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A small interaction with the old media

Almost two years ago, David Carr posted a piece on this blog about statues in Trafalgar Square. In the comments, I made a brief observation that the person I would commemorate with a statue there was mathematician Alan Turing, who is rather inadequately commemorated given that his achievements were that he won the second world war and invented the computer. (Yes I am exaggerating, but not truthfully by all that much).

Yesterday, I received a couple of e-mails and then a phone call from the letters editor of the Evening Standard newspaper here in London. The paper had a couple of days earlier published an article on a plan to put a statue of Nelson Mandela in the square, and they wanted to publish some responses from readers. He thought that my comment (that he had presumably found by Googling) was very interesting, and would I write a short letter to the newspaper saying the same thing?

I was happy to oblige, but I asked that if they publish the letter that they credit this blog as well as me personally. And that is exactly what they did. They published my letter in this evening’s newspaper (slightly edited for space, unfortunately) and credited me as “Michael Jennings, samizdata.net” at the end.

If you are a newspaper editor who wishes to use the blogosphere as a source, this is exactly the right way to go about it. Contact the blogger first, get him to update what he wrote, and always credit the blog and publish its address. We bloggers love being linked to.

47 comments to A small interaction with the old media

  • John East

    This is quite a delicate topic. I have no wish to upset Ms. Lapper, but as we are now supposed to commemorate non achievements such as managing to perform autonomous biological functions it’s difficult to see how we can honour Alan Turing, who was a middle class beneficiary of an elitist education.

    Livingstone is unlikely to be impressed by Turing’s war efforts or his pioneering work in computing, but the perverse little shit might be more amenable to support the idea of a statue in Trafalgar Square on the basis that Turing was someone who overcame prejudice against his sexuality. Any proposals for a memorial should therefore concentrate on this aspect of Turing’s life.

  • Verity

    I wrote at the time about Ms Lapper and have absolutely no reservations about offending this attention-seeker. That she has the towering arrogance to think she is worthy of a statue in Trafalgar Square, the square of British heroes, tells me she is not just physically malformed.

    The one thing you can say for Ms Lapper is, I’ll bet she’s a cheap date. Shouldn’t take more than a couple of drinks to get her legless.

  • Verity

    John East, I think we shouldn’t give in. Turing’s achievement was staggering. How he was born is beyond irrelevant and we should not bring ourselves down to their level. He would be mortified.

    Lapper, by contrast, has absolutely no achievement, no contribution to the human race to offer except chippy, self-righteous victimhood. This individual has no place in our pantheon of heroes. The suggestion that she should be there is too insane.

    But that’s commie Livingstone’s idea isn’t it? Levelling down; ironing out.

    What I find disconcerting is, these people don’t ever seem to get tired. They plod on and on and on with the committee meetings, the minutes,the organisation, the posters, the marches, the agenda. Always the agenda.

  • Who the hell is Lapper? Have the British gone mad?
    Turing’s story must be as sad as any from WW2. A man who gave so much to the war effort and yet in the end was ground down by the prejudices of the day. A hero in my book.

  • Verity

    John – it’s the indifference. Always the indifference. The British haven’t “gone mad”. They’ve gone indifferent. And they are ignorant of their own history and their own heroes.

  • guy herbert

    John East:

    … Turing was someone who overcame prejudice against his sexuality.

    Unfortunately not. When it came to light after the war he was removed from secret work, despite the Soviet threat. His suicide was quite likely related to his disgrace at prosecution.

    From the New British point of view this perhaps validates the choice further, since he can be characterised as a victim. But for those of us who still believe people are entitled to private lives and that activity in one or more spheres of one’s existence need not be conditioned by or connected to others, it would be a loss.

    By all means let him stand as one example, if it is still necessary, that Great Men need not be straight men. But his triumph was intellectual, the rest despair. I’d prefer to think Turing’s contribution was an illustration of the irrelevance of his sexuality, and that his statue would repudiate the view that the personal ought to be political.

  • Jack Tar

    The plinth should be occupied by a statue of Vice Admiral Sir Edward Codrington.

