Grasshopper and Toad appeared to be good friends. People always saw them together. Yet they had never dined at each other’s houses. One day Toad said to Grasshopper, “Dear friend, tomorrow come and dine at my house. My wife and I will prepare a special meal. We will eat it together.”

The next day Grasshopper arrived at Toad’s house. Before sitting down to eat, Toad washed his forelegs and invited Grasshopper to do the same. Grasshopper did so and made a loud noise.

“Friend Grasshopper, can’t you leave your chirping behind? I cannot eat with such a noise,” said Toad.

Grasshopper tried to eat without rubbing his forelegs together, but it was impossible. Each time he gave a chirp, Toad complained and asked him to be quiet. Grasshopper was angry and could not eat. Finally, he said to Toad: “I invite you to my house for dinner, tomorrow.”

The next day, Toad arrived at Grasshopper’s home. As soon as the meal was ready, Grasshopper washed his forelegs, and invited Toad to do the same. Toad did so, and then hopped toward the food.

“You had better go back and wash again,” said Grasshopper. “All that hopping in the dirt has made your forelegs dirty again.”

Toad hopped back to the water jar, washed again, then hopped back to the table, and was ready to reach out for some food from one of the platters when Grasshopper stopped him: “Please don’t put your dirty paws into the food. Go and wash them again.”

Toad was furious. “You just don’t want me to eat with you!” he cried. “You know very well that I must use my paws and forelegs in hopping about. I cannot help it if they get a bit dirty between the water jar and the table.”

Grasshopper responded, “You are the one who started it yesterday. You know I cannot rub my forelegs together without making a noise.”

From then on, they were no longer friends.

Moral: If you wish to have true friendship with someone, learn to accept each other’s faults, as well as each other’s good qualities.


One key trait of critical thinkers is the ability to tolerate the flaws of others. Tolerance seems to be related to experience, too, since the whole idea is this: We learn to tolerate the limitations of others, because we have realized some limitations of our own. This is reminiscent of Einstein’s observation that the ability to climb a tree may not be the best test of the abilities of a fish. Grasshopper and toad fail to understand tolerance in this African Folktale.

Truth, Half-truth, and Untruth

It looks as though one of the great challenges of the 2020 U.S. presidential election campaign will be determining what is true. You may cite that last sentence as an example of understatement. We have many candidates making lots of contradictory claims, assurances and promises. How can we trust what we’re hearing and reading?

We constantly deal with new information—one of the blessings (or one of the curses) of our age. And in the thick of the daily onslaught, we may wonder which information is good, which is corrupted in some way, and how to determine the difference between what’s true and what’s not. And it’s getting harder to do.

Just because you saw it on your favorite news network does not make it true. Just because a buddy of yours posted it doesn’t make it right. And then that new menace to clear communication called Deep Fakes, produced by technology said to be so good that you can’t tell the real video from the mash-up.

There are a few questions to consider asking when you have received new information, questions that will help you view the material from a critical thinking perspective.

One of the first questions we need to ask is how can I tell? What signs am I seeing that tell me this claim is true, or signs that it’s false? Can I validate the accuracy easily myself? And if the information is accurate, what then? Will there be implications and consequences, influences and effects? What’s this going to do to me?

And what if the material is wrong? Now what do I do, how do I treat it, what do I say to those who think it’s right? Will the inaccuracies cause a negative result in other parts of the project? Try to help others access their own critical thinking skills.

Finally, consider the source of the information and the value that source itself is receiving by communicating the information to you. How does it help them? Why are they sharing the information? What do they stand to gain?

Ask questions about the things people claim, and protect yourself against false or misleading techniques.

Name That Fallacy!

red herring pic

Here at the ButcherBlock, we are grateful to President Trump because he continues to supply the rest of us with some excellent examples of bogus arguments. He has taken to defending a claim he made during an interview with journalist George Stephanopoulos on June 17, 2019. Two claims, in fact.

“I’m actually a very honest guy.”

The problem with this first claim is the lack of any supporting evidence. In fact, there’s a mountain of countervailing evidence with various estimates that the President has uttered thousands of lies since taking office. Also, people who are “actually…very honest” don’t generally need to point out their honesty to the rest of us. Their honesty is usually obvious because the statements of honest people tend to match up with reality.

The other problematic claim is Trump’s notion that reelection help coming from foreign governments is OK. This claim has brought out a firestorm of criticism, criticism that is well-deserved. And predictably, the criticism has prompted Trump to dig in and defend himself. He took to Twitter to tweet the following defense:

“I meet and talk to ‘foreign governments’ every day. I just met with the Queen of England (U.K.), the Prince of Wales, the P.M. of the United Kingdom, the P.M. of Ireland, the President of France and the President of Poland. We talked about ‘Everything!’ Should I immediately call the FBI about these calls and meetings?”

Red Herring.

