Politics, et Cetera

A publication from The Political Forum, LLC

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

They Said It:

The central question of our time is how to address this civilizational crisis.  The mission of National Humanities Institute is to help provide the answers by promoting a better understanding of the moral, spiritual, and cultural underpinnings of civilization, the centrality of personal freedom and creativity, and the historical nature of human existence.

Society’s long-term direction is set by the most deeply held beliefs and aspirations of a people, especially those of its elites.  Human beings are ultimately moved by their innermost hopes and fears and basic sense of reality.  These are shaped by the moral, intellectual, and aesthetical life of a people.  Over time, a society lives by its culture — for good or ill.  Major and widespread social and political problems are traceable to problems in the culture broadly understood — to universities, the media, the arts, religious institutions, schools, et cetera.

One of the great illusions of the present age is that politics holds the key to the future.  Politics reflects general cultural trends that politicians have not themselves generated and that they can only marginally control or resist.  For a society truly to address its problems, solutions must emerge from a reinvigorated moral, intellectual, and aesthetical life.  Such renewal will eventually reorient the actions of individuals, families, and communities.

The humanities are central in sharpening the awareness of problems and in inspiring a desire for renewal.  It is largely in the humanities — in the humane and social disciplines and the arts — that the moral sensibilities, the mind, and the imagination of society’s elites are formed.

Mission Statement of the National Humanities Institute (nhinet.org), of which Mark L. Melcher is the Treasurer.

 

CIVILIZING THE LITTLE HUMAN ANIMAL.

Did you happen to hear – or see or read – about the most recent outrage du jour?  Apparently, over the weekend, a CNN anchor – someone called Fredricka Whitfield – referred to the man who shot up the Dallas Police headquarters as “courageous and brave.”  Seriously.  While speaking on air to her network’s legal analyst, Philip Holloway, Whitfield offered what many observers saw as praise for the gunman.  Needless to say, the internet – the “Twittersphere,” Facebook, and a handful of news web sites – were flooded with nearly instant condemnations and expressions of outrage.  How could she say such a thing!  How could she call a man who tried to kill police “brave?”  This is all the fault of the police protesters in Ferguson, New York, and nearby McKinney, Texas, who have tacitly encouraged violence against police!  This is war!

Or so we were told.

Now, to be perfectly honest with you, we have no idea who Fredricka Whitfield is.  We had never heard of her before this past Saturday.  And next week, if someone mentions her name in conversation, we will probably have forgotten all about her and will have to be reminded of the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad things she said.  In short, we know absolutely nothing about her, which means that we have no idea if she hates cops, loves criminals, or thinks Al Sharpton is a really special guy.

That said, we doubt very much if Whitfield meant to praise the shooter, the disgruntled James Boulware.  We doubt that she meant to sound supportive of those who would shoot police.  We doubt, in fact, that she meant to say anything controversial at all.  We do not think she’s a rabble-rouser or a demagogue.  If we had to hazard a guess, we suppose we would say that she’s probably just kinda stupid.

When we say that, we don’t necessarily mean it to be a pejorative – as hard as that may be to believe.  We think that Whitfield is probably your average, everyday late-Boomer/early Gen-X-er type, who used the words “courageous and brave” to describe a wannabe cop killer because she didn’t know what other words to use.  She probably meant to say that the shooter was “brazen” or “brash,” instead of “courageous” and “brave.”  But she simply couldn’t articulate her thoughts.  And she couldn’t articulate her thoughts because she’s kinda stupid – or, more accurately, “poorly educated.”  And of course, in being “poorly educated” Whitfield is a perfect example of a large cohort within her generation, and all those that have followed.

Now, longtime readers may remember that we spent much time during the 1990s discussing the sad state of the American education system, often quoting from documents, studies, and reports.  The most notable of these was a report published in 1983 by President Reagan’s National Commission of Excellence in Education, from which we quoted time and again.  It was titled “A Nation at Risk,” and famously stated that “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”  That was, by the way, 32 years ago – more than two and half generations, to be precise.  And there has been little of evidence of improvement in the meantime and great evidence that things have worsened.

