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Education
1:49 pm
Sat March 26, 2011

State of Grand Rapids Schools strong, but facing challenges

GRPS Superintendent Dr. Bernard Taylor Jr. apeaks to about 100 people during his 4th annual "State of Our schools" address.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Michigan’s third largest school district estimates it would face a $25 million deficit if lawmakers pass Governor Rick Snyder’s budget. In an annual address to the community Saturday, Superintendent Bernard Taylor outlined how that could impact next school year

Financial challenges

The district has trimmed around to $70 million from its budget in the last decade. Taylor says to cut $25 million in one year would be difficult.

“But we can’t be afraid. We can’t show any trepidation about what our situation is because in the end, whether we have a billion dollars or we have one dollar children have to be educated.”

He proposed a pay freeze for all administrative staff, and that they pay 20% of their health care premiums. But even with those and a number of other cuts, Taylor warned the district still may have to lay off more than 180 employees.

Academic challenges

Next year, the state will raise cut off scores for what’s considered "proficient" on the standardized MEAP test. Taylor says that will have a negative impact their academic achievement. But he stressed raising standards for a high school diploma isn’t a bad thing.

“It is not a precursor of anything if you are not college ready or workforce ready, meaning you have to have pronounced academics skills in the areas of literacy, mathematics, problem solving and being able to work cooperatively with others.”

Taylor wants to do a better job determining if students are really prepared to study beyond high school.

He’s asking the state allow the district to keep those students who aren’t ready in high school longer. Taylor wants to do that in cooperation with Grand Rapids Community College.

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On the Radio
4:47 pm
Fri March 25, 2011

In case you missed it...

user cpstorm wikimedia commons

The Lesson of the Cherry Blossom - NPR's Morning Edition

Cherry blossoms are blooming in Washington D.C. They will be at their peak around the end of this month. The cherry trees around the Tidal Basin in Washington D.C. were first planted in 1912 after the people of Japan gave them to the U.S. as a gift of friendship, according to the National Park Service.

The flowering cherry tree, or "Sakura," is an exalted flowering plant in Japan. It symbolizes the Buddhist notion of impermanence in life.

NPR's Linda Wertheimer visited with James Ulak, senior curator of Japanese art at the Freer Gallery and the Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Ulak visits Japan regularly for his work. He was there just days before the disaster struck.

Ulak spoke with Wertheimer about the symbolism of the cherry tree to the Japanese people and about the artwork at the museum. Artwork that depicts the Matsushima region, a place of great beauty and a place that inspires the Japanese people.

Ulak says the devastation of this area would be comparable to the United States losing the Grand Canyon. From NPR.org:

The bay has been long known as one of the most beautiful places in Japan. Its views of blue water, craggy rocks and twisted pine trees have attracted visitors and artists for centuries.

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Economy
4:26 pm
Fri March 25, 2011

Population expert sees good news in state Census data

The man in charge of charting population trends for Michigan says he would not be surprised to see the out-migration of people from the state reverse course.

The new U.S. Census data says Michigan lost people over the last decade.

State Demographer Ken Darga says Michiganders left the state in droves over the past decade for places like Florida where jobs were more plentiful. Now, Darga says, they may be ready to come back -- Florida’s jobless rate is higher than Michigan’s.

Darga discussed the good news on the Michigan public TV show  “Off The Record.”

“The economy is starting to turn around. There’s a lot of good news about Michigan’s economy in the past year or so.”

“Michigan has lost a lot of young people to Florida – as well as senior citizens – because Florida used to be one of the big states that had low unemployment and it was a place you could go to find a job while Michigan was in a one-state recession. But now, Florida’s unemployment rate is higher than Michigan’s.”

“One of the things I’ll be looking for is to see if some of those Michigan natives who moved to Florida are going to start coming back.”

The U-S Bureau of Labor Statistics says Michigan added 71 thousand more jobs than it lost in the past 12 months and its unemployment rate fell more than any other state’s.

Also, the decline in Michigan’s jobless rate for the first two months of 2011 was due to more people working, and not to discouraged jobseekers checking out of the workforce.

