Three Years of Hell to Become the Devil: Outgeeking Bainbridge

« Getting Ready for Hong Kong | Main | Idealist? You must be joking »

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.

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

NOTICE TO SPAMMERS, COMMENT ROBOTS, TRACKBACK SPAMMERS AND OTHER NON-HUMAN VISITORS: No comment or trackback left via a robot is ever welcome at Three Years of Hell. Your interference imposes significant costs upon me and my legitimate users. The owner, user or affiliate who advertises using non-human visitors and leaves a comment or trackback on this site therefore agrees to the following: (a) they will pay fifty cents (US$0.50) to Anthony Rickey (hereinafter, the "Host") for every spam trackback or comment processed through any blogs hosted on, or, irrespective of whether that comment or trackback is actually posted on the publicly-accessible site, such fees to cover Host's costs of hosting and bandwidth, time in tending to your comment or trackback and costs of enforcement; (b) if such comment or trackback is published on the publicly-accessible site, an additional fee of one dollar (US$1.00) per day per URL included in the comment or trackback for every day the comment or trackback remains publicly available, such fee to represent the value of publicity and search-engine placement advantages.

Giving The Devil His Due

And like that... he is gone (8)
Bateleur wrote: I tip my hat to you - not only for ... [more]

Law Firm Technology (5)
Len Cleavelin wrote: I find it extremely difficult to be... [more]

Post Exam Rant (9)
Tony the Pony wrote: Humbug. Allowing computers already... [more]

Symbols, Shame, and A Number of Reasons that Billy Idol is Wrong (11)
Adam wrote: Well, here's a spin on the theory o... [more]

I've Always Wanted to Say This: What Do You Want? (14)
gcr wrote: a nice cozy victorian in west phill... [more]

Choose Stylesheet

What I'm Reading

D.C. Noir

My city. But darker.
A Clockwork Orange

About time I read this...


Projects I've Been Involved With

A Round-the-World Travel Blog: Devil May Care (A new round-the-world travel blog, co-written with my wife)
Parents for Inclusive Education (From my Clinic)

Syndicated from other sites

The Columbia Continuum
Other Blogs by CLS students

Luang Prabang: Greatest Town in the World

Luang Prabang is the greatest city in the world. Perhaps, that is an overstatement. With a population hovering around 100,000 it may not be large enough to be considered a city. Luang Prabang is then the greatest town in the world.

The dirty little secret is this – Laos and its cultural capital, Luang Prabang, need a marketing makeover. Sure, magazines like Conde Nast and National Geographic Traveler will give the city its due props with articles titled “Best Kept Secrets of Southeast Asia” and “SE Asia’s Hot List” but, please, this is petty patronization. This city, this town, should not be condensed so easily to stroke some pedantic travel expert’s ego. A UNESCO World Heritage site is not a secret. And for a place to be considered “hot” is to say that it will go out of style some time later. Luang Prabang should be visited now and later, again and again and again.

Certainly, Laura and I will be back. The town’s demure beauty captured our admiration from the moment we arrived. After traveling hard to outpace our Tibet-shortened Chinese visa, we were in need of a calm, quiet place to relax for a few days. Laura’s research and Wikitravel’s glowing recommendation brought us to one of the best places we’ve stayed yet – Thongbay Guesthouse – just on the outskirts of town.

From the get-go we had the feeling that a few days there would turn into several, which is exactly what happened. At Thongbay, we had a – OK, I’ll call it cute (it was) – bungalow all to ourselves on the shores of the Nam Khan river just before its intersection with the Mekong. Made of all wood with no real frills (no AC, no TV) other than exceptional service and breakfast on the veranda, the rustic locale was exactly what we were after.

We spent a total of 8 days in the good, ‘ole LP, but for brevity’s sake, I’ll give you run-down on what to see, eat and do the New York Times way – in 36 hours.

