Nuclear War in Coventry: Perspectives from the 1960s

‘Seventeen years ago, man unleashed the power of the atom. He thereby took into his mortal hands the power of self-extinction.’ – John F. Kennedy (1962)

Nuclear Cathedral

Have you ever wondered what nuclear war would look like from Coventry?

In light of the University of Warwick’s upcoming 50th anniversary in 2015, the Modern Records Centre has been asked to digitise certain documents dating back to the university’s inauguration decades ago. This includes a collection of student publications preceding what is now The Boar, the university’s current student newspaper. Amongst a 1966 edition (May 25) of the Giblet, a weekly satirical student publication, the usual accounts of student hijinks are suddenly broken up by a few bold words: ‘GIBLET AND THE BOMB.’

The reader is then presented with a series of articles reflecting an era when the threat of catastrophic war was reality rather than retrospection. The articles were prompted by the 1965 release of Peter Watkins’ The War Game, a documentary-drama depicting the effects of nuclear war on Britain. The effects of the documentary were such that the BBC decided to ban its broadcast on television the very same year, while its distribution via cinemas continued. Consequently, the documentary stirred the fears of many who watched it, particularly for the writers in the Giblet.

Coventry: Ground Zero

One article titled ‘H-BOMB ON COVENTRY’ provides a pretty harrowing narrative, regaling the reader with a scenario where Coventry itself is the target of a nuclear strike. The description of the attack itself, sobering in its impassive delivery, begins:

‘Slightly off course, a 2-megaton bomb, equivalent to 2,000,000 tons of TNT, hits ground zero at Tollbar End, South-East of the City Centre […] A ring of total destruction, radius 2 miles, is the effect of fire and blast shock immediately around ground zero.’

The narrative continues, detailing the near-total destruction of Coventry – the further blast and heat radius damage, and the immediate irradiation coupled with fallout from a potential attack on Birmingham.

Below is a simulation of a 2 megaton bomb on Coventry in the same area:

CoventryBombSimulation

Suffice to say, the University of Warwick – along with the Modern Records Centre – would probably not fare so well in the above scenario.

‘Attack warning RED!’

In the event of a nuclear attack on Coventry, who would you turn to?

The Civil Defence Corps (CDC), established under the 1948 Civil Defence Act, was a volunteer civil defence force administrated by the British government with the aim of preparing and assisting British citizens in the event of war. The roles were similar to those of their predecessors during the Second World War, but now with the added possibility of a nuclear attack. The CDC was the final wave of defence in the face of potential annihilation – but how prepared were they?

It must have been a terrifying thing to imagine that the CDC might become a necessity. It was a brutal reminder of the possibility that nuclear deterrence could fail even in the face of mutually assured destruction. For the writers of the Giblet it must have been even worse when the CDC admitted to basing their preparations on somewhat generous hypothetical scenarios:

• That the attack would be limited rather than a saturated bombing
• That the bomb would drop on a ‘conveniently non-central area’
• That all essential CD personnel would be free to perform their functions
• That the British public would remain orderly and not panic

The last point had probably afforded itself by the efforts of the British government, who sought to romanticise public spirit in the face of the destruction wrought by the Second World War. The Coventry blitz killed an estimated 550 citizens, many of whom had succumbed to their injuries in the weeks following. It is likely that a 2 megaton bomb, killing anywhere up to 100,000 people in the first instance, would cause a far more adverse effect on psychological well-being of survivors. Perhaps this is why The War Game shocked the public so much – to see that for once, the British public were not portrayed on television as tea-drinkers with an impenetrable mental fortitude in the face of destruction.

Shadows of a World War

The Giblet articles betray a growing unnerve amongst the British public during the height of the Cold War; a chilling sensation that perhaps the policy of deterrence, lauded as the ultimate bastion against the encroaching Soviet Union, would itself become a catalyst for mankind’s downfall. Such feelings are hardly surprising given the events of the 1960s. Public demonstrations against nuclear weapons were steadily garnering support, spear-headed by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) which organised the famous 160,000-strong Aldermaston marches in 1961. The following year, the unthinkable came close to reality as the Cuban missile crisis threatened to drag two superpowers beyond the event horizon of a nuclear war that could have consumed Britain along with much of the civilised world.