The story goes that smoked herring (which allegedly turns red and has a potent odor) was used by escaping prisoners or slaves to throw tracking dogs off the scent by dragging the fish across the trail and confusing the dogs. It turns out that a significant number of these etymological origin stories were invented as mnemonic devices to help students remember the material, so I’m not sure how true this story is. Nevertheless, it’s a good description of the effect and purpose of this fallacy: distraction and confusion.

Meeting the heads of foreign governments is not the issue. Receiving political help from the intelligence services of foreign adversaries is the issue. And Trump appears to be soliciting that form of “help” as he did when he asked the Russians to find Hillary’s missing emails during the 2016 presidential election campaign.

Hang on tight and pay close attention. The campaign for 2020 is going to be one wild ride.

Old Tricks

When I saw the news that Trump was waving ‘secret’ papers at the camera, I was immediately reminded of another, similar moment in US history:






Yes, we’ve seen this trick before. Be suspicious of ‘secret’ documents (or secret anything, for that matter). In the image to the left, we have infamous secret-document-waver, former US Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis). On the right–well, you know who.

McCarthy waved his piece of paper at the cameras while claiming he had a list of known communists working in the US State Department. I don’t think he ever claimed that his ‘list’ and that sheet of paper he was waving around were the same document, but that’s certainly the idea McCarthy wanted to convey. And now Trump appears to be using the same tactic.

Do you remember Richard Nixon’s ‘secret’ plan to end the Viet Nam war? It was a plan that didn’t exist, but it won Nixon the election. And many of those singled out by McCarthy had their careers destroyed. Secret evidence, secret policy, secret agreement–whatever you call it, it’s a dirty trick and a very effective one.

Never blindly accept ‘secret’ evidence as support for anything. As soon as someone claims the evidence is secret, then it cannot be evidence and it’s no longer secret. It’s obvious that some things need to be kept secret, but other forms of additional support should be readily available for inspection. Be wary of those who ask for your trust without offering anything in return.

No one on this planet knows what’s going through the Donald’s mind. And there appears to be some question as to whether even Donald himself knows what’s passing between his ears. Is he hoping the credulous will believe that piece of paper is a check from Mexico to pay for the Wall? Or an agreement about immigration? Or could it be a piece of paper with writing on it that has nothing to do with Mexico? Simply a prop? Kellyanne’s shopping list?

Another matter to bear in mind is the fact Trump, Nixon and McCarthy share something in common: Roy Cohn, a stinking piece of corruption masquerading as an officer of the court, who was admired–and sometimes employed–by each of the three. Yes, Cohen was a legitimate attorney, but one who was contemptuous of the law. He could only see the law as a tool to be used for winning, not for discovering the truth. And Cohn essentially taught the others that winning on any terms is more important than truth.

My comments here are coming close to the problem of guilt by association. Nothing can be proved simply on the basis of these four men associating with each other, but the association seems to lend itself to a pattern of deception and dishonesty that may bear further investigation.

What if a Democrat claimed to have a list of known Nazis in the Republican Party, but the list is secret? I don’t think very many reasonable people would be impressed. Trump is leading us to believe he has an immigration deal with Mexico, but it’s difficult to think of any good reasons to keep that deal secret. Unless there is no deal.

[Since this blog post, a photographic enlargement and analysis of the suspect document appears to reveal language one would expect to find in such an immigration agreement, but the signatories are low-level functionaries and not the leaders of the two nations–this indicates the document Trump waved around was a draft version and not a real international accord. That’s right, fake news]


Here’s a recent example of the ‘stable genius’ of President Trump: “If President Obama made the deals that I have made… a National Holiday would be immediately declared.”

This one is almost too easy. Anybody who’s been following the ButcherBlock should recognize immediately the failure of logic in this claim. I discussed it earlier in a post analyzing some comments by Congresswoman AOC and in an argument about abortion.

And I warned…

Trump logicthat once you learned about this fallacy, you would start seeing it everywhere (except in your own thinking, of course).

The fallacy? Hypothesis Contrary to Fact.

The quotation above also contains elements of the Tu Quoque or You, Too fallacy which tries to claim “others have done X; therefore, I can do X.” “You do the same thing you’re accusing me of doing” is heavily implied, but it isn’t the main problem here.

The main problem here is speculating about something that never happened or that is non-existent. Obama never made the deals alluded to, so it isn’t possible to know whether we should be celebrating “National Trump Greatness Day.” The quality of something that never happened is a quality that cannot exist.

In the formulation used by Trump, the dominant fallacy is the attempt to build an argument on a non-event. It should be pretty clear that you can’t use nothing as support for your case. It’s counter-factual. Alas, that description applies to many of Trump’s utterances.

It’s probably easiest to think of a hypothesis as a good guess or an ‘educated’ guess. You’ve observed something you want to explore further because you have a question about it: what is it, what is it doing, will it do that again, how does it do that, where does it come from are some of the most common questions hypotheses are built on. Just remember that a hypothesis must be built on something real in order to make any rational claims about it. Another way to put it: why are you wasting your time guessing about things that never happened? Unless you’re working on a piece of fiction.