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September 10, 2009

A different kind of Turing test
Posted by Patrick at 08:22 PM * 75 comments

There’s plenty to criticize about UK prime minister Gordon Brown, and if we start listing the sins of “New Labour” we’ll be here all day.

For a moment, never mind that and read this: an official statement from Brown, on behalf of the United Kingdom, straightforwardly and without euphemism acknowledging that the British mathematician Alan Turing, a hero of World War II, was subjected after the war to grotesque injustice, leading to his death; and that, moreover, this was part of a pattern in which uncounted numbers of gay Britons lived in constant fear of prosecution and ruin.

Turing was a quite brilliant mathematician, most famous for his work on breaking the German Enigma codes. It is no exaggeration to say that, without his outstanding contribution, the history of World War Two could well have been very different. He truly was one of those individuals we can point to whose unique contribution helped to turn the tide of war. The debt of gratitude he is owed makes it all the more horrifying, therefore, that he was treated so inhumanely. In 1952, he was convicted of ‘gross indecency’—in effect, tried for being gay. His sentence—and he was faced with the miserable choice of this or prison—was chemical castration by a series of injections of female hormones. He took his own life just two years later.

Thousands of people have come together to demand justice for Alan Turing and recognition of the appalling way he was treated. While Turing was dealt with under the law of the time and we can’t put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him. Alan and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted as he was convicted under homophobic laws were treated terribly. Over the years millions more lived in fear of conviction.

[…] It is difficult to believe that in living memory, people could become so consumed by hate—by anti-Semitism, by homophobia, by xenophobia and other murderous prejudices—that the gas chambers and crematoria became a piece of the European landscape as surely as the galleries and universities and concert halls which had marked out the European civilisation for hundreds of years. It is thanks to men and women who were totally committed to fighting fascism, people like Alan Turing, that the horrors of the Holocaust and of total war are part of Europe’s history and not Europe’s present.

So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan’s work I am very proud to say: we’re sorry, you deserved so much better.

I reproduce this, not because I think it shows Brown to be a politician of unique courage and vision (he’s not), but because it’s interesting that in at least some parts of the First World, it’s now possible for even national leaders to speak sensibly and straightforwardly about homosexuality and homophobia without the sky falling in on them. I look forward to this spreading to the more backward parts of the globe, such as the United States.

Moral progress can be spurred by heroes doing heroic things, but we know it’s actually happened when everyday people, including everyday politicians, do the right thing because doing the right thing is simply normal.

Comments on A different kind of Turing test:
#1 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2009, 09:12 PM:

And now, on to Oscar Wilde!

Okay, okay. I agree that Brown has shown some humanity here, and good for him.

#2 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2009, 09:58 PM:

Damn, that's good to see.

And for some reason that's increased my urge to make a pilgrimage to Bletchley Park.

#3 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2009, 10:04 PM:

Reading the statement I notice he says LGBT, which while equally flavourless, doesn't set off the confusion I always get with GLBT.

Which acronym dominates?

#4 ::: Charley ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2009, 10:21 PM:

*** sigh ***

#5 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2009, 10:40 PM:

Not nearly enough, but it was what could be done. Thanks for helping save our asses, sorry we screwed you over so badly.

#6 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2009, 10:45 PM:

Well, that cheers me up a little bit. Good for Gordon Brown. He isn't uniquely courageous, no, but apparently he isn't entirely spineless, either.

As for it spreading to the ethical backwater of the United States—from your lips to the gods' ears.

#7 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2009, 11:10 PM:

If only it could have happened in his lifetime.

#8 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2009, 11:14 PM:

This reminds me it's been a long time since I've watched my tape of "Breaking the Code", with Derek Jacobi as Turing.

#9 ::: JM ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2009, 11:46 PM:

Good for Gordon Brown.

I was going to be all, "There's this cool alternate history novel that touches on being gay in WWII Britain, have you heard of Jo Walton?" And then I realized what website I was on.

