What If No One Wanted to Be a Doctor?

A thought experiment: What if literally no one — not you, not anyone — had any desire whatsoever to be a doctor, nurse, emergency medical technician, or any other healthcare worker?

Imagine, for the purpose of this thought experiment, that no one had any interest in anatomy, physiology, or the like; and no one studied fields like radiology, oncology, pharmacology, or whatnot; such that the entire medical profession was unknown and therefore unavailable.

Then, under those conditions, you get sick or injured.

How would you obtain care? Upon whom would you rely?

If you were alone, you would have to treat yourself as best you could; or, even if you weren’t alone you could make the attempt if your symptoms or wounds were slight. Maybe you remember some First Aid from the Boy Scout Handbook, or some folk remedies from one of the Foxfire books, or maybe your parents “doctored” you when you were young and you recall what they did. (In this modern era, you might even try to pull up a YouTube video in hopes that someone had documented their own ordeal.)

If that failed, or your case was beyond your (or the Net’s) abilities, you would likely try to find someone else to help you. You might first ask someone you know, who you know cares about you, to treat you as best they can. If they couldn’t help, you would have to venture further afield and ask someone outside your immediate circle if they might deign to treat you.

Does that sound about right?

How would you ask them? What would you offer in exchange for their trying to help you? Would you promise? Would you plead? Would you threaten?

Doctor
(Image: “Doctor,” by Matt Madd, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

If asking didn’t get you the help you sought, would you demand it? Would you — could you — force someone to help you? Would you recruit others to do so? How far would you go, if you had the power?

Thankfully, we don’t live in the world of this thought experiment. We can be grateful that so many people choose the caring professions and study the medical sciences, so that we don’t have to treat ourselves when we’re in distress.

Their numbers, alas, are relatively small; and whenever limited supply meets significant demand, economics can deal heavy blows with its invisible hand. But even though their numbers are small, their impacts are tremendous. How we show our gratitude for their knowledge, skill, and dedication, of course, is up to us.

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Apropos of nothing, other than the fact that this is my blog: If you missed the announcement, I’m running a series of giveaways for Audible downloads of the Walking on the Sea of Clouds audiobook, which includes what I’ve been told are rather realistic emergency response and medical scenes. Sign up at this link!

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Whatever Happened to ‘Women and Children First’?

I understand that, in the interest of enforced equality, a judge with an unfortunate first name has ruled that selective service registration is unconstitutional if it applies only to men. The reasoning is that since we now allow women to operate in combat roles, we should require women to register for the draft, and if we don’t register women then we should not be able to register men for the draft.

This has been billed as an “equality” thing, but that’s garbage. Equality of opportunity is not the same as equality of responsibility or requirement. It’s one thing to have opened up combat roles to women who have the ability to fill them (both the physical attributes and the requisite viciousness), but it’s another thing entirely to require women who would never willingly choose such roles to have to sign up for them.

Imagine the difficulty of training drafted women — conscripted, non-volunteer women — for combat roles. But that in and of itself is not my primary concern. Nor is my concern that the proportion of women who can effectively fill combat roles — by dint of either physicality or temperament — is likely a good deal lower than the proportion of men who can do so.

My concern is what forcing women into combat, into life-threatening danger, when there are capable men who could serve in that capacity, may mean for our society.

Used to be, if a ship was sinking and the passengers were directed to lifeboats, women and children would be given the first spots. Any man who took a seat when there were still women and children waiting to board would open himself to general condemnation and charges of cowardice. Given the state of our society these days, I’m not sure that holds true anymore — especially since the court case that resulted in the ruling mentioned above “was brought by the National Coalition for Men, a men’s rights group, and two men who argued an all-male draft was unfair.”

Boo-freaking-hoo. Life’s unfair, cupcakes. If this is representative of their approach to life, that group may as well be named the national coalition for poltroons.

Thank God I still know people other than myself who believe, like Robert A. Heinlein, that

All societies are based on rules to protect pregnant women and young children. All else is surplusage, excrescence, adornment, luxury, or folly which can — and must — be dumped in emergency to preserve this prime function. As racial survival is the only universal morality, no other basic is possible. Attempts to formulate a “perfect society” on any foundation other than “Women and children first!” is not only witless, it is automatically genocidal.

