We used to make fun of the Republic, constantly. It was so boring, so ridiculously provincial, so . . . mainstream. But this year, we have to admit, we stopped sneering and started worrying. The paper's parent company, Gannett, has been hemorrhaging money, and we've seen the results in a series of editorial cuts that have sent the paper's best staffers heading for the exits. For a while, it seemed like everybody was fleeing to jobs in public relations (Judy Nichols, Robbie Sherwood, Mark Shaffer, Chris Fiscus). Now the rest of them seem to be headed to the unemployment line. The paper's far-from-generous buyout package netted another 28 losses last month, and among the casualties were some of our favorite people: Chuck Kelly, who led the Republic's Don Bolles investigation and was known as a great wordsmith and all-around nice guy. Norm Frauenheim, considered one of the country's top boxing writers. Richard DeUriarte, an avuncular presence who moderated political debates all over the Valley and used to be the paper's Public Advocate. We have to admit, had we known they were going, we might have appreciated the Republic a little more while they were there. The paper simply won't be the same without them — and for once, we mean that in a completely non-snarky, non-sneering way.

He sits on the Arizona Corporation Commission. She sits over the Maricopa County Superior Court, as chief presiding judge. Together, they run the world. Well, not quite, but damn close. As top judge, Barbara's taken no prisoners (at least, not where some less-favored colleagues are concerned) and she's earned her reputation as hard-nosed, but fair (at least most of the time). Bill is also a lawyer — in fact, he once served as Chief Presiding Judge of Chandler Municipal Court. No big deal compared with his wife's lofty digs as the big cheese at the county courthouse, but who's comparing? Bill resigned from his judgeship in the mid-'80s to run for political office; the moderate Republican served for many years in the Arizona legislature, and now on the board that regulates power, among other things. Will Mrs. Mundell follow in Mr.'s footsteps? Barbara insists she's not headed for life in public office or, perhaps, a slot as an appellate judge. In fact, she insists to pals that she'll quit public life in about two years, when her time as the chief is up. We hope someone can change her mind.

Never thought we'd say that, did you? We've been tormenting the over-caffeinated Gordon from just about the minute he was elected five years ago — and we were hardly all that enthusiastic about his re-coronation last fall. But something amazing happened on César Chávez Day: Mayor Gordon found his voice. To us, a good politician isn't one who triangulates or tries to scrape up a majority or panders to the racist jerks who increasingly dominate the political discussion here in Arizona. A good politician leads. And with his eloquent denunciation of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and racial profiling, Gordon did just that.

Burton Barr Central Library

We used to haunt the library on a regular basis. Then, the Internet came along. So, sadly, when we hoofed it over one evening this summer, we were hard-pressed to recall the last time we'd crossed the hallowed threshold of our city's main book drag.

If you haven't been lately, either, let us tell you: The clientele has changed. We don't want to be rude, but let us just say that we were likely the only ones in the library actually doing research that night. Which might be why the library staff pounced on us when we approached the reference desk with a question about some 20-year-old congressional hearing testimony.

In the end, it took three librarians to solve our conundrum. That included a particularly energetic Swedish (we think) woman who put off her smoking break to practically dance through the aisles, searching for just the right volume, then pulling the microfiche, feeding it into the machine and even finding the corresponding day's newspaper, just in case that offered any additional information.

It did, and we left Burton Barr with a renewed respect for the library sciences. The World Wide Web did not, in fact, kill the library star. Not yet, anyway.

Before you say that you're done being bummed out by yet another sad reminder of the horrors of Nazi Germany, consider remarkable 82-year-old Romanian-born Magda Herzberger. Now living in Fountain Hills, Mrs. Herzberger survived three death camps, Auschwitz, Bremen, and Bergen-Belsen.

