My Trip to Asia, Part 1: Taiwan

I flew to Taiwan the day after Thanksgiving. I spent Sunday through Wednesday hanging out in Taipei with my friend Rachel, then flew to Guiyang, China, where I went to the “SF Camp” sponsored by Future Affairs Administration and Wanda Group. I’ve been meaning to do a set of posts to share pictures with friends. Also, part of the deal with the China trip is I need to write a story, and although my story is now in progress, I think it would help to revisit the trip. If other people’s vacation photos bore you to tears, please feel free to skip these posts.

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My 2018 Fiction Roundup

Here’s my fiction that came out in 2018 (with helpful information on the categories they’d go in, should anyone want to nominate them for anything):

“Prophet of the Roads,” which appeared in the  Infinity’s End anthology (edited by Jonathan Strahan), July 2018. If you squint, this might be a far-far-far-future sequel to “Cat Pictures Please.” This is a short story.

Field Biology of the Wee Fairies, which appeared in Apex, September 2018. There’s also an interview with me about the story in which you can see some photos of the protagonist, who is based on my mother. This is a short story.

The Thing About Ghost StoriesUncanny, November/December 2018. This story was also featured on their podcast, which includes an interview with me. This is a novelette, barely.

In 2019, look for my YA novel, Catfishing on Catnet, which will be coming out from Tor Teen in November! (You’ll see the cover, an excerpt, outtakes, and the all-important pre-ordering link as those become available this year, don’t worry.) This book includes one of my absolute favorite scenes I have ever written, in which the AI protagonist of “Cat Pictures Please” teaches a high school sex ed class.


Gifts for People You Hate, 2018

It’s that season again: the season for gift-buying guides. There are gift-buying guides out there for just about every category of age and interest, but I’m one of very few people writing a gift-buying guide for people you are socially required to give a gift to but frankly can’t stand. Whether it’s a family member or a coworker, sometimes it’s a whole lot easier to just cough up a wrapped object than to go through the drama of opting out, and I am here for you.

(There was a letter to Dear Prudence this year — second letter down, and be warned, the first letter is a very different sort of horrifying — from an indignant mother-in-law who gave her daughter-in-law a gift card for yarn, and was mad because the daughter-in-law used the yarn she bought to make her a beautiful bedspread as a gift the following year. If the daughter-in-law is here looking for ideas, WELCOME and OH MY GOD YOUR MOTHER-IN-LAW IS THE WORST, HOLY CRAP, and this year may I suggest that you give her a toilet brush holder that looks like a cowboy boot and save your beautiful hand-made creations for people who appreciate them?)

Annual disclaimer: I don’t have to give gifts to anyone I don’t like. If I’ve ever given you a gift that was terrible, it was genuine cluelessness on my part and I really was trying to get you a present you’d like. (This sort of cluelessness is super common, and provides everyone else with crucial plausible deniability when choosing gifts inspired by this list.)


Clothes They Won’t Wear

Some new photorealistic fabric-printing techniques have come along in the last few years and have resulted in some truly amazing clothing items, like this sweatshirt.

A hooded sweatshirt that depicts a sloth with an eyepatch, cape, and lightsaber riding a fire-breathing unicorn under a rainbow.

Is that sweatshirt the best hoodie ever made, or the absolute worst? I mean, the great thing about this sweatshirt is you could buy one for both your best friend and your worst enemy and potentially get exactly the response you’re hoping for from both, depending on who you’re friends with. This sweatshirt is available in a variety of other designs (from this and other vendors) including Christmas T-Rex, monocle cat rides a unicorn, and space bears (also lots of really, really ugly patriotic-themed ones) so if you’re bracing for a large family gift-opening event you could get everyone a sweatshirt and just switch up the designs to suit the recipients.

I feel like the ideal gift-item that will be worn once and then occupy closet space forever is a knitted wool item that’s attractive, yet unbearably itchy. There are two problems with this: (1) wool sweaters are kind of expensive and (2) yarn quality has improved since the 1980s and I think there are fewer itchy sweaters around than there used to be. You could, however, pick one up at a thrift shop, have it carefully dry cleaned, and pretend you got it at a craft fair. Mittens, hats, and scarves are also really unpleasant when made with itchy wool.

