Archive for October, 2009

Wind turbines on buildings

October 31, 2009
wind turbines on apartment

wind turbines on apartment

Over the last year I have watched apartment blocks being erected. Walking past a couple of days ago I noticed looking down at me like modern-day gargoyles a row of wind turbines. Cosmetic window dressing, an exercise in futility, as functional they are not.

The wind speed would be too low, the wind turbulence too high for any meaningful power generation. Were the wind speed to be of sufficient velocity, I doubt the building could handle the torque generated. Three of the wind turbines are in a row too close together, three are in a valley on the roof. The apartments immediately below the wind turbines are going to be disturbed by the noise, and possibly vibration, though if well balanced, vibration should be minimal.

What struck me as I have watched the apartments being built is that there is extensive south-facing roof areas, and yet no use has been made of this roof area for solar energy collection, either for water heating or electricity generation! The roof should have been covered with amorphous silicon roof tiles or slates, converting the entire south-facing roof areas into a solar-power generator, powering the apartments, with the surplus electricity fed into the grid.

Curious, I went back the next day to make inquiries and investigate further.

I spoke with the marketing suite, who directed me onto the site. I wandered around the site. From what observed and those I spoke to, the wind turbines are mere window dressing. There are higher blocks further into the site, but these were not used for the wind turbines. They are in their location because they are visible from the main road!

What I found was an opportunity lost. The site is on a gentle south-facing slope. Ideal for buildings to be passively heated, but no advantage taken of what the site offered. No use made of heat pumps, no solar arrays on the roofs or integral to the roofs. Two of the blocks are heated centrally, but not by a combined heat and power plant.

The wind turbines were shipped in from the States!

We learnt in the 1960s not to house social housing tenants in blocks. Those same mistakes are being repeated all over again. The developer has not been able to sell the apartments, 40% have been sold to a housing association, I was told these are inferior apartments, all housed in the same block. I hate to think what this little estate will be like in ten years time with bored kids and angry teenagers hanging around.

Access to the site was very dangerous. An accident waiting to happen. I was almost run down.

Much can be done with new buildings to make them energy efficient and net power generators, but it is not being done. This is due to lack of vision by architects and builders, but also to blame are local planning authorities whose level of competence goes little beyond the siting of a garden shed.

Local generation is important. A development of this scale should have had on site a local combined heat and power plant running off natural gas, feeding the apartments with hot water and electricity, any surplus electricity generated fed into the national grid. The ground floor apartments could have been fed by ground source heat pumps, the top apartments with roof-top solar collectors.

We need community-owned wind turbines, powering local communities, with the surplus fed into the national grid. It is a moot point whether or not this site could have had its own wind turbine, as it is on a slope running down into a dip, but they could have invested in a nearby community wind turbine.

No development should be permitted unless it is carbon neutral, furthermore, it should be a net generator of carbon-neutral electricity and low-grade heat.

Also see

Keith Parkins, Soft energy paths, heureka, May 2001

Keith Parkins, Wind turbines on buildings, Indymedia UK, 31 October 2009

The soul of a writer

October 29, 2009

‘ … the only way you can truly get to know an author is through the trail of ink he leaves behind him; the person you think you see is only an empty character: truth is always hidden in fiction.’ — Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Angel’s Game

The Angel’s Game, the latest novel from Carlos Ruiz Zafón is, like his previous novel, The Shadow of the Wind, set in Barcelona.

Where does religion come from?

October 28, 2009

Where does religion come from, is it something that is innate to us as human beings, part of our DNA, part of our genetic makeup?

One of the best expositions I have come across on the nature of religion and its origin is by the Spanish novelist Carlos Ruiz Zafón in his novel The Angel’s Game.

… generally speaking, beliefs arise from an event or character that may or may not be authentic, and rapidly evolve into social movements that are conditioned and shaped by the political, economic and societal circumstances of the group that accepts them.

A large part of the mythology that develops around each of these doctrines, from its liturgy to its rules and taboos, comes from the bureaucracy generated as they develop and not from the supposed supernatural act that originated them. Most of the simple, well-intentioned anecdotes are a mixture of common sense and folklore, and all the belligerent force they eventually develop comes from a subsequent interpretation of these principles, or even their distortion, at the hands of the bureaucrats. The administrative and hierarchic aspects seem to be crucial in the evolution of belief systems. The truth is first revealed to all men, but very quickly individuals appear claiming sole authority and duty to interpret, administer and, if need be, alter this truth in the name of the common good. To this end they establish a powerful and potentially repressive organisation. This phenomenon, which biology show us is common to any social group, soon transforms the doctrine into a means of achieving control and political power. Divisions, wars, and break-ups become inevitable. Sooner or later, the word becomes flesh and the flesh bleeds.

