Archive for December, 2012

Worth passing along…..AAH is happy to promote. Merry Christmas, all.

…And who are these guys? Straight from the SNC Website:

“Originally formed over a dozen years ago while students together at Indiana University, the group has reassembled and reemerged as a phenomenon – with a massive fanbase, more than 20 million views on YouTube, numerous national TV appearances, and proven success with two holiday releases, 2008’s HOLIDAY SPIRITS and 2009’s CHRISTMAS CHEERS as well as WITH A TWIST, released this spring.”

Click the group’s image to watch this incredible performance at Youtube. “Straight No Chaser performs ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’ at their reunion show at Indiana University!”
Straight No Chaser

Continuing from their Website:
“In an era when so much pop music is the product of digital processing and vocal pro-tooling, Straight No Chaser is the real deal – the captivating sound of ten unadulterated human voices coming together to make extraordinary music that is moving people in a fundamental sense… and with a sense of humor.”

Visit http://www.sncmusic.com/christmascheers to order a copy of the record, and http://www.sncmusic.com for more information.

AAH wishes all of our readers Peace and again, a very Merry Christmas.

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There are quite a few worthy causes we believe in, especially those that focus on children, and while there is no doubt you have some that are important to you, here are a few we would like to encourage readers to consider as the holidays arrive and the year winds down. If you know of others you would like to bring attention to, please let us know:

The Salvation Army

childrens hopechest logo

The Wounded Warrior Project

Compassion International

The Red Cross

Hope for Orphans Logo

…And of course your local food banks and shelters, wherever you may be.

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Where Have the Children Gone?

I wrote this poem in 1999, three years after the school shooting in Dunblane, Scotland. I have wrestled over the years with what I might do with it; perhaps save it for the opportunity to publish it within a book of poetry. So incredibly sadly, it has continued to come back to me over the intervening years with the advent of far too similar tragedies in Kentucky, Oregon, California, and of course Columbine; then Beslan, Russia, rural Pennsylvania, and more recently Aurora, Colorado and now Newtown. There are still yet more I cannot recall well, but they are seared in my consciousness, stored somewhere deep, as they no doubt are in yours, maybe suppressed; it is too much – even at a distance. It seems that perhaps I should share what I have thought about far too often. I wish I could do more.

– – –

They are as the Wind –
That gentle force which stirs the forest;
A mighty stand of timber is given voice
Only by the Breeze that inhabits it,
And it is Fleeting.

We long for that soft Blowing amongst us again.

Where are they?
We cannot see them.
They have quietly passed through this dark Forest;
Their invisible flight carries them on.
They are as the Breeze
That sways the tall grass –
We feel them move around us.

Our Children have gone;
They go as the Breeze –
not to return to us but always present –
As the Breath of the sky,
They come to us.
We feel them and hear them
And they comfort us for a while.

As the Gentle Blowing on our faces;
That Sound in the tall trees is the Children.
That graceful bow of the grass by their Breath.

We go there
And they are with us.
Reminded by that sweet Breath,
They are close again.

Their Sound we know
And their touch we feel.
Yet as constant as the Wind,
They are determined to go.

That Quiet Breeze will not return,
Yet another comes after it
And it is familiar to us.

It comforts us, and so we long for it; for them.
That sweet, kind, and peaceful Air –
It is always present.
And they are with us again.

We recognize it –
Its sound is a Whisper;
Its feel is familiar –
Sometimes cool, sometimes warm.
We are taken to a place
Where they come to us again.

They are gone,
But we will always wait for them.
As the grass of the field longs
For that graceful Touch
To give it movement,
We long for them.

They are the Sound in the trees,
And we are moved by their breath;
The Wind that softly carries them to us.
And we will always wait.
We wait in quiet anticipation for that Day;
A Promised Day.

Where have the Children gone?
They are as the Wind,
Invisible to us –
Yet they are here.
We are moved by their gentle Touch on our Faces,
Reminded again we are not so far apart.

Not too far, and not for long –
We wait for you.

We know where you are.

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I sat drinking coffee early that Friday morning, almost two weeks ago now, writing my to-do list for the day and watching the news. The comfortable day-off routine stopped in the instant the coverage went to Newtown, Connecticut. The scene was instantly recognizable and horribly painful to see again.

