30 November 2010

Video of the week -- Nessun Dorma

Visuals by Ken Russell; music by Giacomo Puccini.

27 November 2010

Link roundup for 27 November 2010

What's wrong with America? Not enough macho actors.

Robert the Skeptic recalls nightmarish Thanksgivings past.

Pastor Cedric Miller, who condemned Facebook as a gateway to marital infidelity, seems to have done OK without it.

To fortify us against a month of bad music, there's Tim Minchin.

Feminisnt fights TSA security theater with theater of her own.

Protesters in Ukraine attract attention.

Ranch Chimp recalls an early encounter with the world's oldest profession in Canada.

The global map of accessibility shows travel time from any point to the nearest major city; note too how North-America-to-Europe routes and North-America-to-East-Asia routes still dominate global shipping (found via Mèng Bómín).

This week saw a would-be Islamic terrorist bombing at Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland. I've been there many times; it's less than five miles from where I live.

Nothing to worry about -- Minnesota state representative Tom Hackbarth was just checking up on his girlfriend.

Here are five new Republicans to watch.

Mitch Daniels, touted among moderate conservatives as an ideal Presidential candidate, doesn't poll well among hard-liners.

Right-wing economic policies re-create the conditions which led to the Great Depression.

The abomination of rescission spreads from health insurance to life insurance.

Here's a shopping guide to products made in the US (found via Serious Implications).

Every murder victim has a story.

There's good news out of New Jersey -- and it's bipartisan too.

PRRI looks at religion and the election (found via Republic of Gilead).

NOM babbles incoherently in Rhode Island.

Teabaggerdom could face an internal conflict over religion; more here (both found via Republic of Gilead).

A newly-revealed German classified document refutes Bush's claim that Germany supported the invasion of Iraq.

The Irish are unhappy with their government's acceptance of an EU-imposed austerity plan as the price of a bail-out (more here); the Irish Daily Star newspaper too is unimpressed. In Portugal, unions take action.

Rationalism thrives in Mexico.

Islamic schools in Britain teach anti-Jewish and anti-gay hatred.

For crying out loud, it's just a frackin' book!

Take the 2011 Christianity challenge.

Atheism should be easy to refute, if it's false.

The UN has a problem which messes up its priorities.

Something is rotten at the London Review of Books.

Villagers in a remote part of China may be descended from Roman mercenaries (found via Mendip).

What would the Earth look like if it stopped rotating?

The reproductive biology of Copidosoma floridanum is complex and bizarre.

The vCJD epidemic never happened, but threatens our health nevertheless.

Do you know where your seafood came from?

Vegetarianism is far from being a new fad.

A short video suggests the scale of the universe.

Are recessions an inevitable side effect of the exodus to the online world?

The term "Darwinism" should be avoided.

Maria Konovalenko has a poll on longevity.

The Obama administration acts to speed up the development of wind-power technology (found via Papamoka).

A new German-built robot arm designed like an elephant's trunk could make robot-human interaction safer (found via Mendip).

A fast and simple new virus detector could be a prime weapon against epidemics and bio-terrorism.

After earlier setbacks, work on the Alzheimer's vaccine is back on track.

Researchers in Massachusetts test a stem-cell therapy designed to regenerate the retina in macular-degeneration sufferers.

Doctors in Britain are using stem cells to help stroke victims.

Jeff Hawkins talks about brain theory and near-future intelligent computing (sent by Ochiudo).

24 November 2010

A slow morning's thoughts on the last mystery

There is a lot more to "you" than you think.

Forget that old (and entirely false) cliché that "you only use X% of your brain" and think about what really goes on in there. The brain is the "gas guzzler" of the organs; at about 2% of body mass, it gets about 20% of the blood supply. If evolution gave us a big brain, it's because we need it. The human brain is the most complex thing in the known universe and we don't fully understand, even now, exactly what some of it does or how it does it.

