Policy made plain.
April 13 1997 3:30 AM

Slate: A Fashion Statement


We certainly don't intend to be a magazine of fashion, either in the sense of being about clothing or in the sense of following the fashion in general matters. Yet, by one of those weird coincidences that less scrupulous publications sometimes turn into "special issues," we have posted two features relating to fashion (in the clothing sense) this week, and will post a third Wednesday.

Our "Letter From Washington" concerns an admirable (but possibly doomed) campaign to improve the style sense on the Microsoft campus. Our "Tangled Web" column reports on (and follows, through links) the bizarre theories bouncing around the Internet about the unlikely figure of Tommy Hilfiger, producer of somewhat mysterious ads in many magazines and, apparently, of a line of clothing as well. Wednesday (April 16) brings "Clothes Sense," our regular monthly column from Anne Hollander. Anne's subject this month isn't exactly clothes--she writes about a show of Cartier jewelry at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. But that's still fashion.

You would assume, from this onslaught of sartorial hectoring, that the staff of Slate must dress in exquisite taste. And you would be correct. Any one of us could be transported from this sylvan landscape in Redmond, Wash., strewn with cow chips, computer chips, and potato chips, to the haughty elevators of the Condé Nast Building on Madison Avenue, and instantly fit right in--stylewise, at least. We pride ourselves on our fabrics. The staffs of other magazines have spats; we wear them. Other magazines employ heels; we wear them. Not long ago, Bill Gates saw one of Slate's program managers, Peter Randall, walking across the campus, and observed, to no one in particular, "I'd kill for that tie." But that turned out not to be necessary.

Lawyer Cake


If you haven't checked in since last week, two new "Dialogues" have started. And a couple more might have started by the time you read this. Ronald Dworkin, professor of jurisprudence at Oxford, is debating assisted suicide with Michael McConnell, who recently left the University of Chicago Law School for the University of Utah. Peter Edelman, a former Clinton-administration official who has become the most vocal critic of the welfare reform President Clinton signed last year, is being challenged by Mickey Kaus, author of The End of Equality, who supports the reform. Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School will be engaging Akhil Reed Amar of Yale Law School on whether the truth gets short shrift in America's criminal-justice system. (Dershowitz recently reviewed Amar's book on this subject for Slate.) And Gary Bauer, head of the Family Research Council, will be engaging Wendell Willkie II, general counsel of the Commerce Department under George Bush, on the subject of human rights and trade with China.

Coming soon: Undersecretary of State Strobe Talbott and the managing editor of Foreign Affairs, Fareed Zakaria, on U.S. support for the expansion of NATO. (Read our recent "Gist" on this subject if you need to get up to speed.)

These dialogues, conducted by e-mail, are fulfilling our hope that they would develop into a new mode of civilized debate. E-mail (at its best) combines the immediacy of talking with the reflectiveness of writing. It also seems to lend itself--more than "live" debates--to actual dialectical progress. Slate's dialogues tend to feature not just thesis and antithesis, but a bit of synthesis as well. (Occasionally, of course, a dialogue serves to reveal the utter superiority of one side of the argument, as in the recent discussion of the capital-gains tax.)

Often, we've discovered, the best way to frame an interesting and useful dialogue is not to get a liberal vs. a conservative, but to get two people from roughly the same part of the spectrum who disagree on the application of their shared values to a particular issue. In our current lineup, Willkie and Bauer are both conservatives, while Dershowitz and Amar are both liberals. But we're not beyond the occasional ideological dust-up, such as the recently concluded exchange on divorce between Katha Pollitt and David Blankenhorn.

We do seem to end up with a lot of lawyers. Sorry about that.

--Michael Kinsley