I was bemused enough by the headline on Saturday's WSJ front page lead article, that I resorted to posting my comment on the Website Formerly Known as Twitter:

I suppose Powell had to say something suitably oracular to avoid both (a) market turmoil and (b) charges that he might be failing to Do Something™.

Also of note:

  • Could we all just tone it down a bit? Tal Fortgang notes apocalyptic rhetoric isn't just for right-wingers any more, describing Mark Tushnet's Flight 93 Moment

    Alarmism, catastrophism, escalationism—call the spirit of brinkmanship that sees existential threats around every corner what you will, it’s no way to run a country. That is true regardless of whether the looming threat is a partisan election or a Supreme Court controlled by ideological opponents. If every moment is so perilous that it demands throwing all norms out the window to save the republic, there is no longer any republic worth saving. Yet that paradox seems to escape feverish elites who claim that the latest crisis demands some self-destructive action.

    The right-wing populist version of this is familiar. Sweeping rhetoric about left-wing barbarians at the gates has animated a great deal of rationalized support for candidates who have no business being anywhere near power. “2016 is the Flight 93 election,” wrote Michael Anton in an infamous Claremont Review of Books essay, two months before Donald Trump’s victory shocked the world. “Charge the cockpit or you die. You may die anyway. You—or the leader of your party—may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane. There are no guarantees.” The essay was rightly derided as representing the worst of pro-Trump apologetics. Dressed up in the faux-grandeur of classical philosophy, the essay actually relied on hyperventilation over Trump’s opponent and the state of the republic: Our current moment is akin to 9/11. Take dramatic action, even if it is reckless to the point of foolishness. Any benefits of prudence pale in comparison to the need for decisive action.

    Strip away the dramatism and you are left with the oldest trick in the political demagogue’s book: If we don’t escalate the situation now, they, the hated enemy, will escalate first. So throw your little principled concerns about policy, prudence, and wisdom out the window. Know what time it is. Sadly, this kind of reasoning has hardly dissipated in the years since, which is unsurprising because there was really very little about 2016 that made it a crucial moment in American history any more than 2023 is. Some right-wing activists and lawyers would take this mentality into the courtroom, advocating a kind of “Flight 93 jurisprudence,” abandoning originalism’s grounding in the Constitution’s concrete meaning for something more outcome-oriented because the legal conservative movement had failed to achieve its substantive goals. (Originalism’s demise turned out to be greatly overstated; the October 2021 term yielded landmark conservative decisions on abortion, guns, and religion.)

    But this paranoid style is limited to neither right-wingers nor fringe academics-turned-Trump-whisperers. Frustrated over the Supreme Court’s latest slate of conservative-constitutionalist decisions, Harvard Law School Professor Mark Tushnet demonstrated that he is Anton’s kindred spirit with his “Open Letter to the Biden Administration on Popular Constitutionalism” (co-authored with political scientist Aaron Belkin). Tushnet and Anton hold opposite views on substantive positions, but share a preference for the worst ideas about how our nation should deal with its inherent problems of ideological division. It’s always Flight 93, all the time—an idea so plainly destructive only an intellectual could advocate it.

    As Fortgang notes: "There's always an excuse for storming the cockpit."

  • Speaking of a 'Flight 93' argument… certainly one recent one is: "Let's use the 14th Amendment to keep Trump off the ballot."

    Because, you know, otherwise people might actually vote for him. Can't have that.

    And, as we mentioned in a couple items a couple days ago (here and here) some are urging New Hampshire's Secretary of State to declare Trump ineligible for the 2024 Presidential Primary ballot. And there was speculation that our Trump-averse Governor Chris Sununu was doing that urging. Or urging someone else to do that urging. Or something.

    That's a long-winded note to point out some actual reporting on the issue (as opposed to baseless speculation). From Michael Graham at NHJournal, asking Will 'Insurrection' Keep Trump Off NH Ballot?

