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Bad Thinkers, AKA the Republican Party

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I’ve always been fascinated by crazy thinkers—people who believe in stuff that’s plainly fake. Whether it’s evangelicals with their Rapture nonsense, anti-Clintonites who said Hillary murdered Vince Foster, Sept. 11 conspiratorialists or, nowadays, Republicans who claim the election was rigged, my reaction always has been: Who the fuck are these people?

It’s clear that the crap they peddle is insane. But a more complicated question is, Why? Why do people believe in lies? From my rational perspective, no one could seriously subscribe to such patent horseshit. Therefore, they must be deliberately spreading misinformation, for nefarious reasons. Sadly, we can’t ever fully know why these people advance such phony theories, because we can’t get inside their heads (nor would I want to).

But some scientists have devised ingenious theories to explain why people are “bad thinkers.” That’s the title of this analysis that examines a guy named “Oliver.” He believes the Twin Towers were brought down on 9/11 not by Al Qaeda, but by “government agents [who] planted explosives in advance.”

The paper’s author, a British philosophy professor, begins by acknowledging something all sane people can agree upon: Oliver is profoundly, stupendously wrong. The evidence that it was Al Qaeda is overwhelming; there is even a videotape of Bin Laden bragging, in his cave, that he did it, although he did not expect the Towers to collapse. Why, then, would Oliver believe such idiocy? The author puts it bluntly: “Because there is something wrong with how he thinks.”

What’s wrong with the way Oliver thinks? Plenty. He suffers from “conspiracy mentality,” which is comprised of “gullibility, carelessness, closed-mindedness” and other “intellectual vices” including “negligence, idleness, rigidity, obtuseness, prejudice, lack of thoroughness, and insensitivity to detail.”

These “intellectual vices” also are the subject of a 1996 study, “Virtues of the Mind,” published by Cambridge University. It takes a close look at “intellectual vices” and contrasts them to “intellectual virtues.” The difference is that intellectual virtue enables people “to arrive at truths in a particular field.” On the other side of the coin, the qualities that characterize Oliver’s thinking–“intellectual vices” including “negligence, idleness, rigidity, obtuseness, prejudice, lack of thoroughness, and insensitivity to detail”—lead precisely to those falsehoods that make such thinking, not virtuous, but a vice.

Talking about “virtue” and “vice” introduces an element of morality into the discussion. People who deliberately spread false information—even if they firmly believe it to be true—are immoral, in the truest sense of the word. They have wandered far from Aristotle’s qualities of intellectual virtue, namely “theoretical wisdom, practical wisdom, and understanding or insight.”  We can rightly condemn them as bad citizens, because they undermine the rational foundations of the world, even if they do not consciously intend to do so.

In the first article I cited, Bad Thinkers, the author asks a salient question: “There remains the problem of what to do about such people as him (Oliver)” Because he is so closed-minded, Oliver will never acknowledge his intellectual vice. In order to heal oneself of closed-mindedness, one needs to be motivated. Unfortunately, bad thinkers like Oliver are unlikely to be so motivated. It is here that the author throws up his hands and admits that little can be done about the Olivers of this world. The best he can come up with is to educate children to think more critically. Where does that leave Oliver? Free to peddle his lies.

Multiply Oliver by, say, 70 million, and you get the Trump voters in America. Each and every one of them is a bad thinker, suffering from the immorality of intellectual vice. Unfortunately, I too must throw up my hands as to what we can do about them. It’s the biggest problem our country faces, and the scary truth is, we don’t have the slightest idea what to do about it.


Republicans invented cancel culture

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I wrote yesterday about “cancel culture” and the way the far left reduces every conversation to a lecture about race or ethnicity.

I meant what I said, but I don’t want to be misunderstood: my criticism is not merely of the far left. Indeed, the far right practices cancel culture much more frequently and destructively than does the left, and in fact invented it in modern times.

What else would you call the Republican war on the LGBT community besides “cancel culture”? Led by the most hateful of Christian homophobes, they have tried for decades to marginalize gay people by not letting them marry, or adopt children, or visit beloved spouses in the hospital, or serve in the U.S. military, or teach in public schools. By their rhetoric and through their actions, they have served notice that gay people will never be full citizens of America, so long as a Republican is in power. That is cancel culture.

