I love fireworks, BUT . . .

64

Tycho (left), Coton de Tulear named after the 16th Century Danish astronomer; and Cuba (right) named after the island of her breed (Havanese Terrier).

 

Explanation for non-British readers: In 1605 a Catholic plot to blow up Parliament was foiled at the last minute. The leader of this “Gunpowder Plot”, Guy Fawkes is burned in effigy on November 5th each year atop bonfires all over Britain, and fireworks whizz and bang to commemorate the gunpowder that didn’t. Children love “Bonfire Night” or “Guy Fawkes Night” and recite a rhyme:

Remember, remember

The Fifth of November –

Gunpowder, treason and PLOT!

After I tweeted my misgivings about the effects of loud fireworks on non-human animals, the Daily Mail invited me to write an article of 1200 words on the subject, to be published on “Guy Fawkes Day”. The Mail version of the article can be seen here under the headline

Bonfire night now goes on for WEEKS – and it’s hell for pets.

Reproduced below is the original version as I wrote it, before the Mail sub-editors changed it from my style to theirs. American readers may mentally substitute “July 4th” for “November 5th”, and Indian readers may substitute “Diwali”. I don’t recommend reading the Mail version, but the comments underneath it are overwhelmingly encouraging.


I love fireworks, BUT . . .

by Richard Dawkins

On 12th October 1984, a Provisional IRA member planted a bomb in the Grand Hotel, Brighton, in an attempt to assassinate the Prime Minister. That objective failed, although five people were killed and many injured. Would we want a national festival every 12th October when we all let off fireworks to commemorate this event? And if, in addition, we burned the perpetrator, Patrick Magee, in effigy all over the country, wouldn’t our revulsion be increased?

Bonfire Night enacts the burning in effigy of an earlier Catholic terrorist – or freedom fighter if you prefer. Our “Remember remember” fireworks commemorate a failed murderous explosion in 1605. A terrorist bomb plot, even a failed one, sounds a pretty nasty thing to celebrate, which was of course why I brought up the comparison with the Brighton hotel plot. But Guy Fawkes is separated from us by more than 400 years: long enough for the commemoration to suggest not bad taste but the quaintness of distant history. So I’m not trying to be a killjoy, a November Scrooge.

And I do love fireworks. Always have. For me the appeal is to the eye more than the ear – the spectacular colours that psychedelically paint the sky, flares lighting the smiling faces of children waving sparklers, the whirring of Catherine Wheels (again historical distance helps us forget that that name has a pretty nasty provenance too). I don’t so much get the appeal of loud bangs, but presumably some people love them or the manufacturers wouldn’t put them in. So I don’t want to deny that fireworks, even the bangs, are fun, and I have much enjoyed bonfire night over the years, from childhood on.

But although I love fireworks I also love animals. Including human animals but just now I’m talking about nonhuman animals. Like our little dogs, Tycho and Cuba, who are only two among millions all over the country that are terrorised every year by the prodigiously antisocial decibels of modern fireworks. It would be tolerable if it happened only on November 5th. But over the years “November 5th” has expanded relentlessly in both directions. It seems that many people, having bought their fireworks, are too impatient to wait until the night itself. Or they enjoyed the night itself so much that they can’t resist reprising it week after week thereafter. And in Oxford the firework season is not a limited season at all but extends to most weekends throughout the university terms.

If it were only Tycho and Cuba whose lives are made a misery, I’d shut up about it. But when I tweeted my misgivings about the noise, the response from other owners of dogs, cats and horses was overwhelming. This subjective impression is confirmed by scientific studies. The veterinary literature lists more than twenty physiologically measurable symptoms of distress in dogs resulting from fireworks. In extreme cases the fear caused by fireworks has even led to dogs biting their owners, in total contrast to their normal gentle behaviour. It’s estimated that some 50% of dogs and 60% of cats suffer from fireworks-phobia.

Then think about all the wild animals all over the country. And cattle, pigs and other farm livestock. There is no reason to believe wild animals, whom we don’t see, are any less terrified than domestic pets whom we do. Rather the reverse, when you consider that loved pets like Tycho and Cuba have human comforters to soothe and console them. Wild animals suddenly, without warning, have their natural environment and peaceful nights polluted by the acoustic equivalent of a First World War battle. Talking of which, among the positive responders to my firework tweets were human war veterans suffering from the modern equivalent of First World War shell-shock.

What should be done? I wouldn’t call for a total ban on fireworks (as enforced in some jurisdictions including Northern Ireland during the Troubles). Two compromises are commonly suggested. First, fireworks might be restricted to certain special days in a year, such as Guy Fawkes night and New Year’s Eve. Other special occasions – big parties or balls and the like – could be accommodated by individual applications, along the same lines as permissions to play loud music on special occasions. The other suggested compromise is to allow firework displays to be put on by public bodies but not any old private citizens in their own back gardens. I would suggest a third compromise, which might render the other two superfluous: allow visually appealing fireworks but put a severe restriction on noise. Quiet fireworks do exist.