Again. Sandy Hook Elementary School

I called my wife and as I began telling her of the terrible event, just two or three fatalities had been announced and most facts were either not yet known or announced; it was a very new and rapidly developing story.

By the time I had told her the basics of what I knew we were both having difficulty speaking, caught in the terrible reality of it. We too have a child, a 6th grade son, whom we have had to reassure more than a parent should have to – and I can only hope and trust I am right – that he is safe. Somehow, I must let him go even in these sad and uncertain days. dad and jace at bette's - color 001 

In the midst of it all, I believe intellectual honesty and rational thought must be preserved and not thrown out to the wreckage of up-ended and crushed emotions.

– – –

I have written the following thoughts in response to an opinion piece in my hometown newspaper, the Terre Haute Tribune Star, in which I believe the author to be factually inaccurate on several points, ideologically motivated, basing his argument on an ulterior socio-political motive, and largely – and understandably – on emotion rather than on logic. It is understandable, and those emotions are shared by all of us.

It is important to remember his column could be freely written not only because of the fair practice of the publisher and editors of the Tribune Star but also in following, quite rightly, within the incredible freedoms our Constitution provides.

In exercising my own freedom of opinion and of conscience, I take issue with what I consider Mr. Ronn Mott’s extreme – and extremely misguided – opinions. I am certain I feel the same emotional outrage and frustration Mr. Mott does, but considering what I believe to be factual errors and ideologically-motivated claims, I feel compelled to rebut.

I sympathize quite strongly – emotionally – with Mr. Mott’s sentiment. I too want things to change.

– – –

I lived in Aurora, Colorado in the mid-1990’s not far from the theater where so many were recently murdered and terribly wounded, and later lived near enough Columbine High School to drive there with my wife just two days following the heinous shooting and stand next to Rachel Scott’s car in the school parking lot. Rachel Scott's car It was by then covered with snow and flowers, notes, pictures, and other sad tokens of love and remembrance.

My wife and I, as with all our community, were profoundly struck by the awful reality and by what we saw. But as we face this yet again I am very concerned that we, in our individual communities and corporately across the nation, are becoming driven more and more to make crucial, fundamental decisions of constitutional importance based on more feeling than thought. It is understandable.

More importantly – for the sake of the innocent, I am concerned that in the midst of our emotions we may not pursue the most direct and effective path to their protection.

– – –

It will not serve readers here properly nor fairly to read any more of my piece first.

Please take a few minutes to carefully read Mr. Mott’s piece, What fools we be, published in the opinion column of the Tribune Star on-line, Tuesday, December 18. Then if you’re willing, I would appreciate your attention to the following response.

– – –

Mr. Mott doesn’t recognize the self-contradictory argument he has made. In the first moment he clearly identifies the source of the tragedy: brokenness and illness, but in the next he seeks to blame it on something else – guns and even a particular a gun type, then and tries to find the solution there. The first solution to what happened is exactly what our schools and law enforcement together are already doing, or at least attempting to do: Protect and Defend.

It has been clear to both for a long time. Protection and defense are paramount.

Every action taken directly by law enforcement and schools everywhere is protective and defensive in nature. Manually-locked doors, electromechanically actuated door locks, outdoor intercoms, video surveillance cameras, mirrors, armed security officers in and around the schools (and regular and increased patrols throughout our communities for that matter) as well as school-to-parent and law enforcement agency-to-school communications – these are all protective and defensive measures. How good or successful those measures are may be debated, but significant efforts have been and continue to be made. Generally we should and can trust our public servants to look out for us as we pay them to. Preparation – practice – can make protection and defense more successful. Sadly, on these awful occasions lessons-learned become part of that process. (And by the way, by and large, these are the kinds of people who, in their make-up, in their hearts, would do this and respond as we hope even if we didn’t pay them. That’s the way they are. That’s why they do what they do-protect and defend us.)

But somehow, terrible things still happen, and terrible people still do terrible, unpredictable and uncontrollable things.

There are two things to be done.

In the short term, protection and defense. Examples of realistic and effective protective measures are detailed above. And there are more to include specific measures that are not made known to the public, even parents, for obvious reasons. But we should know they are there. Ultimately, if defense was not the best immediate solution, law enforcement and schools would not pursue it as they do.

