activism

Letter published by WaPo in re: Whole Foods rating system expose article

Nice to get one like this out there in the public eye.

Rating degrees of animal cruelty is the wrong metric

November 29

The Nov. 27 Economy & Business article “Whole Foods turkeys treated inhumanely, animal activists say,” focused on “humane” use of animals as an empirical matter (i.e., can we, practically speaking, provide humane treatment to animal property?), as do many articles on the plight of animals used for human pleasure and convenience. But it failed to question the underlying assumption that it is acceptable to use animals at all. All animals are sentient beings, self-aware and sensate, and so we are obligated to not cause them unnecessary harm. This is the opposite of exploiting them for food, clothing and entertainment, for which any number of harms are routinely inflicted for the sake of “proper” use of the animal, even in the most “humane” operations.

Once we understand that we have no moral justification for putting animals into situations in which the harms we cause them can be graded on a level of severity, we may finally begin to regard animals as members of the moral community and accord them the respect they deserve not to be used as our things in the first place. That starts by going vegan, not by purchasing animal parts highly rated by Whole Foods.

Eric Prescott, Jamaica Plain, Mass.

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Decision-making criteria in animal rights advocacy

tl;dr – When setting out to achieve any objective, if you properly understand your desired outcome and what is necessary to achieve it, then you find built-in decision-making criteria for how to make the most effective use of your time. This common sense approach to productivity is roundly ignored by those who support the abolition of institutional animal exploitation but who engage anyway in reformist activities which do not meet the decision-making criteria that derive from an understanding of the aims of abolition–why abolition is the objective and what is required to bring it about.

Preamble

There’s nothing like an impending deadline to help clarify what has to be done right now (with the recent closing on the first home my wife and I had ever purchased, and the subsequent remodel, I can definitely speak to this), but when one is pursuing long-term goals–in the case of animal rights advocacy, very long-term goals–one often needs some help to determine what next actions to take. In anticipation of the upcoming launch of the International Vegan Association, which was occupying a lot of my time outside of work, and the impending closing on our house, I needed to step back and take stock of all my various personal long-term projects and, after determining which were still priorities, I clarified my objectives for those projects so that I could arrive at some decision-making criteria that would help me better determine how best to spend my time in pursuit of those projects. The criteria helped me to be confident that I was focusing only on those activities which would contribute meaningfully to my objectives. If any proposed actions didn’t fully align with my objectives, they were simply dropped off the to-do list. As I took the time to evaluate my plans with this ‘high-altitude’ approach, it occurred to me that there was a useful lesson here for animal advocates.

The conventional wisdom

One of the most disturbing tendencies in the realm of animal advocacy is to downplay or even to criticize theory and critical thinking. Reading books doesn’t ‘help animals,’ the line goes. “They’re suffering while you’re sitting around talking about theory.” “Get off your butts and ‘do something’ for animals.” And many people heed this call. After all, how can doing something to ‘help animals’ be wrong? Besides, it’s a lot easier get volunteers to commit to holding up signs in front of a restaurant or circus, to canvas for signatures, and to distribute pamphlets encouraging people to eat less meat than it is to get them to read and critically think about animal rights ideology.

JDD Protest 09-20-2006 [use for blog to illustrate past activism?]And for the volunteers, hey, it feels kinda good to be ‘doing something,’ even if one is not sure what is being accomplished in the overall scheme of things, other than ‘helping animals.’ Not that people think much about it. I mean, I should know. I held up banners, signed petitions and all that for years before I started thinking about what I was doing and why–how I fit into the big picture and how what I did might contribute to the end of institutional animal exploitation. Eventually I realized that I had been flailing around, playing Whac-A-Mole, never really addressing the underlying problem facing animals. How can we be effective advocates for animals if we don’t understand the fundamental obstacle to meaningfully protecting animals and what is needed to secure that protection? What are we even advocating at that point? I hadn’t even known about the fundamentals of animal rights, much less understood or addressed them in my advocacy. Indeed, once I started educating myself about animal rights, it blew up my understanding of animal advocacy, and I saw more clearly when people in the mainstream ‘animal protection’ movement rejected actual animal rights ideology. It was truly perplexing. And still the vast majority of animal advocacy done on behalf of animals continues as I had experienced–pursuing welfare reforms, regulations, confusing single issue campaigns, and the like. What an extraordinary waste.