For one thing, there's obviously some data-processing capacity in there which works, or can work, independently of the conscious mind. Have you ever had the experience of obsessively thinking over a problem, giving up without reaching a solution, and then later having the solution suddenly just come to you, as if out of nowhere? There must have been thinking going on, but not where "you" -- the consciously-aware part of "you" -- could observe it.

Then there's the even more common experience of "talking out" a problem silently in one's head. If the self were a straightforward unitary phenomenon as we usually think of it, then this would be pointless. You would either know something or not know it, and it would not make any sense to "tell yourself" or "remind yourself of" anything. The very fact that these expressions are so common and normal tells us that it's not that simple.

(Could these eureka bursts of insight that seem to come out of the blue, and the impulse to deal with problems by talking about them within one's own head, be what led our primitive ancestors to concepts like gods and prayer?)

As I said, there's still a great deal about the brain that we don't understand, but we're learning fast. The study of the brain has advanced rapidly over the last few years, as scanning devices improve in resolution and computers increase our ability to analyze the data. Even the statement that the brain is the most complex thing known to us will not remain true much longer; the processing power of the greatest computers will overtake that of the brain by around 2013 and will continue to grow exponentially thereafter.

The question of the mind -- the nature of consciousness, the will, the "self", and the rest of these linked and barely-describable phenomena which constitute a person -- is perhaps the last great unsolved mystery. Darwin and his successors have explained the development of life, and modern physics is helping us understand the origin of the universe. Over the next twenty years the growing power of our machines will enable us to decipher the staggeringly complex mechanisms of the brain -- the very processes that make us what we are -- and the last mystery will crumble before the inexorably-advancing might of human intelligence. There will no longer be any need for philosophers to speculate. We will know.

22 November 2010

Video of the week -- airport security

Even if you don't speak Japanese, you'll get it. Found via Plead Ignorance.

21 November 2010

Who said it?

See if you can guess who said each of the following quotes:

"Property monopolized or in possession of a few is a curse to mankind."

"I sincerely believe, with you, that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies."

"[in Europe] economic power became concentrated in a few hands, then political power flowed to those possessors and away from the citizens, ultimately resulting in an oligarchy or tyranny."

"No man ought to own more property than needed for his liveli- hood; the rest, by right, belonged to the state."

If you guessed Karl Marx or Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (or Barack Obama), you are in understandable error. The quotes are from, respectively, Sam Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin. I found them at Politicus USA, except for the third one which I found at Sustainable Democracy; as best I can tell by checking up, they're genuine.

I do not, by the way, personally agree with Franklin's words here; I'm a socialist, not a Communist. But the quotes are of value in deflating the claims of teabaggers and other Republicans that they are being true to the vision of the Founding Fathers while pushing policies which, in fact, serve only to further enrich and empower the kleptocracy.

Working- or middle-class teabaggers should (but won't) consider this comment by Sarah Jones at the Politicus USA post:

"There have always been the Poujadist type masses, easily manipulated by the state via the opium of the church and/or jingoistic nationalism. It’s no wonder the Right is anti-education. If the people could think for themselves, the Right would never get elected these days....."

It would go ill with the right if their sheep were to put aside their slogans and buzzwords and start using facts and logic to assess their self-interest -- or even if they learned how the founders of this country really thought.

20 November 2010

Link roundup for 20 November 2010

Hysterical Raisins serves Republicans for breakfast and lunch.

Blag Hag has Christmas cards and ornaments with a biology twist.

Bud at Dead Logic looks at religious bumper stickers.

Iron Sky should be an interesting movie, but it's just a movie.

They just don't make Nazis like they used to.

Sexual freedom is for everyone.

Religious troll, meet elementary logic.

Legislators in Texas and Florida attempt "religious bukkake".

Jeremy Hooper fisks Newsweek's absurd profile of Brian Brown.

The Palin Facebook flap reveals much.

DNA testing casts doubt on the guilt of convicted murderer Claude Jones -- too bad he was executed ten years ago.

The Republican party has an 800-pound-mama-grizzly problem.

David Frum is quite enjoying Palin's new book.

