Sunday, March 28, 2010

Liz Cheney: Like Father, Like Daughter

It seems the apple doesn't fall far from the tree after all in the case of former Vice President Dick Cheney and his daughter Liz Cheney. To say the younger Cheney is a mere clone of her father—politically speaking—is no understatement. Going over the top is quickly becoming just as much a signature of her persona as it was her father's.

Whatever chance Liz Cheney may have had to be taken seriously by a broad audience seems to have gone out the window. In a move seen as repugnant even by many of her Republican cohorts, Ms. Cheney's new political contraption, Keep America Safe, has unambiguously affirmed her wing nut predilections. By publicly maligning lawyers for representing defendants with ties to Al Qaeda, Ms. Cheney has bludgeoned a cornerstone precept in American jurisprudence, one which allows lawyers to vigorously defend their clients without assigning to them whatever nefarious associations their clients may possess.

It's not very likely Ms. Cheney doesn't know—or has forgotten—that legal representation is something any defendant is entitled to. Rather it is more likely she is out to capitalize on whatever political ill will she can conjure by associating legal representation of terror suspects with President Obama, who she says is failing to keep America safe by being "soft on terror."

Whatever one thinks of Ms. Cheney's political misorientation, you have to admire her sense of loyalty, especially given that it is directed toward people who are not likely to be treated kindly by history. As for her political aspirations, she may not may able to resist the call of the wild constituents; there certainly are enough of them. As one political observer put it, Liz Cheney is Sarah Palin with a brain, which could spell trouble for those of us who assumed no such creature could possibly exist.

Yes, it is clear Liz Cheney is intelligent, articulate and confident. It's almost a shame she is so arrogant, calculating and misguided. With assets like these, however, she should make a fine conservative politician.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Remembering a Bear Hug

Shortly after Jami and I were married, the man I was named for—Uncle Billy Newton—was nearing the end of his journey. I always loved Uncle Bill, and sharing a few moments with him as he lay dying turned out to be one of those rare encounters you treasure forever.

As soon as we heard Uncle Billy was in the hospital and not doing so well, Jay and I paid him a visit. I was flattered he instantly recognized me as his young namesake. After managing a warm smile, he opened his arms as wide as he could, inviting an embrace that would not be denied. For a man on his last leg, his strength defied reason as he squeezed the very breath out of my lungs.

Once I regained my composure—and my breath—there was one more thing Uncle Billy had in mind. He had an instruction for me, one I would take to heart and always endeavor to obey. "Be good to her, always," Uncle Billy said, slowly lifting his hand and pointing toward the woman I loved. "I will, Uncle Billy. Don't you worry, I will."

And with that gentle commandment, Uncle Billy and I said our good-byes. To this day I remember my kindly uncle as a man with the courage to say what sometimes needed to be said. He knew what a treasure a loving partner could be, having had one of his own in my precious Aunt Nancy. He also knew the importance of always treating one's partner with kindness and respect.

I miss you, Uncle Billy. Thank you for showing me the kind of foot steps worth following in.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Mr. Dennett's Proposal

The philosopher Daniel Dennett has many insights to offer about evolution, consciousness, religion and atheism. One idea he proposes has a slightly radical feel to it at first blush. Dennett believes the world's major religions should be taught—in a "fact-based" manner—to all children in primary and secondary schools, both public and private, as well as to those who are home schooled.

Dennett says children need to learn as much as they can about the world's religions so they can better understand the role they have played in shaping our culture. By learning about the "history, creeds, texts, music, prohibitions and requirements" of the world's most prominent religions, Dennett believes children can construct a firm foundation for making informed decisions later in life. Says Dennett, "Religions are an important natural phenomenon that should be studied with the same intensity we study all the other natural phenomena."

Parents, Dennett reminds us, do not own their children; they are their stewards. As such, they have a responsibility to broaden their children's horizons and not simply indoctrinate them in the ways of one specific religious faith. This is problematic for many parents, who believe they have the right to do precisely that.

I believe Dennett may be onto something worthwhile, especially if teaching about the practice of non-belief is included, which Dennett suggests should be. Hard as it may be for those who insist they have a right to raise their children in the "one true faith," which is invariably the one they practice, the intellectual nourishment of children would be greatly served if they learned about all religions as well as non-belief. Also, educating children in some small way about the Bible, as literature, would no doubt diversify a child's intellectual portfolio.

In his article/blog post Teach Our Children Well, (The Washing Post, On Faith, March 8, 2007) Dennett lays out his case for teaching a comparative religious studies program to children. There is a lively discussion in the attached thread from many perspectives. He writes extensively on the subject in his 2006 book, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.

By advocating the scientific study of religion as a 'natural phenomenon,' Dennett seems to both acknowledge its staying power as well as put his own interpretational stamp on the whole concept of religiosity itself. It is likely an interpretation, however, that doesn't sit well with those unwilling to see their faith as anything but divinely inspired.

The idealism of Dennett's proposal notwithstanding, having young minds examine religion as a cultural phenomenon sounds like a good idea.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

My Winged Visitor

It was one of those dreams. The kind upon waking from you frantically try to resume by willing yourself back to sleep. Whatever it was—the imagery, the symbolism, the sheer beauty—recapturing the lost sequence is more often than not a desperately futile endeavor. Upon totally awakening one is consumed with joy for the experience, yet crushed by sadness for it having to end.

Several nights ago I had a visitor—to say I merely had a dream doesn't do justice to the experience. As I was riding along in the front passenger seat of a car, a small bird appeared along side the vehicle, keeping perfect pace. I thought it strange that a bird should shadow a moving car so intently, as if it wanted my attention. I extended my arm outside the window, opening my hand—palm downward. As if anticipating my gesture, my feathered friend instantly clung to my knuckles. It seemed to be reveling in the joy ride—every few seconds turning its head pointedly toward me and looking directly into my eyes. Within moments I was flush with amazement! It was as though the tiny creature were trying to tell me something—or lead me somewhere. But what? And where to? Several times it flew off, drawing circles with its flight path, then—just as quickly—returned to my hovering hand.

Like most dreams, this one left me riddled with uncertainty, consigned to conjecture about its meaning. About the only thing I was certain of was its emotionally transcendent nature; I awoke from this dream with a big smile on my face.

It's been several days now, and already I feel a longing for my bird friend's presence once again. Should he—or she—return, I will plead of him to reveal more about himself. Are you the gentle reincarnation of a lost sibling? An old friend? A fleeting acquaintance I should have gotten to know better? Or have you been called upon to guide me through the next chapter of my meandering life? So many questions—so few answers.

To my mysteriously enchanting friend: be kind to me. Come to me once more. Perhaps next time you can stay just a little longer.