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Photo of the Day: My, those are some nice waegook-in (외국인) bosoms there, huh Rep. Kwon?

A ruling Saenuri Party lawmaker caught looking at a sexy picture during a National Assembly audit.

(Image from KoreaBANG)

Saenuri lawmaker Rep. Kwon Seong-dong using company time and bandwidth to explore extracurricular pursuits.

UPDATE

Well, well, what do we have here?  A larger version of the picture that the Honorable Rep. Kwon was so intently staring at?

(Image from Seoul Shimbun)

Why, say hello to September 2011 Playboy Playmate of the Month Tiffany Toth.

NSFW here.

Kakao Jumps Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire

As a measure to stem the flood of users leaving Kakao Talk, Daum Kakao CEO Lee Sirgoo announced today that the company would no longer comply with prosecutors’ requests for private Kakao Talk conversations.  The surprise announcement set the stage for a direct confrontation between the company and Korean authorities that will likely end in obstruction of justice charges brought against the company and its CEO.

Lee Sirgoo Apology

Lee Sirgoo, Monday, Oct. 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

At a quickly arranged press conference on Monday, Lee bent his head in apology and said that he would personally bear the full legal consequences of the decision.  “If the decision means violating the law, I will abide by any punishment because I made the final call on this as CEO.  We did not talk with related government agencies about this, and we are not saying that warrants issued are flawed. But I believe the right way to handle our users’ criticism and disappointment is to strengthen protection of their privacy….  To do this, we stopped accepting prosecution warrants to monitor our users’ private conversions (sic) from Oct. 7, and we hereby announce that we will continue to do so.”   Daum Kakao officials characterized the measure as a matter of “survival” and not “optional”.

Lee stated that the decision was not personal and was made with the agreement of management, and vowed that the company would, according to the Korea Times, “continue to prioritize users’ privacy even if he is replaced by another person.”

In the first half of 2014, Korean authorities made 2,131 requests for users’ information with search warrants , and Kakao Talk cooperated with “more than three quarters” of those requests.  Korean authorities made an additional 61 court-approved requests  seeking to wiretap users’ conversations under suspicion of charges such as rebellion or violation of the National Security Law.  The company denied that authorities used the warrants to monitor users real time conversations and claimed that that the company was not technologically equipped to monitor real time conversations. Kakao Talk nonetheless “cooperated with nearly all the 61 requests by collecting messages that had been stored on its servers for between three and seven days.”

Lee announced that the company would introduce several measures to protect users’ privacy such as organizing an information security advisory committee, regularly publishing a transparency report, and implementing “end-to-end” encryption to remove the possibility that conversations could be monitored through Kakao’s servers. He conceded that the enhanced security features would necessarily make the application more difficult to use.  Lee stressed that the company had already cut the period that information gets stored on Kakao’s servers from seven to a maximum three days.

KT’s article concluded that at a September 16 cabinet meeting PGH complained “of insults about her and said online rumors have ‘gone too far and divided society,’ according to the Cheong Wa Dae website.”


The problem of course is that CEO Lee Sirgoo will not bear the full responsibility of the decision.  The security guards at the gates of Daum Kakao will have to permit entry to Korean authorities with warrants, and technicians served with such warrants will perforce offer up their wares or face obstruction charges themselves.  Lee Sirgoo’s stance has bought Kakao 15 minutes.  Daum Kakao needs a decision based on the constitutionality of the wiretaps for the future of Daum Kakao and free speech in Korea.

Aware of Korea’s legacy of lèse-majesté, which might play inside Korea but conflicts with the freedoms of a liberal democracy, I am continually surprised, though I no longer know why anymore, that Korean public figures are unaware that their protestations bring scrutiny and ridicule upon themselves.

PGH needs to grow a thick skin, by which I mean in addition to the lovely, perfectly complected thin skin that encases her now.

Korean Government Sabotages Kakao Talk

what_happenedDue to claims that the Government and prosecutors have been using Kakao Talk logs to monitor people, Kakao has taken a beating, resulting in over 400,000 users migrating to other applications that have off-shore servers and better security, such as Telegram (cite) (There are reports that even prostitutes that conduct business arrangements through Kakao have switched to Telegram due to security concerns.) I also use Telegram and it works well.

