I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 25-31 March 2023

Kerning Cultures A Past Life I’m quite attracted to the idea of a past life (or lives) but I don’t really believe it. However, adherents to the Druze faith certainly do believe in reincarnation. Possibly this is because you can’t convert to the Druze faith: you need to be born into it, and rebirth keeps the numbers stable. This is the story of Heba, who lived in both America and Lebanon, who as a child called herself ‘Amad’ and spoke of ‘Amin’, her husband. People from her parents’ village back in Lebanon told her family that Amad had died, and that they had known her. As an adult, Heba went back to Lebanon to locate this family, but found herself enmeshed in a family that she did not know or remember.

The ‘Brown Building’, site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

History This Week Fire in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Saturday 25 March 1911 was the date of this appalling fire, which led to the deaths of 146 garment workers within 15 minutes – 123 women and girls and 23 men in a 10 storey building opposite Washington Square in New York. This episode features David Von Drehle, author of Triangle: The Fire That Changed America who points out that the Triangle Shirtwaist factory was actually one of the most well-lit and modern of the garment factories which replaced the sweatshops in tenement buildings. The fire broke out on a Saturday afternoon as the employees were about to pick up their pay and leave for the weekend. (Even though the vast majority of workers were Jewish, they had to work on Saturdays). The shirtwaist factory occupied the 8,9 and 10th floors, and was conducted by Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, former garment workers themselves. But by now they were entrepreneurs, suspicious of their workers and vehemently anti-union. When fire broke out, the fire brigade found that their ladders only reached to the 6th floor. The lift operators were in many ways the heroes here, running the lifts up and down to the burning floors for as long as they could (after making sure that all the management staff were evacuated from the top floor, that is). The water did not work and escape doors were locked to prevent theft, but both owners escaped punishment. However, the fire prompted changes to working conditions …eventually, once Tammany Hall politicians began distancing themselves from the factory owners. I was amazed that the building was still standing when we visited New York back in 2011, and it has plaques on the wall commemorating the tragedy. So strange to think of so much death occurring right opposite Washington Square Park.

History Extra George VI’s Nazi Dilemma During WWII, George VI (i.e. Elizabeth’s father) faced a dilemma on two fronts. The first was his brother, the disaffected former Edward now Duke of Windsor. The second was his advisors, including Chamberlain and his foreign secretary Halifax, who both urged appeasement – and indeed, George himself leaned towards appeasement at first. This episode features Alexander Larman, the author of The Windsors at War: The Nazi Threat to the Crown The Duke of Windsor, he says, was cunning but not clever and he worried more about communism than fascism. Although not a Nazi himself, he did have Nazi sympathies. He harboured fantasies that perhaps he might be invited back as King, and he thought that he might be able to act as a puppet leader for Hitler, whom he admired till the end. He did do intelligence work for Britain early in the war, but then gave intelligence to the Nazis e.g. the layout of Buckingham Palace so that there could be targeted bombing. There was still residual warmth for the former king, so it was decided to send him to the Bahamas as Governor rather than have him tried for treason in England (for which there would be grounds). In effect, George VI found his mettle during the war and became good friends with Churchill.

The Ancients Beast Hunts. Our image of lions in the Colosseum underplays the industrial scale of importation of animals for spectacles that were held throughout the Roman Empire. The killing was on a massive scale: 9000 beasts were killed in the 100 days festival of the opening of the Colosseum. The logistics of locating and shipping animals from the provinces required organization, and provinces could be taxed in animals rather than money. The animals were often used for meat afterwards. But so were condemned non-Roman criminals who were fed to the animals, the ultimate form of death-shaming. Emperors used displays of animals to show their power, although Pompey’s plan to ride into his triumph on elephants was brought undone when they didn’t fit through the gate!

Rear Vision (ABC) War in Ukraine: The Political Story. I learned more from this episode than I did from the earlier one (The Military Story). The central and eastern nations in NATO had been warning about Russia for some time, but were largely disregarded by the ‘older’ NATO nations of Germany and France. Finland and Sweden are now looking to join NATO, thus bringing NATO right to the Russian border (one of the reasons that Putin put forward for moving into Ukraine). Finland has always had a large army, and Sweden (which previously prided itself on its neutrality) was already building up its armed forces after allowing them to run down. The Baltic States, Finland and Sweden are now more aligned than they were. Central Asia, which has had a strong relationship with Russia in the past, are wary, and are looking more to southern Asia as an alternative. Turkey is useful to Russia because of its presence in NATO, and Iran is providing weapons. The non-Western countries e.g. South America, Africa are cynical about the West’s response, and largely keeping out of it.

Emperors of Rome. Episode LIV – There and Back Again (An Emperor’s Tale) After a short time in Rome (having taken the long way home), Hadrian sets off again on a four year tour. First he went west to Gaul, Brittania (where he left the 3-metre thick Hadrian’s Wall) and España; then he went east to Syria and Turkey, then he went to Greece which is where he really wanted to be (because he loved all things Greek) and stayed there for two years. This four-year peregrination was more about diplomacy than anything else- he did lots of building along the way as part of marking Rome’s dominance across the provinces. Wherever he went, he left troops in a peace-keeping role. It was while he was in Greece that he met his beautiful boy Antinous. Episode LV – What Hadrian Loves Best. Three things. 1. Impressive buildings. Even though it was hard to find space in Rome after all these centuries, he did, and he built the big 10-column temple to Venus and Roma. He rebuilt the Pantheon for the 3rd time. But although he liked leaving buildings with his name on them in the provinces, he was careful not to do so in Rome which would have seemed crass. 2. His wife Vibia Sibina. Well maybe he didn’t love her that much. Nonetheless, she was an Augusta and their marriage was a way of strengthening the Romano-Spanish contingent in Rome. 3. Antinous. He really did love Antinous. Lots of Roman men had boy lovers, but Hadrian seems to have been particularly besotted by him. Nonetheless, it’s debatable whether Hadrian was ‘homosexual’ in our sense of the word today. There is debate over Antinous’ death: was it an accident? suicide? even murder? What is not debatable is that Hadrian was heartbroken when he died. Episode LVI – May His Bones Rot Although he had no intention of expanding the Empire, Hadrian was intent on consolidating what he still held. There had been discontent bubbling away in Judea for some time, and the stubbornly monotheistic Jews were an intractable problem in a polytheistic culture like Rome. Hadrian had plans to rebuild Jerusalem, which was still in ruins after the first Roman-Jewish war of 66-73CE, as a distinctively Roman colony, and he outlawed circumcision. An anti-Roman insurrection broke out, led by the Messianic Simon bar Kokhba, and led to a three year guerilla war of attrition. According to Cassius Dio, Roman war operations in Judea left some 580,000 Jews dead and 50 fortified towns and 985 villages razed. Hadrian erased the province’s name from the Roman map, renaming it Syria Palaestina, and had Jerusalem rebuilt in the Greek style after re-naming it Aelia Capitolina.

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