Category Archives: Podcasts 2023

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 8-15 May 2023

Emperors of Rome. Actually, I have already listened to a lot of these episode back in December 2021 but that’s a lifetime ago and repetition does me no harm at my age. Episode LXVII – Heir and a Spare looks at Hadrian’s succession plan, with his choice of Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus as his adopted sons and heirs. Why two? Given that people around the emperor tended to die, perhaps he was being cautious; or maybe he intended them to rule as joint emperors- who knows. They were not actual brothers. Marcus Aurelius was vaguely related to Hadrian through the female line, and there was a Spanish connection. In fact Marcus’ grandfather, who brought him up, was a good friend of Hadrian. Marcus was close to Hadrian even before he was adopted, and he was the ancient version of a geeky student, and a bit ascetic (which Hadrian wasn’t too keen on). One way or another, he was marked out from the start. Lucius Verus was the son of Lucius Aelius Caesar, whom Hadrian had picked out to be his successor, but he inconveniently died. So Hadrian went for his son instead. He was ten years Marcus’ junior, so perhaps Hadrian thought that if Marcus died, Lucius would the next one in line. Hadrian thought that both boys were too young at this stage to be his direct heirs, so he appointed Antoninus Pius instead, on condition that he adopt the boys too, and appoint them his heirs. He no doubt thought than Antoninus would only last a few years until the boys were old enough, but then he hung on for 23 years, giving the boys a very long apprenticeship. A bit like Prince Charles. Actually, there’s another parallel with the British Royal Family too, because even though the boys were technically equal, as the older and more responsible, Marcus Aurelius was given more responsibility from the start and had more authority than his rather Playboy Brother. (Charles and Andrew? William and Harry?) Once they finally became co-emperors in CE 161, they immediately gave the soldiers a bonus equivalent to 3 years pay to keep them on-side. The arrangement worked better than might be expected, because neither wanted to pull rank on the other. Episode LXVIII – Never Underestimate the Parthians takes us right back into a war. When Marcus and Lucius inherited, the Roman Empire had been at peace for 40 years, but at the end of Antoninus’ rule, there was already trouble brewing with the Parthians. Almost immediately they flexed their muscles by invading Armenia to overthrow the client king that the Romans had installed there. The Governor of Cappadocia, Severianus got dud advice from a self-proclaimed prophet and was badly beaten by the Parthians. Lucius Verus was sent to take control of the situation, but he took the scenic route and didn’t get there for a year and then he hung around Syria with “low people” and sent Statius Priscus to the frontline instead. Priscus had an early victory and captured the Armenian capital and a new King was installed. Meanwhile, the Parthians turned their attention to Mesopotamia instead, where they were again defeated, and the Romans invaded Parthia, where Lucius was blamed for the sacking of Seleucia (although he wasn’t there) after its Greek-oriented inhabitants had welcomed the arrival of the Romans. No sooner were the Parthians taken care of than the Marcomanni started niggling up in Germania. Episode LXIX – Galen and the Antonine Plague features Dr Leanne McNamara (Classics, La Trobe University). While Lucius’ troops were sacking Parthia, it was said that they made the mistake of opening a casket in a temple to Apollo, releasing an illness that would follow the troops all the way back to Rome and beyond. There had been plagues and epidemics previously, but this was longer-lasting and with a wider reach than any other plaque before. It was transmitted by personal contact and airborne particles. There are different hypotheses for what it was – perhaps hemorrhagic smallpox? bubonic plague? measles?- but it had scabs, a rash and a cough. It is thought that about 10% of those who contracted it died. We know as much as we do about it because of the writings of Galen, a doctor who treated the emperors, who penned over 400 books in his life, of which about 20,000 pages remain.

Now and Then. During the lockdown, I listened religiously to Heather Cox Richardson, but I’ve got out of the way of it since she stopped her ‘history only’ videos/podcasts. But, having read glowing reports of Joe Biden at the White House Correspondents Dinner, I thought I’d listen to Not a Joke: Humour as Politics. Heather Cox Richardson actually attended it this year, along with 2600 other people. What a strange form of democracy: that people would mock politicians to their face. Even though Australians don’t take politics particularly seriously (or at least, we didn’t in the past), there’s nothing quite like it here, although the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery Midwinter Ball is perhaps close. The White House Correspondents Dinner started in 1921. In terms of comedians, Heather and her colleague Joanne Freeman discuss Seba Smith (1792-1868) and his iconic Jack Downing character, Alice Duer Miller’s (1874 – 1942) poetic suffragist satire (both of which published their satire in newspapers rather than perform it on stage) and African-American Dick Gregory’s (1932-2017) truth-telling on issues of race and class which fits in more to the political stand-up comedian we’re familiar with today.

Nightlife (ABC) and The Religious and Ethics Report (ABC) I’ve just finished reading Elle Hardy’s book Beyond Belief How Pentecostal Christianity Is Taking Over the World and so I thought that I’d seek out a few interviews with her. The Nightlife episode The Rise and Rise of Pentacostalism was conducted by a presenter who obviously has little knowledge about religion generally. The Religious and Ethics Report episode Pentecostal Christianity and the Hillsong Empire, presented by Andrew West, had more teeth to it, which you might expect given the focus of the program. She was rather deferential here, acknowledging the effect of Pentecostal religion in helping people to get their lives together, and emphasizing that it is not a cult.

The Underworld Podcast also featured Elle Hardy, but she didn’t present such a glowing view here (again, reflecting the focus of this program, too). In the Episode A Brazilian Murder, Narco Evangelists and Holy Warfare: The Gangsters of the Global Pentecostal Movement, she starts off with the case of Flordelis dos Santos de Souza, politician, gospel singer and church leader, who was jailed along with several of her 55 (yes you read right) adopted children for being complicit in the murder of her husband Anderson do Carmo de Souza. She then goes on to talk about ‘Narco Evangelists’ in the favelas, and the relationship between Pentecostal religion and hard-line anti-drug policing exemplified by Rodrigo Duterte in the Phillipines.


