Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

New Study Says Climate Change Made Hurricane Harvey a Lot Worse

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Kevin Drum’s post is definitely worth reading, and the two charts are convincing and clear. No paywall.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 December 2017 at 3:20 pm

How Trump’s ‘Grab Them by the Pussy’ Comments Might Lose Him Congress in the End

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Jonathan Chait has a column in New York magazine that seems spot-on to me:

The election of a Democrat to a Senate seat in one of the most Republican states in the country is the culmination of an extended linear progression of catastrophic decisions, beginning with Donald Trump’s decision to open up the seat by appointing Alabama senator Jeff Sessions attorney general. (That decision, of course, is coming back to haunt Trump in even more painful ways.) It is possible to imagine a similar chain of events, in which Donald Trump’s recorded confession of sexual assault leads to his party’s loss of the House in the 2018 midterm elections.

Trump’s confession, which matched behavior reported by several of his alleged targets, at first seemed so momentous that it would compel him to abandon his position on the ticket. But after the handful of wavering Republicans mostly swallowed or recanted their doubts, allowing Trump to win, it seemed to mean nothing. In fact, the impact simply played out on a time delay.

The simmering rage at the election of an unqualified misogynist over the highly qualified prospective first female president produced a deep backlash in politics and culture. The willingness of Harvey Weinstein’s victims to speak out against him can be traced to that frustration.

The horrific revelations of Weinstein’s systemic abuse unleashed a torrent of allegations against powerful men. At first, the reporting was concentrated in fields with liberal cultures and where female reporters had the best access: entertainment and the media itself. But it is quickly spreading elsewhere, particularly to an institution with high levels of public accountability and male ego: Congress. Reports indicate forthcoming exposés of sexual harassment by some two dozen more members of Congress.

Assume for the sake of argument that men of both parties are equally likely to engage in sexual harassment. That would mean most of the harassers will be Republican. Republicans hold 241 of 435 House seats. And they are disproportionately male; there are 219 male Republicans in the House, and 132 male Democrats. The Senate has 47 Republican men and 32 Democratic men. Republicans are therefore likely to constitute a majority of the reported harassers.

What’s more, the impact of the reports will not be felt equally. It will hurt the majority party much more. The reason is that  . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the column:

So far, the two parties have responded to allegations of harassment differently. Democrats have turned against their own members facing allegations and forced them to resign, while Republicans — following Trump’s precedent — have largely abstained. But that is not an advantage for Republicans. It is a disadvantage. It forces them to field scandal-tarred candidates, not to mention a scandal-tarred party. You need look no farther than Roy Moore to observe the costs of the tough-it-out approach.

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 December 2017 at 2:27 pm

Jennifer Rubin asks, “Will McCain defend the bipartisan process?”, along with harsh words

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Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post:

The first significant fight following Doug Jones’s stunning victory is well underway in the U.S. Senate. Unsurprisingly, Democrats are demanding that Republicans abide by the same process they afforded Scott Brown when he was elected to the Senate in a special election in Massachusetts in 2010, namely to hold the final vote on the tax bill (last time it was Obamacare) after the Jones is sworn in.

Democrats are already tripping down memory lane, circulating video of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) thanking Democrats for allowing Brown to be seated. “No gamesmanship will be played by the other side,” McConnell said. He cited a brave Democrat, Jim Webb of Virginia, for refusing to proceed before seating Brown. (“Well, at the risk of being redundant, what I think is being clear is that there will be no further action in the Senate thanks to Senator Webb until Scott Brown is sworn in.”)

