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OpenLearn Live: 18th September 2015

Updated Friday 18th September 2015

A 78 day stand-off, a rugby kick-off, and more free learning during the day.

OpenLearn Live is a collection of interesting and intriguing items linking the real world to the world of learning and research. This page will be updated during the day, and you can follow us on Twitter.

Yesterday, we discovered where you can study Viking, heard about de-extinction and caught up with the science of earthquakes

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Today's Posts

What is the haka?

Let's round off the week with a little more rugby. Have you ever wondered about the haka? Wonder no more...

The haka is not only renowned across the sporting world for sending shivers down the opposition’s spine; it is also very much part of the social and cultural fabric of New Zealand. The haka is in the veins of every Kiwi – young and old. It makes up our Mauri (life) and ora (force).

Inter-tribally, Māori people traditionally competed for control over land, or to use utu (exact revenge) to maintain a sense or tribal equilibrium. This competitive nature, although an important aspect of a tribe’s ability to earn respect and mana (prestige) over land they lived on, usually did not surpass the need to achieve a common ground to work together, and to co-exist.

Haka, like any other ritual preparing a tribe for war, was an expression of one’s strength, pride and unity. Such was the influence of haka that it was not unusual to see children mimicking many of the actions. It was also an enjoyable pastime to see who could perform the fiercest pukana (protruding of the tongues and eyes) and to act out the moves in every manner thinkable. Haka also helped many children to improve their physical skills and prowess including balance, hand and eye co-ordination, dexterity and poise under pressure.

Read: What is the haka?

How did Jeremy Corbyn do at PMQs?

We've been following his ascent to lead the Labour Party across the summer - but now Jeremy Corbyn has landed the job, how will he get on? Charles Lees rates his first Prime Ministers Questions peformance:

The use of questions from the public helped Corbyn, since Cameron could not mock him without, by implication, mocking Maria or Paul as well. However, this newly deliberative style also sapped the exchange of energy – and the need to cycle through several publicly submitted questions meant Corbyn had little time to follow up Cameron’s often evasive answers.

Read: Has Jeremy Corbyn changed PMQs

New Pluto photos

Dave Rothery explores a new collection of photos from Pluto - they're beautiful, but what do they tell us?

View, 350km wide, including a dark area at the south-western edge of Tombaugh Regio. Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Read: What do the latest pictures of Pluto tell us?

On iPlayer now: Calculating Ada

Did you miss last night's documentary about Ada Lovelace, the woman who spotted the potential of computing? Don't worry - thanks to the work of those who followed in her wake, you can use your computer to catch up, right here, on the internet.

Watch Calculating Ada: The Countess of Computing on iPlayer

Find out more about Calculating Ada

Join us for a 19th Century visit to Ada's memorial in Leicestershire

The scary clown that gives us hope

As part of the week exploring intelligent machines, BBC Radio 4's Today programme yesterday used a compelling but unsettling image to explain why artificial intelligence might not ever replace us:

Read: Should robots have rights?


A regular Friday second-chance to catch up with some of what we've been looking at this week:

The big kick-off

Today marks the start of the Rugby World Cup, six weeks of scrums, conversions and passing. We'll be exploring rugby over the next few weeks here on OpenLearn, but to kick you off, here's some pieces you might like to dip into while waiting for the first scrumdown:

The first clash between England and Wales at rugby came in 1881. It's perhaps fair to say that Wales' future as a prominent rugby nation wasn't entirely clear on the day:

The weather, although dull, was by no means unfavourable, and the ground of the Blackheath Football Club proved in excellent condition; but the game was one of very disappointing character on account of its one-sidedness.

Read Match report: England versus Wales

Things would improve for Wales quickly, though, and now the sport is a national obsession. Gareth Williams explains the passion:

Certainly by the time when Wales won the first rugby triple crown when they beat the other three countries, England, Scotland and Ireland, for the first time in 1893, there was a strong working class complexion to the Welsh National Fifteen which marked it out as different from the other national sides, which were predominantly middle class and professional men, not professional in the playing sense but they were financially independent. They were doctors, accountants, surveyors and so forth. I think then there's a distinctive characteristic to Welsh rugby, which was resented, it must be said, by the other home unions. 

Listen to Wales and Rugby

Rugby is a contact sport, and like many contact sports, sometimes those contacts can be a little harsh. Is it possible to make the sport safer, without removing the appeal? Peter Milburn is optimistic:

The high average number of high-energy impact events in a game demonstrates the dynamic and physical nature of both rugby codes and helps explain the high level of attrition experienced by players. As players get bigger [External link]  , train more intensively and get faster, the collisions are going to get harder.

