Temporary Hiatus

First of all, I’m alive!

Well, it’s been sometime since I’ve blogged on.. well anything. I had initially started the blog as merely a place to rant or muse or whatever you’d prefer to call it, but I guess at least it’s gotten more “popular” than that. So thanks everyone, I guess? At least I am obliged to appreciate the time you’ve put in to read my half assed posts and all your good comments that’s encouraged me to not burn this blog down 🙂

Anywho, were was I? Ahem, yeah about me not having blogged for a while. Yes, well I can’t make any excuses about being busy with my life, which I wasn’t – at least not in a conventional sense anyway. I guess I just had to take a break. Sometimes I open the blog to write something and it gets too depressing. Sometimes I begin to write something and it seems like a bad idea. Sometimes it’s just your garden variety laziness. And so on. You get the drill.

Anyway does that mean I’m done with this and spare you of this misery? Well no, not really. Just don’t want to be mechanical or forced, maintaining a blog for the sake of it as a chore. But I shall sure resume blogging – hopefully in the near future 🙂

Thanks for all your support, once again 🙂

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Remembering Carl Sagan

Happy Birthday Carl SaganToday (November 9th) is the 79th Birthday of Carl Sagan, eminent astronomer, humanist, and popular science writer. I intended to blog about Camus on his 100th Birthday (which was on 7th), as he is probably the philosopher who has influenced me the most on a personal level, but I think I owe Carl Sagan a post as my respect and adoration towards him is hard to describe.

I think there is a point in many people’s life when they do self introspection, and are left with a hell lot of unanswered questions and existential crisis hits them hard. I can’t speak for everyone, but that was true in my case too, and that was when I found Carl. His views have profoundly influenced me, and as most literature intended to inspire has no or little effect on the ever so cynical me, I should thank Sagan for putting me right on track, his words struck a chord with with me right away. I am against idolizing anyone, but Sagan is one such person I admire so much, to the point that you could say that I idolize him. His views on science, skepticism, humanism and other social issues are so profound, that it’s hard not to recommend his work to anyone.

Sagan, arrested during the protest at a nuclear site in Nevada

Sagan, arrested during the protest at a nuclear site in Nevada

He was also involved in various activism. Image on the left shows him being arrested anti-war activism in a nuclear testing site. Something we, who advocate for scientific progress (and rightly so) should always remember, the equal emphasis he placed on humanism and it’s core values. He was not only an activist, but in my view, in many ways, a rebel. Him, along with his wife Ann Druyan (whom I will hopefully write about later) were arrested three times at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site. To quote Ann Druyan here:

During the 1980’s we were arrested three times at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site while protesting US underground nuclear testing. This kind of activism cost him many of the glittering prizes and honors that he might have gotten if he had played along with things he thought were wrong. He turned down three invitations to dine at the Reagan White House. He couldn’t be co-opted. His opposition to the Star Wars swindle drew a lot of fire. I wish the world had a Carl Sagan now to publicly argue against the new Star Wars proposals. He could spot the phony technical arguments of the Department of Defense and bust them publicly in a way that we could all grasp.
[..]

Carl took on the military-industrial complex. He campaigned around the world for an end to the production of weapons of mass destruction. To him it was a perversion of science. So yes, it’s true that Carl was frequently denounced by televangelists, astrologers and The Wall Street Journal. Even so, it wasn’t much of a price to pay. He was the happiest person I ever knew.

 He expressed his feminist perspectives quite clearly at various points of his life, and through his sole novel Contact, where the protagonist was a female scientist, which he co authored with Ann. Here is a great excerpt from his letter to Explorers Club, which used to be exclusively male till then:

When our organization was formed in 1905, men were preventing women from voting and from pursuing many occupations for which they are clearly suited. In the popular mind, exploration was not what women did. Even so, women had played a significant but unheralded role in the history of exploration — in Africa in the Nineteenth Century, for example. Similarly, Lewis and Clark were covered with glory, but Sacajewea, who guided them every inch of the way, was strangely forgotten. All institutions reflect the prejudices and conventions of their times, and when it was founded The Explorers Club necessarily reflected the attitudes of 1905.

