Three Years of Hell to Become the Devil: Outgeeking Bainbridge

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Outgeeking Bainbridge

Now, I'd never take on Professor Bainbridge when it comes to wine: I haven't the taste buds. And on corporate law? More fool me to challenge the guy who authors textbooks. But outgeeking? There we're on more equal ground. And I'm afraid that his accusation that George Lucas has sold the soul of Star Wars to the Democrats just rings hollow.

Basically, the good Professor is upset because:

...Lucas betrayed the basic story arc of the Star Wars mythology in order to score these cheap political points. In the original trilogy, Luke struggled against the absolutism of Obi-Wan and Yoda. It was Luke who insisted that there was still good in Vader, which Yoda and Obi-Wan rejected.

The betrayal in question is in having Obi-Wan say to Anakin, after the latter has muttered some you're-for-me-or-against-me line, "Only a Sith thinks in absolutes."

Now, I've not seen the movie yet, and to the best of my knowledge, neither has Prof. Bainbridge, but to my mind his internal critique doesn't hold up. Bainbridge spends a great deal of time talking about how an older (presumably wiser) Obi-Wan was still doctrinaire and absolutist in his consideration of the Force. But if we consider this Obi-Wan to be less mature than Alec Guinness (and who wouldn't), then the plot still hangs together. Obi-wan may just be full of it. And there's no "betrayal" for "cheap political points" so long as the elder Jedi isn't doing anything more than the lightsaber equivalent of Godwin's Law: you know the conversation's over (and someone's limbs are about to go) when somebody mentions the Sith.

So why are so many assuming that Old Kenobi needs to be taken seriously? It seems that the New York Times found political meaning in the film:

"This is how liberty dies - to thunderous applause," Padm observes as senators, their fears and dreams of glory deftly manipulated by Palpatine, vote to give him sweeping new powers. "Revenge of the Sith" is about how a republic dismantles its own democratic principles, about how politics becomes militarized, about how a Manichaean ideology undermines the rational exercise of power. Mr. Lucas is clearly jabbing his light saber in the direction of some real-world political leaders. At one point, Darth Vader, already deep in the thrall of the dark side and echoing the words of George W. Bush, hisses at Obi-Wan, "If you're not with me, you're my enemy." Obi-Wan's response is likely to surface as a bumper sticker during the next election campaign: "Only a Sith thinks in absolutes." You may applaud this editorializing, or you may find it overwrought, but give Mr. Lucas his due. For decades he has been blamed (unjustly) for helping to lead American movies away from their early-70's engagement with political matters, and he deserves credit for trying to bring them back.

Dear goodness, we can only hope. I mean, if Democrats can't do better than Lucas's tin-ear for dialogue for their political bumper stickers, then I suspect the Republicans will get the geek vote. But now the New York Times has done the impossible: it's made me curious about the final Star Wars film.

Let's face it: Lucas is about as subtle as a chainsaw running through a screen door, at least when it comes to dialogue. I'd expect that even if Chewbacca were mouthing Bush-lite rhetoric, you wouldn't need to be Han Solo to figure out the reference. On the other hand, the New York Times could probably scan Beowulf and find hidden anti-Bush meanings.

So who is it? Is George L. taking on George B.? Or is this all a figment of the Times' fevered fantasies? Sadly, I'll have to see the film to find out, because when it comes to a conflict between the Lucas lack of subtext and the Greying Lady's determination to find same, we reach a level of difficulty almost equal to that of the Great Sci Fi Paradox: What happens when a bunch of clueless red-shirts, guaranteed to survive less than three minutes after a beamdown, meets a platoon of Imperial Stormtroopers, who can't hit a barn from inside it?