Christianity has strayed so far from that of its founder, named in his name, but now the followers of the church than of its founder, particularly in its dogmas and who is to be excluded rather than who may be included, that its founder would have difficulty recognising what has evolved from what at the time was a small, obscure Jewish sect.

It is the prevailing social condition and the need to maintain control that determines God is male, not some hidden truth as we cannot know the unknowable.

To quote again Carlos Ruiz Zafón from his his novel The Angel’s Game.

The main pillar of every organised religion, with few exceptions, is the subjugation, repression, even the annulment of women in the group. Women must accept the role of an ethereal, passive and maternal presence, never of authority or independence, or she will have to take the consequences. She might have a place of honour in the symbolism, but not in the hierarchy. Religion and war are male pursuits. And anyhow, woman sometimes ends up becoming the accomplice of her own subjugation.

The Virgin Mary may be revered in the Catholic Church, but she has no authority. Islam goes further than most in repression of women.

The Anglican Church in England has only in the last ten years allowed women priests. It still does not permit women bishops.

In several of his novels, Paulo Coelho discusses the feminine side of God – Brida, By The River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept and The Witch of Portobello.

On his blog, Paulo Coelho has recently initiated a discussion on the feminine face of God.

The Cathars treated women as equals, did not require priests to interceded on their behalf with God. They were exterminated by the Catholic Church. The word becomes flesh and the flesh bleeds.

Hildergard von Bingen touched upon the feminine side.

Jesus treated men and women as his equals. Mary Magdalene was one of his disciples. When the men deserted, the women remained at his side.

Religions rooted in the natural world, have a feminine side, often a Mother God. A Mother God who looks after all the natural world, not a chosen people.

Worshipers may have been cowed into good behaviour by hell and damnation preachers who promised everlasting damnation in hell, but they were not inspired. It is stories that inspire us. Above all else, religious texts are great heroic stories.

One of the greatest story tellers was Jesus. Not the great heroic tales of the Old Testament, simple tales that people could relate to. That more than anything explains his growing band of followers. That and his eclectic tales, tales that do not make sense when looked at with cold logic, more like Zen Buddhism, the sound of one hand clapping. This is not so obvious in Mathew, Mark, Luke and John, but try the Gospel of Thomas.

A Thousand and One Nights kept a sultan captivated.

One of the greatest books of religious prose is the Bhagavad Gita.

A more modern tale is The Alchemist, a modern fable telling us of the quest of Santiago and how he learns to read symbols, learns how to communicate with the Soul of the World. It is the simple nature of this narrative that has made it the most popular novel by Paulo Coelho, whereas in contrast The Witch of Portobello was not as popular, and yet it contains much of the same elements of mysticism.

Follow the discussion of The Alchemist on the blog maintained by Paulo Coelho and note how many people say it inspired them, how many people it changed their lives.

It is part of our genetic makeup that we need narrative. We live through metaphor, that is how we explain and understand the word around us.

In short we all love a good story and religion caters to that need. Furthermore, it is sinners who are converted, not saints.

Religion descends from tragedy into farce

October 27, 2009

Who is a Jew? One sect says you are a Jew if your mother is a Jew. You can have egg, bacon and sausages everyday for breakfast, eat bacon butties for lunch, roast pork Sunday lunchtime, never set foot in a Synagogue, but you are still a Jew if your mother was a Jew. Another sect says you are a Jew if you regularly attend the Synagogue, carry out your obligations.

Who is a Christian? Does being batptised as a baby, Holy Water sprinkled on your head, make you a Christian, even though you may never set foot in a Church again and follow the life of Riley? Or are you a Christian if you attend the Church every Sunday, lead a good Christian life, but may never have been baptised?

Does it matter, does anyone care other than those why like to argue how many angels may dance on the head of a pin?

Unfortunately it does matter to those who may wish to attend a faith-based, taxpayer-funded school.