Sports administering bodies must therefore improve their management of collision events, particularly at the lower playing levels, where players are less mature or not as well prepared physically for the demands of the game. This can be done by teaching and enforcing correct technique.

Increased muscular development allows players to better resist force and is something all players can easily attain. But it can also make them heavier and faster, so the impact forces can be greater. Ironically, it is the most highly trained, strongest and fittest players who are most frequently injured because of the increased collision energy.

Read Can rugby be made safer - and still be rugby?

This is 1990: The Oka stand-off and the Seton Portage blockade

This week, we've been starting off with some the events from 1990 which won't appear in Shane Meadows' This Is England 1990. If you've not had a chance to read any yet, here's what you've missed so far:

To end this week looking back at 1990, we're going to revisit an event in Canadian history which saw a clash between the state and First Nations people, the Oka Crisis.

First Nationers from the Seton Lake Indian Band blockade the BC Rail line in support of Oka, while an RCMP officer looks on Copyright free image Icon Copyright free: Dtaw2001 A scene from the Seton blockade

Land ownership in Canada was, and remains, an area of conflict, as competing claims of settlers and aboriginal people are played out in both legal and physical spaces. The 1990 crisis focused on land alongside the town of Oka. Until 1990, Oka's main claim to fame was being the home of Oka cheese, made by monks since 1893; the conflict in 1990 would shift that assocation.

In 1977, Mohawks living on the neighbouring Kanesatake reserve had filed a claim of ownership over a portion of land between the town and the reserve; the claim took nine years to be processed and was eventually disallowed on the basis of problems with the paperwork. The Mohawks, however, didn't withdraw their interest in the land, which included burial grounds.

The flashpoint came when the town announced plans to extend a golf course and build housing on this parcel in 1989. At the start of the summer in 1990, as development work was about to start, Mohawks blocked the roads leading to the site. Oka mayor Jean Ouellette called for the Quebec state police - the Sûreté du Québec [SQ] - to be sent in to break up the blockade.

The SQ's heavy-handed attempts to clear the site on July 11th included the use of tear gas and flash grenades; the resulting chaos saw guns being fired which resulted in the death of SQ Corporal Marcel Lemay (there remains a dispute over from where the fatal shot came). The security forces pulled back and set up a roadblock. In response, the Mohawks blockaded the Mercier Bridge, cutting off the south shore properties from the Island of Montreal.

With the authorities having lost control of the situation, The Royal Canadian Mounted Police [RCMP] were sent in to take charge. They, too, failed to break the protestors - although they had more success in quelling a related protest at the nearby Seton Portage railway line. On August 14th, clashes between the two sides led to the police again losing control of the situation.

Even before the scuffles of the 14th, Quebec's Premier Robert Bourassa had been seeking intervention from the army. Canada's Prime Minister Brian Mulroney had been reluctant, haunted by memories of 1970's October Crisis, but it was now obvious that armed force was going to be deployed. Canada's Royal 22nd Regiment arrived on the scene on August 20th. The troops encircled the protesters with barbed wire, and the two sides came to a stand-off, tense but mostly peaceful, five metres apart.

Faced with overwhelming force, the Mohawks started to negotiate a settlement - although some continued with the protests. On September 25th, an attempt to disrupt the military cordon by some of the protesters led to use of a pretty feeble water canon; the situation again escalted quickly, before the Mohawks burned their weapons as a signal the protest was over.

As part of the negotiated deal, the blockade was lifted - but Oka abandoned the golf course plans.

As a response to the 78 day stand-off, Canada was forced to think again about how police interacted with First Nations people - resulting in a First Nations Policing Policy, an attempt to find a way to provide all Canadian citizens with equal access to, and treatment from, police services.

However, the outcome for the Mohawk of Kanesatake wasn't a happy one. The Canadian Broadcaster, CBC, reported earlier this year:

The current grand chief in Kanesatake says that while the Mohawk Warriors might have inspired people around the world, the aftermath of the crisis led to the "social disintegration of the community."

Serge Simon said it has taken a generation for people to overcome the trauma of the crisis and band council politics have only recently started to calm down after years of tension and sometimes violence between community members.

The land at the centre of the crisis remains disputed.

Interested in First Nations experiences? Watch our series Mi'kmaq: First Nation people 

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