Later On

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

Archive for April 17th, 2012

Why I want a Chevy Volt

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Check this out. 132 mpg is not too shabby.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2012 at 5:53 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

The Dam Busters back on Watch Instantly

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I think I’ve picked up some new readers since I last gave an incredible number of thumbs up to The Dam Busters, a semi-documentary about a WWII air raid. Made less than a decade after WWII (released in 1955), memories were still much alive and the movie clearly has as one goal to recognize and honor the men involved. There’s an almost Homeric litany of those going on the raid and a roll of those who fell—and this all really happened. Try to imagine being in their situation—how would you have handled it?

School-night note: The movie runs just over 2 hours. And it’s not a movie you want to stop watching.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2012 at 4:22 pm

Posted in Movies

Nice grüb: Spinach and fish

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Actually, quite a few things: I used the 4-qt sauté pan, which got quite full.

First, cook 3/4 c black rice in 1.5 c water. This will be the starch and will be added later.

2 Tbsp Meyer lemon EVOO (which is what I had on hand)
1 large leek, cut in half lengthwise for washing, then sliced thinly
1/2 large Spanish onion, chopped
salt
pepper
crushed red pepper

Sauté until onion soft, then add:

1/4 garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 yellow crookneck squash, chopped
6 domestic white mushrooms, sliced
1/4 c pine nuts

Sauté for a while, then add:

2 Tbsp Amontillado sherry
1 Meyer lemon, ends cut off and then cubed (with peel)
2 bunches fresh spinach, rinsed well in a sink full of cold water, then chopped
1/2 cup pitted Saracena olives
1/2 cup black garlic

Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the spinach is wilted and there’s room in the pan. Then add:

the pot of cooked black rice

Stir, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add:

1 lb cod fillet, cut into small chunks

Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

It’s all there: oil, protein, starch, greens, and veggies, with little salt. This looks as though it will be 4-5 meals, at least. I would have preferred Pacific swordfish, but it was $25/lb and the cod was $10/lb. Easy choice. (And, of course, tofu which I would normally use is even cheaper.)

Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2012 at 4:07 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Grub, Recipes

A conversation with Timothy Wilson

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If you’ve been reading the blog for long, you’ve doubtless encountered my recommendation that you read Timothy Wilson’s Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious. If you haven’t, this article should convince you to get the book. Wilson does a presentation, and then it’s discussed among Steven Pinker, Daniel Gilbert, Timothy Wilson, and Hugo Mercier:

Introduction

by Daniel Gilbert

Psychology has always had a love-hate relationship with the unconscious, but mainly hate. The unconscious was the cornerstone of Freud’s theories about the mind, but William James expressed the views of many early 20th century scientists when he referred to it as “the sovereign means for believing what one likes in psychology, and for turning what might become a science into a tumbling-ground for whimsies.” James’s antipathy was contagious and his arguments won the day. The unconscious was banished to psychology’s basement for more than half a century.

But in the mid 1970’s, Tim Wilson and Dick Nisbett opened the basement door with their landmark paper entitled “Telling More Than We Can Know,” in which they reported a series of experiments showing that people are often unaware of the true causes of their own actions, and that when they are asked to explain those actions, they simply make stuff up. People don’t realize they are making stuff up, of course; they truly believe the stories they are telling about why they did what they did.  But as the experiments showed, people are telling more than they can know. The basement door was opened by experimental evidence, and the unconscious took up permanent residence in the living room. Today, psychological science is rife with research showing the extraordinary power of unconscious mental processes.

If liberating the unconscious had been Wilson’s only contribution to psychological science, it would have been enough. But it was just the start. Wilson has since discovered and documented a variety of fascinating ways in which all of us are “strangers to ourselves” (which also happens to be the title of his last book—a book that Malcolm Gladwell, writing in the New Yorker, correctly called the best popular psychology book published in the last twenty years). He has done brilliant research on topics ranging from “reasons analysis” (it turns out that when people are asked to generate reasons for their decisions, they typically make bad ones) to “affective forecasting” (it turns out that people can’t predict how future events will make them feel), but at the center of all his work lies a single enigmatic insight: we seem to know less about the worlds inside our heads than about the world our heads are inside.