#10 ::: Claire Wolf Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 12:59 AM:

Not that I disagree with the necessity for an apology here, or dispute the progress it represents, but come on. He's proud to say they're sorry? That's the most self-congratulatory apology I've ever heard. One of the most valuable things anyone ever taught me was this: in order to truly make amends, an apology must:
a. unequivocally acknowledge that what was done was wrong (check);
b. attempt no justification for the wrongdoing (check);
c. empathize with the suffering endured by the person wronged (not really); and
d. describe the distress the wrongdoer has suffered not from enduring the wronged person's anger, but from knowing that they are responsible for the wronged person's pain (not even close).

#11 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 01:35 AM:

Wow. He did deserve better, not because he was Alan Turing and Britain owed him a debt, but because he was a citizen of a country that treated him horribly.

#12 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 02:00 AM:

He's pleased and proud, and it's a bit weird, but I put that down to inexperience in apologising on behalf of other people and other times for whom one is nevertheless the spokesperson. I read it as Brown being much more used to praising the notable deeds of the past than acknowledging inherited responsibility for collective wrongdoing.

It's a step forward. A very necessary step, and overdue, but good on him for taking it.

#13 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 02:13 AM:

Oh, good, he did it. Being a British citizen, I was eligible and signed the petition.

#14 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 02:52 AM:

I have to apologise as well: I publicly said the petition was useless.
It's probably the first time ever that an e-petition to N.10 produced any tangible result, and I guess it has more to do with the need for a cheap electoral boost (Labour is predicted to lose badly in spring 2010) than anything else.

I do still think, however, that now Mr.Brown will get more and more calls to also apologise on behalf of umpteen other gay personalities of the past, and the thing might get messy. The Tories are silent on these topics, and it will be interesting to see what they do once in power.

#15 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 03:33 AM:

I wasn't that keen on the idea of a pardon. It seemed pointless. What really matters, and I think it comes across in this, is that it just isn't something we'd do now. He links homophobia with the attitudes behind the death camps. I think we can quibble about any politician's speeches--could he have said more about the Nazi abuse of homosexuals--but he's saying these things are wrong.

That's what matters.

#16 ::: dave ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 04:01 AM:

@10 - well, it's not as if Gordon Brown was in any way responsible for what happened, is it? That's the thing about retrospective apologies made by people not actually involved - self-congratulation is always implicit.

If the govt had granted Turing a posthumous honour, and in so doing had also chosen to make a point about the bigotry of past eras, without the 'proud to be sorry' nonsense, that would have meant more, I think.

#17 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 04:17 AM:

A pardon and a knighthood.

#18 ::: Sten Thaning ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 04:37 AM:

I don't really see this as a self-congratulation. Or, well, I kind of do, but not in the way other participants in this thread seem to read it.

What I think he is basically saying is "Our country did some very bad things at the time. We have now stopped treating people this way, and I am proud that we as a country have now advanced to the point where it is possible to officially say that we are sorry for what we did to Alan Turing."

#19 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 04:52 AM:

I'm pleased to see the apology, but I do think it could have been broader.
This recent essay on how the Turing test may reflect a lifetime of trying to 'pass' as others expect him to be - as normal, as straight, as another human.

#20 ::: tree_and_leaf ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 04:57 AM:

LGBT is the usual British order, I think. It's certainly the one university societies use.

#21 ::: Nicholas ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 06:16 AM:

@16,17: Knighthoods and other honours are never awarded posthumously. The reason for this is that a knighthood, OBE, CMG, etc represents membership of a particular grade within an order of chivalry, rather than an award per se. Membership of such orders is restricted to living people, not least because the recipient of the honour must accept it (there have been numerous examples of people declining an honour, although it's considered bad form to tell anyone you have).

There have been very few cases where a recipient of an honour has died between confirming their acceptance, and the publication of the list. In such cases, I believe the honour is backdated to the date of acceptance. To the untrained eye, this can sometimes look like a posthumous honour, but it's not.

