Monday, April 23, 2012


USA Today publishes the results of a yearlong investigation into the environmental and health hazards posed by long-closed lead smelters; it's a sad story of negligence by government regulators:
More than a decade ago, government regulators received specific warnings that the soil in hundreds of U.S. neighborhoods might be contaminated with dangerous levels of lead from factories operating in the 1930s to 1960s, including the smelter near Shefton's house, Tyroler Metals, which closed around 1957.

Despite warnings, federal and state officials repeatedly failed to find out just how bad the problems were. A 14-month USA TODAY investigation has found that the EPA and state regulators left thousands of families and children in harm's way, doing little to assess the danger around many of the more than 400 potential lead smelter locations on a list compiled by a researcher from old industry directories and given to the EPA in 2001.

In some cases, government officials failed to order cleanups when inspectors detected hazardous amounts of lead in local neighborhoods. People who live nearby — sometimes directly on top of — old smelters were not warned, left unaware in many cases of the factories' existence and the dangers that remain. Instead, they bought and sold homes and let their children play in contaminated yards.

The USA TODAY investigation shows widespread government failures taking several forms:
• A failure to look. At dozens of sites, government officials performed cursory inquiries at best. In Minnesota, Indiana and Washington, state regulators told the EPA they could find no evidence that some smelters ever existed.
Yet in those states and others, reporters found the factories clearly documented in old insurance maps, town council minutes, city directories and telephone books — even in historical photos posted on the Web.
•A failure to act. In Pennsylvania, Maryland and Wisconsin, the EPA sent investigators to scores of sites from 2004 to 2006 after verifying a lead smelter once operated. The investigators recommended soil tests in the neighborhoods. Most of the tests were not done.
•A failure to protect. Even when state and federal regulators tested soil and found high levels of lead, as they did around sites in Philadelphia, Cleveland, Chicago and Portland, Ore., they failed for years to alert neighbors or order cleanups. Some kids who played in yards with heavily contaminated soil have dangerous levels of lead in their bodies, according to medical records obtained by USA TODAY.

The lessons we should have learned from BP's disaster in the Gulf haven't yet been enshrined in much-needed legislation:
Unfortunately, the US Congress — caught up in partisan rancour, including debates about expanding offshore oil drilling — has failed to adopt legislation to address the lessons learned and the recommendations of the oil-spill commission and others. Such legislation should codify the executive reforms mentioned earlier into law, increase liability limits, and dedicate sustained funding for oil-spill research and environmental assessment and monitoring.

Even in the current constrained fiscal circumstances, improved oversight and essential R&D could be supported by industry fees amounting to pennies per barrel, imperceptible within the daily fluctuations in price on the world market or at the pump.

New laws were passed within a year of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. If important lessons are not to be lost as the events of 2010 fade from memory, there is a pressing need to change the law to make such accidents less likely, and our response more effective.
After all, fines just aren't enough:
After its previous convictions, BP paid unprecedented fines — more than $70 million — and committed to spending at least $800 million more on maintenance to improve safety. The point was to demonstrate that the cost of doing business wrong far outweighed the cost of doing business right. But without personal accountability, the fines become just another cost of doing business, William Miller, a former investigator for the Environmental Protection Agency who was involved in the Texas City case, told me.

The problem then (and perhaps now) is that it is the slow pileup of factors that causes an industrial disaster. Poor decisions are usually made incrementally by a range of people with differing levels of responsibility, and almost always behind a shield of plausible deniability. It makes it almost impossible to pin one clear-cut bad call on a single manager, which is partly why no BP official has ever been held criminally accountable.

Instead, the corporation is held accountable. It isn’t clear that charging the company repeatedly with misdemeanors and felonies has accomplished anything.

At more than $30 billion and climbing, the amount BP has paid out so far for reparations, lawsuits and cleanup dwarfs the roughly $8 billion that Exxon had to pay after its 1989 spill in Prince William Sound in Alaska. And BP will very likely still pay billions more before this is finished.

And yet it is not enough. Two years after analysts questioned whether the extraordinary cost and loss of confidence might drive BP out of business, it has come roaring back. It collected more than $375 billion in 2011, pocketing $26 billion in profits.

