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Archive for February 4th, 2015

How the US burns people alive, even more efficiently than ISIS

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A grim account by Glenn Greenwald in The Intercept of the numerous victims of US strikes that involved burning people, some to death, some scarred for life:

The latest ISIS atrocity – releasing a video of a captured Jordanian fighter pilot being burned alive – prompted substantial discussion yesterday about this particular form of savagery. It is thus worth noting that deliberately burning people to death is achievable – and deliberately achieved – in all sorts of other ways:

“Living Under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan”, NYU School of Law and Stanford University Law School, 2012:

The most immediate consequence of drone strikes is, of course, death and injury to those targeted or near a strike. The missiles fired from drones kill or injure in several ways, including through incineration[3], shrapnel, and the release of powerful blast waves capable of crushing internal organs. Those who do survive drone strikes often suffer disfiguring burns and shrapnel wounds, limb amputations, as well as vision and hearing loss. . . .

In addition, because the Hellfire missiles fired from drones often incinerate the victims’ bodies, and leave them in pieces and unidentifiable, traditional burial processes are rendered impossible. As Firoz Ali Khan, a shopkeeper whose father-in-law’s home was struck, graphically described, “These missiles are very powerful. They destroy human beings . . .There is nobody left and small pieces left behind. Pieces. Whatever is left is just little pieces of bodies and cloth.” A doctor who has treated drone victims described how “[s]kin is burned so that you can’t tell cattle from human.” When another interviewee came upon the site of the strike that killed his father, “[t]he entire place looked as if it was burned completely, so much so that even [the victims’] own clothes had burnt. All the stones in the vicinity had become black.” Ahmed Jan, who lost his foot in the March 17 jirga strike, discussed the challenges rescuers face in identifying bodies: “People were trying to find the body parts. We find the body parts of some people, but sometimes we do not find anything.”

One father explained that key parts of his son’s burial process had to be skipped over as a result of the severe damage to his body. “[A]fter that attack, the villagers came and took the bodies to the hospital.We didn’t see the bodies. They were in coffins, boxes. The bodies were in pieces and burnt.” Idris Farid, who was injured and lost several of his relatives in the March 17 jirga strike, described how, after that strike, relatives “had to collect their body pieces and bones and then bury them like that.” The difficulty of identifying individual corpses also makes it difficult to separate individuals into different graves. Masood Afwan, who lost several relatives in the March 17jirga strike, described how the dead from that strike were buried: “They held a funeral for everybody, in the same location, one by one. Their bodies were scattered into tiny pieces. They…couldn’t be identified” . . . .

[3] See, e.g., Yancy Y Phillips & Joan T. Zajchuk, The Management of Primary Blast Injury, in Conventional Warfare: Ballistic, Blast and Burn Injuries 297 (1991) (“The thermal pulse from a detonation may burn exposed skin, or secondary fires may be started by the detonation and more serious burns may be suffered.”); AGM-114N Metal Augmented Charge (MAC) Thermobaric Hellfire,, (last visited Aug. 17, 2012) (“The new [AGM-114N Thermobaric Hellfire] warhead contains a fluorinated aluminum powder layered between the warhead casing and the PBXN-112 explosive fill. When the PBXN-112 detonates, the aluminum mixture is dispersed and rapidly burns. The resultant sustained high pressure is extremely effective against enemy personnel and structures.”); Explosions and Blast Injuries: A Primer for Clinicians, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, (last visited on Sept. 17, 2012) (outlining one of the types of blast injuries as “burns (flash, partial, and full thickness”)).

Mirza Shahzad Akbar, The New York Times, May 22, 2013:

Instead, a few days after [Obama’s] inaugural address, a CIA-operated drone dropped Hellfire missiles on Fahim Qureishi’s home in North Waziristan, killing seven of his family members and severely injuring Fahim. He was just 13 years old and left with only one eye, and shrapnel in his stomach. . . .

Mr. Obama is scheduled to deliver a major speech on drones at the National Defense University today. He is likely to tell his fellow Americans that drones are precise and effective at killing militants.

