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Levey Live: Speaking Freely

Friday, July 9, 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 washingtonpost.com users around the world the opportunity to ask questions and discuss topics of their choice with Bob. Be sure to join Bob next Friday for another free for all.

Bob Levey
Bob Levey
Dan Murano/washingtonpost.com

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.




Oak Hill, VA: Bob,
I don't expect you to agree, but I believe the jury decision in Florida on the tobacco issue proves once again that -1- most jurors are unable to separate facts from emotional arguments, and -2- the concept of "personal accountability" is gone. I am not a smoker, and never have been. But I can't imagine how anyone could have missed the point over the last 30 or more years that smoking presents a health risk. Any comments?

Bob Levey: I'm with you about the emotionality of jurors. I'd go it one step farther: I think they're stoked by TV. They see trials as laboratories of human emotion and Perry Masonism, rather than as a theater for law. Ask yourself how many jurors really listen to the intricate legal instructions a judge gives them. Still, is any other system of justice better?


Largo, MD: Bob, Please confirm or deny these rumors: -1- You secretly double as the "Czar" of the Style Invitational. -This would explain your interest in word games.- -2- You secretly double as restaurant critic "Phyllis Richman". -This would explain the big hats and dark sunglasses.-

Bob Levey: No twice, although I love The Invitational and most of the restaurants Phyllis recommends.


Herndon, VA: Do you think Metro will add a line from West Falls Church to the Dulles airport in our lifetime? The "new and improved" bus system between Herndon-Reston -which starts July 18- will extend the Herndon-West Falls Church commute by 20 minutes and this is billed as the first step in the Dulles corridor transportation system of the future!

Bob Levey: It will happen when the right pressure is brought to bear on the right people--beginning with the governor and the appropriate members of Congress. Will it happen "in our lifetime?" I think it could, although politics never moves quickly. Would you settle for a subway to Dulles by the time we're 80?


Warrenton, VA: Bob, here in Fauquier County we are very concerned about growth and transportation issues. I think the trick is to solve immediate transportation problems without creating an infrastructure that only fuels more rapid development. Any ideas on how that can be done?

Bob Levey: Please don't laugh, but I really believe the easiest early answer is commuter buses. I know that many people think they're slow, unreliable, lower-class. But to get from Warrenton to the Vienna Metro station takes only 30 minutes or so. Wouldn't you rather have a cup of coffee and read the paper than tangle with all those demented speeders on I-66?


Arlington, VA: I missed last Friday's chat, but in response to the question on what to call one's ex-husband or wife's new spouse, how about "ex's Significant Other?" This can can then be abbreviated to ex's SO and pronounced XO.

Granted, it might cause a wee bit of confusion if you're in the Navy, where the first officer of a ship is often called the XO, but context should usually take care of that.

BTW, love your column and live forum.

Bob Levey: I still like "my rough draft."


Washington, DC: In your opinion who offers the best chance to prevent Dubya from being crowned president?

Bob Levey: Dubya himself. He will trip, sooner or later, and what will spill out will be a guy who just isn't ready. By the way, I don't mean that in a partisan way (because I don't "do partisan."). I worried the same worries about Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. You can't begin to prepare for the wars of Washington, or the size of the stage, unless you've done time here yourself. It's not good enough to say that your Dad has, or that you reduced taxes by a whole lot in Texas. You need foreign policy expertise and big-time legislative experience--and Dubya has neither.


Aleaxandria: I know this is a recurring question...but tell me there is a light at the end of the tunnel for DC sports fans. What sports team will not stink first and why?

Bob Levey: D.C. United doesn't stink. The Bowie Baysox don't stink. My son's baseball team doesn't stink. Widen your horizons a bit.
If you insist on asking about the Wizards-Caps-Skins, I'd say the Skins have the best chance to reattain mediocrity. All it takes in football is a credible defense, and you're in any game. The Skins are close to having one. As for the Wizards, they need a makeover--totally. The Caps? I wouldn't know. I fall asleep at hockey games by the middle of the first period.


Silver Spring, MD: Granted "Shadows" deals with views of the political scene but would it have gotten as much space-play in the Post if Bob Woodward wasn't on staff?

