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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
December 27, 2012

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.

Sayings, Film Adaptations, CO2 Science

Several high school students my wife and I know had the same assignment from a high school teacher: Get one saying each from people they knew. All three decided to ask my wife and me.

Since they all had the same teacher, they couldn't very well show up with the same sayings from us. Yet we couldn't play favorites among the three.

No doubt about it. My wife and I would have to come up with three separate sayings each.

The trouble with sayings is that even if you're a witty person, as my wife is, and even if you write for a living, as I do, creating characters who sometimes say clever things, it's very hard to come up with something pithy and quotable on demand.

I remember my friend Robert Stoddard's all-purpose quotation from college days: "He who shall, so shall he who." Yet even though this epigram is equally applicable to all situations, we didn't feel we should rely on his creativity.

Then it dawned on me. Practically everything that people say is quotable, if you say it portentously enough. In fact, the very next thing my wife said seemed to me a perfect demonstration of that fact:

"I'm going to make some oatmeal. Oatmeal makes the world a better place."

Engrave that in stone. Or at least stick it to the fridge.

Then I remembered her oft-repeated maxim: "Avocado makes any food better." (She stands by this even when I offer counter-suggestions. "Ice cream?" "Yummm." "Mustard?" "Not a food.")

My own ideas sound contrived by comparison with her epigrams. "Since you're not listening, does it matter whether I tell the truth?" (I like that one, but since it's a question I'm not sure it qualifies as a maxim.)

"Subscribing to a magazine you don't read doesn't make you smarter."

"I've been young and I've been old. Young is better, but only old people know how much."

"If you sing loud enough, the melody is whatever note you're singing." (This is the guiding maxim of extremists everywhere.)

And here's the maxim that I'd love to say to President Obama: "If you don't know what to do, don't insist on getting your way."

But it really all comes down to: "I'm going to make some oatmeal. Oatmeal makes the world a better place."


Watching Peter Jackson make a joke out of Tolkien's magnificent Lord of the Rings and of Tolkien's amusing but much slighter The Hobbit may lead some people to think that great works of literature are inevitably trashed when converted to film form.

But that is not true. Peter Jackson's mistakes all came from a combination of hubris, reliance on false formulas from screenwriting classes, and, with The Hobbit, the greed of financiers who wanted to stretch a one-movie story into three films.

Jane Austen was every bit the genius that Tolkien was. Like Tolkien, she took the existing literary conventions of her time and reinvented them into something new and transformative. Like Tolkien, she changed everything that came after.

And, like Tolkien, her individual works remain masterworks that can be read and understood without professorial intervention.

Translating a story from fiction to the screen is hard, and it has taken several tries with many of Austen's novels to get them right. Fortunately, the BBC recognizes the necessity of making more than one attempt, and the results have been quite stunning.

One thing is obvious: It is very hard to make a Jane Austen story work well within the two hours of a feature film. It takes time to develop relationships and societies, and you can't tell a Jane Austen story without doing that.

In my opinion, the only perfect feature-film adaptation of a Jane Austen novel has been Emma Thompson's script of Sense and Sensibility.

Others have been good -- there's a decent feature-length Pride and Prejudice (the one starring Keira Knightley) and a very credible Persuasion (starring Amanda Root).

Otherwise, however, the successful screen adaptations have been at miniseries length.

Everybody knows that the best Pride and Prejudice is the Colin Firth miniseries. But it isn't the only one, and isn't even the best Jane Austen miniseries.

On December 16th, Jane Austen's birthday, some Austen-loving friends joined us to celebrate the day by rewatching the BBC miniseries of Emma, written by Sandy Welch and directed by Jim O'Hanlon.

I can only marvel at the way this writer and director, joined by an astonishingly good cast, understood Austen's brilliant material and brought it to life with a depth and completeness that, if anything, improved on the original.

Now that we've seen more of Jonny Lee Miller in the series Elementary, it makes his achievement as Mr. Knightley in Emma all the more wonderful -- because both performances are so brilliant and so different from each other.

Romola Garai, perfect in the title role, makes Gwyneth Paltrow's pathetic misunderstanding of the character all the more reprehensible -- because Paltrow's mistakes were entirely her own, and not caused by the script or the underlying material.

Most important, however, is the way that Sandy Welch filled in elements that were implied but not fully developed in Austen's novel. The father, instead of merely being annoying, is treated with love and compassion; we agree that Emma cannot leave him.