After we left Now-Defunct Firm #1 and began working at Now-Defunct Firm #2 in 2001, we were encouraged by some of our new superiors there to approach the education issue a little more delicately.  Actually, we were encouraged to approach ALL issues a little more delicately, which explains why we left Now-Defunct Firm #2 roughly a year after landing there.  In any case, while at Firm #2, we didn’t write much about education, and the issue subsequently disappeared from our oeuvre after 9/11, having been displaced by seemingly more pressing matters.

In retrospect, that was a terrible mistake on our part.  Not only does education matter a great deal, it actually matters more, not less, in the post-9/11 world.  If we had realized that then, we might have done a better job of forecasting what is taking place at the moment.  Many of this great nation’s current troubles can, we think, be chalked up one way or another to the “act of war” that the NCEE recognized just over three decades ago.

You see, the problems created by the failed American education system are far greater than simply failing to teach some dim-bulb news anchor how to speak.  They are massive and widespread.  They spring like baby spiders from an egg in virtually every phase of the system from preschool to college.  These problems include a lack of rigor, a scarcity of competent instructors, ideologically biased subject matter, grade inflation, excessive attention to “creative thinking,” the “fetishization of contrariness”…etc., etc. ad nauseam.

Evidence of this tragedy is everywhere.  A case in point is the current generation of political leaders, the late Baby Boomers like Barack Obama, who attended America’s elite institutions only to be force-fed Leftist pabulum.  For example, if one is taught to believe that the United States is a typical Western colonial power that has done nothing more than use and exploit the less fortunate people and nations of the world, then one is predisposed to conduct foreign policy with the predisposition that the exercise of American military and economic power is, by definition, malevolent.  Likewise, if one is taught to believe that truth is subjective and that language is but a means by which power relationships are created and manipulated, then one is likely to spend a great deal of time obsessing about words and utilizing them as expressions of power and of moral standing.  Victor Davis Hanson put it this way:

The purpose of language is not disinterested and accurate description; rather, language is employed for the political, whether you know it or not.

So the unwillingness to use the world “Islam” in connection with global terrorism simply reflects the leftwing, relativist view that nothing is ever absolute.  There is not good versus evil, failure or success, but only gradations that are conditioned by the preexisting prejudices of elites who make up these categories largely to protect their own privilege.  Generalization is always reactionary stereotyping.  “Islam” or “Muslim” hardly can characterize 400 million people from Indonesia to Dubai.  (To be fair, I think the Left’s postmodern relativism is itself mostly political and ad hoc; after all, it often enjoys blanket categorization and has no problem with disparagement like “Republicans,” “tea-baggers,” “conservatives,” “males,” or “whites” as inclusive terms that serve well enough to stereotype millions — or for that matter “gays” and “women” in the hagiographic sense.)  ”Islam” and “Muslim” are meaninglessly vague, and are used as pejoratives rather than descriptive terms; like most of our race/class/gender vocabulary these rubrics cannot be used as inclusive terms when the aim is not laudatory.

The Left spent an inordinate amount of time during the presidency of George W. Bush complaining about his foreign policy advisers.  The so-called “neo-cons” were purported to be war-mongers; Israel supporters with dual loyalties; starry-eyed idealists; chicken-hawks willing to sacrifice other people’s children to satisfy their own ambitions; arrogant and intemperate.

This last notion – arrogance and intemperance – may have had some basis in reality.  Beyond that, though, most of the criticism was based on prejudice.  And in any case, the men in question – Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Pearle received most of the Left’s opprobrium – were well-educated students of foreign affairs, military history and the classics.  Wolfowitz, for example, holds a PhD from the University of Chicago and spent much of his adult life teaching foreign affairs at some of the nation’s most prominent institutions.

By contrast, the man most often credited with the formation of Barack Obama’s foreign policy is a hack named Ben Rhodes, described two years ago by the New York Times as follows:

As President Obama prepares to visit Israel next week, he is turning, as he often does, to Benjamin J. Rhodes, a 35-year-old deputy national security adviser with a soft voice, strong opinions and a reputation around the White House as the man who channels Mr. Obama on foreign policy. . . .

Normally, the anguish of a White House deputy would matter little to the direction of American foreign policy.  But Mr. Rhodes has had a knack for making himself felt, not just in the way the president expresses his policies but in how he formulates them.

