Economics, Literature and Scepticism

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I am a PhD student in Economics. I am originally from South Africa and plan to return there after my PhD. I completed my M. Comm in Economics and my MA In Creative Writing (Poetry) at the University of Cape Town, where I worked as a lecturer before starting my PhD.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Not to do with washing away

Posted by Simon Halliday | Friday, June 30, 2006 | Category: | 0 comments

Other than the spelling mistakes in my previous blog (Highjacking) which in review annoy and entertain me (I think they were justified). I have been working on the following poem. It is sort of the third version of it since I wrote it.

Bath


Twice in two days

I have drawn baths.


Immersing myself

in the loud silence

only my heartbeat

plays its song.


It is proof to me

I am living.

My heart strikes

and hits and beats

its flesh and blood

as I beat the

waves of my mind.


When life seems trivial

I advise:


draw a bath

immerse yourself

hear your heart beat

confirm you're alive.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Subsequently

Posted by Simon Halliday | Thursday, June 29, 2006 | Category: | 3 comments

“It takes a lot out of you, you know? It's taken a lot out of me, man.”

They are sitting on damp bricks, staring at a gibbous moon. And they are comfortable.

“Violence is strange man, I didn't get it for a very long time, now it dawns on me, and I feel the sun burning the ideas of violence into me. It hurts and I want it to stop, but I also want to know, simply to know and to understand and then maybe it won't burn so much. I don't know man.”

Old friends can talk at each other. I don't know if 'I' am saying these words, or if you and I are old friends talking about 'my' psychological disposition. But the conversation is meaningful, and we're sharing a bottle of good, red wine. It's not a Merlot though. A Merlot would be too sedate. It's probably Pinotage, that's South African. Sweet and bitter at the same time with dangerous undertones that make you want to drink more of it. Yes, a Pinotage. I've just had a swig from the bottle. So may you.

“I couldn't bear the idea of her getting hurt, of something going wrong and something happening to her, equally I had to think of ways to outwit these skelms, these fuckwits trying to attack us, and, you know what, I thought about attacking them, I saw myself punching the guy disarming him, pointing the gun at him and telling him to run away. I saw myself kicking him, ducking and punching him again and again so that he would never do this to someone else. Ever! And I don't only want to cry for myself I want to cry for what I might have done to him were I that much less controlled. Were I closer to the verge of losing it and not caring. I would have hurt him and I would have enjoyed the pain that I felt in my fists for days afterwards.”

Friends know when the other is crying, has cried, sometimes needs to or doesn't want to cry. Maybe I fit into all of these categories, who knows?

“Where does empathy begin and end? What differentiates it from sympathy? Can I empathise with the criminals who threatened to shoot me? Not really. Do I feel sympathy that they maybe be in irrevocably horrific situations from which they don't know how to extricate themselves? Yes. I see the whole seen played out for me in a million different quantum possibilities. Me dying, Amy dying, me killing them, them taking the car, it never happening in the first place. Quantum visions 1 through X. Do I forgive them? I don't know. I get the feeling you often have to love someone to forgive them and I don't know if I can love these men. Maybe a part of me does. The part of me that sympathises. Another part of me empathises with desperateness, that dark space where each of us has been desperate for someone or something, a touch, food, water, a drug maybe, something tangible that we don't have but want or need. There's so much involved, so much that could have happened, could have gone wrong. We dealt with it in a very intelligent and amicable way. Most of all at the moment I forgive myself for being in a situation where Amy was exposed to that, where I was exposed to that. I have the love for that. I take responsibility for being in that situation, at that time, for looking and not looking, for shaking (literally shaking) in the moment, for thinking violence, for lying to the criminals, for working out in my head that I had the remote in my pocket and not handing over the car immediately thinking that I could outwit them. I take responsibility for all of this. I take responsibility for the risk to which I exposed Amy and I. I take this responsibility and I forgive myself.”

Friends listen to the rambling. The bricks are still wet beneath us. The sliver of moon is so bright that we can see the rest of the moon behind it, it looks hidden and shadowed. Umbra. I've always liked the shape and the sound of that word. Umbra. And beneath it our conversation could not be adumbrated by the umbra of the moon. We laugh at my silly word plays. We know that I do that. We have some more wine. You understand more of me maybe. Maybe not. Shadowed.

