Later On

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

Archive for February 7th, 2008

The cable cuts: nothing

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Looks like it was the media doing sloppy reporting:

After two underwater cable cuts in the Middle East last week severely impacted countries from Dubai to  India, alert netizens voiced suspicions that someone — most likely Al Qaeda — intentionally severed the cables for their own nefarious purposes, or that the U.S. cut them as a lead-in to an attack on Iran.

Then two more cables failed in the same area, one in a segment connecting Qatar to an island in the United Arab Emirates, and another in a link between Oman and the UAE. The former wasn’t even a cut — it was a power failure, but you can’t keep a good conspiracy theory down; some news sites are even reporting incorrectly that Iran is cut off from the internet, and claiming that there’s a fifth cut, which turns out to be an unexceptional cable failure from weeks ago.

Stephan Beckert of TeleGeography Research says it’s all a bit much.

“I’m much more worried about terrorists blowing up people than cables,” Beckert said. “If you cut a cable, all you are doing is inconveniencing a lot of people.”

Only the first two cuts had any serious impact on the internet, says Beckert. Those cables near Alexandria, Egypt account for 76 percent of the capacity through the Suez canal — connecting Europe with the Middle East, North Africa and the India sub-continent.

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 February 2008 at 3:46 pm

Posted in Media, Technology

Coal industry active in election

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As expected:

The coal industry front group calling itself Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC) “is waging a $35 million campaign in primary and caucus states to rally public support for coal-fired electricity and to fuel opposition to legislation that Congress is crafting to slow climate change.” ABEC has already spent $1.3 million on ads in Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina. Its ads talk about “clean coal” and “70 percent cleaner” coal plants, though those reductions have been mostly in non-greenhouse gases. “About 50 people, many of them paid, walked around as human billboards and handed out leaflets outside Tuesday’s Democratic debate in Nevada with questions for voters to ask the candidates,” reports Steven Mufson. Facing increased public opposition, coal companies gave more money to ABEC and the industry lobbying group the National Mining Association. As reported in a previous Spin, ABEC’s PR plan singles out Nevada for “issues management,” presidential candidate outreach and connecting with “cities and communities critical to helping shape policy at the grassroots level.”

Written by LeisureGuy

7 February 2008 at 3:40 pm

Torture doesn’t work

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Robert Fisk:

“Torture works,” an American special forces major — now, needless to say, a colonel — boasted to a colleague of mine a couple of years ago. It seems that the CIA and its hired thugs in Afghanistan and Iraq still believe this. There is no evidence that rendition and beatings and waterboarding and the insertion of metal pipes into men’s anuses — and, of course, the occasional torturing to death of detainees — has ended. Why else would the CIA admit in January that it had destroyed videotapes of prisoners being almost drowned — the “waterboarding” technique — before they could be seen by US investigators?

Yet only a few days ago, I came across a medieval print in which a prisoner has been strapped to a wooden chair, a leather hosepipe pushed down his throat and a primitive pump fitted at the top of the hose where an ill-clad torturer is hard at work squirting water down the hose. The prisoner’s eyes bulge with terror as he feels himself drowning, all the while watched by Spanish inquisitors who betray not the slightest feelings of sympathy with the prisoner. Who said “waterboarding” was new? The Americans are just aping their predecessors in the inquisition.

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 February 2008 at 3:18 pm

Whistleblowers unprotected

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The Bush Administration’s war on science continues:

Leading House science committee members on Thursday issued a scathing attack on the administration for apparently retaliating against a senior scientist who drew attention to the cancer threat of a substance in the 40,000 trailers in which Hurricane Katrina and Rita survivors are living. Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn) and subcommittee chairs Brad Miller (D-NC) and Nick Lampson (D-Texas) demanded that Centers for Disease Control director Julie Gerberding take steps to protect Dr. Christopher De Rosa, who was demoted in October from his job at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). The Atlanta-based agency is under CDC’s wing.

The demotion of De Rosa as head of ATSDR’s Division of Toxicology and Environmental Medicine follows a pattern of Bush administration retaliation against whistleblowers, including those who report suppression of science at federal agencies to Congress. De Rosa last February was cut out of the loop of a consultation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency after reporting that formaldehyde in the trailers was a likely carcinogen. FEMA removed that warning from its report, which came in response to health complaints from some of thousands of hurricane refugees, many of whom still live in the trailers. Tiny amounts of formaldehyde, the nasty-smelling, volatile liquid used in treating wood products, can cause nausea, headaches and runny eyes. At higher exposures it is thought to be potentially carcinogenic.

