“Is ‘fake news’ real?” asked investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson during a Tedx talk this month — posing the paradoxical question in the context of its explosion in popularity during the 2016 presidential election — or is the term, fake news, itself, a fabrication?
In its absurd extreme, identifiably fake news appears on supermarket shelves as tabloid magazines, in ‘reports’ on human births of alien hybrid babies and other blatant fabrications; while its more pernicious iteration, issued by traditional pillars of journalism — such as the New York Times and Washington Post, among many others — manifests in reports citing unsubstantiated sources and unnamed ‘officials,’ and often favors corporate sponsors as well as the political establishment.
Fake news isn’t new to the media landscape, in other words, but the catchphrase, as a descriptor, is.
Thus, what if fake news — peddled to the public as a pressing problem in need of solution — is itself a deception, intentionally constructed to silence legitimate critique, opposing viewpoints, and dissent?
Attkisson, who surmised the abrupt entrée of an artificial problem must have had assistance, investigated the origins of the phrase, ‘fake news,’ and its employment as accusation and insinuation, whether or not accompanied by substantiating evidence. And she was frighteningly on point.
“What if the whole anti-fake news campaign was an effort on somebody’s part to keep us from seeing or believing certain websites and stories by controversializing them or labeling them as fake news?” the seasoned journalist and winner of the Edward R. Murrow award for investigative reporting asks.
Weighing the evidence, timeline, and money trail Attkisson discovered — coupled with the resulting heavy-handed crackdown on social media and video-sharing platforms, as well as by search engines and advertisers, on the fictitious false information crisis — not only does it seem likely the term was premeditated and unleashed as a propaganda device, but as a loaded weapon inherently threatening to the future of the free press as protectively enshrined in the First Amendment.
With decades of experience, Attkisson’s hunch — that the specific term ‘fake news’ did not spread like acrid wildfire of its own volition — found factual corroboration.
In mid-September 2016, the nonprofit group, First Draft — funded in part, according to an archive of the site, by grants from the “John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Open Society Foundation and the Ford Foundation” — announced its mission “to tackle malicious hoaxes and fake news reports.”
“First Draft — a project of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government — uses research-based methods to fight mis- and disinformation online. Additionally, it provides practical and ethical guidance in how to find, verify and publish content sourced from the social web,” the site’s About section states.
“The goal was supposedly to separate wheat from chaff,” Attkisson explains, “to prevent unproven conspiracy talk from figuring prominently in internet searches. To relegate today’s version of the alien baby story to a special internet oblivion.”
However innocuous-sounding that agenda, just one month passed before First Draft’s battle against fake news found a megaphone in the president, as Obama abruptly “insisted in a speech that he too thought somebody needed to step in and curate information of this wild, wild west media environment,” she notes.
But there hadn’t been a ruckus, much less a few lone voices, griping about fake news as an issue of any import — or even complaining, at all.
“Nobody in the public had been clamoring for any such thing,” Attkisson continues, “yet, suddenly, the topic of fake news dominates headlines on a daily basis. It’s as if the media had been given its marching orders.
“Fake news, they insisted, was an imminent threat to American Democracy.”
Aware “few themes arise” in the mass media environment “organically,” the seasoned investigator followed the money to First Draft’s funders — to discern which interested parties might be backing the rally against fake news. Google, in fact, financed the group “around the start of the election cycle” — Google, whose parent company Alphabet’s CEO Eric Schmidt both acted as adviser and multi-million-dollar donor to the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton.
Mirroring Obama’s lament, Clinton soon championed quashing fake news as a priority — and her “surrogate, David Brock of Media Matters, privately told donors he was the one who convinced Facebook to join the effort,” she adds.
“I’m not the only one who thought that the whole thing smacked of the roll-out of a propaganda campaign.”
Indeed, the nascent fake news allegation almost exclusively centered around conservative-leaning outlets, journalists, and articles perceived as favoring then-candidate Trump — and repeatedly alongside allegations those media entities were acting directly, indirectly, or haplessly at the behest of the Russian government — while the majority of the mud-slinging was levied without proof or the flimsiest of supporting evidence.
