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OpenLearn Live: 26th October 2015

Updated Monday, 26th October 2015

Conan Doyle and spirits from the great beyond; autumn geese; Fiona Shaw & Homeland. A mix of free learning from across the day.

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On Friday, we completed a week of cars that flopped; explored the TalkTalk data breach; and marked ten years of Open Access

See the complete collection of OpenLearn Live

Today's posts

New free course: Social care in the community

How does a society cope with those members who need more support than others - assistance or supervision? Our free course focuses on the specific needs of an ageing community:

Meeting people’s needs in ways that are both professional and friendly, and flexible and reliable is not straightforward. It is, however, a very important responsibility. How would Clarice manage if for any reason Liz or another worker was unable to come? She might be in considerable difficulty and distress. To run a care agency that can provide the flexibility and, at the same time, the reliability of service that clients want is a significant challenge.

Try Social care in the community

Spying on Homeland

A small collection of articles in response to Homeland, Channel 4's series focusing on the lives of CIA agents and the things they may or may not do in real life.

Claire Danes and Dominic Lewis from the cast of Homeland Creative commons image Icon Starbright 31 under CC-BY-NC-ND licence under Creative-Commons license

First, the CIA seems to be less and less keen on how they're portrayed on-screen... but should they be so churlish?

Homeland eventually always reveals its sympathies for the national security state. Season three, for example, which aired in late 2013 amidst Dianne Feinstein’s on-going Senate investigation  into CIA torture and detention, featured a self-serving and meddlesome senator pouring scorn on the agency, and damaging US national security in the process, for his own political gain.

Likewise, the current season seems gradually to be establishing a fictional rebuke to leakers and whistle-blowers such as Edward Snowden (disclaimer: I could be wrong, we’re only three episodes in).

Read Charity begins at Homeland

Next, two articles focusing on how Carrie, and her mental illness, is portrayed. First, Meron Wondemaghen explores how the writing got progessively worse across the first four seasons:

Though these episodes show the day-to-day difficulties in coping with mental illnesses and the social stigma that leads to isolation, the “troubled woman” characterisation is problematic.

Her mental illness seems to have been used to explain the “breaking of rules”, irresponsibility, impulsivity and otherwise implausible behaviours. Bipolar disorder is manageable with modern medicine particularly when pharmacological interventions are combined with psychotherapeutic approaches, but emphasis was placed on dysfunction.

Read Homeland, Carrie and mental health

As a response, Suzie Gibson writes on how any agressive female sexuality tends to be treated as an illness on-screen:

Homeland’s Carrie Mathison disrupts the cycle of demonising smart and sexually assured women since she is more of a danger to herself than to others.

We are encouraged to like and even to admire Carrie’s mental struggle because she thinks and acts beyond herself. This does not prevent her from using her sexuality as a means in which to gain intelligence. But unlike her femme fatale predecessors, she makes the mistake of falling in love.

Throughout the ages, love has been opposed to reason. It has even been considered a madness. In Homeland, Carrie experiences a form of madness in her love for the character Brody.

As a woman in love, she is not in control; because of this, she becomes less of an agent and more of an agency.

Read Why is aggressive female sexuality pathologised?


BBC Four, 9pm, tonight: The Great British Year - Autumn

The on-screen year and the outside-your-window year sync up tonight, as the Great British Year concludes with an episode focusing on autumn.

See more on Autumn

BBC Four, 8pm, tonight: The Secret Life of Books: The Mill On The Floss

The Secret Life of Books continues this evening, with Fiona Shaw telling the story of George Eliot's work.

More on Mill on the Floss

Remembering Lisa Jardine

The historian Lisa Jardine died at the weekend, it has been announced. The Today programme celebrated her life and work this morning:

As a tribute to her work, we've republished her essay on dubious activities around pendulum clocks in 17th century Holland:

Read Never trust a pirate 

New on FutureLearn this week

Every Monday a solemn ritual takes place at FutureLearn's offices in the British Library. A crowd gathers. An incantation is uttered. A button is pressed. We don't know why they do all this, as it's totally unconnected with the Monday launch of new courses. Here's what's new this week:

Hallowain't: Conan Doyle and the spiritualists

It's Halloween week, which will culminate in things going bump in the night and children dressed as The Munsters demanding fun size Twixes. OpenLearn Live, though, is shamelessly rationalist, and so this week we'll be starting up with five hauntings that weren't hauntings at all.

We're starting with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the spiritualists.

William Crookes, Florence Cook and the spirit of Katie King Copyright free  image Icon Copyright free: Public domain In this image, Florence Cook is on the floor; the other woman is the "spirit" of Katie King

Conan Doyle wasn't alone amongst educated men of his time in believing in a close link between our world and the supernatural world - he was the most vocal supporter, for example, of the truth of the Cottingley Fairies. When it came to matters phantasmagoric, he was much more Fox Mulder than Sherlock Holmes.

His faith in the the connection between the worlds of the living and the dead should have been destroyed by the events of two seances attended by the MP Sir George Sitwell. At the first, the medium - Florence Cook - had supposedly made a breakthrough to the spirit world, and invited "Marie" to materialise in the room. In the poorly lit room, it did appear as if the form of a child had appeared, but the candlelight was enough for Sitwell to notice that Cook wasn't in her seat.

At a subsequent event, when "Marie" appeared, Sitwell grabbed her wrist. In an ending which will surprise no 21st Century sophisticate brought up on Scooby Doo, it turned out the ghost has been Cook all along.

So, did this convince Dotyle that he'd been duped? Not a bit of it - in fact, he blamed Sitwell for having ruptured the links to the great beyond with his scepticism. Why, under those circumstances, what choice did Cook have but to cheat on this one occasion? Doyle wrote:

The author is only aware of one occasion on which the honesty of her mediumship was called in question, and that was when she was seized by Sir George Sitwell and accused of personating a spirit. It is a reflection of our own ignorance that a lifetime of proof should be clouded by an episode of this nature.

So, Doyle was able to square his belief because nobody grabbed the spirit any other time. The rest of us might consider that luck rather than evidence.

See the OpenLearn Halloween collection

A positive effect of spiritual belief: The environmental angle





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