Later On

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

Archive for December 20th, 2012

Insanity in the DVD business

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Normally a Chinese movie will offer some choices in the set-up section—generally the spoken dialogue can be Cantonese or Mandarin, and the subtitles can be Chinese, simplified Chinese, Japanese, Thai, English, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, etc.: an international smörgåsbord of languages.

Twice in a row I have received Jet Li movies in which the ONLY option for spoken dialogue is (dubbed) English—and terribly dubbed English at that: flat, false tones, lack of motion, etc. Wretched stuff. And NO option for hearing the original dialogue. [“Lack of motion”: what I mean is dialogue spoken (for example) while characters are running is spoken while the voice actors are standing still, so far as I can tell. – LG]

Now I’m as ready as the next guy to accept English dubbing of animated films: why not? But live action films? Not so damn fast.

Particularly not so fast if the movie originally had the Chinese spoken dialogue and the array of choices for subtitles. Why strip it out? Do they also force you to take B&W renditions of movies shot in color? (No, they do not.)

A DVD has plenty of room for the original language and subtitles. In fact, one of the titles I’ve seen previously that did have Chinese spoken dialogue—and Netflix still has that one on offer: Hitman and Contract Killer are the same movie: Sat sau ji wong. But the former has Chinese spoken dialogue and is good, and the latter has dubbed English and is unwatchable. The movie I’m trying to watch now—The Enforcer—-is also dubbed English and unwatchable.No Chinese-language version with English subtitles. What the hell are they thinking?

I tried to contact Netflix—no email option now, only a phone call, the better to ignore customer feedback.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2012 at 8:01 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

The avalanche at Tunnel Creek

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A sobering story and an intriguing example of digital journalism, melding text with video. Well worth reading/watching.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2012 at 5:53 pm

Posted in Daily life, NY Times

The difference between a shotgun and a Glock

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Amazingly strong story by Haley Elkins:

I love guns. I’m from West Texas — most of us harbor respect for guns, if not outright love.

I vacillate between the high sixties and the mid eighties, which is good for a woman who only gets to shoot trap once a year. I keep about the same record as my father, who shoots competitively and is a former homicide and narcotics detective.

My mother’s hips and knees can’t take the standing around anymore, but for most of her life she was just as good a shot as my father.

She smiles knowingly every time I hit a sporting clay.

“It’s because you’re a woman,” is her theory. “You have a lower center of gravity than men, which gives you a more solid stance.”

* * *

When my parents were first married, they lived in a bigger city than they do now; in the late 1970s, you went where the oilfield dictated you go.

My mother was alone for weeks at a time. Soon after they moved, the television in the den started turning itself on in the middle of the night.

My mother is about one of the most fearless, sensible women I know. Most oilfield widows have to be.

I’ve seen her be cool, calm, and collected about rattlesnakes and scorpions. I’ve seen her sweep tarantulas off the front porch with a broom.

And she was sensible about this, but it still unnerved her a bit.

“I want a gun,” she told my father. “I’m alone all the time; I want a gun.”

He brought her a pistol, and was damn proud of it. She didn’t feel the same way.

“What is this?” she demanded. My mother has never been one to pussy-foot around about anything. “What the hell am I supposed to do with a pistol? Do you know how hard this thing is to aim and actually hit something? What if one of these bullets goes through a wall and kills Mrs. Gladyson next door? Get me a shotgun.”

He bought her a shotgun.

* * *

Before Luke and I were married, we would have fights that were, essentially, us flexing our backgrounds and differences, which were numerous between a Native American/Italian immigrant Texas woman and a decidedly WASP Ohioan who says “those are they” instead of “that’s them.”

One of the largest arguments we ever had was about guns.

I have a Winchester over-and-under from my grandfather.

And I love that gun, but it did not travel with me to Ohio because we were unsure about transporting it across multiple states to occupy a small, highly urban apartment with me.

Luke and I were discussing how, after living in Cincinnati a year, I now wanted my shotgun.

“We will never, ever have guns in this house. Ever.”

