Things make me happy, y’know

I heard second-hand from one reader that this blog reads like a series of angry rants. Of course, this same reader has known me since high-school, so I’m not sure why that surprised her at all… but whatever. If I come across as angry, it’s because, well, sometimes I am angry. There are a lot of crappy things happening in the world, and I think ignoring them is not going to fix them. The more we talk about, discuss and confront the problems facing the world, the faster we’ll find solutions for them.

But lest you think that my entire outlook on life is a negative one, today I’m going to exhibit some news stories that made me happy. I should mention, at this point, that I am incredibly gay for science. There was a story about a remote-controlled robot that can perform heart surgery that made me dance a little jig on the inside (my outside was at the office – not very professional). However, there are a lot of really good science and technology sites that profile way cooler stuff than I can. This site is about race and religion and free speech – topics I find important and interesting to talk about. And despite the impression I may have cultivated thus far, there are indeed some things on these topics that make me very happy.

Of course, my hard-on for secularism and the removal of religion from society is welldocumented on this site. So I was very happy to read this story of groups of young Lebanese people publicly asserting their right to both free speech and freedom from religious dictates. Lebanon has a system that is so entrenched in religion that the secular values we take for granted here make Canada look like a paradise in comparison. This made me really happy to see.

As a heterosexual man and a quasi-feminist (I believe in equal rights for everybody, which isn’t quite feminism but works quite well as a pick-up line when talking to a feminist) there is a special place in my heart for women. I joke, often, at the expense of women, but if you cut me down and looked at the rings on my trunk, you’d find that I have a deep and abiding respect for women. Islam in its present, public form treats women as an unfortunate and repugnant necessity (this is, I learn, an extremely recent “development” in the overall history of Islam). However, the sensationalized portrayal of Islam covers up the fact that, like all religions, there are individual practitioners and groups who are much less radical and far more accepting of secular principles. This story, about a group that works to teach new immigrant Muslim women how to adapt to life in The Netherlands, made me happy and hopeful for a future in which personal religious beliefs can be superseded by more positive, non-religious, affiliation.

And the women are at it again. Three girls from Palestine, seeing how their blind aunt and uncle struggled to get around obstacles and inclines, invented a new kind of cane for them to use… with freakin’ lasers! At a time when some Muslim theocratic countries won’t even let girls go to school, these girls had the wherewithal and scientific know-how to develop a new technology that could potentially improve the lives of thousands and millions of people all over the world. Yeah, theocrats are right. Girls shouldn’t be allowed education, or to own property, or vote. Clearly that would only raise the standard of living for the disabled. Who wants that?

Human beings are capable of great evil. Our history has been storied with accounts of massacre, rape, torture, unbelievable acts of cruelty… the list goes on. Thankfully, human beings are also capable of acts of great goodness. As I will write about someday soon, I think we’re turning the corner of a new Renaissance with the internet acting as the new printing press. No longer is knowledge stored up in ivory towers, unavailable to all but the initiated, but is readily available at the click of a mouse. This program, designed to bring the world to the fingertips of even the very poor, is a step in the right direction for humanity as a whole. This story, about the One Laptop Per Child program making inroads in one of the most devastated areas on the globe, made me unbelievably ecstatic. Some of the poorest kids in the world being given opportunities to learn that weren’t available to me, living in the lap of privilege, at that age – how can your heart not be warmed?

This one’s a little off-topic, but still pretty cool. City council in Vancouver has put measures in place to ensure that products sold locally are, whenever “possible and practicable”, coming from certified “Fair Trade” sources. This is the way capitalism is supposed to work, where market decisions are influenced by local forces, global conscience being one of those forces. It says good things that a city as large as Vancouver is able to make changes like this. Hopefully this idea catches some steam.

So please let it never be said that I find no joy in life. Just as there are multitudes of horrific events taking place all over the world, and I’m not going to stop talking about them, there are positive, life-affirming events taking place too. If I focus more on the negative than the positive, I do it because I want us all, myself included, to shake off the complacency that can so easily settle in and to recognize that there’s a lot of work to do. I’ll do my best to inject a bit more good with the bad, but try to remember that despite my vigorous polemic, I am a fundamentally happy person who loves puppies and rainbows and stickers.

Here’s another picture of an otter:

Happy now?

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