Believe in Something, Be Open-Minded to Everything

Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won’t come in

~ Isaac Asimov

November 12, 2014

While I was sitting at home, watching TLC’s My Five Wives (please, no judgment, I find it really fascinating), the thought floated into my mind that these people were bat-shit crazy. Cult crazy. For those who aren’t familiar with the show, it basically is a reality TV show that follows the lives of a man, Brady Williams, and his five wives, Paulie, Robyn, Rosemary, Nonie and Rhonda and their cumulative 24 children. It’s reported that the family came from a fundamentalist Mormon sect that believed in polygamy, but the family split with the sect over core principles. The family still prays and believes in God and continues their polygamist ways, but incorporates Buddhism into their prayer and tells their kids that they can marry and love whomever and however many people they want (including supporting gay marriage).

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(c) in Photograph, courtesy of TLC

This all comes in correlation with a new posting from the Church of the Latter Day Saints (the official name for the Mormon church). According to the Church, Joseph Smith, the religion’s founder, had somewhere between 30-40 wives. In the essay, it’s stated that the belief of Mormons is that marriage is between one man and one woman, but sometime while studying the Old Testament, Joseph Smith prayed to know why some of the prophets in the Old Testament were permitted multiple wives. God responded to Joseph that He had instructed these men to take multiple wives. He later sent an angel instructing Joseph that he too, should bring back the old practice of plural marriage. Joseph allegedly struggled with the notion, because he knew that it would devastate his wife, Emma. However, God sent an angel again, commanding him to wed multiple women. Again, Joseph vacillated until an angel appeared a third time, wielding a sword. The angel threatened to kill Joseph unless he obeyed God’s commandment. Thereafter, Joseph began “sealing” women (i.e. wedding them) according to God’s command.

Yeah. I know. I thought it sounded crazy too. Cult crazy. But then, while watching My Five Wives and contemplating how one could believe this whole ridiculous scenario and how did these wives not just kick Brady in the dick every time he opened his mouth, I thought to myself – well, it’s not like my version of the Bible doesn’t have its crazy moments. Take Genesis, for example, you know, the whole, beginning of the world story. God creates man and rips out one of his ribs and creates woman. Woman eats some tasty fruit from the Tree of Knowledge (*gasp* a woman cannot have knowledge) because she was tempted by the Devil, who was dressed as a snake. Adam and Eve get kicked out of the Garden of Eden even though Adam’s all, “Well wait a second, I didn’t do anything, therefore I’m going to blame women for everything and strip her of all her power for the next bazillion years”, and the world is created through incest, basically. Massive, massive incest.

Because that’s not crazy right? And it’s not like the crazy is relegated only to the Old Testament – it’s not. In both the books of Matthew and Mark, there’s a story where Jesus is walking from Bethany, and he gets hungry. He sees a fig tree which unfortunately has no fruit. Despite the fact that it was not fig season (as noted in Mark), Jesus apparently gets angry and tells the tree it shall bear no more fruit and the tree withers away. Don’t believe me? Matthew 21:19 and Mark 11:13-14.  A simple Google search for “crazy stuff that happens in the Bible” will give you plenty more fodder where that came from as well.

So what does any of this have to do with war and why am I ranting about the crazy stuff in religious texts?

Well, because as I contemplated how crazy it all seemed, I thought to myself: If I believe in something, I should be open-minded to everything. I can’t dismiss polygamy in Joseph Smith or an angel threatening his life and then say but it’s completely legitimate that the holiest person in my religion (Jesus) killed a tree, because he was pissed it didn’t have fruit during non-fruit season. That’s just not very fair.

Which somehow, because my thoughts always tend to spiral into this abyss, brought me to thinking about war. Specifically, the kind of war we have going on the most lately, religious based wars.

In Deuteronomy 13:12-18 there is a commandment from God that says that if you come upon a city where other people are worshiping another god, you should kill everyone (and all their cattle) in the city and burn it down so it can never be built again. That’s not in the Qur’an, that’s in the BIBLE. There are passages like this in the religious texts of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. These are the passages that most people pass over, and they’re also the ones that religious extremists latch onto as justification for their religious wars. It’s not just Islam that can be corrupted, it’s Christianity too.

