Climbing Everest, adventure tourism and the obscurity of the Sherpas

An Australian mountain climber, Jason Kennison, died while descending from the summit of Mount Everest. His death is sadly not an isolated incident. The number of climber fatalities on Mount Everest has increased over the years. Why is summiting Everest such an important target of mountaineering accomplishment?

The goal of reaching the summit of Everest – the rooftop of the world, as it has been called – has its origins in a combination of great power politics and the growth of mountaineering/adventure tourism. May this year – May 29 to be exact – marked 70 years since the successful summiting of Mount Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzig Norgay. Everest, known as Chomolungma in Chinese, or Sagarmatha in Nepali, is 8849 metres above sea level at its peak. Hillary’s expedition was sponsored by Britain.

British political elites in Whitehall understood the summiting of Everest as a crucial soft power achievement. Britain had given up its long term colony of India in 1947 – the empire was declining and losing prestige. British officials grasped the importance of conquering Everest as a symbolic, yet culturally powerful, objective.

Everest, straddling the border between China and Nepal, was viewed as a strategic consideration. If London could organise a climbing team to reach the rooftop of the world, that would be a huge boost for the flagging great power credentials of the decrepit British empire. Way back in the 1920s, British foreign office officials wanted to conquer Everest, worried lest it fall into ‘foreign hands.’

Richard Woodward, of Coventry University, wrote that the Himalayas represented the last earthly frontier to be conquered. The ultimate mountaineering trophy, the British organised the 1953 expedition – even though technically, Hillary was a New Zealander and Norgay was Nepalese. However, the message that Everest’s summiting by a British team was unequivocal – the empire was still resilient, technologically capable and relevant. And a few days later, on June 2, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II occurred.

The members of the successful expedition, including Hillary himself, were widely promoted in the media, in an early version of celebrity diplomacy. The Foreign Office used its connections to facilitate talks, lectures and appearances by the team, broadcasting the achievements of these mountaineers worldwide.

Cultural soft power is a technique deployed by empires – the United States, during the Cold War, sent Louis Armstrong on tours of East Berlin and Budapest to counter claims of racism and discrimination in the larger American society. Cultural soft power is sometimes more powerful than bombs and bullets.

The Sherpas, the small tribe inhabiting the Himalayan borderlands between China and Nepal, are the true unsung heroes of the Everest story. Taking huge risks for their wealthy clientele, they are the ones who ensure the safety and security of the non-Sherpa climbers. Unlike the Sherpas, the well-to-do climbers are paying to take risks, and then offloading the heavy lifting to the poorer Sherpas. In 2018, the NPR media outlet noted that one third of all Everest climbing deaths have been Sherpas.

While Hillary’s triumph is remembered around the world, the Sherpa climbers have set records for the number of times Everest has been summited. Lakpa Gelu, a Sherpa, currently holds the record for the fastest summit of Everest, making it to the top in 10 hours and 56 minutes. Mountaineering may be a lucrative business for the Nepali government, but it is dangerous for the Sherpas.

Back in 2014, The Conversation published an article entitled “Everest tourism is causing a mountain of problems.” The author of that article makes the following important points:

Mountaineering in Nepal is now a commercialised operation that primarily consists of two main goals: profit for the government and an ego-boost for the participants. The true spirit of mountaineering adventure has long disappeared. This is why the government has lowered the climbing permit fee, to encourage more climbers who can buy into the Everest franchise.

Adventure tourism and extreme sports have grown exponentially over the recent decades. Mountaineering requires a specialised set of skills and physical stamina. Yet, with the rise of adventure tourism, for a fee, anyone can ascend the highest mountaintops in the world. Since the 1980s, there has been the Seven Summits challenge, where climbers attempt to summit the highest mountains on all continents.

Recreational climbers, increasing in numbers, have taken to Everest. It is not difficult to find pictures of the queues of climbers waiting to ascend the various stages of the climb to the ultimate summit on Everest. Let’s not forget the mounds of rubbish left by wealthy tourists at base camps and tent encampments on the way up the mountainside.

