ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Those who once wore the red, black, and green pins of revolutionary black nationalism
now sport pins declaring their allegiance to a decided non-revolutionary brand of Afrocentrism!
A Retrospective on
By Amin Sharif
I don’t really remember when I met H. Rap Brown. I believe it was in the Baltimore SNCC office [432 E. North Avenue]. It might have been down in D.C. or maybe in New York. But I remember what Rap looked likeslender as a reed, huge afro and defiant as hell. I remember that he called me “blood” and spoke a few words to whomever I was with.
The next time I saw Rap was on TV. Then, along with Huey P. Newton, Rap was considered one of the most dangerous black men in America. That was when America’s cities were burning and Martin Luther King was dead.
That’s who Rap was. And, for some, that’s who Rap will always be. To see H. Rap Brown as an Imam of Islam, which he has now become, is for some like seeing a fundamental law of nature altered. It is as if being told that the speed of light is no longer 186,282 miles per second or that the law of gravity no longer applies to the earth. Knowledge of Rap’s change in character is as shattering as was the fact, for the Vatican of the Dark Ages, that the sun, not the earth, is the center of our solar system.
But the H. Rap Brown we knew in the 1960s is gone. Time changes everything. And I like many others, am going to miss the old H. Rap Brown. I know, nevertheless, that whatever changes Rap has made have been for the better.
Die Nigger Die! (his autobiography) is now a requiem, not only for H. Rap Brown, but also for entire revolutionary movement of the 1960s. There are no longer angry protests, nor the fiery black student movement that fought Jim Crow election laws in the South. There are no white radicals called Weathermen or Yippes (International Youth Movement)
Revolutionary sentiment has all but vanished from the earth. The new sentiment is to become Yuppies or Buppies.
Those who once wore the red, black, and green pins of revolutionary black nationalism now sport pins declaring their allegiance to a decided non-revolutionary brand of Afrocentrism, or, even worse, have become cronies of the Republican Party.
All the “true believers” of real changes are dismissed or are buried in their graves. It is almost as if the collective consciousness of the country has forgotten why black people burned the cities. It has been lost why King and Malcolm died.
We have only the books and the voices of those few who are left alive from that turbulent time to make us remember when a decidedly more racist country looked at every living black face and screamedDie Nigger Die!
H. Rap Brown was born on October 4, 1943. In his autobiography he describes his birth. He describes the world outside his mother’s belly as the first moments of his suffering at the hands of a white person:
My first contact with white america was marked by her violence, for when a white doctor pulled me from between my mother’s legs and slapped my wet ass, I, as every negro in america, reacted to this man-inflicted pain with a cry. A cry that america has never allowed to cease; a cry that gets louder and more intense with age; a cry that can only be heard and understood by others who live behind the color curtain.
The “Color Curtain” like the “Iron Curtain” was a feature of a bygone age called the “Cold War.” Lasting from the end of the second World War to the recent fall of the Berlin Wall, the Cold war sought to defeat the worldwide Communist movement and to make every white soul free.
The “Color Curtain,” however, was raised when the first African slave landed on the shores of America. It divided the country forever into two classes–one white and free; the other black and oppressed. It was into this divided and unequal world that H. Rap Brown was born. It is behind the “Color Curtain that he began his war with racist America.
Revolutionaries are not born full blown from the head of Jove. H. Rap Brown did not become a revolutionary over night. The revolutionary process begins when one makes the observation that he is forced to live against his will under an unjust order. Slowly, the potential revolutionary comes to know where he stands in the order of things.
In Die Nigger Die! Rap describes this step in the conversion process:
If one examines the structure of this country closely he will note that there are three basic categories: they are white america, negro america, and Black America . . . [and that] Color is the first thing Black people become aware of.
For Rap, white America is the oppressor class. Negro America is the class filled with those of African descent who are trapped behind the Color Curtain. And Black America is the force of revolutionary change. Rap, also, makes the early observation that there is no “real” reason for America to be divided into two classes–one white and free and the other dark and oppressed. The division is solely arbitrary. It exists only to keep some in power and others enslaved. Rap describes this absurdity of black existence:
In and of itself, color has no meaning. But the white world has given it meaningpolitical, social, economic, historical, physiological and philosophical. Once color has been given meaning an order is thereby established.