Republican cancel culture also comes in the form of science denial. When Republicans say there’s no such thing as climate change, or that even if there is it’s not man-made, that’s cancel culture: they’re canceling the rational conclusions of the world’s scientists. When Republicans consistently call for more fossil fuel production, that’s cancel culture. When Republicans mock things like cap and trade, or mandating electric cars, or developing alternative sources of energy production like solar and wind, that’s cancel culture at its height.

Republican cancel culture is paramount in their war against women. You may not like abortion—I don’t—nobody “likes” abortion. But women have demonstrated for thousands of years that they need some way of terminating a pregnancy they’re not ready for. They used to purge themselves with poisonous herbs, or shove knitting needles into their uteruses, or undergo dangerous back-alley operations. After Roe v. Wade, American women finally had the option of safe, legal abortions. Republicans don’t like that. They want to go back to the bad old days. And who knows how many Republicans secretly arrange for their own daughters to have abortions? Would you be surprised to learn that Ivanka had had an abortion? I wouldn’t. This war on women also is cancel culture.

But perhaps the ultimate form of cancel culture practiced by Trump Republicans is their war on voting rights. Everybody has been following the news lately of how the GOP is trying to prevent people of color from voting. “More than 250 bills to curb or complicate access to the polls” have been advanced by Republicans, according to CNN.

I hardly need to point out that the U.S. Constitution guarantees every American citizen the right to vote. That is not in question. And yet, in Georgia, in Arizona, in Florida, in Texas, in nearly every red state, Republican governors are jamming through legislation that would make it much harder for people of color to vote. The Georgia elections in November, 2020 completely freaked Republicans out. They saw that, when Americans turn out in record numbers to vote, they—Republicans—are destroyed. So Republicans have to prevent universal suffrage. What else would you call that besides cancel culture? The Republican Party is trying to nullify and cancel the U.S. Constitution.

So both sides practice cancel culture. But one side is far more vicious and dangerous than the other. One side, in fact, no longer believes in democracy. And that side is the Republican Party. We Democrats at least can work from within to make our party more moderate and more inclusive of diverse viewpoints. Republicans no longer have that option.


Will there be a white backlash to the Left?

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I write this as a warning to the Democratic Party, of which I am a proud member.

White people, and not just white men but women too, are increasingly turned off by the “cancel culture” they see happening in America, which is being fostered by the extreme left. I admit I have no statistical evidence to support this claim. But the anecdotal evidence for it has become clear to me in recent months.

Here are examples of that evidence:

• Numerous friends who have children in their 20s tell me their kids are attracted to the Republican Party. They don’t particularly like Trump, but they like what they perceive the GOP stands for: free enterprise, the work ethic, raising yourself up by your own efforts, adherence to the law.

• An old friend, a white guy my age who’s as liberal as anyone, sent me this link to an article by a woman who is essentially standing up for Andrew Cuomo. Her key phrase: “None of the ‘sexual harassment’ allegations leveled against him to date strike me as anything worse than obnoxious behavior.” Her strong suggestion is that #MeToo has gotten out of control.

• Another close friend, also a white guy who’s a lifelong Democrat, told me he signed the petition to recall Gavin Newsom because he saw an advertisement from Newsom accusing petition-signers of being white supremacists. “I am not a white supremacist,” my friend said, “and I resent being called one.”

• From local social media, including nextdoor.com, I see how lots of white people are upset by the “defund the police” movement, and angry that crime here in Oakland is rampant, while reading that the police are reluctant to respond to any but the most urgent calls for help. This, even as the most radical members of our City Council are demanding huge reductions in the police budget.

• And, of course, there were the glaring losses in Congress suffered by Democrats in the 2020 elections. I attribute these losses to white voters who detested Trump, but didn’t like the violence, chaos and anti-police rhetoric they see in our cities.

All of this leads me to conclude that the reason Trump lost is not necessarily because of the things he espoused, but because voters saw him for what he is: an ugly, amoral and repulsive human being. Were the Republicans to find a likeable candidate next time around, I think there’s every chance he or she could win.

