By any other name
Thursday, 18 April 2024 15:11

By any other name

Published in Poetry

By any other name

by Stuart McFarlane

Now the school of semantics is fully enrolled,
we begin to believe the lies we’re being sold.
‘Proportional response’, ‘Collateral damage’.
‘It’s a situation we feel we can manage’.
Politicians, as ever, so sensible,
queue up to defend the indefensible.
The Israelis freely act without constraint.
The Americans continue to urge restraint.
Schools, housing, hospitals; all are destroyed,
yet, still, euphemistic terms are employed.
Artillery posts now even have trouble
finding a building to reduce to rubble.
And, as Gaza withers, festers and rots
the diplomats tie themselves up in knots.
‘Not a ceasefire, a humanitarian pause’.
Treating the symptoms, not the underlying cause.
But Israel miscalculated, and crossed a red line,
in denying the idea of a Palestine.
For an idea does not so easily die;
all the dead children of Gaza so testify.
How can the fighting now ever cease?
There’s not the faintest prospect of peace.
By conducting such a senseless war
they've only ensured centuries more.
You can justify anything, if you try hard enough
but, deep down, do we realize, it’s all so much guff.
So, don’t pretend, as you kill, wound and maim,
it's not murder; by any other name.

Corporate and alternative media, now and in Los Angeles in the 1950s
Thursday, 18 April 2024 15:11

Corporate and alternative media, now and in Los Angeles in the 1950s

Dennis Broe discusses the opposition between corporate and alternative media, now and in the 1950s. Image above: Charlotta Bass, editor of The California Eagle

Today with the wars on Gaza, in the Ukraine, and the possible coming war on China, there is a huge gap between what is being said in the mainstream media and what is being said on alternative sites on the internet.

Recently, for example, on the second anniversary of the war in Ukraine, the New York Times ran a Pentagon and State Department account of the war. In this account, the war was started by Russia on February 24, 2022. It included its reasons for being (Putin’s aggressiveness which now threatens all Europe) and its possible outcome (there is none, just continual fighting).

This contrasted sharply on every point with political organizer Brian Becker and Global South scholar Vijay Prashad’s view on the podcast, YouTube, and streaming show The Socialist Program. Prajad and Becker noted that what they called “The Ukrainian Civil War” started nearly a decade earlier in 2014, after a U.S.-backed coup aided by Ukrainian Nazis overthrew the elected head of the country and started bombing the Russian majority Donetsk region killing 14,000 people.

Russia’s “Special Military Operation” then was the response to NATO threatening to absorb Ukraine and put missiles on Russia’s border, with the Russians, almost since the beginning of the SMO, suing for peace in an agreement that was sabotaged by Boris Johnson and the West.

The line of demarcation between on the one hand corporate media and the political class, led by the nose by the arms and fossil fuel industries and by powerful lobbying groups such as Israel’s AIPEC, and on the other hand the legion of podcasters, YouTubers, bloggers and online publications that are every day standing against this deadly barrage, is more sharply drawn than ever. It’s social media versus what seems more and more like antisocial, bellicose and belligerent media.

Interestingly, these lines can also be traced beyond today’s internet alternative media explosion to an earlier period where, with the outlawing and excising of many of the ideas and social practices of the more collectivist and worker-oriented New Deal, there was an equally momentous battle between the corporate media – in this case the dominant newspapers – and newspapers which spoke to and represented audiences left out of the corporate consensus.

Nowhere was this difference starker than in Los Angeles between the high-circulation Los Angeles Times, which had also launched a second paper and its own television station, and the African-American paper The California Eagle, which began in the 1920s and championed the rights of Negroes to own property where they wanted in a heavily segregated city.

The former was run by the Chandler family, who were rabidly anti-union champions of an Anglo Los Angeles, spread out across the county in suburban, individual, single-family homes with a system of freeways and building projects that benefitted Chandler real estate interests. The Times utilized and promoted “anti-communism” as a way of smearing its opponents.

The Eagle’s editor Charlotta Bass stood instead for the vision of an integrated and equal Los Angeles, defending public transit and community institutions, and welcoming peaceful and harmonious intercourse with the socialist world of Russia and China.

