A “sewer socialism” for Buffalo

I read a fantastic article from Barcelona en Comú, a participatory democracy movement that arose in Barcelona in the wake of the financial crisis, that calls for the creation of “a network of rebel cities to stand up to Trump.” Describing a strategy of engaging in city-level politics to empower working class Catalonians to resist austerity, the article invoked the “sewer socialism” that governed the Rust Belt city of Milwaukee for almost 50 years.

The name “sewer socialism” immediately caught my attention since the criminally abject state of Buffalo’s sewers (if you didn’t know, due to their combined overflow architecture, every time it rains they literally spew shit into the Niagara River) and the dire necessity of their reconstruction is a favorite topic of mine.

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Ex-Pats to Re-Pats: Brayson and Rachelene

by Chud Spineless

Brayson and Rachelene, unpictured are their dogs Beyonce and Pat Kane

Brayson and Rachelene. Unpictured are their dogs Beyonce and Pat Kane.

When he first asked her out in high school in Williamsville, Rachelene Mackenzie Smith-Jones, 30, rejected Brayson Cory Berger-Butler, 32, flat-out.

“He asked me to go to Q-Zar and I was like, ‘I’m 16 years old, I want to go to Carraba’s,” Rachelene laughs.

The two reconnected years later when they both found themselves in Boulder, Colorado after college. Brayson was doing public relations for an energy industry group when he met Rachelene at a dog yoga class.

“I was like, ‘Could it be…’” Brayson says.

“At first I didn’t recognize him. His arm cysts were gone and he wasn’t wearing head-to-toe Hollister,” Rachelene adds.

While they both loved Boulder’s unique architecture and the opportunities for outdoor activities, they decided they needed a change when Colorado legalized recreational marijuana. After reading a series of of listicles featuring Buffalo’s brunch options and new hat store, they decided to give their hometown another chance.

Now, Brayson works full-time breaking people’s legs over unpaid medical debt while Rachelene designs unique pro-life WordPress themes. In their spare time, the couple run an Instagram account that publicly shames people for giving money to the homeless.

“With Buffalo’s resurgence…” Brayson begins.

“We just love being in Buffalo!” Rachelene jumps in, enthusiastically. “From the Elmwood Village to Hertel Street, we come into the city almost every weekend.”

The pair’s favorite activities in Buffalo include eating at restaurants and shopping at shops.

“Buffalo really has everything a young couple could want!” said Rachelene. “We’re really looking forward to getting reacquainted with the rest of the region once it cleans up.”

Holy Hezbollah, Batman! Mamma mia!

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Certain corners of the internet were abuzz this week when voice actors Kevin Conroy and Mark Hammill hinted at possible animated adaptations of two classic Batman storylines: Hush and A Death in the Family.

If you’re a comics-obsessed dork, you’ve already read A Death in the Family. If you aren’t, you should read it because it’s fucking incredible. The comic is an amazing artifact of Reagan-era conservative panic, a fevered nightmare where Robin is a moody Gen X street kid, Batman is aided by his friends in the CIA, and the Joker is dealing arms to Hezbollah. The only thing missing is a scheming Japanese business tycoon.

Bringing the whole thing together is an insane Mamma Mia! plot where Robin tries to discover the identity of his mother: Is it the Mossad agent Sharmin Rosen? The mercenary Shiva Woosan, who is training Arab terrorists? Or Sheila Haywood, the famine relief worker in Ethiopia?

Batman, the story of an orphaned billionaire who fights crime in his hopelessly corrupt city using only his own intelligence and ingenuity, is an essential American myth. The way we tell and re-tell his stories reflects a lot about our culture.

A Death in the Family is both an important piece of the Batman canon and an indispensable text for analyzing the Reagan era. In the story, Jason Todd – the second Robin – dies at the hands of the Joker shortly after Batman’s archnemesis crippled Batgirl Barbara Gordon. In real life, comic book readers voted by dialing a 1-900 number to kill the unpopular, Generation X Robin. Earlier in 1988, the year the arc began, writer Jim Starlin introduced the character KGBeast, a superpowered Soviet assassin.

