Thursday, November 03, 2011

Void Where Prohibited*

 *Except when it's not.

 I don't know when or where or why the practice of including microscopic print in advertisements started.  My guess is that with the rise of lawsuits came the disclaimer text that grew in the sheer bulk of words while exponentially decreasing the font size until at last there was a novel's worth of verbiage smashed into a two-inch section at the bottom of the page.  Television and radio ads make use of the disclaimer as well, but microscopic print is substituted by Tasmanian Devil style speed-speaking that sounds as if it were recorded and played at 78rpm.

If you don't understand that reference, ask your grandparents.

My assumption is that disclaimers are put in knowing full well the overwhelming majority of people will never read them until the opposing lawer makes them read the highlighted portion aloud as the judge dismisses your lawsuit.  Likewise my assumption is that the overwhelming majority of people don't read them because they are illegible, unintelligible, and tell you a bunch of factoids so obvious, your two year old could have figured out during a commercial of Spongebob Squarepants.

So, they don't care and we don't care.  Win-win, right?
Well... It is until someone cares to notice.  And then notice how much they care.

My poor little State of Michigan -- The Mitten State -- has just had a rough time lately.  It's not that we have extra special problems, we just have all your problems at a much high level.  Unemployment is brutal.  The economy is brutal.  Infrastructure repair needs are brutal.  As the national lists of woes marches on, so does Michigan, with one shining exception:  Immigration.  Boy Howdy, we've got those Canadians under control, you betcha.  But sadly, that's about all we have under control.

The elected officials for the lovely state of Michigan are another story.  In fact, they are so NOT in  control, they are bucking for permanent residency on their own personal naughty chair.  Their days are filled hacking at this group, slashing that group, reducing or eliminating aid to the poverty-stricken, the unemployed and the underemployed.  What's worse, they've been at it for a couple of years now because they don't seem to care at all and we don't seem to care enough.  With a like-minded governor (like-minded in that his philosophy is "I'm staying OUT of this one -- you take care of it") this bad behavior went from creeping to crawling, and now it's pretty much dancing in the street, daring us to care.

They may have -- hopefully -- fished their wish.

After much foot-dragging, the Michigan Senate finally passed anti-bullying legislation.  Finally.  How finally is finally?  We're one of only three states that somehow hasn't found the time to publicly and lawfully state that bullying is NOT OK.  I'm not sure if we were too busy playing computer games or keeping all those Canadians at bay, but whatevs.  Chill.  We got it done.  But then....

But then someone finally took notice and said, "Hey, wait.  Was THAT here before?"  It was a disclaimer.  No, I'm not kidding, a disclaimer.  A disclaimer in an anti-bullying bill.  Someone thought there needed to be an "except..." part to a bill that said it was NOT OK to bully.  Really.  A disclaimer.  And what did it disclaim?  It actually said anti-bullying requirements don't "prohibit a statement of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil's parent or guardian."

In other words, if you asked yourself what would Jesus do, and your answer sincerely held religious belief told you that you should inform some kid they were going to hell, well, then you're A-OK.  It's not bullying!  It's the way, the truth and the life!  And let me tell you right now, if any sincerely held Leviticus adherants get wind of this, I might be hiding out in my basement until this all blows over.

Actually, let's not kid ourselves here.  It's bullying.  And just because some out of control legislators snuck a disclaimer in there hoping nobody would notice doesn't make it any prettier or more acceptable.  It's bullying, plain and simple.  And hurtful.  And sometimes, deadly.

Perhaps the most telling development was the heartbreaking statement by the father of Matt Eppling, for whom the bill was named.  "Matt's Safe School Law" was named for Matt Eppling, a high school student who committed suicide after repeatedly being bullied.  His father, Kevin Eppling said, "I am ashamed that this could be Michigan's bill on anti-bullying when in fact it is a 'bullying is OK in Michigan law.'"

That, my friends was no disclaimer.  That was a statement.  Loud and clear.

It's time to stop hiding behind the small print.  It's time to wake up and pay attention.
Dare to care.  Do it for Matt. 
More importantly, do it for yourself.*

*Seriously, what are you waiting for?  Do something NOW. And don't tempt my sincerely held religious beliefs, 
or I'll have to go all moral conviction on your ass.

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