What do I mean by “cancel culture,” and what are examples of it? I cite my own experiences. Years ago, we had a West African family move into my condo building. They put up a clothesline on their deck (which faced the street) and hung their clothes to dry. I was president of the board of directors. We had a meeting, at which we unanimously decided to tell the family they could not hang their clothes up on their deck because it was unsightly. They promptly accused me and the board of racism. That’s cancel culture.

A few months ago, a woman moved into our condo building. She had two small dogs who were annoyingly loud, with constant barking—clearly in violation of published building rules. I left her a note to please keep her dogs under control. She wrote me back, accusing me of discrimination. I hadn’t even met the woman when she wrote that, and to this day I have no idea what her race is; to me, she looks white. That’s cancel culture.

The other day I was in the express line (“15ish items”) at Whole Foods. A young Asian-American woman was ahead of me. She must have had at least thirty items. I pardoned myself, pointed to the sign, and suggested she was in the wrong line. She accused me of being anti-Asian. That’s cancel culture.

It looks to me like you can’t criticize the behavior of anyone of color without being accused of racism!

People naturally react negatively when they’re accused of something that isn’t true. But political correctness in this country has reached such a point that folks are afraid to say anything that could be construed as racist, even when they know that it’s the behavior, not the skin color, they’re criticizing. So they keep their mouths shut, and this leads to resentment.

Trump took advantage of that resentment. He expressed what many people think but are afraid to say. Yes, he went too far. He showed us where the line is and then he crossed it. And his Proud Boy/QAnon/evangelical followers went even further than he did in hatred and stupidity. Most Americans want equality for everyone. They understand what people of color have gone through and are going through, and they’re willing to be made uncomfortable, if that’s what it takes to even things out. At the same time, they want safe communities, in which everyone—white, Black, Brown, Asian-American—adheres to the norms of society: respect your neighbor and your neighbor’s property. Follow the rules. Play nice in the sandbox.

The problem, it seems to me, is that a lot of people are not playing nice in the sandbox, but those of us who do play nice are unable to point out this inconvenient fact. Well, I just did. There’s a lot of bad behavior on the left, and it needs to stop. I expect some people will take my remarks the wrong way and hurl them back into my face by calling me a racist. That, too, is cancel culture. All I’m trying to do is save my beloved Democratic Party from destroying itself. My memo to the left is: If you want a Republican Congress in 2022 and a Republican President in 2024, keep doing what you’re doing.


COVID in the rear view mirror

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The big news out here is that the Bay Area is emerging from the worst depths of the pandemic. The Governor’s color tier now has eight of the nine counties in the red tier, with one—San Mateo—entering the orange tier just yesterday.

This is great news. Restaurants, bars, gyms, malls, movie theaters, bowling alleys are starting to re-open, albeit at reduced capacities.

How will history regard the closure? I’m of two minds. It could be that the shutdown will be retrospectively viewed as having been absolutely necessary in order to save lives and keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed. On the other hand, some states that did not shut down, like Florida, have case rates similar to California’s, but much less economic damage. So the jury is out.

Judging from people I know, the feeling is widespread that the shutdown may have been unnecessary, at least to the extent it was imposed. One hears the phrase “the cure is worse than the disease.” But it’s not my intent, here and now, to debate this. It’s too soon to tell. Let people argue about it, one way or the other. It will take time to understand, and we are an impatient people, we Americans. We want everything now and, like antsy children, are seldom inclined to wait.

The political aspects of the shutdown, though, are gradually becoming clear. Red counties, such as those in the Sierra Foothills, the northern Shasta Cascades and the southern San Joaquin Valley, seem to have become even more conservative. There are widespread stories of bars and restaurants that never closed, of big events where no one is masked, of citizens openly criticizing “big government” is the harshest terms. Anyone who thinks California is just one big Blue mass needs to go to Bakersfield or Redding, where red state sentiment holds sway. These places are the strongholds of the anti-Gavin Newsom movement. They resent everything the Governor stands for, what they perceive as coastal elitism, the arrogance of “experts,” the snobbery of wealthier, college-educated upper classes over rural farmers, ranchers and small businessmen. The politicians elected by these red regions cater to their resentments—Devin Nunes, for example, Trump’s “favorite congressman” who, all during the pandemic, told his constituents to “go out” to taverns and restaurants.

