Later On

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Archive for November 8th, 2012

Post-election, it’s not status quo

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I don’t understand the many commentators who write that the election has changed nothing in Washington. It’s a whole new ballgame, even apart from the distinct possibility that the filibuster will die. See this article by Joshua Green in Bloomberg Businessweek:

At first glance, the results of the 2012 election look like a return to the status quo: President Obama was reelected, Democrats retained the Senate, and Republicans held on to the House. But don’t be fooled. The political dynamic of the next four years will be almost exactly the opposite of the last four.

Sure, partisan bickering will endure. There will still be Red America and Blue America, Fox News and MSNBC. But with one big difference: During Obama’s first term, and particularly in the last two years, the Republican Party had most of the leverage. The GOP’s willingness to reject stimulus, default on the debt, and sabotage the nation’s credit rating—threats that shook financial markets—often put the White House at the mercy of the opposition.

In Obama’s second term, leverage will shift to the Democrats on almost every issue of importance. And that shift has already begun.

Once the economy stabilized, the defining struggle in Obama’s first term was the battle for revenue. From his efforts to end the Bush tax cuts for the rich, close the carried-interest deduction, and enact the Buffett Rule, Obama failed in every attempt to generate higher tax revenue to pay for new spending and reduce the deficit. Obama confronted a Republican party determined to starve government and convinced that its path back to power lay in engineering his failure. As Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in 2010, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Republicans mostly held the line.

To keep the economy afloat, the White House cut the deals it felt it had to. Many, such as Obama’s agreement to extend all of the Bush tax cuts in 2010, were poorly received by Democrats. Now comes the payoff. The expiration of those cuts and the automatic reductions set to take effect at year’s end—the so-called fiscal cliff—mean that Obama and the Democrats can gain a huge source of new revenue by doing nothing at all. Republican priorities are the ones suddenly in peril. The combination of tax increases on the rich, higher capital-gains taxes, and sharp cuts in defense spending have congressional Republicans deeply worried. To mitigate these, they’ll have to bargain.

Despite their post-election tough talk, Republican leaders have dealt themselves a lousy hand. Obama can propose a “middle-class tax cut” for the 98 percent of American households earning less than $250,000 a year—while letting the Bush tax cuts expire for those earning more—and dare the Republicans to block it. If they do, everyone’s taxes will rise on Jan. 1. It’s true that going over the fiscal cliff, as some Democrats believe will happen, would set back the recovery and could eventually cause a recession. But Democratic leaders in Congress believe the public furor would be too intense for Republicans to withstand for long.

Going over the cliff would also weaken the Republicans’ greatest point of leverage: renewing their threat to default on the national debt. Right now, the Treasury expects to hit the debt ceiling in February. But if the cliff can’t be avoided, tax rates will rise and government coffers will swell, delaying the date of default—thus diminishing the Republicans’ advantage. Alice Rivlin, the founding director of the Office of Management and Budget and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, says that “as quickly as the IRS began changing the withholding schedule, the date would be pushed back.”

This new, post-election reality should compel both sides toward the “Grand Bargain” on entitlement and tax reform that President Obama and John Boehner tried, and failed, to strike in the summer of 2011. Most people in Washington expect these negotiations to dominate the 2013 calendar year. Here again, leverage has shifted from Republicans to Democrats. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2012 at 2:53 pm

Excellent password tips

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Good article by Nicole Perlroth on how to devise good passwords:

Not long after I began writing about cybersecurity, I became a paranoid caricature of my former self. It’s hard to maintain peace of mind when hackers remind me every day, all day, just how easy it is to steal my personal data.

Within weeks, I set up unique, complex passwords for every Web site, enabled two-step authentication for my e-mail accounts, and even covered up my computer’s Web camera with a piece of masking tape — a precaution that invited ridicule from friends and co-workers who suggested it was time to get my head checked.

But recent episodes offered vindication. I removed the webcam tape — after a friend convinced me that it was a little much — only to see its light turn green a few days later, suggesting someone was in my computer and watching. More recently, I received a text message from Google with the two-step verification code for my Gmail account. That’s the string of numbers Google sends after you correctly enter the password to your Gmail account, and it serves as a second password. (Do sign up for it.) The only problem was that I was not trying to get into my Gmail account. I was nowhere near a computer. Apparently, somebody else was.