The 1960s were a dark and foreboding time for many who feared the nuclear bomb – the literature of the time certainly indicates this. As a final thought, published in the Giblet is Peter Porters’ Your Attention Please, a poem depicting the final government radio announcement before a nuclear attack. It ends thusly:

‘All flags are flying fully dressed
On Government buildings – the sun is shining.
Death is the least we have to fear.
We are all in the hands of God,
Whatever happens happens by His Will.
Now go quickly to your shelter.’

Original copies of the Giblet are available at the MRC, but unlikely to be published digitally until 2015.

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A Load of Rubbish

Every now and then we stumble across some odd items in the archives at Warwick University.  A signed photograph of Harry Houdini; an unnerving photograph of David Seaman emerging from the shadows; an article revealing that a popular magician was actually a cross-dressing MIA army recruit.

This time, however, we came across something that topped all discoveries.  Two vintage-looking pedal cars, unceremoniously dumped next to a skip by the BP (yes – British Petroleum) archives.

One of the cars was missing its pedals, while both of them had electric cables with rusted crocodile clips on the end, which seems to suggest that some hefty battery was powering something in those cars – probably the lights.

I have no idea why we had them in the first place, but I’m pretty sure – jealous childhood nostalgia aside – that their value is far more than skip-material.

Here’s to hoping this becomes the standard for campus transport.

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Codecademy: Half a Year Later

Back in November I mentioned my dive into Python programming via Codecademy, a website offering free user-created courses on a multitude of programming languages.  Having started in September, half a year has crawled past since I begun my not-quite-so-arduous journey.  What better time to reflect on what I’ve learned like a bad TV filler episode?

Prior to my foray into Codecademy, my experiences of programming had been extremely limited.  I had a small knowledge of VBA scripting thanks to school (and little else, thanks to school), and as a child was completely obsessed with ZZT, an MS-DOS game creation system dating back to 1991 and boasting its own simple object-oriented programming language.  Otherwise, I was fairly clueless to the whole shebang.

Codecademy (and Zed’s book) changed that.  Back in November, I was progressing fairly well with Python.  Now, I have experiences in Python, JavaScript, jQuery, HTML, CSS, PHP and Ruby.  It always amazed me when people would reel off the list of languages they could program in, but now it’s something I completely understand; programming languages follow the same rules.  They are far more similar than they are different, owing the latter simply to the difference of syntax and structuring rules.  Consequently, once I had an in-depth knowledge of Python, it was pretty easy to grasp the other languages.

So, half a year after starting, I am now a moderator at Codecademy, spending some of my spare time keeping order and helping others with their own learning experiences.  I also run a couple of groups, including Codecademy UK and a Bug Reporting Group.  In all, I think the website has done a fantastic job, despite its infancy.  Criticisms of its lessons have been taken to note and the entirety of the web-related exercises were rewritten to accommodate absolute beginners.  The Groups feature is also in its beta stage, allowing users to congregate around similar interests, but still lacking a number of key social features such as instant and and private messaging.  I’m pretty excited about what the future of Codecademy has to offer, but also hugely thankful for what it already has offered – that extra push off the fence to get me doing what I’ve always wanted to do.

So what have I actually done with programming?  So far, not much.  I’ve maintained my PEAR program, which uses Python’s tkinter GUI libraries and can now search through Excel files to grab specific data for renaming files (yes, I tried my hardest to make that sound more complex than it is).  My aim is to eventually experiment with game environments utilizing Python (such as PyGame) and C++, while also working on web development, particularly in HTML, CSS and PHP.  As for the latter, I can think of a large number of badly written websites in the NGO sector (and beyond) which are in dire need of redesigning.

Perhaps one day this entire blog’s structure will be destroyed rewritten by my very hand.

