Belmont Club

Inflection Point

Everything old is new again. Sixty years after the Supreme Court’s Brown versus Board of Education ruling, segregation is back. “In New York, California and Texas, more than half of Latino students are enrolled in schools that are 90 percent minority or more, the report found. In New York, Illinois, Maryland and Michigan, more than half of black students attend schools where 90 percent or more are minority.”

A US military response team has deployed to Sigonella in response to intelligence indications that an attack on US facilities in North Africa may be in the offing, just as on the night a team couldn’t reach Benghazi because it couldn’t get permission to cross a border.

The Obama administration says that accepting sham or reversible concessions by North Korea would allow Washington to negotiate with Pyongyang again which the US must do at all costs. Despite indications that Syria never gave up chemical weapons, the US does not plan to revisit the issue for the same reason. General Martin Dempsey now thinks that it may be better for Assad to remain in power after all, since the opposition doesn’t seem ready to fill his shoes.

That leaves things exactly at ‘never mind’. The State Department says it is just ‘not accurate’ to say that the Boko Haram is Muslim.  Don’t stop to examine that factoid because US government contractors are flocking to Iran for business. Yet Hillary — Hillary — is doubtful Obama will strike a deal with Iran. Heck, even unnamed senior US negotiators are doubtful Obama will strike a deal with Iran.

‘Never mind’ is  a very big place but “progress” will be made and it will all be wonderful.

The French are preparing to sell the Russians two major warships despite Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, the better for Putin to intimidate US allies all around the Black Sea. In fact the US itself is spending large amounts of taxpayer money buying weapons from Russia to arm the Afghan government while it is barred by Moscow from going to the “international” space station. Meanwhile the inspector general says $103 billion in infrastructure the US built for Afghanistan will rot unless someone gives them the money to maintain it.

Somehow this will all make sense to the NYT, even though the biggest news story of the week by volume on Twitter was the firing of Jill Abramson of the New York Times following a secret internal study that their “journalism advantage is shrinking”.

The report largely ignores legacy competitors and focuses on the new wave of digital companies, including First Look Media, Vox, Huffington Post, Business Insider, and BuzzFeed.

“They are ahead of us in building impressive support systems for digital journalists, and that gap will grow unless we quickly improve our capabilities,” the report warns. “Meanwhile, our journalism advantage is shrinking as more of these upstarts expand their newsrooms.” …

“The very first step … should be a deliberate push to abandon our current metaphors of choice — ‘The Wall’ and ‘Church and State’ — which project an enduring need for division. Increased collaboration, done right, does not present any threat to our values of journalistic independence,” the report says.

And Mexico became a net importer of US petroleum goods for the first time in 40 years, “a significant industrial shift for a country that has long been proud of its status as one of the world’s top crude-oil exporters.”

Let’s play a game. Which of the things in this welter of confusion does not belong?

The overarching narrative that binds these events together may be that the narrative is finally busted. Lost the plot, just as if 60 years of history from Brown vs Board and that hilltop with Cokes has sprung back like a busted rubber band and we are under the pile of wreckage representing the Age of Aquarius, smothered in patchouli oil, pinned under blizzard of signs the latest of which proclaims “Hope and Change”.

If you said the ‘upsurge in US oil production’ didn’t belong in this series then maybe you’d be wrong. It belongs, in the same way that two sides are part of the same coin. Some things work, some things don’t. The trick is knowing which. But in the chaos, the players — even Hillary or the NYT — don’t know what to do, except try to stay on their feet.  They’re hedging in a world where they’ve cut down all the hedges because they were so sure.  So for the first time they are at a loss. Keeping up the Narrative has become insupportable, and in fact become less urgent than Stayin’ Alive.  

Alan Cowell of the NYT described the undefined state of the European Union.   Shorn of its literary sheen the article really describes a continent that has lost its way; a population of nearly half of billion people that followed a pied piper and who are now waking in a dark cave increasingly uncertain of where they are.

In Berlin, the traveler senses, the gaze strays eastward …

In London, by contrast, the political class peers inward, at the prospects and prognostication for European Parliament elections this month that are widely trumpeted as a watershed moment, strengthening the upstart, euro-skeptic, anti-immigrant U.K. Independence Party’s claim to sway the political agenda.

But, if there is a strand that binds these splintered visions, it is that both show the European project to be an uneasy coalition of national agendas — heating bills in Germany, political survival in Britain — that cannot focus far beyond narrow interests.

Everybody is focusing on their narrow interests because nobody wants to look up: the vistas are too frightening.  Cowell describes an inbred intellectual class whose greatest triumph was elevating a bearded lady to winner of the Eurovision singing contest because that is now regarded as the mark of greatness.  Besides, they can’t do much else, especially not stopping former KGB agents rampaging ever Westward.

That was clear enough when a peculiarly European pageant — the Eurovision song contest — produced a somewhat idiosyncratic winner in Copenhagen last weekend in the slender, sequined form of Conchita Wurst, the stage name of Thomas Neuwirth, known widely as the bearded lady. “For me, my dream came true,” the 25-year-old Austrian drag queen said. “But for our society, it just showed me that there are people out there who want to go into the future and go on, you know, not stepping back or thinking in the past.”

In contrast to the acclaims that greeted the Austrian victory, Russia’s entrants — the twins Anastasia and Maria Tolmachevy — were booed during the semifinals, and Russian judges speaking from Moscow were jeered by the live audience at the final.

That reflected not only Western discomfort with the Kremlin’s actions in Ukraine but also the wider question of Russian attitudes to Western sexual and social norms, depicted by some in Moscow as the heralds of social collapse, but by Conchita Wurst and many others as a hard-won victory for diversity.

“What Putin sees as decadence,” Mr. Ulrich said, “is Europe’s real strength.”

So they’ll keep firing their Tweets, hashtags and selfies. But underneath the disdain, the old lofty confidence seems gone. Even the NYT is worried about its future. It is no longer assured and the inmates of Prince Prospero’s castle are starting to wonder, who that masqued man rushing through the ball might be? About whether they were wrong about something basic since nothing works and what does work — like people grubbing for oil — wasn’t supposed to.

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