“These Are Such Terrible Times”

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In the morning, I like to take a walk with my friend, the mom of a 4-year-old. Lately, thanks to the terrible stories from Baton Rouge, Minnesota and Dallas, she says she has been feeling overwhelmed. Who hasn’t?

And yet…and yet…  The narrative of chaos and despair obscures and even discounts a different narrative that does not make it to the nightly news. (Which is morning-ly and noon-ly news now, as well.) It’s a narrative you’ll find in the “Crime Stats” tab at the top of my blog. And I was excited to also find it today in this perspective-granting column by David Harsanyi:

Despite Media Hysteria, Violent Crime Is At Record Lows

His piece is partly about gun control which is, as always, an issue I’d prefer not to get into here, since it ends up being such an annoying and usually unproductive discussion. What DOES interest me are his observations about our refusal to acknowledge or even believe that crime is going down:

Homicide rates, for example, have been falling to the point where in 2014 — the last year of FBI data offered — it was at 4.5 per 100,000 people, which is the lowest rate recorded since 1963, when it was at 4.6 per 100,000 people. We know there was a slight uptick in violent crime in 2015, probably making it the second lowest year for homicides in the past 50.

It’s not just my town, New York City, that has seen a grand plunge in murders. It’s even the cities where we think crime is  escalating off the charts:

Put it this way: In 1990, in New York City there were 2,245 homicides. In 2015, there were 355. In 1992, Los Angeles County had a record high of 2,589 homicides. There were 655 over the last 12 months. In 1992, Chicago saw 943 murders, or a rate of 34 murders per 100,000 citizens. Although it still owns a far higher murder rate than most major cities, in 2014 there were 432 murders and in 2015 488. Last year, Dallas saw a spike in murders, yet the 10.7 homicides per 100,000 residents was the city’s fourth-lowest total since police started keeping track in 1930. In Denver 95 people were murdered in 1992, 34 in 2014, and 50 (a nine-year high) in 2015.

Stats from almost every city tell the same tale.

All of which is not to say it is anywhere near safe enough to be an African American pulled over by the police. But it is to say that the everyday fear we feel that prevents us from simply sending our kids outside in most neighborhoods (not all!) does not correlate with the crime rate. Nor does the belief that any child waiting in a car for a few minutes will likely be kidnapped.

Despite this reality, according to a 2013 Pew poll, 56 percent of Americans believe gun crimes have risen compared to 20 years ago. This even though overall gun death rates have declined — and let’s include homicides and suicides (most gun deaths are suicide) — by 31 percent over that period.

We believe a lot of things that aren’t true. In a 2015 Rasmussen poll, 58 percent of Americans said they believed there was a “war on police.” The murder of five officers in Dallas last week was the worst attack on law enforcement since 9/11. It is in no way to diminish the impact of this event or the lives lost that day to say that the overall trend shows police are not in more danger today than they were 20 years ago. The violence aimed at police has generally followed all other trendlines of violence, which is to say it has decreased.

And when it comes to African American realities, Harsanyi added this:

The recent deaths of a number of African Americans at cops’ hands is also highly troubling, but the debate about it is imbued with a number of societal issues that go beyond mere stats. It’s also far more complicated than conventional thinking might suggest. While that debate rages, it’s important to note that African Americans are not only safer today than they were 20 years ago (and certainly 50 years ago), they have benefited tremendously from lower crime rates. Over the last 20 years, crime among African-American youth has fallen by 47 percent.

Watching the news can make you feel like we’re on the cusp of falling into a dark time. Maybe we’re destined for a more violent age. Yet it seems the technological and economic advances we’ve made (despite inequality, most Americans live better lives) make it unlikely we’re going to return to 1994- or 1968-style violence any time soon. But who knows? It’s also understandable that emotionally we deal with the incidents that unfold in front of us. Still, it wouldn’t hurt the media to frame the news with a little less scaremongering and a little more context.

It is hard to ask for context without being accused of complacency. I am not complacent. Let us work to make the country safer for all citizens, while also appreciating the fact that it is no less safe than when WE were allowed to go outside as kids. – L

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Stark reality...of the good kind.

Stark reality…of the good kind.

