Published on 23 Jul 2016
Order the limited edition Opium Wars wall scroll before it leaves forever on July 27! http://bit.ly/2a138ur
James talks about our mistakes, and adds additional stories, for Federico da Montefeltro and the First Opium War!
Quick story about Federico da Montefeltro: after losing an eye in a jousting accident, he ordered his doctor to cut a divot out of his nose so that his remaining eye had a better view and he could still fight in battles.
Now on to the Opium War! The Macartney expedition did not draw on the knowledge of Jesuit missionaries or even merchants who were familiar with Chinese court customs, because the British felt that a noble like Macartney was the only fitting representative. He didn’t come prepared to handle the kowtow, and he didn’t understand that the Chinese would have been more interested in British agricultural tech than they were in trinkets. James reads the disdainful letter which the Daoguang Emperor wrote to King George III in response to the embassy. There also happened to be a political upheaval in the Chinese palace at the time, so if the British had arrived sooner, they may have met with a different result and avoided the Opium Wars entirely. Once the war came to a head, it caused great division in Britain. Even though it was a war to sell illegal drugs, it was often recast as a war the Chinese provoked by insisting on the kowtow and treating other nations as vassals. Two traders by the names of James Matheson and William Jardine helped tip the scales for war because it helped their business, which had gotten a huge start in the opium trade. The Jardine-Matheson trading firm still exists today, and is a multibillion dollar company. Back in China, the British blockade of Canton’s port led to an odd first confrontation. A British ship called the Royal Saxon ran the blockade, so the British fired a warning shot to make it turn back. The Chinese, to prove they still controlled their sovereign waters, took this as an opportunity to challenge the blockade. Thus, their defense of a British smuggler led them into a war that, ironically, was about stopping British smugglers. The British official directing the war efforts, Charles Elliot, found himself in an awkward situation. He loved his country, but he morally objected to the British agenda in China. He tried to pave a moderate path, only to be fired and reviled as a failure. But after he left, the war truly got vicious. The British committed many atrocities in their campaign. They never sought to hold China, however, because their wars in India had taught them how impossible such an undertaking would be. Thus they settled on the unequal treaty. And as for Walpole… well, he started it, of course. Tea became such a large part of Britain’s economy because of the large tax levied on it. And who levied that tax? It was Walpole. He actually repealed an earlier, heavily resented tax and got political accolades for doing so, then introduced a much higher tax under a different name that flew under the radar even while it brought in hundreds of thousands of pounds for the government every year. The government’s reliance on tea for funding would later propel them to take such extraordinary measures to secure access to tea via Chinese trade. So who really started the Opium War? Well. It was Walpole.
July 30, 2016
July 23, 2016
Published on 9 Jul 2016
The Chinese attempt to retake Canton by force failed. New British commanders took charge and would accept nothing less than total Chinese capitulation. They captured cities all the way up to Nanking, forcing the Emperor to negotiate. He had no choice but to accept an unequal treaty, kicking off a period of subservience to Europe which China still remembers today as the Century of Humiliation.
Disappointed in the treaty, the Daoguang Emperor replaced Qishan with three new commanders. One of them wanted to buy time and modernize the army, but the Emperor insisted the British be repelled immediately. They assaulted Canton from across the river, firing cannons and sailing fire ships at the British fleet. Their efforts fell far short, and soon the British controlled the river again. The Chinese were forced to pay them an indemnity to leave Canton, but in their wake riots and looting plagued the city anyway. Elliot still led the British forces, but upon returning to Hong Kong, he learned that he was now being replaced. His replacements had no interest in the compromises he’d tried to establish. They pushed immediately towards Beijing. In each new fort they captured, they found evidence that the Chinese resistance had ironically been weakened by crippling opium addiction. As the Chinese attacks grew more desperate, British retaliation grew more brutal. Finally, they stood ready to seize Nanking. With it would come control of the Yangtze River on which all of China depended, so the Emperor was forced to negotiate. They had no bargaining power, and gave the British nearly everything they wanted: a huge indemnity, new trade ports, no more Hong monopoly, generous tariffs, consulates, and sovereignty over Hong Kong. The only two matters they refused were Christian missionaries and legalizing opium, but the latter would only lead to the Second Opium War with similar results. These “unequal treaties” would go down in Chinese history as the beginning of what the Communist government later called “The Century of Humiliation.” The spectre of this shame and forced subservience to European interests continues to shape politics today, as this history is often invoked or used as a rallying cry during dealings with the West.
