Facebook isn’t a Tool Any More. We’re the Tools for Using It.

ap071106062657-2Carrier pigeon. Snail mail. Telephone. Email. Facebook.

One of those things is not like the others. That’s because one of them is less a form of a communication, more a private corporation by definition. Call me? Sure! Email me? Why not! You actually have a choice about which service you’ll use to do so. But Facebook is just Facebook. Facebook me? No, thanks. Let’s not, and say we did.

I already wrote about Facebook’s uses here before, and there’s no doubt that it’s a tool. But if it’s just another tool, what’s so special about it? We don’t treat it like a hammer we lost from our toolbox. Heck, we hold more importance to our Facebook accounts than we do a book on our shelves, the favourite shirt on our clothes rail, or even our wallet. Think about it. Which would most of us be more traumatised about losing these days?

On principle, we have to make sure we stop rushing to one corporate social networking website to engage in discourse, because it’s dangerous, as I’ll explain in a moment. I refuse to believe we’ve become so inept at communication and mobilisation that we’re dependent on our Facebook accounts to do this.

No, Facebook isn’t just another web tool, it’s an albatross. And we’ve become tools for using it. In fact, we’re not just tools, or cogs in the machine – we’re the product, since Facebook finds out our friendships, relationships, anniversaries, workplaces, favourite foods and restaurants, and even tracks where we go, how many times, and for how long, then gathers all that information, and sells it to companies, commodifying us as the dreaded target market we often try to avoid being reduced to. They’re even watching us and using us to conduct social experiments.

It’s a McCarthyist dream, and this data-mining is how Facebook use you to make money off you, and are now worth around $200 billion because of it. No, you didn’t get a cut of that, did you? Sorry.

Sure, they all do it to some extent, since money makes the world go around. But nobody does it like Facebook, where Mark Zuckerberg rules with an iron fist and around 60% of his board’s voting power, which even has the most laissez-faire free marketeers uncomfortable – and that’s saying something.

640px-Mark_Zuckerberg_1984_Berlin_GraffitiBut that’s not the only way Zuckerberg turns a healthy profit. Facebook has a reputation for bargaining some of the lowest third world labour rates in the industry. Those people who pick up your complaints and reports when you’ve caught someone being abusive on Facebook? They’ve been getting paid $1 an hour for the trouble. When you compare that to Google – who are no saints themselves yet have frequently paid ten times what Facebook have – it’s no surprise that Google’s reporting services generally act within hours to tackle child pornography and other abusive material, which over on Facebook goes left for days to go viral. No surprise either, then, that kids have killed themselves.

Facebook, in particular, has become a haven for passive-aggressive attacks for cowardly perpetrators to deny any intention of targeting their victims, while it has also become everything anti-capitalist cultural critics have slammed for years as it grows into a cynical popularity contest, buoyed by the introduction of the “Like” button and Facebook’s habit of promoting the most popular posts into your feed, tantamount to rewarding the filthy rich with more wealth while the poor and the persecuted are left behind.

Every revolutionary is a romantic, and this imbues them with a vision of what might be, a belief in a better way of doing things, and a determination to fight for it. With that in mind, we have to be more optimistic, more ambitious, even if it seems a struggle. To leave Facebook behind means leaving behind many more people, but – much like my old documentary screenings before I got wise and made Return to Doncatraz – too often we find ourselves either preaching to the converted, or defending ourselves to those who are closed-minded, and hey, that’s no way to spend our time as citizens.

Share a gif of a cat flushing a toilet, and you get dozens of “Likes.” Post an article about how we need to live more ethically, get none. In turn, share a relationship update, and people scramble onto your page like gawkers slowing down their cars by a crash site. Sure, there are those whose every word is met with cheers when posting an overtly political status – and that’s because they’re the ones singing to the choir. See how it works?

06oU8nGFacebook has brought out the worst in people. While the open-minded have a tendency to seek out different, challenging information, Facebook leaves us customising our feeds to include those who agree with us, and we only address those we disagree with to vent our spleen at. It’s a culture of popularity, hypocrisy, and fake care and concern, giving birthday wishes to those whose birthdays weren’t even meaningful enough to us to note in our diaries in the first place. People deactivate their accounts for attention, or delete people in a passive-aggressive, gutless, virtual sucker-punch…often attempting to re-add them later on, once the knee-jerk feeling has subsided and the guilt taken over.

So much gossip has been said about me – I have enemies at home and abroad, and have learned of really frightening accounts that have included painful lies about me, but no worse breeding ground for that has existed than Facebook, where some people add you not because they care, but quite the opposite: seeking gossip, they’ve heard the rumours and lies, and are just keeping tabs on you to see if you’ll slip up. As someone with a strong sense of ideals, I’ve inevitably pissed off more people than I can possibly keep track of, but I’ve never once set out to intentionally hurt someone, yet I’ve been subjected to terrible claims about me both personally and professionally, even in my work at SilenceBreaker Media, or with AFC Unity, where individuals with claims later proven to be found false can’t wait to hit “Like” on someone’s jab at you on the page. It’s sad.

facebook-addictionSince announcing my intention, people have said it’s a “mistake,” argued the case for good ol’ Facebook.com, and even suggested I’m overreacting. This is the behaviour of addicts. And the first part of dealing with an addiction is accepting you have one. Few in a drug den congratulate the person planning to kick the habit and quit their little ritual, do they? No, they persuade them to stay, because it makes them all feel better, then. Those who aren’t, say, alcoholics, but like a drink now and then, are often the first to applaud their friends going teetotal. Because they respect it without feeling threatened by it.

I’m not quitting Facebook for attention, or to return sometime soon. I’m quitting Facebook because I have found I don’t have room for unnecessary negativity in my life, and that’s mostly what the site offers, at the cost of selling myself to them for free so they can make Mark more money. I also resent its increasing invasion of privacy, its forum for bullying, its rewarding of those already ahead of the pack, and its platform for passive-aggressive behaviour. Too many assumptions are made about you on Facebook; I’ve had people claim I’m a “radical,” and the next day others call me “conservative” because, in both cases, I see myself as a citizen, I see it as my duty to vote in elections, and I’m at the same time pragmatic about working within the system, as well as outside it. What a weirdo! “Sooo political, man!” “No, not political enough! If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal!” And so forth. Sigh.

facebook-open-graph-partnersI don’t know about you, but I miss – and relish – the opportunity to make things happen in my community by hitting the streets, meeting more people in person, and being a lovable asshole. I miss mixing up my time online between eBooks, forums, newsletters, podcasts, videos and websites in general, rather than getting bogged down with checking numerous notifications and seeing some little-known “friend” pipe up for the first time ever to attempt to bring me down a peg or two, or see someone else cheering on my antagonists, simply by hitting “Like,” then shrugging innocently.

