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OpenLearn Live: 22nd April 2016

Updated Friday 22nd April 2016

Tributes to Prince from around, and beyond, the world; plus a TV institution that has lasted longer than Corrie. Then more free learning through the day.

OpenLearn Live makes the link between "free learning" and your world. This page will be updated across the day.

Yesterday, we examined the language of Kipling, why dirty mice might be better for experiments and heard about seahorse sex

See the complete collection of OpenLearn Live


Today's posts


Change for a pair of twenties

On both sides of the Atlantic this week, there's been changes announced for a large denomination bill. (Younger readers might need to be told we're talking here about paper money, which is a bit like Bitcoin,  but easier to accidentally destroy by leaving it in your pockets when you wash your trousers.)

In the US, Harriet Tubman has been announced as a future face for the Twenty Dollar bill, a victory for a long-running campaign to get women onto American money. The US Treasury Secretary wrote an article for Medium explaining the move:

Since we began this process, we have heard overwhelming encouragement from Americans to look at notes beyond the $10. Based on this input, I have directed the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to accelerate plans for the redesign of the $20, $10, and $5 notes. We already have begun work on initial concepts for each note, which will continue this year. We anticipate that final concept designs for the new $20, $10, and $5 notes will all be unveiled in 2020 in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote.

The decision to put Harriet Tubman on the new $20 was driven by thousands of responses we received from Americans young and old. I have been particularly struck by the many comments and reactions from children for whom Harriet Tubman is not just a historical figure, but a role model for leadership and participation in our democracy. You shared your thoughts about her life and her works and how they changed our nation and represented our most cherished values.

Looking back on her life, Tubman once said, “I would fight for liberty so long as my strength lasted.” And she did fight, for the freedom of slaves and for the right of women to vote. Her incredible story of courage and commitment to equality embodies the ideals of democracy that our nation celebrates, and we will continue to value her legacy by honoring her on our currency. The reverse of the new $20 will continue to feature the White House as well as an image of President Andrew Jackson.

As I said when we launched this exciting project: after more than 100 years, we cannot delay, so the next bill to be redesigned must include women, who for too long have been absent from our currency. 

Who was Harriet Tubman? Will Hardy profiled her for OpenLearn a while back:

The immediate post-war years treated Tubman badly – she was refused a military pension, and was left poor and still illiterate. However, her finances and public recognition improved dramatically when her admirer Sarah Bradford published an account of her life in 1869. After this, other stalwarts of the Railroad era told of her remarkable exploits, and gradually she came to be cherished as an icon of the battle against slavery. Over thirty years after the Civil War, she was awarded a military pension, and when she died in 1913 she was buried with full military honours.

Reverence for Tubman has grown ever since, with numerous books being written about her, including a veritable industry of books for children and youths which provide inspiring tales of her adventures. In 1944 Eleanor Roosevelt christened a ship after her, and her achievement has been commemorated with plaques, civic holidays, and even, in 1995, a postage stamp.

Read the full article: Tubman: The Moses of her people

In the UK, the new designs for the £20 note have been announced. Here, JMW Turner is replacing Adam Smith. The governor of the Bank Of England, Mark Carney, hasn't followed his American opposite number in making a modish online announcement, so disappointingly the prospect of Carney waving a wad of the new notes into a Periscope video has been passed up for a more formal press release:

Commenting on the decision, the Governor said: “I am delighted to announce that J.M.W. Turner has been chosen to appear on the next £20 note. Turner is perhaps the single most influential British artist of all time. His work was transformative, bridging the classical and modern worlds. His influence spanned his lifetime and is still apparent today. Turner bequeathed this painting to the nation, an example of his important contribution to British society.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all the people who got involved in the process and that sent us their suggestions for visual artists to celebrate. The range and breadth of these nominations is testament to the UK’s achievements in the arts and the public’s passion for it. The Banknote Character Advisory Committee did an outstanding job of working through these nominations. Their help in reaching today’s decision was invaluable."

The OU's Linda Walsh on Turner and Romantic Painting


Prince: A short reading list

Last night, the world heard that Prince had been found dead at his home in Minnesota. BBC News reported:

On Thursday evening, hundreds of people gathered for an all-night party at the First Avenue nightclub in Minneapolis, where Prince recorded his 1984 hit Purple Rain.

Vigils for the singer were also held outside his home as well as in Los Angeles and Brooklyn, where the film director Spike Lee, a friend of Prince's, led another impromptu party.

