The ‘Doomsday Clock’ is broken – it conflates disparate threats

Guest essay by Noel S. Williams

The Doomsday clock cannot simultaneously measure the threats of nuclear war and climate change.

Lawrence Krauss, left, Thomas Pickering and David Titley announce The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ decision to move the so-called ‘Doomsday Clock to 2.5 minutes to midnight in Washington, D.C., on Friday. (JIM LO SCALZO/EPA)

Lawrence Krauss, left, Thomas Pickering and David Titley announce The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ decision to move the so-called ‘Doomsday Clock to 2.5 minutes to midnight in Washington, D.C., on January 27th, 2017. (JIM LO SCALZO/EPA)

The board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists recently issued their 2017 Doomsday Clock Statement: it is two and a half minutes to midnight. That’s alarming – the closest the clock has been to midnight since 1953, when the superpowers were testing the hydrogen bomb.

If they are so intent on scaring us silly, their symbolic clock should be accurate, and that’s problematic since it tracks disparate threats with varying degrees of urgency: nuclear war; climate change; and emerging technologies. The scientists’ stated motivation is to apply pressure to governmental leaders by calling on citizens “to express themselves in all the ways available to them.”

Their message would be more potent if they don’t conflate disparate threats. The notion of a single Doomsday Clock that conflates climate change with nuclear war and emerging technologies is convoluted.

The threat of nuclear war is more urgent. The timescales are more amenable to a clock which can be fine-tuned to accommodate specific events: rogue nations conducting nuclear tests; China rattling its sabers; India and Pakistan quarreling over Kashmir; Russia reneging on a deal on the disposal of weapons-grade plutonium; deployment of destabilizing weapons.

Climate change and anthropogenic global warming are a bit fuzzier. A Doomsday clock that purports to measure its trend line cannot be as precise as one that measures the threat of nuclear war. Moreover, the nature of the clock is inherently different: the Nuclear Doomsday clock can go counterclockwise — it has moved backwards with the signing of test ban and nonproliferation treaties, for example.

According to the scientific consensus on the trajectory and causes of global warming, there is no going back; indeed, we may already be at midnight. Even if we stop carbon dioxide emissions now, greenhouse gasses and temperatures will still grow. According to these scientists the arrow of time only moves forward for anthropogenic global warming; all we can do is slow the clock as it ticks inexorably towards a post-apocalyptic dawn.

If the clock measuring the threat of nuclear war can go backwards, but global warming is irreversible, how can they be calibrated simultaneously by the same Doomsday clock?

In 2015, the atomic scientists moved the clock forward two minutes, largely due to climate change: “Unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernizations, and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals pose[s] extraordinary threats….[C]urrent efforts are entirely insufficient to prevent a catastrophic warming of Earth.” This wasn’t done in isolation, but in relation to previous movements that were based upon a nuclear threat that ticks at a different rate. The timescales of the threats are not concomitant and cannot be consistently measured by the hands of the same clock.

Besides the lack of symmetry, the imminence of the threat of nuclear war is measured in minutes. Decisions about DEFCON alerts are time-condensed as humans evaluate whether the sirens are due to a software flaw, space debris, a flock of geese, a gamma ray burst or, god-forbid, incoming ballistic missiles. The time horizon for a corresponding impact caused by climate change may be hours. (cont…)

The Doomsday Clock is a haunting reminder of some of the perils the human race faces, but even symbolic clocks should have consistent continuity.

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128 thoughts on “The ‘Doomsday Clock’ is broken – it conflates disparate threats

  1. It’s actually EIGHT seconds to midnight…if you’re a Warmist Climate Scientist, because your funding is about to be cut off in 5…4…

  2. It’s been somewhere just this side of midnight my entire life. How long is a minute in Dooms Clock time? It’s laugh out loud funny how serious those buffoons look with their play-school drawing of a meaningless clock.

      • “The patent was issued to the Kansas State University Research Foundation, a nonprofit corporation responsible for managing technology transfer activities at the university”

        http://www.k-state.edu/media/newsreleases/2017-01/graphenepatent12517.html

        As far as graphene investing, I don’t know. BAM bought graphtec international (the company to install the first electric street lights) and all of their patents. The big opportunities will be with the startups in the applications of graphene. The sky’s the limit with a myriad of 3D printed materials with printed graphene circuitry.

