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Zuckerberg and Chan Offer $100 Million to Help Local Election Offices

So far two people have dedicated as much money as Congress has to help fund election offices as November 3rd races towards us. Mind you, those two people are Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan. But still, it sends a clear message that Congress should be doing better.

On Monday, October 26, Zuckerberg and Chan announced a $100 million donation to help local election offices around the country. Along with money they have previously donated in September for the same purpose, that brings their contribution up to $400 million, which actually is just as much as Congress has allocated for the purpose.

Election experts have estimated that ensuring everyone has a right to safely vote this year should have cost on the order of $4 billion, but they’ll have to make do with less than a quarter of that, all the same.

The money will help pay for protective equipment at polling sites, equipment to process mail ballots, last-minute drive-through voting stations, and more. All indications show that, COVID-19 aside, this year will see a voter turnout unequaled in U.S. history.

“We’ve seen massive interest in the COVID-19 Response Grant program over the last month from over 2,100 election officials who are seeking funding to ensure safe, health election options for voters in every corner of the country,” said Tiana Epps-Johnson, executive director of the Center for Technology and Civic Life, which is the nonprofit directing most of the donations.

Because the nonprofit, which acts in a nonpartisan manner and is respected by election administrators on both sides of the aisle, was founded by Democrats, legal groups in 10 Republican and swing states have made legal obstacles against voting centers taking funds from these donations. 

Most election offices which have applied for grants are in rural districts with fewer than 25,000 registered voters, voters who may have to travel hours or even overnight to reach a polling station.

Source: ArkLaTex

Editorial credit: Frederic Legrand – COMEO / Shutterstock.com

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Adorable, Amateur Pet Portraits Go Viral, Raising Thousands for Charity

It was a joke, when Phil Heckels, 38, posted a silly picture of his dog to Facebook with a £299 price tag in the caption. He’d only drawn it because he was trying to get his little boy to draw with him and make a thank you card.

It didn’t sell. “It was pretty crap,” Heckles says of it with self-deprecating humor. But it did make a bunch of his Facebook friends laugh. The marker-drawing of his black lab Narla was unpolished and cartoony, but expressive. By the end of the first day, he had seven commissions from friends wanting pet portraaits. And those requests kept coming in.

Heckels, who has a full time job in commercial real estate, soon gave in to peer pressure and set up a dedicated Facebook page as the artist “Hercule Van Wolfwinkle,” offering goofy pet portraits with googly eyes, giant heads, and Picasso’s grasp of where facial features go.

Then the internet did its strange thing, and his work went viral.

“I’m just having a laugh with it,” Heckels said. “People seem to be enjoying it and I’m certainly enjoying it.” He does his best to take each commission seriously, but not too seriously.

“I genuinely try quite hard to to try and draw them.”

As the commissions backed up and money kept coming in, Heckels decided to do something good with his strange flash of popularity – he set up a fundraiser for Turning Tides, a homelessness charity his family has always supported. With his art as backer’s gifts, the fundraiser has so far raised over £14,000 for the charity, or enough to provide over 280 nights of shelter.

If you want to get your own portrait, go ahead and contact his Facebook page, but there’s bound to be a wait. Acclaimed artist (his words) Hercule Van Wolfwinkle has more than 1000 pets in his queue already. But he’ll get to you as soon as he can.

Source: NBC 2

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Facebook Donates £1M to Save Historic Site of Turing’s First Computer

During WWII, the English country house known as Bletchley Park was a secret site housing the Government Code and Cypher School, keeping their fingers the pulse of Axis Powers intelligence. Most notably, it is the place where Alan Turing and his team of codebreakers (Gordon Welchman, Hugh Alexander, Bill Tutte, and Stuart Milner-Barry) broke the Enigma and Lorenz ciphers and built Colossus, the world’s first programmable digital electronic computer.

The original Colossus was destroyed in the 1960s to keep it a secret during the Cold War, but a working replica is still there in the same house, the house now known as the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park.

In August, the Bletchley Park Trust, the charity which maintains the site and museum, reported that they were facing a revenue shortage of over £2 million ($2.6m) because of COVID-19 closures and falling visitor numbers once they were allowed to reopen. This amounts to almost 95 percent of their annual income. In light of the near total loss of 2020’s income, the charity was looking at laying off approximately a third of its few paid employees.