Indeed, waste management has emerged as a serious concern on Everest. The garbage left behind by recreational climbers consists of empty oxygen cylinders, food scraps, torn tents, and corpses. That’s right – the dead bodies of what were highly motivated, determined adventure climbers are left abandoned on Everest.

If you wish to climb Mt Everest, please go for it. If the thrill and excitement of ascending the world’s highest mountain is worthwhile goal in your estimation, then please do not let anything stand in your way. However, before you do so, take the time to understand the impact of commercialised mass mountaineering on Everest.

As Yana Wengel and her colleagues have explained, do not allow social media images, and the alluring ‘romance’ of past mountaineering achievements lull you into a false sense of security. While sleeping in a heated tent, and having your food prepared for you, think of the Sherpas.

The 75th anniversary of Nakba, the Palestine question and understanding the impact of 1948

Words are important, especially when it comes to modern history, because we should be clear about what we mean when we speak or write. When non-English words become part of the English-speaking lexicon, they enrich our conversation and understanding of the world. One such word is apartheid, from the Afrikaans, meaning apartness. It has come to connote a political and legal structure of entrenched racial discrimination. A word which we should all learn and understand, from the Arabic language, is Nakba – catastrophe.

What does Nakba refer to? It refers to the systematic dispossession and mass expulsion of Palestinians by Zionist armed forces and militia in 1947-48. Marked on May 14, 1948, that day is celebrated as Israeli Independence Day by Tel Aviv’s supporters. It took generations of struggle by the Palestinians, and their global activist allies, to gain recognition of the Nakba as a valid historical and political subject.

Since 1948, Tel Aviv has staunchly maintained that there was no expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians over the course of 1947-48. Even the grudging admission that Palestinians were forced to leave their homes and towns is rationalised as their own fault – Arab leaders ordered them to leave, is the main fictional claim to explain away the mass displacement of the Palestinians.

By raising the term Nakba, the Palestinians are countering the efforts of the Israeli government to whitewash and cover up its historic crimes in 1948. The expulsion of the Palestinian population was not just an accident, but the deliberate result of a purposeful plan by the Zionist leadership to seize Palestinian towns and land. The UN had decided to partition Palestine in 1947, by passing the resolution 181, which entrenched the creeping colonisation of Palestine during the British mandate period.

However, the Zionist forces went beyond even this partition, seizing lands and towns originally allocated to the proposed Arab state.

The UN partition plan for Palestine – map courtesy of Wikipedia

By May 1948, not only had Zionist forces seized more territory than they were originally allocated, but 750 000 Palestinians had been expelled from their towns and villages. Plan Dalet was the military operation, devised by the Haganah in British Mandate Palestine, to expel the Palestinians and seize their lands. Thousands of Palestinians were massacred, brutalised and dispossessed. More Jewish immigrants could be settled in the newly occupied territories.

Map courtesy of Al Jazeera

The West Bank and Gaza Strip were the only territories left remaining to the Palestinians. Thousands of refugees were crammed into refugee camps. It is no exaggeration to say that the Nakba involved the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. As for the false claim that the Palestinians were ordered to evacuate their homes, historian Walid Khalidi puts that lie to rest. The Arab and Muslim authorities instructed their officials to remain at their posts, continue supervising the mosques, lands and institutions of the nation.

One of the oft-repeated phrases deployed by Zionism’s supporters is that the Israelis, in contrast to the pre-1948 Palestinian population, made the desert bloom. The direct consequence of that claim is to legitimise the Zionist settlement of Palestine, which began under the British Mandate. The late Shimon Peres, former Israeli general and prime minister, made the claim that the Palestinians lived in isolated villages amidst large swathes of desert. It was the Israelis who cultivated the land and made the desert bloom.

This dismissal of the pre-1948 Palestinian population as just a bunch of peasants living in an empty desert serves to downplay the demand of the Palestinians for an independent state. The Zionist claim of having made the desert bloom has parallels with the white Australian notion of terra nullius. Even if the existence of an indigenous population is admitted, the notion that the colonial settlers developed the land is used to explain away the violent dispossession and cultural dispersal of the indigenous inhabitants.

