Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Middle East: The Confusing Mess: Allies At Odds

An Israeli Soldier on the Golan Heights, photo from Associated Press.  If you are wondering what is up with the clown hat, it's a helmet cover.  They create a less obviously head shaped profile than  an uncovered helmet.  Handy when you are working in an area where people are looking for heads to shoot I guess.
The historical context and ethnic/religious dynamics of Middle East Conflict are something that I talk about frequently in my posts.  Unfortunately this is not a topic that can ever be fully explained in a single blog post.  When you find a YouTube video, or an article that makes the Middle East clear and easy to understand you should probably assume that the person who made it is pushing an agenda, and is at best being less than fully honest.  And that guideline goes for me too, when you read my posts you should realize that I am trying to present what I see as the relevant context to the points that I am trying to make.

One of the books that I have on the Middle East is History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict by Bickerton and Klausner (the first few editions were called "A Concise History..." but they dropped the "concise" bit as the book kept getting longer), and that book which is essentially just a collection of brief descriptions of the things that have happened in the history of a country that is less than 70 years old (and printings of original documents) is hundreds of dense pages long.  And that book does not offer interpretation or real narrative, and covers only one part of the Middle East (if you would like a easier read that provides valuable insight into the Arab-Israeli conflict I would recommend The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan.  It is not an exhaustive history book, but it is a well researched non-fiction book that is very readable and has a compelling narrative).

I say this simply to illustrate why even the issues of a single territory, roughly the size of Vancouver Island, is too complicated to fully explore in a single post.  When you find a neat Youtube video that make the Middle-East simple, clear, and presents and unambiguous good actor, you need to realize that the information is very biased.  You should also realize that extreme bias does not necessarily mean lying.  The confusing thing about the Middle East is that different sides of a given conflict will present seemingly contradictory accounts of events, but often both sides are simultaneously right... and simultaneously wrong.

And sometimes people on the same side can radically disagree on what is going on.  Take the current issues for Israel and the US regarding al Qaeda and Iran.  The US is focused on fighting al Qaeda, and has erroneously decided that ISIS is the same as al Qaeda and should be fought with a mixture of insufficient half measures and talks with Iran.  Israel is focused on avoiding the eradication of the state of Israel and the slaughter of Jews (which is a stated goal of Iran's leadership, and reaffirmations of that goal are ongoing.  Iran's supreme leader actually tweets about wiping out the Jews).  Israel's approach focuses on total opposition to Iran and antagonizing Western allies (like the US) by pandering to Israeli religious hard-liners.

So even though the US and Israel are allies, they disagree on who the main enemy is.  A fantastic illustration of this is that Israel actually has relatively friendly relations with the al Qaeda group that has seized the Golan Heights.  Israel does not pretend that al Qaeda is no threat to Israel, but al Qaeda is far preferable to Israel than the Iranian backed militias.  As far as Israel is concerned, al Qaeda is the lesser evil.  For the US, al Qaeda is the Big Bad.  Al Qaeda has been attacking the US for decades, and the US has poured TRILLIONS of dollars into the War On Terror over the past decade and a half.  The US has been so serious about fighting al Qaeda that we eviscerated our own Constitution and civil liberties with the Patriot Act.  We have invaded two sovereign nations under the auspices of battling al Qaeda.  People have been tortured by our government, held indefinitely, subjected to secret trials, governments have been toppled, thousands have died, back-scatter radiation is used to take naked pictures of travelers in airports, grandmas in wheelchairs get groped by TSA agents, and international goodwill toward the US has been squandered, all in the name of battling al Qaeda.

And now our closest ally in the Middle East is getting cozy with al Qaeda, and the US is getting cozy with Iran.

How could this happen?

In terms of the here and now, much of the blame should be placed on Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu and Obama.  As far as I can tell both Obama and Netanyahu have decided that their mutual antipathy is more important than good governance.  Obama and Bibi dislike each other.  They dislike each other so much that they both actively work against each other.  Bibi even came to the US at the request of Republican lawmakers in order to undermine our President over the Iran issue.  (Note: the fact that I think that Bibi is probably right about the danger of negotiation with Iran over nukes does not mean that Bibi's trip to Washington was not an egregious act.)  It sometimes feels like Obama and Bibi have decided that, civilian deaths be damned, they are going to stick it to each other even if it means blowing up the entire Middle East.

But it is not that simple.

