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Levey Live: Speaking Freely

Friday, July 23, 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.

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.

Bob is away today, so his guest host is Vic Sussman, who runs "Live Online" for washingtonpost.com.

Sussman has a long background in broadcasting and print journalism. He was previously the Personal Tech columnist for The Washington Post Magazine, Book World's audio book reviewer, and a senior editor specializing in cyberspace at U.S.News & World Report. He is also a regular commentator for "Marketplace," heard on NPR. His other interests veer wildly from the glories of the Internet to the skeptical subculture, powerlifting, and magic as a performance art.

Here is a transcript of today's session:





Vic Sussman: Good afternoon and welcome to another edition of "Speaking Freely," your chance to ask questions on (almost) any subject and to vent your opinions. Bob is away today, flying to California. I'm not sure how he manages to fit that magnificent head of hair on a commercial jet (extra baggage?), but you can ask him that question when he returns next week.

And now, let the games begin!


Arlington, VA: Hey Vic,

Glad to see you back. No question, just a comment. Someone asked several weeks about about Memorial Bridge, the decking. Memorial Bridge WAS built as a drawbridge, but is no longer functional. Hasn't been opened since the early 1960s, according to a friend of mine on the US Park Police.

Vic Sussman: Aha. The mystery is solved (maybe) on my watch. Bob will be impressed. So Memorial Bridge was once a drawbridge? Thank heavens it is no longer one or traffic would back up to Hyattsville! I hope this satisfies everyone wondering why the bridge was partially concrete with a bit of steel thrown in. Only deep questions today...


Arlington, Va.: Are you the same Vic Sussman who wrote "Never Kiss a Goat on the Lips"? It was hilarious - I still remember laughing like crazy.

Vic Sussman: Guilty as charged.
"Never Kiss a Goat on the Lips" was published by Rodale Press in 1981. It's an account of my nearly 12 years operating a small farm about 18 miles from Washington. I was, in those days, what some folks liked to call a hippie farmer, a badge I wear proudly. The book was about the joys and insanity of trying to live The Simple Life in the suburbs, raising goats, children, vegetables and a little hell.


Newark, Delaware: Vic,

Who do you think would win in a fistfight, David Copperfield or David Blaine? Bill Gates or Bill Nye? Newt Gingrich or Bob Levey?

Just wondering.

Vic Sussman: I LOVE this question!

Okay: Blaine could probably take Copperfield, but only because it looks like Blaine works out. And if he really spends as much time on the streets as his hype suggests, maybe he has some moves. He probably had to learn to street fight from all the times he's shoved a deck of cards into people's faces.

Bill Nye in the first round over Gates, that wuss! Nye would probably use some inertial-spatial-gyroscopic moves on Gates, who would be busy adjusting his glasses. Of course, Gates might throw his wallet at Nye, crushing him flat.

Newt vs. Levey? No contest. Bob is too much the gentleman to duke it out with a politician. Knowing Levey, he'd win the contest by writing a column that would nuke Newt.

Keep these heavy-duty questions coming....


Montvale,NJ: Who decides which questions will appear on Live Online? What is the basis of that decision?

Vic Sussman: Good question. The host or guest actually decides what to answer. A producer typically sends the questions, sometimes omitting redundancies, nutty or abusive queries (we get a few) and questions off-topic. But in the end it's really the host or guest who chooses what to answer. Glad you asked.


Minot, ND: With absolutely NO disrespect to the Kennedy and Bessette families, and without being unsympathetic to the tragedy, isn't enough -media saturation- enough!? What gives with this country that we seem to need to lead our lives vicariously through others, read: "celebrities"? Why does the media insist on fixating on such matters? Besides being sickening, it is also frightening.

Vic Sussman: Whoa!
You hit a hot button with me. Speaking for myself and not my employer, I agree with you. "Media saturation" is putting it mildly. I caught some of the coverage on cable and network news shows and for a while there I thought some newsie would be interviewing the guy who cut JFK's lawn. Or maybe the Good Humor man in Hyannisport.

Personally, I found TV coverage to be its usual mix of voyeurism and tastelessness. But then, I'm not a big fan of what passes for television journalism, an oxymoron at best.

