Later On

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

Archive for December 5th, 2013

How low can a country sink?

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 December 2013 at 5:53 pm

Posted in Government, Law

Would You Be More Physically Active If You Got a Dog?

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The common thought is yes, but there are counterarguments, as Zazie Todd points out in an article in Pacific Standard:

Did you over-indulge during Thanksgiving? Could a dog be the answer? A new meta-analysis by an international team investigates whether dog owners are more physically active than people without dogs.

Contrary to popular belief, not all pet dogs are walked. And it’s possible that dog owners spend time walking their pets at the expense of participating in sports or going to the gym. A 155-pound adult uses 493kcals playing soccer or using a rowing machine at a moderate pace, compared to 211 walking. So the question is whether, on average, people who own dogs get more physical activity than those who don’t.

This is of particular interest to public health specialists who want to know how to leverage your dog to make you more active. The scientists, writing in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, explain that “considering the large proportion of dog owners, and that many dogs enjoy being walked, dog walking could provide a potentially viable strategy for increasing population levels of physical activity.”

The team, led by the University of Western Australia’sHayley Christian, analyzed 29 research studies conducted between 1990 and 2010, mainly in the United States and Australia. They looked at dog owners and non-dog owners of all ages, from children to seniors.

Their results showed that dog owners . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 December 2013 at 12:45 pm

News flash for GOP: Pre-existing conditions are not like car wrecks

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Though some GOP arguments certainly seem like wrecks of one sort or another. Kevin Drum tries to set the record straight at Mother Jones:

Here’s the astonishing statement that started this kerfuffle:

Kevin Drum responds:

One of the most maddening aspects of the debate over Obamacare isn’t simply the fact that conservatives dislike it, but the fact that they seem unable even to understand what the point is. Via Ed Kilgore, here is Georgia state insurance commissioner Ralph Hudgens—surely a guy who should understand what insurance is and how it works—comparing pre-existing condition requirements to having a car wreck:

A pre-existing condition would be then you calling up your insurance agent and saying, “I’d like to get collision insurance coverage on my car.” And your insurance agent says, “You’ve never had that before, why would you want it now?” And you say, “Well I just had a wreck, it was my fault, and I want the insurance company to pay for the repairs to my car.” And that’s the exact same thing on pre-existing insurance.

Well, sure, it’s the exact same thing except for the fact that it has nothing in common whatsoever. In fact, this is basically a defense of the individual mandate, though Hudgens doesn’t seem to understand that either.

People with pre-existing conditions aren’t folks trying to scam the system. They’re just people who got sick. And Republicans simply have no realistic plan for allowing them access to affordable health care. This is a problem for the GOP, because unlike the $100-a-plate crowd that tittered at Hudgens’ story, most people understand that pre-existing conditions can happen to anyone. That’s why Obamacare’s requirement for community rating—i.e., for insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions at the same price as anyone else—is so popular. What most people don’t quite understand is that this is what produces the rest of Obamacare too. If insurance companies have to cover people with pre-existing conditions, they’ll go out of business unless they cover everyone else too. That way the entire insurance pool covers the small number who get seriously sick in any given year. So you have to have an individual mandate. But lots of people can’t afford insurance. So if you have an individual mandate, you have to have subsidies for low-income workers. And with that, you have community rating, the individual mandate, and subsidies. And that’s about 90 percent of what Obamacare is.

It’s one thing to oppose Obamacare. But Republicans have no realistic alternative. They can blather away about tort reform and HSAs forever, but even low-information voters dimly understand that it’s just blather. Either you’re going to cover sick people or you aren’t. And if you do, you’re going to end up with something that has most of the same features of Obamacare. Smarter Republicans understand this perfectly well, which is why they dance around the issue so manically. They know that their plans don’t actually provide health coverage for much of anyone at all. Dimmer Republicans like Hudgens don’t have a clue, so they just tell dumb stories to well-heeled crowds. I’m not really sure which is worse.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 December 2013 at 11:51 am

Posted in Business, GOP, Healthcare

United Nations Drug Policy Divisions Aired

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Jamie Doward reports in The Guardian:

Major international divisions over the global “war on drugs” have been revealed in a leaked draft of a UN document setting out the organisation’s long-term strategy for combating illicit narcotics.

