Friday, September 11, 2009

About Time

The British government has issued an apology for its treatment (and hounding to the point of suicide) of Alan Turing, rightly regarded as the father of computer science. His leadership of the codebreakers of Bletchley Park shortened WWII by at least 2 years--at one point, Churchill was reading field reports from Wermacht officers before Hitler was. He demonstrated that the Halting Problem was undecidable; that is, it has no general solution applying to all programs. When he was burglarized and blackmailed by an ex-lover, he reported it to the police...and found himself on trial for gross indecency, his security clearance revoked (and thus his career in cryptography destroyed), his career over, forced to undergo estrogen treatments, which were known to have numerous side effects, including depression. He committed suicide at age 41.

Turing, I suspect, would have been appalled at the idea of being any sort of martyr for gay rights. And yet his career and life were cut short, and the world deprived of at least 20 years of a brilliant researcher, because of homophobia.

It's nice to see the British government recognizing, finally, some of the injustice that it perpetrated and condoned for so long.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Least Surprising Headline of the Day Award

And today's award goes to CNN:

The Speech: Quick Reax

Once again, a solid speech.

Once again, I'm left wondering whether a speech is enough.

He presented a strong moral case for reform, using language that wouldn't have been strange coming from Reagan. Of course, if he'd cast it that way a month ago, this summer might have been much different.

The thing I'm worried about is that it's going to take more than a speech. This seems to fit the pattern of hanging back, letting things ripen, letting things ripen a bit more, perhaps too much, then stepping in, giving a great speech, and expecting that to fix everything. Too confident by half in the ability of his speechifyin' to bring everyone together. He's off to a great start, but now he's got to follow through with some of the leadership that's been lacking on this and SO. MANY. OTHER. issues for so long.

A community organizer doesn't get out too far in front of the community he's trying to organize; they might not follow. So he hangs back, works the phones, nudges people to sit down and talk with each other, and, if all goes well, at the end of the process people are amazed at what they've been able to accomplish.

The problem, of course, is that Mr Obama is not the Community Organizer In Chief. The situation doesn't call for cautious nudging, it calls for leadership. It looks like he's finally stepping up to the plate. But there has to be follow-through. One good speech, aided by an ill-mannered boor from South Carolina, won't do it.