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Tue Apr 28, 2015 at 04:25 PM PDT

The World's First Atheist Orphanage

by Els

Okay, so there is this orphanage in Uganda that has captured my imagination.  And in my imagination I hope it will capture yours.  Billed as the world's first atheist orphanage, BiZoHa has as its charter the care and education of 25 orphans in Muhokya, western Uganda.  It has a GoFundMe campaign up looking for donations, a second tranch of a little over $3,000, to fund a kitchen, caretakers and solar panels.

 The orphanage was started with a fundraiser in February 26, 2015, when the original campaign raised $5,820.  I think I saw the link here.  I coughed up $10 on the basis of the idea alone, and was joined by folks belonging to a variety of irreligious organizations.  

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Tue Aug 12, 2014 at 06:01 PM PDT

The Suicide's Daughter

by Els

So, I had been away at college about two, maybe three hours.  There was this girl in the room next door.  I was trying on myself, inventing myself anew the same way I tried at the start of every new year.  But she didn't know my backstory.  So she asks about my parents.  Or we start talking about her parents.  I don't remember.  

But the subject comes up and I announce that my father is dead. I tell her he committed suicide.  Perhaps this is normal conversation for you in this time.  It was not normal for her.  It was not normal for me.

If I remember right, I had strep at the time, and felt terrible.  If I remember right, I don't think I intended to shock.  

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Fri Mar 21, 2014 at 01:53 PM PDT

Thank you, Fred Phelps

by Els

I don't know that I believe many things.  But I do believe in what is called Visionary or Outsider Art.  My personal temple is AVAM, the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore.  They keep the work of Gluers there.  The unschooled artists who find words too slippery, inadequate to express the nature of reality.  In giving up words, or sometimes in redefining, reimagining or catpuring words in the work of their hands, they collectively attempt to share a vision of the world those of us with more prosaic dreams cannot even imagine.

Some few of these visionaries enter the public imagination, and make of politics a performance art.  They are the Sacred Clowns.  Engulfed by an idea larger than themselves they bring focus to themselves and their truth in a way that cannot be dismissed by the larger society.  Often, they fly, like Icarus, too close to the Sun and are consumed.  

You had to confront death and dignity with Jack Kevorkian.  Lunatic or sage, he defined the world in terms of a single idea, "dying is not a crime." He went to jail for 8 and a half years after his fourth trial.

You had to confront the personal cost of war with Cindy Sheehan, the gold star mother that captivated and repealed us with her grief.  She's running for president and under investigation by the IRS, for vowing not to pay taxes until the government gives her son back.

Jack and Cindy intrigued and infuriated the collective us.  Their vision was (and is) all consuming, and could not (can not) be contained and channeled into sensible, prudent or reasonable action.  But for all that she might be marginalized now, Cindy was a fulcrum that helped turn the country's attention to the cost of war.  Jack opened a dialog that has resulted in world wide changes, incremental as they are.

I would like to thank Fred Phelps, at the time of his death, for his role as Sacred Clown. For it was Fred and his followers, more than anyone else, who provided the nation with the face of prejudice.    

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Mon Sep 24, 2012 at 03:58 PM PDT

The Republican Distopia: An SF Perspective

by Els

In the world of Science Fiction there are two main traditions of storytelling: "What if?", and "If this goes on..."

The new TV Show "Revolution," asks what if the lights go out?  And in the oft alluded to "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood, we are confronted with a future in which women are prisoners of their fertility or lack thereof.

In homage to this tradition, I often wonder "what if," and "if this goes on."  It's an interesting game to play, because it takes the conversation away from standard talking points.  It leads to interesting questions.  And in the questions, we might find a way to communicate with the folks whose identity is bound up in their tribal affiliation with the right.  

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Wed May 09, 2012 at 03:14 PM PDT

He didn't know you had Cancer

by Els

I didn’t want to know.

She didn’t want to talk about it.  

But it was there with us.  My friend of 20 odd years was tiny and wizened,  her hands trembling slightly, and I noticed how the skin on them had changed, become more translucent.

“I was so mad at him,” she said, speaking of one of our less responsible and more scattered friends. “When I told him I had cancer he said ‘How could you do this to me?’”

And I nodded, because that was exactly what he would say, and it was a horrible thing to say to someone who was going to die. And it was horrible that he was going to lose her.

