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Today's Headlines: Oscars and color; auditing firefighters; are we too clean?

Hello. I'm Davan Maharaj, the editor of the Los Angeles Times. Here are some story lines you shouldn't miss today.


TOP STORIES

An Oscar for optics?

So few minorities were nominated in acting categories that an uproar ensued about the "whiteness" of the Oscars. But you couldn't tell from the awards show, which had the most diverse group of presenters and performers in Oscars history. A positive step, perhaps, but at least one prominent critic saw an effort "to compensate with optics for what they didn't do with operations."

Where there's smoke ...

The Times last year exposed the L.A. County Fire Department's tendency to hire sons, brothers and nephews of fire officials. Now a follow-up audit finds signs of extensive cheating in promotions: improper sharing of test materials by staff, including a battalion chief and 10 captains. It raises again a troubling question: Was there bias against women and minorities?

Following the tracks

Routing California's bullet train through the Central Valley will preserve farmland, Gov. Jerry Brown argues, by intensifying new development in urban centers. Farm groups and local officials say this isn't an easy bullet to dodge: A building boom that could overwhelm efforts to corral urban sprawl.

Unnatural cleanliness

"Stay out of the dirt!" Many modern parents are trying to raise kids in near-sterility, which some scientists suggest may be tied to a rise in allergies and immunity disorders. Now research suggests that keeping toddlers far from peanuts makes them more, not less, vulnerable to peanut allergies. It's not conclusive, but some pediatricians are rethinking earlier advice.

MORE HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE TIMES

-- Oscar-winning director Alejandro G. Iñarritu put his Mexican homeland in the spotlight, but not the way his president would have liked.

-- British families plead for the return of three teen girls they believe flew off to join the Islamic State in Syria.

-- There's a good chance the L.A. County Board of Supervisors could end up with its first female majority in 2016.

-- Superbug update: An FDA official questions the UCLA hospital's new toxic-gas approach to sterilizing medical scopes.

-- Passings: Agnes Stevens, 73, former nun behind School on Wheels; Dr. John Willke, 89, force in the antiabortion movement.

FROM AROUND THE WEB

-- Book review: "Flickering Empire: How Chicago Invented the Film Industry" -- and why it fled to California.

-- Might the Terri Schiavo case come back to haunt Jeb Bush?

-- The Jeff Bezos effect at the Washington Post.

-- "The Dads of Tech." Men, women and technology.

ONLY IN L.A.

Mayor Henry "Hammerin' Hank" Hernandez of South Gate is a tough guy in a hard town. Many credit him with ending all manner of scandal and sleaze. At 70, he's showing wear and tear -- even a bullet wound in the head -- but is hardly broken. A fascinating look at a local political legend.

Please send comments and ideas to Davan Maharaj.


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