Later On

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

Archive for April 24th, 2009

More on Ben Nelson

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This guy should be booted from the Democratic Party, since he doesn’t really seem to hold Democratic values seriously. Satyam Khanna in ThinkProgress:

Greg Sargent reports that centrist Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson (NE) — who voted to confirm both Sam Alito and John Roberts — will oppose Dawn Johnsen’s nomination to lead the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Nelson says he opposes Johnsen, a noted legal scholar and outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s torture program, because of her pro-choice views:

Senator Nelson is very concerned about the nomination of Dawn Johnson, based on her previous position as Counsel for NARAL. He believes that the Office of Legal Counsel is a position in which personal views can have an impact and is concerned about her outspoken pro-choice views on abortion.

Nelson is buying into the right-wing’s war against Johnsen. Outspoken anti-choice Republican Rep. Chris Smith (NJ) said Johnsen has a "a prejudice against motherhood, the family and a fundamental respect for all human life." The National Review’s Andy McCarthy claimed she would be a "culture-war agitator." Republicans have threatened a filibuster against her.

Update: Nelson had opposed the use of the filibuster on John Bolton and former Bush EPA administrator Stephen Johnson. "Nelson generally opposes the filibuster on nominees, even if he doesn’t like the candidate," notes Brian Beutler. It remains to be seen whether he will filibuster Johnsen.

Written by Leisureguy

24 April 2009 at 1:11 pm

"Smoky" Joe Barton defends the energy industry

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Joe Barton is not serious about his duties, obviously. But I do think in part this is because he’s stupid—and, of course, totally owned by the oil industry.

Written by Leisureguy

24 April 2009 at 1:05 pm

Lamb burgers

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This recipe by Mark Bittman sounds great:

Cumin-Spiced Lamb Burgers

Yield 4 servings
Time 30 minutes

The grilling process is familiar: The heat need not be too high, and the heat source should be at least four inches from the rack, to avoid burning. Lamb, because it is leaner than most beef, tends to brown more evenly and catch fire less readily. Turn once or twice, and you are done.

  • 1 1/2 pounds lamb in one-inch chunks
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Salt and pepper
  • Lemon wedges for squeezing

1. Start a charcoal or gas grill, or heat a broiler. The fire should not be too hot, and the rack should be about 4 inches from the heat source.

2. Combine all ingredients except lemon in a food processor, and pulse on and off until meat is ground. Shape into burgers, and grill about 8 minutes total for rare meat, turning once. Squeeze lemon juice over burgers and serve on toasted buns.

Written by Leisureguy

24 April 2009 at 1:00 pm

Good recipe for a quick and easy spelt bread

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Can’t find it in the store? Then make it at home. This recipe from the SmarterFitter blog is very quick and easy (and photos of the bread at the link):

Three Minute Spelt Bread

You can use whatever seeds or nuts you have on hand to make this recipe. I used almonds, pumpkin and flax seeds.

500g [1.1 lbs] Spelt Flour
10g [1/3 oz] fast-acting dried yeast
1/2 tsp sea salt
50g [1.75 oz] sunflower seeds
50g [1.75 oz] sesame seeds
50g [1.75 oz] linseeds [i.e., flaxseed]
500ml [2.1 cups] warm water

Preheat oven to 200 C / 390 F. Combine all the ingredients, adding the water last. Mix well and turn the dough into a greased loaf tin. Put straight into the oven and bake for an hour. Remove the loaf, turn it out of the tin and then return it to the oven without the tin for another 5-10 minutes.

Written by Leisureguy

24 April 2009 at 12:47 pm

What happens when a group gets to break the law with impunity

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An update to a column yesterday by Greenwald:

The Atlantic‘s Ta-Nehisi Coates posts video of the Peggy Noonan comments and writes:

The job of journalists is to challenge the government and to challenge their readers and viewers. What sort of journalist tells his readers that some things must be mysterious?  What sort of writer tells her readers, and viewers, essentially, to not ask too many questions? We have a fine era, when otherwise respected, intelligent, and well-read people step on a national stage and endorse national ignorance.