But his words will be little consolation for 8-year-old Nabila, who, on Oct. 24, had just returned from school and was playing in a field outside her house with her siblings and cousins while her grandmother picked flowers. At 2:30 p.m., a Hellfire missile came out of the sky and struck right in front of Nabila. Her grandmother was badly burned and succumbed to her injuries; Nabila survived with severe burns and shrapnel wounds in her shoulder.

Al Jazeera, “Yemenis seek justice in wedding drone strike,” May 21, 2014: . . .

Continue reading.

The US, however, believes that, while ISIS is wrong to burn people alive, the same practice is perfectly acceptable if done by the US. And, of course, the US used a lot of napalm in Vietnam—and continues to use it today: read the other accounts at the link.

This victim of a US napalm attack (a civilian girl) survived, but many did not:

napalm girl Vietnam

The US in Vietnam dropped tons of napalm, much of it on civilians. No problem then with troops burning people alive—and many of those burned by the US were not even combatants, unlike the Jordanian pilot.

I am not excusing the barbaric savagery of ISIS in burning the man alive, but I find it peculiar that the US stance toward it is so severe, given the great number of people the US has burned alive in its various wars—and its continuing to do so, as in Pakastan (see story at the link above).

Edit: In fairness, the ISIS burned alive a prisoner, and I don’t recall the US doing that. OTOH, the prisoner ISIS burned was a combatant, and many of those burned alive by the US were not—not in Vietnam, not in Pakistan, and not in Yemen. The US burns civilians in addition to (supposed) combatants.

Written by Leisureguy

4 February 2015 at 4:58 pm

Posted in Military

A Fervent Cop Supporter Changes His Mind About NYPD

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The trick described in the story—holding a pocket knife in one’s hand and with a quick wrist motion causing it to flip open—is something I’ve seen done. The proprietor of a knife store in Capitola some years back (where I bought several of my William Henry knives) could do it. The idea is to move that knife fast enough so that suddenly stopping the motion makes the blade’s inertia overcome the spring’s resistance. It is indeed a trick—and, as the man in the article found, an easy way to get an arrest.

NYPD is badly corrupt and badly managed. I think a good manager could put a stop to this sort of thing immediately, though of course he would face a battle royal with the (equally corrupt) police union.

Jon Campbell writes in The Village Voice:

A few weeks ago, when relations between the NYPD and Mayor Bill de Blasio were at their nadir, some of Carsten Vogel’s friends had been enthusiastically bashing the NYPD on Facebook.

Vogel, who has always been a police supporter and even counts some cops among his friends, took exception to their criticism. At the time, police were in the midst of an intentional “slowdown” in arrests and ticketing in protest of the mayor’s many perceived slights toward the department, and Vogel was quick to the NYPD’s defense.

“The police in NYC are now refusing to make the mayor look good,” Vogel wrote in a thread on his Facebook page. “I get it. I don’t think the police are abandoning their jobs or responsibilities. I think they are refusing to play the game.” A few days prior, he’d gotten into what he describes as a heated argument with a friend about the same topic.

But his view of police has now been irrevocably changed. At around 4 p.m. on January 20, Vogel was listening to his headphones while waiting for an A train at the Nostrand Avenue stop when he was approached by an NYPD officer, who asked what he had in his pocket. It was a pocketknife, Vogel told him. It was clipped onto the pocket of his jeans — not open or exposed, but visible to a sharp eye.

Vogel knew his knife was legal. He had done his homework and researched New York’s laws. “I didn’t want to be carrying an illegal knife,” Vogel says, so he’d checked out the rules when he got it. The blade didn’t exceed four inches, and it wasn’t a switchblade, which are illegal in New York State. It was just a common pocketknife, with a wooden handle and a blade about two inches long: the kind that millions of Americans carry every day, often for work, and the kind stores all over New York City commonly stock on their shelves.

Vogel uses his knife for work, too. A self-employed musician, he hosts a bingo night every week at a small bar in Brooklyn, and among his duties is to set up the PA system. He always brings a knife along to cut tape and cables and the like. That’s where he was headed that day.

When Vogel handed over his knife, the cop who had stopped him went through a routine that plays out thousands of times every year in New York City. Holding Vogel’s knife, the cop raised his arm and vigorously flicked his wrist, in a practiced move. The knife snapped open and into place.