It is absurdly easy to get hacked. All it takes is clicking on one malicious link or attachment. Companies’ computer systems are attacked every day by hackers looking for passwords to sell on auctionlike black market sites where a single password can fetch $20. Hackers regularly exploit tools like John the Ripper, a free password-cracking program that use lists of commonly used passwords from breached sites and can test millions of passwords per second.

Chances are, most people will get hacked at some point in their lifetime. The best they can do is delay the inevitable by avoiding suspicious links, even from friends, and manage their passwords. Unfortunately, good password hygiene is like flossing — you know it’s important, but it takes effort. How do you possibly come up with different, hard-to-crack passwords for every single news, social network, e-commerce, banking, corporate and e-mail account and still remember them all?

To answer that question, I called two of the most (justifiably) paranoid people I know, Jeremiah Grossman and Paul Kocher, to find out how they keep their information safe. Mr. Grossman was the first hacker to demonstrate how easily somebody can break into a computer’s webcam and microphone through a Web browser. He is now chief technology officer at WhiteHat Security, an Internet and network security firm, where he is frequently targeted by cybercriminals. Mr. Kocher, a well-known cryptographer, gained notice for clever hacks on security systems. He now runs Cryptography Research, a security firm that specializes in keeping systems hacker-resistant. Here were their tips:

FORGET THE DICTIONARY If your password can be found in a dictionary, you might as well not have one. “The worst passwords are dictionary words or a small number of insertions or changes to words that are in the dictionary,” said Mr. Kocher. Hackers will often test passwords from a dictionary or aggregated from breaches. If your password is not in that set, hackers will typically move on.

NEVER USE THE SAME PASSWORD TWICE People tend to use the same password across multiple sites, a fact hackers regularly exploit. While cracking into someone’s professional profile on LinkedIn might not have dire consequences, . . .

Continue reading. Excellent tips. One that was new to me (later on in article):

IGNORE SECURITY QUESTIONS There is a limited set of answers to questions like “What is your favorite color?” and most answers to questions like “What middle school did you attend?” can be found on the Internet. Hackers use that information to reset your password and take control of your account. Earlier this year, a hacker claimed he was able to crack into Mitt Romney’s Hotmail and Dropbox accounts using the name of his favorite pet. A better approach would be to enter a password hint that has nothing to do with the question itself. For example, if the security question asks for the name of the hospital in which you were born, your answer might be: “Your favorite song lyric.”

Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2012 at 2:29 pm

Posted in Technology

Fascinating article on the vagaries of gay life

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I found Alex Ross’s New Yorker article on the various directions the gay lifestyle has taken—and the possible reasons—fascinating:

The week after Barack Obama was elected President, I attended a music festival at Arizona State University, in Tempe. Because Veterans Day was the following Tuesday, it was a party weekend at the school, and thousands of students swarmed the main strip. The central event of the festival ran long, and around midnight I went with another participant, the writer and filmmaker Paul Festa, in search of somewhere to eat. The only place we could find was a Jack in the Box.

We gave our orders at the drive-through window. A car was idling there, with several college students inside. Moments later, a second car roared the wrong way up the drive-through lane and screeched to a halt. A visibly drunk young man, tall and blond, wearing a standard collegiate uniform of T-shirt over long-sleeved T and jeans, lurched out, shouting, “Some whore called me a faggot!” The cashier handed Paul a strawberry milkshake. Paul and I are both gay; we traded uneasy glances while the guy carried on.

“My parents raised me right,” the blond guy hollered at the students in the second car, who turned out to be his friends. “And I’m proud of who I am.”

Paul and I looked at each other again, now in amazement.

A beefy, sour-faced guy wearing a backward baseball cap came around the corner. This, evidently, was the person who had called the blond a faggot. “I’m going to beat you up,” the newcomer shouted. A friend was trailing behind him.

