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Running Down a Dream

To all those who read this,

Sitting in SFO with an unanticipated two hour flight delay gives me the rather fortuitous (for the circumstances, at least) opportunity to reflect on what has to be one of the bigger thrills of my adult life.

In some ways, being a draftnik has been a part of me as long as being a sports fan. It takes a unique place in the sporting world as it combines a transition in talent with a transition in terms of a person’s career. Even the biggest college players are making a jump to whatever professional league they enter, likely the first time they have ever made meaningful money playing sports (unless they went to U$C, of course). While many people ignore this component of the process, I have always found it to be incredibly interesting because of all the changes it can mean for these young men. The pressures of going to school and maintaining a social life while playing sports at a high-level are hard to overstate yet pale in comparison to the amount of work it takes to thrive in the best leagues in the world from a physical standpoint.

The other fun part of the draft is that it combines research, analysis, and prediction in a way that stands out. While there are no clear-cut answers most of the time, draft pieces hold relevance and interest for an incredibly long time after the fact because it often takes a while to find out the “right” answer should one exist. Furthermore, there can be gaps in terms of both information and interpretation of that information and reasonable minds can differ in more ways than are present in normal sports discussions. Think about the MLB draft for a second- even big money teams have used completely different philosophies and thrived with similar resources because there are a variety of methods that can work. While that point holds, there are also some who succeed more than others and learning from evaluation mistakes takes on a different light in the draft because the same players never come by again. You have to attempt to apply those learned components on individuals who may or may not fit that box. The uncertainty makes drafts continually interesting and challenging.

For all of these reasons and many more, I gravitated to drafts at a pretty young age. Despite not watching a ton of basketball as a child, I used to take the limited amount of March Madness available to a kid in the late 90’s and try to figure out which guys would be stars and which ones would be duds. Doing that for years in both hoops and football also gives someone bizarre allegiances since the pride in being right on a player sometimes trumps lower-level personal biases. As an example, I have spent years rooting for Danny Granger and Russell Westbrook because each was a player I touted for eons and thus have an emotional stake in their fights however frivolous it may be.

That fascination for drafts only kicked into a higher gear when college started. The reams of hand-written pages got replaced by pages of typing along with more complicated rankings and analysis. The rise of draft content on the Internet and competent internet message boards also forced everyone to step up their game and learn from those around them in a brand new way. Writing draft previews, reviews, and season predictions actually served as the only sportswriting I did for nearly ten years.

As I was starting law school, two of my good friends from college let me know that they were starting a blog and that I was welcome to do any writing for it that worked. It felt like a logical method to blow of the intellectual steam law school inevitably generates (you can see this from the amount of law students and lawyers that engage in sportswriting). From the start, the draft was my passion and it eventually became the place where my relationship with RealGM began and one of the important places it continues to this day.

In many ways, the trip to cover the NBA Draft marks both an accomplishment of one of my biggest dreams and someone to check off the bucket list that I never anticipated fulfilling, much less this quickly and in this capacity. It is both humbling and gratifying to see the effort and time it has taken and consider how many other worthy people have never had the opportunities that have been presented to me over the last few years. That leads to my predominant emotion being appreciation for all those who have made this possible. Instead of naming specific people and this contributions, I will say this: the people who were integral in getting here know who they are and should remember that they have my eternal thanks and appreciation for doing so. If they want public recognition for that role, they can ask me and it will be given.

Even with that, two specific people get some mention here. Rahim and Derrek started Vegan Fish Tacos and brought me into the fold nearly immediately and offered encouragement before anyone other than the three of us and our college friends had any idea what we were doing. Without their push, support, and input, none of this ever would have happened. Guys, you likely will never know how pivotal a role you played in any and all of my writing success. So if anything bad happens, that means it is your fault. Everyone else: thanks so much- you know who you are.

Whether this ends up being a stepping stone to something bigger or a blip on an otherwise uneventful path, everyone who made it this far had a reason to or plenty of free time- my key demographics. Thanks for being a part of this run and here’s to hundreds more stories and pieces to come.

Happy drafting,


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Music on VFT

Click here for all music previously posted on VFT.

