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6 Creative Ways Countries Have Tried to Up Their Birth Rates

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When the Soviet Union took a census of Georgia in 1989, more than 5 million people lived there. But by 2014, the population in the former Soviet republic had plummeted to 3.7 million people, the Telegraph reports. To avoid what it calls a “demographic catastrophe,” a non-profit organization called the Demographic Development Fund recently announced that it's launching a tool familiar to singles the world over: A dating website.

The DDF is running a census of single men and women—including those who are divorced or have lost a spouse—and are entering everything from their height and weight to zodiac sign into a database in hopes of making love connections. Sounds crazy, but a nationwide dating website is just one of many creative ways countries and organizations have encouraged citizens to get it on.

1. GET DOWN DURING VACATION // DENMARK

In 2014, with Denmark's birthrate at a 27-year low, an ad campaign from Spies Travel asked Danes to book a romantic city holiday and "Do It For Denmark." According to the company, Danes have 46 percent more sex on vacation than they do at home, and 10 percent of Danish kids are conceived on vacation. To sweeten the deal, Spies Travel told customers to book with their “ovulation discount,” and if they could prove they conceived on vacation, they’d win baby supplies for three years (and a child-friendly vacation). Spies Travel didn’t stop there: In 2015, they unveiled their “Spies Parent Purchase,” in which hopeful future grandmas could buy active vacations for their adult children in hopes that they’d conceive a child on holiday. (The more sports you do, the more you want to do it, apparently.)

2. EAT MINTS AND MAKE BABIES ON NATIONAL NIGHT // SINGAPORE

Singapore aggressively tackled their low birth rate problem—with the help of mints. On August 9, 2012, Singapore authorities partnered with mint-peddlers Mentos (“The Freshmaker”) to put together “National Night,” a campaign meant to encourage Singaporean couples to let their “patriotism explode” and help the nation increase its 0.78 children per woman birth rate. The resulting ad went viral. “Singapore's population, it needs some increasing/So forget waving flags, August 9th we be freaking … I'm a patriotic husband, you're my patriotic wife, let's do our civic duty and manufacture life,” the smooth-voiced, minty-breathed rapper suggests. “The birth rate ain’t goin’ spike itself!”

But that’s not all: Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority also placed a limit on the number of small one-bedroom flats that could be built in an effort to curb the singleton lifestyle and encourage people to shack up and make babies.

3. GO HOME EARLY EVERY THIRD WEDNESDAY AND GET IT ON // SOUTH KOREA

South Korea’s birth rate has fallen to one of the lowest in the developed world, at 1.187 children per woman in 2013. The low birth rate is in part the fault of a government program to promote smaller families in the 1970s and ‘80s; but more recently, financial woes are more to blame for the baby slowdown—South Koreans have one of the highest household debt burdens in East Asia, at roughly 160 percent of income.

One of the biggest concerns that South Korean parents have is being able to pay for their children’s care and education, so the government is promising to greatly expand the network of low-cost governmental childcare facilities, and is actively trying to weaken the perception that a college degree is necessary for success.

The South Korean government is also taking other, more creative measures to encourage its citizens to procreate. In addition to the cash gifts and incentives offered to staff who have more than one child, in 2010, the South Korean government decided to turn off the lights in its offices at 7:30 p.m. on the third Wednesday of every month—which the government dubbed “Family Day”—to "help staff get dedicated to childbirth and upbringing." While the official in charge of the program acknowledged that going home early probably didn’t have a direct link to making more babies, every little bit helps.

4. HAVE A BABY, WIN A FRIDGE // RUSSIA

Russia’s population was shrinking dramatically after the fall of the Soviet Union, propelled by a low birth rate and high death rate. So, in 2007, the government declared September 12 National Day of Conception, in the hopes that giving couples the day off from work to do their civic duty would result in a baby spike nine months later, on Russia’s national day, June 12. Women who gave birth that day could win refrigerators, money, and even cars.