For nearly four decades, she has spoken about her incredible experiences, reading from her poetry and from her books, listening to musical groups perform her haunting compositions (her piece Requiem is dedicated to the memory of the Holocaust victims). She inevitably gets a lot of questions after she speaks, especially from schoolchildren, about what she endured and how she did it. The thing is, this resilient woman somehow is an eternal optimist, and her speaking style is so engaging and upbeat that it's impossible to leave the room afterward feeling less than hopeful about the human spirit, even under the most horrific circumstances. Her recent autobiography, Survivor, and her children's book, Tales of the Magic Forest, are inspirational. Mrs. Herzberger seems to thrive on speaking at public libraries. She is a bright light among us. Next time you see her listed on an events schedule, do drop in.

Glendale Public Library

Benjamin Franklin had it right about 275 years ago when he created the colonies' first lending library, the Library Company of Philadelphia. It's still around today as an independent research facility. Libraries are things of beauty, and we spend more time wandering the aisles, stopping occasionally to add to our endless repository of minutiae, than we probably should.

We've noticed that many area libraries these days are thinking outside the books. In one recent month (the calendar is available online), the Glendale library, for one, hosted a live music quartet, a class on how to speak with children about sex, a showing of the movie Atonement, a woman who touts herself as a psychic medium, and classes titled "Archeology For Everyone" and "Wii For Adults."

Directly to the honor bestowed here, Glendale also is collaborating with nearby Midwestern University to present monthly seminars on all manner of healthcare. A podiatrist spoke recently on "safe hiking" (bet there was something about proper footware and having plenty of water on hand, right?), a psychologist revealed some "healthy" ways to lose weight, a bio-medical sciences professor warned about the dangers of some so-called "natural products" and a pharmacist lectured about heart disease risks and prevention. Naturally, because it's a public library, the price is right: free.

When Michael Crow took over at ASU six years ago, he talked a lot about "community embeddedness." We still don't really know what that means — no one seems to — but we're guessing the university's noontime lecture series is part of it. Points to ASU for doing something right. This series features a nice selection of topics — from money management to urban design to weight loss. We're huge fans of learning for learning's sake, so it's nice to see the university's investing a little time in the downtown Phoenix community. Lectures last an hour (from noon to 1) and you're responsible for providing your own lunch. The only trick is finding parking and — the only pitfall of this lunch-hour treat — the university doesn't validate.

This homegrown crew, founded by spoken-word diva Mon Cherie, is most definitely dedicated to serving up underground poetry and beats by emerging musicians of all talents in a friendly, unpretentious atmosphere. Often times, the poetry lyricists, such as Ed Mabrey from the Phoenix Slam Team, are backed by the flow-inducing sounds of deep house, jazz, or soul. Check out PB's MySpace calendar for various events, including the occasional Spoken Word Revolution at ASU's main campus.

Tempe Center for the Arts

Okay, so there's no such thing as a permanent carnival in our fair city, or even a really decent arcade where you can drop the kids off for a couple of hours of fun that's also educational. (Is there such a thing, anywhere?) But we do have our very own professional children's theater company, a rarity in a city of any size. Childsplay has been around for 31 years, during which it's presented hundreds of kid-friendly plays and musicals that thrill children while also enlightening them to the joys of live performance. Childsplay's cast of regulars — D. Scott Withers, Debra K. Stevens, Jon Gentry, and the remarkable Katie McFadzen among them — have introduced several generations of youngsters to theater and given their parents a pleasant break from the usual mall-trawling and trips to amusement parks.

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We figure the folks at our favorite alternative theater must hold weekly meetings to discuss ways to make us feel more at home when we visit their performance space at Phoenix Theatre, because we always feel like we "belong" when we're there. Maybe it's that they post not a random volunteer to greet us at the door to the theater, but rather one or more of the troupe's principal officers. Or maybe it's artistic director Damon Dering's funny, friendly curtain speeches, during which he always acknowledges the ever-growing group of theater fans who've kept this wonderful company going for a decade now. Or maybe it's the fact that Dering and company mingle with the audience at intermission, rather than hiding out backstage, that makes us feel like we're more than just spectators — we're one of a crowd who're privileged to be there — at Nearly Naked's usually fine productions,

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