We also see the tragic dilemma underlying Emma's life; that she does not belong to herself. Yet she manages to find joy and cheerfulness in her dilemma. She is young and imperfect and sometimes causes harm. But she maintains a close friendship with the one person who speaks truth to her. And, together, they find a road out of the lonely life that fate had designed for her.

Every step of the way, we are shown that lonely life by the apposite character, Miss Bates (Tamsin Greig), also trapped in a life devoted to the care of an aging parent. Like Emma, Miss Bates retains a commitment to uncomplaining good cheer in the midst of her loneliness and sacrifice; the fact that Emma never understands her similarity to Miss Bates does not prevent the filmmakers -- and us -- from experiencing it.

The BBC Emma is a gorgeous example of using one medium to shine a bright light of understanding on a story first told in a different one. It can be done; it has been done; and each work, the book and the film, is elevated by having experienced the other.

Peter Jackson, in adapting Tolkien, treated story elements he did not understand with such contempt that future generations will watch his story changes with stunned outrage (as some of us do now). And the self-indulgent three-feature version of The Hobbit will be regarded as a sad joke.

As the cost of computer effects drops and the quality improves, it will not be such a massive undertaking to reenvision and remake Lord of the Rings in the future.

Just as the miserable Gwyneth Paltrow Emma was later put to shame by the brilliant BBC Emma of 2009, so also there will someday be films of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit in which scriptwriters who actually understand the story they're working with bring Tolkien's story to fruition on the screen.

All Peter Jackson really brought us was the New Zealand scenery and Andy Serkis as Gollum.


Ever since the whole global-warming fracas began, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has been fudging and faking evidence and statistics in order to give the illusion that there was proof of human-caused global warming.

This is well known among scientists, though unmentioned by our monolithic true-believer media, whose science coverage has become a mere church choir in the religion of eco-puritanism.

The IPCC have performed illegitimate and unjustified statistical manipulations; they have reworded reports after scientists signed off on them, and without their knowledge.

These are the kinds of things that you only do when you know that the evidence does not make your case. Nobody steals an election they've actually won.

Through all of this, they have insisted that human-caused global warming is a fact, and that anyone who resists it is in the same category as creationists and holocaust-deniers.

This namecalling is another confession that they haven't got the data to make their case. If you have the data, you don't have to call names. The science speaks for itself.

One reason they have been able to get away with this is the lack of data to contradict them. That is, the data we have had up to now did not say what they claim it said -- but it didn't say anything else, either.

That's because everything was based on computer models, and computer models are only as good as the data that is fed into them. The people running the simulations were all True Believers, and so they always came up with "results" that mirrored the biased data they had been fed.

But finally there is real data to feed into the computers. In a Dec. 18th Wall Street Journal essay, Matt Ridley reports on a conversation with Nic Lewis, one of the educated people keeping tabs on the global warming science issues for those of us who don't have access to the latest reports.

If it weren't for people like Lewis, we laypeople would have no choice but to believe the deceptions of True Believers like the IPCC. Lewis is part of the reason we know about the previous lies and manipulations by the IPCC, but no one denies that the deceptions took place.

Now, however, because Lewis is an honest observer, he reports that real data shows that there is a genuine statistically probable effect from atmospheric carbon emissions.

What genuine scientists, faithfully reporting their actual findings, now report is that the mechanisms claimed to cause global warming may in fact contribute to a rise in temperature -- but they do so at a rate far, far lower than that assumed by the True Believers.

We are finally getting a pretty good idea of the actual effects of carbon dioxide emissions. Comparing global temperatures over the past 100-150 years with the fluctuations in carbon dioxide emissions from human activities gives us -- at last -- a reasonable basis for estimating how sensitive global climate is to changes in carbon dioxide levels.

Keep in mind that carbon dioxide is far from being the major greenhouse gas. Methane is far more important, and the most important, water vapor, has such unpredictable effects that it is left out of all the models.

That's because water vapor, besides being a greenhouse gas, also forms clouds, which by their high reflectivity, bounce sunlight out of the atmosphere without converting it to heat. Storms also funnel heat from near the surface up to the higher atmosphere.

We have no way of predicting or modeling how much the albedo and storm effects balance with the greenhouse effect, nor even to what degree global warming would increase cloud cover.

As Ridley says in his article, "As one Nobel Prize-winning physicist with a senior role in combating climate change admitted to me the other day: 'We don't even know the sign' of water vapor's effect -- in other words, whether it speeds up or slows down a warming of the atmosphere."