Michigan and Kentucky are tied for the nation’s fifth highest unemployment rate.

State Law
3:43 pm
Fri March 25, 2011

"Romeo & Juliet" bill headed for governor's signature; flashers, peeping Toms also to be removed from sex offender registry

People on Michigan's sex offender registry because they had consensual teenage sex can apply to have their name removed.

The so-called “Romeo and Juliet” bill is on its way to Governor Snyder’s desk for his signature. 

The measure will remove people who are on Michigan’s Sex Offender Registry because they had consensual sex with another teenager.

They’re currently kept on the list for 25 years.

State Sen. Rick Jones sponsored the bill. He says it puts Michigan in compliance with the federal Adam Walsh Act.

"This law will require that you petition the judge, the judge will review the case, and only in cases where it was completely consensual -- boyfriend/girlfriend-type behavior -- will the individual be allowed to be removed from the list," Jones says.

The law also takes most peeping toms and exhibitionists – or flashers – off the list. Instead, they’ll be on a separate list monitored by the Michigan State Police for 15 years.

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Politics
3:20 pm
Fri March 25, 2011

No-confidence vote will send Canadians back to the polls

Jeff Smith Flickr

A no-confidence vote in the Canadian parliament today means Canadian citizens can look forward to another election, their fourth in seven years.

From the BBC:

The vote, engineered by the opposition Liberal Party and backed by two other opposition parties, triggers an election expected in early May.

The move stemmed from a ruling on Monday that the minority government was in contempt of parliament.

But the Conservatives are thought likely to keep power in a May election.

With the House of Commons adjourned, Mr Harper on Saturday will ask Governor General David Johnston to dissolve parliament.

Following that, an election will be held after a minimum 36 days of campaigning. Canadian analysts expect it will be called for the first week in May.

Mr Harper's Conservative Party holds 145 seats in the dissolving parliament, shy of a majority of the 308 seats.

Recent polling suggests the Conservative Party holds a lead at the start of the campaign, with the Liberal Party in second, the New Democratic (NDP) Party third and the Bloc Quebecois, which campaigns only in Quebec, fourth.

The Conservative Party is likely to emerge from the May election in power, with some polls indicating it could even gain seats.

After the vote, Mr Harper said he suspected the forthcoming election, the country's fourth in seven years, would "disappoint" most Canadians.

Analysts say Canadian voters have shown little desire for an election, although Mr Harper's minority government had set a record for its tenure.

Canada is a historically important trading partner with Michigan.

According to the Government of Canada, about "237,100 jobs in the Great Lakes State depend on the Canada–Michigan trade relationship, which is valued at $43.3 billion."

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Politics
3:06 pm
Fri March 25, 2011

Protestors bring giant inhalers to Congressman Fred Upton

Kevin Karlinski, student from Western Michigan University, outside Congressman Upton's district office to deliver oversized asthma inhaler. Behind him, more community members drop off inhalers in Congressman Upton's office.
Nicole Lowen Environment Michigan

Several protestors rallied outside Congressman Fred Upton’s offices in Kalamazoo Friday.

Nicole Lowen is the with Environment Michigan, a state-wide advocacy group that tries to protect clean air, water and open spaces.

“We had gigantic, oversized asthma inhalers that we dropped off at his office just to represent the thousands of his constituents that are likely to suffer more frequent and severe health problems if he’s successful in stripping away these critical clean air protections.”

She says they were protesting a bill (H.R. 910) Upton introduced that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. 

Upton chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee in the U.S. House. The republican from St. Joseph says allowing the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions will drive up energy costs, destroy jobs and make America less competitive globally.

“Such regulatory authority can only come from elected legislators, not unelected bureaucrats.  We must not allow this administration to regulate what they have been unable to legislate,” Upton said in a press release issued Friday.

Offbeat
2:39 pm
Fri March 25, 2011

FYI... "OMG" is now in the Oxford Dictionary... LOL!

