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Monsoon Rage

How do you read the pulse of a well functioning  government? Answer is simple: how quickly it reacts to crisis. In that note the government scored badly as a functioning govt.

The heavy downpour in the upstream Indian plains caused our rivers to swell. Onslaught of flood left millions in destitution.

As the water level tended to rise beyond danger threshold, govt did not initiate any relief operations. Media round the clock reported the worsening of flood situation, reminding us its irreplaceable role in crisis situation.

Yet all their wake-up reporting fell into deaf years. A country that is the epitome of disaster management and set example for others miserably failed to come into the aid of people in distress.

The Haor disaster is still fresh in our minds. All the quarters rebuked the govt squarely for its sloppy management. Despite the news of their starvation, relief operations did not get underway. Politicians as usual resorted to stereotypes.
In addition, flash flood in Haor areas made a heavy dent in country’s Boro production, triggering a shortage in food stocks.Govt took initiative to import rice from abroad. Yet the delay in its action strayed the price of coarse rice northward. And still the price is hovering around Tk 42-45. Soaring food prices will further make the lives of flood-hit people wretched.

This time flood warning and forecasting was good. India relayed data on water level at key points of its major rivers. However it is not clear what was the lead time for forecast .Earlier it was more than 24-30 hours. As relations thawed between the countries, Bangladesh might signed agreements in this regard and the early warning time could be longer than before. Moreover, Bangladesh signed agreements with number of countries to share meteorological data and many countries have the ability to provide precise real time information. Even if a country failed  to comply, there are others.

The point is govt had all the necessary information to buckle down to face this seasonal phenomenon.  Yet it watched the misery unfolded doing nothing.

The press was deluged with reports on flood’s damage.

Till Saturday, raging Teesta has swallowed villages, crop fields on both side of its banks and around 300 homes went under water in Gaibandha.

In Kurigram, water level crossed danger level and inundated 8 new villages.

In Sirajganj flood water washed away part of flood protection embankment.

In Sariakandi , Bogra, swollen Jamuna submerged homes and schools, leaving 7000 people homeless.

In Jamalpur, flood left 150,000 people water-logged. Water-borne diseases broke out there.

In Moulavibazaar, onrush of water further deteriorated the flood situation. This adds to the sufferings of 300, 000 water-logged people.

In flood-hit areas, hundreds of schools have been shut down.Thousands of water logged people are stripped of basic necessities.

In the wake of flood, our politicians failed the litmus test of serving the people. Earlier there had been rat race to reach out the vulnerable with pile of relief goods.

At least they could call off the lavish dinner party or postpone their foreign trip in solidarity with the flood-hit people. They even lost that sense of responsibility.

When we were in schools, we saw reams of political activists went door to door seeking money, fistful of rice and worn-out clothes for the flood victims. We saw cafeterias at the universities and colleges  turned into a big kitchen table where volunteers were making hand-made chapatis, oral saline, packing puffed rice and water purifying tablets.

Rare now is that kind of volunteerism. Central to the flood response activities is dissemination of pictures and footages of relief distribution by politicians. Even that perfunctory display is absent in this year’s crisis.

We have recently purchased some utility helicopters. Even those are not deployed to transport relief and  rescue the vulnerable people trapped in water-logged areas.

Helpless villagers now cast their eyes on  submerged fields. They embrace an uncertain future. Unlike the previous disasters, this one rendered them more vulnerable. They count on govt.

Govt  does not deem the crisis severe. For this reason, its rustic machinery was not seen in action. Only Army was deployed to repair the damaged embankments.

No preparations are underway to tackle the epidemic of water-borne diseases in the post flood period. No call for NGO assistance is heard. Govt is not beefing up efforts, nor is it allowing NGOs to operate in flood-hit districts.

Lost orchard will be back. Lush green will be regenerated. Villages will be built. Crop fields will be in full bloom. Damaged embankments will be reconstructed. Roads will be patched up. But the lost trust on the politicians will not be recuperated.

These are the people who descended on the streets to restore democracy. These are the people who stormed Bastille to free their leaders. These are the people who broke into rebellion when their leaders called for a freedom struggle. These are the people  who laid siege to cities when enemy imprisoned their leaders. These are the people who risked their lives to bring out procession when democracy and their leaders trapped under authoritarian boots.

