Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Welcome to the World of "Disaster Capitalism"

The self-indulgent, self-aggrandizing U.S. Embassy planted in the midst of war-torn Baghdad (see my previous blog of Oct. 20th)) embodies much more than a chilling disregard for ordinary Iraqis, or even its symbolic value signaling the truth about American ambitions in the Middle East. As Naomi Klein describes in her new book "The Shock Doctrine," places like the Embassy and the Green Zone are the new working prototypes for how to construct security bubbles for the rich, with state-of-the-art everything in the absence of a functioning public infrastructure. In Iraq, the same corporations that sell the bombs also sell prosthetic limbs for the victims, manage the evacuee camps, and rebuild the bombed-out bridges. You don't have to have a map to get you from here to there in order to figure out what's really going on. But just in case you can't connect the dots yourself, Naomi Klein has done it for all of us, and brilliantly.

Security bubbles exist "like a giant fortified carnival cruise ship parked in the middle of a sea of violence and despair," she writes in the October issue of Harper's magazine. If you can manage to get on board, you will find "poolside drinks, bad Hollywood movies, and Nautilus machines." If you are not among the chosen, however, "you could get shot for just standing too close to the wall."

Welcome to the new world of "disaster capitalism." The word "chosen" has, of course, rich religious overtones. In this case, however, it is clear who the "chosen" will be: those rich enough to afford, whether in Iraq or in America, protection for themselves when disasters strike. Klein's provocative thesis is that in the new economy of catastrophe, people's need for help is being harnessed for profit by mega-contractors eager to replace crumbling public infrastructures with emergency services that have been repackaged and privatized for public consumption in disaster situations. Iraq has been the pilot laboratory for test-flying and learning the ropes of disaster profiteering. Climate change is providing, along with preemptive wars, new lucrative markets in which corporatized industries such as Halliburton, Blackwater, Lockheed, Wal-Mart, etc. get their real economic momentum as the world realizes it is going to have to pay for its own survival.

Klein claims that what was once the former military-industrial complex has morphed onto a "disaster capitalism" complex, in which all conflict- and disaster-related functions, like waging war, securing borders, spying on citizens, rebuilding cities, treating the injured, are performed by private corporations at a profit. They are taking over many of the core functions of a weakened government, which has basically outsourced its responsibilities to these international companies. The Iraq war, according to Klein, is now being franchised over here, in places like New Orleans.

Consider, for instance, the Florida-based service which bills itself as "the world's first hurricane escape plan" that turns a hurricane evacuation into a spa vacation or a charter trip to Disneyland. The richest evacuees can be whisked out of the hurricane zone on a luxury jet, while those left behind and still stranded on rooftops await relief from the Red Cross, which has partnered up with Wal-Mart. Klein calls it the "new apartheid" of financial inequality.

It used to be that the forces of corporate globalization advanced through an alliance between the forces of the world's largest corporations and the world's most powerful governments. It used to be that government was there to make sure the free market works, and to provide a base of safety in misfortune to all its citizens, by promoting programs like Medicaire and Social Security. But now that is changing. That sort of government has all but disappeared. As we approach the tip of a very large iceberg, government and corporations have merged into a single, seamless, borderless entity that is creating wealth--not for the purpose of ending poverty or helping to save the environment, but rather to line the pockets of its own rich, corporate elite, using your tax money and mine. And if you're not convinced by what I've written, or don't quite understand my version of it, please read Naomi Klein in the original. She will give you the long shot, the medium shot, and the close-up of this latest, sonic Republican experience. Be warned: it's not pretty.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Virgil Wants to Go to Baghdad

Not surprisingly, there is a dearth of diplomatic volunteers willing to serve in the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. According to a statement recently released by the State Department, it will be necessary to use a form of "draft" to recruit members of the diplomatic corps to serve there. Some 2-300 diplomats are being notified this week that they have been identified as "prime candidates" to fill 40-50 vacancies that will open as of next year. Those selected will be required to do a one-year posting.

"Do you suppose they'd be willing to hire an alligator?" Virgil asks, the only reptile on the planet who is busy composing a life. "I'm good at dealing with people who are absolutely allergic to any kind of direction, and I have no vested interest in always being right. I like surviving in unwholesome conditions, and could keep at bay anyone who turns nasty, or threatens us with fists, rocks, or machetes."