Unfortunately, some people these days seem as if they would welcome genocide. A philosophy professor from my own alma mater not long ago published an op-ed in which he pondered the question of human extinction — and whether it would be all that bad for our race to go extinct since we’ve been so bad for the planet. I confess that I’m selfish enough to say that genocide and human extinction would be bad for me and the people I care about, so I’m not in favor.

RNLI statue
The sculpture, “When I Grow Up” by Darren Jackson, depicts a boy who wants to save lives — a noble calling, and one in which “women and children first” remains an important consideration. (Image: “RNLI Statue,” by Phil Parker, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Along less drastic lines, I’ve heard plenty of people declare in triumphant tones that “chivalry is dead,” because after all wasn’t it just a tool of the nebulous but hated patriarchy, meant to keep women in their place? Notwithstanding that any good thing can be misused, modern chivalry couldn’t possibly be an indicator of how highly men value women, and the lengths to which men would go to protect women and ensure their safety, security, and comfort — could it? It certainly couldn’t be an unconscious (but in the end perhaps effective) instinct to preserve the race, could it?

Some people have gone so far as to point out that modern chivalry bears little resemblance to the medieval codes governing knightly combat, and so, even if it’s not exactly dead, it should be. How utterly barbarous. Remove that muzzle very carefully, zookeeper: the bear has teeth, even if you’ve filed down his claws.

Perhaps this historic period of peace and plenty has something to do with these new societal mores. We are not in extremis, so as a culture maybe we have the luxury of devaluing those people among us who are most precious. The emergency will come, however — emergencies always do, and most of us are caught unawares — and holding to these modern sensibilities in the confusion and chaos may spell our societal doom. Not only witless, as Heinlein said, but genocidal. Or, to coin a phrase, genosuicidal.

I hope I’m right that most people, deep down, are fully in favor of “women and children first” — even if they won’t admit it. I certainly am. And I think (and hope) most people would still look askance at any man who intentionally saved his own life knowing that in doing so he was placing his wife or child, or any woman or child, in jeopardy.

But, “call me a relic,” as Bob Seger sang. Please, observe my actions and accuse me of being chivalrous. I will take it as a compliment.

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Immigrants Are Like Salt

(Third in a series.)

With the ongoing governmental brouhaha over whether a fence or a wall is better for securing a border, it occurred to me that immigrants are like salt.

For context, in the initial post of this series I wrote,

A little bit of salt enhances a dish. Too much salt ruins a dish: It no longer tastes like the dish it was meant to be; it only tastes like salt. When it comes to salt, moderation makes it more effective and saturation makes it unpalatable.

Metaphorically, the dish is culture. The dish is social solidarity. The dish is commonality in terms of language, values, beliefs. Immigrants, like salt, improve the dish by enhancing its starting flavor — whether it’s a local delicacy, a regional specialty, or a national favorite — when applied in moderate amounts.

salt
Sprinkle the salt with the spoon, or even with your fingers; don’t pour out the whole bowl into the dish you’re about to eat. (Image: “salt,” by theilr, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Extending the metaphor: In the same way that salt is not automatically bad, unless you’ve got a condition which salt may exacerbate, immigrants are not automatically bad. Limiting salt does not mean never using it, it means using it sparingly, in the right amount to make the best dish. So, too, with immigration.

Limiting immigration is meant to keep from ruining the societal dish. Or, to borrow a phrase, to keep from turning the “melting pot” into an unappetizing mess.

If only the chefs in the governmental kitchen had discerning palates, and could agree on the menu.

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Previous Entries in the Series:
A Little Less Salt, Please
Then There’s ‘Salty’ Language

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Our Permanent, Intangible Enemies

It seems pretty evident to me that sometimes you choose your enemy, but sometimes the enemy chooses you. And sometimes things act as enemies that we may not usually think of in those terms. Those enemies are nebulous, incorporeal. Not nations, nor people, but ideas, concepts, for which the terminology of battle may be ill-suited.

