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May 31, 2004
Movies: Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
Ah, Memorial Day. What better time to review Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind?
In the weeks after The Squirrelly was born, I noticed an interesting phenomenon. Wracked with sleep deprivation, my memory -- which barely ranks an "adequate" even under the best of circumstances -- essentially packed up and went on sabbatical. It got to the point where the only thing I could remember from one moment to the next was the fact that I couldn't remember a thing. I went out a bought a big whiteboard for my kitchen so I could write down anything of relevance; when people told me things I'd politely request that they retell their stories some day in the future when I emerged from my fog. It was odd to be cognizant of the fact that all these momentous things were happening to me as I struggled through the first days of fatherhood, and to be equally aware that I would soon recall almost none of them.
That's thing about memory: it defines you, yet it's so damn fickle. Many films have grappled with this paradox -- Memento, The Bourne Identity, Total Recall, etc. -- but few have done so as thought provokingly as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
It's a retelling of the classic story: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, girl visits Lacuna Incorporated to have all memories of their relationship purged via a high-tech neurological procedure. The next time the ex-lovers cross paths, Joel (Jim Carrey) is astounded to discover that Clementine (Kate Winslet) has no recollection of their time together; when he's clued in to what she has done, he resolves to visit Lacuna and have the relationship excised from his head as well.
Here I expected the film to fast-forward to the aftermath of the operation, when Joel and Clementine, neither able to recall their previous life together, cross path again and wacky hijinks ensue. That just demonstrates the folly of trying to predict anything in a film written by Charlie Kaufman, he of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. Where any other film would have glossed over the details of the erasure, using it simply as the means to an end (wacky hijinks), Eternal instead embeds the bulk of the story right into the procedure, cutting between the recollections in Joel's head that have been targeted for elimination, and assorted concurrent events in the outside world.
Thus, the audience learns the history of the relationship via Joel's memories, even as they are being eradicated from his mind; every advance we gain in our understanding of the couple is matched by a corresponding loss in Joel's . This has the effect of making these scene especially poignant, as if these memories are being taken from Joel and entrusted into our care. And, surprisingly, wacky hijinks never ensue. Although the script is plenty bizarre and there is no shortage of funny moments, the subject matter is, by and large, treated with respect and sobriety.
What's interesting about Eternal is that the central story is not the science-fiction premise of memory erasing, but the very traditional love story at it's core. It's a credit to the skill of Kaufman and director Michel Gondry that the mind-bending aspects of the framing device enhance rather than detract from the telling of Joel and Clementine's story. Absent the unusual premise, Eternal could have been a frightfully dull mediation on the very time-worn tale of human relationships: passion + time = boredom and irritation; instead, the filmmakers pull off a masterful slight-of-hand that, like Lacuna Incorporated, makes us forget that we've seen this story a dozen times before, allowing us to enjoy it as if seeing it for the very first time.
May 27, 2004
Three Month Update
Chatting with The Queen.
The Queen: Hey, when are you going to do the three month update for The Squirrelly?Poor girl: she's going to be crushed when she finds out I was never on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
FBI Warning: Al-Qaida May Possess Magic Missiles
Citizens who see sticks turn to snakes should contact the authorities immediately.
May 26, 2004
Bush Announces Twelve Step Plan For Iraq
President George Bush, speaking at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa. yesterday, unveiled a new twelve-step plan to address the deteriorating situation in Iraq.
"First, I will admit we have a problem," Bush said, signaling a stark departure from the administration's current position. "Then I will recognize that we need help, I will seek the aid of other nations, and I'll make a searching and fearless moral inventory of our policy of preemption." He went on to outline the plan's eight additional steps during the 90 minute speech.
Speaking to reporters earlier today, John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee, called the plan "completely unworkable." "I mean, do we really expect George Bush to take steps eight and nine: 'make a list of all persons I have harmed' and 'apologize to those I have wronged'? Even if he did, it would take months."
The President, however, was unfazed by such criticism. "Don't worry," Bush reassured doubters, "I've done this before."
May 25, 2004
The Queen, on The Squirrelly: "He has a big nose. He must have gotten yours."
There's one reason why cloning will never catch on, right there: the inability to attribute undesirable attributes in your offspring to a mate.