Bob Levey: Of course not. But that doesn't mean something shady is going on. Bob Woodward is the greatest reporter of our time. If you were running this newspaper (or any other), wouldn't Woodward's standing induce you to play the heck out of his latest work?


Washington, D.C.: Would you swim in the Potomac?

Bob Levey: First, I'd try to walk across it (funny!).
I have to be honest--I'd be more likely to dip my lumpy self into those raging waters up by Great Falls. If you swim farther downriver--south of Blue Plains, say--you are trusting in the 1950s technology at the Blue Plains Water Treatment Plant. Even though I'm one of D.C. largest boosters (in more ways than one), I'm not sure I'd want to swim amid the, ahem, particulate matter.


Rockford, IL: Hi Bob! Can you use your soap box to let everyone know that next year -2000- is NOT the start of a new century and-or millenium. That distinction will belong to 2001. After all, the first year -A.D.- was 1, not 0, and lasted THROUGH 100, the next century started with year 101.
I know it seems romantic and all to consider the year 2000 the "new" everything, but alas it is not. Thanks.

Bob Levey: I have made this point in three columns this year alone. Yet people don't seem to get it. Do you think it might be a massive conspiracy on the part of the food and beverage industry? This way, there can be TWO mega-parties--one this New Year's, a "whoops, sorry" party a year later.


Gainesville, VA: Any idea how many of your chatters are at work playing hooky?

Bob Levey: Can't give you numbers, but I can give you this great, great story (one of the most florid feathers I wear in my cap).
Guy called me several weeks ago. He works in a "bullpen"-style office at a government agency. Something like 15 people in one room. Boss is in the next room, out of eyeshot and earshot.
Guy tells me that every Friday, at 1 p.m. Eastern time, all the "inmates" in the bullpen stop whatever they're doing and tune into this show.
"Bob Levey," said this guy, "the Republicans and the Democrats tried to shut down the federal government. But you are the person who actually DID it!"
I'm not sure I'd want this on my tombstone (some halfwit on Capitol Hill would probably try to dun my estate for lost federal time). But I still laugh about it.


ST. SIMONS ISLAND, GA.: NO QUESTIONS. I MOVED IN MARCH AND MISS HOME. I GREW UP IN THE DISTRICT AND LIVED IN FAIRFAX THE PAST 12 YEARS. I'VE BEEN READING YOU FOR A LONG TIME. I FINALLY QUIT SMOKING 3+YEARS AGO THANKS TO YOUR ENCOURAGEMENT AND CONSTANT NAGGING. MISS YOU AND JUSTWANTED TO SAY HI OLD FRIEND.

Bob Levey: So good to hear from you, and to hear your good news. Ain't the Web grand? We can stay in touch this way. Hope you will


Bethesda, Md.: Do people still think you're Newt Gingrich?

Bob Levey: No, I think that incredible long-running horror show has actually ended (because Newt's Washington career has, too). The final tally of times people approached me in public and asked if I was Newt was 14. I never knew how to respond, because half the people wanted me to be, and half wanted to strangle me on the spot. Go back to the top of this chat, Web-niks, look at my picture and tell the truth: I don't look a THING like the Newt-ster, really, do I? Yes, I have a fat face, and yes, I have mounds of not-yet-thinning gray hair. But our eyes are different, our noses are different, our mouths are different. Isn't that enough to blunt all the separated-at-birth rumors?


Hookeyville, VA: I am!!!

Bob Levey: All-powerful Bob snatches another soul from gainful work!


Montreal, QC: Mr. Levey, Your column helps me keep up with things in my home country. Thanks.

Would you comment on Bill Bradley's excellent proposal for sensible gun control in an editorial in today's Post. The proposal sounds like what we have here in Canada. It seems clear that gun violence in the US is a gun-control problem rather than a cultural problem; Canadians watch the same movies and television as Americans, but gun violence is a tiny fraction of what it is in the US. Do you think Americans have had enough and are willing to get behind this, or is Mr. Bradley committing polical suicide?