Highjacking

Posted by Simon Halliday | | Category: | 1 comments

This evening, my girlfriend and I survived a highjacking. Seriously. It happened about 2 ½ hours ago at the time of writing this. I need to get to sleep and tire myself out, so I thought :”Yes, I'll write this up for my blog.”

I was in my mother's car, on account of the fact that I was going to be driving it up to Grahamstown tomorrow. I had just picked her, Amy, up at her house so that we could spend a 'last romantic evening' together before I left for two weeks.

Anyway, I had reversed into the driveway and closed the garage gate. Suddenly I see man in the last light of the gate (under a metre left before it closes). I initially thought I was seeing a trick in the shadows and I wondered why a person would be standing there (internal monologue – why is my neighbour trying to come and see me now and like this). That took about a quarter of a second and I realised this guy was probably trying to highjack me. I was right.

He and his accomplice, came in. The gate had stopped when he stood in front of it. One of them was carrrying a gun, a pistol, or firearm (truth be told I don't recall whether it was the first guy or the second). They told me to get out of the car. Amy was still in the car not realising what was happening until a few moments later when I had my hands up in the air for no reason and there was the strange man standing in front of me.

I had dropped the keys in the car with my wallet which had been on my lap. Both were on the floor. They told me to pick up the keys. The took them from me (although I convinced them to allow me to take my drivers license from my wallet and simultaneously stole my credit card out) and tried to open the gate with the gate remote attached to my mum's keys. As fortune (or providence, or randomness, or God) would have it, because I was driving my mum's car the remote for her home in Rondebosch obviously would not work on my digs garage. The highjackers were freaked out about this, I had gone momentarily blank and tried to open it with said incorrect remote. They then tried to kick the motor, push the gate, etc to get it open. There was nowhere near enough space to get the car out you see.

They then threatened me with the gun. Amy told me afterwards that she was really worried I would try to pull some heroic action. Justifiably really, as I told my parents and Seraj afterwards I had to restrain myself from attacking them. The reason I didn't was because of the possible risk to Amy. I couldn't put her in danger if anything went wrong (the downside of Kung-Fu I suppose is that one gets more confident in one's ability to attack opponents – they were both smaller than me, and quite obviously nervous and scared themselves ironically).

They also thought, hearing me speak, that I was a foreigner. I played on that and lied to them about not living where I was and just staying there. They then went out behind the gate. The 'accomplice' guy had received a call on his cell phone and I could hear a car down the ways. I assumed that they were going to try to get away as this was not going as planned. They walked to the other side of the gate back into the road. I had realised by this point that the real gate remote was in my pocket (where it would be because I had taken it off of my car keys). I closed the gate while they were outside.

I called Amy and we ran inside and I locked us into the house. I then hit the panic button for the alarm to go off. ADT called, I told them we'd just been the victims of an attempted highjacking. They were there withing minutes. Out neighbour, Buzz Beck (that is his name and he was wonderful) came over and phoned the police from his place, I didn't have any credit on my phone nor was I realistically in the state of mind to begin organising things. The police were there promptly. There was a whole horde of them in the house and at the back on walki-talkies buzzing here and there. Some ladies came through to take our statements (An office Klaassens if I recall correctly). Detective Inspector Jensel came and told me to park the car somewhere so that we could try to get fingerprints. Moreover, Amy had baked me brownies for my trip. Again somewhat ironically, she remembered them trying to open the tin to see what was in it, so our closest link to 'justice' is possibly contained in the potential of fingerprints on a brownie tin!

Amy's parents were wonderful, they came through really quickly. Annette almost immediately made us tea when we were being interviewed by the police. I called Seraj and he came through. I didn't really want to call anyone else to 'the scene'. I kept on calling the guys who did the crime 'gentlemen' when I was recounting it to the police, I also kept on correcting myself and I wanted to call the fuckwits, but called them 'the men'. A councilor who came to our house called them 'animals'. I don't know what I think about that.

After everyone left Seraj said he'd brought a bottle of wine (good red wine, he wouldn't have it any other way). He brought it in case we 'wanted to take the edge off'. Gotta love Seraj. My folks were suitably worried. I spent the whole time being worried about Amy and just wanting to hug her to prove that we were fine, that we were alive and together. They had taken her purse, her cell phone, my wallet, my Seiko Watch (my beautiful Seiko Kinetic, lamentation!). Again, as fortune (whatever) would have it, I had left my cell phone at home randomly before I went and picked Amy up, which meant that they couldn't get that.