I freak out. "You can't possibly go to Baghdad, Virgil," I say. "Even if it does make a certain crazy sense, I'd never be able to manage without you. You may be an alligator, but you are still my best link to the human community. You're my guardian angel, helping this Cinderella as she pokes among the ashes of what used to be called civilization. You can't just leave!"

"Not to toot my own horn, Madame, or encourage confusion between your own ego and mine, but I know that it is wrong to lie, cheat, steal, or inflict cruelty, so maybe my presence there could help stem the tide of hundreds of years of exploited bitterness. At my peak, I realize that I'm only an artistic endeavor, not a liberal or a conservative. I may not fit any well-defined job description, but I do have a vivid sense of the plasticity of the human condition, approximate to the grunt. Besides, life in the swamp has become pretty pricey. Like everyone else, I've got my bills to pay."

"Okay, okay," I say, taking the hint. "So find out what they're paying, and I'll double it."

Anything to forestall my worst nightmare: waking up one morning and finding that the alligator has split. Now that really would be the end of the world.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Embassy Unveiled

Questions of when and how--or if--the war in Iraq will end anytime soon hover over us like bad angels, intruding on every debate and private conversation. "What's the point? What's the purpose? What's the goal?" The truth is our military adventurism in that country has created a Frankenstein monster; we are caught up in a sinister game whose rules are unknown and whose stakes are everything. America is now playing for its life, and is losing badly.

Have you ever found yourself wondering what our real intentions are there, anyway? Or which enemies, at this point, we are actually fighting? Radical Shiite Islamists? Sunni insurgents? Al Qaeda terrorists? Or Jihadist suicide bombers? Have you found yourself wondering how our soldiers are supposed to tell them apart? Do you ever think about how we will atone for the two million refugees (increasing still, at the rate of 60,000 a month) who have been forced to flee their country? Or why our liberating intervention has failed to inspire the presumed sympathy in ordinary Iraqis, igniting instead a massive craving for retaliation around the world? Is it, as many have asked, really a liberation, or is this an occupation?

If you really want a clear picture of what our motives are, there is one unambiguous, shameless thing--a single fragment, a dazzling detail--that goes straight to the heart of the matter, and, as surely as God made little green apples, puts all the confused questions to rest. That one thing is the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, perhaps the only project in that godforsaken place to be completed within budget ($600 million) and on time (projected completion by the end of this year).

This grotesque icon of material privilege and vanity is the perfect replacement for Saddam's palaces: a free-enterprise zone hidden away in full view of the stripped bleakness of a city otherwise deprived of functioning electricity, water, sewage systems, universities--and invaded every day by scenes of mayhem and slaughter.
The insider scoop on this profane counterworld set in the midst of Baghdad's ruins can be found in an article in the current issue of Vanity Fair, written by William Langewiesche and called "The Mega-Bunker of Baghdad." The following particulars, which have been well-masked until recently, I have taken from that essay.

The compound is the largest and most expensive embassy in the world, a walled expanse the size of Vatican City, containing 21 reinforced buildings on 104 acres, situated along the Tigris River. The new Embassy is self-sustaining, with its own power generators, water wells, drinking water treatment plant, sewage plant, fire station, irrigation system, Internet uplink and telephone center, cell phone network, mail service, fuel depot, food and supply warehouses, and vehicle repair garage. It contains 619 blast-resistant apartments and a multicultural food court fit for a shopping mall, tennis courts, a landscaped swimming pool and pool house, a bomb-resistant recreation center with a well-equipped gym, a department store, community center, beauty salon, and movie theater. The expected upkeep for this extravaganza is estimated to cost another $1.2 billion a year. All construction workers are imported, no Iraqis have been employed for the job. We have built a fortified America in the middle of a hostile city, according to Langewiesche, so impregnable and isolated that its main purpose seems to be in sustaining itself.

So, if U.S. agendas are deliberately confusing on the political front, and who we are fighting is often unclear, this one chilling indulgence signals unmistakeably that the American government looks upon Iraq as "their place." No wonder telling GWB that most Americans would like to see us leave is a bit like telling your dog to go easy on the bones.