In their trying time, as the calamity unfolds with all its severity, they find none of their leaders by their side. They looked up and sought mercy of the supreme. Trust, loyalty, love, respect are not written in black and white clauses of a contract. They are tested and cemented as relationship grows. Any act that drives a wedge between people and politicians is tantamount to breach of trust.  Peoples’ lost confidence in politicians  augurs ill for  the future of fragile democracy.

The atmosphere of lack of trust feeds the preachers of depoliticization. Next time do not expect any storming of Bastille, siege to the city, popular uprising against tyrannical regimes when the politicians are in trouble. People are appalled at the inaction of our politicians in the wake of this monsoon trouble. Can our politicians read that?

La Semaine Dernière A Mes Yeux

( 7 juillet — 14 juillet)

Incendie a encore ciblé un atelier de confection. Cette fois l’incendie  a ravagé Medler Fashions à Uttara, laissant beaucoup de travailleurs blessés.

Un restaurant sur le toit d’un bâtiment  a exclu le service aux  étrangers. Le resto «Lake Terrace» a pris la décision suite au conseil de propriétaire.Le propriétaire a peur que l’acte terroriste comme Holey Artisan Bakery Attack se déroule si les étrangers y mangent.

Un avion-école de l’armée de l’air s’est écrasé à Chittagong. Yak 130 a été acheté avec le crédit russe. Les pilotes se sont éjectés.

A Sitakunda des enfants indigènes à «Tripura para» sont morts de la maladie inconnue. Une équipe de médecins s’y sont rendus pour se pencher sur  la raison.

Bangladesh va bientôt acheter  deux avions militaires C 130J C5 depuis Angleterre. Bangladesh  achetera aussi 10 hélicoptères pour gendarmerie maritime. Blog militaire «Bdmilitary» a corroboré les nouvelles.

Cricketer Tamim Iqbal et sa femme ont subi des attaques racistes en Angleterre où Tamim est allé pour assister  au tournoi anglais de Cricket.L’administration du Cricket anglais et celle de Bangladesh n’ont pas divulgué la nouvelle à la presse.

Un policier a tué sa femme par balles et s’est suicidé chez lui à Mirpur.  La police présume que querelle familiale a provoqué la tuerie. Le policier a deux femmes et  s’est marié sa belle-sœur.

Meet The Bangla Ba’athists

The sixties are called the decade of decolonization. New countries, revolutions, radicals, bigots and spread of radical thoughts. The tumultuous decade also gave birth to a radical generation in Bangladesh.

They were the vanguards in many political movements. Later, their footprints can be traced in many of the upheavals Bangladesh had gone through.

Rare are the books that tell us about them and their organizations.

“JaSoDer Utthan Poton: Asthir Shomoyer Rajniti” by Mohiuddin Ahmed is one of those rare books.The book is special for another reason: it brought to fore for the first time the little known links between the radical lefts and the Ba’aths in Maghreb.

The book enthralled me, left me bemused and made me ponder.

First, I would like to make it clear, throughout this write up the term “radical” denotes the radical left and this piece is not a review of the book in question rather it underscores the links between the Ba’aths and the radicals here and their role in creating political quagmire.

The Ba’athists have their roots in the middle east. Theirs was a pan Arab movement that swept across the countries in the region and resulted in coups and counter-coups. Many of the authoritarian rulers in the region were the Ba’athists and they hold their countries together subduing  and oppressing the rivals. They spared no opportunity to build rapport with likeminded ideological groups of other countries and offered them training and money. For instance, construction of dashing sports complexes in developing world, providing safe refuge to coup plotters, creation of scholarship funds in foreign universities like LSE, publication and dissemination of their political literatures abroad were  done through their money.

The radical lefts of Bengal have long been garnered a lot if interest in the West. When the cry of separation of the united Bengal filled the air of political atmosphere in India they came to the limelight.

Brazen political statements made by unimaginable acts of terror. The list of Bengal’s firebrand radicals is endless: from Khudiram to Bagha Jatin, to Surya Sen, to Subhash Chandra Bose.

Many in the West took a lot of interest in them. Leonard A Gordon wrote a colossal work, “Brothers Against The Raj”, on Subhash Chandra Bose and Sharat Chandra Bose.