Facebook announced that they would be donating £1 million to the Bletchley Park Trust, recognizing the site’s “ongoing legacy as a birthplace of modern computing.”

“The historic achievements of Alan Turing and the Bletchley team have benefited all of us greatly, including Facebook, and we’re thrilled to help preserve this spiratual home of modern computng,” said Steve Hatch in a press statement. Hatch is Facebook’s vice president of Northern Europe, the largest hub of Facebook outside the U.S.

Iain Standen, the CEO of Bletchley Park Trust, made a statement in return, describing the charity as “very grateful to Facebook.” 

“With this significant support,” he said, “the Bletchley Park Trust will be better positioned to operate in the ‘new world’ and keep its doors open for future generations.” There is no comment yet about how many of the threatened jobs will be preserved by the donation.

Source: The Verge

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Nonprofit ‘Mercy Ships’ to Launch World’s Largest Non-Governmental Hospital Ship

Becton, Dickenson and Company (BD) is a medical technology company, one of the largest in the world and over 120 years old. They essentially invented the modern hypodermic needle, and in the last decade have spent over $30 billion in acquiring some of their competitors.

Feel what you may about the cost of medicine, which tech companies like BD certainly play a large part in, this company works to maintain a clean public image. In 2010, BD was ranked 18th in the Fortune 500 Green List, which ranks all of the Fortune 500 companies by their environmental impact. And then there is Mercy Ships.

Mercy Ships is a global nonprofit with which BD is partnered, running hospital ships which can travel to underserved countries and ports, providing medical care and infrastructure without needing anything new to be built on site.

Celebrating 25 years of their partnership, BD is donating $1 million to the charity to support the construction and launch of the Global Mercy, which at 571 feet and 37,000 tons will be the largest ever non-government hospital ship. The Global Mercy will feature six operating rooms, a fully-functioning hospital, and will house as many as 600 staff, from highly-trained surgeons to volunteers.

Once launched, the Global Mercy will join Mercy Ships’ only other extant vessel, Africa Mercy, in bringing medical care to African nations, where the need for quality surgical care is highest. According to Mercy Ships’ website, 18.6 million people die a year in need of surgical care, nearly all of them in Africa.

“The high quality, compassionate surgical care that Mercy Ships provides to patients has transformed nearly three million lives over four decades,” said Tom Polen, CEO and President at BD. “It’s been a privilege for BD to support the Mercy Ships mission over the past 25 years, and with this newest philanthropic commitment, we look forward to being part of the life-saving medical treatment that the Global Mercy will bring to millions of vulnerable patients.”

Source: Press Release

Editorial credit: byvalet / Shutterstock.com

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John Oliver Offers $55,000 Donation for Sewer Plant Memorialization

Danbury, Connecticut is a modest city about 50 miles northeast of New York City, with a population around 80,000. The original white settlers wanted to name it Swampfield, and its biggest claim to fame until recently was that American hat-making was briefly centered there in the early days of the Industrial Revolution.

In mid-August, Comedian John Oliver focused a diatribe about racially biased jury selection in Connecticut in the town of Danbury–and locals took offense. Rather than just grumbling on their Facebook and NextDoor groups, the citizens took their grievance to the mayor of Danbury. And Mayor Mark Boughton posted a video to Facebook that he’d like to name the Danbury Water Pollution Control Plant as the “John Oliver Memorial Sewer Plant.”

“Why?” said Boughton on his video. “Because it’s full of crap just like you, John.”

Boughton walked his rant back the next day, saying it was just a heated joke, but Oliver was publicly disappointed.

“Wait, so you’re not doing it? Aw (expletive) you, Danbury,” said Oliver during his show on the night of Sunday, August 30. “You had the first good idea in your city’s history, and you chickened out on the follow through. What a classic Danbury move. Listen, I didn’t know that I wanted my name on your (expletive) factory but now that you floated it as an option, it is all that I want.”

Not content to leave it at that, Oliver was quick to turn the public spat into a philanthropic opportunity. He has offered to donate $55,000 to Danbury, splitting it between local food banks and requests from Danbury teachers, if the city follows through on Boughton’s threat.

If they don’t, Oliver said he would give the money to Danbury’s “rival” towns, Waterbury, Milford, and Torrington.