Bob Levey: I pine for a president who not only thinks the right way on guns (Bradley obviously does) but can muscle the right law through Capitol Hill. Bradley would have a much, much better chance of doing that than Bill Clinton or George Dubya because Dollar Bill was once one of them. That's good for a long, long audience no matter what--even if Congress still belongs to the opposition party. In general, I don't think we'll need Bradley atop the Democratic ticket for this issue to be "in play" in the 2000 campaign. I think it's hot, hot, hot. I can't imagine any candidate winning without initiating serious changes in the entire gun culture. The soccer Moms are scared out of their minds by guns--and they'll swing the presidential election (they already swing most of them).


Columbia, MD: In response to what to call an ex, how about "my first husband-wife" ?

This is how my father refers to my mother because he feels it shows that she once meant something to him.

Bob Levey: My only worry is that it makes you sound like a possible eight-time loser. If I heard "my first husband," my first thought would be, "How many of those does this woman HAVE?"


Bethesda, Md: Bob, They have posters up about it and yet the State, County and everyone else does not do serious business about Child Support. Why is that? The courts seem to be heavy in the workload and yet won't hire more people to get all of this flowing. You wouldn't believe how long you have to wait to even get an answer! It's going on TWO YEARS and I still have not received a dime...and all I keep hearing is a Postponment! Who can you turn to for help?

Bob Levey: I've written about this dozens of times, and I'm about ready to throw up my hands with "the system." Judges don't understand that a delay of even a month can screw things up fatally for a single Mom with kids. Prosecutors have better things to do. Sheriffs and marshals would rather bust murderers than chase down deadbeat dads. This is not a paid commercial, but.... a lawyer is your best (and maybe your only) answer.


Wash,DC: My question relates to the tradgedy of Helen Foster-el who was murdered in SE. All the news reports say she was trying to shelter children from the hail of bullets. I want to know what time this shooting took place. If it was late evening, and like I said, I don't know for certain, but what are small children doing out that late in an alley anyway? Where are the parents of the children she was trying to protect? I can understand if the crime happened in early evening, where people still are milling about, and children are still up, but I wondered what the time frame of this was. It's a terrible thing no matter what time it occured, but the mention of the children made me pose this question.

Bob Levey: It was early evening, and the parents of those kids were right nearby. The victim could have been any of them.


New York, NY: To Rockford, IL -- Who the heck cares? It's not the "technical" date of the millenium that is so exciting, it's the changing of the digits. Quit sucking on your lemon, loosen up and enjoy the party!

Bob Levey: I plan to enjoy both of them!


Tyson's Corner, VA: Naw, you don't look like Newtie at all. The biggest look-alike of his I've seen is the alien from Fox's Alien Autopsy show a few years ago.

Bob Levey: A Web-ster after my own heart! Thanks


Arlington, VA: Hi Bob,

I know you've dealt with the problems between contractors-owners in renovation or house building.

I've had similar problems with the moving industry. I call to see if they have availability and for an estimate. I'm told there is availability, and that an estimator will set up an appointment to do the estimate. Of five companies, I've called, two have gotten me estimates. The other three never got back to me. I checked about a week later on these, and was told some variation, "Sorry, I thought someone would call and tell you we're full for local moves for two months around your move." Now, every other company is also full, and I'm stuck with a choice between two companies.

Any suggestions for getting service companies to improve their service records -from a macro view-?

Bob Levey: Could you do the moving yourself? My son and I recently moved my mother to California in a Ryder rent-a-truck. Read all about our adventures (and there were many) in this Sunday's Washington Post travel section.


Washington, D.C.: I found it interesting this week to contrast the extreme poverty in the communities President Clinton visited and the gilded age wealth portrayed in today's Style section. Do you think any of this will resonate in the country?

Bob Levey: I wish it would, but we both know that poor people don't vote in significant numbers. Nevertheless, I think Clinton has done a great service in reminding us that poverty is still out there, even if it's often hard to see.


Wash DC: What about eating fish that came from the river?

Bob Levey: I'm a great believer in 15 minutes of direct exposure to flame. That should kill any, ahem, uncleanliness that a fish might have swallowed, or swum in.


Rockville, Maryland: Dear Bob:

Maybe this is more of a question for the CareerTrack section -I solicited advice from there as well-, but since this is an anything goes forum, here goes: fo you've been previously rejected by a prospective employer, do you think it would be worthwhile to reapply again? In my case, it's been a year since that rejection, and I really think I would be a good asset to that company. What do you think?

