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  •   Levey Live: Speaking Freely

    Friday, April 30, 1999

    "Levey Live: Speaking Freely," hosted by Washington Post columnist Bob Levey, appears every Friday from 1 to 2 p.m. Eastern time. It is a live, open-agenda discussion offering users around the world the opportunity to ask questions and discuss topics of their choice with Bob.

    Bob Levey
    Bob Levey
    Dan Murano/
    Fearless Bob takes your questions about virtually everything, from sports and politics (there's a difference?) to world events, Metro area traffic and issues raised in Bob's columns.

    Never fear, Bob was here, LIVE ONLINE, his coffee pot bubbling merrily as he typed at you from his fabulously cluttered office high atop The Washington Post building.

    Here is a transcript of today's session:


    Washington, D.C.: So, NOW can we outlaw guns?

    Bob Levey: I sure hope so. We couldn't hope for a better example than Littleton of what easily available guns can do. If you think that few criminals would give up the guns they've got, think again. If we offered financial incentives, and don't-ask-don't-tell about where the bad guys got them, you might be surprised.

    Wichita, Kansas: This past Tuesday's chat contained more questions -and space- from you to your guest than from other participants. Was this because there were not enough questions out there, or did you feel it was more "your" forum?

    Bob Levey: We always try to balance the Tuesday questions between those from the world and those from the fertile, fevered brain of R. Levey. Some weeks we tip one way, sometimes another. No deep, dark plot or conscious decision involved.

    Arlington, VA: is the email address for ideas on saving 71 yr. Washington institution, Sholl's Cafeteria.--Additionally, there is a 10 a.m. open meeting at the cafeteria EVERY SAT. to discuss strategy.--What do you suggest be done? Will you help?

    Bob Levey: I hope I already have, by writing about the plight of the restaurant last Friday. I plan to do at least one follow-up. But please don't think the outlook for Sholl's is favorable. The real estate folk could probably get twice as much rent from some other business. It's always about money, and nothing else.

    Washington, D.C.: Any idea why Metro runs those Silver Spring-Grosvenor trains on the weekend? It's really maddening to have to wait 20 minutes for a train that goes out to the end of the line.

    Bob Levey: See last answer: it's all about money. It would cost Metro far more to run trains the entire length of the line on weekends than it would collect in revenues. Simple fact: The farthest out stations draw much less traffic on weekends than on weekdays. Not true of in-town (or closer-to-town) stations.

    Falls Gulch, VA: Bob -

    Have you received any good suggestions for Amtrak, to convince them not to call their new train "Acela"? Can I get a job in marketing? I can do all kinds of stupid things for $100K.

    - Tim

    Bob Levey: Zillions of suggestions, all of which are sitting in an inglorious heap on my desk right this second. Full column coming on May 10 wherein I will list the best.

    Gaithersburg, MD: On your radio show, you had a caller named "The Screamer" who seemed to call in when things got slow. I suspected it was a friend of yours.

    Whatever happened to him?

    Bob Levey: He called when things weren't slow, too. A true space case. Got his kicks from disrupting discussions that were really rolling. If he was (or is) a friend of mine, it's news to me. As for what happened to him, I hope he reads Ann Landers, so he will heed her oft-offered advice: seek professional help.

    Fairfax, VA: What happened to last weeks discussion? I submitted a question but I did not see questions from anyone!

    Bob Levey: Your humble and obedient servant took a day off. Therefore, "Levey Live: Speaking Freely" did, too

    Rosslyn, Va: Speaking of Sholl's unfavorable outlook,which you attribute to real estate costs, a local shopping center right above Rosslyn, Colonial Plaza, is closing today and six or seven small restaurants will be out of business. The owner has reportedly already leased space to national chains after she renovates. This is another example of the destruction of local color. Comments?

    Bob Levey: I hate this sort of thing more than I could ever express. Does the world have to be one big Cinnabon? In fact, I think consumer tastes rebel against sameness from sea to shining sea. I'll ALWAYS choose a kinky, local, humble kind of place before I'll choose a chain. What's going into Colonial Plaza? A beautiful Trak Auto store?