He also argued for reproductive rights in Billions and Billions (which again, he co-authored with Ann Druyan). Some excerpts:
By far the most common reason for abortion worldwide is birth control. So shouldn’t opponents of abortion be handing out contraceptives and teaching school children how to use them? That would be an effective way to reduce the number of abortions.
[..]

In its first decade, the AMA began lobbying against abortions performed by anyone except licensed physicians. [..] Women were effectively excluded from the medical schools, where such arcane knowledge could be acquired. So, as things worked out, women had almost nothing to say about terminating their own pregnancies. It was also up to the physician to decide if the pregnancy posed a threat to the woman, and it was entirely at his discretion to determine what was and was not a threat. For the rich woman, the threat might be a threat to her emotional tranquility or even to her lifestyle. The poor woman was often forced to resort to the back alley or the coat hanger.

Here is his response the question about lack of diversity in Science education and it’s implications:

We also might ask how it is that of the first ten or twelve questioners only one was a woman in an audience in which women are much more strongly represented. These are wide-ranging, difficult questions. I don’t claim to have the answers except to say that I know of no evidence that women and what in the United States are called racial minorities are not as competent as anybody else in doing science. It has to do, I think, entirely, or almost entirely, with the built-in biases and prejudices of the educational system and the way the society trains people. Nothing more than that. Women, for example, who are told that they’re too stupid for science, that science isn’t for them, that science is a male thing, are turned off. And women who despite that try to go into science and then find hostility from the high school math teacher—“What are you doing in my class?”—find hostility from the 95 percent male science classes, with the kind of raucous male culture in which they find themselves excluded, those are powerful social pressures to leave science. I wrote a novel once, Contact, in which I tried to describe what women dedicated to science have to face, that men don’t, in order to make a career in science.

So yes, again it’s hard to put in words to what extent Sagan has influenced my life and my character development in the latter part of my life. And I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that.  So thanks for everything, Carl. You have taught be to be humble and skeptical, you’ve helped me lose a lot of prejudices and dogmas I had held, combat my existential struggles, and shape up the way I perceive the world.

Happy Birthday!

An Open letter to Guardian

Cultural relativism

My last blog was a rant on shit post modernists say, and I thought that would have just ended there, I had no intention of taking that any further. And then Guardian just published  this horrendous article, by Ahmed Abdel-Raheem, defending Saudi’s refusal to grant women the right to drive on cultural relativist grounds. I’m just lost for words here – the last time I had read a nearly dire article was a Tribune piece defending slavery. But this is Guardian, one of the most reputed papers in the UK, which published this – and that worries me so much more.

I just loathe cultural relativism. No amount of ‘genuine concerns‘ would take away the stink of cultural relativism. And when it comes to fundamental human rights, it’s just unacceptable for any reasonable person to support cultural relativist nonsense. This article precisely demonstrates why, and hits a whole new low by engaging in explicit cultural relativist apologia, and horrendously faulty reasoning.

Lets see what his arguments are:

Westerners should be wary of trying to impose their version of feminism on Saudi women. It’s not always welcome

Yes, how dare the western feminists shove basic human rights down our throats? It’s certainly problematic. Because whether women deserve basic human rights is now a “western feminist” concept. We are having none of that, surely.

The Saudi economic newspaper El-Iqtisadiah ran a front-page news story suggesting that women’s driving is just a luxury rather than a necessity and that protesters against the ban seek to undermine the kingdom’s stability and create sedition.

Seriously? Women having the right to drive is a luxury? And oh yeah, sure – those brave women who stood up and protest against were obviously conspiring against Saudi Kingdom’s so called “stability” which are well aware about.

That wasn’t just propaganda. I conducted a survey of my former Saudi female students at Al-Lith College for Girls (at Um al-Qura University, Mecca). They helped me distribute a large-scale questionnaire to their colleagues from different departments of the college and to their female relatives and friends. It wasn’t exactly scientific, but their responses are worth considering. I offered them anonymity in their answers, but even so, some wanted to be recognized.

As interesting the survey results might be, why does it matter? Having the right to drive doesn’t mean every woman is compelled to drive. Do we have to spell that out for you, if that wasn’t obvious? And of course, there is still peer pressure etc. to overcome for women who choose to drive, and all you care about this poll?

Also two words for you: Internalized Misogyny. They live in an oppressive regime which refuses to grant women their basic human rights, so why are you surprised that women have internalized this themselves?

