What’s Been On My Mind This Week

Question Mark

Apologies for failing to post last Sunday. I was on holiday in Cornwall. If you want to know what was on my mind while I was there (mostly the sea), check out my Instagram feed here.

1. The US midterm elections take place in just a few days, on Tuesday 4th November. Most predict that the Republicans will retain their majority in the House of Representatives and will also secure a majority in the Senate (there’s a handy map in the Economist that shows the seats in play). There have been various articles on the scenarios that might play out if the opposition have a majority in both houses, leaving President Obama without the support of the Senate to block proposals from a Republican House. Pessimists claim the two parties will never be able to work together, while optimists hope for some level of bipartisan support for certain measures. After all, if the Republicans want to win the big prize in 2016, they ought to show some willingness to work together with the Democrats, while it’s likely Obama will not want his last two years as President to be consistently vetoing every bill that comes his way. What kind of legacy would that be? Furthermore, perhaps there’s an argument that laws and reforms that have the support of both parties carry more weight and legitimacy, and are more durable. Certainly worth thinking about.

What has been interesting to witness is the dwindling in the huge number of Republican attack ads on Obamacare, the voter confusion surrounding it, and the Democratic Party’s largely-maintained silence on the issue. As this article in the New Republic notes, recently, the attitude among some Republicans seems to have shifted (though there are still those who point to it as the President’s nail in the Democratic coffin; during the Obama presidency, the Democrats have lost at least 58 seats in the House – probably more after Tuesday – and somewhere between 9 and 14 Senate seats depending on the outcome of next week’s elections). Some have commented that Obamacare – or the Affordable Care Act – is a liability for Democrats (hence their silence and the paucity of party ads in favour of it), even though the majority of Americans would vote to change or fix the law rather than repeal it completely, and that there are some very positive aspects to the legislation. Regardless of how their stance might have changed during the election cycle, and the fact that they are often confused and incoherent surrounding the legislation, it seems likely the the Republican party will base what looks like a victory on Tuesday on the poor reception of Obamacare among the American public. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, happens to that particular piece of legislation in the aftermath.

2. Once the midterm frenzy has passed, attention will quickly focus on the 2016 Presidential election. When I last wrote about what had been on my mind, I mentioned the rumours coming from across the pond that Mitt Romney was apparently considering running again for the Republican nomination. This week, there has been more coverage of Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, brother to President 43 and son to President 41. Could he become President 45? There are few who would deny that another Bush-Clinton contest would be a mouthwatering prospect, even if, frustratingly, its connotations of dynasty, lineage, tradition etc seem in such stark contrast to someone like Obama becoming president. Though if Hillary were to win it would perhaps seem less like a few steps backwards.

Although he has been out on the campaign trail during the midterms, apparently Jeb Bush hasn’t yet made up his mind about whether he wants to run, though a recent speech in Colorado included a thinly-veiled attack on Hillary Clinton’s comments about the job market and the economy. Bush has political experience, represents a ‘safe’ choice for many given his family’s political history (and would undoubtedly have the support of some very rich Republican donors for that reason), is a known quantity and could be seen as the more moderate candidate in a field that is largely dominated by right-wing, Tea Party, Republicans (e.g. Ted Cruz). Chris Christie is considered confrontational – and it is also seems unlikely that he would have enough support following the so-called Bridgegate scandal – and it is as-yet unconfirmed as to whether Romney will run. Though being thought of as moderate might mean Bush is too liberal for the more conservative members of the party, it is also worth noting that, in a country where 2000 Hispanic Americans turn 18 every day, and where they will soon outnumber Caucasians, the fact that Bush is married to Columba, who is Mexican, and that he is a fluent Spanish speaker, should certainly not be overlooked. Immigration continues to be a huge issue. Obama won largely due to the support of the Hispanic, black, young and female sections of the electorate. America is one of the few countries where the birthrate and population are increasing, and recent polls suggest that the support of young, eligible voters remains up-for-grabs. Whichever candidates win the presidential nominations for the 2016 election, connecting with the new generation of voters and getting them to vote will be of vital importance.