What the gulf spill has taught us is that no matter how bad the disaster (and the environmental impact), the potential consequences have never been large enough to dissuade BP from placing profits ahead of prudence. That might change if a real person was forced to take responsibility — or if the government brought down one of the biggest hammers in its arsenal and banned the company from future federal oil leases and permits altogether. Fines just don’t matter.

In order to maximize profits, Discovery decides its best to give into the reality-deniers:
The vast majority of scientists agree that human activities are influencing changes to the climate — especially at the poles — and believe that the situation requires serious attention. That scientific consensus is absent from “Frozen Planet,” for reasons that shed light on the dilemma of commercial television, where the pursuit of ratings can sometimes clash with the quest for environmental and scientific education, particularly in issues, like global warming, that involve vociferous debate.

Including the scientific theories “would have undermined the strength of an objective documentary, and would then have become utilized by people with political agendas,” Vanessa Berlowitz, the series producer, said in an interview.

She added, “I feel that we’re trying to educate mass audiences and get children involved, and we didn’t want people saying ‘Don’t watch this show because it has a slant on climate change.’”

This approach — anticipating criticism and tiptoeing around it accordingly — is a reflection of the political and ideological fury that infuses many conversations about climate change. Some scientists say that the politicization of the subject has succeeded in causing governments, corporations and media outlets to shy away from open discussion about it.

“Many organizations, and it sounds like Discovery is one of them, appear to be more afraid of being criticized by climate change ‘dismissives’ than they are willing to provide information about climate change to the large majority of Americans who want to know more about it,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.

The people who are dismissive of human effect on climate change make up about 10 percent of the American population, according to Dr. Leiserowitz’s research, but they sometimes drown out the broader conversation about the subject, making themselves seem more numerous than they are.

In private, some people involved in the production said that Discovery and its production partners, including the BBC, were wary of alienating any of the potential audience for “Frozen Planet.”

First and foremost, “Frozen Planet” is a natural history documentary, said Eileen O’Neill, the president of Discovery. The series seeks to entice viewers with footage of seals, penguins, polar bears and other animals of the polar regions. Here’s the visual evidence, it asserts, of a warming planet; make of it what you will.


One of the seven episodes, “On Thin Ice,” was devoted to climate change. It placed the narrator of the British version of the series, David Attenborough, in front of the camera to show how warming trends are affecting humans and animals in the Arctic. Shown standing at the North Pole, Mr. Attenborough told viewers: “The days of the Arctic Ocean being covered by a continuous sheet of ice seem to be past. Whether or not that’s a good or bad thing, of course, depends on your point of view.”

Mr. Attenborough then noted the new opportunities for energy exploitation and commercial shipping. But he did not note that the vast majority of scientists believe that human activities are contributing to the warming trends evident there.

That hasn’t gone unnoticed. Greg Brian, a television writer for Yahoo, wrote earlier this month that by sidestepping the climate change science, Discovery has created a perception “that even bringing it up will bring a bevy of angry letters, protesters, or (worse) defectors from ever watching the particular cable channel again.”

Others said that the series was a lost opportunity for climate change education.

“It’s kind of like doing a powerful documentary about lung cancer and leaving out the part about the cigarettes,” said Bill McKibben, a scholar and climate change activist. “There’s no scientific mystery here: the poles are changing because we’re burning so much carbon.”

Discovery executives counter that by saying their approach may gain the attention of viewers who wouldn’t watch a straightforward documentary about climate change science.
And while Tucker Carlson may not think so, this is another reason why public broadcasting is so necessary — because the market may not prioritize recognizing those facts that make the powers that be uncomfortable. With programs like this, for example. (Watch the full episode of Earth: The Operators' Manual here.)

How to take on the climate change deniers:

The true importance of the pink slime controversy:
Americans are notorious for an unwillingness to eat anything but the choice cuts of meat — at least, when they know what they are. Most show little or no reluctance if it’s been ground, highly processed, and/or deep fried. But this tendency to flinch once you’ve seen the raw ingredients should not be confused with what is truly gross about pink slime — and that’s not just that it comes from the parts that would make people squeamish if they ate them straight off the animal.

No, what’s gross about pink slime is the fact that it’s a process that was developed to repurpose meat that was previously considered unfit for human consumption because of its high rate of pathogens. What they do to it is gross, yes — but it’s not the ammonia alone that’s the problem, either. It’s why they have to add ammonia that should make it unappetizing, particularly because they failed to tell us they were putting it in our burgers.

