Buzz

The shallow end; All the news that fits; Heart of darkness

The shallow end

Imagine how bitter the taste of defeat must be for Laura Miller on her wading pool deal, especially since it looked like she had the thing won.

Miller, trying to keep two city wading pools open in poor neighborhoods in southern Dallas, persuaded the ExxonMobil Foundation to contribute $50,000 to the cause, only to have the plan scuttled last Wednesday after the council voted 7-7 to toss the donation into a general parks and recreation fund. The vote, Miller says, followed a little behind-the-scenes lobbying by other council and park board members to persuade ExxonMobil to make their donation an unrestricted gift. (Buzz's mother taught us a two-syllable word for the sort of person who would muck around with another's good deed like that. The second syllable is "heel.")

So, no dough. No pools. Sorry kids, just sweat it out; we've got politics to attend to, though you can take comfort in the fact that the vote was closer even than the final tally. Miller says Mayor Pro Tem Mary Poss had been promising to vote with her on the pool deal for weeks. When they voted, Poss even pushed her vote button in favor of Miller, but the mayor saw it and whispered helpfully, "You voted yes." There was a long pause. The mayor said, "You need to..." (Change it, change it, change it.) Still no reaction from Poss. So the mayor said, "Well, it passes eight to six."

Finally Poss came around. "Mr. Mayor," she said, "my vote was no, but it's reflected as yes." At which point the mayor quickly changed the verdict and announced the measure had been defeated 7-7. "I pushed the wrong button," Poss explained to Buzz, noting that she'd said earlier in the meeting that she intended to vote no. In the Mary Poss political biography, when it is written, this will not be a Churchillian moment.

On the other hand, Buzz can see where she might have become confused, there being two whole buttons to choose from and all. Having a real choice between two alternatives is a rare occurrence for the city council. Maybe next time a vote is close, Poss should just let Kirk push the right one.

As tough as the loss must have been, Miller can take comfort in the fact that the fight is not over. Tim Daniels, a North Dallas father of two who, along with his wife, has done volunteer ministry work with children in the pools' neighborhoods, has opened a bank account for donations to keep the city's wading pools open. The account is at Bank One. You can make donations to Saving City Pools, account number 1583440951. Daniels says he hopes to raise between $50,000 and $100,000 to give to the city. Our advice to him: Get a receipt.

All the news that fits

In unguarded moments, Dallas Morning News insiders have long confided that their paper operates on the "Two Rivers Rule": The staff can report any kind of scandal it wants, as long as the scandal takes place at least two rivers away from Dallas. But recent events have made the rule less an inside secret than a public joke.

Two weeks ago, a who's who of the local environmental community gathered at a Park Cities church to hear presentations by two Houston lawyers about what's wrong with the Trinity River Plan. One of them, Larry Dunbar, who also happens to be a hydrologist, electrified the audience by showing how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may have fudged its computer models in order to create a totally fake need for the huge project. Dunbar is one of two lawyers hired by an alliance of groups to pursue state and federal lawsuits against the project.

The Dallas Observer was there, which was no big deal, because we've been covering this stuff from the beginning. But the enviros got all giddy and hopeful when they saw that Victoria Loe Hicks of the Morning News was also covering the meeting. So far the News has refused to report the down-and-dirty controversy over the project in any real detail. The enviros took special note of the fact that Hicks, a respected veteran reporter, stuck around long after the meeting ended and pestered the lawyers for more details.

Next day? Nothing in the News. The next? Nada. The enviro grapevine started humming with rumors that Hicks would have a major piece in the paper Sunday morning.

Zip.

Finally, on April 12, Hicks had a front-page story about an Environmental Protection Agency report warning that plans to build a highway with the Trinity levees could increase pollution and reduce flood protection. Project supporters told Hicks that the EPA was just "waving a little warning flag" and everything was really jake. The road has to go between the levees because it would simply cost too much to build it outside.

And the opponents? How big did they say that warning flag was? Beats us. They still weren't quoted -- not on the EPA comments and certainly not on the other story about the Corps' figure-fudging.

Two chances in a week for the anti-Trinity people to make the daily, and they bat 0-2.

Maybe Hicks forgot their names after she left that church. If she had spoken to them, they might have pointed out that the difference in how much it costs to build a road between the levees and outside them is much smaller if you take into account how much extra dirt will have to be dug from the river channel, and the new bridges that all that excavation will require.

Actually, Buzz prefers having it go this way. We can sit by idly and count the moments, waiting to see whether the Morning News makes it into the Guinness Book of World Records for Longest Running Refusal to Cover An Unmistakably Significant Story.

Heart of darkness

In our head, Buzz knows that James J. Doolin, convicted criminal and Dallas author of How to Change Your Identity and Erase Bad Credit, is doing A Very Bad Thing -- the sort of thing any responsible editorialist would condemn for encouraging lawlessness and corrupting the youth and harrumph, harrumph, harrumph.

But in our heart -- flinty, irresponsible organ that it is -- we kind of admire anyone as openly amoral and grasping as Doolin appears to be. We're not alone, are we? Otherwise, why is The Sopranos so popular?

Doolin describes his self-published 56-page manual as a step-by-step instruction guide to obtaining counterfeit birth certificates and other documents, erasing bad credit without actually paying your bills, and profiting on the exchange of Canadian travelers checks.

At least one of those acts, counterfeiting, is undoubtedly illegal, Doolin says. He should know; he was twice convicted of trafficking in counterfeit documents and is in the middle of serving three years' probation.

Several people asked him how he created the fake documents, and while there are several how-to books out there, Doolin says he believed he "could write a better book."

"Write what you know" is always good advice for an aspiring author to follow, though Doolin's federal probation officer apparently disagrees. In fact, Doolin had a little chat with her last week. "She didn't hassle me as much as I thought she would," Doolin says. "She read it, and she didn't approve. They'll probably pass it on to the U.S. Attorney's Office."

It all sounds pretty ballsy for a man who has seen the inside of a federal pen. Is he some sort of live-free-or-die libertarian? Buzz asked him. A revolutionary anarchist trying to stick it to The Man?

No and no. He's only doing it for the money. Doolin is an old-fashioned American capitalist. "I'm not getting rich off it," he says of the book. "It's worth my while. Let's put it like that."

Doolin says he's "kind of like a gun dealer. Once he makes a sale and the guy goes and kills somebody, he's [the dealer] not responsible for the murder."

Many people, several states' attorneys general among them, might quibble with Doolin on that, but he doesn't seem to care. He wanted to know whether Buzz would put his story on the front page and could we please include his phone number? He had some books to move.

Our head found the request appalling, but our heart...Well, let's just say we can empathize with anyone who writes appalling things for money: His book costs $25 and is available at local spy shops and on the Internet. Find it yourself and use it wisely.

óCompiled from staff reports by Patrick Williams

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