    Herndon, VA: Bob, Do you believe the campaign to ticket red light runners and jay walkers will have any effect on traffic and pedestrian safety? Why was there no mention of the bicycle couriers who not only run red lights, ride the wrong way on one way streets, but weave through pedestrians on sidewalks at high rates of speed?

    Bob Levey: None of these periodic anti-jaywalking campaigns have the slightest long-term effect because they never last more than a few days. Station a cop on the most troublesome corners every day for a year, and you'll see change. Of course, that might cost us each a nickel more in taxes, and some brainless politician will oppose that, so don't hold your breath.

    Greenbelt, Maryland: Mr. Levey: With all the news coverage of the massacre in Littleton, Colorado; my question is: Don't you think situations like this are being over covered by the media and in doing so, we are forcing the police and investigators to make mistakes like the people in Littleton did, with the number of people injured and killed or how many gun men etc."? I think, these situations need to be initially reported then left alone for about 2 weeks then re-investigate the investigators and police to see what they have found out. Give them time to really get the story right instead of sending out false information to just satisfy the nosy news people who won't leave them alone to do their work.

    Bob Levey: Sorry, but it flies in the face of human nature to wait two weeks, especially when there are a ton of unanswered questions, as there are in Littleton. Not only that, but all the fiddling and faddling by the authorities there is a story itself--as our front page made clear this morning. The far more frequent media "sin" is to report the heck out of the story at first and then disappear, never returning for the deeper, slower reporting that is often more meaningful. I, for instance, can't wait to read a piece about a year later at Columbine. How are the kids doing? The teachers? What about the community as a whole?

    Fairfax, VA: Hi Bob!
    My grump: people who won't turn their headlights on in parking garages.

    Garages are poorly-lit, cramped, and full of visual distractions. Turning on headlights means you see better, but more importantly it means I can see you coming!

    Can you use your position as eminence grise of greater Washington to spread the word on this?

    Bob Levey: Just did, my friend. Let's hope that Web-sters are also common sense-sters.

    Upper Marlboro, Md.: Bob,
    What can be done about phone solicitors? You know. The people who bug you as soon as you get in the house and start eating your dinner. I have to answer my phone for family reasons. The worst is when I'm off during the day and trying to get some rest. I can't unplug the phone or turn off the ringer once again for family reasons. It's really getting bad.

    Bob Levey: You might have to retreat behind an answering machine. It's a pretty good filter. And if you get a family call, you can return it quite quickly. There's no other technological way to keep the bad guys from calling you, I'm afraid

    DC: Can you answer for me once and for all a question about whether bike riders are supposed to ride on the street or on the sidewalk? I have always thought that bikes are considered vehicles and therefore aren't allowed on the sidewalk, but every bike rider in town seems to think differently. So am I right or are they?

    Bob Levey: Law says street-only except in the business district of downtown D.C., where they are allowed on the sidewalk.

    Wheaton, Md: So it looks like Bethesda's Daniel Snyder is going to be the next owner of the Redskins. Two questions: Do you think he's got the brains and guts to change that racially insensitive name, and how do you think the team might change under new ownership?

    Bob Levey: Re the name: absolutely, and I half expect it. He'll be under a lot of pressure to freshen up the image of the team, and what better way to do it? As for on-the-field changes under his ownership, it looks like more of the same sluggish approach, especially since Snyder is on record as saying he'll keep the coach and general manager. Levey's Law: you can't win football games without talent, no matter who the owner, coach and general manager are. And this team has very little talent.

    Arlington, Virginia: Bob, last Friday night I had my rehearsal dinner at the National Press Club, and had enough problems dealing with the NATO summit and all the traffic tie-ups. I heard that one couple who had their wedding scheduled for Saturday at the Willard had their event canceled by a dignitary who was not pleased to share the space. Is this true? If so how could that happen?

    Bob Levey: Hotels are often willing to risk lawsuits to suit an important customer, so they will often "double book," and then wash out a wedding or a bar mitzvah if something better (read: more lucrative) comes along. I've written about this many times, and you can see how much difference I've made. If you book with a hotel, always be sure you get a contract, and always be sure it spells out what the cancellation policy is. At the very least, you can get a refund of your deposit, and perhaps damages, too.