July 20, 2016
Published on 2 Jul 2016
The British set up a blockade outside Canton, but one of their own private merchant ships tried to run through it. When the Chinese came to its defense, war began in earnest. Since the British had far superior firepower, they easily conquered Chuenpee and Chusan. Elliot and the Emperor’s new envoy, Qishan, soon sought a treaty and agreed on generous terms… which their overseers harshly rejected.
The British responded to the Chinese halting their ships by erecting a blockade outside Canton. They fired a warning shot to turn back a private British merchant ship, the Royal Saxon, which attempted a blockade run, and the Chinese sent out their own navy to defend the runner. They were demolished. The British had better ships and better firepower. They made to discuss a treaty, but the Chinese refused to give in to the British demands regarding ownership of Hong Kong. The British moved on to capture Chusan, an island near Shanghai. Then a rumor prompted them to believe that China planned to strike against them, so they acted pre-emptively and kicked off the Battle of Chuenpee. Again they won, but the slaughter was so horrifying that Superintendent Elliot was glad to seek a peace treaty with the emperor’s envoy, Qishan. Finally Qishan agreed to give up Hong Kong, to give the British better trade status, in exchange for which Britain returned the land they’d taken. But Elliot’s supervisor back in London, Lord Palmerston, felt the treaty didn’t go far enough, especially since it didn’t re-establsih opium trading rights. And the Emperor found Qishan’s capitulation disgraceful, even threatened to have him hanged for it. What had looked like moderate wins for both sides suddenly threatened to fall apart.
July 11, 2016
Published on 25 Jun 2016
Opium was illegal in China, but that didn’t stop the East India Company from manufacturing it for the black market. The Chinese emperor appointed an official, Lin Zexu, to stop it. He seized and burned huge opium caches held by British merchants, and ultimately ordered the British out of China entirely. Instead, they set up base on a barren island that would become known as Hong Kong.
The tea trade flowing from China had left the British government in staggering debt. They had loaned huge amounts to the Honourable East India Company (EIC) to conquer India, and to pay their debts, the EIC turned that land into poppy fields and manufactured opium in huge quantities. Since China had banned the opium trade, the EIC set up a market in Calcutta (part of their Indian territory) and turned a blind eye to the black market traders who smuggled it into China. By 1839, over 6.6 million pounds of opium were being smuggled into China every year. The Chinese DaoGuang Emperor appointed an upright official named Lin Zexu to halt this opium trade. Lin orchestrated a massive campaign to arrest opium traders, force addicts into rehab, and confiscate pipes. He even laid siege to British warehouses when the merchants refused to turn over their opium supply, instead taking it all by force and burning it. The outraged merchants sought redress from their government, but although the Chief Superintendant Charles Elliot promised them restitution, the government never had any intention of paying them back. Amid the unrest, two British sailors brutally murdered a Chinese man. Lin Zexu demanded their extradition, but Elliot insisted on trying them aboard his ship and sentencing them himself. Lin Zexu had enough. He halted the British food supply and ordered the Portuguese to eject them from Macau. They retreated to a barren island off the coast (now known as Hong Kong). Since the island could not support them, Elliot petitioned the Chinese to sell them food again. He received no response. Then he sent men to collect it directly, but on their way back they were halted by the Chinese navy, and the first engagement of the Opium Wars began.
July 7, 2016
Published on 18 Jun 2016
The British Empire’s grasp on the Americas was slipping right at the time when they needed those resources most. The massive amounts of tea they imported from China had created a huge trade deficit, but the Chinese were reluctant to let any Europeans trade outside of the Canton port strictly controlled by the Hong. So Britain sent a formal embassy led by Earl George Macartney.