  3. That’s amusing — the chances of a nuclear exchange w/Russia are prb’ly the lowest since they had nukes.

  4. Since it is a 12 hour clock, are they sure that it isn’t 2.5 minutes ’till noon? A stopped clock is right twice a day.

  5. …never let a crisis go to waste

    even if you have to invent the crisis

    They’re going to crank it up for all it’s worth….their entire socialist globalization is falling apart

  6. And what of Iran and their new missiles? But when you have a President who thinks that a so called existential threat is the biggest concern, why are we surprised by these guys?

      • Who would have thought the assassination of an Archduke would lead to the horrors of WW I? Picture Iranian nukes on their way to Tel Aviv…what could possibly go wrong???

      • Yep, it’s not Iran’s worldwide capability,it’s the fact that if they do something nuclear to Israel there’s gonna be a bunch of Poseidon class type submarine nukes launched at Tehran and who knows who else. And they’ve already said they want to destroy Israel.

  7. The clock is a political symbol. It measures nothing but the politics of its owners. Why should anyone care about that.

    • That has always been the case.
      They have always measured political tension based on how well the American president did what the Kremlin wanted.

    • I love the part where we should be worried about the “accuracy” of the measurement of somebody’s move. Maybe they should add 3 decimals to it, to make it look more “accurate”.

      I think instead of “midnight” it should say “progs run around in circles screaming because they have all lost their damn minds!”

      Although if they use that, they’d have to show that we’d already hit it.

      • wws
        + lots.
        Let us seek seven decimal places.

        I remember when I was Chief Officer on a Very Large Crude Carrier.
        I was required to report the cargo loaded to three decimal places of a (metric) tonne. To the nearest kilogram. A bag of sugar. The ship was 330 metres long, 55 metres wide and drew about twenty metres of water. To increase depth [Draft] by one centimetre took 160 tonnes. and I was expected to report to the nearest bag of sugar!
        Yeah right.
        [So far as I know, ‘Yeah right’ is the only Double Positive that actually means a negative. Best understood when spoken. Open to correction.]
        I identified at least five sources of error [in short, density; temperature [one reading per three tanks]; volume and distortion of the cargo space] and was confident of my calculation to the nearest thousand tonnes. Hundreds were – probably – close. I think.

        Most of ‘climate’ is 8ull5h1t past the decimal point. At best.

        Auto, aware of numbers, estimates and wild, arm-waving guesses – which, might you think, applies to the watermelon cult/religion.
        Now if the aforementioned arm-waving guesses are the best we have, if they are correctly labelled, let’s go with them – with caution.

  8. The notion that men in white lab coats can calculate the imminence or likelihood of global apocalypse is almost too ludicrous to entertain.

    Way back in 1953, citing the first H-bomb tests by the United States and the Soviet Union, the Atomic Scientists said the world was only two minutes to midnight. Today, again, it’s supposedly two minutes to midnight. How can the world be minutes from Armageddon for more than 60 years? It’s been decades since Barry McGuire told us “we’re on the eve of destruction.”

    A good case can be made that nuclear weapons have been a stabilizing force, making all-out wars of aggression unacceptably costly to the Soviet Union and Mao’s China–regimes imbued with vast imperial ambition and commanding massive invasion forces.

    And if global warming is a reason to move minute hand forward, shouldn’t the improving state of the world, abundantly documented by Indur Goklany (https://wattsupwiththat.com/2015/07/06/have-fossil-fuels-diminished-the-worlds-sustainability-and-resilience/), turn the clock back?

    • To be realistic you should include the USA in your list of regimes.
      It has waged war on more countries than the others and currently has about 900 military bases around the world.
      It has wisely refrained from attacking its competitors because of the cost.
      So if nuclear power can even restrain the world’s only super-power, as well as the others, let’s have more of it!

      • Uh….waged wars….tell me: how many wars has US initiated? That is, absent interventionist Russia, or China, or Germany, and absent humanitarian pleas from a tyrant’s victims? We’re either damned as isolationists when we allow other countries to destroy civilization or we’re “war wagers” when we do intervene….

