Aftermath Of Orlando Shooting Inspires Friend Of Victims To Forge New Path

Eddie Meltzer says his experiences following the Orlando nightclub massacre inspired him “to help people in a different way.” He now plans to become a grief counselor. Courtesy Of Eddie Meltzer hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy Of Eddie Meltzer

This week, Orlando Regional Medical Center released its last patient who was injured in the shooting at the gay nightclub Pulse in June.

A gunman killed 49 people and wounded 53, making it the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

When NPR’s Ari Shapiro was in Orlando reporting on the massacre, he met Eddie Meltzer. He left the club just before the gunfire started, but five of his friends were killed and one was injured. He spent the next week interpreting for some victims’ Spanish-speaking families.

Meltzer said he wasn’t afraid after the shooting.

“You can’t kill me,” Meltzer said. “I’m an idea. I’m timeless.”

At the time of the shooting Meltzer was finishing up classes to become a nurse, but he said his experiences in the past three months changed his life in ways he never expected.

He received a letter from a Muslim man, who wrote that he initially agreed with what the Pulse shooter did, but that he heard Meltzer on All Things Considered and wanted to meet him in person. “Something hit him, and he realized that he was full of hatred, and he didn’t want that,” Meltzer says.

“So we met. I was very nervous — I was very worried that this was a setup,” he says. “And this man said, ‘We’re not going to see each other eye-to-eye — I still don’t agree with your lifestyle. But I have learned through you that I can respect it, and I can learn not to be consumed by hate.”

Meltzer says this man said something at the end of their meeting that stuck with him.

“He said that he knows that the people that have hate, they will never win — because they will always be consumed by their own hate, and it will destruct them,” Meltzer says. “And that’s why good will always triumph, and that’s the side that he wants to be on.”

These experiences have inspired Meltzer to forge a new path in his life.

“I think after all this, I have decided that I want to help people in a different way,” Meltzer says. “I’m going to be offering people grieving counseling, and I’m going to help people that want to literally just talk to me, talk to me — and that’s it. … I think that that is my calling, you know, is to help people.”

Use the audio player above to hear the full interview.

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Guantanamo's Camp 5 Closes As Detainee Population Shrinks

A sample cell, prepared for a media tour. The items displayed are intended to represent the typical belongings a detainee is allowed to keep. Arun Rath for NPR hide caption

toggle caption Arun Rath for NPR

The construction of Camp 5 at the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay back in 2003 was taken as a sign that the prison was there to stay— “evolving from wire mesh to concrete,” as reporter Charlie Savage wrote then in The Miami Herald. But today, because of a shrinking detainee population, Camp 5 is a thing of the past.

“Camp 5 at Guantanamo Bay has been closed as a detention facility and re-purposed into another function and the detainees consolidated,” according to Navy Capt. John Filostrat, a public affairs officer with Joint Task Force GTMO. “Parts of Camp 5 will be converted to a detainee medical clinic to improve operations.”

The Camp 5 TV room includes a comfortable chair, with padded leg restraints, where a compliant detainee could watch multiple channels and DVDs. Arun Rath for NPR hide caption

toggle caption Arun Rath for NPR

Camp 5 was where ‘non-compliant’ detainees were held, isolated in individual cells.

I was in the last group of reporters to visit Camp 5 before the closing. The carefully guided tour did not allow us to see the detainees held there, but we were able to see unoccupied cells and the media room, where detainees could watch TV while shackled to the floor.

One guard who has served multiple tours at the facility—we are not allowed to identify them by name—told me that relations between guards and prisoners were better than he’d ever seen. He attributed that in part to greater cultural sensitivity on the part of guards.. The remaining inmates from Camp 5 have been transferred to the more open Camp 6, where some inmates live communally and grow their own food. Capt. Filostrat told reporters that all the detainees are now “compliant.”

As of today, there are 61 inmates still detained at Guantanamo, and 20 of them have been cleared for release.