To wit, a succession of pieces published by mass media dispensed with the indispensable journalistic protocols of source- and fact-checking — then shied away from accepting responsibility for the incendiary and damaging claims once a furious backlash ensued.
Although Attkisson did not mention them specifically in the roughly ten-minute Tedx talk at the University of Nevada, two lists published at the height of the Fake News Scare — both of which were either republished or alluded and linked to by multiple corporate outlets — came into public purview under highly suspect circumstances, each lending albeit indirect credence to the hypothesis a propaganda crusade was underway.
On November 13, 2016, Merrimack College associate professor Melissa Zimdars out of the blue made public a Google document entitled, “False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and/or Satirical ‘News’ Sources,” she later described as essentially a worksheet intended for colleagues and students to offer one another tips for avoiding disseminating fake news.
“So … I posted it to Facebook to my friends, you know, ‘Hey, media and communication people, if you think of other examples you come across,’” she explained of the list’s creation to USA Today College in an interview, “and so many of them sent me Facebook messages or comments and emails and I looked through them or through some of the people sent me blogs or other sources.”
Admittedly, without vetting whether or not each (or even a few) of the sites conjured from that Facebook post deserved a place on the inflammatory list, Zimdars committed the precise journalistic fraud putatively motivating its formation in the first place — as did the Los Angeles Times, whose piece, “Want to keep fake news out of your newsfeed? College professor creates list of sites to avoid,” let loose the unverified, unchecked, and unauthenticated aggregation, with its purely subjective guidelines, onto a populace stirred to frenzy over fake news, to expectedly viral results.
Critics and listees — many of which cogently included established if smaller conservative and pro-Trump outlets, as well as those covering the deluge of corruption allegations spawned from a series of leaks against then-candidate Clinton, John Podesta, and the Democratic National Committee — lambasted Zimdars, the Times, and other propagators for failing the integrity litmus test. Slapped with requests for removal and a firestorm of fury, Zimdars temporarily revoked public access to the contentious list with vows to edit and update information as appropriate, and authored an editorial defense, appearing in the Post on November 18, titled, “My ‘fake news list’ went viral. But made-up stories are only part of the problem.”
Despite the mayhem and arguable damage it caused to myriad legitimate sources listed among the obvious disinformation outlets, Zimdars’ list is once again open to the public — on Google Docs.
After having established itself as a defender of the associate professor’s worksheet, the Washington Post took the L.A. Times’ lead, issuing an article on November 24 almost wholly pertaining to a list it failed to embed or even link — only the name of the problematic organization, PropOrNot, provided clues for readers dedicated enough to search on their own. And they did in droves.
But the Post’s reckless foray into tabloidesque journalism — perhaps wary of negative perception beginning to foment against the anti-fake news brigade — crossed several lines demarcating standards of journalism; and weaved another narrative of equally dubious stature into the already unraveling anti-disinformation war: Russia.
“Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say,” the outlet proclaimed in the title for the article — whose un-accompanying blacklist pegged hundreds of independent, conservative, pro-Bernie Sanders, pro-Trump, and even left-leaning and award-winning sites as suddenly verboten due to direct or indirect Russian influence, or for acting as Russia’s “useful idiots” — all while vocally preserving the anonymity of the “four sets of researchers” responsible. Among them, PropOrNot.
“The flood of ‘fake news’ this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy, say independent researchers who tracked the operation,” the piece’s lede contends.
But, devoid named sources to question, transparency of methodologies, nor any other potentially mitigating factors which would have allowed independent verification contained in the original article, outrage this time included the Post’s competition.
In fact, several organizations listed as ‘allies’ by PropOrNot immediately disavowed the claim. Eliot Higgins of research-focused Bellingcat, one of several entities named as such, tweeted that prior to the Post’s article, he had never heard of PropOrNot — incidentally indicating a lack of contact by reporters from the media organization — and, further, he “never gave permission to them to call Bellingcat ‘allies.’”
Fortune’s Mathew Ingram penned an incredulous response, entitled, “No, Russian Agents Are Not Behind Every Piece of Fake News You See.” Effectively destroying every facet of the Post’s anathema piece, Ingram points out there is “also little data available on the PropOrNot report, which describes a network of 200 sites who it says are ‘routine peddlers of Russian propaganda,’ which have what it calls a ‘combined audience of 15 million Americans.’ How is that audience measured? We don’t know. Stories promoted by this network were shared 213 million times, it says. How do we know this? That’s unclear.”