The mythology of Zionists making the desert bloom may be comforting to Tel Aviv, but is demolished by the historical evidence. As Whitney Webb writes in Mintpress News magazine:

Indeed, prior to 1948, the historical record demonstrates that Palestinian farms were very productive and that both Palestinian Arabs and Jewish settlers were successful farmers. For example, a UN report on agriculture in Palestine between 1945 and 1946 recorded that Palestinian-grown crops accounted for nearly 80 percent of Palestine’s total agricultural yield that season, with Palestinian farms producing over 244,000 tons of vegetables, 73,000 tons of fruit, 78,000 tons of olives, and 5 million liters of wine.

This picture hardly matches that of a barren, fallow land left unused and uncultivated. In fact, Ottoman controlled Palestine was a centre of agricultural productivity and a growing, bustling urban sector. By depicting the Palestinians as ‘primitives’ or incompetent malingerers, colonial settler projects, such as Zionism in Israel (and similarly in Canada, Australia, the United States), the violence of the original settler occupation is minimised.

It is high time that the violence and dispossession of the Palestinians in the Nakba was more widely known and discussed.

Wartime fascist accomplices are transformed into noble martyrs courtesy of the United States

The old adage ‘you are known by the friends you keep’ has never been more relevant, especially with regard to the American-adopted cause célèbre of former Archbishop Stepinac of Croatia. Aloysius Stepinac, chief of the Catholic Church in Zagreb, Croatia, welcomed the establishment of the nazi puppet state by the Ustasha, in 1941. Misleadingly named the Independent State of Croatia (NDH is the acronym in Croatian), that regime went on to massacre Jews, Serbs, antifascist Croats and Bosnian Muslims throughout its brief existence.

Defeated by the communist Yugoslav Partisans, the political and military functionaries of the nazi-collaborating fanatical Ustasha regime fled into exile. Stepinac, who spent his tenure advocating for the NDH, remained in Yugoslavia. Put on trial for treason and collaboration with the enemy, he was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

His case became a cause célèbre for the US Congress, with senior American politicians depicting Stepinac as a martyr of Communist oppression. His crimes as an accomplice of a murderously fascist and racist regime was covered up.

There is no disputing that the role of the Catholic Church in wartime Croatia was one of deep involvement with the NDH government. No, Stepinac did not kill anyone himself, but his preaching and official endorsement of the nazi-collaborating NDH regime qualified him as a hate preacher. The Arab and Islamic worlds do not have a monopoly on hate preaching. Stepinac endorsed the violent racism of the Ustasha, and their vicious crimes – particularly the mass killings of the NDH- operated concentration camp at Jasenovac, appalled even the Nazis.

If Stepanic expressed any criticisms or reservations of the NDH regime’s mass atrocities, it was not out of concern for the lives of the racist Croat government’s many victims; it was because such conduct would drive Croats into the arms of the Yugoslav partisans. The new Yugoslav communist authorities agreed to release Stepinac – on condition that he leave the country forever. He refused, with the encouragement of the Vatican.

Meanwhile, senior figures in the Ustasha NDH wartime regime, including its leader Ante Pavelic, were escaping Europe to find sanctuary in Latin American nations via the now infamous ‘ratlines’. Essentially an underground network organised with the collusion of the Vatican, Pavelic and his nazi-collaborator friends escaped the danger of facing any war crimes trials. Stepinac however, imprisoned by the Yugoslav authorities, was the object of a campaign of lionisation, scrubbing his record as an accomplice of genocidal violence.

Numerous Congressional politicians took up the cause of Stepinac as a religious martyr suffering under the totalitarian Communist yoke. However, there was a problem. In 1948, Moscow expelled Belgrade from the Communist movement. The brewing conflict between Stalin and Marshall Tito erupted into the open. Washington sensed an opportunity to secure Yugoslavia’s orientation to the West.

Pushing for the release of Stepinac had to be balanced against the larger geopolitical objective of securing Yugoslav cooperation. Tito did indeed orient to the West, accepting American financial aid and establishing diplomatic relations with West European nations. The Yugoslav version of socialism morphed into a kind of state-managed capitalism, a marketisation of key areas of the economy. From the late 1940s, the Truman administration provided Yugoslavia with loans, military assistance and access to much needed supplies.

