Abstentions and Protest Votes are a Tax on Progress

Planned Parenthood is running a 30 million dollar ground campaign to ensure Hillary Clinton wins this election. They are spending money on it that they could be spending providing people with life-saving services. That money could be used to provide cancer screenings, contraception, sex education, abortions, funding advocacy work, or any of the many, many important services Planned Parenthood provides.

Planned Parenthood is right to be doing what it’s doing. There is no greater threat right now to health care, and in particular women’s health care, than a Trump presidency. They are spending money where it is best spent — where it will do the most good.

The reason they need to spend it is because a Clinton victory is not a sure thing.

The reason they need to spend that money is because in spite of the fact that liberals have the numbers to annihilate Trump in the polls, we won’t. We won’t because too many of us see Hillary Clinton as so imperfect that we’d rather opt out or vote third party than vote for her.

As a consequence of so many of us refusing to swallow our misgivings and vote for her, someone else will have to pick up the slack. Someone else will have to do the work and someone else will have to spend the money. Someone else will have to prevent a right wing demagogue from winning and destroying the progressive gains of the last century. Someone else will have to save those who would be the victims of his presidency from dying.

It will be progressive organizations that understand the stakes of this election, like Planned Parenthood, and like the people and organizations running phone banks, doing canvassing, donating to the Clinton campaign, and otherwise doing the work of defeating Donald Trump, who will pick up that slack. If you are a protest voter, it is your slack they are picking up. It is decisions like yours that mean Planned Parenthood’s 30 million dollars won’t go to contraception or cancer screenings. It is your decision to protest or abstain that means more money has to be spent to avoid the worst case scenario in this election.

That money could be spent on making progress. Instead it will be spent making up for your decision not to fight Donald Trump with every means available to you. So when you tell yourself your conscience can’t handle ticking that box for Clinton, ask yourself how much work someone else is going to have to do in your place to make sure Trump doesn’t win. Ask yourself whose cancer screening should be skipped so you don’t have to swallow your discomfort and tick that box. And make sure you’re comfortable with the answer before you make your decision.

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People Who Will Die If Clinton Doesn’t Win

This is not a time for mincing words. Many, many people will die if Hillary Clinton doesn’t win this election.

Queer people will die because Trump and the GOP will validate and encourage virulent homophobia, and will support things like conversation therapy which Clinton will fight to end. Shootings like Pulse can happen again, and with this kind of reinforcement of bigotry, they will be all the more likely.

Black people will die because Trump and the GOP will validate and reinforce racism. Because Trump’s solution to police misconduct and brutality is more “law and order”, and let’s not kid ourselves that means anything other than “more of the same”.

Women will die because Trump will serve as a role model, demonstrating the acceptability of misogyny, cruelty, and assault of women. Demonstrating the acceptability of not believing women. If Trump is elected, he will be elected with the country knowing that he is scheduled to be on trial for the rape of a 13-year-old girl in December of this year. The message his election would send to every would-be abuser and rapist should chill all of us.

People with chronic illnesses will die because Trump and the GOP will work to repeal the Affordable Care Act, making it difficult or impossible for them to get covered.

People will die in pregnancy because Trump and the GOP’s pro-life stance will work to deny them life-saving abortions and work to restrict their access to birth control and health care.

People with depression will die because Trump and the GOP will support the widespread availability of guns, which make suicide easier. Higher availability of guns correlates with higher suicide rates. Also, where Trump has done nothing, Clinton has outlined specific policies to address mental health and the suicide rate specifically.

There will be more mass shootings because Trump and the GOP will support the widespread availability of guns, and encourage the bigotry and hatred that so often leads to shootings. They will continue to happen in the US with regularity, and Trump will do nothing to stop this and his rhetoric alone will very likely make it worse.

Trans people will die because a victorious GOP will continue their campaign of bigotry and hate against trans people as well.

People fleeing war-torn countries will die because Trump and the GOP will work to prevent them from seeking refuge in the US. If our opposition to accepting refugees had been less strong in World War II, Anne Frank might be alive today. How many Anne Franks will there be in those we refuse to save now?

