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 I

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Oz Kids Mazabuka Orphanage

“Uncle. Uncle. Uncle! Less-see.” We are at Oz Kids Orphanage in Mazabuka, Zambia, and taking pictures when I hear the words from a little voice below me. They come from a smiling 3-year old boy named Joseph. You’d hardly know he’s 3, though. With his small stature, protruding belly, diapers and a presence that reflects his past, you’d be forgiven for thinking him 18 months.

Me and Joseph8 e1297441079118 Just the 14 of Us: Part IJoseph’s story is one of sadness. Like so many of his now-brothers and sisters that we share a home with, Joseph has a troubled past. He came to the home after it was discovered he was being physically abused and purposely underfed at another orphanage. The caretakers there were posting photos of Joseph on the internet and extorting money from well-meaning Europeans and North Americans wishing to help a previously healthy, baby boy. That this occurred is troubling. That his case is one of many, and that the other children here have stories that make Joseph “lucky” is almost too hard to take.

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Chipego or "Gift" in the local Tonga dialect

Chipego is the Tonga tribe’s word for “gift” and is often given to a child thought to be an unexpected gift from the powers that be. Unexpected she was. Chipego was found in a ditch on the side of the highway when someone walking by heard a baby crying. How long and who left her there were unknown. So she was brought to the local social services agency. After months in the hospital the beautiful, little Chipego was given a home and family here at Oz Kids. She’s now a huge monster of cackles that everyone respectfully refers to as “Momma.”

Witchraft. Murder. Betrayal. One or another child here has been affected or orphaned as a result of one of these. But all have been affected by sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest killer – AIDS. If not a mother or father who has contracted the HIV virus, then it’s an aunt, uncle, cousin or friend. Estimates state that in urban areas of Zambia, more than 30% of the population is HIV+. Think about that for a moment. 1 out of every 3 people you see or meet has HIV. So often we are bombarded by stats that it’s easy to become immune to the stories and sadness behind them. Now if you aren’t taken aback by this, here’s another one. The average life span in Zambia is 32 years.

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"Catching up" on the front stoop

It took a bit for that to settle in me and is precisely the reason why Laura and I are here. Having recently celebrated my 30th birthday, this was a very scary truth. That if I were not given all the opportunity in my own life and had been born to another family here in Zambia, my life could be ending at the same point I feel my life is now beginning.

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Changing time for Joseph = fun

Quitting our jobs and taking 14 months to travel the world has been called “courageous” by friends, family and colleagues. But I couldn’t escape the feeling that somehow I wasn’t being courageous, but incredibly selfish. The money we had saved to do this could have saved lives. It could have provided real opportunities for others in need of opportunity. I didn’t even have to give it away, I thought. I could have stayed in my job and used that savings to provide micro-loans for one of the thousands of charitable causes sponsored by Kiva. Yes, on the contrary, I could have bought a car or spent it lavishly. True. And that certainly wouldn’t have made me a bad person, not in my opinion at least. But selfish? Maybe, I thought.

This was our chance to give back, even if just a little (this begs the philosophical argument of altruism, I know). We were unsure what to expect. Laura had done the legwork and this opportunity seemed a good match for us. We would have the chance to work with children, something we both enjoy. And we’d be able to work AND live at the home. If we only were going to volunteer three weeks, we wanted an experience where we could contribute as much and as often as we were capable. We learned quickly that with this, there would be no escape or outlet, no boundary between work and what happens after work. We arrived anxious, hopeful and full of questions. Would they open up to us? Would they accept us? Could we possibly make a real impact in their lives in such a short period of time? Would they even want us to try? We’d soon find out.

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.

pixel Just the 14 of Us: Part I

For more details on our efforts, click here.

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