I wasn’t surprised, but I was amused. He must be thinking I was talking about a handgun.

“It’s just a shotgun,” I explained, thinking that would clear things up nicely.

“Never, ever, ever,” he repeated.

“Honey, it’s not a Glock. It’s just a shotgun. It’s the ideal home defense weapon, because it makes a loud sound when you load it, and the spread is — ”

“What if you killed someone in our house?” he shot back, interrupting.

I blinked. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2012 at 2:27 pm

Posted in Daily life

Why is the Department of Justice so very protective of businesses?

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First we have this article in ProPublica by Nikole Hannah-Jones on how the Feds won’t go undercover to prove housing discrimination, though that approach would be simple and effective (and note how they don’t hesitate to use such approaches against drug dealers, despite the approach being much more dangerous in that case):

The four-bedroom house advertised on Craigslist sounded like just what Claire Rembis and her husband had been looking for. It sat on two verdant acres with plenty of room for their seven home-schooled children to run and play. And the $850 monthly rent was much cheaper than the prices for other homes they’d looked at.

Rembis loaded her family into their Dodge van and drove the 80 miles from Dearborn to Hudson, Mich. After the landlord’s brother showed them the property, they called the landlord and told her they “loved it.”

Three days later, Rembis got a call from the landlord saying she was dropping by to see how the family lived. It seemed strange, but Rembis really wanted the house, so she agreed. The landlord looked around, noted how tidy Rembis kept her home, and then asked to meet her children.

“I notice you are a woman of color,” the landlord said. “Are you concerned about living in that area?” Hudson is about 96 percent white, according to the U.S. Census. Rembis is biracial; her husband is white.

When Rembis replied she expected she and her children would have no problems, the landlord clarified her question. “No, no, no, not your children,” Rembis recalled her saying. “They are so beautiful, they are so fair.”

The landlord told Rembis she’d get back to her. A few days later Rembis received an email saying the family could not rent the house because there were issues with their credit and they had too many small children.

By then, Rembis had already contacted the Fair Housing Center of Metropolitan Detroit, a non-profit group. The center arranged for black and white testers to ask to rent the house.

Four years later, Rembis still gets emotional when she talks about what the testers found. “This part is really hard,” she said, her voice breaking. “This part is really hard. The black family and the white family had the same income, the same credit history, and the black family had the least number of kids. They wouldn’t even let them see the house. They wouldn’t return their phone calls.”

The white family, the testing showed, was called back immediately and invited to see the house.

What happened to the Rembis family isn’t an isolated instance of a landlord flouting the 1968 Fair Housing Act. It’s a rare case of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development actually investigating and filing formal charges. Today, federal authorities filed a complaint against the owners of the property and proposed to settle the case with a $12,500 fine to be paid to the Rembis family, according to a Justice Department official. The proposed settlement also calls for Paula and David French to undergo training in following the fair housing law. Attempts to reach the Frenchs’ attorney were unsuccessful.

Few civil rights laws are more routinely defied than the ban on housing discrimination.

HUD studies have found that African Americans and Latinos are discriminated against in one of every five home-buying encounters and one in every four attempts to rent an apartment.

Only a scant few of these incidents ever come to the attention of authorities.

In 2010, HUD and the National Fair Housing Alliance, reported that HUD, state, local and private groups received about 29,000 complaints from people alleging discrimination for a wide variety of reasons — including race, familial status, disability and national origin. About two-thirds were handled by private attorneys and non-profits which settled cases and, in some instances, filed civil law suits.

The remaining 10,000 went to state, local and federal agencies which together filed only 700 formal charges of discrimination in 2010. That year HUD found reasonable cause to believe discrimination based on race or national origin occurred in just 11 cases. The Department of Justice filed 29 cases — the lowest number since 2003.

Continue reading. It seems very much as if HUD and the Department of Justice do not want to find evidence of discrimination and to prosecute such crimes. They seem to be in the landlord protection game.