The draft, written in September and seen by the Observer, shows there are serious and entrenched divisions over the longstanding US-led policy promoting prohibition as an exclusive solution to the problem.

Instead, a number of countries are pushing for the “war on drugs” to be seen in a different light, which places greater emphasis on treating drug consumption as a public health problem, rather than a criminal justice matter.

It is rare for such a document to leak. Normally only the final agreed version is published once all differences between UN member states have been removed.

The divisions highlighted in the draft are potentially important. The document will form the basis of a joint “high-level” statement on drugs to be published in the spring, setting out the UN’s thinking. This will then pave the way for a general assembly review, an event that occurs every 10 years, and, in 2016, will confirm the UN’s position for the next decade. “The idea that there is a global consensus on drugs policy is fake,” said Damon Barrett, deputy director of the charity Harm Reduction International. “The differences have been there for a long time, but you rarely get to see them. It all gets whittled down to the lowest common denominator, when all you see is agreement. But it’s interesting to see now what they are arguing about.”

The current review, taking place in Vienna at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, comes after South American countries threw down the gauntlet to the US at this year’s Organisation of American States summit meeting, when they argued that alternatives to prohibition must be considered.

Countries such as Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico have become increasingly critical of the UN’s prohibition stance, claiming that maintaining the status quo plays into the hands of the cartels and paramilitary groups.

The draft reveals that Ecuador is pushing the UN to include a statement that recognises that the world needs to look beyond prohibition. Its submission claims there is “a need for more effective results in addressing the world drug problem” that will encourage “deliberations on different approaches that could be more efficient and effective”.

Venezuela is pushing for the draft to include a new understanding of “the economic implications of the current dominating health and law enforcement approach in tackling the world drug problem”, arguing that the current policy fails to recognise the “dynamics of the drug criminal market”.

Experts said the level of disagreement showed fault lines were opening up in the globally agreed position on drug control. “Heavy reliance on law enforcement for controlling drugs is yielding a poor return on investment and leading to all kinds of terrible human rights abuses,” said Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, director of the Open Society Global Drug Policy Program. “The withdrawal from the most repressive parts of the drug war has begun – locally, nationally and globally.”

Attacking the status quo is not confined to South American countries, however. Norway wants the draft to pose “questions related to decriminalisation and a critical assessment of the approach represented by the so-called war on drugs”. Switzerland wants the draft to recognise the consequences of the current policy on public health issues. It wants it to include the observation that member states “note with concern that consumption prevalence has not been reduced significantly and that the consumption of new psychoactive substances has increased in most regions of the world”. It also wants the draft to “express concern that according to UNAids, the UN programme on HIV/Aids, the global goal of reducing HIV infections among people who inject drugs by 50% by 2015 will not be reached, and that drug-related transmission is driving the expansion of the epidemic in many countries”.

The EU is also pushing hard for . . .

Continue reading.

The US seems not only wrong but pig-headed to boot.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 December 2013 at 11:41 am

Posted in Drug laws

Interview with Max Blumenthal, author of Goliath

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UPDATE: Wow! Read this column and watch that video.

Very interesting interview by Natasha Lennard in Salon:

Thousands of protesters worldwide joined in a “Day of Rage” late last week to decry Israel’s despicable Prawer Plan, a government policy (wildly underreported in this country) to destroy 35 Arab villages in the Negev desert, which will lead to the forced displacement of up to 70,000 Bedouin Israeli citizens.

The plan is further vindication of Max Blumenthal’s central thesis in his new book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, namely that Israel’s raison d’etat is the maintenance and expansion of a colonial ethnocracy — the expansion of the Jewish Israeli demographic, the containment of all others.