Ultimately forced into addressing the resulting chaos, the Washington Post article eventually bore a note from the editor — not a retraction — asserting [with emphasis added],
“The Washington Post on Nov. 24 published a story on the work of four sets of researchers who have examined what they say are Russian propaganda efforts to undermine American democracy and interests. One of them was PropOrNot, a group that insists on public anonymity, which issued a report identifying more than 200 websites that, in its view, wittingly or unwittingly published or echoed Russian propaganda. A number of those sites have objected to being included on PropOrNot’s list, and some of the sites, as well as others not on the list, have publicly challenged the group’s methodology and conclusions. The Post, which did not name any of the sites, does not itself vouch for the validity of PropOrNot’s findings regarding any individual media outlet, nor did the article purport to do so. Since publication of The Post’s story, PropOrNot has removed some sites from its list.”
To reiterate, the Post did not retract the article abruptly conflating fake news with Russian propaganda — regardless the brazen if planned distancing of itself from the content therein — and has never divulged its justification for publishing such threadbare work, nor for allowing the empty allegations to remain available for the world to read online in perpetuity.
On January 8, 2017, amid continued outrage over specious and vapid fake news and Russian propaganda accusations, Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan declared the entirety of the outlet’s relentless anti-fake news jihad null, titling an article, “It’s time to retire the tainted term ‘fake news,’” positing the term’s mere monthslong duration may have served a purpose at its advent, but “its meaning already is lost.”
Attkisson notably emphasizes, however, the term never imparted a steel definition nor universally agreed-upon guidelines delineating precisely what it constitutes. That ambiguity disputably explains placing the term front and center in a propaganda campaign — as it is sharply suggested by Attkisson’s funding investigation of First Draft with bulk of the aforementioned body of evidence — for doubt before persuasion wields power.
For its irresponsible reporting of the unsubstantiated blacklist, false claims Russia had hacked into Vermont’s power grid, and all-out push to — for all intents and purposes — vilify or discredit opposing but legitimate viewpoints, the Washington Post and its controversial owner Jeff Bezos, also CEO of Amazon, garnered praise from failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who professed without a hint of irony to an audience May 31, 2017, at the annual Code Conference, as quoted by CNBC,
“I think Jeff Bezos saved The Washington Post. But newspapers, like the Post, the Journal, the Times, others — still drive news. … It was a very good use of his financial resources. Because now we have a very good newspaper again operating in Washington, and driving news elsewhere.”
All bold tit-for-tat back-patting aside, Clinton’s adoration for an ostensive news organization, which displayed an egregious lack of journalistic standards on several occasions might be only telling, were the audacious effort to mute dissenting and critical voices — who had reported factually on damning evidence of layers of corruption plaguing the former secretary of state’s campaign, officials, and party as divulged by Wikileaks — not also tandemly gaining momentum.
It has been theorized the work of journalists not employed by traditional, corporate mass media organizations had — in wading through the vitriol of election season to report the avalanche of information dumped in leaks and pivotal to outcome, yet ignored by mass media — assisted in stoking rage against the establishment and was responsible for the concurrent astronomical success of the Sanders campaign, to the detriment and consternation of Clinton.
Whether or not that hypothesis holds weight, that responsible reporting picked up mainstream’s slack, as the big-name outlets instead trained their audiences’ attentions on questioning Wikileaks, whistleblowers, and similar diversions. In short, the widely-varied body of independent media became essential for the dissemination of accurate information. But that vitality, under the vacuous premise of combating fake news, is being strangled by oppressive social media algorithms, yanked advertising and sponsor dollars, and other tactics perhaps comprising the truer imminent threat to vestiges of democracy: censorship, through suppression and omission, of a free press.
This debilitating loss — the neutering of media still upholding its duty to question government and report facts for their own sake — to a concerted effort to solve the manufactured fake news problem would be irrevocable tragedy.
