Listening notes for 11/16/10

The Wisdom Books (iTunes, website)
In this episode of the San Francisco public radio program Forum, UC Berkeley biblical scholar Robert Alter discusses his new translation of the biblical wisdom books Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Alter’s mission is to give the English reader some sense of the muscular, compact and concrete flavor of the biblical Hebrew. Here’s an example: The King James version’s famously begins Ecclesiastes with “vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” Alter renders this passage “merest breath. All is mere breath.”

Introduction to Public Policy, UCLA, Mark Kleiman (feed) Lecture dated 1/12/2010
Kleiman tells his students to beware of the unintended consequences of government interventions. “This is a sentence that every policy analyst ought to have written in his hat: the chief cause of problems is solutions.”

China: Traditions and Transformations, Harvard University, William Kirby (website) lecture 23
Kirby tells the shameful tale of the First Opium War (1839–42), when the British Empire defended its right to sell illegal drugs and forced China into a host of concessions, including opening a number of port cities for trade and the ceding of Hong Kong. Some factoids new to me:

  1. By 1830 opium was the single most valuable commercial crop in the world.
  2. One Chinese official estimated that 10% to 20% of Chinese government officials were opium addicts.
  3. The English meanwhile, were addicted to tea (and thus the need for opium to sell in exchange for tea). By the 1770s the poorest working family in London was spending 5% to 10% of their annual budget on tea.
  4. In the 1830s duties on tea accounted for 1/6 of the revenues of the British Crown.
  5. A stirring speech by historian Thomas Babington Macaulay helped persuade Parliament to send troops to China.


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