Gerry is an experimental film in which two guys get lost in the desert and wander around trying to get out. That's about it in terms of plot. It's by Gus Van Sant, who earlier remade the movie Psycho; coincidentally, I recently heard a report on NPR about a museum showing the original Psycho, without sound, slowed so that the running time was a full 24 hours. Shown in this manner, the film reportedly became more like a painting: something to look at rather than something to watch. Gerry, even at its intended frame rate, is similar. It's basically a series of five-minute shots of guys walking. The frames are nicely composed, the desert is harshly beautiful, and there are some memorable images, like a shot from behind of the guys walking in a fierce wind, pelted by what seems like hundreds of tumbleweeds. There are subtle changes as the film goes on, as the guys' gait goes from jaunty to panicked to zombielike, and they move from scrub desert to badlands to alkali waste. But all in all it's a chore to watch, just as, no matter how good a painting is, it'd be a stretch to sit in a museum and stare at it for an hour and a half. (Hmmm. Actually, there have been times that I've wanted to look at a painting for several minutes, but I always feel weird doing so. I guess staring at anything is sort of taboo in this culture, even if it's inanimate.)

Onto some responses to my extremely rambly Spellbound article:

One person asked where we'd find enough teachers to double the number of them per classroom given that there's already a shortage of good ones, and also wondered whether giving everyone a rigorous education was a good idea since it would inevitably mean sticking smart people in jobs that would drive a smart person crazy.

True — if you more than double the number of teachers, as I suggest, they have to come from somewhere. Of course, one of the current conundrums facing this country at the moment is the fact that (a) jobs are scarce, as unskilled and blue-collar work is increasingly either moving to the third world or else being automated, while (b) unlike in Europe, in America there is little or no sentiment that people who aren't working should nevertheless not starve to death. So instead of the robots taking over the work and leaving the humans to play, the robots take over the work and the humans become massively poor (except for a few who become massively rich because they own the robots). Employing a bunch of those people as bathroom-pass wranglers in schools would solve two problems at once. Of course taxes would have to go up to pay them, but that's been fundamental to this idea anyway.

As for the benefit of a large poorly-educated class... I remember the first George Bush coming to East LA and telling the (poor and Latino but mostly college-bound) student body that "You don't have to go to college to be a success [...] We need [...] the people who do the hard physical work of our society." Maybe, but increasingly we need fewer of them. And people participate in society as more than purely economic entities. If we're going to give everyone the right to vote, for instance, we have to educate everyone or our political system will continue to be a travesty. And by "educate" I don't just mean "teach math, information retrieval and expository essay writing to" — people should actually have some critical thinking skills and some knowledge of the political arena. We already have the idea of earned citizenship built into our society — children can't vote — but earning full citizenship should entail more than just hanging around the planet for a certain number of years.

I'm thinking of all the public school kids I've encountered who clearly did not want to be there, who thought of school as a burden rather than a privilege; I think everyone who wants a high-quality education should be able to get one, for free... but what about the people who'd rather do scut work than learn how to think? It's really tempting to think that that should be accepted as a valid choice... but then you fall into the Objectivist fallacy of thinking of people as totally autonomous entities, created ex nihilo. That's not how life works. Whether people choose to become educated depends largely on whether the local culture values learning. I mean, it's not coincidence or genetic predisposition that determines the ethnic makeup of advanced and remedial classes. People tend to absorb the ideas and values of those around them. Some communities (Asian immigrant communities, for instance) have the meme that school is a privilege to get as much out of as you can; others feel it's a burden. It reminds me a bit of George Lakoff's take on taxes: you'll never see a sensible tax policy so long as the "taxes are a burden" meme keeps circulating. Put the policies on hold and get the word out that taxes aren't a burden leaving people in need of "relief," that it's actually a privilege to spend a little bit of money and get civilization in return.

Someone else brought up the Photopia Phaq and asked whether I hadn't answered my own question — love your kids and you get lovable kids.

I dunno. It's true that one thing all eight of the Spellbound kids had in common was that they all seemed to have pretty good relationships with their parents; even the overbearing dad from India who hired squadrons of coaches for his kid and went through countless words with him every day in rapid-fire fashion was only shown giving out positive reinforcement, praising the kid a lot and never sounding disappointed. Still, I don't think it's as easy as all that: otherwise all loved kids would turn out great, yet they don't. Parental love isn't sufficient, and neither is it strictly necessary, as some wonderful people have come from some dismal homes.

I guess what I'd say about it now is this. I believe in karma — in Pali, kamma — but not on an individual level. I think it works on a systemic level, works in the context of the whole network of interconnections that make up the universe. Do good, and it might not return to you, might not even return anywhere nearby, but it'll turn up somewhere. Do evil, and the same will happen. It's like dumping pollutants into a lake: probably the lake ends up poisoned, but maybe not. Maybe the lake stays clean. But somewhere two hundred miles downstream you end up with a creek that smells like turpentine and is prone to catching on fire. Similarly, if you're greedy and selfish, maybe it comes back to bite you and maybe it doesn't. But suffering propagates through the system. Ken Lay wants to add another private jet to the fleet, so he has his people lobby for a tax break, which leads to a cut in public services, which further impoverishes my neighborhood, so the locals turn to petty crime and my car gets broken into. Karma. The CEO of a clothing company decides he needs a fifth house, so he has his advertising team spread the meme that if you're not wearing his brand then you're hopelessly unfashionable and basically worthless, and the daughter of someone who can't afford to spend huge sums on a label starts cutting herself. Karma. I worry that there's enough bad karma floating around in this society that all the love I have to give couldn't stop it from tagging my future kid. But I guess the only remedy for that is to try to dump as much good into the system as possible and hope for the best.

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