While Israeli government policies like aggressive West Bank expansion, the Gaza occupation, the warehousing of non-Jewish Israeli Africans and the Prawer Plan fiercely bear out Blumenthal’s point, the author has, since Goliath’s publication, run the gamut of predictably fervid criticism from Israel’s attack dogs within the U.S. commentariat.

But Max Blumenthal is not surprised. The 35-year-old author and journalist knew what he was getting into with “Goliath.” It’s a bold, personal and unapologetic book. Its central thesis — that the very logic of the Israeli state is essentially that of a settler colonial ethnocracy — was, as Blumenthal well knew, bound to draw some flustered censure. On cue, following “Goliath’s” publication, Eric Alterman has written a whopping nine critical pieces (many of them ad hominem in nature) against Blumenthal; BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray compiled a decrial of Blumenthal; Alan Dershowitz wants Blumenthal’s father, Sidney Blumenthal, former aide to President Clinton (and Salon alum), to be personally denounced by the Clintons for his son’s book.

The younger Blumenthal was ready for the onslaught, which, he says, has played out with absolute predictability. While en route to his parents’ D.C. home (sorry, Mr. Dershowitz, Sid has yet to disavow his progeny), Blumenthal spoke on the phone to Salon about life in the Israel lobby’s cross hairs, and the unique challenges and importance of critiquing the Israeli government’s sugar-coated state narratives, buoyed by its unquestioning supporters in the U.S. The conversation has been lightly condensed for brevity.

“Goliath” does not just tell a story, or a series of stories, it offers a very specific critique of the very logic and ideology undergirding the Israeli state. Was this a hypothesis that you held before immersing yourself in Israeli life and politics to research for “Goliath,” or did your conclusions about Israel emerge while reporting?

My understanding of Israeli society was not upended or altered in any significant way by my immersion in it. I understood what I was getting into when I embarked on my first extended reporting trip to Israel and Palestine in May 2009. This was right after Israel elected the most right-wing government in its history. I decided to do this book because I had been following the situation for years and watching the religious nationalist and extremist trends in Israel and understanding its roots — the foundational structure of the state as a settler colonial ethnocracy. What spurred me to do this book was not some sort of epiphany or sudden understanding of what Israel had become but just a moment in history that, to me, marked the culmination of a transitional period into a permanent right-wing majority in Israel and a permanent right-wing future.

That moment was the national elections carried out during Operation Cast Lead — the three-week massacre of the Gaza civilian population. The assault and the elections propelled one another. You had a defense minister from the Labor Party competing against extreme right-wingers like Avigdor Lieberman, who was openly campaigning to strip Palestinian citizens of Israel of their citizenship rights. There is pretty clear evidence that defense minister at the time, Ehud Barak was running up the body count in Gaza in order to win over the Russian vote and outflank Lieberman as the tough guy. Tzipi Livni, who was running as a centrist, declared “our troops in the Gaza strip behaved like hooligans, which I demanded of them.”

“Goliath” highlights a number of highly specific examples of explicitly racist rhetoric employed by key Israeli politicians. These comments rarely get air in the U.S. media, despite being part of very public Israeli politicking.

That was another reason I decided to do this book. The rhetoric of mainstream Israeli politicians, which is bellicose, paranoid and racist, is so rarely conveyed to the American public. Meanwhile the issue of Palestinian incitement is a constant feature of mainstream American reporting on Palestinian society. There was a comment that formed the title of a chapter in my book, “This belongs to the white man.” And that chapter has been criticized or assailed by liberals like Eric Alterman and J.J. Goldberg.Of course, they don’t address the content of the chapter, and if they did it would probably throw them into some sort of personal existential crisis since their identity as Jews revolves around the ethnocratic state of Israel. And that chapter title is inspired by a quote by Eli Yishai, who served as interior minister from 2009 to 2013, and what he said was that, “these black Africans” — refering to the 60,000 non-Jewish African asylum-seekers living in Israel — “are Muslims who do not recognize that this country belongs to us, the white man.”

