Final Two Weeks of NFL Season

December 22, 2012

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First and evaluation of each of the AFC divisions. In the East, New England is it. They could improve their playoff position, but they are in the playoffs regardless of anything else that happens. This is overall a week division, but Miami and the Jets are still mathematically in the playoff hunt but it takes ties and combinations of losses for either of these teams to make it. In the North, Baltimore is trying to lose their playoff spot and Pittsburgh is equally trying not to get it. Today it looks like Baltimore and Cincinnati will both be in the playoffs. In the South, Houston has the division and unless the sky fall in on them, Indianapolis gets a wildcard berth. In the West, Denver gets the nod. There is not much to be said for any of the other teams in this conference.

Now for the NFC divisions. A few weeks ago, this looked like the boring conference, but things have heated up. In the East, there is a three way tie. What was once the most average division, now is on the verge of possibly having three teams in the playoffs. Washington, Dallas and the Giants all have the opportunity, but will any of they step up? In the North, Green Bay has sown it up with Minnesota and Chicago still grasping at possible wildcard births. In the South, Atlanta had things wrapped up several weeks ago. Last week the pundits pronounced the Falcons dead because of one bad game against New England. That is rather harsh for the number one seed in the NFC. In the West, San Francisco and Seattle need to figure out which will win the division and if the other can win enough games to take a wild card. Although there are three other teams that mathematically could still make the playoffs, it would take a miracle.

This year, parity has played out just like every year, with some of the haves remaining at the top and some of the have nots remaining at the bottom. There have not been that many surprises as far as who are the prime candidates for playoffs now that we are in December, although there have been some games that were surprising in outcome. My predictions are Green Bay – Atlanta in the NFC championship, with Atlanta representing in the Superbowl, Houston – Denver in the AFC championship with Houston representing. On top of that, I will predict Houston winning their first Lombardi Trophy.

2012 Christmas Cookies

December 21, 2012

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It is that time of year. It is the time for office and school parties and other holiday celebrations. Whether you are celebrating Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, New Years or just the bowl games, there seem to be parties everywhere. A lot of these parties are pot luck, meaning you have to bring something to share as food. Every year here at the Soap Boxers, I have provided a list of cookies that I like to make and share. Each year I expand the list. This year’s offering is free to download. This year I have added Triple Chocolate Chip cookies and Peanut Butter Chocolate Rollup Candy.

It does not seem like much, but making cookies fills me philosophically (and physically). I spend time with my children, baking and teach them how to make cookies. I spend time with my co-workers sharing the cookies and recipes. I get to eat the cookies (and the dough) and remember back to when I learned to bake and share them as a child.

I enjoy sharing the stories and hearing them. One co-worker told me how her youngest son tried to make some of the cookies in my download. Although the cookies were basically inedible, she was still very proud of him. He tied to bake them himself, and for the most part succeeded. He did not burn down the house, and for both him and her, they tasted of ambrosia. His next attempt was better and she is sure that this year, his product will be good enough to share outside of the family. Having an older brother has really helped him since a teenage boy is willing to eat anything. I have not sampled his work yet, but I am sure I will like it at least for the effort he is putting forth.

My each of you enjoy this holiday time and celebrate as you wish, even if you just consider this a gift giving season without religious affiliation. Even if you do not believe the same way or things that I believe, I wish you joy and I hope you can return that wish.

 

Reactions to the Connecticut School Shooting

December 19, 2012

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Last Friday, a gunman killed twenty kids and six adults at an elementary school in Connecticut. From Columbine to Sandy Hook, there have been several tragic shooting at schools across the United States. Many parents wonder if they should pull their kids out of schools. Are schools a dangerous place for kids?

How dangerous are schools?

There are about fifty five million students attending the more than one hundred thirty thousand schools across the country. Add in three and a half million teachers and various other employees, and more than sixty million people could be in schools at any point and time. That’s nearly one in five Americans.

How safe are schools? Let’s look at some statistics from The Institute of Education Sciences within the National Center for Education Statistics. Between July 1, 2008 and June 30, 2009 (latest period for which full statistics are available) seventeen students were killed at school or school related functions. That’s seventeen too many.