The government has reportedly done so for state security concerns as well as enforcing the infamous defamation laws.  According to one source:

Accusations by the New Politics Alliance for Democracy on alleged cyber monitoring by the government gained more credibility yesterday when it was reported that prosecutors are planning to monitor some key words on major portal sites that they believe would disturb “social order” and “defame” people, after which they would order the managers of those sites to delete the posts. (cite)

Kakao has responded by apologizing for allowing security concerns to mount:

Lee Sirgoo, CEO at DaumKakao which owns Kakao Talk, apologized for its initial handling of privacy issues at a news conference called at short notice by the company. The government’s recent announcement of stern punishment for what it called online rumors prompted many South Koreans to switch from Kakao Talk to foreign messaging services. . . Kakao Talk will introduce new privacy features to protect the information of its users, he said. Next year, it will begin deleting messages from its servers as soon as they have been read by the intended recipients. The company said it could face legal sanction by refusing to cooperate with warrants. . . .It has also adopted a new privacy mode, which uses end-to-end encryption, allowing chat records to be stored only on each user’s smart device and making it impossible for investigators to monitor the contents.  “We will continue to search for more necessary measures and make improvements down the road,” Lee said. “Kakao Talk has been growing on the back of users’ trust. We know it will take excruciating efforts to regain users’ trust,” Lee said.

Daum Kakao commands about 35 million local users for its flagship Kakao Talk in the country with a population of 50 million, compared to around 10 million users held by LINE, operated by Naver Corp. Kakao Talk also has about 152 million users worldwide through 15 languages, including Korean, English, Japanese, Spanish, German, Arabic and Russian. (cite)

As in America, if the government sabotages public confidence in software developers offerings, the result will likely be bad for business and a major setback for Korean software developers, who already have onerous burdens put upon them by government regulations.

Seoul’s Mayor Comes Out In Favor of Legalizing Same Sex Marriage

Seoul’s mayor and popular pick among pundits for presidential candidate in 2017 Park Won-soon came out in support of legalizing gay marriage.  In an interview with the San Francisco Examiner published last Sunday, Park voiced his personal support for gay rights and hopes that Korea would become the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage.

“I personally agree with the rights of homosexuals,” Park said. “But the Protestant churches are very powerful in Korea. It isn’t easy for politicians. It’s in the hands of activists to expand the universal concept of human rights to include homosexuals. Once they persuade the people, the politicians will follow. It’s in process now.”

When asked whether Taiwan would be the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage since Taiwanese legislature currently has a bill under consideration, Park answered, “I hope Korea will be the first. Many homosexual couples in Korea are already together. They are not legally accepted yet, but I believe the Korean Constitution allows it. We are guaranteed the right to the pursuit of happiness. Of course, there may be different interpretations to what that pursuit means.”

If Park is indeed considering a run for the presidency, his support for same-sex marriage could prove politically risky.  According to the Wall Street Journal, “the vast majority of South Koreans have negative attitudes against gay people, let alone same-sex marriage….”   A poll conducted last year by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies showed that 21.5% of the 1,500 adults surveyed said “they had little or no objections to homosexuality, while only a quarter said they supported gay marriage.”  The results were polarized by age:  a majority of those over 50 said they had “negative views towards homosexuality”, a majority of those under 40 were supportive of gay rights, and respondents in their 40s were almost evenly split in their views of homosexuality.

Park Won-soon,  58, was expelled as a freshman from SNU for his participation in a pro-democracy demonstration and made his bones as a civil rights attorney.  When the subject of South Korea’s prosecution and jailing of Jehovah’s Witnesses who refuse to perform compulsory military service came up, Park said “alternative civilian service for Jehovah’s Witnesses would be acceptable.”

According to an official at the mayor’s office, the interview took place during the mayor’s trip to California last month.

Open Thread – October 11, 2014 – The Economic Dinosaur Edition

Just because the Korea Economic Research Institute hires old-school idiots that love felons does not mean you can’t enjoy this beautiful fall weather.

Breaking News: N. Korea fires at leaflets ballooned into North; shells land in South

I wish I could tell you more, but all we have is the breaking Yonhap headline which says North Korea just fired at the folk sending balloons with leaflets into the North, with shells apparently falling in the South.

