Fundraiser for the Movement Voter Project

One of my personal takeaways from 2020 was that donating to organizing was more effective than donating to campaigns. In Maine, people flooded Sara Gideon with cash and we got another six years of Susan Collins being very, very concerned; in Georgia, people donated a bunch of money to both Ossoff and Warnock once the runoff started, but I think it was clear that the battle was won by Fair Fight, Stacey Abrams’ organization. The Movement Voter Project is an umbrella organization that raises money to support small, local, progressive groups primarily in key states. (Including, but not limited to, Fair Fight.) I set up a recurring donation to MVP late last year. There are a couple of things about these groups I think are important:
  • They’re not just focused on big races like the US Senate but also on downticket races where we absolutely have to build power.
  • In addition to registering and motivating voters, they’re groups that will pressure the Democratic party to live up to the progressive values it claims to hold.
  • They are run by local people who know a lot better than I do which primaries matter and which candidates have a real chance. They’ll also work to elect the lesser evil, if that’s what’s on the table.
  • I generally try to avoid donating to primary races outside my own area (do I know who has the best chance at beating Marjorie Taylor Greene? I do not! You know who might? the Democrats in her district!) but post-primary is often really late to start fundraising for the general election. Funding organizing helps to provide a head start for whoever wins.
  • Let’s be honest about this: the Democratic party in some states is run by people who truly do not appear to know their ass from their elbow. I appreciate the opportunity to donate to groups that have some chance of filling the gap in states where the party is incredibly badly run.
Anyway: I created a fundraiser for the Movement Voter Project. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I could do as an incentive for a fundraiser, because the problem with offering stuff like Tuckerizations is that I have to keep track of whether I’ve actually fulfilled my end of the bargain — it’s fine if it’s just a few, but it doesn’t scale well. But! I have an entire box of spiral-bound Mead notebooks from my childhood, containing my creative writing from when I was as young as nine. I was a very enthusiastic writer from a very young age. I was not a particularly good writer. For every $500 raised I will read some of my deeply embarrassing childhood prose for you on video and upload it. The story in this notebook was my fourth grade attempt at a novel about a magical talking horse, if that gives you some idea of what to expect. If people have other ideas of things I could offer, feel free to leave them in the comments.

WorldCon 2021 Schedule

WorldCon is normally held in August, but this year is being held in December, because there were various catastrophes (aside from the Big Obvious Ongoing Catastrophe, the hotel they were planning to hold the con in closed down) and the convention organizers rescheduled it for December. It’s being held both virtually and in-person. I’m vaxxed, boosted, and going in person.

I am a finalist for two Hugo Awards this year: “Monster” is a finalist for Best Novelette, and “Little Free Library” is a finalist for Best Short Story. Both stories are up against an amazing set of fellow finalists; it’s an honor to be listed among them.

I’m getting in Wednesday evening, flying home Monday. Here’s my schedule:


10 am: Post-Pandemic Aesthetics. Virtual Panel.
“The 1918 flu pandemic had huge impacts on culture over the subsequent decades, including significant changes to architecture and personal fashion. What kinds of long-term changes to our public aesthetic will we see in reaction to COVID-19? Will restaurants and other public spaces need to change their room layouts and building designs? Will branded, designer facemasks become de rigueur symbols of conspicuous consumption?” I am moderating. Other panelists: Ana Rüsche, Charlie Stross, Leonardo Espinoza Benavides, sandy manning.

11:30 am: Kaffeeklatsch – Suite 325 Main Room.

1 pm to 1:50pm: Signing at the SFWA table in the Dealer’s Room.

2:30 pm: The Fallout of Being the Chosen One. Forum Room.
“Being a Chosen One isn’t always happily-ever-after. The season-by-season model of television, and the multi volume novel,  allows viewers to explore the arc of the chosen one-type hero after the initial hero’s journey is complete. What are some of the emotional impacts and plot implications of the Chosen One’s story? What kind of generational trauma can being, or being near, the Chosen One inflict?” Ellen Kushner, Naomi Kritzer, Patricia A. Jackson, Sarah Guan, Hildy Silverman (Moderator)

5 p.m.: Hugo Nominee reception, Ambassador Ballroom.
This is a big public reception for people to meet the nominees from 2021 and the winners (and maybe also nominees?) from 2020 (which also includes me: I won the Lodestar Award for Catfishing on Catnet). How long I stay is going to depend heavily on whether I was able to find food between 12:30 and 1, and/or between 1:50 and 2:30, or if I’m running on pop and granola bars.

10 pm: Social Media: Making Enemies & Alienating People. Virtual.
“Social media can be an excellent place to find online community, especially during a pandemic, but it can also be a fraught world of vicious gossip, lip service activism, and whatever the Algorithm is. The panel will explore ways of using different forms of social media to connect with like-minded people, while providing tips to avoid falling prey to such platform’s worst aspects.” Elizabeth Hirst, John Wiswell, K.G. Anderson, Naomi Kritzer, Travis Tippens (Moderator)

(Yes, my Thursday is ridiculous. It was already ridiculous and then I added the signing at the SFWA table because the other available slots were problematic in other ways and I decided that I’d just come prepared to live on snacks that day if I have to. The 10 p.m. panel on social media dumpster fires should leave me thoroughly alert to go find people in the bar!)