The Long Read (The Guardian) Sudan’s Outsider: how a paramilitary leader fell out with the army and plunged the country into war looks at Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (known as Hemedti), the leader of the RSF which is currently in conflict with Sudan’s army, led by Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. The presenter, Nesrine Malik, was in Sudan in February this year, where the country was jittery after the shooting of a protester by an army officer. She returned to England, but by mid-March both al-Burhan and Hemedti were taking the high moral ground over this shooting, and the RSF moved first to take over the airport. She asks: How did Hemedti capture Sudan politics seemingly overnight? He was an outsider, from the western Darfur region, where he enriched himself with goldmines seized during the Civil War in Dafur sufficiently to purchase 70,000 mercenaries who he has sent to other African countries (e.g. to Yemen to support Saudi-Arabia) ad to Libya. In 2013 the RSF was institutionalized by the military dictator president Omar al-Bashir as a tool to crush dissent by rebels and protesters, giving Hemedti, as commander of the Janjaweed, a basis of power. Initially he worked alongside the army and in 2021 was involved, alongside al-Burhan, in an unsuccessful coup against Bashir’s civilian replacement. Both generals had agreed to work together on a framework agreement where they would relinquish power to a civilian government. But neither trusts the other, and so conflict has broken out between the army and the RSF. The looting sounds horrendous. The article from which this podcast is drawn is here.

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 1-7 May 2023

Emperors of Rome. After a bit of a hiatus, Dr Rhiannon Evans and Matt Smith return to the Emperors, picking up with Episode LXV – Antoninus Pius. It just goes to show that there is no reward for having a prosperous, peaceful reign because Rhiannon and Matt could only scratch one episode for Antoninus Pius, even though he ruled for twenty three years and was known as fourth of the Five Good Emperors. We know little about him, because most of the sources peter out at this point. His family was from trans-Alpine Gaul, but he was actually born in Italy. His father and grandfather had both been consuls under Domitian, but did well under Trajan and Hadrian as well. His daughter ended up marrying Marcus Aurelius, who succeeded him. Despite being a bit cranky at the end, Hadrian had planned his succession well, and Antoninus moved smoothly into the role of emperor and promptly set about getting Hadrian deified, which he deserved but some of those on the receiving end of Hadrian’s crankiness didn’t see it like that. Antoninus, known as ‘Pius’ meaning “dutiful” (rather than “religious” as we might think today) was a diplomat rather than a warrior, and a good money manager. He rebuilt the Colosseum and the Circus Maximus, both of which were looking a bit tatty. The Senate wanted to rename September and October after him and his wife Faustina, but he refused. He died in his mid-seventies in his sleep. Episode LXVI – Fronto. This episode presents Dr Caillan Davenport, who is going to take over from Dr Rhiannon Evans fairly soon. He tells us about Fronto, a senator and some-time consul and orator who became Marcus Aurelius´ tutor and later friend/advisor when Marcus was already 18 years old. He wrote over 200 letters to Marcus Aurelius, of which we have about half.

Travels Through Time. 1924 Knowing What We Know features Simon Winchester, and I think that our presenter was rather overwhelmed by the prospect of interviewing him about his new book Knowing What We Know, the transmission of knowledge from Ancient Wisdom to Modern Magic because she herself wrote a book about how ancient knowledge was transmitted. I wasn’t surprised to learn that Winchester is a journalist rather than a historian, because his books are marked by their broad scope and attraction to the ‘good story’. Anyway, after a long discussion, he identified 25 October 1924, when the Zinoviev Letter was published in the British press, setting Ramsay MacDonald and the Labour Party up for election disaster; the creation of IBM – International Business Machines and the passing of Asian Exclusion Act through Congress, enshrining anti-immigration policy and racism into law. Actually, I wonder if he read the instructions for this program because he seemed to wander all over the place.

History Extra. On the eve of the coronation, I enjoyed this episode featuring Tracy Borman on What Makes a Good Coronation? She starts off by pointing out that the coronation of King Charles III has its roots in Anglo-Saxon times with the crowning of King Edgar in 973. Her tips are:

  1. Have plenty of bling. Unfortunately most of the bits and bobs date only from Charles II because nearly all of them were melted down during the Civil War
  2. Make sure the ceremony is rooted in history, because the whole point is to emphasize that it’s business as usual.
  3. Make sure it’s televised (which of course could only apply to Charles and his mother’s coronations). Queen Elizabeth’s coronation had 90 different contingency plans for unforeseen events
  4. Be in tune with the times. Victoria had a very thrifty coronation to distance herself from the financial profligacy of William IV and George IV. George’s coronation had cost the equivalent of $14 million
  5. Watch the guest list. George IV had to lock his estranged wife Queen Caroline out of Westminster Cathedral when she turned up uninvited.
  6. Think carefully about a joint coronation. Henry VIII had had a very successful joint coronation with his first wife Catherine of Aragon, but his coronation with Anne Boleyn attracted a lot of criticism, no matter how much money was spent
  7. In fact, joint coronations were relative rare
  8. Beware wardrobe malfunctions. George II’s coronation took place on a very hot day and he was enraged when his cap kept slipping over his eyes. Better than Richard II, whose crown blew off in a gust of wind. It snowed on Henry V’s coronation, which was interpreted as an evil portent.
  9. Choosing the time. George VI stuck to the original date chosen for Edward’s coronation (before he abdicated). William the Conqueror went for Christmas Day in 1066 but it was a bit of a fiasco when the troops misinterpreted the cheers for a riot.
  10. Make sure you crown the right king. Edward VI was crowned in Ireland in 1487 but it was an imposter. Henry VII got his revenge by making the imposter a kitchen boy
  11. Don’t be too young. Mary Queen of Scots was crowned when she was 9 months old, and not unsurprisingly she cried when she was disrobed as part of the multiple wardrobe changes
  12. The most successful coronation was that of Elizabeth I. She prepared it very carefully, and took care to include references to her mother (the formerly unpopular Anne Boleyn).
  13. The most memorable was probably Queen Elizabeth II’s because television took the ceremony all over the world.