Many of the people who suffer and die under Trump will be children. Many of them will be entirely preventable deaths. This is not a comprehensive list. Among other things, it isn’t addressing still life-threatening but harder-to-pin-down stuff like people who may die as a consequence of the increasing impact of climate change, or as a consequence of Trump’s utter lack of knowledge, thoughtfulness and competence at foreign policy. It isn’t addressing the possible depletions of funding and organization for government and social services that affect us all that will result from having an incompetent GOP demagogue in the White House.

We cannot risk these lives. No one, but no one, should feel comfortable risking this many lives in this election. This is not abstract. People will die and if we aren’t among them we will be attending their funerals. We need to vote and we need to vote for Hillary Clinton to prevent that from happening. She will win or he will and we cannot stand by. This is what is at stake in this election. Stop it. Make a plan to votevote early if you can (sometimes cars break down, sometimes kids get sick, and sometimes polling locations lose power — don’t risk circumstances preventing you from voting), and above all, vote.

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Little Things That Make Me Like Hillary Clinton (More Than I Already Did)

My cards are on the table at this point: I like Hillary Clinton. I think she’ll make a damn good president if she wins (which is looking good at this point). But in addition to her issues and her experience and her general capableness for the job, there’s something else that keeps happening as I learn more about her and her campaign: I keep learning about little things she’s done that make me like her more. They’re not the massive, media-blitzing actions of a campaign. They’re just the little things that you see here and there that suggest someone who has put together an operation that genuinely cares about people. I really appreciate that in a candidate and campaign.

Here are a few of those things.

Her website has a form where the “gender” field is a free-form text input. Follow that link to see why that’s important in more detail, but suffice to say: it’s very significant for nonbinary trans people, and I don’t think it’s because she expects to win on the strength of the Tumblr vote.

Her website also has a form where the “prefix” (aka “honorific”) field includes options for “Other”, and “Mx.” in addition to the usual “Mr.”, “Mrs.”, “Dr.”, etc. Same as the gender text input, this is a significant deal for people who don’t fit into the options traditionally provided.

I strongly suspect that her campaign is the first in history to do either of the above.

Her website is designed to be accessible to low-vision and colorblind users. The accessibility of the web may or may not be something that you have to think about day-to-day, but things like this are a big deal for a lot of web users. Being inclusive in this way matters, and it suggests a care about people and an attention to detail that, suffice to say, not all candidates or campaigns have.

In 2010, she was responsible for quietly enacting a rule allowing trans people to change the gender on their passports without reassignment surgery. This in particular feels like a microcosm of why I like Clinton so much as a politician. If she can get shit done — if she can help someone more — by quietly changing something instead of loudly running on it, she does that.

This is why I tend to trust her as much as I do. I believe her when she talks about having public and private positions on things. I believe that’s true for most if not all politicians (seriously if you think this wasn’t the case for, for example, FDR, I have some news for you), and for non-politicians as well. For the most part, it’s just how people work. And in her case, in this case, I believe that she decided that keeping her opinion — that trans people deserve to be able to determine what gender goes on their passport without surgery — keeping her opinion on that relatively quiet at the time made it more likely she would succeed at accomplishing something real that changed people’s lives for the better. That rule change is a big deal for trans people. And she got it done before trans issues had become at all front and center in US politics, because she wanted to help someone.

She advocates for issues affecting autistic people by advocating for the things they actually want and need. This may not seem like a big deal if you’re not aware of how frequently “advocacy” by major organizations, parties, and campaigns tends to look like “doing what we think is best for you” instead of “doing what you actually say you want and need”. But it is.

It isn’t just the shift in emphasis that I applaud, but the language itself. The extreme, pathological language that usually surrounds autism is almost totally absent from Clinton’s proposal. The word “epidemic” doesn’t even occur once. “Disease” only occurs in reference to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Oftentimes, autism is portrayed as a sort of tumor – an unpleasant, discrete growth that can be separated from its “host” and destroyed. The thing is, autism doesn’t work that way, and Clinton’s proposal doesn’t act like it does. She doesn’t talk about combating autism. Instead, she provides concrete ways to improve the lives of autistic Americans. I am delighted.


