Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Meaning Behind Black Hawk Down

Grantland - "Ridley Scott’s Trojan Horse Career"

"Only the dead know an end to war,” reads the Plato quote at the beginning of Scott’s 2001 film. The living? They have to get up and go to work every day, which is its own kind of hell.

Ridley Scott’s adaptation of Mark Bowden’s 1999 nonfiction account of the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu was released into a very different world than the one in which it was made. Hitting theaters in December '01, it was an unintentional post-9/11 movie and, in that sense, it has always been a difficult film to parse: It’s an elaborate, complex story told under a near-constant barrage of automatic-weapon fire. You're left a little confused about what exactly Scott is trying to say about war. Maybe that’s because it’s not really a war movie at all.

Black Hawk Down is actually a workplace drama. The film came out three years after Saving Private Ryan, and in terms of viscerally rendering battle onscreen, that’s its only equal. But where Saving was about the greatest generation and featured recognizable movie stars fighting against a real and obvious enemy, sacrificing their lives for something bigger, Scott takes the world’s best-trained soldiers — Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, Delta Force, Special Ops — and turns them into working stiffs, assembling a huge cast of bright young things and making them indistinguishable from one another (and that’s before they put on matching helmets and goggles).

Want that fun scene in which you find out where everyone’s from? Nope. Want to know who the “explosives guy” is, who the “wild card” is, and who the corn-fed guy from Iowa who could win the war if they only let him fight with his fists is? Wrong movie. Here we have — deep breath — Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner (that’s half of a Trainspotting reunion!), Orlando Bloom, Eric Bana, Tom Sizemore, William Fichtner, Jeremy Piven, Hugh Dancy, Ron Eldard, Tom Hardy, Ty Burrell, Danny Hoch, Brendan Sexton III (though his part was cut down, allegedly for political-messaging reasons), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (The Kingslayer!), and Ioan Gruffudd ... half of whom you had no idea were in this movie because there are probably three dozen speaking parts and aside from Bana, McGregor, Hartnett, Sizemore, and Sam Shepard it’s basically impossible to know who is talking and what they’re talking about.

Scott could have populated a "Young Hollywood" photo shoot with this cast, but instead he makes them look like drones. Not the military kind, but anonymous, working schmoes. They’re even wearing khakis (OK, desert camouflage, but it’s close). They all look the same, talk the same, and many of them have the same ambivalent trepidation about what they’re doing with their lives and the reasons they’re doing it.

For the first 40 minutes of this film — until Bloom’s Blackburn character falls from a helicopter, triggering a series of disastrous encounters between American military and Somali militia — this film isn’t about how modern war is hell as much as it’s about how modern work is hell.

Cafeteria lines are cut by alpha males, clerical errors are made, data entry is performed, people gripe about hours, food, and benefits, and boredom reigns. Everybody looks the same, everybody talks the same, and the fight they are there to have is treated in the same clinical way as an endless game of Scrabble. Everything is a distraction from the malaise of committing your life to your work."

The Atlantic's 50 Greatest Inventions Since the Wheel

The Atlantic - "The 50 Greatest Breakthroughs Since the Wheel"

1. The printing press, 1430s
2. Electricity, late 19th century
3. Penicillin, 1928
4. Semiconductor electronics, mid-20th century
5. Optical lenses, 13th century
6. Paper, second century
7. The internal combustion engine, late 19th century
8. Vaccination, 1796
9. The Internet, 1960s
10. The steam engine, 1712
11. Nitrogen fixation, 1918
12. Sanitation systems, mid-19th century
13. Refrigeration, 1850s
14. Gunpowder, 10th century
15. The airplane, 1903
16. The personal computer, 1970s
17. The compass, 12th century
18. The automobile, late 19th century
19. Industrial steelmaking, 1850s
20. The pill, 1960
21. Nuclear fission, 1939
22. The green revolution, mid-20th century
23. The sextant, 1757
24. The telephone, 1876
25. Alphabetization, first millennium B.C.
26. The telegraph, 1837
27. The mechanized clock, 15th century
28. Radio, 1906
29. Photography, early 19th century
30. The moldboard plow, 18th century
31. Archimedes' screw, third century B.C.
32. The cotton gin, 1793
33. Pasteurization, 1863
34. The Gregorian calendar, 1582
35. Oil refining, mid-19th century
36. The steam turbine, 1884
37. Cement, first millennium B.C.
38. Scientific plant breeding, 1920s
39. Oil drilling, 1859
40. The sailboat, fourth millennium B.C.
41. Rocketry, 1926
42. Paper money, 11th century
43. The abacus, third millennium B.C.
44. Air-conditioning, 1902
45. Television, early 20th century
46. Anesthesia, 1846
47. The nail, second millennium B.C.
48. The lever, third millennium B.C.
49. The assembly line, 1913
50. The combine harvester, 1930s

Clemson Bro

Deadspin - "Clemson Bro's College GameDay Hijinks Enjoyed Best In Super Slow-Mo" 
BroBible - "This Shirtless Clemson Bro Videobomber Is the Most Legendary Bro In ‘Gameday’ History" 
USA Today - "‘GameDay’ bro makes Clemson proud"

Fastest Drive Around Manhattan

26.5 miles in just over 24 minutes.

Jalopnik - "Driver Claims New Record For Fastest Lap Around Manhattan" 
New York Times - "Arrest Made in Wild Drive Around Manhattan"

American Decline

New Yorker - "Measuring America's Decline, in Three Charts"

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Dave Eggers's Short-Story Adapted from his New Book, The Circle

"We like you so much and want to know you better" (published in The New York Times Magazine) "

“Oh, I’ve never brought a camera.”

Josiah looked up, his eyes pained.

“But how do you identify all these animals?” Denise asked.

“I have this little thing my ex-boyfriend gave me,” Mae said. “It’s just a little foldable guide to local wildlife.”

Josiah exhaled loudly.

“I’m sorry,” Mae said.

Josiah rolled his eyes. “No, I mean, I know this is a tangent, but my problem with paper is that all communication dies with it. It holds no possibility of continuity. You look at your paper guide, and that’s where it ends. It ends with you. Like you’re the only one who matters. But think if you’d been documenting. If you’d been using a tool that would help confirm the identity of whatever birds you saw, then anyone can benefit — naturalists, students, historians, the Coast Guard. Everyone can know, then, what birds were on the bay on that day. It’s just maddening, thinking of how much knowledge is lost every day through this kind of shortsightedness. And I don’t want to call it selfish but — ”

NYT - "Behind the Cover Story: Dave Eggers on Imagining the Future World of Over-Sharing" 

Q: In both the book and the excerpt, the company is dominated by young people, almost all who are in thrall to the Circle. Are you surprised at all at how easily younger generations have adopted social media and happily given up their privacy?

A: Every generation swims in different water. I grew up doing all my homework in front of the TV, which baffled my parents and horrified my grandmother. Now younger people toggle between far more media and devices than I ever could, and I’m assuming they somehow make it work. The privacy part, though — that seems to be an area that’s still being worked out.

The Story of Silk Road and the Deep "Un-trackable" Internet

Wired - "Feds Arrest Alleged ‘Dread Pirate Roberts,’ the Brain Behind the Silk Road Drug Site"