This book not only uniquely captures the moral terror of late-80s conservatives, it illustrates the pathologies running through large parts of American culture at the time. In A Death in the Family Batman becomes an avatar of the moral superiority of American capitalism, using all the tools at his disposal to battle the legacy of liberalism gone mad, rampant moral perversion, and the threat of Shia Islam to Western hegemony in the Middle East, all of which are threatening to destroy the future, a generation of ungrateful, disaffected slackers.

Which is to say, there’s a whole lot to unpack here.

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The Conspicuous Charm of the Bourgeoisie

© Chuck Alaimo, The Buffalo News

© Chuck Alaimo, The Buffalo News

Slow Roll is a fun idea. A bunch of people get together and ride bikes through the city, both showcasing our city’s physical and cultural treasures and building community around bicycling, an unfairly-maligned, low-carbon hobby and mode of transportation.

In practice, unfortunately, Slow Roll is an exercise in profound entitlement where people who have the free time in the hours immediately after work on Mondays turn other people’s neighborhoods into their own personal playground during the time that many are trying to get home from work, go to the bank, and pick up their kids from daycare. When confronted with criticism, Slow Roll’s defenders adopt a victimized posture, painting detractors as bitter spoilsports who refuse to share.

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You should vote against whoever the Buffalo News endorses for school board

Every couple of years, seats on the Buffalo School Board go up for election and the Buffalo News, the only daily paper in the city, prints hundreds of column inches completely losing their shit about the important “reform agenda” and how different candidates relate to it.

And while, at first blush, it seems like a good thing that the region’s major newspaper chooses to pay such close attention to the elections that will determine governance of a school system where childhood poverty and graduation rates have just eked below and above 50% respectively in the past year, it’s important to note that then Buffalo News‘s reporting on the school board – and education generally – is not merely biased, but also completely disingenuous about its slant, using its massive platform to elevate the cretinous minions of Carl Paladino while hiding behind timid censuring and refusal to endorse the man himself (though notably not going so far as to endorse his opponents).

A classic example of this sleaze – though not related directly to school board elections – is the News‘s choice in 2014 to lead a story about spending on state senate elections with a headline crowing about dastardly Big Teacher trying to sway the election with its millions, when the teachers union was actually outspent by its opponents, a pro-charter school PAC funded by literal billionaires like Daniel Loeb and real-life comic book villain Paul Singer.

Seriously, look at this shit.

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That year, the paper ran at least two other stories hyperventilating about spending by the teachers union, including a pearl-clutching editorial wagging Warren Colville’s decrepit finger at teachers for having the temerity to oppose politicians who wanted to gut their ability to collectively bargain by replacing public schools with private-not-private charter schools.

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Guess how many articles the News printed about spending by charter advocates that year?

But I digress.

This year the district seats (as opposed to the at-large seats) in the Buffalo School Board are up for election and the News‘s intrepid education reporters and editors are deep in the shit, exposing the Godless commie teachers using the defoliant of The Press so the grunts (that’s you, voters) can more efficiently gun them down. Your country The local business elite thanks you for your service, now it’s time to listen to some Wagner and go surfing.

The Buffalo News has run, by my count, 34 pieces about the school board race in the past 10 days. In addition to standard candidate profile pieces, those articles, columns, and op-eds include straight news reporters scaremongering about union spending and bemoaning the “viciousness” of the race as well as hand-wringing editorials about the threat teachers and their supporters present to the “vital reform efforts” and “changes” promised by Paladino’s bloc.

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The News likes to use histrionic language – like “vicious,” “taking over,” and “killing,” – when talking about the union’s efforts, but dresses up the business community’s efforts to take over the school system, privatize public education, and bust the teachers’ union in the schmaltz of “reform.”

Is this just a sad example of how neocons and the Third Way have managed to malign organized labor in the public’s eyes? Has the Buffalo News just become another relentlessly monetized robotic neoliberal institution obsessed with disruption and metrics and ROI?

Well, yeah, but in addition to just drawing devil horns and sinister mustaches on the union while glorifying the corporate “reform” insurgents, the News is a part of the same business network whose efforts to loot the public trust has now extended to public schools.

