A few weeks ago, Jakob Lewis (a friend from church) sent me the first episode of his new podcast, Neighbors, wondering if it might be of interest to the Rabbit Room community. He said it featured a story about Thomas McKenzie, and, knowing that there are no dull stories about Thomas McKenzie, I was intrigued.
I listened to the episode and was immediately impressed. Not with Thomas’s story (though I would be), but with the quality of the podcast. I’ve been a Radiolab fan for years and I could tell right off the bat that Jakob was too. I loved the sound, style, and pace of Neighbors, and any favorable comparison to Radiolab is a positive thing.
But Jakob’s ear for a good story was just as in tune as his technical ability. He let Thomas’s experience with the death of his father play out just like it should, with grace, insight, and a bit of revelation.
When I told Jakob how much I enjoyed the podcast, I learned that he’s just been accepted to a residential radio storytelling program on Cape Cod. The course is led by Radiolab’s Robert Krulwich and This American Life’s Nancy Updike. They only accept nine applicants and Jakob was lucky enough (and talented enough) to be one of them.
The two-month course means that Jakob will have to take leave from his job and be away from his wife for two months, though, and he’s currently in the middle of an IndieGoGo campaign to try to raise money to defray his expenses. He’s not asking for much, but if you appreciate the kind of storytelling that Jakob demonstrates in this episode, consider helping him out. I did.
When Jakob completes the residential course he and his wife are hoping to drive across the country and collect stories along the way. Based on his work in this first episode, I can’t wait to hear them.
You can stream the episode below. Check it out for yourself and visit the Neighbors homepage.
Neighbors, Episode 1
“Our Father: Two Fathers Trying to Out-Father One Another”
by Jakob Lewis
First of all, let me apologize to Andy Gullahorn for the awful Beyond the Frame joke you see in the picture above; I stole it from Sally Zaengle so you can blame her. That’s Kathleen Norris being a good sport with the guitar.
We left for Texas on Thursday morning with quite a bit of anxiety. The opportunity to hold a “Hutchmoot” event at Laity Lodge was a dream come true, but none of us knew how well it would work. Would people recognize it as a uniquely Rabbit-Room-ish event? Would the community aspect translate in the same way it has at past Hutchmoots? Would the more spacious program still leave people fulfilled? Would Kathleen Norris feel at home and enjoy her time with us? All these and many other questions were on my mind when I got off the plane. And now, after three and a half days in the beauty of the Texas hill country, after lots of Psalms and poetry, after tables spread with great food including some legendary scalloped potatoes, and after lots of great conversation, I’ll say that the answer to all those questions is a resounding “Yes!”
Thank you to all who came and participated so richly. Thanks to all the speakers and musicians (Andrew Peterson, Jennifer Trafton, Jill Phillips, Eric Peters, Andy Gullahorn, Paul Soupiset), you guys were fantastic; Saturday night’s concert was one of the highlights of the weekend. And I’d especially like to thank Kathleen Norris, who had no real idea what she was getting into, but who came with curiosity and a beautiful, earthy humility. Her humor and wisdom were an absolute delight and it was a privilege to be able to sit at her feet and learn for a few days.
Now that we’re home, I’m anxious again—but not with questions. I went to the desert drained, but now I’ve soaked up the poetry of the weekend and I’m full. I’m anxious to write—and that’s a good thing.
I’m also anxious to get to work finalizing plans for Hutchmoot 2014. The dates are October 9-12. We expect registration to begin sometime in mid-March. We’ll see you in October.
When we threw the first Hutchmoot back in 2010, we didn’t think anyone would come. We definitely didn’t expect that four years later, Hutchmoot itself would be bursting at the seams and we’d be flying to Texas to launch a Hutchmoot Retreat. But here we are, and we’re super excited about this weekend. Laity Lodge has been a big part of the lives of quite a few folks in our community and partnering with them to host this new evolution of Hutchmoot is an honor.
