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Levey Live: Speaking Freely

Friday, July 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 DC. Bob's columns.

Burke, VA: Hi, Bob! I'd like your reaction to the word "closure." As in: "Finding JFK Jr.'s body will bring a sense of closure to this tragedy" and "My boyfriend hasn't called in six weeks. I need to talk to him one more time to get a sense of closure." Seems like those who use it are looking for a nice, neat ending, like on a TV sitcom.

Bob Levey: I hate-hate-hate "closure" and all such gobbledy-words. "Closure" is what you do to the door when it's open. Besides, it's presumptuous to say you can achieve "closure" on someone's death. Have you ever lost a loved one? Doesn't it still hurt, years later? It's definitely feelgood TV talk.

Manassas, VA: Why do think of Judge Wright slapping President OJ Clinton with that fine? I agree with you that his behavior and lack of character helps sow the seeds of cynicism in our society.

Bob Levey: Sweet Willie is lucky as heck that the fine isn't much larger. It's about time someone took a look at common law and common sense and walloped him for what he did. A lie is a lie, and if it perverts justice (which it always does), the liar deserves to get whammed.

Falls Church,VA: What does Sussman look like? Last week he said that his image didn't appear on film or mirrors. All kidding aside,is he tall, short, fat, skinny, balding, toothless etc? If you and he were both the finalist in a beauty contest -assume the judges were all female- who would win?

Bob Levey: Vic the Great is about 6 feet tall. He is very trim, because he lifts the front bumpers of Volkswagens for fun. All I lift is forkfuls of food, to my mouth. I wouldn't say Vic is balding. I would say he is already hopelessly bald. We would never be finalists in a beauty contest because Vic wouldn't make the finals! If he bribed his way in, he'd probably win--as long as the bribe were big enough.

Rockville, MD: Why won't Metro allow you to add fare to a card with more than $7. Part of me wants to believe that this should somehow aid in rider convenience, while deep down I know this is yet one more subtle way to profit from us -ie, "a person with two cards is more likely to end up with one having less than 1.10 and therefore throw it away"-

Bob Levey: Metro doesn't and wouldn't base its marketing strategy on getting people to throw cards away. Yet I agree that the barriers in Farecard machines are annoying as heck. The one that frosts me is that a machine won't take more than 10 bills when you try to buy a card. This galls because I often carry lots and lots of ones, and want to "offload" some of them into a $20 Farecard. No soap--yet I can spill 110 pennies into the bus's farebox, and no one says a word.

Mt. Rainier MD: A chatter in Silver Spring brought it up first - but I think your column is more apropos than the gossip column. Why is Congress enraging itself about the possibility of kids getting on the internet and maybe seeing some off-color pictures, but same kid-loving Congress is cutting back on kids getting much-needed lunches and decent schools? Is it because kids with PCs tend to be white, middle-class, and have voting parents? Or am I being too cynical?

Bob Levey: Congress looks for box office issues (that means issues that go boing with voters). Smut on the Internet bothers a whole lot of people. Lunches at school affect relatively few people. I don't think it has to do with race directly, although more whites vote than blacks or browns, and more kids who can't afford lunch come from families that don't vote at all.

Prince Georges MD: Bob, how do you and fellow chatters feel about the status of civility in PG county? Frankly, after living here 13 years, I'd rather shop ANYPLACE else. The Huns might have worse manners, can't think of anyone else. But why?? It's not like they can afford to lose customers.

Bob Levey: I've never heard that civility is any worse in PeeGee than anywhere else. As for shopping elsewhere, you're harming your homeland, not helping it. Don't you know that one of the biggest issues where you live is the lack of quality shopping? The more you complain, and shop elsewhere, the more you assure that Nordstrom and the other Big Boys stay away.

Albuquirky....I mean Albuquerque, New Mexico: Bob,
As a LONG TIME reader of your column <sp>, I know that after you finish your summer campaign for Send-a-Kid-to-Camp, that you usually pack up your typewriter & head out for 2-3 weeks or so. Why don't you, or your bosses, re-run some of your older columns, in the space vacated in yer absence, instead of ads for this and that? I'm sure other readers would like to see your wit, rather than wait 2-3 weeks or longer, without a good word from you! How about it?