Ladies, be careful of foreign guys offering you drinks: Dong-A Ilbo

The Dong-A Ilbo warns ladies to be careful of foreigners offering you drinks.

In May, a young man by the name of Kim got a urgent Kakao Talk from a female acquaintance of his who’d gone to a club in Yongsan. She was passing out and worried something might happen to her. He went to the club, found her passed out and surrounded by two foreigners, and rescued her. The next day, she told him that the foreigners gave her something to drink which had apparently been spiked.

She was rescued, but the Dong-A reports that there are women, defenseless against foreigners will ill-intent, who have been sexually assaulted. For instance, on Sept. 10, a 20-year-old woman was sitting at a Gangnam club with two foreign guys and a Korean guy. They gave her a drink which they’d spiked with sleeping pills. They brought her to a nearby motel, where they began filming parts of her anatomy with a cellphone. When she protested, they beat her. After a two week investigation, the cops arrested three guys for sexual assault, including a French guy and some model.

The Dong-A warns that there’s been a string of cases of foreigners sexually assaulting young women at clubs. What these assaults have in common, says the paper, is that the perps think Korean girls are easy, and they make ill use of Korean girls’ expectations about meeting an exotic stranger.

The reporter went to a Gangnam club on Oct. 8 and saw—and no, I’m not shitting you, this is what he wrote—some foreign guys constantly checking out the bodies of Korean girls or directly going up to girls, putting their arms around them and talking to them. One white American guy in his 30s apparently told the reporter that his friends say it’s easy to make a Korean girl your girlfriend, and if a foreigner sexually assaults a girl, it’s because there’s a widespread feeling that Korean girls are easy. Foreigners who might mistakenly believe they are sexually superior use the vague expectations some women might have about foreigners to satisfy their sexual desires. Some police science professor at Konkuk University told the Dong-A that women who, seeing the foreigners who appear in overseas movies, develop romantic ideas about foreigners or a curiosity in the exotic, may let their guard down easy, putting them in great danger of being sexually assaulted.

Ahem.

That it’s relatively difficult for cops to find foreign criminals is also a factor, says the Dong-A. One club manager told the paper that some particularly wicked foreigners who bring drugs in think that if they get caught, they can just run back to their home countries. Police say it’s hard to track down foreign sex criminals since it’s difficult to find where they live and they often use rental phones. A police official said since it’s hard to manage foreigners’ personal information, foreign criminals are sometimes ID’d only after they’ve fled back home. He said the police need a systemic management system and hire more foreign affairs guys who can handle foreign criminals.

Kim Young-ha at the NYT: Getting ready for a Korea without Samsung

Although I briefly mentioned in my last post that Samsung’s Chairman Lee Kun-hee had suffered a heart attack, over at the NYT Kim Young-ha says that there  are apparent rumors that he’s dead or near death:

On May 10, the chairman of the Samsung Group, Lee Kun-hee, had a heart attack and stopped breathing. He was resuscitated at the hospital but remained in a coma for more than two weeks. As the country waited for information about his condition, rumors ran rampant. One of the most widely circulated was that Mr. Lee, 72, had already died and Samsung was covering it up.

Samsung announced last week that Mr. Lee had stirred. One story goes that the chairman opened his eyes for a moment just when Lee Seung-Yeop, a Samsung Lions’ slugger, hit a home run.

Personally, I think Lee Kun-hee is still alive as they don’t build elevators in your house for dead men.  However, the man responsible for much of Samsung’s meteoric growth over the last three decades will eventually die.  Probably sooner rather than later.  Currently, it sounds like his cardiac and pulmonary system is being held together with duct tape and chewing gum.

With the tycoon ailing and with his crown jewel, Samsung Electronics, sucking wind from competition with the Chinese and Apple, the talk is if Korea is ready for a future without Samsung.

As Samsung prepares for its post-Lee Kun-hee future, South Korea needs to prepare for a post-Samsung future. Just like any other company, Samsung can fail, and if that happens, how will the South Korean economy overcome the shock? If we don’t decrease our over-reliance on the chaebols and prepare to let smaller, dynamic start-ups fill the gaps in their place, it won’t.

