I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 9-16 March 2023

Emperors of Rome Episode XLVIII – Trajan: Optimus Princeps is the last episode about Trajan, known as the greatest emperor since Augustus (to be honest, the others weren’t much chop). He behaved the way that the elites expected him to, he built lots of infrastructure to keep the masses happy and coming to power at the age of 42, he had neither the recklessness of youth or the sluggishness of old age. The only slight criticism of him is that he was “devoted to boys and wine” but neither of these affected his judgement so that was okay. In 113CE he embarked on war with Parthia, after an earlier foray to fix up Armenia, in order to re-establish Roman authority. At this point, the empire was stretched to its greatest expanse, and things started to unravel a bit. He died unsuspiciously after an 18 year reign. Episode XLIX – Suetonius has been referred to often during these podcasts. He was possibly born in Algeria of an equestrian family and was active during Emperor Hadrian’s time. He was mentored by Pliny and became a librarian and archivist which gave him access to the sources to write his most famous book ‘The Twelve Caesars’. He may have travelled with Hadrian, and it is thought that he may have fallen out with him at some stage. Nonetheless, he is pretty reliable as distinct from….Episode L – Historia Augusta which is a series of biographies, starting with Hadrian and going through to the late 3rd century CE with a gap in the middle. It wasn’t called The Historia Augusta at the time- that name was given to it later. It’s best to think of it as a fun text that gets more and more bizarre, with spurious supporting documents- a bit like a mockumentary. But we have to use it in the absence of other sources.

Lives Less Ordinary (BBC) I Didn’t Know I was Part of an Experiment tells the story of Helene Thiesen, who was born in Nuuk, in Greenland, in 1944. Greenland was a colony of Denmark.At the age of seven, after her father’s death, two men came to see her mother, offering an opportunity to find out “which child is the brightest”. Her mother refused twice, but in the end, she reluctantly relented. Helene was promptly sent 3500 km away to Denmark where she was placed with a foster family. She was sent back to Nuuk after a few years, but not to her mother: instead she was sent to a children’s home. When she finally reunited with her mother, she no longer spoke the same language, and her mother remarried and moved away. Helene was 50 when she found out that she was part of an experiment into changing the environment for children from Greenland and its effects on the child- a bit of a nature/nurture experiment. She still hasn’t forgiven her mother.

Take Me To Your Leader (ABC) Benjamin Netanyahu As we see the footage of huge crowds protesting on the streets after Netanyahu’s ‘reforms’ of the courts, this episode is even more relevant than on 22 February 2023 when it was released. ‘Bibi’ has served a total of 15 years as Prime Minister and his most recent stint is his third comeback, after acting as PM in 1996 (with a narrow victory over Shimon Perez) for just three years; 2009 when he came back for 12 years; and now since December 2022 in an coalition with hard-right colleagues. A ‘prophet of doom’ type politician, in the past he tended to campaign as hard right but become more centrist once he achieved power, but now he needs the cover of the hard right to avoid his own legal entanglements. He is a divisive character, and Israeli politics has splintered into for- and against- Netanyahu politicians. He fears a nuclear armed Iran as a threat, and so he has cosied up to Putin and former President Trump. Guests include Ayala Panievsky, Gates Cambridge scholar, former journalist Haaretz newspaper and research associate at ‘Molad’, The Centre for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy; Mitchell Barak, former aide to Benjamin Netanyahu (who said that he was a horrible boss) and political analyst  Dave Sharma, Australia’s former Ambassador to Israel (who is not Jewish- I assumed he was).

Rear Vision (ABC) The War in Ukraine- the military story. This is Part I of a two-part series, released as part of the first anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine. I’d heard much of it before. Russia expected a weak response, as occurred when they invaded Crimea, but by the end of March the Russian troops were withdrawn from Kyiv. There are three elements of military strategy: Physical (i.e. troops and weapons), Intellectual and Moral. It is in effect a war of opposing political systems, and both sides are using propaganda. One difference between this war and the invasion of Crimea is the use of open source intelligence, especially aviation, and the use of autonomous systems like drones and robots.

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