Mr. Zuckerberg Goes To Washington

The Atlantic editor James Bennet interviewed Mark Zuckerberg.

The Atlantic editor James Bennet interviewed Mark Zuckerberg.

The bazillionaire founder and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, paid a visit to the Hill today to press lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to support some sort of immigration reform, which tech companies are interested in so they can get and keep high skilled, often Indian and Chinese labor. But Zuckerberg says his interest in the policy debate has extended to all 11 million estimated undocumented folks in the U.S.

As part of his visit, The Atlantic snagged him for a sit down interview in front of an invited audience. I went as press. The “#ThisTown” crowd attended, so David Gregory was there, all eight feet of him, and so were about 200 other interested Washingtonians.

Among the more interesting things Zuckeberg said was actually about his Mandarin, and how he set up a personal challenge to learn Mandarin and learned enough to communicate basics but found he had a hard time listening and understanding it when others spoke the language.

“I told my wife, I’m really bad at listening in Mandarin. She said, ‘You’re really bad at listening in English.'”

Tags:

Neighborhood Pig Roast Featuring Many Small Fires

The calm before the fires.

The calm before the fires.

 

2013 is halfway over and it’s been a riot so far. And sorta dangerous. Baby Eva keeps testing the bounds of her survival skills, rolling herself off furniture, squeezing the dog by the jowls or trying to crawl head first down the stairs. And we grown-ups keep acting like children.

A couple of weeks ago, my partner-in-shenanigans, Justin, visited DC. (You may remember him from previous blogged-about adventures.) We had already partied ourselves into a stupor on Friday night and thought we were going to lay low on Saturday by going to a neighborhood pig roast. A bluegrass band played the faves (but I couldn’t get them to do that David Allan Coe song because they didn’t know the long spoken interlude), the pork was that perfect blend of lean and moist and outside it felt cool and dry enough to actually enjoy a picnic. So relaxing was it that we got sleepy out there, with the tunes and the beers.

One of the many lantern crashes and subsequent fires. This one, in front of the band. But at the right it appears one lantern was trying to survive...

One of the many lantern crashes and subsequent fires. This one, in front of the band. But at the right it appears one lantern was trying to survive…

Then, after it turned dark, we got our second wind. To celebrate homeowner/hostess Hillary’s birthday, her friends had gotten Chinese lanterns, which, if made well, are easy to light and send floating into the sky. The more, the prettier. At this party, dozens of us got lanterns and the band started playing a little soundtrack to our impromptu lantern lightings. Justin and I successfully got one lit and watched it spirit away to the cheers of the group.

But that was an exception. Most of these lanterns ended up crashing to the ground before getting any lift and promptly setting grass, chairs, bags, plates — and very nearly, children — on fire. We were able to stomp out these fires, but they happened in various places around the lawn, and sometimes at the same time. When some lanterns actually made it up in the air, they wound up crashing into trees or the roof, which made for real close calls. Eventually many of us gave up on the lanterns and cleared the yard.

Suddenly, Justin and I were amped up to party some more! Headed out to U Street after leaving the fire dangers and enjoyed a long night with some other fantastic pals. Nothing like almost setting houses and people on fire with a well-meaning Chinese lantern activity to really get you going again.

Tags: , ,

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

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Last Days in the Old NPR Building: Saying Goodbye With Clever Graffiti

Five furniture auction guys were outside as I pulled up to work today. This afternoon, NPR’s signature show, All Things Considered, will broadcast from our soon-to-be-bulldozed headquarters building for the final time. Tomorrow, Weekend Edition Saturday airs from 1111 N. Capitol, our shiny, gorgeous new headquarters in the city’s Northeast quadrant.

Knowing that our landlord plans to demolish this building has led to some brilliant goodbye graffiti on the walls. A stamp that reads “EVERYTHING WILL BE BETTER,” a familiar trope we’ve heard about the new building, shows up in mirrors and stairwells. “You can see people’s inner monologues about the building as you walk down the hallway,” friend Denise said. I’ve been tickled by the creativity and the doodle skills of my colleagues.

Thank you to my friend and former boss Joel for chaperoning me into a shockingly yellow men’s room for a photo. And whoever wrote the descriptions under emergency signs as if they were high art … I think you are a genius. (Click on any image to start the slideshow)

We employees are moving in four phases. I’m here until the bitter end, next Friday. But digital media — the talented folks responsible for our apps and API and design — as well as multimedia, music and some of the newsroom, like the Washington desk, leave this afternoon. Farewell, 635.

Tags: , , ,

The Final Countdown Before The Bulldoze

Our current building, which won't exist soon. (photo via Flickr)

Our current building, which won’t exist soon. (photo via Flickr)

The hundreds of us who work at NPR are 51 days away from leaving our current crumbling edifice for a shiny, environmentally-friendly new headquarters on North Capitol Street. The old headquarters will be bulldozed almost immediately to make room for some fancy mixed use development.

With the move to our new building imminent, everyone’s stopped caring about the current one. The facilities guy, Don Gooden, caught me stapling random things to the wall today, my first day back at work after four+ months off with Eva. I said I would graffiti the place next, and then maybe hide some dead bodies in here.