Speaking personally, I’m looking forward to social stuff I haven’t been able to do for a year: going to Waterbar for oysters and Champagne with Maxine, Keith and Marilyn. Having vodka gimlets with Miss Araceli at Room 389, the sports bar where, in 1989 and 1990, I watched the Forty-Niners win the Super Bowl. Devouring agedashi tofu, miso soup and a triple kinja roll at Kinja sushi. Somehow, all three of these places have managed to stay open—keinehora, as my Grandma Rose used to say. Not so fortunate, sadly, was the fate of Old Crow Tattoo Parlor, where I got my tatts. Philip had to shut down due to the pandemic, a great loss to the neighborhood where he’d been such a fixture for ten years.

I don’t know what the longterm effects will be of the pandemic. Will it redound to the benefit of Republicans? Will Biden’s huge relief bill convince Americans that “big government” is a good thing? Will Trump, the spider in his hole, re-emerge in any meaningful fashion? Will Biden’s health hold out, and what if it doesn’t? The questions abound, as they always do, with so few answers.

Stay safe. Be well. Wear a mask. And never, ever forget the horrors that Donald J. Trump inflicted on America. It’s only human nature to let bad memories fade away while remembering the good times, but if we forget how evil Trump was, we do a grave disservice to America. Something like him can not be allowed to happen again!


Republicans, Black Americans, and where we go from here

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It’s amazing, isn’t it, how blatant the Republican attempts are to prevent Black people from voting. They don’t even care that their efforts are so obviously ham-handed. If anything, they seem proud of it. I guess these days, when it comes to racism, the philosophy is “Let it all hang out.”

Everybody knows that if every American who is legally eligible to vote actually votes, no republican would ever again win the presidency, or the Senate from most states. Trump himself said so. “They had things, levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again,” he said last year,“they” being Democrats and “it” being Democratic proposals to protect voting rights in America. In the gunsights of the republican party are such “things” as voting by mail, same-day registration, and early voting. These are all practiced by working-class Americans who aren’t given Election Day off as a paid holiday. Most of the world’s countries do that, or they hold Election Day on weekends, but in the U.S., conservative Christians have prevented weekend voting because they think it’s unholy to vote on God’s day. I don’t include Black Christian churches in this war on voting: for decades, their “souls to the polls” initiative, which began decades ago, “organize(d) caravans after church service on the Sunday prior to Election Day to transport Black congregants to early voting locations.” The result was an enormous increase in Black turnout in elections. We can credit the 2020 Georgia Senate elections, as well as Joe Biden’s victory, with this Black turnout—which is exactly why anti-democracy republicans want to end it.

These disgruntled republicans, egged on by Trump and his increasingly crazy children, want to go back to the good old days, when only white men who owned property were allowed to vote. In their heart of hearts, they want a return to slavery, or something like it, which they can’t publicly admit. Look at the faces of the maniacs who invaded the Capitol on Jan. 6.

These are the storm troops of the restoration of the Confederacy. Not a Black face among them, or an Asian or Latino. Probably not a Gay. These are not the faces of America. They are the faces of violence and death. These are the faces that the republican Senator from Wisconsin, Ron Johnson, praised as true patriots.

Patriots! Violent racists, homophobes, religious maniacs, xenophobes and thugs who, if they were in power, would launch a massive purge of millions of Americans who, in their opinion, are the enemies of trump. Am I being hyperbolic? No. Study history. Study the rise of the Nazis. You know where that led. The symptoms in the republican party are exactly the same as they were in Germany in the early 1930s. Instead of the Gestapo and the Einsatzgruppen, we have the Oathkeepers and the Proud Boys and those fat militia pigs running around with their bear spray and revolvers. What happened in Central Europe in the 1940s can happen here; anyone who supports trump knows it, and is complicit in the conspiracy.

