Having conversations with liars

In the New York Sun there is an interesting editorial on the recent admission, retraction, clarification, yes, no, perhaps, maybe, well actually… , it means the that but the opposite, it doesn’t mean that it means the opposite, correct interpretation, wrong interpretation, of the moribund dictator Fidel Castro.

Castro at the Crossroads

There’s a wonderful riddle about the stranger traveling in the land of the two tribes — liars and truth tellers. Members of the two tribes look identical. The difference is that one tribe always lies, and one tribe always tells the truth. The stranger is walking along a road trying to reach the capital. Presently he comes to a fork, at which is standing one of the locals. The stranger is unable to detect whether the local is a truth-teller or a liar. But he needs to find out which fork leads to the capital. He is permitted one question. So what could he ask the local — who either always lies or always tells the truth — that would get him to his destination?

We thought of that riddle amid the excitement over the interviews that the Atlantic magazine’s star correspondent, Jeffrey Goldberg, has had with Fidel Castro.


Can one have any useful conversation with a man like Mr. Castro? In the riddle about the stranger at the crossroads, the solution for the stranger is to put the question to the local is this way: “If I were to ask you tomorrow, ‘which way to the capital?’, what would you tell me?” The member of the tribe that always tells the truth would tell him the correct way. The local who always lies would have, on the morrow, told him the wrong way, but he must lie about what he would tell him on the morrow, so inadvertently tells the stranger the right way. It’s not so simple as that, however, to get the truth out of a communist. The Great Goldberg, who is a marvelous reporter and dealt with Castro’s dissembling in a post Friday evening, can take comfort in the fact that a long line of Cold War newspapermen learned the lesson he just learned the hard way.

4 thoughts on “Having conversations with liars”

  1. I was just about to copy that article and put it here.
    I wrote a comment but I don’t know if it will appear. It was to ask why anyone pays attention to anything Castro says. What is the fascination? The only thing that should matter where he is concerned is how he has ended freedom, provided poverty, poor education, bad health care, hunger, imprisonment for a differing opinion, and destroyed a vibrant country. He is a monster and no one should care about anything he says.
    I also wrote the editor trying to send him to babalublog, especially to the August 4th post “comparing dictators”. I wonder if they will do it?

  2. The syntax is awful, but I hope the sentiment comes through. The Sun posted my reply this morning. For what it’s worth, here it is:

    Submitted by honey, Sep 11, 2010 15:13

    Can anyone please explain to me why it matters what Castro says or thinks? After more than a half century of murders of tens of thousands of Cubans, many trying to escape and risking their lives to do so, the evil doers of the administration of Cuba offering starvation and deprivation to those left on this sad island, imprisonment in cells not fit for animals and torture for anyone who dares to hint at his right to liberty, indoctrination of the Cuban people and, to boot, lousy health care and education and bigotry against blacks, slavery and slave wages why does it matter what this evil man has to say? Why do liberals find it so inspirational to listen to him?

    Useful idiots of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your souls.

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