It’s easy to live in a bubble of ignorance. It’s easy not to think too hard, but it also causes wars. People get tunnel-vision over the rightness of their religion or their interpretation of religion and the wrongness of everyone else’s. And it’s because the “other” is different. Like the polygamists. My gut instinct is to assume they’re crazy, but when I think about it, there’s a lot of crazy shit going on in my version of the Bible too. And it’s not like all the Catholic rituals are completely sane (think: exorcism).

If we believe in something, we have to be open-minded to everything. I’m not saying that we have to be open-minded to the extreme violence that is being perpetrated in the name of religion all over the world, or that we have to feel it’s right, but we should avoid gut reactions like labeling people “crazy” or the “other” or “right” or “wrong” or “just” or even saying that we have some kind of absolute “Truth” (and yes, that’s Truth with a capital “T”). Because we don’t . I don’t, you don’t, ISIS doesn’t, Hamas doesn’t, the Israeli government doesn’t, the Pope doesn’t. No one does. It’s the human condition.

I don’t look at the polygamists in My Five Wives under the same scope anymore. Who am I to judge? And I don’t look at religious wars under the same scope anymore either. Killing innocent people is wrong, but it is only by being open-minded to the reasons why it’s happening that we can find a real solution for it. And maybe that starts by taking a deeper look into our own religions and finding what violence could be done with them as well.

 

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Happy Halloween but Don’t be a Racist Asshole

Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former

~ Albert Einstein

October 31, 2014

I’ll admit it. I have been invited to “Too Soon” parties in my day. I have even contemplated going. But I never did. Because it actually is “too soon” for some things. For a lot of things, it’s always going to be “too soon.”

But Halloween seems to be a time when people think it’s funny to be an idiot at best, a racist at worst. Don’t be one of these people.

I’ll never forget Halloween at UNC. Halloween, for those who don’t know, at the University of North Carolina is a big freaking deal. I mean, BIG.

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Source: https://plus.google.com/+JesseWojdylo/posts/eGTH6pWFnzA Crowd on Franklin Street at UNC on Halloween, 2012

Basically every college kid from North Carolina shows up. It’s the only time of the year that you will see Duke students (who are drunk, also probably for the only time that year) brushing shoulders with Chapel Hill kids. NC State is there, UNC Asheville and UNC Wilmington and all the other branch campuses are there. App State and Eastern Carolina are there. Everyone, who is anyone, is there.

And in October of 2007, when I was a sophomore, I was dressed as a slutty schoolgirl (just as classic as it is classy, I know). My boyfriend at the time was one of the bad guys from the 300, the Ninja fighter people. Anyway, we were pretty tame compared to the 1,238,402 people I saw dressed in blackface as Michael Vick, dragging a stuffed dog behind them on a chain.

I’m very involved in animal welfare. I wasn’t then to be fair, but even then, I thought: Wow. So not cool. As a Catholic, I didn’t really think the slutty nuns were very cool either, or the people cleverly dressed as pedophile priests.

There are so many actually clever costumes you could wear, and so many different ways to wear as little clothing as possible that it doesn’t make a ton of sense to be offensive. Unless you’re just looking to be noticed. But for anyone with half a brain, it’s the wrong kind of noticed. I promise. I’m proud to say I have half a brain (most of the time).

But this year, I saw a Halloween costume that really just took the offensive prize. The grandaddy of all offensive costumes. It combines a lack of tact, a lack of consideration, islamaphobia, and immodesty  and ratchets them up to a whole new level.

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Photo by Twitter/@ForeignPussy

Oh yeah, sexy ISIS members. Fan-f-ing-tastic. For the record, this was NOT taken at UNC, but it really wouldn’t surprise me if there are some people at UNC running around in this costume this evening, because Halloween is, like I said, a big deal there, and some people just can’t help but be offensive idiots.

There is nothing sexy about ISIS and in fact, ISIS would likely crucify and/or behead someone who even DARED to wear something like this in their “territory.” I read an article recently (which you can read here) detailing all the horrible things ISIS is doing to its female “slaves” including many of the Yazidi people. They’re housing hundreds of women in buildings where ISIS militants can come and pick out a few to take home for the evening. The lucky winners get a day or a weekend or several weeks of beatings, torture, and of course, rape. Lots of rape.