10 am: Legal and Actuarial Supernatural Hypotheticals. Forum Room.
“What does a lifetime annuity mean to the undead? Are werewolves responsible for their actions during the full moon if they contracted lycanthropy by accident? Do mermaids have standing to bring citizen suits under the Clean Water Act? Do vampire thralls run afoul of anti-slavery laws? Not actual legal advice. Results may vary. Please contact your local coven before attempting to bargain with the fae.” I am moderating. Also on the panel: Alex Shvartsman, Andrija “Andy” Popovic, Pat Bahn, Tenaya Anue.


2:30 p.m.: 2020 ruined my novel! Forum Room.
“2020 was a giant curveball for the entire world. Everyone was affected in one way or another. What about authors? Our panelists will discuss what changes they had to make to their 2020 work-in-progress to accommodate all the weird things that were happening in the real world.” Alyc Helms, Lindsay Ellis, Lisa Nohealani Morton, Naomi Kritzer, Sue, Victor Manibo, Wesley Chu (Moderator)

8 p.m.: Hugo Award Ceremony.
Definitely planning to go to this.


I have nothing currently scheduled for Sunday other than being able to sleep in.

Anyway — for anyone coming, please say hi! Also please don’t be worried if I have to squint at your nametag to know who you are — I have always been bad at facial recognition, add masks and it’s just hopeless (but I’m strongly in favor of masks. Just, also nametags.) I am looking forward to the mix of in-person and virtual programming. If you want something signed and can’t make it to my signing or Kaffeeklatsch, feel free to just waylay me after a panel.

I went to Convergence this summer and in some ways, it was a very different con. It was smaller; a lot of stuff had been scaled back or cancelled either because they lacked volunteers to run it or because they couldn’t come up with a good way to make it safe. But it was still so great to see people again. I have missed conventions so much and I’m really grateful that WorldCon is being held.

Gifts for People You Hate 2021: Supply Chain Mayhem

Welcome, my friends, to my annual guide to passive-aggressive gifting.

In a better world, no one would feel like gift-giving was an unavoidable obligation, and certainly no one would find themselves resentfully shopping for someone they actively dislike, but we’re not in that world yet, and across the globe in December (or November, especially when Hanukkah comes early), people resentfully head to the mall to try to select something acceptable yet inexpensive for their mother-in-law, their neighbor, their obnoxious cousin, or their least-favorite coworker who they unfortunately drew for the office Secret Santa.

And I’m here for you! Once again, I have assembled a selection of inexpensive items that will look like you cared enough to send the very best, while in fact giving people the gift of wasted time, wasted space, frustration, annoyance, etc.

As always, I want to take a moment to emphasize that I don’t buy gifts for anyone I don’t like — if I’ve given you a terrible present, I like you and it was clueless goodwill and not passive-aggression (the very sort of clueless goodwill the rest of you can use as camouflage). I also do not scrutinize gifts I receive for hints that someone secretly dislikes me. (I cheerfully assume that everyone likes me, and occasionally discover that I’m wrong, and then usually forget that the person dislikes me and embarrass us both the next time I see them in public and give them a hearty hello while they’re trying to avoid eye contact.)

Anyway. I’m doing this guide very early this year for two reasons: (1) Hanukkah starts in November (we almost got another Thanksgivukkah) and (2) SUPPLY CHAIN ISSUES. As everyone knows, supply chain issues are wreaking havoc everywhere, on all the things, and this is a particular subtle bonus to passive-aggressive gifters as you could buy something completely bizarre, like you could give the person from your office gift exchange a Bob Ross Chia Pet or an Archie McPhee Yodeling Pickle and then shrug and say “you know, supply chain issues!” and they’ll be forced to assume that the shelves at Walgreens were otherwise picked bare and you did the best you could.

(The shelves are not actually going to be bare. There will be tons of stuff, you just won’t be able to find the item you want in your size, which is always true, but it’ll be more true this year. Also, print copies of your friends’ books may be hard to find, so if you haven’t bought all your friends’ books already, get on that or resign yourself to ebooks.)

Let’s talk about some bad gift options, shall we?

What you look like you need is a new hobby!

You know what your sister-in-law needs? Something more productive to do with her time than reading OANN links on Facebook. Maybe she could take up bonsai. Bonsai is a great hobby, but usually when you gift someone a bonsai, you give them a tiny tree that they can mold and trim. This kit gives you seeds. Do you know how long it takes to grow a tiny tree from seeds? It takes years.

Alternately, here is a kit where you make tiny bowls out of embroidery thread. Per reviews, the glue soaks right through the thread so it’s almost impossible to get it off the plastic shell included to form the bowls on. In the event that your recipient gets it to work, the result is a tiny bowl made from embroidery thread, which can’t be used for much of anything useful. So you can give someone both a time waster and a tchotchke.

For a mere $10, you can buy someone a reasonably nice pocket set of watercolors that comes with brushes and a brush holder. Of course, your recipient will need some watercolor paper. You can then buy them 14 sheets of high quality, large sheets of paper, so that they’ll worry endlessly about wasting it. Alternately, you can buy a similarly thin pad of large, cheap paper. (That one telegraphs “for kids!” though — for maximum psychological pain, a tiny high grade quantity of a key consumable is a good way to make a new hobby feel painfully high stakes.)