    Beltsville, MD: Bob, why do people throw cigarettes out their car windows? I don't know of a brand of car that lacks an ashtray, but we've all seen a car sitting at a light with a driver who is smoking and flicking ash out the window. The next scene is smoke coming out of the window, followed by the remains of his-her cigarette.
    Isn't there enough trash in the street now?
    If I'm next to them, I usually lower my window and gently ask them to use their ashtray. I get everything from a grunt, to no answer to some expletive.
    How can we reach these bozos?

    Bob Levey: My favorite medicine was suggested years ago by a guy I knew in the D.C. government: videotape them, then identify them, then send them a can't-duck-it bill for the cost of cleaning up their mess. As always, if you hit them in the pocketbook, that's better than hitting them in any part of the anatomy.

    Annandale, VA: Perhaps you can explain something to me. Why is it that most of the recent attacks on school children are committed by white males in English speaking countries -such as US, Canada, Britain, Australia-? You never hear of such attacks occuring in 3rd world countries where violence is often more widespread. As a white male with British-Celtic ancestry, I wonder if I carry some sort of "violence" gene.

    Bob Levey: I assume you're talking about in-school assaults. I'm afraid I have no theory that would float. I'd say it's just a coincidence. If you're talking about assaults anywhere in the world, you're absolutely wrong. Half a million people were slaughtered two years ago in Rwanda. Many were children. And the murderers were all black (so were the victims).

    Arlington, VA: It's not a world-shaking matter, but a story in today's Post bothered me quite a bit. Dogs that killed many ostriches, had been involved in incidents before, and that had been sited many times for leash-law violations -admittedly the owner's fault- were shipped out of state rather than being euthanized. Where is the sense of responsibility in sending problem animals off to be someone else's problem? I LOVE animals, but those who have had a taste of this 'sport' aren't going to rehab, themselves. Am I just being crabby or does the judge's decision seem highly irresponsible to other folks too? - SR

    Bob Levey: I'm with you. Animal rights can be wildly overdone (does a dog really have LEGAL rights?). But in this case, transplanting the problem is the wrong answer for pooch and people alike.

    Silver Spring, MD: Wait a minute, Bob! DC law allows bike riders on the sidewalk in the business district? Does common sense tell you this is the one place only PEOPLE should be on the sidewalk? Bikes are legally classified as vehicles in all states, I believe. You can "drive" a bike on the road (not expressways) everywhere. But on a busy sidewalk? Gee, can I also drive my car on DC's crowded sidewalks? Parking would be easier.

    Bob Levey: Perhaps the news hasn't reached you: Common sense and public policy do not always intersect. It makes "common sense" to ban guns, too. Do you see that happening?

    Washington, D.C.: I agree with President Clinton's new proposals on gun control, but isn't it a little ironic that any such legislation would have to move through the Judiciary Committee, home of Henry Hyde and friends?

    Bob Levey: I wouldn't call it ironic. I'd call it politics as usual. Remember that Washington is the only place in the world where partisans can rip at each other's guts all day, then clink glasses together all night. I'd say Hyde and Clinton will judge this purely on political terms. Neither has a well-developed sense of irony, to say the least

    Bob Levey: Half an hour remaining in today's type-fest. Keep 'em coming!

    Fairfax, VA: Bob, I've got a simple solution to the Redskins' name problem--just change their logo to a redskin potato. So what if it has nothing to do with DC? Did the old logo?

    Bob Levey: I can hear it now: Go Spuds!

    Mt. Rainier MD: Bob, I have a little revenge against the bulk mailers that other people might find useful. You know how your name and address gets circulated to every mailing list in the country, in what seems like minutes. If you have a mortgage for instance, you get on every possible list for mortgage insurance, re-financing, debt clearance, etc. etc. Now when I get these solicitations in the mail, I look for the postage pre-paid envelope. I tear the rest of the mailing up, put it in the envelope, and send it back to the company. I hope it a disincentive for the bulk mailers to have to pay for their own trash.