The US is concerned about al Qaeda, and ISIS, and the Taliban.  All terroristic Salafist groups.  As of right now, the US is actually lucky that because of the way ISIS has set itself up, al Qaeda and the Taliban cannot cooperate with ISIS without joining ISIS.  This is a complicated issue, but the upshot is that we are currently fortunate that other Salafist extremist groups are fighting ISIS.  With the advances that ISIS is making that may not remain true for very long.

The US went to war in the Middle East to combat terrorism, and in the process, toppled the government of the regional counterbalance to Iran, and created a power vacuum where even more pernicious expressions of Islamic fundamentalism (of both Sunni and Shia varieties) could flourish.

When the Arab Spring began the US cheered on the pro-democracy movements.  Then kind of cringed as some of those movements turned into anarchy and civil war.  Long story short, Syria became an endless parade of mind boggling horrors.  I don't even like to describe some of the things I have seen video of or read about from the Syrian Civil War. But worst of all from a US perspective there wasn't even a good guy to back in Syria.  The Obama administration knew that backing Assad from the outset would be the move most likely to favor the US, and on that one issue even Russia agreed.  But backing Assad would mean backing a bad, bad man.  Even if cold realities of realpolitik favored backing Assad, Obama has consistently tried to plot as moral of a course as he could.

Obama could not bring himself to back the bad guy (of course every step of the way Obama is beset by a damned if you do, damned if you don't onslaught by the Republicans), and the stage was set for ISIS to emerge.  Then ISIS spilled across the border into the power vacuum of Iraq.


Obama has always been a politician in search of compromise.  When he ran for president back when the recession was just starting, he campaigned on promises to look for common ground.  He was even going to look for common ground on issues like abortion.

I bring up abortion because it is a perfect microcosm of the problems that can arise when you assume that everyone is going to be willing to settle for mutually unsatisfactory compromises.

Meaningful negotiation and compromise relies on mutual good will, and good faith.  The Republicans and Democrats in the US are not interested in good will and good faith with each other.  While I place a greater share of the blame for the poisonous climate of political victory over good governance on the heads of Republicans, Democrats have not covered themselves in glory either.  For both parties, party victory is more important than the good of the country.  That means that wedge issues are what is campaigned on, rather than campaigning on how to best achieve agreed upon goals.  Why would one campaign on realistically discussing how to eliminate the deficit, when one can simply call an opponent a baby-killer/woman-hater.

And that brings us to the other element that is needed for meaningful negotiation, a shared reality.  There can be no negotiation on issues like abortion, because the disagreement is based on fundamental differences in worldview.  If you believe that an unborn fetus is a person with all the rights of a person, then abortion is wrong.  If you believe that the potential for life does not outweigh the rights of a person to decide what to do with their own body, then you are probably pro-choice.  The issue is not one where there is any real middle ground, because the issue is one where the underlying assumptions about reality determine one's position on the issue.

Obama seeks dialogue and compromise, domestically and abroad, but the abortion issue presents a microcosm analogy for why there is so much trouble with that approach.  US politics are too poisonous to allow for debate on actual issues that can be resolved.  Political debates and campaigns are fought on the basis of us vs. them, and political dialogue is focused on intractable issues, like abortion.

So Obama could start a conversation with "let's talk about student debt."  And the most politically profitable Republican response would be "you're a baby-killer."

Since voters seem to respond to this sort of political dialogue, both sides engage in these tactics.  And there is no national third or fourth option, and both parties are committed to maintaining these political wedges.  So continuing rounds of "debate" over issues like guns and abortion are had.


So despite getting raked over the coals domestically for trying to find middle ground, Obama still tries to treat others as sane, reasonable, honest actors at home and abroad.  And when it comes to the Middle East he is faced with one of the masters of divisive wedge issue politics in Benjamin Netanyahu on one side, and an Iranian leadership that is happy to tell Obama that they are willing to be good boys.

So between Bibi treating Obama as the enemy, and Iran at least pretending to be an option for historically meaningful statesmanship, Obama seems to have chosen Iran.

I think this is a mistake, but an understandable one.  Bibi is busy undermining Obama, engaging in racist scare politics in Israel, and even going so far as to reject the possibility of Palestinian statehood, which seriously undermines the moral argument for the US backing Israel.  Clearly they don't like each other, and the fact that they keep playing an international version of bumper cars seems to indicate that they are more interested in screwing each other over than trying to coordinate strategies.