(The exception to this is the case of awards for gallantry - the Victoria Cross, in particular, has been awarded posthumously on a number of occasions, not least because the level of bravery and unswerving self-sacrifice required tends not to be conducive to prolonged survival. This is because such medals are awards for specific acts rather than representing a rank within an order.)

I'm pleased about the Turing apology, though. I was a little unsure about the use of the word "proud", but I think it should be read in the context of "I'm proud that we don't do this sort of thing now" rather than "Hey, everybody, look at how magnanimous I am! Please vote for me!"

#22 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 06:59 AM:

This is a decent and honourable thing, and the prime minister should be applauded for it.

#23 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 07:22 AM:

Yes, I know it's too late for Turing, but this statement still cheers me immensely. I'm not in the mood to quibble and carp about it.

#24 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 07:52 AM:

I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I like the apology; it's well-written and far better than any American official has demonstrated to date. On the other hand, it's far too late for Alan Turing and the thousands of others forced into "treatment". On the gripping hand, progress is being made, and this is a lovely step forward.

#25 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 08:06 AM:

Humbled, you smarmy git. You are HUMBLED, not proud, to apologise. And by this pronouncement so very gracious, you have not earned the familiarity to address Mr Turing as your chum Alan either.

Well and good to be pleased that we live in a more enlightened time. But you are still humbled by this opportunity to apologise and express the gratitude of the free world.

Good DAY, sir.

I SAID GOOD DAY, SIR.

#26 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 10:20 AM:

This brought tears to my eyes when I saw it in my email this morning. It's so unambiguous and straightforward.

#27 ::: Liza ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 10:52 AM:

I didn't actually realize that part of Farthing was so close to historical fact. *blinks*

#28 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 11:48 AM:

I'm not in the mood to quibble with the wording at this moment; maybe later... but for now, well done, sir.

#29 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 12:19 PM:

Huh.  I’m sorry, but I can’t bring myself to attribute honourable motives to Gordon Brown – at least in his public actions – or indeed to most other politicians.  I would bet money that he hardly knew who Turing was until one of his flacks told him that there was a petition on the web site (which, of course, he doesn’t read personally) and wouldn’t it be good if he were to issue a public apology?  It’d get him headlines and approving comments both in the MSM and in the blogosphere (and look, it did – here we are!) and maybe a few votes from the GLBT ‘community’.  And of course the words of the apology aren’t his – some speechwriter wrote them, though no doubt he saw them beforehand and tweaked a word or two.

Also, I still have difficulty with politicians – especially politicians – apologising for anything that happened in the distant past.  When Turing was convicted of what was then called ‘gross indecency’, Brown was one year old.  How can he, or anybody, meaningfully apologise for something that they didn’t do, in a long-ago time when mores were different?  I think somebody even apologised for the crusades!  Maybe the Brits should apologise for the American Revolutionary War, too.

And, and, and...  why apologise to Turing only, not the thousands of others who were convicted under the same law?  Turing was an eminent victim, yes – so he deserves honour for his eminence, but surely not a unique apology for an aspect of his life in which he was no different from many others?

#30 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 12:38 PM:

Steve Taylor @3: In the UK, I've never heard any order other than LGBT.

#31 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 01:19 PM:

John Stanning @ 29... I dunno. No matter what Brown's motives were, would it have been better for him to say nothing?

#32 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 01:31 PM:

Serge – no, I suppose he had to say something, or he’d be accused of hiding from the issue (although he’s notorious for hiding when it suits him to do so – it took him a long time to give any comment on the release of al-Megrahi, for example).  It’s just that I distrust his motives and I think it’s meaningless to apologise for that sort of thing and I think it’s wrong to single out Turing for that particular apology.

#33 ::: Jacob Davies ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 02:06 PM:

From the apology: "a coalition of computer scientists, historians and LGBT activists".

Now that makes me proud. The modern computer industry is a pretty progressive place, and I'm happy to be part of it.

I signed the petition, as a British citizen. In terms of the sincerity of the PM's response, I don't much care; what I care about is that the government responded to the demands of its citizens and made a clear statement taking a progressive view. What happens inside Mr Brown's head is his own business; what he does as the leader of the British government is what matters.

