Thursday, 31 December 2015


Forgive. (2482304954)

Here we are at the end of another year, when Western cultures wisely indulge in circumspection, remembrance, and re-evaluation.

It's a time for taking stock, and committing to do better. Which brings me to the title of this post.

Forgiveness is necessary to human society. Hell, it's necessary to human life. Even if you were the last person on earth, you'd still need it: to forgive those you knew – their goneness would not diminish that need – and also yourself, for mistakes made and still being made.

Unfortunately, forgiveness is one of the most embattled values in this place and time. Just the proposition spurs screams of bloodlust in public discourse. I know this because I am frequently the one being screamed at.

I awoke to this during three or four years of activity on Ostensibly a humour site, Cracked has grown into a source for some of the most courageous op-ed journalism on the Net, publishing insider exposés and revealing position pieces on topics the mainstream media all but ignore. Like most fans I originally surfed in for the funny, but what kept me coming back was Cracked's stable of fearless, talented young writers, smacking down unbowdlerised insights on poverty, war, race and gender politics, the world of business, public hypocrisy, and other vital topics. (Salient example: an essay by the male victim of a female rapist. You literally will not find such a byline anywhere else.)

Such content attracts thoughtful, articulate readers, and the comment sections – marginally moderated against YouTube-rot – can be as provocative as the articles.

And that's where I finally came to see that the most universally despised ideology in humanity isn't capitalism or communism; atheism or religious fanaticism; totalitarianism or anarchy; racism, diversity, war, or appeasement. It isn't even gender equity in computer gaming.

It's forgiveness. Nothing – nothing – will get you buried farther, faster, than advocating forgiveness.

To cite one instance: a comment on 5 Things I Learned as a Neo-Nazi, in which Frank Meeink explains the mindset that led him into, and then out of, the cul-de-sac of racial theory. His article is bold and enlightening, and most of all, useful; writing with unassailable authority, Meeink – whose Cracked profile contains the tagline, "Empathy and Humility is the key" – throws light where few have gone before.

In the discussion afterward I found a rant that contained the following riposte:

"...does [owning his sins and reforming himself] somehow excuse the bad things [Meeink] has done in the past?"

To which, my explosive, inflammatory response:


Within minutes I was buried under downthumbs. Not one person upthumbed me.

I've experienced the same all over the Internet. And even though I understand it – I have myself been hurt by fundamentally malevolent people who delight in causing others pain and walked off scot-free afterward – it's difficult for me to grasp the mindlessness of such rage.

Posters often complain that a given confessor hasn't done enough to make amends, and make sneering references to "playing the victim". (For the record, Meeink pointedly does no such thing; the theme of his confessional, as of most of the genre, is "I struck out blindly against ill-defined enemies and got what I had coming.")

Thing is, it doesn't matter anyway. You can't make amends. What's done is gone. The only thing anybody can do is the same thing that we all must do: be a better person next time.

And no matter who you are, that's your homework. Maybe you've never been a Neo-Nazi, but if you're reading this, I guarantee you've done something. Something bad. Something evil. Something lazy and self-centered that caused suffering to undeserving others. Perhaps you murdered; perhaps you ruined lives. Or maybe you sinned less theatrically. But all of us are limited to the exact same recourse: stop doing that. Becoming someone else from now on is all we can do, and therefore, all we can be asked to do.

The Buddha himself demonstrated this graphically when he accepted Angulimala as his student. Unable to live with the anguish he'd caused, the confessed torturer and serial killer announced his intention to commit suicide. His teacher's response: "Why? That man is gone. Suicide at this point would be yet another random murder of an unoffending passerby."

And that's why forgiveness isn't just a good idea, it's a necessity. When you withhold forgiveness from others, you kill everybody; nobody is without transgression. And if you apply your spiteful convictions equally, you'll end up on the same scaffold yourself. (And if you don't, that's the sin of hypocrisy; you end up on it either way.)

The people who hurt me, shouldn't have. I'm still mad at some of them, in spite of myself. But if they were to repent (as they may have in intervening years), I'd stamp the balance "PAID". Because they can't unhurt me; they can only stop hurting others. Since doing so would in effect empty their account, everything they've got is enough for me.

And though it's much harder for me to accept, the same goes for me: I can't unhurt those that my own selfish, deluded flailing has hurt, and so I must be satisfied with not being that guy anymore. I atone for my misdeeds every time I sit zazen; every time I empathise with others in pain; and every time I forgive those who have caused pain.

