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Field Reports

Allenstown 4 Update: We have identified the killer, but still don’t know who he killed

Posted May 31st, 2017 in Uncategorized by Billy Jensen

I went back to New Hampshire to update my investigation on The Allenstown 4. We have answered the biggest question–Who is the killer? But with that answer came hundreds of more questions…and possibly more bodies.

Part 1

Part 2

A Clearer Photo of the River North Puncher–Please Help ID

Posted July 25th, 2016 in Uncategorized by Billy Jensen

A Twitter user sent me this photo, which was apparently taken around the time of the incident. If you have any information on this man–his name or current whereabouts–please contact me. CoK5BvTWcAE3F8P 3

Twitter sleuths—and one real detective—join forces after an assault in Philadelphia to help police arrest three suspects

Posted May 1st, 2016 in Uncategorized by Billy Jensen

It was by all accounts a brutal beating.

 

On September 11, 2014, 28-year old Zachary Hesse and his 27-year old boyfriend Andrew Haught were going out for pizza on a Thursday night in Philadelphia’s trendy Center City neighborhood. They walked past a group of about a dozen well-dressed males and females. Clean cut, preppy types. The women in dresses. The men in oxfords and polos, one in a loud orange vest.

 

There was bumping. According to testimony in the criminal case that followed, words were exchanged. “Is that your fucking boyfriend?!” one of the people in the large group yelled. “Yeah he is my fucking boyfriend. Do you have a problem with that?” replied Hesse. “So you’re a dirty, fucking faggot?” said one of the men. “Maybe I am a dirty, fucking faggot,” said Hesse.
Then it went haywire. The assailants allegedly yelled, “You dirty faggot!” as punches and kicks rained down on the two men. At one point, Hesse claimed his hands were held while a woman in a white dress scratched his face, yelling, “Fuck you faggot!”
Haught eventually passed out in a pool of his own blood.

 

Hesse and Haught spent the night at Hahnemann Hospital, Haught in surgery with two broken cheekbones, getting his jaw wired shut and patching up the deep lacerations on his face.

 

Police analyzed a video surveillance tape of the individuals they believed were part of the attack, but could not identify them. So they released the tape to the public. The case then morphed into one of the best examples to date of crowdsourcing leading to an arrest. And it was the Twitter relationship between a snarky sports blogger and a police detective that was one of the main keys to the tale.

 

@FanSince09 is the Twitter handle of a Philadelphia sports fan who wishes to remain anonymous. In the fall of 2014, he had around 6,000 followers—mostly Philly sports fans who would read his often sarcastic tweets about local sports. But when one of his followers tweeted the CCTV video of the alleged assailants, he felt compelled to act.
“I just felt that it was shocking cause it was young people. But that’s my demographic—I would say predominantly guys in their twenties who are white. And I said ‘ok, well these are guys in their twenties, who are white. I’m sure somebody knows them.’ It made me mad. I don’t like people being picked on.”

 

@FanSince09 has used his Twitter account for justice in the past. When Philadelphia Flyer Wayne Simmonds, who is black, scored a goal against the Boston Bruins, racist comments peppered Twitter. “If you surfed Wayne Simmonds and the N word, you would find people screaming it. So I would retweet it, (and say) “Oh, look through their pictures, their employer is there, their school is in there, they play for a jr. hockey league, here’s all their coaches’ contact information. And just kind of tweet it out there, and people would email their coaches—‘hey, you have a player saying this kind of stuff.’”

 

A month before the attack, he had retweeted the many offensive tweets directed against female Little League phenom Mo’ne Davis, in the hopes of exposing the people behind the racist, sexist and homophobic comments.

 

So while he was at work (his job is one of the reasons why he doesn’t want to be identified) on Sept. 16, @FanSince09 began tweeting out links to the video. He also reached out to friends with larger Twitter followings, direct messaging Philadelphia Eagles lineman Evan Mathis and asking for him to spread the word to his 100,000 followers.

 

Mathis did, and @FanSince09’s Twitter DMs began to fill up.

 

“I started getting: ‘Hey, here’s a possible name.’ I was trying to verify all names. I would say maybe 45 minutes after we started, this guy Greg Bennett posted the picture of the entire group in this restaurant.”