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Trident: The Rotten Affair of Nuclear Ambitions

In 2006, the Labour Party decided to pursue a like-for-like renewal of the Trident missile programme, Britain’s submarine-based nuclear deterrent.  In 2010, this intention was reaffirmed by the serving Coalition.  At a time when Britain is suffering from one of its worst economic downturns in modern history, the decision to renew Trident has proven particularly controversial, not least because the Coalition is forcing some very sour-tasting budget cuts down the throats of several key sectors.  As the deadline for the final decision on the Trident renewal creeps steadily towards us, we have to ask ourselves: is Trident really necessary?

Pricing up Trident

Cost estimations for the Trident renewal have varied widely, which is worrying to say the least.  The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is no stranger to badly managed finances and vastly underestimating the cost of equipment.  Recently, the MoD claimed to have balanced the budget in its spending of £160bn over the next decade, allocating £35.8bn to submarines, including those designed to be fitted with nuclear ballistic missiles.  This comes at more than twice the amount to be spent on armoured vehicles and other equipment designated for the army.  The National Audit Office (NAO) has cast doubts over such proposals; while the MoD has set aside £8bn for potential inflating costs,  Britain’s largest weapons projects ballooned by £11bn between 2000 and 2012, typically amounting to costs that were 40% higher than the MoD’s initial forecasts.  Other reports have claimed that the costs of the new submarines may rise to £56.5bn up to 2058, while the full cost of transferring to a new system will be £83.5bn up to 2062.

The astronomical costs of the Trident come at a time when Britain is being squeezed financially; cuts to welfare, cuts to the NHS, cuts to education, cuts to benefits.  Whilst being the only country in the EU to vote against clamping down on excessive executive pay, the government has felt it appropriate to make these cuts on the back of renewing a costly and wholly inappropriate nuclear weapons system.

So if Trident is so needlessly costly, what are the economic implications of scrapping it altogether?  The worst case scenario is causing approximately 31,000 job losses, mainly in naval shipyards the production of atomic weapons.  However, extensive submarine contracts lasting into 2025 mean this will be a long adjustment period rather than a sudden and dramatic impact.  This gives ample time to put labour into more beneficial areas of society such as housing, schools and public transport.  For example, the £3.1 billion currently spent on Trident every year could go into housing projects to generate roughly 62,000 jobs in a year.  The state-of-the-art Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, opened in 2010, cost £545 million – a paltry sum compared to the costs of Trident.  While it is true that the savings gained from scrapping Trident would not be immediate (due to cancellation and decommissioning costs), the long term economic benefits are crucial to helping maintain a stable economy.

Does paying for Trident pay for security?

The economic considerations of Trident are only one perspective, and naturally come second to the security implications of nuclear weapons.  We have nuclear weapons primarily because of their perceived deterrent capabilities.  However, we first developed our own bomb in 1952 during the early stages of the Cold War, much in response to being beaten to it by the Soviet Union.  Thirty years after the end of the Cold War, Russia and China are still viewed as likely candidates to start a nuclear war in the future.  George Robertson and John Hutton, both former Defence Secretaries, have argued for the need to retain Trident on the basis that we do not know what the status of international relations will be half a century down the line, citing the fact that Russia is constantly upgrading its various ICBM-related technology.  Russia’s pursuit in such technology is by no means laudable, but it does so while the US provocatively flouts plans to build missile shields on Russia’s doorstep.  The Russia argument also doesn’t account for the fact that other than France, no other European country has felt the need to develop or retain their own nuclear weapons.

The possibility of a changing context is often cited as the imperative to maintain our nuclear weapons.  But if we are to go along that route, there are several ways to devastate a country without risking mutually assured destruction.  The rise of terrorism (including state-sponsored terrorism) in particular negates the usefulness of nuclear weapons.  As access to and reliance on technology becomes far more prominent in both developed and developing countries, cyber terrorism can be potentially crippling if targeting emergency services and military instalments.  A dramatic reduction in the price and expertise required for biological warfare will also help shift the emphasis towards discrete forms of warfare; the “price per casualty” ratio in a given area, if deployed correctly, can be vastly below that of nuclear or chemical weapons.  The likelihood of a catastrophic biological terrorist attack is currently low, but taking “changing context” into consideration certainly warrants its attention.

