Truth & Lies at the Photographer's Gallery

by Miranda

The Photographers' Gallery in London, as part of #ConspiracyWeek, is featuring UFO material: slides, handwritten index cards and photographs featuring sightings of UFOs. Apparently Earth governments are suppressing evidence that they are in touch with extra terrestrials. There were an photographs with very samey looking flying saucers and index cards which said things like: 'looked up and saw this object moving slowly overhead.  Having a camera in hand Joe got one shot before it speeded up and flew away.'

In the same week I went to a brilliant Darwin lecture by Professor David Runciman on our greatest conspiracy theorist Donald Trump. In a talk, titled Dealing with Extremism, Runciman, standing in for Theresa May, examined the relationship between harmless conspiracy theories, extremism and whether in this post-truth environment political extremists and conspiracy theorists are the same. The full lecture will soon be available here and more information on his research into conspiracy and its impact on democracy is found here.

Gratefully someone at the Photographers' Gallery contested Runciman's findings.  In fact Donald is just an alien.

The Hill

By Mary Jennings

Mary has been running in Cambridge and East Anglia for some years now and also coaches others.

I’m thinking about that hill again. Yes, I knew it was there but the sharp turn out of the village car-park out onto the main road is at a 90 degree angle and obscures the view. The sight of that long slow hill is always a shock.

A narrow ridge high about the roadway on the left-hand side , runners trying to pass or be passed with little room to do so and anxious about slipping and sliding down into the traffic . It’s always a dull grey morning at this stage, this section overshadowed by trees with the long branches hanging above us and hedgerows threatening to push us away into the road.

Now the hill is beginning to get to me, 200 meters in, the slow steady rise results in torturedbreathing, grunts and grimaces of those around me, my breathing is ok, it’s the muscle just above my knees that’s feeling it.

Count. And so I begin.  After counting up to a hundred, I close off one finger on my left hand, a count of one hundred is approximately 100 meters, nine more to go, the hill is  about a mile long.  Another 100 plods of my right foot, another finger closed off. Hard-going. Must do more hill-training, I remind myself yet again.  But difficult to find hills in the flatlands of Cambridge. Left-hand is now a fist, 500 meters, half-way there. Start again with the fingers on the right hand.

Pace dropping but I will not walk. Head down. Don’t stop. Pass that runner just ahead, he’s having difficulty, more than me it seems. Watch out for the narrow ledge. Will he move to let me pass? Probably too much in his own head of painedbody, to hear me behind him.  I’ll need to speed up to pass him. Can I do it? Push on.

I’ve lost count. Drat.  Was that 49 or 59? Start again at 40.  Why does running prevent my brain doing something simple like counting? Paula says she counts – does her brain go to mush too. Keep on going on. The sky opens up a little above the horizon through the tree canopy. Brightens me up.  The hill begins to level out.

A yellow-coated marshal shouts ‘well-done’. It feels like she means it just for me yet there are 300 runners ahead of me and she has congratulated us all. The course turns left, the road opens up, the sun widens, three miles still to go. But the hill is behind me.  Hurrah.  Til this year’s Saffron Walden 10K in September. 

Hills in the flatland of Cambridge City wanted desperately by middle-aged runner – Google only gives Hills Road which has not even one hill never mind hills plural. But I will find them.

Jeremy! Help!

By Steven Anderson

Steven lives in a village north of Cambridge and spent most of his working life in a mental health team based in East London. He is now summoning the motivation to completely revise a teenage/young adult novel hastily written six years ago and continue with a paused crime novel. He writes a blog designed to make himself look opinionated and ridiculous.

A lie, like love, is not a simple thing. Like love, it can be obvious or camouflaged, well intentioned or destructive and many things beside. So, as a starter, I tend to split them up into lies and “lies.” Without the inverted commas, lies tend to be more straight forward, simpler, more black and white. But “lies” straddle both truth and falseness and when you are subject to them, they can mess with your mind. That’s why the Tories, and in particular David Cameron, are so horribly beguiling. Listen to them but never take them at face value. Treat their utterances as you would if you met an actual Gorgon in Sainsburys – dangerously interesting but not to be engaged with eye contact.

When David says the NHS is safe with us, he does so in a convincing and winning manner which is easily believable and ostensibly heartfelt. He has been a credible advocate of the NHS and in the past has invoked his family’s positive experience through ill health.

Does anyone believe this? Are they not overwhelmed by a total absence of credulity? Are they not up in arms about the application of capitalist market values to the NHS, the loading of debts to hospital trusts and their impending bankruptcies and failure, the worsening state of mental health provision?

