Category Archives: Podcasts 2022

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 1-8 August 2022

Source: Condenados por la Inquisición, de Eugenio Lucas (siglo XIX, Museo del Prado). Wikimedia

History This Week Convert or Leave goes back to July 31, 1492 when the Alhambra decree came into effect, requiring all Spanish Jews to either convert to Catholicism or leave Spain. The process actually started 100 years earlier when a program of ‘conversion’ began, whereby Jews were singled out for specific tax treatment unless they converted to Christianity. In a way, it was a victim of its own success, as huge numbers did convert, but they often continued to follow family practices that, while Jewish in origin, were not recognized as such- as far as they were concerned, it wasn’t religious: it was just the way they did things in their family. People were suspicious over whether they really had converted, and the tax base shrank because there were fewer Jews. The Inquisition had been around for a long time, but in the 1470s Ferdinand and Isabella put it under the control of the crown – literally, the ‘Spanish’ inquisition, rather than the papal one. In 1491 Torquemada went to Ferdinand and Isabella and suggested expulsion of the remaining Jews to solve the problem. The Alhambra decree was framed as a way of protecting the conversos (i.e. converted Jews) from the bad influence of continuing Jews- huh! The program finished off by talking about immigration and the way that fear is engendered whenever you have a large group of people who continue to congregate together, and doubts are cast on the authenticity of their new status.

Adelaide Writers Festival. The Ivanhoe Reading Circle read Gideon Haigh’s The Brilliant Boy this month. I read it only a few months ago, and I didn’t have time to re-read it. So I listened to Gideon Haigh instead, talking at the Adelaide Writers Festival. I was a bit disappointed, though, that so much time was spent chatting about cricket and Shane Warne. Still, a good way of reminding myself about the book without re-reading it.

Afternoon Light (Menzies Research Centre) I can hardly believe that I went to this website for this second podcast by Gideon Haigh The Brilliant Boy: Remembering the Achievements of Dr H. V. Evatt. True to its name, the Menzies Research Centre is a Liberal/Conservative centre, whose self-proclaimed mission is to “uphold and promote Sir Robert’s legacy and vision for Australia as a country of freedom, opportunity, enterprise, and individual dignity.” Menzies and Evatt were contemporaries in many ways: both of fairly humble origins, both scholarship boys, both lawyers, both politicians. But for many years, Evatt was Menzies’ punching-bag in Parliament, never becoming Prime Minister (as he expected he would do) let alone PM for a total of 19 years as Menzies did. Here Gideon Haigh is interviewed by Georgina Downer in an intelligent but rather gloating interview.

History of Rome Episode 168 The Rise of Aetius This is all getting terribly confusing, but let’s just take stock. In 425 the six-year old Valentinian III became the Western Emperor, a position he shared with the Eastern Emperor, his cousin Theodosius II. This looked united, but it wasn’t really- instead it was a series of different rival power centres. The Eastern empire based in Constantinople seemed more stable, but it still had the Sassanids to the East and the Huns to the north. The Western Empire was a mess, with the Franks in North East Gaul, the Goths in South West Gaul, the Vandals in Hispania, and Bonifatius acting like an independent warlord in North Africa. Valentinian and Theodosius were emperors, but the real power lay in the hands of two women, Valentinian’s mother Placidia in the west, and Theodosius’ sister Pulcheria in the east. Meanwhile, Aetius controlled tens of thousands of troops, and his loyalty was suspect. Aetius was a Roman general, who had an an ‘interesting’ start to his military career. Born in 391, between 405 and 408 he was kept as hostage at the court of Alaric I, king of the Visigoths, then after that was sent to the court of Uldin, king of the Huns. He seemed to swap sides a bit, and seemed to be rather devious in seeding false rumours to Valentinian’s mother and regent Galla Placidia, at the expense of another Roman general Bonifatius, who was based in North Africa, and a rival power with access to Galla Placidia’s ear. Bonifatius was busy dealing with the Vandals in North Africa (they used to say that he invited them in, but there’s doubt about that now) and the Vandals laid siege to Hippo, during which St Augustine, who was living there, died. Then Aetius and Bonfatius ended up fighting each other: Aetius was beaten and ran away to the Huns where he plotted his revenge with Rua, the King of the Huns. Bonifacius died of his injuries, and Aetius returned to Ravenna with his Hun army and took over all of Bonifacius’ lands, and married his widow (!). So now he was the most powerful soldier in the Western Empire – and one of the most important men in Roman history, at the last phase of its history.

Episode 169 Huns and Vandals and Goths, Oh My. For a number of years now the Huns had been a destabilizing force, but they pretty much stayed where they were. However, in the mid 420s under the new leadership of Attila and his brother Bleda, the Huns began issuing threats to invade Constantinople unless they received go-away money. It wasn’t just the Romans who were subject to this extortion: they threatened the Sassanids as well. In 431 Theodosius II sent his troops to North Africa to pacify the Vandals (which was really Valentinian’s problem) and then used them to kill the Burgundians. While they were off fighting, Theodosian issued the Theodosian Code, which codified all the laws since 331 AD (i.e. since Christian times), and this was to later form the basis of the Justinian Code. Meanwhile, the Goth king Theodoric wanted a Mediterranean port, and so he embarked on war again. In 439 the Vandals invaded Africa again and took over Carthage. Genseric (a Vandal) was accepted by the North Africans because the Romans had pretty much neglected North Africa anyway. The Vandals formed a navy and conquered the Mediterranean, and meanwhile the Huns were arising again.

Episode 179 Attila Cometh. Up until now, most of the pressure had been on the Western Empire, but now the Eastern Empire faced the rise of Attila the Hun. Theodosius had sent most of his troops off to Africa, and the Sassanids (briefly) and Huns took advantage of their absence. In 441 the Huns invaded as a way of extorting more money from the empire. Led by Attila and Bleda, their troops were good at besieging cities, and walls were now barrier. But the brothers fought, and Bleda ended up dead (at Attila’s hand??) and so, counting on Hun disunity, the Romans refused to pay the go-away money. In 447 Attila decided to march on Constantinople, where the Theodosian Walls had been damaged by an earthquake. The walls were rebuilt in an amazing two months, and they held and Constaninople avoided being invaded- but all the other Roman troops were just blown away. Meanwhile, Aetius was forced to recognize the Vandals in North Africa. Genseric continued to provide food for the empire (which was the main reason that the Romans wanted North Africa) but did not pay taxes. There were rebel bands everywhere, and Aetius did well to hold it all together as much as he did.