In a world where everything is defined by color, there quickly is established an alliance between certain forces within Negro America and White America to keep Black America from obtaining the power to change the existing order. This alliance is rooted in fear and enforced by terror. Negro America believes that it cannot resist the power of White America. But Black America is different. In Die Nigger Die! Rap clarifies this crucial philosophical perspective:
The biggest difference between being known as a Black man or a negro is that if you’re Black, then you do everything you can to fight white folks. If you’re negro, you do everything to appease them
But every moment for a potential revolutionary is not filled with zeal. There are times when the potential revolutionary is engaged in the under culture that surrounds him. H. Rap Brown grew up in a Southern city like any other brother on the streets. Gifted with a quick tongue and scathing wit, Rap earned his nickname by being a master at “playing the dozens and “signifying.”
Now for those who don’t know, the masters of the dozens and signifying were the first street poets of Black America. The dozens is a merciless game aimed at “totally destroying” one’s opponent with words, usually by insulting his mother. Signifying is more humane in that one restricts one’s verbal attack to one’s opponent rather than extend it to his ancestry.
In the word game of the dozens, one scores points by coming up with the funniest and most entertaining character assassination of the opponent’s mother. And, to make matters more difficult, each player must sometimes use a rhyme scheme to accomplish his task. For those who have seen the dozens played by true masters, there is no doubt about the skill and viciousness involved in the game. It is no small testimony to his poetic and oratory skills that Rap won his nickname under these circumstances.
If revolutionaries do not spring full blown from the head of Jove, then what is the process that makes their conversion experience a “true one”? Political education, not mere observation, is the key. But not just any political education will suffice the true revolutionary.
Only political education borne of authentic struggle will do. Rap’s political education was initiated by his brother Ed.It was Ed who pulled Rap into the growing “sit-in” movement and who got him involved with Non-Violent Action group (NAG). It was Ed that got Rap reading Du Bois, Frederick Douglass, Marcus Garvey, and Richard Wright. And it was Ed Brown who got Rap involved with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the organization that broke away from the civil rights movement to explore “revolutionary politics” and “Black Power.”
From sit-ins, voting rights campaigns, and marches, Rap learned that there was an authentic spirit to be found among some of those who lived in the Black Belt of the South. Here racism was uncompromising, naked, and brutal. Water hoses, vicious dogs, and white mobs often met black and white students who attempted to desegregate lunch counters, motels and other public accommodations.
Struggling with black Americans who were ready, if necessary, to give up their lives for the cause of freedom and the brutal response to that effort by conservative and liberal whites alike began to have a profound impact on Rap’s thinking. He began to see “integration” as “impractical.” t was somewhere during this period that Rap’s revolutionary conversion took hold. And at that moment, he no longer saw the current order as one that could be reformed. racism was rooted too deeply into the fabric of America to be laid to rest by the changing of a few laws.
IChange, if it was to mean anything to those trapped behind the Color Curtain, had to be all-pervasive and not dependent upon the good graces of the oppressor class. “We cannot allow the government to be an outlaw, particularly when the crime is against the people,” Rap declares in Die Nigger Die! The evidence of Rap’s revolutionary conversion came on a fateful day in 1965. Several black leaders were called to the White House to meet with President Johnson concerning matters pertinent to the civil rights movement. In Die Nigger Die! Rap describes the scene:
Johnson was arrogant as hell and mad ’cause we were there. His whole attitude was “What you niggers doin’ here taking up my time.”
It seems that all the “negro leaders” were entirely too passive for Rap’s liking. For instance, when they brought up the fact of their human rights in the South, none of them answered when Johnson cut them off saying, “Speaking of deprivation of rights, my two daughters couldn’t sleep last night because of all that picketing noise out in front of the White House.”