De Rosa also had complained that his boss, ATSDR chief Howard Frumkin, withheld a finished report on environmental contamination and health risks in the Great Lakes Basin. The study, which De Rosa directed and was peer-reviewed, showed elevated infant mortality and premature births, as well as higher rates of death from breast, colon and lung cancers in several polluted counties in eight Great Lakes states. The report, requested by a U.S.-Canada commission on the Great Lakes, was supposed to have been released last July. The Congressmen said that ATSDR was reportedly editing the report, in the process redacting much of the health data.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 February 2008 at 3:10 pm

HPV vaccine study

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A new study in the Journal of Infectious Diseases shows that fidelity is no protection when it comes to the virus that causes cervical cancer. As Merck & Co. was releasing its human papilloma virus vaccine in 2006, some warned against giving it to adolescent girls, saying it sent a message of tolerance of immoral sex. Although some conservative religious groups like the Family Research Council have moderated their positions since then, their guidance on the vaccine still stresses that “abstaining from sexual activity is the surest way to prevent infection.” And they are right. Abstain from genital contact with anyone for your whole life, and you have virtually no chance of contracting HPV, the sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer.

But having one partner, it turns out, is not nearly as good protection as some on the Christian right would like to believe. The authors of the Journal of Infectious Diseases study found that virgins entering a sexual relationship had a 28.5 percent chance of contracting a human papilloma virus infection after a year of monogamous sexual contact. Three years into the relationship, the risk was increased to 50 percent. The rates are lower, of course, when both partners are virgins entering the relationship, and remain faithful. The data indicates how often this occurs in the real world.

About one quarter of all HPV infections are caused by two cancer-causing strains, HPV 16 and 18. The Merck vaccine, Gardasil, guards against these and two other strains that cause genital warts. Cervical cancer each year kills about 3,500 American women and hundreds of thousands in poor countries where there are no regular gynecological examinations.

Merck in 2006 touted Gardasil aggressively, pushing states to quickly mandate the vaccine for 6th graders. This misguided policy led to a backlash, in which arguments about the immorality of vaccination were mixed in with more logical concerns about vaccinating millions of kids with a relatively untried vaccine. The vaccine has been on the market a while, now, though, and there are so far no indications that it’s unsafe. Except, apparently, to some world views.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 February 2008 at 3:08 pm

Posted in Daily life, Medical, Science

Chris Matthews, buffoon

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Why does this guy have a TV show? or an audience?

Written by LeisureGuy

7 February 2008 at 11:29 am

Posted in Media, Video

Froomkin on torture

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Good points today from Dan Froomkin:

When you get right down to it, the White House’s new argument in favor of waterboarding is that the ends justify the means.

The White House line: Yes, we did it, but only to three chief terrorists, and only when we thought the nation was in imminent danger. We got life-saving information in return. And so we’d do it again in similar circumstances. (See yesterday’s column for more.)

Putting aside for a moment the question of whether the ends did in fact justify the means — and there is considerable evidence that the waterboarding of those three men miserably failed that test as well — the White House argument is deeply perverse and goes against core American values.

Waterboarding is undeniably cruel. It is undeniably an assault on human dignity. The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution — the one banning cruel and unusual punishment — doesn’t come with an asterisk indicating: Except when you think it’s really, really important.

It’s true that on TV, the ticking time bomb scenarios are crystal clear, being tough means using torture, and torture always works. But none of those things are remotely true in the real world. Which is why we have rules that we’re supposed to follow, even in emergencies.

And even on the twisted terms the White House is advocating, the evidence suggests that the ends in this case did not justify the means. The White House asks us to believe that in this case it was worth it. But despite all the generalized assertions that countless lives have been saved by the CIA’s interrogation program, Bush and his aides — as I wrote in my Dec. 11 column— have yet to offer a concrete case where intelligence produced by torture saved a single life. To the contrary, as I wrote in October, Bush has repeatedly cited examples of thwarted attacks that turned out to be wildly exaggerated.

Finally, the White House argues that waterboarding is legal because the Justice Department said so. But waterboarding is flatly, objectively illegal — according to both U.S. and international law. Try to find one independent expert to tell you otherwise. And, despite their heated assertions, no one in the White House or at the Justice Department has yet to provide a single vaguely reasonable argument to support their position. All those legal briefs are conveniently considered top secret.

