Thoughts On Humans #6 : Cracking the Code

Alan Turing (1912-1954)

He was a genius and a martyr.  Alan Turing was the father of the modern computer.  His life was brief, but it was filled with so many amazing accomplishments that he is remembered as one of the greatest minds in history.  His accomplishments in computing and code-breaking are well known, and I don’t need to document them here.  This great website has a fairly detailed biography about him that is worth reading

I’m most interested him Turing’s personal life and criminal conviction.  As a gay man, Turing was involved in relationships with other men.  This led to his arrest, trial, and conviction in 1952.  He failed to agree that who he was was wrong, but rather than go to prison he agreed to injections of estrogen, known as a “chemical castration.”  Beyond this punishment, he was ostracized by his peers.  The suspicion and isolation almost certainly contributed in his decision to end his own life in 1954 at the age of 42.

I keep arriving at this subject.  It is important that we remember our past as human beings.  64 years ago, a mere blip in our history, one of our greatest minds was told by our Western society that he was less than.  He was arrested, tried, convicted, and left constantly under suspicion by his country simply for being himself.  The British government and people tore him down to the point that he couldn’t bear to be in that world any longer.  What was gained?  Nothing.  What was lost?  Who knows how much more Turing would have contributed to the worlds of math, technology, and science.

In the same year that Alan Turing died, a committee was appointed to look into the law used to convict him.  In 1957, that committee advised that homosexuality should not be illegal.  Ten years later, the law was changed.  And in 2009, Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologized on behalf of the British government for what it had done to Turing.

We are living in a time where everything is immediate.  We see ourselves in our current situations and examine the way we are being treated by how we are feeling about it now, and how it relates to us today.  I think it’s easy to find offensiveness in that mindset.  To always examine your place in the moment and wonder why things aren’t as perfect as they ought to be.  Constantly working toward the goal of perfection is good.  I just wonder if we aren’t leaving behind the important lessons of history that can add context to where we are today.  I find it so beautiful that young LGBT folks are so free to express themselves.  I love Pride parades with all of their noise and exuberance.  Strive always for more, but be grateful that we are here and now in this time.  We don’t have to go very far back to see a lot of darkness.

Alan Turing In Art

James A Garfield (1831-1881)

It’s easy to paint the presidency between Lincoln and McKinley’s assassinations as feckless and corrupt.  It’s largely true.  Ulysses S Grant tried, but even his administration was plagued with corruption that Grant failed to notice.  This is when Jim Crow laws were allowed to raise their heads, and when profit became one of the driving forces of the chief executive.  But there had been a promising star in the middle of it all, our 20th president James A Garfield.

Garfield almost certainly would have become one of America’s greatest presidents.  Everything that should take existed in him.  He was born into poverty, and understood it in ways that seem to have informed his politics.  He was well-read and well-educated, and supported himself through teaching and carpentry.  Garfield was ashamed to have grown up without a father, but ultimately it may have been one of the things that drove him to become his own man, and almost certainly gave him a foundation of compassion for others.  James Garfield was not only a Civil War colonel, but had spent time before his post securing funds in the Ohio legislature and recruiting soldiers to fight for the Union.

If Garfield’s presidency is overlooked because it was brief, his tenure in the House of Representatives should not be.  He was a congressman for 17 years, and spent those years working to combat the corrupting influence of money, and opposing letting the South off the hook too much for the Civil War.  His time was not without scandals of its own, but they are comparatively minor for his contemporaries.

Where James Garfield really shines is in his belief that black Americans, newly freed after the war, were owed equality by the Constitution, a belief that was increasingly unpopular at the time.  He believed that those who had taken up arms against the United States, Southern traitors, had forfeited their rights.  These sentiments followed him to the presidency, where during his inauguration he gave what was not considered a very good speech.  What is important about his speech to me was how inclusive he was about African Americans.  “Freedom can never yield its full blessings so long as the law or its administration places the smallest obstacle in the pathway of any virtuous citizen.”  James A Garfield had unknowingly predicted the future.  His presidency started well.  He appointed African Americans to important positions, and pushed for universal education, which failed.  He also kept pressing forward on civil rights, even as the country had tired of the subject.

On July 2, 1881 James A Garfield was shot by Charles Guiteau.  On September 19th, he died.  The incident had taken place during a Congressional recess, leading to one of the saddest parts of his story.  It caused almost no disruption to the running of the country.  He had been president for 200 days, and it seems like we would have gotten so much from his time in office.  Now we are left to wonder.

History isn’t necessarily fair to the memory of James Garfield.  He is remembered as the president who was assassinated just as he was getting started, and his time in the House is not seen as particularly groundbreaking.  That is certainly all true, but it also seems clear that he was a man with great character and compassion.  He was good, and that can be hard to come by in a politician.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau (1970-)

I’ve been vegan for two years now, and before that I had been vegetarian for ten.  I’ve read books by many people and watched YouTube channels, listened to podcasts, and what have you.  There are a few different types of vegan I’ve seen.

1. The Stereotypical Militant Vegan:  This is exactly what you expect of vegans.  These are the folks who picket outside clothing stores and fast food places, and they make angry videos about how horrible it is that humans kill animals.  They are right of course, but sometimes aggressive in their messaging… too aggressive for many.  And a few have taken their message too far, attempting to invalidate other forms of activism for unrelated causes.

2. The Vegan For Weight Loss I Don’t Need Vegan:  These are the super-restrictive vegans who promise health benefits that are barely obtainable.  Veganism is fantastically good for you, but these are the folks who lost 10 lbs and now can wear their bathing suit on the beach.  They don’t mention animals or compassion at all.

3. The Check Out My Muscles, Bro Vegan:  They are always, I mean always working out.  They promote veganism as a part of what helps them stay so fit.  Generally they are in it for the animals, but the results they achieve are from long-term, persistent dedication.  It can take many hours to arrive at what they do.  It’s impressive, the exercise could not be better for them, but it isn’t always a realistic goal.

4. The Everything Will Kill You Vegan:  This includes the raw food vegans, as well as those who insist on being gluten-free in spite of evidence that one only needs to do that if suffering from celiac disease.  It’s those who misuse the term GMO, and definitely those who overanalyze every minute aspect of their own lives.

5. Normal People Vegans.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is someone I ran across on YouTube.  I was familiar with her vegan cookbooks, but not really her as a person.  She is definitely one of the Normal People Vegans.  She is clear that veganism is about preventing cruelty to animals, but she makes that argument directly and clearly.  She never tries to scare people into it.  Her podcasts are great.  She is an excellent educator.  She’s definitely worth checking out.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s Website.  Includes her blog, links to her podcasts, and videos.

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