The Obama administration has picked up the pace of transfers in recent weeks, and President Obama reaffirmed his desire to make good on his promise to close the detention facility before he leaves office. “As we continue to shrink the population to the point where we’re looking at 40 or 50 people and are maintaining a multimillion-dollar operation to house these people, the American people are asking why should we spend this money on this when it could be spent on other things,” Obama told a press conference in Laos.

But the president has been unable to find a way to work with Congress to transfer the dangerous and ‘high value’ detainees kept in the highly secretive Camp 7—including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks. And for now, the military commissions at Guantanamo are continuing to plan for hearings in the trials of Mohammed and six other detainees.

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Louisiana Kids Return To School, A Bubble Of Normalcy After Massive Floods

Evacuees sleep in cots on Aug. 19 at the shelter set up at the River Center arena in Baton Rouge, La., as the area deals with the record flooding. Joe Raedle/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Things are far from normal for people in Louisiana hit by last month’s historic flood. Thousands have lost their homes, their cars, their jobs.

But one routine resumed this week in Baton Rouge: Students are back in class after a three-week interruption.

At Claiborne Elementary in north Baton Rouge, kids are tussling on school playgrounds again, even as their families’ soaked belongings lay in heaps along neighborhood streets.

Every available space at the school has been converted to a classroom. The campus is now hosting students displaced from Howell Park Elementary, about 2 1/2 miles away.

The goal is to keep it normal even though the schools are merged, says Rochelle Anderson, principal of the host school.

“We wanted to make sure that the students walked into the school that was very structured,” she says. “Regardless of the disarray, once you walked through the building, that disarray would somehow diminish.”

Flood-damaged debris lines a street in Baton Rouge near Claiborne Elementary, which is reopened and hosting students displaced from a nearby school. Debbie Elliott/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Debbie Elliott/NPR

Every class has its own room; there’s no doubling up. And the usual classroom rules are in place.

But Anderson says the school is being more lenient about uniforms and supplies washed away in the flood.

“We just want them here, in that school. And we’ll take care of the rest,” she says. “We’ll feed them, we’ll clothe them, we’ll give them supplies, we’ll love them. But more importantly we’re going to teach them.”

Anderson is displaced herself and lost her vehicle in the flood — one of about a third of staff members in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system affected.

Systemwide, structural damage is estimated to top $50 million. The school system lost one-third of its bus fleet, and food worth more than $70,000. Twelve schools are in the same position as Howell Park Elementary, now meeting elsewhere. The principal of Howell Park, Rochelle Washington-Scott, says her school is now a construction zone.

“They’re still trying to get rid of mold and go through things to see if there’s anything that can be salvaged,” she says. “So right now all we know is that we’re at Claiborne until further notice.”

She makes the rounds to make sure her teachers and students are comfortable in the new setting. The biggest issue has been transportation, she says. Most of her students walked to school but now they’re spread out across the region, with no place to call home.

Washington-Scott says Howell Park families were predominantly renters and are having a hard time finding housing now with rental properties in short supply after the flood.

“That’s been the painful part of it,” she says. “That’s why we’ve been making it such a big deal for a school to be the haven, the safe house, the place where at least if you know your baby is here, they’re fine until you figure out what you need to do as far as living arrangements go.”

The living arrangement for nearly 100 East Baton Rouge Parish students means passing through a metal detector at the River Center downtown, the city’s emergency shelter.

Sarita Fritzler with Save the Children says the situation takes a toll on kids.

“At first it might be exciting to be living in a shelter, to be meeting this new surrounding,” Fritzler says. “But now we’re seeing children who are just anxious. What’s next? Where do we go next? They’ve seen people come and go, and they’re still here.”

For the three weeks that school was interrupted, Save the Children operated a space in the shelter for kids to play games and do arts and crafts — and have somebody to talk to. Now it serves as an after-school program.

Worker Patricia Duncan is at a table molding play dough with 11-year-old Talesha Coleman. In her first day back in class, Talesha says they wrote stories about what has happened since the flood: She wrote about living in the shelter.

Louella Coleman is the girl’s grandmother.

