Friday, April 26, 2013

Crash 6 - Center for a New American Security: "A Conversation with Senator John S. McCain"

I have two very good reasons for the delay in posting this. The first was the Boston manhunt. We could have used a Bruce Willis character, but it wasn't really time for a Bruce Willis joke. Secondly, and equally crazy/scary/stressful, for all of America, was my first meeting with my girlfriend's family. "So what do you do" has become a toughie these days... "Glad you asked sir. You see I've actually created an anonymous internet identity for myself, under which I mooch from Washington's most respected scholars and research institutes. Then I make fun of them and compare them to 90210 characters on the internet. Profitable? What part of free sandwiches was unclear? But enough about me. I hear you went to Yale? That must of been an experience..."

How did it go? Well, over the course of dinner, both of my girlfriend's parents created their first Twitter accounts. Literally at the dinner table. Then they started following @PanelCrasher. They follow only me.... or rather, only my weird secret internet identity. So yes, they are awesome (hey guys!). On to the boner jokes?

Despite the manhunt/parental visit, I still made it over the The Willard Hotel last Wednesday for a luncheon event hosted by the Center for a New American Security called "A Conversation with Senator John S. McCain". Twas a fancy affair with a fancy lunch in a fancy conference room in a fancy hotel. After lunch, McCain gave a speech on the future of U.S. foreign policy and the Republican party. Here he is in this terrible picture:

I'll briefly sum up the substance of this speech, which you've probably already read about on real websites:

McCain was the man though, his speech was legitimately interesting, and he made a bunch of great jokes. He's exactly like Joe Biden with the added ability of not being a super creepy loose cannon. During a series of jokes about low congressional approval ratings  for example, which I assumed would suck, he mentioned that he saw a poll where people ranked Congress two points below a colonoscopy. He added that "as an older man of some experience, that's quite remarkable!" Big laugh from the old boys in the room I'll tell ya.

Politics aside, any time you’re a senior Senator, war hero, former presidential candidate, and you can bring the house down with a reference to the time you had a camera shoved up your butt? You're good in my book.

He also referred to himself as an "old wacko bird" at one point. Not sure what that is, but it made me giggle.

This was a very classy affair. The tables were formally set with white table cloths, nice china, and lots of different forks. So many forks. CNAS provided a plated hot lunch served by a formally dressed Willard wait staff. The whole thing was basically this:

Just to clarify that reference, I'm Leo, obviously.

Lunch was a very nicely roasted chicken breast with bread rolls and a sort of greek/caesar salad mix. A Greco-Roman Salad, if you will, without the pedophilia. Ice tea, water, and coffee were served as well, and the Willard folks were pretty on point with refills. Lastly, in the middle of the table was a delightful little spread of cookies, brownies, pastries, and lemon bars! This picture captures the general ballerness of it all:

Also, fancy printed menus like at weddings. Tight.

When I walked in, my first observation was that I was the only guy not in a suit or a military dress uniform. I went business casual. Shit:

I was feeling pretty obvious and out of place milling around awkwardly...until this guy walked in:

First question. Why is the Indian Guy from The Royal Tenenbaums at a Republican foreign policy luncheon? 

Second question: Why does he exclusively wear red pants with no belt and a poofy white shirt? 
Answer, based exclusively on googling "red pants": He is either in a boy band or a Twilight movie:

One Direction red pants!

 Jonas red pants!


Red pants are in guys. You heard it here first.

What's really driving me insane is that I've seen this guy before. I can't remember where, but he was wearing the exact same outfit. This made me suspect that our friend, who I'll call Robert Redpants, is a professional crasher. I was right. Before McCain even arrived, Robbie stuffed as much Greco-Roman as he could in his mouth (that's what he/she said), shook hands with his tablemates, picked up his red canvas shopping bag full of magical trinkets, and walked out. So shameless that no one questioned it. Amazing.

As for my table mates, I lucked out. Round tables are bad news for me because it forces conversation. I sat at a table by myself, but was soon surrounded by three big guys in suites. One was a DEA agent, one was with the World Bank, and the other was from somewhere with the word "strategic" in it. My fears were briefly allayed when without so much as an introduction, we all got tucked in to the free lunch. Men, you see.