The Documentary (BBC) My Granny the Slave. British journalist Claire Hynes travelled to Antigua to learn more about an Antiguan foremother, who is thought to be one of the first women to flee a slave plantation in the Caribbean island of Antigua. Claire grew up learning a 200 year-old story passed down through generations about her enslaved ancestor known as Missy Williams. As a young woman Missy risked her life to escape the physical and sexual brutality of plantation life, hiding out in a cave. Although she had been told that her family “The Williams” were important, she found that only the white Williams’ were documented, and that there were virtually no records of enslaved Africans. She learned more about the hard life on a sugar plantation, and the use of violence to prevent escape. She reflects at the end on the importance of the search for identity not for the people who have always lived in Barbados, but more for those who emigrated to Britain and have lost all connection

Tides of History and Al Franken Podcast With all this History of Rome listening, I’m finding myself increasingly interested in Alaric the Goth, and especially a recent biography written by Douglas Boin. I’ve found that the ‘New Books Network’ podcasts have been a good way of getting the flavour of a book without actually having to read it, so I thought I might be able to do the same with Boin’s Alaric the Goth: An Outsider’s History of the Fall of Rome. Not so- and it made me realize how carefully the New Books Network podcasts trace out the argument of the book for someone who hasn’t read it while at the same time engaging with the debate. I listened to Tides of History, which had a good discussion about the problems of writing with a thin and one-side historiography but assumed too much familiarity with the book. But even worse was the interview on The Al Franken podcast, where the host spent far too long making partisan links to today’s politics (the connections are there, to be sure, but let’s take the history on its own terms) and really didn’t seem to know much. Really, I don’t know how Boin could be bothered.

The Daily (NYT) It was possible to take some comfort from the recent rejection in Kansas of a referendum that would have added a constitutional prohibition to seeking abortion in Kansas. In How to Interpret the Kansas Referendum on Abortion, the presenters point out that Kansas, where abortions can still be carried out, is surrounded by states where it will now be illegal. Some of their interviewees opposed abortion personally, but did not feel that they could impose that on others. If only more people felt that way.

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 25-31 July 2022

History of Rome Episode 165 Reviving the Roman Name Ataulf continued with Alaric’s desire for his Goths to cement their place in the Empire, and didn’t really want to invade Ravenna. Neither did Constantius really want to push the issue either, so there was a bit of a stalemate. In a bit of inter-Goth warfare, Sarus and Ataulf fought, and Sarus was killed, and then Ataulf argued with Jovinus (who had become a puppet emperor supported by Gundahar and the Burgundians- sounds like a musical group- after the death of Constantine III). The Goths and the German tribes did not join together: instead the Goths and the Romans got together. The Goths hoped to be creating a new dynasty within the Empire. But Constantius and Honorious joined forces against the Goths, hoping to starve them into submission. The Goths went to Hispania and Ataulf was murdered in his bath, without leaving a clearcut replacement. Sigeric, Sarus’ brother quickly seized power but he was assassinated too. Wallia took over, at a time when morale among the Goth ranks was very low, and he accepted vassal status within the Empire. Britain was looking out for itself, and Rome never went back. Politically and militarily, Brittania was lost to the Empire for ever.

Theodosian Walls in Constantinople (Istanbul)

In Episode 166 As Long As She’s Nice to Look At There was a fear that the Empire would lose Hispania again to the Alani and the Vandals, so the Goths were offered Aquitaine in exchange for fighting the Alani and other rebels. This gave the Goths a stable source of food. Wallia died and was replaced by Theodoric. Valentinian III was born to Constantius III and his now-wife Galla Placidia. What a life she had- daughter of Theodosius I, captured by Alaric, married off to Ataulf, then forced by her brother Honorius into a marriage with Constantius III. Valentinian III was thus the heir presumptive to the Western empire, which strengthened Constantius’ position, and he was quickly elevated to Augustus. But this was opposed by the eastern Emperor Theodosius II. That’s right! there was an Eastern Empire too- we’d forgotten about them. Over in the east, the truce with the Sassanids meant that Constantinople was safe. Theodosius II was still young, and largely under the influence of the powerful Prefect Athemius (who built the Theodosian Walls). His sister Pulcheria assumed the role of Augusta and along with her sisters, immediately took a vow of virginity. Once he turned 20, Theodosius demanded that if he was to marry at all, she had to be beautiful. Aelia Eudocia obviously fitted the bill, because he married her. Meanwhile, over in the Western Empire, Honorius and Constantius were furious at Theodosius’ rejection of Constantius’ III dynastic plans and they were preparing for war, when Constantius III died.

Episode 167 Exploiting the Opportunity takes us back to the Eastern Empire where where war was briefly reignited with the Sassanids over religion. Pulcheria was anti-Pagan, while the King of the Sassanids was anti-Christian. But just in time, Honorius died, which put Valentinian III in the box seat, even though he hadn’t received any of the usual titles- very poor succession planning. The nobles placed Joannes as emperor instead, but this was opposed by the North Africans, who chose Flavius Aetius instead, who led a large force of Huns. God, this is confusing.

Democracy Sausage. I usually listen to both The Party Room (ABC) and Mark Kenny’s podcast Democracy Sausage, but I don’t very often record them here in this blog because the content is pretty ephemeral. But this episode Back in the Bubble has historian Frank Bongiorno (the newly minted president of the AHA and one of my favourite ‘young’ historians) and he’s always worth listening to.

Revisionist History For some time, Canada has had a system where additional to (and this is important) Canada’s refugee intake, they have allowed private sponsorship of refugees. (Australia has a program too, but it is not additional to our refugee intake and has been fairly heavily criticized). In this episode, I Was a Stranger and You Welcomed Me, Malcolm Gladwell looks close to home, where he asks his family about their involvement in bringing three Vietnamese refugees to Canada in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Most of the support group were involved in local churches, and churches remain an important component of the Canadian private sponsorship scheme. Apart from this, the program considers ‘kindness’, and its opposite in the meanness and active hostility of the US (and I would argue, Australian) refugee systems.

The Real Story (BBC). Bolsonaro v Lula: The race to lead Brazil Elections are coming up for Brazil, and there’s a good chance that it will be between Jair Bolsonaro and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Bolsonaro has fashioned himself on Trump, and is already positioning himself to claim electoral fraud. Bolsonaro had a lot of support from evangelical Christians (70%) but he can’t count on this for the next election. It sounds as if he has dismantled many of the civic bodies in Brazilian society. Meanwhile, Lula couldn’t stand last election because he was convicted of fraud- a judgement that was later overturned. I know who I’m barracking for.

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

History of Rome. I can’t believe it- I’m nearly at the end! Episode 162 Opening the Floodgates sees Flavius Claudius Constantinus, a Roman general who rose to power in Brittania, declaring himself Constantine III (even though he was no relation to the other Constantines), overthrowing Gratian and taking all his troops to Gaul (bad mistake) where the Barbarians were running amok. Although we talk about ‘The Barbarians’, they were not a single group, and Constantine was able to pick off some of the Barbarian leaders. Stilicho was ordered by Honorius to go after Constantine, which also diverted attention away from the Barbarian threat. Alaric, the Goth general, and his troops had been dispensed with after the death of Arbogast, although he was able to demand and receive compensation. Meanwhile, Arcadius in Constantinople died, leaving a vacancy because his son Theodosis II was too young. There were rumours that Stilicho was angling to get control of Constantinople, and Honorius believed those rumours. There was a revolt and Stilico, the Vandal, was executed – one of the last few competent leaders.