During the same time, 1562 kids between the age of five and eighteen were victims of homicide (citation: http://nces.ed.gov/programs/crimeindicators/crimeindicators2011/figures/figure_01_2.asp). Wow.  That’s the equivalent of more than 50 Sandy Hooks in a year. As incredibly tragic as school shootings are, they tiny fraction of the total number of kids being murdered every year.  It’s the very tip of the iceberg.  A child is far more likley to be killed by a parent than by a gunman at school.

Veterans in schools

One suggestion I’ve seen from Republicans friends of mine is to employ 3-4 veterans as security at every school.  At first glance, that’s a very interesting idea.  Let’s take a moment to run the numbers.  Let’s assume four at each school.  Let’s assume an average salary of $25,000 with total employment costs (health insurance, FICA, etc) at around $35,000.  This would add  more than a half million people to government payrolls, at a cost of $18 billion.  That’s an interesting suggestion from the party that believes in smaller government.

I’m also not sure how effective it would be.  Would shooters just decide not to kill anyone?  Or would they just move on to softer targets?  If you take a moment to think of all the times when groups of children are in vulnerable situations, you may not be able to sleep tonight.  Would heavily guarded schools simply transfer the death toll elsewhere, with the net outcome to society the same?  I don’t have a good answer to that question.

Take away all the guns

Should we just ban all guns?  Even if we wanted to do this, it’s not feasible.  There are a huge number of unlicensed weapons in this country.  Weapons have always been a part of American life, and many guns have been handed down from generation to generation.  Tracking down all these guns would be impossible.

Of course, the criminals would keep their guns … and would probably employee some machine shops to manufacturer guns for them.  The manufacture of the most basic guns is not exactly rocket science.

Guns don’t kill people.  People kill people

This is true. 

However, guns make it easy to kill quickly, and from a distance.  In China last week, someone injured 23 people in a knife attack.  How many died?  Zero.  It takes far more effort to kill twenty people with a knife than with a gun.  First, you must get close to the victim, which allows them to fight back (or others to tackle you).  Second, it takes more time to perform the actual kill.  It’s not just a matter of pulling a trigger.

While it’s not practical to ban all guns (and would violate the 2nd amendment), let’s spend a moment discussing guns with high firing rates / high capacity.  I’m not a firearms expert, so I’m not going to give a specific definition for this.  A simple revolver won’t with this category, an AK-47 will.  At some point between those two weapons, there is a line of demarcation.

I’m not a gun expert, but my thought is that there are three basic uses for a gun:

  • Defense – Includes self-defense and many law enforcement situations.
  • Hunting/Sport
  • Offense  – Includes military, extreme law enforcement situations (siege), and homicide.

My basic question is the purpose of high capacity weapon in these situations. 

In a self-defense situation, it seems a bit unlikely that one of these weapons would be more helpful than a more traditional weapon.  If you have to fire a hundred rounds in a defense situation, you have some very serious problems (such as being under attack by an entire regiment of the Canadian Army).  Maybe there have been real life situations where someone has needed this sort of capacity in a defense situation.

I also wonder about the need for such a weapon in a hunting situation.  If you have to fire a hundred rounds to kill an animal, doesn’t that diminish the skill aspect of hunting a bit?  I’d also consider sport uses of firearms to be secondary to safety concerns. 

So, then, is there a need for high fire rate / high capacity firearms in the hands of civilians?  And if so, what is that need?

 

Why Do Star College Quarterbacks Fail In the NFL?

December 18, 2012

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Quarterback U???

In my childhood days, the University of Miami (the one in Florida, not the one in Ohio) was known as producing a number of great Quarterbacks who had outstanding careers in college and then went on to have fantastic professional careers as well.

Not every one of them turned out to be good in the NFL, but the hits were much better than the misses.

There are some great ones on the list to be sure. Bernie Kosar, Vinnie Testeverde, Jim Kelly. These guys all had fantastic and LONG NFL careers. Of course for each of these guys there is also a Brock Berlin, Frank Costa and Gino Torretta.

How the Heck did Torretta win the Heisman anyway?

Smoke and Mirrors

Gino Torretta, a quarterback from the Universi...

Gino Torretta

Gino won the Heisman the way many college quarterbacks win the Heisman. They end up playing on the best team in college, often times a team playing for a national championship, they have a dominating defense, and a superior offensive line that is loaded with future NFL players.

