Replies to recent columns . . . .

On Feb. 14, I wrote about a doctor's office where "Can't Get No Satisfaction," the classic hard rock song, was spewing out of a Muzak system. But a string ensemble was performing, not The Rolling Stones. A reader was amazed that any doctor would inflict such a gooey version of this blammety-blam tune on his patients.

John J. Pateros of Frederick writes to say that the real issue is why any business owner pipes any kind of music at his customers.

"Why should a doctor -- or a dentist, a restaurant, a department store, an elevator, anyone -- subject others to their idea of music?" asks John. "Whether it be rock and roll or Mozart or Bing Crosby, nobody should have the right to assault my ears any more than someone should have the right to blow smoke in my face."

Ten points, John. Wish I'd said it myself. There's nothing wrong with silence as background. In fact, it's often more relaxing than the music coming at you -- regardless of how "smooth and easy" some Muzak salesman may think it is.

My Feb. 22 opus concerned my 3-year-old daughter Emily and Big Bird, the famous character on the TV show, "Sesame Street." I called Big Bird a king-sized wimp. All he ever does is complain, feel sorry for himself and sulk, I said.

Frank Brody of Crofton leapt forward to agree with me. But he said I hadn't gone far enough.

"How could you write about Big Bird the wimp and not mention the all-time biggest wimp in TV history -- or maybe even world history -- Mr. Rogers?" writes Frank.

"The man is 100 percent milquetoast, a real discredit to the male gender. He probably even eats quiche. Or worse, he probably even makes quiche . . . .

"What would happen if he [Frank's 2-year-old son Nicholas] expected most men to act like Mr. Rogers, and then Mr. T or John Riggins or Clint Eastwood shows up at the door one day?"

I've seen Mr. Rogers only a few times, Frank, so I don't have a strong opinion. But from what I can tell, Mr. Rogers is simply quiet, not incompetent. Big Bird is always shying from people and tasks. Mr. Rogers may have a mild manner and a timid voice, but he at least takes on challenges and teaches lessons. Wimphood is in the doing, not in the seeming -- and by that standard, I'd say Big Bird has Rogers outwimped by a mile.

On the other side of the fence is Sharon Lockett of Arlington. She says I made a grave mistake by trotting out the word "wimp," because I've now "taught Emily to play the label game."

"Labeling people makes life much simpler," Sharon says. "No more bother with strengths and weaknesses in each person you meet. Just label some outstanding trait and bingo! You never have to figure out that person . . . .

"I hope Emily can muster the energy to keep seeing people as persons, just like she is."

A fair shot, Sharon. But in calling B.B. a wimp, my message, curiously, was the same as yours.

Paying attention to each person as an individual is precisely what I want Emily to do. Big Bird is the one who labels everybody, not me. To B.B., every person is an overwhelming problem or disappointment. He never sees "people as persons," only as causes for groaning.

If Emily thinks I merely meant to insult B.B. by labeling him a wimp, then she misunderstood, and I erred. But I think she read me loud and clear.

What I was saying is that she should learn to read people and adjust to situations -- not to "wimp out" into disappointed helplessness every time the road develops an unexpected curve.

Finally, there were quite a few heated responses to my call for mandatory seat belt laws in Virginia.

Bill Marshall of Haymarket, Va., stated the opposition case this way:

"The responsibility of our government is only to inform us of the potential safety hazard of not wearing a seat belt, not to control our every move in an automobile. The government cannot remove or diminish every safety hazard we face in life. Provide us with knowledge, then let us decide."

Well said, Bill. But nobody's trying to control your every move in an automobile. A seat belt bill would control only the moves you wouldn't want to make -- such as through the windshield, head first.

Mary Aileen Buss of Northwest pointed out that car passengers are sometimes safer without belts.

"A good friend of mine was in an accident," she writes. "Her car skidded on a patch of ice and flipped over. The car was flattened. Fortunately for her, she was thrown clear and suffered only minor injuries. But if she had been wearing a seat belt, she would have been trapped and flattened along with the car."

You're right that a belt would have been a hindrance in this one case, Mary. But far more often, a beltless driver would have been thrown underneath a tumbling car, rather than thrown clear, and would have been crushed. I'll bet there are 10 cases like that for every one like your friend's.