The whole time I just wanted to touch her, same reasons as above. Her dad was pre-occupied with canceling her credit card and bank card. They left and Seraj and I organised my stuff for me to make moves to my parents' place, where I could park the car so that the police could test for fingerprints tomorrow.

I spoke more to my mum, dad and Steve on the phone. My uncled Brian also called. We all said love you. On the phone later, as Amy and I were talking (she was given a new number by Alan I think, already!) I said 'love you'. It is the moments like these that show us how previous the things we have are. I am not going to analyse it too much.

I don't really want to stay at that house anymore. I love the place, but it makes it more difficult to want to be there, to enjoy being there. Ah well...

Anyway, I love you all, if you're reading this, then in all likelihood you are precious to me. You are in my thoughts and I am sorry if I didn't call. It was stressful and I barely dealt with restraining my anger and yelling a 'FUUUUCCCCKKK' while the police were there, let alone calling people.

Night, night, I think I am going to try to sleep. I don't know if it'll work. We'll have to see. I've taken rescue remedy. Maybe it'll work. Although I don't particularly feel like being rescued right now, I feel it would have been better not to require rescue in the first place.

Incidentally, I apologise for how rambling this is, I apologised to the police for the same reason. I am still somewhat shaken up. This is meant to be 'therapeutic'. Ho hum... Therapy. Yes.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Joy of Camus

Posted by Simon Halliday | Friday, June 23, 2006 | Category: | 2 comments

I started reading Albert Camus' The Outsider (L'Etranger) last night. It was incredibly beautiful when I started it, but I was simply too tired to read it (although intending to have an early night I ended up going to sleep probably around 1:30am).

Anyway, I was reading it this morning, but I realised I had to go off and run errands. So I took it with me to Cavendish. I started some of my errands, stopped for coffee at Vida and then I promptly finished the book. I couldn't help myself – it accelerated into absolute (yes this is a funny term to apply to the book) brilliance.

Having finished the story and having read the afterword by Camus I was stunned. I simply sat lopsided in my stool for about five minutes. Realised someone had noticed me and I got up. I was quite unfocused. I wondered around Cavendish in a jubilant daze, struck with both the horror and the glory of the book. It was an astonishing read, so valid. I immediately understood why he had received the Nobel at such a young age (as far as I know (and I haven't researched this properly) he was one of the youngest authors to receive the Nobel for Literature).

I don't think that everyone will have as vivid or as tumultuous a response to this book as I did (although many people claim it as one of their favourites I have been told). It is a remarkable book and deserves to be read, it could easily be read in an afternoon. I will read it again. Undoubtedly. I have this craving to read more of his work. I went into Exclusives and bought the plague, but I am going to force myself not to read it because I want to derive as much enjoyment from the reading of it, separate from The Outsider as I did from The Outsider.

I am not going to go into why I loved it so much, I will simply sponsor it as an incredible work of art and hope that my support of it will get you to read it. I know that many will dislike it, even be disgusted by it (not that there is much aesthetically wrong with it as far as I can tell), Afterwards, we can discuss it, think about it, chat, whatever. Just give it a read, it's only 118 pages.



Somewhat Studious

Posted by Simon Halliday | | Category: | 0 comments

This may sound strange, but I have been trying to write less recently. But, this has been in an attempt to edit more, to observe my own writing and to engage with it (nevertheless, I have written a fair amount, but I am giving you one random sonnet(ish) I wrote and a few other poems. Enjoy. Oh yes, the other impediment to my writing has been the leaching of the soul that results from having to mark exams. It does you know, leach your soul I mean.


Gone the fires: A Sonnet


Lament for those left uncalled alone

And me who loved irrational and bold

who cared for you, who's body was your own:

possession discarded, left forlorn and cold.


Madness of it, the righteous indignance

of youthful joys, ripping fruit flesh sexy

love our rippling flesh, every fragrance

of sex, our own mind-fucked apoplexy.


I would not call it flames, or fire or burning

but it's course was hot passing through my veins.

And found a way to staunch my body's yearning

by burning out your face, your words, your names.