 Boo cover

The House That Buff Built 

These differences are also sharply illustrated in my latest Harry Palmer detective novel The House That Buff Built where Harry, in the course of helping his Chinese client to integrate the town of Torrance, encounters both Charlotta and the Chandlers and is stunned by the difference between “The Eagle, [Charlotta’s] modest paper, and the gigantic, but for her monstrous, L.A. Times.

While The Eagle was supported by its African-American community, the Times was the largest newspaper in terms of circulation in the country’s most booming region in the post war period, read and advertised in by the city’s elite. In 1950, the paper, though improving, was still opposed to original unbiased reporting and according to David Halberstam in The Powers That Be was filled with wire service briefs, dispatches from city corporations that it partially controlled and “slanted political coverage that read more like memos from and to the Republican Central Committee than journalism.”

To Segregate or Not to Segregate: Housing in Los Angeles

A primary area of disagreement between the two newspapers was segregation versus inclusion, in the battle over Los Angeles housing. The Chandlers’ vision was of an Anglo Los Angeles with white flight peopling the suburbs and its new inhabitants manoeuvering through a system of freeways with the land, the building materials for the roadways and even the rubber for the automobiles coming from Chandler companies.

The city meanwhile would be remade, with the Times favoring a gutting of the low income habitats of Bunker Hill and Mexican-American villages in what is now Chavez Ravine and the buildup of the Northern part of downtown near the Times building with Norman Chandler, the heir to the fortune in the 1950s, being told when he took over the paper that the key to the editorial page was to “think of what is good for real estate.” The paper actively promoted these interests and this demolition. “Our future,” Dorothy Chandler tells Harry in a candid admission “was not in trying to be a paper for the black or the Latino populations or the low-income white population.”

The Eagle meanwhile was instrumental in furthering Negro expansion out of the tight quarters around Central Avenue where African-Americans had been confined, and instead moving into homes both north and south of this area. Prior to this period a method of enforcement of segregation was restrictive covenants, which forbid homeowners from selling to the “Negro or Mongolian” races, thus also limiting the Chinese to Chinatown. In 1948 the Supreme Court outlawed this use in a case argued by Eagle reporter Loren Miller who would succeed Bass in running the paper in 1951. 

Buffy norman 

Buffy and Norman Chandler

A major site where segregation was either fostered or contested was the society or women’s pages of each paper. Norman’s wife Dorothy Chandler, nicknamed Buffy or Buff, took over those pages in the Times and used them to blackmail wealthy donors to support her vision of “modern” Los Angeles built around what would become gleaming corporate skyscrapers and cultural centres, perched on a demolished Bunker Hill.

Meanwhile, Charlotta Bass used the back pages of The Eagle to fashion women’s groups which she called on for support when homeowners moving out of Central Avenue were beseiged by aggressive “neighbours” who attempted to drive them out of their homes, and this was after the Supreme Court decision which applied only to federal housing projects.

As Harry puts it in the novel, “I thought about the contrast between The California Eagle’s Charlotta Bass, who used the society pages of her publication to rally Negro ladies to defend the hard-won housing gains of her readers trying to secure a better place in Dorothy’s society, and Dorothy’s organizing of the rich [through the Times society pages] in a way that excluded everyone else and furthered their own power.”

Collectivist vs. Individualist Futures

There was also two different visions of the city professed by each publication. The Times was rabidly anti-union, going back to its founder General Otis, who called union leaders “corpse defacers” and unions “the poison of the American future,” and actively resisted unions at the paper. The Times instead favored dividing working people by breaking up urban neighbourhoods and housing them in more isolated, individual units in the suburbs.

 Who framed

Who Framed Roger Rabbit and the plot to sabotage public transportation in LA

The newspaper was against public transportation, instead promoting the individual in his or her own car and declaring on its editorial pages that "Southern California throbs in unison with the purring motors of its automobiles." The paper championed the building of the country’s first freeway which connected the ultra-rich old wealth community of Pasadena with downtown Los Angeles and was then followed by the Harbor, Hollywood, Long Beach and Santa Anna freeways.

