I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 25-30 April 2022

History of Rome Podcast. Episode 129 Abdication. Well, Diocletian had done all that he wanted to do and now all he had to do was work out a transition plan, so that there would be a stable tetrarchy in place to cover the whole of the Roman Empire. Really, although it was called a tetrarchy, it was really two Caesars (junior emperors) and two Augusti, one of whom took the lead- in this case, Diocletian. In Diocletian’s plan, each Augustus would rule for twenty years, then abdicate, the two junior emperors would move up to be Augusti and two new junior emperors would take their place. Simple, eh? Problem was, if he was going to keep the 2X2 structure, he would have to persuade Maximian to retire at the same time, which he managed to do. Galerius and Constantius stepped up, but who was to take their place as junior emperors? Episode 130 Lost in Transition Everyone expected that Constantine and Maxentius, as sons of reigning emperors would be placed in the vacancies, but Diocletian wanted to break the idea of hereditary emperors. So he looked elsewhere. Instead of the hereditary sons, Severus and Maximinus Daza were declared junior emperors. Then Maxentius (the son of Maximian) revolted; Maximian arranged for Severus to be killed; Galerius had to slink out of Italy, and Constantine was lurking up in the north. This is all very confusing- all these Maxes – the names are too similar. Anyway, it’s a stuff-up. Episode 131 The New Game in Town. When Severus was killed, Galerius arranged for his friend Licinius to be appointed and catapulted him up to be Augustus without serving the requisite time as Caesar. Old Man Maximian argued with his son Maxentius, and ended up seeking refuge with his son-in-law Constantine. It was such a mess that they even asked Diocletian to come back, but he said that he was happy tending his cabbages. But then Maximian mounted a come-back against Constantine, who defeated him and was very angry, exhorting him to ‘do the right thing’ and kill himself- which he did. Even though Maxentius and his father weren’t talking, Maxentius vowed to avenge his father’s honour. Then Galerius got sick and smelly and died. This is just getting silly now.

Rear Vision (ABC) The Greens- politics and the environment. I was really impressed by Adam Bandt’s address to the Press Club, and I’m uneasy about the talking-out-of-both-sides-of-your-mouth about the fossil-fuel industry from the ALP. This is the history of the Greens, starting from its roots in the Nuclear Disarmament Party. It put up two candidates for the Senate: Peter Garrett (who was expected to win) and Jo Valentine (who wasn’t). But it didn’t turn out that way, and when Valentine won she distanced herself from the NDP who wanted to tell her how to vote. In the 1970s, Greens parties arose across the world, especially in Europe, and there was an international network of Greens parties. Up until now, the Greens were state-based parties but in 1992 the Federal Green party was formed, after it had sorted out some thorny constitutional problems. It adopted consensus decision making (which was found to be very unwieldy) , the right of a conscience vote for MPs and proscription (i.e. members couldn’t belong to another party). The state parties continued, each with a different flavour. In NSW there were links with the BLF and the socialist parties and an emphasis on environmentalism and conservation; in Tasmania it was about wilderness, damming the Franklin and opposing the Wesley Vale pulp mill, and WA kept its anti-nuclear movement links. Milne rejected Rudd’s climate policy because it locked-in failure: a big judgment call that has embittered many ever since. When the Greens supported Gillard’s minority government, they provided stable support in Senate which contributed to the heavy slate of legislation that the government actually passed.

Australia If You’re Listening (ABC) Episode 4: the decade when climate change became a culture war. This episode picks up on Judith Brett’s contention in The Coal Curse that the mining industry and its lobbyists cut their teeth on the indigenous land rights issue. Hugh Morgan, former CEO of Western Mining Corporation seeded right-wing think tanks like the IPA which, after de-fanging land rights legislation then turned their attention to casting doubt on climate change. When Al Gore came out so strongly for climate change in An Inconvenient Truth, the link was made between Democratic/Labor/Progressive politics and calls for action- and the converse Liberal/Republican/Conservative calls for skepticism.