Fortunately, we, the American People, overthrew Trump legally in the last election. It’s true that Democrats lost seats in the Congress, and historians are going to have to explain why. (For example, was it because of the Black Lives Matter riots that turned violent? Was it because Democrats didn’t choose a progressive in 2020?) But in my view, Democrats are poised to recover those losses in 2022, and we have an opportunity to reduce the Republican party to permanent minority status. That won’t entirely eliminate the threat of these far-right radical fanatics. But it will keep them in their little corner, from which they can be observed and controlled, like ferrets in a cage.


Happy Birthday Gertrude!

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My mother would have been 106 years old today. She died in 2005, just past her 90th birthday. Here’s a photo I took of her at her birthday party.

Gertrude Heimoff

For the celebration, I created a three-day event. A lot of people flew in from around the country. We went through a boatload of lox, believe me!

I had a tough relationship with Gertrude. The communication between us was never easy. I think my gayness was the cause. Of course, I was in the closet for the first three decades of my life, and it was hard for us both. I suppose she never could wrap her head around my lifestyle–she, who had a crush on Liberace! Even after I came out to her (my father had already died), she never accepted the fact. She didn’t stop loving me, but she couldn’t talk about it, and it remained a point of contention between us for the rest of her life.

I resented her for it. At the same time, I understood, or tried to. Her generation, I told myself, had been raised to think of homosexuality as “the love that dare not speak its name.” It was unnatural, sick. And to think that her only son would never give her grandchildren!

Yet I always recognized the deep, abiding love I had for Gertrude. I had gone through an intense Oedipal period as a little boy, and to this day I can remember laying in my crib, thinking of her, and the most profound waves of love and trust would engulf me. That love never went away, not even when we could hardly talk to one another.

I was always proud of Gertrude. When we lived in The Bronx, she was the only mom I knew who had gone to college, who had graduated with a degree and was holding a professional job. (Gertrude taught at a Junior High School in Manhattan’s Spanish Harlem.) All the other moms were housewives—nothing wrong with that!—but Gertrude decided she needed more in life than to sit on park benches all day long and gossip with her friends. The extra money also helped, obviously.

I moved my mother out here to California in the late 1980s, to a nice independent living community in San Mateo. She was wary at first—“how will I make friends?”—but she was a very social person, and soon she had plenty of friends. Whenever I dropped by to see her, she was playing bridge, or canasta, or mah jong. She also volunteered, to the end of her life, for the San Mateo County Democratic Party, stuffing envelopes and that sort of thing. She was a passionate, lifelong Democrat, and it is from her I inherited the same persuasion. When I was a little boy, there were two “gods” in our household: Franklin D. Roosevelt and Adlai Stevenson. Gertrude loved Bill Clinton (as did I) and she loathed George W.; in fact, if he came on the T.V., she would mute the sound. I’m sorry she never got to see Barack Obama. She would have been head over heels about him.

Here’s one of the last pictures I ever took of her.

It was during the 2004 presidential campaign against George W. Bush, and you can see her little Kerry-Edwards button.

Gertrude was born in Oklahoma in 1915, when it had been a U.S. state for only eight years. Before that, it was Indian Territory, and I’ve always been astonished that her parents, immigrants from Russia, chose to settle there (around 1908) instead of New York City or some other urban destination for the Russian Jews emigrating to America at that time. I mean, Russian Jews moving to Indian Territory? What was that all about? Sadly, I never asked my mother why her parents did that. They both died well before I was born, so I never knew them.

Her father, incidentally, helped found the first Jewish synagogue in Oklahoma. Gertrude herself was a secular Jew, not particularly religious. When she was dying in her final days, at Mills Peninsula Hospital, I asked if she wanted a rabbi. “You be my rabbi,” she replied. I did the best I could. I stayed with her to the end and was actually in bed with her (sleeping at her feet), when she died. Something very mystical happened at that moment, which I have shared with my family, and while I can’t prove anything, it suggests to me that the soul survives death, in some way.

So Happy Birthday Gertrude! You led an amazing life. You were an accomplished woman, in a day and age when women for the most part stayed in the background and strove for little more than to have children and run a home (again, not that there’s anything wrong with that!). Life didn’t give you everything you wanted, mom, but you were patient and accepting of the difficulties. You never, ever complained, not once. It wasn’t your style. I sometimes wished you had. But you kept your hurt inside you, put on a brave face, and were kind and decent to everyone. Wherever you are, I wish you peace. Maybe we’ll meet again one of these days.


