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Thanks

November 27, 2008

It always struck me as odd to hear Thanksgiving gratitude being extended to God while the people who slaved in the kitchen all day receive no mention. Therefore, whether you’re a believer or not don’t forget to thank the people–present and not present–who have made your day of family and food possible.

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Upgrade his shave for Christmas

November 26, 2008

Hey, while I’m thinking about it, let me remind you: shaving gear makes a great holiday gift for the man in your life. Does he hate shaving? Some good equipment might make him change his mind. If he’s already a well-groomed fellow, he’s bound to appreciate being introduced to a an entirely new level of foppish dandyism. Here’s a few ideas to get you started.

There’s no more important piece of advice than this: Get Leisure Guy’s Guide to Gourmet Shaving. Shaving with a safety razor and a brush is very different than squirting cans of fluff on your face and scraping it off with the latest multi-bladed, turbo, mach, nuclear, vibrating, disposable plastic monstrosity. That being the case, it pays to have a decent introduction to the subject and Leisure Guy delivers it.

Get an inexpensive but good quality badger hair shaving brush, such as the one I use. Don’t be tempted to save $10–get real badger hair. Trust me. No badger, no sale.

Get a solidly made safety razor. No need to spend a fortune. Try the German-made Merkur “heavy duty.”. Most shave geeks agree that it’s a great one to start with. I use a Merkur and so do the two younger men in my house. One of the great things about these is that they’ll last a lifetime. You can tell that the moment you pick one up.

You’ll need blades for it, of course. Each shaver is different, so it pays to get a sampler pack and let him discover for himself which one suits best.

Then there’s shaving cream. Again, everyone will have his own favorite. I prefer the traditional English ones like Taylor of Old Bond Street or Geo F. Trumper’s. Both manufacturers make a variety of shaving creams, so click around. (No, you can’t pick this stuff up at Walgreens. Sorry.)

Entire package total? If you were to get the brush, the razor, the blades, some shaving cream and the book, the total is about $110. That’s a pretty classy gift for dad or hubby. And remember: the razor lasts forever, and the blades cost less than ten cents each. Thus if he’s currently using one of the more expensive multi-blade systems, it could actually cost less to go the traditional route. If you prefer an incremental approach, first get the brush and the good shaving cream.

Not every man will be delighted by such a gift. You know him better than I. But if you think men don’t like grooming products, you’re wrong–we just don’t like girly ones. I kid about being a fop, but I’ll tell you this: A guy wants to shave the way his grandfather did, and smell like a gentleman when he’s done. With this stuff, he can.

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Try Pirelli’s micracle elixir

November 26, 2008

I was in Bath & Body Works a couple of weeks ago when I made a fortuitous discovery: They actually carry a decent shaving cream.

I examined a green tube of something called C.O. Bigelow Premium Shave Cream with Eucalyptus Oil and read the label. When I saw the name “Proraso” in fine print I realized that this stuff was actually a very popular traditional Italian shaving cream which had merely been re-branded to sell in B&BW. I think I’m the only shaving nerd on earth who hasn’t tried Proraso, so naturally I took some home to remedy that.

I wish I’d made this discovery back in June–Proraso’s eucalyptus oil formula must make for an incredibly cooling and refreshing hot-weather shave. It lathers like a house on fire and lubricates like a three martini lunch, but the real draw here is the bracing chill you feel when you rinse it off your face. Very nice. Even in November.

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Blog & Grog

November 25, 2008

I’ve never been to this get-together, but since it’s less than a mile from my house I think I’ll give it a try.

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Wall-E and Tropic Thunder: Disappointing

November 25, 2008

What these movies have in common is that they didn’t live up to my expectations.

