British poet Shelley and the Peterloo massacre


This 29 May 2019 video from Britain says about itself:

Percy Bysshe Shelley: Songs for Peterloo

News of the Peterloo Massacre, when it reached Shelley in Italy, sparked off a six month-long writing surge that saw the poet respond from a variety of angles. Four songs by John Webster with Brindaband, taking lyrics from key poems, chart his reaction to the massacre. His fiery initial poems and later works with a more measured philosophical response bear witness to his ‘tremendous commitment’ (as Paul Foot put it) to bringing positive change.

By Paul Bond in Britain:

The Peterloo massacre and Shelley

Part 1: The aftermath of the massacre and the responses

30 September 2019

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre, a critical event in British history. On August 16, 1819, a crowd of 60,000 to 100,000 protestors gathered peacefully on Manchester’s St. Peter’s Field. They came to appeal for adult suffrage and the reform of parliamentary representation.

The disenfranchised working class—cotton workers, many of them women, with a large contingent of Irish workers—who made up the crowd were struggling with the increasingly dire economic conditions following the end of the Napoleonic Wars four years earlier.

Shortly after the meeting began, local magistrates called on the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry to arrest the speakers and sent cavalry of Yeomanry and a regular army regiment to attack the crowd. They charged with sabres drawn. Eighteen people were killed and up to 700 injured.

On August 16 of this year the WSWS published an appraisal of the massacre.

The following is the first part of a two-part article focusing on the response to the massacre by the great poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.

The Peterloo Massacre elicited an immediate and furious response from the working class and sections of middle-class radicals.

The escalation of repression by the ruling class that followed, resulting in a greater suppression of civil liberties, was met with meetings of thousands and the widespread circulation of accounts of the massacre. There was a determination to learn from the massacre and not allow it to be forgotten or misrepresented. Poetic responses played an important part in memorialising Peterloo.

The Peterloo Massacre

Violent class conflict erupted across north western England. Yeomen and hussars continued attacks on workers across Manchester, and the ruling class launched an intensive campaign of disinformation and retribution.

At the trial of Rochdale workers charged with rioting on the night after Peterloo, Attorney General Sir Robert Gifford made clear that the ruling class would stop at nothing to crush the development of radical and revolutionary sentiment in the masses. He declared: “Men deluded themselves if they thought their condition would be bettered by such kind of Reform as Universal Suffrage, Annual Parliaments, and Vote by Ballot; or that it was just that the property of the country ought to be equally divided among its inhabitants, or that such a daring innovation would ever take place.”

Samuel BamfordSamuel Bamford, a reformer and weaver who led a contingent of several thousand marchers to Manchester from the town of Middleton, said he spent the evening of the massacre “brooding over a spirit of vengeance towards the authors of our humiliation.” Bamford told the judge at his trial for sedition that he would not recommend non-violent protest again.

Workers took a more direct response, even as the military were being deployed widely against the population. Despite the military presence, and press claims that the city had been subdued, riots continued across Manchester.

Two women were shot by hussars on August 20. A fortnight after Peterloo, the most affected area, Manchester’s New Cross district, was described in the London press as a by-word for trouble and a risky area for the wealthy to pass through. Soldiers were shooting in the area to disperse rioters. On August 18, a special constable fired a loaded pistol in the New Cross streets and was attacked by an angry crowd, who beat him to death with a poker and stoned him.

There was a similar response elsewhere locally, with riots in Oldham and Rochdale and what has been described by one historian as “a pitched battle” in Macclesfield on the night of August 17.

Crowds in their thousands welcomed the coach carrying Henry Hunt and the other arrested Peterloo speakers to court in Salford, the city across the River Irwell from Manchester. Salford’s magistrates reportedly feared a “tendency to tumult”, while in Bolton the Hussars had trouble keeping the public from other prisoners. The crowd shouted, “Down with the tyrants!”

While the courts meted out sharper punishment to the arrested rioters, mass meetings and protests continued across Britain. Meetings to condemn the massacre took place in Wakefield, Glasgow, Sheffield, Huddersfield and Nottingham. In Leeds, the crowd was asked if they would support physical force to achieve radical reform. They unanimously raised their hands.