No, it’s time for us to move on, a fact that the next generation are already increasingly aware of. It’s time to be brave, be bold, be different; have a change in how we spend our time. And it’s time for us to send a message to Mark Zuckerberg and his pals that we’re not reliant on his collegiate website for our information or interaction, and we’re sure as heck not going to put a price tag on all our photos, relationships, and feelings. We can have a better world, and that better world is one not with but without Facebook. Much like a government, if a social networking website isn’t working for us any more, we should build ourselves another one – and there are already alternatives out there, like Ello.

Surely Kalle Lasn had a point when he suggested mainstream media is to our brains what fast food is to our bodies. Everything needs to be consumed in moderation, and everything needs to be as healthy as possible. Facebook has become the equivalent of a Big Mac. Even the breadbun is bad for you, so there’s little point any more.

So, let’s leave it behind and get busy living. There’s a whole wide world out there to win.

And the next time you want to know the truth about what I’ve said, or done, or thought, you won’t be adding me on Facebook – you’ll be asking me to my face.

Some may not “Like” it, but I happen to like it.

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Reasons to be Cheerful

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For those of you aware of the facts and the appalling track record of the Conservatives carrying out their Social Darwinist ideology of “survival of the fittest,” I know things might seem grim. It looks like the right-wing mainstream media of this country – which Obama/Miliband advisor David Axelrod admitted was unlike anything he’d ever experienced – used lies, fear, and hate to get the Tories back into power, with a majority, no less.

But this is a blip.

Over the last century, we’ve moved more and more towards better rights for children, for women, for ethnic minorities, for gay people, for the disabled, and the poor. Yet we had Thatcherism, when despite so much hope going into not one but several successive elections, millions were in tears when the results came through. Margaret Thatcher damaged Britain, as David Cameron is damaging Britain, too.

But despite the dignified and left-leaning campaign run by “Red Ed” after Blairism, the hope of a progressive presence in parliament has now been decimated. The chances of a coalition forming from anti-Tory parties were dashed long before the results came in, and once the Liberal Democrats were very rightly routed for their compliance in Cameron’s schemes, the only hope was that the Tories would fail to get a majority and then be left with no one to lean on. But they did get a majority. And this is where it gets interesting.

While, thanks to the media, you can forget any hope in hell of Labour becoming any more left-wing than they’ve been under Ed, this does leave the Tories alone in the responsibility of government. Of course, inequality and suffering will increase, particularly for the disadvantaged. But no more can the Tories use the lying line that “Labour maxed out the credit card” (when in fact, as my film Return to Doncatraz showed, the banks caused the economic crisis). Now, every single thing the Tories do – from selling off public services into private hands, privatising the health service, and increasing reliance on food banks – will be their fault, and theirs only. If we can’t go on about the miners’ strike, they sure as heck can’t go on about a “Credit Crunch.”

Even the media focus will shift. As things get worse in the short-term, the narrative will change long-term, to one where even those duped into voting Tory will see increasing inequality for themselves, and the shaking of our society to its foundations. The only anti-establishment dialogue can be against the Tories. The press will even have to buy into a lot of that. Some of us are making our own media, while campaigning for reform.

A Chuka Umunna becoming Labour leader was always inevitable if “Red Ed” lost, but on the bright side – while some things will be irreversible – a media-bulletproof personality like this would send a Labour surge towards a landslide victory in 2020, and the alleviation of some pain for the most vulnerable in our society. Labour will have healed, and recovered, both in England and in Scotland, and everywhere else. With minorities and coalitions in the past, their status as the only solid opposition to the terrible things the Tories are about to do, will be galvanised, and supported.

But in the meantime, in cities like mine, the “People’s Republic of South Yorkshire” – where socialist Paul Blomfield was just re-elected with a massive majority – people will pull together and work together and work hard on a grassroots level to ensure our communities survive, even thrive, locally. Because party politics in our poor excuse for a democracy is all well and good, but political action starts at home, in our homes, on our streets, in our towns.

So let’s stick together, and look after each other. We can get through this. People felt suicidal when Thatcher was in power, and although nationally we may never recover from the damage Tories do for a long time, we know we can fight back, and we know we can win. History is on our side. Learn from it but look ahead, with your head up, and keep your chin up. Keep fighting. It’s the only way things have ever changed for the better. This, too, shall pass.

So dust yourself off, pick yourself up, stay positive, and no matter what, don’t you dare stop doing good things.

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Silent Night on the Eve of Destruction

There’s a very real silence in our society about matters of injustice, and when there are voices, they’re stifled by a corporate mainstream media with its own agenda in accordance with the interests of those who own and control the networks.

Today, in Britain, we have the most right-wing government since the Second World War, immediately after which, our government set about listening to the country’s communities and – despite the enormous debts from the conflict – still invested money into giving us the gift of universal health care, education, and a strong social security safety net. They got the nation back on its feet.

In today’s Britain, though, TV and newspapers have made a form of fascism fashionable; palatable; acceptable.

There are politicians talking about immigrants as though they’re sub-human, and government departments sparing no expense to run publicity campaigns about welfare benefit fraud despite the fact this accounts for only 0.7% of all benefits claimed.

The dialogue about Muslims is dominated by Islamophobia._39667411_queen_broadcast203pa

We’re linking the Christian church and the state when it suits us, with our supposedly blue-blooded head of state delivering Christmas speeches before a row of tanks at a time our government is initiating an illegal invasion of a country that posed no threat to us whatsoever, and two of our three houses remain completely unelected, the third – the House of Commons – desperate for an electoral reform cleverly quashed by a ConDem coalition.

