The compost-heap of history

I’m a sucker for books and documentaries like James L. Burke’s Connections, which traced the genesis of world-changing inventions through centuries of accidents and innovations, and novels like Creation, in which Gore Vidal exploited the fact that there was a point in time during which a well-traveled man could have met Socrates, Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tsu and the founder of Jainism.

So this upcoming Weather Channel series, 100 Biggest Weather Moments, sounds fascinating to me. Any show that ranges from the effects of a blizzard on the Super Bowl to humidity and the tonal qualities of Stradivarius violins is going to be worth a look:

At No. 100, football coach Don Shula laments his Dolphins’ 3-0 loss to the Patriots during a blizzard on Dec. 12, 1982. The Patriots were able to score the field goal only because their snow-plow driver cleared a spot for the place-kicker during a timeout. “What I should have done in retrospect,” says Shula, “is run out onto the field and throw myself in front of the snow plow.” A sportscaster—Bob Costas, of course—tosses in the fact that the plow guy was a convicted criminal on a work-release program, and because the photo researchers on 100 Biggest Weather Moments are diligent and inventive, we get a glimpse of his mug shot. It’s a telling place to start, this misty sports-bar memory. The show loves small, deep trivia and tribal factoids. It makes a compelling meal from the variety meats of history’s buffet.

Making a sharp turn to the highbrow, we somehow arrive at a discussion of cold air, spruce wood, and the tonal quality of Stradivarius violins featuring Itzhak Perlman. Getting serious at No. 98, we revisit the severe flooding of the Midwest in 1993. The first hour also finds Dan Rather looking at William Henry Harrison’s inauguration, the wine columnists of the Wall Street Journal exploring the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, and, in a tribute to the invention of the hygrometer, both Al Sharpton and Mary Hart discussing bad hair days. The Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale gets an explication, as do the Battle of Dunkirk, the dimples on a golf ball, and the social history of the umbrella. The dork appeal is limitless.

Amen to that. These unnoticed juxtapositions and factoids are the compost heap of history. The difference between a show like Connections and a random assemblage of details is the presence of a keen guiding intelligence to bring everything together. The mini-series starts tomorrow, so we’ll see.

One thought on “The compost-heap of history

  1. […] April 17th, 2007 You know that Weather Channel program that looked so interesting, 100 Biggest Weather Moments? I didn’t get to watch it. I was too busy keeping the […]

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