“What you need to remember is that when interests are working this hard to shape your opinion, their true goal might just be to add another layer between you and the truth.”
UK Queen’s Statues Torn Down Amid Anger Over Mass Graves for Indigenous Children
This year may have had one of the most muted Canada Day celebrations, but this didn’t stop Indigenous protesters from making their anger felt – especially in the wake of the discovery of over 1,000 children’s bodies near the residential schools run by the Canadian state and church authorities.
And with churches being likely targeted by arsonists for the crimes of Catholic clergy, protesters are now attacking the symbols of Anglo colonialism – namely, statues of Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria.
About 150,000 First Nations children were forcibly separated from their families and communities and forced to attend the religious schools which were established in the 19th century to assimilate Indigenous children into the Anglo settler-colonial culture of Canada.
Former students have testified to the horrific sexual, mental and physical abuse they suffered while enrolled at the schools. Myriad children died from preventable diseases, as well as in accidents and fires. Others disappeared when trying to escape. The Commission has denounced the schools for institutionalizing child neglect and for being organs of “cultural genocide.”
The discoveries have churned up deep-seated anguish and memories of the suffering visited upon First Nations peoples, with many lashing out at the symbols of colonialism.
At least seven churches, all but one of which were Catholic, have also come under apparent arson attacks throughout Canada in recent weeks.
In June, a statue of the late Pope John Paul II at a Catholic church in Edmonton was splattered with red paint and red handprints.
On Thursday, July 1, residents in Canada also held organized protests and pulled down the statues of the top figurehead of British colonialism: Queen Elizabeth II, as well as that of her great grandmother, Queen Victoria. Sky News reports that the toppling of the statues was accompanied by the chant, “No Pride in Genocide!”
In Ottawa, protestors gathered en masse at Parliament Hill chanting ”Cancel Canada Day” and ”shame on Canada,” urging an end to the national holiday over the deaths of Indigenous people.
Indigenous groups and Canadian politicians are demanding an apology from the Catholic Church – specifically Pope Francis. The event could take place by year’s end, according to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
However, it remains unlikely that the British crown will offer the same amends to Canada’s Indigenous nations who, like many across the globe, suffered greatly in British Colonialism’s worldwide search for riches and glory.
3 Reasons Why Introverts Are Undervalued in Today’s Society
It’s undeniable that our society favors assertive extroverted personalities with strong communication skills and underestimates the quiet ones. If you are an introvert, you have probably learned it the hard way.
It could be that you felt unseen in the classroom as a child or teen. Or you may have watched your less competent co-workers get a promotion thanks to their social skills.
It feels unfair, but if you think about our society, it makes perfect sense. The consumerist mindset that has become our second nature inevitably affects the way we treat other people. It seems that everything, including our personal qualities and worth as human beings, is translated into some kind of market value.
In other words, to make other people see your worth in personal or professional life, you need to be able to ‘sell yourself’. Yes, this expression alone tells it all.
You need to know how to make a good first impression, say the right things, and be assertive. If you can’t do it, you are perceived as incapable and uninteresting – whether we are talking about a job interview or an informal social gathering.
But it’s not the only reason why introverts are undervalued in our society. Here are a few more:
1. They are less efficient in teamwork
Communication and teamwork skills are required for all kinds of jobs. It seems that without being able to work in a team, it’s impossible to do your job even if your duties don’t involve interaction with clients.
Introverts are much more efficient when they work on their own and are given a certain extent of independence. They thrive in quiet environments with few distractions and interactions. This is when a quiet person gets the chance to unleash their creative self and make good use of their analytical skills.
Most office jobs don’t give employees this opportunity. Office meetings, group projects, phone calls and all the other attributes of a 9-to-5 job make it almost impossible for an introvert to be productive.
2. They don’t like to be in the spotlight
Sometimes it feels like we are living in a society of attention seekers. Today, you are expected to go public about the most personal matters, such as your relationship and family life.
People share their most intimate thoughts and feelings on social media, post updates about the most trivial events, such as what they had for dinner, and upload countless selfies.
Introverts are among those who still value privacy. They are less likely to showcase their lives online or share the details of their personal affairs with the whole world.
