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November 14, 2017

I haven’t really updated in awhile, because life the universe and everything has kept me pretty busy on account of a piece of news that can be filed under “Life-altering.”

I have been accepted to a Masters of Special Education program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I will continue to write, hopefully prolifically. My ultimate goal here is to teach Lit & Comp to high-schoolers with emotional disabilities. So that’s something that fills me with a cocktail mix of excitement, joy, anxiety, fear, hope and regret. It’s a long island ice tea of emotion, to be sure. I got this acceptance letter two weeks ago and reality has a tendency to sink in slow. As I sat here this morning shopping for my plane ticket home it started to become very real. Which I think is the biggest factor in why I had put it off for a couple weeks. I need some plans to be settled first, sure. But really, it was because by buying that plane ticket, it made it official: this stage of my life is over.

It’s been a hard stage to end. I’m the happiest I’ve even been, and it’s hard to want to mess with a good thing. But I have a tendency to become complacent. If nothing ever changed I’d be just fine, and that’s a good place to be. I’ve kept my options open and it’s lead me to some pretty groovy things. I’m not getting younger, I’m just getting grey at the temples, and I should start locking into a secure career path before I look like Reed Richards. Before coming to Korea i was stagnant. For years. I was dealing with some inner demons, primarily depression, primarily genetic. I came to Korea after righting my ship just enough to cast off. And I can say, without a doubt, that I “found myself” here. I use the term loosely. I believe that existence precedes essence, so maybe “built myself’ or “grew myself” is a way of putting it more that’s more in line with my existential world view.

Look at that, I have digressed, as is my wont. But yeah, I grew here. I grew a lot. And I think a large challenge of going back is going to be maintaining the person I’ve become. Which shouldn’t be too hard, at least for myself. In the sense that the person I was before could never win in a fight against who I am now. He wouldn’t have the confidence. I’m more concerned about going back and all the people I knew before still seeing me as I was. And, with Hell being other people and all, we have a tendency to see ourselves as others see us, or at least how we perceive they see us. I’m really worried about, not just the reverse culture shock, but the whole readjustment. Things I had here;  the small, tightknit punk scene; the local foreigner community; my girlfriend won’t be around. And I’m returning to my country while things are the most tumultuous they’ve been in my lifetime. I’m going to need to see someone, professionally, when I get back, at least for a while, of that I have no doubt.

Fuck, man. I still don’t know how I feel. I have a goal. An actual long term goal, and I know what I gotta do to get there. I’ve typically survived so far by taking things a day at a time. Jumping on opportunities and keeping options open. I won’t say it’s yielded me nothing. I’ve got a novel and my band released recordings. Most people don’t do the small scale DIY version of their dreams. And who says it’s too late to do those things again somewhere else? As my checklist of things to do to get ready for going home gets more ticks than blank spaces, I can starting finding time to be creative again. I’ve taken the time to do this now because I need the therapy of hitting the release valve on my head. Pressure was reaching critical mass. I’ll probably doing a couple of these over the next few weeks. But I’m getting dangerously close to “TL;DNR” as the netizens say.

To be continued...

Me Too

October 17, 2017

I’ve been slow cooking my brain in all of the “Me too” these past few days. Not only have I seen how many women (and even men) in my life that have experienced these things, I’ve seen several men share and honestly apologize for their past behavior. I’ve been stewing in it quite a bit. Most importantly it’s caused me to reflect back on my past behaviors. I know things now I didn’t know then. I am guilty of things I know now to be creepy and inappropriate. I was handsy and overly persistent on several occasions. I make no excuses for it, and I’m not writing it off. Just because people do way worse shit than I’d ever consider doesn’t make it okay. It’s not enough to be sorry. I need to be better. And I have gotten better, and will continue to get better. I’m not going to be part of the problem again.