This article on a Cannes press conference might save you the trouble of going to the movie.
A wise man once pointed out that "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar", and I think someone needs to remind Prof. Bainbridge that sometimes a trashy sci-fi B flick is just a trashy sci-fi B flick.....
The "wise man" was Freud, on the sometimes-noninterpretation-of-dreams. Less well known is his debt to Kipling. The original line went something like "Wine is only wine, but a cigar is a smoke."
I've noticed that people who are absolutist often think that they are nuanced. (Often because they know other people on their own side who are even more extreme, or have unexpressed feelings which are much nastier.)
TTP: I know it was Freud; I was under the impression that the quote was familiar enough that nobody (at least nobody well educated enough to be follwoing a first person narrative of American legal education) needed to be told who said it. :-)
Oh, perhaps I've underestimated folks. I was under the impression that a lot of people didn't know the source. Eh. Also I was trolling for the exact phrasing of the Kipling quote.
"Now, I've not seen the movie yet, and to the best of my knowledge, neither has Prof. Bainbridge..." And thus continues the conservative tradition of critiquing movies without having seen them. :)
If you notice, Dave, the above isn't a critique of a movie, but a series of questions about it. And having now seen the movie, if you want to carry water for Lucas's dialogue, I hope your back's pretty strong.

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Just the 14 of Us: Part II

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Choir practice at the home with church members

The first day proved interesting. We were the first “volunteers” the home had ever had. In the conversations we had leading up to our volunteer experience, we were told we’d have our own room and bathroom. Very nice, we thought. 12 kids, eight under the age of 10 – chaos, we imagined! We could still have a sense of privacy. We arrived to find out that the “Aunties” (house Moms) and the children had switched around their sleeping arrangements to give Laura and me our own room. Only afterward did we understand how gracious a gesture this was. We would, however, be sharing the lone bath and bathroom with the rest of the house, an initial shock to us (especially to Laura), but something we’d come to laugh about and appreciate later.

IMG 5018 300x200 Just the 14 of Us: Part IIOne by one we were introduced to the children. The girls curtsied in the old English way and the boys politely took our bags. The aunties were visibly excited to have us and could not have been more welcoming. The Director of the orphanage was out of town so we looked to them for direction. And this is when we learned about the privileged status of the white man in Africa. They beamed at us and said, “We are so excited to learn from you!” What could we possibly have to teach them? We didn’t know how to approach the kids or what exactly our roles would be while there.

There was no set volunteer structure or defined goals. We knew the children needed help with reading, writing and speaking English. Zambia is made up of 72 different tribal groups, each with their own language. So, English is the uniting language, and more importantly, the language of business. If any of these kids is to get ahead in life, understanding the English language is important, if not necessary. But apart from this, we weren’t quite sure how to “educate” the children.

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Partners in crime Mulenga and Chipego

Through direct conversations, intonations and the general way in which we were received, we soon gathered that to everyone around us (at least those with dark skin we were later told), we possessed a knowledge that they, frankly, did not. Simply by growing up and receiving an education in a developed world, the director of the home honestly told us, people expected that we could teach them things (and offer financial help, too, he joked). Obviously, this made us both feel a little uneasy. I wondered to Laura if they would view black Americans the same way or if it were really just our skin color that set us apart.

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Favorite time of day in Mazabuka

To our amazement the kids opened up to us immediately. Initial conversations seemed forced – “What is your favorite Bible passage?” one asked me (the home is Christian-based), but I quickly learned that this was more a matter of finding common ground than anything. With the boys, we spoke of futbol, the World Cup and girls; with the girls, we talked about hair (emphasis black hair – something we both learned a lot about), baking cookies and, of course, boys. After the first few days, many offered to share their stories: of abandonment, of abuse, but most often, of death, “My mother died giving birth to me,” “My father died of AIDS when I was nine,” or “My mother died of AIDS and my father couldn’t take care of me.” This approbation of us was overwhelming. They wanted to share their stories and to confide in us. All our worries that they would never be able to trust us were gone and quickly replaced by a new fear; that we would become so close to them in such little time, only for them to feel abandoned once again when we left. In an effort to do something good and unselfish, I was feeling selfish yet again. I felt that everything I was doing was perhaps based on some crazy, subconscious desire to make myself feel better, only in the end to expedite these kids’ own mistrust in others. Would the time spent with them and relationships forged outweigh the sense of loss they might feel after we left? Could we, after leaving, continue to be an active part in their lives from thousands of miles away? Time will tell, but we decided we are going to try.

On October 9, we’re hitting the pavement, running 26.2 for these kids. Hope you’ll consider making a donation to make their world a little bit brighter.

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For more details on our efforts, click here.

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