When it comes to things like that, I think of permanent as opposed to temporary enemies. Permanent or abiding enemies may not hold our attention as much as temporary foes that spring up and must be dealt with ad-hoc. A short-term enemy attacks; a long-term enemy infiltrates. Perennial enemies operate at lower levels and over longer timelines, it seems, than do enemies that charge us with sudden ferocity.

Charles Dickens identified two such eternal enemies in A Christmas Carol. In one memorable scene Scrooge is surprised to learn that the Ghost of Christmas Present stands upon two dirty, emaciated children he names as Ignorance and Want. The human race may face other timeless and shadowy enemies, but these two must be included on the list.

Are they brother and sister, as intimated by Dickens, or are they partners of some sort? Do they feed one another, help one another, keep one another alive? Is one dominant? Is one the forcing function of the other?

Are they related to what may be considered another perennial and sinister enemy of mankind: injustice? Is our political or ideological outlook based (at least in part) on which of these, Ignorance or Want, we consider cause and which effect? This may be something of a chicken-and-egg argument, but we often differ over which problem is worse and deserves the most (and the most immediate) attention.

We have met the enemy...
(Image: “We have met the enemy…,” by Thad Zajdowicz, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Unfortunately, these permanent, intangible enemies do not arouse as high a degree of fervor as more acute and palpable enemies. Even if they did, in the long run we have to include Ignorance in the same category as Want in terms of Christ’s observation, to wit: that just as we will always have some poor with us, so too we will always have some dimwitted. We cannot eliminate either, but we would do well as a society if we could minimize both.

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Then There’s ‘Salty’ Language

Yesterday I wrote a post about salt, and today I’m making it a series. The main point of yesterday’s post is that

A little bit of salt enhances a dish. Too much salt ruins a dish: It no longer tastes like the dish it was meant to be; it only tastes like salt. When it comes to salt, moderation makes it more effective and saturation makes it unpalatable.

So let’s talk about salty language.

On the one hand, we may mean the kind of gracious speech that Saint Paul directed the Christians at Colossi to use: “seasoned with salt,” rather than overloaded with it, when giving an answer to anyone who might inquire about Christ and why they followed Him. We who follow Christ today would do well to bear that in mind as we do our best to speak the truth in love, not in anger or bitterness.

On the other hand, and in my experience more frequently, salty language means something quite different. Foul language. Crude language, whether profane or vulgar. Here, too, the point remains the same: A little goes a very long way.

"Salt?"
(Image: “Salt?,” by Stefan Powell, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

I know quite a few people who make such a habit of vulgarity or profanity that I cringe whenever I sense they’re getting ready to speak. I confess that in the service I developed some bad habits along those lines myself, that I have not overcome: Very frequently, my first inward expression of frustration or anger is an obscenity, even if I successfully chisel off the hard edges of my language most of the time when other people are around.

As our culture has coarsened, though, I’ve observed more and more people who interpret “freedom of speech” to mean “freedom to express anything in any way,” and they frequently employ vulgar or profane language on social media posts or in other ways: on bumper stickers or T-shirts or even tattooed into their flesh. Maybe they’re right to do so, and would be justified in scoffing at me for even suggesting that they could exercise a bit more self-control. Maybe they’re expressing the kind of deep rage and dissatisfaction that can only be captured by obscenities, rather than just being lazy or trying to be edgy. But as with salt itself, so with salty language: moderation makes it more effective — its relative rarity calls attention to it and it bears more emotional weight — while saturation just makes it unpalatable.

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Previous Entry: A Little Less Salt, Please

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The Visceral Feeling of Pride

A while ago I wrote about pride, and particularly that pride gets a bad rap, but I wonder if sometimes other things masquerade as pride. That is, if other emotions may give us the same sensations as pride, and make us feel as if we’ve accomplished something even if we haven’t.

That brings up the question of whether we can identify the physical results, the visceral sensations, of pride.

Think back to something you did that went very well, and how you felt at the time. Not something routine, but something fairly important: instead of warming up hot dogs and being happy that they only got a little charred, you fixed a sumptuous meal to celebrate a special occasion and every dish came out perfect; instead of stammering your way through a presentation or some other public appearance, your delivery and timing were flawless and the audience hung on your every word; or whatever you can recall that was a clear victory for you, a triumph in your life.