It seems to have worked—by 2013, Russia’s birth rate had surpassed America’s. That’s a big deal to the dying bear: Russia is already one of the most sparsely settled nations in the world, owing to its massive land size; in the 2000s, demographic experts were concerned that if this trend continued, Russia's population might sink below 100 million by 2050. In the run-up to his presidential campaign in 2011, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin pledged to spend £33 billion to boost Russia’s birth rate by 30 percent over the next five years. Although Russia’s birth rate hasn’t noticeably increased since 2011 (that year, it was at 1.6 births per woman, and it has stayed at 1.7 since 2012—still a massive increase since the 1.2 births of 2000), the program does appear to have had some success, with years of demographic trends reversing and Russia showing steady population growth.

5. NO BABIES = HIGHER TAXES // ROMANIA

In the 1960s, Romania was approaching zero population growth—a terrifying prospect for a Communist nation that held the Marxist principle that economic health lay in a robust labor class. So, starting in 1966, the government took some drastic and chilling measures.

They chose the stick rather than the carrot. Though there were tax and monetary incentives to encourage people to have children, they also punished people for not having them: Childless men and women over the age of 25, regardless of marital status, were subject to a new tax that could be as much as 20 percent of their income. Divorce was also made incredibly difficult; in 1967, only 28 divorces were allowed, a precipitous decrease from the 26,000 the year before. Police were installed in hospitals to make sure that no illegal abortions were performed, and legal importation of birth control was halted.

It worked, at least in the short term. The baby bounce was significant—273,687 in 1966 to 527,764 in 1967—but lasted only as long as the police remained in hospitals. In the 1980s, the Nicolae Ceausescu regime again faced a declining birth rate and instituted even more draconian measures to raise it: Women were subjected to monthly gynecological exams to detect pregnancies in their earliest stage and to ensure that the pregnancies came to term. These exams were performed by “demographic command units” that would also interrogate childless individuals and couples about their sex lives. Access to abortion was made even more difficult; in 1985, the government declared that in order to be eligible for an abortion, regardless of the circumstances, a woman had to have had five children and all those children had to still be under her care, or be over 45. At the same time, the monetary incentives encouraging women to have children were barely enough to buy milk, under the country’s depressed economic conditions.

Pretty grim. The campaign to forcibly control Romanian women’s fertility ended with the overthrow of Ceausescu’s regime in the bloody revolution of 1989.

6. HANG OUT WITH A ROBOT BABY // JAPAN

In addition to a stagnating economy, Japan is suffering from a seriously low birth rate—so low that in 1000 years, one demographer claims, the Japanese will be extinct. The country’s fertility rate fell below two children per woman in 1975, and, as of 2015, was around 1.42. But that means that its elderly population is starting to outpace its young population. In 2012, toiletries company Unicharm said that sales of its adult diapers “slightly surpassed” baby diapers for the first time since the company moved into the elderly market in 1987.

The Japanese government, some critics claim, hasn’t done enough to address its low birth rate and in 2010, students at the University of Tsukuba stepped into the breach with Yotaro, a robot baby. Though he doesn’t exactly look like a real baby, he cries, sneezes, suffers that perpetually drippy nose that is instantly recognizable to any parent, giggles when tickled, and is calmed by his rattle. His creators are hoping that if he can spark some measure of parental emotion in the people who see him, maybe they’ll consider making a real baby. "A robot can't be human but it's great if this robot triggers human emotions, so humans want to have their own baby," said Hiroki Kunimura, the Yotaro project leader.

A version of this story ran in 2014.

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15 Things You May Not Know About Close Encounters of the Third Kind
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Columbia Pictures

We are not alone. Here are a few facts about Steven Spielberg’s 1977 UFO classic, on its 40th anniversary.

1. IT WAS INITIALLY A VERY DIFFERENT FILM.

Spielberg’s initial story outline involved UFOs and shady government dealings following the Watergate scandal, which became a script entitled “Watch the Skies.” The idea involved a police or military officer working on Project Blue Book, the Air Force’s official study into UFOs in the 1950s and 1960s, who would become the whistleblower on the government cover-up of aliens. There were numerous rewrites—Taxi Driver scribe Paul Schrader even took a crack at it, penning a political UFO thriller titled “Kingdom Come” that Spielberg and the movie studio rejected—before the story we know today emerged.