Related

The WaPo talks about Samsung’s “Imperial” succession plans to the third generation (HT to DLBarch).

Samsung profits taking a beating

Samsung Electronics has announced that their third quarter profits will decline 60% vs. last year’s third quarter.  This represents the largest quarterly drop in profits in five years.

Per CNET:

The South Korean electronics giant said it expects to record an operating profit of 4.1 trillion won ($3.8 billion) for the quarter ended September 30, a 59.7 percent drop from the year-ago quarter. The company also said it expects sales for the quarter to come in around 47 trillion won, a 20 percent decline.

The main culprit?  Cheap phones from China.

Samsung’s market share of the global smartphone industry fell from 31% to about 25%.  However, this negative news hasn’t dampened demand for Samsung stock as its price rebounded on the bad news, rising 1.8% on the belief that Samsung’s stock won’t decline much more and profits will eventually rebound.

Some believe that Samsung will claw back to sales and profit growth through three strategies:

1. Expanding chip production (i.e. the brains that drive smartphones), particularly 14 nm chips that will produce smaller, but more powerful and energy efficient processors.

2. Produce profitable, but cheaper smartphones to better compete against the Chinese.

3. Differentiate their phones by using flexible screens and new materials.

However, other analysts believe Samsung has a difficult road ahead of it, squeezed between cheaper Chinese competitors and high-end phones from Apple and a over reliance on hardware innovation when it’s usually been software innovation that’s driven smartphone value creation.

We have seen Samsung scramble itself out of market shifts before.  We shall see if it can do so again.

We’re Mad as Hell and We’re Not Going to Take It Anymore–How about a Picnic?

An event has been planned and you’re invited.  Really, it’s just a kind of picnic, which my friends and I will again enjoy in lovely Gwanghwamun Plaza, downtown Seoul.  We’re thinking of keeping it simple: pizza, kimbap, fried chicken, soft drinks.

What’s the occasion you ask?  Well, we are celebrating our right to stuff our faces, “to eat and to live,” in the name of the “public good” because we’ve had it with the vile individuals who have been using our plaza as a site of protest.
p1
(Image from News 1)

What protest?  You know that ship that sank back in April and had some people on it who died?  Well, their families are protesting about their deaths and the cause of the sinking and something about the government’s investigation. Mostly pointless, annoying stuff, and unpatriotic people (aka commies) who think they can occupy our public plaza because someone in their family drowned and they haven’t gotten over it.

Why a picnic?  We decided that since these families have been on some sort of hunger strike, not eating, that we’ll show up and chow down right in front of them, filling our faces with supreme pizza, fried chicken and some good old kimbap, all washed down with a chilled cola or two.  If they’re not going to eat, then we will.  We’re calling it a “food binge strike,” an “eat-in” if you will.  Sounds cool doesn’t it?

Plus, to be honest, we’ve just had it in general and we’re not going to take it anymore.  We can’t let our nation get hijacked by protesting families, whining women, greedy migrant workers and other pariahs.  It’s our time to rise up.

What did you say?  That’s vile, reprehensible, misanthropic, shameless, and just plain dumb.  Well, 18 you jongbuk sonuvabitch.

FBI to crack down on Los Angeles Koreatown “doumis” (도우미)

In an investigative report by JTBC News, Los Angeles’ Koreatown is apparently rife with young women willing to sell (rent?) their time to eager men looking for companionship in karaoke singing rooms (a.k.a. noraebangs/노래방).

Some of the numbers JTBC threw around are huge.  At least 40 doumi “agencies” each managing 30-40 doumis for an estimated 1,600-1,000 total doumis in an area about three square miles.  Demand is apparently so huge that many of the doumis are non-Koreans or Koreans flown in from Korea to work as doumis for the extent of their tourist visas stays (three months).

For those of you that don’t know, a doumi (도우미) literally means “helper” but is now slang for a young woman who “helps” a business.  There are, for example, those “doumi” dancers that help bring attention to newly opened businesses, etc.  In this context these doumis are taxied into a regular noraebang, not room salon, mind you, to “help” drum up business for the noraebang.   Generally, the patrons of the noraebang specifically asks for doumis from the noraebang’s management who calls them in.  They sing, dance and talk to the patrons of the noraebang.  Generally speaking, there is light petting, flirting and sometimes kissing.  There is, again generally speaking, no sex.