And take a look at Pam Martens interesting report on the lack of DoJ action in the Libor crimes:

It is close to five years since the Commodity Futures Trading Commission referred the Libor rate rigging matter to the U.S. Department of Justice. Yesterday was the first time the Justice Department brought a criminal charge in the matter – not against a U.S. bank where it would have a smoother road to prosecution, but against a Japanese subsidiary of the Swiss banking giant, UBS, and two of its former traders, Tom Hayes and Roger Darin.

The UBS subsidiary has received a deferred prosecution agreement, meaning it won’t be criminally prosecuted if it abides by the terms of the agreement, which includes not disputing the charges and continued cooperation. UBS paid global fines of $1.5 billion in the matter with the bulk of that money going to the U.S. Department of Justice. Hayes and Darin have been criminally charged in a complaint filed December 12, 2012 in Federal court in Manhattan. The complaint was unsealed yesterday.

What the complaint makes clear is that it should not have taken five years to bring these charges. The traders effectively handed the Justice Department a slam dunk case by documenting each maneuver to rig the international interest rate benchmark known as Libor via instant messages recorded on a Bloomberg computer terminal. There were thousands of these messages over at least a five year period. Three questions arise: did Wall Street engage in a legal battle to prevent the release of these communications on the basis of trade secrets or proprietary/confidential trading communications; did the Bloomberg business empire, owned by Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York City, immediately turn over the instant messages when requested to do so; why did traders feel their criminal messages would be protected on a Bloomberg computer terminal?

Every Wall Street firm regularly sends a loud and clear message to its workers that nothing you do on your work computers will be considered beyond the bounds of the firm’s prying eyes. Compliance departments at Wall Street firms are regularly required to monitor emails and other electronic communications for signs of illegal conduct. Every registered employee of a Wall Street firm who has read a business newspaper in the last four years also knows that the first thing a regulator will do in a fraud probe is to subpoena the emails.

And yet, sophisticated interest rate swap traders at the biggest banks in the world routinely engaged in rate fixing communications over a five year period and their established method of communication was over the Bloomberg terminal, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Hayes communicated in this manner with colleagues at UBS, with inter-dealer brokers and with traders at other large Wall Street firms.

In an electronic chat on November 20, 2006, Hayes explained to a junior UBS employee that he and Darin “generally coordinate” and “skew the libors a bit.” Hayes further indicated that “really need high 6m fixes till thursday,” meaning he wanted the 6-month Libor rate submitted by UBS to be rigged higher to aid his trading positions until Thursday.

On August 15, 2007, according to the Justice Department, Hayes sent an electronic message to an inter-dealer broker noting that he needed “to keep 6m up till tues then let it collapse.” The broker responded: “doing a good job so far…as long as the liquidity remains poor we have a better chance of bullying the fix.”

In an electronic message on January 19, 2007, Hayes communicated the following to a trader at another Wall Street firm: . . .

Continue reading. The DoJ drags its feet when going after the finance industry criminals.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2012 at 2:16 pm

Startlingly clear column about the root cause of the Sandy Hook massacre

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From Fareed Zakaria in the Washington Post. This one is impossible to argue with.

Announcing Wednesday that he would send proposals on reducing gun violence in America to Congress, President Obama mentioned a number of sensible gun-control measures. But he also paid homage to the Washington conventional wisdom about the many and varied causes of this calamity — from mental health issues to school safety. His spokesman, Jay Carney, had said earlier that this is “a complex problem that will require a complex solution.” Gun control, Carney added, is far from the only answer.

In fact, the problem is not complex, and the solution is blindingly obvious.

People point to three sets of causes when talking about events such as the Newtown, Conn., shootings. First, the psychology of the killer; second, the environment of violence in our popular culture; and, third, easy access to guns. Any one of these might explain a single shooting. What we should be trying to understand is not one single event but why we have so many of them. The number of deaths by firearms in the United States was 32,000 last year. Around 11,000 were gun homicides.

To understand how staggeringly high this number is, compare it to the rate in other rich countries. England and Wales have about 50 gun homicides a year — 3 percent of our rate per 100,000 people. Many people believe that America is simply a more violent, individualistic society. But again, the data clarify. For most crimes — theft, burglary, robbery, assault — the United States is within the range of other advanced countries. The category in which the U.S. rate is magnitudes higher is gun homicides.