None of the things I’ve mentioned are the kinds of things that get national attention. But they all matter. In my opinion, they are all the actions of someone who cares about making change happen in the little ways that, while important, don’t make headlines. They make me feel more confident that the perceptions of those who know her and have worked with her are the accurate ones. I think that those people, who see her as an incredibly smart, capable, and caring person who wants to help others, are the ones whose impression of her is most accurate.

As you know, I liked her already. These things just make me like her a little more.


* If you want reasons to vote for her, check out Greta Christina’s posts about why to vote for her. If you want reasons to be skeptical of the coverage of her scandals, watch John Oliver’s coverage of them. If you think this election is as important as I do and want to help her win, this handy Chrome extension can suggest things to do to help, or you can just go to her website for events to volunteer at and/or a phone banking app you can use to do phone banking from home. And of course, make sure you register to vote and find your polling place.

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Hillary Clinton, Alexander Hamilton, and Propaganda

Something you may not know about Alexander Hamilton is that during his time as treasury secretary, he was accused of corruption constantly. He was accused of it for years on end, in ways that had little-to-nothing to do with his conduct and everything to do with politics.

On February 24, 1794, a committee full of his political opponents was formed to investigate his time at the treasury department, and pin whatever they could on him. Here’s how that turned out:

In its final report in late May, the Republican-dominated committee could not deliver the comeuppance it had craved. Instead, it confessed that all the charges lodged against Hamilton were completely baseless, as the treasury secretary had insisted all along.

Nevertheless, it frustrated him that after this exhaustive investigation his opponents still rehashed the stale charges of misconduct. He had learned a lesson about propaganda in politics and mused wearily that “no character, however upright, is a match for constantly reiterated attacks, however false.” If a charge was made often enough, people assumed in the end “that a person so often accused cannot be entirely innocent.”

Chernow, Ron (2005-03-29). Alexander Hamilton (pp. 456-457). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

When I read this, I couldn’t help but feel like it sounded eerily familiar.

While a lot of ink has been spilled over how GOP propaganda has created Trump’s base on denial of basic facts, there has been less talk about how the same forms of propaganda have impacted liberals. While it’s hard to find a liberal supporting Trump, it’s easy to find liberals who resent the hell out of Hillary Clinton.

People talk about her stealing the primary, about her dishonesty, about her corruption, about her being “basically a conservative”. Yet none of these claims seem nearly so clear-cut under scrutiny, and many (if not most) of them fall apart entirely with a closer look.

If decades of conservative propaganda paved the way for Trump, then decades of conservative propaganda also paved the way for the world’s current impression of Hillary Clinton.

People call her dishonest when she’s been rated more honest by Politifact than any other candidate who ran this year. People talk about her stealing the primary when she won it by a considerable margin on every conceivable metric. People talk about her e-mails, a “scandal” in which she has been investigated and found to have done nothing illegal, and which would barely register on the scandals-scale for any other politician.

Genuinely, the things that have passed as scandal for Clinton lately seem to do more to recommend her than to diminish her. The idea that this quote: “The people that know the industry better than anybody are the people who work in the industry” is the worst thing anyone can find in her Wall Street speeches is telling. The idea that people think “Those in an industry should have a seat at the table” is the same as saying “Those in an industry should be totally self-regulating” speaks to the low level of nuance of the accusations, and to the credulity with which many of us are reading the accusations against her.

But, as Alexander Hamilton mused more than 200 years ago after his own Benghazi-esque investigation and exoneration, “no character, however upright, is a match for constantly reiterated attacks, however false.”

If you think Clinton being dishonest is a major problem for her, but you didn’t think it was a problem for Sanders, who has rated almost exactly the same level of honest as her (and that’s without having to go through all the trumped-up investigations she has), and who cried “scandal” at primary rules that have been the norm for decades, and at 100% standard responses to reports of compromised data, then you are susceptible to media propaganda as well. I say this as someone who liked Sanders’ platform and much of what he had to say.

