Grappling with Media Studies Part 1: Peter Galison

So I'm back at university after a few years off, and I couldn't be more excited about one of the courses in particular that I'm taking. It's got a long-winded and high-falutin' title, but it's basically looking at what different social and technological theorists have to say about the interplay between cultural, social, and technological development. Among the first we've looked at are Peter Galison. The article of his that we examined is his historical contextualization of Norbert Weiner's appropriation of the term 'cybe

rnetics', and what Galison himself has to say about conceptions of humanity technology, and their

interrelationship. The most salient point of his that I came across is that 'the cultural meaning of concepts or practices... is indissolubly tied to their genealogy. What I take this to mean is that there are concrete, or hard-wired connections between modern uses of technology and the technologies they replace. He makes this point in the context of Norbert Weiner's attempts to use artificial intelligence to improve the accuracy of anti-aircraft guns. Weiner, like practically everyone else involved at every level of World War II conceptualized their enemy by de-humanizing them, and Galison, in part, makes the case that this failure to account for the indeterminism of human volition made his project doomed to fail.

So why am I telling anyone who wants to read this about Peter Galison? Well, because one of our assignments is to create a meme, and the way in which I've decided to go about it is to use the course authors themselves. A great deal of what makes this course what it is, is the vocabulary of media studies. There are constellations of terms, metaphors, and verbal imagery that you must learn in order to speak with any degree of authority about the authors being discussed... and this reminds me of the strange constellation of wrestling-specific terms I've learned by listening to the Power-bomb Cast. The language itself is a barrier to entry, and I thought playing with that, and using Microsoft paint to superimpose the faces of authors onto pictures of wrestlers performing elbow drops would be a fun direction to go with this idea. I also really like what happens to images when you reduce their colour fidelity, they almost start to look like impressionist paintings, and the pictorial noise that makes these images more grungy also makes them more interesting, to me anyway. Anyways, I'll be posting a few more of these over the next little while, and anyone who has any inclination to comment on any aspect of this blog is free to do so.

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Cocaine Mountain: New Look, Newfound Success

With suggestions from BamD Leprechaun, Cocaine Mountain overhauled its look for the second season, and it has coincided with some success. We have reached .500 winning percentage, and have looked pretty good in some games, with a highlight being a 7-0 win over some random Hab wannabes. The return of JQuist47 has also marked the return of our most efficient scorer, and he's picked up where he left off, committing treason against his native Sweden. Check out this smart rebound goal:

And as you can tell I've now harnessed the power of multi-angle editing, and to that end have produced this ridiculously overwrought highlight.

I promise to be less cheesy next time.

If you have NHL 12 and you'd like to join our team, send a join request to Ccn Mtn, or a friend request to Suicrat on XBox Live. And if you are the member of a different team and you'd like to challenge us, send a challenge to, again, Ccn Mtn.

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Cocaine Mountain defeats Lebron James and Queen Latifah

So there's this game called NHL 12 and some dudes from Giant Bomb got together and played some games. Most of the time we lost, but against a team wearing the Anaheim Mighty Ducks uniform and featuring Queen Latifah and Lebron James, we perservered. Here are some highlights.
 
  

   
That was me. I thought it was on okay goal.
 
      
 
If you'd like to join the fun or create your own team to challenge us, just send Suicrat a PM on XBox or here on Giant Bomb.
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Brown V: California, and Why The First Amendment is Fading Fast

As has been well-documented on this website, the Supreme Court has overturned Bill 1179 (2005) of the California state legislature. A great amount of cautious celebration is now occurring in some circles of our subculture: celebratory because the decision overturned the bill, cautious because of the path to a new bill highlighted by Justice Alito. But there's a more serious threat to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution which has gone ignored for far too long. It's called the Miller Test.
 
The so-called Miller Test, named such after a publisher (Miller) was charged for sending unsolicited mail of a sexually-explicit nature to a the owner of a restaurant, sets out 3 criteria which must be met for states or the federal government to take your First Amendment right away:
 
1: Whether "the average person, applying contemporary community standards", would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest,
2: Whether the work depicts/describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable state law,
3: Whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.
 