Vogel says he had never in his life tried to open his knife like that. It certainly wasn’t designed to operate that way. He was stunned. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 February 2015 at 4:48 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

US lowering standards for food inspection by USDA

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Before going further, read this article by Wyl S. Hylton in the New Yorker. It begins:

Late one night in September of 2013, Rick Schiller awoke in bed with his right leg throbbing. Schiller, who is in his fifties, lives in San Jose, California. He had been feeling ill all week, and, as he reached under the covers, he found his leg hot to the touch. He struggled to sit upright, then turned on a light and pulled back the sheet. “My leg was about twice the normal size, maybe even three times,” he told me. “And it was hard as a rock, and bright purple.”

Schiller roused his fiancée, who helped him hobble to their car. He dropped into the passenger seat, but he couldn’t bend his leg to fit it through the door. “So I tell her, ‘Just grab it and shove it in,’ ” he recalled. “I almost passed out in pain.”

At the hospital, five employees helped move Schiller from the car to a consulting room. When a doctor examined his leg, she warned him that it was so swollen there was a chance it might burst. She tried to remove fluid with a needle, but nothing came out. “So she goes in with a bigger needle—nothing comes out,” Schiller said. “Then she goes in with a huge needle, like the size of a pencil lead—nothing comes out.” When the doctor tugged on the plunger, the syringe filled with a chunky, meatlike substance. “And then she gasped,” Schiller said.

That night, he drifted in and out of consciousness in his hospital room. His temperature rose to a hundred and three degrees and his right eye oozed fluid that crusted over his face. Schiller’s doctors found that he had contracted a form of the salmonella bacterium, known as Salmonella Heidelberg, which triggered a cascade of conditions, including an inflamed colon and an acute form of arthritis. The source of the infection was most likely something he had eaten, but Schiller had no idea what. He spent four days in intensive care before he could stand again and navigate the hallways. On the fifth day, he went home, but the right side of his body still felt weak, trembly, and sore, and he suffered from constant headaches. His doctors warned that he might never fully recover.

Three weeks later, Schiller received a phone call from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An investigator wanted to know whether he had eaten chicken before he became sick. Schiller remembered that he’d bought two packages of raw Foster Farms chicken thighs just before the illness. He’d eaten a few pieces from one of the packages; the other package was still in his freezer. Several days later, an investigator from the U.S. Department of Agriculture stopped by to pick it up. She dropped the chicken into a portable cooler and handed him a slip of paper that said “Property Receipt.” That was the last time Schiller heard from the investigators. More than a year later, he still wasn’t sure what was in the chicken: “I don’t know what the Department of Agriculture found.”

Each year, contaminated food sickens forty-eight million Americans, of whom a hundred and twenty-eight thousand are hospitalized, and three thousand die. Many of the deadliest pathogens, such as E. coli and listeria, are comparatively rare; many of the most widespread, such as norovirus, are mercifully mild. Salmonella is both common and potentially lethal. It infects more than a million Americans each year, sending nineteen thousand victims to the hospital, and killing more people than any other food-borne pathogen. A recent U.S.D.A study found that twenty-four per cent of all cut-up chicken parts are contaminated by some form of salmonella. Another study, by Consumer Reports, found that more than a third of chicken breasts tainted with salmonella carried a drug-resistant strain.

By the time Schiller became infected by salmonella, federal officials had been tracking an especially potent outbreak of the Heidelberg variety for three months—it had sent nearly forty per cent of its victims to the hospital. The outbreak began in March, but investigators discovered it in June, when a cluster of infections on the West Coast prompted a warning from officials at the C.D.C.’s PulseNet monitoring system, which tracks illnesses reported by doctors. Scientists quickly identified the source of the outbreak as Foster Farms facilities in California, where federal inspectors had discovered the same strain of pathogen during a routine test. Most of the victims of the outbreak confirmed that they’d recently eaten chicken, and many specifically named the Foster Farms brand. On August 9th, investigators joined a conference call with Foster Farms executives to inform them of the outbreak and its link to the company.