The huge error the industry made was trying to pass it off as true ground beef. In fact, the USDA whistleblower who coined the term pink slime observed that it technically fits the definition of something known as “beef-patty mix” — a meat additive. I think what kicked off the outrage wasn’t just pink slime itself (although the visceral gross-out factor is big), but the clear indication that the industry was trying to pull a fast one. We all know what ground beef is — and pink slime just isn’t ground beef.

But it’s also true that the broad use of pink slime lowered the cost of meat and resulted in fewer cows required to make a hamburger (by exactly how much and how many fewer is difficult to measure). For the record, industrial agriculture is very good at using the whole animal — the pork industry used to say they used “every part of the pig but the oink” — though this is less true in the age of diseases like Mad Cow, which have made cow and pig brains off-limits.

Because after all, if the animal is raised in an inhumane, pathogen-filled manner, eating every last ounce of it won’t solve our problems. Yes, eating meat efficiently is important — but so is eating a whole lot less of it.

In my view, the main positive impact of all of this attention pink slime has gotten is that it has made people think more critically about their meat consumption. Not that it’s enough, mind you, but it’s a start. And if it makes a few people nauseous along the way, well, I’m okay with that, too.

As David Cole noted in a piece I shared earlier, the feds are now prosecuting speech and thought crimes under the guise of terrorism; when there's a separate legal system for Muslims — one in which Constitutional protections, and high-falutin' concepts like liberty and justice don't exist — it's easy to make up any reason to send a man to jail, even if he never committed a crime:
On April 12, Mr. Mehanna was sentenced to 17 and a half years in prison. Hearing this, most Americans would probably assume that the F.B.I. caught a major homegrown terrorist and that 17 and a half years is reasonable punishment for someone plotting to engage in terrorism. The details, however, reveal this to be one of the most important free speech cases we have seen since Brandenburg v. Ohio in 1969.

As a political scientist specializing in Islamic law and war, I frequently read, store, share and translate texts and videos by jihadi groups. As a political philosopher, I debate the ethics of killing. As a citizen, I express views, thoughts and emotions about killing to other citizens. As a human being, I sometimes feel joy (I am ashamed to admit) at the suffering of some humans and anger at the suffering of others.

At Mr. Mehanna’s trial, I saw how those same actions can constitute federal crimes.


MR. MEHANNA’S crimes were speech crimes, even thought crimes. The kinds of speech that the government successfully criminalized were not about coordinating acts of terror or giving directions on how to carry out violent acts. The speech for which Mr. Mehanna was convicted involved the religious and political advocacy of certain causes beyond American shores.

The government’s indictment of Mr. Mehanna lists the following acts, among others, as furthering a criminal conspiracy: “watched jihadi videos,” “discussed efforts to create like-minded youth,” “discussed” the “religious justification” for certain violent acts like suicide bombings, “created and/or translated, accepted credit for authoring and distributed text, videos and other media to inspire others to engage in violent jihad,” “sought out online Internet links to tribute videos,” and spoke of “admiration and love for Usama bin Laden.” It is important to appreciate that those acts were not used by the government to demonstrate the intent or mental state behind some other crime in the way racist speech is used to prove that a violent act was a hate crime. They were the crime, because the conspiracy was to support Al Qaeda by advocating for it through speech.

Much of Mr. Mehanna’s speech on Web sites and in IM chats was brutal, disgusting and unambiguously supportive of Islamic insurgencies in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. In one harrowing IM chat, which the government brought up repeatedly during the trial, he referred to the mutilation of the remains of American soldiers in response to the rape of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl as “Texas BBQ.” He wrote poetry in praise of martyrdom. But is the government right that such speech, however repulsive, can be criminalized as material support for terrorism?


We have the resources to prevent acts of violence without threatening the First Amendment. The Mehanna prosecution is a frightening and unnecessary attempt to expand the kinds of religious and political speech that the government can criminalize. The First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston should at least invalidate Mr. Mehanna’s conviction for speech and reaffirm the Supreme Court’s doctrines in Brandenburg and Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project. Otherwise, the difference between what I do every day and what Mr. Mehanna did is about the differences between the thoughts in our heads and the feelings in our hearts, and I don’t trust prosecutors with that jurisdiction.

Inequality as a driver of insufficient political action to stem the Great Recession:
Why has the response to the crisis been so inadequate? Before financial crisis struck, we think it’s fair to say that most economists imagined that even if such a crisis were to happen, there would be a quick and effective policy response. In 2003 Robert Lucas, the Nobel laureate and then-president of the American Economic Association, urged the profession to turn its attention away from recessions to issues of longer-term growth. Why? Because, he declared, the “central problem of depression-prevention has been solved, for all practical purposes, and has in fact been solved for many decades.”

Yet when a real depression arrived — and what we are experiencing is indeed a depression, although not as bad as the Great Depression — policy failed to rise to the occasion. Yes, the banking system was bailed out. But job-creation efforts were grossly inadequate from the start — and far from responding to the predictable failure of the initial stimulus to produce a dramatic turnaround with further action, our political system turned its back on the unemployed. Between bitterly divisive politics that blocked just about every initiative from President Obama, and a bizarre shift of focus away from unemployment to budget deficits despite record-low borrowing costs, we have ended up repeating many of the mistakes that perpetuated the Great Depression.

Nor, by the way, were economists much help. Instead of offering a clear consensus, they produced a cacophony of views, with many conservative economists, in our view, allowing their political allegiance to dominate their professional competence. Distinguished economists made arguments against effective action that were evident nonsense to anyone who had taken Econ 101 and understood it. Among those behaving badly, by the way, was none other than Robert Lucas, the same economist who had declared just a few years before that the problem of preventing depressions was solved.

So how did we end up in this state? How did America become a nation that could not rise to the biggest economic challenge in three generations, a nation in which scorched-earth politics and politicized economics created policy paralysis?

We suggest it was the inequality that did it. Soaring inequality is at the root of our polarized politics, which made us unable to act together in the face of crisis. And because rising incomes at the top have also brought rising power to the wealthiest, our nation’s intellectual life has been warped, with too many economists co-opted into defending economic doctrines that were convenient for the wealthy despite being indefensible on logical and empirical grounds.

Philosopher Michael Sandel on how our lives suffer when we allow the logic of markets rules our lives:
At a time of rising inequality, the marketization of everything means that people of affluence and people of modest means lead increasingly separate lives. We live and work and shop and play in different places. Our children go to different schools. You might call it the skyboxification of American life. It's not good for democracy, nor is it a satisfying way to live.

Democracy does not require perfect equality, but it does require that citizens share in a common life. What matters is that people of different backgrounds and social positions encounter one another, and bump up against one another, in the course of everyday life. For this is how we learn to negotiate and abide our differences, and how we come to care for the common good.

And so, the question of markets is really a question about how we want to live together. Do we want a society where everything is up for sale? Or are there certain moral and civic goods that markets do not honor and money cannot buy?

The prison-corporate complex — the past and future of free-market capitalism?:
Prisoners, whose ranks increasingly consist of those for whom the legitimate economy has found no use, now make up a virtual brigade within the reserve army of the unemployed whose ranks have ballooned along with the U.S. incarceration rate. The Corrections Corporation of America and G4S (formerly Wackenhut), two prison privatizers, sell inmate labor at subminimum wages to Fortune 500 corporations like Chevron, Bank of America, AT&T, and IBM.

These companies can, in most states, lease factories in prisons or prisoners to work on the outside. All told, nearly a million prisoners are now making office furniture, working in call centers, fabricating body armor, taking hotel reservations, working in slaughterhouses, or manufacturing textiles, shoes, and clothing, while getting paid somewhere between 93 cents and $4.73 per day.

Rarely can you find workers so pliable, easy to control, stripped of political rights, and subject to martial discipline at the first sign of recalcitrance -- unless, that is, you traveled back to the nineteenth century when convict labor was commonplace nationwide. Indeed, a sentence of “confinement at hard labor” was then the essence of the American penal system. More than that, it was one vital way the United States became a modern industrial capitalist economy -- at a moment, eerily like our own, when the mechanisms of capital accumulation were in crisis.