Or perhaps you can pretend that you think they’ll enjoy a paint-by-numbers technicolor Darth Vader. (There’s a whole range of paint-by-numbers kits, so if Vader is actually up their alley you could instead get them something with more of a Thomas Kinkade vibe.)

Gifts that seem useful, but really aren’t.

If you know someone who likes to think of themselves as a rugged, self-sufficient type, you could give them a survival kit. There are lots of pre-made survival kits with various types of gear; this one is very small, and very cheap. (A cautionary note for anyone thinking about giving it to a person they dislike but would rather not see actually die in an actual emergency: the flashlight comes without batteries.)

Speaking of batteries, apparently some people find it helpful to take them all out of their packaging and carefully load them into this elaborate case. Definitely give this to someone you don’t like who already has a perfectly reasonable battery storage solution.

There are many people who find compasses to be useful. They probably would not actually want to take this large, showy, decorative compass into any situation where a compass might be useful. (It weighs almost 12 ounces! Imagine using it to orienteer your way through the woods!)

Have you ever tried to fix something while holding a flashlight and encountered the “not enough hands” problem? Maybe you think this problem would be solved by building LED flashlights into a pair of fingerless gloves. According to several reviewers, this problem is solved a whole lot better by a head lamp, since that points where you’re looking and your glove flashlight might or might not.

Most people these days get the bulk of their weather forecasting information via a phone app. It can be nice to have an indoor-outdoor thermometer but the dial kind is a lot easier to read than the classic “mercury is rising/falling” style (which are made without mercury, FYI). You can also buy some very attractive barometers, at various price points, one of which seems to basically be a snow globe for grownups. In other words, a gadget that purports to be useful, isn’t particularly, but IS fragile and attractive so they can’t just shove it in a closet: the perfect bad gift, at least for someone who, if they need a weather forecast, is going to look not at their fancy glass barometer but at their phone.

Would your recipient enjoy owning a fitness tracker? I know a lot of people who enjoy fitness trackers but none of them have fitness trackers with an alarm that once you’ve turned it on, you will never be able to shut off or reset, which according to the reviews is a feature of this budget-priced model. It also only works in metric, and despite being mainly a step counter, is incredibly unreliable about counting steps.

(Almost forgot to include this one!) Via the Black Friday Sales, how about a toaster-style hot dog and bun cooker? All the counter space of a large toaster but so much more pointless.

Let’s Gussy Up Your Home Office

Is your gift recipient still working from home? A ring light is a gadget that lights your face so you look better on Zoom calls. There are plenty of inexpensive, reliable models, but this one is significantly cheaper, provides inadequate light, and will break almost immediately.

There are also a ton of desk accessories that could be either horrifying or awesome, it depends a lot on the recipient. For example, this tape dispenser with a monkey that claps cymbals as you pull out tape. (I love how product descriptions for this sort of thing always call a “conversation starter.” Entirely accurate for conversations that begin with, “what the hell is that?”)

“What the hell is that?” “Oh, that’s my tape dispenser with a monkey that claps its cymbals when you pull out tape.”

Alternately, you could get this kind of amazing skull desk organizer. It has two holes in the back of the head for you to put your pens and pencils in, but also the mouth is open and you can use it to store paperclips and stuff like that. If that’s just a little too far over the line, this motorcycle design is less gory but takes up way too much space for a pen holder. This dragon pen holder is also very large. The Knight Pen Holder is less overall bulky but it also holds a single pen.

There are a whole range of unique decorative staplers, including dragon, T-Rex, and carved wooden animals. None of them are particularly well-reviewed as a stapler, but the carved wooden deer looks particularly difficult to use because of how the head gets in the way of your hand, and it looks to me like the staples you’d have to use in that one are the mini kind, which are both harder to find and really useless.

Finally, let’s talk pens. Fountain pens can be really excellent gifts, and FTR, I’ve bought Jinhao fountain pens and despite their low price, they’re nice pens. But some really emphasize form over function, with sculptural decorative bits right where you’d kind of want to hold the pen. They have various sculptural rollerball pens as well as fountain. Oh, here’s another one that’s really neat to look at but has literal dragon spines where you’d be holding it? (If you’re in a situation where two people need to give separate gifts, you could pair the knight pen holder with a fancy, unusable pen!)

Magazines: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

A magazine you’re interested in is something you can enjoy all year. A magazine you are not interested in is junk mail that endlessly piles up and makes you feel guilty for not reading it!

Smithsonian magazine costs $12/year, comes with a tote, and supports the Smithsonian Institution. This would be a good gift to people interested in American history and historical research. This would be a terrific gift to people who have loud, angry opinions about “heritage” but mostly seem to have gotten their history education from right-wing Facebook memes. (ETA a quick warning: that subscription comes with auto-renewal! So be careful about that.)

The Nib sells print subscriptions that send out 3 issues per year. It’s a magazine that does comics and cartoons — who doesn’t like that? (You don’t have to tell your recipient that you do know it’s left wing comics and cartoons.)