    A forgotten hero of the Battle of Trafalgar, Codrington also lead the allied fleet to a crushing victory at the Battle of Navarino on 20th October 1827 (anniversary of the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC and nrear-anniversary of Trafalgar). Arguably exceeding his orders, Codrington (together with the French and Russians) righteously annihilated the joint Ottoman-Egyptian fleet in the last great clash of sailing fleets in history, securing the independence of Greece and breaking the power of the Caliphate in Europe.

    Surely not just a forgotten naval hero to be commemorated with Nelson, Fisher et al. in the square, but also a truly inspirational figure for our times? :)

  • steve

    I see little point in a statue to Nelson Mandela in London. He has, as we see in “Only Fools and Horses”, already got a tower block of flats named after him.

  • Julian Taylor

    I wonder how Kuddly Ken would view a statue of Alan Turing, given his current support for Yusuf al-Qaradawi and his oft homophobic rhetoric.

    I still feel that Trafalgar Square should be maintained as a ‘heroes acre’. Either keep it as it a showpiece of 18th and 19th century heroism by removing George IV and possibly replace the 2 resulting empty plinths with statues more suitable. My personal preference would be for Charles Gordon a.ka. Chinese Gordon or Gordon of Khartoum, who put down the infamous Taiping Rebellion and died in the siege of Khartoum, and General James Wolfe who is certainly the closest individual that the British army has ever come to a Nelson-type figure, although I suspect that the French would object to us celebrating the conqueror of Quebec. Worth bearing in mind that Gordon’s statue was originally in Trafalgar Square anyway, in 1888.

    Failing that why not bring the square up to date by swapping out the older more obscure statues with those dotted around Whitehall – Monty, Slim, Allenbrooke and even Eisenhower if necessary, or would Kuddly Ken’s dislike for anything American prevent this?

  • Julian Taylor

    A statue of Mandela is certainly preferable to freakshow statues of pregnant disabled women. I don’t see why there shouldn’t be a statue of Nelson Mandela in London – after all we have a statue of Jan Smuts in Parliament Square – just not in Trafalgar Square please.

  • Verity

    Nelson Mandela did nothing for Britain. He’s not a British hero. They can put up a statue of him in South Africa if they want. If we want someone with pigmented skin, I’m sure we have plenty of brave Indian or Ghurka heroes whose deeds were relevant to the British nation and who weren’t raging tranzi lefties. (Please god, not Mohanandas Gandhi or Nehru.)

  • Kevin O'Neill

    guy herbert re: Turing

    … When it came to light after the war he was removed from secret work, despite the Soviet threat. His suicide was quite likely related to his disgrace at prosecution.

    Sounds depressingly familiar… WMD’s anyone?

  • Daveon

    Guy misses some of the worst aspects of the story. After convction for cottaging (IIRC) Turing was put onto Oestrogen which resulted in him growing breasts.

    It was after that that he painted an apple with cyanide and ate it.

    At least some things have improved since the 50s eh?

    I thought the disabled woman was a marvellous piece of art. You could argue it’d not for Trafallgar Square, but it is certainly thought provoking. There’s been some very interest works on that plynth so far and I hope it continues in this thread.

  • I’m having trouble making any connection between WMDs and being removed from secret work for having a private life that might provide opportunity for blackmailers to gain knowledge of your secrets.

  • Verity

    The only thought it provokes in me is one of repulsion at the two in-yer-face sick spirits who posed for it and who crafted it. It was meant to be an assault, as is all British modern “art”. It was meant to degrade British heroes by elevating a freak to be their equal. What Livingstone and his cronies quite get their heads round is, they are utterly transparent. They are not sly and clever.

  • Berenger

    On a choice between Turing and Mandela, Turing seems to fit the ‘theme’ better being British and associated with the war.

    Personally I would like a generic statue of a soldier, sailor and an airmen whose real ranks produced acts of heroism every day of the war(s).

