Later On

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

Archive for July 5th, 2007

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

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Greg Palast sends this in a email:

I remember John Perkins. He was a real jerk. A gold-plated, super-slick lying little butthole shill for corporate gangsters; a snake-oil salesman with a movie-star grin, shiny loafers, a crooked calculator and a tooled leather briefcase full of high-blown bullshit.

This was two decades ago. The early 1980s. I wore sandals, uncombed hair down to my cheap collar and carried a busted ring-binder filled with honest calculations and sincere analysis. It was Economic Hit Man Perkins vs. Economic Long-Hair Palast. I didn’t stand a chance. The EHM was about to put a political bullet hole through me wider than a silver dollar.

Hit Men have “clients.” Perkins’ was a giant power company, Public Service of New Hampshire. PSNH was trying to sell New England lobstermen and potato farmers on the idea that they desperately needed a multi-billion dollar nuclear plant. The fact that this bloated atomic water kettle, called “Seabrook,” would produce enough electricity for everyone in the Granite State to smelt iron didn’t matter. That the beast could add a surcharge to electric bills equal to home mortgages was simply smiled over by Perkins and his team of economic con artists.

To steal millions, you need a top team of armed robbers. But to steal billions, you need PhD’s with color charts and economic projections made of fairy dust and eye of newt. Perkins had it all – including a magical thing called a computer-generated spreadsheet (this was well before Excel).

I was an expert witness for some consumer groups, trying to explain to state officials that Perkins’ numbers were bogus as a bubble-gum bagel and his financial projections were from some New Hampshire on another planet.

But this was the key point: Perkins slept in a suite at the Omni. I had truck-rumble insomnia at the motel off exit 68. He glared and grinned and glad-handed. I tried to keep my eyes open.

Here’s how it ended.

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Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2007 at 7:07 pm

Posted in Books, Business, Government

A Classical robot

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From New Scientist:

In about 60 AD, a Greek engineer called Hero constructed a three-wheeled cart that could carry a group of automata to the front of a stage where they would perform for an audience. Power came from a falling weight that pulled on string wrapped round the cart’s drive axle, and Sharkey reckons this string-based control mechanism is exactly equivalent to a modern programming language. He describes it in this week’s issue of New Scientist magazine.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2007 at 4:51 pm

Ultrasonic cleaner at VERY low price

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I just updated this post with the following:

Now I feel a proper Charlie for paying $60 plus shipping. Someone pointed out that this vendor’s 60W ultrasonic cleaners seem to go for low bids. He got his for $35 SHIPPED! So you might want to check this vendor if you’re in the market. I have the cleaner at the link, and it’s quite good and includes the option of an 8-minute cleaning cycle, which so far has been ample.

Here are the vendor’s current auctions.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2007 at 3:26 pm

Posted in Daily life

Fred Saberhagen, 1930-2007

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Via The Son:

SF and fantasy writer Fred Saberhagen, born 1930, died June 29, 2007, at the age of 77. He began publishing in 1961 with short stories in Galaxy and If magazines, and published collection Berserker in 1967, first in a series about interstellar killing machines programmed to destroy all life. Saberhagen’s 60+ books also included the Empire of the East sequence, beginning with The Broken Lands (1968), the Dracula sequence, beginning with The Dracula Tape (1975), and two books co-written with Roger Zelazny, Coils (1981) and The Black Throne (1990). His last book was Ardneh’s Sword (Tor, 2006).
• The family will announce a date for a Memorial Celebration later this year.  Donations would be appreciated to Doctors without Borders, Catholic Relief, SFWA Emergency Medical Fund, and John 23rd Catholic Church in Albuquerque.

