With Titanic, an old-fashioned, Gone With the Wind-style blockbuster claiming a record-tying 11 Oscars, this year's Academy Awards had a distinctly retro feel. Oscar was celebrating its 70th birthday, so there were plenty of crowsfeet among the flawless facelifts, including Fay Wray, King Kong's original victim in the silent-movie classic. Recent fads like colored lapel ribbons were almost nonexistent, and fashion critics noted that even cleavage was a relative rarity this year-Madonna notwithstanding. Titanic's billion-dollar dominance removed any suspense from the evening, so the four-hour-long telecast was mostly a chance for Hollywood to celebrate itself. With scores of former winners assembling for the largest-ever "Oscar family portrait," producers no doubt hoped to show that film is forever. What they proved instead is that fame is fleeting. Polite applause couldn't mask the fact that the proverbial 15 minutes of fame were long since past for former winners like Shirley Jones, Cloris Leachman, and Ernest Borgnine-actors whose statuettes can't buy them a decent role today. An honorary award went to director Stanley Donen, whose genre, the movie musical, hasn't seen a hit since Grease 20 years ago. But the lesson was largely lost on today's movie royalty. When Titanic director James Cameron accepted his statue for directing, he waved it in the air, shouting a line from his winning movie, "I'm the king of the world! Whoo!" Enjoy the reign, Mr. Cameron: Stanley Donen was once a king, too.
"A cultural disease"
Construction worker Olis Sterling worked near the Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Ark. After two kids with rifles had mortally wounded four students and a teacher last week, Mr. Sterling tended helplessly to a dying girl. "All I could do was hold her hand," he said. In Africa, President Clinton said he would ask Attorney General Janet Reno to investigate "whether there are any common elements in this incident and the other two" recent school shootings. There are. But he should ask current Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee instead. "What makes all of us angry is that our culture would create the kind of atmosphere where an 11- and a 13-year-old student could ... respond to whatever anger is inside them by taking up a whole battery of arms and indiscriminately shooting their fellow students and teachers," Mr. Huckabee said on CNN. "It's a cultural disease." Part of that disease, he said, is societal: a "callousness and disregard and disrespect for one another," and the exposure of kids "to tens of thousands of murders on television and in movies." The other part is individual: "If a kid has this kind of rage and violence growing within his own soul, then I'm not sure that we'll find a way to build a fence high enough, thick enough, or put metal detectors that are strong enough to keep this kind of thing from ultimately happening."
There goes the neighborhood
Everything about the houses on Ricelan Drive in Greenville, S.C., looks immaculate except for the week's garbage piled at the foot of each driveway. The sun is shining, the tulips are blooming, and the grass is freshly cut. It hardly looks like a religious battle zone, but that's what it turned into several weeks ago when Orie Wenger, associate pastor of Mount Zion Christian Fellowship, was ordered to stop holding prayer meetings in his home. Greenville County zoning administrators had threatened to fine Mr. Wenger up to $1,000 a day if he continued bringing six to 15 people a week into his home for Bible study and prayer. Land-use laws, they claimed, prohibited using his home for "church-related activities." The county took aim at Mr. Wenger after two neighbors complained that too many cars were parked on the street during the meetings and that visiting children were too noisy. A zoning official wrote Mr. Wenger that he must rezone the home as a church. Appeals to the zoning board and the county council were fruitless. "They gave me a fairly intense lecture about being a community nuisance," Mr. Wenger said. "Fifty meetings a year in my home, I guess they thought, was too much." Other than the two neighbors, many residents of Greenville, which has more than 600 churches, expressed outrage about the bureaucratic harassment. Media publicity lit a fire under local officials. Politicians from Gov. David Beasley to Rep. Bob Inglis jumped into the fray when stories appeared in the local paper. County Administrator Gerald Seals apologized to Mr. Wenger and offered to reimburse his legal expenses; county council members promised to rewrite the zoning code; and state senators introduced legislation to bar local governments from ever again prohibiting church meetings in homes. The bill passed unanimously and expeditiously-less than 24 hours.
