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OpenLearn Live: 19th August 2016

Updated Friday, 19th August 2016

The poles that allow athletes to vault; and 25 years on from the Soviet Coup. Free learning from across the day.

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OpenLearn Live links learning and research into the the things that matter to you. This page will be updated during the day.

Yesterday, we heard why Australia burns, heard about an attempt to identify dead soldiers from the Second World War, and caught up with the new Park Hill

On this day last year: an engineering podcast, the tree that killed Marc Bolan and creativity and language

See the complete collection of OpenLearn Live

Today's posts

Two passports

Some people hold dual nationality - perhaps born in the UK, but a citizen of the US; or Indian by birth but Australian by naturalisation. It's not always popular with the states of which one may be a national - as a new history of dual nationality by Peter J Spiro shows. At Home in Two Countries: The Past and Future of Dual Citizenship is reviewed at the LSE book blog by Madeline McSherry:

Throughout it all, Spiro’s premise is clear: dual citizenship has become an important social and political reality—‘a commonplace of globalization’. Even during the hot and cold wars of the mid-twentieth century when policymakers despised it most, dual citizenship was on the rise. But the negative stigma that developed around the status back then, fuelled by fears of disloyalty and images of two-faced Cold War spies, remains in part today.

But, as Spiro points out, the threat has always been overstated. During the Cold War, not one major espionage case involved a dual citizen. And today, as interstate conflict becomes less common, competing state allegiances can seem a trivial concern. Even in the context of US counter-terrorism, where anxieties about dual nationals have resurfaced with the rise of the so-called ‘Islamic State’, Spiro argues convincingly that dual citizenship does not pose an increased threat. He explains that if the government ‘knew enough about a U.S. citizen’s complicity with ISIS to strip him of his citizenship’, it would certainly know enough to intervene and prevent a terrorist attack.

Yet Spiro’s argument goes a step further: dual citizenship is not just a benign reality; it also serves states’ national interests. Acquiring formal nationality can help immigrants assimilate into their new state. It may also put them in a position to help spread their new culture back home. For states with large immigrant populations like the US, this may mean the expansion of US values abroad—a free form of soft power and a simpler way to spread the ideals of a free-market democracy than invasion (see Iraq, 2003).

Read the full review at the LSE: Book Review: At Home in Two Countries: The Past and Future of Dual Citizenship by Peter J. Spiro

Engin Isin on Citizens Without Borders

The Soviet Coup 25 years on

Mikhail Gorbachev Creative commons image Icon Yuryi Abramochkin / Юрий Абрамочкин under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license Mikhail Gorbachev Twenty-five years ago today, the rumblings of discontent with the leadership of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev broke out into a full-on coup attempt.

As the BBC News report explains, this wasn't an event which came completely out of nowhere. Gorbachev knew he was unpopular, as he wryly observed to John Major:

For ordinary people, economic upheaval was beginning to make life unbearable.

Mr Gorbachev took the brunt of their rage.

Sir John Major, British prime minister at the time, recalls Mr Gorbachev wryly recounting a joke.

"He smiled and told me the following story: there was a food shortage in Moscow and people were queuing for bread. They'd been queuing a long time and they were getting very irritated.

"And one man turned in the queue to his neighbour and said: 'I'm fed up with this, I blame Gorbachev, I'm going to kill Gorbachev,' and off he went. He came back two days later and the people in the queue said: 'Did you kill Gorbachev?' 'No,' he replied 'The queue to kill Gorbachev was just too long'."

For Political Psychology, Michael D. Wallace, Peter Suedfeld and Kimberly A. Thachuk described the events of August 1991:

[I]nternal opposition to the parturient Union Treaty was growing rapidly among hardliners; in July a powerful group of old guard Communists denounced the treaty and reforms in general, while a group of reformers led by Shevardnadze launched their own indepndent reformist political party.

The simultaneous promulgation of the Union Treaty and the ill-timed departure of Gorbachev for a vacation in the Crimea provoked the final crisis. A group of dissident minsiters, led by Prime Minister Pavlov, announced that they had transferred power to a "Committee for the State of Emergency in the USSR" owing to orbachev's "poor health". But within days, the coupe attempt had collapsed under the weight of popular defiance led by Yeltson, and Gorbachev returned to Moscow in triumph.

Writing in The Journal of Peace Research, Jonathan M Powell & Clayton L Thyne position the coup as not-really-successful, falling short by four days:

We now differentiate between failed and successful efforts. Many coup attempts are quickly put down by the government, making them easy to code as failures. Others are much more ambiguous. Leaders of the 1991 Soviet coup attempt managed to depose President Gorbachev for three days, but it would be difficult to call this a successful attempt overall. Many scholars have followed Thompson in considering a coup to be successful if the ‘postcoup ruling arrangement’ remains in place for at least a week. Our definition remains consistent with this one-week threshold. A coup attempt is thus defined as successful if the perpetrators seize and hold power for at least seven days.