    As for the Lapper statue it may just be me but I have seen the thing a dozen times and not once has one of those flying rats crapped on the statue’s head. Every other statue has one of the avian vermin crapping prodigiously on the head but not the Lapper one. Weird – is a god trying to tell me something or is it just coincidence

  • Verity

    Berenger – Your idea would appeal to most people, I believe, if put to a referendum. I say this because the new BBC Have Your Say is a revelation which the BBC must regret it ever promoted. All the Most Recommended comments are pro-Britain and pro-commonsense. Not anarchy. Not tranzi programmes. They must be annoyed that they inadvertently brought this form of democracy onto their site and robbed their 10th rate university sociology graduate editors of the chance to choose which comments were politically correct enough to get an airing.

    To my amazement – not to say the Beeb’s – most recommended comments on readers’ letter support a conservative, calm, rational position.

    Mandela’s a nothing as far as British history goes and we have no reason to honour him, especially in a square for our national heroes.

    As I said, it might be rather interesting if we had an Indian or a gurkha who did the Commonwealth a great service. Or an Aussie or a Kiwi. Or a Princess Pat’s. But no foreigners and no free-floating freakshows.

    As has also been mentioned in previous discussions, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother played a heroic role in WWII. She was a hero too, for refusing to leave London, despite that Buckingham Palace was such an obvious target for the Germans to dispirit the British. As she said, “The princesses and I will not leave London unless the king leaves London. And the king will not leave London.” That is heroism.

  • Verity

    BTW, Daveon – Lapper isn’t “disabled”. She wasn’t someone whose physical abilities diminished. She is someone who was born malformed and has chosen to make a self-righteous display of herself. I guess it was “society’s fault” that she had bad genes, and this would naturally admit her to a pantheon of heroes.

    David Cameron’s kid may be “disabled” – meaning formerly “abled”, to use their terminology – or he may have been born that way because of a genetic defect from the mother or the father.

    As he/she has been made a feature of Dave’s campaign over several months, this is now in the public domain and can be commented on. He has not protected his child from public comment.

  • guy herbert

    … he painted an apple with cyanide and ate it.

    At least some things have improved since the 50s eh?

    Surely, but at least you could buy cyanide then.

  • Julian Taylor

    Given that there are now 2 statues of Alan Turing – one outside UMIST and one at Univ. Surrey – perhaps a third one in Trafalgar Square might be overdoing it?

  • Verity

    I am warming to my own idea of an Indian, Gurkha or Commonwealth black military hero. It’s part of our history.

  • Daveon

    Lapper isn’t “disabled”.

    You’re a weird person Verity.

    BTW – have you actually seen the statue? IIRC you don’t even live in the UK anymore and haven’t for years.

    Or are you just basing your reaction on your principled stand for how things ought to be?

  • Being born legless doesn’t make you a hero any more than being born Jewish in Hitler’s Germany would.

    Total bollocks.

    As for a Trafalgar statue to that fucking Commie terrorist Mandela… why not a statue to Irgun bomber David Ben Gurion too?

    Oh wait… he’s Jewish. What would the French say?

    There used to be a law (or custom?) that one could not have any form of public commemoration made until 50 years after death — so that the person’s true achievements could be seen both in their proper historical perspective and in terms of the measure thereof. (By that rationale, incidentally, there is no way that Teddy Roosevelt would have made it to Mount Rushmore.)

    Ergo, in Trafalgar Sq. terms, of the two Nelsons, Horatio would qualify, Mandela wouldn’t.

    Statues should be erected of people who had an appreciable, and benevolent, effect on history. All decisions should be made according the the Horatio Nelson/Winston Churchill yardstick, in my opinion.

    But hey… if you Brits want to put up a statue of Elton John in the middle of Trafalgar Square, knock yourselves out.

    Just don’t expect any accolades for doing so.

  • Verity

    Congratulations to Daveon who managed to write an entire post, albeit it mercifully short, without any baffling, inappropriate capital letters.

    For something to be disabled, it has to have been abled in the first place. For something to be disconnected, it has to have been connected. Someone being disqualified has to have been qualified. See how the language works? You can say the Lapper woman is handicapped. You can say she’s crippled. You can say she is abnormal. She is not “dis” abled because the nature of her malformation is such that she cannot ever have been abled and then made less so.