Texting is influencing our language.
user kamshots Flickr

The culture of texting is making its mark on our language. There are some surprising new entries in the latest edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.

From the Associated Press:

LONDON (AP) - OMG! The exclamatory online abbreviation has won the approval of the Oxford English Dictionary. The term - short for "Oh my God" - is one of dozens of new entries in the authoritative reference book's latest online update.

Other Internet-inspired expressions given the stamp of approval include LOL, "laughing out loud"; IMHO, "in my humble opinion"; and BFF, "best friends forever."

The dictionary says that although the terms are associated with modern electronic communications, some are surprisingly old. The first confirmed use of "OMG" was in 1917.

The new update, released Thursday, includes "flat white" - a type of milky coffee - and "muffin top," defined as "a protuberance of flesh above the waistband of a tight pair of trousers."

Some other gems making it into the dictionary include "FYI, and " WAG," according to CNN.com.

"WAG" is a new one to me, so I definitely fall outside of the Oxford English Dictionary's requirement "that the word is used and understood by a wide audience" requirement.

"WAG" is an abbreviation for "wives and girlfriends" used in reference to partners of soccer players - definitely a British thing.

It's a good thing LOL is now in the dictionary. Now confused parents can look up the meaning of the term before making a few glaring instant message faux pas.

For more on the confusion over "LOL," listen to the hilariously sweet story by Adam Gopnik from the Moth Radio Hour - you need to sign up for a free PRX membership to hear it, it's worth it! - the story comes at 13:08.

Sports
2:14 pm
Fri March 25, 2011

MSU Athletic Department cuts ties with booster club

Michigan State University Spartans

The Michigan State University Athletic Department has cut ties with a booster club under investigation by the state lottery commission. WILX reported last night that state lottery officials have been investigating the Downtown Coaches Club. The Lansing TV station says questions have been raised by 50/50 raffles run by the club and how the money was distributed.  

The Lansing State Journal says MSU Athletic Director Mark Hollis says it is cutting ties with the club.  

For several weeks, we have been aware that the Downtown Coaches Club had some financial reporting issues as well the review being conducted by the Michigan State Lottery Commission....At that time, the Michigan State Athletics Department immediately suspended all activities with the organization.

The Michigan Lottery Commission is not commenting on its investigation.

Politics
1:59 pm
Fri March 25, 2011

Supreme Court weighs sewage case

Patrick Brosset Flickr

Can a judge determine what happens when you flush your toilet? A case before the Supreme Court may decide that very question.From the AP

The Michigan Supreme Court said Thursday it will decide if local governments can be ordered to install a sewer system when private septic systems fail and spoil a lake, a case that centers on Lake Huron and a five-mile stretch in the Thumb region.

State regulators want Worth Township to install a sewer system, but an appeals court last year said the township isn't responsible for the problems of private property owners.

Some septic systems are failing in an area between M-25 and Lake Huron in Sanilac County, 80 miles northeast of Detroit. Waste is being discharged into the lake and its tributaries, and the lots are too small to build new systems.

In a brief order, the Supreme Court narrowed the issue: Does state law allow regulators and the courts to demand that a township install a sewer system when a lake is contaminated?

Township attorney Michael Woodworth said he's not surprised that the justices agreed to take the state's appeal.

"The case is one of statewide significance," he said. "There have been (local governments) that did not challenge the authority of the Department of Environmental Quality. What surprised the DEQ in this case is the township stepped back and said, 'Wait a minute.'"

Worth Township seemed ready to build a new sewage system as recently as 2008, but the cost kept them from proceeding.

State Budget
12:29 pm
Fri March 25, 2011

State to close prison

Florence Crane Correctional Facility in Coldwater, Michigan
(courtesy http://www.mco-seiu.org/)

The state Department of Corrections is closing a state prison in southern Michigan. The move will save the state millions of dollars. The Florence Crane correctional facility in Coldwater costs about $27 million a year to operate.

The facility houses about a thousand mainly older inmates, many with serious health problems. Those inmates will be sent to other prisons around the state. 