Two years ago, when protesters thronged Tahrir Square in Cairo, Mr. Rhodes urged Mr. Obama to withdraw three decades of American support for President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.  A few months later, Mr. Rhodes was among those agitating for the president to back a NATO military intervention in Libya to head off a slaughter by Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

“He became, first in the speechwriting process, and later, in the heat of the Arab Spring, a central figure,” said Michael A. McFaul, who worked with Mr. Rhodes in the National Security Council and is now the American ambassador to Russia. . . .

“Ben always holds on to the pen,” Mr. McFaul said.  “Because of his close personal relationship with the president, Ben can always make policy through the speeches and statements made by President Obama.”

Ben Rhodes – the deputy national security adviser and Obama’s foreign policy “brain” – holds a Masters Degree from NYU, an MFA in creative writing.

We could fill up quite a few pages blathering on about the policy disasters related to the educational deficiencies of the members of the Obama administration.  But believe it or not, that’s not really the point of this piece.  Yes, Obama – and indeed all of the ruling class elites in his generation – has been ill served by the educational experiments performed upon him.  And, by extension, the country has been equally ill served.  Unfortunately, that’s the good news.  The bad news is that it’s going to get a great deal worse.  The late-Boomers/Gen-X-ers were at least taught something, even if it was post-modern garbage.  Their successors have been taught nothing and WILL be taught even less in the future.

Last month, we read an interview with our old friend Angelo Codevilla, who happens to be a real foreign policy expert.  He is currently professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University.  He served as a U.S. Navy officer, a foreign service officer, and professional staff member of the Select Committee on Intelligence of the United States Senate.  His books and articles range from French and Italian politics to the thoughts of Machiavelli and Montesquieu to arms control, war, the technology of ballistic missile defenses, and a broad range of international topics.  Codevilla’s words were severe and unforgiving.  And they were frightening as well.  On the state of higher education, he said the following:

I saw higher education as a student and as a professor. . . .

Now grade inflation and that has taken hold, and the amount of work that I can demand as a professor of students dropped through the floor.  Standards have dropped through the floor.  We are graduating semi-literates.  The only remaining bastions of serious education are in the technical fields.  Strictly technical fields.  There are all sorts of courses out there that purport to be technical and they are not.

The level of preparation of students coming into college is abysmal, literary and scientific.  It’s a different world.  We’re educating a generation of morons. . . .

Sadly, if Angelo thinks that college students today are “semi-literates” and “morons” now, the fact is that they are going to be even worse over the course of the next generation.  As Daniel Henninger pointed out in his column last week for the Wall Street Journal, history standards for high school advanced placement courses are currently evolving, and not in an especially good way.  To wit:

The memory hole, a creation of George Orwell’s novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” was a mechanism for separating a society’s disapproved ideas from its dominant ideas.  The unfavored ideas disappeared, Orwell wrote, “on a current of warm air” into furnaces.  In the U.S., the memory-sorting machine may be the College Board’s final revision of the Advanced Placement examination for U.S. history, to be released later this summer. . . .

The AP history framework is organized into concepts, codings and even Roman numerals. They explain:

“This coding helps teachers make thematic connections across the chronology of the concept outline.  The codes are as follows: ID—Identity; WXT—Work, exchange, and technology; PEO—Peopling; POL—Politics and power; WOR—America in the world; ENV—Environment and geography—physical and human; CUL—Ideas, beliefs, and culture.”

An example: “Native peoples and Africans in the Americas strove to maintain their political and cultural autonomy in the face of European challenges to their independence and core beliefs. (ID-4) (POL-1) (CUL-1) (ENV-2).”

Or: “Explain how arguments about market capitalism, the growth of corporate power, and government policies influenced economic policies from the late 18th century through the early 20th century. 3.2.II, 4.2.II, 5.1.II, 6.1.I, 6.1.II, 7.1.II, 7.2.II.”

And inevitably: “Students should be able to explain how various identities, cultures, and values have been preserved or changed in different contexts of U.S. history, with special attention given to the formation of gender, class, racial, and ethnic identities.  Students should be able to explain how these subidentities have interacted with each other and with larger conceptions of American national identity.” . . .

