On the White House lawn, three men signed a peace treaty and then stood with their hands entwined.

Most members of the audience applauded, but protesters generated a steady cacophony that added a vital ingredient to the scene. The drama of peace was being enacted against a backdrop of unrelenting hatred.

At the same moment, Yasser Arafat, one of the men who inspired the protest was vowing that he would "chop off" all six of the hands entwined in the pledge of peace.

Like Tam O'Shanter's wife, that sulky, sullen dame of long ago, Araft was gatering his brows like gatering storm, nursing his wrath to keep it warm. For him there would never be peace until the enemy had been slain or driven into the sea. And from Lafayette Park, Arafat's admirers dutifully sent forth their litany of hate.

In many parts of the world, such people would have been arrested, not as the result of a protest but in advance of it. Known dissidents would have been rounded up and thrown into jail to ensure that no discordant voice would mar the peace ceremony.

But that is not the way civilized people react to dissent. The Carter administration reserved space for those who wanted to protest, and assigned police to preserve order plus freedom of speech.

That was the scene as 30 years of bloodshed came to an end. Three great leaders elasped hands, and their gesture of peace shone all the bright because it could be seen against a backdrop of continuing antagonism.

Thank you for attending the ceremony, protesters. Without you, it would not have had the same impact.


Rose and Jim Goding had returned from a vacation in China before I received their picture post card. It said: "We experience wondrous things here. For one thing, hotel rooms are left unlocked, safely.

"This is a nation on wheels - bicycle wheels and smooth-riding trains. We had our best night's sleep on a train last night. Spontaneous applause from the hospitable people greets us on the streets. But always strange, strange food!"

No chop suey, eh?


The Maryland legislature is again trying to figure out whether people who haul "loose loads" in open trucks should be required to cover them.

A loose load is one consisting of material that can fly off a moving truck. Lumber sometimes does that. So do other building materials. The life of Sen. Francis X. Kelly (D-Baltimore) was endangered recently when a crate blew off the truck ahead of him. Gravel is a classic example. An uncovered gravel truck strews stones along the highway, and the stones fracture the wind-shields of vehicles that follow.

Year after year, bills are introduced to require that loose loads be covered, if only by an inexpensive tarp. But the Maryland legislature has thus far declined to pass such bills. Most legislators apparently though it was better to endanger travelers than to displease the trucking lobby, which contributes generously to political campaign funds.

Sen. Howard A. Dennis (R-Montgomery) has fought for a loose load bill for years, but has been thwarted.

This year, he won overwhelming Senate approval for his bill, and on Monday the House Committee on Environmental Matters held a hearing on it, but took no vote. The vote could come today or tomorrow, or perhaps on Friday. It is expected to be close.

I hope that when the vote is taken, every newspaper in this area will publish the names of those who vote for the public interest and those who vote against it.

The best way to make legislators responsive is to put a spotlight on their voting records.

Q & A

M. Brown of Frederick asks, "Are you really 87 years old?"

Yes. The only reason I look 90 is that the picture was taken when I was a much older man.


Changing Times' forecast for April is that we'll have a 50 percent chance of rain, a 5 percent chance of finding a cab, and about a 66 percent chance of having income tax problems.

"After all," the magazine points out, "about a third of the population has no tax worries at all, although they do have worries about homework, parents and acne."