The veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk died recently at the age of 74, and his death means one of the Western world’s journalists who best understood the region has left the scene.
Fisk lived in Beirut for most of the 30-plus years he covered the region and reported the troubles in Northern Ireland before venturing out of the country.
He reported on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the continuing woes in that country. Fisk interviewed the al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden thrice and also covered the US invasion of Iraq.
Some questioned his approach to journalism; he did not believe in getting opinions from both sides, so-called balanced journalism. Rather, it was his belief that the job of a reporter was to provide an outlet for the underdog.
His famous example was that of the liberation of a concentration camp. And he asked whether one should be expected to get a quote from a SS guard for balance, a query which nobody has attempted to answer.
As America marks the 19th anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Centre towers by terrorists, it is a good time to ask when General Michael Hayden, head of the NSA at the time of 9/11, will come forward and explain why the agency was unable to detect the chatter among those who had banded together to wreak havoc in the US.
Before I continue, let me point out that nothing of what appears below is new; it was all reported some four years ago, but mainstream media have conspicuously avoided pursuing the topic because it would probably trouble some people in power.
The tale of how Hayden came to throw out a system known as ThinThread, devised by probably the most brilliant metadata analyst, William Binney, at that time the technical director of the NSA, has been told in a searing documentary titled A Good American.
How many mistakes should one accept in a book before it is pulled from sale? In the normal course, when a book is accepted for publication by a recognised publishing company, there are experienced editors who go through the text, correct it and ensure that there are no major bloopers.
Then there are fact-checkers who ensure that what is stated within the book is, at least, mostly aligned with public versions of events from reliable sources.
How do you evaluate a book before buying? If it were from a traditional bookshop, then one scans some pages at least. The art master in my secondary school told his students of a method he had: read page 15 or 16, then flip to page 150 and read that. If the book interests you, then buy it.
But when it’s online buying, what happens? Not every book you buy is from a known author and many online booksellers do not offer the chance to flip through even a few pages. At times, this ends with the buyer getting a dud.
One book I bought recently proved to be a dud. I am interested in the outcome of the civil war in Sri Lanka where I grew up. Given that, I picked up the first book about the ending of the war, written in 2011 by Australian Gordon Weiss, a former UN official. This is an excellent account of the whole conflict, one that also gives a considerable portion of the history of the island and the events that led to the rise of tensions between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. Continue reading “The Rise and Fall of the Tamil Tigers is a third-rate book. Don’t waste your money buying it”
Nineteen days before it marks a decade since the end of the civil war between Sinhalese and Tamils, Sri Lanka is again in turmoil following a co-ordinated series of bombings by Islamic terrorists on Easter Sunday, nine days ago.
The Sri Lankan authorities appear to have become quite lackadaisical in their attitude towards security on the island, given that so many people could be killed in what appears to be a well-organised bombing campaign with simultaneous blasts in different parts of the country, all aimed at Christians celebrating Easter. Continue reading “Sri Lanka faces more bloodshed ahead unless govt acts”
The worst airport in the world is in Los Angeles. This is the opinion of one who has passed through airports in Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, Dallas, Orlando, Washington DC, Singapore, Bangkok, Frankfurt, Berlin, Hamburg, Cancun, Colombo, Dubai and London (Heathrow and Gatwick).
I have passed through LA in 2013, 2014 and 2016. Why does LA qualify as the worst? The buildings and facilities are alright but the staff are both incredibly inefficient and rude. They do not seem to give a damn about doing their jobs â€“ which is to ensure that passengers get through the airport as fast as possible and catch their connecting flights or leave for their homes.
It is common to find airport staff â€” and there are legions of them â€” lounging around while crowds of passengers try desperately to get through the maze-like rigmarole that passes for immigration. There is no thought given to the fact that there may be passengers who have little time to catch a connection â€“ anyone who wants to seek assistance has to go searching for some majordomo who is in charge, some tinpot dictator who is located at a considerable distance away from the milling crowd. Continue reading “The worst airport in the world? Easy, it’s Los Angeles”
THERE are obvious questions which should have been put to the police in the wake of the shooting of Numan Haider, an 18-year-old Muslim man, in the Melbourne suburb of Endeavour Hills on Tuesday (September 23) night.
But it’s doubtful that any reporter from the mainstream media — which appears to function more as a propaganda arm of the government — will ask these queries.
They call them anti-terror raids, though one has to ask seriously whether they are stopping anything at all. An idle conversation where a man who is worked up blurts out, “I would like to shove a bomb up his arse” can always be interpreted by an over-zealous, dumb police officer as a terror threat.
I KID you not. This was a serious question put to David Kilcullen, a so-called counter-insurgency expert, by Emma Alberici, one of the most glorious examples of incompetence at the Australian national broadcaster.
Now Alberici, one would assume, has some idea about the size of the Middle East. One would also assume that she is aware that in no conflict has air power, no matter how awesome, been able to drive an enemy out of a battle zone.
How did she ask such a dumb question?
Despite her stupidity, this is the woman chosen to front one of the ABC’s national programmes twice or thrice a week. She draws a salary of around $190,000 per annum and sits there, tilting her head from side to side, and asking stupid questions. And this is not the first time I have had occasion to point this out.
The discussion revolved around the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant – which now calls itself Islamic State – a militant group which has made rapid gains in taking over towns and cities in Iraq, and some parts of Syria. It is also fighting in the south of Lebanon. The US has launched air strikes on the group to protect minority sects which are being terrorised and fleeing their residences.
The choice of Kilcullen to discuss matters relating to militancy is questionable. According to a genuine expert, Kilcullen was one of those, who along with John Nagl and other counter-insurgency “experts”, devised a strategy in Afghanistan that aimed to unite Afghans by trying to Westernise them via popular elections, installing womenâ€™s rights, dismantling tribalism, introducing secularism and establishing NGO-backed bars and whorehouses in Kabul. When the West finally leaves that war-torn country later this year, the Taliban will be back within another six months.
But let’s leave that alone; maybe the choice of Kilcullen was made by someone else. However, no matter who chooses the guest to be interviewed, it is the presenter’s choice to do some preparation and not end up looking stupid. Alberici is a master of the art of putting her foot in her mouth.
A week ago, a young man named Steve Cannane presented Lateline. He had as his guest Martin Chulov, the Middle East correspondent for the Guardian. Chulov is an old hand in the Mideast and very sound on the subject. Cannane did not put a foot wrong; he had prepared well and asked intelligent questions. The whole interview was gripping and highly informative stuff.
And then we have Alberici. Why, oh why, can the ABC not find a better presenter? In the past, the likes of Maxine McKew and Virginia Trioli were excellent presenters on the same programme; Tony Jones does an adequate job on other nights of the week now.
What is the hold that Alberici has on the ABC top brass? She was a miserable failure at hosting a programme called Business Breakfast which gave many people indigestion. For that, she has been made the presenter of what is arguably the ABC’s second-most important news and current affairs programme after 7.30. At the ABC, it would appear, nothing succeeds like failure.