It matters to one little girl who wanted to attend a Jewish school. She thought she was a Jew, but the school said no. Her mother is a Jew, she converted in Israel, therefore her daughter is a Jew. Or so they thought. The little girl has been brought up believing herself to be a Jew. They are recognised as Jews in Israel. But the Religious Thought Police who the school turned to decided otherwise. The case has gone to the Appeal Court and today is before the Supreme Court.

The school has decided she is not a Jew. Their judgment is handed down by God who told them who is and who is not a Jew.

Jesus, a well-known leader, welcomed all to his side, no one was turned away. But then he too had a little local difficulty with the Religious Thought Police.

If the school is determining who they let in based upon who their Mother is, then they are discriminating on race, which puts them in direct conflict with the Race Relations Act.

Another Jewish school has a different selection criteria. Theirs is a points-based selection process. You earn brownie points by attending the local Synagogue. Even Hindus can attend and get their brownie points. A bit like shopping with your loyalty card, the more you shop, the more points you accrue.

One Jewish school has a Roman Catholic Headmistress!

Are Roman Catholic schools any different? No, you will be questioned on your faith, your church attendance record will be noted.

Tough then on the single Mum with too many kids to cope with who has no time to go to church. Though the very fact of being a single Mum will itself cause problems.

In The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho, Athena struggling to bring up her child, hit problems when the Church found out she was now divorced from her estranged husband and would no longer allow her to participate in the service.

Tough on the football coach who is helping the local youth teams at weekends.

Ah well, I better get back to resolving how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

What is wrong with the church?

October 26, 2009

‘Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite, for he is thy brother; thou shall not abhor an Egyptian, because thou wast a stranger in his land.’ — Holy Bible

‘Political correctness = Church in the Dark Ages. If you don’t follow the rules they burn you.’ — Paulo Coelho

‘God loves all her children, even her straight ones.’ — protester in DC

‘Yes, I believe the words of the Lord to Mary Magdalene to be his most radical utterance. We are family – all of us. We belong in God’s family. There are no outsiders. All are insiders.’ — Archbishop Desmond Tutu

‘Many years ago I was driven to the conclusion that the two major causes of most emotional problems among evangelic Christians are these: the failure to understand, receive, and live out God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness; and the failure to give out that unconditional love, forgiveness, and grace to other people.’ — David Seamands

Listening to the discussion that has been festering for years now in the Anglican Church on homosexuality and women priests, especially that which I have heard in the last few days, I am taken back to the Middle Ages: arcane theological discussions on how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, the burning of heretics at the stake.

What is sorely lacking in the church today is grace.

In What’s So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey discuses a prostitute who to earn the money for her drug habit hired out her two-year-old daughter to men desiring kinky sex. She made more money from her daughter for an hour than she could make in a night, even on a good night. You cannot sink much lower than that in depravity. To try and help her she was asked had she ever thought of turning to the church for help. Her reaction was one of disbelief, were she to turn to the church they would make her feel even worse about herself than she already did as she would not be made welcome.

She was right, she would not have been made welcome.

In The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho, Athena who is searching for spiritual enlightenment is turned away from a part of the church service because she had recently been divorced by her estranged husband. What is more important, compliance with the rules of the Catholic Church than welcoming those in search of Truth before God?

In What’s So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey describes growing up in the Deep South where Blacks were barred from the White-only churches. Now those same churches are thriving with vibrant Black congregations, the difference being all are welcome no matter what the colour of their skin.

At the weekend I heard on the radio a priest complaining about the relaxed attitude of the church, allowing sinners through its doors who had been divorced and dismissing this as political correctness. Clearly he had not come upon grace, let alone been touched by it. We all make mistakes. People marry the wrong person. Are they to spend the rest of their lives in purgatory or are they to be given a second chance? Who was this priest in any case to sit in judgment, is that not reserved for a a higher authority?

Was Jesus not a shepherd? Did he not speak of one lost sheep and when found that one lost sheep was valued more than all the other sheep?

Why the fuss about females in the Church? Are half the human race to be excluded? Or more than half if we exclude gays too?

God is not male or female, God is. God is unknowable. It is only the arrogance of a male dominated society that gives God a male appearance and deigns to call God Him.

Jesus surrounded himself with women. Mary Magdalene was one of his key disciples. It was the women who remained by his side when he was deserted by the cowardly men.