John Cordell is the state Corrections Department spokesman. He says the state will be careful when placing these inmates in other facilities. 

“We don’t want to place prisoners in a situation where…they have a pressing health care need, but the health care provider is a hundred miles away, every time  we have to take them back and forth.  It doesn’t make any sense.”  

The Coldwater prison will not be the only state prison closing this summer. The Muskegon Correctional facility is also scheduled to close in June. Cordell says the state doesn’t need the two prisons anymore. 

“We expect that by June first we’ll have well over a thousand beds that are empty within the system. So we can identify this prison.  Close it.  Place those prisoners within the beds in the system and we’ll still have some cushion.”

Michigan’s prison inmate population has declined from a high of 51,000 in 2007  to just under 44,000 today.  

The Daily Reporter in Coldwater notes that Michigan's Corrections Department has been cutting back for some time:

In 2009, to save more than $118 million, Gov. Jennifer Granholm closed three prisons and five camps. They were the Standish Maximum Correctional Facility, along with prisons in Muskegon and Kincheloe. In addition, the state closed camps in Shingleton, Painesdale, Iron River, Grayling and White Lake. The cuts impacted more than 1,000 state employees. Although there was much talk, there were no closures last year.

Changing Gears
12:26 pm
Fri March 25, 2011

Local governments face more losses as cases pile up in tax courts

Donald Betlem bought this home for $5,000 in 2008. He had to convince Detroit it wasn't worth ten times as much.
Kate Davidson Changing Gears

Property values have plummeted across the region.

That means cities and towns have watched their tax revenue plunge as well. But many homeowners and businesses think their property taxes are still too high.

The result is a double hit.

Local governments are in fiscal crisis, and the tax courts of Michigan, Ohio and Illinois are clogged with people who want refunds.

People like Donald Betlem.

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Science/Medicine
11:08 am
Fri March 25, 2011

A piece of Michigan and NASA history on the auction block this weekend

8 by 12 inch state of Michigan flag that flew to the moon and back on Apollo 15 in 1971
(courtesy of astronautscholarship.org)

This weekend you’ll have a chance to buy a piece of Michigan and space history. A state of Michigan flag, carried on board Apollo 15,  to the moon and back, is being auctioned. All three members of the Apollo 15 crew had ties to the University of Michigan.

The online auction benefits a science scholarship program. Former NASA astronaut Al Worden piloted the Apollo spacecraft. The Michigan native hopes the 8 by 12 inch flag will attract a lot of bidding. 

“I would expect it to bring in 5 or 6 thousand dollars.  I think the last one that sold at auction I donated brought in almost $6 thousand.”

Worden says the online auction is raising money for science scholarships. 

 “We give out something like 25 scholarships…10 thousand dollars each…every year…which means we have to raise a lot of money.  And one of the ways we do that is by selling artifacts that are donated by astronauts who’ve made a flight…and that is kind of a mainstay how we raise our money.”  

The online auction of NASA memorabilia concludes Saturday night at 10 pm. Anyone interested in bidding on the space flag should go to ‘AstronautScholarship.org’.

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Sports Commentary
10:58 am
Fri March 25, 2011

Getting to know the Fab Five

The Fab Five - From left to right, Jimmy King, Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Ray Jackson, Juwan Howard.
user skoch 3 wikimedia commons

A lot of this story, you already know:

Five super-talented freshmen come to Michigan, and by mid-season the Wolverines become the first team in NCAA history to start all five freshmen. They get to the final game of March Madness before losing to defending national champion Duke. The next year, they make it to the finals again, but lose to North Carolina when their best player, Chris Webber, calls a time-out they don’t have. 

Along the way they make baggy shorts and black socks fashionable, and import rap music and trash talk from the inner-city playground to the mainstream of college basketball.

It’s been that way ever since.

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Commentary
10:53 am
Fri March 25, 2011

Defying Age

Former Michigan Attorney General Frank Kelly speaks in support of Sen. Tom George's legislation to regulate the billboard industry in Michigan. At 86, he reminded Jack Lessenberry he could still run for Attorney General.
senate.michigan.gov

Former Governor Bill Milliken turns eighty-nine tomorrow. When I talked to him a couple weeks ago, he said, after discussing the current Michigan budget, that I keep getting his age wrong.

