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  •   Levey Live: Speaking Freely

    "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/TWP

    "Levey Live: Speaking Freely" differs from Bob's regular Tuesday noon Web show--which features newsmakers and Post writers. The Friday event is what talk radio folks call an "open mike" show, your chance to schmooze with Bob about anything in his Monday through Friday columns , in the news or on your mind.

    Bob is away today, however, off in snow-filled Chicago to give a speech to adoring University of Chicago students (Levey made us write this.)

    His guest host was Vic Sussman, Live Web Programs Editor for

    Sussman was previously the Personal Tech columnist for The Washington Post Magazine, Book World's audio book reviewer, and a senior editor 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 skepticism, powerlifting and magic as a performance art.

    Here is a transcript of today's live conversation.

    Burke, VA,: Vic,
    I recently discovered your Web site's crime reports, so I checked to see if there were any crimes reported in my neighborhood.

    I got a chuckle when your screen read "SORRY, No crimes matching your search criteria have been reported to the Washington Post by local police departments."

    There's no need to apologize for GOOD NEWS!

    Vic Sussman: That's a funny glitch. Obviously, somebody working here was so used to issuing the standard apologetic error messages that he or she didn't think about the context. Maybe next time you'll read, "Good news from your police department: There were five muggings in your neighborhood!"

    gaithersburg, Md: Why and how can a person have a day care with children under five years old, he and her three teens use a bass sound with children there, also night and they do this and people have leave their townhouses.

    Vic Sussman: I'm not sure I follow your thread here, but I assume you're complaining about a residential day care setting that's driving you crazy with noise, especially those damnable bass sounds. You're in Montgomery Country, MD, so the best thing is to contact the appropriate county office. I assume that day care centers have to meet zoning requirements. Check the listings for the county in the blue pages of your phone book.

    If the noise level is severe enough to make your neighbors run screaming into the streets, however, you can also call the police non-emergency line for help.

    Falls Church, VA: What strip was replaced by Pickles on the comics page?

    Vic Sussman: I checked with The Post's Comics Czar (not a real title) and found that "Pickles" replaced "Momma" (or maybe it was "Mama") on January 3. Those of you outside the Washington area may not realize that the comics pages in The Post are a passionate subject for many people. Add a comic or---Heaven help you--- remove one and you unlock incredible outrage and angst.

    I have to admit that I visit the comics less frequently than in the past. Life has had less meaning for me ever since "The Far Side" and "Calvin & Hobbes left the scene. Now I only check to read "Dilbert," "Zippy the Pinhead," and "The Piranha Club." Most of the other comics strike me as vapid or totally unfunny.

    I do enjoy looking at "Mark Trail" from time to time, but only because I'm fascinated by a strip in which everyone is unfailingly caucasian and all the men and women look almost identical. Surreal. I guess the genetic pool Mark swims in is kind of shallow, even with all those otters and moose ambling about.

    Bethesda: Mr. Sussman, Last week, on New Year's Day, I got into this Y2K thing with Levey. He is pretty convinced that all is fine. I think that he is full of it. Why? Well during the last few weeks i have noticed a US Gov't push to tell the public that all is ok? It really appears like an false advertisement. Propaganda to keep investors from sellingsellingselling and liquidating in November this year in distrust of the Y2K bug. Now there is a hotline 1800USA4Y2K established by the Gov't to tell us that all is ok! What do you think about this. In this day of little trust in our Gov't, this one smells especially fishy! I can't wait for Bob to come back cause I am gonna let him have it!

    Vic Sussman: Ah, my favorite subject-Y2K. Where do I begin? First, I find it fascinating that the collective "we" has only started worrying about this in the past six months though the problem has been obvious for many years. Second, I agree that hearing the government say "don't panic" is enough to make one panic. On the other hand, we are talking about computers---machines that can be re-programmed, which is part of their charm---and not about, say, an asteroid hurtling toward earth about which we could do nothing but party or pray, your choice.