There’s nothing unusual about Noonan’s mentality; it’s the dominant mindset of our political and media class.  The American Prospect‘s Adam Serwer notes a column from The New York Times‘ Roger Cohen today arguing against prosecutions (of course) and observes:

Cohen’s argument simply reflects the consensus among certain journalistic and political elites that the powerful simply shouldn’t be held accountable when they make mistakes, because, after all, we all make mistakes. This compassionate attitude naturally doesn’t extend beyond this small group. America has the highest incarceration rate in the world, fully 1 percent of the population. I’m sure there are millions of people currently incarcerated who would like it if Cohen’s policy of absolution for crimes was extended to them.

That elite-protecting consensus is the central affliction of America’s political culture.  It explains not only how we continuously shield our elites from the consequences of their crimes, but also explains the reason such crimes keep happening.  If you constantly announce to a small group of people that they will be able to break the law with impunity, you are rendering inevitable future rampant criminality. That’s just obvious.

Written by Leisureguy

24 April 2009 at 12:40 pm

Posted in Government, Law, Media

Whatever happened to the rule of law?

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I am stunned by the number of people who want no investigations of the US torture scandal, with indictments and prosecutions as warranted, because it would be a lot of trouble. What planet are these people from?

Of course, that’s probably not the real reason for the opposition. As Glenn Greenwald points out at the end of this column, the reason people fight investigation is because they’re implicated. The conclusion of his column:

Democrats spent the last several years vehemently complaining about the “politicization of the Justice Department” under Alberto Gonzales.  Yet so many of these same Democrats are now demanding that the Obama DOJ refrain from prosecuting Bush criminals based on purely political grounds:  namely, that those prosecutions will interfere with Obama’s political agenda.

Blocking criminal investigations for political reasons is definitively corrupt — period.  That’s true whether Democrats or Republicans do it.  In The New York Times today, Mark Mazzetti and Neil Lewis advance the Jane-Harman/Alberto-Gonzales/AIPAC scandal by making clear that at the core of the scandal lies the actions of Alberto Gonzales, who intervened to block a criminal investigation of Harman for purely political reasons:

One reason Mr. Gonzales intervened, the former officials said, was to protect Ms. Harman because they saw her as a valuable administration ally in urging The New York Times not to publish an article about the National Security Agency’s program of wiretapping without warrants.

As Michael Isikoff pointed out on Rachel Maddow’s show earlier this week, what Gonzales did there (blocking a criminal investigation of Harman because the investigation would undermine the White House’s political interests) is extremely similar to what many Obama loyalists are arguing now (that criminal investigations of Bush crimes should be blocked because such investigations would undermine the White House’s political interests).  That is what made the efforts of Rahm Emanuel, Robert Gibbs and even Obama to dictate who would and would not be prosecuted so improper:  it the role of independent Justice Department officials to make that decision based on purely legal and apolitical grounds, not the role of White House officials to try to interfere for political reasons.  I was preceded yesterday on Warren Olney’s To the Point program by Philip Zelikow, and Zelikow said:  “I really don’t think the President should have opinions on who should or should not be prosecuted — full stop.”

Punishing politically powerful criminals is about vindicating the rule of law.  Partisan and political considerations should play no role in it.  It is opponents of investigations and prosecutions who are being driven by partisan allegiances and a desire to advance their political interests.  By contrast, proponents of investigations are seeking to vindicate the most apolitical yet crucial principle of our system of government: that we are a nation of laws that cannot allow extremely serious crimes to be swept under the rug for political reasons.  That’s true no matter what is best for Obama’s political goals and no matter how many Democrats end up being implicated — ethically, politically or even legally — by the crimes that were committed.