It’s gotten me thinking a lot about what the hell was going on in my head when I crossed those lines.  The best I can come up with is that certain behaviors are so normalized (even celebrated in stories and films) that a lot of guys commit harassment without realizing that's what they are doing. Your typical rom-com and Hollywood love stories teach us that "persistence pays off" yet display behaviors that are absolutely not okay. The stuff guys pull in movies like Say Anything and The Notebook is framed as romantic but in reality it’s just downright creepy. It’s not okay to not back down when a woman tells you it’s not a good time for her (Say Anything), it’s not okay to (even as a joke) say you’ll kill yourself if she doesn’t go out with you (The Notebook). The level of “persistence” shown in these movies (and others like them) is actually stalking and harassment but men and boys are constantly bombarded with the message that’s what women want. The idea that “she’s just playing hard to get” contrasts with the far more important one that “no means no.” We shouldn’t normalize this shit and we sure as hell shouldn’t be putting it up on a pedestal.

I don’t share this to rationalize my behavior, or to make excuses. But rather to try and diagnose the issue at large. But I don’t think any man who blocked a woman’s exit or drugged their drink was at all confused about what she really wanted.

That said. Me too. I bumped into a big guy at a Flogging Molly show at The Vic, and spilled some of his beer. He said “You might as well drink the rest” handed me the beer and then grabbed my ass. While learning over the railing on the deck outside a bar in Des Moines (I’d stepped out to make a phone call) a large party of drunk middle-aged women arrived and several of them slapped me on the ass on their way in. Being in my early 20’s at the time, I was able to laugh that off. Once in a bar in Chicago I was very drunk and a guy kept buying me drinks (I was too drunk to realize that my glass kept getting refilled). He tried to take me home and when I told him I wasn’t gay he got aggressive “Why do you think I kept buying you those drinks, asshole!?” He found me later in the night and apologized. These are a just a few, but there’s not a lot more.

I don’t compare these things to what women face. I was able to laugh most of those off because I don’t face it constantly. At 5’7” (171cm) and 150lbs (68kg) with shitty posture I don’t cut the most intimidating figure, but I didn’t feel fear in any of those situations. Hell, in the second incident I even felt proud in the moment. Which is kind of fucked up. I think? It says a lot that I’m not sure.

But it comes down to this. We need to reflect on our past behavior and experiences. We need to be open and honest about that shit, even if it’s just to ourselves. We need to start seeing people as people, and stop seeing them as things. To anyone I have made uncomfortable, to anyone I've crossed a line with, I am deeply sorry. At one point I was part of the problem. Now I’m doing what I can to be part of the solution.

Gun violence

October 23, 2017

There needs to be a total and complete shutdown of men owning guns in the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on. We have no choice. Without looking at the various polling data, it’s obvious to anybody that the hatred is beyond comprehension. Where the hatred comes from and why, we will have to determine. We have to figure it out. We can’t live like this.

Amazing what happens when you changed three little words, yeah?

A Feel Good Kind of Weekend

August 24, 2017

My favorite event of the year here in South Korea is the New Generation of Ska Festival, typically held in mid-late August in Seoul. It features the best of Korean ska as well as bands from Japan and the United States. Starting back in 2014, the first one was held as a street festival in Sinchon near Yonsei University. It was funded by donations and merch sales.The following year it was held in a rented performance space and year-three was held at club SHARP, a club in Mangwon owned by the organizers. Although fun, the latter two years just felt like regular, albeit much longer than normal, gigs. So when it was announced that the festival would be moving back to the streets, I was ecstatic. It feels much more like a festival that way.

Having just passed my final subtest for the Illinois Test of Academic Proficiency, and finishing a major step in my grad school application process, I was in good spirits and looking to celebrate with friends I don’t see often enough, and cut loose to some good music. I planned to start drinking early and ride a nice, steady buzz through the day. The headlining band was The Suicide Machines, a ska-punk band from Detroit that was popular back in the 90’s, when America still cared about ska-punk. It was up in the air if they were going to be able to play or not. The lead singer had injured his back a week or so prior and cancelation was very possible. But, not keen to cancel their Asia tour, he was able to adequately medicate to ward off the pain without knocking himself out entirely.

I was running a bit late, in my attempts to save money I opted for taking the bus and we’d hit some traffic, but was able to catch the last half of the first band, which was Lazy Bone. I was worried that the newly reformed Rudy Guns would play first and that I would miss them. Rudy Guns had been one of the first bands I came across when researching Korean bands so I was keen to see them again. They’d been on hiatus for almost 2 years while male members of the band were doing their mandatory military service. So it was fun to finally see them play again.

