|(Posted Friday, July 19)|
|Missing Links I First I want to say that I have come to look forward to reading S LATE, particularly the back of the book. But I must repeat my criticism of Alex Beam and D.C. Denison ("Digital City--Paris, 1811" and "Henry David Thoreau's Home Page"). What special brand of laziness is it that refers all links to the same "No. No. No. It's a joke. Go Back"? Every other article in the magazine uses real links, so why don't they? They are missing out on an opportunity for multilayered humor. Obviously, the slow load time would make it silly to send readers of the page to URLs across the world, but they could write their own local gags. For example the "Talk Dirty To Me" could have held the "Java Script Age Confirmation" routine back until someone clicked on that link, then sent them back to the page. A well-organized joke page could have running routines that appear time and again as background links. A compost of jokes within the joke. Or maybe the whole thing is not that important. Cheers!|
|--J. A. Fortescue|
| Missing Links II|
I'd just like to let you know that ("Digital City--Paris, 1811," by Alex Beam and D.C. Denison) was about the stupidest thing I've found online yet! Oh, those were jokes! If one or two of them had been jokes, that might have been "funny." But since they're all "jokes," none of them are funny. This humor isn't even worthy of a high-school magazine. If I were advising the students I'd tell them funny questions weren't enough, you need funny answers to at least approach the level of hilarity one might find from, say, Jay Leno.
Besides, the article employs none of the resources available to a cybermagazine. I've seen this as a general criticism of SLATE, which I've dismissed up until now, having a fairly linear (and as you can see, literal) mind. Something like this article, though, has to work on more than one level, or else it is just corny.
Well, I have to go now and clean off that dull junk from my hard drive.
|Guano Gee, I didn't realize that Gregg Easterbrook ("My Thoughts Exactly") was the originator of the idea that the comeback of the peregrine falcon was a symbol of the success of environmental conservation and regulation. How dare Bruce Babbitt appropriate such an original idea as that! Those of us who've delighted in watching the return of these birds, and of dozens of other raptor species in the last decade (including the removal of the bald eagle from endangered status in much of its range), owe Gregg a big debt of gratitude for pointing out that conservation was responsible for these events. We didn't know. Gregg--sit back and enjoy the fact that your unoriginal book was as successful as it was and stop trying to take credit for every expression, anywhere, of optimism about the environment.|
|Talking Trash Well, well, well. People are using more bad language, or at least using it more visibly, and shame on us! Maybe this is bad because it reflects the country's moral decline, assuming we're in one. Or maybe it's just a reflection of our impulse to attract attention without the mental labor needed to say something truly worthy of attention. Alan Ehrenhalt ("Maledict oratory") seems to be clinging to a variety of reactionary preconceptions--that civilization is in decline, that violence is more common than before, maybe even that speakers who don't work blue are nicer people. Unfortunately, the only preconception he succeeds in reinforcing is that wheezing diatribes on the Good Old Days are not worth the time they take to download and read. If we need to be reminded of the consequences of breaking the rules, perhaps it would be better to focus on the kinds of rule-breaking that have actual consequences, rather than on consequences manufactured by people whose delicate sensibilities can't tolerate a little naughty language.|
|--Mark E. Smith|
| Cussing & Campaigns|
Many thanks to Alan Erhenhalt for exploring ("Maledictoratory") the ramifications of off-color language. But in enumerating the "uses" of swear words, he has left out their paramount role in promoting the acceptance of hypocrisy.
By teaching children they must not use words their parents and older peers use, we are sending a clear message: It is adult-like to say one thing and do another, and your behavior should conform to the situation, not to any fundamental moral principles.
Without this kind of "amoral" training, kids might grow up to be far less tolerant of the double standards and self-righteousness at the center of their society.
I am a great fan of Michael Kinsley's, but have to disagree with his article criticizing Justice Thomas' opinion on campaign-finance reform ("Money Talks").
While contributions aren't in and of themselves expression or speech, surely the First Amendment protects our right to speech and expression by banding together to support the opinions of our candidate. I am most troubled about the corrupting influence of money in Washington. I do agree that the opinion of the Supreme Court in Buckley vs. Valeo is consistent with the First Amendment, because the candidate voluntarily restricts his right to collect and spend in order to receive huge government subsidies in the form of federal matching funds.
Probably the best approach is to leave the system as is, but encourage the press to ruthlessly report and publicize the source of contributions and subsequent conduct of the politician on subjects of interest to contributors. Maybe I'm nave, but I hope the public is sophisticated enough to see through the game and support candidates of conviction who are not for sale.
|--Douglas Lamb attorney at law|
| How to Talk Dirty and Influence People|
Alan Ehrenhalt ("Maledictoratory") is right: We need swearing. But he's too hasty in mourning the demise of that art. It's alive and well in America. And not only will it survive, it will prevail, thanks to the various functions he cites (among them: emotional release, religious defiance).
More important, it will prevail because--as Aretino, Chaucer, Rabelais, and George Carlin can attest--it's fun and it's funny.
Humor is subversive and--thank Zeus!--there'll always be subversives around to tickle our funny bones and topple our bluenoses.
