Friday, January 27, 2012

The Art of Arguing

[Johnathan Clayborn]
This post took me a lot longer to write than I was hoping. I had been extra-busy these last two weeks with a lot of "life stuff".  But I digress, this article was intended to complete the trifecta of “Art of” articles complimenting the ones I already wrote on communication and listening.
Arguments, unfortunately, are one of those things that you will inevitably experience at some point in your life. Some arguments are small and mild with people politely agreeing to disagree, whereas other arguments are much more intense and violent with people screaming and yelling at each other and things getting thrown across the room.
While, admittedly, some arguments are sudden and seem to occur for no good reason, those of us with practice usually will be able to tell when an argument is just around the corner. Before the argument is going full swing there’s one question that you need to ask yourself: am I going to argue to be right, or am I going to argue to make a change?
This might seem like a strange question to ask; after all, what’s the point of arguing if not to win? But, these are very different approaches with very different results. Let’s talk about the first point, arguing to win for a moment. If you want to argue to win there are certain tactics and techniques that work better in this type of argument. First, be evasive and refuse to answer direct questions. Argue in circles and repeat your earlier statements a lot. This tends to really frustrate your opponents. Second; draw correlations where none exist and cite that as fact. For example; “you like red blue is clearly better so therefore you’re wrong about your understanding of that law”.  This is one sure-fire way to throw your opponents off-track. Another good tactic is personal insults. Many times when you deploy these little strategic gems in the middle of your heated argument the other person just gets so pissed off that the stop arguing altogether. There’s a very good chance that you’ll win the argument instantly. Lastly, use vague, non-specific, non-descript evidence to support your argument. For example, if someone asks you why you believe something, say “because” or if they ask you how you arrived at a particular conclusion you can say “well, it’s true”. And, if they ask you to walk them through your thought process you can deflect them by saying things like “what? You can’t use Google?” or “How are you supposed to figure it out for yourself if I teach you?” To top off this argument style, you can always claim that they’re using these tactics against you.
As you have probably guessed, that preceding paragraph was tongue-in-cheek deliberately. If you have ever been in an argument against someone who is using those strategies against you then you know full well how frustrating they can be. And if you haven’t been in that type of argument, give it time, it’ll happen sooner or later. The only upside to the approach listed above is that it’s guaranteed to make you win. It’s pretty much impossible to beat that style of argument. The down side; it’s cheap and dirty, you will probably lose friends over it, and people will want to avoid any conversations that have the potential for argument with you. There’s also the chance that you’ll be labeled as “pigheaded”, “stubborn”, “unrealistic” or any number of other similar names. So, if that’s not the best way to argue, what is?
Even though it’s difficult at times, you have to remember that the person that you’re arguing with has feelings too. The ultimate goal of any argument is to try to get the other person to see your point of view. In order for this to happen you need to keep them thinking objectively (or as objectively as possible). In order to keep them objective there are certain cardinal rules that you should never break in this type of argument.
Rule 1: NEVER question a person’s intelligence in an argument. Granted, you will sometimes be perplexed at how your opponent arrived at a conclusion that was so far off-base from yours. However, the second that you begin to question their intelligence they get angry and defensive. They also immediately discredit everything you say because you’re not smart enough to realize how smart they are. And, let’s not forget that the main point of the argument is that you want them to see your point of view. The only way that they can accomplish this is if they have enough reasoning power in their brain to follow your steps of logic. If you honestly believe them unintelligent then this process is not likely to happen and any argument would be a complete and utter exercise in futility.
Rule 2: NEVER resort to personal attacks or name-calling. Calling people nasty names like “right-winger” or “leftist” or “Republican” or “Democrat” will not serve your purpose. Yes, it’s entirely true that your opponent may be one of those things, but they don’t need you reminding them of that fact. Your goal in the argument is to change their thought process, not to belittle or demean their associations. Any attempts that you make to undermine their position by resorting to name calling will put them on the defensive and they will automatically discredit anything you say because you’re not smart enough to see how wrong you are. See how that works?
Rule 3: NEVER use the words “always” or “never” in an argument. No matter how well intentioned you may mean them to be, they typically come across as attacks, which puts the other person on the defensive. Not, not only are they discrediting everything you say because you’re not smart enough to perceive reality, but they’re not even listening to you because they trying to prove that you’re wrong. For example; “you never help me clean around the house!” …”that’s not true, I did the dishes on Saturday and I did the laundry on Thursday, and I cleaned a bathroom on Tuesday”. Now, instead of arguing about what’s important; that you feel that you need more help around the house, you’re going to spend the next 45-60 minutes arguing over the finer nuances of how often who does what, which is really kind of trivial in the long run.
Rule 4: NEVER approach the situation with the viewpoint that your opinion is superior to theirs, especially just because it’s your opinion. To do so would anger them and they would automatically discredit you because you’re too stupid to see how right they are.
Rule 5: Stay focused on your point and stick to the facts. Okay, you hate Obama, I get it. But why? “because he’s an evil President who wants to destroy the American People” is not a valid argument. That’s an example of the first type of argument. I don’t bear Obama any great love, but, like most things in like I realize that he’s not completely evil. But, unlike some of the other people who argue the point, I can cite the reasons why I don’t particularly care for Obama. I can cite dates, legislative bills, policies, and so on. My arguments are vague or ambiguous, they’re specific and to the point. Some of my friends love Obama and we agree to disagree, but I have great respect for their ability to back up their argument with facts. It’s entirely possible that when presented with exactly the same data people will draw different interpretations from that same data. Part of this is because as people we have vastly different moral and ethical values and different principals and ideologies that we hold dear. We tend to latch onto those things that matter to us and ignore the rest. A perfect example of this is a phenomenon that I call “Holy Text Syndrome”. (I’m sure that there’s an actual scientific name for it, and I guess you could classify it as confirmation bias, but this tends to prove the point rather markedly).  To demonstrate HTS in action gather a group of people in a room together. Read them a passage from the Bible without any further explanation, connotation or voice inflection. Then, ask the people individually what the passage was about. I can pretty much guarantee that you will get more than one answer. In fact, depending on the size of the group you may get as many as 10 different answers. It’s part of human nature to inject our own thoughts and feelings and opinions into what we read (which is part of the problem with people misunderstanding text messages and emails so often). The key to these arguments isn’t so much the fact that you’re right and they’re wrong so much as it is that you want to reframe how they think about the topic. Their perception of the issue is what’s driving their opinion, their belief and everything else behind their logic. This is true even for the most pragmatic, factual people too.
Rule 6: If you are trying arguing to make a change for the better you have to walk into the argument embracing the possibility that you may be wrong and you have to be open-minded enough to realize that. I will readily admit that although I have utterly destroyed the arguments of several people on certain topics, there are other topics where I have presented my opinions based on the facts as I interpret them and then someone else has presented me with information or an idea that I have not considered before and I ended up conceding my argument. If you’re not prepared to concede your point if you know that the other person may be right, then you probably shouldn’t even bother as it will simply devolve into a shouting match.
Tip: In general there is kind of a scale for how risky arguments can be. When discussing topics like what color to paint the walls, or what to eat for dinner the risks are generally fairly low. Most people don’t have a whole lot invested in that type of decision. However, as you move up the ladder and talk about topics like religion, politics, childrearing or treatment of animals, things tend to get very heated, very quickly. It’s difficult to separate out your emotions from your opinions, but it’s a necessary point of making a good argument. If you can’t do it then the argument will devolve into a shouting match and it isn’t worth arguing in the first place.
Well, dear readers, I hope that I have sufficiently entertained you with my thoughts on arguments.  My strongest piece of advice on arguing, especially when arguing with close friends or family members; if you feel yourself about to go over the brink and lose your cool, it’s better to just walk away. Even though you may say things out of anger and you may not mean them, and you may forget what you have said in a few days, I promise you, the other person will remember. I can recall every nasty, no-good name or statement that has ever been said to me in an argument, especially when they were said by people who cared about me. Good luck and happy arguing! …well, as much fun as you can have arguing anyway.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Art of Listening

