Sunday, November 30, 2008

Travel Blogging III

Dateline: At Sea off Africa. This is my first chance to add to the travel blog since Rome. We were late boarding the ship as she was late into port, having hit some very rough seas the night before. How rough? She sustained some minor damage, broken windows and the like. I guess many passengers were scared.

First day out we moored in Livorno and motored to Pisa. Pisa was neat, small in area and very atmospheric. Normal pix of the leaning tower don’t show that it is, in fact, the detached bell tower of a large church or basilica. The church leans some but the tower leans plenty. At the other end of the basilica is a separate building called the baptistery, which is a perfect wedding cake of a building, circular, heavily decorated, and topped with a dome. Everybody comments that the Italian countryside looks like California. Yes, but it is wetter than CA.

Second day out we were supposed to moor at Cannes and motor to Monaco. Cannes didn’t happen – a combination of rough seas and winds from Africa made it infeasible to tender passengers ashore so we skipped Cannes and sailed slowly toward our next port: Barcelona. It was a shame to miss the Riviera.

Barcelona is a charmer, a clean city without super tall buildings and with the oddest cathedral you will likely ever see, the Gaudi. The Gaudi is gaudy, no doubt about it. It resembles what you’d get if you crossed a gothic cathedral with the Watts Towers in Los Angeles. Way weird. It is still under construction, I might live long enough to see it completed. The rest of the city has charm, and we saw it on a lovely day, which helps. There is other odd architecture in Barcelona, must be something in the water.

Next day we spent at sea, cruising the coast of Spain, and the following day we came to Gibraltar. For a guy who spent his youth reading World War II history, and his adulthood reading sea yarns like the stories of Hornblower, Bolitho, and Jack Aubrey, visiting Gibraltar was a hoot. We took a tour of the World War II tunnel complex and it was amazing. Canadian mining engineers dug 30+ miles of tunnels in The Rock, and people lived, worked, and played in the tunnels. I had no idea that the limestone of the rock is so porous that after a rain outside it rains inside. We were told to take our umbrellas and it was a good thing. Gibraltar has, for most of its history, been a fortress, pure and simple. It is that no longer, now it is a British outpost that is booming, building going on in many places. All this irks Spain, which has never renounced its claim to Gibraltar.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Travel Blogging II

Dateline Rome: One thing the flight just finished proved for sure, business class is a vast improvement over coach or "cattle car." We were on a brand new United 747 and it was very nice.

We had a choice of maybe 30 different recent films from which to select and each was individually available upon demand at whatever moment the chooser wanted to see it. I viewed four films in the 9 hour crossing, Dark Knight, Wanted, Kung Fu Panda, and Get Smart. All were fun, in different ways but the upshot was that I didn't get any sleep.

Now I'm sleepy. The 10 hour time differential between the left coast and Rome is tough to adjust to, it is almost like night becomes day and vice versa.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Travel Blogging I

We are doing this set of flights on Business Class, courtesy of frequent flyer miles upgrade. It is particularly nice to use the Red Carpet lounge to kill time between flights, much more civilized.

We actually have a blue sky day in San Francisco, quite rare except at this time of year. Next stop - Frankfurt - followed by Rome, or Roma for purists.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Travel Blogging Alert

The DrsC will be traveling for the next 3+ weeks. I'm not certain what the opportunities will be for travel blogging, I will if I'm able. Some of the places we'll be are probably off the grid. Before it begins there is the hateful daylong flight to reach our start point, those are getting really old. More later....

Two Out of Three Isn't Bad

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is thought to be one of the GOP's rising stars. In this article, coming out of an appearance on CBS News' Face the Nation, Jindal offers his Rx for the party in three points:
Number one, we have got to stop defending the kind of ... out-of-control spending that we would never tolerate in the other side.
He got that point right. His second point:
Number two, we've got to stop defending the kinds of corruption we would rightfully criticize in the other party.
That is two right out of three, he is on a roll. And his third point:
Number three, we have got to be the party that offers real solutions to the problems that American voters ... are worried about. We don't need to abandon our conservative principles; we can't just be the 'party of no.'
I am less sure Jindal is right on this one. Republicans are the "daddy" party and good daddies have to say "no" with some frequency. It isn't always popular when they say it, but it needs saying nonetheless. If the voters sometimes prefer mommy to daddy, we shouldn't be surprised or alarmed.