The Eagle defended the cheap and environmentally effective mass transit trolleys and buses which ferried its readers to and from work, and was a champion of trade unions, many of which were integrated. They also had African-American women not only as members but also as leaders, in the factories that had sprung up as Southern California became the country’s main motor of production during the war.

When Harry visits Charlotta Bass at the office of The Eagle she lays out this difference:

“She described a city that on one side was made up of the Klan, the National Rifle Association and property restriction organizations, and on the other the labor movement, the Negro, Jewish, Mexican, and Chinese minorities; ‘those people who do the work in the city and who are fighting against the threat of a new fascism at home.’”

Cold War vs. Enduring Peace

Following the lead of its founder General Otis, who led a slaughter against Filipino women and children in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, named his homes “The Bivouac” and “The Outpost,” and organized the Times staff in an anti-union “phalanx” armed with rifles and shotguns, the Times in the 1950s under Norman Chandler was a huge supporter of the Cold War and the anti-communism campaign.

Union busting 

Union Busting at the LA Times 

The Times pushed Richard Nixon in his successful run for the Senate in 1950, calling his red-baiting attack on Alger Hiss “heroic,” as well as being a firm backer of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s paranoid finding of communists next door to every American, lauding McCarthy’s bullying tactics as speaking softly and “carrying the big stick of logic.”

The mainstream newspaper used the generalized attack on what amounted to the reforms of Roosevelt’s New Deal to eventually install their own candidate for mayor, Norman Poulson, in 1952, who would veto what the paper saw as the eyesore of public housing and apply the Cold War policy of “containment” on the home front to keep minority communities bottled up and limit expansion.

On the other hand, The Eagle in its pages constantly favored peace and understanding with both the established socialist republic of Russia and the emerging socialist state of China. The paper covered a global conference on women’s rights in Beijing in 1949 which promoted a transnational anti-colonial platform for women fighting imperial oppression, covered a speech by Paul Robeson’s wife in China, and reported positively on the gains of the revolution as distributing land “so now everyone has a home, a chance to go to school and a job with women treated as equals.”

womens conference 

Women’s anti-colonial conference in Beijing in 1949 

The paper also had a diametrically opposed view of containment, terming the reinstitution of personal homeowner restrictions in the wake of the Supreme Court decision “re-covenanting,” supporting activists who “made it clear that they had not fought to destroy fascism abroad only to have it camping on their doorsteps at home.”

As for the real post-war menace and threat, in the novel Charlotta Bass, who has just been assaulted by a gang of white teens, tells Harry that “They always talk about Negro and Mexican violence, but in reality, and it’s true in your case with the Chinese as well, the real fear is white violence.”

The past as mirror into the future

Today, the mainstream media is more adamantly than ever pushing for war at every opportunity, operating to confuse their audience and make unclear what is crystal clear. Thus a recent example was how Israel’s massacre of starving Palestinians as they clamoured for food was presented in the Western press, not a mass killing of defenceless people, but as a chaotic riot by a stampeding mob. The 1950s example of both the strident self-aggrandizing and bellicose Los Angeles Times and the courageous, resistant California Eagle tirelessly campaigning for equality and peace is more trenchant than ever.

The New York Times was recently the recipient of the prestigious Polk Award for its coverage of the assault on Gaza, a coverage that for the most part was distinguished by its shallowness, lacking any background coverage or treatment of the conflict pre-October 7, 2023. In this light,  Harry’s verdict on the Chandler’s imposing their will in the creation of modern Los Angeles stands as a warning of a too powerful media operating in a vacuum:

“The paper was everywhere. Buff’s ‘civilizing mission’ was part of remaking a town that, when it resisted that mission, might be compelled by whatever means necessary to accept it.”

Stripped
Thursday, 18 April 2024 15:11

Stripped

Published in Poetry

Stripped

by Bernie Crawford

Always go for the strong image
the one that stalks the mind
when the book is closed
let it do the work, I encourage
my students

The image haunts me
all night, wish I hadn’t
watched the news
but know I’ve no right
to the privilege of not knowing

Row upon row
of men, young and old,
sitting, in almost prayer pose,
on ground among the rubble
in their underpants.