These standards are part and parcel of modern American jurisprudence: subjectivity abounds. With these criteria, judges in first amendment cases are no longer being asked to be impartial, they're being asked to become literary critics. Let's discover how by examining the 3 criteria piece by piece.
 
1: Who is an average person? What makes them average, and what standard elevates their tastes to the level where a society-wide weapon (government force) can be used on those people whose works they don't like? Also, how are community standards defined? Doesn't the phrase 'community standard' itself imply a majority- (or at least, plurality-)centred definition of what can be expressed and what can't? Doesn't the first amendment exist to protect unpopular opinions in the first place?
 
2: How are we to discover what is 'patently offensive'? In some communities, the depiction of a woman being penetrated by two penises simultaneously would not be offensive at all, while the depiction of a child reading a Bible verse he doesn't understand would trigger moral outrage, so how do we resolve it? Poll the community, and ban that which is found by the community to be offensive? Again, isn't the philosophy behind a constitution that defines rights first and obligations second one of inoculating the minority from the disease of orthodoxy?
 
3: This is the most despicable of the three criteria, this is what I was alluding to when I said the Miller test turns judges into art critics. Questions of value are not the purview of judges in the chambers of American courthouses, they are the purview of every person who must make decisions that affect their lives. Thankfully the portion of the decision quoted in Klepek's article reflects understanding that this third criterion is not legitimate, but that isn't true of every judge or every supreme court justice; isn't there an aspect of value missing in this criterion? I'll reiterate them now to see if I can jog your cognitive faculties: "literary, artistic, political, or scientific". Nothing? Okay, well let me put it to you this way, who would find these aspects of value important? The producer or consumer? The answer is the latter. Only those consuming content would define the dimensions of value they obtained from a piece of content in this way. The producer might make the claim that the content has value in any of the stated dimensions, but they would not be able to defend that claim without supporting consumer testimony. This is the key problem with this criterion. In order for you to have the right to say something, you have to be able to find someone who wants to hear you say it. Again, this wholly undermines the core principle of the U.S. Constitution in the first place, the protection of the individual. Moreover, by omitting the dimension of economic value in this third criterion, the courts have established a precedent that communications upon which a person or persons can build their livelihood is not protected. Without this aspect of speech being protected by U.S. case law, the freedom to speak is entirely masturbatory.
 
Until American jurisprudence begins to trim its century-plus of subjective fat, the courthouses of the United States will be the gallows whereby your individual rights are strung up and slaughtered publicly, and yes, the noose will be placed around the video game industry's neck once again.

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Toronto politics and the eroding social safety net

With this note, I wish to remind my fellow 'real Torontonians' (and share with non-Torontonians some insight into what massive change is about to occur) what got our municipality's new chief executive elected; it wasn't his 'straight people can't get AIDS' platform, it wasn't his 'I'm gonna beat my wife' platform, it wasn't his 'I'm gonna drive drunk' platform, it was his 'I'm gonna cut spending and taxes' platform. Eventually people are gonna stop wanting to pay taxes, even if you pile on the allegedly 'good causes' on which to spend that stolen purchasing power. And when they coalesce in large enough numbers, they will erode the tenuous supports upon which you've attempted to build your equitable society.

Sure, people don't mind paying less of their income into a collective pot than they receive in social services. This is why, politically, it is illogical to assume that fiscal conservatives don't mind or invite the expansion of poverty. The expansion of poverty feeds into the political left's aims: the more poor people there are, the more people they will have on their side. Fiscal conservatives are primarily concerned with one issue which they actually share with the political left: They share with the political left a focus on a return on the investment of the capital that got them elected: businesses and individuals seeking a smaller tax burden tend to support right-leaning candidates. You might ask 'wait, how does that have anything to do with the political left? We're not concerned with a smaller tax burden for anyone but the poor! [if that... because I often hear my friends say 'I don't mind 40% of my income going to social causes', and none of these people have any money]'. The left's supporters want a return on their political capital: labour unions whose leaders throw their support behind left-leaning candidates and parties expect favourable labour legislation, while academics and artists expect more funding for their endeavours, and the poor expect more social services paid for by those with more money than them.

