2000 Bottles of Beer on the Wall

We tried to hold off–honest we did. As a service to civic sanity, Slate earnestly intended to delay launching our heavy election-year political coverage until November 1999. That would be a full year before the election, which ought to be enough time for citizens to read 10-to-20 books on current issues, study the candidates’ platforms, listen to half a dozen debates, and make the kind of thoughtful decision our Founding Fathers intended. Certainly no citizen outside the media-political complex has been complaining that a year of presidential politics is not enough.

But we give in. The presidential campaign is going full-throttle and the nomination races, at least, might well be over by a year before the actual election. Others in the media are covering the election as if it were a mere, say, 11 months away. So we will too, starting this week. (And if others in the media went and jumped off a cliff, would we do it too? Yes, probably.) Although blame for this development is ordinarily pinned on states like California, greedy for attention, that have front-end-loaded the primary system, the media themselves are also to blame, along with political consultants, pollsters, and so on, all of whom have a vested interest in the “permanent campaign” (a concept used in a book title, if not actually invented, by Sidney Blumenthal, but not necessarily invalid for that reason alone). Thanks to the election industry, politics are now available year-round, like strawberries. And if you remember politics tasting sweeter before it got industrialized, that’s probably just your imagination.

Our chief political correspondent, Jacob Weisberg, has spent the past year writing cultural criticism under the rubric “The Browser.” He was hoping to spend a few more months gazing at paintings and reading novels before lowering his sights, but now he has loyally abandoned art for life. Jacob is already filing political analysis and reportage several times a week under the rubric “Ballot Box” (the latest addition to our collection of Boxes). If you missed his amusing dispatches from the Iowa Straw Poll this past weekend, it’s not too late.

Early next week, we’ll be launching “Office 2000” (catchy, don’cha think?), our official Slate election page. Among its offerings will be:

  • Links and an opinionated guide to the day’s best political stories on the Web.
  • Links and shameless touting for all Slate’s current political stories (whether they’re the best or not).
  • A daily joke, crafted by the finest humor artisans from the freshest material available.
  • Mark Alan Stamaty’s weekly animated cartoon.
  • Our daily chart of candidate prices in the Iowa Electronic Market, graphed against Slate’s own Pundits Index. Not to be confused with last weekend’s bogus straw poll, the Iowa Market (a product of the University of Iowa business school) trades “stock” in candidates. It’s slightly complicated (click here for an explanation), but the point is to see if the invisible hand of capitalism can beat the gasbags at predicting election results.
  • Links galore to the campaign Web sites, media, and other useful stuff for politics junkies.

Shortly after Labor Day, we’ll be launching a new column, “Net Election,” published by Slate in conjunction with the Industry Standard, “the newsmagazine of the Internet economy.” Slate will supply a weekly political analysis of the election as it’s playing out on the Web, and our friends at the Industry Standard will supply a weekly business analysis–who’s buying ads on what sites, and so on. By common consent, 2000 will be the Internet’s first grown-up election: the first where the Web and e-mail are expected to play a serious role. So maybe it’s OK by us after all that the whole thing is starting so early.

Frayed Nerves

“The Fray,” Slate’s reader discussion forum, has been transformed, effective this week: new technology, new user interface, new rules of the road. Our readers send us piles of clever and insightful e-mail messages, responding to what they read in Slate. Part of our purpose in redesigning The Fray is to get more of this brilliance out where it can be shared with other readers and possibly incite an even more brilliant response. To that end, we have 1) made The Fray free of charge and available to all Slate readers; 2) created discussion threads related to specific Slate departments and articles rather than general topics; 3) provided links at the end of each article allowing you to post a message reacting to that article and/or to read how others have reacted or replied. Every posting can start a new discussion thread, or extend an ongoing discussion, or “branch off” an ongoing discussion to take it in a new direction. Especially wise or witty responses will be reprinted or excerpted on the article page itself.

The philosophical point here is that many people (we hope) would enjoy engaging in a vigorous discussion of something they have just read but have no special interest in joining an online “community,” which is the usual emphasis of Web site bulletin boards. If you want to join our community, you’re very welcome, and you can treat The Fray like any other BBS. Here is a link to all our current discussions, including a general discussion, a discussion for Fraygrants (regulars in the “Old Fray”), and a discussion of technical issues. But if you simply want to tell us how wrong we are about something, you can skip all that and post a message from the offending page itself.

You E-Mail Us, We’ll E-Mail You

We’ve also revamped our e-mail auto-deliveries to give you more choices. To get your favorite parts of Slate delivered to your inbox (without getting the parts you can’t stand), you must be a subscriber. But it’s only $19.95 a year and you get a free gift and blah, blah, blah. (Have I made the sale? Subscribe here. Thanks.) Subscribers may choose any or all of the following e-mail editions:


Daily delivery of “Today’s Papers,” plus a selection from “International Papers,” “The Week/The Spin,” and “In Other Magazines.”


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Monday through Friday, all our political stuff.

News Quiz

And only “News Quiz,” Monday through Thursday.

Slate on Paper

You want the whole thing? OK, here it is as a Word document, formatted to look like an old-fashioned paper magazine and e-mailed (as an attachment) every Friday.

At Your Service

Finally, in case you’re having trouble keeping straight all the wonderful things Slate is doing for you, our readers, check out our new and improved ” Reader Services” pages. You will find it hard to believe that any single magazine, let alone a Webzine, could be so profuse in its offerings and so loving toward its readers.