 

Bennett is a former cast member of the Real Housewives of New Jersey, and his run on the reality show earned him more than 166,000 Twitter followers. He declined to be interviewed, but answered questions publicly over Twitter, saying that he posted the link to the video and “A person (still don’t know who it was) was trying to get it to police and couldn’t, so it got passed on to me thru a few people.”

 

The photo sent to Bennett showed a group of about two dozen well-dressed white men and women in posing in front of a stone wall in what looks like a restaurant. It appears to be a party, as there are balloons in the frame—and right there, peeking out from behind balloons, is a guy in a bright orange vest. It looked very similar to the vest one of the persons of interest was wearing in the initial photos the police released.
@FanSince09 tweeted out the photo, and almost immediately his followers identified where it was taken.

 

“People started saying, ‘Oh, hey, it’s this restaurant La Viola,’ referring to a family-owned Italian restaurant in Philadelphia’s Center City neighborhood.

 

Now in full detective mode, @FanSince09 switched over to Facebook, went toLa Viola’s Facebook page, and scanned it to see if anyone had checked into the restaurant on the night of Sept. 11. “I went through there and saw anybody who fit the bill, and saw who they were friends with.”

 

He compiled a list of names of people whose profile pictures looked like the individuals in the photo. But instead of tweeting them out to the general public, he sent them via direct message to his Twitter buddy, a detective with the Philadelphia Police Department named Joe Murray, with the caveat: “I’m not 100 percent sure, looks like it could be a match.”

 

At the same time, a follower messaged @FanSince09, writing “’Hey, I go to school with all those people and here are their names,’ and it matched to one of the names on Facebook.”

 

“So I went right to Joe after that and said, “This person doesn’t want to talk to the police directly, but here’s who the party is for.’”

 

The whole process—from when @Fansince09 sent his first tweet about the incident to when he sent names over to Murray—took about two hours.

 

“I was trying to keep everybody calm during this,” says @FanSince09. “I could have tweeted out every single profile people gave me and people would have been harassed for no reason.”
Once all the names had been delivered privately, he couldn’t help but tweet: “If you’re going to gay bash don’t fill your FB profile with gay slurs and also delete that restaurant check in from earlier.” He was still a snarky sports guy. But he didn’t name names in public.

 

“This was so delicate, but it had to be handled the right way…and it helps that I was already friends with Joe.”

 

And that was the reason why the justice hunt did not turn into a witch hunt like the one that occurred in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing. Detective Murray, a Philly sports fan, was a follower of @FanSince09. The two had even met and tailgated at Phillies games.

 

Murray has used the Internet for more than a decade to reach out to the public, first through message boards and a personal email list he used to send out with crime information. In 2009, he moved to Twitter.

 

A special investigations detective working non-fatal shootings and commercial gunpoint robbery in West and Southwest Philly, Murray became a mini-celebrity in the neighborhoods he patrolled, becoming known as “The Twitter Cop.” His feed talks about him staying up late to watch Big Trouble in Little China, gives information on missing persons and offers thoughts from the job like “When you google your judge and all of the images are a bunch of sad people walking out of the courthouse you may want to flee to Honduras.”

 

“I’m in the unique position as a detective, where I can do more than a cop can, more than a boss can. I have the ability to get shit absolutely done,” Murray says.
Three years ago, the powers that be actually had Murray pull his Twitter account altogether. A citizen started a petition to urge the department to get Murray and the handle he was using at the time, @TheFuzz9143, back on the microblogging site. The department eventually relented—with Murray using a new handle, @PPDJOEMURRAY—and rolled out a social media program that allowed for detectives to have their own personal accounts.

 

Through the years, Murray says, tips from Twitter have helped him solve break-ins and shootings. The Center City beating did not happen on his beat—but that didn’t matter to him. “I work in the hood, I really don’t get that cooperation. But I encourage people, even if it is anywhere in the city, to reach out to me.”

 

Murray was in a criminal justice class (he is earning a degree) when he received a text message telling him to look at his twitter. He was aware of the beating, which took place near his home, and when he opened up the app on his phone he found many DMs from @FanSince09. “He is private messaging me. 9:30 at night. I am in my car, in a parking lot, just looking at all the stuff. And I forward to my buddies [involved in the investigation].”

 

Murray says that the detectives had a lead in the case, but the “social media stuff helped a ton…This is a big deal. People want to help.”

