The gypsy that remains

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Stevie on tour with Fleetwood Mac in 1978, when a 16-year-old me was first falling for her

 

It’s been a bit ‘heavy’ here at the blog lately, so I thought that I would lighten things up a bit as we ease out of July, and as I ease into my summer vacation.

Last night I had finished up watching the Cubs-Brewers on ESPN and was getting ready to go to bed, and decided to do one last flick through the program listings.

There on WHYY’s local public broadcast ‘Arts’ channel was listed the program Soundstage, which features concert performances, and here they were offering a concert by one of the true loves of my lifetime, Stephanie Lynn ‘Stevie’ Nicks.

I hadn’t watched Stevie perform in some time, and the program information said that this concert was filmed this year, in 2008, and so I was curious to see just how she looked and sounded today.

I wasn’t disappointed. Stevie is still a beautiful woman, and her voice still rings true with that same raspy, story-teller quality that has made her a rock icon.

Well, this kept me up for another hour watching the concert, but it was well worth it. Listening and watching her perform songs like ‘Rhiannon‘, ‘Gold Dust Woman’, ‘Edge of Seventeen’, ‘Landslide‘, and more took me back to thinking about various times in my life. Especially remembering those times that I first heard her and the opportunities that I had to actually see her perform live and in-person.

Much as the rest of the music fans of the world, I first fell in love with Stevie Nicks around the years 1975 and 1976, when I was just 14 years old.

The band Fleetwood Mac, my all-time favorite rock band now, had released their self-titled album and Stevie’s voice began to fill the airwaves with the song “Rhiannon“. This song about a Welsh witch captivated radio audiences, formed an enduring image of Stevie in the public consciousness, and with the overall high-caliber of music being performed by the band they became a top act in the arena-rock era.

Fleetwood Mac had been a top blues-rock band for years prior to 1975, but they had a number of personnel changes and were looking to reinvigorate themselves. Drummer Mick Fleetwood was looking for something new to add to the group, which at that time included bassist John McVie (the band is named after Fleetwood and McVie) and McVie’s keyboard-playing vocalist wife Christine.

Fleetwood came upon a young guitarist named Lindsey Buckingham, who was making music in California with his girlfriend, Stevie Nicks. The pair had released an album in 1973 titled ‘Buckingham Nicks’ which didn’t fair well commercially, but which contained a number of California-style pop sounds that were easy on the ears.

Fleetwood was an astute judge of talent, as Buckingham would prove to be one of the greatest guitarists in the history of rock music. But Fleetwood only wanted him, and Lindsey wouldn’t come without Stevie along as a package deal. Fleetwood agreed, the two joined the band and began recording in late 1974, and the rest is rock-n-roll history.

There is so much of a soap opera quality to the Fleetwood Mac story over the rest of the 1970’s and into the 1980’s that I could never capture it all here. Suffice it to say that if you enjoy reading the histories of musicians and bands, and want to look it up and read about it, you won’t be disappointed.

Fleetwood Mac followed up that first 1975 release as a newly reconstituted band with the album ‘Rumours’ in February 1977, and my favorite band became the world’s favorites. ‘Rumours’ spent 31 weeks at the top of the Billboard charts, and sold over 19 million copies to make it, at the time, the top-selling album of all-time.

The album was highlighted by a #1 song, Stevie’s ‘Dreams‘, and also featured what is still today my all-time favorite song in ‘The Chain’, which is a rock and roll classic signature song. It features the band’s tight vocal harmonies from Christine McVie, Lindsey, and Stevie, as well as the cohesion of its legendary McVie/Fleetwood rhythm section, as well as soaring guitar work by Buckingham.

I finally got to see Fleetwood Mac in concert at the Spectrum here in Philly in the fall of 1982. They were touring for the multi-platinum release ‘Mirage‘ at that time. I also then got to see Stevie perform solo at the Spectrum in 1983.

The Fleetwood Mac concert was one of the best that I have ever seen in my life, obviously colored by my love for Stevie and the band. They were still tight, looked and sounded great, and were at the top of their games individually and as a group.

The solo concert was less of a thrill in the end, as it marked a period in Stevie’s life when she was going through problems relating to drug abuse. She didn’t sound good and didn’t look the same. The songs were there, but the musician was different than the one I had been in love with all those years, and it was almost a sad situation.