      • I guess you can always find good reasons for war, but native americans, viets, Mexico, Colombia and Spain (when USA raped Texas to California, Panama, Florida and Cuba from them ), Russia (because of Alaska), Japan (because of Perry expedition), Irak (lies about weapons of mass destruction), etc. may beg to differ.

      • Vietnam was started as a civil war the French jumped into, then passed off to us. Texas was not gotten from Spain, but seceded from Mexico and the US had nothing to do with that (it became part of the US 9 years after the fact). Japan was never about Perry, but about Japanese imperialism. They started it in 31, and only got us involved 10 years later. We have never been at war with Columbia, so you need to get your facts together. Nor have we ever been at war with Russia, so that is just another mistake on your part.

        But then based upon the totality of your comment, it does not seem you deal with facts, just ignorance.

      • Not too hot on that history thingy are you paqyfelyc? Russia sold Alaska to the US, which was actually rather unwilling to buy, but finally did close the deal so as not sour relations with Russia which were very good at that time. And Texas was an independent country when it joined the US.

  9. What I find most alarming (pun) is that young people today can’t even read an analog clock. I have nieces who can’t tell the time unless they look at the digital read out on their cell phones! Now THAT’S a crisis!
    I agree warlolesdjr that the whole nuclear war clock notion is pure booshwah. It’s pure political theater. There is no objective way to measure the threat in a numeric way. It bears so much resemblance to the climate doomsayers who keep moving the goal posts of when we are past the fictitious “tipping point”.

  10. Since 1953?

    The clock is not broken, it is useless. You could argue it is closer to midnight than at any time since the Missile crises. But that would be a stretch.

    It is now safer than it has been in 8 years. It may not stay that way, but it is clear that Russia (and Putin) has more respect for Trump than for either Hillary or Obama. And their scaremongering made us less safe because eventually they would have ratcheted it up until we were again sitting on the button.

    So another icon of the cold war becomes a dishonest political tool.

  11. The day of doom is in God the Father’s domain. Only the Father knows the day; not even Jesus, the Son of the Father, knows the day. But, heh, Doomsday is a good tool originally invented to scare people about nuclear proliferation. Of course other than to scare people, it has no viable purpose.

  12. The Doomsday Clock is a good object-lesson example of scientists’ seeking, and society conferring, scientific prestige upon something innately unscientific. Perhaps uncritical acceptance of the “scientists say” associated with the Doomsday Clock softened us up to accept the “scientists say” of AGW.

  13. The clock seems to exist in Einstein’s relativity universe. I find this frustrating. If I could sync my smart phone with the dooms day clock at least I could make some rational, self serving financial decisions, but no, the clock runs at its own undiscoverable pace. Do I run up debt or pay off the mortgage? Is it time to buy that sports car? Am I throwing money away on my kids university fees? This clock is of no practical use in my world.

  14. The Doomsday Clock measures absolutely nothing. There has been no measurement…there is no measurement, there will be no measurement. They entire construct is the combined opinions of a rather particular (and peculiar) set of men [and women?] about something that has no quantifiable reality, certainly not one measured in days, hours and minutes.

    It is a self-admitted scare tactic in a propaganda war intended to frighten citizens into taking action [what, no one every says…] on the issues that concern that very small set of peculiar persons who somehow have ended up as the board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists “.

      • It is pasteboard, I believe. Fairly inexpensive compared to super-computers. The clock is very energy efficient as well….requires no energy when the hand is not being moved.

      • Kip
        Noted and agreed.
        Almost a perfect clock, it seems.
        Pity it is – it seems – ideologically driven.

        Auto

  15. Clearly and logically the whole thing is downright silly and completely meaningless. THE “clock” obviously doesn’t run and I’m not talking about the stupid ¼ of a clock they use in their dog and pony show. If NASA announced later today that there is a mile-wide meteor headed straight toward earth and impact will be in 3 days, would these self-aggrandizing “scientists” update their presentation – to 4 micro-seconds before midnight? And what is bad or magical about midnight? Like “climate” it’s a mythical conjecture and fixation of the collective human mind. For that matter, so is time itself…. But in relation to existence, either individually or collectively, we are always but a micro-second away from the end. So why bother? Live life to its fullest! These people are nothing more than a downer and bump in the road in the quest for happiness. Best ignored…

  16. I think the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists ought to outsource their doomsday calculation to the Rapture Index.” It’s just as scientific as their method, is much more thorough, and tracks many more threats of the ineffable variety; the sort of threat to which CO2 emissions belongs by all evidence.