Washington continued to quietly urge Belgrade to release Stepinac, which they did in 1951. He died in 1960. In 2016, the Croatian government officially annulled the 1946 Yugoslav verdict of the Stepinac trial, a decision heavily condemned by Jewish organisations.

The Croat Ustasha and its followers enjoyed a new lease of life after the Second World War. Numerous wartime collaborators found sanctuary in Australia, among other Western nations. Organising clubs, sporting groups, founding churches and distributing publications, Ustasha cells popped up in the expatriate Croat community. A version of history sympathetic to the NDH made the rounds among the Croat migrant community.

Numerous Ustasha followers, tolerated by the Australian authorities as good anti communists, plotted and carried out terrorist acts against the wider Yugoslav migrant community, and targeted Whitlam-era Labour politicians for officially recognising the Yugoslav government. Until today, there are Croat expatriates who still admire the activities of the wartime NDH.

The Stepinac case is worth remembering – with thanks to Harry Blain in Jacobin magazine – for a number of reasons. The public campaign to endorse Stepinac was not an isolated example of aberrant behaviour by the US Congress. After the conclusion of World War 2, numerous ultranationalist Eastern European Nazi collaborators were surreptitiously spirited out of Europe and recruited by American intelligence agencies. Their horrifying crimes as servants of Nazi imperialism were overlooked, as they were regarded as reliable anticommunist militants in the Cold War.

There is another reason why we should remember the Stepinac case – because it demonstrates whom the US (and Britain) regard as worthy of friendship and support. It was not too long ago that both Washington and London listed the late Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC) as terrorist entities. Throughout the 1970s and 80s, Mandela was routinely dismissed as a Communist dupe and terrorist by the American and British governments.

As African Americans embraced the anti-apartheid struggle, the ruling circles in Washington and London continued to marginalise the ANC. The ostensible reason for this rejection was the ANC’s adoption of armed struggle. However, the violent racist crimes of former Nazi collaborators was swept under the carpet as they gained sanctuary in the United States. You certainly are known by the friends you keep.

Marine world fossils, Ordovician biodiversification, and the cultural hostility to evolution

Along comes an article, which evokes two responses; a) it’s what I have been trying to convey for a long time, and b) I am glad someone finally said it. For a few years now, I have written about the pseudoscientific and ultranationalist ideology of Hindutva, the ideology underpinning the rule of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India. It is a curious amalgam of Hindu fanaticism and hostility to scientific inquiry.

Binoy Kampmark, in an article published in Dissident Voice, highlights an acidic implication of Hindutva ideology – the scrapping of evolutionary biology from high schools. The anti-science undercurrents of the BJP are nothing new; for a few years, BJP government representatives have attacked the work and findings of Einstein, substituting in their place Hindu supremacist religious beliefs.

Hindutva ideologues have claimed that Lord Vishnu and Hindu gods had aircraft, guided missiles, and that the Vedas render Einstein’s theories of relativity incorrect and irrelevant. Now, Darwin’s elaboration of evolutionary biology is about to be cancelled. The body that governs the Indian school curriculum decided, in pursuit of a Hindu supremacist agenda, that Darwin’s body of work would be removed from high schools.

The BJP has long regarded the non-Hindu population, such as Muslims, as foreign interlopers (cue outrage over the Mughals). However, the anti-scientific vitriol has never been far from the surface. Ancient holy texts supersede scientific inquiry and evidentiary findings. We should point out that India is not the only place where faith-based holy books are attempting to encroach upon areas of science.

In Kentucky, USA, the Creation Museum, owned and operated by Australian expatriate Ken Ham and his Answers in Genesis organisation, promotes the pseudoscience of creationism. Preferring models of Noah’s Ark, along with humans coexisting with dinosaurs, the putative museum promotes a view of natural history based on a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis. Ham’s museum is only one example of a widespread creationism/Intelligent Design cultural movement in the United States.

The US, and to a lesser extent the other Anglophone nations, have witnessed their fair share of the the evolution culture wars. Since the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species – and especially his later book The Descent of Man – religious authorities have waged a relentless culture war against the removal of supernatural forces from natural history. A materialist approach to questions of the origin and changeability of species was perceived, especially by Protestant fundamentalism in the US, as an attack on divine authority.