So back to ISIS and al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda is an Islamic fundamentalist terrorist organization that seeks to destroy the US, and Western power.  For millions of people around the world, Osama bin Laden was seen as a kind of Robin Hood type character.  He was the plucky underdog taking the fight to Western imperialist powers.  For us in the West, he was a murdering criminal who slaughtered civilians.  Once again, the worldview that people bring to the topic determines where their sympathies lie.

After 9/11 the US sought to destroy al Qaeda's ability to carry out attacks against us.  Now bin Laden is dead.  Al Qaeda has fragmented into various smaller terror franchises.  The power structures of the old al Qaeda have been dismantled.  We went in like the sorcerer's apprentice, and tried to smash what we had created (the sorcerer's apprentice enchanted a broom, the US funded, equipped, and trained the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan as a cat's paw to use against the USSR) and like the sorcerer's apprentice, we are left with hundreds of autonomous offshoots plaguing us at every step.

But we still need to protect ourselves, even if our efforts thus far have been less than totally successful.

ISIS is one of those offshoots, but ISIS is not al Qaeda.  ISIS is a competitor to al Qaeda and the Taliban.  ISIS is an emergent theocratic state.  It is terroristic, and it sponsors terrorism, but it is not simply a terrorist organization.  It is like a brand new state sponsor of terrorism that is busy building a territory through slaughter and medieval rules.  ISIS is essentially a political organization style straight out of the 7th century.  Their methods seem ghastly to us in the West, because they are playing by a totally different rule book.  The West plays by the rules established in the Treaty of Westphalia and subsequent treaties.  ISIS plays by the rules of the Prophet (as they see them).

But that is not what really makes ISIS different from al Qaeda.  What really makes ISIS different is their goal.  ISIS seeks to bring about the end of days.  ISIS is literally trying to end the world.  I think it is hard for many in the West to wrap their minds around a worldview that sees the Apocalypse as a desirable goal.  It is also challenging to accept that this goal and frightening worldview could be attracting growing numbers of followers.  But ISIS's message is attractive to many people, even people from the West (I really need to try to write a short blog post on this topic).

Thus far, the US response to ISIS has been to treat it like it was al Qaeda 2.  And Obama has tried to act against ISIS, without doing anything politically risky like actually fighting ISIS, while also trying to avoid offending Muslims by saying things like "ISIS is not Muslim."  But the need to face this threat, and the desire to defuse other problems in the Middle East has seemed to blind Obama to other threats, like Iran.

Obama has sought, throughout his Presidency, to engage in diplomacy.  He has reached out to leaders of other countries in an effort to solve differences peacefully.  His attempt to negotiate with Iran is of a piece with his style of leadership.  Obama is looking for peaceful solutions.  Trying to resolve conflicts without further bloodshed.

This is laudable.

However, in the case of Iran it is also very questionable.

Iran wants nukes.  Iran claims that it only seeks nuclear capabilities for peaceful purposes, but they are not seeking to trade for uranium, they want nuclear enrichment capabilities of their own.  In a chaotic and tense Middle East where there is much animosity toward Iran from Arab states (remember, Iran is not Arab, it is Persian.  It is also Shia, not Sunni), as well as Israel and the US, this is a dangerous threat to the balance of power in the region.

Obama just wants to fix the Iraq mess, and avoid the world blowing up.  Israel is more focused on survival, and wants to avoid a more powerful Iran.

So even if Obama and Bibi could put aside their personal differences, the fundamental differences in the way they view events that are unfolding in Syria and the broader Middle East means that the US and Israel are not in sync strategically.  At least in immediate goals.

It's a confusing mess.


This entry has already gone on too long.  I started out trying to make things clearer, but I feel like I just made things more confusing.  Hopefully some of you will find useful information here.  I welcome feedback, even the negative kind.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Public Service Announcement About Running Attire

I live in Eugene, also known as Tracktown.  There are a lot of runners here.  On a sunny day, runners in groups or pairs pass my house roughly once every 90 seconds.  I see a lot of runners, in a wide variety of sartorial choices.  And all but one of these clothing choices is totally fine, and the last option is a goddamn abomination and it is a scourge that must be stopped.  I'll term that option, flappy-ass-shorts.

