Saturday, January 31, 2015


     My Life and Welcome to It.
     The wife comes to me while I am at my computer, and she is toting a laundry basket. Without fanfare or preamble, she says to me, "I only found one pair of your underwear. How many days have you been wearing the same underwear? Take 'em off right now, and let me wash 'em."
     I continue typing and say, "I'm not wearing any underwear."
     And that's when she gave me THE LOOK.

You uncivilized bastard.

Friday, January 23, 2015

eBook Review: The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660 - 1783

Alfred Thayer MahanThe Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660 - 1783 

  • Product Details

    • File Size: 894 KB
    • Print Length: 528 pages
    • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
    • Language: English
    • ASIN: B004TQHBAI
    • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
    • X-Ray: Not Enabled
    • Word Wise: Enabled
    • Lending: Enabled 
    • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars (48 customer reviews)
    • Price: $0.00 

1. Short review:  *:D big grin    (Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars -- I shall read it again.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: I began reading The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660 - 1783 (Sea Power) from the Kindle edition available from Amazon. That version does not include the plates (illustrations) in the original. After reading eighty percent of Sea Power, I switched to the Gutenburg version with the plates. It was tedious to move all my highlights and notes from the Amazon version to the Gutenburg version, but it was worth it.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? Interesting question. It is a vicarious roller coaster -- someone telling me about someone else's roller coaster ride.
It is free to download. It was worth my time to read it.

2.2. What I did not like: A T Mahan's turgid prose. The writing is far better than that of Admiral Farragut, but Mahan sometimes still gilded the lily. It is as if he were addicted to purple prose. An example:
It may be pointed out, in the first place, that if a nation be so situated that it is neither forced to defend itself by land nor induced to seek extension of its territory by way of the land, it has, by the very unity of its aim directed upon the sea, an advantage as compared with a people one of whose boundaries is continental. 
The first nine words in that paragraph are the literary equivalent of a speaker clearing his throat. The clause is the middle is eleven wasted words.
     Who edited Mahan's writing?
If a nation has neither to defend itself by land nor to seek new territory by land, it has an advantage over those nations that do.
     Is that better? It says in 26 words what Mahan said in 65. Either way it is an assertion unsupported by evidence.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Naval historians. This is not light reading. You must have an interest in the subject.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Well, no profanity, no obscenity, no sex. The plates illustrate the positions of ships in naval battles. If reading naval history does it for the kid, sure, let him read it.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? Maybe.

2.6. The work in a nutshell:
     Sea Power divides into three parts:
     1. Naval actions in the 17th Century; the supremacy of the Dutch at sea and their fall;
     2. The rise of English naval power in the 18th Century to supremacy at sea; and
     3. Naval actions in the War of 1778 (which includes the American War for Independence).

     1. Naval actions in the 17th Century; the supremacy of the Dutch at sea and their fall.
     The Dutch dominated the sea trade in the 17th Century. At one time, the Dutch East India Company owned the largest navy in the world. The Dutch fought the English and French in a series of short wars and inflicted upon the English the worst naval defeat in their history.
     In peacetime, the Dutch navy declined, because the burgomeisters were not willing to pay its upkeep. Their grandchildren would regret their parsimony.

     2. The rise of English naval power in the 18th Century to supremacy at sea.
     The Battle of the Medway impressed on the English the need for a strong navy, and they never forgot that lesson. The English navy began its rise in the War of 1704 (called by various names, such as, Queen Anne's War or the War of the Spanish Succession). It continued through the War of Jenkin's Ear, the War of the Austrian Succession (aka King George's War), and the Seven Years' War (aka the French and Indian War).
     By 1763, the English merchant marine fleet outnumbered all others combined, and English naval power dominated the seas.

     3. Naval actions in the War of 1778 (which includes the American War for Independence).
     The rise of the English navy continued through what Mahan calls the War of 1778 despite setbacks in India and the Battle of the Capes.
     In the Atlantic, the English were usually successful, the only exceptions being the Battle of the Capes and the Battle of Porto Praya. Praya caused delay and inconvenience to the English naval squadron bound for India. The Capes, a tactical draw, was a decisive strategic defeat; the result was the surrender of British forces under Cornwallis at Yorktown. (This was not the intent of the French gov't. The French did not care if the Americans won independence or not. They wanted the Americans to keep the English army occupied to suck money out of the English treasury. After Yorktown, the English went to ground in New York, Narragansett Bay, and Charleston and stayed there until the peace was concluded.)
     After the Capes, in 1782 Admiral Hood outsailed, outsmarted, and outfought the Comte de Grasse at the Battle of Frigate Bay, but that did not matter to the forces ashore: the French took St. Kitts. For all the fighting, neither Hood nor de Grasse captured or sank any enemy ships.  Later that year, Admiral Rodney defeated de Grasse and took him prisoner at the Battle of the Saintes.
     In the seas off India, Commodore Suffren took the offensive against Vice Admiral Hughes, but never managed to capture or destroy a single English warship. He never lost one, either. Suffren threatened the English fleet, gave succor to the French allies in India, and relieved the siege of Cuddalore, but never broke the English hold over India. That he did so much with no logistics support from France is amazing. For his valiant efforts, Suffren was elevated to the post of Vice Admiral of France.

2.7. Other:

     Sea Power is a seminal work on the use of naval power. It influenced naval doctrine in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany.
     Four points:
     1. Fleet action after fleet action after fleet action. Dutch against the English and French. Dutch against the English. English against the Spanish. English against the French. English against the French and Spanish.
     And none of them were decisive.
     In the period covered by Sea Power, the most decisive victory was won by English Rear Admiral Kempenfelt over the French at the Second Battle of Ushant.
     From all these indecisive victories, how did Mahan conclude that the way to victory was through a decisive naval battle?
     2. Mahan dismissed 'cruising war' -- that is, destruction of enemy commerce -- as indecisive. Maybe it was in his day, but the invention of the submarine changed that. Historically, the submarine works best as a commerce raider. Winston Churchill said the U-Boot came within a hair's breath of winning the war for Germany in 1917. The American submarine service destroyed Japan's ability to wage offensive war. The Japanese misused their subs as pickets for their fleets, vice commerce raiders.
     Maybe in Mahan's day commerce raiding was indecisive, but the submarine changed that.
     3. Rodney won the Battle of the Saintes and captured Admiral de Grasse, and Mahan still criticized him. Said Rodney did not win enough. That is like saying the Ravens won the Superbowl but did not cover the spread.
     4. Suffren. Among French naval commanders of the 18th Century, Suffren stands head, shoulders, trunk, groin, and kneecaps above the others. He commanded as a Commodore, which was a courtesy title given to the senior captain of a fleet. The fact that he could not swing the tide in his favor does not diminish the brilliance of his efforts.

     Most people know that the Royal Navy commanded the seas for two centuries. What is forgotten is that the French built better ships, faster ships, and in less time than the English. That continues today. Today, the US Navy is by far the most powerful in the world. The US Navy is more powerful than all the other navies of the world combined. What is forgotten is that the French Marine is the second most powerful navy.
     The difference between the Royal Navy and the French Marine then was that the Royal Navy spent most of its time at sea. Like Jerry Pournelle or Jim Dunnigan -- I cannot recall which -- said, moving ships around in peacetime is very much like moving ships around in war. The Royal Navy had the opportunity to develop and maintain its skills. The French Marine did not.


PS Sea Power was a bestseller in England.

2.8. Links: Alfred Thayer Mahan

2.9. Buy the book: The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660 - 1783

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


     My Life and Welcome to It.
     My wife is a semi-Luddite. She is not opposed to tech. She just does not use it well.
     Besides the iPad I gave her, she also has a smart phone. A Samsung android, I think. I don't pay attention to that stuff.

Yeah, that looks like Bunny's phone. 

     Me? What do I use? My phone ain't 'smart'. Does everything I want and fits in my shirt pocket. Does your iPhone fit in your shirt pocket? I can even surf the web on it if I am willing to endure the eye strain or use a magnifying glass to see everything.
     My wife likes to share things from her phone with others. Keep that in mind.
     My wife uses her iPad to surf the web. She does not use her phone for that. (Keep that in mind, too.) For reasons she never shared with me, she loves to watch Britain's Got Talent and The X Factor. She props the iPad on a bookstand and watches these shows.

     So I find her today, earphones in, watching some dance number on her iPad. She had her phone out but was not speaking into it. I walked over and looked.
     My wife was using her phone to video the dancing on the iPad so that she could share it from her phone!

Sunday, January 18, 2015


     At Costco, bought a big package of basil, a big wedge of pecorino romano cheese, a wedge of parmigiano reggiano cheese, and pine nuts. 'Cause I had it in my widdle head that I was going to make pesto.
     This stuff's good.
     You can make pesto, too. Here's what you need.
The ingredients of pesto:
grated hard cheese 
     Now you're thinking, "Recipe?" That's where it gets sticky.
     You see, pesto is a technique, not a recipe. The name literally means 'pounded'. Which is why it shares the same root as pestle, as in mortar and pestle.
     The traditional way of making pesto is to throw course salt and garlic into a mortar and pound the garlic to a pulp. Add the nuts and repeat the pounding. Add the greens and repeat the pounding. Add the oil and the cheese and stir them into the pulp. Rest arm for four days until it's your turn in the pitching rotation again.
     I use a food processor.
     Let's go through the list of ingredients one by one.


     Tradition says use a course salt like sea salt to help break up the garlic. I use a food processor. If the gal who invented pesto had had a food processor, she would have used one, too. Instead she had to spend half an hour pounding garlic into pulp.
     I toss in kosher salt. How much? About a quarter teaspoon. Actually I saved the sample spoon I got at a Häagen-Dazs ice cream shop, and I use that little spoon to measure for pesto.


     How much garlic? Two to four cloves, pealed.
     Why so imprecise? Good question. This is where it starts to get tricky.
     There are many views on pesto. Probably as many views as there are Italian cooks. Some say that pesto should bring out the taste of the greens. Some say that pesto should be redolent of garlic. Some say that all that pulp is there to infuse the oil with flavor (but if that is true, why not just stuff 'em all in a bottle with the oil and let it rest a month, hmmm?).
     If you don't like garlic, use two cloves. Yeah, even if you don't like garlic, you gotta use it.
     If you like garlic, use four cloves.
     Me? I use three fat cloves and have done with it.

     Next up are the nuts.


Pine nuts on the left. Almonds in the center. Walnuts on the right.

     With nuts, you get a choice.
     Pine nuts are traditional. And wonderful. The nuts are oily and pulp up easily. They are also expensive as all get out.
     Almonds work, too, if you use a food processor. I have not tried pulping almonds in a mortar, and I ain't gonna. Their flavor is light, and it becomes submerged under the garlic and greens and oil. I have used them. No problem.
     Walnuts, I am told, work, too. I am not a big fan of walnuts, but I have some, and I will use them in the future.
     To toast or not to toast? That is the question. Some say ya gotta toast. Some say no. I have made pesto with toasted and untoasted nuts. No difference to my palate, but you let your tongue guide you.
     How much of nuts? I use a third of a cup to make one cup of pesto.

Addendum: Used walnuts to make some pesto. I will not use walnuts again. *:-& sick


Basil on the left. Celery leaves in the middle. Parsley on the right.

     Most 'recipes' for pesto say use two cups of loosely packed, washed and dried greens.
     What does that mean, loosely packed?
     I fill my food processor with leaves once, whiz 'em, and fill it again, and whiz 'em again. That gives me good results. YMMV.
     Basil is sweet and makes delicious pesto. The stems lack the flavor of the leaves, so I pick the leaves and discard the stems.
     Celery leaves have a strong flavor that mutes somewhat when made into pesto. I have made several batches of pesto with celery leaves and been pleased with the results.
     Parsley . . . well, I have seen people make pesto with parsley. Evidently it can be done. I do not like parsley, but I may try parsley pesto.
     I have seen two English women make pesto with sage. I have seen a cook step into his garden, rip off a couple of handfuls of assorted young greens, and make pesto with those. Basil is the original and the standard, but you can make pesto with any green, leafy vegetable. I suppose you can make mustard pesto or turnip green pesto.


EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil) on the left. Olive oil in the middle. Light Olive oil on the right. 

     Which oil to use depends on the answer to the question 'why?', which is actually two questions.

     Why use oil at all? Why not water?
     The answer is that oil clings better than water. If you want pesto on pasta, oil is demonstrably better to use.

     Okay, but why? That is, what is the purpose of the oil?
     One chef says the purpose of the oil is to become infused with the flavors of garlic and basil (he was Italian; of course he used basil) and spread those flavors to the pasta. Because the oil is there to carry other flavors, you should not use EVOO but regular olive oil.
     I think this is nonsense.
     If the purpose of the oil is only to carry the other flavors, then you should never use fresh pesto. You should make it and let it sit and infuse for a week in a cool, dark place, but not in a refrigerator. And if the purpose of the oil is only to carry the other flavors, then you should use light olive oil, because it has almost no flavor. Or canola oil, which has no flavor.
     I think the purpose is to enhance the flavor of the pesto. The oil acts as a bass note for the other flavors. The flavor of the oil is there, too, but it is not dominant.
     I use EVOO. I do not use my high-end, fruity, salad EVOO. The flavor of that oil would compete with the flavors of the garlic and the greens. I use my cooking EVOO. YMMV.

     The answer to the question 'why?' determines the answer to the question 'how much?' If you agree with the Italian chef that the purpose of the oil is to carry the other flavors, then you want a lot of oil; at least a quarter cup, maybe a third. But then your pesto is fit only for pasta. For any other purpose, it is just a dipping sauce.
     If you use pesto for other purposes -- like I do -- you want it to be thick.
     I use about two tablespoons of oil. I drizzle EVOO into the pulp in my food processor for a six count. That gives me the consistency I like. YMMV.

Parmigiano reggiano on the left. Pecorino romano in the middle. Asiago on the right.

     After all the fuss over salt, garlic, nuts, greens, and oil, it is a relief that the cheese is easy. Choose one, choose all. Really.
     The classic is parmigiano reggiano, but any hard, dry cheese will do. I have been using pecorino romano for weeks, and I love it. And, yes, I have parmigiano reggiano. Look forward to using asiago.
     I have seen chefs mix cheeses, half parmigiano, and half asiago. Again, let your tongue guide you. The only restrictions are that the cheese must be grated fine and added last.
     How much? I grate until I have a happy pile; that is, a pile of grated cheese that makes me happy. Find the size of your happy pile.

     I spread pesto on celery sticks for snacks, on toast for sandwiches, and, of course, toss it in pasta.

     Good eating.

     Pesto is now tied for second as my favorite sauce. First is sausage cream gravy, and it will always be my favorite. The other sauce tied for second is a salad dressing my wife made within the last month. I don't know what was in it, but it was delicious. She has been trying to recreate it since without success. C'est la vie.
     Over the course of several weeks, I have arrived at a few judgments:

1. Basil pesto made with pine nuts and parmigiano reggiano is king. Last time at Costco, I bought three big packages of basil. 1 pkg of basil = 1 c pesto. Made one cup of pesto each day for three days. The first cup did not survive to see the third cup made. 
2. Celery pesto made with almonds and pecorino romano makes a delicious sauce for raw veggies. Or for sandwiches. Or toast. Or anything. By weight, almonds do not give off as much oil as pine nuts, so I triple the amount of olive oil I add to the pesto. And, when faced with a surfeit of celery leaves, I discovered that celery stalks, too, can be used to make pesto. 
3. Raw walnuts do not make good pesto. At least not to my taste. There is something about raw walnuts that burns my mouth, and that burn carries into pesto made with raw walnuts. Someday, I may try roasted walnuts, but I am in no hurry. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

eBook Review: The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861


Carter Godwin WoodsonThe Education of the Negro Prior to 1861 

  • Product Details

    • File Size: 484 KB
    • Print Length: 331 pages
    • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
    • Language: English
    • ASIN: B0084980SI
    • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
    • X-Ray: Enabled
    • Lending: Enabled 
    • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars (4 customer reviews)
    • Price: $0.00 

1. Short review:  *:D big grin    (Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars -- I love it.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: I read The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861 (TEotNPt1861) to answer one question. TEotNPt1861 answered my question convincingly and decisively.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? Neither. TEotNPt1861 is a scholarly treatise. Woodson wrote TEotNPt1861 as a post-doc research paper. Published in 1915, it is an exhaustive treatment of the subject.
It is free to download. It was worth my time to read it.

2.2. What I did not like: My expectations are different for scholarly works. I do not expect to be entertained, but I do expect to be educated. I also expect the author will present his argument logically and persuasively. Woodson did all those things.
     This a long-winded way to say there was nothing I did not like.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Historians. This is not light reading. You really must have an interest in the subject.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  No, with a caveat. The work is inappropriate for any child under 16. No child under 16 has read enough history to comprehend or to appreciate the work. An exceptionally bright 16-year old with a deep interest in history may read TEotNPt1861 to good effect, but such 16-year olds are few.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? Yes. I want to read more of Dr Woodson's work.

2.6. The work in a nutshell:
     TEotNPt1861 is an exhaustive work on the subject of education of Negroes in the United States before the Civil War. The last third of the book is an annotated bibliography. The breadth and depth of primary source materials Woodson used are more than impressive. They are staggering.
     Briefly, black slaves and free Negroes in the South were given sporadic education until 1830. The financial environment changed with the introduction of the cotton economy. Systematic, institutional education ceased in the South. Literacy among slaves and free Negroes plummeted.
     The education of Negroes in the North was spotty. In some places, it was welcomed. In others, it was not. Woodson recounted the destruction of a school for blacks in Canaan, New Hampshire. A mob tore the school building from its foundation and hauled it to a swamp. Keep in mind this was before tractors and bulldozers, which means they did it by muscle and oxen. That means they had five things: 1) a sizable number of men and oxen, 2) a burning desire to destroy the school, 3) a plan of execution, 4) time, and 5) the acquiescence of the local authorities.
     Quakers and Catholics on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line continued to educate Negroes as a matter of conscience. They believed that literacy was necessary for understanding the Gospel and for salvation. Given that belief, how could they not educate Negroes?
     The colonialization movement educated Negroes to provide trained medical and legal professionals to the Liberia colony.

     I read this work to answer one question: How do you keep a man a slave? TEotNPt1861 answered that question convincingly.
     Woodson answered this way: To keep a man a slave, keep him ignorant and illiterate.
     Woodson spent his life educating himself and other black Americans. He knew that ignorance and illiteracy would keep black Americans in bondage long after they had been proclaimed free.

2.7. Other:
Quotes from The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861:
[W]hen it was discovered that many ambitious blacks were still learning to stir up their fellows, it was decreed that they should not receive any instruction at all. Reduced thus to the plane of beasts, where they remained for generations, Negroes developed bad traits which since their emancipation have been removed only with great difficulty.
Slavery was thereby changed from a patriarchal to an economic institution. Thereafter most owners of extensive estates abandoned the idea that the mental improvement of slaves made them better servants. 
The good results of these schools were apparent. In the same degree that the denial to slaves to mental development tended to brutalize them the teaching of science and religion elevated the fugitives in Canada. In fact, the Negroes of these settlements soon had ideals differing widely from those of their brethren less favorably circumstanced. They believed in the establishment of homes, respected the sanctity of marriage, and exhibited in their daily life a moral sense of the highest order. Travelers found the majority of them neat, orderly, and intelligent. 
"An ignorant people . . . can never occupy any other than a degraded place in society; they can never be truly free until they are intelligent. . . ."  --William Lloyd Garrison 
A good trade is better than a fortune, because when once obtained it cannot be taken away. 
Fearing imaginary evils, these modern Canaanites destroyed the [Noyes Academy of Canaan, New Hampshire], dragging the building to a swamp with a hundred yoke of oxen. 
[B]itterly as some white men hated slavery, and deeply as they seemingly sympathized with the oppressed, they were loath to support a policy which they believed was fatal to their economic interests. 
Separate schools were declared illegal by an act of the [New Jersey] General Assembly in 1881. 
Before the close of the Civil War the sentiment of the people of the State of New York had changed sufficiently to permit colored children to attend the regular public schools in several communities. This, however, was not general. It was, therefore, provided in the revised code of that State in 1864 that the board of education of any city or incorporated village might establish separate schools for children and youth of African descent provided such schools be supported in the same manner as those maintained for white children. 
The Negroes, too, had long since been convinced that the white people would not maintain separate schools with the same equipment which they gave their own.  
[W]hen the principal of an academy at Canaan admitted some Negroes to his private institution, a mob . . . broke up the institution . . ., while the officials of the town offered no resistance. 
1853. Then the [Indiana] legislature amended the law authorizing the establishment of schools in townships so as to provide that in all enumerations the children of color should not be taken, that the property of the blacks and mulattoes should not be taxed for school purposes, and that their children should not derive any benefit from the common schools of that State. This provision had really been incorporated into the former law, but was omitted by oversight on the part of the engrossing clerk. 
A resolution of the [Indiana] House instructing the educational committee to report a bill for the establishment of schools for the education of the colored children of the State was overwhelmingly defeated in 1853. 
Before the Civil War the Negroes of Indiana received help in acquiring knowledge from no source but private and mission schools.
Men are not valued in this country, or in any country, for what they are; they are valued for what they can do. It is in vain that we talk of being men, if we do not the work of men. --Frederick Douglass 
The helpless may expect no higher dignity than that of paupers. 
Most instructive.