Very sexy. Because you know what ISIS screams to me? Hooker boots and fishnet stockings. Nevermind all that mass murder, torture, beheadings, crucifixions, ethnic cleansing, forced conversions and rape camps. No, it’s all about the hooker boots and fishnets. And bonus! When you wear a jacked up version of a niqaab you have less makeup to worry about. Man, those Muslim women living under ISIS have the life.

So if you were planning on being a sexy ISIS militant, or a sexy Ebola nurse or do a couples Ray Rice and his black and blue wife for this Halloween, here’s a tip – just don’t. Be a Playboy bunny or something. I would rather see your ass than see your ass AND be massively offended at the same time.

Happy Halloween! And remember, don’t be a racist asshole.

Kobani, a Lesson of History Repeating

The tragedy of Srebrenica will forever haunt the history of the United Nations

~ Kofi Annan

October 10, 2014

Kobani is a small town on the border between northern Syria and southern Turkey. In 2004, according to the Syrian census, it had a population of 44,821. Now, Kobani’s population is unknown. It has been estimated that approximately 700 elderly citizens are still trapped inside the town while the Kurds take on ISIS and another 12,000 civilians have fled but have not made it across the border into Turkey.

Kobani is going to fall.

In 1992, during the Bosnian War, thousands of refugees fled outlying villages and towns in eastern Bosnia. They fled to a city called Srebrenica, on the border between eastern Bosnia and western Serbia. Srebrenica was declared a UN “safe zone.” The population of the small city swelled to 50,000 or more. In early July, 1995, while UN peacekeepers looked on, Srebrenica fell.

Beginning on July 11, 1995 and the days that ensued, over 8,000 Bosnian men and boys were systematically slaughtered by Bosnian-Serb forces. Not because they had done anything wrong, but simply because they were Muslim. Thousands of women and girls were loaded onto buses and sent to neighboring Tuzla. The roads were filled with landmines. Some never made it.

I knew a survivor of this massacre. He and his four other brothers (one an infant at the time) made it. Their father, grandfather and uncle did not. Their mother died shortly after seeking asylum for herself and her children in the United States. He was not any different than you or me, except he had lived through this. He was handsome, charming, charismatic; he liked to dance and go to the beach. He had a penchant for odd home remedies, including gurgling vodka for a sore throat. He loved his family, and they were all he had left. His prized possession was his second-hand Mercedes Benz, and he used to tell me his father once drove a Mercedes for Tito, the old Yugoslavian dictator. He cooked amazing food and for a time, he loved me, and I him. He was a hard worker who put in massive amounts of overtime, lived in a small apartment with his brother and didn’t own a bed frame, because he thought they were a waste of money. He appreciated American life, especially fashion, but he missed Bosnia. He identified as Muslim, but he didn’t believe in God, not anymore, not after Srebrenica.

Now UN staff members are calling on this history, the history of genocide, to urge us all that Kobani must not fall. We must not allow another Srebrenica.

Do you remember Srebrenica? We do. We never forgot and probably we never forgave ourselves.

~ UN Envoy Staffan de Mistura

When I was at school at UNC, I had a friend who was studying international law in the US for a semester. She was from Holland, and she was Muslim. She was older than me, and she kindly snuck me into a bar one night with some of her other international law friends. After we closed down the bar, dancing all night, one of her other friends, a second generation Arab immigrant to Holland, escorted me home. While he tried to woo me, I explained to him that I had a boyfriend. I loved him. He was from Srebrenica.

The wooing immediately stopped and the man’s eyes sharpened. The melancholy seemed to darken his already dark eyes and the frown lines cast a shadow over his olive complexion, “Tell him we are sorry. We are so sorry for standing by and doing nothing.”

I smiled and pet his hand and said thank you, I would tell him. I later found out from my friend that the man who had been trying to win me over was actually won over by me, “That girl has the most integrity of any American I met while I was here, and she’s only 20 years old.”