Some observers have chalked this mega-coverage up to one part commercialism (ratings uber alles) and one part America's lust for royalty. Your thoughts?


mclean, va: how come tony kornheiser never has online chats?

Vic Sussman: Good question. All I can say is that we are talking to him about this. I think Tony would have a ball in this environment. Stay tuned...


Bowie, MD: Hey Vic - glad to see you back!
Which of the current "candidates"' spouses would make the most interesting First Spouse, and why? -My vote is Bob Dole - what could me more interesting than hearing about Viagra? <sarcasm dripping slowly>-

Vic Sussman: Please, no more Bob Dole on "male problems." Spare me.


Mt. Rainier MD: Seems like you need some kind of pre-chat testing for some of these guests. A couple have been duller than ditchwater and slower than molasses.

Vic Sussman: Present company excepted, I hope.

In fairness, this medium is very strange for many people. It is, after all, not "live talk" but "live typing." And a lot of people just don't understand the Web.

Give 'em time.


Georgia: Bob accused me of being you the other week...doesn't he know that I don't possess your charm? Have you guys resolved the pizza explosion tie incident yet?

Vic Sussman: I have to explain this one: Levey HATES my ties. The man has no taste. He calls my ties "pizza explosions." I think of his ties as recycled auto seat covers, circa 1957. Some days I really outrage Bob by not wearing a tie at all when I walk into The Post.

But then, I think wearing a tie when the outside temp is 105 is akin to a death wish.


Arlington, VA: Are there any technological-computer-related surprises in store for the fans of WashPost.com? C'mon...I know there's more of your genius waiting to escape.

Vic Sussman: Yes, but it's all proprietary. If I tell you they will stop shoving food through my cell door.

But seriously, folks--we have lots of exciting plans, technical and editorial. All I can say is stand by and keep logging on. You won't be disappointed.


Mt. Rainier MD: Hi, Vic! Nice to see they've let you out of your cage...I see that audio books are one of your 'specialties'; do you see a large number of good titles coming out in this format? I would think the best tapes would be incredibly expensive, given the labor intensive work of reading even a heavily-edited book - and then no one wants their favorite book chopped up!

Vic Sussman: I wrote about audio books for The Post's Book World for ten years, writing one of the first and only regular columns on the subject. I think the field has exploded in the past decade, a rather obvious observation. But quantity isn't quality. There's a ton of self-help (the big seller in audio) out there that is pretty awful and phoney stuff. As for fiction, listeners now have a wide choice of titles and styles. As for the expense of buying unabridged audio works, please consider renting. Libraries rent them and so do many audio book publishers.


washington dc: Hey, Vic - What do you think about guys in middle age who go out and buy muscle cars -- you know, like a fancy-pants corvette or something? Just wondering...
also, do you think it's in bad taste to ask friends to carry birthday gifts over to friends abroad, when there's the risk that the two people might not recognize each other in a smoky bar?

Vic Sussman: Oh, now this is somebody who knows me, right? Duh. And she (I'm guessing) is probably a wiseguy. And blond. But I could be wrong.

Okay, I admit to being a middle aged guy who drives a TRANS AM! Yay! V-8 (not the juice). Overpowered and politically incorrect, of course. Both of us.

As for delivering gifts to strangers in London, I recommend it. Travel is so broadening.


Warrenton, VA : This is a follow-up to the earlier comment about media hype saturation. I not only agree but find some coverage to be offensive. The breaking stories that turn out to be fale alarms. I think the Post did an examplary job on this one by only reporting fcatual news and not rumors.

Vic Sussman: I'm biased, but The Post did a better job because it has a tradition of fact-checking and quality. TV folks have to rush to get on the air, fearing their competition will steal a couple of rating points. The word "ghoulish" comes to mind.


DC: Will you ever have a chat of your own or are you too busy in your Rosslyn cave?

Vic Sussman: I have been thinking about doing my own gig on washingtonpost.com for the past year. I finally have an idea I like. I hope you will too. I hope to launch (the show, not me) in August. More details soon.


Largo, MD: Vic - did you pull the plug on the bridge expert? Admittedly, it appeals to a limited audience, but we bridge fanatics would like to see more of her. Maybe you need to find a better time slot. Thanks.

Vic Sussman: No, no. Peggy Reich is coming back soon. We're discussing ways to make her hour that much more interactive.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Vic!