Stevie continued to have issues over the next ten years with drugs and weight gain. Though she still recorded and performed both solo and with the band the performances were uneven, sometimes brilliant but often a shadow of her former rock queen self, and she became more reclusive.

In 1993, Bill Clinton was elected as President of the United States, and had used Fleetwood Mac’s song ‘Don’t Stop’ from ‘Rumours‘ as his campaign theme song. He invited the band to play at his inaugural celebration, and this led to a revitalization for them after a few years of inactivity as a group.

I frankly thought that I had seen the last of them. Music was changing, as ‘grunge’ or ‘garage’ bands were becoming the rage. A 1970’s act like Fleetwood Mac seemed left in the past. But the Clinton inauguration reminded their numerous fans of just how good they were, and they set out on a reunion tour.

The band once again established themselves for the rest of the 90’s as relevant. Stevie was right out there in front, looking and sounding as good as ever as the band released and toured for ‘The Dance’ in 1997 and 1998, and they were going strong as those 1990’s came to an end.

In 2003, this time minus Christine McVie who had retired, Fleetwood Mac issued the album ‘Say You Will’, and were rewarded by winning a prestigious American Music Award, beating out such contemporary hit acts as 3 Doors Down and Matchbox 20 for the honor.

Today, there are rumors that the band will record again in fall 2008, this time with Stevie’s good friend Sheryl Crow joining to take over the Chris McVie role, and that they will tour in 2009.

Stevie’s mystical image is stoked by romantic and ethereal lyrics, raspy and passionate singing, graceful movement, and possessed performances. She wears billowing chiffon skirts, top hats, shawls, layers of lace, and high-heeled leather boots. She retains her big brown eyes, and that still-long, gorgeous blond hair.

The woman has been sending chills up and down my spine for over three decades now, and when I saw her on that ‘Soundstage‘ performance last night those chills were there again. My wife Debbie is absolutely the love of my life, but I can say without hesitation that Stevie Nicks has a piece of my heart and soul, and that will never change.

Her story is much longer and more detailed than I have been able to capture here. It is filled with success, drama, romance, intrigue and, as with any person in the public eye for decades, a strong-willed desire to adapt, overcome, and move stronger into the future.

Her songs endure as radio classics. These include duo turns with Kenny Loggins on ‘Whenever I Call You Friend’, John Stewart on ‘Gold‘, Tom Petty on ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’, and Don Henley on ‘Leather and Lace’.

Her Mac work will never be forgotten, the songs already mentioned here as well as ‘Gypsy‘, ‘Sisters of the Moon’, Sara’, ‘No Questions Asked’, ‘Seven Wonders’, and ‘Silver Springs’ among them.

Her solo work will remain legendary with the songs already listed and those such as ‘Bella Donna’, ‘Stand Back’, ‘If Anyone Falls’, ‘Nightbird‘, ‘The Highwayman’, ‘Beauty and the Beast’, and many more.

Stevie turned 60 years old back in May of this year, but you would never know it to look at her on stage now. To me, she was beautiful and sounded great at 26, and she is beautiful and sounds great still at 60.

You can still catch the Soundstage performance on PBS’ Arts channel, here in the local Philly area. It is being repeated today at 4pm and 10:30pm, and then again at various times over the weekend and into early August. It features Stevie doing a few of her big solo hits, Fleetwood Mac songs, and even a couple of outstanding duets with Vanessa Carlton. It is well worth a leisurely hour of your time.

If you have never had the pleasure, explore the music of Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac. My bet is that you will fall in love with the ‘gypsy that remains’, just like I have.

85 shots and ‘one less nigga with a gun’

A year ago at this time, in July 2007, Steven ‘Butter’ Miller was shot at 85 times by Philadelphia police officers. I have sources that say it was actually 81 times. In any event, about two dozen of those shots found their mark, and Miller was dead.

In it’s July 24th-31st, 2008 issues the extremely liberal ‘City Paper‘ here in Philadelphia, one of those free tabloid style publications distributed throughout the downtown area by placement in stores, business lobbies, and curbside boxes, published a cover story titled ‘85 Shots‘ about the incident.