It’s an all-out assault on the weak and vulnerable, and we’re getting used to it.

The voices of reason have been subjected to a PR campaign with a slogan of “political correctness,” which means people can spout vile racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic abuse and if you dare to challenge it, you’re part of the “political correctness brigade.” Clever.

After Margaret Thatcher claimed “there is no such thing as society,” and influenced a culture where citizens were replaced by consumers, we have been at risk of becoming a country of “survival of the fittest,” every one for themselves, swallowing the misinformation of the media to the point where two of the biggest concerns for the population are immigration and welfare spending – two utter non-issues that barely affect any of us at all, while a nationalist flag-waving culture of militarisation is being nurtured in front of dodgy deals, corporate lobbying, oil wars, environmental destruction, the sell-off of the state, mass privatisation, and an increase in wealth for the richest elites benefiting from it all.

The attack on the disadvantaged – on the poor, on ethnic minorities, on those of a certain faith group – all took place in Germany after their economic struggles exacerbated by the humiliating Treaty of Versailles. Berlin, once a thriving, diverse city full of cultural richness and social tolerance, instead became a place where to speak up for those minorities became dangerous; the new narrative was one of prejudice and demonisation.

We stand at a point in our history where we are approaching a sort of social destruction – of all the things we were supposed to have fought for against fascist Germany, before promising to never again put our troops into harm’s way unless it was absolutely necessary.

Instead, we have begun to accept the rhetoric of the right-wing sociopaths fed to us through the same newspapers that supported the fascists in the run-up to the war.6a00d8341d417153ef011571076f57970c-800wi

We embrace the false concern for our brave soldiers through charity to appease our guilt while our government uses and abuses them, and refuses to care for them after chewing them up and spitting them out.

We witness racism, sexism, homophobia and Islamophobia on our screens, and on the radio, and the networks present us with panels dominated by this vile vitriol while claiming to be “unbiased.”

It’s more important now than ever to refuse to be silenced; to keep challenging prejudice even in a room full of it, even in a minority of one – “the truth is still the truth,” Gandhi said.

What else is there to fight for?

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

– Martin Luther King, Jr

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I Visited Mainland Europe and All I Came Back to Was This Lousy Fascism

8081186045_3f875589f2_zWhenever I lived in North America and people asked me about Europe, I’d tell them that – as a Doncaster-born bloke living most of my adult life in Sheffield – I didn’t know all that much about the place. Then they’d remind me that my own beloved Britain was, after all, in Europe, and with raised eyebrows and a tone of admission I’d say, “Oh, yeah…”

The reality is, very few of us British really think of ourselves as European. We still queue without instruction, remain patient at traffic lights, huff and puff in a rush, complain about being charged to use public toilets, and avoid being direct unless we’re openly slagging off foreigners, at which point diplomacy goes out of the window.

I’ve just returned from a week’s jaunt around mainland Europe, and I’ve been reminded of the differences but also the similarities we have with those at the other end of that tunnel under the English Channel.

20140906_205535When you’re from the “People’s Republic of South Yorkshire,” you kind of get an intuitive vibe for similar places, and when I walked around Liège, in Belgium, with Jane Watkinson, we both took an instant liking to the place – and sure enough, the hip, cosmopolitan but down-to-earth and diverse population enjoying the late night bars represented the traditionally socialist post-industrial regenerative spirit of a city moving beyond coal and steel.

We went by Dachau, in Germany, which from Nazi headquarters in nearby Munich, troops following Second World War orders were directed to develop from a prison for crooks, to a detention centre for political prisoners, to a concentration camp for homosexuals, socialists, vegetarians, the disabled, Jews, and the “work-shy” to be put into forced labour under the infamous gates bearing the message “Arbeit macht frei” – or “work will make you free.” Of course, this “forced labour” was torture, with the concept of freedom a dangling carrot guiding the inmates into gas chambers and ovens that exterminated tens of thousands of people.Dachau_-_Corpses_lie_in_a_pile_on_the_ground_in_the_newly_liberated_Dachau

When allied forces finally approached the area, Dachau’s SS soldiers started betraying signs of guilt by attempting to destroy evidence of the atrocities there, and even began sending prisoners towards coasts (to be drowned) or on to trucks and trains headed for Tyrol, Italy. There, before going to Venice, we visited a military cemetery in Bolzano, where Jews and Nazi soldiers have been buried side-by-side – demonstrating the desperate desire of the former fascists to treat all of those who died in the war as victims of the same oppression and propaganda that we all shudder at the thought of ever becoming.

And it’s fair to say that all the people of then-fascist Germany and Italy were victims – of division, fear and propaganda. After the humiliating and devastating after-effects of the First World War, this was understandable – as angry peoples wanted to strike back, needing to feel good about themselves again, and susceptible to nationalist and racist language and laws.

On the way back towards the Channel Tunnel at the trip’s conclusion, we sat on a bus driving into Calais as the coach staff took to the microphone to draw the passengers’ attention towards immigrants sat in nearby bushes, hoping to find a route to a better life. As one pathetic man slumped there in one ditch, looking cold, hungry and tired, predominantly white, middle-class tourists looked through the glass at his miserable frame; some pointed and laughed.

For once, my big Doncastrian mouth was shut. I was speechless. I wasn’t angry; I was gutted. I refused to look at the man in the bushes for more than a moment, instead looking around at our fellow passengers and feeling ashamed. Some of these desperate immigrants – wanting a better life just like those British who move abroad – cling onto trucks and are severely injured; entire families have been found dead in truck containers they hid in, hoping to arrive to a place that less closely resembled hell. Well, my own country’s on the road to a fascist hell itself.

Is this what we’re reduced to? Ridiculing the poor, the persecuted, the desperate? Is this what we’ve become?

Nazism was able to slowly grow like a cancer because of propaganda that convinced people to see other people as slightly less human: the “lazy” or the disabled, ethnic minorities or people of different faiths. Through a democratic process, citizens actively voted for tougher laws against immigrants and Jewish people.

