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OpenLearn Live: 25th November 2015

Updated Wednesday 25th November 2015

The place where fairies, Russians and Noah's granddaughter create their own myths, and background to today's Autumn Statement. Free learning throughout the day.

OpenLearn Live connects your world with the world of free learning. This page will be updated during the day, and you can also follow us on Twitter.

Yesterday, we caught up with Will Self & James Clerk Maxwell, met The Educators and strung a powerline

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Today's posts

Sex and single pine cone

It's been quite a heavy politics-and-economics day here on OpenLearn Live (even if we did start with fairies and Noah's grandaughter) so let's round off with something a world away. Have you ever wondered how Christmas trees have sex? Well... wonder no longer...

Autumn Statement V: First reactions

The Conversation is starting to collate academic reactions to the Autumn Statement and the Spending Review: you can find them on OpenLearn as they become available.

In addition, you can read George Osborne's speech, full spending plans and supporting documentation at the Treasury website.

The changing face of HIV

Charlie Sheen's recent lets-call-it-a-decision to reveal his HIV status is a useful staging point in how far we've come since the start of the AIDs Crisis thirty years ago - but underlines that stigma is still there:

HIV stigma has come a long way, too. Perhaps it was because the symptoms of HIV were so visible in the 1980s that those who first wrote about it were cultural theorists such as Sander Gilman [External link]   and Simon Watney [External link]  . Recent cinematic histories such as How to Survive a Plague [External link]   and United in Anger [External link]   show us that HIV stigma, and the response to it were messy, political, confrontational and often theatrical.

However, in the intervening decades, the concept of HIV stigma has itself been transformed: HIV stigma has been metricised. Like all diseases, HIV has bio-medical, interpersonal and social/political dimensions. The challenge for public health systems is to formulate effective responses on all three fronts; and to measure effectiveness, we need metrics.

Read Charlie Sheen And Rock Hudson

Climate Treaty: The graphic novel

So, George is now delivering his statement, and if you're still with us, it might be because you'd like something else. Fair enough - let's start with a spot of praise for Nature, where Richard Monastersky & Nick Sousanis have boiled down a quarter-century of global wrangling towards a climate treaty into a graphic novel. You can read it at the Nature website or download it as a pdf. It's a great primer for the coming conference - and even if you think you understand the issues, you might find it reminds you of something you've forgotten over the last 25 years...

Autumn Statement IV: Midwifery

Rounding off our collection of background pieces before George starts his statement, here's a short piece from the Royal College of Midwives which explains why they believe more money for the NHS might not mean better services in maternity:

However, changing the ring-fence from the whole health budget to NHS England means that large areas of health spending will be subject to cuts. At the RCM, we are greatly concerned that what the Chancellor is giving with one hand, he is taking away with another. Cutting funding for training bursaries is a ludicrous false economy that will only exacerbate shortages and escalate costs down the line. Saddling nursing and midwifery staff with student debts during a decade of NHS pay restraint is not the way to attract, recruit and retain the new full time staff we need.

And let’s not forget, the NHS as a whole is a long way from being out of the woods. The £8bn funding agreed as part of the NHS Five Year Plan was aimed at plugging the spending gap. If the government is genuine about delivering new models of care and 7 day services across the NHS, then further investment will be needed. We can’t continue to rely on the goodwill of an over-stretched and under-valued workforce providing free over time. Transforming care cannot be done on the cheap.

Read: Will more money for the NHS deliver for midwifery

Autumn Statement III: Housebuilding

Another pre-announcement announcement overnight has been that this Autumn Statement might focus heavily on trying to stimulate housebuilding. BBC News reports:

Mr Osborne will promise to address a "crisis of home ownership in our country", pledging a "bold plan to back families who aspire to buy their own home".

The Treasury said the chancellor would unveil "the biggest affordable housebuilding programme since the 1970s".

It will include:

£2.3bn paid directly to developers to build 200,000 so-called "starter homes", aimed at first-time buyers. They will be offered at a 20% discount on prices up to £450,000 in London and £250,000 elsewhere. The policy was first announced in October 2014.
£4bn to help build 135,000 "Help to Buy: Shared Ownership" homes for households earning less than £80,000 (or £90,000 in London) by 2020-21
£200m for 10,000 new homes that tenants can live in for five years at reduced rents while they save for a deposit. They will then have "first right" to buy the home
£400m to help build 8,000 specialist homes for older people or those with disabilities

A potential problem here could be the reluctance of young people to enter the housebuilding industry. The National House Building Consortium's NHBC Foundation carried out a survey into young people's interest in joining the industry. Published earlier this year, it says things need to change if we're not going to have a recruitment problem in the near future. MP and NHBC Foundation chair Nick Raynsford summed up the findings:

The skills shortage that faces the industry today is not dissimilar to that which occurred twenty years ago, but there is one difference. It is easier to attract new skilled and semi-skilled labour from abroad to fill specific vacancies. While this may provide a short-term fix, it is no solution to the on-going need for a regular supply of talent to fill the full range of jobs which the industry requires.