    False Christs/CO2 emissions/Tribulation Temples — ineffable dooms no matter where you look. :-)

  17. “Breaking: Union of Concerned Plumbers sets Doomsday Toilet 1 minute closer to flush.” – David Burge

    • International Association of Birefringent Optometrists, also, tightened the focus to six hecto-seconds from midday.

      Auto
      No /Sarc about this: – I made the IABO name up myself.
      I know where it lives, and where the officers live.
      [No reflection on how Russia won the World Cup 2018. Of course]
      Cancel that last comment. I don’t want to drink polonium tea.

      President Putin is a reasonable man.
      Mods – please add a /Sarc to the previous line, if appropriate.

  18. “Breaking: Union of Concerned Plumbers sets Doomsday Toilet 1 minute closer to flush.” – David Burge

    • It’s not even a CLOCK. It’s a picture of a clock. As Duchamp said, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”. They couldn’t even afford a big fake clock with movable hands. It’s no wonder today’s youth can’t read an analog clock. Fake scientists can’t even show them how the hands move around a clock face. Jeez!
      At least the “clock” didn’t come from China, it came from Kinkos.

  19. Once again — “who watches the watchmen?”

    That was the catch phrase of the movie and the graphic novel, but it is still valid. Who is watching the people who make these reports for their validity?

    Nobody — which means there is no validity. It’s like using a scale that hasn’t ever been calibrated.

  20. More junk science! Atomic Scientist does that mean they glow in the dark? Of course not! That might be useful!

  21. We need to be clear on what exactly they are saying. First, this is the Doomsday Clock. What they are talking about is total Thermonuclear Armageddon. So clearly, some piddling thing like a regional nuclear war between, for example, Pakistan and India, Iran and Israel, North Korea and anybody, is of no concern. So we see the threat is that of the big H-Bombs going off all over the planet.

    Their message would be more potent if they don’t conflate disparate threats. The notion of a single Doomsday Clock that conflates climate change with nuclear war and emerging technologies is convoluted.

    Not at all. These Scientific and Military deep-thinkers have clearly discerned a quantifiable cause and effect relationship between Global Thermonuclear War and CAGW. Without a doubt, this puts the Catastrophic in AGW.
    With the relationship between CAGW and Thermonuclear Armageddon quantified and measured, one question remains. Is the relationship symmetrical? That is, will Thermonuclear Armageddon cause CAGW. Clearly, such a war will cause extreme local heating in specific areas. But so far, the idea that a Global Thermonuclear War would cause a rise in the overall planetary temperature is an untested hypothesis.

    • Well put and in fact Global Nuclear War is the antidote to CAGW because after creating a few local hotspots it will bless us with Global Nuclear Winter!
      Of course the Warmistas will use the Urban Heat Island effect to say it’s a lot hotter.

    • TonyL
      “But so far, the idea that a Global Thermonuclear War would cause a rise in the overall planetary temperature is an untested hypothesis.”

      Agree.
      But I would, on the whole, prefer this to Remain an ‘untested hypothesis’.

      Like – a little warming [with – not necessarily caused by – higher CO2] is good.
      Cooling – less so.

      Auto, probably stating the blindingly obvious . . . . . . . .

  22. If one considers and man is contributing to warming, then ‘climate change’ should move the clock back giving more time before the inevitable conflicts caused by the return of the glaciers.

    The US will be fine as we gain all sorts of land off our coasts. But Canada is largely under ice. Most of the UK goes.

    As these northern countries seek to solve their shrinking land issues conflict is inevitable. Man made global warming, if it exists in any significant amount beyond natural variation (doubtful) it would certainly add time on the doomsday clock.

  23. They look like the mad professors in a 1950s B movie.

    As they’ve told us we’ve only got 2 1/2 mins left we haven’t got time to help save the world, so mustn’t panic, just enough time to shag the dog & kick the wife !

    As my old granny said –
    You only have one life…Live it to the full; Do no harm; Leave the world better than when you came in to it.

