Remembering Nelson Mandela in D.C.

I live about a 20 minute walk from the South African embassy, so I went this afternoon to pay my respects following the death of former SA president Nelson Mandela.

My feelings are hard to put into words; he belongs to the ages. The world is so much better for his life and labor. The proof? Those who once denounced now try to claim him as a friend in death.

Walking up Massachusetts Avenue, a.k.a. Embassy Row, I noted how many embassies had their national flags at half-staff. At least a quarter; perhaps a third. I was not alone; there were enough people in foot — there’s no place to park, even if you have a car — to justify crossing guards.

Irish embassy
Irish embassy
Kenyan embassy
Kenyan embassy

Ongoing construction at the South African embassy made for a tight shrine. I got there just in time to sign the condolance book (inside the lobby) and then joined the small crowd, many of whom took photos or left flowers at the newly-dedicated statue of Mandela out front.

You have to do something when you make what — let’s call it what it is — a pilgrimage. You leave your signature, your thoughts (in the book, or on cards or with gifts) and a tribute of flowers. I brought my prayerbook.

SA embassy lobby, from outside
SA embassy lobby, from outside
Nelson Mandela statue and tributes
Nelson Mandela statue and tributes
Nelson Mandela statue and tributes
Nelson Mandela statue and tributes

I’m left thinking of Mandela’s legacy, but also how churches observe something like the death of a great figure, or a great and lamentable disaster for that matter. And what do you do when there’s no obvious focus of the outpouring? The South African embassy is obvious in Washington, but “how does in play in Peoria?”

Why so quiet? TransparencyCamp 2012

I’ve not been blogging lately because I work for the Sunlight Foundation — these words are my own — and we just hosted our big in-person event, TransparencyCamp 2012. (When I make comments about Unitarian Universalist events, I do so honestly.)

The camp has been getting some major press; indeed, I hear that several of wy readers know Sunlight independently from our various activities. Quite proud of these, and I hope — if government transparency interests you — that you sign up for more info. Developer? Be sure to get an API key. And then there’s TransparencyCamp 2013, details TBD.

World’s Fair Use Day

The concept of fair use of copyrighted intellectual property is probably under more strain now than ever before. The long term effects on a free, creative people are not known, but I can’t think it’ll be anything good.

Public Knowledge is producing World’s Fair Use Day tomorrow, January 12, to draw attention to this issue. A good idea worth examining (and I like them, plus they’re Day Job’s upstairs neighbors.)

Not in D.C.? You can download a DIY guide from the World’s Fair Use site.

Anti-swag

I went to a conference last month and got a tote bag full of crap, better known as swag. Useless promotional material — I glanced at most pieces before tossing them into the recycling — and plastic doo-dads branded with a company I don’t care about. (I do like promotional flash drives, especially the one’s with the screened-on logos. You can polish the ink off with a damp cloth and baking soda.)

Not that I don’t like a bit of promotion. I’ll wear a t-shirt for an organization I like, or better yet, put a small sticker on my laptop. That’s what I’ve seen the cool kids do. But vendors: if you want me to investigate your company, give me a business card so we can talk about it when we’re both back home, and a discount wouldn’t hurt. Please keep the squeeze toy; I’m not a dog.

I’d love to go to a conference, prepared with my own notes, drawn from a file or Web site available ahead of time. I’d print out my own name badge — like so many people do with their flight boarding pass; I bet you have or could collect spare name badge holders — and if I needed swag, well, I’ll print out a logo and paste it on my own toy.

Feeding the multitudes . . . .

Hosting a multi-faith event? What about the food? I was thinking about what kind of menu would anchor a religiously-universal meal, when competing moral, culture and ethical demands threaten to make something as important as a meal impossible.

But it’s not impossible. I used Google to find this helpful page from the Inter Faith Network for the United Kingdom. A good thing too: I would have totally messed up the Jains.

Catering for multi faith events