There are several science fiction and fantasy magazines that still publish in paper. including The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction ($39/year), Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine ($36/year), and Analog Science Fiction and Fact ($36/year). If you’d prefer to clutter up their inbox, you could gift them a 12-month digital subscription to Uncanny, Magazine for $24, a 12-month digital subscription to Clarkesworld for $36, a 12-month digital subscription to Apex Magazine for $24… Just to be clear, these are only a bad gift for someone who dislikes science fiction and fantasy! If someone likes science fiction and fantasy and you want to give them a bad gift, look for a magazine that publishes something they don’t enjoy reading. For example, for $35 you can gift a year’s subscription to the Kenyon Review, which publishes literary fiction.

Finally, if you’ve got someone in your gift-giving circle who’s fond of the phrase “I’ve done my own research,” for $26/year you could support their research interests with a subscription to Scientific American!

From the Department of Either Nightmarish or Awesome, Could Go Either Way

Would you like to give someone a sweatshirt with a picture of a sloth riding a T-Rex with lasers shooting out of its eyes? Or maybe you’d prefer a housecat riding on the head of a swimming tiger? Or maybe you’re nostalgic for that old “three wolf moon” t-shirt design but you really want four wolves and also for it to be on pants (that one’s particularly great because there’s a wolf nose lined up with the crotch.) You could also get pants on which a cat in a cowboy hat is riding a shark that’s vomiting a rainbow.

This absolutely awesome t-shirt has cats striding across clouds out of some sort of orange whirlwind with a cat in the background that’s maybe supposed to look like a feline version of a wolf howling but instead kind of looks like it’s yakking. And I think this cat is doing “Warrior Pose 2” in a yoga class but I’m not 100% sure.

They’ve really expanded the stuff with this sort of hyperrealistic printing and you could also gift someone a laser-cat apron, a jumpsuit that looks like an astronaut’s space suit, a one-piece adult romper with a space kitten, and socks that looks like horse’s hooves.

All of this is the sort of thing that is perfect for some people, absolutely atrocious for other people — you could potentially gift the exact same t-shirt (or hoodie or apron) to your best friend and your worst enemy, and get the reaction you’re hoping for from both.

Finally, this one isn’t clothing, but is an object that would be delightful to the right person, horrifying to the wrong person: a glowing, color-changing dragon lamp. (They’re marketing it as a night light, but they also claim it’s a dinosaur. Anyway: someone in your life might need this, either because they’ll love it or because they’ll have to pretend to love it.) Llama and Unicorn are also available.

Charitable Gifts

One of my favorite passive-aggressive charitable gift options is to symbolically give someone an animal that offers a subtle negative comment on their looks, hygiene, or personality. This would be easier if more zoos included all their animals as opposed to just the notably cute ones. I did find a useful article that lists the 19 dumbest animals on earth, though, and there’s a decent chance that a zoo near you will have giraffes, flamingos, sloths, ostriches, komodo dragons, or slow lorises available for adoption. Great Horned Owls are also on offer — owls have this great reputation for wisdom but are incredibly dumb, kind of like certain conservative NYT columnists.

The Minnesota Zoo notes you can sponsor any animal at the zoo for $100 and get a certificate and a fun book if they don’t have the appropriate stuffed animal. Mystifyingly, despite having a “name a hissing cockroach after your ex for $10” promotion for Valentine’s Day at least once, they don’t list their hissing cockroaches. (I bet they’d do it for you if you called.) They do list giraffes, flamingos, and sloths, as well as porcupines, pigs, and sheep.

The St. Louis Zoo offers $25 adoptions and will also let you adopt any animal at the zoo (for $35, you get a picture of the animal), and in addition to the usual stuff (everyone has giraffes), they have tarantulas, a wild ass, and cobras.

Branching out from zoos, the Friends of Saguaro National Park will let you symbolically gift someone the adoption of a Saguaro Cactus! ($35, and you get a certificate.) And the Wetlands Institute of New Jersey lets you adopt a horseshoe crab. ($25 and you get a digital certificate and a digital photo of a horseshoe crab. You could always print it out for them.)

For more animal gifts with negative personality implications, Oxfam Unwrapped has sheep, pigs, and chickens, and they still let you give people manuretoilets, and highly-efficient stoves (if you’d like some symbolic coal). You could also suggest that someone is not merely annoying but potentially dangerous by gifting a mosquito net to prevent malaria in that person’s honor.

Have You Considered Giving Someone My Books?

I HAD A BOOK COME OUT THIS YEAR! Chaos on CatNet, the sequel to Catfishing on CatNet. I also have a short story collection called Cat Pictures Please and Other Stories. You can often find signed copies from Dreamhaven Books or Uncle Hugo’s, both of which do mail order (Uncle Hugo’s is currently exclusively doing mail order). When Amal El-Mohtar tweeted about Catfishing on CatNet she said, “Do you know a queer teen? Are you a queer teen? Are you an adult who misses an internet that felt kinder & purer? Did you love the Hugo-winning short story ‘Cat Pictures Please’? PLEASE do your heart the gift of acquiring & reading this beautiful book.”