It’s an interesting comment given that he is of Tunisian descent and would not be considered white in the U.S. but, as a Jew, it marks him as part of the ethnic overclass and in his own mind he’s therefore “white.” That comment was printed but buried in the bottom of a New York Times article by Isabel Kershner on page A15 or A23 about a massive race riot in Tel Aviv on May 23, 2012, against the African population in which literally hundreds of vandals and thugs smashed the storefronts of African-owned businesses, attacked any African they found in the street and smashed African cars. That story was completely whitewashed in the U.S. — this was a riot encouraged from the highest level of Israeli government after a rally in South Tel Aviv attended by thousands where major Israeli government figures called Africans “a cancer in Israel’s body” and the crowd chanted, “nigger, nigger you’re a son of a bitch.” So there is a clear effort, a concerted effort by American correspondents in Jerusalem, to conceal from the public the horror — and the real horrific state of Israel society — the Moloch that Israel has become. What I sought to do with my book was merely fill the void and show Americans the Israel that Israelis know.

You’ve mentioned that the backlash you’ve received from writers like Alterman and Goldberg did not surprise you. Can you expand a little bit on the shape of the attacks you’ve received and in what ways they have and have not been predictable?

I fully expected the playbook of the pro-Israel propagandists to unfold as follows. First, they would attempt to ignore me and hope the book wouldn’t generate any attention, so that it would just go away, then there would be a freakout. I predicted two months before the book came out that if the Nation gave it any attention (I predicted this in a Real News Interview with Paul Jay two months before the book came out) that Eric Alterman would freak out. That’s exactly what happened. So I expected that.

Alterman broke the Jewish boycott on my book and what he attempted to do was to portray me as an unreliable narrator who didn’t understand Israel and got the facts and the history wrong. But he was dealt a really harsh blow when people like [Charles] Manekin, who is a professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Maryland, or Corey Robin at Brooklyn College, who is Alterman’s colleague, tore his argument apart and showed that it was he who got all the facts wrong. So Alterman was flailing; he had been pretty much knocked through the ropes. He started calling on his few allies like J.J. Goldberg at the Jewish Daily Forward and they got everything wrong and had to issue a correction. So from the second phase — trying to portray me as an unreliable narrator who got his facts wrong — it moved to a third phase, which was to smear me and smear my family and anyone associated with me. This culminated with BuzzFeed’s completely false smear piece, which should be retracted on the basis of its factual errors, by Rosie Gray.

Then Free Beacon attacked my father for hosting a party for me. I attempted to alert them to the fact that my mother ordered pizza for the book party, which means that she provided material support for delegitimization!

Alan Dershowitz called on the Clintons to denounce my father, since he worked in the White House with Bill Clinton, and he called on my father to denounce me. Of course, none of that happened. The final stage of this terminal phase was to point to a review on [white supremacist] David Duke’s website that was positive about my book, which is just the most pathetic and desperate tactic ever. So there are the three phases: ignore, undermine and smear. And then when all three of those failed, anything goes. So now we are in the anything goes phase. And I don’t know what that means but there are people who are less privileged than me who have experienced the devastating consequences for their work to counter Israeli human rights abuses.

A number of writers and theorists — philosopher Judith Butler comes to mind — have written about the dangers of conflating critiques of Israel or Zionism with anti-Semitism. As Butler wrote last year, “[T]he Jewish people extend beyond the state of Israel and the ideology of political Zionism. The two cannot be equated. Honestly, what can really be said about ‘the Jewish people’ as a whole? Is it not a lamentable stereotype to make large generalizations about all Jews, and to presume they all share the same political commitments?”

You have been smeared as anti-Semitic and extremist for your critiques of Israel. What do you think is the effect (social, cultural, political, ideological) of charging Israel’s critics with anti-Semitism? . . .

Continue reading. Click the link and read the full column, which includes a spirited rejoinder from Eric Alterman.