» Wikipedia entry
» Official site: Berserker.com

I especially liked The Empire of the East, which contains all four of the novels of the tetralogy:

  1. The Broken Lands (1968)
  2. The Black Mountains (1971)
  3. Changeling Earth (1973) also as Ardneh’s World
  4. Ardneh’s Sword (May 2006)

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2007 at 12:45 pm

Nuke a bad habit

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I have recommended the book Changing for Good: The Revolutionary Program That Explains the Six Stages of Change and Teaches You How to Free Yourself from Bad Habits, by James O. Prochaska, John C. Norcross, and Carlo C. Diclemente. Even if you’re not changing a habit (though you really ought to give up… what? smoking?), the book is interesting in its own right, finding out why some programs work well for some people, not for others, etc.  Good book.

And this morning, on Zen Habits, I find this post:

Are you letting bad habits rule your life? I started learning how to change habits a few years ago. Since then I’ve switched to a vegan diet, began exercising every day, started writing new articles every day, began waking up earlier and trying some wacky experiments to improve my life. Here are some ideas I’ve found useful:

  1. Commit for a Month. Thirty days is all you need to make a habit change permanent. Less time than that and the new alternative might not be hardwired into your brain. More time and any failures to last are usually a failure of strategy, not duration.
  2. Replace What You Lose. Your habits fulfill needs. When you suddenly cause a change, you may inadvertently cut them out. Before you make a change, write down all the benefits you currently get from your bad habit and make sure they are retained going into the new habit.
  3. Start Small . Changing habits isn’’t a matter of willpower, but patience and strategy. Don’’t expect to overhaul your diet, exercise or thinking patterns in a day. Tackle one habit at a time.
  4. Know the Benefits. Get clear in your mind what the benefits are of making a change. If making a change rationally seems good but it doesn’’t feel good, it won’’t stick. Emotions have more power than many of us realize.
  5. Write it Down . Winston Churchill once said, ““Plans are useless, planning is invaluable.”” Writing out any commitments you make will give you clarity both to what you desire and how you intend to do it.
  6. Swish. A technique from NLP. Visualize yourself performing the bad habit. Next visualize yourself pushing aside the bad habit and performing an alternative. Finally, end that sequence with an image of yourself in a highly positive state. See yourself picking up the cigarette, see yourself putting it down and snapping your fingers, finally visualize yourself running and breathing free. Do it a few times until you automatically go through the pattern before executing the old habit.
  7. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2007 at 10:56 am

Posted in Daily life, Health

Late bloomer

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I’m embarrassed to admit it, but all these years the Tuesday flier—the colorful but sloppy bulk mail piece of many pages touting various discounts, coupons, etc.—has gone from the mailbox to the trash.

But now, with renewed frugality, I’ve been perusing it. Several sections I can discard immediately—auto parts, camping stores, etc.—but it turns out that each of the three supermarkets has its own section: Safeway, Nob Hill, and Albertsons. These often include coupons—always for processed foods or other products I don’t buy—but I have discovered that each store will have some serious loss leaders in meat, fish, or poultry, and some good buys in produce. For example, today at Safeway, fresh Rainer cherries at $1.99/lb. And chicken thighs at $0.77/lb.

Of course, the chicken thighs come in the enormous (6-7 lb) package, but I’ll freeze half, and the others I’ll simmer to make (a) chicken stock for cooking and (b) poached chicken thighs to put in the fridge for subsequent chicken salads or sandwiches.

Now I actually look forward the thing, and build my menus around the big bargains.

Still learning basic skills, after all these years.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2007 at 10:48 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

How many lies, Lord God? How many lies till it ends?

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Again from the Center for American Progress:

Though Brett M. Kavanaugh, a former aide to President Bush appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit last year, appears to have lied during his confirmation hearings about his role in forming White House policy on detainees, the Justice Department has not responded to a formal Senate Judiciary Committee request for an investigation. During the hearings, Kavanaugh responded to a question about his White House activities by saying, “I was not involved and am not involved in the questions about the rules governing detention of combatants.” Yet the Washington Post reported in a series about Vice President Cheney that Kavauagh contributed to a “heated meeting in [Attorney General Alberto] Gonzales’s corner office” in 2002, at which the administration made critical decisions about its detainee policy. Kavanaugh has not responded to Sen. Richard Durbin’s (D-IL) letter asking him to “recuse himself from cases involving detainee issues” and a spokesman insists that his “testimony was accurate.” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, “I don’t believe that he was truthful with us,” and formally asked Gonzales to investigate the apparent discrepancy. The New York Times reported yesterday that Gonzales, who himself has provided misleading testimony to Congress and ultimately made the decision in his capacity as White House counsel to deny “enemy combatants…access to lawyers” in the 2002 meeting in question, has not responded to Leahy’s request. Because of Gonzales inaction and Kavanaugh’s refusal to recuse himself, Kavanaugh continues to enjoy his lifetime appointment to the D.C. Circuit, where the first case he heard involved the fate of Guantanamo detainees.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2007 at 10:09 am

More on the Libby Decision

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From an email from the Center for American Progress. I wonder if Bush’s new title, replacing “the Decider,” will be “the Commuter.”

After commuting the 30-month prison sentence for Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, President Bush on Tuesday left the door open for a future pardon, stating, “As to the future, I rule nothing in and nothing out.” Despite Libby’s conviction of obstruction of justice, giving false statements, and perjury in federal court, Bush has shown a disregard for the rule of law with the commutation. In his own book, A Charge To Keep, Bush stated, “I don’t believe my role is to replace the verdict of a jury with my own,” in reference to why he signed death warrants for 152 inmates as governor of Texas. But by commuting Libby’s sentence, Bush abandoned both his own principles and the legal guidelines set by the federal government. Instead, he made a overtly political decision, appearing “to calculate that he would antagonize his conservative base too severely if he did not provide Libby some form of reprieve.” While Bush’s right-wing base is cheering the decision, the overwhelming majority of Americans are deeply upset over the President’s clemency for a felon who helped launch the country into war.

WHITE HOUSE SPIN ZONE: Faced with a country who by 3 to 1 did not favor any form of pardon for Libby, the White House desperately attempted to spin the commutation. Not surprisingly, it was unable to keep a straight story. On Tuesday, White House spokesperson Tony Snow claimed the commutation was simply a “routine” procedure for Bush. But according to the Justice Department, commutation requests “generally are not accepted unless and until a person has begun serving that sentence. Subsequently, “[f]or the first time in his presidency, Bush commuted a sentence without running requests through lawyers at the Justice Department,” according to White House officials. Bush previously had commuted only three sentences, “all for drug offenses, from more than 5,000 requests. He has issued 113 pardons, fewer than other modern presidents.” Dana Milbank of the Washington Post pointed out several other contradictions in Snow’s arguments: that the commutation was handled “in a routine manner” yet it was also “an extraordinary case,” that Bush wasn’t “granting a favor to anyone” but that the case got his “special handling,” and that it was not done for “political reasons” even though “it was political.”

‘THE LIBBY TREATMENT’: Bush’s commutation for Libby contradicts the precedent set by his own Justice Department. For example, in a case recently decided by the Supreme Court, the Justice Department persuaded the Court to preserve a 33-month sentence of a defendant whose case closely resembled Libby’s. “The defendant, Victor A. Rita, was, like Mr. Libby, convicted of perjury, making false statements to federal agents and obstruction of justice. Mr. Rita has performed extensive government service, just as Mr. Libby has.” In fact, Rita’s perjury concerned simply “a possible violation of a machine-gun registration law.” But when Rita “argued that his 33-month sentence had failed to consider his history and circumstances adequately, the Justice Department strenuously disagreed.” Many legal experts argue that Bush’s clemency for Libby is “an unexpected gift for defense lawyers” across the country, who are already claiming, “My client should have got what Libby got, and here’s why.” “What you’re going to see is [defense lawyers] quoting President Bush in every pleading that comes across every federal judge’s desk,” said attorney Susan James, who is using Bush commutation arguments to grant former Alabama governor Don Siegelman, convicted of obstruction of justice charges, “the Libby treatment.