3. This week, the man whom many think has ‘the most influential voice in global business’ came out as gay. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, ranked number 1 in Fortune magazine’s ranking of the top 500 global companies, wrote an essay for Businessweek in which he said he felt that being gay was ‘among the greatest gifts god has given me’. Though he was always thought to be gay, and friends and colleagues were aware of his sexual orientation, Cook chose to publicly acknowledge his sexuality in the hope that it might help others experiencing a similar struggle, or those insisting on equality. He also noted that there is still a great deal of work to do; just as it was difficult for him contending with adversity and bigotry as a result of his sexuality, there are many people around the world for whom this – and worse – is still the case. Moreover, in 29 US states it is still legal to fire someone on the basis of their sexual orientation. But sexuality – as Cook noted – is such a small part of who individuals are as human beings. Sadly it remains often the most commented or interesting; it’s likely that the phrase ‘openly gay’ will now appear before Cook in articles that are written about him. But Cook is not the ‘openly gay CEO of Apple’, and to reduce his life, work and achievements to that one string of words is to do him a disservice. His contribution to equality is important and wonderful, and will doubtless have a greater effect than perhaps he realises, but it is vital to remember and acknowledge those other things that make him who he is, and not to allow anyone, however they sexually identify, to be defined by whom they love or sleep with. Soon, we might permit ourselves to hope, similar announcements won’t be necessary, and won’t make headlines around the world. Soon it will be normal, not news.

4. Speaking of how people are defined, I’ve written on this blog before about the media’s insistence on using the prefix ‘woman’ or ‘female’, or defining a woman by whether or not she is childless, or by how many children she has. A recent article in the Guardian looked at the prevalence of the word ‘woman’ as a modifier, in contrast to the fact that ‘man’ is almost never used in the same way. Therefore, as the article points out, when ‘woman’ appears as an adjective before a noun such as ‘manager’, ‘doctor’, ‘engineer’ etc., the implication is that it’s a deviation from standard or normal practices, and of ‘something slightly less than the full version’.

Whether or not you agree with the opinions expressed in the article, it isn’t in doubt that the sexes are all-too-frequently still referred to and treated differently. A few days after this article was published, the World Economic Forum published its Gender Equality Report, which reveals that women currently have only 60% of the standing of men worldwide. Nordic countries sit at the top of the league tables, with Iceland in pole position. Shockingly, the UK has dropped to 26th of society’s most equal gender societies, while countries such as Nicaragua, Rwanda and the Philippines are in the top ten. Much more needs to be done to secure equal representation for women in Parliament (how can we be behind e.g. Iraq, Sudan and China?), to make politics more open and appealing to women (and the media has a big role to play here, given how they insist on reporting on women, or, rather, on their clothes), and to encourage more women to get into politics. But it’s not only in this sector that we’re falling behind: we’re also failing our girls in education, particularly regarding the huge gender disparity in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Women are also less likely to rise higher than men in the field of academia. In general, women in the UK are still paid far less than men and it is rarer for them to attain higher positions at work (last year the gender pay gap actually widened for the first time in five years, despite the existence of the Equal Pay Act).

It’s clearly going to take much longer than we hoped – or perhaps expected – for us to see more significant change. Yes, progress has been made, but there is still a way to go, not least in terms of attitudes towards women and they way they are referred to in society and in general conversation, which makes it difficult for girls and women to aspire to full equality and reach their full potential.

5. This week I’ve been reading The Glasgow Coma Scale by Neil Stewart. The title comes from the test to assess levels of consciousness in patients, but in the novel Stewart uses it to refer to the lives of two people in the Scottish city who have perhaps been going through the motions, rather than actively pursuing anything. Their lives haven’t turned out as they might have hoped, and when their paths cross again it forces them to confront the reality of their rather mundane, everyday existences.

6. This week I’ve been listening to Cast Away, the debut album by Australian group Strange Talk. It’s not a new album, but one that was only mentioned to me this week. It’s a very enjoyable album, full of synths, layered harmonies and vocals, and catchy tunes. There are some great tracks that really stick in the mind, but it has to be said that Strange Talk aren’t doing anything hugely different from many of the other electro-pop groups out there at the moment. It remains to be seen whether they will take a big leap forward with their next album in order to stand out more from the crowd.

 

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