I really, really enjoy the online chats...although I probably spend more time reading them than I should. -I am at work, of course!-

I'd love to see some author chats--maybe on the writing process--something beyond Michael Dirda and the books chat. I love it, but I would love to have the opportunity to talk to some writers. What about enlisting some of the authors whose first chapters appear on washingtonpost.com?

Also, when will Eric Brace's chat be back on? Is it my imagination or has it been awhile since he's been up and running? I love his chat--it makes me look all kinds of plugged into the DC entertainment scene! My friends can never figure out how I get so knowledgeable!

Vic Sussman: More author discussions (we don't call 'em "chats" around here) are coming your way as we move into the fall.

Eric Brace has been on vacation. He'll be back online August 6th at 3 p.m. EDT.


Fairfax Va: Hey Vic,

JFK Jr TV coverage: too much, too little, just right? I'm inclinded to go with the too much, especially watching all the networks cut into their regular schedule to stand by and wait for something to happen on Saturday. What do you think?

Vic Sussman: I answered this above. Certainly not "too little." It was an orgy of minutiae, most of it stuff nobody needed to know. But that's television: A big hole in the ozone into which people throw copy and pictures.


Silver Spring Maryland: Vic, nice to have you on line in person. Has there ever been a guest that has elicted no questions?

Vic Sussman: Not really. But we've come close a couple of times. I'm a big believer in the Web's ability to serve even the smallest niches, so I tend to take chances with guests. I figure somebody out there is going to be interested. The key is promotion. If a tree falls on the Web (o beautiful mixed metaphor, I salute thee) and you haven't promoted it, nobody will hear it or see it.


DC: How regular a commentator are you on Marketplace? I'd love to catch you on the radio sometime.
Speaking of commentator, what kind of word is that? What is wrong with commentor or something of that nature?

Vic Sussman: I was on Markeplace last night. The schedule is really up to the Marketplace production staff, but most regular commentators are heard every few months. It also depends on the news cycle. If Alan Greenspan raises an eyebrow, all commentaries get bumped!


Silver Spring, MD: Are you aware of your large fan base? Have you consider a fan club or a cheerleading squad? Bet we could make Bob jealous of more than just your ties.

Vic Sussman: As Groucho once said, I would not belong to a club that had anyone like me as a member.


Washington, DC: I want to know who Vic Sussman thinks he is, trying to fill the shoes of that icon Bob Levy! So he kisses a goat or two on the lips. How does that qualify him to hold forth on this august forum, even in July? I am very disappointed in washingtonpost.com. usnews.com has MUCH more class.

Vic Sussman: We are sending a goat out to your house as I type this.


Vienna Virginia: What do you think about Albert Bell and his future with the Orioles?

Vic Sussman: I defer all sports questions to the Eminent Levey. I am involved in certain sports but I have a pathological dislike for discussing sports. I am not a fan. Period.


blonde wiseguy: Yep, you caught me! Sorry I mixed up what kind of car you drive... I just remember that it looks like some kind of futurama aerodynamic flying machine... Basically, I'm just checking in to make sure you're responding to real questions and not making your own up. Type on!

Vic Sussman: This woman should come clean and admit that she has actually RIDDEN IN MY CAR! And she enjoyed it, though my take-off from traffic lights made her head snap back.


East Lyme, CT: Vic,

I'm flying into DC next week to visit some pals. What is the absolute BEST golf course in the Metro Area? need to know so we can plan.

Thanks.

Vic Sussman: Okay, I have to appeal to the tens of thousands of people enjoying this discussion: Please offer some suggestions to this golfer.


McLean, Va: What are some of your favorite web sites?

Vic Sussman: Oh please.

I work for washingtonpost.com. You think I'm going to send you off to our competition? But I will admit that of all the search engines I have a particular fondness for google.com. It's fast and uses relational data.

I also check into some membership-only magician's sites when I have the time.

Boring, eh?


San Francisco, CA: Vic,
What do you think about the S. F. 49'ers pursuing running back Laurence Phillips? Can Bill Walsh be an effective probation officer?

Vic Sussman: Please re-submit this to sports fan Levey next week. I don't even know what you're talking about. Is this un-American or what?