These were meetings attended by tens of thousands and they did not end despite the escalating repression. The Twitter account Peterloo 1819 News (@Live1819) is providing a useful daily update on historical responses until the end of this year.

A protest meeting at London’s Smithfield on August 25 drew crowds estimated at 15,000-40,000. At least 20,000 demonstrated in Newcastle on October 11. The mayor wrote dishonestly to the home secretary, Lord Sidmouth, of this teetotal and entirely orderly peaceful demonstration that 700 of the participants “were prepared with arms (concealed) to resist the civil power.”

The response was felt across the whole of the British Isles. In Belfast, the Irishman newspaper wrote, “The spirit of Reform rises from the blood of the Manchester Martyrs with a giant strength!”

A meeting of 10,000 was held in Dundee in November that collected funds “for obtaining justice for the Manchester sufferers.” That same month saw a meeting of 10,000 in Leicester and one of 12,000 near Burnley. In Wigan, just a few miles north of the site of Peterloo, around 20,000 assembled to discuss “parliamentary reform and the massacre at Manchester.” The yeomanry were standing ready at many of these meetings.

The state was determined to suppress criticism. Commenting on the events, it published false statements about the massacre and individual deaths. Radical MP Sir Francis Burdett was fined £2,000 and sentenced to three months’ imprisonment for “seditious libel” in response to his denunciation of the Peterloo massacre. On September 2, he addressed 30,000 at a meeting in London’s Palace Yard, demanding the prosecution of the Manchester magistrates.

Richard Carlile

Radical publisher Richard Carlile, who had been at Peterloo, was arrested late in August. He was told that proceedings against him would be dropped if he stopped circulating his accounts of the massacre. He did not and was subsequently tried and convicted of seditious libel and blasphemy.

The main indictment against him was his publication of Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man. Like Bamford, Carlile also concluded that armed defence was now necessary: He wrote, “Every man in Manchester who avows his opinions on the necessity of reform should never go unarmed—retaliation has become a duty, and revenge an act of justice.”

In Chudleigh, Devon, John Jenkins was arrested for owning a crude but accurate print of the yeomanry charging the Peterloo crowd when Henry Hunt was arrested. A local vicar, a magistrate, informed on Jenkins, whose major “crime” was that he was sharing information about Peterloo. Jenkins was showing the print to people, using a magnifying glass in a viewing box. The charge against Jenkins argued that the print was “intended to inflame the minds of His Majesty’s Subjects and to bring His Majesty’s Soldiery into hatred and contempt.”

Against this attempt to suppress the historical record there was a wide range of efforts to preserve the memory of Peterloo. Verses, poems and songs appeared widely. In October, a banner in Halifax bore the lines:

With heartfelt grief we mourn for those
Who fell a victim to our cause
While we with indignation view
The bloody field of Peterloo.

Anonymous verses were published on cheap broadsides, while others were credited to local radical workers. Many recounted the day’s events, often with a subversive undercurrent. The broadside ballad, “A New Song on the Peterloo Meeting,” for example, was written to the tune “Parker’s Widow,” a song about the widow of 1797 naval mutineer Richard Parker.

Weaver poet John Stafford, who regularly sang at radical meetings, wrote a longer, more detailed account of the day’s events in a song titled “Peterloo.”

The shoemaker poet Allen Davenport satirised in song the Reverend Charles Wicksteed Ethelston of Cheetham Hill—a magistrate who had organised spies against the radical movement and, as the leader of the Manchester magistrates who authorised the massacre, claimed to have read the Riot Act at Peterloo.

Ethelston played a vital role in the repression by the authorities after Peterloo. At a September hearing of two men who were accused of military drilling on a moor in the north of Manchester the day before Peterloo, he told one of them, James Kaye, “I believe that you are a downright blackguard reformer. Some of you reformers ought to be hanged; and some of you are sure to be hanged—the rope is already round your necks; the law has been a great deal too lenient with you.”

