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False hope 

There will be a lot of talk this week about the importance of this year's Mardi Gras to New Orleans, to reviving its spirits, of boosting its economy, of proclaiming its resolve to survive.

I'm sure it will do some of that, but much of it is false hope--kind of like the 11,000 mobile homes for Katrina victims that are still sitting in a parking lot in Hope, Ark. That's the way Mardi Gras has always been.

I love Mardi Gras. But long ago it became a parody of the city's fatal ills. Andre Codrescu, in an op-ed that ran in the N&O, described Mardi Gras as fundamentally satire, with mobs ruling the streets as rulers are forced to shower them with gifts. But that satire long ago become a sick joke. Wealthy businessmen tossed worthless trinkets to a populace that was inordinately poor because of a long-neglected public school system and a lack of creative economic development, and few noticed the irony. It wasn't until the 1980s that a brave, African-American councilwoman called the city on its ultimate hypocrisy--spending hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to provide support services for the parades of segregated, white, high-society carnival organizations. The City Council told them if they didn't integrate, they wouldn't receive public protection, and the highest society krewes opted to stop parading. That's the attitude that pervaded New Orleans' business community for all of the 20th century.

The fear now is that the same attitude is infecting the rebuilding of New Orleans. To see how, look at the Mardi Gras Index put out Tuesday by the Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch project of the Durham-based Institute for Southern Studies. It's at www.reconstructionwatch.org.

We may think we're wiser than that here. But when I read our reporter Mosi Secret's stories about the way politicians are trying to use the North Carolina Lottery to cut legislative funding for education in the name of fun and games, (see page 15), I'm not so sure.

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This week marks an additional leap in music coverage with the help of our friends at Classical Voice of North Carolina, the innovative and informed classical music Web site (www.cvnc.org). We've heard a lot over the years that one of the most missed aspects of the old Spectator was its steady coverage of classical music and events in the Triangle--a void that CVNC's excellent coverage started filling a few years back.

So look for our new column of classical best bets compiled by CVNC's writers starting this week--and running every week--in our Spectator arts and entertainment calendar on page 40.

In addition to tips on the best in the week's classical shows, we'll also provide excerpts and links to CVNC's ample array of review and commentary. x

  • There will be a lot of talk this week about the importance of this year's Mardi Gras to New Orleans.

More by Richard Hart

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