Thursday, August 09, 2007

Poorly-worded, angry post written late at night*

Or maybe it's just another "told you so" post from BSJD:
Excessive secrecy can only lead to more rancor and bitterness on the part who are unhappy with those decisions and help justify charges of conspiracies or crooked insider deals.


Jeffrey's not the only person who's angry over the city's administration of its imminent danger list. I'm disgusted that it received more extensive coverage from the WSJ than the T/P (Dangerblond has the complete article).

Still, I can't help but wonder if the city would have handled the list differently if Nagin had been called on the hallowness of his claims to have brought transparency and accountability to city government. The Picayune did run one editorial, but it was pretty toothless. More importantly, it appeared on the bottom of the page on a Saturday, guaranteeing that it would go unnoticed. The Picayune showed all the courage of a coward who screws up the bravery to mutter an epithet under his breath. Sunday and weekday editorials tend to be discussed on the weekday radio talk shows, but even bloggers don't notice bottom of the page Saturday editorials -- especially editorials that take two weeks to month to get online (it never appeared on the link to the last two week's editorials, I found it online about a month after publication).

If there's no malintent involved, it's fair to wonder if failure to challenge administration claims of accessibility, accountability and transparency have led the Nagin administration to believe its own PR. Real pressure to be more accessible and transparent might have done some good, it certainly couldn't have hurt. If something really nefarious is going on, well...The real question is, what does anyone expect from an administration that constantly proclaims its transparency, yet consistently fails to share information? Why shouldn't we expect a lot more of this sort of thing? I'm disgusted that there's been no real effort to hold the mayor to his promises of transparency and accountability.

Trying not to be amused

I hate to say it, but when I first saw this, I thought it was pretty funny:

Action, Accountability, Corruption, Determination and Responsibility – all very dynamic sentiments

I decided to see how much attention local bloggers had paid to the Nagin administration practice of stonewalling with demands for written FOIA requests. Apparently, not much. Not much at all. The results were the same whether I searched for "freedom of information act" or "FOIA." For accountability Nagin, results were somewhat better. I know that blog searches give unreliable results (I discounted the negative search results at Ashley's because I don't trust technorati searches), but local bloggers really have not made much effort to influence perceptions in this area. I'll return to that point, but I did try to drop a tactful hint before I went on vacation -- acting like movie critics telling your readers to see the latest Dambala vs. Meffert flick at Zombie Theater isn't enough.

Also amusing

On his seven o'clock show this morning, Rob Couhig sounded pretty angry at Nagin, but he couldn't quite bring himself to renounce his endorsement of him -- given the choice that he had. He did say that Nagin has not kept the promise that he made to him to focus on health care, higher education and housing. Well, if Nagin broke the promise that he made to Couhig to get his endorsement, Couhig should say something about it. However, at the 100 day presentation, Couhig put his own name behind Nagin's promise of transparency and accountability. I've yet to say Couhig say anything about that broken promise, and one could argue that Couhig's silence lends credibility Nagin's claims of accessibility, accountability and transparency.. If Rob Couhig is reading this, I would urge him to be man enough to take responsibility for a Nagin lie that his silence helps to perpetuate. He should definitely say something along the lines of, "In May of 2006, I promised the people of this city transparency in local government. I made the promise in good faith, as I believed the mayor and I were in agreement on this. Apparently the mayor misled me."

Trying to be tactful

All bloggers have different ideas about what they want to do with their blogs, and the following certainly isn't aimed at bloggers like Karen or Ray who use their blogs as an adjunct to civic activism or to organize reconstruction related activities; they have my utmost respect. The same applies to the few "citizen journalists," like Dambala or Matt McBride, who have the ability to do actual reporting. This applies to the vast majority of "citizen journalists" who are more or less in the op-ed business. Aside from stroking their own egos, such bloggers should occasionally ask themselves what their trying to accomplish with their blogs.