In 1792, Great Britain had just come out of an expensive war that cost them their control over many of their colonies in North America. Other wars had also cost them their access to the silver mines of South America, which had been helping fund so much of their trade with the Qing Dynasty of China. European traders all wanted greater access to China, but the Emperor was wary of letting outsiders too far into his country and kept them all penned up at the port of Canton, which was strictly regulated by the Hong business group. A flourishing blackmarket trade grew, but Britain wanted more. One trader, acting on his own initiative, grew bold enough to approach Beijing and attempt to get a hearing over his trade grievances, but the Chinese considered this a huge breach of protocal and an offense to the Emperor. Britain had to do something, however: they imported over 10 million pounds of tea each year, equal to 10% of the government’s annual spending, and the fact that China did not have anywhere near as great an interest in British products meant that they were running an enormous trade deficit they could no longer sustain. The Crown appointed an official envoy, Earl George Macartney, with orders to end the Canton system, establish an embassy, and acquire rights to an island that would be under British control in the same way that the Porutuguese controlled Macao. The mission failed spectacularly. Although Macartney got permission to sail north and meet the Qianlong Emperor in his summer palace at Jehol, he refused to perform the traditional kowtow which was required upon meeting the Emperor. He presented gifts from the British court, but the Chinese interpreted these gifts as tribute, not trade enticements, and decided they had no need for nor interest in what he offered. Since he failed to get them to agree to any of his three requests, Britain wanted to find another way to address the trade imbalance with China. Soon, this would lead them to start bringing in opium.
June 10, 2016
Scott Alexander takes a quick look at a recent discovery in medication for depression:
A few weeks ago, Nature published a bombshell study showing that ketamine’s antidepressant effects were actually caused by a metabolite, 2S,6S;2R,6R-hydroxynorketamine (don’t worry about the name; within ten years it’ll be called JOYVIVA™®© and you’ll catch yourself humming advertising jingles about it in the shower). Unlike ketamine, which is addictive and produces scary dissociative experiences, the metabolite is pretty safe. This is a big deal clinically, because it makes it easier and safer to prescribe to depressed people.
It’s also a big deal scientifically. Ketamine is a strong NMDA receptor antagonist; the metabolite is an AMPA agonist – they have different mechanisms of action. Knowing the real story behind why ketamine works will hopefully speed efforts to understand the nature of depression.
But I’m also interested in it from another angle. For the last ten years, everyone has been excited about ketamine. In a field that gets mocked for not having any really useful clinical discoveries in the last thirty years, ketamine was proof that progress was possible. It was the Exciting New Thing that everybody wanted to do research about.
Given the whole replication crisis thing, I wondered. You’ve got a community of people who think that NMDA antagonism and dissociation are somehow related to depression. If the latest study is true, all that was false. This is good; science is supposed to be self-correcting. But what about before it self-corrected? Did researchers virtuously say “I know the paradigm says NMDA is essential to depression, and nobody’s come up with a better idea yet, but there are some troubling inconsistencies in that picture”? Or did they tinker with their studies until they got the results they expected, then triumphantly declare that they had confirmed the dominant paradigm was right about everything all along?
May 26, 2016
The strange American ardor for passing laws, the insane belief in regulation and punishment, plays into the hands of the reformers, most of them quacks themselves. Their efforts, even when honest, seldom accomplish any appreciable good. The Harrison Act, despite its cruel provisions, has not diminished drug addiction in the slightest. The Mormons, after years of persecution, are still Mormons, and one of them is now a power in the Senate. Socialism in the United States was not laid by the Espionage Act; it was laid by the fact that the socialists, during the war, got their fair share of the loot. Nor was the stately progress of osteopathy and chiropractic halted by the early efforts to put them down. Oppressive laws do not destroy minorities; they simply make bootleggers.
H.L. Mencken, Editorial in The American Mercury, 1924-05.
March 23, 2016
Published on 22 Mar 2016
Since we love our comment section so much, we came up with a new format that we call Out Of The Ether. Indy reads out the best comments we got under our recent episodes. This time we are talking about Luigi Cadorna, Cocaine and Food. Let us know what you think about our new format in the comments.