It’s all a Tory charade, of course, and their top people are well versed in presenting their worm tongue values in a reassuring, no nonsense form which large swathes of the electorate find credible rather than ironical.

Help, Jeremy! Help save us! Can you?

The Chilcot Inquiry in half an hour

Peter Oborne's brilliant precis of the monumentally delayed Chilcot Inquiry on Radio 4's The Report, provides findings in half an hour.  He asks the questions:

1.  Was the information presented by the Blair government on weapons of mass destruction and other matters an accurate reflection of the underlying facts?
ANSWER: NO, he misrepresented and he misled. 

2.  Did our military action in Iraq increase the threat to Britain from al-Qaeda?
ANSWER: YES, the MI5 budget had to be doubled.

3.  Did Tony Blair enter into a secret agreement with George W Bush that the UK would support US military action come what may?
ANSWER: Peter Oborne cannot find unequivocal proof, but a leaked memo, on the 17th October seems to prove that the answer to this is YES. 

4.  Was the war legal?
ANSWER: NO, a legal war is one explicitly authorised by the UN Security Council, and Blair was not able to secure a resolution or a mandate. 

1,543 Days Waiting for the Chilcot Inquiry

The May election has been and gone and still we are waiting.  The BBC are predicting it may take another year. The Iraq Inquiry website has all the dynamism of a headstone.  Nothing has happened there since February. 

This is the week Tony Blair finally stepped down as Middle East Envoy.  One US official called his appointment a 'standing joke', while a British Diplomat, who resigned over the Iraq Invasion, tweeted: 'At last some good news from the Middle East'. 

The news must be bad for Tony if Chilcot is taking this long to publish.  But will we be allowed to see the extent of it, or are these 1,543 day less about truth telling than trying to clear up a mess.


An immensely powerful documentary, says even the Daily Mail.  Narrating the voices of sanity about the illegal invasion of Iraq - John Le Carré, Mark Rylance, Ken Loach, Hans Blix, with a Chief of Staff who admits the extent of America's lies. 

There's Will Saunders who painted 'no war' on the Sydney Opera House, Robbie Liben who risked his job to stage a 15th February protest in Antartica, Philippe Sands, Professor of Law at UCL, who explains why the war in Iraq was illegal and how Blair should be held to account.  There's also a wonderful pink harpie by the wonderful name of Medea Benjamin, who haunts Donald Rumsfeld screaming: 'War Criminal' whenever he leaves the house.

Trailer here.


Three Lies to win an Election

Dr Simon Duffy, director of the Centre for Welfare Reform writes in the Huffington Post on the lies surrounding over spend, public spend and what was said by those in government about how these austerity measures will go.

The BBC misreading that this result reveals a shuffle to the right ignores an SNP tsunami demanding fairness, community and justice. 

I received a pretend email from Harriet Harman yesterday, asking if I would join the labour party.  20,000 have since Friday.  Maybe it's time.  

Irvine Welsh on Solidarity

Irvine Welsh in yesterday's Guardian calls on the English left to get the 'real villains in its sights' - To defeat: 'neoliberalism, austerity, the preservation and protection of a secretive nonce ruling class and the destruction of ... the welfare state.' 

Why have we mistaken the 'type that leads us into slaughtering Iraqi children, based on lies' as the type of leader we want? 

Scotland has become, to those in Westminster, 'a headache'.  Perhaps Scottish Independence, rather than being another occasion to whine about being abandoned to a hundred years of Tory rule, would force those of us south of the border to get onside.  To turn Labour into the kind of party who deserves our vote.

Vote Something Else

Sir Nicholas MacPherson, permanent secretary to the Treasury, exposes another Tory lie. 'The 2008 crisis was a banking crisis, pure and simple.  Excessive risk had built up in the system; the regulators failed to appreciate the scale of that risk or to address it.'

The Office for Budget Responsibility agrees that overspending did not cause the deficit.  'Looking back at the pre-crisis period, it is hard to argue that tax and spending policies implemented ... were in themselves an important cause of the crisis or the recession.'

My daughter is voting at school.  She told me at she wouldn't be voting Labour.  Yesterday at the children's hustings the Tory candidate had given convincing arguments that Labour were behind two economic crashes, and she was going Green.


Her Life has no Value

Storyville on BBC4, originally scheduled for Sunday 8th March,but in the face of possible legal action from the Indian  Government, was screened last night.  It explores how gender inequality is at the root of rape.  Following the murder of a 23 year old woman on a Delhi bus, Leslee Udwin interviews the rapists. She is told: 'A girl is more responsible for rape than a boy.'