Meanwhile in Episode 163 Theodosius’ Walls we return to the eastern part of the empire. The Eastern provinces were more stable than the western ones and the truce with the Sassanids held. Arcadius and his wife Eudoxia reigned, but as a weak emperor, he was strongly influenced by the Bishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom. John was very devout, very ascetic and very critical of Eudoxia. Eudoxia tried to get John banished, but mob unrest and an untimely earthquake meant that he was brought back. She succeeded the next time she tried to get him banished, but then she died of a pregnancy-related illness. Into the power vacuum stepped the Praetorian Prefect Anthemius. His legacy lives on in the Theodosian Walls that he constructed, comprising three layers of stone wall, each taller than the next, to repel invaders from Constantinople. Enough of the East- let’s go back to the messy West. With Stilicho dead, Olympius stepped in to the vacancy and ordered the murder of the Goths, who fled to Alaric and boosted the numbers in his army. Alaric invaded Italy (the Romans were too scared to confront them) and went straight to Rome, more as a bargaining chip to ensure his recognition within the Empire, rather than with a view to sacking Rome (at this stage). When Honorius and Olympius refused, Alaric invaded Rome again, so Honorius decided to recognize the usurper Constantine III to bolster his forces. Alaric lessened his demands but was refused again, so he went back a third time. He chose Priscus Attalus to be ’emperor’ (something not really within his power to do) and this time he really did sack Rome.

Episode 164- The Sack of Rome. So Constantine III found himself recognized as an emperor at last, but there was rebellion in Spain and Britain went its own way once Constantine left, taking all his troops with him. There was a battle between Constantine and Honorius, which Honorius won. Alaric was forced to depose his hand-picked Attalus, who was getting too big for his boots- but he’ll be back. And so we come to the sack of Rome, which was last sacked 800 years ago. It wasn’t a complete scorched-earth type sack: Alaric was a Christian, just like Honorius was, and he declared churches and the people sheltering in them off-limits for any wanton sacking. The people of Rome were plunged into despair, and many became refugees, leaving only 20,000 people in Rome by the Middle Ages. Alaric went to North Africa for grain supplies (that his ‘friend’ Attalus had been holding out on) but a storm caused him to turn back. In 410 Alaric died and his brother Ataulf took over. Meanwhile Constantius III (a general under Honorius) was appointed in 411 to take down Constantine III (really, this is getting too confusing for words). Constantine III found himself beseiged by Constantius, and he surrendered when promised that he could live. Tricked you!- they killed him anyway. This left Constantius III but new usurpers were popping up in a game of whack-a-mole, and the Goths were heading for Ravenna.

Rear Vision (ABC) Papua New Guinea’s Elections. It has been disturbing to the see the violence in PNG during their recent elections. But what a challenge- the elections take place over three weeks, there are literally hundreds of different languages, and electors vote for the ‘big man’ in their village, or people who are linked to them by locality or family. The political system is based on the Westminster system, but the elections have been becoming increasingly corrupted. There are no parties as such, united by policy priorities, but instead they have shifting coalitions of interests.

Rough Translation (NPR) Miles to Go Before I’m Me looks at female long-haul truck drivers in America. Jess Graham started truck driving with her 10 year old daughter, in order to escape an abusive domestic relationship. Eventually she kept driving, without her daughter, but found that it was a lonely job, and the tolerance and friendship towards her that her young daughter had attracted, had dissipated. Meanwhile Brandie Diamond, another long-haul driver, found the mobility made it possible for her to transition – although being ‘outed’ by another truck driver expedited her decision to live as a transsexual.

History Extra Fifteen minutes of fame: Marie Tharp. You’ve never heard of her either? Born in 1920, she was an American-born geologist and ocean cartographer, and she was the person who proposed the theories of continental drift and plate tectonics, radical ideas at the time. She was working in a male-dominated profession where her name was mysteriously omitted from jointly-written research papers. she was not allowed to go on research ships, and so she had to work on-shore analysing data collected by her colleague Bruce Heezen with whom she had a love/hate relationship professionally. She has received more recognition posthumously than she received while she was alive.


The Latin American Podcast. I haven’t listened to this podcast in ages, and when I returned to it, I found that it has been discontinued since 2021. I wonder what happened? Anyway, the The Conquest of Peru Part I starts off by pointing out that Spanish colonization depended on individuals who proposed expeditions in order to enrich themselves and then gathered the funding. They were often from the Army and had served on other expeditions before heading off on their own. This episode introduces Diego de Almagro, Hernando de Luque and of course Francisco Pizarro – who is the best known of the three. Episode 2 Westwards goes through the two previous expeditions from Panama. The first retraced the footsteps of Pascual de Andagoya who had had to abandon his expedition from Panama after falling into a river and becoming seriously ill. This expedition sailed down the coast of Colombia, but had to be abandoned because they ran out of supplies. His second expedition also went south, where Pizarro met a tribe that had been conquered by the Incas. His expedition was thwarted by the new Governor of Panama so Pizzaro went back to the King, who gave him six months to raise the manpower he needed. He had to inveigle his two brothers into the group of 180 who sailed off, not strictly within his charter. Almagro and de Luque, who were waiting back in Panama, distrusted Pizzaro, suspecting him for having presented himself as the leader and downplaying their role. (Which he probably did)

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 9-16 July 2022

History of Rome Episode 159 The Divine Winds. Arbogast, Theodosius and Eugenius finally confronted each other at the Battle of the Frigidus River in 394 CE. Arbogast and Eugenius’ troops wore pagan symbols (perhaps- all of the information for this is pretty dicey) but it was not a religious war- it was about power. Arbogast had taken control of the terrain, and Theodosius’ troops were restive because the Goths who made up their ranks felt that they had been used as cannon fodder. It all looked as if Theodosius was doomed until the Bora winds blew up, making it hard for Arbogast and Eugenius’ troops to fight because it was blowing directly into their faces. Eugenius was captured and executed, and Arbogast did the right thing and committed suicide, which left Theodosius the last emperor standing. He was staunchly anti-pagan, so the Altar of Victory disappeared at this time, never to reappear. However, in mid 395 Theodosius died, leaving his 16 year old son Arcadius and 11 year old son Honorius in charge. They were too young to rule in their own right, so they were being manipulated by advisors- Stilicho and Rufinis the Pretorian Prefect. How to judge Theodosius? Well, he wasn’t truly great, and as an anti-pagan, he allowed Bishop Ambrose a degree of autonomy which was to set up relations between church and state for centuries. His decision to deal with the Goths through diplomacy saved the Empire, but it had serious consequences.

