Sunday, December 31, 2006

In Praise of the Small School

The article in today's Detroit Free Press about Michigan's micro schools gave me a different perspective on the size of our local Leland school district. I've been thinking about Leland Public School a lot this week, first after reading Jack Lessenberry's recent essay blaming Michigan's growing school funding crisis on too many "hopelessly tiny school districts," and then later after looking over Time magazine's December 18 issue about remaking education in America.

Leland School measures up Time magazine's criteria quite well. Kids not only learn technology, but they live technology, taking home laptops, designing websites, blogging in their English assignments, even broadcasting this year's mock election over the internet. They are working in teams, from elementary school on up, learning to "git 'er done" even if they end up teamed with someone they'd rather avoid. They are learning to think critically and to do their own research, working towards the school's goal of producing life-long learners. Although an improved international outlook has not been a stated goal, we managed to graduate the most worldly class ever last year: of 42 graduates, there were 3 exchange students, two recent immigrants from India, one returning exchange student, and two who had designed their own international treks.

All of this is happening in the context of a small community that sounds a lot like the "micro schools" described in the Free Press article:
One upside to that, said student Kayla Gust, is fewer students means fewer cliques. Everyone is invited to the parties and nobody is ignored at school.

"You basically know everyone and you all get along," she said. "You have your friends, but you talk to everyone."
I have always liked that aspect of our smaller school community; my kids have always felt responsible for and connected to their community in ways that just can't happen in a larger school. They also know that in this small-town they can't get away with being sneaky. If I don't catch them, some other mom will and I'll hear about it anyway.

But is this all worth the money? Aren't small schools less efficient? The Small Schools Project doesn't think so. Liz first spoke to me of this research last year, when she was writing a paper on charter schools. It seems that if you look at the cost of producing a graduate (as opposed to the cost of making the payroll and keeping the lights on), small schools are much more cost efficient because more kids graduate.

If you were trying to evaluate the efficiency of an auto plant, you would be interested in how many working cars it was able to produce. You wouldn't count the ones that got thrown off the line because of defects. "Defective" work in a school is much more costly because we can't just toss non-graduates on the scrap heap. Dropouts are much more likely to suffer from all sorts of costly problems, from jail time to poor health to unplanned pregnancy.

The Dollars and Sense: The Cost Effectiveness of Small Schools (pdf) paper puts it this way:

School size is arguably more important than either racial makeup or class size, according to at least one analysis. The Report Card on American Education (2001) noted that higher outcomes on standardized tests, such as the SAT and the ACT, as well as higher rates of graduation, may be connected more with school size than with race (LeFevre & Hederman, 2001, p. 3). The study also found that school size, not classroom size, was the key to student performance. Children performed better in schools where the principal knew their names.
In the 1990's, studies in both New York City and Nebraska showed that the so-called inefficiencies of smaller schools were greatly reduced when calculated on a cost-per-graduate basis. At 2006 transportation prices, we may have already outlived the era of ever larger schools.

Yet, here in Leelanau there is hardly a discussion about our schools, or school funding, that does not end in talk of further school consolidation. Never mind that we are entering an era of internet-based education and rising gas prices. Never mind that our county is long, narrow, and bisected by Lake Leelanau. Never mind that we already have kids on hour-long bus rides and that our schools, when they have remained in their communities, still function as the social backbones of those communities.

And never mind that in Michigan, size is just not relevant to our school funding problems. Some of our biggest school disctricts --Grand Rapids, Flint-- are the closest to bankruptcy court. Many of our smaller school districts are quite efficient, making good use of their staff, their students, and of their extensive community support.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Microchips in People


Photo from RFID Hand .
After reporting on people who objected to being required to implant microchips in their farm animals, it's only fair that I also report on people who choose to implant microchips into themselves.

I work in a casino, and many times work is a Human Zoo. I can't say as I'm surprised that people would implant microchips into their bodies. It is at least arguably more useful that some of the extreme facial piercing that I see. You can rig up your door so that you don't need a key, for instance. And I've seen reports of nightclubs where you get scanned instead of paying cash for drinks. (In these parts the bartender still lets you run a tab.)

Curious? Here is a list of FAQs about personal RFID tags. And the related forum, where people trade info and advice about their implants.

Thanks to Jameskpolka who alerted me to this phenomenom.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Giant Corporate Media

I added Giant Corporate Media to my list of interesting blogs after happening upon the site and finding a link to these senior citizens singing punk rock.

I'm going to try to troubleshoot my comments one more time, as comments are turning up posted in odd places. It turns out that Haloscan has directions for installing their product on Blogger. Guess I'll go and read them.

The Weather Report


Last year, on December 13, I published an account of the winter so far (very snowy) and the graphic of Lake Michigan's surface temps on that date. I checked the NOAA site today, wondering about our warm weather and how the lake temps compared to last year's. Even though it is nearly two weeks later in the year, the lake temps are so similar that I thought I was looking at last year's picture. The average surface temperature for this year is a tad lower, but last year had pockets of colder water, as one would expect when the air temps were much colder than this year.

OK, so that's the scientific observations. What we have here is no snow. Green grass. Temperatures in the 40's. I still have arugula to harvest in the garden.

At this latitude (we are right smack on the 45th parallel) summers are supposed to be cool. Maybe one or two days when the thermometer tops 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Nobody here bothers with air conditioning. On those few hot days, if they come, we just hold out until we can go jump in the lake.

Last summer it was beastly hot. The temperature was over 90 for days on end, and it was flirting with 100, breaking records. Lake Michigan was, usually breathtakingly cold, even in August, was warm. Like bath water. Even when I swam out far, I could never find a cold spot.

If the weather gets cold, the lake is still warm enough to generate a ton of lake effect snow. If it doesn't get cold, I will be really worried that global warming is happening faster than predicted.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Misfit Toys


Misfit Toys launched its new website today at www.shopmisfittoys.com. This is Liz's summer and vacation job, and she has been helping Rob put the site together since July. It has been a long haul because he didn't take any of the usual shortcuts like charging shipping according to dollar amounts; they weighed every item so that they could charge only the actual cost of shipping. The website is connected to their point of sale system so that actual quantities on hand are displayed next to each item.

I just sent in an order for Rocket Ballons, a simple toy that was the big hit of Anna's birthday party this summer.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

See Charlotte's Web and Help 4-H

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

I am looking forward to seeing the new movie version of Charlotte's Web, especially after reading this review (with clips) from the New York Times. As you can tell from the clip, which shows Fern trying to hide her pig in her school desk, the story line has been altered somewhat. In the movie, Fern is a member of a 4-H club. 4-H was a partner and advisor in the film and any movie tickets purchased through 4-H will benefit state 4-H programs.

Tickets to Charlotte's Web may be purchased by clicking on Hollywood Movie Money's special 4-H page. This link will take you to a purchase page at Hollywood Movie Money. Here you will enter a ZIP code and purchase as many tickets as you like via credit card. The price of the ticket is determined by your local movie theater. Then you print a ticket voucher that you redeem at the theater. For each ticket purchased, Hollywood Movie Money will make a $1 donation to 4-H (included in the $2 processing fee). State 4-H programs will receive 100 percent of donations as determined by ZIP codes entered at purchase.

It seems that the movie won't be playing long, so get out and see it while you can.

Anna enjoyed the Charlotte's Web site, which had different clips and games to play.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The War on Science Grinds On

I didn't join in the rejoicing after the Democrats took back Congress. Sure, I was glad, but our troubles are far from over. The nation will soon find out what it's like to be Michigan in the post-Republican hangover period. Our economy is shot, our state coffers are empty, our schools are failing, the ex-governor who ran the state into the ground ids now a lobbyist in Texas. It's like the morning after the wild party: as long as the booze and food were free you had lots of friends, but now that it's time to clean up you're all alone. And broke. And out of trash bags.

The rest of the country may not realize that getting rid of the neocons is not enough. We're still going to have to clean up after them, and pay the bills for all they stole.

But some things can get better right away. This article about the censorship of science is a prime example:
The Bush administration is clamping down on scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey, the latest agency subjected to controls on research that might go against official policy.

New rules require screening of all facts and interpretations by agency scientists who study everything from caribou mating to global warming. The rules apply to all scientific papers and other public documents, even minor reports or prepared talks, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

This sort of stuff irritates me to no end. I am interested in the process of science, not just the results, and if you don't "show your work", including all of the hypotheses that didn't prove true, you ain't doing science.

I can only imagine what the last six years might have been like if we had a president who was more familiar with the Scientific Method. Or one who was interested in a dialogue of competing ideas. Or one who censors policies to suit the results, instead of vica-versa.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Microchips on the Farm

I've been watching the growing controversy about the microchip tracking of farm animals for about six months. This week it made national news in a NYTimes article:
A federal effort to quickly pinpoint and contain outbreaks of disease among livestock is coming under attack on farms, in Internet chat rooms and at livestock markets, ranches and feed shops across the nation.

Although the effort, the National Animal Identification System, intended to trace a sick animal to the property it came from within 48 hours, is still in early, voluntary stages, the United States Department of Agriculture has had to retreat from a proposal to make it mandatory. Officials now say that further participation will result from financial incentives and market pressure.
I'm glad that the feds are backing off the program, which I suspect was propelled in part by microchip manufacturers looking for new markets. (There has also been a similar push to implant US servicemen with microchips). Once again, we see policy makers who have very little knowledge of the various ways in which people interact with animals.