But first let's go through all the perfectly acceptable options:

Sweatpants:  Fine for boys and girls, young and old.  Great for cool days, though probably a bit warm a lot of the time around here.  Totally okay.

Compression clothing:  For some folks these might seem a little body revealing, but that does not seem to bother many folks in Eugene.  These are practical and okay.  As an added bonus if you want increased modesty it is easy to layer other articles over these.  An excellent choice for anyone, and a very popular choice around here.

Stretchy Super Short Shorts:  Surprisingly popular around here, mostly for women.  Once again, I'm totally fine with this (heck, I ain't gonna lie, I'm kind of a fan).  I do also see these on guys, and that is totally okay too.  For the picture I selected a pair that is about two inches longer than what I usually see, but that is more to give an idea of why I am surprised they are so popular.

Running Skirts:  I've only seen these on women, but this is Eugene, so I would not be surprised or dismayed to see them on a guy.  It's a cute option.  I'm not sure why a skirt is needed for running, but if it is comfortable, then great.

Baggy Running Shorts:  On a warm day, you can't go wrong with these.  Lightweight, freely moving, not super body revealing, and they look fine.  You can even pair them with compression shorts or leggings.  There are abundant options in a variety of lengths for men and women.

Running Briefs:  There are a lot of college track athletes in this town, this option is more common than you might expect.  And it's fine.  If you are in great shape and want to show it off.  I don't really understand what other reason there would be for selecting this option.

And because this is Eugene, we can't ignore...

Running Naked:  I question the wisdom of this choice for men and women, it seems painful for both, but hey.  Do what you want, let your freak flag fly.  This is Eugene, and therefore this is a viable option.  But seriously, it doesn't look like fun to me.  I selected a blurred out photo, you are welcome.

And finally, the horror...

Flappy Ass Shorts:  If you had come to me a year or two ago and said, "there is going to be a running attire fad that will regularly expose significant portions of women's rear ends."  I would have said, "That sounds AMAZING!  When can this start!"  And then if you said, "it will also include men."  I would have replied, "So, nothing wrong with runners butts."  And then if you said, "No, you don't understand, you are going to hate this on everybody."  I would have said, "You are wrong, and you are a liar.  There is no world in which I would object to runners butts."  And I would have been wrong.

I am referring of course to the slit sided running short-shorts.  They are baggy and the back is essentially a flap that flies up one side at a time with each step.  You might assume that seeing one quarter of a runner's buttocks exposed with each step would be a good thing.  God knows I would.  And yet somehow the effect is bizarrely off-putting.  There is no way that it should be unpleasant to look at a fit person's body, and yet these GODAMNED FLAPPY-ASS-SHORTS MAKE RUNNERS BUTTS LOOK DISGUSTING!!!! (four exclamation points so that you know I am slipping into insane frothy rage)

This has to stop.  I want to be able to look out of my window without the fear that some attractive young runner is going to gross me out with their flappy ass.

I don't even understand why these shorts are worn as they are.  Are these men and women actually running without underwear?  Or are they running in thongs.  For the men I feel like unless they are wearing a dance belt (Click the link at your own risk) they are risking severe scrotal injury.  For the women, I just wonder if briefs are really so confining.  These would be fine with compression shorts, or even briefs.  But somehow I only seem to see people running with flappy ass shorts and no butt coverage.

Perhaps part of the problem is that the texture of the fabrics reminds me of a blown out sodden poopy diaper.  In any case, these shorts are gross, and people need to stop wearing them.  The image I selected spares you from the full ass flap experience, you are welcome.

This has been a public service announcement.  Please spread awareness of this growing and disgusting trend, and tell a friend.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Iraq is Gone

Iraqi Army and Shia Militants during the Tikrit Offensive last week (source, Al Jazeera)

Iraq is gone.  Where once there was Eastern Syria and Western Iraq there is now the Islamic State (ISIS). For all practical purposes Kurdistan is a de facto state in the areas formerly known as Northern Syria and Northern Iraq.  And now with Iranian military and Iranian backed Shia militias doing the fighting while the US sits this campaign out, I think you can just start thinking of Eastern Iraq as Western Iran.