UPDATE:  Just to underscore how continuously Democrats are complicit in thwarting the rule of law in the United States:   one of Obama’s most impressive and rule-of-law-defending appointees, Dawn Johnsen, has had her nomination as OLC Chief blocked for months by the Right, and the office of a key Democratic Senator — Ben Nelson — just told Greg Sargent that Nelson “is all but certain to vote against Johnsen,” substantially increasingly the GOP’s chances of preventing her from becoming head of the OLC.  That’s our bipartisan Washington establishment in a nutshell:  key Bush torture architects such as John Rizzo and Bush intelligence policy defenders such as John Brennan are able to remain in positions of high power in the Obama administration, while those, like Johnsen, who want accountability for government crimes are considered fringe, extremist and unfit for office.

Is Sen. Ben Nelson really a Democrat? He doesn’t much act like one.

Written by Leisureguy

24 April 2009 at 12:37 pm

Does New Jersey really want this guy as governor?

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Lee Fang reports for ThinkProgress:

While serving as a U.S. attorney during the Bush administration, Christopher Christie, now a Republican candidate for Governor in New Jersey, tracked the whereabouts of citizens through their cell phones without warrants. The ACLU obtained the documents detailing the spying program from the Justice Department in an ongoing lawsuit over cell phone tracking.

While the documents reveal 79 such cases on or after Sept. 12, 2001, they do not specify how many of the applications were made during Christie’s tenure. Christie served as U.S. attorney from Jan. 17, 2002 through November 2008. ACLU staff attorney Catherine Crump noted:

Tracking the location of people’s cell phones reveals intimate details of their daily routines and is highly invasive of their privacy. The government is violating the Constitution when it fails to get a search warrant before tracking people this way.

The new revelations about the cell phone tracking program under Christie is yet another example of the warrantless spying programs authorized under the Bush administration. Previous programs approved without a court order or warrant have included the secret program to monitor radiation levels at over 100 Muslim sites and the NSA spying program on the phone and e-mail communications of thousands of people inside the U.S. These programs run contrary to the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which forbids "unreasonable searches" and sets out specific requirements for warrants, including "probable cause."

During his tenure as U.S. attorney, Christie also awarded his former boss, John Ashcroft, a $28-52 million dollar no-bid contract to "monitor a large corporation willing to settle criminal charges out of court." Former Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach blasted the decision, saying that awarding a no-bid contract "suggests other political things, and that seems to me to be as wrong as it can be." Christie also doled out "a multi-million-dollar, no bid contract to an ex-federal prosecutor who declined to criminally prosecute Christie’s brother on stock fraud charges two years earlier."

Christie’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, declined to comment on the cell phone spying program "due to pending litigation."

Written by Leisureguy

24 April 2009 at 12:08 pm

Write Sen. Max Baucus

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Drew Armstrong of Congressional Quarterly reports that Sen. Baucus is not too interested in a government-run healthcare plan option:

Sen. Max Baucus , D-Mont., said Friday that while he has not written off the idea of a government-run insurance plan for his health care overhaul proposal, it probably won’t be his first line of attack, preferring to focus instead on the system for self-insured companies.

At a breakfast with reporters hosted by the journal Health Affairs, Baucus laid out details of his health care overhaul plans, many of which he will share in greater depth in a closed-door session April 29 with Finance Committee members.

While a government-run insurance plan was still on the table, Baucus said “it might be a bit on the side of the table.” Instead, he said, he would focus on preserving the insurance system for self-insured companies while expanding private insurance and public programs such as Medicaid, the insurance program for the poor. “We’ll end up with more private insurance and more public insurance,” he said.

He later backed off that statement slightly, saying he might return to the government-run idea later on. Baucus has previously backed the idea of a government-run plan to compete with private insurers and drive down costs, but the political difficulty of the idea has put pressure on him to drop it. Many Republicans vehemently oppose any idea of a government-run insurance plan, while many of the left are demanding its inclusion.

His vision would make substantial changes to the insurance market, but with the goal of letting those who have insurance that they like keep it.