Now this is where it really gets horrible and where I couldn’t make sure if this was a satire or an actual opinion piece:

To my surprise, 134 (out of 170) respondents said female driving is not a necessity and that it opens the door for sexual harassment and encourages women to not wear the niqab under the pretext that they cannot see the road when driving. Some also fear that it gives husbands a chance to betray and agree with the assertion that it creates sedition in society.

Mashaal El-Maliki, a housewife:

Female driving will destroy family life because it will give husbands a chance to know other women who (as drivers) will be free and without guardians.

Bedoor Elmaliki, a student:

In my point of view, female driving is not a necessity because in the country of the two holy mosques every woman is like a queen. There is (someone) who cares about her; and a woman needs nothing as long as there is a man who loves her and meets her needs; as for the current campaigns calling for women’s driving, they are not reasonable. Female driving is a matter of fun and amusement, let us be reasonable and thank God so much for the welfare we live in.

Maqbula El-Malawi, a student:

Honestly, I don’t like women to drive. This will create sedition … I agree that there are already different kinds of sedition we see every day, but the right place for a woman is her house; this will really save her from what is happening in the outside world.

A Saudi mother:

If they allow women to drive, there will be many negative effects on the whole society (eg, sexual harassment). Furthermore, there will be many things that don’t comply with our Islamic principles. This will open the door for women to imitate men in everything, and who knows … there would be calls for banning niqab. This way a woman will lose her femininity; and if a woman goes out without a guardian, she may lose her honor.

Banaader Elmaliki, a 4th year mathematics student:

[The driving movement is] just a crazy imitation of America, and doesn’t mean more liberation for women. It rather means liquidation of the society and inferiority of its moral values. The biggest evidence on this is the liquidation of American society; we don’t want this in our kingdom.

That’s right, he just quoted a bunch of horrible, bronze age misogynistic perspectives (albeit from women themselves), some of which  engages directly in victim blaming. Letting women drive “opens the door for sexual harassment” – oh yeah – lets shift the burden of not getting harassed on women now, totally. Because men have absolutely no role to play in it – so lets just deprave women of their fundamental rights they’re entitled to. That sounds just about perfect, because after all, we know that women are not people and are at best sub-human slaves, so makes sense.

Now one would have thought someone would have used these quotes to merely demonstrate the horrible state that Saudi is in, to highlight how much misogyny women themselves have internalized. But oh no, he apparently thinks this supports his “argument” in some way, while it merely demonstrates the dire need of addressing the misogyny.

Whether or not women have the right to choice that men already have is not open to debate. Period. I find it quite baffling that a person with half a brain would have any difficulty in grasping this exceedingly simply premise, you don’t have to be a feminist to know that. You have to a total misogynist douchebag to not only remain oblivious to it, but also defend the oppressive laws that refuses to grant women the choice that they already should have.

What is most baffling is how Guardian thought it was somehow a good idea to publish this drivel. This is cultural relativism at it’s worst, and giving a person platform to spew his half-brained apologist nonsense is a massive fail of some basic journalist ethics on your part, let alone a massive fall in your credibility. Sort your shit out, pretty please. Being the “liberal” variant of Fox News or Daily Mail is not a good way to stand up against prejudice against Muslims or racism. To quote Nietzsche here: “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.

Women”s rights are human rights, and not a matter of debate. If you stand against it, or promote views that stands against it, then you’ve lost perspective (to put it mildly), regardless of your “intentions“.  Get that into your thick skulls please. Thank you very much.

The Problem with Post-Modernists

Warning: I’m not planning to do a detailed academic analysis on Post Modernist philosophy itself, this are my views (or rant) on my personal blog, because I’m tired of reading this nonsense on a daily basis.

ETA since I got a few negative comments: Again, I can’t emphasize this enough – don’t take this as a critique of post-modernism itself, which was never my intention. 

pomo social construct

Last month, a blog was posted in CNN about a white woman who visited India and had horrible experience with sexual harassment over here. This was met by outrage from many parts, some having victim blaming overtones. Myself as a guy who lives in India, and most feminists I know of, found it very relatable and not even slightly hard to believe. That’s hardly the point. The point is, when a woman, regardless of her background, ethnicity or race, narrates her experience in India, deserves to be heard and understood. You can’t just go on to blame her or ask her to mince the words just because you are offended. And there was no reason to either, she was very polite and did not attempt to paint all Indian men by the same brush. This has been already discussed at IHM’s blog, you can read it there.

