Sunday, February 24, 2008

One definition of sanity

To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, the definition of sanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting the same results. Unfortunately, the mayor's latest outburst produced a slightly different result than usual. If the op-ed page of today's T/P is any indication, Nagin didn't just distract attention from other matters, it seems to have had an intimidating effect on local journalists.

To be sure, James Gill did write about Nagin's most recent tantrum rather than more important matters in today's column, but he pulled the few punches he bothered to throw. Gill got in his usual witticism or two, but he also repeated the Picayune's apology for a recent photo of the mayor holding a gun.

However, the truly puzzling aspect of Gill's column was that it seemed to be an attempt to offer an explanation for the mayor's statements. A questionable explanation at that:
The security question came up after Nagin complained about blogs on a website affiliated with, but not controlled by, the Times-Picayune.

The Web site posts articles from the paper and invites reader comments. Among readers taking advantage of that opportunity, Nagin said, are "some of the most vile, angry people that I've ever seen in this community."

He is absolutely correct. Some of those bloggers can put a racist spin on a weather report, although it seems a bit of a stretch to blame the newspaper for that.

It's not at all clear whether Nagin was referring to commenters at or New Orleans bloggers, many of whom are frequently critical of the mayor. I suppose that Gill may have inferred that Nagin must have been referring to comments on because none of the New Orleans bloggers can be said to make racist criticisms* of the mayor, but that's a strange inference for a writer of Gill's well known cynicism to draw. Politicians frequently question the motivations of their critics, and accusations of prejudice are easy way to call motivations into question. Gill is assuming that Nagin made a perfectly reasonable statement in an interview that left people questioning his very sanity.

So, what should Gill have written about? Before I answer that, I'll quote something that I wrote last May:
To my way of thinking, those reasons fall into two broad general categories. Excessive secrecy leads to even more waste of money, which leads to more uncompleted projects and other fiscal problems. Also, whatever rebuilding decisions are made, some people are going to disagree. Excessive secrecy can only lead to more rancor and bitterness on the part of residents who are unhappy with those decisions and help justify charges of conspiracies or crooked insider deals.

I made a similar point the following August, BTW. Bear that in mind as you read today's article on the plans for the new VA hospital and LSU Medical Center. I don't know if there's corruption involved, although I automatically suspect corruption whenever there's secrecy surrounding a government project that does not involve national security but does involve millions of dollars; maybe I'm just too cynical. However, some things are entirely predictable:
"I understand the VA is needed for New Orleans," Rogers said. "My biggest issue has just been with the way it's all happened, and the absolute lack of respect the city has shown in dealing with people in this situation. . . . The only things we hear from the mayor are his grandiose announcements in the paper."

City leaders said they did not want to convene a neighborhood meeting until they had definitive word that the VA plans to build in the Tulane-Gravier area.
The city did not find it premature, however, to sign a memorandum in November in which it agreed to acquire 34 acres between Galvez and Rocheblave for the VA hospital...

I'll also point out that so much secrecy isn't just unacceptable from the administration of a mayor who like to be called a "champion of transparency," it's also unlawful.

So, James Gill, if you're reading this, stop paying so much attention to the things that the mayor does say, and start writing about how little anybody in his "transparent" administration actually does say. If you're worried about the mayor's the mayor's threat to coldcock somebody, relax -- I got your back. Or, I would, if you actually wrote about that, and I'd probably have coverage from at least a dozen other residents.

*Well, since Gill's colleague, Jarvis DeBerry, once explained that it was racist for a white man to call a black woman a "bitch," he might argue that high-maintenance size queen is also racist.

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