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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Habana Libre!

The Malecon Havana Cuba Habana Libre!This is certainly not Hemingway’s Cuba.

Those were my first thoughts upon landing in Havana against the wishes and the law of the United States government. Using a friend’s wedding in Mexico as the perfect cover and jumping-off point, Laura and I decided to steal a surreptitious look into that “inner sanctum” they call Cuba.

While the cars and prices may not have changed much, Cuba no longer represents the warm and vibrant party-like atmosphere that attracted so many Americans to these parts in the 40’s and 50’s. Cuba, I soon learned, can be a depressing place. But to describe it solely in those terms would be a terrible injustice. No, the Cuba that I found was too pregnant with contradictions to be summed up in a neat little package with a bow around it. Ideologically isolated, yet geographically close, Cuba can best be described as a forbidden fruit, possessing multiple layers and begging to be explored.

What I, like many Americans, failed to consider is that Cuba is much more exotic to us than it is to the many others free to travel there. For tourists coming in from Europe for their Cuba holiday, the island is full of sun and sand and a place to relax for a long weekend to escape the winter doldrums. That I was not one of a few very brave foreigners that dare enter Castro’s domain immediately gave me a feeling of disappointment.

Havana Libre Habana Libre!

Crumbling beauty of Havana, Cuba

My vision of Cuba had been a movie set: filled with beautiful colors, beautiful people and beautiful food. But I arrived to find a more subdued reality, one of darkness amid crumbling buildings and a depressed people. It was neither the rum-soaked roving beach party the movies insisted it was, nor the classy, Latin version of today’s Vegas. What I initially experienced was a daily struggle and constant grind for the people trying to get by on insufficient rations. Most human innovation seemed wasted upon trying to exploit the system in an effort to purchase goods on the black market not provided by the government. This was necessitated by a need to supplement their meager government salaries, all the while fearing and trying to avoid the wrath of “La Barba” (the Bearded One).

Trinidad Cuba Colonial Splendor Habana Libre!But, this is not to disparage travel to Cuba. No, in fact, I highly recommend it! Surprised? Cuba is a truly unique place, and not only for notorious reasons. My earliest observation is also the most memorable in my mind. Driving into the city from the airport, I was struck by nature’s primacy on the island. The lush vegetation we saw everywhere was not simply a result of tropical temperatures taking course; instead, it was a conscious effort on the part of the government not to be conquered by capitalist interests. There are no Cancun-style high-rise condos, no copycat T-shirt stores or souvenir shops lining every street and no unctuous sales types trying to lure you into their Carlos O’Something Irish bar, quite refreshing for incoming tourists.

In that same vein, save a few Che or Fidel pictorials, there are no billboards, no advertisements and no marketing materials constantly fighting for your attention. Given that Laura and I were both employed in the marketing field, this struck another chord – our jobs, our entire industries rather, did not even exist here. Disappointing perhaps, but on a base level, I think this is again refreshing.

Music continues to play an integral role in Cuban society. Because the musical arts is one of Fidel’s pet projects, musicians are encouraged through state patronage. It seems every which way I turned, there was live music flowing out of dilapidated music halls and into the streets, giving credence to the belief that Buena Vista Social Club is not even the best musical outfit Cuba has to offer. In this way, Cuba, and particularly the cultural and political capital of Havana, still maintains the Latin musical flair and history that it has long been synonymous with.

Habana Libre Fidel Quote Habana Libre!Along with great music comes great dancing. One of our favorite nights in Cuba took place in a neighborhood square in the colonial town of Trinidad, home to the plantation mansions of the the 18th and 19th century sugar barons past. Mojito in one hand and a cigar in the other, I watched as the square filled with locals of all ages coming to dance, beginning with live music at 10pm and continuing on until the early hours of the morning. This is how the locals escape, so to speak, and forget about the difficulties in their lives, taking pleasure in something so simple. Our last night brought us to one of Havana’s most popular music clubs where a spectacularly entertaining band created a blend of jazz, rumba, mambo and salsa using a variety of African and Caribbean beats and instruments.

Cuban Life1 Habana Libre!Cuba is now, in its own way, creating a new style of communism – state-run capitalism, not too dissimilar to that of China. The government now uses 50% of tourist revenue to rehab crumbling colonial edifices, many being turned into hip cafes, art houses and restaurants in the Old Town area of “La Habana Vieja.” The other 50% of tourist revenue is then pumped back into schools, hospitals and other resources the citizens need. This is long overdue, in my opinion, and sadly still benefits tourists more than locals. But, it’s a step in the right direction.

So, after reading this, you might be confused as to how I feel about Cuba. For that, you are forgiven, because in many ways, I am, too. With Cuba, you can’t peel away a layer and see or feel the soul of it. I realize now that finding the unique core of this place takes time, patience and persistence. As an explorer, I haven’t met a destination yet that I haven’t longed to discover more of or get to know on a deeper level. I guess in this way, Cuba presents a hefty challenge. I’m up for it.

pixel Habana Libre!

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