As could be expected if you understand the source, the City Paper writers, Doron Taussig and Tom Nammako, told the story in a way that was, in both tone and tenor, completely sympathetic to the alleged victim and extremely critical of the Philadelphia police officers involved in the shooting, as well as their hierarchy in its response.

That’s a shame, because the real problem right here in Philadelphia and in many big American cities today is not unwarranted shootings by rogue groups of police officers.

Actually, one of the biggest problems facing American big cities today is men just like Steven Miller.

Fact is that Miller exited his house that night as a stark-raving mad lunatic waving a gun around in the air, alternately pointing it at officers as well as towards neighbors homes as he waved it.

The officers gave him plenty of warnings to drop the weapon, perhaps even more than they actually needed to give. At a certain point, one officer felt that the circumstances had gotten too dangerous and felt that he needed to discharge his weapon in order to save his own life, the life of a fellow officer, or that of a community member.

It was a hot summer night in South Philly, so it was dark, and when this officers’ shots rang out other officers who had also responded did not know from where these shots were coming. They fired at the man who they saw waving around the gun, Miller, just as they were trained, and they took him down.

One of Miller’s best friends, Daniel Williams, was quoted as saying “…they probably look at it like, that’s one less nigga with a gun.”

Your words, Mr. Williams, but the idea behind them is not so far off from the truth.

What this city needs, in fact, is thousands of fewer young men of all races waving around guns. Every one that is stopped from doing so is one less that will harm the rest of us.

The article goes on to actually print the names of seven officers involved that night. It then discusses how the neighbors see these officers now. In the words of one, Tyree Bullock: “Here go this motherf*cker” in reference to the officer who fired first.

How about the motherfuckers living around you every day, Mr. Bullock? The ones doing the shooting, drug-dealing, pimping, impregnating, and then glamorizing it all in their booming and blaring rap music?

The article also goes on to talk about another of the people in Miller’s life, one Anthony Lawrence, who relates that in the past twenty years he has personally seen 34 deaths in his neighborhood, implying those were violent deaths.

I have lived 46 years and was born and raised in South Philly, and I don’t think that I have known more than a couple people, if that many, who have been killed by violence.

Why have you seen so many, Mr. Lawrence? Why so many, City Paper? Rogue cops shoot them all down? Not hardly. The fact of the matter is that most of them were killed by men just like Steven Miller.

Before he met his demise, Miller helped perpetuate even more of the problems in the urban world. He had fathered seven children, none of whom he financially supported, by three different women, none of whom he had ever married.

He had been arrested at least once in his life, for drugs of course, and had also been shot once on a playground basketball court. He had wasted away his twenties in a life of drugs and violence and ‘laying back’.

Oh, and in trying to become a rap star, of course, all the while perpetuating the exact lifestyle of huge numbers of young men in his demographic community across the nation. Irresponsibility, criminality, violence, addiction, all frequently glorified by the rap community.

So-called “gangsta rap” is one of the most heinous examples of all-time of a community announcing and advertising for its own demise. Miller’s rap group was named DLK (Down Low Killaz). Nice. And typical.

The article states that Miller was ‘suited up‘ (carrying a gun) on the day that he died because he ‘had gotten on bad terms with a dangerous young bull‘, meaning that some young thug was looking to gun down Miller for some reason.

The only ‘bull’ that matters in this story is perpetuated by this article, that somehow men like Steven Miller deserve our sympathies.

The folks who really deserve our sympathy are the seven whose lives he created, but who didn’t elicit enough love and respect from him that he would go out and get a real job or two to support.

What makes men like Miller and many others in his violent neighborhood around Tasker & Taney Streets decide to turn to drugs and violence, both in the reality of their lifestyle and the glamorization of that same culture, rather than turning it around, staying in school, taking responsibility, and bettering their community?

What makes one man from South Philly into a Steven Miller and another man from West Philly into a Will Smith?

The answer is actually quite simple: personal choices.

Steven Miller chose illegitimate fatherhood. Steven Miller chose to get involved with drugs and violence. Steven Miller chose to walk out of a house waving a gun at neighbors and police officers.

Steven Miller left those officers with no choice but to fire 85 shots, however many it took, and leave the city with ‘one less nigga with a gun‘, to quote one of his neighbors.