Danbury city officials are currently considering the offer, which Boughton called “very generous.”

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Artist Hopes To Raise $30m Selling the World’s Largest Canvas Painting

Sacha Jafri was traveling in the United Arab Emirates in April, when COVID-19 closures were beginning to block avenues of travel. The British citizen wound up stuck in Dubai when the UAE locked down travel five months ago. Unable to remain idle, the artist worked out an arrangement with Atlantis, the Palm, Dubai’s legendary luxury hotel. Since the hotel has been unable to use its enormous Atlantis Ballroom, a space meant to seat 500, Jafri turned the space into an artist’s studio for a massive undertaking.

Titled “The Journey of Humanity,” Jafri’s abstract painting is over 21,000-square-feet, around the size of two full-sized football fields. Painted almost entirely by Jafri alone, it has taken nearly five months so far. When he finishes it, it will be the world’s largest canvas painting.

Jafri describes his style, which consists of intensely chaotic and colorful abstract patterns made with both traditional brushwork and drip-painting, as “magical realism.” He has works in the collections of Barack Obama and other celebrities.

“Journey,” which is overwhelming in the way it fills the ballroom like a graffiti carpet, is divided into eight “portals” based on which colors are dominant. And at the center of each portal, Jafri has featured a piece of art created by a child from somewhere around the world, submitted over the past few months through his website.

When finished, Jafri intends to cut “Journey” into 60 pieces, each approximately 10’x10′, frame them, and sell them in a Dubai art auction in December. He hopes to raise $30,000,000, with the aim of donating it to Humanity United, an umbrella charity supporting children in poverty.

“Each person that buys a panel will (not only) own a piece of the largest painting ever created in the world,” said Jafri, “but they’ll own a piece of history, because what we’re doing with that money is huge.”

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“Watchmen” Creator Raises Awareness of 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre

On May 31st, 1921, a mob of white supremacists, protected by the National Guard, burned down 35 city blocks of black-owned homes and businesses and an all-black school in Tulsa, Oklahoma, killing as many as 300, injuring over 800, and leaving an estimated 6,000 people homeless.

Contemporary reports downplayed the deaths, but three mass graves have since been tied to the event. To date, there have been no reparations, and not one member of the mob was convicted of any charges for the deaths, injuries, or property damage, even though they ousted the mayor of Tusla by force and took the city in a coup. In the aftermath, white city developers tried to force through a law banning black people from owning property in the city center, allegedly for fire prevention.

The anniversary of this tragedy is coming up, and the people of Tusla want to ensure it is commemorated. The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission was formed to spearhead that commemoration, dedicated to projects which would educate and honor the losses suffered that day.

“Watchmen,” the 2019 HBO series flexibly based on Alan Moore’s 1986 comic series, is set in an alternate-reality modern-day Tulsa, and it features flashbacks to the Tulsa Race Massacre, setting its tone of vicious racism and corruption. The flashbacks were many American’s first introduction to the events of that tragedy.

Damon Lindelof, the creator and executive producer of Watchmen, isn’t just using history for shock value, as Moore did Vietnam in the original comics. That raising of awareness is part of why he made the show in the first place. And it is why he’s donating $19,021 to the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, challenging other philanthropists to match his donation.

So far, Oklahoma Humanities has risen to Lindelof’s challenge. Their money will go towards opening the Greenwood Rising history center, a permanent exhibit to honor the anniversary in May.

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Serena Williams Donates 4.25 Million Masks for Kids

Serena Williams, one of the most highly decorated athletes of all time, is one of many celebrities taking public health into her own hands during the COVID-19 crisis. On Sunday August 9th, the tennis star announced on her Instagram that she’s teaming up with clothing company Bella Canvas, publishing company Scholastic Inc, and the National School Board Association to donate 4.25 million masks to underserved schools around the country. Additionally, the team-up, going by the hashtag #MasksForKids, wants to distribute educational materials about masks to every schoolchild in the country.

Schools will also be able to buy additional masks for students, with a mask donated for every mask sold, on top of that initial 4+ million.

“Getting back to school this fall means having #masksforkids to wear,” Williams wrote. “I’m grateful to be able to help educate our schools about this resource, and to be given the opportunity to serve so many students.”