Saturday we went to a reunion for all the parents who were in our childbirth education class. I met ten brand new babies and, bizarrely, was able to remember each and every one of their names. This is very unusual, as I have no head for names at all. In fact, I couldn't remember the names of any of the parents at the party, and wound up calling them things like "Lucy's father" and "genetic contributor to Sam." So if you ever meet me in person and want to make sure I remember your name, try spitting up or pooping in your pants immediately after we shake hands -- maybe that will help.
The highlight of the event was a group photo, where all the newborns were shoehorned into a couch and many a snapshot was taken.
The Squirrely is second from the left, showing off his tie-dyed socks and his preternatural ability to slouch.
It's probably best that no one overheard me tell The Queen that it looked like "a dingo buffet."
May 24, 2004
The Golden Age
When I was your age the streets were paved with gold. And what a nightmare that was. When it rained, water would fill the deep ruts that vehicles left in the soft metal; when it was sunny, the roads became so hot that they would melt your tires as you idled at a stoplight.
It always struck me as pretty stupid, not to mention expensive. So I decided to do something about it. That's how I invented asphalt -- and became the millionaire I am today.
Research Day: The "Teeth Falling Out" Dream
What's the deal with the "teeth falling out" dream?: A few times a year I have a dream in which my teeth are either loose or falling out. I'd always assumed that these dreams were unique to me, until a few years ago at a party when I overheard a girl describing just such a dream to a friend, who responded with "Oh yeah, 'the teeth falling out' dream. Everyone gets those." I've since discover that this is not strictly true: not everyone gets them -- The Queen doesn't, for example. But they are certainly not rare. In fact, in The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud named it as one of the four "typical dreams," along with "falling from a height, ... flying, and embarrassment because one is naked or scantily clad."
This was a tough one to research, not due to dearth of information on the subject, but rather because of abundance. There are a bajillion websites that purport to interpret dreams, but most of them appear to utilize the scientific method commonly referred to as "guessing." A good example is this one which says that the "teeth falling out dream" must have to do with anxiety over children, because "animals carry their young around with their teeth."
The most common explanation on these sites is that the "teeth falling out" dream reflects anxiety about appearance. I can see that, I guess, but it seems like that when I have this dream, I am much more concerned about the actual loss of my teeth rather than about my resultant appearance. Another common interpretation is that this results from the dreamer's fears about "losing power". That hits closer to home for me -- in the dreams I always find myself wondering how I'm going to eat with no teeth -- but I haven't made a conscience effort to note when these dreams take place and see if they correspond with feelings of "power loss" in my waking life (like, when I'm in close proximity to Kryptonite).
Perhaps it's the skeptic in me, but I find the most plausible explanation to be the most boring: that the dreams are a manifestation of bruxism ("the habitual, involuntary grinding or clenching of the teeth, usually during sleep") which, according to my dentist, I show symptoms of. I guess I better get that Night Guard after all.
Bonus! Who was in The Wiz?: Dorothy: Diana Ross; The Scarecrow: Michael Jackson; The Tinman: Nipsey Russell; The Lion: Ted Ross; The Wiz: Richard Prior.
May 20, 2004
Update: Got one -- thanks David! Everyone else: send me mail at matthewbaldwin [monkeytail] gmail [dot] com!
The Ego Trip
May 18, 2004
I Can't Wait Until My Son Is Old Enough To Enjoy This Joke I Just Made Up
You can tell if someone is a direct descendant from King Tut because he will have a very distinctive fart. Everyone in that linage has a toot-in-common.
Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder
My opinion of John Kerry has gone way up recently, but I suspect that's because I have not seen, heard, or read anything by or about him in weeks. Honestly, he ought to just change his campaign slogan to "John Kerry: The Less You See Him, The More You Like Him!" I guess his big plan is keep a low profile while the Bush Administration's chickens come a'roostin' at the White House.
And it looks like this strategy is working, since Bush's "favorable" ratings are now slightly lower than those of Saruman the White. You might think this is because Bush got up in front of Congress and named Donald Rumsfeld "World's Greatest Grandpa" moments before Seymour "Encyclopedia Brown" Hersh's revelation that, well, okay, the Secretary of Defense might have authorized a little sexual humiliation. (But, honestly, who amongst us hasn't?). If you ask me, though, I think Bush's low standing is mostly due to the fact that Kerry is largely out of the picture. To get a accurate idea of how Bush will fare in this election, I think the pollsters need to interject some context into their questions.
