Recreational chemistry whack-a-mole continues in the EU

Paul Raven @ 12-05-2011

As predicted by myself and a lone commenter last time I picked up this thread around eighteen months ago, European production of so-called “designer drugs” continues to outstrip the ability of legislation to block them.

Rob Wainwright, Europol’s director, said the emergence of the substances was now a major feature of Europe’s drugs problem: “Organised crime groups are increasingly active in producing and distributing drugs which can be associated with ecstasy,” he said. “We are determined to combat this phenomenon.”

… by any means other than the one simple and obvious way of disconnecting drug production and distribution from criminal gangs, namely decriminalisation, licensed production and regulation. Which is politically unpalatable, of course; so whack-a-mole legislative theatre will have to do instead, I guess. After all, the kids who’ll be harmed by the dodgy chemicals probably haven’t even bothered to register to vote, while the knee-jerk tabloid readers of the middle classes certainly have; gotta sing for the peanut galleries, AMIRITEZ? *sigh*

So, I’ll reiterate my question from the afore-linked previous post on the same topic: Is there anyone among Futurismic‘s readership who can say with a straight face that more restrictive legislation will prevent drug abuse, in the UK or anywhere else? If so, tell us how and why in the comments. Feel free to suggest new alternatives to legislation, as well.


Life imitating sf: Criminalisation of the Female Body edition

Paul Raven @ 21-02-2011

There’s a long-standing tendency in science fiction circles to wheel out the few isolated examples of successful predictions embedded in sf stories; who hasn’t been reminded, in tones of awe and/or satisfaction, that the late Sir Arthur C Clarke “invented” the geostationary satellite*? Heck, I’ve done it myself. It’s a pride thing, I guess, even for those of us who know damn well that science fiction isn’t about making predictions; I suspect it stems from the underdog status of the genre, causing a desire to justify its existence to those who consider it worthless. But I digress… as I often do when gearing up to deliver grim news.

There’s no pride or joy in being able to hold up Charles Coleman Finlay’s Futurismic story “Your Life Sentence” as a successful prediction. Indeed, it’s the sort of story I’d hope would help prevent the events it portrays becoming true, and – according to Finlay himself – was repeatedly rejected by other venues as being “too implausible”. Which makes the news that a Republican legislator has introduced a bill that would not only criminalise abortion, but also place the burden of proving that a miscarriage was naturally caused on the woman who suffered it, a sad and anger-making thing to hear.

Sadder still is the revelation that attempts to pass such a law are a yearly occurrence. The more I watch the control-obsessed thrashings of America’s religious far right (and their imitators elsewhere, in the Middle East and even here in Britain), the more I have to chant my own personal mantra of faith: that these must be the frantic death throes of old ideas as they refuse to make the transition to a new phase of human society, the last twitches of a chrysalis from which something better and brighter might crawl.

They must be. Otherwise we really are completely fucked.

[ * Clarke didn’t invent the idea of geostationary sats at all, but he was apparently the first to suggest they’d be useful as hubs of a global communication network. ]

[ ** It should go without saying that comments defending the right of anyone to tell anyone else what they can or cannot do with their own body will be deleted. Bigotry has more than enough platforms already; go and find one. ]


NEW FICTION: YOUR LIFE SENTENCE by C C Finlay

Paul Raven @ 01-07-2010

There are many different types of science fiction, from the classic Competent Men in their gleaming spaceships to the noir-tinged dystopic cities of cyberpunk. C C Finlay‘s “Your Life Sentence” is another type again, and maybe one of the most important and powerful – the sort that asks “what will happen if this carries on?”, but which asks it about something that’s – all too sadly – well within the boundaries of the possible.

Though I believe he started writing it before then, we received Charlie’s story not long after the announcement that the House and Senate of the State of Utah had passed a bill that would criminalise miscarriage. A dark serendipity, perhaps, but it makes “Your Life Sentence” one of the most timely stories we’ve ever published here. I hope you enjoy it.

Your Life Sentence

by C C Finlay

You sit in the bathroom, pants puddled at your ankles, and stare at the vase of orchids on the marble counter: the blossoms curl like purple teardrops.

Brandon, your husband, raps on the door.  “Hey!  Did you fall in?”

“Out in a second,” you answer.  For added verisimilitude you rattle the toilet paper roll.

“Well, call me if you need a lifeguard.”

You hate the joke.  “Sure thing,” you answer with saccharine cheer.

You live in a world that requires the bravado of false cheer.  For the past several days you’ve suffered from the too-familiar cramps, but you’ve been in denial, blaming the iffy paella valenciana at the restaurant two nights ago.  No more.  Only the deep breathing techniques you learned in Lamaze class the first time you were pregnant ease your panic.

“Honey!”  Brandon pounds at the door.  “We don’t want to be late.”

