Tag Archives: Human Rights

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Torture is an All-American Value

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Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and long-time-until-recently NSA apologist, claims to be shocked by an internal CIA report that documents the agency’s grisly record of torture after 9/11. “The report exposes brutality that stands in stark contrast to our values as a nation,” Feinstein said April 3rd. “It chronicles a stain on our history that must never again be allowed to happen.”

Among the “stunning revelations” that have leaked out of the still-classified 6,600-page CIA torture report are stories that long-time followers of my writing have long been aware of, having read about them in my column during the Bush years. Guantánamo isn’t just a concentration camp; it’s also a CIA “black site”/torture dungeon, as was a joint US-UK “extraordinary rendition” depot on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia. The CIA outsourced torture to Third World shitholes/U.S. allies, knowing/expecting/hoping that they would be murdered.

Disgusting stuff. For sure. Yet there’s something even more nauseating — and infinitely more dangerous — than a country that tortures:

A nation in denial about its true values.

Feinstein speaks for most Americans when she characterizes War on Terror-related torture as an aberration. But she’s mistaken. Conventional wisdom is wrong.

Torture is as American as red, white and blue.

Like the citizens of Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II who had a pretty good idea that those eastbound trains were a one-way ticket to hell, Americans have known since the beginning of the War on Terror that their government was going to torture, was torturing and had tortured. It is still torturing today. Yet hardly anyone complains.

Five days after 9/11, on September 16, 2001, Dick Cheney told Tim Russert on “Meet the Press”: “We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.”

At the time, everyone knew what that meant.

The Vice President of the United States, speaking on behalf of the President, had announced to the world that the gloves were off, that the “quaint” Geneva Conventions were history. That the U.S. would torture.

Had Cheney’s endorsement of “brutality” been “in stark contrast to our values as a nation,” as Feinstein puts it, there would have been political blowback. Imagine if the president of, say, Sweden, had said the same thing. The dude would’ve been out of a job.

Au contraire — Cheney’s siren call to the “dark side” drew mainstream political approval, even from self-identified “liberals” in the corporate media.

In October and November of 2001, Newsweek‘s Jonathan Alter, FoxNews’ Shepard Smith (usually the network’s calm voice of reason), and CNN’s Tucker Carlson jumped on the torture bandwagon. All three reporter-pundits called torture a necessary, lesser evil in the fight against Islamist terrorists. Carlson (he’s the one with the bowtie): “Torture is bad. Keep in mind, some things are worse. And under certain circumstances, it may be the lesser of two evils. Because some evils are pretty evil.”

“Mr. Alter said he was surprised that his column did not provoke a significant flood of e-mail messages or letters,” reported The New York Times. “And perhaps even more surprising, he said, was that he had been approached by ‘people who might be described as being on the left whispering, I agree with you.'” (Or, more precisely, by people who were formerly on the left.)

If torture were repugnant to Americans, Cheney — and his pet pundits like Alter — would have met with a firestorm of criticism. They would have been fired. They were not.

By January 2002, the United States had defeated the Taliban and installed Hamid Karzai as the leader of a U.S. puppet regime in Afghanistan. Still, public tolerance/approval of torture continued. A famous legal scholar, Alan Dershowitz, published an op/ed calling for the creation of “torture warrants”: “The warrant would limit the torture to nonlethal means, such as sterile needles, being inserted beneath the nails to cause excruciating pain without endangering life.”

These are the words of a madman.

By objective standards, if the U.S. were a nation where torture stood “in stark contrast to our values,” Dershowitz would have been shouted down and ridiculed. It would be hard to imagine Harvard Law — Harvard Law! — keeping such a raging nut on its payroll. But they did.

Because torture is not at against our values. Not in the least.

Dick Cheney: not forced to resign.

Jonathan Alter, Shepard Smith, Tucker Carlson: all still legit, all still capable of landing big book deals and big speaking fees. They run in circles where real lefties like me — who bitched about CIA torture and kidnapping in countless cartoons and columns — are blackballed.