Not to mention mingling with my Seoul friends was great, especially considering that’s where the vast majority of my friends are these days. So Daegu has gotten a bit lonely. At least in terms of my music scene friends. I still have friends in Daegu. But fewer and fewer that I build and create things with. There’s a certain sense of community that I feel in a music scene that I don’t get from just running into the same people downtown. I’ve never really been one for groups, or fitting in so much. I’m a weird guy. Overly enthusiastic sometimes. A bit of a spaz, especially when I’ve been drinking. And I occasionally have trouble controlling the volume of my voice when I’m feeling manic. So, I know I take some getting used to. I try to channel that nervous energy into my stage performances.  But I’m getting on a bit of a self-deprecating tangent here.

Where was I going with this? Ah, yes. The trip from Seoul to Daegu isn’t typically convenient or cheap. But I make it as frequently as I can. Which, apparently doesn’t go unnoticed. During the after party I was talking to my friend Jeff of the band ...Whatever That Means, who was one of the producers of my band’s album, and Kim Goyang, the keyboardist of Skasucks and front woman for Billy Carter, said of me, “He’s always here.” Which, I chose to interpret positively. To which Jeff said, “Well, he’s a dedicated guy.” A small thing sure, but kind of an “Aw shucks” moment for me. I bring this up, however, to make this point:

Positive affirmations matter. When dealing with stress, anxiety, and/or depression little things like that stick with a person. I had spent the previous months studying my ass off for some tests that will determine my future. And even though I had passed, it’s really just another step in the process. There’s still numerous stages left before I’m where I need to be. So, all of that remained at the back of my mind. And though unrelated it’s nice to have small confirmations that efforts you make are noticed. And if it’s important to me, I have to assume it matters to other people. So it’s crucial, I think, to offer small things like that to the people in our lives. And it reminds me to get out of my own head once in a while to notice and affirm the people around me.

Once the show was done I ran into the singer of Suicide Machines. I said, “Great show.” he thanked me and apologized for it not being better. “I’m on a lot of drugs for my back. I didn’t want to cancel.”
“All the more impressive that you performed anyway. The show must go on,” I said.
“Always,” he said.

I’ll leave it with this. Chronology be damned:
During the show I happened to meet a military man who was attending the festival with his 12-year-old son. The kid was also named Kyle. I told the dad that anytime the kid wanted to crowd surf they should let me know. The dad turned to his son and said, “How about it? You want to go up?”
“Not just yet,” the kid said.
“Okay,” I said. “Just remember: If you want, people will lift you up. And if you fall, they will catch you.”
“I know,” the kid said, “I’ve been to concerts before.”
“I was being metaphorical, dammit,”  I said. “I was talking about life in general.”
His father just laughed, “That’s actually a really good lesson.”

Thoughts on Charlottesville

August 13, 2017

Charlottesville is not a wake-up call. It’s what happens after hitting the snooze button too many times. The tension, the bigotry, and the hate have always been there. More obvious to those it was directed at, but below the surface just enough that the rest of us could ignore it if we chose to.

The “Alt-right” or whatever innocuous euphemism white-nationalists are calling themselves these days marched on Charlottesville, Virginia to “Unite the Right” and protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. I think we’ve all read the stories by now so a summary of events is probably superfluous at this point. So I’ll just dig into some of the thoughts that swirled around in my head through the day.

Point one. “Alt-right” my ass. These people are Nazis. Plan and simple. They can cry “Godwin’s Law” all they want. They can piss and moan that “insults like that further radicalize us.” But when people are walking with Swastika flags, sieging heil with salutes and chanting “Heil Trump!” Well, that’s pretty dictionary definition. When your viewpoint is people of different races should have separate countries, the label “Nazi” is no longer mere “name-calling."

All this started over a Robert E. Lee statue being removed. White-nationalists planned a rally to protest, Anti-fascists showed up to counter-protest, and shit jumped off. I can understand protesting the removal of a statue. However, this is a statue of Robert E. Lee. A general who fought a war to protect his “right” to own other human beings as property.

“It was about more than that!” they cry. “It was about states’ rights.”
“States’ rights to legalize slavery.”
“There were also economic factors…”
“Because the south’s economy was tied to slavery.”