Episode 160 East Vs West Rufinis was assassinated by local enemies, and Arcadius’ wife Eudoxia was becoming more powerful than her weak husband. Now the empire was divided three ways: East, West and Constantinople. Taking advantage of the power vacuum, there was a Visigoth uprising in 395, led by Alaric. Meanwhile a Berber General in North Africa, Gildo, was a supporter of Theodosius and he began withholding grain shipments. Stilicho, who was by now Honorius’ father-in-law used Gildo’s brother Mascezel to fight against him (the two brothers were enemies) Gildo committed suicide and the eunuch Eutropius, another court official, had himself declared consul. Arcadius just disappears from the scene. Really, I’m losing track of all this. Suffice to say Arcadius and Honorius are too weak as emperors, and the officials are taking advantage of it.

Episode 161 The Swamps of Ravenna. In 402 Alaric, leader of the Goths goes on the offensive and crosses the Alps unchallenged because the Western troops were engaged elsewhere. He mounted a siege of Milan, not because he thought he would succeed, but to spook Honorius. This worked, and Stilicho moved the seat of the western court from Milan to Ravenna where it was surrounded by swamps. And then the Huns and Allamani were on the move again – the Barbarians are at the gate!!

File on 4 (BBC) Ukraine: War Stories was released on 15 March 2022 and so it captures the early weeks of the war on Ukraine. The BBC has arranged for ‘ordinary people’ to record audio diaries on their phones as their cities are bombed and families torn apart. So we hear model and dancer Mari Margun in Chernihiv who starts off confidently, but becomes increasingly shattered as the bombs fall; we hear a young woman just about to give birth, crowded into the basement of a maternity hospital; we hear of a young beautician learning to fire an AK47- the only weapon she has ever held; we hear a doctor reluctant to leave the children’s hospital until all the children are taken care of, and we hear the fear of families being separated with some desperate to leave, others too frightened to leave.

New Books Network. I subscribe to several feeds on the New Books Network, and I noticed on the Australian and New Zealand section that Marilyn Lake had recorded an interview on Nov 16 2021 about her not-so-new book Progressive New World: How Settler Colonialism and Transpacific Exchange Shaped American Reform. I was rather startled that it appeared on the ‘New Books in Native American Studies’ section, with an American interviewer who seemed rather unprepared to discuss anything other than the American connections in the book. It’s one of those books that I know I should read, but probably won’t- and at $61.00 it has always been prohibitively expensive. (It is available as an e-book at SLV). This interview sums up the book pretty well, I think. She starts the interview talking about progressivism, which was embraced by both Australia and U.S. who saw themselves as ‘new’ countries (dispossession of 60,000 year old custodianship in Australia notwithstanding) with a strong political subjectivity of seeing themselves as white, pioneering men (largely) on the frontier. Exclusion was built into progressivism, and in Australia’s case it was baked into a form of state socialism and maternalism. Her book examines progressivism through particular individuals like Charles Pearson and Alfred Deakin, and the challenge that rose in both US and Australia in the early 20th century when indigenous people challenged progressivism to recognize cultural difference and the importance of the past, using the language of Woodrow Wilson’s ‘self-determination’.

Strong Songs. When I realized it was July, I wondered if there was going to be a Most Wuthering Heights Day Ever in Melbourne this year because I was interested in doing it (lack of fitness, complete inability to dance and sore knees permitting). Short answer- not on 31 July, when it seems to be held elsewhere. This started me thinking about what a complex song Wuthering Heights is, but I lack the music theory to explain why. So I turned to Kirk Hamilton’s recent episode on Wuthering Heights, which he actually recorded some time ago but has repeated because of the recent success of ‘Running Up That Hill’. It’s a very American-centric recording (he had barely heard of Kate Bush) and he had never read Wuthering Heights. Nonetheless, he gives a good breakdown of the instrumentation and musical shifts in the song, using terminology far beyond me. Actually, I’ve never been able to understand the words in Kate Bush’s song when she sang it, and when I looked at them more carefully, it’s hard to believe that it was written by an 18 year old:

Out on the wily, windy moors /We’d roll and fall in green
You had a temper like my jealousy /Too hot, too greedy

How could you leave me /When I needed to possess you?
I hated you, I loved you, too

Bad dreams in the night /They told me I was going to lose the fight
Leave behind my Wuthering, Wuthering,Wuthering Heights

Heathcliff, it’s me, I’m Cathy /I’ve come home, I’m so cold/ Let me in your window

Ooh, it gets dark, it gets lonely/ On the other side from you
I pine a lot, I find the lot/ Falls through without you

I’m coming back love, cruel Heathcliff
My one dream, my only master

Too long I roam in the night/ I’m coming back to his side to put it right
I’m coming home to Wuthering, Wuthering Wuthering Heights

Ooh, let me have it/ Let me grab your soul away
Ooh, let me have it/ Let me grab your soul away
You know it’s me, Cathy

Heathcliff, it’s me, I’m Cathy/ I’ve come home, I’m so cold /Let me in your window

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 1-8 July 2022

Bernardino Alvarez, founder of the Hospital de San Hipólito. Source: Juan Díaz de Arce, Libro de la vida del próximo evangelico, el venerable padre Bernardino Alvarez (Mexico: 1762).

New Books in Latin American Studies. Bedlam in the New World. Most of the books in this podcast are academic texts published in the US, and not likely to be readily available in Australia – and if they are, they are usually prohibitively expensive. So this podcast is a good way of becoming familiar with the books without reading them. Christina Ramos was originally a historian of science and medicine and it sounds as if she was rather railroaded into Latin American history. Bedlam in the New World: A Mexican Madhouse in the Age of Enlightenment tells the story of Mexico City’s oldest public institution for the insane, the Hospital de San Hipólito, founded in 1567 by the Catholic Church. It finally closed in 1910 when a secular asylum was opened. Other historians and theorists have spoken about the medicalization of madness, and the use of the asylum as a form of social control, but her book looks at the relationship between religion and the asylum. Over such a long period of time, the Church moved from an idea of madness as a form of bewitchment or possession to a view of it as illness, and this played out through the activities of the Inquisition which wanted to probe into issues of intent and veracity – concepts not usually considered in asylums. Hospital records can be bald and bureaucratic, but the Inquisition’s rich records capture the voices of people who appeared before it. She speaks of the Spanish Enlightenment, which I confess I had never thought of before and closes her book at the point where the medical model took over from the spiritual model in the early 20th century.

Rear Vision (ABC) Zero COVID in China: the social, economic and political cost looks at the continuing policy of lockdown that China is following, after the rest of the world has decided to ‘live with COVID’. At the moment it seems that China’s government is just as ideological by not wanting to give up on its success in quashing COVID during 2020, as Western governments are in their determination to shut their eyes and chant ‘COVID-normal’. The inactivated vaccines produced by the Chinese government are less effective than MRNA, especially against Delta and Omicron, and there has been no herd immunity developed. They started with vaccinating front-line workers rather than the elderly, so there is a very large group of vulnerable citizens. Despite the disruption to the economy internally and supply chains globally, there is no sign of a change in policy, with the Chinese government cancelling the 2023 Asian Cup which was going to be held there.