Ethelston was also attacked in verse by Bamford, who called him “the Plotting Parson.” Davenport’s “St. Ethelstone’s Day” portrays Peterloo as Ethelston‘s attempt at self-sanctification. Its content is pointed— “In every direction they slaughtered away, Drunken with blood on St. Ethelstone’s Day”—but Davenport sharpens the satire even further by specifying the tune “Gee Ho Dobbin,” the prince regent’s favourite. (These songs are included on the recent Road to Peterloo album by three singers and musicians from North West England—Pete Coe, Brian Peters and Laura Smyth.)

The poetic response was not confined to social reformers and radical workers. The most astonishing outpouring of work came from isolated radical bourgeois elements in exile.

Portrait of Shelley_by Alfred Clint (1829)

On September 5, news of the massacre reached the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) in Italy. He recognised its significance and responded immediately. Shelley’s reaction to Peterloo, what one biographer has called “the most intensely creative eight weeks of his whole life,” embodies and elevates what is greatest about his work. It underscores his importance to us now.

Even among the radical Romantics, Shelley is distinctive. He has long been championed by Marxists for that very reason. Franz Mehring famously noted: “Referring to Byron and Shelley, however, [Karl Marx] declared that those who loved and understood these two poets must consider it fortunate that Byron died at the age of 36, for had he lived out his full span he would undoubtedly have become a reactionary bourgeois, whilst regretting on the other hand that Shelley died at the age of 29, for Shelley was a thorough revolutionary and would have remained in the van of socialism all his life.” (Karl Marx: The Story of His Life, Harvester Press, New Jersey, 1966, p.504)

Franz Mehring around 1900

Shelley came from an affluent landowning family, his father a Whig MP. Byron’s continued pride in his title and his recognition of the distance separating himself, a peer of the realm, from his friend, a son of the landed gentry, brings home the pressures against Shelley and the fact that he was able to transcend his background.

To be continued.

Purple martin migration, unexpected research results


This 29 July 2019 video from Pennsylvania in the USA says about itself:

Life in a Purple Martin nest: 2019 nestcam recap

Watch as a nest of Purple Martins at the Purple Martin Conservation Association headquarters in Erie, PA progresses from eggs to fledglings.

Purple Martins are completely reliant on humans to survive. Learn how you can help here.

2019 was a great year for our livestream nest, but not without drama. As you see in the video, we encountered a “capped egg”, subadult martins causing problems, a nestling whose airway was blocked by a large dragonfly, a near miss by a hungry Cooper’s Hawk, and a House Wren intent on pecking the nestlings. Such is life for the Purple Martin, a struggle to survive in the face of habitat loss, predators, and competition.

Incredibly, these parents (nicknamed Carl and Jolene) successfully raised and fledged seven birds…the highest number we’ve witnessed.

From the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, News Bureau in the USA:

Purple martin migration behavior perplexes researchers

September 30, 2019

Purple martins will soon migrate south for their usual wintertime retreat, but this time the birds will be wearing what look like little backpacks, as scientists plan to track their roosting sites along the way.

The researchers recently discovered that purple martins are roosting in small forest patches as they migrate from North America to Brazil. The scientists published their findings in the Journal of Field Ornithology.

“This is highly unusual behavior for songbirds, which typically roost in heavily forested areas,” said Auriel Fournier, a co-author of the study with University of Manitoba biological sciences professor Kevin Fraser, who led the research. Fournier is the director of the Forbes Biological Station at the Illinois Natural History Survey.

“It’s surprising to see them roosting in these forest islands, which are small, isolated clusters of trees typically surrounded by agriculture, water or recently cut forest,” Fournier said.

The researchers want to determine whether the birds are responding to a change in the environment or whether their surprising roosting behavior is something purple martins have always done.

“We believe they must be intentionally seeking out the forest islands,” Fournier said. “Because these habitats don’t occur very frequently on the landscape, the birds’ use of them is unlikely to be by chance.”

“We are curious if birds are choosing these isolated patches of habitat because they have fewer predators than in larger patches of forest,” Fraser said.

About 13% of the world’s birds are colonial nesters, and purple martins are the only songbird species that requires a nest site surrounded by the nests of other similar birds, the researchers said.

