Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for February 27th, 2007

The American gulag

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From the Washington Post:

On his last day in CIA custody, Marwan Jabour, an accused al-Qaeda paymaster, was stripped naked, seated in a chair and videotaped by agency officers. Afterward, he was shackled and blindfolded, headphones were put over his ears, and he was given an injection that made him groggy. Jabour, 30, was laid down in the back of a van, driven to an airstrip and put on a plane with at least one other prisoner.

His release from a secret facility in Afghanistan on June 30, 2006, was a surprise to Jabour — and came just hours after the Supreme Court rejected the Bush administration’s assertion that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to prisoners like him.

Before that day, Jabour had spent two years in “black sites” — a network of secret internment facilities the CIA operated around the world. His account of life in that system, which he described in three interviews with The Washington Post, offers an inside view of a clandestine world that held far more prisoners than the 14 men President Bush acknowledged and had transferred out of CIA custody in September.

“There are now no terrorists in the CIA program,” the president said, adding that after the prisoners held were determined to have “little or no additional intelligence value, many of them have been returned to their home countries for prosecution or detention by their governments.”

But Jabour’s experience — also chronicled by Human Rights Watch, which yesterday issued a report on the fate of former “black site” detainees — often does not accord with the portrait the administration has offered of the CIA system, such as the number of people it held and the threat detainees posed. Although 14 detainees were publicly moved from CIA custody to the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, scores more have not been publicly identified by the U.S. government, and their whereabouts remain secret. Nor has the administration acknowledged that detainees such as Jabour, considered so dangerous and valuable that their detentions were kept secret, were freed.

After 28 months of incarceration, Jabour — who was described by a counterterrorism official in the U.S. government as “a committed jihadist and a hard-core terrorist who was intent on doing harm to innocent people, including Americans” — was released eight months ago. U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials confirmed his incarceration and that he was held in Pakistan and Afghanistan. They would not discuss conditions inside black sites or the treatment of any detainee.

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Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2007 at 8:51 pm

Good intentions paving a road to academic hell

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The very definition of spinning out of control:

Ever since the gross mistreatment of poor black men in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study came to light three decades ago, the federal government has required ethics panels to protect people from being used as human lab rats in biomedical studies. Yet now, faculty and graduate students across the country increasingly complain that these panels have spun out of control, curtailing academic freedom and interfering with research in history, English and other subjects that poses virtually no danger to anyone.

The panels, known as Institutional Review Boards, are required at all institutions that receive research money from any one of 17 federal agencies and are charged with signing off in advance on almost all studies that involve a living person, whether a former president of the United States or your own grandmother. This results, critics say, in unnecessary and sometimes absurd demands.

Among the incidents cited in recent report by the American Association of University Professors are a review board asking a linguist studying a preliterate tribe to “have the subjects read and sign a consent form,” and a board forbidding a white student studying ethnicity to interview African-American Ph.D. students “because it might be traumatic for them.”

“It drives historians crazy,” said Joshua Freeman, the director of the City University’s graduate history program. “It’s a medical model, it’s inappropriate and ignorant.” One student currently waiting for a board to approve his study of a strike in the 1970s, Mr. Freeman said, had to submit a list of questions he was going to ask workers and union officials, file signed consent forms, describe the locked location where he would keep all his notes, take a test to certify he understood the standards.

Review boards, first created in 1974, were initially restricted to biomedical research. In 1981 the regulations were revised to cover all research that involves “human subjects” and is designed to contribute to “generalizable knowledge.”

