Since opening last December, the Houston Zoo's African Forest habitat has drawn thousands of visitors to marvel at the latest addition, years in the making, spread out over six and a half acres. Populated with charismatic families of chimpanzees, giraffes and white rhinos, the African Forest also educates visitors about the plight of the real African Forest, and challenges them to locate the mythical "Koolakamba," a sort of African yeti. Best of all, it's a high-tech forest, meaning you can watch the rhinos' antics from the air-conditioned comfort of your home or office via the 24-hour Webcam.
Correction: Former State District Judge Caprice Cosper has never expressed the opinion that she has been impressed with her successor, Judge Maria Jackson. The Houston Press regrets the error. When she was elected to the 339th Criminal District Court in 2008 as part of the Obama-led Democratic sweep, Maria Jackson already had three strikes against her: She had defeated Caprice Cosper, perhaps the best liked and most respected incumbent (and former Best of Houston® Best Judge in 1999); she came from municipal court, hardly the birthplace of judicial heavyweights; and she had never spent a day as a Harris County prosecutor, a critical pedigree for anyone aspiring to a criminal bench. And so most of the cognoscenti at the Criminal Justice Center, especially those from the Chuck Rosenthal government-in-exile, thought Jackson would be in way over her head. Well, turned out they were wrong. Jackson has gone about the business of dispensing justice in a way that has even impressed Cosper, her highly regarded predecessor. Jackson runs a tight but cordial courtroom with a staff that does not have the disposition of prison guards.
With its antediluvian palmettos, teeming sloughs and oxbow lakes, and mighty live oaks, a trip to Brazos Bend can feel like time-travel to the Cretaceous Period. That goes double, or triple, when you encounter one of the park's dozens upon dozens of wild alligators. It's surreal enough when you see them on one of the more well-traveled trails, like Elm Lake or 40 Acre Lake, but it gets downright primal when you come across a big old 12-footer sunning herself in a more isolated area, like, say, a few steps off the trail, near the mouth of Big Creek. Even if the wild gators don't do much other than sit there most of the time, there's a world of difference between seeing them in the zoo and in such wild surroundings with no bars between the giant reptiles and you.
Patricia Kerrigan was appointed to the 190th District bench by Governor Rick Perry in 2007 after a career mostly spent defending corporate clients, so the attorneys who sue those corporations might have been excused if they felt some doubts about how she'd do on the bench. But Kerrigan has proven to be a fair arbiter willing to listen to both sides and follow the law, and really, that's all you want from a judge. She moves cases along and doesn't waste anyone's time, which also helps a lot.
Say what you want about downtown; with the addition of the light rail and increasingly landscaped and well-tended pedestrian areas, it's never been easier to get around by foot if you live in the CBD. Don't want to endure the mid-day heat in your suit? Take the tunnels and walk your ass all over town in air-conditioned comfort. Otherwise, you can hit everything downtown has to offer in ten to 20 short minutes on the surface streets: concerts at the House of Blues, games at Minute Maid Park or the Toyota Center or farmers' markets at City Hall and Discovery Green. The ballet, the opera, the symphony, the Alley Theatre — all are within mere feet of each other. And in many places, the bar and restaurant density means that you can just show up at the Pavilions or Bayou Place and decide from a wealth of options on the fly. Walk to one of the many light-rail stops and within minutes you can be in the Medical Center, the Museum District or even Reliant Park. With the opening of grocery stores like Phoenicia and the construction of the new Dynamo Stadium, hoofing it around downtown is looking more attractive by the day.
Got a teen in trouble with drugs? Cornerstone Recovery Program is an outpatient service equipped to help you and your child. Firmly rooted in the tenets of the 12-Step program, Cornerstone provides comprehensive A-to-Z treatment by a qualified staff, many of whom have personal history with addiction in their families. Cornerstone is concerned with long-lasting results, so each teen patient has an individualized treatment plan uniquely suited to their needs and family situation, with — here's the good part — realistic goals.
If there were a Fortune 500 of charitable organizations in the U.S., no doubt Neighborhood Centers would be on that list. With the dynamic Angela Blanchard at its helm since 1998, the nonprofit — begun in 1904 as an "affordable nursery" by Alice Graham Baker (yes, those Bakers) — has swallowed up Houston and the Gulf Coast. It has 60 centers (and growing), offering affordable child care, senior services and a plethora of community initiatives. NCI invented the concept of "one-stop shopping" for social services. We wish we could buy stock in it!
The asthenosphere and lithosphere don't usually concern us, but thankfully a brainiac team over at Rice University led by Alan Levander has them on their radar. There's a huge section of land known as the Colorado Plateau; it has a "rising while it's sinking" quality that's had scientists scratching their heads for a while. Seems the bottom layers (that's the asthenosphere) are pushing up, while the top layers (the lithosphere) are sinking down. This rising-while-it's-sinking phenomenon might not mean a lot to you and me, but once Levander and his team figured out that's what was going on with the Colorado Plateau, geologists all over the world got real excited. Finally, the mystery was solved.
The Baker Institute is the place to turn for the latest trends in national and international affairs, and how to change them. A nonpartisan think tank, it brings together experts across all disciplines — academia, media, business and nonprofits. Journalists, policymakers, even U.S. presidents have lectured and hosted seminars at the Baker Institute. Fellows teach classes and seminars at Rice, and students can intern for the think tank. This year, the Baker Institute held an energy conference on what to do about the Japanese nuclear crisis. With an all-star board of advisers including Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell, the Baker Institute offers a unique Houston perspective on affairs of the world.
In selecting sites for their offices, most lawyers go for weighty solemnity or tried-and-true antique charm — think vintage Heights Boulevard arts-and-crafts bungalow. Not appellate court lawyer Tim Hootman. His riotously colored assemblage of old rail cars — a caboose, a boxcar and an old Pullman sleeper — on the corner of Pease and Dowling is just plain fun. You might think Hootman is a train fanatic, but he has long protested that he is not. Instead, he's just a guy who likes to play with architecture, and this woebegone fringe of downtown is much the better for it.

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