#34 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 02:27 PM:

John Stanning @ 32... It's meaningless only if people assume that the apology applies only to the very famous example of Turing, and that it can't be extended to others who were and still are screwed big-time for the same reason by the Majority.

Heck, the Church eventually apologize for its handling of Galileo.

#35 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 02:39 PM:

John Stanning @ 29: "Also, I still have difficulty with politicians – especially politicians – apologising for anything that happened in the distant past. When Turing was convicted of what was then called ‘gross indecency’, Brown was one year old. How can he, or anybody, meaningfully apologise for something that they didn’t do, in a long-ago time when mores were different? I think somebody even apologised for the crusades! Maybe the Brits should apologise for the American Revolutionary War, too."

Individuals aren't the relevant social grouping here--society as a whole is. Brown isn't personally responsible for what happened to Turing but he isn't acting as Gordon Brown, private citizen here; he's acting as Prime Minister of the UK. It's not his apology that's relevant and indeed, had he made it at his own whim it would have been that much weaker for it. But it was demanded by the people of Britain, who are the heirs of the post-War Britain just as we are all the heirs of our earlier selves. That Britain, as a nation, has grown to the point of making this apology is the point, just as if a convicted criminal were to apologize for the actions of her younger self.

It's the same logic behind the Catholic Church apologizing to Darwin and to Galileo.

(Incidentally, that might explain the proudness/humble thing: Brown is personally proud that a penitent Britain is making this apology.)

#36 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 03:23 PM:

I'm definitely glad to see this, especially since I never thought I would. (Really, people pay attention to online petitions?) There's still work to do, but this gives me hope.

#37 ::: legionseagle ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 03:49 PM:

John Stanning @29: whatever your opinion of Gordon Brown, he does have a PhD in history from the University of Edinburgh (and also, come to think of it, the security clearance that would get him access to all the Public Records Office archives about Bletchley that the rest of us won't get access to for another 30+ years). Suggesting that Brown "hardly knew who Turing was" when a 2002 poll of the general British public to name the Greatest Britons of All Time placed Turing at 21 (one below Alexander Fleming and two below Paul Macartney) seems to me to be placing animosity above reason.

#38 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 04:49 PM:

You know, the more I think about it, the more I think Gordon Brown does deserve some credit here.

I've been clicking around 10 Downing Street's E-Petitions site. There are petitions on there requesting the creation of new holidays, letting the Red Arrows overfly the Olympics, not charging the RNLI for the use of radio frequencies, even the kinds of phone lines local health authorities should use. The Turing petition got over 30,000 signatures, but the one calling for Brown's resignation is over 70,000.

He didn't have to do this. He could have ducked it; plenty of observers said he would.

And he could have issued a pardon without saying this:

It is difficult to believe that in living memory, people could become so consumed by hate—by anti-Semitism, by homophobia, by xenophobia and other murderous prejudices—that the gas chambers and crematoria became a piece of the European landscape

I mean, he put his special head-of-state Godwin-proof suit on and classed homophobes with Nazis. That's gotta count for something.

#39 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 06:06 PM:

LegionsEagle #37 - whilst Brown may have heard of Turing at some point in the last 40 years, I hardly think a PhD on “The Labour Party and Political Change in Scotland 1918-29”
would leave him knowing very much at all about mathematics, cryptography or Alan Turing. Thus using that to support your argument is pointless.

Of course the only way to find out the truth might be to interrogate Brown and his minions using the proper methods.

#40 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 06:11 PM:

me @38:
head of state...

My bad. He's head of the government. The head of state is someone else, and I doubt I want to know what she—much less her husband—thinks of gays.

#41 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 06:26 PM:

The thing is, I have no reason to believe that Brown is no more venal and nasty than your average Briton anyway, so there's always a chance he saw this as a good thing to do, in line with the remaining left wing ideas that new labour still has kicking about somewhere. So I suppose he deserves a wee cheer.

