White House Correspondents Dinner Weekend: Jokes About A Town That Is One

“How do you write jokes about a town that already is one?”

-Kevin Spacey, as his House of Cards character Frank Underwood, in the spoof video produced for the dinner

I’ve never covered Hollywood, so the White House Correspondents Dinner is the only place I’ve seen so many celebrities in one room. Granted, the dining room at the Washington Hilton holds 3,000 so it’s a large pool from which to find bold-faced names. The dinner — and the weekend of partying that grew up around it — is quintessentially “Washington,” for better or for worse. (Much like SXSW, apparently the event has gone from a well-meaning celebration of one idea to a marketing-laden orgy of totally different priorities.) A glutton for new experiences and an avid reader of celeb-blog The Superficial, I am game to witness the absurdity.

The whole event is sensory overload. You can’t turn your head without seeing someone famous or familiar-for-some-reason-you-can’t-quite-place. The long hallway shoot of pre-dinner receptions and a few post-dinner parties is in a basement, probably the only time Michael Douglas or Nicole Kidman hang out in a basement. After going through security with Don Draper’s wife Megan (actress Jessica Pare) to get in the ballroom, the likes of Kevin Spacey, Steven Spielberg and Claire Danes get gawked at near the stage. Packed in that giant ballroom, it was easy to walk right into and nearly run over a tiny Hayden Panettiere. Last year, I found myself reapplying lip gloss next to Kate Upton* and Anna Paquin. Ron Kirk snapped iPhone photos of people wanting pics with his friend Eric Holder. Tony Romo and his wife told me details about the birth of their baby, since we Texans just instantly bond that way, I guess. This year the Romo’s showed up again.

“Y’all are becoming real White House Correspondents Dinner regulars,” I said to him.

“It’s her. She loves to put on a dress,” Romo said jokingly, of his wife.

Saturday, Friend Matt decided to offer me his dinner ticket with only 90 minutes to spare. It took an incredible amount of perfect timing and logistical savvy for us to drive across town and do the pass off in time. (And to shower and get ready in 10 minutes.)

What I learned last year was that it’s actually the parties preceding and following the meal, the ones sponsored by real power — Fortune 500 companies and VC-backed startups — that are actually “fun”, if you want to call it that. (Fun in the weird Washington way.) Loved seeing old friends** and meeting new ones. Frankly, it was all so much better than when I attended while pregnant last year because this time I could drink through it. (!)

My memories of the weekend exist in single frames: A Swavorski crystal toilet at a late night house party. Asking Kevin Spacey about House of Cards spoilers (“I don’t know anything,” he said). Making new friends while in a super long bathroom line at The Atlantic’s Friday night confab. Seeing Gayle King and Joaquin Castro at every hoppin’ spot in town. Getting momentarily spooked when Gus Fring (the Breaking Bad villain who got half his face blown off) walked past my dinner table and looked me right in the eye WITH HIS WHOLE FACE. The AC dropping to temps in the 50s so a room of 3,000 wouldn’t wind up sweating. Conan really yelling into that mic. My gal pal Judy. Piano renditions of Coldplay at the Turkish Ambassador’s house. Delicious dolmas. Lots of red carpets and velvet ropes but way more gawkers than celebs. Celebrating a startup incubator in an unexpected place. Signature drinks named AT&Tini’s. Gorgeous views at the Sunday brunch. Corporate sponsor after corporate sponsor after corporate sponsor. Big brands. Medium brands. Small brands. Business cards. Bacon. Introductions. Jewel tones. John Oliver!

*When Kate Upton first walked by our table at dinner, I thought to myself, that woman should be a model! Doh.

** Including a sorority sister I hadn’t seen in 13 years

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Inauguration Is Over. Now I Have a Brain Cloud.

The presidential motorcade as it headed to the Capitol for the swearing-in.

The presidential motorcade as it headed to the Capitol for the swearing-in.

 

The single best thing about living in DC is that people I love come into town frequently for one reason or another. Since presidential inaugurations only come around every four years, MANY people I love came into town at the same time. I had been training my liver for this weekend for awhile.