I have come across homosexuals who are tearing themselves to pieces because they feel excluded from a church that means so much to them. What self-appointed right has a handful of bigots to exclude them?

I meet Christians, that is followers of the Church not of Christ, who tell me how they go on Christian holidays, attend Christian conventions. Is this meant to impress me, if yes, then it falls flat on its face. If I go on holiday, or attend meetings, it is, I hope, to meet interesting people, to expand my horizons, not to reinforce my existing prejudices. They listen to Christian music. I listen to good music.

I have heard speakers in church brag of how they preyed on vulnerable students far from home. They were praised. I hung my head in shame. Others told of success in converting Muslims. Then there is the appalling Alpha Course, bums on seats. Has the Church descended to the competition ideology of a Wal-Mart?

The Catholic Church in the guise of the Pope has been quick to offer a lifeline to those Anglicans who lack grace but believe in dogma (they call it tradition). They will be offered an enclave within the Catholic Church, they do not even have to comply with the rules. Amazing how easily dogma can be set aside when it suits. Smacks of hypocrisy to me.

Ritual is important because it gives a sense of meaning, but ritual should never be confused with dogma.

Did Jesus not say: Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Did Jesus himself not stick two fingers up to the church authorities of the day? Was it not he who walked into the Temple and kicked over the tables of the money changers and drove them out with a knotted rope?

Jesus excluded no one: women, children, prostitutes, tax collectors, criminals were all welcome at his side, no one was turned away.

Is the church any different today than seven hundred years ago when in the south of France the Cathars were burnt at the stake for offering a more enlightened Christianity that did not require the intervention of priests? The first Crusades were not against Muslims in the Holy Land, they were against fellow Christians in the south of France.

One of the most moving sermons I heard was from Archbishop Desmond Tutu on a trip to London, and I am very grateful that he kindly gave me a copy. In that sermon everyone was welcome, Blacks and Whites, Gays and Straights.

Would Jesus not look at the Church today and say: It has been a very long time since they allowed me in there.

10,000 hours

October 26, 2009

There are those who are talented, those who work hard, those who are able to sail through, those that no matter how hard they work. Such is the accepted wisdom.

A study was carried out of students at the Academy of Music in Berlin. Violinists were divided into three groups: those who were likely to become a principle violinist or soloist, those who would be good enough to perform professionally in an orchestra, those who would end up as talented amateurs and music teachers. The three groups all started playing violin around the age of five. They all put in around the same hours of practice, two or three hours a week, until they reached the age of eight, then the groups began to diverge. The more ‘talented’ students put in more practice hours, six hours a week at age nine, eight hours a week by age twelve, sixteen hours a week by age fourteen, by the time they reached the age of twenty they were putting in more than 30 hours a week practice, more hours than many put in on their full-time job. By the time they had reached the age of twenty, this select group had each put in over 10,000 hours of practice! By comparison, the middle ranking group 8,000 hours and the group destined to be music teachers 4,000 hours each.

A study comparing professional pianists with amateur pianists revealed similar results. The amateurs rarely practiced more than three hours a week as they were growing up, totaling about 2,000 hours of practice each by the time they reached the age of twenty. The professionals steadily racked up their practice hours as they were growing up so that by the time they had reached the age of twenty they had put in over 10,000 hours of practice each.

What was especially noticeable in both these studies was that there were no ‘natural’ musicians who succeeded due to some innate musical talent, nor were there any ‘grunts’ who no matter how hard they worked, how many hours they put in, did not succeed.

What these two studies appeared to show was that those musicians who made it to the top, did not work harder, or much harder, they worked much, much harder than their contemporaries.

There are though exceptions, Mozart for example, a child prodigy? The earliest pieces attributed to the child prodigy were nothing special, may have been written with the help of his father, may have even been written by his father. His first few concertos were nothing special. Nothing exceptional until he reaches the age of twenty-one, by which time he had been composing for ten years. Mozart did not produce his greatest masterpieces until late in life, by which time he had been composing for more than twenty years.

In the contemporary music scene, we have Lennon and McCartney. Before The Beatles hit America and became an overnight success, they had been playing together for ten years. They played in the Cavern in Liverpool, in the clubs in Hamburg. In Hamburg they were playing eight hours a night for seven days a week! When you play for this length of time, you do not just churn out the same old numbers like clockwork puppets, as I have seen performers in hotels who you could set your watch by depending upon what they are playing, you improvise, you have a vast repertoire.