Pollster: On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate Bush's performance as President?At some point Kerry will re-emerge and again get hammered for flip-floppery. I think the Republican's portrayal of Kerry as a serial equivocator is largely overblown, there's no getting around the fact that the man has taken every conceivable position on Iraq, often in the same sentence. If the war were peanut butter, Kerry would have already come out in favor of creamy, crunchy, extra chunky, and the gross kind where you manually stir in the oil.
That's why I think the Kerry campaign should do more than just lay low -- they should actively encourage the American public to forget about their man until the last possible minute. They could run ads like this.
First woman: Hey, have you heard about John Kerry?And maybe they could muddy the waters a bit for good measure.
First woman: I was asking because I just saw a Bush ad that said John Kerry was "wrong of defense."If done correctly, the press would completely forget about Kerry until the DNC "leaks" his name as the nominated candidate on October 23rd, whereupon he is heralded as the "hot new thing" and wins in a landside. This could actually work, given that the media has the attention span of a caffinated Irish Setter. It seems like they are always forgetting terribly relevant stuff and then breathlessly reporting it a again months later.
February 23, page D6: Red Cross Reports Widespread Abuses In Iraqi PrisonThe only downside to this plan is the Democratic Convention, scheduled for the end of July -- that might make it hard hard to keep Kerry's candidacy under wraps. But I have a solution for this as well. I think the convention center should be decorated with a tiki motif and all the delegates should vote Survivor-style, writing their nominations onto big pieces of paper and stuffing them into a box while giving a short speeches into the camera. ("You stabbed me in the back one to many times, Bob Graham!") The outcome would remain secret until the big Reunion Show in late October, when all -- what was it, 30? -- Democratic Candidates get together in front of a live studio audience and feign surprise when the winner is announced. Kerry would then receive the grand prize of $75 million in general election federal funds, Clay Aikin as a running mate, a guaranteed spot on the following morning's Today Show, and, no doubt, the Presidency. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win an election in this country.
May 17, 2004
Can't post ... busy playing Slouching Toward Bedlam ...
[You may need WinFrotz]
May 13, 2004
Drove The Chevy To The Levee
After my graduation from college, I spent 15 months working for the Washington Conservation Corps. I needed the money, and it seemed like a good way to put my Environmental Science degree to work. Plus, I had applied to Peace Corps, and I thought this would look good on my application. After all, everyone knows that the first thing an employer looks in a candidate is experience working for a similar-named organization (which is why the United Nations often does recruiting drives at their local International House Of Pancakes).
The Conservation Corps is one of the forerunners to AmeriCorps, a volunteer this program where a bunch of hooligans go around and engage in manly activities like planting trees and driving trucks and building fences and whatnot. My coworkers were high school dropouts and ex-convicts, and my boss was a grizzled old ex-logger who once had every bone in his body broken when a log rolled over him. And then there was me, a guy with 8 credits of philosophy under his belt and callus-free hands. You know how in the old WWII comic books, like Stg. Rock or whatever, there's always some pacifist scholar in the company with a nickname like "Abacus?" I was essentially that guy, minus the glasses.
But what I lacked in manliness I made up for with an aggressive campaign to fake it. I'd nod knowingly as the other guys debated the relative merits of Fords and Chevys, carry around tools I'd never seen before in my life as if I'd been born clutching them, and endure hours of country music without complaint. After hours I would slink home, put on a Cure CD and sip effete microbrew, sure, but on the clock I was All Man, or, at the very least, my best imitation thereof.
Sometimes I was able to pull of this charade fairly convincingly. Other times ...
One day, for example, we were constructing a fence around a river. For corner posts we used railroad ties: massive, square-ish hunks of wood that require two men to carry (and, if one of those men weights 135 lbs., makes him feel like his spine is going to snap from the strain). I was paired with J., a 19-year-old guy who probably weighed half again as much as me and proudly boasted about his status as a redneck. He was racist, homophobic, prone to fits of violence, and he whooped for joy when he heard that Kurt Cobain has killed himself. He was also a pretty good guy and we enjoyed working together, even though we never would have socialized off the clock.