When I get day-old chicks, they cost about $1.25 each, shipped in the US Mail in lots of 25. They are remarkably hardy, but I still expect to lose two or three in those first few days. (We have to carefully remove them from the shipping box one at a time and dip each one's beak in the water to teach them how to drink, else they'll die of thirst.) According to the proposed policy, I would pay an additional three dollars per chick to buy them each a microchip, plus whatever it cost to get the microchip implanted. When a bird died, I would have to report the death and somehow scan the microchip. When we took birds to the fair, or sold them, it would require a permit. When I have a broody hen who raised her own chicks I would have to get them implanted, if I could find out where she was hiding them.

I suspect that more regulations, imposed by a federal bureaucracy that can't afford to do the job right, will burden the good farmers and be flaunted by the few who don't give a hoot. Why bother to keep your fences mended if all of your cows can be located by GPS when they stray?

Profit margins in agriculture are not that great, and it's not clear that small farms will be able to absorb the new costs of this program. The microchip program is being promoted as a remedy for concerns like avian flu and mad cow disease, that are arguably the result of the globalization of our food chain. We need small local farms now more than ever.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Courageous Caroline

Last summer we had one of those community dramas that is a little too personal to blog about. One of our friends, Shelagh and Liz's high school physics teacher, had a young daughter who was diagnosed with a brain tumor. In very short order she was flown to Ann Arbor, readied for surgery, and the tumor, mildly malignant, was removed with seemingly no lasting effects. Of course it was not quite so simple at the time, it was scary.

This story in the Lansing State Journal tells of a girl about the same age, also with a brain tumor, who has never had it so easy. Her trials started at birth, when she was born to an addict, already hooked on crack cocaine. Her adoptive parents are the sort of people that we all need to think of when we think that parenting is too hard, or we start to feel overly proud of our parenting. I can't hold a candle to these folks.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Choir Bliss

Winter came yesterday, laying down 12 inches of snow between 10 am and 6 pm. We spent all day wondering if the Leelanau Children's Choir Madrigal Concert scheduled for last night would be cancelled. Mrs. Bell held off making a decision until the last minute, and by 7:35pm the snow had stopped and we were playing to a packed house.

For the first time in many years, I have only one kid singing in the choir. This morning Anna has that dreamy after-concert attitude about her, as if life is too much to believe. The kids performed well. The weather outside made the concert's setting, a 14th century castle complete with a feast of boar's head and jesters, a little closer to reality as we had all struggled to get there, and felt truly sheltered from the cold.

Before the encore we all sang "Happy Birthday" to Stephanie Pentiuk, who turned sixteen last night. She was a new choir member at age eight when she turned suddenly sickly and was diagnosed with an enlarged heart. She spent some weeks on death's door before receiving a heart transplant. Stephanie spent many more months recovering at the Mayo Clinic before returning home in time to sit in the audience, wearing a surgical mask to ward off germs, at the last choir concert of that year. Shelagh and Stephanie's sister Anna sang a duet of The Coventry Carol. It was the firat time that I had heard Shelagh sing a solo, and I kept looking around to see whose voice that was.

The kids had been so glum at their first concert that season, as they had expected to sing to Stephanie but she hadn't shown. With Stephanie back in the house it was truly a party, one of the best Madrigal concerts ever.

Today Stephanie is just one of the kids. It was startling to remember back to those days not so many Christmases ago when it was a miracle that she could walk into the room. Life is too much to believe.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Coyote, Again

Just now, 9:15 pm, Liz saw a coyote in the same place as my sighting last week, crossing 204 right before the bridge, but this time running from south to north. Must be a popular place to cross.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Haloscan comments

Since I started using the customizable template, I've often wondered if the "comments" feature of this blog was working properly. When I switched to Blogger Beta the comments feature broke down completely. Tonight I've added comments managed by an outside vendor, Haloscan. We'll see how they work. I opted for the free version, so you will see an ad over the space where you type.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

First Seagulls, Now Loons

The Record Eagle reported today on the ongoing observations of dead birds along the shore of Lake Michigan, in the National Lakeshore. The birds are dying from botulism, but their food sources are being disrupted as an indirect result of the proliferation of zebra mussels, an invasive specie, in Lake Michigan. Ken Hyde, a National Park Service biologist, theorizes that:
Sediments that contain the bacteria are being filtered by non-native Zebra Mussels, thus concentrating the Botulism in the mussels. The mussels are then eaten by non-native Round Gobies, which in turn are consumed by the affected birds.
At first we saw seagulls dead on the beach, but the die-off is also affecting grebes, mergansers, and loons. If there is a bright spot in the situation, it may be that park visitors are now much more likely to follow the rules and keep their dogs on the leash.

Provemont Pond



Across the road from us is the Provemont Pond Nature Preserve. It's not much of a nature preserve, in fact one of the neighbors usually bow-hunts for deer there every fall. And there is some one else who likes to dump household trash there. And some summers there are homeless people camping out there. But it is our woods, the place where we like to walk and pick berries or mushrooms in season.Anna took these photos while walking the dog in very early spring.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Leelanau Farm Preservation Board to be Axed?

Well, how do you like that?

Not even a week after the County Operations Millage was passed, promising to "preserve all county services", the Board of Commissioners voted to ax the Farmland Preservation Board, citing the defeat of the Farmland Preservation millage as evidence that the public does not value farmland preservation.

After it became clear that we would have to go for the operations millage I withdrew from the Farmland campaign. I ended up talking about Farmland Preservation, anyway, because people had so many questions about it. This is how I described these conversations in a letter to my County Commissioner:
I spoke to many people who were conflicted about the Farmland Preservation millage. They supported Farmland Preservation efforts but they thought that the millage was too much and for too long. They had practical questions about how the program would work. They wondered if it could be done cheaper. They wondered about a plan that had been designed before all of the talk about the burst of the "housing bubble". People had good questions, but the Farmland campaign was long on scenery and short on details.

I told people that a yes vote on the Operations Millage was supporting the Farmland Preservation Board. If they couldn't support the Farmland Preservation millage, they could still support the preservation effort by voting for the Operations Millage. I told them that the Farmland movement had a lot of momentum, and that if this farmland millage plan was voted down, they would no doubt come up with a more refined (and probably leaner) plan. The Farmland Preservation Board would still be at work, because that was one of the county services that we were saving.

Indeed, that is what we promised, that a yes vote on the Operations Millage would preserve all current county services. With a 90 vote margin, I don't think we can discount any constituency, even farmland preservation proponents.
I feel used. I don't like putting my time and reputation on the line for people who can't do what they said they were going to do a week ago. And it's amazing to me that the Commissioners didn't hear the same sense of conflict about the Farmland millage that I heard.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Way Home, Last Night

I got out of work a little early, 11:30 pm, and faced a routine drive home. Today is the start of firearms deer season so I was watching for deer on the move, especially at the top of M-204 hill, where I've seen plenty and hit one a few years ago.

All was clear and the snow was melting. It was harder to see the deer tracks, but I was still trying to pinpoint where they are crossing so I can avoid them next time. By the time I reached the village of Lake Leelanau, I had stopped worrying about deer.

Something darted across the road just before County Road 641 -- a coyote, small and fluffy in its winter coat. It was going from north to south, towards O'Brien Road. I often hear them howling from that direction when I get home on still nights. From its small size and lush coat, I'd guess it was a "teenager", born just this spring. Teenagers of all species are known for hanging around town and darting in front of cars.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Changing seasons

  Posted by Picasa Anna took this picture of a winter sky. I am getting it ready to serve as a new walpaper for this blog. Our digital camers is kaput, so I am limited to images that are already on the computer. I will also be moving on to the next generation of Blogger. It is supposed to install seamlessly, with no effect on previously published content or on the template. We shall see.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Leelanau Operations Millage Squeaks By

Out of over 11,000 votes cast on the Operations Millage, it won by just 90 votes. At least that's the count according to the county website . I was afraid to make the announcement, or take down the signs, until the recounting was over and the official results were sent in. Since there was no noise about it on the 6 o'clock news I feel safe actually accepting congratulations.

Such a close vote is worthy of some reflection. It certainly would have failed were it not for the efforts of a few people. I was suprised to find out how much animosity people have towards county government and how folks have been trained to demand tax cuts without cuts in services. I also did not understand Headlee and Proposal A work together to force these sorts of millage votes in counties with growing populations. We need to do a lot more work in showing how county government works.

The Farmland Preservation millage failed. It lost me about 4 weeks ago when the campaign started waxing so ecstatic about the scenic virtues of farmland that I began to worry. Farming is not always scenic and doesn't always smell so good, either. When people asked me specific questions about how farmland preservation would work, I couldn't find answers in any of their brochures or on the website. Just more pictures of scenery.

The letter to the editor comparing the operations millage to the farmland millage and claiming that the operations millage was only needed because we decided to move the courthouse......well, that really irritated me. Just because it's a good story doesn't mean it's true. In the end I voted for the farmland millage, but I gave up trying to convince my husband.

Dan Scripps lost in a close race. His opponent, David Palsrok, was aided by some sleazy push polling. But this is an entrenched Republican area, so Dan had his work cut out for him. He was the nicest and smartest candidate that I've met in years.

I have to keep studying this property tax stuff, but I will be happy to write about non-millage issues for a while.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

No, It's Not About the Courthouse

I'll admit, it was the first thing out of my mouth, too.

