Thinking of Kareem Abdul Jabbar on Black History Month

Rafe Bartholomew talking about the Filipino passion for basketball that inspired his book Pacific Rims Can't see the video? View it on YouTube

Several people here in London have told me that their children have taken up basketball after reading Tall Story.

Wow! It thrills me that I might have shared something of Philippine culture to my young readers. I know, I know, basketball is an American game for tall people that might not suit a country of such diminutive stature. But it's a Filipino passion. (watch the video above)

One friend said her seven-year-old son (seven!) has read Tall Story twice and was so taken by the basketball subplot that he has taken up basketball. Someone asked him to name his favourite player.

He replied without a pause: "Kareem Abdul Jabbar!"

(If you haven't read Tall Story yet, a key character is such a mad fan of Kareem Abdul Jabbar  (pictured left) that he takes to calling himself Jabby)

The someone was impressed. Fancy a seven year old, English boy naming a player from the 1970s!

When I was writing Tall Story, I needed a hero for my basketball-mad characters. I couldn't pick a current basketball star because that would date my novel before it's even been published.

So I went through the players who were such a part of the game's history, they would never be forgotten. and ultimately picked Kareem Abdul Jabbar (the seven foot two inch Laker who invented the dunk and the sky hook - see a video). Michael Jordan is in Tall Story too, but that's another blog post.

It just so happens that it's Black History Month in the UK.  Not to be confused with Black History Month in the United States which is celebrated in February.  Setting aside a month to remember the contributions of a racial group leads to some controversy - shouldn't black history be part of the mainstream?

But let someone else work that out. I wholeheartedly subscribe to the month's good intentions. Heck, Tall Story's big idea is what this month is all about: It's not how you look but what's inside that counts.

Browsing through Kareem Abdul Jabbar's website, I found a video in which he uncannily articulates something my eight foot tall character Bernardo would say:
When somebody asks how tall I am I hope they realize that it's not what's on the surface that makes a person stand tall. It's what's below the surface. It's not the colour of the balloon that makes it go up. It's what's on the inside that makes it rise. Consequently it's my humble desire that world will see me not as seven feet two inches tall but seven feet two inches deep. Wanna be inspired? Watch Kareem give a talk at the TED conference
Footnote: the last time I visited the Philippines I discovered that the word jabbar has become part of teen slang - when someone says (and I'm very roughly translating Tagalog here): "Whew! That game was so fast I'm totally jabbared!", the verb jabbar refers to armpit sweat stains! Who would've thought?

Health and safety or clever comment? Ai Weiwei's sunflower seed debacle at the Tate Modern

"Are you sure it's not deliberate?"

That was my reaction when I heard that the spectacular sunflower seed installation by Chinese conceptual artist Ai Weiwei has been cordoned off for health and safety reasons.

View amazing photos of the original, uncordoned installation here

It's an installation of 100 million sunflower seeds each hand-crafted  in porcelain and painted by a Chinese worker - "an image of globalisation both politically powerful and hauntingly beautiful" writes Adrian Searle in a five star Guardian review.

When Mao was in power sunflowers were ubiquitous features on propaganda posters, with Mao as the sun to which the flowers all turned.

There are a lot of tongues tsk-tsking that British obsession with health and safety has ruined the interactive nature of Weiwei's installation.

But has it?

Seems to me it adds another layer to the piece.

Here is a roomful of sunflower seeds, made in China. I grew up in Southeast Asia, and to me the installation represents the collective identity - the We mentality of the East contrasted against the Me-myself-and-I of the West.

When the barriers went up, I wondered if this was what Weiwei intended - to represent the Western response to such a show of collectivity.

Far from being a disappointment the health and safety barriers represent the ultimate in interactivity - revealing how one culture processes another.

Perhaps Weiwei planned it all along.

Auto-tuning the news - how marvelous!

My blogs gone quiet ... that's because I'm writing hard - gotta turn my new novel in before Christmas! But until I get back to ya, I still hope to post a few ...

My friend Addy Farmer (author of Siddharth and Rinki) told me about this amazing new mash-up craze of auto-tuning news reports like this:

... into edgy music like this:

I am constantly astonished and thrilled by the creativity that comes out of the internet - but mashups like these underline the need to redefine copyright, intellectual property and all our conceptions of ownership to keep the creativity coming.

More good stuff - a youtube video of a guy going mental over a double rainbow ... here's the auto-tune:

Thanks Freya Townley for supplying the links!

ADD: SCBWI friend Mio Debnam sent me this one - so cool!

Here's the news report it's based on.