Which makes perfect sense. Because Americans love torture. A dozen and a half years after 9/11, 68% of Americans still tell pollsters — even though it’s been proven ineffectual — that torture is A-OK.

A polarized nation? When it comes to anally raping young men with flashlights and broomsticks — that happened at Gitmo and the U.S.-run Bagram torture center, and may be continuing — we’re still United, We Stand.

So when newly-minted President Barack Obama told Americans in 2009 that he planned to “look forward, not back“— i.e., not holding anyone accountable for Bush-era torture — and visited Langley to assure nervous torturers that they could chillax, no one cared.

When government-sanctioned torture continued under Obama, no one cared.

Even when Americans rose up in 2011 to protest their government, as part of the Occupy Wall Street movement, torture was less than an afterthought on the activists’ menu of complaints.

American “progressives” don’t care either. There has never been a mass demonstration against torture. (Well, not in the U.S. There have been big marches in Egypt and Bahrain.)

Torture against American values? Hardly. From American troops who mutilated the genitals of Native Americans to waterboarding Filipino independence fighters in the early 20th century to organized rape gangs in Vietnam, torture has been all-American.

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COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Real Reason to Impeach Obama

Why Is the FBI Helping a Monstrous Dictator?

Forget the IRS, AP and Benghazi. The real scandal this week — the corrupt politicization of the nation’s top law enforcement agency — is President Obama’s decision to carry water for one of the world’s most evil dictators.

In a little-noticed move, Obama’s FBI has arrested Fazliddin Kurbanov, a 30-year-old Uzbekistani political dissident who, were this 1983, would be dubbed a “freedom fighter.”

Kurbanov faces the generic catchall charges used since 9/11 by the feds against low-level Islamists: conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization — in this case, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — and conspiracy to provide material support to (individual) terrorists. As usual, the “material support” charge doesn’t amount to much: the indictment alleges that he researched and made videos about how to make IEDs to use in Uzbekistan.

Major plot point: Kurbanov’s “terror plot” did not target the United States.

Nearly as important: the IMU is not at war with the U.S.

Originally based in rural Tajikistan and southern Kyrgyzstan, the IMU’s goal is to overthrow Uzbekistani President Islam Karimov, the most brutal of the dictators that have run the Central Asian republics since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Karimov’s regime brooks no dissent: torture and murder of political opponents (and of businesspeople who refuse to pay bribes) is widespread. Officialdom is breathtakingly corrupt, sucking the oil- and gas-rich republic dry. Universally feared and reviled, Karimov is best known for boiling dissidents such as Mazafar Avazov and Khuzniddin Alimov to death (details and a gruesome photo of the 2002 boilings can be found in my book “Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?“), and for personally orchestrating the 2005 Andijon Massacre, in which at least 400 civilians were slaughtered by Uzbek security forces.

After Andijon, even the ethics-deficient Bush Administration decided that enough was enough, pulling U.S. forces out of Kashi-Khanabad airbase, which it had leased since 2001, and slashing military aid.

Which did nothing to rein in the tyrant. “The Uzbek constitution imposes a two-term limit, but Karimov was elected to a third term…His government engages in routine torture of citizens and has subjected dissenters to forced psychiatric treatment,” reports Parade magazine. All three of Karimov’s “opponents” in the 2007 election campaigned on his behalf.

Even by the cynical standards of international realpolitik, Karimov is radioactive — the kind of over-the-top despot Americans normally consider targets of “regime change” or at least trade sanctions. No civilized country should maintain diplomatic relations with Karimov, a tyrant whose abuses equal or exceed those of Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gaddafi.

“Radioactive” is an unfortunate choice of words, since Uzbekistan’s uranium mines (along with vast reserves of Caspian Sea natural gas, oil, and a pipeline and refinery network strategically linked to its petroleum-rich neighbors Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan) is part of the reason the United States is sucking up to him.