The G.M. Problem

We dealt with the General Motors dilemma in this space on Thursday, with an entry entitled "No Life Support Please." I believe we made a reasonable argument for letting G.M. go.

Now here is an article from The Wall Street Journal that makes a much more comprehensive argument for passing G.M. through Chapter 11 bankruptcy than we did. You owe it to yourself to go read Michael E. Levine's article.

I'm not certain a Democratic President and Democratic Congress can be mean to their allies in the U.A.W. and the rest of the union movement.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Fear and Loathing in Mexico

See this New York Times article on the level of violence in Mexico, and the widespread use of bodyguards by the rich and famous. It would appear that private security is a real growth sector of the Mexican economy.

One is reminded of the 2004 Denzel Washington/Dakota Fanning film Man on Fire, which depicts this milieu with some precision. It is a good flick, by the way, worth renting but not cheerful.

Our southern neighbor, Mexico, isn't doing well.

Quote of the Day

Karl Rove, in an interview with Deborah Solomon in The New York Times Magazine. Asked if he liked vice president-elect Joe Biden, Rove replied:
I think he has an odd combination of longevity and long-windedness that passes for wisdom in Washington.
It is a great, short interview. Rove was barely civil most of the time if Solomon transcribed it accurately. At that, it was more gracious than the Times deserves.

Obama I = Clinton III

All the old Clintonistas are heading for jobs in the Obama administration. This BBC article has the details. Is this the change Obama promised? So much for Obama's "new politics."

It represents "change" in the sense that it is going from the Bush era back to the Clinton era. This move should be no surprise. Each time the administration changes from one party to the other, you see experienced people from the last time the party held power getting jobs in the new one. It is how Washington works.

A third "Clinton" term may even reassure many people who voted for Hillary and who remember the Bill Clinton years with fondness. I suspect they will be disappointed.

Bill was luckier than he deserved; the country was enjoying a "vacation from history." These times are unlike those, the vacation is long over.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Lessons of 2008, Part II

In this CNN article, South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint (R) is quoted giving the most succinct list of McCain's policy shortcomings I've seen. Here it is:
McCain, who is proponent (sic) of campaign finance reform that weakened party organizations and basically put George Soros in the driver's seat. His proposal for amnesty for illegals. His support of global warming, cap-and-trade programs that will put another burden on our economy. And of course, his embrace of the bailout right before the election was probably the nail in our coffin this last election. And he has been an opponent of drilling in ANWR, at a time when energy is so important. It really didn't fit the label, but he was our package.

No wonder Republican turnout wasn't what it had been four years earlier. Let us commit ourselves to make a truly Republican choice in 2012.

Closing Gitmo

Our president-elect says he intends to close the detention center for jihadis at Guantanamo Bay. Well-intentioned actions like closing Gitmo often lead to unintended consequences.

What to do with the nogoodniks held there is an interesting question. If trying them in civilian courts is the answer, most are likely to be set free because the combat forces who apprehended them were not police collecting evidence to support convictions, preserving chains of custody, etc.

If the jihadis are let go, a very clear unintended message will be heard by our combat forces in Afghanistan: don't take prisoners. I don't suppose Obama's intent in closing Gitmo is to make the war on terror more bloody, but that is likely to be the outcome.

Perhaps we could declare the internees to be prisoners of war? Prisoners of war are not tried in courts, they are held until the war ends. This has been wisely called "the long war." If this war doesn't end in their lifetime, then they will die of old age in captivity.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

No Life Support, Please

General Motors and Ford are in trouble, and seek a government bailout. Bailouts are generally a mistake, and I believe would be one in this case. These companies are poorly managed, subject to bullying by the UAW, and seemingly unable to make fuel efficient cars of high quality at reasonable prices. And in terms of new product development, they are whatever the opposite of "agile" is: the terms slow, clumsy, and ponderous come to mind.

Good friends recently took two auto plant tours while doing a cross-country RV trip. They visited a GM plant and a Toyota plant and said the differences were night and day. The Toyota plant was, they said, clean and modern and robots were doing a lot of the work. They reported the GM plant was old, dirty, and most of the work was being done by (highly paid) unhappy-looking people.