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46 Responses to “These Are Such Terrible Times”

  1. SKL July 12, 2016 at 12:13 pm #

    Violence against police officers, including killing, is up though, I believe.

    I have seen a lot of people commenting about how dangerous it is for black men to be stopped by cops. How the black community lives in constant fear of their black family members being murdered by cops. While I acknowledge there have been some people shot by cops without a good reason, the number and rate of those incidents are extremely small compared to all the other things that kill black people. It’s bad, but it’s being blown way out of proportion and causing people to speak and act irrationally. And ironically, sadly, this is likely to lead to more cops feeling afraid enough to shoot black people.

    It fits right in with the concepts we always discuss here. Worst-first thinking leading to less safety instead of more safety.

  2. Jessica July 12, 2016 at 12:20 pm #

    SKL–
    Lenore posted data above showing that police work has gotten safer, not more dangerous.

  3. SKL July 12, 2016 at 12:25 pm #

    I have seen recent stats showing that murders of police officers are up if you look at very recent years – especially since the Michael Brown situation. Lenore’s stats don’t go there.

  4. TeacherJR July 12, 2016 at 12:26 pm #

    Looks like some folks haven’t gotten the message yet… Danger! Danger everywhere!

    http://www.journeyofparenthood.com/2016/07/stranger-danger-balancing-awareness.html

  5. John B. July 12, 2016 at 12:36 pm #

    “In 1990, in New York City there were 2,245 homicides. In 2015, there were 355”

    “In 1992, Los Angeles County had a record high of 2,589 homicides. There were 655 over the last 12 months”

    This is simply amazing! I realize that the murder rate had dropped but not this much!! Back then the U.SA. always had the reputation as being the murder capital of the world but not anymore. Could this be because the incarceration rate has increased or maybe because there are more police patrolling the streets? Something certainly had to drive the decrease and I’m not so sure it’s because people have become less evil.

  6. TeacherJR July 12, 2016 at 12:40 pm #

    I wonder if the homicide rates aren’t telling the whole story. Advances in trauma medicine may have turned many of these homicides into attempted homicides. However, the numbers for assault seem to be down across the board, which makes me think that we don’t owe the entire drop to better medical care.

  7. John B. July 12, 2016 at 12:44 pm #

    @SKL:

    I believe you are correct SKL. African-Americans should live in constant fear of other African-Americans and not the police. Black people are far more likely to be murdered by other black people and not the police. Now, perhaps that statistic has also declined; however, it’s still too high.

  8. Reziac July 12, 2016 at 12:57 pm #

    Someone (might have been the Heritage Foundation) pointed out that if you deduct the gang and drug-related murders (which includes nearly all the homicides of kids under 18), the U.S. murder rate falls to something like 0.3 per 100,000 persons — right down there with the 10 safest countries in the world.

  9. James Pollock July 12, 2016 at 1:04 pm #

    “Someone (might have been the Heritage Foundation) pointed out that if you deduct the gang and drug-related murders (which includes nearly all the homicides of kids under 18), the U.S. murder rate falls to something like 0.3 per 100,000 persons”

    Why stop there? If you deduct ALL the murders, the murder rate drops to 0… lowest in the world!

  10. Mandy July 12, 2016 at 1:14 pm #

    “Watching the news can make you feel like we’re on the cusp of falling into a dark time.”……. so let’s stop watching until they report the news in a sensible fashion – no over dramatization and over sensationalizing. Media folks – I believe you have created this monster to promote your station/paper/magazine ratings – you can stop this craziness too!

  11. pentamom July 12, 2016 at 1:19 pm #

    James, I know you’re just going to do sophistry in reply, but for the sake of others:

    the reason factoring out the drug and gang-related stuff is useful is that it communicates that people quietly living normal lives within the general confines of the law, and minding their own business, are at a statistically much smaller risk than an overall “murder rate” would show.

  12. JPKK July 12, 2016 at 1:51 pm #

    @SKL@John B.

    False. Over the last 10 years the 10 year moving average (small population leads to high annual volatility) of officer deaths per year has declined from 166/year over 2005-1996 to 144/year 2015-2006. That is not even factoring in the increase in population & police force size over the same period so rate/population would be down even more.
    (National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund http://www.nleomf.org/facts/officer-fatalities-data/year.html)

    Black on black violence is a red herring, why don’t you worry about white on white violence (similar rates) first? That just reflects most crime occuring in the community and communities are still heavily segregated, due to the economic legacy of societal discrimination, and legacy of redlining.