So if you want a good gift you could totally give someone a copy of my book. And just from Amal’s description you can probably figure out exactly which of your relatives this would be a bad gift for. I’ll note that there’s nothing on the book jacket that will give away, for example, the scene where the main character and her friends hack an instructional robot to provide accurate sex ed, so if you want to pretend ignorance later, your plausible deniability is covered. You could also buy any or all of these for yourself — if you’ll be spending time this holiday season around highly stressful family members, there’s no escape like a good book. And if supply chain issues have made print copies difficult to find, I am just as happy when people read my books on their e-reader as when they read print copies.

Happy holidays!

Passive-Aggressive Gift Giving Guides from Previous Years:

2010: Beyond Fruitcake: Gifts for People You Hate
2011: Gifts that say, “I had to get you a gift. So look, a gift!”
2012: Holiday shopping for people you hate
2013: Gift Shopping for People You Hate: the Passive-Aggressive Shopping Guide
Gifts for People You Hate 2014: The Almost-Generic Edition
Whimsical Gifts (for People You Hate) 2015
Gifts for People You Hate 2016 (the fuck everything edition)
Gifts for People You Hate, 2017
Gifts for People You Hate, 2018
Gifts for People You Hate, 2019
Gifts for People You Hate, 2020: Pandemic Procrastination Edition

Election 2021: Sample Ballot/Index of Posts

Saint Paul

(Saint Paul gets to be first because it’s so much less scrolling for the other city than if it’s the other way around.)

Mayor: Melvin Carter

School Board (regular term): Jim Vue, James Farnsworth, Halla Henderson (although I think Uriah Ward is also fine)

School Board (special election): Jeannie Foster (although I think Clayton Howatt is also fine)

City Question 1 (St. Paul Rent Control): No.


Mayor: Sheila Nezhad/Kate Knuth or Kate Knuth/Sheila Nezhad. Don’t rank Jacob. Info on possible third ballot choices here.

City Council Ward 1: Elliott Payne.

City Council Ward 2: #1 Cameron Gordon, #2 Robin Wonsley Worlobah.

City Council Ward 3: Steve Fletcher.

City Council Ward 4: Phillippe Cunningham.

City Council Ward 5: #1 Jeremiah Ellison, #2 Kristel Porter, #3 Suleiman Isse.

City Council Ward 6: Damned if I know.

City Council Ward 7: #1 Nick Kor, #2 Teqen Zéa-Aida.

City Council Ward 8: Andrea Jenkins.

City Council Ward 9: Jason Chavez.

City Council Ward 10: Katie Jones/Aisha Chughtai or Aisha Chughtai/Katie Jones.

City Council Ward 11: Jeremy Schroeder.

City Council Ward 12: Andrew Johnson

City Council Ward 13: #1 Mike Norton, #2 Kati Medford.

Board of Estimate and Taxation: #1 Pine Salica, #2 Samantha Pree-Stinson, #3 Steve Brandt.

Park Board At-Large: #1 Tom Olsen, #2 Londel French, #3 Alicia D. Smith.

Park Board District 1: Billy Menz.

Park Board District 2: #1 Eric Moran, #2 Mike Shelton.

Park Board District 3: Becky Alper.

Park Board District 4: Jono Cowgill.

Park Board District 5: Steffanie Musich.

Park Board District 6: #1 Risa Hustad, #2 Cathy Abene, #3 Barb Schlaefer.

City Question 1 (Strong Mayor): No.

City Question 2 (Public Safety) (second post here): Yes.

City Question 3 (Rent Control): Yes.

In addition to writing political commentary, I write science fiction and fantasy. My book that came out in April, Chaos on CatNet, takes place in a future Minneapolis (and includes scenes of my imagined future of public safety). It’s a sequel to Catfishing on CatNet and signed copies of both books are usually available from Dreamhaven and from the current mail-order-only incarnation of Uncle Hugo’s.

I do not have a Patreon or Ko-Fi, but you can make a donation to encourage my work! I get a lot of satisfaction watching fundraisers I highlight getting funded. Some that are worth your consideration:

In Minneapolis:

A first-year teacher at Bryn Mawr would like a variety of classroom supplies, including individual dry-erase boards, a big easel, a classroom rug, a selection of books, and some educational games.

A middle school teacher at Andersen would like to provide her students with some manga they’ve requested; they currently don’t have a media center, and students rely on classroom libraries for books.

A second-grade teacher at Folwell would like to provide her students with graphic novels in both Spanish and English. (A large percentage of her students speak Spanish at home.)

In Saint Paul:

A science teacher at Washington Technology high school in St. Paul would like to provide electronic balances and voltmeters so that his Chemistry students can see “how adding nanoparticles to a conductive solution affects voltage.”

Crossroads Elementary needs a large stock of disposable face masks. (This doesn’t seem like something you should have to fundraise for, does it? but apparently it is.)

And a Head Start teacher would like snowpants, mittens, and hats for her students to wear to play outside in the winter!

And a different kind of school fundraiser (again, in Minneapolis):

Kaytie Kamphoff is a special education resource teacher at Patrick Henry High School and the co-director/producer of Henry Drama Club. (Christopher Michael is her co-director and their full-time theater and dance teacher.) She initially asked for funds on Twitter just so the Henry Drama Club could stage a couple of plays this year. Ms. Kamphoff has now set her sights higher: she’s hoping to raise enough to run a summer theater program for Northside kids, free for participants, paid for the recent grads/Drama Club alums who work. You can donate to her by Venmo or Paypal: Venmo is Henry_DC and PayPal is Note “Henry Drama Club” in the memo and if Paypal insists you need the last four digits of her phone number, it’s 5548.