History of Rome. Episode 156 Jockeying for Position. The three forces of Maximus, Theodosius and Valentinian were fairly evenly balanced. They could each hold their own, but were not strong enough to overthrow the others. This state of balance meant that most of their actions were PR stunts backed by diplomacy. Once Bishop Ambrose arose in Milan, both Maximus and Theodosius knew how powerful he was, and both positioned themselves as defenders of the Nicene Creed- in fact Theodosius became a bit fanatical about it all, but at this stage he just went after Arians, rather than pagans generally. Maximus wanted to show his chops too, so he ordered executions for heresy (which Ambrose opposed) and ordered the closure of Arian churches in Milan. Valentinian and his mother Justina were Arians, which was a bit awkward as they were based in Milan, with the strongly anti-Arian Ambrose. There was a stand-off between Ambrose and Valentinian and his mother over the occupation of a church, and in the end Valentinian and his mother Justina fled Milan.

Episode 157 Only the Penitent Man Shall Pass sees Valentinian (and Mum) and Theodosius joining forces in a war against Maximus. Maximus’ troops eventually handed him over and he was beheaded. Now Theodosius had to face Ambrose and reached out to him, but Ambrose was stubborn. There was an anti-Semitic uprising by monks that Ambrose supported. Theodosius humbly went to the Senate to shore up his authority but his position was undercut by the Massacre of Thessalonica (Greece) where imperial troops violently put down unrest over the arrest of a chariot racer over an alleged homosexual rape. When the general was killed, Theodosius ordered the slaughter of the crowd at the next chariot race. He regretted his decision, and tried to countermand it, but it was too late- although all of the details about this massacre are murky. Ambrose took the high moral ground and announced that he could no longer associate with Theodosius until the emperor made a personal apology. In the end, Theodosius grovelled and prayed – so Ambrose won. This is seen by some as a watershed moment that emphasized the Church’s power over the soul. Once forgiven, Theodosius turned his attention to stamping out paganism – and this may (or not) have been responsible for the destruction of the Library of Alexandria (no-one really knows who destroyed it).

Episode 158 An Imperial Suicide When Theodosius finally left Milan to go back to the east, he appointed General Arbogast to mind the shop, even though Valentinian was by now twenty years old. When Arbogast began making his own appointments of minister, Valentinian became depressed over his lack of power and committed suicide. Even though this was convenient for Arbogast, he probably wasn’t behind it, because as a Frank, he couldn’t have become emperor anyway. When no news came about who should be Valentinian’s successor, Arbogast named Eugenius, who had noble links. Eugenius set about reinstating pagan practice and restored the pagan Temple of Venus and Roma and the Altar of Victory, after continued petitions from the Roman Senate. It was, in effect, the last gasp of the pagan empire, even though both Arbogast and Eugenius were themselves Christians.

The Wheeler Centre. Well, it’s a video rather than a podcast, but I’ve just re-read Ruth Park’s The Harp in the South for my upcoming book group, and I found this talk by Alice Pung at the Wheeler Centre in January 2015. Actually, it was a bit too gushing for me, and I had hoped for something more critical. Pung drew on her own working-class origins to talk about Park’s treatment of class in the novel, although as the child of Vietnamese refugees, her working-class experience was very different from that of the Darcy family.

The Daily (NYT) In the wake of the terrible news on the overturning of Roe v Wade in the U.S. Supreme Court, An Abortion Rights Champion of the 1970s on Life Before and After Roe is fascinating. Fifty years ago Nancy Stearns was a NY lawyer who was preparing to mount a case in the New York court system challenging the ban on abortion in effect at that time, arguing that the impact of an unwanted pregnancy led to inequality in terms of liberty and the equal protection of the law, both of which are protected under the Constitution. However, just as the case was about to reach the court, New York legalized abortion, rendering the case moot. Roe v Wade made its argument for abortion reform on the grounds of privacy, not the Constitution (which I remember Ruth Bader Ginsberg also thought was a weakness), and as we have seen, an originalist can reject ‘privacy’ as a right because it is not protected by the Constitution. Nancy Stearn’s argument was never tested. Nonetheless, she thinks that even her arguments would be overthrown under the current Supreme Court, and she urges people to keep fighting even though she doesn’t think that she will live long enough to see safe abortions re-established in the United States.

Lives Less Ordinary (BBC) You probably think you don’t know Abi Morgan, but if you are an ABC viewer, you probably do. She is the screenwriter of The Iron Lady, Shame, and The Split, but in this episode My husband thought I was an imposter, she felt as if she were in her own nightmarish television series. When her husband Jacob, who suffers from MS, was rapidly taken off a drug-trial, he became so gravely ill that he was placed in a medically-induced coma. When he awoke, he suffered from Capgras Syndrome, where the sufferer becomes convinced that someone close to them has been replaced by an impostor. In this case, Jacob believed that his wife was an imposter -only his wife- and they have had to rebuild their relationship to accommodate this belief.

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 24-30 June 2022

History of Rome Podcast. Episode 153 Adrianople takes up with the Goths angry and their armies on the loose. Valens left a skeleton force of troops in the East after a shaky truce with Sharpoor, which allowed him to free up troops to head back west. He went to Constantinople where he received a frosty reception, and decided not to wait for Gratian to quell the Allemani but rode out by himself. The battle of Adrianople started prematurely, but the Romans were in front until an extra contingent of Goth cavalry arrived, and the Romans were defeated. Valens was killed in battle. Duncan refutes the idea that it was the horses that swayed the battle, noting that the Romans had been using the cavalry for 100 years. But certainly, it was the worst crisis that the Empire faced since the Battle of Cannae in 216 BCE (wow- that’s going back 500 years!) and it left a 19 year old and a 7 year old as emperors. Episode 154 The Gothic War. So who are you going to call in this parlous situation? Why- a successful general, that’s who. The only problems was that Theodosius Snr, who had previously been the go-to general had been executed in Africa, probably as part of the post-Valentinian political realignment. Fortunately he had a 32 year old son, also called Theodosius, who was brought back as military commander to restore order. In 379 CE Theodosius was made Augustus of the Eastern Empire. The Gothic War was at a stalemate. The fortified cities held, but the Roman army was stretched by a general manpower shortage across the Empire, exacerbated by the big landowners who kept their best workers from the reach of the army. By continuing the Gothic War, the Roman Army was on a hiding to nothing. So when Athanaric, the King of the Goths, came to Theodosius and asked asylum from the Huns, Theodosius seized the olive branch. The Goths and Romans contracted a peace treaty which allowed the Goths to live in large groups under their own internal leadership- a big change to the old policy of scattering and Romanizing the enemy. Episode 155 The New Bishop of Rome takes us back to Brittania, where Magnus Maximus, a Roman general, led a revolt against Gratian, who had never been a soldiers’ soldier. Gratian ended up being executed by Maximus’ troops after his own troops deserted him. Maximus’ way was smoothed by Ambrose, the former Consular-Prefect, who was now the Bishop of Milan, even though he had never been a priest and was more-or-less coerced into the position. Ambrose negotiated an arrangement with Theodosius I and Valentinian II whereby Maximus was recognized as Augustus in the West.