At a news conference today, Minority Leader Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) reiterated his call for fairness:

Well, today we Senate Democrats are calling on Mitch McConnell to hit pause on this tax bill and not hold a final vote until Doug Jones is sworn into the Senate. Doug Jones will be the duly elected senator from Alabama. The governor did not appoint him, he won an election. It would be wrong for Senate Republicans to jam through this tax bill without giving the newly elected senator from Alabama the opportunity to cast his vote. Now that’s exactly what Republicans argued when Scott Brown was elected in 2010. Referring to health care, listening to what Leader McConnell said, what we ought to do, McConnell’s quote: “what we ought to do, as we said repeatedly throughout the month of December as you know, we were here every day, we ought to start and stop over, and go step by step to concentrate on fixing the problem.” He said of the election, the one of Scott Brown, “I think the majority has gotten the message. No more gamesmanship. No more lack of transparency.” What did Leader [Harry M.] Reid do when Scott Brown was elected? He said, “we’re going to wait until the new senator arrives before we do anything more,” on the health-care bill which was then handled. What is good for the goose is good for the gander, and what is good for the gander is good for the goose. McConnell ought to do what he said ought to be done in 2010 and what we did in 2010 — delay until Doug Jones gets here and can cast a vote. Plain and simple.

So far it does not appear McConnell has any intention of doing so. (Recall he refused to give Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland a vote for more than nine months, effectively holding the seat for now-Justice Neil M. Gorsuch.)

That won’t be because lack of effort on Democrats’ part. On Tuesday night, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said at a news conference, “I am hoping that Republican leaders accept the will of the people of Alabama and halt their attempt to jam through massive tax cuts for the rich until Senator-elect Jones is seated.”

An energetic Democratic aide dug these remarks by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) out from the congressional record following Brown’s win: “I congratulate Scott Brown. I congratulate our new colleague not only for standing up for what is right but also for articulating the frustration of the American people about this process we have been through,” McCain said then. “So here we are, and now the rumors are that they will jam this proposal through the House of Representatives and then bypass what has always been the normal legislative process. They should not do that. The American people have spoken. The people of Massachusetts have spoken for the rest of America.” He urged, “Stop this process, sit down in open and transparent negotiations, and let’s begin from the beginning.”

The question may boil down to this: What will McCain do when the shoe is on the other foot? In knocking down an irregular, partisan process on health care, he told his colleagues:

Let’s trust each other. Let’s return to regular order. We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle. That’s an approach that’s been employed by both sides, mandating legislation from the top down, without any support from the other side, with all the parliamentary maneuvers that requires. …

This place is important. The work we do is important. Our strange rules and seemingly eccentric practices that slow our proceedings and insist on our cooperation are important. Our founders envisioned the Senate as the more deliberative, careful body that operates at a greater distance than the other body from the public passions of the hour.

We are an important check on the powers of the executive. Our consent is necessary for the president to appoint jurists and powerful government officials and in many respects to conduct foreign policy. Whether or not we are of the same party, we are not the president’s subordinates. We are his equal!

This development tests once again McCain’s sincerity. McCain’s office did not reply to a request for comment.

Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute is not optimistic that the Republicans will treat Democrats as they were treated in 2010. “There is indeed a sharp contrast on Scott Brown and Doug Jones. There is always a delay between an election and the certification required for a new senator to be seated. Reid could have used his 60 votes in the interregnum but did not. (Of course, it is also possible one of the 60, maybe [Sen. Joseph I.] Lieberman, would have objected.) But Reid respected the election results. McConnell simply does not care.” He added, “I had hoped that McCain meant it when he gave his eloquent plea for the regular order. But the tax bill he voted for in the Senate was as great a distortion of the regular order as I have seen.” He observes that Republicans have staked everything on tax cuts. “To McConnell and most of his colleagues, this tax cut is the key to everything. It is a big accomplishment, the first one. It is a big wet kiss to the major donors who will cut off the funds if they don’t get their billions.” That means process mostly likely will be reduced to rubble.

Jared Bernstein, former chief economist and economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, concurs. He tells me, . . .

Continue reading.

