Sunday, January 30, 2011


So keep fightin' for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't you forget to have fun doin' it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin' ass and celebratin' the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was.
--Molly Ivins

[Four years ago today, syndicated columnist and Southern quipster Molly Ivins breathed her last after a nearly 10 year long battle with breast cancer. A woman of deep passion and Jollity, she graces us today as an emanation of the virtue Eutrapelia (Wit).
Raised in Houston, Texas, the daugher of an authoritarian oil executive, Molly seems to have had the seeds of rebellion planted in her early. She graduated from St. John’s, an Episcopal prep school in Houston, and ultimately from Smith. Her true love, Hank, died in a car accident; she never married. Her journalism career kicked into high gear when she joined the Texas Observer in 1970. For over 35 years she tilted at the windmills of pomposity, both in Austin and in Washington, D.C.
Eutrapelia first appears in the Nicomachean Ethics (c.8) as one of Aristotle’s virtuous states, a Temperance of good humor that lies somewhere between buffoonery (bõmolochia) and dull rudeness (bõmolochos). In the Christian tradition, Saint Paul admonishes in his letter to the Ephesians (5:4) that Eutrapelia is “improper for God’s holy people,” although Christian scholar Larry Perkins adds that in “wise and respected leaders Eutrapelia can... be considered virtuous because it demonstrates self-restraining tact...” He also points to Cicero, focus of our essay on Soithnges, as an exemplar of Eutrapelia. Aquinas, in the Summa Theologica, cites Eutrapelia as a Divine virtue, translated as Playfulness” and explaining: “Now such like words or deeds wherein nothing further is sought than the soul's delight, are called playful or humorous. Hence it is necessary at times to make use of them, in order to give rest, as it were, to the soul.” Perhaps Saint Paul was too hasty after all; seems to me Jesus would appreciate a good joke from a Texas good ol’ gal... The Wiccans for sure would; the virtues appear amongst the Great Eight, as Mirth.
I leave you with a re-print of a tribute column from Molly’s syndicate, written by her editor, Anthony Zurcher: ]

Goodbye, Molly I.
Molly Ivins is gone, and her words will never grace these pages again -- for this, we will mourn. But Molly wasn't the type of woman who would want us to grieve. More likely, she'd say something like, "Hang in there, keep fightin' for freedom, raise more hell, and don't forget to laugh, too."
If there was one thing Molly wanted us to understand, it's that the world of politics is absurd. Since we can't cry, we might as well laugh. And in case we ever forgot, Molly would remind us, several times a week, in her own unique style.
Shortly after becoming editor of Molly Ivins' syndicated column, I learned one of my most important jobs was to tell her newspaper clients that, yes, Molly meant to write it that way. We called her linguistic peculiarities "Molly-isms." Administration officials were "Bushies," government was in fact spelled "guvment," business was "bidness." And if someone was "madder than a peach orchard boar," well, he was quite mad indeed.
Of course, having grown up in Texas, all of this made sense to me. But to newspaper editors in Seattle, Chicago, Detroit and beyond -- Yankee land, as Molly would say -- her folksy language could be a mystery. "That's just Molly being Molly," I would explain and leave it at that.
But there was more to Molly Ivins than insightful political commentary packaged in an aw-shucks Southern charm. In the coming days, much will be made of Molly's contributions to the liberal cause, how important she was as an authentic female voice on opinion pages across the country, her passionate and eloquent defense of the poorest and the weakest among us against the corruption of the most powerful, and the joy she took in celebrating the uniqueness of American culture -- and all of this is true. But more than that, Molly Ivins was a woman who loved and cared deeply for the world around her. And her warm and generous spirit was apparent in all her words and deeds.
Molly's work was truly her passion.
She would regularly turn down lucrative speaking engagements to give rally-the-troops speeches at liberalism's loneliest outposts. And when she did rub elbows with the highfalutin' well-to-do, the encounter would invariably end up as comedic grist in future columns.
For a woman who made a profession of offering her opinion to others, Molly was remarkably humble. She was known for hosting unforgettable parties at her Austin home, which would feature rollicking political discussions, and impromptu poetry recitals and satirical songs. At one such event, I noticed her dining table was littered with various awards and distinguished speaker plaques, put to use as trivets for steaming plates of tamales, chili and fajita meat. When I called this to her attention, Molly matter-of-factly replied, "Well, what else am I going to do with 'em?"
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Molly's life is the love she engendered from her legions of fans. If Molly missed a column for any reason, her newspapers would hear about it the next day. As word of Molly's illness spread, the letters, cards, e-mails and gifts poured in.
Even as Molly fought her last battle with cancer, she continued to make public appearances. When she was too weak to write, she dictated her final two columns. Although her body was failing, she still had so much to say. Last fall, before an audience at the University of Texas, her voice began as barely a whisper. But as she went on, she drew strength from the standing-room-only crowd until, at the end of the hour, she was forcefully imploring the students to get involved and make a difference. As Molly once wrote, "Politics is not a picture on a wall or a television sitcom that you can decide you don't much care for."
For me, Molly's greatest words of wisdom came with three children's books she gave my son when he was born. In her inimitable way, she captured the spirit of each in one-sentence inscriptions. In Alice in Wonderland, she offered, "Here's to six impossible things before breakfast." For The Wind in the Willows, it was, "May you have Toad's zest for life." And in The Little Prince, she wrote, "May your heart always see clearly."
Like the Little Prince, Molly Ivins has left us for a journey of her own. But while she was here, her heart never failed to see clear and true -- and for that, we can all be grateful.
*    *    *