The U.S. gun homicide rate is 30 times that of France or Australia, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, and 12 times higher than the average for other developed countries.

So what explains this difference? If psychology is the main cause, we should have 12 times as many psychologically disturbed people. But we don’t. The United States could do better, but we take mental disorders seriously and invest more in this area than do many peer countries.

Is America’s popular culture the cause? This is highly unlikely, as largely the same culture exists in other rich countries. Youth in England and Wales, for example, are exposed to virtually identical cultural influences as in the United States. Yet the rate of gun homicide there is a tiny fraction of ours. The Japanese are at the cutting edge of the world of video games. Yet their gun homicide rate is close to zero! Why? Britain has tough gun laws. Japan has perhaps the tightest regulation of guns in the industrialized world.

The data in social science are rarely this clear. They strongly suggest that we have so much more gun violence than other countries because we have far more permissive laws than others regarding the sale and possession of guns. With 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States has 50 percent of the guns.

There is clear evidence that tightening laws — even in highly individualistic countries with long traditions of gun ownership — can reduce gun violence. In Australia, after a 1996 ban on all automatic and semiautomatic weapons — a real ban, not like the one we enacted in 1994 with 600-plus exceptions — gun-related homicides dropped 59 percent over the next decade. The rate of suicide by firearm plummeted 65 percent. (Almost 20,000 Americans die each year using guns to commit suicide — a method that is much more successful than other forms of suicide.)

There will always be evil or disturbed people. And they might be influenced by popular culture. But how is government going to identify the darkest thoughts in people’s minds before they have taken any action? Certainly those who urge that government be modest in its reach would not want government to monitor thoughts, curb free expression, and ban the sale of information and entertainment.

Instead, why not have government do something much simpler and that has proven successful: limit access to guns. And not another toothless ban, riddled with exceptions, which the gun lobby would use to “prove” that such bans don’t reduce violence.

A few hours before the Newtown murders last week, a man entered a school in China’s Henan province. Obviously mentally disturbed, he tried to kill children. But the only weapon he was able to get was a knife. Although 23 children were injured, not one child died.

The problems that produced the Newtown massacre are not complex, nor are the solutions. We do not lack for answers.

What we lack in America today is courage.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2012 at 1:51 pm

Posted in Daily life, Law

Racism, in business and science

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In business first: I’m not buying Maker’s Mark bourbon any more. Knob Creek is better, and Gentleman Jack (a Jack Daniels brand) is an excellent sourmash whiskey that would be bourbon if made in the right region. Here’s the story by Laura Gottesdiener in Alternet:

The Maker’s Mark Bourbon House and Lounge in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, used to be a decently classy place, the type of glass- and wood-paneled establishment striving for a level of authenticity beyond the reach of a chain restaurant named after a bourbon label.

Late this past August, however, the Bourbon House and Lounge officially became one of the most despicable restaurants in the country when it denied African Americans access to a public event held at the site.

Here’s what happened: [3] Andre Mulligan and his brother went to the Marker’s Mark Bourbon House and Lounge on August 17 to speak with officials from Maker’s Mark bourbon company about a public event to be held at their restaurant the next day. At the meeting, Maker’s Mark wanted to know “the ratio of ‘black people’ to ‘white people’ attending the event” explains Mulligan in his lawsuit against the establishment.

Mulligan and his brother explained that the party-goers would be ‘100 percent African American,’ to which information the officials from Maker’s Mark said essentially, nope, you can’t hold an event at our lounge—a clear violation of not only the states’ laws, but also all human decency and basic 21st century codes of ethics and respect.

Given the clear illegality of the managers’ claims, Mulligan, his brother and some of their friends showed up the next night anyway for the event. What happened next, according to the lawsuit, is

Continue reading.

Now for science: Osagie K. Obasogie reviews in the New Scientist two books on the re-emergence of racism in science.