    Institutional racism is also partially to blame for the crime rates in minority areas (general poverty is the larger source of blame). When citizens feel they can’t trust the police it creates a vicious cycle that makes it harder to solve (and thus deter) crime since the local population is less likely to cooperate.

    Also black on black violence is treated, investigated, and viewed as a crime by everyone. Violence against black people under the color of law often is not, particularly with how the blue wall of silence closes ranks.

  13. Jessica July 12, 2016 at 1:55 pm #

    http://www.npr.org/2015/09/17/441196546/is-there-a-war-on-police-the-statistics-say-no

    Skr
    Please see the NPR analysis of the “jump” in attacks on police officers:

  14. SKL July 12, 2016 at 2:59 pm #

    A ten year window doesn’t tell anything about how things have changed since Ferguson in mid-2014. The rate was decreasing before then. There has been a rash of execution-style killings since then.

    http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/amount-cops-killed-2015-dropped-spike-2014-article-1.2639067

    Per this site, officers shot dead:

    2013: 31
    2014: 47
    2015: 39
    2016 thru July 11: 28

  15. SKL July 12, 2016 at 3:04 pm #

    Forgot to link the site I cited.

    https://www.odmp.org/search/year?year=2016

  16. sexhysteria July 12, 2016 at 3:04 pm #

    Are you sure the mass media are in the same country as we are?

  17. Anna July 12, 2016 at 3:57 pm #

    “James, I know you’re just going to do sophistry in reply, but for the sake of others:

    the reason factoring out the drug and gang-related stuff is useful is that it communicates that people quietly living normal lives within the general confines of the law, and minding their own business, are at a statistically much smaller risk than an overall “murder rate” would show.”

    I’m not James, but he’s not being sophistical this time. Of course, if you drop the main category of people most likely to be murdered from your statistic, the rate goes way down. As it would, likewise, in any country’s stats. That’s a completely illegitimate ground for comparison, unless you plan to drop the drug-related murders from those other countries’ stats too, and then compare the rates of murders remaining.

  18. JPKK July 12, 2016 at 4:00 pm #

    @SKL the rate of deaths is so minuscule relative to the population (~1.3 million local LEOs) that trying to find a statistically significant trend over two years is virtually impossible, especially given the modest yoy changes there.

  19. James Pollock July 12, 2016 at 4:06 pm #

    “the reason factoring out the drug and gang-related stuff is useful is that it communicates that people quietly living normal lives within the general confines of the law, and minding their own business, are at a statistically much smaller risk than an overall “murder rate” would show.”

    Sure, except for the fact that it doesn’t do that at all. The reason for this is that people in gangs (drug-related and otherwise) do not only commit crimes against other people who are in gangs. Being a mind-your-own-business, living within the confines of the law sort of person doesn’t make you bulletproof when the gangs start shooting at each other.

  20. NY Mom July 12, 2016 at 4:16 pm #

    Thanks, Lenore.
    Let’s take an old fashioned walk.
    And take the kids to the park.
    And leave them to play. And come home their own way.

  21. Havva July 12, 2016 at 4:47 pm #

    @ SKL,
    This is were that context Lenore talks about is important. While I understand that the 10 year moving average is useless in a statistic that is thought to have changed dramatically in the last 2 years. You can’t just look at 2013 and stop there. 2013 might not be representative, and I dare say it wasn’t. As a matter of fact, it had the lowest number of officers killed by gunfire this millennium, and by substantial amount.

    From your same source:
    2016 thru July 11: 28
    2015: 39
    2014: 47
    2013: 31
    2012: 48
    2011: 68
    2010: 59
    2009: 47
    2008: 41
    2007: 67
    2006: 51
    2005: 53
    2004: 56
    2003: 48
    2002: 57
    2001: 65
    2000: 50

    2013 was 43% below the average for the millennium up to that point. And 24% below the lowest year to that point ( 2008).

    2015 saw the second lowest number of officers shot this millennium.
    2014 saw the fourth lowest number of officers shot this millennium.
    If 2016 continues at this pace, we will loose 53 officers by year end. Precisely average for the millennium pre-Ferguson. Which is sad, since we were doing so much better in the last 5 years (including post-Fergeson years), than in the prior decade.