"You mean they're building that brand new building but we can't afford to pay people to work there?"

I never liked the idea of moving the courthouse. The new jail bugs me, but the old jail (our current 4-H office) was obviously too small, cut up like a mouse maze, and falling apart.

It is true that we helped balance the county budget for the last four years by drawing on the interest on the building fund, and that we could have put off this vote for a year or two more if we had put off building. But we would have built anyway, eventually, and the building fund would have been depleted no matter where we built. (Check out this Enterprise article from 2001 , predicting a one mill tax increase if the courthouse stayed in Leland)

It is true that we are paying off the bond that financed the new jail, in the amonut of $4.5 million per year. This is a new expense, and part of the budget shortfall. It made sense to finance the jail with a bond because interest rates were so low at that point. But (according to Bob Hawley) the cost of running the new jail, even with its empty beds, is about the same as running the old one when you factor in the money we used to spent to house overflow prisoners in Benzie County.

People who tell me that they hope the millage fails so that we have to stop construction on the new courthouse need to get a grip on reality. We had a referendum on whether to move the county seat and the majority of voters agreed to move. The County Commissioners cannot undo that vote.

"If we stopped construction tomorrow......", as various people have suggested, we would still need to do something about our aging and cramped courthouse. We would still lack revenues to cover our expenses. We would still need the operations millage.

I was interviewed by the Record-Eagle yesterday, in the middle of baking a pumpkin pie. We talked for about 15 minutes with the end result being a two sentence quote. I'm relieved that I wasn't quoted out of context, but somewhat disappointed that there was not more interest in the underlying tax policies. Sometimes I feel like a geek.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Leelanau County Operations Millage: More Myths

Myth Three: "The county has plenty of money. They just need to draw upon some of those big funds they're sitting on." People who talk like this are usually reading between the lines of an Enterprise article, finding evidence of hidden treasure. Recently I was shown this August 31 Enterprise article. Andy pointed to this passage:
The three major funds in Leelanau County are the General Fund, which is used mostly to fund operations, Capital Projects (building) Fund, and the Unpledged Delinquent Tax Fund, according to figures provided by Leelanau County treasurer Vicky Kilway.

Kilway is in charge of the tax fund, which is used to reimburse local governments when property owners don’t pay their taxes. Through interest and penalties, the fund has grown to more than $6.3 million, and more than any other source will pay for the $10 million county courthouse building. Some $4 million of the fund has been earmarked for the courthouse.
"See?" he said. "They still have 2.3 million dollars in the Delinquent Tax Fund, they can use that to balance the budget."

Actually, no. I had a chance to chat with Vicki Kilway, our county treasurer, yesterday.

"We could empty out the Delinquent Tax Fund," she explained. "But then, next spring when we had delinquent taxes, we would have to borrow money to cover our responsibilities. We would be paying interest on that loan instead of earning interest in the money we keep in reserve." Vicki explained that delinquent taxes typically run about $2.2 million a year. Suddenly that $2.3 million in reserve doesn't look like a whole lot of money.

Another frequently mentioned fund is the $1 million Budget Stabilization Fund. It sounds like just the thing to correct a budget deficit. But state law dictates that the Budget Stabilization fund can only be used at the end of a budget year, to compensate for expenses that came in over budget. (For Leelanau, this would typically be for snow removal in a 1978-caliber year, or some other disaster.) The state also dictates that only 1/3 of the fund may be used in a single year.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Myths about the Leelanau County Operations Millage

We're getting close to the end of campaign. This has been a hard one because there are so many forces that brought us to the point of needing a millage, yet it comes as a surprise to most people. Almost everyone eventually agrees that we need the millage, but first they need to be updated on county finance history and on how Michigan tax law works.
  • Myth One: "There must be plenty of tax money. Look at all the fancy houses that are going up!" If the county actually received more money every time a new house was built, we would be in great shape. In fact, because of the Headlee Amendment, county tax revenues can only grow at a rate equal to inflation. When the total taxable value times the millage rate equals a value that is bigger than last year's revenue plus inflation, the millage rates "rollback" so that tax revenues don't grow too big. This system was supposed to prevent government from growing as property values rise. Unfortunately, there is no compensation for increasing population in this formula.

    In Leelanau County, our population grew 28% between the 1990 census and 2000 census, yet our government got by on the same (inflation adjusted) revenues.

  • Myth Two: "Leelanau taxes are already too high!" In fact, Leelanau County has the lowest county tax rate of any of the Michigan counties. (In 1969, voters approved an operating millage of 6.2 mills, Headlee rollbacks have reduced this rate to 3.76 mills.)Even with the one mill increase to fund our operating budget, we will be in the lowest 10%. With property taxes, the debate about "how high is too high?" is clouded by another feature of the Headlee Amendment. There is a cap on how much the assessed value of a property can go up each year, so as a property stays in the same hands, the gap between assesed value and actual value grows. When a property is sold, the assesed value is determined by the sale price.

    Owners of two identical properties can pay wildly different property taxes; the family who has been there 20 years pays much less than the family that bought last year. The difference between Homestead and Non-homestead taxes adds another layer. The county website lets the nosy mouse-clicker check out exactly how all of the property in a neighborhood is assessed and who pays what in property taxes. A real estate agent's view of the Headlee amendment was recently published in a Grosse Pointe blog. Many of his points apply to Leelanau.


You may download a Question and Answer sheet about the County Operating Millage (Microsoft Word format) here. And here is a comparison of county millage rates in Michigan, 2004.

Monday, October 23, 2006

How Grandma Mimi became a 4-H Leader

When my girls were little I would often coerce them into sticking with an onerous task by telling them stories about their ancestors. Lately I've been thinking about my Grandma Mimi, and how she became a 4-H leader.

Mimi was not the sort of person who you would expect to volunteer for anything, let alone 4-H. She grew up in town, by her own admission a willful, spoiled child. Those of you who knew me ten years ago may remember me muttering about my willful, spoiled grandmother. At age 97 she still dressed to the nines every day and demanded that I take her to lunch and shopping at least once a week. She was a modern woman of the flapper era. As a teenager, she would sneak out to jazz clubs. As a young woman, she bobbed her hair, attended teacher's college and expected to make her own way in the world. Recently a family friend showed me a picture of her mom and my grandma in their twenties. They were dressed as sailors in order to sneak in to a Detroit burlesque show!

But times change and we have to change with them. By the 1930's, Mimi was a mom and a teacher, teaching at Warner School in Flushing. She was appalled to realize that the girls at her school were coming to school without underwear. During the Depression, even a few pairs of underwear were a luxury that few could afford. This is where 4-H comes into the story. Mimi went to the 4-H office and learned how to teach sewing. She taught her students how to sew their own underwear, from flour sacks.

Later she teamed up with Extension again, to set up a hot lunch program in her school. My mom tells of Mimi canvassing the county, accompanied by her friend from the sailor suit episode, convincing farmers to donate food so that kids could be assured of at least one good meal a day.

This is the image I come back to when I try to tell people why it so important to save Leelanau County's 4-H program. Other organizations have work with kids. Other organizations may include kids in their agendas. 4-H is the only organization dedicated to asking and answering the question "What do these real kids need, right now?" Times change, sometimes way too quickly, but childhood is short and kids' needs are immediate.

The time until the election is short, also, and 4-H needs your help. I know most of us volunteer for 4-H to work with kids, not because we like fundraising or campaigning. But, like Mimi, we are asked to reinvent ourselves to answer new challenges. Lets all challenge ourselves a little this week and ensure the future of Extension and 4-H.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Leelanau Operations Millage: No More Extension?

We had an MSU Extension Council Meeting this week. It was grim. Failing to pass the County Operations Millage would effectively dissolve the agreement that allows Cooperative Extension to operate in Leelanau County. Leelanau would go from having the model 4-H program to having no 4-H program at all.

I was impressed by the master list of County Extension projects. Extension is always doing more than I realized. The thought of losing these programs is terrifying.



If MSU Extension / 4-H are eliminated, the following programs would no longer be available in Leelanau County:


4-H Programs:


· 183 community members that currently volunteer in 4-H would no longer have the 4-H opportunity to make a difference in the lives of Leelanau County kids.

· 4-H clubs including 4-H skiing, 4-H horse and 4-H livestock clubs

·4-H Kids Club at any of the four schools (currently in Suttons Bay, Leland, Glen
Lake and Northport School collectively serving over 200 children)

· Summer child care in 4-H Explore Experience Leelanau in Leland, nor Summer child care at Suttons Bay or Glen Lake Schools (currently serving about 90 children)

· An organization that is flexible enough to address emerging needs (we don’t have a hard and fast agenda -- we do what the community asks for); the newest request was the after-school childcare program at Northport School.