His choice.

It is people like the authors of this City Paper article and the editors who chose to run the story with the slant that they did, who make further choices that divide us and make all of us less safe each and every day in the city of Philadelphia.

Two million minutes

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That is how long the typical student the world over will spend in their high school careers – two million minutes. Four years in the students life – do the math (assuming you know how.)

It is also the name of a documentary film that asks a simple thought-provoking question that you might think you can answer easily: Can your high school Junior or Senior measure up to the 10th grade proficiency standards of the Third World?

Two Million Minutes” is a breakthrough film from Executive Producer Robert A. Compton, directed by Chad Heeter, written and produced by Adam Raney from Compton’s original idea.

In the story line, the priorities and pressures of six students from different parts of the world are examined.

There are two from Carmel, Indiana representing typical American students. Neil Ahrendt is an 18-year old senior class president and National Merit Award semi-finalist. Brittany Brechbuhl is a 17-year old who is in the top 3% of her graduating class who wants to become a doctor.

Also in the film are a pair of students from Bangalore, India. Rohit Sridharan is a 17-year old young man who is seeking acceptance into an elite Indian engineering school. Apoora Uppala is a 17-year old girl who aims to become an engineer, which she believes is the safest profession in her home country.

And finally we have two young people from Shanghai, China as well. Hu Xiaoyuan is a 17-year old girl who plays violin, hopes to study biology, and has applied for early admission to Yale University here in the States. Jin Ruizhang is a 17-year old boy who competes in international math tournaments and wants to continue studying advanced math in college.

The film also features commentary from folks such as Cal-Berkely professor and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, physicist and RPI president Shirley Ann Jackson, 12-term congressman and Chairman of the US House Committee on Science and Technology Bart Gordon, Harvard economist Richard Freeman, and a number of others.

How much time have you spent actually supervising your kids homework, study habits, school attendance and performance? How much emphasis do you give in your home to the importance of your child’s formal education?

How much have you evaluated the quality and content of the education that they are actually receiving at your neighborhood school, and evaluated any options of choice in schools that you may have available if you find it lacking?

The fact is that students in the United States, world leaders for generations, have fallen behind their counter-parts in many nations, and continue to fall further behind each year.

A wide variety of factors are behind this decline in competitiveness, including poor parental guidance, misplaced priorities of students, and liberal educational objectives.

If you don’t think that it’s important for our children to be able to compete on a global scale in an increasingly shrinking world, then you are selling their future prospects short.

These are things that I never fully appreciated as my girls were growing up: you just sent them to the best school that you could, tried to make sure they behaved themselves and generally did their work, and hoped for the best at that point from the school itself.

That is simply not enough in today’s world. It never was, and I realize only now that it is the lazy man’s way out.

American parents need to begin to re-emphasize formal education, and need to ensure that their children specifically are receiving the highest possible level of education, particularly in the areas of math and science.

If you find that your school doesn’t measure up to your increased standards, and you simply cannot afford any other option, then you need to find a way to personally supplement their formal education in these areas.

A good beginning for you would be to visit the website and by eventually seeing the film “Two Million Minutes” for yourself. If you have young kids for whom its not too late to make a difference, you won’t regret it. More importantly, neither will they.

None of our business

 

A leading business website, Inc.com, billed as ‘The Daily Resource for Entrepreneurs’, has released its annual list of ‘The Best Cities for Doing Business‘.

Where do you think that Philadelphia ranked on their list of 393 metropolitan areas?

A top-ten city by population, you would think that Philly would probably be there somewhere among the leaders, right?

Well, before we get too excited, let’s examine some of the criteria that the e-zine factors in order to formulate the rankings.

What ‘Inc.com’ does as an overall approach is that they analyze job-growth data as supplied by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the previous calendar year on 393 metropolitan statistical areas across the country.

The list just released was specifically derived from analysis of three-month rolling averages of the BLS state and area unadjusted employment data from January 1995 to September 2006. It uses four measures of growth to rank all areas for which data was available for the past ten years.

These four measures are: recent growth trend, analyzing this and last year; midterm growth, averaging 2001-06 rates; long-term trend, analyzing 1995-2006 data; and current year growth.

