"Who Are You?"

From the Archives, 2008:
The most dangerous question Sen. Obama has ever had to face is, "Who are you?"
Archives, 2010:
From the New York Times, today:

"Who is Barack Obama?"

The danger isn't, though, the one that Bob Herbert expects: that we'll answer the question for him in a way that will be a negative for his agenda.

The danger is that there may be no answer at all.
Today's Wall Street Journal:
At this dramatic time, with a world on fire, we look at the president and ponder again who he is.
It turns out that the question was less dangerous to him than to the rest of us. A pity we didn't take more interest in it.

Tex Likes Quizzes on Saturday

...and it's still Saturday, for a few minutes.

Here's one on Ancient Scotland.

A Scientific Theory of Chess

As part of an article about a major feat in Chess, an introduction to the governing body:
As the tournament began on Aug. 27, Carlsen was mired in an ongoing faceoff with FIDE, the international governing body of chess. There are a few things you should probably know about FIDE—or the Federation Internationale des Echecs, if you’re feeling continental. FIDE is, by all accounts, comically corrupt, in the vein of other fishy global sporting bodies like FIFA and the IOC. Its Russian president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who has hunkered in office for nearly two decades now, was once abducted by a group of space aliens dressed in yellow costumes who transported him to a faraway star. Though I am relying here on Ilyumzhinov’s personal attestations, I have no reason to doubt him, as this is something about which he has spoken quite extensively. He is of the firm belief that chess was invented by extraterrestrials, and further “insists that there is ‘some kind of code’ in chess, evidence for which he finds in the fact that there are 64 squares on the chessboard and 64 codons in human DNA.”

What Science Is, and Is Not

Though apparently a conservative on the right side of many things, when Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry is no Aristotle.
A little history: The first proto-scientist was the Greek intellectual Aristotle, who wrote many manuals of his observations of the natural world and who also was the first person to propose a systematic epistemology, i.e., a philosophy of what science is and how people should go about it. Aristotle's definition of science became famous in its Latin translation as: rerum cognoscere causas, or, "knowledge of the ultimate causes of things." For this, you can often see in manuals Aristotle described as the Father of Science.

The problem with that is that it's absolutely not true. Aristotelian "science" was a major setback for all of human civilization.
The first 'proto-scientist' represented a setback? A setback to what? A tradition that didn't exist?

It turns out that Gobry is wrong about almost everything he says about Aristotle, starting with what Aristotelian science is about and how it connects to the search for what Gobry calls "capital-T Truth." One of the distinguishing features of Aristotelian sciences is that they are separate. There is a science for every genus. Where there is not a proper genus to unify a field of human endeavor, no science is possible. This is why dialectical logic and rhetoric are not sciences, Aristotle says: they aren't restricted to one genus, so we can't have scientific knowledge of them. We use logic in many fields of inquiry, and rhetoric in political and ethical problems. We can't separate them cleanly enough for scientific knowledge, we can just study them as a kind of art.

This is why Aristotle spends so much time asking whether it is proper to have a science of different fields of knowledge. If you read the Metaphysics, which is the part of Aristotle's work most closely connected to anything like "capital-T Truth," the very first question he treats is whether there is a subject matter for this science. You can have a science of biology, because it treats living things. You can have a science of physics, because it treats motion. What sense would it make, Aristotle asks, to have a science of everything? Each has its own separate science, after all, so what point is there to trying to unify them? What's the subject matter that makes this a sensible project?

The answer is that Metaphysics is the study of existence itself, not of anything that exists. The idea is not to put it all together and get to a knowledge of the ultimate causes of, say, your horse in the pasture. It's to try to understand what is necessary for existence of the sort we observe to be possible.

Now as for all this being a setback, the slightest acquaintance with history would disprove the remark. (As, also, the remark about Aristotle being the first among these -- even if you only read Aristotle, you would discover the names of dozens of men whose work he references and considers.) The boom in Islamic civilization in the early Middle Ages came as they encountered and translated Aristotle, which is what changed them from a merely warlike collection of conquerors into a civilization proper. When their translations in Arabic were recovered by the Spanish during the reconquista, it produced a scientific and technical revolution that was revolutionary in the West. Without it, there would have been no development of the kind of science we do today at all. The foundations were laid by the recovery of Greek thought.