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Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2007 at 8:37 pm

Posted in Education, Government

History of Marijuana

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Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2007 at 8:20 pm

Posted in Drug laws, Education, Video

Find your political compass

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Take the little test and see where you fall. I, as you might suspect, am down and to the left:

-6.13 – Economic Left/Right
-7.18 – Social Libertarian/Authoritarian

That puts me in the Gandhi neighborhood, but more Libertarian.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2007 at 4:26 pm

Posted in Democrats, GOP

Buffalo chicken thingies

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Coconut & Lime is on a roll: look at their recipe for Buffalo Chicken Thingies. I’ve ordered a 3-pack of the Anchor Buffalo sauce and I’m definitely making this when it arrives.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2007 at 2:13 pm

Posted in Recipes & Cooking

Strange mouse behavior

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My nice Logitech MX Revolution suddenly seemed unable to move the cursor up and down—so badly that I went out and bought a cheap USB mouse to use until I could figure it out. Thought it was okay, but then today, the trouble started again. And then I removed the super-duper mousepad I was using and just let it run on the keyboard pull-out shelf—and it’s fine. Go figure. The mousepad, a Func F10.s, has worked great—and then all of a sudden not at all. I didn’t spill anything on it, and the USB mouse (a Microsoft optical) worked fine on it. Just the Logitech decided it was bored of it, or something.

So if your mouse is acting up, try not using the mousepad. Your mouse may be tired of it.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2007 at 2:10 pm

Posted in Technology

Snow globes as art

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Click “recent works” at this site.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2007 at 10:19 am

Posted in Art

And here’s the kind of attention the media at last are getting

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From The Carpetbagger:

The Washington Post ran a 1,300-word front-page expose today detailing a family foundation the Clintons created to donate generously to charities for several years. The tone of the article suggested that there’s a real controversy here, so I read the piece to gauge its seriousness. It lacked a certain something — namely any suggestion of possible wrongdoing.

And then I noticed the byline: “By John Solomon.” Of course.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and former president Bill Clinton have operated a family charity since 2001, but she failed to list it on annual Senate financial disclosure reports on five occasions.

The Ethics in Government Act requires members of Congress to disclose positions they hold with any outside entity, including nonprofit foundations. Hillary Clinton has served her family foundation as treasurer and secretary since it was established in December 2001, but none of her ethics reports since then have disclosed that fact. […]

Clinton’s spokesman said her failure to report the existence of the family foundation and the senator’s position as an officer was an oversight. Her office immediately amended her Senate ethics reports to add that information late yesterday after receiving inquiries from The Washington Post.

“The details of the Clintons’ charitable family foundation and Senator Clinton’s role in it have always been publicly available, but, in an oversight that leaders of both parties have made, it was inadvertently omitted from her Senate filing, which has been corrected,” Hillary Clinton’s press secretary, Philippe Reines, said yesterday.

That’s it; that’s the whole controversy. The Clintons had an outlet through which they donated to charity, the information was publicly available, but a clerical error omitted the donations from Sen. Clinton’s disclosure forms. Then her office corrected the forms.

This is literally front-page news, why?

Did Bill, Hillary, or Chelsea accept any money through this family foundation? No. Have they accepted any special favors in return for donations? No. Is there any evidence that they intentionally tried to conceal their publicly-available donations? No.

But what about the failure to disclose? Yes, that’s obviously a paperwork error, but it’s entirely meaningless. It’s one thing not to disclosure money a lawmaker earned, but in this case, we’re talking about money a lawmaker donated to charity.

As Jonathan Chait put it:

My second thought, “OK, it’s John Solomon, but there has to be more to this story than failing to list charitable contributions.” So I read the story. And that’s all there is! The scandal is that Clinton failed to disclose some of the money she donated to charity. Not money she earned, money she gave away.

I mean, maybe — maybe — that’s a one-paragraph item somewhere in the back. But this is a major front page story. And the story doesn’t even try to explain why this is a matter of public concern. […]

What exactly is the angle here? “Clinton Office Behind on Paperwork”? “Clinton More Generous Than She Admits”?

It’s so weak, Michelle Malkin highlighted the article in a post, but apparently couldn’t think of anything specific to criticize.

Has the Post fired its editors? Wouldn’t someone on staff read the article first and ask, “Where’s the news in all of this?” And isn’t there anyone who thought this might not be a story appropriate for the front page of one of the nation’s premier news outlets?