Things Fell Apart (BBC). This final episode, made in March 2022, features an interview between Jon Ronson and Louis Theroux, two documentary makers who have a similar approach to similar themes. It’s a bit of a re-hash of the whole series, and you’d probably be better off listening to the series itself rather than this rather cozy summing up.

Sydney Writers Festival. A few weeks back I posted a review to Hanya Yanagihara’s weighty tome To Paradise. I enjoyed this podcast from 22 June 2022 where she talks about the book, and her previous equally weighty tome A Little Life. And how good that the question time was dominated by women, reflecting the demographics of a writer’s festival audience.

These were the giant footprints at Ain Dara Temple in Syria, a temple which is thought to be very close in design to- if not the same as- King Solomon’s Temple in the Bible. Photographer Klaus Wagensonner, Flickr Appallingly, this temple was destroyed by Turkish airstrikes in January 2018

The Ancients (History Hit) I really enjoyed the episode The Image of God, featuring Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou, whose latest book ‘God: an Anatomy’ has been shortlisted for the Wolfson prize. She points out that the Old Testament is actually an anthology of writings from the 8th Century BCE through to the 2nd Century CE. The God we find in these writings is an anthropomorphic god, with footprints, hands and a body real enough that Moses had to go into a cave where God covered him with his hand so that Moses would only see the back of him. He was a mobile god, who could slip away from temples when they were destroyed, and his image gradually changed from a good looking, red-coloured god to an old man with a beard. I found this fascinating: I think I’ll look for the book.

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 16-23 June 2022

History of Rome Podcast Episode 150 The Perils of Mismanagement. After the shock of the British uprising, Valentinian wanted to reaffirm Roman power. He started with the Allamani, near Heidelberg. He tried to get another tribe, the Burgundians to fight the Allamani but that didn’t work, so he sent Theodosius Snr. (again) to sort it out. Then there was Africa where Romanus, the Roman appointee was busy extorting taxes and threatening the citizens that he would set the Moors on them. In 372 a Berber Numidian prince named Firmus led an uprising, and Theodosius again was sent to sort this mess out. Even though Firmus was justified in leading a rebellion against the venal Romanus, he suicided after being betrayed. As part of his plan to reaffirm Roman power, Valentinian ordered that Roman military bases be established in Quadi lands on the upper Danube. They were not happy, so Marcellianus was sent to calm things down, but instead he killed their King. The Quadi were so enraged that they chased the Romans back over the Danube. Valentinian launched a punitive expedition in response, but eventually there was a peace treaty contracted with the Goths.

Episode 151 Bursting a Blood Vessel. Over in the east, the Goths had allied themselves with Procopius (Julian’s cousin) in Constantinople. Valens wanted to teach them a lesson, so that if he needed to leave Constantinople, he needed not fear an uprising in his absence. Meanwhile, Sharpoor was causing trouble in Armenia again, so the Romans appointed Prince Pap (what a name!). Unfortunately he was a bit of a dud so Valens arrested him, which brought Sharpoor back into Armenia. Meanwhile, Valentinian died of a stroke while was berating the Quadi ambassador. He had ruled over a transitional period, and although sort of successful in suppressing uprisings, there would never again be a powerful emperor.

Episode 152 The Storm before the Storm When Valentinian died, the troops anointed his 4 year old second son Valentinian as emperor. The older son, Gratian, who was 16, did not fight it, as he was no soldier. That meant that there were now three emperors: Valens, Gratian and Valentinian II. Meanwhile, there was a huge influx of Goths into the empire, who were fleeing the Huns who had come down from the Central Eurasian Steppe on their horses, with their powerful composite bows. The massing Goths on the border were treated badly by the Romans who rounded them up into refugee camps, where they were forced to sell their children into slavery, their leaders were arrested and the people were starved.

Things Fell Apart This is the final episode and ironically, Jon Ronson himself becomes part of the culture wars that he has been describing when parents starting protesting against his book ‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’. Episode 8 A Mock Slave Auction looks at a social media racial pile-on at a majority-white secondary school in Michigan which prompted the school to pass a policy that they were going to address the issue. This became hugely contentious, and the resultant public meetings dragged up many of the things that Ronson has discussed: child pornography, gender identity, abortion and now the question of structural racism and unconscious bias. He interviews Robin DiAngelo, the author of ‘White Fragility: Why It Is So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism’. Wow- she is very confronting.

The Comb (BBC) I usually hear this advertised in the middle of the night while I’m listening to BBC World when I can’t sleep. Escaping the City looks at the phenomenon of admittedly middle-class, educated Kenyans moving out of Nairobi after lockdown. I was interested to hear the interviewee, Mugambi, talking about the changes in Nairobi during the 1980s and 1990s which saw it become ‘Nai-robbery’ and the resultant construction of glass-topped security walls and frisking on entry to any public building. This is the Nairobi that I knew when I visited my son over there, and it was interesting to hear that it hadn’t always been like that.

Soul Search (ABC) A friend told me about this interview with Joan Chittister on renewing community in a changing world. She is a Benedictine sister, and a feminist. She talks about her life, her spirituality and community, and her views on feminism.

The highly inaccurate depiction of the ‘rescue’ (abduction) of Edgardo Mortara by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, 1862 Source: Wikimedia

History This Week The Church Kidnaps Edgardo Mortara tells the story of a six year old Jewish boy, Edgardo Mortara, who is kidnapped by the papal police in 1858, on the grounds that he has been secretly baptised and thus must be removed from the corrupting influence of his parents. His parents fight back, challenging the claim and attracting international attention. It doesn’t look good for Pope Pius IX, who is fighting for his own authority in the heaving political scene of the Risorgimento, the political movement that led to the creation of the Kingdom of Italy. Even though the Pope’s power as a secular ruler was eroded, at a personal level, you’d have to say that the church won, as Edgardo ended up a Christian priest.

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 8-15 June 2022

History of Rome Podcast Episode 147 Capitulation. So Julian was dead, with the Sassanids heading for victory, and with no successor named. The officers turned first to Praetorian Prefect Salutius, but he declined because he said that he was too old. Then they went for Jovian, the 39 year old and largely unknown Captain of the Imperial Bodyguard. He was openly Christian, but this hadn’t hurt his career as Julian the Apostate didn’t particularly care what your religion was, as long as you did your job. Jovian accepted capitulation to the Sassanids in order to keep his army intact, but the troops opposed this surrender and he lost all authority amongst them. He annulled the anti-Christian legislation and brought back the anti-Pagan legislation. But after 8 months, he suddenly died. Was it an accident? Who knows. But Mike Duncan thinks that it was a blessing because it brought Valentinian and his brother Valens to the role of Emperor. When Jovian up and died, they were the right men at the right time.

