Last month, I attended a wedding of a friend, up in Scotland and a very happy occasion it was. This wedding though gave me much pause for reflection as five days later I attended a funeral of a lady at my church. The contrast between the celebration of something new and the sorrow of something gone was stark.
I remember reading a blog post by a Scottish Presbyterian about how he appreciated funerals more than weddings (and it would be a Scot who said this) because there could be no idolatry at a funeral, only reality. While understanding this point, I profoundly disagree.
Weddings are a celebration of beginnings, they are full of hope and beauty and potential, often so very joyful, full of laughter, dancing and champagne. Funerals are an end, always too soon, with no hope outside of Christ and the promise of heaven to those who believe. There can be no dancing at funerals, little laughter and despite what people say there can be no "celebration" either, not in death.
My thought from attending both so quickly was how they so perfectly encapsulate life – so much blessing; so much sorrow and there is sorrow within blessing and blessing within sorrow. Perhaps all of life is lived between weddings and funerals.
A few years ago and I would have told you that David Cameron's manifesto pledge for an EU referendum was long overdue and one of the few reasons I respected the man. In a wilder moment, I may even have muttered something about it being undemocratic not to have a referendum.
And like the proverbial fable, I now have my wish and its nothing like what was promised. As Spiderman's uncle wisely said: “with great power comes great responsibility” and with the power of the referendum comes the responsibility of making the best possible decision. What appeared like a glittering unicorn of freedom is the glitter glue covered rhino of responsibility.
This is problematic, annoyingly so. As you may have picked up, opinions come naturally and easily to me. Even if I'm really struggling to make up my mind, I can always rely on my natural perversity and strongly disagree with the prevailing opinion.
Sometimes I find it hard to remember that American presidential elections are real. It's tempting to pull up a chair, grab some popcorn and settle down for the world's most entertaining reality TV show. In such a world, Donald Trump becomes the crazy racist that the producers put on for deliberate insult creation entertainment value. His one purpose to offend as many people as possible and yet somehow be extremely popular. Like the world's least cool version of Jeremy Clarkson.
The recent comedy gold was the Donald insulted the Pope, saying: "If and when the Vatican is attacked by Isis, which as everyone knows is Isis’s ultimate trophy the pope can have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president because this would not have happened. "
After the success of Olympus Has Fallen I can only wholeheartedly recommend this as the next big Hollywood movie. I'm thinking that an ex-super spy turned troubled Catholic priest takes the battle to the terrorists through judicial use of priceless religious art and monk-fu, in doing so finding peace with God through excessive violence. Done correctly and around 2 billion people would consider the film of mortal offence.
I like Buzzfeed for the same reason I liked reading Twilight - it might lack any discernible form of merit but what it tells you about human nature is pure gold. Its the website I love to hate, a collection of the inane, the interesting, the disgusting and the rare moment of minor genius that is counter balanced by approximately five hundred moments of excessive mediocrity. It is then the perfect reflection of the Millennial generation for the following 3 reasons:
Evil and the human suffering that goes with it is a strange thing to observe. With the constant news cycle there is no end to the evils that we read. Every day, every hour, new evil is uncovered, new evil that is really old evil, the same tired patterns endlessly repeating. It becomes a background to life and we become inoculated against caring because life is too short to take the time to feel the pain of everyone.
Then there comes an event of particular magnitude, evil beyond the usual and its as though all the unfelt injustice, all the unconsidered empathy, all the pain not shared, all of it gets rolled up into this one horrific event. The terrorist attack on Paris was such an event of particular evil, in a place not too far away, with acts of violence that given meaning to the word "senseless". The only purpose to cause as much human suffering as could be achieved.
The immediate response I had was to pray: "Lord Jesus, come back soon." For seeing such evil, how could I ever want to see such a thing again? Better by far that the world end, that Jesus returns, that this present fallen world is done away with. Even if there are 10 billion more of God's elect still to be saved, it seems better to have the world end now.
Despite my best intentions and concerted efforts at maintaining naivety, when it comes to the delicate matter of periods and tampons I am, through no desire of my own, very much a modern man. For example, I know that upon getting into a relationship one should download a tracker app, make discrete or not so discrete enquires, and then on a monthly(ish) basis supply flowers / chocolate / hot water bottle / sympathy as required. This knowledge was forced into my head by friends and sisters I should probably take the opportunity to thank right now and apologise for my reluctance to listen.
Still, it is with some surprise that I find myself writing on such a topic as a tampon tax. Then again, as an economist, tax has always held a fascination for me. In particular, the most remarkable aspect of the whole tampon tax debate is the extent of the anger it generates.
A little bit of maths is in order here. All following figures are estimations gained from use of the internet. Hopefully they are still accurate. It was surprisingly hard to get concrete figures.
It is generally considered that the tampon tax, at 5%, costs a woman anywhere from £0.98 to £6.00 a year (depending on the brand bought). The other day, I heard someone on TV said that women were not able to afford food because of the tampon tax. Now, if by food what was meant was 1 to 1.5 Sainsbury Meal Deals a year, then this fact might be considered correct. As a general observation, this is a tiny amount of money even for the poorest of society.
Hear now, the wisdom on Boromir: "One does not simply..." And when it comes to the migrant crisis much has been said of the simple solution. Petitions for the UK to open its arms to the migrants almost outnumber the number of people signing them. I agree with the moral sentiment but find the arguments so reductive that I've written this blog post to at least force others to think about the issue more deeply.