Bob Levey: I've barked up this tree so many times that my bark has started to lose its bite. Here's the brief answer:
The geniuses in management know that I take four weeks off every year. Therefore, when they allocate space for the year, they know that 20 Levey "slots" will be vacant. They pre-assign those 20 slots to promotion ads. That's why I am the only immortal around here. When I don't write, I become one of those take-seven-weeks-and-get-Sundays-free ads!
Another reason: The Post wants to publish fresh vegetables, not recycled.

Wash, DC: Hi Bob! This is a question, but I wanted to say I think it's very admirable that you invest a lot of time and effort in the send a kid to camp program. My childhood memories are filled with camp tales, and for me, those days were some of the best times I have ever had.

Thanks for making others aware of how much a summer camp can affect a child's self esteem.
Keep up the good work!

Bob Levey: You are very kind, and don't worry, I'll keep climbing the fund-raising mountain.

Washington, D.C.: Why is it that arguably the most electable person in America today -Colin Powell- probably wouldn't be able to win the Presidential nomination from either party?

Bob Levey: The primary system is the silliest invention we've ever come up with. First of all, you shouldn't be able to run unless you make your platform public BEFORE the primaries. The way we do it now, it's just a beauty contest. All we can really know is how a candidate looks while kissing a baby or driving a tank. Second, this business with primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire is ridiculous. Less than two percent of the country lives in those states combined. And why have primaries at all? The conventions ought to mean something and be something. Wouldn't it be cool if there were 11 major candidates right up until the last second? I'm not advocating a return to smoke-filled rooms. But why shouldn't a candidate have to go before a hall packed with partisans and explain his views, without rehearsals and focus groups?

Reston, VA: Vic seem to have a sense of humor. What it like working with him? Are there any openings in your department?

Bob Levey: Vic has a very good sense of humor. That's useful, because he has to work with me. It's great to work with him--except for his ties. I've offered to teach him how to dress, but for some reason, he declines. The only opening in my department is in my bank account.

Manassas, VA: Hi Bob,

I just read in one of your responses you mentioned being "frosted". It reminded of my dad who has been known to use the expression "that really frosted by buns" when angry, or my father-in-law who frequently uses aphorisms such as "I wouldn't touch that with a ten foot pole". My question is this: there are many colloquiums -i think that is the right word?- that my parents generation used, does todays generation have any clever expressions?

Bob Levey: Like, not that I can, like, think of

Prince Georges : Believe me, Bob, I'd like to help the local economy but not at the expense of being treated rudely. And while I guess a Nordstroms might be nice for the yuppies, I'm kind of a Sears & Penneys type myself. The money goes further.

Bob Levey: If I'm not mistaken, there are already Searses and Penneys in Prince George's. And if you haven't visited such a store lately, you might be surprised. Prices aren't ouch-y only at Nordstrom.

Newark, Delaware: What?! You mean you'll be gone for 2 or 3 Fridays? What will I do during my lunch break? I say, let the honchos at the Post have their fresh vegetables... I'll take good old stale Bob any day!

Bob Levey: I'll be gone from the printed page. I won't be gone from this Friday chat. I wouldn't deprive you of your steady diet of staleness. It might cause rickets

Washington, DC: I normally hate Metro complaints, but I feel I've listened to enough to justify my own. What's with the rude people who sit on the outside seat, making you climb over them to sit down on the inside. Is there something wrong with the inside? Is it more important for them to be outside than me? I don't get it, and boy does this tick me off. They are worse then the doorway campers.

Bob Levey: NOTHING is worse than the doorway campers. The other day, I got on at Metro Center. Six people were stacked right in front of the door. They never twitched. Legions had to push past them. Do these folks think they're invisible?
As for inside-outside, I see lots of people slide over to the inside seat when it becomes vacant. Maybe you're just noticing some outside-sitters who are in a fog--or deeply engrossed in some fabulous newspaper column (I can't imagine whose!).

