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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The African Predicament

Laura and I debated back and forth about the merits of doing our southern African tour independently and renting our own 4×4 or going with an overland tour operator. Both ideas had their plusses and minuses.

With an overland tour, the obvious plus is that you take planning out of the equation. Tour operators have traversed the continent many times and know where to go, when to go and what to see. The research has been done and you, as the client, can blindly follow along (for better or for worse). Overland tour groups come equipped with knowledgeable guides who can answer many questions and provide wonderful information on wildlife, flora and fauna. Also, an overland tour can significantly cut costs, especially for the lone independent traveler. Finally, and again important for the solo traveler, overland tours present opportunities to meet new friends. Our tour of Tibet, although absolutely terrible, allowed us to meet some great people, many of whom we still keep in touch with long after our tour.

The downside? Well, as someone who has done a few tours, I can say that the experience typically isn’t as enriching. It’s difficult after an entire year of independent travel to follow a schedule that someone else has put together for you. The best part of travel, especially long-term travel, is that you can take the time to see things at your own pace, lingering in the places you enjoy and hitting fast-forward through some parts that aren’t so great. There’s nothing worse than being herded around like a group of cattle when you’re years away from grade school.

This was enough to propel Laura and me to splurge and opt for a self-drive safari through southern Africa. We went back and forth many times, not because the decision was so tough but rather because the cost was so great for two meager backpackers. Our decision rested on the single question – When else will we have the freedom (no kids, no debt, etc.) and time to traverse this large swath of continent? Never. As such, we were going to do it the way we wanted to.

So, the upside of doing this 4×4 safari independently is simple – it’ a full-on experience where you can follow and change your itinerary on a whim and learn as much through osmosis as personal experience (both triumphs and failures).

There are so many downsides to self-drive tours it’s impossible to list them all, but here are a big few.

1. Car problems. I’m the furthest thing from a mechanic and the last place you want to be stuck is the Namibian outback. There’s plenty of it, too, with Namibia being the least densely populated country on the planet.
2. Costs. While a drawback, we did the math and it seems we paid only a small premium, to quote Fleetwood Mac, “go our own way.” In the end, I believe the experience we had far outweighed the cost.
3. No guide. As mentioned, overland tour guides can be very helpful so this was something we missed. However, we bought the very helpful Shell guide to Botswana and had a lot of fun learning about the different animals we were spotting along the way.

The biggest question one can ask them self after deciding between two things is if you were in a similar situation, would you do it again. Yes, we would. Absolutely, we would.

We had a lion’s share of car problems on our safari (yes, pun intended) but these were all part of our experience. I learned as much about 4×4 trucks as I did about wildlife. I am now an off-road driving expert, comfortable driving through feet of sand or water. I became a budding ornithologist and wildlife field guide with the help of several wildlife books we purchased. Also, we were able to experience more of Namibia and Botswana’s cultural aspects than we would have through the pre-packaged, bite-sized and sterile tourist interactions we normally have had on our group tours. Most important, Laura and I were able to skip the tourist traps, avoid big crowds and take our time in the places we enjoyed most. In the end, our southern African experience was exactly that – OUR own experience that can’t be found on the brochure of any tour operator.

pixel The African Predicament

Comments (3)

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  1. roundwego says:

    @Laura We are no car mechanics, I can assure you. I would still go for the adventure and hope to learn some things along the way. I would splurge for a satellite phone (we didn’t) and you should be sure to bring extra goods/water before setting out in case you were to get stuck. Oh, and go with a Toyota Hi-Lux, not a Land Rover. Land Rovers are notoriously fickle and if you’re not a car person, they can be a real pain to work with.

  2. Laura says:

    Hi! We have been thinking this is the way we also would like to experience south Africa! For all the reasons you already mentioned, it just seems this is the logical way to go. :) I’m am a little daunted though by the possibility of car troubles along the way. I realize this may be a crap shoot to some degree but was anything along the way more than you were able to handle car wise? As a couple of soon to be travelers with absolutely no mechanical know how, this is definitely my biggest concern.
    Laura´s last [type] ..Shot Through the Arm, and We’re To Blame

  3. Mom Keller says:

    Wow, I am lovin reading this post. I hate to quote Frank Sinatra but I’m glad you did it ‘My Way”