Ukraine

First and foremost, Ukraine needs a legitimate, national government. The interim leaders installed by the Rada, its parliament, may be more palatable than Mr Yanukovych; but the Rada is a nest of crooks and placemen, and scarcely more legitimate than he was, as some protesters, and Russia, have pointed out. It is vital that the presidential election in May is clean, and seen to be: Western monitors must help to ensure that. And the new president should be untainted by the score-settling and nest-feathering that have blighted Ukraine’s politics.

The Economist deftly sums up the current state of Ukraine and its precarious next few months in Saving Ukraine: how the West can help. Nest of crooks and placemen, nest-feathering; beautiful.

They start with a country as divided as one could be. The Ukrainians will hopefully be more fortunate than the Egyptians.

To denigrate work and workers by calling it love

In In the Name of Love, Miya Tokumitsu takes apart the mantra, “do what you love, love what you do”. Being fortunate enough to enjoy what I do at work for the most part, I was in thrall to this aphorism until it was pointed out to me a few years ago how implausible this was for most people. Miya says,

DWYL is a secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment. According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation but is an act of love. If profit doesn’t happen to follow, presumably it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient. Its real achievement is making workers believe their labor serves the self and not the marketplace.

During my exploration of feminism, I’d come across the idea of privilege, and reflected on my position therein. High up the pecking-order by default and chance. Considering DWYL in that light, its dark side becomes clear.

Speaking of Steve Jobs exhortation to new graduates to find what they love, Miya states,

Think of the great variety of work that allowed Jobs to spend even one day as CEO. His food harvested from fields, then transported across great distances. His company’s goods assembled, packaged, shipped. Apple advertisements scripted, cast, filmed. Lawsuits processed. Office wastebaskets emptied and ink cartridges filled.

Miya then goes on to skewer that making work into non-work allows for exploitation even of those nominally doing “work they love”.

This reminded me of the fact that I do try to consider my work from the viewpoint of exchanging my labor for money, even while I enjoy it. It also serves to remind me of why I must do the boring parts too. Suggesting simple bonuses over company outings makes me feel curmudgeonly, but it helps keep the relationship between employer and employee straight.

But, really, that’s by-the-by. It’s those not given the opportunity to join this club who suffer most:

If we believe that working as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur or a museum publicist or a think-tank acolyte is essential to being true to ourselves, what do we believe about the inner lives and hopes of those who clean hotel rooms and stock shelves at big-box stores? The answer is: nothing.

Certainly, go and read the whole thing.

Language processing in Objective-C

This is an aide memoire, but I thought it worth pointing to. Objective-c’s foundation library offers several amazing classes for language processing; far superior to built-in functionality I’ve seen elsewhere. The two central players are CFStringTokenizer and NSLinguisticTagger.

CFStringTokenizer:

CFStringTokenizer allows you to tokenize strings into words, sentences or paragraphs in a language-neutral way. It supports languages such as Japanese and Chinese that do not delimit words by spaces, as well as de-compounding German compounds. You can obtain Latin transcription for tokens. It also provides language identification API.

And NSLinguisticTagger:

The NSLinguisticTagger class is used to automatically segment natural-language text and tag it with information, such as parts of speech. It can also tag languages, scripts, stem forms of words, etc.

Finally, CFStringTransform allows you to normalise strings: remove diacritic marks, perform ICU normalisations and so on – essential for a flexible search feature.

Holy crap those classes are powerful.

NSHipster on NSLinguisticTagger.

Finally, here’s a presentation which brings things together a bit.

GM maize, health and the Séralini affair

GENETICALLY modified maize causes cancer: that was the gist of a study, among the most controversial in recent memory, published in September 2012 in the journal, Food and Chemical Toxicology. Well, actually, it doesn’t. The journal has just retracted the article. It would be too much to say that GM foods have therefore been proven safe. But no other study has so far found significant health risks in mammals as a result of eating GM foods.

the Economist

And yet again we see why anyone using single scientific studies to back up their assertions should not be trusted. Particularly when the single study has a result which happens to back their preordained conclusions when the majority of studies do not.

Men and women's brains end up a bit different

A newly published study, “Sex differences in the structural connectome of the human brain”, shows that male and female brains exhibit distinct patterns in the way neurons are connected to each other.

One could suggest the headline, Gender stereotypes map directly affect the growing brain, tenuously extrapolated from this paragraph in the Independent, a variant of which is also in the Guardian:

The research was carried out on 949 individuals – 521 females and 428 males – aged between 8 and 22. The brain differences between the sexes only became apparent after adolescence, the study found.

Rather than adopting my posited headline, the press have gone with the usual stereotyping tropes from the Attracting Clicks 101 course notes. Attempting to sound factual, the Guardian puts it as, Male and female brains wired differently, scans reveal. The Independent goes for the absurd: The hardwired difference between male and female brains could explain why men are ‘better at map reading’.

At this point, I note that none of us are qualified to draw any of the conclusions in these three headlines from the study in question. Thankfully, there is more qualified commentary on Mindhacks, and by Cordelia Fine in New insights into gendered brain wiring, or a perfect case study in neurosexism?.

Update, 2013-12-17: Neuroskeptic has some more commentary in, Men, Women, and Big PNAS Papers.

While none of us may be particularly qualified for the above, I think there’s strong evidence that I should be trusted more than the Independent’s science section. It uncritically “reported” the following balderdash as the words of an expert last month:

While the religious would argue that life on earth is a mere warm up for an eternity spent in heaven or hell, and many scientists would dismiss the concept for lack of proof – one expert claims he has definitive evidence to confirm once and for all that there is indeed life after death.

The answer, Professor Robert Lanza says, lies in quantum physics — specifically the theory of biocentrism. The scientist, from Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina, says the evidence lies in the idea that the concept of death is a mere figment of our consciousness.

Professor Lanza says biocentrism explains that the universe only exists because of an individual’s consciousness of it – essentially life and biology are central to reality, which in turn creates the universe; the universe itself does not create life. The same applies to the concepts of space and time, which Professor Lanza describes as “simply tools of the mind”.

Indeed. Ridiculous theory suggests thing, Independent’s framing posits this as “evidence” from an “expert” for thing. Need I say more about the trustworthiness of the Independent’s science section?