Mt. Rainier MD: Gee it was awfully nice talking with Vic last week...
What do you think the solution is to getting drivers to get out of the way of emergency vehicles? My roommate's a paramedic and she says the family riding with her are always shocked at how nobody will move. But you know, some of these family have got to be the same ones that never get out of the way -- til it's -their- loved one. Wish the medics could take license numbers and give tickets.

Bob Levey: One proposal doing the rounds is to have cops ride with paramedics. Give them video cams, pencils and pads, and tell them to be merciless. I'll bet it would work beautifully.
Glad you enjoyed talking with Vic last week. When I slide his lunch under the door of his tiger cage in a few minutes, I'll tell him so.

Indianapolis, IN: Hello Bob, I never miss this forum.

I was watching the Reform Party Convention over last weekend -I know, I need to get a life-. While I found some of it to be sophomoric, I heard a lot of great ideas bandied about. Of course now, in the majority of the commentaries in various papers I read on the convention, the entire event was marginalized as a convention of freaks and nuts. I hate to be paranoid, but do I smell some kind of established party-media conspiracy to nip the entire idea of a true third-party presidential candidacy in the bud?

Bob Levey: There's some truth in what you say, but then again, how many major-party candidates were wrestlers?
I have always felt that SOME third party is inevitable in this country--just not this one. Perot has left a stench that won't come out with the usual warm-water washes. He is truly not what the country wants or needs. But what if some candidate came forward and said he wouldn't accept campaign funds the usual way, and would get us back to basics? I think that person could be John McCain--once he loses to Dubbayew in the primaries.

Warrenton, VA: Like you, I am concerned about transportation in the DC area. Gosh there is alot of posturing by the pols on this at the moment! What kind of longer term projects should be considered that won't simply fuel lots more sprawl and just make things worse?

Bob Levey: Lots more buses and many more trolley lines, a la Baltimore. But just as important, offer financial incentives to get people out of their cars. There's a little of that now (employers can buy mega-ride Farecards for their employees, but few do). If there were much more, I think you'd see progress.
I'm afraid that the best answer in the long run may be telecommuting.

Walnut Creek, CA: I recall your excellent show on the Sprewell controversy in December of 1997. Would you please comment on the 49ers recent signing of Lawrence Phillips.

Bob Levey: Thanks for the kind words. I've always felt that pro athletes get far more second chances than the rest of us would. Yet by the standards of Sprewell, and all the wife-beaters and dope-smokers, Phillips is mild potatoes.

Fairfax, Virginia: About three weeks ago, my car broke down on 495 returning home from Laurel, MD. I spent three hours sitting on the edge of the highway broken down at one o clock in the question is what has happened in this area that people are unwilling to stop for a stranded motorist? With the hundreds of people who have car phones, even if they cannot stop, what happened to giving a call to the state police or highway patrol for that person? It just might save some stranded motorist grief and anxiety from sitting on the edge of the highway and watch car after car wiz by.

Bob Levey: I think you were just mega-unlucky. The real problem in this area is too MANY people calling 911 the second they see a car at the side of the road. Emergency employees tell me that switchboards flood at the drop of a hat. Pity the SECOND guy who needs an ambulance.

Bowie, MD: Comment to Washington, DC about Mr. Powell - last I had heard, he was not looking to run - last thing I would want is a reluctant candidate!

Bob Levey: Well said. I just wonder what it would take to shake the good general off the shelf. He could win in a walk, my nose tells me.

Annandale, VA: Some good articles this week in the Post about higher education? One of the points I noted was that on average, the quality of education varied little depending depending on the prestige or cost of the school. If I understood correctly, a BA degree from George Mason U. will generally have the same value in the job market as a BA from George Washington U. at about one third the cost. Would you agree with that assessment? Also, in your opinion, what DC area university has the best Journalism school?