In Britain today, our anti-European sentiment isn’t the biggest story. No, the biggie is the fact that – while banks who got £1.5 trillion of taxpayers’ money and have yet to repay it – the main concerns of the British people are based on the utter lie that our way of life is somehow threatened by people less fortunate than ourselves wanting to escape conditions that our government, in most cases, historically caused while using our brave soldiers as pawns in their plans. Of course, given that Rothermere’s Daily Mail supported the Nazis in the build-up to the Second World War yet is still one of the most-read “news” papers in Britain, this should be no surprise. The old tricks are the best.ah_rothermere

Today, the most right-wing British government after the Second World War thrives on this divide-and-rule fascistic propaganda to implement totally unnecessary social security cuts, introduce forced labour for the “work-shy,” throw disabled people off welfare, and demonise immigrants to the point where we’re actually pointing and laughing at them.

This is not the Britain I was born in back in 1976, and it isn’t the Britain I care to die in. And I have no plans on leaving.

I am so glad to be back here in Britain, with all its double yellow lines, and red postboxes, phone boxes and buses, and black cabs; its numerous towns and cities within near spitting distance of each other; its easily-accessible vegan grub. And let’s not forget about the modern model of democracy it exported to all four corners of the globe, its far-reaching empire that sees its subjects now wanting a little something in return.

What we have left now is too important not to fight for. And you have to fight for it – before it continues down this road that leads to a very dark place that history has already shown us.

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Tomlinson-Ryan Trust? An Open Letter to Louis Tomlinson and John Ryan

Dear John/Direction of the “Tomlinson Ryan Trust,”

As a lifelong Doncaster Rovers supporter, it’s an unspoken, unwritten rule that when you are about to express any opinion about the club’s ownership, you must add the caveat that you are forever grateful for the way John Ryan bought and revolutionised Doncaster Rovers back in 1998 and saved it from all its troubles I briefly touched upon in my documentary Escape from Doncatraz.

428204_277417518997041_100001863851835_655193_690828094_nPhew. Now that’s over with, let’s talk about real things that are happening these days.

Obviously, looking back at those dark days again – and remembering a crook who tried to profit from our club to the extent of hiring a mob to burn down what was left of our old stadium – it’s easy to understand why the supporters themselves formed the Viking Supporters Cooperative from the ashes of the whole miserable episode.

Last season, you, John, decided to resign as Chairman of Doncaster Rovers right before the kick-off of our local derby over at Barnsley – which might have been good for maximum impact of publicity, if not at all helpful for team morale, but resign you did, frustrated over the refusal of co-owners Dick Watson and philanthropist Terry Bramall to agree with your accepted takeover over from the mysterious consortium known as Sequentia Capital, known only through Kevin Phelan, who, in 2000, happened to have been banned for eight years from ever being a company director.

What followed were bitter statements from you, often via your daughter’s Facebook page, taking shots at the Viking Supporters Cooperative itself for daring to question the judgement of the great John Ryan himself when he wanted to sell to Sequentia Capital. The fair-weather fans who infrequently attended games and had less knowledge of goings-on, much less critical thought, meanwhile, protested, and – as Bramall and Watson kept the club ticking over albeit below mid-table – carried banners with the words “Bramall Watson the Table” (get it?) then phoned BBC Radio Sheffield to claim the banner was snatched from them by security who also threw out the rebels including one man in a wheelchair. Listeners were shocked and appalled, and the anti-owners sentiment was boosted. There was just one problem:

None of that actually happened.1403262428604

At a Meet the Owners event I attended, chief executive Gavin Baldwin explained that the banner – which was paraded along the front of the stand – had to be removed, like all others that are held there, because it was obstructive and violated long-standing policy, while the fans – including the one in a wheelchair – who were supposedly kicked out had in fact already exited of the stadium before trying to get back in when the doors were closed. That’s like saying I’ve been kicked out of North America even though I haven’t even renewed my passport and can’t travel anywhere.

The owners told us that all of this was propaganda from someone designed to increase opposition to their remaining in control of the club. And I’m sure, John, you had nothing to do with that, just like you had nothing to do with the stories appearing in the press claiming the club was so very close to going into administration, with the small print adding that this could happen if you were to demand immediate full repayment of loans you’d given to the club over the years. Of course, because you care about the club, you were never actually going to make such a request and plunge the club into administration, right?

A divisive atmosphere polluted some games I attended with my dad, who’s been a supporter since 1947. At one game, the giant oversized Doncaster Rovers shirt that youngsters pull across the field before kick-off prompted one fan to wittily ask, “Who’s going to wear that one?!” to which my dad quipped, “Not John Ryan – it wouldn’t fit over his f***ing head!” Sorry, John. But if it makes you feel any better, our refusal to worship you kept us in the minority there.

At least for a little while.

Sequentia Capital faded away, as did the calls for you to return at the expense of Bramall and Watson, who reiterated that they would happily sell but only to parties who had the best interests of the club and the town at heart. Bless ’em. Manager Paul Dickov stood right by them, and Gavin Baldwin.2962414739

I’ll be the first to admit the inexperienced manager Paul Dickov wasn’t my first choice as successor to Brian Flynn after Dean Saunders stupidly and greedily jumped to Wolverhampton Wanderers while he was worth more, only to then relegate them as well rather than seeing through the successful return to the Championship for Doncaster Rovers – making Deano, instead, now a manager with nothing more than two successive relegations on his record.

But Paul Dickov was appointed, and I got behind him, and I wanted him to succeed and prove wrong any doubts I had. He did, I think. But last summer the questions about Sequentia Capital made for a tumultuous pre-season preparation for him, and no doubt that didn’t help our chances in a Championship where we were, yet again, bookmakers’ odds-on favourites for certain relegation (we were actually relegated on nothing more than goal difference, as you know).

direction23n-4-webSo this summer, John, you came back on the scene – with all the media-courting public relations savvy we’ve come to know you for, and instead of the anonymous Sequentia Capital, this time you came with someone millions of people knew: Doncaster’s own Louis Tomlinson, from the pop group One Direction. At a posh location in London, you declared your intentions to buy out Bramall and Watson and take back control of the club along with the 1D star, and just happened to also announce the newly-formed Tomlinson-Ryan Trust, which would utilise a crowdfunding project to raise the profile of Doncaster Rovers, while raising extra bonus money, too. When asked, you clarified that the takeover was not dependent on the crowdfunding reaching its target of £2,000,000.

