Guy Fawkes, call your office

November 5, 2019

By Anthony Sacramone.

On this day in 1605, an angry English Catholic named Guy Fawkes along with a group of other angry English Catholics with other names attempted to blow the House of Lords and King James I to high heaven. The so-called Gunpowder Plot gave birth to centuries of stringent anti-Catholic legislation, an infamous graphic novel with a persecution complex, hactivism, and the abbreviated inquiry “WTF?”

Fawkes was born in 1570 in York, for which he cannot be held responsible. That he began fighting on the side of imperial Catholic Spain against the Protestant Dutch Republic in the Eighty Years War is a matter of moral culpability. It was not long before Fawkes was in Spain asking King Philip II to aid embattled Catholics in England.

A variety of factors created that embattlement. First there was Henry VIII, who asked Pope Clement VII for an annulment from Catherine of Aragon so he could marry a bunch of other women, but was denied in a tastefully crafted letter that opened, “To whom it may concern.” The pope stood his moral ground, thus denying Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and Catherine’s nephew, another excuse to bust up Rome. So Henry named himself head of the church in England, which enabled him to sleep with whomever he wanted, making things very difficult for those who remained loyal to the Bishop of Rome and traditional views of marriage.

The Gunpowder Plotters.

Catholics had placed high hopes in the accession of James VI of Scotland to the English throne in 1603. (They had enjoyed a brief respite from persecution under Henry and Catherine’s Catholic daughter Mary Tudor, who did her best to kill as many Protestants as possible, earning her the nickname “Bloody,” after “Chloé” proved a tad precious.) James was the son of the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots, who was herself daughter of the French Mary of Guise (who was also Queen of Scots—whether the same Scots is unclear, there having been quite a lot of Scots at one time). Read the rest of this entry »


Lots of luck, kids — you’re going to need it

June 11, 2018

For someone who’s as old as I am, I have attended remarkably few graduation ceremonies, and so have suffered through very few commencement addresses. Assuming what I’ve heard about them is true, if they could be packaged, they would put Ambien out of business. This one is an exception — a work of art, suitable for framing:  

What do we mean when we say that this is a “commencement”? Is it truly a new beginning, or merely a paradoxical designation for the end of your education? The answer will depend primarily on how much debt you have accumulated. Seeing as this fine institution gouges the working and middle classes to the same extent as other, even better, fine institutions, I will wager that your best years are behind you.

So where does that leave your mortarboarded selves, other than staring blankly into the void like a gaggle of stupefied monks trapped in a Stanley Kubrick movie? As a great superintendent of higher education once declaimed, “Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life.” I disagree. If such were the case, where would that leave CNN? Or Buzzfeed? Or at least five Cabinet appointees?

What is Truth? When that question was famously asked, Socrates was already dead, and so we knew that Truth was something you only thought you knew, like which Kardashian to follow on Instagram, but was in reality too elusive to grasp, otherwise you’d be like Socrates, which is to say dead. And so continuing education was born.

Allow me to tell a story so inappropriate it can only end in a subpoena. Oh forget it. What can I say that won’t result in a riot or another iteration of that crazy Hitler video where he’s suddenly screaming about piñatas and cultural appropriation? What has happened to our great universities, and even our crappy ones? Where did the spirit of debate, free inquiry, and open exchange of ideas flee to? Flanders? And what ever happened to Flanders? How do you lose a whole damn country? Moreover, could Lincoln and Douglas have held their historic debates in this censorious climate, or would they, too, have been deplatformed, forced to do that stupid Joe Rogan podcast and drop F-bombs every five minutes? Read the rest of this entry »


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