Best-selling author and poet Kathleen Norris (The Cloister Walk, Acedia & Me) has also had an impact on a lot of us and having her anchor the weekend as our featured speaker feels just exactly right. She’ll be guiding us through an exploration of the Psalms, and our other speakers and musicians (Andrew Peterson, Eric Peters, Jill Phillips, Jennifer Trafton, and myself) will be following her lead. It’s going to be a great weekend and we can’t wait to see what the Lord has planned. We think you’re going to love this little corner of the Texas desert as much as we do. We’ll see you at the river.
Ellie Holcomb’s first full-length album hits the streets today. If you aren’t familiar with Ellie, you may remember her as the special guest on this past year’s Behold the Lamb tour. She Kickstarted this record last year and if you were a backer you’ve probably been listening to it for a couple of weeks now. Ben Shive and Brown Bannister co-produced it and I know they can’t wait for the world to hear it. Now’s your chance. Check out Ellie’s website for more information.
Here’s a preview. Trivia: This song was inspired by a scene in North! Or Be Eaten in which Podo Helmer is almost (but not quite) eaten by a dragon. Cool. (Read Ellie’s blog post about it here.)
from As Sure as the Sun
by Ellie Holcomb
Jonathan Rogers has a great Valentine’s Day post that will be live later today. Don’t miss it. I confess that there are no alligators, mullets, or plumbers involved, but I assure you you’ll be glad you read it.
Another thing not to be missed: Tomorrow Randall Goodgame is celebrating his birthday by hosting a live Saturday morning Slugs & Bugs Birthday Bash on Stage-It. Word has it that Andrew Peterson will be making weird voices in the background or something. The price of the show is “pay what you can.” Click here to get your ticket.
Jeremy Casella (of the Square Peg Alliance) dropped by the Rabbit Room this week with a post called “My Search for Joy in the Presence of the Future.” It’s a personal look at the inspiration behind his new record, Death in Reverse, which is greatly influenced by N. T. Wright’s book, Suprised by Hope. Jeremy is in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money needed to produce the record and he’s almost reached his goal. Read the story behind the record and help put him over the top if you can. It’s guaranteed great music.
Hailing from all the way over in Northern Ireland, Heidi Johnston is one of our newest contributors. That’s right—the Rabbit Room has officially gone international. Heidi makes her first appearance this week with a powerful post about her struggle to come to terms with the nature of God in the context of the suffering of her own child. The post is called “The Framework for Hope,” and it includes the following awesome quote: “…all that is not true will one day be consumed by the fire that makes things beautiful, and the only thing remaining of the struggle will be the beauty that was formed within it.” Read the full piece here.
Big news from Rabbit Room Press this week: we’re reprinting Jonathan Rogers’ long-out-of-print Wilderking Trilogy. This is very good news for me because it means I’ll no longer have to answer scads of emails asking when and where these books can be bought. The answer now and forevermore is, “Click here.” Pre-orders are now open. Pre-ordered books will ship in March. The public release will follow on April 1st. If you’re wondering what a Wilderking is, or if you’ve heard the word “feechie” bandied about and aren’t sure what it means, you may appreciate this bit of explanation in the form of a Dr. Rogers anecdote.
Have you ever wanted to buy a rare, used edition of a book but couldn’t seem to find it? Have you ever wanted to summon a magical rodent that would do your bidding? If the answer to either of those questions is “heck yes,” you’re in luck. Meet the Book Mole, Eric Peters’ latest excuse to avoid real work (kidding!). Click here more more information about how you can make Eric search the world over for the books you crave.
Another of our new writers debuted this week: David Mitchel. David is a small town lawyer in Virginia and we’re hoping he’ll get us all out of jail one day. He made his entrance into the Rabbit Room yesterday with a post called “Trusting the Images: Vapor Flirting and Flitting,” in which he takes a look at the complex nature of the book of Ecclesiastes and the potential import of its images. Read it here.
And finally, if you’re a backer of Andrew Peterson’s Kickstarter campaign for book four of the Wingfeather Saga, The Warden and the Wolf King, this is old news. For the rest of you, feast your eyes on this awesome (work in progress) map that Justin Gerard is painting for the finale of the story. Zounds. (If you didn’t back the campaign, I’m sorry–it ended last fall.)