To ensure a secure future for the industry we need to build a stable workforce, and that depends upon attracting bright youngsters. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence suggesting that most other career options are more attractive to the younger generation than the house-building industry, connected in the public’s mind with hard physical roles performed in all weathers. In reality, there are of course many other roles offering a range of exciting career prospects in the home-building industry, but many young people are simply not aware they exist.

Download A Career Of Choice

Advising young people on their next steps? Try our free course in careers education and guidance

Autumn Statement II: The Welfare Cap

Early reports about what George Osborne might have in store for us all today suggest that he might be about to ignore his own welfare cap. The Guardian's Patrick Wintour says:

George Osborne has set in train plans to breach the Treasury’s welfare cap after deciding it cannot find enough welfare savings to compensate for the decision to slow the pace of cuts to tax credits.

The chancellor has held discussions with the Department of Work and Pensions to arrange a Commons vote that would give the government permission to breach the cap. 

The vote will be passed by MPs but the decision is likely to be seen as a political embarrassment for Osborne since he largely invented the self imposed cap in the last parliament as a trap to show Labour is lax on welfare spending. In the end the shadow chancellor Ed Balls embraced the cap.

Measures Osborne took in the July budget have conspried to make a simple cap something of an elaborate headgear, explains Christine Whitehead and Emma Sagor:

The changes introduced in the July 2015 budget—which lowers the cap to £23,000 in London and £20,000 in all other regions—break some of the principles behind the original policy. This could be seen as inevitable, given how few cost savings have so far been generated. Relatively few people have moved to cheaper areas and although the evidence suggests quite large and positive impacts in terms of moving people into work, in-work benefits can often be similar or in some cases even higher.

Read: Why has the welfare cap become so complex?

Autumn statement

A quick reminder the OU's Alan Shipman has prepared a short guide to today's Autumn Statement.

A week in County Waterford: Cheekpoint

This week, inspired by Ireland With Simon Reeve, we're exploring the county of Waterford. Yesterday, we spent some time on the Copper Coast. Today, we're calling in at Cheekpoint.

Cheekpoint Creative commons image Icon Terence Wiki under CC-BY-SA licence under Creative-Commons license

Cheekpoint is a place crammed with tales. One 19th Century newspaper reported the myth that it was at Cheekpoint where a second ark landed after the great flood - carrying Noah's granddaughter,  Cesair, her lover and fifty followers. Forewarned of the coming deluge, and refused entry to grandad's boat, Cesair built her own - setting sail for the then unpopulated, and thus sin-free, Ireland, to avoid the rising waters.

Others, charmed by Cheekpoint's Irish Gaelic name of Carraig na Síge, claim that the area was previously occupied by fairy folk. The 19th Century rector and writer Patrick Power was quite annoyed at how a misunderstanding had allowed this belief to flourish:

Thanks to the ignorance of guide book compilers the name is popularly supposed to imply fairy occupation or connection (Síghe - a fairy). Síge however (not Síghe) is the word entering into composition, and the origin of the name seems clear enough, scil:- from a rock, Carraig na Síge - out in the river near low water mark. A strong and rapid current sweeps over the jagged sides and summit of the rock, and the consequence is a long trail, or streak, of foam down stream with the ebbing tide and up the river with the flow.

A third origin story concerns the area of Cheekpoint known as Russian Side - all that can be said with certainty is that the name refers to some Russian settlers who once lived there; a backstory featuring a sinking vessel from Eastern Europe, and survivors scrambling ashore to start a fresh life can be sighted, but never confirmed.

Tricky things, names. And Cheekpoint itself hasn't always been Cheekpoint - it spent some time under the name of Bolton Village, after the local landowner. Cornelius Bolton invested heavily in the settlement, bringing employment and offering some form of security:

Cornelius Bolton (1751–1829) was a very progressive landlord with a keen interest in developing the estate and helping his tenants to progress. Sleater’s "Topography of Ireland" published in 1806 notes "Mr. Cornelius Bolton lives very retired in the country and has employed a considerable part of his fortune in building a large village where he has established several important manufactures, particularly looms. The industry which he encourages in his colony renders it probable that his expense will be repaid him, and that it will become an object of utility to the public and of profit to him although suggested by motives of humanity".

Bolton's attempts to help Cheekpoint thrive weren't ultimately successful - he invested heavily in a landing pier, welcoming trippers crossing the Irish Sea from Pembrokeshire. For a while, the endeavour hummed with custom. But when the London government decided to move the landing of mail packet boats along the coast to Dumore East, the passenger traffic went with the mail; and Bolton's fortune went, too. He was declared bankrupt in 1818. His impressive Faithlegg estate was sold on to clear debts.

Cheekpoint's residents turned to fishing - even developing a special type of boat to cope with Cheekpoint's rocky harbour, the Cheekpoint Prong:

Even this afterlife for Cheekpoint harbour would be ultimately snatched away, though - in 1995, to protect the more significant Port of Waterford, groynes were put in place to stop mudflats blocking its entrance. As a result, the entrance to Cheekpoint started to silt up to the point where only smaller vessels are able to enter.

It's unlikely a 21st Century Cesair would be able to get her ark into modern Cheekpoint.

Explore OpenLearn Ireland

What are female gods really like?

How tidal rivers and estuaries work

See more about Ireland With Simon Reeve





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