Although the replies to my tweets were overwhelmingly in agreement, there were two dissenting strands, which need to be taken seriously. First, wouldn’t a legal restriction on fireworks infringe personal liberties? And second, shouldn’t the pleasure of humans have priority over “mere animals”?

The personal liberties point is superficially persuasive. Several tweeters said that what people do in their own gardens – on their own private property – is their own business and nobody else’s, especially not the business of the “nanny state.” But the sound and shock waves from a loud explosion radiate outwards far beyond the boundaries of anybody’s garden. Neighbours who don’t like the flashes and colours of fireworks can block them by drawing the curtains. No such blocks are effective against loud bangs. Noise pollution is antisocial in a peculiarly inescapable way, which is why the Noise Abatement Society is so necessary.

What about the “mere animals” plea? Isn’t human pleasure more important than terrified dogs, cats, horses, cows, rabbits, mice, weasels, badgers and birds? The presumption that humans matter more than other animals lies deep within us. It’s a difficult philosophical problem, and this is not the place to go into it in depth. Just a couple of thoughts.

First, although the reasoning power and intelligence of nonhuman animals is far inferior to ours, this famous statement by the great moral philosopher Jeremy Bentham is as valid as it was in 1823:

“. . . a full-grown horse or dog, is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a week or even a month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?

The ability to suffer – feel pain or fear – doesn’t depend on reasoning or intelligence. An Einstein is no more capable of feeling pain or fear than a Sarah Palin. And there’s no obvious reason to suppose that a dog or a badger is less capable of suffering pain or fear than any human.

In the case of fear of fireworks, there might even be reason to think the opposite. Humans understand what fireworks are. Human children can be consoled with a verbal explanation: “It’s OK darling, they’re only fireworks, they’re fun, nothing to worry about.” You can’t do that with non-human animals. All you can do is cuddle them and make soothing noises.

Let’s not be killjoys. But fireworks are nearly as appealing if silent. And our present disregard of millions of sentient beings incapable of understanding what fireworks are but fully capable of dreading them, is utterly – albeit usually unwittingly – selfish.

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64 COMMENTS

  1. Here in the US, most of the young people have no idea why our fourth of July is celebrated.
    Every year for three days all hell breaks out like a warzone.
    I live in a beach community where there are deer, raccoon, bear and numerous other wildlife.
    Every year also there are dozens of lost dogs and cats reported to the rescue organization I belong to.

  2. I suppose it’s worth celebrating many years of freedom from Catholic theocracy, even if some other forms of Xtianity took hold for a while before fading recently!

  3. I think one of the reasons behind the extension of the “fireworks season” in the UK is their use in Diwali celebrations that generally take place in October or November. Add in those who can’t wait and those who just want to let fireworks off for the hell of it and you can easily have up to a month of bangs in any area with an Indian population.

    Personally I like a bang but the light show is the main part so wouldn’t object to some kind of decibel restriction outside of specified times.

  4. utter agreement.

    tonight I’m being treated to a regular check up at the vets so either way it was going to be a night of misery for me, but the fact that the first one I heard this year was 3 weeks ago and expect it to go on well into november, makes it very hard for anyone to folllow the seasonal suggestion to “keep pets indoors”.

    Nothing can prepare you for the random explosion from a neighbours garden, no warning, no family gathering to tell you not to go exploring, just someone deciding to see what happens if they set one off.

    Of course I’m lucky in that I can be kept indoors, or on a rare moment of sensibility, decide to stay in, but next door’s rabbit has no choice. I should also point out, it’s not just the bangs, the fizzy ones scare me more than the bangy ones.

    It is a bizzare species that needs to celebrate a failure, the same one that earlier this year celebrated a ceasefire in gaza with gunfire. that’s how you know when the ceasefire starts, everyone fires. equally a failed attempt at an act of terror is celebrated by instilling terror in those of us who just want to enjoy the dark cold nights between feeds and naps, away from the attention seeking of needy apes. You invented the TV, now please stay in and watch it. gardens at night are not your domain.

  5. What is the matter with you? You present a serious, thoughtful discussion about fireworks and then in the middle of it a bit of nastiness about Sarah Palin. I just don’t get it. You want us to take you seriously don’t you?

  6. So you need a widely known archetypal stupid person (ideally ignorant of their own stupidity) to set against Einstein. Who would you choose?

    K? Anyone?

    That little smirk at her own cleverness over dissing fruitfly research puts her right up there with…with…well who?

  7. K Nov 5, 2014 at 8:31 am

    What is the matter with you? You present a serious, thoughtful discussion about fireworks and then in the middle of it a bit of nastiness about Sarah Palin.

    Did you get the phrasing confused?

    . . . . . a bit about the nastiness of Sarah Palin ?

    In the Palin crowd it’s hard to tell if the bangs are coming from the fire-crackers or the “want to be out of control” gun crackers!

    http://www.cbsnews.com/news/sarah-palin-talks-waterboarding-guns-at-nra-convention/
    Palin also rallied the pro-gun audience to continue protecting their right to bear arms, saying their efforts are “needed now more than ever because every day, we are seeing more and more efforts to strip away our Second Amendment rights.”