Further, it is not Aristotelian but modern science that believes you can unify the fields of knowledge. That is why you hear talk of 'unified field theories.' Aristotle thought you should study animals under one science, and motions of things under another, and chemical reactions under another. Modern science thinks that motions are produced by physics, which at a higher level of organization is chemistry, and certain kinds of chemicals become biochemistry, which ultimately leads to biology. Many Determinists have argued that everything, including the fields we call psychology or sociology, will prove to be reducible to physics -- with adequate knowledge, we would get to the ultimate causes of everything.

Well, sort of. The problem of existence, Metaphysics, isn't solvable that way. Commonly physicists respond that this means it is a non-problem, one we should ignore as not very interesting. Of course things exist; we can observe them. Why ask how it could be possible for there to be something rather than nothing? Obviously it is possible, and as far as we know it's not possible for there to be nothing (indeed, the laws of conservation suggest something like that).

By the way, who knows the story of how Einstein came to his revolutionary theories? It turns out it wasn't by careful, systematic observation. Gobry's picture of how modern science work doesn't even apply there: what Einstein did was philosophy, starting with a return to the Greeks and the problems they raised.

The other thing that he's wrong about is the idea that we could do 'scientific' studies of things like welfare issues. You can't, because you can't control and repeat in what are called 'social sciences,' but which are properly arts and not science at all (as Aristotle would have told you). That means your theories about what would have happened if you'd done something else instead are non-falsifiable. This is a problem raised by Karl Popper.

The other problem is that you can't control for variables in these very complex fields. To do a truly scientific experiment, you should hold everything constant except one variable. There is no potential to do that in a study involving human beings, especially human beings who are going about their lives in an uncontrolled fashion.

What we get in these artistic studies of human behavior and thought is only an analogy to science. It is characteristic of analogies that they always break at some point, because the only way to have an analogy that doesn't break is for the analogs to be identical (in which case you don't have an analogy at all, you have an identity). It may be worth doing -- we learn a lot from analogies. All our political and ethical reasoning is ultimately based on analogies, and those projects are worthwhile. But they are not, and cannot be, sciences.

History is not a science; if you try to do history as a science, your efforts are only analogous to science. Sociology and psychology and 'political science' are often conducted in analogical ways to science, but they don't offer control of variables nor can their theories be falsified.

That's why there are still all those Marxists in all those fields.

I'm sympathetic to a lot of Gobry's project, but he needs to go back to school and rethink his basic understanding of science -- and learn some history.

Friday Night MV

Ain't it a shame.
(Sung, appropriately enough, by Bon Scott)

(sorry, couldn't resist)

"Westminster vows never to allow vote on anything that matters ever again"

House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, said: “An 84 per cent turnout, rallies in the streets, and intelligent, informed debates are all the stuff of nightmares.

“By some dreadful miscalculation the future of this nation was, for a brief time, in the hands of the people who live in it.

“Never, ever again.”
You know what happens if the right people don't have the power.

Bomb Threat at UGA

So today Athens, Georgia was turned upside down for a little while in the middle of the afternoon by an old-fashioned bomb threat. Actually, the threat wasn't super specific about just what was going to happen, just that 'if you want to live' you should 'stay away' from a particular building 'at 12:15.' Said building, named after former lieutenant-governor, Governor, and Senator Zell Miller, is a rather large and cavernous brick building that probably took an hour or more to clear once they got the dogs up there to do it.

I mention all this because I've been a little amused by some friends who are foreign-born but teaching at UGA. They are acting exactly like soldiers in Iraq after their first IED or mortar strike. Nothing happened, just an empty anonymous threat, but you'd think they'll be needing PTSD counseling.

It's all this media coverage of school shootings and whatnot. It's got people scared out of their minds. Crime and violence are actually down across the board, but you can't say "boo" without terrifying people. It's not healthy to be this heavily swayed by images on TV.

The Challenge of Authority

One of the most damning facts about Rotherdam was the ways in which the police departments not only did not stop the abuses, but lost evidence and suppressed reports that might have compelled an earlier settlement.

