First as Tragedy, then as Farce

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W.J. Astore

Perhaps you’ve heard the saying that history repeats itself first as tragedy and then as farce.  Karl Marx used it to describe Napoleon’s cataclysmic reign followed by the far less momentous and far more ignominious reign of his nephew, Napoleon III.

Marx’s saying applies well to two momentous events in recent U.S. history: the 9/11 attacks of 2001 and the current coronavirus pandemic.  The American response to the first was tragic; to the second, farcical.

Let me explain.  I vividly recall the aftermath to the 9/11 attacks.  The world was largely supportive of the United States.  “We are all Americans now” was a sentiment aired in many a country that didn’t necessarily love America.  And the Bush/Cheney administration proceeded to throw all that good will away in a disastrous war on terror that only made terror into a pandemic of sorts, with American troops spreading it during calamitous invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, among other military interventions around the globe.

Again, it was tragic for America to have thrown away all that good will in the pursuit of dominance through endless military action.  A great opportunity was missed for true American leadership achieved via a more patient, far less bellicose, approach to suppressing terrorism.

In this tragedy, the Bush/Cheney administration avoided all responsibility, first for not preventing the attacks, and second for bungling the response so terribly.  Indeed, George W. Bush was reelected in 2004 and has now been rehabilitated as a decent man and a friend by popular Democrats like Michelle Obama, who see him in a new light when compared to America’s current president.

Speaking of Donald Trump, consider his response to America’s second defining moment of the 21st century: the coronavirus pandemic.  It’s been farcical.  The one great theme that’s emerged from Trump’s 260,000 words about the pandemic is self-congratulation, notes the New York Times.  Even as America’s death toll climbs above 50,000, Trump congratulates himself on limiting the number of deaths, even as he takes pride in television ratings related to his appearances.  The farce was complete when the president unwisely decided to pose as a health authority, telling Americans to ingest or inject poisonous household disinfectants to kill the virus.

Tragedy, then farce.  But with the same repetition of a total failure to take responsibility. As Trump infamously said, “I don’t take responsibility at all” for the botched response to the pandemic.

9/11 and Covid-19 may well be the defining events of the last 20 years.  After 9/11, Bush/Cheney tragically squandered the good will of the world in rampant militarism and ceaseless wars.  Then came Covid, an even bigger calamity, and now we have our farcical president, talking about the health benefits of injecting or ingesting bleach and similar poisons.  At a time when the U.S. should lead the world in medical expertise to confront this virus, we’ve become a laughingstock instead.

What comes after farce, one wonders?  For too many Americans, the answer may well be further death and loss.

25 thoughts on “First as Tragedy, then as Farce

    1. What would Trump have to do to drive that percentage down? He’s talked about nuking hurricanes; he’s threatened war; he’s told people to think about drinking poison. Yet the cult lives on.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. WJ: Don’t forget putting out the Notre Dame Cathedral Fire also with a Air Tanker Drop of Water & Fire Retardant…! :/ Remembered by me for all the obvious reasons! :o)

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Quick observations: 1.) Michelle Obama–whose name is floated again as possible VP to Biden, but I really don’t think she’s interested–and Dubya started playing footsie before Trump even threw his hat in the presidential arena; 2.) I would call the US response to the pandemic another TRAGEDY, not a farce; 3.) thank goodness for Trump and the Pentagon crowd, the Islamic Republic of Iran is still available to attack, diverting some attention from the ongoing disaster that is the Trump presidency. Gee, what could possibly go wrong in such a war scenario??

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  2. Speaking of Cults and they even had a twisted sort of “Master Cleanser” too they drank for 3 months consisting of lemonade, maple syrup & cayenne no mention of Lysol tho. — “The Heavens Gate” you’ll remember during the time of the “Hale Bopp” Comet craze! I guess they’re all mingling now with the Twinkling Stars in their shiny Track Suits and Nike’s. I heard even sadly Nichelle Nichols Brother was among one of the lost. I saw everything on the Job as a Firefighter so I as well as “ZOONORTHZOHOCOM” am not overly optimistic we’ve seen the darkest hour just before the Dawn…!