Whose Bad Books?
Thursday, 18 April 2024 15:11

Whose Bad Books?

Published in Poetry

Whose Bad Books?

by Christopher Norris, with image by Martin Gollan

1

Our pastor, he said ‘Praise the Lord,
Give praise unto His name,
And spread the gospel news abroad:
To save your souls He came!’.

He said ‘The grapes of wrath are stored
For those who bear the blame
That drags us mortals Satan-ward
To feed the Devil’s flame’.

I harkened, took it all on board,
And told my kids ‘For shame,
Listen up else you’ll be zero-scored
When God decides the game’.

But then I thought: ‘There’s things ignored
In all that he’d proclaim,
Things apt to strike a jarring chord
With folk outside the frame.

2

That Jesus, he had stuff to say
That goes for black and white,
Good news our pastor could convey
And help set old wrongs right.

You know, the bits not only they
But us black folks can cite
Because there ain’t no earthly way
They’ll spread the racist blight.

Truth, justice, peace on earth - let’s pray
Those words shed kindly light
And quench the flame whose kindling may
Burn fierce in darkest night.

A good man, Jesus, when he’d play
It down, that touch of spite
That blasted the fig-tree to pay
Those chatterers back alright!

3

But Christ-as-God’s the one who’ll see
You burn in Hell should you
Risk any word or deed that He
Deems wicked or taboo.

Old monks devised the Trinity
In hopes that it might do
To silence such rank heresy
Amongst the errant crew.

Still look around and you’ll agree:
It’s God, not Christ, that slew
Those legions of the damned whose plea
The wrong God listened to.

The one to whom they bend the knee,
The God of Soldier Blue,
Is He whose old book’s held to be
The sole book good and true.

It holds the one and only key,
The single passe-partout
Vouchsafed by Him to guarantee
They pay the homage due.

And when the tribal lords decree
Some holy war or new
Crusade to wage they’ll soon make free
With Joshua’s hullabaloo.

I hear it in their hymnody,
With our old pastor, too,
When he takes such unChristian glee
In tales of butchery.

It’s in the blood-filled oratory,
The martial tropes on cue,
The monotheists’ battle-spree
To get a God’s-eye view.

4

But nearer home I saw it fill
The airwaves, tv screens,
And op eds: ‘they went out to kill,
Those two black female teens.

A woman elderly and ill
They killed by brutal means,
A Bible teacher who’d instil
God’s grace in wolverines.

Don’t blame their parents’ lack of skill,
Don’t blame it on their genes,
Don’t say it’s what their home-lives drill
Them into - death-machines!

No, we’ll not walk safe streets until
We’ve junked those childhood scenes
Of violence, want, and horrorsville
So justice intervenes.

5

For the Lord tells us: eye-for-eye
And tooth-for-tooth’s the law,
And those two girls have got to die
To quit the moral score’.

That’s what he said, the lawyer guy,
And the DA then swore
That it would anger God on high
If sins weren’t answered for.

It’s how they think, the folk who buy
That vengeful line - what more
Effective way to block the cry
Of conscience they ignore?

It’s him, the Moloch-god, who’ll pry
Into the hate-filled core
Of minds long driven far awry
By that god-awful lore.

Those old books have the sinners fry,
And their god wipe the floor
With infidels who dare to try
The penalties in store.

O there’s good bits, you can’t deny,
Like passages that soar
On prophet-wings to touch the sky
Or heaven’s gleaming shore.

Yet always there’s some sinner nigh,
Some tribe to shock and awe,
Or angel to touch Jacob’s thigh:
‘Not yours but God’s, this war!’.

Our pastor has his own supply
Of bible-quotes he’ll draw
So swiftly on you never spy
Some massacre in the raw.

But that’s the itch they satisfy,
The itch of tooth and claw
To hear him conjure deeds we’d shy
From once through the church-door.

6

And now each latest bulletin
From Gaza lets us know
Once more how massacres begin
When preachers run the show.