CONTRADICTING THE ‘LOYAL BUSHIES’:
Bush’s commutation has provoked a nationwide legal debate over sentencing guidelines. In arguing for Libby, Bush considered Libby’s individual circumstances, stating that the punishment was “excessive” and had already “damaged [Libby’s] career and reputation and caused his wife and young children to suffer.” Cheney said the punishment was not fit for the “fine man” that Libby is. “The Bush administration, however, has consistently maintained that at sentencing, judges should be precluded from thinking about precisely the sort of individual circumstances the president raised in lending a hand to Libby.” Last month, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the Department “would push for legislation making federal sentences tougher and less flexible,” which would reverse the 2005 Supreme Court decision United States v. Booker, “which authorized sentencing judges to consider factors like a defendant’s life story and the nature and circumstances of his or her offense.” Thus, Bush’s reasons for Libby’s clemency directly contradict Gonzales’s legislation.

AMNESTY FOR WAR ENABLERS: Libby’s commutation marks a continuation of Bush’s consistent granting of amnesty for his top war architects. As Cheney’s chief of staff, Libby repeatedly pressured CIA analysts to report that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and ties to al Qaeda. “He provided classified government information to New York Times reporter Judith Miller that formed the basis of a series of articles highlighting Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction that were later entirely discredited.” Similarly, architects of the Iraq war continue to reap rewards for their incompetence on Iraq-related policies. Several, such as Stephen Hadley, Elliot Abrams, John Hannah, David Wurmser, Andrew Natsios, and Condoleezza Rice, have been promoted within the administration. Others, such as Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz have joined think tanks that have the President’s “ear” on national security issues, such as the American Enterprise Institute. To this day, none of Bush’s war architectshave been publicly admonished for their corruption. 

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2007 at 10:06 am

The first fruits of Bush’s Libby decision

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ThinkProgress:

The New York times reported yesterday that Scooter Libby’s commutation has been a “gift” for defense attorneys, with many using the so-called “Libby motion” to argue, “My client should have got what Libby got, and here’s why.” Subsequently, judges may have “reason to lighten sentences and undermining the goal of a more uniform justice system.”

The New York Sun reports today that an “alleged Hamas operative is likely to be among the first criminal defendents to try to capitalize on President Bush’s commutation.” Mohammad Salah is scheduled to be sentenced next week on obstruction of justice charges, with a 22 year maximum sentence. “What the president said about Mr. Libby applies in spades to the case of Mohammed Salah,” said defense attorney Michael Deutsch.

Deutsch plans to use several of Bush’s arguments to argue for reducing the prison sentence for Salah to probation:

When Mr. Bush commuted that prison sentence on Monday, he made particular note of the alleged unfairness in how Libby’s sentence was calculated. “Critics say the punishment does not fit the crime: Mr. Libby was a first-time offender with years of exceptional public service and was handed a harsh sentence based in part on allegations never presented to the jury,” the president wrote. […]

It applies to an even greater extent in Mr. Salah’s case,” Mr. Deutsch said. “In our case, these allegations were presented to a jury and he was acquitted.”

Mr. Deutsch also noted that while Libby was convicted of lying to the FBI and a grand jury in a criminal investigation, the lies Salah was convicted of telling were part of his defense to a civil case brought by the family of a victim of a Hamas-sponsored bombing.

The Salah case is one of many that may be influenced by Libby’s commutation. Susan James, defense attorney for former Governor Don Siegelman (D-AL), who was convicted of corruption and obstruction of justice charges, plans to argue for the “Libby treatment” for Siegelman. “[Bush] has basically come in and said the sentence is too harsh,” James said. “I’ll find some way to weave that into our argument,” James said.

The Bush administration alleges that Hamas aides terrorist groups. Just last month, the White House stated that Hamas is a “dangerous force” that follows “the way of terror.” Salah’s use of the “Libby motion” to reduce his own sentence bolsters the fact that Libby’s commutation has undermined Bush’s own national security policies.