Her Twitter thread is solidly worth reading if you’d like some heartwarming stories of the transformational power of theater in the lives of high school students.

Election 2021: One More Post on Public Safety (and Question 2 in Minneapolis)

I got an e-mail after my earlier post on public safety from someone who suggested that it would be helpful to make a positive case for what I think it should look like, since one of the objections is the lack of a mapped-out plan. Just to be clear, before I start: I am not an expert on this, I’m not someone who would be called in to help write a plan, and there are a lot of people who are experts who would be involved in writing a plan.

Given that caveat, a couple of thoughts.

Until the 1960s, some cities didn’t have ambulances.

This was one of those fascinating things I learned from Twitter (that someone else learned from a podcast); here’s an article about it. From that article:

Emergency services were not there to provide treatment at the scene or even necessarily on the way to the hospital… they were just about getting you to the hospital as quickly as possible.  It also wasn’t clear whose responsibility it was to rush to the scene of an accident. Oftentimes firefighters were the ones to respond, and they were expected to deal with health treatment themselves. In other areas, the responsibility for transporting patients often fell to local funeral homes. In many major cities, this crucial task fell to another municipal service that probably had even less business responding to medical emergencies: The police.

The police in many cities would literally take people to the hospital in the back of a paddy wagon! In Pittsburgh, the city ambulance service was created by a Black-run jobs training program called Freedom House, in a Black neighborhood, in cooperation with Dr. Peter Safar, an anesthesiologist who went on to basically create the idea of critical-care emergency medicine.

The idea of a city without an ambulance service is literally unthinkable now. But when the Freedom House ambulance service started, the police viewed them as competition:

The police felt like Freedom House had taken their jobs away, but Freedom House believed that the police — with their poor training — were a threat to the patient. Moon says that Freedom House would have a police scanner on to monitor the calls and would try to get to emergency situations before the police did to make sure care was given properly. Sometimes the police would relent, but other times they would threaten the paramedics with arrest unless they backed off.

What don’t we have today, that in twenty years could feel as absurd as not having ambulances? I can tell you that the concept of having mental health specialists respond to people in mental health crisis has been suggested since at least the late 1990s (probably longer, but I specifically remember an incident in the late 90s or early 2000s that set off a “why don’t we deal better with mental health crises” conversation that did not, in fact, result in mental health specialists being available to deal with people having mental health crises.)

Police get called for noise complaints. For conflicts between neighbors. They show up for entirely medical ambulance calls — sometimes even usefully. They get called on kids selling hot dogs. That story had a happy “police help kid get business permit” ending but why are armed officers of the law the people sent in response to a business operating without a permit?

What if, in response to conflicts between neighbors, we could send out a mediator? What if, if you wanted a wellness check for someone you were worried about, the city could send out someone who would check on them, then help connect them with services? What if, when you needed to report a crime for insurance purposes — to file an official statement of “someone broke into my garage and stole my bike” — the person who showed up had a clipboard instead of a gun?

I mean, in the late 1960s, the idea that you might have special people, with their own uniforms and training, just for the part where you drove people to the hospital — that was new. And the police resisted the idea! But putting resources into ambulances and trained paramedics was a transformative shift in public safety.

When all you have is a hammer, and the hammer isn’t fixing the problem, adding more hammers is probably not going to improve anything.

I read this fascinating Mother Jones article this morning. It discusses two incidents where police were called on a person who was sleeping or unconscious in his car, with a gun visible. In both cases, the initial call made was not “this person is a danger,” it was absolutely “I am worried that this person is in danger.” In the 2021 case (which didn’t end in the police shooting the guy! progress!) he’d crashed his car — it looked to the caller like he’d lost consciousness at the wheel.

And yet instead of treating this as a medical emergency, this was treated as a potential threat. Someone in the neighborhood recognized the unconscious man, and managed to reach his mother, who came and was (eventually) granted permission to try to wake him. His mother, in the article, commented, “I just couldn’t believe there were so many police with just one person” — “Three police vehicles blocked in Jones’ car. Five officers were positioned behind one cruiser. Another kept a gun trained on the hatchback from the turret of the BearCat.”

The police response to any situation they’re not sure how to handle is “add more police,” whether that makes any sort of sense or not. This was for one unconscious guy. Who had a gun in his lap that was illegal for him to own, but I don’t think the legality of the gun was a major factor here.

I do actually sympathize with the essential problem here, which was, “we don’t know if he’ll wake up, freak out, and start shooting.” This almost never happens — but there is, in fact, a local case where a police officer responded to a call of someone sleeping in a car and got shot. (In 1994, Ron Ryan Jr. checked on a sleeping man after a neighbor called. Guy Harvey Baker shot him as he walked back to his squad car to run Baker’s ID. Baker fled, then during the manhunt later murdered a second police officer along with his dog. This is a good illustration of why police paranoia about unknown people with guns is not entirely unreasonable.)