The Torah asks this question: “Is not a flower a mystery no flower can explain?” Some scholars have said yes, some scholars have said no. Wilson has said, “Let’s go find out.” He has always worn two professional hats — the hat of the psychologist and the hat of the methodologist. He has written extensively about the importance of using experimental methods to solve real world problems, and in his work on the science of psychological change — he uses a scientific flashlight to chase away a whole host of shadows by examining the many ways in which human beings try to change themselves — from self-help to psychotherapy — and asking whether these things really work, and if so, why? His answers will surprise many people and piss off the rest. I predict that this new work will be the center of a very interesting storm.

— Daniel Gilbert, Harvard College Professor of Psychology at Harvard University; Director of Harvard’s Hedonic Psychology Laboratory; Author, Stumbling on Happiness.


The Social Psychological Narrative — or — What Is Social Psychology, Anyway?

[TIMOTHY D. WILSON:] Questions that I have asked myself throughout my career are largely ones about self-knowledge and the role of the conscious mind versus unconsciousness; the limits of introspection; and the problems of introspection. For example, how it can sometimes get us into trouble to think too much about why we’re doing what we’re doing. These are questions I began asking in graduate school with my graduate advisor, Dick Nisbett, and they have concerned me ever since.

There has been a question lurking in the back of my mind for all those years, which is how can we take this basic knowledge and use it to solve problems of today? I grew up in the turbulent 1960s, in an era where it seemed like the whole world was changing, and that we could have a hand in changing it. Part of my reason for studying psychology in the first place was because I felt that this was something that could help solve social problems. In graduate school and beyond I fell in love with basic research, which is still my first love.  It is thrilling to investigate basic questions of self-knowledge and consciousness and unconsciousness. But those other, more applied questions have continued to rattle around and recently come to the fore, the more I realized how much social psychology has to offer.

One of the basic assumptions of the field is that it’s not the objective environment that influences people, but their constructs of the world. You have to get inside people’s heads and see the world the way they do. You have to look at the kinds of narratives and stories people tell themselves as to why they’re doing what they’re doing. What can get people into trouble sometimes in their personal lives, or for more societal problems, is that these stories go wrong. People end up with narratives that are dysfunctional in some way.

We know from cognitive behavioral therapy and clinical psychology that one way to change people’s narratives is through fairly intensive psychotherapy. But social psychologists have suggested that, for less severe problems, there are ways to redirect narratives more easily that can have amazingly powerful long-term effects. This is an approach that I’ve come to call story editing.  By giving people little prompts, suggestions about the ways they might reframe a situation, or think of it in a slightly different way, we can send them down a narrative path that is much healthier than the one they were on previously.

One of the first studies I did after graduate school tested a story-editing intervention of this kind. We recruited a sample of college students who were caught in a self-defeating thought cycle, where they were not doing well academically (these were first-year students) and were quite worried. They seemed to be blaming themselves and thinking that maybe they were one of those admissions errors that just couldn’t cut it at college, which of course made it all the more difficult to study.

We did a brief intervention where, in about 30 minutes, we gave them some facts and some testimonials from other students that suggested that their problems might have a different cause; namely, that it’s hard to learn the ropes in college at first, but that people do better as the college years go on, when they learn to adjust and to study differently than they did in high school and so on.

This little message that maybe it’s not me, it’s the situation I’m in, and that that can change, seemed to alter people’s stories in ways that had dramatic effects down the road. Namely, people who got this message, as compared to a control group that did not, got better grades over the next couple of years and were less likely to drop out of college. Since then, there have been many other demonstrations of this sort that show that little ways of getting people to redirect their narrative from one path down another is a powerful tool to help people live better lives.

