To burkini or not to burkini? This is the vexing question facing France at the moment and the rest of the Western world soon enough. Is it a symbol of the oppression of women or part of the right of a woman to wear what she wants? Is it an attack on liberal French society or a statement on the value of modesty? To reduce it down to its simplest level: is it a good burkini or a bad burkini?
The answer is not clear. A bad burkini, we might all agree, is one forced upon a woman who actually would rather be a little less modest and feel a bit more of the sun of her skin. Yet even in this case of oppression is it any worse than the oppression of the modern media that tells women they must dress immodestly and look amazing while doing so? A good burkini, we might again all agree, would be one freely chosen by the woman. But where does peer pressure, cultural pressure, parental pressure and societal pressure all end and a woman's choice begin? How free our are free choices?
Yesterday was a bit grim on Facebook, I will include my own response here, tired and frustrated as it was. One half of the country wailing and gnashing their teeth through a whole variety of ways: insults, calls for another referendum, prophecies of doom; declaring a burning desire for independence from the UK or leaving for other countries. And on the other side, sarcastic digs as life went on, frustration at being so maligned for voting leave and anger at the calls for another referendum (please, anything but to go through the last month again!).
In the midst of all this rubbish, between posts of anger and grief and hate, there were a few posts of great comfort and encouragement and peace. They were the ones which quoted from the Bible. Without fail, the person quoting was always so much more gracious and understanding of the division the referendum has caused. They were far more likely to expresses forgiveness and compassion rather than insults and anger.
These Christians, of which to my shame I cannot count myself, had a vastly different perspective on the shock event. The same human response was there: sadness, joy, hurt and surprise, but these were muted, in a healthy way, not given to extremes, not likely to be dominating in the person's mind.
Pausing only to fire the Polish nanny and sack the Spanish gardener, I left my East London mansion and headed with all speed to the local high street. The Bentley roared through the streets of London passing through all the red lights, because what do experts know about road safety? As I got out the illegally parked car, I shook Nigel Farage's hand, as Gove and Johnson patted my back, and laughed as he pinned a badge on my yak's wool blazer. The badge said: “Vote Leave because You're Racist”. For good measure, I punched a foreigner in the face and told her to leave the country. Turns out, it was Nigel's wife. #Awkward.
Hello, my name is Ben and I'm voting Leave because I believe Britain, and possibly the world, will be better for it. Those of you blinded by intellectual arrogance and class snobbery may be forgiven for thinking that the above paragraph is somewhat true. Such is the level that the debate has been conducted at that one can hardly express an opinion without being dismissed as an idiot. Well then, here are my idiotic words on why I finally decided to vote leave. Read them, if you want. Agree, disagree, vote, don't vote, you're a strong independent human being and you don't need me to tell you what to do.
My first reason for voting leave is that most of the arguments for Remain rest on the two great false gods of the Western world: money and fear. If we leave, predictions of doom and poverty abound. The economists and politicians of this age line up and each paint a more depressing picture than the last.
So far the only benefit I can see from the EU referendum is that it has made me more sympathetic to agnostics. As a Brexnoistic, if we must continue the habit of making up stupid words to go along with this stupid referendum, I’m finding the certainty of anyone else to be annoying. This is unfair and unreasonable but nevertheless true.
To explain why I’m still floundering around in the muddy waters of indecision, tossed around by the cruel waves of complication and consulting with lost property for an opinion, here’s the EU referendum considered from too many different perspectives.
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.