    6,316 people die each hr…..YOU could be next.

  24. I think a more operative term than “conflated” would be … “inflated”, as in importance.

    This is an era of scientists using scare tactics to maintain funding, is it ?

  25. If Donald Trump doesn’t listen to these scientists, then they will have no choice but to move the clock to 2 1/4 minutes to midnight. That will show him! But if he is still obstinate, then we will have to move the clock to 2 1/8 minutes to midnight! That should scare the pants off him then.

  26. See the numbskull Krauss in picture of the doomsday clock? See his climate change garbage get fully rebutted (destroyed) in this video:

    Physicist Lawrence Krauss Bombs out on Climate Science:

    • How do these people keep their jobs? There doesn’t seem to be any accountability. How can professionals be so wrong? They are making public comments that are embarrassing to themselves, their employers and their procession. Where is the accountability?

  27. As ridiculously and immaturely as i can state it. The doomsday clock is stupid. So are the morons posing with it. Jackasses.

  28. The purveyors of fraudulent science are 8 days past ‘dooms day’… and just waking up to that fact now! The strident and progressively louder squealing you hear is the sound of professional piggies fighting for their share of a daily diminishing supply of taxpayer funded AGW slop……

    It’s another good day ‘in the news’ for the USA!

  29. I cannot remember any time, what-so-ever, that the doomsday clock was ever taken seriously. Let’s not concern ourselves with groundhog day predictions and making mountains out of molehills. GK

  30. The Tell-Tale Hearts are a better indicator of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change. Adjust your Choice accordingly.

  31. I know that people should not be judged by their faces, but perhaps by their facial expression. These guys I would not even trust my house keys for flowering. They have such a bad face, as some reporters at CNN or the German Unity broadcasting.

    • Hans-Georg, they do look very grim, you are right, but it’s not well known that they were all required to hold a strong dill pickle in their mouths for this picture.

      And all the German Unity broadcasters? — forced to keep a forkful of saurkraut packed between the teeth and the cheek, all of them. That’s why they look as they do on TV.

  32. Bulletin of Atomic Scientists…… AGW……Hmmmmm.
    Oh, Grrreeeaat! Now it’s Atomic Global Warming!!!
    Like – Oh m’god! That’ll put a ‘hot spot’ in the ol’ Troposphere, fer sure! Totally!!!

  33. Yes, I was pondering this in another comment somewhere. Weapons of mass destruction — now there’s the REALLY alarming threat of … “global warming’. It would make more sense to divert climate funding to THIS concern.

    What does the doomsday clock’s alarm sound like ? It’s a voice that says, Think of the children. No, it’s “cookoo, cookoo, cookoo, think of the children.”

  34. I’m not taking it seriously until its published in a peer-reviewed journal along with the method, raw data and calibration curve

  35. I always thought that clock thing was a stupid gimmick.

    Idiots advanced it when Reagan took office, only to see the USSR crumple in a heap.

    The same kind of idiots gave O’Dinglenuts a Nobel Pizza Prize.

    • The photo above makes it clear how Monty Pythonesque the whole doomsday stuff is. Gimme a break.

      Obama got a Nobel peace prize for doing nothing, Trump got a doomsday prediction as if he’d actually capable of changing the ppm speed that Obama didn’t. I don’t like rude language but this is something that deserved a four letter word spared for real geniuses. Here.

  36. Well, I suspect they are actually right about nuclear war.
    With the Obama/Kerry nuclear WW III on the horizon,
    ….those two have make it closer than a “duck and cover” drill.

    After all,
    China/Jinping are militarizing a big piece of the Pacific and want more,
    …..who needs Hawaii/Pearl Harbor anyway?
    Russia/Putin as they take the “Sudetenland”
    …..who needs Ukraine or Europe?
    and the sock puppets N.Korea and Iran will likely do obnoxious things.

  37. Global Warming will continue for a given time period. The climate will then revert to Global Cooling. Unless the climate goes through a plateau phase.

    Therefore the doomsday clock for Climate Change is a logical fallacy. An appeal to fear (also called argumentum ad metum or argumentum in terrorem.

    Same applies for the nuclear doomsday clock. The old adage Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).