While scientists almost universally agree that children in the U.S. should not be going back to school in person this fall at all, in many states, classes have already begun. For instance, in Georgia, schools began in the first week of August. North Paulding High School, where a student’s pictures of crowded, maskless hallways went viral after she was suspended for taking them, has already seen nine new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in both students and staff.

If students are going to be back in class, despite these risks, they must be given masks. And the wearing of them must be enforced, along with education of why it is so important to do so. Too many Americans simply don’t or won’t understand that wearing a mask is an act of compassion, not a sign of fear. Education is the key to moving past the politicization we’ve seen these past few months and stopping this pandemic from spreading even further.

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Brooklyn Nine-Nine Creators, Cast Donate to Protester Bail Funds

During the protests over police brutality in the United States after the death on video of George Floyd, the police arrested over 10,000 protesters across the country in just the first two weeks, and they haven’t stopped. Some of the arrests for looting and violence, but others have been plainly unjust, such as the arrest of Evan Hreha, who was arrested for “unlawfully discharging a laser” by a mob of cops while walking his dog a week after his footage of a 7-year-old child screaming in pain after police pepper sprayed him directly in the face went viral.

Hreha was released without bail after 43 hours, but many have not been so lucky. A variety of charities have been launched to provide bail funds for the hundreds of protesters who are still awaiting charges or trial. For many, waiting in a cell is life-ruining. Every hour they remain inside, they risk losing a job, custody of their children, or their apartment, and they’re made less able to participate in their own defense.

The cast of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” a comedy show which satirizes the police and has an excellent track record of not shrinking away from the either issues of police corruption or the risks they face, has been vocally on the side of the protesters since this began.

“The cast and showrunner of ‘Brooklyn 99’ condemn the murder of George Floyd and support the many people who are protesting police brutality nationally,” tweeted Dan Goor, the show’s co-creator. “Together we have made a $100,000 donation to The National Bail Fund Network. We encourage you to look up your local bail fund: the National Bail Fund Network is an organization that can lead you to them. #blacklivesmatter.”

Stephanie Beatriz, one of the show’s lead actors, also made a personal donation of $11,000 to support bail funds, and said she regards it as her moral responsibility.

“I’m an actor who plays a detective on tv,” Beatriz tweeted. “If you currently play a cop? If you make tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in residuals from playing a cop? I’ll let you do the math.”

The Brooklyn Nine-Nine donations is just the latest in a series of large donations to Black Lives Matter and related causes. K-pop group BTS and its fans donated millions, and Bank of America pledged $1 billion to address racial inequality.

Photo: A June 2020 Black Lives Matter protest in Washington, D.C.

Credit: Kalen Martin-Gross / Shutterstock.com

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Greta Thunberg Wins $1.15M Climate Change Award and Donates All of it

The Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity, awarded in Portugal, recognizes people or groups who have made impactful, novel, or innovative contributions to fighting or adapting to the reality of climate change around the world. It is a one million euro ($1.15 million) award to aid the efforts of its winners and extend their reach.

For 2020, the winner is Swedish activism celebrity Greta Thunberg.

The teenager won for the way she “has been able to mobilise younger generations for the cause of climate change and her tenacious struggle to alter a status quo that persists,” according to Jorge Sampaio, chair of the prize jury for this year.

Thunberg called the prize “more money than I can begin to imagine,” but has no intention of keeping any of it.

“I’m extremely honoured to receive the Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity.” Thunberg tweeted on July 20th. “We’re in a climate emergency, and my foundation will as quickly as possible donate all the prize money… to support organisations and projects that are fighting for a sustainable world, defending nature, and supporting people already facing the worst impacts of the climate- and ecological crisis – particularly those living in the Global South.”

So far, she has announced that 100,000 euro each are going to the “SOS Amazonia” campaign, to help deal with the impact of COVID-19 in poor communities in the rural Amazon, and to the Stop Ecocide Foundation, which campaigns to make ecological damage resulting in genocide-like conditions an international crime. Her foundation will continue to make decisions about where to donate the rest of the windfall in the next few weeks.

Just a few days before receiving this award, Thunberg and a number of other young climate activists used their platform to launch a climate emergency appeal to EU leaders, supported heavily by the European science community.

Source: The Guardian

Editorial credit: Liv Oeian / Shutterstock.com