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About ndking

Commercial Photographer and Professor of Photography at San Diego City College

Consensus and the Myth of Scientific Certainty

This is an edited “repost” of a Facebook entry in which I waded off into the deep water when one time too many I was told that any opposition to scientific consensus was too stupid to be taken seriously.  It came after I questioned a Facebook meme using a quote from Neil DeGrasse Tyson, someone I like a lot but this time it pushed me over an edge.

Let me start by making it clear: I like Neil DeGRasse Tyson a lot. He is a brilliant presenter and top rate speaker and, I assume, a first-class scientist in his own field. (Yes, I confess I much preferred Carl Sagan’s original version of “Cosmos” but still I did enjoy the Tyson remake.)  But I am tired of seeing meme after meme using his picture or quotes to back up some claim or other about science, especially when it carries the implication of him asserting something he would certainly know better than to affirm.

Appealing presenter of palatable science that he is, his presentation was not entirely free of somewhat grievous error, especially when he steps outside his actual discipline.  Sometimes he allows the narrative to stray into other disciplines and in one case it strayed into mine.  And into a topic in which I knew him to be in error.  Like Ptolemaeus, the brilliant mathematician and astronomer of ancient Alexandria who went on to essentially codify what we now refer to as Astrology, he can be brilliant and still be dead wrong.  In Episode 4 of Tyson’s remake of Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos,” there appears a fascinating assertion: that William Herschel, one of the great scientists of his day, invented photography.

I’ll just let that sink in for all you photographers… especially those of you who are familiar with photo history and that can spell “Niepce” and therefore know better.  Herschel did, it is true, some tinkering and important improvements in the development of the photo image, notably in the chemistry of “fixing” the image; and he was the subject of a delightful portrait by Julia Margaret Cameron — but he was certainly not its inventor,

But the real issue here is the pretense of the validity of consensus in the scientific world. If anyone on the planet should know that scientific consensus has nearly zero value as an indicator of final scientific truth, it should be Tyson — or anyone mildly conversant with scientific inquiry and history or even, for that matter, just familiar with such names as Eratosthenes, Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler, Brahe, Huygens, Darwin,  Newton, Maxwell, Einstein, Bohr, Schroedinger, Planck,  Hawking — all of whom are rightly famous for major advancements in science achieved by crushing the existing consensus over some bit of commonly accepted scientific ‘truth’ that was the consensus of the day.

If Columbus had accepted Eratosthenes’s calculation as to the earth’s circumference instead of the consensus thinking of his day, he would have known that when he made landfall in the Americas, he was not nearly far enough from his point of origin to be where he claimed he was.   Had he known and claimed the truth that he was setting foot on land unknown to the Europeans, he would have been acclaimed an incredible hero instead of earning his latter reputation as the leader in the greatest navigational blunder in the history of seafaring.

If ever a red flag should be waved fiercely in front of your mind it is when someone tries to convince you of a position because there is a consensus of any group, even scientists, who accept it.  In no field is truth revealed by popular vote or majority rule; and science is, historically, no exception.

Science is not advanced by consensus but by verifiable, repeatable experiments to prove hypotheses following out-of-the-box concepts that take current thinking from an existing plateau to a new level.  It is about quantifiable provable data and not about acceptance or rejection by people with a vested, often career-saving interest in a particular interpretation or preconceived outcome… much less by people with an ideological axe to grind.  Contrary to real scientific traditions and processes, there are, today, certain propositions to which if you do not openly and publicly swear acceptance and allegiance you will not be admitted into the halls of academia because they fit the political narratives and agendae of the current “choir.”.  That is not science; and acquiescence and acceptance of it is not science but rather, in my mind, a betrayal of the scientific traditions.

The problem is that science — good science — exists outside the world of human wishes, beliefs, hopes, fears, and other emotional reactions to phenomena.  Were it not for people refusing to accept an existing consensus we would still be believers in a flat earth and a heliocentric model of the universe, viruses would not exist much less effect health, dinosaur bones would be hoaxes placed by a capricious deity to confuse our minds and tempt us to stray from the proper path, and we would still have no idea about how such common things as “light” actually work and impact our lives.

