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OpenLearn Live: 19th February 2016

Updated Friday 19th February 2016

A place where - perhaps - people lived 50,000 years ago; EU renegotiation and the life of Harper Lee. Free learning from across the day.

OpenLearn Live is the place where free learning connects with your life. This page will be updated during the day.

Yesterday, we were tempted to visit space, explained joint enterprise, caught up with swine flu and spoke about mental health words

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Today's posts


EU renegotiation: a short reading list

As the negotiations over the terms on which the UK is a member of the EU drift into the weekend, here's a quick reading list:

Igor Merheim-Eyre asks if it's so bad for Britain to want different things:

Today, the EU lacks leadership. Frustration is growing within the union and the group is failing to make a positive impact beyond its own borders. Brexit, Grexit, economic stagnation, youth unemployment and uncontrolled migration – all are threatening this partnership.

At the core of this problem is the fundamentally dangerous belief that the EU can become some kind of a promised land. In fact, too few people are actually questioning the EU integration project as an end in itself – its aims, its intentions and, above all, the impact on those “creative efforts” that Schuman argued had to be at the heart of European integration.

Yves Petit shares a view from France:

Are we in the rest of Europe not entitled to say that the UK is not a full member state – that it has one foot in the European Union and one foot out?

February’s draft decision of the heads of state and government, reached by the European Council regarding a new arrangement for the UK, is instructive in this regard. It lays out the extent to which the UK has already been accommodated within the union.

At Politico, Vince Chadwick says insiders say the UK reforms could unpick the entire Union:

Seventy-seven leading European and American policymakers in POLITICO’s Caucus expressed deep misgivings about the prime minister’s attempt to win new terms for U.K. membership of the EU, and faulted him for mishandling the negotiations.

“He seems to think that when he’s at home, no one in Europe hears what he says!” said one Caucus participant.

But the New York Times has the real issue that's at heart of the UK being out of step with our European neighbours:

Tesco, Britain’s largest supermarket chain and a bellwether of sorts for popular tastes, is dispensing with the traditional curved pastry as of Friday and instead will sell only straight ones.

The company offered a decidedly British rationale: It is easier to spread jam on the straight variety.

The banishing of the crescent-shaped croissant spurred no shortage of dismay on both sides of the English Channel.

“Is this a foretaste of Brexit?” an article in the French newspaper 20 Minutes asked, referring to the possibility that British voters might decide in a referendum to leave the European Union. The newspaper added that it appeared that Tesco’s move was not done “to antagonize the French (well, not solely).”


Participation Now

If you've not visited our Participation Now site recently, it's worth a quick visit as we've added some new grassroots iniatives to the collection - including a gathering of hackers, a virtual orchestra and more.

Visit Participation Now


Harper Lee, 1926-2016

The death has been announced this afternoon of Harper Lee, author of the classic To Kill A Mockingbird and the controversial Go Set A Watchman.

Richard Gray explores her life:

Harper Lee was born Nelle Lee in the small town of Monroe, Alabama in 1926. Her father, Amasa Coleman Lee, was a lawyer who, among other things, defended two African Americans accused of murdering a white storekeeper. Given the racist attitudes prevalent in the South at that time, it must have come as no surprise to anyone when the two men were found guilty, despite serious doubts over the evidence, and hanged.

Lee was a tomboy as a child. (Yes, To Kill a Mockingbird is deeply autobiographical). She then developed an interest in English literature as a school and college student. Moving to New York in 1949, she worked in various jobs and spent her spare time writing several long short stories, none of which were published.

Read the full article: Harper Lee's life

OpenLearn Live marked the publication of Go Set A Watchman on July 15th, 2015


A week in South Carolina: Allendale

This week, as South Carolina prepares to cast votes in the US Presidential Primaries, we've been exploring some places in, and stories from, the state.

If you've missed any, here's the week so far:

We're rounding off the week in Allendale County.

A firework stand near Allendale, South Carolina Creative commons image Icon Bill Herndon under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 license A firework stand in Allendale

Allendale - the county seat - might not seem to be the most attractive of towns. Paul Theroux visited a few years ago, and his description in the Smithsonian magazine is unlikely to be quoted on the town's website:

Approaching the outskirts of Allendale I had a sight of doomsday, one of those visions that make the effort of travel worthwhile. It was a vision of ruin, of decay and utter emptiness; and it was obvious in the simplest, most recognizable structures—motels, gas stations, restaurants, stores—all of them abandoned to rot, some of them so thoroughly decayed that all that was left was the great concrete slab of the foundation, stained with oil or paint, littered with the splinters of the collapsed building, a rusted sign leaning. Some were brick-faced, others made of cinder blocks, but none was well made and so the impression I had was of astonishing decrepitude, as though a war had ravaged the place and killed all the people.

The visit stayed with him; he referred to it when discussing aid programmes with Gadling magazine. He wasn't condemning the place or the people, but angry that it had been left to decay:

But for some reason, the romance of building a school in Africa is greater than the obligation we have to build a school in rural Alabama. And there are some very bad schools there. There are parts of South Carolina that look like Zimbabwe. Allendale, which is a town south of Columbia, where I spent some time recently, is one. There’s no employment. Everything is closed. Local industry has been outsourced.

Allendale might be on hard times now, but it has had an impressive past - it was home to Virginia Durant Young, who campaigned strongly for female suffrage in South Carolina during the 1890s. Suffragists had to face many arguments against their cause around the world; Durant Young's campaign struggled against the objection that many polling places at the time were in dives and bars. Not only were matters of government too difficult for ladies, it seems, but the very location of the ballot boxes would be a challenge to their delicate constitutions.

For the most amazing stories from Allendale, though, you have go deeper into the county. There are chert quarries around here - chert is a bit like flint, but not quite as durable; still good enough, though, for making arrowheads and rudimentary tools; nowadays, it's mostly used as aggregate.

The quarries, though, open the ground up for inspection, and often where there is quarrying there are also archaeological digs. One here, at the Topper Site, has been the subject of much debate. In 2004, a team on a dig believed they'd found evidence of human occupation of the area which dated back 50,000 years. This was substantially earlier than the previous date of first Americans, who had believed to have crossed the frozen Bering Strait from Russia to Alaska.

The conclusions have been criticised - both the accuracy of the carbon dating and whether the discoveries were of human origin were questioned. But this dig, and others, have unearthed evidence of 'Clovis' people in the area around 16,000 years ago.

Other discoveries in the area - of microscopic spherules - in the same strata as the Clovis finds - have led to a theory that these first Americans may have been wiped out as the result of an meteorite strike 12,900 years ago.

It's harsh for a place which Paul Theroux feels looks as if it has been the site of a mass extinction to appear to have hosted one thousands of years earlier, suggesting that Allendale might not be the luckiest of counties. So, to end on a more positive note, in recent years an attempt to attract tourism has been built around the concept of the "Thouroughbred Country", a stretch of South Carolina which has strong historic links to horse breeding. Under the slogan "more than just horses", the campaign takes the turbulent past and beautiful surroundings of the area of the state, and attempts to build a future which exploits the past.

Watch our guide to archaeology

Try our Meteoric game

 

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