The Confederate constitution reads:

“In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress and by the Territorial government; and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories shall have the right to take to such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the States or Territories of the Confederate States.”

One way of saying this is that “It protects the rights of citizens to own slaves they legally obtained.” However, if this were about states’ rights shouldn’t it be up to each individual state to decide if slavery was to be legal or illegal in said state? It’s effectively mandating that states within the Confederacy legalize slavery. That’s not allowing for “states’ rights.” It’s whitewashed, revisionist history to use the larger umbrella of “states’ rights” as a euphemism so that people can feel less guilty and more self-righteous about flying their flag which, by the way, was never actually the official flag of the Confederacy. And yes, there are statues of our founding fathers, who owned slaves, all over the country. Slavery will always be one of America’s greatest embarrassments. The difference with Lee and the Confederacy is that they fought to keep it.

Trump’s comments about the “hate on many sides” is about as close as he got to condemning the neo-Nazi marchers. But the man wouldn’t want to piss off his base, now would he? Trump pulled a similar stunt when half-heartedly dismissing comments by David Duke (days later). His position seems to be: “If they like me, then I’m okay with them.” But it is also representative of the centrist viewpoint that: “everyone has a right to their opinion, all opinions are valid, let’s have a civil discussion and reach a compromise.”

Yes. Everyone does have right to their opinion. But all opinions are not valid. Robert E. Lee’s opinion was that some people were less than human and it was his right to own them as property. Richard Spencer’s opinion is that white people are superior and America should be a white ethno-centric state. I’m not going to pretend that those opinions are "just as valid" as "people are not property" or "I should be able to marry and raise a child with my Korean girlfriend." And what the hell kind of compromises can we reach with those opinions? Only some races can be property? Some races can stay in America? Here’s the thing: every halfway decent human being, that is to say "every person with a shred of humanity", agreed a long time ago that owning people as property is objectively wrong. And the last time we tried to “have a civil discussion and compromise” with Nazis they invaded half of Europe.

Finally, the white-nationalists showed up with guns, Swastikas, and stars and bars. They marched with torches and looked like a scene from a modern day remake of Frankenstein. I see these photos and what I hear in my head is Ignorant Villager #7  screaming “Kill the monster!” And as it has been pointed out Tiki torches are Polynesian. At first I thought it was kind of ironic. Then I realized it’s pretty much like them marching with trophies of a culture they conquered. Expect they got these "trophies" 2-for-1 at an Ace Hardware. Hell, one drove his car into a crowd, killing one and injuring dozens. A popular MO of terrorists these days. Why would he use terroristic methods?

Oh, right. Because he’s a terrorist. Attacking civilians to instill fear for political or religious reasons is terrorism. By definition.

Some might say, “Hey. The people doing Nazi salutes while carrying Nazi flags, and attacking people… this isn’t everyone. The protest was supposed to be peaceful. Those people are fringe and outliers.” The people who say this are very likely the same people who lumped all Black Lives Matters protesters  together with the people smashing Starbucks windows.

Either way, the very idea that opposing these people should be a controversial opinion is disturbing and surreal. This is toad-licking insanity. We fought a war about this shit. A war that is constantly covered in movies and documentaries and on educational television because it was the one war where the goal was clear. It was the one war we can say was objectively about right and wrong without controversy. Nazis are straight up, picture in the dictionary, evil. We settled that. Seventy-plus years ago.

How did we get here?

We always were.

The whistle is blowing. And the pot's boiling over.

Creative Outlets and the Art of Coping

June 20th, 2017

Some days when that alarm goes off I’ve considered ignoring it. And I usually do about two or three times. And I get that little “voice”, for lack of a better word, in my head saying why bother?  and nobody likes you and you can’t do anything right. I don’t like calling it “a voice.” That makes it sound like it’s some kind of auditory hallucination. Which is not at all the case. It’s more of a “lurking thought”. Anyone who has experienced mild to severe depression knows exactly what I’m talking about. Sometimes it feels like another person living in your head trying to take control of your thoughts. A passenger, and an obnoxious as hell backseat driver at that.

You have to find ways to get them to shut the hell up. Some do this with doctor prescribed medication, some self medicate with drugs and alcohol to jettison their passenger, others find outlets. Some of these -self-harm, violence- are not so healthy. Others use various forms of creative expression as a release, and it’s this last method that I have found to be the most effective.