 

Two days later, Kathryn Knott, 24, daughter of Chalfont Borough Police Chief Karl Knott; Kevin Harrigan, 26, and Phillip Williams, 24 were brought in for questioning. And on Sept. 25, they were arrested and charged with aggravated assault, criminal conspiracy, simple assault, and recklessly endangering another person.

 

Even before the arrests, Murray tweeted, “This is how Twitter is supposed to work for cops. I will take a couple thousand Twitter detectives over any one real detective any day.”

 

The three were not charged with a hate crime—because Pennsylvania hate crime law did not include lesbian, gay, bi, and transgender citizens.  But after the alleged attack, gay rights supporters pressed for a change in the law, and in early October, a bill, sponsored by state Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Philadelphia) was approved by the House Judiciary Committee to expand the law to include sexual orientation, gender identity and mental and physical disabilities.

 

There is a good chance the spotlight on the crime and the unique way it was solved will lead to legislative change. “My point of this whole thing is I put myself out there for this reason. I want to be a direct connection to people so they can reach out to me. This really sealed it for me. I felt great that it actually worked,” says Murray.

 

Most every large city police department has an official Twitter account, “but they also have that caveat—call 911 during an emergency, this is not monitored 24/7,” says Murray. “I wonder how much of it is public relations and trying to be cool and how much is actually trying to get a job done and build trust. It will actually hurt you. If you put up some bullshit social media account that’s not monitored, that you don’t really follow, that you’re not aggressive with it.”

 

People now send @FanSince09 unsolved crime information to retweet, and while he will always oblige, he knows that it’s a long shot.

 

“Every aspect lined up and it was like ‘Cool, I can do something about this.’ Where other people send me stuff, it’s more of a shot in the dark.”

 

The suspects are currently scheduled to go on trial in September. Their lawyers have reportedly been discussing plea deals with prosecutors.

 

A few months after his Twitter presence helped with the investigation, Murray was in the office of his superiors again—and again was getting harassed at for his account on the site.

 

“A kid (West Chester University Senior Shane Montgomery) walked out of a bar, fell into the canal and drowned, cause he was so fucking drunk he had no idea where he was.
“I don’t know what his mindset was at the time. Did he not have enough money for a cab? I don’t know. Maybe there was a small chance he didn’t have a ride home. I said, ‘You know what, if anyone ever feels like they are too fucking drunk to drive, or you just can’t get a ride home cause you’re hammered, give me a call; I’ll make sure you get a ride home. And I would. If I’m working I’d get you an Uber.’”

 

So he sent a tweet: “We’ve all been there. We’ve all made bad decisions.” Then he listed his personal phone number and continued, “That’s my cell. Call or text. Not bothering me at all.”

 

Afterwards, he said, “I got called into the bosses’ office. They said, ‘You can’t do this. We’re not a taxi service. You can be totally held liable.’ I said, ‘You know what, you totally miss the fucking point.’”

 

“I yessed them to death. And a week later I get called to the fucking city hall to get the biggest award you can get for a city employee.”

 

“That’s my Twitter account,” says Murray. “Yelled at for one thing, and getting some fucking award the next week. But I don’t care. That shows me I’m doing the right thing.”

 

SLA Shootout with LAPD, May 17, 1974

Posted May 17th, 2014 in Uncategorized by Billy Jensen

Today is the 40th anniversary of the shootout between the Symbionese Liberation Army and the Los Angeles Police Department.

Glenn Miller, former White Nationalist leader, Identified as suspect in Kansas Jewish Center Shooting

Posted April 14th, 2014 in Uncategorized by Billy Jensen

Frazier Glenn Miller Jr., a 73-year old from Aurora, Missouri who also goes by the name Glenn Cross, has been identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as the suspect in the shootings at two Jewish centers in suburban Kansas City.

 

Miller is the founder of the White Patriot Party in the early 1980s.

 

sa_miller_white-man-speaks-out-263x400

 

In 2012, he spoke to a group of students at Missouri State University. He covered various topics, including the Holocaust, Henry Ford, and what he perceived as the Jewish dominance of government. In a “heated exchange” with a Jewish student, Miller told her Hell yes, I hate you and all Jews, and you all deserve my hate for what your people have done to mine”.