At the same time, the quiet ones don’t like to be in the spotlight at social events. An introvert will never interrupt you. They will listen to you and talk only when they have something important to say. This tendency to avoid attention can be mistaken for insecurity and even a lack of intelligence.
3. They prefer to be real than to be ‘nice’
If you want to make a good impression on others, you are expected to be nice. But what does it mean to be ‘nice’ anyway?
In an introvert’s mind, it equals saying things you don’t mean. Quiet personalities will never bombard you with compliments or say meaningless social pleasantries just to win your fondness. But if an introvert said something nice to you, then be sure that they truly meant it.
Small talk is another component of social relationships most introverts struggle with. To them, it embodies utterly dull, uncomfortable, and pointless conversations they can perfectly do without. For this reason, introverts are often mistakenly believed to hate people.
The truth is that they don’t – they just crave stimulating, meaningful conversations and choose their social circle more carefully than extroverts.
In my book, The Power of Misfits: How to Find Your Place in a World You Don’t Fit In, I write about the reasons why so many introverts feel inadequate and alienated from other people in today’s society. It all goes down to social expectations this personality type has to deal with from a very early age.
But the good news is that every introvert can overcome the negative effects of these expectations and find the right path in this loud, extroverted world.
The Esoteric Meaning Behind Neo’s Interrogation Scene in The Matrix
More than 20 years old now, The Matrix is recognized by fans across the world as being one of the most brilliant films in history, most notably for its deeper meaning and esoteric philosophy.
One scene that is particularly intriguing, considering the social climate of today, is Neo’s interrogation by the Agents of the Matrix.
Now, before we dig into the potential hidden meaning here, as I perceive it, and how Neo found himself in this uncomfortable position to begin with, let’s first establish some key points in relation to the overall story line that will help us to appreciate the implications behind this scene a little bit more.
What Does The Character Neo Represent in the Matrix?
Neo in ancient Greek (νέος) means new/young one. This is an important piece of the puzzle to help us understand what the directors of the film are trying to communicate to us. With that said, when we assess Neo’s character in the first film, we find that he is a solitary individual that keeps to himself and is struggling to find deeper meaning in this world by constantly searching the internet.
What Does The Character Morpheus Represent in the Matrix?
Morpheus in Greek mythology is a messenger of the gods. He appears to humans through dreams with the intention of delivering divine Knowledge and Truth. In the Greek mythos, he can appear in almost any form in people’s dreams, which could be because anyone, regardless of race, gender, or outward appearance, can be a messenger of enlightenment and Truth.
The First Matrix Film is About The Beginning of the Journey to Awakening
With the understanding of the deeper meaning behind what Neo and Morpheus’ characters represent in the film, we can now appreciate the intro scene of Neo sleeping (whilst searching for Morpheus) through a different lens of perception and awareness.
You see, Neo sleeping whilst searching online for Morpheus represents the early stages of the Truth seekers journey — “asleep” but still searching for deeper meaning in life — and hoping to find that meaning by seeking out a “messenger” of higher Knowledge and Truth.
Truth is Terrorism in the Empire of Lies
Through his incessant efforts, Neo begins to get closer and closer to finding the elusive Morpheus. This, however, also attracts the unwanted attention of the Agents in the Matrix, which represent the enforcers of the shadow government of this system. Their job is to ensure that no one exposes what the Matrix really is, and how it turns unsuspecting every day human beings into useful resources that it can use and exploit.
The Agents proceed to apprehend Neo and interrogate him, where they make it very clear that they’ve been spying on him and keeping meticulous records of his activities, both online and offline, for quite some time now. As we all know very well today, all around the world intelligence agencies are doing exactly that — tracking what we view online and keeping meticulous records on many of our movements.
The agents, however, do not see Neo as being a major threat to the Matrix system, as he is still in the early stages of his awakening and does not know enough to be a major threat. Instead, they offer him a deal where they will be willing to “wipe the slate clean” on his illegal activities online, if Neo will simply help them track down the man they call Morpheus, who they claim is “a known terrorist” that is “considered by many authorities to be the most dangerous man alive”.