Washington DC: Vic,
I have a question that has been puzzling me for years: what EXACTLY does Jesse Jackson do for a living? He has no degree; never ran a business; never held an office yet he seems to exist at a high standard of living. Then he pops up for some high profile media event or charade. How does he do it?

Vic Sussman: I don't know the source of his income. His profession, I assume, is clergyman. But how he actually earns a living is a mystery to me too. Some people are famous because they are famous, so maybe this is part of the puzzle.


Kensington Md: Vic, It's 300 degrees outside and my seven year old son can watch so much television he'd have to be reminded to eat and sleep at reasonable times. What did you do once you were a widdle boy to ease the hot summer blahs, and keep your parents from using Toy's R Us as direct deposit for their salaries?

Vic Sussman: Believe it or not, television didn't play that big a role in my life as a kid. I probably watched more as a teen and as a vegged-out college student.

I lived near La Guardia Airport as a child, land that was bordered by swamps and marshes. So I remember spending a lot of time catching frogs and snakes. And bringing them home. My favorite activity in summer was going to a pool or to Jones Beach.

Get the kid outside and hose him off.


Falls Church, VA: We see Bob's photo but what do you look like? The way Bob describes you, I imagine that you are hunchbacked with an eye patch, you answer to the name Igor and and say ...Yes Master... with a lisp.

Vic Sussman: The photo department has tried and tried to take my picture to no avail. I just don't seem to show up on film. Or in mirrors.

Go figure.


Kansas: How many questions do you receive in comparison to Bob? And other than the big ones, like Phyllis and Carolyn, what are the "readership" stats for these discussions? How about Kim O'Donnell, Michael Dirda, Rita Kempley, Michael Franz, etc.?

Vic Sussman: Readership stats are proprietary info. Sorry. But our competition is out there. The big draws for Live Online are, as you suggested, Hax, Richman, Levey--with Kim O'Donnel's cooking show coming up fast.

As for questions today, I'm happy to say that Bob's fans haven't abandoned me. I'm pulling about what Bob pulls on Friday. (Bows in gratitude...)


Rockville, MD: Can you tell us which online chat-author discussion has the highest readership?

Vic Sussman: Carolyn Hax kills 'em.


Arlington, VA: Try the Landsdowne in Sterling-Ashburn - Loudoun County.

Vic Sussman: A golf course suggestion:


University Park,MD: How does Bob pronounce his last name, I have heard co-workers say lev-ee and lee-vee?

Vic Sussman: It's the latter.


Fairyland: Icon schmicon. You're a welcome substitute for the quick-thinking, quick-typing Levey anytime. Just think how pleasant the world will be when both you and Bob have discussions.

Vic Sussman: Inviting the world in to witness a Levey-Sussman "discussion" would be fun. We love to zing one another. I will say this publically, however, Bob Levey is one of the best people to work with. He's smart and funny and generous. But you probably guessed that...


Montvale,NJ: For further clarification,
if one person's question On
Line has appeared - can they
ask another? How many may
one reader ask?

Vic Sussman: Well, we don't want any one person monopolizing a discussion, but if your queries are interesting we don't have a limit on how many you can ask. Or how many actually show up on the screen. Ask away.


Potomac, MD: It seems like you have a very interesting job-dealing with lots of interesting folks. What anecdotes would you like to share with us?

Vic Sussman: No anecdotes, really--though working in this biz one often needs an antidote.

Let's just say that working for a Web site--particularly this one--is intense, exciting and insanely fun. We are creating a new medium. So it's like working in the early days of radio or TV. No one has any idea what this medium will be like in a decade, which is part of the thrill.

I love it.


DC: Why are you so quick to sing Levey's praises when he talks about holding you captive in a Rosslyn cage?

Vic Sussman: I'm no more a "captive" than Levey is. The man is sarcastic. You haven't noticed? Bob loves to tweak people, me included.


Billings, Montana: Explain to me why you feel that you should get to go tie-free on a hot day, but I still have to wear either a very long dress or pantyhose? Hrmph.

Vic Sussman: You wear pantyhose in Billings? I thought you Montana folks were more laid back.

Let's just say that the dress code at washingtonpost.com is, ah, relaxed. This is the Web. We don't do suits and pantyhose!


Mclean, Virginia: How does the Washington Post compare to the New York Times?:-

Vic Sussman: Our color pictures are nicer.


Washington, DC: Why does Bob usually refer to you as locked up in a cage in Rosslyn?

Vic Sussman: Bob is admittedly anti-tech and a computerphobe. He thinks geeks and closet geeks like me live in caves and cages. And drive muscle cars.


Falls Church, VA: Hi Vic,
What is your education background? Were you a Journalism or Computer Science major in college? Did you even go to college? How did you get your first "Career" job? Finally, is Levey grooming you to take over for him when -or if- he retires?

Vic Sussman: B.A. in Journalism, M.A. in Communications. I also took many classes in Asian philosophy, criminology, spent a lot of time in the drama department, and worked at the university radio station. My alma mater, by the way, is American University.

My first "career job" was at the not so tender age of 16. I wrote ad copy for a radio station in Arlington, VA and very soon after became a disc jockey.

Levey is not grooming me for anything. He will choke with laughter when he reads this!


Washington, D.C. : Vic,

What's your take on Chief Justice Rehnquist's blunder on Dixie?

Vic Sussman: Let's just call this one of those "what the hell was he thinking?" moments.

Maybe he needs to get out more.


DC: When will we get to see you on a regular basis? I'm very fond of your visits to the live forum. And is the lovely Susannah producing this chat today?

Vic Sussman: Suzannah is indeed producing today. I expect to have my own gig on this site in August.

Watch this space.


washington, dc: A comment for the parent looking for something for a little boy instead of TV. Try having him do science-hobby projects, like making slime or playdough at home -do a search on yahoo for the instructions-, build a play volcano -and make it enrupt using vinegar and baking soda-, etc. That type of thing would keep my sisters and I entranced as kids -and away from the TV-.

Vic Sussman: Some suggestions for the kiddies.


Everywhere: How do you know all these questions aren't all coming from one person with many personalities who types really fast?

Vic Sussman: We can see you right through the computer screen.


Arlington, VA: So how does a smart high tech marketing guy get a job as washingtonpost.com?

Vic Sussman: Send your resume to our human resources dept.


Arlington, VA: Ditto your response on that NY Times question. Plus, this web site if free.

Vic Sussman: They don't call the NY Times "the grey lady" for nothing.


DC: Hi Vic -

I love the online chats - however, it seems like your chat server seems to go on the blink on a fairly regular basis -which it never used to!- Are there plans to upgrade it, especially since the volume of chats seems to grow exponentially?

Vic Sussman: We are getting a dedicated discussions server very soon. See, we've gone from three hours of live discussions a year ago to about 26 hours a week. So we are happily overloading the system. Thanks to all of you...


Down under: Aren't these questions submitted with some type of ISP identifier that would allow you to tell who sends what?

Vic Sussman: No. We don't know who you are and we don't invade viewer's privacy.


Downtown: NY Times web site is free! They charge you for archived features, same as the Post.

Vic Sussman: Hey, give us a break. This is a business! We don't make some dough we don't survive.


Washington, D.C.: Listen, I -love- the Post -most of the time-. I grew up with the Post. But don't try to sell me hogwash about Post color photos being better than those in the NYTimes. New presses and all, the Post still pales, literally, by comparison. You're -such- a booster.

Vic Sussman: Oh, I was kidding. Give me a break.


District: Did you persuade Lloyd Grove to join the discussions? Good call, especially the 9 a.m. aspect. It's a nice way to start Fridays.

Vic Sussman: It didn't take any persuasion. Lloyd wanted to go live online. He's great. Fast answers and funny.


Falls Church, VA: Are you the same Vic Sussman who used to ride a recumbent bicycle?

Vic Sussman: I STILL ride a recumbent bike. Not an exercise bike. A real road recumbent. When the weather cools I'll be back on the road. Go to http://www.recumbents.com when you have a chance.


DC: When is Rita Kempley coming on? Aren't you going over time?

Vic Sussman: Rita is on right now. You can watch two discussions at the same time by opening a second browser window.


Vic Sussman: I'm being yelled at by my wonderful staff, telling me that I've gone overtime. What can I say? Your questions are great and I've had a ball subbing for Bob.

Thanks for being here and please join Bob on Tuesday at noon when his guest will be D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams.

See y'all in cyberspace!



© 1999 The Washington Post Company


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