My mind is a perpetual torrent, and it’s exhausting. I’m tired more than I often should be, because some days just keeping it together is enough to take a lot out of me. Any day I haven’t done something creative, I hate myself. These two factors are invariably linked. If I haven’t written something, practiced singing, or worked on a drawing or painting I can’t sleep. I can’t see my day as finished or productive. It makes me feel absolutely worthless. The solution should seem obvious: Do at least one creative thing each day. Blog entry. Short story. Work on a novel. Gig flyer design. A painting. A doodle. A self-portrait. Lyrics. Something. Anything. It is absolutely crucial to my existence.

I’ve self-published a novel, and written two more that will probably never see the outside of the drawer, and have several other projects in the works. I front a punk band called Food for Worms. We play gigs frequently and recorded a full length album. People have often told me, “That’s cool. I wish I could find the time to do that kind of thing.”  A response that has always rubbed me tail to head. “Find the time” makes it sound like it’s something I do because I lack pressing responsibilities, that I’m somehow free of important obligations. It’s not about finding the time. I have to make the time. You don’t find the time to eat, sleep, shit, piss, or breathe. For me these “hobbies” are just as crucial to my existence as any of those other things. It’s not part of my self-actualization. It’s part of my survival, and I stick it closer to the base on my hierarchy of needs. Very much like not sleeping or eating impacts your physical health, so it is with creative outlets and my mental health.

The fallacy, however, is that people think creative outlets expel these dark thoughts. They don't. It’s depression and anxiety, not a demonic possession. A creative outlet works less like an exorcism and more like a coming out party. See, depression never really goes away. It’s not really something you’re cured of, exactly. It’s something you learn to cope with. Expressing it is a way of driving with the top down, venting out the bad air, letting in some sunlight and exposing your annoying little passenger to the world. When you are truly able to put yourself out there, when you are unashamed of it, you take ownership of it. You use it as fuel to create. You are manipulating it and it no longer manipulates you. Then when someone hears your song, reads your story, stares at your visual art and relates to it,well, then you’ve made a connection. They understand and recognize that someone else feels that way too and they feel less alone. Then you see someone else relate to what you’ve created and you connect you are given validation that you aren’t alone either. Because the truth is that no one is really alone. The world is both small and vast simultaneously and there’s not a feeling or experience you can have that isn’t shared by someone else. And those people are all around you. Art, in any form, is about taking that which makes you feel alienated and using it to do the opposite: to connect.

Which brings us to a bit of a conundrum. If a main benefit of art is connection and validation, does something have to be shared to truly be “art”? Are those novels in the drawer “not art” because no one else will read them? Is the painting in the attic “not art” because it’s got a vinyl cover over it? Don’t be ridiculous. Sometimes the benefit is just for yourself. It’s the act  of taking all the twisted shit going on in your head and turning it into something tangible. Something you can see, read, hear, or touch. Even...taste? If we fear most that which we cannot see or hear, then take that power away from it. Take it for yourself. Taking the time to create something is, in and of itself, therapeutic.

So to anyone else wrestling with that dark, gloomy backseat driver I highly encourage you turn it into something you can use. Turn it into art. Even if you suck at it, and chances are you will at first. But eventually, you won’t anymore. I’m not going to claim it’s a cure all. Even some of the world’s most famous creatives have succumbed. But still, it turns the darkest part of yourself into something beautiful and lasting. And that’s not nothing.

P.S.: There is no shame in seeking professional help too. I’ve had my own experiences with that and will share more in a future blog entry.

Also: Here’s a list of suicide hotlines by country. Click the country and it’ll bring up a list of cities.

How the hell do you talk about gender inequality to a room full of young Korean women?

May 29, 2017

My current job at the Global Station in Daegu, South Korea has me visiting area high schools for the occasional guest lecture. It's part of our mentoring program to help make up for the fact that budget cuts caused Native English Teachers to be cut from most high schools. I was recently assigned to speak over 4 periods across 2 days at the Daegu Girls High School. Now part of this program is that the teacher at the school chooses the topic and partially plans the lesson. The chosen topic, inspired by Emma Watson's speech to the UN was Gender Inequality. 