·An organization that looks at what kids need and strives to meet that need (for
example, the new Guys’ Group is addressing the needs of middle school
boys)

· Mentoring program at Northport School (a full-time person at no cost to the county)

· Natural Helper program for the five high schools in the county (peer mentoring training for 25 teens each year)

· Child care grant dollars from United Way (almost $40,000 in the last 4 years)

· Insurance coverage for Voices and Choices and Girls on the Run (programs that partner with 4-H but who are facilitated by Leelanau County Family Coordinating Council and Family Court respectively)

· Leelanau County 4-H participation in the NW Michigan Fair

· Opportunities to host or travel on a 4-H international exchange (2 families hosted last year; one member traveled this year)

· Young teens experiencing a university campus (this year we took 53 teens and 15 adults to 4-H Exploration Days)

· Volunteer training opportunities at the 4-H Kettunen Center near Cadillac

· Opportunities for families to attend 4-H Family Science Weekend at the 4-H Kettunen Center (we’ve had 3-6 families attend that event for the last 5 years)

· 4-H Youth Association which annually provides over $4,000 in scholarships to 4-H members and leaders to attend leadership & citizenship experiences

· Event for 4-H members to showcase their projects (4-H EXPO each Spring)

· 4-H Horse Council which oversees 64 county young people with a passion for horses

· 4-H Livestock Council which oversees 204 youth learning about and raising animals

· Volunteers to help foster kids get their drivers license

· Involvement in promoting the cherry industry by hosting a petting zoo at the Cherry Festival’s Cherry Connection event at the Hort Station

· Opportunity for our local youth to compete in the statewide photo contest (Leelanau County had one of the 12 state winners this year!)

· Opportunity for young people to strive to achieve a State 4-H Award (Leelanau County had a regional winner this year!)

· Participation in Capitol Experience and Citizenship Washington Focus (events for teens where they experience and learn about state and national government respectively)

· Screening of volunteers who work with children (criminal history checks with the Michigan State Police, personal interviews in their home, 2 reference checks)

· Opportunity to win a college scholarship from the Johnson Foundation (each year they give nearly $100,000, half of which must go to seniors who were involved in 4-H)

· Access for volunteers to a major university with regards to training, liability insurance, curriculum, resources, specialists, etc.

Agriculture & Community Development Programs:


· Local information/bulletins on crops & farm management


· Ag consulting on pesticide and fertilizer recommendations

· Diagnostics for crop production problems

· Local Value-Added Counselor for MSU Product Center

· Entrepreneurial classes/workshops for new ag businesses

· Coordination of four Leelanau Farmers Markets; including administering Project Fresh and Senior Fresh to seniors and tribal elders (coupons to purchase local produce)

· Local representative on local food system development effort (Taste the Local Difference – TLD)

· Staff support for local Leelanau County Farmland Preservation Board

· Tractor Safety Classes for youth

· Contact for labor regulations & Labor Management Program

· Leadership training sessions for potential community leaders

· Local member of Emergency Board for Crop Disaster Program

·Citizen Planner Training; workshop for local planners

· Local session for Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Update

· Income Tax Sessions for farmers

· Farm Safety Program for farmers & farm workers

· TelFarm Payroll & Accounting Sessions

· Local Horticultural Society to support grower needs

· Local ag & natural resource information and education workshops for Leelanau County; ie, Wind Energy, Estate Planning, Hispanic Pesticide Education, Alternative Energy, Organic Farming, Value-Added, Farmland Preservation Programs and developing issues


Master Gardener / Home Horticulture Programs:

· Answer horticultural-related questions from the public; identification and
diagnostics

· Coordinate Master Gardener Volunteer Training program (40 hr. research-based educational course attended annually by approximately 40 residents)

· Currently coordinate approximately 200 Master Gardener Volunteers completing over 2500 hrs of community service annually serving thousands of people in Leelanau and Grand Traverse Counties.

· Mentor at-risk kids through the Leelanau Community Garden (cooperation with the Leelanau Family Probate Court & MSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers)

· Produce and donate approximately 500 lbs of fresh vegetables to Leelanau County food pantries. (Grown in Leelanau Community Garden)

· Sponsor the Master Gardener Association of Northwest Michigan, which hosts horticultural-related educational events in Leelanau/Grand Traverse region.



Family & Consumer Science Programs:

· Parent Education - Parent education classes for Leelanau county families.

· Cherry Connection - Week long cherry festival event that occurs in Leelanau County. (Brings approximately 2000 tourists to Leelanau County at an event featuring locally made cherry products. Promotes local cherry business as well as local farms.)

· Safe Kids - Unintentional injury prevention programs for children under the age of 14. (Unintentional injury prevention education is provided to parents around safety with car seats and bike helmet usage. Car Seats and bike helmets are given to families who don't have appropriate safety equipment.)

· Financial Management Education - General financial management education for youth at the alternative high school as well as traditional high school.

· Family Nutrition Program; current scheduling includes the Leelanau Peninsula
School and the Suttons Bay High school in the Life Skills classes

· Family Nutrition Program at the Grand Traverse Band with youth and elders in Peshawbestown.

· Nutrition education for non-FNP audience - General wellness education focused around the food guide pyramid and staying fit.

· Monthly Project Fresh classes at the Leelanau/Benzie Health Department and Commodity Supplemental Food Program at the VFW Hall in Lake Leelanau

· Home Nutrition Series; informational sessions to TOPS groups and at Senior Meal Sites


List compiled by the Extension office staff

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Leelanau Operations Millage: Why are we Broke?

The scary thing about the upcoming operations millage is that almost nobody is aware of it. The decision to hold the millage was made late, with so much equivocation by the Board of Commissioners, that most people lost interest or think that the millage was cancelled. The Farmland Preservation Millage is getting lots of publicity, but the Operations Millage (which also funds the Farmland Preservation Board) gets lost in the noise.

There have been signs of trouble in the operations budget. In the 2003 budget, Leelanau County cut out cost-of-living raises in order to balance the budget. Local governments saw a small decrease in state revenue sharing that year, but were able to absorb the loss.

This also was the year that we voted to start collecting the $2.12 per month 911 surcharge on our phone bills to fund our new, upgraded 911 service. Not much was said about the "sunset" provision of this revenue, which is now expiring, leaving a $800,000 hole in the operations budget.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Leelanau County Operations Millage

Leelanau County heads towards an important crossroads in the upcoming election. Voters will be asked to approve a one mill tax increase to preserve our present level of county services. While the tax increase itself is modest, I am worried about this millage because many people just don't realize what is at stake and will either vote "no" on the general idea of taxes or will fail to vote on the proposals at all.

Here is what a "no" vote means:

Elimination of the following programs

  • 9-1-1/Emergency Management Services (EMS) staff
  • Public Safety: Marine Safety Unit, Narcotics Deputy (TNT), Animal Control Officer, Community Work Program
  • Human Services- MSU Extension/4-H/Master Gardener, Budgets for Parks &
    Recreation

Reductions in these services:

  • Law Enforcement deputies
  • Family Court direct service staff
  • Prosecutor's support staff
  • Staff for the Clerk, Treasurer, Register of Deeds, Equalization, Planning, and Administration

The nuts and bolt of these cuts is mind-boggling. County departments are still scrambling to come up with a Plan B in case the millage fails, but it's looking something like this:

We will still be able to call 911, but our current 911 dispatchers will be laid off and our calls may be answered by a dispatch center in another county. No more Marine Safety Patrol, no more Animal Control Officer. Fewer road patrols.

MSU Extension, which relies on matching funds from Federal, State, and County budgets, would be closed down. Even though Leelanau County funds less than 30% of Leelanau's Extension budget ($166,677 in 2005) , it will cease to exist without the county's share of funding.

4-H and all 4-H programs will shut down. No livestock clubs, no horse clubs, no chess clubs, no Fair. Our after school program, Kids Club, serving 200 kids at 5 county schools, would close its doors. Exploration Days, the annual opportunity for teens to experience a taste of college life on the MSU campus, would no longer be available to Leelanau teens. The Johnson Scholarships, nearly $100,000 a year for local college students, would be less accessible to our county's kids, since 50% of that fund is earmarked for 4-H kids. 4-H Youth Association scholarships (over $4000 last year for a wide variety of learning opportunities for kids of all ages and volunteers) will no longer be available.

A "no" vote means the loss of priceless things, as well. We can't put a dollar value on a quick response to a 911 call. Or on the over 200 people that volunteer with MSU Extension through 4-H , the Master Gardener program, and other programs. Or having a real person answer the Equalization department phone when we have a question about our taxes.

We can calculate what it will cost each of us to save these services, and the cost is surprisingly reasonable. The median residential parcel in Leelanau County has a taxable value of $59,000. Move the decimal point 3 places to the left to find out what the cost will be per year. The owner of a home with a $60,000 taxable value, the average homeowner, will pay $60 more per year, or $5 per month. That's not much, but our homeowner's monthly budget will also benefit from the expiration of the current 911 surcharge on their land-line phone bill. Your taxes go up by $5 per month, but your phone bill will go down by $2.12 per month.

That's less than three dollars a month for a whole lot of services. Three dollars a month for the programs that keep us safe, that care for our children, that define our community. Are we voting for our pocketbooks or are we voting for our community?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

My Man Stan

Brother Tim has a new book out. This one is a kids' book about hockey and time travel, centered on Stan Mikita, who played for the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1960's.

The time travel device is simple. When you listen to a game on the Magic Radio, you are transported back in time. Not a lot of sci-fi mumbo-jumbo, and if you doubted that a radio could do this, Tim's powerful descriptions of the hockey action are a handy testament to the power of words to transport the mind.

Both Makita and the young narrator are learning to control volatile tmepers, but the storyline doesn't wander over to preaching. I enjoyed the book as a good read.

Here is a link to My Man Stan. Tim's website is here.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Dan Scripps Blogs

If you've been reading me for a while, you know how frustrated I get with our Michigan state legislature.