El Hilo (Spanish) Brasil: violencia en las escuelas, odio en las redes (Brazil: violence in schools, hatred across the social networks) was a program about the recent spate of killings in Brazilian schools. There has always been violence in Brazilian schools, but not at this level. ‘Our’ (honorary) Jacinda even gets a mention for not ever uttering the Christchurch killer’s name. BBC World picked up on the story (article in English)

The Guardian Long Read Historians generally aren’t awarded celebrity status but Timothy Snyder is an exception. Putin, Trump, Ukraine: how Timothy Snyder became the leading interpreter of our dark times looks at his rise to prominence, even though he is often derided as a Cassandra. He, on the other hand, says that good history means taking bad ideas seriously. Actually, I read and reviewed his 2018 book The Road to Unfreedom and certainly he was very prescient. He has a series of lectures on You Tube about Ukrainian history which I must watch some time.

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 24-30 April 2023

The Documentary (BBC World Service) Caught in Sudan’s Conflict. It all seems so pointless and unnecessary: an armed struggle by two factions within the same army. As if Sudan hasn’t been through enough already: violence, protest, dictatorship, political instability and upheaval. Sudan borders seven other countries apparently, and ripples are likely to spread to these neighbouring countries. In this episode three women from Khartoum – Dallia, Sara and Enass – share their personal situations and concerns, followed by interviews with a very young doctor. Incessant bombing and sniper fire, electrical failure, lack of food and water, unstable internet- and overwhelmingly fatigue from the stress and 24 hr bombing- what a nightmare.

Emperors of Rome Podcast Episode LXIV – Q and A III. This Q&A session dealt with:

  • What did the Romans know about China and India? (Answer: They knew a bit through trade. They knew that Alexander the Great got to north-west India, but not the subcontinent, and they knew vaguely about the Chinese through the fabled land of Scythia. The Chinese reported that a Roman envoy had visited them)
  • At what point does someone who is conquered become a slave? (Answer: if the commander of a battle wanted to, he could take everyone into slavery- or he could kill them, or he could leave them alone. Up to him)
  • Where did the colours come from for Roman garments? (Answer: the red came from plants. It was expensive, and so only rich people would wear it – pictures depicting the Roman Empire during the Renaissance were not accurate. Purple, which came from fish, was even more expensive.)
  • What did Romans celebrate? (Answer: Saturnalia, triumphs, the emperor’s birthday (when he would give presents to the people) and their own birthdays)
  • What did Romans eat? (Answer: pretty rank and disgusting things. They covered everything with garum, a fermented fish sauce. They liked disguising one food as another. For the poor people, they mainly ate grains. In fact, nearly everyone in the Ancient World was malnourished).
  • Do we know where Julius Caesar was stabbed? (Answer: no, it’s an internet thing)
  • Who is our favourite Emperor? (Dr. Rhiannon likes Hadrian. So do I)
  • How did the ancient texts get to us today? (Answer: most of them are copies of copies because paper decays unless it’s in the desert, or buried under lava)
  • How do we prepare and do our research for the podcast? (Answer: it’s not scripted but Matt does have some talking points)
  • How did the emperors see themselves compared with other emperors (Answer: they had to walk a narrow line between being a ‘king’ – because the Romans were allergic to kings- and a god – but only once they were dead. The image of an emperor, and their own concept of themselves, changed over time).

Latin American History Podcast The Conquest of Peru Part 7. Now that they had killed off Atahualpa after sitting looking at each other for 9 months, they had lost their main bargaining chip. The Spanish troops were playing cat and mouse with Quizquiz, who had been one of Atahualpa’s generals. Pizzarro had arrived during a civil war between Atahualpa and his brother Huáscar, and now that Atahualpa was dead, he had to decide which side he would throw his support behind as a way of saving his own skin. In the end he went for the south, wanting to base himself in the city of Cusco.

Source: Wikimedia.

In Our TimeReligion. NOT that I am reconciled to the idea of one of my children taking his family to Bloody Cambodia…. but. Angkor Wat was built for Suryavarman II in the 12th Century in modern-day Cambodia. The Sanskrit culture at that time stretched from Afghanistan through to Bali, in a form of colonialism without the military bit. At the time, Angkor Wat was the largest urban location in the world, with 700,000 to 900,000 people. The temple itself is four times the size of Vatican City and almost the same size as Old London at the time. It is a sculpture in its own right, constructed without mortar. It was built as a Hindu temple to Vishu, but in the 16th century the royal family became Buddhist. Unlike European cathedrals, it was built in an amazing 32 years, and the carvings were made in situ, so there was no scope for mistakes. When the French colonized, they put out the belief that the temple had been ‘lost’, but in fact, it had never been abandoned. Melvyn Bragg, who has been hosting this program for decades, sounds very old and quavery.

Hoy Hablamos. This podcast in Spanish, presented by a Spaniard (as distinct from a Latin American) goes pretty damned fast. I bought a year’s subscription, which gives you access to a transcript and some vocabulary exercises, and with the transcript I can just follow it. Fortunately, the episodes only last about 10 minutes which is my limit at such intensity, so I listen first time by myself, a second time with the transcript, then a third time without the transcript once I know what it’s about. Anyway, during February this year he did a four part series a bout the Guerra Civil Espanola (i.e. the Spanish Civil War), with one episode a week, and it’s really good. It had never occurred to me (forgive me if this is self-evident to everyone else in the world) but Franco the right-wing dictator was actually the rebel leader. I’ve listened to three episodes: Episode 1515 Antecedents and Causes; followed a week later by the Episode 1519 Parties (Bandas), then Episode 1524 Developments. The last episode is Episode 1528 Consequences. But be warned: it’s all in Spanish, and it’s fast.

Take Me to Your Leader (ABC). I’ve finally finished listening to this series, with the final Episode 8: Narendra Modi. I must confess to being rather wary of Narendra Modi and the BJP party, and I don’t particularly feel reassured after this program. It features Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, Journalist and Author of ‘Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times‘.Dr. Bharat Barai and Dr Panna Barai, longtime friends of Modi;  Professor Ian Hall, Griffith University. Author of ‘Modi and the Reinvention of Indian Foreign Policy’.Lance Price, Author of ‘The Modi Effect‘. Modi faced international criticism over the Gujurat Riots in 2002, and several of the guests (except his friends) felt that he could be characterized as anti-Muslim, even though the Indian Supreme Court acquitted him of complicity. As with many of the leaders that Hamish Macdonald has examined in this series, there is consensus that he’s not going anywhere in a hurry.