Believing propaganda may be a problem that is worse among Trump supporters, but this isn’t just a Trump supporter thing. Liberals have been taken in by propaganda, too. I have been taken in by propaganda, too. My distrust of Hillary Clinton has only evolved into trust over a long period of reading details about each of the scandals that have been reported. It was only in reading the details that I found that most of them are meaningless and none of them are remarkable.

Is Hillary Clinton a perfect politician? No. Neither was Alexander Hamilton. But they have the shared experience of (A) being imperfect (A. Ham. having cheated on his wife and, while not engaging in corrupt dealings himself, certainly being lamentably blind to the corrupt dealings of someone under his direct employ), (B) being constantly accused of corruption in ways that were eventually revealed to be baseless, and (C) their exoneration making hardly a dent in the minds of people already convinced they were crooked. Yet in spite of his faults, we don’t look back and scorn Alexander Hamilton for being imperfect, we look back and celebrate him for being capable.

If you think “Well, there’s so much more to the accusations about Clinton”, you should understand that in Alexander Hamilton’s time, the papers were absolutely inundated with accusations against him of all kinds — accusations that sounded plausible if you took their version of things at face value. Much as the accusations against Clinton sound plausible if you take them at face value.

In my opinion, a refusal to vote for Hillary Clinton isn’t a protest against corruption, it is an endorsement of it. It is an endorsement of campaigns of baseless propaganda and a reinforcement of the idea that they can work wonders on people from any (or no) political party. Not just the party of Trump.


If you want more reasons to vote for Hillary Clinton, check out Greta Christina’s posts about why to vote for her. If you want reasons to be skeptical of the coverage of her scandals, watch John Oliver’s coverage of them. If you think this election is as important as I do and want to help her win, this handy Chrome extension can suggest things to do to help, or you can just go to her website for events to volunteer at and/or a phone banking app you can use to do phone banking from home. And of course, make sure you register to vote.


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Hillary Clinton and Protest Votes

When I’ve heard people this election season talk about not voting, or voting third party, a lot of people talk about wanting to change things. Voting for the lesser evil, they say, will do nothing to change the system. How will we get real change to happen if we don’t rebel against the system that has made everything so fucked up to begin with?

And you’re right. Without work, nothing will change. The good news is, people are doing that work. There are activists and activist organizations all over the country working to improve the lives of citizens and to change the things that are fucked up about the system in which we live.

Real change happens slowly and with the combined efforts of thousands or millions of people. It is hard, and it is long-term.

And it is not going to happen if all of the people putting in that real work are in jail for having abortions. Or for peacefully protesting against police brutality, or for being politically inconvenient for those in power.

If Trump wins, your protest vote will put the people working hardest to change this country at tremendous risk. Refusing to vote for Clinton to stop Trump is not working to make the US better, it is being complicit in allowing it to become much, much worse. Whether you think Hillary Clinton will be a good president or not, there’s no reason to think she will overturn Roe vs. Wade, jail political opponents, or put up to 4 carbon-copies of Antonin Scalia on the supreme court.

The people working for real change: do you want them to be able to continue that work or not? Do you want them to be organizing initiatives to save lives, or in jail for having abortions? Do you want real change? Then you need to do everything you can to stop Trump, and that includes voting for Hillary Clinton.


If you want more reasons to vote for Hillary Clinton, check out Greta Christina’s posts about why to vote for her. If you want reasons to be skeptical of the coverage of her scandals, watch John Oliver’s coverage of them. If you think this election is as important as I do and want to help her win, this handy Chrome extension can suggest things to do to help, or you can just go to her website for events to volunteer at and/or a phone banking app you can use to do phone banking from home. And of course, make sure you register to vote.


