The Black Hobo

Before the Canso Causeway, before the diesels took over from the steam engine, an old friend and railroader, Joe MacLean, told me the story of the black hobo.

The two principal characters in this story, two drivers of the fast freight between Sydney and Point Tupper, were direct opposites. Philly O'Connell was slow and methodical, took everything at face value, while Don MacFarland was a livewire, full of mischief.

Now it was the custom in those days that when passenger or freight trains met they always exchanged greetings. The engineers gave a toot of the whistle, and with their heads out the window of the cab waved to the other engineer. At the rear of the train, the conductors and brakemen also waved.

On this particular day, Philly was running from Sydney to Point Tupper and MacFarland was heading in the opposite direction. When MacFarland's fireman went back on the tender of the train to take on water at West Bay Road, he spied a black hobo behind the coal pile, also on the tender. When he returned to the cab, he told MacFarland they had company.

The leaves on the trees had already fallen and the weather had turned cold again. So Don told the fireman to invite the hobo into the cab where it was warm. Those employees in the running trades (engineers, firemen, brakemen and conductors) were very good to these Knights of the Road. Not only did they provide shelter but shared their lunches as well.

Now MacFarland, always up for a practical joke, decided to have some fun with Philly when the trains met. The hobo well fed by now, and with a fun loving and free spirit, agreed to put on the engineer's jacket and cap. When he put on the goggles and red neckerchief dotted with white he looked like a black Casey Jones, the dare devil engineer who bravely stayed with his train until death. Though the hobo struck an impressive pose, he was a fish out of water. A black man had never been an engineer or fireman on the Point Tupper-Sydney run.

At MacFarland's urging, the black hobo sat in the engineer's seat. When the two freights passed, the hobo tooted the whistle, leaned out the cab window, waving and smiling at Philly.

After the trains had passed, Philly turned to his fireman, puzzled, and said, "That must be awful dusty coal MacFarland has on his engine. If I didn't know him so well, I'd swear I just saw a black man."

Perhaps I love you more.

Karol showed early signs of brilliance. At age 14, he helped in starting a young Catholic's club. Before graduating from school, he also complied a catalogue of the region's historical monuments. His school marks in his last year were:

Conduct A
Religion A
Polish Language A
Latin A
Greek A
German A
Mathematics A
Philosophy A
Physical Ed. A
Physics B
Chemistry B
History B

Said school friend Zbigniew Silkowski, many years later: "From the intellectual point of view, Karol was by far superior to all of us. He absorbed knowledge almost without having to study.

4R Reasoning

The purpose of this little book is twofold:
  1. To show how to detect flawed arguments.
  2. To show how to build better arguments.

The good news is you don't have to be a Shakespeare to reach these goals. You need only train your mind to pay attention and learn the basic principles in this little book.

For good reason, the first key to detecting bunk is an attentive mind. Flawed arguments are often so elusive, so well disguised that occasionally absurdities survive as popular pearls of wisdom. For instance, how many times have you heard that the exception proves the rule? The expression is catchy, but it is absurd to argue that a rule is confirmed by its exception. The spelling rule "Use i before e" is useful. But the exceptions -- conceive, leisure and weigh -- do not prove the "i before e" rule.

The second key to detecting bunk is to learn how to evaluate an argument.

There are two ways: 

  1. Challenge the facts, premise, assumption or first principle.
  2. Examine the consistency.

Assumptions sometimes stand on shaky ground and stated facts can often be disputed, but first principles, the most basic assumptions on which a theory or belief is based, are difficult if not impossible to prove or disprove. First principles include these two opposing views: nature came about by accident and nature was created by "intelligent design." Look for more in the section on assumptions page thirty-eight.

Along with how to build better arguments, this book will show you how to chip and occasionally crack the bedrock on which many arguments are based. Here is a sample. 

A male at a student party argued, "Prostitution should be legalized. There's nothing wrong with it. After all, it has been around for centuries." 

The argument sounded good to the listeners, and none of them disputed it. But it begins to unravel when examined.

Prostitution has been around for centuries. True. But murder has also been around for centuries. The rebuttal consists simply of holding the argument up for comparison. 

The first section of this book begins by explaining the five understandings for logical thinking, the foundation stones needed for detecting bunk and analysing arguments. Among other things, the five understandings show why politicians are difficult to pin down, how numbers are manipulated for propaganda, what poetry has in common with advertising, and why the Taliban were not technically prisoners of war. The section also covers the logic of the con-man. 

The second section explains 13 methods of arguing, and includes the most famous trick question of all time, plus an example of a "red herring" created by a Canadian prime minister who became a master of diversion. It concludes with the anatomy of a hoax.

The third section outlines approaches to problem solving, and stresses the importance of a method. Examining realistic case histories will provide practice for interpreting facts and making effective decisions.