And exactly how many news-less front-page stories will John Solomon publish before the Post starts to scrutinize his shoddy work more closely?

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2007 at 9:59 am

Posted in Washington Post

Bush and a strange bed-fellow

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From ThinkProgress:

President Bush reportedly met yesterday with Walid Jumblatt, a member of the Lebanese Parliament who has repeatedly called for U.S.-backed regime change in Syria.

After visiting the White House, Jumblatt addressed the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, which wields significant influence within the administration. “Many people say there won’t be a stable Lebanon without regime change in Syria,” Jumblatt said, adding that he “urged the Bush administration to aid opposition groups fighting the rule” of Syrian President Assad.

Jumblatt’s meeting with the White House is notable not just because of his radical foreign policy views. In the past, Jumblatt has cheered the deaths of American soldiers in Iraq, referred to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as “oil-colored,” and claimed the real axis of evil is one of “oil and Jews.”

– “We are all happy when U.S. soldiers are killed [in Iraq] week in and week out. The killing of U.S. soldiers in Iraq is legitimate and obligatory.” [Link]

– “The oil axis is present in most of the U.S. administration, beginning with its president, vice-president and top advisers, including (Condoleezza) Rice, who is oil-colored, while the axis of Jews is present with Paul Wolfowitz, the leading hawk who is inciting (America) to occupy and destroy Iraq.” [Link]

– “In November 2003, the United States revoked Jumblatt’s diplomatic visa for wishing out loud that Wolfowitz had been killed in a Baghdad rocket attack.” [Link]

While the White House has yet to comment on the Jumblatt’s visit, his regime change talk yesterday “drew a round of applause from the AEI audience.”

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2007 at 9:51 am

Bush Admin can’t make up its “mind”

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Are we fighting Sunnis? or Shiites? or both? Josh Marshall:

As you’ve probably seen, there’s been a flurry of articles over the last week about Vice President Cheney, possible plans for war against Iran and murmurs from within the upper echelons of the US armed forces of possible resignations if the White House opts for that new adventure. But beyond all the scary predications and wild tales, Kevin Drum and Andrew Sullivan have picked out the real nugget: Cheney and the rest of the crew at the White House can’t even seem to get clear on what side they’re on or even what war it is they’re fighting.

That takes strategic incoherence into truly uncharted territory.

Here are the details.

In the Hersh piece in The New Yorker we learn that the US has essentially decided to get out of the al Qaeda/Sunni-jihadist fighting business and redirect our efforts toward fighting the Iranian peril. The real war we’re in the midst of now, it turns out, is the trans-Middle Eastern Sunni-Shi’a civil war. And we’re going to side with the Saudis, who will in turn enlist a bunch of al Qaeda type groups to work on our behalf against Iran.

Now, you may be worried that this sounds rather like how we got into this mess in the first place. But don’t worry. As Hersh writes, the Saudis are assuring the White House, that “they will keep a very close eye on the religious fundamentalists. Their message to us was ‘We’ve created this movement, and we can control it.'”

Okay, for the sake of argument, let’s say we’re convinced. Back to teaming up with the Sunni jihadists it is …

But wait … Only a short time ago we were told that Cheney and his crew at the White House wanted to take the side of the Shi’as in Iraq’s burgeoning civil war. In other words, for all the attention to who we’re going to attack and how and how many soldiers we need to do it, there appears to be a basic debate (to be generous) or confusion (to be less generous) within the administration over which side we’re even on.

We talk a lot about the ‘surge’ and that’s important since it assumes a intensive military commitment in Iraq for years into the future. We worry about tactics and strategy and whether the White House is going to plunge us into another war as a way to wriggle out of the blame for the current one. But this is a level of folly that transcends all of that: at the most basic level, the folks running the show can’t even decide who’s side we’re on. There’s no real strategy here or grand aim or even stable aim — more like a rather panicked set of improvisations aimed at finding a way to retrospectively justify the mistakes that got us here in the first place.

