"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 28 June 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Wiping the Slate Clean


[Euro Riot]

It's the principle that governs

both soccer riots and internal

mailing list bellyaching -

schoolhouse mischief is easy if

the rest of the class is doing

it anyway. So we're hardly

surprised that the pestiferous

peal of nails scraping

blackboard echoed throughout the

net this week, as new media

would-be toughs dogpiled on the

new kid on the block. The teasing started

long ago - he had hardly unpacked his

bags before the first noogie was

cracked, and he was beat up

regularly even before his first



[Doll House]

But the vector of the vitriol

aimed at Slate is, of course,

off the mark - nothing more than

snottiness on autopilot, a

perverse form of initiation

rivalling de-pantsing in both

maturity and wit. Obviously,

under normal circumstances, we'd

be the first ones to applaud

such behavior, if not the first

to engage in it.



For once, we advise caution. This

particular newbie may look

scrawny and act befuddled, but

he comes from a rich

neighborhood, and he's a quick

study. His coy pleonasm hides a

wealth of willpower, animus,

and, well, wealth - we're

reminded of an arrogant but

all-too-accurate college cheer

(familiar to anyone whose degree

cost more than many

single-family homes): "That's

alright, that's okay, you're

going to work for us someday."


If it's true that media is like

the weather, then either

Microsoft's put together one of

the finest forecast teams ever,

or they're extraordinarily

adept at harnessing the wind.

Either way, we're positive that

it'll be Kinsley still standing

after the storm subsides.


[Bill Gates]

Sure, lobbing potshots through

the clue gaps of Slate's

decidedly un-Web interface and

playing "guess the research

source" for its retreaded essay

topics is easy and fun. And as

for its much-vaunted "Does

Microsoft Play Fair" roundtable -

well, Altavista could produce

deeper criticism than what the

gathered industry shills

spouted. But those who write off

Slate on the basis of this first

issue are essentially putting

out bug reports, not product




Microsoft's workman-like approach

to creating original content

seems laughable at first - the

company approaches putting out a

magazine exactly as they would

putting out a software package,

right down to hiring the man

behind Microsoft Works as

"publisher" of the yet-unnamed,

yet-undefined product. It's not

just that they've left

themselves room to upgrade, but,

like a word-processing package,

Slate is more of a medium than a

message... its ideological slant

isn't presented so much as

implied, its utility is less

that of a source than a



Given its mediumness, perhaps

it's expected that online

critics have taken so much

pleasure in pointing out that

Slate takes little "advantage"

of the Web. If they're referring

to its unfriendly download

times and radically unbrowsable

navigation - well, page

numbers have worked for books for a

long time and, obviously, Slate

on Paper is going to be how

people will actually read the

thing. Slate.com is only a

detour, a distraction from the

Starbuck's distribution deal,

which itself is the surest

guarantee of page views since

Net Search.



Others have whined that it's

Slate's editorial inattention to

its own medium that's the

problem: there's no industry

coverage, really, and the few

links included are either buried

or "jokes." Certainly, there's

little in content or

presentation which couldn't

appear in the non-virtual pages

of Newsweek or the New Yorker or

the New Republic. Indeed, most

of Slate - in some form or

another - already has. This is

explicit in The Week/The Spin

and In Other Magazines - our

favorite sections - but the rest

of Slate shows signs of

gentle repurposing as well:

"Down-sizing Downsizing"

revisits a New Yorker piece

from March, the Miss Manners

review covers the same territory

as Spy's recent Martha Stewart

expose, and "A Bad End" is a

Roget-aided rewrite of a

month-old Entertainment Weekly



We happen to think this is

a strategy (not shovelware so much

as studied garbagology) that will

work. Kinsley and company are

selling high-brow cultural

Cliff's Notes, and 20 bucks is

cheap compared to the time you

might spend keeping up

otherwise. Some argue that

Kinsley siphoned style and

approach from Salon, but Slate

appears to be a website for

people who don't read. People

like us.



Indeed, we may be suffering from a

fit of solipsism (must be those

California strawberries we ate),

but we actually find much of

ourselves in Slate. Aside from

our shared aversion to our

shared medium, there's a deeper

resonance - an arch dismissal of

common sense, an eagerness to

beat a dead horse until we rouse

its ghost. Where we part is only

in our methods.



The situation has an unlikely

analog within the pages of Slate

itself - an anecdote in David O.

Russell's contribution, a

two-day excerpt from his Diary:

Chip Brown's dinner party last   
night. There's a really          
successful cardio-surgeon there  
who also happens to be very      
handsome. The combination is     
enough to make you want to punch 
the guy. But he turns out to be  
a nice guy. Which is another     
reason to punch him. We debate   
methods for changing our         
children's poopie diapers, and I 
am advocating the bare hand      
method (with warm water at the   
sink), versus the aloe-loaded    
wet wipes...[the discussion      
eventually] leads to his         
declaration that toilet paper    
gives you hemorrhoids, that it's  
better to use your hand.         

Well, of course it is - and if

this tale is anything to go by,

Slate will be coming around


courtesy of Ann O'Tate