More at Sentencing Law and Policy.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2007 at 8:48 am

The problem in promoting democracy…

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is: what do you do when democracy takes hold and you don’t like the results? The traditional US response has to been to immediately chuck democracy out the cargo door at high altitude and work day and night to undermine the results of the free and fair election—much like the GOP in the US today. (Cf. Chile and a long list of other countries)

Take this story:

Officials in the Bush administration awoke on the morning of January 26, 2006 to catastrophic news.

Hamas, a violent Islamist movement whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel, had won Palestinian parliamentary elections — elections that were deemed free and fair and a cornerstone to President Bush’s initiative to bring more democracy to the Muslim world.

For the next 17 months, White House and State Department officials would undertake an all-out campaign to reverse those results and oust Hamas from power.

Instead of undermining Hamas, though, the strategy helped to exacerbate dangerous political fissures in Palestinian politics that have delivered another setback to the president’s vision of a stable, pro-Western Middle East.

The administration’s drive to change the political facts on the ground foundered on opposition in Congress, the differing goals of Middle East allies such as Saudi Arabia, and an inability to provide Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas with the full backing he needed to confront Hamas.

Three weeks ago, Hamas leaders outmaneuvered everyone else and seized the Gaza strip in a swift military campaign that vanquished secular Fatah forces loyal to Abbas. Abbas, with U.S. encouragement, responded by dissolving the Hamas-led government and declaring emergency rule. Now, with Palestinians divided into two mini-states in Gaza and the West Bank, mediating a peace deal with Israel will be harder than ever.

The strategy toward Hamas was overseen by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and carried out largely by Elliott Abrams, a leading neoconservative in the White House, and Assistant Secretary of State David Welch.

At its heart was a plan to organize military support for Abbas for what opponents of the strategy feared could have become a Palestinian civil war, according to officials in Washington and the Middle East, and documents.

As recently as March 2007, Jordanian officials developed a $1.2 billion proposal to train, arm and pay Abbas’ security forces so they could control the streets after he dissolved the government and called new elections. McClatchy Newspapers obtained a copy of the plan. While two sources close to Abbas said U.S. officials were involved in developing and presenting the plan, a State Department official described it as a Jordanian initiative.

Ultimately, congressional concerns in Washington and Israeli objections kept any significant military aid from being delivered, even as Israeli intelligence and the CIA warned that Hamas was becoming stronger.

Long term, the U.S. effort to oust Hamas has further deepened doubts in the Middle East about the administration’s understanding of the complex region.

“America is so far away, they are completely misinformed about what is happening,” said Munib Masri, a Palestinian businessman allied with Abbas. “The more they do against Hamas, the more power they (Hamas) get from the people.”

Well before the January 2006 elections, the White House and Rice had ample warning about the risks of allowing Hamas to participate, according to two senior U.S. officials. Among those raising alarms were Arab leaders and Tzipi Livni, now Israel’s foreign minister.

But Abbas argued that elections wouldn’t be credible without Hamas, and Washington went along, said one of the senior U.S. officials, who agreed to be interviewed only on condition of anonymity due to White House-imposed ground rules.

Was that a mistake?

“Maybe,” he said. “The question was debated at the time.”

Once Hamas was elected, the White House gave almost no thought to accepting the results and trying to co-opt the hard-line Islamist group, which the U.S. government deems a terrorist organization, current and former U.S. officials said.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2007 at 8:12 am

Fantasy razor

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Suppose I now had millions—well, so long as we’re supposing, make it billions. One little project I have in mind is to hire some top-flight industrial designers and turn them loose on the design of a truly adjustable safety razor:

  1. Adjustment for safety gap between blade and straight bar (or comb)
  2. Adjustment for blade angle, with no change in gap
  3. Adjustment for slant (twist) of blade, from no slant to (say) Merkur slant

Prototypes would be made and tested by a squadron of shavers, with redesign and tweaking as needed. Then the razor would be manufactured in titanium. Perhaps have two models, one a straight bar guard, the other a comb guard.