    It turns out that the primary (heh) instigator of the move is a guy named Corky Messner,

    Messner says he has heard from some Trump supporters who hate what he is doing, and from some anti-Trump folks who are fans (“Some even want to give me money to take this to other states.”) But despite rumors circling among MAGA Republicans in the Granite State, one person he has not heard from is Sununu.

    “I’ve had no direct or indirect communication with Chris about this. None. Zero.”

    Some far-right Republicans who have long been frustrated with Sununu’s outspoken criticism of Trump suspect he must be behind the effort to block the former president’s name from the ballot. However, according to Sununu spokesperson Ben Vihstadt, Sununu does not expect Trump to face any trouble getting on the New Hampshire ballot.

    So that's that, I think. Fun fact: despite running for US Senator (and losing badly) against Jeanne Shaheen in 2020, Corky Messner has only been mentioned once here at Pun Salad, where I predicted he would "lose handily". And he did, 57%-41%.

    Further fun fact: Trump endorsed Corky in the primary.

  • Merit ≠ Value. Virginia Postrel writes on a bunch of topics (wisely, as always): Merit, Value, Luddites, and AI. On the first two, Hayek and (unexpectedly) Matt Yglesias are cited extensively. Excerpt (footnote elided):

    I can’t help thinking that America would be less riven by conflict if everyone “frankly recognized that there [is] no necessary connection between merit and success.” On both sides of the red-blue divide are economic winners who resent challenges to their sense of superiority—especially from other affluent people with different backgrounds and politics—and economic losers who want both more money and more respect. Recognizing the distinction between economic success and moral worth wouldn’t eliminate conflict, but it might ameliorate it.

    Hayek saw the distinction between merit and value as an argument against economic redistribution in the name of equality. If merit and value are different, he believed, there is no moral justification for overriding what markets reward and there are many good arguments against the intervention that would be required to force a “meritorious” outcome. At the same time, I suspect his clear distinction between merit and value also helps to explain why, unlike more absolutist libertarians, Hayek supported safety-net transfers. He didn’t see them as intrinsically unjust. Hayek’s primary concern was allowing people the freedom to act on their own knowledge (including knowledge of their own subjective preferences), without being overridden from on high. I don’t know how he would have assessed the Danish welfare state but, like Yglesias, he certainly wouldn’t have been disappointed that the country’s market economy still produces unequal results.

    To quote Clint Eastwood: "Deserve's got nothin' to do with it."

  • Probably you are visualizing atoms wrong. Thanks to Carl Sagan. And that between-scenes animation on The Big Bang Theory. Mario Barbatti will fix that: Why the empty atom picture misunderstands quantum theory

    The empty atom picture is likely the most repeated mistake in popular science. It is unclear who created this myth, but it is sure that Carl Sagan, in his classic TV series Cosmos (1980), was crucial in popularising it. After wondering how small the nuclei are compared with the atom, Sagan concluded that

    [M]ost of the mass of an atom is in its nucleus; the electrons are by comparison just clouds of moving fluff. Atoms are mainly empty space. Matter is composed chiefly of nothing.

    I still remember how deeply these words spoke to me when I heard them as a kid in the early 1980s. Today, as a professional theoretical chemist, I know that Sagan’s statements failed to recognise some fundamental features of atoms and molecules.

    If you want to get a clearer visualization, click through and read on. Although "visualization" is a very tricky concept at that level.

    Fun fact: This "myth" was also promulgated on the November 30, 2015 episode of Jeopardy!. Double Jeopardy round, category "Physicists" for $1200, clue: "Ernest Rutherford found that the volume of an atom was made up mostly of this". A triple stumper, because no contestant provided the show's preferred (and inaccurate) response "What is empty space?"

    I remember my dilemma watching this episode! Would I have offered the response they wanted, or a more accurate answer?

    (For pedants: Rutherford's experiments showed the atomic nucleus was tiny compared to the entire atom, but contained nearly all the mass. His picture of electrons "orbiting" the nucleus like tiny billiard balls in otherwise empty space was wrong.)

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Last Modified 2024-01-11 3:00 PM EDT