Rear Vision (ABC) Heading up to the Voice Referendum, this is a two-parter. The first episode looks at the 1967 Referendum- a vote to count Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People as part of the Australian population. As the presenters point out, there had been Aboriginal activism from the 1930s onwards, but by the 1950s, pressure was building for constitutional change. Holt agreed in 1967. There were two parts to the Aboriginal question. The first was that they be counted in the census which they did not previously, presumably because censuses were used to allocate electoral boundaries and there was little prospect, when the constitution was framed, that Aboriginal people would vote. In fact, Aboriginal people did have the vote by now, but many of them did not realize it. The second was that the race powers of the Constitution, which had been written to support the White Australia Policy by legislating against Indian, Chinese and Islander worker populations, be extended to Aboriginal people so that special legislation could be implemented for them. [It’s interesting to hear ‘No’ voters saying that the Voice will be divisive because it gives ‘special’ treatment, and yet the 1967 Referendum, which had bipartisan support at the time, did exactly this quite consciously]. There was another referendum held on the same day with a question about the composition and size of Parliament, and this was far more politically contentious, and when it did not get up, newspaper headlines said that the referendum had failed. The 91% yes vote for the Aboriginal questions was more or less taken for granted. In reality, little changed immediately following the Referendum, but the clause about race-specific legislation laid the groundwork for later legislation, not all of which was positive for Indigenous people.

Part II Giving a Voice to Indigenous Australians- why has it always failed? goes through the history of different consultative committees, highlighting why the Yes proponents want it enshrined in the constitution, and not just by legislation. After 1967 an advisory committee was established with three white men. Whitlam established the elected National Aboriginal Consultative Committee, but when Fraser got in, he abolished it and established the National Aboriginal Conference. This was probably more an exercise in political fence-marking, because both bodies were elected, with about 35-40 delegates, and Fraser made only modest changes. Both were largely ignored. Hawke abolished the National Aboriginal Conference in 1985, probably because it was critical of the Hawke government’s backdown on land rights, and established ATSIC instead in 1987 after two years consultation. It was formed of 63 regional councils (later reduced to 35), and it had a board of 17 members and a chair. It had two roles: 1. to advise the government (not just the Minister) and 2. to oversee expenditure of money. When Howard got in, ATSIC, its regional councils and aboriginal organizations were heavily audited, and the accusations and ongoing criminal proceedings against the ATSIC Chair Geoff Clarke gave Howard licence to abolish ATSIC, supported by Mark Latham. Nothing replaced it. I really enjoyed both these episodes. I thought that I was relatively well-informed, but I really learned a lot.

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 8-15 April 2023

A History of the Inca. Why the sudden interest in the Inca? you might ask. Just before Covid, I was planning to go to Peru with my son and daughter-in-law and little granddaughter. If the ‘vid didn’t kill off the plan, the high altitude with a young child did, and we didn’t end up going (my refunded deposit bought a new washing machine instead). But now I’m reading an Isabel Allende book (in English) Inez of my Soul, and I thought that I’d go back to the Inca podcasts again. Anyway, Episodio 3: Los Moche (in Spanish) or Episode 3 The Moche deals with the Moche society, one of the four that preceded the Incas until about 700-800 CE. I had no idea they existed. Here’s a short travel video about them (in English)– check out The Lord of Sipan- a discovery as jaw-dropping as the discovery of Tutankhamen .

Emperors of Rome Podcast Episode LIX – Martial. And there I was, thinking that I would be listening to a podcast about armies. But no, Martial was a poet, writing during the time of Domitian, Nerva and Trajan. He was famous for his epigrams, short poems that were often satirical or obscene, and the ‘sting’ often came in the last line. Matt Smith, the co-host, likens Martial to a stand-up comedian, which is probably not a bad parallel. Episode LXI – Gladiator (2000) looks at the Russell Crowe film, which I have never seen, so that made it a bit hard to follow what they were talking about. Of course, it’s a fictional film and Maximus is a fictional character, but Dr Rhiannon Evans was at pains to point out that Commodus didn’t kill Marcus Aurelius (which is the whole premise on which the film is based) – in fact, he wasn’t even there. Nor did Marcus Aurelius intend reverting to a republic, and it didn’t. Interlude – The Bronze Head of Augustus talks about the bronze head of Augustus which featured in the exhibition A History of the World in 100 Objects from the British Museum, which was on show at the National Museum of Australia in 2016- in fact, I went to it! You can see the sculpture at It’s a bit confronting, because the statue still has its inlaid eyeballs, instead of the blank holes in most statues. It was part of the publicity machine of circulating the emperor’s image throughout the empire (a bit like the Queen). It was found in the ancient city of Meroë, in what is now Sudan, buried under the steps of a temple, probably placed there as a victory trophy when the local people defeated Roman troops- they literally walked all over his head. This episode features Dr Lily Withycombe, a curator from the National Museum of Australia.

Witness History (BBC) Richard Dimbleby Describes Belsen . BBC journalist Richard Dimbleby was one of the first journalists to report on Bergen-Belsen. He filed this radio report soon after visiting Belsen, and at first the BBC mandarins were reluctant to release it because his report had not been verified by other witnesses. After they equivocated for four days, he made it clear that unless they aired it, he would never do another report for them again, and so it was broadcast. I don’t know if it’s included in this podcast, but the version I listened to (on Stitcher) had an interview with his son Jonathan, talking about his father’s interview, and then they played Richard Dimbleby’s report in full. It was not an extermination camp, instead it was a ‘holding’ came for prisoners of war, and the emphasis was on the starvation and disease amongst the 40,000 people who were imprisoned there. It’s pretty grueling listening.

The Guardian Long Read The Ciskei Experiment: A libertarian fantasy in Apartheid South Africa looks at the concept of a ‘zone’, much loved by libertarians and economic rationalists where you don’t have to worry about nasty annoying things like democracy or unions. It was promoted as a South African Switzerland, but in reality it was a cluster of sweatshops, especially in the textile industry, where South Africans were no longer citizens of South Africa, but instead of the ‘Bantustan’ Ciskei, nominally an independent country. For all the talk of ‘small government’, it was heavily reliant on the government to subsidize the industries that set up there. Rather soberingly, the episode points out that there are more ‘economic zones’ now than there were in the 1980s, and that they keep being championed as the powerhouse of economic growth.