We are all free to believe or not believe whatever suits us.  Huxley wrote that, “…we tend to believe what we tend to prefer.”  Until it directly effects me I am divinely indifferent to your personal beliefs about most anything.  But if you wish to persuade me of a proposition of ANY sort, especially if it appears to defy common observation or logic, then you need lead your “proofs” with more than simply an assertion of some group’s consensus, even scientist’s groups.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof or verification.  Collective or “group-think” may be extraordinarily (and increasingly) prevalent as a shield from the horrors of intellectual initiative; but it is not extraordinarily likely to be accurate.

The positions or theories about whose truth or accuracy you seek to convince me may or may not actually be accurate, but that status is not a function of any collective believing it to be true.

You could, of course, argue, that I am not a scientist so what do I know about it.  Well, I can read (a dying art these days, I admit).   But still it is a valid counter so I ran this by my friend, Dr. Jeffery Forrest, who teaches earth sciences (among other things) and this was his response.

“There is no “truth” in science. There is only a set of conclusions or premises bases on a plethora of STATED assumptions, delimitations, and limitations – these conclusions are accepted or rejected based on a shared reality of the state-of-being of some construct or system.

“As you have detailed, science reveals clues about the state of some matter (physical or otherwise) that is not absolute – ergo, the infamous disclaimer, “all other factors held constant.”   

“Humanity is a highly insecure animal. Its individuals look to science or faith for the illusive state of Truth – something to sleep well with. It’s a real shocker for most to be confronted with the realism that credible scientists are in the business of describing uncertainty and in doing so perhaps reveal new knowledge (discovery), and that advocates of security through faith, require courage to have that faith despite the uncertainty.”

I rest my case…


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Posted by on May 6, 2017 in Uncategorized


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Was Keenes Right in a Quote Liberals Ignore?

Former Reagan Administration White House Budget Director David Stockman. who wrote a book titled “Trumped” predicting a Trump victory in 2016, said in a recent interview as reported by retired economist Charles Hayek (not to be confused with the world famous famous economist Frederich Hayek, the patron saint of Milton Friedman) responding to questions about Trump’s programs for spending money on military, etc.and assertions that under his amazing leadership the economy would soon really rebound,

“I don’t think there is a snowball’s chance in the hot place that’s going to happen. This is delusional. This is the greatest suckers’ rally of all time. It is based on pure hopium and not any analysis at all as what it will take to push through a big tax cut. Donald Trump is in a trap. The debt now is $20 trillion. It’s 106% of GDP…Trump is inheriting a built-in deficit of $10 trillion over the next decade under current policies that are built in. Yet, he wants more defense spending, not less. He wants drastic sweeping tax cuts for corporations and individuals. He wants to spend more money on border security and law enforcement. He’s going to do more for the veterans. He wants this big trillion dollar infrastructure program. You put all that together and it’s madness. It doesn’t even begin to add up, and it won’t happen when you are struggling with the $10 trillion of debt that’s coming down the pike and the $20 trillion that’s already on the books… 

“I think what people are missing is this date, March 15th2017. That’s the day that this debt ceiling holiday that Obama and Boehner put together right before the last election in October of 2015. That holiday expires. The debt ceiling will freeze in at $20 trillion. It will then be law. It will be a hard stop. The Treasury will have roughly $200 billion in cash. We are burning cash at a $75 billion a month rate. By summer, they will be out of cash. Then we will be in the mother of all debt ceiling crises. Everything will grind to a halt. I think we will have a government shutdown. There will not be Obama Care repeal and replace. There will be no tax cut. There will be no infrastructure stimulus. There will be just one giant fiscal bloodbath over a debt ceiling that has to be increased and no one wants to vote for.”

He also noted,

“The S&P 500 has been trading at 26 times earnings while earnings have been dropping for the past six or seven quarters. There is no booming recovery coming. There is going to be a recession and there will be no stimulus baton to bail it out. That is the new fact that neither Trump nor the Wall Street gamblers remotely understand.”

If that is an accurate assessment, then Trump’s plans are simply unattainable.  His base seem to think that he can, by the strength of his claimed unique expertise, turn the U.S. economy around because he says he can and because so much of this country desperately needs him to pull it off.  But if we hit that new debt ceiling quickly and become 20 trillion dollars in debt, all the while we, as we are currently,  adding about a trillion dollars a year to that total, I don’t see any possible way that Trump can cut taxes, increase military spending, build a border wall, spend much more on veterans much less spend an extra trillion dollars on rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure.  We already are technically bankrupt as a nation (more debt than we have revenue via production to cover).  So it is possible that in a VERY short period of time, Trump (and the rest of the country) will get a very hard economic slap in the face.