#42 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 06:46 PM:

Cheer the man on, by all means! Positive reinforcement works wonders. Enough cheering, and he might be inspired to apologise for Thatcher.

#43 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 06:52 PM:

Nicholas #21: @16,17: Knighthoods and other honours are never awarded posthumously.

Well, crud; doesn't the UK have an equivalent to the Presidential Medal of Freedom, then?

#44 ::: soru ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 08:13 PM:

'If only it could have happened in his lifetime.'

That would be pretty creepy: 'we deeply apologise for the fact we are about to hound you to death'.

#45 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2009, 10:33 PM:

Jules @30: Steve Taylor @3: In the UK, I've never heard any order other than LGBT.

So wait, which Royal/British honor is that?

#46 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 01:16 AM:

Rob Rusick @ 45:

"LGBT" is "Tribune of the Legion of Great Britain". Slightly archaic, now, of course, because the Kingdom of Great Britain technically ceased to exist in 1801, but the name's been kept unchanged because of Tradition.

(And it goes without saying that you should try to avoid confusing it with the GLBT, which I gather is some kind of sandwich.)

#47 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 01:39 AM:

At least Turing's ghost didn't have to wait as long as Galileo's.

(Is it actually true that the Catholic Church apologized to Darwin? I don't see why they would. I've never heard that they did anything particularly bad to him.)

#48 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 03:01 AM:

I've been doing a little checking, and Brown does have some valid reasons to feel proud. He's a part of the government which, over the last dozen years, changed the whole legal framework of LGBT issues.

Briefly, the Sexual Offences Act 1967 contained various elements which the courts promptly interpreted in rather homophobic ways. And there was a different age of consent. The Labour Governments of Tony Blair, in which Gordon Brown was Chancellor of the Exchequer, removed those constraints, made it lawful for gays to openly serve in the UK military, introduced Civil Partnerships (marriage in a form which sidesteps religious issues--we still have an Established Church), and so made a huge difference.

So, yes, he can say these things, and feel proud that the world has changed, because he was part of changing it. But there are other stupidities, especially since he took over from Tony Blair, and I wonder how much he, personally, really did.

#49 ::: legionseagle ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 04:06 AM:

Following on from Dave Bell@47, I think it's also fair to say that the Labour leadership insisted on having LGBT equality measures in the manifesto from at least the mid-80s despite them being the subject of considerable hostility including from within Party ranks as well as from the Tories and Lib-Dems (remember the Bermondsey bye-election? Ugh!)

Abi @40: hard to say what the Queen's attitude to homosexuality is likely to be. Her grandfather, famously, said, "I thought men like that shot themselves", her uncle had a string of affairs with both men and women throughout the 30s (or, as Simon Callow put it, "The Duke of Kent seems to have spent the decade permanently horizontal") and her mother is reputed to have yelled down the stairs to the servants' quarters, "Can't one of you old queens down there mix a drink for this old queen up here?".

Guthrie @39: if you don't see someone's possession of a PhD in 20th century history as relevant to the question of whether or not to bet money on that person being more ignorant of 20th century history than the general British public then I agree; the argument is pointless.

#50 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 05:11 AM:

Legionseagle - indeed, I have met so many people who know a great deal about their PhD topic or area of favourite study, but havn't a clue about anything outside of it. History is a pretty huge topic anyway, especially since I read that Brown later published his PhD as a book, and I believe this is it:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Maxton-Biography-Gordon-Brown/dp/1840186097
Nice to have a literate prime minister anyway.

#51 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 07:08 AM:

@ 46... the GLBT, which I gather is some kind of sandwich

I think there was an episode of Star Trek: Voyager where B'Elanna Torres, the ship's very cranky engineer, was referred to as BLT, and that it didn't go over well.

#52 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 07:09 AM:

Oops. That should have said "Paul A @ 46".