Coming to the central point, postmodernism. I have never been impressed by postmodernist philosophy in general (I have respect, but although I don’t want to imply that their entire field is obsolete without proper exploration on my part, needless to say the sort of nonsense from many postmodernists is getting far too much for me to tolerate. Alan Sokal did a good take-down on the anti-intellectualism that plagues postmodernist philosophy in his book “Fashionable Nonsense, but that is not again my central point. This blog is to discuss about how some post-modernists get it so wrong, you can’t sometimes even tell the difference between a post modernist and a misogynist. And when that happens, you’re doing it wrong. Period.

1. Victim Blaming

This was posted on a tumblr, and was posted in relation to the RoseChasm article I mentioned:

shitpomossay1

Post-modernist nonsense exhibit 1: Victim Blaming

“Yet another deeply obnoxious, racist, classist and douchey, white woman’s account of her experience in India. […] There are ways to tell this story without being colonizing, white supremacist piss hole. Find that way or shut the fuck up.”

I saw absolutely nothing generalizing or unbelievable about her account. Why should a woman watch her mouth to stroke your post modernist sensibilities to narrate her terrible experience of sexual harassment? And what’s worse, this is riddled with personal attacks towards her. Yes, it is important that woman of color be heard, absolutely. How does that make this venomous personal attack on a person who faced sexual harassment okay? So extending the same reasoning, should non-dalit women be allowed to speak in India? Would you say the same shit to them? This is just downright misogynist douchebaggery. Oh no, we have to take everything as white savior complex, completely ignore the fact that this was a victim narrating her personal experience.  Just write a post-modernist guideline that women ought to follow from now on to speak of their personal experiences, I’m sure they would be very grateful for that.

This is the worst form of post-modernism, which is, in my view, anti-feminist and misogynist.  And this runs so deep down, where being offended  and having an us vs them mentality is good enough to rant on about anything.

2. Cultural reappropriation

shitpomossay2

PoMo exhibit 2: Racism

Now we come to the so called ‘cultural appropriation’ issue, in this case apparently the burning issue seems to be: “Should you wear a Bindi?” First of all, for all the things Po-mos say about racism, this post is ironically racist and such a sweeping generalization. Not all desi woman who wear bind wear them “cheap ugly looking desi chappals” – in fact many women who wear bindi probably from middle-upper middle class. And many of the women who do so themselves use these fairness creams. That is just the colorism they have internalized, and unfortunately confirm to. It’s an amazing leap of logic that you just made there.

And I am thankful that people from the west don’t make a fuss out of all this “cultural re-appropriation”, because we do that ourselves, if you are even aware of that. We’re not some monolithic group that wear “cheap ugly desi chappals” along with bindis. Bollywood actresses wear bindis. Upper class and caste women wear bindis.  I haven’t seen many Indians getting ‘hurt‘ in India because some white women wore a bindi here, and we’re a very sensitive bunch when it comes down to religious and cultural sentiments. But regardless, being offended is not good enough reason to refrain from doing anything. Because especially living in India, I know very well how that is used to shut down any debate. If you offend any religious sentiments, you’re screwed. And that has worked out great for us, as you can see. You may find it silly, or you may not like it, but that does not make it inherently racist. That is just irrational prejudice, nothing else.

3.  Savior Complex and Western Allies

This is a more sensitive issue, and I hope I get the nuances right here. I agree that racism in the west is not a trivial issue to this date, and I get that white savior complex might well exist and be very prevalent. But here is something many people just annoyingly go overboard with again:

PoMo exhibit 2: White Savior Complex

PoMo exhibit 3: Savior Complex

Now here comes the oft repeated phrase: “we do not need saving“. I repeatedly hear this, that “we do not need saving” strawman. What is the point of this? I mean I could say that to any activist. That “women don’t need saving” or “LGBT people don’t need saving” – and you would rightly call bullshit on that. Homophobia is terribly prevalent in Islamic communities, that’s just a reality. And I don’t see how accepting that is a problem – and I would go so far to say that acknowledging the problem exists and is widespread is the first step.