Before you think of this as an anti-Trump rant, let me be clear: I don’t think it would have been any different under Clinton; the end date of that “debt ceiling holiday” was already set into law by Obama and she would simply have wanted to spend as much as Trump just on different programs.  He will, of course, be blamed for it since it will happen on his ‘watch’ regardless of when it was set in motion.  I don’t think he or Clinton could have stopped it without Draconian measures that would loose their respective basses as their pet causes were gutted. His ego and her conviction we can spend our way out of debt would have precluded either from tackling the problem appropriately.

And there is too much pain to go around for the weak willed and desperate-to-keep-their-cushy-jobs congress to even propose such austere measures as would be needed. And the people as a whole, in direct contradiction to JFK’s admonition, simply want to know how the government can better take care of themselves and relieve them of all consequences for their personal choices and behaviors.

So it will be interesting to see if Stockman’s prediction comes to pass as predicted and it is not like we will have to wait very long to test them.  Unfortunately he did not also say what would be the outward effects on us all if he was right, just that Trump’s plans would be made unattainable.  But their unattainability is due, in his view, to the government essentially running out of cash.

From a practical standpoint I’m not exactly sure what that means since we already know there is not enough currency in circulation to cover the debt already (the Federal Reserve says we have about $1.5 trillion in circulation).so where does the rest of the $18.5 Trillion come from to retire the debt were it called in? Can we continue forever addicted and euphotic from overdoses of what he calls “Hopium?” Much of the debt is intergovernmental to agencies such as Social Security and held in the form of Treasury Bonds.  If that failed then they would have to shut down.  THe current administration would, of course, be blamed for “shutting down the government” but the policies and situation that came to that was set in motion well before they had any say in it.

Over $6 Trillion of the debt is foreign held.  Some pundits assert that China would never simply call in its $1.1 Trillion debt because it would basically kill the dollar on the world market which would hurt everyone including themselves.  But if they had sufficiently divested themselves of dollar holdings to allow their own currency and gold to sustain them trough a rocky period, and the world reserve currency was now also held in Chinese currency, (which, thanks to the IMF it now is a part of their Special Drawing Rights currencies mix), and the result was to essentially destroy the U.S. economy and with it our ability to wage even a defensive war to stop their expansion into other areas (think about the economic ruin of the Soviet Union and its effect on them), I am personally not so sure of their benevolence on our behalf.

Whether anything happens on Match 15th or not, I think this could be a VERY interesting year… and, for us, not an altogether positive one.  And it has nothing to do with Trump or Clinton as it has been set in place and grown over a long period of time.  THe economic patron saint of liberals, Charles Maynard Keene, in a quote liberals ignore, wrote that the easiest way to destroy a country was to debauch the currency.  We have done that with reckless abandon and I think we shall soon see whether or not he was right.

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Posted by on February 27, 2017 in Uncategorized


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Blind Anger Is Going to Destroy Us…

History is clear about some things and among those is that if you give anger enough fuel it will lead to violence.   Charles Hayek wrote, “It doesn’t take much of a trigger to push extremely large crowds of very angry protesters into committing acts of rioting and violence. And rioting and violence can ultimately lead to widespread civil unrest and calls for ‘revolution’.”  Among the photos and videos of the latest protests is a picture of a woman holding up a sign that reads, “Remove Trump by any means necessary!”  My God people, don’t you see where this is going?

Many of you are already engaged in selective amnesia over Trump’s Executive Directive to temporarily restrict immigration from 7 (of the 50) predominantly Muslim countries in the world, having forgotten that in 2011 Saint Barack issued an identical temporary ban on refugees from Iraq until a better vetting system could be created.  His administration also was the compiler of the list that Trump used to designate countries for his temporary ban.  But for disciples of Saint Barack he was just trying to keep us safe while the evil Trump demon is seen as being un-American and simply tearing down the fabric of our country.  The only substantive difference was in scope and that as disciples you were prostrating yourselves at the feet  of your political messiah and now are in rending your clothes and engaging in emotional self-flagellation in shock that there are actually people out there dumb enough to reject his (to you) enlightened teachings.  Therefore even for similar or even identical actions if Saint Barack does it, it has to be good and if Demon Trump does the same thing it has to be bad and therefore, by definition based on initiator and despite identical effects, they cannot be the same things.  But the only REAL differences, other than length of ban, was that Obama was smart enough to do it quietly and Trump was narcissistic enough to make a production and spectacle of it.   Even arch liberal attorney from Harvard, Allan Dershowitz opined that whether one favored it or not on a policy basis he thought this would pass Constitutional muster.