Radio Ambulante Me autodeclara Negra is a podcast in Spanish, but if you click on the link it will take you to the Radio Ambulante website where you can find a transcript in English. During Dilma Rouseff’s presidency of Brazil, she established a system where universities would set aside quotas for black and indigenous applicants. Lindinês de Jesus Sousa applied unsuccessfully, and it was only when she looked closer that she found that many of these quotas were occupied by white students pretending to be black. As a result of her challenging the process, a board was set up to test applicants using physical characteristics- hair, skin, lips etc. It seemed to be purely appearance-based, without the ‘community acceptance’ criteria that applies in Australia, where I suspect a scheme based on physical distinctions would be much more problematic. Interesting and rather confronting.

Latin American History Podcast The Conquest of Peru Part 6. This episode started off with cheering and tooting horns to celebrate Argentina’s victory in the World Cup – not quite what I was expecting! So there are Atahualpa and Pizarro sitting there in in Cajamarca looking at each other after the Spanish troops defeated the Inca and Atahualpa had been taken captive. Atahualpa was still worried about his half-brother Huáscar, who he had defeated in the Civil War. He might pop up again, thus rendering Atahualpa irrelevant. So he suggested that he would pay a huge ransom in gold, to be brought in over the next seven months, and he suggested that they all go to Cusco, which was a Huáscar stronghold, to collect it. Pizarro wouldn’t come at that, so Inca and Spaniard troops went off to Cusco, which they looted from Huáscar’s supporters. The Spanish had no appreciation of the religious significance of the gold they plundered, or of its workmanship, and they just melted it down. Meanwhile, rumours were circulating that another of Atahualpa’s half-brothers was gathering an army (he had 50 half-brothers and the rumour never specified which one) so Pizarro had Atahualpa tried for treason, and executed. Atahualpa converted to Christianity to avoid being burned to death, and he was strangled instead. Meanwhile Almagro turned up, and Pizarro found himself just as threatened by his own Spanish compatriots as the Inca. Even though they were given instructions to colonize, they knew that once they reported that they had colonized an area, that would be counted as the geographical extent of their territory, and that other Spaniards would come and take the ‘unexplored’ land. So it was in their interests to keep conquering, to take as much land as they could.

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 1-8 April 2023

Emperors of Rome. Interlude – The Singing Colossus of Memnon. Just a little short 10 minute podcast this time about Hadrian’s visit to the Singing Colossum of Memnon, near Luxor in Egypt. Actually, there were two statues there, standing guard over Amenhotep’s memorial temple. The biggest one had a crack in it, probably caused by an earthquake, and it made a noise in the middle of the night or as the sun rose, which was said to be the statue ‘singing’. Memnon was a hero during the Trojan War, which is probably why Hadrian wanted to see it. As was custom of the day, he left his signature and Julia Balbilla, a Roman noble woman and poet who was travelling with Hadrian as part of the court, wrote a . Whilst in Thebes, touring Egypt as part of the imperial court of Hadrian, wrote three epigrams which were inscribed on the leg of one of the statues. Episode LVII – Little Soul, Little Wanderer, Little Charmer It’s probably good advice not to end up a Grumpy Old Man, because that’s how you will be remembered. Hadrian was suffering from degenerative heart disease, and took a long time to die, just as was foretold in a curse uttered against him by an erstwhile successor whom he later put to death that he would “long for death but be unable to die”. He was a testy old bugger in the last few years. He chose his former brother-in-law and his son as possible successors, then executed them; then he chose a young, sickly man who also predeceased him, and then finally chose the future Emperor Antoninus Pius, along with Lucius Ceionius Commodus (not the later Emperor Commodus- he’s a way off yet) and Marcus Annius Verus as a three-way bet. Episode LVIII – Tacitus looks at one of the most important historians of the Julio-Claudian and Flavian dynasties. We don’t know much about Tacitus himself e.g. when he was born, when he died, even his real name. The little that we do know about him came from his biography of his father-in-law Agricola, which probably only came down to us because of the connection with Britain. Tacitus himself was a consul and a senator. He wrote 5 works covering 14CE and 96CE but the most famous ones were his Histories and Annals, which drew on Senate records and oral testimonies, even though we’re missing about half of them. He was dramatic, engaging and a bit sententious. He was on the side of the Senate, and the emperors who respected the Senate.

You’re Dead To Me (BBC) The Colombian Exchange is a modern day term (invented in the 1970s) to describe the interchange of animals, food, plants, people and culture between the New World and Europe. Featuring Dr Caroline Dodds Pennock, author of On Savage Shores: How Indigenous Americans Discovered Europe and comedian Desiree Burch. In relation to animals, the Spanish introduced cattle, sheep, goats and pigs (i.e. big domestic animals) and nearly wiped out llamas. Flowing back to Europe were birds in particular and cochineal from insects (which was used for the colour red). The plants mainly went from South America to Europe, including Brazil wood and rubber tobacco (the act of smoking was described as ‘drinking smoke’), tomatoes, beans, squash, potatoes, pineapple. Instead the Europeans gave them cauliflower, wheat, rice, olives. There was an interchange of diplomats e.g. In 1544 Mayan lords visited Phillip II, bringing gifts of chocolate and feathers and taking back crosses and religious items (they wuz robbed). Pennock reminds us, too, that tens of thousands of South Americans ended up in Europe as slaves and servants.

Take Me To Your Leader (ABC) Rishi Sunak It didn’t surprise me at all that Liz Truss defeated Rishi Sunak in the first ballot after Boris Johnson. I always expected that Tory voters would prefer a woman over a man of colour when push came to shove, but that ended up being a disaster. The prominence of women and people of colour in the Conservative party never ceases to amaze me, particularly considering the dearth of both in the Labour Party, but this is the result of David Cameron’s concerted efforts to increase the representation of both. He is described as ‘Asian’ in the United Kingdom, which has a different meaning than in Australia, but both his parents actually came from Africa. He had an elite education, and his wife is very, very rich. As one of the commentators pointed out, in Britain it is now not a matter of race, but of class. He promised to calm things down, which he has, but he is quite hard-line (e.g. over Brexit) without engaging in culture wars. However, neither Johnson or Truss have gone away, so perhaps this still has some way to run. The guests were Baroness Kishwer Falkner of Margravine, British politician and member of House of Lords; Sir Craig Oliver, former British news editor and former Director of Politics and Communications for British prime minister David Cameron and George Brandis, former High Commissioner to the UK and former Australian Attorney General.

The Latin American History Podcast The Conquest of Peru Part 5 The Spanish sent their first envoy to Atahualpa, who kept him waiting. Both sides thought that they had each other’s measure, and so the vastly-outnumbered Spanish agreed to meet with Atahualpa in Cajamarca, a large square surrounded by mountains. After Pizarro read the Requerimiento, a legal document (“requirement”) drawn up in 1513, to be read before initiation of the conquest of Amerindians offering them Christianity, Atahualpa asked to see the Bible that was being brandished around. Not having ever seen a book before (let alone a Bible), he dropped it on the ground and Pizarro ordered his hidden army to attack. Six thousand Inca were killed, with no reported Spaniard deaths, and Atalhualpa was captured, thus replicating Cortez’ ‘success’ with Montezuma.

A History of the Inca I saved this to my podcast feed ages ago and haven’t really listened to it. I was excited when I found it, because it has episodes in English and in Spanish. The English version was done first, and then the presenter Nick Machinski decided to translate them into Spanish, read very clearly by Alicia Yantas. I’m about Intermediate B1 in Spanish, and I was able to understand her quite easily. Episode 1 is just a five-minute introduction, then Episodio 2 Bienvenidos a los Andes in Spanish (or Episode 2 Welcome to the Andes in English) talks about the terrain and the climate, especially the influence of El Nino and La Nina, and the development of ayllus as a way of spreading the risk of drought or flood amongst loosely linked communes. Actually I saw an ayllu (below) when I was in the Atacama desert, and I didn’t realize what it was.

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.

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.

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 1-8 March 2023

New Books Network This came up on my New Books related to Latin America, but it’s a pretty tenuous connection. Instead, in Beyond Belief: How Pentecostalism is Taking Over the World, Australian journalist talks about her recent book of the same name, aimed at a general rather than academic readership. She defines ‘pentecostalism’ in terms of the influence of the Holy Spirit, going back to William J. Seymour in 1905, who instituted the Azusa Street Revival in about 1905. She then moves to the 1950s and Norman Vincent Peale, and then to the Jesus People of the 1960s New Age movement. A fourth wave, possibly, is now with the spread of Pentecostalism into Latin America, Korea, Brazil and Nigeria. There is no central authority, and the pentecostal churches tend to reflect the society in which they are embedded e.g. the Catholic influence in Latin America, Shamaanism in Korea. There is still an element of the prosperity gospel at play, but it’s more an emphasis on health and wealth, both of which tend to improve when people get their lives together. Pentecostals have always been good at leveraging the media. After radio in the 1950s, in the 1960s and 1970s it was cassette tapes that people could listen to in their cars. Hillsong has always used music as part of its business model. She explores the link between right-wing populism and Pentecostalism, and notes that both use entertainment and stagecraft and draw on the feeling of being ‘besieged by wokeness’.

Rough Translation This is a two-part program about smuggling pills for a medical abortion into Ukraine. Part I Under the Counter, a young German doctor, Vicki, reads of the shortage of abortion pills (mifepristone followed by misoprostol) in Ukraine. She and her boyfriend Ari find a supplier based in Africa who can source the pills from India, and then he offers a huge quantity- far more than ever anticipated. The only problem is that they have to travel through Poland, where abortion is illegal. Part II The Handoff follows this unlikely group of smugglers into Ukraine, where they learn that there are complications in both pregnancy and abortion during war time. I really enjoyed these two podcasts.

Emperor Trajan: Wikimedia

Emperors of Rome Interlude: Valerius Flaccus. I’d never heard of this Roman poet, from the Flavian period, who wrote an 8-book epic The Argonautica that retold the well known (at that time) story of Jason and the Golden Fleece. He drew fairly heavily on Apollonius of Rhodes ‘ more famous epic, but he was also strongly influenced by Virgil as well. The episode features Dr. Peter Davis. And now, back to the Emperors with Episode XLV In Trajan We Trust . Trajan was born in 53 CE in Italica in Spain. His father had been Consul, had fought in the Jewish Wars and had been governor of Syria. We don’t really know much about him before he became Emperor, because there’s a Big Black Hole of Biography. He started his military career in Syria with his father, then moved to the Rhine. He became guardian of his cousin’s children, one of whom was Hadrian- spoiler alert! He was a good choice for Emperor, because he was a successful military leader. Pliny is almost nauseating in his praise of Trajan, but he was generally regarded as virile and active. His accession to become Emperor was largely violence free (except for the murder of some potential enemies), and he promised to work well with the Senate. Episode XLVI Trajan vs Dacia sees Trajan heading off to Dacia (present day Romania), at a time when the Roman Empire was at its largest extent. Dacia was a client kingdom, headed by the Dacian king Decebalus. Trajan had a victory in the First Dacian War 101-102 CE, then headed back in 105CE when Decabalus started sabre-rattling again. Trajan built a huge bridge across the Danube as a statement of strength, and leveled the capital. The defeat of Dacia brought huge wealth into Rome, and Trajan partied with a 120-day triumph.

File on 4.(BBC) Three Friends Emily, Nadia and Christie met each other when they were admitted as 18 year olds to the Tees Esk and Wear Valley Mental Health Trust with severe mental problems. They all died within 8 months of each other, in a medical environment that did not keep them safe. Their families are left blaming themselves, and the hospital.

Lectures in History (C-Span) Gays and Lesbians in Colonial America. This lecture in a university seminar class is given by Santa Clara University professor Nancy Unger. She starts off by challenging the denial of homosexuality by many African-Americans (particularly religious African-American groups) and Africans who claim that homosexuality was “un-African”. Instead, she argues, there was an African tradition of boy-wives. She argues that in early 17th century American colonies, there was a recognition of same-sex relationships among slaves. At this early stage, there was no emphasis on reproduction as there was later, and so same-sex relationships were tolerated. As time went on, the official view was that homosexuality was unacceptable, and amongst colonists it was a capital offence. But there were only two men executed, partially because the law required two witnesses and also because there was a labour shortage at the time. She then goes on to look at case studies of gay and trans-sexual court cases. One was of Nicholas Sension in 1677, who despite his high status and marriage, had a 30 year history of homosexuality. The court case was reluctantly brought because the community was concerned that he was bringing them into disrepute. Steven Broughton was a church leader, who was voted back into his leadership position by 2/3 of the congregation when he was reported. Thomas/Thomasina Hall was declared to be both a man and a woman because of their ambiguous genitalia.