“That’s my little grandbaby. That’s Talesha. And I tell her we just keep it positive,” she says.

Coleman, who is raising Talesha and her 6-year-old sister, is disabled and uses a walker to get around the shelter. She has a bright scarf wrapped around her hair, and a wide, warm grin despite her predicament.

“I never let ’em take away my glory,” she says. “I keep a smile on my face 24 hours no matter what.”

The family has been living at River Center since Aug. 12, when her rental house was flooded and she lost everything.

“I’ve just gotten to a point where I just leave it in God’s hands now,” Coleman says. “That’s all I can do.”

She is glad to have the girls back in school; she calls herself a “diehard” for education.

But things are off to a rocky start because the first-graders’ bus hasn’t made it back to the shelter, and it’s now after 6 p.m.

“She’s not here yet,” Coleman says. “For them to just have her sitting there at the bus terminal, it’s frightening to me, because she’s just 6. She’s not used to that.”

The aftermath of the flood means dealing with a lot that people aren’t used to: The River Center shelter will be closing next week, and Coleman has yet to find a place to live.

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A Siberian River Has Mysteriously Turned Blood Red

The Daldykan River in Siberia has recently turned red, and the cause is not yet known. Liza Udilova / Greenpeace hide caption

toggle caption Liza Udilova / Greenpeace

Alarmed Russians are sharing photos on social media of a Siberian river that has suddenly and mysteriously turned blood red.

Russian authorities are trying to determine the cause of the ominous change to the Daldykan River, located above the Arctic Circle and flowing through the mining town of Norilsk. Photos posted on Facebook by the Association of the Indigenous Peoples of the Taimir Peninsula clearly show the river has turned a vivid red.

As National Geographic reported, two major theories are emerging to explain the change. “The first is that the red color comes from the large quantity of iron that occurs naturally in the ground in that region,” National Geographic said. “The second is a chemical leak.”

Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment said in a statement that it suspects the latter explanation: “According to our initial information, a possible reason for the pollution of the river might be a break in the pipeline” belonging to a local factory, which is owned by the nickel and palladium giant Norilsk Nickel.

The ministry did not specify what kind of chemical may be leaking into the river. According to the BBC, the government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta suggested that the pipeline could be leaking waste copper-nickel concentrate.

Despite the numerous social media posts and the government statement confirming the red color, Norilsk Nickel maintains everything is normal with the river. “The waters show the natural tone; the river and its mainstream are in regular condition, which goes against the information about any color changes due to an alleged case of large-scale river pollution,” Norilsk Nickel said in a statement. It included photos such as this one, which it said were taken yesterday morning:

The company, Norilsk Nickel, released photos of the river it says were taken Wednesday, claiming it is in “regular condition.” Norilsk Nickel hide caption

toggle caption Norilsk Nickel

The company added that it has “strengthened the environmental monitoring in the area of the river and adjacent production facilities” and would test samples from the river this week.

This isn’t the first time the river has changed color, according to multiple news outlets. The Guardian reported that some social media users said it had also happened in June. “Periodically there are accidents when these pipes break and the solutions spill and get into the Daldykan – that’s why it changes colour,” Denis Koshevoi, a PhD candidate studying pollution in the area, told the newspaper.

“Incidents such as the polluting of the waters of Daldykan River is a common occurrence in the Russian Arctic because of a consistent irresponsible attitude towards environmental standards,” Vladmir Chouprov, head of the Energy program of Greenpeace Russia, said in a statement. “The Arctic ecosystem is extremely vulnerable; scars of human impact need decades or even centuries to amend.”

Area residents don’t drink this water, as CNN reported. The network quoted the state news agency, saying “the river isn’t connected to the public water supply and the incident doesn’t pose an immediate threat to the residents’ well-being.”

The area has a tragic history, as NPR’s Michele Kelemen reported from Norilsk in 2000. “Norilsk began as part of the gulag archipelago. Stalin sent prisoners there to extract the mineral wealth of Russia’s frozen north,” she said. “Workers lived in desolate, brutal prison camps. Only after 1956, did Soviets begin to go to Norilsk voluntarily to take high-paying mining jobs.”