 

(Incidentally, other guests included Dan Gayman of the Church of Israel, who I interviewed as part of my Master’s final project at the University of Kansas.)

Kansas Jewish Community Center Shooter Reportedly Yelled “Heil Hitler” When Taken Into Custody

Posted April 13th, 2014 in Uncategorized by Billy Jensen

Overland Park Police Department are reporting three people dead in the shooting. A press conference will be held at 5pm central time.

KCTV5

 

KSHB, who had people on the scene faster than any other media outlet, reported that the shooting suspect yelled “Heil Hitler” as he was being taken into custody.

 

 

 

Screenshot from KSHB site, showing suspect in custody.

Screenshot from KSHB site, showing suspect in custody.

In The Company Of Misery: How I Became a Manchester City Supporter

Posted April 9th, 2014 in Uncategorized by Billy Jensen
  • This is an essay I wrote 7 years ago, which was published in an American newspaper. Yes, things have changed (most notably, the bank account of City), but the meat, marrow and meaning remains the same.

    Manchester-City-fans-in-1-007

    Rivalry.

     

    No matter what the sport, I will hand over three hours if the two teams on the field are rivals, the fans in the stands sporting chewed-up knuckles, relishing all the barbarism and carnage to come, along with the hope of bragging rights for at least one night. And when the rivalry is provincial—two teams, home bases only miles apart, supporters born into the faith, house by house, street by street—the game is that much more grand, meaty and rare, tapping into the primal instinct every human is instilled with: the instinct to protect your turf.

     

    It was this type of rivalry that had me drinking a pint of Guinness in an East Village bar at 8 in the morning a few Sundays ago. The thing about a rivalry like this is you can’t simply pick a side. You’re born onto a side. When my daughter came home from school and asked me why we have to like the New York Mets baseball club, I could have placed blame on my grandparents for escaping the Lower East Side and downtown Brooklyn for the pastoral landscape of the Hempstead Plains. That pilgrimage, which ended (at least for me) with two teenagers meeting in the East Meadow High School cafeteria, cast me down the wobbly road to that triumvirate of Long Island’s new kids on the block, the Mets (baseball), the Jets (American football) and the Islanders (ice hockey). 

     

    I have always been keenly aware of the second-class citizenship that such loyalty has bestowed upon me and my family. And for close to 20 years, I have been keenly aware of losing. The New York Rangers finally winning the Stanley Cup (and their fans subsequently shoving it down the Islanders fans’ throats). The Yankees destroying the Mets time and time again, culminating with the heart breaking Subway Series in 2000. And of course, the Jets, while not having a rival as sharp as the others, still rip out my heart and show it to me on a season-by-season basis, coming up with new and creative uses for the well-worn phrase “same old Jets,” a motto that might as well be on the team’s crest. In those three sports, these are my teams till I die.

     

    In 2001, I was flipping through Saturday morning cartoons when I stumbled upon an English Premier League soccer game. I had heard stories of English football, the hooligans, the chants, the blood dribbling down the chins of haggard-toothed fans. Rivalry. So even though it was soccer, I watched. The next week, I watched again. Then again. I actually began to enjoy it: the rude-boy chants spilling out from the stands, the eruption when the odd goal was finally netted. But sport is unlike art or music. You can enjoy it–lose yourself in the rhythms and the textures and melodies, but at some point, you must pick a side. I spent hours watching matches and reading soccer-mad websites. I was about two weeks into my search when it hit me: Here was my chance to choose a winner.

     

    I was not born into any of these regions, let alone ever been to them. I knew Leeds from the side streets Morrissey spoke of slipping down; Blackburn, Lancashire from the 4,000 holes Lennon read about in the news. 

     

    After a month, I came up with some prime choices and called Colin, the only British fellow I know. “I think I’ve got a team,” I said. “Arsenal.”

     

    “Not very rock star, Arsenal,” Colin said. I didn’t quite know what he meant.

     

    “I don’t quite know what you mean,” I said.

     

    “C’mon,” said Colin. “They won it all last year.”

     

    “Okay,” I said.

     

    He was right. What’s the fun jumping in bed with someone who just won? I want to be part of the build-up.

     

    “How ‘bout Liverpool?”

     

    “What are you doing?” Colin said.

     

    “Why don’t you just give in and support United.”

