Saturday, 21 March 2009

What If?

Almost everyone who has an interest in history has, at some point, wondered ‘what if…’ Martin Lane investigates.

What if Hitler had won World War Two, or if Napoleon had been victorious at the battle of Waterloo? How would our lives now be different today if President Kennedy had not been shot on that fateful day in Dallas on November 22, 1963?

This undoubted appeal has even seen former Prime Ministers be drawn into the possible ‘what ifs’ of history.

Winston Churchill, an avid history writer as well as politician, once pondered how life would be different if the South had not engaged in the battle of Gettysburg, a turning point of the American Civil war.

Churchill said “the quaint conceit of imagining what would have happened if some important or unimportant event had settled itself differently has become so fashionable that I am encouraged to enter upon an absurd speculation.”

All these scenarios and countless more are still being mulled over on a daily basis by hundreds of alternate history fans.

Science fiction writer and critic Paul Kincaid said: “anyone who studies history is going to be struck by the number of times chance played a part,

Over the last few years the internet has breathed new life into alternate history allowing a community of ‘what if’ devotees to exchange scenarios and worlds that never existed.

“You cannot look, for instance, at the Second World War without at least once wondering what might have happened if Hitler had won,” said Mr Kincaid.

Mr Kincaid thinks that the area has become intrinsically linked to science fiction saying; “Alternate histories combine, to my mind, the most fascinating aspects
of science fiction and of historical fiction.”

Aliens, Space Bats and Other magic

Online fanzines and discussion boards such as www.alternatehistory.com have been running for several years now and the subjects that they discuss vary dramatically.

Alternatehistory.com currently has nearly 7,000 members debating the way history could have turned out, however they are also discussing things that are miles away from academic counterfactuals.

One section of the board is named “Aliens, Space Bats and Other magic.” Here members such as ‘NomadicSky’ ponder deep questions such as what would have happened if the minds of the Beatles had been transported from 1968 into the bodies of the Spice girls back in 1998!

“Just think of how the Beatles will feel, not to mention the fact that two of them have older versions still living!” he said.

This is just one of hundreds of similar questions; another example is put forward by board member ‘Kneze’ who wants to know who would be victorious: Sigourney Weavers’ Aliens or Hitler’s Nazis?

He says: “In August 1936 a Queen ‘Chestburster’ pops out of a random SS man as he is eating dinner in his home in Berlin, what happens next?”

Fellow member ‘Wanderlust’ replies: “I can't see how the aliens will cross the North Sea or the Atlantic, unless an aquatic alien gets ‘hand waved’ into existence.

“So Britain, Australia, Canada, NZ, Japan and the US should be okay, most likely reeling from the horror spreading across Eurasia but too scared to get involved.” She adds.

So to our relief Wanderlust spares Britain from the Alien attack in this alternate reality but perhaps these sci-fi worlds are one of the reasons why academics have been reluctant to embrace ‘what if’ scenarios?

History or Sci-fi?

Perhaps alternate history is now more at home as an off-shoot of science fiction rather than as the neglected cousin of historical literature.

Author of an alternate history website John Reilly feels it has become linked to science fiction.

Mr Reilly said: “the failure of the classical science fiction world to materialize, forced the imagination to find another outlet.”

Himself a ‘Star Trek’ fan, Mr Reilly first became interested in alternate history after watching an episode of the show;

“Remember that Star Trek episode about the planet about to be destroyed, the only planet in the star system whose people never had spaceflight?

“The story turned on the idea that they had developed time travel instead, and disappeared into their own past when they realized their sun was about to go nova” he added.

Alternate histories have also percolated through into popular culture. The recent success of the computer game ‘Fall Out 3’ set in a post apocalyptic world is a good example.

The Fall Out series shows how an alternate reality can develop and take on new life of its own away from the initial point of divergence.

Films such as The Butterfly effect starring Ashton Kutcher have also highlighted how even the smallest change can have a dramatic impact on future events.

The success of mainstream films and games has to some extent re-awakened the academic community to the usefulness of alternate history.

Academic Role

Dubbed ‘counterfactual history’ by highbrow intellectuals this new life been seized upon by historians. Critic Paul Kincaid said; “collections of counterfactuals by historians have started to be marketed to a mainstream audience.”

Yet often where academics are concerned these alternate histories are looked down on. The historian Edward Carr famously described it as an “idle parlour game” back in 1961.

Nearly 50 years on from this now infamous statement, more academics are open to the role of the counterfactual.

Southampton University History Professor Mark Stoyle admits to having little personal interest in counterfactual history but still feels they are becoming more important to academics.

Prof Stoyle said; “Alternative histories are rapidly becoming much more popular because they provide a different perspective.”

It is this different way of approaching the subject that attracts certain historian to the counterfactual factual approach.

Gavriel Rosenfeld a History professor at Fairfield University, Connecticut, said: “alternate history is a wonderful tool for understanding the dynamics of collective memory and also the forces of historical causality”

Still, Mr Rosenfeld who is also the author of “The World Hitler Never Made, Alternate History and the Memory of Nazism” agrees that a variety of people are interested in his work.

“It ranges from Highbrow intellectuals to gutter trolling consumers of schlock fiction,” he said.

Yet to the wider world alternate history, or to use the academic term, counterfactuals, may still be simply an entertaining pass time rather than enlightening.

