Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Note from Mom

Dear Michigan Senate:
I've had enough.

As the parent of a teenager, you might understand that I say that a lot. The frustrations of dealing with a pre-adult (her term, not mine) can be overwhelming. There is constant bickering, attempts at back-talk (NOT ALLOWED), ceaseless bargaining for more, MORE, MORE when it's something she wants, and the most amazing cases of hysterical amnesia that conveniently pop up when chores, tasks and general help-out-edness falls by the wayside. But I understand that living in this kind of an environment is part of the job when it comes to parenting. And despite the fact that I sure do get tired of saying I've had enough right before I lower the boom, I know that in order to raise a polite, dependable, trustworthy child, it's important to be relentless as a parent and not shirk my responsibilities just because it might be easier to do so.

This is why, Michigan Senate, I'm writing you today.
I've had enough

If you're going to act like a child, you're going to be treated like a child. So now it's time to get a few things straight:

1. Legislating is serious, important business. What's more important? Running around enjoying perks, or getting in the trenches and solving the problems you were hired to solved? Let me answer that for you: SOLVING PROBLEMS. We have some serious problems in this state, and I don't care if you had a Fall Break trip planned to Outer Slobovia since 1980 with all your friends. Your job is to solve problems, and you cannot do that if you are in Outer Slobovia taking in the sights. You have to be here, in the State Capitol, IN YOUR SEAT, talking, compromising, and casting votes. I know you're disappointed, but life is full of disappointments. It's a hard lesson, but learn it now. YOU HAVE RESPONSIBILITIES. START LIVING UP TO THEM.

2. I don't ever want to hear "It's not my problem" or "I didn't do it" or "we are waiting for THEM to go first." I don't care. It IS your problem. It's everybody's problem. If you want to run around laying blame, fine. DO IT LATER. Right now sit down, be quiet, and get to work. And if you continue to insist that that other guy goes first, well, fine. We'll make sure next time OUR vote comes around you won't have to go first ever again. Or second. We'll bench you permanently and then all your wishes will come true. Call me the Fairy Godmother of Tough Love.

3. Compromise means compromise. Compromise means give and take. Did you catch BOTH words? You give up some, the other side gives up some. It has to be difficult for everyone. You won't win, and I know you don't like that. But guess what? The other side won't win either, and if that makes you feel any better, they won't like it either. But someone WILL win, and that will be all the residents of this state who sit day after day wondering how we can collectively smack all of you upside the head to get you to do something.

4. Constructing a workable, livable budget is is not a game. People's lives and livelihoods depend on its outcome. You toss off a list of potential budget cuts -- $5 million for transportation funds here, $78 million for Community Health there, $50 million for Department of Corrections, and $116 million for the Department of Human Services -- as if this were a game of "Sims Senator." While that might sound like a lot of fun, if you make lousy decisions, there is no rebooting here. No starting over with new characters to get it right the second time. No second chances. No mulligans. It seems you have forgotten there are consequences to your actions and decisions. Now I know that nobody likes to be reminded of consequences. They are so 1970's Bobby Brady "no throwing ball in the house." But it's time to put down the joystick and deal with reality.

Cuts in transportation means cuts to urban public transit systems. No buses? No getting to work. No employment. More unemployment. Less safety. More crime.

Cuts in community health means less money to rural hospitals. Better hope you live in a city that has a hospital. Oh, but better hope you don't need to take public transportation to get there because that got cut back there with transportation. Cuts in community health also means cuts to vital programs offered via the Healthy Michigan Fund. No more programs for Alzheimer's outreach, infant mortality and cancer prevention and control, just to name a few.

Cuts in the Department of Corrections means closing prisons and eliminating guards. But hey, who needs those extra 4000+ beds anyway? I mean, they're swimming with room over there at maximum security, right? Right? Oh, and when you release all those inmates, will they have cars waiting for them or will they have to take the bus ... that won't be there ... because of that pesky little transportation cut you stuck in ...

Cuts in Human Services? Oh, take your pick. Which would you prefer? Cuts in Day Care? Foster Care Caseloads? Bureau of Juvenile Justice? Maybe it would just be easier to cut 800 or so full time employees. Hope they have their own car...

