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Crime and punishment
April 4, 2014

The phrase "gallows humor" comes to mind: In this segment from Wednesday night's Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert cracks jokes and the audience laughs, but it's not really very funny. The topic is capital punishment, specifically the great lengths states are going through to find non-cruel-and-unusual drugs for lethal injections (with questionable success) — and, at least in the case of Tennessee, legally hiding all information about the executions from a public that, broadly speaking, supports the death penalty but isn't comfortable putting actual humans to death. If you are leery of capital punishment, Colbert is a sneakily persuasive advocate for at least suspending the practice. --Peter Weber

throwback thursday
9:52 a.m. ET

When Sesame Street took on Donald Trump in their 2005 episode, "Grouch Apprentice," of course no one had any idea that 10 years later he'd be running for president. Luckily, The Daily Beast has resurfaced the clip — which skewers "Donald Grump," a grouch whose name "is on every piece of trash in town." Mr. Grump even has his own song in which he sings, "My name is Donald Grump and I have more trash than all of you, so nah-nah-na-na-nah!"

Spoiler alert: Elmo ultimately gets to be Donald Grump's apprentice, and as a reward for being a great helper, he is gifted Donald's hair. The other grumps aren't as lucky — "You're fired!" Grump shouts, just like the real-life Trump does on his show.

This episode wasn't even the first time Sesame Street took on the real estate tycoon. In 1994, the program featured a character named "Ronald Grump" in an anniversary special. The plot found Grump staking out Sesame Street as the perfect location for his Grump Tower.

Unfortunately, the Trump campaign did not respond to The Daily Beast's request for a comment. Jeva Lange

What's happening up north
9:13 a.m. ET
Marit Hommedal/AFP/Getty Images

Sweden has maintained military neutrality for the past 200 years, but the threat of Russian aggression could bring an end to their centennials of peace. Swedish forces have already begun peacekeeping exercises, The Los Angeles Times reports, and one in three Swedes favors joining the North Atlantic Trade Organization (NATO) in order to earn the full support of their allies in the case of an attack or threat.

Russia has increased its northern activities in the past few years and the annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula in the spring of 2014 has made Swedes doubly suspicious of their nearby neighbor's motives (Sweden is separated from the Russian mainland by Finland, but shares access to the Baltic Sea). What's more, last fall, two Russian fighter bombers and a submarine entered Swedish territory uninvited.

The Russian ambassador in Sweden, however, has threatened that Moscow might react militarily were Stockholm to indeed join NATO. "Putin pointed out that there will be consequences, that Russia will have to resort to a response of the military kind and reorientate our troops and missiles," Ambassador Viktor Tatarintsev told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper in June. "The country that joins NATO needs to be aware of the risks it is exposing itself to." Jeva Lange

Watch this
8:31 a.m. ET

He was only in Alaska for three days, but the Last Frontier clearly stole President Obama's heart. Whether making history as the first president to venture above the arctic circle or learning survival skills in the wilderness with Bear Grylls, the Chicago city boy took what Alaska has to offer with a stride and a smile — even when it meant busting a move.

Obama is certainly one of our groovier presidents (over here he's doing the Lipala in Kenya; over here he's dancing on Ellen) but in order to keep up with the kids at Kotzebue's Dillingham Middle School he needed to learn a few new tricks. The children performed four traditional Yup'ik dances, including one tailored specifically for the president called, "Don't be afraid to play basketball." Then Obama got up to join in; watch it all unfold, below. Jeva Lange

Quotables
8:15 a.m. ET
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A few donors at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fundraiser in Miami on Wednesday were left scratching their heads after Vice President Joe Biden suddenly started complimenting Bernie Sanders, Politico reports.

"I am not a populist," Biden reportedly said, "but Bernie Sanders, he's doing a helluva job."

That didn't go over well with some. "What the hell was he saying? I mean, 90 percent of the room is a Hillary donor," one bemused attendee told Politico.

"Yeah. It was kinda weird," another said.

If Biden were to throw his hat into the presidential race, both Sanders and Clinton would be his opposition in the field — and apparently he's got a particularly watchful eye leveled at the Vermont senator.