Another issue that interests me is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2012 at 1:41 pm

Social celllular structures

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Fascinating article in New Statesman by Daniel Dennet:

A single cell, such as a bacterium, is the simplest thing that can be alive. In addition to the materials from which it is constructed, it needs three features: a way of capturing energy (a metabolism), a way of reproducing (genes or something like genes) and a membrane that lets in what needs to come in and keeps out the rest.

Converging lines of research from various schools in biology agree on these three necessities, but there is substantial unresolved controversy about the order in which they must have emerged at the origin of life. If the history of evolutionary biology continues along the paths it has followed so far, it is likely that the solution to this problem will prove to be some ingenious and indirect process of chance combinations and gradual refinements, in which metabolism-like cycles and reproduction-like processes joined forces with non-living membranes that were already floating around, objets trouvés that could be appropriated and exploited. Whatever their origins, the resulting designs have now been refined and optimised for more than three billion years and have proven remarkably hardy. Not only are such single cells the most abundant form of life on the planet, but all living things, from trees to fish to human beings, are constructed of them, harnessed by the trillions into co-operating multicellular teams.

Cells may be the simplest life forms on the planet – even the simplest possible life forms – but their inner workings, at the molecular level, are breathtakingly complex, composed of thousands of molecular machines, all of them interacting to provide the cell with the energy it needs to build offspring and maintain its membrane. Echoes of the design wisdom embodied in this very effective machinery can be found in human culture, which is dazzlingly complex, too, composed as it is of about seven billion interacting people, with their traditions, languages, institutions, occupations, values and economies. Some cultural phenomena bear a striking resemblance to the cells of cell biology, actively preserving themselves in their social environments, finding the nutrients they need and fending off the causes of their dissolution.

Consider four unrelated species of social cell that share some interesting features. What do the Japanese tea ceremony, debutante parties, Ponzi schemes and many Christian churches have in common? They are all variations of an insidiously effective social mechanism that:
1) thrives on human innocence, and
2) nobody had to design, and
3) is threatened with extinction by the rising tide of accessibility to information.

Like bacteria, as we shall see, they have – and need – metabolisms, methods of reproducing, and membranes, yet there is no need to suppose that these shared features arose from a common ancestor, nor even that the features of one of them inspired copying by the other. Wherever there is a design that is highly successful in a broad range of similar environments, it is apt to emerge again and again, independently – the phenomenon known in biology as convergent evolution. I call these designs “good tricks”. For instance, flight has evolved independently at least four times, in insects, birds, pterosaurs and mammals, and vision has evolved more often than that.

Seeing and flying are very good tricks, for obvious reasons. It is also obvious that human culture has its own roster of good tricks: bows and arrows, boats, writing and the wheel, to name a few. (It is not known if the wheel has been invented many times or just once, with all later wheels being copies of some original wheel, the brainchild of the mythic inventor of the wheel – and it doesn’t matter! Almost certainly wheels would have appeared eventually one place or another.) The typical if tacit assumption is that these good tricks were independently reinvented by intelligent designers among our ancestors, and although this may sometimes have been true – we will probably never know – it is quite possible that they arose in the same way the good tricks of biology did: by mindless processes of differential reproduction in which understanding of what was going on was at a minimum, if not zero.

Let us consider the four cultural phenomena, chosen for their relative simplicity and vividness from a much larger array of possibilities, to see how this might have happened. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2012 at 1:28 pm

Posted in Daily life

FCC Chairman: “Broadcasters are against transparency.”

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Justin Elliott reporting for ProPublica:

Television stations, which have been fightinga government proposal to make political ad data more accessible, came in for some harsh criticism yesterday at their annual trade show in Las Vegas. In a keynote speech Monday afternoon at the National Association of Broadcasters convention, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski unleashed on the industry.

“[S]ome in the broadcast industry have elected to position themselves against technology, against transparency and against journalism,” said Genachowski, who favorsthe proposed rule, which would create an FCC website for political ad data.

The data is already public but kept only on paper at TV stations. (That’s why ProPublica has launched Free the Files. We’re inviting volunteers to visit the stations and help collect the data so anybody can see it. The data can provide information not available through traditional campaign finance filings.)