Things Fell Apart. A Miracle. Tammy Faye Bakker was a wildly successful tele-evangelist, who along with her husband Jim ran the Praise the Lord Ministry. In 1985 she conducted an interview on her ‘Tammy’s House Party’ program with Steve Peters, a man gravely ill with AIDS. Although Tammy Faye’s questions were clumsy and bordering on offensive, for many evangelical Christians it was the first time that they had been exposed to the human face of AIDS. In a twist of fate, after the fall of the PTL empire, Tammy Faye became a gay icon.

War on Truth (BBC). My Son is the Snake Island Hero has an interview with Tetyana, the mother of the Russian soldier who told the Russian warship Moskva to go fuck itself (an interesting visual image). At first she was told that all the Ukrainian soldiers had died, but the Russians accused Ukraine of misinformation as they were, indeed, alive and part of a prisoner swap. Then the Moskva itself sank – Russian say because of fire; Ukrainians say because of attack. The Snake Island soldiers are now depicted on a stamp.

The Explanation (BBC) Understanding the rise of Boko Haram. The journalist Mayeni Jones explains that Nigeria is geographically and politically divided into two parts. The South is wealthy, Christian and humid: the North is poor, arid and Muslim. From 1960s with the granting of independence through to 1999 Nigeria was led by a military dictatorship, but the corruption continued under democratic government. In July 2009 Boko Haram burst onto the scene. Led by Muhummed Yusuf, ‘Boko Haram’, literally means ‘Western Education is forbidden. He was arrested and killed by the police, which just made him a martyr. He was replaced by Abubakr Shekau in 2010, and Boko Haram executed a car bombing inside the UN compound. The first school kidnapping was almost by chance. They were actually looking for a brick making machine, and the girls were there and they took them. In 2021 Abubakr Shekau blew himself up when surrounded by West African Islamic State fighters. Whether it is Al-Qaeda IS or any other terrorist group, there is a huge disaffected young population in Nigeria to draw upon, and the structural problems remain.

Revolutions Podcast Having listened to Mike Duncan talking about the History of Rome (see above), it felt strange to tune back into his Revolutions Podcast, where he’s up to episode 95 of the Russian Revolution. I have no intention of listening to the rest of them (although I did start, years ago), but Episode 95: Russian Empire, Soviet Empire is interesting in light of the Ukraine situation today. He looks at the year 1921, when Russia saw its western regions peeling off into independent (although still heavily influenced) countries like Lithuania, Finland, Ukraine etc. The trade treaty that Russia signed with Great Britain in 1921 conferred de-facto recognition, although US held out until 1933 before recognizing the Soviet Union. Meanwhile Trotsky suggested that because it was clear that the revolution wasn’t going to spread throughout Europe, the Soviet Union turn to Eur-Asia and foment revolution as an attack on colonialism. He goes through the -stans, and Russian involvement, and interestingly spends quite some time on Georgia, where the Mensheviks had been very strong. (I watched a Foreign Correspondent program last night about how, since the Ukrainian invasion, many Russian dissidents have gone to Georgia where the people have no great love for Russia, although their government in ambivalent). As Duncan says, 1921 is almost a potted summary of the whole revolution (and it saves you listening to the 94 preceding episodes)

Emperor Suleiman the Magnificent

Start the Week (BBC) An interesting episode in The Age of the Strongman Leader, featuring Gideon Rachman, author of The Age of the Strongman: How the Cult of the Leader Threatens Democracy Around the World, Judy Dempsey who has written a lot on Angela Merkel, and Christopher de Bellaigue, author of The Lion House: The Coming of a King about Suleiman the Magnificent. This last title might seem a bit out of place, but this discussion talks about the phenomenon of the ‘strongman’ across history. One of them (Rachman?- the two male voices were similar) identified four qualities of the strongman 1. Cult of personality 2. Nostalgic nationalism, looking backwards 3. Contempt for the rule of law (although at first, they might have championed the rule of law to obtain power, but then subverted it) 4. Gender- mainly men. Merkel doesn’t fit this pattern, but other powerful women in politics are often the wives or daughters of strongmen. The modern strongmen they discuss use the democratic system, but then subvert it by encouraging polarization. The use of history by these strongmen is selective- for example, in December 2021 Putin’s courts put an end to the Memorial Project which documented the atrocities of the Stalin era. They also spoke about the strongmens’ need for large rallies – and no doubt May 9 will be such an occasion for Putin this year.

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