Since we have trashed most of The Dallas Morning News columnists at some time or another during the year, it would be damn inconsistent, if not bordering on hypocritical, to celebrate them now. But what the heck. Crow is an acquired taste and one that we don't mind indulging, particularly when we see talent within the otherwise banal and gutless op-ed pages of the News. Unlike many of his colleagues, columnist Ruben Navarrette is not afraid to take on the establishment, be it business or political. He chastises the Bush Administration for using the war as an excuse to deprive individuals of their civil rights. He chastises Republican senatorial candidate John Cornyn for playing politics by demanding a too-little-too-late investigation into the Tulia, Texas, mass drug arrests. He chastises the school board for denying Hispanics representation consistent with their demographics. Yet make no mistake: His politics are often conservative, though witnessed through the refreshing lens of cultural diversity. His voice is clear, his opinions clearer, and unlike many at the DMN, you don't come away from his writing questioning where he is coming from and which interest group he is trying not to offend.

Yes, yes, we know Norah Jones used to play piano at an Italian restaurant in North Dallas before she moved to NYC and sold a million or so copies of her debut album, Come Away With Me. But you did not see her there. No, really, you didn't.

WaterTower Theatre

Addison? Theater mecca? Whodathunk that a few years ago? Then along came an Alabama grad named Terry Martin, determined to turn a small but well-loved community theater company into a major force in Dallas-area arts. He's done that by consistently raising the bar in the choices of plays, casting the best-trained professional actors and overseeing the redesign of the interior of the WaterTower space in a compelling way for every new production. As a director, Martin, 45, recently reinterpreted Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as a battle royal between nouveau riche Southern social climbers, with the usually cantankerous Big Daddy (perfectly cast with actor R Bruce Elliott) almost welcoming the "outing" of gay son Brick as a way of reclaiming their relationship. Martin has spent 10 years at WaterTower. Only problem with all the directing is it leaves him little time to get onstage himself. His performance in Neil LaBute's Bash during the WaterTower's spring "Out of the Loop" festival was one of the best by an actor on any Dallas stage this year.

Since 9-11, most right-thinking Amurkins have had lumps in their throats when it comes to the sacrifices made by dutiful police and firefighters. But the throat bone doesn't connect to the wallet bone, and sentimentality will only get you so far (not very) when you ask Dallas taxpayers for a 17 percent raise, especially when times are hard for everyone's budget, particularly the city's. What were Dallas' police and firefighters thinking, putting this issue on the ballot now? Oh, that's right; they thought all that "honoring our heroes in blue" stuff was sincere. Suckers.

Best Thing D Magazine Ever Wrote That Wasn't Advertorial

Tom Hicks is Going Broke

We'll admit it: We wish we had that damned story, not Wick Allison's Park Cities Greensheet. So, when D ran that cover with Hicks, or a Photoshopped Tommy, flashing empty pockets, we pretended it was so much tabloid hogwash, Allison's way of proving to his moneyed pals he couldn't be bought by this town's richest fellers. Turns out that story was dead on the money, no matter how hard Hicks tries to deny it; after all, if he really wanted to stick with a winner, he would have held onto his Dallas Stars, our most recent champs in any major sporting league. Instead, he's selling off his NHL team (worth about $200 mil) and his stake in the American Airlines Center (estimated value: $400 mil). Why he's dumping the AAC is beyond us; yeah, we hate the place, but it's gotta be the rich man's ATM, unlike the Arlington-owned Ballpark, which will soon enough start to look like it smells. (Ya know, now that we think about it, that place always was a hokey hodgepodge.) Maybe Hicks just couldn't get over his man crush on Mike Modano, who's gone from underrated to overrated in three seasons' time; maybe he just likes the drive to Arlington. Or maybe he's got a thing for guys in tight pants who grab their crotches and spit. Dunno. All we know is this Texas Ex is dumping the one team he owns that's respectable in order to keep the one that's reprehensible. Does that make any damned sense, or cents, to you?

Judging by how often he's cast in local productions, Bill Jenkins appears to be a director's darling. In the three leading roles he's had at three theaters here this year, he's proven versatile, likable and dependable as a performer, expertly tackling a wide range of accents and acting styles. For Addison's WaterTower Theatre, he roared as the ghost of John Barrymore in the high-spirited I Hate Hamlet. At Theatre Three (where he was voted "Patrons' Favorite") he raised the roof as an ambitious young Baptist minister in God's Man in Texas. For Theatre Britain at the Trinity River Arts Center, he oozed cockney charm as The Mysterious Mr. Love. He's also performed major comedic and dramatic roles at Kitchen Dog, Stage West, Casa Maana and Circle Theatre. Watching Jenkins onstage is a lesson in acting technique. His diction is crisp, his physicality well-tuned. His handsome face, with its deeply dimpled smile, can shift from utterly beguiling one moment to dangerously brooding the next. There's something old-fashioned about Jenkins' approach to stage work. He doesn't just say the words and strike the poses; he inhabits the characters and disappears into the roles. When his name is in the program, you know you're in for something good. Applause, applause.