J. and I just put in post a few feet away from the edge of the water -- a real chore, since this desolate stretch of bank was very muddy and the posthole had continually filled in with water. We had to put another post in nearby, and the railroad ties were sitting in the back of our pickup truck a little ways away. We had carried the last one out to its destination, but how we both feeling tired and lazy, so J. suggested we just go get the truck and just drive it back to our current location.
So we walked back to the truck and, as luck would have it, I approached the vehicle on the driver's side. J., without a second thought, tossed the keys to me. Rather than admit that I had almost zero experience driving anything larger than a Toyota Corolla, I hoped in and fired up the engine while J. clambered in the passenger's side.
We chatted idly during the brief drive, but, as we approached the riverbank, J. suddenly looked concerned. "Hey, aren't you going a little fast?" he asked. Actually, I'd thought we'd been going unnecessarily slow, but I obligingly tapped the brake petal for J.'s benefit. As soon as I did, though, I knew we were doomed. Now on the mud flat, the truck lost not one iota of momentum as I hit the brakes; instead, it slowly began to turn sidewise while still moving inexorably towards the water.
This, I quickly calculated, was Really Bad. The river was deep and fairly fast-flowing, so much so that it had cut into the landscape. There was a two or three foot drop from the bank to the water, and the river was probably five feet deep at the edges. As we were now approaching the river sideway, it seemed entirely possible that the two left wheels of the truck would drop off the bank and then, as the right wheels continued, the entire vehicle would flip over, dumping us into the river upside-down.
Best of all, all this was unfolding at approximately one mile an hour, giving J. and I plenty of time to recognize and discuss our fate. "Dude," J. said, as I frantically pumped the brake "Dude, we're going to go right into the river." I was too busy pumping, sweating and hyperventilating to reply. Looking out my side window -- my half of the truck was going to go over the edge first -- I could see the river approaching at rapid-yet-leisurely pace. "Maybe we should jump out?" J. proposed.
Suddenly, there was a thud and back half of the truck stopped moving. The front continued, swinging the vehicle around so that it was again perpendicular to the water. The truck slowed and, a few feet from the drop-off, stopped altogether.
Dazed, J. and I slowly climbed out. J. walked around to my side to see what had happened. As it turned out, the very back of the truck had hit, yes, the railroad tie that J. and I had just put it five minutes earlier. The post had been pushed to a 45 degree angle but had remained standing, siphoning off enough of the truck's velocity to prevent it from toppling into the river. It was the only thing on the entire deforested and denuded stretch of riverbank, and I had somehow managed to hit it.
J. looked at the post, looked at me, shook his head and said, "You are one lucky motherfucker."
May 12, 2004
America's Next Couch Potato
I'm going to make a million dollars selling mirrors to idiots and telling them they are ultra-thin flatscreen TVs that only receive reality shows about lazy people.
May 11, 2004
The Race-ists Club
Some of of my of friends banded together to form The Race-ists Club. Every Sunday two of them run a 200 m. foot race to see who will win, and, afterwards, everyone heads to a local pub to celebrate the outcome. Although members aren't technically required to be out-of-shape when they join, they are prohibited from training for their race in any way.
This was the exciting photo finish to last Sunday's match, in which Matt (or, as he's commonly known in Seattle, Drunk Of The Week) squeaked out a victory over Race-ists Club founder Reuben.
May 10, 2004
Odds and Ends
May 07, 2004
Coasting On Good Looks And Charm
The Squirrelly is boring, but I mean that in the best possible way. We seem to have been blessed with Ye Olde Miracle Child, who only fusses with reason, sleeps seven hours a night, and spends his waking hours smiling at everything that comes within four feet of him. If we could get get him to ixnay the excretory functions, he'd be a dream.
He's also hit a lull in his development. Well, technically that's not true -- I guess all sorts of magical things are happening inside that vaguely-too-big head of his, but when friends come over to see the Dancing Monkey Show we have to confess that he hasn't learned a new trick since figuring out how to hold his head up. For the first few weeks it seems like he was doing something new every day, but, according to the development chart, those days are over for a spell. The next big milestones are things like "Remains sitting up (with assistance)," where "with assistance" basically means the parent holds the kid up and pretends like he's reached a milestone. By that standard I should be able to put "Can perform neurosurgery (with assistance)" on my resume.