    I don't think Y2K will mean the end of civilization as we know it, which, come to think of it, might be a shame. Civilization as we know it isn't all it's cracked up to be. We probably ought to start all over again. But that's just ol' cynical me.

    I do think that Y2K is going to cause problems, some major and many, many minor ones. The really scary part isn't the idea of power plants flickering to a stop but people reacting to the threat of panic by working themselves into a frenzy and doing nuttier things than they do normally.

    That is, the reaction to Y2K fears may be worse than the actual computer problems. If you don't think so, watch what happens in Washington when there's the threat of snow in this town. People jam the markets to buy white bread, milk and toilet paper. (It's a scientific fact that one inch of snow in D.C. produces an overwhelming urge to make French toast and go to the bathroom.) Imagine what might happen if people decide to make a run on banks, a real possibility next year.

    The other scary part is that some folks in other countries are apparently not being diligent about fixing Y2K problems on time. We're a global community now, so financial systems going down overseas are going to affect us in perhaps severe ways. Bottom line is that we just don't know. Again, I don't think we're all going down the tubes next year, but we WILL have troubles, no doubt.

    My wife wants us to start stockpiling food and water....

    rosslyn, va: So Vic, what'd you do with Bob?

    Vic Sussman: He's safe and warm in an undisclosed location watching re-runs of "The Brady Bunch." Nah. Bob is giving a speech at the University of Chicago, his alma mater. He'll be back at his keyboard next week. His guest on "Levey Live" on Tuesday at noon, by the way, will be Shirley Ybarra, Virginia's Secretary of Transportation. We can all log on to tell her how much we love driving on I-95.

    Arlington, Va: If there were one purchase you'd make to get ready for the millennium, what would it be?

    Vic Sussman: A new Macintosh G3, 350 mhz. Macs won't go down in 2000 because their clocks are set well into the next century. Chalk this up to Steve Jobs' confidence that the company is going to be around that long.

    Seriously, I don't think much about next year---no more than any other year. This fuss about the "Year 2000" is kind of nonsensical. It's just another year. Seeing three zeroes has no more significance than anything else. I don't buy into the mystical, millennial craziness. I'm a skeptic, remember?

    Rosslyn, VA: What do you think will happen to Georgetown basketball without John Thompson?

    Vic Sussman: Ah, this would be a much better question for Bob Levey. I am not a sports fan. That is, I have less than zero interest in being a spectator. I like to do things, not watch them, so any comment I make about basketball would be worthless. In fact, there's a real danger I could go off on a rant about people who live vicarious lives by caring about sports teams. But I'll spare you this time....

    rosslyn: Do you own stocks? Are you planning to sell and and/or all of them sometime before the new new year?

    Vic Sussman: Good question. Reporters shouldn't own individual stocks in anything they cover. If I did own stocks I'd want them to be Internet-related. But I can't do that because it's a conflict of interest. (Insert big heaving sigh here.) Besides, there's a difference between trading stock and investing in stock. I'm not a good gambler (because I hate to lose), so mutual funds are a better choice for investment weenies like me.

    NoVa: I'll mow your lawn for a year if you can get Linda Tripp to do a live chat.

    Vic Sussman: I'd mow Linda's lawn if she'd agree to appear on But, gee, maybe nobody has asked her! Did you notice that Esquire recently voted Ms. Tripp their Dubious Man of the Year?

    Worchester, Pa.: Dear Vic,

    I have a problem. My girlfriend left me after she saw me in public kissing another woman. I feel awful. I want her back but I'm not sure how to go about it. She won't answer my calls and she sent the flowers back. Help!

    Vic Sussman: Where is Carolyn Hax when I really need her?

    Um, try this: Have someone call your (former) girl and tell her that you have an evil twin who's been running around town kissing women. Of course, if she's dumb enough to believe this you probably don't want anything to do with her anyway.

    Washington: Based on your response to the question about John Thompson, I assume that you also don't watch movies or attend plays, concerts, musicals, ice capades, etc. As you can tell, I'm a sportsfan and disagree with your comments.

