Thursday, May 20, 2010

By the Numbers

Quick hit today. Let's look at some figures for the War in Afghanistan to date:

-Total US cost of the war since 2001: Currently estimated at $272 Billion. This is approximately $2,044 per year per taxpayer since 2001. The administration will be asking Congress to approve a further $59 billion in the coming months. Furthermore, many economists, including Joseph Stieglitz, have projected that the final cost of the war, including humanitarian costs, treatment for wounded soldiers and future outlays for equipment and infrastructure could push the figure near $1.5 trillion. this information was taken largely from the National Priorities Project.

- U.S. Military deaths: As of today have passed 1,000. 630 casualties were recorded for the years 2001-2008. 450 casualties have been recorded from all of 2009 and 2010 to date. this increase has been attributed to the resurgence of the Taliban after a period of retreat and re-organization. Figures obtained from Human Rights Watch and

- Since 2001, 5,725 U.S. soldiers have been wounded in Afghanistan. Taken from

- Afghan Civilian Death Toll: Estimated for Afghan civilian deaths vary widely. Reliable statistical data has only been recorded since 2006-2007. In 2009 alone, 2,412 Afghan civilian deaths were recorded. Direct and indirect deaths since 2001 are estimated at between 13,372-32,969. Again, the wide range in estimate is due largely to semi-official nature of the statistical data from the year 2001-2006. Further detail can be retrieved from

Go in peace my friends . . .


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Subject of Cinema

Shortly after the beginning of the war in Iraq, as the insurgency emerged as a serious threat to the American war effort, U.S. military commanders started screening The Battle of Algiers to troops in hopes of shedding some light on understanding and successfully waging a counter-insurgency campaign. Gillo Pontecorvo's classic and controversial film reads like documentary and remains to this day one of the most vital records of the battle between French Colonialism and the Algerian resistance movement, despite the fact that it is a fictional piece. But there is something about film that reaches us on a level that often times no other media can achieve. The combination of sight, sound, time and character - when executed well - has an almost immediate and often indelible impact on both our emotions and intellects.

The French Education Ministry has announced a plan to make some 200 films available online for secondary school students throughout France. While cinema is taught in some of the wealthier, elite high schools in France, the cine-lycee project will make these films available through the Internet to all students in France. The initiative hopes to provide students with not only exposure to France's own brilliant and varied cinematic tradition, but also with access to global cinema and thus a greater global perspective.

I think we should implement similar programs here in the U.S. Hollywood hosts the largest and most globally successful film industry in the world. And while it is mostly the blockbusters, screwball comedies and happy-ending romances that make their way to the local and global cineplexes, our own American cinematic canon contains numerous artists whose influence and vision has left deep footprints in our culture.

Film simultaneously reflects who we are as a society, as well as shed light on the marginal and hidden aspects of our culture and what it may become. Charlie Chaplin's tramp in "Modern Times" examined the comic/tragic anxiety of the modern industrial age; The films of the Cohen brothers shed light on the American obsession for personal power and its consequences; even recent films like "The Hangover" and "Knocked Up" speak to the suspended state of adolescence of the contemporary American man child. And thematic investigations aside, innumerable writers, directors, cinematographers and actors have filled our imaginations with beautiful and unique images that have influenced our language, our visual culture, and even our often unconscious aesthetic values.

And that is just America. Exposure to world cinema can provide our students with intimate and complex portraits of the human condition from anywhere on the globe. It has been said that Americans learn geography only after the U.S. military starts the air war, and CNN shows maps of the war zone on the nightly news. Perhaps cinema can provide an opportunity for our students to learn about the people who inhabit all of those distant and opaque places, and lend a new sensitivity to our global understanding.

In this time of economic struggle, as schools across the nation slash budgets for arts and music education, the French cine-lycee project provides an affordable example of cultural education. Math, science and reading are certainly vital in assuring our continued prosperity, and ultimately survival. However, without understanding expressions of culture, beauty and creativity, what good is prosperity?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Long Goodbye

It was in 1995 that I first heard Wonderwall by Oasis. It was a Rock and Roll road to Damascus moment. I grew up with English pop music, despite growing up 7,000 miles from Albion. My sisters owned (and I inherited) records by New Order, Madness, Depeche Mode, the Smiths. However, as much as I loved those bands, and many others, they always inhabited a place of latent nostalgia and disconnection; what pop music could be, once was, somewhere far away.

Wonderwall was now. Britpop was now. My friend Ryan and I mined the record stores for all the latest imports. Pulp, Blur, Elastica, Suede. The new crop of British bands traded on their quintessential “Englishness,” sometimes with self-conscious derision, often with unabashed cheek. I’m not sure what attracted me to Britpop. Probably no single thing, but I always felt as if American music at the time lacked humor, wit and irony. Nirvana, and grunge generally, was far too solipsistic in its dour lamenting. Britpop exploded with a compelling alchemy of optimism and self-parody, and opened up avenues for the exploration of sexuality, class, and the possibilities of the coming millennium.

There were reasons to be optimistic. The guy in the White House played the sax, and this thing called the internet promised to connect everyone in the great global village. Rave culture was emerging and promised love and spirituality for any who could hitch out to the desert and drop ecstasy. And for the first time in my life, I found a politician to believe in.

Tony Blair was young, dynamic, and seemed to embody the enthusiasm and hope that accelerated “Cool Britannia” into the global mainstream. I knew fuck all about British politics, but who cares? Blair made it a point to bring his Fender to Number 10, and even invited Noel Gallagher to Downing Street for champagne. A strange feeling of excitement and confrontation surrounded the whole thing. Maybe there was nothing left to rebel against, maybe the world was moving in the right direction, and maybe England was at the forefront.

In 1998, Pulp released This is Hardcore. Something had changed. things got darker. I had become immersed in drum and bass, as well as the Bristol sound, Tricky, Massive Attack. As the world moved closer to the millennium, the optimism started to wane. Oasis declared victory in the battle of English rock supremacy, and the lads had triumphed. The music of the Rave culture both in the States and the UK increasingly reflected the darker side of heavy drug use and ill directed liberation. This is Hardcore spoke of regrets, of pain and the attempt to heal while simultaneously facing the possibility of “growing up.” Twilight had arrived. The reign of Cool Britannia passed with a whimper.

America’s first great act of the 21st century was to elect George W. Bush as President. It was clear to me even then, that the dark days were upon us. Of course, I held out some hope - as misguided and unfounded as it may be - in Tony Blair. Britpop had passed into the annals of pop history, but Blair and New Labour remained.

The deathblow came in 2003, when the United States attacked and occupied Iraq, with the Prime Minister standing shoulder to shoulder with our chicken hawk President. I was definitely upset by my country’s decision to go to war, but I also harbored a strangely particular feeling of betrayal and disappointment. Blair? Really? How did this come to pass?

Its seven years on, and today Gordon Brown has resigned the premiership, effectively ending the era of New Labour. Damon Albarn finally crashed America, albeit as a cartoon character, and I can’t imagine David Cameron inviting him to cocktails at Number 10. Britpop occupies that place of nostalgia and disconnection that reminds me of the good old days, and I am still contemplating “growing up.”

I wonder if Nick Clegg ever played the guitar during his University days?

A quick post to announce some changes to the blog. Obviously, the look and feel has changed. Lately I have been feeling like the "Walking Narcoleptic" moniker is best used for more theory-based presentations and explorations that I have had in mind for some time now, but have gotten pushed to the wayside, because I mostly ended up using the blog space for journalistic/editorial ventures.

Thus, I would like to inaugurate the "new" site, hopefully with an expanded mission and message, and a straightforward presentation and feel.

More to come . . .