Have we gone beyond race? [In the light of the story above, I would have to say, “No.” – LG] Many argue society has now overcome centuries of strife to become “post-racial” – a moment that law professor Sumi Cho of DePaul University in Chicago refers to as “the end of race history”.

Two seemingly disparate developments have been used to lend support to this claim. In politics, Barack Obama’s 2008 election as the first racial minority-member to become US president has been lauded as a racially transcendent moment. In science, the completion of the Human Genome Project’s first draft in June 2000 offered seemingly definitive evidence that race is not real. As geneticist Craig Venter noted at the HGP announcement, “the concept of race has no genetic or scientific basis”.

Yet this supposed new era of race relations met a backlash on two fronts. The political dimension has been widely publicised; President Obama’s first term has been distinguished by elements of hatred and disrespect unquestionably coloured by race.

Another, less well-known dimension has roots within the scientific community. Despite pronouncements that race is genetically meaningless, some researchers insist that there are natural divisions between human groups that align with social categories of race. They argue that taking account of biological differences between racial groups can lead to beneficial innovations such as better understandings of individual ancestry, race-specific therapies, and new tools that can help law-enforcement fight crime.

But science is not on the side of these scientists. It has been widely documented, for example, that the presumption of a biological basis for social categories of race can shape research methods as well as the interpretation of results. Such findings can lead to a troubling re-emergence of biological race in mainstream science that, despite good intentions, is not unlike past versions used to further racial subordination.

Two recent books by legal scholars address these issues. Jonathan Kahn’s Race in a Bottle provides a stunning case study of BiDil, the first drug to receive approval by the US Food and Drug Administration as a race-specific therapy. It was designed to treat African-Americans suffering from heart failure – based mainly on a mistaken belief that there are meaningful disparities in heart failure outcomes between blacks and whites caused by biological differences. Although BiDil was initially created as a race-neutral drug, Kahn offers a compelling account of the many influences that turned what is in essence a combination therapy of two widely available generic treatments into a pill “for black people only”.

With a meticulous yet accessible and entertaining narrative, Kahn outlines the broader legal and political landscapes that not only allowed BiDil to get as far as it did, but also actively provided an incentive for this approach as the “dream” of personalised medicine marches on. He then shows how an inflexible response from public agencies to these markets and innovations in a genomic age can effectively recreate the notion of biological race.

Dorothy Roberts’s Fatal Invention, now out in paperback, extends this insight to examine how the re-emergence of biological race is having a broader impact – not only on innovations such as genetic ancestry-testing and racialised aspects of DNA forensics, but also on how we think about basic notions of racial difference. Advocates of biological race argue that today’s use of race in biomedicine is different from past usages within science that supported racism, eugenics and questionable research practices.

Yet Roberts brilliantly identifies the continuity of thought on biological race that links past, present and, perhaps, future. She points out that the continued acceptance of biological race in science and medicine works, for example, to obscure social and environmental causes of the very disparities thought to necessitate race-specific interventions. This reframes minorities’ poor health outcomes as a function of their “bad genes” rather than the discriminatory social practices that these groups endure. By identifying this historical thread, Fatal Invention offers remarkable insight into how persistent claims of racial difference as biological difference retain residual notions of racial hierarchy as poisonous today as at any time before.

Taken together, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2012 at 1:19 pm

Odd causes proposed for the Sandy Hook massacre

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E.g, feminism. Bet you didn’t suspect that, eh? Read the entire (amazing) list. These people are simply crazed.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2012 at 1:03 pm

Posted in Daily life

Shopping trip

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Veggies

Just back from extended shopping trip: the Aisian Market, then the produce stand, then Whole Foods, with another stop or two this afternoon.

The carrots and scallions—no, make that SCALLIONS—are from the Asian market. Both are cultivars unfamiliaar to me. I like the look of the almost-cylindrical carrots, and they seem tender. The scallions on steroids are just amazing. No idea what they are like: standard scallion taste, I would imagine.

From the produce stand, I got the eggplant, the (enormous) zucchini, and the very fresh and young bitter melon, all of which will go into the next batch of grub. The bitter melon has been especially good.