May we all have the Toad’s Zest for life. And: May we see the gates of Eutrapelia, and perhaps make a home there.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


[B]reaking the social stalemate... means acting on what we feel and think, here, now, for human flesh and sense, against the abstractions of duty and obedience.
--Howard Zinn, from “The Bombing of Royan,” in The Politics of History (1990)

A year ago today, Howard Zinn--famed author of A People’s History of the United States--died of a heart attack while swimming laps in a Santa Monica hotel pool. He was 88. A former solider and bombardier, turned anti-war philosopher, social critic, and historian, Zinn challenged the notion that history can only be written by the victors. He put history back in the hands of the common folk. Zinn’s life serves as a promontory from which to regard Pflichtbewusstsein (say it: FLISHT-buh-voose-ZEIN)--the Prussian virtue of Dutifulness.

First, the Prussian virtues. Prussia of course was once its own nation before becoming the northern part of Germany, containing within it the cities of Potsdam and Berlin. The uncharitable, when they hear “Prussian,” think “Nazi.” There’s a certain truth to it; much of the power of the German military machine capitalized on the strengths of the Prussian people: Discipline, Self-control, Punctuality, Thriftiness, Service, and Hard Work. Hitler himself proclaimed the Third Reich from the grave of Frederick the Great, who presided over Prussia’s acme during the mid-18th century. (More than one patriotic Prussian has pointed out that Hitler himself was not Prussian, but Bavarian.)

In 2001, the German government proclaimed a “Prussian year,” with celebrations of Prussian heritage. German President Johannes Rau defended all that was good with Prussia and pointed to “attitudes that are worth highlighting and rediscovering: Tolerance, Reform, Selflessness and Modesty, the nation-state and Law and Order.” This is not just revisionism: At their height, the Prussian people emancipated Jewish citizens (in 1812); eliminated feudalism and serfdom; encouraged immigration; celebrated the arts and sciences; and made routine education of the young available and mandatory.

My own family, mostly on the side of my mother, Big Tree, hails from Prussia; somewhere there’s still a picture of our great-great-grandpa sitting in his Prussian military garb, on a white horse, his spiked helmet bestrewn with ostrich feathers. Mom’s compulsive Cleanliness and Orderliness I embrace as additional examples of positive Prussian virtues that I, too, esteem (even if I still can’t manage hospital corners when I make up my bed).

Pflichtbewusstsein, yet another of these core values, one can translate as “Conscientiousness” or “Sense of Duty.” Yet it has a Shadow, this virtue...

