Funny old world, isn't it?
Michael Moore, the Oscar-brandishing filmmaker-provocateur, rags on President Bush's war policy on the sacred stage of the Kodak Theatre, and gets booed by stars and stagehands ... and Roman Polanski, on the lam from L.A. law for 25 years for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl he'd doped with champagne and a quaalude, wins a best director Oscar in absentia and gets a standing ovation.
If that weren't enough whiplash for one night, you could always channel-surf from the live Oscars to the live war. Hey -- it's a split-screen world. We live in the dual realities of the 101 Freeway and the 101st Airborne.
Sixty years ago, it was also Oscar season, and there was also a war on. In 1943, the 15th annual Oscars weren't page-one news. The best picture that year was "Mrs. Miniver," a plucky home-front film that Winston Churchill said was "propaganda worth a hundred battleships" -- one fine pull-quote for a movie ad, and proof that movies matter. It was a world war, but the world didn't stop its business. In the same day's newspaper, actress Wendy Barrie denied she was engaged to Bugsy Siegel, the mobster delicately described as a "sportsman." UCLA was about to play USC in basketball. Montebello raised city workers' pay by $7.50 a week. The government announced wartime restrictions on the size and shape of coffins. And an "authority on Germany" declared that Hitler was dead, for much the same reason people are now saying Saddam is dead: He didn't show up at the big events he usually shows up for.
In that spirit, we interrupt this war to update you on the California news you may have missed:
* California is thinking about borrowing money to paper over the budget gap. It must be getting the same come-ons I get: "Congratulations, Mr. California! You have been pre-approved for a platinum Visa card at a low introductory APR of 1.9% and a credit line of $5 billion!" Get enough of those and you've got your budget deficit taken care of. Then, watch the mail for this letter: "Dear Mr. California: Over your head in credit-card debt? We'll show you how to get out from under it, for a fraction of what you're paying each month!"
* L.A. Police Chief Bill Bratton pleaded with antiwar protesters to cool it, saying the cost of policing their demonstrations was sucking money from the civic pocket. Put a lid on it, Bill. Last week, a federal jury gave $1.75 million in damages to a man left brain-dead from an LAPD neckhold after police stopped him for violating curfew and he ran away. Two days later, a Japanese American officer was awarded $3.5 million for discrimination, harassment and retaliation at the hands of his fellow officers. Since last autumn, L.A. has shelled out more than $7 million in "police behaving badly" cases -- and that's on top of the $100 million that it's estimated the Rampart lawsuits will end up costing the city. Once the city isn't writing these million-dollar checks, chief, there'll be enough to buy a biochemical protection suit for every cop in town.
* David Sanders of Minneapolis is the new head of L.A. County's child welfare agency. Good luck to him, says I. The system is the Bermuda Triangle for children -- and money. One private foster agency evidently used tax money to pay an executive a salary bigger than the president's, and leased a pair of Cadillacs for $1,800 a month. After six months here, Sanders may long for an easier billet, like commanding a brigade in Iraq.
* Robert Blake had to post a million-five bail to get out of jail, but L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca will be giving "get out of jail free" cards to perhaps 2,600 misdemeanor convicts next month, to nip $17 million out of his budget and incidentally tweak the noses of county supervisors who made him cut it.
* In these stressful times, Cardinal Roger Mahony has suggested that Angelenos go out of their way to shake hands and greet strangers who "are obviously from a different nation or national group." With hundreds of sexual-abuse lawsuits against Catholic priests in the works, Mahony should be the last person to recommend going around and touching strangers.
* L.A. city accused L.A. County of dodging 10 years' worth of pledges to put more dough toward the homeless. A county supervisor says that's "very disturbing" -- not the homeless problem but the city's accusation.
* The casino-owning Agua Caliente band of Cahuilla Indians -- who've given $8 million to political campaigns in the last few years and may be forking over $400 million for a new Palm Springs complex -- are evidently sticking it to state taxpayers. They made health insurance for their low-paid casino workers' kids really expensive, then advised employees to use state-paid health programs instead. This saves an alleged cool million bucks a year, maybe for donating to more politicians.
* Jerry Lewis, 1977 nominee for a Nobel Peace Prize for his telethon fund-raising, may or may not sue an L.A. radio station for mimicking his voice in a call to French President Jacques Chirac. At first I thought they got it wrong -- that Chirac was upset at being conned into talking to Jerry Lewis -- but France made Lewis a member of its Legion of Honor and thinks he's funnier than rubber chewing gum. Anyway, it turns out it probably wasn't really Chirac on the other end of the phone, either. C'est la guerre.
And now we return you to the war, already in progress.