There's always a general problem of 'who watches the watchmen?' How much bigger is the problem when you discover that the watchmen have an especially troubling record compared to the general population?
There is no more damaging perpetrator of domestic violence than a police officer, who harms his partner as profoundly as any abuser, and is then particularly ill-suited to helping victims of abuse in a culture where they are often afraid of coming forward. The evidence of a domestic-abuse problem in police departments around the United States is overwhelming. The situation is significantly bigger than what the NFL faces, orders of magnitude more damaging to society, and yet far less known to the public, which hasn't demanded changes.
That's a substantial charge. What backs it up?
As the National Center for Women and Policing noted in a heavily footnoted information sheet, "Two studies have found that at least 40 percent of police officer families experience domestic violence, in contrast to 10 percent of families in the general population. A third study of older and more experienced officers found a rate of 24 percent, indicating that domestic violence is two to four times more common among police families than American families in general." Cops "typically handle cases of police family violence informally, often without an official report, investigation, or even check of the victim's safety," the summary continues. "This 'informal' method is often in direct contradiction to legislative mandates and departmental policies regarding the appropriate response to domestic violence crimes." Finally, "even officers who are found guilty of domestic violence are unlikely to be fired, arrested, or referred for prosecution."
Florida adopted an automatic reporting scheme for police domestic violence in 2008, and found that the number of incidents on record doubled. Police Chief Magazine, taking the problem seriously and trying to study it as you would expect a group that is both law-enforcement and journalist in its makeup, tracked all the news reports they could find.
Data on final organizational outcomes were available for 233 of the cases. About one-third of those cases involved officers who were separated from their jobs either through resignation or termination. The majority of cases in which the final employment outcome was known resulted in a suspension without job separation (n = 152). Of those cases where there was a conviction on at least one offense charged, officers are known to have lost their jobs through either termination or resignation in less than half of those cases (n = 52).
There's a lot more at the link.

So, what to do about this kind of thing? I've seen a lot of suggestions that police wear videocameras on duty at all times -- I noticed some police wearing them just the other day, actually -- and the automatic reporting seems wise. Automatic firing based on a conviction? Increased legal penalties for those who engage in these acts 'under color of law,' as we used to say in civil rights legislation?


AEI reports that there's a move afoot to ensure that schoolkids learn some basic civics facts:
[On September 17,] the Civics Education Initiative announced its intentions to introduce legislation in seven states—Arizona, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah—to require students to take and pass the same exam required for immigrants to become US Citizens before receiving their high school diploma or a general equivalency degree.
The article also mentions a sense among civics teachers that they feel overshadowed by the emphasis of STEM. That's understandable, perhaps, but surely it would be helpful to the knowledge of civics for students to learn, via STEM studies, that the way to answer a number of questions is to consult the unambiguous facts, so far as they may be available to us, in an initial inquiry. Lots of civics questions may be imponderable matters of opinion, but not questions like "how many votes does it take to override a veto" or "which party holds a majority in the Senate at the present moment."

War for the Greater Middle East

If you follow Andrew Bacevich's writing, you probably can guess that this online course is not going to be very complimentary to the United States or its policies. Still, if you want to hear in detail how his argument is put together, looking back several decades, the course is free.


As Long As There's One Hundred

Since we're doing Scottish songs of independence, here's a folk tune about William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. The chorus is from the Declaration of Arbroath.

Little wat ye wha's comin

This "Highland Muster Roll" is said to date from the Fifteen, the first of the two disastrous Jacobite Rebellions, one in 1715 and the other in 1745.

The Stuarts were less than impressive as a royal house, though hard to beat from the point of tragic romance and inspiration for centuries of really good novels and music.  The memorable Mary Queen of Scots wasn't easy to take seriously as a monarch.  After she languished in prison for years and was beheaded by Elizabeth I, her son became James I of England (and VI of Scotland) in 1603, when Elizabeth died without issue.  We'll cut James I some slack because of the Bible.  After his death in 1625, however, his moderately useless son and successor Charles I channeled his grandmother by contriving to get himself executed by Parliament in 1649.  Then, after an Interregnum of eleven years, in 1660, Charles I's son Charles II was ecstatically welcomed back in the Restoration, but the honeymoon didn't last long.

On his death without legitimate issue in 1685 (his impressive list of little FitzRoys notwithstanding), Charles II was succeeded by his younger brother James II (and VII of Scotland).  James II got everyone's knickers in a twist with his crypto-Catholicism and other unpopular traits.  After producing two reasonably solid Protestant daughters, he terrified everyone in 1688, in only the third year of his reign, by producing a male Catholic heir, the man who would have been James III but instead comes down to history as James "the Old Pretender."

