Monday, January 25, 2021

A "Charedi" Intifada?

Last night launched what some media outlets are calling "a Charedi Intifada." The videos are absolutely shocking (you can watch them on Yeshiva World News). In Bnei Brak, Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem, certain charedim launched violent riots. They set fires, they vandalized trains, they burned a bus and destroyed it, they even tried pouring cement onto the light rail tracks (which, had they succeeded, would have caused derailment and Heaven knows how much loss of life). 

All this was in response to the police beginning to respond more seriously to violations of Covid restrictions. These take place in parts of the charedi community on a much more serious scale than in the rest of the country, with the official encouragement of their rabbinic leaders. The results have been catastrophic, and so far there has been little enforcement in the charedi community (the charedi community represent 40% of the infections, but have only been receiving 2% of the fines).

To what extent can last night's events legitimately be described as a "charedi intifada"? It must be stated from the outset that not only were most Israeli charedim not involved in last night's events, they were disgusted by them. It is therefore misleading and even defamatory to consider it as representing mainstream charedi society. Likewise, with regard to the infractions of Covid restrictions which launched the police action in the first place, there is a distinct difference between various charedi groups and one cannot issue generalizations. There is a certain part of the charedi world (such as most chassidic sects and the Peleg Litvishe sect) who oppose any attempts to change their way of life, and there are plenty of other charedim who want to end the pandemic and are taking the necessary precautions.

Still, it is also not accurate when people claim that last night's riots are just the work of teenage hoodlums who are not at all representative or symptomatic of the charedi world. This takes us back to the same issues that we have discussed previously, regarding such phenomena as the violence in my home town of Beit Shemesh, the appalling near-lynch of a formerly charedi soldier in Mea She'arim, and last year's Charedi Day Of Rage.

There is a continuous spectrum of lack of loyalty to the State which exists throughout the charedi world. Furthermore, while the people at each level do not agree with the level of hostility coming from people to their right, there is near-constant refusal to condemn it. And even people who are horrified by the violence nonetheless produce inflamed rhetoric which creates an atmosphere that allows it and contributes to it.

Each of these groups does not approve of the actions of those on their right. But, with rare exceptions, they will never condemn them. Sometimes this is because they are afraid of not appearing frum/ right wing enough, and sometimes it is because they see it as more important not to break ranks with other charedim than to condemn violence.

As long as matters are this way, non-charedim are correct to consider events such as the attempted lynch in Mea Shearim as a charedi problem. The problem is not the attackers, per se; it is that the attackers are part of a larger community which exudes hostility and ingratitude to the IDF and its advocates at every level and which almost never condemns verbal and physical violence from the right. 

Now, last night's riots are different from cases such as the Mea Shearim lynch and the Beit Shemesh violence, where the rest of the charedi community showed little interest in denouncing it. In the current case, there are many voices in the charedi community denouncing both the neglect of Covid restrictions and the riots against the enforcement of them. 

Still, there is not the same level of mainstream charedi condemnation as there has been against other things. And the mayor of Bnei Brak, together with other chareidi rabbinic leaders, are being just as vocal in their condemnation of the police as they are regarding the rioters. (Yes, the Israel police can be brutal, but the reason why they need to take action is that the charedi leadership doesn't care enough about Covid precautions.) 

Furthermore, while some prominent charedi leaders are condemning the violence, there has not been anywhere near sufficient condemnation of the neglect of Covid precautions which led to the police actions in the first place. The "House of Kanievsky" may make public proclamations about observing precautions, but on the quiet they ignore them and give permission to principals to open their schools. And it is the mainstream charedi politicians who are working to stop the government raising fines for Covid infractions.

But there is another reason why to completely disavow any charedi aspect of last night's "Intifada" is incorrect. As with the Mea Shearim events, the people that rioted last night do not exist in a vacuum. They are the naturally-resulting extreme fringe of a society which cares little about its responsibilities to wider society, about obedience to civil law, and which almost never condemns civil crimes, verbal and physical violence from the right.

And there's another factor, too. When you try to force an entire society into a mold which is unsuitable for many, many youths, with no option of military service and no outlet for leisure and physical activities, the inevitable result is that some of them will find inappropriate outlets for their energy.