And, for good measure, the conclusion of a different post she blogged:

It is one thing to ask snippy questions of a captive witness, but it is quite another to accept an attack on the legitimacy of the special counsel, and more generally, the rule of law. Should Trump decide to fire Mueller or to issue mass pardons to family members and even himself, he risks his presidency. Republicans, with one eye on the polls and another on Trump’s aberrant, unhinged and delusional conduct, may very well choose to jump ship — or enough of them will jump to provide a majority in Congress willing to call for resignation and/or impeachment. Moreover, the voters — in places much less conservative than Alabama — will have a direct voice in the matter. While impeachment is a verboten topic for Democrats, who prefer to talk about economics and health care, a Trump-style “Saturday Night Massacre” firing of Mueller (and likely Rosenstein) or mass pardons will bring us to a constitutional crisis. The voters will eventually need to decide if they want to remain Trump cultists in defiance of fact, reason and our democratic tradition, or if they want to fight to preserve the rule of law.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 December 2017 at 2:09 pm

Ezra Klein: “Why Doug Jones’s narrow win is not enough to make me confident about American democracy”

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Ezra Klein writes in Vox:

Tonight, Alabama did not elect a man accused of preying on children who thinks Muslims should not be allowed to serve in Congress. That’s not the highest bar I can imagine for a democracy to clear, but I’m glad we cleared it.

But tonight’s election results do not leave me comfortable with the state of American politics. If Moore had merely been a candidate who believed Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to serve in Congress, that the laws of the United States of America should be superseded by his interpretation of the Bible, that homosexuality should be illegal, he would have won in a landslide. Even multiple credible reports that Moore serially preyed on teenage girls were barely enough to lose him the election.

Like Donald Trump before him, Moore is proof that there is no depravity so unforgivable, no behavior so immoral, that it assures a candidate will lose his party’s voters. What cannot be condoned will be denied. What cannot be denied will be ignored. What cannot be ignored has not yet been discovered.

Donald Trump was caught on tape bragging about sexual assault. Roy Moore was banned from the local mall. These were not loose allegations or flimsy rumors. They were consistent patterns of behavior, reported by multiple unconnected victims, corroborated by the candidates’ own actions and words. And still, exit polls found Moore held 91 percent of the Republican vote — likely because fully 44 percent of voters said they didn’t believe the allegations against him at all.

It is an oddity of election punditry that swings of a few percentage points in the vote produce analyses that are violently different in their assessment of the country’s mood and psyche. If Roy Moore had run a better field operation, and if Doug Jones had run a slightly worse one, tonight’s result would have flipped, and so too would the rhetoric. If Alabama’s election, like US presidential elections, could be won by the loser of the popular vote so long as that candidate ran particularly strong in rural areas, then Moore, like Trump before him, would have won.

This is not to say Jones’s win isn’t striking. It is. Moore would have prevailed by double digits absent the revelations about his sexual past. But the fact remains that even with all we learned of him, he is only projected to lose by about 1.6 points. Even though we are not the country that elected Roy Moore tonight, we are the country that almost elected him, and that is still worth reckoning with.

The flaw in America’s political system

The most important concept for understanding what has gone wrong in American politics is political scientist Julia Azari’s observation that this is an age of weak parties and strong partisanship. I have come to think of this as a flaw in the software of American democracy, a vulnerability that can be exploited to send malware ricocheting through the system.

Parties were traditionally bulwarks against demagogues rising in American politics — they were controlled by gatekeepers who acted as checks against charismatic demagogues. Trump would never have made it through the convention horse-trading that used to drive nominations; Moore would never have survived a process that required support from party officials.

But in recent decades, we have slowly destroyed the ability of party officials to drive party primaries. What’s more, we have come to see party officials exercising influence as fundamentally illegitimate. Most Alabama Republicans said Mitch McConnell’s opposition to Moore made them like him better. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 December 2017 at 2:05 pm

Salma Hayek: “Harvey Weinstein Is My Monster Too”

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Salma Hayek writes in the NY Times:

HARVEY WEINSTEIN WAS a passionate cinephile, a risk taker, a patron of talent in film, a loving father and a monster.

For years, he was my monster.


This fall, I was approached by reporters, through different sources, including my dear friend Ashley Judd, to speak about an episode in my life that, although painful, I thought I had made peace with.