Atrios comments: “Short version of the story: We toppled minority Sunni leadership of Iraq, installing majority Shia leadership in power. Now, according to Hersh, we’re funding Sunni interests elsewhere in the region to prevent the rise of Shia dominance. Thanks wise old men of Washington, for putting the grownups back in charge.”

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2007 at 9:46 am

Bloggers and the mainstream media

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Glenn Greenwald makes a good point today:

It is difficult to quantify the influence which the blogosphere has on our broader political debates. There are the blogging triumphalists who seem to think that bloggers are taking over the world and can change whatever they want with a few posts. And then there are those on the opposite end of the spectrum — the gloomy, whiny defeatists — who think that all is hopeless because the Big Bad System is so powerful and ingenious and Machiavellian as to be invulnerable (attributes of omnipotence often assigned to the Rove-led Republican political machine — until the 2006 midterm elections). But most people seem to reside somewhere in between those two poles, which is where the truth is also likely to be found.

Bloggers plug away every day with their media criticisms, their political assaults, and their demands for greater accountability from the political and media institutions which have been so profoundly and glaringly failing the country. Most of that work does not produce immediate results, and whatever work does produce results cannot typically be quantified or documented. No single blog post, by itself, is going to radically transform our political landscape or engender some spontaneous reawakening from our citizenry or political and media elite. And that lack of immediate satisfaction sometimes produces the misleading sense that no meaningful change is occurring.

But changes of this sort — like the growth of a child with whom one lives — are gradual and therefore imperceptible, but they are still occurring. Mainstream journalists can no longer ignore the criticisms and complaints that come from the blogosphere. They hear them and are affected by them and that has the effect of changing their behavior. The Michael Gordons in our press corps are not going to be able to aid and abet the efforts of Bush followers to fan the flames of war against Iran without substantial impediments, criticisms and attention — not as much as is merited, but certainly far more than before.

For a long time, most national journalists studiously ignored the blogosphere completely, trying to demonize it and dismiss it away as some sort of frivolous cesspool of vulgarity and partisan hysteria (some still cling to that tactic). But in terms of size, impact and sophistication, the blogosphere has evolved beyond the point where it can be easily caricatured that way and it has grown beyond the point where it can be simply ignored. The instances where our nation’s most influential journalists are compelled to respond to criticisms from blogs are now so numerous as to be routine, even expected.

And that criticism, provided it is persuasive and well-documented, will inevitably have an effect in re-shaping and improving our political discourse — not immediately or flamboyantly, but gradually and inexorably. When it came to Iraq, it took almost a year-and-a-half for criticisms of the NYT‘s Gordon-type reporting to appear in its own pages. Yet this time, when Gordon tried the same stunt with Iran, it took less than two weeks for his own paper to criticize him, and numerous other articles on the same topic were published that were far more substantive and responsible.

That is genuine progress, and much of it is attributable to blogs, the influence of which will only continue to grow. People like Tony Snow, Richard Wolffe, and Lieberman-consultant Dan Gerstein feel compelled to scream that the blogosphere is a frivolous and inconsequential echo chamber not because it is, but precisely because they know it is not. If it were, they would continue to ignore it, rather than feel a need to lash out at it.

Media outlets know they are being watched and that a lack of adversarial reporting will be detected and severely criticized. There is much to complain about in our political and media institutions, and there is no shortage of those complaints, but it is also worth noting — to dilute pervasive defeatism if for no other reason — that there is also progress being made.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2007 at 9:41 am

Posted in Media

And, speaking of religion: The Marijuana Church

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From the LA Daily News:

The Rev. Craig X Rubin read aloud a passage from 1 Kings as the sun set and his congregation prepared for the Sabbath.

Flicking a lighter to the lone candle atop the podium, Rubin burned a bud of marijuana on the flame. He puffed it out, walked to each of the eight members sitting in the pews and waved the smoldering cannabis around them.