It’s worth noting that this is a polarizing book. Here are the current Amazon.com reader reviews:

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 11.17.12 AM

Here’s a sample positive review:

406 of 472 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars

The awful truth  September 26, 2013

By Pamela Olson

I’ve been following Israeli news and politics and visiting the region for ten years, so there was little in this book that was fundamentally new to me. But for anyone who didn’t have time to keep up with the evolution of Israeli culture and politics over the last several years, this book is an excellent (and grimly entertaining) way to catch up.

An increasingly proudly racist segment of Israeli society has become mainstreamed and acceptable, saying things about Palestinians (or rather ‘Arabs,’ since they won’t deign to use the word ‘Palestinian’) that would make any Jim Crow partisan cringe with shame, kicking Bedouin off of land they have lived on for generations and into ghettos/reservations simply because they are not Jewish, forming vigilante groups to keep Jewish women from dating Arab men, and marching provocatively through Muslim neighborhoods in shows of force, contempt, and intimidation.

And this is in Israel proper. In the Palestinian territories, the situation is even more dire. From “price tag” operations to rabbis who advocate the killing of non-Jewish children, it’s a parallel universe, a parade of horrors of blind hatred and violence likened in many cases to “pogroms” even in the Israeli press.

When the vast majority of the Jewish Israeli public supported the grisly, pointless slaughter of Operation Cast Lead, it was truly a new low. The US government supports the Israeli government and its policies to the tune of $8 million every day, yet the American press tells us virtually nothing about these trends.

There are good people and great activists in Israel doing terrific and genuine work toward peace. But to understand what they are really up against — not to mention what the Palestinians are up against — this is an important book to read and an important set of realities to understand.

And here’s a sample negative review:

14 of 75 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars

more of the same ‘we hate israel & Jews’    November 12, 2013

By B. Nitzberg “tired of racism” (united states) – See all my reviews [I took a look: all one-star reviews so far as I looked – LG]

I put it down after 123 pages because it was just a laundry list of ‘the evils of the modern world’ using Israel and jews as a proxy or microcosm for capitalists and the West generally. It’s a dishonest book; and not the first.

The real problem is the biased and prejudicial cherry-picking of anecdotes. The ‘real Israel’ and real Israelis are actual, living human beings who are bright, optimistic, and caring people. Just like most people in this world. Finding a dozen bad apples in a barrel of 7 million people is neither challenging nor honest.

A few years back I was at a chess tournament in Philadelphia. We were sharing a hotel room in a youth hostel kind of way (different people on different days and all chipping in) and one guy was an Israeli. At about 4am the Israeli guy got a phone call (no one was happy about that !!) and he was told there was a terrorist attack in Israel. Well, he spent about the next 4 hours calling around to find out how he knew several of the dead victims. That’s what Israelis do. They are like a big community; all sharing acquaintances, friends and family.

I don’t recognize my friend in any of the anecdotes found here.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 December 2013 at 10:52 am

Posted in Books, Mideast Conflict

The future prospects of the American public intellectual

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Christian Christensen has an interesting post at Informed Comment:

The Public Professor: Dissent in Commodified Higher Education
Or…What Kind of University Will My Daughter Attend in 2027?

The following is the text of my public Professorial Installation lecture given at Uppsala University. These lectures have been given at Uppsala University for centuries, and are intended for a broad audience.

In 1967, in a piece entitled The Responsibility of Intellectuals, Noam Chomsky wrote the following:

It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies. This, at least, may seem enough of a truism to pass over without comment. Not so, however. For the modern intellectual, it is not at all obvious.

About one week from today my daughter will celebrate her second birthday. This means that she will be entering university – should she choose to go – in the year 2027. Part of my talk will be about what I see as the role of the university professor in a highly mediated environment, and in relation to what Noam Chomsky said about public intellectuals. But, it is also in part about my daughter, and the future of universities in what is rapidly becoming a highly commercialized academic environment.