Identifying the cause of an outbreak is much simpler than trying to stop one. Once officials have traced the contamination to a food producer, the responsibility to curb the problem falls to the U.S.D.A.’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, or F.S.I.S. In the summer of 2013, as the outbreak spread, F.S.I.S. officials shared the C.D.C.’s conclusion that Foster Farms meat was behind the outbreak, but they had no power to force a recall of the tainted chicken. Federal law permits a certain level of salmonella contamination in raw meat. But when federal limits are breached, and officials believe that a recall is necessary, their only option is to ask the producer to remove the product voluntarily. Even then, officials may only request a recall when they have proof that the meat is already making customers sick. As evidence, the F.S.I.S. typically must find a genetic match between the salmonella in a victim’s body and the salmonella in a package of meat that is still in the victim’s possession, with its label still attached. If the patient has already eaten the meat, discarded the package, or removed the label, the link becomes difficult to make, and officials can’t request a voluntary recall.

As the Heidelberg outbreak continued into the fall, F.S.I.S. investigators tracked down dozens of patients and asked them to search their homes for contaminated chicken. In some cases, they discovered Foster Farms chicken that tested positive for salmonella—but they could not find a genetic match. David Goldman, who oversees public health at the F.S.I.S., told me, “We started about a hundred and forty trace-back efforts. And we failed in every case.”

Meanwhile, Foster Farms was still producing chicken. By mid-September, on the week that Schiller checked into the hospital, at least fifty new patients had been infected—the most of any week since the outbreak began. On October 8th, the C.D.C. issued its first warning to the public: two hundred and seventy-eight patients had now been infected with Heidelberg in seventeen states, the agency reported, and Foster Farms chicken was the “likely source” of the outbreak. On November 15th, the C.D.C. raised the number to three hundred and eighty-nine victims in twenty-three states. By early July, 2014, there were six hundred and twenty-one cases. Scientists estimate that for each reported case twenty-eight go unreported, which meant that the Foster Farms outbreak had likely sickened as many as eighteen thousand people.

Finally, on July 3, 2014, more than a year after the outbreak began, officials at the F.S.I.S. announced a genetic match that would allow the agency to request a recall. Foster Farms executives agreed to withdraw the fresh chicken produced in its California facilities during a six-day period in March of that year. All other Foster Farms chicken would remain in distribution.

A few days later, I stopped by the office of Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut and one of the most vocal advocates for food safety in Congress. After twenty-five years in the capital, DeLauro is not easily surprised, but when I mentioned the Foster Farms outbreak she slammed a fist on the table. “They’re getting a tainted product out!” she said. “What in the hell is going on?”

Rick Schiller wondered the same thing. Last spring, as his leg healed and the headaches faded, he searched newspapers for signs of a recall. Then he started calling lawyers. Eventually, he found Bill Marler.

During the past twenty years, Marler has become the most prominent and powerful food-safety attorney in the country. . .

Continue reading.

And add to that this article by Lindsay Abrams in Salon:

Joe Ferguson knows better than most where Americans’ meat comes from. Before retiring last year, he spent 23 years as a USDA inspector working in beef, turkey and pork plants. It was at the latter that he first encountered the USDA’s proposed new model for pork inspections — and what he experienced there led him, last week, to publicly condemnwhat he says is a dangerously flawed program.

Working with the Government Accountability Project, Ferguson joined three other, anonymous inspectors in warning consumers about the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point-based Inspection Models Project — better known as HIMP — a USDA-led attempt at reform that increases line speeds while simultaneously reducing the number of USDA inspectors monitoring them.

“I am not a disgruntled former employee, nor do I have a vendetta against Hormel [the company targeted by GAP’s petition],” Ferguson said. “It’s just that I’m concerned with the way that meat inspection is going.”

In 1998, the USDA adopted the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point — or HAACP — model of meat inspection, the first major overhaul since the days of Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.” The idea was to switch the emphasis from the physical monitoring of carcasses to microbial testing, in order to better identify pathogens like E. Coli and salmonella. It was an important focus, but one that critics say consequently allows meat with defects and visible signs of contamination (think: lesions, cysts and yes, feces) to go undetected. At the same time, the program shifted the responsibility for carrying out those test from USDA inspectors to the meat pant operators themselves, a move that some argue give the industry way too much power.

