What’s Been On My Mind This Week

Question Mark

1. In just three days, Scottish voters will be going to the polls. Making the headlines this week was the Queen’s controversial decision to comment on the monumental decision facing voters on Thursday, encouraging them to ‘think very carefully about the future.’ After recent polls showed the Yes campaign in the lead, the three UK party leaders Cameron, Clegg and Miliband finally realised what they had to lose. Their concerted campaigning over the past couple of days, combined with Gordon Brown’s public appearances (and hints at a return to frontline politics), appear to have given the No camp a marginal lead. But it’s certainly not over yet. There was an interesting leader in the Economist about the danger with voting Yes, as well as a profile on the ‘solitude’ of Alex Salmond in the Guardian.

2. Whatever the outcome in Scotland, we are less than nine months away from the next general election, and the New Statesman has already launched its May 2015 General Election website. Most people, at the moment, think that Labour will come out on top. The result of the Scottish referendum will doubtless have a big impact, but with Conservative MPs continuing to defect to UKIP it will be necessary to keep more than an eye on Nigel Farage and his next steps for the party.

3. Sticking with Britain, but looking at the housing crisis, there was an interesting article in the Economist about how garden cities might be a possible solution.

4. Moving across the Atlantic, there was an opinion piece in the New York Times this week about the death penalty and how those who want to abolish it need to change their argument; appealing to human dignity just doesn’t work, it’s argued.

5. Also in American news, there was an article in the Washington Post this week about how moderate Republicans are ‘fighting back’ against the more radical, far-right Tea Party members.

6. The fight for marriage equality in America continues, with Wisconsin and Indiana the latest states to overturn bans on equal marriage. But this article in the Economist argues that it is far too early to start celebrating, and that the Supreme Court might not yet be ready to follow federal rulings and invalidate bans on equal marriage.

7. There was a more positive story on equal marriage in America this week as well, however: two women in their nineties, who have been together for 72 years, finally got married in Iowa.

8. Serena Williams won the US Open for the third year in a row. She now holds 18 Grand Slam titles (bringing her level with Evert and Navratilova). There was a great feature on Williams and her achievements in the New Yorker.

9. This week a new brand of bottled water, ‘glaceau smartwater’ launched in the UK. It’s the latest product from The Coca-Cola Company. What bothers me, however, is that its ‘brand ambassador’ is Jennifer Aniston, and in the publicity photos, she is topless. I can’t imagine this was her idea. While it’s doubtless very difficult to say no to a large amount of money, I imagine she’s not exactly short of cash. It would, for once, be nice for women as recognisable as Aniston to take a stand and just say no, and speak out about the fact that posing for such photographs is unnecessary and not okay.

10. In cultural news, there was a really fascinating article in the New Statesman about the move to digital in the film industry, and what the repercussions of this shift might be.

11. I’ve written many times before on this blog about issues of gender and sexuality, and referred to the ‘transgender tipping point’ making headlines in America. It looks like we are following, although at a slower pace, and this week there was an piece in the New Statesman about what it’s like to be a transgender actor working in Britain today.

12. The London Review of Books published a brilliant essay by Scottish writer James Meek on the theme of belonging, partly in response to the Scottish referendum.

13. The shortlist for the Man Booker Prize was announced this week. I am ashamed to say I have not yet read any of the six titles, though I am about a third of the way through We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. Apparently Ali Smith is the favourite (and you can hear her and Stella Duffy talking about their latest books with Mariella Frostrup on yesterday’s episode of Open Book here) but many are saying they want to see Howard Jacobson win for J. The winner will be announced on 14th October.

14. This week I read Stella Duffy‘s latest collection of short stories, Everything is Moving, Everything is Joined. Duffy’s novel State of Happiness is one of my all-time favourites – do read it if you haven’t, here’s a great review by a wonderful blogger friend of mine – and I loved this collection of stories, which range from some very new material to pieces that she wrote twenty years ago. They are linked by themes of water, love and sex, and are often quite dark. It’s impossible to choose a favourite, but I do love From the River’s Mouth, which was once broadcast on Radio 4 and narrated by Samantha Bond. Well worth looking to see if it’s still available online.

15. I’ve been listening to the album Secondhand Rapture by American duo MS MR. I remember listening to their debut EP last year and really enjoying it, and bought their album a while ago but never got round to listening to it. It is a great album, but does feel like the two halves are quite different. The first half is basically their debut EP (Candy Bar Creep Show) which makes heavy use of synth, is quite weird, dark and Gothic in tone. The second half is also strong, but more anthemic and with more in common with contemporary popular music. The album is definitely worth a listen, but perhaps best to play the two halves on separate occasions.

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