Intelligent Design

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I am a writer of science fiction – or social science fiction, as I have redefined my chosen genre in an as-yet unsuccessful attempt to create a new market in which I am the sole supplier. Apart from pitifully low sales figures, my main concern is that science fact will overtake me, leaving my speculative, imaginative, provocative stories looking like ho-hum period pieces.

This concern of mine was reinforced today by two stories at the BBC’s admirable website. One is about a self-contained robotic octopus made of jelly-like materials, intended as a prototype of something that will one day perform autonomously and slither into spaces that robots with rigid components cannot. It’s a good read.

RoboticOctopus

The other story is about the future evolution of our species. The idea is that we have evolved as far as we can by means of natural selection, which is in any case too slow for our immediate needs. We now have to design and make our own evolutionary adaptations, which will almost certainly entail combining organic and inorganic elements. This story is very short and told audio-visually.

SHAMELESS PLUG

If those stories pique your interest in what I’ve been writing, and if you’re willing to buy and read e-books, you can get my trilogy of books in an omnibus edition called ‘Goldiloxians’ at all the major e-book retail platforms. Here are two links:

Goldiloxians’ at Amazon/Kindle

Goldiloxians’ at Smashwords

Olympic Medals

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I hope I’ve waited long enough since the closing ceremony to make a stroppy comment about the Olympic Games. Actually, it’s not about the Games themselves; it’s about the way certain nations have reacted to the medal tally:

MedalTally

More particularly, it’s about the one-eyed jingoism in the UK (whose athletes are described as Team GB, pointedly excluding any from Northern Ireland) and the public hostility to Australian athletes who failed to justify the huge public investment in their training by winning gold medals. If you find the latter hard to believe, read this article at the news.com.au website headed ‘Is Australia’s disastrous Olympic campaign really $340 million well spent?’

Just like diplomacy, the Olympics have become ‘war by other means’. Rich countries spend huge amounts of public money on employing and training elite athletes, and then claim their position in the medal tally as an indicator of national worth. Is it really more important to British people that Team GB’s gold medal count exceeded China’s (and Germany’s and Japan’s and France’s) than that British athletes strove to do their best against their peers and fell below 3rd place with good grace? Do Australian taxpayers really think the Games are about buying medals?

We all know what comes next. China will launch a massive expenditure programme to ensure that they come 2nd in 2020. The Japanese will do likewise to ensure that, as the host nation, they at least come 3rd.

Finally, I hope that calls for British people to buy lottery tickets as an act of patriotism, because much of the investment in athletic prowess was funded from the National Lottery, will cease. What if the main contributors were manufacturers of junk food, fizzy drinks and tobacco? Or importers of cocaine? Or brothel-keepers?

PrEP

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PrEP stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis – a combination of two medicines (tenovir and emtricitabine, sold under the trade name Truvada) that greatly reduces the risk of HIV infection. It is a prescription drug taken daily by people who are at high risk of infection. According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) the risk reduction is at least 90% for sexual transmission of HIV and at least 70% for injected drug use.

I’m in the UK at the moment and a big news story has been the dispute over who should pay for PrEP. The disputants were the National Health Service (NHS) and the local authorities. The NHS argued that it was a public health issue, so the local authorities should pay. The local authorities argued that they couldn’t afford it. The judgement came down against the NHS.

So what is there to get stroppy about? Well, it seems to me blindingly obvious that the cost of PrEP should be born by the individuals who need its protection. The pills cost GBP13 (USD17) per day. This is as much as five café-bought cups of coffee every day. That’s a lot of money, but I’d hazard a guess that a drug habit costs more. And for people at risk of sexual transmission, good old-fashioned condoms are a very affordable alternative.

This point was made in a Radio 4 interview with a lobbyist. She seemed affronted and said that it was not always practicable to use a condom every time one has sex. By way of elaboration she said that people were often too drunk to remember to use a condom. Finally, in words that could have been crafted to create maximum stroppiness, she said that if taxpayers declined to pay for PrEP they would be up for much higher expense to treat HIV-positive people. “That sounds like blackmail,” said the interviewer. The lobbyist disagreed.

Sometimes public policy should not be based simply on cash flow projections. Principles should come into the picture too. Every time a principle – the principle of personal responsibility, for example – is violated in favour of financial pragmatism it becomes harder to invoke that principle the next time.