Like most gay men, I have been called a faggot a few times. I’ve seen friends talk back to homophobes. But I’d never witnessed anything like this: it had a weird theatrical intensity, as if the young man were being goaded by an offstage director.

“How dare you?” he yelled. “Our forefathers came to this country to escape from their religions and be free. How dare you, asshole! Don’t you know this is the land of equal opportunity? Go back to fucking Connecticut with your two cars and a garage!”

The beefy guy wilted in the face of this semi-coherent invective. He shrugged at his friend, and they started to walk off.

The blond guy stumbled after them for a minute or two, bellowing, “In this country, I can marry anyone i want! Because there’s change in this country now!”

Even after his opponents had disappeared, he continued ranting, his face lit with euphoric rage. He had become a little scary, this one-man Stonewall riot. Eventually, his friends calmed him down, and they left.

I am forty-four years old, and I have lived through a startling transformation in the status of gay men and women in the United States. Around the time I was born, homosexual acts were illegal in every state but Illinois. Lesbians and gays were barred from serving in the federal government. There were no openly gay politicians. A few closeted homosexuals occupied positions of power, but they tended to make things more miserable for their kind. Even in the liberal press, homosexuality drew scorn: in The New York Review of Books, Philip Roth denounced the “ghastly pansy rhetoric” of Edward Albee, and a Time cover story dismissed the gay world as a “pathetic little second-rate substitute for reality, a pitiable flight from life.” David Reuben’s 1969 best-seller, “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask)”—a book I remember perusing shakily at the library—advised that “if a homosexual who wants to renounce homosexuality finds a psychiatrist who knows how to cure homosexuality, he has every chance of becoming a happy, well-adjusted heterosexual.”

By the mid-eighties, when I was beginning to come to terms with my sexuality, a few gay people held political office, many states had dropped long-standing laws criminalizing sodomy, and sundry celebrities had come out. (The tennis champion Martina Navratilova did so, memorably, in 1981.) But anti-gay crusades on the religious right threatened to roll back this progress. In 1986, the Supreme Court, upholding Georgia’s sodomy law, dismissed the notion of constitutional protection for gay sexuality as “at best, facetious.” aids was killing thousands of gay men each year. The initial response of the Reagan Administration—and of the mainstream media—is well summarized by a Larry Speakes press briefing in October, 1982:

Q: Larry, does the President have any reaction to the announcement [from] the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta that aids is now an epidemic and have over 600 cases?

Mr. Speakes: What’s aids?

Q: Over a third of them have died. It’s known as “gay plague.” (Laughter.) No, it is. I mean it’s a pretty serious thing that one in every three people that get this have died. And I wondered if the President is aware of it?

Mr. Speakes: I don’t have it. Do you? (Laughter.)

By the time Reagan first spoke at length about aids, in May, 1987, the death toll in the U.S. had surpassed twenty thousand. What I remember most about my first sexual experience is the fear.

Today, gay people of a certain age may feel as though they had stepped out of a lavender time machine. That’s the sensation that hit me when I watched the young man in Tempe shout down a homophobe in the name of the President-elect. Gay marriage is legal in six states and in Washington, D.C. Gays can serve in the military without hiding their sexuality. We’ve seen openly gay judges, congresspeople, mayors (including a four-term mayor of Tempe), movie stars, and talk-show hosts. Gay film and TV characters are almost annoyingly ubiquitous. The Supreme Court, which finally annulled sodomy laws in 2003, is set to begin examining the marriage issue. And the 2012 campaign has shown that Republicans no longer see the gays as a reliable wedge issue: although Mitt Romney opposes same-sex marriage, he has barely mentioned it this fall. If thirty-two people were to die today in a mass murder at a gay bar, both Obama and Romney would presumably express sympathy for the victims—more than any official in New Orleans did when, back in 1973, an arsonist set fire to the Upstairs Lounge.

Gay life in America is hardly carefree, especially outside certain Zip Codes in the big cities. Although the religious right has a weaker grip on politics than it once did, it can still chill the air: . . .