This data includes non-farm employment, manufacturing, financial services, business and professional services, educational and health services, information, retail and wholesale trade, transportation and utilities, leisure and hospitality, and government.

While any time you attempt to put together a ranking across a broad spectrum of categories you are going to get subjectivity in the analysis of those categories, the fact is that this is not a study and listing that is done haphazardly and frivolously. It is a serious look at relevant statistics in order to determine areas that are growing, and that ultimate also exposes areas that are stagnating.

On the surface, Philly would seem to have much going for it, and it does. We have major employers headquartered here, such as Comcast. We have an excellent mass-transit system including SEPTA, Amtrak, and Patco.

Philly has first-class entertainment facilities such as the Avenue of the Arts, varied quality sports facilities like The Linc and Citizens Bank Park and the Palestra. A world-class Art Museum, a top-notch zoo, etc.

Easy transportation access through I-95 by land, the Delaware River by sea, and Philadelphia International Airport by air among others.

And we have people, lots of people, and a variety of them by racial, ethnic, religious, cultural, sexual and any other orientation that you can describe.

There is much to like about the Philadelphia area, politics aside. And you do have to set aside politics. which has been a mess for a long time here in Philly.

There is much to like about Philly, tax-status aside, and you do have to set aside our taxation system. Here in Philly, our tax policies are typically liberal for a large city, and liberal Democratic Party taxation means that we tax unfairly, more than other cities, and on things that other cities do not.

In recent decades, our tax policies have led to the loss of 250,000 jobs and the loss of a half-million residents. Other cities are growing, but Philly is in decline, and we continue to lose jobs and residents every single year.

Philadelphia Forward, an organization put together in an attempt to reform Philly’s tax policies, reports that “the typical city residents tax burden is 50% higher than the tax burden for a suburban resident at a similar income level.

In other words, living here in the city kills your take-home pay, and it does the same to business profits. Most cities do not tax your wages, but we do, and we do it at a rate of 3.98%, the highest in the nation.

Philly taxes business at the highest rate of all major American cities, and its real estate tax assessment system can be described as unfair and antiquated at best.

In short, we have all the pretty things and look nice on the outside, but we are decaying on the inside.

When most people look to move their families into an area, or evaluate where their families will continue to live as they grow, when business looks to move into or remain in an area long term, they look closely not only at the surface features, but also look under the hood.

When you look under the hood at the engine that drives Philadelphia, you find a ton of gunk – an entrenched liberal Democratic government that taxes and spends more than almost any other entity in the United States.

No wonder then when I scan down the list of metro areas in the Inc.com rankings looking for Philadelphia and cannot find us among the top ten, where our population ranking sits. Nope, not even in the top twenty, or the top one hundred.

Wow, scanning down, scanning down. Ah, found us. There we are, ranked out of 393 metro areas at number……351!

Ouch. Well, at least its better than last year when we were ranked at number 392. Yikes!

The bottom line is that there is really no reason to live inside the City of Philadelphia unless you have to, which is one major reason that the city clings to its antiquated policy of forcing city employees to live inside the city limits.

If Philly updated its policy and allowed city employees to live wherever in the region they wanted, I can guarantee you that it would lose thousands of more residents in the ensuing half-decade.

The bottom line that is revealed by the Inc.com ranking and the Philadelphia Forward assessments is that Philadelphia is a big city in big trouble, and showing no signs of changing its ways. We will continue to look pretty on the outside, but only because our politicians will continue to tax heavily to maintain that pretty look.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia will continue to die slowly on the inside, further deteriorating that tax base of businesses and residents, and thus raising the tax burden continually on those who choose to. or are forced to, stay behind. Business will continue to mostly flee the city, businesses such as chemical giant RohmHaas.

What can change this status? I have been saying it for a long time. Philadelphia needs a real, viable, political alternative. A healthy Republican Party which espouses lower taxes, less spending, a more business-friendly environment, and more conservative solutions to social problems such as crime and education.

Unfortunately, that shows no signs of happening anytime soon, or even within the rest of my lifetime.

No soulful end to the curse

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Philadelphia Soul players celebrate their Arena Bowl championship victory

The indoor Arena Football League played it’s championship game yesterday, and the local boys, the Philadelphia Soul, took the Arena Bowl XXII title by downing something called the San Jose SaberCats by a final score of 59-56.

