John McCaslin

"Charlie Wilson's War" premiered this week in Hollywood, and front and center — escorted by, among others, former Secretary of State (and childhood friend) James A. Baker III — was Houston socialite and political activist Joanne Herring, who personally persuaded Rep. Charlie Wilson of Texas to lead the 1979 charge against Soviet forces by funneling U.S. money and weapons to the resistance fighters in Afghanistan.

First, how does it feel to have this noteworthy chapter of your life portrayed by the talented Julia Roberts?

"If I could have chosen anybody in the world, I would have chosen Julia Roberts," Mrs. Herring told Inside the Beltway in a telephone interview yesterday from Houston. "Afterward, I went up to her and said, 'How can I thank you? You were marvelous.' And she smiled and said, 'I am so glad, I really wanted you to like it.'

"You know, when it's your life up there on the screen, the first thing you think of is that your grandchildren might be seeing that one day, saying: 'Grandmother, was that really you?' "

Meanwhile, Mrs. Herring said Universal Pictures "has paid me the nicest compliment, hosting a private black-tie, red-carpet screening here in Houston on Wednesday, and I am just thrilled about it."

For that matter, a "Joanne Herring Day" has been declared in Houston, she told us.

Other highlights of yesterday's interview:

• When Mrs. Herring's father learned about his daughter's otherwise covert involvement in Middle Eastern affairs, "he almost died and declared, 'My daughter's an arms dealer.' I said, 'No, Daddy, no.' "

• Her efforts on behalf of the Afghans in fighting Soviet troops "was so against the tide at that time. You'd talk to people about communists, and they'd look at you with a glazed look in their eyes."

• The coming "crisis" to strike the Middle East will be a shortage of water, "but I am working on a way to alleviate that tremendous problem right now, which I can talk more about later."

Tough flying

It's been a difficult few days for lawmakers who were trying to get to Capitol Hill to cast crucial congressional votes. Here's a small sampling of this week's excuses for being AWOL:

Rep. Sam Graves, Missouri Republican: "Inclement weather."

Rep. Timothy V. Johnson, Illinois Republican: "My flight being delayed due to mechanical issues."

Rep. Jeff Miller, Florida Republican: "My plane was delayed due to mechanical problems in Atlanta."

Rep. Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican: "Inclement weather grounding flights from Wisconsin."

And you, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, California Democrat? "An inoperable beeper."

Holiday headaches

John McCaslin

John McCaslin is a contributing columnist on and author of Inside The Beltway: Offbeat Stories, Scoops, and Shenanigans from around the Nation's Capital .

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