Take Me To Your Leader (ABC) Vladimir Putin I’ve heard few podcasts and seen a few documentaries since the Ukraine invasion about Vladimir Putin, but this one was particularly interesting because Hamish Macdonald talks with former (?) ABC journalist Monica Attard, who has a rather different perspective on Ukraine than we usually get. All of the guests agreed that Putin was likely to continue as President up to his death.

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 16-23 February 2023

The Explanation (BBC) There has been much about Turkiye and Syria in the news since the recent earthquakes and so I decided to go back and review what has happened in Syria in recent years. How Syria’s Peaceful Uprising Became a Civil War takes us back to July 2000. Lina Sinjab, a BBC Middle East correspondent, explains how the conflict in her native country began. Bashar al-Assad had inherited the presidency from his father and Syria became, in effect, a dictatorship without a dictator. In 2011 the Arab Spring emerged across the Middle East, evoking a military crackdown in Syria despite the peaceful nature of the demonstrations. Russia and Iran backed the government, while the Americans backed the Kurds and Islamic groups. This U.S. support changed in 2013 when ISIS became involved, prompting the US and a coalition of Arab states to fight against ISIS. Assad used chemical weapons against his people, something that Barak Obama had seen as a ‘red line’ but no action was taken. By this time, Russia’s support for the regime was overt. A huge refugee flow ensued, cutting Syria’s population from 21 million to 6 million. Then the podcast finished with a very abrupt ending.

The Daily (NYT) A Crisis Within a Crisis in effect picks up where the previous podcast left off and asks why, after the earthquake, it has been so hard to get aid to Syria. It returns briefly to the Arab Spring, and the clampdown by the al-Assad government, and the fleeing of doctors from the country once hospitals began being targetted. Western sanctions were imposed against the as-Assad government, although the United Nations continued operating within Government-held areas with Al-Assad’s permission after agreeing to recognize the sovereignty of his government. In 2014 a UN resolution enabled the UN to send aid into areas that were not under the control of the Al-Assad govt. As a result, aid groups established bases containing workers and supplies on the border of Turkiye and Syria as a staging ground to move into Syria. This is the area that was impacted by the earthquake. It took four days for the first supplies to arrive from Turkiye to Syria, and even then it was a shipment that had been put together before the earthquake, so it contained none of the emergency supplies or help that was required. Since then Al-Assad has agreed to open two more crossing points. The Syrian government is asking for sanctions to be lifted, but the UK and US are unlikely to send direct aid. The earthquake has come at a time when the US had already begun easing sanctions, and the Syrian government had begun re-engaging.

Archive on Four (BBC) What Has Media Training Done to Government? Featuring a wealth of mainly-British political interviewers, this episode looks at the rise of ‘media training’, often conducted by former interviewers themselves. As the episode points out, media training comes from a place of fear- fear by the interviewer that they won’t get anything; fear from the interviewee that they will says something they didn’t mean to say. It is now an industry in its own right, where the journalists become celebrities themselves, making the whole field more competitive. It is marketing-oriented, and it weaponizes the unintentional.

Emperors of Rome Episode XL What is an Emperor? goes back to look at the way that the concept of ’emperor’ had changed from the time of Julius Caesar through to the death of Domitian. In that 150 years, the republic was almost back to a monarchy in all but name. Caesar was not an Emperor officially, because he was not a Princeps. He saw himself within a Republican mould, taking on the title of ‘dictator’ -itself a Republican term- and just extending his term again..and again.. and again. Augustus was the first emperor because he could veto anything, getting his powers from the Senate. The influence of the army became increasingly important, as did the power of the imperial household. Deification after death gradually became normalized. So why didn’t the Senate reassert its power? Probably because the conjunction of the interests of the military and the emperor had become normalized. Episode XLI Nerva. Nerva was one of the last Italian emperors, coming to power after Domitian was assassinated. We don’t know much about his early life but he came from a high-born consular family and was close to the imperial family- for example, his grandfather went into voluntary exile with Tiberius, although he distanced himself later. Nerva is seen as the first of the ‘five good emperors’. The senate put him forward as emperor, so there was no return to the Republic, but he never had the support of the army. The army insisted that he nominate a successor, so he named and adopted Trajan from the military ranks. He was only there for 16 months before dying of natural causes. Episode XLII is a bit different- it’s called A Lesson in Latin followed by Interlude Latin Pronunciation (Actually, I’d quite like to learn Latin). Rhiannon and Matt start by going through some common Latin phrases that are still in use today. But how do we know what Latin sounded like? Mainly from grammarians, especially Quintillian, who declared that if people spelled correctly, the pronunciation would be correct. (A bit like Spanish, really)

Kerning Cultures Viva Brother Nagi. Nagi was a Yemeni immigrant to America, where he worked in agriculture- as many Yemini immigrants do. He was born in Yemen, where he was politically active and moved to America as a 20-year-old in 1967, part of a wave of immigrants from Yemen who arrived after the 1965 Immigration Act removed quotas. There had been industrial action in the agricultural section since the 1970s, and in 1973 strikes broke out again when the Teamsters Union contracted a sweetheart deal with the growers. Nagy became a picket captain in the grape strike led by Cesar Chavez. He was beaten to death by a county sheriff outside a restaurant in Lamont California. A huge funeral march was held, and a boycott of grapes and fruits took off amongst consumers. Two years later in 1975 the law was finally changed to allow farm workers to assemble, have union representation and bargain.