JTBC alleges that these doumis breed casual drug use, gangs and are bringing “disgraceful” (JTBC’s words, not mine) attention to the Korean American community and by extension Korea.  Local law enforcement is keen on this trend and apparently the FBI had gotten involved in cracking down.

Notes

Like many “investigative” reports from Korean journalistic sources, there is a fair mix of fact, fiction and exaggeration here.  The absolute numbers might not be too far from the truth, as well as the “heterogeneous” mix of girls.  The fact that they have to recruit non-Korean girls and Korean girls from Korea sounds about right as local girls don’t ply the trade consistently because of the high likelihood that they will eventually run into someone that they know.

The assertion of massive drug use?  Almost always copious amounts of alcohol, but very rarely drugs.   I honestly don’t know about the gang part but my sources says it’s usually more small scale operations and loose networks of cab drivers, noraebang owners and doumi brokers who are managing the trade rather than gangs.

Korea’s made progress, but racism still a problem: U.N. special rapporteur

U.N. special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance was in Seoul and apparently didn’t like everything he saw:

Ruteere said that South Korea has made “important progress” in addressing the issue of racism and xenophobia, given its history of ethnic and cultural homogeneity.

The country, however, now confronts “emerging challenges” due to an influx of foreigners and migrant workers who are contributing to social change and a shift from a migrant-sending country to a migration destination.

“I found incidents or problems that are serious enough to merit attention (in South Korea),” Ruteere told a press conference, without elaborating.

Ruteere showed particular concern for the rights of migrant laborers and called on Seoul to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

He did address other aspects of racism in Korea, though, too. For instance, he notes that in the vast majority of cases, policies for multicultural families apply only to foreign women who marry Korean men, not the other way around.

Black face performances and the “This Africa” cigarette ad apparently got honorable mention, too.

He also argued against Korea’s immigration policies, which focus on assimilation, saying, “My understanding of multiculturalism is to strengthen intercultural understanding. It is not a one-way street, but a two-way street…Koreans have a lot to learn from their migrants, and the culture of their migrants. True multiculturalism means learning from both sides.”

Some might argue with the last point, but OK.

He also called on Korea to adopt a comprehensive anti-discrimination act. Now, I think I’ve expressed skepticism about such a law before, and while nobody would argue that the media shouldn’t be responsible, I’m not entirely comfortable with rhetoric like this:

“(It is also important) to ensure that the media is sensitive of the responsibility to avoid racist and xenophobic stereotypes and that these are properly addressed and perpetrators punished where appropriate.”

Emphasis mine. “Punishing perpetrators” can mean anything, of course, including some pretty outrageous things, let alone what groups like the OIC would do with that principle if they could. Being an asshole shouldn’t be a criminal offense.

Anyway, on Twitter, Benjamin Wagner reminds us:

Former Mongolian president takes asylum in Korea: report

Former Mongolian President Nambaryn Enkhbayar has taken asylum with his family in Korea, reports the JoongAng Ilbo.

For those keeping score at home, this would be the first time a foreign head of state—serving or former—has taken asylum in Korea. Assuming the report is true, that is.

A former poet, translator and minister of culture, Enkhbayar was president of Mongolia from 2005 to 2009. A former communist, he was credited with helping Mongolia transform into something resembling a liberal democracy, earning the appellation “Asia’s Tony Blair” from Reuters and USD 285 million in aid from the American taxpayer.

In 2012, however, Mongolia’s anti-corruption board—a board I would not want to sit on, BTW—arrested him on charges of illegally transferring ownership of state-owned factories, hotels and other properties to his family. He cried political persecution, explaining that what he did was just common practice for Mongolian politicians (Marmot’s Note: his complaints were not completely without substance). While he was being detained, he went on hunger strike, prompting his friend, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, to call current Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj to ask for leniency.

Anyway, a court found him guilty of abuse of authority and sentenced him to two years and six months in the sin bin. Rather than prison, though, he spent some time in the hospital before getting pardoned for health reasons in August of last year.

