Later On

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

Archive for January 21st, 2022

Flying in miniature: Secrets of the featherwing beetle

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Written by Leisureguy

21 January 2022 at 7:55 pm

U.S. Marines “Returned Fire” After Suicide Bombing, but No Enemies Were Shooting at Them

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When will the military stop lying? (That’s a rhetorical question — I believe the military has no plans to stop lying.) Brian J. Conley and Mohammad J. AlizadaAlive in Afghanistan, and Joshua Kaplan and Joaquin Sapien, ProPublica, report in Propublica:

During the final days of the U.S. evacuation of Afghanistan in August, a suicide bomber killed 13 American service members guarding an entrance to Kabul’s airport and scores of Afghan civilians huddled outside its walls.

Initial reports said a vicious firefight followed the blast, as surviving Marines defended themselves from militants who unleashed a fusillade of gunfire. One Marine officer told CBS News that his subordinate shot an “opposing gunman” after taking a bullet to the shoulder.

“The attack on the Abbey Gate was followed by a number of ISIS gunmen who opened fire on civilians and military forces,” U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr. told a Pentagon press conference the day of the bombing. “A number of Afghan civilians were also killed and injured in the attack.”

But a declassified military report reviewed by ProPublica and Alive in Afghanistan provides a starkly different account, raising fresh questions about one of the deadliest days for American troops in the 20-year history of the war in Afghanistan.

The report found that some U.S. Marines fired their weapons after the bombing — but no enemy shooters were present. Instead, the Americans were likely reacting to warning shots fired by the British military and other American units in nearby positions. The combination of combat trauma, head injuries, smoke and tear gas caused some of them to believe, incorrectly, that they were being fired upon by an attacker, the report said.

On the day of the bombing, military officials had specific intelligence of a possible attack at the airport. Despite the warning, the report found that multiple possible routes bypassed checkpoints manned by the Taliban, which would have allowed the bomber to approach the gate unimpeded. That attack, it said, was “not preventable” without undermining the evacuation mission. It’s not clear from the ProPublica review whether commanders knew about the existence of the unguarded approaches to the gate.

Despite American and allied troops shooting from multiple directions, military investigators said they found no evidence that Afghan civilians, gathered by the hundreds in a narrow walled corridor leading to the airport’s Abbey Gate, were struck by the resulting gunfire.

“It was a single suicide bomber not accompanied by enemy small arms fire,” the report says. It found that available evidence does not support that “the Marines were engaged by enemy small arms fire or returned fire that harmed civilians or service members.”

But military investigators found that “several Marines returned fire” [They did not “return” fire because they received no fire; they simply fired. — LG] after the blast. What they were shooting at and who, if anyone, they hit, remains unclear. “There’s wide variation of thought on  . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the report:

Hospitals in Afghanistan reported treating Afghans who had suffered bullet wounds. A spokesperson for Emergency Hospital, an Italian-run facility in Kabul for treating war victims, said that after the blast it received at least 50 Afghan patients, some of whom had been struck by gunfire.

It seems that the military investigators did not find evidence of any civilians hit by the Marines’ firing perhaps because they did not want to find such evidence. (Hospitals treating Afghans who suffered bullet wounds seems like evidence to me.)

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

21 January 2022 at 5:04 pm

Posted in Daily life

Other Vegetables du Jour

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Not shown: 3 jalapeños, 1 can Ro•Tel Original Diced Tomatoes and Green Chilies, Bragg’s Apple-Cider Vinegar, Red Boat Fish Sauce, Black Pepper (for turmeric)

I like to cook a mix of vegetables, and so today we have, as shown in photo:

• Yellow summer squash (the starting point)
• 3 spring onions, called in this season “BBQ Onions,” as you see
• several cloves of garlic, already chopped and resting
• a turmeric root
• a ginger root (I used only some of that)
• 6 mushrooms
• 1 red pepper (sweet, not hot)
• 3 jalapeños (not shown)
• 1 bitter melon
• 1 tomato
• 1 Meyer lemon
• dried herbs: Spearmint, Marjoram, Basil — about 1.5 tablespoon each

