Wednesday, November 5, 2008

On protests, gunpowder, and celebration

Today is the 5th of November. To almost everyone in the UK, that means it's Guy Fawkes's Day, the anniversary of the State Opening of Parliament in 1605, which Guy Fawkes, despite his best efforts, did not blow up. That was largely a religious act of terrorism; at the time, Catholics were under huge legal pressure in the UK, James (the new King) had made some vague comments that he might ease things a little, but anti-Catholic sentiment was still strong. A group of young, foolish Catholics formed this plot to remove the King and Parliament, and bring in a Catholic puppet ruler. It largely failed, and this failure was celebrated the next year. By now, though, nobody's sure whether the sentiment is "Hurrah, they failed!" or "Hurrah, they tried!", but the fireworks tend to start in late October and not let up until around February.

Meanwhile, in the USA, the big night for fireworks is the 4th of July. I have to admit to not understanding this; first, it's in Summer. A key point to note about Summer is that it stays light until late. Moreover, in recent years, Benjamin Franklin's worst idea has been used; thanks to clock-keeping, you need to give people even less sleep before the next day's work to get darkness. Frankly, July 4th does not make sense as a time for fireworks.

In both cases, though, the impetus is a rebellion. The major difference is that the US rebellion succeeded.

And tonight, if I can find somewhere reasonably close to Pleasant Hill which will be dark and have an eastward view, I shall be watching silent fireworks, provided by nature. The Taurids are coming, and this year they're promised to be spectacular. And tonight, they're not even having to fight the moon much.

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