Michele described what it looked like during her visit: “As far as the eye can see there are cranes, polluting smokestacks from the smelters and rusty pipes winding through the trashed landscape of this Arctic city.”

And now, a red river flows through it.

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FCC Wants To Replace Your Cable TV Box With An App

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler says lack of competition in set-top boxes has meant consumers pay more to get TV services. Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Federal Communications Commission has seen the future of cable TV, and it looks like the apps on your smartphone.

The agency will vote Sept. 29 on a proposal from commission Chairman Tom Wheeler to require cable TV providers to offer their customers a free app to replace the set-top box. It’s seen as a consumer-friendly move; according to a congressional study it costs the average cable consumer $231 a year to rent the box.

In an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, Wheeler says his proposal would “end the set-top box stranglehold:”

“If you want to watch Comcast’s content through your Apple TV or Roku, you can. If you want to watch DirectTV’s offerings through your Xbox, you can. If you want to pipe Verizon’s service directly to your smart TV, you can. And if you want to watch your current pay-TV package on your current set-top box, you can do that, too. The choice is yours. No longer will you be forced to rent set-top boxes from your pay-TV provider.”

Wheeler says one of the biggest benefits for consumers will be integrated search. That means cable providers would have to offer a search function that would not only scan their content for, say the movie Casablanca, but also search streaming services like Amazon Prime or Hulu.

As is often the case, not everyone is happy with the Wheeler’s proposal. Back in February, the commission voted to propose an open standard for set-top boxes, meaning cable companies would have to provide their content to makers of third-party devices. An FCC official who briefed reporters on background, denied that Wheeler’s latest proposal amounts to a “significant retreat” from the February plan.

The proposal would call for creation of a licensing body that would set the rules of the road for how the apps would work. The FCC would have oversight of the body.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association, which represents the biggest cable providers, says the licensing body would create “a bureaucratic morass” that will “slow the deployment of video apps, ignore copyright protections and infringe on consumer privacy.”

But Public Knowlege, which pushed for the open standard, says the revised proposal “could save consumers billions of dollars a year” and “increase competition and innovation in the video marketplace.”

If approved by the full commission later this month, cable providers would have two years to comply with the new rules.

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Container Ships Stranded At Sea After South Korean Company Goes Bankrupt

Containers are stacked at the Hanjin Incheon Container Terminal on Sept. 3 in Seoul. South Korea’s Hanjin Shipping company declared bankruptcy Aug. 31. Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

Dozens of massive container ships are stranded at sea, looking for a place to dock after one of the world’s largest shipping companies went bankrupt. Lars Jensen, the CEO of Sea Intelligence Consulting, which focuses on container shipping, says the container ships are operated by the South Korean-owned Hanjin Shipping company.

“It is some 85 to 90 vessels, and they really are scattered all over the world,” he says.

Jensen says the ships anchored in or circling the high seas represent about half of Hanjin’s fleet. The company was the seventh-largest shipping line in the world until it declared bankruptcy Aug. 31, leaving an enormous amount of cargo stranded at sea.

“In terms of how much cargo is impacted, the only solid number we’ve heard came from the Korean ministry that said we’re talking about 500,000 containers,” Jensen says. He believes the actual amount of cargo is higher than that.

That’s because other shipping companies have likely put some of their containers on the Hanjin vessels as well. Industry analysts say the ships are carrying $14 billion worth of merchandise — everything from electronics to clothing to furniture, and, according to one report, 80 tons of kimchi, a spicy Korean fermented vegetable side dish.

Getting that cargo off the Hanjin ships has created a logistical nightmare during the peak shipping period ahead of the holiday season, says Brian Dodge, the vice president of the U.S.-based Retail Industry Leaders Association.

“Without a doubt, it is a mess of an issue for the businesses themselves to be forced to untangle. We’ve got an inordinate amount of shipping containers containing merchandise destined for U.S. shelves trapped on Hanjin ships, unable to be offloaded and delivered to stores,” he says.