In fact, all the development stages from 2-7 months are things like "Color vision improves." And while I understand that cognitive development is fairly important step and everything, we're not exactly calling the grandmas and saying, "Guess what the baby did today! He saw magenta!"
Currently, The Squirrelly's main marketable skill is the ability to look as cute as all get-out. Not that I'm complaining -- judging from the development chart, this is the calm before the storm. Starting at seven months it goes from "Crawling" to "Walking" to "Arguing" to "Knows Where To Purchase Ecstasy" with frightening rapidity. I think I'll continue to enjoy the kid while I can still tuck him under one arm.
Speaking of The Squirrelly, I just called up The Queen at home and we had this conversation:
M: How's your day going?Oh, man, I can see the conversation now. "No officer, she never gave me any indication she would do such a thing ..."
The Bad Review Revue
New York Minute: "As agonizing as a sucking chest wound." -- Marrit Ingman, AUSTIN CHRONICLE
Godsend: "Has the sensitivity of a cactus, the ingenuity of a square wheel, and the integrity of a CEO." -- Wesley Morris, BOSTON GLOBE
Laws of Attraction: "This shabby enterprise gets so many things so wrong that it freezes your face into a cringe." -- Joe Morgenstern, WALL STREET JOURNAL
Van Helsing: "Not so much spine-tingling as butt-numbing." -- Michael Sragow, BALTIMORE SUN
Envy: "Black plays an inventor who instills murderous envy in his best friend by making millions off a spray called Vapoorizer. You spray the stuff on dog poo, and the poo just vapoorizes. Later, environmentalists are up in arms. 'Where did the shit go?' they want to know. The answer is painfully obvious: into the screenplay." -- Peter Travers, ROLLING STONE
May 06, 2004
Bully For You
I saw a bumper sticker today that said "I Love My Wife!" It's a noble sentiment, I guess, but it got me wondering about the circumstances under which this guy would buy such a thing. Apparently legally binding himself to another person till death-do-they-part in front of his friends and family wasn't enough, he had to notify public transportation commuters of his commitment as well.
Maybe the driver bought this in lieu of a second honeymoon: "I wanted to take you to Hawaii for our thirtieth anniversary but finances are kinda tight, so how about I put this on our SUV instead?" Or maybe it's the opposite: the guy is having an affair and is trying to craftily throw his wife off the scent. "I know I've gotten home late from work three times this week, Hon, but if you go out in the driveway and look at the back of the Trailblazer, I think you'll be in for a pleasant surprise!"
Movies: Kill Bill Vol. 2
Note: Minor spoilers for Kill Bill Vol. 1 herein. Also, the comments to this post are not spoiler-free, so, like, caveat emptor, and whatever.
Kill Bill is a fantastic movie. I'm not speaking here of Volume 1 or Volume 2, or even the two films watched back-to-back. No, I speak here of the mythical, single-movie Kill Bill that director Quentin Tarantino first set out to make, before it was decided to rive the film into two. I am certain that that movie, despite the fact that it does not and may never exist, is wonderful, with a sum much greater than it's parts.
Not that the parts are bad. Indeed, I loved Kill Bill Vol. 1 in spite of myself. And I'm please to report that Kill Bill Vol. 2 is also quite good. But my enjoyment of the second half was somewhat diminished by my wish that the whole kit and caboodle had been one three-and-a-half hour motion picture.
The problem, to my mind, is one of packaging. In splitting the movie into two they had to make each a self-contained unit, and he did so by putting almost all of the exposition into one movie and almost all of the action into another. Of course, as we all learned in ninth-grade English class, exposition goes at the start of a story, which exactly where Tarantino puts it; But then, having never been a slave to linear chronology, he goes on to put the beginning of the story in the second movie. Here we learn the history of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, the background to the wedding-turned-massacre, and where The Bride learned to kick so much ass. In other words, we learn everything that puts the events of the first film in context.