Gadgets They Won’t Use

Back in 2014, I suggested giving someone a cheap, dysfunctional SmartWatch to fill their life with frustration. Those watches are still around and are sufficiently functional that it won’t be obvious that the goal was torment, but still dysfunctional enough to guarantee hours of annoyance. This one typically gets less than a half day of battery life, and the time and date reset every time you turn it off. It’s under $20 and available with two-day shipping. This one broke after someone wore it in the rain. (You’ll want to check “other sellers” if you’ll need it before Christmas.) This one gave someone a rash.

For a lower-tech gadget, how about a cool-looking but completely nonfunctional barometer? (I mean, even a working barometer is solidly in the category of gadgets that most people will have no use for. If I want to know what the weather is going to be like, I check my weather app like everyone else.) As a bonus, the dysfunctional barometer is too pretty to throw away, but too fragile to put anywhere it might get knocked off the table.

Sadly, this smartphone-controlled salt dispenser is not actually available yet (and the Twitter account has been dead for a year, which makes me think it may never be available.) Apparently it was supposed to tell you how much salt you should put on your food (because goodness knows, none of us can figure that out for ourselves without a smartphone helping us out) and it plays music! Or would, if it had been made.

Overspecialized Kitchen Gadgets That Will Take Up Shelf and Drawer Space

This category never gets old, because new weird, overspecialized gadgets come out every year.

You can get a very inexpensive mini waffle maker. The thing about waffles is that they’re delicious, but kind of a pain in the ass to make, and making them really small does not actually make them any less of a pain in the ass.  Alternately, you could get a specialized gadget that makes waffles shaped like bowls: the maker is larger than the mini-maker, and also, waffle bowls are an even less practical food item than mini waffles.

Also available: a specialized omelet maker. There are people out there who eat enough omelets that they would make good use of an omelet maker; obviously, if you’re looking on this list for ideas for gifts for that person, you should go with the mini waffle maker instead. Finally, there’s a breakfast sandwich maker that will simultaneously toast your muffin, heat your pre-cooked breakfast meat, melt your cheese, and cook your egg; it has rave reviews from all the breakfast sandwich eaters who love it, but in order to make use of it you definitely need to be the sort of person who will have the eggs, ham, muffins or bread, and cheese all in the fridge simultaneously. Buy it for someone you dislike who is definitely not that sort of person, but feels like they should be.

There are a lot of little hand-held gadgets that are going to be a pointless waste of drawer space for most people. Here’s one that slices avocados and another that makes perfect pineapple rings. A lot of these very specialized devices are genuinely useful if someone is (a) disabled or (b) eats a lot of that particular food. Most people do not like fresh pineapple enough that they really need a gadget that does nothing but slice it up. Alternately, here’s a strawberry slicer that looks like a strawberry or an egg slicer that looks like a whale. Finally, there’s this lettuce slicer, which frankly baffles me. It’s really not clear to me how you get the lettuce sliced all the way through, using this thing. Also, you need to have enough manual dexterity to use a knife to cut the lettuce into a small enough chunk to get it in the holder, which is probably harder than just slicing it the rest of the way up. I don’t know who this is for, other than that super annoying coworker you drew in the office gift exchange.

Throw Blankets They Won’t Want On Their Couch 

Throw blankets are one of those generic, always-okay things to give, or at least they are in my climate.

There are lovely holiday-themed throw blankets available and the thing about these is, the recipient will be opening them on December 25th, and they’ll be as dated as the Christmas tree by January 1st, at which point they’ll probably want to shove them into a closet, where they’ll take up space until next year. (This wouldn’t work if you were buying a gift for me; if it’s a soft blanket we’d just leave it out until spring, when all the blankets get put away. We also have a Halloween dish towel that lives in the kitchen towel drawer and gets pulled out and used year-round.)

There are also some really ugly throw blankets, like this one of horses posing for a group selfie or this one for “sports fans” with balls all over it. I’m pretty sure I know people who would LOVE this one with three wolves howling at the moon but they probably wouldn’t be thrilled about the fact that this blanket apparently sheds everywhere.  Sadly, the ones with Elvis printed on them are all more than I think you want to spend for this sort of gift.

Do-It-Yourself Gift Basket (of crap)

To make a gift basket, you basically need the following: a basket, some raffia filler, one of those cellophane bags to keep everything in there (can be optional), and ribbon. And then you fill it with a selection of goodies.

