Vale, Robert Fisk

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.

Robert Fisk.

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.

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Australia seems to be living in another world when it comes to rugby contests with New Zealand

When Australian scrum-half Nic White was walking off the field after the whistle blew for half-time in the third Bledisloe Cup game on 31 October, he was given a headset and microphone by Fox Sports and asked for his take on the game upto that point.

Australia had been outplayed by New Zealand in the first 40 minutes and were trailing 0-26, meaning that the horse had well and truly bolted and any chance of them making a fight of it had disappeared.

But White seemed to be in an alternate universe. “No disrespect, but they haven’t done a whole lot, it’s just been all our mistakes. We’re just gifting them points,” was what he had to offer.

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Australia pulls in new kids on the block for crucial Bledisloe Cup game

The focal point of the third Bledisloe Cup game in Sydney on Saturday will be the Australian back-line where two rookies will be playing as fly-half and centre; that, incidentally, is the place on the field which many opposition players slip through when making a line-break.

Noah Lolesio and Irae Simone will be under a lot of scrutiny and it may well be the game that establishes them. Both have come in because of injuries to the regulars in these positions, James O’Connor and Matt Toomua respectively. It will be a literal baptism of fire.

For the second time in as many years, Australia will be going into a Bledisloe Cup game against New Zealand with more Pacific Islanders in its ranks than Anglo-Saxons.

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Australian sports writer’s predictions prove to be those of a false prophet

After the first match in the Bledisloe Cup series ended in a 16-all draw, Australian sports writers were on a giddy high, predicting that the dominance of the All Blacks had more or less ended and the big boys had been caught with their pants down.

Well before this hype began, at the end of the game, there was a gesture by the Australian team which showed that its mental state was still very fragile. When the final whistle blew, the ball was still live, so the referee let play proceed.

A thrilling nine minutes ensued, with first Australia, and then New Zealand, threatening to score. Strangely, though, neither team thought of attempting a drop-goal to win the game. After one of the New Zealand forays, the Australians regained the ball and fly-half James O’Connor kicked it into touch, ending the game.

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Something fishy about Trump’s taxes? Did nobody suspect it all along?

Recently, the New York Times ran an article about Donald Trump having paid no federal income taxes for 10 of the last 15 years; many claimed it was a blockbuster story and that it would have far-reaching effects on the forthcoming presidential election.

If this was the first time Trump’s tax evasion was being mentioned, then, sure, it would have been a big deal.

But right from the time he first refused to make his tax returns public — before he was elected — this question has been hanging over Trump’s head.
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One feels sorry for Emma Alberici, but that does not mask the fact that she was incompetent

Last month, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, a taxpayer-funded entity, made several people redundant, due to a cut in funding by the Federal Government. Among them was Emma Alberici, a presenter who has been lionised a great deal as someone with great talents, but is actually a mediocre hack who lacks ability.

What marked Alberici out is the fact that she had the glorious title of chief economics correspondent at the ABC, but was never seen on any TV show giving her opinion about anything to do with economics. Over the last two years, China and the US have been engaged in an almighty stoush; Australia, as a country that considers the US as its main ally and has China as its major trading partner, has naturally been of interest too.

But the ABC always put forward people like Peter Ryan, a senior business correspondent, or Ian Verrender, the business editor, when there was a need for someone to appear during a news bulletin and provide a little insight into these matters. Alberici, it seemed, was persona non grata.
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When will Michael Hayden explain why the NSA did not predict 9/11?

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.

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Serena Williams, please go before people start complaining

The US Open 2020 represented the best chance for an aging Serena Williams to win that elusive 24th Grand Slam title and equal the record of Australian Margaret Court. Seeds Bianca Andreescu (6), Ashleigh Barty (1), Simona Halep (2), Kiki Bertens (7) and Elina Svitolina (5) are all not taking part.

But Williams, now 39, could not get past Victoria Azarenka in the semi-finals, losing 1-6, 6-3, 6-3.

Prior to this, Williams had lost four Grand Slam finals in pursuit of Court’s record: Andreescu defeated her at the US Open in 2019, Angelique Kerber beat her at Wimbledon in 2018, Naomi Osaka took care of her in the 2018 US Open and Halep accounted for Williams at Wimbledon in 2019. In all those finals, Williams was unable to win more than four games in any set.
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Managing a relationship is hard work

For many years, Australia has been trading with China, apparently in the belief that one can do business with a country for yonks without expecting the development of some sense of obligation. The attitude has been that China needs Australian resources and the relationship needs to go no further than the transfer of sand dug out of Australia and sent to China.

Those in Beijing, obviously, haven’t seen the exchange this way. There has been an expectation that there would be some obligation for the relationship to go further than just the impersonal exchange of goods for money. Australia, in true colonial fashion, has expected China to know its place and keep its distance.

This is similar to the attitude the Americans took when they pushed for China’s admission to the World Trade Organisation: all they wanted was a means of getting rid of their manufacturing so their industries could grow richer and an understanding that China would agree to go along with the American diktat to change as needed to keep the US on top of the trading world.
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History lessons at a late stage of life

In 1987, I got a job in Dubai, to work for a newspaper named Khaleej (Gulf) Times. I was chosen because the interviewer was a jolly Briton who came down to Bombay to do the interview on 12 June.

Malcolm Payne, the first editor of the newspaper that had been started in 1978 by Iranian brothers named Galadari, told me that he had always wanted to come and pick some people to work at the paper. By the time he got the oppotrunity to do so, he had been pushed out of the editorship by both the Pakistani and Indian journalists who worked there.

For some strange reason, he took a liking to me. At the end of about 45 minutes of what was a much more robust conversation than I had ever experienced in earlier job interviews, which were normally tense affairs, Payne told me, “You’re a good bugger, Samuel. I’ll see you in Dubai.”
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