This represents that the single greatest threat to this manipulative system — which is overwhelmingly ruled by deception and exploitation — is any messenger of higher Knowledge and Truth that can potentially awaken those who are still “asleep” to what the proverbial Matrix really is. In fact, one could argue this sort of power struggle has been going on for thousands of years, and is possibly why Socrates was accused of “corrupting the youth” by the ruling class more than 2,000 years ago and subsequently sentenced to death; or why Fred Hampton was assassinated by government authorities in 1969; or, in more recent history, why civilians that were peacefully protesting against Wall Street and the bankers for their part in destroying the world economy in 2008, were targeted by the FBI and even labelled as potential “domestic terrorists“.
Simply put, Truth is terrorism in the empire of lies.
Neo, still being somewhat naïve and unbegun in his journey, rejects the Agent’s offer and demands he get a phone call because “I know my rights!”
To this, Agent Smith retorts, “tell me Mr. Anderson, what good is a phone call if you’re unable to speak?”, which results in Neo’s mouth warping in the most eerie of ways.
This scene represents a lesson that all genuine Truth seekers eventually come to learn — this system is not concerned with human rights nor is it concerned with upholding authentic justice. Instead, it inculcates these beliefs and misperceptions into our minds from a very young age, because it serves to help legitimize its unnecessary existence in the eyes of the unsuspecting public and indoctrinate us as to why we think we need it. But in reality, our government guaranteed “rights” can be taken away from us in the blink of an eye.
In relation to current events, for example, many thousands of people worldwide have been arrested for violating curfew orders; In one Indian state, civilians were told they must take selfies every hour and send it to the authorities to prove that they are staying indoors; in South Africa, some have been fined for not wearing masks while driving their cars; In Boston in the United States, people have even been told that they will be fined if they walk “the wrong direction” down the street; Homeless people in France have reportedly been fined for not staying indoors; Some people have been arrested for attending funerals of loved ones because it violated lockdown orders; Others (including doctors and scientists) have had their right to freedom of speech censored online; In Australia, a pregnant woman was actually arrested in her home for facebook posts that encouraged protesting against the lockdown; According to the International Labor Organization, tens of millions are being pushed into unemployment; and travel all around the world has been severely restricted by these authorities who have taken it upon themselves to be the rulers of this planet by dictating what the rest of us can and cannot do. Whether you agree with these policies or not, these things cannot logically be called “rights” since they are so very easily violated and taken away from us.
There are many other examples that demonstrate how our government given “rights” are more of a comforting illusion than an actual reality, such as the CIA’s secretive Black Site torture programs, which have been done in cooperation with other intelligence agencies and authorities throughout the world. In these programs, people have been kidnapped — without any legal criminal charge or trial — and then taken to undisclosed secret locations where many of them are tortured for many months on end, in ways that are considered to be in violation of international law and basic human rights. The CIA, of course, simply claims they are suspected terrorists. In 2014, however, a Senate Intelligence Committee Report found that at least 26 of the people that were kidnapped and tortured were actually “wrongfully detained”.
Wake Up Neo — You Are the One
Fortunately, Neo manages to escape this unthinkable situation without any serious injury or harm. Soon after, he is contacted by Morpheus, where he is told that he was very lucky that the Agents underestimated his great potential and spared him, because if the Agents had known the great secret that Morpheus knows, then Neo would probably be dead.
Confused by the obvious strangeness of everything taking place, Neo asks Morpheus what the hell is going on, and what exactly is he talking about?? Without hesitation, Morpheus replies to him, “You are the one Neo — You see, you may have spent the last few years looking for me, but I have spent my entire life looking for you.”
This is perhaps the most important lesson the new Truth seeker must eventually come to learn — We are the ones we have been waiting for to change this corrupt world my friends; and we must stop looking for heroes and human leaders to absolve us of this very serious responsibility. Instead, we must all take on the role of Morpheus — which is to awaken as many Neo’s (new minds) as we possibly can, whilst also taking on the role that represents the journey of Neo, by challenging ourselves to become the best version of who we authentically are.
By doing this, we will help to awaken and unleash the unique creative forces of each individual’s problem solving imagination; and we will also find unity in our shared struggle against the injustices, and corruption, of this inhumane system which invariably exploits us all.
If not us, then who? And if not now, then when?
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