If it’s for someone you like, you can do a selection of fancy cheeses, chocolate, jam, gourmet sodas, etc. If it’s for someone you don’t like, the possibilities are just as endless. For that “no, seriously, it’s a present!” vibe, look for stuff in fancy packaging; for the “oh god what is in this?” reaction, look for stuff with artificial sweeteners.

Some specific possibilities: go to the spice section and look for the spices that come in fancy jars, and then pick some that you think your recipient is unlikely to use more than twice a year. Lots of cookbooks will tell you how much better whole spices are than the pre-ground ones. And, I mean, they’re not wrong, but most of us use pre-ground spices anyway because grinding up spices (other than pepper, which goes in its own specialized grinder) is a pain in the ass. Available as whole spices in pretty glass jars at many grocery store: caraway seeds; cardamom pods; celery seed; cloves; cumin seed; coriander seed; mustard seed. Lots of these are things that very few people use all that frequently anyway. My grocery store also has dried chunks of shallots and crystallized ginger. Pick a selection and throw in a jar of Himalayan pink salt to tie it all together, ideally a package with crystals the size of popcorn kernels, because those are completely useless unless you grind them up. Then don’t put in a salt grinder. (Or, do put in a salt grinder because seriously, there’s absolutely no reason to use freshly ground salt instead of just buying salt with the crystals pre-sized to what you want and putting it in a shaker.)

You could also do a “coffee basket” with a package of attractive yet terrible coffee (did you know that there’s a Folgers Cappuccino, a Maxwell House French Vanilla, and a Hills Brothers English Toffee? I have not actually taste-tested any of these but I think the odds are high that they’re terrible) and two very ugly mugs, like those generic Santa-Snowman-Penguin mugs they sell at every Walgreens this time of year, or something like this guy.

You could do a “snack basket”: buy one of those multipacks of little cracker sandwiches (like these), break up the multipack because somehow a dozen separate little packages look better than a box of 12, add a bag of Funyons and a pack of jerky in the weirdest flavor you can find. (Or get the turkey kind. The turkey version of everything is reliably less tasty than the normal kind.) You could throw in a bottle of the Sparkling Ice drink. It doesn’t even matter what flavor you choose; all Sparkling Ice drinks taste vile because they’re full of artificial sweeteners. Alternately, there’s now a Watermelon Perrier in little cans.

You could also skip the basket entirely and buy a Seasonal Popcorn tin at the store and stick a ribbon on it. DONE.

One cautionary note: bear in mind that whatever you package up might be offered around, so make sure it’s something you’re willing to choke down at least a little of. (This is less of a risk with spices but a very high risk with anything that looks like a cookie.)

Charitable Gifts

As always, you can give someone a toilet (“piss off”), a stove (“here’s your symbolic lump of coal”), or manure (“no further explanation needed”) through Oxfam.

The World Wildlife Fund still doesn’t let you adopt a blobfish, but has symbolic animal adoptions for the Koala Bear (when you want to say, “you coast by because people inexplicably think you’re adorable, even though you’re actually a lazy jerk”), the Black Jaguar (when you want to say “shut up, colonizer“), and the Crocodile (when you want to say, “you’re a dinosaur.”) (The Black Jaguar in particular might also make a pretty decent charitable gift for someone you actually like who would think it was cool, and I’ll note the WWF is making it super clear that yes, this is a Black Panther!)

Edited to add: and in response to gifts from those people you hate, Geek Calligraphy has the perfect subtly hostile thank-you card. (And also a covertly hostile Mother’s Day card, for people with terrible mothers they nonetheless send cards to. Order it now, and you’ll have it when you remember you need to get a card in May!)

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

My Twitter feed: @naomikritzer

And my fiction that was published online this year:

Field Biology of the Wee Fairies, September in Apex.
The Thing About Ghost Stories, December in Uncanny.

Also new this year: a short story in this anthology, which would make a great gift and is under $3.50 for Kindle.

My fiction published online last year:

Waiting Out the End of the World in Patty’s Place CafeClarkesworld, March 2017.
ParadoxUncanny, June 2017

You could also order my short story collection, Cat Pictures Please and Other Stories


Election Night

If you’re looking for something to do on Election Night, I will be providing “real-time hot takes” at the Parkway Theater as part of an onstage political panel at the Theater of Public Policy’s Election Night event.