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Help Fund the Secular Women Work Conference

Women in Secularism is not happening in 2015, but a bunch of the most awesome event organizers in skepticism (including those behind Skep-Tech, possibly my personal favorite event) are trying to put together the Secular Women Work Conference this year, and it should be awesome, but of course only if it gets funded. There’s a day to go and it’s at about 3/4 of the $13,000 needed to put it on, so it’s still got a good shot at getting funded, but it’s not there yet. GO THERE AND GIVE THEM YOUR MONEY **.

I mean, you know, if you have some to spare and/or would like to attend it, contribute to awesome people doing awesome things, etc, etc.

** I’m not really sure if my blog has enough readers that this is actually a thing that will help, but better to try when it won’t help than not try when it will, so: if you contribute something (any amount) to the Kickstarter, show me and you can ask me to write a post about a thing, and I will write such a post about such a thing (within reason).

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Willpower is Overrated

Willpower is a finite resource. I may have different amounts on different days and I may need different amounts on different days. One of the things that has become a philosophy of mine in interacting with the world is “Never accomplish by willpower something you can accomplish by making it easier.”

I am shit at getting myself to the gym. I could try to muster up the determination to go every week or some such, but that tends to not work. What does work is getting myself some cheap weights I can keep in my room.

It’s a lot easier to “get to the gym” when “get to the gym” means “walk five feet to where I put down the weights last time”.

I do this kind of thing as often as possible. I am a messy person, but I come across less messy than I used to, because instead of trying to get myself to be not messy by willpower, I analyzed how my messiness worked and figured out ways to make my messy habits just so happen to be less messy. The main trick was: always have somewhere to toss something that incidentally happens to be where it goes.

I put things down, and I give very little thought to where I put them down and when I’m done working I have no interest in doing any more thinking than absolutely necessary. I have drawers within arm’s reach of my chair for most of the things I might be carrying with me in a given day, because that means I actually put things in them instead of piles.

The last place I lived I noticed I tended to put the containers for the Omega-3 and vitamin D pills I take on the floor next to my chair without thinking about it. Instead of trying to stop myself from doing that, I bought a little container and put it right where I’d been putting them anyway. Suddenly my uncleanly habit was magically, effortlessly cleanly.

I think our culture idolizes the idea of accomplishing things by force of will, often at the expense of accomplishing things by doing what works. Getting things done by force of will is a very romantic idea and all, but it doesn’t work as well as making things easier. At least it never has for me.

Can’t get myself to practice an instrument? I decided to try the harmonica, an instrument I can literally have on my person 24/7, instead of having to find or get to a practice space. Random paper piling up? Now, there’s a tiny scanner that’s on top of my desk that I can scan things into and throw them out. Can’t get myself to go out and buy new food supplies when I run out in time to stave off the inevitable stopgap fast food run? Switch to using mostly supplies I can freeze or that otherwise aren’t very perishable, and buy them in advance of needing them.

For me, willpower is great for getting myself to make that phone call I’ve been dreading, because for that I only need it once. Right then. For ongoing stuff, though, force of will is a shit strategy compared with making the things I want myself to do easy and the things I don’t want myself to do hard.

That’s the one that works. Willpower looks good on paper, but I think there’s a reason people are legendarily bad at New Year’s Resolutions, and I think maybe if we spent less time on “I should really get myself to the gym more often” and more time on things like “Getting Wii Fit instead”, the success rate might be a bit a lot better.

Also, as a person with a lot of physical and pain issues, I think if physical therapists spent less time saying “You really need to be doing these more!” and more time on “How can we make this easier for you to do more?” or “What can you do that is easier to get yourself to do, but accomplishes roughly the same thing?”, their success rate would go up immensely.

written 1/16/2014, posted 1/20/2014

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Gosh, Why is Everyone So Easily Offended These Days?

“Everyone is offended by everything these days!”

“This generation is so thin-skinned; people didn’t used to get so angry over nothing.”

“Why is everyone so oversensitive about everything now?”

I keep hearing variations on this over and over and over and over and over again, and there is a lot of thoughtful, complex, intelligent stuff that can be said about it, but for now I’m going to keep it simple.