While promoting on of his latest articles online, ‘Disraelia: A Counterfactual History, 1848-2008’ historian Walter Laquer met with some harsh criticism:

Critic Barry Larking said: “I find this 'what if' approach to history for practical purposes useless and in turns, dangerous.

“Essentially what Mr Laquer has created is an illusionary narrative which actually does nothing to develop a useful understanding of the present” added Mr Larking.

Academics argue that ‘counterfactual history’ is separate from the alternate histories that sci-fi fans indulge in. Perhaps it is because they fear that they will be placed in the same bracket as ardent sci-fi fans, or become ‘trekkies’ of history that still inhibits the academic?

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Car wheels come to a halt


Tyre dealers in Bournemouth say vintage and classic car owners could find it more difficult to get replacement tyres because of new EU rules.

The warning comes after the European Parliament passed legislation to make tyres across Europe more environmentally friendly.

Dennis Owen the owner of Bournemouth Tyres said: "If someone has an old classic and they damage one of their tyres it's really difficult because they don't make them anymore.

"The only place you're going to find one of them is on ebay or something like that," Mr Owen added.

The regulations are aiming to improve safety standards, cut noise pollution levels by 50% and increase vehicles fuel efficiency.

Mr Owen, who backs the move, said: "As we're heading towards this greener world, if it is going to bring the fuel down then brilliant.

"They are always improving them – some of the new tyres that are coming out are really nice," he added.

However, Mr Owen is still worried about the cost, arguing that customers will still want value for money.

"They are going to want to know if they are more expensive if they are going to last longer," he added.

Bournemouth's transport councillor Robert Lawton says the council would support the plans. He said: "We're all in agreement – anything that helps the environment is welcome."

The EU legislation is set to come into effect in 2012.

Boat insurance could become compulsory


Boat owners in Poole may have to take up extra insurance after the EU backed proposals to crack down on uninsured vessels.

Poole's deputy harbour master Ian Bishop said there was little control over the insurance of private boats.

"The only control we have there is if they take up a mooring, licensed or owned by Poole Harbour Commission, then we insist on at least third party insurance," he said.

Mr Bishop also described that hit and run incidents were also a problem.

"With small crafts it is more likely that the accident happens when someone isn't present on one of the boats and nobody bothers to report it for obvious reasons. It's quite common.

"Boats on moorings are often struck in the night and nobody reports it," he added.

However, he is also concerned about the cost of inspecting vessels and enforcing tighter regulations.

"Any inspection regime involves costs and at the moment we would have no way of recouping that. We would have to take on extra personnel," he said.

Head of enforcement at the Maritime and Coastgaurd Agency Jeremy Smart said: "Insurance has not been a legal requirement except for specific oil vessels, I have not had any cases of uninsured vessels that legally require it."

The EU plans could see this extended to other vessels.

EU Transport Commision vice-president Antonio Tajani said: "It is a significant step towards improved prevention of maritime accidents and increased accountability of all the operators in the sector."

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Conservationists given licence to axe

Conservations are taking the strange measure of chopping down trees at St Catherine's hill to protect the habitat.

The move is to ensure a suitable environment for snakes and insects is maintained but has prompted angry reaction from local residents and dog walkers.

Herpetological Conversation Trust worker Gary Powell answers our questions below:

video

TV Bulletin 11/03/09

Convergence week TV:

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Friday, 6 March 2009

Football survives freak weather


A victory for the Cherries was one of the few football games to survive freak weather this week.

Bournemouth's match against Aldershot on Tuesday went ahead without any problems, with the Cherries recording a 2-0 victory lifting them out of the relegation zone for the first time this season.

Meanwhile, the Terra's home match against York was called off last night after snow left the pitch unplayable.

The Weymouth game was the latest victim of more surprise snow on the south coast.

A statement on the club's website read: "Tonight's match between Weymouth and York City has been called off. The early morning snow has started to melt and has waterlogged the Wessex Stadium pitch."

Officials at the ground carried out a pitch inspection at 8.45am on Thursday morning before deciding to call off the evening's match.

An official spokesman from the club said: "It's because of six feet of snow. We have had loads and loads of snow here."

Fortunately for the visitors, the decision was made before the York team began the 290 mile journey down to the south coast.

The Weymouth match was not the only casualty of the weather. Earlier this week Salisbury's Blue Square premier match against Rushden and Diamonds was also called off, due to a waterlogged pitch.

The Terras next match is away at Crawley town on Saturday and the match against York will now be rescheduled.

Man admits cannabis possession


A man had more than £30 of cannabis on him when he was found slumped on the side of a street, Bournemouth Magistrates heard yesterday.

Michael Rodgers, aged 24, from York road in Broadstone, admitted purchasing 12 grams of cannabis resin for personal use.

Mr Newman, prosecuting, described how police patrolling Stratford road had noticed Rodgers slumped on the ground.

They then went over to check on his well-being and on finding the cannabis in his jacket pocket, arrested him.

Mr Newman said: "Mr Rodgers was unable to recall the events leading up to his arrest due to the large amount of alcohol in his system."

Mark Hensleigh, defending, said Rodgers who suffers from learning disabilities and mental health problems, had been out of trouble for over two years.

"He wasn't causing a problem to members of the public" said Mr Hensleigh,"he'd only just bought the cannabis."

Rodgers was given an 18 month conditional discharge and ordered to pay court costs of £60.

After receiving his sentence Rodgers turned to the magistrates' bench and gave a 'thumbs up' before leaving the court room.