Posted by: bkivey | 1 July 2010

The Expertise of Ignorance

If you are strapped for cash and in need of amusement a good place  to turn is the Comments section of almost any website or the Letters to the Editor section of your local paper. In these places you will find all manner of instant experts who pontificate, sometimes at length, on subjects with which they are patently unfamiliar. While there are those who do, in fact, know of what they speak, the majority of correspondents range from mildly misinformed to wildly ignorant. Usually the lower the knowledge, the more forceful the opinion.

This trait has manifested itself of late in the public forums where I live because of a spate of police shootings this year. There has been no shortage of recriminations and suggestions for what the police coulda, woulda, shoulda done differently to avoid the fatal outcomes. None of the folks submitting  opinions have identified themselves as having experience with law enforcement or the military, so I have to assume that some level of ignorance is involved. There is no shame in ignorance, we’re all ignorant about most things, but one should tread lightly when offering advice not informed by experience.

A good example of this occurred at a neighborhood association meeting where we had the police chief as the guest speaker. During the Q & A one of the members asked the chief about a shooting and asked why the police didn’t aim for an extremity rather than center of mass. I volunteered to answer that as I have some experience with firearms and the credibility of a police answer, no matter how factual, wasn’t going to rate highly at the time. I explained that I regularly practice with a pistol at 30 yards and that hitting a target the size of a man’s leg at that distance is not particularly easy. I further explained that this was true against a stationary target in a controlled environment, and that making that shot against a moving target with hostile intention in an uncontrolled environment was darn near impossible. And while I’m explaining this the police were nodding their heads.

I am not saying that all or any of the police shootings were justified; I don’t know the facts and so cannot render judgement, but the member’s question did expose one of the most pernicious of ignorances, the shoot-to-wound myth. About the only people who espouse this are folks with zero firearms experience, yet those same folks have no problem telling trained professionals how they should use their weapons. This propensity to offer unsolicited and ill-informed advice is not limited to comments on law enforcement, as a cursory glance at an editorial page or website forum will demonstrate.

Public commentary is a good thing, it keeps debate alive and can lead to new avenues of knowledge and inquiry. But if one wishes to add value to the conversation, then remember two things: the First Rule of Management, and  Abraham Lincoln’s advice that it is “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

 Radio Daze

When not listening to ball games the prefered radio in my office comes from KMHD (jazz), KQAC (classical), and KBOO (alternative/community). I enjoy all of them and KBOO especially has an eclectic mix of programming ranging from country to bluegrass to African and Jamaican music. All three stations have transmitters located not three miles from me on the highest point in the Portland metro area, the West Hills, and all of them sound like they are hooked up to the same two car batteries. On a clear day reception can be problematic but let one drop of moisture condense in the atmosphere and it’s a struggle to tune them; KQAC in particular drowns in a sea of static. During the Cloudy Months of October through May the transmitters are quite frequently in the clouds and listening to these stations is a lost cause.

KQAC Engineer Larry Holtz has written an expansive article on why stations at the low end of the FM dial have reception problems and what can be done to mitigate the problem. The short answer is to get better equipment. Yes, I could stream the stations through my computer but I find this distracting because the speakers are located right in front of my face and doing something as simple as adjusting the volume or changing the station is relatively inconvenient compared to the user-friendly radio. Another alternative is to buy a wi-fi tuner but that would mean installing a router in my office, and $300 to listen to the radio seems to me a bit extravagant. In truth I will probably go the wi-fi route because it has other advantages besides being able to listen to 19th century heavy metal.

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