So…an “average” quarterback ends up putting up stellar numbers in college because 1) He is on a good team 2) his offensive line is like a Berlin Wall and he never gets touched and 3) ESPN hypes him to the hilt ultimately leading to the Heisman trophy discussions and vaulting him up the draft projection charts come draft day.

Fast Forward to 2000…

Miami won their last National Title in 2001 – although they were good for a few years after that. At that point there was a resurgence of the University of Southern California football team.

Of course we know now that much of what led to their success (and ultimately Pete Carroll leaving town) was “questionable” benefits made to players such as Reggie Bush – who then had to “vacate” his Heisman Trophy.

Carson Palmer was the signal caller in 2000. Palmer lead to a definite improvement for the Trojans. Pete Carroll had just been hired – and the Trojans went 6-6 in his first year. But that is the last time that he would lose that many games for the Trojans.

English: Quarterback John David Booty talks on...

Booty call

Palmer was followed by Matt Leinart (Heisman winner) then by John David Booty, next by Mark Sanchez…and finally that brings us to current day Matt Barkley.

The Trojans during this time were loaded with NFL talent (some brought or should I say “bought” to campus) and were great teams. Awesome NFL players abounded on both defense and offense.

So as mentioned earlier, criteria #1 and criteria #2 have been met.

Over-rated….

In 2009, USC was named “Team of the Decade” by both CBSSports.com and Football.com, as well as the Program of the Decade by SI.com, and was ranked No. 2 in ESPN.com’s Prestige Rankings among all schools since 1936 (behind Oklahoma). Additionally, in 2009, ESPN.com ranked USC the second-best program in college football history.

Really….WOW – looking back now that seems like that might have been some caught up in the moment rankings by the so called “experts”.

If you have watched ESPN in the last 10 years it is safe to say the only thing the college day game crew loves more than USC is Nick Saban and Alabama…)or maybe Dukie Vitale and his love of the Duke Blue Devils)

The hype has overtaken the reality.

Barkley was annoited the Heisman front runner before the year even began. I even wrote about it some months ago. Truth is..he really is not very good.

The list of Quarterbacks from USC in the last 12 years all had very impressive NFL careers. Only Palmer could be argued as being remotely decent in the NFL. The rest…..in order – Horrible, vanished, mentioned as the 2nd coming by the New York media and now maybe the most hated man in town….and that brings us to Barkley – …future NFL bust.

We will see what comes draft day in 2013. This class is loaded with lineman, and short on skill position players and big name – over-hyped quarterback prospects.

Some owner will roll the dice on Barkley and get burned to tell about it later.

I just hope for my friends in the desert..that the Cardinals do not make the same mistake in short order and chase down another USC quarterback

Until next time…stay classy Monroe, Louisiana

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Sandy Hook Tragedy

December 17, 2012

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On Friday December 14, a young man entered an elementary school and killed twenty students and six staff members, before taking his own life. He did this after killing his own mother in their home. It will take detailed investigations to determine the why of this crime, all that any of us can do at this time is to pray for the victims and give the survivors the respect and privacy that they will need to heal.

One of the immediate responses to this crime was a call for additional gun control. Before continuing this discussion, I will say that I do not own a single functioning fire arm, although I do have several muzzle loading pieces that are dry loaded (that means there is a ball wedged in the barrel with no gun powder so it cannot be fired). There are already plenty of gun laws, additional paper will not make this type of horrific event go away. Disarming law abiding citizens will also not diminish this problem. By the logic of stricter gun laws, New York, Chicago and Washington DC would be the safest places in the world. Enforcement of existing law is what is needed to protect ourselves from people bent on senseless murder.

Something that has been overshadowed by the events in Connecticut is a similar attack on elementary school children in China. The assailant used a knife or sword to hack at and injure 22 children, some of them critically. In fact there has been a spate of attacks on school children around the world. It would seem that these criminals are looking for the most defenseless victims. It will take experts a long time and involve much debate to come up with an answer for the Why.