Last September, when I wrote about the disaster in the making that the US approach to ISIS was creating, I was not entirely accurate in my short term predictions.  I did predict that ISIS would be particularly dangerous to Jordan, and I did predict that they would not destroy themselves right away, and that they were rewriting the maps of the Middle-East, and that they would spread to other parts of the Middle East.  But even though I wrote about the Sunni-Shia divide, I somehow failed to see that this could also lead to a vastly expanded sphere of direct Iranian influence.  Like anyone else, I get blinded by emergent threats to global stability, and forget about countries that we have been at odds with for decades.

Now ISIS has been pushed back from Tikrit, in an offensive that the US didn't have much to do with.  The offensive was led by Iranian troops and Iranian backed Shia Militias.  You may recall that these are the guys that we spent so much time, money, and lives fighting a few years back.  The Iraqi military was unable to even slow ISIS, and the US leadership decided that decisive action would be too politically difficult, so a power vacuum was left for Iran to step into.  For the Shia in Iraq, the US approach has meant that the only thing standing between them and the mass murder of their men and systematic rape and enslavement of their women was Iran and Shia militias.  For the Sunni in areas now controlled by ISIS they face the threat of reprisal massacres by Shia Militias.  So for the Sunni residents of the Sunni Triangle, ISIS is the only thing standing between them and slaughter.  Bad times all around.

I have a hard time imagining Iraq ever going back to what it was before the US invasion.

I know that there are a lot of people who think that Iran and ISIS are the same, or likely to team up against the US, but that is wrong.  It may be possible for the US to convince itself (for a while) that things aren't going so bad for our strategy, because peace between Iran and ISIS is, if anything, probably less likely than peace between the US and either ISIS or Iran.  The Atlantic ran an excellent article recently that I feel should be required reading for anyone that wants to talk about ISIS.  There are a number of valuable insights to be gleaned from the article, but one of the key things to take away is the difference between the way ISIS treats Christians and Jews versus the way ISIS treats Shia Muslims and other Islamic sects.

ISIS adheres to a doctrine of Sharia law based on (their interpretation of) the practices of the Prophet Muhammad during the initial expansion of Islam.  When I wrote about how Islam is not incompatible with Western culture I talked about Sharia Law and the ways that the Islamic Caliphates preserved the foundations of Western Culture from a destructive early Christianity, but the Sharia and Islam that I talked about was not the same as what ISIS seeks to bring to the world.

(I want to be very clear that I am not saying that ISIS is un-Islamic.  I'll leave the deciding who is or is not Islamic to ISIS.  I think that Obama was foolish to try to make that claim.  ISIS is not representative of mainstream Islam, and they reject all the values that created a flowering of Islamic art, culture, and power, but that doesn't mean that they are not Islamic)

ISIS pursues a very specific version of Sharia with the stated goal of bringing about the end of the world (literally, they want to usher in the apocalypse and bring about the end of the world).  In order to achieve their goals they base their application of Sharia on the strictest possible interpretation of the Quran and only the portions of the Hadith attributable to the Prophet.  The rest of the intervening centuries of elaboration on Sharia is discarded and only their interpretation of Sharia remains.

What this means is that Christians in ISIS occupied territory are able to live in (relative) peace provided they acknowledge the supremacy of ISIS and pay a tax.  For Shia, and groups like the Yazidi (whom ISIS considers witchcraft practicing apostates), ISIS considers them to be apostates, and by their interpretation of the Quran (or at least the Hadith) is pretty clear that death is the only option for dealing with apostates.  That means that for the majority of the population of Iraq, especially in Eastern Iraq, an ISIS victory means ethnic cleansing and mass murder.

Under Saddam, the Kurds and Shia were opressed by a relatively secular Saddam and the Sunni Arab minority.  After the US invaded and tried to install Western style democracy, the Kurds and the Sunni Arabs were oppressed by the Shia Majority.  ISIS represents an opportunity for protection and power for the Sunni living under their control.  A unitary Iraq represents death and strife.

Now just to be clear, I don't think that Eastern Iraq is actually going to be annexed by Iran.  The two countries fought the deadliest war since WWII, and there is a lot of bad blood, but I do think that Iraq is no longer going to be a regional balance to Iran.  Whatever is left of Iraq when the dust settles is more likely to be a tail wagged by Iran's big dog.

This backdrop should also be remembered when pondering the negotiations between the US and Iran over their nuclear ambitions.  Iran's nuclear ambitions already threatened the balance of power in the Middle East, now they are able to expand their areas of influence on the ground as well as through international negotiations.

I cannot pretend that I know what path is best for dealing with Iran.  I know much less about those issues than I probably should.