The event runs 8-11 p.m., and it’s free. In addition to ongoing results, there will be live music and improv comedy. (I know the picture says 6 p.m. Everything else I’ve seen says 8 p.m. There won’t be any results until 8 p.m. Maybe the doors open at six? I don’t know.)

The Parkway Theater is at 4814 Chicago Ave., Minneapolis, MN 55417.


Election 2018: Ballot Roundup

Here are my recommendations for allllllllllll the races I’ve written about in 2018. Links lead back to my post about the race.


US Senator (term expiring January 3, 2025): Amy Klobuchar

US Senator (Special Election for term expiring January 3, 2021): Tina Smith

Governor: Tim Walz and Peggy Flanagan

Secretary of State: Steve Simon

State Auditor: Julie Blaha

Attorney General: Keith Ellison

Statewide Judicial

Supreme Court, Associate Justice 2: Margaret Chutich

Court of Appeals, Judge 2: Lucinda Ellen Jesson

Minneapolis and Hennepin County Races

US Representative, District 5: Ilhan Omar

State Representative 63A: Jim Davnie
(I didn’t research any other State Rep races. Just vote for the DFLer. This is a better state when the Democrats are running things.)

Hennepin County Commissioner, District 2: Irene Fernando

Hennepin County Commissioner, District 3: Marion Greene

Hennepin County Commissioner, District 4: Angela Conley

Hennepin County Sheriff: Dave Hutch

Hennepin County Attorney: Mark Haase

Minneapolis City Question regarding liquor licenses: Yes

Minneapolis School Board At-Large (vote for 2): Kimberly Caprini and Josh Pauly

Minneapolis School District Questions: Yes (to both)

Note regarding judicial races: all the Hennepin County district judges are running unopposed. It kind of doesn’t matter much whether you fill in the dots or not. I usually vote for all the unopposed incumbents unless I’m running short of time, but as you may have noticed, I’m overly thorough about anything election-related.

Saint Paul and Ramsey County Races

US Representative, District 4: Betty McCollum

State Representative 64B: Dave Pinto
(I didn’t research any other State Rep races. Just vote for the DFLer. This is a better state when the Democrats are running things.)

Ramsey County Commissioner, District 3: Trista MatasCastillo

Ramsey County Commissioner, District 5: Rafael Ortega (post is from the primary season; Charles Barklind is no longer on the ballot, everything else applies.)

Ramsey County Sheriff: Jack Serier

Ramsey County Attorney: John Choi

Saint Paul School District Question: Yes

2nd District Court, Judge 2: DeAnne Hilgers

2nd District Court, Judge 11: Leaning toward Scott Flaherty for my own vote, but both candidates are excellent.

2nd District Court, Judge 14: Robyn Millenacker

2nd District Court, Judge 20: Probably Tony Atwal, despite his DUI.

2nd District Court, Judge 28: Elena Ostby

I think that’s all of them. If you have some spare time this weekend, CONSIDER VOLUNTEERING.

Edited to add: if you’re looking for more perspectives, or information on races outside Minneapolis and St. Paul, this tool also has some information on downticket races:

I’ve been asked about a tip jar, and for various reasons I don’t have one. You can buy one of my books (online if that’s easiest, but local bookstores Dreamhaven and Uncle Hugo’s usually have Cat Pictures Please & Other Stories, my short story collection, and might have my novels). You can also stay tuned to pre-order my new novel Catfishing on Catnet (coming November 2019 from Tor Teen!) once there’s a pre-ordering page. Finally, you can donate to the not-yet-fully-funded Donors Choose fundraiser I linked to back on the post about the Minneapolis School Board race: a trip to Wolf Ridge Learning Center for 5th graders at Green Central Park Community School.


Musings on Judicial Races

“On average, one-half of all supplicants to come before a judge’s bench must depart angry and disappointed. But not, by that, necessarily wronged.” –Lupe dy Cazaril, The Curse of Chalion, Lois McMaster Bujold.

Possibly because of the overall heightened interest in politics going around, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about the judicial races, and how you find information about judges. So, I’m going to ramble about that a bit.

I’ll note, incidentally, that if you are super interested in the question of how judges get chosen and what the results are of various selection methods, my father is a legitimate expert on this subject and has written an actual book about it.

