Gifts for People You Hate, 2016

This has been quite a year, hasn’t it? It’s been the sort of shit year that leaves a lot of people dreading the holidays. So although I started this series years ago as a nod toward the idea that most of us heave a sigh and do whatever dance of holiday obligation has been laid out for us, I’m going to start by making a case for self-care. Make the plans that feel right to you, see the people whose company you enjoy, eat foods you like, give gifts only if you want to.

For some people out there, though, self-care can involve conflict avoidance, and that may mean buying a gift for someone they loathe because presenting a festively-wrapped box with a present inside is just easier than opting out.

As always, I tried to adhere to certain basic principles. The gifts should be cheap, but they shouldn’t be obviously cheap. They should be easy to find/purchase (which is why I provide so many Amazon links). And they should be the sort of gift you can present as if it’s an honest attempt to give them something they’ll like, even as it’s totally, totally wrong.

(And the usual disclaimer: I don’t give gifts to anyone I don’t like, so if I give you something horrible, it was accidental.)

Occupational Novelties

One of my college friends had a box of mugs, all of which said something like “world’s best teacher” or “I (HEART) MY TEACHER” or “check it out, it’s a picture of an apple, on a mug, for a teacher!” on them. His mom, of course, was a teacher, and she was inundated with teacher-themed mugs as gifts.

There are occupations that seem to attract related tchotchkes: doctors, lawyers, cops, teachers, nurses, and military service people are solidly on that list. You can present a themed mug, t-shirts, decorative wall plaque, or throw pillow, and cheerfully assure them that this made you think of them. They’ll thank you with feigned enthusiasm and add it to their collection of mugs, t-shirts, plaques, and pillows.

If it’s some profession that you almost never see stuff for (garbage collector, IRS auditor, agricultural extension agent…) then either this will be exciting and novel, or they’ll have twelve iterations of that item. Use your best judgment. (A lot depends on the rest of the family.) (Honestly, even if they’ve never seen an IRS auditor Christmas ornament before…this may be a suitably terrible gift.)

Terrible Gifts for Animal Lovers

There is an entire universe of bad animal tchotchkes out there. For example, this cat, which is holding a salt and pepper shaker and which just looks weirdly wrong. Cats don’t sit like that, they don’t hold their arms like that, and that is a seriously weird facial expression. Or there’s this clock, which comes in a wide variety of dog breeds. Normally, if you’re trying to buy a bad gift for a dog lover, one easy approach is to buy the wrong breed. Like, if the person owns golden retrievers, buy them something with pugs all over it. In this case, each dog is sufficiently off kilter that you should definitely buy the RIGHT breed.

Apparently there are now dog-breed-specific Monopoly variants. You’ll want to use your best judgment here, though: don’t give one of these if you’re going to get roped into a game of Monopoly. And from the department of “WHY? WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT THIS?” is a toaster that toasts a dog onto your bread. (One of the irritated reviewers notes that in order for the dog shape to show up properly, you’d better be using white bread. There’s also just the fact that when I make toast, it’s because I want toast, not because I want bread with a tiny design branded into the center of the slice.)

In the category of “bad gifts I have personally given with the best of intentions” would be a Siberian husky angel Christmas ornament (it wasn’t this one, but same basic idea) I once gave my mother-in-law. My in-laws raised and trained sled dogs and they were, in fact, amused by husky tchotchkes. But my mother-in-law looked at the husky angel with deep and obvious skepticism and said, “I have never yet met a husky that deserved that halo.” (Sadly, there are no husky-as-devil ornaments for people to hang on their tree. I think that would’ve made a good foll0wup the next year.)

There are quite a few people who have some animal they like a lot, and a collection. Giving them something for their collection tends to be a good gift. To make it a bad gift, find something that’s way too big; that’s supposed to be useful but definitely isn’t (like it’s supposed to hold umbrellas, but it only holds the sort of long, skinny, non-collapsible umbrellas that almost no one carries these days); that’s ugly and weird looking; that’s identical to some item they already have, or that’s the wrong category. People who want little elephants to put on a shelf probably do not actually want a giant elephant afghan blanket. People who love unicorns may not actually want photorealistic unicorn leggings. Etc.

Terrible Gifts for Drinkers

***I’m going to preface this section by stating for the record that I am not suggesting that anything on this list would be an appropriate gift to a person with an actual drinking problem. (In particular, don’t gift a booze-related gift to someone who’s been going to AA.)***

So let’s talk about wine. I like wine. I drink wine with my dinner quite regularly, mostly fairly cheap (like $10/bottle) red wines. (We used to drink a lot of Malbec. Then in the last year everyone else discovered Malbec and now the prices are going up.) You don’t actually need anything all that fancy to drink wine. I do think actual wine glasses are worth keeping around, and you need something to open bottles with. If you want to get a little bit fancy, some sort of vacuum-style plug you can shove in to an unfinished bottle will ensure it keeps longer. (You can, in fact, just shove the cork partway back in, and 99% of the time it’ll taste fine for a couple of days.)