As a media and communications scholar, many people take it for granted that I am able to communicate effectively in public fora. Communication to the public is not, of course, the central role of the communications scholar. We analyze and investigate various phenomena related to media and communications, but that does not necessarily mean that we are “good communicators” ourselves. In actual fact, this is probably one of the weaknesses of those of us who work in academia: that is, our inability to take the fascinating and critical ideas that we discuss in our journal articles and in our books, and translate them into what we might want to call, “popular language.”

In the academic world, the presentation of intellectual material in popular form is generally looked down upon. I am educated in the United States, where the position of the “public intellectual” is significantly less defined (and respected) than it is here in Sweden and Europe. It is, I feel, a central duty for those of us working within academia to take the material that we do research on and to discuss it publicly, to make public – in some form and in some way – the knowledge that we have spent years gathering and shaping.

What does this issue – being a public professor – have to do with my daughter, and what does this have to do with social media? I see these three issues as inter-linked. One of the things that I am most worried about in relation to my daughter starting university in 2027 is whether or not the university will come to exist in a form that we recognize today. What I mean by this is: a space within contemporary society not entirely dictated by commercial interests and considerations. It is one of the things that I am grateful for: that, as an employee of a university, at least to some extent, I work within a space where my thinking can be divorced from purely profit-making and commercial considerations.

Spaces such as these are becoming increasingly rare. The media, urban spaces, politics are all zones where the communication that we encounter (from text to visuals to speech) are soaked in the logic of the commercial. We are surrounded by advertising, from the moment we wake up in the morning, to the time we spend walking on the streets, to the very logos that we wear on our bodies in the form of clothing. Our media systems are almost exclusively commercial, and even countries with a history of public service broadcasting have seen that history slowly erased, replaced with a commercialized reality.

As capitalism continues its march forward, there exists a drive to locate new elements of our existence that have yet to be turned into products to be bought and sold. Even our personal experiences have become fair game. The social media site Facebook essentially commodifies various elements of our private life: our thoughts, our pictures, our likes, our dislikes, our families, our friendships.

‘The media, urban spaces, politics are all zones where the communication that we encounter (from text to visuals to speech) are soaked in the logic of the commercial.’However, I do believe that social media – and I recognize that the very term “social media” is problematic – provide opportunities. I do not wish to stand here and sound like a techo-phobe or neo-Luddite, and one of the positive byproducts of the development of the internet, digital technologies and social media has been the ability of what we might wish to call “ordinary citizens” to make their voices heard. Now, again, let me say that this ability has been vastly overblown by the mainstream media. The vast majority of bloggers, videos on YouTube, postings to Facebook and tweets on Twitter, fall into digital black-holes, never to be seen or heard by the billions of users around the globe.

But, I myself have a blog. I use Facebook. I use Twitter. This is because opportunities do exist. Recent events in north Africa and the global Occupy Wall Street movement have shown that digital technologies can be utilized by ordinary citizens – those not wealthy or privileged enough to own a newspaper or television station – for the greater good. Digital media use is not the ONLY factor in these cases, but it is A factor that cannot simply be dismissed. In the same way I would argue that academics, those of us employed as public sector workers, should make the most of these technologies in order to spread the information that we gather. To spread the research, the knowledge, the critical thinking that we have spent years and years cultivating.

Universities have become increasingly commodified: universities in the UK charge students tuition fees, and we in Sweden have begun to charge international students tuition fees, things that have been done in my own country, the United States, for a number of years. Commodification was, for a long period, seen as anathema to higher education in Europe, but, as time as gone by, we have seen the increasing commodification of university life. In the same way, departments that are considered to be “unprofitable” – in other words, they do not have large numbers of students, or do not produce “cutting edge” research that attracts the interest of outside financers – simply begin to disappear. Language departments, and niche intellectual areas of inquiry struggle financially, and are therefore not “of value” to universities.

If we look forward to 2027, when my daughter will begin at university, then it is critical to ask if the departments that I have just discussed actually exist? Will the majority of universities, for example, have a French department? Will universities and their leaders be willing to stand up and defend the existence of departments that are, in fact, vital symbols of what a university SHOULD be in a modern society. That is: a space, a bastion for free thinking outside of market constraints and outside of market logic.