The Beatles put in 106 nights, five hours or more per night on their first tour in Hamburg, on their second trip 92 nights, their third trip 48 nights, plus two more Hamburg gigs. In total 270 nights in two and a half years. By the time of their first chart success in 1964, they had performed an estimated 1200 times, something most performers do not achieve in their entire career.

Paul McCartney still likes to takes to the road and considers himself to be a rock n roll performer. His classic performance some years back in Moscow live in Red Square.

It is not just The Beatles, take The Rollings Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, David Gilmour (of Pink Floyd). These guys are still on the go. They did not achieve instant stardom on some crap TV programme like X Factor or Pop Idol, they worked the clubs, put in the hours. They played because they enjoyed music, enjoyed performing. The sad thing is that people’s taste has become so dumbed down that they tune into these ghastly TV shows and convince themselves they are seeing talent.

And the problem is made worse by the record industry, now global corporations, where music, or more likely muzak, is a product, the next big act, here today, gone tomorrow. No attempt to nurture talent. Where are the music producers like George Martin? Even most of the music studios are dying and closing down. The music business is dying, but the problem is of course not the greedy industry but those irritating people who persist in downloading off the Internet.

I came across two young lads, Liam and Dylan, playing on the streets of Brighton. I could not believe how good they were. They were attracting a sizable audience. And why were they playing on the street? Practice.

I find guys who go by the name of Jon’s Jam playing in a pub. Some times they are great, sometimes they are crap, it depends upon who is playing. They are just bunch of guys who get together in a pub to play their music.

What is true of the music industry is also true of the book publishing world. Gone are the publishers with an interest in literature, if the names survive at all it is as an imprint of a global corporation where a book has become a product. The same is true of bookshops.

There are writers who have, despite the odds in today’s commercial world, succeeded through talent and word of mouth. Monica Lewycka started writing poetry when she was four years old, she never gave up her dream of being a writer. Paulo Coelho always dreamed of being a writer, the dream survived being placed in a mental institution for the insane, he worked as a music producer, wrote lyrics for top ten hits, eventually he was recognised.

Many other writers have followed this path, have not written what fashion or money dictates, have not tried to write the next me-too Da Vinci Code, have written often quite quirky novels or at least novels that are different, but have succeeded, more often than not spread by word of mouth.

A study was carried out of top hockey players in Canada. Something strange emerged. Their birthdays were not randomly distributed throughout the year, but instead fell under certain star signs. Aha, think astrologers, the planetary alignments …

But no, it was not astrology. The kids were picked at an early age to play in their local teams. The deciding factor was their age. The older kids had a head start. Had the younger ones been born that little bit later, they would have had a head start as the oldest kids in the following year. Those picked out get more coaching, get to play more often. From these teams kids are selected out for the next level, better coaching, more practice and so it goes on until by the time they are in national teams they have put in far more practice than anyone one else and had the best coaching available.

If we look at key players in the computer industry we find something very curious: Bill Joy (Unix, Sun Microsystems, 1954) Bill Gates (Microsoft, 1955), Scott McNealy (Sun Microsystems, 1954), Vinhod Khosla, (Sun Microsystems, 1955), Andy Bechtolsheim (Sun Microsystems, 1955), Eric Schmidt (Novell Networks, Google, 1955), Paul Allan (Microsoft, 1953), Steve Ballmer (Microsoft, 1956), Steve Jobs, (Apple, 1955). All were born 1955 or the years clustering around 1955! What is special about those years, something they were putting in the water, planets in alignment?

The answer it turns out is what they had access to. All had access to very powerful computers or in the case of Steve Jobs, the components.

It was not until I started writing and noting these dates I realised something. I too had access during the same critical period, late 1960s early 1970s, to very powerful computers, or for their day, very powerful computers. I also, like Steve Jobs, had access to the components, not just comments but the parts. Access in itself was not enough, it was what you then did. I was at an early age building crystal sets (radios) then a five-valve short wave radio. When I should have been studying, or at the very least sleeping, I was programming a very powerful computer, something that few people had access to, though I did not know that at the time. I was designing and running games, later I designed one of the first anti-virus packages. A decade later I did a a Masters Degree. I used to have long discussions with a professor of Software Engineering, the techniques I read in papers of learned journals I had already developed and was using. When I wrote code, if it were it printed, it had the elegance of esoteric poetry, if not, I used to rewrite it.

