S. Martin Shelton

Retired U.S.Navy Captain, Novelist

My Roman á Clef, The Panay Incident, Now Available on Amazon Kindle

Panay Front Cover NOV19

It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon on 12 December 1937. The American gunboat USS Panay plows the slow-moving waters of the Yangtze off Nanking. The Panay patrols China’s rivers to protect American interests in the chaos that engulfs the Middle Kingdom. Today, the Imperial Japanese Kwantung army has fought to the gates of Nanking.

The Japanese bomb explodes dead center atop the Panay’s wheelhouse. Fire, shrapnel, and wood splinters rip into the commanding officer, the OOD, and all others on watch. The second bomb smashes into the quarterdeck. The Japanese aircraft press their assault. Forty-five minutes later, the Panay’s bow dips under the Yangtze’s surface and slowly settles on the riverbed.

Though seriously wounded, Chief Radioman Mathew Marne survives and earns the Navy Cross for his exceptional heroism under fire. As known only by a few, Chief Marne is a naval intelligence agent.

Marne relays details of his now unclassified, special-intelligence assignments across the Far East in the  maw of Japanese aggression before and during World War II; his clandestine activities ashore, his actions in several Pacific sea-battles; his love for a Chinese woman and for a Navy nurse with an attitude.

Note: I was a nipper of eight when the Japanese attacked and sank the USS Panay. I remember the incident well. We saw newsreel images of the attack, read newspaper articles, and discussed among the family and friends if the attack on the Panay was the start of, what we all knew was offing, the opening gambit of the Pacific War with Imperial Japan.

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Book Review – The Women Who Flew for Hitler

Rating – Five Stars

Mulley has penned a dynamite narrative. A page-turner par excellence. It’s superbly written and an easy and engrossing read. She pens an incisive narrative of political Germany post-Treaty-of-Versailles. She couches her narrative in the biographiesof female test pilots Hanna Reitschand Melitta (nee Schiller) von Stauffenberg. Mulley guides us through the inter-war years: the Weimar Republic, the rise of the National Socialist Party (Adolph Hitler, HeinrichHimmler, Herman Goering, et al.), World War II, collapse of the Third Reich, and beyond

We are introduced to Hanna Reitsch, glider champion, test pilot extraordinaire, avid defender of the Fatherland, National Socialism adherent, and friend and confidant of  Nazi leadership including Adolph Hitler.

Melitta (nee Schiller) von Stauffenberg was the daughter of a Jewish father, devoted to and protector of her extended family, a PhD aeronautical engineer, consummate test pilot, ardent defender of the Fatherland, and, sub rosa, an anti-Nazi.

Suffused throughout the narrative are key elements of the womens’ aviation accomplishments, political beliefs, support of the Third Reich, and important associates and friends (especially Reitsch’s). I’ll not review the details to keep this review from becoming a substantial spoiler.

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Lieutenant Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg

Nonetheless, do you recognize the family name “von Stauffenberg”? Graf Schenk Claus von Stauffenberg is, perhaps, the most important character in this narrative. Claus was the brother of Melitta’s husband Alexander (Alex).

Operation Valkyrie. On 20 July 1944 Lieutenant Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg entered Hitler’s bunker, dubbed “The Wolf’s Lair,” deep in the forest of East Prussia. Claus placed his bomb-loaded briefcase under the oak table and next to Adolph Hitler. He left the room to answer a conspirator’s telephone call.  The explosion killed four, but amazingly only wounded Hitler superficially. There’s more to this story in Mulley’s book.

Point: The book has no map, a critical gaffe. I recommend that you use a map of pre-war Germany to follow coherently the numerous locations mentioned—essential to fully appreciate the scope of the narrative.

FIN

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Book Review – Steve Canyon, Volume 8, 1961 to 1962

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Rating – Two Stars

I opened this eighth volume of my boyhood icon counting on reading thrilling tales of mysterious dames in exotic locales entrapping Colonel Steve Canyon in nefarious schemes, and having their way with him; of Steve exposing malevolent secret agents, deposing corrupt tyrants, and rescuing ravishing princesses from the Soviet’s eeevil KGB. Gadzooks! It was not to be.

In volume eight, I stumbled into eight bland tales of minimal interest, of no import, and more appropriate reading (and viewing) for teenage females. I classify four of his stories as soap operas set in the USA. In one of these, the lead is his brat cousin Poteet Canyon—Steve is absent completely from this yarn. The remaining four stories are insipid “adventure” tales whose bland narratives challenge no one. One story has a hint of the exotic. Set in the Himalaya region of China, Steve’s ol’ nemesis, Madam Lynx, captures him. He escapes, in an unbelievable scenario. Lynx fades into an unknown end—to reappear in another story, I reckon.