5. Speaking of reality. Enormous pigs do not help. Neither do chickens. It makes you look even more juvenile than you already are. Stop it.

6. Think before you speak. I know right now your favorite sentence is "live within your means." Well, let's get one thing clear. YOUR means are most likely not MY means. I'm not a six-figure, benefits rich perk-a-holic elected official. And don't get me wrong, I'm not begrudging you your job at all. But means are not equal across the board. As a single parent, I work two jobs in order to live within some sort of means that do not include the words "welfare" or "food stamps." And despite the 60 hour work week, get this: I think I'm lucky. I'm lucky because I was able to use the words I WORK. Many others? Not so lucky. So please, while living within our means is easy to say when you have all the means in the world, it's a bitter pill to swallow for those of us who live every day trying to figure out how to make do with so much less. Once there is an equal playing field, then we can talk about living within OUR means.

I'm hoping you take this letter in the spirit in which it was written. Good parents know it is important to love the child but hate the behavior. It's time for the behavior to change. Now sit down, stop arguing, keep your hands to yourself and get the job done. Or else.


Thursday, September 6, 2007

Homeward Bound

Community is now the hot commodity.

Many people in the Lansing area are gearing up for the Lansing Localvores Eat Local food challenge (September 8-15). Now local business owners are getting into the act, hoping to remind the community to shop local.

Capitol Area Local First (CALF) is a growing local business coalition whose goal is to encourage consumers to shop at locally-owned businesses and keep dollars spent within the community. The statistics here are staggering. Whereas shopping at a locally owned business keeps $73 of every $100 in the community, shopping at chain stores or other non-locally owned businesses keeps only $43 of every $100 in the community. If there is one thing everyone agrees on, it is that these are difficult economic times in Michigan. It makes a lot of sense to keep as many dollars as possible here in our own community.

But this isn't just a Lansing-based idea. Several cities throughout Michigan have begun to recognize and promote the importance of locally-owned businesses. Regional websites are in place for locations throughout the state, including Grand Rapids and Western Michigan, Washtenaw County and Traverse City. Thinking even bigger? Check out the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE). The point is, no matter where you live in this great state of Michigan, there are locally owned shops and restaurants eager to serve you and anxious to play a vital role in the community where they do business.

Investing in locally owned businesses strengthens community bonds. Here in East Lansing there are many locally owned stores and restaurants, and it isn't unusual to see the owners themselves working the counters and greeting guests. A personal connection is so much better than the perfunctory recitation of "Welcome to GlobalShopMartPriceBusters!" muttered over and over again under blinding fluorescent lights to a Muzak soundtrack as a shopping cart is shoved in your gut. Locally owned businesses mean real people you have an opportunity to meet and get to know. I'm much more willing to pay a little more for my merchandise for that kind of one-on-one experience.

The list of CALF members is impressive and growing rapidly. If you're not familiar with some of these fine places, consider attending their kickoff campaign, which happens to tie in quite nicely with the Lansing Localvores Eat Local Food Challenge. According to CALF's press release:

A kickoff event will be held at Dublin Square in downtown East Lansing, 327 Abbott Road, from 4pm-7pm. The community is invited to attend this event and meet local business owners and supporters, and discover why locally-owned, independent businesses are key components of regional vitality and livability. Enjoy locally-grown food and sample local beers and wines. A minimum $10 donation is required.

Stop by, meet the real people behind the store fronts and see what they have to offer. Sure, GlobalShopMartPriceBusters might be a behemoth to be reckoned with, but nothing beats the charm, uniqueness and hospitality of a locally owned business.

And your gut will be shopping-cart free.

Pass the locally-prepared waffles.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Cultural Revolution

In tight economic times, funding for The Arts is often seen as a frivolous extra that cannot be justified as a community attempts to tighten its belt yet another notch. Less money means tough decisions and then next thing you know it's Roll Over, Beethoven, Papa's got a brand new bag of past-due bills.