Once Biblical inerrancy is dethroned, and a scientific understanding of human-natural origins is adopted, religious institutions lose their sanctity as repositories of eternal wisdom and societal guidance. Ken Ham and his museum are having their own problems.

The Indian government’s announcement regarding the intended abolition of Darwin from school curricula stands in stark contrast to a significant science story covered by Scientific American magazine, among other outlets. In Wales, a team of palaeontologists and researchers have uncovered the well-preserved fossils – mostly soft-tissued organisms – of a marine ecosystem. It is rare to find such exquisitely preserved nonbiomineralising fossil organisms. On miniature scales, ranging from 1mm to 5 mm, these organisms are the fossilised remains of a Middle Ordovician ‘marine dwarf’ ecosystem.

Located in Central Bank Quarry, central Wales, this trove of 462 million year old marine life is a window into the world of the Great Ordovician biodiversification event. This fossil discovery represents marine life during the Ordovician, a geologic period spanning about 42 million years; from the end of the Cambrian period (485 million years ago) to the beginning of the Silurian (443 million years ago). Biota in the Ordovician was characterised by marine genera, including new species of sponges, arthropods, trilobites, and the first jawless, prehistoric fish.

The Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event (GOBE) is less well known than the misleadingly named Cambrian ‘explosion’, but nevertheless crucial in understanding the evolution of life. The GOBE was an evolutionary radiation of life forms, rapid on the geological time scale, but occurring over millions of years. It involved a spectacular increase in marine biodiversity, largely filling in the prominent phyla established during the Cambrian period.

What has all this got to do with the culture wars? For every advance in the philosophically materialist approach, based on scientific evidence, we can expect a culturally motivated attack on the philosophical foundations of science. The Intelligent Design movement, having witnessed the ascendancy of the natural sciences, portray themselves as purely scientific advocates, denying or downplaying the theological bases of their teleological world view.

Should the entirety of the geological and biological sciences be thrown out because it contradicts the literal interpretation of holy texts? Scriptural inerrancy is antithetical to a scientific and evidentiary approach. In India, the BJP authorities have openly denounced relativity, quantum mechanics, and now evolutionary biology and geology. As Kampmark states with regard to the Hindutva ideology, ignorance is being garlanded with claims of scientific expertise.

Those geology classes which I took in high school – decades ago – have certainly come in handy until today.

The notion of a good guy with a gun is complete fiction

After every mass shooting in the United States – and sadly, they occur with horrifying frequency – there are calls by the conservative pro-gun lobby to provide teachers, or religious worshippers, or shopping centre customers, or office staff, with guns. If only the regular, everyday citizens had guns, the bad guys would be stopped and lives saved, right? This myth of the good guy with a gun is not only completely inaccurate, but is solidly entrenched in the American individualistic, frontier-capitalist culture.

One of the most surprising findings in the aftermath of mass shootings – such as after the Uvalde killings – is that the armed good guys fail to stop the bad guys. Indeed, arming persons only increases the likelihood of further homicides. In fact, the Uvalde incident was quite shocking. Not only did heavily armed police fail to enter the school grounds, thus avoiding confronting the active shooter; those police officers who actually did enter the school grounds did nothing to stop the shooter.

Branko Marcetic, from Jacobin magazine, elaborated the real scandal of the Uvalde police failure. Going into details about the police conduct of that particular shooting, he wrote:

The police weren’t twiddling their thumbs outside the school. They were twiddling their thumbs inside of it, standing around, running away, and cowering for a full seventy-seven minutes while the shooter fired round after round into packed classrooms just feet away, the screams of children echoing through the school hallway.

There is no hesitation in demanding ever greater levels of police militarisation; one of the rationales for this increasing flow of arms to the police is the myth of the good guy with a gun. As an aside, I always make an observation; did any of the Americans who subscribe to the ‘good guy with a gun’ notion demand the arming of Palestinian people in the occupied territories after the 1994 mass shooting by Zionist extremist and Israeli-American mass murderer Baruch Goldstein?