    She warned that the president and his administration were trying to enact gun control to keep a firmer grip on the American people, and she urged the roughly 13,000 NRA faithful in the crowd to fight back.

    “If you control oil, you control an economy. If you control money, you control commerce,” she said. “But if you control arms, you control the people, and that is what they’re trying to do.”

  8. K: Well, Richard could have chosen Louis Gohmert, but most people wouldn’t know who he is.

    Alan4: Hm, the choice between the C17 C of E and the C17 Catholic church was a case of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” wasn’t it? A move from a continental to national theocracy, in your terms– though I think something like “theocratically approved monarchy” would be more accurate.

  9. PERSON Nov 5, 2014 at 9:08 am

    Alan4: Hm, the choice between the C17 C of E and the C17 Catholic church was a case of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” wasn’t it?

    I don’t think HenryVIII in his later years, was very sympathetic to the wealth gathering power of the monasteries, or the dictates of the pope! –

    A move from a continental to national theocracy, in your terms– though I think something like “theocratically approved monarchy” would be more accurate.

    Different classes and types of theocracy!

    And then there was also the “meet the theocratic Parliamentarians and Puritans” of Oliver Cromwell!

    http://www.historytoday.com/chris-durston/lords-misrule-puritan-war-christmas-1642-60

  10. Fireworks are pretty, but I really hate the noise. (And I’m a human animal without any war related issues with loud bangs. I just don’t like loud noises, period.)

    I feel rather stupid just now, though. In Swedish media there’s always a lot of talk about dogs suffering from the loud noises from fireworks and it’s been so ingrained that I only ever felt sorry for dogs. I have to admit I never* thought of cats or horses or wild animals. (*Not much anyway.) Even if someone wants to argue that we as human should have the right to make some noise if we wanna, there’s also a difference in scaring a few pets (or humans) and scaring hundreds or thousands of animals for the sake of some fun… Even if I don’t like the idea of even a few being scared, I guess it could be considered a “reasonable cost” maybe… But not with so many.

    I vote for option 1 and 3 (allow them rarely and only on specified dates + use quiet ones). However I’m pretty sure we already have those rules in place where I live and there are fireworks going off for weeks before christmas until maybe a week after new year’s and then again for a few weeks around easter. There’s always some who think the bangs are fun, obviously. (I also have some stupid neighbours who think it a great idea to place the fireworks out in the street – without first making sure there are no cars on said street… What happens if a firework goes off right as the car drives over or next to it? It seems an accident could easily happen if the driver is suddenly scared by a loud bang… and children all around waiting to see the lights…)

  11. The the idea of noise restrictions on fireworks is intriguing. I actually didn’t know about the existence of “quiet fireworks”, but they do exist. And a rapid online search allowed me to locate a company that produces them. They give also an indication about the cost: ~25% more than the regular, loud fireworks. Which is really no hardship, I think.

    I would support a restriction on the noise fireworks produce. Actually, I’d like the EU to address the issue -in the same way they did for cars, for example. This would guarantee a more homogeneous progress of the European Countries on the matter…

    If I may broaden the topic a little, I’d like to add that fireworks are not the only uncivilized sounds we introduce in nature which frighten -or do way, way worse- wild animals: noise pollution of the oceans and seas is becoming a big issue and there are studies which suggest that it may severely harm the marine fauna -cetaceans, in particular, may suffer the drastic reduction of their communication range due to background noise.

    I think an effort to reduce noise in the oceans -and introduce severe limitation of powerful (say, grteater than 200dB) underwater acoustic sources- would be worth doing.

  12. SaganTheCat Nov 5, 2014 at 8:15 am

    There are loud bangs and flashes from fireworks behind our house, – and our cats is sound asleep in one of her regular spots on the carpet by a radiator!

  13. Makes sense, I guess, though it seems less urgent to me than, say, the regular disruption people experience when living close to airports or busy main streets. I’d vote yes to the noise restriction if there was a vote: I dislike the noise, and find it an irritating intrusion around this time of year, even allowing for the insulation of my home.

  14. I agree that fireworks should be limited to just the 5th November or very large parties, but I do think that quiet fireworks would lose a lot of their majesty.

    Also it’s possible to train your pets so they don’t get scared by fireworks by playing recordings of them on your speakers quietly every day or so for a couple of weeks and increasing the volume slightly each time. A bit more challenging to do this with wildlife though!

  15. regular disruption [ ] airports or busy main streets

    They chose to reside there.

    *100% agree with RD, I cringe at the thought of roosting birds getting blasted to kingdom come.

  16. They chose to reside there.

    Are you suggesting they wanted to be disturbed when they moved there? It’s not as simple as suggesting “They chose it, so ignore their concerns.” In some cases, they’d been there before recent developments directed the noise pollution their way (like an airport expansion), or they couldn’t afford/pick anywhere else to live. Richer people buying up the better houses can also force others into less desirable housing.

  17. are you suggesting..

    Of course not. I concede to generalizing, my statement was in reference to people who voluntarily move to a noisy zone.

    The scenarios you point out are indeed lamentable – sick and / or bedridden folks are the ones I feel worse for though, absolutely no escape from unhealthy noise pollution, inc. fireworks.

  18. I live in Queensland Australia. Several times a year there seems to be some excuse or another for fireworks over the Brisbane river. Like religion, the mad masses appear by the thousands with glassy eyes fixed to the sky in great expectation. So dazzled are they by the shiny lights that they don’t see the black clouds of toxic smoke billowing out behind them. The debris and whatever is left after gunpowder burns (I’m not a scientist), falls into the river below. I would not be surprised if they find dead fish floated for days and weeks afterwards (then blamed a witch). Aside from the pollution there is the problem caused by the noise that terrifies so many animals so much that every time these events occur, animals run in fear and become lost; many become victims of speeding vehicles, cruel individuals or end up on death row at the pound. Wouldn’t you think, with modern technology, we could bring these celebrations into the 21st century but utilizing some sort of laser light display, with great music, instead of thunderous, polluting, outmoded fireworks?

  19. Given that I had chosen Einstein as legendarily clever, I needed a well-recognised name to stand for the opposite extreme. Perhaps you think it was unkind to mention Sarah Palin by name. I get that, but it’s really quite hard to think of anyone else with the same combination of name recognition and extremely low mental ability. The Daily Mail, in their printed version of my article, actually cut her name out. I asked them why. They didn’t deny her stupidity but were worried about whether their readers would know who she was. Michael Palin is better known in Britain, and the Mail editors feared that readers would think I was referring to some connection of his! I suppose I could have used George W Bush, but his name, though highly recognisable, is associated with other things than his stupidity, for example warmongering and weird fiscal policies.

    Perhaps I should have cut Einstein too, and not even tried to use named individuals as my representatives of human extremes. Somehow I feel that would have lacked vividness, but sorry if I gave offence.

  20. Many non-British readers will be aware of the Guy Fawkes business if they’ve seen the movie V for Vendetta, based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore who also wrote Watchmen. As an aside, there’s an actor in Vendetta who plays one of the baddies whom the titular hero has his sights on (the obnoxious Nick Ferrari-esque radio blowhard) who I reckon is the spit of the late Christopher Hitchens. If there’s ever a film made about Christopher’s life, he has to be in the running. The V for Vendetta mask will be familiar to most people who know the movie, or with anti-capitalism protests, even if they don’t realize it’s meant to be Fawkes.

    We used to have a lovely Staffordshire Bull Terrier who was absolutely petrified of any sort of loud noise. Whenever there was a thunderstorm, Geoffrey would wander from room to room panting and trembling. We took to giving him an antihistamine secreted inside a toffee (with full approval of Doctor Chinnery the local vet), removing one of the drawers from a divan bed and building him a little soundproof cubby of sorts where he could wait it out.

    Thunder is one thing, and if God wants to move His furniture around there isn’t much we mere mortals can do about it. Fireworks are another matter and, like Christmas, Harry Potter books, Trick or Treat and Christianity, best suited to children and those of limited intellectual development. Sadly, otherwise sensible grownups with jobs, mortgages and all the other trappings of adulthood have chosen to get in on the act. Many of us will have answered our door in the evening in the weeks leading up to Hallowe’en (my birthday incidentally so another reason for my grumpiness at this time of year) to see a gang of six-footers standing there with menacing grins on their faces and a “trick or treat” on their lips. You know if you don’t have any candy for them the trick you can expect will be along the lines of a dog’s egg through your letterbox or a banger up your cat’s bum if Tiddles is out and about.

    It’s the same with penny for the guy. First off, it isn’t penny for the guy anymore; it’s pound coin or even fiver for the guy. If it’s kids you can tell them to piss off (I really do cheer up and even become quite personable when Christmas appears on the horizon) but again, it isn’t only the younglings who participate in this socially acceptable form of begging but those in their late teens and older, usually while swigging from a shared bottle of White Lightning cider.

    And do make a bit of effort with your guy. That sounds like advice from a women’s magazine. What I mean is, make an effort with your Guy Fawkes effigy. Revive the ancient and sticky art of papier-mâché. Hours of fun can be had for kids tearing up newspapers, dipping them in wallpaper paste (the strips of paper, not the children) and attaching them to a soccer ball to fashion Fawkes’ fizzog. A balloon drawn on with felt tip stuck atop a poorly stuffed jumper does not a Guy Fawkes make. Put some elbow grease into your simulacrum, kids, and my change purse will appear.

    It would be tolerable if it happened only on November 5th. But over the years “November 5th” has expanded relentlessly in both directions. It seems that many people, having bought their fireworks, are too impatient to wait until the night itself. Or they enjoyed the night itself so much that they can’t resist reprising it week after week thereafter.

