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Okay, Pete Seeger may just be cooler than Obama. Maybe cooler than Dylan.

My favorite verse, which I don’t think I’ve ever heard before, begins “In the squares of the city,” a little over two minutes in. The dig at private property that follows ain’t bad either.

(via EOTAW, via Unfogged.)

UPDATE: I’m leaving the first video link to memorialize the irony TMK pointed out in comments — that HBO was lame enough to force YouTube to take down a song decrying private property in the name of a better America. Zoiks.

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google_zeitgeist_2008.pngYesterday Google released its “Zeitgeist 2008” report, a supposed picture of global Internet interests — at least via one monolithic search engine. The news isn’t all that surprising: Sarah Palin was more searched for worldwide than Obama; and lots of tweens use the Web, as the high profile given the Jonas Brothers would attest.

In an “About New York” column in yesterday’s paper, Jim Dwyer reported that Google had released a more specific top 10 list for New York City searches:

It turns out that New Yorkers are looking for something a bit
different. On a list of the 10 subjects that posted the greatest
increases this year, the country as a whole was looking for Fox News
and information about David Cook, the “American Idol” champion.

Neither made the New York list. Then again, the national list did not have 2 of the city’s top 10: Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus architecture school, and the Large Hadron Collider, a 17-mile circular underground tunnel in Switzerland that was built to smash protons into each other at 99.999999 percent of the speed of light.

doubt someone out in cyberspace can explain the surge of interest this
year in Gropius, who has been dead since 1969 and has only one
structure of any note in the city, the former Pan Am building.

collider is easier to understand. There were worries that the crash of
protons would instantly create a black hole, but in good news that was
widely overlooked at the time, no hole appeared — or is it disappeared?
— on Sept. 10, the day the machine was turned on. Search-engine
interest in the collider promptly dropped off, as people pointed their
anxieties and inquiries toward “Wall Street.” (The collider is
currently on the fritz, as is Wall Street.)

What someone out in cyberspace hasn’t provided, though, are the other eight items on the NYC top ten list. Such results aren’t to be found on the official site. Nor do they pop up when I try any other number of Google searches to find them. All we know is that they aren’t Fox or Idol. (And I have a hunch that the Hadron Collider’s popularity on NY Web searches has to do with the fact that the scare went viral among city public school science classes: both my kids came home talking about it in worried tones. Good thing the Jonas Brothers were there to allay their fears.)

The Times‘s City Room blog also reported on the NYCentric results, but only by incestuously citing the Dwyer article. Nothing new fit to print on line, apparently.

Any guesses what the other items would be? And any idea how we can get the rest of that list? Dwyer didn’t respond to email I sent him yesterday.

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Later this morning I’ll be giving the last lecture of my Conversations of the West class, wrapping up the course’s treatment of how Moby-Dick engages with its cultural inheritances from the ancient Greek, Biblical, and early modern English traditions. I’ll try to tie it all in the end to what Barack Obama calls “deliberative democracy,” in which “all citizens are required to engage in a process of testing their ideas against an external reality, persuading others of their point of view, and building shifting alliances of consent.” (As we’ve noted here before, Moby-Dick is reputedly Obama’s favorite novel.) “Deliberative democracy,” which Obama writes about in The Audacity of Hope, sounds a lot like the conception of cosmopolitanism that we’ve been exploring in my course: in fact, you could think of it as applied cosmopolitanism.

The last word will go, however, to someone whom I suspect very few of you have heard of, the post-punk laptop rapper MC Lars. I’ll show his music video, Ahab, which you can watch below. Fans of Moby-Dick will be impressed, I think, by just how well Lars’s song gets at major ideas in the novel.

But that won’t be the last song of the course: that honor goes, of course, to Led Zeppelin.

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It was nice to see Secretary of State-designee Hillary Clinton acknowledge the citizens of her adopted state at President-Elect Obama’s press conference on Monday. Obama had described Clinton’s appointment as “a sign to friend and foe of the seriousness of
my commitment to renew American diplomacy and restore our alliances.”