Michael Mandelbaum, in Foreign Affairs, surveys the mess that was left by the collapse of the coup:

On August 24, 1991, three days after the collapse of an attempted coup by a group of high Soviet officials in Moscow, Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev killed himself in his Kremlin office. Mikhail Gorbachev's special advisor on military affairs left a suicide note: "Everything I have worked for is being destroyed."


In the wake of the failed coup, [the Army, the Communist Party and the USSR] were disintegrating.

The armed forces were divided and disgraced. Entire units had refused to take part in the coup. A number of the troops sent to beseige the Russian parliament building [...] defected to Yeltsin's side. Yevgeny Shaposhinikov, the newly apponted minister, announced that 80 per cent of the army's officers would be replaced because they were politically suspect.

The Communist Party was shattered. As jubilant crowds cheered, statues of communist heroes were pulled down all over Moscow.

And the USSR? As the Cold War Museum records, that had only months left to survive - as did Gorbachev's presidency itself:

After the failed coup attempt, it was only a few months until the Soviet Union completely collapsed. Both the government and the people realized that there was no way to turn back the clock; the massive demonstrations of the “August days” had demonstrated that the population would accept nothing less than democracy. Gorbachev conceded power, realizing that he could no longer contain the power of the population. On December 25, 1991, he resigned. By January of 1992, by popular demand, the Soviet Union ceased to exist. In its place, a new entity was formed. It was called the “Commonwealth of Independent Republics,” and was composed of most of the independent countries of the former Soviet Union. While the member countries had complete political independence, they were linked to other Commonwealth countries by economic, and, in some cases, military ties.

A footnote, from the eulogy delivered at the memorial for Cambridge University's Graham Smith, who died in 1999:

We recall your enthusiasm for political geography, your determination to develop a distinctively geographical approach to the study of the political systems of Russia and Eastern Europe, and your compassion for the peoples living through the hope and despair of state socialism. We remember your caution and excitement as country after country embarked upon what you called the 'trials of transition'. Many here will recall, and others can surely imagine, the curmudgeonly good humour with which you revised lectures and maps on an almost daily basis as regimes, currencies and walls came tumbling down.I remember the horror with which you told me over coffee one morning that there had been a coup in the Soviet Union, that Gorbachev was under house arrest and that Radio 4 had rung you at six in the morning for a comment. With the bravado of the half-awake you had blithely assured them that the coup would not last a fortnight. You had then gone back to sleep only to wake up at nine in a cold sweat. You were right of course.

Try our free course Nationalism, self-determination and secession, which focuses on the states created as the USSR collapsed

Kitbag: The pole vault pole

This week, we've been looking at some of the items which make sport possible. Here's what we've featured so far:

We're ending the week with the pole from pole vaults.

Kelsy Hintz pole vaults at the 2012 Triton Invitational Creative commons image Icon SD Dirk under Creative Commons BY 4.0 license

It's always seemed to us that choosing pole vault as your track and field sport is akin to choosing to play the cello - you're going to be spending a lot of time carrying an awkward piece of equipment about with you.

What's surprising is that in a field of human endeavour like sports, where rules and regulations seem to hem in everything you can and can't do, authorities are very relaxed about what a pole can be like. Mike Rosenbaum's checked the rules:

Pole vaulters' poles are among the least-regulated of any Olympic apparatus. The pole can be made of any material or combination of materials and may be of any length or diameter, but the basic surface must be smooth. The pole may have protective layers of tape at the grip and at the bottom end.

And you can have the grip at any point on the pole you like.

In Ancient Greece, people would use poles to leap over anything to hand - even cattle. In Germany in the 18th century, the sport was first formalised in something approaching its modern form, but at that time was part of gymnastic, rather than athletic events.

In the 18th Century, poles were made of hickory, and later bamboo. Steel started to be adopted shortly after the Second World War, but modern poles are more likely to be carbon fibre. Let's take a quick look at how they're made:

And how does using a pole help a person to fling themselves over a high bar? Illumin explains the science of the leap:

ole vaulting relies on finding the most efficient way to transfer energy among different energy states. These states are kinetic energy, or the energy associated with the motion of an object, and two different types of potential, or stored, energies: elastic potential energy and gravitational potential energy. Elastic potential energy is the “energy stored in elastic materials [in this case, the pole] as the result of their stretching or compressing,” while gravitational potential energy is the “energy stored in an object as the result of its vertical position or height,”. During the vault, the kinetic energy built up during the run is transferred into elastic potential energy due to the bending of the pole. Then, that potential energy is transferred into kinetic energy as the athlete is vaulted upwards. As the athlete rises above the ground, this kinetic energy is transferred to gravitation potential energy until the athlete is not moving any higher. Finally, this potential energy is turned back into kinetic energy as the athlete hurls towards the ground. Thus, the pole serves as a tool for converting the athlete’s horizontal kinetic energy into vertical kinetic energy.

That's when the pole holds, of course.

Discover sports courses at The Open University





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