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    1. The darkest hour made me think of this:

      In brightest day
      In blackest night
      No evil shall escape my sight
      Let those who worship evil’s might
      Beware my power
      GREEN LANTERN’S LIGHT!

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      1. The military has scheduled a “flyover” of NYC tomorrow (4/28) to lift those folks’ spirits!! Golly gee-willikers, we’re all gonna feel ever so much better!! Right…?

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        1. Good gawd, these flyovers — such meaningless, empty gestures. I assume our medical workers would prefer better PPE, higher pay, and fewer patients through smarter preventive measures … but no, they get warplanes flying over instead.

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          1. Well, ya gotta lead with your strength, right? And sadly, as you reminded us in the above excellent post, W was RE-ELECTED in 2004, even after it was apparent that there were NO WMDs in Iraq, and virtually NONE of the people or institutions involved in promoting and executing that illegal debacle were ever ‘held to account’, in fact many of them later got normal promotions. I think that re-election was when I lost what little remaining hope I harbored that the US voters could ‘do the right thing’ WITHOUT being under duress.

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          2. Considering how much a simple flyover actually costs I can only think of Eisenhower’s lament of how each expense in war machines deprives us of so many meals, schools etcetera. Ike said it better but I can’t remember the full statement offhand.
            Still, the cost will be literally in the tens of thousands of dollars for that display. Yes, I know they need to get in so many hours a month anyway, meaning they will be spending a lot of money regardless. Still, the display is extravagant and totally unhelpful to anyone on the ground. Take that money on fuel alone and buy PPEs for the workers who are going to be too busy with patients to notice. Those who are outside watching will not be amused as real warplanes play pretend war in the air as the doctors and nurses and EMTs and other workers look around at their own very real ground war.

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          3. But dontcha know we are stealing those PPE. Those flyovers are a distraction for our thievery. /s

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          4. It should’ve been predictable that some BS like this would be staged on Trump’s watch. After all, this is the guy who wanted to stage his own version of a 1970s Moscow May Day Parade right there on Pennsylvania Avenue. If he’s re-elected–a very strong probability, I continue to believe, with a shudder–we may yet get “treated” to such a spectacle. Or maybe later this year, we’ll have a Victory Over Coronavirus Parade, IF things go by best-case scenario. But I wouldn’t bet on this virus dying out that cooperatively.

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          5. How about Hazardous Duty Pay for EMT, Paramedics, Nurses, Firefighters etc. The Grunts in this War!

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      2. And.., Ironically today is “National Super Hero Day” I rem. back in the day going to Stans Paperbacks in the City and getting my “Green Lanterns” Comics! :o) Too bad the Movie was done so poorly.

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  3. “A sentiment aired in many a country that didn’t necessarily love America” was, and is, the American FABRICATION of the first was tragic (but not overly surprising); to the second, tragic ( but not overly surprising.)

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  4. This powerful article by Fintan O’Toole at the Irish Times is truly worth reading and pondering:

    THE WORLD HAS LOVED, HATED AND ENVIED THE U.S. NOW, FOR THE FIRST TIME, WE PITY IT

    Over more than two centuries, the United States has stirred a very wide range of feelings in the rest of the world: love and hatred, fear and hope, envy and contempt, awe and anger. But there is one emotion that has never been directed towards the US until now: pity.

    However bad things are for most other rich democracies, it is hard not to feel sorry for Americans. Most of them did not vote for Donald Trump in 2016. Yet they are locked down with a malignant narcissist who, instead of protecting his people from Covid-19, has amplified its lethality. The country Trump promised to make great again has never in its history seemed so pitiful.

    Will American prestige ever recover from this shameful episode? The US went into the coronavirus crisis with immense advantages: precious weeks of warning about what was coming, the world’s best concentration of medical and scientific expertise, effectively limitless financial resources, a military complex with stunning logistical capacity and most of the world’s leading technology corporations. Yet it managed to make itself the global epicentre of the pandemic.

