Sips from the Firehose

Feb 26

The Oscars on Social Media: International Audiences Yawn, US Bloggers Snark

Posted: under new media, television.
Tags: , , , , ,

Live-Blogging the Oscars and Tracking the Tweet Clouds

I was hoping that the real-time geo-Tweet maps would show something interesting in and around Los Angeles during the Oscars telecast. No such luck.

Apparently, not that many people in and around Hollywood were actually Tweeting during the Oscars telecast - at least, not enough to compete with some of the other topics showing up on a Sunday night.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world didn’t seem too interested in the Oscars:

Strange that despite all the traffic about the Oscars, on Twitter that still didn't compete with some of the other trending news topics around the world -- such as the elections in Australia, or the massacres in Syria.

Drilling down a bit more, we can see some other names start showing up – although the Los Angeles area still isn’t #1 in Twitter activity. Guess our fingers are too busy here ferrying Scorcese-related cocktails to our mouths to actually type in a Twitter update.

Looking at the tag cloud, you can see that once you drill down past just "the Oscars," the names of the celebrities start showing up as trending topics.


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Jan 24

A Social Media Milestone: A Crowdsourced State of the Union Address?

Posted: under Amusing Nonsense, Conspiracy Theories, Politics & New Media.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Teleprompter is Us

Tonight’s State of the Union address is being billed as “the most interactive political act ever.”

Well, other than the crowdsourcing that brought people to the guillotine during the French Revolution. Although, if you read through the comments sections on some of the danker political blogs, there’s certainly reason to look back on The Terror as a relatively sane & genteel epoch.

Anyway – it appears that Obama’s web team has spent the past year (or more) preparing to swing into full campaign mode.

From ReadWriteWeb:

In December 2011, I wrote in the ReadWriteWeb Predictions for 2012 that the presidential candidate with the best social media campaign would be the one to win the White House in November 2012. I also said that President Obama would likely be reelected. While social media is not the be all, end all factor in determining the results of elections, pundits will argue that it has greater weight now than it ever has. Candidates pay attention to what their Twitter followers are saying.


To a certain extent, tonight’s State Of The Union will be the biggest campaign stump speech that Obama will give all year, except for maybe the Democratic National Convention. Around the State of the Union speech, the President has built a robust social media campaign to give citizens a voice. This is how government should be run. Open. Transparent. Interactive. Go to where the people are as opposed to making them come to you.



Let’s see how that interactive thingy worked, shall we? ue

The YouTube questions were pretty much what you’d expect – a mix of the rude, the longwinded, the unanswerable and the insane.

Tell EMINEM to Put another Album out..(Name is E=Mc2)
Are you going to liglize weed?
What are your plans for a Zombie Apocalypse? Because you know, if you planned for zombies, you planned for everything.
Dear Obama, is the republican primaries as hilarious for you as it is for me?

im scared of this year. Do u think that think year that the world might end (by the simi-end of Dec. 2012) or it’s completely a myth?

mjh186, Santa Monica, CA
What are you going to do with all the police who think they are all that, just because they can do almost anything they want without getting caught doesn’t make them better. Also my friend told me a police was setting a role model of cussing a 5 grdr
Will you tell us why you passed the SOPA? Do you have anything againsy gay people? Can YOU stop making Cigars? What do people have to have in order to become the president? Is the world gonna end in 2012? PLEASE ANSWER ALL THESE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS!!
mr.president wat do u think about the immagrashin are you think about giving paper 2 those in need
123deadmau5, sunvally cal
I would love to know why marijuana not legal. It is really good for you they said on cnn News it don’t do anything to your lungs compared to people who smoke cigarettes. Also it kills Brain cancer cells and blocks heart blockages.
panterafan6969, Richmond, Virginia
Mr. President, Church’s Chicken or KFC?
train2failure, Long Beach
Why you are spending more money to grab genitles at airports, sell children, traffic weapons, drugs, eugincs depopulation…rather than allowing non corrupt technicians associated with The Venus Project to solve every human need including yours?
Mr. President, if you want my vote again this November, please answer this: WHERE IS THE CHANGE!?Minimum wage still doesn’t cover our basic necessities.A human being cannot survive on these wages with children. How are your children doing? Quite well
I’ll keep my guns, money and freedom You can keep the change you communist bastard!
Can you speak to the American people about the Fema camps ? Maybe quell some of the fear that’s spreading thru the country ?
I can has moonbase?
commanderq, Australia

The Quora questions were a helluva lot better.