That stays with me. It meant a lot to me, and still does. What also stayed with me was the guilt that the Dutch still feel over the events of Srebrenica, an occurrence most Americans don’t even know about. It has stayed with the Dutch people. Neither they, nor the Bosnians, have forgotten.

If the same results in Kobani, I fear the Turkish will be imposing the same guilt on their future generations.

Because ISIS is as brutal, if not more brutal, than the Bosnian Serbs. They will not stop at simply winning the city. They will execute anyone there who remains, a punishment for their rebellion. Hundreds, if not thousands, will die, and Turkey, with its tanks and its army sitting on the border, will stand by like the UN peacekeepers in Srebrenica, bearing silent testimony to the atrocities that will likely follow.

Turkey believes that we should intervene; they say that they will not go it alone. They want us to target Al-Assad as well as ISIS, but we are leery of another war in the Middle East. We could not stand by and watch the Yazidis murdered, so we began to strike. We are trying not to stand by and watch the Kurds in Kobani be murdered, but who better to defend Kobani than the Turkish? It is, after all, their doorstep that ISIS is creeping up on. Fighting for Kobani would be a good political move as well, it would help to solidify the tense relationship between Turkey and its own Kurdish minority, who feels that they have been subjected to rampant discrimination and have protested Turkey’s reticence to act. The Turkish Kurds feel an ethnic alignment with their Syrian brethren and the failure of the Turkish government to act makes the Kurdish feel abused, unwanted, mistreated. They feel like Turkey wants ISIS to execute them.

It’s hard to blame them.

For the United States, it’s a precarious balance. We cannot be expected to be the world’s peacekeeper. Turkey is a NATO member as well. It’s not reasonable for Turkey to say to us, “Don’t worry, ISIS is knocking on OUR door, but you got this, right?” We should all be in this together, to prevent another massacre.

At the end of the day, people are people. And those people trapped in Kobani could have been you or me, or your grandfather/grandmother/mother/father/sister/brother if only they had been born in a different part of the world. If Turkey does not act, however, it cannot be said that the blood of the citizens of Kobani is on our hands.

Turkish soldier on top of a tank, with the Syrian town of Kobani in the background, stands guard near the Mursitpinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern town of Suruc

A Turkish soldier sits on top of a tank, with the Syrian town of Kobani in the background (c) 2014 Reuters/Umit Bektas

 

Don’t Cry, Smile

I’m tired. I’m tired of waking up every morning facing a panic attack. I’m tired of the nightmares of wars I haven’t lived through. I’m tried of the battles I have lived through. I’m tired of my alarm going off and anxious butterflies filling my stomach.

Every morning, I wake up, I turn off the alarm, I stand up, I look at my drawers and I start to panic. My stomach swells, I feel nauseous. I start to sweat, my hands shake. The more I try to focus, the more everything blurs. All I want to do is curl up in a ball and cry. Most of the time, I tell myself to shut the f up and get on with it. Sometime between putting on my clothes and brushing my teeth, I begin to vomit. I sit in front of the toilet, throw up stomach acid until it is over, then I go back to whatever I was doing.

This is my life.

Not all of it was created by growing up in a generation touched by war. I’m sure a lot of it was created by growing up in a family where violence was the norm.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. That’s what the doctors say I have. The MDs, the Psychiatrists, the Psychologists, they all say, “Classic PTSD symptoms.”

But I never lived through war. Not really. I’m not a soldier coming back from Iraq or Afghanistan. I’m just an almost normal girl living in an upper-middle class suburban environment. I don’t like to tell people. Because most of the time they laugh or tell me that it takes away from those who really have PTSD. It’s a disease, apparently, that’s reserved for those who have faced explosions.

Bombs aren’t the only things that can cause PTSD though, which is something we should really keep in mind, considering the rate at which we’re dropping them. Over $1 billion dollars worth of bombs have been dropped on ISIS, by the way. $1,000,000,000, that’s a one with 9 zeros. One has to wonder – what could mental health professionals do for our soldiers with $1 billion extra dollars?