This, Rubin proclaims, carries the prayers of Temple 420 to God.

That’s the God of Isaac and of Jesus, because members are Christians and Jews. That makes the congregation Rubin founded last summer unique.

But what really sets it apart – and the reason Rubin will be in court Friday – is the temple’s use of marijuana as a religious sacrament.

“I am willing to preach the Bible and go to jail if it means getting my message out there,” the 41-year-old Panorama City man said. And he knows how strange that sounds.

“I’m a Jewish kid from Beverly Hills who went to UCLA. I could have been a lawyer making $250 an hour like the rest of my friends, or a TV producer. Instead, I’m teaching the Bible, selling weed on Hollywood Boulevard, facing seven years in jail – of course I’m crazy.”

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Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2007 at 9:18 am

Posted in Drug laws, Religion

Evangelical atheism

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You may have seen recently that a homosexual is much more likely to be elected President than an atheist. Voters by and large don’t like atheists, and now that some books in defense of atheism have hit the best-seller lists, there’s been much handwringing:

Are ‘Evangelical Atheists’ Too Outspoken?

The recent publication of four books—The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins; The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, both by Sam Harris; and Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, by Daniel Dennett—has provoked great controversy and consternation.* The fact that books by Dawkins and Harris have made it to The New York Times best-seller list has apparently sent chills down the spines of many commentators; not only conservative religionists but also some otherwise liberal secularists are worried about this unexpected development. We note that the people now being attacked are affiliated with FREE INQUIRY and the Center for Inquiry. The editors of FREE INQUIRY, of course, are gratified that the views espoused in these pages have received a wider forum. What disturbs us is the preposterous outcry that atheists are “evangelical” and that they have gone too far in their criticism of religion.

Really? The public has been bombarded by pro-religious propaganda from time immemorial—today it comes from pulpits across the land, TV ministries, political hucksters, and best-selling books. Indeed, at the present moment, the apocalyptic Left Behind series, coauthored by evangelist Tim LaHaye, is an all-time blockbuster. Other best-sellers include The Purpose-Driven Life, by Rick Warren and a slew of books attacking liberal secularists and humanists by religious conservatives such as Ann Coulter and Bill O’Reilly.

Let’s be fair: Until now, it has been virtually impossible to get a fair hearing for critical comment upon uncontested religious claims. It was considered impolite, in bad taste, and it threatened to raise doubts about God’s existence or hegemony. I have often said that it is as if an “iron curtain” had descended within America, for skeptics have discovered that the critical examination of religion has been virtually verboten. We have experienced firsthand how journalists and producers have killed stories about secular humanism for fear of offending the little old ladies and gentlemen in the suburbs, conservative advertisers, the Catholic hierarchy, or right-wing fundamentalists. It is difficult to find any politicians who are not intimidated and will admit that they are disbelievers or agnostics, let alone atheists. Today, there are very few, if any, clearly identified atheist personalities in the media—Bill Maher is a notable exception. The war against secularism by the Religious Right is unremitting. Even New York Times columnists are running scared. We note the column by Nicolas Kristof (December 3, 2006) calling for a “truce on religion.” He deplores the “often obnoxious atheist offensive” of “secular fundamentalism.”

Science columnist William J. Broad, in a piece published earlier this year in the Times (February 28, 2006), criticized both Daniel C. Dennett and Edward O. Wilson (another Center for Inquiry stalwart). Dennett, complains Broad, “likens spiritual belief to a disease” and looks to science “to explain its grip on humanity.” Broad faults E.O. Wilson for writing in an earlier book (Consilience [Knopf, 1998]) that “the insights of neuroscience and evolution . . . increasingly can illuminate even morality and ethics, with the scientific findings potentially leading ‘more directly and safely to stable moral codes’ than do the dictates of God’s will or the findings of transcendentalism.” Broad remonstrates against such views, maintaining that they exhibit “a kind of arrogance,” and he likewise recommends that scientists declare a truce in their critiques of religion. To which I reply that it is important that we apply scientific inquiry as best we can to all areas of human behavior, including religion and ethics. I fail to see why it is “arrogant” to attempt to do so.

