Thursday, August 27, 2009

only the mighty hammer of Thor can protect Kentucky now

We've all looked and chuckled at lists of strange laws, like the one that says you can't flag down a London taxi if you have the plague, or put pretzels in a bag in Philadelphia, or enter the House of Commons wearing a suit of armour. Time moves on, laws become irrelevant, and frankly it's a lot of hassle to revoke all the irrelevant ones, so in a lot of cases they're just left lying around on the statute book never to be invoked in real life again.

So when I read that the state of Kentucky had, as the result of a lawsuit filed back in December 2008, repealed a law requiring explicit praising of God in any official documents I chuckled to myself and expected to see that it had been lying around unnoticed in some sub-clause since about 1820. Not so, however. The following paragraph is from a list of the responsibilities of the Executive Director of the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security:
Publicize the findings of the General Assembly stressing the dependence on Almighty God as being vital to the security of the Commonwealth by including the provisions of KRS 39A.285(3) in its agency training and educational materials. The executive director shall also be responsible for prominently displaying a permanent plaque at the entrance to the state's Emergency Operations Center stating the text of KRS 39A.285(3)
- and was apparently inserted not in the early 19th century, but in - get this - 2006, at the behest of one Tom Riner, a Democratic state Representative and, yes, that's right, evangelical Christian. I think it's profoundly revealing of the sort of internal mental contortions the religious go through each and every day to try and parse this response to the judgment into a form that makes any sense:
Riner said Wednesday that he is unhappy with the judge’s ruling. The way he wrote the law, he said, it did not mandate that Kentuckians depend on God for their safety, it simply acknowledged that government without God cannot protect its citizens.
What? Wait, I.....what? How does.....what?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

the last book I read

Marry Me by John Updike.

Jerry Conant and Sally Mathias are in love. Trouble is, they're also married. To other people. Jerry is married to Ruth, while Sally is married to Richard. Yes, it's Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice. Only the names have been changed (well, not only the names).

Clearly if you're in love and want to get married and spend the rest of your lives together, as Jerry and Sally do, and you happen to be already married to someone else, at some point those current spouses are going to have to be brought up to speed on the situation. Chances are they're not going to be too happy about it, either. Also, both couples have children. Also, as if that weren't enough, it turns out Ruth and Richard had an affair a while previously - in their case it was just a bit of discreet afternoon delight though, nothing worth breaking up families over.

So the deed is done, and Ruth and Richard are put in the picture. But.....falling in love with someone other than your spouse doesn't necessarily mean you instantly stop having feelings for him or her. And marrying and spending the rest of your life with someone is a bit different from a few stolen afternoons among the Connecticut sand dunes. And then there's the kids. Who knows how it would turn out? And there'd be no going back. So doubts start to creep in.

In a lot of ways this reads like a companion piece to Updike's earlier and more celebrated novel Couples, in that it chronicles the lives and loves of a group of well-off, middle-class, self-absorbed white people from New England. I actually enjoyed this one more, partly because of the tighter focus on just a pair of couples rather than the twenty or so people you were expected to keep up with and care about in Couples. As with that book (and Rabbit, Run as well) there's a bit of a problem, which is that none of the characters is particularly likeable or sympathetic. This Amazon reviewer complains about "a bunch of whiny, spoiled, middle-class cowards" and, while a bit harsh, there's something in that. According to this Updike interview Marry Me is a bit of an anomaly in the Updike canon, being pulled together from some earlier writings, some of them previously published elsewhere, which might account for its seeming like a bit of a throwback.

Anyway, it's very enjoyable, and Updike's prose style is always a pleasure. Just don't be fooled by the title (or the subtitle "A Romance") into expecting anything uplifting or romantically life-affirming.

[Note: the link you can follow by clicking on the book's title in the first line takes you to Amazon's online copy of the first chapter, just so you can check a bit of it out for yourself. I'll do this for any where such an extract is available in future.]

Monday, August 24, 2009

celebrity lookeylikey of the day

U.S. Open golf champion and 5th-placed man at the recent USPGA championship Lucas Glover, and actor and co-star of the apparently thrillingly awful (despite starring footballer, dogger and inter-gender pugilist Stan Collymore) Basic Instinct 2 David Morrissey.

I couldn't find a picture of Glover without a hat, so I offer you Morrissey with a cunningly cut-and-pasted identical hat just for comparison purposes.

If that doesn't convince you here's some video footage - Glover on Letterman, and Morrissey in the aforementioned Basic Instinct 2.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

for peat's sake

I wasn't expecting to be doing another one of these quite so soon, but we were up at my parents' place at the weekend for a bit of a family get-together so I thought I'd get a bottle to take along, since both my father and my brother-in-law are occasional whisky drinkers. After a rigorous selection process I ended up buying a bottle of Ardmore from Sainsbury's, partly because it looked quite interesting, and partly because it was going for a bargain £19.99 a bottle.

I won't rehash the background blurb from my previous post, but basically Ardmore is a Highland whisky - the distillery's output was previously devoted almost entirely to going into Teacher's blended whisky, of which it is a major constituent (and by whom the distillery is owned), but they do now produce a single malt as well. What makes it unusual is that it is quite heavily peated, which most Highland malts aren't. Basically what you use to dry the malted barley has an influence on the eventual taste of the whisky, and peat in particular imparts a strong taste because of the phenol compounds it contains.

Anyway, we had a bit of a tasting session, and you can certainly taste the peat - I'm not a huge fan of the overpoweringly peaty/smoky stuff like the Islay malts, but this has a nice cakey sweetness which counteracts it. You still get a bit of zingy peat action on the tongue, though, which the relatively high ABV (46%) probably contributes to as well. It's a bit more of a rugged unkempt hairy outdoorsy sort of whisky than the previous ones, particularly the Glenmorangie which is very urbane and civilised, but I thought it was pretty good. Still about two-thirds of a bottle left, as well, which is nice.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

ja, beyerhund das oder die flipperwaldt gershput

Sure enough, after my previous partial Pythonic recollection, here it is. Click to enlarge, if you need to. It's from the second book, and the "it" in question is the much-hyped Page 71.

Obviously I can't mention Python and Nazis in the same blog post without linking to the North Minehead by-election sketch, or indeed the World's Funniest Joke sketch.

don't want to drive a bus? you are not alone

The atheist bus adverts continue to be a rich source of humour and entertainment. The latest little nugget of absurdity comes from Des Moines, Iowa, where bus driver Angela Shiel had an attack of the vapours on learning that the bus she'd been assigned for her shift carried an advert by the Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers on its side. The advert is the same one that's been appearing on a few billboards around the USA recently, and carries the message below.

The interesting thing to consider here is what exactly it is about this that a Christian would find offensive, regardless of how absurdly sensitive they are. For all its anodyne wording the original advert was at least making a (qualified) statement about God's existence (and sure enough one bus driver had a Jane Austenesque fit of pearl-clutching and swooning at the "starkness" of it all); as this guy points out all the American ad is saying is that atheists exist, and that there are at least two of them. Pretty uncontroversial you would think. But no, apparently not.

Also worthy of note is the always reliably loopy WorldNetDaily's response. Mainly notable for the absolutely textbook bit of anti-Semitic well-poisoning in the headline, as follows: "Former Jew claims...." Well, you're not going to believe anything he says after that, are you? Certainly not if you're one of WND's core constituency, i.e. insane right-wing fundamentalists (and indeed mentalists).

I recall a film review section in one of the old Monty Python books which simply read "Well I liked it", claims non-Nazi. The difference being, of course, that they were joking.

Here's a couple more atheist billboard ads for you - actually one of them isn't really an atheist billboard at all. Can you spot which one it is?

Actually Rev. E. F. Briggs sounds like he could be a character in a Monty Python sketch. It would be better if he were called Rev. E. F. Gumby, though.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

summit else

Inspired by the updating of one photo compilation I thought I'd do the other one as well - this one is a collection of hill & mountain summit photos.

The one I've chosen for illustrative purposes is of Hazel and me at the top of the Grosser Galtenberg in Austria. Not the most flattering picture of either of us, but it was a hot day and it's a 7,956 foot mountain, so you're not going to get up there without a bit of effort. Note also that there's a Welsh flag attached to the summit monument - we didn't put that there, it was there when we arrived.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

sup dates updates

Just for a laugh I've brought the drink-related picture gallery I mentioned a while back up to date with a few (20 or so) new pictures. Click on this link to start where the original one left off, if you like.

The photo on the left I've chosen to illustrate this post with was taken in a bar in Amsterdam called De Drie Fleschjes (i.e. The Three Bottles) back in May last year - I'm sipping blue Bols while the lovely Hazel is sipping genever (Dutch gin).

Apparently the stooped hands-free sipping position to get the brim-full glass to a level where you can safely pick it up is all part of the drinking tradition. It's also apparently traditional that men drink the genever while the ladies drink the sweet brightly-coloured stuff (the ladies being easily charmed by bright shiny things, a bit like magpies, bless 'em). We were told this by a very urbane-looking Dutch gent leaning raffishly on the bar wearing a snazzy blue suit and chuckling away to himself while sipping a lunchtime beverage. Then again he appeared to be wearing white leather brogues, so while he may have been technically correct I wasn't about to take any lectures off him regarding rugged masculinity.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

that's the spirit

We were over in Bath on Friday and I noticed that Waitrose were flogging the standard 10-year-old Glenmorangie for £22 (it's normally about £30), so I snapped up a bottle. The 12-year-old Highland Park is still very much alive and kicking, but it doesn't hurt to have a bit of variety in your drinks cabinet - also, for the first time in my life I now actually have a proper drinks cabinet, so I figure I may as well fill it up.

Here's a couple of notes as most of this background info is new to me and therefore fascinating:
  • For whisky-categorising purposes Scotland is divided into six regions: Campbeltown, Lowland, Highland, Speyside, Islay and Island. There seems to be some dispute over whether Island is a proper region in its own right, or just a sub-division of Highland. And Islay is of course an island, but produces such a gargantuan quantity of whisky that it gets to be a region all of its own. Campbeltown and Lowland seem to be barely hanging on by the skin of their teeth with just a handful of distilleries, so the map could change again some time soon.
  • Each region supposedly produces whiskies with some characteristics in common (for instance Islay malts such as Ardbeg are very peaty and smoky). The Macallan I had a while back is from Speyside, while the Highland Park is an Island malt (or Highland if you deem the whole sub-region thing to be heresy). Glenmorangie falls into the Highland region.
  • Emphasis on the second syllable, not the third, please (i.e. the "MOR", not the "AN"), if you want to keep onside with the aficionados.
  • Things are further complicated by the arcane rules governing the distilling and cask maturation procedures you have to follow in order to be legally allowed to brand your liquor "single malt whisky". Probably the key one is that the stuff has to be matured in wooden casks that have previously held other alcoholic drink (i.e. you're not allowed to just do it in a skip). In the vast majority of cases this means either ex-sherry casks from Spain, or ex-bourbon casks from the USA. These impart different colours and flavours to the whisky, so ones matured in, say, sherry casks (like, as it happens, both Macallan and Highland Park) will share some characteristics, even if they're from different regions (as Macallan and Highland Park are). Your standard Glenmorangie is matured in ex-bourbon casks (though countless other "expressions" are available, for more money of course).
  • Anyway, at some point you have to stop with the whisky scholarship and actually drink the stuff. Glenmorangie is much lighter-coloured and less sweet than the previous two (that'll be the cask thing), in fact it's almost creamy. All the "proper" whisky buffs say "vanilla" somewhere in their tasting notes, and I can see why, though I'm less sure that I detected the "turkey gravy", "parmesan" and "marshmallow spread". It's very good, anyway, as befits the largest-selling single malt in the UK (I believe Glenfiddich holds that title worldwide).

Saturday, August 15, 2009

devon help us all

Here are some photos from our trip to North Devon last weekend. And here are some assorted connected observations:
  • We stayed in the Crescent House Hotel in Ilfracombe. I gathered that they sustained some damage when the hotel across the road caught fire a couple of years ago, but it all seems to have been sorted out now.
  • We ate on Saturday night in the Take Thyme restaurant down near the harbour, a couple of minutes away from the hotel. Not surprisingly given their location seafood is a speciality and I had some very nice mussels followed by some equally nice sea bass. Interestingly both this place and the Crescent House seem to be run by Irish people - Take Thyme by a couple called O'Callaghan, the hotel by a couple called McGonigle.
  • On Saturday we got the number 31 bus down the road to Woolacombe, scene of much excitement over the years including Doug's stag do last year. And a scene of some consternation this year as it seems the Golden Hind pub has had a makeover and is now called The Tides Inn (pictured - see what they did there?) - fortunately they still sell beer, a quite nice pint of St. Austell Tribute in fact.

Friday, August 14, 2009

never the Les

Guitar pioneer Les Paul died yesterday in New York. No Hendrix-style early checking out for him, though, as he was a pretty respectable and slightly un-rock'n'roll 94 years old. An innovative studio technician and guitarist in his own right, he's most famous for the iconic Gibson guitar that bears his name. No self-respecting rock god should be without it - here's Neil Young and Jimmy Page strangling Les Pauls; other notable players can be found by clicking on the image in this article.

Apparently it was pneumonia that saw him off in the end - I suppose it's somehow appropriate that his final message to the world should have been an extended "catarrh solo", hahahaha. Thank you, I'm here all week.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

tuneful as all get out

I was listening to the iPod in the car earlier, as you do, and I was singing along with Big Star's Dony, as you do, and one particular lyric stuck in my ear:
bright as star shine
hot as daylight
yeah and streamlined
as all get out
Couple of points to raise here. Firstly, the answer to the "wait, who?" question is: Big Star were a group from Memphis, Tennessee who released a couple of albums in the early 1970s that didn't sell but remain massively influential - the famous saying about the Velvet Underground attributed to Brian Eno ("only about 1,000 people ever bought a Velvet Underground album, but every one of them formed a rock and roll band") could just as well have been applied to Big Star. The CD you absolutely must have is the one with both their first two albums #1 Record and Radio City on it, available absurdly cheaply from Amazon. Dony is from their unexpected comeback album In Space from 2005. The song for which they're most famous is probably September Gurls which was covered by, among others, The Bangles.

Secondly, note the last line of the lyrical fragment above ("as all get out") - that's a quintessentially American expression. A quick Google reveals more examples than you can shake a stick at, from an article about cuddly squid-shaped USB pen drives to photos of ugly dogs to live-blogged Perl coding tips to rock bands to rubbish films to dodgy builders. Interestingly the last one is Australian, so maybe they say it too. I couldn't find anything on the origin of the phrase, apart from this deeply unconvincing explanation which, slightly bizarrely, purports to be from a letter to Time magazine in 1939.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

happiness is a warm gun

More to come on our exciting weekend adventures in Devon later, but a thought struck me as we were sitting on a pub terrace in Woolacombe on Saturday afternoon listening to some young people sitting around talking loudly, as young people do in pubs, just flaunting their carefree youth, and the fact that they don't smell funny and can make it to the toilet in time. Punks.

Anyway - the thought that struck me was this: when did it become common and/or acceptable practice to refer to biceps as "guns"? My perception is that I first heard that usage quite a short time ago, probably within the last year or two. I assume it's leached out into general usage from the closeted and mysterious (and frankly weird) world of bodybuilding. I'm not sure this is healthy. And I speak here as one who hones his finely sculpted physique by a combination of natural methods, including, but not restricted to, sitting around in pubs in Devon.

Still, better to be utterly grotesque (and no doubt prone to occasional bouts of roid rage) than a girly man, eh?

[Picture is from here.]

Sunday, August 09, 2009

the last book I read

Kowloon Tong by Paul Theroux.

Like Graham Greene, Paul Theroux is someone I used to read a lot many years ago but haven't encountered for a while. After reading The Mosquito Coast when I was about 18 I devoured several other novels, volumes of short stories, travel books - luckily there's plenty to choose from as he's pretty prolific. I think the last Theroux book I read was the frankly bizarre short novel Chicago Loop a few years back. Of course these days he's more famous by association as the father of TV provocateur, faux-naïf and no doubt various other French phrases Louis Theroux. He is also, as it happens, the father of novelist Marcel Theroux, whose novel The Paperchase (which Wikipedia have listed under a different name - the American edition perhaps?) I read a while back and quite enjoyed. Not to damn it with faint praise or anything.

Anyway, the book: Betty Mullard and her son Neville (nicknamed Bunt) live in Hong Kong - Bunt all his life, Betty since moving from Balham with her late husband George. Bunt runs a clothing factory in Kowloon, hangs out at various local strip joints and has occasional half-hearted liaisons with some of the Chinese factory girls. Betty lives in a little bubble of Englishness and harbours dark suspicions of both the natives ("Chinky-Chonks") and the food (the family seem to subsist on a diet of roast beef).

Trouble is on the horizon, though: it's 1996, and the handover of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty is fast approaching. The Mullards have been living in a state of blissful denial, but reality intervenes when the mysterious Mr. Hung shows up and makes them an offer for the factory. It soon transpires that this is one of those Godfather-style offers, and that the Mullards' blithe assumption that the handover would be a formality and that things would continue as before was sadly mistaken. These are not quiet subservient Chinese types like the houseboy and the factory girls, these are people with links to the Chinese army and various less savoury organisations, and they want their territory back. When Bunt raises objections to the sale the housemate and friend of his sort-of-girlfriend Mei-ping mysteriously "disappears"; Bunt suspects Mr. Hung's involvement but is persuaded that it would be unwise to investigate further. The novel ends with the Mullards being briskly ushered onto a plane and sent back to Britain, as the Chinese developers move in to demolish the factory.

It's always a bit of a problem when there's really no-one to sympathise with in the entire cast of characters in a novel - Betty is a snob and a racist, Bunt is well-meaning but squishy and ineffectual, the Chinese are drunken and rapacious (and in Mr. Hung's case possibly murderous as well), and the other Europeans and Americans are just out to make as much money as they can out of the handover. So there's lots of blunt satire going on, but it's hard to know who the target's meant to be (or, possibly, it's everyone). The only remotely sympathetic character, Mei-ping, is left to an uncertain fate when the Mullards are sent back to Britain - it's also uncertain whether Betty and Bunt will see any of the money they were offered for the factory.

But it's nice and blackly humourous in places, and I suppose the downbeat ending is in keeping with that. I wouldn't say it's the best Theroux I've read, as that would undoubtedly be The Mosquito Coast, which you should go out and read immediately if you haven't already done so. If you want one of the non-fiction ones I would suggest trying The Old Patagonian Express.

the second last book I read

The Quiet American by Graham Greene.

It's the early 1950s and Thomas Fowler is a British journalist based in French Indo-China; the bit that later became South Vietnam (and later still just Vietnam). He's occupying himself ticking off all the main characteristics of the typical Greene protagonist - exile in a foreign country, largely abandoned wife back home, desultory affairs with local girls, fondness for drink (and in this particular case the odd opium pipe as well), general air of rumpled disillusionment and moral compromise - when he is befrended by earnest young American Alden Pyle.

Pyle has some firm ideas about what needs to be done to resolve the current conflict and, as Fowler soon discovers, few qualms about the methods he uses to do what he believes to be the right thing. Things are further complicated when Fowler's local mistress, Phuong, deserts him for Pyle. Having come to the conclusion that Something Must Be Done following a series of bombings made possible by Pyle's support of the insurgents, Fowler is presented with his own moral dilemma as he prepares to betray him.

If you're a bit sketchy about the historical details (as I was) then the war being fought here is this one, which concluded in 1954. After 5 years or so of peace another war broke out in 1959; this is the one the Americans ended up getting involved in, which was unfortunate for them, but on the other hand led to some really cool films. (The Quiet American has been filmed twice, in 1958 and 2002.) I think the old Penguin paperback edition of the novel that I've got (which I picked up on one of my regular trips to Hay-on-Wye) dates from the late 1960s, in other words at the height of the USA's involvement in the second war, which may have been an influence on the choice of cover picture.

Pyle's well-intentioned but ill-informed meddling can be seen as a precursor to the USA's eventual involvement in Vietnam, indeed the principal characters can be seen as representing the principal characteristics of their countries of origin: Fowler the shabby, world-weary Englishman, Pyle the clean-cut, earnest but clumsy and naïve American, and the policeman Vigot the philosophical Frenchman, shrugging Gallicly while quoting Pascal. As always the main protagonist is a thinly-disguised version of Greene himself, who spent some years as a journalist in Saigon in the early 1950s.

This isn't Greene's best book, it's a little too bluntly polemical for that, but it's well worth reading all the same. If you want somewhere to start I would direct you towards the earlier novels like The Power And The Glory and The Heart Of The Matter.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

awopbopaloobop, and so on and so forth

Either this is a massive coincidence, or we're in The Matrix and I'm bending reality to my own ends with the power of my mind. Wait....I know kung fu!

Anyway, the point is that not long after my mentioning the classic 1980's TV series Tutti Frutti in the Nicky Wire post the BBC have released the whole series on DVD. Apparently the delay was due to some legal wranglings over a performance of the title song, which featured some changed lyrics and therefore provoked Little Richard's lawyers to get all lawyery on the BBC's ass, as lawyers do. Anyway, the impasse seems finally to have been "cleared up", which I assume just means that everyone finally agreed on a sum of money which would be sufficient to make the lawyers go away. Amazon seem to have sold out almost immediately, but I'll be getting a copy just as soon as one becomes available. [Image is from here.]

I'll conclude by mentioning a couple of other things in the hope that the strange powers I've exhibited here can make something happen:

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

celebrity lookeylikey of the day

Channel 5 cricket highlights frontman, former Hampshire captain and slightly oily character who you might just be a bit reluctant to let get within sniffing distance of your 16-year old daughter for reasons you couldn't quite put your finger on Mark Nicholas, and former Spandau Ballet frontman and owner of a partially unused ticket to the world Tony Hadley. Relax, ladies - he's already married. And fat.

what do you zinc of zat

Quick postscript to the Pembrokeshire holiday post: it turns out the pub in Rosebush we parked up round the back of before our hill-climbing excursion, but failed to go in on the way back - partly through being distracted by the bizarre post office/bistro/cheese shop shenanigans we'd just witnessed, but mainly because we were really wet and miserable - is quite famous, mainly for being made out of galvanised corrugated iron, and, consequently, named Tafarn Sinc. My new scrupulous picture attribution policy requires me to tell you the one on the left was half-inched from here.

Monday, August 03, 2009

it's all good fun till someone loses a soul

Naturally you'll remember the atheist bus campaign and the storm of highly gratifying incoherent hypocrisy from the religious community about the whole thing. Strap yourselves in for some more, as the media gets wind of the hilariously benign and un-newsworthy goings-on at Camp Quest UK.

