Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Global Warming (Yes, it's still happening)

You know, the term "global warming" should not be so confusing to anyone who finished Jr. High School, or Middle School in the U.S.A. or perhaps you might know it as your 8th year of education, when you were around 13 or 14 years of age.

Somewhere around that time, you learned about "closed systems" and how they worked in a vacuum (an environment where there is no atmosphere). You heard phrases like "things flow to the point of least resistance" and "chaotic motion results from heating". Your teacher may have even showed you one of those glass birds that dip their beaks in water and keep doing it over and over and over -- the beak gets wet, the glass in that location gets cooler, the liquid inside flows away from it, then slowly climbs back, again and again.

And yet, confusion is still there.

A cool day comes along and people sarcastically say, "Yeah, global warming. Sure." Just proving how unknowledgeable they have allowed themselves to become.

I heard a story from a close freind of mine recently, where he was riding home in a car near Houston, Texas from a dinner with his brother and his wife. It began to snow. Not a common occurance in Houston, and the wife sarcastically commented, "Yeah, global warming. Sure."
The snow had just proven that the "global warming" scenario was more likely than normal, and yet, she thought the opposite because it was cold instead of warm.

Let me explain. Maybe some of you have forgotten.

Space (or Outer Space, some may still call it) is a vacuum. There is no atmosphere. We have a planet that is surrounded by a crust of earth, water and an atmosphere that is approximetly 10 miles (eg. about 16 kilometers) thick. In this area, there is an abundance of life.

Our world is isolated from other bodies in space. As a result, Earth is a "closed system", existing in a vacuum. Closed systems allow heat and energy to exchange, but matter generally does not -- meteorites are relatively insignificant in our case.

Our local star (eg. the Sun), shines down on us as we orbit it. The Sun's heat, warms our planet at a relatively constant rate. Our atmosphere acts just like a "Greenhouse" where the clearer the atmosphere is, the less heat from the Sun is trapped inside the atmosphere -- more of the Sun's heat simply reflects back into space, if the atmosphere is clear.

If the atmosphere is less clear, more of the Sun's heat is trapped in the atmosphere, warming the atmosphere, earth and water.

When a closed system's temperature is raised (eg. warmed), the system becomes more chaotic and its physics less predictable. A simple demonstration of this would be to heat a pot of water. At first, the water's movement is fairly predictable. It just sits in the pan. As the water heats up, it's state changes and begins to simmer, then boil, turning to steam. The water's movement becomes more "chaotic."

The same thing happens with Earth's atmosphere, earth and water. As we add more carbon pollutants to our atmosphere, more heat from the Sun is trapped and the currents in the Oceans and the weather in the Atmosphere becomes more chaotic, more unpredictable. The weather we have always had will change, it will be different, as a result.

If you notice that the weather where you live has become different from just a few years ago (say ten or twenty years ago), then you are seeing the symptoms of global warming.

Everything about the weather will become more and more unpredictable as this continues. We will see greater snowfalls. We will see lesser snowfalls. We will see record colds and record heats. Where it has always been hot, it will get cooler and hotter. Where it has always been cold, it will get hotter and colder that it has ever been on record.

If you watch The Weather Channel at all, you have seen this happening everywhere in North America. Record temperatures, both hotter and colder have been happening every season. Over time, we will see that there will be a steady increase, but year-by-year, it may be cooler, it may be hotter. This is also part of the chaotic results of the gradual increase in temperature in our Atmosphere, Oceans and Earth.

Is that clear now? Do you get it? I hope so.

There are some possibly unwanted impacts to our world, if we ignore the steady rise in pollutants in our atmosphere, but this article is not about that. I'm just trying to get everyone to understand what "global warming" really is.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Dark Dramas

On my morning drive to drop my son off at Highschool, I listened to an interview with the wonderful actor John Malkovich on National Public Radio. For those of you who might be interested, I will not repeat all of the story “spoliers” contained in the broadcast, but I wanted to mention the motion picture that interviewer, Renee Montagne, talks with Mr. Malkovich about, the movie “Disgrace.”

I will not be seeing this picture. I choose not to support this picture.

After hearing the gist of the picture in the interview, I've already decided that it is filled with emotions that I do not care to experience. Be it from my upbringing watching to many movies as a child, or my continuing vocation in motion pictures, I don't know, but I am effected emotionally by movies more than any other medium. My guard is let down. I give myself fully to a well-told story, and will weep and feel the regret of the characters that I identify with.

Two important items there:

  1. “Well-told story” (in other words, nothing “takes me out of the picture” because of its believability.

  2. “Characters I identify with” – I must believe in the characters decision-making ability. They must feel real and not manipulative.

The picture, “Disgrace” I see as yet another film in a long-suffering, long-continuing series of motion pictures that have been made over the last decade. They are DARK DRAMAS. I identify these stories with a few characteristics:

  1. They start in some depressive state – the main character is suicidal, the main character's child is dead or dying, the main character has committed some heinous act that is not forgivable, the main character is dying of some horrible disease.

  2. The storyline gets worse from there and is never redeemed – in other words, bad things, perhaps expressed fears, come to pass and they just keep coming.

  3. There is no redemption – nothing is learned, no lesson is taught, no light comes to the characters, they are condemed and might as well kill themselves.

Examples of such films have done well in the Academy Awards. The first film that comes to mind was “The Hours” released the year after the 9-11 terrorist attacks. I mention this because I feel that we as filmmakers have forgotten some things. We as a group, have forgotten how to make audiences laugh, without telling them the joke first a la The 40-year Old Virgin – “Oh, don't worry, it's okay to laugh. Everyone else is.” We have forgotten how to tell a great adventure story – Indiana Jone's latest? Please. We have forgotten how to tell a romance that shakes us to our core – Enchanted? Come on.

And the list goes on: Leaving Las Vegas, The Deep End, Crash, Rendition, In the Valley of Elah, The Kingdom, Doubt, Changeling, Revolutionary Road, Infamous, etc. If it wasn't for the Oscar consideration, likely, I would not know these names.

It seems like we are stuck, sending DARK DRAMAS to the Academy each Oscar season to get “Best Picture” consideration because, well, we have nothing else. The only emotions we feel “real” and “pure” about are depressing ones. Perhaps it has to do with where we are with our world. Every day, we question, “Are we doing the right thing?” “Are we worth it?” We are stuck in this great self-reflective merry-go-round, constantly looking in the mirror to see us frowning back at ourselves once again.

These are not emotions that I care to add to my already dramatic life. And IF I wanted to do so, I would do so by reading, where there is at least, a little filter that allows me to either skip ahead, or stop reading, instead of being brow beat into submission in a dark theatre, where my only regret later is that I actually paid for the abuse.

As filmmakers, is that what we want? Is that what we want to look back on the early decades of the 21st Century and say, “This was our Best?” Certainly, we are supplying great fodder for future academics, who will, no doubt, writing endless papers decrying our support of such dramas as high art because of their symbolic relation to the end of Society – certainly we are coming to the last days? Well, of you listen to the rhetoric of fear from the Republicans, you must be certain by now.

Well, as a filmmaker, I don't want it. I consider making someone cry too easy, too benign. I want to really challenge myself to find great adventure stories that are believable, to find great romances that don't pander to the lower common denominator (yes, I know that is the accountants largest target, but I'd rather allow the audience to see just how intelligent they are instead of speaking down to them as so often happens in the movie house now-a-days)... AND to find the great comedies with common with and everyday humor that lies all around us like landmines of mirth.

Like my parents always said, “If it was easy, everyone would do it.” Filmmakers of the World? Challenge yourselves!