In light of the current fiscal difficulties here in Michigan, it is especially encouraging to see local communities step up to the plate in support of the arts. Last week it was announced that The City of East Lansing planned to assist arts-based businesses and it also pledged to make a donation to the new art museum planned at Michigan State University.

"We are excited to help in bringing a stronger art presence to a central location along Grand River Avenue," Mayor Sam Singh said.

This is a win-win situation on many fronts.

Studies have shown that the arts play a vital role in any community, and far from being an impracticality, they have proven themselves exactly where many nay-sayers look first: the bottom line. According to the study Arts & Economic Prosperity III: The Economic Impact of Nonprofit Arts and Culture Organizations and Their Audiences the arts provide an important and substantial source of revenue.

Nationally, the nonprofit arts and culture industry generates $166.2 billion in economic activity every year-$63.1 billion in spending by organizations and an additional $103.1 billion in event-related spending by their audiences.

The $166.2 billion in total economic activity has a significant national impact, generating the following:

  • 5.7 million full-time equivalent jobs
  • $104.2 billion in household income
  • $7.9 billion in local government tax revenues
  • $9.1 billion in state government tax revenues
  • $12.6 billion in federal income tax revenues

And as much as we love to quote dollars and cents, there is an important word in this report -- easily overlooked, maybe -- but is critical to reshaping the opinion of the arts and its importance in a community. That word is Industry.

This report speaks of the Arts and Culture INDUSTRY.

I've lived and breathed the arts all my life, and even I have never thought of it as an industry. But looking at all the statistics, that's exactly what it is: an industry. And yet the arts provide so much more. Certainly they are a boost to the employment sector, to national and local tax bases and to tourism. But they also improve the quality of life which in turn builds and strengthens any community. All you have to do is look at the amazing transformation of Lansing's Old Town. Between the diverse music festivals held in the heart of the community and the many local artisans who now call Old Town home, community pride is swelling and this eclectic corner of The Capitol City is enjoying a true Renaissance.

In addition to the obvious financial benefit, The City of East Lansing will win major goodwill points with the MSU community. It's easy to focus on the many problems that arise between the city and the university, and this collaboration provides an excellent opportunity for both sides to work together and build strong bonds able to bridge the great divide known as Grand River Avenue.

So bravo, East Lansing! It's encouraging to see a City willing to invest in the culture industry today, knowing there will be a rich payoff tomorrow. An increase of arts in any community doesn't only make dollars. It makes sense.

Pass the waffles.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Faces of Labor

I am the face of labor.
I am a long-term university employee. I belong to a union whose charge it is to build and safeguard all those things that make a fair and safe working environment. My union must work to ensure its members receive equitable wages. My union must strive to ensure its members work in a humane workplace. My union must battle to make sure I have adequate health care for myself and my family. My union was my rock when rules were broken and my rights were ignored in the name of "doing more for less." Although my union isn't perfect, I am grateful to have one, and I can count on its advice and assistance when I need it. Having that security to rely on brings a peace of mind which makes me a better, more productive employee. For that, I am grateful.

I am the face of labor.
I am an adjunct faculty member of a small private college. I belong to no Union. I have no rights. I have no benefits. I have no job protection whatsoever. I am grateful for the yearly appointments that I have secured for the past 14 years, but worry every August that the next one might not come through. Money for institutions of higher education is a constant worry, and when things get tight, adjunct faculty are the first to go. Because we have no benefits, pensions or health care, we save the college thousands upon thousands of dollars each year, meaning we are both cost-effective and expendable. It is a most unenviable Catch-22. I cannot and will not complain because financially, I need this job, and professionally, I love this job. So I put up with the unknown and often pay for expenses out of pocket to properly do my job. Despite my lack of security and employee ownership in this small private college, I care deeply for my students. They deserve no less than my full commitment to their education, even when the college cannot or will not commit the same to the person providing that education.

I am the face of labor.
I work every day, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and I never receive a paycheck. I am a cook, a chauffeur, a teacher, a psychologist, a handyman, a doctor, a banker, a lawyer and personal secretary. I am a single parent. I get no days off, no presidential proclamations and no parades. I have no second or third-string replacements to take over when I'm tired, sick or need a vacation. My job is a permanent, life-long appointment and the compensation for a job well done over the decades includes no golden parachutes, fancy watches or expensive trips. The work is all-consuming, but the rewards are immeasurable.

