TPD serves to shuttle thought processes off the main lines and park them on convenient sidings, without having to resort to low-order gambits such as, “Can you believe this weather?” or “What about the game?” The democracy of TPD gives equal weight to Mark Sanford and Balloon Boy, creating lighter-than-air discourse from sea to shining sea.
The Providential Distraction should not be confused with The Engineered Distraction, one of which we almost had this week as well. Did it not seem curious that every major radio talk show, starting Monday morning, shared an interest in discrediting global warming? One could tune from Ingraham to Boortz to Rush and then some, and everyone was mightily exercised about e-mails and hinky data at the University of East Anglia, all at the same time.
Even writers of similar persuasion seemed to have gotten the same tip-off, for the Web was full of the same sort of cacophonous chirping from weatherbirds on the right.
In a regular week, this could have been overture to a symphony of outrage composed to well about the arrival of President Obama at world climate meetings in Copenhagen, where the leader of the free world might pledge his country’s best efforts to help make the world habitable for future generations by decreasing the pollution of its atmosphere. (Evidently partisans on the right, still breathing through gills, are untroubled by toxins in the troposphere.)
Instead, The Providential Distraction: Tiger Woods can’t drive straight.
Thanks to the wankers at our portals of enlightenment, the cable news channels, we are released from pondering weighty outcomes over which we could have little control and instead are chained to a 24-hour cycle of uninformed speculation about people over whom we should have little concern. As long as Tiger Woods was showing up on Sunday afternoons anywhere near the top of the leader board, you really didn’t care what went on at home in Florida, did you?
Now that’s all anybody can think about. Every hour brings a fresh panel of pundits ready to wonder aloud anew about what happened within Isleworth’s gates, whether the club that shattered the Escalade window was a 6 or 7 iron and if Swedish people always rescue accident victims from the rear. No detail is too minute to examine, no nuance too personal to dwell upon, and the general elation over revealing new feet of clay seems tangible.
I am mindful of another age in sports journalism, during which covering athletic feats took precedence over the athletes’ feet. In that age the gamers were no less human than now, but the police blotter was kept resolutely off the sports page. Nowadays, and I blame the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network at least in part for this, game coverage is routinely bumped from the sports front to make room for adjudications, altercations and medications.
In one instance with which I’m familiar, a noted old-school sportswriter hereabouts made no secret of his disdain for modern editors bundling off-field antics with on-field exploits. When a future Hall of Famer got crossed with Five-O, though, he holed up and vowed he would tell his story only to the old-school scribe from the daily paper. Notebook at the ready, this sportswriter traveled to the scene of the crime, took down the tawdry details and crafted a first-rate story... that ran in the news section, not the sports section.
In a continuum where celebrity is interchangeable with accomplishment and one meme has the weight of any other, I wish it were easier for everyone to pick out what’s important. This week, it’s the reiteration of our military obligation to pointless warfare in Afghanistan, doubtless soon to spill over into neighboring Pakistan.
Perhaps if Kabul were as easy to find on a map as Orlando, we would be more mindful of what we risk there, which is the lives of our personnel for no good reason.
The new Obama has fallen for the same trope as the old Bush, which is that there are wars of necessity that America must fight in the Middle East. Afghanistan is not one such. Any reason we had for deploying troops widely there vanished in 2001 along with Osama bin Laden, leaving behind the utility of police action on a much smaller scale to hunt down the assassin of September 11. After all, we have bought and paid for governments in the region that would be glad to assist our manhunt, have we not?
A significant part of the electoral swell that raised up the Obama presidency was a hope that he would change course on wrong-headed military adventure. Too many had died in Iraq and Afghanistan already; surely new hands would steer us out of those deadly doldrums. Instead, holdover thinking and questionable faith in counterinsurgency tactics are sinking us deeper in the slew, even as, Utah Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz notes, “We are asking [soldiers] to fight a war that is not very well defined.” Instead of getting troops out of Afghanistan, we are sending more in; instead of reducing our financial commitment to the vain enterprise, we are increasing it. At a time in his term when he could have moved to save lives, Obama is now complicit in risking more lives, and it will take his profoundest oratorical gifts to explain away the blood that will be upon his hands.
Suddenly the problems of a rich golfer and his wife don’t seem to matter so much. Better to save your concerns, your prayers, for brave men and women being sent in our name into a place we would rather not think about, heading into harm’s unpublicized way.
Courtney Haden is a Birmingham Weekly columnist. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org