As we’ve previously reported, the National Association of Broadcasters, led by former Sen. Gordon Smith, has been lobbying the FCC to water down the proposed rule requiring stations to post the data. The commission will vote on it April 27.

Genachowski criticized television stations for opposing the transparency measure despite the “proud history of broadcast journalism.”

Genachowski also answered broadcasters’ objections point by point. Here’s the key portion of his speech: . . .

Continue reading. His answers clearly show that the broadcaster’s are acting in bad faith. Some should lose licenses over this.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2012 at 11:39 am

Posted in Business, Government, Law

How forensic experts are made

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This helps explain the “expertise” of the FBI crime lab. Leah Bartos reports for ProPublica:

This is how I — a journalism graduate student with no background in forensics — became certified as a “Forensic Consultant” by one of the field’s largest professional groups.

One afternoon early last year, I punched in my credit card information, paid $495 to the American College of Forensic Examiners International Inc. and registered for an online course.

After about 90 minutes of video instruction, I took an exam on the institute’s web site, answering 100 multiple choice questions, aided by several ACFEI study packets.

As soon as I finished the test, a screen popped up saying that I had passed, earning me an impressive-sounding credential that could help establish my qualifications to be an expert witness in criminal and civil trials.

For another $50, ACFEI mailed me a white lab coat after sending my certificate.

For the last two years, ProPublica and PBS “Frontline,” in concert with other news organizations, have looked in-depth at death investigation in America, finding a pervasive lack of national standards that begins in the autopsy room and ends in court.

Expert witnesses routinely sway trial verdicts with testimony about fingerprints, ballistics, hair and fiber analysis and more, but there are no national standards to measure their competency or ensure that what they say is valid. A landmark 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences called this lack of standards one of the most pressing problems facing the criminal justice system.

Over the last two decades, ACFEI has emerged as one of the largest forensic credentialing organizations in the country.

Among its members are top names in science and law, from Dr. Henry Lee, the renowned criminalist and pathologist, to John Douglas, the former FBI profiler and bestselling author. Dr. Cyril Wecht, a prominent forensic pathologist and frequent TV commentator on high-profile crimes, chairs the group’s executive advisory board.

But ACFEI also has given its stamp of approval to far less celebrated characters. It welcomed Seymour Schlager, whose credentials were mailed to the prison where he was incarcerated for attempted murder. Zoe D. Katz – the name of a house cat enrolled by her owner in 2002 to show how easy it was to become certified by ACFEI — was issued credentials, too. More recently, Dr. Steven Hayne, a Mississippi pathologist whose testimony helped to convict two innocent men of murder, has used his ACFEI credential to bolster his status as an expert witness.

Several former ACFEI employees call the group a mill designed to churn out and sell as many certificates as possible. They say applicants receive cursory, if any, background checks and that virtually everyone passes the group’s certification exams as long as their payments clear. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2012 at 11:37 am

Posted in Business, Law

Abusing justice

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I really hope that some in the Justice Department will go to jail for this, but I doubt if they even get a note in their personnel file. Spencer Hsu reports in the Washington Post:

Justice Department officials have known for years that flawed forensic work might have led to the convictions of potentially innocent people, but prosecutors failed to notify defendants or their attorneys even in many cases they knew were troubled.Officials started reviewing the cases in the 1990s after reports that sloppy work by examiners at the FBI lab was producing unreliable forensic evidence in court trials. Instead of releasing those findings, they made them available only to the prosecutors in the affected cases, according to documents and interviews with dozens of officials.

In addition, the Justice Department reviewed only a limited number of cases and focused on the work of one scientist at the FBI lab, despite warnings that problems were far more widespread and could affect potentially thousands of cases in federal, state and local courts.As a result, hundreds of defendants nationwide remain in prison or on parole for crimes that might merit exoneration, a retrial or a retesting of evidence using DNA because FBI hair and fiber experts may have misidentified them as suspects.