[Johnathan Clayborn]
As a follow-up article to my post about communication, I elected to continue that line of thought and focus today’s article on listening. As with talking, listening is at the crux of every communication issue, and I’ll explain why.
First, let me start out by making two statements; 1) there is a difference between listening and hearing, and 2) selective hearing is no joke. The latter of those statements is the most absurd to most people so I’ll start there.
Many people often joke about people having “selective hearing” when dealing with communication issues, especially when dealing with; family members, parents and children, spouses, etc. This is absolutely true and is something that afflicts everyone. Yes, some people can learn techniques to minimize this effect and listen better; however, everyone has selective hearing.
Now, before you write me off as a complete crackpot, allow me to explain. Buried deep in our brain is a biological process that psychologists call a “schema”.  A schema is a process that your brain utilizes automatically to sort out the various input signals and decide what information is useful and what’s not. Without this process our brains would become overloaded trying to process every single stimulus and we would drive ourselves insane. Schemas (combined with binocular rivalry) are what are responsible for those fad 3-D image posters. Unfortunately, that example is also the hardest to comprehend. Instead let’s just focus on auditory schemas. We’ve all been in someplace crowded, like a restaurant, or a shopping mall at Christmas time. Almost everyone else in the restaurant or the mall is speaking the same language that we are. They’re all carrying on conversations that we should be able to understand. But yet, to our ears all we hear is incomprehensible chatter while the conversation of your dinner partners is perfectly understandable.
How can this be? Why does your mind separate out what your dinner partners are saying into comprehensible speech whereas everyone else comes across as something more like white noise? This is an example of a schema at work. Your brain is subconsciously sorting out the important signals (your dinner-mates) from the unimportant signals (everyone else). And yet, even while this is going on your brain isn’t completely shutting off the other signals. It’s actively scanning them, looking for “buzzwords”. Buzzwords could be words that represent danger; kill, die, bomb, gun, shoot, etc. A baby’s cry is also not dumped into the useless category due to evolution. However, sometimes, especially if you have something on your mind, your brain will pick up other “buzzwords” that have some meaning to you; Linkin Park, motorcycles, Star Wars, etc. The more value or association that you have with the word, the more likely your brain is to sort it into the useful pile. That’s part of the reason that we hear bits and pieces of other conversations sporadically.
As if that wasn’t bad enough we have other factors working against us too. As humans we have this innate ability in our brains to fill in the missing pieces automatically. It’s a semi-conscious cognitive process. One example of this is the famous Rorschach Tests, known in common vernacular as the “inkblot” tests. In those tests we see a visual pattern and we identify it with something else that is often not what it truly is. There are other types of similar tests where psychologists remove random bits from photographs and ask subjects to identify what is in the picture. Our brains are capable of filling in those missing gaps and coming to the correct answer. And still, yet one more example is the computer-geek language of “leet”. Most of us can read leet without too much issue: 4s d3m0nstr4t3d by th1s 3x4mpl3 0f l33t t3xt h3r3.
The fascinating thing to me is that while many of these ocular anomalies are understood (at least in passing) by the average person, their auditory counterparts are completely lost or ignored. As humans we have this innate ability to “fill in the gaps” in our hearing as well, especially when our full cognitive resources are not devoted to listening or we are otherwise unable to interpret what is being said. The proof of this comes from the plethora of websites devoted to the most common “misheard lyrics” such as;,, and
To share some of my own rather humorous examples; the first time I was watching Star Wars there was a scene in Episode IV: A New Hope where Darth Vader says “There will be no understoppers this time”….or at least that’s what I heard. I promptly searched the dictionary for “understoppers” and came up blank. It wasn’t until many views later I realized that he actually said “there will be no one to stop us this time!” Well, that’s a big difference, especially because that actually makes sense.  And yet, sometimes even today I still hear understoppers despite knowing that he really says.
There’s a song by the late Isreal Kamakawiwo (aka: Brother Iz) called “somewhere over the rainbow”. The first time that I heard that song I heard “K is for spaghetti”. In truth he says “Okay, this one is for Gabby”.
There’s also a song by the singer Kelly Clarkson called “Breakaway”. In that song I heard “I want to go to Walgreens”. In truth she said “I want to feel the warm breeze”…although, in my defense I was thinking about Walgreens as I was having some very serious tooth path and my prescriptions were ready. My first thought was; “wow, she must needs meds too”.
Other people that I know have heard things like “a bowl in a china closet”, or in the scene in City Slickers they heard “I crap in your new” instead of “I crap bigger than you”. I’ve also heard people talk about “we have a flight to Japan” instead of “We have a change of plans”. Other people have taken misheard quotes and applied them out of context. For example, one person I know kept referring to the enemy ships in Star Wars as Century Ships instead of TIE Fighters. The TIE component is really an acronym meaning “Twin Ion Engine” describing how the ship is propelled. However, this person was watching A New Hope and Han Solo makes reference to the TIE Fighters as being sentry ships…although that’s not what they heard. It took us a while to convince him of the truth.
As humorous as these anecdotes are, they are not localized to just one person or even one group of people. There are numerous examples of this type of selective hearing that occurs every day. All of us have done this before, and all of us will do this again. It’s the result of a physiological function of our brains. Sometimes we realize that we’ve misheard something (although we usually blame the other person) and we say to ourselves “what did they say?” But a lot of the time these misinterpretations are so subtle that we don’t even realize that they’ve occurred (even if the singer must have been high when they wrote those lyrics…).
The worst part of all of this is that when you add our brain’s cognitive abilities back into the mix on top of all of these other psychological factors that are already happening it makes listening even much more difficult. And what’s even more interesting is that there’s an indirect relationship between how close we are to a person emotionally versus how well we listen to that person. It sounds crazy, I know, but bear with me.
Our brains are constantly scanning input from our environments, scanning for danger, looking for things that may harm us or may be dangerous in some way. All of us tend to have a skeptical approach to dealing with strangers and people that we don’t know. As a result we also tend to analyze their actions and their speech a little more closely, looking for some subtle clue that can tip us off to their nature. However, with people that we know we tend to be much more relaxed in our cognitive analysis of their behavior. Because of this our brains don’t pay attention as much to what they say and we’re left free to interpret and “fill in the gaps” more in conversations with them.
Admittedly, sometimes this behavior can be as hilarious as the iPhone’s auto-correct feature; generally this behavior can have potentially disastrous results. This is especially true in cases where you may believe that friends or loved ones may have slighted you in some way. When we feel that we’ve been slighted our bodies begin to initiate that “fight or flight” response. This can often lead to couples breaking up, friends or family not speaking for months or years at a time, or spouses engaging in ugly, nasty arguments (which we’ll discuss in more depth in tomorrow’s article, The Art of Arguing).
Now that we are aware that this process and the fact that this behavior is occurring we can take steps to correct it. The first step in correcting behaviors is awareness, which we’ve achieved just by reading this article. We now have an understanding of what is happening within our heads and why it’s so hard for us to listen. The next step is to take active steps to calm ourselves and clarify. Admittedly this is a little harder and it takes practice, but the payoff is immense as you realize that half of the arguments that you’ve had are really about nothing more than selective hearing.
The crucial part of that step, really, is the calm part. If you are not calm before you try to clarify then you run the risk of engaging in confirmation bias as your emotions cloud your judgment. The clarity part is much easier. Clarity can best be achieved by one simple phrase “can you explain what you mean by that, I don’t understand?” With this phrase the wording of the phrase is the key to its use. If you simply say “What do you mean?” or “explain yourself” then your request could be taken the wrong way and the other person may feel as though you are attacking them. By phrasing it this way you’re delivering the message for clarity in a more neutral tone that is much more likely to get an explanation.
Another technique for clarity that you can use is simply rephrasing their statement into a different perspective. Say something like “I just want to understand what you mean. Are you saying….?” Again, the key to this is to deliver this message with a non-aggressive tone or language.
Ponder this information and this advice next time you find yourself in these types of situations. Ask yourself if you are really hearing what the other person means to say, or are you allowing your selective hearing to take over? Always ask for clarity and try to understand what the other person means and focus less on what they say. Sometimes people exercise poor judgment when choosing their words. And I’ll be expanding on this series tomorrow with another article covering the art of arguments, and how to win and lose them.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Both Ends Against the Middle

