- The Washington Times - Monday, April 27, 2009

Out for Africa

Not every day do a straight-laced Sooner senator and the quirky musician brother-in-law of Jessica Simpson come together for the same cause. That was the backdrop for Saturday’s unusual encounter between Fall Out Boy frontman Pete Wentz and Sen. Jim Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican.

Under the blazing sun, the two united for a rally on the Mall to raise awareness about the children who are used as soldiers in the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda’s civil war.

Mr. Inhoffe, who stood out from the torn jeans and dirty T-shirt set by wearing the standard Washington weekend wardrobe of button-down and khakis, said — as his attire demonstrated — “I’m not here to have fun.” He then ticked off the number of times (more than 100) he says he’s been to Africa to see the problem firsthand.

His solution? “We don’t need legislation. We need to kill Joseph Kony,” he curtly explained, referring to the leader of the rebel army that has abducted an estimated 20,000 children to use as soldiers since 1987.

Mr. Wentz said greater understanding of the situation — particularly among younger Americans like himself — is the best way to tackle the problem.

“We need to the get the cameras over there and outside of Los Angeles where they follow [people] like me around,” he told the crowd, alluding to the constant paparazzi that his fame generates.

Rags to riches

After the Wentz-Inhofe rally, we went to the Kennedy Center for Saturday’s performance of “Ragtime,” the musical adaptation of E.L. Doctorow’s 1975 novel about racial and immigrant tensions circa 1900.

In addition to seeing Rep. Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat, in the audience (who, by the way, refused to speak to us), we also caught up with Terrence McNally, who penned the musical’s book, and Stephen Flaherty, who wrote the score along with Lynn Ahrens. The two gladly reflected on the show’s “different resonance” in the age of Obama, the first black president.

“There a certain urgency and immediacy to it now. It speaks to the possibility of change,” said Mr. McNally, explaining that he hadn’t seen a production of “Ragtime” in Washington since its premiere in 1996, when he watched it with then-President Bill Clinton. Echoing Mr. McNally’s new inspiration from the Obama presidency, Mr. Flaherty told G2 that “Wheels of a Dream” is the central song of the musical; with its themes of “optimism and opening dialogues between people.”

Hmmmm … Perhaps Mr. Frank slept through that number.

Girl talk

It was a ladies-only dinner for Helen Thomas, longtime White House correspondent and, ultimately, bureau chief for UPI. The girl talk, however, was mostly about… well, the opposite sex.

Public relations queen Janet Donovan assembled 22 of the city’s top female scribes and media professionals at Teatro Goldoni for a private soiree where the guests gave Miss Thomas, known for her tough questions, a grilling on her storied career.

Asked which press secretary she would have most liked to dine with, Miss Thomas, 88, replied Pierre Salinger. Citing the “joie de vivre” of President John F. Kennedy’s spokesman, she recalled: “He knew every wine that existed, he was a bon vivant … He would always lift an eyebrow or give you some sense that you were on the right track. He wouldn’t tell you totally.” Her most difficult president to report on? The most recent President Bush, she said without hesitation.

For-Prophet awards

“You can rest assured this room is very secure,” said Jean R. AbiNader in opening remarks at Thursday’s 11th annual Khalil Gibran Spirit of Humanity Awards Gala, hosted by the Arab American Institute Foundation at the J.W. Marriott Hotel.

Named for Khalil Gibran, the Lebanese-American author of “The Prophet,” this year’s honors went to Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser for organizing the three-week “Arabesque: Arts of the Arab World” festival earlier this year; the Marshall Legacy Institute for land mine clearance work; and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for relief and recovery efforts in the Gaza Strip.

Seen milling about at the pre-gala reception: Ralph Nader. The activist and perennial presidential candidate, whose parents immigrated from Lebanon, is fluent in Arabic — as is senior White House adviser and presidential confidante Valerie Jarrett, who spoke at the event.

To contact Stephanie Green and Elizabeth Glover with a tip or to request event coverage, please e-mail [email protected]

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