After his pardon, Enkhbayar spent much of his time in Korea, getting medical treatment and engaging in various activities. Recently, he and his family took Korean citizenship. While president, Enkhbayar was a good friend to Korea, visiting Seoul several times and proposing a number of joint projects—including mining development—to both presidents Roh Moo-hyun and Lee Myung-bak. A devout Buddhist, he also received Korea’s Manghae Prize in 2006.

His asylum was reported first in the local Mongolian press last month, but that story reportedly ended when the secretary general of his party, the Mongolian People’s Party, denied the report. However, Enkhbayar is still currently president of the Mongolian People’s Party, so his taking of Korean citizenship has to be a sensitive issue, says the JoongAng Ilbo. When the Mongolian press reported his exile last month, it said he was concerned that he might be recharged with illegal real estate acquisitions. A Korean government official told the JoongAng Ilbo, however, that since Enkhbayar had been pardoned, his taking of Korean citizenship did not pose any legal problems between the two countries.

Marmot’s Note: As far as I know, the Mongolian government has not confirmed the story yet, but the JoongAng Ilbo report has apparently made the news in Mongolia, so I imagine UB will be commenting on it soon enough.

UPDATE: The Korean government is denying the JoongAng Ilbo report:

The government denied a news report, Monday, about a former Mongolian President seeking political refugee status in Korea.

“We have not received any requests from Nambaryn Ennkhbayar seeking asylum here,” a Korea Immigration Service (KIS) official said on condition of anonymity. Ennkhbayar, 56, was convicted of corruption by Ulaanbaatar’s highest court in 2012 after serving his four-year presidential term from June 2005 to June 2009.

Seoul’s immigration office added that Ennkhbayar has been living in Korea since August of last year after the Mongolian government granted him a pardon, citing his “health.”

Interesting, but the JoongAng Ilbo also cited a Korean government official. So who the hell knows what’s going on.

North Korean delegation visits Incheon, but no meeting with the president

We got some unexpected visitors in town today, it seems:

North and South Korea have agreed to hold another round of high-level talks after a top-level Northern delegation, including the men thought to be second and third in command behind Kim Jong Un, paid a surprise visit to the South on Saturday.

The unusual and unannounced trip — the first such high-level visit in more than five years — comes at a time of intense speculation about North Korea’s leadership, given that Kim, the third-generation leader of the communist state, has not been seen in public for a month.

[…]

“It’s a big deal, it’s really a big deal, because it’s completely unprecedented,” said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea scholar who studied in Pyongyang and now teaches in Seoul.

Far be it from me to be skeptical about anything Lankov says—he’s one of the few people I actually listen to when it comes to North Korea—but I’ll believe it’s a big deal when I see something big come out of this. Which, of course, is a possibility.

NoCut News reports, however, that this time, the high-ranking delegation—led by Korean People’s Army and vice chairman of the National Defense Commission Hwang Pyong-so—were unable to visit Cheong Wa Dae for a chat with President Park Geun-hye. Which is unfortunate, says NoCut News, because it had become almost usual practice for high-ranking North Korean officials to talk with the president when they visit the South.

The North Korean delegation said they’d come to attend the closing ceremony of the Asian Games and that they simply did not have time to stop by Cheong Wa Dae, but NoCut News, quoting various experts, says this was likely just an excuse. Either they didn’t like what they heard during their talk with South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae and Cheong Wa Dae National Security Advisor Kim Kwang-jin, or they had no intention to visit President Park in the first place. It could also be that it would have looked odd for a high-ranking delegation to pay a courtesy call on President Park when Pyongyang has focused much of its energy recently on launching personal attacks on her.

For what it’s worth, Unification Minister Ryoo apparently asked one of the North Korean officials how North Korean leader Kim Jong-un—who hasn’t been seen recently—was feeling, and was told he was just fine. Which, for all we know, could mean he’s already dead.

Oh, and the North Korean delegation stood during the South Korean national anthem when it played during the closing ceremony of the Asian Games. Which was nice of them. I’m guessing they didn’t visit the MacArthur Statue in Freedom Park, though.

Open Thread: October 5, 2014

Festival Week, and I’m frequenting my favorites.

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