This -- ultimately destructive -- political tug-of-war is why I advocate free market capitalism. Not because I hate the poor (hell, even with my new job, I'm still in the lower rung of the economic ladder), not because I want those who depend on our governments' social safety net monopoly to fall through the cracks, but because I know that there's a law of diminishing returns, and there's a point where tax-payers will say 'enough is enough' and sweep into power men and women who wield sledge hammers: ready to smash to pieces your precious political ideology. You cannot build something as heavy as an equitable society on a foundation as shaky as political whim. Voters won't stand for it forever, and when they get fed up, there will be grief and pain, like that which our country has experienced over the last four years, and that which our city will experience over the next four.

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The Absurdity of NOT Rebelling Against Nature

 I often hear my anarcho-capitalist friends accusing socialists of "rebelling against nature" when they refute arguments against capitalism. Though the constant, outward, ever-flowing pool of what humans know of biology points towards a biosphere that maximizes efficiency as it evolves, and that this process is held in place by arguably the most important physical observation in existence: the law of conservation of energy, the invocation of anti-capitalism as "rebellion against nature" is itself quite avaricious.

Socialists, especially those of the more culturally-liberal bents, do not perceive that they are rebelling against something "real" or "natural" in economics; their perceived threats are the artificial aspects of modern economics: the accelerating (and often coercive) coalescing of capital into ever-larger corporations, the employment of public and private forms of coercion to deny workers the full acknowledgment of their value, et cetera. These are not objections to nature but objections to humans' economic inhumanity to other humans. Only arguments against the existence of free will can support the position that objecting to acts of coercion is objecting to nature. That is to say, if we have free will it would be wise to employ it consciously and reduce, limit, sequester, ban, or end the use of coercion. If we don't, then the very notion of rebelling against or acquiescing to nature is moot, and so is the notion of coercion.

The fact is, the artificial is the real rebellion against nature. Humanity butts heads with entropy and finite energy every second, and is doing so right now. It is the construction of a tool, the writing of an essay, the erection of a structure, the performance of a song, the act of indebting oneself on the promise of future, interest-bearing reimbursement. This is humanity rebelling against nature. These acts cannot possibly seen as acquiescing to nature unless one conceptualizes acquiescing to nature in the same way one conceptualizes responding to nature's demands on living things, and that would appear to be contradictory.



This does not, however, allow capitalists to broad-brush the claim that the diverse array of capitalism's critics are merely acquiescing to nature in their advocacy either.

Only those fringe environmentalists who advocate human extinction are actually demanding the species acquiesce to nature in any coherent sense of the word. This is to say anti-capitalism equates with acquiescence to nature only insofar as it objects to the human virtue of productivity.

This is not the nature of the overwhelming majority of anti-capitalists' objections -- at least not consciously.

Living anti-capitalist advocates are all beneficiaries of the aforementioned virtue, and a large number of them are practitioners of it, to one extent or another. As mentioned earlier, their objections to capitalism as it exists are not objections to free markets, but to politicized markets. They object to the executive as political merchant, they object to the coercive commandeering of purchasing power by idle wealthy. Temporarily leaving aside the hypocrisy of endorsing a monopolistic safety net structure, supported by the coercive sequestration of wealth; we can find much room for reconciling liberal socialism and liberal capitalism.

All parties have much to gain by attempting to find ways of integrating other-focused and self-focused economic activity as part of humankind's continual, glorious, frightening rebellion against nature.
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Ode to the feats of Man

I have a very easy and straightforward job. It involves making sure that pedestrians and drivers do not find themselves in the way of construction equipment and vehicles. As I said, pretty straightforward, and low-paying, for good reason (partially, because it's not that difficult. Let's be honest.)
 

My favourite thing about my current line of work is to see all the 'ordinary miracles' (as an industrialist-version of Sarah McGlachlan might say... I'm probably spelling her name wrong...) of which other members of my species are capable. Yesterday, I had a 12 hour shift scheduled at The Republic of Yonge & Eglinton, one of Tridel's latest high-rise residence projects here in Toronto. All of my shifts, thus far, have been at the Republic of Yonge & Eglinton, so that part ain't all that special (though I still think the towers themselves are quite beautiful), what was special was the crane-dismantling/pizza party that occurred! I wanted to share with you some of the pictures I took with my camera phone. Now, bear in mind, this boom truck is only 600 tonnes (with counterweights) one of the engineers working for Mammoet (the boom operator) tells me that their engineers have prototyped a 'crawler' which is a 1900 tonne boom truck, whose hydraulic leg supports are actually mobile! That's right, someone has invented a 1900-tonne arm that walks!
 