Mental health is a serious issue in this country, and it seems to be coming to the forefront more often, but not often enough and too often after a tragedy. While we raise a generation seeped in war, more and more guerrilla fighters and lone wolf terrorists are knocking at our door. “Sickos”, “psychos”, “crazies”. We don’t want to blame the NRA or the violent video games or the music industry or the media or the wars or the inequalities drawn along socio-economic lines. There are just crazy people everywhere, right?

True, but also, not true. Are we really ready to just accept that children are going to be shot while they’re at school (from time to time) and that it’s better to just stay in than go to a movie because you might be part of a mass murder and hey, even going to work isn’t so safe anymore, you might be shot up, or you know…beheaded. Because I’m not willing to accept that.

I know that PTSD hurts. I know that mental illness can be debilitating. I know that anxiety has actual, real, physical effects on you. And I know what it’s like to be scorned and embarrassed and laughed at and told to “just get over it”, “let the past be the past” and “don’t cry, smile”. Just be happy, right?

Some of us can’t, and it’s time that we addressed that problem. Maybe we should take a moment to deal with our own issues instead of dropping bombs on civilians and creating more “psychos.”

Author’s note: I am in no way defending the actions of anyone who takes the life of another. I just believe it is time to stop shrugging our shoulders at some real issues we are facing in this country. 

 

 

Fear as a Weapon

It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both

~ Niccolo Machiavelli

September 23, 2014

Last night, the U.S., along with a coalition of Middle Eastern countries, began bombing ISIS targets in Syria. I saw the rockets glaring across the sky and the F-22 fighters shooting off of aircraft carriers on the TV this morning. And all I could do was shrug and pick up my bagel.

Another day, another war.

Back at home, the media hype has me worried. The politicians scare me more. Bipartisan support for the actions in Syria, President Obama said, and I can only chuckle disdainfully. Yes, of course, the only bipartisan support this Congress has offered in 4 years it seems. We’re American though, and we can always get behind a good bombing. We can’t agree on immigration reform, welfare reform, healthcare reform, educational reform, gun control, climate change issues or even a budget, but a bombing, well, we can agree on that. Bombs away.

It’s not that I don’t think we should bomb ISIS, and it’s not that I don’t think they’re awful, I do, but it’s the way I just shrug when I see it, sigh, and carry on about my day. It’s the way that something so serious can slide off like rain on bare skin. What have I become? What has war done to my generation?

We know what it’s done to the thousands coming back. Twenty-two veterans kill themselves every day – that’s one suicide every 65 minutes. But we don’t talk about it much. Our troops suffer higher PTSD rates than any of our allies and perhaps that’s because they never get a break. How can you get a break when you’re a soldier for a country that’s constantly at war?

I know that this war has me afraid. And let’s not beat around the bush and try and call it anything except a war. I can’t help but look around me when I walk to my car at night, wondering if someone is going to pop up, grab me and behead me on the internet. That’s what ISIS is calling for now, the deaths of western civilians in public places. Lovely. But I’m afraid too, for my friends who are Muslim. There’s a lot of anti-Muslim rhetoric going around. The politicians who play to the least educated of us are making egregious comments. These people are our leaders, they should be educating us, not feeding into our fear. It’s a rallying cry that makes no sense.

But there’s not a lot of sense going around these days.

Islam is not the first religion to be perverted in the name of power and greed. It’s just the one that’s “hot” right now. So because our politicians are failing to do it, let me give a brief (and ridiculously incomplete) historical overview of how Islam is not the only religion to be radicalized and used as a weapon.

Christianity was in fact sprung from a religion killing for power. The Jews, along with the Romans, saw Jesus as a political threat because of his radical ideology and had him murdered. The Romans then labeled Christians a “cult” and tried to wipe them off the face of the earth. In 1095, Pope Urban II declared the First Crusade where hundreds of thousands of Catholic “warriors” invaded the Middle East. Besides stealing a ton of valuable art and relics (a lot of which has yet to be returned), they also raped Muslim women and killed untold numbers of “non-believers.” This went on for about 200 years. And let’s not forget the religious wars in Europe which were basically Christians fighting Christians over the “rules” of Christianity. In more recent history, we all know that WWII was a crusade of sorts to wipe out the Jews, during which over 6 million lost their lives. The Eastern Orthodox Serbians committed mass murder and genocide of the Bosniak Muslims in the early 1990s. In one day at Srebrenica alone, more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim boys and men were executed while the UN stood watch. And of course, the Israelis and the Palestinians have been at near-constant war for over 50 years.