What I do feel pretty confident about is that Iraq is now an unrecognized casualty of the US led response to ISIS.


I was originally envisioning this as a much larger article, but I think that it might be best to leave this entry short, and split some of the other ideas I am working on into other pieces.  One that I want to put together is looking at why ISIS appeals to so many people from all over the world.  But my next entry on this topic is going to be about why we need to stop calling ISIS a terrorist organization.  ISIS is not a terrorist organization it is an insane theocracy centered on a millenniarian death cult and a state sponsor of terrorism, but it is an actual de-facto state at this point.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Knife Review: Spartan Harsey Difensa: First Impressions

Since my other reviews have had pictures of folding knives with guns, I thought that for my first review of a fixed blade knife I would picture it with a folding gun.  My great-grandfather's .22LR-20Ga. over under.


Even more than my other knives, this knife purchase for me was an extravagance.  The Spartan Harsey knives are a pretty expensive line of knives (the Difensa starts at $425), but I have wanted one for a few years now.  It was actually meeting William Harsey at an archaeological excavation he visited that got me serious about knives again.  And it was this knife, the Spartan Harsey Difensa, that he showed me a prototype of that really captured my imagination.  So when I got paid for my first piece of professional writing, I decided to treat myself.

This is actually the second Spartan Harsey that I have purchased, but this is the first one that I have purchased that I have actually gotten to hold.  The other Spartan knife was a Harsey Model II that is currently residing in the Middle East with the soldier I purchased it for.

This knife was designed for a Canadian special operations force.  The name Difensa comes from the battle of Monte la Difensa in WWII.  This battle was the first combat in the Italian theater for the First Special Service Force, a combined Canada and US elite commando unit.  During the battle of Monte la Difensa the FSSF suffered 77% casualties, but they accomplished their seemingly impossible goal.  Following WWII the FSSF was disbanded, but the Canadian Special Operations Forces trace their lineage to the FSSF, and the Green Berets trace their roots to the FSSF and OSS.

The Spartan Harsey Difensa was designed to be a knife that would serve well in the Canadian forests, as well as in combat.  It's a heck of a knife.

Let's start with the specs:

Specifications (from Spartan Blades Website):
Knife Name:  Spartan Harsey Difensa
Designer:  William Harsey
Overall Length: 11 5/8"
Blade Length: 6 1/4"
Blade Thickness: 3/16"
Blade Steel: CPM S35VN
Blade Hardness: 59-60 HRC
Blade Style: Spear Point - Flat ground main bevel with tapered top edge.
Coating: SpartaCoat - PVD - Tungsten DLC (Black) or ZrN (Flat Dark Earth)
Handle Material: 3D Contoured CE Canvas Micarta® Black or Green
Weight: 0.710 LBS

This is a substantial knife, but not actually as heavy as one might assume.  Despite having a full tang construction, and being ground out of a beefy 3/16" blade stock, the knife still comes in under 3/4 of a pound.

The handle on this knife is made of contoured canvas micarta.  This gives the handle an organic and warm feel in the hand.  One thing that I have found when holding this type of textured micata is that it feels almost soft in the the hand, even though it is actually a very hard and durable material.  Micarta is made by layering organic materials like canvas, linen, or paper with resin and compressing them.  G10 is a similar material, but with fiberglass as the layered material.  The advantage of a canvas micarta, aside from appearance, is that with a rough finish of the type used on this handle, the very outer portions of the canvas can actually absorb a little moisture which means that the handle actually becomes grippier when wet, even though the dimensions and shape of the micarta remain stable.  It is a very subtle feature, but an example of the way that Harsey designs his knives.

The blade coating on my knife is the Flat Dark Earth, which is made of Zirconium Nitride (ZrN).  Zirconium Nitride is a very tough and hard coating material with a Vickers Hardness of 2800.  For comparison steel is apparently generally in the 55-180 Vickers range, while diamond is 10,000.  So the coating is a very durable coating.  It is also an attractive coating with a coloration similar to elemental gold and a subtle sheen.  ZrN also has a respectable friction coefficient of 0.5, which is about on par with raw dry steel.  However, lubricated steel has a coefficient of 0.16, which translates to a noticeable difference in ease of slicing when chopping vegetables since the ZrN coating doesn't behave the same as wet steel.  For comparison teflon has a friction coefficient of 0.04 and rubber has a friction coefficient of 1-2.