Bob Levey: I don't agree that every diploma has the same value, because there is still a "buzz factor" attached to the school you choose. Why do you think the Harvards and Princetons prance through so many doors so easily? However, many schools provide excellent educations. If you want to evaluate a school by the THIRD job that a graduate gets, I think you'll see a much more level field.
The University of Maryland's J school is by far and away the best in the area.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow, USA: So Bob, how did you get that beautiful head of hair on the airplane last week?

Bob Levey: Somehow, I sneaked it past the hijack detectors. Didn't hide it under a hat, either

Fairfax, VA: Best way to improve transport?

For all of us to realize that it's not possible to work on K Street, live on a farm, and enjoy a happy family life. That's what it will take, Bob.

Bob Levey: I've often said that the real cause of sprawl (and transportation problems) is the myth attached to a lawn. People want them. They say their kids can't have a good childhood without them. But there are great expanses of publicly maintained lawn all over the area. They're called parks. You never have to mow them or de-weed them at midnight on Sunday night, under the back porch light.

Arlington, VA: Speaking of Dubbayew... how much is his campaign paying the Post to run a 32 part series on his life? While it's not all 100% flattering, it does provide a remarkably "human" view of a candidate; a message most candidates have to spend hard earned campaign dollars to get out. Will the post be doing a series on each candidate?

Bob Levey: We'll be doing lots of depth-y coverage of all candidates, but nothing as detailed as the Dubbayew stuff. I'm surprised that you think the series makes him look attractive. I think it shows him to be what he is--a rich kid who never had the slightest idea of what he really wanted to do or really cared about. As a friend said yesterday, he isn't outstanding at all--so why should he be president?

Arlington, VA: Are the O's going to make any moves before tomorrow or are they suffering from some type of wild card delusion?

Bob Levey: The O's are suffering from a roster full of players whom no one else wants

Washington DC: I'm sure you have this problem as well, Bob - people who constantly spell your name wrong all the time in spite of corrections and the like. I have a relatively common first name that people spell wrong all the time since, okay, there's several possible spellings. It's getting very annoying, especially when certificates have to be sent back and ID badges have to be done 3 times over. How do you handle this with grace?

Bob Levey: I just take the view that it ain't worth getting worried about. My stomach lining would never have survived if I felt otherwise. After all, my last name has appeared every weekday in one of the greatest newspapers in the world for nearly 20 years--and more than a third of my mail is still mis-addressed to "Bob Levy." My favorite is when people telephone me to say there must be something wrong with The Post's e-mail system, because they just tried to send me an e-mail and it didn't go through. It's always some poor soul who has typed ""

Washington: Strange, Bob. You-rightly- complain that George W. hasn't said or done anything to receive all of this hype for President, yet you seem to support Powell, who has done even LESS. Sure, he's a nice guy, but so is my dad and he'd be a lousy president. I'm sure there are plenty of qualified people out there who would do fine, not just the feel-good PR spinners like W. and Powell.

Bob Levey: I don't support Powell. I just think he's the sort of candidate who would SAIL away with the election. He's a leader, and people sense that most other candidates are not. Reason: They're not! How can you be a leader if you have to wait for a focus group to tell you what you're supposed to think and say? Powell has always fielded unrehearsed and unexpected questions in a very genuine way. You're right that he was no elective experience. But that might not matter so much. Along the same lines, why don't we ever nominate a CEO or a university president? I'll bet one (or more than one) could do the job very, very well.

Herndon, VA: Hi'yah Bob!
I've been reading your articles for years. My question to you is how did you get started in journalism? I'm a Journalism major and I wanted to hear your side of the story. Any tips for those just starting out?

Bob Levey: Biggest tip: Don't let some know-it-all steal your dream. This is a dreamer's business. If you want desperately to be in it, that's the best attribute you can ever have.
I started in a serious way in college, where I was editor-in-chief of the student newspaper for nearly two years. My studies suffered, but my writing sure didn't. From there, I got a job on a small afternoon daily in New Mexico. From there, I got luckier than I ever have been before or since, and got hired by The Post. Been driving this keyboard ever since (nearly 32 years).
Also, don't let know-it-alls preach to you that print is dead. Some battle-axe newspapers will certainly die soon (and most of them will deserve to die, sadly). But there will be more media of many kinds in your lifetime, not fewer. Jobs will abound. Get one.

east Lyme Ct: Bob,

I have my entire office reading your bit. Any chance of you doing a live show from our area? Kind of like Imus maybe? What do you think...take the show on the road?

