Later On

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

Archive for December 30th, 2012

Strong and important column by Krugman

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The most recent column by Paul Krugman is very much to the point:

Howard Schultz, the C.E.O. of Starbucks, has a reputation as a good guy, a man who supports worthy causes. And he presumably thought he would add to that reputation when he posted an open letter urging his employees to promote fiscal bipartisanship by writing “Come together” on coffee cups.

In reality, however, all he did was make himself part of the problem. And his letter was actually a very good illustration of the forces that created the current mess.

In the letter, Mr. Schultz warned that elected officials “have been unable to come together and compromise to solve the tremendously important, time-sensitive issue to fix the national debt,” and suggested that readers further inform themselves at the Web site of the organization Fix the Debt. Let’s parse that, shall we?

First of all, . . .

Continue reading. Read the whole thing, by all means.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2012 at 9:36 pm

Posted in Business, Government

Heating buildings with body heat

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Very interesting column.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2012 at 3:25 pm

Posted in Environment, Technology

Corporations trying to end tinkering

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Why let you repair something when it possible to force you buy a complete new unit? “Profits must grow”: the prime imperative of the corporation. Alec Foege has an interesting book excerpt in Salon:

A few years ago I engaged my then two-month-old smartphone, a BlackBerry of some sort or another, in a very nontechnical road test: I sat on it. I only noticed the damage when one afternoon I reached to check my email. The small screen, usually jittering and scrolling with plenty of new messages, was suddenly a disconcerting Technicolor swirl with a huge black spot in the middle.

I drove in a mild panic to the nearest Verizon Wireless store and met with a sales representative. After asking for my vitals, he typed for a few seconds and waited. Then he typed, then he waited. Then he sighed.

“You can get a new phone,” he said. “At retail price.”

“How much is that?” I asked.

“Four hundred fifty dollars.”

Could I get my current BlackBerry fixed? The rep shook his head sadly. “They don’t let us repair the phones in the store anymore,” he said.

I felt his pain. Having grown up tinkering with Radio Shack electronic kits, I used to love taking things apart—radios, tape players, anything I could get my hands on.

But in the last twenty-five years or so, the number of household devices we can easily tinker with has dwindled.

I Googled my model number to see if I could find a more affordable replacement. What I stumbled onto instead was a short video on YouTube. The video showed a pair of hands disassembling a BlackBerry and replacing the screen in a matter of minutes.

I was hooked.

Through another Google search, I found an online retailer selling replacement screens for around $45, as well as a small smartphone-specific toolkit, including a tiny torque screwdriver and a little plastic tool for prying apart the BlackBerry’s flimsy case. One FedEx delivery later, I had my phone disassembled and its parts neatly laid out on my desk.

Just ten minutes after starting the process, I powered it up. Good as new.

My tinkering journey ended at the point when I had a working phone again. But it certainly didn’t have to. Having discovered through my own persistence that this modern-age bit of machinery wasn’t quite as complicated as I had first thought, I might have been emboldened to make my own alterations to it.

Perhaps the best example of the smartphone-tinkering phenomenon is the remarkable case of . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2012 at 1:51 pm

The push to legalize silencers

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Interesting article in Salon by Alexander Zaitchik:

A gruesome holiday season exercise: Think of some firearms and accessories that might have added to the body counts of Aurora and Newtown. More starkly, imagine the means by which coming Auroras and Newtowns will be made more deadly.

The exercise starts with a militarized baseline, as both shooters unloaded designed-for-damage rounds from high-capacity magazines loaded into assault rifles. Improving their killing efficiency would require one of two things: the ability to shoot more bullets faster, or more time. A fully automatic machine gun would provide the first. More minutes to hunt, meanwhile, might be gained by employing a noise suppressor, those metallic tubes better known as silencers. By muffling the noise generated with every shot by sonic booms and gas release, a silencer would provide a new degree of intimacy for public mass murder, delaying by crucial seconds or minutes the moment when someone calls the police after overhearing strange bangs coming from Theater 4 or Classroom D. The same qualities that make silencers the accessory of choice for targeted assassination offer advantages to the armed psychopath set on indiscriminate mass murder.

It should surprise no one that the NRA has recently thrown its weight behind an industry campaign to deregulate and promote the use of silencers. Under the trade banner of the American Silencer Association, manufacturers have come together with the support of the NRA to rebrand the silencer as a safety device belonging in every all-American gun closet. To nurture this potentially large and untapped market, the ASA last April sponsored the first annual all-silencer gun shoot and trade show in Dallas. America’s silencer makers are each doing their part. SWR Suppressors is asking survivalists to send a picture of their “bugout bag” for a chance to win an assault rifle silencer. The firm Silencero — “We Dig Suppressors and What They Do” — has put together a helpful “Silencers Are Legal” website and produced a series of would-be viral videos featuring this asshole.

This Silencer Awareness Campaign is today’s gun lobby in a bottle. The coordinated effort brings together the whole family: manufacturers, dealers, the gun press, rightwing lawmakers at every level of government, and the NRA. Each are doing their part to chip away at federal gun regulation in the name of profits and ideology. Together, they plan to strip the longstanding regulatory regime around silencers, and reintroduce them to the gun-buying public as wholesome, children-friendly accessories, as harmless as car mufflers.

In case you’re wondering, the answer is yes, the gun lobby’s grand strategy rests grotesquely on fake concern for child hearing health. Among the opening shots in the campaign was a feature in the February 2011 issue of Gun World, “Silence is Golden,” penned by the veteran gun writer Jim Dickson. “One only has to look at children in the rest of the world learning to shoot with silencers, protecting their tender young ears, to see what an innocent safety device we are talking about here,” writes Dickson. “To use an overworked propaganda phrase, legalize silencers ‘for the sake of the children.’” [Emphasis mine.]

Proponents of healthy hearing will be heartened to know the NRA shares Gun World’s concern for America’s tender young ears. The organization officially entered the silencer-awareness fray in November of 2011, around the time the Utah-based American Silencer Association was founded. It’s opening statement took the form of an article posted to its lobbying division website: “Suppressors: Good for our hearing… And for the shooting sports.” With this piece, the NRA finally acknowledged the relationship between health care costs and guns.

“Billions of dollars are spent every year in our healthcare system for hearing loss conditions, such as shooting-related tinnitus,” explained the NRA. It was a very important point that had long been overlooked in the gun control debate; because if there is a single pressing gun safety issue in America today, it is the hearing, comfort and convenience of recreational shooters who find orange earplugs unsightly. The NRA is also extremely concerned about the fright children may receive from shooting or standing near the reports of high-caliber weapons. These jolts could have a lasting and detrimental developmental impact, possibly imbuing America’s impressionable and tender young brains with the notion that guns are loud, dangerous things. The NRA firmly believes that American freedom is best served by giving 9mm gunfire the feel and sound of a toy cap gun. As the NRA’s Lacey Biles put it during last April’s Dallas Silencer Shoot, silencers are good for “getting younger folks involved [in guns]. They’re less afraid of the loud bang.”

For these reasons, the NRA believes America must “move to eliminate the laws, regulations and policies that discourage or prohibit suppressor use.”

And move we have. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2012 at 1:29 pm

Posted in Government, Law

Garlic soup with spinach

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Martha Rose Schulman has a set of spinach recipes in a recent NY Times. I really like her recipes in general, and two of these—the Garlic Soup with Spinach and the Spinach, Sardine, and Rice Gratin—caught my eye.

Spinach and Millet Timbale With Tomato Sauce
A timbale is a molded custard, somewhat similar to a quiche without a crust.

Garlic Soup With Spinach
A quick and easy soup that is a great way to use any leftover turkey stock from Thanksgiving.

Penne With Mushroom Ragout and Spinach
This is a delicious meal no matter what variety of mushrooms you have on hand.

Spinach Gnocchi
A considerably lighter version of the classic gnocchi made with spinach and ricotta.

Spinach, Sardine and Rice Gratin
This classic Provençal gratin is a good way to work fish that is high in omega-3s into your diet

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2012 at 1:03 pm

Posted in Food, Recipes

2012 in review

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

About 55,000 tourists visit Liechtenstein every year. This blog was viewed about 700,000 times in 2012. If it were Liechtenstein, it would take about 13 years for that many people to see it. Your blog had more visits than a small country in Europe!

Click here to see the complete report.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2012 at 11:50 am

Posted in WordPress

Anonymous, Karl Rove and 2012 Election Fix?

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Very intriguing article by Thom Hartman and Sam Sacks at TruthOut:

At around 11:25 pm EST on election night, Karl Rove knew something had gone terribly wrong.
Minutes earlier, Fox News called the key battleground state of Ohio for President Obama, sealing his re-election. But as the network took live shots of jubilant Obama supporters celebrating their victory camped outside the Obama re-election headquarters in Chicago, Karl Rove began building a case against the call his employer network had just made.

Rove explained that when Fox called Ohio, only 74% of the vote was in showing President Obama with a lead of roughly 30,000 votes. But, as Rove contended, with 77% reporting according to the Ohio Secretary of State office, the President’s lead had been slashed to just 991 votes.

“We gotta be careful about calling the thing,” Rove said, “I’d be very cautious about intruding in on this process.”

Rove was supremely confident that the numbers coming in from Ohio throughout the night that favored President Obama weren’t indicative of who would win Ohio when all the votes were ultimately tabulated by the state’s computers. With a quarter of the vote still out there, Rove was anticipating a shift to the Right just after 11 pm, which, coincidentally, is exactly what happened in 2004.

That year, John Kerry and the entire nation were watching Ohio just after the 11pm hour. Florida had just been called for George W. Bush and according to the Electoral College math whoever won Ohio would win the election. And considering that exit polls from the state showed John Kerry with a substantial lead, there were a lot of tense moments for Karl Rove and the Republicans that night.
Then the clock struck 11:14pm, and the servers counting the votes in Ohio crashed. Election officials had planned for this sort of thing to happen and already contracted with a company in Chattanooga, Tennessee called SMARTech to be the failsafe should the servers in Ohio go down.

As journalist Craig Unger lays bare in his book, Boss Rove, SMARTech was drenched in Republican politics. One of the early founders of the company was Mercer Reynolds who used to the finance chairman of the Republican Party. SMARTech’s top client was none other than the Bush-Cheney campaign itself and SMARTech also did work for Jeb Bush and the Republican National Committee. And it was Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State, Ken Blackwell, who ensured that SMARTech received the contract to count votes on election night should the servers go down, which they did at exactly 11:14pm.

Sixty long seconds later the servers came back up in Ohio, but now with vote rerouted through SMARTech in Chattanooga. And, coincidentally, Bush’s prospects for re-election were suddenly a lot brighter. The vote totals that poured into the system from SmartTECH’s computer in Chattanooga were flipping the exit polls on their head. The lead Kerry had in the exit polls had magically reversed by more than 6%, something unheard of in any other nation in the developed world, giving Bush the win in Ohio and the presidency for another four years.

Unger further explains in his book that the only independent analysis of what happened in Ohio was done by Richard Hayes Phillips and published in the book, Witness to a Crime. Phillips and his team analyzed more than 120,000 ballots, 127 polls books, and 141 signature books from Ohio’s 2004 election.

Phillips found zero irregularities in vote totals from all the counties that reported results before the servers crashed at 11:14pm. But of the fourteen counties that came in after the crash connected Ohio’s election computers to SmartTECH’s computers in Chattanooga, every single one of them showed voter irregularities – that all favored George W. Bush.

For example, consider Cleveland’s Fourth Ward. In 2000, Al Gore won 95% of that ward’s vote. But in 2004, the county reported its results after the 11:14 pm crash, and it showed that Kerry had only won 59% of the vote – a 35% drop without any explanation. There were several other abnormalities across Ohio’s post-server crash that delivered the state to Bush.

John Kerry never protested the election and to this day, these 2004 voter abnormalities have never been addressed.

So the question is: on election night this year, when Karl Rove was protesting the call his network had just made in Ohio, was Rove anticipating a wave of unpredicted vote totals to swing the election back to Mitt Romney after a statewide server crash, just as had happened in 2004?

Perhaps. He did make the point that the race was about to drastically narrow according to the Secretary of State’s office. And as The Free Press reports, a number of odd similarities with 2004 began occurring in Ohio this year just after the 11pm hour once again:

“Curiously, the Ohio Secretary of State’s vote tabulation website went down at 11:13pm, as reported by Free Press election protection website monitors, and mentioned by Rove on the news. This was one minute earlier than the time on election night 2004 — when Ohio votes were outsourced to Chattanooga, Tennessee — and then the vote flipped for Bush…This time, the Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) vote tabulation site went down as on election night as well. In his rant on Fox, Rove argued that Fox News should not confirm Ohio for Obama until votes came in from the southwest Ohio GOP strongholds of Delaware, Butler and Warren counties and suburban Cincinnati. It was after the crash of the secretary of state’s site in 2004 that improbable vote totals came in from Republican counties in southwest Ohio – particularly Butler, Clermont, and Warren counties. These three counties provided more than Bush’s entire Ohio victory margin of 119,000.”

Only this time, when the servers came back up, the votes never flipped. President Obama’s lead held and he went on to win, while Karl Rove – and Mitt Romney – watched in slack-jawed amazement.

We know there was a parade of Conservative talking heads in the days before the election predicting a landslide victory for Mitt Romney. Is it because they lived in a bubble, lacking pollster Nate Silver’s facts and arithmetic that actually showed the President winning in a landslide? Could it be that Rove’s election night freak-out was just a result of this same Election Day ignorance held by all Republicans? Or was Rove genuinely shocked by what he was seeing because he knew the fix was in, just like in 2004, and there was no way President Obama was going to win re-election?

And if that’s the case, why did the plan to steal the election not work?

Here’s where the story gets really interesting. . .

Continue reading.

Of course, this entire speculation hinges on whether the GOP would deliberately attempt to subvert the election process by working to block votes from Democratic voters. Would a national party stoop so low?

Steve Rosenfeld on Alternet does point out a few Republican tactics along those lines:

Creating barriers to voting, demonizing communities of color, attacking voting rights laws and their defenders, unleashing billionaires who financed candidates like an extreme sport, and hiding corporate donors behind opaque front groups—these were the chapters in the Republican Party’s electoral playbook in the 2012 election cycle.

While Democrats copied [3] but did not quite match [4] the GOP on the campaign finance abuse side of this depressing ledger, the 2012 campaign cycle arguably was the worst for democracy issues in years. And the GOP’s prospects for changing course are dim.

The nation’s most comprehensive [5] 2012 Election Day survey of voter attitudes found [6] that upwards of one-fifth of Republicans believed the GOP’s voter fraud propagandists. That cadre claimed that non-citizens voting, people impersonating others, voting more than once, and tampering with ballots and results occurred in their counties.

Meanwhile, top GOP officials in Pennsylvania [7] and Wisconsin [8] are hoping to change the way their states allocate Electoral College votes to dilute future Democratic victories.

To be fair, the Democrats are no angels when it comes to using [9] the same campaign finance tactics as the GOP—although the GOP was first to pioneer and exploit 2012’s newest and biggest loopholes. But on voting rights, the GOP clearly is a party that does not want [10] everyone to vote, whereas Democrats believe in expanding the franchise.

1. Voting Barriers     

The bad news was that between January 2011 and October 2012, 19 states (all but one with GOP majorities) adopted [11] 25 new laws and two executive actions that created barriers at varying stages of the voting process, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School. These new laws weren’t just newly restrictive voter ID requirements, but also curbs on registration drives and early voting options.

The good news was liberal voting rights groups and the U.S. Department of Justice (after doing little in 2011) reversed or weakened new laws in 14 states, according to Brennan’s count [11]. But in some of the most contested fights, such as Pennsylvania’s new photo ID law, the Court only postponed [12] the law from taking effect until after 2012.

2. Voter Intimidation

The GOP’s propoganda machine went into overdrive in 2012, with a handful of Tea Party governors and secretaries of state—led by Florida Gov. Rick Scott—falsely claiming [13] that hundreds of thousands of non-citizens were on voter rolls. Scott’s claims of 180,000-plus illegals led to hundreds of legal voters, including World War II vets, being incorrectly purged. He retracted [14] that figure, but the initial publicity did its dirty work: intimidating new voters from communities of color, according to Florida election officials like Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho [14]. And as Election Day neared, Republican activists paid for billboards in several swing state cities with big minority populations that cited penalties for illegal voting, another voter suppression tactic.

The good news was that in Florida, election supervisors from both parties rebelled against Scott’s false claims. But rightwing media trumpeted these and other fabrications. On Election Day, a nationwide survey [6] by CalTech/MIT of 10,200 voters found that 35 percent of Republicans believed non-citizen voting was a problem in their county. (This is the nation’s largest survey of voter attitudes and experiences.)

Twenty-two percent of Republicans said there was voting by people pretending to be someone else in their county, CalTech/MIT found. The same number said there was voting by people more than once; 17 percent said people tampered with ballots; and another 16 percent said election officials tampered with the count. In contrast, only 9 percent or less of Democrats believed these issues were real problems.

Taken together, roughly one-third of the 2012 electorate believe some version [6] of GOP-defined voter fraud was widespead—even though innumerable academic studies have shown that these kinds of infractions are singular events, on par with getting hit by lightning. (In fact, 2012’s most notable examples of election fraud were by Republicans, such as the Indiana secretary of state’s resignation [15] after falsified candidate filing papers surfaced, or GOP consultant Nathan Sproul was caught dumping [16] voter registration forms submitted by Democrats, or Ohio counties barring the new GOP voter vigilante group True the Vote from polling places after lying [17] about members’ credentials.)

There is plenty of evidence that the GOP’s accusations and tactics—on top of Obama being a mixed-race candidate—backfired and increased minority turnout. On Friday, Pew Research Center reported [18] that blacks voted at a higher rate than whites in 2012, a first. But when partisan beliefs carry more weight than facts, it is all but impossible to reach consensus solutions in the political world. That takes us to the next big trend that will continue to unfold in 2013—the GOP’s assault on federal voting rights laws.

3. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2012 at 10:41 am

Posted in Election, GOP, Government

Something for The Wife to note: Expiration dates are not meaningful

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Certainly not as meaningful as the smell and appearance of the food. The Wife is a demon at discarding foods that are past the expiry date, whereas I often feel I’m just getting to know the food by that point. (That’s why I regularly check the sale bin of meats at the point of their sell-by dates (not the same as the expiry date): 50% off just because today is the sell-by date? If it’s a meat I want, I’ll buy it in a heartbeat.) Consider how you judge leftovers: you check smell and appearance, right?

Dan Charles explains at NPR:

Now that the Christmas feast is over, you may be looking at all the extra food you made, or the food that you brought home from the store that never even got opened.

And you may be wondering: How long can I keep this? What if it’s past its expiration date? Who even comes up with those dates on food, anyway, and what do they mean?

Here’s the short answer: Those “sell by” dates are there to protect the reputation of the food. They have very little to do with food safety. If you’re worried whether food is still OK to eat, just smell it.

One of the places that knows most about the shelf life of food is a scientific establishment in Livermore, Calif., called the National Food Lab. At the NFL, they put food on shelves for days, or weeks, or even years, to see how it holds up.

Sometimes, they’ll try to accelerate the process with 90-degree heat and high humidity.

And then, from time to time, they’ll take some of the food — whether it’s bagged salad greens, breakfast cereal, or fruit juice — off the shelf and place it in front of a highly trained panel of experts who check the taste and smell and texture.

“You would think that everybody can taste and smell food, but some of us are much better at it than others,” says Jena Roberts, vice president for business development at the NFL. The lab has 40 of these food tasters on staff. “They are the most fit people in the group,” says Roberts. “Because they don’t eat the food. They expectorate it. Which is a fancy college word for spit it in a cup.”

The experts give the food grades, in numbers. The numbers go down as the food gets older. Bread gets stale. Salad dressings can start to taste rancid. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2012 at 9:45 am

Posted in Business, Food, Health, Science

Oops! Wrong Bethlehem.

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Interesting discovery: the focus for centuries has been on the wrong Bethlehem as the locus of the birth of Jesus. Sheera Frenkel reports for NPR:

Thousands of Christian pilgrims streamed into Bethlehem Monday night to celebrate the birth of Jesus. It’s the major event of the year in that West Bank town. But Israeli archaeologists now say there is strong evidence that Christ was born in a different Bethlehem, a small village in the Galilee.

About 100 miles north of where the pilgrims gathered, shepherds still guide their flocks through green unspoiled hills, and few give notice to the tucked-away village with the odd sounding name: Bethlehem of the Galilee. But archaeologists who have excavated there say there is ample evidence that this Bethlehem is the Bethlehem of Christ’s birth.

“I think the genuine site of the nativity is here rather than in the other Bethlehem near Jerusalem,” says Aviram Oshri, an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority which has excavated here extensively. He stands on the side of a road that now cuts through the entrance to the village. It was the construction of this road that led to the discovery of the first evidence that Bethlehem of the Galilee may have had a special place in history.

“It was inhabited by Jews. I know it was Jews because we found here remnants of an industry of stone vessels, and it was used only by Jews and only in the period of Jesus,” Oshri says.

He also found artifacts which showed that a few centuries later the community had become Christians and had built a large and ornate church. He says there is significant evidence that in early Christianity this Bethlehem was celebrated as the birthplace of Christ. The emperor Justinian boasted of building a fortification wall around the village to protect it. The ruins of that wall, says Oshri, still circle parts of the Galilee village today.

He thinks many early scholars would have concluded that this Bethlehem was the birthplace of Christ.

“It makes much more sense that Mary rode on a donkey, while she was at the end of the pregnancy, from Nazareth to Bethlehem of Galilee which is only 7 kilometers rather then the other Bethlehem which is 150 kilometers,” Oshri says.

He adds there is evidence the . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2012 at 9:34 am

Posted in Daily life, Religion

Step 3 of comparison: Mystic Waters Sensitive Skin

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SOTD 30 Dec 2012

Mystic Waters shaving soaps are, like Creed’s and Strop Shoppe soaps, first-rate soaps. They are similar to Strop Shoppe (previously compared) in being a relatively soft soap, unlike the triple-milled Creed’s. These are tallow-based, and the Sensitive Skin formula (like Strop Shoppe’s Unscented) has no added fragrance, though it does mell pleasantly from the ingredients (listed on label above).

Once again the doughty Wee Scot worked up an instant lather, thick, luxurious, and lubricious. Really, so far as lather is concerned, the three soaps—Creed’s, Strop Shoppe’s, and Mystic Water’s—are at the same level. Price, of course, is a very different story. The tub of Mystic Waters is 4 oz for $11.80; Strop Shoppe’s Special Edition with Tallow comes in an 8.5 oz tub for $16 (the best bargain); Creed’s comes in a 5.2 oz tub for $80. (Note that Creed’s is triple-milled so is going to be more long-lasting than the softer soaps; but still…)

For fragrance, I have to hand it to Creed’s. The fragrances of Mystic Waters and Strop Shoppe soaps is quite good, but very light—probably wise, given that skin sensitivity to fragrances seems not all that rare—and little fragrance lies in the lather once formed. But I have no complaints, simply that the Creed’s fragrance seems somewhat more definite.

Today’s shave, with the Tradere bearing the Gillette Rubie blade, was excellent. This razor works exceptionally well for me, with another BBS shaving as the result after three passes.

A good splash of Saint Charles Shave Savory Rose, and all is well.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2012 at 9:08 am

Posted in Shaving

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