For many uninsured looking to buy coverage, Baucus would like to “set up a system similar to Massachusetts,” where people can buy insurance through a “connector” that offers standard minimum benefit plans with subsidies for those who cannot afford it.

It would be a national marketplace, Baucus said, or at least with a common national standard. “I think the whole system should be more national, and the benefits have to be more national. You can’t have benefits be one level in one state, and another level in other states.”

But he would try to make sure that it did not deeply impact companies that buy insurance already. Health care experts have theorized that any large change to the insurance market, especially with a government-run plan option, would result in some companies and people shifting from company-provided insurance to the independent or government market…

Continue reading. I believe that a government-run healthcare plan MUST be an option. Our experience with insurance-run plans are that they are inefficient, expensive, and unresponsive. If the overall package includes a government-run option, people at least would have a choice.

You can email Sen. Baucus here.

Written by Leisureguy

24 April 2009 at 11:46 am

Cool desk/bed combination for small apartment

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Even if a small apartment has a regular bed, this little number could be useful in case of a guest.

Written by Leisureguy

24 April 2009 at 11:21 am

Posted in Daily life

Another guy falls for Japanese kitchen knives

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This guy loves them, too. He refers to one make, but also check out these links:

And, when the time comes:

Japanese-Knife Sharpening (since Japanese Western-style knives (i.e., double bevel) use a finer angle than Western knives). (See also this post on knife sharpening.)

A few other comments: in Western knives, I find Wüsthof to be noticeably better than Henckel (in terms of holding an edge and edge sharpness). But now I mainly use my Japanese knives.

UPDATE: In the comments, Josh points out that the guy has an update on his knife post.

Written by Leisureguy

24 April 2009 at 11:14 am

Posted in Daily life

Do endocrine disrupters cause asthma and obesity?

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Marion Nestle at Food Politics:

According to press reports, investigators from a Mt. Sinai School of Medicine project funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Growing Up Healthy in East Harlem,” find higher levels of endocrine disrupters, mostly phthlates and bisphenol A, among obese girls (age six to eight) in East Harlem, as compared to girls who are not obese.   The actual research does not appear to be published yet – I can’t find it on the Epidemiology website – but the EPA’s site provides the latest report on the project.

Endocrine disrupters are widely used in food and beverage packaging materials, as well as things such as cosmetics, shampoos, lubricants, and paint. As I explained in earlier posts, federal agencies have been taking a hard look at such substances, particularly bisphenol A.  Their interim conclusion: such chemicals pose no harm at current levels of intake.

While waiting for more research or regulatory action, a group called As You Sow has asked …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 April 2009 at 10:54 am

Good response from the Dept of Agriculture

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From Obama Foodorama:

After the National Black Farmers Association announced an April 28 rally in front of the USDA to protest a variety of discriminatory USDA policies (particularly in lending practices), Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has acted rapidly. He’s publicly reassured the NBFA that their issues will be addressed by the agency, and effective immediately, the Secretary has granted greater authority to the USDA’s Office of Civil Rights. This will include ensuring that all discrimination complaints are in a single database, time limits and protocols for dealing with discrimination complaints, and ensuring that complaints are uniformly collected. Why is this important? Historically, complaints against USDA don’t go beyond a farmer’s local farm bureau office—a huge problem if you’re in the rural South.

In a presser, Secretary Vilsack also pledged:

  • The Agriculture Department will review more than 14,000 civil rights complaints that have been filed against the agency since 2000.
  • Create a task force to review a sample of the complaints filed in the last nine years, supported by an independent legal counsel.
  • Temporarily suspend foreclosures under the department’s farm loan program to review loans involving possible discriminatory conduct.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 April 2009 at 10:51 am

Very nice on-line alarm clock

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Simple and useful. Via Lifehacker.