Why it doesn’t work

The fact is, most of us simply wouldn’t accept this ‘just do something’ or ‘do anything’ approach in our professional or personal lives if we wanted to be successful, and the reason is simple: we can’t be successful at anything without fully understanding just what success looks like. What is our objective? Is it the right objective? Why? What steps are necessary to achieve that objective? We use this sort of natural planning model in other walks of life, almost taking it for granted as the logical way to get things done, and yet this approach is routinely ignored in animal advocacy. Many activists I’ve talked to about what we should be doing with our time have thought less about our endgame and the actions necessary to achieve it than they’ve ever thought about what it will take to pull off a successful job search or house move.

But if you need a job, to go with that example, you don’t typically just ‘do anything.’ You do that which helps get you gainfully employed. So, logically, you think about what actions are required to achieve that outcome and set about doing them in the order needed to get there. This isn’t to say that everything has to happen in a precise order for all objectives, or that everyone is going to go about getting a job in the exact same way, but clearly updating your resume is going to come very close to the top of your list, and you’re probably not going to add ‘plan vacation’ to your list of actions necessary in order to get a job. You’re going to assess the viability of a job-seeking task based on its relevance to accomplishing your objective, and you’ll surely want to avoid counter-productive activities.

This is not to suggest that abolishing the property status of animals is equivalent to a job search, but it should be clear that, to achieve abolition, there will have to be performed a series of actions directly related to that objective. These actions won’t always have to occur in a specific order (though often there is a best next action), but when we carry out specific tasks or physical actions in the service of our objective, it’s because we have good reason to believe that they will move us toward our objective in a practical and meaningful way. We don’t want to waste our time, nor do we want to work against ourselves by engaging in activities that, for example, reinforce the notion that our sole moral obligation to animals we use is to use them more gently. I’m reminded of the notes I was reviewing how Stephen Covey identified the problem with setting a ladder against a wall and reaching the top only to find the ladder was placed against the wrong wall–you waste precious time and energy only to find that you’ve been working against yourself. If non-abolitionist advocacy does actually offer us steps anywhere, it is up a ladder on the wrong wall.

Unlike the natural planning model, the ‘do anything’ approach fails to provide us with the sort of decision-making criteria we need to understand how best to spend our time in the service of what nearly all of us seem to say we want–the abolition of institutional animal exploitation. ‘Helping animals’ and ‘reducing suffering’ (a key rationale behind many animal protection campaigns), while noble in intent, aren’t concrete objectives. It more or less amounts to ‘Be kind to animals,’ which pretty much every decent person already agrees to anyway. On the other hand, abolishing the property status of animals is a very clear, specific outcome–a measurable one, no less.

Applying the natural planning model to animal rights advocacy

In order to bring about abolition, which most ‘animal protection’ advocates claim to support, there are simply a finite number of things we can do at any given time or in any context in order to make progress toward that outcome. We need direction and focus to take on those most needed actions. Frankly, given the enormity of this objective and the sheer number of things we could be doing at any given moment, the natural planning model should be welcome for its enormously helpful decision-making criteria. It’s quite helpful to have a means for filtering out all the things you could be doing with your time but which wouldn’t necessarily serve your most vital interests in the all-too-brief amount of time we have to make a difference in this world. Not everything we ever do in life has to help us achieve abolition, of course. We have to refresh ourselves sometimes, for example. But these must be conducive to achieving our goals and not work against us. Certainly if we are hoping to achieve any meaningful outcome, then it is necessary to focus on those activities which directly produce progress toward that outcome. Otherwise you’re spinning your wheels, or worse.

Abolitionist animal rights thought would enter the public debate faster and in a more impactful way for animals if all would-be abolitionists together used the same abolitionist decision-making criteria to guide their activities. Hundreds of thousands of volunteers could be marshaled into a more potent force as their work becomes aligned with the objective of abolishing animal use. Simply applying the natural planning model to animal rights advocacy would lead to abolitionist actions. If a potential action conflicted with abolitionist principles, it would simply be avoided. Activities which, by way of not being clearly pro-abolitionist and so fail to challenge the current paradigm, would be avoided as well. That would leave those activities which undermine the property paradigm. And while that leaves plenty of room for creative, vegan advocacy, it also narrows the range of activities and offers the greater strength that comes from focus and clarity of purpose. If, properly understanding our objective, decision-making criteria helps us determine that, yes, a given action aligns with our objective directly (it promotes a consistent abolitionist message), then we know we’re pointed in the right direction and doing work that will meaningfully contribute to our goal of abolition, bringing it that much closer to reality.