It was only Rap who came up with a righteous answer to the Johnson quip:
So I told him, “I don’t think anyone here is interested in whether your daughters could sleep or not. We are interested in the lives of our people. Which side is the federal government on?”
From then on Rap was a marked man. He was called up for the draft after his meeting with Johnson, caught up in a shoot-out with police in Cambridge, Maryland, arrested and re-arrested in Virginia. Then Rap went underground in March of 1970.
For eighteen months Rap eluded the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. There were rumors Rap was in Cuba, West Africa, and Algeria. No evidence has ever surfaced proving or disproving that Rap Brown was ever in any of these places. Then, in 1973, Rap surfaced. he was wounded in an alleged shoot-out with police in “an uptown Manhattan bar.”
Since Rap has never given any specific details concerning the shoot-out, we can only speculate as to what his role was in the affair. It is here that Rap Brown disappears and Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin emerges. After serving five years of a fifteen year sentence, the revolutionary black nationalist becomes a Muslim. Today, a very different H. Rap Brown (Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin) sits in jail convicted of murder. To say the least, the entire affair smells of an old 1960s frame-up. We have Imam Al-Amin’s sworn word that he did not commit the crime. After invoking the Name of Allah, the Imam said: “Let me declare before the families of these men, before the state, and any who would dare to know the truth, that I neither shot or killed anyone.”
Still the State of Georgia holds Imam Al-Amin in custody for the shooting and killing of a Fulton County Sheriff’s deputy. Whether or not Imam Al-Amin is able to prove his innocence and one day walk among us again will be determined by future events.
But there is one thing we know, H. Rap Brown or Imam Al-Amin is still one of the most dangerous black men alive because he seeks truth and fights injustice. He will remain dangerous because he is struggling for the good of his people in a racist country that screams out to every living black face Die Nigger Die!
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Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (born October 4, 1943, as Hubert Gerold Brown), also known as H. Rap Brown, was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s, and later the Justice Minister of the Black Panther Party. He is perhaps most famous for his proclamation during that period that “violence is as American as cherry pie”, as well as once stating that “If America don’t come around, we’re gonna burn it down”. He is also known for his autobiography Die Nigger Die!. He is currently serving a life sentence for the murders of two Fulton County Sheriff’s deputies in 2000.
Brown was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He became known as H. Rap Brown during the early 1960s. His activism in the civil rights movement included involvement with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), of which he was named chairman in 1967. That same year, he was arrested in Cambridge, Maryland, and charged with inciting to riot as a result of a speech he gave there. He left the SNCC and joined the Black Panthers in 1968.
He appeared on the FBI‘s Ten Most Wanted List after avoiding trial on charges of inciting riot and of carrying a gun across state lines. His attorneys in the gun violation case were civil rights advocate Murphy Bell of Baton Rouge, and the self described “radical lawyer” William Kunstler. Brown was scheduled to be tried in Cambridge, but the trial was moved to Bel Air, Maryland on a change of Venue.
On March 9, 1970 two black radicals, Ralph Featherstone and William (“Che”) Payne died on U.S. Route 1 south of Bel Air, Maryland when a bomb being carried between Payne’s legs on the front floorboard of their car exploded, completely destroying the car and dismembering both occupants. Allegedly the bomb was intended to be used at the courthouse where Brown was to be tried. The next night the Cambridge, Maryland courthouse was bombed.
Brown disappeared for 18 months, and then he was arrested after a reported shootout with officers. The shootout occurred after what was said to be an attempted robbery of a bar in 1971 in New York.
