Quantifying blame

You have probably heard the phrase “We are all to blame”.

I want now to argue that whoever says this is committing a fallacy, and for this, I have to build some argumentative infrastructure.

Some explanations first. I was motivated to write this piece after some politician has said somwhere online that “we are all to blame for [some unfortunate situation which is not really relevant to this piece]”. This has pressed my berserk buttons (all of them), and I had to think why I am so displeased with these words coming from this person. So, enjoy the results of my thoughts.

In today’s moral consensus (and my personal view), blame (and its less offensive sibling, responsibility) is a function of power. If you can change the situation, you are to blame. If you cannot, you are not. So far, so simple, and up to now, there is no contradiction to everyone being to blame for anything. However, the statement misses several issues.

First, what is the consequence? Usually, “we are all to blame” results in “you should pay and atone”, or just a deep-sounding “we should all atone”. However, other than sounding deep, these words do not really mean something material by themselves.

Second, what is the measure? The implied connotation is that everyone is equally to blame. And in the discussed cases, this is as much true as following “real possibility” from “nonzero probability”. In our world, the share of responsibility for any outcome is not equal. A politician has more power to change enviromental policies than a nurse, and a doctor has more power over a patient than a schoolchild 50 kilometers away, even taking into account that the schoolchild has the theoretical option to study medicine. But if no measure is supplied, the implied meaning is that everyone is equally responsible, by which no one is actually responsible.

What do we have in the end? I propose a heuristic: Everyone saying “We are all to blame” implies “we are all equally responsible” and tries hereby to scatter her share of responsibility. In the best case, this is a fallacy. In the worst case, this is an insult to reason and an attempt to evade judgment.

Election day

A disclosure: I am not American. Hence, my interests in American elections may be very alien to actual Americans (same as the interests of the candidates may be alien to me). I have a different background, my political views (as in: what should be a priority and what are good means) are clustered differently. I also have a strong hype allergy. Long story short: I have the freedom of not having to choose and the possibility of saying “I strongly dislike both candidates” without having an impact on the outcome. The reasons are manifold, but just to give you a hint: I dislike Trump for his far-right campaign and his attitudes. I also dislike Clinton for the “vote for me, you sexist pile of shit” campaign sentiments and her rather hawkish policy.

I went to sleep on Tuesday with the thought that I missed an excellent opportunity to bet on Clinton against some politically active bloggers. On Wednesday, I woke up and the first word on my phone’s display my mind has recognized was “immigration office”. I then thought that not betting was actually a wise move (and like many wise moves, this one was due to laziness). And then the Internet exploded with pain.

Continue reading “Election day”

Communication hardness

This is not a post on computational complexity. (I can write one, though, and even on communication.)

There have been several incidents in my life that follow a pattern, and I probably should summarize them at least to think about it. It happened to me for some times that I was trying to convey to another person a thought, an idea, or a concept and was utterly failing at the task. It has taken me hours to clarify what I meant, what I wanted to say and what, for me, the logical implications were. In the end, after the task was done and the idea communicated (or so I thought), my first reaction was “Oh wow, this was hard. I think I need a drink now”.

Now one could draw a conclusion that I am simply incapable of communicating my thoughts, but this hypothesis is invalidated by contradicting observations. And the simplest assumption that matches my observation is that it is, in fact, hard to communicate complex ideas; if the person I try to communicate with has a different intuition (even for the same problem!), then the explanations that are completely clear to me may come over as confusing.

This is very, very sad. It increases the amount of communication overhead, it reduces the flow of ideas, and it makes communication sometimes rather frustrating. Furthermore, it constrains the amount of people you have fun talking to. On the other hand, this is a very good reason to appreciate these people more.

Your next gate of Hell

This post is motivated by a not very recent discovery of people who are propagating the cause of oppressed social groups. [0] I have stumbled upon some very dramatic (and in my opinion exaggerated) posts that have hit me in the general area of empathy and could be very roughly generalized as “everything is very bad”. Since my empathy actually exists, it was (and still is) somewhat emotionally straining to read all that. And the question that rises in my head is, then, what can I do? Because watching people suffer is worse if you have no idea how to stop that suffering.