I don’t just mean that Warren Colville and Michael Connelly like to sit around the Buffalo Club drinking extra-sweet Manhattans while plotting with Ron Tanski and Bob Wilmers how to somehow combine getting richer and screwing the lower classes (though I’m sure that’s going on as well).

Though you’ll never seem them disclose it in print, the Buffalo News pays $50,000 per year to be a member of the despicable local chamber of commerce – the Buffalo Niagara Partnership – and even helps to run the show. President Warren Colville (who thinks it’s very important for you to know the national origin of the daughters he thinks it’s very important for you to know he adopted and whose son, also named Warren of course, definitely got his vice president job at the Buffalo News on merit) sits on the board of BNP along the executives of pretty much every company you know and hate in Western New York.

Colville, standing in front of his $500,000 Orchard Park home, pretending he rides his bike to work

Colville, standing in front of his $500,000 Orchard Park home, pretending he rides his bike to work

Together (when they’re not scheming with statewide groups to frack the Southern Tier into a Third World hellscape and keep wages at poverty levels) the Buffalo Niagara Partnership likes to spend money making sure local elected officials know who really runs the show in this town.

The Partnership’s PAC, the Committee for Economic Growth, has spent nearly $200,000 on campaign contributions since 2010. This amount does not count money spent on school board elections, since the New York State Board of Elections doesn’t report that spending; however – in its only mention of the Partnership’s spending in this campaign – the Buffalo News reported that BNP spent $30,000 on the election in 2009, with no mention of the paper’s relationship to the group. Notably, the News did not see fit to report in the same article that BNP’s PAC spent at least $18,500 on the 2014 election – $11,000 on a mailer endorsing Paladino-slate candidates Larry Quinn (a shitbird who has been hovering over the landfill of local development and politics for years) and Patricia Pierce and another $7,500 in a straight up donation to Quinn’s campaign. That same year the PAC of the shadowy 43×79 Group, a clique of local businessmen closely aligned with the Partnership that was at one time chaired by Colville, gave Quinn another $5,000.

That year, the Buffalo News endorsed BNP and Paladino’s preferred candidates, saying “Of the the 13 candidates, Quinn is the one who is indispensable.” No mention was made of the paper’s affiliation with Buffalo Niagara Partnership or 43×79.

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Yesterday, the News ran an op-ed column by the Partnership’s CEO backing “reform” candidates, though none are named specifically. Again, no mention is made of their campaign spending or the paper’s affiliation with the group.

Though they haven’t released their official endorsements yet, there’s no doubt in my mind that, like in recent years, the Buffalo News will back all the candidates in the BNP-Paladino axis, even the ones who couldn’t get enough signatures to get their name on the ballot.

The only time in recent memory I can remember the News NOT backing a pro-charter candidate was their 2013 non-endorsement of Carl Paladino – a virulant racist, sexist, and homophobe – which was so tepid and cowardly that it was barely distinguishable as such:

The Buffalo School District is desperate for change and, whatever his defects, Paladino is clearly the change agent among the entire field of candidates. He seems to have a genuine passion for improving the education of Buffalo’s students, and while his bull-in-a-china-shop approach to – well, just about everything – would undoubtedly cause problems, it could also have its benefits in a district that ducks change as effectively as a Sasquatch ducks photographers.

That is to say after Paladino was revealed as sending racist emails, proposed housing welfare recipients in prison dorms to teach them personal hygiene, and said he didn’t want his children “brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option,” the Buffalo News was so committed to crushing the teachers’ the union, so slavishly obedient to cronies in the business community that their editors couldn’t muster the balls to say “Carl Paladino is not fit to run our school.” Instead they printed most spineless Paladino non-endorsement-endorsement their e-board hacks could tap out, also refused to endorse his challenger, and proceeded to vociferously back every person that aligned with the scumbag.

No matter what your politics are, you should vote against for whoever the Buffalo News endorses because the paper’s reporting on education is slimy, one-sided, and fundamentally dishonest, they brazenly refuse to acknowledge their business ties to the school “reform” movement, and they didn’t even have the nerve to denounce a guy who probably thinks it’s okay to use the n-word “because they still get to say it” to lead a majority-POC school district.