This does not compute
"At the current pace, it is clear that not all [of the government's] mission critical systems will be fixed in time." With that from congressional investigator Gene Dodaro, concern about the impact of the Year 2000 computer problem ratcheted up a few notches. Mr. Dodaro, testifying at a joint hearing of two House subcommittees, briefed the panels on the latest findings of the government's General Accounting Office. GAO's conclusion: When 1999 gives way to 2000, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of government computer systems either will crash or start generating spurious data. Many computer programs are not written to make sense of the date changeover in the last two digits, from "99" to "00." According to a mid-February report from the White House Office of Management and Budget, thus far only 35 percent of the government's 7,850 "mission critical" systems have been fixed. Systems defined as "mission critical" include those that support national security, handle tax information, direct air traffic, and process benefit checks. Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information, and Technology, issues a regular report card on the government's progress on the Year 2000, or Y2K, problem. The latest overall grade: "D minus." Five agencies received an "F," including the strongly computer-dependent Department of Defense. Not faring much better (a "D") was the Treasury Department, which includes the IRS. The 1999-to-2000 date changeover also threatens to wreak havoc in the private sector. Some analysts are predicting power failures, bank closings, and widespread business bankruptcies. Hoping to fend off potential problems, many companies are spending whatever it takes. General Motors last week disclosed that it expects to invest up to half a billion dollars to make its computer automation and other systems Y2K-compliant. Earlier, Citibank reported that its Y2K conversion may cost $600 million. But even with government and business racing to meet the deadline, noted Wall Street economist Edward Yardeni last month upped his prediction regarding the probability of a Y2K-related recession from 40 percent to 60 percent. He notes that even if most computers are ready, a relatively small percentage that aren't could disrupt transportation, communications, and financial systems that are integral to the world economy. Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan isn't predicting a computer-driven recession just yet. But he recently acknowledged in testimony to the House Budget Committee: "All you need is a few ... major glitches in the system and the ramifications [could] be really awesome."
California's Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Boy Scouts can enforce their oath, which requires members to be, among other things, "morally straight." The court held that the Scouts are a voluntary membership association rather than a business, and thus can exclude from membership whomever they choose. In the California case, they chose to exclude a gay would-be scoutmaster and a pair of agnostic twins. Neither situation violated California's civil-rights laws, the court said. Just weeks earlier, a New Jersey court reached the opposite conclusion. In a first-ever appellate court decision against the Scouts, the judges ruled that local Boy Scout councils are "places of accommodation" like restaurants and hotels, and must therefore be open to all comers. The losers on both coasts have already promised to take their fight into the federal court system.
The fight to end partial-birth abortions hit a snag when the Supreme Court last week refused to resuscitate a state law outlawing the practice. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas dissented. The Ohio statute outlawed this grisly form of later-term abortion unless the life of the mother was endangered. Earlier decisions found that the law imposed an unacceptable burden on a woman's "right" to choose an abortion. The court's decision not to grant Ohio's appeal doesn't have the force of a ruling and therefore sets no national precedent. Also, the Ohio statute was written differently from the federal legislation-twice vetoed by President Clinton-that served as a model for laws in 18 other states. Dayton abortionist Martin Haskell and the chain of abortion businesses where he works, Women's Medical Professional Corp., filed the suit against the Ohio law. Dr. Haskell helped develop the procedure. According to the Centers for Disease Control, at least 5,000 of these partial-birth abortions are performed each year-the equivalent of one 747 jetliner crashing every two weeks. Even the pro-abortion Sen. Pat Moynihan (D-N.Y.) admitted last year that Dr. Haskell's operation was "too close to infanticide." Back on the doctor's home turf, Ohio Right To Life says there is still a window of opportunity for a new law. "If the court had ruled on the whole concept, that would have been a defeat," executive director Chris Norman said. Instead, "they only said a couple of areas of wording were vague."
The Midas touch
For an emperor with no clothes at home, figuratively speaking, President Clinton acquired the touch of King Midas abroad last week. The president bestowed gifts and magical moments on the beleaguered African nations included in his 11-day tour while fanning nascent flames of democracy in South Africa. In Uganda, Mr. Clinton was presented with a two-day-old boy named after him. Mr. Clinton visited with women involved in microenterprise projects-including the mother of baby Bill Clinton-and village schoolchildren. Nearby, two houses were destroyed by wind gusts from American helicopters accompanying the president as they landed in the rural area. The Ugandan government promised compensation. Mr. Clinton promised help to Ugandan schools. He pledged $120 million in U.S. funds to train teachers and connect Ugandan students to the Internet. There was no explanation of how that would work in a country with one phone line per 500 people. Mr. Clinton said the United States had been guilty of "the sin of neglect and ignorance," in an oblique reference to slavery. He was more specific about fighting between Hutus and Tutsis, which began with mass executions in 1994. "We did not act quickly enough after the killing began," Mr. Clinton said during a three-hour visit to Rwanda's capital, Kigali. "We did not immediately call these crimes by their rightful name: genocide." Even as the president spoke, Hutu rebels 55 miles north of Kigali attacked a school, killing five high-school students.
World in brief
Recuperation with a vengeance
Russian President Boris Yeltsin, in feisty form after a prolonged illness, dismissed his entire government Mar. 23. The Russian leader said his cabinet "could not cope" with key questions related to Russia's economy. Mr. Yeltsin appointed a relatively unknown energy minister, Sergei Kirienko, 35, acting prime minister. He replaced long-time associate Viktor Chernomyrdin, whom Mr. Yeltsin publicly suggested should prepare to run for office in 2000, when Mr. Yeltsin's term expires.