Howard Zinn understood duty. Growing up in Brooklyn of immigrant Jewish parents, he eagerly joined the Army Air Force during World War II. As part of the 490th Bombardment Group, he participated in bombing runs on Berlin, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. In April 1945, at the very end of the war in Europe, he participated in an early military use of napalm, which took place in Royan, western France.

In the mid-1950s and 60s, Zinn returned to the small but ancient city, thoroughly researching the circumstances of the bombing raid. Things on the ground looked different than they had at 15,000 feet. Zinn discovered that the officers who ordered the bombing of Royan did so more for career advancement than for legitimate military goals. By doing his duty, Zinn had burned to death more than 1000 French citizens--all supposedly allies of America.

As he wrote later in The Politics of History:

One can see in the destruction of Royan that infinite chain of causes, that infinite dispersion of responsibility, which can give infinite work to historical scholarship and sociological speculation, and bring an infinitely pleasurable paralysis of the will. What a complex of motives!... And among all participants, high and low, French and American, the most powerful motive of all: The habit of obedience, the universal teaching of all cultures, not to get out of line, not to even think about that which one has not been assigned to think about, the negative motive of not having either a reason or a will to intercede.

Zinn’s reconsideration of the events of his military service transformed him into a critic of the military-industrial complex and a tireless advocate for voices buried by abuses of power. He marched for civil rights, fought against the wars in Vietnam and later Iraq, and sought to expose hegemony and encourage average citizens to claim their destinies. And yet, while on his many campaigns, our Howard Zinn was no stern-faced, unsmiling Prussian general. A colleague at Boston University noted: "He had a deep sense of fairness and justice for the underdog. But he always kept his sense of humor. He was a happy warrior."  

I was recently introduced to the Parable of Aggasiz and the fish (which for some inexplicable reason seems to be very popular among students of the Christian Bible). The message of the story is that we sometimes tell ourselves that we know what we’re looking at, who we are, what we’re doing, when in fact, we don’t, and we need to keep looking until we really see. Zinn’s journey to Royan was like staring at the fish, and, in time, he did start to learn something about himself.

His life reminds us we must not lose our Conscience in Conscientiousness. At the end of the day, our duty belongs first and foremost to our own Discernment. We are the masters of our fate, the captains of our souls. Through a process of Masá'il, of Questioning, Howard Zinn transformed his world and reclaimed his Self-Possession. Then, and only then, did he discover his true Pflichtbewusstsein.

To what habits, patterns, or beliefs have you surrendered your allegiance? Do they deserve it? Is it time to do some revision of your personal historiography? What does your “human sense and flesh,” here, now, tell you? What terrain are you claiming? And are you a "happy warrior"?

May we see the gates of Pflichtbewusstsein, and perhaps make a home there.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


I think dogs are the most amazing creatures; they give unconditional love.  For me they are the role model for being alive.  
--Gilda Radner

After the somber note of our last post, I take pleasure in turning attention to a happier subject. Today our ambassador to the virtues is Ricochet the Surf Dog, who turns 3 years old today. (Happy birthday, honey!) I felt she could give us all a reminder of the many virtues of “Man’s Best Friend,” which I package up (in a doggie bag?) in the name of Dog-good-ness.

Dog-good-ness is the second animal virtue we’ve visited here, the first being Cow-abundance, which we visited on the Hindu holiday of Vasu Baras. As with Cow-abundance, Dog-good-ness is an aggregate virtue, composed of elements like Innocence, Loyalty, Unconditional Love, Guilelessness, Courage, Forbearance, and Mirth.

The virtues of dogs have been well-known since ancient times. A founding father of the Cynic school of Greek philosophy, Diogenes of Sinope, had qualities so reminiscent of hounds that his peers named his lineage for them: the Greek word κυνικός, kynikos, means "dog-like."

Diogenes, by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1860)
Diogenes felt humans lived lives of pretense and artifice. Dogs, on the other hand, show a complete lack of self-consciousness. Living completely in the moment, they rarely seem to worry, eating and sleeping what and where they can. Diogenes respected dogs for their Directness: Dogs wag their tails for their friends, and bark at their enemies. No hidden agendas.

