“Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me.” Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro in 2006
Fidel Castro is dead at age 90. In Miami’s “Little Havana” there was dancing in the streets, while in Havana itself nine days of mourning began. Like Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh, Castro was a fervent nationalist who triumphed over American imperialist policies but at a steep cost to his countrymen. Castro came to power in 1959 after dictator Fulgencio Batista fled the country. When he moved against American companies, President Dwight D. Eisenhower refused to recognize his regime, prompting Castro to ally with the Soviet Union. During the 1960s the U.S. attempted both to overthrow him (at the Bay of Pigs) and to assassinate him, and an economic blockade still in effect crippled Cuba’s economy. Praised for healthcare and education programs that benefitted the poor, he established a one-party socialist state and jailed many political dissenters. In poor health, he relinquished control of the government to brother Raul ten years ago. Jerk-off Cuban-American Republicans Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are slamming President Obama for issuing the following innocuous statement:
We know that this moment fills Cubans — in Cuba and in the United States — with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation. History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.
photo by Alissa Lane
On Thanksgiving we had 16 people at three tables. Angie’s dad provided a turkey and Dave a sliced ham, and the feast included two sweet potato dishes, two different stuffings, and three types of desserts. In the evening we played Werewolf, a social game that an unlimited number can play, and a Texas Hold ’em match in which I misplayed a crucial hand. Two nines came up on the three-card flip, and I held one in my hand for three of a kind. After the sixth card Josh bet a thousand, and I called. After the dealer turned the final card, he bet two thousand (fully half of what we started with) and I folded, thinking he either had the fourth nine with a high kicker or possibly a flush. All he had were two pair. Once I called the first bet, I never should have dropped out. Lesson learned.
Pete Seeger photo by Anthony Pepitone
“The Pete Seeger Reader” (2014), edited by Ronald Cohen and James Capaldi, opens with a 1974 Rolling Stone article by Gene Marine and a 2002 interview by oral historian Studs Terkel. I learned that Pete’s father Charles Seeger, a Berkeley music professor, got fired for opposing American entrance into World War I. In 1920, when Pete was just a baby, Charles and wife Constance, a concert violinist, embarked in a Model T Ford and makeshift trailer, determined to bring classical music to the common people. During a torrential downpour their vehicle got mired in the mud on a dirt road near Pinehurst, North Carolina. Stranded on a farmer’s property and first taken for gypsies, they ended up spending the winter in a wooded lot. One evening they played Bach and Beethoven for their hosts. Afterwards, the family got out banjos, harps, and fiddles and played for them. It was a revelation that opened the Seeger family’s eyes to the richness of folk music.
At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival Seeger became outraged when Bob Dylan “went electric,” performing “Maggie’s Farm” with members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Seeger later claimed that he was upset because of a malfunctioning amplification system that caused the sound to be too loud for the audience to understand the words. Seeger regarded most popular music as counter-revolutionary but later realized that “Maggie’s Farm” was political. The last verse goes:
I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more
No, I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more
Well, I try my best
To be just like I am
But everybody wants you
To be just like them
They sing while you slave and I just get bored
I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more
At the 1969 Washington, D.C., Moratorium to end the War in Vietnam the famed banjo player Earl Scruggs (1924-2012) sang “Maggie’s Farm” and performed the instrumental “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” in front of 500,000 demonstrators, including myself. A big fan of Scruggs in college, I had a “[Lester] Flatt and Scruggs “Live at Carnegie Hall” bluegrass album based on a 1962 performance. Ron Cohen told me that Scruggs broke with Flatt because the latter was too rightwing.
Blacklisted for more than a decade from performing on network TV, Seeger was a frequent guest on the PBS series “Sesame Street.” I recall him teaching kids songs of the Mexican Revolution in Spanish. One time a five year-old tugged on his trouser leg and asked, “How did you get out of the television?” In “Guerrilla Minstrel” Gene Marine wrote:
Without even a twinge of a smile Pete folded his tall frame down to the small boy’s level and carefully, but briefly, explained television images in terms of projected shadows – while the child’s father shook his head and told bystanders, “I had no idea the kid thought the people in the television set were real.”