In Minnesota, the way we pick judges looks roughly like thismost of the time, they get appointed when someone resigns partway through their term, usually because that judge reached mandatory retirement age (which is 70, and again, this is Minnesota, not everywhere). The Commission on Judicial Selection (half of which is appointed by the governor, half by the State Supreme Court) goes through applications. If you want to be a judge, you apply to them by sending a detailed resume, up to ten letters of recommendation, and releases to let them see a bunch of stuff including, I think, your taxes.  If you make it to semifinalist, you get interviewed, and finalists are put on a list forwarded to the governor for consideration.

This process has its faults. But I generally trust it to weed out the weirdos. I think they usually do a decent job picking out people who are smart, fair, and capable. This is one of the reasons that I tend to err on the side of favoring incumbents in judicial races.

Every six years (or at the first election that occurs after their appointment), judges stand for election.

Most of the time, county judges in Minnesota run unopposed. I’ve gotten a bunch of questions about that this year — why so many unopposed judges? But it’s totally normal, and to my mind, fine. Being a judge is, at its core, a job, and not usually a particularly political job, except in the sense that your politics inform your ideas about the world.

Very occasionally there’s an open seat at election time. We have one in Ramsey County this year. Four years ago there were three open seats in Hennepin County; in one case, the guy who lost was appointed to the bench a few months later, which was great because both candidates looked awesome.

It became legal in 2010 (I think) for judicial candidates in Minnesota to seek and accept partisan endorsements. (Edited to add: okay, my father sent me the citation on this. In 2005, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit ruled that states could not prohibit judicial candidates from engaging in certain partisan activities, including seeking, accepting, and using endorsements from political parties.)

When that happened, the DFL announced they would not be endorsing judicial candidates (although obviously individuals can and do); the GOP was briefly really enthusiastic about it. Then came Michelle MacDonald! This year, the GOP endorsed zero judicial candidates. (At least statewide. It’s possible that some of the local GOP branches did endorsements, or maybe they felt so burned by Michelle they’ve all washed their hands of that part of the process.)

As a judicial candidate semi-lamented to me, it’s not like judicial candidates can go around saying to people, “I want to be your judge.” (He wasn’t really lamenting this — more the fact that just as it’s hard for citizens to evaluate potential judges, it’s hard for a judge to make their case to citizens.) In terms of what you’re going to get from a good judge, all they can say is, “if you come before my bench, I will treat you with rigorous and uncompromising fairness. I will listen well. I will remember that even if this is a run-of-the-mill Tuesday to me, this may be the worst day of your life. If you commit a crime, I will hold you accountable in a proportionate way.” I want judges to prioritize the well-being of children in child custody and child welfare cases. I want them to recognize that ordinary citizens are at an inherent disadvantage in lawsuits between citizens and large organizations. Inasmuch as I care about politics, it’s because I really don’t want a judge who will look at lesbians in a custody dispute and award sole custody to the woman who gave birth because he considers her the only “real” mother; I really don’t want a judge who considers gay panic to be a legitimate murder defense. I’m sure there are Republicans on the bench who are not the sort of assholes where it even matters.

So, if you take a close look at your ballot, you have a whole bunch of uncontested judicial races and then a small number of contested ones. What to even do with these races?

All Those Uncontested Races

It is really rare that a challenger wins in a judicial race. It is vanishingly unlikely that someone would win a write-in campaign. If a Hennepin County judge gave a tiny slap on the wrist to a rapist because he was a good swimmer, in early October when he was up for re-election, I can imagine someone launching a furious write-in campaign and even winning but you would probably have heard. Like, if you ever read a newspaper, log onto Twitter, drive around town where you can see billboards…if it’s that kind of story, you’ll know.

If you see an uncontested judicial race, what that usually means is, “this judge is fine.”

If I have time, I fill in all the dots for the uncontested incumbents. If I don’t, I don’t worry about it. You really do not need to spend a lot of time and energy on these races.

Incumbent vs. Challenger

In a judicial race, I really consider it the job of the challenger to make the case not only that they are qualified, but also that the incumbent needs to be replaced.

I start by checking both websites. If the challenger hasn’t set up a website, or if their website is just “hey, I’m a lawyer, hire me to represent you,” I’m basically done.