First things first. Come down to Franklin, Tennessee, tonight for the Subjects with Objects art opening at the O’More College of Art & Design. DKM will be wandering around mysteriously as Jonathan Richter paints. There will be free food, drinks, and live music from 6-9pm. Earlier this week we featured the second part in Doug McKelvey’s SubwOb Unplugged series, in which he unveils a new painting (“Untitled 13”) and reveals the process of delving its meaning.
The biggest news this week is that we’ve added a whole passel of new folks to the Rabbit Room contributor list. These folks all have something unique to offer and we look forward to hearing what they’ve got to tell us. For the full list of the Class of 2014, scroll down to the masthead on the lower-righthand side of the page. We’ve also instituted a new open submissions policy. If you’ve always wanted to write for the Rabbit Room, now you can. Click the “How to Submit” link at the top of the homepage for more information.
The other biggest news (yes, the other biggest) is the release of Eric Peters’ new EP, Counting My Rings: B-sides. The four-song EP features three remastered and previously-unreleased songs plus an alternate version of “Traveling Onion.” The EP is available by download only and it’s waiting for you in the Rabbit Room store. Click here to read Eric’s song-by-song explanation of the record, and click here to listen to one of the songs on the new EP (the song that made me a fan, in fact).
Chris Yokel, one of our new contributors, is a teacher, writer, poet, and all around smart guy and he came out of the corner swinging with great post called “Add to the Beauty.” Click here to read the post. Well done, Chris. I have a feeling there’s a lot more where that one came from.
Don’t miss the Matt Conner’s Monday Music Update. This week’s update has the latest news on Jeremy Casella and his Death in Reverse project (look for an even newer update later today), plus news from Don and Lori Chaffer (Waterdeep), Josh Garrels, Jason Gray, and another of our new contributors, Chris Slaten a.k.a Son of Laughter.
Finally, here’s a little lagniappe in the form of Thomas McKenzie’s One Minute Review of a great film (though one that requires some serious viewer discretion).
I can’t remember how it happened, but a decade ago I ended up with a song called “I Am the Sword” on my iPod (one of the big chunky ones that made clicking noises). I recall being baffled by the song and going back to it again and again to try to puzzle out its meaning, which wasn’t readily apparent to me until I read the lyrics years later. I also hadn’t realized until recently that the song is an early instance of a theme running through much of Eric’s music (and writing), a theme of plumbing the thoughts and cares of inanimate objects (like bikes and onions). Eric is one of my finest friends now, but the beginning of my friendship with his music goes all the way back to that one song, which is one of the gems on this new EP, Counting My Rings.
Last week, Eric wrote up a history of each of the tracks on Counting (click here to read that post), and the (digital only) album is now available in the Rabbit Room store. Here’s the song that made me an Eric Peters fan. I hope it does the same for a few of you.
“I Am the Sword”
by Eric Peters
from Counting My Rings: B-sides
Cold, hard steel on a weary battlefield
Makes for stuff of legend and of myth
Forged from the ore which never should have bore
The brunt of such a war to begin with
Bedded down for the eve, I easily drift off to sleep
without a care, without a second thought
I am the brazen bearer of a great and holy terror
a venom and deliverer of sorts
I am the union, I am secesh
I am the musket in the field at wilderness
I am the foe, I am the friend
I am the bloodied saber at the battle’s end
I am the rifle, and I am the sword
I helped to turn the tide while still on the rebel’s side
the master in the slave’s lowly hand
once you realize that all the promises were lies
you never want to be used again
once you realize that all your truths were only lies
you never want to be held again
I am the union, I am secesh
I am the musket in the field at wilderness
I am the foe, I am the friend
I am the bloodied saber at the battle’s end
I am the murderer of brothers from both near and far
I am Grant, I am Lee
I am the wedge dividing men and their beloved country
We’re off to tonight’s premiere of Blackbird Theater’s production of George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman. Other than being G. K. Chesterton’s public sparring partner, Shaw was also the brilliant playwright that gave the world Pygmalion (a.k.a My Fair Lady). Man and Superman is a completely unknown play to me but I trust Greg Greene and Wes Driver at Blackbird to deliver a great show, and Shaw’s name on the title page means it’ll be nothing if not witty, wordy, and thoughtful. Can’t wait. Check out the story that NPT did on the production. Click here for tickets and more information. The show runs until February 2nd.