There are all sorts of wine accessories you can buy someone that are pointless and bulky. For instance, all the weird items that will hold a single bottle of wine for you, including one that looks like a sparkly pink stilleto shoe, a some novelty gadgets that defy gravity, and this caddy that lets you dress your wine up as Santa for some reason.

You could also buy a decanter. Decanters are not pointless; they do let you decant wine, which I know some people like to do. (I have been enthusiastically enjoying wine for years without a decanter, and I don’t feel like I’m doing it wrong. Feel free to make your case for decanters in the comments if you want.) The obnoxious thing about decanters is that they tend to be large and weirdly proportioned and glass, i.e., super annoying to store. Here’s a reasonably cheap one. Or if you think they might already have a decanter, you could get them one that’s larger and weirder looking and thus, presumably, better.

There are also fancy-ass wine bottle openers, like this cordless electric wine bottle opener. Some of the best bad gifts try to solve a problem that doesn’t actually exist, and super-fancy wine bottle openers are a good example of this. (There are people who need a fancy wine bottle opener due to arthritis, but most people can use a standard-issue corkscrew and probably already own a couple.) Since it’s rechargeable, the recipient will have to leave it set up on their counter, with the charger plugged into an outlet, in order to ever use it.

The vacuum-type wine bottle stoppers serve a purpose, but a decorative wine stopper is really no more useful than a cork, and if it’s made of decorative blown glass will have to be carefully stored between uses so it doesn’t break all over the place.

Finally, here is a set of stemless silicone wine glasses with a dorky “his & hers” design. The idea is that with these nice unbreakable glasses, you can bring your wine with you on picnics and drink it out of something classier than a Solo cup. Several reviews note that these cups smell weird and plasticky and the smell never goes away, and also the flexible silicon sort of collapses in on itself while you’re trying to hold your cup. (Bonus points if you give this to someone who lives in a state like Minnesota where drinking is actually illegal in all the parks, and you’re going to want to drink your wine out of something non-wine-looking anyway just to avoid potential hassles.)

For the beer drinker, there’s a wide variety of novelty bottle openers out there, including mermaids, the Milennium Falcon, and a bunch of openers that look like weaponry. Pick something that looks uncomfortable. You can also go the overly bulky route with this complicated magnetic thingie (this one’s actually desirable if you want un-bent bottle caps, but otherwise is a large and complex alternative to one of the simplest mechanical devices in existence), a countertop style that will take up space in their kitchen, one that has to be mounted on a wall, and one that mounts to the fridge with a very strong magnet but apparently doesn’t work for crap.

The beer equivalent of a decanter is probably a beer glass set. There are totally people who use them, but the vast majority of beer drinkers just drink their beer out of the bottle (or can). For extra irritation value, though, here is a set of 10oz beer glasses, since they’re probably drinking 12oz bottles.

Deplorable Gifts for Trump Supporters

I was going to suggest this mug (which accurately portrays Trump as both hideous and empty-headed) or this t-shirt (which is a parody of itself that most Trump supporters probably won’t really recognize) but I’ll be honest with you: I think Trump supporters, more than any others, need a charitable gift this year.

Charitable Gifts

For the person who voted for Donald Trump because ABORTION:
The Ali Forney Center
Lost-n-Found Youth
(Both organizations are shelters for homeless LGBT teenagers. You may also have a similar charity in your town.)
I know the lives of children are precious to you, so I have donated in your honor to a charity that cherishes and protects lives that have been thrown away.

For the person who voted for Donald Trump because GUNS.
ACLU
Freedom is important to both of us, so I’ve donated in your honor to an organization committed to defending our constitutional rights. 

For the person who voted for Donald Trump because BUILD A WALL.
#NODAPL
I’ve donated in your honor to support Americans who are working together to defend themselves against violent outsiders. 

For the person who voted for Donald Trump because LAW AND ORDER.
RAINN
National Resource Center on Domestic Violence
I know you care deeply about crime and crime victims, so I’ve donated in your honor to an organization that supports, protects, and assists victims of serious crimes.  

For the person who voted for Donald Trump because BLUE LIVES MATTER.
Everytown for Gun Safety
I’ve donated in your honor to support an organization committed to providing safer streets for police officers (and everyone else). 

For the Donald Trump voter who is sincerely outraged at the idea that Donald Trump supporters are a bunch of racists:
SPLC 
I know you don’t condone hate groups or hate crimes, so I thought you would appreciate a donation in your honor to a group that is working to make racism socially unacceptable again.

For the person who voted for Trump because they were convinced Obama and then Hillary were going to impose Sharia on them:
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
I donated in your honor to a vigilant watchdog group protecting us from religious tyranny.

For the person who proudly refers to themself as “deplorable”:
At this point I’m in favor of an open declaration of war.
The Clinton Foundation
I donated in your honor to the Clinton Foundation. MERRY CHRISTMAS, MOTHERFUCKER.

Happy holidays to all my readers!

