Pointless Exercise

If we really want to get those guys we've captured in Iraq to crack, the way to do it is with very long PowerPoint presentations. Or, as I have come to think of them, What's the Point presentations.

I sat through more than four hours of PowerPoint on the Trinity River plan last week at City Hall--the things with the home-movie screen and the laptop computer where the guy talks, and then what he says is printed out in big block letters on the movie screen, and he points to his own words with a laser pointer while he speaks them. The only way they could possibly make it more like a root canal would be to have a mime troupe acting out the letters of the words.

The big news last week? The Trinity River project will cost way more than any new tax base it will supposedly create. But you didn't see that in The Dallas Morning News, did you? And long before they ever got to that point in the presentation, the TV people had all fallen over in a dead faint, packed up their gizmos and left, so you didn't see it on TV, either. I fainted for a while, too, but I had nowhere else to go.

Costs more than any new tax base it will create in the next 30 years!

The purpose of What's the Point presentations is to make you forget what the point is so that when it's finally your turn to ask questions, you'll be so wacked out you'll ask things like, "Where do birds come from?" Oh, my goodness. At City Hall I thought I was going to die.

Way in the back of my mind I kept thinking: "Hey, wait a minute. They're showing pictures of this exciting new plan to rebuild the Trinity River where it runs through downtown Dallas, and it's got a big fat stinko expressway on top of the river."

I thought that was the point of the last five years of battle over this dumb deal. In 1998, they said they wanted to put a stinko expressway on top of the river. We got rid of the gang who were running City Hall. We elected this big scary bomb-thrower named Laura Miller for mayor, because mainly we just wanted City Hall to shut up and fix the damn potholes.

So now she's the mayor. She raised private money to bring in all these guys from Harvard to study how to do the river the right way. Finally they're showing us their What's the Point presentation. And it's still got this big stinko highway on top of the river.

I'm sitting there thinking, "It cannot be. Laura Miller is not up there proposing a big fat highway on top of the river."

Finally, four hours into it, the council members started getting a chance to respond. Sandy Greyson represents the nosebleed district, No. 12, so far north that everybody in it speaks with a Yankee accent. She pushed up her sleeves and balled her fists and went right to that big fat expressway thing.

First Greyson asked for--and did not receive--a guarantee that the highway being presented by the Harvard team, once it's on the ground and a fact of life, won't be fattened up and turned into even more of a road hog by adding lanes. She said she really wanted to get that information as soon as possible. Otherwise, she said, "We have spent a great deal of time, energy, effort and money to go from an eight-lane high-speed toll road to a six-lane high-speed toll road. I don't believe that's what the public wants."

Greyson objected to the way the whole stinko expressway thing was being touted: "The background material continually refers to it as a 'parkway,'" she said. "This is a toll road. It's not a parkway. It's a toll road, and it's a high-speed toll road. It's not a low-speed parkway. And that may be OK with this council. And that may be OK with the public. But I would at least like to call it what it is. Let's not spin it right away.

"Let's call it what it is, and let's see if the public indeed wants it and if this is what they voted for and this is what they want to see in that corridor."

Lois Finkelman represents District 11, mainly north of Forest Lane. Think of a crazy ex-hippie earth mother. Now turn around four times, squint your eyes, stamp your foot and concentrate on the exact opposite. I think you're getting Lois Finkelman.

But Finkelman was like Greyson: She waded into it kickin' butt and takin' names: "I have to tell you I was very disappointed with today's briefing," she said. "I appreciated the materials. I appreciated the pretty pictures. I appreciated some of the information. But I was very frustrated, because there were not any hard numbers."