    I think supermarkets might be responsible for the expansion of holidays beyond their natural lifespan. Tesco puts its Christmas decorations up and its tins of Quality Street, mince pies (I once saw a display of ‘Christmas’ mince pies in a supermarket in November, I had a look at one of these boxes and the use-by date was December 10) and Bailey Irish Cream on the shelves earlier than usual; Asda spots this and follows suit. Marks & Spencer and Waitrose have to get in on the act in order to compete with the chav shops, and before you know it, Christmas has started to kick off in early November. From now until early January your ears will be assaulted by the words “It’s Chriiiiiiiiiiistmassss,” screeched by the great Sir Nodworth Holder every time you go into one of these places.

    The ability to suffer – feel pain or fear – doesn’t depend on reasoning or intelligence. An Einstein is no more capable of feeling pain or fear than a Sarah Palin. And there’s no obvious reason to suppose that a dog or a badger is less capable of suffering pain or fear than any human…

    Haha. I really hope someone tweets this bit to Ms Palin. She has a picture similar to Richard’s above of her posing with a beloved family pet. I could be mistaken but there seems to be more intelligence in the faces of Tycho, Coton de Tulear and Cuba than can be found in the glassy, vacant expression emanating from the subject of this second photograph. Perhaps the fact that the creature’s head is stuffed entirely with sawdust can account for this.

    …In the case of fear of fireworks, there might even be reason to think the opposite. Humans understand what fireworks are. Human children can be consoled with a verbal explanation: “It’s OK darling, they’re only fireworks, they’re fun, nothing to worry about.” You can’t do that with non-human animals. All you can do is cuddle them and make soothing noises.

    There’s a bit in Stephen Fry’s Paperweight collection of essays in which he talks about zoos in a similar vein:

    Human beings, who have imaginations and the ability to distract themselves by remembering poems or writing new ones, or betting on which bluebottle will fly off the window-pane first, find it hard enough to cope with incarceration. Animals, as far as we know, do not gamble or hum tunes to themselves or have an interior life that can make captivity less irksome, they simply turn slowly from rage to despair to neurosis and finally to a kind of numb torpor.

    Geoffrey’s behavior was… actually, I’m only writing this to demarcate the above quote from Stephen from the one below by Richard so I’ll leave it there.

    Let’s not be killjoys. But fireworks are nearly as appealing if silent. And our present disregard of millions of sentient beings incapable of understanding what fireworks are but fully capable of dreading them, is utterly – albeit usually unwittingly – selfish.

    I wonder if most of the appeal of noisy fireworks—not rockets which make that lovely whistling as they soar into the heavens, or the whizzzzzzzz of a pinwheel going round, but specifically bangers—is in annoying other people; a bit like motorcyclists who remove the muffler from their ‘hog’ so it will be as air-polluting as possible, or neighbors who drive into your apartment complex at four in the morning with their car stereo cranked up to the max.

    In Britain it’s against the law to beep one’s car horn between certain hours when most decent God-fearing people are presumed to be asleep, and if you were to take a couple of dustbin lids (not cockney rhyming slang, actual dustbin lids) and bang them together during the night, your behavior would not be considered acceptable. Bangers do not also make a lovely visual display, their only reason for existing is to make an animal-frightening, infant-waking din. Leave other fireworks alone but ban the banger, says I.

  21. I must admit, I thought K was joking. Hopefully he/she can confirm/deny at some point.

    Either way, Sarah Palin makes a spectacularly good opposite to Einstein with her legendary stupidity. And I’m sure Daily Mail readers would have known she was; many of them are probably fans of hers!

  22. Although Richard gives the full explanation of Guy Fawkes night for American readers, I dont think there are many youngsters who know much about it in the UK either. When I was a kid, there were kids on every corner, weeks before the event, with effigies of Guy Fawkes in old prams asking for “penny for the Guy”. Bonfires slowly grew in people’s gardens as people found wood to burn on the night. There was a build up that made the night special. The cold, the lights, the sounds and smells all added to the experience. Even the fog that lasted for a couple of days afterwards made for the experience. The downside was the sound of ambulances rushing to the injured and the fire engines rushing to put out fires that got out of control. The build up also included government warnings on the TV about the dangers of both the fireworks and the fires. The only part left of the reason for this event is the fireworks. The size of some of these fireworks should not be in the publics hands. The dodgy shops that open especially for this event make sure that these fireworks end up in the hands of youngsters who let them off all hours. I am all in favour of large event only firework displays.

  23. The other suggested compromise is to allow firework displays to be put on by public bodies but not any old private citizens in their own back gardens.

    This is the option I would favour for sure. Fireworks are not only noisy but also incredibly dangerous – as well as rather expensive!

    We just attended the annual Beaulieu Fireworks Spectacular and for just £13 each we got to enjoy 25 minutes of very impressive fireworks set to music, miles away from the nearest (ordinary) house and all carried out in complete safety with fire engines and ambulances on stand-by just in case.

    I don’t see any need at all for unlicensed citizens to be messing around with explosives in their back gardens when fireworks can be enjoyed at a proper organized display for a fraction of the cost and without anyone’s dog dying of fright or any children getting blinded.