It’s been a busy week at the Rabbit Room office. We’ve been plotting and scheming and planning some exciting things, which will all be revealed in the fullness of time. While we were muttering in dark corners, though, there’s been plenty of good stuff on the website. Here’s what’s been happening in the clear light of day.
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On Monday, Andrew Peterson (The Proprietor), asked you (The Readership), “What is the Rabbit Room for?” Your answers have been great and we’re taking all of your suggestions and criticisms into consideration as we plan the year ahead. If you haven’t added your voice to the conversation yet, please do. We’re listening.
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Check out the Monday Music Update for the latest news in the Rabbit Room’s musical quarter, including information on Drew and Ellie Holcomb, Andrew Osenga, Sandra McCracken, Eric Peters, Jill Phillips, and Chris Slaten. Click here for the full update.
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Square Peg Alliance member Jeremy Casella launched a Kickstarter campaign this week to fund his new record, Death in Reverse. It’s been far too long since Jeremy’s last album, RCVRY (which is awesome, and available in the RR store), so we’re really excited about this new project. It’s also inspired by N. T. Wright’s book Surprised by Hope, and that’s a good thing.
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Helena Sorensen (whom many of you will have met at Hutchmoot 2013) wrote a great piece for the Story Warren a while back. It’s about her reaction to a reading of C. S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair, and we featured it here in the Rabbit Room this week. It’s called “A Slave in my own Kingdom.” Don’t miss it.
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Once again, Jonathan Rogers proves that when it comes to having great stories to tell, there’s no substitute for growing up in rural Georgia. Check out his latest anecdote, “The Sniper,” to see what I mean. The Warner Robins well, it seems, will never run dry.
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Andrew Peterson also revealed the finished cover of his forthcoming The Warden and the Wolf King, the final book in the Wingfeather Saga, which is currently in full production mode here at Rabbit Room Press. I’ve been editing it for the last few weeks and let me tell you, this story is going to rock your socks off. Andrew is knocking it out of the ball park. Click on the image to the left to see the cover in all it’s Justin Gerard-illustrated glory.
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And finally, check out this new Kickstarter project about Vincent Van Gogh. Nothing I can say will be as cool as this movie looks (though, sadly, I doubt it’ll include an invisible space chicken). Just watch the video. Have a great weekend.
I think you’ve all heard of the Square Peg Alliance. Members like Andy Gullahorn, Jill Phillips, Andrew Peterson, Eric Peters, and Randall Goodgame are household names in these parts. But one of the outliers in the Pegs is also one of the best of the bunch. I’m talking about Jeremy Casella. Check out his fantastic RCVRY album to see what I mean (available in the RR store). This morning Jeremy launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a record that’s been a very long time coming. I can’t wait to hear what he’s been working on, and anyone who knows the man and his music ought to be excited. Check out the video and consider getting involved.
[Adapted from a talk at Hutchmoot 2012.]
“I feel sometimes as if I were a child who opens its eyes on the world once and sees amazing things it will never know any names for and then has to close its eyes again. I know this is all mere apparition compared to what awaits us, but it is only lovelier for that. There is a human beauty in it. And I can’t believe that, when we have all been changed and put on incorruptibility, we will forget our fantastic condition of mortality and impermanence, the great bright dream of procreating and perishing that meant the whole world to us. In eternity, this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets. Because I don’t imagine any reality putting this one in the shade entirely, and I think piety forbids me to try.” –Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
“Traditional” is a word that often comes with negative baggage these days. We too often equate “traditional” with “old-fashioned” or “out of date.” It’s a word too quickly applied to things we consider to have passed beyond their true relevance; things moving quickly toward irrelevance.
Traditional publishing. Traditional music. Traditional education. Traditional family. Traditional values. You get the idea.
But in the essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” T. S. Eliot argues that the word “traditional,” especially as applied to art, is not a negative label in any way, but is instead a positive and even desirable one. He says that “no poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone.” He argues that art is, by necessity “traditional,” that new works are predicated upon the old, each new poet standing upon the bones of the dead. He’s telling us that tradition is important, and to be “traditional,” is not to be old-fashioned or conservative or rote, but to be informed by and to stand upon the long history of literature and creation that has come before.