He spent five years (1971-1976) in Attica Prison after a robbery conviction. While in prison, Brown converted to Islam and changed his name to Jamil Abdullah al-Amin. After his release, he opened a grocery store in Atlanta, Georgia and became a Muslim spiritual leader and community activist preaching against drugs and gambling in Atlanta’s West End neighborhood.Wikipedia
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A Political Autobiography
By H. Rap Brown (Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin)
foreword by Ekweueme Michael Thelwell
Introduction by Don L. Lee
“A powerful autobiographical and revolutionary statement . . . written with precision and a poetic flow of language.”Gilbert Osofsky, Chicago Daily News
“It requires exceptional courage to read Die Nigger Die! but failure to read this book is the kind of cowardice that could destroy America.”Claude Brown
“A bold portrait of a bold man.” Playboy
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H. Rap Brown/Jamil Al Amin
A Profoundly American Story
By Ekwueme Michael Thelwell
February 28, 2002
Die Nigger Die!, the autobiographical political memoir by H. Rap Brown, is a vital American historical documenthistorical almost in the sense of a message found in a time capsule, a missive from another age. But it remains of considerable interest for what it tells us about social and political attitudes, behaviors and expectations of a timeso my students believelong past. The time, in this case, being a discrete, relatively short period of domestic upheaval in this country during the late 1960s and early 1970s, a time of “revolutionary” black uprising in Northern ghettos following hard on the heels of the Southern, nonviolent, direct-action movement engineered by SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) and SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference), a movement usually associated with Martin Luther King Jr.
Rap’s book has an added dimension of sociological interest, being a voice from the frontlines, the personal and political testimony of a radically militant chairman of SNCC who came to symbolize the defiance of a generation of angry and militant black youth. A third, perhaps less compelling, area of interest is the personal: what the voice and language reveal about the character and personality, the sensibility, if you will, of the speaker. Who is this man, of whom McGeorge Bundy reportedly commented at the founding gathering of the National Urban Coalition, “Wouldn’t you, wouldn’t all of us, sleep much better tonight if we knew that H. Rap Brown . . . was somewhere quietly running his own little drugstore?”
(This essay will appear in longer form as the introduction to Die Nigger Die!, forthcoming from Lawrence Hill Books in April.)
Well, for one thing, the author, H. Rap Brown, is no longer among us. Nor has he really been since 1971, when, as a young man in his late twenties, he made his shahadah (the Muslim declaration of faith). During a period of incarceration by the State of New York, the black activist known to the media as H. Rap Brown converted to orthodox Islam and emerged as Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, a Sunni Muslim. Brown went in and Al-Amin emerged. This change was by no means cosmetic or strategic.
By all accounts and the overwhelming preponderance of evidence over years, this was a genuine religious conversion, a classically “profound transformation of self.” Al-Amin embarked on a life of rigorous study and spiritual and moral inquiry with the same single-minded intensity and uncompromising commitment Rap had brought to militant social struggle. . . . The Nation
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How William Faulkner Tackled Raceand Freed the South from ItselfJohn Jeremiah Sullivan on Absalom, Absalom!You are my brother. No Im not. Im the nigger thats going to sleep with your sister. Unless you stop me, Henry.
This is a novel [
that uses the word nigger many times. An unfortunate subject, but to talk about it in 2012 and not mention the fact hints at some kind of repression. Especially when you consider that the particular example Ive quoted is atypically soft: Bon, the person saying it, is part black, and being mordantly ironic. Most of the time, its a white character using the wordor, most conspicuously, the novel itself, in its voicewith an uglier edge. The third page features the phrase wild niggers; elsewhere its monkey nigger.
Faulkner wasnt unique or even uncommon in using the word this way. Hemingway, Dos Passos, Gertrude Steinall did so unapologetically. They were reflecting their countrys speech. They were also, if we are being frank, exploiting the words particular taboo charge, one only intensified when the writer is a white Southerner. Faulkner says Negroes in plenty of places here, also blacks, but when he wants a stronger effect, he says niggers. It isnt a case, in short, of Thats just how they talked back then. The term was understood by the mid-30s (well before, in fact) to be nasty. A white person wouldnt use it around a black person unless meaning to offend or assert superiorityexcept perhaps now and then in the context of an especially close humor.
Even if we were to justify Faulkners overindulgence of the word on the grounds of historical context, I would find it unfortunate purely as a matter of style. It may be crass for a white reader to claim that as significant, but a writer with Faulkners sensitivity to verbal shading might have been better tuned to the ugliness of the word, and not a truth-revealing ugliness, but something more like gratuitousness, with an attending queasy sense of rhetorical power misused. I count it a weakness, to be placed alongside Faulkners occasional showiness and his incessant not constructions, which come often several to a page: and not this, nor that, nor even the other thing, but a fourth thing adjective adjective adjective made him lift the hoe (where half the time those things would not have occurred to you in your natural life, but old Pappy takes his time chopping them down anyway).