He shrugged, smiled and said, “Do what you gotta do!”

Tags: , , ,

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 →

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Ai Wei Wei Poses A Question I’ve Been Pondering About Journalism

The Ai WeiWei exhibit continues here in Washington through next month, so if you are going to be in town in the coming weeks, I really encourage you to see it. My artist-turned-diplomat Mom and I went over the holidays and we both found it riveting. The two of us have been going to art museums together since I could walk, and we really zip through when exhibits are boring. But at the Hirshhorn, we found ourselves lingering over each piece, studying Ai’s work from various perspectives, coming back around again, getting inspired by his agency and taking photos to remember what we saw.

Curators chose a few Ai WeiWei quotes to display alongside the art. This one in particular seemed to get at the very question we were tossing around at #NewsFoo in December, in our case, regarding those crazy Taiwanese news animations:

From the Ai Wei Wei exhibit in Washington.

From the Ai Wei Wei exhibit in Washington.

 

Obviously a lot of the Taiwanese news animations are totally full of made-up and sometimes bombastic details. This traditionally makes for poor journalism. But just as photo illustrations go, you can communicate a truth even though the mashup is fake, right? Or is that outside the realm of journalism? I think it’s an interesting question as we continue trying to do “something new,” toy with non-traditional story forms, etc. Given what we saw of his art, it seems Ai WeiWei’s answer to his own question is yes.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Mango Tree: Now a Double Amputee

Jerry at Gingko Gardens shows us where we had to amputate mango tree to save him, again.

Jerry at Gingko Gardens shows us where we had to amputate mango tree to save him, again.

 

I know I’m overly sentimental about this damned tree, but our mango tree is a survivor. Mango trees really don’t live in places north of South Florida, for one. And the now four-foot tall plant sprung up from the seed of a grocery store mango my dad ate in St. Louis and threw in the ground. It’s since survived moves from Missouri to Texas and Texas to Washington, two bouts with some nasty fungus, a lost limb and even the time Matty flew his drone into it, chopping off some of its leaves.

But mango tree is no longer four feet tall. It lost its second of two main branches today, after it fell to the same disease that cost the other one about a month ago. Thankfully, before things got worse, the mango tree had a good few weeks in which it sprouted a few baby branches closer to the root.

Continue reading →

Tags: , , , ,

DIY Deck The Balls Party

The winner in the "Best Sweet Balls" category, Oreo Cookie Spheres by friends Matt and Bryan.

The winner in the “Best Sweet Balls” category, Oreo Cookie Spheres by friends Matt and Bryan.

 

The spouse and I have only been married for a couple of years, so we don’t really have any long running holiday traditions. The only recurring thing we do each Christmas (besides lament the tediousness of taking down decorations) is make dirty gingerbread cookies with phallus-shaped cookie cutters I got for a bachelorette party many moons ago. Then we crack each other up by decorating them in various imaginative ways.

The winners of our balls competition with their prizes.

The winners of our balls competition with their prizes.

This year, we invited friends to join us in our little tradition by pairing phallic cookie decorating with a ball-themed potluck. Everyone was asked to bring a ball-shaped food to share, and we’d vote on our favorite balls. I didn’t really think through how the competition would work but I did buy “As Seen on TV”-themed prizes, like a Shake Weight and ShamWow.

We wound up with fantastic entries, including many sweet spherical concoctions, those addictive processed cheese puff balls and even root vegetables shaped with a melon baller. Ultimately, partygoers picked winners in three categories: Best Savory Balls, Best Sweet Balls and Most Creative Balls. (Most Creative went to a rice krispie treat ball with mint M&Ms mixed in that our friend Terp called “Terry Schiavo’s Brain Ball.”) Though I should mention it’s likely that a late entry by Friend Doris may have taken the Most Creative title had she entered in time: She brought giant ice balls to drink with bourbon. Delicious.

Tags: , , ,

Please Prepare The Fetus For Arrival: The DC Shower

The Fetus has yet to arrive, but he/she is pretty lucky to have so many aunties and uncles around. Not to be outdone by the Texas BBQ Shower, my old friends Sudeep, Beam, Fiscus and Andrew (some of those are not their legal names, natch) hosted a travel-themed fete in our new hometown of DC to prepare our future jetsetter for all his (or her) adventures. This was fun times, y’all. And it’s already earned many superlatives, like “the most irreverent/funny/inappropriate” shower that guests had ever been to.

Instead of the traditional all-girl affair, my closest gay pals joined the gal pals in this fete for Fetus. So we were DQ-treated to such entertainment as Friend Dave, a veteran DQ employee, explaining the art of making a Buster or Dilly bar from scratch (it’s all in the wrist), internationally-themed cupcakes and food, lots of Mommy-Loves-Vodka jokes, airline mini-bottles for party favors, and raucous debate about the ethics of circumcision. (And apparently there are different ways to cut — the “bald eagle” versus the “shaggy dog.” Yep.)

As an added bonus, Friend Denise is not only a friggin awesome baker (her German chocolate cake was a huge hit), but a talented photographer. She took some pics to show off all the detail these hosts and hostesses put into throwing a truly fun, boozy afternoon. Thanks again my friends. We’re so grateful.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Load more