“I am actually fifty-three,” he said, before bursting into laughter. Talking to Milliken always perks me up, because I am thirty years younger than the man who I always think of as “the governor.”

And I certainly hope I still have a sense of humor at his age, though by that time I may well want to give up talking about state budgets.  I find it very encouraging that there are a great many people who are now living to tremendous ages, and enjoying life.

A week ago, I went to visit former Attorney General Frank Kelley in Florida. He had me hop into his convertible and we sped towards Marco Island, where we had lunch with a tough old Massachusetts politician, Francis X. Bellotti.

Kelley is eighty-six; Bellotti is about to be eighty-eight and looks sixty-five. The two Franks talked about old wars and about John F. Kennedy, who both knew. “When you saw him, you didn’t just think he should be president. You thought he was the answer to everything wrong in the world,” said Bellotti.

Later, on the drive back, Kelley sighed. “It’s hell getting old,” he said. “How would you know?” I wanted to ask.

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Arts/Culture
9:56 am
Fri March 25, 2011

Writer's workshop geared toward homeless

Groundcover News is available in Washtenaw County

Would-be writers can take part in a workshop this weekend. Groundcover News is hosting the event Saturday, March 26 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Groundcover is a monthly paper in Washtenaw County that focuses on poverty and homelessness and many of its writers are struggling with those issues.

The workshop is geared toward people who have written for the paper, but anyone can attend.

Freelance writer Vickie Elmer is teaching the class. She says the idea is to have more voices, telling more compelling stories.

The workshop happens at the First Baptist Church in Ann Arbor. Cost is $20, but admission is free if participants promise to write two future articles for the paper.

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Environment
8:47 am
Fri March 25, 2011

Oil spill clean up continues, public use of Kalamazoo River still on hold

Father and daughter stand by the Kalamazoo River last summer a few days after the July oil spill
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Its been months since an oil pipeline ruptured near Marshall, spewing more than 800,000 gallons of heavy crude. Since last July, hundreds of clean-up workers have been removing tons of contaminated soil along the Kalamazoo River in Calhoun County. That work goes on, and while it does, public use of the river will remain on hold.

The Battle Creek Enquirer is reporting today that Calhoun County officials say they don't know when public use of the river will be allowed. Jim Rutherford is with the Calhoun County Public Health.

"Until I know it's a safe environment, I'm still going to keep the closing on...the last thing I want is for somebody to get exposure (to oil), get hurt or worse as a result of getting tied up in the boom." 

The clean up along the Kalamazoo River slowed as winter weather moved in last fall. But, an Enbridge Energy spokeswoman says they are transitioning now to more aggressive oil removal work. The EPA's investigation into the oil spill continues.

News Roundup
8:04 am
Fri March 25, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Friday, March 25th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Students Protest Budget Cuts

A few hundred college students protested against Governor Snyder’s budget proposal at the state Capitol yesterday. Snyder has called for a 15 percent cut to Michigan’s public colleges and universities. Laura Weber was reporting from Lansing and said although the rally was not the largest that the Capitol has seen in the past couple of weeks it was one of the loudest. Weber reports Governor Snyder would have been able to hear the students across the street in his office.

Michigan State Police Announces Closures

The Michigan State Police announced yesterday that it plans to close 21 posts across the state in order to save money. Closings include posts in Battle Creek, Detroit, and Traverse City. The Associated Press reports:

The changes would take effect with the start of Michigan's next budget year in October. Troopers would be deployed throughout the state mostly from remaining posts and other buildings the state police would call detachments. Some troopers assigned to rural areas would be based from their homes. The state police say it's part of a regional policing plan.