    The statue has been all over the internet. One doesn’t have to live overseas not to have seen it in person. I would guess most British people – say around 48 or 50 million of them, haven’t seen the physical statue either, so your point was … what?

    The statue’s hideous.

  • Kim du Toit: “…Irgun bomber David Ben Gurion…” I think you meant Menahem Begin.

    “…Commie terrorist Mandela…” I am no fan of Mandela, but…My knowledge of SA history isn’t anywehere near yours (closer to zero, actually), can you please explain it to me, maybe a good link?

  • John

    Verity, you wrote,
    “As I said, it might be rather interesting if we had an Indian or a gurkha who did the Commonwealth a great service. Or an Aussie or a Kiwi.”

    From my biased Antipodean viewpoint may I suggest
    Nancy Wake, a Kiwi and an Australian, honored by the French and disgracefully ignored by Australia.

    Charles Upham, a modest Kiwi farmer who was awarded 2 VC’s in WW2

    Do the numerous women who were so important in the British war effort have a memorial?

  • Verity

    John – Oh, I see. You want the women to have a group memorial, eh?

    I believe Trafalgar Sq is for heroes of wars in the 18th and 19th Centuries, though.

    There must be many heroes to choose from among the Gurkhas, the Indians and the W Indians of that period.

  • Daveon

    Verity can you actually debate with anybody who doesn’t share your world view without insults?

    Your point about the use of the word “disabled” is fair, and I correct my original post to ” thought the handicapped woman was a marvellous piece of art”.

    Satisfied? Probably not. If I didn’t know any better I’d think you were purely trolling.

    I’m interested to see what is next. That damn plyth has been empty for a long time and at least this is encouraging some discussion.

  • michael farris

    I don’t know how British usage works, but in US usage Ms. Lapper would definitely be considered ‘disabled’. English words (esp in US usage) don’t necessarily break down neatly into their component parts (an automobile doesn’t really move by itself afterall).

    That aside, I’m no sure where Verity’s …. hostility toward the lady in question comes from. Ms. Lapper was dealt a really crummy hand by the fates and has played it very well, much better than I (or most or all of the regular Samizdata crowd) probably would have.

  • Daveon

    I was being nice to Verity, the common use of “disabled” in the UK would be the same as the US Michael. You can refer to the collective “able” community and class everybody else as “disabled”.

    Verity does this sort of thing a lot though. I’m still not sure why she referred to the woman as a freak though.

  • Verity

    michael farris – 1. She thinks she is deserving of some sort of national recognition in a square for heroes who served, and saved, our country. For that towering idiocy alone, I loathe her. 2. She is in the destructive, commie, London “modern art” coterie of which Ken Livingstone is such a loving patron. 3. She is aggressive, chippie and in yer face. 4. She is repulsive.

    As we are discussing a British statue by a British artist of a British person in the Britain’s capital city in a square devoted to British heroes, I can’t see that what Americans understand by ‘disabled’ is germane.

    We don’t say automobile, either. We say motor car, or car, by way of carry, carriage and chariot.

  • Verity

    Daveon – “Verity can you actually debate with anybody who doesn’t share your world view without insults?”

    You twitted me for claiming Ms Lapper is not disabled. I corrected you. If you think this is an insult, that’s up to you.

  • michael farris

    Verity, you’re right I have no emotional stake whatsoever in what statue is put where in the UK. That’s why I didn’t opine on that issue and won’t here except to ask if Ms. Lapper actually campaigned for her statue to appear there.

    But I’m a linguist so folk etymologies are of interest, which I did comment on.

    What (very) little I know of Ms. Lapper is that she’s an artist and certainly no worse than and probably better than many many others. She’s self absorbed by the mysteries of her own body and its departure from orthodoxy much as Frida Kahlo was (though I certainly wouldn’t put her in Kahlo’s class). This is nothing new or shocking. The tiny bit I’ve seen of her work seems actually rather old fashioned in its representational basis.