Bangladesh has been plagued by the coups and counter-coups since its birth. And the radicals have to take a fair share of the blame.

In Bangladesh very few have the authority and are the repositories of history of radical movement to write about the radicals. Mohiuddin Ahmed who himself was an activist and works in the development field is one of them. In addition, he wrote a book on the radicals. He wrote this book on JaSoD in 2014 and Prothoma published the book. I have not had the opportunity to go through the book. Recently, a critical comment on the social networking site aroused my interest about the book. We exactly do not know how much truth the anecdotes contain. But the writer seems to have consulted the facts with the concerned persons before producing them into his book.

No protest has been heard since its publication.

Radical ideologies, be it left or right, are dangerous when they percolated through the soldiers breaching all the safeguarding mechanisms in the garrison and when the more ambitious soldiers among them try to do something extra constitutional.

Major Jalil, Col Taher and his brother Abu Yusuf’s, the men behind Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal, political indoctrination began in the Army. They passed down their military knowledge to their disciples while they were on vacation. Theirs was an independent group outside the mainstream political parties. After the Bangladesh came into being, radicals of other parties joined JaSoD. The names include ASM Abdur Rob, Sirajul Alam Khan, Major Bajlul Huda. It was Fort Bragg trained  and former Special Service Group commando Col Taher who was the group’s most charismatic leader. Hasanul Haq Inu, current minister of Information, Quazi Aaref, Sharif Nurul Alam Ambia, Taher’s brother Anwar Hossain are the other key figures of the party. Unwarranted violence of ruling party’s militia led them to take a violent course of action. The night before the fateful 15 August in 1975 the group carried out a bombing campaign at Dhaka University. One of their activists turned BUET teacher Nikhil Chandar Saha died while making bombs at a secret hideout. The group’s most cynical act was an attempt to hijack the then Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka. It was foiled by the Indian guards and four of the hijackers were shot dead.

The book presents several anecdotes on the group’s links with the assassins of Bnagabandu Sheikh Mojibur Rahman. The most important of them is their ties  with the Gaddafi regime. Exiled killers of Bangabandhu found refuge in Libya and were working under the auspices of Gaddafi’s intelligence officer Colonel Salem. The killers of Bangabandhu contacted the JaSod leadership and invited them to send party cadres to “International Camps”, military training centers for grooming party cadres of likeminded groups.

Abu Yusuf’s Mohammadpur resident was used to hold a discussion between Major Jalil and other JaSod leaders. On several batches hundreds of recruits were sent to Libya to take military trainings.

JaSoD’s mouthpiece Daily Ganokantha, shut down by Mujib regime, resumed publication with generous funding from Libyan Dictator. Over time this relationship grew. Local Libyan embassy started to provide funds to JaSod. Prominent intellectual Ahmed Sofa was tasked with translating Gaddafi’s “Green Book” and received generous amount from the embassy officials. Daily Ganokantho regularly published the translated Green Book.

Even the group’s links can be traced with the assassination of General Zia. It was assumed that General Manzur, then General Officer Commanding of Chittangong, was the plotter of the killing. General Manzur was cousin of JaSod leader Sirajul Alam Khan( author is not certain about this family ties).JaSod was furious against Zia, who rose to power in the political maelstrom created by JaSod and hanged thousands of its activists.

Subsequent military regimes split it into several factions. Islamic radicals were let loose on JaSoD activists in public universities. Still they retained their power in several universities and waged several successful movements against the govt including the restoration of democracy in 1990.

Many Ganokantha intellectuals teamed with Jamaat run publication  syndicates including Mowlana Mannan’s Inquilab. Mannan got lucrative construction contract in Saddam’s Ba’athist Iraq.

Often infighting in the radical lefts and feud between rival groups  led to label others as ” foreign agents”, “foreign operatives”, “CIA”, “ISI”, ” RAW”, “Yes-men of Mao”, “Yes-Men of Lenin”. This is as far the book tells about JaSod.

The radicals were the outspoken critics of Iraq’s war and the” Arab Spring” that upended the Arab  regimes. However the were silent about the brutalities committed by these dictators.

When Poverty stricken Rajshahi  witnessed the rise of Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh, you could again traced the Ba’athist connection. A Jamaat activist turned Coaching center director became the head of the terror outfits who felt the urge to cleanse the region of the radical lefts.