Some are pretty interesting: What are the estimated costs to taxpayers of the new agencies proposed by President Obama, such as the Trade Enforcement Unit?

Others are clearly partisan: Why did Obama just rag on George W/Republicans? Was it merely because it’s an election year?

Some are just goofy: Did Jon Favreau write the 2012 State of the Union?


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Sep 13

Moran Cerf, Madonna, and the Mass Media Reality-Distortion Field

Posted: under Amusing Nonsense.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Moran Cerf describes his “Liberty Valance” moment on KCRW’s UnFictional

I’ve already posted this to my Facebook profile, but the story put a hook into me, and deserves a more thorough reaction, comment & perhaps clarification.

This story struck a particular chord with me, because in my professional career, I’ve seen first-hand how a media meltdown can bend reality, even for the people who had first-hand knowledge of what really happened. If you haven’t already heard it, please click on the link above and listen to what happened to Moran when he blundered into the international media spotlight.

Basically, Moran was doing research into how the brain functions, and two words in the press release they had prepared sounded to an editor at the BBC as though they were announcing that they were able to record dreams.

The story took off, and Moran struggled for weeks with the misperceptions that hardened into “facts” in the minds of the international media. I can’t do justice to what happened next, only groan in familiar pain as he describes how the story took on a life of its own and drowned out the original message they were trying to convey (which is in the video below).

Thought projection by neurons in the human brain

This really resonated for me because of something that happened more than 20 years ago, back when I was working as a paparazzi (yes, I was one of the unholy legions that race through the streets of Hollywood like the minions of The Humoungous in Road Warrior. It was fun for a while, and I wrote a book about it). The situation was that Madonna and Sean Penn were getting divorced. The bureau chief was struggling to find some new way to spin the story; it was widely suspected that Penn, who was, and is, notorious for his volatile temper, had freaked out over some of Madonna’s flirtatious behavior. But to say that Penn had smacked her around would be to accuse him of a felony in print — a real no-no in the journalism game, and one that can wind you in court for years, defending serious libel litigation.

What to do, what to do …

Well, the editor fabricated the story that Penn had pitched a fit over Christmas and tied Madonna to a chair. He used the phrase “trussed up like a turkey.”


The story was the right combination of lurid & salacious (leading to big newsstand sales!) while still remaining on this side of actionable and defamatory. It ran to great acclaim and got picked up by all manner of other news outlets, repeated again & again as the moment that Madonna and Sean split up. And the phrase “trussed up like a turkey” was used by other media outlets, and then spread to all the TV tabloid shows – A Current Affair, Hard Copy, etc. etc.

Years later, I was going through the morgue (no, not the place where they store dead bodies, although I was actually in such places for stories at other times during my career — the “morgue” is what we used to call the battered filing cabinets full of clippings from old newspaper and magazine stories that we used for research). I was trying to find some background fact on Madonna, and I started to notice a pattern.

Over the years, every time she did an interview in the early 90s, Madonna was asked about her relationship with Sean Penn (and in turn, he was asked about her). They would refer to the story about their Christmas fight, and they would deny it. At one point, Sean said something like “they said I dressed up like a turkey” (apparently, someone had mispronounced or misunderstood the verb “trussed”) and laughed.

And then something very strange started happening.

Madonna started saying that the reason she split up with Sean Penn was that they had had a fight over Christmas. And that he had tied her to a chair.

She even used the phrase “trussed up like a turkey.”

The story had been repeated so many times over the years, that even the people to whom it was supposed to have happened, who knew it to be untrue, had come around to believe that it had actually happened to them. Madonna had heard so many people talking about how she had been tied up, that she actually believed that it had happened to her. Her perceptions of reality had become unmoored … although many might say that this is a rather common condition in Hollywood.

This is the effect of the mass media on us these days. It is like an enormous, all-encompassing hypnotist, whispering in our ears wherever we go, flashing subliminal (or liminal) messages at us all the time.

Repetition has an effect on human consciousness. On perception. On memory. Why else do those damn radio ads for cheap car insurance chant their “Dial 1-800-blahblahblah” numbers at us over and over again? Why else do we train little kids how to say their alphabet and do their times tables with flash cards?

Moran Cerf’s work centers around the micro scale — how on a personal level, we don’t really know what we think we know. My life has been spent examining that effect on a more macro scale — where, as a society, it doesn’t matter what really happened, only what people think (and say) happened.

Reality is, indeed, what we make of it. Which is both exciting, and frightening.

Now watch this video of Moran talking about colonoscopies.

The Illusion of Free Will – Mindshare LA

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Jan 25

Mindshare LA: “The Illusion of Free Will”

Posted: under Conspiracy Theories, Online Video.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

No. this isn’t about how advertising brainwashes us all into buying the latest overpriced electronic P.O.S. (although The Onion News Network has one of the most hilarious stream-of-consciousness obscene NSFW videos about this very subject).

This is an intro to a mind-blowing speech by Caltech neurologist Moran Cerf at last week’s Mindshare LA, wherein we all learned that we’re not alone in our heads … (cue Psycho music). In fact, we’re not really the ones behind the steering wheel up there; our decisions are made by what seems to be something of a quorum. And what we think we know … we don’t actually know. We just react to the most recent events, no matter how traumatic the actual event was … which goes a long way towards explaining why the U.S. voted the Republicans back into power. We really have no long-term recollection of how f’d up things were — just as long as they are slightly less painful NOW. There is a part of us that actually is rational, that knows and remembers … we just choose to shove that part/persona/personality to the background in our heads so we can go about our days cheerfully smiling into the face of our delusions.

In the rest of Moran’s speech, he dealt with such things as what are the five things that actually make us happy (and no, money & sex were NOT on the list), and how we can “listen in” to the neurons firing in a human brain to detect if a person is thinking about Marilyn Monroe, or Josh Brolin. Wearing a red bandana around his head.

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Jun 28

For All the Frustrated, Passive-Aggressive IT Dweebs Out There…

Posted: under Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , ,

…the makers of this YouTube hit video (it just got Fark‘d and Arrington‘d) are now your patron saints.

This little NSFW gem will bring a rueful (vindictive?) smile to anyone who’s had to deal with dim-bulb non-techies who can’t articulate what’s wrong, what they want, and least of all, understand what the solutions that they are demanding will actually do.

Great moment where the vid starts getting really brilliant comes about 1/3 of the way through – Salesguy: “Now I can’t get to the home page!”

Web Dude: “What the –!?? But you said the website was down? You mean you could see the home page?”

I particularly liked the little touches in this video – as Web Dude gets more and more frustrated and annoyed, he starts taking it out on the characters in Halo, shooting them repeatedly in the crotch and attaching grenades to their faces.

I’ve never done IT fulltime myself, but I’ve usually been one of the “go-to” guys in the office when IT isn’t available. Thus, I’ve spent my share of time ostentatiously rolling my eyes and sighing. I did like, however, how both sides took their shots – the sales dweebs are demanding, ignorant and try to evade responsibility for the chaos they cause. The IT dweebs are more interested in playing Halo than actually dealing with anything, and snort dismissively in that way that makes users retreat and get defensive.

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Oct 18

When Free Just Isn’t Cheap Enough

Posted: under music.
Tags: , , ,

Radiohead gives music away for free – kids prefer to pirate it off BitTorrent anyway

OK, this has got to have a lot of entertainment execs reaching for the Maalox. TechCrunch reports that even though Radiohead, in a much-ballyhooed move, allowed customers to set their own price point for downloading their new album (and yes, one of the options was $0.00), within a week

over 240,000 users got the album from peer to peer BitTorrent networks on the first day of release, according
to Forbes. Since then, the album was downloaded about 100,000 more
times each day, totaling more than 500,000. By comparison, Radiohead
pushed 1.2 million sales of the album through their site, including
pre-orders. File sharing networks are expected to surpass legal
downloads in the coming days.