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

Also, if you’re amused by my writing, check out my essays at Bitter Empire: http://bitterempire.com/author/naomi-kritzer/

My Twitter feed: @naomikritzer

And my fiction that was published online this year:

Zombies in Winter

or last year:

Cat Pictures Please (Clarkesworld, January 2015.)
Wind (Apex, April 2015.)
So Much Cooking (Clarkesworld, November 2015.)
The Good Son (Lightspeed, March 2015 — reprint. Originally appeared in Jim Baen’s Universe, 2009.)

And if you just can’t get enough of my writing, you could consider buying:
Comrade Grandmother and Other Stories (short story collection)
Gift of the Winter King and Other Stories (short story collection)
My novels (there are five of them)

(I also have a short story collection coming next year from Fairwood Press! Which will be available in PRINT as well as e-book format! No “buy” link for that one yet, though.)

 

 

Fight with facts, not with rumors

So, I deeply sympathize with the impulse to signal-boost when you hear about something horrible. In some cases it’s a really good idea. But it’s only helpful when you’re signal boosting stuff that’s real and current. 
This is particularly important when there’s a ton of stuff flying around.
Add to the signal, not to the noise.

If you’re reading a personal story a stranger has shared, I would suggest the following steps.

1. Find the original version. 
If you’re looking at a screencap of a Facebook post, go see if you can find the original Facebook post. If you’re looking at a screencap of a Tweet, go see if you can find the original Tweet. See if there’s more to the story in a Tweet thread or in the comments or subsequent posts. I’ll note that five minutes ago, I saw a post on Imgur that was a screen cap of a Tweet that was a real Tweet, but had been positioned to make it look like a response to something it wasn’t, completely changing the meaning. Context matters.
If you’re seeing a horrifying story from a person you don’t know at all, see if there’s anything else you can easily find out about them. Do you have mutual friends on Facebook? If you look at their FB and it’s wall-to-wall conspiracy theories, that matters. If they registered their Twitter account 15 minutes before they posted the horror story, that matters.
Take a few seconds to see if they seem like someone you’d believe if they walked up to you on the street and told you something important. Sometimes you can tell just from their broader social media that this person is not reliable. If that’s the case, don’t re-share. This doesn’t mean you should challenge their credibility (that’s generally a dick move. Not surprisingly, it’s been embraced by Trump supporters who want to believe that the surge in hate crimes is somehow being faked) but don’t re-share if you don’t trust the source.

2. Beware of the best story in the room.

Remember the Rolling Stone rape story that they had to retract? The journalist actually interviewed a number of women who’d been raped, but focused on the woman with the best story, the one with a wealth of horrifying details. Unfortunately, she was lying about many of the details.
The inherent problem is that the person who’s fabricating can always have the best story.
There are some amazing stories that are also true. But if all the details are practically cinematic, that’s a red flag.
3. If there’s something that sends up a red flag for you, trust your gut.
Or at least re-read the piece and think it through a second time before you re-share. Again, I’m not saying you should call someone a liar liar pants on fire because something in their story struck you as off! Just don’t forward it if you feel that sense of distrust.
Again, there is so much out there right now that is happening. You don’t need to signal-boost the stuff you have any doubts about. There is enough.
4. If someone is telling you a story about a thing that happened in their city, but they weren’t there and they weren’t a personal friend of the victim, the odds are super high that some of what they’re telling you is wrong. 
I’m saying this based on my personal knowledge of an incident in my town, and watching the stories about it shift and change before my eyes. The people telling the story are not lying, they’re participating in a large-scale version of the game of Telephone, and the results are about what you’d expect.
You don’t have to call anyone out, just don’t add to this problem by re-telling a story that was already third-hand or fourth-hand when it got to you.

If you are reading a news article that strikes you as important:

1. Check the date. OH MY GOD, PEOPLE. CHECK THE GODDAMN DATE.
If you’re looking at a source that doesn’t include any way to see if you’re looking at new news, or something from 2007, that’s actually a bad sign anyway, but try googling some of the details in the article to see what else pops up.
2. Check the source. 
Here is a list of left-leaning incredibly unreliable sites:
DO NOT SHARE NEWS STORIES FROM THESE SITES. If it’s a legit news story, you’ll be able to find it somewhere else. If they’re the only ones talking about it, do not trust the story. Needless to say there’s a huge list of similarly unreliable right-leaning sites and you shouldn’t share from those, either.
And there’s also a ton of full-on fake news sites. Some are supposedly “satire,” others are just fakey fake fake. If you’re reading something alarming and you don’t immediately recognize the source, Google the name of the site and see what turns up, or see if you can find the story other places.
3. Remember all the things that are easy to fake.
Newspaper sites can be fake. Twitter accounts can be fake. The blue checkmark is supposed to help you spot the real deal, but if you’re looking at an image-capture, both the little blue checkmark and the whole damn Tweet can be faked.
Have you seen that clickbait article saying that the next Star Wars movie is going to be filmed in a suburb of the nearest big city to you? It always has a URL that looks like the URL for one of your local TV stations (at least at first glance). Fake!
Photos can be faked. Or, quite often, it’s a real photo but it doesn’t actually show what the caption claims it shows. The huge crowd you’re seeing turns out to be sports fans, or people at an environmentalist march in Paris in 2012, or religious pilgrims. If you see an article with a photo, it’s frequently a stock photo and not a picture of the person in the article.
Videos can be faked. They can be edited to show things that look bad but have been taken wildly out of context. Or they can be clips from a movie, or from shows like “What Would You Do” where it’s real reactions but a staged situation. Or they’re from years ago and, like the photos, don’t show what the caption claims.
When we’re already on edge, when we’re angry and scared and uncertain, it’s that much easier for bullshit to bypass our usual mental security systems. This is much like how we are more likely to catch colds when we’re sleep-deprived, stressed out, and not eating right — our defenses are weak. Be aware of this tendency. 
4. Read things before you share them. 
Ideally, read all the way to the bottom. (If you’re sharing it so you won’t lose track of it — well, first of all, Facebook actually has a “save” feature for links that will do this for you, but if you’d rather share to save, just note that when you share.)
5. Signal-boost legit stories from legit sources. 
Find reliable but clickable sources when possible — a lot of people ration their NYT clicks and WaPo clicks because they don’t want to deal with the paywall. One of my favorite sources to share is NPR: reliable, trustworthy, free. If you want to share a NYT or WaPo story, sum it up in your share so your friends can assess whether it’s worth the click.
If one of your friends writes something you want to boost, be sure to note that this person is someone you personally know and trust. If you heard it verbally or they put it in a friends-locked post, and want to write about it publicly, make sure you have the details correct, and make sure your friend is OK with you sharing their story. 

If you actually witness or experience a hate crime:

Your first priority should always be protecting the victim. (Including yourself, if you’re the victim.) Don’t mess around with your camera if what you need to do is call 911.
If it’s over, and you’re a witness, tell the targeted person or people that you saw what happened. Tell them that if they want to report it to the police, you’ll be their witness and back them up. If they say they don’t want to call the police, give them your contact info in case they change their mind. (If you’re the victim and you’re surrounded by witnesses, hopefully they’ll approach you. It shouldn’t be on you to say “hey! please stick around so you can vouch for me that this happened!” But you should also feel free to make that request / demand.)
If you have the presence of mind to take a video, then do it. I can tell you right now that the odds of me ever shooting a video of anything in an emergency are close to zero. If you’re in a public place like a parking lot, you can check nearby businesses to see if they have a surveillance camera running that might have caught it. If you can spot a license plate, write down the number.
Nothing signal-boosts like media coverage. I asked a friend of mine who’s a journalist how to get a reporter to cover something that’s happened to you. She said that a police report is key; it’s a big part of how journalists sift out the bullshit. Even if it’s not something the cops are going to do much about, the fact that you made a report gives you credibility, since making a false report is a crime.
(When I say “not something the cops are going to do much about” I’m not saying that I think the police will ignore hate crimes. But if your report is, “someone pulled up in a car, jumped out, punched a woman in the hijab while screaming epithets, and then they jumped back in their car and drove away, and all I remember about the car is that it was grey or maybe black and I didn’t get a license plate,” they’re not going to do much with this because there’s just not enough info there to work with, unless the perpetrator gets caught later a block away doing the same shit to someone else.)
If you want press coverage of an incident, news websites generally have a “contact us” area. If you know a specific reporter who covers crime in your city, call that specific reporter. You can call a newsroom and ask for an editor. You will absolutely need to provide your name and contact information. If you want to be anonymous in the story, the editor may be okay with that, but the reporter will always, always need to know who you are if what you’re offering is your personal story. If you have witnesses, video, or anything like that, that will help.

Election 2016: Presidential Candidates Who Aren’t Going to Win

Aside from Donald and Hillary, here’s who’s appearing on the ballot in Minnesota:

Darrell Castle and Scott Bradley (Constitution Party)
Dan R. Vacek and Mark Elworth, Jr. (Legal Marijuana Now)
Alyson Kennedy and Osborne Hart (Socialist Workers Party)
Jill Stein and Howie Hawkins (Green Party)
“Rocky” Roque De La Fuente and Michael Steinberg (American Delta Party)
Evan McMullin and Nathan Johnson (Independence)
Gary Johnson and William Weld (Libertarian Party)

I’m just going to go down this list in order and tell you who these people are and what they stand for, with particular attention to whether they’d be a plausible candidate for you if you’re a Republican who won’t vote for Trump and can’t bring yourself to vote for Clinton.

Continue reading

Election 2016: The Presidential Race

You knew this had to be coming. You knew I’d have to write about it sooner or later. I procrastinated as long as I possibly could, but here we are.

I’m going to just cut to the chase right up front and tell you that you should vote for Hillary. Your vote is your vote, and you can cast it for whomever you want — Jill Stein, your cat, Zombie Paul Wellstone. But here in the universe where we’re all actually living, there are exactly two people who might become president next January 20th. One of them is Hillary Clinton, and the other is Donald Trump.