In one Texas case, Benjamin Herbert Boyle was executed in 1997, more than a year after the Justice Department began its review. Boyle would not have been eligible for the death penalty without the FBI’s flawed work, according to a prosecutor’s memo.

The case of a Maryland man serving a life sentence for a 1981 double killing is another in which federal and local law enforcement officials knew of forensic problems but never told the defendant. Attorneys for the man, John Norman Huffington, say they learned of potentially exculpatory Justice Department findings from The Washington Post. They are seeking a new trial.

Justice Department officials said that they met their legal and constitutional obligations when they learned of specific errors, that they alerted prosecutors and were not required to inform defendants directly.

The review was performed by a task force created during an inspector general’s investigation of misconduct at the FBI crime lab in the 1990s. The inquiry took nine years, ending in 2004, records show, but the findings were never made public. [The reason, I suspect, was to protect the miscreants and avoid accountability. I assume the report was buried on orders from someone up the chain of command who did not want to look bad. - LG]

In the discipline of hair and fiber analysis, only the work of FBI Special Agent Michael P. Malone was questioned. Even though Justice Department and FBI officials knew that the discipline had weaknesses and that the lab lacked protocols — and learned that examiners’ “matches” were often wrong — they kept their reviews limited to Malone.

But two cases in D.C. Superior Court show the inadequacy of the government’s response. . .

Continue reading. This is utterly contemptible conduct, but quite consistent with our government (and country) becoming more and more authoritarian: in authoritarian countries, government officials in general are unaccountable and immune from prosecution except in intra-government fights when more powerful government officials take out less-powerful officials—as we now see in China. But short of that, these misdeeds go unpunished. Of course, the guy in the Justice Department who revealed the government misconduct is in for a world of hurt: Obama’s DOJ will pursue him to the ends of the earth, bankrupting him if possible, because the US government does NOT want wrong-doing, waste, or corruption exposed. Expect to see this whistleblower in court when the people responsible for the misconduct are unscathed.

Later in the report:

. . . Donald E. Gates, 60, served 28 years for the rape and murder of a Georgetown University student based on Malone’s testimony that his hair was found on the victim’s body. He was exonerated by DNA testing in 2009. But for 12 years before that, prosecutors never told him about the inspector general’s report about Malone, that Malone’s work was key to his conviction or that Malone’s findings were flawed, leaving him in prison the entire time.

After The Post contacted him about the forensic issues, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. of the District said his office would try to review all convictions that used hair analysis.

Seeking to learn whether others shared Gates’s fate, The Post worked with the nonprofit National Whistleblowers Center, which had obtained dozens of boxes of task force documents through a years-long Freedom of Information Act fight.

Task force documents identifying the scientific reviews of problem cases generally did not contain the names of the defendants. Piecing together case numbers and other bits of information from more than 10,000 pages of documents, The Post found more than 250 cases in which a scientific review was completed. Available records did not allow the identification of defendants in roughly 100 of those cases. Records of an unknown number of other questioned cases handled by federal prosecutors have yet to be released by the government.

The Post found that while many prosecutors made swift and full disclosures, many others did so incompletely, years late or not at all. The effort was stymied at times by lack of cooperation from some prosecutors and declining interest and resources as time went on.

Overall, calls to defense lawyers indicate and records documented that prosecutors disclosed the reviews’ results to defendants in fewer than half of the 250-plus questioned cases. . .

If you read the story, you’ll see that they’ve decided the decision of what to do next should be left up to the FBI (the very agency to fucked it to a parade rest in the first place!). The lack of responsible oversight (and behavior that in my eyes is criminal) is staggering, but it is quite consistent with what we’ve seen going on in the Justice Department over the past decade.

Later still in the article:

. . . A review of the task force documents, as well as Post interviews, found that the Justice Department struggled to balance its roles as a law enforcer defending convictions, a minister of justice protecting the innocent, and a patron and practitioner of forensic science.