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 February 2008 at 11:20 am

Posted in Bush Administration, GOP, Government

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More on the crime of torture

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Center for American Progress:

Earlier this week, CIA Director Michael Hayden acknowledged for the first time publicly that the agency had used the tactic of waterboarding on at least three prisoners nearly five years ago. Waterboarding is an interrogation practice in which, “the victim’s lungs fill with water until the procedure is stopped or the victim dies.” As Malcolm Nance, a counterterrorism specialist who taught at the Navy’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school in California, told Congress, “Waterboarding is a long-standing form of torture used by history’s most brutal governments, including those of Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, North Korea, Iraq, the Soviet Union and the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia.” Yesterday, “after years of dodging and dissembling, the Bush administration boldly embraced” its record of torture and said it would “definitely want to consider” using it again. “It will depend upon circumstances,” White House spokesman Tony Fratto said, adding that future acts of waterboarding would “need the president’s approval,” and the White House would notify “appropriate members of Congress.”

LEGAL PARSING: In 1947, the United States charged a Japanese officer, Yukio Asano, with war crimes for waterboarding a U.S. civilian. “Water boarding was designated as illegal by U.S. generals in Vietnam 40 years ago.” Former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge said in an interview this month, “There’s just no doubt in my mind — under any set of rules — waterboarding is torture.” But inside the Bush administration, such clarity has succumbed to legal parsing. “I would feel” waterboarding was torture “if it were done to me,” Attorney General Michael Mukasey told Congress recently. But Mukasey, who promised to lead a legal review of the practice before being confirmed, is now refusing to brief Congress on the legality of waterboarding. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell told the New Yorker in January, “Whether it’s torture by anybody else’s definition, for me it would be torture.” But this week, McConnell said his comments should not be interpreted to reflect an official administration position. When he said waterboarding was “torture,” McConnell explained to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), he meant he just personally didn’t like water up his nose.

FROM DENIAL TO OPEN ADVOCACY: For years, the White House had done its best to deny the obvious: that it had employed waterboarding against prisoners. When Vice President Dick Cheney told a conservative talk radio host in Oct. 2006 that it would be a “no-brainer” to “dunk” an individual in water if it would save lives, the White House tried to dispel any notion that Cheney was embracing waterboarding. Now the White House strategy has changed — “the administration has apparently decided that this is a debate they can win out in the open.” The switch comes as Congress is considering legislation that “if passed, would require all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies to abide by the Army Field Manual’s prohibition against waterboarding.” The White House said yesterday it wants to retain the option to use waterboarding, even while President Bush has frequently claimed “we do not torture.” “Torture is illegal,” Fratto said yesterday after McConnell’s testimony. “We don’t torture — we maintain and as we have said many times that the programs have been reviewed, and the Department of Justice has determined them to be legal.”

In December, the House passed an amendment that extends the current prohibitions in the Army Field Manual against torture to U.S. intelligence agencies and personnel. Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member Christopher Bond (R-MO) has said he would lead an effort to remove that requirement when the legislation reaches the Senate floor. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who in the past has made a series of statements against the use of waterboarding, has placed a hold on the anti-waterboarding bill. A number of key Republican swing votes — including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) — will likely make the difference if the bill comes to a vote. McCain has previously called waterboarding a “horrible, odious” technique that “should never be condoned in the U.S.”

Written by LeisureGuy

7 February 2008 at 11:16 am

Budget notes

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I get my hair cut at Supercuts: $14.95 for a cut, and a card that gives you a free cut after every 8: in effect, a discount of $1.87 per cut. They have dropped the card, though. Now you register at and they send you a reminder and a button to click that will print out a discount coupon. The discount: $1.00. Hmmm. Not such a good deal as before.

OTOH, I’m making the salmon furikake today, so went to Whole Foods where I found wild Coho salmon for $7/lb. (This is not a fillet, but as much of the whole fish as you want.) Good deal.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 February 2008 at 11:01 am

Posted in Daily life

Big Brother wants your computer

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Or at least the data on it. Take a look:

Nabila Mango, a therapist and a U.S. citizen who has lived in the country since 1965, had just flown in from Jordan last December when, she said, she was detained at customs and her cellphone was taken from her purse. Her daughter, waiting outside San Francisco International Airport, tried repeatedly to call her during the hour and a half she was questioned. But after her phone was returned, Mango saw that records of her daughter’s calls had been erased.