It isn’t that people today are more sensitive. It isn’t that this generation is thinner-skinned than the last generation. It’s that now, the people you hurt by your words and actions have more spaces and louder megaphones with which to tell you what the effects of your actions are. People haven’t suddenly become more sensitive, they have suddenly become able to let you know what has always been true. It isn’t that these issues weren’t issues before, it’s that until recently, you could remain unaware of these issues by the simple expediency of not deliberately seeking out the thoughts and words of the people who experience them.

That is why when you hear people call out comedians contributing to rape culture or biologists being incredibly racist or video games being incredibly misogynistic or people in general not respecting trans identities or pronouns, just to name a few, it isn’t the world that has changed, it is the amount of knowledge you have about it that has changed. If you think it’s the world that has changed, then you are a first-class example of how easy it used to be to remain completely ignorant about these issues.

Regardless of what your opinion is on whether or not people are “too easily offended” or somesuch, it isn’t different now than before. You didn’t know people had issues with these things before, and now, because so many of them have voices and platforms to talk about them that they didn’t used to, maintaining that ignorance isn’t as easy as it used to be.

It’s not them that are different, it’s you. These issues have always existed, and the only thing that’s different now is that you know about them.

Click for further reading.

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Feels Good

Moving into a new place is always more work than I expect it to be. This move has taken me a couple of weeks to get even close to finishing setting up my new room. I have made enough progress, though, that I have started to arrange the room in roughly the way I think it will be configured when I’m done.

I haven’t been getting a lot of exercise these past two weeks, with the exception of occasionally moving things around. Today I decided to try to get my Wii set up so that I can use Wii Fit. I have generally found that getting myself to do the things I want to be doing regularly is less a matter of willpower and more a matter of arranging my life and surroundings in such a way is that it requires the least amount of work and willpower possible. With Wii Fit, I can get exercise without even leaving my room, which makes it a lot more likely I will do it regularly.

I have mostly finished setting up the system now, and something just struck me: this is the first time in a really, really long time that I have set up something just for the purpose of exercising. That is, over the last decade or so, every time I started using something like a stationary bike or some weights or Wii Fit or a mini trampoline or DDR or a reflex bag or rollerblades, or started doing something like going to a gym or taking yoga classes or taking tai chi classes or swimming or juggling or practicing poi–every time I did one of those things was an attempt to find something, anything, that would either help or at the very least not further aggravate something that was going wrong with me physically.

This is the first time I can remember doing something like this without that being the driving force behind it. In about a decade.

written 1/4/2015, posted 1/7/2015

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Decision-Paralysis-Motivated Withdrawal from Social Media

I have started thinking about withdrawing somewhat from social media for a bit. Not from blogging, necessarily, but from Facebook and Twitter, at least. I have been in the process of moving into my new place, recently, and there have been a lot of decisions to make about arranging things and buying things I need and selling things so that I have money to buy those things.

I’ve been dealing with a lot of stress and decision fatigue, and I have realized recently that social media seems to exacerbate the problem. Reading through Facebook and Twitter is a many-decisions-per-minute operation. Liking things, not liking things, sharing things, not sharing things, commenting on things, not commenting on things.

These types of decisions can, at times, be particularly taxing for me because of their arbitrariness. I am not at all good at making arbitrary decisions. In some ways I’m a lot better at making big life decisions for which the reasons are equally big than small, meaningless decisions for which there are no particular reasons to choose one thing over another. Arbitrariness paralyzes me. I may have another post coming about the idea that this may be a big part of the reason why I get social anxiety–the arbitrariness of the decision-making that being social requires.

Social media decisions are, in a way, the worst of all possible worlds, because not only are they essentially arbitrary decisions–a lot of them are decisions about sharing or not sharing things that are going on in the world that I think are really important. Not only do I have no hard and fast means by which to make the decisions, but I feel morally compelled to make absolutely sure that some of the decisions that I make are the right ones.

Long story short, I think it’s important for me, right now, to try to do some minimizing of the number of decisions I need to make any given day, and I think social media may be the source of the vast, overwhelming majority of those decisions.

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