crowbar Deuteronomy into your book, it's not the most inelegant approach Lewis could have taken. But once Deuteronomy has been awkwardly crowbar'd into your book, now it's sitting there like a lumpy frog squatting over everything else, because--as everyone pointed out very nicely in the last installment--this basically ensures that Jill and Eustace have been setup to fail. Case in point, let us remember the first "sign" (which is not really a sign at all, but whatever):

First; as soon as the Boy Eustace sets foot in Narnia, he will meet an old and dear friend. He must greet that friend at once; if he does, you will both have good help.

So. Okay. Eustace and Jill have now set foot in Narnia. What do we see there?

Narnia: Swallowing Up Girls

[Narnia Content Note: Heights, Animal Violence, BDSM (done badly and/or treated as mandatory)]

Narnia Recap: Eustace has fallen off a cliff and been blown into Narnia; Jill remains behind to cope with all these lion shenanigans.

The Silver Chair, Chapter 2: Jill Is Given A Task

So I went ahead and read the whole thing last night because my kindle said the average read time for this book was 3 hours and I figured we could beat that. I still stand by my initial feels that Silver Chair is the least offensive of the series because there is fewer politics and fewer theologies and more of everyone being miserable and cold, but damned if I hadn't forgotten how contrived a lot of it feels.

Like, I remember starting these deconstructions feeling that Lewis was a good writer with terrible theologies, but I can't imagine now why I thought that. I know things have improved in the world of writing, Because The Future, but ye gods this book is the definition of a railroaded plot. The first two chapters are Aslan saying "go here", then there are owls saying "go there", then there is walking, then the villain shows up saying "go over there", and then there is actual writing that can be seen from space saying "go here", and then cake. Jill and Eustace might as well be wheeled about on dollies.

I also found Puddleglum both better and worse than I remember him, but more on that later. First we have to slog through Aslan being Aslan.

Narnia: Cliffs and Consent

[Narnia Content Note: Religion, Bullying, Heights]

Narnia Recap: Eustace is now an Aslanite.

The Silver Chair, Chapter 1: Behind the Gym

I've been going back and forth on whether Silver Chair is even worth deconstructing. It's probably the least picked-apart book in the series; everyone knows the shit that goes down in Last Battle, and HaHB and Magician's Nephew have a lot of the really juicy racism and sexism to pick at. And of course the first three books (LWW, PC, and VoDT) have been adapted the most often. That leaves Silver Chair as sorta the abandoned middle child in the series.

It's also one of the most beloved books (which doesn't make it as much fun to deconstruct, because believe it or not, I don't enjoy wrecking everyone's childhood), possibly because it doesn't get picked at the hardest, and honestly it probably also helps that it's the most Tolkienesty one in the sense of getting away from all the palaces and privilege and just having a small adventuring party walking across cold hills and moors and whatnot in search of a prince they need to rescue. That's a good solid formula that's hard to fuck up, and it means that we have less of the faffing about in Prince Caspian and reams less of the privileged pillaging and looting that we had in Dawn Treader. It also has the famous Puddleglum speech, which everyone on earth loves except me. So I was sorta tempted to just give Silver Chair a pass and not deal with it.

But, hey, you know? Why not. Maybe the relative inoffensiveness of the material means we'll whip through it in record time. And just to be really edgy (or possibly lazy), I'm not going to re-read the entire book first this time. I'll be reading along with ya'll for once. Or at least for this first chapter.

Open Thread: Cat


I couldn't think of anything so here's a picture of my cat during a warmer time.

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Friday Recommendations!  What have you been reading/writing/listening to/playing/watching lately?  Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about - the weekend’s ahead, give us something new to explore!

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Open Thread: The Cavalry

A typical member of the Cavalry.
Arizona Kid: "Colonel I hope you're not too late."
Colonel: "Son, never in the history of motion pictures has the United States Cavalry been too late."
— The Three Stooges in Out West

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Friday Recommendations!  What have you been reading/writing/listening to/playing/watching lately?  Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about - the weekend’s ahead, give us something new to explore!

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Open Thread: Groundhog



Because: why not?

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Open Thread: Snow


Today's open thread is brought to you by autumn snow, this picture was taken the day before this year's celebration of Thanksgiving in the United States.