Republicans have a Christmas present for the unemployed.

Take a closer look at Obama's falling approval rating.

Republicans' rhetoric will drive them toward another government shut-down.

Don't let timid Democrats barter away women's freedom -- or financial reform.

Voters don't expect or want much from empowered Republicans.

Obama seems to have drawn the wrong lesson from the election.

Every time I think the anti-porn nuts can't sink any lower -- they do (found via Feminisnt).

39% of Americans agree that marriage is becoming obsolete -- and more than half now accept a gay couple with children as being a family.

A Catholic school's effort to suppress debate backfires.

Election workers in Philadelphia used the Bible as a tool of voter intimidation.

Ahab at Republic of Gilead encounters the stunning arrogance of religious fanatics (see here for a similar experience of my own).

Juan Williams had a point, and a lot of NPR supporters know it.

Religion is just as valid a target of skeptical inquiry as bigfoot or dowsing rods -- if not more so. More here.

The concept of an "atheist church" is a contradiction in terms.

Brian Brown is the latest religious bigot to claim that his victims are persecuting him.

President Medvedev is trying to move Russia closer to the West.

A new video recorded for the It Gets Better project highlights the difference between American and British conservatism.

The Greek government is too corrupt to fight corruption effectively.

PZ Myers finds Mexico's Catholicism to be startlingly syncretistic.

"We will show strength and will not allow ourselves to be intimi- dated.....We will not allow international terrorism to limit our lifestyles nor our culture of freedom." Germany's response to terror threats contrasts with our absurd and panicky airport security theater.

The mayor of London says Bush could be arrested if he visits Britain (found via Oliver Willis).

Germany is toughening its standards for asylum seekers.

Good news on a colossal scale: the Third World is catching up.

A newly-discovered archive documents anti-Nazi resistance on the island of Guernsey (found via Mendip).

The behavior of bacteria suggests some interesting insights.

Italian doctors implant a new trachea grown from the patient's own stem cells.

The true cause of schizophrenia -- and bipolar disorder -- may be a virus (found via Mendip).

Stem-cell-enhanced "mighty mice" offer hope for aging human muscles.

"The time has come for man to get over his cosmic inferiority complex."

18 November 2010

Video of the week -- the rule of law

From the film A Man for All Seasons.

The election, distilled

Here's a handy summary of the essentials of this year's election:

Palin and the teabaggers cost the Republicans a Senate take-over they would probably otherwise have achieved (see Delaware, Nevada, Colorado).

What happened was not a pendulum swing but a collapse of voter turn-out.

The right wing still hasn't closed the gender gap.

The Republican game plan is still to obstruct everything -- DADT repeal, START, science, any tax compromise.

Same old shit, same old fan.

We know now, not to trust Rasmussen polls.

In the long run the future belongs to us.

14 November 2010

Not all Christians are to blame, but Christianity is

Last month saw an interesting exchange, right here in Portland, on the question of religious responsibility for the bullying, bigotry, and general hatred directed at homosexuals in our society. A brief posting by Michael Stone at the Portland Examiner asked "Are Christians responsible for anti-gay bullying?" and summarized the case for the prosecution:

Christian conservatives assert that homosexuality is a moral disorder. Such assertions create a cultural climate that tacitly legitimizes the stigmatization of gay young people.....

It often appears that right wing Christians fear the day they can no longer use shame and violence to punish and intimidate gays and lesbians.....

Christian rhetoric is complicit in creating a climate of alienation and despair for the gay, lesbian or questioning teen, a climate that too often leads to tragedy.

The next day TomCat at Politics Plus posted a response along the following lines:

.....I have no argument against his position. I agree with it 100%. My disagreement stems from categorizing the Theocons and InsaniTEAbaggers as Christian.

.....On the subject of sexual orientation, whatever [Jesus] may have said has not been passed down, so we draw a blank there, but we can follow the example of how he treated other people that the religious hierarchy labeled as outcasts. He met them at the point of their need and treated them with kindness and compassion.