Also not shown in photo:
• 1 can Ro•Tel Original Diced Tomatoes and Green Chilies
• Bragg’s Apple-Cider Vinegar
• Red Boat Fish Sauce
• Black Pepper (for turmeric)

I used my OXO large adjustable handheld mandoline to slice the squash. I went with the second line after the lock position (thus 1.5mm — see photo at right), so they are fairly thin. I also used the mandoline to slice the white part of the onions. (I do wear — and highly recommend — a cut-proof glove when using the mandoline.) The green part I just chopped with the chef’s knife and then turned my attention to the remaining ingredients.

I minced the turmeric and ginger (and I don’t bother peeling either), sliced the mushrooms, chopped the red pepper and jalapeños, cut up the bitter melon (halved lengthwise, then cut in 4 strips and cut across to chop), and diced the tomato and the Meyer lemon (after cutting off and discarding the ends of the lemon).

I started by cooking the onion, turmeric, and ginger for a while in a little extra-virgin olive, then added the squash and dried herbs, cooked that briefly, and then added the rest. I was going to go with just the tomato, but I judged there was insufficient liquid, even with the lemon, vinegar, and fish sauce, so I added the can of Ro•Tel tomatoes and chilies. 

I covered the pan and cooked at 225ºF for 30 minutes. You can see the finished vegetables in the smaller photo (click to enlarge). I haven’t had it yet, but I’m sure it will be tasty: if you cook together things you like, you’ll generally like the result. The pan is my 4-qt sauté pan, so you can see I have enough for multiple meals: cook once, get several meals.

No salt, you’ll notice. I decided I need to cut back on my salt intake, so I shall be using it quite sparingly now. In lieu of salt, I have acidic ingredients (vinegar, to be sure, but also tomato and lemon) and the bracing bitterness of the bitter melon. Squash and the red pepper bring some sweetness and various aromatics (ginger, garlic, turmeric, spearmint, marjoram, and basil) add to the flavor. 

I was going to go with just the tomato, but I judged there was insufficient liquid, even with the lemon, vinegar, and fish sauce, so I added the can of Ro•Tel tomatoes and chilies. 

I covered the pan and cooked at 225ºF for 30 minutes. You can see the finished vegetables in the smaller photo (click to enlarge). I haven’t had it yet, but I’m sure it will be tasty: if you cook together things you like, you’ll generally like the result. The pan is my 4-qt sauté pan, so you can see I have enough for multiple meals: cook once, get several meals.

No salt, you’ll notice. I decided I need to cut back on my salt intake, so I shall be using it quite sparingly now. In lieu of salt, I have acidic ingredients (vinegar, to be sure, but also tomato and lemon) and the bracing bitterness of the bitter melon. Squash and the red pepper bring some sweetness and various aromatics (ginger, garlic, turmeric, spearmint, marjoram, and basil) add to the flavor. 

Written by Leisureguy

21 January 2022 at 4:50 pm

Study: Green MedDiet Can Slow Brain Atrophy Among Over-50s

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Paolo DeAndreis writes in Olive Oil Times:

A common aging process known as brain atrophy has been effectively limited by the adoption of a Mediterranean diet significantly high in polyphenols and low in processed and red meat, known as Green-Med.

A team of researchers from Ben Gurion University in Israel has found significant beneficial effects of Green-Med adoption on a large group of overweight employees at the Dimona Nuclear Research Center. Two hundred twenty-seven participants completed the 18-month trial during which several brain parameters were analyzed.

The employees were divided into three groups. The first was asked to follow a healthy diet, the second one was instructed to adopt a traditional Mediterranean diet and the third one was asked to follow Green-Med. All of them were also asked to carry out specific physical activities and all were given a free gym membership.

To enhance the high-polyphenol profile of Green-Med, the researchers introduced walnuts and green tea into the diet.