I am the face of labor.
I work but do not receive any monetary compensation. I am a volunteer. I work very hard, but I must admit it often doesn't feel like work at all. I volunteer to help others, and in doing so, I am building stronger friendships and stronger communities. Despite the lack of a paycheck, I know my work is important to others, and to myself.

Labor Day shouldn't just be a day to pay tribute to The American Worker and American Industry. It should honor all the faces of labor and recognize that today, the average American worker is anything but average. Some enjoy rich benefit packages and golden parachutes. Some live from paycheck to paycheck, hoping the next grant or temporary assignment will come through in time. Some receive no wages at all, and instead work to care and nurture family or community. But each is important and all of them deserve respect.

To the faces of labor --
To the union worker with a contract and security,
To the temp worker with no guarantee for tomorrow,
To the parents doing that hardest unpaid job in the world,
To the volunteers working for the people of today and for the good of tomorrow,
Thank you.

Happy Labor Day.
Have a waffle.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

This Education Brought To You By...

Every year it seems the educational system is forced to sit on pins and needles -- which the parents have to buy because schools cannot afford them anymore -- and wait for budget allocations to come down from on high. This puts schools at a horrible disadvantage, because how does one plan? For the worst? For the best? For a 40-60 split? Will there be time to hire qualified teachers if the money comes through in a last minute deal, or will it be the pink-slip polka?

It's no secret that the State of Michigan is in some serious financial trouble. Finger pointing aside -- and frankly, we'd all be out of fingers -- the end result is The Great Lakes State is faced with balancing a budget that is redder than a baboon's butt.

It may be presumptuous to speak for the universe, but I'll go out on a limb here and say I think everyone agrees that its best to spend within your means and that excessive, long-term debt is bad. And while the topic of fiscal responsibility isn't as exciting as poring over todays list of Who's-Who in Rehab, it's an important part of life and one that shouldn't be ignored. It comes down to being an adult.

Despite all those things we agree on, the devil is in the details and we-the-government spend an inordinate amount of time dancing with the devil. It seems so simple: Recognize and identify the problem, propose solutions and take action. The problem seems to be the constant bickering over who is going to lead, and will it be Tango or Rumba? The next you know, somebody has stepped on somebody else's toes, backs are turned, harsh words are spoken, long gloves are slapped across faces and it's pistols at 40 paces.

Well...maybe it's not quite that dramatic, but looking at all parties involved, all I can say is, "so much for being an adult."

Out of sheer desperation, school districts have had to come up with other sources of revenue. One popular choice was the installation of vending machines in public schools. A 2006 study from the State of Utah concluded

Utah's schools earned an estimated $3.25 to $3.75 million in vending revenues in fiscal year 2005.

Those would be numbers any financially-strapped school district would find hard to ignore. And just think, if Johnny is hungry, he can go to the vending machine and get an apple, which means Johnny has a healthy, nutritious snack and the school district can afford to have running water for another month. It's a real win-win situation, right? Maybe not so much. The Utah study also found

Beverage revenues from Pepsi and Coca-Cola were about 70 percent of schools’ vending revenue. Snack vending and occasionally milk or refrigerated foods (sandwiches, fruit) make up the remaining 30 percent.

Is anyone here surprised? We're sending our kids to school with a pocket full of quarters and expecting them to choose a Cheese sticks instead of Cheese Puffs? This revenue boosting experiment essentially uses kids as both guinea pigs and cash cows, but now, in light of poor dietary habits that are linked to rises in obesity, diabetes and a host of other health-related issues (that will have to be treated and paid for somewhere down the line), even the school districts are backing off. A little. A recent Lansing State Journal Article reported

The Ingham County School District recently announced a deal with Pepsi to bring "healthier" choices into school vending machines ... students are making healthier choices, too, has lessened the district's reliance on soft drink dollars.

