Apologies to Alan Turing

Alan TurningOn this day in 1894, the iconic sex researcher Alfred Kinsey was born. He was trained as an entomologist, which I suppose is as good a form of training as anything to study human sexuality. Kinsey’s great insight was simply that if you wanted to understand human sexuality, you just needed to ask humans about their sexuality. People are surprisingly honest about that kind of thing. Even as late as the discovery of natural selection, co-discoverer Alfred Russel Wallace was shy about placing man in with the other animals. To this day I find that many people think there is something fundamentally different between animals and humans. So the idea that human sexuality would be just like that of animals was and still is quite shocking to people. Ultimately, Kinsey’s main findings should not be surprising: human sexuality is a statistical continuum—deviance is a social and not a physical construct.

The great choreographer and film director Bob Fosse was born in 1927. It is really hard to pick something to showcase his work. It is best to watch one of his best films: Sweet Charity, Cabaret, Lenny, and All That Jazz. But here is a great scene from that last film with much credit to editor Alan Heim:

And June Carter Cash was born in 1929.

American embarrassment Clarence Thomas is 65 today. A good day to retire? Actor Frances McDormand is 56. I’ve been a fan of hers as far back as Mississippi Burning, where she had the weight of the whole of the decent white people of Mississippi. But she’s best known for Fargo. I’m not that big a fan of the film, but I really do love this scene near the end of the picture where she sums up its theme, “I just don’t understand it.” No, none of us really do:

And Joss Whedon is 49 today. I’m very fond of Firefly. I also think he wrote a good script for the movie Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which I think Fran Rubel Kuzui made a mess of. I’ve tried to like the series but apart from developing a crush on Alyson Hannigan, I think the show errs in not realizing it is first and foremost a comedy. I liked his script for Alien Resurrection. And you can read what I had to say about The Avengers. So he’s a mixed bag and certainly way overrated.

The day, however, belongs to the father of the computer Alan Turing who was born on this day back in 1912. He was also extremely important in breaking Nazi codes during World War II. We rewarded him by castrating him for the “crime” of homosexuality which quickly led to his suicide at the age of 41. But lest you think I am suggesting that we are somewhat more enlightened now, I’m not. Here’s what I wrote about Michelle Obama’s interest in Downton Abbey:

I assure you of this: in 100 years, people will look back on us with horror that we threw junkies into jail for decades (when we didn’t just let them die from dirty needles and tainted drugs). And they will look very far down on a president and first lady who watched millions of young people’s lives destroyed while they patted themselves on the back for their liberal attitudes. Oh my! How very forward thinking the president was in coming out in favor of marriage equality in 2012! What cutting edge liberal thinking! Please. Let’s be clear: if it were 1952, Obama would (Regrettably, mind you!) be in favor of castrating Alan Turing.

We are a horrible people and we always will be. My very great apology to Turing and all of the rest. But for today, I hope, I can say without irony:

Happy birthday Alan Turing!
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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

4 thoughts on “Apologies to Alan Turing

  1. Too bad you didn’t like the "Buffy" show. I suppose it’s one that people either love, because it romanticizes the pangs of adolescence, or find dull for the same reason. But EVERYONE has a crush on Alison Hanigan.

    I hadn’t read your "Avengers" review before; it’s spot-on (and the embedded trailer is hilarious.) Whedon does have a tendency to turd on his characters for melodramatic effect, and I don’t understand it. "Dr. Horrible" would have worked just fine without the rotten, downer ending. "Cabin In The Woods" was really funny up until the finish, where it turns out that a world long under the spell evil, powerful gods really is threatened by them. (It would have been much better if it turned out that the gods were all bluster.)

    I’d suggest skipping forward in "Buffy" and watching the episodes "Hush" (season 4) and "Once More, With Feeling" (season 6.) One’s a silent movie, the other one’s a musical. And both are quite amusing, with very satisfying wrapups. The show, not that you should watch it to its conclusion, wraps up abominably; one likeable character is maimed, another killed. Why, Whedon? Is it just the thrill of being a puppet master manipulating fan emotions? Rather skeevy, if you ask me. He’s clever enough to do better.

  2. @JMF – I probably will watch more of [i]Buffy[/i] just to see Alison Hanigan be my dream girl. I didn’t think it was terrible. I just thought that the tone was right in the movie. I rather liked the Angel character, even though I don’t like the idea of "souls" in the Christian sense.

    I agree about [i]Dr. Horrible[/i]. It seems to be that Whedon often screws up on tone. Just the same, I thought the death of Wash in [i]Serenity[/i] really did work. It made the third act far less predictable.

    In a proper world, Whedon would be a cult star. He wouldn’t be producing blockbusters. And I don’t know what he is doing with Shakespeare, but I’m curious to see [i]Much Ado About Nothing[/i]. I’m prepared to like it, but if he doesn’t do something very different or at least much better than Branagh, I’m am going to be very displeased.

  3. Late response, but it’s late and my workday was too intense for my brain to shut down yet . . .

    Yeah, I’m also curious about "Much Ado." Especially to see how the American actors handle the lines. English actors are trained in how to read iambic pentameter. Often, American actors in movie versions suck at it. Welles aside, naturally, but then he worked in Ireland in theater as a teenager. (Nobody, but nobody, expresses the English language, with all its convolutions, better than the Irish . . . well, maybe the Scots are up there, too.)

    Yes, the Branagh versions were underwhelming. I always wondered how he ended up married to Emma Thompson, by far a more talented individual. Fake confidence gets the chicks! I know that NOW, and it’s been quite helpful, but I wish I knew it THEN. Cute that they both played dimwitted teachers in the "Harry Potter" series, and Thompson’s character actually had a moment or two of accidental insight.

    I just cringed whenever the musical cue "Angel & Buffy Doomed Love Theme" came up in those early seasons. I almost gave up on the show. It does get better, peaking around season 3 & 4. If you quit, check out the two I mentioned; they’re quite fun, and you already know most of the major characters and can easily figure out the rest.

    People keep telling me "Firefly" is good; I will definitely watch it one of these days. (The movie was OK, most notable for the soft-spoken bad guy who was also the soft-spoken bad guy in "Children Ofr Men.") "Dollhouse" was such a creepy mistake it turned me off from Whedon. "Cabin In The Woods" was really delightful until the dumb ending; my suggestion was better, frankly!

  4. @JMF – I think you have misunderstood me regarding Branagh. I’m a big fan: both as an actor and as a director. But as usual, he gives much better than he gets from Shakespeare. I think he made [i]Much Ado About Nothing[/i] as good as it can be. Like all Shakespeare’s comedies, it is weak.

    It’s good you bring up iambic pentameter. The truth is that I find Shakespeare’s ip mostly weak. And the playwrights after him even more so. They were making the language more and more natural and so less and less poetic. Listening to Marlowe, I hear the poetry; with Shakespeare, almost never. This isn’t good or bad, but if you aren’t going to be poetic, why write in verse?

    And in his later writing Shakespeare used the weak 11th syllable so much it drives me crazy:

    Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
    Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
    To the last syllable of recorded time;
    And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
    The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

    You should watch [i]Firefly[/i]. It isn’t great, but it is a good series and it makes the movie better. It’s on Netflix.

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