Where are my ex-secretaries of state?

I began the week reminiscing about my travels with four secretaries of state, so I thought I’d end it by answering another question I’m frequently asked: What happened to the three secretaries I covered before Hillary Clinton? Starting with the most recent, they are Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright.

I’ve also been asked often about the differences between those former chief U.S. diplomats, especially during travel. I usually point out an obvious similarity among them first: None of them is a white male. In fact, the last secretary to fit that description was Warren Christopher, who left office in January 1997, when Albright ended the centuries-old tradition.

Free hotel Internet for elites slowly becomes the norm

Another domino in the hotel fees game has began falling. Three of the world’s largest chains — Starwood, Marriott and Hyatt — now offer free Internet access to their elite members. Another two, however — InterContinental and Hilton — are holding out. For how long?

Like most frequent travelers, who are usually also elite members of various loyalty programs, I’ve become accustomed to free hotel perks, such as breakfast, room upgrades and lounge access. At the same time, I’ve oddly got used to paying Internet fees that are sometimes higher for one day than my monthly charge at home, and for speed several times lower…

Military lounges are airport oases

If you are in the military, you have probably visited the special lounges at the airports close to your base on your way to or from deployment. But did you know that you can use dozens of such lounges across the country while on a personal trip with your family?

Those so-called airport centers are operated by the United Services Organization (USO), a private, nonprofit group whose mission is “to support the troops by providing morale, welfare and recreation-type services to our men and women in uniform.” I’ve written about airline business lounges before, and like most frequent fliers, I can hardly imagine travel without the oasis they provide in crowded terminals. I had no idea, however, that there were military lounges…

Dulles showcases airport’s limits

Feeling bitter while traveling and complaining about things you can’t change is never healthy, but I couldn’t help doing just that last week as a trip to Hong Kong and Singapore reminded me how unfortunate we are to have to put up with Washington Dulles International Airport.

Through the years, I’ve tried to accept the reality of the Dulles experience by making it a routine that requires little thinking — from the lack of decent First World transportation to the airport and the archaic people-movers there officially known as “mobile lounges” to the depressing interior of the “midfield terminal” and the immigration hall that is anything but welcoming. I’ve also defended Dulles when I’ve heard people around the world call it one of the worst airports they have seen…

U.S. visa-free travel comes with strings

Are you getting ready to welcome friends or relatives from overseas for the holidays? Or perhaps you are one of those visitors. This might be a good time to check the latest U.S. entry requirements, especially if you or your guests are traveling without a visa.

Most citizens of the 34 countries participating in the so-called visa-waiver program think that all they need to board a plane to the United States is a passport and an airline ticket. For the most part, they are right. But what kind of passport and ticket? If your passport was issued before Oct. 26, 2005, it must be machine-readable, with a strip at the bottom of the title page that can be read by a computer when swiped…

Screen, please, doctor

Noah Wyle has never heard of the “Carter scale”, a phrase coined by University of Edinburgh medical students addicted to “ER” — the highly rated US TV drama that has made Wyle a star — as a gauge of male attractiveness. He is certainly aware of the international fame that the role of the sweet and earnest Dr John Carter has brought him, and admits that it has changed his life on every level. But he comes across as the most unlikely Hollywood luminary, still striving to reconcile his shyness and the rewards of celebrity.

We’ve been talking for 15 minutes, Wyle having driven for two hours to Los Angeles from his 45-acre ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley, near Santa Barbara, California, which he bought from actress Bo Derek last year for a reported $2.5m (£1.7m). Simply but elegantly dressed, in a stylish brown jacket and blue jeans, the 6ft 2in Wyle clearly anticipates my comment on his beard, which made a brief but controversial appearance on “ER” a couple of years ago…

Action man gives peace a chance

John Woo is concerned that he will go down in cinema history only as an action film director, albeit one of the masters. So the man who made his name in Hong Kong with the distinctive balletic style of his blood-soaked movies, and then conquered Hollywood with “Face/Off” and “Mission: Impossible 2”, has decided to move away from what he does best and try his hand at drama and — maybe even a musical.

“I want to do a film without violence,” he says in his office at the MGM complex in Santa Monica, California, “and a musical is one of my biggest dreams. There is so much confusion in the world today, so much hatred and lack of understanding, and I’d love to make noble and spiritual films”…

Stories about Sharon Stone

Just after 3 pm on an unseasonably hot spring day, an elegant, black sports car pulls up in front of a posh, downtown hotel in San Francisco, and out steps Sharon Stone. Sporting a stylish red scarf, she takes off her sunglasses and walks towards a virile-looking man in a dark suit and cowboy boots. This is Phil Bronstein, her husband of two years and executive editor of the San Francisco Examiner.

Stone and Bronstein then sit down for their first interview together since their wedding on Valentine’s Day, 1998. At the time, gossip columnists were quick to give their marriage no more than a year. They were wrong, but the couple acknowledge the difficulties of a marriage involving two of the most fickle of all professions.

“You work really, really hard at it, because that’s what’s required for a successful relationship,” Stone says, once the waiters in the hotel’s restaurant finally retire, having assured her of the pleasure of her presence…

Political punch in a package of charm

Condoleezza Rice has rarely heard a question she doesn’t know how to answer, from queries about her tumultuous childhood in segregated Alabama to her success in the male world of superpower politics, nuclear weapons and arms control.

She meets me with the friendly smile and easy hospitality of a west-coaster, defying the image of someone anointed by Washington insiders to become the most powerful woman in the world in a year. The chief foreign policy adviser to Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush, Rice is being tipped as a likely secretary of state or national security adviser should Bush win the White House.

As huge a task as this sounds, Rice’s own life story has the word “amazing” written all over it. At 45, she has been the first black woman in just about any job she’s taken on: from special assistant for national security affairs to President George Bush when she was only 34, to provost of California’s prestigious Stanford University (the Harvard of the west coast) where she managed a budget of nearly $2bn…

Working for Uncle Sam

Rob Lowe’s comeback story is of a peculiar kind. For his audience, seeing one of 1980s-Hollywood’s highest-profile heartthrobs in a serious, political role, in an award-winning TV drama series about life behind the scenes at the White House, has provoked a reaction just short of shock. But for the 37-year-old actor and ex-Brat Pack member, whose career had slipped over the past decade, playing deputy communications director Sam Seaborn in “The West Wing” is a logical turn that shows “everything I can bring to a part”.

“It taps more into my abilities as an actor than any other part I’ve done,” says Lowe, whose looks typecast him as the invariable romantic youth from the start of his career. “This is a role on which my physicality has no bearing whatsoever. Sam could have been played by anyone. The hallmarks of this character aren’t physical but verbal and cerebral”…