But the essential question in this case seems to me not “how do we get police to respond better,” it’s “in a medical emergency where we’re worried about the safety of the EMTs, how can we keep the EMTs safe?” Because this was a medical call. (One of the things I kept thinking about, reading the story, was that the ultimately peaceful — peaceful-ish — resolution was contingent on him waking up and following the instructions of the police. If he’d actually been un-rouseable due to lifethreatening hypoglycemia, or a heart attack, or a drug overdose, he’d have just died in the car while the police yelled at him to wake up.)

This actually seems like a legit use for those robot dogs with the grabber hands — if you can send a robot dog to open up someone’s car and grab the gun, and the guy wakes up and shoots the robot, you’re out a robot. (And let’s face it, if you woke up and saw one of these things climbing into your car, I wouldn’t blame you’d for shooting it.) But I’d much rather equip ambulance crews and mental health responders with robots to secure the scene, as an alternative to police, rather than equipping police with robots.

Policing in the US is a pretty classic example of the “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” problem, and the stories that result range from a comedy of errors to absolutely horrifying. Maybe instead of saying “we need to take these people, the ones we equip with guns, clubs, tasers, pepper spray, and tactical vests, and train them to do things other than use force” we should send different people. People with different equipment and different training.

There’s an awful lot of low-hanging fruit here.

There are so many civic roles that we have handed to the police that could be done a different way or by someone else. This article has a good graphic that shows you the percent of time police officers in Philadelphia spend on various tasks. It also quotes a former police officer:

“When I was an officer, I got calls about dead animals, ungovernable children who refused to go to school, people who hadn’t gotten their welfare checks, adults who hadn’t heard from their elderly relatives, families who needed to be informed of a death, broken-down cars, you name it,” says Seth Stoughton, a legal scholar at the University of South Carolina and former Tallahassee police officer. “Everything that isn’t dealt with by some other institution automatically defaults to the police to take care of.”

Right now, Minneapolis’s charter (which is a lot harder to change than the ordinances) not only specifies a structure for a police department, it requires a minimum of 17 police department employees per 1000 residents. Eliminating that minimum is one of the biggest changes in the public safety charter amendment, and it will allow the city to try shifting funds to have other people handle traffic accidents, property crime, derelict vehicles, truant schoolkids, embezzlement, and so on. If we cut down what we expect police to handle to the violent crimes with a sideline in “showing up for a call only to find out that nothing’s happening” (the biggest box on that chart above! and sadly I see no way around that one) could we have a city with a lot fewer cops? I really think that would be an option.

There are absolutely people with a more radical vision than me.

There are people who say “abolish police” and mean it, and mean that it should happen right now. There are other people who say “abolish police” and mean that as a long-term goal — they view crime as being overwhelmingly caused by societal ills (and certainly there are a lot of fixable contributing factors).

But you don’t have to be on board with abolition to support Question 2 in Minneapolis (the Public Safety charter amendment). All the charter amendment will actually change is the following:

  • It will replace the Police Department with a Department of Public Safety. Initially, the Department of Public Safety will look and work like the Police Department, but it will be possible to make changes via the ordinances.
  • It will get rid of the minimum number of police per Minneapolis resident, a rule that does not exist in any other city or town in Minnesota.
  • The Department of Public Safety will be overseen the same way as all other city departments, rather than answering solely to the mayor.

The amendment will open the door to further change — but all that future change is contingent on the City Council agreeing that these changes are a good idea. Radical changes will require a majority of City Council reps to buy in, which is part of why the scaremongering from groups like “Heroes PAC” is so patently absurd. The most radical people on the ballot, if you actually look at their plans, are talking about things like a gradual decrease in armed law enforcement while building capacity in other ways.

I feel like the argument we’ve been having for the last year and a half is about whether we need to keep spending all our money on hammers, or if maybe it would be okay to explore the possibility of investing in a screwdriver, a crescent wrench, a pair of pliers, and a tape measure.

I really hope Minneapolis votes Yes on Question 2.

In addition to writing political commentary, I write science fiction and fantasy. My book that came out in April, Chaos on CatNet, takes place in a future Minneapolis (and includes scenes of my imagined future of public safety). It’s a sequel to Catfishing on CatNet and signed copies of both books are usually available from Dreamhaven and from the current mail-order-only incarnation of Uncle Hugo’s.

I do not have a Patreon or Ko-Fi, but you can make a donation to encourage my work! I get a lot of satisfaction watching fundraisers I highlight getting funded. Some that are worth your consideration:

In Minneapolis:

A first-year teacher at Bryn Mawr would like a variety of classroom supplies, including individual dry-erase boards, a big easel, a classroom rug, a selection of books, and some educational games.

A middle school teacher at Andersen would like to provide her students with some manga they’ve requested; they currently don’t have a media center, and students rely on classroom libraries for books.

A second-grade teacher at Folwell would like to provide her students with graphic novels in both Spanish and English. (A large percentage of her students speak Spanish at home.)