Continue reading. The discussions of Halperin’s course, gay politics, and so on are well worth reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2012 at 1:35 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Politics

On learning from experience—and not

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Conor Friedersdorf has an interesting column, a link to which I just sent to an extreme Right-wing friend. I’m wondering whether he’ll read it. Friedersdorf begins:

Before rank-and-file conservatives ask, “What went wrong?”, they should ask themselves a question every bit as important: “Why were we the last to realize that things were going wrong for us?”

Barack Obama just trounced a Republican opponent for the second time. But unlike four years ago, when most conservatives saw it coming, Tuesday’s result was, for them, an unpleasant surprise. So many on the right had predicted a Mitt Romney victory, or even a blowout — Dick Morris, George Will, and Michael Barone all predicted the GOP would break 300 electoral votes. Joe Scarborough scoffed at the notion that the election was anything other than a toss-up. Peggy Noonan insisted that those predicting an Obama victory were ignoring the world around them. Even Karl Rove, supposed political genius, missed the bulls-eye. These voices drove the coverage on Fox News, talk radio, the Drudge Report, and conservative blogs.

Those audiences were misinformed.

Outside the conservative media, the narrative was completely different. Its driving force was Nate Silver, whose performance forecasting Election ’08 gave him credibility as he daily explained why his model showed that President Obama enjoyed a very good chance of being reelected. Other experts echoed his findings. Readers of The New York Times, The Atlantic, and other “mainstream media” sites besides knew the expert predictions, which have been largely born out. The conclusions of experts are not sacrosanct. But Silver’s expertise was always a better bet than relying on ideological hacks like Morris or the anecdotal impressions of Noonan.

Sure, Silver could’ve wound up wrong. But people who rejected the possibility of his being right? They were operating at a self-imposed information disadvantage.

Conservatives should be familiar with its contours. For years, they’ve been arguing that liberal control of media and academia confers one advantage: Folks on the right can’t help but be familiar with the thinking of liberals, whereas leftists can operate entirely within a liberal cocoon. This analysis was offered to explain why liberal ideas were growing weaker and would be defeated.

Today?

It is easy to close oneself off inside a conservative echo chamber. And right-leaning outlets like Fox News and Rush Limbaugh’s show are far more intellectually closed than CNN or public radio. If you’re a rank-and-file conservative, you’re probably ready to acknowledge that ideologically friendly media didn’t accurately inform you about Election 2012. Some pundits engaged in wishful thinking; others feigned confidence in hopes that it would be a self-fulfilling prophecy; still others decided it was smart to keep telling right-leaning audiences what they wanted to hear.

But guess what? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2012 at 11:42 am

Posted in GOP, Media

Jennifer Rubin tacitly admits her mendacity

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The conservative columnists at the Washington Post quite routinely ignore the truth and make statements that are factually false—think of George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Robert Samuelson, for example. But Jennifer Rubin is in a league of her own, making statements that she herself does not believe. Take a look.

Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2012 at 11:23 am

Posted in Washington Post

Totally fascinating back-and-forth from an “Atlas Shrugged” and a bunch of rational people

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Extremely interesting. Be sure to read the necessary background content at the links in nos. 1 and 2 and 3 at the link. Simply fascinating, and shows how much inside far inside its bubble the GOP has become.

Truly: do not miss this one.

Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2012 at 11:18 am

Posted in Business, GOP, Government

British Columbia public supports marijuana legalization 3 to 1

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Eventually the public support for legalizing marijuana will be felt by legislators—but apparently not yet. Wonder what it will take? 5-1? 8-1? 20-1?

Phillip Smith reports in Drug War Chronicles:

Support for marijuana legalization in British Columbia has reached a whopping 75%, according to a new Angus Reid poll commissioned by Stop the Violence BC, a coalition of law enforcement officials, legal experts, medical and public health officials and academic experts concerned about the links between cannabis prohibition in British Columbia and the growth of organized crime and related violence in the province.

The poll surveyed 799 respondents in British Columbia. The results have a margin of error of +/- 3.5%.

The number supporting legalization is up six points over last year’s Angus Reid poll, where 69% supported it. Meanwhile, opposition to legalization has declined from 24% last year to 21% this year.

The new poll also suggested a broad social acceptance of marijuana in Canada’s westernmost province, which has been a hotbed of marijuana cultivation and culture for several decades now. Only 14% of those polled believe possession of a joint should lead to a criminal record, down six points from last year, and 74% would be comfortable living in a society where adult cannabis consumption was taxed and legally regulated under a public health framework, an increase of four percentage points from last year.

Strikingly, support for full legalization was higher than support for the half-measure of decriminalization. While 75% supported legalization, only 62% wanted decriminalization.

“From a scientific and public safety, making cannabis illegal has clearly been an expensive and harmful failure,” said Dr. Evan Wood, founder of Stop the Violence BC and Canada Research Chair in Inner City Medicine at the University of British Columbia. “With 75% of British Columbians supporting change, and the status quo contributing to increasing harms in BC communities, it is absolutely time for politicians to catch up with the public.”

Stop the Violence BC has been pushing for the legalization and regulation of marijuana. Its members include four former BC attorneys general, four former Vancouver mayors, including Larry Campbell, and former West Vancouver police chief and Liberal member of the provincial legislature Kash Heed. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2012 at 10:36 am

Posted in Drug laws

Wall Street’s internecine war over the election

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Pam Martens has a very interesting column on the fight between two branches of Wall Street over the election: the Wall Street financial firms and the Wall Street law firms. Neither side has the interests of the public in mind. She writes (in Wall Street on Parade):

Wall Street was at war with itself over which presidential candidate received its financial backing. The Wall Street firms were funneling lopsided financial support to Mitt Romney, but the largest Wall Street law firms were doing just the opposite: they were pumping money into the Obama campaign, sometimes 10 times more than they bestowed on Romney. As the accompanying graphic illustrates, the top five contributors to Romney were all Wall Street firms. (See our reporting here for the lopsided support given to President Obama by the Wall Street law firms.)

Now that the election returns are in and President Obama has emerged the winner, the question remains: why would the largest Wall Street law firms risk alienating their largest Wall Street clients by financing the candidate that Wall Street wanted to unseat, along with his Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation.

The answer seems clear enough: Wall Street firms trade; Wall Street law firms must defend those trading practices, frequently to the U.S. Department of Justice to ward off criminal prosecution. And, as the saying goes, the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.

Right now, the big Wall Street law firms know quite well three of the top men in the Department of Justice and they like what they see. Eric Holder, the U.S. Attorney General, Lanny Breuer, the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, and Dan Suleiman, deputy chief of staff and counselor to Lanny Breuer, all came from the corporate law firm, Covington & Burling.

Covington & Burling is the law firm that, according to an earlier U.S. Department of Justice, fronted for the illegal misdeeds of Big Tobacco for four decades. Covington & Burling’s relationship with Big Tobacco went far beyond the typical attorney-client relationship. The firm set up front groups to hide payments and to hide the coordination of Big Tobacco in promulgating fake science on the issue of second hand smoke.

In an August 17, 2006 decision against tobacco companies, Judge Gladys Kessler of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found that “Cigarette smoking causes disease, suffering, and death. Despite internal recognition of this fact, Defendants have publicly denied, distorted, and minimized the hazards of smoking for decades.” The Court also found the following regarding the role of lawyers in the conspiracy:

“Finally, a word must be said about the role of lawyers in this fifty-year history of deceiving smokers, potential smokers, and the American public about the hazards of smoking and second hand smoke, and the addictiveness of nicotine. At every stage, lawyers played an absolutely central role in the creation and perpetuation of the Enterprise and the implementation of its fraudulent schemes. They devised and coordinated both national and international strategy; they directed scientists as to what research they should and should not undertake; they vetted scientific research papers and reports as well as public relations materials to ensure that the interests of the Enterprise would be protected; they identified ‘friendly’ scientific witnesses, subsidized them with grants from the Center for Tobacco Research and the Center for Indoor Air Research, paid them enormous fees, and often hid the relationship between those witnesses and the industry; and they devised and carried out document destruction policies and took shelter behind baseless assertions of the attorney client privilege.”