Upon the birth of the Old Pretender, James II's elder daughter Mary had to be asked to come over from Holland with her husband William of Orange, who was also a Stuart of sorts.  James II, having fled to the Continent in 1688, was conveniently considered to have abdicated.  (He made an abortive attempt at recapturing his throne in 1689, then took shelter with Louis XIV of France until his death in 1701.)  William and Mary assumed the throne jointly in 1688 as Mary II and William II (and III of Scotland).  They produced no heirs.  After Mary's death in 1694 and William's in 1702, Mary's younger sister Anne reigned until her death in 1714, leaving no surviving issue despite 17 pregnancies.  At this point, the succession becomes hopelessly confused, because James II and his son and grandson were still pressing their noses against the windowpane from exile, but when the dust settled everyone had agreed that the great point was never to let anyone associated with James II get near the crown again.  In 1707, planning ahead, Parliament had passed an Act awarding the throne in advance to a second cousin from Germany called George, who was maternally descended from James I.  George I ruled from 1714 through 1727 and was succeeded by George II.

Meanwhile, James II's son, the Old Pretender, entertained designs on the English and Scottish thrones in a more or less serious fashion for his entire life (he died in exile 1766), of which the Fifteen, in the first year of George I's reign, was the most serious example.  The Old Pretender's son Charles (a/k/a the Young Pretender or Bonnie Prince Charlie) carried on the family tradition in the equally disastrous '45 Uprising, during the reign of George II, after which the whole Stuart business was more or less thoroughly crushed.  The Young Pretender died in exile 1788.

The Georges may have been Stuarts of a sort, but they associated themselves more strongly with the name of Hanover.  The name George lives on in a series of infuriated Jacobite Rebellion songs about little German nitwits names Geordie.

Game Time

The Loom of History

Bill Whittle closes with an urging to "get sensible people behind the loom of history." I'm surprised a man of his education does not know who weaves on that loom. The poem is in Njal's Saga.

Blood rains from the cloudy web
On the broad loom of slaughter.

The web of man, grey as armour, is now being woven;
The Valkyries will cross it with a crimson weft.

The warp is made of human entrail;
Human heads are used a weights;
The heddle-rods are blood-wet spears;
the shafts are iron-bound, and arrows are the shuttles.
With swords we will weave this web of battle.

The Valkyries go weaving with drawn swords
Hild and Hjorthrimul, Sanngrid and Svipul,
Spears will shatter, Shields will splinter,
Swords will gnaw like wolves through armour.

Let us now wind the web of war
which the young king once waged
let us advance and wade through the ranks
where friends of ours are exchanging blows.

Let us now wind the web of war
and then follow the king to battle
Gunn and Gondul can see there
the blood-spattered shields that guarded the king.

Let us now wind the web of war
where the warrior banners are forging foreward
let his life not be taken;
Only the Valkyries can choose the slain.

Lands will be ruled by new peoples
who once inhabited the headlands,
We pronounce a great king destined to die;
Now an earl is felled by spears.

The men of Ireland will suffer a grief
that will never grow old in the minds of men.
The web is now woven and the battlefield reddened;
The news of disaster will spread through lands.

It is horrible now to look around,
As a blood-red cloud darkens the sky.
The heavens are stained with the blood of men,
As the Valkyries sing their song.

We sang well victory songs for the young king,
Hail to our singing!
Let him who listens to our Valkyrie song
Learn it well and tell it to others.

Let us ride our horses hard on the bare backs
With swords unsheathed away from here.
It has something of the ring of Kipling's poem The Gods of the Copybook Headings, doesn't it? Except it was written before the copybooks, long before.

Facing Death From a Place of Safety

Boswell did, over and over:
Here we find the practising barrister, who regularly defended individuals against capital charges, reporting executions. Boswell had an unsavoury reputation as an inveterate execution goer in an age when such activity was considered prurient for a gentleman. He was not only a lawyer and man of letters; he was also a journalist in an age when reports of executions were hard news. During this period, public executions in London were carried out at Tyburn and Newgate, with as many as 15 convicts meeting their fate at the same time. Boswell diligently noted the names and crimes of the condemned: robbery, theft, escaping a prison hulk, forgery and murder. He describes a brother and sister convicted of burglary who met their deaths holding hands, only to be separated when they were cut down from the gallows.

The deaths were not always quick and Boswell confessed in his diary that executions gave him nightmares for nights afterwards and plunged him into bouts of depression. So why did he attend at least 21 public hangings? He explained it thus: ‘Dying publicly at Tyburn, and dying privately in one’s Bed, are only different Modes of the same Thing. They are both Death; they are both that wondrous, that alarming Scene of quitting all that we have ever seen, heard and known, and at once passing into a State of being totally unknown to us, and in which we cannot tell what may be our Situation: Therefore it is that I feel an irresistible Impulse to be present at every Execution, as I there behold the various Effects of the near Approach of Death, according to the various Tempers of the unhappy Sufferers: and by studying them, I learn to quiet and fortify my own Mind.’