You reap what you sow.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Indicator

How can you tell if your political views are all well-founded, or if you are subject to hyper-partisanship, enormous Confirmation Bias, and tribalism? Well, if you're Jewish, a new test just arrived!

The following meme is being shared by a number of people in the Jewish community:

Now, these things might be quibbled by Democrats, but can certainly be pointed to by Jewish Republicans as good reasons to be opposed to Biden and yearn for the days of Trump. But there's one item in this list that most certainly does not belong. Did you notice it?

It's the third item, invading Syria. This is something that Jews are against?! While Trump did many things that are good for Israel (at least from a right-wing perspective) - defending Israel at the UN, moving the embassy and thereby exposing the sham that it would "blow up the Middle East," taking action against Iran, encouraging the Abraham Accords - one significant action that was absolutely terrible for Israel was Trump's withdrawal from Syria. It weakened Israel along with its allies, and massively strengthened its enemies. If Biden were to be reversing this decision by Trump, it would be something to tremendously welcome!

As it happens, unfortunately it does not appear to be true that Biden "invaded Syria." All that occurred was that a large US military convoy entered to provide some support for the Kurds, which routinely happens. Unfortunately, we probably cannot expect Biden to reverse this terribly harmful act by Trump - he is unlikely to pursue policies in the Middle East that are beneficial for Israel.

So, for anyone who values Israel's security, appreciating this meme (and sharing it without any disclaimer) just shows that they are so consumed by their tribalist, hyper-partisan love of Trump and hatred of Biden, that they can't even recognize when Trump did something bad for their own side and won't acknowledge even good things that Biden does. It should serve as a wake-up call. Will it?

UPDATE: Judging from the initial comments on the post, the answer is no! All that happens is that they make a 180 degree turn from the position that they took during the Obama years, when they protested that Obama was not invading Syria quickly enough, and they are now either happy to say that the entirety of Israel's defense establishment was wrong in being upset about Trump's withdrawal, or that they no longer desire America to send troops to do things in Israel's interests. The most important thing is to never, ever acknowledge any shortcoming with Trump or praise Biden for anything at all. Surprise!


See too this post: Know Your Brain

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Friday, January 22, 2021

Scientific Ignorance or Anti-Influence?

This morning I had decided to write a post modifying some of what I wrote two days ago in my post "So, Why DO Chassidim Disregard Covid?" One person had pointed out the following salient points:

You didn't mention that chasidim are primed and prepared for accepting misinformation such as "anti-mask science" and the idea that covid regulations are specifically targeting religious groups. Magical thinking, conspiratorial thinking, scapegoating, blamelessness--these are woven in to the fabric of the stories and teachings that form these cultures.

In addition, I was speaking to a cousin who in turn has cousins in deep Israel chassidic society, who are suffering greatly through countless levayos, and shiva visits that bring on even more levayos. It seems that they are in such an utterly pre-modern society that they genuinely do not see any connection between ignoring precautions and contracting Covid.

On the other hand, from the Litvishe side of things, a disturbing comment came in that further confirmed the thrust of my post:

I am an Avreich who learns in a big Charedi Yeshivah in Yerushalayim. I was diagnosed with Corona this week and am currently in Bidud. The Yeshivah I belong to continued throughout this current lockdown as if usual, with busloads of Avreichim coming in everyday and no efforts as social distancing enforced or encouraged in the Yeshivah. At the moment there are very few Avreichim who have not contracted Covid over the past couple of months - I was one of the last, meaning that there is very little incentive for the Yeshivah to close anyways even if they wanted to. I was very reluctant to go into the Yeshivah last week due to the situation and the lockdown, however the fact that my Chavrusas and Chaburah were functioning as normal meant that I felt like I was missing out and bucking the trend to stay at home when everyone else was continuing as usual. In retrospect the situation is crazy and almost unbelievable, in the Yeshiva Covid is non-existent asides from the odd missing Avreich who is recovering from Covid and the signs on displayed on the notice boards asking us to daven. I am embarrassed and ashamed to be even considered part of such an institution and I wish I had the courage to stay home and buck the trend. Indeed, I can testify that everything written in this article (my Yeshivah is in Meah Shearim) is 100% true
I have thought long and hard as to the rationale and justification behind ignoring Covid - and whilst on the surface the people around me justify it because of the price of Torah learning that clearly isn't the real reasoning, or at least for 99% of the community, rather I also came to the same conclusion along the lines of Rabbi Slifkin that it is a general attitude of ignoring all attempts to influence their way of life. The insular Charedi community has morphed into a crazy and sick almost idol-worshipping habitat which values insularity over anything else. It will cling on to its way of life all the stronger if threatened by something like Covid - what drives them is not the desire to do G-d's Will but rather the desire to push back against any attempts to influence their way of life - that is idol worship. Whilst on an individual basis I value the community greatly there is so much good and the insularity is fantastic in building a true Torah lifestyle. However, on a community level it has led to these types of terrible atrocities and Chillul Hashem.