February 14, 2016
Published on 13 Feb 2016
Indy sits on the Chair of Wisdom again and answers two more surreal questions about cocaine and zombie attacks this week.
February 7, 2016
Today during an otherwise terrible lecture on ADHD I realized something important we get sort of backwards.
There’s this stereotype that the Left believes that human characteristics are socially determined, and therefore mutable. And social problems are easy to fix, through things like education and social services and public awareness campaigns and “calling people out”, and so we have a responsiblity to fix them, thus radically improving society and making life better for everyone.
But the Right (by now I guess the far right) believes human characteristics are biologically determined, and biology is fixed. Therefore we shouldn’t bother trying to improve things, and any attempt is just utopianism or “immanentizing the eschaton” or a shady justification for tyranny and busybodyness.
And I think I reject this whole premise.
See, my terrible lecture on ADHD suggested several reasons for the increasing prevalence of the disease. Of these I remember two: the spiritual desert of modern adolescence, and insufficient iron in the diet. And I remember thinking “Man, I hope it’s the iron one, because that seems a lot easier to fix.”
Society is really hard to change. We figured drug use was “just” a social problem, and it’s obvious how to solve social problems, so we gave kids nice little lessons in school about how you should Just Say No. There were advertisements in sports and video games about how Winners Don’t Do Drugs. And just in case that didn’t work, the cherry on the social engineering sundae was putting all the drug users in jail, where they would have a lot of time to think about what they’d done and be so moved by the prospect of further punishment that they would come clean.
And that is why, even to this day, nobody uses drugs.
Scott Alexander, “Society Is Fixed, Biology Is Mutable”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-09-10.
November 10, 2015
Hunter S. Thompson’s iconic book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas has been re-imagined in Troy Little’s graphic novel:
October 30, 2015
At Reason, Jacob Sullum debunks the latest variant of the old “OMG! There might be marijuana in the kids’ trick-or-treat bags! OMG!”:
With Halloween just around the corner, it’s time for scary news reports that begin, “With Halloween just around the corner…” This genre of yellow journalism often features warnings about tainted trick-or-treat candy, a mythical menace that in recent years has gained credibility thanks to the popularity of marijuana edibles in states where such products are legal.
Last year police in Denver, where state-licensed marijuana merchants had recently begun serving recreational consumers, told parents to be on the lookout for THC-tainted treats in their children’s candy bags. As usual, no actual cases of such surreptitious dosing were identified.
But fear of strangers with candy springs eternal. The fact that this threat so far has proven imaginary is not deterring reporters and law enforcement officials around the country from warning parents that harmless-looking treats might contain a mind-altering substance other than sugar—if not marijuana, then MDMA.
Almost all of these stories make a leap from the observation that cannabis candy exists to the completely unsubstantiated fear that someone might slip it into your kid’s trick-or-treat bag. That scenario is highly implausible, since it is hard to see what the payoff would be for replacing cheap Halloween treats with expensive marijuana edibles. Given the delay between eating cannabis candy and feeling its effects, the hypothetical prankster could not even hope to witness the consequences of his trick. Furthermore, it seems that nothing like this has ever happened — or if it did, it somehow escaped the attention of the yellow journalists who keep warning us about the possibility. The story is kept alive by the gullibility of the same parents who anxiously examine their kid’s Halloween candy for needles and shards of glass.This year saw the birth of a new variation on this theme: Instead of cannabis in your kids’ candy, maybe there’s MDMA. Snopes.com, the online catalog of urban legends, traces the scare to a September 25 post by a Facebook user named Thomas Chizzo Bagwell featuring a photo of colorful Molly tablets. “If your kids get these for halloween,” Bagwell wrote, “it’s not candy.” Last week the Jackson, Mississippi, police department posted the same photo, accompanied by this warning:
If your kids get these for Halloween candy, they ARE NOT CANDY!!! They are the new shapes of “Ecstasy” and can kill kids through overdoses!!! So, check your kid’s candy and “When in doubt, Throw it out!!!” Be safe and always keep the shiny side up!!!