[Johnathan Clayborn]
Okay, so I know that two posts in the same day is a rare treat, but hey, I have the day off and my homework isn’t due for 6 more days, so why not. I was reading a very well-written article by a journalist, Chris Hedges. I recommend that everyone read it, but in case you can’t I’ll summarize. Hedges has filed his lawsuit in an effort to overturn the recent legislation that was passed granted the US military the power to police and detain US citizens without trial and for an indefinite period of time. He postulates that many of the bills terms and definition are not defined or delineated in any official capacity and as such they are too vague to make the bill useful or just.

Now, this bill has a lot of people up in arms. There are many who are upset about this bill, and rightfully so. We’re taking freedoms that US citizens have been accustomed to for a few hundred years and flushing it down the drain. But, there are right ways to bring about change, and wrong ways to do it. The wrong way would be to advocate or organize violence in an effort to change the laws. While this technique may be a catalyst for change, historically it has not brought about the changes that people have hoped for. The right way to bring about change is to speak publicly (and peacefully) about it. The right way is to start petitions to repeal the law, or to file court proceedings to block it, or to run for office yourself and attempt to get the bill overturned from the inside. 

Normally, at least in politics, I tend to be kind of “middle of the road”. Don’t get me wrong, on some topics I’m very conservative, but then on other issues I’m quite liberal. With everything else I tend of fall into the middle of the road. I’m not a Democrat or a Republican. I’m not a conservative or a liberal. And yet, interestingly, I’ve been called a Democrat, a Republican, a Conservative, and a Liberal depending on who I have pissed off that week and how much they try to undermine or dismiss my viewpoints. 

Now, a lot of people go through life completely oblivious to what’s going on around them. And that’s their choice. However, it’s a dangerous choice to be sure. Those of you who know me well know that I’m an advocate for self-defense and survival. I believe in being prepared. As such, I often visit the FEMA website and take many of their online trainings ( FEMA, contrary to popular conspiracy theorists, is not the end-of-the-world doom-bringer that many suspect. They’re a real-world, pragmatic organization that at least tries to help out in disasters. Admittedly, like many other organizations FEMA isn’t perfect. They’ve made some serious mistakes, but their aim seems genuine enough. 

Now, this comes into play because most “Survivalists” advocate that people should keep about 2 weeks supply of food and water on hand at all times. This is a view point that FEMA itself supports and recommends ( But, this is bad because, because according to new legislation that’s been passed having more than 7 days of food “stockpiled” can brand you a suspected terrorist in the eyes of the government ( 

This isn’t really all that surprising, sadly. The government has a long history of having one organization say something that completely contradicts another one. Although I can’t seem to find the exact documentation at the tip of my fingers like usual, I do recall there being a law passed in 2009 that branded anyone who had zip-ties, duct tape and rope together you could be arrested by police for having an “assault kit”. These are common household items that are found in probably every other garage in America. As with everything else, I encourage you all to pay attention to what’s going on around you. It’s very easy to find yourself breaking the law even on accident. And, as any judge will tell you, ignorance is no excuse.  