This, we reassure ourselves, is the view of people in another society, different from ours.  Yet here in the UK girls are often policed by their mothers over what they wear, and ordered not to indulge in 'foolish behaviour.' Because 'common sense' in a woman is what is required.  A female barrister is quoted as saying in an article for The Journal of Law & Society: 'I mean the silly woman is prepared to be picked up by a stranger and go back for "coffee", you know, what does she expect?'

Attrition rates for rape in this country are huge.  Attrition, is when the police, or the CPS classify a case as NFA - No Further Action.  Susan Lea found 61% of rape cases were NFA-ed, 31% by police and 14% by the CPS.  This was put down to insufficient evidence, intimidation of the victim, and character of the complainant - 'her appearance, her behaviour, her lifestyle were all viewed as obstacles'. Perhaps here, it would be wrong to say 'her life has no value', but it definitely has less. 

Dominque Strauss Kahn

They are saying DSK should be acquitted.  He is being tried for who he is, they say, rather than for what he has done.  But of course someone is lying.  There was Nafissatou Diallo, in the US, Tristane Banon, a young writer in Paris, then Jade and Mounia, in Lille.  Because Strauss Kahn's words are ironically more convincing to a court than a sex worker's, both women have been persuaded to drop charges, though he penetrated them without consent.  The court seems more interested in whether Strauss Kahn knew that Jade and Mounia were prostitutes, rather than in the corroborating proof that he is an aggressive sexual predator.

Though someone is lying the story is always depressingly familiar. 

Chilcot Delay

Sir John is unable to set a date for publication.  Round up of headlines available from the BBC here.  An extract from the Guardian's blog, which reported on the Iraq Inquiry debate in the House of Commons, 29th January 2015 discusses deceit.  

'The Press Association has more details of the row that erupted between Jack Straw, and Paul Flynn and George Galloway. (See 2.05pm.) Flynn said Straw should have responded earlier in the debate that he took Britain to war on a lie.  Straw said:

I’ve dealt briefly with [John] Baron’s intervention because this debate is about the Iraq inquiry and its timing, not about the substance, and I would be slapped down very quickly [by the Speaker]. But just for the avoidance of doubt I want to point out to Mr Flynn, the whole of the Security Council judged in November 2002 that there was a threat to international peace and security ...

At that point Galloway started shouting at him:

Because they believed you and Colin Powell .... Because they were fooled ... You are lying.

Lindsay Hoyle intervened and silenced Galloway.  Then Flynn resumed his speech.

The intervention [from Mr Straw] was contemptible and I share the view of Mr Galloway about it. We remember the ignominy of Mr Straw walking behind [US former secretary of state] Colin Powell after Colin Powell presented a tissue of lies about the threat. It wasn’t true and Mr Straw was supporting him in those lies. They were lies, they were untrue, and they sent all those young men and others to their deaths.

Final Word

In the end the response from Save the Children wasn't satisfying, but it was, like everything that relates to Blair indicative of how difficult it is for anyone to admit responsibility for bad judgment and lousy decision making.  Coincidentally the delay to the Iraq Inquiry was debated Thursday 29th January.  Therefore it may be some time before Blair moves off the front pages.  Below is the final word from Miranda Pinch:

Dear friends,

I am writing to you all from Jerusalem. I have been in Israel and the West Bank for the past 10 days with a very full programme, which is why I have been unable to work on this before.

I received a public statement from Save the Children on Monday 19th January, which I returned to them as it was much too long and did not give the straight forward apology that I had expected. Brendon Cox did reply a few days later with a slightly revised version and I have been unable to get the statement amended any further.

THEREFORE HERE is an abridged version of the Save The Children UK statement. You can read the full statement here -

'We wanted to respond to you and your fellow signatories and to apologise for the upset that this award has caused.

As you know, this was a decision made by Save the Children US and although we were made aware of the decision, and we passed on the invite to his office at their request, we weren't part of the decision making process. IN RETROSPECT WE SHOULD HAVE FORESEEN THE CONTROVERSY THIS MIGHT GENERATE.

For a number of reasons this is not a decision Save UK would have taken.

This isn't because Tony Blair doesn't deserve recognition for the leadership he showed on Africa – he does - but because his other actions, particularly those on Iraq which Save the Children opposed strongly at the time, overshadow how the public see him in the UK.