The response to these events should not be to find political advantage, either for more gun control or less. The response should be to grieve and provide solace for the victims and the survivors. We should also rejoice that this type of incident is so rare that it is national news. There are certain number of people who are going to commit heinous crimes, guns certainly make them more spectacular. We have witnessed even more spectacular mass killings with the various bombings around the world (including Oklahoma City) and airplanes (such as the World Trade Center). Let us all hope and pray that these events remain rare and that more are thwarted than succeed. May each one of the victims and all of the survivors find peace.

 

Connecticut School Shooting

December 14, 2012

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Newtown, we grieve with you.

The Republican Party’s Core Beliefs

December 13, 2012

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One of the most interesting things about the modern Republican Party is their strange penchant for pushing and/or believing in ideas that can be factually proven as incorrect or at the very least incompatible with their “core beliefs.” I’m not entirely sure what Republican “core beliefs” are, but from what I can gather from Fox News snippets and what my friends say, they want small government, low taxes, and lots of personal freedom – or at least the freedom for their state to choose what defines personal freedom.

On the first issue, small government, let me start out by saying that the single biggest expansion of federal government since FDR came from … no. Not Barack Obama. Not Bill Clinton, either. It wasn’t Jimmy Carter. Not even JFK. The single biggest expansion of the US Government came from George W. Bush and his creation of the Homeland Security Department . The Reagan administration, after lambasting Jimmy Carter during the 1980 presidential campaign for governmental spending, actually spent MORE than Carter did.  So according to what they say, Republicans favor small government and lowering government spending, but according to what they do, they actually increase government size and spend more? I wonder why Mitch McConnell is so intent on criticizing President Obama for government spending, yet he voted along with the vast majority of George W. Bush’s spending, and Bush’s rate of spending was higher than Obama’s.  I don’t remember him ever once criticizing Bush’s spending record.

 

Next we get to Republicans wanting low taxes. This one they actually seem to deliver on, wanting to lower taxes across the board, but especially on those poor, overburdened millionaires. Yet the reasons they claim taxes should go down just don’t seem to mesh with reality. First and foremost they say that so-called “job creators” aren’t hiring because their tax burden is too crushing. Yet history disagrees with that assessment – in fact whenever the marginal tax rate on upper brackets is lowered history has shown lower growth. In fact the Congressional Research Office came to the same conclusion:

There is not conclusive evidence, however, to substantiate a clear relationship between the 65-year steady reduction in the top tax rates and economic growth. Analysis of such data suggests the reduction in the top tax rates have had little association with saving, investment, or productivity growth.

I would love to get Mitch McConnell or John Boehner in a room and get their opinions on those facts.

Finally we get to the issue on personal freedom. One of the Tea Parties greatest cries against that “socialist, fascist” Obama is that he’s crushing our personal freedoms. As I wrote about in my last article, the NRA supported Mitt Romney in this most recent presidential election, dredging up scary stories that Obama was going to be personally taking all your guns and this was despite the fact that in Obama’s first term he actually loosened gun laws, and in Mitt Romney’s term as governor he signed a gun restricting bill into law.

In addition, Republicans seem to be on the side of banning “gay marriage” (or as my gay friends call it, “marriage”) despite the fact that no factual evidence to say it’s better or worse than heterosexual marriage. Go ahead, search the internet and find a non-biased site that offers peer-reviewed and cited facts showing somehow that men marrying men or women marrying women is somehow worse for society, children or the marriage itself. If it’s no worse for people, does not infringe upon others, and is not being forced on society (legalizing same-sex unions will not force churches to marry anyone), why is it being suppressed by Republicans?

Finally on the personal freedom issue, I was very happy to see that Washington State has legalized marijuana for recreational use. Two of the most recent Republican presidential candidates agreed with me. Ron Paul and Gary Johnson actually said they would not only legalize marijuana but also consider even more sweeping changes such as ending the war on drugs and pardoning anyone in prison for non-violent marijuana crimes.  Sadly the rest of the mainstream Republican candidates ranged from a non-stance – Rick Perry stating he’s personally against any use, but ok with states deciding medical use – to a psychotically harsh stance -Newt Gingrich sponsoring a bill that would see the death penalty used for people importing more than 2 ounces.  Seeing as there’s little evidence that marijuana is worse for you than alcohol or tobacco and much stands to be gained from the taxation of legal marijuana, including a drastic reduction in violent crime, I wonder once again why Republicans would go against their stance on personal freedom here.