This theme runs throughout Prof. Gary Francione’s work <http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/books/#.UxnLdNzUz4g>, making its first extended appearance in Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement <http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/books/rain-without-thunder-the-ideology-of-the-animal-rights-movement/>. Francione has long observed an ‘animal protection movement’ comprised of individuals who themselves generally claim to want an end to the abolition of animals’ property status. But what distinguishes the ‘protectionists’ from the abolitionists is that, rather than pursuing means which directly resemble our end of abolition, they–for various reasons Francione describes in Rain Without Thunder–actually reinforce the existing property paradigm by promoting vegetarianism, larger cages or other forms of more ‘humane’ exploitation, and so on, rather than challenging the notion of using animals in the first place. In focusing their resources on animals’ interest in not suffering, animal groups educate people not that they can’t in good conscience use animals, but that animals want to suffer less, and so consumers learn simply that they need to do a better job of sourcing their animal products from ‘responsible’ animal users. When we look to match up our actions with our desired outcome, we can readily see the problems with this sort of approach.

If it’s important for us to consider how to achieve our objectives in any other aspect of life, think about how much more critical it is that we critically examine the things we do or propose to do as activists. There are only so many resources available to try to counter the forces that would keep people using animals, and there are so many ways in which we can go off track. As Prof. Francione says, it is a zero sum game. When we work on behalf of animals’ rights, we simply cannot afford to bypass the decision-making criteria offered by rights theory. How can we expect to be make meaningful progress toward the outcome of abolition if we ignore what’s necessary to achieve that outcome?

Announcing new abolitionist literature

The Boston Vegan Association:
Respecting animals means going vegan

The BVA’s 8-page abolitionist vegan outreach pamphlet is now ready and available for viewing online and sharing. I have also had a “generic” version prepared so that you can include your own information on the back cover instead of the BVA web address and logo (pictured). If you would like to receive copies for distribution, please get in touch.

I like to hear from you. Comment on this post below or email me.

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Vegan Education Made Easy: An Abolitionist Pamphlet

Gary L. Francione just posted a self-produced vegan education pamphlet at his blog, The Abolitionist Approach. It’s a double-sided document, so it will be easy to reproduce and distribute. A lot of people have been clamoring for a resource like this, and now you finally have it, from the very person behind the abolitionist approach. If that’s not good enough for you, I don’t know what is! Get out there and spread the message far and wide.

I like to hear from you. Comment below or email me.

Enjoy AAFL? Use the permalink icon to share this entry with your friends or to link it from your blog, submit to a service using the share button below, and consider making a small donation to support this site and my work. Thanks!

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse…

BusinessWire: Eggology Becomes First Egg Products Brand “Certified Humane” By Animal Welfare Auditor, Humane Farm Animal Care

According to Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC), and their partners at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Eggology egg products are humane. There you have it. No reason to go vegan, you crazy animal huggers. Animals like to be killed for trivial reasons, such as the taste of scrambled eggs.

How is anyone supposed to explain that veganism is a moral obligation when HSUS, the ASPCA and HFAC are all saying that eggs can be produced humanely? You certainly can’t do it by stating that eggs are inherently inhumane. Why? Because that “radical animal rights organization,” HSUS, and other animal lovers say they can be produced humanely; you just gotta follow some simple guidelines…

With certified humane egg products on the market, you’ll be hard-pressed to convince the average Joe that an omelette made with Eggology, Hope Acres cheese and Prather Ranch ham is bad for animals. Heck, if you subscribe to the utilitarian point of view, you may be morally obligated to eat this breakfast, since those animal exploiters brought much happiness into the world by breeding, raising and killing those animals so that Average Joe could enjoy his tasty, “humane” breakfast. 

I am so disgusted.