The Jerusalem Post editorial that he links to, Haredi autonomy needs to stop so Israel can beat COVID-19, is a must-read.

I must add that there are undoubtedly many people in charedi society who are just as upset about all this as is this avreich. The question is whether they are a small minority, a significant minority, or even a silent majority.

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Thursday, January 21, 2021

Flawed Leaders and their Devoted Followers

Many readers have written to me over the years to express their appreciation for my posts about how certain people blindly follow those that they revere as Gedolim, failing to see the flaws in their leadership, no matter what the consequences. These readers see it as being very important to try to dissuade people adhering to a tribalist, cult-like mentality in which they refuse to be open to the possibility that their leaders could be flawed and that their chosen ideological movement might have its problems, and in which dissidents are persecuted as heretics. 

The strange thing is that some of these readers seem completely unaware that this is also true of them.

Last week, I criticized Trump's role in causing the Capitol riot and the harm to US democracy. It's not so much due to any particular sentence that he said at the rally; rather, it's the cumulative effect of months of riling up his devotees that the election would be, and was, "rigged" and "stolen" by terrible people who want to destroy America, and that they must do something about it (and all because he's simply incapable of ever acknowledging that he could lose at something). Uttering a few sentences about how "we will peacefully protest" are rather beside the point. It's like standing in a crowded theater and screaming "A deadly fire has broken out! It will kill us all if we don't get out in time! Will everyone please proceed calmly to the exit!"

In response, some readers went apoplectic. "He didn't do anything wrong!" "It was Antifa!" "But BLM!" "But the Democrats!" Some went even further, accusing me of being an ingrate for all the good that Trump has done (which is a very strange charge; Jewish tradition has always maintained that even great people can do wrong and are called out for it). And some issued the ultimate disqualification: "You're a leftist!"

The last criticism is particularly fascinating. I'm not American, but I know of many, many Americans who are right-wing Republicans, who voted for Trump and even campaigned for him and in some cases were even hired by him, yet who are nevertheless highly critical of him for his role in the Capitol riot. We're talking about people such as White House Director of Communication Alyssa Farah and Nikki Haley. It's just absurd to condemn anyone criticizing Trump for this as being a "leftist."

But I guess it's like those who condemn people disobeying the rulings of charedi Gedolim as being heretics. When you're single-minded in your devotion to a person or a cause, you can't be open to any criticism at all, no matter how legitimate. The strange thing is how some people can recognize this problem in others, but not in themselves.

Here's a way to figure out whether you suffer from this problem. Do you get outraged when people criticize your leader? Do you attempt to utterly disqualify those who issue criticisms? Are you able to acknowledge the problems with your chosen "team" and the strengths of the opposition?

I've lost some supporters and donors due to these types of posts. But my mission involves encouraging people to be a little more open-minded, to be nuanced thinkers, to avoid black-and-white conceptions. I might be naive, but I hope that people can recognize where how they might need to grow in this area.

Coming soon: A very special announcement! If you'd like to subscribe to this blog via email, use the form on the right of the page, or send me an email and I will add you.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

So, Why DO Chassidim Disregard Covid?

In the previous two posts, I critiqued the massive crowded indoor maskless Bobov wedding. This is just one example of how Chassidim (and, to a more limited extent, many Litvishe charedim), utterly disregard Covid precautions. The consequences of this are sickness and death, not to mention economic hardship and backlash against their own communities. Given all this, there is an obvious question to be asked (yet which not enough people did ask): Why do they do it?