Episode 148 The Cousin´s Cousin. For the first time in ages, we had two emperors who didn´t hate each other. Valentinian and Valens embedded the idea of the East-West division, with Valentinian taking the western provinces and Valens the east. Valentinian generally treated the Gauls and Allamanni with contempt, and when Julian´s cousin Procopius, the last of the Constantinian dynasty, seized Constantinople, Valentinian left it to Valens to deal with. But Sharpoor was on the rise again in the east, so Valens headed off to Syria until he received news of Procopius´seizure of power, then returned to Constantinople to fight him, and won. Meanwhile Valentinian was engaged with the Allamanni and was in a good position to finish them off, but had to leave off battle because the Saxons were on the rise in Britain.

Carol Raddato, Flickr, Creative Commons

Episode 149 The Great Conspiracy takes us to the co-ordinated uprising in Britain where, on account of the neglect and stagnation that had set in, the Picts, Hiberian tribes from Ireland, the Franks on the coast and loose, unorganized Saxon tribes from Jutland all joined together against the Romans. The Romans were quickly overcome. There was no real political agenda: it was just plundering. Valentinian didn’t head over to Britain in person because defeats were politically dicey so he sent off Theodosius Snr instead (the father of the future emperor) who was a supporter of the Nicene Creed. He quickly cleared Londinium and announced an amnesty for Roman soldiers who had gone AWOL (as many had done) in order to boost the numbers of Roman troops. Valentinian was sick, so he elevated his son Gratian to full Augustus in order to secure the succession.

How It Happened (Axios) Putin’s Invasion Part V: The Fight for the Donbas picks up on Putin’s redirection of troops to the Donbas, which Putin claims is taking place on Russian soil. Many Ukrainians speak Russian, and one of the interviewees (news producer Kateryna Malofieiva) talks about how life changed once the Russians annexed the region in 2014- the currency changed; the food brands changed. There has been a complete breakdown in her family between pro-Russian and pro-Ukranian relatives. Ukraine wants to return to the 1991 borders (i.e. get back the Donbas region and Crimea) and is relying on its 44,000 battle-hardened troops who have been fighting on the Russian border since 2014. One of those is Ukrainian Cpl. Andrii Shadrin, born in the Crimea and who had never even heard Ukrainian spoken (only Russian). He joined one of the units that Putin would say was ‘Nazi’, and his parents too believe that he has been brainwashed. He thinks the same about them.

The Little Red Podcast is hosted by Graeme Smith, China studies academic at the Australian National University’s Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs and Louisa Lim, former China correspondent for the BBC and NPR, now with the Centre for Advancing Journalism at Melbourne University. Shanghaied: Living with COVID Zero was really interesting. We were all appalled by scenes of Wuhan citizens being bolted into their homes, and two years later it is happening again as Shanghai is locked down again in pursuit of COVID Zero- something that the rest of the world seems to have given up on. Shanghai residents had reassured themselves that they were so economically important that they couldn’t be shut down, but they were wrong. Two months later, upper and middle-class Shanghai residents are now aware of the power of censorship and arbitrary decision-making as their building-specific group chats were closed down on the internet, and they were being told things that they could clearly see were not true. Food handouts from the government depended on where you lived, and those factories that did remain open in effect became labour camps. Now they are ramping up their testing, with compulsory tests every couple of days, but so many low-paid workers have left Shanghai for their villages, that there are insufficient people to do the testing at such low pay.

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 1-7 June 2022

History of Rome Podcast. Episode 144 The Road to Constantinople Even though he had not been brought up in the military, Julian had good success against the Germans and Franks- so much so that he was acclaimed as Augusta by his troops. But, at this stage, he declined the offer, saying that Constantius was the only Augusta. Instead of stripping the Gauls of everything in order to pay for his victory, he had the idea of cutting taxes on them, but actually collecting them, instead of allowing them to accrue debt and then write it off in a fit of debt-forgiveness. Meanwhile, over in the east, Sharpoor and the Sassanids became active again in Syria, so Constantius ordered Julian to send his troops east. But his troops didn’t want to go and Julian wasn’t prepared to force them, and this time when they urged Julian to be Augusta, he accepted, thus setting himself up for war against Constantius. Constantius was becoming increasingly paranoid after his wife (who had always championed Julian) died. Constantius was en route to engage in battle with Julian, when he died, leaving Julian as sole emperor. Once Julian arrived in Constantinople in

Episode 145 Julian the Apostate, he cleared the imperial court of his enemies, after appointing an ostensibly ‘independent’ commission. He looked back to the 100s C.E. and the Antonine dynasty as a model, cutting the bloat in the court and administration, and abandoning all that talk of “Living God” stuff. He kept control of defence and taxation but devolved power back to the local magistrates. He had always been a pagan behind the scenes, having rejected the Christianity of his upbringing, but now he embarked on re-paganizing the Empire. Despite his name, he didn’t make Christianity illegal. However, he opened up the civil service to pagans, and sacked the Christians, and announced that all religions were now seen as equal, which set the Christians against each other as now all sorts of heresies could arise. He didn’t actually ban Christian schools, but he banned the use of classical texts by Christian teachers, and Roman families who wanted their sons to get ahead withdrew them from Christian educators so that they could receive a proper education. Julian looked at the community and social support aspects of Christianity and tried to emulate it by uniting pagans into one Paganism- but that was never going to work. In Episode 146 The Spear of Destiny Constantius was dead, but Julian was determined to go to war against Sharpoor and the Sassanids. At first he was quite successful, but then he failed. The Sassanids engaged in a scorched earth policy, which led to starvation amongst Julian’s troops. However, he continued to lead, and it was while leading that he was speared (no-one knows by whom) because he rushed out without wearing his armour. He probably didn’t think that he was going to die, but after lingering a couple of days, he did- without appointing a successor. He was 31 years old, and had ruled for about 18 months. He dreamed big, and died young. Superficially, he was like Elagabalus in that he tried to reform religion, but he was more important than that. It’s one of the big ‘What Ifs’ of history- if he had ruled for longer, would Christianity ever re-established itself? Would the whole of European history changed?

The Real Story (BBC) China vs. the West in the East is interesting because it takes a European/BBC approach to the ‘Far East’ , which is of course Australia’s closest area of influence. It features Jonathan Pryke – Director of the Pacific Islands Program at the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank; Dr George Carter – A Samoan Research Fellow in Geopolitics and Regionalism at the Department of Pacific Affairs at the Australian National University (ANU) and Judith Cefkin – Former US Ambassador to Fiji, Tonga, Tuvalu, Nauru and Kiribati. All speakers were keen to emphasize the multiplicity of languages, cultures and states within the Pacific, and the inappropriateness of China wanting to deal with them as a block. Dr Carter pointed out that there is no Pacific immigration at all into China, and that these family ties are important in relationships with Australia and New Zealand.