Nonetheless, Caniff’s drawings, on the whole, reflect his consummate artistic skills in the “Terry and the Pirate” strips of yesteryear. I much enjoyed viewing some of his frames and marveled at his realistic composition and attention to fine detail.

FIN

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Book Review – Triumph at Imphal-Kohima: How the Indian Army Finally Stopped the Japanese Juggernaut

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Rating – Two Stars

Callahan reports on the little known yet profoundly important British India/Japan campaign in 1944. The Imperial Japanese Army launched an invasion of India’s eastern frontier. Streaming out of occupied Burma, the former British crown colony, they achieved initial success and threatened the capture of the key Indian city of Imphal in Manipur State. The Fourteenth Indian Army, under the command of British Lieutenant General William Slim, crushed the invading Japanese and began the conquest of Burma. This Indian Army was composed of revitalized Indian divisions, Gurkha Rifles battalions, and British elements.

Of note is the several-hundred-word account of the Bengal radical Subhas Chandra Bose and his Indian National Army, allied with the Japanese.

Unfortunately, Callahan’s account is inept. His narrative is far too detailed for the lay reader, and it’s too befuddling for the military cognoscenti. His failure to include large- and small-scale maps that depict the geography and military movements is an egregious blunder that negates, in large measure, the value of this book. His narrative lacks chronological coherence—the narrative wanders back and forth in time and we do not get a clear understanding of what is happening with who, where, and why. It is repetitive to a crippling fault. It is seriously overwritten—there’s far too much detail that’s irrelevant to the primary story and beclouds the essential points.

The author’s failure to split frequently his text into paragraphs hinders comprehension. Some paragraphs are a page long and others longer. And, frequently, Army element numbers (XIV, for example) suffuse through the pages to an inordinate extent, to the point that they become noise in our reading process. Well-planned tables would have helped clarify this printed din. Images of the key persons would augur well for engendering reader empathy.

I wonder why the editor at the University of Kansas Press did not exercise more control over this narrative. It had the potential to be a much-needed and valuable account of this crucial battle that threatened the East India Company Raj.

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Book Review – Unbroken

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Rating – Five Stars

Unbroken is an intensely gripping book. I read page after page after page until my roiling mind demanded that I quit. I could not. Unbroken is a dismaying book. I wanted to toss it into the trash to relieve my emotional distress. I could not. My empathy was too intense.

I continued reading and reading about the horrifying images Hillenbrand penned of the dehumanizing tortures and starvation diets the Japanese guards inflicted on our Allied prisoners of war during World War II. (The war in the Pacific raged from 7 December 1941 to 2 September 1945.)

Her storytelling skills engender intense and disturbing emotions. Perhaps I should note that I am a retired naval intelligence officer and one of my specialties was Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE). I had some experience in Operation Homecoming in early 1970—the repatriation of our prisoners of war from the Hanoi Hilton in Vietnam.

Hillenbrand’s gripping narrative of Louis Zamperini (1917 to 2014) is adroitly compelling. Zamperini was a distance runner who ran the 5,000 meter race in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He finished 8th. As the Pacific War loomed, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and became a bombardier in a Consolidated B24 Liberator squadron. In a search and rescue operation in May 1943, his B24 crashed into the ocean.

Zamperini, Russel Allen Philip, the pilot, and Francis McNamara, waist gunner, survived and drifted in the Pacific in lashed-together rafts for 47 days. I’ll not detail their struggle for survival in this review—suffice to say, their schemes to garner food and portable water were exceptionally innovative. On the 33rdday, McNamara died. After 47 days, Zamperini and Philip were gaunt and covered with saltwater sores. Their raft drifted onto a small island in the Marshall Islands and Japanese naval personnel captured them. The pair had drifted about 2,000 nautical miles.

I’ll not detail more of Hillenbrand’s narrative. It’s up to you, dear reader. In summary, I do not recommend this book for the “weak of heart.”

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Review – Someone Is Hiding Something: What Happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370?

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Four Stars

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has disappeared—vanished completely. The Boeing 777 Extended Range aircraft departed Kuala Lumpur airport early in the morning of 8 March 2014 outbound for Beijing. Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah sent a routine radio message about thirty-eight minutes later to Malaysia air traffic control (ATC). The aircraft was then over the South China Sea. Shortly, all transmissions from Flight 370 ceased, and its image failed to appear on ATC radar screens.

This book is the most comprehensive and objective narrative that I’ve read regarding the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. It’s a clinically precise exploration of the evidence extant about Flight 370. The authors have integrated these facts into various scenarios that posit the fate of Flight 370.