    As the American writer George Packer puts it in the current edition of the Atlantic, “The United States reacted … like Pakistan or Belarus – like a country with shoddy infrastructure and a dysfunctional government whose leaders were too corrupt or stupid to head off mass suffering.”

    It is one thing to be powerless in the face of a natural disaster, quite another to watch vast power being squandered in real time – wilfully, malevolently, vindictively. It is one thing for governments to fail (as, in one degree or another, most governments did), quite another to watch a ruler and his supporters actively spread a deadly virus. Trump, his party and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News became vectors of the pestilence.

    The grotesque spectacle of the president openly inciting people (some of them armed) to take to the streets to oppose the restrictions that save lives is the manifestation of a political death wish. What are supposed to be daily briefings on the crisis, demonstrative of national unity in the face of a shared challenge, have been used by Trump merely to sow confusion and division. They provide a recurring horror show in which all the neuroses that haunt the American subconscious dance naked on live TV.
    If the plague is a test, its ruling political nexus ensured that the US would fail it at a terrible cost in human lives. In the process, the idea of the US as the world’s leading nation – an idea that has shaped the past century – has all but evaporated.

    Other than the Trump impersonator Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, who is now looking to the US as the exemplar of anything other than what not to do? How many people in Düsseldorf or Dublin are wishing they lived in Detroit or Dallas?

    It is hard to remember now but, even in 2017, when Trump took office, the conventional wisdom in the US was that the Republican Party and the broader framework of US political institutions would prevent him from doing too much damage. This was always a delusion, but the pandemic has exposed it in the most savage ways.

    Abject surrender

    What used to be called mainstream conservatism has not absorbed Trump – he has absorbed it. Almost the entire right-wing half of American politics has surrendered abjectly to him. It has sacrificed on the altar of wanton stupidity the most basic ideas of responsibility, care and even safety.
    Thus, even at the very end of March, 15 Republican governors had failed to order people to stay at home or to close non-essential businesses. In Alabama, for example, it was not until April 3rd that governor Kay Ivey finally issued a stay-at-home order.

    In Florida, the state with the highest concentration of elderly people with underlying conditions, governor Ron DeSantis, a Trump mini-me, kept the beach resorts open to students travelling from all over the US for spring break parties. Even on April 1st, when he issued restrictions, DeSantis exempted religious services and “recreational activities”.

    Georgia governor Brian Kemp, when he finally issued a stay-at-home order on April 1st, explained: “We didn’t know that [the virus can be spread by people without symptoms] until the last 24 hours.”

    This is not mere ignorance – it is deliberate and homicidal stupidity. There is, as the demonstrations this week in US cities have shown, plenty of political mileage in denying the reality of the pandemic. It is fuelled by Fox News and far-right internet sites, and it reaps for these politicians millions of dollars in donations, mostly (in an ugly irony) from older people who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus.
    It draws on a concoction of conspiracy theories, hatred of science, paranoia about the “deep state” and religious providentialism (God will protect the good folks) that is now very deeply infused in the mindset of the American right.

    Trump embodies and enacts this mindset, but he did not invent it. The US response to the coronavirus crisis has been paralysed by a contradiction that the Republicans have inserted into the heart of US democracy. On the one hand, they want to control all the levers of governmental power. On the other they have created a popular base by playing on the notion that government is innately evil and must not be trusted.

    The contradiction was made manifest in two of Trump’s statements on the pandemic: on the one hand that he has “total authority”, and on the other that “I don’t take responsibility at all”. Caught between authoritarian and anarchic impulses, he is incapable of coherence.

    Fertile ground

    But this is not just Donald Trump. The crisis has shown definitively that Trump’s presidency is not an aberration. It has grown on soil long prepared to receive it. The monstrous blossoming of misrule has structure and purpose and strategy behind it.