  22. Theresa July 12, 2016 at 5:05 pm #

    One of the black community complaints is they can’t be just hanging around without being deemed suspicious. Cops don’t realize that the more they don’t complain about the bad apples the more people will see the so called good ones as bad too. But a cop who stand up to bad apples is a tattletale and is treated like a leper! The cops want respect then they should earn it by keeping cool and no throwing Tantrums over people protesting . it may hurt to think that people think badly of you but sometimes you should say I don’t care what they think.

  23. Donna July 12, 2016 at 5:08 pm #

    “The reason for this is that people in gangs (drug-related and otherwise) do not only commit crimes against other people who are in gangs. Being a mind-your-own-business, living within the confines of the law sort of person doesn’t make you bulletproof when the gangs start shooting at each other.”

    No, but not ever being where the gangs are certainly does. Gangs are not shooting up middle/upper class enclaves; they are shooting up the ‘hood. The fact is that people living normal middle class lives are highly unlikely to run afoul of the gangs or be present when gangs start shooting at each other. However, it is the middle class people from the suburbs and hipster neighborhoods that tend to be squawking like Chicken Little about the crime rate. They are looking at crimes that are occurring in a world that they never enter and using that to decide that their fairly insulated world is unsafe. Hence, subtracting out gang and drug murders when considering the actual risk of being murdered for your average middle class american makes sense. Subtracting it out when looking at the overall crime rate for the country does not.

  24. Anna July 12, 2016 at 5:11 pm #

    “The reason for this is that people in gangs (drug-related and otherwise) do not only commit crimes against other people who are in gangs.”

    Yes – and this us also true! E.g., I used to live three doors down from a drug dealer, and I now have a house across our back fence where a (almost certainly drug-related) murder happened. So if a stray bullet from next door takes out my 4-year-old, you could dismiss it as “drug or gang-related” but your conclusion would be false, if you thought that meant we aren’t normal, law-abiding people.

  25. James Pollock July 12, 2016 at 5:44 pm #

    “No, but not ever being where the gangs are certainly does. Gangs are not shooting up middle/upper class enclaves; they are shooting up the ‘hood”

    We also get gang shootings in the downtown core areas (which are not in “the ‘hood”) but it is where the hiphop clubs are, and we have nudie bars all over (including in some middle-class enclaves) that draw the occasional shooting, as well (not sure how many of these are gang-related.)

  26. SKL July 12, 2016 at 6:28 pm #

    My point is that it isn’t accurate to imply that murders of cops are trending down right now. Actually they aren’t even on a plateau. Granted, we don’t know how things will go after today. But given the number of people saying they “understand” and “don’t feel sad about” the Dallas sniper incident, I wouldn’t assume things are about to get better, unless some charismatic person gets out there and does some really smart talking.

    A cop today is going to be a lot more jumpy than a cop 2 years ago today.

  27. lollipoplover July 12, 2016 at 6:52 pm #

    As a mom to two young teens, I’m liking this study:

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/07/12/study-teens-today-safer-healthier-many-ways/86998566/

    The kids are alright.

    Honestly, I worry more about drownings (this time of year)and impaired driving than random acts of violence. And times are not terrible for my kids (or me), they spend the majority of these summer days outside and with friends. We went to a state park today and after a long hike, my daughter went wading in the creek. There was a “No swimming” sign and she asked if she could go in. The alligator incident in Florida flashed in my mind (no gators anywhere near here) and the Amoeba death also very briefly was considered before I stripped off my boots and joined her in the creek, waist high. It was delightful. There were tons of other kids in there, wading and skipping stones, and dog owners cooling their pooches in the cool water. People need to lighten up and enjoy life!

  28. Edward Hafner July 12, 2016 at 7:11 pm #

    Perhaps this is a minor issue but I do wish commentators on the events in Dallas recently would stop saying it’s the worst attack “on Police” since September 11, 2001. The events in 2001 were not an “attack” on law enforcement officers in the United States.