My only other DC inauguration experience was when I covered Bush’s first inauguration in 2001 as an intern for WFAA-TV. Attending that swearing-in ceremony was the coldest I’ve ever been. I remember getting dressed up for the Texas State Society’s Black Tie and Boots ball in the public bathroom of Belo’s DC bureau building at 13th and G.  I remember anchor Gloria Campos being in DC to anchor the coverage and wanting her scripts printed in bigger type, and how I had to help rush reporter Jim Fry into a cab so he could go do a post-parade live shot.

I remain on maternity leave, so I got to take part in this inauguration as a straight-up spectator. I skipped the weekend balls but was looking forward to the Common/T-Pain/John Legend concert since, as many of you know, Stiles loves loves LOVES Common. (BTW: Where WASN’T John Legend this weekend? Anyway.) We waited until the day before to respond to the ticket email and it was too late. Instead, we went to a delicious Indian restaurant for our 2nd anniversary dinner, seven months late. (Hey, 2012 was a little busy, okay?)

Continue reading →

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Reactions to Mitt Romney’s 47 Percent Remarks: A Roundup

In case you’ve been away from your news delivery device for the past six hours or so, the politisphere is all atwitter over the leaked video of presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s remarks at a fundraiser sometime this year, in which he says, among other things, this:

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.”

Since I was at a dinner for the past few hours, I had to catch up on reaction really quickly, but in doing so, came across several useful reads to give me a sense of the story, the 47% that Romney’s referring to, why it matters or doesn’t matter, and how the video wound up in the hands of David Corn of Mother Jones magazine. So if you’re just getting caught up, I rounded up some links:

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Ducks Can “Shut That Whole Thing Down” And Reject Sperm

“From what I understand from doctors, [pregnancy from rape] is really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”  -Missouri US Senate Candidate Todd Akin

That’s the (widely repudiated and much-repented-for) quote that swept across the nation and resulted in prompt calls for Senate candidate and US Rep Todd Akin to withdraw from the race for fear it will cost Republicans a chance at control of the upper chamber. (Akin said this afternoon he’s in it to win it, despite major GOP money sources saying they’re not going to fund him.)

To be clear, it’s totally nonsense (and Akin has admitted as much) that human women’s bodies can “shut that whole thing down” and reject sperm if raped. But interestingly, a 2008 episode of RadioLab explains that female DUCKS do have that capability. Fascinating. (Hat tip to my friend Reeve for pointing this out to me.) The audio of this discussion starts around the 13:15 mark, but I excerpted a key part here.

“The thing about the duck is … ducks engage in forced extra-pair copulations. What he’s really saying is the males are “raping” the females. A couple of years ago, we were dissecting a female duck and a doc called Patty Brennan (sp) called me and said “Look at this, I found a funny structure in the female vagina…

What we found was that in species where the male had an enormous phallus, the female had the most complex vagina we’d ever come across. Some have two or three side branches and a very long spiral, like a corkscrew at the end of the vagina. If you think about it, what seems very likely here is the female has got these structures to deflect the male. If she’s being raped, she might contract part of her reproductive tract to send the male off down a blind alley. If he avoids that, she can just tighten up the spiral so his sperm can’t get to the right place. So what you’ve got here is a kind of warfare. The male says, I’m coming in here like it or not, and the female says, you’re getting nowhere, like it or not. Remarkable case of females evolving counter-adaptations to keep males at arm’s length. Or penis length, so to speak.”

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What Nora Ephron Said in 1996 About Having It All

Here’s what the late Nora Ephron said in her 1996 commencement address at Wellesley College. Amazing how everything old is new again. (Emphasis mine)

This is the season when a clutch of successful women—who have it all — give speeches to women like you and say, to be perfectly honest, you can’t have it all. Maybe young women don’t wonder whether they can have it all any longer, but in case any of you are wondering, of course you can have it all. What are you going to do? Everything, is my guess. It will be a little messy, but embrace the mess. It will be complicated, but rejoice in the complications. It will not be anything like what you think it will be like, but surprises are good for you. And don’t be frightened: you can always change your mind.”