Coming to terms with death via psychedelic drugs:
Lauri Reamer is a 48-year-old survivor of adult-onset leukemia. Before the leukemia, she was an anesthesiologist and a committed agnostic who believed in “validity” and “reliability,” the scientific method her route to truth. Reamer recalls the morning when all that changed, when, utterly depleted, she bumped her leg on a railing and saw a bruise rush up, livid on her pale flesh; it was then she knew something was terribly wrong. After that came the diagnosis, the bone-marrow biopsies, the terrible trek toward a recovery that was tentative at best. “I believed I was going to die,” Reamer told me.

Reamer made it through the leukemia — or, rather, she went into remission — but the illness and the brutal bone-marrow treatments she underwent left a deep mental scar, a profound fear that the cancer would return made it difficult to experience any joy in life. Her illness was lurking around every corner, waiting to haul her away. “When I was near death, I wasn’t so afraid of it,” Reamer said, “but once I went into remission, well, I had an intense fear and anxiety around relapse and death.”

It was in the midst of this fear that, one day in May 2010, Reamer learned about Griffiths’s study at Johns Hopkins. For years, Griffiths had been studying the effects of psilocybin on healthy volunteers. He wanted to see if particular doses of the drug could induce mystical states similar to naturally occurring ones: think Joan of Arc or Paul on the road to Damascus. Griffiths says that he and his research team found an ideal range of dosage levels — 20 to 30 milligrams of psilocybin — that not only reliably stimulated “mystical insights” but also elicited “sustained positive changes in attitude, mood and behavior” in the study volunteers. Specifically, when Griffiths administered a psychological test called the Death Transcendance Scale at the 1- and 14-month follow-up, he saw subjects’ ratings rise on statements like “Death is never just an ending but part of a process” and “My death does not end my personal existence.”

“After transcendent experiences, people often have much less fear of death,” Griffiths says. Fourteen months after participating in a psilocybin study that was published in The Journal of Psychopharmacology last year, 94 percent of subjects said that it was one of the five most meaningful experiences of their lives; 39 percent said that it was the most meaningful experience.

Wondering whether he could see the same shifts in attitude in terminally ill patients, he designed a study that gave subjects a high dose of psilocybin (higher than Grob had given) in one session and a dose that varied from subject to subject in a second session. Because the study is continuing, Griffiths did not want to discuss the precise amounts of the drug given, but said that “dose selection in the cancer study is informed by what we have learned in the prior studies.”

At the end of September 2010, Lauri Reamer took her first dose of psilocybin. “I mostly just cried through that session,” she says. Three weeks later, she went back to Johns Hopkins for her second dose. She remembers a lovely room with a large plush couch. Griffiths entered and wished her well. Reamer had pictures of her children and items that reminded her of her recently deceased father, and after swallowing the psilocybin capsule, Reamer sat with two study coordinators and looked at the memorabilia. She talked about what each item meant to her, waiting for the drug to take effect, assessing her own internal state. “And then it happened,” she told me. “I was at first sitting up on the couch and talking about my daughter’s baby blanket, which I’d brought with me, and then I went supine. They dimmed the lights. I got dark eyeshades. They put headphones on me, and music started pouring into my ears. Some dark opera. Some choral music. Some mystical music. There was a bowl of grapes; they were big juicy grapes,” Reamer says, and she remembers the sweetness, the freshness, the tiny seeds embedded in the gel.

Once the drug took effect, Reamer lay there and rode the music’s dips and peaks. Reamer said that her mind became like a series of rooms, and she could go in and out of these rooms with remarkable ease. In one room there was the grief her father experienced when Reamer got leukemia. In another, her mother’s grief, and in another, her children’s. In yet another room was her father’s perspective on raising her. “I was able to see things through his eyes and through my mother’s eyes and through my children’s eyes; I was able to see what it had been like for them when I was so sick.”

Reamer took the psilocybin at about 9 a.m., and its effects lasted until about 4 p.m. That night at home, she slept better than she had in a long time. The darkness finally stopped scaring her, and she was willing to go under, not because she knew she would come back up but because “under” was not as frightening. Why she was less afraid to die is hard for her to explain. “I now have the distinct sense that there’s so much more,” she says, “so many different states of being. I have the sense that death is not the end but just part of a process, a way of moving into a different sphere, a different way of being.”

For-profit academic publishing companies are an extractive, exploitative industry:
[T]he survival of entire university departments depends on the publication records of their leading academics. So academia has become a publish-or-perish world.