    I haven’t had the occasion to hear/see interviews or whatever with her so I don’t know anything about her personality. Nor do I have any indication I would judge her the same as you do. I do suspect that had I been born in her condition I would probably learn to not care much about sparing the delicate sensibilities of those who thought I was repulsive or a freak and would probably take some pleasure from pushing their buttons.

  • Verity

    and would probably take some pleasure from pushing their buttons.

    Hmms, yes, spite. I forgot to add, there’s something spiteful about her. All of what you have said is her right. She has a right to feel chippie. We all do. She has the same right as the rest of us to feel resentful at various injustices done us. She differs in that the rest of us deal with it and don’t think we should get national recognition in a square for heroes by virtue of having been born.

    With respect, Michael Farris, I think you do not fully understand the agenda behind this, although I may be doing you an injustice and you may be very familiar with declared communist and friend of terrorists Ken Livingston.

    Tangentially, you mentioned that automobile was a misnomer. You’re an etymologist. Why do we refer to a buying a television set when you only get one?

  • michael farris

    Ken Whoingston?

    I’ll admit I have no clue to what agenda may be behind ‘this’ (or exactly what you’re referring to by ‘this’). It would be interesting to hear. I sort of have the idea that Gramsci was a big figure in British lefti-academic circles (I remember a John Fowles book where he kept mentioning him and I had no idea who he was).

    I wouldn’t say automobile is a misnomer, it’s as good a name as any. I just pointed out that it doesn’t move by itself to point out that words in english don’t necessarily break down into their component parts. As for TV set, I would guess (from a position of ignorance) that maybe at once it was more than one piece of equipment. Or it just might be one of those things no one can explain.

    As for disabled, the idea that it can only refer to lost abilities would require that those who lose their hearing are disabled but those who are born deaf (for example) aren’t.

  • Verity

    “Disabled” to describe anyone with something not quite normal is lefty newspeak and I don’t stoop to it. I don’t like Orwellian language manipulation.

    Briefly, Ken Livingston, who proudly revels in his nickname Red Ken, is a communist who used to run a corrupt, poisonous organisation called the London County Council. He was the chief executive of London. From his perch, he did his best to bring Britain down with endless support of endless strikes in the public services and blah blah blah. You can write the script.

    Margaret Thatcher closed the whole toxic mess down and sold the LCC Building to a bunch of Japanese for a condominium or something.

    Anyway, Red Ken’s back, as mayor of London and the agenda is unchanged. Tear down everything that Britain has stood for the last 500 years. Tear down British heroes. Tear down the British Empire. Support terrorism. Tear down British educational standards. (He appears on platforms with terrorist leaders and gives formal dinners for them.) In fact, it’s intensified now as his “partner” is the British head of Amnesty International.

    That’s it in a nutshell, and it’s not really a suitable topic for the most optimistic day of the year, before disillusionment sets in.

    BTW, the TV set question was supposed to be a joke. As in when the late Screaming Lord Sutch asked why there is only one Monopolies Commission.

  • Verity

    michael farris – this is why it’s seldom a good idea to jump into domestic arguments. You don’t know the issues. You don’t know know the history. You have no ability to predict the consequences. You clearly don’t know the frames of reference.

    I’m not saying anyone shouldn’t comment about anything. God knows, I do. But you ought to have at least some thin tether to the issue.

    By the way, people who are born deaf, or become deaf, are called “deaf”. Not disabled. Someone who is lame, was born with one-leg shorter than another, let’s say, is called ‘lame’. They are not “disabled” human beings – they have one thing about them that doesn’t work. In most cases, everything else works. How bloody offensive you politically correct language fascists are.

  • michael farris

    I’m confused at why a communist would want art depicting Ms. Lapper and what sort of agenda that could be part of. Art in every communist country (any totalitarian society actually) tends toward showing idealized people doing constructive things like picking up tractors while they grin idiotically. Alternately, they stand around admiring GreatLeader. Occasionally they stare in grim determination. The general tone is more or less like an Ayn Rand novel but with the values reversed and minus the rough sex.

    As for disabled, you’re of course free to not use the word but you’re the one being “politically correct” (inasmuch as you’re putting ideology before common sense).