36 Hours in Luang Prabang

Day 1

4 p.m. – Bike the Drive

It being a town, there is no need for maps or public transportation, just your two feet and some wheels. Laura and I rented bikes almost every day to get to and fro and this is undoubtedly the best way to cruise the town. One of the great charms of the town is its peninsular location, carved out by two rivers – the Mekong and the Nam Khan. Sandwiched in between are more than thirty Buddhist temples and a host of perfectly-preserved French colonial buildings, all easily navigable on two tires. Because the whole town of Luang Prabang is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, no new development is allowed, therefore keeping away much of the over-blown commercialism found in SE Asia’s other cities.

Cool off after your bike ride around town with SE Asia’s best iced coffee. Made with condensed milk and a healthy scoop of sugar it’s more of a liquid dessert than anything resembling coffee, but it’s a great pick-me-up on a hot day.

6 p.m. – Fire on the Mountain

With your new-found sugar high, ascend Luang Prabang’s highest point, Phou Si, a hill 100m high in the center of the old town with breathtaking views of the stupa-studded province. Atop the hill is a white-washed Buddhist temple, around which tourists gather to applaud the sunset over the Mekong, an absolute highlight of any trip to Luang Prabang.

8 p.m. – Night Market

Trust me; you will never visit a market as quiet as this one, not even if you’re shopping for caskets. Every night, artists and merchants set up shop on the main road running through the town’s artery to hawk their goods. If you’re coming from just about any neighboring country (especially Vietnam) you will be shocked at the lack of hassling and the quiet and reserved demeanor with which the Lao people conduct their business. Bargaining still occurs but it is by no means cut-throat and shouting won’t get you anywhere. In a country where “saving face” and maintaining a pleasant disposition are all important, the people are generally very laid-back. People come here to sell everything from misspelled Beerlao t-shirts to hand-woven purses to beautiful hand-painted prints and cards.

Walking through the market can certainly make one thirsty, and for this there is an almighty solution – Beerlao. Grab one of the green-and-yellow-labeled pilsners and take a seat at one of the communal tables in the alley running off the main market. Here is the nightly food market, made up of an exceptional array of food stalls, selling grilled fish, sausages, pork, corn and hot and spicy noodles, plenty of reason to indulge your taste buds and order another Beerlao.

As with most Buddhist cultures, Luang Prabang is not a late-night kind of place, so it’s early to bed because tomorrow you’ll be early to rise.

Day 2

6 a.m. – The Giving of the Alms

Visit in the morning and you will see lines of saffron-robed monks collecting their morning alms from the townspeople in a charitable display so beautiful to watch it will make you question why all acts of kindness couldn’t be this way. Beware, though, you will also see hordes of ugly tourists literally jogging down the street to snap photos of the collections, as it’s become tourist –chic (I say this having gone and taken pictures myself but, still, there is a respectful way of capturing the act and maintaining some distance).

8 a.m. – French Connection

After the monks collect their daily rations of rice, it’s time for you to get fed. Head to one of the many cafes in town and discover at least one redeeming quality of French colonialism – the food – over a breakfast of pain au chocolat and café au lait.

10 a.m. – Iron Chef

We had heard from many other travelers that Luang Prabang is a great place to take a Lao cooking course. We signed up and started off our all-day cooking course at Tamnak Lao by heading to the local food market to purchase fresh meats, vegetables and spices. This was a lot of fun and a great way to get off the tourist path and experience shopping in a local market.

With our English-speaking chef, Laura and I, along with about 8 others, learned to cook 6 recipes, including two Lao favorites – sticky rice, a glutinous rice used in northeastern Laos, and jeowbong, a spicy chili paste only made in Luang Prabang and typically eaten with dried buffalo skin.

The cooking class ended with a terrific lunch whipped up by none other than ourselves and included our personal favorite, laap, a minced chicken salad flavored with chili, mint, kaffir lime leaves and an assortment of vegetables.