The Art of Saying Nothing

[Johnathan Clayborn]
Communication is one of life’s great essential skills. Without communication it would be impossible for you to get your thoughts and ideas across to others. You can use communication to educate, persuade, and relate to other people. However, you can also use communication to deceive, mislead, and attack others. 

We have a lot of metaphors to describe the way that people communicate: long-winded, blunt, to-the-point, embellished, flowery, full of hot air, direct, and so on. All of these different traits can be useful in certain circumstances. For example, if you are speaking with the military it may be best to use a direct, blunt approach and just “shoot from the hip” and say what you need to say. On the other hand, if you need to speak with the academic or scientific world or a politician…especially a politician, a long-winded, embellished, flowery approach may be better. 

We all know people who really have nothing to say. Sometimes they quite literally sit there silent saying nothing. Other times they speak, but their thoughts are disjointed and do not make sense. Still other times they “talk in circles” providing no further explanation or going back to an original argument that didn’t make sense to begin with. We like to compare the speech of these people to fecal matter by saying that they’re full of it. 

There are some people who make a living off of saying nothing. Politicians are one group. They routinely bedazzle us with their speeches and spew a lot of emptiness and nothing from their mouths and we buy into it. It’s a deliberate attempt to appease us to get more votes. Take President Obama for example. He is definitely mastered the art of saying nothing and making it believable. Either that, or he needs a grammar lesson on the definition of specific words. Whatever else the president may be, I think that it would be a mistake to call him uneducated. As such, any misuse of specific words on his part should be taken as deliberate. So let’s look at some specific words of his, notably “top priority”. 

To the rest of the world a “top priority” is something that is being given the utmost consideration, ahead of all other projects. The dictionaries and thesauruses of the world largely agree. According to the thesaurus it’s a synonym for urgent, paramount, vital, immediate and many other “get this done right now” type of words.  The dictionaries define top priority as “something being given merit or attention prior to completing other alternatives or tasks”, “item of the highest importance”, and “to be done before anything else”. To President Obama “top priority” means “something to say to the voters to keep them happy. 

Now, of course, those of you who know me know that I don’t go around making such claims without objective proof backing it up. Let’s take a look at some of Obama’s speeches from when he took office. On February 11th, 2009 Obama said that Consumer Protection was “a top priority”. Then, on May 1st he said that H1N1 Vaccinations were a top priority. Then, on May 28th it was Hurricane Preparedness. The very next day is was support for military families. On August 17th it was ending homelessness for veterans. Almost exactly two months later it was strengthening ties with Canada and Mexico. On November 5th it was Environmental Protection. On December 3rd it was increasing exports by small businesses. On February 1st, 2010 it was Student Loan reform. Then, two days later it was health assistance to 9/11 First Responders. Exactly three weeks after that it was education reform. On April 17th he said that Free Trade Agreements were a top priority. And then the very next day Energy Security was a top priority. Clearly, these words are meant to mislead and deceive. Now, to be fair, Obama is not the first president to have done this, and unless the crackpots are right about the world ending this year, he won’t be the last. He’s just the President that’s in office and he’s happened to provided us with a convenient tagline to follow his statements with. 

But, others besides politicians have mastered the art of saying nothing. Marketing and Advertising Reps have also mastered this art quite well. In fact, their product sales depend on misdirection and “cloak and dagger” communication. Let’s examine some of my favorite examples for a moment. 

AT&T is guilty of saying nothing. Their tagline for the last few years has been “more bars in more places”.  Okay, that’s great. But what, exactly, do they mean by that. Do they mean that they have more bars in more places than the other guys have bars in places, or do they mean that they have more bars in more places than they had bars in places at this time last year? It’s deliberately vague for a reason. 

Listerine and a large number of other dental care products claim to “fight plaque”, “fight gum disease” or “fight gingivitis”. However, none of these products claim to “prevent” these things. None of them claim to “reverse” these things, or cure them. They only claim to “fight” them. What I picture here is mental image that runs through my mind of a Listerine bottle climbing into a ring with this enormous plaque monster. The Listerine bottle hits it once, and then the plaque monster kills it. Technically, it did live up to the company’s claim; it did fight the plaque. But fighting and wining are two completely different things. 

There’s a taxi cab company around here that has the words “fast radio dispatch” emblazoned on their bumpers. What, exactly, does this mean? Does it mean that the dispatch is done whenever the heck the dispatcher gets around to it, but it’s done using a radio that’s fast? Or does it mean that the dispatcher quickly dispatches the call on a normal speed radio? 

And then there’s a car stereo chain out here called Audio Express. They say “no one installs more car stereos for $1 than Audio Express”. A bold claim, but let’s take a look at what they’re really saying. Are they saying that they install the most car stereos? No. Are they saying that they install the best car stereos? No. All they’re saying is that no one installs more of them for $1. That’s probably true. Most other stores around here either do it for free, or they charge more than a $1. But those are automatically excluded in their statement because it’s designed to be misleading. 

Most of the cell phone companies claim to have “the largest network”. I’ve always been curious, by what definition is their network the largest? They can’t all be the largest…or can they? Perhaps, the network with the most users is the largest? Or maybe it’s the network with the most towers? Or perhaps it’s the network that physically covers the largest geographic area? 

I’ve also heard the tagline “the better choice” before in several ad campaigns. Instantly I think, “okay, great. Do you mind telling me what the best choice is?” 

A third type of person who uses the art of saying nothing is the argument seeker. We all know a few of these people, whether we realize that they are one or not. Some of these people are truly narcissistic, whereas others just dislike being wrong. I have many friends who discuss politics. Many of them are quite capable of keeping the discussions calm, peaceable, and objective. However, every now and then there are those who say nothing and do so repeatedly and aggressively. Instead of proving their point with fact or opinion, they simply restate their original argument. When you ask them about the claims that they level, they say things “well, of course I know where to find that data, but if I just tell you where to find it I’ll be doing you a disservice” or “how are you going to learn if I keep giving you the answers?” , etc. It seems a little peculiar, especially when those people are protesting for other parties to explain their data but yet they refuse to disclose their own data. 

I implore you, dear readers, as you communicate with others, ask yourselves, am I actually saying something, or I am simply saying nothing loudly? 