At this point, I have installed in my mind a Great Divide [1], a non-Maxwellian demon, that tries to filter texts from the “everything is very bad” department into two categories: the ones that disclose what the authors actually want and everything else. To make clear what I say, let me provide an example. Suppose someone laments about lack of medical supplies in a given area. Then it is actually possible to say something like “Hey, I happen to have a car and some logistic capacities.” and actually do something. For contrast, suppose someone laments about how the evil NSA is spying on you and is manipulating your local politicians, hence DOOM DOOM SURVEILLANCE GRAVEYARD. Then it is actually impossible to ask anything. Obviously, the person does not want DOOM DOOM SURVEILLANCE GRAVEYARD and probably making the NSA go away would be a good beginning, but there is no possibility for this to happen. As you can not possibly solve the problem even in the tiniest way possible (other than ejecting yourself into some safe place where no bad things happen), this realization makes you feel bad.

The reason for the Great Divide is somewhat complex and requires further explanation. The first of the sub-reasons for me is actually very selfish: My personal willingness to deal with things I personally cannot change is limited. My personal willingness to hear lamentations about things that must be “dealt with somehow” is also limited. Most of all, my capacity for dealing with (mine and other people’s) emotions is finite, and currently rather full.

The second sub-reason is rather ad hominem [2]. People who regularly write dramatic posts of the “DOOM DOOM SURVEILLANCE GRAVEYARD” often promote themselves to online authority figures because they write about things that the general audience considers interesting and relevant (because conspiracies, Hidden Complex Plans and similar stuff are always interesting and relevant). This is a system with positive feedback; thus, the author who writes dramatic posts feels compelled to write more dramatic posts to gather more audience. Finally, this leads to induced stress on the side of the audience (which is an unforgivable sin already) and something my 4chan part of the brain would call “attention whoring”. My non-4chan part of the brain tend to call this “clickbait” or “commentbait”. Either way, if someone’s goals are more and more skewed towards gathering more attention, then, probably, this is a less trustworthy source of anything.

The third sub-reason is also a little ad hominem. Multiple lamentations on how something is very bad and how we are all going to die reveal that the author has no willingness to get rid of this something. Even more, since this kind of “socio-humanitarian thinking” comes at zero cost (plus or minus some efforts for rationalization), it is a reason to suspect that this certain someone is actually either rooting for the “other side” or generally unwilling to put any effort to change the current state of affairs, which is from the result-oriented point of view indistinguishable. Either way, this person has lost her personal conflict. Raising awareness by hysteria does not count; even if you are willing to protect your cause by lethal force, even then it is best to keep calm. And do whatever you consider right, actually protect your cause and not whine about it.

Hence, my rising suspicion against people who regularly write hysterical posts about every kind of conflict.

[0] If you think that I am talking about “social justice” and evading the term, then you might be surprised, there are more causes than social justice. I describe very general patterns; this is applicable also to some of the so-called “patriotic bloggers” and all conspiracy theorists without exception 😉

[1] I notice that I am inventing terms. Please tell me if you have a problem with that. Please notify me immediately if I start furiously promoting my freshly-invented terms.

[2] Ad hominems are, however, not all bad. Sources of information may be more or less trustworthy. A non-trustworthy source with strange objectives is cognitively not more useful than white noise.

A prayer

This year, lots of things made me uncomfortable. Hypes, idiots, wannabe-experts. I happen to have the right quote for this case (because I’m a scientist and previous work has to be mentioned). Long, long ago (October 1, 2008, to be precise), a guy got so fed up with this world that he wrote a short prayer (in Russian):

Dear, dear God!

Please, enact a Fucking Big Economic Crisis, to return all these well-fed managers and analysts back to drinking cheap beer in parks, to make all the uppity sociocultural thinkers get to the villages they came from, since they won’t afford their flats. Turn back the Successful Startupers into socially inept black market delivery boys, and glamorous columnists into street prostitutes. Dear God, please, make this fucking world of arrogant insects collapse.

Dear God, I am even ready to be hungry for some months to see this.