I was not completely sold on the efficiency of the ban when Obama did it and feel the same now.  There are too many holes in it to be effective and thus far no details on the better vetting being promised.  But good grief, folks, get a grip.  Obama’s temporary ban was for 6 months and whether or not it actually kept any bad guys out the country still stood and no massive upheaval took place.  I assume there was no evidence of it working because if there were ANY evidence it stopped so much as one attack we would have heard about it endlessly from Obama the same as he claimed he killed Bin Laden.  Trump’s ban is for 90 days and the odds are good we will survive it as well.

But the amnesia goes deeper into territory beyond the merely hypocritical and into the dangerous zone.  For those with at least a smattering of remembered history, you have to recall that only once in the political history of the planet has an attempted revolution ended upon a better note than it started and that was our War of Independence from England.  Every other  Revolution, from France ending in the Reign of Terror to Russia ending in the Stalin blood baths, to the Chinese atrocities by Mao’s Red Army, revolution has been a predictable recipe for long term disaster for the country.  Over a century and a half later our own country is really not completely over the rancor from our own civil war.  Almost a century ago, the National Socialist Party in Germany was correct that the Weimar Republic was destroying their country but the result of their overturning existing structures was Adolph Hitler.  Statistically the attempts at regime change by extra- systemic means is most likely to lead to something worse than what was overturned.

For me, the division that created the grid lock of the last years has ossified in the congress and culture to fashion a division that threatens to tear us apart with far greater power and skill than any foreign enemy could do.  And continuing the dialogue of hatred simply exacerbates the problem.  The continued ad hominem slurs flung wildly at each other do not serve to persuade anyone to change sides and only cause the warring factions to dig their heels in deeper.  There is so much history to let you know that you are, on both sides of this, simply hurting the country more that the hated other side could ever do by itself.  My ancestors, the Highland Scots were too busy launching clan against clan to have any chance of a strong coordinated front against the British.  The American Indian tribes were too busy counting coup on each other to join forces to hold the Europeans at bay.  One time tribes united and wiped out Custer but then quickly broke apart and were easy prey.  Is your growing hatred so great you cannot see what you are doing to the far more important entity than your sainted candidates? (That would be the country by the way.)  You claim you want to save the country from the evil hordes massed on the other side of the political spectrum; but they, equally fervent and sincere in their beliefs, claim exactly the same thing.  And together you leave us broken and defenseless from the real enemies out there.

Some of you are so taken by the hatred for the other side I am frankly embarrassed to admit I know you.  And that statement is aimed in BOTH directions.  But this time the overt hatred seems to be coming mostly from the left.  You were scandalized by the rightwing stonewalling Obama accusing them, accurately I think, of not thinking about the country.  Well guess what guys, now you are doing the same.

The real problem I see is that you are high centering on a basket of red herrings when other more important and problematic activities are taking place quietly.  From an internal perspective, Trump’s creating a private security force to replace some of the Secret Service responsibilities has some frightening negative potential from a historical perspective.  His declaring as a candidate for 2020 is hard to explain other than as a ploy to allow funding available to candidates but not to presidents along with other shields for activities that would be blocked for him as a president.  His reshuffling of his intelligence and security departments and meetings may be a good thing but it needs to be explained to a skeptical nation because it could also be easily interpreted as a means of consolidating power for a coup into tyranny.  I think many of the departments need a major shaking up, but because such shake up can go in multiple directions I think the initiator of those actions needs to explain them and his rationale to the public.

From a geopolitical perspective, we are a single step away from chaos and war on a grand scale. Let’s review…  Iran is testing ballistic missiles claiming it is for “defense.” Really?  Their intercepted communications are exploring the concept of using HEMP (High altitude ElectroMagnetic Pulse) weapons against the great Satan which, in case you have forgotten, is us.   North Korea is testing nukes and delivery vehicles.  China has been creating new militarized islands in the territorial waters of Vietnam and Philippines and a few months ago, sent a naval fleet into U.S. Territorial waters.  Russia has taken and claimed other neighboring countries and twice strafed U.S. naval vessels in international waters.  India is busily damming and redirecting water from a river that flows through Pakistan and is considered their “river of life” and over which they have stated they would go to war and pre-emptively use their nukes. And ISIS continues its harangue to kill Americans wherever they can be found.