Aside from the salutary nature of the experience, executions held an almost pornographic appeal for Boswell. He promised not to attend more executions but ultimately always gave in to his morbid compulsion. Boswell’s frequenting of executions despite foreswearing them, his philandering and his heavy drinking – along with myriad minor faults, such as impulsive acquisitiveness and chronic laziness – all indicate an underlying weakness of will (or ‘weakness of character’, as it would have been put in the past).
Is there really no difference between weakness of character, and weakness of will?

(H/t: Arts & Letters Daily)

Saltire and Slander

Are the 'neck and neck' polls in Scotland on independence wrong? We saw something like that happen in the Eric Cantor race here, so it certainly does come up once in a while. In addition to the other potential errors the newspaper identifies the samples I've seen have been very small, so it could be we don't really know what people are thinking.

There is another problem, reports The Guardian: journalists are committed to rooting against independence.
Perhaps the most arresting fact about the Scottish referendum is this: that there is no newspaper – local, regional or national, English or Scottish – that supports independence except the Sunday Herald. The Scots who will vote yes have been almost without representation in the media.

There is nothing unusual about this. Change in any direction... requires the defiance of almost the entire battery of salaried opinion.
There's a lot of that here at home, too. The TEA Party did so badly in the press in part because, in its early days when it was a genuinely popular movement, it really wanted to make some major changes -- and the press' bills are paid by relationships with existing powers. The huge defense of then-Senator Obama, which is similar to the huge defense being put on for the 'Better Together' campaign in the UK, was motivated not by a desire for "Change!" but out of a sense that he was a committed member of their own class. The movement represented change for the rest of us, but for the elite press it was the most soothing and constant of opinions that he forwarded.

Well, that all-hands-on-deck approach worked here in 2008. Maybe they'll carry the fight for their friends in the United Kingdom, too.

We'll see soon enough.

And lemme have a package of those Corn Nuts

Evidence of reverent funerals is often taken as a sign of cognitive function in early man.

What, I'm supposed to be an executive or something?

The buck may or may not stop moving somewhere between here and there:
One comes away from Baker’s account with the sense what what really offends Obama about ISIS is that the terrorist group has forced him to make a decision:
Mr. Haass said attention to nuance was a double-edged attribute. “This is someone who, more than most in the political world, is comfortable in the gray rather than the black and white,” he said. “So many other people in the political world do operate in the black and white and are more quote-unquote decisive, and that’s a mixed blessing. He clearly falls on the side of those who are slow or reluctant to decide because deciding often forces you into a more one-sided position than you’re comfortable with.”
I don't know. Someone who's more quote-unquote decisive might not be so terrible.  I mean, we don't want him to be "decisive" decisive, but he could at least make a multi-sided decision, provisionally.

Milestones in diplomacy

We've gone beyond "WRDC and are CMTS" and are solidly into "there's going to be some kind of coalition at some point."

Disturbing the Peace

"The woman was arrested on suspicion of racially aggravated public order offences."

Teddy Bears and Turrets

The school district's got itself an RV.

Checking off the boxes

This pedagogical rant hits all the high spots about the Man keeping us down in Math:  culturally responsive, gatekeeper, internalized deep anxiety, old white men, role models, motivation, activating voices, self-advocation for communities, equity, rote, drill, high-stakes testing, and meaningful dialogue.

The Founding Adolescents

The Death of Adulthood in American Culture.
In suggesting that patriarchy is dead, I am not claiming that sexism is finished, that men are obsolete or that the triumph of feminism is at hand. I may be a middle-aged white man, but I’m not an idiot. . . . This slow unwinding has been the work of generations. For the most part, it has been understood — rightly in my view, and this is not really an argument I want to have right now — as a narrative of progress. A society that was exclusive and repressive is now freer and more open. But there may be other less unequivocally happy consequences. It seems that, in doing away with patriarchal authority, we have also, perhaps unwittingly, killed off all the grown-ups.
* * *
From the start, American culture was notably resistant to the claims of parental authority and the imperatives of adulthood. Surveying the canon of American literature in his magisterial “Love and Death in the American Novel,” Leslie A. Fiedler suggested, more than half a century before Ruth Graham, that “the great works of American fiction are notoriously at home in the children’s section of the library.” Musing on the legacy of Rip Van Winkle and Huckleberry Finn, he broadened this observation into a sweeping (and still very much relevant) diagnosis of the national personality: “The typical male protagonist of our fiction has been a man on the run, harried into the forest and out to sea, down the river or into combat — anywhere to avoid ‘civilization,’ which is to say the confrontation of a man and woman which leads to the fall to sex, marriage and responsibility. One of the factors that determine theme and form in our great books is this strategy of evasion, this retreat to nature and childhood which makes our literature (and life!) so charmingly and infuriatingly ‘boyish.’”