The Soul are partly owned by famed New Jersey rocker Jon Bon Jovi, the very public face of the franchise, and have another local hero, former Eagles Super Bowl quarterback Ron Jaworski, among their official team hierarchy.

So the club has found a niche in the local sports scene, much as the pro lacrosse Philadelphia Wings and indoor soccer Philadelphia Kixx have found.

For those not from Philly, you may not be aware that we are in the midst of one of the worst major pro sports championship droughts in the history of such things.

No major Philadelphia professional sports team has won a title since the 1983 NBA Philadelphia 76ers, led by Julius ‘Dr. J’ Erving and Moses Malone, took that championship from the LA Lakers. That makes it a full quarter-century since Philadelphians have experienced the thrill of a major title, and the ensuing victory parade down Broad Street.

The Phillies last won the World Series in 1980, the Flyers last took the Stanley Cup in 1975, and the Eagles won the NFL championship in 1960 – they have never won a Super Bowl.

We have come close, as each team made it to the championship series multiple times. The Flyers went to the Stanley Cup Finals in the springs of 1985, 1987, and 1997.

The Sixers made the NBA Finals in 2001. The Phillies were in the World Series in both 1983 and 1993.

The Eagles famously lost a close 2004 Super Bowl to the New England Patriots that was the city’s best shot in recent years.

Still, that makes just seven seasons out of a possible 100 (25 years each for the 4 teams), or 7% for a top ten market to even appear in a championship, and that is beyond woeful.

There were comments after the Soul win that the jinx may now be over, with Soul coach Bret Munsey saying “Now we can win championships in Philly. I hope that takes care of everything.

Uh, don’t think so Bret. Your boys did a nice job. Congratulations to you and game MVP Matt D’Orazio and Bon Jovi and Jaws and everyone in the organization.

But it doesn’t end a thing involving the jinx, or curse, or whatever you want to call this thing, because ‘minor’ pro sports teams have done it before.

In lacrosse, the Philadelphia Barrage won MLL titles three times in four years between 2004-2007, and the Philadelphia Wings won six NLL titles between 1989 and 2001.

In both 1998 and 2005, the Philadelphia Phantoms won AHL Calder Cup titles as the top farm club of the Flyers. The old Philadelphia Stars had won a pair of USFL titles in pro football back in the 80’s.

Perhaps the most famous Philly title since 1983 wasn’t even won by a pro club, that being the Villanova Wildcats winning the NCAA basketball championship in a dramatic upset of Georgetown in the spring of 1985.

In an online poll at Philly.com, local sports fans were asked “Does the Soul’s championship affect the Philly sports jinx?” At the time of this article, over 4600 fans had placed votes, and more than 73% answered “NO, it has to be one of the ‘big four’ professional teams.” The answer is clear, the jinx or curse is alive.

The Soul did a nice job in their league, they should be proud of their accomplishment, and their fans should enjoy the victory. But the fact remains that the curse remains.

One day, a major Philadelphia sports franchise will win a title. Perhaps Donovan McNabb of the Eagles will raise the Super Bowl trophy, or Mike Richards of the Flyers will hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup, or Elton Brand will raise the NBA championship trophy, or maybe even Chris Coste will get to leap into Brad Lidge’s arms as the Phils take the World Series.

I was still a teen when Tugger and Schmidty and Charlie Hustle and Lefty won that 1980 World Series. I cheered Clarkie and Bernie and the boys on to a pair of Stanley Cups as a boy, and jumped for joy as Billy Cunningham’s Sixers won that last ’83 title. I have had the sports fan thrill, but it has been a long time.

I was 21-years-old when Mo Cheeks dribbled down the court, jumping for joy at yet another title in Philly as the Sixers captured the 1983 NBA Championship. I thought that it would happen often, because at that point of my life in just the past seven years Philly teams were consistent world title contenders.

Between 1976-1983 the Phils had been to the playoffs six times and won a Series. The Eagles were playoff regulars and had gone to a Super Bowl. The Flyers had been to the Cup finals four times and won twice. The Sixers were regular title contenders and had now won one.

Philly was Title Town in those days. Maybe one day I will live to see it all come around again.