In a note, researchers explained that the polyphenols in walnuts decrease the risk for dementia and reduce brain inflammation. Green tea’s polyphenols are also known for their favorable effects on cognitive function and reduced inflammation in the brain. [FWIW, I eat 1/4 cup of walnuts daily, and I drink green tea (and hibiscus tea) daily. – LG]

While walnuts were also given to the MedDiet group, scientists administered a specific strain of . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 January 2022 at 3:13 pm

How Predator Priests Avoid Jail

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The previous post contains a detailed example of how a large and strongly hierarchical organization failed its expressed ideals, and this video describes another large and strongly hierarchical organizations failure in ts expressed ideals. It seems to me the source of the problem is not the size — even small organizations, as small as a family, sometimes provide glaring examples — but the strong hierarchy. The families that fail — for example, Amish families that conduct and conceal the rape of their children — are also typically strongly hierarchical. 

Something about a strong hierarchy corrupts those to whom the hierarchy delivers power — perhaps it’s as simply as Lord Acton’s dictum that power corrupts, perhaps because those near the top see themselves as free from rules that apply to the lower ranks, granting themselves privileges by virtue of their position. The lesson is clear: beware strong hierarchies.

Written by Leisureguy

21 January 2022 at 3:07 pm

A Dam in Syria Was on a ‘No-Strike’ List. The U.S. Bombed It Anyway.

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Too often the US acts as a criminal nation. Obviously, some other nations do as well, and some do much worse. Still, the US professes ideals, and the US military professes “honor” (whatever they mean by that — in general, military “honor” seems to cover a multitude of sins, crimes, and coverups). Dave Philipps, Azmat Khan, and Eric Schmitt report in the NY Times (link is a gift link: no paywall):

Near the height of the war against the Islamic State in Syria, a sudden riot of explosions rocked the country’s largest dam, a towering, 18-story structure on the Euphrates River that held back a 25-mile-long reservoir above a valley where hundreds of thousands of people lived.

The Tabqa Dam was a strategic linchpin and the Islamic State controlled it. The explosions on March 26, 2017, knocked dam workers to the ground and everything went dark. Witnesses say one bomb punched down five floors. A fire spread, and crucial equipment failed. The mighty flow of the Euphrates River suddenly had no way through, the reservoir began to rise, and local authorities used loudspeakers to warn people downstream to flee.

The Islamic State, the Syrian government and Russia blamed the United States, but the dam was on the U.S. military’s “no-strike list” of protected civilian sites and the commander of the U.S. offensive at the time, then-Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, said allegations of U.S. involvement were based on “crazy reporting.”

“The Tabqa Dam is not a coalition target,” he declared emphatically two days after the blasts.

In fact, members of a top secret U.S. Special Operations unit called Task Force 9 had struck the dam using some of the largest conventional bombs in the U.S. arsenal, including at least one BLU-109 bunker-buster bomb designed to destroy thick concrete structures, according to two former senior officials. And they had done it despite a military report warning not to bomb the dam, because the damage could cause a flood that might kill tens of thousands of civilians.

Given the dam’s protected status, the decision to strike it would normally have been made high up the chain of command. But the former officials said the task force used a procedural shortcut reserved for emergencies, allowing it to launch the attack without clearance.

Later, three workers who had rushed to the dam to prevent a disaster were killed in a different coalition airstrike, according to dam workers.

The two former officials, who spoke on the condition that they not be named because they were not authorized to discuss the strikes, said some officers overseeing the air war viewed the task force’s actions as reckless.

The revelation of Task Force 9’s role in the dam attack follows a pattern described by The New York Times: The unit routinely circumvented the rigorous airstrike approval process and hit Islamic State targets in Syria in a way that repeatedly put civilians at risk.

Even with careful planning, hitting a dam with such large bombs would likely have been seen by top leaders as unacceptably dangerous, said Scott F. Murray, a retired Air Force colonel, who planned airstrikes during air campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo.

“Using a 2,000-pound bomb against a restricted target like a dam is extremely difficult and should have never been done on the fly,” he said. “Worst case, those munitions could have absolutely caused the dam to fail.”

After the strikes, dam workers stumbled on an ominous piece of good fortune: Five floors deep in the dam’s control tower, an American BLU-109 bunker-buster lay on its side, scorched but intact — a dud. If it had exploded, experts say, the whole dam might have failed.

In response to questions from The Times, U.S. Central Command, which oversaw the air war in Syria, acknowledged dropping three 2,000-pound bombs, but denied targeting the dam or sidestepping procedures. A spokesman said that the bombs hit only . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and the link bypasses the paywall.

As you can see, the military, after hiding the facts failed, went immediately to their standard Plan B, which is to lie. (“Honor,” you know.)

Written by Leisureguy

21 January 2022 at 1:03 pm

This may make you feel better about the state of the planet

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A satellite view of the Nachusa Grasslands in Illinois.

About 100 miles west of Chicago, Illinois, a tallgrass prairie teems with life. Here in this 3,800-acre piece of land, you can walk among brightly colored fields of wildflowers, hear the song of cerulean warblers and the hoot of short-eared owls, and, if you’re lucky, glimpse rare box turtles.

It wasn’t always this way. Over the past two centuries, the Prairie State lost all but about 0.01 percent of its original prairie. This particular region, now known as the Nachusa Grasslands, was covered in part by neat rows of corn and soy, and that left little habitat for monarch butterflies, bison, or any of the thousands of plants and animals that depend on prairie ecosystems.

That started to change in the 1980s, when a crew of volunteers and scientists began reviving the land — planting seeds, carrying out controlled burns, and reintroducing native species. The ecosystem bounced back, and today, the Nachusa Grasslands are home to 180 species of native birds, more than 700 species of plants, and a small herd of bison.

In an age of extinction and climate change, you don’t often hear this kind of success story. Yet the Nachusa Grasslands of the world can help people find hope that the Earth isn’t doomed.

Last summer, Thomas Crowther, an ecologist at ETH Zurich, launched Restor, a mapping tool that shows where in the world people are doing this sort of restoring or conserving of ecosystems. Think of it as the “nature is healing” meme from the early pandemic, but serious.

We should be angry about climate change and the destruction of ecosystems, Crowther told Vox. “But without optimism, that outrage goes nowhere,” he said. Examples of people restoring land give us all something to root for, and now there’s a spot to find a whole bunch of them — tens of thousands, actually.

Restor joins a trove of new environmental initiatives that focus on ecological “wins.” Last summer, for example, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) — which oversees the official “red list” of threatened species — came up with a new set of standards to measure the recovery of species, like the California condor. Perhaps it’s a sign that people want to look beyond what we have to lose, especially when there’s so much to gain.

Where nature is really healing

There are more than 76,000 examples of restoration on Restor. In a former cattle ranch in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, for example, a nonprofit planted trees to revive an ecosystem that’s now home to more than 170 species of birds. In the Tanzanian savanna, members of local villages have helped restore acacia woodlands, which provide fuelwood and timber, as well as habitat for hyenas, jackals, and other animals. (You can find several other inspiring examples here.) Restor is an open platform, so anyone can upload their own project if it involves conserving land, Crowther said.

“We’ve never known where all the conservation and restoration is happening on our planet,” Crowther said. “It’s the first time we can begin to visualize a global restoration movement.”

Restor’s aim to map restoration sites worldwide is “excellent,” but it comes with some limitations, said Karen Holl, a restoration expert at the University of California Santa Cruz who sits on Restor’s science advisory council. For one,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 January 2022 at 12:50 pm

Don’t choose extinction

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Written by Leisureguy

21 January 2022 at 12:09 pm

Abolish Coroners

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Eleanor Cummins writes in the New Republic:

They’re responsible for a massive undercounting of Covid deaths in America. But that’s just the latest reason to get rid of this poorly regulated, overly politicized, and utterly unscientific relic of the colonial era.