Friday Recommendations!  What have you been reading/writing/listening to/playing/watching lately?  Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about - the weekend’s ahead, give us something new to explore!

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Open Thread: Light and Leaves


Saturday Recommendations!  What have you been reading/writing/listening to/playing/watching lately?  Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about - the weekend’s still got a day left to it, give us something new to explore!

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Xanth: An A+ Plan

[Xanth Content Note: Rape, Misogyny]

Castle Roogna, Part 7

So, uh, Chapter 10. Didn't finish that last time, because all the centaur stuff took front and center. Dor gets to meet "neo-Sorceress Vadne", who is the evil scheming woman in this book (a la Iris) because she is beautiful and intelligent and powerful, and all three things combined strike terror in Xanth men's hearts.

Whereas in the first book, Iris was peeved because having boobs disqualified her in Xanth society from holding the throne (despite it being occupied by a dangerous incompetent in need of replacement), nu-Iris Vadne is upset because the Council Who Decides These Things has judged her as not-quite-a-sorceress and this affects her marriage prospects.

So they're basically the same character and if you're wondering how the author managed to crank out, like, 50 of these books, we may have just stumbled on the secret: half of the characters are reused wholesale under different names.

“Magician,” a dulcet voice said behind Dor. He turned to find a mature woman standing on the ramparts. “I am neo-Sorceress Vadne, come to assist the defense of this wall. How may I be of service?”

“Neo-Sorceress?” Dor asked with undiplomatic blankness. He remembered Murphy saying something about a Sorceress who was helping the King, but the details had fogged out.

“My talent is judged to be shy of Sorceress level,” she said, her mouth quirking.

I read a Robert Price book once, The Incredible Shrinking Son of God (which I recommend and found very fascinating), and was struck by his point that the literalist streak in a lot of modern Christianity doesn't make sense on a fundamental level because it basically assumes that the people in the past had no greater goals or ambitions than serving as perfect record-keepers for us in the future. And that, as a general rule, people mark down history with other, more-immediate intentions: to persuade, to explain, to justify, and so on, and usually to their more immediate peers and not to folks in the misty future. The point was that it would be wise for us to remember that we are not a universal high priority.

I say all that to say this. Apparently there are only a few hundred people in Xanth in this point in history. There are no Sorceresses in this generation. And even in "modern" Xanth, with its higher population, only one or two magicians are produced per generation (until plot starts ensuring otherwise). And yet despite this place having a population lower than most churches, they totally have a Council Of Deciders who make decisions on who is and isn't "really" a sorceress or magician, and they're super sticklers on the girls (despite the ruling being literally meaningless because "sorceress" carries zero political power with it) because... they really care about being strict for posterity? Like, I literally can see no valuable reason to piss off someone with powerful magic by splitting ridiculous hairs like this, and the only justification seems to be that if they relaxed the rules a little, the future would be in grave peril of doing the same. Which frankly seems like a weird priority in a situation where the basic Maslow hierarchy is barely being met in the one or two small existing communities.

But, hey, character motivation. The same character motivation that all the women villains in these books have: get power, ideally by forcing a powerful husband who hates you to marry you. A+ plan. There are then several pages establishing that Vadne's power sucks because she can "only" use it to transform attackers into ("living") stones to finish the unfinished castle walls, while Dor has the Magician-level talent of making flying arrows insult people which apparently causes devastating in-fighting. Sure. We check back in with King Roogna, who has been urged by both the goblin faction and the harpy faction to let them use the castle as a base of operations; Dor agrees with the King's neutrality (which will ensure that the harpies and goblins both fight the humans and destroy the castle) on the grounds that they're all gross.

“I regret we can not make our facilities available to you. We are not choosing sides.”

That was for sure, Dor thought.Both sides were repulsive.

Future king, also A+. Then we check in with Magician Murphy who is, I remind you, the actual reason why this war is going to happen and all human civilization will be wiped out. (His motives being basically Strawman Darwinism.) Murphy does a poor impression of "nice place you have here" and offers to fix things up.

“You mean you can call off the whole goblin-harpy battle, this whole siege, just like that?”