Wall-E was cute in its way, but it wasn’t terrific. Why did I expect terrific? Because I’m spoiled by the high quality animated films produced by Pixar, Dreamworks and others over the last decade. And I don’t mean box office totals or animation techniques. I mean good stories. Ones that don’t insult the intelligence of adults or children. Ones that have solid character development and interesting plots. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but the plot Wall-E finds himself embroiled in (a fat, stupid, lazy and space-faring humanity waiting generations for signs of vegetation in order to reclaim a garbage-strewn earth) seemed somehow insulting, joyless, and–worst of all–boring. It wasn’t a bad movie. I think I just went into it with higher expectations.

Tropic Thunder simply wasn’t that funny. I’ll admit that there was some amusement in watching Tom Cruise play an influential Hollywood asshole (what a stretch that must have been!). And I’ll further admit that Robert Downey Jr. as a white man playing a black man was probably worth the rental fee all by itself. No, the problem here wasn’t Downey, Cruise or Jack Black–it was Ben Stiller.

I don’t like Stiller, that’s no secret. But he not only starred in this film, he directed it and even has a writing credit! I honestly believe that it was his “professionally annoying” shtick ruining the film on several levels. Plus, there were plot holes big enough to drive a HumVee through. (A guy with no hands and a movie director are able to single-handedly saturate with remote movie cameras a vast area of jungle that only hours later is too filled with armed drug thugs for our heroes to navigate without risking life and limb. Yeah, I’ll buy that.)

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Filtered or unfiltered?

November 25, 2008

Do you let your search engine of choice filter your search results? I don’t. I use Google and I go out of my way in the Preferences area to turn off the default “moderate safe search.” Why? It’s not that the occasional surprise explicit text or image is the highlight of my day. It’s more because the idea of it rankles me.

In a sense, the internet itself is an enormous document representing everything that we* collectively care about, sans the many filters found in older, professionally-produced media outlets. For this reason and others, it represents an important sea change in publishing and communications history. Never before could we see what the total universe of human interest was. We are sometimes shocked at the prurient or hateful things that thrive there, even as we shout hallelujah that our own skinny-tail pet interests are finally being represented.

Me, I think what I get out of it is mostly meta. It’s not so much that I’m participating in media about some rare and traditionally underrepresented pursuit. It’s more that I feel I’m learning something important culturally with my typing fingers always on the pulse of the global internet culture’s constantly changing beat. It’s intoxicating. And invoking old media rules about what can and cannot be viewed would be an obstruction to this knowledge.

So, click. Moderate safe search off.

(* When I say “we” I don’t mean the entire human population. I mean everyone with access to the internet.)

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Don’t fool yourselves: winter is upon us.

November 21, 2008

I don’t care what the calendar says, to me it’s winter.

We had a nice fall, though, don’t you think? I recall hearing an expert on the radio saying that our trees were a couple of weeks behind schedule this year due to a wet spring or a dry summer or something like that. But the upshot was that our fall color started a little late. I’m just glad it also ended a little late, too, and that the leaves weren’t knocked down prematurely by frost or rain or wind.

But now it’s winter. How do I know this? Because I’ve suffered temperatures in the teens on more than one morning commute. I’m as hardy a Wisconsinite as the next guy, but when it’s that cold you give in and wear a hat, am I right?

By the way, if you’ve ever wondered what happens to those poor souls who put off their leaf raking too long, wonder no more: Garrison Keillor’s column in Salon this week gives you the scoop this week in Salon.

“Meanwhile, those unraked leaves of slackers will freeze and form a hard crust and kill the grass. In the spring, they’ll seed and lay sod but grass will never grow there again, due to powerful toxins created by unraked leaves, and as a result those homes will lose half their value and the non-rakers will go bankrupt. They will lie awake at night, thinking, “Why? Why did I not rake those leaves when my neighbors raked theirs?” It was the romanticism of autumn, the need to be unique and to march to your own drummer. Too late now. Those families will be forced to migrate south and pick cotton and live in shotgun shacks and eat biscuits and gravy with hubcaps for plates and be tormented by red-eyed evangelists and banjo-picking albinos and clouds of horseflies and cottonmouth snakes slithering into the bedroom at night.”

Let that be a lesson to you.