I no longer write software, never worked directly in the field, but when I talk with software designers, I find I have forgotten more than they seem to know. I still write, but not in C or other computer code, not software, I write, only the language used has changed.

1955 was the year. Born earlier and you would probably be working at IBM, with a wife and family and mortgage, a comfortable life and unwilling to take risks. Born later and the opportunity was gone.

Being in the right place at the right time is not enough, it is knowing how to take advantage of the opportunities life offers, willing to take risks, take the path less travelled. Some people are regarded as lucky. No, it is like Santiago in The Alchemist, knowing how to read symbols, understand the language of the Soul of the World.

Charles Darwin happened to be in the right place at the right time, but he also knew how to grasp the opportunities that life gave him, plus he had put in the hours of work that enabled him to recognise and tie together what was before him.

Look at any top ranking sportsmen, be they tennis player, footballer or boxer, then look at the hours they put in each day on training. Steve Redgrave is the only person to have won gold medals in five consecutive Olympic Games. He retired because he no longer wished to put in the hours of training.

As the old adage goes: practice makes perfect.

A private library

October 23, 2009
Guildford Institute Library

Guildford Institute Library

A history of the  Guildford Institute

A history of the Guildford Institute

One of the best kept secrets in Guildford is a private library, part of the Guildford Institute.

I happened to be passing by, saw the door was open, and walked in. I was welcomed with open arms. It was an open day for members and no one had turned up. A couple of members did then drop by to return books, pleased to find it was open. Then one member actually turned up for the open day.

Remember those old secondhand bookshops where no ever bought any books (probably why they no longer exist), but you could spend hours engaged in interesting conversations? If yes, then you have a pretty good idea of this little private library.

I happened to be in Guildford for an event that evening, part of the Guildford Book Festival. Open day in the private library could therefore be seen as a non-festival book event. I suggested that next year they become part of the official book festival, hold an open day for the public. You never know, they may even recruit a few new members.

The library holds an important collection of Victorian books. This also includes Victorian periodicals including Punch, The Illustrated London News, The Graphic, The Engineer and The Studio. The library also houses an important local history collection. The library is not though stuck in the past. Each month it adds the best in contemporary fiction, plus non-fiction and biographies.

The library is open to non-members, but only members may borrow its books.

Not content with one of the best keep secrets in Guildford, the Guildford Institute has two of the best keep secrets. The other is the excellent lunches served during term time.

Established in 1843, the Guildford Institute is now run by volunteers. Its library dates back to the 19th century. What was the original library, and now used for talks and lunches, often hosts exhibitions.

Eyewitness account of Tiananmen Square

October 23, 2009
Beijing Coma by Ma Jian

Beijing Coma by Ma Jian

Twenty years ago, 4 June 1989, a date written into history in blood, the tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square and crushed the pro-democracy protesters. Although there has been some economic reform, nothing has really changed, political dissent is crushed.

Tibet is an open air prison, the country is raped and pillaged for its mineral wealth.

What then is the reaction of the West? A deafening silence. So long as China keeps the West supplied with cheap consumer goods the response will continue to be silence. Occasional a murmur is raised about China’s massive CO2 emissions, conveniently forgetting that China is one huge offshore manufacturing plant for the West.

Guildford Book Festival is a major event on the book and literary scene. Amnesty International always host an event as part of the book festival. This year they invited Ma Jian to talk about what he saw 20 years ago. The venue was St Nicolas Church Parish Room on the banks of the River Wey in Guildford.

Ma Jian was an eyewitness to the massacre and the blood that flowed in Tiananmen Square. He has woven his eyewitness account into a novel, Beijing Coma. Ten years in the writing, he was inspired to write this novel by what happened to his brother, injured in Tiananmen Square, turned into a vegetable.

In Beijing Coma we see what happened in Tiananmen Square through the eyes of a student. Shot in the back of the head, he lies in a coma. Through the thoughts that run through his head, we learn what happened on that fateful day, 4 June 1989.

Through his interpreter, Ma Jian emphasised again and again the importance of collective memory, that what happened in Tiananmen Square should not be lost or forgotten. Beijing Coma is his attempt to record those events less we forget.