I should add I got an enormous bag of fresh vegetables, including 2-3 lbs of persimons, for $22. (Persimmons at Whole Foods are $5/lb. At the produce stand, 89¢/lb.)

UPDATE: Super-scallion and regular scallion, side by side:

Mother and daughter

Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2012 at 1:01 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food

Michigan Republicans Deny Police Officers and Firefighters the Right to Work

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Amazing, isn’t it? The GOP denied police officers and firefighters the right to work in the recent legislation that provided all other hourly workers the right to work. Dean Baker explains in his column at Truthout:

That is what the headlines would say if anyone really believed that the anti-union laws passed last week in Michigan actually had anything to do with the rights of workers. When the legislature outlawed contracts requiring workers who benefit from union representation to pay for that representation, it explicitly exempted the police and firefighters’ unions. If this law was actually about the “right to work,” the Republican legislature and Governor Snyder were effective denying the right to work to the state’s police officers and firefighters.

Of course this law has nothing to do with the right to work (RTW), as everyone involved knows; that is just the spin from the anti-labor coalition. This is why police unions and firefighters’ unions were exempted. The Republicans were trying to buy off these workers with special favors, not singling them out for punishment.

There is no issue of rights involved in this dispute. The question is whether workers, through their union, can sign a contract that imposes conditions on employment, just as the employer can impose conditions on employment.

When an employer advertises a job, it offers a specific pay and benefit package. If a worker doesn’t like that pay and benefit package no one says that she is being denied the right to work. The obvious answer is that the worker should go somewhere else.

In this case, the question is whether a union contract can require that everyone who benefits from the union’s representation to pay for that representation. (Under the law, a union is required to represent everyone in a bargaining unit, whether or not they join the union.) This is a condition of work, just like the pay and benefit package offered by the employer. And the answer for the people who don’t like a particular union, or unions in general, is that they have the right to work somewhere else.

Republicans have not suddenly developed a fondness for workers’ rights. They know the obvious. If workers are given the opportunity to freeload on the union that represents them, then some workers will take advantage of this opportunity. This will make unions weaker and therefore less effective in bargaining with management.

This weakening of unions will impose a real cost on all workers in the state, both union and non-union. Unions don’t just raise the wages of the workers who are members. Unions raise the wages of all workers, since in an environment where unions are common employers realize that they must pay a competitive wage in order not to give workers an incentive to unionize. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2012 at 9:06 am

Posted in Business, GOP, Government, Law

Mennen no-funk shave

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SOTD 20 Dec 2012

I used this Vie-Long horsehair brush (from GiftsAndCare.com) a few days ago for the first time, and I commented on the horse smell when the brush was wet. I try to enjoy that since it quickly is gone, and in today’s shave I detected none of that: completely washed away with the first shave.

I don’t soak badger or horse (or synthetic) brushes, but I did notice on the second pass the brush was noticeably softer, so if you use horse brushes, you might want to try soaking to see how you like it. “Soaking” does really require immersion, I recently learned: just wet the brush thoroughly, give it a slight squeeze if you want, and leave it sitting on the base of the handle while you shower. When you finish, the bristles will have absorbed water and will be somewhat softer. (This step is essential if using a boar brush.)

The Mennen shave stick works well—it’s no Palmolive, but it’s not bad. I think I got this one from Australia. At any rate, the lather was good, and I went to work with the bakelite straight-bar razor I got from ItalianBarber.com. This is a Merkur make, the same as the bakelite slant and undoubted from the same era. (I picture a boxed set of a brace of razors, one straight-bar, one slant.)

With a Swedish Gillette blade I got a very nice shave, though with a straight bar the extra effort (beyond what a slant bar requires) to cut the stubble is more noticeable with a light razor (the bakelite) than a heavy one (the Tradere SB, for example). But the result was BBS, so I’m not complaining, and this time, expecting that I would have to use more effort, it didn’t seem bad at all.

A splash of Sierra Stetson, and I’m good to go.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2012 at 8:44 am

Posted in Shaving

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