Meantime on the home front, to help coalesce opposing parties into a unified front we have idiots openly supporting the concept of an assassination as an acceptable solution to the demon Trump situation.  Maybe we have reached the end of track for our country and between internal morons trying to take us apart in violence and outside villains doing all they can to destabilize us even further and then pick us off we are way into borrowed time.

Your reality checks have bounced… you are sitting on the back of a tiger but worried about the rats.

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Posted by on January 31, 2017 in Uncategorized


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Be Careful What You Ask For 

I never knew so much vilification could be rained down on one living man before, but wow, Donald Trump will surely have some sort of “most hated” title to go down in history.  Vlad The Impaler, Ghengis Khan, Tamerlane, Attila, Lorenzo D’Medici, Torquemada, Ivan the Terrible, these were all pikers compared to Trump.  Hitler was a Boy Scout and Stalin was a choir boy by comparison.  Wow, c’mon now, get a grip… he isn’t even in office yet.

What is equally fascinating is the litany of brutal social media posts all seeming to encourage and push him and his new administration toward a galaxy class failure.  Well, as many know I did not support and did not vote for the man but… but … regardless of your fondest desires, boys and girls, he is the next president.  You have tried every ploy in the book now even cooking up sordid allegations but you know what?  It doesn’t matter.  By the rules of the game he won fair and square.  The bizarre attempt to get the entire electoral college to go rogue failed miserably.  Accept it, he is the next President.

So why are you all clamoring for him to fail?  Remember when Obama was elected (I didn’t vote for him either) how you were all exercised about the idiots hoping for his failure?  You were right, they were idiots; like or loathe the president we are in this, as citizens, together and the president’s failure is our failure as well.  So why is it now OK to hope for Trump’s failure?

Let’s stipulate, for purposes of this discussion, that all of the terrible things said about him are true.  It doesn’t change a thing and isn’t going to, despite all of the last minute shenanigans.  Good guy, bad guy, idiot, or savant, he enters a world about which there is little disagreement among close international observers as to how dire it really is.  Consider this:

We live in a world at a time where geopolitically it is more dangerous than at any time since the Soviet Union failed.  ISIS is now a full-fledged Army with the avowed goal of wiping out the west and all infidels and apostates and ushering in a new world Caliphate.  We push them out of one city only to watch helplessly while they take over another.  Iran has the avowed goal of destroying the Jewish State and, while they are at it, the “Great Satan,” which is us.  They even have been busy with their new uranium from the Russians (bought with our hostage money), creating plans for a HEMP (High altitude Electro-Magnetic Pulse) explosion that would fry our grids (plural) and most of the electronic devices across the U.S.  (However the same result could be achieved by taking out under a score of selected transmission sites manually by conventional explosives and operatives on the ground.)  Then while we quickly descend into chaos killing and eating each other in the dark their sponsored terrorists can make short work of us in the name of Allah.  China is taking over the South China Seas even creating new islands and militarizing them while working hard at building a huge modern navy ignoring UN complaints.  North Korea is boasting ballistic missile capability and a desire to fire one at us and laughing at the UN.  And Russia itself under a leader who seems to want to be the next Peter The Great is expanding into neighboring states and thumbing its nose at world complaints.

Economically, chaos is also just over the horizon.  The Chinese currency has been accepted into the basket of currencies for the IMF’s “special drawing rights” as reserve currency for international trade in furtherance of a goal to devalue the dollar already weakened with unrestrained printing.  If the dollar’s value drops sufficiently then those holding debt from us will want repayment and maybe NOT in dollars.  China is already divesting of dollars in trade for gold   And speaking of the debt, at now almost $20 Trillion (it doubled in the last administration) it would take over $168,000.00 from each taxpayer in the country to repay it.  How likely do you think that is?  Really?

In any case, to pay taxes we must have jobs to create taxpayers.  The government loves to point out that fewer people are filing for unemployment.  Who cares?  That is not the real measure; it just tells us few people are applying.  The REAL measure of employment is the Bureau of Labor Statistics on “Labor Participation Rates” that show we have a lower percentage of people who can work and want to work but are employed than at any time since the 1970s.  We have increased the number of people below the poverty level and massively increased the number of food stamps.