Sometimes it's not so much how ineffective they are at creating legislation, but it's their inability to use technology effectively. I don't know why I can't compose an email and send it to my state rep, but must fill out a clumsy online form. The forms don't support live links and they often don't support spell check or let you cut-and-paste from another document. Sure, they get spam, sometimes a lot of it, but so does everyone else, so why can't they get a spam filter and deal with it?

I am hopeful when I read the blog from Dan Scripps, the Democratic challenger for State House in our 101st district. He is smart, issue oriented, technology savvy, and a writer. He is writing about water politics, Michigan's tax structure, and the post-manufacturing economy.

Dan will be at the Candidate's Forum at Suttons Bay School, Monday October 2nd, 6:30-8 pm, in the Kindergarten wing. He also emailed me about his plans to communicate with constituents:
I will definitely read (and respond) to your e-mails as your State Rep. I am making a real effort to be as open and accessible as I can be - going door-to-door, publishing my e-mail address on every piece of literature, having a toll free telephone number (877/ 326-7274), and setting up my website as a blog, to allow for two-way communication and fostering a conversation on the issues -and will continue to do all these things and more as your representative.
What a breath of fresh air!

Maybe I'm a Pirate

Last Tuesday was National Talk Like a Pirate Day. I made sure to let the dice crew know about it last night, except that I changed it to Talk Like a Pirate Week.

Rob was ecstatic. "You mean we can talk like pirates all week?"

They don't call iit a dice crew for nuthin. They immediately started calling Harghhhd sixes and pieces of eight. And telling the old joke that ends "First day with me hook."

Anyway, I was inspired to check out the Talk Like a Pirate website, where I found a link to Mad Sally's account of her appearance on the TV show Wife Swap. This is the show where they take two very different families and switch the moms for a week. Although the title makes it sound like there's sex involved, there isn't. It's all about how moms set the values and goals of a household and what happens when you substitute another set of goals and values.

I would love to quote Mad Sally right here, but her piece is copyrighted. So read it here. I'm with Sally: to hell with housework, let's live life.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

An overview of Michigan's School Funding Woes

I keep a Google Search of "Michigan School Funding", and read a half dozen articles daily. Some of Michigan's schools are better off at the moment and some are in critical straights, but all are heading in the direction of financial ruin.

When I talk to people about public school funding, people tend to focus on a few well-publicized issues --teacher's benefits, waste in the system, shrinking class sizes-- without seeing the whole picture. I can't blame them. After all that studying, I still have a hard time putting the causes of our current crisis into perspective. So I was excited to read this article by James Rufus Koren, reporting on a presentation by Tom Clay:



Bleak picture painted of future school finances


— The former state deputy treasurer said Michigan’s budget problems are caused by a weak economy and a structural deficit.

By James Rufus Koren
Daily Telegram Staff Writer

ADRIAN — Tom Clay of the Citizens Research Council of Michigan painted a grim picture of the state budget and school funding Thursday night in a presentation to more than 150 people at the Lenawee Intermediate School District Vo-Tech center.

In his presentation, the former state deputy treasurer said Michigan’s budget problems — the worst since World War II, he said — are caused both by a weak economy and by a structural deficit.

A structural deficit occurs, he said, when the price to maintain current programs goes up faster than the state’s revenue can grow. He said it will take structural changes, not just a stronger economy, to fix the state’s budget and school funding.

“Superintendents and school boards and financial people in public schools and in local government are going to be confronted with situations year after year where there just isn’t enough money to continue to operate programs,” Clay said. “It’s going to take structural changes — some kind of structural changes in the spending and revenue sides of the budget — to heal this budget.”

State budget

On the spending side, steadily increasing costs for corrections and community health have been eating up money in the state’s general fund.In 2001, corrections and community health spending took up about 44 percent of the state’s general fund budget. In 2007, more than half of the general fund will pay for corrections and community health, which includes Medicaid.

“We can expect the general funds on Medicaid to grow three or four times as fast as revenue, and that’s a function of the cost of medical care going up much more rapidly,” Clay said. Corrections costs, he added, are expected grow about twice as fast as the state’s revenue.

On the revenue side of the state budget, Clay said Michigan’s tax system reflects the state’s economy from 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, taxing most goods while services go untaxed.“As far as the eye can see ... the revenue causes are going to continue unless we somehow change our revenue structure to make it more like the 21st century than the middle of the 20th century,” Clay said. “We have major revenue sources that just are simply not responsive to the economy of today.”

In the middle of the 20th century, Clay said, Michigan’s work force was divided evenly between providing goods and providing services. Today, the overwhelming majority — 80 percent — of the state’s jobs are service-oriented, he said.A combination of tax cuts over the past few years and the fact that few services are taxed in Michigan mean that the state collects a smaller percentage of taxes than it did in 1999, down to 6.7 percent from a peak of about 8 percent.

“That doesn’t sound like much, but you multiply 1.3 percentage points times $330 billion, that’s the bottom line. If the state had continued to collect a constant proportion of personal income, it would be collecting $4-plus billion more than it does,” Clay said.

Among the tax cuts figured into those figures, Clay said, is the recent cut of the Single Business Tax, which takes effect in 15 months and will mean $1.9 billion less in state revenue.

School funding

Clay said the state’s structural deficit both affects and exists within the state’s School Aid Fund, which makes up $12.8 billion of the state’s $41.2 billion budget.

This year, the state increased the school foundation grant — the amount of money schools get for each student and the lion’s share of every school’s operating budget — by $210. Meanwhile, the cost of running schools this year could go up, on average, by more than $400.

Schools will have to increase their contribution to retirement funds from 16.34 percent of payroll to 17.74 percent of payroll. That increase will cost about $80 per student, Clay said.

Tack on as much as $240 per student for contract-mandated “pay and step” raises for employees, at least $50 per student for increases in health insurance costs and another $50 for increases in fuel, utility and supply costs, and districts have more than $200 in additional expenses not covered by the increase in foundation grant, Clay said.

Looking at projections for the 2008 fiscal year, Clay said school costs will continue to increase faster than school revenues.

“Health insurance has been going up in double digits for the last several years. The statewide average now, health insurance is $1,200 per pupil,” Clay said, adding that health insurance costs are likely to continue growing by 4 percent or 5 percent per year — about $50 or $60 more per student.

State remedies

A structural deficit, Clay said, requires structural changes in terms of spending and revenues. He noted, though, that the largest changes would have to come at the state level.

One option to fix the state’s budget and school funding issues would be to raise taxes. Clay said if the state does not raise taxes, it will have to cut about 3 percent of spending from its budget every year for the foreseeable future.

Michigan is a low-to-average tax state, Clay said, and, “people are beginning to get concerned about whether we’re beginning to give up some important quality of life in the state in exchange for being a low-tax state.”

Clay was careful to say he is not advocating tax increases, but that the potential for more revenue from taxing services is "enormous.”

“Services alone that we don’t tax would yield about $8.8 billion in tax income,” he said, but added it might be a bad idea to tax some such as business-to-business services or health care services.

The state could also look further into pooling for health insurance or changing contribution rates for retirement funds, he said.State Rep. Dudley Spade, D-Tipton, who was at Thursday’s presentation, said he is against taxing services because such a change would be taking a “piecemeal” approach to a larger problem.

“What he’s really talking about is we have a structural deficit, and we need significant change to turn this around,” Spade said. “Going at it on a piecemeal basis has not worked in the past and it's not gonna work now.”

Another possible change to the education funding system is Proposition 5, which will be on November’s ballot. The proposition would amend the State School Aid Act of 1979 by providing funding guarantees for universities, community colleges and K-12 education and cap the amount of money schools must pay for employee retirement costs.

Under the proposition, school spending would increase every year by the rate of inflation, regardless of how well the economy is doing, Clay said, and schools would be protected from big increases in health care costs.

“For local districts,” Clay said, “it would represent a major windfall.”

The proposal would, however, mean budget cuts in other programs funded through the state’s general fund.

Local remedies

While Clay said local leaders and school districts have little control over the structural deficit in education funding, he said schools can try to cut their spending.

Part of that, he said, involves renegotiating contracts for salaries and benefits, and paying employees what the district can afford, not necessarily what employees need or deserve.

Another option is to look at cutting programs. He said for most school districts the goal has been to “maintain the classroom, a teacher and 25 or 30 smiling faces, and cutting in other areas — art, music, athletics.”

“There’s not a heck of a lot that can be done in the program area unless the whole model of how education is delivered is changed from what it’s been for decades — or centuries, I guess — and that’s a real-live person teaching real-live kids,” Clay said.

After Clay’s presentation, he led a short discussion with a panel of Lenawee County superintendents and board members.

Adrian Public Schools Superintendent Del Cochran said schools can save money by working with each other. He noted that Adrian runs the food service program for the Lenawee Intermediate School District and does bus maintenance for Hudson Area Schools and Madison School District.

“The more we can work cooperatively as school districts in this county, the more we can better save dollars and cents,” said Mark Wolfe, a member of the Tecumseh Board of Education and one of the panelists.

Panelists agreed schools will likely need to continue to find ways to save money.

After the presentation, Madison Superintendent Jim Hartley asked Clay, “I mean, how bad does it have to get?”

Clay responded, “It takes a train wreck.”

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

How I Spent My Summer Vacation


In this picture, the chess pieces are wearing the Polly Pocket clothes. The white queen sports a lovely yellow off-the-shoulder crop top, while the white king models a baby blue and white striped bustier. The black bishop waits in the Jeep to drive them .....who knows where?