Around the time that I started blogging, Bob Somerby offered some suggestions for liberal bloggers that every blogger should consider -- they're valid regardless of ideology. I'd add a couple that I think are especially valid in a one newspaper town. We can ask questions that are going largely unasked and point out facts that are being largely ignored. Also, in a one newspaper town, the fact checking role of bloggers is vital, who else is going to point it out when the local media answers questions incorrectly or incompletely? If enough bloggers did the first, citizen journalists would occasionally become citizen assignment editors. If one Houma-based blogger can get the Picayune to ask whether Mitch Landrieu was wearing make-up, over 100 New Orleans bloggers should be able to get the Picayune to ask why Nagin is more secretive about his rebuilding policies than chickenhawk presidents tend to be about their foreign policies. Yes, there was one editorial, but with enough pressure, the Picayune might have placed the editorial where it would have been read. If you prefer to be less adversarial, if enough people asked those questions, the Picayune would have known that somebody would have had its back when the inevitable bias charges flew.

I understand that many local bloggers would rather concentrate on federal responsibility for the city's situation; that's certainly valid. Though I personally feel that local bloggers have a better chance of affecting local perceptions, I'd probably do more of that if I had more time, and there weren't so many other bloggers doing it. Although I think that "we are not O.K." posts don't usually accomplish anything (for reasons explained, poorly, here and for other reasons that require little or no explanation), but such posts are certainly valid. However, there are times --not just days, but weeks -- when the local bloggersphere doesn't show much interest in any of the above. Look at some of the posts that get the most comments on local blogs and then read those comments (this was especially true prior to the Vitter scandal), now ask yourself what a web surfing cab driver from Detroit would think of the great New Orleans blogging community. Honestly, aren't there times when it would look like little more than a clique of salonists out to impress each other with their pop culture references? Certainly, at least, at times.

Addition: The post that I should have written, with just enough of the above to act as a prod -- assuming I could could have written that correctly. Only cranks (I can think of worse words) feel the need to go on at length about the things they find annoying. Again, no criticism of any individual bloggers was intended. And I corrected a spelling error from the original.

Further Addition: That really was written too hastily. I don't know how I omitted all mention of the New Orleans bloggers are so wonderful posts, or lengthy passages within posts, that are really what I sometimes find amusing and sometimes find infuriating. It's not being diplomatic to bring it up now, but any reader of local blogs knows what I'm talking about. The sentences that I deleted with the intention of rewriting, didn't get rewritten. I don't expect everybody to be serious all the time, but if you happen across posts (or paragraphs within posts) about great New Orleans bloggers (that read like a speaker feeding applause lines to an audience) during a week when all the long comment threads in the local blogosphere are little more than clever banter, the effect can be unintentionally humorous.

Still it's doubly embarrassing because that's the second time that I made the mistake about writing about something that I find mildly annoying (see the preceding paragraph) and something that I'm truly angry about (the failure of anybody to call the Nagin administration on its refusal to share information) in the same post. Both times I gave the impression that what I found annoying is what I was truly angry about. Of course, it's not generally a good idea to express your annoyance about everything that you find annoying, unless you like looking like a jerk.

*But there is an important point in there somewhere. T.C. from "Disgusted, Trying not to be Amused. However, I will try to be tactful."

I know well where you're coming from here but consider the following:

1)100 bloggers means 100 individual points of view. As such, it isn't a very reliable tool for applying a great deal of pressure toward institutions be they governmental or journalistic.. nor should it be, really.

2) The blog people you are criticizing here are all complete amateurs. Some of them are indeed activists who use their blogs as a communication tool to support the actual work they are doing elsewhere. Some of them do original reporting on the internet because they are qualified to do so. You've said as much already.