Basil Karatzas of the New York-based Karatzas Marine Advisors says Hanjin is reluctant to dock its ships in some of the world’s ports, fearing they will be seized by creditors. And he says other ports around the world have simply turned the Hanjin ships away.

“The port terminals do not want to accept the vessels before they get paid in advance. The company is in bankruptcy, so nobody will give you credit anymore,” he says. Now it’s cash, payable up front.

Karatzas says Hanjin is more than $5 billion in debt, and an emergency rescue plan in South Korea was rejected by creditors earlier this week. He says the shipping company sought Chapter 15 bankruptcy protection in the U.S. — and was granted permission by a bankruptcy court, which means it could soon be able to dock its ships here. But it’s not clear who will pay to dock those ships — or unload them.

Jensen, with Sea Intelligence Consulting, says in the few ports where cargo has been unloaded, owners are having their own problems.

“The port is saying, ‘sure, you’re going to have to pay me a large amount of money as collateral for this container, otherwise we’re not going to give it to you because Hanjin owes me money. And as long as I’m sitting on Hanjin’s containers, at least I have some collateral. So if you want your cargo, you got to pay me through the nose for the privilege of taking the container out,’ ” he says.

While all this is getting sorted out, Jensen says, other shipping companies are moving in to snap up Hanjin’s customers.

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Pot And Pregnancy: No Harm Seen At Birth, But Many Questions Remain

Since marijuana doesn’t benefit mother or baby it should be avoided, researchers say. But there is stronger evidence for the harms of alcohol and tobacco. Roy Morsch/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Roy Morsch/Getty Images

Between 2 percent and 5 percent of women say they use marijuana while pregnant, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. And while harm to the fetus is certainly plausible since the drug crosses the placenta, the evidence has been spotty. Now a review and analysis of 31 previously published studies has found no independent connection between a mother’s pot use and adverse birth events. But the doctors say that doesn’t mean it’s OK to partake.

Based on unadjusted data, the review found a link between marijuana use and both low birth weight and preterm delivery. But when the researchers adjusted the data to account for confounding factors including tobacco — which is often used alongside marijuana — there was no association, says Shayna Conner, an assistant professor in the division of maternal fetal medicine and ultrasound at Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine and an author of the study.

In other words, from the available evidence it seems that the risk surrounding birth is from tobacco use and other factors, not from the marijuana itself.

Conner emphasizes that message is still clear: Don’t use pot when you’re pregnant. “Any foreign substance that doesn’t directly benefit maternal or fetal health should be avoided,” she says. But the analysis suggests that public health dollars budgeted for preventing bad birth outcomes should be spent to discourage the things with more evidence of harm, such as tobacco or alcohol, she says.

There are still plenty of reasons for women to be cautious about marijuana use. For one, the body of evidence on this topic is inconsistent. Different studies looked at different neonatal outcomes. And most of the studies relied at least in part on women to report their marijuana use. “That may mean that patients who do smoke but don’t tell their provider may be misclassified,” says Conner.

Moreover, this review, which was published Thursday in Obstetrics & Gynecology, focused only on adverse neonatal outcomes such as low birth weight, preterm delivery and stillbirth. It didn’t cover the long-term risk of neurodevelopmental problems such as cognitive difficulties or ADHD. A separate review of evidence published in December found that while the studies in humans on that topic are flawed, “there is a concerning pattern of altered neurodevelopment with early, heavy maternal use of marijuana.”

“Any time there’s a substance that we’re not sure of the effects on the fetus or the mother during pregnancy, unless we know of a strong benefit to using the substance we’d advise not to use it,” says Torri Metz, an assistant professor of maternal-fetal medicine at the University of Colorado Denver, and an author of that December paper. It also found no solid evidence for the benefits of medical marijuana in pregnancy to prevent nausea. She and her co-author called for high-quality prospective studies to better understand the impact of marijuana use on pregnancy and breastfeeding.

And how should women who are trying to conceive or who aren’t using birth control think about pot? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention got a lot of flak earlier this year for recommending that women in those circumstances abstain from drinking alcohol altogether.