No, you don’t: the weekly doctor visits are a condition of your parole, after the second pregnancy.  Even you think that’s only fair.

“Almost done,” you answer.  A shudder runs down your spine, like a finger dragged across a keyboard badly out of tune.  You rise and pull your pants up.  The bowl flushes automatically, but you refuse to look back.  You tuck in your blouse, yank open the door.

Brandon stands there with a shoe in one hand and a big dumb grin on his square face.  “Know what week it is?”

“No,” you lie.  He leans over for a kiss and you dodge him.

“Week nine,” he says, laughing as if it’s a game.  “We’ll have the doctor fill out the Certificate of Conception, then call your parole officer.  Then if we have to check you into the hospital for the next thirty weeks–”

“Thirty weeks in the hospital — that’s almost like prison.”  You grab your keys and purse from the dresser.

“We’ve just got to stick to the plan,” he says earnestly.

Brandon has a plan, an answer, for everything.  It’s why you married him, and you liked that about him for a long time, even after you realized most of his answers don’t work for you.  “I think I left my ring in the bathroom,” you say, because you left it in the bathroom.  “Can you get it for me?”

“Sure!”

As soon as he turns away, you go to the garage.  You’re already driving down the street when he dashes out the front door.  He hops after you on one foot, still holding the shoe, shrinking in the rearview mirror as you speed out of the cul-de-sac. Continue reading “NEW FICTION: YOUR LIFE SENTENCE by C C Finlay”


Dangerous ideas: controlling design files for illegal objects

Paul Raven @ 14-05-2010

Here’s an interesting question for a future full of fabrication devices: if it’s illegal to own a certain object, is it also illegal to own the design files that would enable you to print out that object?

Fabbaloo asks the question after noticing some enterprising member of the counterculture thought of a great market for customisable designs in 3d-printed plastics – namely bong-lovin’ weed smokers.

We know that possession of “drug paraphernalia” is considered illegal in some jurisdictions. But would possession of The Design be considered illegal?

When we’re in a world where we can (relatively) instantly produce any object ourselves, is it the actual object that counts or the design? We like to think that’s the case for run-of-the-mill objects, since it’s not the printing goop that’s important; goop becomes commodity and the design rules.

Will our repositories be searched for the presence of “illegal objects”? Will repository operators ask submitters to delete suspected items for fear of the authorities? Will questionable content migrate from public repositories into private libraries run by secret cabals?

The simple answer, I’d suggest, is “yes”: nation-states will almost certainly try to outlaw or control ownership and/or access to design files for objects with potentially criminal uses. (The bong is a rather mundane example, as it facilitates a victimless crime; however, that’s not so clearly the case with a hundgun made almost entirely from plastics.)

Of course, az eny fule no, controlling the distribution of entirely digital data (especially files of small size) is something that nation-states and corporations alike are struggling to do even now. Which suggests that 3D printing itself will become the target of legislation; if you can’t control the draft, your best bet is to close the door tight.


Designer drugs develop faster than designer legislation

Paul Raven @ 06-11-2009

pillsI’m not sure whether I’m supposed to be proud or ashamed of this one, but apparently Britain has been declared the “designer drugs capital of Europe” by the EU drug agency. [image by Greencolander]

This new generation of online “head shops” is at the centre of a rapidly growing market in highly potent synthetic drugs, such as Spice, that mimic the effects of illegal substances such as cannabis and ecstasy.

European drug agency officials are also alarmed by the way the online retailers are reacting to moves to ban individual “legal highs” by rapidly marketing alternatives. Officials say it is like trying to hit a moving target.

Well, d’uh – do you really expect them to just sit there in the firing line waiting to be picked off? I think what we’re seeing here is something like a singularity for the recreational chemicals industry, whereby the legal machinery of the countries that most want to control such substances moves too slowly to control the exponentially faster response to market demand. It’s a whack-a-mole gig – knock one substance into the ground, and two more pop up to replace it.

I’d hardly be the first to suggest that perhaps this rapid response in the balance of supply and demand is the first nail in the coffin lid of attempts to banish recreational drug-taking, but given the UK government’s laughable unwillingness to heed the suggestions of the drug policy advisors that it appointed, I’m not going to be the first voice they ignore, either.

But I think it’s safe to say that drugs – designer or otherwise – are not going to go away any time soon, legislation or otherwise. So what’s a beleaguered incumbent government to do – quietly admit defeat and lose the vote of the hand-wringing middle classes, or pour away time and resources doing a King Canute impersonation?

Is there anyone among Futurismic‘s readership who can say with a straight face that more restrictive legislation will prevent drug abuse, in the UK or anywhere else? If so, tell us how and why in the comments. Feel free to suggest new alternatives to legislation, as well.


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