A bailout would reward failure at these firms, and that isn't a good idea. It is possible that spending a year in Chapter 11 bankruptcy would give them the opportunity to dump their UAW contracts, close their oldest and least efficient plants, and rationalize their international production. Then again, they may be beyond help.

The Lessons of 2008

An interesting article from The Wall Street Journal, by Jennifer Marsico, argues that the election has not realigned the country politically. I find the following quote most intriguing:
Mr. Obama got about 40,000 fewer votes in Ohio than John Kerry got four years ago. Mr. Obama carried the state when Mr. Kerry did not because Republicans stayed home. (emphasis added)
If that isn't an indictment of the McCain campaign 'organization,' I don't know what it is. Pretty clearly Karl Rove ran a much better "ground game" of get-out-the-vote for Bush 43. Here is a USNews blog entry by Michael Barone that makes the same point.

Marsico's article is also an argument for running a Reaganite Republican as the party's nominee. In 2008 we ran a RINO maverick with good commander-in-chief credentials and not much else.

We need a nominee with whom Republican voters can identify. We should include in our candidates' oath the precept "first, lose none of the base." If he or she can also attract some independent voters, that is of course a plus.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Was Bush 43 Conservative?

Jonah Goldberg raises some interesting questions in a column for RealClearPolitics. He summarizes his issue thus:
Was George W. Bush a conservative president? Does back-to-basics mean breaking with the precedents of the last eight years or building on them?

Goldberg then goes through a series of "on the one hand" and "on the other hand" looks at the 8 years of the Bush presidency. He tries to be evenhanded in his retrospective but it doesn't work for me. Bush did too many things that were RINO.

My conclusion: Bush 43 was a not-conservative president who nevertheless did some conservative things. In this he was like Clinton who was also a not-conservative president who nevertheless did some conservative things. And I'm afraid John McCain was a not-conservative candidate who took some conservative stands.

I don't want my party to be Democrat-lite. We already have a "mommy" party, it is the Democrats. We need the Republicans to be the "daddy" party, not the "metrosexual" or androgyny party.

In 4 or 8 years there will be a reasonable chance to elect a president. I want the GOP to nominate an attractive candidate who runs on a Reaganite platform of "limited government, low taxes and strong defense." Being the "daddy" party doesn't prevent the nomination of a woman candidate in the Margaret Thatcher mold.

Perhaps David Brooks, et al. are correct that Reaganism won't sell any longer. I hope they are wrong; we won't know unless we try.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Trouble in Mexico

See this article in the National Post of Canada which describes a apparent assassination of the Interior Secretary of Mexico, as well as other key drug enforcement officials. They were passengers in a Lear jet that crashed without warning into a Mexico City rush hour.

The Interior Secretary is described as "the second-highest official in the Mexican government." The author believes, with good reason, that the drug cartel situation in Mexico is reaching a critical stage. In the U.S. we were so obsessed with presidential politics that the story got little coverage.

The same news cycle brought this Associated Press story of over-the-top bloodshed and murder in Ciudad Juarez, a border town. Once again the perpetrators were thought to be drug cartel enforcers. Stories like this one have become so common as to be taken for granted in the U.S.

The U.S. should take the drug lord situation in Mexico more seriously. Think of it this way: suppose the owners of the house next door to yours turned it into a crack house. Would you shrug it off? Conclude it was their affair and none of your business? Ignore the occasional bullet that came your way?

Mexico is our next door neighbor, what happens there affects our neighborhood. That makes it, to some degree, our business too.

Monday, November 10, 2008

2008 a Cold Year

This chart from the National Climatic Data Center of NOAA shows that most of the lower 48 states experienced "below normal" or "much below normal" temperatures in the first ten months of 2008.

What a strange way for global warming to manifest itself. Al Gore could not be reached for comment.

CA Dreamin'

My native state of California did some interesting ballot splitting in the election just concluded. As noted on the Secretary of State's General Election Results website, California voters went for Obama by more than a 6 to 4 ratio, actually 61% to 37.3%. Both parties felt so sure CA would vote Democratic that neither bothered to campaign there for president.