These pictures are not of the crawler (as I said, it's only been prototyped), and these towers are only 27 storeys, so you wouldn't even need a boom that large.
 
 

Anyways, this blog post was mostly an attempt to generate some discussion on people's favourite feats of engineering. What are yours? Feel free to post some pictures or video!
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Well, no, it's way more than buying gum at 7-11

Okay, here; my post about how fucking stupid some people (of both sexes) are went nowhere because people thought it was a post about love. Well, yes, love was a part of the discussion, and my juxtaposition (and ranking) of love as commerce versus love as conquest threw some people for a loop. Some demanded I write something about my feelings about love; well, I guess they forgot this post here, or maybe the one I wrote around Valentine's Day (which I can't seem to find in my post history, so if you can't find it either, I forgive you.) Anyways, I had spent the last quarter of friday and the first half of saturday with the person whose presence in my life I value most, and whether it was bowling under a black light while bad techno played in the background (with old friends from High School) or eating dinner at a local terminus of chicken slaughter (again, with old friends from High School), or watching her on stage in the back of a local bar to read poetry about her memories of selling girl guide cookies, or lying in my bed reading her Yeats, or a chapter from The Fountainhead, this one (quite pleasant) feeling persists.
 
There's a really weird stirring somewhere between the back of my throat and the point where my medulla oblongata and spinal column meet. It happens when Caro's looking into my eyes and smiling. It happens when she talks about the future in a way that seems to imply my presence therein. It happens when she expresses any degree of optimism whatsoever. I don't really know what to call this strange feeling that almost feels like it happens behind me. I doubt I'm the only one that's felt it before.

Caro and I have a very bizarre relationship, if it were to be described as one of the earth's spherical layers, it would be the biosphere -- only taken as a sphere because of the human mind's ability to fill in the blanks. If it were to be described as a colour, it would be a bright red -- high intensity, low frequency. If it were to be described as a video game, well, I don't know. I've gotten a bunch of game overs, and I'm nowhere near the final boss. This game's actually pretty fucking hard, for which I feel a strange sort of appreciation because it's making me better at other non-zero-sum games. I don't really know if I believed that this feeling would persist in its intensity close to 7 years ago. I don't really know if I cared about my seven-years-in-the-future self back then. What I know now is that my love for her is far more than this feeling. I am going to continue to value this person's presence in my life for dozens of reasons, for a long time to come, thankyouverymuch.

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"Ladies look out dey ain't thugs dey' homos"

 The majority of the people with whom I work do not live in the downtown [Toronto] core. It is surprising how much this seemingly small shift in geography produces an enormous cultural difference. This is most palpable with respect to their expectations of women: they are constantly dumbfounded by the sight of two effeminate-looking people (one male, one female) walking together. Every time something to the effect of "Why did that ridiculously-sexy [insert demeaning term used to refer to women here] choose that [insert demeaning term used to refer to homosexuals here]?" is uttered by one of my co-workers, and I have the energy to go through the explanation, I try to level with them.

"It's all marketing."
"What do you mean?"
"All women, secretly, are lesbians."
"Yeah, it's true, I read that somewhere."
"The guys who look, act, dress, or otherwise seem gay aren't. They've just found a particular marketing strategy to attract particular women."
"Huh?"
"What I'm saying is, these girls have had their fill, or are not at all interested in muscle-bound, car-obsessed sociopaths, and these men realize it, and do their utmost to soften or obscure the more nakedly-masculine aspects of themselves."
"But don't they get bullied out of it by their buddies?"
"No. Most of these guys have more female friends than male friends, and their male friends tend to be more like them. The ones that get dates with their female friends are the ones who can straddle the line."
"What line?"
"Between the worst place in the whole world and the best place in the whole world."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean the friend zone and the inside of a woman's vagina."
"So these guys act gay to get laid?"
"No, they act bisexual to get laid."
"O."