From Key Concept 1.3: “Many Europeans developed a belief in white superiority to justify their subjugation of Africans and American Indians, using several different rationales.”  Pity the high-school or college student who puts up a hand to contest that anymore.  They don’t.  They know the Orwellian option now is to stay down.

This conservative concern is, needless to say, is in addition to the screams and howls coming from the left side of the political spectrum, where even the hard-core activists are shocked and horrified by the state of higher education and the power granted to their know-nothing students.

Now, we have neither the time nor the energy to catalog all of the leftists who have been mugged recently by the reality of higher education in this country.  But we could write a book on the subject, and we imagine that somebody soon will.  In the meantime, our favorite example comes from a guy named Edward Schlosser, who has been complaining for a few months now that the Thermidorian Convention has finally turned on his Mountain faction of Jacobins.  Actually, he hasn’t quite been using those terms, mostly because his students wouldn’t have the foggiest idea what he’s talking about, but he has been whining about a revolution of sorts in higher education.  In his most recent essay, he complained thusly:

I’m a professor at a midsize state school.  I have been teaching college classes for nine years now.  I have won (minor) teaching awards, studied pedagogy extensively, and almost always score highly on my student evaluations.  I am not a world-class teacher by any means, but I am conscientious; I attempt to put teaching ahead of research, and I take a healthy emotional stake in the well-being and growth of my students.

Things have changed since I started teaching.  The vibe is different.  I wish there were a less blunt way to put this, but my students sometimes scare me — particularly the liberal ones.

Not, like, in a person-by-person sense, but students in general.  The student-teacher dynamic has been reenvisioned along a line that’s simultaneously consumerist and hyper-protective, giving each and every student the ability to claim Grievous Harm in nearly any circumstance, after any affront, and a teacher’s formal ability to respond to these claims is limited at best. . . .

The real problem: a simplistic, unworkable, and ultimately stifling conception of social justice

This shift in student-teacher dynamic placed many of the traditional goals of higher education — such as having students challenge their beliefs — off limits . . . .

The current student-teacher dynamic has been shaped by a large confluence of factors, and perhaps the most important of these is the manner in which cultural studies and social justice writers have comported themselves in popular media.  I have a great deal of respect for both of these fields, but their manifestations online, their desire to democratize complex fields of study by making them as digestible as a TGIF sitcom, has led to adoption of a totalizing, simplistic, unworkable, and ultimately stifling conception of social justice.  The simplicity and absolutism of this conception has combined with the precarity of academic jobs to create higher ed’s current climate of fear, a heavily policed discourse of semantic sensitivity in which safety and comfort have become the ends and the means of the college experience. . . .

Personal experience and feelings aren’t just a salient touchstone of contemporary identity politics; they are the entirety of these politics.  In such an environment, it’s no wonder that students are so prone to elevate minor slights to protestable offenses. . . .

The press for actionability, or even for comprehensive analyses that go beyond personal testimony, is hereby considered redundant, since all we need to do to fix the world’s problems is adjust the feelings attached to them and open up the floor for various identity groups to have their say.  All the old, enlightened means of discussion and analysis –from due process to scientific method — are dismissed as being blind to emotional concerns and therefore unfairly skewed toward the interest of straight white males.  All that matters is that people are allowed to speak, that their narratives are accepted without question, and that the bad feelings go away.

So it’s not just that students refuse to countenance uncomfortable ideas –they refuse to engage them, period.  Engagement is considered unnecessary, as the immediate, emotional reactions of students contain all the analysis and judgment that sensitive issues demand.

On the one hand, we can’t help but want to laugh at Professor Schlosser.  He is, quite clearly, your standard Leftist liberal arts instructor who has been indoctrinating America’s youth for as long as he’s had the chance, and he resents only that his faction of Leftism is now threatened by a new, even less substantive version.  On the other hand, the people about whom he is complaining, the patients who are now running the higher education asylum, are the “leaders of tomorrow.”

The imbeciles, morons, semi-literates, and half-wits who are frightened of their own shadows and have turned the entirety of higher ed. into their own, personal “safe spaces,” are the next Senators, Congressmen, and Presidents of the United States, not to mention legislators, governors, mayors, and city councilmen of the various states and municipalities.  Frankly, we couldn’t care less if Edward Schlosser is scared of his students.  Unfortunately, we are too, though for clearly different reasons.