Unfortunately, the organization of the narrative is a hodgepodge of unrelated facts/evidence and explanations of their consequences. Accordingly, I found this lack of coherence militates against a comprehensive understanding of what happened to Flight 370. For example, the discussions of catastrophic failure are spread throughout the book. If all the text regarding catastrophic failure were presented in one chapter, we might know that it was responsible for the fate of Flight 370.  It would explain the immediate failure of all communications from the flight and its disappearance from Malaysian and Vietnamese radars. On the other hand, we would know that a catastrophic failure could not be responsible because there was no debris field on land or water—an essential element of a catastrophic failure—and because reconnaissance satellites tracked Flight 370 for seven and one-half hours after the communication cessation and the plane’s absence from radars.

The lack of a debris field is key to this mystery. An airliner falling into the ocean is the same as it hitting a brick wall. It would explode into thousands of pieces. The Boeing model 777 aircraft has approximately three million parts—many of which float.  Additionally, luggage and body parts float. It is inconceivable that an aircraft would crash on terra firma or the sea and not leave a large debris field several miles wide.

Lack of coherence also applies to the discussions of missile shoot-down, skyjacking, remote control attack, sabotage, pilot suicide, weather, aliens, etc.

The authors pooh-pooh the investigation: it was sabotaged, some things are hidden. Pundits aver that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) knows what happened to Flight 370 and won’t tell. Ditto for the National Security Agency (NSA). “It’s not possible that NSA does not know where Flight 370 is.” NSA says nothing.

Flight 370 is missing, and its location is a mystery. Though not stated directly, the subtext of this narrative is that Flight 370 was diverted to an airstrip somewhere in Central Asia and is being prepared for some evil deed.

“The inescapable conclusion is that Flight 370 simply vanished in some way that we do not understand.” This is nonsense. Airplanes just don’t disappear. Satellites track everything. Airplanes want to be seen. They just do not disappear.

There is much more information—too much to repeat in this review. I heartily recommend this book.

FIN

N.B. To date, I’ve posted 20 comments on the mystery of Malaysia Flight 370 on my blog (sheltoncomm.com). The day that Flight 370 was reported missing, I formed a scenario about the cause of the mystery. For the first time, here is my supposition. One or more of the crew took control of the aircraft anddiverted it to a remote airstrip in Sinkiang (Wade-Giles spelling) Province in Western China for the dissidents among the Uighur to use for an attack on some city in China.

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Review – Malaysia Airlines Flight 370: Why It Disappeared—and Why It’s Only a Matter of Time Before This Happens Again

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Five Stars

Soucie’s goal in this narrative was to explore the mystery of the disappearance of Malaysia Flight 370. He writes in an easy professional style for a knowledgeable audience. With deft skills he details the facts known about the disappearance of Flight 370. He tackles this task with concise reasoning coupled with statistical analysis of the facts of this flight and their inferences. He does not offer conjectures. He relies on the facts in developing the narrative and he challenges the readers “…to make an informed judgement about the fate of Flight 370. The facts speak for themselves.”

Here is what we know (as of 2015, the year of this book’s copyright). Flight 370 departed Kuala Lumpur Airport at 0041, 8 March 2014, outbound to Beijing, China. On board were 227 passengers and twelve crew members. The captain was Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53 years old, who had 18,000 flight-time hours. The copilot was Abdel Hamid, 27 years old, with 2,700 flight-time hours.

The aircraft was a Boeing 777-ER (Extended Range). It had last been maintained on 23 February 2014. Its range was about 8,000 nautical miles, and its cruising speed was Mach 0.48 (640 mph). The Boeing 777 aircraft have had an excellent safety record.

After liftoff, Flight 370 progressed routinely. At 0119, Lumpur Radar transmitted, “Ma- laysian three seven zero, contact Ho Chi Minh one two zero decimal nine. Good night.”

Captain Shah responded, “Good night. Malaysian three seven zero.”

This was the last voice transmission from Flight 370. At 0121, Kuala Lumpur Area Traffic Control Center radar observed Flight 370. Five seconds later, the Model S-Enhanced transponder on Flight 370 ceased transmitting to air traffic control radar and disappeared from the screen. No May Days, no distress transmission, nothing. This model transponder transmits in- formation regarding aircraft identification, altitude, roll, track, ground speed, air speed, magnetic heading, and rate of climb/descent, concurrently. Flight 370’s radar glyph vanished from the ra- dar at Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, ACC. Immediately afterwards, the aircraft appeared to have changed course—it was now heading west.