Progressive Muslims (reformists) are still in the minority, and they’re mostly the ones who are vocal about LGBT activism. So yes, allies are important. At least in my view. This kind of broad and unhelpful rhetoric just negatively affects LGBT activism in Muslim communities. And I’m just pointing out Muslim communities in this specific case, that applies to a broader context too. And it’s hard to tell if it’s a satire or real thing (spoiler alert: it is real) when you say things like “”We” are not helpless objects for you to (hyper)sexualize and prey upon with your colonial gazes.” – seriously?

Yes stereotypes are bad, and should be done away with. I appreciate that. But how about some nuance? Or being more specific and conflating strawman arguments with genuine issues that should not be brushed under the rug? I love how “hyper sexualization by colonial gazes” is an acceptable statement, but criticism of veil as a form of sexualization is “orientalist and offensive“.

And I could go on. This is just me talking from a feminist perspective and me randomly choosing a few examples to present a case.

When you yourself engage in black and white thinking whilst criticizing black and white thinking, that’s the epitome of irony. Issues in the so called “third world countries” are that bad. Ignoring that because you’re “offended” is just counter productive. And it’s not just white people, anyone who doesn’t confirm to this absurd and irrational west bashing, and black and white thinking are subject of this nonsense as well. Recently I had the misfortune to read this horrible article attacking Tehmina Kazi, Director of British Muslims for Secular Muslims, for pointing out the irrational anti-west sentiment and pointing out the obvious denialism from this crowd. And not to mention the obvious Taliban apologia or rationalizations (blame it all on the west!) these usual articles come with.

So bottom line, for all your criticism of the “west” and “white savior complex”, just stop with turning a blind eye to the very important issues that people in so called “third world” face because it “offends” you. That’s erasure of people’s experiences and reality denial. And that hurts the activism in these countries more than anything.

End of rant.

“So you have depression? Deal with it.”

I will come straight out and say this – I have gone through some terrible times in my life. I have remained in a ventilator, gasping for breath. Those were all very terrible times in my life. But what got me through is the desire to be alive, hope that this will go away, and thankfully I did get out of that eventually. But when I go through phases of depression, this is exactly what I have to fight – when you lose your grip on the feeling – the very desire to be alive, it sucks much worse. My depression is not as terrible as many, and I cope alright with taking my mind away and distracting myself when I go through such a phase. But it still sucks really, really bad when it happens.

It really ruins my day when I see some horrible victim blaming shit about a person who took his life owing to depression. A person, an acquaintance of a friend took his life, and this status was posted by one of the ‘enlightened’ people, who speaks against all the victim blaming women face (and rightly so), say this kind of vile bullshit:

victimblaming sucide

This is what people here do – just refuse to acknowledge the very existence of depression. Do you think we choose to be depressed? Do you think being in USA or India or Afghanistan has anything to do with any of this? Can I tell my brain “stop being depressed, because I am in a much better position than many others?” Well how great it would be had that worked.

...said no one ever.

…said no one ever.

So why I don’t they get help right? Because you have answered your question yourself. This was your attitude towards a person who suffered from depression. And you felt all the self righteousness to shame him in public after he was pushed over the edge.  The stigma is terrible. As I said, I cope alright myself, but I know how this works here – you would be met with some pseudo-medical advice here (because everyone’s an expert, like yourself) – “pray more” or “stop being on the internet all the time” or “we used to never have this in our time <insert random story of hardship here>” or worse, you might get your parents paranoid (not their fault though, understandably). And even if you manage to get past all that and go see a qualified therapist for professional help, you’ll be branded ‘crazy’. I would urge everyone to get professional help if they can’t cope,  but he unfortunately didn’t have it in him to go against the flow and seek help. And our fucked up society and stigma attached to mental illnesses is to blame for that, not him.

Mental illness Stigma Bingo: Same shit everywhere

Mental illness Stigma Bingo: Same shit everywhere

Depression isn’t being ‘sad’. Depression isn’t just being ‘moody’. Depression is having your soul sucked out of you and having that very thing – i.e. that desire that keeps you alive – being taken away. You just feel empty, everything otherwise you would not even think about would magnify itself thousands of times and manage to make yourself feel crappy. For many, it wouldn’t take much to push them over the edge.