Hillary is a smart, hardworking, imperfect Democratic politician. There are loads of perfectly legitimate critiques of her, many of which were made by Bernie Sanders during the primary season. She’s too hawkish, too cozy with the banks, not aggressive enough on global warming. She’s very willing to play politics, to take stands only when they become politically expedient. (“I could have backed gay marriage sooner,” the Kate McKinnon Hillary says to “Val,” played by Hillary, in an SNL skit from a year ago. “Fair,” Val/Hillary says.)

But anyone who makes it this far in politics is going to be imperfect and she’s also smart, capable, and (as anyone who watched the three debates can testify) made of fucking steel. (AMERICAN fucking steel.)

Also, she’s running against Donald Trump.

I am going to restrain myself from recapping all the things that are horrifying about Donald Trump, though it’s hard, and stick with the fact that he’s an existential threat to our democracy. I like having elections. I like having peaceful transitions of power. Even when my candidate lost, in 2000, in a genuinely sketchy recount, I remember thinking, “in some countries this sort of thing results in soldiers in the streets, and I am glad that we can argue over this without me having to worry about a literal civil war breaking out.”

Trump said in the debate last night that he wasn’t necessarily going to concede if he lost the election. Now, just to be clear about this, the whole “concession speech” routine is a tradition, and a ritual, and a courtesy, but it is not necessary. The person with the majority of electoral votes wins the election.  (If no one gets a majority it goes to the House, and hopefully this won’t happen because we haven’t done it in a while and no one really knows how that would shake out. It’ll be a mess. But it’s a mess that is provided for in our Constitution, we don’t decide this with a dick-waving contest.) But Trump has spent months whipping up his base. He’s repeatedly told his supporters that if he loses, this will mean the Democrats rigged the election. He has encouraged violence. He has re-tweeted stuff from literal neo-Nazis and has refused to disavow his literal neo-Nazi supporters and has blown anti-Semitic dogwhistles loudly enough to wake the dead.

And it’s not just liberals seeing this.

During the Republican primaries, I said repeatedly that I’d take Ted Cruz as the nominee over Donald Trump, because once someone becomes a major party nominee there’s a chance they’ll win, and while I found the idea of President Cruz absolutely appalling, I also believed that Cruz and I shared respect for certain bedrock American values. By which I did not mean things like Freedom of Religion or Freedom of Speech, but by which I meant, “ELECTIONS: HAVING THEM.” I trusted that Ted, if elected, would stand for election in four years and leave the White House if defeated. I did not have anything remotely close to that sort of faith in Trump.

If I had to vote for Ted Cruz to stop Trump, I would. So yeah, Republicans: you can vote for Hillary Clinton, because you have seen who this guy is. You have seen that he is dumb, first of all. He is ignorant and arrogant. He is short-tempered. You can bait him with a Tweet. You can bait him by mentioning the Emmys, during a presidential debate! He will shriek about how short-tempered his smiling opponent is and bellow about temperament and call her ugly names in front of a national TV audience. He has bragged about groping women (and over a dozen women have now come forward to vouch for his truthfulness there) and has made creepy, sexual comments about his own daughter. He lies constantly. He lies about things we all heard him say or do. He brags about not paying taxes, about not paying his bills. He is a bully, a cheat, a serial adulterer, and these are all things that are on the record in every possible way.

He cannot be trusted with any of the responsibilities of the U.S. Presidency, from the nuclear codes on down. Even if you actively loathe Hillary and everything she stands for, you risk losing everything this country even is if Donald Trump takes the presidency.

Anyway, I’ll be back in a separate post to write about the third-party candidates. My writeup will be heavily oriented towards Republicans and conservative voters who are appalled by Trump but cannot make themselves vote for Hillary. I’m pretty sure my fanbase is mostly liberal (with a few conservatives who read me because I round up a lot of info and that’s convenient) but hey, maybe some of you can use this information to try to pull a family member from Trump.

 

Election 2016: Minneapolis School Board, District 4

(By request.)

This is a genuinely interesting race. Here’s who’s running:

Josh Reimnitz (Incumbent)
Bob Walser (DFL-endorsed)

If you peel back the boilerplate rhetoric, this is kind of a contest between the school reform movement and the teacher’s union, although when I say “school reform movement” I want to be very clear about the fact that I don’t think Josh is on the side of monied interests who want to turn schools into for-profit businesses. I just don’t think he’s necessarily on the side of the teacher’s union.

Before going any further I want to talk about how I view teacher’s unions. I am not anti-union. However, I think it’s useful to acknowledge something that should be obvious, which is that the role of a teacher’s union is to advocate for and represent the interests of the teachers. Those often coincide (or at least overlap heavily) with the interests of the students. But not always, and I think it is legitimate, when electing school board members, to prioritize the interests of the students.

