There’s a term of art that the Obama White House uses to describe its neurotic supporters who instantly race to the worst-case scenario: They are known as “bed-wetters.” Two months into the dysfunctional life of healthcare.gov, however, that seems a perfectly appropriate physiological reaction.
They say that blogging is over—in fact one of our own writers recently made the argument. That it was just a fleeting moment in the history of opinion journalism, ultimately doomed by far more efficient modes of expression. More specifically, the theory goes, the blog post was killed by the tweet, which has allowed for further compression of thoughts and the expression of so many more of them. At the New Republic, we reenacted our own version of this small saga. When we remade our website in January, we shelved our old group blog, The Plank. Between our essays and Twitter feeds, it was hard to imagine much intellectual space (or writerly time) for short commentary. We theorized that a blog post could either be reduced to 140 characters or expanded to a full-fledged piece.Then something strange happened. A few months later, we found ourselves unexpectedly nostalgic for The Plank. The blog had been a common room for the staff, where we could argue with each other. What’s more, The Plank had served as one of our most important vehicles for engaging the world—to quickly comment on events and to comment on the commentary about those events. It turns out that we misjudged the lasting value of the blog: we had grown accustomed to the form, to its casual tone and polemical potential; there was an essayistic style that we belatedly discovered was indigenous to the genre.Fortunately, the beauty of the Internet is that it has the power to resurrect. So, today, we present the new, old Plank. It will be in some ways different from its last incarnation. In addition to The Plank's venerable obsessions with politics and policy, it will feature more writing on science, society, technology, high culture, and the popular stuff. But it's still the kind of place you can have a robust, many-sided debate about a topic like, say, the end of the end of blogs.
The president on his enemies, the media, and the future of football
The president holds forth about his enemies, the media, and the future of football. And skeet shooting, too.
It seems an historical accident that The Washington Post op-ed page—home to George F. Will, where Henry Kissinger comes to muse—gave birth to one of the great underground comics. But the legendary curator of that page, Meg Greenfield, had a rare (for an editorialist) streak of adventure that occasionally pointed her in the opposite direction of bow-tied bloviating.
Some years, the calendar unfolds beneficently. The summer comes wide and open, leaving many hours to peel away from work to watch the World Cup or the Euros. Then, there are other summers, like this one, when you have a new job that chews away all possibility for furtive ventures to the Lucky Bar to watch Poland play Greece. Since I’ve only been back at The New Republic for a few weeks now, I’d be committing professional malpractice to fully cave to the implacable desire to watch every minute of this coming tournament.
Masscult and Midcult: Essays Against the American Grain By Dwight Macdonald Edited by John Summers (New York Review Books, 289pp., $16.95) Dwight Macdonald, the greatest American hatchet man, applied his merciless craft also to himself. When he collected his essays, he added footnotes, appendices, and other forms of addenda taking issue with his own writings.
When the commentators on ESPN describe our women’s World Cup team, they talk about “grit” and “heart.” Of course, any ESPN listener understands that these words are code. What they are really saying is, the U.S. keeps winning, and stands poised to tally its third title on Sunday, despite being not that great. The particular iteration is weaker than the Mia Hamm era teams. They barely qualified for this tournament and have rarely looked like the world’s best.
Just Words: Lillian Hellman, Mary McCarthy, and the Failure of Public Conversation in America By Alan Ackerman (Yale University Press, 361 pp., $35) Mary McCarthy preferred the old-fashioned way. You might not know this from her three divorces and the anatomical precision of her bedroom scenes, but she had a strong streak of cultural conservatism. She rejected feminism and lamented the disappearance of Latin from the schoolhouse. The modern fascination with technology annoyed her.