By excluding defense lawyers from the process and leaving it to prosecutors to decide case by case what to disclose, authorities waded into a legal and ethical morass that left some prisoners locked away for years longer than necessary. By adopting a secret process that limited accountability, documents show, the task force left the scope and nature of scientific problems unreported, obscuring issues from further study and permitting similar breakdowns. [The reason for the secrecy of the process seems obvious: to protect the guilty officials from punishment or accountability. It certainly seems to have had that effect: the story mentions many who were unjustly imprisoned, but not one official who has had to face an accounting. - LG]

“The government has hidden behind the veil of secrecy to shield these abuses despite official assurances that justice would be done,” said David Colapinto, general counsel of the National Whistleblowers Center. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2012 at 10:29 am

One of those tools that does a unique job well

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I don’t think there’s a good workaround when you really need this tool.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2012 at 10:00 am

Posted in Daily life

Making the post-empire transition

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Interesting column by Kwasi Kwarteng in the NY Times:

London – The Arab Spring, the threat of Iran as an emerging nuclear power, the continuing violence in Syria and the American reluctance to get involved there have all signaled the weakness, if not the end, of America’s role as a world policeman. President Obama himself said in a speech last year: “America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs.”

America’s position today reminds me of Britain’s situation in 1945. Deep in debt and committed to building its National Health Service and other accouterments of the welfare state, Britain no longer could afford to run an empire.

Moreover, Britain, which so proudly ruled the waves a generation ago, was tired; it lacked the willpower to pursue its imperial destiny. America’s role as an imperialist is even more fragile, as it never had Britain’s self-confident faith in its own imperial destiny. Americans have always been ambivalent about the role of global hegemon.

Today, American retreat is not motivated by traditional isolationism, but by practical necessity. Like post-World War II Britain, contemporary America no longer has the financial resources to maintain an empire — one which, in America’s case, was pursued only halfheartedly in the first place. Deficits and debt have been more damaging to dreams of empire than any genuine shift in ideology.

My own parents grew up in the Gold Coast of Africa, as British power ebbed, so I feel I have a direct connection with this phenomenon of collapsing empires. The Gold Coast, of course, became Ghana in 1957, the year after the Suez crisis. Today I am a member of Parliament, so I have a double perspective on empire.

Much as the Second World War has been identified as the end of the British Empire, future historians may well see the financial crisis of 2008 as the end of the American empire. Yet, the retreat of American power, particularly in the Middle East, has potentially left the world considerably more unstable and uncertain.

America is a much smaller figure than the colossus that seemed to bestride the world in 1989, when an article titled “The End of History?” could, paradox though it was, be taken seriously.

The suspicion has always lingered that America was a less than enthusiastic imperial power. It never sought to administer foreign lands directly and indefinitely, even though the presence of American bases in Japan, Germany, Britain and, more lately, in Saudi Arabia did look like soft imperialism.

During the cold war, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2012 at 9:41 am

Rose and a fine shave

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This morning I decided to bring a bit more muscle to Mike’s Natural Shaving Soap, so I brought out one of my badger+horsehair shaving brushes. It quickly worked up a fine lather from the Rose & Cedarwood shaving soap, and I extended the loading and added water to make sure the lather was thick and abundant—and indeed, the lather easily lasted the three passes. I used Ach. Brito (MR GLO equivalent) as a preshave soap since yesterday I found I needed the lubricity, and that helped a lot, though on the third pass there was still some razor juddering: sticking briefly due to friction, then jumping a bit to stick again. This soap may need some adjust to increase lubricity somehow. (I am by no means a soapmaker, but I do use them a lot.)

The razor is my Edwin Jagger DE8 head on a Tradere handle, which I got from BullgooseShaving.net. The flared base and flat bottom work well, and the chequering is less aggressive than in some—I like both, but they are different. I’m hoping that they will come out with a fluted handle (vertical grooves, as on an Ionic column). Two smooth and easy passes, and the ATG pass worked out well in the end, but there was a slight lack of lubricity.

A little dab of Geo. F. Trumper Coral Skin Food to complete the rose theme, and I’m getting the apartment readied for the cleaning ladies.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2012 at 8:37 am

Posted in Shaving

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