(In St. Paul last year, on issues that the teachers were furious about, students and parents were overwhelmingly on the same page. This was an election over things like discipline policies and school safety; the iPad rollout; the changes made to how schools were structured — everyone was angry about those changes. I think students are well-served by contracts saying that teachers get a lunch break, a prep period, decent salaries, good health benefits, small class sizes. However, I think that the procedures for firing unionized teachers are not in the interests of the students, and anyone saying so should be laughed at. Do they benefit students some of the time? Sure. Do I need to roll out my horror stories of genuinely godawful teachers who were shielded by the fact that it’s very difficult to fire a teacher? No, I don’t, because you can ask literally anyone who has a student in the Minneapolis Public Schools for their version of those stories.)

 

I also want to note that in Minneapolis school board races I give preference to the incumbent, because serving on the school board is a completely shitty job: you work full time (or more) for $15,000/year and a large part of your role is to be yelled at for all the failings of a large, complicated system. Few people run twice, and as a result the board has suffered significantly from a lack of institutional memory.

Josh Reimnitz won his seat in 2012, kind of implausibly given that he didn’t have the DFL endorsement, was an extreme newcomer to the city, and has no kids in the schools. (He has no kids, period. When he won four years ago, he was 26 years old; now he’s 30.) He’s a Teach for America alum, which straight up made him deeply unpopular with the teacher’s union. His partner Daniela is a charter school principal — yet another potential strike against him, although there’s a school board member who got elected who works at a charter, I think, so maybe this is becoming less radioactive.

Josh’s big project in the last four years was rewriting the policy manual. Apparently the Minneapolis school board purchased a policy manual back in the 1960s and hasn’t done any comprehensive updating since then. Josh has some explanation on his website for why this was important; I haven’t seen the manual, but I expect he’s correct that it’s a mess.

His endorsements are heavily former school board members. He quotes from Carla Bates, who says, “Josh is an informed and independent voice for Minneapolis students.  Over the past four years, I have admired Josh’s dogged focus on student achievement and fiscal accountability.  Josh works hard to insure alignment between our goals as a school district and our resources.  Josh knows how to prioritize and students are at the center of all that he does. As part of the mix on a 9 member school board, Josh is needed now more than ever.” I’ll note that I have a lot of respect for Carla Bates: my recollection is that when she was on the board, she was very willing to make unpopular decisions and she didn’t sugar-coat things, two traits that the board needs more of.

I kind of want to unpack Carla’s statement. “An informed and independent voice,” I think, means “he’s not in the pocket of the teacher’s union, but he’s also not a complete idiot.” (It might also mean “look, some outside groups donated a shit ton of money to get him elected last time, but he’s not in their pocket, either.”) When she says that she admires his dogged focus on student achievement and fiscal accountability, I’d read that as, “he’s willing to piss off his coworkers on the board by insisting they pay attention to this stuff.” When she says “as part of the mix on a 9 member school board, Josh is needed now more than ever,” I read that as, “would we want nine of this guy? hell no. But we definitely want one of him.”

The other thing that strikes me in comparing his endorsements to Bob Walser’s — I think (but I’m not 100% sure) that Josh’s come heavily from the members and former members who are not from the (wealthy) southwest neighborhoods — which is interesting, because District 4 is mostly made up of those areas (it includes Bryn Mawr, Lake of the Isles, and Lake Calhoun). His endorsements also come heavily from people who are retired, and no longer need the support of the DFL. (Bob Walser is endorsed by Kim Ellison, who’s from northeast and is an exception to this generalization, but she’s also currently running and currently endorsed, and there’s an explicit expectation of endorsed candidates that they back the other endorsed candidates, to the point that there was a kerfluffle two years ago when Iris Altamirano appeared somewhere with Don Samuels.) (Edited to add: someone left the correction that Kim Ellison is from North, not Northeast, Minneapolis. That doesn’t really affect the point here, though.)

The front page of Bob Walser’s website starts with the following statement: “As the only candidate in the District 4 race with a student in Minneapolis public schools, and as the husband of an MPS first-grade teacher, I know, first hand, how the decisions made by the Minneapolis School Board affect our students and teachers. I hear about it at my kitchen table.” There is a value in these personal connections, but I don’t think childless people should be automatically excluded from this particular type of public service.

He goes on to list three reasons that he’s running:

Equity must be our priority. Strong schools in every neighborhood today are the key to a strong Minneapolis tomorrow. I will fight for equity across all of our schools to provide the resources every student needs to thrive

Students are not data points. Data-driven education programs have their benefits, but effective education recognizes that every student is a unique individual. For every student to thrive, teachers and front-line staff must be empowered to address the needs of the whole child.

Our community should decide what best for our schools. Out-of-state billionaires are pouring money into Minneapolis school board elections and elections across the country. I support local, democratic elections for our school boar

My first thought on is “students are not data points” line was that he was making a pre-emptive strike against attempts to evaluate teachers based on student growth shown through test scores. Reading it again, though, he’s actually specifically objecting to data-driven instruction, where teachers are encouraged to use information from tests to see where their students are lagging, and shift their approach to bring those students up to speed. I’ve discussed this approach with a teacher; I was skeptical, but she says that while implementation can be annoying, it actually works really well. (I mean, obviously also students are unique individuals who deserve to have their unique needs addressed. The profound failures here were part of why I pulled my kids out of MPS; I blame, in part, the extremely large class sizes.)