“During migration, these birds flock in numbers up to the hundreds of thousands,” Fournier said. “It’s wild because their flocks are sometimes big enough to be detected by radar.”

The researchers had to wait for technology to catch up before they could identify precisely where the birds were stopping to rest during migration. A purple martin weighs about 1.6 ounces (45 grams) and flies an estimated 6,200 to 13,700 miles (10,000 to 22,0000 kilometers) a year. Too much additional weight — even that of a tiny tracker, for example — could interfere with the bird’s trek.

Thanks to advances in technology, the scientists are using GPS tracking devices small enough to be carried by purple martins. The devices use satellites to pinpoint the birds’ location with such accuracy that Fraser and Fournier can identify down to a single tree where a tagged purple martin is roosting at night during migration.

“No one has looked at habitats during migration,” Fraser said. “But we need to look so that we can start protecting these birds and their habitats across international boundaries.”

The researchers plan to continue tracking purple martins, monitoring whether they faithfully return to the same roosting sites in forest islands. And they are working with conservation groups across this species’ range to better preserve purple martin habitat.

Long ago, I saw purple martins wintering in a park in Quito, Ecuador.

Why not impeach Trump for war crimes?


This 15 March 2018 video from the USA says about itself:

Trump’s CIA Pick Gina Haspel’s Gruesome War Crimes

TYT Politics’ Emma Vigeland breaks down Gina Haspel‘s chilling torture history as a member of the CIA. President Trump nominated Gina Haspel, currently the deputy director of the CIA, to replace current CIA director Mike Pompeo.

By Mike Ludwig, Truthout in the USA:

Why Isn’t Congress Impeaching Trump for War Crimes?

September 29, 2019

With a new scandal rocking the White House and a formal impeachment inquiry underway in the House, President Trump’s self-serving illegal behavior is once again at the center of our political universe. Two huge questions now loom over Congress, and House Democrats in particular: Do the facts about Trump’s actions warrant impeachment, and how will voters react as the process plays out?

These questions have led to a broader discussion of impeachment itself. Impeachment is not a criminal process, but a political one that allows Congress to hold the president accountable for abuses of power and breaches of the public trust, namely “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors”, according to the Constitution. This does not necessarily require breaking criminal laws.

In this case, Trump stands accused of the kind of behavior he is known for: putting his political ambitions ahead of the national interest and then lying about it. Calls for impeachment began shortly after he entered office, but the whistleblower complaint detailing Trump’s efforts to pressure a foreign government to investigate a political rival and the alleged cover-up was the straw that broke the camel’s back for what is now a majority of House Democrats. Why this “art-of-the-deal” blunder, and why now?

Critics point out that the latest scandal is far from Trump’s most harmful escapade. Trump’s record is full of controversies on the international stage, and unlike his now-infamous phone call with the Ukrainian leader, many of them are drenched in blood. His administration has backed the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen’s brutal war, and the U.N. has said the U.S., Britain and France may be complicit with war crimes committed against civilians there. Trump defended the Saudi crown [prince] even as it become increasingly clear that orders to kidnap, kill and dismember James Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who wrote for the Washington Post, came from the top of the royal government.

Then there is the carnage of Trump’s military. U.S. airstrikes and attacks have contributed to a spike in civilian casualties in Afghanistan, where a U.S. drone strike reportedly killed at least 30 civilian farmers resting in a field earlier this month. Earlier this year, the U.N. warned that the U.S.-led coalition fighting [officially] ISIS in Syria was responsible for a high number of civilian casualties and may be guilty of war crimes.

Of course, Trump did not initiate the U.S.’s involvement in these conflicts, but he is the military’s commander-in-chief. He frequently boasts about U.S. military might, and his saber-rattling has stoked fears that the U.S. could plunge into war with both Iran and Venezuela. His decision to back out of the Iran nuclear deal and place “maximum pressure” on Iran and its economy has only heightened tensions with the major oil producer, and brought us to the brink of war.

Is attempting to coerce a foreign government with U.S. aid, as Trump is accused of doing, really more significant than all the bloody violence that comes with belligerent foreign policy? War is deadly and destructive; U.S. invasions and occupations have taken hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced millions more in recent decades. One 2018 study estimates that the War on Terror alone is directly responsible for about half a million deaths, including thousands of U.S. soldiers.