Bob Levey: Depends on whether the top brass has changed. If so, go for it. If not, don't embarrass yourself.


Washington DC: hi there --

Just wondering what you think about this week's City Paper piece about the "redevelopment" of the 1700 block of Connecticut Avenue. Word is the owner of part of the strip is raising the rents 3x or 4x and is essentially kicking out Ultura's books, The Newsroom, and a few other treasured haunts of mine...come october, it's to be home to a GAP and an Armani Exchange.
I think it's an awful trend. And it's making me reconsider leaving town Hey! maybe they'll put in another starbucks! We know Dupont needs another!

Bob Levey: Gee, maybe you'll get a Blockbuster, too.
I hate it just as much as you do. But that's capitalism, bro. If some Big Buckster thinks there's a market (and by any stretch, Dupont Circle is a super market), the little guy(s) will get shoved out. It's not a reason to leave town--not even close. But it's a reason to be annoyed, for sure.


Tysons Corner: Kudos on your gun-control commentaries on WTOP.

The best debators -debaters?- always know their opponents strongest argument. What argument -not including constitutional arguments-does the NRA have against a waiting period and a limit on quantities purchased?

I'm in a quandry trying to comprehend how this would be damaging to law-abiding gun owners...

Bob Levey: For years, the NRA has been running one of the most effective disinformation campaigns in our history. It has insisted that the minute you ban one gun, some unnamed "they" is going to invade every home of every legal gun owner and confiscate all his weapons. That's paranoid nonsense. There's a huge gulf of difference between that racist kid who shot up Chicago last week and some Grandpa who wants to own a shotgun so he can hunt birds. The NRA deliberately fails to see this.


Paris France: Who's worse Mayor Barry or Pres Clinton...

Bob Levey: Clinton, because he turned off more young people and soured them on public service (not to mention voting). But Barry is certainly a heavy burden for any black public official to bear. There's always the suspicion (among blacks as well as whites) that any black man who's in a position of power these days will use that power for his own purposes, as Barry did


Vienna, Va.: Bob-
I think our next President should be one who is incredibly savvy with foreign affairs. Mostly to smooth over the recent hostilities and sparring with other countries. What do the rest of you think? Why or why not?

Bob Levey: I said so earlier. And let's not forget what the job of president really involves. The president is not the CEO of the United States of America. He's our chief diplomat. It's his foremost constitutional responsibility. Good for you for homing in on this. By the way, anyone who feels that foreign affairs are no big deal in 1999 because the Cold War is over is napping. The world is still complicated, dangerous, very much a part of every American's life.


FFX, VA: Bob, what do we have to do to convince you that hockey is just as exciting to watch as your b-ball. Go to a game with someone who knows the game and can explain the subtleties to you. Give it a chance! Hockey at home can be hard to watch because the only focus on the puck, but at the game you can watch the play develop and unfold.

Bob Levey: I have given hockey many chances. All I got in return was many faceoffs and many ludicrous fistfights. No thanks.


Alexandria, VA: Bob: Deadbeat dads, right. But, what about the deadbeat moms?

Bob Levey: There couldn't be as many Deadbeat Moms as there are deadbeat Dads, could there? First of all, there'd need to be a situation where a Mom makes more than a Dad and would thus be responsible for the lion's share of the kids' support--very rare, even in 1999. Second, there'd have to be a Mom who turned entirely away from her children--even rarer.


The great suburbia of NOVA: Bob,
Something happened in a Giant Food store that really bothered me.

A very young girl -I'm guessing 4 to 6 y.o.- was screaming her head off. An older man was carrying her out the door toward the front. The girl was screaming "Help Mommy" and "I don't want to go to the car." I could not see where this originated, so I do not know if this started out with Mommy there and the man was Daddy. But neither did anyone else in most of the store where this happened.

The man carried her out very deliberately and quickly yet with a certain calm. People in the store were laughing that "oh, silly children make the biggest deal out of things" way. But how could any of us know what was going on? I couldn't, and I got worried. So I parked my groceries, followed them outside, wrote down a description of the man and the car and the license plate number. I then went back into the store, half expecting a hysterical woman looking for her abducted child.