Pakistan with exposed knees

P.J. O'Rourke delivers a nuanced appeal for intercultural respect, drawing on his mellow days as a foreign correspondent to speculate on future coverage of an independent Scotland.  The comments thread is a little excitable.

The peaceful savage

From Before the Dawn:  Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors, by Nicholas Wade:
Both [Lawrence H.] Keeley and [Steven] LeBlanc believe that for a variety of reasons anthropologists and their fellow archaeologists have seriously underreported the prevalence of warfare among primitive societies.  "While my purpose here is not to rail against my colleagues, it is impossible to ignore the fact that academia has missed what I consider to be some of the essence of human history," writes LeBlanc. "I realized that archaeologists of the postwar period had artificially 'pacified the past' and shared a pervasive bias against the possibility of prehistoric warfare," says Keeley.
Keeley suggests that warfare and conquest fell out of favor as subjects of academic study after Europeans' experiences of the Nazis, who treat them, also in the name of might makes right, as badly as they were accustomed to treating their colonial subjects.  Be that as it may, there does seem a certain reluctance among archaeologists to recognize the full extent of ancient warfare.  Keeley reports that his grant application to study a nine-foot-deep Neolithic ditch and palisade was rejected until he changed his description of the structure of "fortification" to "enclosure."  Most archaeologists, says LeBlanc, ignored the fortifications around Mayan cities and viewed the Mayan elite as peaceful priests. But over the last 20 years Mayan records have been deciphered.  Contrary to archaeologists' wishful thinking, they show the allegedly peaceful elite was heavily into war, conquest and the sanguinary sacrifice of beaten opponents.
Archaeologists have described caches of large round stones as being designed for use in boiling water, ignoring the commonsense possibility that they were slingshots.  When spears, swords, shields, parts of a chariot and a male corpse dressed in armor emerged from a burial, archaeologists asserted that these were status symbols and not, heaven forbid, weapons for actual military use.  The large number of copper and bronze axes found in Late Neolithic and Bronze Age burials were held to be not battle axes but a form of money.  The spectacularly intact 5,000-year-old man discovered in a melting glacier in 1991, named Ötzi by researchers, carried just such a copper axe.  He was found, Keeley writes dryly, "with one of these moneys mischievously hafted as an ax.  He also had with him a dagger, a bow, and some arrows; presumably these were his small change."
It was a peaceful religion, as they say.

A Point of Commonality

I don't know if it's true, as Charles Barkley says, that every black parent in the South whips their children with willow switches. I do know it's true that my grandmother, who was Southern but quite white, certainly made use of them as she felt appropriate. I only received such a lesson from her once, and at the time I thought it was unfair because she was angry that we were playing ball near the street -- but we hadn't even gone into the street. I later discovered that my great-grandfather was killed by a car, walking across the street to get the mail from his mailbox. The woman driving the car that killed him never saw him, apparently.

I'm of the opinion that it did me no harm, even if the particular incident was in a sense unjust. My father, who was on the receiving end of far more whippings from her as a boy, is one of the best men I've ever known. He is generous, gentle, and -- far from being a 'child abuser,' as the overwrought discussion suggests of any parent raised as he was -- my sister would always try to arrange to be punished by him instead of my mother, because he was too scared of hurting her to paddle with any strength.

Ecclesiasticus gives advice on raising children that begins "Whoever loves his son will beat him frequently," and of course Proverbs 13:24 holds that "whoever spares the rod hates his son."

Certainly you shouldn't abuse children. But can we stop painting people like my grandmother as monsters, 'child abusers,' and the like? Is it too much to ask that we express our culture's desire to move away from spanking children in terms that don't require us to despise and hate so many who were doing what they thought was best, and had been taught was right, even by the wise of their communities and cultures?