Enter Virgil, the only alligator in town who regularly attends a neo-con think tank, still wearing his beer helmet (a baseball cap equipped with beer-can holders that allow the wearer to drink beer through a plastic tube). To be included in his world for a while is always a treat.

"My God," Virgil says, after reading what I've written, "this place is even larger than I remember! Mammy always said the meek shall inherit the earth. And since he loves Iraq so much, why can't we just put GWB into a salad tosser, pour cold water over him, and ship him over there to be the next President? That way, he could preside over the vestiges, shape local energies, and be boxed in forever with what he loves." He flashes me a wicked smile.

I've never seen Virgil in quite this mood before. He doesn't usually talk politics--it's not one of his subjects.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Truth Is What Gives the World Its Fragrance

Last week I found myself immersed in a very provocative conversation with a friend about trust. She described herself as being in an existential crisis, or maybe a mid-life crisis, she wasn't sure, but was finding herself hardly able to trust anyone, to the point of mild alarm.

Immediately I felt that inner synaptic flutter that usually signals: "Resonance. Pay attention. Yes, you recognize exactly what she is going through." Once the subject of trust had been put out on the table, I knew the crisis she'd named belonged to me as well.

In the old days, it might have been called a "crisis of faith," but this was not quite the same thing. Much more brutal in its scope and grandeur, this was not just a private event, occurring in someone's individual psyche. Suddenly and clearly I could see an entire morphic field, in which the patterned integrity of the world was systematically and perhaps irrevocably unraveling, like threads in a fabric. From the reliability of the weather to the raping of the Constitution, from melting ice caps to terrorist conspiracies to the moral bankruptcy of the U.S. government, we'd have to be blind not to see "It's not working." The center cannot hold.

Something prompts me to check out William Butler Yeats' prophetic poem in my copy of "The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart." The lines I am looking for are from "The Second Coming":

"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned..."

Trust, the very innocence of it, is the ground note we cannot do without--trust, above all, in the viability of the future. But this is the twenty-first century, and trust is disappearing as surely as the Carolina coastlines. The question of how to live in the world without that reassurance of trust, in conditions where we are not dressed up, not pretty, not smashing at the screen, not hyper-vigilantly scanning the horizon for the next catastrophe about to strike-- all of these things I sensed were contributing to the dissonance my friend was feeling between her own private ordeal and public events. We are all spending a lot of energy trying not to see what is staring us in the face, trying not to feel the horror of what is happening. Things will eventually be okay. They always are.

Another friend in Australia sends me lines from Rumi:

"You may make a jewelry flower
out of gold and rubies and emeralds,
but it will have no fragrance."

That's it, I think. Moments of conscience and decency are like fragrance. Truth is fragrance. And they are disappearing. Life goes on as before, but the soul is in a state of emergency. This is the misfortune of living in the twilit carnival and surreal fakery that is America now, of swimming in the chloroform of deceit and lies. I am sitting on my front porch as I write this, and a fox appears. It stares at me for a few seconds, then runs off into the woods. I go down to the end of the driveway and get the newspaper. The lead story says Blacksburg has been put on notice that litigation may be filed claiming negligence by the town and its employees in the matter of the Virginia Tech massacre last spring. Families of the victims have congregated under the umbrella of a certain lawyer and are considering plans to sue. In our current litigious society, money is to be made even from the tragedy of unwarranted death.

Meanwhile on the other side of the world, Turkey is considering a cross-border offensive into Iraq against Kurdish rebels. The U.S. is adamantly opposed. Referring to us, the furious Prime Minister of Turkey responds: "Did they seek permission from anyone when they came from a distance of 10,000 kilometers and hit Iraq? We do not need anyone else's advice." Another world leader takes his cues from GWB.

I return to the anthology, wanting to check out another poem on the page next to Yeats'. Some lines by David Ignatow had previously caught my eye; I wanted to look at them again:

"...Your eyes will waver
and turn away but turn back to witness
the unprecedented, the incredible,
for you are there
and your part will be to remain calm."