Ma Jian had been at the Frankfurt Bookfair. Apart from his own book, not a single book on the Tiananmen Square massacre. The Chinese writers he spoke to were in a state of denial.

The dissent in China had been building up a couple of years before the Tiananmen Square massacre. He himself had been arrested. He had been released and told to quietly disappear.

Ma Jian has a friend in China from his student days, now a wealthy lawyer. Not once has his friend mentioned to his family what happened in Tiananmen Square.

Several days before, 5,000 students had been in the square. they knew nothing of democracy. They had gone to university libraries to read the US Constitution. Ma Jian corrected one misconception. It was not a student revolt. It was a people’s revolt. There were writers, there was even policemen joining in. When students marched into the square they were stopped by policemen. The policemen were unarmed, they were laughing, they let the students pass. It was a party atmosphere.

Soldiers he has spoken to said they all had their orders, where to be and when. Beijing was ringed by over a thousand tanks. The People’s Liberation Army rolled into the square, they opened fire with guns and tanks. People were crushed, had arms ripped off by passing tanks, those escaping down side alleys were running past dead bodies lying in the street. There were rumours of dead bodies piled up.

What then took place was mass brain washing. To keep their jobs, people were required to write an essay denouncing the demonstrators, praising the reaction of the government. No one dared discuss or raise what had taken place. Tiananmen Square has been wiped from the collective consciousness. The young are not even aware of what took place, and if it is raised with them the reaction is one of disbelief.

Ma Jian has been back to China. He is followed wherever he goes. He is not allowed to talk to dissidents.

Repression and persecution of dissidents is widespread. Tiananmen Square may not be mentioned, nor the date 4 June, which is tough luck on anyone on which that date is their birthday!

An editor in a provincial newspaper permitted a brief paragraph on Tiananmen Square, but only because she had not heard of it before and so did not know the significance. She was immediately fired as was the editor-in-chief. A TV channel streamed a channel from Hong Kong. They overlooked a 20 second mention of Tiananmen Square, for this oversight, senior management lost their jobs.

There was minor window dressing during the Olympic Games. Access to the BBC website was permitted. Once the Games were over and the western media went home, the shutters came back down and the websites were blocked. There are more policemen patrolling the Internet than patrolling the streets!

Ma Jian compared China with George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four. China has recently celebrated 50 years of Communist rule. The focus was on recent years, 30 years of rule under Chairman Mao is being wiped from the collective memory.

The situation is very similar to Iran, another totalitarian state. The young have no knowledge of what happened during the overthrow of the Shah. Attempts are being made to wipe from the collective memory the brutal killing of Neda, an innocent girl who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

That is why it is so important to keep alive the memory of events like Tiananmen Square, if not we are less as human beings.

China is called upon to: recognise and acknowledge that the Tiananmen Square massacre took place, to release all political prisoners, allow public debate of this terrible event in Chinese history.

A writer never forgets …

October 21, 2009

‘A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story. He will never forget the sweet poison of vanity in his blood, and the belief that, if he succeeds in not letting anyone discover his lack of talent, the dream of literature will provide him with a roof over his head, a hot meal at the end of the day, and what he covets the most: his name printed on a miserable piece of paper that surely will outlive him. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price.’ — Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Angel’s Game

The Angel’s Game, the latest novel from Carlos Ruiz Zafón is, like The Shadow of the Wind, set in Barcelona.

Paulo Coelho t-shirts from Mango

October 20, 2009
Priya sher – Paulo Coelho t-shirt from Mango

Priya sher – Paulo Coelho t-shirt from Mango

In the spring Mango launched an exclusive range of Paulo Coelho t-shirts. Such is the magic of the magician that within days the t-shirts were the No 1 best selling item in Mango shops worldwide and shortly thereafter they sold out.

In a strange ironic twist, life imitating art, the launch of the Paulo Coelho t-shirts coincided with worldwide publication of The Winner Stands Alone, a damning indictment of the world of fashion and film and the cult of celebrity!

This autumn Mango has launched a second collection of exclusive Paulo Coelho t-shirts. These are already selling out.

All monies raised from the sale of the Paulo Coelho t-shirts goes towards supporting the Paulo Coelho Institute in Rio.

Please support the Love Fashion Hate Sweatshops campaign.

This evening The Witch of Portobello has its world premier at the Rome International Film Festival.

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