Rather than targeting Karimov with drones or cruise missiles, Obama has the butcher of Andijon on speed dial, reaching out in 2011 to ask the Uzbek leader for permission to ship war materiel through his benighted country into U.S.-occupied Afghanistan. In 2012, despite a Human Rights Watch report that found that life under Karimov had gotten worse since Andijon, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and President Obama agreed to restore Karimov’s billion-dollar aid package.

Even in this economy, it seems, a billion bucks only goes so far. To further ingratiate the U.S. to Karimov, the White House has targeted the IMU. Bear in mind, the IMU has never attacked the U.S. Even though a U.S. airstrike killed an IMU founders in 2001, the group has never declared its intent to attack the U.S. Its beef is with Islam Karimov; its goal is to establish an Islamist state in Uzbekistan.

The IMU’s misfortune has been to fall on the wrong side of the “enemy of our friend is our enemy” equation. We’re in bed with Karimov and his fellow Central Asian dictators. Our icky prisoner-boiling pals hate the IMU.

No doubt, the IMU is a violent insurgent group. During one of its periodic summer offenses, the IMU kidnapped four American mountain climbers in early 2000 — an offense that prompted Bush to declare the group a State Department-designated terrorist organization. But the fact that the climbers were American appears to have been unrelated to their capture. IMU offensives also swept up Tajik and Kyrgyz civilians and soldiers, and four Japanese geologists. (Kyrgyz security forces claim to have disrupted a 2003 IMU plot to blow up the U.S. embassy in Bishkek, but such claims, often ploys to attract U.S. foreign aid, should be met with skepticism.)

Like many radical Muslim groups in Asia, some members of the IMU — a small cadre of fighters estimated to number between 300 and 500 men — trained in Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan during Taliban rule. After the 2001 U.S. invasion they fled across the border into Pakistan’s Tribal Areas, where they established alliances with and fought alongside various Pashtun Islamist groups. IMU fighters have clashed with U.S. occupation forces in Waziristan and Afghanistan. But the IMU has shown no sign of bringing the fight to the U.S. IMU ideology is local and regional, limited to spreading Sharia-based governments first and foremost in Uzbekistan, and in countries like Pakistan if possible. No one — not even the FBI — alleges that the IMU plans to attack the U.S.

The U.S. government is at war with radical Islam. The question for Americans is: In a conflict between a monstrous dictator and a small group of would-be revolutionaries trying to overthrow him, should we take sides — especially the side of the dictator?

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Why Closing Guantánamo Is Easy

Obama Doesn’t Need Congress. He Needs Travelocity.

Guantánamo is complicated. Everyone says so.

Everyone is wrong.

There’s nothing complicated about it. Guantánamo should be closed.

Mainstream media pundits don’t get it. They suggest a lame hodgepodge of solutions: a few repatriations here, a few extraordinary renditions there, maybe convincing some allies to take the victims of our stupid “war on terrorism.”

Immoral and idiotic.

All of the detainees — every last one of them, the schlubs who have been officially cleared by the Pentagon and, yes, even the scary dudes the government insists are “the worst of the worst” — can, should and — if the United States Constitution means anything at all — must be released.

Here.

In the United States.

I don’t find myself saying this very often, but President Obama is finally doing talking about doing something right. Granted, he let five years pass before he took the problem seriously. It took a hunger strike, now entering its fourth month, which could begin claiming the lives of some of the more than 100 participating POWs, to get his attention. Even now, he is violating the detainees’ human rights and the standards of the American Medical Association by violently shoving feeding tubes up their noses to —irony alert! — save their lives. Still, better late than never: Obama (finally) says he wants to fulfill his 2008 campaign promise by closing this monstrosity.

“Guantánamo is not necessary to keep America safe,” he told a news conference. “It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us, in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counter-terrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.”

So close it. You don’t need Congress. All you need is a Travelocity account.

When Obama became president in 2009, there were 245 prisoners at Gitmo. Now there are 166. (None have been released since 2011, which demoralized the remaining prisoners to the point that many are willing to die from hunger.) Some of these wretches been there since the concentration camp — look it up, there is no better term for it — opened 12 years ago.