The two-year long rule of the Caretaker regime spared JaSod. None of their leaders landed in jail.Even a JaSod loyalist became IGP whose daughter was widowed in BDR mutiny, an event that also witnessed the murder of RAB Intel chief Colonel Gulzar. Colonel Gulzar arrested the JMB leadership including Bangla Bhai. Rumors say that the IGP was posted as head of Police in Rajshahi when JMB leader Bangla Bhai was consolidating power.

JaSod can be traced again into political controversy when Justice A B M Khairul Haq dropped the provision of Caretaker Government from the constitution. This order ceased functioning of a safe power transfer mechanism. Rumors say he was a JaSod loyalist.

When the present  govt assumed  power, it revived the Bangabandhu murder trial and hanged most of the convicted killers including the killers living under Gaddafi support.
With their demise, govt sapped umbilical cord between them and their loyalists. However,their supporters are still pretty much active in Bangladesh.

Then came the ISIS.It was reported that former Ba’athists hold sway over the ISIS leadership.

Bangladesh  outright rejected IS presence here.  ISIS mouthpiece Daabiq ran several  features on Bangladeshi jihadist and runs Bangla propaganda programs, showing the importance of Bangladesh in  jihadists’ radar screen. Ba’aths links with the radicals contradicts govt statement.

It is very interesting that former foes now share the govt. Once the radicals took the violent path as a mean to resist an oppressive regime. Now they are muzzling the press with the introduction of draconian laws and bringing spurious charges against the journalists.

In brief, it is evident that in all our political and social upheavals the radicals played a role willingly or unwillingly. And caused lots of havocs in the lives of millions of Bangladeshis. From Public offices to universities to the Army to media outlets, their footprints can be traced. In this country we empowered the radicals who protect their interests like a badger, even at the cost of the majority. These radicals in the end contributed to the creation of an anarchic society.

La Semaine Dernière A Mes Yeux

( 1 juillet — 7 juillet)

Une explosion de chaudière dans un atelier de confection a tué 13 personnes et blessé 50. Les reportages dans la presse indiquent que la chaudière était expiré. Les travailleurs se sont dit que la chaudière avait mis en garde deux fois avant l’explosion. Mais les responsables n’en sont pas tenu compte.

Un essayiste droitiste a été abdiqué par des gens inconnus. 18 heures plus tard il a été trouvé à Khulna. Les abducteurs ont demandé Tk 3,5 millions à sa famille. La nouvelle a bouleversé tout le pays.
Transparency International Bangladesh s’en est pris à la nouvelle politique de surveiller la presse numérique.

Human Rights Watch dans un communiqué a demandé enquête de l’ONU sur toutes les abdications et tueries par les forces de l’ordre.  En 2013 et 2015, « Working Group on Enforced  or Involuntary  Disappearance» de l’ONU a voulu à aller au Bangladesh. Mais le groupe n’a pas reçu la feu verte du gouvernement bangladais. Jusqu’en mai 2016, 34 plaintes d’abdication ont déposé à l’ONU.

Stain On Our Clothes

Another tragedy struck Bangladesh. Sewing machines are stopped. Govt and factory owners search answers for questions that are resolvable. Talk shows have another theme to spend few more nights. Unionists have another fresh issue to let off their steam on the streets. Scavengers and fraudsters have another opportunity to take away victims’ compensations.

But some widows and  orphans will embark on a struggle. A struggle to survive. A struggle to live a decent life. A struggle to be on per with the rest of the society. In that journey they will meet lots of tear-shedders. But they will hardly find any true companion to make the journey easier, safer and comfortable.

This is the lesson Tajrin Fashions fire, Rana Plaza collapse and Tampaco boiler blast left before us. That is as ugly as a festering wound. That is as shocking as loosing a vital organ of the body. The truth appears like a giant sink hole in the middle of the road: this society lacks compassion. Compassion is a must to fight the social ills, to bridge the unbridgeable and to scale up the left-out.

So we get ourselves used to such disasters. When they really crop up,  we remain unmoved.

Another deadly boiler blast took lives of the workers in Gazipur. According to newspaper reports, safety devices installed in Multifab Ltd’s boiler alerted the workers twice in vain. Operators ,however, ignored the warning signs and kept it running, patting the workers a false hope of assurance. Worst is that the boiler got expired nine days before the fateful blast. None did anything.

