Stonewall Jackson Elementary

While the Dallas Independent School District talks about splitting into three (we think they ought to use dynamite rather than a bureaucratic blueprint) to deal with their woes, it's nice to cite an example of what is good within DISD. Stonewall Jackson Elementary School has received the exemplary school status on the state level, and the blue-ribbon school status on the national level. Their annual celebration of international cultures helps to teach inclusiveness at an early age in a city where ethnic clashes can create political headaches.

Yes, we're pulling another cop-out, but come on, there are many damned fine galleries here, and our favorite changes with each new show. It would be fruitless to list one each here along with its respective virtues. Some good starting points include Pillsbury and Peters Fine Art, the McKinney Avenue Contemporary, Photographs Do Not Bend, Conduit Gallery, Barry Whistler Gallery, Dunn and Brown Contemporary, and Craighead-Green Gallery. Plus, it seems a new gallery is opening every few months in downtown and Expo Park alone. So get out and judge for yourselves.

You don't have to be You Know Who to walk on water in Fair Park. Two large, plant-inspired sculptures arch, curve, and twist over the still lagoon, creating stairs and walkways for getting a closer look at turtles, water bugs, and the occasional fast food container lurking below the surface. A low tide, shoes with good traction, and a healthy equilibrium is suggested to keep you from getting baptized in the murky waters.

Covering international beats is a cool but challenging gig, especially considering the void of interest in international relations endemic to the American public. Bringing compelling tales from or about foreign lands to the pages of local newspapers is a good vehicle to get people to shed their back yard mentality. Timothy O'Leary hopscotches the world in search of dramatic conflicts or radical change. In the last two years he's filed stories from Ireland, Greece, and India. His coverage of the most recent Mexican presidential election, including an appealingly sheepish column regarding his botched prediction that Vicente Fox would lose, brought simple analysis of the attitude of the Mexican people as seen from the ground. His columns are admirably free of self-indulgence and written in a traditional, accessible style. Sure, it's a good gig, traveling the world and filing an average of seven stories a year. But if done right, a good international columnist can bring to the readership a glimpse of life beyond U.S. borders, a sorely needed acknowledgement that Dallas is just a small part of a big world.

He hammered Bill Rojas and his overpriced posse of headquarters bureaucrats, then came up with what could be the scoop of the summer: sleazy back-scratching judges down at the civil courthouse. What's cool about Shipp is that he's so nice while he's capping those knees. Rather than huff and puff himself up as a crusading investigator, like so many others in this market, he delivers the goods in an almost self-effacing tone. Good and humble. It's a surprise he's made it in TV news.

What? James Fantroy the best city council member? A man who was seemingly handpicked by the felonious Al "Big Daddy" Lipscomb to fill his seat? A man whose first business was operating a liquor store? A man who operated a security company without a license for years? Well, he's new, and he hasn't had a chance to screw up yet. That fact differentiates the 62-year-old Fantroy from his peers on the council. He remains a blank slate, unlike bumbling jester John Loza, sanctimonious vigilante Laura Miller, and clueless Alan Walne. Their preenings and snide broadsides fired around the horseshoe leave little choice but to give the new guy a pass and a pat on the back. Give him time--we're pretty sure he'll put his foot in it soon enough.

Many, many people are going to think this one definitely has to go to our recently departed short-timer school superintendent, Waldemar Rojas, if not for the unforgettable "tin-cup" episode, then for some other installment in his Bosnian-style public relations career in Dallas. But we get into a technical area. Strictly speaking, good gaffes can't be done by major-league wackoids. Those aren't gaffes; they're symptoms. A really good political gaffe has to be a case of pure-D, wrong-way, dumb-head, boy-oh-boy stepping-in-it by people who really shoulda known better. For that, the big Year 2001 Ark of the Holy-Moley Best Political Gaffe of the Year Award definitely goes to Dallas Mayor Ron (Pothole) Kirk and fellow city councilonians Maxine (Doctor-Doctor) Thornton-Reese, Don (Down) Hill, Lois (What a) Finkelman, Barbara (I hate Laura) Mallory-Caraway, Herb (Who?) Walne, and Mary (Very) Poss for voting not to use a $50,000 gift from ExxonMobil Corp. to repair a wading pool in an impoverished neighborhood. Later, of course, they all ate big-time crow (ummm, yummy!) and voted to fix the pools, but only after having waltzed themselves deep into some shoe-staining-type political shit. Note to selves: "Supposed to kiss babies, not kiss them off."

There are other better-known and better-funded theater companies offering classes to children, but dollar-for-dollar the Richardson group offers the best value. The six-week sessions end with your children in professional and actually enjoyable productions. Most of the kids on stage appear to have learned how to act. The adult repertory actors perform the major roles, making the theatrical occasion a satisfying (as opposed to merely a pride-filled) moment.

The entire 20th century was brought under microscopic scrutiny in this North American premiere courtesy of the Dallas Theater Center and director Preston Lane, who made a revelatory debut as a main-season captain after he had previously worked at the perennial task of resweetening DTC's hard-candy fave A Christmas Carol. We've grown so accustomed to the computer-created special effects provided by weather-driven disaster flicks like A Perfect Storm that we forget their major dramatic thrust is entrapment, forced intimacy, unlikely alliances, major decisions made in stressfully minor allotments of time--in other words, the mtier of theatrical tension. Inexpressible Island was the fictionalized true account of a group of British explorers in 1912 sailing to the South Pole. They didn't reach their goal, but were instead sequestered for months inside a carved-out ice cave, bickering over raisins and seal fat and the English proprieties that were a clumsy fit inside this icy hell. The ruling officers attempted to keep order through various disciplinary mind games and the academic lectures of a comrade too learned on contemporary art and history and literature for everyone's good. The men are driven almost to mutiny by the impudent disordering of faith and logic and traditional narrative of which he earnestly speaks. With screeching winds, a slick and steep stage level, and a backdrop of crazily kaleidoscopic night stars, Inexpressible Island kept everyone--actors and audience--unsteady and unsettled. Sadly, after making such a strong mainstage directorial impression, Lane is heading to North Carolina in 2001 to open his own theater.

Are the guys in Section 8 the funniest? Depends on the show. A good audience can make the show come together as surely as a bad one can ruin it. The point is this: These guys are fast and ready to take what they're handed. They're crass; they have a crazy following. They have two weekly shows--Wednesdays at the Improv in Addison and Thursdays at Ozona on Greenville Avenue. But they do something that troupes can rarely do--pull young adults away from the TV screen or Deep Ellum bars and into a comedy club. Perhaps it's because Section 8 is primed for that target--kids who love gross-out humor, understand pop culture references, and like to hear parodies of popular songs.

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