It’s been ages. Three inmates arrived at Gitmo as children. As they passed through adolescence and entered adulthood, they were tortured, abused, and denied basic human rights by American soldiers and CIA agents, left to rot in American dog cages. (At least 28 children have done time there.)

American officials worry that their experience may have radicalized them. How could it not? If it hasn’t, they must be insane.

The horrors are just beginning to come out. A Spanish investigation censored in U.S. media found that American soldiers have abused Gitmo prisoners with “blows to [the] testicles,” “detention underground in total darkness for three weeks with deprivation of food and sleep,” being “inoculated…through injection with ‘a disease for dog cysts,'” smearing feces on prisoners and (of course) waterboarding.

Actionable intelligence obtained under torture: none.

This was in 2009. Under Obama.

Few Americans are aware of how the vast majority of the so-called detainees got there. Mostly, they were sold. Yes, like slaves: Afghan warlords and Pakistani tribesmen sold anyone they could find, especially Arabs and other foreigners fleeing the 2001 US invasion, to the CIA and the US military for bounties ranging between $3,000 and $25,000. Hundreds of men and boys shipped to America’s new gulag were innocent, simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. As for the rest, the majority were never a threat to America. Their jihad was against the governments of U.S. frenemies like China, Pakistan and Yemen.

The 166 survivors — several have committed suicide, and some deaths classified as suicides were almost certainly murdered under torture using an obscure technique called “dryboarding” — can be classified into four categories:

Eighty-six have been cleared for transfer or release but can’t be sent back to their home country — Yemen, for most of them — because, as political dissidents, they might be — irony alert! — tortured or killed.

The Obama administration considers 47 too dangerous to release, but cannot prosecute them because there isn’t enough evidence against them, or the case against them has been compromised by the fact that they were tortured.

Twenty-four are deemed prosecutable but no one can say when a trial might take place.

Six have been charged and three have been convicted in the kangaroo court “military commission” system invented by George W. Bush’s legal team to prosecute “unlawful combatants,” a phony term that doesn’t exist under U.S. or international law.

Obama should stop blaming Congress. Yes, the Republicans did refuse to allocate funds to transfer Guantánamo detainees to the United States. But Obama signed their legislation into law. He owns this mess.

All 166 men should be offered the choice of a ticket back home or permanent residency in the United States. After all, what are we talking about? 166 one-way tickets. Even if we fly these guys first-class, $250,000 isn’t going to break the bank. Obama is worth about $12 million. Who needs taxpayer money? He could cover that personally.

Consider it retroactive payment for that 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.

Under the American system of justice, everyone — citizen or noncitizen — is innocent until proven guilty. 163 of these guys clearly can’t be proven guilty, and the three that were found guilty obviously didn’t get a fair trial. The rules might have been different had the Bush and Obama administrations classified them as POWs, but he didn’t want to give them the rights that they were entitled to under the Geneva Conventions. The US has been having it both ways for 12 long years. This disgusting farce needs to come to an end now.

Imagine the visual: Obama flies to Cuba, personally apologizes to each man, hands him a big check for $10 million, throws open the gates of the camp and gives it back to Cuba (from which we stole it in the first place). Hell, let them hitch a ride back to Andrews on Air Force One. Open bar!

Would some of these ex-Gitmo victims join the fight against the United States? Maybe. After all, 60% of American ex-cons reoffend. In a free society, that’s a risk that we take.

Still, you’ve got to think that in a country full of security cameras, with two or three overfunded intelligence agencies and countless domestic police apparatuses, it shouldn’t be too hard to set up the former prisoners of Guantánamo with job training, phone taps, GPS trackers on their cars and two or three agents each to follow them around and make sure that they don’t get into trouble.

And don’t forget that footage of Obama apologizing.

Can you imagine how pissed off the Al Qaeda guys would be?