    There are very powerful interests who demand “freedom” in order to do as they like with the environment, society and the economy. They have infused a very large part of American culture with the belief that “freedom” is literally more important than life. My freedom to own assault weapons trumps your right not to get shot at school. Now, my freedom to go to the barber (“I Need a Haircut” read one banner this week in St Paul, Minnesota) trumps your need to avoid infection.

    Usually when this kind of outlandish idiocy is displaying itself, there is the comforting thought that, if things were really serious, it would all stop. People would sober up. Instead, a large part of the US has hit the bottle even harder.

    And the president, his party and their media allies keep supplying the drinks. There has been no moment of truth, no shock of realisation that the antics have to end. No one of any substance on the US right has stepped in to say: get a grip, people are dying here.

    That is the mark of how deep the trouble is for the US – it is not just that Trump has treated the crisis merely as a way to feed tribal hatreds but that this behaviour has become normalised. When the freak show is live on TV every evening, and the star is boasting about his ratings, it is not really a freak show any more. For a very large and solid bloc of Americans, it is reality.

    And this will get worse before it gets better. Trump has at least eight more months in power. In his inaugural address in 2017, he evoked “American carnage” and promised to make it stop. But now that the real carnage has arrived, he is revelling in it. He is in his element.

    As things get worse, he will pump more hatred and falsehood, more death-wish defiance of reason and decency, into the groundwater. If a new administration succeeds him in 2021, it will have to clean up the toxic dump he leaves behind. If he is re-elected, toxicity will have become the lifeblood of American politics.

    Either way, it will be a long time before the rest of the world can imagine America being great again.

    April 25, 2020 at Irish Times (content behind a wall)

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Boobie Pandemics
    (from Fernando Po, U.S.A., America’s post-literate retreat to Plato’s Cave)

    A virus lives upon its host
    So if its host should die
    The virus also dies. A ghost
    Cannot infect a guy
    Or girl. So cheer Trump’s latest boast,
    And to the sick say, “Bye!”

    The Cult of Donald Trump exists
    Because the Boobies crave
    Someone to sort them into lists
    From birth until the grave
    Confirming that their life consists
    Of working like a slave.

    So what if surplus humans croak?
    The wealthy can’t see why
    They shouldn’t speculate and soak
    The Boobies passing by.
    The thieves in their transparent cloak
    Fear not the Boobie eye.

    Republicans and Democrats
    Produce stock-price inflation
    They stage their scripted, phony spats
    Then leave for their vacation
    The virus may have come from bats,
    But not Trump’s vacillation.

    Still, Boobies like their phoney pure,
    By reason undiluted.
    They’ll take disease instead of cure
    As long as not disputed
    By TV pundits smug and sure,
    Assange and Manning muted.

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2020

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Simultaneously tragic and farcical? I really like that. A most dialectical concept!

    Thanks for this stimulating and provoking essay W.J., and for then including Fintan O’Toole’s apt observations. It’s no harm to consider another’s critique of our own mental constructions. It may help us reset the compass as we get closer to the pole. And in my view, we’re (historically speaking) in rapid transit there now. So it may be time for catch-up and review of some basic assumptions.

    This is an interesting and historically important thread for many reasons, in my view. But there is no need for pessimism. That (and/or its opposite) amount to no more than one individual’s subjective reaction to an objective circumstance (- a moment of historical development which will continue on its merry course of contradictory development willy-nilly, in pursuit of its own easiest pathway to its necessary destiny). Unless we (more than one person) learn to work together to discern some more appropriate strategic interventions, we remain stuck here. The dialectic of opti-pessi-mism is an instance of emotional thinking, but both these necessary opposite components (that is, of the part of human thought we call emotional as opposed to intellectual thinking) – must also be taken into account.

    While thinking of pessimism and optimism as two conceptual modes opposing each other in contemplation, we might observe how both are valid relative standpoints in considering the construction of ideas about the external world. (Or of the internal world, for that matter.) This is the essence of the process of cognition. But raising either of these to become absolutes would be an error. As opposing concepts, they move as interpenetrating opposites, but it is in their unity that they contain and express the true nature and motion of reality.