The whole factory was mined! Workers were forced to embrace death!

It was in Gazipur where at least two  boiler explosions killed scores of people and injured many more within a year.

Yet authorities failed to fathom gravity of the situation.

The latest boiler explosion at Multifab Ltd evoked the memory of Tampaco Foils Ltd disaster in Tongi. I went there to see the scale of the damage. Workers used to huddle at factory building which was packed with highly inflammable raw-materials. Like the Multifab’s one, it was outdated and running beyond scheduled hours. When that time bomb went off , part of the building caught fire and collapsed. Workers perished in that trapped inferno.
Dear ones thronged into the site looking for the missing workers. Charred debris were still emitting smokes.

Workers were about to receive their Eid bonuses and salaries. The blast vaporized all hopes. Their widows and orphans got checks of a lump sum amount that does not even guarantee them a trouble free future.

One local resident told me around 100 workers had been working at the collapsed part of the Tampaco factory. Govt deliberately tried to scale down the number of the dead.

Perhaps it thought fewer dead could lessen the intensity of the damage.This time, in Multifab’s case, it is not hiding the number of the victims.

But why do Bangladeshi factories meet such disasters so often? Rumors are as wild as fire. Some say these disasters create  opportunity for debt-stricken owners. Banks provide fresh loans to them. Disasters are like diversions. I do not know how much truth lies in those rumors.

And workers find themselves on the losers side. They toil day and night but do not get fair share in time. On the eve of this Eid, a group of workers in Gazipur descended on the streets and protested against the factory owner for not getting their dues.

For months, they have been surviving on the mercy of groceries. They hoped they would be able to clear  payments of groceries before Eid. But their owners had other thoughts. When the moment arrived to clear workers’ dues , the owners went into hiding. Deception  is common in politics. Now we see it contaminates business and relations between workers and owners too.

European garments buyers’ platform ACCORD has recently disclosed its plan for safety inspection operations for another three years.

There has been considerable unease between platforms of foreign buyers and government since Rana Plaza debacle.

Govt is highly suspicious of their activities and views their actions as unjust interference in country’s industrial sectors. However govt shares their concerns. But did little to fix them.

Later tragedies are proofs of its little action. Had its concerns translated into actions, some workers’ lives might have been saved.

Tragedies continues to strike. Number of orphans rises. Number of amputated workers rises. Has Bangladesh become a killing field for workers? How does a crippled Bangladesh meet the challenges of a middle income country? How does its riches will make a  happy Bangladesh leaving so many workers cheated and unhappy?

Our factories, not all, are devoid of a feeling of “us”. Relationship between workers and owners  is not like a big family picture hanging on the wall. This tragedy and deception loosen the weft of  bonding and trust from the warp of employer-employee relationship. This growing mistrust in the end culminates into a weak social fabric that does not ensure political stability.

Signs are everywhere. Having been lower for several years, coarse rice’s price soars. Coarse rice is the staple of the working class. More and more workers find it hard to get three-square meals with their subsistence income.

Unsafe work place and hungry workers are an open invitation to trouble and agitation on the streets. Hungry workers demanding their dues  on the streets do not enhance a govt’s reputation, which has been under scrutiny abroad since Rana Plaza disaster and January 5 election in 2014.

Our soap makers produce some of the finest detergents. They can remove any stain from our clothes. Is there any detergent that gets rid of stigma of not creating a just society?

La Semaine Dernière A Mes Yeux

(23 juin —- 30 juin)

Les versements dans les comptes bangladais aux banques suisses ont augmenté par 20% dans une année, selon un reportage.

ACCORD, plateforme des acheteurs européens des vêtements bangladais, a renouvelé son projet d’améliorer l’ambiance de travailleurs dans les ateliers de confection pour 3 ans. La décision a mis en colère le gouvernement.

Selon un autre reportage, les dirigeants d’un atelier de confection à Gazipur se sont enfuis sans payant les salaires de ses travailleurs. Ils sont descendus dans les rues et ont manifesté contre les dirigeants.

State Department des États-Unis a déclassé Bangladesh dans son rapport sur le Traffic de l’homme puisque le pays n’est pas arrivé à stopper la commerce clandestine.