"We've become more concerned with empty calories during the school day," Joel Raddatz (Williamston Community Schools' Superintendent) said. "As our kids become better informed and change their habits, they're just naturally not buying as much as they used to. If they're not buying it, the company is not making any money."

Notice they aren't getting rid of the machines. They are making adjustments to make them more profitable. Johnny had better keep those quarters handy.

The latest school district revenue boosting idea is school bus advertising. Not on the outside of the bus. On the inside.

"Every school district is looking at where they can generate new revenue," says Lansing School's director of transportation Nathan Rowen.

"You might see something from the Milk Producers of America telling you to drink milk, you might see something from the Navy or Army or Marines," Rowen says.

How, in this age of
fanatical zero-tolerance enforcement is it acceptable to expose children to advertisements for the Armed Forces while we turn around and suspend kids for pointing a chicken finger and saying bang? Evidently a fistful of dollars helps.

Budget deficits are a horrible problem. The state is suffering. The schools are suffering. But no matter how we-the-government decide to ultimately work things out, it shouldn't be at the expense of the children. We've already emptied all the quarters out of their pockets and filled them with junk food and soda pop. We shouldn't be filling their heads with the advertisements. This is an adult problem. It should be an adult solution.

Pass the waffles.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Turn the Tide of Hate

On Thursday, September 6th, 2007 The Michigan Alliance Against Hate Crimes and The Michigan Department of Civil Rights are presenting a conference at the MSU Kellogg Center in East Lansing, MI.

This conference is FREE to all registered participants, but space is limited and the registration deadline is August 24, 2007. The opening plenary speaker is Dr. Randy Blazak, Director of the Hate Crimes Research Network. The keynote address will be given by Mark A. Potok, Director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project.

According to FBI reports, hate crimes in Michigan are on the rise. In 1995, Michigan reported 405 incidents, which was the 4th largest in the nation. 2004 saw 556 incidents reported in Michigan, and now we currently rank third in the nation. And while we can all pat ourselves on the back and be thankful we aren't California who topped the charts in 1995 and 2004, The Golden State saw an 11% decrease while Michigan reported a nearly 16% increase.

This is one race where no one should want to win, place, or show.

The conference will offer a wide variety of session topics, including examining the role of the media, and identifying community based organizations and advocacy agencies. There are also sessions on how to respond to hate group organizing activities, leafleting and demonstrations.

I'm not a big conference person because all to often conferences are a lot of talk and little action. And when I think about the fact that I live in a multi-cultural, diverse college town, it's all too easy to look at this conference as intellectually interesting, but does-not-apply in our Kum-Ba-Yah singing, highly educated, idyllic rainbow and lollipops kind of community. But in light of the proposition of "Catch an Illegal Immigrant" Day on the MSU Campus, not to mention countless other instances of hate and bias incidents, this conference provides the perfect one-two punch this community needs to turn the tide. It will acknowledge and discuss the problem and then take the all-critical next step: identify community-based solutions so we can work together to turn these numbers around.

Don't wait for the other guy. Read about the conference HERE and register.
Working together we can accomplish much.

Pass the waffles. And lollipops.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Journey Home

Being a card-carrying member of the mom club, "Eat your vegetables" is a phrase we use often. Fortunately, my entire family never met a vegetable it didn't like, and there isn't an evening meal where vegetables aren't present. We simply like them that much.

September, 2006 was a tough time for vegetables. Fresh-bagged spinach took the first hit when the FDA issued a consumer warning linking Popeye's favorite snack to food borne E. Coli O157:H7. Although packages were yanked off the shelf faster than you could say I yam what I yam, there were 205 confirmed illnesses (including four in the state of Michigan) and three deaths. And if you thought you could escape the spinach scourge by running south of the border, in December, 2006, the FDA traced E. Coli O157:H7 infections to Taco Bell Restaurants and began testing every food product that didn't moo.

2007 has seen its own share of food related troubles, including Salmonella in Peanut Butter and the horrific large-scale pet food recall. Aside from that you should be alright. Unless, of course you're playing with one of nine-million lead-laced toys. Or brushing your teeth with poisonous chemicals used in antifreeze.