I had brainwashed myself into thinking that it was over and that I had survived; I hid from the responsibility to speak out with the excuse that enough people were already involved in shining a light on my monster. I didn’t consider my voice important, nor did I think it would make a difference.

In reality, I was trying to save myself the challenge of explaining several things to my loved ones: Why, when I had casually mentioned that I had been bullied like many others by Harvey, I had excluded a couple of details. And why, for so many years, we have been cordial to a man who hurt me so deeply. I had been proud of my capacity for forgiveness, but the mere fact that I was ashamed to describe the details of what I had forgiven made me wonder if that chapter of my life had really been resolved.

When so many women came forward to describe what Harvey had done to them, I had to confront my cowardice and humbly accept that my story, as important as it was to me, was nothing but a drop in an ocean of sorrow and confusion. I felt that by now nobody would care about my pain — maybe this was an effect of the many times I was told, especially by Harvey, that I was nobody.

We are finally becoming conscious of a vice that has been socially accepted and has insulted and humiliated millions of girls like me, for in every woman there is a girl. I am inspired by those who had the courage to speak out, especially in a society that elected a president who has been accused of sexual harassment and assault by more than a dozen women and whom we have all heard make a statement about how a man in power can do anything he wants to women.

Well, not anymore.

In the 14 years that I stumbled from schoolgirl to Mexican soap star to an extra in a few American films to catching a couple of lucky breaks in “Desperado” and “Fools Rush In,” Harvey Weinstein had become the wizard of a new wave of cinema that took original content into the mainstream. At the same time, it was unimaginable for a Mexican actress to aspire to a place in Hollywood. And even though I had proven them wrong, I was still a nobody.

One of the forces that gave me the determination to pursue my career was the story of Frida Kahlo, who in the golden age of the Mexican muralists would do small intimate paintings that everybody looked down on. She had the courage to express herself while disregarding skepticism. My greatest ambition was to tell her story. It became my mission to portray the life of this extraordinary artist and to show my native Mexico in a way that combated stereotypes.

The Weinstein empire, which was then Miramax, had become synonymous with quality, sophistication and risk taking — a haven for artists who were complex and defiant. It was everything that Frida was to me and everything I aspired to be.

I had started a journey to produce the film with a different company, but I fought to get it back to take it to Harvey.

I knew him a little bit through my relationship with the director Robert Rodriguez and the producer Elizabeth Avellan, who was then his wife, with whom I had done several films and who had taken me under their wing. All I knew of Harvey at the time was that he had a remarkable intellect, he was a loyal friend and a family man.

Knowing what I know now, I wonder if it wasn’t my friendship with them — and Quentin Tarantino and George Clooney — that saved me from being raped.

The deal we made initially was that Harvey would pay for the rights of work I had already developed. As an actress, I would be paid the minimum Screen Actors Guild scale plus 10 percent. As a producer, I would receive a credit that would not yet be defined, but no payment, which was not that rare for a female producer in the ’90s. He also demanded a signed deal for me to do several other films with Miramax, which I thought would cement my status as a leading lady.

I did not care about the money; I was so excited to work with him and that company. In my naïveté, I thought my dream had come true. He had validated the last 14 years of my life. He had taken a chance on me — a nobody. He had said yes.

Little did I know it would become my turn to say no.

No to opening the door to him at all hours of the night, hotel after hotel, location after location, where he would show up unexpectedly, including one location where I was doing a movie he wasn’t even involved with.

No to me taking a shower with him.

No to letting him watch me take a shower.

No to letting him give me a massage.

No to letting a naked friend of his give me a massage.

No to letting him give me oral sex.

No to my getting naked with another woman.

No, no, no, no, no …

And with every refusal came Harvey’s Machiavellian rage.

I don’t think he hated anything more than the word “no.” The absurdity of his demands went from getting a furious call in the middle of the night asking me to fire my agent for a fight he was having with him about a different movie with a different client to physically dragging me out of the opening gala of the Venice Film Festival, which was in honor of “Frida,” so I could hang out at his private party with him and some women I thought were models but I was told later were high-priced prostitutes.