The list goes on and on, this is only a sampling. Islam is not unique, it’s not special and in terms of being used in religious extremism, it’s not even that interesting. ISIS is using a formula history has seen time and time again. A charismatic man hell bent on obtaining as much power and wealth as he can, enlists a bunch of desperate, mistreated, misguided cast outs to do his dirty work. Their leader uses the promise of salvation combined with just enough of a promise of revenge to draw them in, and uses fear to keep them in line.

What’s interesting to me is not really ISIS as much as it is the leaders in the United States who are starting to parallel them. And yes, I’m looking at you John Bennett.

We’re better than this, we have to be better than this. Because if we’re not – how are we any different than ISIS?

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Photo (c) AP Photo/Eric Garst, U.S. Navy

 

In Memory of Steven Sotloff

Humanity is but a single Brotherhood: So make peace with your brethren ~ Quran, 49:10

September 2, 2014

I had another post lined up for today, but then this happened.

Another American journalist has been killed by ISIS or ISIL or IS or whatever it is they’re calling themselves these days. To Steven Sotloff’s family, I express my deepest sympathies. Steven did not brush up against war like the many of us living in this country – he lived it and died by it.

The people, and yes, as much as we want to call them demons and terrorists and scourge them with the hell fire of our rage, they are still people, who did this, have a powerful weapon at their disposal. They have the internet. Within minutes of the video being posted there were hundreds of versions of it on YouTube. There were stills being proliferated by western media outlets. The home page of CNN featured an image of Steven Sotloff in an orange jumpsuit. He was on his knees in the middle of the desert. An ISIS fighter dressed in what looked like a bad ninja costume stood by his side, holding a hunting knife.

Anger welled up inside me. I’m sure I’m not alone in jumping to a rash decision. Immediately upon hearing the news my knee jerk reaction was to combat war with more war. I wanted President Obama to send every fighter jet we have in the Middle East directly to Iraq and Syria and unload millions of dollars of bombs onto the monsters who did this. I wanted them wiped off the face of the earth. I wanted to never have to hear about ISIS or the Islamic State or Jihadists ever again. I wanted blood and death. Because that’s what I was raised on. That’s what the people who are members of ISIS were raised on too, but I knew that I was right and they are wrong.

They were monsters in my mind, not people. The media helps us with that too. They make them into monsters so it’s easier for us to destroy them. They desensitize us.

And maybe they are monsters, but I don’t know, and when I had time to let the anger burn away, I remembered that they are people. People who are doing horrible things. But what made them into monsters?

Thomas More in his book Utopia rather famously said, “For if you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this, but that you first make thieves and then punish them.”

I believe we made ISIS. But I also believe that that means that we now have to deal with them. I don’t know if we can negotiate with them or if we should. I don’t know if bombing the hell out of them will get rid of them or make the situation worse. Maybe it will make something more evil than ISIS. We thought there could be nothing more evil than Al Qaeda and yet, here it is.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I know that when I looked at those pictures, because I had to, because I couldn’t look anywhere and not see them, I thought – is this what we want? Is this what we want our children seeing on the five o’clock news? Is this really something we can watch while eating dinner without blinking? Are we really so numb to the situation that this is just something else we shake our heads at before we go on to read about Angelina Jolie’s wedding dress and nude pictures of Jennifer Lawrence?

We made ISIS, but we made something dangerous in our society as well – apathy.

Because I doubt Steven Sotloff’s family watched with a sense of detached curiosity.

Whatever you do, however you celebrate Steven Sotloff’s life, please celebrate his life and don’t glorify his death. Don’t give these people what they want. I urge you all not to click on the link or watch the YouTube videos or post to Facebook or tweet or retweet this horrendous crime. A human life deserves more respect than that.

Steven Sotloff

Photo (c) Getty Images

If you’re interested in reading some of the articles written by this incredible journalist, a very nice compilation was put together which you can read here.