In the longer term, aggressively address the issues of family health, mental health, including emotional, social, chemical illness and other manifestations of psychological problems. On December 18, during a televised Fox News program, syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer pointed out that generally, statutes governing confinement [of individuals] for serious mental illness in our country “are extremely lax.”

Likewise, I would argue that the understanding of the negative effects of a broken family on children is extremely lax – and significantly underestimated. Coordinated and cooperative support for emotionally damaged people – children and adults – between formal and informal entities has much room for improvement, and just as importantly, kindness and understanding amongst people – person-to-person – has a long way to go on the road to recovery. As just one example, the war against bullying is still new and probably not being waged aggressively enough. (To read more from AAH on this, please see  For the Love of Phoebe  from 2010.)

The fight against bullying is in need of many more soldiers who will boldly stand to lead the way across the battlefield: classroom-by-classroom, neighborhood-by-neighborhood, team-by-team, and group-by-group, and confronted individual-by-individual. There are many fine highly-qualified experts and authors in the subject of bullying and several based in Indiana, including some known to this writer, who are passionate in the fight against bullying.

Please take a few moments to look at their work: bullying-schools-programs023018

Jim Jordan, author of Bullying – it’s time for a paradigm shift. His website is Reportbullying.com. BullyProofingYourHome2

Dr. Phil Sparks, “Dr. Phil of Indy”, author of Bully Proofing Your Home and several other books. Find him at drphilofindy.com.

Travis Brown, “Mr. Mojo”, creator of the Bullying Prevention Tool Kit. Find Travis, how to book him and get his kit at nobullyingtour.com.Travis Brown - "Mr MoJo"

– – –

While much of news media and too many politicians have reinvigorated the exercise of knee-jerk reactions by beginning again the discussion of guns – especially so-called “assault” weapons – the actual investigation in Newtown will focus on the “whys” of it all. And the “whys” are being directed toward people. People – the details and contents of their lives, their relationships. That is because the How is obvious; it is the Why that is most important.

Is it really a mystery why this kid did this? I don’t think so. It was the perfect storm of everything bad that could occur in a person.

Is it really reasonable to accept what Mr. Mott says, resorting to his emotional outburst (again, entirely understandable) that the murderer was an “idiot” and a “fool”? Is it really so far beyond heinous that we cannot identify the “illness [that] made him feel superior when [he was] gunning down small children”? Sort this statement out, and realize Mr. Mott has made several fundamental assumptions, and they are not all reasonable nor mutually supportive, nor even rational. For one, the dissolution and even active work toward the destruction of the nuclear family ought to be addressed.

Though for some reason Mr. Mott said so, we do not know that his illness made Adam Lanza “feel superior”. Clearly he had an illness in some form, whether in his mind, his heart, his chemistry; we do not know, he was mortally sick. Mr. Mott’s description was not based in any known, conclusive fact, but emotion. It is important to understand this. Perhaps it could somehow be borne out as true, but how can anyone really know this unless the killer himself said so? The authorities are still working to understand his motive. Otherwise, Mr. Mott’s statement, however agreeable from an emotional response perspective, is baseless. Recognize it as it is.

We should recognize our feelings, but also recognize reason. 

Mr. Mott calls the perpetrator an “idiot” and a “fool”. These are a misuse and poor descriptions; they are neither accurate nor appropriate to a person who commits mass murder. In the late 19th century-early 20th century the term “idiot” was essentially a medical one, describing a person of severe mental retardation. Even long before, it was used to describe a person of low mental capacity and self-defeating behavior. The former would apparently not at all illustrate Lanza accurately. Based on the way the word “fool” is generally used in our culture, it would seem simply inaccurate and inappropriate to call Lanza a fool; a fool would shoot himself in the foot having chosen unwisely to leave the safety off. There are many words that could be used to better effect. “Fool” seems to be odd, really; an off-target “misunderstatement” to say the least.