Pete Seeger has chosen his battleground: his songs and what he does with them. “It may seem a far-fetched comparison,” he wrote in 1961, “but for many years I figured I pursued a theory of cultural guerrilla tactics.” And on another occasion, about the songs: “Some may find them merely diverting melodies. Others may find them incitements to Red revolution. And who will say if either or both is wrong? Not I.”
I attended a memorial visitation honoring Robin Halberstadt at the Portage Methodist Church where I once played cards and board games. Angie arrived at the same time I did. Charlie Halberstadt, my duplicate bridge partner, was there, as was his ex-wife Sue. Don Price came in from California, and I mentioned that in past years I would have been planning a trip to Palm Springs to see my mother. I talked with Sheridan, Jordan, and Chuck about fond memories of their mother and looked a display that included photos of Jef and Tom Wade while at IU looking like Sixties revolutionaries. The NWI Times obituary stated:
Lisa Robin Halberstadt was born on May 26, 1956 in Gary, Indiana, to the late William Hall and Rose (nee Ward) Hilleman. On February 8, 1975 Robin married Jef in Merrillville, Indiana. She earned two Master degrees, in Education and Computer Science. Robin was a Computer teacher at Portage High School and also at Valparaiso, East Chicago and Gary, Ivy Tech Community College. She was a member of First United Methodist Church, the Exchange Club of Portage, and the Train Gamers Association. Robin enjoyed spending time with her family, looming, and playing board games. She will be remembered as a loving wife, mother, grandmother, and friend.
The Memorial card from Rees Funeral Home, where Robin’s body was cremated contained the poem “His Comfort,” which begins:
Another leaf has fallen
Another soul has gone.
But we still have God’s promises,
In every robin’s song.
I’ll think of Robin when I’m gaming – and when I hear a robin sing. She was a good friend for over 30 years.
Last week at Wal-Mart, where I only go when in need of Dr. Scholl’s shoes, I picked up a belt that supposedly fit waist sizes from 32 to 42. My size is 37 (size 36 pants are a little snug and 38 slightly too loose), but I could barely hook it in the first eyelet. I stopped at Portage Goodwill and picked one up for a dollar. Arriving at IUN too late for Dave Parnell’s Crusades class, I stopped by his office later and in the course of our conversation noted that one of the hardest things for students is to resist the temptation to judge the past by contemporary values. Parnell replied that it’s a challenge for educators as well. So true. In “The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam” (1984) Barbara Tuchman quoted British historian Denys Arthur Winstanley, who wrote in 1912: “Nothing is more unfair than to judge men of the past by the ideas of the present. Whatever may be said of morality, political wisdom is certainly ambulatory.”
In Fantasy Football I defeated nephew Bob Lane by a mere 3 points thanks to a huge game by Buffalo running back LeSean McCoy. Going into Monday night, I had a 29-point lead but he had Packers Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb in his lineup. QB Rodgers had a big game, but wide receiver Cobb only garnered 4 points.
USA Today photo by Kyle Terada
For the past several years the Golden State Warriors have visited San Quentin prison and played basketball against an inmate team. Several incarcerated players were serving life sentences under the outrageous three-strikes law, one, he claimed for mere gun possession. Another, involved in a gang rumble admitted, “I killed an innocent person and am paying the price.” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said:
I went in thinking it was a chance to impact lives, and I came out knowing that it had impacted mine. I'd love to do it again and again and again. I went in with my heart and prayers going out to the victims of the mistakes (they) made. That remained, but I came out with my heart and prayers going out to those guys in there, too.
Society and the powers-that-be treat them like animals, but they're human beings who made mistakes. It's important to let them know that we've still got love for them, we're still pulling for them, and they can still win in spite of huge losses.