If you are wondering why vegans and vegetarians have gone back to eating certain animal products, wonder no longer. These folks have, unfortunately, bought into the notion that it is humane to extinguish the life of another being for the sake of profit, to utilize others as a means to our ends when it is entirely unnecessary to do so.

If there is any doubt that animal welfare activism (masquerading as animal rights activism) harms the animal rights and vegan movement(s), I should hope this would make you think about it differently. We may well end up with a few countries in which the vast majority of animal products consumed by people that can afford it are produced outside of typical factory farming conditions. 

This may mean fewer people eat animal products. It may even mean that fewer people will be eating animal products than if we saw a doubling in the number of vegans over the same time period. But animals would still be human property. Their basic, primal interest in continued existence would be negated by our desire for food that we have become accustomed to, and which many people find delicious, but which is by no means necessary for our own continued existence. Their deaths would still be unnecessary blood on our hands. It would still be unjust.
Now, seriously, you can go into vegan outreach with your game face on, because you know that it is never humane to kill another being simply for our own enjoyment, but that conversation is becoming harder and harder than ever, and it’s all because of our friends at various animal protection organizations working so hard to help animal exploiters prove that animal products can be produced humanely!
Good luck, activists. You’re gonna need it.

Veganism is not a boycott

I was wracking my brain trying to figure out how to get one of my upcoming Taste Better columns down closer to the preferred 1,000 word length. I spent way too much time trying to preserve the whole thing. It is abundantly clear to me now that, while somewhat helpful to the discussion, an approximately 650-word discussion of how veganism fails as a boycott is a bit of a tangent.

That said, I will probably post here again when the column goes up and refer back to this post, in case you want to see how it fit into the original piece. The passage I am preserving down below would have basically acted as a segue breaking up a paragraph on veganism as way of taking personal responsibility for abolishing animal exploitation and how, for many of us, this is still not enough.

For a handful of reasons, it’s good that I made this cut. First, now the column is down to a more digestible thousand-word proximity, which will make Jason Doucette and my readers over there happy. Second, the column is a bit more focused. And, finally, I kind of wanted this particular excerpt to be made available sooner rather than later, due to a recent post by Mary Martin over at Animal Person. The column I extracted this excerpt from won’t go up for another month or so.

I have included just enough of the paragraphs before and after to help the piece stand alone. I look forward to your thoughts in comments, as always.

Going vegan is taking personal responsibility for abolishing animal exploitation. In this respect, it is an essential step toward achieving animal liberation and their right not to be treated as property. Nothing else comes close.

Unfortunately, legal processes are not yet open to eliminating the property status of animals, mainly because at this time not enough people in our society support such an idea. Activism on the corporate level fails as well, particularly with respect to boycotts, which are generally a tool for reform, not for abolition.

In a typical boycott, faced with public pressure, companies institute reforms that eventually restore confidence in their business. Once such measures are in place, consumers return to purchasing its products and the boycott ends. However, respecting the right of animals to not be treated as property means never accepting their use for our trivial interests in food, clothing, entertainment and so on. In other words, the boycott can never end.

By way of example, a boycott of one company because its workers were caught using chickens as footballs only serves to express disapproval over using chickens as footballs. It does nothing to convey how seriously wrong it is to have bred that chicken as a commodity in the first place, which is ultimately how he ended up as a football. Once the company can assure the public that the chickens it owns are no longer being kicked around, there is nothing to prevent consumers boycotting the company for this abuse from buying its products again. But the company still owns the chickens, and the chickens’ intrinsic interests are still subservient to the economic interests of the company.

Cargill, ConAgra, Tyson, Smithfield and others will never stop enslaving animals until the demand for such products subsides to the point that no profitable system can be found to carry on, hence the need for consistent, widespread vegan advocacy, not a boycott. After all, it’s not one particular company that’s a problem, nor is it the way these companies produce the products, per se. It is the products themselves–it is the fact that the products are even products to begin with.

The issue is becoming particularly urgent as we see animal exploiters, with help from some animal welfare organizations, carve out a whole new “conscientious consumer” category, adopting and touting “humane reforms” that ultimately improve their bottom line while doing nothing to eradicate the perception of animals as property. Quite the opposite, “humanely-raised meat” (and related labels) help consumers to feel better about eating animal-derived products, many of which have been called “guilt-free”, as if selectively breeding, mutilating, dominating and killing sentient beings for no good reason can ever be considered guilt-free.