Finally, he takes a swipe at “out of state billionaires” and links to an article from 2014. The race two years ago was startlingly contentious and expensive. It’s worth noting, though, that one of the major groups donating money said they were looking for candidates committed to “equity, transparency, and partnerships with community members,” and transparency is a 100% legit gripe to have with the board (the article goes on to talk about how the call for greater transparency came “after a no-bid contract was awarded to Community Standards Initiative, a community group that received a $375,000 contract to address the district’s achievement gap. The group eventually lost its contract for failing to meet its goals.” It’s legit to be suspicious of money coming in to fund school board races from outside the state but they are not always a bunch of conservatives trying to destroy urban education on behalf of The Man.)

In his “About Bob” section he emphasizes his local roots (Josh is from South Dakota) and his background as an ethnomusicologist. Both Bob and Josh are white men in a district where only about 1/3 of the students are white and that continues to have both segregation and enormous achievement gaps. There’s an excellent MNPost article I found about the race (seriously, go read that one) where both men apparently got asked about their knowlege and commitment regarding racial issues. Bob talked about his ethnomusicology background and added that a friend had given him the book A Good Time for the Truth, which is a series of essays about racism in Minnesota: “On an intellectual level, I sort of knew that stuff was out there. But it grabbed me and shook me personally. It moved it from an intellectual understanding to a much more gut level understanding. I think that’s what stories can do. Stories are powerful that way.”

This frankly made me wince. I mean I am really glad he is reading this book but if you’re at the point where you “sort of knew this stuff was out there,” holy shit, that’s where you were when you filed to run for school board of Minneapolis?

In the same article, Josh pointed out that at the DFL City Convention, the 30-35 supporters who stood up with Bob were all white. At these conventions, when someone is nominated they get to make a short speech and it’s pretty routine to have literally anyone present who’s wearing their t-shirt and doesn’t suffer from extreme stage fright to come stand up front behind them while they make their speech. The thought of having a candidate for Minneapolis school board who is surrounded by 100% white people makes me wince.

 

Josh also talks about how his partner “happens to be a person of color,” which also makes me wince, for the record. He also notes that she calls him on his privilege and it sounds like he’s receptive, which is good. (From the article: “He says he has his wife to thank for keeping him on his toes. ‘My partner, who happens to be a person of color, educates me fairly regularly about my privilege,’ he said, noting they’ll often debrief on his body language and comments after board meetings. ‘For instance, she reminds me that something as minor as sitting in a way that takes up a lot of space is totally a male thing,’ he said, laughing.”)

I mean — Bob’s emphasis on his local roots and his school connections are all designed to send the message that when it comes to school-related, community-related stuff, Josh is clueless and Bob is clued in. Having a pack of all-white supporters at the DFL convention undercuts that. Although his endorsements include a bunch of people of color, and I will also say that I disagree with Josh’s suggestion that the white crowd at the convention shows “who’s going to be represented” — I think that Bob would absolutely try to represent the interests of all the kids, regardless of race, and I am sure that Josh’s group was not a perfectly representative sample of the student population. However, I think that on issues of race, Josh sounds like he has a larger portion of a clue than Bob does.

Circling back to my original take on this race: I think that Bob very much represents the establishment here. Not entirely in a bad way — when I look at his supporters, I see a lot of people I like and respect. (I campaigned for Julie Sabo when she ran for the Minnesota Senate years ago.) But I get a pretty strong vibe of, “how dare this thirty-year-old upstart who’s not even from here try to tell us what needs to happen with our schools.

And yet, I don’t think Josh is pushing for anything particularly revolutionary. He’s updating a policy manual, which strikes me as the sort of thing that everyone knows ought to be done and no one’s had the energy to do. He’s independent, focused on accountability (including fiscal accountability), and willing to annoy the rest of the board. I see all those things as strengths. He’s also an incumbent, and see above for my pro-incumbency bias.

If I lived in this neighborhood, I think I would vote for Josh Reimnitz. But my priorities might not align with yours; I have a lot of friends who I think would vote for Bob.

I’ll also note that Bob served for a number of years as a board member at Tapestry Folkdance; I’ve danced there and have a number of friends who dance and teach there, so I e-mailed one of them to ask what she thought of the guy. She wrote back to say, “Really nice guy, awesome accordion player.” She added that they’d never served on the board together, but that his reputation around Tapestry was “someone who is incredibly dependable.” I’ll just note that this is much higher praise than it might sound. From my own volunteer experiences, the person who is incredibly dependable is the bedrock on which the endeavor rests and these people are gold and deserve everyone’s gratitude and regular deliveries of cookies. So … while philosophically, I would go for the guy who’s kind of a maverick, I don’t think Bob is a bad choice. He sounds like he’d also do a great job.