But, see, here's the thing -- I liked Kill Bill Vol 1. plenty despite the lack of context -- because of it, even. For a revenge fantasy to succeed, all you really need is a wronged hero(ine) and a roster of baddies for the protagonist to work over. And this goes double for a film as action-packed as Volume 1. While I left the theater curious about the backstory, I honestly didn't expect Tarantino to devote two-thirds of the sequel to explication -- especially insofar as The Bride only tacked two of her adversaries in the first film and had three left on her list, leaving me to believe that the second would have even more mayhem than first.
So maybe I'm (again) a victim of false expectations, but I couldn't help but feel that Kill Bill Vol. 2, while a fine film in it's own right, was something of a letdown in comparison to it's predecessor. I entered the theater wondering "how on Earth is Tarantino going to top the epic fight between The Bride and O-Ren?" and only realized 90 minutes in that he wasn't going to try. It's a bit of a bummer of have the climax of a two-film series come before the middle mark.
Curiously, even though much of Vol 2 is spent providing answers, I came away from this film with even more questions than I did after the first one. While O-Ren's biography was exhaustively sketched out, we really don't learn anything about the background of Budd or Elle Driver in this one For every loose end this installment ties up, it merrily unravels two others. By meticulously detailing some aspects of the backstory, the film inadvertently calls attention to those that go completely unexplained. I rather preferred the first film's "comic book mentality," where Uma could wield a samurai sword and will her paralyzed feet to move simply because she could, end of story.
I have no way of knowing for sure, of course, but it seems to me that if the two movies had been merged, the chapters shuffled around a bit, and an hour excised from the whole shebang, Kill Bill would have been a masterpiece. Instead, we got two pretty good movies. Some might argue that two is better than one no matter who you slice it, but, personally, I'll take the former over the latter any day.
May 05, 2004
Rock The Poot
The Queen and I talk politics:
Me: Uhn, I can't believe we hafta go through six more months of this presidential comapign.Leave it to The Queen to distill things to their essence.
For the record, I will enthusiastically endorse any candidate that uses the phrase "fartin' around" in a political ad.
May 04, 2004
The Works & Leah Peah
I will be on the NPR program The Works this evening as John Moe's Blog Correspondent. (Actually, I just made that title up for myself. Feel free to put "NPR Senior Blog Correspondent" on my business cards, John.) The show airs at 8:00 pm on 94.9, KUOW. Update: RealAudio feed now available on this page.
If you heard the show and have come here looking for links to the topics we discussed, here you go:
Tron GuyAlso, I was interviewed by Leah Peah
May 03, 2004
Junkies ... On The Bus! (Another in a series ...)
JotB: The woman at the clinic said she wasn't gonna give me any more methadone. I told her I was totally fine now, that I didn't have the impulsive behavior or violent thoughts anymore, but she still said no. If she was a man I would'a hit her.Later.
JotB1: ... so I told her, "hey, stop trumpeting my intentions."
This was my dream.
I arrived at the start of a 10K race clad in shorts and running shoes, and was surprised to discover that I was the only apparent participant. Even so, the race officials were very eager to get me started. They urged me to get behind the start line and fired the starter's pistol the moment I had done so.
I trotted off all by myself while the spectators cheered me on. I wasn't familiar with the race's route, but occasionally saw crude arrows chalked onto the pavement and followed those. These seemed to be keeping me on course, as there were still throngs spectators around. But as I reached the third mile or so, the people stopped cheering and began to get impatient. "Come on!" they started to yell. "Hurry up!"
Finally I found myself running inside a shopping mall, unable to find any more arrows to guide my way. Just as I became frustrated, I saw a race official and jogged over to him.
"First of all," I asked, "How come no one else showed up for the race."
"Actually, thousands of people are running it," He told me. "But instead of running the race all at the same time, everyone is running it sequentially, in alphabetical order. As a 'Baldwin,' you were the first." (Apparently Pamela Anderson was not participating.) "They are waiting for you to finish so the next guy can start."
"Oh, great!" I cried. "And I don't even know where I'm going. I can't find any more arrows."
The official gestured toward an Old Navy bag that was lying on the ground nearby. I went over, picked it up, and looked inside. It contained hundreds of jigsaw pieces."
"When assembled," the official told me, "the puzzle will show your next destination."
Psychoanalysis we will leave as an exercise for the reader.