     

    Manchester United. The most visible squad in the football universe. The world’s richest sports franchise. Fifteen league championships. Their exhibition games have sold out Giants Stadium. You could call them the New York Yankees of the football world.

     

    But where there is a Yankee, there has to be, in the shadows, a Met. A runt. A second-class citizen. I bit my tongue and asked Colin the inevitable.

     

    “Isn’t there another team in Manchester?”

     

    “Yes,” he replied. “Manchester City.”

     

    Years of pain and torment. Forty-seven million pounds in debt. Blowing it at all the wrong times. Last major trophy, 1976. I have never been to Manchester, knowing it only from Smiths lyrics and the Gallagher brothers. “I would rather kick my daughter out of the house than let her support Manchester United,” Noel Gallagher once said.

     

    A few days later, I saw Colin. “Manchester City,” I declared.

     

    He raised an eyebrow. “Well, if that’s the way you want to go…But be prepared for heartache.”

    Dunne

    About 10 people are standing outside Nevada Smith’s in the East Village on a cold February morning, shivering under a sign that reads, “Where Football is Religion.” In the vernacular of the natives, it is called a Derby. The Manchester Derby, United vs. City. Most of the crowd is wearing the red of Manchester United. I spot one older guy with a light-blue ski cap of City.

     

    At 7:45, the door opens. The bar is a typical New York railroad number, long and narrow. I follow the man with the ski cap to the back of the bar, pull up a stool next to him and pull off my sweater to reveal the City jersey I picked up on eBay. An older gentleman comes in with his two young sons. I get but one sentence out of my mouth about the upcoming match, something about how good keeper David James played the previous week against Chelsea, when he interrupts me.

     

    “You American?” he says with a bewildered look.

     

    “Yes,” I say.

     

    “Why do you support City?”

     

    “Well, because I’m a Mets fan and a Jets fan,” I say.

     

    He smiles. “The underdogs, huh?”

     

    More City fans enter, giving each other the same sad looks I used to see at Shea Stadium before Jet games in the late ‘70s. United fans, staked out in the front of the bar, outnumber us 4-1. The game, beamed by satellite from City’s home pitch, begins and City is playing hard. A beautiful cross by Shaun Wright-Phillips is headed wide by Steve McManaman. Should have been a goal. City fans hold their heads. Won’t get many chances like that. Then the chants start. They are mostly nursery rhymes, sung in English accents, with naughty words. “Build a bonfire, build a bonfire, put the Scousers right on top/Put the city in the middle and burn the fuckin’ lot.” It goes on like this for the rest of the game. Our chants are a happy “City Till I Die” number and “Blue Moon,” as in “Blue moon, you saw me standing alone.”When 48,000 sing it at City of Manchester Stadium, it sounds quite majestic. When 10 sing it at a bar in the East Village at 8 on a Sunday morning, it sounds like crap.

     

    In the second half, United’s teenage prodigy Wayne Rooney breaks through and rolls the ball under the Man City keeper. One-nil, which is a tantamount to death at this stage. A United fan jumps on top of the bar and the chants get more severe. “City’s going down like a Russian Submarine,” sung to “Yellow Submarine,” along with, “Twenty nine years… F**k all,” which I quickly understand is United’s version of the Yankee fan’s once reliable “1918” (sung to Red Sox fans in reference to their last World Series win).

    Rooney Dives

    City’s heart is out of it. One of their defenders tries to stop a cross and inadvertently kicks it into his own net. The red side of the bar erupts with a part cheer/part laugh that is difficult to describe, other than to say that I have been on the receiving end of its torment before at Shea Stadium.

     

    The game ends quickly after that, and most of the City fans exit. I stick around with the last men standing, listening to the chants still being pelted our way. I actually get angry. We need better organization. Better chants. C’mon guys.

     

    After a fourth Guinness, I sidle next to a doughy-faced City supporter at the urinal.

     

    “Ah,” he says, shaking his head in disappointment.

     

    “I know,” I reply. “So many chances early on.”

     

    “Yeah,” he says “Typical City.”

     

    I settle my tab and walk into the chilly mid-morning of the East Village with a smile on my face.

     

    I never had a choice at all. I may have never been to Manchester.

     

    But I was born there.