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Where is Media Matters?

MJ Rosenberg quotes George Orwell on the mentality of nationalism:

“All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. 
A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians — which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side … The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them” — George Orwell

Rosenberg, who is a must-read on this issue, asserts that this quote “tells us everything we need to know about liberals and Gaza,” and though he should have qualified the term liberals (not all liberals turn a blind eye to this insanity) he is right. Just look at Media Matters, a website that until recently critically analyzed the media’s coverage of daily events. Not anymore. A check of their website reveals nothing about media coverage of the current invasion of Gaza.  Below are screenshots of searches for the terms Gaza, Israel, Hamas, and IDF. I really hope that I am just missing something, because I used to enjoy their work a great deal. Media Matters should be the first of all groups to know that its credibility rests on pursuing the facts, regardless of what conclusions they might lead to, and it is simply not credible to imply that this violence has been reported on fairly by the American media. I’d like to believe that perhaps, considering the level of bias on this issue, they were simply overwhelmed. Otherwise they should be more clear about when the media matters to them, and when it does not.

Taken on 1.6.2009
Taken on 1.6.2009

More deafening silence after the jump…

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NBA Off-Season Recap + Predictions

It’s getting close to the start of the season, which means it is time to go over the off-season that truly set some major short-term and long-term storylines which will have a major impact on the NBA as we know it. As is tradition for me, I go from the worst team off-season to the best, taking everything into account (draft, free agency, coaching changes, etc).

Denver NuggetsLet’s see: How about we take the worst defensive team in the NBA and remove their best defensive player and only reliable big man? That’s the ticket! A fun game to play is to guess how many players who ended last season in Denver will be there at the beginning of the 2010/2011 season. My guess? Two (Nene and K-Mart). I can’t wait to watch this team in action- they’re like the Kansas City Chiefs with a ton more offensive talent and less effort.

Golden State Warriors I have written a ton on the Dubs, and much of it going into this offseason centered on the idea that they needed to choose to be a serious contender either in the next 2-3 years or a little further off in the future. Unfortunately, they chose the ubiquitous “Neither” option out of the bin, choosing to shoot their cap flexibility on Corey Maggette. Yeah Mullie, an up-tempo system really needs to spend that kind of money on a swingman, especially with SJax on roster. Don’t get me wrong- Corey will put up good fantasy numbers for Golden State in the next few years, but that will not translate well into wins, and it is incredibly hard for this team as presently constituted to swing assets into pieces that can make this franchise a legit contender at some point. Well, I guess we have to deal with another Bay Area team clawing to make the playoffs for the next 5 years…

Memphis Grizzlies Has any team ever had a bigger discrepancy between their perimeter talent and their big man talent? [Yes, I’m the one who asked this in the Thorpe chat last week] They have a slew of guys I like, but OJ Mayo’s defensive abilities are much more limited when he is guarding SG’s instead of PG’s, and I doubt he’ll spend a ton of time on them when the Grizz have Conley and Kyle Lowry manning that spot. Still love Rudy Homosexual and Marc Gasol could be a helpful player on a good/great team, which sadly his Memphis squad will not be for some time, if at all. I will never understand why they made Mike Miller a throw-away in the T-Wolves deal and the trade makes me consider how Adriana Lima will like Memphis, a thought I didn’t want to entertain.

Sacramento Kings I have used the term the “76ers Zone” with my friends for years now. It refers to a team that is just good enough to not be able to get the resources to make their team dramatically better so they linger in the late lottery/low seed playoff range. Ironically, it transferred from Philly to Sacto this offseason with the insane contract they gave to Beno Urdih (who I like fine, but it’s too much). Between Kevin Martin, Beno, Spencer Hawes, Francisco Garcia, and John Salmons, the Kings have over $30m committed through the 2010/2011 season, and while they are all decent players with upside, it just good enough to be in 76ers Zone for those years.

Charlotte Bobcats Surprise, surprise: The Bobcats mess up another offseason. Just like last year could have been Spencer Hawes and a ton of cap space (avoiding the J-Rich trade and not signing Matt Carroll to that insane contract), this year had the Bobcats passing on Brook Lopez (the second or third best player in the 2008 Draft) for DJ Augustin, who needs a ton of work and does not have the PG abilities to justify his insanely high draft spot. The other side effect of the Augustin trade was that it changed the market for Raymond Felton both in terms of Charlotte’s bargaining position and the fact that it made personnel guys re-evaluate Felton and realize that he is not doing as well in terms of development. To make matter even worse, they drafted Alexis Ajinca, who will be a good player but is a long, long way off of getting there. On the plus side, I like Okafor’s extension and Larry Brown on the sidelines should work wonders with this roster- they are a sleeper playoff team this year. They just could be so much better.

Boston Celtics It was a tough offseason for Boston. Basking in the much-deserved glow of their championship, Ainge made some very good moves in the form of the downright theft of Bill Walker and Mr. Giddens could end up being a solid addition down the line, probably a rotation player on a good team. What will define Boston’s chances to repeat is whether any of their non-KG bigs can step up. If one of Perkins, Powe, Big Baby, or O’Bryant can be a reliable starter and one of the others becomes a strong #1 big off the bench, they may have enough to make up for losing Posey. I understand why they didn’t re-sign the king of the man-hug, but they have to come to grips with the fact that they are now wholly at risk of a big collapse record-wise if any of their core players goes down for a period of time. In this year’s East, a two-week injury to Pierce or Allen could mean the 2 or 3-seed, and Boston’s path to the Finals gets harder as they play more games outside of the Garden.

Dallas Mavericks Sarah Palin’s favorite team is a hard one to grade since they did not have any flexibility to change their roster around after the Jason Kidd trade. Their biggest problem is that lack of ability to change their roster even after Kidd expires, and while I love our blog mascot DeSagana Diop to death, Cuban overpaid to bring him back. As a side note, has any NBA team since the advent of the salary cap had more mediocre swingmen? It’s like the Boulevard of Broken Dreams on their bench. Continue reading


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The Law of Unintended Consequences: Sarah Palin is making Katie Couric look like Tim Russert

From Talking Points Memo:

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McCain’s Choice: A Portrait of Palin

For something like this, the best way to start seems to be to provide the backstory: My sister moved up to Alaska in 2001 for college, which in turn led to both of us becoming interested (and her later involved) in Alaska politics. Among the many figures in the drama that is the Alaskan political scene, Sarah Palin is one that I am pretty familiar with, especially as I ramped up my research on her on what then seemed to be an extremely outside chance of her actually getting the Republican nomination for Vice-President. At that point, it was more fleshing out things that I had heard and it grew from there after the surprise announcement actually happened. Of course, the work (and potential liability from this) are entirely my own. My goal for this is not to promote one side or the other- it is to inform those who choose to seek information about Governor Palin’s record accompanied by my own analysis of what that record portends for Palin as a potential Vice-President or President. The fact of the matter is that Governor Palin’s record is underreported, so this can hopefully be a resource to not only these incidents but sources that have other valuable information and research.

Much hay has been made during this primary season about the importance of experience. However, this argument often loses its most important connotation: what is the quality of the experience and what can we learn about the candidate from it? In Sarah Palin’s case, her time as both Mayor of Wasilla and Governor of Alaska shows a consistent profile that is terrifyingly similar to our current Commander-in-Chief.

Authoritarianism: Loyalty and Qualification

One of the most important tasks for any public servant in a leadership capacity is to surround themselves with capable individuals to allow them to make the best decisions and implement the best policies for their constituency. In some ways, this has been the greatest failing of the Bush Administration.

So what has Sarah Palin done to offend this balance? Let’s start first with her time as Mayor of Wasilla.
Mayor Palin ran a loyalty test to the carryovers from the previous mayor. Palin wrote in the letter: ”I do not feel I have your full support in my efforts to govern the city of Wasilla. Therefore I intend to terminate your employment …”. Also of note, then-Police Chief Irl Stambaugh and City Librarian Mary Ellen Emmons both had endorsed Palin’s rival, incumbent mayor John Stein. Stembaugh had held his post since its creation in 1993 while Emmons (later Mary Ellen Baker) had been Library director for seven years before Palin became mayor (Source). What makes this even more notable is that many of these same individuals fired for the “loyalty oath” were people who helped Palin get involved in Wasilla politics in the first place.

After this, Mayor Palin asked retained City Librarian Mary Ellen Emmons about the possibility of banning books because of inappropriate language. After Baker was “aghast” at the suggestion, Palin threatened to fire Baker, who would later resign in 1999. In short, Palin inquired about banning books from a public library because she and some constituents found them offensive. Is that a reform-minded public servant with a libertarian streak?

Unfortunately, these trends continued once Palin became Governor in 2006. The Matanuska Maid story has been written about in fabulous fashion in a variety of places, with my two favorites being at Talking Points Memo and a well-researched diary over at Daily Kos. In short, the Matanuska Maid had been hemorrhaging money for quite some time, and it looked like the agricultural board (BAC) was going to shut it down. Right before they were going to make their decision, Palin fired every single person on the board and replaced them with someone more favorable to her position. Unsurprisingly, the new board voted to keep the program going, where it would last only three more months and cost the stare $900,000. However, that is not the end of the story. At that time, Palin put the assets up for auction for $3.3 million, which dubiously got zero bids. Mere months later, the board Palin put in place gave the green light to a deal to Kyle Beus, a dairy farmer from right near Wasillia in Palmer for about 40% of that $3.3m figure. Incidentally, Beus was helped dramatically by a federal earmark of $643,000 helped by the illustrious Ted Stevens. In essence, Palin at first fired a whole board of people to keep a failing business going on the state’s dime, then cut a favorable deal with a fellow “Valley” resident helped by federal taxpayer money.
[NOTE: For more references on this, look at the Talking Points Memo article- they have a bevvy of them that are quite informative]

The bizarreness of “Dairygate” is only eclipsed by the startling reality behind the resignation of Walt Monegan. It began before Palin was Governor, as Alaska state trooper Mike Wooten was married to Palin’s sister. The Palin family put together a 14 accusation list of transgressions they wanted the state police to investigate. The investigation found that five of the fourteen claims had sufficient merit and suspended Wooten for 10 days, which was actually later shortened to five. Palin’s election as governor changed the circumstances, so another attempt at disciplinary action was made (I use passive voice because who made the attempt is the major question in the case, and I don’t want to speak for them). Walt Monegan was the Public Safety Commissioner and the man in charge of any further action, and thus took the brunt of the pressure. Monegan said that the issue was closed, and the force continued to build including from Sarah’s husband Todd Palin. Monegan told Todd that he “”can’t head hunt like this. What you need to do is back off, because if the trooper does make a mistake, and it is a terminable offense, it can look like political interference.” Guess what, he is right legally. Eventually, Monegan resigned rather than taking a transfer to the alcohol control board. It was at this time that the allegations originally came out. Sarah Palin’s initial response? She denied the allegations, saying that no one in her office had anything to do with Monegan’s resignation and a legislative counsel appointed a special commission to look into it. Almost exactly two weeks after Palin’s denial came news that Frank Bailey, who Palin had appointed in August of 2006 had inquired about having Wooten fired. Palin still denies any fault, but a whopping 87% of Alaskans believed she was lying on the issue. Ironically, the man Palin replaced Monegan with was not properly vetted and ended up resigning after just two weeks on the job thanks to a 2005 sexual harassment issue came to light.

Many have tried to discount this story because of how strong the allegations were against Wooten, meaning what the allegations were as opposed to their legitimacy. The fact of the matter is this: each of the claims was investigated and Wooten was disciplined for those which had merit. As someone who is in law school and studying Constitutional law, it is a clear abuse of power to work outside of the already-existing system because you are unsatisfied with the result of an investigation. In effect, it doesn’t realty matter what Wooten did or did not do- the case had run its course. Whether or not he is or was a bad person is absolutely immaterial to why the incident is so problematic for Palin: Any efforts by or on behalf of Palin were exploitave and in violation of her position of power.