Considering I'm, you know, a man I felt a little odd about speaking out on the topic. Who the hell was I to talk about gender inequality to a room full of young Korean women about gender inequality? I didn't want to "mansplain" gender inequality to a group of people who, more than likely, have a helluva a lot more experience with the topic than I do. (Many of them have apparently been told by parents and grandparents "Don't worry about what you will do for a job, you'll just find a husband anyway", they don't need me to explain shit to them). I was supposed to discus my experiences and observations with gender inequality in both my home country (the U.S. of A.) and South Korea. I was also supposed to write an read a "resolution against gender inequality". So I went around and asked a bunch of my women friends, many of whom fall into the "strong independent" category to say the least, just what the hell I should say so I didn't come off as a dick or a try-hard. I talked to western women and Korean women about it. And many of them touched on the same issue.

They all mentioned the ideas of traditional gender roles. This, in one form or another, was brought up by every woman I asked. Many of them seemed to share the concern that it was also a men's issue. Which is a concept that was central to the Emma Watson speech the class was centered on. This also gave me something to talk about that connected to me and would seem more personal and less disingenuous. They wanted me to talk about how "feminism" means equality for everyone,fringe groups notwithstanding.

Anyway, below is a slightly altered version of the "resolution" I wrote up. I did not include some of the more complex and colorful language, and the end was a little different.

I am a feminist. Does that surprise you? Okay, I’ll say it again. I, Kyle Decker, the man writing this, am a feminist. Many people seem to have a very warped idea of what that means. But it means simply this: I think that women are people. I think men, women, and everyone in between are equals.

I’m not in a position of power. So how can I fight gender inequality? Easy. By simply showing respect for choices people make with their lives. Whether she chooses to be a politician, an artist, a CEO, or a stay at home wife and mother. All of these women deserve respect because feminism, first and foremost, is about choice.

Just as importantly, I can put my own insecurities about my masculinity aside. Because the traditional gender roles can be damaging to men as well. Men are told to not show emotion. Men are sometimes mocked for going into jobs seen as “women’s jobs” like nursing or teaching. I was bullied as a kid because I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about sports, my predilections were more artistic. I was called a “fag” and “girly” because I liked writing and theater more than basketball. You see, what feminism really means is equality for women and men. It means that a man can cry without anyone giving him crap for it. It means a woman can be assertive without being called “bitchy.” It means a woman can be a CEO or construction worker. It means a man can be a nurse or a stay at home dad. It means that you, me, all of us can do what we want and be who we want. But what we all need to do, all of us together, is show each other respect for these choices. Only with that support, can we all break free of these bogus, limiting gender roles.

So to hell with so called “tradition.” Because the time to move forward is always right now.

I have always considered myself a Humanist. Feminism is a obvious subcategory of that. If not, basically, synonymous. Overall having to sit down and think this one through, hearing people's stories while preparing, and hearing what the girls came up with was all a very eye-opening experience. 

For Boston

Apr 15, 2013

Bombs went off at the finish line of The Boston Marathon today. As of this writing there were 2 dead and over 90 injured, ranging from burns to lost limbs. And it’s still too early to know who or why or even what the fuck happened. The who and what and even why elude us, but that knowledge isn’t going to save us from this knowledge: people are capable of horrible things. Whether it’s Boston, Newton, Aurora, or Columbine. The World Trade Center or Oklahoma City. No amount of vigilance or justice can save us from knowing that there is evil in the world.

Fuck that. I refuse to allow myself to be further dragged into cynicism. On days like today you see what horrible things people are capable of. But it's important to remember that for every one person that sets off a bomb there are hundreds of people who show up to save the day. The world has villains. But it's got a lot more heroes. First responders, police, firemen, paramedics, blood donors, people offering shelter, people going back for loved ones, assisting strangers, the men who threw themselves in front of the bullets to save their girlfriends in Aurora, the teachers in Newton who shielded the children. People kick ass. Most of them, at least.

These incidents are tragic and awful. People can be horrible. But instead of just seeing these as reminders of what people are capable of doing to each other, also look for and be reminded of what people are capable of doing for each other.

It’s like Mr. Fred Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”