Take Me To Your Leader (ABC) In this episode Hamish Macdonald looks at Mohammed bin Salman. Along with journalists Graeme Wood and Karen House, he interviews ‘Sultan’, a gay Saudi journalist, who sought and received refuge in Australia after a journalist he was ‘minding’ went rogue. MBS is the grandson of King Abdulaziz, and probably the most ‘Saudi’ amongst possible heirs as he did not have the Oxford University/Rich British life that many of his other relatives had. Young people see him as a progressive modern, but not Western, leader. In November 2017, now Crown Prince, as part of an anti-corruption purge, he ‘held’ 400 members of the elite in the Ritz Carlton Hotel and forced to repay their debts. He has developed Vision 2030 which envisions a modern, cutting edge city housing 9 million people on a 170 km. block of land. He had a close relationship with Trump, but not Biden, and he takes Putin’s calls but not Biden’s.

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

Conversations (ABC) – Lost at Sea: Losing faith as a Navy Chaplain was broadcast on 26 April 2022. It is an interview with Collin Acton, who also featured in an article in the Saturday Paper (19 November 2022 – but it’s behind a paywall). After a fairly tempestuous relationship with his father, he joined the Navy as a 16 year old as an engineer and underwent your typical evangelical Christian-type conversion experience. He undertook divinity training (no mean feat for someone who had left school so early) and took up a position as an Anglican chaplain in the Navy. Gradually his faith withered, but that had serious implications for a ‘professional Christian’ a as chaplain is. He most enjoyed talking with people, and the fellowship of his church, but he found more and more defence personnel were traumatized by Afghanistan and the boat turn-backs. Much like the position of chaplains in schools and in an increasingly atheistic society, he is raising questions about whether the chaplaincy role can only be played by Christians.]]

History Extra: Wild places and Wild people: a short history of commons. The episode featured Professor Angus Winchester, the author of Common Land in Britain: A History from the Middle Ages to the Present Day. I’d only really thought about ‘the tragedy of the commons’ and the Enclosure Act during the industrial revolution, but ‘the commons’ had been contested for much longer. The Statute of Merton in 1236 that said that all the land belonged to the manor, although cottagers had rights to wood and pasture, as long as they only took what was proportionate to what they owned, and did not sell them commercially. The commons were traditionally used for recreation, musters and protests. Even with enclosure, those who had a common right were granted a portion of the newly-enclosed land. The ones who were really hung out to dry were the landless peasants. In the 1860s, there was a shift to preserve the commons for recreational access. Interesting- it challenged a lot of my preconceptions.

Emperors of Rome. Episode XXXIV Titus and the Siege of Jerusalem. Titus was born in 39CE in Rome, and his father was Vespasian. This meant that Titus grew up in contact with the imperial family, and indeed, being the same age, he studied with Brittanicus. He had a military upbringing, and served with Vespasian in Jerusalem, and when Vespasian was acclaimed as Emperor, Titus stayed behind in Jerusalem to ‘clean up’ the military action there. He undertook a 7 month siege of Jerusalem, a fortified city with huge symbolic importance for the Jews. After finally breaking the siege, he set the Temple on fire (thus attracting eternal opprobrium in Jewish histories), killing and capturing people for slavery. Then he went back to Rome. Episode XXXV A Pleasant Surprise from the Emperor Titus sees Titus take power. At first it looked as if he was going to be a bit of a playboy (like Nero) and his affair with the Judean Queen Berenice didn’t go down well. But when his father died and he took over, there was a sudden change. Although he only ruled for two years, he was generous in his building program, and took the kudos for opening the Flavian Ampitheatre (now known as the Colosseum) which his father had commenced, and for the rebuilding after the volcanoes in Pompeii and Herculanium and yet another fire in Rome in 80CE. He died of fever, and was promptly deified. Apparently his last words were “I have only one sin on my conscience” – then he died, leading to all sorts of speculation about what the sin was. Episode XXXVI The Debut of Domitian. Domitian was Titus’ brother, and he didn’t share any of his brother’s illustrious upbringing. He was a bit of a loner, and the change in the family fortunes didn’t come until he was 18. He did act as the representative of the Flavian family when Vespasian was coming back to win the civil war, and while Titus was still in Jerusalem, but he threw his weight around and wasn’t popular. In fact, Matt Smith likens Domitian to Uncle Fester and Titus to Gomez in the Addams Family. Anyway, when Titus died – and it genuinely seems that Domitian didn’t have anything to do with it- Titus took over.

Travels Through Time. I didn’t like this one much. Louis XIV, The Sun King features historian Philip Mansell who may have written a lot, and may know a lot but was far too digressive for this format. He chooses the year 1700 and all three episodes take place at Versailles. The first is on 17 November 1700, when Louis’ grandson is chosen as Philip V of Spain, thus uniting the Spanish and French, even though this means that France will become embroiled in the War of Spanish Succession, when the Hapsburgs challenged Philip’s claim. The second episode is a military review during 1700, of which there were many, where Louis would inspect his personal bodyguard. Mansell emphasizes that the French crown had both military and divine aspects. The final episode is also in 1700 when a procession of freed white French slaves takes place before Louis, who has purchased or swapped them from the Muslim Algerians. This was a largely performative act, as much of Louis’ other functions were, demonstrating his generosity – although the Protestants and people in neighbouring countries wouldn’t agree.

Take Me To Your Leader (ABC) I really enjoy Hamish Macdonald’s work, and I actually prefer him to Patricia Karvelas on RN Breakfast when he steps in. In this eight-part series, he looks at current world leaders who have been influential in the past and who are likely to be around for a while longer (that’s a brave call!) In Episode 01 Xi Jinping, he talks with three people who know/have known him in various guises: Sarah Lande from Iowa, who has known him since he visited her home in 1985 as a low-level party member on a fact-finding trip to America; Dr Feng Chongyi, Professor in China Studies at UTS who fell foul of the regime when he went on a research trip to interview Chinese figures who were interested in liberal and democratic ideas; and Sue-Lin Wong, Southeast Asia correspondent at The Economist. After Xi Jinping’s father fell from grace with the party, Xi was sent to the countryside as part of the Cultural Revolution. He worked his way back into the party, becoming Vice-President and Secretary to the Secretariat of the Party- a very influential position. (I tell myself this as I seem to be the Eternal Secretary of different organizations I’m involved with). In regard to the question of Taiwan in the future, both Dr Feng Chongyi and Sue-Lin Wong point out that China transformed Hong Kong without a single military action, largely through infiltration of civil and government organisations.