That burst of fact-free fear, which was later removed from the police department’s Facebook page, transformed idle speculation into “an alert” issued by “police nationwide,” as WILX, the NBC station in Lansing, Michigan, put it. WOIO, the CBS station in Cleveland, claimed “Ecstasy masked to look like candy” is “popping up all over the country, and police want to warn you.” If a child were to eat one of those tablets, according to Westlake, Ohio, Police Capt. Guy Turner, “they would be in the emergency room without a doubt.”
October 21, 2015
1) If you’re in a bad neighborhood, the kind where you get to hear gunfire and sirens on a nightly basis, move. If you can’t move, have yourself inside at a decent hour, before the time when “suspects” start outnumbering “witnesses” on street corners.
2) As a matter of fact, having yourself in at a decent hour is good advice for just about anybody. Ask your local po-po, but I’d bet that in most places, not much good happens after ten p.m.; certainly after midnight, the majority of the folks not already at home are already legally intoxicated, or are engaged in business transactions buying or selling intoxicants. Saying that these people are overrepresented in criminal and traffic code violations is like saying that rednecks are overrepresented in the stands at a NASCAR race.
3) Regardless of your opinion of the War on (Some) Drugs, the fact remains that, for now, drugs are illegal. This means that to get any for your own use, you have to come in contact with some one who is, by definition… class? Anyone? That’s right, a criminal. Now, other than engaging in a little unlicensed pharmaceutical distribution, your particular connection may be a saint and a member of the Kiwanis. On the other hand, how well do you really know them? They’ve demonstrated the willingness to break one law; what others do they break? What other criminals do they associate with? What are the chances of this all ending in tears? If you want to play the safe side of the odds, wear your seatbelt, don’t ride motorcycles, and stay away from the dope and the people who use it.
4) Likewise, hitting people is against the law. You should stay the hell away from people who think fisticuffs is an appropriate method of conflict resolution for adults. Particularly if they also have a fondness for judgement-impairing substances like Budweiser. I don’t care if you lovelovelove them; if they have proven their willingness to talk with their fists, they will do it again, and maybe worse. If you are living with them or hanging around them, get out. You can then settle your differences from the other end of a phone line a whole lot safer than you could have from inside the tiger cage.
Tam Slick, “How to not get killed”, View From The Porch, 2009-07-20.
October 15, 2015
Jacob Sullum points out a few misconceptions about sentencing reform:
Anderson, with Sessions’ help, manages to pack at least half a dozen serious misconceptions into a 375-word post. Let’s consider them one at a time.
Is “crime rising in America”? As Jesse Walker noted here last month, the latest FBI numbers show that violent and property crime both fell last year, continuing a “long decline” that began in the mid-1990s. Although some American cities have seen spikes in violent crime this year, it is not clear whether they represent a nationwide increase or, if so, whether that increase represents a reversal of recent trends or a blip.
Are police “increasingly under siege”? Last month my former Reason colleague Radley Balko, who writes about criminal justice for The Washington Post, reported that “2015 is on pace to see 35 felonious killings of police officers” and that “if that pace holds, this year would end with the second lowest number of murdered cops in decades.” As Jesse Walker pointed out here, such numbers have never deterred law-and-order types who propagate “the eternally recurring legend of a ‘war on cops.'”
Are drug traffickers “violent criminals”? Some are, but there is a clear distinction between stabbing or shooting someone and engaging in consensual transactions that Congress has arbitrarily decided to prohibit. Under current law, doing the latter is enough to trigger mandatory minimum sentences ranging from five years to life. By pretending there is no difference between violent predators and nonviolent drug offenders, opponents of reform make a hash out of any effort to focus criminal justice resources on the lawbreakers who pose the biggest threat to public safety.
June 2, 2015
Compound Interest posted an infographic on cannabis and synthetic cannabinoids:
In recent years, there’s been an increase in the number of media reports on users of synthetic cannabinoids. Commonly referred to by names such as ‘Spice’ or ‘K2′, the most recent reported case involved five UK students being hospitalised after use. But what are the chemicals present in ‘spice’ and similar drugs, and what are the chemical compounds in cannabis that they aim to mimic? That’s what this graphic and post attempt to answer.