Israel receives an uninterrupted supply of guns and armaments from the United States; surely, in the eyes of gun advocates, the equation can be balanced by providing the Palestinians with masses of guns? Be that as it may, the mythical good guy with a gun is a product of a particular melding of American sociopolitical and economic circumstances. The Dirty Harry type detective, blasting the bad guys away with pinpoint accuracy (no civilians or bystanders are ever killed or injured) originates from the frontier-justice capitalism implemented in the US.

Binoy Kampmark, writing about the Uvalde shootings, stated that the belief in the individual rights to bear arms has become something of an article of faith. He wrote: “Faith in the sanctity of guns permits a form of tolerable urban warfare, a type of assimilated frontier violence characterised by high death tolls.”

The key phrase here, I think, is the assimilated frontier violence equated with urban warfare. The colonial settler of the 19th century, committing violence against the indigenous nations as capitalist settlement expanded, is now adapted to an urban environment, where the majority of the population live. The hard-boiled, taciturn and self-reliant gun-packing individual, once typified by the rural cowboy, is now transferred to an urbanised setting.

The impact of Prohibition, the rise of the FBI, the rise of populism in the 1920s and 30s made the heroic, lone detective – aided by the popularity of crime fiction such as the Philip Marlowe character created by Raymond Chandler – solidified the notion of a virtuous, law-abiding gunman reserving his most violent behaviour in dealing with the criminal underworld. When he shoots, he never misses.

Hollywood took up the cudgels in promoting the good guy with a gun – innumerable John Wayne movies, Dirty Harry, and today the superhero protagonist – each in their own way apply the street justice of gun violence by blasting the criminals away, with absolute accuracy; and always with justice on their side.

The debate about gun control in the United States – which erupts with ferocity after every mass casualty shooting – has taken on predictably partisan lines in recent decades. Conservatives are usually pro-gun, framing their advocacy as a defence of the Second Amendment. Liberals are normally promoting gun control, highlighting the terrible loss of life caused by shooters with automatic and semiautomatic weapons. However, the debate was not always so partisan. There was a time when the NRA, and dyed-in-the-wool conservatives like Ronald Reagan, supported gun control measures.

In the 1960s, when the civil rights movement was at its height, and black nationalist groups such as the Black Panthers, began to assert their constitutional right to bear arms, the conservative side of politics advocated strict gun control legislation. No less a figure than California governor Ronald Reagan, in 1967, advocated for the implementation of gun control. The NRA supported such legislation. When guns were upheld in the pursuit of racial and economic justice, the Republicans had no qualms about pursuing gun control.

As the gunmen perpetrating homicidal violence were increasingly white and from the political far right, the gun control debate changed. Ultrarightist violence became, if not acceptable, then at least tolerable. Gun rights, and the notion of a good guy with a gun, was cynically exploited to divert attention from the ultranationalist ideology which drove lethal gun violence.

Building and nurturing schools – and a wider society – where physical and mental well-being are prioritised, and guns no longer needed, is a more effective solution than simply increasing the number of armaments among the civilian population. And please, stop using Switzerland as an argument for greater gun distribution; the Swiss have gun control legislation, in line with the European Union.

Jerry Springer was the embodiment of the malign influence of celebrity culture

The passing of Jerry Springer, former mayor of Cincinnati and talk show host, prompted an outpouring of commentary about the nature of reality tv. One aspect which is worth exploring in detail, is the rise of celebrity culture. Springer, using the tried-and-true method of the talk show format, transformed that genre into something epic – 15 minutes of fame for the anonymous. However, his business model was parasitising something quite malign – the impact of turning celebrities into objects of adulation.

The obsessive preoccupation with celebrity is no longer just a harmless pursuit (if it was ever harmless). It is a malignant influence on our minds, crowding out our skeptical sensibilities and diverting our attention from the issues impacting our lives. George Monbiot wrote, back in 2016, that celebrity culture did not arise spontaneously. It is the deliberate outcome of a campaign by advertisers, marketing and the public relations industry.

Corporations, intent on selling their wares, employ celebrities to disguise their character as profiteering monoliths. Hedge funds and spreadsheets are boring, reducing everything to a balance sheet. Commercials, and the celebrities featured in them, make audiences feel they are part of something exciting and Instagrammable. Social media has contributed to the dissemination of celebrity culture; everyone with a Facebook account now seeks fame as its own reward.