A few months earlier in the same airport, a tech engineer returning from a business trip to London objected when a federal agent asked him to type his password into his laptop computer. “This laptop doesn’t belong to me,” he remembers protesting. “It belongs to my company.” Eventually, he agreed to log on and stood by as the officer copied the Web sites he had visited, said the engineer, a U.S. citizen who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of calling attention to himself.

Maria Udy, a marketing executive with a global travel management firm in Bethesda, said her company laptop was seized by a federal agent as she was flying from Dulles International Airport to London in December 2006. Udy, a British citizen, said the agent told her he had “a security concern” with her. “I was basically given the option of handing over my laptop or not getting on that flight,” she said.

The seizure of electronics at U.S. borders has prompted protests from travelers who say they now weigh the risk of traveling with sensitive or personal information on their laptops, cameras or cellphones. In some cases, companies have altered their policies to require employees to safeguard corporate secrets by clearing laptop hard drives before international travel.

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 February 2008 at 9:59 am

The Bush Administration and torture

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They insist on doing it. A couple of interesting notes. First this, by Spencer Ackerman:

Now that Mike Hayden has confirmed that CIA interrogators waterboarded three al-Qaeda detainees, it’s worth going back and looking at the memoir of the man in charge of CIA when that all happened—George Tenet. In his weird book, At the Center of the Storm, here’s how Tenet describes the torture of these three terrorists. Follow along at home! I’m on pages 241 and 242.

CIA officers came up with a series of interrogation techniques that would be carefully monitored at all times to ensure the safety of the prisoner. The administration and the Department of Justice were fully briefed and approved the use of these tactics. After we received written Department of Justice guidance on the interrogation issue, we briefed the chairman and ranking members of our oversight committees. While they were not asked to formally approve the program, as it was conducted under the president’s unilateral authorities, I can recall no objections being raised.

The most aggressive interrogation techniques conducted by CIA personnel were applied to only a handful of the worst terrorists on the planet, including people who had planned the 9/11 attacks and who, among other things, were responsible for journalist Daniel Pearl’s death [NB: that’s a reference to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who dubiously confessed to Pearl’s murder after being tortured].  The interrogation of these few individuals was conducted in a precisely monitored, measured way intended to try to prevent what we believed to be an imminent follow-on attack. Information from these interrogations helped disrupt plots aimed at locations in the United States, the United Kingdom, the Middle East, South Asia, and Central Asia.

I’d tell you what that smells like, but this is a family website. Uh, torturing people to prevent “what we believed to be an imminent follow-on attack”? The first waterboarding took place nearly nine months after 9/11. Please.

And here’s Brian Beutler:

Here’s In These Times with my round up of the administration’s latest FISA shenanigans. The president will veto any legislation that includes any of the following:

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 February 2008 at 9:54 am

Posted in Bush Administration, GOP, Government

Tagged with

Teenagers’ journals

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One of my standard gifts for a 13th birthday (particularly for girls, who seem more inclined to write than boys) is a good-sized hardbound blank book, a nice pen, and a lockable storage case (particularly if the recipient has siblings) like this. That age seems like a good time to start journaling, and journaling in a book is a good idea for any number of reasons, one main reason being that such journals don’t experience techno-rot. (Suppose you had your father’s journal of some particularly important years on a Northstar, hard-sectored, 8″ diskette, written using some version of the CP/M operating system and an unknown word processor—good luck.)

Another reason for using a written journal:

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 February 2008 at 9:38 am

Posted in Daily life, Writing

If you use Skype for Windows

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Open Skype, click Help, click Check for Updates. There’s a new hot fix to cure some security problems.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 February 2008 at 9:12 am

Posted in Daily life, Skype, Software

Minimalist vinaigrette

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This sounds good. And, let me note, “shallot” is properly pronounced with the accent on the second syllable: “sha-LOT.” Of course, you can also pronounce it (improperly) as “SHALL-ut”. Or, I suppose, you could even pronounce it “SPEN-ser” or “TRUCK-tire.” But the proper pronunciation is “sha-LOT.” [/grumpy old man]

Basic Vinaigrette
Yield About 3/4 cup
Time 5 minutes
Mark Bittman

Vary this however you like: with herbs, with garlic (roasted is very nice), with a tiny bit of soy sauce and sesame oil, with lemon juice in place of the vinegar, with hazelnut oil, with spices… you name it, in moderation it will work. You can also just beat the ingredients in a bowl with a fork, or shake them in a jar; it won’t be as creamy, but it will still taste delicious.