There is, perhaps, nowhere that this is more apparent than in poetry. Dante, Milton, and Eliot himself are each formidable poets taken alone. If Paradise Lost, for instance, were the only piece of poetry you’d ever read, you might still consider it a masterwork of thought, language, and imagery. But you’d be missing half the story, because when a work like Milton’s is taken in its full historical and artistic context, it’s elevated to far greater power by virtue of the foundations on which it stands—foundations like Virgil, Homer, Ovid, Isaiah, and Job.
Works like Paradise Lost and Dante’s Divine Comedy are strewn with allusions to the works of elder poets and writers. They are packed with references to myths, legends, historical figures, and events that we’ve all but forgotten.
Eliot has said that while the immature poet imitates, the mature poet steals, building into his work bricks fashioned by his forebears. This is true of all art. It draws its power from context, requiring a knowledge of tradition in order for us to fully appreciate its current implications.
Now—I’d like you to imagine that we are living, as Marilynne Robinson suggests, in Troy, within an epic poem. I want to suggest that the world, our world, is itself a work of art, and that our very lives are paintings and poems, frescos and songs, all founded on that which has come before us—all rooted firmly in tradition. The world we inhabit, right now, the rooms we sit in, the walls around us, the sunlight coming in through the window, this all makes up the great work of an age.
So what might that have to do with the New Creation that the Bible promises us will come? What if we are, at this very moment, the tradition and context out of which that new work is about to be forged? Is it possible that we are the tradition and foundation—the metaphors, the symbols, the nearly forgotten tales—waiting to be written into the great work of an age yet to come?
Yes, it’s time for the year-end list of favorite stuff. Off the top of my head, here’s what I most enjoyed this year. Share you own top 5 lists in the comments.
Anna Karenina (Tolstoy) – This took me by complete surprise and is now one of my all time favorites. I wish Levin and Kitty lived next door so I could be friends with them.
The Wheel of Time series (Robert Jordan) – This probably doesn’t belong on the list, but I’ve been reading these books for about 20 years and just finished them this month. That’s an accomplishment worthy of mention. Sadly, the (14) books weren’t at all worth the time investment. Someone should edit the batch down to 4 or 5 crisply paced books.
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars (Doescher) – This is one of my favorite things in the world. If you saw our stripped down production at Hutchmoot, be sure to read the uncut version in hardback (available in the store). We had to cut out some of the best stuff.
A Severe Mercy (Vanauken) – C. S. Lewis + Poetry + Sailing + Tragic Love Story = right up my alley. Beautiful book.
Till We Have Faces (Lewis) – It took me 50 or 60 pages to fall for this book, but once I did, I was head over heels until the end. Without a doubt it’s my favorite of everything I’ve read by Lewis.
12 Years a Slave – By a large margin, the best movie I saw this year. Great cinema.
Saving Mr. Banks – I was completely delighted by this whole movie. I smiled all the way through it. My favorite Emma Thompson role since Beatrice.
Mud – I didn’t see this one coming. It reminded me of a modern-day Huck Finn.
Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing – It’s hard for me to imagine anyone as Benedick and Beatrice except Kenneth Branaugh and Emma Thompson, but I loved pretty much every second of this movie. Thank you, Joss (and William).
Breaking Bad – I binged the entire series a few months ago and it’ll probably be on my list of favorite pieces of cinema (film or TV) for the rest of my life. I’ve definitely never seen anything else on television that can match it. Finishing it was like finishing a classic piece of Russian literature—like Anna Karenina or Crime and Punishment. Best show ever.
Doctor Who – I think this is the year I finally fell for the Doctor. Love this show. So weird. So wacky. So timey-wimey. And yet so very good.
Sing the Bible with Slugs & Bugs – It’s kind of ridiculous how much I enjoy this record. Well done, Randy.
Arthur Alligood – I fell in love with Arthur Alligood’s music this year. I can’t get enough of either of his records (One Silver Needle and I Have Not Seen the Wind.)