Superficially, those results would lead you to believe that Californians are reliably liberal. If they are so liberal, then it is difficult to explain why a majority (52.3% to 47.7%) of those same California voters supported a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to relationships between one woman and one man. That is a socially conservative vote for Prop. 8.

Let us suppose, for purposes of argument, that every one of the 4.1 million Californians who voted for McCain also voted for Prop. 8. That means that at least 1.6 million Obama voters voted against gay marriage. Fascinating. One has to wonder who these individuals are, probably some combination of Hispanics, African-American evangelicals, and blue collar white voters. The interplay of demographics and voting is endlessly interesting.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Quote of the Day

"Instapundit" Glenn Reynolds, writing at and reprinted in The Wall Street Journal Notable & Quotable feature:

Once someone is duly and legally elected president, you do owe some respect to the office and the Constitution. And to your fellow Americans.

I'm not an Obama fan, particularly, but a lot of people I like and respect are. To treat Obama as something evil or subhuman would not only be disrespectful toward Obama, but toward them. Instead, I hope that if Obama is elected, their assessment of his strengths will turn out to be right, and mine will turn out to be wrong.

Well said, Glenn. You speak for me as well. Obama has been elected and I hope he does well for all our sakes.

Socialism = Lawful Plunder

Mary Anastasia O'Grady writes a column on Latin America for The Wall Street Journal. Her column this week is entitled "Argentina Impoverishes Itself Again."

This blog has noted the puzzle of Argentina's poverty before; how a nation with wonderful natural resources, an educated population, benign climate, and varied terrain that should be rich is in fact poor. We've blamed Peronism - Argentine socialism.

O'Grady is worth quoting at some length:

Argentina is a constitutional republic with many historical similarities to the U.S. It has a rich immigrant heritage and an abundance of natural resources. But the U.S. is a rich, advanced country and Argentina is poor.

How did the breadbasket of South America fall so far behind? One explanation goes back some 90 years, when the Argentine Supreme Court began chipping away at property rights as a way of addressing economic inequality. Argentine politicians quickly learned that lawful plunder was their path to power.

Juan Peron and wife Evita accelerated the socialist thrust in Argentina, and gave it their name. The moral of the Argentinian story is this: socialism is not a way to share the wealth, it is a way to share the poverty.

Today, everybody in Argentina wants to share the wealth earned by others, nobody much wants to earn any wealth that they then will have to share with others. Argentina still awaits its Margaret Thatcher; a politician who will reverse the socialism and revitalize the economy.

Beyond this blog's interest in Latin American affairs, we emphasize this redistributive issue here is as a object lesson for what we must not do here in the United States.

What Is "Wrong Track?"

Various pundits and opinion writers make much of the finding that large percentages of the American public believe the nation is on the "wrong track." For example this Fairleigh Dickinson University poll, done before the election, found that 86% of Democrats and 69% of Republicans believed the U.S. "has gotten off on the wrong track." The survey question normally asked in polls of this sort is the following one.
In your opinion, do you believe that the country is moving in the right direction or do you believe it has gotten off on the wrong track?

As you can tell, it does not provide any clues as to what aspects of the country the respondent believes "have gotten off on the wrong track." So...what does this statistic mean, if anything? I intend to argue here that it means many different, and conflicting, things to different people.

Conventional wisdom suggests a substantial number of those "wrong track" Democrats believe the U.S. should never have invaded Iraq, should not be holding Islamic terrorists in Guantanamo, etc. Some further number are concerned about the drop in housing values, and other negative sequelae from the bursting of the housing bubble.

A substantial number of the "wrong track" Republicans are unhappy about the coarsening of the culture (i.e., erectile dysfunction ads and gay sex on TV, the "streetwalker/gangsta" fashions of our teens), the widespread availability of abortions and a presidential candidate who doesn't agree with them on illegal immigration. Some additional group are disgusted with their own party's big spending ways in Congress.

So, what attitudes does the above question really tap? Perhaps free-floating hostility? Angst? Generalized willingness to engage in road rage behaviors? Ironically, lots of "wrong track" opinion appears to result in decreased voter participation by the party which is incumbent and increased participation by the party that is "out." They may be cranky about quite different things but, their behaviors are opposite and symmetrical. As we reported here, Republican voter turnout was down in the election just concluded.