  24. You still see people collecting money with effigies of Guy? I haven’t seen them for years and years. At least not in the burbs of Essex.

  25. Just about everyone in Britain knows who Sarah Palin is. Ask a Brit to name a stupid American and Sarah will more often than not be option number one, with George W in second place. You was lied to by the Mail, Prof.

    Sarah Palin is such a genuinely horrible human being that usual notions of kindness when speaking about her do not necessarily apply. Her über-illiberalism makes the woman fair game as far as I’m concerned.

  26. No self respecting council estate dweller would be seen dead begging for money when they can get more with a knife. 🙂

  27. Olgun Nov 5, 2014 at 6:23 pm

    You still see people collecting money with effigies of Guy? I haven’t seen them for years and years. At least not in the burbs of Essex.

    I think the tradition started back as a collection to buy fireworks for communal country village firework parties, where those who had made the Guy for the bonfire, showed it off to neighbours, before it went up in flames.

    Modern estates usually don’t have suitable spaces for bonfires, except for organised public displays in parks.

    In the modern age of post-open-fire heating and cooking, many people don’t know how to light or safely manage a fire (or camp-fire) in the open.

  28. I’ve just realized Coton de Tulear is a breed of dog and not the name of a third pooch I couldn’t see in the image. I was pleased with that Sarah Palin joke, too. Damn.

  29. phil rimmer Nov 5, 2014 at 6:35 pm

    Yep, The Mail fibbed. Sarah Palin was the perfect choice.

    I recently had the chance to look at a copy of “The Mail” which was provided for waiting customers in the local Chinese take-away.

    I can confirm that it is still no better than it was in the distant past, and is still at its most useful, when used for lighting bonfires or mopping up chip fat!

  30. I think you are right but I remember it as the only way some of the families I knew would ever be able to afford fireworks in their gardens. As times got better I remember the more street wise kids would spend the money on cigarettes and booze, as Katy said. I can also remember a large scorched area in a field or park some where that was thrown up on the night by the local kids. One year, the council must have taken away five loads of wood that where piled up by the local kids from the day before and the morning of, on the green outside a tower block. That was in the 70s.

  31. You should visit Malta. In summer, every village has its village feast during a weekend, and since each village can hear and see each other’s fireworks, they compete – which means that every single weekend there are fireworks from somewhere within earshot, and each year they try to make them bigger and louder… and they’ve become quite good at it.

  32. Fully agree with Prof Dawkins. Here in India, we face similar situations during Diwali. Firecrackers should be banned. I think it is immoral to terrorize our fellow species and to pollute the environment through an act of momentary pleasure.

  33. Olgun Nov 5, 2014 at 7:02 pm

    I can also remember a large scorched area in a field or park some where that was thrown up on the night by the local kids. One year, the council must have taken away five loads of wood that where piled up by the local kids from the day before and the morning of, on the green outside a tower block.

    The kids often see the councils and firemen as kill joys, but where parents don’t supervise bonfires they are dangerous.
    I have seen garden sheds go up in flames, and in the worst case some kids had made a camp in the bonfire they were building in a field.
    They were messing about with fireworks and accidentally set it on fire.
    There was a scramble to get out, but a four year who lived across the road from us, who was there with his older brother, didn’t make it!

  34. Madness. Im glad its mostly stopped. Now they need to start banning these fly by night shops, to start with, and then the whole public sale thing.

  35. This used to happen in Menorca too. We used to holiday there often and the displays used to go on for what seemed like an hour. Local cutbacks saw an end to that and now you barely get a few minutes.

  36. Olgun Nov 5, 2014 at 6:03 pm

    The size of some of these fireworks should not be in the publics hands. The dodgy shops that open especially for this event make sure that these fireworks end up in the hands of youngsters who let them off all hours.

    In the UK there are rules against selling “big display”fireworks to the public or any fireworks to young children, but as you say, the reckless, stupid and dishonest still let it happen.

    I am all in favour of large event only firework displays.

    They have their place, but I always liked a family bonfire, (with hot soup and food), on a cleared section of our vegetable garden, where I could burn waste wood and let the children learn how to safely light and manage fires.
    The trouble is that these days many lack gardens, or they are too small to keep fires at a safe distance from buildings and fences.

  37. Even the ones just inside the law seem way to big. Some selling at over £15 each for rockets and £60 for a box combo.

    There are musical events that you can take your family and a picnic. I would sign up for a display that involves the community and no commercialism is allowed. No fast food or the like. Just the cost of the display, security and a small profit for the organisers. Go along with your family and your hot soup. Donate the waste wood if you want or use the local dump recycling facilities. Make sure you have an alarm fitted at home though and the police should be extra vigilant. That would be my ideal.

  38. Allow me to add my voice in agreement! In fact, I loathe fireworks.

    My cats hate them, the baby birds hate them, and I especially hate them when my neighbor sets them off at 11:00 p.m. at night. By all accounts my neighbor is a nice man, but I detest booming noises and am very sorry to hear that England is imitating the U.S. in expressing “personal liberties” by invading others’ spaces in a manner even more obnoxious than boomboxes (remember them?). People in rural areas especially seem to think that they can make as much noise as they wish.