My part is to remain calm: it's the ultimate message about how to be a human being. I am ready to stop there, and to type, despite the pointlessness of it all. I write and write, but it seems like words, my own and others', hit the ground as dust, with no impact, no traction. I turn on the computer to type, checking the email first. A painter living in Roanoke, Bill Rutherfoord, has sent me these few consoling words. They come with the force of an oracular coup:

"Civilizations in decline always contain a remnant of the faithful, and that appears to be our position at the moment. As systemic evil spreads globally, we should identify it, and speak about it. That's what we do."

"Heckuva job, Brownie," I tell him, "but I'm trying anyway." Question is, how much truth can we bear?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The October-November Man

I've decided that the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a secret admirer of GWB. Why else would he model so many of his own behaviors after Bush's? Besides, it's hard not to like someone who thinks and acts like you do. Check out these comments by a Philadelphia journalist, who wrote them after attending a dinner in Ahmadinejad's honor while Ahmadinejad was visiting New York last week--and see if you don't think I'm right. The comments were made about Ahmadinejad, but you can just as easily cut to Bush, simply by replacing the words "U.S." and "America" with "Iraq," and there is no denying certain similarities:

"He really believes what he says, and knows less about the U.S. than he thinks."

"This is a man of overweening self-confidence who believes his own rhetoric. He badly misunderstands the American system, but is certain that he gets it. He prefaces every meeting with a long religious prologue calling for justice and peace and friendship, yet his words increase tensions."

Both men want to be the bigshot in the driver's seat, even while their grasp on the realm of hemispheric affairs is positively cretinous, and neither of them even knows how to drive; meanwhile, the headlock between them is taking the rest of us straight to the gates of Armageddon. Because Iraq, as David Bromwich pointed out on today's Huffington Post, has become tiresome to George W. Bush. So he wants to bomb Iran.

Nobody knows exactly when. "I'm an October-November man," Bush recently confided to his biographer Robert Draper.

"The dates can only be guessed, writes Bromwich. "November for the triggering incident, December for the trip to the U.N., February for the ultimatum, perhaps March again for the strikes. The repetition would suit his taste for boyish acts of defiance....After two wars and a proxy war, none of them yet successful, a lesser man might shrink from further dealing in blood; but in February, Bush was prepared: "I'm not afraid to make decisions."

Even the sages repeat their mantras over and over again. This time, though, there just aren't words enough for the moral squalor of it all.

Soon the Decider will decide again, warns Bromwich. "It is going to happen unless the lawmakers, the media, and those corporations that know they will find a war with Iran the reverse of profitable, overcome their lethargy and admit that this is really happening and decide to stop him."

I suppose you could say that one failed strategy deserves another. But the logic still stuns. It must be something about the viral nature of war, but I find myself wanting to put on fur ear muffs, dress in ceremonial whites, and "recede into [my] own glittering mist," as Arthur Schlesinger once wrote about Marilyn Monroe.

"The problem with that," says my ho-hum alligator muse, his gaze definitely disapproving, "is that you're no poofy platinum blonde, and you'll never really make it as a feather-boa queen."

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Power to Enchant

I'm back from Boone, infused with a ghost limb of Magritte, and his wonderful hanky-panky with objects. So bear with, and let me skid out of control for one moment only, by telling you Jerry Seinfeld's father's favorite joke:

A man falls out of a window and is laid out on the sidewalk. Another man (with or without his bowler hat) rushes up to him and asks, "What happened?"
"I don't know," the first man answers. "I just got here myself."

My talk at the Turchin Center went well. A few people, or maybe many, gathered under one roof, curious to see each other and to hear about Magritte. The talk was followed by a student performance of a play written by Barry Kornhauser, and put on by ASU's Department of Theatre and Dance, called "This Is Not a Pipe Dream," inspired by Magritte's paintings and done mostly in slapstick pantomime, with totally amazing sets derived from Magritte's images. Afterwards, someone gave me Belgian chocolate and a bottle of French wine as a present. I came home a very happy camper. I should also mention the congratulations I received from friends there at being able to spend two entire days without mentioning politics or the Iraq war once.