I know screaming and ranting and vowing vengeance is "in" now. And I've learned the price of not riding along on that gang-bang. But may I suggest, for the coming year, that a good resolution might be to forgive someone. Your choice.

If you've got any resources left afterward, you might try forgiving a group of people: some race or organisation or class, real or imagined, that you resent.

Possibly, if we each practice diligently, this fundamental survival skill may no longer be considered dangerous and subversive.

My best for the coming year, and a deep bow to all who struggle to get off the treadmill of suffering and delusion.

(Photo courtesy of Tony Webster and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

WW: Quinces

(Chaenomeles speciosa, flowering quince. Winter harvest in this part of the world. Super fragrant; delicious jelly.)

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Unstirring Creatures

A peaceful Christmas Eve to all, and from all of us here at Rusty Ring, a Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

WW: Christmas screensaver

(The snow falls, the lights flash, and it plays Christmas carols. Added the music and background scene myself.)

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Hermitcraft: Trailer Park Samosas

Just in time for holiday entertaining, here's a killer recipe for an easy, addictive appetiser or side dish. Both the "Quick" and "Better" versions can be filled with hamburger or lentils, and the ingredients are readily available from most any North American supermarket. The "Quick" recipe is indeed quick: about half an hour from groceries to piping hot, fragrant samosas. The "Better" one takes a little longer, but is well worth the extra time if you've got it. (Note: both are also fairly spicy; for milder results, dial back or omit the jalapeños.)

Pastry for both versions:

2 tubes ready-bake crescent roll dough, for 16 rolls in all. Keep tubes chilled until ready to open.

"Quick" filling:

1 tablespoon ghee or cooking oil
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced onion
1 1/2 teaspoons jarred jalapeños, minced
a few good grinds of fresh black pepper
2 teaspoons prepared curry powder
pinch each ground cinnamon and cloves (just a pinch; you shouldn't taste either in the finished product)
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 cup diced tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1 tablespoon minced celery
1 pound very lean ground beef, or cooked lentils (about 1/2 cup raw)

"Better" filling:

1 tablespoon ghee or cooking oil
1 inch grated gingerroot
"Better" spice mix; beef or
lentils will be stirred into this
1 garlic clove (about 1/2 teaspoon), minced
1 tablespoon minced onion
1 1/2 teaspoons jarred jalapeños, minced
a few good grinds of fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
good pinch garam masala, if available
1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
pinch each ground cinnamon and cloves (just a pinch; you shouldn't taste either in the finished samosas)
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 cup diced tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1 tablespoon minced celery
1 pound very lean ground beef, or cooked lentils (about 1/2 cup raw)

Instructions for both (all four?) filling recipes:

Preheat oven to 375F.

Warm ghee or oil in a heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Add all ingredients up to tomatoes, in order, and simmer gently until onion is translucent and spices are fragrant. Add tomatoes, thyme, and celery, raise heat slightly, and cook until celery is soft and mixture is pasty, scraping it frequently about with a spatula.

Add beef or lentils, mix thoroughly with spice mixture, and simmer until beef is browned or lentils have thickened, about 10 minutes. Scrape frequently with the edge of a spatula; if the mixture gets too dry, add a little water .

To make samosas:

Unroll crescent roll dough and separate into triangles.

Put a heaping tablespoon of filling in the centre of the wide end of each triangle. Pull up the short corners and seal them together on top of the filling; pull the long last corner over the top of the sealed short ones and around the back to form a round, filled pastry; pinch and seal all seams closed so that no filling shows. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake at 375°F for 10 minutes or until golden brown. (Take care they don't burn; these bake very quickly.) Serve warm, wrapped in a tea towel, as finger food.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

WW: Gift of my own blackberry wine

(I used to make blackberry wine every year, an activity I dearly loved. Sadly, life conspired to make the 2008 vintage my last. Last week I was rooting deep in a forgotten storage corner and came up with this: my last-ever bottle, which somehow escaped consumption.

But not for long. Brilliant Christmas gift.)

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Sound of the Season

1880 Christmas Osgood
Twelfth Month singers
seven feet away
a little one sings


(1880 American Christmas card courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and a generous photographer.)

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

WW: Running

Thursday, 3 December 2015

The Three Infinitudes

Galaxies in Hiding (Unannotated)

The length of time.
The depth of space.
The ignorance of people.

(Photo of one tiny chunk of space, containing over 200 galaxies [that's galaxies, brothers and sisters: each an aggregation of billions of stars, most of those presumably anchoring entire solar systems] courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, NASA, and the Hubble Telescope.)

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

WW: Night meditation