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Archive for February, 2012

Do They Know It’s Mardi Gras?

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

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Outside of New Orleans and southern Louisiana and Mobile, Alabama, Mardi Gras generally comes as news—if it comes at all—to people in the rest of the United States when they see footage on network and cable news. Oh, it must be Mardi Gras again. Look at all those crazy-dressed people milling around on Bourbon Street. Now back to work, or looking for a job.

There are emigrés from New Orleans and southern Louisiana all over the U.S. and around the world who feel Carnival coming for weeks before the big day arrives, and we know it’s not a one-day affair (how could it be?). We look around at life going on in January, February, and sometimes March, and wonder how our fellow citizens can not know that Carnival is coming, that it has already started, it’s here. And especially on Fat Tuesday itself—which is today—seeing life go on as Just Another Day, earning just another dollar, we’re reminded of the 1984 Band Aid song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” (recorded to raise awareness and aid for the 1983–85 famine in Ethiopia). It is not entirely a fair comparison, but there’s a resemblance, and the question does come up.

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New Orleans–based social justice journalist Jordan Flaherty published an opinion piece in the Washington Post titled Five Myths about Mardi Gras that does a decent job of dispelling some misconceptions about Carnival—we’re all for dispelling false views, especially about New Orleans and Louisiana—and we recommend Jordan’s piece. But first we’d like to offer the following essay, which goes into more detail about the historical, cultural background of what we call Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Carnival. (Interestingly, in this international world we live in, there are other terms in other languages!) We humbly present the following, originally written by one of our staff writers for Festivals and Holidays, a Macmillan Profiles encyclopedia.

Times-Picayune coverage of Mardi Gras here. And see photos of this year’s parades by our friends here, here, and here.

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Mardi Gras: From Ancient Origins, with a New Orleans Twist

Mardi Gras, also called “Shrove Tuesday” or “Fat Tuesday” is a flamboyant Carnival celebration that most Americans associate with the city of New Orleans. The exact date for Mardi Gras varies from year to year, but it always falls on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, forty-one days before Easter.

Mardi Gras has roots deep in pagan rites of ancient Greece, and is the “climax day” of a whole season of festivities—balls, parties, parades—that begins on Twelfth Night, or Epiphany (also known as January 6). Although the festival is most commonly associated with the Crescent City, the first American Mardi Gras was celebrated in Mobile, in present-day Alabama, in the 1830s (except it was really New Year’s Eve). Mardi Gras is still celebrated in Mobile, as well as in other southern Louisiana towns and cities such as Baton Rouge, New Roads, and Lafayette.

“Fat Tuesday,” the culmination of over a month of celebrations, is the great day when the parades of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club and the Krewe of Rex roll down oak-lined St. Charles Avenue into downtown New Orleans, where thousands, or a million—not necessarily sober—are lined along Canal Street, the widest downtown street in America. When the great floats arrive, and the masked captains and marshals in robes of medieval royalty hold out their hands full of beads, people yell, “Throw me somethin’, mister!” and reach up in a joyous frenzy for the colorful beads, cups, doubloons, and the famous painted Zulu coconuts. Though the big parades don’t go into the Vieux Carré anymore, the crowd swells across Canal into the French Quarter: sometimes a million people are crowded together on land that is [just a few feet above] sea level, a quarter mile from the Mississippi River. [Ed. note: bracketed phrase corrects a factual error in the original.]

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Framing the Case for Infrastructure Investment, Taxing the Rich

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

Attn.: Pro-Infrastructure Activists and Democratic Strategists:

In a Feb. 4 letter to the editor of the New York Times, Rick Stone of Madison, Wisc., makes a point that more of us should heed:

If the wealthy knew with certainty that their increased taxes would make the roads they drive safer, resistance might be less. Yet higher taxes have generally not been framed as such, but rather as a fairness issue—that you make too much, so we’ll take some of yours to give to others.

