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April 23 1998 3:30 AM

A sampler from our reader discussion forum.

Here is a sampler from Slate's "The Fray," where the market of ideas has been deregulated. Subscribers engage one another in debate, discussing news and cultural happenings and even trading gardening tips. To wit, a selection of last week's hottest topics. And of course, you can always jump right into the action. Click here to join the Fray.


Hot Threads

What did Kenneth Starr know, and when did he know it? Inquiring minds in the "Clinton and the Media" thread focused this week on the question of key Whitewater witness David Hale's possibly tainted testimony. The possibility that outside forces (notably billionaire Clinton-hater Richard Mellon Scaife) might have tampered with Starr's star witness stoked the debate. Starr's conservative defenders, naturally, chafed at the notion that they might be sidetracked in their dogged pursuit of the president. His liberal critics, on the other hand, over Starr's no-win dilemma: He must investigate his own chief witness--a course that would invite all kinds of political fusillades--or turn the process over to Janet Reno's internal investigators. Oh, and that gal back in Arkansas--Paula Jones? Her planned appeal raised scarcely a blip.

A by an unassuming fraygrant caused the venerable "Language" thread to erupt into its most intense debate ever. The topic: Does language influence culture? By week's end, the lines had been drawn, with two opposing camps staking out their turf and even coming up with labels for their positions. The Bi-Directionalists believe that language influences culture even as culture influences language; the other side avers it doesn't. The debate should segue nicely into next month's discussion of Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct in the "Reading" thread.

New Threads


"Black in America" erupted when an African-American fraygrant asked which white fraygrant would be the first to apologize to him for slavery. Affirmative action was debated, as was the question of privatizing schools: Would it collapse America's class divisions or just lead to even more problems? But the biggest firestorm erupted over test scores: How are they used? Are they obsolete? Do test-result disparities reflect just cultural-knowledge disparities?

After a slow start, the "Higher Education" thread got a shot in the arm when one fraygrant posed a. A lengthy debate ensued on vocational education programs in high schools: Are high schools the best place for them? Should some programs be moved to the post-secondary level? Should the whole lot be moved? Another topic emerged: the issue of exit exams in higher education. Which states use them, and in what fields are students tested? The focus has now shifted to The Bell Curve and its discussion of the needs of gifted students.

Fray Feud

In the "Religion" thread, one irreverent poster asked, "Is Gandhi burning in hell?" Another on why Gandhi never became a Christian despite having been possibly the best Christian of the century. This question tapped an ongoing battle between staunch conservative Christians and liberal-minded believers on topics ranging from PBS's Frontline special "From Jesus to Christ" to the interplay of politics, Christians, and gays. Not much common ground here; the battle continues.

A Feast for the Eyes

The "Arts" thread was all about the legendary art critic Clement Greenberg. The debate was inspired by Adam Gopnik's recent New Yorker review of Florence Rubenfeld's new biography, Clement Greenberg: A Life, and the Charlie Finch review in ArtNet magazine. Did Greenberg really have a great eye, or was Jackson Pollock just a lucky loser foisted on a gullible public by a bull in a china shop?

Slate's "Movies Today" dialogue between David Denby and Alex Ross has inspired some interesting posts in the "Movies and Television" thread. To illustrate their views, fraygrants posted lists of their favorite films in different genres, from the familiar to the obscure. This led to some on just what belongs on a list of favorite films. Other topics this week: What makes a sex symbol sexy, commentary on Neil Jordan's The Butcher Boy, Werner Herzog's Little Dieter Needs to Fly, and the (apparently) implicit homoeroticism in Grease.