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George W. Bush Misinterprets His Favorite Painting

| Fri Jan. 25, 2008 1:47 PM EST
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Slate's Jacob Weisberg has uncovered the real meaning of George W. Bush's favorite painting, "A Charge to Keep," which hangs in the Oval Office and is the namesake of his 1999 ghostwritten autobiography. It's not—as Dubya likes to tell visitors—an image of a steadfast Methodist missionary. Rather, as Weisberg explains in his new book, The Bush Tragedy:

...that is not the title, message, or meaning of the painting. The artist, W.H.D. Koerner, executed it to illustrate a Western short story entitled "The Slipper Tongue," published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1916. The story is about a smooth-talking horse thief who is caught, and then escapes a lynch mob in the Sand Hills of Nebraska. The illustration depicts the thief fleeing his captors. In the magazine, the illustration bears the caption: "Had His Start Been Fifteen Minutes Longer He Would Not Have Been Caught."

Ah, the irony. So where the heck did Bush get the idea that the painting wasn't of a rustler but rather a man—who just happens to bear a passing resemblance to him—on a mission from God? I suppose everyone's entitled to their own interpretations of art, but that's really a stretch, even for a president used to making his own reality. Anyway, this may explain why Bush keeps referring to that Picasso he calls the "The Party So Fun They Invited a Horse."

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Antarctica Is Melting, After All

| Fri Jan. 25, 2008 1:44 PM EST

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A while back, I blogged about how global warming skeptics were all smug and glowy (and wrong) about how Antarctica's not melting. If the sea ice in the South Pole is actually increasing, the reasoning went, then how could the planet be warming? Huh? Huh? Well, for a number of reasons, that logic is false, but guess what? It may be moot point anyway, since it turns out that the western part of Antarctica is melting—and fast: Ice loss in the region has increased by 75 percent over the past ten years.

A team of researchers led by scientists from UC Irvine discovered that the underlying cause for the melting was accelerated glacier flow, which is, in turn, caused by warming oceans. All that melting means higher sea levels:

They detected a sharp jump in Antarctica's ice loss, from enough ice to raise global sea level by 0.3 millimeters (.01 inches) a year in 1996, to 0.5 millimeters (.02 inches) a year in 2006.

That level of melting puts western Antarctica almost on par with Greenland, a dubious distinction, to say the very least.

Saddam's Interrogator Speaks

| Fri Jan. 25, 2008 1:01 PM EST

As Bruce notes below, George Piro, an FBI agent who was Saddam's sole interrogator, will be on Sixty Minutes this Sunday:

Saddam Hussein initially didn't think the U.S. would invade Iraq to destroy weapons of mass destruction, so he kept the fact that he had none a secret to prevent an Iranian invasion he believed could happen. The Iraqi dictator revealed this thinking to George Piro, the FBI agent assigned to interrogate him after his capture.

Saddam still wouldn't admit he had no weapons of mass destruction, even when it was obvious there would be military action against him because of the perception he did. Because, says Piro, "For him, it was critical that he was seen as still the strong, defiant Saddam. He thought that [faking having the weapons] would prevent the Iranians from reinvading Iraq," he tells Pelley.

Friday Implies It's Music News Day

| Fri Jan. 25, 2008 12:56 PM EST

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  • The Time are definitely in and Amy Winehouse may be out at the upcoming Grammys ceremony. The first official announcement of performers was made yesterday, and the Minneapolis jungle lovers are on the list, while currently-(finally?)-ensconced-in-actual-rehab Winehouse was not. But Winehouse's father says she's hoping to get a visa—and, one hopes, get clean—in time for the ceremony February 10th. Meanwhile, Idolator is spreading the rumor that Michael Jackson may appear at the Grammys as well, but they're crazy.

  • Danger Mouse has been busy: he's working with Van Dyke Parks and John Cale on a new album by The Shortwave Set, producing Martina Topley-Bird's forthcoming album, and, yes, putting together the sophomore Gnarls Barkley album with Cee-Lo in Atlanta.
  • Whoops: I took a quick nap, and Lil Wayne went in and out of jail again. The rapper was arrested for possession of pot, blow, and E in Yuma, Arizona on Tuesday (one wonders what else there is to do in Yuma), but later posted bail and signed autographs outside the bondsman's office.
  • And yes, it turns out the teenage would-be hijacker of a Southwest Airlines Los Angeles-to-Nashville flight had a secret plan: to somehow crash the plane into a Hannah Montana concert in a blaze of Disney-exploding, neo-Ballardian glory. Is The Onion now in charge of reality?
  • Bill Clinton to Continue Attacking Obama '08 for Acting Like Clinton '92

    | Fri Jan. 25, 2008 11:41 AM EST

    Patrick Healy writes in the New York Times that the Clintons feel the Bill-as-attack-dog strategy ("sphincter-like") is working, and needs to be continued.