So to sum it up, I have a hard time giving any support or even credibility to a political party that says one thing and then does the polar opposite. I’d actually LOVE to see a more viable Republican party because frankly I’m sick of the vast majority of Democratic politicians. As a friend of mine says often, “We don’t need a 3rd political party, we need a 2nd one.”

 

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Western Kentucky Hires Bobby Petrino

December 12, 2012

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Coach Bobby Petrino

Just a quick stop en route another big time job?

How in the hell does Western Kentucky have the chance to hire Bobby Petrino? More importantly why is this guy allowed to coach anywhere?

Right after getting inked to a 10 year contract with Louisville, Petrino left for the friendly confines of the National Football League to head up the Atlanta Falcons.

Things went badly with the Falcons. Michael Vick was in prison, the team was trying to break in a new quarterback and a bunch of young players – the team found themselves at 3-10 and losing 34-14 to the New Orleans Saints. How did Bobby respond? He left notes in the locker room explaining to his players that he was leaving to go back to college football. That is right, he left players notes…did not even have the decency to talk to them…man to man.

Less than 24 hours after leaving the goodbye notes in the lockers….off to Arkansas went good ol’ Bobby P. There he was singed to another large contract. He was going to take Hog Soooooeyy to the next level of the SEC. They had achieved success under Houston Nutt – they even had talented running backs like Darrin McFadden – but the boosters ran Nutt outta town.

Petrino did not last real long at Arkansas either. If you remember it was discovered that he was sleeping with a tall blonde who coincidentally was riding on the back of his Harley when he wrecked in in April of 2012…which in and of itself seems like no big deal. Except Petrino’s was married, the tall blonde was not his wife but instead was a person that he personally selected for a job in the except that he had also awarded her a job in the Arkansas football department over 158 other applicants — and then kicked in an extra $20,000 as a gift to her.

Now Petrino is getting yet another chance. Western Kentucky is hiring him to take over their football program as head coach.

Pretty obviously to me that they are beyond desperation to hire someone who has such an interesting past as this guy. He has shown the propensity to be non-loyal, abuse his position of authority and step out on his family.

Not it appears he is just following the money.

And Western Kentucky apparently has closed their eyes and ears to all of these past problems and just cares about one thing….

Trying to get a winning football team.

A couple of years ago the Hilltoppers made the jump to Division 1. They had a successful 1-AA program. They made the move to the higher class, spent almost $50 million in improvements to their stadium and facilities, and then tanked…..losing 26 straight games over the course of three seasons.

They rebuilt the program, even made a trip to Lincoln to play my beloved Huskers, and with former quarterback Willie Taggart at the helm, the Hilltoppers went 7-5 the last two years.

Taggert headed to Florida to greener pastures and more money, which left the Hilltoppers looking for a new man to run out behind the Orange Blob mascot (what the heck is that thing anyway?)

It is too bad that schools overlook morals, cheating, recruiting violations and other character faults when hiring coaches. I am sure Petrino is just going to use this as a stepping stone after his long fall from grace just a year ago…the question will be…will there be an even bigger school waiting to give him yet ANOTHER chance?

Until next time….Stay classy Carlsbad, New York

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Ferdinand the Turtle: Meeting Bob

December 11, 2012

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This story originally ran on May 8, 2009. It’s much different than most of my other stories – because nobody dies.

It was a beautiful spring day, but Ferdinand the Turtle was in a grumpy mood.  The kids at school were making fun of him again.  All the other turtles had normal names such as Bill, Tom, and Ann.  Ferdinand had a long name, and it sounded funny.  The other kids made fun of him and told him that his name was too big for such a small turtle.  Ferdinand felt sad and left the playground.

Ferdinand walked by the old warehouse.  The workers were unloading a truck.  There seemed to be some excitement with one of the crates.  Suddenly, something popped out of the box and came racing across the grass toward Ferdinand.  Ferdinand was amazed at the sight.  It was an animal, but it was not like any animal he had every seen on Turtle Island.  This animal was covered in fur and had a big, bushy tail.  The animal seemed to be a bit stunned, so Ferdinand talked to it.

“Hello?  Hello?  Are you OK?”

The furry animal scratched his head and looked toward Ferdinand.