    For two and a half millennia, well informed folk have understood that the course of human affairs (and, indeed, of all nature) proceed in such a contradictory fashion. The Greeks gave us a concept for this: dialectical development. The inherent contradictions (interpenetration of opposites) which drive a phenomena will mature within (or behind) its appearance over time, very often unnoticed, only to emerge and be seen quite suddenly, and for the naive, unexpectedly.

    Such moments of change are often referred to as revolutionary moments of change. Hence, we speak of revolutionary theory as opposed to linear developmental theory. (Or of dialectical thinking as opposed to fixed or formal thinking.) Reflecting new objective moments of material reality in our subjective thoughts, we attempt to reconstruct an authentic and coherent ideology or theory of emerging reality, and this brings us immediately to the realm of scientific philosophy. What is the “potential” within the immediate dialectical political contradiction?

    Donald Trump did not invent himself, although he almost certainly believes that he did. He is the thoughtful expression of a whole historically developed class outlook which has it’s origins in 1349 when England’s King Edward 3rd introduced “The Statute of Labourers”. The following year, one of the first of the new French King John 2nd introduced similar legislation as he faced a labour shortage due to The Black Death.

    Mark Twain remarked that “history doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes”! The international class which rules at any given period, (even in 1349/50) works together to cruelly ensure its coercion of the majority of the rest of us. Our class – the common weal – or democratic humanity, now await in the wings for our emancipation.

    The limitations of our individual and collective understanding remains the obstacle between the individual human being’s cognitive dissonance and the potential for emancipatory social human happiness which can be wrought by authentic consciousness and collective action.

    In that late feudal era (the 1400’s), the emerging capitalist mode of production was beginning already to express itself, and it required “free” labour to exploit. And so The State (in the divine personages of these kings) had to yield to the needs of a new and increasingly wealthy trading class which was beginning to comprise a substantial fraction of social entity. It would be another 300+ years before this new class would attempt to seize power and institute its own Capitalist State to legislate exclusively in the interest of the capital-owning class, and even then, with a few years, they had to restore the divine right of kings as their hegemony proved as yet inadequate and immature.

    To fully grasp the new transitions which the Trump era is inaugurating, we must learn of how these processes of revolutionary development have occurred in the past, and discern how they might rhyme in our time.

    As we seek to create new concepts to reflect these tumultuous times in a globalised society and economy, science will guide us when we choose it and respect it’s objective evidence. Although it appears that the monstrous void between a) Trump, his ignorant Trumpettes, and rational, reasonable, and b) real human necessity (and also non-human necessity); might seem almost unbridgeable at first glance, if we alter our perspective just a little, we may see that, emerging behind this appearance, is a more advanced form of democracy beckoning rational people towards the intrinsic logic of human societal advancement. The old state (Federal, or Regional, or national) is now withering away before our eyes. It’s financial incapacities rendering its functional modes moribund in every country (and State).

    The construction of a viable alternative will involve doing a not-for-private-profit mode of business henceforth, and its creative transitional development will be down to those of us who can escape from fixed and formal thinking and entertain the concept of public responsibility, equality and socialist collaboration – whatever that turns out to be.

    Welcome to the new world order of Dialectical Cognition. And remember – you’re in charge as long as you act for and in the public good. I prefer to think of it as movement towards A Real Democracy!

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    1. The reign of Donald J. Trump, the unique individual, as President of the United States is not the result of any particular historical trend. His ascendancy to head the Republican Party in its phase of descent into sheer lunacy IS an outcome of the historical trend of World Capitalism running out of new markets to exploit. But his presidency is the result of the absurd workings of the Electoral College!! Trump was rejected at the polls by a margin of some three million votes. We “should be” suffering this viral pandemic under a certain Mrs. Clinton, whose reign would be totally devoted to maintaining the Status Quo of exploitation, to be sure. But she likely wouldn’t be suggesting we inject Lysol into our veins!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, yes. The “woman of color” (nominally a “Democrat”) embraces and — in so doing — attempts to rehabilitate the ruined reputation of Deputy Dubya Bush. This plutocratic PR effort obviously assumes that the photo-op’s target audience has no memory of the privileged Texas Twerp and and his truly awful political career. Sort of ironic to see a black person get dirty by smearing white all over themselves while attempting to cleanse a white person by smearing black all over them. For Michelle Obama’s much-needed edification, then, I remind her of what a pompous and discredited ass she has chosen to wrap herself around. I can’t decide which I find the more repulsive: the vapid and insincere grin screwed onto the front of her face or the simply aimless and silly one stapled to his. But memory lives on in some of us. From fifteen years ago:

      Deputy Dubya’s Droopy Diaper Rap

      You fell asleep on watch and let some bad guys blow us up,
      And when you woke you swore to pay them back.
      You then attacked a country that had never done us harm
      Which seems to indicate it’s brains you lack.

      You needed made-up reasons that you thought the rubes would buy.
      You swore Saddam Hussein had done the crime.
      You had Ms. Rice warn darkly of some sprouting mushroom clouds
      In little less than forty minutes’ time.

      Dick Cheney spoke of spies who may have met one night in Prague
      Discussing who-knows-what? or when? or how?
      He claimed that all this nothing added up to something big
      That justified attacking Iraq now.

      Don Rumsfeld claimed to know just where to find those awful bombs.
      He said he knew exactly where they were.
      That none had ever come to light disturbed him not at all;
      For dreams, not facts, made better sales allure.

      And Colin Powell played along and told the world untruths
      In service to a man who oft betrays;
      And now no thinking person who resides on Planet Earth
      Believes a single word that this man says.

      Your CIA did what it does, whatever that might be;
      And spent more billions finding zilch to fear;
      But undeterred you pressed ahead until the spooks agreed
      To tell you everything you longed to hear.

      The Pet Press pundit sycophants fell quickly into line;
      For “access” they had sold their souls for free.
      You gave each one a nickname in return for which they swore
      To overlook your rank stupidity.

      The Congress went along and did precisely not one thing
      To cure us of our doubts about their worth.
      They swarmed aboard the lemming liner, “Gulf of Tonkin II,”
      And led us once again to rue their birth.

      So came the night of green-hued TV pictures from “The Front”
      With breathless claims of “Shock and Awe” profound
      That really only lulled and bored the viewers back at home
      Impressing no Iraqis on the ground.

      You and your team, of course, converged to watch the main event;
      To stomp and cheer each way-cool boom and bang.
      You had photographers snap pictures of you gettin’ down
      And doin’ that studly Texas hamster thang.

      With manhood issues unresolved, you pranced and leaped about
      With every adolescent urge fulfilled,
      You launched three dozen missiles at a Baghdad neighborhood
      Yet never cared to wonder whom you’d killed.

      And don’t you think that forty missiles seem a little much
      To cut the heads off three Iraqi men
      Who, anyway, were somewhere else when all the bombs arrived
      And not where you supposed them to have been?

      That word “decapitation” sounded swell not long ago
      But now only reminds us of your lies.
      Some folks have lost their heads, all right, just not the ones you planned;
      Just those who drive your trucks and cook your fries.

      So things have gone from only-bad to worse-than-that and more
      As GI coffins come home late at night;
      And billions run into the hundred-billions off the books
      Which makes those foreign lenders quake with fright.

      You started spouting Jesus jive because you think it sells
      Among religious folks who live in dread
      Of terrorist hijackers crashing into Red State barns
      And working people organized and led.

      To you, the Middle Ages sound like just the place to reign
      With hopeless people waiting for their doom
      Who every thousand years or so take off their clothes and climb
      Up on their roofs to wait for what? and whom?

      You learned to watch the NBA and do that high-five dance.
      You’ve learned your three-word mantras through and through.
      George Tenet taught you how to ‘slam-and-dunk’ and jockstrap-sniff
      But still you’ve never grown to more than you.

      Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2005

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