2. IT’S NAMED AFTER LEGITIMATE UFO RESEARCH.


Columbia Pictures

Spielberg partly based his idea on the research of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, a civilian scientific advisor to Project Blue Book who eventually admitted that 11 percent of the study’s findings about unidentified flying objects could not be explained using science.

The title (which is never specifically explained in the movie) is actually derived from Hynek’s own alien close encounter classification system: A close encounter of the first kind is sighting of a UFO; the second kind is physical evidence to prove the existence of an alien; and the third kind is actual contact with alien life forms.

3. THERE’S A CAMEO FROM THE GODFATHER OF UFO RESEARCH.

Hynek, who also served as a technical advisor on the movie, makes an uncredited cameo in the final scene of the movie. You can spot him pretty easily—he’s the goateed man smoking a pipe and wearing a powder blue suit who pushes through the crowd of scientists to get a better look at the aliens.

4. NOBODY WANTED THE STARRING ROLE.

Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Columbia Pictures

The director first offered the part of Roy Neary to actor Steve McQueen, who turned it down because he said he couldn’t cry on cue, something he saw as essential to the character. Spielberg then went to Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Gene Hackman, and James Caan who all turned him down as well before asking his friend Richard Dreyfuss, who previously worked with Spielberg on Jaws, to take the part.

5. BUT IT WASN'T THE MOST DIFFICULT ROLE TO CAST.

Spielberg approached French actors like Lino Ventura, Yves Montand, and Jean-Louis Trintignant to play Claude Lacombe—who was based on famous UFO researcher Jacques Vallée—before settling on director and sometimes-actor François Truffaut. The initially skeptical Truffaut, who was nervous about appearing in a big budget Hollywood movie, accepted the role because he wanted to compile research for a book about acting (he never did write the book).

6. MERYL STREEP COULD HAVE PLAYED ROY'S WIFE.

Many actresses—including a then-unknown Yale Drama School grad named Meryl Streep—auditioned for the part of Roy’s wife Ronnie, but he ultimately cast actress Teri Garr because he saw her in a coffee commercial and loved the way she was able to convey a wide range of emotions in a 30-second clip.

7. THEY SHOT IN A DISUSED AIR FORCE HANGAR.


Columbia Pictures

Spielberg wanted to shoot in real suburban locations rather than studio backlots, but the production had trouble finding locations. The biggest question: Where could Spielberg shoot the climactic canyon sequence with the mothership?

The production looked for huge indoor enclosures that would allow for the massive scale of the scene, though they only found ones with center support dividers that spoiled the openness Spielberg wanted for the UFO runway. The only location producers found without center dividers was a 300 foot by 300 foot disused hangar that had been used for dirigibles during World War II at Brookley Air Force base in Mobile, Alabama.

8. THE TEAM BOUGHT A HOUSE FOR THE PRODUCTION—AND SOLD IT FOR A PROFIT.

The Nearys' house, which is located at 1613 Carlisle Drive East in Mobile, was actually purchased by the production for $35,000 so they could do whatever they wanted with the interiors. It was later sold for $50,000 after production wrapped, netting a $15,000 surplus that went back into the film’s budget.

9. THE MEMORABLE 5-NOTE TONES TOOK A LONG TIME TO FIGURE OUT

Composer John Williams worked with Spielberg to come up with the movie’s distinct five-note musical method of communication between humans and aliens—which Spielberg partly based on the Solfège system of musical education—a year before shooting began.

Williams initially wanted a seven-note sequence, but it was too long for the simple musical “greeting” Spielberg wanted. The composer enlisted a mathematician to calculate the number of five-note combinations they could potentially make from a 12-note scale. When that number proved to be somewhere upwards of 134,000 combinations, Williams created 100 distinct versions, and they simply whittled the combinations down one by one until they had a winner.