Muslim Group Claims Harassment at Border

An Islamic advocacy group says border agents are harassing and violating the civil rights of scores of American Muslims re-entering the country from Canada, Sarah Hulett reports. The group CAIR is filing complaints with the Department of Homeland Security. As Hulett reports:

Abdulrahman Cherri is a student at the University of Michigan. His fiancé lives in Canada, and he says when he returns to the U.S. from visiting her, his car has been taken apart, and he’s been subjected to invasive full-body searches. He says he’s also been questioned about his religion, even after telling border agents that he’s too busy with school to worship. The Council on American-Islamic Relations says parents have been ordered out of cars at gunpoint and handcuffed while their children watched.

CAIR is also asking the Justice Department to investigate the harassment.

Detroit
7:21 am
Fri March 25, 2011

Iconic former train station could get a fix-up

The Michigan Central Depot
MichaelNPatterson Flickr

It’s being reported this morning that Manuel (Matty) Moroun, owner of the Michigan Central Depot in Detroit, plans to replace the roof and windows of the tattered train station. From the Detroit News:

After decades of looking like a bombed-out relic, the iconic Michigan Central Train Depot is set to receive a mini face-lift…

Created by the same architects who designed Grand Central Station in New York City, the building at one time was the largest train station in the world and known for its rich décor.

Decline and decay pulled into the station soon after the last train departed in January 1988. Scrappers looted the building.

Over the years, several ideas have been pitched for the building, including a new police headquarters. None has panned out. Nor has a 2009 resolution from the City Council to demolish it.

Because of its look of urban decay, the depot has been used in several films, including "Transformers," "The Island," "Four Brothers" and "Eight Mile.”

Moroun also owns the Ambassador Bridge that connects Detroit to Windsor, Ontario. The Detroit News quotes Bridge Company President Dan Stamper as saying, “We're applying with the city to replace the roof and the windows…We're doing it because it would be much easier to help a developer to come up with a package to use the depot if some improvements were made … so that's what we're doing.”

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Business
7:03 am
Fri March 25, 2011

Senator Levin to attend small business summit in Detroit

Michigan Senator Carl Levin (D) will be in Detroit today along with federal officials
Jeffrey Simms Photography Flickr

Michigan Senator Carl Levin and officials from the White House, the Department of Defense, and the City of Detroit will host a small business summit at Cobo Center in Detroit today. As the Associated Press reports, the event is, “designed to help Michigan small businesses explore contracting opportunities with the defense industry. Small business representatives are to learn about the defense acquisition process, meet defense contracting officials and explore contracting opportunities at the Department of Defense."

Levin, a Democrat from Detroit, is Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Budget Cuts
6:54 am
Fri March 25, 2011

Michigan State Police plan to close 21 posts

The Michigan State Police announced yesterday that it would be closing 21 state posts
Nikonmania Flickr

As part of a plan to save nearly $21 million, the Michigan State Police announced yesterday that it plans to close 21 posts across the state. Closings include posts in Adrian, Bad Axe, Battle Creek, Bridgeport, Bridgman, Cheboygan, Corunna, Detroit, Gladwin, Groveland, Hastings, Iron River, Ithaca, L'Anse, Manistee, Munising, Newaygo, Richmond, Stephenson, Traverse City and Ypsilanti. The Associated Press reports:

The changes would take effect with the start of Michigan's next budget year in October. Troopers would be deployed throughout the state mostly from remaining posts and other buildings the state police would call detachments. Some troopers assigned to rural areas would be based from their homes. The state police say it's part of a regional policing plan.

From the Detroit News:

Gov. Rick Snyder announced his intention to close posts last month but gave few details. The severity of the plan shocked some: No troopers will be laid off, but come October, the number of posts will fall from 62 to 29, as 12 posts will be downgraded to detachments that are closed to the public but open to troopers for administrative work.

The move is one of the biggest changes in years to a system of policing that has remained virtually unchanged for seven decades. And it's got some worried if troopers can adequately cover larger areas...The plan is designed to save about $3.2 million to help the department offset a $20.7 million shortfall to its $521.5 million budget. Michigan State Police Director Kriste Kibbey Etue said in a statement that troopers will continue to patrol roads and assist communities at the same level they have in the past.

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