He is responding to an op-ed piece by Cornell University economics professor Robert H. Frank titled “Higher Taxes Help the Richest, Too,” a somewhat abstruse argument that takes about 900 words to make a rather simple point about why the wealthy resist tax increases. Still, we agree with the basic point, perhaps best summarized in the final sentence, “when the anti-tax wealthy make campaign contributions, they are buying only the deeper potholes and dirtier air that inevitably result when tax revenue is low.”

Earlier in his letter, Rick Stone cites the “behavioral economics concept of loss aversion—the idea that people strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains.” The impulse to avoid losses can best be countered by showing what the tax increases could make possible. And then—he doesn’t say this, exactly, but we do—change the discourse from a scarcity and austerity framework to a maldistribution-of-wealth argument.

Naomi Klein on The Rachel Maddow Show in October praised the genius of the “We Are the 99%” slogan and said the Occupy Wall Street activists were smart to take the protest to “the source of maximal abundance,” to put the lie to the discourse of scarcity. “It’s not a scarcity problem,” she said, “it’s a distribution problem.”

Mr. Stone of Madison is not talking specifically about reinforced levees or expanded public transportation, but his point applies there as well. When we push for raising taxes on the under-taxed Upper 1 or 2 Percent (and we do); when we try to generate support for what even sympathetic politicians timidly call “revenue increases,” we must show specific examples of what the revenues would pay for: stronger levees, repaired roads, expanded rail service, schools and post offices that are allowed to remain open, and so on.

We agree that arguments for higher taxes should be framed in terms of what they would make possible—that is why we are calling attention to this letter—but if Mr. Stone is saying that calls for higher taxes should not be framed as a fairness issue, then we disagree. He’s probably right that the benefits to the public (including the wealthy) should be at the forefront, but fairness should certainly be part of the argument.

What Would George Lakoff Say?

We have quoted before the advice given to us by U.C. Berkeley linguist and political analyst George Lakoff. He said that in promoting investment in infrastructure and other public goods, Democrats should not try to imitate Republican appeals to self-interest (and certainly not appeals to fear), but rather should argue for doing what is morally right. People will warm to the moral argument if it is presented simply and directly. It is right and fair for a government to collect some portion of people’s income to pay for the building of schools and roads and for monitoring food safety, etc. As we wrote in a piece on the social contract posted in Sept. 2009:

He said the moral appeal is always the best. It’s honest and it is more persuasive. Democrats and progressives, he said, always fall for the “Enlightenment fallacy,” the naïve belief that if you simply present the facts, people will see the light and support your cause. Not so simple. . . . Democrats should never try to imitate Republican appeals—it’s never believable. Instead, use the moral argument (the golden rule)—It’s the right thing to do. Expanding health care coverage, protecting our cities from hurricanes with reinforced flood protection is the right thing to do, morally and ecologically. 

Lakoff said Democrats and progressives are never persuasive with the appeal to self-interest—they can’t compete on that turf with Republicans. Part of the weakness of the self-interest approach is that it is fragmented, does not show how the various parts are connected, and therefore lacks a cohesiveness and persuasive force because it. To be persuasive, what we must do is show how seemingly disparate phenomena are related. Show, for instance, how the nation’s dependence on oil and the ravaging of the wetlands are connected; how the 10,000+ miles of oil and gas canals through the Louisiana wetlands destroy the storm-surge buffer that protects us from hurricanes, while the carbon emissions aggravate global warming, which intensifies hurricanes and raises sea levels, and so on. [Continue reading here.]

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Thanks to Rick Stone of Madison for taking the time to write the letter, and our best wishes for the people of Wisconsin—especially the embattled public employees and union members there. We stand with Wisconsin.

See also “Public Works in a Time of Job-Killing Scrooges

The Social Contract, Explained by Elizabeth Warren, Paul Krugman, and Robert Kuttner

Tyranny Disguised as Fiscal Discipline

Republican War on Working Families

‘Shock Doctrine’ in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, as in Egypt, ‘This Is What Democracy Looks Like’

 

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