The Mantis and the Moon – Chris Slaten’s (Son of Laughter’s) EP completely blew me away. It actually makes me angry when I listen to it because I want there to be at least 5 or 6 more songs, but there aren’t. Darn you, Chris Slaten.
Trouble Will Find Me (The National) – I thought sure Trouble Will Find Me would disappoint me coming on the heels of High Violet, of which I can probably recite every word. But against all odds, the new record is every bit as great and manages to have a vibe all its own. Love it.
The forthcoming Caleb (the band) album – I’m kind of cheating on this one. I spent a lot of time this year listening to Ben Shive producing Caleb’s new album in the next room. It’s ridiculously good, and I can’t wait for it to go public so the rest of the world can hear how awesome it is.
Okay, I know, I know, it’s not even Thanksgiving yet—but I’m going to talk about Christmas music anyway.
Buddy Greene is one of the nicest and most likable guys in Nashville. Every time he drops by the RR office, whether it’s to buy a book, play a harmonica, or just say hello, he’s all smiles and laughter from the moment he walks in until the moment he walks out. And he leaves smiles and laughter behind when he’s gone.
One day last month I got a humble email from Buddy telling me that he had just finished recording a little Christmas album and he wondered if I’d give it a listen. Now let me be honest. My fear was that I was in for an hour of weary Christmas classics and carols adapted for the harmonica—and I wasn’t sure how much harmonicated “Jingle Bell Rock” I could handle. I should go ahead and admit that I don’t really like Christmas music in general. There are a few exceptions, of course. I love Harry Connick. I love Jill and Andy Gullahorn’s Christmas CD. I loved last year’s Over the Rhine Christmas record. And I love . . . well . . . I suppose that’s about it (I’m not including Behold the Lamb of God here because I think that’s something more than Christmas music, if you know what I mean).
So it’s with great surprise that I’ve found Buddy Greene’s December’s Song added to that small rotation of favorites. Somehow, it’s a nice fit beside those other Christmas records. It seems right at home there. It’s a little bit folk, a little bit bluegrass, a little bit hymnal, a little bit jazz, even a little bit crooning Bing Crosby. I love it. So I’m going to shut up and let you hear some of it. Check out the song below.
“Canticle of the Turning”
by Buddy Greene
Buddy just released the record to the public last week. You should check it out. Here’s the link.
Several years ago I joined a couple of friends to form a reading group in which our chief aim was to read books that we should have but have not. Paradise Lost was the first we read and there’s been a long list of others since. It’s been a good thing for me because the group has forced me to read quite a few books that I certainly would not have otherwise, and in the process I’ve discovered some of my all-time favorites.
Then last week at breakfast, Jonathan Rogers (who has for years cruelly and evilly spurned invitations to our reading fellowship) said something that made me shake my head and sigh. What he said was something to this effect (and I welcome him to correct me in the comments): “I’m done reading books I don’t enjoy. If I don’t like it, I don’t finish it!”
Now, in defense of such an indignant and Rogersian argument the following point was made:
Let’s say one reads two books a month, religiously, for the rest of one’s life. If such were the case (and I think that’s a pretty liberal estimate) that means that in my lifetime, I will probably only get to read about 1000 more books. Given that frighteningly finite number, doesn’t it make sense that I’d want to guarantee each of those reads was enjoyable as possible?
Sam Smith just posted an interview with Thomas McKenzie about his forthcoming book, The Anglican Way. There are only a few days left to support Thomas’s work on Indiegogo. Here’s an excerpt, but please check out the entire interview on Sam’s website.
SS: When I’ve heard you preach, you have always emphasized the Gospel. Is the Gospel hubbub of late just another fad?
TM: The Church only has two things to offer the world: Word and Sacrament. These two, together, are how we proclaim the Gospel. The Word is the voice of the Gospel, the Sacraments are the body. The only reason for the Church to exist is to proclaim the Gospel, in word and deed.
We’ve been about this work for 2000 years, and I don’t expect us to stop until Christ’s return. I don’t think Gospel preaching and living could be considered a fad. I don’t see that there’s been a hubbub of late, but I might be missing something.