The N-acronym

…the N-acronym being NSA, obviously. It does not really surprise me that the United States government (or whoever feels responsible) seems to be unwilling to sign a so-called No-Spy-treaty. So, in the light of all the revealing leaks, what is the problem?

Lots of things. However, there is something that needs to be pointed out since most people concentrate on the “Big Brother” aspect. While this is something the availability heuristic helpfully suggests, it is not the only problem with being spied on by legal institutions (or, for that matter, any institution). The other problem is that institutions consist of people and while no institution has an incentive to look into YOUR files and tamper with YOUR data, malicious individuals for sure have. If you think this is something that may happen in good old movies like Enemy of the State or True Lies (which I nevertheless recommend), here is something that suggests that even the police consists not only of law-abiding policemen whose primary job is to serve and to protect (For those too lazy to follow the link: this is not your average leftist ACAB stuff, there is evidence that some police departments have been infiltrated by organized crime). And this is only something that is obviously grossly inappropriate, lots of other things, like stalking or spying on a random person, cannot be detected as easily as pretty much everyone can do it without being connected to organized crime. The Big Brother or any big company is an abstract concept that is far away. Your neighbor is far more concrete and may be more interested in the vast amounts of data their employer can offer. Perhaps their relative works for a company that is your competitor. Perhaps they just like reading your romantic correspondence. For someone, you might truly be a very interesting person, you might never know.

I hope you are now at least as paranoid as I am, and so, I would like to phrase the question as follows: Do you trust a random middle-class person enough to let them spy on you? Not the big, abstract NSA, but your neighbor? Does the possible damage seem less than the security you can gain?

I want to stress that security and privacy are not something sacred and there is an obvious tradeoff. However, it seems that the security gained by mass surveillance of phone call metadata (which can provide a great lot of information) does not really compare to the problems it creates. And the profits from targeted advertising… well, at least in this case you can make your Internet experience more or less private. Unless someone at the NSA sells your browsing patterns to advertisers. You never know!

The Qatar affair

I have been reading on the Qatar Word Cup affair for a while and, currently, I am laughing my head off. So, as it appears, some FIFA guys have taken loads of money from some climatically and otherwise challenged, but financially rather successful country. (NOTE: this is a plausible, but wild guess and there are probable more reasons to hold a World Cup in Qatar. However, there does not seem to be evidence in support of the latter claim, but on the other hand, there is some strong evidence that said country is actively intervening in the regional politics.) Now some people, also from FIFA, very SUDDENLY (this is an important point—nobody thinks about the implications before the decision is made) realize that sports in summer down there is a bad idea and fight a large medial campaign against this idea, and, probably, against the general decision of holding a World Cup in a very hot, both literally and figuratively, region. Holding the World Cup in winter seems also bad since it does not fit in the schedule of the leagues, so there seems to be no really good solution. On top of that sits the great master of balls Sepp B. and does not seem to support either side while promising that a decision will be made somewhere in the future.

In a perfect world, people would decide based on reason and logic. However, this world is not perfect, and things like these happen disturbingly often. If a decision has been made, it is hard to revoke, and very easy to rationalize. Even if it will turn out that the decision has been biased by money, the stakeholders will be likely to say “so what, the decision has been made, costs has been sunk, and now we have to deal with it”.

In any case, 2022 is far away, the Middle East might be subject to some landscape design, and until then we will have a lot of fun. So, if you are a professional football player and fear that your job makes you perform somewhere very hot, chances are, this won’t happen.


For the last two weeks, I have been giving a course on SAT solving at the DSA, which expands to „Deutsche SchülerAkademie“. This is a system of summer camps in Germany that provide courses on various scientific topics (mostly: mathematics, science, politics, philosophy, and art) and are intended for high-schooler one or two years before they finish school.

Having participated at such an event myself, I connect lots of warm memories with my DSA, and my intention was to help gain the same experience for those who were participating in it now. I think I managed to do that.


I have met lots of motivated young people, experienced a very different perspective on teaching, and I hope I got some new insights about people in general. I am happy that I could do it, and I would like to give a course again.

National day in pictures

Yesterday Norway was celebrating its independence. It was a pretty big celebration, considering the efforts Norway put into acquiring its independence; nevertheless, it was a nice show to watch even despite the weather (+8, rain, jacket, hoodie). Generally, this looks a lot like a mix of the May 1st parade and the German Karneval, but in serious. The idea is that all city’s societies that include more than twenty people join the parade, wave some society-related flags, do some performance (optional) and carry Norwegian flags (mandatory).

By “all city’s societies” I mean literally all of them. Even the 501st legion was there:

“Dude, where is my Death Star?”
“Hey, do you know these droids we are looking for?”
The 501st Legion of the Galactic Empire of Norway
Somebody always has to hold the banner…

I discovered at least ten different big bands performing on the National Day. The most stunning part was when the band standing in front of me started playing the first notes from the “Farewell of Slavyanka”. I first thought I misheard, but then again, the tune is unambiguous and hard to confuse with something else. To explain my cognitive dissonance: The tune is a Russian patriotic march, very popular and very well-known. Seemed kinda misplaced to me.

It has to be said that every Norwegian was wearing a bunad, which is a very formal traditional dress (as depicted) or at least something that looks formal enough. It is National day, it has to be celebrated – no exceptions.

Arctic trip III: Say "welcome", Norge, beauty!

(This is a post I should have written yesterday, but I did not get to it)

We left Fauske on Wednesday and traveled to the Lofoten islands. The process was smooth in the beginning: we left early in the morning and the first kilometer or so, it was okay. Then one fellow traveler slipped and broke the (unopened) vodka bottle which was the first indication that things will not go that smooth on that day. In hindsight, it has to be told that he could have broken his arm, so, the damage was really minor.

Then we went to the bus station and took the bus to Skudvik, and from there, we went by ferry to Svolvær (and, if you ever wondered: the Notwegian æ is pronounced as the a in smart). In Svolvær, we did not catch the right bus and found out that (1) the next bus is in two hours (2) the next bus will not bring us to the desired destination (3) the next bus will cost us around 200 NOK each. So we took the only reliable public transport hereabout, which is the Hurtigruten ship line and paid 160 NOK each. Yes, the big one. Yes, it says something about both the roads and the Easter traffic here.

We arrived in Stamsund in a rather cute hostel which looked like (and probably was derived from) a fisherman’s house directly in the fjord. The next four days consisted mostly of wandering around and socializing with the other people in the hostel, almost all of which were in some way or another downshifters, hipsters and French girls. As a means of relaxation from the XKCD-style long walks along the fjord, I was reading HPMoR and taking pictures of varying quality — I have to say that the weather in Stamsund was not exactly predictable and changed on a hourly basis. We managed to see some glowing aurora remnants, though.

At some point we were looking at the book shelf in the hostel and were recommended a book titled “Tod in den Lofoten” (“Death on the Lofoten islands”, most probably not translated). The cover depicted a naked woman sitting on the beach, turned with the back to the reader, which is a direct violation of stage rule number zero: Never turn your back to the audience. I tried to take the book seriously. I failed. While reading the first pages, I had the same feelings I usually get when I read the “tasty parts” of low-class fan fiction, which are some mixture of disgust (“Ew, you can’t write THAT!”) and researcher’s curiosity (“What real-life experience moved the author, a German pastor, to the conclusion that real, non-cardboard characters would act like THAT?”).

On a positive note, I must say that the Lofoten archipelago is really beautiful — in any weather. I have shot about 250 pictures of which only the very best are here (and I wand to note here: I love my tripod!). I recommend to look at these pictures while listening either to classical music (like the Ninth Symphony) or melancholic Scandinavian metal. It fits surprisingly well.

We left Stamsund on Sunday (Happy Easter!) and proceeded to Tromsø with the Hurtigruten line. The ship was very nice, but in the end, rather boring (not so if you are seasick :D), so I was mostly reading, drinking tea and making pictures of what appeared appropriate. I managed to find the limits of my camera (not too hard if you try, really): the evening-night shots are… well… see for yourself. Probably better optics can solve this problem.