“That’s what’s at stake here: Human lives are at stake, both at home and abroad,” said Francis Boyle, a professor of international law at Illinois University, in an interview. He added that U.S. veterans continue to suffer from high rates of PTSD, suicide and other health problems after serving in foreign wars.

President Nixon resigned before he could be impeached over his role in the Watergate scandal, not the horrific violence resulting from the failed U.S. war with Vietnam. President Clinton ordered military strikes against several countries while in office, including the bombing of a major pharmaceutical supplier in Sudan apparently mistaken for a chemical weapons plant, with long-lasting humanitarian consequences. But, as Boyle puts it, Clinton was essentially impeached by the House for “lying” about extramarital “fellatio” — not authorizing mass violence.

Efforts to impeach President George H.W. Bush never caught on with mainstream Democrats, even as his war-making plunged the U.S. into extended quagmires in the Middle East. In 1991, Boyle served as an adviser to a Democrat in Congress who introduced articles of impeachment against Bush senior for launching the Persian Gulf War and risking the lives of U.S. soldiers in a conquest for oil.

Later, President George W. Bush survived calls for impeachment and was elected to a second term — even though his administration resorted to torture (an international war crime) and its claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction proved to be false after U.S. forces invaded Iraq in 2003. The war took a heavy toll on the Iraqi people and continues today. President Obama’s drone strikes in the Middle East killed civilians – and three U.S. citizens in Yemen, including a 16-year-old boy.

Why doesn’t Congress pursue impeachment for war crimes?

“Something domestic resonates more with Congress and the American people and that’s what we are seeing today,” Boyle said. “Then again, we are talking about war crimes and crimes against humanity and torture, which is quite serious, perhaps far more serious constitutionally and legally than, you know, domestic violations.”

The U.S. has often resisted international accountability for war crimes, and Trump has not been shy about that kind of resistance himself. His administration has refused to cooperate with an international court investigating war crimes in Afghanistan, forcing the court to abandon its proceedings. He has also considered presidential pardons for several U.S. war criminals.

Boyle argues that acts considered war crimes under international law easily translate to impeachable offenses under the U.S. Constitution.

“Legally — and, I think, constitutionally — there is no difference, because most rules of international law we are talking about here have been incorporated into United States domestic law,” such as the Geneva Conventions and Hague Conventions of the 20th century, Boyle said. “These are treaties that have received the advice and consent of the United States Senate and were incorporated into U.S. law.”

Yet, Boyle said, at is this point, voters in the U.S. may be “inured” to never-ending war and violence overseas, even if it’s being waged in their name. This could explain why presidents face impeachment for matters that have nothing to do with life or death.

Of course, there are plenty of domestic policies of the Trump administration that could inspire public outrage toward impeachment – policies that raise serious legal questions under the Constitution. Trump’s move to divert federal funding towards his pet project, “the wall” along the Mexican border, would be a good example, along with the humanitarian crisis his policies are exacerbating there.

Yet impeaching president Trump on any of this would require public pressure on Congress, and with issues like immigration remaining highly partisan, it’s unlikely we will see that kind of accountability anytime soon. In the meantime, we must settle for the latest Trumpian scandal, which indeed reeks of seriously ethical and constitutional violations — even if those have nothing to do with war and peace or life and death.

No, Trump’s Ukraine scandal does ‘have something to do with war and peace’; with selling weapons for bloody war in eastern Ukraine. And the Democratic party leadership prefers impeaching Trump for this one transgression among oh so many Trump transgressions, because it was against their senior politician Joe Biden and his Ukraine gas son Hunter Biden. While Joe Biden and Hunter Biden are far from blameless on Ukraine; as pointed out by Joe Lauria and Patrick Martin in the USA.

Democrats frame impeachment drive as defense of “national security”: here.

CIA sets terms for Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into Trump’s crimes: here.

Democrats praise CIA whistleblower on Ukraine, [but, like Trump] persecute Manning, Assange and Snowden: here.