So I conclude, that the real Christians today follow Jesus’ example by opposing the hatred and intolerance under discussion here, and that those who are responsible for it, are not Christians.

(In both cases, of course, read the original post -- I'm posting only excerpts here to give the gist of them, not the full arguments.)

It's clear enough that the Christian Right is promoting bigotry and hatred (see for example here; we all know that such rhetoric is ubiquitous in those circles). But there are also millions of liberal Christians who support gay equality and denounce the bigotry. Is there any objective way of telling which stance represents real Christianity?

Liberal Christians like to point out that Jesus is not recorded as having mentioned the subject of homosexuality at all. However, one might well ask, "Why not?" The New Testament records many instances of Jesus objecting to prevailing attitudes with which he disagreed. The Jewish culture of his time was presumably still guided by the laws of the Old Testament; the more gay-friendly Romans were deeply resented as foreign occupiers bringing an alien, pagan culture. If Jesus saw those who were persecuted for homosexuality as being analogous to "other people that the religious hierarchy labeled as outcasts", what stopped him from saying so?

In the same vein, as far as I know, Jesus never said anything against slavery, a ubiquitous institution at that time. Either he didn't find slavery objectionable, or he never said so in any way that anyone thought worth preserving. This certainly weakens the case of those who like to claim that he had a moral outlook similar to that of modern liberals.

(I don't, of course, believe that Jesus really existed or that the New Testament is an accurate record of anything. But we are talking about what is and is not real Christianity, and Christianity assumes that Jesus was a real person, and the New Testament is the only source we have concerning the sayings and actions of that person.)

If Jesus was silent on the subject of homosexuality, certainly the Old Testament is not. Its best-known passage on the subject is Leviticus 20:13 (KJV translation):

If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

The meaning is crystal clear and not open to "interpretation": at least among males, homosexual behavior is an "abomination" and even a single homosexual act, never mind orientation, must be punished by death.

Modern liberal Christians try to get round this and other revolting and barbaric Old Testament laws by claiming that they were all somehow abrogated by the coming of Jesus, whose love-thy-neighbor philosophy superseded them. This enables them to claim that a man who lived 2,000 years ago somehow held values and attitudes not too different from those of liberals in the vastly different American society of today, even if they were utterly unknown in his own era. Unfortunately, Jesus himself explicitly ruled out this view (Matthew 5:17-19):

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do, and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

I discussed this issue in greater depth here, and I stand by my conclusion at the time:

There is no wiggle room there. All the laws of the Old Testament remain in full force and will continue to be so for as long as the Earth itself exists. If you are a liberal Christian and you claim that Christian morality does not require enforcing Leviticus 20:13 and executing every man who has ever committed a homosexual act, Jesus Christ himself says that you are wrong and that Fred Phelps ("whosoever shall do, and teach them") is right.

(Notice too that almost all of the Biblical passages condemning homosexuality which are cited in Phelps's propaganda are from the New Testament, not the Old; they are not the actual words of Jesus, but they are the words of people much closer to him in time and culture than any modern Christian is.)

Many liberal Christians are decent people and I have nothing against them, as people. But they are decent people only because they do not get their morality from the Bible.

The last refuge for the attempt to assert a gay-friendly (or for that matter civilization-friendly) form of Christianity is "non-literal interpretation" of the Bible, which I discussed here. Non-literal interpretation basically means, "I don't like what the book actually says, so I'll make up something I like better and pretend that that's what the book means, even though it's not what it says." As a basis for a comfortable middle ground for those who cannot stomach the hideousness of the sacred texts but are not ready to make the leap to rejecting religion entirely, this is of great practical value, since it enables them to treat other people decently without being forced to confront the (to them) unappealing prospect of atheism as a precondition for doing so. But as a means of determining what is or is not real Christianity, it's untenable, since it simply exalts the preferences of the individual believer above the documentary evidence (such as it is) of what Jesus and his immediate followers did or didn't do or say.