Think about that sense of accomplishment, in terms of what your senses told you. What did it feel like, deep inside? Was it the “thrill of victory”? Did you feel it through your chest, or down in your belly, or all over? Was it a little like being nervous, but at the same time being excited? Can you describe it at all?

I don’t mean to imply that the same emotional states create the same physical sensations in each of us — in the case of these feelings of elation, it’s very possible that one person’s fluttering stomach is another person’s head rush is another person’s feeling of walking on air. But I wonder if that feeling we have during a moment of prideful accomplishment may be duplicated by other things.


What kinds of things can give us the feeling of pride similar to what we might get from crossing the finish line? (Image: “Athletics tracks finish line,” by Petey21, on Wikimedia Commons.)

For instance: could it be that for some people defiance feels like pride? That is, is it possible that being defiant — whether acting rebellious or standing against a perceived authority — elicits the same emotional feedback as being proud of some accomplishment? I think back to times when I have been defiant, and the sensations may have been similar.

Could other emotions also produce similar (or even indistinguishable) physical states to the feeling of pride? Thus, is it possible to feel something like pride without a clear, recognizable accomplishment of which to be proud?

That might explain a few things.

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Where Are You on the Killing Continuum?

So, here’s another oddball idea.

It seems possible to me to illustrate people’s comfort level with deadly force along a continuum, ranging from the unwilling — people for whom taking another human life is completely anathema — to the needing, whose desire to murder their fellow human beings has blossomed into a deep-seated craving, an urge they must satisfy. We might characterize it as being a continuum between “nihilicide” and “omnicide,” between the refusal to kill anyone and the compulsion to kill anyone, if not exactly everyone.

The unwilling, or perhaps the refusers, would not, under any circumstances, pick up a deadly weapon to defend themselves or anyone else. It may be that they would prefer to be killed than to kill. The number of people in this category is probably fairly small, but the best thing about them is that they pose very little threat to anyone else. (Originally I thought they might pose absolutely no threat, but accidents happen, so … no intentional threat, anyway.)

Moving along from there would be people reluctant to apply deadly force, but who recognize that it might be necessary in some circumstances. The idea of killing makes them uneasy, perhaps enough that they would be unlikely to purchase weapons or seek training.

Next would be the willing — those who have thought through the mental process of what it would take to apply deadly force and have become somewhat used to the idea. They might prefer not to, but have steeled themselves to carry it out if need be, and may have gone through some specific training in that regard. I would think most law enforcement and military professionals would fall into this category.

When I posed this question in my newsletter — to which you can subscribe using the form in the top right — a friend suggested that the boundary between the reluctant and the willing might be home to the reluctantly willing. (Perhaps we might consider them the grudging.) They may have had some amount of training, maybe from prior military service or from civilian security or police work, but their willingness to kill may not be quite firm. It might be a matter of caution, or conscience, or uncertainty, or religious conviction; or it might be something they cannot quite articulate. (For the record, this describes my position on the continuum pretty well.)

Moving further along the killing continuum, though, we find more problematic cohorts, beginning with people wanting to kill: people who are not only comfortable with the idea of killing others but who consider it desirable (for whatever reason). The fact that we are not overrun with murderers indicates that this group is relatively small; however, the boundary between this group and the preceding groups can be somewhat porous. Some people may shift into this cohort temporarily, for example, driven by extreme situations, and may occupy it only for a short time (perhaps not even long enough to carry out an attempt).

Beyond them, though, as we approach the omnicide edge, is an even more extreme and far more dangerous cohort: the needing group. Whether it is a matter of obsession, or sadistic pleasure, or devaluation of others, or some other driving force, people in this group intend to kill and may never be satisfied until they have done so. Thankfully, the number of people with such psychopathy is also quite small.

The first question, as stated above, is where do you fall on such a continuum?


The Killing Continuum. Mathematically, it seems the probability of carrying out an attack using deadly force would approach zero on the “nihilicide” end and unity on the “omnicide” end.

