I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 17-24 October 2022

Emperors of Rome Going back and continuing on with Julius Caesar with Dr Rhiannon Evans (Lecture in Mediterranean Studies, La Trobe University and host Matt Smith. Episode V Caesar and Civil War has lots of parallels with current day (not that they make them- I do). Julius Caesar (hereafter JC) had enemies in the Senate but they couldn’t charge him if he was still Consul or Pro Consul (shades of Trump?). The crossing of the Rubicon with his troops (it was not allowed to bring your army with you) shows the transference of loyalty from the Roman Empire to the individual instead. The triumvirate was no longer operational: Crassus had died, and Pompey (by now JC’s rival and enemy) was killed by the Ptolomys in Egypt. Cleopatra was installed. Dr Evans questions the romance of Cleopatra’s relationship with Caesar, given the view of marriage as a form of alliance at the time. JC had made himself dictator for 10 years and then for life- so many rules and norms were being broken by that time (shades of Xi Jinping?) Episode VI The Death of Caesar JC remained popular with the people but he had enemies in the Senate- not the majority of the Senate but enough- who resented him taking on the trappings of monarchy lie a throne, a diadem, wearing purple etc. He had been merciful to his enemies, which was a mistake. The assassination happened on the Ides of March because he was going to leave with his armies the next day. His assassins had to flee, and his bloodied toga was displayed on a statue outside the Senate. Episode VII The Legacy of Caesar. For someone who didn’t rule for long, he had a big impact. Augustus claimed lineage from him (he was actually JC’s great-nephew); JC had embarked on a big building program; and he went on to be embraced by many dictators, including Mussolini. Jumping ahead a bit then to Episode LX Cleopatra, recorded live at the Wheeler Centre on 22 November 2016. Cleopatra was from the Ptolomy family from Greece, which kept itself apart from the Egyptians and intermarried within itself. However, unlike the rest of her family, Cleopatra actually learned the Egyptian language and championed herself as the Queen of Egyptians the people, as well as the territory. She was intelligent, and not necessarily beautiful. I’m rather ashamed to admit that I knew so little about this that I thought she was having it off with Caesar and Anthony at the same time, but Caesar was long dead by now.

New Books Network. You should thank me because I listened to this podcast so that you don’t have to. The Small Matter of Suing Chevron was of course not a small matter at all and in this podcast the author of the book of the same name, Suzana Sawyer talks about the case, which ended up taking up 200,000 pages and running for decades. Texaco, later taken over by Chevron, had been drilling for oil between 1964 and 1992 close to the Amazon. It was a very contaminating activity, and they left behind more than 300 wells and pits to bury the waste products from the extraction process. An Ecuadorian court ruled in 2011 that Chevron was liable for $9 billion, mainly for remediation but 2 weeks before the ruling was handed down, Chevron commenced a case in a New York court. Armed with 2000 lawyers, Chevron had the case overturned, arguing that the Republic of Ecuador had already signed off on the remediation process with Texaco and therefore the findings were overturned. It ended up in a court at The Hague determined that the Ecuadorian judgment had been procured through fraud and was unenforceable. Sawyer is an anthropologist, not a lawyer and not a historian, and she had worked with indigenous groups in the Amazon prior to the launching of the case. She talks in rather convoluted ways about finding a grammar based on chemistry to talk about the legal process, which is in itself very complicated. But chemical/scientific concepts like “valences” and “exposure orbitals” are not particularly useful in talking about legal argument and this was a very hesitant, disjointed and abstruse podcast. I would have given up but I was already too far in.

99% Invisible Vuvuzela Remember the South African world cup and that dreadful vuvuzela? Tuned at Bflat, it can play only one note, and has since been banned by FIFA (thank God). The origins of the vuvuzela are murky, but it seems that it was invented by a man called Saddam Maake, who used a bicycle horn at first, and then modified it. But somehow or other the ownership got tied up with a plastics manufacturer, who also claims to be the inventor. Soccer is very popular in South Africa, and during the apartheid years, it was the only way that activists could meet together without being arrested because – hey, they were just watching the football. Although 99% is an American podcast, this episode is presented by James Parkinson, with a lovely familiar Australian accent

In Our Time (BBC) I hadn’t heard of Berthe Morisot, but she was one of the French Impressionist painters who has been overlooked in the 20th century. She was born into a wealthy family, had the support of her mother to become an artist at a time when women required chaperones to sketch at the Louvre and were not encouraged to undertake formal training. She married Eugene Manet (Edouard Manet’s brother) and she had extensive networks within the artistic world. She exhibited six times at the Salon de Paris, and in eight Impressionist exhibitions alongside Cezanne, Degas, Monet, Pissarro and Renoir. She painted in plein-air, but she also painted family interiors, often featuring her sister Edma (who was also a gifted artist until she married) and her daughter Julie. I was fascinated by her painting of Edma who was heavily pregnant (and looking rather fed up with the whole thing). I’d never heard of her- check out her paintings. This episode Berthe Morisot features Tamar Garb (Professor of History of Art at University College London) Lois Oliver (Curator at the Royal Academy and Adjunct Professor of Art History at the American University of Notre Dame London) and Claire Moran (Reader in French at Queen’s University Belfast) and an increasingly-decrepit-sounding Melvyn Bragg. I just looked him up- he is 83 and sounds every bit of it.

All in the Mind (ABC) I seem to be listening to a few podcasts about the ethics of experiments recently, and here’s another one, part of All in the Mind’s series on Unethical Experiments. Childhood attachment, animal rights and the ‘pit of despair’ looks at the experiments conducted by eminent psychologist Harry Harlow at a time when animals were not considered to have feelings or emotions at all. I remember pictures of ‘cloth mother’ and ‘metal mother’ and baby chimps from first year Psych. Ironically, it was the resistance to the type of experiments that Harlow conducted that spurred the animal rights movement.

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