Finally, if we insist that those self-proclaimed Christians who hate gays are not true Christians, we are forced to a rather bizarre conclusion. After all, institutional and popular Christianity has been violently hostile to homosexuality for its entire history until the second half of the twentieth century, and broad swaths of it -- the Christian Right, the Vatican, etc. -- remain so today. Were the vast majority of self-professed Christians over the last 2,000 years, including millions who embraced the religion with a fervor almost unimaginable to most moderns, all somehow not true Christians? Surely this is straining the plain meaning of words to the breaking point and beyond.

As I've said before, there are moderate Muslims, but there can be no moderate Islam. By the same token, yes, there are millions of gay-friendly Christians, and they are valuable allies in the struggle against the Christian Right; but in all honesty, there can be no gay-friendly Christianity.

13 November 2010

Link roundup for 13 November 2010

An avatar of Michele Bachmann went wild on Halloween 2006.

George Rekers has written a book -- and I bet he chose the cover picture himself.

Presumably this person didn't vote for O'Donnell.

Jason deCaires Taylor has plans for a creepy artificial reef (found via Mendip).

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Orange Nut Roll R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!

The Heart Attack Grill in Chandler, Arizona, has hired a suitable spokesman (found via Mendip).

Look, George, a fetus!

A pro-pedophilia book on sale at Amazon provokes controversy (sent by Ranch Chimp, who comments here).

Resist useless "security theater" on National Opt-Out Day.

If you're a conservative who thinks Obama is ruining the country, Mary wants to hear from you.

There's a difference in tone between left and right.

Palin is no Reagan.

A dispute over earmarks divides Senate Republicans.

For gays, the election brought some good news.

Could Snowe switch parties?

Robert Reich explains why Democrats more easily move to the center after a defeat than Republicans do (found via Blue in the Bluegrass).

Far more voters favor raising taxes on the rich than favor cutting Social Security or defense.

From Michigan comes yet more evidence that the teabaggers are really just the same old Christian Right.

The Democratic party has communication problems.

What if Hillary were President now?

Andrew Shirvell has been fired. Dissenting Justice comments.

Cheer for your rapists, or else!

How should you feel toward God?

The True Believer award for October 2010 has been bestowed.

Let firebrands be firebrands and diplomats be diplomats.

Being nice doesn't work with everybody.

Now this is what real religious oppression looks like. More here.

The concept of "non-overlapping magisteria" is a useless lie.

A mob tens of thousands strong marches through the capital to protest austerity measures, setting fires and breaking windows, and even tries to storm the ruling party's headquarters. Athens? No, London.

The Aral Sea, once the world's fourth-largest landlocked body of water, is almost destroyed.

Mountains may serve plants as refuges from global warming.

Coral is dying in the Gulf of Mexico, and evidence points to BP's oil dispersant as the cause.

Neuroscientists are making brain orgasm movies.

Maria Konovalenko reports from the TEDMED 2010 conference in San Diego.

12 November 2010

Video of the week -- Juluka

From South Africa. A favorite of mine from years ago.

10 November 2010

A dozen steps toward a better America

Mary's World, a blog I've just started reading, recently posted an interesting question: "What is your ideal America?" Mary's answer largely revolves around taxes, but it occurred to me to take a stab at the question too.

An "ideal" America, of course, could not exist; if a society were truly perfect, any change would by definition be for the worse, yet a society which could never change would be stagnant and boring. Even to approach the "ideal" would require implausible things (the entire Christian Right reading The God Delusion and embracing atheism? Ah, sweet dreams!) So I tried to think of a dozen things which would make America as close as possible to what I consider "ideal" while still being at least somewhat plausibly possible in the real world. These are examples of the kinds of change I consider worth fighting for.

(1) Research and development of medical technology would be fully funded, including embryonic stem-cell research and anti- aging therapies. This is by far the most effective way to reduce human suffering.

(2) Marijuana and prostitution would be legal, regulated, and taxed, like any other kind of business; harder drugs would be assessed on a case-by-case basis. The prison population would plummet and the end of the illegal market would de-fund the criminal drug gangs which are devastating our neighbors Mexico and Columbia.