10. SPIELBERG USED TRICKS TO GET THE PERFORMANCE OUT OF HIS CHILD ACTOR.


Columbia Pictures

Cary Guffey, who plays little Barry Guiler, had never acted before, so Spielberg set up ways to coax a performance out of the 3-year-old. To get a shot of Guffey reacting to the aliens first approaching the Guiler house, Spielberg slowly unwrapped a present for the young actor just off camera, making him smile. Guffey even exclaims “Toys! Toys!” in the final take.

To get the boy to react to the aliens offscreen, Spielberg had Guffey walk up to his mark where—unbeknownst to the little actor—two crewmembers were dressed as a gorilla and a clown standing behind cardboard blinds. When Guffey entered the kitchen, Spielberg dropped the first blind revealing the clown to scare him, and then dropped the other blind to reveal the gorilla, which scared him even more. The gorilla then took off his mask, revealing the film’s makeup man, Bob Westmoreland, who Guffey recognized, causing him to laugh and smile in the final take.

11. THE MOVIE NEARLY FEATURED VERY EARLY CGI.

Spielberg originally toyed with the idea of using computer generated images to create the aliens and their ships, even going so far as to have animator Colin Cantwell create a CGI test of three UFOs floating over a stadium. The single-shot test, which took three weeks to complete and was one of the first computer generated images ever created for a film, proved to be unfeasible for the whole movie—so the idea was dropped.

12. THERE WERE SOME UNORTHODOX IDEAS FOR CREATING THE ALIENS.

Spielberg wanted the aliens to be non-human beings that glided instead of walked, and he had a weird idea to pull it off: An orangutan dressed in a specially-made suit. For a screen test, the production team outfitted an orangutan in grey spandex and strapped it into roller skates. The orangutan immediately took off the skates and crawled to its owner, so a full test couldn’t be completed, and the team scrapped the idea. The majority of the small aliens in the final movie were played by local elementary school girls from Mobile in specially made grey suits and masks who were heavily backlit to create the final alien silhouette effect.

13. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS FEATURES A PRECURSOR TO E.T.


Columbia Pictures

To create the alien who bids farewell using the musical hand signals at the end of the film, Spielberg enlisted the help of Italian special effects artist Carlo Rambaldi, who designed a fully articulated steel, aluminum, and fiberglass animatronic puppet that Spielberg nicknamed “Puck.” Puck’s expressions were based on photos of Guffey. The puppet was operated by a crew of seven puppeteers, with Spielberg himself controlling the final articulation before the alien leaves to go to the mothership.

Puck would help inspire E.T. after Spielberg asked himself, “What if this little guy didn’t get back on the mothership?” Rambaldi would also go on to design the character of E.T.

14. SPIELBERG BET AGAINST HIS OWN MOVIE—AND REALLY CASHED IN.

Spielberg and his buddy George Lucas both had new movies coming out in 1977; Lucas’s was a little movie called Star Wars. Lucas thought his ramshackle space movie wouldn’t make back its budget, and he knew his friend’s new movie would break box office records just like Jaws had done, so he offered Spielberg a friendly wager. Both agreed to give the other 2.5 percent of the profits of their respective films. Lucas grossly underestimated his movie, which went on to become the second highest grossing movie of all time if adjusted for inflation (in comparison, Close Encounters is #71). The difference ended up being $40 million.

15. SPIELBERG DIDN'T LIKE THE VERSION THAT WAS INITIALLY RELEASED.

Spielberg wanted to release Close Encounters in the summer of 1978, which would have given him ample time to edit the film and finish its special effects—but Columbia Pictures, which was going through major financial troubles, insisted he have it ready for a November 1977 release, leaving the director with a final cut on a movie he didn’t feel was completely ready. 

Three years later, the company allowed Spielberg to “finish” the movie under one condition: That he show the inside of the mothership, which would give the studio’s marketing department an angle to sell this new version. The director capitulated, adding new scenes and cutting others to create a “Special Edition.” The director was unhappy with the scene, though, and later cut it for the Collector's Edition home video release.

ADDITIONAL SOURCES:Blu-ray special features; Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Making of Steven Spielberg’s Classic FilmClose Encounters of the Third Kind Diary.