Wavis Jordan “doesn’t do Covid deaths.” That’s what the pastor and Republician coroner of Cape Girardeau County, Mississippi, told Missouri Independent last month. He requires families to submit a positive test if they want coronavirus listed on the death certificate. Otherwise, the cause of deaths at home in his county are attributed to a range of other conditions that might be exacerbated by Covid-19, including Alzheimer’s, heart attack, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease—but never the virus itself.

Jordan isn’t the only death investigator undercounting Covid-19. In Louisiana’s Lafayette Parish, for example, people are currently being pronounced dead over the phone; without enough Covid tests, the county writes down “what the families tell us,” according to a recent USA Today report. In Rankin County, Mississippi, the local coroner told USA Today that many families initially refuse Covid-19 as a cause of death—until they learn about the federal government’s burial reimbursement program. The cut corners add up: In 2020 and 2021, there were one million excess deaths in the United States, but only 800,000 have been attributed to Covid-19 by the coroners and medical examiners on the ground.

These stories may seem shocking. But they’re no surprise to anyone familiar with the American coroner system, a notoriously underfunded, under-regulated, and often unscientific relic of the colonial era—and the crumbling bedrock of modern public health surveillance. The pandemic has simply shown what many public health experts have been arguing for years: The coroner system has got to go.

Historically, coroners have been political appointees or elected officials associated with the criminal justice system. They investigate any death that doesn’t appear natural—a broad category that includes suicides, homicides, and accidents. They may also pitch in with pandemics, natural disasters, and other mass casualty events that overwhelm frontline services. For those who die in a hospital, the majority of death certificates are signed by physicians. But when people begin to die en masse at home, as happened in the early parts of the pandemic, the responsibility falls on coroners and medical examiners. In 2018, the most recent year for which national data is available, more than 1.3 million deaths were referred for further investigation, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

In the last century, the role of coroners and medical examiners has become increasingly important for tracking diseases, researching outcomes of both chronic and infectious diseases and safety issues, and developing effective public health intervention strategies. But unlike medical examiners, who are physicians and, in ideal cases, trained forensic pathologists, the bar for coroners is often much lower. In some states, anyone 18 years or older with no prior felonies may be elected coroner. Once they’re in office, training is patchwork; some jurisdictions require no further education at all.

The coroner system has its roots in medieval England, where coroners protected the interests of the crown, including investigating deaths and collecting taxes. It arrived in the U.S. in the colonial period, where  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 January 2022 at 11:36 am

Great books are still great

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Full disclosure: I am an alumnus of the Great Books Program at St. John’s College, Annapolis, MD, and in addition I was a faculty member and director of admissions there a decade later. I can talk at length about the benefits of the program (which to my mind focuses on the development of intellectual skills more than intellectual content), but I’ll save that for another time — but I will note that skills are practical knowledge and thus are acquired and developed through practice.

In Aeon Roosevelt Montás, senior lecturer in American studies and English at Columbia University and director of the Freedom and Citizenship program at the Center for American Studies, has an article on the Great Books, which I believe is an edited extract from his book Rescuing Socrates: How the Great Books Changed My Life and Why They Matter for a New Generation (2021). The article begins:

As a high-school student with still-shaky English proficiency, I found a collection of Plato’s dialogues in a garbage pile near my house in Corona, Queens. I had grown up in a mountain town in the Dominican Republic and emigrated to New York City just before my 12th birthday. My mother had left the Dominican Republic a few years earlier, secured the only job she could get, earning the minimum wage in a garment factory, and petitioned for my brother and I to join her. In 1985, we entered New York City’s overcrowded public school system, where the free lunches supplied a good portion of our sustenance. Like many immigrants, we were poor, exposed, and disoriented by our uprooting.

It was not an auspicious beginning for the career I would have as student, academic administrator and faculty member at an Ivy League university. But the jarring journey became, at some point, less of a handicap and more of a peculiar vantage point from which to reflect on the intellectual and social world I had entered. My development was nourished by an education in what some people call ‘the great books’. That same education has made me sensitive to a culturally influential critique of ‘the canon’ that insists that Homer, Sophocles, Plato, Montaigne, Cervantes, Goethe, Hegel, Dostoyevsky, Woolf, et al, are not for people like me, that they are for white people, or rich people, or people born with class privileges that I lacked.

