All posts by Oscar Mullins

Dr Matt Taylor’s choice of clothing

This post relates to something that happened a few weeks ago. There was a lot of media attention (especially in the UK) surrounding the European Space Agency’s mission of landing a probe on a comet 4 billion miles away. But this unprecedented and magnificent achievement was largely overshadowed by the clothing adorned by a British scientist Matt Taylor on the day of the landing. He wore a bowling shirt covered in scantily clad women. This created a debate concerning sexism in science. The two articles above take very different standpoints. The first slates Dr Taylor and the ESA, and the second by London Mayor Boris Johnson argues that the reaction is farcical and full of hypocrisy.

My stance on the issue is somewhere between these two views. I think it is a great shame that such an achievement and advancement of human knowledge has been clouded in a debate regarding sexism. But at the same time there appears to be real barriers to women working in science and shirts that objectify women demonstrate this. Matt Taylor has since apologised where he breaks down in tears. I feel both articles (whilst very extreme is their interpretation of the shirt) make valid points. If there is an inherent gender bias as there appears to be then this is something that certainly needs addressed. It just frustrates me that we are not at a stage where we can embrace the common identity that scientific achievements grant us and instead have focus on the identities that divide us all.

Veterans Day

The article I’ve decided to post this week concerns Veteran’s Day and why the U.S. chooses to celebrate Veteran’s Day as opposed to Armistice Day. As the article explains Armistice Day was established following WW1 to celebrate peace, but in 1954 U.S. Congress replaced it with Veteran’s Day which is a celebration of those who fought/fight in war. The writer states that Armistice Day renounced war and “was supposed to protect future life from future wars.” So why the change to Veterans Day? The writer suggests it may be to do with helping clear the guilty consciences of governments who have instigated wars despite them having little to do with democracy and freedom. He also suggests it may be a day designed to recruit the next generation of soldiers.

I think this is a controversial issue and I’m not sure where exactly I stand on it. Whilst I do feel it is absolutely necessary to remember the suffering of those involved in war, perhaps a remembrance of what their sacrifices achieved is more fitting than to celebrate the military. I think it is interesting that the writer argues the change from Armistice Day to Veterans Day may be to help recruit future soldiers, and I think this idea is supported by the fact that the change came shortly after the Korean War. It is also interesting to consider the point he makes regarding whether the change was to help clear the conscience of governments that started the wars as it may be the case the having a Veterans Day may help cover up the fact that some conflicts were started without necessary reason.

The Issues Raised by Ebola and the Humanity of Others

This article discusses the Conservative anxieties raised as a result of Ebola. With the spread of the virus to the U.S. the issues of immigration, race, terrorism and big government have all come to the fore and the writer states that Ebola is a metaphor for many issues that those on the right detest.  Republican Senate candidate Thom Tillis is quoted as using the Ebola outbreak for greater justification for increased border controls with Mexico, as is South Carolina congressman Joe Wilson. Yet the irony is there have been no confirmed cases of Ebola in Mexico and 3 in the U.S. Other issues raised by Ebola that irk those on the right are that tackling such an epidemic advocates big government and more universal healthcare. I think that one possible consequence of Ebola may be an exaggeration in the political spectrum of the world given that the virus highlights the increased connectedness we share in the 21st century. The spread of the virus demonstrates that “you cannot escape both your own humanity and the humanity of others, and the fact that our fates are tied.” I think it is likely that there could be significant exaggerations in the political spectrum, as there will be those that choose to embrace the increased connectivity of societies, whilst there will be those that wish to detach themselves from the rest of the world and who will be willing to go to increasingly large extents to do so – such as more extreme border controls. Despite the fact it has taken the spread of a deadly disease to bring it to public attention, I think the ethical issue of whether we should embrace the humanity of others is at the heart of many of the topics we cover in class and is something that defines parties across the political spectrum.

Drug Policy in Portugal

This week I’ve chosen an article that looks at the drug policy of Portugal and the success/failure of their stance on drug use. In 2001 Portugal decriminalised the use of all drugs in reaction to an escalating drug problem. This change means those caught with drugs intended for personal use are sent to dissuasion boards rather than being prosecuted and first time offenders often just receive a warning. The results from this change in policy are predominantly positive.  There has been a significant increase to the number of patients in treatment facilities which is largely attributed to the fact that people are no longer scared to confess to drug use as they do not fear prosecution like they may have before drug use was decriminalised. There has also been significant progress in reducing the number of drug related HIV cases. So if the success of decriminalising drugs in Portugal has been so substantial surely this demonstrates to other countries that a harsh drug policy is detrimental to society? Despite this we have seen little change in drug policy in countries like the US and the UK, and a reason for this is that politicians don’t “look at what works” and are more interested in “what sounds good”. I think this is an interesting point and it highlights the problem that portraying a political standpoint is often more important to politicians than introducing effective policy for the benefit of society. 

Neoliberalism and its impact on the War on Drugs

In Sparke’s Introducing Globalization he discusses the impact of the neoliberal polices adopted by Thatcher and Reagan in the 1980s. In the article linked above the writer argues that neoliberalism has resulted in people feeling a lack of identity and he states that the solutions apparently offered by neoliberalism have not worked due to the unequal opportunities that exist within society and that neoliberalism has actually resulted in a reduction in social mobility. He also makes the point that the competitive nature instilled by neoliberalism has resulted in a “self-attribution fallacy” where “just as we congratulate ourselves for our success, we blame ourselves for our failure, even if we have little to do with it.” Despite not referring to justice systems or the war on drugs in the article I think this “self-attribution fallacy’ created by neoliberalism explains the harsh approach adopted by the US in the war on drugs discussed in The New Jim Crow. Neoliberalism breeds the ideology of blaming those individuals that do wrong and this explains why those that use/deal in drugs are detained and why this is seen as a deserving punishment – it is their own fault and not the fault of society. Therefore I think it could be argued that neoliberalism helps the government to justify the fierce approach adopted in the war on drugs and it explains the failure of the war as no solutions are offered to so called offenders as everything is viewed as their own fault.