Now, they’re doing it again. HIMP, Ferguson argues, intensifies those same problems: the USDA is continuing to give up control over meat inspections, while sped up lines are making it harder than ever to detect flaws. “I was skeptical initially,” he told Salon of the program’s implementation, “but then as time progressed, it was apparent that this wasn’t what they told us it was going to be.”

In his affidavit, Ferguson describes how the rapid lines made it harder than ever for him to do his job:

Line speeds are running 1,300 carcasses per hour and the company is killing as many as 19,000 hogs per day. This is a dramatic increase from previously, when they ran at about 1,100 carcasses per hour. It’s impossible to see any defects now. We used to be [allowed to] stop the line for bile contamination, chronic pleuritis, hair/toenails/scurf and have these defects trimmed/removed, uner HIMP, these are considered “Other Consumer Protections” and we are no longer allowed to stop the line so they may be remove. Put ‘em in the cooler and ultimately out to the consumer. The only time we are allowed to stop the line is for food safety concerns, and even then we get yelled at. It’s just nuts.

“I think the whole thing is misguided,” Ferguson told Salon. “They’ve got issues. They need to just start over from square one.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 February 2015 at 2:11 pm

Everything We Know About the Drug War & Addiction is Wrong

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A very interesting video interview (with transcript) at Democracy Now! with Johann Hari. Their blurb:

As President Obama seeks $27.6 billion for federal drug control programs in his new budget, we talk to British journalist Johann Hari about the century-old failed drug war and how much of what we know about addiction is wrong. Over the past four years Hari has traveled to the United States, Mexico, Canada, Uruguay and Portugal to research his new book, Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War of Drugs. His findings may surprise you — from the U.S. government’s persecution of Billie Holiday, to Vancouver’s success in addressing its heroin epidemic, to Portugal’s experiment with full decriminalization of all drugs.

Written by Leisureguy

4 February 2015 at 2:00 pm

Posted in Drug laws

Departure of CIA’s top watchdog signals roadblocks to reining in agency

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Indeed, it turns out that inspectors general are all having a problem monitoring and investigating their own agencies as the US government becomes increasingly secretive about what it’s doing—primarily, I think, because the US government allow citizens to learn what it’s doing, it knows that they would be outraged. So the government classifies everything it can (especially embarrassing foul-ups) and refuses to answer questions on the rest. They get away from it because in the US most citizens never vote.

Marisa Taylor and Jonathan Landay report in McClatchy:

When word recently leaked that the CIA inspector general was preparing to step down, agency Director John Brennan issued a glowing statement about his watchdog’s work.

Left unsaid was the role CIA Inspector General David Buckley had in refereeing one of the most acrimonious disputes between a spy director and his congressional overseers in decades.

Only months before, Buckley’s office had found that CIA employees had improperly monitored Senate Intelligence Committee staffers’ work on their torture inquiry – contradicting Brennan’s previous denial.

On Friday, Buckley maintained to McClatchy that he hadn’t experienced any backlash from agency leadership.

“It’s not always pleasant, but they don’t shoot the messenger,” he said in a 20-minute interview at CIA headquarters as he headed to an undisclosed job in the private sector. “Doing this job is tough. But there has been no undue pressure or interference here.”

Multiple people who were familiar with his work offered a more complicated portrayal of his tenure, asserting he leaves behind an office roiling with dissent over how to watchdog the nation’s most powerful intelligence agency. Buckley’s own staff had filed formal complaints about his management, according to the people who spoke to McClatchy.

All of those interviewed anonymously by McClatchy for this story, who included former colleagues, asked not to be identified because their perspective conflicts with the official portrayal of Buckley’s tenure promoted publicly by the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Their contention is that the former House Intelligence Committee staffer raised expectations that he would be an aggressive and independent watchdog but failed to deliver at a time of crisis.

After Buckley’s inquiry found that CIA employees had improperly monitored the committee’s work on its torture inquiry, a panel set up by the agency attacked his conclusions as inaccurate and recommended that no one be punished.