(3) The tax-exempt status of religious entities would end.

(4) High-quality education would become a top priority, to keep our country a leader in a world defined by ever-accelerating technological change. No more talk of teaching ancient Middle Eastern mythology alongside evolution in biology class.

(5) The conservative movement would be a rational interlocutor in a necessary debate about the proper size, scope, and role of government, rather than ranting madly against gays, abortion, secularism, climate science, etc. and whipping up paranoia.

(6) Legislators and judges would never use Leviticus or Sharî'ah as a basis for laws or rulings.

(7) There would be no more prohibition or discrimination against harmless forms of sexuality which merely happen to differ from the preferences of the majority (equal marriage rights for gays, no DADT, etc.).

(8) Foreign policy would be based on building good relationships with democracies which share common interests with us, not on currying favor with gangster-regimes which brutalize their own people and are doomed to collapse in the long run, or with failed societies culturally locked into hatred of modernity.

(9) Farm subsidies would end (in combination with #2 and #3, this would take a huge bite out of the deficit).

(10) Corporate tax policy would reward creation of jobs within the US and penalize transfer of productive activity out of the country.

(11) The colossi of the corporate world would grasp that their own future depends upon a prosperous and healthy nation and planet, and act accordingly (a parasite that kills its host dies with it).

(12) The safety net would resemble what Germany or France have: generous enough to leave no one without medical care or in abject poverty, but not so lavish as to remove incentives to work.

07 November 2010

Oh, well, back to the re-enactment club

In case anybody was wondering, Rich "Waffen-SS" Iott lost.

06 November 2010

Link roundup for 6 November 2010

Leah at Unequally Yoked has got a little list.

Maybe Mictlantecuhtli is the true god.

I never imagined that planning gay parties was so lucrative and fun back in 1952.

This Lovecraft movie looks like a pretty decent adaptation (found via Mendip). Another movie I still want to see is this one.

Hysterical Raisins suggests some new career opportunities for Republicans who lost elections.

An Australian sports star's secret passion goes public (found via Mendip).

The RIAA still has one hope of making money.

Some right-wingers want the government to crack down on aliens (not the kind you're thinking).

Yes, Rasmussen's polls really are biased in favor of Republicans.

Conservative writer Conrad Black details the disastrous failure of the war on drugs.

Republican governors' opposition to high-speed rail could be self-defeating. On the other hand, some are hypocrites.

Congress still has to deal with seven key money issues (sent by Demwit).

Maureen Dowd has an interesting take on the Republican victory (found via Progressive Eruptions).

The "mama grizzlies" didn't win over many women voters.

A majority of voters expect the new Republican House majority to disappoint them (found via Hello Mr. President).

George W. Bush blames Sarah Palin for his party's massive 2008 defeat; she also played a role in its failure to take the Senate this week. More on teabaggerdom's costs here.

Prayer doesn't work in elections any better than elsewhere.

We'd be wise to beware these four myths about the teabaggers.

Rude Pundit has some suggestions for the lame-duck session (found via Blue in the Bluegrass, who has longer-term ideas).

Ralph Reed is wrong to think that the election heralds a Christian Right revival (found via Republic of Gilead) -- on his claim that people get more conservative with age, see here.

Jen McCreight pwns Ms Magazine's disinformation about women atheists.

The Christian Right can't stop denigrating gay suicide victims (found via Republic of Gilead).

Despite the defeat of the Iowa judges, NOM didn't have a very good election.

For progressives, boldness works better than apologetics.

Evangelists upset elderly people with "appointment with death" cards (found via Republic of Gilead).

A politically-weaker Obama might be more likely to attack Iran.

Appeasing religious totalitarianism just emboldens it.

The European Union is now firmly under the leadership of one country.

Headscarves symbolize a climate of fear in Turkey. On the other hand, there's this.

A new book explores Catholicism's links with the rise of Nazism (found via Mendip).

The war against science is back on.