This week, days before the Football League were to examine your takeover bid for approval, the crowdfunding campaign’s all-or-nothing target failed to be met, so not a penny was successfully raised despite pledges to the tune of three-quarters of a million pounds. Today, I learnt that the Football League rejected your takeover bid, and the Tomlinson-Ryan Trust issued a statement that this was due to the failed crowdfunding campaign meaning there were fewer funds to complete the takeover.BswuVlfCEAE7Qbs

You then went on BBC Radio Sheffield and said that a rogue element inside the Tomlinson-Ryan Trust had actually issued that statement, which was, you told us, unauthorised and incorrect. Instead, you claimed the Football League wanted evidence you had £5,000,000 to spare on Doncaster Rovers, you showed them evidence of assets worth £5,000,000, and they rejected you because of a vendetta, a conspiracy, and a fondness for convicted criminals and oligarchs rather than the old guard of local businessmen who cared about their town’s team.

So, John, I guess we’re wrong to wonder why the crowdfunding campaign was set up in the first place if you already had all the funds needed, and certainly wrong to suggest that you wooed Louis because it would cost him little more than his image in order to raise funds through his One Direction fan base of millions of enthusiastic youngsters. It’s just all a conspiracy against the great saviour of Doncaster Rovers himself.

You even made a point of using your radio airtime to attack the “keyboard warriors” – you know, the ones who go on the forum of the Viking Supporters Cooperative you so resent for ushering in your era, printing huge banners referring to you as the man who revolutionised our club, and yet daring to insist on asking questions about groups like Sequentia Capital because they never, ever want their beloved club to be owned by another scoundrel like the one who tried to burn their club to the ground.

Well now you say you’re done with it all, because you’ve been mistreated and maligned, and it’s the second summer in a row that Paul Dickov has been in limbo. Would it really be his fault if we ended up in another relegation battle? You’d reassured him that he could get verbal agreements with top players this summer because they’d, after all, be signed with “the second-biggest budget in League One” come July 18th. Now what does he tell these players? And what about the more affordable ones? They’ve surely already been snapped up while our manager was waiting. So this whole mess has ruined yet another pre-season preparation for him – and for us – and you’re gone again. “Done,” apparently.

But I don’t want this to be one of those “Dear John” letters. I still have something to say to Louis.

_72485468_018835988-1Louis, if you ever intended to put any of your millions into a “pub team” from your hometown, by all means, do it anyway. Terry Bramall and Dick Watson – as even John Ryan has been forced to concede – are good guys, and would welcome the investment. And if you don’t want to part with any money, and you do another crowdfunding campaign ever again, let it keep whatever little it makes, and for goodness sake, please let it go to the Viking Supporters Cooperative – because the more membership subscriptions and funds that it has, the greater its shares in Doncaster Rovers. And at this rate, surely true fan ownership is the best hope we have, because if I’m truly “Rovers Till I Die” and we all agree that “In Rovers We Trust,” we’re prepared to trust ourselves with the thing we care so much about. And I have a feeling we’re not about to let each other down now.

Yours,

Jay Baker, “keyboard warrior.”

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How He-Man Got Me Into Feminism

When I was in kindergarten, I was very rarely found playing cops and robbers or war games. Instead – my mother today confirms – I was with my female friend at the time putting baby dolls into prams. Other mothers asked her if she was at all concerned about my behaviour. “Why would I be?” she replied. “If anything, he’s learning about the responsibilities of parenthood!”

I credit my mother with giving me a good start in life, despite the fact my arrival into our family marked the first time she’d quit working – she had held down multiple jobs while raising my brother and sister and my father was kept busy adhering to his expected role as manual labourer, working shifts as long as twelve hours. Of course, my mother’s ‘shift’ was always twice as long.

d31563dadd516dc224ee86135d724f1bDespite the impact of popular culture taking over our family living room – He-Man being one of my favourite mindless cartoons as a child – the difficulties didn’t end with kindergarten. When He-Man’s twin sister She-Ra was given her own spin-off television series, perhaps oblivious to the fact He-Man was ‘for boys’ and She-Ra was ‘for girls,’ I simply followed She-Ra over on to her own show that, at least for the mid-1980’s, was a refreshing departure from the plethora of programmes featuring muscle men rescuing damsels in distress, a theme even my nine year-old brain found tedious.

But that wasn’t the real problem. No, the trouble began when I not only watched He-Man as well as She-Ra too, but also bought all the toys. And I mean all of them.

mOMoar70CkrXjcNKxkSwJjwSo there I was, walking into school one day carrying what I thought was my fabulous She-Ra action figure, complete with weapons and, admittedly, a hair comb. “Ha, he’s brought a girl’s doll in to class!” shouted the other boys, mockingly. In my oblivious naïvety, I simply showed them the action figure more closely in order to demonstrate how much fun it was, especially when the other figurine – She-Ra’s ‘special friend,’ Bow, a moustachioed man whom she rescued on more than one occasion – was brought out to enact scenes from the series. Suffice to say, I was informed that I should take my ‘doll’ and go comb its long golden locks (although admittedly a little less politely than I paraphrase here).

This may or may not have contributed to my mother’s decision to pull me from school entirely and teach me at home herself. Some people may think that’s when matters got worse for me, but I happen to think it’s when things got much better. My working class heroine – far better than She-Ra ever was, and the polar opposite to our female Prime Minister at the time who was actually attacking women’s rights – my mother fought with local authorities to win her right to teach me herself, in her own way, and suffice to say it spared me the influence of high school macho culture that I have been fortunate enough to only ever experience via anecdotes from those I speak to who experienced it themselves first-hand. It sounds horrific.

My awareness and corresponding activism only grew stronger with my mother’s influence – my first-ever political demonstration was as a teenager marching through Sheffield in opposition to its university’s animal testing activities. My mother and I were already vegetarians then. Today, we are both vegans.

So many issues intertwine and overlap, and while Malcolm X in his younger, angrier years reportedly responded to a young white woman asking how she could help him by simply telling her she couldn’t possibly, he later realised that plenty of enlightened Caucasians stood beside him and those like him in marching for civil rights. And as someone who was born in Northern England with no great expectations of being anything other than a ‘White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant Male,’ instead I have fought for many causes, one of them being for women to be afforded the same opportunities – rights and responsibilities – as men.

Yes, despite the allegations of my poor ignorant school classmates, I am a man, and yet I happen to think that doesn’t make me any better – at anything in particular, or at all – than a woman. And in the spirit of that young woman who unsuccessfully offered her hand of help to Malcolm X and his cause, I’ll be there offering mine to the cause of feminism any time. As I’ve explained to many male friends over the years, it’s better for all of us in the long run. If I ever have a son, may he take his own ‘doll’ into class, along with all the others.

Originally written for The Scavenger.

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Some Warm Comfort in Rip-Off Britain

POLITICS-Energy-104808_355-6252114I’ve talked about the Conservative-induced culture of self-loathing in Great Britain today. And part of that is the widespread view across the British population that ordinary people are being “ripped off” by large corporations – specifically the energy companies.

As part of my role managing non-profit company SilenceBreaker Media, I’ve worked a lot in my birthplace of Doncaster, and lately, specifically Edlington, an area once home to coal mining, which was of course wiped out in Margaret Thatcher’s attack on unionised industry. Edlington’s since declined, ranking high on the indices of deprivation and hitting national news headlines only for criminal incidents. What SilenceBreaker Media have tried to do is tackle digital exclusion, as a lack of internet access is more prominent in disadvantaged areas, who thus have less access to information and no voice of their own to counter the negative perceptions that in turn breed negative activity.

Beyond the interest in internet activity, there’s also the whole wider issue of telecommunications companies monopolising the market as part of “Rip-Off Britain” – one of the great tragic ironies of Thatcher’s privatisation agenda that was supposed to offer “freedom of choice.” If the internet is supposed to be a human right, why is it costing a bloody bomb?

But the energy companies really take the cake. Edlington’s own Labour MP, Caroline Flint, has long crusaded against the rising energy prices hurting ordinary, decent people like her constituents, already struggling as it is. Of course, the Tories conveniently ignored Thatcher’s work and instead blamed even this on Labour, like they do everything else (the global economic crisis, unemployment, bad weather, venereal disease…)

Having been a customer of Utility Warehouse – the new kid on the block that offers the provision of phone, internet, gas and electricity all on one monthly bill – I was impressed by their price promise that Utility Warehouse would cost less than other providers – and if they were proved wrong, they’d pay me double the difference.

As Utility Warehouse save money by relying on individual, entrepreneurial “distributors” rather than mass advertising, a lot of people were unaware of this provider, and I decided to sign up as a distributor myself just to be backed up with all the facts, stats, and information to convince them how good a deal it is (and I’m still a customer myself).

Meanwhile, after leading on the challenge to Rupert Murdoch’s News International, Labour leader Ed Miliband struck a chord with the British population when he vowed that a Labour government would forcibly freeze energy prices for around a couple of years when they came to power. With Labour’s popularity increasing, the Tories had to do something, and do something fast; drastic, even.

“When an offer sounds too good to be true it usually is,” they scoffed, as they entered Damage Control mode and quickly announced a cutback on the green levies on the massive profit-making energy companies so that these “savings” could apparently be passed on to the consumer…even though the consumers in the most deprived areas would lose out on the energy-efficiency measures, thus pay more. “Too good to be true”? They’d know about that, I guess.

You can sign up or find out more about the Utility Warehouse through my own personal distributor page – or ask me about it.

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I Hate Myself, & I Hate You Too

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Great Britain, eh? What a country.

They used to say the sun never set on the British Empire, so vast and wide did our violent oppressive imperialist power influence reach around the world.

In fairness – though we didn’t invent it (the Greeks take credit for that) – we did export modern democracy to the four corners of the globe, and after the Second World War that saw communities pull together, we dealt with the rebuilding process through setting people to work – with a welfare safety net for those who weren’t able to find work, and even universal health care for the sick. Incredible.

Yet when, a few years ago, I first came back to the UK after living overseas, a man on Sheffield’s Supertram saw my suitcase, asked me about my circumstances, and then posed the question: “Why would you want to come back to Britain? It’s shit.”

So what happened?

Today, under the most right-wing government we’ve had since the above-mentioned war, we have an economically frail country with a culture full of self-loathing and cynicism. Britain really doesn’t feel so “Great” any more. It seems we’re a sad little island with nothing going for us, only appealing to people desperate and devious enough to come here for what they can get out of it. What Ed Miliband called “A miserable, pessimistic view.”

You only have to skim the daily newspapers to see it: welfare claimants are lazy scroungers, immigrants come here to exploit and drain our services, there’s no money left in the country’s coffers, and things are only going to get worse, so bloody get used to it…

Job Centres – originally set up so that those unfortunate enough to not have a job can have enough cash to get by – are now almost entirely staffed by bouncers at the entrances, stopping just short of frisking us for weapons because, insanely, over a quarter of us are only there to rob and scam the state for a whopping fifty or sixty quid a week while the nation’s treasury is skint.

Muslims – apparently once part of our nation’s rich diversity and ethos of religious freedom – are now one of the epic threats of our time, with the Islamification of our culture, to the point where mosques are being built in every town, on nearly every street, white women are being veiled, and you can’t even give someone a good old-fashioned colonialist insult like “Paki” anymore; it’s going the way of “Chinky” down in the history books.

Immigrants – once the backbone of our country during wartime – are such a big deal that they dominate the news, both in print and on television, the media’s own polls reflecting the concerns of their audience, because these immigrants pick on us, to walk in and easily access our strained welfare state and healthcare services, driving our country to the brink of economic collapse.

The Conservative government even recently decided to actually push propaganda in lands as far away as Romania and Bulgaria showing what a shit-hole Britain now is, so as to discourage their citizens from ever wanting to come here. To add insult to injury, many of these foreigners suggested we were flattering ourselves even by doing that, because not many of them actually had any desire to visit in the first place. Ouch.

What a crappy little island, eh? No money left! No jobs going! People getting money for nothing, and a better life for those foreigners when we’ve worked so hard here for so long! Poor us!

But don’t kill yourself just yet. Wait a moment! Please! Just give me a minute here.