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10 Treasures From the New York Academy of Medicine Library
A urine wheel from Fasciculus Medicinae
A urine wheel from Fasciculus Medicinae
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

Tucked away on a side street near Central Park, the New York Academy of Medicine Library is one of the most significant historical medical libraries in the world. Open to the public by appointment since the 19th century, its collection includes 550,000 volumes on subjects ranging from ancient brain surgery to women's medical colleges to George Washington's dentures. A few weeks ago, Mental Floss visited to check out some of their most fascinating items connected to the study of anatomy. Whether it was urine wheels or early anatomy pop-up books, we weren't disappointed.

1. FASCICULUS MEDICINAE (1509)

The Fasciculus Medicinae is a compilation of Greek and Arabic texts first printed in Venice in 1491. While it covers a variety of topics including anatomy and gynecology, the book begins with the discipline considered most important for diagnosing all medical issues at the time: uroscopy (the study of urine). The NYAM Library's curator, Anne Garner, showed us the book's urine wheel, which once had the various flasks of urine colored in to help aid physicians in their diagnosis. Each position of the wheel corresponded to one of the four humors, whether it was phlegmatic, choleric, sanguine, or melancholic. The image on the left, Garner explains, "shows the exciting moment where a servant boy brings his flasks to be analyzed by a professor." Other notable images in the book include one historians like to call "Zodiac Man," showing how the parts of the body were governed by the planets, and "Wound Man," who has been struck by every conceivable weapon, and is accompanied by a text showing how to treat each type of injury. Last but not least, the book includes what's believed to be the first printed image of a dissection.

2. ANDREAS VESALIUS, DE HUMANI CORPORIS FABRICA (1543)

Andreas Vesalius's Fabrica
Frontispiece of Andreas Vesalius's Fabrica
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

Andreas Vesalius, born 1514, was one of the most important anatomists who ever lived. Thanks to him, we moved past an understanding of the human body based primarily on the dissection of animals and toward training that involved the direct dissection of human corpses. The Fabrica was written by Vesalius and published when he was a 28-year-old professor at the University of Padua. Its detailed woodcuts, the most accurate anatomical illustrations up to that point, influenced the depiction of anatomy for centuries to come. "After this book, anatomy divided up into pre-Vesalian and post-Vesalian," Garner says. You can see Vesalius himself in the book's frontispiece (he's the one pointing to the corpse and looking at the viewer). "Vesalius is trying to make a point that he himself is doing the dissection, he believes that to understand the body you have to open it up and look at it," Garner explains.

3. THOMAS GEMINUS, COMPENDIOSA (1559)

Flap anatomy from Thomas Geminus's Compendiosa
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

There was no copyright in the 16th century, and Vesalius's works were re-used by a variety of people for centuries. The first was in Flemish printer and engraver Thomas Geminus’s Compendiosa, which borrowed from several of Vesalius's works. The first edition was published in London just two years after the Fabrica. Alongside a beautiful dedication page made for Elizabeth I and inlaid with real gemstones, the book also includes an example of a "flap anatomy" or a fugitive leaf, which was printed separately with parts that could be cut out and attached to show the various layers of the human body, all the way down to the intestines. As usual for the time, the female is depicted as pregnant, and she holds a mirror that says "know thyself" in Latin.

4. WILLIAM COWPER, THE ANATOMY OF HUMANE BODIES (1698)

Illustration from William Cowper's The Anatomy of Humane Bodies
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

After Vesalius, there was little new in anatomy texts until the Dutch anatomist Govard Bidloo published his Anatomia humani corporis in 1685. The work was expensive and not much of a financial success, so Bidloo sold excess plates to the English anatomist William Cowper, who published the plates with an English text without crediting Bidloo (a number of angry exchanges between the two men followed). The copperplate engravings were drawn by Gérard de Lairesse, who Garner notes was "incredibly talented." But while the engravings are beautiful, they're not always anatomically correct, perhaps because the relationship between de Lairesse and Bidloo was fraught (Bidloo was generally a bit difficult). The skeleton shown above is depicted holding an hourglass, by then a classic of death iconography.