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons or more good vinegar — wine, sherry, rice, balsamic, etc.
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 heaping teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 large shallot (about 1 ounce), peeled and cut into chunks

1. Combine all ingredients but the shallot in a blender and turn the machine on; a creamy emulsion will form within 30 seconds. Taste and add more vinegar a teaspoon or two at a time, until the balance tastes right.

2. Add the shallot, and turn the machine on and off a few times until the shallot is minced within the dressing. Taste, adjust seasoning and serve. This is best made fresh but will keep a few days refrigerated; bring back to room temperature and whisk briefly before using.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 February 2008 at 8:57 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Megs in tunnel, warming her feet in the sun

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Megs in tunnel with sun

Another good day for Megs: toasting her paws in the morning sun as she contemplates the moment.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 February 2008 at 8:47 am

Posted in Cats, Megs

Art quiz

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A series of photos, with you to answer after each whether it’s Donald Judd or cheap furniture.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 February 2008 at 8:24 am

Posted in Art, Daily life, Education

Interesting blog experiment

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This post is intriguing:

I’m teaching a graduate sculpture course this term… I’ve asked my students to start and keep active a blog for the term as a way of building lines of communication to the greater art world. Here are their blogs… they’re definitely worth checking out!

ArtLook (Seung Ae Kim)
JangSoonNation (Jang Soon)
Rachel Jobe
Rebel Pebble (Elena Stojanova)
REcord (Shani Peters)

Written by LeisureGuy

7 February 2008 at 7:54 am

Posted in Art, Education

Another great rice topping: salmon furikake

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Soboro has become a staple here. Yesterday I made a batch for The Wife using ground lamb. Now I’m going to get a fresh salmon fillet for this (photos at the link)

Salmon (sake) flakes or furikake
This makes about a cup. Increase the amounts proportionately to suit the amount of salmon you have. It can be frozen.

  • 1 raw salmon fillet with skin on, about 150g / 4 1/2 oz
  • Salt
  • Sake (as in rice wine, not salmon)
  • 1 Tbs. mirin
  • 2 tsp. soy sauce (light soy is preferred)

If you are starting with some premade salted salmon, skip this step: salt both sides of the salmon filet well, and leave in the refrigerator for at least an hour, preferably overnight. This not only salts the fish but draws out some moisture as well.

Wipe off any excess moisture from the fish. Put skin side down in a dry non-stick frying pan. Add about 1/2 cup of sake. Put on a lid and let cook over medium heat until the fish is completely steam-cooked and the sake has evaporated.

Take the fish out of the pan, let cool and take off the skin. Flake the fish finely with a fork and your hands. While you work, remove any fine bones.

Wipe out the frying pan and put the fish flakes back in the pan. Add another tablespoonful of sake, the mirin, and soy sauce. Stir around to evaporate the moisture. At this point you can leave the flakes fairly moist, or continue stirring until they are quite dry and finely flaked. The more you dry it out, the longer it will keep. Just do not let it burn or color too much.

Let the flakes cool completely. Store in the refrigerator for about 1 week or so if it’s quite moist, and 2 weeks if it’s drier.

Optionally add some toasted and ground sesame seeds (irigoma) or gomashio when serving.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 February 2008 at 7:44 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Macadamia nut oil

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This morning I went with the Penhaligon Blenheim Bouquet, for both soap and aftershave, and the brush was the Simpsons Keyhole 3 Best. Fine lather, as always with this soap, and the Iridium Super Extra Stainless seemed sharper and smoother today—the Sputnik blade, also made in Russia, has the same characteristic: it seems better on the second day.

For the Oil Pass, the Macadamia Nut Oil had a distinct macadamia fragrance—rather strong, in fact. I don’t think I would use this oil by itself, but as part of the blend, I think it will do a good job. Wikipedia notes that “macadamia oil’s rich, cushiony skinfeel and high oxidative stability make it especially suitable for heavy creams and suncare formulations,” and also notes its use “in cosmetic formulations as an emollient or fragrance fixative.”

Net result: very smooth shave, and skin feels really nice.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 February 2008 at 7:14 am

Posted in Shaving

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