Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Manuscriptus interuptus

Historic Gallier Hall (© Baronplantagenet)
2010 Okeanos Queen Martha Dart and Gallier Hall announcer

In many ways this is the most satisfying part of the busy Carnival season. Two of the Carnival balls for which I serve as both manuscript writer and narrator were held this past weekend. There is only one rehearsal left and that won't take place until the week before big day. Mardi Gras is late this year, March 8, and with the exception of that one remaining script, all other manuscripts have been edited, copied and bound. It is an amazing thing this Carnival season in the city of my birth. With the election of new mayor Mitch Landrieu a year ago, a concerted effort has begun to change some aspects of the official functions at historic Gallier Hall, the hallowed former New Orleans city hall. Festooned with ten massive ionic columns that support a large tympanum and named in honor of its famous architect, Gallier Hall is unique in the history of Carnival insofar that every single Mardi Gras parade that has rolled through the streets of New Orleans has passed in front of its official reviewing stand. This makes my job as the announcer for five of this year's parades even more important and not to be taken lightly. In past years the Carnival captains who run the krewes, the non-profit organizations that are responsible for putting on the street parades and holding the various bal masques and massive parties held at area hotels or at giant venues like the Louisiana Superdome or the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center felt taken for granted or in some cases taken advantage of. The attendant costs of having their royal courts appear at Gallier Hall became outrageously overpriced. The amenities were Spartan and the food items offered were oftentimes inedible. After being handed huge bills for what increasingly became a battle ground between city officials and the krewes who wanted to use the facilities, many captains and their organizations opted to move their official parties to nearby hotels that would accommodate their needs more deliberately and respectfully. As it turns out, of the 29 parading organizations who could use the facilities at Gallier Hall to toast their royal courts, only five do so today. Even the mighty Rex organization toasts its queen and royal court at the Intercontinental Hotel, located a scant two blocks away from Gallier Hall. For many years the Rex toast was held at the tony Boston Club on Canal Street, a practice that was challenged by city fathers who in the 1980s questioned its politically incorrect practice of excluding blacks and Jews. The celebrations at Gallier Hall will become more austere and will take on a less raucous tone in acknowledgment that the way previous administrations ran the hall were less than respectful to the parading krewes and in the hopes of luring several of these back to the reviewing stands there in the coming years. In the meantime my work as the announcer for the Krewes of Ancient Druids, Carrollton, Okeanos , Mid City and Thoth will take on a bigger challenge for me to keep the grand tradition alive and well during this very exciting time in the city. Laissez les bon temps rouler.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The need to remember

As the events of the past few days have spun into political chaos in Egypt, I have noted that the tradition of knee-jerk reactionism in American politics has continued. Last night President Obama essentially threw Egypt's President Mubarak under the bus when he spoke to the American people and advocated for change there. Perhaps a bit too idealistically, the President suggested the overthrow of Mubarak might be seen as a cry from the masses for political change and that the outcome might be a democratic republic patterned after our own government. Such was the hope for Iran when the United States advocated for the people to overthrow the unpopular Shah in the late 1970s. This fueled a power vacuum that was used to great advantage by the Islamic fundamentalists and resulted in the theocratic form of government we know today. The fact is popular revolts rarely result in the kind of democracies we appreciate here in the United States, but more often than not result in more repressive forms of government that ultimately oppose American interests in those countries. Remember that the precursor to the Bolshevik revolution was an attempt to install a democracy in Russia in 1917. When Hitler's thugs rose in Germany, many misguided Americans thought to applaud the dictator for what they thought might be simply a charismatic leader answering the call of popular opinion. We all know how wrong that turned out to be. Time and time again American foreign policy has been impotent in being able to bet on the right horse and come out unscathed when a popular revolt or civil war has shaken a government to its foundations. We were unable to predict the rise of Castro and the rapid diminution of power by the corrupt Battista administration in Cuba. That myopic vision has characterized our foreign policy decision making for decades. While gunboat diplomacy is no longer wise or considered politically correct, it has often proven the better of choices for the short term. When Grenada was a problem, President Reagan sent in the Marines. End of story. Even the British learned that diplomacy has its limitations and when Argentina absorbed the Falkland Islands and renamed them the Maldives Islands, the time for rhetoric was over. While I am in no way advocating for the United States to interfere with the internal political struggles of another nation directly, I am stating that oftentimes a more direct approach can achieve better results than by wishing and hoping things will turn out right. The United States failed to deal with Ho Chi Minh when it had opportunities decades before hostilities inflamed Viet Nam and the region there. The current crisis began when a popular uprising in Tunisia spilled over to Egypt and Yemen. Even Jordan's king has been forced to sack his government in a pre-emptive strike against unrest there. What should be feared is that the hoped for replacement of the government in Egypt might be more friendly towards Islamic fundamentalists like the Muslim Brotherhood, whose expressed intentions are to implement an Islamic republic in Egypt and break off friendly relations with Israel. The cornerstone of our teetering Middle East policy for the past three decades has been the continued cessation of hostilities in the area between Egypt, Israel and Jordan. Should the most populous Arab country in the world with the largest army, equipped by the United States, be overthrown by a weak or fledgling form of government, the Islamic fundamentalists will not be slow to take advantage of the situation. I am not sure if the decision by the Obama administration to speak out against Mubarak was wise or called for. By distancing ourselves from one of our most powerful allies in the region, we could be sending the wrong message to other world leaders, to wit: Don't count on America for support because when the tough gets going, so too will your American support. I am disquieted at the prospects for peace in the region, but most fearful that the actions of today will have wide-ranging consequences for the future. I hope the Egyptian people will remember what it was like to live under the threat of war and how their nationalism under Gamal Adbul Nasser was also disastrous to their economy. The changes in Egypt and potential changes in other Arab countries could take a terrible toll on the Israeli economy, which has soared in the past three decades when the threat of invasion from Egypt was lessened. A change in the government in Egypt to one that is opposed to the existence of Israel could have long-term effects for the Jewish State and, coupled with the existing Palestinian problem, might result in a downward economy marked by preparations for war rather than continued progress and prosperity. Now that we have abandoned Mubarak and distanced ourselves from him while the demands for his ouster continue, we need to look to our tentative allies in the region and to those already opposed to us (as is the case in Syria) and think about where we can do the most good in the short term. We need to know that as far as our word is considered, we don't have the most sterling of reputations. Perhaps our actions will now speak louder than our words.