Well, that never happened -thank goodness- and I never saw any reports of a missing girl, so it must have been a legitimate family member or other gaurdian.

But I still can't get over the apathy and lack of involvement on the part of the other shoppers. How can you not be concerned when a girl screams "Help! Mommy!"??

I'd like to hear your reaction and if you think this person should have been approached in the store.

Bob Levey: Rather than apporach the parent in the store (and risk a lecture, a lawsuit, or a right to the jaw), ask the store manager to call the police. I hate watching family conflict in public, too. But I suspect this was nothing. You could surely tell the difference between a child who's cracking from hunger or fatigue, and a child who's being abducted.


RE Hocky: I'm with you BOB - my brothers and I decided to give it another chance this year and went to a game with Gretsky playing - and still hated it.

Bob Levey: I wish I could say that pro basketball is everything hockey isn't. Once upon a time, I could--and loudly did. But have you ever seen anything worse than the just-concluded NBA season? No grace, no speed, no fluidity, NO POINTS SCORED! Come back, Michael!


Washington, DC: Is women's soccer -professional level- going to get a chance in the U.S. after the hoopla of the World Cup dies down? These quadrennial events are great for building momentum, like the Cup and the Olympics, but will anyone but the 10-12 year girls and their parents keep it up?

Bob Levey: It'll happen if the TV ratings are strong. I haven't seen numbers for the women's World Cup, but I overheard someone in the newsroom saying they were way, way ahead of men's pro soccer, and ahead of many run-of-the-mill network baseball games. So I'd say there's some hope.


Washington, D.C.: I disagree on the 'to reapply or not to reapply' response. If it's been a year, many things may have changed, new positions may exist, a search for an employee may have come up empty. Why not write a follow-up letter w- and updated resume saying right out "I applied a year ago, I'm still interested" etc etc?

Bob Levey: Because someone will still be around who will remember you, and you'll be dumped into a file marked "D-for-desperate." In this economy, there are oodles of choices. Make another.


Alex VA: Do you find these chats on the WP site -and I mean most of the - not just this one- get repetitive? I like them, and tune in to many - but find that the same questions get asked a lot...does it make it less fun for you?

Bob Levey: I don't find these repetitive and I never find them un-fun. I only wish that I knew how to type with ten fingers. It gets a little stressful banging out answers at 80 words a minute for a solid hour with just my two "trigger fingers."
By the way, if you think this (and other) chats are repetitive, why not file a question about a subject that hasn't been touched?


washingtonpost.com: Hi everyone, we have about 15 minutes left in this on-line live. So keep those questions coming! Bob is the fastest typist I know!


Alex VA: I like DC - I really do...I'm not a world traveler - but I've seen a ton of places, and I always look forward to coming home....I am surprised by them few number of true natives -like me- in the city...why do you think so many move away? Is it more than most cities?

Bob Levey: I think just as many DC natives stay (or eventually return) as leave forever. I'm with you: Why live in Ashtabula when so much is going on here? And when so many smart, dedicated people are making it go on?


Washington: Hi Bob. I am curious what a typical day for you is like. How much of your day at the Post is actually spent writing, and do you alone get to determine what you write about,or is your editor in charge of that?

Bob Levey: I alone determine what I write, which is still a big gee-whiz for me, even after more than 18 years of knocking 'em out every day. Theoretical debates about the First Amendment amuse me sometimes, because I live that baby, daily.
I don't have a typical day and I don't want one. It would make me think like (and probably write like) a guy on an assembly line. I often consult with editors (and I have many). But they give me a blessedly wide berth.
One way to assess this freedom business: I have now written more than 4,000 columns. Only one has ever been spiked by an editor. That one was written more than 17 years ago. I recently re-read it. He was right (although I wouldn't have said that--and didn't--at the time).


Tysons: Interesting! I was just thinking how your chats go faster than anyone else's on WP online...

Do you speed read? Do you have a "screener"? Do other chat hosts do their own typing? Do you ever get a question that makes you stop and half to really think, or are you of strong conviction of all topics sent your way?