As for Mr. Mott’s declaration that the National Rifle Association’s slogan “is pure hogwash”: First, it’s not their slogan. It’s another example of ignorance or worse, a deliberate lie. He goes on to accuse the NRA of being trite enough to actually say “guns don’t kill people, people do”. This is either Mott’s obfuscation of truth or journalistic irresponsibility. Perhaps he will argue that it is only illustrative, but again he would be wrong. Secondly, the NRA did not inexplicably wait a week to issue a statement; one was posted to their website within hours, full of compassion and angst.

And finally, regarding personal behavior and mindless objects, Mr. Mott demonstrates his voluntary ignorance: of course the truth is that guns don’t kill people – people kill people.

So why Mr. Mott’s poor choice of words?

I don’t know exactly of course, but I suspect great emotion, as understandable as it is, overruled his thoughts. What appears to really drive his speech against guns, or at least semi-automatic ones, as opposed to addressing mental health or family health or bullying or violent television or violent T- and M-rated video games or the catastrophic lack of physical activity and resultant obesity in children, among other problems, is his agenda – this wildly irrational, emotional, and misguided agenda to rid the world of firearms.

– – –

I would argue that if we are to successfully address what happened and why, we must be rational and logical in our approach. Emotion is important and has its place, and as we all are, in some way, each taking part in that real and important experience, we must be rational and attack the problem with reason.

In response to this view, if anyone would rather fly emotionally and make their decisions based on how they feel, then let them say so clearly. That too, is understandable. But in the long run, we know that to find the right and best solutions, we must be emotionally level-headed. There is a time for everything. Mr. Mott himself identifies what seem to be hints at the origins of this tragedy, yet he goes after something else. More broadly, and so predictably, the news media and politicians generally go there, too. It instantly became a discussion of guns and gun control.

But what are law enforcement agencies doing right now?

Are they confiscating guns in the area? Is the school district which governs Sandy Hook Elementary School now posting signs at every building and issuing public statements to declare their properties are gun-free zones? Surely these actions would be justified to those who “know” guns are the problem; go straight to the source of the problem, as they perceive it.

– – –

Mr. Mott discusses the ability of any American to purchase guns at uncontrolled gunshows. A useful test might be to determine how often those individuals end up using those guns in crime (less than 2% according to Guncite.com). While we must argue that once is too much, statistics will bear out that the vast majority of guns owners buying guns at such venues are and remain lawful citizens. But for those who do abuse such an opportunity, law enforcement, the National Rifle Association, the Gun Owners of America, the Second Amendment Foundation and a host of others, along with the broad citizenry would agree these unlawful people must be stopped.

Of course.

As for his statement that “you can buy any kind of weapon without a weapons check or a check on the person” at these shows is both inaccurate and misleading. I do not know if it is dishonest; only he knows that. Every state and municipality has statutes in-place to govern such activities. Sure, anyone who is determined enough can at least attempt to get around the rules, and of course, some do. But to portray gunshows as the unregulated wild west is at a minimum uninformed, and at worst, actually and intellectually dishonest. The same goes for his wildly inaccurate statement that “No country in the civilized world allows people to own semi-automatic weaponry except America.”

Simply untrue and intellectually ignorant.

It could be argued, even demonstrated that many countries have more stringent gun laws than the United States. Mexico does. And look at the incredible gun-related violence in that country. Handguns have been outlawed entirely in Washington DC for many years, yet that city consistently has one of the highest handgun-related murder rates in our country. Ask a hunter in Canada or on an African hunting preserve what type of rifle they might use hunting large game. A semi-automatic rifle is entirely likely. And as for hunters here in the US great numbers of those hunting upland gamebirds and waterfowl use semi-automatic shotguns. What would the statistics demonstrate about criminality among their ranks? Virtually unmeasurable.

According to gunpolicy.org Germany, France, Finland, Belgium, Italy, South Africa, and Israel among many other countries all permit possession of semi-automatic rifles and handguns by special permit or with significant restrictions. They also demonstrate that no country – including the United States – allows civilian ownership of fully automatic weapons. These have been strictly outlawed in the US since 1934 (The National Firearms Act, reference Guncite.com). It is intellectually dishonest to confuse the two types, regardless of how they appear on the outside.

Here’s the test: If the shotgun I inherited from my grandfather is engineered, designed, and operates in exactly the same manner as those so-called “assault” rifles; that is, they are semi-automatic in their operation, and “assault” weapons must be outlawed for civilian use, then it could only logically follow that my shotgun must also be outlawed, and so, arguably, confiscated.