Says Ridley, "Climate models are known to poorly simulate clouds, and given clouds' very strong effect on the climate system -- some types cooling the Earth either by shading it or by transporting heat up and cold down in thunderstorms, and others warming the Earth by blocking outgoing radiation -- it remains highly plausible that there is no net positive feedback from water vapor."

This matters a great deal -- the global warming alarmists' warnings absolutely depend on the idea that carbon dioxide's warming, if real, will then be greatly amplified by water vapor increases. But this remains entirely a matter of faith. For all we know, increased water vapor may be the ecosystem's natural way of damping down the effects of global warming -- whether that warming is astronomical or human caused.

We can now calculate with some reliability just what a doubling of the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would do to global climate. "Given what we know now," said Ridley, "there is almost no way that the feared large temperature rise is going to happen."

Ridley quotes Lewis as saying that, assuming a doubling of CO2 -- the IPCC's worst-case scenario -- and even assuming "another 30% rise from other greenhouse gases by 2100, we are likely to experience a further rise of no more than" one degree Celsius.

Says Ridley, "A cumulative change of less than 2O C by the end of this century will do no net harm. It will actually do net good -- that much the IPCC scientists have already agreed upon in the last IPCC report. Rainfall will increase slightly, growing seasons will lengthen, Greenland's ice cap will melt only very slowly."

Historical evidence shows that global temperatures have been warmer than they are now, following natural cycles alone, in historical times. There seems to be a regular warming-and-cooling cycle, with cooling represented by the Little Ice Age of 1350 to 1850. In 1000 a.d., global climate was warmer than it is now.

The same cycle seems to have corresponded with the collapse of agriculture and population during the cooling phase in the late Roman Empire and through the Dark Ages -- a plague-ridden era like the Little Ice Age.

The historical evidence suggests that eras of global warming are natural, that they are beneficial, that they can best be called "good weather."

When you add to this the fact that all of human history has taken place in a ten thousand year lull in the great Ice Age that has dominated the last million years of Earth's climate history, and I, for one, wish that we could control and warm the climate through mere carbon dioxide emissions -- because when the major astronomical cycles bring back the Ice Age, our descendants will very much wish for a means of causing global warming on a vast scale.

Meanwhile, keep in mind that there is nothing unnatural about the carbon dioxide we release into the atmosphere. All the carbon in the coal and oil and natural gas that we dig or pump up from under the surface was once atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide is fertilizer for all plant life. For millions of years, the coastal jungles of the dinosaur era sequestered natural atmospheric carbon dioxide and kept it out of circulation.

In effect, we have starved for CO2 for millions of years because all those plants selfishly drank up all the atmospheric carbon they could and then thoughtlessly died without returning it to the atmosphere.

We're only putting it back where it started.

And every serious climate scientist has to admit this fact: Whatever else our carbon dioxide emissions might be doing, they are definitely fertilizing forests and grasslands all around the world. Where humans are involved, that means orchards and grainfields.

If we really did reduce our CO2 emissions, it would cause a worldwide decrease in crop yields. That's a fact, not a computer model.

The real limiting factor should be this: The supply of oil and coal is finite. It was larger than the alarmists of the 1970s and 1980s supposed, but that doesn't mean that we will never run out. It is quite possible that in a mere two centuries of fossil fuel consumption, we will use up the entire supply of accessible sequestered carbon.

That, not groundless fears of global warming, is the reason we need to find other means of generating energy. Instead of worrying about carbon emissions, we need to search desperately for a means of powering our transportation and heating and cooling our habitations that does not depend on a resource that, once it runs out, is gone forever.

My fear is that because of all the lies and deceptions, all the oppression of dissent and nastiness of the global warming alarmists, the general public, once free of those delusions and lies, will think that all warnings and dangers are false.

In other words, we have been through three decades of massive wolf-crying about a nonexistent wolf, so that people won't believe in the need to deal with the real wolf of depleting resources.

We have a responsibility to future generations to leave them with the resources necessary to sustain a modern society. It is a sin to burn it all up when we don't have to. CO2 is a non-issue and always has been -- only the eco-puritans took it seriously and then foisted it on laypeople who trusted in "science."

The net effect of their falsehoods will be a loss of trust in real science, and that's a crime. Because there are dangers to the environment, and serious consequence from burning up resources that can never be renewed. And thanks to the global warming clowns, I fear that nobody will pay attention.

Meanwhile, the IPCC is due to put out another report. Let's see if they actually tell the truth this time, or continue to suppress facts, twist statistics, and lie, lie, lie in support of their blind faith in evil human-caused global warming.

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