    Regards
    Climate Heretic

  38. By crikey, maybe we have stumbled onto something here.
    Has anyone ever made a connection between nuclear testing and global warming?
    i.e cause and effect.
    Perhaps now we are seeing the effect of the testing in the Pacific and elsewhere. Still being continued here there and everywhere.
    I remember seeing an Aurora BOREALIS in NZ when the Americans let one off at Johnston Atoll.
    That was several lifetimes ago.

  39. Honestly, who actually pays any attention to their silly clock thing?

    Nobody listens anymore to the climate crew droning on about “five years to save the planet”, so two and a half minutes to save the planet isn’t going to get much traction either.

  40. Ah, but when they added in “climate change”, they forgot (as usual) to include the error bars. What they actually mean is two and a half minutes plus or minus an hour or so. Presumably minus, as we’re still here.

    They should remember that they’re atomic scientists. Given the quality of the people with their fingers on the buttons, that is at least a credible threat.

  41. Searched Lawrence Krauss in Wikipedia and found this:

    “he is known as an advocate of the public understanding of science, of public policy based on sound empirical data, of scientific skepticism and of science education, and works to reduce the influence of what he opines as superstition and religious dogma in popular culture.”

    Pity these principles have been compromised by the unverifiable claims in the doomsday prophecy of his personal preference: http://thebulletin.org/sites/default/files/Final%202017%20Clock%20Statement.pdf

    It’s a tough saving us from ourselves. Especially against our will. And yet the list of candidate has been long throughout the human history. If we now have to choose a mad scientist for the top job, I’d prefer Gyro Gearloose than Hector Hammond.

  42. I have never once seen that stupid Doomsday Clock without thinking of Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis.’ I always get the image in my head of the poor guy moving what appear to be clock hands to match the illuminated bulbs to control the machine. At least his job earned a paycheck. Perhaps we should all practice our Duck and Cover drills?
    I know it’s a bit OT. It’s just impossible to take these pompous panjandrums seriously.

  43. According to the scientific consensus on the trajectory and causes of global warming, there is no going back…

    Bullcrap. Entering an ice age, or even a mini-ice age would run the clock backwards. Even an extended non-warming period should move back a little.

    • The author is right in that the scientists see a TRAJECTORY that, despite blips, is generally heading one way. You should read the link he provides in the article. There is a stifling conformity in the scientific community that maintains that even if we stop producing greenhouse gasses now, temps from CO2 will still rise. Don’t necessarily agree with that, but they say the best we can do is alleviate the impact. I believe Mr. Williams is just saying that the scientist believe it may be too late to stop global warming ( http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/late-stop-global-warming/story?id=17557814) but NOT too late to turn the Nuclear Clock back.

  44. It is unfortunate that it takes time to determine that The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists is comprised of a group that contains no actual atomic scientists on their staff. The executive director has a degree in political science, the editor-in-chief an editor for a high end city magazine “Key West” among others (a public relations guy), one man in one of the published pictures associated with the press release is a former State Department employee turned lobbyist for Iran with ties to Boeing (part of the Iran deal), one has a PhD in meteorology who tried to link global warming to the Arab Spring, and finally an author of “The Physics of Star Trek”. No actual atomic scientists. To be fair there are a couple of actual physicists on their science and security board, but they are outnumbered by 3-1 with global warming political types.

    http://www.frontpagemag.com/fpm/265617/fake-atomic-scientists-iranian-doomsday-against-daniel-greenfield

    The Doomsday Clock appears to be handwaving political hype at best, and propaganda at worst. It’s a shame that we (myself included) always read with the assumption that an organization’s name indicates the training in the field that is being addressed.

  45. This means they concluded that Obama is 4 times as dangerous as Donald Trump for moving the clock forward 2 minutes compared to Trump’s 30 sec.

  46. Somebody forgot to toss in the Cuban Missile Crises
    back in 62. Let me tell you, that was a hell of a lot
    closer to nuclear war than these fools put us now.
    Those were some frightful times, believe me.

  47. The fact that “scientists” are promulgating such a subjective and overtly political statement as some kind of proxy for their ‘scientific opinion’ (sic) is a perfect commentary on the state of science today.

  48. What happens at midnight ? Nothing

    Look at the pose for the guy on the left … using his ‘very serious’ face LOL

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