    Vic Sussman: Oh geez, here we go: Look, I have nothing against John Thompson. From all I hear he's a great guy. I have nothing against sports fans. Some of my best friends are sports fan (though I wouldn't want my sister to marry one.) And yes, I do go to movies. And plays and concerts. But I don't hang around talking endlessly about movies as though I was one of the players. I don't talk about actors' salaries. I don't paint my face and body when I go to the movies. (Okay, well maybe when it's "The Rocky Horror Show," but that's the exception.)

    If focusing on sports spectating is something you want to do, and if you get pleasure watching guys who make more money than God chasing a ball around, then be happy, don't worry. I think it's goofy. As I said, I would rather be involved in a sport (powerlifing, in my case) than watch or talk about it.

    For some reason, my views make sports fans angry. Duh.

    Chevy Chase, Md.: Mr. Sussman,

    I consider it an outrage that Time's man/men of the year wasn't Monica Lewinsky. She's not a man, but if it weren't for her, 90 percent of last year's news wouldn't have happened. I think the people at that magazine are sexist, ageist pigs.

    Vic Sussman: Oh come on. From all the evidence so far, if it wasn't Ms. Lewinsky it would have been some other woman in Mr. Clinton's office. Instead of saying "if it weren't for her..." trying saying "if it wasn't for Bill Clinton." That's more accurate, I think.

    Reston, VA: How come there's no picture of you up at the top?

    Vic Sussman: Because I don't show up on film. Or in mirrors. Go figure.

    Upper Marlboro, MD: Levey made a comment about Black Santa Claus' not being a good idea, can you give an adequate reason as to why they are not a good idea? Especially since not every one in America is of the same hue and so all persons should be represented.

    Vic Sussman: I disagree with Bob about Santa's color. I think Santa, being a mythical character (I hope my little son isn't reading this) can be any color at all. The whole idea is to make kids happy, not make a political statement. So if Santa is black or white or brown or yellow, it's not going to make any difference to children. It's Santa who matters, not his skin color. Hmm. Maybe there's a larger message there for the grown-ups.

    Somewhere, USA: What the he#$ is a live web program editor?

    Vic Sussman: It's an editor who knows how to spell hell.

    Bethesda MD: You're funny!

    Vic Sussman: Thanks for logging on, Mom.

    Bethesda Md: What is the difference between body building and Power - lifting? Aren't they just ego-centric activities to get girls or postpone the inevitable passage of time? Do you have to have an I.Q. of zweiback to participate?

    Vic Sussman: Actually, my IQ is at least five points higher than zweiback, unless we are talking about executive zweiback or political zwieback. And how the he#@ do you spell zweiback anyway?

    Powerlifting, since you asked, is not bodybuilding, though it builds muscle. Girls and women are involved in powerlifting too, since it's an egalitarian sport. (All you zweibacks will have to look that big word up.) It's three lifts: squat, bench press and deadlift. Very elemental, very primitive, which is why I love it.

    Arlington: I appreciate your efforts to get leading politicians and talking heads on the web to chat, but how about having some guests (besides Carolyn Hax and Eric Brace) who would appeal to 20-somethings or even teenagers?

    Vic Sussman: We're working on it. Eric Brace talks about the club scene twice a month. Rita Kempley will be talking about movies next week. As for teens, make some suggestions. I'm open to all kinds of ideas. Write me at

    Mt. Rainier: Regarding the person who is concerned about the year 2000, as a government programmer I am a LOT more worried about people like the Miller cult who have just been in the paper recently. The computers aren't going to kill you and they aren't going to start world war III. I'm not the least bit sure the Millerites won't. (Isn't it ironic there should be another set of Millerites?)

    Vic Sussman: I agree. This "end of the century" craziness has a truly dangerous side. Check your history books. Or better, read Carl Sagan's wonderful book "Demon Haunted World," a primer on why and how people adopt irrational modes of thought.

    Silver Spring Md: You say that you have an interest in magic. Is there a big magic subculture in Washington? I guess I think of magic and magicians as living in places like Los Vegas and New York, but not much activity in this rather tightly-wrapped city. Are there any store that carry magic supplies?

