Frist's Southern Hospitality

By Al Kamen
Friday, April 7, 2006

It was with some trepidation that we opened a most interesting card, which announced on a blue-jeaned cowboy's belt buckle something called the "5th Annual VOLPAC '06 Weekend" in Nashville on April 21-23.

Problem was you had to unbuckle the cowboy's pants and look inside to see what this was all about. Seemed a bit too "Brokeback Mountain."

Imagine our relief to find only that we were "cordially invited" to the event honoring Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and "Mrs. Bill Frist, M.D." This is Frist's political action committee to raise money for other senators, making friends and positioning him nicely for his 2008 presidential bid.

Big-time donors can golf, ride bikes, tour a recording studio and have lunch at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts. Then, after a cozy cocktail reception, there's Saturday night at the Grand Ole Opry and breakfast at the lovely Hermitage Hotel on Sunday morning.

"Don't miss a celebration of southern hospitality," the invite says, "one-of-a-kind music and special friends . . ." though it's unclear who those friends are and what makes them special.

The back of the card shows the cowboy from behind with a red flowered handkerchief sticking out of his right pocket. Wait a minute -- wasn't there something about how this used to be some kind of code in the gay community years ago? A way to signal each other in crowded, noisy bars?

So we checked the's Hanky Codes. Sure enough, there it was in the chart explaining what they mean: red hanky in right pocket. Oh, dear.

Uproar in British Aisles

They call it "Bed-gate." The British press has been hammering Foreign Secretary Jack Straw this week for sleeping on a bed in Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice 's private room on her plane -- while she slept on the floor out in the aisle -- on the duo's surprise flight Sunday from London to Baghdad.

"Ungallant behaviour" sniffed the Daily Mail of London. The paper quoted a "Whitehall insider" as saying: "Jack Straw has always had a reputation for being polite, but ineffectual. Now it would seem that he is not even polite." Ouch!

"Rice's shock offer," the Mirror splashed.

The News & Star snapped that Straw was "dreamily besotted" with Rice and "fawning" over her during her protest-plagued visit to his home town of Blackburn. "Quite nauseating," the paper concluded.

For his part, Straw says he was "mortified" to find that Rice had slept in the aisle.

"She offered me the use of the sofa bed in her room," he explained the next day. "I asked if there were proper alternative arrangements available, and she said yes."

Straw said he had "checked with her personal assistant, and he said she would be fine, so I took up her offer." If circumstances were reversed, he said, "I hope I would do the same thing, but then I don't have a plane."

First, Homes; Then, Hospitals

Ten-term Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), whose Philadelphia suburban district was carried by Democrats in the last two presidential campaigns, is in a tough reelection fight against a Democrat, retired Navy Vice Adm. Joseph A. Sestak Jr.

And things have turned ugly. Weldon has hammered on Sestak's links to the District, noting he owns a home in Virginia but rents in Pennsylvania. Then the Hill newspaper reported Wednesday that Weldon "also suggested Sestak should have sent" his 4-year-old daughter, who has a malignant brain tumor, "to a hospital in Philadelphia or Delaware, rather than" Children's hospital in Washington. The Philadelphia newspapers took it from there.

Sestak demanded an apology, saying that "any remarks regarding my daughter Alexandra's treatment will not be tolerated." Sestak, who was raised in the Philadelphia suburbs and votes there, said he plans to move back as soon as his daughter completes her treatment at Children's National Medical Center.

A campaign spokesman who talked with Weldon said the congressman denied having made "the girl's sickness an issue," but that Weldon "confirmed that while talking to the Hill, he had made a reference to the quality of hospitals in the Philadelphia area."

Nothing to do with the treatment question. Weldon is known in Congress for his almost daily praise of the quality of hospitals in the Philadelphia area.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company