#53 ::: Russell Coker ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 07:50 AM:

http://www.abc.net.au/news/events/apology/text.htm

Regarding apologies for historical mis-deeds, last year the Australian government apologised for the "stolen generations" (the forced removal of aboriginal children from their parents). It made many people very happy. See the above URL for the full text.

In both the UK apology and the Australian apology last year there were people who witnessed the events in question who are still living (I think we should consider Gordon's apology to apply to all gay people who were mistreated).

As for the crusades, it's been a long time since any of the witnesses were alive. But if international relations can be smoothed by an apology for an invasion 900 years ago then it might be worth considering, although given the wide variety of wars during the last 900 years there would probably need to be many apologies from all countries. We could however deprecate the use of the word "crusade" as a positive thing which makes some people from the middle-east rather angry.

Finally the Godwin rule does not apply when there is a legitimate historical comparison. The NAZIs persecuted homosexuals and so did the UK. Admittedly the manner of Alan Turing's death was not as immediate or direct, but I think that a reasonable person could have predicted that outcome given what was done to him.

#54 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 09:36 AM:

Liza: There was one review of Farthing that assumed I had made up the idea of homosexuality being illegal. It took me a little while of hissing "1967! And don't you know what happened to Turing!" before I calmed down enough to see that the existence of people who axiomatically assume that of course it's always been legal to be gay because what could possibly be wrong with that is actually a good thing. We've come a long way from that culture of hate being acceptable, as Brown explicitly says in that apology.

#55 ::: Lyle Hopwood ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 11:02 AM:

I went to Bletchley Park a couple of years ago, and the guide, an older man, gave a very sympathetic and regretful account of Turing's treatment after the war. I did not expect him to mention it on the 'war computer' tour, but he did.

The others in the group - the usual assortment of geeks, families and tourists - were very respectful of the story.

We might not be all the way there yet, but we live at a time when ordinary people - including older people, families, geeks and prime ministers - can look at prior injustices and see that our own parents and grandparents were wrong. It does give you hope for the future.

#56 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 11:27 AM:

Russell Coker@53:

The Canadian government also apologised for removing children from their families last year. What I hadn't realized was that the Anglican Church in Canada apologised fifteen years ago for their part in it.

Heresiarch@35:

Yes, the relevant unit is society, but I think there's also the limitation that people need to feel that they are part of the same society that committed the offense. That's why the Catholic Church is the only group that goes around apologizing for actions it took centuries ago. About the time that Pope Urban VIII was harassing Galileo in Italy, King Charles I was expanding the powers of the Star Chamber and enforcing the Anglican liturgy and prayer book on the Scottish Kirk. It would look ridiculous for Gordon Brown to apologise for those actions of the British goverment, in a way that the Vatican apology to Galileo didn't look ridiculous.

#57 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 07:46 PM:

I would like to unofficially apologize for the lack of an apology by the Unites States Government for the treatment of gay people by the laws of the United States (and similarly for the individual states). I'd start a petition if I thought it had a snowball's chance in the core of a blue-white giant star of persuading anyone in the US government to issue such an apology.

#58 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 08:23 PM:

Bruce @ 57: Rumor has it that Democratic representatives Jerrold Nadler of New York, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, and Jared Polis of Colorado will be introducing a bill in the House next week to fully repeal DOMA, and that they have about 50 co-sponsors. That sounds like a good start.

#59 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 08:27 PM:

Mark, I sure hope those rumors turn out to be true, but I'll hold my rejoicing down until it's confirmed. THEN I'll jump up and down!

#60 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 08:48 PM:

Xopher, the Advocate is running with the story, saying expect a press conference on it Tuesday. Barney Frank is throwing a bit of cold water, but it's still a good sign.

#61 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 09:12 PM:

Thanks Mark, that IS good news. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

#62 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 09:21 PM:

Jo Walton #54: One of the earliest political recollections of my childhood was the Earl of Arran's "William" (the Sexual Offences Act of 1967). The noble lord always called it "William" in his column in the Evening News. I was a precocious child who gathered that the Wolfenden Report was something very scandalous, and that a lot of people felt that it was destroying the moral fibre of the kingdom.