Bob Levey: I'll be doing "Levey Live" from Bristol, Conn., on Aug. 10 and Aug. 13. My guest on Aug. 10 will be Don Soucy, the head of Little League baseball on the East Coast. I'll be there because my son's team (soon to be D.C. champs!) will be playing other state champs from the East Coast in the regional championships. If I'm not too exhausted from rooting, or if the cops haven't locked me up for abusing umpires, I'll be doing the regular Friday show from Bristol on the 13th, too. Come on by and visit. I really do look like that picture at the top of the chat!

Bowie, MD: Bob,

Our local schools can hold a pretty good flame to those with a bit more prestige, don't you think?

I agree with your's and Annandale's response about higher education. Surely an institution is worth its weight in gold if they produce solid, well-rounded students who can make lasting contributions to the world.

I never got caught up in the snobbery of names when I was applying to colleges. I'm a native Marylander and graduated from U MD College of Journalism. I'm a PR type who practices my craft in the DC metro area.

U MD is rated in the top ten of journalism in the country. I laud the leading edge faculty and administrators who guide this very fine program. Even though I had been accepted to the U of Missouri-Columbia Journalism program and Syracuse University Newhouse School of Communications, I stuck with Maryland because I was already living in the Nation's Capitol...the heartbeat of what's happening politically and every which way you can's too ideal!

Bob Levey: A very good point about the town in which a school is located. The University of Missouri, for instance, is a fine school. But there just isn't as much in the air or water in Columbia, Mo., as there is in the Washington area (or in New York City)

Washington DC: Speaking of airport security, I noticed last week at Dulles that the personnel at the x-ray machines-metal detectors seemed to all be immigrants whose first language is not English and some had quite poor English. Now I have very liberal views on immigration, I really do, but I wonder if this is the wisest job to give people who may encounter communication difficulties?

Bob Levey: I'm a lot less worried about where a hijack-detector was born than I am about the unwillingness of some of them to challenge bozos. Last week, a guy in front of me had a collection of bowie knives in his carry-on bag! I happened to see them on the detector's little TV set. Yet she didn't even ask about them! I made very sure that the guy went on a different plane from yours truly. I also mentioned it to a hijack supervisor. I'm afraid the job is so dull that we're really not being protected very well.

McLean, VA: Bob,

During the NATO summit the Post ran a story about a couple's wedding reception taking place inside the restricted zone. They planned the wedding a year in advance and found out about the restriction the week before. They were obviously quite worried about their guests being denied access. Do you have any idea how their story ended?

Bob Levey: Wedding and reception all went off as planned

Arlington, VA: Bob,

Any update on how parents get their teenagers from using "like" incorrectly? I would, like, really be interested in ideas.

Bob Levey: Major follow-up coming after I return from vacation--on or about Sept. 2

Temple Hills, MD: Regarding the outside sitters on the metro -- maybe they know they have to get off at the next stop and don't want to have to push their way past you?

Bob Levey: Good point. Yet most outside sitters seem to keep sitting, don't they?

Vienna, VA: Vic's bio says that he's a frequent contributor to Marketplace. I listen to Marketplace daily during my commute and have yet to hear him. Was this just a bit of bio padding? When was he last featured?

Bob Levey: When he filled in for me on July 23, he said he had just been on Marketplace that day

WDC: on the VA transportation issue, my husband mentioned just the other day the irony of Gilmore's "major concerns" about the traffic problems we have now, and yet, no too long ago he ran on and pushed through the whole repeal of the "car tax." That just encourages more people into more cars. Any comments on that? It is especially noticeable on these hot hazy code red air quality days!