And, as a closing thought, because it’s related to today’s topic; Taylor Mali on Communication:


Friday, January 13, 2012

Not Knowing What to Look For

[Johnathan Clayborn]
For those of you who did not already know this about me, I am an avid genealogist. I really do enjoy this pursuit immensely. It allows me an excellent avenue to utilize my analytical thinking, and, as the running joke among genealogists goes; it’s the gift that keeps giving.
There have been several major advancements in genealogy over the last few decades. 30 or 40 years ago you had to go to a specific library and browse through census records on microfilm. You had to search each and every page by hand, and you had to already have some pretty good idea of what you were looking for (not to mention you had to be pretty adept at reading old-fashioned handwriting). Today’s genealogist can do a large amount of research right from their home computer without leaving the house.
There are some people who believe that those interested in genealogy are only interested in it because of their attempts to unearth “moneyed forebears”. However, this opinion seems to be one that has originated outside of the genealogical circles. Almost every single genealogist that I’ve ever corresponded with (and there have been quite a few) is interested in this pursuit to answer one simple, yet burning question: where do I come from? They get as excited about finding an ancestor who was a poor farmer as they do in finding someone who was an important figure of society. Being a genealogist myself I can understand why people may have that perception. The pragmatism of genealogical research is that more influential people tend to leave behind more records, thus making them easier to find. However, that doesn’t mean that we’re not interested in the non-influential people.  I’m personally saddened with part of my research. One of my ancestors was a Cherokee Indian who wandered onto a farm at age 3. He didn’t speak English and no one could locate his family. The farmers adopted him and raised him as their own. I have copies of the newspaper articles that talk about the situation, however, I will never know anything more about my Cherokee ancestors or their deeds. They certainly aren’t “moneyed forebears”, but they are quite interesting to me all the same as they make up some small part of who I am.
One of the groups that I follow is the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF). I’ll explain more about them in a few minutes. However, in their recent newsletter they included a link to Greta’s Genealogy Blog. Greta had an article that I found quite interesting as she was talking about the perception that genealogy has received from the mainstream public. The popular website came up during this discussion.
Now, on the one hand, I do like the Ancestry services. Their Family Tree Maker software is my personal favorite genealogy program, and if you are looking for generic records, their site is pretty good. A subscription to their vital records is well worth the money. However, on the other hand I’m very disappointed and kind of upset at them. Their recent ad campaigns are actually somewhat insulting and definitely deceptive. Their current tagline is “You don’t have to know what you’re looking for, you just have to start looking”.
What a crock. Really? Ancestry, you should know better. For one thing, as noble a pursuit as genealogy is, it’s not something that you can just pick up and start by poking about a website randomly. There’s a lot of stuff that you need to know before you start looking. For example; why should you start looking in 1930? What type of records are you looking for? What types of pitfalls should I avoid? What resources should I avoid? What if I get stuck?
As any long-time genealogist knows the Privacy Act keeps all vital records locked away and privatized for 73 years. As such the records from 1930 are the most current records that are readily available to the mainstream public. Next year, 2013, the records from 1940 will be revealed and unlocked and then you will be able to search those as well. If you are new to genealogy are you just going to know this? Probably not. Would that make it hard to find your father? Or your grandfather? Probably, depending on your age.
Next, what types of records are you looking for? Birth Certificates, Death Certificates, Military Records, Tax Rolls, Voter Lists, Deeds, Wills, Census Records. As a “noob” to the field of genealogy would you understand the differences? Would you know about the inherent and expected inconsistencies between them? Probably not. Back in the day the Census Takers used to visit each house in person. They often would guess at the age of the people that they were recording, especially small children. So, it’s entirely possible for the same person to have different ages on different census records. Also, prior to WWII, most people in the US did not know how to read or write. Because of that the census takers would record your name how they thought it should be spelled. I have one ancestor on the census who’s name Clyborn, Clybourn, Clayburn, Claybourne, and finally Clayborn.  This is completely normal for the census records, but new people probably wouldn’t know that. This is also the very same reason that the Soundex was invented. It uses a complex mathematical algorithm to display search results that sound alike phonetically, regardless of spelling.
And then there’s the SSDI, the Social Security Death Index. This is a great place to start when researching family members. It’s often easiest to start from the end and work toward the beginning. If you know when they died, you can get their vital information, including their SSN, from the SSDI and that greatly helps you ensure that you’ve got the right person. But sometimes people aren’t included in the SSDI. For example, people who are murdered are not included on the list. has some novelty “resources” that are actually, quite flawed and laughable. Their records database is excellent. The private user trees can be helpful at times. But their “One World Tree” program is a joke. One World Tree (OWT) is an automated bot program that Ancestry developed. It scours the data of every single tree that users have uploaded onto the website and attempts to stitch them all together to map out the family history of the entire world. It’s an ambitious project to be sure. However, the bot program is highly unreliable. It regularly attaches people that don’t have any relationship at all. It also has other flaws where, for example, if people are missing birthdates in their data, it will create a “loop”. It will have five or six people strung together, but then it will have the father of the oldest person in the string be the first person that you started with.  Due to that I only very rarely use it, and then it’s just to see if someone has listed other resources as part of their file.
Many genealogists go to the Mormon Church to search genealogical records. As part of their religion the Mormons research their deceased ancestors in an effort to convert them over to Mormonism so that they can be saved. Many people agree that the Mormon Church has one of the largest privately-funded genealogical databases in the world. Many researchers will take a trip over to the Mormon Libraries to glean data from their records. Even if you are not Mormon, they will still permit you to dig through their archives. Other people prefer to access their records remotely through their website; No disrespect to the Mormons, but while this may be one of the largest resources, it’s not exactly one of the most accurate. I have personally found several egregious errors in their data.  As with many other large projects, they rely heavily on volunteer work and the data on their site is only as accurate as the volunteers who uploaded it. As such I would advise anyone using their information to take it with a grain of salt.
Another key thing that every new genealogist should know is this: document everything. Okay, really that should be said for all aspects of your life, but especially for genealogy work. Sometimes you come across conflicting data and you need to compare your sources, or sometimes you find that little gem of data that’s super-hard to find and then you lose your files and you don’t remember where you saw it again. It’s just easier if you write it all down. Keep records; who told you? When? Where did you find it? Title of the book? Publication date? Author's name? ISBN? Page Number? Can you make copies or include a link? etc. Sometimes, especially with websites, the page moves or just disappears. If it's not recorded then you may never find it again.
If you get stuck, there’s always a technique called “cluster genealogy” that most new people don’t know about. It basically plays off of the principle that “no one is an island”. The idea is that if you can no longer find records about your direct ancestor, try searching the records of your ancestor’s siblings. In many cases the siblings had the same parents and it can lead you to the answer.
The most recent breakthrough in genealogy is “genetic genealogy”. Scientists can now track your biological ancestry through mitochondrial DNA (female side) or through Y-DNA (male side). This is quite a fascinating technique. Through its use I discovered that my family was adopted in the 1850’s and my genetic roots are not that of Clayborn. But now I’m stuck and I have no idea who I am. Even with all of the years of practice and the skills that I’ve developed I can’t seem to unravel this mystery. I’ve found a document here and a document there, but some are hard to read and most yield no clues. This is where the SMGF comes in. There are websites like Y-Search (the new home of the now-defunct and SMGF that contain databases of people’s genetic codes. If I can find a match through there it would prove who I am genetically related to. This, in turn, would give me another angle to look at the records where the trail goes cold and possibly find the right answer. It’s kind of a longshot, but my DNA has two extremely rare markers in it so when I do find a match there will no doubting it. One marker happens in 1% of the population in my haplogroup (genetic cousins for lack of a better term), and the other marker happens in 0.5% of the population. The odds of someone else having those exact same mutations that’s not related to me is a statistical impossibility. But, if the commercials would have you believe, genealogy is a snap and you can do it blindfolded. And you probably can if you don’t care at all about making sure that your data is accurate or correct.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Confirmation Bias