If you live in a society where people with mental illness are branded ‘crazies’ and depression isn’t seen as a mental illness and something you can ‘get over’ with some chirpy optimism, and have depression – you would know what I am talking about. It has nothing to do with ‘being rich’ or having all the things you deem to be ‘valuable’ in the world. You can’t just say ‘look at the people who suffer!’ and make it go away. Do you really think we put ourselves voluntarily through all that? Do you really take us for being some brainless morons just because we are depressed? And the last thing people with depression need is such douchebaggery and victim blaming on top of what they already struggle to cope with. So congrats, you are no better than any of the victim blaming rape apologists that you condemn yourself.

Mental illnesses are every bit real as physical illnesses. It’s no different from a badly broken arm – but the only difference is that for many it’s much worse when you don’t have that desire to live anymore, and neither do you get shamed or doubted for it. 

Depression isn’t a sign of weakness. Depression is the sign of a person being strong for far too long. 

The problem with Burka Avenger

I was glad for once to see a female superhero being introduced in Pakistan. I am always a big believer that media can do their share in bringing in change to a culture, especially when it comes to children’s cartoons. I’m sure we all fondly remember the Disney films and various other cartoons that we grew up with. So when news about Burka Avenger came out, I  had my reservations about the choice of Burka as a costume like many, as in a very conservative society, especially when it is worn by a child, it could be problematic. I won’t get into that because that is not the topic of my post here, and here is a post that I mostly agree with regarding the choice of burka as a superhero costume.

Finally, I decided to watch Burka Avenger after a long time, as the series is uploaded on YouTube by the makers. Seeing that sites like Huffington Post had good thing to say about it and claimed that Disney could learn a thing or two from the portrayal of female character in Burka Avenger, one would expect it to be really good, right? Wrong. 

Can I haz moar pink?

Can I haz moar pink?

*Spoilers ahead, if you consider it that*

So the series starts with the prologue, of how an orphaned Jiya was raised by a ‘kind man’ who taught her ‘Takht Kabaddi’ which involves fighting with books and pens, and she uses her skills to fight tyranny and ignorance. She leads her ‘normal’ life as the teacher in a village school (and always wears a pink salwar with even pink chappals – god forbid she gets gets any less womanly, right?), and worries about ‘Baba Bandook’, the villain, preventing a girl’s school from getting opened (segregation much?), and rightly so. Him and Vadero Pajero, believes that women should have nothing to do with education and should just stay at home. Burka Avenger manages to throw books at his goons and save her kids from them meanwhile in a sub plot – and it’s boring. I mean, what’s the point? Yeah books and pens are probably supposed to be a metaphor (and in my opinion, it doesn’t work at all), but if you are supposed to land blows using them, what’s wrong with fighting goons like any other superheros? It’s not as if it’s non violent attack, it does hurt them, but no – a female superhero kicking ass would be too bad?

But that is the least of the problems with this atrocious show. This is where it all crashed down beyond redemption. Baba Bandook and his goons block kids from entering the school. Then this conversation takes place between kids and him – where he asks “Do these girls want to become modern? What will these girls do with education?” A girl just comes running into the scene screaming (Nahiiiiiiiiiiin, Bollywood ishtyle!) and says these gems that would just made my want to stick needles in my eyes.

burkaavengersexism

 

Yup, that’s the reason why girls should be educated, because they are mothers of tomorrow, and if mothers remain illiterate, the kids too will remain illiterate. Really? And the whole scene was so bad, with background maudlin background music and everything (think bad Bollywood movies from the 50’s) and the girl pleading in a very (fake) sad voice. And this was a child who was mouthing these dialoguesand they actually thought it was good to put in a children’s cartoon? Ugh.

Burka-Avenger-555x370[1]That’s not to say the whole thing is really bad, but even the good portions (that were the fight scenes in my opinion) were itself not so great, if you exclude the end credits – which was really cool.

Why this is so disappointing is because this was a good opportunity for them to push the envelope for all the media attention it got – and they completely grassed it. This could have been so much more. Production values when it comes to animation and such are really good for a Pakistani cartoon, and only if they had hired some good writers to make this at least a little better without. I shouldn’t have expected much better when the co-writer is apparently the guy who is behind this comic.

The whole point of me writing this brief critique is in some vain hope that the creators would notice this and at least try to stay away from reinforcing gender roles, ending up doing more harm than good.