That’s just ugly.  Basically, Hollywood, the RIAA and the MPAA have so poisoned the well with the audience that even when they try something innovative to bust through the conventional ripoff business models they have established and are clinging to, the target audience out there is preferring to go to the pirate sites to get the content.

The question that arises is, why?  Why would some mook with broadband prefer to navigate to Pirate Bay or TorrentSpy to find the same thing that he could get for free, or for what is absolutely no big amount of cash? 

Well, the first thing that occurs to me is that the kids don’t trust the music companies, Hollywood or anything remotely resembling authority anymore.  The rootkit shit that Sony pulled a while back is still reverberating, and there’s a lot of "up yours" attitude for the years of overcharging $15 for a CD that had maybe one decent song on it.

The interesting bits come in the comments on the TechCrunch story, where the commenters basically slammed Radiohead’s site for being too crowded to allow downloads for 2-3 days, and complained about the Big Brother feeling of the registration process. 

Once again, interface design comes into play – like our recent experience trying to buy a classified ad from the LA Times, which resulted in an entire lost morning (simile alert: "it was like trying to buy something in a store, only the cashier keeps making you go back to the store and fill up your cart and wait in line all over again") and ultimately, no purchase of an ad in the LA Times.  They really are stupid over there.  When a company makes it difficult for you to give them money, there is nothing but bad news, layoffs and ultimately bankruptcy and extinction in the future for that firm.

The best that can be said from this is that maybe the labels are learning from it, and they might be ready to actually treat their customers like human beings, rather than criminals.

Whoops! Guess NOT.

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Aug 10

Free Weed! Free Weed!

Posted: under Uncategorized.
Tags: , , ,

First we’re gonna download the show off BitTorrent, and then we’re gonna go out and get some Cheetos, and some S’mores, man … oooh! And don’t forget the Doritos…

So amongst all the wailing and gnashing of teeth over illegal downloading, the response by the producer of the cult Showtime hit show "Weeds" is refreshing:

"Revenue aside, I don’t expect to get rich on ‘Weeds,’" she said, sounding downright jubilant. "I’m excited it’s out there. Showtime is great, but it does have a limited audience."

So while broadcast-network representatives express concern and frustration that their advertisers will be horrified by ever-declining audiences and buzz, Showtime can breathe easy: As a premium cable network, it has no advertisers, and with only 14.5 million paid subscribers, almost any sampling of its shows is seen as free promotion for the network. 

What a great, enlightened and smart attitude to take.  Most of the revenue generated by TV shows these days is from the DVD sales anyway. Yeah, I know – having the show downloadable on Torrent cuts into the box set sales … but then again, as more and more people are saying these days, they download and watch the show on computer, and then if they really like it, they’ll go out and buy the official version, so they get the high-quality one with all the extras, audio tracks, subtitles, etc.


Last night, I watched the movie "Ratatouille" on a Russian-version DVD.  I was impressed with the packaging – the DVD cover looked exactly like the official version – down to the tech specs on the back of the DVD listing the 2:35 aspect ratio, DTS sound, etc.  The movie itself was obviously a pirate of a screening, down to the audience laughter and reactions and scenes obscured by someone standing up and walking off to get more popcorn.  But watching the movie in that way, with the grainy picture-of-a-picture feeling made me want to see it in its true resolution.  The core story was so enjoyable that I want to see it again, and I am willing to pay for that privilege.

I know that this is not going to provide as fat a profit margin as the Good Old Days, when the captive audience had to pay whatever freight the content distributors felt like extorting … but the digital genie is out of the virtual bottle, and the fact that I can get a pro-looking copy of a movie that’s still doing business in the first-run theaters is very telling.  And the fact that this is happening IN RUSSIA, and that the translator that I got this movie from has had it for a while, is even more interesting.  It means that the black market distribution channels are even more efficient than the legit channels; to get the movie shot, rendered, set up with a still frame spelling out "Ratatouille" in Russian, with the menu items (12 chapters, jump to scene, etc.), and packaged in a plastic jewel case means that the operations set up to do so have done this enough to really work the kinks out of their operation.