What will the 2027 university look like? . . .

Continue reading.

I have also noticed how activities and interests tend nowadays to be devalued and restricted if they aren’t part of some commercial enterprise.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 December 2013 at 9:57 am

Perfect shave with new Standard Razor

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SOTD 5 Dec 2013

UPDATE: I was wrong about the handle: the threaded stud is in fact threaded on both ends: it can be screwed out of the cap and also screwed out of the handle. When the stud is left in the cap, unscrewing the handle from it, the Standard handle can easily be swapped with other razor handles: the tapped part is a standard size. I will be putting a little LocTite on the threads that go into the cap so that the stud will, in effect, become part of the cap, as is traditional.

An absolutely perfect BBS result—and a very pleasant shave—with my new Standard Razor. I do think that’s an odd name for the product: I like to use “standard” to refer to… well, standards, and this razor has some distinctive non-standard features.

But let us begin at the beginning. After the usual pre-shave beard wash at the sink, I worked up an instant lather from the Los Angeles Shaving Soap Company’s Vanilla/Eucalyptus/Mint shaving soap, and I do like the fragrance. (Vanilla—that pretty much brings me in). The lather was  quite good—dense and admirable—and I used the Astra Superior Platinum blade that came with the razor.

Aside: At one time the consensus was that one should never use the blade shipped with this razor. This was based on an assumption that the loose blade would become terribly damaged in shipment. That never made much sense to me, and with an increasing number of razors accompanied by a pack of blades, the idea seems to have withered: no one wants to throw away a full pack, and if blades are not protected in the pack, what’s the point of ordering them on-line? They should be purchased then directly at the plant, as they come off the assembly line, to avoid damage. But we don’t do that because in fact wrapped blades are pretty secure against damage.

I think what was happening is this: in those days, the Merkur 34C was the overwhelming choice of a new razor. (Secondhand/vintage razors do not come with a complimentary blade, so the issue arises only for new razors.) And indeed many found that the loose blade included gave a terrible shave. The simple explanation, however, is not that the blade was damaged, it’s that Merkur blades work well for very few. The majority of shavers find Merkur blades pretty bad in shaving performance.

It was, I believe, a hasty generalization from the poor performance of Merkur blades for most shavers . /aside

I did three passes with no problems at all and achieved a perfect BBS result. A splash of Stetson Sierra, and the weekend’s in sight.

Now, some comments on the non-standard aspects of the razor.

First, it’s made of aluminum. Because aluminum is a superior heat conductor, I worried that the razor would feel hot on my face after being rinsed in hot water. Not so: it feels no different than any of my other razors. Theory crumbles beneath the weight of experience.

Second, the head is slightly wider so that you do not feel the ends of the blade protruding from the head. I like this treatment since my fingertips don’t get gouged when I change the blade (as with three-piece razors where the ends of the blade protrude: the Gillette NEW, the Sodial, et al.). Like most (all?) of the iKon razors, the ends of the head are perfectly smooth even when the razor’s loaded with a blade. (I think the original idea was to let the blade’s ends protrude to make it easier to remove the blade from the cap, but blade removal really isn’t a problem with the wider head, and the feel when assembling or disassembling the razor is much improved without the blade’s ends sticking out.)

Third, the handle is a smooth rod with no finial knob of any sort. Almost all razor handles end with some sort of knob, which proves quite useful in the ATG pass. When I took the razor from the package, the smoothness initially worried me: it seemed smoother, because of its very fine texture, than a polished handle (e.g., the Edwin Jagger chrome-plated razor, whose handle is smooth and polished—the Standard handle is smooth with a very slight texture that makes it feel slipperier than the EJ in the grip of a dry hand). But in fact the handle’s smoothness did not turn out to be a problem: it was easy to hold once wet, and I never noticed any slipperiness during the shave. If it had turned out to be slippery, it wouldn’t really be a problem: brushing one’s wet fingers over an alum block provides a totally secure grip.