Perhaps that continuum is too simple, though. For instance, a friend suggested that it may be possible to add another axis and turn it into a killing matrix, with willingness on the horizontal axis (as above) and some assessment of “rightness” on the vertical axis. The rightness axis might cover a range of attitudes about killing, from its being always wrong up through being right only in certain circumstances (e.g., self-defense, defense of others, preemptive defense) all the way up to seeing homicide as being unequivocally right. On such a matrix, for example, there may be a population of people “willing” to kill who nonetheless believe that homicide is never right. (In the interest of keeping this post from growing out of all proportion, I won’t attempt that expanded version; you are free to work on it as an exercise, though.)

I started thinking about this in terms of whether it may ever be possible to identify people on the increasing-probability end of the continuum — those wanting and even needing to kill. If we could zero in on their intentions and predict their actions, I wonder whether it may be possible to stop them before they succeeded or even to pull them back from the brink, to help them shed the need and the desire to kill before they tried to satisfy it. Another friend pointed out that it probably won’t ever be reliably possible to identify people like that — many of us are able to hide our baser instincts, after all, though most of our baser instincts don’t present threats to our fellows — and that even if we could, we might come to regret the level of totalitarianism that would produce.

So to me the question then becomes, after we consider where we fall on the continuum, whether any manner of societal pressures can prevent a person who wants to kill — or even who thinks they need to kill — from doing so. And, if there are mores and norms and beliefs to counter the urges that lead to such deeds, whether our society has the will to exert such pressures, or even to endorse them.

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The High Honor of Cultural Appropriation

I recently learned that last year a columnist claimed that, “You should only be allowed to enjoy the culture of your own race.”* Even if that was meant to be a joke, I thought I’d put the proverbial stake in the ground here, with something I’ve said verbally and on the Book of Faces (where everyone, including me, spouts off about everything): Cultural appropriation is the highest form of societal flattery.

That is to say, so far as cultural “appropriation” is a real phenomenon, we appropriate what we appreciate.

If your culture is being appropriated — if elements of your culture are being borrowed and copied and used by others — it is only because people find value in them. No one appropriates cultural elements that have no appeal.

Culture
This way to the culture…. (Image: “Culture,” by Scott Beale, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Life is too short to spend very much time eating foods we dislike or wearing clothes that don’t suit us or participating in activities we loathe. We feast on foods we love, no matter what the people looked like who originated them. We wear clothing that helps us feel comfortable and look good (so far as that’s possible, for some of us), no matter what language the people spoke who first wove the cloth or designed the patterns. We take part in games and rituals and enjoy music and drama that we find uplifting, that speak to us, that give us pleasure in company or alone, regardless of what patch of earth was home to the people who first made up those pastimes or told those stories.

I hope you take pride in your culture, and defend it fiercely from misuse or misappropriation. Certainly some cultural copying is intended to criticize or mock, but that’s the exception, not the norm. (And in a society of free people who value free speech, even that is a valid form of expression.)

But it remains that imitation, as it is said, is the highest form of flattery. In personal terms, we emulate people we admire. We say we want to be like them, and sometimes we go so far as to pattern our lives after theirs, although some of them may not appreciate the attention they get. So it is with cultural appropriation.

If elements of your culture are being appropriated, then, it’s because they are valuable — and valued.

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*From a HuffPo piece that I’m not sure was meant to be serious or absurdist. (Whatever it was, it needed to be edited before it was posted.)

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The Problem of Not Caring

I get the impression that we, as a society, have grown increasingly thin-skinned: Everybody seems so touchy these days, so sensitive to the smallest offense.

I wonder if maybe the problem is not so much that we’re offended (or offensive) as that we don’t really care about one another. We do more than just choose sides over divisive issues; we draw battle lines, dig trenches, and build fortifications around our positions so that it seems we “care” more about the issues than we do about our fellow human beings. Like troops steeling ourselves for battle, we cease for a time even to think of our opponents as human.

We are quick not only to take offense but to show it — to advertise the fact that we are offended. And there is no shortage of people ready to ally themselves with us against the offender, to try them in the court of public opinion and hang them in electronic effigy, as if a chorus of shrill, shouting voices is somehow more coherent and convincing than our single, small voice would be if we stepped toward the offender and offered, in private or to a very limited audience, an explanation of what grieved us.