    Perhaps I shall get a megaphone and recite from Darwin’s Origin of Species, and tell people who do not like it that they are infringing upon my “freedom of speech”? (I am joking, of course.)

  39. I took my Labrador puppy out on a boat on a small lake for 4th of July. When he got scared I made the mistake of coddling him, and covering him up. Many people use Labradors for hunting, and they become desensitized to the loud noise, or even a Pavlov response The Chase is on……..
    My parents would go out in the yard and play fetch with their dog just before the fire works started, ignoring the loud noise; now he doesn’t even blink when they go off.

  40. Hmph. I actually really enjoy the Harry Potter books. And I’m neither a child or of limited intelligence. Or at least not more limited than most other human beings. So there. :p

  41. My dog is terrified of them, she hears one and hides anywhere she can.

    We’ve tried leaving music on, the TV, we’ve also tried those plugins that emit pheromones or something. Nothing really works.

    Im not the greatest fan of them myself – they make me jump and where we live everyones gardens are so close its awful when they’re all going at it.

    I think they should be banned for sale to the public, and only official companies should be able to handle them and put them on display at properly organised events.

    They are pyrotechnics and i don’t see why they should be handled/treated any differently to guns.

  42. I live in a rural area of the Pacific Northwest, and usually the only sounds I hear are the sounds of nature. Except when the neighbors insist on performing target practice with their semi-automatic weapons whenever it isn’t raining. You know, just in case Obama or terrorists or brown children with Ebola is coming’ after ’em. But that’s nothing compared to the din in late June, early July, and New Year’s Eve, when every droolin’, gun-totin’, red-blooded ‘Murkan in the state apparently crawls out of their trailers and backyard meth shacks and McMansions to not only ignite bottle rockets and sparklers but to take it to the next level with M80s, M100s, real cannons, guns of every description, and mortars they buy at the fireworks stands on the Indian reservations. Add in the wails of ambulance and firetruck sirens when the idiots blow off their fingers and light their houses on fire, and your ears will be ringing for a week. I’m totally in agreement about only allowing community fireworks, but you’d never pry the right to blow themselves up and terrify every animal within a fifty-mile radius out of the cold, dead hands of my fellow Murkans. I now just get sedatives for my pets from the vet and suffer through it myself. I feel for the wildlife, I really do. What assholes we humans are.

  43. The Guy Fawkes of the modern mind bears absolutely no resemblance to the historical man (if there ever was such a man). He is as much a sock puppet as most of the American “founding fathers”. Empty, blameless, authority figure vessels into which we can project all of our social frustrations, dreams of the future, and most of all, anger at perceived injustices.

    In effect, they are religious symbols.

    Because, as much as we wish to think of ourselves as “beyond” the immature trappings of religious devotion and magical thinking, there is one temple at which we all still bend our knees and bow our heads: the church of the state.

    Or, more precisely, the magical belief that, if we can apply just a little bit of violence in just the right places, at just the right times, then the whole world will be better for it. And that, if enough people write my name on little slips of paper and a ceremony is performed over those slips of paper, then I will gain the magical power to make an evil thing like violence into a good thing, which I can then apply liberally to all the world’s problems.

  44. Greg, Guy Fawkes is a figure we know quite a lot about and I’m astounded you question whether he existed. In fact he went to school about a mile away from where I live in the historic city of York.

    Letters were discovered about 20 years ago from the crowns intelligence service of the time that strongly indicate that the gunpowder plot was known from the outset and encouraged by government agents so that they could justify a persecution of catholics in its wake.

    My 6 year old daughter has been greatly disturbed by being made to watch a film at school that went the details of the hanging, drawing and quartering of Guy fawkes and his fellow conspirators.
    Although he was certainly guilty of treason I have never liked the annual celebration of gratuitous violence that has taken place ever since. It reminds me too much of the thousands of men and women who were burnt at the stake during the grizzly 17th century wars of religion all over Europe.
    I could think of many events more worthy of celebration – for example Jenners first use of vaccination.

  45. Greg Nov 7, 2014 at 2:34 am

    The Guy Fawkes of the modern mind bears absolutely no resemblance to the historical man

    The caricature is certainly very different from the reality, but Fawkes was very much the sort of mercenary terrorist used clandestinely by foreign governments supporting dissident political groups. If he lived at the present time, he would probably be working for the CIA, KGB, special forces, or some similar organisation.

    (if there ever was such a man).

    His history is well documented.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guy_Fawkes

  46. I’ve just heard another barrage of explosions outside and our 2 year old Border Collie has gone ‘pace about’ for the seventh night in a row. He first began listening for fireworks when they started in the middle of October and no doubt he will be perking his ears up and scuttling off for at least another fortnight. Unfortunately not all dogs respond very successfully to desensitization and sedation for a month is not an option. So it looks like distraction techniques and midnight walks for a while yet.
    But best of all would be the banning of the sale of fireworks to individuals or severely restricting their use to specified dates.
    There was an e-petition last year calling for those kinds of restrictions but it only collected about 12,000 signatures.
    Now if all the millions of pet owners got together…

  47. There are more interesting, imaginative and modern light festivals friendly to environment, animals and even human health.
    Animals in distress is really touching, animals in a distress situation can even harm themselves to death, (if you never seen anything like that, at least try to feel some empathy).