I have to admit, where food recalls are concerned, I've pretty much been a read the notice, make sure it isn't me, perform a perfunctory "phew!" and return to life as usual. I don't want to feed my family poison, but I've never been what you might call a militant shopper. I go in, grab what I need and get out. Lately, though, I've started to make some changes in my shopping habits. My goal was to reduce the amounts of high-fructose corn syrup and trans fat in my diet. Fortunately, trans fat has gotten a great deal of lousy press lately, and product merchandising has made it fairly easy to spot products that proudly proclaim they are trans fat free. But it ain't necessarily so. According to FDA guidelines:
Food manufacturers are allowed to list amounts of trans fat with less than 0.5 gram (1/2 g) as 0 (zero) on the Nutrition Facts panel. As a result, consumers may see a few products that list 0 gram trans fat on the label, while the ingredient list will have "shortening" or "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil" on it. This means the food contains very small amounts (less than 0.5 g) of trans fat per serving.

So guess what? If the potato chip company wants to make sure you believe that no one can eat just one, one serving of potato chips (Six chips. Wahoo!) quickly turns into two or three or ten servings, and all those zero grams of trans fat which are really not zero grams but less than half of gram of trans fat per serving are now a whole pile of trans fats thanking your arteries for the spacious living quarters.

So much for not being militant.

And then there is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), that super-sweetened compound that is added to, well, damn-near everything. Sure, it's easy to eliminate sugar-filled pop and fruit juice. But just try to find a loaf of bread that doesn't contain HFCS. Even the 49 bazillion grain bread that weighs a ton (which means it MUST be good for you) more than likely contains HFCS. And while the FDA position on HFCS is that it is "Generally Regarded as Safe," The University of Kentucky College of Agriculture explains that this means
although food additives that may not meet the usual test criteria for safety these additives have been used extensively and have not demonstrated any harm to consumers.

This must be the "I'm not dead yet" theory.

So, my first discovery in my efforts to combat nasties in my diet was that you really can't do this passively. You have to be a militant pain-in-the-butt aisle-hogging label reader which takes for-freaking-ever. But so it goes. Sorry if I'm blocking the Wonder Bread whose fourth ingredient is -- drum roll please -- High Fructose Corn Syrup.

You might think that the end result of the elimination of the super sweety corny and the lick-your-lips yummy fat would result in a dreary, gruel-filled existence. It doesn't have to be. In fact, we discovered we didn't have to compromise; we were able to make easy substitutions that actually tasted BETTER. The first substitution came from choosing wheat flour over white flour whenever possible. From bread to pasta to ... waffles, our diet got brown. And you know what? Wheat kicks butt. Now we all turn up our noses at "air food" and choose wheat whenever we can. It's denser, heartier and actually has a flavor. The next substitution came from going organic with fresh fruits and veggies. Most general-purpose grocery stores have increased the number of organic items they sell, and let me tell you, an organic carrot kicks the butt of a regular carrot any day of the week. It's a startling difference in taste.

So now that we've dumped the junk and gone organic when we can, the next logical step no farther away than my front door. It's time to become a Localvore.

Localvore--n. Person who eats locally grown food, as in carnivore, herbivore, localvore

From September 8-15, The Lansing Localvores are extending an invitation for people to eat only locally grown foods for a week, a day, or just a meal. Their website provides lots of online resources, as well as lists of local businesses, vendors and other organizations ready to help you with this challenge. Looking at the calendar, I have a couple weeks to figure out what I'm currently doing and what I'll need to do to accomplish this goal. The compromise may be having to spend a bit more time doing some research, but I'm going to give Lansing, Michigan my best effort, and if all goes as it has, the result will be delicious.

Pass the waffles. Whole wheat, please.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Bully Pulpit

It used to be that a Bully Pulpit was a good thing.

Over the past century, Bully! has morphed into Groovy! Sweet! Awesome! Rad! and a host of other most excellent terms (Dude!). But today, a bully is anything but most excellent. A bully is someone who goes after you for any reason or no reason at all. Because you're one size instead of another. Or one gender instead of another. Or have blue eyes, or black hair. Because you're from a different country. Because you're adopted. Because you're smart. Because you're slow. Because you talk differently. Because you go to church here instead of there, or like this person instead of that person. A bully is a bully because they can and through ridicule, threats, or out and out violence, the act of bullying gives them a sense of power, which they crave.