The biggest problem of the nuclear deterrent argument is the assumption of rationality.  Nuclear weapons were born out of an era consumed by realist ideology, assuming that all states were singular rational actors within an international arena.  By this logic, states would be deterred from nuclear war by the threat of mutually assured destruction.  Further to this, the economic and ecological effects of a nuclear war, such as the collapse of global agriculture, renders a large nuclear exchange between two states as a catastrophe for most of humanity.  We could still perish as a result of a nuclear war without our involvement.  The use of nuclear weapons against a nuclear-armed state, as they are intended to prevent, is simply irrational.

And here is the crux of the problem.

If we retain nuclear weapons because we cannot know what the future of international relations will be, why do we automatically assume that those in possession of nuclear weapons will always be rational?  How can we assume that nuclear accidents will not occur and not lead to an irrational response?  Those who kill themselves and others for what they perceive to be a higher cause do not interpret rationality in the same way as those who believe in the deterring effect of mutually assured destruction.  If states truly are rational players, they will seek to undermine their enemies with the lowest cost to themselves – that is, not using nuclear weapons.  If states (or those perceived to be the state) have the potential to act irrationally, then nuclear weapons are not a deterrence, only a devastating weapon.

The ethics of Trident

Finally, the “third pillar” of nuclear deterrence considers the ethical implications of developing, maintaining and deploying nuclear weapons.  Advocates will argue that as a last resort, nuclear weapons will prevent the loss of limb of your own army.  But argument does not go far to justify nuclear weapons.  Firstly, the nature of the weapon is non-discriminatory; it is not designed to level buildings, it is designed to level entire cities.  When the first of the two nuclear bombs ever deployed in history struck Hiroshima, the total number of deaths (including post-attack casualties) is estimated to have been between 90,000-166,000 – the number of military personnel stationed in the minor industrial city was 40,000.  At the most conservative estimate, less than half of the casualties were civilians.  Secondly, the victims of that generation are not the only victims of a nuclear strike.  Applying intergenerational justice to nuclear weapons, we must consider the aggregate effects of nuclear war on subsequent generations, who inherent a world riddled by a nuclear holocaust.  Even the most conservative of realist arguments do not deny nuclear war as a possibility; only that such an exchange is “very unlikely in our life time”.  As such, this leads to the conclusion that subsequent generations are possibly worse off than those who perish instantly, meaning that we cannot justify nuclear weapons on the argument that “we” might be better off as a result.

From an economic, strategic and ethical point of view, it’s difficult to see any way in which the Trident system is worth retaining.  On the contrary, scrapping the system will not only free up a massive financial burden, but will help send a message to promote nuclear non-proliferation at a crucial time when North Korea and Iran are at the forefront of nuclear controversies.

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North Korea and China: A Strained/Strange Relationship

On February 12, North Korea rocked the world (quite literally) after carrying out it’s third nuclear test in history, albeit the first under Kim Jong-un.  The world had been prepared with a warning in advance from the North Korean government.  However, the success of the test was still a shock to many, who are growing increasingly worried by the test running in tandem with its rocket programme.

Interestingly enough, the reactions of the rest of the world are more telling of their own influence than the nuclear test is of North Korea.  The test falls snugly in line with North Korea’s aggressive military posturing.  On the other hand, while criticism has been drawn from most of the major powers, even China, North Korea’s only mighty diplomatic and economic ally, has grown increasingly frustrated with its ‘spoiled child‘ neighbour.

The condemnation from China might at first be interpreted as a sign of change to come; with pressure building up behind the scenes, North Korea may be forced to bow down if prompted by officials in Beijing.  Indeed, the nuclear test could not have come at a worse time; China has been embroiled in diplomatic trouble with Japan over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands (or, to be realistic, the economic resources surrounding the islands).  Recently, the US has sanctioned several Chinese firms over allegations that they supplied materials to Iran which are banned under the US Arms Control Act and the Export Administration Act.  The government has also faced pressure from its own newspapers to take a harsher stand in keeping North Korea in line.  Beijing is being severely tested in light of these developments, lest it lose out on its international posture.