Gender differences in life expectancy help us understand the aging process and how to fight it.

Jim Manzi debunks nonsense about a "liberal gene".

One of the most dangerous drugs is already legal.

Laboratories can now grow working human livers, though not yet large enough for actual use as transplants. Also in the works: a printer that makes skin.

04 November 2010

A "tsunami" of low turnout

Has the electorate shifted far to the right since 2008? Actually, no. It wasn't the same electorate. Politics Plus has the figures. Only 38.2% of eligible voters voted Tuesday -- less than two-thirds as many as the 62.2% who voted in 2008. The American people didn't change their minds en masse -- rather, a much smaller and less representative segment of them voted. Some "tsunami".

03 November 2010

Dead-cat bounce

Well, it was about as bad as expected (the consensus of polls was right, as it usually is). Democrats lost the House but held the Senate by a narrowed margin.

This was very predictable. The party in power usually loses seats in mid-term elections. Unemployment is still high. Mid-terms draw a lower turn-out than Presidential-year elections, which favors conservatives. The Democrats' large majority meant they were holding seats which historically go Republican, seats which were inevitably difficult to defend. Those factors alone suffice to explain Tuesday's results. People tend to over-interpret elections, treating them as an across-the-board endorsement of the winning party's entire platform and a similarly broad repudiation of the loser's, but I doubt that factors other than those I cite here played a role much beyond background noise, in most races.

For holding the Senate, we owe a big "thank you" to the teabaggers. O'Donnell lost in Delaware, Angle lost in Nevada, and Buck may lose in Colorado (from what I've seen it's still too close to call). Moderate Republicans would have won those races easily. Given the narrowness of the Democrats' surviving majority, three more Republican sure wins would have put them at or over 50 seats. The Tea Party cost the Republicans a Senate take-over they could otherwise have achieved. Let's hope that sensible conservatives think long and hard on that over the next two years.

Beyond that, Murkowski may yet win in Alaska, but despite the party rather than because of it, which we can hope will strain their relationship a bit.

What hurts the most, of course, is Rand Paul -- a Senate seat was won by a man who declared that private business should have retained the right to practice racial discrimination. This sends a horrible message, not so much about the Republican party as about the voters.

What all of this means is that for the next two years, most likely, nothing much will get done. The Democrats won't be able to get any more major initiatives through, but the Republicans won't be able to roll back the accomplishments of the last two years. Things might get better if Senate Democrats have the guts to change the rules next year and eliminate the filibuster, but given the timidity of the leadership, I'm not too hopeful.

The infighting on the right wing will continue. Moderates will note that teabaggers lost races that less radical candidates could have won, and argue for a move back toward the center; extremists will claim the overall success as vindication, ignoring the factors (see second paragraph) which made that success inevitable.

The left has lessons to learn as well. The ranters who reacted to the Tea Party, the Arizona illegal-alien law, and the opposition to the Ground Zero mosque by sticking their fingers in their ears and chanting "racist, racist, racist" instead of making the effort to understand what was actually going on -- I doubt they hurt our candidates too much in an election which was mostly about unemployment, but they surely did hurt. There will probably be a slew of blog posts along the lines of "the voters are morons and easily manipulated" -- whichever side loses an election usually vents a certain amount of rhetoric like that -- but once people have gotten the name-calling out of their systems, let's hope that it gives way to the kind of rational assessment that can actually bring understanding and solve problems.

So why am I calling yesterday's results a "dead-cat bounce" for the Republicans? Because what matters most is the long-term trend, which is moving inexorably in our direction. Ultimately, if the right wing remains dominated by its theocratic, anti-science, anti-egalitarian elements, it has no future.

As for the shorter term, 2012 will be different from yesterday. A Presidential election year will mean a bigger turn-out, the economy will have improved, and if the Republicans have spent two years staging nutty antics like government shut-downs and random Ken-Starr-like investigations as some of them have threatened, the voters will have gotten pretty tired of them.

And never forget that politics is not the only important thing in the world.