In the end, all of this leads us to empathize with poor Fredricka Whitfield.  We too are at a loss for words.  We’d love to be able to explain how and why and in what context all of this will come back to bite the good ol’ U.S. of A. on its keister, but we have no idea.  We only know that it will.  And as far as we can tell, the trajectory of the nation’s partisan politics won’t change any of this one whit.  If the country were to electe a Republican president, a Republican House, and a super-majority Republican Senate, the education establishment almost certainly would not change even slightly.  Republicans have no better idea how to address education than do Democrats.

Some of you may know that we tend, more or less, to think that Florida Senator Marco Rubio is the most reasonable and the most viable of the Republican candidates for president in 2016.  Some of you may also know that this March, at an event for prospective candidates and big-shot donors, Rubio addressed the student loan crisis by mocking the humanities.  Students, the Senator said, should think long and hard about “whether it’s worth borrowing $40,000 to be a Greek philosophy major.  Because the market for Greek philosophers is tight.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is nuts.  As Plato – one of those Greek philosophers – put it, “Man . . . is a tame or civilized animal; never the less, he requires proper instruction and a fortunate nature, and then of all animals he becomes the most divine and most civilized; but if he be insufficiently or ill- educated he is the most savage of earthly creatures.”  The humanities – the liberal arts, that is – are the means by which instruction is given.  If we surrender to humanities to the Leftists, the post-modernists, the trigger-warners, and the micro-aggressors, then we surrender our civilization as well.

More than thirty years ago, the late Edwin Newman appeared in a skit on Saturday Night Live, lamenting the fact that his fellow newscasters couldn’t speak properly, singing “Why can’t the anchors learn to speak?”  Given this, we suppose that we shouldn’t really be surprised that Fredricka Whitfield doesn’t know the difference between “bravery” and “brazenness.”  Journalists, it seems, have had trouble articulating their thoughts for some time now.

The catch is that these ill-educated journalists are no longer alone among our ruling class in being unable to form, much less articulate ideas.  Every Tom, Dick, and Barack in American politics talks endlessly about education being the key to a “better tomorrow.”  That’s true, of course.  Unfortunately, a good education doesn’t come easily.  One can still be had, but when it is, it is in spite of the educational establishment, not because of it.

 

GERMANY AND THE EU:  TURN OUT THE LIGHTS.

Longtime readers – which in this case is anybody who has read our stuff since January – know that we have predicted the fall of the Eurozone every year since its inception.  Every year, we predict that the euro will collapse.  And one of these years, we’ll be right.  To date, only luck and the German will have prevented the miserable and inevitable end.  But that end is coming, slowly, surely, and remorselessly. As we said way back in 1998, at the dawn of the monetary union:

The bottom line on all of this is that instead of a “United States of Europe,” Europeans are about to find themselves being driven, once again by fear, into an even deeper socialistic orgy of “planning” than any of them are in now.  The roots of socialism are simply too deeply planted in the soil of European society for the Euro process to end in any other way.

The near-term consequences of this action will be that a small group of “planners” will take over virtually all responsibility for the economic affairs of the combined nations.  And when the dust settles, individual Europeans will be left to wonder what happened to all the grand promises of “great prosperity,” and what happened to the demos in their democracies.

Socialism – or “planning” as we called it back then – hasn’t killed the Euro yet.  But as we said, it will, eventually, one way or another.  You see, one of the best known but least discussed trends in contemporary demography is the fact that there is an incredibly strong and inverse correlation between the size of country’s government and its fertility rate. That is to say that the bigger a country’s government, the fewer babies it has.  This trend is both undeniable and unrelenting.  Socialism, planning, social democracy – whatever you call it – contains within it the seeds of its own destruction.  As the state grows, children become less of a necessity.  And when they are less of a necessity, people have fewer of them, which, in turn, means that there are fewer workers to support the state.  Families shrink, labor pools shrink, and reliance on government goes up, thereby exacerbating and reinforcing the vicious circle.