The Ad Age article goes on to speculate that Joost may actually save TV producers from the relentless piracy:

Still in beta, Joost already hHate_my_30sas moved to make headline-grabbing piracy a thing of the past by co-opting web pirates’ hunger for the new. Viacom-owned basic-cable network VH1 made all eight episodes of its series "I Hate My 30s" available on Joost beginning July 17, nearly two weeks before its debut on the music-themed network. Pausing a show such as "30s" is possible on Joost, but rewinding and fast-forwarding aren’t, nor is saving a show to a computer or sharing it with other websites.


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Feb 09

The Anna Nicole I Knew

Posted: under journalism, television.
Tags: , , ,

I first ran into Anna Nicole back in ’92 or so, when she OD’d at the Peninsula Hotel.  I was assigned to do the story, and I rushed over to interview what turned out to be some of the most valuable sources I’ve ever had.  I got great quotes about how the paramedics nearly dislocated their shoulders trying to hoist her onto the gurney (she was a big girl), how she had drank about 8 "Sex on the Beach" shots and then got onto the vodka&vicodin regimen when she got back to her room. 

She then accused her boyfriend, Daniel Christopher Ross, of trying to kill her by trying to force the pills down her throat.  I managed to get her on the phone from Midway Medical Center, where she muzzily denied that anything was wrong with her, until I started reading her direct quotes from the police report.  "Naaawwhhh! Thas’ nah whah Ah said!" she slurred, and then started trying to tell me some disjointed story about people trying to kill her until someone grabbed the phone from her hands and slammed it down.

A year or so later, she dumped Ross, and he immediately called because he was trying to flog the tell-all story about his wild nights will Anna Nicole all over town.  He was wired-up and jumpy, chainsmoking and claiming Anna Nicole and he used to smoke crack, that crack was the only thing that would keep her thin, and that she would let her son (who was then about 8) play with her boobs in the bathtub. He basically trashed her, and told lurid tales about her sex life and how she used to eat gi-normous breakfasts of biscuits&gravy, half a dozen eggs, sausage, pancakes, etc., all topped off with booze and pills.

About a year after that, a shift character who claimed his gang name was "Sweet Pea" and who claimed to be her bodyguard/boyfriend/chauffer called up to tell all.  He had nude pictures of Anna Nicole performing various acts.  He claimed that she had been pregnant with his baby, and that he had a picture of her in the shower, naked and fried out of her head, sitting down and talking to the baby in her swollen stomach.  Sweet Pea said that he was talking because her drug use was getting out of hand, and he feared for his baby’s life.  And he also wanted $25,000 for the photos and the videotapes of group sex.

Next was the whole J. Howard Marshall brigade – all the cretins and golddiggers trying to come up with ways to chisel off a chunk of his fortune from either him or her.

Next came the authors of the book "Big Beautiful Doll," who were the photographers who claimed to have discovered Anna Nicole back in the day, and who had written a tell-all book about what she was really like before she got famous, back when she was working the drive-thru chicken window in rural Texas.

Then came a number of parties back in ’99, when a friend and I ran into Anna.  The host of the party offered to introduce me to Anna, saying that he thought that we would get along.  By this time, I was taking a hiatus from the reporting biz (well, more or less), but curiosity compelled me to go over and sit next to her.  During a rather contentious conversation with my friend Steve, she put on a fake-Brooklyn mob guy tough voice and said "Yeah, you gots big balls, huh?" And then she reached over and grabbed his crotch. She then proceeded to get hammered and started calling me "Johnathan." I tried to tell her my name, but she insisted on calling me Johnathan.  Finally, a girlfriend of hers intervened, explaining "She just broke up with her boyfriend Johnathan, who looks just like you."  So I figured I might as well play along. "All right, yes, I’m Johnathan," I said.  "Why haven’t you called me back?" she pouted, and then stuck her hand down my pants. The woman had a grip like a blacksmith, and would not let go until I stood up and made my escape. 

There was always weird energy around her.

Finally, Mark Stuplin of E! was assigned to produce her reality-TV show.  About two weeks into the show, he called and moaned, "I’m producing a train wreck!"  The show debuted with huge ratings and a weekly re-hash on KROQ here in L.A., where fake-morning DJ Laqueesha said things like "I just want to run up and kiss Anna Nicole all over her body! She is so damn stupid! This is the greatest TV show ever about brain-damaged people that I have ever seen!"

