Kerning Cultures Bone of Contention tells the story of paleontologist Nizar Ibrahim who went public in 2014 with the information that he had uncovered fossilized bones of the Spinosaurus in the Moroccan Sahar. What’s more, he claimed that Spinosaurus was a water-dwelling dinosaur- something that is still contested. Originally bones from Spinosaurus were found and documented by German paleontologist Ernst Stromer before WWI. He was no fan of Hitler, and during WWII he ended up in a Russian prison camp. When he was released he returned to the Bavarian Museum where he had deposited the specimens and begged the director to shift them to a safe location. But the director, a staunch Nazi, refused to do so, and when the museum was bombed, the bones were destroyed. Fortunately Stromer had taken meticulous notes, and when Nizar bought some bones from a fossil hunter in Morocco, he was able to compare them with Stromer’s notes. Nizar believed that the bones were of a Spinosaurus, and he had to find the fossil hunter to learn where they had been excavated. Amazingly he found them, and was able to excavate about 1/3 of the bones. He has since promulgated the controversial theory that Spinosaurus was water-dwelling: something that would upend the popular view of dinosaurs.
Radio Ambulante My Spanish is finally improving enough to be able to follow (just!) a 40 minute program on Radio Ambulante, a Latin American program in Spanish distributed through NPR. I’ll confess that I read the transcript after listening to it to find all the bits that I missed, then listened to it again – a rather time-consuming exercise. Mi padre y mi papa is the story of two Colombian children who remembered their father as a loving stay-at-home dad, until he supposedly died in a car accident while they were young. They later learned that this was just a lie, obscuring the truth that their father had been a terrorist, responsible for serious crimes. There’s an English transcript.
The Documentary (BBC) The Parallel Universe of Russia’s War This podcast is very similar to a program on a similar theme on Foreign Correspondent. (Actually, I think that Foreign Correspondent was better, because you can see subtitled clips from the programs they discuss). Somehow or other, Russians have been convinced that they are the ones under threat, not from Nazis anymore but from LGBTQI people and western permissiveness.
Rear Vision (ABC) The Battle for the Soul of the Catholic Church. With the death of George Pell, there has been renewed attention on his authorship of a letter highly critical of Pope Francis. This episode talks about the recent history of the Catholic Church since Vatican II and the battle between conservatives and less-conservatives in the Vatican. What a poisonous nest! Quite apart from all this politicking, there is the widespread disillusionment of ordinary generations-long Catholic families at the sexual abuse revelations that have soiled the Catholic Church forever, I would guess.
Revisionist History From Inside Voice: Lake Bell and the Sexy Baby Phenomenon. This is actually one long advertisement for Lake Bell’s Inside Voice: My Obsession with How We Sound. She and Malcolm Gladwell discuss “baby voice”, exemplified by Paris Hilton or Real Housewives, and why women might want to adopt it. She starts off apologizing for being judgmental – but she´s too apologetic – judge away, I reckon. She goes on to talk about how to identify your natural pitch, the phenomenon of vocal fry, and Lake Bell demonstrates her own vocal mimicry skills.
Emperors of Rome Rhiannon and Matt are having a bit of a break from the narrative of emperor after emperor and they´re answering listeners´questions instead. Episode XLIII Virgil goes through Virgil´s life and writings. As they point out, anyone who has watched an ‘epic’ has benefitted from Virgil’s work, as he in effect wrote the template for the genre. He was born in Northern Italy and was thoroughly steeped in Greek and Roman literature. He used Greek genres but wrote them in Latin. He worked under the patronage of Octavian/Augustus but his work had a bit of a political edge to it (e.g. his early work on pastoral life and farming). He is most famous for the Aeneas, where he picked up on the myth (and it was a myth) that Rome was based on the Trojan Wars. In this way, he was riffing on Homer, but with a different ending, using a mythological past to explore the present. Episode XLIV Roman Sexuality moves beyond the image of orgies to explain this highly patriarchal society where adultery was not a problem for men, as long as it wasn’t with a respectable married women (so slaves, unmarried women, and prostitutes were fair game). However, if a man showed an out-of-control appetite for anything – food, fame as a gladiator, and sex- it was seen as a weakness of character. As Pompeii has shown us, images of sex where everywhere. Women moved from the control of their own family to that of their husband, but their family connections and loyalties remained. Divorce was common was part of the family power play, and women were often remarried to older men. The tolerance of adultery did not apply to women. Homosexuality was widely accepted, generally with an older man with a younger boy, as long as the older man did not take the ‘submissive’ part. This tolerance didn’t apply to lesbianism either. Interlude Q&A II has Rhiannon answering readers’ questions. Q: What did the British think about Ireland? A: That it was inhabited by incestuous man-eaters. It was too far away for the Romans to invade. Q:What happened when someone was banished? There were degrees of banishment. Some people lost their property and were sent to an island. Others were denied ‘fire or earth’ in Rome- i.e. they were shunned. Others again were sent to a specific place e.g. Ovid. Q: How did the Romans count their years, especially BCE? A: In the Republic, generally by identifying who was Consul in that year. Once there were emperors, they counted the years of the reign or in relation to 753BCE when Rome was supposedly established. Q: Why did emperors have beards after Hadrian? A: At first consuls had beards, then they were clean-shaven, and then beards came back into fashion. Hadrian liked Greece, and the ‘philosopher’ look. Q: What did it mean to lose the standard in battle? A: A source of great shame, akin to running away. Q: How trustworthy are Caesar’s commentaries? A: They were written relatively soon after the battles, so Caesar couldn’t exaggerate too much. On the other hand, he did take poetic liberties. Q: What would Julius Caesar have been like if he hadn’t been assassinated? A: Who knows. He certainly would have continued declaring himself a dictator, but he probably would have been a successful leader. But…who knows.