But just how much sway does China have over North Korea, and how much will it take to make them abandon one of their most important geo-strategic allies?  China effectively controls North Korea’s fuel supplies, with the ability to decimate the country by cutting off its oil trade.  China also contributes a significant portion of food aid to North Korea, which it has limited before in reaction to previous missile and nuclear tests.  But both of these measures, used in force, would be of little use to China’s long-term strategy of buffering US influence in Asia.  The government is therefore desperate to tread lightly around the recent nuclear test; should North Korea fall, the US will be effectively encroaching on its doorstep, in additional to the problem of millions of North Korean refugees.  However, China knows it cannot hold onto North Korea if the latter forces the hand of the US and South Korea.

It is, then, no surprise that Beijing’s response to the nuclear test has been somewhat mild, much to the displeasure of many Chinese netizens.  China has been reluctant to back UN resolutions which are binding for all member states, particularly in respect to economic sanctions.  It is unclear how the entirety of these events will unfold, but it is clear that China is aware of its loosening grip over North Korea and the possibility of allowing the country to fall for the sake of regional stability.

Patience will only stretch so far.

Kim Jong-Un

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Python in the Workplace

Working in an archive, albeit on the digital side, teaches you some valuable lessons in the workplace.  As we blunder further into the digital age at a rate that far out-paces our adaptivity, it becomes quite apparent that we not only take technology for granted but also fail to realise its massive potential.  The problem partly stems from the consumerist attitude to technology that pervades all the way down to the educational institutions; we consume but do not create.  “Creating” with technology is still very much seen as a realm of expertise and the result of years spent in an unlit basement attached to a keyboard and dangerously bright screen.  As a result we find ourselves not fixing a problem, but waiting impatiently for someone to fix it for us.

Presumptions aside, this was partly what drove me to take up a programming language; while I can sail through an operating system or pull apart a computer with ease, I’m still limited somewhat in what I can achieve.  I’ve often found myself muttering “I wish x could do y” or “x does y but not exactly in the way I want it to”.

Nowhere has this become more apparent than working with archives.

While digitising entire collections, the speed and efficiency of our work is determined by two main factors: a) the limits of technology and b) how we use technology.  A scanner can only scan within it’s physical boundaries, but the processing of files on a large scale is determined almost entirely by how we use the software available.  The latter factor, then, rears its ugly head when we find ourselves with thousands of files which require some menial change – for example, renaming.  Let’s say that renaming a file takes 3 seconds; if we have 1000 files, that’s almost an hour spent just renaming files.  This of course doesn’t take into account any decrement in speed due to the sheer mundanity of the task.  While there are already applications which can sequentially rename batches of files in seconds, they don’t do it exactly in the way we need them to.  Archive files are named sequentially, but may on occasion have to throw an ‘a’ or ‘b’ on the end of the name.

This is where programming becomes an essential tool.  I’m no expert, having spent only a few months learning Python in my spare time, but with what little I have learned, I can now apply in such a way that not only eliminates an unbearably dull task to the benefit of our work, but also allows me to be as creative as I wish within the boundaries of an entire programming language.  Granted it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a skill that is hugely beneficial and remarkably easy to learn these days, given the wealth of tutorials on the internet.

Working for the MRC, I have now written an application which can rename files based on a list pulled from Excel.  It’s not the most exciting of things, but I was able to call it PEAR, just because I could.

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Crossman goes Live

After nearly a year of work, the Richard Crossman Collection has officially gone live via Warwick University’s CONTENTdm system, giving the public free access to 1,840 pages of mostly radio and television transcripts dated beween 1934-74.  Over time, these will be further divided into thematic areas, but for now the entire collection can be browsed, searched and downloaded into PDF format.  As mentioned previously, the collection is a goldmine for history and politics buffs, covering a period which saw some of the most devastating developments in the follies of humanity – and henceforth attempts to correct them.  A contextual analysis of Crossman’s speeches can be found here, which additionally provides an overview of the varying themes found in the collection.