Buckley, meanwhile, began responding to queries from a potential employer as early as June, even though the Senate monitoring investigation wasn’t finalized until July.

“He split the baby,” said one former colleague. “He delivered half measures. He enraged the agency but let down the reformers. Those at the agency think he went too far, yet he didn’t deliver the goods when it came to accountability.”

The CIA inspector general, whose office is set up to be independent of the agency, reports to the CIA director. The office oversees inspections, investigations and audits of the agency’s activities and programs. An inspector general can be removed only by the president.

Buckley took office four years ago in the wake of a significant investigation by his predecessor into the CIA’s use of torture on overseas terrorism suspects.

As his predecessor John Helgerson was leading the probe, then-CIA Director Michael Hayden ordered an internal inquiry into the inspector general’s office itself. The action sparked criticism that Hayden was meddling improperly in the work of what was supposed to be an independent watchdog, a charge the CIA denied.

As Buckley settled into his new job, he told friends and colleagues he was surprised by the small-time cases being pursued by his investigators. He vowed to push for more significant investigations, such as contracting fraud, instead of the time card cheats that took up his office’s time.

“He had the noblest of intentions in terms of oversight,” said a second former colleague. “But he really was in a no-win situation. This is an agency that is arguably one of the most challenging to oversee in the U.S. government.”

Meanwhile, Buckley’s own colleagues – including senior officials – had complained about him to Congress and to the watchdog of the watchdogs – the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, said people familiar with the complaints. The concerns included that he wasn’t being aggressive or independent enough in his handling of day-to-day investigations.

The FBI, which chairs the CIGIE panel that reviews complaints against inspectors general, confirmed that three complaints were filed against Buckley. Bureau spokesman Christopher Allen said the panel would have jurisdiction over administrative complaints against a CIA inspector general, but he wouldn’t comment on whether the three complaints against Buckley were filed by employees nor would he discuss the substance of them.

One complaint was related to . . .

Continue reading.

The CIA has slipped its leash and seems now to be able to operate however it likes with absolutely impunity. Obama, of course, set the standard by ignoring the torture and murder that had occurred—and also, of course, the destruction of evidence and obstruction of justice that went on.


Written by Leisureguy

4 February 2015 at 1:44 pm reviews The Big Fat Surprise

leave a comment » is a blog belonging to a Swedish physician who supports the LCHF diet. We follow this diet, with the enthusiastic support of our primary-care physician, and it has helped improve the results of various blood tests (which I get from time to time since I have type 2 diabetes). Indeed, I’ve been able to drop some meds and cut back on others—plus I like the food more.

Diet Doctor takes a look at the recent book The Big Fat Surprise and likes what he sees, particularly the takedown of the Mediterranean Diet.

Written by Leisureguy

4 February 2015 at 9:47 am

Stealth-to-Stealth comparison

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SOTD 4 Feb 2015

Extremely good shave today. I reprised Bee Witched because I wanted to try it sans menthol, and it is a very good shaving soap. The Plisson brush made a good lather instantly, though I think I should have given the brush a slightly harder shake: a little too much water in the mix, but with a little work, the lather was fine.

The stainless Stealth arrived Monday, and today I loaded it with a Voskhod blade and used it to shave the right side of my face, using the aluminum Stealth (holding a Personna Lab Blue blade) from the very first release on the left side.

The extra heft of the stainless version was noticeable, as you might expect, but the two razors performed much the same. In fact, a Stealth does not need much pressure (indeed, it requires not much pressure), so the heft of the stainless model is purely for the pleasure of the user. Of course, the stainless version will be sturdier, but DE razors do not have to withstand great stress, so that advantage is moot.

Both razors are extremely comfortable, and both are extremely efficient—after the second pass, I felt mostly BBS when I rinsed. The handle’s design is somewhat unusual but also highly effective—the grooves feel crisp and the grip is secure. Either razor would be an excellent choice.

Three passes, then rinse, dry, and a good splash of Speick, a wonderful fragrance for winter (or summer—and also quite good in spring and fall).

Written by Leisureguy

4 February 2015 at 9:12 am

Posted in Shaving

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