Very few studies have looked at the time of marijuana exposure and connected that to outcomes. But Conner said many of the studies covered by the new review included women in the earliest part of their pregnancies, which might give some reassurance to women who are worried about pot use before they discovered they were pregnant.

In Colorado, where both medical and recreational use of marijuana are legal, the Department of Public Health & Environment advises women not to use the drug during pregnancy. In fact, if the baby is tested at birth and is positive for THC, the law requires child protective services be notified.

The question of how prenatal exposure to pot affects a baby will almost certainly become more pressing, with five states including California voting in November on whether to legalize recreational use.

Katherine Hobson is a freelance health and science writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. She’s on Twitter: @katherinehobson

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On 'London Road,' Murder, Music And British Lower-Middle-Class Manners

Julia (Olivia Colman, center left) and June (Anita Dobson, center right) in the musical London Road. Nicola Dove/Nicola Dove hide caption

toggle caption Nicola Dove/Nicola Dove

London Road is not the first musical to be made about a real-life serial killer. But it may be the first to draw its poetic life-blood from the testimony of residents of a rural English town where five prostitutes were found murdered in 2006. Aside from a wicked moment or two when a leering movie star known for playing unsavory fellows shows up to throw us off the scent, this is not about the murderer. It’s about the undoing — and remaking — of a community in its own words, owing more to Shirley Jackson than Masterpiece Theater.

As it happens, the film was worked up from a National Theater workshop that grew into a hit stage play. This is not Shakespeare or Sheridan though, nor is it one of those lofty-lefty bits by West End playwrights with their gun sights fixed on the ruling class. London Road beams its sympathy, as well as an irreverent eye, on one lower-middle-class street in Ipswich, Suffolk, whose residents have long resented the sex workers plying their trade under the noses of the righteous and respectable. It helps to know going in that the cultural gulf between the British lower-middle and working class is wide and deep, in no small measure because only a smidgen of bad luck separates the one from the other.

When the five women are found dead and the chief suspect — a transient truck driver dubbed the Ipswich Ripper — is arrested in a neglected house on the same street, London Road quickly becomes the focus of a media circus, followed by painful introspection within the community about its own claims to good character. All the residents are played by actors, one or two of whom you’ll be able to name. Every line they utter — the script is by Alecky Blythe, who specializes in “verbatim theatre,” a la Anna Deavere Smith — is taken from recorded interviews. So there’s a documentary impulse at work here that’s integral to British realism. But London Road is an entirely different animal from any film by Mike Leigh or Ken Loach or Stephen Frears.

Based on the play by director Rufus Norris (Broken), London Road fairly bristles with visible technique. This is because it’s a famously hellish prospect to adapt a stage play for the screen: You have to get the action out of the house, and you have to put a stop to all that declaiming. As with other filmed versions of National Theater productions that have brought the best of British theater to North America, a swooping, restless camera follows the players around their hitherto obscure town as they wring their hands about the identity of their resident serial killer. Paranoia blooms, and suspects appear in sinister close-ups that make you wonder not simply who the perp might be, but who the women’s regular customers were.

Once you get used to the film’s most potent strategy — the incantatory repetition of dialogue in song and sing-song — it takes on the cadence of hypnotic poetry, a Greek chorus that picks out a billowing unease that only begins to spread following a trial verdict that was meant to bring closure. Yes, London Road will spruce itself up with a riot of color in hanging baskets and bunting and block parties and doors thrown open to neighbors. Yes, there will be jubilant togetherness — for everyone but the now under-employed prostitutes, who sound a desolate, lonely voice from the gasworks at the end of the street.

At the climax, London Road administers a well-aimed kick to complacent liberalism when the heroic organizer of the community’s rebirth, a single parent named Julie played by Olivia Colman, delivers a frank opinion about the streetwalkers’ fate, while her teenaged daughter squirms on the couch beside her. As Shirley Jackson so well understood in her masterpiece, The Lottery, no community coheres without its sacrificial lamb.

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