For those who are unpersuaded by my analysis and want more details, some other info I found but didn’t have reason to link above:

Profiles of the candidates from Southwest Journal, written in June
Josh’s campaign Facebook page
An article about Josh from 2012
Bob Walser’s Twitter
And I linked to this above but I’m going to link to it again:
A terrific MNPost article about this year’s race. The comments are also worth reading. (MNPost aggressively moderates their comments to keep them from turning into a cesspool.)

 

 

 

 

Election 2016: Soil & Water District 4

(By request.)

The two candidates in the race:

Lena Buggs
Carrie Wasley

So here’s the most startling thing about this race: Lena Buggs is actually running. She has an honest-to-God actual campaign website and she has printed up yard signs and she has a Facebook page for her campaign.

I cannot even begin to tell you how weird this is! She really wants this job. She is working really damn hard for this job.

Carrie Wasley is the incumbent. I wrote about her two years ago, using primarily this one interview she did as a source. I’ve found basically nothing more up-to-date about her. She’s still the incumbent and still endorsed by the DFL. (Lena is endorsed by the Greens, who have a statement about her along with their other candidates here.)

Honestly, if I were voting on this one I think I’d vote for Lena just because she wants the job enough to really work for it.

(It looks like I voted on this two years ago, but they’ve now split up the districts such that you only vote for the seat in your actual district, instead of having official districts but voting county-wide.)

Election 2016: Soil & Water District 3

(By request.)
There are two candidates in this race:

Mara Magnuson Humphery
Ianni Houmas

Neither has a website, at least that I found. Mara is endorsed by the DFL; Ianni is endorsed by the Greens.

I found a brief statement about Mara here (note that it’s from 2012):

Mara Magnuson Humphrey (Saint Paul) is endorsed by the DFL, PROGRESSPPAC, Senator Mee Moua, Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough, Representative Tim Mahoney, and City Council Member Dan Bostrom. She was (is?) a registered lobbyist for the financial industry (per Fraters Libertas, 2008). She is a member of the Ramsey County Capital Improvement Program Advisory Committee; Board of Directors, Friends of Lake Phalen; Vice President—Governmental Affairs, Minnesota Credit Union Network. She was the past president of New Bridge Homeowners Association. She has a B.A. in Government, St. Lawrence University. She is married and has two children.

(That site also includes contact information that might or might not be current. Oh, hey, while hunting for something else I found her Twitter — looks like she still is a lobbyist, for credit unions, which are definitely part of the financial industry but we’re not talking a lobbyist for Wells Fargo here.)

Ianni is quoted talking about environmental issues in a 2009 MPR news article. I also tracked down his mostly-friendslocked Facebook. I was not impressed by his coherence in those posts I could see. (“Why has there not been talk of reparations, to the Indigenous of north america, by way of tabacco? States and health care did it for obvious reasons. It is an indigenous plant cultivated by the original people here. Just a thought. Maybe there has and im not aware.” — I’m not opposed to reparations, but I’m not even sure what he’s suggesting here and also he misspelled “tobacco.” I totally judge people running for office on incoherence and bad spelling.) He also appealed or sued (I’m not 100% clear) for unemployment coverage back in 2009 https://mn.gov/law-library-stat/archive/ctapun/0910/opa082283-1013.pdf — when Qwest fired him for cause. The “cause” was that he had a job that involved a lot of driving, was supposed to have a clean record and report any moving violations, and he racked up so many speeding tickets his Minnesota license got suspended. This did not impress me either.

Edited to add: someone on Twitter passed along this site, which includes a statement about Ianni’s candidacy:

IANNI HOUMAS – RAMSEY COUNTY SOIL AND WATER CONSERVATION SUPERVISOR, DISTRICT 3

Ianni is an appointed member on the City of St. Paul’s Transportation Committee. Ian feels that devising better ways of moving people and goods around our metro area is important for the mitigation of highway gridlock and of fossil fuel emissions that negatively impact our climate.

Born and raised in Philadelphia and later on the South Shore of Lake Superior, Ianni came to St. Paul as a teen and eventually attended the University of Minnesota. To support his growing family, he chose to work in utilities, first for NSP, then for Qwest, where he acted for eight years as a CWA union steward.

After a layoff in 2008, Ianni refocused his life and began Adonis Eco-Housing, a non-profit with a mission to create affordable, sustainable housing in the midst of the housing crisis, and later started Midway Green and Granite.

“When I take something on, I dedicate my life to it: to my family, to my alt energy non-profit, to my small business and to public service. Likewise I would dedicate myself to the duties and tasks of Soil and Water Conservation Supervisor.” –Ianni Houmas

So you know, if someone gets fired from a job because they racked up a bunch of speeding tickets, I don’t care. I was not impressed that he applied for unemployment, and appealed, despite the fact that he was terminated for cause, but it’s basically a “meh.”

If you got fired for cause but you say in your campaign materials that you were laid off, that’s a full-on lie. And given that this comes up when you Google his name, it’s a really stupid lie. I am even less impressed than I was before.

Conclusion: if this race is on your ballot, vote for Mara Magnuson Humphery.