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OpenLearn Live: 8th August 2016

Updated Monday 8th August 2016

An astonishing bridge which makes a bold entrance to Rio. Then more free learning through the day.

OpenLearn Live links the worlds of learning and research to the things that matter to you. This page will be updated across the day.

On Friday, we completed a week in 1966, and caught up with the Olympics

See the complete collection of OpenLearn Live

Today's posts

FutureLearn this week

It's Monday, which means that our friends down in London at FutureLearn have opened the gate and escorted a new set of courses out into the open this morning. There's 13 new courses starting today.

From The Open University, you can try Understanding Experiments or Spanish For Beginners: Meeting and Greeting.

From other partners, amongst the picks of the Baker's Dozen are Norwich University of the Arts' Visual Effects for Guerilla Filmmakers and Preventing The Zika Virus from Department of Disease Control at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

See all the new courses at FutureLearn

Disabalist language in Peep Show

By its own admission, Disability & Society is not the first journal you'd turn to if you were looking for a discussion about the sitcom Peep Show. But David Bolt explains how the difference in how Mark & Jeremy negotiate disabilist language, compared with racist and sexist statements:

Mark draws on his knowledge of history, alludes to Nazi Germany, and indicates his opposition to the use of racist language, be it ironic or otherwise. Moreover, if a somewhat unlikely candidate for the role of reified super-ego (i.e. conscience made concrete), even Jeremy is certain about the evils of racism and the ways in which it becomes manifest in discourse. He is a naive character but nonetheless has some social awareness on which Mark can draw, if only as a point of reference against which to check his own self-doubt.

Yet Mark’s fundamental sensitivity about prejudicial language does not extend to the subject of disability. In early episodes he uses the disablist word ‘spaz’ and calls someone a ‘faking little peg leg’. This insensitivity soon expands beyond the physical, for when discussing his school reunion with Sophie he asserts that he is not a ‘mentaloid’; when they are out for a meal together he suspects that a nearby couple may have ‘mental health issues’ and decides he must ‘get her away from these freaks’; and in the final series he thinks of their decision to move in together as ‘definitely mental’. Moreover, on the subject of learning difficulties, Mark’s use of problematic language is recurrent. He likens Jeremy to ‘an idiot savant,3 but not so stupid’, an assessment that is revised in a subsequent episode’s references to an ‘idiot’, a ‘moron’, and a ‘cretin’. In the one episode Mark is praising Jeremy but in the other, believing their Christmas turkey has been forgotten, he is expressing anger. Either way the word choice serves to set Mark apart from Jeremy – and, by extension, from the disabled figure momentarily invoked. Notably, however, in the final episode, Mark uses the term idiot in relation to himself as well as to Jeremy, as though the aspiration to normality is over.

Read the full article: Pretending to be a normal human being: Peep Show, sitcom, and the momentary invocation of disability

A week in Rio: The Rio-Niterói Bridge

This week, we're following the rest of the world and turning our attention towards Rio. But we're going to turn away from the sport, and explore some other stories of the city. We're going to start with the Rio-Niterói Bridge.

The Rio–Niterói Bridge Creative commons image Icon Arthur Boppré under Creative Commons BY 4.0 license

The bridge - officially known as President Costa e Silva Bridge - connects the two largest cities in the state of Rio de Janeiro. Rio sits at one end and Niterói at the other. The two cities look at each other across Guanabara Bay. Eight and a quarter miles apart, before the bridge was built to travel from one to another without a boat meant a trip of 62 miles round the bay.

A crossing of some sort was first proposed in 1875 - a bridge, then maybe a tunnel, before switching back to a bridge again. In 1963, a formal project to bridge the bay was started.

And that's where the challenge came in. Because the bay is in the flight path of Rio's main airport, the bridge team were given a strict injunction: there were to be no towers. The bridge was to sit as close to the water as possible. Something like the Golden Gate suspension bridge was off the table. Instead, the designers settled on a short-span pier bridge. This wasn't a simple solution, though - you can only sink piers into a bay if the geology would allow it. The team decided to construct a bridge using as few piers as possible.

Work began in 1968 - partly funded by British banks, and using a notable amount of British materials. This connection makes it slightly less extraordinary that the first piece of work on construction was officially done by Queen Elizabeth, during her only visit to Brazil. (After her ceremonial work, things were paused and actual work didn't commence until 1969.)

The construction wasn't smooth - costs mounted, deadlines were overshot, and workers died during the process. Eventually, though, the bridge was completed. The bridge opened on March 4th, 1974.

And it's quite a bridge:

the longest bridge in the Southern Hemisphere, the longest span continuous straight beam in the world, the central span of 300 meters in length, the most important prestressed structure of the Americas, with more than 2150 km cables in their structures, one of three major bridges in the world in spatial volume, the relationship between length, width and height of structures - from the foundations driven into the rock at the bottom of the bay, the massive pillars and superstructure (the board) by where the highway passes.

It's a toll bridge - you pay on the Niterói side; R5.50 (about £1.30) - and many people do. So many, in fact, that rush hour sees the entry points of the bridge crammed at either end. What was once the solution to a problem has now become a problem looking for a solution...

Bonus - for bridge fans only, we suspect. Here's a video of the bridge being crossed:

Explore the Olympics with OpenLearn

Why it's important to get bridges right: The Silver Bridge disaster


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