“I’m OK, I gue – whoa!  What the heck are you?  You’re the funniest looking animal I’ve ever seen.”

“Hrumph,” said Ferdinand.  “I could say the same thing about you.  At least I don’t have a big tail like you.”

“That’s very true,” admitted the mysterious stranger, “but you do have that thing on your back.  What is that?”

“It’s my shell,” replied Ferdinand.  “I can pull my body inside my shell when it rains.”

“Oh, I see.  That’s pretty clever.  I should introduce myself.  I’m Bob the Squirrel.”

“Hello, Bob,” said Ferdinand.  “I am Ferdinand the Turtle.”

“Well, Ferdinand, I somehow got myself packed up in one of those crates and my legs are stiff.  I need to take a walk.  Maybe you could show me around town.”

Ferdinand agreed, and they started walking toward main street.  Ferdinand saw a rock on the groud and gave it a kick with his foot.

“Ferdinand,” gasped Bob.  “What are you doing?”

“I’m kicking the little rock down the street.  It’s fun.  You should try it.”

“That’s not a rock, Ferdinand.  That’s an acorn.”

“A what?”

“An acorn is a type of nut,” explained Bob.  “You can eat it.  Acorns are yummy for your tummy.  Try one.”

Ferdinand didn’t think he would like an acorn, but he decided to try it anyway.  He bit into the acorn and it tasted awful.  He spit the acorn onto the street.

Bob furrowed his brow.  “Pehaps,” he speculated “it is an acquired taste.”

“Ugh,” replied Ferdinand.  “If it’s an acquired taste, I have no plans to acquire it.”

Football and Death

December 10, 2012

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Last week, a professional football player killed his girlfriend, the mother of his child, then killed himself at the Kansas City practice facility. During half time of the Sunday night game on NBC, the commentator, Bob Costas, took the opportunity to do what he is paid to so, comment. His against guns, thinly failed in quoting from a like minded reporter, set off a firestorm of publicity from both gun rights advocates and gun restrict advocates. My concern with Mr. Costas is not his known attitude towards guns, but rather his response to the event. He did not criticize the criminal who committed the crime, rather he attacked what he perceived a gun culture and even threw in a preemptive defense of football in general as if a root cause can be defined by public opinion rather than investigation.

The terrible events in Kansas City may have been preventable, none of us were inside that relationship. From what has been reported, he shot her several times with his mother and daughter in another room, then left to go to work to kill himself. He had spent the night away from home in questionable activities. If he had not had a gun, would he have been out of control enough to kill her with his bare hands? Possibly, again none of us were there.

This last weekend, there was more bad news for professional football. A member of the Dallas Cowboys was killed during a single car accident where he was the passenger. The driver was another player who has been arrested for intoxicated homicide, meaning he was under the influence and responsible for the death. Mr. Costas again used his pulpit to comment. Again, this is what he is paid to do. His comment again missed the mark. He attacked a culture of alcohol. What he missed is again the personal responsibility. Again he is providing a preemptive defense of professional football.

If we are going to blame a culture, what about the culture of professional sports? Young men and women are given huge amounts of money and told just how great they are. All doors are opened, alcohol, drugs, fast cars, fast women (for the men), and the attitude that you have to prove you are hot stuff every minute of the day. We have athletes in shootings, rape, murder, suicide, DUIs, drugs, just to name a few. When these people are done with their careers, most are dropped onto the trash heap of history, unless they are trotted our when some new hot gun is about to eclipse some measure that they had achieved. A select few get to join the ranks of commentators, but that group is even more select than the limited population who get to play professional sports. And what of the fans? We demand entertainment, encourage outrageous activities and eat up the intrusions into private lives.

I personally do not by into any of this. Actions are personal. What happened in Kansas City is deplorable, but not unique. Every winter, there are reports of farmers who commit murder-suicide. Are they under the pressures of a professional athlete? What weapons do they use? Sure some are with guns, but not all. There are plenty of car accidents where the driver was under the influence and a passenger died. Are all of them wealthy, high profile personalities? Obviously not.

Let us pray for the families of all those who have died, not just the famous, but especially the young one’s. We can all hope for prayer and hope that these high profile events will make everyone think before making terrible decisions that have consequences.

 

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