Of course the planet is warming up.  Given where we are statistically between glacial periods some scientists ask why isn’t it warmer?  Given precession and wobble of the earth’s orbit we are prey to the sun and its storms which have historically warmed us up dramatically.  Indeed by sheer luck and a few hours of planetary travel through space we barely missed a solar storm that would have engulfed us just recently (making a HEMP explosion seem like a firecracker). But what are we doing?  We’re wasting time arguing about whether the warming is completely natural or completely human caused and who does or does not believe either side.  We will have lots of time to debate that, what we have very little time for (if the worst case predictions come true which is always the safe course to follow ) is preparing for the results if the sea levels do rise dramatically.  As far as I’ve read, only Boston is taking preparations that will channel the water if it rises and even if not will create an attractive feature along a modified waterfront.  California?  Nope.  They’re still arguing over tidal generators and desalinization displacing a few fish along the shore and how to keep water from the farmers in the Central Valley in order to save the Delta Smelt and Snail Darters.  Meantime true believers keep pointing so an alleged consensus of scientists (as if a consensus in science has EVER been an indicator of reality throughout history) that is largely irrelevant especially as other concerns present a far more existential threat to the country in the short term.

Despite the delusion of the left, Trump is walking into a left over and developing quagmire that could well be beyond ANYONE’S ability to fix.  If he fails, especially if he fails on several of those fronts, this country will be in deep trouble, and could perhaps become a true 3rd world country overnight if the power goes down.  So, given all of that, what level of idiocy does it take to root for him to fail?  What special kind of stupid is required to want to see him unable to stabilize any of those issues much less all of them?  What manner of historical, sociological, political, economical, philosophical ignorance is needed to think that if he fails the result of that failure will be better for us and the country than if somehow, even magically, he succeeds?

Whether you hate him or love him, whether you think his is spawn of the devil or a saving angel, whether you think his is any or all of the scurrilous labels that have been applied to him in the time since the election, you sure as Hell better hope he succeeds as president in getting this country back on its feet and strong again. Given the world we are facing I’m not sure any living human could succeed in saving us over the next few years, much less Trump.  But I am hoping against hope that I am wrong.

I wrote back in the mid-1990s that I believed that by the elections of 2012 we had not turned this country back from its current course we would have passed the point of no return on the slide into our eventual downfall, ready to turn the reins over to the next super power, God Help us, because I thought it would be China.  But that was before ISIS found the vacuum it needed to grow into the threat it has become.

However, we did not make that course correction by 2012.  I do not know but that it might be too late or whether, even if we make it now, we can escape the same fate as all the other great civilizations; and for exactly the same reasons.  So whatever I may believe about Trump’s competence or personality or psychology or intellect, I have no option but to hope he can pull it off, succeed as president and get this country back on track.

Obama said, in his farewell address, there is no greater title than Citizen of the U.S.  I happen to agree with that statement.  And I think our duty, as citizens, is to put the animosity of the election behind us and try to work together at least civilly to help our new president succeed.  That means we have to remind him when we think he is off track, but it also means we have to support him when he actually seems to be making things improve.  And we must learn to do both in a respectful manner likely to appeal to those we seek to persuade rather than simply drive the wedges between us deeper.

No one individual is either all good or all bad, and certainly that is also true of any collective or humans including political parties.  If we cannot objectively see the bad things our guy is doing and work to correct it, but also see the good thing their guy is doing and work to help support it, then we  do not deserve the title of Citizen.

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Posted by on January 12, 2017 in Uncategorized


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The Evolving “Trump Doctrine” — The Good and the Bad.

I’m so tired of all of the desperate cries of knee-jerk revulsion at the new President Elect that pretend to know with absolute certainty that, among other things, he is a spawn of the Devil to put even the previously hated “Bush Demon” to shame, and that he is, by liberal definition, the political and geo-political AntiChrist that will usher us rapidly down the road to ruin and perdition, darkness will envelope the country shore to shore and we will all be living wretched lives in caves surely by, oh, say, mid February at the latest… 

True, Trump certainly is not a supporter of socialistic tendencies as desired by the alt-left and is, to their increasing horror, an unabashed, unrepentant capitalist.  Viewed in a vacuum, that does, I confess appeal to me in terms of economic philosophies; but that does not lend itself to quite so simple a conclusion for either side when placed in the context of a government leader as opposed to a business leader. 