As I've stressed many times in this forum, people can be mistaken and wrong, but they are not generally crazy or evil. If large numbers of people are acting in a certain way, there must be an explanation for it. And it's important to know what that is, for several reasons. One is precisely to avoid seeing large numbers of people as evil. The second is that it's very difficult to change people's behavior, and easy to waste time on futile strategies, if you have no idea why they do what they do. I'm not going to engage in apologetics, but rather a sincere effort to understand and explain this very disturbing phenomenon.

Let me begin by rejecting some mistaken explanations for why chassidim and some charedim disregard Covid. It has virtually nothing to do with a belief that Torah and prayer and mitzvos protect them from it. That may be true for a rare individual like Rav Chaim Kanievsky, but not for the average person. People just don't really believe that and it's not what drives their behavior. They are also well aware of the many righteous Torah scholars who have died from Covid.

I've heard it claimed that as a community which is largely ignorant of (and dismissive towards) modern science, the chassidim just don't see any connection between their disregard of all health precautions and the Covid infections that they suffer. I find this difficult to accept. They do understand the concept of infection. They also generally have a high regard for doctors. Still, there is truth to the observation that the chassidic (and to some extent general charedi) community has not internalized the modern concern for general health, preventative medicine and safety precautions. But that's not the main explanation here.

It seems to me, and others that I've discussed it with, that there is another set of factors at work here. First of all, one must bear in mind that, just like with the modern phenomenon of mass kollel, it's not as though there was a planned strategy of how to respond to Covid. There was no council of chassidic rabbis and organizers debating what their community response should be. Rather, it occurred organically. 

Covid is a contagion. Aside from vaccines, which only recently arrived and are a whole separate discussion, the main way to fight it is to avoid large indoor gatherings. Now, large indoor gatherings are fundamental to charedi and especially chassidic communities to a degree that the rest of us cannot even begin to grasp. The yeshivos and the shuls are the primary focus of people's lives, and keep them in the safety of religious frameworks and away from the threats of internet and so on. Enormous weddings are a modern phenomenon, but they have taken on tremendous importance in chassidic communities. (And in a community where people have large families in crowded apartments without Netflix, keeping children in cheder and yeshiva is not just an educational priority, it's what stands in the way of insanity!)

So the strategies for fighting Covid would exact an enormous toll on the charedi way of life. And if there's one thing that charedim are good at - much better than Modern Orthodox and Dati-Leumi Jews - it's identifying threats to their way of life. To put it another way, someone reported the following statement by a charedi person: "If we need to stop being Chareidim to beat Corona, what are we fighting the disease for?" No, fighting Covid doesn't really force them to stop being charedi, but it causes enough of a challenge that it's understandable that they see it that way.

But there's more. For charedim in general and chassidim in particular, identifying and fighting against threats to their way of life forms a major part of their identity. As I described in my monographs on the Novelty of Orthodoxy and the Making Of Charedim, reacting against the modern world is the driving force in their society. They'll do it even when there is no particular innate reason, because of the benefits that Fighting In The Resistance brings to reinforcing their identity. As a charedi leader in Israel once said, "If the government tells us to learn Bava Kama, we'll learn Bava Metzia!" 

And so when a pandemic hits, the choices facing chassidim are as follows. They can cause tremendous harm to their way of life. Or, they can once again be heroes who are fighting against the goyim that are trying (for whatever reason) to cause tremendous harm to Yiddishkeit. It's a no-brainer.

What about the sickness and death that they suffer as a result - to a far greater degree than non-charedim? Well, they see that as an unfortunate but worthwhile price to pay, just as every society is willing to sacrifice lives for its greater values, whether wars or fast transportation. Besides, while attending funerals isn't fun, it gives an opportunity to cry about Divine punishments for bittul Torah and pritzus and Hashem's inscrutable ways, all of which further strengthen their identity. Getting into a fight with non-charedim and non-Jews about what they are doing further feeds in to their life's meaning. And they certainly don't care about the harm that they cause beyond their community.

That's why even something as simple and seemingly religiously harmless as wearing masks is a problem for many (though certainly not all) chassidim. There's a War to Save Yiddishkeit. You don't concede anything to the other side. You davka maintain your way of life in every way against attempts to change it.