The London School of Economics and Political Science commissioned a study in 2007 examining the impact of celebrity culture on the public. It found that increasing preoccupation with the minutiae of celebrity lives corresponded with a decreasing community connection. False celebrity friends crowd out the real connections of community participation and democratic engagement.

Springer himself, to be sure, was a cunning and smarmy television operator; he found a niche market – the tv talk show – and transformed it into a platform of seamy tabloid entertainment with an undercurrent of impending violence. No subject was off limits. Extramarital affairs, neighbourhood bickering, botched surgeries, family fights, secret crushes, incestuous relationships – Springer took all this material to be his ratings winners.

Will there be a fight? Will chairs be thrown? Egged on by a chanting audience (one particular favourite ‘trailer park whores!’ all the frailties of the anonymous, accompanied by fake moral outrage, were served on our tv screens for entertainment.

The tv talk show format was nothing new when Springer launched his particular version. Phil Donahue, the veteran talk show host, held a programme which featured every kind of subject under the sun. From serious political and social issues, to interviews with actors, Donahue was careful to avoid cultivating celebrity. He approached sociocultural issues with maturity and sensitivity; he was one of the first – perhaps the first – tv talk show hosts to interview transgender persons.

The purpose of the Donahue show was not titillation or audience giggling – but to invite understanding even amidst disagreement. Oprah Winfrey took the tv talk show into an area of tabloid entertainment. The fawning interviews with celebrities, the promotion of pseudoscience and New Age fantasyland ideas, the platforming of hucksters and medical quackery – Oprah went on the path of celebrity adulation which Springer used to his advantage.

While I do not intend to explore the burgeoning and complex relationship of sport with celebrity culture in this article, it is important to make some observations here. The crossover between sporting athletes and celebrity has been occurring for some time. The corporatisation of sport has certainly promoted the cultivation of the celebrity sportsperson. Australian golfer Greg Norman advertising Omega sea master dive watches; John McEnroe’s endorsement of Kellogg’s All Bran – the list of sportspersons making commercial endorsements is endless.

However, consider the case of English footballer and sports commentator Gary Lineker. After tweeting his criticism of UK government policy on refugees, Lineker found himself swiftly reprimanded – and sacked from his regular role as a commentator on Match of the Day. The BBC authorities pounced on one of their star recruits. Lineker tweeted an observation that the UK takes far fewer refugees than other European nations. Apparently this criticism of asylum seeker policy was enough to earn him disciplinary action. Lineker was reinstated on Match of the Day after a sustained public outcry in his defence.

This episode perfectly illustrates the adverse impact of celebrity culture – disengagement from political and social issues. The more we fixate on every detail of celebrity misadventures, the less we are engaging with the meaningful topics of our times. If you want to keep up with the Kardashians, that is fine. But just remember, you will still understand nothing of the Armenian experience; the 1915 genocide, the Communist period, the 1991 Soviet collapse and resultant humanitarian crisis – all this will still be foreign to you.

Springer elevated the seamiest sides of human behaviour to the level of entertainment – the tawdry became the popular. Shamelessness was turned into a saleable, marketable commodity for tv entertainment. His innovation – if it can be dignified with that term – was only possible in a climate conducive to celebrity culture. The latter is a distorted filter through which we perceive ourselves. Adulation morphs into emulation. Who does not want to look as beautiful as Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie?

Celebrities certainly pervade our lives – but are they really our friends, sources of emotional and social support? I think not.

The LIV golf tournament, sportswashing and the revolt of the aggrieved oligarch

Golf is an interminably boring sport – no offence to any avid golfing fans out there. However, golf actually captured my interest over recent months, with the rise and rise of the LIV golf tournament. Sponsored by the Saudi Arabian government through its Public Investment Fund (PIF), this tournament has emerged as a challenger to the pre-eminent PGA golfing tour, the playground of wealthy golfers.