Written by Leisureguy

24 April 2009 at 10:46 am

Posted in Daily life

Lack of strategic thinking in the Navy

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Very interesting post at Information Dissemination: Observations of an Armchair Admiral. It begins:

I have read Tom Rick’s new book The Gamble twice, and I highly recommend it. Both times I read the book, I paused when I read the following paragraph.

“But Fallon prided himself on being a strategic thinker, a sense he may have developed because there was little competition in that arena in the Navy, which in recent years has tended to be weak, intellectually, aside from its elite counter-terror force in Special Operations, which is practically a separate service. It is difficult, for example, to think of a senior Navy officer who has played a prominent role in shaping American strategy since 9/11, or of an active-duty Navy officer who has written a book or essay as influential as those produced by the Army’s Col. H.R. McMaster, Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, and Lt. Col. John Nagl.”

At the United States Naval Institute Blog, Steeljaw Scribe posts this paragraph, and offers up some comments by Peter Swartz of CNA as a counter argument. For the record, Peter Swartz is a friend of mine, a reader of this blog, and someone whose opinion I respect a lot. The question is whether Tom Ricks is right, that there is little competition as a strategic thinker in the Navy, and if he is accurate to suggest where strategic thinking exists the competition is weak intellectually.

I think Peter Swartz makes a good argument that there are several brilliant folks part of the broader maritime strategy discussion contributing ideas, but I don’t find his argument in regards to competition in the strategic thinking community of the active duty Navy compelling at all…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 April 2009 at 10:24 am

Posted in Daily life, Military

A sensible comment from a Republican

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Mike Lillis reports this:

Many conservatives live in fear of the Democrats’ plans for health care reform, and they’ve been proportionately critical of the possibility that Democratic leaders will lean on reconciliation — the budget procedure that prevents filibusters — to get it done.

But not Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Speaking to ABC News today, Ryan, who’s the senior Republican on the House Budget Committee, said that the recent elections leave Democrats every right to push their health care agenda, by reconciliation or otherwise.

From The Note:

“It’s their right. They did win the election,” said Ryan, R-Wis. “That’s what I tell all my constituents who are worried about this. They won the election. They did run on these ideas. They did run on nationalizing health care. So, you’re right about that. They have the votes with reconciliation. They nailed down the process so that they can make sure they have the votes and that they can get this thing through really fast. It is their right. It is what they can do.”

“They hold the power, and they’re probably going to exercise it.  We don’t like it because we don’t like what looks like the outcome,” he added.

Written by Leisureguy

24 April 2009 at 10:20 am

Posted in Congress, Daily life, GOP

Why the torture story has legs

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Interesting column by Madison Powers in Congressional Quarterly:

For anyone who remembers Watergate, the unfolding story of U.S. involvement in torture and other unsavory information-gathering activities — sometimes referred to euphemistically as “enhanced interrogation techniques” — has taken a familiar turn. Once one bit of previously classified, or otherwise publicly unavailable, information comes into public view, a cascade of follow-up stories ensues.

The snowball effect is inevitable and no matter how many people — current and former administration officials, members of congress, and members of the military and various intelligence agencies — have a vested interest in letting this story go away, it just won’t die.

When one new set of details emerges, new questions arise. Who was involved? What was the extent of their involvement? What did they know and what should they have known, given their positions of authority? How far up the governmental ladder did involvement go? And, of course, who along the way tried to make sure that the story would not get out or only some highly misleading part of the story would see the light of day?

The last few weeks have been extraordinary in what we have learned and from so many angles. There is every reason to expect that the surprises will keep on coming. Consider just a small sample.

The first bombshell pertaining to CIA interrogation practices was contained in a report of the International Committee of the Red Cross (IRCR) printed last month in the New York Review of Books.

The previously confidential IRCR report was leaked, and for most of us, it was the most detailed, documented account thus far of the methods of interrogation the CIA had used on “high value detainees” held in the agency’s detention program and ultimately sent to the Guantánamo facility. The report, however, was not news to many in a position to act on the information it contained. It had been sent to the CIA’s general counsel in February 2007.