So, what can be done about such a situation? Unfortunately, just like with the much more serious problem of charedim avoiding secular education and joining the professional workforce, not much. Dramatic and enforced legislation is very difficult to pull off when dealing with hundreds of thousands of people. And since they are a large voter bloc with simple demands, there's a big incentive for politicians to play along (which is why Bibi always wants charedim in his coalition).

Short-term solutions are difficult. In the long term, the only thing that can work is encouraging a societal change in which they learn that not everything and everyone in the outside world is to be shunned and feared. That's something which, when I'm not writing this blog, I put a lot of effort into.

Coming soon: A very special announcement! If you'd like to subscribe to this blog via email, use the form on the right of the page, or send me an email and I will add you.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Chassidic Wedding Murders

What a wedding!

Yes, the enormous Bobov murder wedding took place last night in New York - the one that they pretended would not be taking place. They managed to conceal the illegal event from the police. Hooray!

Many thousands of guests were present, including people from Israel and London. While other people all around the world are limiting their events and mourning their losses, there was no indication at this wedding that anything is wrong in the world. Everyone was singing and dancing, and, of course, nobody was wearing masks; after all, masks are for goyim. These are holy people, who won't eat fish together with meat due to the danger, and won't hold weddings during Sefiras Ha'Omer because of a plague thousands of years ago!

With the festivities over, the guests will be returning to their homes around the world, presumably not quarantining (since laws are for goyim), and spreading all the Covid variants that they picked up at the wedding. This in turn will spread sickness, death, and economic hardship. Ah, what a zechus!

A number of people complained about my previous post, in which I protested this event. Some said that I shouldn't be criticizing the chassidim when there are so many others who flout the restrictions. There are several important responses to be made to this.

First is that, as I wrote yesterday but they apparently ignored, the wedding was many orders of magnitude more dangerous than all the other restriction-flouting activities. The cumulative effect of crowding thousands of people, including guests from abroad, indoors, maskless, while singing, is vastly more dangerous than anything else. Other events may or may not transfer the virus; this event is guaranteed to.

Second is that other situations of rule-flouting are done by individuals making decisions out of personal desire. This, on the other hand, was a community event, directed by community rabbinic leaders. They formally arranged this lethal, illegal event, along with the lies to cover it up. The only people who can't see a world of difference between the two are the sort of extreme tribalists who likewise can't (or won't) see a difference between random hoodlums looting during a BLM protest and a president inciting an insurrection.

Another type of counter-claim was that the chassidim are all immune anyway, since they've been crowding together all year and they've all already had Covid. But this is simply not true. Not every Bobover chassid has had Covid - yet every chassid felt pressured to come. And the new strains of Covid are much more contagious and could infect even those who had the original strain many months ago (which is exactly what happened in Stamford Hill, London, where the chassidic community believed themselves to have formed herd immunity, and then recently suffered many casualties). And the presence of international guests means that the new strains of Covid get spread to different countries and communities. Furthermore, the statistics from Israel are very clear: the sickness and mortality rate in the charedi communities is many times higher than in the rest of the country (in comparable age groups). Finally, it's just absurd to justify such a decision being made without the input of medical professionals. And it doesn't address the chillul Hashem aspect, nor the illegality and lying involved.

There are those who object to others making a fuss about what chassidim do. Dudi Zilbershlag, a prominent chassidic media personality in Israel, said that everyone should keep the rules, but nobody should make a fuss about others who break them. This is an exceptionally strange argument. Without even getting onto the notion of Kol Yisrael areivim zeh lazeh, there is simple self-interest involved. This is not 19th century Europe; the chassidim do not live in a bubble. Most of us have been very severely affected by the pandemic, in one way or another. Of course we are upset and angry when a major chassidic sect defiantly holds a super-spreader event which will have enormous ramifications on our own lives!

Astonishingly, one person wrote to me that by bringing attention to such a wedding, I am inciting antisemitism and strengthening myths about Jews spreading plague. As I replied to him, if he's concerned about inciting antisemitism, he should be trying to stop Jews spreading plague at weddings, not the people trying to prevent such crimes.