Last Chance U: Basketball. T.V. at its best

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“Rules without relationships equals rebellion.”

– John Mosley, Coach, men’s basketball, East Los Angeles Community College (ELAC).

This sports reality television show, “Last Chance U: Basketball,” airing on Netflix, is quite simply some of the most compelling television I’ve ever seen.

Now in its sixth year, the show focuses each season on a single community college (or junior college: JUCO in the parlance), in a poor or depressed area. The first five seasons LCU documented the football teams at East Mississippi Community College (seasons 1 and 2), Independence Community College in Kansas (seasons 3 and 4), and in season 5, Laney College, in my hometown of Oakland.

The format never varies. Over 10 or 12 episodes, we are introduced to the team players, the head coach, other team officials, and many of their respective family members and wives or girlfriends. The “stars” of each episode turn out to be, invariably, the coach, and three or four players whom the creative directors have determined to be the most interesting to follow. At the outset of each season, the dramatic hook is spelled out: the team has an opportunity to win a championship of some sort. But will it? The obstacles are considerable. The teams have almost no budget. The players wrestle with their demons. Most are Black. Most believe that succeeding in JUCO football is their ticket out of poverty. Next step, in theory, is a Division One football team at a four-year university. From there—who knows?—the NFL, and glory. Finally, the crescendo of each season is the final game itself. How will the team fare? All this is filmed with the consummate Hollywood production values of a top studio movie. It’s a super-compelling premise that keeps viewers returning week after week to find out what happens.

In season 6, airing now, the directors changed their focus from JUCO football to basketball, highlighting the team at East Los Angeles Community College (ELAC). They presumably felt that they were running out of steam with football; basketball is a much more interesting sport to follow on T.V. than football. In the latter, players’ faces are covered by helmets, so you can’t get closeups of their personal reactions, of joy, frustration, anger, bafflement. Basketball also occurs on a smaller field, indoors, than football; the action is much more intimate and human-centered.

But it’s the players and coaches that we’re attracted to. They go through so much to achieve their goals. For the players, a successful season may be their final opportunity to make it in life—hence the series’ name, Last Chance U. So much is at stake. We see players cry, break down in the lockerroom, kick walls in frustration, and jump ecstatically in victory. And always there is coach: egging them on, trying to get them to focus on winning instead of their anger and lack of faith. At times, the coaches are more like preachers to their kids: we see how much the coaches care, how much they want their kids to succeed, how frustrated they get when they perceive the potential talent in the players, who so often sabotage themselves without even knowing it.

Season 6 is easily my favorite so far (and I loved the Laney College season because it all happened so close to where I live). Coach John Mosley is one of the most real, powerful characters I’ve ever seen on T.V. A devout Christian, he’s a part-time preacher on the side, and he’s frequently leading his players in prayer. And just as frequently, they’re not buying it. But they go along with him, out of respect and fear and—who knows?—maybe there’s something to it. As for Mosley, he’s chosen to have a lousy-paying job (the show makes clear that, if he wanted, he could easily get a Division One gig) because he loves these kids and couldn’t imagine himself anyplace else. His quote, which I ran at the top of this piece, testifies to his earnest belief that he has to let his players know how much he loves them, if he has any expectation of them listening to him. And they have to learn to love each other. If they don’t, then these hot-headed, often emotionally-unstable young men are going to rebel, which would ruin any chances of a championship victory.

The men of the ELAC basketball team, The Huskies

I don’t know if ELAC ends up winning the state title, because that show hasn’t yet aired. But by episode two, you feel like you know these kids (at least, many of them). Some players whom I might have wanted to know more about were not selected by the directors for starring roles. That’s a little frustrating, but I understand their decision to focus on at most six or seven people (players, coach, assistant coach and family members) each season. What is so endlessly satisfying for me, in LCU, is how a television show manages to make me care so much that I find myself weeping. Check out Last Chance U: Basketball, streaming now on Netflix.


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