Easily Offended
Should every Internet-connected computer have a sign on it like this? (Image: “Easily Offended,” by Derek Bruff, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

I admit: Sometimes I suffer from the affliction of not caring. Not caring about particular issues, but worse, not caring very much about the people who care about those issues.

I think that if I did (or do) care about you and have a connection with you, I should offer my grievance between the two of us — or in a small group if that would bolster my courage — rather than airing it to the world.* By broadcasting my offense, in effect I broadcast that I care little for you and do not wish to relate to you on a personal level.

That is, if I do or say something that offends you and you address the issue with me, what I do about it then will be related to how much I care about you: about your perceptions, about your feelings, about you as a person.

If I care about you a lot, I will find a way without compromising my principles to apologize, attempt to make amends, and try to modify my behavior so I don’t offend you in the future. If I care about you only a little, I might apologize — possibly insincerely, I admit** — but I’m unlikely to make amends or to change my behavior. If I don’t care about you at all, I won’t apologize nor will I see any need to make recompense or act any differently.

But how much I care may be affected by whether you have addressed the issue with me privately or castigated me in public. The way in which you approach me will demonstrate whether you care about me; is it any wonder that I might reflect that back at you? The worse I feel I’ve been treated, the less I am likely to care about those mistreating me and the higher and stronger I will build my side of the wall between us.

Or, to put it another way: If what I do or say offends you and I know it and continue to do it anyway with no attempt at bridging the gap between us, the message is that I care not a whit for you. I am secure behind my battlements, ready to toss insults and taunts and other, less savory things at those who assail me.

The reverse is also true: If what you do offends me and you persist in it knowing it offends me, then no matter how you dress it up in your “right” to do whatever, the message I receive is that you care nothing for me and others like me whom you offend.

That is our right, of course. We have no obligation to care for one another, but the world might be a better place if we did.

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*In this regard, the way Jesus taught his disciples to deal with each other one-on-one first was one of the wisest pieces of advice he ever gave.
**A teacher of mine once said, “… I apologize, but this apology is in no way sincere.”

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How I Want to Relate to You

A while back I was thinking about our tendency to generalize: to take specific instances and apply them broadly. Our ability to make such mental associations may help us make sense of the world, so long as the associations make sense, but sometimes they fail to represent the whole (or even a large part of the whole). In particular, our generalizations often fail when we observe the actions or hear the words of specific people and act as if they apply to an entire cohort of people.

I don’t want to do that to you. I’d prefer it if you didn’t do that to me, either.

I want to relate to you on the basis of your individuality, your own unique nature, and whatever we might find we have in common.

  • Perhaps we have in common a shared experience in school or work or recreation.
  • Perhaps we have in common a shared appreciation for music or some other art.
  • Perhaps we have in common a shared belief in the founding principles of the United States.
  • Perhaps we have in common a shared faith, or a similar enough faith that the differences are not as important as the similarities.
  • Perhaps we have in common something more basic, more primal, like geography or heritage or history.
  • Perhaps the only thing we have in common is our shared humanity. Perhaps that could be enough.

Jackie Treehorns (The House on the Rock)
Surely we have something in common; if nothing else, maybe we can relate to one another based on a mutual appreciation of something simple, like a book. (Image: “Jackie Treehorns (The House on the Rock),” by Justin Kern, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

I want to relate to you on the basis of who you are as a person — an individual, whole, complete person. And I would like you to consider who I am as a person, rather than any particular association I may represent.

If you permit me, I will try to overcome negative associations you may have. I will try not to come at you only from the perspective of my political viewpoint, my creed, my race, my sex, and so forth — I will not deny them, but neither will I flaunt them. Likewise, I don’t want to relate to you solely on the basis of your political viewpoint, your particular creed, your race, your sex, or anything of the sort. Our politics, our races, etc., are parts of us, but not the sum total of who we are. I am not my politics, you are not your race, and so forth, unless one of us insists on treating the other in that way. I do not so insist.

In other words, I don’t want to relate to you only as a representative of any group, or sect, or party, or biological construct. So, if we can, let’s just meet as two people, and look for something — maybe for anything — that can unite us.

And then, if we can, let’s move forward.

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