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TEDTalks and Jesse Owens




Though we supposedly live in The Information Age, with all the knowledge of mankind at our fingertips at the click of a mouse, the problem of the Internet is not one of quantity, but of quality. You'll probably soon be able to buy a ticket to the triumphant world tour of a hologram Tupac Shakur, and you can navigate from Paris, Ark., to Paris, Texas, to Paris, France, solely by cell phone, but we still haven't figured out a good way to sift the Internet — that great, near-infinite electric landfill of porn, Chinese commercials, social networking, lies, celebrity gossip, slander, libel, recipes, theft, angst and cute kitten pictures — in order to find the few diamonds that exist within it. Luckily for those who care about quality information and brilliant insight, the Internet has also brought us TEDTalks. TEDTalks are an outgrowth of the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) Conferences that have been held every year since 1984. The formula is simple: get together the most brilliant people on the planet, in every imaginable field — including guys like Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Jane Goodall and Bono, but also obscure-but-fascinating scientists, designers, writers, athletes, architects, musicians, chefs, explorers, etc. — and give them a public forum to talk about what gets them out of bed in the morning. A few years back, TED started recording these 15-30 minute talks, and in 2006, they put the first of them online. As of this writing, there are more than 1,000 TEDTalks available for free at the conference website, ted.com. A visit is like getting a seat at the dinner table with the world's great minds in attendance. I'm an addict. I've personally watched over a hundred TedTalks now, on subjects I thought I'd never know anything about, and I'm here to tell you: Not a single one has been boring. Now, Netflix has been kind enough to put collections of TEDTalks on the streaming section of their website, each a little fruit basket of brilliance on a given theme, including "Beauty and Fashion," "Beasts and Bugs," "Crime and Punishment," "Icons" (featuring folks like Stephen Hawking, Jane Goodall, and filmmaker J.J. Abrams) and "Sex, Secrets and Love." If you can't find anything to interest you in all that, well... there's always Kardashians gossip and pictures of cats saying "I can haz chezburger?" Please exit the global conversation, and try not to spread your genes around too much.


7 p.m. Tuesday, May 1


Way back in 1936, with Hitler on the rise in Germany and racism institutionally enshrined in not just the American South but almost every corner of the United States, the idea that a black 22-year-old sharecropper's son from Oakville, Ala., could come to symbolize the triumph of freedom over repression sounds like a story only Hollywood (though not Hollywood back then) could come up with. The thing is, it's the true story of champion track and field star James Cleveland "Jesse" Owens. In college, Owens had distinguished himself as an athlete to rival anyone in any sport who came before or since. In one instance, during a meet in Ann Arbor, Mich., in the spring of 1935, Owens set three world records — for the long jump, the 220-yard sprint and the 220-yard low hurdles — and tied the world record for the 100-yard dash, all in less than an hour. Need we remind you that this was long before the era of athletes setting pharmaceutically-enhanced records that need an asterisk? In 1936, Owens traveled to the Olympic Games in Berlin, where he and other black members of his team were greeted with taunts and jeers because of their race. "I was angry because of the insults that Hitler and the other German leaders had hurled at me and my Negro teammates on the Olympic squad," he later recalled. Owens proceeded to use that anger as the fuel he needed to deliver an old school ass-whipping of the best the Master Race had to offer, winning four gold medals and humiliating Hitler so thoroughly that he later complained that blacks should be banned from future Olympic Games. Still, it wasn't a fairy-tale ending for Owens. He later told interviewers that President Franklin Roosevelt never reached out to thank or congratulate him for his accomplishments in Berlin. To add insult to injury, after he turned down a track and field meet in Sweden in order to appear at a paying gig soon after his Olympic triumph, Owens was stripped of his amateur status by officials in the U.S. He eventually wound up working in a gas station, and later filed for bankruptcy before his death in 1980. Still, like any great American life, it's a lot more complicated than just a rise and fall. Tune in to see how.

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