The foremost modern scholar of the Cynics, Donald Dudley, claimed they earned their nickname for at least four reasons:

First because of the Indifference of their way of life, for they make a cult of indifference and, like dogs, eat and make love in public, go barefoot, and sleep in tubs and at crossroads. The second reason is that the dog is a shameless animal, and they make a cult of Shamelessness, not as being beneath modesty, but as superior to it. The third reason is that the dog is a good guard, and they guard the tenets of their philosophy. The fourth reason is that the dog is a Discriminating animal which can distinguish between its friends and enemies. So do they recognize as friends those who are suited to philosophy, and receive them kindly, while those unfitted they drive away, like dogs, by barking at them. [caps mine]

I admit to my own Shamelessness when it comes to canines. I come from a proud, long line of dog people besotted with our furry friends. (My dad, Big Rock, shows some ambivalence about our family’s shaggier, four-legged members, but we love him anyway.) My little buddies are Georgie, a 6-year-old Staffordshire Terrier, and Astro, a big galoot of a German Shepherd we rescued from a shelter this past summer. Some of my human friends live in an exclusively feline Cat-mosphere, and I feel sorry for what they’re missing.  

Whether or not they possess Buddha-nature, dogs are magic. We know this from no less an authority than the very Goddess of Magic, Hecate, another shameless dog enthusiast. History offers dozens of stories of dog Heroism (such as here and here.)

One of these inspiring stories is Ricochet’s. The video below tells her tale, one not just of Dog-good-ness, but also Doggedness:

Obviously, Ricochet’s wonderful gifts to the disabled kids she helps through the Adaptive Surfing Foundation owe a lot to her owner and doggy-mommy, Judy Fridono. But it’s hard to say whether Judy makes Ricochet possible, or vice-versa. In one interview, Judy pointed out, “Ricochet has taught me to focus on what I can do, rather than what I can't.”

So today, get in touch with your Inner Puppy (what Feri calls the Fetch, Kabbalah Nephesh, and Huna Unihipili). Less talk, more walk--radiant Joy, without jabbering or artifice. Bark in warning, bark in love. Empower yourself, and by that, empower those around you.

Meanwhile, consider a donation to one of Ricochet’s many good causes, or maybe even giving a dog a loving home. You might save their life, and--who knows?--they might return the favor.

May we see the gates of Dog-good-ness, and perhaps make a home there.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


The artist alone sees spirits. But after he has told of their appearing to him, everybody sees them.
--Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Death of Susana Chavez, female activist in Ciudad Juarez, not tied to organized crime, state says 

She coined the phrase "Ni una muerta mas," or "Not one more dead," a clamor of protest against the tide of violent and unsolved deaths of women in Ciudad Juarez in Mexico, the "dying city."
Last week, Susana Chavez became a victim, too. The 36-year-old poet and activist was found dead on Jan. 6, strangled and with her left hand cut off.
Her death marks the latest addition to a grim figure. By Christmas Eve of last year, 978 women had died violently in the Juarez area since the state began recording the figure separately in 1993, reported El Diario de Juarez in late December (link in Spanish). Significantly, at least 300 of those deaths, or just under a third, occurred in 2010 amid skyrocketing bloodshed due to a war between drug cartels.
Others have been kidnapped, "disappeared," or raped in the violence, which often extends outside Juarez to the rest of Chihuahua state, news reports show. Some of the victims have been policewomen, lawyers, or prominent human rights activists. Many received threats.
But this week, after Chavez's remains were identified, a state prosecutor told reporters the woman was not killed in an organized crime hit, but rather died at the hands of three teenage boys after a night of partying. The teens, each 17 years old, have been arrested and questioned, officials said.
"They said they did not know her. They suddenly ran into her, she wanted to keep drinking, so did they, and well it was an unfortunate encounter," said state prosecutor Carlos Manuel Salas (link in Spanish).
When pressed on the question of whether Chavez might have been killed for her past work and poetry bringing attention to violence against women in Juarez, the prosecutor said: "Absolutely not."
In fresh statements on the case on Wednesday, authorities said that Chavez's mother confirmed that her daughter had been drinking the evening before her death. The teens killed her after Chavez told them she was a police officer, authorities said.
Juarez became internationally known after a yet-unsolved wave of "femicides" or "feminicides" (as the deaths of women are known) peaked in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Last month, a Juarez mother was shot and killed while keeping a lone vigil outside the Chihuahua statehouse over the death of her daughter at the hands of a man freed by judges. In the small town of Guadalupe, the only remaining police officer was kidnapped from her home and has not been heard from since.
Ciudad Juarez is by far the most violent city in Mexico, and by some estimates the most violent in the world, with 3,111 dead in 2010, local reports say, citing government figures. The rival Sinaloa and Juarez cartels are battling over control for the lucrative Juarez drug-trafficking route across the border into El Paso, Texas.
Susana Chavez kept a blog  on which she published poems. One of them, "Sangre," or "Blood," is written from the perspective of a victim.
At her funeral, friend Armine Arjona told El Diario: "She was a great, excellent poet, at a national level among women. She had stopped writing but she had lot of unpublished work, which we will find some way to publish."
--Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City, Los Angeles Times, January 14, 2011 |  9:25 am
*    *    *