The range of his persuasion tactics went from sweet-talking me to that one time when, in an attack of fury, he said the terrifying words, “I will kill you, don’t think I can’t.”

When he was finally convinced that I was not going to earn the movie the way he had expected, he told me he had offered my role and my script with my years of research to another actress.

In his eyes, I was not an artist. I wasn’t even a person. I was a thing: not a nobody, but a body. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 December 2017 at 10:54 am

New Bird Species Arises From Hybrids, as Scientists Watch

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Jordana Cepelewicz describes in Quanta the emergence of a new species. Creationists generally insist that evolution cannot be right because we don’t see new species actually being formed. This ends that line of argument (or would, if Creationists argued in good faith). Cepelwicz writes:

t’s not every day that scientists observe a new species emerging in real time. Charles Darwin believed that speciation probably took place over hundreds if not thousands of generations, advancing far too gradually to be detected directly. The biologists who followed him have generally defaulted to a similar understanding and have relied on indirect clues, gleaned from genomes and fossils, to infer complex organisms’ evolutionary histories.

Some of those clues suggest that interbreeding plays a larger role in the formation of new species than previously thought. But the issue remains contentious: Hybridization has been definitively shown to cause widespread speciation only in plants. When it comes to animals, it has remained a hypothesis (albeit one that’s gaining increasing support) about events that typically occurred in the distant, unseen past.

Until now. In a paper published last month in Science, researchers reported that a new animal species had evolved by hybridization — and that it had occurred before their eyes in the span of merely two generations. The breakneck pace of that speciation event turned heads both in the scientific community and in the media. The mechanism by which it occurred is just as noteworthy, however, because of what it suggests about the undervalued role of hybrids in evolution.

Eyewitnesses to Speciation

In 1981, Peter and Rosemary Grantthe famous husband-and-wife team of evolutionary biologists at Princeton University, had already been studying Darwin’s finches on the small Galápagos island Daphne Major for nearly a decade. So when they spotted a male bird that looked and sounded different from the three species residing on the island, they immediately knew he didn’t belong. Genetic analysis showed he was a large cactus finch (Geospiza conirostris) from another island, either Española or Gardner, more than 60 miles away — too great a distance for the bird to fly home.

Tracking the marooned male bird’s activity, the Grants observed him as he mated with two female medium ground finches (G. fortis) on Daphne and produced hybrid offspring. Such interbreeding by isolated animals in the wild is not uncommon, though biologists have usually dismissed it as irrelevant to evolution because the hybrids tend to be unfit. Often they cannot reproduce, or they fail to compete effectively against established species and quickly go extinct. Even when the hybrids are fertile and fit, they frequently get reabsorbed into the original species by mating with their parent populations.

But something different happened with the hybrids on Daphne: When they matured, they became a population distinct from Daphne’s other bird species by inbreeding extensively and exclusively — siblings mating with siblings, and parents mating with their offspring.

In short, an incipient hybrid species, which the researchers dubbed the Big Bird lineage, had emerged within two generations. Today, six generations have passed, and the island is home to around 30 Big Bird finches. “If you were a biologist none the wiser to what had happened,” said Leif Andersson, a geneticist at Uppsala University in Sweden and one of the study’s co-authors, “and you started studying these birds, you’d think there were four different species on the island.”

Where Hybrids Thrive

On Daphne Major, the conditions may have been just right for hybrid speciation. “It shows what is possible, given the right circumstances,” Peter Grant said, and it sends “a valuable message about the importance of rare and unpredictable events in evolution. These have probably been underestimated.”

The Big Bird lineage became reproductively isolated so quickly because those birds could not successfully attract mates among the island’s resident species, which preferred their own kind. Big Bird finches couldn’t pass muster: They had relatively large beaks for their body size, and they boasted a unique song. These differences prevented gene flow between the hybrids and the native medium ground finches from which they had descended, leading to a distinct hybrid population. (In their Science paper, the Grants and their colleagues noted that the species status of Big Bird finches is still unofficial because no one has yet tested whether the birds will breed with their ancestral finches on Española and Gardner. But they cited reasons to suspect that the Big Bird lineage is reproductively isolated from them as well.) . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 December 2017 at 10:48 am

Posted in Evolution, Science

Will Trump’s lows ever hit rock bottom?