Regarding “why” Malaysia Flight 370 disappeared, the author posits two assumptions:

  1. “Either the aircraft was commandeered by one of the pilots or an assailant, or
  2. there was a fire in the cockpit or in the equipment and electronic compartment.…”

No need to relay the details of Soucie’s investigation. It’s compelling, chronological, and cogent. I was particularly impressed with his posting in Chapter 26 a comprehensive timeline from the transponder failure on 8 March to 18 June 2014, when an Australian research vessel joined the search in the Indian Ocean.

Soucie’s recurring theme in his narrative is, “Aircraft want to be seen. They do not just disappear.” Civilian and military radar and satellites track aircraft.

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Review – The Romanov Ransom

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Two Stars

Clive Cussler wrote an excellent book once. Unfortunately, The Romanov Ransom is not it. This pseudo-roman à clef tome is tedious, formulaic, and outlandish. The plot is so absurdly improbable that it negates any semblance of believability. It fails to engender empathy.

Briefly: in 1918, the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna (Dagmar of Denmark), the mother of Czar Nicholas II, assembles a cache of jewels to ransom her son, the Empress Alexandra, and their five children from the Bolsheviks’ captivity. Unfortunately, the cache is stolen and disappears. Around midnight on 18 July 1918, the Bolsheviks execute the royal family and their retainers—regicide. The plot focuses on the searchers competing to find the missing cache.

I’ve read six or seven Cussler books, and with minor modifications all have the same basic plot. The brave, indefatigable, and infinitely resourceful protagonist pursues, through locations worldwide, outwits, and defeats the eeevil antagonist—in this tome, it’s resurgent Nazis and an unscrupulous international jewel thief. Supporting the protagonist is the loyal, capable, and archetypal sidekick. In The Romanov Ransom, the sidekick is the protagonist’s wife—a dead shot killing the bad guys a bunch. Buttressing the good guy, back at headquarters (or wherever), are folks with in-depth knowledge of what’s needed or access to electronic or mechanical devices that advance the protagonist’s agenda. (In the Cussler books I’ve read, I’ve not found a lead female protagonist.)

Other factors that degrade the credibility of the narrative are that the good guy has a passport that lets him and his cadre travel wherever they want, unencumbered; he has unlimited fiscal resources; can pass weapons of most any caliber through airport screenings, and has associates who always have just the skill needed at the moment. (“Sam invited Sergei, who happened to be fluent in Polish, to come along with them.”) Also, no matter the dire life-or-death situation in which our good guy and his sidekick and/or associates are enmeshed, a deus ex machina, at the last instant, resolves the danger.

What’s unfortunate is that Cussler posits an intriguing plot that could have been developed into a compelling narrative.

FIN

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Review – The Siege of Tsingtau

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Four Stars

The Siege of Tsingtau is a professional read. Stephenson threads the narrative with insightful analysis and precise detail that oftentimes are primarily apt for the military historian. Nonetheless, he develops with absolute clarity this little known, yet critically important, battle of World War One with long-range repercussions on the Pacific War of the 1940s.

In the early twentieth century, the Empire of Japan had no pressing quarrel with Imperial Germany. As World War One erupted in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, the quasi-military government of the Land of the Rising Sun seized a golden opportunity and on 14 August 1914 declared war on Deutschland. Japan’s goals were twofold: to counter Germany’s imperialist expansion in the Orient and to capture Germany’s vast central-Pacific empire stretching some 2,300 nautical miles across the ocean. Included were the Caroline Islands, Marshalls, Marianas, Pelews, Maloelap, and others—an area that encompassed all of Micronesia.

Within 86 days, the Imperial Japanese Army had captured Imperial Germany’s Oriental possessions and Pacific Ocean colonies, including the leased German Kiautschou Protectorate on China’s Shantung peninsula and its port city Tsingtau. The Japanese conducted their siege campaign thoroughly, professionally, and, most importantly, effectively. In fairness, the German defenders were naval infantry personnel who were outnumbered in personnel and overwhelmed in equipment and training.

The German East Asiatic Naval Squadron, which consisted of two armored cruisers, the SMS Scharnhorst and the SMS Gneisenau, and four light cruisers, escaped the Japanese naval blockade and steamed toward Germany’s colonies in Micronesia. An Imperial Japanese Navy task force, led by the battle cruiser IJN Shikshim, pursued the escaping German squadron with the ostensible goal of destroying it, thus ensuring safe passage for Allied commerce in the central Pacific.

However, when the Imperial Japanese Navy reached Germany’s Pacific Ocean possessions in the central and southern Pacific, they abandoned the pursuit and let the German squadron sail eastward towards Frederikshavn, their home port.