Yes, confiscated. See yet another well-intentioned but misguided opinion piece published in the Tribune Star last week (December 19): Change requires drastic actions, by Dr. James Buechler, M.D. He hopes to see what would actually play out as a confiscation program.

There is certainly no argument against his personal-professional experience; in fact, we sincerely appreciate and respect his passion, his observations and concerns. But to state “…deaths of 20 children 40 years ago in this manner would have been totally inconceivable” sadly does not represent history:

In 1927 an attack on a Michigan elementary school by a single individual was executed with the detonation of a vast store of “…dynamite and hundreds of pounds of incendiary pyrotol…” hidden over time in the school basement and “…killed 38 elementary school children, two teachers, and four other adults and injured at least 58 people.” The perpetrator had killed his wife prior to this using a knife. Throughout the entire terrible crime no gun was used. (Wikipedia presents a thorough summary of the tragedy, linked here.)

In response to this heinous act did the discussion turn to the evils of dynamite or pyrotol? Apparently not. (Are they terrible in and of themselves? Perhaps, from one perspective. Even Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, agonized over his creation. But they were intended to serve practical and important purposes, not to harm people.)

In the aftermath the focus was on the behavior, condition and motivation of the perpetrator.

If Dr. Buechler argues that a federal statute against the possession of “assault weapons” should be passed immediately, it demonstrates the importance of complete understanding and accurate definitions. Does he mean guns that operate in a certain way, or that look a certain way? Where he uses the term “rapid-fire sidearm” – arguably referring to fully automatic – he demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of the subject matter.

In the case of Sandy Hook Elementary School no “rapid-fire” weapons were used, rifle or handgun. While Adam Lanza’s rifle looked like a military weapon, it was not; in fact, built only as a semi-automatic rifle (no fully automatic capability) it would be wholly inadequate as a weapon of war; it was designed and operated exactly as my grandfather’s semi-automatic shotgun and hunting rifle. Exactly.

The importance of establishing a proper basis for decision-making is clear.

Dr. Buechler, quite innocently I am sure, demonstrates an example of the significant problem of the lack of knowledge and basic misunderstanding that exists. Perhaps the fine details, the intricacies of accuracy and differences, don’t matter to him and Mr. Mott. Fine. Let them and all who take such a position then say so plainly. If the details do matter, then they must be explored and understood. No one is required nor expected to like or use guns. But it is fair to expect people to be intellectually honest. Further, it is a responsible endeavor to be educated.

If we have established that the critical issue is a matter of function over form (have we not?) then it would follow that guns of a semi-automatic design must be outlawed, regardless of their outward appearance. In the end, if some wish to confiscate my grandfather’s shotgun, then they should be intellectually honest about it and just say so plainly.

Mr. Mott makes a quite serious – and reckless – accusation that the National Rifle Association is responsible for “propagating the deaths of innocents” (his words). The NRA has neither direct nor tacit responsibility in this. Here I would challenge Mr. Mott to read the entirety of the NRA website; get to know their efforts – their mission and programs, and then describe any social, ethical, moral, or practical irresponsibility. Such could really only make sense if perhaps the killer Lanza had been a member of the NRA and they had sent him out in some way with the understanding this is what they wanted of him. Having said what I have here, I could consider retracting it and just say instead such an egregious comment does not warrant a response.

My purpose here is not to defend the NRA; they don’t need it. If anyone spends even just fifteen minutes reading through the NRA website, they will find quite a positive, socially responsible, and instructive message. Again, I will issue this challenge to Mr. Mott and all who read this blog. Spend some time reading each page of the NRA website before you condemn them. If you have established a strong opinion against the NRA or against guns or even certain types of guns, I challenge you to spend some time reading all the references provided here. And please respond with some of your own. If you are not willing to do this, then be honest and recognize you choose to remain uneducated and ignorant.

If we are to let our emotions be the fuel for our fire, good – and let our reason and intellect keep us going to do the work.