Then she showed up. State Department girl with two first names. Lets call her Susan Ashley, AKA Captain Enthusiasm. Susan Ashley went around to each of us and REALLY enthusiastically introduced herself and her affiliation: "Hi! Susan Ashley with the State Department! Hi nice to meet you I'm Susan Ashley with the State Department! How are you? Susan Ashley with the State Department! Susan Ashley with State!" Um, we're all literally sitting next to each other here. We had it the first time.

Now I figured I'd get out ahead of things because Susan was going to force conversation on us, so I asked the DEA guy whether he was affiliated with CNAS, or some other question I didn't really care about. He barely looks up from his meal: "No man, they just have awesome free lunches." This kicked off series of enthusiastic nods and agreements from the other two fellas. One added something like "Yea the food's great, and you know, McCain is an important guy I guess." These guys are my new best friends. Best table ever. Best meal yet.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Crash 5 - U.S. House of Representatives: "Annual Taco Bell Congressional Reception"

After a pretty lame lunch panel at the Hudson Institute (I know, last post was kinda weak), I got a tip from my buddy on the Hill that the annual Taco Bell Congressional Reception was going down in the Longworth Cafeteria. I know it's not technically a panel, but whatever. "The Panel/Reception/Mixer/Event Crasher" didn't have much of a ring to it.
I remembered this event from my days as a staffer. It's basically an all-you-can-eat Taco Bell buffet with free beer and wine.  Never are so many free chalupas and beers together with so few stoned people. I hoped to snag a few beers and tacos while getting in some needed laughs after the Hudson snooze fest. Here's the scene:

There were at least five bars set up like this, with free beer and wine:

I couldn't get within 50 yards of a food stand unfortunately because the lines were so long. No biggie, because if I'm honest, I don't love Taco Bell. There, I said it. So instead of waiting, I sipped a couple beers by the bar and put out the vibe :

(Artists rendition)

That's when I saw this guy. He's taking no chances and making sure he gets his share by bringing a legit bankers box to stuff full of free tacos. He's either the office hero, or the annoying intern who was forced to hump Crunchwrap Supremes for staff:

One guy who was unquestionably an intern, was this guy:
Three things give this kid away. First, he's wearing a bow tie. Only interns and d-bags wear bow ties, so this guy is one or the other. Probably both:

Second, he's pulling the classic flipped badge maneuver to hide the fact that he has a red intern badge. I used to pull the same thing. I get it. No one wants to be seen wearing the DC scarlet letter. What most interns realize however, is that the backs of the intern and staff badges look exactly the same. If you adjust it to make it look like it just accidentally flipped over, it doesn't immediately signal that you're really unimportant. Except that it does, because the badges never just accidentally flip over. So this is only slightly less obvious than hanging your red badge out for all to see: 

That brings me to the third giveaway: his badge placement. Sorry kid, but no legitimate paid staffer, in the history of the United States Congress, has EVER warn his badge on his jacket pocket. It's just a 100% indicator that you're trying way to hard and are way too impressed with yourself. It goes on your belt or in your pocket. End of discussion. Now go grab me some bin candy from the deli.

On the other end of the spectrum was the lone Capitol Police officer getting in on the action. I always wondered why they didn't take advantage of stuff like this more often. There's probably some sort of unwritten rule about it, so I respect this guy for breaking through the blue wall and doing the right thing:

Similarly, I'd like to give a shout out to these Architect of the Capitol employees:

They were not holding back when it came to the free bar. Nope, just crushing beers in full uniform. Like their law enforcement counterparts, these folks work hard and behind the scenes to keep the things running safely in the Capitol, and they also dont always get the same perks available to staffers. So it was nice to see them get after it. What I respect even more though, and what this picture fails to fully capture, is that two of the guys are wearing matching headgear. One is in a Suns flat brim, the other in a Cavs flat brim, both of which are 100% color coordinated. THAT is how you accessorize on the Hill Bow Tie Boy. Take notes.
UPDATE!!!! Thanks to an anonymous tipster who apparently showed my AOTC friends this post at yesterday's Outback Steakhouse Reception, we have a better pic. First of all, back to back receptions! Word. Second, I'm told they dug the blog, which warms the cockles of my heart. The tipster also provided this far superior picture. They're in uniform and had name tags, so I blurred those out with their faces just in case they have any rules about using the logo or something. Now feast your eyes on their flat brim game. Fantastic:

Crash 4 - The Hudson Institute: "The Charitable Tax Deduction and the American Political Order"

I got back out on the panel circuit today and hit The Hudson Institute. This was the smoothest of my crashes so far but also the most comedically uninteresting. I really wanted to go to CAP's event, "Politics and Sexism: Don't Turn the Other Cheek," because, haha, sex.......and cheeks. Haha.