At the beginning of the summer, other moms were asking me what activities I had planned for Anna's summer. The answer was "not much." She played baseball for the first half of the summer and the second half was consumed with family reunions and, at the last minute, getting ready to send the sisters off to college. I snapped the dressed chess pieces photo towards the end of July. It's not staged, it's just a scene that I stumbled upon one morning. For me, it is proof that we avoided the overscheduled summer and managed to provide precious "do nothing" time.

Blogging fell by the wayside in August, as there was always someone else at the computer. Shelagh and Liz were enrolling in classes, finalizing financial aid, finding dorm assignments, signing up for meal plans, facebooking dormmates, and shopping for computers, all online. Towards the end of August, the Minnesota Twins started a serious run at taking the division from the Tigers, so Richard has been checking scores morning and night, also online.

When I did get near the computer, I was engaged in my own epic quest. It took, all summer, but I have finally replaced our deer-smashed Caravan with a '96 Camry. The Camry cost me about $3000, gets 30 miles per gallon, and (unlike the Horizon) is worthy of a road trip. I'm not too fond of the way it blends into every parking lot, but I'll adapt.

Last week we drove Liz to Northwestern. She was so excited to finally be there! Last night she called me and told me she had bought a map of the US to hang on her wall, because she's getting tired of talking to people that don't know that Michigan is shaped like a mitten. (They don't know that Oklahoma is shaped like a frypan, either.) She is taking calculus, Italian, Western Civilization, and a freshman seminar.

With Liz gone, I'm realizing how much Anna is like Liz. They both share a stubborn streak. They are both acute observers of other people and they are both personally disappointed when people don't live up to their expectations.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

New Word Quiz

I took a quick quiz at Merriam-Webster and scored 8 out of 8 on definitions of words that are being added to the dictionary this year. I'm not sure we actually need these words, but at least I can still figure out what people are talking about. Or who they are talking about, since at least three of the eight words I was quizzed on (mouse potato, himbo, empty suit) are fairly derogatory ways of talking about other people. It would be easy to launch into a diatribe about how mean people are nowadays, but I think Shakespeare's humor was often along the same lines.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Ivey Family of Ishpeming

One of the things I can do with my (free) Sitemeter account is find out what people are looking for when they are referred to my blog.

Lately, several different visits have come from people looking for information about the Ivey family of Isheming. They find their way to my page of family lore about Grampa Gord, which mentions Henry Ivey, who moved to the UP with my great grandfather. I always thought that Pearl Ivey, who lived in Flint, was my grandfather's cousin, but now I'm not so sure.

Grampa tended two varieties of Japanese Anemones that Pearl had given him. They flower in the late summer and into fall, first the pink variety and then the white. One of my projects for this fall is to transplant some of these to my yard, where I can tend them more carefully.

You can email me if you are looking for more family information. The first part of my address is ochouse. The last part is gmail.com. Of course, the @ goes in the middle.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

World's Biggest Conversation on Breastfeeding

I've been behind on this blog, particularly on updating the links. Effect Measure and Living the Scientific Life are now part of ScienceBlogs, whose mission is to hold the "world's largest conversation about science."

Two weeks ago the conversation turned to breastfeeding. The occasion was an article in the NY Times outlining a public health campaign to encourage new mothers to breastfeed for at least six months, by highlighting the health benefits of breast milk.

I have long been in awe of the biological properties of breast milk, since I read Karen Pryor's Nursing Your Baby. The Times article cited what was, for me, a new perk of breastfeeding:
But while formula tastes the same way at every feeding, advocates of breast-feeding say, the smells and flavors of human breast milk change from day to day, from morning to evening, influenced by the mother's diet. Many nutritionists believe that exposing an infant to this bouquet of flavors early on may make for less fussy eaters who are more flexible about trying new foods and more likely to eat a healthy, varied diet.
Does this explain why my kids are such adventurous eaters?

I jumped into the conversation, posting here, here, and here. But I'm disappointed with the conversation itself. Somehow when you talk about breastfeeding, even among scientists, it degenerates into dueling anecdotes and working mom war stories. Rather than focusing on the unique anti-infection components of breast milk, the conversation is centered around studies that seek to prove that breast-fed babies, as a population, are healthier than bottle fed babies.

Human beings are lousy test subjects. We want our privacy, tend to fudge when we are asked to report on our own behavior. We won't be forced into categories like "100% breast feeding" and the variations in our behaviors are enough the screw up any study. Plus the world we live in is changing in uncontrolled ways.

Last fall I wrote about the changing winds of parenting advice, including a new study that showed that seeping all night in the parents' bed correlates with an increased chance of Sudden Infant Death. That's bad news for breastfeeding, because nursing through the night is a wonderful alternative to getting up and fixing bottles. In March, Richard and I had occasion to go mattress shopping for the first time in 20 years. The mattress salesman, a veteran of the trade, told me that the market has changed in the last 20 years: back then, everyone wanted firm matresses because they were best for one's back. Now everyone buys pillowtops. We bought a pillowtop because it felt good in the showroom. Once we got it home I found that the longer I lay on it, the more it seemed to sag. I would never let an infant sleep on that mattress, it's too soft. I wonder if the "new" findings on co-sleeping are actually new findings on the effects of America's mattress buying habits on infants.

I'm guessing that devising a study to quantify the benefits of breastfeeding by comparing populations is an enterprise doomed to failure. Parenting is just too variable. But adopting the opposite stance, maintaining that formula is just as good as breast milk, requires one to claim that the antibodies, white blood cells, and hormones in breastmilk are useless. That we have evolved past our need of them.

I remember the news clip of the stranded mom in New Orleans crying because she hadn't had any formula to give her baby for two days. We haven't evolved all that far.

I think that breastfed babies do grow up to be smarter. (I'm biased, of course, but that doesn't mean I'm wrong.) We know that well-exercised brains grow better than bored brains, and breast feeding is a much more interesting activity than drinking from a bottle. You face the breast while nursing; very young infants soon learn to slide their eyes to left or right to see Mom's face. You have to work harder to get milk from the breast. The taste of the milk changes from day to day and even from minute to minute. The first milk to come in a nursing session is thin and sweet "fore milk". High fat-content "hind milk" comes in those lazy, sleepy moments to the baby who keeps nursing on a full tummy. Breast milk doesn't come all at once; baby has to learn to suck nicely for a minute until the mother's "let down" reflex kicks in. Work brings pleasing results. Every baby experiments with biting (or hard gumming) the nipple, with alarming results. I can't think of a more rudimentary basis for intelligence than the knowledge that the world consists of cause and effect. Breast feeding is a human's first task, the first cooperative relationship. The alternative universe of bottle feeding is built on the foundation of "cry and you'll eventually be attended to."

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A Talk: The Necessity to Save Farmland

I'm passing on an announcement here:

This Friday, June 23, Sustainable Agriculture Pioneer Wes Jackson will speak on "The Necessity to Save Farmland: Beyond Aesthetics and Nostalgia." Life Magazine calls Jackson one of "the 100 most important Americans of the 20th century." Jackson is a MacArthur Fellow and the founder of the Kansas-based Land Institute. If you are interested in a preview of his ideas, Peter Payette will be interviewing Wes Jackson this Friday morning on "Points North," at 9:00 a.m. on IPR News Radio, FM 91.5.

The presentation will be held at Leland School's Performing Arts Center, Friday, June 23, at 5:00 p.m.

Here is a quote from Jackson, from the Leelanau Conservancy's website:
Here at The Land Institute people are out there breeding crops, doing the experiments, evaluating germ plasm, because we think that in a 25- to 50-year time frame it's possible to build an agriculture based on the way natural ecosystems work,” said Jackson. He cites advantages of perennial crops that would achieve ecological stability and grain yields that could be as good as those from annual crops. In the process, Jackson contends, would be an end to the huge problem of soil erosion, since annual plowing would no longer be needed. A dramatic decrease in the use of agrichemicals would also result. “We believe that an agriculture is well within reach that is resilient, economical, ecologically responsible and socially just," added Jackson.

I will have to work Friday, so I'll miss this event. I hope that Jenny from Meadowlark will go and send me her comments.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Liz Graduates

This has been one of those times when life moves by way too fast to chronicle. Liz graduates from high school tomorrow. In the past month she has appeared as Gertrude in Seussical, totaled the car by smacking a deer, landed a summer job at Misfit Toys, gone on the Physics Trip to Chicago and Six Flags, gone on the senior Trip to Mackinac Island........

I can't keep up. In September Liz will start college at Northwestern University. She plans to study "everything". I think that's a good plan. I always tell my kids to just keep learning how to learn. Chances are their life's career hasn't even been invented yet.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Make Michigan School Funding More Equal

Here is a guest columnist piece from yesterday's Detroit Free Press. Thank goodness inequity in school funding is finally getting some publicity.

Make district funding more equal
BY JEFF SMITH
May 22, 2006

Equal education for all children is one of America's defining principles. But that equality does not exist in Michigan's public schools. We need to make things right.


Consider that this year the state will pay my school district in northern Michigan about $7,000 to educate my daughter, while at the same time, Birmingham's school district, between state and local taxes, will have about $12,000 to educate a girl there. Multiplied from kindergarten through 12th grade, that difference would mean the girl in Birmingham receives a $156,000 education while my daughter receives a $91,000 education -- a $65,000 gap.