Let’s try and imagine a different kind of Britain…

Imagine a Britain where literally billions of pounds have gone unclaimed in welfare benefits, just sat there in the state bank account.

Let’s fantasise about a Britain where even though there are millions of people without a job, the mass majority of these desperately want their lives to be fulfilled and valued in work where they can have a good home and enjoy travelling to other countries to see how piss-poor those places are when compared to the UK.

Maybe we can dream of a Britain where, while Christianity remains the dominant faith, our multicultural society promotes religious freedom, and other religions such as Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism all account for around 8% of the population…combined.

Or how about thinking of Britain as a country of rich history, democracy, diplomacy, decency – a good, wealthy western country full of good people where hardly any of us would even contemplate anything other than handing a quid each to a hundred hungry people if we had to get rid of £100.

Just imagine a truly Great Britain.

The strange thing is, this alternate reality is the reality.

Britain is signed up to Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, so stands for religious freedom; the welfare system is very rarely ever abused; billions of pounds of benefits go unclaimed due to ignorance or fear of stigma. Yes, what we think is the myth is real, and what we think is real is the myth, because Margaret Thatcher’s Britain has successfully become a country where doormen stand at the entrances of job centres, the Hitler-loving BNP, mosque-burning EDL, and the xenophobic UKIP have us believing in the threat of “outsiders,” and we’re told to swallow our pride as we’re forced-fed the Credit Crunch™ breakfast cereal to start our day of daily lies in our daily lives.

All this while all that private debt the bankers racked up to the tune of a trillion is now made our public burden, and – with that excuse – the richness of public services can be cut off and sold off to private interests for profits, as the state is shrunken so that we can be a country run by brokers and suits, rather than an industrial nation – a nation supposed to be the envy of the world, a nation proud to be a beacon of human rights and democracy, and a nation full of good intentions, seeing the best in others, and welcoming diversity, having fought a war to end fascism.

But this is now David Cameron’s Britain.

I don’t hate myself. And I don’t hate you, either. Of course I don’t. But David Cameron does.

David Cameron hates you, the same way he hates this country, and everything that made it great. And in order for him to keep doing what he’s doing, he needs you to hate yourself, too. Feel bad, save yourself, watch your back, and hate yourself, hate your neighbours, hate welfare claimants, hate immigrants, hate Muslims. Just don’t hate him or his cabinet, whatever you do. At all costs, you must hate yourself and absolutely everyone and everything else.

Just don’t hate them, because they’ve got a job to finish – rolling back human rights, eroding workers’ rights; dividing and conquering, while selling off the state to their privileged pals. Keep living the dream, and it’ll become instead a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A miserable, pessimistic view indeed.

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What Happened to My Town?

JaySchool

Yep, that’s me. A kid in Doncaster, once home to The Good Woman pub on St Sepulchre Gate, where railway worker Thomas R Steels drafted up the proposal to the Trades Union Congress for the formation of a political party to represent the labour workforce: the Labour Party. The rest is history.

By the time I was growing up there just under a century later, things had already gone into reverse: a key railway town that shifted coal from its mining pits full of unionised workers to all parts of Britain, Doncaster had been a key battleground in Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s attack on workers’ rights – and the villages around me had the bloodstains on the streets to show for it, since Thatcher utilised her Ridley Plan that required mobile squadrons of police to abuse and even flout the law and use brute force against miners trying to protect their livelihoods and the communities fuelled by them.

Thatcher’s dream was one of right-wing neoliberal disaster capitalism: Selling off huge portions of the state through privatisation of steel, shipbuilding, aerospace, telecommunications, gas – taking key operation and ownership from the public into private profit-making interests.

This dream included buying whatever ideology the United States were selling. The rampant individualism and ideology of “survival of the fittest” – Social Darwinism – was packaged and sold to us all as opportunity to make it, regardless of anyone else.

Having dropped out of university, travelled, gained real world media experience in disadvantaged communities, and lived in another post-industrial town – Kitchener, Ontario, Canada – I returned to Doncaster in 2009 to find my town had changed quite a bit: the unionised industries were long gone, of course; women overtaking men in subregional employment yet in short-term, part-time, low-paid, unstable, non-unionised jobs in the service sector, a Frenchgate Centre shopping mall expanded and incorporating the transport interchange, full of American multinational chains. But there was something else: ultra right-wing Peter Davies of the “English Democrats” had, indeed, been democratically elected as Mayor of Doncaster, capitalising on voter disenchantment after the worst series of scandals in the history of local government.

I’d looked at Doncaster with my last documentary, Escape from Doncatraz, which took me to Doncaster, briefly, to document Doncaster Prison (nicknamed “Doncatraz”) – oh yes, the prisons had been sold off and privatised as well.

Now is the time for a Return to Doncatraz. Because the vested interests weren’t sated with all of the above: they wanted more, and they made sure the Conservatives – who enjoy half of all their proceeds from the banking sector that triggered the recent economic crisis – got into power to claim “there’s no money left” as simply an excuse to sell off what was left: £1bn of our cherished and proud National Health Service has already been privatised, and everything else that can be sold off to their mates, will be…if they can get away with it.

Now comes the challenge of financing a film no one in power wants to be seen, much less made at all.

Strangely, I was recently refused funding from the banks. It didn’t help that when I founded SilenceBreaker Media at the School for Social Entrepreneurs that was courting banker types for corporate sponsorship, I actually took shots at them in my graduation speech after they had, before me, admitted “corporates too often think communities need things doing to them”:

The video doesn’t do justice to the level of awkwardness in the room. But what the heck.

One thing that can’t be broken in Doncaster is the spirit of the people – the same people who recently ousted Peter Davies as Mayor, and who donate their hard earned cash they’re strapped for just because they feel their voices aren’t heard.

I want to tell my story and make this film as though it’ll be my last. From my childhood growing up in Doncaster, my upbringing, the destruction of communities my family held dear, to the (51st) state of the country we find ourselves in today. Let’s get to the bottom of it, before we’re all driven there by this government.

The film will premiere in early 2015, and proceeds from cinema screenings will then help take it around disadvantaged areas and marginals where we can actually stop the nasty, cynical, miserable Tories getting in.

If you’d like to support Return to Doncatraz, you can visit the official website here, and donate or just spread the word here.