The fact that there is an upstart golfing tour challenging the long-established and predominant PGA golf organisation has something of a ‘sticking it to the man’ quality. The LIV golf tour is a kind of snub directed at golfing’s propriety. There is a certain sense of satisfaction in witnessing genteel golfing community of the PGA being offended, by the louder, obnoxious Rodney Dangerfield of the golfing tour that is LIV.

It is no exaggeration to state that LIV golf embodies the spirit of Trumpism; the aggrieved oligarch getting his/her own back at a rival grouping of the ultrawealthy. The fact that the LIV tour is backed up by Saudi money has attracted attention, and somewhat muted criticism. The blood soaked human rights-violating regime in Riyadh is getting something of a makeover, and the LIV tournament is just the vehicle for sportswashing.

Binoy Kampmark wrote that the recently concluded leg of the LIV tour, in Adelaide, South Australia, was a singular diplomatic triumph for the Riyadh petro-monarchy. Brushing aside all concerns regarding the egregious human rights abuses and appalling track record of the Saudi regime, South Australian politicians – and golfing superstars such as Greg Norman – hailed the LIV tour as a triumph.

The LIV golf tournament (LIV are the Roman numerals for 54) is structured differently from the usual PGA golf competition. The LIV tournament consists of forty eight golfers playing in a course of 54 holes. The PGA tour usually involves play over four days, with 150 golfers playing 72 holes.

More so than the structured differences between the rival golf codes, is the pay. The PGA guarantees only the winning players a huge prize paycheck. In the LIV code, all golfers are guaranteed to be paid. Oscar Rickett, writing in Middle East Eye, elaborates the details of the ongoing feud between the PGA and LIV golf tournaments.

Champion golfer Phil Mickelson, who has played in the LIV tour, admitted to his biographer earlier this year that the Saudis were, in his words, “scary motherf**kers”. Golfers such as Mickelson and Greg Norman have had to field questions from the media regarding Saudi Arabia’s dismal human rights record.

That’s enough about golf. Let’s broaden the discussion about sportswashing, and how sport and politics have always mixed. Liberals in the imperialist nations like to maintain the pretence that sport is completely separate from politics. However, recent events – such as the FIFA World Cup soccer in Qatar late last year, have shone a spotlight on how sport cannot be separated from political currents.

It is quite reasonable to question the role of the Qatari regime in sportswashing – using sport, such as the FIFA World Cup soccer, to soften its image. Qatar was the first Arab nation to win the bid to host the World Cup. This was an enormous success for one of the world’s Gulf petroleum monarchies. Amid this success came increased scrutiny of the Qatari regime’s economic and human rights practices.

There is no question that immigrant workers, such Bangladeshis and Filipinos, were exploited in the run-up to the soccer tournament. Indeed, labour organisations have long highlighted the appalling mistreatment of the migrant labour force in Qatar and similar Gulf monarchies. However, much of the criticism aimed at Qatar misses the mark, and is based on outrageous hypocrisy.

Qatar, in a similar fashion to Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf petrostates, has been the recipient of lavish military aid and economic largesse from the Western nations for decades. Qatar has long backed the UK and the United States in foreign policy objectives for many years. The Gulf monarchies supported the US/UK backed Saudi attack on Yemen, and went along with the 2003 American war on Iraq.

The culturally regressive practices of these states – if that is how you wish to characterise the treatment of women or their approach to the LGBTQ community – has never been a barrier for cooperation from Washington and London. The corporate media in the imperialist nations is quite happy however, to denounce the allegedly ‘backward Muslim’ for those culturally regressive features, whipping up anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia.

Propping up authoritarian regimes is not a problem for the foreign policy establishments in the US and UK. Complaining that ‘Arab sheikhs are buying English soccer clubs’ has become a recurring feature of domestic political discourse, sustaining a level of hysteria regarding those ‘nefarious Muslims’.

Eduardo Galeano, the Uruguayan writer, wrote that capitalism has commodified sport – indeed, has commodified the passion that sustains active participation in sport. FIFA and its associated governing bodies act like monarchs over the sport of soccer, using big money to rake in ever-greater profits. International sports have been transformed into profit-making industries. Let’s scrutinise this aspect of professional sport, before we engage in exchanging accusations and hypocritical denunciations.