Prince's home at Paisley Park has become a makeshift shrine, said the BBC's James Cook at the scene.

There was shock and grief but also pride in the twin cities of Minneapolis and St Paul, our reporter said.

Many residents pointed out that Prince could have lived anywhere in the world and they felt honoured that he chose to remain until the very end in the place where he was born.

Think Progress' Aaron Rupar echoed that admiration for a man who never left his home time:

Though he became an international pop music and cultural icon, ultimately selling over 100 million records worldwide, Prince, unlike certain other legendary Minnesota musicians, always reserved a special place in his heart for his home state. Prince helped put Minneapolis’ iconic First Avenue venue on the map with his 1984 film, Purple Rain. 

At The Conversation, Adam Behr remembers how Prince took on the music industry - and won:

Experimental in business as well as music, he pioneered direct distribution to his fans over the internet in 1997, before also being one of the first artists to turn against it after taking down his website in 2006and, by turns, pulling his music from Spotify before releasing a song exclusively to the platform only weeks later in July 2015 and an album exclusive to streaming service Tidal in December. As paradoxical as this appeared, Prince’s career can be read as a serious of interventions to maintain control of his artistic and financial destiny across the value chain – from production, through publishing and distribution to live performance.

Never one to compromise, musically or otherwise, his twists and turns over the internet, along with his back and forth relationships with record labels, were all evidence of an ongoing attempt to simultaneously capitalise on the latest developments and kick against what he perceived as the structural inequities of the system to prioritise the relationship between the musician and the audience.

Also at The Conversation, Rebecca Sheehan celebrates Prince's embrace of the ambiguous:

Prince’s relationships with women as performed in his songs and in the film Purple Rain were complex, vacillating between objectifying and worshipping.

Yet Prince always gave the sense that a woman’s sexual pleasure was his ultimate purpose and reward, and this was part of his allure. He offset his diminutive stature by intimating that he was a giant in bed.

And by performing so lustfully, he granted everyone permission for pleasure. In a decade when the rise of AIDs fuelled a conservative backlash against sexual liberation, Prince’s overt sexuality was both protest and license.

But as he played with racial identity, he also played with gendered and sexual categories. In his early years of performing, he would sometimes dress in women’s clothes.

For Salon, Andrew O' Hehir reflects on his astonishing breadth of output - and its sometimes variable quality:

I won’t claim to have paid equal or fair attention to the indiscriminate onslaught of recordings that flowed from the breakdown of Prince’s relationship with Warner Bros. in the ‘90s; I’m not sure anyone could have. Counting live albums, remixes and greatest-hits collections, he released at least 21 records between 1995 and 2005. There were successes like “Musicology” in 2004 (his most consistent release in at least a decade) and semi-lost critical fave-raves like “The Gold Experience” from 1995, which remains difficult to find by legal means. But just as often Prince seemed devoted to sabotaging his career as a perverse act of performance art: He shoved aside the much-anticipated “Black Album” for years, releasing the slapdash “Lovesexy” instead. Anyone with ears could tell that the jazz tradition had profoundly shaped his sensibility; that didn’t mean he had to spend several years and several albums playing his own mediocre jazz compositions.

Timothy Mitchell in the New York Post took a journey through Prince's wardrobe:

From his earliest days of fame in the late ’70s, the Minnesota native toyed with notions of masculinity. But it wasn’t until the 1980 breakthrough album “Dirty Mind” — with a shot of the singer in bikini briefs, bandana and biker jacket on the cover — that Prince began to forge his flamboyant fop aesthetic.

As with sexuality, race and rock music, Prince upended the all the rules on men’s style.

In the early ’80s, he established a sartorial code that fused elements of New Romanticism — Victorian ruffles, rhinestones, drama — with a ineffable rawness and a fierceness that even David Bowie, his more polished contemporary, couldn’t match.

Across town, the New York Times captured Barack Obama's words about the musician:

President Obama issued a statement about Prince’s death, praising him as a “creative icon” who left an indelible imprint on the sound and trajectory of popular music.

“As one of the most gifted and prolific musicians of our time, Prince did it all,” Mr. Obama said in a statement issued by the White House while he was on board Air Force One traveling to London. “Funk. R&B. Rock and roll. He was a virtuoso instrumentalist, a brilliant bandleader, and an electrifying performer.”