But there are somethings that the business world, especially that part of it that is international in application, does better than governments, and one of those is gathering and interpreting geo-political intelligence on the areas and governments in which it must do business.  Why do I say that?  After all literature is overflowing with tales of the intelligence exploits of CIA, MI6, KGB and GRU.  As some of you know, my military service was in an intelligence capacity so I do know of the vast capabilities of governmental information gathering using both overt and covert methodologies.  But there is a huge weakness in governmental intelligence and it was seldom more evident than in my time during the Vietnam era.  It is always in the service of the political institution which oversees it and its results are too often, perhaps most often, filtered through that political filter and arrives tainted and spun for the pleasure of the administration.  This is not done by the field operators who risk their lives to gather information, but by the top level political appointees and courtiers who must present it and hopefully walk away with their jobs intact.  In my opinion, in doing so they betray the operators in the field AND their country but I admit they have to operate in an environment of political capriciousness in which I would not long survive.

Intelligence in the business world is, on the other hand, far more pragmatic.  They do not care about the political issues other than how they effect the business bottom line.  More importantly, to successfully operate under foreign authority and oversight, you have to know the reality of the situation in the areas you wish to operate whether you like it or not. 

Therefore, private intelligence, while perhaps not as granular as governmental intelligence, is, in my experience and opinion, frequently more accurate in its final presentations.  One of the best sources of business-oriented intelligence has, for many years, been the organization “Stratfor.”  And once again, they have reviewed a subject too clouded in emotion and personal paranoia (or euphoria) to yield workable conclusions for mass consumption, to wit, the geopolitical approaches and views of our about to be installed newly minted President, Donald Trump.  So with their kind permission, here is a reprint of their latest paper on the evolving geopolitical “doctrines” of a President Trump. 

As usual and typically for Strafor, they objectively present the good and the bad to help businesses prepare for the world stage which is about to change dramatically.  I would recommend this to folks who are so overwrought with the current epidemic of emotional incontinence over the election that they are polarized into the “Trump can do nothing right” or the “Trump can do nothing wrong” camps.  As usual the truth lies in the middle and Stratfor analysts are among the very few to try to objectively sort it all out.

——— Republished Paper by Stratfor on the Evolving “Trump Doctrine”———–


By Reva Goujon, Stratfor

The world is in a “frenzy of study,” Henry Kissinger said in a recent interview. At home and abroad, strategists and pundits are trying to piece together a blueprint of American foreign policy under U.S. President-elect Donald Trump from a stream of tweets, some campaign slogans, a few eye-catching Cabinet picks, meetings at Trump Tower, and a pingpong match already underway with Beijing. Highbrow intellectualism can be a handicap in this exercise. Commentators among the Washington establishment have been quick to dismiss Trump’s foreign policy moves outright as erratic and self-serving over the past few weeks. In an op-ed entitled “Trump Failed His First Foreign Policy Test,” for instance, columnist David Ignatius admonished the president-elect for the “hot mess” his phone call with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen precipitated. Trump makes people uncomfortable. It’s what he does best, in fact. But how this quality applies to foreign policy is a question that merits deeper exploration than knee-jerk displays of stricken disbelief. After all, as Kissinger noted in his Dec. 18 interview, “a president has to have some core convictions.”

So what are Trump’s? From what we can discern so far from his upbringing, the trajectory of his career and the profiles of those who have infiltrated his inner circle, Trump prizes business acumen and a “killer” instinct for managing affairs. He has enough corporate firepower in his Cabinet to fill the next Forbes’ list. By nominating ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, he has demonstrated his belief that tough deal-making — identifying sources of leverage and showing a willingness to use them — is the secret to running a country and presiding over the international system. Trump does not fear nationalism; he sees it as the natural and rightful path for every state, the United States included, to pursue in protecting its interests. He also seems to have internalized the idea that the United States is losing its competitiveness and that internationalist foreign policy is to blame. Finally, Trump apparently believes that U.S. foreign policy has become too predictable and overwrought with diplomatic formality. Better to say it like it is and call out institutions and conventions that have outlived their usefulness.