Buffalo’s Tom Friedman

I started reading The Buffalo News in earnest when I was in high school, moving from the kid-targeted NeXt section to Friday’s Gusto, where I would see what movies were coming out and who was playing at Thursday at the Square. It was then that I first came across then-movie critic, now-arts and books editor Jeff Simon. A running joke in my friend group was that a good barometer of whether to see a movie was what Jeff Simon thought of it – if he liked it, chances are it sucked. Admittedly, we were shitheel teenage snobs, but the guy reliably lauded terrible family comedies while giving middling reviews (Jeff Simon rarely, if ever, gives bad reviews) to anything we were interested in. Unless it was European, in which case – genius. It’s worth noting that this recollection comes more than ten years after the fact, so it’s impressionistic the way memories are, but, the way impressionistic things are, it captures the spirit of what’s represented.

The advent of the internet all but eliminated any contact I had with Jeff Simon’s writing. I went to school in Fredonia and began reading what movie reviews I read any more online. I hadn’t thought about the guy or his stultifying columns for years until someone on Twitter pointed out a column he wrote a week ago wondering whether Bill Cosby “is still news at this stage.” The thesis was no, Bill Cosby is not news at this stage because a consensus has been reached that he is serial rapist. Never mind the fact that that week the New York Times had obtained and printed a deposition where he admitted to drugging women and using his fame and wealth to pressure them into having sex with him. Old news! Zzzzzz. Jeff’s heard it. Next!

Interestingly, Simon spent several hundred words explaining how all but the most recalcitrant Cosbyites have come on board to the idea that he probably raped a whole bunch of people and twice touched on the extent of Cosby’s stature in American culture (including the absolute gem of a sentence: “Our trouble is that whatever the accusers might want, he is never going to stop being a giant and extraordinary figure in the HISTORY of American culture and comedy”), but still couldn’t put together how the man’s 10-year-old admission that he plied women with sedatives in order to have sex with them might possibly be considered newsworthy. Perhaps more interestingly, he accused news outlets reporting on Cosby of doing so because Cosby stories are just clickbait, implying what about his own column I don’t know.

I tweeted, tagging the News‘s account the way you do, that their perennially out of touch critic had emitted a trainwreck of a hot take on Bill Cosby. I also tweeted at the person that originally shared Simon’s take that I thought he was all-caps TERRIBLE. Probably a little hyperbolic, but it’s twitter. I thought I was done with Jeff Simon again until the next day when he popped up in my mentions with a snarky retort.

We had a back and forth and it was clear that the “out of touch” comment was what really bugged him, and I felt sort of bad about that. I’m a crank, but I don’t like hurting people’s feelings. That is, I felt sort of bad about calling Jeff Simon out of touch until I read this week’s column in which he, with the grit and resolve of a man whose relevance has been publicly questioned by someone who thinks “Ant-Man” probably wasn’t a good movie, totally validated me.

The point of Simon’s hot take du semaine is (as far as I can decipher) that in the face of the “pure homicidal craziness” of mass shootings, we still need to make “bold” movies. It’s hard to say, though. The column is an absolute mess.

Simon begins with the premise that the perpetrators of last week’s movie theater shooting in Louisiana and the shooting three years ago in Colorado selected their targets based on the “boldness” of the respective movies playing in the theaters they targeted. What in god’s name does he mean by boldness? you may wonder. That’s a good question; I’ll let Simon answer it in his own words:

In Aurora, the killer opened up at showings of “The Dark Knight Rises,” in some ways the most extraordinary of “Batman” movies, not least in its conception of the Joker as an instrument of vengeful chaos and misrule. One needn’t be a prodigy of empathy to understand that James Holmes was making the Joker real in that movie theater. His smile in his mugshot is the Joker’s smile.

Oh. “The Dark Knight Rises” is bold because of how it portrayed the Joker. Except the Joker wasn’t in that movie! I am an unrepentant nerd, especially when it comes to Batman, so forgive me blowing my top here, but this is exactly what I mean when I said that Jeff Simon is out of touch!