My question is this: Is the converse true? Do high "right direction" numbers result in big votes by incumbent party voters and apathetic turnout among the "outs?" This sounds like a research question for a real voter analyst like Michael Barone. Logic suggests it could be true.

Note to President-elect Obama: four years from now those "right direction" numbers had better be up a lot, even for Republicans. Presumably, if the "outs" are happy with the country's direction, they are less likely to vote while the "ins" will turn out in droves. That is the electoral outcome the President will want in 2012.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Political Humor Alert

James Taranto, author of the Best of the Web column in the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal which he edits, cracking wise on First Dog Barney biting a reporter:
Just remember, one man's terrier is another man's freedom Fido.

Apathetic Republicans

This research report from American University's Center for the Study of the American Electorate carries some interesting insights for Republicans. It reports:
The percentage of eligible citizens casting ballots in the 2008 presidential election stayed at virtually the same relatively high level as it reached in the polarized election of 2004.
With respect to reduced turnout among Republicans, it concludes:

A downturn in the number and percentage of Republican voters going to the polls seemed to be the primary explanation for the lower than predicted turnout.
Karl Rove's strategy of energizing the base wasn't so bad after all. Clearly Rove ran a better campaign for Bush than McCain's minions did for him. The McCain candidacy did nothing for the voters motivated by illegal immigration, and his platform wasn't truly a small government platform.

We have three 'schools' of conservatism in the U.S.: social, fiscal and defense conservatives. Social conservatives weren't entirely convinced McCain was on their side, nor were fiscal conservatives. Only defense conservatives could wholeheartedly support McCain without reservations.

Given the untimely meltdown of the economy right before the election, I don't know that a candidate who more energized the Republican base would have beaten Barack Obama. Such a candidate could have run a closer race and, by raising turnout, might have cut the GOP losses in the Senate and House.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

What About Immigration?

Presidential candidates Obama and McCain never talked about illegal immigration. The reason: they agreed about immigration. Both candidates favored "comprehensive immigration reform" - code words meaning a sort of amnesty for the 12 million or so illegal immigrants now in the country.

Republicans have argued they can get a substantial portion of the Hispanic vote if they favor "comprehensive immigration reform." McCain conclusively proved these arguments wrong. He was known for his support of immigrant rights, never spoke about illegal immigration and still got relatively few Hispanic votes.

So...we are left to wonder in what ways the contest just ended would have had different contours if one of the candidates, probably the Republican, had made an real issue of illegal immigration. Is it possible a tough stance on illegal immigration would have given the Republican access to more of the blue collar workers who were once so-called Reagan Democrats? A reasonable argument can be made that this is the case, but now we will never know.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama in 2012

President George W. Bush is widely unpopular, even with a fair number of Republicans. Barack Obama won by running against George W. Bush. Voters rejected McCain as more of Bush and elected Obama.

That scenario won't work for Obama in 2012. As former Prime Minister Harold Wilson famously said, "A week is a long time in politics." If a week is a long time, four years are an eternity. In 2012 nobody will remember how much they wanted to get rid of W.

In 2012 Obama will have to run on his record. The 2012 election will inevitably be a referendum on Obama's performance in the first term. A majority of Americans will need to be pleased with his performance if he is to be reelected. His Republican challenger will be the one offering people "change." Obama will be the one defending the status quo.

As Obama decides what to do in the coming months and years, he needs to keep that truth firmly in mind. If he fails to do so, historians will view him as another Jimmy Carter; a well-intentioned loser who could get elected given favorable circumstances but could not perform once in office.

It Is Over

This blog did not support Barack Obama for president, viewing John McCain as the lesser evil. Having said that, it would be less than gracious not to extend congratulations to President-elect Obama.

We wish the new president well because he is the president we're going to have for the next four or more years. We wish him well because we wish our great nation well, and well-governed is a part of that.

Tomorrow will be time enough to parse out what the down-ballot election returns mean. Tonight it is enough to wish all of you pleasant dreams.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Campaign Valedictory

Okay, the long, long, long presidential campaign is over. We have had all manner of teapot tempests and seven-day-wonders, rumors and gaffes. Both vice presidential picks turned out to be at least somewhat embarrassing. People like Hillary and Rudy who were supposed to be winners, turned out to be losers.