Another Times op-ed piece by Bernard A. Shweder of the University of Chicago (“Atheists Agonistes,” [November 27, 2006]), denigrates the Enlightenment and reminds us that John Locke, author of “Letter Concerning Toleration,” defended tolerance in democratic societies for everyone but atheists. We note that the National Review and the Jewish Forward are also worried by “militant secularists” who question established religions—they were objecting to an advertisement the Center for Inquiry/Transnational ran on the op-ed page of The New York Times (November 15, 2006), headlined “In Defense of Science and Secularism.” We think it appropriate to defend the integrity of science and the importance of secularism at a time when both are under heavy attack.

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Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2007 at 9:14 am

Chinese cleaver/knife

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The Chinese “cleaver” is actually a knife in cleaver shape. It’s used for cutting, not hacking through bone (which would ruin it)—the Chinese equivalent of the chef’s knife.

I recently looked at a bunch of Chinese cleavers, eventually buying the Dexter/Russell S5198. I’m a big fan of Wüsthof cutlery, but their 7″ “heavy” Chinese cleaver didn’t move me—and at $80, it would have to. The Joyce Chen 7″ cleaver is more knife-like than most and (like the Dexter/Russell) got a 5-star review. But I decided I liked the more cleaver shape.

Now that I’ve used it, I like it a lot. It’s very handy: after chopping stuff, you can turn the cleaver flat and slide it under the chopped food like a spatula to make the transfer to the pan. The only drawback I’ve found so far is that the height of the blade does prevent me from, say, holding onion slices together as I cut them, so I can then cut the whole sliced onion at right angles to make the little cubes. But on the whole, I find I use it pretty much constantly.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2007 at 9:01 am

Useful site to track your Rep and Senators

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So what are those rascals up to? Are they heeding your emails? (Never send them snail mail: because of all the anthrax fears, they essentially never get it.) You can check up on them at OpenCongress, a very useful site indeed. Check in frequently, and praise them when they do well, and express heartfelt regrets when they fall short. Let them know that you’re watching, and perhaps they’ll be less likely to follow the dictates of Lobbyist A—who has lots of money, but only one vote.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2007 at 7:26 am

Posted in Congress, Election, Software

Hip report

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Yesterday morning was the most painful, with a particularly sharp pain once with a sort of sideways sensation deep in the hip. But then, the pain started to abate, and by bedtime I was almost comfortable. And this morning, my hip feels almost normal—just a slight twinge every now and then.

So what was it? A temporary Celebrex deficiency? One possibility, though superficially unlikely: my ISP has been having problems keeping my (and others’ as well) DSL connection—many short interruptions until finally I couldn’t even watch YouTube videos: about 5 seconds in, the connection would drop and could not be re-established to finish the video. They worked on it all weekend, finally traced it to one of their switches, and yesterday afternoon—AT ABOUT THE SAME TIME MY HIP STARTED TO IMPROVE—they fixed it. Since then, no connection interruptions and my hip is steadily better. Now, I’m no scientist, but this seems pretty convincing to me.

In fact, it feels somewhat as if there were a carbuncle in the joint, getting ever more painful, which then finally burst and drained. Very weird. I’m hoping the bone scan will prove information.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2007 at 6:55 am

Posted in Daily life, Medical

Lavender morning

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The Castle Forbes Lavender shaving cream delivers a wonderful fragrance and rich lather. Applied with the Plisson brush (from Paris, France) and shaved off with the Gem G-Bar. After, to complete the Lavender experience, applied Castle Forbes Lavender Shaving Balm, “for sensitive skins,” the unexpected plural delivering a dismaying picture of flayed shavers whose skins adorn the Castle walls. Still, a wonderfully smooth shave with no nicks or cuts—again.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2007 at 6:49 am

Posted in Shaving

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