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Recommended Reading: On Girl Problems

It’s been a big week for women’s issues, following The Atlantic‘s most widely read story in its history, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” and a thought-provoking New Yorker piece questioning why American parents let kids rule the roost. Then, last night the prominent writer, director and champion of women Nora Ephron died of complications from leukemia. The tributes have been flooding the internet, crediting her as the “funniest feminist.”

So this roundup has a clear theme:

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Thinking Through The Atlantic’s “Women Can’t Have It All” Essay

I love being a girl, and especially being a bro-girl, as some of my guy friends consider me. (Some also use terms like “chick with a dick,” which is less cute, but I understand the notion.) But I am not a boy. That became piercingly clear this year, when I was confronted with an unexpected job offer just a week after learning I was (also unexpectedly) expecting.

Suddenly, I had to consider the oft-discussed clash of career and family. Whether to stay at my entirely satisfying job at NPR, where I knew I’d be guaranteed certain paid leave and other flexibility because I am no longer “new” here, or whether to try a new challenge at a place where I’d have to prove myself as a baller whilst growing larger and inevitably unavailable during maternity leave.

I decided to stay at my job for many reasons that have nothing to do with family, but I can’t deny that I did have to consider the whole work-life balance issue for the first time. I sort of bristled at even being faced with the notion.

It’s my grandma at age 87. She’s a heroine to many, including me.

 

I come from a line of ceiling-breaking women; my grandmother, after fleeing China during World War II with her brothers and sisters, was one of the first female legislators in Taiwan, and a working mom (a high school principal) since the 1940’s. She says she never thought much about job versus family, because she considered both her service to society-writ-large and her obligation to her husband and three children as part of the natural order of things. She believes that really loving and caring for your family didn’t necessarily mean doing all the diaper changing and cooking, but that being a rockstar earner and a role model was just as valid a way to care for your kids.

Consequently, my mom didn’t love being raised by “help.” She says some of her most formative memories from childhood were with the servants and driver, and not with her mom, who was busy with work-related meetings and dinners on most evenings. My grandma has never apologized for what she had to do, and (in something we’ll discuss later in this post) Asian culture makes having several servants at home to help far more affordable and culturally-ingrained than here in the US. Continue reading →

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How I Get Off Track: This Just Happened

Started watching that miniseries about the Kennedys, called “The Kennedys“, on Netflix.

Get nine minutes into the first episode and the focus turns to Papa Joe Kennedy, played by Tom Wilkinson.

Conduct a Wikipedia search for Joe Kennedy Sr. Start reading a list of all his kids, including Rose Kennedy, who I learn was subjected to a lobotomy at age 23.

Begin Wikipedia-ing Rose Kennedy and why in the hell she had to be lobotomized. The reasons are quite unclear, as different contemporaries of the Kennedy’s describe her somewhere between manic depressive or having severe mental disabilities.

BUT — somewhere in the assessment of Rose Kennedy I read that she could do arithmetic, specifically, multiply 436 by 12. And that requires at least an IQ of 90.

This leads me to question whether I still know how to multiply by hand.

I frantically grab a piece of paper and start trying to multiply 436 by 12. Succeeded.

Decided I was hungry after all my great multiplication achievement.

Never restarted the miniseries.

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A Fete For Draper at Kathleen Parker’s Posh Pad

I had already taken a big swig of the pervasive Washington culture cocktail of press+politicos at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner over the weekend, but at least 100 of those Washingtonians were still game to party on Tuesday, when I co-hosted a soiree to fete our pal Robert’s new book at columnist Kathleen Parker’s Georgetown abode. There, I witnessed a Washington tradition for new books: People turning straight to the index to see if their names are mentioned. Coverage of the fete from The Hill’s Judy Kurtz:

Friends and colleagues celebrated the release of Robert Draper’s new book about the inner workings of the 112th Congress, Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives, on Tuesday … Draper, a freelance writer, spent a year following the veterans of the House and the newly elected Tea Party members, to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of life inside the Capitol.

The place is gorgeous-gorgeous, with an expansive courtyard and a roofdeck, and dozens of Draper’s pals showed to toast his new book. More photos, by our NPR intern Julia Ro:

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