The rest of what's out there comes from people firing off their immediate reactions to what they happen to be looking at on the internet. Some of the people generating such content have a rather elevated view of it and consider themselves "citizen-journalists" or whatever. Maybe they're trying to "accomplish" something with their blogging. Personally I think it's rather presumptive and egotistical to believe such a thing is possible. I started doing this four years ago because I am a news junkie and I wanted a way to share what I read with something like ten friends and family without constantly emailing them. After doing that for so long, I now have a marginally wider circle of similarly interested and pretty smart people to share that with. Maybe that is something like "Salonism".. but I think it's more just a fact of the way we communicate and consume news these days.

The point is, though, that beyond conversation (and general charm and good looks) I don't have a hell of a lot to contribute as an activist and wouldn't presume otherwise. I mean, if you were a T-P editor, would you really give a shit what some crank with a yellow blog said about your paper on the internet?

"Oh no! Jeffrey just called me a douchebag! Better rework the Sunday front page!"

Generally, though, I try not to take myself too seriously. If you twisted my arm I'd say the best writing on my site is about football. At best, perhaps some of what I say is of some use to the people doing the real work... when it isn't just pissing them off.

3) I got slightly better results searching my site for "transparency".. although, again I've often found that there's little I can say in that regard that isn't said here.
I think the only way to address the whole "power to the numerous bloggers" thing is to get people to subscribe to some sort of "underground" or "out of the MSM" news/op/ed forum or newsgroup of some sort. Post some pointed questions out there concerning, for instance, the FOIA stonewalling Nagin's been doing, and see how many directions concerned bloggers take. Aside from that, I don't see how you're going to get all these amateur blogging folk to go the more conscious quasi-journalist route short of regulating the net and heavily editing the, say, what Ian has pointed out recently:

As for moi, I'm a total amateur who started down this primrose path to addictive blogging hell to let my NYC friends in on stuff that goes on in New Orleans. I ended up happening into a different family, a mishpocheh, of a cyber sort. And, just like any other family, the blogpocheh has its quirks and its nuts, its anal-retentives and its herders, its holier-than-thous and messy Marvins, and its earthy types and sophisticates. David, I'm currently imagining you as a clan elder, wringing his hands over the unruly tribe and saying, "Oy, but they all have so much POTENTIAL! Is a blogging riot on behalf of JUSTICE too much to ask?"

You are a hell of a citizen journalist, and you are wasting some of your energies here. This is summer. Folks are in the throes of planning for RT II, or are on vacation. People are doing the damn best they can. Hang in there, man.
Re-reading the post, I see that I glossed over the immediate reason for my anger -- letting claims of transparency, accessibility or accountability go unchallenged made something like the demolition surprises almost inevitable. I've been railing for months that it would inevitably lead to corruption and conspiracy theories, but it's only with hindsight that
I see that it couldn't help but lead to this kind of thing. I'll have to do a clarification post.

I don't think that the publisher of the Picayune gives a damn what either one of us writes. Still, the fact is that one Houma blogger was able to get the Picayune to do a story about whether Landrieu wore make-up during -- I believe it was even a front page story.

Of course blogging involves ego gratification, or venting your immediate reaction to political developments (to avoid driving acquaintainces crazy), or any number of things having nothing to do with accomplishing anything. But, if that's all there is to it, blogging is something you do in your free time, not something you make free time to do.

"Honestly, aren't there times when it would look like little more than a clique of salonistes out to impress each other with their pop culture references? Certainly, at least, at times."

I should probably just apologize for the fact that the last sentence doesn't soften the second-to-last as much I had intended and leave it that, but it's not in my nature to obey the law of holes. .

Still, even though the post was prompted by this week's news, it's something that I thought about posting back in June. I might have if it hadn't taken me a few weeks to find out that I needed a new power supply.

Jeffrey, you might not think that you're accomplishing anything, but that doesn't seem to be the party line. I don't mean to repeat the criticism, but I will give some background. When my computer was broken, I could read other blogs on my breaks or when things were slow, but actual posting involved much more effort than usual. By pure coincidence, I found myself wondering how much effort it was worth at a time when most of the lengthy comment threads on local blogs were about trivial matters -- this was just before the Vitter scandal. Reading some of those comment threads while still reading posts about the great New Orleans blogging community got me thinking.