  29. pentamom July 12, 2016 at 7:45 pm #

    If people were highly vulnerable to non-drug/gang related crime by gang/drug-related persons, then there would be a high rate of people being victims of non-drug/gang related crimes. The whole point is that there isn’t a high rate of that.

  30. Donald Christensen July 12, 2016 at 7:59 pm #

    Sometimes I have breakfast in a fast food place. GMA is always on. It occurred to me that this is odd. We have lived with it for so long that few people even notice anything strange about it. However if you and I were having breakfast and I was to start talking about something disgusting like sewage, this would be an obvious no no. Making disgusting conversation while people are trying to eat is a social taboo. How rude can a person be?

    It’s also the norm to wake up to the clock radio. The news plays every hour. Therefore a person often wakes up to morbid news 5 days a week for decades. This ‘brain-washing’ is so subtle that it goes unnoticed.

    BTW I set my volume very low and I wake up to languages that I don’t understand. I keep it out of reach so that I have to get out of bed to turn it off.

    This is another example of a small handful of sand. For those that don’t know what I’m talking about scroll down to the bottom of this page.

    http://www.onmysoapboxx.com/false-info

  31. Donald Christensen July 12, 2016 at 8:05 pm #

    This page explains why we can be 100% convinced that crime is way up and that the statistics HAVE TO BE FALSE.

    http://www.onmysoapboxx.com/eyes

  32. pentamom July 12, 2016 at 9:07 pm #

    It’s true law-abiding people sometimes get caught in the crossfire, but before using that fact to discredit the idea that life is *generally* safe for law-abiding people *in general,* we would need to know just how often that happens.

  33. SteveS July 12, 2016 at 9:36 pm #

    Fear and uncertainty, in the media, are good for sales. People will tune in during a crisis. This explains why have a proliferation of media outlets reporting things that would typically only make the local news. Additionally, there are never any shortage of politicians that try and use our fears to push some kind of agenda.

    Strangely enough, even supposedly smart people that understand stats aren’t immune to this.

  34. SteveS July 12, 2016 at 9:47 pm #

    Removing certain groups from a statistical analysis can be helpful in assessing risk. On FB, someone posted a stat that suggested 13 children were killed everyday by guns. Obviously, this is very scary and demands some kind of action from the busybodies in the Legislature. A closer analysis at this number finds that only by using “children” (depending on the study) up to age 24.

  35. SteveS July 12, 2016 at 9:48 pm #

    …can we get to that number.

    Oops, I hit submit too soon.

  36. Workshop July 13, 2016 at 6:57 am #

    Remember, fear trumps facts.

    The fact is that crime has been trending downward the past several decades. The fear is that crime is up.
    The fact is that black suspects are no more likely to be shot by police than white suspects. The fear is that the police target blacks.
    The fact is that blacks, as a group, commit more violent crimes (thus engaging with police more often). The fear is that society is racist.
    The fact is that Asians in the US have a disproportionately low crime rate. The fear is . . . oh, wait, there isn’t a corresponding fear to go with it, so that fact never gets mentioned.

    The fact is that the sex offender registries are used as a modern-day scarlet letter. The fear is sex offenders will get “your” child.

    Facts will never trump the fear-based industries that we’ve created (not just limited to media, but in science, education, entertainment, and politics as well. There are likely others). Dismantle the fear, ostracize those who practice it, get angry at the people who endorse it. Personally, I advocate incessant mocking and ritual ostracism from your social circle, but that’s just me.

  37. Donna July 13, 2016 at 7:28 am #

    SKL – When you are talking about such a miniscule portion of a very large population, the small differentials you have here IS a plateau. You are never going to have the same number every year and all the numbers you do have are close enough together to likely all fall within the same percentage point of police officers killed.

    The vast majority of police officer shootings are simply people who are trying to avoid confinement (arrest or in an escape from incarceration). People shooting cops simply because they don’t like them like what happened in Dallas make up an extremely small portion of an already incredibly small number. Zero most years.

    The number of criminals willing to add a cop murder charge to their already existing charges will remain stagnant. Variable, but stagnant when considered as a portion of a whole. There is just a limit on that kind of stupid existing in the world.

    Whether we will see an increase in criminals shooting cops out of fear that the cop will shoot them first or an increase in the number of cops killed for pleasure remains to be seen I guess, but there is nothing to indicate that that is happening.