This gives enormous power to outfits like Elsevier that publish key journals. And guess what? They wield that power. An annual subscription to Tetrahedron, for example, costs a university library $20,269 (£12,600). And if you want Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, that'll set the library back €18,710 (£11,600) a year. Not all journals are this pricey, but the average cost of an annual subscription to a chemistry journal is still $3,792 and many journals cost far more. The result is that unconscionable amounts of public money are extracted from our hapless universities in the form of what are, effectively, monopoly rents for a few publishers. Most major British universities are giving between £4m and £6m a year to outfits like Elsevier, and the bill has been rising faster than the rate of inflation over the years.

But it's not just the exorbitant subscriptions that stink; it's the intrinsic absurdity of what's involved in the academic publishing racket. Most publishers, after all, have at least to pay for the content they publish. But not Elsevier, Springer et al. Their content is provided free by researchers, most of whose salaries are paid by you and me.

The peer reviewing that ensures quality in these publications is likewise provided gratis by you and me, because the researchers who do it are paid from public money. (One estimate puts the value of UK unpaid peer reviewing at a staggering £165m.) And then the publishers not only assert copyright claims on the content they have acquired for nothing, but charge publicly funded universities monopoly prices to get access to it.

The most astonishing thing about this is not so much that it goes on, but that people have put up with it for so long. Talk to university librarians about extortionist journal subscriptions and mostly all you will get is a pained shrug. The librarians know it's a racket, but they feel powerless to act because if they refused to pay the monopoly rents then their academics – who, after all, are under the cosh of publish-or-perish mandates – would react furiously (and vituperatively). 
As astrophysicist Peter Coles note, the issue extends beyond for-profit, monopolistic control of publicly-funded knowledge creation — it's a question of openness and transparency in science, and what that means for the credibility and legitimacy of the scientific endeavor:
[O]pen access isn't just about the end products of research. It's the entire process of scientific enquiry, including the collection and processing of data, scrutiny of the methods used in the analysis, questioning of assumptions, and discussion of alternative interpretations. In particular, it's about access to scientific data.

I believe all data resulting from publicly funded research should be in the public domain, for two reasons. First, it's public money that funds us, so we scientists have a moral responsibility to be as open as possible with the public. Second, the scientific method only works when analyses can be fully scrutinised and, if necessary, replicated by other researchers. In other words, to seek to prevent your data becoming freely available is plain unscientific.

If scientists are reluctant to share their data with other scientists it's very difficult to believe they will be happy to put it all in the public domain. But I think they should. And I don't mean just chucking terabytes of uncalibrated raw data onto a website in such a way that it's impossible to use for any practical purpose. I mean fully documented, carefully maintained databases containing raw data, analysis tools and processed data products.

It's time to embrace recycled wastewater.

Thoughts on Earth Day from Alex Steffen (an old piece that's no less relevant today) and Elizabeth Rosenthal.

Celebrate Earth Day by blogging in the WaPo about a paper on which Karina's a co-author.

A shortage of power hampers India's economy.

Green space and development as smart infill.

Dams could threaten the ecology of the Andean Amazon.

Thinking about zoning as a local-scale governance institution.

Where in America does it especially suck to be a woman?

Thomas Friedman: biggest wanker of the decade.

Speaking of wankers, it's Krauthammer Day!

The pervasiveness of the ever-expanding Surveillance State under Obama.

Drones and the secret war machine.

And get ready for domestic surveillance via drones. Oh good. (h/t Andrea)

Tax breaks for universities?

The tax system as government spending.

Undocumented immigrants pay taxes. GE does not.

They both suck. But one side is far suckier — and far more responsible for the lack of worthwhile legislation — than the other.

The radical Right loves Christianity when it serves their purposes. None of this social gospel nonsense for them, however.

The bizarro-world Gatsby: from segregationist to fake Cherokee.

David Rees: Proust of the pencil world.

A new resource on Kony, Uganda and the LRA.

Eric Hobsbawm remembers Tony Judt.

Stand your ground.

Pineapples don’t have sleeves.”

Paul F. Tompkins is a funny man.

People have been sharing plenty of clips from The Last Waltz in light of the Levon Helm's death; the finest performance from that film, in my opinion, was actually not a song by The Band, but their backing of Van Morrison on his classic “Caravan”:

And Heather's Happy Link of the Day: I'm pretty sure this qualifies as porn for bibliophiles.

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