In other news, work with the Railway Review continues, myself having just finished the gruelling task of digitising a rather overweight book.  Large books appear to have become something of a trend, as not long after we were tasked with the Railway Review, another request was put in for a book which, quite frankly, cannot possibly have been made for a human.  Part of the massive collection of diaries belonging to prominent cyclists, this particular scrap book measured 1.4 metres across when opened.  A book so stupidly large that even our stupidly large scanner couldn’t hope to scan it.  In the end, we were forced to improvise with a professional DSLR camera, a broken tripod and some chairs.

Another project has also been placed in the pipeline, as we have been tasked with digitising a collection of nearly 600 play texts – mostly prompt books – dating from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.  A few manuscripts have also been thrown in, including a play (dubiously named “The Organ Boy of Savoy”) that was written especially for the collection’s original owner – Clara St Casse.  Given that each of the books number between 30-40 pages each, our estimate puts the total number of pages at around 20,000 pages.  Prompt books are tiny and therefore easier to scan, but this may well take far longer than the Spanish Civil War project.

Here’s to hoping they’re a good read.

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Getting to Grips with Python

For the past couple of months I’ve been dipping my toes in the vast waters of Python, a relatively modern programming language which encourages clear, expressive and fun to learn (cue the Monty Python references) syntax.

As with learning anything new, perhaps the most daunting task is finding out where to start – there are a plethora of books, courses and websites which offer to teach the foundational blocks of Python.  So where to start? As it happens, my brother helpfully pointed me towards a rapidly-growing “open source teaching” website known as Codeacademy.

Codeacademy takes a very unique approach to learning (and teaching) programming languages, boasting the recent incorporation of their own server-side interpreter, introduced alongside their new Python course, allowing users to enter and execute code on the website.  This effectively reels in those “on the fence” about learning Python since it cuts out the process of having to download, install and set up the Python implementation(s).  Not only that, but courses can be written by anyone in the community, provided they go through a beta testing stage.

Although the interpreter has proven to be slightly buggy at times, the website on the whole left me astounded at the amount of hard work that goes into helping beginners.  The courses utilise a somewhat novelty “badge” (achievement) system which encourages people to practice coding at least once a day, provide user-run Q&A sections for every course, and, most importantly of all, listen intently to user-feedback.  I could prattle on about this website all day, or you could simply see for yourself how easy it is to get hooked into learning a programming language.

The other Python course I want to draw your attention to is the highly recommended book by Zed A. Shaw, Learn Python the Hard Way.  

If you can look beyond the daunting title, Shaw’s book takes the more traditional approach to teaching programming languages by encouraging the user to type every line of code by hand.  As with Codeacademy, the lessons are methodically placed and start from the very basics.  Although Windows users are required install Python and run it through Powershell, Shaw provides instructions down to the smallest detail.

I can’t comment on how easy the book is for beginners, since I’d already finished all of the available Codeacademy tracks for Python by the time I started.  However, the book has already taught me a great detail more, and it’s good practice to repeat lessons.  Unlike the Codeacademy lessons (which, due to the limitations of the built-in interpreter, are fairly strict), Shaw encourages the user to expand each script in entertaining ways.

In the end, I can’t really recommend one over the other; Codeacademy is probably the best choice for those who aren’t sure whether they want to learn Python or not, since you can jump straight into it.  However, the lessons still need a bit of ironing out in places due to some minor bugs.  Shaw’s book has been around for a while, with it’s 3rd edition set for release in February 2013, so it’s a safe bet that his knowledge provides for a solid foundation.  The book comes in four formats – hardback, digital download, video courses and a free HTML version.

Needless to say, with either (or both) choices you’re guaranteed to be satisfied if you stick with it.

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Keeping on Track: The Railway Review

Train puns aside, today I’ll be talking about a new project I’m assisting with at the MRC.   We’ve been asked to digitise our collection of The Railway Review, a weekly newspaper dating from around 1880-90.

Your first thought may be that the contents of such a publication could only possibly be of interest to those who are either fascinated by trains, or unions, or both.  While for the most part that assumption is correct, our task is a somewhat morbid one – while we’re scanning every crumbling page, we’ve been asked specifically to transcribe sections which deal with railway accidents.