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Sat Dec 31, 2011 at 08:07 PM PST

Death and Secrets

by Els

I lost a sister to lung cancer in September.  She would have been 59 or 60.  I found out yesterday from my daughter.  A cousin on Facebook told her.

I found myself befuddled, confused, sad, anxious, unsettled and strangely vacant.  We shared a father, this sister and I. But not a mother.  Mine was short and dark headed, hers tall and blonde.  She was the daughter of wife number one.  My mother was wife number two.

My mother worked second shift through my childhood to pay child support for this first family of my father's past.  And when my father died and I was 16, my mother kept the $50,000 in life insurance and whatever tentative connection there might have been to this other family was irretrievably broken.  I always supposed they had expected her to share.  But I think she figured she had done enough with those years of support payments.  She never said.  I think she might have sold the baby blue VW bug and kept that money, too.  But maybe not.

It's one of the things about which we do not speak.  It's one of so many things.

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Sun Nov 20, 2011 at 12:23 PM PST

"Bodies Don't Have Handles on Them"

by Els

There's this guy, a cop guy, who looked at the video of the UC Davis Pepper spray incident.  This guy, whose name is Charles J. Kelly, and is apparently a former Baltimore Police Lieutenant. didn't get chills watching the infamous footage.  

Far from it.  This guy is a professional, see.  And he observed after watching the video that "bodies don't have handles on them."

This is why, he states... as a professional mind you... that using pepper spray as a compliance tool on protesters who aren't resisting is a Good Thing(tm): "When you start picking up human bodies you risk hurting them."

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Mon Jan 10, 2011 at 06:04 PM PST

On my high horse

by Els

My mother was apparently very concerned about my riding skills when I was a child.  

"Get off your high horse," she would say.  I assume she was seeing in me what I heard in my own children from time to time with their sighing and eye rolling.

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Sun Jan 09, 2011 at 01:03 PM PST

Grace under Pressure

by Els

We think we know ourselves. All of us.  We tell ourselves and our friends how we would react if this or that happened.  "I would have punched him," we say. "I would never have lost my temper," we say.  "How could [he|she|they|it] have ever behaved that way?"

But we can't really know.  And all too often, we aren't right.  That's why I was so grateful to hear the story of Daniel Hernandez.

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Mon Nov 15, 2010 at 05:59 PM PST

About that Pat Down

by Els

I actually hate the liquids foolishness more than I hate backscatter x rays.  I need product in my hair in order not to resemble Einstein.  Every time I try to squirt the leave in conditioner into a travel sized bottle and get goop all over myself and the sink I think negative thoughts about Janet Napolitano.  

But what I really hate is the new pat down. I'm still shaken from the one I got several weeks back.  She touched my ankle, while I was asking her not to.

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Sun Oct 31, 2010 at 03:29 PM PDT

On the Sanity Train

by Els

I was interviewed by a CNN crew at the Rally to Restore Sanity yesterday.  He wanted to find a theme.  Why did I come?  What were people trying to say with their attendance? What did it mean? Was it politically important?  Would it increase turnout on Tuesday?

Funny, none of those questions occured to me when I made the decision to go.  And, I would bet that few of those things were top of mind for the folks I jammed on the metro with at 9:00 am.  

Mostly, these folks seemed to want to be among the reasonable.  They wanted to show up somewhere where the shouting wasn't.  They said please and thank you as they packed in more tightly to allow a few extra folks to get on.  We congratulated ourselves on our manners even as we grumbled a bit at the Smithsonian platform where the metro police had a barricade up to keep half the train from going to the mall side exit.

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Thu May 20, 2010 at 08:54 PM PDT

This is the thing about Rand Paul

by Els

I adore Rachel Maddow.  Her quirky sense of humor and love of wonkery is at turns awe inspiring and bug cute.  However, I think she did a lot of folks a disservice in the Rand Paul interview.  She picked at the hypothetical civil rights vote like this guy I sat across the aisle on a transcontinental flight last week picked at his scalp for the entire five hour flight.  Both made me squirm.  

Paul had been well coached not to give Maddow a sound bite he thought could be used in commercials against him later.  However, when your worldview basically boils down to something like "you are not the boss of me," it makes for some pretty wild tap dancing on a whole raft of issues.  I would have liked Rachel to pursue the actual tenets of libertarianism, one wonk to another.  I don't think Paul would have been able to resist.  After all, at first glance, it seems to make sense.

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