    Bob Levey: You can go one better: Tape the solicitation to a brick and drop it in any mailbox. This isn't very considerate of mail carriers, but they are well aware of it, and are duty bound to pick up such remailed material. For sure, the bulk mailers pay attention, because a message-upon-brick coming back to them costs an average of $10 per in postage due.

    Washington DC: Hmm.. I had considered getting a bike and riding it from silver spring to the Mall - but as a deaf person I'm inherently terrified of driving in the street, with all those -cough- nice drivers. I always biked on the sidewalk at the university of illinois - would I get in trouble if I biked on the sidewalk anyway here?

    Bob Levey: Only if a cop catches you, and the odds of that are about as good as the odds of the Snyder Redskins making the playoffs

    Beltsville, MD: Bob, in response to the question of why the attacks most often occur in mostly "white" developed countries, let me say those countries have the greatest number of media sources showing violent movies, video games and greatest access to the internet where people can find guns, bomb recipes, etc. They are also the wealthiest, and have a great deal of leisure time. Idle hands...etc.

    Bob Levey: Hang on, friend. You're blaming violence on leisure time? Then why was there so much less violence 100 years ago, when so few of us were stressed the way we are today? If I had to lay all the blame at one doorstep (which isn't fair, accurate or thoughtful), I'd pick the movie industry. Mindless hacking and slashing and gushing blood on all those wide screens has found an audience, wouldn't you say?

    Falls Church, VA: A teacher friend of ours told us of a chilling experience she had last week. Two days after the Littleton massacre, she came across two boys at the Fairfax Co. school where she teaches dressed in black leather overcoats, carrying dufflebags and looking as menacing as possible. She decided to walk past them without making eye contact and nothing happened. We asked why they weren't sent home by the Principal and she explained that he felt that by ignoring them, they would tire of the game and go on to wear something else. To us, their behaviour ranks up there with wearing a swastika into a synagogue. I think the principal was wrong. What do you think?

    Bob Levey: See my column of Tuesday, May 11, where I'll discuss how rules will change in high schools in the wake of Columbine. It gives me the willies to think that every principal would "bust" every kid who dressed a little strangely. That's repugnant on the grounds of civil liberties, but also because kids NEED to try on other styles while in high school. Most kids who wear black are not murderers-in-waiting.

    Washington DC: Bob, you are REALLY cynical today! What'd you have for lunch?

    Bob Levey: Haven't had the pleasure yet. Maybe the Corn Flakes I had for breakfast were more rancid than usual.

    washington dc: You say that putting a cop at the worst jaywalking intersections every day for a year would improve the jaywalking situation. That might be helpful at the intersections where jaywalking is a big problem, however there is only one intersection that I know of that almost always has a cop there to yelling at jaywalkers and that is 1st and C, SE -by the capitol south metro-. It is not a terribly busy intersection, or even an intersection of major streets, but that cop is always there, numerous tourists get off at capitol south, look both ways, start to cross the street, and get screamed at for jaywalking. It doesn't seem to me to be the best use of police time, or the best welcome to our city. -Particularly because it isn't a terribly dangerous intersection-.

    Bob Levey: But you're proving my point! A cop who stands there and screams gets results! By the way, First and C is very busy during the two rush hours, and anytime tourists are here in droves.

    Silver Spring: Bob:

    Daniel Synder will change the name of the Washington Redskins but it won't have anything to do with sensitivity to native Indians. As you frequently say, "it's all about money." If you just spent $800 million dollars on a team, you too would look for every opportunity to enhance revenue. And what better way to generate revenue than by forcing every short-term or long-term fan into having to buy a new jersey, shirt, mug, or anything else. It's all about money!

    Bob Levey: Excellent point. But you'd better be careful. Someone will accuse you of being cynical and will want to check out your Corn Flakes!

    Arlington, Va: On your comments on the Clinton proposals to ban hand guns, you mentioned Henry Hyde. Hyde has several times voted against assault weapons and may have been for the Brady Bill. He is a strong family advocate and has been quoted as saying that guns hurt families. Maybe you should beat up on Trent Lott and leave Henry alone.