Consider an analogy: a man lies on the road bleeding from a wound at his side. As you approach he gasps "water!" Given the choice between a) stopping the bleeding or b) providing the man with water the kind and loving thing to do is stopping the bleeding. In fact, if you gave the man a drink and didn't stop the bleeding it would turn an otherwise kind act into an act of cruelty. To look it another way: treating symptoms is only a very short term measure; in the long term the root cause of a problem has to be dealt with.
Like the glass of water, opening our borders to the migrants is a small token of kindness that does absolutely nothing to solve the migrant crisis. The more we welcome, the more will come, for what inspires these desperate people to leave their homes but hope? And the more we give, as a society, to welcome migrants in, the more will be demanded of us.
Please, don't mistake me, this is not saying we shouldn't open our borders. But we need to do so fully aware of what a pathetic response it is, given the magnitude of the crisis.
Yes. For thus said the wise man to the monkey: "Upgrade to Windows 10."
This opinion is not provided lightly, I've rigorously followed all my usual computer habits this week and given careful consideration to absolutely none of the thinking between the new Windows. Welcome, to the future of investigative journalism, ahead of schedule.
My recommendation to upgrade is based on two reasons First, if you have Windows 8 you cannot be worse off for upgrading. You might think you've got a good thing but objectively, logically and by all that is sane and good, Winsows 8 is rubbish. Second, if like me, you have Windows 7 then you get a new feature of a customisable lock screen - which for me now shows Tintin and Snowy marching across a globe.
You could argue that this is a shallow reason for recommending an upgrade. And you may well be right, but look at that movie poster, beautiful or what? And as with a lot of things in life, it's the little things that add the joy. For me, it's having the opportunity to geek out twice - once over my desktop background and once over my lock screen. Enjoyment of logging onto my computer has been effectively doubled.
Not content with dealing with one controversial topic, this blog post addresses two with the side effect of doubling my capacity to offend. As always, I am more than happy to offend on an intellectual level for: "words ought to be a little wild for they are the assault of thought on the unthinking" (prize if you know who wrote this). I do not intend to offend on a personal level but given that I'm dealing with two identity issues perhaps some form of offence is unavoidable. Either way, I am asking you to accept on trust that these are not the angry typings of an armchair bigot but reflective musings on an extremely difficult topic.
At some point soon, as the transgender movement gathers momentum, men are going to realise that they make better women than women and feminism is going to die. To rephrase with a great deal more nuance: given the male centric value system of society today, masculine behaviours in a "woman's" body are valued more highly than feminine behaviours thus giving men a home field advantage when it comes to being women.
This truth is crudely and cruelly parodied in the IT Crowd, where a transgendered woman drinks, burps and watches sport like a man and is therefore the best woman Douglas has ever met. The suggestion being that all men want is a woman's body to have sex with and a man's mind that can be easily understood. This reduces the complexity, awkwardness and mystery of heterosexual romance to nothing more than a farce. Women and men are meant to find each other difficult to understand because we are meant to be different, in how we think and feel.
Let's start with a relatively uncontroversial example of how the transgender movement will effect women. The sports which are valued the most today are the ones which men are biologically best at. The sports where the genders do compete against each other are not the popular ones. So, in four years time, at the next women's world cup, it is easy to imagine the scenario where one country from the West fields a team of transgender women. If this happens, they win as their players will be faster, stronger and have more stamina because they remain biologically men even if they identify as women. So every other team would have to follow suit to compete. And then women's football is dead and buried, with women being driven out the market by transgendered women. Ironically, women's football would only exist in the countries that were "backwards" enough not to accept the transgendered movement.
The other day, on a fine and glorious morning, I checked my privilege. Wallowing in an ivory bath of goat’s milk, sipping the curdled blood of cute puppies from a cup carved from the skull of a child labourer from some forsaken eastern country, as the dancing girls fanned me with rare feathers and the latest stock news blared out over the radio, I found my privilege to be of greater worth than the many bricks of gold stored in my Swiss vault.
Hello, my name is Ben and I am a Tory. According to the BBC, the Guardian and George Monbiot I am a climate change denying hound from the depths of a dark and terrible hell, a barbarian and cultural philistine and a throwback to an age best forgotten. The latest research suggests that 85% of my Facebook friends will read the opening paragraph and think it based on a real event.
Privilege is something that is a thing, and the latest fad among the left is to check it on a regular basis, as though it were a medical condition. The purpose of checking ones privilege is self-censorship, for what else does the middle class left love to do but constrain and restrain debate? As a white, heterosexual male my privilege is so exceedingly great that I can express no opinion on women, racism or sexual equality. Which is exactly the kind of repression that women, racial groups and sexual minority groups have fought against. Oh blessed irony!
For all my scorn there is an element of truth in this ridiculous fad: I live a privileged life. My income (which is below the UK average) puts me in the top 3% of world population, I am richer than 6.3 billion people. I am 58x times richer than a billion people. And with this larger income comes a lower proportion spent on food (20% compared to over 50%), an education level that also puts me in the top few percent of the world and twenty four years of peace, living in a country with a good justice system, a working democracy and large levels of infrastructure investment.
All this leaves us with a pertinent and difficult question: why is life so unfair and what can be done about it? By the providence of God I was born into a prosperous life with over 6 billion people around me who are less well off. Having no control over so many aspects of my life, I have privilege that is indeed beyond measure.