I can hardly imagine it -- $5,000 extra for every child in the school each year. My school could send every student to Europe for a month to study foreign languages -- no exaggeration. But of course, what we would do instead is pay down the $700,000 deficit our district faces this year because funding from the state doesn't cover our expenses.

I am a school board member in the Glen Lake district where my children attend. The northwest Lower Michigan district has 850 K-12 students. I have sat through one meeting after another looking at that $700,000 number in the spreadsheet cell labeled "deficit."

It's difficult to know what to do with a deficit that equals 10% of your entire budget, when we've already cut so much. We have laid off our middle school principal, cut our superintendent to half time and laid off the middle school science teacher and a couple of English teachers. We cut sociology and psychology; advance-placement chemistry will now be taught via Internet. We postponed buying new textbooks yet another year.

As for other districts up here, Kalkaska no longer has buses. Houghton Lake is essentially bankrupt. The superintendent in Suttons Bay collected pop cans to buy anatomy textbooks. The joke going around up here: "What's Birmingham doing, scaling back its polo program?"

I mention Birmingham, but of course there are many other districts that receive far more than we do. Southfield, which has the same number of students as Traverse City, collects $42 million more. Traverse City has a $2-million deficit and is closing schools.

Michigan's school funding is controlled by the Legislature and the Legislature is controlled by population centers. Rural Michigan is always outvoted when it comes to school funding.


And that's why I'm hoping the people of Michigan's wealthier school districts read this. The Legislature says there is no more money for schools. I can accept that; Michigan is in tough economic times. But Michigan will not succeed if a $65,000 disparity exists between one child's education and another's.


Here's the solution: Each year there is nearly $1 billion of what I call inequality dollars -- money spent in districts that exceeds the state's base funding. I'm asking you folks in those districts to tell your legislator that you are OK with giving up a portion of your inequality dollars to help all of Michigan's students receive a good education.

And let me be clear: I'm not asking that your district funding be cut to what we are forced to get by on. Heck no. I'm just asking that you give up enough so the children in my community and rural communities across Michigan can receive a quality core curriculum. For wealthy districts that feel they just can't do with a penny less, I offer my budget-cutting expertise free of charge.

Michigan's future shines brightest when all of its children are well educated. There is no legitimate argument against that. We must unify around the idea of equal education. Please send your legislator an e-mail today saying you support more equitable school funding for all of Michigan's children.


JEFF SMITH of Cedar is a trustee of the Glen Lake
Schools.
Copyright © 2006 Detroit Free Press Inc.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Heartland Poker Tour

Our casino is hosting the Heartland Poker Tour this weekend. It makes for some long hours (9:30 am to 1 am today) but it is great to have such a nice crowd in the place. The Heartland crew is hard working and smart. They strike a good balance between ensuring a fair tournament and remembering that it is supposed to be fun. I could say a lot more, but I need to sleep and go back again in the morning.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Citizens for Equity

Michigan's Proposal A promised to provide adequate funding for Michigan's public schools in part by pooling property tax monies and redistributing it on a more equitable basis. Here in Leelanau, we were making something of a sacrifice by agreeing to this scheme. After all, some of our property values are among the highest in the state. But we had been pretty close witnesses to the Kalkaska school district's budget crisis. I remember thinking at the time that the kids whose schools closed halfway through the year for lack of funds were my kids' peers. I wasn't building a livable world for my kids if the folks they would live among were going to be only half educated.

I might have been less enthusiastic about Proposal A if I had known that certain school districts were already angling out of the funding equity that was one of the goals of Proposal A. Through a small loophole called "20j hold-harmless" millages, a number of districts from the politically powerful southeast area of Michigan retained the right to levy enhancement millages. According to Citizens For Equity:

Michigan's funding system continues to differentiate between students based on geographical location and provides substantially greater funding for certain areas in the state. This funding is based almost entirely on political power. Politically powerful districts in the Southeast portion of our state have benefited greatly from enhanced state funding while certain other districts have been forced to live with minimum funding levels. This differentiation in funding creates unequal educational opportunities and puts students from low funded districts at a disadvantage to their peers from higher funded areas.
Some downstate schools are collecting as much as $12,000 per student compared to the base funding of $6875. Our local districts lived without "raises" to the per pupil grant for many years, even as their fixed costs went up.

Citizens for Equity is a new lobbying group aiming to publicize and correct this inequity. They are planning a public information meeting on June 8th in Traverse City. You can find more information on their website here.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Nets, All Kinds of Nets.

I don't usually read Sports llustrated, much less link to it, but I wanted to highlight a simple fix to a big problem that can be accomplished with a lot of people making small sacrifices.

Read about it here in Rick Reilly's May 1 column.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Condos and Chickens: Will They Kiss and Make Up?

The construction manager at the chicken-hating condo project stopped by my dead roulette table last night. He was dropping hints that the chickens vs. condos issue might be resolved soon, in the rooster's favor.

It turns out, as I suspected, that having chickens next door is a selling point. "We've had people calling from as far away as California, asking if this was the condo project with the chickens," Todd told me. "They also like the idea of a place where the front page news is chickens, not murder or rape."

(Note to prospective buyers: we do have crime here. )

It sounded like Todd had been enjoying the crowing on the job site. He had become friends with the owner of the poultry. He even offered to house the birds in his own yard. Now he has that excited look that my husband gets when he's planning to build a new yard toy for the kids, but he says we'll all just have to watch the paper to get the details.

Monday, April 24, 2006

So You Want To Move To Leelanau........


Every year, more people move to Leelanau, looking for the quiet rural life. New neighbors are usually a blessing, but sometimes they seem a little lost. A few seem hell bent on turning Leelanau into the same place they left. You tend to wonder why they came here.

Rural America is not just suburbia with better scenery. It is not "the land that time forgot". It is also not the Great Frontier, waiting for someone to smart enough to exploit it. Things are different here, in ways that you may not expect or appreciate. The case of the Chickens Vs. The Condos is the most recent example, but it is only one.

This is an interactive post. I want my Leelanau County readers to help Brother Chris with his Extended Ed class for area newcomers. What do you think a person needs to know before they decide to move to Leelanau? I'll start, you can add your own ideas using the comments:

  • Those hills of flowering blossoms and green pastures with black and white cows, although they are scenic, are actually working farms. You can expect to smell manure on occasion, and sometimes you may catch a whiff of Captan. You will sometimes find a tractor or cherry shaker driving down the road ahead of you, especially if you are in a hurry. During cherry harvest, when the weather is hot and sticky, you may be awakened at intervals throughout the night by the sound of cherry hauling trucks and their "jakebrakes". None of this is anything to complain about. Every year that we have a good harvest is another year that farmers can afford to stay in business and those hills aren't being sold off for subdivisions. If the rest of the world hits a rocky spell, you may be depending on local farmers for your sustenance. Support local farmers, both in spirit and by patronizing our fine farm markets and wineries.
  • Working farms also need all kinds of expensive machinery. Farm machinery is built for service, not for style. It is not uncommon for a tractor or implement to remain in service for 20 or 30 years, or longer. Even disused machinery is kept around for parts or for occasional service, or even for sentimental reasons. Even non-farmers will keep an extra car around for parts or in case their main car goes on the blink. They may keep a boat on a trailer, hoping to one summer find time to use it a time or two. Don't move here and then complain about "junk" in other peoples' yards.
  • Don't be afraid of the dark. If you really need a yard light, find a sky friendly one, and turn it off when you aren't using it. We know you're real proud of your new mega-mansion, but we don't need to see it lit up all night, especially if you've gone back to Florida for the winter. We'd rather see the stars.
  • Leelanau is not a big city economy. It is a seasonal economy. Around the end of March you will find a lot of people quietly stretching their last few bucks until their income picks up again. Leelanau is also an area of underemployment. Underemployed people are those of us who can't find jobs that match our education. At least we can find work. Don't talk down to people! There is a good chance that your plumber or snowplow driver are better educated than you. By the same token, if you are moving here on the strength of your Master's degree in Russian Lit, it wouldn't hurt to learn to plow snow.
  • People move here for the scenery. The smart people learn that the real treasure here is the community. Up north you need your community. Try not to piss off your neighbors. They may be the ones pulling you out of a snowdrift next week.
  • Volunteer. There are all kinds of organizations doing all kinds of work with volunteers. Find a place where you feel comfortable, and then help, even if it's only a little. You will meet the most interesting people and you won't have time to cruise to mall and pine for stuff you can't afford on a local paycheck.
Okay folks! Time to add your own! Click one the word "comments" at the top of the page and type away.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Chickens vs Condos

I wish the Leelanau Enterprise had posted the story, but I'll just have to tell it myself.

On March 30th, the Enterprise ran a front page story about a complaint that had been lodged by the local sales manager of the new condominium project in Suttons Bay. It seems that the neighboring farm includes chickens, some of which are crowing roosters. The sales manager complained to the village council that:
It is constantly crowing, which in turn is making it difficult to show that particular property (to prospective buyers). I understand that our neighbors are not zoned to have a farm on that property, yet they have several chickens, ducks, and a rooster in a pen, located near the water.
It is hard to figure out what she was thinking. She must not be too familiar with small town life. Village officials responded quite confidently that the chickens were OK. To quote village manager Chuck Stewart:

That farm has been there for about 150 years. I'd say it predates our zoning ordinance by well over a century. Besides, there's nothing in the village zoning that prohibits anyone from keeping chickens within the village limits. Several families keep chickens, one family has goats, and another even keeps horses inside the village. This is Northern Michigan, after all, and we're proud of our agricultural heritage.