    Bob Levey: Fair enough. Correct me if I'm wrong, but hasn't Lott been one of the NRA's most reliable allies in the Senate? I guess no one ever gets killed by gunfire in Mississippi.

    Burke, VA: A couple of weeks ago you said that a small group of people were just exercising their democratic right to slow the progress on the new Wilson Bridge. Then, by association, doesn't another small group of people have the same democratic right to slow progress on gun control? .

    Bob Levey: Sure, and it doesn't take a genius to realize that any gun control bill passed by Congress would spend at least five years being challenged in the courts. Our society never moves quickly, and sometimes that's a dangerous shame

    Colesville, Md.: Lately there's been a lot of uproar over "racial profiling" especially in NYC, New Jersey, and Montgomery County -Maryland-. What are your thoughts on this?

    Bob Levey: I'm afraid you can never ignore race entirely when enforcing the law. As you say, police in many places are in hot water over "racial profiling" (usually during drug investigations). But it's also true that most drug "mules" are black or Hispanic. So it's perfectly understandable that a NJ state trooper, for example, would pay more attention to a Black or Hispanic driver of a rented truck. The real issue is making sure the rights of ALL black and Hispanic drivers are respected. I shudder to think that any black or Hispanic can be busted any time a cop feels like it.

    Washington, DC: With respect to your brick-mailing suggestion for combating junk mail, you should know that you can't just drop an addressed-brick off in a mailbox. Most mailboxes around here strictly prohibit any packages weighing over 18 ounces -I think- for safety reasons. Such packages must be taken to a post office for mailing.

    Bob Levey: But reality is otherwise. If a postal employee opens a box, and spies one letter-taped-to-brick in there, he'll probably take it. Ten bricks, 20 bricks, and you're probably right

    Silver Spring, MD: Bob, I think you're wrong to say that there was less stress a century ago. Think about it: There were no child labor laws, no public health system, virtually no food and drug laws and most people worked six days a week. Hardly a stress-free life.

    Bob Levey: But the difference is time pressure. When I see what rush hour looks like at 5:45 a.m., and when I see the grimaces of those drivers, I think facing polio and diphtheria and six-day weeks might not have seemed as bad

    College Station, Texas: Mr. Levey,

    What ever happened to the woman who attended Virginia Tech that you followed for her schooling? I believe her first name was Kim, but her last name escapes me. I unfortunately left the DC area before she finished school.

    Bob Levey: Kim graduated in 1993, married her boy friend, moved several times. She now lives in West Virginia with her husband and two children

    Arlington, Virginia: Re: Trent Lott and the NRA -- it's not that no one gets killed by guns in Mississippi, it's that only the right people get killed by guns in Mississippi.

    And you thought YOU were the cynical one.

    Bob Levey: I willingly pass my crown across the river.

    Mt. Rainier MD: Getting back to the gun question: The NRA has always said if guns are criminalized, then only criminals will have guns. Where would they GET them when they can't buy them and can't steal them? Why can't we get smart enough to fight these people with common sense?

    Bob Levey: Your time is coming. Columbine will be an issue in the 2000 campaign, and you will see the first serious, common-sense effort in this area. But don't expect miracles. The Hill is always a tough place, and this issue may be the toughest one that Our Fearless Leaders face (at least they think it is)

    N.W. Washington, DC: Good afternoon Bob:

    I wrote to you about a month ago regarding the construction of the new convention center at 7th and L and the inaccessibility of the Metro station as a result. The construction company has now erected a fence around the sidewalk on 7th street further hampering access. To Metro and Clark Construction I say finally thank you. Thanks to all of this I now walk to and from work and experience no more traffic hassles, no more Metro hassles and I arrive at the office and at home full of vim and vinegar. How sweet it is! Those who choose to live far from their jobs or work far from home should realize that the decisions are theirs as are the consequences.

    Bob Levey: I'm sure your cardiovascular system appreciates your walks. Thanks for the update

    Washington DC: Speaking of money . . .
    These online chats are great--good questions, good answers--but why does the Post support them? I should think that folks who tune into your chat do so because they enjoy your column, not vice versa, so they are unlikely to increase readership. Where is the incentive?