[From her blog: The title of her blog means "The First Storm"]:

Susana Chavez was born on November 5, 1974 in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, where she currently resides.  She started writing at the age of 11.

She has had public readings at: the Cultural Bazaar (organized by the municipality of Ciudad Juárez, where she was the forerunner of the poetry readings); "Erotic Unicycle" organized by the municipality; and the Miletnia group. 1st and 2nd national meeting of poets; "Raising the Voice" 3rd and 4th meeting of poets in Juarez; and the 2nd meeting of the Youth Camp for Diversity and Tolerance in Tepoztlan, Morelos. She has performed in readings for the blind at the Library Arturo Tolentino, and in several programs with Radio Juarez, presentations at cafes such as the INBA, La Peña de Sancho Panza, The Mediterranean Café, reading for the Committee for Prostitutes of Juarez, readings at marches offered for dead and missing women in Ciudad Juárez.  Her work has been published in A Performance of Veronica Leiton, and collaborated in the latest multidisciplinary show, "Elements". She has also been published in many journals and newspapers.

Susana has also directed short films and participated as a model for the cover of the film "16 On The List," a film about crimes against women in Juarez.

She is currently studying for a degree in Psychology at the Institute of Social Sciences and Management at the Autonomous University of the Ciudad Juarez, and working on a new book.
*    *    *

masculine noun
1. Encouragement (aliento)
  • dar ánimos a alguien -> to encourage somebody

2. Energy, Vitality (energía) ; Disposition (humor)
  • ¡levanta ese á.! -> cheer up!
  • no tiene ánimos para nada -> she doesn't feel like doing anything
  • los ánimos estaban revueltos -> feelings were running high

3. Intention (intención)
  • con/sin á. de -> with/without the intention of
  • lo hice sin á. de ofenderte -> I didn't mean to offend you
  • sin á. de lucro -> not-for-profit (organización), non-profit-making (British)

4. Courage (valor)
5. Spirit (alma)
*    *    *


Sangre mía,

          de alba,

          de luna partida,

          del silencio.

          de roca muerta,

          de mujer en cama,

          saltando al vacío,

Abierta a la locura.

Sangre clara y definida,

          fértil y semilla,

Sangre incomprensible gira,

Sangre liberación de sí misma,

Sangre río de mis cantos,

Mar de mis abismos.

Sangre instante donde nazco adolorida,

Nutrida de mi última presencia.


Blood of my own,

           blood of sunrise,

           blood of a broken moon,

           blood of silence,

           of dead rock,

           of a woman in bed

           jumping into nothingness,

Open to the madness.

Blood clear and definite,

           fertile seed,

Blood the unbelievable journey,

Blood as its own liberation,

Blood, river of my songs,

Sea of my abyss.

Blood, painful moment of my birth,

Nourished by my last appearance.
*    *    *

May we see the gates of Ánimo, and perhaps make a home there.

And Susana Chavez, may your spirit carry on in all who remember you. What is remembered, lives.

Thanks to my wonderful twin, Kael, for calling attention to this story and for translating Susana's blog profile.