In the collection of Plato’s dialogues that I rescued from the garbage pile on that winter night in Queens, I encountered an old man named Socrates in his final days. He was defending himself against accusations of corrupting the youth and of introducing new gods to the city. ‘Men of Athens,’ he protested,

I am grateful and I am your friend, but … as long as I draw breath and am able, I shall not cease to practise philosophy, to exhort you … [asking] are you not ashamed of your eagerness to possess as much wealth, reputation and honours as possible, while you do not care for nor give thought to wisdom or truth, or the best possible state of your soul?

By the end of the collection, we find him in prison on the day appointed for his execution, ‘calmly and easily’ drinking the poison, laying down, and dying: ‘Such was the end of our comrade,’ says the first-person narrator, ‘a man who, we would say, was of all those we have known the best, and also the wisest and the most upright.’ I did not need to be rich, privileged or cultured to find in those words something that spoke to the deepest sense of my own being. And I did not need to be white or European to be startled by the claim that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’.

Every summer since 2009, I have used these same Platonic dialogues to introduce low-income high-school students, who hope to be the first in their families to attend college, to the philosophic, ethical, and political tradition that Socrates inspired. Every year, I see my students roused to serious self-examination and, in many cases, to an earnest and lasting reorientation of their lives. They do not see Thucydides, Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, and other texts we study, as alien objects belonging to others, but as thinkers who speak with a living voice to issues of urgency and relevance to their own experience. Again and again, I see these young people awaken to a source of self-worth and meaning that is not constrained by the material limitations that have otherwise hemmed in their lives.

The liberatory power of ‘the canon’ is easily lost in the theoretical haze of the academic humanities. At the same time, institutions of higher education have been all too ready to abandon the idea of liberal education – of learning for its own sake – in favour of professional and specialised studies. But the old classics still have the power to move and transform young people in ways that no technical education can. We don’t have to dilute the practical value of a higher education nor ignore the insights of the academic humanities to restore the vitality of liberal education in our colleges and universities.

In my last year of college, I . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 January 2022 at 11:30 am

A new blade makes a world of difference — and I do love fragrances in the morning

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Fragrances first: I know that some really dislike fragrances as part of the shave (thus the various fragrance-free shaving soaps most artisans have on offer). I’m not talking so much about a skin sensitivity, such as to sandalwood or lime or the like, but just a personal distaste for early-morning fragrances (bacon and coffee excepted, I imagine). Indeed, The Son dislikes shaving fragrances.

I, on the other hand, do love a good fragrance, particularly one that stands forth boldly. This morning I enjoyed immensely one of my favorite shaving soaps, Up & Adam, by Stubble Trubble (alas, no longer active). It is a combination of espresso and vanilla — and the soap and lather are also excellent.

The redoubtable Maggard Razors 22mm synthetic easily brought forth a superb lather and, well-prepped, I began the shave with yesterday’s razor holding a new Wilkinson Sword blade. Ah, what a pleasure. One problem with rotating razors as I do is that I cannot track how many uses each blade has had, nor for that matter which brands of blades are in which razors. Those who use a single razor and a single brand can easily know a good time to change blades — just a shave or two before performance degrades — but I have to go through to the slightly unsatisfactory shave to pick up the cue that it’s time the blade was changed. 

So after yesterday’s shave, where I had to work too hard to get a good shave, I changed the blade, and what a difference it made! My face today is remarkably smooth after a very easy and comfortable shave.

The final fragrance of the shave, dark chocolate, comes from a Valentine’s Day limited run by Phoenix Artisan some years back. It turns out that this dark chocolate aftershave has a remarkably good dry-down, so the fragrance during the day is extremely nice: not so much chocolate as some sort of dusky allure.

A brilliantly sunny morning — at least right now — which strengthens the spirit. 


Written by Leisureguy

21 January 2022 at 11:15 am

Posted in Shaving

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