Category Archives: Mathematics

Cultural mathematics – and other inadequate thinking

A couple of days ago the head of the editorial office for culture and arts in our prestigious paper Dagens Nyheter, Bjorn Wiman, drew attention to Russian journalists who suffer violence and murder. The column focused on the atrocities directed towards women, but the author made one small miscalculation. He claimed as a fact that “female journalists are particularly vulnerable to repression against independent media in Russia”.

As proof of this statement he pointed to a survey showing that female journalists have to endure threats and hatred on the Internet three times more often than their male colleagues. But in the next sentence he wrote that women constitute 80 percent of the journalists in Russia. In other words: if the attacks were distributed regardless of gender, one would expect women to be four times more affected than men, not just three times. Bottom line: male journalists are particularly vulnerable to repression in Russia.

Apart from this mishap in the text, it’s an important topic. There are way too many journalists murdered in Russia, and way too few attempts by western media to investigate and understand these deplorable events. One can’t avoid the suspicion that this obscurantism is intentional, opening for readers to intuitively believe that Putin lies behind it, after all.

When the almost daily mass shootings occur in the US, media is not just interested in the misdeed itself but also in the perpetrator’s background and motives. But when Russian criminals are brought to trial for murdering journalists, the western interest for them is low. The court proceedings are usually open to journalists, but anything substantial is seldom reported. It’s as if we want people to think that every such event is a show trial serving to send some scapegoats to prison to protect the real culprits higher up (accusations never accompanied by any evidence).

Anna Politkovskaya was murdered ten years ago. She had been very critical towards Putin over the war in Chechnya, and – ergo – Putin gave the orders for her assassination! That seems to be a widespread opinion in western circles. And yes, if Putin wanted to hurt himself to the maximum, that would be plausible. It suffices to see the damage done to Russia by this murder as it is. The Russian justice system, on the other hand, seems to have evidence that a Russian oligarch – Boris Berezovsky – hostile to Putin and living abroad, instigated the murder of Politkovskaya, which at least appeals to elementary common sense.

The most recent high-profile murder was that of Boris Nemtsov. Here the distinguished Dagens Nyheter openly speculated that Putin was responsible, and if that by any chance couldn’t be proved, still “his name will forever be tied to this murder”. This is our elevated defamation activities in action! The premise for that view – that Putin is stupid beyond the comprehensible – is something our propagandist perhaps are too stupid themselves to grasp (or more sinister: they expect their readers to be).

Looking for motives to murder Russian journalists one can’t avoid thinking about false flag operations. But there are evidently terrorists and loose cannons, with or without Chechnyan connection, enough to cause all kinds of problems. We don’t know very much about these subjects here, and it would call for some investigative journalism, had our media not been so definitely restricted to dumb propaganda whenever it comes to Russia.

Another math problem

A math problem from Singapore went viral the other day, so when you’re at it, here comes another one:

There were just five people in church this Sunday: the priest, the sexton and three visitors, Siv, Per and Eva (a Swedish church!). The sexton happened to know how old the visitors were, but the priest didn’t, and as he was fond of math riddles he decided to challenge the priest. By the way: the priest and the sexton knew each other’s ages.

The sexton to the priest: “If you multiply the ages of Siv, Per and Eva you get 2450. Can you calculate how old each of them is?

Priest: “No I can’t.”

Sexton: “The sum of Siv’s, Per’s and Eva’s ages is double my age. Do you know their ages now?”

Priest: “No.”

Sexton: “What if I tell you that you are the oldest of us five in the church?”

Priest: “Then I know how old Siv, Per and Eva are!”

The question to you the reader: How old is the priest?

If this frustrates you too much I have a link to a solution. Just go to Twitter @LarsSchaff, mark the tweet as a favorite (then I know you want help), and then follow me (so I can reach you).

To fight terrorism by intensely nurturing it

Last week the usually very mainstream Swedish public service television made an embarrassing gaffe in an interview with the Israeli Ambassador to Sweden. The reporter asked: “Do the Jews themselves have any responsibility in the growing Antisemitism that we see now?” to which the Ambassador immediately answered: “I reject the question altogether. There is no place for such a question to be asked.” He was immediately supported by media in general.

The reporter obviously confused Antisemitism with critique of Israeli politics, a rather ignorant mistake. Antisemitism as such is of course irrational expressions of unfounded emotions, often accompanied by paranoid notions. Hitler’s view is archetypal as he considered Jews to be the lowest kind of existence, hardly human at all, and at the same time a phenomenal force that threatened to conquer the whole world (a type of madness that even couldn’t be called illogical, it would be too kind).

With a small adjustment the reporter’s question would have been more than appropriate: “Does the Israeli government have any responsibility for the increasing terrorism that we now see?”. Questions with corresponding significance could also be directed to many western governments and media. The more so since their reaction now to ISIS military actions and terror operations are dazed: where did these monsters come from?

Noam Chomsky, who has studied the proper documents in depth, reports that US intelligence already prior to the war of aggression against Iraq warned that terrorism would increase in case of such a war. They were more than correct: terrorism mushroomed seven-fold. From then on it has just continued growing.

When it all started is almost a semantic question. The roots can be followed centuries back when the Europeans started to conquer and oppress the rest of the world, with its off-shoot USA eventually taking over the main role as the bully. The only territories in which the conquerors in any sense succeeded were in those where the indigenous people were almost completely wiped out, such as North America. In other areas the imperialists generated a lasting hostility, more or less violent.

After WWII imperialism step by step hit back at the imperialists. It became too costly to uphold, and neo-imperialism came instead, meaning total dominance without occupation but also requiring constant military threat and frequent wars. The oppression created resistance forces and liberation movements fighting for national sovereignty and freedom. From the 1980s most violent actions performed by “rebels” began being labeled “terrorism”.

The present terrorism in the Middle East has a simple genealogy. USA created the Mujaheddin to fight the Russians in Afghanistan. Out of these groups evolved the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Then USA invaded Iraq which intensified recruitment to these terrorist armies. It so happened that an initially unobtrusive religious scholar named Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi witnessed the horrible US attack on Fallujah, an experience that is said to have turned him into a dedicated militant. Today he is head of ISIS.

For every terrorist killed by western forces more than one new terrorist is mobilized. Is it pure lack of mathematical knowledge that make some decision makers believe that even more bombs and killings will solve the problem?