Strident, you left, departure uninvolved

Still I remain, a part of you unsolved.


dogs of war 01-16.06.06


the dogs of war

are weakened

without food


I see

they skulk

Langa's streets


the other orphans

of this filial-

feral affair

Wake 01-22.06.06 (when you read this pronounce the one X as you would for 'Xhosa')


Coming in

at the back

she was thin.


Her sons: Xolisa (Peace)

Thando (Beloved)

are dead.


As so many are

the unwitting victims,


unwitting of their victims

as so many are.


Bowed praying mantis

over their graves

she was so thin.


A carcass cooks,

in funeral fire smoke

she is thin, still.


And the re-working of another poem:


Turned Hands


With upturned hands

you demand and you

plead with me.


Turn your hands down

wrists connected.


Although you've moved

freely, you're imprisoned

completely,


Your hands turned down

would display it.


Monday, June 12, 2006

Guantanamo Bay (Gitmo) and other Abuses

Posted by Simon Halliday | Monday, June 12, 2006 | Category: | 1 comments

I wonder. I wonder long and stringently on the role that the United States paints for itself in terms of world politics, trade and overall attempts at control. After wondering, I generally end up worrying. That seems to be the sequence of events.

For example, the buildup to the suicides in Gitmo are indicative of much of the rot that is extant in the US. The process that developed towards this point was deeply problematic. From the first, many people have been imprisoned in Gitmo simply on suspicion of being terrorists, or of having been involved in groups that were against the US. Cases which have attempted to move towards the US Supreme Court have been “thwarted by claims of National Security” (NYTimes, 12.06.06). Moreover, new laws, which some argue should be applied retroactively, may deprive individuals' rights to challenge their imprisonment. Hmm... Land of the Free... Hmm...Combine this with force-feeding programs to combat the hunger strikes, the use of restraint chairs, etc and the record becomes on which is easier to challenge.

What worries me even more is when I read the Washington Post and get told of 110 Million who have joined the “Ranks of the Free” in Afghanistan and Iraq. Ok, yes some people are now free to die at the whim of US generals, to starve to death and to suffer the death of their kinsmen because the US decided that it was 'threatened'. What does this mean? Well, it means that the US felt that Al-Qaeda (that panacea-like defence claim) or 'Terrorist Islamists' (ooh another original one) have impacted on their way of life, on their liberties. Anyway, I am moving away from my initial point - in order to join the ranks of the free (to die of unknown causes maybe) you will be reconstructed in the image of the American 'democratic' state. Joy!

Combine this with the probable, if not inevitable overturning of Roe v. Wade, and with the possible dissolution of the statutes which separate Church from State in the US and we have a path for righteousness which may just indicate for us what a lot of this is about. The US believes intrinsically that its way of life is The Best, not only that, but it is The Right one. In addition, as a result of this, it can do whatever it wants to defend this righteous cause. Great.

Some recent stats on life in the third world: since the Gleneagles G8 conference at least 11 Million children of poor families have died. Many of these countries are ranked amongst 'The Free', but what's the issue? Well the US isn't that interested in dying kids of they aren't located in the US of A or unless their country has access to oil (movements by Goldman-Sachs and others notwithstanding). A response to this could be that world aid is meant to 'increase'. Valid point, but lets look at how we measure that: some $35 Billion of Nigeria's debt has been 'forgiven' and the debt of Saddam Hussein's 'illegitimate' government in Iraq has also been forgiven (OxFam 2006). Now, maybe I am a bit of a cynic when it comes to this, but there is one stark similarity between these two countries: Oil Deposits. Joy! Let's forgive debt, get rid of old governments and then we'll be able to satisfy our oil-consuming frenzy.