The same old talk - ‘wages of sin’,
‘God’s children’ or ‘God’s foe’,
‘We chosen ones’, ‘you devil’s kin’,
And suchlike to-and-fro.

It’s still the same old tales they spin,
The tales that strike a blow
For each hate-manual and its twin -
Two creeds, same war-tableaux.

Sometimes I think the guys who’d pin
The death-rap on those low-
Life scapegoat girls are mirrored in
The siege of Jericho,

Since that’s the mythic origin
Of what the victims owe
To bible-lore when victors win
On points scored long ago.

The truth ‘all one beneath the skin,
All kindred, bro and bro’,
Gets lost each time the trumpets’ din
Brings yet more grief and woe.

For it’s the vengeful god within
That answers when they blow
And spike some war-primed endorphin
With carnage to bestow. 

7

I catch the bible-bashing tone
In that DA’s appeal
For the death-sentence to be thrown
At those too hurt to heal.

I catch it in the battle-zone
Reports of those whose zeal
For far-off kills by bomb or drone
They’re hard-put to conceal.

But you’ve a language all your own,
You holy men who deal
In sanctifying missions flown
Or fusillades of steel.

It’s your God churns the flesh and bone,
Whips up the hate they feel,
His chosen ones, or sees them blown
To bits unless they kneel.

He taunts the victims as they groan
On the inquisitor’s wheel,
And tells his flock ‘Let them atone
Beneath the Seventh Seal’.

For it’s a savage seed they’ve sown,
Those scriptures that reveal
Depths of malignity unknown
Till blind faith makes them real.

White Phosphorus
Thursday, 18 April 2024 15:11

White Phosphorus

Published in Poetry

White Phosphorus

A Ghazal for Gaza written on 5th November 2023

All Hallows’ Eve 2023, tenth anniversary
Of my mother’s passing from Huntington’s Disease;

Outside the half-curtained living room window
Excited laughter of children doing trick or treat—

Over 2,000 miles away, screams in the dark
Of Gazan night, pitch black but for sparkly

Blossoms of white phosphorus tinselling down,
Fluorescent flowers of destruction—deadly

Firework display pre-empting this fifth
Of November 2023… Gaza will be

A burial ground of rubble, its grey-limbed children
Pulled out from under it, ashen ghosts grown in debris…

This Nakba broadcast live to traumatised Westerners,
Nerves numbed by jump scares. Gaza under siege.

Gaza under rubble. Gaza an open grave, an open wound.
But from that rubble blooms indomitable solidarity—

Protests & marches swell in numbers each weekend,
Hundreds of thousands chanting “ceasefire now”, “free, free

Palestine”, “in our thousands, in our millions, we
Are all Palestinians”—in our iPhone open prisons

That pretend to protect us, but only contain us,
Doomscrolling in apocalypse dependency

Unputdownable attempts at coming to terms
With a graphically unacceptable telepathy,

& gruesomely gaslighting hegemonies—
But our suffering is nothing on Gazan agonies

That slow burn through to the bone, scald the soul,
Scar lives forever with obliterating bouquets,

Silver tentacles of giant jellyfish streaking in the sky
Streaming down stinging tendrils lethally, illegally…

Remember, remember, this fifth of November
White phosphorus fireworks stream down on Gaza.

Thursday, 18 April 2024 15:11

Shellshocked Lives

Published in Films

Shellshocked Lives

by Viktoria Simanovski

These days I see an unjust world fragmented into fractions, thrusting children into battles and wars that are not of their making. In my film I try to express my hope for justice and understanding between people and between nations. We all start our journey as humans, but somewhere along the way we get tangled up in the web of nationalities, religions etc. It pains me to witness the transformation of children, who may once have been playmates, into pawns that are drawn into wars they never wished for. I really want people to allow themselves to see the difference between their own feelings and what is imposed from the outside.

Viktoria Simanovski is a member of a group called Just Building Bridges. It includes sanctuary seekers, refugees and asylum seekers in north-east England that has produced a series of photographs and short films on the theme of justice. The group itself is very diverse, from several different countries and continents. All of them are trying to ‘build bridges’ from a relatively marginalised position, and resettle peacefully and successfully in various local communities.