English as a Second F*cking Language
| Goo-Goo Eyed|
I love the magazine:
But what Americanism is "goo-goo"? ("The official goo-goo position for 20 years has been that Buckley vs. Valeo is wrong.")
Do your American readers understand this instinctively?
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
|The editors reply:"Goo-goo" is short for "good-government."|
| Black Off|
I'm glad that the editors of SLATE called up one of their London buds to do a timely piece on rap music ("Rap Victoriana," by Mark Steyn). Man, it's not like every other publication hasn't done exactly that same take about a million times. Lines like "for all it's hailed as the voice of the urban poor, 70 percent of its sales are to suburban whites," are a veritable revelation.
But there are some interesting aspects to this story, especially Mark Steyn's attempts to do what the music industry has been doing for years, reassigning the black creative spark to white roots. The misleading claim that "in [rap's] willingness to pass off individual pain as mass entertainment, it returns us to the 1890s, to the whitest popular music we've known in this country," is a critic's way of saying rap is bullshit and that blacks have forsaken what it is black music is meant to be.
That's the interesting question isn't it? Who is cultural arbiter of what is "black" and what is not? How far can blacks exploit the industry and cultural markets for the sake of their music (therefore turning white?) and still retain the title "a black artist."
London is a different world from the USA. That doesn't mean that the larger-than-life shoot-em-ups and misogyny that appear conspicuously in gangsta rap reflect a daily social condition in its most realistic form. But is it minstrelsy? Has Steyn taken the time to review the cross section of rap available on the market from its basest to its most elevated forms? There is a tendency for American (and obviously English) society to judge the actions of a minority group based on the actions of the "one representative Negro." This paradigm of social confrontation is unfortunately easily accommodated to social and cultural critiques where a few pieces of gangsta rap become the entirety of rap music.
To list three black artists and say that you will hear nothing of them in rap is completely bogus. What about A Tribe Called Quest, Guru, Digable Planets, Fugees, Big Daddy Kane, De La Soul, etc. Black music is also James Brown and P-Funk and Marvin Gaye and--a million other groups and heritages, including Jamaican influences whose importance in laying the groundwork for rap music cannot be denigrated or discarded.
Basically, this article suffers from what almost every article on rap suffers from. Either the author attempts to show how gangsta rap is dangerous (e.g. hidden message, black music, black youth are dangerous) or attempts to compare the forces motivating the art form are brought out of context (e.g. 1890s ballads) to prove some point (like calling rap "the debasement of lyric-writing to a formless laundry list of half-baked hoodlum exhibitionism." Translation: Its a useless art form and ultimately, nothing that whites haven't already done).
True, there's a lot of terrible rap music out there. But there are an amazing number of albums made by black (and even sometimes white/Latino) rappers that are packed with more lyrical insight than almost any other type of music. The cultural roots and debts that rappers owe to their predecessors are often clearly defined. It's too bad that Mr. Steyn failed to open his eyes to the resources available to him.
| Who Needs Crit Speak?|
I noted at the end of the "Varnish Remover" articles you describe Robert Shrum's task as the "deconstruction of political ads." The term "deconstruction" sounds old-fashioned in such a new, cutting-edge e-zine.
How about using a more high-tech term, like "reverse engineering" or "decompiling" instead?
| Clinton Is No Dole|
The article by Michael R. Beschloss concerning second terms ("Four More Years?") leaves me at a loss to understand his incredible and unforgiving criticism of Clinton. I had thought Beschloss was fair and analytical.
But to be so obviously pessimistic about what Clinton would do in a second term is to grossly underestimate the man.
I agree that Clinton has been at times frustrating and hard to follow. But I hardly think that damns him to a useless and wasted second term. I think that it is just as possible ... and I believe more probable ... that Clinton's second term will break the mold Beschloss describes.
It would be nice if someone like Beschloss gave as much scrutiny to Dole's severe character lapses and defects as he and others give to Clinton's. I resent the free ride Dole's getting on this issue, and the over-zealous attacks on Clinton. I've seen writers, magazines, and the liberal media showcase every author who has something negative to say or write about Clinton, but not once have I seen anyone give any time to Stanley Hilton, a former Dole aide and author of Senator for Sale. His book has much more credibility--he annotates all his sources--than that former scum with the FBI, but where is any discussion of Hilton's book, of his allegations and portraits of Dole's dishonesty and slavish devotion to any group that gives him large donations? As long as everyone in the media gives Dole a free ride and buys the Republican Big Lie about his sterling character, we are in for a very dirty campaign, one that will ignore the issues and any semblance of rational, yet passionate, discussion about the future of America and who will lead us into the next century.
| Republican Seeks Free Lunch|
I am both amused and incensed that SLATE is planning to charge a subscription fee. I am amused because it exposes the fiction that has always been perpetrated by the print-media establishment that subscription rates only pay for the distribution channel, not cost of production, not content. Advertising paid for all the rest. Well, distribution on the Web is free. Don't give me any crap about verifying circulation for advertisers. Plenty of free-circulation rags know how to do that. There are elements of dishonesty in the print media, but nowhere is it more egregious then in the commercial underpinning of their craft.