A few hours later, back in Blacksburg, I attended the art opening of my Australian friend, Simone Patterson, who teaches digital art at VA Tech and who is smart like a fox when it comes to anything relating to computers. It would not have seemed credible to me before attending this show that I could have a major art experience--fizzy and gorgeous and laden with soul--done with computers! But there you have it: I was WRONG. I always like it when I am wrong, because it usually means something thrillingly unexpected has happened. A group of photos she'd taken of women friends with their dogs, and then mysteriously transformed, like some medieval alchemist, into exquisite painterly portraits, even made me wish I had a dog. Then I, too, might just have been part of this Busby Berkeley spectacle.

I've had this book called "The Night Sky" for a few years now, actually since the spring of 2005 since it still contains a handwritten note from the editor at Viking Press saying, "We thought you might find this of interest."
Today, wanting something fruity and inspiring, something a little different with which to round off this blog, I was magically summoned to pick up this book and read it for the first time. The author is an American poet, Ann Lauterbach, who was a friend of mine during the 1970s when we were both expats, living in London. So here I am today, still knocking somewhat blindly at the door of creativity, looking for a full-scale celebration, and along comes my old friend, proposing 13 topic sentences to be used as possible opening remarks at a party in which everyone is wearing the same black dress (SBD), but with different accessories, of course. I offer you a selection of my four favorites:

2. "It has pretty much come to this."

4. "You put on an ornate ball gown
You say 'someone has to do it' "

6. "And you've been here before?"

12. "If necessary a prosthesis could be fashioned out of lime, hair, and dung."

So, Viva the spirit of Magritte! It sure beats the Iraqi refugee problem and Hilary talking about "When (not if) I'm President." As one Himalayan master said: "No matter where you live, live cheerfully. This is the mantra. Be cheerful at all times, even if you are behind bars. Anywhere you live, create heaven there. Remember, cheerfulness is of your own making. It only requires human effort. You have to create cheerfulness for yourself."

You can't say I'm not trying.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Magritte's "Horrible Kidneys"

I was twenty-five years old when I crossed the Atlantic on a Norwegian freighter and went to live with the painter Rene Magritte and his wife in their home in Brussels, Belgium, in order to gather material so I could write a book about him. How all this came about is an intriguing story which I recount in my memoir "Living the Magical Life." I had never written anything before, much less a book, but that did not seem to be a problem, at least, not until I tried to publish the book. After many failed attempts, I finally buried the manuscript in despair in a friend's basement in New York and went to live in London, where I stayed for twenty-two years. While I was there, I did find an English publisher for the book, Thames & Hudson, who finally brought it out in 1970 after much additional writing. The book is still in print. I recount all this now because I spent time this weekend composing a brief talk about Magritte (based on my book), which I will give this week in Boone, N.C., at the Turchin Center for the Arts. Thus, I have no new blog to post. However, since the text for the talk is succinct and enjoyable, or so it seems to me, I am offering it as a good read instead. Enjoy!

Flaubert once said about artists that they should be "regular and ordinary" in their lives so that they might be "violent and original" in their work. It is a perfect description of the Belgian surrealist painter, Rene Magritte.

In his paintings, Magritte tended to use ordinary objects, but represented them in ways that would put the real world on trial: a huge, heavy rock, for instance, that would normally be found on the ground, is suddenly floating weightlessly in the air; a darkened night-time scene with lit-up houses is juxtaposed against a daylight sky; a giant green apple fills an entire room. Such maneuvers of displacement are meant to overthrow our sense of the familiar and sabotage habitual ways of seeing and thinking about the world.

Then, to anyone who might be tempted to interpret his pictures symbolically, Magritte liked to say, "You are more fortunate than I am!" because he considered his work most successful when no explanation of meaning can satisfy our curiosity. A person who only looks for what he wants in a painting will never find that which transcends his preferences, according to Magritte. Rather than offer symbolic interpretations, it was his intention to trap the viewer in the mystery of an image that refuses all explanation. If one has been trapped by the mystery of an image that refuses all interpretation, a moment of panic will sometimes occur. And those moments of panic are what really counted for Magritte. He considered them privileged moments because they transcend mediocrity. Moments of panic disrupt the usual certainties and jolt the mind out of its stereotypical habits of thinking.