En Inde, le Traffic des femmes bangladaises et des enfants a augmenté dans les années récentes.  Ils ont  trouvé dans les maisons closes indiennes. Les diplomates bangladais  ont corroboré la nouvelle.

Les renseignements bangladais vont acheter des appareils puissants d’écoute dans l’année actuelle. Le Ministre de l’Intérieur s’est dit au Parlement.

Tame The Storm

Night falls. Dawn breaks. Dust settles. Life resumes.

But some wounds never heal. Some shock leaves the whole nation shell-shocked.

The country is still reeling from the Holey Artisan Bakery attack.

Barbarity purported by some of our own citizens put the whole nation into shame. Killing of development partners and buyers left a serious blot on Bangladesh’s reputation.

Investigation is on. Speculations are abound. Analyses are aplenty.

Mysteries are still there. Questions remain to be answered.

Whom should we really blame? Ideology? Divided education system? Disenchanted young men? Political differences among the parties? Growing disparity? Lack of surveillance? Lack of security? Alienation? Cultural gaps? No respect for others? Vested quarters? Neighbors? Spread of fanaticism? Or all?

Damage minimizing mode substituted image building mode of the govt. Fewer terror incidents and detaining more suspected militants make the govt complacent. It gives a false hope that everything is under control and ok.

Tolerance is a virtue that we are gradually loosing. We overreact to opinions or views that are different from us.

We often treat persons holding different views like a pack of carnivores devour alive a colossal pile of meat.

No doubt we are also responsible for creating a reactionary society where radical thoughts receive favorable ground.

While the causes of disillusionment are still there. Forces that spit venoms of radical thoughts are still active.

These forces quite easily reach out to disillusioned youth with their wide network and ample resources. In contrast, we see govt and NGOs have no resources to at least stand by them, to get  rid of their false perception of the world.

Govt spends millions of taka on anti -terror operations. Yet it barely spends any money on deradicalization programs. Nor does it assign any NGO in any deradicalization program.

Govt’s support to such programs and NGOs is what rain is to dry land. The wet top soil is full of nourishment for the plants.

Similarly,  the govt assistance helps many individual and social initiatives targeting the youth to flourish.

A troubled young man has very few places to go to help him out fixing his illusions. Sometimes a frank and friendly talk can do the work of a magic bullet. Only a good motivator can do that.

We need more motivators to inspire our frustrated youth and to help them overcome a bad patch.

In regimented organizations like the Army,  unit commander has to know about the problems , be it personal or be it within the unit, his soldiers face and offers his advice. Thereby he relieves them of their worries. His motivating role helps the unit back on track.

This bonding and trust last even after the retirement.

Our young men badly need this kind of motivator beside them. This motivator could be a peer , a professional, a teacher, a govt official, or a soldier like the unit commander. Whenever they find themselves in trouble, they can go to their old school, college, university, a govt/NGO run office and have a chat with the motivators.

They can also hold group discussion apart from individual session. The motivators must know remedies to financial, health, social and family problems.

In this regard, they should have close ties with concerned institutions.

A national call center can also be set up. Young men in distress can call a three-digit number, share their worries and get advice.

Both govt and NGOs can finance its operations. In addition, we have to create organizations that engage youth in creative works, social movements, sports, provide them a platform to display their talents, assist their little ideas to grow and build their network.

The only thing we should keep at bay in these organizations is politics. It only divides us, debases us. It kills ideas, initiatives. We should not let the politicians be part of these organizations.

A troubled young man is an easy prey for mentors of fanatic ideology. For some bizarre reasons these mentors roam scot free in the  society. But many good initiatives and people who take such initiatives face mettle in this society.

I think we have come to a point when we all have to do some kind of social service or charitable works to get rid of the social ills.

This will to change the society will get us army of motivators. Anyone who possesses a special set of skills can enlist himself as a motivator. A govt organization/NGO can maintain a database of motivators.

For some predetermined hours in every week he will motivate a group of audience or an individual at a place fixed by govt / NGO.

In exchange he can get a fair remuneration. In addition, he will get certificate for his contribution and get some privileges in availing govt services.

We have to groom our youth. If there is storm inside them we have to deal with it. If we think we will be  safe by letting the storm pass. We are dead wrong. The storm will consume us.

Our option is one: tame the storm.