If everyone has websites, I next look at endorsements. If the challenger has no endorsements, I’m basically done — that says to me that there’s broad agreement in the legal community that the sitting judge is fine. If the challenger has some endorsements but none of them appear to be lawyers or judges, that’s more or less the same as having zero endorsements.

If the challenger has a bunch of endorsements, especially if they look high-profile, that’s a strong indicator that there’s genuinely something going on here, and I should probably try to figure out what it is.

The reason I take endorsements so seriously: I’m not in a great position to actually assess judges. (I was on a jury once, and I can tell you that Judge Leonard Castro is awesome. The rest of them, I haven’t met.) Fairness, respectful treatment of everyone — basically, the stuff I want in a judge is what everyone genuinely wants in a judge. The lawyers, judges, former clients, etc. are in a reasonable place to assess that person’s skills and temperament.

If it’s an open seat and one candidate has endorsements from a bunch of Republicans and the other candidate has endorsements from a bunch of Democrats, I will assume that both of them are reasonably well qualified but the Democrat is more likely to bring a worldview I like to the bench, and vote that way.

Other Things I Look At

If I’m looking at candidates for an open seat, or at a challenger when there’s a compelling reason to replace an incumbent judge, I look at the person’s resume. Have they shown some professional success? (Jobs at big law firms, long stays with organizations, that sort of thing.) How much trial experience do they have? Any red flags there?  (Things I consider a red flag: job hopping. Looking like maybe he’s not that great of a lawyer. Bad reviews from clients.)

I also try Google, the same as I would for any other political candidate. Judges working in criminal court pretty regularly land in the paper because the cases they’re on get news coverage. (Although not always. First of all, if they’ve been working in Family Court or Juvenile Court, that’s rarely going to land in the paper. I just looked up Leonard Castro and found nothing, and he was definitely working criminal cases in 2016. The case I sat on the jury for was a really small-time criminal case happening between people that the public mostly just doesn’t remotely care about.)

I’ll add to this that if someone’s worked in criminal defense, their name will definitely come up as the defender of some pretty horrifying people, especially if they’ve worked as a public defender. (I just tried Googling Leonard Castro again, and found some cases from when he was a public defender.) It’s really important to recognize that this is how our system works. Criminal defendants have the right to an attorney. That means someone has got to be there to speak for them in order to prosecute. Public defender jobs are always going to be a mixed bag. A friend of a friend was defended by a public defender (A.L. Brown, in fact — currently a candidate for the Minnesota Court of Appeals). This young woman had been arrested for trespassing and burglary, IIRC, despite obviously not being the person on the surveillance video. This went all the way to trial and she was found Not Guilty by the jury, thanks in part to good work from Brown.

But if you’re a public defender (or any sort of criminal defense attorney), you will also defend people who very definitely did the thing they’re charged with doing. Because guilty people also have the right to an attorney. (Link goes to an article about the man who mass-murdered people in a synagogue on Saturday. He was arraigned today, and assigned a public defender.)

On the other hand, if the person took a job for an awful organization, that’s an excellent thing to hold against them. Doug Wardlow, the Republican candidate for Attorney General, has been trying to spin his work for the so-called Alliance Defending Freedom as just a job, ya know, and holy shit no to that line of bullshit. If you’re an in-house lawyer for a hate group, you made a conscious decision to go work for that group. (And I’ll note that you have to click “Agree” with their Statement of Faith and Guiding Principles before you can even see their job postings so yeah, pull the other one, Doug, you lying bigot.)

Super obvious red flags

Sometimes just looking at a candidate’s website will make it clear they’re not the sort of person I want in a judgeship. If they’ve got religious symbols on their website, that’s a bad sign. If they’re talking about a “second, unwritten constitution” (like lying bigot Doug Wardlow) that’s a super bad sign. If they’re emphasizing their religiosity in any way, honestly, that’s a bad sign, unless it’s something like their bio mentioning that in addition to being a judge/lawyer they play the violin and bake casseroles for funerals at their church, Shady Oaks Church by the Lake. (If someone names their church, I’ll usually look it up. If it’s a very conservative church, that’s also a red flag, although I was chatting with a friend recently about a church that opened in her neighborhood that seemed hair-raisingly conservative to her. I looked it up and it actually looked pretty mainline to me.)

Conservative talking points are a huge red flag. So is “WE THE PEOPLE” in all-capital letters.