Already Simon’s column makes no sense because its author has confused “The Dark Knight Rises,” where the shooting happened, with its similarly titled – and I’ll venture considerably “bolder” – prequel “The Dark Knight,” where no mass shooting happened. But I want to keep going, so assume arguendo that either James Holmes murdered 12 people in a 2008 movie theater where “The Dark Knight” was playing or that Heath Ledger didn’t die and boldly appeared as the Joker in 2012’s “The Dark Knight Rises.”

In Lafayette, the killer shot up theater showing the Amy Schumer vehicle “Trainwreck.” This movie is bold, according to Jeff Simon, because “its very special hilarity depends on a huge quantity of sexual frankness and total sympathy for a female point of view that is far from commonplace in American movies.” And the shooter killed the people watching it because he hated porn and presumably equated frank, feminist sexuality with pornography.

So we have two movies (actually one movie, because Jeff Simon can’t keep his Batman sequels straight) that were targeted for mass murder because of their boldness. In the case of “The Dark Knight Rises” it was because the killer identified with the bold characterization of the movie’s villain. In the case of “Trainwreck” it was because the killer hated the boldness of the movie’s treatment of sex. In either case, cinematic boldness (however poorly defined) drove these men over the edge.

So now that we have identified the thread connecting these tragedies, what do we take away from it? Fuck if I know. Because this isn’t about, apparently, trying to figure out why these murderers murdered:

Blame, of course, is by no means the issue.

Simon posits that while “beefed up security” at certain bold movies will be the new normal, and rightly so, we must not let fear rule the day, because if we fear boldness, then the crazies will win:

Critics have to keep on applauding as loudly and vigorously as possible for boldness in movies. The idea of movie people paralyzed by fear and remorse that they never, for a second, earned is repugnant in the extreme.

Guys, The Buffalo News‘s Jeff Simon is fighting the war on boldness and, by god, he might win!

With too much of a self-righteous head of steam built up to consider that literally no one is suggesting that anyone stop making “bold” movies, Simon plows ahead to what you might generously call a conclusion that, were it not for his total lack of self-awareness, you’d think was a meta-comment on the total incomprehensibility of this column:

But it seems to me we have to acknowledge that there is a logic to craziness – a hideous and totally perverted logic, to be sure, but a logic nevertheless.

Read that again. Leaving aside the fact that it’s reductive and (as a person who has dealt with mental illness for my entire life) offensive for people with no expertise in mental health to diagnose anyone who does commits an atrocity as “crazy,” what the fuck could this possibly even mean?! Most people’s definition of “craziness” entails a dearth of logic. In the US legal system, an insane person has so little logic as to render them not culpable for their bad acts.

Is Simon saying that the hideous perverted logic of the crazy killers led them to fire guns into crowded movie theaters? What logical process would that be? There seems to be a certain logic to this column. It at least has the shape of an argument. I mean, one of the initial assumptions is factually incorrect and even if it weren’t, there is no logical operation that I can think of that would flow from it and Simon’s other premise to his conclusion (whatever that even is). Is Jeff Simon crazy? As far as we know, he hasn’t killed anyone for watching something bold. Let’s just press on.

To recap: There were shootings at movie theaters showing two (but one really) bold movies. Though the shooters were crazy, they were also logical and chose those movies because they were bold. But we should not blame boldness because, despite driving these violent acts, boldness is good.

O…kay…?

Simon continues:

So we’re seeing repeatedly that brilliance and boldness are what awaken malice at its most deranged. It was John Lennon of the Beatles who would have his hideous rendezvous with Mark David Chapman, not Jon Bon Jovi. It was John F. Kennedy who would be assassinated on that day in Dallas and Martin Luther King on that hideous day in Memphis.

That’s right y’all, the assault on the brilliance and boldness of Amy Schumer having premaritals with Bill Hader and pal-ing around with Hipster Lebron James is comparable to the assassination of America’s preeminent civil rights leader. Both of which comparable to the boldness of John Lennon’s music which awakened the malice of Mark David Chapman to become obsessed with “The Catcher in the Rye” and then shoot Lennon down, not to mention the boldness of Christopher Nolan’s Oscar-winning action flick “The Dark Knight Rises,” which definitely starred Heath Ledger as the Joker. Also, Jon Bon Jovi is not bold, that’s why no one shot him.