Ok. Then there's the AIDS issue. The UNAIDS program had a project called 3 by 5. This was meant to obtain access to ARVs for 3 million of the World's HIV positive and AIDS suffering individuals by September 2005. As a planet we hit the 1 million mark. Although 33% is judged as a fail at most educational institutions, this was still lauded as an 'improvement' (which it was by the way, I don't begrudge that). BUT so much of the progress is blunted by AIDS denialism (for which our own President, Mr Mbeki, is renowned) which seems to be gaining a foothold in the US, combined with which we have the Reagen Gag Rule, and further rules from PEPFAR which stipulate what can and can't be done with aid money (you aren't allowed to talk about abortion). Moreover, condom use is often downplayed. Abstention is the way forward (learn your ABCs). Once more, I don't mean to discredit the effectiveness of Abstention as a way not to contract HIV/AIDS, but the problem with this is that most people will simply ignore you. Most people want to have sex and they believe that they as an individual are not at risk. One of the best policy options which has been advocated by other (slightly more liberal groups I may add) is that individuals should use condoms for at least the first three months of a relationship (after which you can find out whether someone is HIV+ or not) and from then on maybe stop using them. People could conceivably do this. But would the US allow this to be adopted? Nope. Na huh. Sowwy.

Now, the reason I write this is because I am frustrated. I get annoyed because a number of people are Anti-American. I don't put myself in that camp. I want to go and study in the US, I think that in general the US has done a number of incredible and important things. However, I believe that a lot of their current policy is misguided and jeopardises the possibility of peace in any global sense, or of moving towards a world where we as individuals can narrow the gap of income inequality worldwide, and diminish the levels of poverty. I believe in Making Poverty History (but maybe not in the same way as Sir Bob). I agree that, in most senses, freedom and liberty are important, but killing thousands of innocent people in other countries to 'free' them without the assent of the UN? Less sure about that one. Thankfully for me at least, the poll ratings of Mr Bush are down. Much is being speculated about whether the Democrats will be able to Win Back Congress (Clines, NYTimes, 07.06.06). I hope that they do. Oh yes, I realise that I haven't commented that much on world trade. I don't believe that I have to except for the fact that the US (and the EU) need to come to the party there, otherwise all is lost (sorry Coldplay).

So let's keep thinking. Let's keep reading and trying to talk about whether there are going to be movements forward in the US to a state that more adequately reflects the will of a people. With 71 journalists dead in the war in Iraq, thousands of innocents dead in a few months time the US would have been involved in a war in Iraq almost as long as they were involved in WWII. Good to know. Sad to point out. I hope that things move away from the conservatism which seems to have pervaded US policy in recent years. They need to calm their xenophobia (Rivlin, 2006 and Rich, 2006, both NY Times). They need to think about alternative solutions to HIV/AIDS. They need to think of less self-interested ways that they can go about genuinely campaigning for the interests of the world's poor. America is still a powerhouse. They have the machinery to make the world move. I just hope that their momentum gets redirected and that they move in a direction that may better for the overall populace of the planet, rather than a select few in the USA. Hope, pray, think and speak. Maybe we'll get something done.


Thursday, June 01, 2006

Net Neutrality, the right and the left

Posted by Simon Halliday | Thursday, June 01, 2006 | Category: | 0 comments

Once again we have come to a situation where people seem to self-select into groups labeling themselves the 'right' and the 'left'. I find this far from original. Nevertheless, I think that the topic at hand is an important one, one which can affect numerous of us in our everyday lives both in with respect to our constitutional right to free speech, as well as our wish to freely associate with individuals.

Anyway, the current topic is whether internet neutrality should be put into statute in the United States. Now, in the 'rest of the world' we don't have much say about this because we are, quite obviously and patently, outside of the US. Nevertheless, my belief is that the decisions taken there will affect how we interact on the internet and the extent to which we will use the internet freely and sociably.

My worry predominantly goes towards the fact that as an internet user my use predominantly revolves around access to sites in the United States and in many cases hosted by state-side servers. If there were no legislation going through and the dual highway off access (ironically, I think, as sponsored by Google (the supposed champion of 'free speech' and other morally appealing virtues) and several others) goes through then those companies with more money would be able to pay in order to increase their bandwidth and the accessibility of their sites. What this translates to is a gradation of access – you pay more, then people can access you more easily.

Now, hypothetically, this could create certain benefits to us as consumers because we would be able to download information quicker, we'd have faster streams of video, audio, etc to our home pcs using basic infrastructures such as broad band. That is all good. What is not at all good is the fact that we would be, once more, at the mercy of those who have more money. Notwithstanding that most of us use Google anyway, and already using that system there are cases that those who pay more will pop up higher on the search list, there is still the possibility of you as an individual choosing to click through the pages in order to find a specific site.

