Category Archives: Popular Culture

Fidel Castro

He’s dead.

Hardest hit: Colin Kaepernick.

OK, actually, in the wake of that, NFL is hardest hit.

More substantial thoughts tomorrow.

[Update a few minutes later]

If we can lose a few more tyrants, that wouldn’t be a bad way to end the year.

[Sunday update]

Castro, Chavez, and “bad luck.”

[Monday-morning update]

A dictator dies a failure:

Lee Kwan Yew, Augusto Pinochet, Francisco Franco, Chiang Kai Shek, Park Chung-he: all of these dictators and authoritarians can mock Fidel Castro. They left their countries better off than they found them, and while many of them committed terrible crimes, they can also point to great accomplishments. Fidel has only the crimes.

Fidel never wanted “normalization” of economic relations with the United States. Normalization would mean the end of his dream. Without barriers, Cuban-Americans in Miami would buy back much of the island from its current owners, re-installing themselves as leaders in the society from which he hoped to banish them forever. Amrerican trade and American tourism would once more become the most important factors in Cuba’s economy, and American cultural and poltiical influence would flow unrestricted across the island on a tide of American media.

The openings Castro allowed, very limited in the Clinton years, wider in the Obama years, were forced on him by economic necessity. The collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s forced Castro to allow more remittances from Miami and to open up the island to more tourism to stave off a crisis at home. The collapse of Venezuela in the Obama years has once more driven Cuba to the wall. In the end, Fidel became what he hated most: a failed Latin caudillo, presiding over a corrupt and despairing society, propped up by the Catholic Church and the United States.

Nobody knew this better than Fidel Castro, and he must sometimes have cursed the fate that let him outlive not only the global socialist movement led by the Soviet Union but the regional socialist resurgence led by Venezuela. The failure of the Venezuelan revolution stripped the last shreds of credibility away from Fidel’s socialist dream. Not even a country awash in oil, facing no U.S. trade embargo, can make socialism work in Latin America. And it was the failure of Venezuela, and the loss of the economic subsidies that Chavez lavished on his mentor and inspirer Fidel Castro, that plunged Cuba back into its post-Soviet poverty and forced Fidel to remain silent as his brother Raul accepted the return of American tourists and an American ambassador to Havana.

Fidel leaves a shattered society and a desperately poor country behind him. Cuba is more divided today than it was when he conquered it; it is less able to shape its destiny than it was in 1959, and its future will likely be more closely linked to the United States after his death than before his seizure of power.

The good thing is, he died.

[Update a few minutes later]

Where’s the omelet?

As Heinlein once noted, a good cook can make a tasty meal from good ingredients, while an incompetent one can create an inedible mess from the same materials. Cuba had, and still has, great ingredients. As Will notes, Castro broke the eggs, but the meal never appeared.

[Tuesday-morning update]

Castro bet on the wrong horse, and died a failure.

Well, if you consider dying filthy rich by stealing from the people you oppressed and murdered a failure, I guess.


Starship Troopers

…is the new Art of War.

And in that vein, it’s worth noting all the amusing butthurt among moron fans of the original Verhoeven dreck at the news that someone is going to do it right.

[Update a few minutes later[

Speaking of classic science fiction, an ode to Harlan Ellison, who is still with us.

And from occasional commenter Laura Montgomery, “How John Varley Broke My Heart But Other Science Fiction Writers Shouldn’t Have To“: some thoughts on space regulations.

[Late-evening update]

Link to Laura Montgomery’s blog was broken. Fixed now. Sorry!

The Philosophical Divide In Space

Go read this whole thread.

As I wrote a year and a half ago:

…we have to be ready for that debate. There is a moral case to be made for settling space by humanity, warts and all, and we have to be prepared to make it.

I think that many in the space community underestimate the depth of this cultural divide. And they’ve already deployed the race card against human expansion into the solar system.

“Fake News”

No, the real problem is dumb news:

Media is a product. Firms that provide this product are servicing a need, and we’d only be kidding ourselves to claim news consumers desire only to be informed. This isn’t a matter of simple bias confirmation. News outlets have begun to cater not just to partisans but the minimally informed for whom fleeting and shareable controversies provide a sense of feeling informed. What media consumers reward outlets for are rarely deeply reported stories on matters related to consequential items of public policy. What takes off are emotionally stimulating stories that don’t require of their readers any background knowledge to fully understand them and to opine on them.

This kind of entry-level politics is not a new phenomenon, and its victims are bipartisan. Colin Kaepernick, the Black Lives Matter movement, college-age adults devolving into their childlike selves, or pretentious celebrities politicizing otherwise apolitical events; for the right, these and other similar stories masquerade as and suffice for intellectual stimulation and political engagement. The left is similarly plagued by mock controversies. The faces printed on American currency notes, minority representation in film adaptations of comic books, and astrophysicists insensitive enough to announce feats of human engineering while wearing shirts with cartoon depictions of scantily clad women on them. This isn’t politics but, for many, it’s close enough.

These are emotionally gratifying confirmations of tribal moiety. They provide readers a chance to affirm and demonstrate clannish loyalty. They are attractive to media organizations because they allow them to forgo the five sentences of exposition that are required to understand any subject of objective policy relevance—sentences that, in some cases, news outlets literally cannot afford.

This is a continuing product of our failed public-education system and academia. But then, perhaps it’s not a failure — it might be exactly what people running those institutions have been trying to achieve.