Yes, I do talk with that bizarre combination of crassness and pretension to construction workers too (not just my friends and loved ones), but only once I learn their first names. And yes, this level of incredulity persists, these men treat the women in their lives as though they are disposable, and the married men are subjugated to the male sluts, because the male sluts believe it is masculine to treat women like shit, and the married ones have been treated like shit by their wives.

Well fuck that talk, it's retarded to epitomize the essence of one gender as the degradation of the other. I am a man, I enjoy sexual activity with women, but realize such actions must be seen as equal acts of commerce, not hierarchical acts of conquest. I see our complementary chemical compositions and organ array as facts of biology, not class; if you wish to be worthy of the respect of your counterpart (in sex, or any other interpersonal activity) then you must demonstrate your worthiness of it.

Now, I'm well aware that the vast majority of my female friends are strong-willed, free-thinking individuals, and not vacuous, self-denying servants, and I take heart in that. However, every now and then, one of you says something to me about your relationships with other males that gives me pause, and thrusts me in the direction of reminding you that there is nothing special about men, they are not, by fact of their gender, superior to women. Yes, we are strange and fascinating beings, but any pretense of superiority belies a fact of inferiority.

I guess what I'm saying is, we all need to be assertive, not passive, and certainly not passive-aggressive in our relationships. A person who treats you like you don't matter is not worthy of you; it is not a challenge to make yourself seen or heard, it's a warning that the person is an asshole.

(P.S.: The quote in the title is actually from a Ghostface Killa song, and the song is actually pretty good.)

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Last time I was in this part of the Solar System...

 365 days ago, I spent the last of a quiet evening with my friend Kyle, discussing small sundries, and said good night to him as he left my room. As I lay there, contemplating the enormous cost I was about to impose on my fellow Ontarians, I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. My life was already going pretty crappily, I admit: I had lost my part time job precisely 2 weeks before my injury, and it was becoming obvious that I didn't have enough money saved for another year of tuition, but that was the first time I ever felt guilty for existing. It was a new kind of suicidality (for me, anyway.) Most of my attempts in the past spawned out of a sense of inconquerable frustration, fear of the future, or an overwhelming sense of regret at past mistakes; but as I said, this time was different.

I had quietly, emotionlessly, and (so I thought) contentedly wrote a brief (three page) note, and resolved to consume all the tylenol, aspirin, and painkillers in my room and the bathroom, and did so without any second-guessing. Within about half an hour or so, my stomach started to rumble, but I wasn't concerned or fearful, I was at peace. I decided to smoke a bowl and let the THC quiet my stomach and put me to sleep.

The next morning (Monday, March 16, 2009) I woke in quite a different state. I was covered in my own vomit (which was neon yellow due to the just-add-water Gatorade I had been drinking the night before), and I felt more coming. As I scrambled for my crutches, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My eyes were totally bloodshot (and surprisingly wide, considering I had just woken up), my lips were purple, and my face was red. I couldn't keep my mouth closed, my lower lip hung lazily off my jaw.

For a moment, I had felt an overwhelming rush of excitement: I had finally done it! After all these weak-ass attempts at suicide, I had finally taken the action that would kill me! I'm not sure how long I'll have to go through this puking, but before St. Patrick's Day I'll finally be dead!

But as I stood, suspended by my crutches over the toilet, reality set in. Wait, this was the day they scheduled my pre-op. My mom's driving into town to take me to the hospital, she's going to be the one to discover my corpse. More guilt, not like the kind I had felt the night previous, but a new kind, began to rush over me. This was the kind of guilt one feels when one leaves a terrible mess for someone else to clean up. I didn't know what to do. I wanted to go out to the yard, and hide, but I was barely able to get up those stairs using my crutches before, I knew I wouldn't be able to in my drug-addled state.

More guilt. And then even more.

Finally, I was pushed to make a phone call. I dialed my mom's number, and asked if she could arrive sooner, as I was not feeling well. She told me she still had to get some things ready, but would leave as soon as she could. I called my sister at work, told her I wasn't feeling good; I held back tears, but I couldn't tell her that I thought I was going to die by my own hand. She told me she was really busy at work, but would come by during her lunch break.