Almost a decade ago, in his book America Alone, the inimitable Mark Steyn explained how this vicious circle would, in time, spell the end, not just of the Eurozone, but of Europe itself.  He put it this way:

Americans take for granted all the “it’s about the future of all our children” hooey that would ring so hollow in a European election.  In the 2005 German campaign, voters were offered what would be regarded in the US as a statistically improbable choice: a childless man (Herr Schroeder) vs a childless woman (Frau Merkel).  Statist Europe signed on to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s alleged African proverb – “It takes a village to raise a child” – only to discover they got it backwards: on the Continent, the lack of children will raze the village.  And most of the villagers still refuse to recognize the contradictions: You can’t breed at the lethargic rate of most Europeans and then bitch and whine about letting the Turks into the European Union.  Demographically, they’re the kids you couldn’t be bothered having. . . .

Europe by the end of this century will be a continent after the neutron bomb: the grand buildings will still be standing but the people who built them will be gone.  By the next century, German will be spoken only at Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels and Goering’s Monday night poker game in Hell.

Today, Germany alone comprises nearly one-third of the Eurozone economy.  If it weren’t for Germany and its retooled economy, the entire monetary union experiment would have collapsed ages ago.  Germany provides the growth and, more to the point, Germany provides the cash that bails out the likes of Greece, where workers enjoy benefits far surpassing their economic contribution.  If the United States is the enabler of the European social democracies by virtue of relieving them of the need to spend their own money on their defense, then Germany is the enabler of Southern European workers, by virtue of relieving them of their need to do much of anything at all.  Or at least that’s how it works right now.

According to a recent piece in the Telegraph of London, penned by the paper’s International Business Editor and our old friend Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, the free ride for Southern Europe may be coming to end – along with just about everything else on the continent.  He explains:

Germany’s birth rate has collapsed to the lowest level in the world and its workforce will start plunging at a faster rate than Japan’s by the early 2020s, seriously threatening the long-term viability of Europe’s leading economy.

A study by the World Economy Institute in Hamburg (HWWI) found that the average number of births per 1,000 population dropped to 8.2 over the five years from 2008 to 2013, further compounding a demographic crisis already in the pipeline.  Even Japan did slightly better at 8.4.

“No other industrial country is deteriorating at this speed despite the strong influx of young migrant workers.  Germany cannot continue to be a dynamic business hub in the long-run without a strong jobs market,” warned the institute. . . .

The German government expects the population to shrink from 81m to 67m by 2060 as depressed pockets of the former East Germany go into “decline spirals” where shops, doctors’ practices, and public transport start to shut down, causing yet more people to leave in a vicious circle.

A number of small towns in Saxony, Brandenburg and Pomerania have begun to contemplate plans for gradual “run-off” and ultimate closure, a once unthinkable prospect. . . .

While ageing societies can enjoy a rise in per capita income for a while, they tend to do so by living off past creativity and intellectual capital.  This reserve is exhausted over time.  It becomes progressively harder for older countries to remain at the technology frontier.

On the one hand, if you’re looking for a bargain on European farmland – or on an entire European village, for that matter – then Germany just might be able to provide everything you need.  On the other hand, if you’re betting on the long-term viability of the Eurozone, well, don’t.  It’s not gonna make it.  The end is nigh.  The United States of Europe always was and always will be just a fantasy.  They talk a good game, but they can’t deliver.  And that’s due in part to the fact that the stork can’t either.

To reiterate, as we’ve done for several years now:  the Euro is done, kaput, fini.  Before the end of the year, the powers that be in Euroland will be forced to admit what the rest of the world already knows, namely that this attempt to forge EUtopia has been as unsuccessful as all previous attempts, with its only saving grace being the comparative lack of bloodshed, which unfortunately is likely due to the same spiritual ennui that makes the Europeans increasingly too demoralized to breed.

You don’t have to take our word for it.  You can ask any young German you like.

If you can find one, that is.

 

Copyright 2015. The Political Forum. 8563 Senedo Road, Mt. Jackson, Virginia 22842, tel. 402-261-3175, fax 402-261-3175. All rights reserved. Information contained herein is based on data obtained from recognized services, issuer reports or communications, or other sources believed to be reliable. However, such information has not been verified by us, and we do not make any representations as to its accuracy or completeness, and we are not responsible for typographical errors. Any statements nonfactual in nature constitute only current opinions which are subject to change without notice.