This is the first UK-based version of something that's been happening in the US for a decade or so - a summer camp for kids without the usual underpinning of religion (since this is the US and UK we're talking about that would be Christianity). So you get the usual camping, frisbee-throwing, whittling and lighting fires, but with some lectures on free thinking and rationality thrown in. To be honest there's more than a little bit of a whiff of macrobiotic tofu about the whole thing, but the motives behind it seem pretty commendable. Well, the whole notion of "summer camp" seems a bit American to me, but that's just me being a tweedy old duffer; I mean, I still feel the same way about trick-or-treating at Hallowe'en. And I still put an apostrophe in Hallowe'en!

Anyway, despite this being pretty obviously a Good Thing, some people have managed to work themselves up into a lather over it, among them, would you believe, the Daily Mail, which asks all the important questions like: is this all harmless fun or is it AN EVIL SWAB FROM SATAN'S ARSE, or something like that. Note how they amusingly mis-label organiser Sam Stein (in the picture I've nicked and cropped on the left) as "Sam Klein" in the photo caption - well these Jewish names all sound the same, don't they? Note also that Ms Stein is sporting one of the excellent Bad Science T-shirts, which can be purchased here, in colours other than pink if you so desire.

Needless to say most of those fulminating about "indoctrination" seem to be in possession of a dictionary with the words "irony" and "hypocrisy" missing. Top journalism marks go to this Times piece for saying pretty much nothing but managing to work the word "grooming" into the headline. Good work. Marks off for pretty much everyone though for asserting that it's run or organised by Richard Dawkins in some way (he gave them £500), or that it is an "atheist camp", which it specifically is not. In fact those labelling it as such need to think about what they are saying here: free thinking, questioning and evaluating evidence leads to atheism? Well, yes, I agree, but if I were pushing a religious agenda I wouldn't consider that to be a profitable line of argument.

We haven't heard from Stephen Green of Christian Voice on this subject, but I look forward to it immensely, as on past evidence it should be absolutely tremendous.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

take it to the bridge - but only if it hasn't fallen down

As I've mentioned a couple of times before there's something inherently fascinating about bridges, and suspension bridges in particular. Just to exploit the frankly minuscule probability that it's not just me, here are some links. Well, it can't be just me or there wouldn't be any links to provide, would there?
  • The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is probably the most iconic and instantly recognisable bridge in the world. No wonder then that it's a magnet for people who want to end it all in a more grand and epic way than just an overdose or something like that. Here's a trailer for the 2006 documentary The Bridge which addresses precisely this subject, as does this interesting New Yorker article from 2003. This post from Strange Maps provides a graphical representation of where people jump from - generally facing the city, it turns out, for reasons that may be complex and psychological or may just be related to that being the side the pedestrian walkway is on (the other side being a cyclepath). The vertigo-inducing image is from the National Geographic article linked above. Remarkably, through the magic of Google Street View you can now transport yourself to the exact spot where most people jump off - check out the number 69 on the roadside lamp-post.
  • China is currently the place to be for massive engineering projects. This article from the always fascinating Deputy Dog's blog has some pictures of what will be, when completed, the highest road bridge in the world, annihilating the current record held by the puny Millau Viaduct in France. Some video footage can be found here - unless you speak Chinese the commentary will be pretty much incomprehensible though. Note that although it sounds like they're saying "sudoku" repeatedly it is in fact Siduhe - the bridge being called the Siduhe Grand Bridge, apparently. Other fascinating bridge-related posts from the same blog can be found here, here and here.
  • Finally here's some engineering snuff porn for you - the collapse of the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 1940. Some fascinating colour footage can be found here - amazingly the only fatality was a dog left in the lone car that can be seen on the bridge. If you want to earn trivia points at dinner parties and have women literally flock around you panting with barely-suppressed lust (and who doesn't?) you can point out when someone murmurs sagely about "resonance" that it was actually a related but distinct phenomenon called aeroelastic flutter. Then sit back and wait for jaws to drop to the table, and knickers to drop to the floor. More info on the bridge's construction and collapse (plus images including the one reproduced here) can be found at this University of Washington page.