Still, I would have kept those negative thoughts to myself if I hadn't read the thing about accountability on the Rising Tide wiki. I assume that meant at the local level as well as the federal level and frankly, I haven't seen much posting about it.

That sounds way more negative than intended and I apologize for that. I also didn't intend any personal criticism of any individual bloggers. Still, I think that most bloggers are trying to have some effect on public discourse. At the local level, I can't think of a more important talking point to shoot down (or lie to expose) than Nagin's claim about accontability and transparency
BTW, I almost changed the end of the post, but that would have involved changing the entire post. Though the post was serious, there was a long, apparently lame joke embedded in it's structure -- an effort to be clever with a pop culture reference, albeit a thirty year old one.

Guess there's some lesson in there about form and function or something, but after looking up that many links, it was pretty late.

11:24 PM
I'm a New Yorker, desperate for real news about what's happening in my favorite city, New Orleans.

I blog about NOLA over at Daily Kos, as well as recommend other diaries about the subject and sometimes flail about yelling at commenters who write stupid things about what's going on there.

What little understanding I have about what's going on is from the local NOLA bloggers.

But it's not just facts I receive, though of course the facts are paramount.

I get a real flavor of what folks are going through in the city, their personalities, their feelings. And that's what made me want to learn more facts, not the other way around.

I don't think any of you realize how astonishing you are to someone outside the scene. You're an absolute lifeline for those of us who feel a deep need to understand what has happened and is still happening in New Orleans.

So I think there's two things happening here. One is purely local, you all pushing forward and struggling to clarify the role NOLA bloggers have to make a real difference in how information is disseminated to the voters, the citizens of your communities.

The second is to let those of us outside the region have information we cannot get elsewhere so that we can, at the very least, stay informed about the reality on the ground.

To me, NOLA is a bellweather of what's going to happen around the country, and Minneapolis is a good example of that. This is a national disgrace, a national challenge. Somehow that bridge between local and national must be built.

And for me, I find the NOLA blogs literally indispensable.

Sorry for the long ramble. Just couldn't help myself.
"I get a real flavor of what folks are going through in the city, their personalities, their feelings. And that's what made me want to learn more facts, not the other way around."


I personally think that people who live in New Orleans or thereabouts have to be living under rocks for any of what's been going on to have NO effect whatsoever. The formaldehyde-leeching FEMA trailers are an abstract concept - until you read mominem's trailer saga. Getting off the Isle of Denial and checking out what is still going on with one's own eyes can have a mighty effect as well. The problem is always going to be that of how do we live our lives AND fight for justice? Is living our lives down here as best we can, as robustly as we can, a fight in itself? How do we make that more meaningful?

"To me, NOLA is a bellweather of what's going to happen around the country, and Minneapolis is a good example of that. This is a national disgrace, a national challenge. Somehow that bridge between local and national must be built.

"And for me, I find the NOLA blogs literally indispensable."

It is one thing to be a canary in a coalmine. It is another to make that personal. I was happy to see
NPK's comments, because I think she's picked up on something the NOLAns are doing quite well: making the political personal.
Leigh, i didn't see your first comment when I replied to jeffrey. It took me while to reply because I wanted to write a clarification post -- it's up now.

The salonists thought is one that I should have have kept to myself (or at least spelled salonists correctly), but it is one that I occasionally have after reading a certain kind of post about the great things New Orleans bloggers are doing. I certainly don't think every blogger needs to worry about weighty issues. I'll take the time to read your post and comment in a couple of days, I've been pretty busy and don't want to write anything knee-jerk.

Nightprowlkitty, I appreciate your comments. My post was an expression of months of frustation over madia failure to say the emperor has no transparency, but he isn't making sausage. I disagree with Michael Reagan BTW.
In my opinion, bloggers (all of us, you and me included) have to have some kind of mental problem to write in this medium everyday and without fail. We are by nature self-centered, navel-gazing and egotistical, or would never have taken up the ePen in the first place, which is one of the reasons my husband can't stand bloggers and will not read us.

