02/18/2006 10:47 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What Kind of Carnival?

The next eleven days, New Orleans is getting a chance to turn the tables, and put the national news media to the test. Eight hundred media folks are here to report on the first Mardi Gras since Katrina, and their challenge is, first, to make sure they don't repeat the meretricious meme that the city was the victim of "Katrina's wrath" (it was not, it was the victim of poorly designed levees and floodwalls, thanks to the Army Corps of Engineers), and second, to see if their reports can encompass the duality of the local truth: yes, we're having a big celebration, and yet there is still an almost unchanged large landscape of devastation just a few blocks away.

This is a different Mardi Gras. Local officials would like the influx of tax revenues from an influx of tourists, but everybody else seems to share the feeling that "this one's for us", this is a ritual to wash away the waterlines on everybody's brains. It's a celebration because that's what people do here after a funeral, not because everything's okay. On the other hand, a restaurateur told me last night his friends around the country still think you need to get shots to come here, so part of the story is that we're here, and we're relatively all right. Part of the story is also what the Louisiana legislature just did--with much grumbling, passed a bill to merge all the local levee boards into two regional authorities, supposedly to be staffed by professionals in geology, hydrology, all the good -ologies. The stick at the legislators' heads was the expectation that Congress wouldn't authorize the first batch of planning money for Cat 5 hurricane protection if the state didn't show that Louisiana politics as usual are over. But, amid much politics as usual, state legislators were relishing another rhetorical opportunity to turn the tables. Speaking of Jack Abramoff's town, they asked in disbelief, "They're calling us corrupt?"