The steel itself is the very fancy supersteel CPM S35VN.  This is a very tough, hard wearing, corrosion resistant, stainless steel that is able to take and hold a very keen edge.  It is a particle steel, which as I have written before is made with science magic.  The fantastic performance has something to do with carbides... I think.  I'm no metallurgist.

The CPM S35VN really does not need the blade coating for performance reasons or corrosion protection, the coating is put on the blade to reduce the reflectiveness of the blade.  This knife is designed for tactical use by Canadian Special Forces after all.

A note on the sheath:  I chose to get the MOLLE nylon sheath, rather than the Kydex sheath that is offered.  My reasons for this are that I like the look of the nylon sheath, that is what the version that Bill showed me was in, and I do not plan to be in situations where a fraction of a second difference in how fast I can pull out the knife would make a difference.  But most importantly for my choice was that I like the more traditional sheath appearance of the nylon sheath.  For the Model II that I purchased for that soldier who is currently in a warm place, I chose the Kydex sheath.  Just in case.


In previous reviews I have made lists of pros and cons.  I have decided to try a different format going forward, I will see how I like it.  I'll go over different aspects of the knife and give my opinion.  In order to avoid stepping on any other knife reviewers toes out there I won't be giving numerical scores (there is a knife reviewer, Everyday Commentary, that uses set categories and numerical values, and makes very excellent knife reviews.  I am trying to find a way to make good knife reviews without ripping him off, but his reviews are really nice.  You can read them here.  I think his reviews are some of the best I've read).

I also want to be clear that I am evaluating this knife differently than I would be evaluating a $30 knife.  This is a $400+ knife, and I am evaluating it as such.  It is by far the most expensive knife I have purchased, so I am quite picky as I review it.


I feel that CPM S35VN is an excellent steel, and a good fit for a knife in this price range.  I'd say that the steel is an unequivocal positive.

Blade Coating:

The ZrN is good looking.  It's tough.  If it gets any apparent marks on it you can just spray it down with WD40 and they'll come right off.  But I'm not really that crazy about it honestly.

I'd be lying if I said that the cool factor of the coating wasn't a big part of what first attracted me to the knife, however now that I have it I feel ambivalent.  I find that the coating is actually difficult to keep clean looking.  The coating has a texture, and that texture makes everything seem to show up on the blade.  I don't know if this will change over the years or not.  Plus, as I discussed earlier I feel like the increased drag of the coating makes the knife less useful for food prep tasks, but it is not really designed to be a kitchen knife.

I can't say that the coating is bad, I just don't find it to be a positive for me, other than the cool factor.  It is very pretty and cool looking, especially in person  (Maybe some day I'll have the juice to get my hands on a Harsey Tactical Trout which is similarly shaped but has an uncoated blade).


The blade size is a little large for some tasks.  It is probably about an inch longer than would be ideal for most fixed blade purposes that I would typically subject a hunting knife to.  That said, since I don't buy knives that are going to just sit in the safe, I have started carrying this when I am clearing brush and working in the woods.  What I have found is that the little bit of extra size really actually does make a very perceptible difference when doing things like chopping through small branches.  This is a knife made for heavy use, and it handles the heavy tasks very well indeed.  So while I might want a knife that was going to be for just hunting purposes to be a little smaller (like say the Spartan Harsey Hunter, which I seriously considered buying since it is smaller and hand ground by Bill Harsey, but it is almost $100 more, and I had fallen in love with the Difensa first), but for the use that I have actually been able to put this knife to so far, the extra size has been a bonus.

The blade shape is quite lovely.  The tip comes to a point that is a little more acute than I feel the photos truly capture, which is consistent with the original intended purpose of the knife, but the blade shape remains a good, broadly useful design.  The dropped point brings the point to a very controllable location for fine work.  The blade provides ample belly for slicing tasks.  And the large choil allows the user to choke up on the blade.

The blade geometry is a high flat grind, which is well suited to general and rough use.  The stock that the blade is ground from is a beefy 3/16 inch stock, so the blade gets thicker faster than a blade from thinner stock would, this could also contribute to the less easy kitchen cutting I mentioned previously (also the finger guard gets in the way on a counter, really, it just isn't a kitchen knife, and it is not designed to be).  This is one of the inevitable trade-offs that one encounters when getting a heavy duty knife.  A big beefy tactical utility blade with a full tang is not going to be the same shape as a kitchen knife and neither will perform the same for different tasks.  Different knives have different uses that they are best suited to, and I feel like the Difensa does an admirable job of balancing different needs.