In the US his public profile is very different and therefore it’s possible to disentangle his actions on Africa from his broader track record. In the UK this is more difficult

Finally, we wanted to reassure you that work is ongoing within the global Save the Children movement to look at what lessons can be learnt as we want nothing to distract us from our work to make this world a better place for children and their families. '

As you can see, this was not quite the straightforward apology about the failure of judgement on the part of Justin Forsyth that we had hoped for, but it does go some way in accepting some responsibility and in admitting that lessons have been learned.

I know many of you were disappointed that I was not able to achieve more. Sadly a UK petition of just under 125,000 was not enough to put much pressure on the US via the UK and the person who comes out of this whole affair really badly is Tony Blair himself. He must have realised that accepting such an award was controversial and having been made aware of this petition, he still chose not return it of his own volition. That, I believe, confirms what an inappropriate recipient he was.

It was never my intention to demonize Save the Children as they do perform a lot of good work around the globe. I had hoped that for their own sake the UK might have put more pressure on the USA to rescind the award so that they could regain some of the trust and goodwill that they had before.

Best wishes

Stop Another War

Last night attended a public meeting run by Stop the War, at which Tahira from Iraqi Women Solidarity and Andrew Murray, founder of Stop the War spoke. 

The situation on the ground in Iraq has deteriorated.  Human Rights Watch reports that there have been countless civilian attacks, and death sentences for opponents of the government.  When a Shia person is kidnapped, the ransom is paid, and the person returned.  When a Sunni is kidnapped, the ransom is paid, and the family receive a body.  Rather than liberating Iraq the West has led the country into chaos and despair. 

And of course the situation in Syria is beyond imagining.  Next demonstration -  Time for Truth about the Iraq War - on 29th January on College Green SW1 to protest against the delay in the Chilcot Inquiry and the decision to begin bombing Iraq again. 


In the Independent's series of articles on 'The Iraq Report', Andy McSmith writes: 'producing evidence that Iraq still held WMDs' was one of 'the most contentious questions of the whole Iraq debacle – did Tony Blair lie when he claimed that there were WMDs still in Iraq? Over the years, the suspicion that he did has hardened into certainty. To many people the entire case against the war is encapsulated in the two words: “Blair lied.” To doubt that he lied is to be an apologist for war.'

McSmith goes onto argue that intelligence was not good - dissident Iraqis clearly always presuming the worst.

'Out of this circle of deception and self-deception came the formal document that is sometimes referred to as the “dodgy dossier”. To avoid confusion, it should be said that there were two dossiers that were called “dodgy” ... The dodgy dossier that mattered was the one presented to Parliament on 24 September 2002 by Tony Blair, who told MPs that it proved that “the weapons of mass destruction programme is not shut down; it is up and running now.

“It concludes,” he added, “that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons, that Saddam has continued to produce them, that he has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes, including against his own Shia population, and that he is actively trying to acquire nuclear weapons capability.”

But just as the Prime Minister could not know for certain that there were no WMDs left in Iraq, neither could he have known that there were any. He was not lying. He was presenting to Parliament a series of guesses made by the intelligence services – but he dressed them up as if they were hard facts backed by solid intelligence.' And that certainly is deceit.

Stop The War Coalition meets tonight - 26th January at the Friends' Meeting House in Cambridge.  Speakers include Andrew Murray, Julian Huppert and Dr Sanaa Al Khayat.

Global Legacy Award

Save the Children are taking some time to respond to Miranda Pinch's request for an apology.  Many signatories are disappointed we were unable to rescind the Award.  Apologies. However, as STC claim it was awarded by a completely different arm of the charity, overturning that decision was always going to be a big ask.

But the Chilcot Inquiry have got back to me regarding publication of their report: 

"Dear Ms Landgraf

Thank your for your e-mail of 12 January 2015 to Sir John Chilcot regarding the publication of the Iraq Inquiry report; I have been asked to reply.

You may have seen from the news media that Sir John, the Chairman of the Inquiry, wrote to the Prime Minister on Tuesday 20 January. In his letter he reported “substantial progress”. He outlines the reasons why he sees no realistic prospect that the report will be finalised and published before the May 2015 General Election. The Prime Minister wrote back to Sir John on the same day; in his letter he confirmed the importance of the Inquiry being comprehensive and independent.

Both letters are available on the Inquiry’s website –

Yours sincerely Graham Roberts

And then yesterday in the Guardian comes another reason to crochet.  Tony Blair's involvement with Gaddafi and rendition and lies.