“Not just like that. But I can abate it, yes.”

[...] “The King’s talent is shaping magic to his own ends. Mine is shaping circumstance to interfere with others’ designs. Alternate faces of similar coins. All we have to determine is whose talent shall prevail. Destruction and bloodshed are no necessary part of it. In fact I deplore and abhor—”

“There has already been bloodshed!” Dor exclaimed angrily. “What kind of macabre game is this?”

“A game of power politics,” Murphy responded, unperturbed.

“A game where my friend was tortured by Mundanes, and my life threatened, and the two of us were pitted against each other,” Dor said, his anger bursting loose. “And Millie must marry the Zombie Master to—” He cut himself off, chagrined.

“So you have an interest in the maid,” Vadne murmured. “And had to give her up.”

“That’s not the point!” But Dor knew his face was red.

“Shall we be fair?” Murphy inquired meaningfully. “Your problem with the maid is not of my making.”

“No, it isn’t,” Dor admitted grudgingly. “I— I apologize, Magician.” Adults were able to apologize with grace. “But the rest—”

“I regret these things as much as you do,” Murphy said smoothly. “This contest with the Castle was intended to be a relatively harmless mode of establishing our rights. I would be happy to remove the curse and let the monsters drift as they may. All this requires is the King’s acquiescence.”

King Roogna was silent.

I don't really know what more to say about this except that, once again, the stakes here aren't a simple bowling trophy. The "acquiescence" that Murphy is requiring from Roogna is that Xanth effectively dissolve any attempt at government and from hereafter switch to a "rule by anarchy" situation in an environment where everyone will probably be killed before they can adjust to the newness of the complete upheaval of their entire political way of life for generations. And Murphy admits this and in fact openly wants this because the elements of humanity who manage to survive will objectively be the best and they will breed super-human X-Men.

I mean, I'm paraphrasing, but not by much. And so while it is relevant that this war will potentially kill Dor and Jumper, and has already resulted in Millie contracting a marriage that might bring her little joy, it keeps being forgotten that this war will also decide the lives and fates of literally every human in Xanth. And we kind of need to forget that, because otherwise we wouldn't accept the book's continued insistence that Murphy is an honorable Randian superman who is the hottest thing since molten lava covered Christian Gray.

“Murphy has honor, once you understand his ways,” Vadne said, glancing at the Magician obliquely. “I once sued for his hand, but he preferred chaos to an organized household. So I am without a Magician to marry.”

“You sought to marry above your station,” Murphy told her. Vadne showed her teeth in a strange crossbreed of snarl and smile. “By your definition, Magician!” Then she returned to Dor. “But I let my passion override me. Where did you say you were from, Magician?”

Dor suddenly understood her interest in him—and was glad he could prove himself ineligible. It would be as easy to deal with Helen Harpy as with this woman, and for similar reason. Vadne was no soft and sweet maid like Millie; she was a driven woman on the prowl for a marriage that would complete the status she craved.

Sigh. So perhaps the best part of this is the exemption of Millie from the "driven woman on the prowl" categorization despite the fact that she is literally in this novel because she left home planning to find and marry the most powerful husband she could snag with her talent. We have decided to forget all that, because only Bad Women make sensible decisions in an oppressive patriarchy.

I do like the implication, though, that Murphy will stay single his entire life for lack of someone in his "station". (Unless ya'll want to get some Roogna/Murphy slash going.) Like, yes, please remove yourself from the marriage pool, asshole. How all this intersects with the frankly bizarre interpretation of evolutionary theory that he lives by is beyond me, but since Murphy's entire character motivations seem to boil down to "be as much of a jerk as possible", I'm just grateful it worked in our favor for one.

Then there is some early skirmishing, none of which is particularly interesting, and thus ends Chapter 10.

Open Thread: Schlumbergera in bloom

Brought to you by an under-watered cactus that once belonged to my grandmother

The plant is in bloom, that must mean... actually it doesn't mean much of anything.  It does it all the time, usually without warning (unless you examine it closely enough to see the buds before they bloom.)

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Friday Recommendations!  What have you been reading/writing/listening to/playing/watching lately?  Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about - the weekend’s coming up, give us something new to explore!

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