Though the whole column is really a treasure trove of utter nonsense phrased like Zen platitudes that must have made Simon feel like the kid in “A Christmas Story” writing his BB gun essay, I want to highlight just three more.

To many of us, “The Dark Knight Rises” was a $250 million art film.

No one thinks “The Dark Knight Rises” was an art film. This column, a 1000-word meditation on cinematic boldness, is based on teasing out the flimsiest connection between two crimes when the author (an arts critic) can’t even be bothered to correctly identify one of the films involved.

From two awful events which are separated by years in time with only the fact that they took place in movie theaters in common, Simon imagines a war on boldness and exhorts us (against no opposition) to continue making bold films, in spite of what horrors bold cinema will elicit from the crazies of the world. Which brings me to the second quote:

Craziness, as I said, always has a logic of its own, idiotic though it is.

All we can do is everything we can do to make sure sanity and creative boldness prevail.

Crazy, Idiotic, Logic, huh? Sounds bold to me.

Erie County Sheriff’s officers used StingRay largely without judicial – or even internal – oversight

For the past five years, Erie County Sheriff’s officers have been using controversial cell phone spying technology largely without any judicial oversight or even internal procedures to protect citizens’ privacy. Last May, Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard told the county legislature’s Public Safety Committee that officers’ use of StingRay and KingFish machines was conducted under “judicial review” for all criminal matters. However, documents released after a New York Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office seem to show that the office did not develop internal procedures for the machines’ use until after local media began airing stories about the program. Further, officers appear to have only obtained a court order to use the StingRay once since obtaining it in 2010, and that single time was this past October – again, after the program became public.

The records of the use of cellular tracking technology and the lack of oversight revealed is troubling for a program that the Sheriff’s Office made every attempt to conceal the details and even the existence of. Reports show five times that officers used the StingRay without asserting any legal authority and without reporting the subject or the purpose of their surveillance. Other reports reveal instances where officers did not even identify who was using the device, rendering impossible any accountability for abuse of the technology that may have occurred. Others reveal seemingly physically impossible uses of the device dozens of miles from one another within a half-hour timeframe.

For all the opacity that Howard insists is necessary to prevent the “bad guys” from wising up to the sheriffs’ tactics, officers only reported four instances in the past five years when using the device resulted in bringing a person into custody.

In all, the documents appear to confirm exactly what civil libertarians might fear: an unaccountable, poorly documented program of high-tech surveillance that the Erie County Sheriff’s Office attempted to conceal from the public’s awareness to the point of misleading local elected officials about its details.

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The Actual (i.e. My) Kanye West Album Track Ranking

I’ve wanted to branch out from just writing about Buffalo to more pop culture criticism-type stuff for a while now, and I can’t think of a better place to start than a retort to the ranking of “all” of Kanye West’s album tracks that appeared on Gawker yesterday. I’m a huge Kanye fan and I love bullshitting about rap music, so this piece was right up my alley. I knew sight unseen that I was going to be able to find some grist for the twitter mill in the Gawker list, and sure enough, curator Andy Cush delivered several highly questionable calls, such as ranking “The New Workout Plan” in the 64th percentile of Kanye album tracks (a kind of fun, but overwhelmingly annoying novelty track), not bothering to rank “Late” at all (arguably the best song on Late Registration), and ranking the widely derided (although a personal favorite of mine) “Never Let You Down” as the best Kanye song of all time.

So I bought a bottle of strong beer and locked in with all the Kanye albums last night in order to deliver a superior ranking of his songs. After sleeping on it, I stand by it this morning with only a little second guessing (Do I really like “Heard ‘Em Say” and “Touch the Sky” less than “Gold Digger”?). There’s fewer totally inane calls on my list than the Gawker one (Yeah? “Addiction” is not only better than “So Appalled,” but by a margin of 16 songs?), but I’m sure there are enough controversial picks here to, Kanye fans being Kanye fans, generate some sincere debate and name calling.

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