Clinton began her remarks this way:

Mr. President-elect, thank you for this honor. If confirmed, I will
give this assignment, your administration, and our country my all. I
also want to thank my fellow New Yorkers who have, for eight years,
given me the joy of a job I love with the opportunity to work on issues
I care about deeply in a state that I cherish.

And you’ve also helped prepare me well for this new role.
After all, New Yorkers aren’t afraid to speak their minds and do so in
every language.

Speaking their minds, and in every language — and being willing to listen: that’s cosmopolitanism. Are you listening, Rudy Giuliani?

You can see a video of Obama’s announcement of his national security team and Clinton’s remarks below:

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Call Me Barack

I know the election is over and we’re supposed to be getting back to history as usual, but there’s no way we’re not blogging this.

Yglesias thought what set him apart was his comic book collecting, and I’ll agree that’s cool. (But Spidey? Conan? Not earning points with this DC kid.)

What makes this man great is his choice for favorite novel: Moby-Dick.

[Begin weird English professor victory dance.]

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Highlights from some of my favorite bloggers’ reactions to the news that we won the election:

Jeremiah Moss, from Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York (my favorite anti-gentrification blog), has a great account of the spontaneous parades that could be heard roaming below 14th street until 3 am on the 5th. He was at Union Square for the sing-along I posted a video of the other day. From his post, composed around 2:30 in the morning:

In the streets of New York, crowds are still cheering, shouting “Yes, we can!”
Cars honk their horns. People bang pots and pans. They cannot stop.
Don’t want to stop. When the announcement came over the television that
he had been elected, cheers erupted from the streets. A crowd gathered
on 8th Street and 1st Avenue, taking over the intersection. Police
pushed them back here and there, but otherwise left the celebration

People in cars stopped and the crowd rushed to shake their hands and kiss them through open windows.

Garbage men riding the backs of honking trucks waved and pumped their fists.

City bus drivers honked and slowed down so passengers could stick their hands from the windows and high-five the people on the street.

At Union Square, the park was packed. People climbed lamp posts and hoisted flags atop. We sang God Bless America. We chanted “U-S-A” and “Yes, We Can” and “O-Ba-Ma!” Strangers hugged and kissed strangers.

celebration went on and on, a wave that rose and fell, then rose again,
for hours and hours. Down side streets and avenues, in pockets of
jubilant people.

For Jeremiah’s photos of the night — a fantastic set of images — click here.

Alex at Flaming Pablum (which has its own recurring feature on NYC’s Vanishing Downtown) has my favorite rubbing-it-in image:

Alex also has one of my favorite Obama/pop culture mashups as part of his GOTV post:


(Sidenote: As his penchant for Bowie imagery would suggest, Alex is a serious 70s rock aficionado, with a specialty in the NYC downtown scene. If you wander over to his site, don’t miss his series of posts on NYC in rock videos and on album covers. I thought I’d throw that in since I know some of our readers share similar tastes.)

Gowanus Lounge collects accounts and photos of Obama celebrations in Brooklyn; Gothamist reports on arrests from one such street party in Williamsburg. (h/t to Jeremiah for the last two.)

Meanwhile, our friend MaNNaHaTTaMaMMa posts on intergenerational euphoria spilling over into other areas of life.

Are there other accounts from NYC blogs you think we should know about?

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jesusobama.jpgI know you’re probably tempted to regard the McCain campaign as comedy, say in it attempts to paint Obama a socialist for supporting a graduated income tax — the same sort of tax plan McCain himself has defended in the past. And certainly their campaign — the moose-hunter in particular — has provided fodder for humorists (including NY’s finest — well, this season at least).