#63 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 05:58 AM:

Jared Polis will be getting a Constituent Thank You from me, bet on it.

#64 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 05:27 PM:

DC is close to legalizing gay marriage (hey, more tourists!), but because it's DC, the law will have to be approved by Congress.

#65 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 06:00 PM:

Marilee@64

"Approved" isn't precisely the right term. "Not blocked" is more accurate.

#66 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 05:56 AM:

In Alistair Reynolds' "The Prefect", a museum of computing includes a sculpture of an apple with a bite taken out of it - this is represented as an ancient symbol from the dawn of the computer age. Its exact meaning is lost to history, but it's believed to represent the suicide of Alan Turing by eating a poisoned apple...

#67 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 09:39 AM:

@15 and @18 said what I wanted to say, but better.

The clarification that what happened was clearly, utterly wrong was what I took away from the apology and it made me very happy.

#68 ::: Liz ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 03:30 PM:

guthrie @39 - I'm not a mathematician or a historian, just a British citizen who was well aware of Turing's story, as are most reasonably-well-educated Britons. I was also a little bit cynical about the petition and am very glad it was followed up.

#69 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 09:36 PM:

ajay@66: what a lovely bit of mythmaking! -- cf Anderson's "The Greatest Tertian", in which a Martian scholar demonstrates that Sherk Oms and Sherk Sper were in fact the same person.

#70 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 05:02 PM:

brown is probably right that turing's work on the enigma code is his most *famous* work.

but i should think that the work which is of the greatest significance in the long arc of history is his more general work on the theory of computability.

the enigma work was a really cool fix for a tough practical problem.

the work on algorithms, computability, and general turing machines was a glimpse into totally uncharted territory.

a beautiful mind brought low by bigotry. rest in peace.

#71 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 06:48 PM:

Respect for Marriage Act. It's official.

I love my representative.

#72 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 10:04 PM:

Thomas@56: and the United Church of Canada (formed from the Methodist, Congregationalist, and half the Presbyterian denominations) more than 20 years ago (go up one level for current discussion). Got them into a lot of trouble, too; the financial cost of the apology was immense (and probably not enough). But more importantly than that, it's still an issue: part 5 of that part of the FAQ reminds us:

The gifts of those who went before us are now ours by inheritance. But just as we receive the gifts so also do we carry the burdens of the mistakes made in our past. First Nations have a profound sense of their continuity with those who have gone before. The traditions of Israel and of the Christian church are built on the notion of a communion of saints and sinners, past and present. If we are to claim “our” history at all, we must claim it all.

and

The church of the past entered willingly and often with good intentions into a relationship with government that seriously harmed our relationship with First Nations communities. We live with that legacy and are called to repair the damage. The church of the present is invited to repent of this past and to build new relationships with First Nations on a foundation of justice and respect.

In other words:
Well Done, Mr. Brown. That's a good start.

#73 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 09:38 AM:

Nicole @71: Excellent.

#74 ::: David Fierstine ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2010, 10:12 PM:

Bravo Britania! I am a 30 year cryptographic equipment specialist. This year was the first time I connected Dr. Turing to my life. The first equipment I learned was the KL-7 Adonis. This a very close cousin of the Enigma. Turing so amazed me I presented his biography during my recent IT managers course. The final slide was a request for the audience support by signing a petition requesting Dr. Turing be awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal for Turing's contributions to American national security during WWII.

http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/dr-alan-m-turing.html

#75 ::: David Fierstine ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2010, 10:13 PM:

Bravo Britania! I am a 30 year cryptographic equipment specialist. This year was the first time I connected Dr. Turing to my life. The first equipment I learned was the KL-7 Adonis. This a very close cousin of the Enigma. Turing so amazed me I presented his biography during my recent IT managers course. The final slide was a request for the audience support by signing a petition requesting Dr. Turing be awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal for Turing's contributions to American national security during WWII.

http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/dr-alan-m-turing.html

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