If the pay-for-your-bandwidth situation comes about though then those of us who don't pay, or who pay less for our internet and hosting, will end up being nigh on inaccessible to those people who may want to hear us.

My problem with this is many-fold. Firstly, in terms of equitable systems, this system (or the mechanism by which the system will come about) is inherently based on an infrastructure in which the person with more money 'wins' more space, download speeds, etc. This is not a good thing in world in which there is already dramatic inequality. If we saw this, then it would be a simple case of the rich buying up all the access and the poor not being able to buy enough. In a world where business is to a greater and greater extent internet-based this is just shocking! It cannot happen. Inequality will worsen and we in the third world with our horrendously low levels of relative capital will not be able to survive. The miracles of the internet age, a la Mark Shuttleworth will cease to exist. You will have to have money in order to make money. That just worsens an already poor situation.

In addition to this, there is the more heinous problem (if you are a libertarian) of the basic curtailment of free speech. It will not matter if you have the ability to speak freely if no one can hear you – what I mean here is that if you don't have the resources to buy bandwidth then people who may have heard what you had to say previously will not be able to do so. What will happen to NGOs and NPOs trying to get hits on their websites in order to increase donations to their causes? Will the pool of people patient enough simply dwindle into obscurity? Will their success be dependent on hand-outs from ISPs? In which case there could be typical preferential resourcing and allocations of funding such as there has been with PEPFAR after Bush reinstated Reagan's Gag Rule. Ah well... there goes the ability of the poor to speak out. Moreover, if I realise, as someone in control of a specific ISP, that the blog that someone has, or the site content that someone has constructed, is against what I think, or believe is valid, would I then not have the power to simply limit their bandwidth regardless? Would this then result in those companies that control the ISPs being able to profile and reject certain companies or individuals because of their politics, their religious beliefs, or their sexual orientation? Where would the ability to 'choose' be limited? Once more, free speech could be captured and tamed by the capitalist machine. This has happened time and again with the visual and printed media where only those whose views coincided with a specific opinion, or at least didn't deviate spectacularly from accepted doctrine would get published. The internet, on the other hand, has been a milieu through which the unpublished could self-publish (granted this has resulted in lots of bad 'art' going up on the internet, but hey it can't be all good all the time). In this world where people can actively participate in debate and express themselves freely, do we really believe that a government such as the US' should be able to determine not only the future of their own internet protocols, but to a large extent the models that may end up being accepted by the rest of the world? Would it be a just result to see an unregulated and laissez-faire situation coming about?

This is where the 'right'/'left' thing comes in. Generally, the right has more money than the left. Moreover, they are, more often than not, those who want to ensure that regulation of companies and corporates stays to a minimum in a 'laissez-faire' style economy. The problem with this is that it generally means laissezing the rich to faire what they want1, such as if you have more money, you buy more bandwidth. If you have more bandwidth, all the more power to you, barrier to entry for competitors, level of competition in the market decreases, you gain more market power as others cannot compete with your investment, you gain pricing power and are a monopolist. It is the perfect situation for exploitative companies to say 'YAY!' a situation where government is not yet advanced enough to regulate us. That is unless the neutrality laws go through. The left are often obsessed with ideas such as freedom of speech (at least in some categorisations of the left I admit), of freedom of expression, etc. However, these could be lost as per the logic above.

Thus, once again, my personal opinion seems to be sitting on the 'left' with the regulators, the interventionists, the 'free speech protectors' and the anti-capitalist thugs. I reiterate that I believe that capitalism in itself is not a bad thing, it just needs to be watched, we are the custodians of capitalism and must ensure that it our systems protect not only the rights of those with money who want to make even more money, but those who want to move out of possible inferior situations into better situations. With an unregulated internet, this may be something of the past. So yes, I stand with those who want to 'protect the internet'. Read up, tell me what you think, I may be misinformed, who knows? What I do worry about though is apathy and people exploiting our inaction – once more we could be the victims of our own delayed conscious action.

Some sites FYI:

Against Net Neutrality

http://www.handsoff.org/

Pro Net Neutrality

http://www.danablankenhorn.com/2006/05/free_speech_fre.html

http://blogs.zdnet.com/open-source/?m=20060


1I know that the French faire is an infinitive and hence means 'to do' and thus makes my 'to' before the faire redundant, but it is there for literary effect.