If anyone is truly passionate enough over this, and wishes to delve deep into the greater technical aspects, I recommend reading Rational Basis Analysis of “Assault Weapon Prohibition by David B. Kopel, published in 1994 by the Journal of Contemporary Law. It is quite heady reading, but worth the education for anyone willing to be intellectually honest. (Important copyright and use information as stated at the website linked here: “[The] printed edition remains canonical. For citational use please obtain a back issue from William S. Hein & Co., 1285 Main Street, Buffalo, New York 14209; 716-882-2600 or 800-828-7571.”)

– – –

Ultimately, in light of the tragedy of last week, if anyone chooses to aim their wrath at guns, or guns that look or operate in a certain way, or the NRA or recreational shooters, they are missing the target.

Broken people, broken hearts and minds, broken families, broken social lives, broken relationships, broken PEOPLE are what we must aim at.

There are myriad problems here. One is that many people will read Mr. Mott’s perspective, his ideology – only under the influence of emotion, lacking accurate knowledge, ignoring the real problem, and focusing on objects instead of people, and arrive at their conclusions largely based on feelings instead of thoughtful judgment.

Let’s not be distracted.

Let’s ensure we are well-educated and not ignorant – ignorance would make us the true idiots and fools, maybe even “a crazed person”.

Let’s be passionate and compassionate. And let’s use reason.

Let’s ensure we are engaged in the business of people’s hearts and minds, not the objects they abuse.

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The Sandy Hook school shooting. This kid’s family was – is – broken, and he was broken. His mind and heart were broken. If he was sick, his family was sick. These truths are being exposed moment-by-moment.

If we lack a sense of community, and it needs to be restored, then we have a desperate need to figure out where to begin. It must begin at home, in the family. If our families are broken, and we send people out into the world from a broken family, they have a fraction of a chance to recover that. Some do; too many don’t, even if they don’t do something terrible; too many live lives “of quiet desperation.” If we try to find ways to fix it at home, we are better prepared to go out into the world peacefully.

Take a breather from talking about guns and the gun control debate; it’s a shallow distraction and it’s cheap, especially in this moment. Our talk and efforts must focus on people. People’s hearts and minds, and what has either filled them or emptied them.

It’s written that Jesus said, “The poor will always be with you.” Well if so, then likewise all tragedies will always occur eventually and yet the world will continue to spin. You don’t have to believe in God to know and buy into this hard truth. We cannot save the world, but we can start somewhere. It’s enough to start at home.

When families are broken, individuals are broken. There are many communities we can spend our time, money, and efforts on, and rightfully so. But we should start with the community of our own families, in our own homes.

Start at home. Then perhaps we can be prepared to go out.

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Dr. Bennett and Ms. Ritz –
Of course you both are aware of what is presently happening at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut this morning. Much from an emotional reaction I want to know you have a heightened level of security activities at all of your schools as I write.

While I no longer reside in Terre Haute (I am a Vigo County native and now live in the Denver area), I have a 6th grade son. This urgent concern is, unfortunately, universal.

No doubt the Sandy Hook Elementary School leadership and the district administrators know what you know about the terrible recent history of school and other very public shootings and presumably have implemented security measures of various kinds.

(Since becoming a resident of the Denver area, having lived in Aurora and also near Columbine High School, and on my way to work daily, drive past the New Life Church in Colorado Springs where two were killed, I am quite thoughtful of these things.)

Ultimately, though, all I know is something did not go the way they wanted it to today.

I know you are sensitive to the fact that regardless of those measures, with both children and adults killed and injured, they were not perfect.

We must strive for perfection.

Please assure communities across Indiana that 1) you are leaning forward today, and 2) you and your administration will study today’s incident and determine what improvements can yet be made. Please assure us that you are doing something more and different today and tomorrow than yesterday.

Even in light of yet another tragedy I remain steadfastly supportive of our Second Amendment rights. I do not wish to outlaw guns, not even handguns. I want to outlaw evil people, and I want to outlaw mental-emotional-psychological illness. But it cannot be done. So, we must corporately strive for perfection in other ways. We’ll not quite achieve it, but it is the only acceptable objective.

This is the FIRST thing we pay you for. If my son is not safe, nothing else the school wants to do matters.

Thank you so much for your good work. We all put our trust in you every day.

Michael E Conner
Publisher, Ask A Hoosier.com

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