For many, what seems to matter most is that animals live their lives as pain-free as possible while they are being exploited, never mind that their rights are being violated so long as they are property (since, as discussed, the interests of property can never be properly balanced with the interests of the property’s owner). Illuminating the faulty basis for some people’s dietary choices, some vegans have reportedly gone back to eating meat now that it’s allegedly “happy”. A recent issue of Good Magazine even highlights a former animal activist who is now a rancher! If a boycott means improving the treatment of animals, and not eliminating their use as commodities, then this is where it ultimately leads.

Companies must know that we will not eat any of their products, as long as they are derived from animals. So, unless vegans are boycotting Tyson or Smithfield in hopes that they will eventually stop exploiting animals and will become all-vegan companies (don’t hold your breath on this one), they must be vegan for other reasons. That reason must be abolition.

As many of us have realized, the only way for us to abolish our own contribution to animal slavery is to go vegan. Doing so rejects the speciesism that contributes to our society running roughshod over animals’ interests in avoiding pain and suffering, feeling pleasure, bearing offspring, nurturing their young, and so on.

But for some, as big a step as going vegan may have been, it is not enough.

2nd Blogoversary

Today marks 2 full years that I’ve been writing at An Animal-Friendly Life about issues that affect animals, and those of us who care about them.

No fancy vegan cake celebrations around here, or anything like that (though I might cave in and bake cupcakes with my wife later), but it is satisfying to reflect back on the past 2 years and see that I’ve published well over 1,400 posts on behalf of animal interests, as well as a couple dozen podcasts. That makes it tougher to review the blog for highlights to link, but skimming through the posts, I’ve found it interesting to note the development of my thinking on the various issues over time.

In some cases, not much has changed. But, as my fellow activists in the animal protection movement(s) and I continually stimulate thought-provoking discussion amongst ourselves in such venues as magazines, message boards, blogs, podcasts, books, conferences, and interpersonal conversations, it is hard not to find one’s self growing.

Of course, there are many ways to approach one’s activism. Taking stock, I’m as opposed as ever to engaging in activities that threaten, intimidate, and are otherwise destructive, but I’m also less inclined than before to cheer incremental welfare reforms. Privately, I’m happy for any meaningful reduction in true suffering. But, at the same time, I find it difficult now to publicly applaud companies for successfully being pressured into doing something they didn’t really want to do, particularly when the change does little if anything to change society’s concept of animals as commodities. Animal exploiters really don’t need any extra help burnishing their image to look more appealing to consumers.

Still, there are victories I can heartily praise. When high schools and universities successfully offer vegan menu options in their cafeterias, for instance, we are seeing the manifestation of a major shift in thinking. This widening of options speaks to a broad-based societal change and acceptance of veganism, normalizing a compassionate lifestyle to the point where it can grow beyond the niche of dedicated people who aren’t impressed that a cafeteria’s sole nod to reducing animal suffering is switching to cage-free eggs. After all, vegan options often still amount to little more than a salad, sometimes settling for oil and vinegar dressing to avoid dairy.

But to broaden to the mainstream, the less committed diners need to see vegan options everywhere they turn. Seeing vegan options for sale helps to validate a dietary choice rooted in compassion. When a cafeteria offers vegan options, not only do the vegans feel better respected (and eat better), but every non-vegan who sees these dishes starts getting used to the idea of veganism, and may even be enticed into trying more of this healthy vegan food they keep hearing about. And since this is happening more and more often, and since products geared toward vegan eating (even if flexitarians account for a major chunk of the consumer-base), we are seeing growth in an area that was quite new when I started this blog only two short years ago.

I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen in the news since I began AAFL, despite the occasional mind-bogglingly backward editorials and fluff pieces that encourage animal exploitation and suffering for trivial matters of fashion and the culinary arts. After all, I started this site because I was surprised by just how much daily news I was seeing about animal issues, and this trend has only picked up over the past two years, both in smaller, local papers and in the major newspapers.