The event was not recorded, as standard practice. Jeva Lange

Ancient palaces
7:58 a.m. ET
Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images

Archaeologists are rushing to uncover and preserve Emperor Nero's Domus Aurea, or "Golden House," one of the most lavish palaces constructed in the Roman Empire, Archaeology reports. The Domus Aurea serves as a reminder of the notorious emperor's tyrannical, opulent, and lascivious lifestyle; before Nero eventually took his own life in 68 AD, he raised the Domus Aurea on grounds flattened by the devastating fire of 64 AD, leading to the speculation that he burned Rome himself. To quote the historian Suetonius:

[The Domus Aurea's] courtyard was so large that a 120-foot colossal statue of the emperor himself stood there; it was so spacious that it had a mile-long triple portico; also there was a pool of water like a sea [...] In other parts of the house, everything was covered in gold and adorned with jewels and mother-of-pearl; dining rooms with fretted ceilings whose ivory panels could be turned so that flowers or perfumes from pipes were sprinkled down from above; the main hall of the dining rooms was round, and it would turn constantly day and night like the Heavens; there were baths, flowing with seawater and with the sulfur springs of the Albula; when he dedicated this house, that had been completed in this manner, he approved of it only so much as to say that he could finally begin to live like a human being. [Suetonius, in Archaeology]

The pleasure palace eventually fell into disuse and was abandoned by Nero, only to be discovered again more recently. Only now are archeologists finally learning the extent of Nero's greed.

While working to restore the structure, which occupies the space of more than 30 Sistine Chapels, archaeologists unearthed surviving sections of the Domus Aurea that have never been explored. One area, 8,000 square feet wide, supported the Bathes of Trajan, while another unearthed area revealed nine graves — the work of Middle Age inhabitants who occupied the Roman ruins. Another section of the palace recently uncovered revealed entertaining and dining spaces. The columned portico that stretched 800 feet and opened into the artificial lake, described by Suetonius, has now also been further documented. Jeva Lange

More than 1000 words
6:42 a.m. ET

The European migration crisis got a tragic human face on Wednesday: Aylan Kurdi, a 3-year-old refugee from Kobani, Syria, whose body washed ashore in Turkey along with his 5-year-old brother, Galip. Aylan, Galip, their mother, and nine others died trying to reach the Greek island Kos, an entry into Europe for many Syrians and other refugees seeking asylum. Photos of the dead toddler seized the world's attention:

The news media and social media were split sharply on whether to show more graphic, heartbreaking photos of Kurdi's lifeless body, but advocates for the migrants and some journalists said seeing Kurdi dead in the sand was a necessary jolt as hundreds of would-be refugees are dying en route to Europe.

"The image is not offensive, it is not gory, it is not tasteless — it is merely heartbreaking, and stark testimony of an unfolding human tragedy that is playing out in Syria, Turkey, and Europe, often unwitnessed," argued Kim Murphy, a news editor at the Los Angeles Times. "We have written stories about hundreds of migrants dead in capsized boats, sweltering trucks, lonely rail lines, but it took a tiny boy on a beach to really bring it home to those readers who may not yet have grasped the magnitude of the migrant crisis."

In Canada, meanwhile, a legislator says that Kurdi's aunt had submitted a request to bring the family to Canada from Turkey, but that Canadian immigration officials denied the request. European leaders have been unable to agree on how to deal with the huge influx of Africans, Afghans, Syrians, and others fleeing war and other violence. Peter Weber

game of thrones
5:00 a.m. ET

Actress Amanda Peet is married to David Benioff, one of the creators and executive producers of Game of Thrones, a show that counts Peet among its passionate fans. Because of her great love for the show, the marriage may not last, Peet told Jimmy Kimmel on Wednesday's Kimmel Live. What happened with your husband? asked a surprised Kimmel. "I don't love him anymore," Peet said, then elaborated. "Jon Snow. I told him, if you kill him, that's it.... I'm in the process of getting divorced — I'm not kidding." She almost certainly is, but she tells a good story. She also does a pretty impressive Jon Snow imitation, reading instructions for an invisible bra she claimed to be wearing. Or at least Kimmel said it was a good impression. You can watch the whole dramatic exchange of Game of Thrones love, and find out what it's like to be a huge fan married to a man who won't tell you the show's secrets, below. Peter Weber

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