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All the Perl that's Practical to Extract and Report

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  • That McNamara quote got me thinking.

    There are several reasons for answering a different question than you've been given. Off the top of my head:

    • The question you've been given is boring, and you'd rather give a related answer about something more interesting. (This is what it looks like you're talking about.)
    • The question makes assumptions you disagree with [] and so you must dispute those assumptions in order to give a meaningful answer.
    • The person asking the question is attempting to solve a problem, and the question assumes a certain solution [], when the better solution would go in a different direction.
    • The question is so vague that you must narrow its scope to answer it meaningfully. (For example, "Do the people rule in the US?", courtesy of a professor of mine [].)
    • You have a message you want to communicate, so you parry the question into such a form that it lets you talk about what you wanted to say anyway.

    I usually see that quote in reference to the last of these reasons. Politicians have become especially adept at taking direct questions and giving answers that are "on message" and that avoid giving answers that might seem unsavory.