The sales manager should use the poultry as a selling point. Fresh Eggs Next Door! Around the same time that this story broke, I was hosting web ads for Omlet USA, a backyard chicken supplier that custom ships a utra-fashionable coop with hens right to your home. I was especially taken with their page of fashion magazines with articles on backyard chickens. Chic chicks!

I guess the poor woman really didn't figure that her complaint would not only be spurned, but would run on the front page of the Enterprise. Even I was surprised about the letters to the editor, three weeks running, on this issue. They seemed to have tapped a deep vein of discontent towards people who want to move to Leelanau because it is so "unique" and then set out to change it to be more like everyplace else.

Known Books has posted a page of Suttons Bay Roosterisms.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

At the Wheel

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Anna took this picture from the backseat as I was backing up in the Plymouth Horizon. It was the last day I wore my winter coat. At these gas prices, the Horizon is my favorite car. Yesterday Richard read that a Prius only gets 29 miles to a gallon. I think the Horizon does better, but it's hard to tell because the speedometer sometimes stops working.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

A Cockfight in the Philippines

A fellow casino dealer recently traveled to the Philippines and sent me the following account of a cockfight that he attended. No, he didn't set out to go to a cockfight, his in-laws took him there. But once there, he took part in the wagering and observed with a casino dealer's eye for the money.

Why post a story about a cockfight? I'm curious about the many ways that humans and chickens have evolved together, there's one reason. I'm continually frustrated by the public dialogue about avian flu, and the assumption that the normal way to keep chickens is in large egg or meat factories. The world needs to know more about what people do with chickens, even cockfights. Cockfighting is legal and popular in the Philippines. It is even televised, with its own commercials for cockfighting supplies. Yet, the Philippines is among the few nations in that part of the world that is still free of avian flu. Go figure.

There are some four-letter words in this, and violence, of course, so if you don't want to read it don't, but here it is:


After taking a PAL flight from Manila to Roxas City, I was treated to a three hour boat ride, on my brother-in-law├é’s boat, to the far away island of Jintotulo. Please keep in mind this boat had four adult passengers, two teenagers, a small child and a crew of four.


"A three hour cruise, a three hour cruise."

The tiny ship was rocked and I arrived there looking like a drowned rat and feeling like a Viking. When I got to Jintotulu (where my wife is from and her parents live) I got to go to a cockfight!

This was the highlight of my trip and a very JamesBondian experience.


Note the bleachers around the pit.

The locals move out of my way in order to give me a prime space to watch. There were no women or girls present. Everyone then starts to shout to the ringmaster in the center of the ring. Obviously they were making bets on either the white cock or the red one. I wasn't going to bet on the first match but after a couple of minutes the ringmaster looks at me and says; Hey Joe, you want to bet three hundred? I said; Yes, three hundred on the red one (pointing to the cock on my side of the ring). He waved his hand and with a smug expression indicated I had no bet. He then looked at me and waved his hand towards the opposite side of the ring. I then realized that since us bettors weren't laying odds or giving up points, he was trying to even up the betting at my expense. A minute later he asked me if I want to bet 500. I said yes and again pointed to the red bird. He waved off my bet and then grabbed himself in a Michael Jackson fashion, as if to dare me to bet on the white cock. Meanwhile the referee is writing down the bets in a spiral ring notebook.

The other man in the pit (the referee) then held a bird in each hand, faced them towards each other and released them. My bird scored the "dim mak" the other bird didn't die but was obviously unable to continue. This however, being a "fight to the death" the referee would grab a bird in each hand and face them off again. This process was repeated until the white cock was deemed to be dead.

Now all eyes are on "Joe" because he picked the winning cock, even though I hadn't won anything. At this point one of my nephews-in-law brings me a glass of "halo halo" which is a delicious Filipino desert made with shaved ice, jellied fruit and sweet cream. He explains that I'm sitting on the side of the ring for the first time birds. The experienced birds are brought to the other side of the ring. My oldest brother-in-law then tells me to "go look at the birds" and points to an area near a very old tree that is about 20 feet from the ring, where all the bettors are gathered.

This gathering is the equivalent of the "cock weigh-in" and there are six bird owners holding their prized cocks (birds). They hold the birds while facing them to each other in order to determine the two birds that display the most animosity towards each other. There is a lot of talking going on and I can tell the organizers are getting a feel for whether the betting will be equal in a match between the birds in question. I look at the old tree and I see how they disposed of the losing white cock: by dumping him unceremoniously at the roots of the "tree of woe."

After the contestants are selected, the owners begin the process of tying and taping the three inch long curved blades to the left ankle of their bird. In some cases these blades are selected from a collection displayed in a wooden case that was probably more accustomed to containing expensive silverware in its previous life. After the cocks are ready everyone returns to the ring and the shouting starts immediately. The cocky (pun intended) ringmaster looks at me and asks if I want to bet 500 Filipino money (10 USD). I said yes and pointed again to the red cock. He seems to book my bet and I look to my brother-in-law and ask him if I have a bet. He says that he doesn't know because he doesn't bet on cockfights. I said I just wanted to know if I have a bet or not and he finally says he thinks I do.

The referee released the birds and my bird jumps high and seems to drive its blade in the chest of his opponent. Everyone (including the chickens) knows that the white cock is doomed. The referee continues to pick up both birds and face them off, even though the white bird merely hangs there limply. After he releases the birds, my bird merely pecks at the face and eyes of his adversary. He is taking no chances of getting close to the other bird's feet, where a voluntary or involuntary kick could send him to the tree of woe.

Now please don't think harshly of me because at this point and I stand up and scream; "FINISH HIM!" which brought cheers from my brethren of those that bet on the red cock. The white cock was finally declared dead (it looks strange seeing the referee check the bird's wrist for a pulse) and I stand up again to join my comrades in a barbaric roar.

The organizers then collect the losing bets, which are generally crumpled and thrown angrily to the center of the pit. I ask my brother-in-law if I should ask for my money and he tells me not to worry. The referee then comes to me and hands me a 500-peso bill. I smile, thank him and display my coin purse as I gingerly shove the bill into it. I announce; "It was a pleasure doing business with you." This brings roars of approval from everyone in the pit area.

The third bout was a replay of the first: cocky ringmaster won't book my bet and my bird ends up winning.

Now "the legend of Joe" is truly born and I strut to the weigh-in like I'm Nick the Greek. I have my eye on one red cock that will face another red cock. The owners tape the blade one of the birds with blue tape so us bettors can tell them apart. The ringmaster then announces; "In this corner with the blue trunks (OK, tape) is a SIX time championnnnn!!!!" He then immediately looks at me and asks if I want to bet five hundred. I was not naive enough to believe that this bird was a six-time champion but that cock was scratching the ground with his claws (which I took to be a sign of aggression) while his opponent merely stood in the ring, looking around like he was thinking; "Where am I? What am I doing here? And why is everyone looking at me?" I immediately agree to bet 500 on the blue trunks when here comes a clear signal that "Joe the Greek" is about to get fleeced. Another cock trainer comes to the ring carrying a bird. He shoves it is the face of my bird's opponent in order to get him riled. I knew I was f**ked but also knew that the worst thing that could happen is that I would break even for the day on the last bout. And besides, no one was beefing, so I can assume that this is within the Queensbury rules of cockfighting.

This is a picture of me losing my money.

To no ones surprise, I lost my bet but managed to take what was to be the last photo on this set of batteries. I choose to be a gentleman and hand my money to the referee and say; "Easy come, easy go." Which the crowd seemed to appreciate. I then retired to the "store" across the street where I drank warm San Miguel beer (to excess) with my brother-in-law and one of my wife's uncles, who was a lawyer and had a pleasant conversation about dealers cheating the players and witchcraft on the island. There were two other tables with people playing mah jong and "tong 8" which is a cross between rummy 500 and tonk.

Now please don't misunderstand: I have a total distain for the "sport" of dog fighting but after all these are chickens we are talking about. After much useless searching, I finally scored a cockfighting tee shirt at the gift shop of the Heritage, which was the first Hotel I stayed at (typical). I plan on wearing it to the first PETA rally I can find.

Dale S. Yeazel

There is so much going on in the world of backyard poultry. I liked that quote in the New York Times last week about how long distance shipping of day-old chicks "has made the chicken the most migratory bird in the world". Another report from the New York Daily News described a international cockfighting derby in Manilla last January that attracted entries from around the world.

When I lived in Honolulu, all of my neighbors had chickens but nobody ever had eggs for sale. Cockfighting is as old as the hills; I've never been able to keep roosters from trying to kill each other, unless they develop their own survival strategies. I'm guessing that the knives speed the contests up, facilitating the betting action, and saving the work of slaughtering the loser. I can't find the link, but I read a story a few years ago about a guy in the Phillipines who failed to restrain his rooster after getting it all hyped up to fight. He was slashed in the groin by his own bird and bled to death. ("Joe the Greek" tells me that he saw the handlers put leather sheaths over the blades until it was time to fight.)

In the avian flu news there is a disconnect between the science and news reporting world, and the backyard chicken world. Chickens are more than just meat and eggs -- here they are providing entertainment and a shot at fame and fortune for a few skilled (and lucky) backyard breeders.