Now: to get Bill Gates interested in this…

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2007 at 8:03 am

Posted in Shaving

Mandatory minimums—but that was last month

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Via digby, this fascinating look into the distant past of 3 weeks ago when Bush was all in favor of mandatory minimum sentencing for felons convicted of Federal crimes (e.g., Scooter Libby) :

The Bush administration is trying to roll back a Supreme Court decision by pushing legislation that would require prison time for nearly all criminals.

The Justice Department is offering the plan as an opening salvo in a larger debate about whether sentences for crack cocaine are unfairly harsh and racially discriminatory.

Republicans are seizing the administration’s crackdown, packaged in legislation to combat violent crime, as a campaign issue for 2008.

In a speech June 1 to announce the bill, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales urged Congress to re-impose mandatory minimum prison sentences against federal convicts — and not let judges consider such penalties “merely a suggestion.”

Such an overhaul, in part, “will strengthen our hand in fighting criminals who threaten the safety and security of all Americans,” Gonzales said in the speech, delivered three days before the FBI announced a slight national uptick in violent crime during 2006.

Judges, however, were livid over the proposal to limit their power.

“This would require one-size-fits-all justice,” said U.S. District Judge Paul G. Cassell, chairman of the Criminal Law committee of the Judicial Conference, the judicial branch’s policy-making body.

“The vast majority of the public would like the judges to make the individualized decisions needed to make these very difficult sentencing decisions,” Cassell said. “Judges are the ones who look the defendants in the eyes. They hear from the victims. They hear from the prosecutors.”

The debate, pitting prosecutors against jurists, has been ongoing since a 2005 Supreme Court ruling that declared the government’s two decades-old sentencing guidelines unconstitutional. The ruling in United States v. Booker said judges are not required to abide by the federal guidelines — which set mandatory minimum and maximums on sentences — but could consider them in meting out prison time.

The Justice Department wants to return to the old system of mandatory minimum sentences, under which judges could grant leniency only in special cases. Without those required floors, Justice officials maintain that different judges could hand out widely varying penalties for the same crime. [Or Bush could step in and kick over the apple cart. – LG]
Justice officials also point to a growing number of lighter sentences as possible proof that crime is on the rise because criminals are no longer cowed by strict penalties.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2007 at 7:57 am

Bush’s reasons

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After a few days for the analysis to shake out, I believe we now have a clear view of Bush’s reasons for commuting Libby’s prison time and holding out the possibility of a full pardon.

Obviously, the stated reason is false: the sentence was not in fact excessive. It is the identical sentence given to thousands of others for the same crime in similar circumstances. Indeed, it adheres to the sentencing guidelines advocated by Bush’s own Department of Justice.

Moreover, Bush violated his promise to stay out of the case until the appeals process had run, violated long-established policies regarding pardons and commutations of sentences, and violated his own procedures (for example, no discussions with the prosecuting attorney or with the pardons attorney in the DOJ).

In fact, Bush rushed to stop the legal process as soon as it was clear that Libby was going to jail. Obviously, his purpose was to do whatever it took to keep Scooter out of the slammer. And the only reason I can see is his fear that Scooter, faced with prison time, would start to talk and to cooperate with prosecutors, and Bush can’t afford that. The obvious reason: Bush is sitting on a powder keg of unacknowledged crimes. He has to keep those secret.

UPDATE: Read digby’s take on the issue.

She also has this comment about a Hilzoy post:

Do read the whole thing and then wipe away your tears of joy at being led by a man who lives by the credo, “all men are equal under the law …. except those who might testify against me.”

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2007 at 6:47 am

Piña colada shave

with 2 comments

Another of Honeybee Sue’s summer fragrances: piña colada. And it smells exactly like one. I used the Simpsons Emperor 3 Super—my first favorite brush, and still among the favorites—and it produced a thick, lustrous, and ample lather.

The Vision with an Astra Superior Platinum blade gave its usual excellent shave and thrilling acoustic performance. Then the alum block and Draggon Noir aftershave.

Rather foggy and dim out this morning, but a bracing cup of coffee makes the inside weather fine.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2007 at 6:40 am

Posted in Shaving

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