New Speaker and GOP Gang Bully Reporter and Physicians Severely Underdiagnosing Early Cognitive Decline
FBI Crime Statistics Inaccurate, US Households Financially Better Off, Pirate Queen, Aaron Neville Sings
What I’m Discussing Today:
Kareem’s Daily Quote: Our society is built on the concept of redemption from past mistakes. Should it be?
House Republicans Boo Reporter: A respected journalist asks a legitimate question and the GOP turns into a bullying mob. This is our Congress?
Physicians Are Dramatically Underdiagnosing Early Cognitive Decline: Early diagnosis can help fight Alzheimer’s. Here’s what to do.
FBI Crime Statistics Wrong?: They may be very inaccurate—and that has serious repercussions for the rest of us.
A Surge in Wealth Has Boosted Most US Households Since 2020: The GOP forgot to mention this when insulting Bidenomics.
Kareem’s History Bites: The most powerful pirate in history was a woman.
Kareem’s Video Break: Prepare to feel a rush of pure joy.
Aaron Neville Sings “Tell It Like It Is”: There has never been a voice like his. I’m still humming his song as I type this.
Kareem’s Daily Quote
I dreamt the past was never past redeeming.
Richard Wilbur, “The Pardon”
I was reading a recent article in which a Stanford University neurobiologist, after 40 years of study, has concluded there is no such thing as free will. This theory, called determinism, suggests that since everything is made up of matter—atoms, molecules, quarks, leptons—the human body, like all matter, merely responds to stimuli. The universe is like microscopic billiard balls constantly knocking into each other and reacting accordingly. They don’t choose the speed or direction. The reason this question of free will is so important is because it is the foundation for our legal systems, our religions, and our personal code of ethics. People must take responsibility for their actions. We must be able to assign guilt and exact punishment.
In Episode 4 of the new Netflix sci-fi/mystery series Bodies, a scientist explains to a detective why there is no free will, and the detective argues why there is by “freely” sipping wine. Logically and mathematically, the scientist’s argument makes more sense. The forces that control us are beyond our ability to consciously observe or even be aware of how they are being influenced. Yet, the vast majority of people in the world will reject that theory because it makes it too hard to interact in a society that doesn’t believe in free will. No one would be held accountable or rewarded for their actions. Our “proof” that it exists never holds up under scientific scrutiny. We are left with just saying, “But it feels like I have free will, that I am making my own choices.”
Sometimes, I think we’re like Mulder and Scully in the 1999 “Field Trip” episode of X-Files. In it, Mulder and Scully investigate mysterious deaths. They explore a cave for clues, but when they get back home, they go about their lives as strange things keep happening around them. Eventually, they realize they aren’t really walking around, they are actually back in the cave, being slowly ingested by the fungus that has trapped them. They were hallucinating so their bodies wouldn’t struggle while being devoured. (Yup, it’s similar to The Matrix, which came out the same year.) The truth is out there, but do we want to know it? If someone offered to show us absolute proof that free will didn’t exist, would we choose to see it? My Magic 8-Ball says, “Very doubtful.”
There are practicalities in believing in free will. We have the comfort of celebrating our achievements as being the result of pure willpower rather than an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine that led to an inevitable “decision” that had little to do with will.
Our society is built on the idea of redemption, which is why I love this quote from Richard Wilbur’s poem “The Pardon.” I love the idea that we can be redeemed for past misdeeds. Not merely forgiven, which is a passive act, but we can do something good that cancels out something bad we’ve done before. Past cruelties shouldn’t be forgotten, but nor should they define who we are now.
I’m torn over the question. Determinism makes the most sense, but like most people, I don’t want to believe it. I’ve read arguments in favor of free will (“Why the Classical Argument Against Free Will Is a Failure”) but don’t find them convincing refutations of determinism. That makes me feel a bit hypocritical about preaching being rational and logical. My whole newsletter (except for the squirrels, otters, and dancing) is based on accountability.
I was reading a novel recently in which a high school bully sits down at the table of the kids he’d tormented and taunted. He sincerely apologizes to them with no expectation they will accept his apology. They don’t. He understands and promises to prove to them he’s changed. I was touched by this demonstration of redemption.
The next line in the poem is, “But whether this was false or honest dreaming…” So, whether or not we truly have free will, I will proceed as if we do because that provides the most emotionally and spiritually satisfying way to interact with others. And to interact with myself as someone striving to always become a better person. Through willpower. I hope.
Republicans Boo Reporter for Probing New Speaker Candidate on 2020 (The Daily Beast)
SUMMARY: House Republicans on Tuesday shouted down a reporter’s question about their newly chosen speaker-designate, Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA), being instrumental in their efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. During a press conference, ABC News congressional reporter Rachel Scott began to ask Johnson whether he stands by his role in the scheme when his colleagues laughed at and booed her while she was still speaking. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) could be heard lamenting, “oh God,” as Scott asked her question, while Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) yelled, “Shut up! Shut up!” Johnson himself shook his head and said, “Next question.” Johnson, as noted by The New York Times, was “the most important architect of the Electoral College objections.” In December 2020, the congressman gathered the support of 105 colleagues in an amicus brief backing Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s lawsuit seeking to invalidate President-elect Joe Biden’s wins in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case, Texas v. Pennsylvania.
MY TAKE: Words are not enough to express my horror. You need to actually watch the video, which you can start 28 seconds in. It only lasts about 20 seconds, but it is 20 seconds, which clearly illustrates the banality of evil. That occurs when we normalize evil intent and actions so they no longer seem evil, but something accepted as normal behavior. What happened isn’t in itself evil—more like childishly rude—but it is the foundation for evil. How did we normalize rounding up Japanese Americans in prison camps? Or segregating Blacks and Whites? First, we have to lay the groundwork so that the unthinkable becomes thinkable, like denying a presidential election was legitimate in order to illegitimately seize power.
ABC News reporter Rachel Scott asked then-nominee for House Speaker Mike Johnson if he stood by his previous efforts to overturn the 2020 election (“Johnson Played Leading Role in Effort to Overturn 2020 Election”). That is a reasonable question to ask someone running for a powerful congressional role. The gaggle of Republicans surrounding Johnson began to boo and heckle Scott rather than answer the question. This man participated in efforts to undermine democracy and refuses to answer whether he’s still engaged in treason.
Here’s the scary part: The Republicans standing around him no longer care how they look to the public. They can refuse to answer reasonable questions, and openly boo and heckle a respected journalist because they don’t fear repercussions. They are smug and arrogant in their wealth and power. Who will hold them accountable in their campaign to dismiss, dismantle, and malign the free press, especially those with journalistic integrity?
That’s why Republicans voted unanimously to install Johnson as the new Speaker of the House. Dr. King said, “To ignore evil is to become an accomplice to it.” What is more evil than subverting the foundation of our country? I guess letting it happen.
Democracy never seemed so fragile.
Kareem’s Video Break
Watching these kids dance with such joy and abandonment lightens my heart. No self-consciousness, no showing off. Happy feet on happy children makes me happy.