The defense to be mounted is not of Faulkners use of the word but of the novel in spite of it, or rather, in the face of it.
has been well described as the most serious attempt by any white writer to confront the problem of race in America. There is bravery in Faulkners decision to dig into this wound. He knew that the effort would involve the exposure of his own mind, dark as it often was. You could make a case that to have written this book and left out that most awful of Southernisms would have constituted an act of falsity.
Certainly we would not want to take the word away from Bon, in that scene in the woods, one of the most extraordinary moments in Southern literature. A white man and a black man look at each other and call each other brother. One does, anyway. Suddenly, thrillingly, the whole social edifice on which the novel is erected starts to teeter. All Henry has to do is repeat himself. Say it again, the reader thinks. Say, No, you are my brother. And all would be well, or could be well, the gothic farce of Sutpens dream redeemed with those words, remade into a hopeful or at least not-hope-denying human story. Charles Bon would live, and Judith would be his wife, and Sutpen would have descendants, and together they might begin rebuilding the South along new lines.nytimes
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By Stokely Carmichael
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Richard J. Cox)
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#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane
#10 – Covenant: A Thriller by Brandon Massey
#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva by Ashley and JaQuavis
#12 – Don’t Ever Tell by Brandon Massey
#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide by Ntozake Shange
#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper
#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber
#18 – Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare
#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
#22 Thug Matrimony by Wahida Clark
#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark
#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber
#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter
#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson
#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History by Ahati N. N. Toure
#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley
#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell
#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit by RM Johnson
#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins
#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell
#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard
#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris
#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice
#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields
#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class by Lisa B. Thompson
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By Andrew B. Lewis
With deep admiration and rigorous scholarship, historian Lewis (Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table) revisits the ragtag band of young men and women who formed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Impatient with what they considered the overly cautious and accommodating pace of the NAACP and Martin Luther King Jr., the black college students and their white allies, inspired by Gandhi’s principles of nonviolence and moral integrity, risked their lives to challenge a deeply entrenched system. Fanning out over the Jim Crow South, SNCC organized sit-ins, voter registration drives, Freedom Schools and protest marches. Despite early successes, the movement disintegrated in the late 1960s, succeeded by the militant Black Power movement. The highly readable history follows the later careers of the principal leaders. Some, like Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown, became bitter and disillusioned. Others, including Marion Barry, Julian Bond and John Lewis, tempered their idealism and moved from protest to politics, assuming positions of leadership within the very institutions they had challenged. According to the author, No organization contributed more to the civil rights movement than SNCC, and with his eloquent book, he offers a deserved tribute.Publishers Weekly
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By Charles C. Mann
Im a big fan of Charles Manns previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. Its exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that its anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, Im proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, globalized entity.
Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple. We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.
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By Pauline Maier
A notable historian of the early republic, Maier devoted a decade to studying the immense documentation of the ratification of the Constitution. Scholars might approach her books footnotes first, but history fans who delve into her narrative will meet delegates to the state conventions whom most history books, absorbed with the Founders, have relegated to obscurity. Yet, prominent in their local counties and towns, they influenced a conventions decision to accept or reject the Constitution. Their biographies and democratic credentials emerge in Maiers accounts of their elections to a convention, the political attitudes they carried to the conclave, and their declamations from the floor. The latter expressed opponents objections to provisions of the Constitution, some of which seem anachronistic (election regulation raised hackles) and some of which are thoroughly contemporary (the power to tax individuals directly). Ripostes from proponents, the Federalists, animate the great detail Maier provides, as does her recounting how one state conventions verdict affected anothers. Displaying the grudging grassroots blessing the Constitution originally received, Maier eruditely yet accessibly revives a neglected but critical passage in American history.Booklist
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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updated 3 October 2007