I've already crashed CAP though, so that wouldn't have been fair. And with the media FIRESTORM that's centered around this blog recently, I need to keep people guessing. Speaking of which, the recent DCist article about me has ignited quite the intense/bizarre/hilarious debate in the comment section that is pretty much the only thing anyone ever needs to read to understand DC. There's some real good stuff from commenters like Ethan Miller here:

The blog isn't written that well though and is mostly filled with comments about how Interns dress. 

Thanks for chiming in Ethan. Nailed it on content. As for the bad writing, next time I'm looking for some tips from a pale-faced internet hipster in a felt bowler hat and ironic curly mustache, I'll be sure to give you a shout:
Maybe one day we can grab a couple DC Braus at Looking Glass Lounge, discuss MLA citations, and lament how ska music never got a fair shake.

Other commenters went in a different direction, getting super butthurt about the state of entitlement culture, or non-profits....or something:

Non-profit leeches leech. It doesn't matter what education or income level. This is a demonstration of it. "Non-profit" is a tax dodge that allows lots of people to skim off of the gravy train of tax money that goes out to all the overeducated, overpaid strap-hangers that populate these greedhead organizations. He is just miffed that he got cut off the teat and goes back to what he knows: being a leech of donation money.

I just hope 'sgtted' is Ted Nugent. I also hope to successfully incorporate the word "greedhead" into my vocabulary and to use the words "miffed" and "teat" in the same sentence as often as possible.

Anyway, the panel:

Fantastic and plentiful food spread. The sandwich selection was on par with CAP, but accompanied by more diverse dessert and drink selections. They also had large bowls of Greek salad, which was an unusual and appreciated side:

You don't see a lot of vegetable options at these things usually. I'm no health nut, but I'm sure I don't need to tell any of you guys what happens when you dont eat your green vegetables but spend a lot of time sitting down. Do I? It's hemorrhoids guys. Hemorrhoids, AKA the trench foot of the panel crashing community. No bueno. Eat your greens.

Moving on.

In addition to the salad, another nice touch was that they posted large signs above each of the sandwich trays, labeling them by content.

This may seem unnecessary, but I can't tell you how many times I've watched the guy in front of me dismantle each sandwich and start digging and sniffing around to determine the exact ingredients. Here's a reenactment of what I mean:

Hudson's innovative labeling strategy renders this exploratory technique unnecessary however, mitigating any risk that the Sandwich Sniffers (TM) will confuse Albacore Tuna Salad for Alsation Ham and Cheese, and thus mitigating my risk of catching smallpox or Alzheimer's.

In other breaking news, if you google "Sandwich Sniffer," this is what comes up:

Internet FTW.

When I first walked into the room, I felt like I'd traveled forward in time to meet my future self. When  we first locked eyes, sandwich stacks in hand, it was exactly like when Joseph Gordon-Levitt first shares a meal with his future self in Looper:

The only notable difference was that my future self doesn't look like Bruce Willis. He looks like this:

I rolled in 20 minutes into the half-hour lunch period that took place before the panel began. Bruce had clearly already been there for a while, yet he still had four whole sandwiches left to go, stacked up on his  shelf stomach, um plate. My immediate reaction was to give him a nod of acknowledgment and admiration, assuming he was a fellow crasher. It was soon apparent that he was known by or affiliated with the Hudson crowd though. He got a lot of back slaps and appeared to be an expert in the field. Basically, he's the total package. Again, just like me.

My one and only complaint about this guy, was that he was one of the loudest mouth breathers I've ever encountered. Honestly sounded like I was sitting next to Tony Soprano in a Darth Vader mask. Unreal.

Firstly, as a Boston native I greatly appreciated the moment of silence held by the Hudson moderator prior to the beginning of the panel. Classy move.

Unfortunately, that silence also represented the most compelling and comprehensible moment of the entire panel, which consisted of four middle aged white guys and one older white guy talking about the charitable tax donation. They weren't debating whether the deduction is important or good though. Everyone agreed that it is. They  literally just debated the philosophical moral/political/economic origins of the deduction.