Because we need alternative media, and different narratives to the ones Sky, ITV and even the BBC have long since stopped resisting; they’re perpetuating the same myths while people are being thrown off welfare and millionaires are seeing their bank balances balloon.

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Left Out of View: Why a Labour Leader Can’t Spout Left-wing Rhetoric

Many of us are familiar with the viewpoint that Britain’s postwar era really arrived at its tragic conclusion with Thatcherism: gone was the postwar consensus, as citizenship was replaced by consumerism, a commercialised media opened up for Rupert Murdoch’s dominance.

With that, of course, came New Labour: Neil Kinnock kept enough distance from Arthur Scargill and the National Union of Mineworkers that the backbone of Britain’s unions was broken, setting the stage for Tony Blair to instead woo Rupert Murdoch himself, his tabloid “news”paper The Sun switching its seemingly acceptable biased support to Blair’s New Labour project, seeing him elected.

As a working class guy from a Labour family, I raged against New Labour; believing it was betraying its core values of standing up for the working class mass majority and protecting them from greedy corporate interests, I protested outside Labour Party conferences, marched for miles in opposition to the illegal invasion of Iraq, and even made a full feature-length low-budget documentary about Blair’s Britain, here shown as a surveillance state in enclosed borders, keeping a population trapped and afraid:

Of course, aside from the sexy stories of closed-circuit television cameras, identity cards, and illegal oil wars, there were the bread-and-butter issues, as a pro-Europe Labour Party oversaw an influx of European funding poured into disadvantaged communities, in addition to introducing Sure Start centres, Working Tax Credits, the Minimum Wage, and built brand-new schools, albeit no doubt with about as much enthusiasm from High Chancellor Blair as he had when bringing in the Human Rights Act. The difference was the Labour Party base: radical, grassroots workers who stood firm in the party to pin it to its founding principles in the face of vested interests.

So, when the little good Labour did became genuinely under threat from the Conservatives in a 2010 election under the usual primitive pro wrestling-style no holds barred rules known as First Past the Post, I swallowed my pride and vowed to hold on to the few things we’d gained by casting a red vote to protect the most vulnerable in British society as best I could in this faux democracy – such a faux democracy that Tory leader David Cameron went into 10 Downing Street with only 36% of the vote from a turnout of 65%, and, with help from the Liberal Democrats, set about putting together the most right-wing government in British postwar history.

When Ed Miliband, MP for my hometown of Doncaster, emerged as a Labour leadership candidate following the resignation of Gordon Brown (who had inherited an absolute mess of affairs from a Tony Blair who had long since overstayed his welcome), I made the half-serious joke that I’d become a Labour campaigner if he were to be successful in his attempt. Of course, he did win, and the right-wing press quickly mobilised to portray his victory as one rigged by “union barons” – simply because a proportion of the leadership ballot included unionised workers, here supposedly having had guns put to their heads by these mysterious, ominous, omnipotent Union Barons™.

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I’ve since written at length about how Ed Miliband has been often abandoned by the progressive left in and around the party, leaving him alone to face the Blairites pounding on his door, and I even maintain a sub-blog called What Ed Said, since the right-wing press dismiss most of his arguments that make any sense, and the public miss any of his populist statements that would otherwise make an impact.

But for those of us who have seen A Very British Coup, about the fictional Benn-esque MP for Sheffield Central, Harry Perkins, we know how this system works: no Labour leader today can go to the press and stand up for Union Barons™, or demand softer immigration laws, or even defend welfare claimants: in this system, with an undemocratic media, controlled by an increasing amount of elite interests, it would be career suicide (you only have to look at this recent depressing news story to see the overwhelming majority of the British public favouring crackdowns on immigrants and lone parents, all while the banks fail to pay back the £1.6 trillion we gifted them to keep them in business.)

This is what a Labour leader – and any politician – is up against.

Without access to an alternative media – by the people, of the people, for the people – the vast majority will happily sleepwalk away from the founding values of Labour. The cleverly concocted hysteria over Union Barons™ now brings the Labour Party to a point where the post-Thatcher consensus suspicious of “all too powerful” unions has them looking at cutting union funding for a party actually called Labour – while 50% of Conservative Party funding comes from the City of London: Banker Bonus Central. And the press don’t mention a word of it.

That bigot you recently argued with in your local pub may well represent the greater ignorance of his town. And who could blame them? When people are being hammered over the head, every hour of every day, on TV news and non-news narratives, it’s even a miracle they’re not all burning down mosques while calling for closed borders and the closure of the entire welfare state. Where are the facts? Where are people repeatedly told that the banks are laughing all the way home, debt is being transferred from private hands into public hands, and wealth is being carried from the public sector into the private sector? Where are people being told that immigration is a non-issue, and that housing and workplace rights are the true issues of the day? Where are people being told that the NHS has faced strain due to outsourced services that takes their taxes over into the pockets of shareholders, as their government opens it up to greater privatisation? And where are people being told that their country is still one of the wealthiest in the world, with the wealth going to an ever-increasing number of millionaires and billionaires bankrolling the Conservative Party? Let’s admit it: they’re not being told a bloody thing.

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So, don’t expect a Labour leader with a marginalised group of progressives in his party to start spouting left-wing rhetoric. Why? Well, the arguments that are as yet unpopular would be counter-productive. Heck, even the arguments that are popular with the people but unpopular with the Media Barons would provoke a massive push of propaganda from the right-wing press to spread fear about, say, renationalising the railways with “money the country doesn’t have” (to tap into another very popular misconception there).

It makes no sense, and it won’t increase votes. Not yet. Not until we’ve successfully fought for and won an alternative media network of grassroots-based, not-for-profit initiatives. Until then, we’ll have to accept that even the red leader will speak shit from time to time and avoid the right-wing wrath of the Media Barons you never hear much about unless Red Ed’s attacking them. And if it works to get the reds in, after bringing us so many crumbs while in power before 2010, instead of the Social Darwinist blues we’ve had since – in a rigged two-party system? You might even see me smiling at that very shit…while everyone else around me, understandably fearful for their jobs, raises their pints and cheers.

Help me fight for alternative media: check out my social enterprise SilenceBreaker Media and join me in making what is unpopular, popular.

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