    Advisers to Sen. Hillary Clinton have concluded that Bill Clinton's aggressive politicking against Sen. Barack Obama is resonating with voters, and they intend to keep him on the campaign trail in a major role after the South Carolina primary.
    The Clinton team has decided that the benefits of having Bill Clinton challenge Obama so forcefully, over Iraq and Obama's record and statements, are worth the trade-offs of potentially overshadowing Hillary Clinton at times, undermining his reputation as a statesman and raising the question among voters about whether they are putting him in the White House as much as her.

    Much more after the jump...

    Debra Dickerson Awesome on the Colbert Report (Again)

    | Fri Jan. 25, 2008 5:13 AM EST

    Debra Dickerson on ColbertAs promised, Mother Jones' own Debra Dickerson dropped by Stephen Colbert's show last night, and, as usual, held her own against the onslaught of satire. Two important things came out of her appearance, I think: a) the entrance into the lexicon of "sphincter-like" as probably the best description of Bill Clinton's recent purple-faced anti-Obama sputtering (let's hope it catches on) and b) the fact that she may be one of a handful of people in the universe who can actually beat Mr. Colbert at his own game, getting some actual content in there with the laugh lines and even having the last word. Plus Colbert's line about "I couldn't get away with that with my hair" seemed a little dumb, didn't it? Anyway, by the end he put his head down on his desk in an apparent acknowledgement of defeat.

    To read all of Debra's writing for motherjones.com, click here.

    You can't embed video from the Comedy Central website, but here's a direct link to the segment, although it opens a new window and you have to watch a Navy Seals ad to get to it.

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    GOPers Debate (Nicely) in Florida; Here Are the Whoppers of the Night

    | Fri Jan. 25, 2008 12:31 AM EST

    At Thursday night's Republican presidential debate, the GOP contenders did their best not to make any news. No one attacked anyone; no one disagreed on any major policy matter--except regarding a proposal to establish a national catastrophic insurance fund that would back up private insurance firms. (Rudy Giuliani, playing to Florida homeowners, voiced his support for it; Mitt Romney supported the general notion; John McCain attacked legislation that would set up such a fund as a $200 billion boondoggle.) Generally, the candidates made up a chorus for tax cuts and fighting--make that, winning--the Iraq war. (Then there was Ron Paul.) At times, the candidates hailed their rivals. It was so.... un-Democratic. No nastiness--even though McCain and Romney, essentially tied for first place in the Florida polls, have been hurling negative ads at each other. (A Romney ad assails McCain for flip-flopping on tax cuts; a McCain spot blasts Romney for...flip-flopping on tax cuts. McCain is actually comparing Romney to John Kerry.)

    If you were forced to pick a winner--and in the absence of policy disputes, the debate was all about the horse race--you'd probably have to choose Romney, who seemed quasi-commanding and who this night, for some reason, looked more like Hollywood's idea of a president than usual. But no candidate hurt his own prospects. That doesn't mean, though, they didn't come out with some whoppers. Here's a sampling:

    * Moderator Tim Russert asked McCain about a comment McCain had supposedly made--"I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign policy issues; I still need to be educated"--and McCain shot back, "I don't know where you got that quote from; I'm very well-versed in economics." Well, McCain did tell the Baltimore Sun, "The issue of economics is something that I've really never understood as well as I should." So much for being "well-versed."

    Blinded by McCain, Michelle Malkin Misreads MoJo

    | Thu Jan. 24, 2008 9:16 PM EST

    Michelle Malkin, my old sparring partner at Fox News, ought to reread my colleague Jonathan Stein's dispatch on the feverish McCain hatred among right-wing commentators (including Malkin). On her blog, Malkin cites the article as--a-ha!--yet more proof of the "left-wing media's love affair" with Senator John McCain. But in the piece, Stein shows McCain no affection. He merely reports on the rage McCain triggers among conservative leaders, writers, and bloggers, noting that this gang, already upset with McCain's recent success in the GOP primaries, will go ballistic if he does well in Florida and--gasp!--on Supersaturated Tuesday. Her item confirms the point of the piece: McCain sure pushes these guys and gals over the edge. And consider this: McCain is the only major Republican party candidate who's done any heavy-lifting in support of George W. Bush's war in Iraq. Yet he gets no love from these war cheerleaders. What ingrates.

    Growing Up Online, and Still Bored

    | Thu Jan. 24, 2008 8:54 PM EST

    Teens and parents from a New Jersey suburb deconstruct the ups and downs of social networking sites in Frontline's latest report, Growing Up Online, which premiered on PBS this week.

    The piece weaves together a handful of stories about how the Internet has tweaked family dynamics and how teens communicate with each other. With 90% or more of teens nationwide online, one mom calls cyberspace the "new wild west" for young people. One high school history teacher says that "walking into a classroom without any multimedia is like walking into a desert." Another teacher admits she's landed on the wrong side of the digital divide: "My time is over. This is not for me. It's not the educational arena that I entered into."

    Movie Music Madness

    | Thu Jan. 24, 2008 7:50 PM EST

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    Best-picture Oscar nominations this year have gone to a compelling and diverse group of films that, for the most part, earned them: Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, No Country for Old Men, and There Will Be Blood. For me, the soundtracks or scores to three of these films in particular helped make them as great as they are. Here are a few examples: