Later On

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

Archive for August 19th, 2021

7 Spectacular Moths in Super Slow Motion

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Written by Leisureguy

19 August 2021 at 9:43 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science, Video

Hungarians as the ghost of the Magyar confederacy

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Razib Khan writes at Unsupervised Learning:

Though right at the heart of Europe, Hungary is an ethnolinguistic oddity, with a distinct history and unique language. The Pannonian grasslands that cover most of its territory are the westernmost tendril of the Eurasian steppe. Though called the Nagy Alföld in Hungarian, or “Great Hungarian Plain,” in relation to the vast Pontic steppe to its east, it is quite small, only 10% the size. It has loomed large in European history because the Nagy Alföld is the furthest west that nomadic pastoralists could maintain vast herds of horses, from the Pontic Steppe’s Yamnaya herders 5,000 years ago, down to the Magyars in the early medieval period. It served as the base for Sarmatians who raided the Roman Empire in the 3rd century AD, the Avar Empire that menaced Byzantium in the 6th and 7th centuries, and it was here that in 453 AD Attila the Hun died in a drunken stupor, surrounded by riches plundered from half the continent.

It was with the arrival of the Magyars from the east in 895 AD that the Nagy Alföld came into its own as the heart of what was to become Hungary. The Sarmatians, Huns, and the Avars are all storied names in ancient annals, though terrors whose bite has faded from contemporary consciousness. The Magyars were all that, but they also left a legacy in the Hungarian national identity. Despite entering Europe as steppe barbarians, by the 12th century, the Magyars were at the heart of Christian civilization, erecting great cathedrals, sending knights on Crusade and intermarrying with the nobility of Germany and France. Just 200 years later, they were again on the frontier, the great bulwark of Christendom against the repeated hammer blows of the Ottoman Turks, until they were defeated and Budapest became the northwesternmost outpost of Islam. But they always remained European outsiders, as speakers of a language whose closest relatives are found in Siberia, a cultural mystery whose origins and affinity were only recently clarified by science.

The last barbarians

In the modern mind, the Hungarians are connected to the Huns due to phonetic similarity and the fact that the Huns also settled down in the Pannonian plain. But 450 years separate the defeat of Attila the Hun at the Battle of Catalaunian Plains and the arrival of the Magyar tribes to the Carpathian Basin. “Hungary” probably derives from the name of the Turkic tribes that formed the basis for the ancient Bulgar Empire, the Onogur. In the mind of Western Christians, there was confusion between the Turkic nomads of the steppe and the Magyars who were closely allied to them when they weren’t fighting one another (Hungarians refer to their nation as Magyarország, meaning “Magyar country”).

But the Huns were a more ancient Turkic tribe who likely never interacted with the Magyars in the latter’s lightning-fast migration from one end of Eurasia to another. And yet the Huns and Attila both retain a romantic allure for the Hungarian people. Most people today with the name Attila are ethnically Hungarian, while medieval histories of the Magyars begin with the myth that they and the Huns descend from two brothers, Magor and Hunor. With this connection, the Magyars established a legitimacy that tied their conquests to those of the fearsome Huns. Thus the Magyars who rose to power in the 10th century as the raiders par excellence of Europe could claim they were simply resurrecting an imperium that had always been theirs.

The Magyars’ predatory sorties are mostly faded from memory today, but in their time they were audacious, a ubiquitous menace for decades. The map above illustrates the expansive nature of the Magyar circuit across Europe. In 942, a contingent of raiders even arrived in the northeastern corner of Spain, in what was then the Umayyad Caliphate of al-Andalus. An annalist recorded their arrival:

To get to the land of Andalusia they traversed a long distance…Their way during their march crossed Lombardy, which borders them…Their dwelling places are on the Danube River and they are nomads as the Arabs without towns and houses living in felt tents in scattered halting-places …proceeding from the Frankish country, after defeating whomever they found during their passage, attaining the height before Lérida, at the extreme end of the March…the advances of their cavalry put them in the plain of the valley of Ena, Cerratania and the city of Huesca…

They repeatedly marched from the edge of the Eurasian steppe all the way to the Atlantic ocean, slicing through the heart of such crisply bounded domains in modern textbooks as Bavaria, Thuringia and Brittany. The Magyars arrived at an opportune time, as 10th-century Europe was characterized by weak states and impotent rulers. This was the century when the Roman papacy was such a corrupt institution as to earn the label “pornocracy,” or “rule by prostitutes.” It was also the first century of the Capetians, who styled themselves the legitimate “Kings of the Franks,” but ruled little beyond Paris. Meanwhile, the various Germanic tribes were only just uniting into one singular nation, while Italy was as divided as ever. The Roman Empire devoted 90% of its tax revenue to supporting a large permanent army to keep the peace, but the warrior elite of Western Europe in the 10th century was little more than brigands, earning no salary beyond their plunder when on the campaign, and living off in-kind tribute from the peasants they terrorized under the nominal guise of ruling them.

So it is no surprise that such marauders could vault across northern Italy and southern France to raid Muslim Spain. Nomads in the saddle required little provisioning, and they lived off a land lacking the firm authority necessary to resist them. The Magyars exploded onto this fragmented landscape, unrestricted by any obeisance to civilized Christian norms.

The Roman Empire was weakened by 450 AD, but it was not impotent or fallen. The Huns had been kept at bay, whether through payment of tribute or military deterrence and diplomacy. Tenth-century Europe could not afford payment, because it was not a cash society. It could not resist because it was entirely disunited, a Christian civilization that was simply a collection of petty warring principalities, united by nominal loyalty to a Roman papacy constantly embroiled in civil wars.

In the 940’s, the Magyars . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

19 August 2021 at 7:38 pm

Posted in History

Where are the anti-war voices?

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Judd Legum has another excellent piece in Popular Information, which begins:

Yesterday’s newsletter detailed how the media is largely overlooking voices that supported Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. Instead media reports are almost exclusively highlighting criticism of the withdrawal — often from people complicit in two decades of failed policy in Afghanistan.

We have reason to believe that this is not an accident. On Wednesday, Popular Information spoke to a veteran communications professional who has been trying to place prominent voices supportive of the withdrawal on television and in print. The source said that it has been next to impossible:

I’ve been in political media for over two decades, and I have never experienced something like this before. Not only can I not get people booked on shows, but I can’t even get TV bookers who frequently book my guests to give me a call back…

I’ve fed sources to reporters, who end up not quoting the sources, but do quote multiple voices who are critical of the president and/or put the withdrawal in a negative light.

I turn on TV and watch CNN and, frankly, a lot of MSNBC shows, and they’re presenting it as if there’s not a voice out there willing to defend the president and his decision to withdraw. But I offered those very shows those voices, and the shows purposely decided to shut them out.

In so many ways this feels like Iraq and 2003 all over again. The media has coalesced around a narrative, and any threat to that narrative needs to be shut out.

Who is on TV? As Media Matters has documented, there are plenty of former Bush administration officials criticizing the withdrawal.

Is it really about execution?

Much of the criticism of Biden’s decision to withdraw has focused on the administration’s “execution.” The critics claim the withdrawal was poorly planned, chaotic, and unnecessarily put Americans — and their Afghan allies — in danger.

Some of these claims may be true. It’s hard to know, for example, how many people have been left behind since evacuations are ongoing. But, with a few exceptions, the criticisms of Biden’s execution are being made by people who opposed withdrawal altogether.

For example, in a scathing column published in the Washington Post, former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice criticizes the execution of the withdrawal. But she also makes clear that she does not think the U.S. military should have left.

Twenty years was not enough to complete a journey from the 7th-century rule of the Taliban and a 30-year civil war to a stable government. Twenty years may also not have been enough to consolidate our gains against terrorism and assure our own safety. We — and they — needed more time.

Rice’s argument for why the withdrawal was executed poorly is very similar. She says that waiting a few more months, until winter, would have made it more difficult for the Taliban to fight and “given the Afghans a little more time to develop a strategy to prevent the chaotic fall of Kabul.”

But Rice’s argument makes clear that it is impossible to disentangle the execution of the withdrawal with the broader policy failures of the last two decades. It may be more difficult for the Taliban to fight in the winter, but the Taliban did not need to fight. Afghan security forces simply evaporated.

The twenty-year effort to build up these institutions — touted by Rice and much of the national security establishment — was a total failure. A . . .

Continue reading. There may be a paywall, unfortunately, but the newsletter is excellent.

The Ides of August

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Sarah Chayes has an extremely interesting post on her website:

August 15, 2021

I’ve been silent for a while. I’ve been silent about Afghanistan for longer. But too many things are going unsaid.

I won’t try to evoke the emotions, somehow both swirling and yet leaden: the grief, the anger, the sense of futility. Instead, as so often before, I will use my mind to shield my heart. And in the process, perhaps help you make some sense of what has happened.

For those of you who don’t know me, here is my background — the perspective from which I write tonight.

I covered the fall of the Taliban for NPR, making my way into their former capital, Kandahar, in December 2001, a few days after the collapse of their regime. Descending the last great hill into the desert city, I saw a dusty ghost town. Pickup trucks with rocket-launchers strapped to the struts patrolled the streets. People pulled on my militia friends’ sleeves, telling them where to find a Taliban weapons cache, or a last hold-out. But most remained indoors.

It was Ramadan. A few days later, at the holiday ending the month-long fast, the pent-up joy erupted. Kites took to the air. Horsemen on gorgeous, caparisoned chargers tore across a dusty common in sprint after sprint, with a festive audience cheering them on. This was Kandahar, the Taliban heartland. There was no panicked rush for the airport.

I reported for a month or so, then passed off to Steve Inskeep, now Morning Edition host. Within another couple of months, I was back, not as a reporter this time, but to try actually to do something. I stayed for a decade. I ran two non-profits in Kandahar, living in an ordinary house and speaking Pashtu, and eventually went to work for two commanders of the international troops, and then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (You can read about that time, and its lessons, in my first two books, The Punishment of Virtue and Thieves of State.)

From that standpoint — speaking as an American, as an adoptive Kandahari, and as a former senior U.S. government official — here are the key factors I see in today’s climax of a two-decade long fiasco:

Afghan government corruption, and the U.S. role enabling and reinforcing it. The last speaker of the Afghan parliament, Rahman Rahmani, I recently learned, is a multimillionaire, thanks to monopoly contracts to provide fuel and security to U.S. forces at their main base, Bagram. Is this the type of government people are likely to risk their lives to defend?

Two decades ago, young people in Kandahar were telling me how the proxy militias American forces had armed and provided with U.S. fatigues were shaking them down at checkpoints. By 2007, delegations of elders would visit me — the only American whose door was open and who spoke Pashtu so there would be no intermediaries to distort or report their words. Over candied almonds and glasses of green tea, they would get to some version of this: “The Taliban hit us on this cheek, and the government hits us on that cheek.” The old man serving as the group’s spokesman would physically smack himself in the face.

I and too many other people to count spent years of our lives trying to convince U.S. decision-makers that Afghans could not be expected to take risks on behalf of a government that was as hostile to their interests as the Taliban were. Note: it took me a while, and plenty of my own mistakes, to come to that realization. But I did.

For two decades, American leadership on the ground and in Washington proved unable to take in this simple message. I finally stopped trying to get it across when, in 2011, an interagency process reached the decision that the U.S. would not address corruption in Afghanistan. It was now explicit policy to ignore one of the two factors that would determine the fate of all our efforts. That’s when I knew today was inevitable.

Americans like to think of ourselves as having valiantly tried to bring democracy to Afghanistan. Afghans, so the narrative goes, just weren’t ready for it, or didn’t care enough about democracy to bother defending it. Or we’ll repeat the cliche that Afghans have always rejected foreign intervention; we’re just the latest in a long line.

I was there. Afghans did not reject us. They looked to us as exemplars of democracy and the rule of law. They thought that’s what we stood for.

And what did we stand for? What flourished on our watch? Cronyism, rampant corruption, a Ponzi scheme disguised as a banking system, designed by U.S. finance specialists during the very years that other U.S. finance specialists were incubating the crash of 2008. A government system where billionaires get to write the rules.

Is that American democracy?


Pakistan. The involvement of that country’s government — in particular its top military brass — in its neighbor’s affairs is the second factor that would determine the fate of the U.S. mission.

You may have heard that . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

19 August 2021 at 3:07 pm

The week as a foundation for focus

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I recently realized the power of focusing on a week — for example, in my budget planning/tracking method, I now focus on staying with budget just for the current week, and in Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits system, the core of planning implementation is the weekly plan. In both systems, my experience has been that the focus on a week works out well.

Note that human short-term memory capacity is about 7 “chunks” of information — the finding is 7 ± 2. It’s interesting to note that our current week is 7 days, though different cultures have different lengths of weeks — and it turns out that the lengths are 7 ± 2 — several cultures (Icelandic, Javanese, and Korean) had a 5-day week, a 6-day week is found in the Akan Calendar, ancient Rome had an 8-day week, traces of a 9-day week can be found in Baltic languages and Welsh. There are a few instances of other week lengths (10 days, for example), but it seems that almost all are 7 ± 2. And the 7-day week has a strong lineage dating back to the ancient Near East and the civilizations that arose there. (See the Wikipedia’s entry “Week” for details.) Perhaps that a week with seven days enables people to more easily keep in mind their plans by day.

In any event, a week-at-a-time focus for accomplishment does seem to work wonders, which means taking larger projects or bigger goals and breaking them down to pieces that fit within a week, and then focus on those pieces that fall into the current week.

This is not to suggest that longer-term goals and deadlines have no place. I started up walking again 30 July, and I decided that I would stick with it — 6 days a week, an extended walk with Nordic walking poles — and take stock of where I was on 31 August. My thought was that after a month’s effort, I should have seen the training effect take hold and find the walk not so taxing. And that does indeed seem to be happening. In this case, my focus is day by day, but with an eye on what the outcome will be after a month’s steady effort.

Written by Leisureguy

19 August 2021 at 2:27 pm

Elliot Ackerman on the Anabasis

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Why the Classics? reprints an essay from their archives:

As the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan dominates the news, we wanted to bring you an essay by Elliot Ackerman from our archives about a work focused on the difficulty and danger of military adventures abroad: Xenophon’s Anabasis. This book offers — according to Ackerman, who is a veteran of Afghanistan, a recipient of the Silver Star and Bronze Star, and a National Book Award finalist — in its account of a doomed Greek expedition into Persia an important lens for Americans to think about our wars both in Afghanistan and Iraq and our country’s understanding of what war is and what it means.   

A western army marches to within sixty kilometers of Baghdad. Their leader, the youngest son of a great ruler, has gathered them to oust the current regime. They face a large irregular force. A pitched battle is fought. The result is inconclusive. The rudderless army suffers greatly as it attempts to extricate itself from the conflict and find its way home. Perhaps this sounds like something we’ve recently lived through, but it’s not. It’s Xenophon’s Anabasis — the title loosely translates as The March Up Country.

This book — written around 370 B.C., almost thirty years after the events it relates — chronicles an expedition of 10,000 Greek mercenaries under the command of Cyrus against his brother the Persian King Artaxerxes II between 401 and 399 B.C. Arguably the first soldier-turned-author, Xenophon was an Athenian of noble birth, but one who had little taste for the hectic and cosmopolitan life of fifth-century Athens. He had a predilection for war and was an admirer of the Spartans, then ruling the Hellespont after the humiliating Athenian defeat in the Peloponnesian Wars.

The Anabasis opens when Xenophon’s old friend Proxenus, a Theban mercenary serving as a general in the army gathering under Cyrus, invites him to participate in the campaign. Unsure whether or not to join the march, Xenophon consults with the philosopher Socrates who advises him to ask the Oracle at Delphi for guidance. “Xenophon went and put the question to Apollo, to which of the gods he must pray and do sacrifice, so that he might best accomplish his intended journey and return in safety, with good fortune.” The oracle tells Xenophon that he should pray to Apollo, but when he reports this to Socrates, the philosopher is quick to point out that Xenophon asked the wrong question. Rather than inquiring as to whether or not he should go on the campaign or stay at home in the first place, he instead only asked whom he should pray to so that he would achieve the best result once he left.