It is ironic that TEotNPt1861 was published the same year that D W Griffith released his film The Birth of a Nation.

I debated whether I should give this work four stars or five. In the end, I asked myself if I will read it again. I answered 'yes' and gave it five.


2.8. Links: Carter Godwin Woodson

2.9. Buy the book: The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Naked Blade 1.0

     For those who missed it, here is Naked Blade 0.0.
     I know I promised to talk about the grip in my next post, but I lied.
     You see, before I can talk about grip, I have to do two things:
     1) Talk about the razor and
     2) Learn how to make video and post video to my blog.
     I have not figured out 2 above, but I will use this post to talk about the razor. That should give me at least a month to figure out 2.

     For any of this to make sense, you must know the terminology. 

See the caption in the illustration?
It is wrong.
These are the parts of a straight razor.
There are no other parts.

     The back is also called the spine.
     Likely you comprehend the importance of the terms blade, edge, point, heel, and spine. Like the muzzle of a gun, the edge is the business end of a straight razor, and the parts around it gets your attention fast.
     What might escape your attention are the shank, handle, pivot, and tang. These four parts are where you grip the razor. These four parts are where you control the razor.
     It is the same with a katana:

     Nobody denies that the blade is the killer, but everyone knows you do not grip a katana by the blade. You grip it by the handle.
     What most people do not know is that you do not grip a katana with all your fingers. (I know some will argue with me on this. They argued on the mat at the dojo, and we did not resolve the matter then. Who thinks we will resolve it now over the internet?)
     Because the grips are the same for both hands, I will talk about a one-hand grip. (You can wield a katana with only one hand, but I strongly recommend against that.)
     The first time someone grips a katana, he will use a four-finger grip. That is, he will wrap all four fingers around the handle.
     That is wrong.
     The right way to grip a katana is with three fingers. Which three fingers? Not the index finger.
     Look at your hand. 

     See where the fingers join the palm? The creases of the little finger, ring finger, and middle finger make one line. The index finger is not in that line. 

Notice how the last three fingers wrap the handle.
This gives the swordsman a good line and a strong grip.
Notice that the index finger is free.
This allows for fine control of the katana. 

     In fact, you can wield a katana without touching either index finger to the handle. Your control will be less, but the strength of your cuts will be the same.
     In terms of straight razor usage, what you should take away from this post is --
     1) the names for the parts of a straight razor and
     2) that the three-finger grip means a grip with the little, ring, and middle fingers. 

     (Okay, I know some of you weirdos are asking, "Could I shave with a katana?" I would not. You could. I doubt you would have an ear left after the shave, but you could do it. If you really, really have to go that way, better to use a wakazashi. 
A samurai carried two blades. The wakazashi was the shorter of the two.
It was and is wielded with one hand. 

     Now, I am telling you: Do not try to shave with a katana or a wakazashi. Doing so will win you a Darwin Award.)