Many's the time I've come across that little box in the A Section of The Post that reads "Today in Congress" and just turned the page, silently muttering, "Thanks for the warning."

But I was so intrigued by a listing last week that I had to put down my coffee and high-tail it over to the Dirksen Senate Office Building. I didn't want to be late for the Commerce Committee's "open forum on decency."

I wore pants, which seemed the decent thing to do. And I got a seat near the front. My instincts told me that some of the folks testifying would want to illustrate just how indecent our society had become --

"Senator, is this the sort of filth we want our young people exposed to?" (Cue "Girls Gone Wild XVII: Stoli-Addled Nail Technicians!") "Or this?" (Cue "MTV's Spring Break Bratislava: Whipped Cream Olympiad!") "Or this?" (Cue "Live From Las Vegas: 3-D Celebrity Porn Star Texas Hold-'Em Striptease Pay-Per-View!")

-- and I wanted to make sure I could see the flat-screen TV without craning my neck.

Unfortunately, it was just a lot of yakking. I was only there for the morning session, when about two dozen speakers had five minutes each to state their positions. They'd been seated in a very precise order, so that the woman from the Christian Coalition was next to the man from the National Cable Television and Telecommunications Association, etc.

The arguments basically came down to this: On the one hand, television is too smutty and violent. Parents can't leave the house without locking the TV set in the basement. Congress should do something, like maybe force the cable companies to adopt a la carte pricing.

On the other hand, the First Amendment protects even smutty, violent TV shows. The V-Chip will save us. A la carte cable pricing is like forcing newspapers to sell each section individually and will spell the end of the world as we know it.

In other words, there was plenty of material for lobbyists to chew over.

My reaction to the V-Chip is akin to what I felt when I first saw those candy-free checkout lanes at the Giant. One of the most unpleasant parts of being a parent is saying no: No, you can't have a 3 Musketeers bar. No, you can't watch "The O.C." No, you can't see an R-rated movie with your friends just because their parents think it's okay.

But saying no is also one of the most important parts. And not just saying no -- "Because I said so" -- but explaining why the answer is no.

I'm disgusted by a lot of TV, from the shows to the ads. (For example, when did Coors become a beer whose main attraction is an implicit guarantee that it attracts women of loose moral character wearing clothes that shrank in the wash?) It seems to me that both sides of this argument -- the conservatives who demand federal intervention and the industry lobbyists who offer V-Chips for everyone -- are looking for an easy way out, whether legislative or technical.

If you don't like what your kids want to watch, tell them they can't watch it. Or watch it with them. That will definitely turn them off.

Blade Runners

Liquid. Solid. Gas. Those are the forms H2O can take, and at the National Gallery of Art's Sculpture Garden, you can find two out of the three.

In warmer weather, jets of water spray 60 feet into a fountain. And in the winter, Craig MacFarlane and Jermaine LeSane turn the fountain into an ice rink.

Craig is the gallery's maintenance manager. He oversees the crew that every autumn clears out the fountain equipment and builds two handsome temporary buildings, one to house the rental skates, the other to house the Zamboni. The workers put up the glass dasher boards that enclose the rink and erect the two dozen globe-topped lights that illuminate it.

Then, when the weather forecasters call for a run of 40-degree days, Jermaine, who manages the rink for Guest Services Inc., starts to make ice.

His team starts by wetting the concrete from a hose and then laying down strips of white paper.

"That's what gives you the color of the ice," Craig said. "That's why it looks so white."

Then they add more water. The concrete slab is chilled to 18 degrees by cold glycol running through a network of underground tubes. It's a slow process, taking most of a night before the ice is at optimum depth: half an inch.

Finally, you have what Craig proudly calls "one of the premier rinks in the city."

Tuesday I strapped on my skates and took some lazy circuits on the uncrowded rink, meditating to the skreet, skreet sound of steel on ice.

We were tourists, students and a few people playing hooky from our jobs. Don't tell my boss.

Another Tradition

For many of us, the Sculpture Garden ice rink has become a winter tradition. Here's another tradition: our annual Children's Hospital campaign. Please give.

Our goal by Jan. 20: $600,000.

Our total so far: $33,776.31.

There are three easy ways to donate:

Make a check or money order payable to "Children's Hospital" and mail it to Washington Post Campaign, P.O. Box 17390, Baltimore, Md. 21297-1390.

Go online, to, and click on "Make a Donation."

To contribute by Visa or MasterCard by phone, call (202) 334-5100 and follow the instructions on the message.

My e-mail: