Friday, April 30, 2010

What History [Channel] Can Learn From ESPN

I have complained before that much of the programming on History (the cable network) has little or nothing to do with history. Such a complaint has become nearly as ubiquitous as the complaint that MTV's programming has little or nothing to do with music. I'll take it a step further: After enduring shows about UFOs, cryptids, and conspiracy theories for the better part of a decade, I no longer trust History to do history.

While I actually enjoy some of History's non-history shows, particularly The Universe and Life After People, I yearn for the quality historical programming that I used to be able to find (at least occasionally) on the channel. But, as I have lost my faith in History's ability to create such programming, I'm going to offer History some guidance: Learn from ESPN.

To celebrate its thirtieth anniversary, ESPN created 30 for 30, a documentary series in which acclaimed filmmakers (such as Steve James [Hoop Dreams] and John Singleton [Boyz N the Hood]) tell stories about people, events, and phenomena from the past three decades that have had a lasting impact on the world of sports. Twelve have aired so far, and each one has been outstanding. Riveting. Compelling. Informational. Edifying. ESPN 30 for 30 is the best thing to happen to basic cable since Jon Stewart took over The Daily Show.

I've identified three reasons why every single 30 for 30 installment has been fantastic:

  • ESPN has allowed skilled and experience filmmakers to tell stories that they are passionate about in a manner they see fit. Each film is different and reflects the style and gifts of the filmmaker.

  • Each film has very specific subject matter. Instead of documenting college football in the 1980s, Billy Corben told the story of the University of Miami's football program in the 1980s. Instead of telling Allen Iverson's life story, Steve James told the story of Iverson's 1993 trial for assault and its affect on the racially divided community of Hampton, Virginia. These films devote an hour or 90 minutes or two hours to subjects that deserve this much time but wouldn't otherwise get it.

  • All of these films address events that have happened in the past 30 years. Thus they all include interviews with people who experienced these events first-hand.

So here's what History needs to do: The once proud channel needs to produce a series of 90-minute documentaries, each of which is the work of a different filmmaker and each of which tells the story of a specific event that has taken place in the past 50 years. History probably can't attract the big name directors that ESPN has enlisted for the 30 for 30 series—who knows, maybe Ice Cube would make a movie for History—but the network certainly could attract documentary filmmakers with enough credibility and integrity to avoid subjects such as UFOs and Bigfoot and to create compelling films that will win back viewers like me. The purpose of the last-50-years rule is to ensure that each film includes first-hand accounts of the events it chronicles. (In the absence of first-hand accounts, History tends to assume that any significant historical event was the result of a conspiracy involving the Illuminati, Freemasons, and/or space aliens.)

There's my idea. Make it happen, History.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Mally Making Animal Sounds

Click here for eight seconds of Malachi mimicking a dog and cat.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Just When I'd Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the 96-Team Field

Aside from a handful of ESPN/ABC executives, I may have been the only person who was looking forward to the possibility of a 96-team NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament. I didn't like the idea at first. There really aren't 96 teams in any given year that deserve to play for a national championship. And while 96 is mathematically more sexy than 65 (which is mathematically abhorrent), it still isn't a power of 2. But I grew to appreciate the 96-team idea for two reasons:

  • If the NCAA and whatever television network(s) they have a deal with give me 31 more NCAA Tournament games, I'm going to watch as many of these games as possible, and I'm going to enjoy watching. That these games would have determined second-round match-ups made them more interesting than any NIT game.

  • I truly believe that a University of Evansville men's basketball team with juniors Colt Ryan, Ned Cox, and Bryan Bouchie and seniors James Haarsma and Denver Holmes could finish third or fourth in the Missouri Valley and earn an at-large bid in a 96-team field in 2012. I'm not at all confident that, in the foreseeable future, UE can win the Missouri Valley or put together a resume that would earn them a spot in a 68-team field.

Alas, the NCAA eschewed the 96-team idea and settled on 68. I guess the Aces will have to overachieve.

Ideas Worth Ignoring Podcast—Episode 4, "Don't Flush the Good Stuff: Reduce, Reuse, and Rearrange"

Now available in the iTunes Music Store.

I haven't blogged in over a week, but I hope to make up for it with the best "Ideas Worth Ignoring" podcast to date, "Don't Flush the Good Stuff: Reduce, Reuse, and Rearrange":

Why do we waste fresh, clean water by flushing it down the toilet? In this episode I reduce the amount of clean water wasted in toilets by reusing water from other sources and rearranging household plumbing.

You might not want to ignore this one.

Click here to subscribe or download individual episodes or walk into the podcast department of the iTunes Music Store and search for "Scrambies."

Friday, April 16, 2010

Ideas Worth Ignoring Podcast—Episode 3, "Stop Honking: A Future Without Car Horns"

Now available in the iTunes Music Store.

The third episode of the Scrambies: Ideas Worth Ignoring Podcast, "Stop Honking: A Future Without Car Horns," is now available:

I hate car horns; I think they should be eliminated; and I would like to suggest an alternative.

Click here to subscribe or download individual episodes or walk into the podcast department of the iTunes Music Store and search for "Scrambies."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tuesday Night Trivia, on Thursday

I haven't done this in a couple months, but I think this is a good one:

Name the current-day island nation that once was home to the now-extinct elephant bird AND name the current-day island nation that once was home to the now-extinct dodo. Both islands are in the same ocean and their names both begin with the same two letters.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Ideas Worth Ignoring Podcast—Epidsode 2, "Toss and Glide: The Future of Commuter Transit"

While the Scrambies: Ideas Worth Ignoring podcast is not yet available through the iTunes music store, you can use iTunes to subscribe to Scrambies. Open iTunes, go to "Advanced," click on "Subscribe to Podcast," then enter the URL

The second episode of the Scrambies: Ideas Worth Ignoring Podcast is now available. It's called "Toss and Glide: The Future of Commuter Transit." Here's the description:

With gas prices once again in the neighborhood of $3.00 per gallon, I suggest a new alternative for commuter transit that is cheap, clean, and convenient. Features an original (albeit short) music composition.

That's right, "an original (albeit short) music composition." Click here to subscribe to the podcast.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Subscribe to the New "Scrambies: Ideas Worth Ignoring" Podcast

TED gives you "ideas worth spreading"; I've decided to give you ideas worth ignoring. So I've created a podcast in which I talk about whatever novel and/or far-fetched ideas cross my mind. In the first episode, in honor of the NCAA Tournament and in response to news that the NCAA likely will expand the men's tournament from 65 to 96 teams, I talk about postseason championship tournaments in all sports and suggest a new philosophy for selecting teams for these tournaments. (I'd hoped to make this episode available yesterday morning, in advance of the men's championship game, but I was having some XML problems.) It's a bit lengthy, and a little rough in spots, but I promise that subsequent episodes will be tighter and more interesting.

Click here to subscribe to the "Scrambies: Ideas Worth Ignoring" podcast, or hold out for a couple days and subscribe via iTunes.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Take My "Biblical Tricksters" Quiz

For April Fools' Day I wrote this quiz on biblical tricksters for Beliefnet. Take the quiz, rate the quiz, and then let me know how you fared.

TN General Assembly Proposes a Constitutional Amendment Banning Something That Is Already Banned By the Constitution

From the AP:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Opponents of legislation that would declare an income tax and payroll tax unconstitutional in Tennessee say it's unnecessary and strictly political.

The proposed constitutional amendment sponsored by Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown was approved 25-7 by the Senate Monday evening. The earliest it could go before voters is 2014.

Even though the state constitution already says an income tax is not allowed, Kelsey said the proposal is necessary because the difficult economic times may prompt lawmakers to try to pass one.

I really don't understand why we need an amendment declaring unconstitutional something that already is unconstitutional. More generally, I don't understand Tennesseans' aversion to a state income tax. For some reason residents of the Volunteer State prefer having the nation's highest sales tax (and one that doesn't meet our revenue needs) and being among the minority of states that tax groceries—even though lowering the sales tax and adding a graduated state income tax would generate more revenue and reduce the tax burden on most of the Tennesseans who aren't HCA execs or who don't suit up for the Titans, Predators, or Grizzlies. (This 2002 article I wrote for the Nashville Scene gives a good overview of the pros, cons, and philosophical underpinnings of different tax structures.)