Now the voters get to have their say for real, not just to pollsters. A lot of us have voted already, my absentee ballot went off to Wyoming weeks ago. The rest will vote tomorrow. Then we'll add up the results and see what it all means.

A quick prediction: the United States of America will survive four years of whichever of these two second-raters is elected. We survived Nixon and Carter, we can survive Obama or McCain. A second prediction: it won't be pretty.

Segregation Lives

This Chicago Tribune article reports African-American students holding separate homecoming ceremonies on a variety of mainstream campuses. What is revealed here is academia's dirty little secret: Minorities on campuses self-segregate and the cowardly school administrators allow it to happen and even facilitate it.

What makes this so immensely ironic is that university presidents insist on admission quotas or the equivalent in order to have a racially representative student body. Once they have this diverse student body, do they insist that everyone live, work, study, play, and celebrate in an integrated fashion? Study and work: yes. Play and celebrate: no. [The "live" is equivocal, some campuses have a la Raza dorm, an Asian dorm and/or a black dorm, other campuses don't.] And some campuses have racially separate fraternities and sororities organized by and for minorities.

I've kicked around academia for too many years; I've taught on 9 campuses in 3 states and a territory. My classes were always integrated. However, when I'd walk over to the student union and look at the students sitting around the tables eating, talking and studying, the tables were almost invariably segregated by race. Here an African-American table, then a couple of white tables, there a Hispanic table, or an Asian table, and a couple more white tables. Left to their own devices, college students self-segregate by race or ethnic group. The same pattern is generally true in the library, or in social groups of students walking across campus.

Many campuses have separate graduation ceremonies for students of this or that minority group. I hadn't heard about separate homecoming ceremonies but it makes sense and fits the pattern. Whatever happened to Brown v. Board of Education? I thought we'd established that "separate but equal" was nasty. Apparently it is only nasty if whites do it.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Ready for a Rest

Are you tired of presidential politics? Does it seem to you, as it does to me, that this presidential race has gone on forever? Can you imagine a life without political chatter? Even though this blog has seemingly been obsessed with the presidential horse race, I am suffering from political fatigue.

There is, however, good news. Starting on Wednesday we will get a break in presidential politics before the cycle begins anew. I, for one, am ready for that break. For about a week after Tuesday we will have post mortems of the race, and I can live with that. Then, blessed peace.

This blog will shift gears to travel blogging, international commentary, management wisdom, Harry Potter trivia, and such like. Two years from now we do it all again, but I don't have to think about that for many months.

Mouth of the South

President Evo Morales yesterday announced the end of operations of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration personnel in Bolivia. He accused them of aiding groups opposed to his government. See this New York Times article for details.

Mordant humor suggests that he is unsuccessfully competing with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez for the title "Mouth of the South." As the weeks go by, I see less reason to view Morales as different from a Colombian or Mexican drug lord.

U.S. tourists or NGO staff should avoid Bolivia in the near future. There is real chance of civil war between Morales' highland Indios and the more European people of the eastern lowlands.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Legal Musings

I don't have an aunt who is an illegal alien. If I did, and was an elected official of the U.S. government like a Senator, wouldn't I be legally bound to report it?

If I didn't report it, wouldn't I be an accessory after the fact? I am no expert, but I'd guess that would be a felony, and for sure a violation of senatorial rules.

Good Polling News

One robin does not make a spring, and one poll result does not necessarily signal a turn around. That said, it is worth noting the following finding from pollster John Zogby:

McCain outpolled Obama today, 48% to 47%.

Zogby goes on to to elaborate his findings as follows:
He is beginning to cut into Obama's lead among independents, is now leading among blue collar voters, has strengthened his lead among investors and among men, and is walloping Obama among NASCAR voters. Joe the Plumber may get his license after all. "Obama's lead among women declined, and it looks like it is occurring because McCain is solidifying the support of conservative women, which is something we saw last time McCain picked up in the polls.
Maybe these findings represent a statistical oddity, but good news is always welcome.