The only real highlight was the old guy's bow tie. Pretty sure it was tie-dye. My man definitely hit up a few Grateful Dead shows back in the day:

We should probably also take a moment to acknowledge the other guy's umbrella game. First of all, why do have an umbrella? There was literally not a cloud in the sky today pal. On the other hand, I can't really hate on a man for accessorizing outside of meteorological necessity when he's capable of pulling off the challenging wrist-hang maneuver. Let's also not forget that people have based their entire careers on the ability to wear dope suits and handle umbrellas. And by people, I mean Fonzworth Bentley. He is the only person that I mean:

The first presenter was the worst of the bunch. He's a tax lawyer, so he displayed exactly as much charisma and personality as you'd expect. He was accompanied by a collection of powerpoint slides, each of which was basically a tax policy version of those inspirational posters you see in hospitals:
They were basically just a series of cartoons or metaphorical images with phrases like "change the paradigm". Here's one showing a screw being driven into wood unsuccessfully by a hammer. Because screwdrivers. What does this have to do with charitable deductions? Not a fucking clue:

All I know is that if this image is truly analogous to the current taxation paradigm, well then, you might say...we're SCREWED guys! Boom. Count it.

Man I totally nailed that joke (!). Okay I'm done.

Here's another slide of his. This one marks the exact point at which I completely stopped paying attention to a single word anyone said.

The second panelist was a bit more dynamic to be fair, especially when he called the tax lawyer "willfully ignorant." Everyone was like:

Then he delivered a really predictable joke followed by a really cruel one. His name was Robert Reich, which, as I'm sure all you nerds know, was also the name of the Labor Secretary during the Clinton administration...Oh man. Two people. Same name. One was a Cabinet secretary. What are the chances?? Hold onto your hats. There's a horrific, cringe-worthy wonk joke in the making. I can't actually even remember how he delivered it because it was so predictable I started preemptively cringing. Unsurprisingly though, the crowd loved it.

Anyway, after jokingly apologizing to "everyone who expected a presentation from the Secretary Reich" (because they have the same name see), he said that he was "making it up" to everyone with a a gift under our seat. That snapped me right back to attention. I was amped up, freaking out thinking this was like when those housewives who go to see Oprah and she gives them all sorts of private jets and cruises. Best panel EVVVVEER!!!

Then, no joke, this is what was under everyone's seat:

Damn you non-secretary Robert Reich. You're a dick.

Follow me on Twitter: @PanelCrasher

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Crash 3 - American Enterprise Institute: “Lower Pay: Are Race and Gender to Blame?”

After a week off, I returned to DC today even poorer and less able to feed myself than before. I also returned apparently having totally lost my knack for sneakiness. First stop was the American Enterprise Institute based on a Twitter tip about their gourmet lunch buffets. My internet friend wasn’t wrong, but what he failed to tell me was that the AEI interns are ON. POINT, and I got completely hosed by this intern. But I didn’t get into the Panel Crashing/Blogging game just to give up in the face of one overeager intern. I adapt. I overcome. I make fun of that intern on the internet anyway.

Interns and Food:
When I first rolled into AEI there were three female interns sitting behind a large front desk to check people in. Personally, I enjoyed the irony of having three unpaid women welcoming me to a panel centered around the thesis that gender has nothing to do with the wage gap. Here they are:

Nevermind, that’s actually a shot of Muammar Gaddafi’s female bodyguards. I couldn’t actually get a picture of the AEInterns™. They were standing on a raised surface, which made my “pretend to be texting but actually be taking pictures” strategy difficult. Then this old dude stepped in front of me, so all I got was this piece of crap photo:

Fortunately, this captured the only intern you need to know about, the ginger. Remember her, because before I even had time to take a long-distance pic of her and her posse, she'd caught me red handed. She was clever and waited until I went in for the food, which, by the way blew every other lunch panel out of the water. They had a full hot bar buffet with a real nice shrimp gumbo situation, grilled chicken breasts, rice pilaf, and a delightful little spring salad! This was served with real ceramic plates and silverware. Nothing conservative about that kind of presentation folks am I right??

What I now realize however, is that this food spread was a trap. I was so excited that I started just cockily taking pictures of the buffet like a weirdo, calling attention to myself and not paying attention to my surroundings. I forgot crasher rule number 46: Head on a swivel. The result? I failed to see our ginger friend lurking in the background waiting for me to make my move. Only afterwards did I notice her in the picture above, arms crossed, wearing pink to seem unthreatening but tracking my every move. I hate her, but dammit do I respect her. Don't see what I mean? ENHANCE!!