Bob Levey: I do not "speed read" (although I read pretty quickly). I do have a screener, but I'm way too easy on her. I just tell her to lob every question to me, and let me do my own sifting. Most chat hosts do their own typing, although some find it too cumbersome. I often get questions that make me stop and think (or at least make me double-clutch). That's the fun of this! If I thought I knew everything about every subject, I'd be the biggest bore in the world. And I wouldn't be able to stop the federal government dead in its tracks!


Alexandria, VA: Bob: So, what's wrong with Astabula? Have you been there? Do you even know where it is? If not, it's a very nice city in Northeastern Ohio. You could have compared this area to Podunk, USA or some remote area in Maine or North Dakota.

Bob Levey: First and only time I was in Ashtabula, it was something like 1956. I was aboard a sleeping car on the old New York Central Railroad. We were going to Cleveland to visit my cousins. It was something like 3 a.m., and it was snowing. I remember peeking out the window and thinking, "Wow, people really live here. Why?" All right, all right, I was just a kid, and it was a long time ago. But that was the first "Podunk place" whose name leapt to mind.


McLean, VA, USA: What was the topic of that spiked column? Why did he kill it?

Bob Levey: It was about a guy who allowed his dog to poop on Key Bridge. He didn't clean it up. Neither did the dog. The editor thought it was tasteless.


Olney, Maryland: Bob,

Speaking of chances for metro excpansion in a lifetime...any chance that there will ever be some mass transit option other than Ride-On or Metrobus between the two arms of the Red Line?

By the way, we have moved ourselves and our parents back and forth across the country and the only time we were disppointed was when we went through a bidding process and didn't rent the truck and do it ourselves. Keep up the great work!

Bob Levey: I'd say closing the gap between the two Red Line spurs has a great chance of happening, because it might be do-able with state funds only. That would mean not hoping and praying that the Hill would help. By the way, the price tag would still be in the neighborhood of a billion bucks (more the longer we wait).
Thanks for the kind words!


Falls Church, VA: Question. Geo Bush's schedule change to go to the black journalists function.
Was it just show so that he can say, "There, the Republicans -and especially I- won't completely ignore them uppity black people."

Should I be concerned that this "Compassionate Conservative" will only make appeasment his priority for those who aren't as "well off" as the folks who already put him in the White House?

Bob Levey: I think he lost more than he gained by that cameo in Seattle. It made it look as if he didn't really want to be there, and was just doing it because his "handlers" told him to do so. How does that make him different from every other programmed mannequin who has run for president?


Fairfax, VA: Do you keep a stack of back-ups in the drawer in case they spike another? What did you do about that one? Did you have a backup or have to write another quickly?

Bob Levey: I have many backups, all the time. Dog poop quickly gave way to something more palatable (and publishable).


Came From Elsewhere: I'm with you. I moved to DC 3 years ago and have been very pleasantly surprised... I think it's one of the best places in the US to live. Relatives keep trying to convince me to move to San Francisco, but it seems kind of dull there compared to here

Bob Levey: San Francisco, dull? Ashtabula is dull!


McLean, VA: Have you had the chance to meet-speak with Daniel Snyder? What are your thoughts on him?

Bob Levey: Haven't met him yet, and I look forward. I think he'll do great things (although why he hasn't started, I can't figure).


McLean, VA, USA: Today, a column by you on dog poop is more tasteful with the morning coffee than Howard Stern!!

Bob Levey: Faint praise!


Washington, DC: I think I might be that Key Bridge guy...

Bob Levey: Go get your pooper scooper and call me in the morning


Wash DC: If DC could have a baseball team we could call them The Potomac River - ahem - Birds, yes?

Bob Levey: I'd say The Particulate Matters. Nickname: Matts. As in doormats. Which our team would be.


Podunk: Have a great weekend, Bob?

Bob Levey: I'll try. Give me regards to Ashtabula.


Bob Levey: Back to work, everybody. See you next Friday at the same time. Don't forget the Tuesday version of this chat. Our guest on July 13 will be Phil Bennett, The Washington Post's assistant managing editor for foreign news. That show appears from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time.


washingtonpost.com: Thanks to everyone for joining us.



© 1999 The Washington Post Company


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