In case you need a little more humor to fill those gaps between refreshing fivethirtyeight.com a dozen times a day, consider this terrific bit about Park Slope parents from my friend A White Bear:

I keep hearing parents around here making a new threat when their
kids misbehave, and it’s working. They don’t threaten not to take them
to Balthazar or not to buy them that Eames chair they so wanted. They
threaten them with Barack Obama’s disappointment in them.

“What would Barack Obama say if he saw you treating your brother that way?”
“If you don’t stop hitting me, you won’t get to watch the Barack Obama debate tonight.”
“Do you think Malia and Sasha act like that? No, they don’t.”

The rest of the post here (and yes, that’s me she references in the first paragraph).

For more Park Slope election oddities, check this out. I’d bet those houses don’t get a lot of Halloween action this year: too scary for the kids!

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John McCain and Sarah Palin, in the latest installment of their occasionally uncomfortable joint interview with Brian Williams, offer their definitions of “elites”:

WILLIAMS: Who is a member of the elite?

PALIN: Oh, I guess just people who think that they’re better than
anyone else. And– John McCain and I are so committed to serving every
American. Hard-working, middle-class Americans who are so desiring of
this economy getting put back on the right track. And winning these
wars. And America’s starting to reach her potential. And that is
opportunity and hope provided everyone equally. So anyone who thinks
that they are– I guess– better than anyone else, that’s– that’s my
definition of elitism.

WILLIAMS: So it’s not education? It’s not income-based? It’s–

PALIN: Anyone who thinks that they’re better than someone else.

WILLIAMS: –a state of mind? It’s not geography?

PALIN: ‘Course not.

WILLIAMS: Senator?

MCCAIN: I– I know where a lot of ’em live. (LAUGH)

WILLIAMS: Where’s that?

MCCAIN: Well, in our nation’s capital and New York
. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived there. I know the town. I know– I know
what a lot of these elitists are. The ones that she never went to a
cocktail party with in Georgetown. I’ll be very frank with you. Who think that they can dictate what they believe to America rather than let Americans decide for themselves.

I suppose we could have seen that coming. Too bad no one lives in that Pennsylvania cornfield where Flight 93 went down, or they just might be targets too. Oh, wait …

So I find their answers interesting, in part because I’ve heard myself saying more than once this season: “What’s wrong with arugula anyway?”  But of course that must mean I’m an elitist too. Real, men, apparently, only eat iceburg lettuce purchased at a Super Walmart. Oh, wait … apparently even Walmart stocks the funny green stuff these days. Elitists!

Sure there are some folks in NYC who take their food snobbery out on the rest of the country. My friend A White Bear has great anecdotes in this vein from her shifts at the Park Slope Food Co-op, involving annoying co-workers who poo-poo middle-Americans for their poor taste in cheese — as if every rural Kansan has a world-class fromogier within a couple minutes’ drive. (The fact that they don’t must be what’s really the matter with Kansas.) And certainly there are a lot of people who live here who talk loudly, sometimes when tourists are close enough to overhear, that they can’t imagine living anywhere else. (By the same token, tourists are often overheard saying loudly that they might be having a good time on their visit, but they can’t imagine living here.)

And I’ll admit it: I’ve identified emotionally at times–in spite of the fact that my ability to live in Manhattan has nothing to do with money and everything to do with a million happy accidents I couldn’t have coordinated if I’d wanted to–with the old Talking Heads song “The Big Country,” from their second album, More Songs about Buildings and Food (1978). The speaker is in a plane, flying over the mid-West (which apparently includes everything west of the Hudson). Looking down at all the ballfields and driveways he launches into the chorus:

I wouldn’t live there if you paid me.
I couldn’t live like that, no siree!
I couldn’t do the things the way those people do.
I couldn’t live there if you paid me to.

