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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Thai Time

Buddhist Temples in Chiang Mai Thailand Thai Time

Buddhist temples against a clear blue sky in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Pictures of Thailand have danced in my head ever since I caught my first case of the travel bug. The furious traffic and frenetic energy of Bangkok intrigued me. The sight of golden pagodas and taste of coconut curries excited me. And promises of pristine, desolate, white sandy beaches thrilled me.

With expectations sky-high, we wanted to devote a considerable amount of time to getting to know this so-called ‘Land of Smiles.’ As such, we used Thailand as our base in Southeast Asia, passing through Bangkok thrice and dividing up the rest of our time exploring the North and South of the country.

Immediately recognizable, Thailand was a stark contrast to its underdeveloped Laos neighbor. For better and for worse, Thailand offered many amenities we’d been missing: paved roads, well-appointed accommodation and modern trains and buses. This comes with a cost as 7-11’s and heavy traffic and pollution now joined the playing field.

Chiang Mai

Novice Monks in Chiang Mai Thailand Thai Time

Novice monks sit outside a Buddhist temple

Our first stop was Chiang Mai located in the mountains of northern Thailand. It’s the cultural capital of the country and a national treasure for Thai people. We hoped to discover a quaint town built into the mountainside, but soon learned our expectations would be given a reality check.

Chiang Mai, with a population hovering just below two million people, is more city than country, more polluted than pure and more hectic than peaceful. While golden pagodas are buzzing with streams of tangerine-clad monks, it’s also a place where traffic and whizzing mopeds are plentiful and the sex tourism thriving.

Where was the Chiang Mai travelers had raved about? Digging a little deeper into our pockets we were about to find out. A belated birthday splurge introduced us to Chiang Mai’s posh portfolio of adventures.

Enveloped by lush, mist-shrouded hills, Chiang Mai has a privileged setting. Stepping outside the city, these surroundings create an ideal backdrop for exclusive properties. We upped the ante and settled in at a delightful bed and breakfast along the river banks of the Ping River running through the city. At Baan Orapin, a 100-year old mansion turned B&B, we began to understand what Chiang Mai’s appeal was all about.

Baan Orapin BB in Chiang Mai Thailand Thai Time

Our room at Baan Orapin B&B in Chiang Mai, Thailand

And then there was the food. It didn’t take long for us to begin to unravel this piece of the puzzle. Juice shops on every corner introduced us to the mango, banana and dragon fruit shakes that would soon become our staple. All the coconut-milk curries we’d dreamt about, however, took the backburner, as we discovered the joys of Thailand’s northern cuisine. Here, in Thailand’s cooler climate, dishes are more stew-like. Spices and herbs from the dense forests are incorporated into dishes and pickled cabbage and lime add a hint of sourness to traditionally spicy dishes. Also setting northern cuisine apart is the sticky rice served with every meal and eaten with your hands.

Huen Phen Restaurant in Chiang Mai Thai Time

Enjoying the traditional cuisine of northern Thailand at Huen Phen restaurant

Smoked Tomato Salsa in Chiang Mai Thailand Thai Time

Smoked tomato and pepper salsa at Huen Phen restaurant

For animal lovers, Chiang Mai packs a big punch. On a visit to Elephant Nature Park (see video here), we spent a day caring for abandoned and abused elephants. Bathing, feeding and getting to know the stories of these gentle giants, we enjoyed an eye-opening day at the elephant sanctuary home to 33 rescued elephants.

Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai Thailand Thai Time

Making friends with rescued elephants at Elephant Nature Park

We also visited the nearby Tiger Kingdom (see video here), where we were face to face with the massive beasts. Ryan snuggled up to a big guy and I, smiling ear-to-ear, played with three-month old tiger cubs. While we enjoyed this unique encounter, we realized there may have been some shady things going on behind closed doors. The big tigers seemed a bit lethargic and made us question if they were being tranquilized. Further, their small cages suggested they are likely mistreated and looking back we do not recommend a visit here. Your money could be well-spent elsewhere.

Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai Thailand Thai Time

Loving on some baby tiger cubs

A Piece of the Pai

We made a brief detour north of Chiang Mai to the town of Pai, Thailand. We were anxious to get to know the so-called ‘mountain paradise,’ but what we discovered was more hippy commune than Thai escape. Crawling with ex-pat, dreadlock Rastafarians and filled with cafes blaring both Bobs (yes the Marley and the Dylan) this town seemed to have lost any Thai-ness it ever had.

To add to the strange aura, we had booked ourselves a room at a bizarre hotel called Spa Exotic Home. You’d think we’d been forewarned with the name of the place, but that passed us by. When we showed up at our Pai digs, we found our little, wooden bungalow was equipped with its own ‘spa.’ Our bathroom had a huge, stone tub shooting out hot, sulfur water that reeked of rotten eggs. To elevate the mood, there were paintings of water nymphs hung all over the walls of our room. If that wasn’t enough, there was a u-shaped, hot spring pool just outside our front door. The only thing rivaling the steamy waters were the Kama Sutra sculptures surrounding the pool.

Spa Exotic Home in Pai Thailand Thai Time

The strange aura of the hot springs at Spa Exotic Home

Our time in Pai will best be remembered for tooting around on a moped. Because our hotel was so far outside of town, renting a moped was essential. Once we hopped on, we realized we’d been missing out on this quintessential Southeast Asian experience. With Ryan at the wheel, we whizzed around town like a local. Check out the video below of my first and only attempt at driving the moped.

There is something about the Thai way that leaves you wanting more. Maybe it’s the food, the smiles and warm welcome we received. Maybe it’s the abundant sunshine, natural beauty and mix of Western amenities and rich culture. Perhaps it’s a mix of all of this. Whatever it was, Thailand was beginning to wrap us around her finger and our adventures in northern Thailand only whet our appetite for more.

pixel Thai Time

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