And the lack of a terminating knob on the handle also proved to be no problem in practice. Certainly the handle had a different feel from the typical razor handle—dare I say it had a nonstandard feel?—but it was easy to grip throughout the shave, including the ATG pass.

It’s worth noting that my worries (i.e., expectations regarding the experience) were groundless. I’ve learned that that is often the case with expectations, good or bad, regarding future experiences.

The fourth non-standard feature has a bit more impact. One advantage of the three-piece design (in addition to its simplicity and sturdiness) is that you can swap handles from one three-piece razor to another. Indeed, some vendors sell razor handles separately:

And, of course, you can use the handle from any three-piece razor—e.g., a Gillette Tech or NEW or whatever—except with the Standard Razor, which has a nonstandard handle attachment:

Standard razor

The standard (small-s) way to attach the handle is that the cap has a threaded center stud that extends through a hole in the baseplate, and the handle is tapped with matching threads. NoHelmet, of Wicked_Edge, notes:

Two different thread pitches are the most common [for razor handles]. They are 10-32 (US) and M5x.8 (Metric). If the handle is tapped to M5, practically any head will work with it. This isn’t always true when trying to use a 10-32 (such as all vintage Gillettes) handle on a newer M5 head. The pitches are very similar, but M5 is ever so slightly larger.

As you can see, in the so-called Standard Razor, the threaded stud extends from the handle, not the cap, and the diameter of that stud is significantly smaller than is standard among three-piece razors. [WRONG, wrong, wrong: the threaded stud is a separate piece that is threaded on both ends and can also be unscrewed from the handle—and at that point, any standard (small-s) razor handle can be used with the Standard. I only recently learned this, and I will use some LocTite on the threads that go into the cap so the stud will become permanently attached to the cap, making the handle completely interchangeable with other razor handles. 12 Aug 2014. – LG]

Regarding the threaded stud: before receiving the razor, I had concerns about threaded aluminum parts (cf. the Mühle aluminum travel brushes—I recommend the nickel-plated brass version since the aluminum threads of the others tend to strip over time). But in the Standard handle the threaded stud is not aluminum: it appears to be stainless steel (which is why it can be of a small diameter and still be strong). The tapped stud in the cap appears to be aluminum, but this aluminum alloy seems to be quite strong—aircraft aluminum—and I do not foresee any problems at all with the threaded connection: another worry proved baseless in practice. [Someone pointed out that aluminum-on-aluminum threads are prone to galling. -LG]

It works perfectly well, but you are not going to use this handle in another razor, nor another razor’s handle with this head. (This discussion illustrates why calling the entire razor a “handle” is confusing—and what do those who call the razor a “handle” call the handle?  /pet peeve)

The fit, finish, and workmanship is excellent throughout. Although the razor is sold at StandardRazors.com, I did note that my order acknowledgement came from Associated-Works.com, “a Los Angeles-based Product Design Consultancy.” That doubtless accounts for the slick, minimalist design (and the non-standard aspects of the razor).

Overall, I would rate it as an excellent razor, with quality like that of the Weber or other premium razors, but going a somewhat different direction.

UPDATE: One reader wrote to suggest that the exposed blade tabs (the part of the DE blade that protrudes from the end of razors such as the Edwin Jagger, Gillette NEW, and the like) actually serve a function beyond facilitating blade removal. He points out:

[Having the blade tabs exposed] allows for minor adjustments of the blade which I find necessary with DE blades and razors.  I find the iKon slant really difficult to load the blade straight, takes me 3-5 times usually, exposed blade tabs would make this so much easier just to wiggle the blade into the right space.  The only design where I find the blade tabs covered to be useful is when the top cap has the blade-holding tabs in the corner like the OSS and Feather AS-D2.

I find that not all DE blades are 100% exactly the same, there are some slight variations that sometimes require the blade to be wiggled or adjusted slightly.  Notice how small the posts on the iKon slant are versus the slots in the DE blade.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 December 2013 at 8:09 am

Posted in Shaving

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