  48. This brings back memories of a performance of Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks, back in the 70’s. We were picnicing, with an orchestra bowl on the opposite side of a narrow lake, on the lawn of Kenwood House in Highgate, bemused by the sight of two musicians with a score rowing between fireworks standing out of the water on poles, to light them in time with the music cued by the conductor.

    The sun was setting and a solitary heron flew slowly across above the trees.

    More like that please!

    ps – the 1970’s

  49. We were in a village outside Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu during Diwali in 1999.
    3 days and 3 nights of almost non stop, hell open fireworks.
    Like a 24 hour shooting range in Wasilla.
    My tinnitus went through the roof.
    Still need the vet.

  50. And how do we train wild animals and farm animals? I’d love to know your methods as we run a wildlife rescue and have no end of problems for weeks on end where the patients refuse to leave their bed to eat.

    I am all for restricting fireworks to certain days and professional events, stopping them from being sold in shops and used in gardens. It’s not just the noise and the lights there is also the fallout from the rockects landing on people, houses, sheds causing damage if not setting fires.

  51. I did donate to a Guy outside Northolt Tube station. The Guy in question was a boy’s little brother, dressed up and shoved in a pushchair. I gave him £1 for the cheek.

  52. I agree that fireworks should either be banned or modified to perform silent light shows restricted to regulated public venues. The concerns that Dr. Dawkins and others have raised more than justify an effective movement in this direction.

    Still it is useful to explore both the psychologically rewarding stimuli as well as the aversive stimuli that “noise”. provides to different human beings in different contexts.

    The demographic that protests the loudest (pun intended) against the jarring annoyance of fireworks explosion is revealing. The demographic tends to include more “mature” people over the age of 45 than younger adults, adolescents and children; and more women than men. – (“I have a pet, I’m trying to sleep, the noise is disturbing and pointless”).

    The deafening volume of live rock concerts and cranked up soundtracks in movie theaters generally irritates older folks while stimulating younger audiences. More to the point, action movies, especially war movies, enjoy box office success by enhancing the blast of explosions or gunfire. Imagine sitting though “Saving Private Ryan” with the artillery, rifle and machine gun sounds bleeped out. Likewise imagine Carnival in Rio or Mardi Gras in New Orleans with processions of costumed revelers marching and dancing in silence. No pounding drums, blaring trumpets, no noisemakers and no singing and shouting filling the night air.

    Specifically on topic, what is the appeal, especially to the younger male demographic, to the “noise” of fireworks displays? Why would a boy want to light and throw a super-bomb “firecracker” packed with enough gunpowder to blow his hand off? Testosterone. Males on average are hormonally far more stimulated by violent impulses and displays than women. Physical contact sports like rugby, [American] football, and boxing keep men glued to the TV while the women scratch their heads in puzzlement and try to get out of the house. But the ultimate fascination rooted in male physiology-psychology focuses on war. Watching war movies, military combat footage on the news or in documentaries holds men spellbound. (How many of your male friends followed the British fleet steaming to the Falklands in breathless anticipation of the Bang-Bang-Kaboom spectacle about to unfold.)

    Simply put, in my view, fireworks shows are simulations of war whose intense explosions including auditory stimulation are indispensable to satisfying -vicariously of course- the irrepressible male appetite for aggression.

    ( Note: Over generalization will understandably prompt warranted qualifiers. Many women are boxing fans and prone to aggressive feelings and behavior. The expression of aggressive, hormone-based interests and purposes in connection to the invention, development and use of fireworks, however, is distinctively male. Nothing said should be construed as proposing a scientific theory in the field of evolutionary biology.)

  53. As an avid watcher of films I can maybe put a little personal view on this. As a young man I watched war films and pretty much enjoyed them in the way you describe. I can’t temember the first war film I watched that changed me from enjoying the bang-bang-kaboom to being terrified but The early films tended to glorify war and you never got to see too much blood. “Saving Private Ryan” was one film that showed the real horrors of war and therefore those bangs and bullets whizzing through the air meant something quite different and caused another reaction which was not so thrilling. It made me feel quite sick actually. Another recent film that is a must is “Twelve years a slave”. The director makes you shift uncomfortably in your seat better than any slave movie I know. The uncomfortable moments are dragged out so you don’t miss them and you are forced to feel them no matter what. If we take a moment to think about the millions of animals that we must be terrifying night after night with fireworks. I think it can only change our perception and those bangs and flashes register differently in our minds. An awakening.

  54. Alas, regulation is not necessarily the answer. In the Northern Territory the law is clear: fireworks are permitted to be sold and let off by members of the public on only one day a year. But every year we suffer nightly explosions for at least a month afterwards. Quiet fireworks might be nice.

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