[NOTE: The following paragraph is fueled by accusations by AK politician and blogger Andrew Halcro, who has not sourced the linked article for this as much as I would like. As such, I urge taking everything with a grain of salt until the specific allegations have more substance with the legal record. or articles However, they do provide sufficient value and backing to warrant my decision to include them.] There is a great deal of suspicion surrounding another element of the situation concerning Palin and her sister Molly. According to Andrew Halcro, Palin and Molly went to the Palmer courthouse (Yes, Palmer is the city where Dairygate figure Kyle Beus lives- small world!) to get a restraining order put on Wooten while he was in Portland with his stepson. This restraining order was a domestic violence restraining order, which (obviously) requires allegations of spousal abuse/domestic violence. Three weeks after Wooten’s return, Molly “testified that Wooten never hit her or never physically abused her or ever touched the children. She told the judge she was feeling pressure from her family to file the order.” Ladies and gentlemen, here you have the prototype of perjury (if true, of course). How this reflects back on Palin is the last sentence of the quote- telling a judge that you felt pressure to file an order that you know was false is fertile ground for subornation of perjury charges under 18 U.S.C.A. § 1622.

These trials and tribulations by Governor (and then-Mayor) Palin have some fascinating parallels to those of our current President in the years before he took the role in 2000. George W. Bush’s missteps were much more known at the time, but Palin’s blatant mismanagement of the sports complex land deal as Wasilla mayor and Matanuska Maid problems with power as governor show the same knack for taking the wrong path in a way that costs taxpayers money but does not dramatically affect them electorally. That said, they are some of the best indicators we have in terms of whether or not they can govern competently, and they did not bode well for Dubya and they do not for Palin.

A History of Lies and Distortions

In a way, what makes this situation so fascinating is how both Palin and the GOP as a whole have utilized the clear information gap to distort Palin’s positions and record. One of the key applause moments of both of Governor Palin’s high-profile speeches was how she “told Congress thanks but no thanks on the bridge to nowhere.” Unfortunately, that is 100% untrue in multiple ways. First of all, she was for it:

“Palin said Alaska’s congressional delegation worked hard to obtain funding for the bridge as part of a package deal and that she ‘would not stand in the way of the progress toward that bridge.”

Ketchikan Daily News 9/2006

Secondly, the decision to tell Congress “thanks but no thanks” was never Palin’s to make: The earmark money was already in play in 2005, and of course, there’s the fact that she never gave back the money despite the “Bridge to Nowhere” not being built and even spent federal money on the project (a road on Gravina Island that was intended to connect with the bridge project).

She has also worked incredibly hard to distance her reputation from the infamous Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, despite serving as his 527’s director from its incorporation from 2003 until 2005. Also worth mentioning is that Stevens endorsed Palin in her gubernatorial campaign in 2006 and the two filmed a campaign commercial together. There is also the running investigation of her potential abuse of power which 87% of Alaskans think she is lying about (and the story has already changed).

What’s more, Palin has grossly inflated her reform credentials. She spoke on Wednesday about a fiscally responsible government, which is admirable. However, she was so notorious for earmarks that she made John McCain’s lists of objectionable spending three separate times in her eight years as mayor. One example of this is here (and yes, that is then-Mayor Palin’s handwriting). Wasilla had not recieved many (if any) earmarks before then-Mayor Palin took office. She hired former Ted Steven Chief of Staff Steven Silver to act as a lobbyist on behalf of the small town and the earmarks soon followed, with almost $12 million from 2000 to 2003, almost half of Palin’s tenure as mayor.

That does not even include the $15 million from the federal government for regional rail transportation. What’s more, Wasilla’s debt increased from almost nothing to about $20 million in Palin’s eight years.

This does not even include the on-going ethics investigation discussed earlier.

A newer development along this line centers on Palin’s mention in her speech about putting her plane up on eBay. Unlike some of the stories above, this one is 100% true, though it is also misleading. Palin did put the plane on the site (three times), but it did not sell there– she actually sold it through a broker at below her asking price. Why this warrants inclusion is that it was such a strong truth-bender that her own running mate spoke the next day about how Governor Palin sold the plane and “made a profit”, which is completely not true. If even her “soulmate” who vetted her so very closely could not get the story straight, there’s a problem.