Guilty as charged? Maybe. But I’ve had my moments of nostalgia for the sort of Sam Shepard world I grew up in, too. I only wish the bulk of the people there didn’t think Obama is literally the anti-Christ, foretold by Scripture to wage war on Israel and usher in a one-world state. Don’t they know how to read? To sift information? Can’t they ask their fromagier for political advice? Oh, wait …

All this waffling (Am I an elitist? Am I above that? Does thinking I’m above it make me an elitist anyway?) and referencing old Talking Heads songs is merely a set-up, though, for an excuse to plug David Byrne’s recent entries in his online journal. He’s on tour at the moment, all across that Big Country, on the ground this time. And, as he’s proven many times before, he’s an exceptionally gifted blogger. I would pay good money for a “David Byrne’s Guide to Weird Americana,” and even more to be a stowaway on his buses and planes and other modes of transport. From hot-air ballooning in Albuquerque to visiting Satin Doll’s Lounge in Milwaukee, his entries celebrate the joys and idiosyncratic oddities of this great land of ours. It’s a nice corrective to the dismissive (if sometimes understandable) chorus of his old song “Big Country,” and yet this Byrne persona clearly retains an insidery-outsider’s edge. It’s not an elitist edge so much as one that brings a more generous kind of moral clarity.


As for McCain and Palin’s less generous kind of moral clarity: doesn’t that last line smack a little of hypocrisy?

“[Elitists are those] [w]ho think that they can dictate what they believe to America rather than let Americans decide for themselves.

I’d rather not have them legislating morality for my family, thank you. Damn evangelitists.

Byrne tour dates here, though there’s no hometown show listed. Photo by Lily Baldwin, snagged from Byrne’s journal. Doesn’t it look a lot like an Amy Bennett painting?

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Every weekday morning I give my younger daughter a ride to school on the back of my bike. She’s about the same age her older sister was when she swore off this routine, but for now, the bike ride is still part of what we do.

We ride down the edge of Little Italy, cross Canal, pass Columbus Park (near the infamous “Mulberry Bend” of the nineteenth century) on one side and the Tombs on the other. This is the neighborhood of the old Five Points.

Once we’ve cut over through Chatham Square, we cut down a short little street called Oliver. Turns out this is the street Al Smith was born on; the housing projects at the end of the block bear his name. (Richard Price named them after Clara Lemlich for his thinly veiled setting in Lush Life.)

kv.jpgThe school itself is nestled between the Smith Homes and Knickerbocker Village, a low-rent complex that takes up two city blocks on the north side of Catherine Street. All of this preamble is to get me around to the point of the post: Knickerbocker Village is also the name of a blog run by folks who grew up in KV, which was built using federal funds during the Depression. I like their blog very much; it’s a serious New York history blog with a distinct, neighborhoody feel.

Recent scholarship on that part of lower Manhattan has emphasized its long history of interracial relations, even — dare we say it? — its cosmopolitanism and comingling of cultures. W. T. Lhamon, one of the most imaginative scholars (and inveterate defenders) of blackface minstrelsy sees the form, which he thinks originated at the end of Catherine Street down by the old Catherine Slip on the river, as inherently subversive, antiauthoritarian, and a product of cultural clashes on the old LES, an outpost of the Black Atlantic. It’s part Irish, part African, and completely American.

Which brings us to the title of the post. Knickerbocker Village (the blog) recently featured this little ditty, a tongue-in-cheek tribute to Obama’s Irish ancestry. I think it carries a little of the subversive edge of the old LES, home to Al Smith, and before him to TD Rice, Master Juba, and a host of other cosmopolitan entertainers.

There’s no one as Irish as Barack O’Bama
You don’t believe me, I hear you say
But Barack’s as Irish as our own JFK
His granddaddy’s granddaddy came from Moneygall
A village in Offaly, well known to you all.
His mam’s daddy’s granddaddy was one Falmuth Kearney
He’s as Irish as any from the Lakes of Killarney
His mam’s from a long line of great Irish Mamma’s
There’s no one as Irish as Barack O’Bama

Bonus: Barely Political had a fun time a while back with a similar premise.

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