I am incensed because I expected more of Michael Kinsley. I am a moderate Republican who, over the years, has admired his verve and wit. Now, faced with a chance to set the standard for Web journalism, he foists this fraud upon us. Alas, who would have suspected that in the foreshortened existence of all things digital, idealism would be the first to die?
| Banana Rasa|
There was one thing in your inaugural issue that I found "odd." When Michael Kinsley said (in his "Readme" column, June 24) that "SLATE means nothing, practically nothing," perhaps he meant that it was just a name.
Nearly 47 years ago, when I was one year old, my parents performed a ceremony which is very common among South Indians (the Asian Indians from the sub-continent), especially the Brahmins, during which the child is initiated into learning. The child is guided by the father to write the first alphabet with the forefinger on rice spread over a banana leaf. When I started school after a few years, I remember that we used a slate (with wooden edges)! Notebooks and pen came much later.
I thought that I would share this with you.
By the way, is S LATE going to be only American? No coverage or contributions from the rest of the world?
I enjoyed Michael Kinsley's article about the recent Supreme Court case involving Colorado and the FEC ("Money Talks"). I also thought that he brought up some interesting points--but he seemed to miss the most important one. Money Talks and Bull#@*% shows up on the editorial page! I can think of no better way to get the attention of elected officials than to contribute to their campaigns. In some utopian Kinsleyan society, our public officials would listen to the voters in their districts and give everyone equal access. Hey Mike, wake up and smell the coffee! If I really want my congressman to listen, I need to contribute more than just my opinion, and the current laws are keeping me from expressing myself.
P.S. Could you please send me a pair of the rose-colored glasses you view the world through?
| Buying Elections|
Let's face it, no matter what kinds of limits cum reporting requirements you put on campaign financing ("Money Talks," by Michael Kinsley), you are going to get loopholes, chicanery, rich lawyers (to defend those accused of breaking laws only other rich lawyers can understand), etc. etc.
Thus, I believe there are two solutions, either of which purists like me believe would be a far better way to go:
A) No limits whatsoever on anybody, with the only requirement being that each and every contribution must be announced publicly and printed in the public media at a time when everyone will look for it. The voters can then judge whether they think a candidate has been "soiled" by the contribution, e.g. when and if the winner supports legislation to benefit the benefactor.
B) Total government funding of all campaigns, with no private funds permitted, even the candidate's own money. In essence, this approach says that public servants, i.e. elected officials, are employees of the people, and therefore, as employer, the people should pay all the expenses of their employees, including campaigns, salaries, staff expenses, etc. This way, there would be no doubt about what a campaign spending violation was--even $1 would qualify.
| I well realize there would have to be details worked out to make either approach work. But the result would have to be better than the current system.|
(By the way, although I work for the executive branch, I spent 18 months on Capitol Hill working as a staffer in two congressional offices and observing other offices fund raising. The consensus there was that it was a demeaning and demoralizing reality that they had to deal with, because their opponents would overcome them if they didn't. That's why we need the purist approach, in my view.)
|--Eugene D. Schmiel, Ph.D.|
| Liberal Hash|
I'm always willing to give new things a shot, so I have decided to view the first issues of SLATE just to see if it would be a new, insightful magazine, or just a reissue of the New (Microsoft) Republic.
Sadly, your zine is just a rehash of existing liberal-dominated magazines and a vindication of what the conservatives call the "liberal biased media."
Portions of your magazine are nothing more than rehashed stories (and I do mean stories) from the New York Times and the Washington Post. The supposed "in-depth" articles make a pseudo-attempt at being fair, yet save their criticism for conservative viewpoints, and in the end, endorse the same old liberal principles.
I really don't care if you decide to publish a zine with a liberal slant. After all, that is your right. However, I would have far more respect for this experiment if you stated upfront that you were representing a particular point of view. I subscribe to both the New Republic and National Review, and neither pretend to be unbiased. SLATE reminds me of a cyber-version of Time, with all the gushing, suppressed giggling of liberal fanatics thinking they have fooled the public.
Sorry to say folks, I won't spend my hard-earned money to visit your site in the future.
|--Kirt P. Mackintosh|
|Where's the Beef? Well, so this is S LATE, I thought? On the whole, I was expecting a good deal more substance, actually. I have to say I'm not impressed so far, and I don't see paying more money for a subscription fee, on top of my phone bills, and Internet-access-provider fees. If you can get the content level up to where Salon, Utne, Atlantic Monthly (AOL), or Tripod currently are, then at least I may stop back at slate.com a bit more regularly.|
|Reading mail sent to firstname.lastname@example.org continues to be an edifying experience, so keep it coming. I'll be answering the most compelling questions here each week, while a competent underling--under my direction--will be responding via e-mail to more generic questions.|
The tech desk is pleased to update you on a couple of impending new technical features in S LATE. Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) formatted printable files are almost here, as are QuickTime format (.mov) video files. And in several weeks you can look forward to sharing your comments via "The Fray," our reader-discussion forum. Finally, soon after the release of Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0, you can expect us to take advantage of its new formatting and programming features, although we'll also stay accessible to users of other major browsers.