These blatant distortions parallel the “compassionate conservative” line embraced by George W. Bush in 2000, enabling him to run as something that was directly antithetical to his actual history in power (and the factual record in general). This is far more astonishing in a world where the Internet is much more prominent than it was in the year 2000, but so far the media has not even had the backbone to call out Governor Palin on the more blatant falsehoods, though that tide can change quickly if the MainStream Media realizes that it’s, you know, their job to be honestly thurough and do some legitimate fact-finding on everyone in the political realm (Note: Even though I am an Obama supporter, I agree with this on every candidate- the American people deserve this vetting).

Why all of this is important and how to use it:
Unsurprisingly, there have already been strong overtures by certain members of the political machine that criticizing or investigating Governor Palin’s record is somehow either sexist or biased. At least coming from this end, that is not the goal at all. The point here is that we the American people are dealing with a public figure who is new on the scene. As such, it proper and fair to provide citizens with the material they need to make an informed decision. Many have chosen to disregard “Troopergate” because of the alleged conduct of Mr. Wooten. Regardless of how inconsistent or irrational as this may appear, citizens have that right- my only goal is to make sure that people have both the right information to make informed decisions coupled with links to resources that can give them far more than what is provided in this space.

Why all of this is important is because it paints two very clear pictures. First, it helps shine a light on the remarkable consistency of Governor Palin’s political career from her favoritism to certain constituencies to her stubbornness to her amazing ability to change positions and lie effortlessly and well. These are not isolated incidents, especially not when they occur with such frequency over such a short period of time. When we are dealing with a candidate for such a major office with a short resume (regardless of who that is or what party they are from), this analysis proves important, and Palin’s history shows that she is neither prepared nor qualified to potentially become this great nation’s Commander-in-Chief and indicates what she is most likely to do with a potential change in role.

That said, the most important message contained in all of this data does not center around Governor Palin at all:

it reflects on Senator McCain’s judgment in making her his choice to be second in line. After all, it is abundantly clear that McCain’s Choice was not fully aware of what the Vice-President’s role is even a month ago. It is not fair to blame McCain’s Choice for her spot on the ticket- she was chosen to be there. As such, any attacks on McCain’s Choice should be levied on McCain, not on her.

It is John McCain who chose someone as his running mate who:
Presides over the state with the highest amount of earmarks per capita despite his well-voiced opposition to them.

Was the mayor of a city whose budget went up from $3.9 million in fiscal 1996 to $5.8 million in fiscal 2002, which is a 67% increase.

Hired a federal lobbyist (who was a former Ted Stevens staffer) while mayor to help garner earmarks for Wasilla

Built up almost twenty millions dollars of debt for her city in her eight years as mayor (from no debt when she took over).

Cut funding for a museum while spending $15 million on a sports complex, a fee augmented by trying to illegally take the land via eminent domain rather than compensating the owner which ended up with legal fees over $1.5 million over the original offer (Source).

-Has a pattern of firing those who either supported her political opponents or disagree with her (and rewarding those with loyalty to her)

-Knowingly and deliberately lied about her own record in both of her national appearances

These flaws should not reflect on McCain’s Choice- they go directly to Senator McCain’s judgment. He is the one who made the choice and he is the one who I beg to simply and truthfully answer these two questions:

1. If your claim that you properly vetted your choice is true, what made you look past her glaring inconsistencies with your core values and overall lack of relevant experience?

2. Was your choice the most qualified to be your Vice-Presidential nominee? If not, what made her a better choice than the more qualified alternatives?

Because after all, it’s more important to be ready to lead a country than help win an election, right?

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Barack Obama on the O’Reilly Factor (Part 2 of 4)

More Bill O’Really debauchery…I really can’t stand the guy, but I really appreciate that he is pressing Obama for some specifics (taxes in this case). Stay tuned for Wednesday’s installment were he resurrects the whole Reverend Wright issue (to the delight of KKK members everywhere).

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