  • Verity

    No. I’m not putting ideology before common sense. A person who’s deaf is not a disabled, damaged human being. They’re deaf. That’s all. A major inconvenience for them and probably quite irritating sometimes for the people around that person, but they’re not “disabled” as the touchy-feely ultra-sensitive caring ones would classify (yes, they do love to classify) them because that’s another segment of the human race they’ve got tagged. They make me sick.

    You are free to Google Ken Livinston and learn what the people here have known about him for the past 25 years. There are tens of thousands of mentions of him, I’m sure.

  • Verity

    I note Google has over 48,000 references to Livingston with his name spelled wrongly, and over a million with his name spelled correctly – Livingstone.

  • Julian Taylor

    I regard it as a modern tribute to femininity, disability and motherhood,” said Alison [Lapper] of Quinn’s work. “It is so rare to see disability in everyday life – let alone naked, pregnant and proud. The sculpture makes the ultimate statement about disability – that it can be as beautiful and valid a form of being as any other.

    Ok so she obviously does not have a problem with the use of the word ‘disabled’.

    Personally I think to erect a statue to modern femininity in that place is both distasteful and extremely insulting. If you really want a statue to women and their heroism then either move the statue of Edith Clavell down a few hundred yards into the square or raise a statue to someone like Violette Szabo, GC or Odette Churchill, GC, either of whom are a million times more deserving of that spot than an armless and legless artist who just happens to know the winning sculptor.

  • Verity

    “Ok so she obviously does not have a problem with the use of the word ‘disabled’.” Of course not! She’s an ignorant, ill-educated, socialist adherent of the victim culture. She is someone who would say, without a trace of irony, “I wear my disability like a badge of pride.” Or something equally peurile.

    Why on earth would one want to erect a statue to “modern femininity”? What an communist-sounding idea! Trafalgar Sq is for heroes. Livingstone is deliberately trashing it by elevating someone born a freak to the same altitude as someone who, aware of the risks to his own life, committed brave deeds for his country.

  • Verity

    Melanie’s back with a vengeance! See her diary today for more on skewed thinking and the victim culture.
    (Link)

  • Johnathan

    I think it was Ayn Rand who said one can mark the decline or rise of a culture by the art that one chooses to exalt. The Greeks exalted statues of men in their prime of life and health, while the Medievals went for gargoyles to show man as a fallen, ugly creature. Quite what the Lapper work tells us about Britain today is too weird to think about.

    I think Michael Jennings’ Turing suggestion is a good one though I would also nominate naval hero Thomas Cochrane, who as well as being a superb frigate commander and innovative sailor, helped form the Chilean navy and thus aided the liberation of a large chunk of the-then Spanish empire in Latin America.

  • michael farris

    Johnathan, in the visual arts, totalitarian governments love idealized absurdly healthy and happy people in the prime of life as they rationally remake the world in their image. Look at poster art from the Stalinist period, the cultural revolution (or NKorea for that matter). Rand’s theory falls down there (and gargoyles didn’t represent humanity but everpresent moral danger I think).

    As art (as in a gallery) I’m not sure what the statue of Lapper says, you can pessimistically say it glorifies imperfection and the inherently defective or optimistically say it celebrates that we rationally look behind the surface to see the humanity in those who come in unconventional packaging (as opposed to locking them up or putting them in freak shows).

    But then as art, its failing (to me) is that it has no distance, it’s not stylized enough to say much of anything except this is how a particular disabled (pace Verity) woman looked when she was pregnant.

  • Verity

    michael farris – Your considered opinion of its merits as art is not relevant. This is not what Trafalgar Square is for. If they want to bung her into the National Gallery or the entrance to Liverpool town hall or something, I would think they were free-floating idiots, just as I do about the people who chose Tracy Emin’s unmade bed to win the Turner Prize.

    The issue is Trafalgar Square.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Michael Farris, it is true that Stalin and other totalitarians also used heroic art to glorify their achievements. Stalin, being the brute he was, knew how to steal from old traditions to bolster his power. Good art can be used for bad ends, of course, and I certainly would not claim otherwise and neither, I suspect, did the late Miss Rand.