You’re allowed to follow your own biases

If you had a personal experience with a judge (because you were sued, because you were a victim of a crime or charged with a crime, because you got a divorce…) and you think that judge sucked you can absolutely vote against them. You can tell all your friends to vote against them. You can launch a write-in campaign for your favorite worthy person with a JD and tell all your friends to vote for that person instead of the unopposed asshole who’s up for re-election this year.

I mean, you probably don’t need my permission to do this, but if you do? You have it. (Unless the judge you hate is running against Michelle MacDonald, in which case, you’re going to have to suck it up because Michelle MacDonald would definitely be worse.)


Election 2018: Hi, my name is Naomi, and I’d like to talk to you today about volunteering

In 2012, I was walking from my parking lot into the State Fair when someone with a clipboard stopped me to talk about the VOTE NO campaign. I assured her that I was absolutely, positively voting no. She said, “we’re actually out today looking for people to volunteer!” I hesitated, because I really didn’t want the constitutional amendment to pass, but I don’t like calling people up or knocking on doors. “We really need volunteers,” she said. “If the election were held today, we would lose. We really need volunteers.”

So, I signed up, and I did persuasion phone calling once a week until we switched over to GOTV at the end of October. It was hard but not impossible, and some days were incredibly satisfying, like the time I spoke with an older man who was a committed “yes” voter, but when I started to end the call interrupted me and asked how I was voting, and why. And as I talked to him about the people I love and care about, his voice got softer and less angry and confrontational. I could hear his mind opening and the sunlight coming in. It really felt pretty miraculous, frankly.

And not only did we defeat both the evil constitutional amendments that year (there was also a proposed Voter ID law on the ballot), we turned both the Minnesota House and the Minnesota Senate blue.

And I haven’t volunteered since, because I hate phone banking. But this year I signed up to do it, because … I feel kind of superstitious. In 2016, I assumed that everyone would be as motivated to get out and vote as I was, based just on how self-evidently horrifying Trump was, and I was clearly wrong.

So this year I’m volunteering. I went today to Take Action Minnesota’s office on Raymond Avenue and did phone banking from noon to three. (Well, 12:30 to 2:45. There was training, and then there was debriefing.) And I signed up to do more shifts of either phone banking or door knocking this week and next weekend.

It wasn’t terrible: lots of people thanked me for volunteering, even as they assured me that they would crawl over ground glass if they had to, to get to the polls. (Also, I spent a lot of time dialing and then getting people’s voicemail. That was super easy.) One woman said her mother would need a ride to the polls, and Take Action will set her up. I chatted with a really delightful student from Macalester who’s voting for the very first time.

Here I am with the group I phonebanked with:

If you’re interested in volunteering, there’s a website that appears to be sort of the ActBlue for Campaign Volunteering, MobilizeAmerica. Plug in your city and you’ll get a whole list of times and places to volunteer, with all sorts of options: door knocking, phone banking, text banking.

Here’s a list for Minneapolis.

Here’s a list for Saint Paul.

The TakeAction MN events are here, and that’s where I volunteered today. I liked them: they’re right on the Green Line (seriously, less than a five-minute walk from the Raymond Ave stop) or, if you want to drive (I drove) on-street parking is abundant and easy to find. It’s wheelchair accessible, they have snacks, and it’s set up to be a reasonably comfortable and well-organized office.

You can also sign up through individual candidates’ sites.

The blue wave will only happen if we make it happen. If you can find time, spoons, and emotional energy to volunteer, please consider doing so. (And if you get six calls from volunteers at two different organizations and four different campaigns, please consider not biting off the heads of caller #5 and #6 to be a contribution of emotional energy to a Democratic victory? I, too, wish there were better coordination! Ed and I have now been door-knocked twice. Once today, from Take Action MN, an hour after I got home from phone banking at Take Action MN! I told the canvasser as much and he laughed ruefully and said, “well, I guess … I don’t really need to worry about who you’re voting for and whether you’re committed to voting?”)

(If you hate the idea of calling people but desperately want to be useful, you could also look to see where the GOTV locations are and bring them all snacks. There’s also text banking, I’m pretty sure there are data entry volunteers at Take Action, there was someone who was checking everyone else in, there are volunteers who just call people who’ve committed to do a volunteer shift to remind them to come… there are a lot of options, some of which do not require talking to anyone.)