So, obviously I’m not posting less lately because there’s less news, but rather because we’ve gotten to a point where it feels redundant to dissect certain stories. Foie gras again?, I think to myself. While it might be titillating to joke about a hot dog vendor getting fined $250 for violating Chicago’s ban on the stuff, that’s not really my modus operandi here. If the U.S. Congress votes to ban foie gras, then you can bet I’ll be commenting on it. Heck, even if Chicago’s ban is reversed, you’ll hear about it, but I’m getting too busy with other projects to comment on every animal or vegan story that comes my way. There were some days where I posted more than ten times, and I don’t think either blogger or reader gained from that.

If you want witty banter highlighting the ridiculousness in the day’s events, visit Vegan Pr0n and SuperVegan. They specialize in those brief, sarcastic posts that seem to be the mainstay of modern blogging. If there’s anything I’ve gathered from this 2007’s slow-down in posts, it’s that I want to focus more on major trends, the uniqueness of what I’m covering, and the quality of what I’m writing. Considering that there’s a plethora of blogs and podcasts all covering a non-story about Jamba Juice’s mysterious non-dairy blend that I don’t think is currently even being used, I don’t see the added value in contributing to the noise.

Plus, I don’t want to let the news cycle rule my life. I have projects that don’t respond well to the constant interruption, and they are really crying out for my attention. Fortunately these other projects are animal-friendly, and perhaps I will be writing about those, and maybe even podcasting or vodcasting about those when they get to a place where that makes more sense.

In the meantime, stay subscribed through the RSS feeds (gotta love Bloglines.com) or email via the Subscriptions box in the sidebar, and I will continue to post when the mood strikes or some particularly interesting news or events spark a post. Sometimes I won’t post for 2-3 days, perhaps, and other days I may post 4-5 times or one of those lengthy compendiums where I catch up on the news. Regardless, I’ll still be posting.

And, as ever, I will continue to syndicate Totally Not Vegan. I’ve gotten a few emails over the last few months, in which readers have told me that they don’t think the strip is funny (where’s all the appreciative emails?). I do get you, people, but there are two reasons why I run Totally Not Vegan: 1) It is vegan, so we have a strip of our own, and that’s worth supporting; 2) I think the strip is more about recognizing the everyday nonsense vegans deal with and, while it may not always come off laugh-out-loud funny, when we see situations we recognize reflected in those panels, we realize we’re not alone in our frustrations, and that’s cool.

Speaking of frustrations, I have to tell you, it sucks going to other animal- or veg-friendly blogs and seeing 18 or more reader comments, or going to a blog on other political topics and seeing dozens upon dozens of comments, then seeing my own page, which gets hundreds and hundreds of impressions every day, and only seeing the occasional comment or two, and that includes the anti-animal rights types!

I know you’re out there, I know you’re reading, and I know you have some thoughts on these issues. Speak up! I’m not whining here, I’m encouraging you to participate. It really helps me to know what readers respond to. If you prefer, hit me up with an email. Either way, let me know what you think of the site, other than, “Hey, can you fix this link?” If you have no idea how to comment, just scroll down to the gray footer bar at the end of each post. You’ll see an icon that looks like this: Just click on that, and you’re good to go. Talk to me!

Okay, this has been a suitably self-indulgent post. If you can’t be self-indulgent on an anniversary, then when can you?

I’m looking forward to another year of writing about the exciting developments in animal protection at An Animal-Friendly Life. I know there will be much to report and comment on. Also, don’t forget to look for my reviews in VegNews Magazine, including an upcoming feature review on the movie Sustainable Table, and a brief review of the book Igniting a Revolution: Voices in Defense of Mother Earth.

Finally, look for me July 19-23 at AR2007, “the world’s largest and oldest animal rights conference.” I hope you’ll attend. While the online world is great for sharing and disseminating ideas and information, face-to-face interaction and networking is really important to growing the movement. You’ll find animal activists of all stripes there. So, even if you disagree with one person, you may find a “soul mate” of sorts later in the day. Part of the excitement and vitality at this event is the difference in opinions. I think the generally healthy debates and discussions are good for personal growth and development as an activist, and it would be a shame to miss such an opportunity simply because there are people at an event with whom you disagree.

Thanks for sticking with me through this post and through the past two years, for those of you who’ve been here all along. I will endeavor to continually merit your time and consideration.