    Vic Sussman: There are three magic stores I frequent (this is a shameless plug), which is better than hanging around bars. Al's Magic Shop in Washington is a premier site and has been for nearly 50 years. Al is considered the best store demonstrator of magic in the U.S., if not the world. He's also a great guy, beloved by many magicians. Another store is Barry Magic in Wheaton. Barry and his wife Susan also run The Spirit Theatre, which is a spook show. And for the magic store of your dreams (assuming you're into this), visit the Denny & Lee Magic Studio in Essex, MD, just outside Baltimore. Denny's is open an incredible seven days a week until 11 p.m. Beats watching basketball, no?

    Washington DC: How many questions do these live chats get relative to how many are answered? And if I gratuitously insulted you, would you still use the question?

    Vic Sussman: Oh, I can stay here at the office and be gratuitously insulted any time I want. Who needs you?

    Phyllis Richman can easily pull over 100 questions in her hour, as can Carolyn Hax. A newsmaker can pull double that number. If the guest or host is a fast typist, we can usually have about 30 or more questions answered in an hour.

    washington: On a related topic, have you heard of the new movie called KY2? In which a tech dork gets seduced by a bunch of UVA beauties?

    Vic Sussman: My mom doesn't let me go to R movies.

    Greenbelt, MD: Hi Mr. Sussman,
    I wrote earlier (before 1pm) about yesterday's killings for eddie bauer jackets. Perhaps you didn't get it because it was too early. Anyway, in a nutshell, I don't think that the group responsible for the killings were really after eddie jackets for their value. Reasons: the killers did not take the eddie jackets from two of their killers; one victim was shot in the face as he raised his hands in surrender; the group of killers may have heard about the last year's killing of a young man with an eddie bauer jacket in Beltway Plaza in Greenbelt and decided to take this idea to a new sick level by making a game out of it.
    I get this idea from an email sent to me about how I should not flash my lights at a car without theirs on or I may instantly become a target for violence by the people in that car.
    Also, 6months ago, I witnessed 4 youths in a car drive by a person on a bicycle and fire water shooters at the idea perhaps taken from a television program that aired around that time about youths with paintball shooters who recorded their mischief.
    Phew, I think i'm in on time.So what's your take?

    Vic Sussman: Reading your letter makes me think: I love this country.

    I can only address one part, however. The business about not flashing your lights has been circling the Internet since before there was a Web. It's an urban legend.

    As for kids shooting at people with water pistols, count yer blessings it's only water. It's not TV. It's kids. I think the statute of limitations is up on this, so I will admit that in my childhood I, ah, knew some boys who squirted water pistols at more than a few pedestrians, dropped water balloons from high buildings and flushed cherry bombs down a few toilets. Kids, whaddya gonna do with them?

    The Mixing Bowl: Mr. Sussman - if Bob gets snowed in in Chicago, will you get to do the chat with the VDOT lady?

    Vic Sussman: It will be my pleasure, though I miss Bob already.

    Rosslyn, VA: So if you don't mind my asking... how much do bench, squat, and deadlift (separately that is)

    Vic Sussman: Meet me at the gym.

    Washington: Hi Vic - I see in your bio that you're into magic as performance art. What do you think of the Fox "magic unveiled" shows. I can't tell you how much joy it gives me to imagine a bunch of uptight magicians like David Copperfield getting riled up about something.

    Vic Sussman: The Fox shows were trash TV. Bad script, dopey host. They acted as though revealing magic secrets was a consumer service. "Hey, folks, guess what? Magicians are playing tricks on you!"


    The sad thing is that magic relies on secrets for the pleasure it brings. Revealing secrets to the public simply ruins their fun. It's as E.B. White said of humor. Dissect it like a frog and it's dead. What difference does it make if you can identify the parts?

    Vic Sussman: We are out of time. Thanks for all your questions. It's been a hoot sitting in for Bob. Please join The Man Hisownself next Tuesday at noon.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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