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

At Least the Taliban Don’t Use Drones

The world is aghast about the shooting of 14-year-old activist and student Malala Yousafzai, from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province by the Taliban. But what’s the difference between that atrocity and the murders by the U.S. of other Pakistani civilians using Predator drone planes?

A Glorious Victory

Abu Hamza Masri is being held in a supermax facility in Manhattan while he awaits trial on terrorism charges. Meanwhile, the metal hooks he uses for hands have been taken away as a security risk. Hamza lost his hands when a Soviet mine exploded n Afghanistan in the 80’s. Since then he has used metal hooks in place of his hands. While in British jail, he was allowed to keep his hooks and his cell was specially fitted to permit their use. However, in the US, prison officials quickly deemed them a risk and took them away. Without hooks or hands, Abu Hamza is being forced to eat through a straw. Prison officials are not going to feed him, so he has no choice but to consume his food, blended.

Jared Diamond, Call Your Office

In one of the most overtly racist statements ever made by a presidential candidate, Mitt Romney attributes the difference in GDP and average income between Israel and the Palestinian Occupied Territories not to the occupation and trade embargo, but to Palestinian’s supposedly inferior culture.

Freelance Torturers

Authorities say a West Virginia man tortured and enslaved his wife for much of the past decade, forcing her to endure two pregnancies and deliveries in shackles. Of course, torture is only against the law if you do it on a freelance basis, not as an official of the government.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Occupy Wall Street – What Comes Next?

Things Have Changed. Time to Adapt.

The Occupy National Gathering, held July 1-4 in Philadelphia, perfectly captures the current state of Occupy Wall Street.

First, the cops pushed the Occupiers around, refusing them space in Independence Park. They wound up in Franklin Square. (Just like old times. In September 2011 Occupiers found Wall Street blocked off by the NYPD. Zuccotti was ad hoc option two.)

Second, the Philly confab was wimpy and watered-down. When one of your honored guests is Daryl Hall of the 1980s duo “Hall & Oates,” militancy is probably off the menu.

Third, the Occupiers weren’t really Occupiers (though many no doubt didn’t know that they’d been coopted by Democratic Party operatives). ONG was yet the latest attempt by front groups set up by MoveOn.org in order to channel the energies of the OWS movement into the Obama reelection campaign.

“What’s going on with Occupy?” people ask me. “We don’t hear anything about them anymore.” By which they mean, they haven’t seen or read anything about OWS in the corporate media. They also probably haven’t “heard” about the enormous street protests in Montreal, which routinely draw 400,000 to 500,000 people, or about Bill 78, a law passed by Quebec’s parliament that suspends the rights of free speech and assembly, which has transformed the province into a police state, or that the real unemployment rate—the way it was calculated before 1980—is 23 percent.)

When your media is this far gone, you don’t “hear” much.

Some say Occupy is dead. Others disagree. “Occupy Will Be Back,” liberal writer Chris Hedges wrote recently.” It is not certain we will win. But it is certain this is not over.” (I don’t know who this “we” is. As far as I’ve heard, the squishy former New York Times journo’s role at Occupy has been limited to book-shilling.)

As a person who helped plan the event that initially sparked OWS; as one who was thrilled by its instant popularity, potency and potential; as someone who participated in the branch of OWS in my own community through the winter, including direct action confronting the authorities—and as a long-time student of historical crises and revolutionary movements—I think it’s less important to guess whether Occupy has a future than to examine how a movement with widespread public support from left and right alike devolved from nearly 2000 public encampments to its current situation: marginalization and cooption.

That said, this summer offers good opportunities for OWSers to make some noise. Occupiers will protest the two major party conventions later this summer. The longer the campaign goes on without either candidate seriously engaging jobs and the economy—hands down the most important issue in Americans’ minds—in a credible way, the more removed from reality the political horserace and its media carnival barkers become, the longer the suffering goes on (and suffering, we sometimes forget, is cumulative, each pain and setback exponentially building upon the last), the more appealing Occupy, or perhaps some more aggressive successor, will be.