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The Editorial Board of USA Today had some strong words for President Trump:

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday dismissed the president’s smear as a misunderstanding because he used similar language about men. Of course, words used about men and women are different. When candidate Trump said a journalist was bleeding from her “wherever,” he didn’t mean her nose.

And as is the case with all of Trump’s digital provocations, the president’s words were deliberate. He pours the gasoline of sexist language and lights the match gleefully knowing how it will burst into flame in a country reeling from the #MeToo moment.

A president who would all but call Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand a whore is not fit to clean the toilets in the Barack Obama Presidential Library or to shine the shoes of George W. Bush.

This isn’t about the policy differences we have with all presidents or our disappointment in some of their decisions. Obama and Bush both failed in many ways. They broke promises and told untruths, but the basic decency of each man was never in doubt.

Donald Trump, the man, on the other hand, is uniquely awful. His sickening behavior is corrosive to the enterprise of a shared governance based on common values and the consent of the governed.

It should surprise no one how low he went with Gillibrand. When accused during the campaign of sexually harassing or molesting women in the past, Trump’s response was to belittle the looks of his accusers. Last October, Trump suggested that he never would have groped Jessica Leeds on an airplane decades ago: “Believe me, she would not be my first choice, that I can tell you.” Trump mocked another accuser, former People reporter Natasha Stoynoff, “Check out her Facebook, you’ll understand.”  Other celebrities and politicians have denied accusations, but none has stooped as low as suggesting that their accusers weren’t attractive enough to be honored with their gropes.

If recent history is any guide, the unique awfulness of the Trump era in U.S. politics is only going to get worse. Trump’s utter lack of morality, ethics and simple humanity has been underscored during his 11 months in office. Let us count the ways:

  • He is enthusiastically supporting Alabama’s Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, who has been accused of pursuing — and in one case molesting and in another assaulting — teenagers as young as 14 when Moore was a county prosecutor in his 30s. On Tuesday, Trump summed up his willingness to support a man accused of criminal conduct: “Roy Moore will always vote with us.”
  • Trump apparently is going for some sort of record for lying while in office. As of mid-November, he had made 1,628 misleading or false statements in 298 days in office. That’s 5.5 false claims per day, according to a count kept by The Washington Post’s fact-checkers.
  • Trump takes advantage of any occasion — even Monday’s failed terrorist attack in New York — to stir racial, religious or ethnic strife. Congress “must end chain migration,” he said Monday, because the terror suspect “entered our country through extended-family chain migration, which is incompatible with national security.” So because one man — 27-year-old Akayed Ullah, a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. who came from Bangladesh on a family immigrant visa in 2011 —  is accused of attacking America, all immigrants brought to this country by family are suspect? Trump might have some credibility if his criticism of immigrants was solely about terrorists. It isn’t.  It makes no difference to him if an immigrant is a terrorist or a federal judge. He once smeared an Indiana-born judge whose parents emigrated from Mexico. It’s all the same to this president.
  • A man who clearly wants to put his stamp on the government, Trump hasn’t even done his job when it comes to filling key government positions that require Senate confirmation. As of last week, Trump had failed to nominate anyone for 60% of 1,200 key positions he can fill to keep the government running smoothly.
  • Trump has shown contempt for ethical strictures that have bound every president in recent memory.  He has refused to release his tax returns, with the absurd excuse that it’s because he is under audit.  He has refused to put his multibillion dollar business interests in a blind trust and peddles the fiction that putting them in the hands of his sons does the same thing.

Not to mention calling white supremacists “very fine people,” pardoning a lawless sheriff, firing a respected FBI director, and pushing the Justice Department to investigate his political foes.

It is a shock that only six Democratic senators are calling for our unstable president to resign. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 December 2017 at 10:17 am

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