Looking through the hazy memory of my idyllic childhood, I don't remember any particularly problem with bullies. TeenTuna, however, was an entirely different story. She and several of her friends had a rough couple of years in elementary school. Elementary school. Time and time again I encouraged her to walk away. I encouraged her to ignore the teasing, telling her that all these kids wanted was to see her get upset. I encouraged her to talk to teachers or her principal. I encouraged her to solve her own problems. It took several months and escalating incidents before the Principal felt inclined to get involved. It took every ounce of strength to remain calm and impartial as I told him quite diplomatically, "It is my impression that TeenTuna and her friends are getting picked on." What I really wanted to do was to yell and tell him to get out of his office and open his eyes. Thankfully using tact was a good call, and the teacher backed me up. Once that happened and all players admitted there really was a problem, I was amazed to see how much easier it was to work towards a solution, and disappointed that I didn't jump into the fray earlier.

Over the past several months, the state of Michigan has been dealing with the idea of Anti-Bullying Legislation. Known as "Matt's Safe School Law," it is named for Matt Epling, a young man who killed himself after a hazing incident in 2002. The state House passed its version of the bill in March, 2007. As for the Senate?

Sadly, the bill sits, stalled in the State Education Committee. Why? Lots of reasons. Or no real reasons at all. In other words, because they can. Some complain that bill would have to conform to the State Board of Education models, which includes sexual orientation as a trigger for bullying. Others complain that this is just one more example of more government and more laws and are we really a society that has become so dysfunctional that we are legislating minutiae like bullying?

Well, let's talk about minutiae for just a minute. Can't believe sexual orientation is a legitimate topic for bullying? Please. It gets far more ridiculous than that. Try what clothes you wear. Try what car your parents drive. Try whether you can make a basket or catch a baseball. Minutiae is where it's at, and the more trivial the better. Just pray your sandwich has the right kind of peanut butter.

And yes, I totally agree. Why are we legislating bullying? Why do we need a law that says you can't be mean to other people? Aren't we wasting our time writing DUH laws that tell us DUH things we already DUH know?

Absolutely. But here's the deal:

This particular piece of DUH legislation is important because bullying is running rampant in the schools and nobody is standing up and saying NO. Looking at this both logically and optimistically, it shouldn't be legislated because shouldn't exist. Realistically, though, for many kids, love and trust and respect and tolerance is a foreign concept that has to be both taught and then enforced from 9:00 AM - 3:30 PM Monday-Friday from September through June. Kids should know this drill before they ever get to school, but sadly, should is no guarantee, and then we're back to someone getting beat up because they have a Hello Kitty thermos instead of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles thermos. And then same song, 97th verse: the problem isn't acknowledged, things spiral out of hand and the next thing you know, the bullies are in trouble, the victims are hurt and the parents (who are supposed to know better and teach these kids what is right and wrong) are shrugging their shoulders and shaking their heads and pointing their fingers at everybody else because if only someone had done something this wouldn't have happened.

Well, lots of someones can and should do lots of somethings.

School officials can and should be diligent in recognizing, acknowledging and working towards solving the problem.

Parents can and should be diligent in teaching their kids that bullying isn't funny and it doesn't give you power. It's being mean for the sake of being mean, and is not acceptable, ever.

Senators should be diligent and pass the Anti-Bullying Bill. And if it's legislating the obvious, so what? We have laws that tell us not to kill people and laws to tell us not to drive down the wrong side of the road. Those seem to be pretty DUH laws too, but it's pretty clear that we need them because DUH or not, people still do it. Having a law doesn't hurt anything, it simply makes the rules clearer for everybody playing the game.

One hundred years ago, Theodore Roosevelt used the word bully as an adjective meaning something wonderful. We should all work together as a society to change the way we think and behave, so one hundred years from now future generations will be wondering why we ever needed this law in the first place.

And that, my friends, would be bully indeed.

Pass the waffles.