Let me say this now; as a nation we’re content with turning our noses up at health and safety regulations, heckling those who tell us to stand behind the yellow line at the station.  However, a quick peruse through the contents of the Railway Review and you’ll realise why health and safety exists.

With a grotesque attention to detail and, in some cases, the personification of Death, the Railway Review takes us on a journey through an era when accidents were a weekly (and messy) business, attempted train robberies were the norm, murder mysteries took place on trains, and Beecham’s Magic Cough Pills were only a guinea a box.  I’m beginning to wonder whether noir fictions of the late 1800’s were actually just accounts of people’s experiences on trains.

So there you have it. Trains are not quite as boring as you may think, especially trains from the late nineteenth century.

As the Railway Review went through several redesigns throughout its history, the sizes of the books range from human to sheer colossal.  Our open bed scanner, specifically designed for huge books, can’t handle the largest of the books without a complex modification, demonstrated below:

Complex modification composed of boxes and stuff.

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Obama Strikes Back

Much of the planet breathed a sigh of relief today as Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney and secured himself a second term as President of the United States of the World.  Relief, however, should not be mistaken for jubilation – particularly not of the kind that accompanied Obama back in 2008  when McCain was thwarted for the position of Supreme Commander in Chief Constable.

Obama will barely have time to sit back and rejoice before committing himself to a country plagued by woes, much of which affect the rest of the globe, much of which is ignored by the media.  Despite the small gains in employment and growth, the economy continues to plummet as national debt has rocketed.  Gaps between the rich and the poor are exploding at unprecedented rates across the world.  Immigration remains a huge issue for Americans.  Iran’s nuclear programme continues to cause strife, particularly with Israel and the US.  Israel continues to build settlements in Palestine.  Palestine continues to crumble.  Syria continues to spiral out of control.  Guantanamo Bay remains open for business.  Africa has remained non-existent for the past four years.

These barely begin to scratch the surface of problems that have unfolded or had already unravelled during Obama’s previous term.  For many it represents a president marked by failure.

So why the relief?

The answer is pretty simple; it was a choice between two people to lead the most powerful country in the world, and when the choices are Obama and Romney, it’s a battle between Limbo and Hell.  As a student of international relations, I thought I’d summarise how Romney presented a potential disaster for foreign policy:

Russia. Romney has been known for his anti-Russian outbursts before and during the Campaign.  In March he famously described Russia as the US’s “number one geopolitical foe” – a statement so outdated that it reeks of the Cold War, alongside his criticisms of the START treaty limiting American and Russian nuclear warheads.  While Obama hopes to relocate potential missile shields away from Russia and towards Iran, Romney no doubt would have thought “Why not both?”.

Iran and Israel. The two countries are invariably linked to the US with the current crisis concerning Iran’s nuclear programme.  Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has consistently reiterated (and pushed back) the “Red Line” at which Israel will launch strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities.  Both the Israelis and the Americans know, however, that a strike cannot possibly achieve much without the support of the latter.  Romney had consistently berated Obama for his lack of support for Israel (that is, chiding Israel over the settlements in Palestine, and not committing to military action against Iran), and seemed to favour a far more hard-line approach than Obama’s combination of sanctions and diplomacy.

Syria and Iran. Syria’s civil war continues to spiral out of control in a patch-work of opposition contrasted to that of the level of organisation witnessed in Libya (alongside aerial support from Western forces).  Attempts to resolve the conflict externally remain at a stalemate, largely due to vetoes within the United Nations.  Meanwhile, Romney did himself no favours during the televised debates in which he opened up his plan with “to go after the bad guys“, later claimed that Syria was Iran’s “route to the sea“, before adding that the best solution was to send arms to Syria and somehow ensure that they didn’t end up in the wrong hands.

These are but a few of the issues which could have left Romney as the harbinger of destruction.  Thankfully, though, Romney is not in power.  The world is still a miserable place, but a slightly less dangerous one.

And it is on that note which I reiterate; while Obama’s victory may not bring jubilation as such, it’s certainly a relief that it’s him and not some time traveller sent from the era of the Cold War.

Obama and Romney ferociously pointing.

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