[Johnathan Clayborn]
Confirmation Bias is decidedly one of the more fascinating and infuriating components of the human psyche. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this concept it can be explained as “the power to deny” or if you had to explain how it works you could sum it up as “the power to continue believing what I believe is right because it’s what I believe, no matter what”.
To some extent, all of us are afflicted by confirmation bias to some degree or another. Most of us have at least one topic that we feel so strongly about that we run into the danger of confirmation bias. Many people simply are not aware that they suffer from confirmation bias. Those of us who at least understand what it is have an easier time realizing that what we’re experiencing is confirmation bias, even if we are unable to change it in ourselves. The one interesting thing however, is that it’s immediately apparent when someone’s logic or debate is being influenced by confirmation bias.
Examples of confirmation bias can be found in pretty much every subject. The more controversial the subject is, the more prominent that confirmation bias exists and manifests itself in a direct relationship (↑ ↑).  The more knowledgeable you are about the subject and the more understand confirmation bias, the less likely you are to be afflicted by it (↑ ↓). But, this isn’t always true, it’s just a generality. Some people continue to be afflicted by confirmation bias regardless of how aware they are of it or not.
Where can one find examples of confirmation bias? The easy examples are things like: religion, the existence of aliens, conspiracy theories, politics, childrearing, etc. Part of the nuances of confirmation bias is that people will take information and then twist that information in their mind in order to either further support their own beliefs or discredit the beliefs of others. Take religion for example. Many people take the fact that we cannot prove that God exists as concrete proof that God does not exist. Other people however take that very same piece of fact and use it as proof that he does exists (after all, if we could detect his presence what kind of God would he be?). In this example both of these viewpoints exhibit signs of confirmation bias. All that the data suggests is that we cannot prove his existence. The data itself lends no evidence to support or deny the existence of God one way or the other.
Part of the reason that I’m writing about confirmation bias today is to vent. You see, as I’ve mentioned before, I have this compulsion to stamp out incorrect data where ever I see it. I admit that I have my opinions, but I think that I do a pretty good job of allowing my analytical brain to consider all of the factors before I make up my opinion. And I’ve certainly had my mind changed through debate with several of my friends on numerous occasions. A few of my friends are excellent debaters. There are certain topics that we don’t always agree on, and more than once they’ve been able to persuade me into seeing things from their point of view. Had I been afflicted by confirmation bias this would not be possible.
A perfect example of this came up in my ethics class last week. The teacher posed a question to us;