Obama's tribute wasn't the only show of respect from the US government:

Meanwhile, some people on social media have been suggesting that 2016 has got off to a grim start, with so many notable people dying in the early months of the year. Is, perhaps, 2016 cursed?

Our friends at More Or Less have been investigating if it's true that more famous people have been dying this year. Their findings?

The number of his obituaries used across BBC outlets in recent years has leaped considerably.

It's a jump from only five between January and late March 2012 to a staggering 24in the same period this year - an almost five-fold increase, according to research by the BBC Radio 4's More or Less programme.

And that's before counting some of the notable deaths in April, including American singer Merle Haggard, the former drug smuggler Howard Marks and this week's two notable departures.

[...]

This all invites the question: why?

There are a few reasons, Nick Serpell says.

"People who started becoming famous in the 1960s are now entering their 70s and are starting to die," he says.

"There are also more famous people than there used to be," he says. "In my father or grandfather's generation, the only famous people really were from cinema - there was no television.

"Then, if anybody wasn't on TV, they weren't famous."

Writing at Prospect, Sam Leith also points out the power of the observer effect:

So, not long ago, I found myself thinking: hell’s bells, there’s a more than usually rich crop of prominent people throwing a seven this year. (Clive James, oddly enough, distinguishing himself in this by not only not dying but becoming even more famous for not dying, and in consequence representing the opposite though more welcome surprise.) I don’t think that thought was far wrong. At the time of writing we’re still in February and I am struggling to remember a year with a death toll like it. Then I realised: it’s not that more people are dying; it’s an observer effect.

I am 42. The people who were famous and/or important and/or influential—the high ones—when I was growing up were (mostly) between their late thirties and early fifties when I was in my teens. Time being what it is—that is, pretty dependable at anything much less than lightspeed—they are now (mostly) between their late sixties and early eighties. And that puts them on the old shooting range. Martin Amis’s excellent line—“time goes about its immemorial work of making everyone look and feel like shit”—leaves unsaid that what he describes is time just limbering up: it goes on, after that, about its work of making everyone peg out.


Fifties forward: The Sky At Night

This week, we've been celebrating some of the innovations of the 1950s that are still going strong today. If you've missed any of the week, here's a quick recap of the 1950s so far:

We're rounding off with a TV institution. On April 24th, 1957, a short new science programme aired for the first time.

The Sky At Night title card Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC A 1960s title card

The presenter of that first edition would go on to present the show, every month, until his death in 2013. (Except for a 2004 edition he missed due to food poisoning.) In an Independent interview in 2011, he was asked why he thought it had lasted so long:

"Partly because it's cheap! Ha, ha, ha... But lots of people have an interest in astronomy. I've tried to make it as interesting as possible for people. I've done my bit."

Amongst those for whom Moore made astronomy interesting was Maggie Aderin-Pocock, who presents the show now. She told Surrey Life earlier this year:

"I never met Sir Patrick, but I think we would have had lots in common,” she says fondly. “I watchedThe Sky at Night as a child and one of the reasons I went into astronomy was because Patrick gave a guide to the night’s sky. It was usually on quite late, but I was allowed to stay up to see it."

When Moore died, there were rumours that the BBC was going to dump The Sky At Night. Its fans, though, had other ideas, and organised a petition which helped save the programme, and saw it move from the far end of the BBC One schedule to an earlier berth on BBC Four.

Inevitably, some of the audience are unhappy - you don't have to spend very long in internet forums talking about the show before you find the phrase "dumbing down". But is that fair? The most recent edition of the programme featured Stephen Hawking talking about black holes:

Next year, the programme celebrates its 60th birthday. Back in 2007, the OU's Dave Rothery went to the 50th birthday party, and reported back for OpenLearn:

For me a particularly memorable announcement of the evening was when we heard that the International Astronomical Union has agreed to name asteroid 57424 ‘Caelumnoctu’, which is Latin for Sky at Night. It was over breakfast last time I was on the programme myself that we hatched up the idea to try to get an asteroid named after the Sky at Night to mark its coming 50th anniversary, and realised that we might even be able to win approval for the name for the as-yet unnamed asteroid number 57424 (a designation that would correspond to 1957 April 24, the date when the programme was first transmitted), so I think I can claim a share in the credit for this appropriate tribute.

Apparently "skyatnight" isn't an acceptable name for an asteroid because it isn't a real world.

Discover more astronomy with OpenLearn

More about Astronomy at the Open University

 

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