What the Red Cross report confirms is …

Continue reading. Just last night I was thinking that this scandal has the feel of Watergate: a slowly growing crescendo of revelations and a growing scandal that seems to have history-making proportions.

Written by Leisureguy

24 April 2009 at 9:44 am

Simple way to make a hamburger better

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Kate Hopkins divulges the secret over at Accidental Hedonist. Good to have in your bag of tricks as we move into grilling season.

Written by Leisureguy

24 April 2009 at 9:37 am

Useful reference: Torture timeline

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Annie Lowrey of Foreign Policy magazine has put together a useful timeline, which begins:

In the past 10 days, the revelation of once classified memos and Senate reports has greatly elucidated how torture happened. This timeline shows the key relevant legal and military events. New information is marked in italics.

2001

September 11: Afghanistan-based terrorist organization al Qaeda attacks the United States. Nearly 3,000 people die.

September 14: A congressional resolution authorizes U.S. President George W. Bush to use "all necessary and appropriate force" to combat the countries and groups behind 9/11. Vice President Dick Cheney promises that the United States will use "any means at our disposal" to combat terrorism.

September 16: In an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Cheney says the government will need to work through "the dark side." He continues: "We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion. …It’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal." 

September 17: Bush gives the CIA the authority to kill, capture, and detain al Qaeda operatives. The CIA lays plans for secret overseas prisons and special interrogations.

September 25: Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) lawyer John Yoo submits …

See the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

24 April 2009 at 9:27 am

Corporations lying about climate change

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No real surprise. The story by Andrew Revkin in today’s NY Times:

For more than a decade the Global Climate Coalition, a group representing industries with profits tied to fossil fuels, led an aggressive lobbying and public relations campaign against the idea that emissions of heat-trapping gases could lead to global warming.

“The role of greenhouse gases in climate change is not well understood,” the coalition said in a scientific “backgrounder” provided to lawmakers and journalists through the early 1990s, adding that “scientists differ” on the issue.

But a document filed in a federal lawsuit demonstrates that even as the coalition worked to sway opinion, its own scientific and technical experts were advising that the science backing the role of greenhouse gases in global warming could not be refuted.

“The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied,” the experts wrote in an internal report compiled for the coalition in 1995.

The coalition was financed by fees from large corporations and trade groups representing the oil, coal and auto industries, among others. In 1997, the year an international climate agreement that came to be known as the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated, its budget totaled $1.68 million, according to tax records obtained by environmental groups.

Throughout the 1990s, when the coalition conducted a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign challenging the merits of an international agreement, policy makers and pundits were fiercely debating whether humans could dangerously warm the planet. Today, with general agreement on the basics of warming, the debate has largely moved on to the question of how extensively to respond to rising temperatures.

Environmentalists have long maintained that industry knew early on that the scientific evidence supported a human influence on rising temperatures, but that the evidence was ignored for the sake of companies’ fight against curbs on greenhouse gas emissions. Some environmentalists have compared the tactic to that once used by tobacco companies, which for decades insisted that the science linking cigarette smoking to lung cancer was uncertain. By questioning the science on global warming, these environmentalists say, groups like the Global Climate Coalition were able to sow enough doubt to blunt public concern about a consequential issue and delay government action…

Continue reading. A year or so ago a commenter suggested that we could simply trust big business. I don’t think so.

Written by Leisureguy

24 April 2009 at 9:24 am

Erasmic

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Erasmic is an inexpensive shaving stick from the UK: very good lather, utilitarian fragrance. The Rooney Style 3 Size 1 fits my shaving style better than the Size 2, I must say. The Merkur HD, doughty warrior, did a fine job, and Geo. F. Trumper’s Spanish Leather aftershave was just the ticket.

And I washed all the dirty dishes and have a nice cup of hot tea. 🙂

Written by Leisureguy

24 April 2009 at 9:13 am

Posted in Shaving

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