What does Postman mean when he says the media is eroding our intelligence? Give an example.
I responded thusly: This is a prime example of an opinion that I have long-held myself. Socially, it seems as though people (collectively) are sheep. Individually people are smart, intelligent, and thoughtful. However, if you put those people in the stands of a hockey or soccer game after their favorite team losses (or wins) there's the potential that these smart individuals will become part of a very stupid mob responsible for vandalism and assault. It might be that I'm becoming more and more cynical, but it seems as though people are becoming more and more comfortable with just believing whatever they are told without any further investigation or thought. With the advent of digital media, particularly the internet, misconceptions and misinformation can be spread easily from one place to another rather quickly. It's entirely possible for something that's not at all true to be spread as fact by surrounding it with plausible sounding explanations. For example, take these common (but untrue) myths: pirates wore eye patches because it gave them a tactical advantage in battle (false), consumption of sugar causes a "high" (false), Suicide rates go up during Thanksgiving and Christmas (false), people abuse and murder black cats around Halloween (false), etc. Not only do these myths perpetuate, but they are taken as common knowledge and fact when the truth is that they are completely and totally wrong. Genealogical records are also another case where this runs rampant as well. TV certainly infects our psyche and our way of thinking. There have been countless news articles where the judge has had to dismiss jurors or declare a mistrial because the jury has watched too much "CSI" and doesn't understand how forensics really works in application. They watch this make-believe (and often quite erroneous) portrayals of forensics and have a skewed perception of how it works. (This is now known as "the CSI Effect".) However, this isn't necessarily a recent invention. Take this map, from Prof. Ferguson published in 1893.  It postulates that the word is, in fact, square, not round. Many people bought his book and bought into his crazy ideals simply because he was a "professor" and the information seemed credible enough on the surface. The news hasn't always been known for their objective reporting so even things that are seen on the "news channels" are often questioned and scrutinized. In some circles Fox News has the odious moniker of "Faux News", despite being a national agency.
Now, as if on cue one of my classmates whom I’ll refer to simply as SB replied to my posting with this; I don't know that I agree with all of your untrue myths. I have experinced [sic] the pirate myth. Having one or both eyes can help when trying to move around in a dark place. I have experinced [sic] a sugar "high", it might be a real high be it can make you act out of character. I don't know if suicides go up around Christmas and Thanksgiving but I can see why they might. I wouldn't be at all surprised if people do abuse and murder black cats around Halloween. There are alot [sic] of cults and religions that would encourage that. I've never heard of the "CSI effect", but I would probably be removed from a jury for it. I know a person who worked in SVU in my state and she said they do a reasonable job of showing the process.
Now, as followers of my blog will know, I’ve already addressed all of these issues before in prior posts. But, this classmate doesn’t read my blog so I responded with this: You see, no disrespect intended, but this is exactly what I'm talking about. What is the basis for your "disbelief" of my facts? I'm not stating my opinion here, I'm stating irrefutable fact. I've personally researched these topics, and these are all myths that do not hold any shred of truth whatsoever. They're all baseless claims made by media and perpetuated by media and society by people who believe everything without checking facts for themselves.
I explained the facts surrounding the pirate eye patch (found here). I explained the facts surrounding the sugar high myth (found here). I explained why suicides don’t go up during the holidays (here).  And I explained the misconception about black cats (found here).
I also explained the CSI effect; If you do a Google search on the term CSI Effect you'll find hundreds of newspaper articles explaining the principle and talking about cases where it has ruined or delayed the case. The show "CSI" makes the science of forensics seems not only easier than it really is, but also more trivial. As such, jurors’ opinions are skewed by the TV series. They want to see more evidence, they want faster evidence, and when they do get evidence presented they don't realize the true consequence of that evidence and brush it off.
My classmate, SB, responded right back: I have never heard of pirates wearing eye patches to protect against injuries to the eye. That doesn't make any sense to me at all. I can see them wearing them because they lost an eye or had an injury to an eye. But I don't see how a piece of fabic [sic] or plastic could protect their eyes during battle. I really don't care about what "research" you have done. I could find "proof" to support my ideas too. Just because someone researched it doesn't make their word law. They may have skewed the results to get the data they wanted. Their test might have been too small. Take your Humane Society president as an example. Where did she have her taskforce get this information. Unless she talked to every cult and religious leader, ever humane society and animal activest [sic] expert in the world just because she didn't find any evidence to support that black cats are killed or abused more around Halloween then any other time of the year doesn't make it true. Research and statics are unreliable. You can find just as many studys [sic] for something as you can against something.
By this point it’s becoming abundantly clear that she’s suffering from confirmation bias. Not only is she attacking my response, she’s not even reading what I actually wrote to begin with. She’s misinterpreting the data as automatically wrong. But, be that as it may here’s what I wrote back to her: I'm not saying that the eye patches were a preventative measure, I'm saying that they wore the eye patches AFTER the eye was injured to keep the wound clean, like a band-aid, to prevent further infection. And as far as the rest of your response goes, I have two simple words for you: confirmation bias. You're so wrapped up in your own belief system that it doesn't matter what evidence anyone presents to you, they're automatically wrong. That's fine. It's nice to know that we have people in this world who are smarter than all of the doctors and researchers that give us our cutting edge science, that's awesome. Maybe they should just ask you how to solve world hunger and cure cancer, because I'm sure you already know the answer to that too. Any "proof" that you could find supporting your "ideas" has been refuted by more recent research, by professional researchers and scientists. The old "proof" is, quite simply, wrong. I find absolutely absurd that you can so easily dismiss the results of the tests and studies that I mention without knowing anything about them. The Humane Society President, Dr. Leslie Sinclair, personally oversaw her taskforce. They examined newspaper articles from every major newspaper in the largest 250 cities in the United States during the month of October. They also contacted every police department in those cities and inquired about persons being charged with animal abuse charges. Despite their massive undertaking, which took two years to complete, they found no credible evidence to support the idea that black cats are sacrificed on Halloween. The few "reports" that they did find turned out to be hoaxes. And we're not talking about world-wide, I'm talking about the United States, where we live. But sitting here spouting that doctors and researchers are idiots and morons doesn't further your position. As I said before, find me CREDIBLE EVIDINCE to support your claims. Which cults say that Black Cats should be killed, specifically? Where do they say this? When did they say this? Why? How many cases have been reported? Where? By whom?
Admittedly, this was a little harsh, but this is one of my pet peeves. This lady is not debating, she’s arguing.  A debate would involve her responding to my posts with facts and or other data that I could then go and independently verify. She didn’t do this. She just stuck to her own narrow-minded opinion and continued to disregard all of the evidence that I presented to her. I implore you all, as you argue your viewpoints with others ask yourself; am I automatically refuting evidence because I don’t want to believe it’s true, or are my ideas supported by fact?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Armchair Hypocrisy

[Johnathan Clayborn]
Author’s Note: This particular posting may offend some people, especially those people who are not able to be honest with themselves.