One of my favorite paintings in this regard is called "The Use of Words," in which an image of a pipe is labeled underneath "This Is Not a Pipe." Because picture and label do not correspond, there is a disorienting moment of panic. But according to Magritte, the painted image of a pipe is NOT the same as a real pipe, thus the label, "This Is Not a Pipe." The painted pipe is not a pipe because you can't smoke it. Just as the philosopher William James once pointed out that the word "dog" does not bite. Language itself is the trap. You can point our the moon with your finger, states a Zen proverb, but you must be careful not to mistake the finger for the moon. Being and representing are not the same, according to Magritte, nor does an object perform the same function as its image. An image is more like another image than it is like the thing it represents.

In other paintings, Magritte arbitrarily realigns his pictorial representations and his verbal descriptions so that they no longer correspond in the usual way. Thus, the image of a horse is labeled "the door," a clock is labeled "the wind," and in the same painting, a valise is labeled "the valise." In the same way, a name can replace the image of an object: the words "sad woman" can replace the image of a sad woman. Any object may be called by any name (the chief of a certain African tribe was called Oxford University Press, and there were girls in Nyasaland whose name was Frigidaire). Once when Marcel Duchamp was in Los Angeles, he signed real cigars and then everybody smoked them.

A portrait, according to Magritte, tries to resemble its model. But one may also wish the model to try to resemble his portrait. The truth is, Magritte was not interested in painting portraits. He thought there were already enough portraits in the world. He did paint himself once, however, a portrait in which he is eating dinner with four arms.

The mark of a philosopher is to doubt what is usually taken for granted, and Magritte used painting for this purpose alone. He was not interested in the usual aesthetic and painterly concerns of artists, but preferred to investigate and analyze the structure of common-sense beliefs and work with the paradoxes of perception.
The mind tends to see only what it wants to see, and in this way, much is hidden from our attention. There is a mystery attached to all objects in the phenomenal world that can be evoked if the proper means for doing so can be found. And so, Magritte was never interested in painting commonplace objects in and for themselves, the way a still life painter might do. What he sought to achieve was the sparking of something unfamiliar, something unexpected, that would make its presence felt once those objects could be shown in a way that defied common sense. And produced that moment of panic. Something like the double-take.

Magritte applied the same irony to his life that he used in his art. Once he told me, "This morning at the butcher's a woman asked for two nice kidneys. When it was my turn, I was tempted to ask for two horrible kidneys." He grinned, because he always enjoyed his own jokes.

Magritte was a fan of the surrealist idea of chance encounters between certain objects which could then be used to evoke surprise. For him, this was best achieved when the objects themselves retained their everyday qualities and could somehow be brought to crisis, rather than by inventing new objects that were bizarre or imaginary or dreamlike. So he would use conventional objects, leaving their external appearance intact, but rendering them enigmatic and strange by placing them where we would not expect to find them, or by dissociating them from their functional use in the world.

In a painting called "Common Sense" still life objects, instead of being painted on a canvas, are shown standing on top of a blank framed canvas which is lying on a table. Another painting, called "The Sweet Truth," has still life objects standing on a table covered with a white cloth, all of it painted on a flat brick wall. In still another, a picture frame stands on an easel that is placed by the edge of the sea, masking exactly that part of the landscape which is situated behind it. We can't tell if the seascape is painted on the canvas, or if it is the real sea showing through an empty frame.

Once Magritte made a small painting of a piece of cheese. He titled the painting "This Is a Piece of Cheese." Then he placed the painting under the glass dome of a cheese dish. Again and again, Magritte polarizes the mind in such a way so that it will not confuse reality with the means used to represent it. He wants to show that a real object and its painted illusion are not the same thing.

This creates the fundamental dynamism in Magritte's work that sets it apart from more conventional landscape, portrait, or still life painting. His methodology is to exploit paradox in order to suggest the ambivalent nature of reality. In sum, what happens in a Magritte painting, roughly speaking, is the opposite of what the trained mind is accustomed to expect. This defiance of expectation is what leads to the specific crisis in consciousness, the moment of panic that makes his work so uniquely charged and original. We never have to put up with a world that is established once and for all, deprived of the quantum jump of new possibilities.

"It is rather pointless," Magritte has written, "to put one's hopes in a dogmatic point of view, since it is the power of enchantment which matters." As for the power of enchantment, Elizabeth Bowen once wrote: "Where would Wonderland be without the dogmatic lucidity of the tempermentally unadventurous Alice?"