  38. lollipoplover July 13, 2016 at 8:41 am #

    On the topic of how *terrible* things are today, just thought I’d put this out there:

    http://www.boredpanda.com/good-kids-acts-of-kindness-restore-faith-humanity-parenting/

  39. John B. July 13, 2016 at 12:11 pm #

    @JPKK:

    Black on black violence is far higher than white on white violence.

  40. Librarymomma July 13, 2016 at 1:12 pm #

    It’s not just crime that we need to look at but also overall childhood mortality, which has dropped incredibly in the last 100 years or so (in the U.S.) and worldwide. I found statistics at http://www.hrsa.gov/healthit/images/mchb_child_mortality_pub.pdf in case anyone wants to check the data. More children survive childbirth and live to 18 than any other time in human history (or at least since 1935, when the government started collecting this information). That’s not to say that many improvement couldn’t be made, specifically in how we treat others and possible improvements in automobile safety, which is still the leading cause of death for children. The only difference between now and 100 years (or more) ago is that now we hear about every single tragedy almost immediately and we are inundated with bad news constantly, which could depress just about anyone and make them feel like these are the worst of times.

  41. EricS July 13, 2016 at 5:19 pm #

    These days, it’s mostly about perception than facts. And sadly, many people are sheeple, who take perception over facts any day. Now add fear and paranoia into the mix, that belief becomes even more solidified. The sad reality of how our brains fool us. But there is good news, if it can be done to us, it can be undone as well. Just need to use common sense, logic, and reason. Even if it bothers us. Just like any addiction we try to overcome.

    We know smoking cigarettes is very bad for our health. Common sense tells us we should quit. Logic tells us we should quit. And reason tells us if we don’t quit, we put our health at risk (as well as others). But because the brain is so used to it, and it sends out dopamine whenever we smoke, people get hooked. And like any other addict, they make excuses to keep doing so. The paranoia mentality is no different.

  42. MOBK July 14, 2016 at 1:36 am #

    Being a cop is more dangerous job then average, but it is not that dangerous. Average on the job fatality rate in 2014 is 3.4/100,000 for all jobs combined. For police it is about 4 times higher (13.5/100,000). However there are dozens of jobs with higher death rates. The food that you eat – grown by farmers (twice as dangerous as policing). The roof on your house – maintained by roofers (4 times more dangerous than policing). The lumber for your house – harvested by loggers (8 times more dangerous than policing). The list goes on – taxi drivers, garbage collectors, fishermen, pilots, construction labourers, miners, oil and gas workers – all more dangerous than being a police officer.

  43. MOBK July 14, 2016 at 1:47 am #

    SKL

    It has no credibility to say that there is an upward trend in police officer gun deaths. The numbers fluctuate so much that drawing a trend from 3 or 4 years of data is meaningless. There has been a gradual trend down and there is no evidence yet that the trend has changed. A few years above or below trend do not change the trend. Your claim is similar to people that claimed global warming stopped in 1998 because there were a few colder years thereafter. Those same folks will soon be claiming thqat global warming stopped in 2016 as the former claim is not longer tenable.

  44. JPKK July 14, 2016 at 10:12 am #

    @John B.

    That ignores 90% of my response, and it would be more accurate to say poor on poor crime has higher rates than not-poor on not-poor crime.

  45. Tasmanian July 16, 2016 at 6:00 pm #

    I showed my 10yo students a picture of two kids their age sitting with their bikes on the top of a hill overlooking a town. I told them when I was their age my friend and I would ride for hours at a time without adults supervising. With one voice, they all said “but we can’t do that THESE DAYS.” I asked why. “The internet” was their response. I think they have had so many lectures on not posting personal things on the internet because of strangers that they have blocked out the possibility of going somewhere where there are strangers unless their parents are present.

  46. Dean July 18, 2016 at 5:44 pm #

    Seems the internet thrives on fear-mongering.
    A couple of weeks ago I read that Deming, N.M., is one of the most dangerous cities in America”.
    I have visited this community of 14,000 about 30 miles north of the US-México border a number of times during the past quarter-century, including twice in the past month. In this fearful place, I see townspeople strolling along the streets with and without kids…kids playing in the park without any apparent presence of a parent.
    And nobody appears to be apprehensive..