A Philosopher's Blog

Justice for Turing

Posted in Ethics, Technology by Michael LaBossiere on September 1, 2009
Alan Turing memorial statue in Sackville Park

Image via Wikipedia

Years ago, when I was an undergraduate, I learned about the Turing Test and Turing Machine in a philosophy class. The name sounded vaguely familiar to me and I found out why. Having been something of a WII buff as a kid, I had read about the German Enigma code and the role of Turing in breaking it.

In addition to learning about Turing’s contributions to computer science and philosophy, I also learned of his tragic death. Turing was found guilty in 1952 of a “gross indecency” because of his homosexual relationship. His punishment was chemical castration and he committed suicide two years later. This story always stuck with me (in part because he killed himself by eating an apple laced with cyanide) and I have always regarded his fate as an example of a cruel injustice. After all, he made a vital contribution to Britain‘s war effort and literally helped to win the war. That this country would do something so terrible to him based on a moral prejudice is a matter of terrible irony. Naturally, folks today are drawing parallels between how Turing was treated and how homosexuals are being treated in the US military today. After all, it seems like madness to be so obsessed about homosexuality in the face of real dangers.

Recently a British computer scientist, John Graham-Cumming, has created a petition asking for an apology for Turing. This seems to be long overdue and a certainly hope that he succeeds in his efforts.

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Iran’s Rulers Playing the “Foreign Card.”

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 24, 2009
Image via Wikipedia

Faced with a massive popular uprising, Iran‘s rulers are playing the “Foreign Card.” This is done by placing the blame for the dissent on foreigners. So far, the Iranian rulers have blamed the Western media, the United States and their previous Satan, Great Britain.

The latest attempt to blame foreigners involves the claim that British passports have allegedly been found in the possession of some folks involved in the protests. This is, of course, a rather lame attempt at blame. First, if Britain were to send agents to provoke protests in Iran, they would surely not be carrying around British passports. Second, there are Iranians who live outside of Iran and have citizenship in other countries. As such, these passports might belong to Iranians who live in Britain. If this is the case, the hardly counts as a case of foreign intervention. Third, even if the passports belong no non-Iranian Brits, it hardly follows that they are acting at the behest of the British government. Fourth, the evidence seems to be clear that the protests are homegrown. Foreigners might be glad to contribute what they can to the protests, but there seems to be no evidence that Britain and the United States have had any significant role in what is happening in Iran.

While it is not irrational for the Iranian leaders to suspect US or British involvement (after all, we have done it in the past), they seem to be either largely making up their claims of foreign involvement or simply seeing the protests as being foreign controlled because they are seeing things through the distorting lens of their ideology.

The Iranian rulers do, I think, want the US and UK to get involved in the protests. Naturally, they do not want the United States or Britain to take action that could actually overthrow the regime. But, clear evidence of British or American involvement in the protests would give them a propaganda tool and an  excuse to crack down even more. After all, they would claim that they were fighting a foreign foe, the Great Satan. This would also garner them sympathy from states that are less than friendly with America and Britain.

Unable to find hard evidence of such involvement, the rulers are currently trotting out the old claims that America and Britain are involved. I suspect that it is only a matter of time before they start fabricating evidence of involvement. They might even luck out and find a few individuals from the US or UK that they can pass off as government agents sent to destroy Iran.

The rulers do, of course, point to the BBC and American media as being instigators in the protests. This does have some merit-after all, people do get ideas when they are exposed to relatively free outside sources of information. But to claim that the media influences are causing the protests is implausible. While people do attribute a great deal of power to the media, these folks are hardly prime movers in the Iranian situation. If the Iranian leaders want to find the root cause of the peoples’ dissatisfaction, they need only look in the mirror.

This situation does, of course, keep the US and the UK in a bit of a dilemma. On the one horn, if we stay out of the situation, the rulers of Iran can act with impunity against their own people. At least until the protests become too large to contain or substantial portions of the police and military go over to the protesters. On the other horn, if the US and UK get involved, then the Iranian rulers can use that as effective propaganda and also use it to justify escalating the violence against their own people.

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