5. 17TH-CENTURY IVORY MANIKINS

17th Century Ivory Manikin
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

These exquisite figures are a bit of a mystery: It was originally thought that they were used in doctors’ offices to educate pregnant women about what was happening to their bodies, but because of their lack of detail, scholars now think they were more likely expensive collector's items displayed in cabinets of curiosity by wealthy male physicians. The arms of the manikins (the term for anatomical figures like this) lift up, allowing the viewer to take apart their removable hearts, intestines, and stomachs; the female figure also has a little baby inside her uterus. There are only about 100 of these left in the world, mostly made in Germany, and NYAM has seven.

6. BERNHARD SIEGFRIED ALBINUS, TABULAE SCELETI (1747)

Illustration from Bernhard Siegfried Albinus's Tabulae Sceleti
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

One of the best-known anatomists of the 18th century, the Dutch anatomist Bernhard Siegfried Albinus went to medical school at age 12 and had a tenured position at the University of Leiden by the time he was 24. The Tabulae Sceleti was his signature work. The artist who worked on the text, Jan Wandelaar, had studied with Gérard de Lairesse, the artist who worked with Bidloo. Wandelaar and Albinus developed what Garner says was a bizarre method of suspending cadavers from the ceiling in the winter and comparing them to a (very cold and naked) living person lying on the floor in the same pose. Albinus also continued the dreamy, baroque funerary landscape of his predecessors, and his anatomy is "very, very accurate," according to Garner.

The atlas also features an appearance by Clara, a celebrity rhinoceros, who was posed with one of the skeletons. "When Albinus is asked why [he included a rhinoceros], he says, 'Oh, Clara is just another natural wonder of the world, she's this amazing creation,' but really we think Clara is there to sell more atlases because she was so popular," Garner says.

7. FERDINAND HEBRA, ATLAS DER HAUTKRANKHEITEN (1856–1876)

Circus performer Georg Constantin as depicted in Ferdinand Hebra's dermatological atlas
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

By the mid-19th century, dermatology had started to emerge as its own discipline, and the Vienna-based Ferdinand Hebra was a leading light in the field. He began publishing this dermatological atlas in 1856 (it appeared in 10 installments), featuring chromolithographs that showed different stages of skin diseases and other dermatological irregularities.

"While some of the images are very disturbing, they also tend to adhere to Victorian portrait conventions, with very ornate hair, and [subjects] looking off in the distance," Garner says. But one of the most famous images from the book has nothing to do with disease—it's a depiction of Georg Constantin, a well-known Albanian circus performer in his day, who was covered in 388 tattoos of animals, flowers, and other symbols. He travelled throughout Europe and North America, and was known as "Prince Constantine" during a spell with Barnum's Circus. (The image is also available from NYAM as a coloring sheet.)

8. KOICHI SHIBATA, OBSTETRICAL POCKET PHANTOM (1895)

19th century Obstetrical Pocket Phantom
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

Obstetrical phantoms, often made of cloth, wood, or leather, were used to teach medical students about childbirth. This "pocket phantom" was originally published in Germany, and Garner explains that because it was made out of paper, it was much cheaper for medical students. The accompanying text, translated in Philadelphia, tells how to arrange the phantom and describes the potential difficulties of various positions.

9. ROBERT L. DICKINSON AND ABRAM BELSKIE, BIRTH ATLAS (1940)

Image from Robert Dickinson's Birth Atlas
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

Robert Dickinson was a Brooklyn gynecologist, early birth control advocate, and active member of NYAM. His Birth Atlas is illustrated with incredibly lifelike terracotta models created by New Jersey sculptor Abram Belskie. The models were exhibited at the 1939 New York World's Fair, where they became incredibly popular, drawing around 700,000 people according to Garner. His depictions "are very beautiful and serene, and a totally different way of showing fetal development than anything that had come before," Garner notes.

10. RALPH H. SEGAL, THE BODYSCOPE (1948)

The Bodyscope
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

This midcentury cardboard anatomy guide contains male and female figures as well as rotating wheels, called volvelles, that can be turned to display details on different parts of the body as well as accompanying explanatory text. The Bodyscope is also decorated with images of notable medical men—and "wise" sayings about God's influence on the body.

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