Within SECONDS, the she was on me like condescending, self-important white on my panel crashing rice : “Sir, are you taking pictures of our food?” What I should have said was “Uh, ya, ever heard of Instagram? This rice pilaf will look totally dope once I throw a Valencia filter on there.” Then I could've just emailed her this sick insta and settled the whole thing:
OMG the colors!

But she caught me totally off guard, so instead I just started shaking, sweating, and sputtering nonsense about my affiliation and intentions. She had me completely cornered against the buffet table, as you can see in this picture:

Okay fine that’s a picture of the Stormtroopers capturing Han Solo and Princess Leia in Star Wars. But it was basically like that. The truth is that I have no pictures, because she sternly informed me that AEI has a strict no picture policy at their events.That seems like total bullshit, because they were webcasting it, but I was so intimidated that I had no choice but to comply. Then I started connecting the dots. Why am I doing exactly as this girl tells me? Who is she? What do I know about her?

Well first, she's a ginger:

Second, she crosses her arms in a very intimidating manner:

And third, she's extremely good at interrogating people and catching them doing something they don't want to be caught for....


That's right. The woman who took down Osama bin Laden can now add The Panel Crasher to her list of victims. She is a true American hero.

But seriously, if I were this intern I would just erase the rest of my resume and put “Summer 2013: Caught the Panel Crasher.” Bang, done. Hired. Lifetime think tank employment.


Once the interns had me on missile lock though, I was screwed. Maya sent another intern to sit behind me, so I couldn't take a single pictures. Thankfully, the internet exists.

The panel was centered around a new book about why race and gender are not to blame for wage disparities. The book was written by this woman and her husband, but she was the only one of them on the panel:

She didn't say it, but she has to be related to Dr. Ruth, that old sex therapist who had that call-in show "Good Sex" back in the day. Don't know what I mean? Do yourself a favor and watch this video of her explaining to 70-year old caller Henry how to have better erections:

Once you're done throwing up, tell me they aren't related:

Dr. Ruth's best moment on the panel was when she put up a powerpoint presentation that was on her laptop. The laptop faced her, but was connected and displayed on the screens around her for the audience to see. In a classic old lady move, which no one had the heart to call her on, she kept saying things like "now you see here on this graph," and then pointing to her laptop screen rather than the TV screens, as if that could be seen the audience...because, you know, computers.

The second panelist was a guy named Mike Myers. Yes, finding a picture of Mike Myers on the internet was difficult, thank you:
Now this Mike Myers is not a serial killer or a terrible comedian, but he is most certainly the only black guy who thinks that race and discrimination have literally nothing to do with wage disparities. More importantly though, at one point he said the phrase "pusillanimous posturing." No clue what he meant, but it was hilarious.

Then he yelled out, "The rent is too damn high!!!!"

Anyway, the best panelist was this gentleman, Harry Holzer:
Now Harry had the unenviable job of being the liberal voice on the panel, arguing that racism and sexism remain significant barriers to wage equality. How did he do this? Well after a few platitudes to Dr. Ruth he proceeded to tear. her. book. to. shreds. Literally: page-by-page, he went through and dressed down her claims and conclusions, making it rain with citations of studies, experiments, reports, and anecdotes. It was such a barrage of facts and figures that he could of been totally making it up as he went along. No idea if there was any validity to what he was saying. Dr. Ruth had been soft-spoken, frail, and polite in her presentation, but this dude went the total other direction with it, blasting her loudly and ceaselessly. I literally was waiting for him to  yell “dammit woman you ARE discriminated against, and you’ll like it. Get me a sandwich! SEE!!!”

Well the last panelist, a woman named Diana, did NOT like Harry's presentation. So what did she do to prove that sexism was dead? Make her own articulate rebuttal? Nope. She called on Dr. Ruth's HUSBAND, who had co-written the book and was in the audience, to take the mic and defend Dr. Ruth by peppering Harry with questions. THEN, when Harry went to answer the questions, she grabbed the mic back from him and said, “Um, Harry, I gave my time to Dave, not you okay,” and proceeded with her presentation. In short, Harry owned Dr. Ruth, but then Diana and Mr. Ruth owned him even harder.

The most owned person at the panel however, was me. Hats off to the AEI ladies. I may have been the Jazzy Jeff to your Phil Banks this time.....
But I'll be back, and you will be crashed. Oh yes, you will be crashed.  

Follow me on Twitter @PanelCrasher