SLATE World.

Policy made plain.
Aug. 17 1996 3:30 AM

SLATE World.

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(891 words; posted Friday, Aug. 16; to be composted Friday, Aug. 23)
SLATEWORLD

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When the editor of this publication worked at the New Republic magazine, a colleague once asked him to help think up a fictional magazine to illustrate the trend toward appealing to ever-smaller slices of the demographic pie (American Flutist, Tire Tread Monthly, Cooking for Neurosurgeons, Suburban Des Moines Business Review, Pregnant Surfer, and so on). His nomination: New Republic World: the magazine for readers of the New Republic."Readme" seemed to be turning into just such a self-referential offering: a Web page for readers of S LATE. (The real SLATEobsessives, of course, gravitate toward "Ask Bill Barnes," our techie Q and A.) That's OK; we've decided to go with it. Henceforth, "Readme" will consist of weekly snippets of SLATEnews, combined with occasional brief glances at the world beyond. If the editor has anything substantive to say (such as this week's reflection on Jack Kemp's intellect), he'll say it on some other page.

The American people want change.

Two big changes in SLATEthis week:

A new home page combining our cover and table of contents. We liked having a cover, like a real, grown-up magazine, and so, it seems, did our readers with fast Internet connections. But many of those with slower connections objected to the double download--and some were missing the contents page entirely. Inspired by the generous, inclusive spirit of the Republican Convention, we have decided to address the interests of those with 14.4 modems. The new cover/contents page is compressed to require less scrolling, and should download faster, too. To be honest, this has involved a sacrifice of aesthetics and elbow room. (Our art director had to be dragged out kicking and screaming, so don't blame him.) But we hope you'll think it's worth it.

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"The Fray" has begun. That's our reader-discussion forum. Starting this week, selected S LATE articles will end with an "Enter the Fray" hotlink, leading to a discussion of that particular article. There are more general discussions going on, too. You can discuss S LATE articles, S LATE aesthetics, S LATE technology, S LATE writers and editors (be nice!), S LATE and Microsoft, or even--if you insist--subjects having nothing to do with SLATE. Now that we have "The Fray," we're discontinuing "E-mail to the Editors," at least for now. (You can still e-mail us at letters@slate.com, but if you want your thoughts to be posted for other readers to see, use "The Fray.")

Tales? Least? Seatl?

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If there's anything nicer than talking about yourself, it's other people talking about you. We at SLATEhave been enjoying a Web site called, mysteriously, Stale (at www.stale.com), which some people feel bears a certain similarity to our product. Bill Gates said, "I will stop at nothing to get this vicious imitation of S LATE off the Internet. Have them killed. No, wait, pay them $5 million." We explained to him that either solution would violate freedom of the Web. He said, "OK, then have them killed." We noted that this would only confirm people's unfair preconceptions about Microsoft. "Then offer them $10 million," he said. Sadly, they are no doubt far too principled to accept.

The Sound-bite Culture

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What does it take to be finally and irredeemably discredited in today's political culture? The case of Ed Rollins is the ultimate test of that question. (Well, maybe Nixon was the ultimate test. But Rollins is the penultimate test.) Rollins is the political consultant who told reporters that Christie Whitman's campaign for governor of New Jersey, which he managed, had paid cash to black clergymen to discourage their flock from voting, then admitted that he'd made it all up. This episode thus combined Rollins' three character attributes: dishonesty, disloyalty, and desperation for attention. Yet his penance lasted about a week before he was once again sought out by media bookers and quote scavengers. The New Jersey episode confirmed Rollins as someone who "gives good sound bite." Lying spectacularly just makes you "controversial," which is prized. Now Rollins is out with a book, Bare Knuckles and Back Rooms (Broadway Books). Billed as a political memoir, it is being marketed as a collection of feisty sound bites. Although Ross Perot and Arianna Huffington are perhaps not the most sensitive souls around, it's hard not to feel sympathy for people who paid Rollins large sums of money for losing campaigns, and now find themselves pilloried by him as "an extremely dangerous demagogue" and "a domineering Greek Rasputin" (respectively). This illustrates another odd aspect of the sound-bite culture: Although it's good to be "outspoken"--a frequent Rollins accolade--it's bad to say anything truly original. Bite seekers want reliability, not surprises. Rollins' publisher bought a full-page ad in the NewYorkTimes to tantalize us with Rollins' observations that, e.g., Nancy Reagan "was the most feared person in the White House," and Bill Clinton "is a superlative campaigner but a lousy leader." A more interesting book, you might think, would be one revealing that, in person, Ross Perot and Arianna Huffington are charming and modest, or arguing that Clinton is a lousy campaigner but a great leader. And Rollins no doubt would write that book if necessary. Instead, though, he's busy being quoted about Jack Kemp. "Even this good friend of Mr. Kemp's describes him as 'a total pain,' " said the New York Times last Sunday.

Michael Kinsley is a columnist for the Washington Post and the founding editor of Slate.

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