Bob Levey: Super point. I just don't understand politicians who think that the public is so afraid of taxes that they won't support more roads. Virginia is going to die of strangulation one of these days. Money is just money. People have paid taxes before and they'll pay them again--as long as the bucks provide what the people need.

Springfield, Va: Maybe you can slide ole Vic, some Fresh veggies, an old column from the mid 80's & a fish tie, or a looney-tunes tie! See if that will rattle his cage!

Bob Levey: I was actually thinking of a Mamas and Papas album, but it might get him too excited

Burke, VA: Bob, got to disagree with you on the lawn thing. It's about space. I lived in a high-rise once--near lots of open space, but packed into this brick monstrosity with way too many fellow human beings. I nearly wacked out. Haven't there been studies that found that when rats are forced into close quarters, they become hostile?

Bob Levey: There sure have been. Yet we're at the point where you have to pick between two versions of the same poison--crushed together in high-rises or crushed together on so-called superhighways. A toughie either way

Washington DC : My high-school-senior daughter hopes to become a journalist and is looking at undergraduate programs that have a journalism major. I am in favor of majoring in history, political science, economics, theatre, sociology--whatever it is that she wants to write ABOUT--and saving the journalism training for grad school. What do you think?

Bob Levey: In general, I'm with you 100 percent. You can't be a good journalist if you don't know anything about history, politics, science or how to write. I always hate the idea that journalism is taught as if it's plumbing. Sure, we scribes need to know what a lead is, what a pyramided story is, and so on. But journalism is an art, not a vocation. SENSING the story is what great reporters can do. You'll never learn that by sitting in a classroom.

Washington, DC: Hi Bob! I would like to know why the officials in Washington DC allow all of the stop lights to run of sync day in and day out? It is really ridiculous the way one has to spend 30 minutes every morning trying to reach the bottom of Penn Ave from Branch Ave. This is every morning. -Except Christmas-

Bob Levey: You're NOT telling me you went to work on Christmas Day, are you? You must work for a newspaper.

Washington, DC: As one half of a recently married couple, it has fallen to me the task of getting rid of some of the duplicate things that each of us has brought into our relationship. These items include one old computer and two printers. I'd like to give them to charity, but I don't know who accepts them and how, any help?

Bob Levey: Ladies and gentlemen, it's a commercial for Levey's List! I run a service that accepts such major items and steers them to needy people. Call 202-334-7662 to list an item or get a copy of the list.

Hyattsville, MD: Hi Bob,

There's really a simple reason why Powell won't run. His wife won't let him. Why? Because she wants to grow old with him. This nation is still too wracked with racial hatred for a man of color to actually gain and survive a term as the President. No sooner than he was sworn in would several conservative right wing militia types -probably toting bibles!- would be converging on DC to be the hero to save the Nation by placing Mr Powell in the cross hairs of a high powered rifle. There aren't enough secret service in the world to prevent that. We need to do a little more maturing as a nation before any man or woman would risk that kind of sacrifice. And please don't bring up Jesse Jackson - that was a PR stunt.

Bob Levey: Mrs. Powell has often expressed those fears. But if we bend to the possibility of nutcakes and their weapons, what kind of world do we have? By the way, I haven't noticed a shortage of presidential candidates, even after the Kennedy assassination and the Reagan near-assassination.

Alexandria, VA: Bob,

Your paper chose not to right an editorial about Clinton getting a $90,000 fine -unprecedented-. Is this more of the liberal bias of the Post? Or is the F-22 so much more interesting?

Bob Levey: The F-22 is much more interesting than such tired charges about liberal bias. We don't always write editorials the day news breaks. Often, we wait several days, to see how a story "shakes out." I suspect that's the case with Clinton and Jones. And if it is.... will you write me a note that says it's a matter of liberal bias because we waited so long?

Bob Levey: Many thanks, Levey loyalists, for hopping aboard. Keep drinking water and saying nice things about your air conditioners. I'll be back next Friday at the same time. And don't forget the Tuesday version of "Levey Live." It appears from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time. My guest on Aug. 3 will be Tracy Grant. She's the managing editor of the Post's newly announced mid-day on-line newspaper, coming soon to

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