    Bob Levey: Newspapers have always been remote--hard to call, hard to visit, hard to get a call back from. Chats like this one "humanize" us, bring us directly to your desk. That doesn't produce revenue immediately. But it certainly produces a good feeling about us and what we do. That in turn will lead to bucks, either in additional subscriptions to the paper or in ad sales on That's the hope, anyway.

    DC: Ok, I'm all for gun control, and I'd be willing to be that metal detectors in schools will occasionally pick up someone's PB&J wrapped in foil, but can we get serious for a minute? A lock on a gun, a ban on the sale of guns, and all the school counseling in the world are NOT going to PREVENT tragedies like Littleton from happening. I wish people with brains would look to the past: it's the same routine. You can preach to kids about sex, drugs, violence, etc., but if they're going to do it, guess what? They'll find a way.
    The larger issue is the parents. This is how it should go: If you can't raise kids, don't have them. If you need help with yourself or your kids, get it. If you have kids, notice them. Look at what they read, watch, play, tack on their walls; listen to what they say, how they speak; look at their friends, their enemies, their hobbies; notice how they spend their time, monitor their use of the internet -which is rapidly becoming a forum for weirdos-, check your garage when you hear the roar of a chainsaw. -If you haven't asked your son or daughter to build a deck, there's proably something wrong.- If you notice that your kids are "odd", if they have a chip that won't go away, if their interests turn to obsessions, if their nickname has to do with "mafia", for the love of all that's good in this world, get help.

    All this noise about Goth culture, computer games, and social misfits is off the point. Any one who takes the time to show an interest in the lives of their children should be able to determine whether little Johnny's an awkward teenager or a psychopath. All the sign were there.

    Bob, am I the only one who feels this way? Can I be a young conservative female in mainstream society and still get support for this idea? Or am I destined to become an old fart?

    Bob Levey: I'm never going to tell you that some parents aren't asleep at the switch. But less obvious and just as true: some parents WANT to be asleep at that switch. They find life tough in general, and they just opt out of parenting. For sure, if one of my kids were building a bomb on the floor of his room, I'd know about it--and I should

    arlington: Bob -
    Isn't it about time for you to get some lunch and for those of us who can afford to spend an hour in the middle of the day tuned in to this 'chat' to get a life?!

    Bob Levey: But this chat IS life! It beats and throbs, like a heart! It pulsates with the juices of humanity and the eddies of deep reflection! It beckons to all who are within range to come closer, for a dose of rare insight!
    Obviously, I need some lunch, too--not to mention a life.

    Herndon, VA: Time pressure is a worse stress than losing many of your children before they grew up? Those diseases, like polio and diptheria, that you dismiss so easily, were major killers, and I wouldn't trade my freedom from them for any time-relaxed society in the world...

    Bob Levey: My point was that time pressure warps people in horrible ways today. A hundred years ago, people expected less, pushed less hard.

    Laurel, MD: Do you see Prince George's County as being a haven for the distressed and poor. Unlike the surrounding counties, Prince George's County has not benefited from this economic boom. When I travel through Montgomery, Frederick, Howard and throughout Northern Virginia I see huge development projects. Businesses are moving to these areas and Prince George's county is being left behind. What do you see as major obstacle-s- that discourage Huge development from taking place within Prince George's County, beside its underfunded education system. Are these problems that developed during Glendenings reign as County Executive, is our current inadequate leadership to blame?

    Bob Levey: A lot of it is racism, since Prince George's is so heavily black. Major retailers hate to go into jurisdictions where they'd rely on only one ethnic group. But the per-household income in Prince George's continues to soar. It's just a matter of time before a major shopping center (with Nordstrom and stores on the same level) lands in Prince George's.

    Bob Levey: Finally, lunch&! That'll do it for today. Thanks for being a part of it. Join us each Friday at the same time. And don't miss the Tuesday edition of "Levey Live." It appears Tuesdays from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time. Our scheduled guest on May 4 is the newly-minted head of the Democratic National Committee, Joe Andrew

    © 1999 The Washington Post Company

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