About a month ago I was a discussion with one of classmates from school about the so-called moral tests. Many people have heard of these tests. The test has questions that go something like this;
you work in a trolley terminal as an engineer. You notice a runaway trolley careening down the track at more than 50 miles per hour. If you do nothing and the trolley continues on its course it will run into a group of five construction workers who are repairing the track and they will all die. They’re too far away to shout to, but you could save their lives. The track has a switch in the middle. If you throw the lever in front of you it will change the switch and make the trolley go down the other track. The only problem there is that there is an inspector walking along the track that will be caught unaware and will probably die as a result of your actions. What do you do?
Now, this classmate of mine was very upset by this question. I pointed out that a major university had just conducted a survey of several thousand people and more than 90% of them said they would throw the lever. My classmate said that these types of studies “annoy her”. She said “Sure there is a third choice. Your choice doesn't have to be the man or construction workers. There are several things that you might be able to do depending on the situation. I would need more information before I would be willing to give my choice. I can almost guarantee that I can come up with a third solution that would save everyone.” Really? You have about 3 seconds before the trolley smashes into everyone and kills them. You’re telling me that you can come up with a third choice in less than three seconds but you’re not even able to articulate what that other choice would be in a response to the question? Interesting. ..
I tried explaining that these tests have a very important purpose as they measure our “moral reflex” as a society. When faced with an impossible choice, what would most people choose and why? Sure, there may be alternative options available, but not always. These studies are designed to be hard, emotionally and mentally challenging questions. They’re designed to test our animalistic instincts. In this particular study 90% of people threw the switch. However, when they altered the scenario and they made it so that you physically had to push the other man onto the truck to save the others, then only 50% of people would do it. And then, back in the control room if the person on the other end of the switch was their child or other family member then only 33% of people would pull the lever. This isn’t at all surprising if you’ve ever studying social or evolutionary psychology. But, by understanding how people react in these impossible situations, we can develop trainings that will be better tailored to achieving the most desirable outcome when these unfortunate situations do occur.
My classmate’s response was classic. “I understand the point of these studies, I just think that they’re pointless”. She also said “Most of them don’t take reality into consideration. Who can say what choice a person might make? If the man was a crimal [sic] or someone the person hated they would most likely push him into the bus to save the unknow [sic] construction workers. However if the construction workers were tearing into a beloved building, the person might choose to save the single man.  By not taking into considerations all the different solutions that might be available no one can truely [sic] say how they would react. There are never just the few choices the survey offers. Human minds are limitless. No one can predict what solution the person might come up with to save everyone or they may choose to save no one. I have to disagree that these surveys can gives an idea of how people can react, it just isn't possible to know.”
My response to her was thus; “I respect that your opinion is what it is. I can understand how you have reached your conclusion. It is true that humans will react differently in different situations and that there may be many different people who can think of alternative solutions, but that's not the point of these exercises. While you may view these exercises as pointless, I actually find a lot of value in them. I can think of numerous situations where I can apply this type of study in a pragmatic fashion to "the real world". I think that you may be overanalyzing these surveys. It's not designed to force you into picking one of these two options when other options exist, it's designed to test people's emotional and psychological reflex in situation where there are only two obvious solutions. There may be other ideas or other solutions, but the problem is that you don’t have the time to think about the situation and arrive at those conclusions.  Take the portrayal of the movie Captain America for example. They picked who would be Captain America by one test. They called the unit to attention and then threw a dummy hand grenade on the ground in front of them. You don’t have time to think. Most people run away, but one person threw himself on top of the grenade to save their squad. That's how they picked him. The military and police departments of the world have been known to use tests similar to that in real life. Furthermore, psychologists can use these tests to predict human behavior. There are plenty of situations where there are people who are face with fast-paced, dangerous situations and they have 2 seconds to make a decision like that. Take the SWAT team for instance. They are thrust into these types of situations every day and they don’t have hours and hours to mull over their choices. These tests can help people predict how people will react when faced with situations like that.”  (more on that last sentence in a second).
Her final response before I gave up arguing with her: “I guess we will have to agree to disagree. I don't see how you can apply these studies to any "real world" experience or to predict how people might react. I agree that in a situation of life and death you don't have time for logic. Even in those situations there (are) thousands of options in every situation. There is no way a survey of only two choices can predict how people might react.”
Okay, now for the potentially offensive part. Suppose you are a police officer. You get called to respond to a call. The suspect has a handgun. He’s fired shots into the air already. Other witnesses have reported that he’s going to kill everyone. This information comes from one of the senior administrators at the building where the incident is taking place, so you have every reason to believe it’s accurate. You see the suspect and tell him to put the weapon down, but he refuses. He’s waving it around at you. He turns and runs away from you, but then suddenly stops and turns back around to face you like he’s about to fire. Do you let him shoot you, or do you pull the trigger? I would argue that most of us would pull the trigger.
And yet the fascinating part is that society is condemning the very people who were faced with this very same situation last week in Texas. “But, he was only 15!” And? A 15 is just as capable of pulling the trigger as a 30 year old. Twelve years ago it was perfectly just for police to shoot and kill the “monsters of Columbine”, a 17 year old and an 18 year old. Or has society already forgotten that teenagers are just as capable of committing atrocities as adults? “But he was the drum major and danced in his church!” Again, I say, and? What’s your point? He took a gun to school and threatened the lives of the students. Don’t let his past behavior cloud your judgment for what he did on the day of his unfortunate death.
Let’s review the facts:
1.       Police received a call from the Assistant Principal of the school saying that the student had a gun, had fired the gun, and was threatening people with the gun.
2.       Officers arrived on scene to find people scared and hiding and other eyewitnesses corroborated the information the police had; the student had a gun, said he was going to kill everyone, and had shot the gun.
3.       The officers confronted the kid and told him to put the weapon down, he refused. He pointed the weapon at the cops and threatened them. He then ran away, but turned abruptly and acted as if he was going to shoot the officers.
Nothing else is relevant to that. It doesn’t matter what race he was. It doesn’t matter what religion he was, or how much good he did, or what he had for breakfast. The facts remain that he threatened the officers and they responded as they would in any given situation. “But he only had a pellet gun you bastard!” Okay, true. But let’s talk about that pellet gun, shall we?

Pictured here is the actual pellet gun used in the Brownsville incident. 

And this is a Springfield XD handgun.

Quick! The crazy gunman who’s threatening to shoot people is waving one of these around pointing it at you. Hurry up and tell them apart! Oh, by the way, he’s flailing his arms and screaming at you so it’s hard to get a really good look at what he has anyway. Better to err on the side of niceness and hope that’s just a “harmless toy”, right?  For Christ’s sake, I think that anyone who had seen a person waving around a gun like what the student had would easily mistake it as being a real weapon. The officers involved certainly aren’t to blame for that. For all the police knew they were preventing another massacre and protecting their lives from an armed attacker. (And let’s not even get into the legal can of worms that although this type of pellet gun is usually sold at Wal-Marts and is legal to shoot in the city it also meets the legal definition of a firearm and from a legislative standpoint can be treated as such).
I think people need to wake up and really re-evaluate what happened here and who are the real victims here. Sure, the family of the boy is grieving and dealing with their loss. And so are the boy’s friends, and his community and his church. But what about the officers? They never asked to be put in this situation. They were thrust in it because it’s their job. I have no doubt that no one wanted to shoot that boy. One person I know of on Facebook said that she hopes the officers lose sleep over this. Well, unfortunately, she’s right, they will, I’m sure. That decision will probably follow them for a long time to come, long after all of these armchair hypocrites have forgotten about this incident, those officers will still be reliving that day in their heads.
A lot of people give the police crap. A lot of them fear the police, hate on the police, etc. But let’s be real for a minute, the police are just people, just like you and I. They’ve sworn an oath to protect their fellow citizens. When we’re too afraid to handle a situation, like an armed gunman in a store or a school, we ask them to go and take care of it for us. If the police hadn’t shot the boy and he killed other students, then the police would be wrong. But they did kill the boy involved, and they’re still wrong.  If you ask me the police deserve a little respect and consideration too. This certainly isn’t an easy situation for them. They have 2 seconds to make a decision and society has hours and days and years to scrutinize that choice and rip it apart.