Landmark Magnolia

Quite a fuss was made when the Angelika Film Center & Café opened at Mockingbird Station, but here's the dirty truth: Parking is impossible, and once you actually get inside the theater (if you do; shows sell out quicker than most business majors), you're surrounded by every North Dallas soccer mom who still thinks going to see independent (or--gasp!--foreign) films is edgy. Quietly, the Magnolia was up and running a few months later, and since then, it's beaten the Angelika at its own game--finding the sweet spot between the art house and the cineplex--even if the scoreboard doesn't always reflect it. You can grab an adult beverage at Fuel (the cozy and classy bar upstairs) and a Hebrew National hot dog from the concession stand, then sit back and relax with some of the finest films coming through town. And you can do it all in an atmosphere that feels more like you're in your living room with friends instead of the odd man out at a Jewish singles function. Bonus: The Magnolia houses one of the only digital projectors in Texas.

Best Proof that Talent Scouts Have Been Ignoring the D-FW Area for Too Long

American Idol

Grand Prairie's Nikki McKibbin was one of the final three contestants, and Burleson's Kelly Clarkson won the whole shooting match. Maybe A&R reps will start paying a little more attention. Then again, what good did winning a televised battle of the bands do for Flickerstick (since bought out of its contract with Epic Records) or D-FW as a whole? Discuss.

Fourteen months ago, Dallas was home to but a single art-house movie theater: the Inwood, as rundown as an Industrial Boulevard "masseuse." Then the Angelika pulled into Mockingbird Station, and where once there were three screens, suddenly there were almost a dozen. Then, earlier this year, the Magnolia opened in the West Village, adding five more screens to the mix, and the stagnant had suddenly become vibrant--exciting, even, as the three theaters began vying for titles in what has turned into an all-out bidding war. The Magnolia's been forced to suffer the most: Film distributors would prefer giving their movies to the Inwood, owned by the once-and-could-be-mighty-again Landmark chain, and the Angelika, which has a handful of theaters, simply because they have more screens nationwide; to dis them would be bad for business. Yet the Magnolia's proved this town's big enough for all comers by taking the Angelika's--and, for that matter, everyone else's--quality cast-offs (including, oh, About a Boy and Tadpole) and wringing more money out of them than anyone expected; indeed, the Magnolia actually ups grosses, making it not only this town's best first-run theater but also its best second-run venue. And the audience wins all around, because not only do we get titles that were long forced to skip Dallas, but they also last longer; we don't miss the good stuff anymore.

Whew. Talk about a way to make enemies. They've all got their niches, as well as their weaknesses--oops, we mean quirks. Here, then, a few peeves and observations. Some of the "top" galleries in this town (no names here) are way too tuned in to the biennials for our tastes. Others (no names) try way too hard to be hip. And of the few good galleries in this town, only a handful--we're talking three, maybe four--fundamentally get what art is about. Too many get caught up in marketing and PR and society columns and party pix and Who Attended What Opening and all that folderol that, in the end, undermine art's only legitimate purpose: the promotion of ideas and honest debate. We know we're sounding a bit puritan here. And we've got nothing against a good party. But we should never forget that making, selling and writing about art are silly and frivolous occupations that mask very serious purposes. In the words of one theoretician, they are "wasteful, privileged endeavor[s] through which very serious ideas are sorted out." Oh, sure, artists have gotta eat, and gallery owners have to pay rent, and it helps to move a canvas here and there. But way too many galleries in this town are more concerned about selling than about serving as good, old-fashioned marketplaces of ideas. And so, with reservations, we're going to have to pick Pillsbury and Peters Fine Art. Yeah, we know. They don't do emerging artists; they don't take big chances. And in a recent, rather unpleasant instance, they seemed to be unable to understand the difference between art criticism and promotion. But the folks at the top, particularly Ted Pillsbury, get the marketplace-of-ideas thing. And it's the one place in town where you can always see something worthwhile. Honorable mentions go to Mulcahy Modern and Photographs Do Not Bend, two places run by folks who are in it for all the right reasons. If they had the space and resources of Pillsbury and Peters, they'd be vying for the top spot.

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