The photographs, films and zines made by the group cover a wide range of themes. There are local issues of waste, litter, and noise; bigger economic issues such as the fast fashion industry; and some very topical issues of global significance, such as the conflicts in the Ukraine and the Middle East.

The project was facilitated by Theresa Easton, lecturer in Fine Art at Newcastle University; Carl Joyce, photographer and filmmaker; and Michael Quille, writer and editor of Culture Matters. Thanks are due to Newcastle University and the Hatton Gallery Learning Space for the use of premises and equipment, and the Passionist Community for their financial support.

The exhibition materials are a fine body of authentic, heartfelt work. There are around 28 A4 photographs in A3 frames; 2 short films for playing on a loop; and a series of accompanying zines. If you are interested in displaying the exhibition, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Uday, One Day
Thursday, 18 April 2024 15:11

Uday, One Day

Published in Poetry

Uday, One Day

by Jim Aitken

In memory of Uday Abu Mohsen who lived only one day
after being killed during the Siege of Gaza, 2023.

Uday was the baby boy’s name. Uday, it was.
He would have known so little but he would
have known he was someone with being.
He would have been welcomed and loved.

He would have been welcomed with fear
and would have known little of the blast
that ended his one- day old life, mayfly Uday.
Yet he leaves behind much more than a name.

He leaves behind the insanity of surgical strikes,
the criminality of collateral damage, the nonsense
of precision bombing, the lunatic costs – and profits –
of warfare set against the massacre of the innocents.

Uday’s death certificate was bizarrely issued before
any birth certificate arrived and the bombing continued
after his death. But mayfly Uday must be remembered
and not just in Gaza and in Palestine, not just there.

The cry of Uday must be heard in Israel, in Syria, in Iraq,
in Russia and Ukraine, in Yemen, Tigray and Sudan.
Uday’s little whimper should cross oceans, mountains
and plains, teeming cities and deserts, turning louder.

Turning louder all the time so that the whole world
begins to realise that without justice there is no peace;
that only justice can guarantee peace. Uday, one day
peace and justice will reign in your name. Uday, one day.

 See also these reports on media coverage of the Gaza genocide, at the BBC and more generally.

Outlook
Thursday, 18 April 2024 15:11

Outlook

Published in Poetry

Outlook

by Steven Taylor

Mainly cloudy
A chance of rain
Dusty. Grubby
Rubble mostly
Death expected

Britain

Could send umbrellas
But they prefer
Providing weapons
To the killers

(with instructions
to be careful, obviously)

The sound of weeping
Wailing is distressing
For our viewers

Poetry / Filíocht
Thursday, 18 April 2024 15:11

Poetry / Filíocht

Published in Poetry

Poetry/ Filíocht is a bilingual poem by Gabriel Rosenstock in response to the latest conflict in the Middle East

Poetry

perhaps rabbi Nachman
could give me advice
but how can I find him
among so many ashes
Zbigniew Herbert

I have strained my eyes
looking at headlines
pored over in-depth analysis –
who bombed the hospital?
Poetry shouldn’t be like this
plumbing the depths of propaganda
sifting for evidence.
Poetry should enter the heart of the bomb
and defuse it
before it rips into the mother’s heart
the father’s heart
before it muffles the scream of orphans
Before . . .
Rabbi Nachman, have you any advice?

Filíocht

d’fhéadfadh an raibí Nachman
comhairle a chur orm
ach cá bhfaighinn a thuairisc
i measc charn luaithrigh

Zbigniew Herbert

Thuirsíos mo shúile
ag stánadh ar cheannlínte
ag léamh mionanailíse –
cé a bhuamáil an t-ospidéal?
Ní cóir don fhilíocht a bheith mar seo
mionscrúdú á dhéanamh aici ar bholscaireacht
fianaise á piocadh amach aici.
Ba chóir don fhilíocht dul isteach i gcroí an bhuama
agus an dochar a bhaint as
sula réabfaí croí na máthar
croí an athar
sula múchfaí scréach na ndílleachtaí
Sula . . .
A Raibí Nachman, an bhfuil comhairle ar bith agat dúinn?

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