And a different kind of school fundraiser (again, in Minneapolis):

Kaytie Kamphoff is a special education resource teacher at Patrick Henry High School and the co-director/producer of Henry Drama Club. (Christopher Michael is her co-director and their full-time theater and dance teacher.) She initially asked for funds on Twitter just so the Henry Drama Club could stage a couple of plays this year. Ms. Kamphoff has now set her sights higher: she’s hoping to raise enough to run a summer theater program for Northside kids, free for participants, paid for the recent grads/Drama Club alums who work. You can donate to her by Venmo or Paypal: Venmo is Henry_DC and PayPal is Note “Henry Drama Club” in the memo and if Paypal insists you need the last four digits of her phone number, it’s 5548.

Her Twitter thread is solidly worth reading if you’d like some heartwarming stories of the transformational power of theater in the lives of high school students.

Election 2021: Minneapolis Mayoral Race. Kate, Sheila, Jacob.

I left this one for last because of all the races, it’s the one that you’re going to have the least trouble finding information about.

There are seventeen people running for mayor of Minneapolis, most of whom will be dropped after the first ballot. I wrote about fourteen of them in another post. The three people with a strong chance of winning:

Jacob Frey
Sheila Nezhad
Kate Knuth

tl;dr don’t rank Jacob. Vote either Kate/Sheila or Sheila/Kate. I’m going to talk about what I see as their distinctive strengths but I’m not going to tell you how to rank them; I am endorsing both.

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Election 2021: Minneapolis Board of Estimate and Taxation

The Minneapolis Board of Estimate and Taxation has six members: only two are elected directly to the BET. The others are the Mayor, the City Council President, another City Council rep, and a Park Board rep. The BET sets the tax levy for the city — basically, they decide how much all of city government is going to cost, and it’s the cost is split up based on the value of property you own. You can play around with the property tax estimator if you’re curious what other people’s bills look like. The BET can also sell city bonds.

BET Candidate Pine Salica has a more detailed explanation of what the BET does on their site. Here’s the city’s page with their explanation.

On the ballot:

Pine Salica
Steve Brandt
Samantha Pree-Stinson
Kevin Nikiforakis

Minneapolis will be electing two people to the BET, but you get to rank three on your ballot. Here’s the MPR video explaining how ranked-choice voting works in a multi-seat race.

tl;dr I would go with #1 Pine Salica, #2 Samantha Pree-Stinson, #3 Steve Brandt. I feel the strongest about Pine; this post took as long as it did because I’ve been waffling about Steve vs. Sam, so read on for more.

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Election 2021: The Rent Control Questions (Minneapolis and Saint Paul)

Rent control / rent stabilization is on the ballot in both cities this fall. In Minneapolis, they’re seeking permission to write a rent control ordinance. In St. Paul, there’s a specific proposal.

In Minneapolis, it’s City Question 3 and reads as follows:

CITY QUESTION 3 (Minneapolis)

Authorizing City Council to Enact Rent Control Ordinance

Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to authorize the City Council to regulate rents on private residential property in the City of Minneapolis, with the general nature of the amendments being indicated in the explanatory note below, which is made a part of this ballot?

Explanatory Note:
This amendment would:
1. Authorize the City Council to regulate rents on private residential property in the City of Minneapolis by ordinance.
2. Provide that an ordinance regulating rents on private residential property could be enacted in two different and independent ways:
a. The City Council may enact the ordinance.
b. The City Council may refer the ordinance as a ballot question to be decided by the voters for approval at an election. If more than half of the votes cast on the ballot question are in favor of its adoption, the ordinance would take effect 30 days after the election, or at such other time as provided in the ordinance.

In Saint Paul, it’s City Question 1 (it’s the only city question on the ballot) and reads as follows:


Whether To Adopt a Residential Rent Stabilization Ordinance

Should the City adopt the proposed Ordinance limiting rent increases? The Ordinance limits residential rent increases to no more than 3% in a 12-month period, regardless of whether there is a change of occupancy. The Ordinance also directs the City to create a process for landlords to request an exception to the 3% limit based on the right to a reasonable return on investment. A “yes” vote is a vote in favor of limiting rent increases. A “no” vote is a vote against limiting rent increases.

tl;dr — I would vote yes in Minneapolis, but I’m going to vote no in St. Paul.

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Election 2021: Saint Paul School Board

Saint Paul is having a school board election this year. There are four seats: three in the regular election for four-year terms, and one in a special election for a two-year term (this time because someone moved away). They’re being voted on separately. (They’re all on this year’s ballot, just to be clear, but there will be separate sections for the four-year seats and the two-year seat.)

On the ballot for the four-year seat:

Uriah Ward (DFL-endorsed)
Jennifer McPherson
Ryan Williams
Jim Vue
Halla Henderson (DFL-endorsed)
James Farnsworth

On the ballot for the special election (the two-year seat):

Jeannie Foster
Clayton Howatt (DFL-endorsed)

I am planning to vote for Jim Vue, Halla Henderson, and James Farnsworth in the regular election, Jeannie Foster in the special election.

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Election 2021: Minneapolis City Question 1, the “Strong Mayor” charter amendment

Here’s the question as it will appear on the ballot:

CITY QUESTION 1 (Minneapolis)

Government Structure: Executive Mayor – Legislative Council

Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to adopt a change in its form of government to an Executive Mayor-Legislative Council structure to shift certain powers to the Mayor, consolidating administrative authority over all operating departments under the Mayor, and eliminating the Executive Committee?

There is no explanatory note.

tl;dr: I would vote no.

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