That said, what happened in New Orleans gave me and a lot of others the opportunity to take our navel-gazing toy and turn it into a tool of civic activism. The nature of the medium changes based on you YOU define it. I have more than a dozen faithful readers who DO NOT live in New Orleans who now read your blog, mine and the hundred others, and this is a direct result of my blog and its place in our network.

Of course, I'm an amateur, but I write with a quickness and passion sometimes, which the local and global MSM are sometimes incapable of. That is worth something in the search for more news on a topic not covered. And we have you to ask and answer a lot of the difficult questions; whose blog do you think I turn to for these in-depth posts that rankle and enquire? I may not comment on your posts, but know that I'm a faithful reader.

So, I'd say that instead of raking "a clique of salonists" (if only I had the time or patience for such a construct) over the coals for not reporting up to your standards, show each of us, teach us how to take each of our blogs to a higher level. I'm all ears.

This is precisely why my panel at RT this year is called Making Civic Sexy, in which Sarah Elise Lewis and Karen Gadbois will talk about how an average citizen can navigate City Hall and get access to information and records secreted away from the general public. With more tools, we can go from being self-serving and mind-numbing pablum to a public service.

As for the self-serving bit, blogging and commisserating in this manner is a form of therapy, at least to me. Also, sex sells, David, and you know it. I wrote a heartfelt, bloody-eyed post on what it is to be an American today and got two comments. Meanwhile, Vitter's fetishes elicited giggles all over the internet. Such is the nature of media, be it paper, TV or blog. Why do you think I'm trying to make civic sexy?

Thanks for this post and its virtual slap in the face. Teach me, David, show me what/how to do and I will gladly learn. Until then, please join us at Rising Tide (exposure) and tell us exactly how to move this medium and its current incarnation in NOLA onward and upward.
- My post was an expression of months of frustation over media failure to say the emperor has no transparency, but he isn't making sausage.

I feel that...i know the TP reporters feel that, they've told me as much. Nagin and cronies have completely stonewalled almost every request per FOIA and even destroyed public record to avoid information from getting out. Meffert went so far as to shut down the entire city database in order to delete 2 years worth of Blackberry messages after Russell filed an request under the FOIA to see them.

But while I appreciate the Sean Payton ball busting in the post, as a collective body, I think you may be setting the bar too high. Russell gets paid to do this for a living 5 days a week and he struggles to get past Nagin's cockblocks...I'm not sure how you expect people with 50 hour a week jobs, struggling to meet outrageous energy, tax, and insurance bills, to lift the veil of secrecy Nagin has shrouded himself in. I am busting my ass in my spare time to expose his bullshit, but I realize that I fall exceedingly short. You are doing an exceptional job of it but you can't expect everyone to match your intensity.

If your trying to rally the troops to "bitch" about it in order to raise awareness....that's one thing. But if you're expecting everyone else to meet the standards you've set for yourself...I think you're going overboard.

Before we get so masochistic....I'm curious how other city's bloggers compare to the job we've done. I mean, shit...i rarely even read national editorials anymore because I trust that YRHT is going to aggregate and articulate the issues for me.

I guess I'm in the self grandeur camp....I think we've collectively done one hell of a job.
personal toll...

I would work at what I do 24 hours a day, and while my husband and daughter went to Mexico I stayed here and wrote FOIA after FOIA, none of which have been filled BTW.

I have been concentrating on the demolitions but what i really really want to know is who is getting the debris removal contracts?
Karen, I'm so glad you asked. I don't know who's getting the contracts now, but there are reasons why I keep screaming that we need to vary our criticisms of Nagin. I'll write more later.
Interesting blog as for me. I'd like to read more concerning this matter.
BTW check the design I've made myself Young escort
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