Some felt that "murder" was too strong a term. I've stated my opposition to referring to anti-vaxxers as murderers. But in this case, where death is a very likely result of such an event, I believe that it is an appropriate term. And I'm not the only person to feel that way - there are prominent people in the charedi world saying the same. Avi Mimron, lead broadcaster on the Bnei Brak radio station Kol Chai, just gave a fiery tirade about how charedim who disregard the risks are "murderers who should flee to Arei Miklat." Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, the famous charedi former anti-Zionist militant turned national hero, recently suffered the loss of his mother to Covid. In a blistering condemnation of certain elements of the charedi rabbinic leadership, he referred to them as being guilty of bloodshed.

Bobov are not the only chassid sects holding crowded weddings. Another one took place in Bnei Brak this week. Here's a riddle: What do you call an Israeli policeman who tries to save lives by breaking up a dangerous crowded Chassidic wedding? Answer: A Nazi!

So, bottom line, what do we do about all the communities which simply couldn't care less about how their actions perpetuate the pandemic? Especially since, from their perspective, they are being moser nefesh to defend their precious, fragile way of life from threats by the virus and by the goyim. I'm not sure what the answer is, but I suspect that, as usual, the only direct path to influence is via the money.


In the next post, I shall address a very important and obvious question about this event that hardly anyone is asking. If you'd like to subscribe to this blog via email, use the form on the right of the page, or send me an email and I will add you.


Monday, January 18, 2021

Mazeltov! Murder Tonight.

Over the months since the lethal pandemic started, it's been studied intensively. There's still a lot that we don't know, or which is disputed. And the laws and regulations don't always reflect the scientific reality. (Not to mention that it's difficult to respect them when they are selectively enforced, or when important political figures flout them.)

But one thing has been well established: the major factor in transmission is airflow. Airflow itself in turn depends on various factors. The biggest factor by far is whether one is indoors or outdoors. Another factor is what people are doing; when people speak or sing loudly, they produce dramatically larger numbers of micron-sized particles compared to when they use a normal voice - even more than during coughing. 

So, going to the beach involves very little risk. At the other end of the spectrum, having masses of people crowded into a building, singing at the tops of their voices, is not just illegal; it's about the most dangerous thing you can do.

And that's exactly what Bobov is doing tonight.

It's the wedding of the Rebbe's youngest son. Mazeltov! A tremendous simcha for the chassidim of Bobov. And so they've been gathering from all over the world for this momentous occasion. 

As the original report details, arranging this wedding has presented an enormous logistical challenge. After all, there is a lethal global pandemic, and in the US it's illegal to hold such an event. But, nothing less than the best will do for such a momentous occasion! So, they spent a lot of effort finding a venue where they can crowd all the thousands of guests, without the authorities finding out. The location is being guarded as a tight secret until just before the wedding. And all the chassidim have been warned "a thousand times" not to take any photos during the event, so as not to get Bobov in trouble.

An article posted online this morning spelled all this out in great detail. Since I first put this post out a few hours ago, it's been changed. It now claims that the wedding will be very small and all the thousands of chassidim will be celebrating at home! But the original is available in a cached version, and I took a screenshot to display here. 

Now, it is true that every society takes risks for things that it deems extremely important. Global society allows car travel at speeds over thirty miles per hour. Religious Zionist society encourages people to live in somewhat dangerous places. And the wedding of the Rebbe's youngest son is extremely important to Bobov.

On the other hand, this is not a tiny risk. Such an event will certainly result in mass Covid-19 transmission and very likely in death. Furthermore, by gathering chassidim from all over the world, it's going to spread all the different strains of Covid. (Bear in mindtoo that this is not a bunch of disconnected people making personal decisions - this is a centrally-planned event, approved by the Rebbe himself.) And if you've created a society where mass transmission of a deadly virus and the near-certain loss of life, not to mention breaking the law in a major way and causing immense chillul Hashem and damage to all religious Jewry, is all justified by celebrating a wedding, then, well, maybe your society has its priorities all wrong.

Of course, the usual readers of this website are not going to be attending the wedding. But they already changed the news report as a result of my post going out, so maybe they will realize that the cat is out of the bag and they need to cancel it. And maybe we should think about this event when we support various sects of Chassidus.

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A "Charedi" Intifada?

Last night launched what some media outlets are calling " a Charedi Intifada ." The videos are absolutely shocking (you can watch ...