When it comes to the handle I have to both praise it, and voice a very specific to me complaint.  First the good.  This handle is very comfortable in the hand.  The texture of the handle feels nice to touch.  The handle is large enough to comfortably accommodate larger hands.  The handle is also designed to work with people wearing gloves (Canada, Eh?), which is very nice for me since I do usually wear gloves when working in the bush.

Also, as a very specific aside on the handle, the full tang of the handle sits flush with the handle scales.  This is in contrast to the Chris Reeve Harsey knives that feature tangs that sit a little proud of the scales.  I find that feature slightly uncomfortable for ungloved use, but it was designed to make it easier to orient the knife in the hand while wearing gloves.  I am grateful that the Difensa does not share that design feature.

So what's the complaint?  Well it has to do with an old injury I suffered.  Some years back I fell off of a roof, broke a bunch of bones and suffered various other collateral injuries.  Specifically, when it comes to using knives, I shattered my right ring finger metacarpal, and broke the right ring finger itself in four places.  This injury isn't particularly noticeable unless I point out that I have no knuckle on that finger, and it waggles.  It is excruciatingly painful to this day for me to grip hard with the right ring finger, so I have adjusted by using the right pinky for grip more than most people.  If you ever notice in my reviews that I pay a lot of attention to whether or not a folding knife allows for a four finger grip, that is why.  For me a three finger is a two finger grip.  That also means that I tend to want a little extra room to position my pinky on a handle, especially on a fixed blade.  The design of the Difensa handle is ergonomically lovely, but it crowds my pinky just a little.  Oddly, this isn't noticeable when I'm wearing gloves, but when I am using the knife bare handed it sometimes bugs me a little.

So that is a hyper specific complaint based on the ways that I adjust my grip on knives.  Take it for what it's worth.

Fit and Finish:

Here is were the judging is most affected by the price tag, as I said earlier, this is a $400+ knife and is judged as such.  My current gold standard for fit and finish is the Fantoni HB 02, which had zero defects I could identify.  The Difensa did not quite match that.

First off, the primary bevel does not appear to be completely symmetrical to me. This is a little surprising to me since my other complaint is that it looks to me like there are some faintly visible CNC milling marks on the primary bevels.  I know that most of their knives are not hand ground, but I would expect computer precision on the primary bevels if the grinding is being done by a CNC machine.

So those are my fit and finish complaints, otherwise this knife is just gorgeous.  Also you may want to bear in mind that these complaints I mentioned are so subtle that I actually could not capture them with my cameras.  The fit and finish is excellent, but I cannot call it flawless like the Fantoni.


This is a special knife.  When I was first introduced to this knife a few years ago it was so impressive that it played a big role in rekindling my interest in knives, which had been fairly dormant for a number of years.  When I decided that I was going to use my first check for archaeological writing on something for myself I immediately knew it was going to be this knife.  I had held this knife up as a "someday" aspiration, and it was pretty great to make "someday" into "now."

Now that I have this knife that I had built up into an aspiration in my possession, I am pretty darned happy with it.  I think that is a strong recommendation.  It takes a lot of knife to live up to the expectations and anticipation that I invested in this knife.

If you are looking for a solidly constructed knife for rough use in a variety of environments and purposes that is also aesthetically pleasing, this knife is a good choice.


And now the rest of the pictures.  These were taken with a new lens that is better for low light, but I am still getting the hang of it, and the lens cannot zoom.

You can see a little of the wear on the handle from use in the Oregon woods.  This is not a bad thing in my mind, this is just the start of the handle gaining the character I expect it to gain from use.

The Spartan logo and blade steel.

Harsey Difensa

The knife with the MOLLE sheath

A better angle on the knife

The blade has a very Harsey profile, but the tip is a little more needle-like than  even the Fantoni or Applegate-Fairbairn

A view of the texturing of the canvas micarta handle scales

A generous and comfortable handle

A view of the jimping on the thumb ramp.  The large size of the jimping provides for use with a gloved hand.

Just a shot I liked

A view to show the symmetrical balance of the knife, as well as the overall geometry of blade and handle

A lovely shape

Fixed blade and folding gun

One last shot