Whether the first major street movement since the 1960s survives, grows or metastasizes, we must learn the lessons of Occupy’s first year.

Like every political system, every movement contains the seeds of its future demise. OWS began with an unsustainable premise: occupy public space, yet remain nonviolent. What happens when the cops show up? You leave peacefully. Game over. Which, with the exception of Occupy Oakland—an interesting exception, insofar that clashes with the police increased popular support—is what happened everywhere from lower Manhattan to City Hall Park in Los Angeles.

Occupy should have permitted resistance, violent and/or nonviolent. That, or it shouldn’t have camped out in parks in the first place. Similar movements, in Spain and Russia for example, operate out of offices and churches and use flash-mob tactics to carry out hit-and-run direct actions against banks and other targets. If you’re going to make an Alamo-like stand, well…make a stand.

As I and just about everyone else pointed out at the time, moreover, camping out in the cold sucks. A dumb tactic for a movement that began in the fall and intended to last indefinitely.

Occupy has been overly inclusive. As a reaction to and rejection of the two big corporate-backed political parties, OWS was inherently radical. Yet for week after week, month after month, General Assemblies all over the country have been disrupted and hijacked by liberals, Democrats, and other traditional partisans who don’t share the OWS ideology of non-partisanship and non-affiliation with Ds or Rs, and militant resistance to their backers, the banksters and other corporate hucksters.

Others have criticized OWS’ unwillingness and/or inability to issue a list of demands. Not me. I have seen how the debates within Occupy have empowered voiceless men and women who used to think politics was for politicians. It was—is—powerful.

Let the oppressors try to guess how we may be mollified, how they might avoid revolution. Demands, we believed, would define us too narrowly and separate us from one another.

But things have changed.

We have been kicked out of our encampments. Occupy groups in numerous cities have split into radical and reformist (liberal and/or Democratic) factions.

There really is no place for the liberals within Occupy. Democratic apologists should go where they belong, to volunteer for Obama, to waste their time and money on the torturer of Guantánamo, the drone murderer of Waziristan, he who golfs while the 99% watch their wages shrink and their homes taken away, he who extended his “good war” against Afghanistan through 2024.

We real Occupiers, we radicals, should come together around a list of demands that define us, and allows the wait-and-see public what we’re about, to understand that we are fighting for them—demands that a somewhat reasonable and responsive government would agree to, but cannot and will not because it would counter their insane, addictive greed, their lust to control and own everything, everywhere, everyone.

They even trademark the germs.

There should be demands for justice: prison sentences and fines for the politicos and corporate executives of those whose behavior was not only reprehensible but illegal, along with the seizure of their companies and their properties for the public good. One would start, naturally, with the President.

There should be demands for redress: payments and other material compensation for those who were the victims of crimes, economic and otherwise. Torture victims need counseling and homes, and deserve punitive and compensatory damages; those who lost their homes to illegal foreclosures need not only their old lives back, but also interest and cash penalties to serve as a deterrent to those tempted to engage in such behavior again; the same goes for those who rotted in prison for non-criminal “crimes” like using drugs.

And there should be demands for systemic changes: opening up ballots to third parties; making it illegal for elected representatives to talk to businesspeople, much less accept contributions from them; rigorously enforcing the constitution, laws and treaty obligations so that, for example, Congress gets back the exclusive right to wage war; expanding the Bill of Rights to include such obvious 21st century necessities as a right to a college education should a citizen desire one, a right to a living wage that doesn’t depend upon the whims of local employers, and a right to be treated for any illness, without charge, just because you’re American and you live in the wealthiest society that has ever existed, anywhere.

(Ted Rall’s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com.)

(C) 2012 TED RALL, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Fun with Fascism

Thanks to the Supreme Court, the cops can now strip-search your daughter, son, husband, wife, mom, and dad—for any offense, even an unpaid parking ticket. They can also search their anuses and vaginas. If we have to live in a police state, let’s make it a fun one.