Dynamist Blog

The Queen of Weak Ties

I finally broke down and set up a Facebook page. One of the friends I invited was Joel Garreau, who concidentally enough published an article in Saturday's WaPost on the very subject now weighing on my mind: the expanded, and sometimes awkward, definition of friendship in the era of social networking sites.

By the definitions Joel suggests at the end of the piece, I can't say I have many friends--certainly nobody I'd ask to drive me to the airport. Facebook may suit me, however, since I am, as Professor Postrel says, the Queen of Weak Ties. (See this article for what that means.) But should I let all my weak ties, or the weak ties of my weak ties, be Facebook friends?

The Rather Difficult Font Game

Demonstrating that I know a little about fonts and a lot about taking multiple choice tests, I managed a 24 out of 34. Take it here.

Good Question

"Do Democrats--whether in the rank and file or in the egghead brigades--really think that Pennsylvania's (or Ohio's, of Michigan's) lack of industrial jobs has anything to do with Colombia? Or even NAFTA for that matter? For starters, manufacturing employment peaked in the U.S. in 1979."

That's Nick Gillespie in a detailed post on the Dems' depressing embrace of anti-trade demagoguery. The comments suggest that Hit & Run readers are just as susceptible as Clinton and Obama, and more passionate.

UPDATE: This WaPost editorial points to a pattern: "Yet another Democratic adviser is in trouble for having more common sense that his candidate -- or at least, more than his candidate has the courage to admit having."

Obama's Smoking

If you read Dreams from My Father, you'll discover that Obama is--or was--a serious smoker. Cigarettes appear as props in many of his memories. He's always stubbing them out or puffing on them to punctuate emotional points.

For the presidential campaign, he supposedly quit, but ABC's Jake Tapper recounts how he caught him backsliding (or smelling like he had), only to have the campaign categorically deny the candidate's cigarette habit. Now, however, Obama has 'fessed up, sort of. Not much of a scandal, if you ask me, but it does emphasize how public figures risk trouble if they try to carve out a backstage life that contradicts their public image. Once upon a time, Jackie Kennedy could be a chain smoker (and a fingernail-biter) and prevent anyone from catching her on film. And don't get me started on her glamorous husband's off-stage activities.

Creeping Censorship and the Superpowered Elite

I'm reading The Ten-Cent Plague, a history of the 1950s campaign against comic books (excerpt here, NYTBR review here). It's a bit sober--not as passionate or psychologically insightful as Gerard Jones's Men of Tomorrow--but author David Hajdu's account does create a sense of dread as you go. Again and again, would-be censors mount campaigns to ban comic books, only to fizzle out. But the reader knows that they'll eventually succeed. The book ends with 14 pages of names of "artists, writers, and others who never again worked on comics after the purge of the 1950s."

It's hard now to imagine how seriously mid-century intellectual elites took anti-comics arguments, but the NYTBR's Dwight Garner has dug up a great artifact to prove the point: a glowing review of Seduction of the Innocent, published in the NYTBR and written by none other than heavy-hitting sociologist C. Wright Mills, one of left's leading intellectual lights.

Warning: Cloying But Catchy Song

Disneyland is revamping the "It's a Small World" ride to accommodate today's fatter passengers on its boats and, more controversially, to include Disney characters among the anonymous dancing dolls. Here's my response to charges that Disney characters represent "gross desecration of the ride's original theme" (or, more accurately, my response to the theme itself).

And, for those who can stand it, here's Walt's TV tour of the original ride.

Obama's Glamour

Barack Obama has brought glamour back to American politics--to his obvious political advantage. But glamour of all sorts is a beautiful illusion. As I write in an article for The Atlantic's website, however, Obama's glamour "also poses special problems for the candidate and, if he succeeds, for the country."

Though he never uses the word glamour, Jonathan Rauch has a thoughtful take on the same phenomenon.

And in a pre-Oscar story, the WaPost's Robin Givhan did a masterful job of separating glamour from other celebrity attributes. She concluded the piece with a look at political glamour, including more than a hint of her own susceptibility to Obama's spell:

In the political world, Barack Obama has glamour. Bill Clinton has charisma. And Hillary Clinton has an admirable work ethic. Bill Clinton could convince voters that he felt their pain. Hillary Clinton reminds them detail by detail of how she would alleviate it. Glamour has a way of temporarily making you forget about the pain and just think the world is a beautiful place of endless possibilities.

Ronald Reagan evoked glamour. His white-tie inaugural balls and morning-coat swearing-in were purposefully organized to bring a twinkle back to the American psyche. George W. Bush has charisma, a.k.a. the likability factor, although it does not appear to be helping his approval rating now. Still, he remains a back-slapper and bestower of nicknames.

Charisma is personal. Glamour taps into a universal fairy tale. It's unconcerned with the nitty-gritty. Instead, it celebrates the surface gloss. And sometimes, a little shimmer can be hard to resist.

I wrote about glamour vs. charisma here.

Finally, I highly recommend Obama's memoir Dreams from My Father. It's well-written, wasn't conceived as a campaign book, and provides unusual insights into the Obama's psychology and view of the world.

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