4 p.m. – Go Chasing Waterfalls

About 30 minutes drive (you can either hire a moped or hop a local tuk-tuk) from town are Kuang Si Falls, a multi-tiered waterfall cascading several hundred feet down the mountainside. Laura and I made the trek up the mountain with a bunch of other travelers – Kiwis, Brits and Germans – to take advantage of the natural swimming pools on the upper terraces of the falls. You could spend all day here just chilling and drinking fruit smoothies, but after such a rough day you might be in need of a cocktail like we were.

6 p.m. – Slow Gin Fizzes

Sunsets in Luang Prabang are not just sunsets; they are events. There are a slew of bars practically begging you, by way of idyllic views over the Mekong, to enjoy the approaching sunset with a cocktail. Now Laura is not typically a cocktail drinker, but something about the fiery-red sun waiting to dip itself over the green jungle and into the river had her saying, “Everyone must believe in something. I believe I’ll have a drink.” Gin fizz was deemed the right choice for the moment. And there wasn’t anything slow about it. One turned to two and two to…time for dinner (or it’s going to be a very short night). If that cooking course taught you anything, it’s that there is no shortage of great food to be had in this town, so get ready.

8 p.m. – Frasian Fusion

With all due respect to the many wonderful restaurants of Laos’s capital, Vientiane, Luang Prabang would have to be considered the gastronomic center of the country. French-inspired but still distinctively Lao, Luang Prabang’s cuisine is superb. There are restaurants serving tasty Lao cuisine to suit every budget.

Laura and I chose wisely with a place called Tamarind, hidden in one of the side-streets on the Mekong side of town and specializing in traditional Lao food. This was one of the best meals we’ve had on our entire trip. We sampled sticky rice and dried, crispy seaweed, served with an assortment of veggie dips to start: a chunky tomato salsa, a smoky eggplant dip and a coriander chutney.

4476050772 417218e471 Luang Prabang: Greatest Town in the World

But the highlight was undoubtedly the lemongrass-stuffed chicken. The chicken is mixed with a variety of herbs and spices including garlic, ginger, kaffir lime and coriander, then stuffed inside a thick stalk of lemongrass, dipped in egg and flash-fried. The result – oh, dear baby Jesus! The crispy lemongrass covering gave an incredible scent and taste to the juicy and delectably-flavored chicken that was tucked inside. And with a side of peanut sauce for dipping and the local lao lao (rice whiskey) to tipple, you won’t regret eating here.

Day 3

11 a.m. – Longtail It Out of Town

All your bags are packed. You’re ready to go. Stop standing there and longtail it out of town. For centuries, the Mekong has been the lifeline and main means of transport for the Lao, Burmese, Chinese, Tibetan and Vietnamese that call the river’s shore their home. Karst mountains, wild elephants bathing, hairless, young monks washing their clothes – there is no better way to pay witness to Luang Prabang’s beautiful offerings than to take a boat down this world-renowned waterway. A fitting goodbye to 36 hours in the world’s greatest town.

For video highlights of Luang Prabang, click here.

pixel Luang Prabang: Greatest Town in the World

Comments (8)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. roundwego says:

    @Grace – Glad we can help. Look forward to reading your thoughts on Luang Prabang. Eat at Tamarind!

  2. Grace says:

    I am in Luang Prabang and your blog will be my guide.

  3. Chiang Khan says:

    Will have to cross the Mekong River and check out Laos for sure.

  4. roundwego says:

    @Natalie – Glad you plan to make your way there. Luang Prabang certainly won’t disappoint! Think it will continue to be a stand-out from all our travels.

  5. Kristina says:

    I have been to Laos 2 years ago and Luang Prabang was one of my favorite places – it is truely magical! thanks for bringing back some memories!
    viele grüsse, kristina
    Kristina´s last [type] ..wanderings through berlin- clärchens ballhaus

  6. Luang Prabang – it’s a dream… And first item in my wish list)

  7. Matt says:

    I love the nod to Mr. K…”everyone has to believe in something…”. Sounds like an amazing time in Luang Prabang.

  8. Cam says:

    Looks like you guys had a great time! The food looks delish…