It seems asking the wrong question in the run-up to war isn’t just a 21st-century phenomenon. And Xenophon isn’t alone among the foreign commanders in asking them. Cyrus, the youngest son of the recently deceased Darius II, was by all accounts a charismatic leader. Xenophon writes of him, “that he should triumph over his friends in the great matters of well-doing is not surprising, seeing that he was much more powerful than they, but that he should go beyond them in minute attentions, and in an eager desire to give pleasure, seems to me, I must confess, more admirable.” In short, Cyrus is the type of guy you’d like to have a beer with. He leverages that personal magnetism when convincing each member of his coalition to contribute troops to the march, tailoring his reason for fighting to whatever they wish to hear as opposed to his true aim: deposing his brother as King of Persia.

It isn’t until Cyrus’s army has marched from Greece into what is now Iraq that he finally lets them know the real purpose of the expedition. Upon receiving the news, the Greek generals under Cyrus confer among themselves, concluding that having advanced this deep into enemy territory they are committed, that Cyrus, despite this one deception, has always treated them fairly, and that they should chose to fight on his behalf. The battle is joined on September 3rd, 401 B.C., just outside of Baghdad, at a place called Cunaxa.

That fateful day opens with a series of Persian feints, in which Artaxerxes’s army attempts to pull Cyrus deeper and deeper into their territory. The strategy works and when Cyrus commits to battle it’s because he believes he’s caught an adversary who is too weak to engage him. The Greek hoplites on the army’s left flank, anchored along the banks of the Euphrates River, quickly defeat the Persians opposite them. Witnessing their success from the army’s center, Cyrus’s enthusiasm becomes irrepressible. Then he sees his brother Artaxerxes across the battlefield. Xenophon captures the moment in all its glorious, simple horror: “Unable to longer contain himself, with a cry, ‘I see the man,’ he rushed at him . . . As Cyrus delivered the blow, someone struck him with a javelin under the eye severely . . . Cyrus himself fell, and eight of his bravest companions lay on top of him.”

The son of the great king, seemingly destined for greatness himself, is slain by a javelin launched from the hand of a common soldier named Mithridates. That common soldier is richly rewarded by his king Artaxerxes — until he drunkenly boasts aloud that it was he who killed Cyrus. The same king who rewarded him now tortures him to death via scaphism, a punishment synonymous for Greek peoples with the cruelty and excess of the Persians. Artaxerxes shackles Mithridates inside a box filled with flies, wasps, and larva after coating his body with milk and honey; the soldier will slowly be eaten alive.

This story presents a hard lesson, but one absolutely central to the Anabasis: chance, not intelligence, bravery, or skill, exalts or casts down men’s fate.

Xenophon doesn’t expound on the what-ifs. Rather he shows throughout the Anabasis the fickle swing of fortune in wartime. When the Greek generals suggest that Ariaeus, Cyrus’s second-in-command, take up his claim, . . .

Continue reading. There’s more — and the Anabasis itself is interesting reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 August 2021 at 1:51 pm

The American Heart Association looks at how little doctors know about nutrition

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This article is from a couple of years ago, but I doubt that much has changed. The article begins:

Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. Cut down on sweets and processed foods. Increase consumption of fish, nuts and legumes.

This rudimentary advice has been dished out to the public for decades, yet soaring rates of diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and other chronic illnesses linked to poor diet – and which increase risks for stroke and heart disease – fail to reverse.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that doctors don’t know how to provide information beyond the basics.

Inadequate instruction during medical school, residency and other additional training is a primary reason for this dearth of expertise, according to an American Heart Association science advisory published Monday in the journal Circulation that looked at gaps in nutrition education over the decades. [That link is worth clicking — the report is quite interesting. – LG]

“Any nutrition education gained is likely to be lost if not reinforced and translated into practical how-to knowledge,” the advisory authors write.

Dr. David Eisenberg, director of culinary nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, applauded the AHA report, saying it documents “the total lack of requirement” in most medical schools to understand the practical skills necessary to advise patients struggling with their weight, blood sugar, blood pressure or heart disease.

“It is a scandal that health professionals are not introduced to these facts above and beyond minimal information about nutritional deficiencies in biochemistry, and that these things do not appear on their examinations to become a practicing physician,” said Eisenberg, who was not part of the group that wrote the advisory. “Nor are they required on board certification, whether it’s to become an internist, cardiologist, endocrinologist – you name it.”

Gaps in nutrition education among medical school curricula go back decades, said Dr. Karen Aspry, the cardiologist who chaired the AHA advisory group.

She pointed out that after a 1985 survey of one-third of U.S. medical schools found “inadequate exposure to nutrition and health and disease,” the National Academy of Sciences recommended a minimum of 25 classroom hours.

Yet, various studies conducted between 2000 and 2013 found few schools were meeting that goal. The most recent survey, in 2013, found that 71 percent of medical schools provide less than the recommended 25 hours.

“The average number of hours has actually declined to 19 hours. That means this is not keeping up with the recognition that so much obesity and cardiovascular disease is linked to poor nutrition and poor diet quality,” Aspry said.

A poor diet was tied to nearly half of U.S. deaths from heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes in 2012, found a study published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association(link opens in new window). “This is a huge problem,” Aspry said.

The new advisory found that schools which exceeded the minimum recommended hours of nutrition education did so by integrating the training across the medical school curriculum instead of containing it to a single course.

Several universities have tapped into innovative ways to teach future physicians about how to manage their own diet to build a set of personal tips they can eventually pass on to patients. Schools are incorporating lessons through online, open-access programs, or by turning commercial kitchens into interactive classrooms where students learn about healthy cooking.

Andrew Del Re is benefiting from that kind of innovation. A first-year student at Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School in Rhode Island, he recently completed a “Food + Health” elective that pairs medical students with culinary arts students from nearby Johnson & Wales University. The course was part lecture – on topics such as healthy cooking on a budget – and part hands-on learning, such as cooking low-sodium meals inside an actual kitchen.

“Becoming a better communicator is also a really big part of the course,” he said. “You have to be able to transmit practical knowledge so the patient can leave the office saying, ‘OK, now I know exactly what I need to do to live a healthier lifestyle, and change my behavior for the better.’”

Del Re is now leading this semester’s Food + Health class with two other student assistants, adding more emphasis on nutrition and diet counseling, and possible ways to customize such lessons to the individual lifestyle of patients.

Other types of nutrition training can be found in medical school electives that . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

19 August 2021 at 1:06 pm

This Is Your Gut on Sugar

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Markham Heid writes about health and science in Elemental, and his article on the effects of refined sugar on your gut is interesting. (Sugar in whole foods — for example, in the two luscious peaches I just ate — does not have the same effect at all.) He writes:

That means . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 August 2021 at 12:54 pm

I do love the way Organism 46-B smells, that cunning devil

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The tub of Organism 46-B I have is Phoenix Artisan’s Kokum Butter formula rather than the soap in CK-6, but both are really quite good. PA’s Starcraft brush easily aroused a great lather with the wonderful fragrance — burnt sugar, bitter orange, brandy, Hedione, tobacco absolute, benzoin resin, and ambergris — and I think what I note is some combination of the burnt sugar, bitter orange, and brandy.

I do love my Henson razor, a remarkable razor whose comfort is unexcelled and whose efficiency is among the best. Their unique blade-grip design is doubtless the cause. I highly recommend this razor. This is the regular, and I also have the Medium. For me, both work very well.

A splash of Organism 46-B aftershave, and I’m ready to go. (The name is that of a cryptobeast — that is, a fantasy some enjoy entertaining.)

Written by Leisureguy

19 August 2021 at 10:57 am

Posted in Shaving

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