I think that it is only a matter of time before someone puts 2 and 2 together and figures out that, like Marilyn and the Kennedy brothers, Anna Nicole and the Bush brothers had something going on.  How long until we get the conspiracy theorists to come out and say that Jeb had her iced so that she wouldn’t blow the whistle on her affairs with the two Bush boys?

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Jan 08

Whatever Happened to the Rush-fan Types?

Posted: under Uncategorized.

If you grew up in the Midwest in the 80s, part of the soundtrack was the complicated melodies and dense (if not pretentious) lyrics of Rush.  This comes to mind because while finishing up on the stories that I’ve been slaving away at for the last four months for the NAA, I clicked through on a link and found myself listening to an Ultimate Headphone collection that included songs from Rush.

It had been so long since I had sat down and listened to their music … immediately, I closed my eyes and I could *smell* the interior of my old 1974 Pontiac Ventura.  I had that car during my whole "muscle car" days, when I yanked the engine and plonked in a monster 454 big-block Chevy that a mechanic named "Kowabunga" (we all called him "Bunga" for short) had rebuilt.

I was working 3 jobs back then, on top of going to college, and to clear my head I used to climb into that unholy beast of a car, fire up that huge V-8 and cruise the back roads of rural Wisconsin, tuning into the late-night FM rock stations, at an hour when the station managers no longer yanked the leash on the DJs, and they could indulge by playing the music that they really liked.  These were the hours of the King Biscuit Flour Hour … and of Rush.  The Ventura needed very little coaxing to tear up the roads – about halfway to the floor would have the needle buried at 120.  I don’t think I ever really took it to flat-out. Which is probably a good thing, since the shitty all-weather Sears radials probably would have blown out – as it was, I was pushing them to the point where they were losing adhesion and it felt like I was piloting a runaway jet fighter down a hockey rink.

But getting back to the Rush fans, it seemed like every goddam backyard kegger and student slum basement party had a scrawny, intense, wired-up guy in granny glasses who was the biggest Rush fan in the world. This guy would latch onto you and spend the rest of the party trailing you around, trying to convince you that Geddy Lee was the 2nd coming … of Mozart or Jesus or Moloch or something…

If you’re nodding your head right now, you know what I mean. If you’re not, well then, I guess you just hadda be there and be then. Something about that music, in that time and place, reached out to these people who were on society’s fringes, who were going to the parties and finding themselves alone in the crowds, trying to fit in but not knowing how. Reached out to them and grabbed something inside them and compelled them to try to share it with otheres. I hope that I was polite to them, although I rather suspect that I was not, as I was then focused more on getting the feathered-haired, shiny-cheeked Upper Midwest college girls to do enough Electric Lemonade shots so that neither of us would mind making dingbats of ourselves out on the dance floor.

So what happened to this somatotype? The intense, intellectual, alienated geek? What kind of music are they listening to these days? Or do they even bother; are they all diving headfirst into their computers, surfing the web in search of the type of conversation that they are unable to conduct in the meatworld? To all them lonely souls, a link to a Rush song above about the people who don’t, can’t or won’t fit in. Lyrics below:

Sprawling on the fringes of the city
In geometric order
An insulated border
In between the bright lights
And the far unlit unknown
Growing up it all seems so one-sided
Opinions all provided
The future pre-decided
Detached and subdivided
In the mass production zone
Nowhere is the dreamer
Or the misfit so alone
Subdivisions –
In the high school halls
In the shopping malls
Conform or be cast out
Subdivisions –
In the basement bars
In the backs of cars
Be cool or be cast out
Any escape might help to smooth
The unattractive truth
But the suburbs have no charms to soothe
The restless dreams of youth
Drawn like moths we drift into the city
The timeless old attraction
Cruising for the action
Lit up like a firefly
Just to feel the living night
Some will sell their dreams for small desires
Or lose the race to rats
Get caught in ticking traps
And start to dream of somewhere
To relax their restless flight
Somewhere out of a memory
Of lighted streets on quiet nights

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