Things Fell Apart (BBC) Episode 7 A Secret Room behind a Fake Wall tells the story of Isaac Kappy, a film producer from Albuquerque whose career fell apart and ended up in Hollywood. Always attracted to conspiracy theories, he became engrossed in Pizzagate, and then went onto Alex Jones Infowars to claim a widespread Hollywood pedophilia network. He died by falling from a bridge, obviously troubled and probably by suicide, but his cause was taken up by QAnon and lawyer Lin Wood, one of Donald Trump’s ‘outside’ lawyers.

History Extra Podcast There have been fairly muted celebrations of the Queen’s 70th Jubilee here in Australia but I did listen to Britain’s transformation during the Queen’s Lifetime, featuring historian Dominic Sandbrook. Starting off with the Queen’s birth in 1926, he and interviewer Rhiannon Davies give us a picture of British life and politics decade by decade of the Queen’s life. There were no Roaring Twenties in Britain, where the ’20s were largely an extension of the pain of WWI. Perhaps that’s why the Depression did not figure as much in people’s consciousness as it did in US, although there were very different experiences in the North and South. WWII in the 40s was a seismic event, and Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret became patriotic icons. The 50’s -especially the second half- were marked by consumerism, brighter clothes, youth culture and full employment. Televisions and washing machines in particular changed society. The 60’s for families in the suburbs were not particularly ‘swinging’, and were more an extension of the 50s. Large-scale immigration from the Caribbean and India/Pakistan began in this decade, and it was unpopular from the start. The 1970s were marked by strikes, discontent and IRA bombings, co-existing with increasing affluence. The arrival of Thatcher during the 1980s accelerated changes which were already under way, but de-industrialization and austerity deepened social divisions. The 90s brought New Labor, and in many ways Thatcher had fought many of the battles for them. With the death of Diana, the Queen seemed to be a bit of a relic, but Brexit and the Queens neutrality about it, was good for the Royal Family. She was embraced again with her COVID speech, and I think that Paddington Bear endeared her to us further.

99% Invisible. Divining Provenance examines the looting of Syrian artefacts since the start of the Syrian War. Syria, of course, is replete with archaelogical sites, which have been looted for decades. But with the arrival of ISIS (many of whom were not Syrian), this looting and trafficking became a major source of funding. Over the last ten years, ordinary people have been doing it too. The UN introduced Provenance law in 1970, which made trade of anything uncovered since 1970 illegal, but different countries apply the law differently. Although buyers will turn themselves inside out proving authenticity (because who wants to buy a fake) but provenance is another matter, especially when goods are presented in a job lot. Facebook, where much of the selling takes place, claims to have a take-down policy, but it in effect leaves the whole question of provenance (or not) to the seller.

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

Theodosian Walls of Constantinople Source: Wikimedia

History of Rome Podcast Episode 138 The New Rome looks at the transformation of Byzantium from a small town with a population in the tens of thousands into the New Rome (‘Constantinople’ was a nickname, and it was only adopted formally later on). Many emperors had based themselves in places other than Rome, and Byzantium had the advantages of water on three sides (and thus difficult to besiege) and no religious baggage of other pagan gods. Just as in the early establishment of Rome, Constantine needed to augment its population, so he welcomed both the poor and the greedy as immigrants. It took six years to build. Quite apart from his building activities, though, Constantine embedded his power by killing off his own son Crispus. It’s not clear why, but his stepmother Fausta seems to have been involved. Then, Constantine executed his wife Fausta by locking her in a steam room. Realizing that killing your wife and son was not a good look, he sent his mother Helena on a tour of the East to identify important Christian sites. This was a very popular pilgrimage. In terms of policy and ideology, Constantine’s reign was an extension of Diocletian’s policies in terms of Divine Right of the emperor, the separation of the military and civil arms of government. Unlike Diocletian, he welcomed the role of the Senate but increased its size from 300 to 2000, thus diluting its power. He introduced a new solid gold coin which maintained its value for centuries, although there was runaway inflation with silver coins. He introduced a new and unpopular tax, payable four years in advance and embarked on an empire-wide building program involving both churches (e.g. The Old St Peters Basilica) and secular buildings. Episode 139 Wash Away Your Sins looks at Constantine’s military activity and succession plans. He continued the policy of Germanization of the empire and the army, and the failure of the Germans to integrate was to be one of the causes of the downfall of the empire. At this stage, his legions were successful against the rebellious tribes of the Rhine and the Danube. After killing off Crispus, he seasoned his remaining three sons by putting them in charge of the army. For some reason, he decided to pick a war with the Sassanids on the pretext of protecting Christians under their rule. But he died in Nicomedia, just after embarking on this battle, and got baptized just before he died. You might have thought that he would have been baptized earlier, but this could be because he wanted to be able to sin until the last minute, or more charitably, because he wanted to be pure as the driven snow when he actually died. His succession plans were messy: he left it to his three sons and two nephews. In assessing Constantine, he was certainly a transformational emperor and one of the most important historical figures in Western history. But he had his darker side too: the assassinations, the messy succession plans etc., so it’s a mixed record. Episode 140: My Three Sons. Well, three sons and two nephews isn’t going to end well. Constantius II started things off with the Massacre of the Princes at his father’s funeral, killing off most of his cousins and uncles from his aunt Theodora’s line over two days. Then the three boys (all named very similarly) Constantius, Constantine II and Constans began fighting among themselves, and getting involved on different sides of the doctrinal battles going on in the Christian church,. In the end Constantine II died in an ambush, leaving just two, Constantius in charge of the East and Constans in charge of the West.

Australia If You’re Listening. Episode 7 The Countdown on Coal Fired Power was a cracker. It starts off with the South Australian tornado in 2016 that saw electricity pylons scattered like pick-up-sticks and which was instantly blamed on renewable energy. In fact, whenever there is a power blackout, politicians in Australia and around the world tend to blame renewables. The reality is that it is the old coal-powered stations that are falling over, with near misses and disasters like the Callied Turbine failure outside of Biloela in Queensland, and the Hazelwood fires that blanketed the La Trobe Valley in smoke in 2014. This was a really good episode.

Conversations (ABC) In A History of War, Richard Fidler (who is such a good interviewer) spoke with historian Gwynne Dyer, who has recently released The Shortest History of War. I was going to give this book a miss because I thought that it would be all about military strategy, but good historian as Dyer is, he takes a much broader approach, integrating history, technology, sociology and psychology. Interesting.

Australian Book Review Frank Bongiorno on enlarging our diminished sense of political leadership looks at the elevation of the political operative and the breakdown of the party system. He points to the Australian of the Year award as an alternative form of political leadership, where in recent years the winners have been ahead of paid politicians. This was recorded prior to the election, and Frank Bongiorno is always worth listening to.