Japan’s victory secured and expanded its existing political and economic position in the Orient. More importantly, Japan took possession of German Micronesia and established a “Bamboo Curtain” that flanked any line of communication across the central Pacific and prevented passage through the area, all in violation of Japan’s League of Nations mandate. Shortly, the Japanese Imperial Navy began the fortification of key islands, the preliminary phase of their planned Pacific War with the Occidental colonial powers. Such bases included Saipan in the Marianas, Truk, Ponape and the Palau Islands in the Carolines, and Kwajalein, Wotje, and Jaluit in the Marshall—names all too familiar to our Greatest Generation.

FIN

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Review – The Russia Hoax

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Jarrett pens a comprehensive review of the Deep State’s inordinate fraud on our Constitution—perhaps the greatest attack on our constitutional republic in the history of our country. He writes in clear and empathetic style. His narrative evolves in a coherent and logical progression that details the conspirators’ skullduggery in an “ABC” type of progression. He cites exactly who violated the relevant federal statute and why and how it was violated. Unfortunately, as of 30 September 2018—the date I’m preparing the review—none of the  miscreants have been indicted even though the documentation of evidence is ponderous.

A cabal of high-ranking government officials in the Barack Obama administration, from the Department of Justice, intelligence community, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and others formed a shadow government—a camorra. Their goals were to insure that the Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, won the 2016 presidential election. Should the Republican candidate win, “God forbid,”  their self-generated insurance policy would form a shadow government with Obama holdovers during the interregnum and into the incoming administration in order to engage in a illegal campaign to have Trump impeached and, failing that, to destroy his presidency—a coup d’état, as it were.

 Leaders of the Deep State and fellow conspirators are

  • Barack Obama, ex-President
  • Hillary Clinton, ex-Secretary of State and presidential candidate
  • John Brennan, ex-national security advisor
  • Eric Holder, ex-Attorney General, serving from 2009 to 2015
  • Loretta Lynch, ex-Attorney General, serving from 2015 to 2016
  • Sally Yates, ex-Attorney General, serving from 10JAN16 to 20JAN16
  • Rod Rosenstein, Deputy Attorney General
  • James Comey, ex-Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Andrew McCabe, ex-Deputy Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Peter Paul Strzok, ex-Deputy Assistant Director of the Counterintelligence Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Lisa Page, ex-legal counsel to Deputy Director Andrew McCabe
  • James Baker, ex-chief lawyer for the Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Robert Mueller, special counsel

Ancillary Actors

  • Mike Kortan, ex-Assistant Director for Public Affairs, Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • David Laufman, ex-Chief of the Justice Department’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section
  • Andres Weismann, deputy special counsel
  • Unnamed others

Their first task was to shield Hillary Clinton from a federal indictment, prosecution, and almost sure conviction for her egregious violation of the espionage law—extremely carelessness in handling of Sensitive Compartment Intelligence, and other federal malfeasances. If such were the case, it would ensure the Republican candidate Donald Trump’s victory. At the time, Clinton had a commanding lead in the polls and was a sure winner. Accordingly, these illegal and untoward deeds would remain secret.

There are far too many details to expose in this book review. Nonetheless, following are some of Jarrett’s key comments.

  • New York Times, Cash Flowed to the Clinton Foundation Amid Russian Uranium Deal,” p. 74.
  • “Roughly $25 million poured into the Clinton Foundation,” p. 74.
  • “Mueller, Comey, Rosenstein, and Weissman ignored potential crimes involving Russia and (Hillary) Clinton,” p. 81.
  • “…Clinton could and should be prosecuted for racketeering,” p. 79.
  • “… the Clinton foundation was built on greed and the lust for power and wealth—not charity,” p. 85.
  • “… Officials in the FBI and the Department of Justice—their motives corrupt and animated by antipathy for Trump. They were determined to tip the scales of justice and in the process, undermine the (2016) electoral democracy.”
  • “It appears there was coordination between the White House (Obama’s), CIA, and FBI at the outset of the (Mueller’s special counsel) investigation.”
  • “(The cabal’s) dossier (on President Trump) was salacious and unverified,” p. 156.
    • This dossier was paid for by the Hilton Campaign and the Democrat National Party and developed by a former MI6 agent who detested Trump.
  • “Under the law, the content (of a document) dictates its classification, not the markings,” p. 248.
  • “Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had a conflict of interest so acute that no sincere debate could be waged on whether he should have stepped down,” p. 274.

As the days pass, more and more details of the camorra’s illegal activities are exposed. This attack to undermine our democracy is unparalleled in the history of our republic.

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