Global Legacy Award Protest, Day One

Inspired by the #Torture Report and the decision by Save the Children to award Tony Blair a Global Legacy Award please join me in a #poppies inspired protest.  The intention is to crochet a flower for every child Blair's policies in the Middle East have forsaken.  The dead children, the brutalised, the injured, the orphaned, the children of injured and killed servicemen and women, and the children who have grown up to feel angry enough to wave black flags.  My child tells me it will take a lifetime.  

Day one:  Five flowers crocheted.  Thousands and thousands to go.

From the Save The Children website today:
Latest News: There is no school for half a million children in Northern Iraq. 



Although my brother marched past the Cenotaph today (I texted him about it this morning, using the word 'walking' and he pinged back: 'MARCHING'), I managed to miss the remembrance silence.  To my shame I was cleaning a toilet, and listening to Ira Glass interview Nicholas Lemann of the New Yorker magazine.  It is a recording from 2002, and discusses the motivation for war in the weeks before G.W. Bush and Tony Blair announced they would go ahead and invade Iraq.  Lemann's arguments are fully unpacked here, but as a taster, below, is a transcript excerpt of his interview with Glass, in which he paints a fools' future: the West, by invading, will 'remake the Middle East'.  

And as the Hawks had hoped for, it is in November 2014, thoroughly remade.

Nicholas Lemann

People in the administration are fond of quoting Bernard Lewis, the eminent historian, who has been down and briefed people at the White House and so on. And they will quote him saying, Arab culture, in particular, respects strength and shows of force. It's a warrior culture. So if you invade a country like Iraq and win, rather than that inflaming the Middle East, it will quiet the Middle East, because people will respect you more.

Ira Glass

[Aside] This, in a way, was the most surprising scenario I heard from anyone, Lemann's summary of how the Hawks imagine all of this could work in the end.

Nicholas Lemann

Well, I think this is the scenario. First thing that happens is, we would set up some kind of permanent or semi-permanent military base or presence in Iraq. We could get rid of the Prince Sultan Air Force Base in Saudi Arabia and make Iraq the United States' military base of operations. It's a nice central location in the Middle East. Second of all, having a friendly government there and having a steady supply of oil from the Iraqi oil fields would make us much less dependent on Saudi oil. And that's a good thing, because then you get more leverage with the Saudis.

So here's some of the ways it would play out, according to the Hawks. First of all, the government of Iran would fall to some of these kind of student protest groups or other reform groups.

Ira Glass

Because the student groups would see, oh, look, there's been change in Iraq. We want a more secular society, more modern society.

Nicholas Lemann

Yes. And they'd be getting heavy encouragement and funding from the United States. Syria is another country where the Hawks very clearly want to see the government fall, and believe that it may well fall in the wake of a successful US invasion of Iraq.

Then, I think, what they'd like to have happen is the two really big countries in the Middle East that are our friends, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, we could go to them and have very serious and soulful conversations with the governments, in which we say, we want a little better behavior out of you guys. We want you to really crack down on the Islamists. We don't want any more movies of protocols of the Elders of Zion on Egyptian television. We want you to move toward allowing opposition parties, including secular parties. Just kind of put the lid on the tide of Islamist extremism in your country. And if you don't, expect there to be negative consequences that will be short of military invasion, but painful to you from us, the United States.

I think we are going to war. And I don't think it's not about weapons of mass destruction and the idea that Saddam might acquire nuclear weapons. And I don't think it's irrelevant that he's a brutal, totalitarian dictator who has murdered his own people. But I really think the primary goal here is to try to use this as an opening into a remaking of the Middle East.

Post Consumer Waste

By Michele Randall

As an artist, Michele creates pieces that reflect the immediacy of her daily existence - her son's dispatched army men, a daughter's discarded thong, and her husband's disarray of course lessons and proposals.  Last Spring she completed a Masters in Fine Art at Penn State University, studying printmaking. 

Cut out images of toy army men made from used cereal and snack boxes with high sugar content.

Cut out images of toy army men made from used cereal and snack boxes with high sugar content.

Renewable Resource

By Michele Randall

Outside of one year in Cambridge, UK, Michele has lived on the east coast of the United States her entire life.  As an artist, she creates pieces that reflect the immediacy of her daily existence - her son's dispatched army men, a daughter's discarded thong, and her husband's disarray of course lessons and proposals.  Last Spring she completed a Masters in Fine Art at Penn State University, studying printmaking. 

Visitors to the gallery are encouraged to remove a soldier and take it with them.  Through time another image is revealed beneath.   More ...

Visitors to the gallery are encouraged to remove a soldier and take it with them.  Through time another image is revealed beneath.  More ...