As more fluorescent vomit flowed from my innards, the guilt started to turn into regret. Not the suicidal regret that pushed me close to the edge in the past, but regret at what I let my own depression do to me.

You see, I had been diagnosed with depression as a teenager, and prescribed SSRIs to combat it. I never told my mom I didn't take the stuff, that I sold it to the kids in my school; and I only acted like I was feeling better about myself; while setting in motion the idea that if I keep on doing shitty things to myself, and putting myself in intractable situations, eventually circumstance would force me to kill myself.

As the paramedics stumbled into my smoke-filled room (my sister decided to call me an ambulance after getting off the phone with me, and I had decided to smoke more weed), I snapped back to the present. I was barely conscious at this point, but I remember them calling me "Mister Barbieri", which to me was really weird. I hadn't heard those words for over a decade, and the last time I did was when the doctors were futilly trying to bring my dad back to a state of consciousness. (The painkillers they gave him were so strong, his ability to communicate devolved to a slurred, and barely-audible Italian.) They asked me if I was okay and what was wrong. I swallowed some vomit, and told them that I had consumed a couple hundred pills, and was hoping to be dead before sunset. They brought in the stretcher and one of those oxygen-nostril things, strapped me in and hooked me up, and took me to the ambulance.

On the ride to Mt. Sinai, we encountered a large group of Tamil (and Tamil-sympathizing) protesters, staging a demonstration against the Sri Lankan government's destruction of the last of the Tamil Tiger strongholds (and, presumably human rights violations.)

Having realized she could do nothing without running blood tests, the paramedic decided to interrogate me.

Why did I want to die?
What was so bad about living?
What did I think my family would say?
Wouldn't this hurt any people who were close to me?

I was barely coherent at this point. I had vomited over a dozen times, and I was just too weak. She won the contest, instead of justifying my decisions, all I could say was "yes, I realize now how big a mistake this was. I'm sorry to have drawn you in." (Or at least that's what I thought I said, but who knows really.)

I remember feeling really cold before regaining consciousness, I remember seeing the strain in my sister's and mother's faces, and the silent, stoic anger in Jeff's. (Jeff's my future brother-in-law), and I remember the doctor, with his thick Russian accent, and ridiculously colourful pants, telling me that I had only sustained minor liver damage. At that point, all I wanted to do was go to Toronto Western, and do my pre-op.

The funny thing is, two days later, after having surgery, and deciding (yet again) that I didn't want to die, my blood pressure went up severely, and nearly died due to the tylenol and aspirin mixing adversely with the painkillers I had been given post-op. My decision to attempt suicide could have killed me twice! Needless to say, I'm starting to realize what a waste of time and effort such endeavours are, and am focusing my resources in more productive channels.

Anyways, that was a really long-winded note and it didn't really go anywhere. I just thought that the following poem needed some better context. I wrote this poem while recovering from surgery, as I contemplated the thoughts that had dominated my mind for the eleven or so years up to that point. I posted it here shortly thereafter, but no one really got it. I didn't expect you to, because I don't either. Anyways, the reason why I'm reposting it is because it's an anniversary of sorts, and because it's no longer up here. (I deleted all my blog posts up to that point when I got my new job back in december.)

Mercy, or the rape of Entropy

Compositions with black outlines
compartmentalize our world
Awaken and pull the ceiling inward
Awareness is its own gravitation

Incursive margins
Inclusive absence
Dissolution uninhibited
Disintegration unambiguous

Eschatology, pre-written eulogies
Escapism is the gilt road
Beneath the potential energy of the world itself
Benefactors exploiting beneficiaries

Universes in hands
Unity zeroed in arms
Possibilities assayed
Posthumously distilled

Teetotalers of experience
Teetering on edges
Wealth immolated
Warmth our dividend

Fumbling with the keys to the bomb shelter
Furtive, listening for the penultimate note
Nests mistaken for turrets
Necessities and renumeration

Solipsis as thesis
Sold on annihilation
Heed blankness
Heat dissipates

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