The Court stated in a footnote that “Despite the apparent conflict of interest, a few law firms, particularly Covington & Burling and Shook, Hardy & Bacon, represented the shared interests of all the Defendants and coordinated a significant part of the Enterprise’s activities.”

The Court made the following findings specific to Covington & Burling, the law firm that has three top posts in today’s U.S. Justice Department: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2012 at 10:29 am

Effects of GOP vote-suppression efforts

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The systematic efforts the GOP made to prevent voters from likely Democratic constituencies probably did work to some extent, and the effects were clearly visible in the lengths of lines at the polls, which translates directly into waiting times to vote. See this article—and from that article:

Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2012 at 10:17 am

Posted in Election, GOP

Injustice in our laws

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The penalties around marijuana are all out of proportion to the offense. Colorado and Washington are right to legalize and regulate marijuana (and sell and tax it). This report in the NY Times by Rebecca Cohen should shock the conscience:

Our federal marijuana policy is increasingly out of step with both the values of American citizens and with state law. The result is a system of justice that is schizophrenic and at times appalling.

Though the federal government considers marijuana a Schedule I Controlled Substance and bans its use for medical purposes, a growing number of states feel differently. Today, 18 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized medical marijuana for people suffering from debilitating medical conditions like cancer, epilepsy, severe nausea, multiple sclerosis and chronic pain. And on Tuesday, Colorado and Washington State voted to legalize marijuana for adult use, regardless of medical condition. But these states cannot stop the federal government from enforcing its own laws.

And federal drug laws are unjustifiably extreme. Consider the case of Chris Williams, the subject of this Op-Doc video, who opened a marijuana grow house in Montana after the state legalized medical cannabis. Mr. Williams was eventually arrested by federal agents despite Montana’s medical marijuana law, and he may spend the rest of his life behind bars. While Jerry Sandusky got a 30-year minimum sentence for raping young boys, Mr. Williams is looking at a mandatory minimum of more than 80 years for marijuana charges and for possessing firearms during a drug-trafficking offense.

This outcome is sad, of course — Mr. Williams will not be free to raise his teenage son — but it is also morally repugnant. Even if you think that the benefits of legalized medical marijuana do not outweigh the costs — a crucial debate, but one we can table for the moment — a coherent system of justice must explain why one defendant is punished more harshly than the next. It must explain why a farmer who grows marijuana in compliance with state law should be punished much more harshly than some pedophiles and killers. If we cannot explain this disparity, we should fight to change it.

Leading up to Mr. Williams’s trial, federal prosecutors offered him various plea bargains, but he turned them all down. He believed, quixotically enough, that he deserved his day in court. He held this conviction even though prosecutors precluded him from presenting his compliance with state law as a defense to the federal charges. Without this essential context, the jury heard a deeply distorted version of Mr. Williams’s story. . .

Continue reading.

“Prosecutors precluded him from presenting his compliance with state law as a defense to the federal charges”: I thought trials were to be based on the truth, the whole truthand nothing but the truth. The prosecutors withheld the whole truth. This man’s trial was a travesty—as are the US drug laws.

Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2012 at 9:56 am

Posted in Drug laws, Government, Law

Bakelite slant & Horsehair+badger brush

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Today’s shave was influenced by a guy who asked about a brush somewhat stiffer than a badger, and I thought first of horsehair and then realized that horsehair+badger might be just the ticket. So I went with the Vie-Long brush above, which came from GiftsAndCare.com (at the link are their horse+badger brushes—they have added quite a few, I see).

The brush got a fine lather from Otoko Organics, still one of my best shaving soaps. It’s an unusual soap, and I think any serious shaving addict fan should at some point try this one. (It’s a good time to start dropping hints for holiday gifts, but you already thought of that, didn’t you?)

Great lather, great razor (with an Astra Superior Platinum blade today), so naturally, a great shave. With the bakelite slant, I seem always to achieve a BBS shave with on effort: just doing a regular shave, and it comes out perfect. One tiny nick on upper lip, and it did not even require My Nik Is Sealed: too small.

A splash of Woods aftershave by SaintCharlesShave.com, and I find myself feeling good, even empowered. It’s going to be a good day.

Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2012 at 8:52 am

Posted in Shaving

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