Asian sources differed over the significance of North Korea's ongoing "war mobilization" status. Hong Kong's South China Morning Post reported that the communist government had declared martial law and could be experiencing a power struggle, with North Korean soldiers occupying government buildings and reports of shootings between police and soldiers. South Korean government officials, however, called that report "false," and said that the troop movements were related to announced military exercises in the north which began Mar. 12.
When a United Methodist minister failed to get the boot for "unifying" a lesbian couple, the reaction could be seen by watching members' feet. Cameras rolled and bulbs flashed on March 15, as the Rev. Jimmy Creech returned to his pulpit after a four-month suspension; 600 parishioners rose to their feet in a standing ovation. But a week later, amidst much less fanfare, another 300 members didn't just stand; they walked. The breakaway members, disgusted by the ruling of the ministerial jury, met in a nearby high school Sunday morning for what they described as a "laity rally." After the service, many signed petitions asking Nebraska's bishop, Joel Martinez, to discontinue Mr. Creech's ministerial appointment.
Trashing the investigation
George Washington: "I cannot tell a lie." Bill Clinton: "I cannot tell a thing." From the start of the Lewinsky affair, silence has been the president's best defense. Bolstered by high approval ratings, Mr. Clinton has felt little pressure to come forward with any facts. Kenneth Starr tried to exert some pressure of his own recently by asking top Clinton aides about their conversations with the president. Last week, Mr. Clinton attempted to protect those conversations by invoking executive privilege for the first time since the closing days of the embattled Nixon administration. The concept of executive privilege dates back to George Washington. But traditionally, only conversations dealing with foreign affairs or policy formulation have been viewed as "privileged." President Clinton, however, is trying to extend the privilege doctrine into new territory-"presidential dating habits," in the words of former federal prosecutor Barbara Olson of the Independent Women's Forum. But Mr. Clinton isn't the only one who doesn't want to tell a thing. White House lawyers are also claiming executive privilege for conversations between the first lady and two top aides. That tactic has drawn the ire of legal experts, editorial page writers, even the ACLU. "The first lady is not the czarina," noted constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley. "It is difficult to see how the first lady can assert executive privilege when she is not an executive of this government." Few observers expect the president's invocation of executive privilege to be successful. But since neither Congress nor the Supreme Court has ever defined the parameters of privilege, the matter is sure to slow the already glacial pace of the investigation. That, in itself, would be a win for the administration, allowing Mr. Clinton to serve out his term while his lawyers quibble in court over the status of every document and conversation.
Tricks of the trade
When it comes to scandalous allegations, President Clinton just can't rest-and the memory of Ron Brown, his deceased Commerce Secretary, can't rest in peace. Last week, Mr. Brown's former business partner, Nolanda Hill, testified that she had seen documents indicating seats on Commerce-sponsored foreign trade missions were sold for $50,000 each, with the money going to the Clinton/Gore reelection effort. She also charged that the administration conspired to withhold evidence of the scam until after the 1996 election, despite a judge's order to release all relevant documents. Ms. Hill offered her testimony in January to Judicial Watch, a conservative public-interest organization that is pursuing alleged Clinton cover-ups. Judicial Watch introduced her affidavit under seal because Ms. Hill said she feared retribution by the Justice Department. On March 13, just a week before her scheduled court appearance, the department won an indictment against Ms. Hill on charges that she embezzled $200,000 from companies she controlled. Larry Klayman, chairman of Judicial Watch, thinks the indictment is no coincidence. Following her court appearance, he said, "The Reno Justice Department obviously did not succeed with its attempt to obstruct her testimony."
Ken Starr's subpoena last month of White House aide Sidney Blumenthal was widely regarded as a public-relations fiasco when the press accused the independent counsel of attempting to stifle both free speech and the free press. Now the reasons for Mr. Starr's subpoena are becoming clearer. The Nation reported in its latest issue that Mr. Blumenthal was spreading rumors among the media that at least one member of Mr. Starr's staff-and several reporters covering the Lewinsky scandal-are homosexuals. Presumably such rumors would be designed to discourage investigators and reporters from pursuing the scandal too enthusiastically for fear of being "outed." Though Mr. Blumenthal has denied any part in the whispering campaign, the allegation threatens to alienate a key Clinton constituency-homosexual voters. The Washington Blade, a gay weekly, put the controversy on its front page. Though Mr. Starr was portrayed as "generally hostile to gay people," any effort by the administration to blackmail political opponents based on their sexual preference would likely anger homosexuals in the same way that Kathleen Willey's allegations angered some feminists.