LA Mag Johnny Lewis Feature in “Top 5 Longreads of the Week”

Posted February 9th, 2014 in Uncategorized by Billy Jensen

Thank you to the longreaders at Longreads for putting my LA Magazine feature The Secret Life of Johnny Lewis alongside bad-ass stories by Sonia Smith and Adam Penenberg (and Garrison Keeler’s ode to his hometown). I particularly like the fact that they tell you how long it will take to read the story–21 minutes. Please take at least 22 minutes, adding an extra minute to reflect.

 

imgresYou can view the list here.

Waking Andy Kaufman

Posted November 13th, 2013 in Uncategorized by Billy Jensen

KaufmanThere are no empty beer cans or cigarette butts that can guide you to his grave. No crowds. No security guard. No graffiti on the neighboring headstones. Walk past Fishman and Waldman in Section One-4 of Beth David cemetery in Elmont until you reach a small bush with those little red berries that our moms all told us were poison when we were kids. Look down and you’ll see it.

 

There is no bust of him in his Elvis getup, lip curled and hair coiffed. No statue of him standing awkwardly next to a phonograph, waiting to lip synch the Mighty Mouse theme song. No mention of his lounge-lizard alter ego Tony Clifton or the lovably incompetent Latka Gravas or the sword-swallowing fakir. No mention of his profession at all. No sign of what he was or who he was. Just a slab of granite, sticking six inches above the ground at the front of the Kaufman-Bernstein family plot, etched with the words “beloved son, brother and grandson.”

 

Andy Kaufman’s body is supposed to be lying six feet below this hunk of stone. Nobody’s sure whether to believe that or not.

The greatest prankster Hollywood had ever seen, Kaufman left every audience he played asking one question: “Was that for real?” He conned news agencies, press conferences, national television audiences. He hired cops to bust up his gigs. He stood outside Carnegie Hall in a mad-man-rags disguise holding a sign that read “Andy Kaufman=Antichrist.” The show sold out. He fooled David Letterman into thinking wrestler Jerry Lawler had really broken his neck and slapped him silly. Having the world think he was dead would be his greatest prank of all.

 

Fifteen years ago at the Nassau Funeral Home inGreat Neck, Bob Zmuda stood over the casket of his best friend and wondered the same thing. Well-wishers approached Kaufman’s longtime writing partner and begged Zmuda to let them in on the joke—Andy wasn’t really dead, and this gig in Great Neck would be the performance of his career.

 

But Zmuda, a guy who risked life and limb helping Andy execute pranks across the globe, was sitting this one out.

 

“He had talked about faking his death to me,” Zmuda recalls. “I told him, ‘Count me out. It’s illegal and this is one prank you have to do on your own.’ He got the hint from Elvis. He was always looking for the ultimate hoax. You don’t get better than faking your own death.”

 

Andy had often said he would fake his own death and come back when he was 50. He was born in 1949. What better time to return than when your name will be on the lips of everyone in Hollywood? That would be around Christmas, when Man on the Moon, a biopic of Kaufman directed by Milos Forman, starring Jim Carrey and featuring music by R.E.M., hits the theaters.

 

Zmuda says he never saw the body, fearing that a lasting image of his best friend’s cancer-ridden body, his shaved head and skin-and-bones stuffed in a box, would have freaked him out too much. He stayed in the back of the funeral parlor as his friend Joe Troiani poked the body. He says Troiani still wonders if the body he jabbed was real or wax because he didn’t know what a dead body was supposed to feel like.

 

If Kaufman isn’t lying underneath this pitch of earth in Elmont, then where would he be? Where would he have gone all these years? Elvis went to truck stops. Jim Morrison went to Africa. Maybe Andy went home.

Britain’s Vauxhall Cop Car Gets Us One Step Closer To A Real Batmobile

Posted September 4th, 2013 in Uncategorized by Billy Jensen

Batman pickup truck

This summer, Jared Barris, the grandson of Batmobile creator George Barris, unveiled the Ford F-150 Crimefighter at San Diego Comic-con. Tuxedo black with Ferrari red striping and tail fins, the Crimefighter looks like a Bat truck, but unfortunately does not have a Bat Computer or other high tech advancements to help fight crime.

Enter the Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer. On the outside, the British car looks like a low-slung minivan, but it’s what’s on the inside that matters.