This, at least, is the worldview at a distance. When we come in for a closer look, however, some of the cracks come into clearer view. In 1953, General Motors Co. CEO Charles Wilson was asked in his Senate confirmation hearing to become President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s secretary of defense whether his decisions in office could end up harming his company. He answered that they might but that he could not imagine such a scenario since “for years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa.” In fact, what is good for a business will not always be congruent with the national interest. A company is answerable to its shareholders, just as a president is answerable to some degree to Congress and the American public. But the mission of the CEO — maximizing value for its shareholders — entails different considerations when pursuing the raison d’etat and preserving a social contract with a nation’s citizenry. The latter entwines economic arguments with the social and moral obligations of the state, a nebulous territory where inefficiencies, compromise and the social consequences of massive deregulation are unavoidable.

Driving a Hard Bargain

Trump sees it as his mission to repair the social contract with the American public by bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States. This will be easier said than done, however. Across-the-board tariffs against big trading partners, such as China, might have worked 20 years ago but not in today’s globalized environment. Raising import tariffs now could cause the price of goods no longer produced domestically to skyrocket and disrupt international supply chains, turning many U.S. businesses into pawns in various overseas trade wars.

It could be argued that China depends more heavily on exports than the United States does and cannot afford to risk its vital supply lines in a major confrontation with the world’s most powerful navy. This, in effect, leaves Washington with the upper hand in its trade tussle with Beijing. In the search for additional leverage against China, Trump has shown a willingness to expire Washington’s “one-China” policy, a holdover from the Cold War that dodged the question of Taiwan’s statehood to drive a wedge between the Soviets and Communist China.

But that’s just one side of the equation. China has twin imperatives to maintain access to export markets and raw materials and to prevent an outside power from blockading its northern coast through the Taiwan Strait. If Trump’s policies interfere with these objectives, Beijing has levers it can pull to retaliate. Should the United States play the Taiwan card to try to exact economic concessions from Beijing, China can strong-arm U.S. companies operating on the mainland. Beijing can also use its enormous economic clout over Taiwan — whose semiconductor manufacturing and assembly industry is tightly intertwined with the mainland — to threaten a disruption to the global tech supply chain. Furthermore, as its recent seizure of an unmanned U.S. naval drone illustrated, China can flex its maritime muscle, albeit cautiously, to raise the stakes in a trade dispute with the United States. Though Trump would rather leave it to regional stakeholders such as Japan and South Korea to balance against Beijing, his compulsion to correct the United States’ trade relationship with China will draw him into stormy security waters in the Pacific.

A Different Kind of Negotiation

Just as Trump regards the one-China policy as a relic of the Cold War worth revisiting, he intends to update Washington’s relationship with Moscow. As Trump sees it, the United States is not fighting an existential battle with Russia deserving of Cold War-era collective security commitments. Russia is no longer preoccupied with forging an empire under an ideology that is anathema to Western capitalism. Instead, Moscow is focused on the more basic task of constructing a national identity and insulating the state and its borderlands from Western encroachment in anticipation of greater domestic turmoil to come. As Kissinger recently put it, Russian President Vladimir Putin is like one of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s characters, for whom “the question of Russian identity is very crucial because, as a result of the collapse of communism, Russia has lost about 300 years of its history.” If Russia were to try to build a state by expanding its already sprawling territory, nationalism would not be enough to hold it together. Consequently, Putin is trying to defend the areas surrounding his country and compel the West to recognize and respect that sphere of influence.

Taking a less alarmist view of Russia’s intentions, the Trump administration sees an opening to develop a new understanding with Moscow, one that could put to rest the question of Crimea and perhaps recognize Russia’s influence over eastern Ukraine. Syria, a peripheral issue for both Moscow and Washington, would be recognized as such. Since sanctions are a drag on business and Russia sorely needs investment, Trump could ease the measures to get a dialogue moving on what an understanding would look like without sacrificing the U.S. military presence along Europe’s eastern flank.

Should Tillerson be confirmed as secretary of state, Trump would rely on his knowledge of Kremlin personalities and their internal feuds to advance the negotiations. After all, if a company needs good inroads with the Kremlin to do business in Russia, the same must go for a government that wants to negotiate with Moscow. But negotiating access to Russia’s Arctic shelf on ExxonMobil’s behalf is not the same as conducting talks centered on Russia (or China, for that matter) trying to get the West out of its backyard.

Russia has no illusion that a shuffle of personalities in the White House will reverse U.S. policy and cede the former Soviet sphere to it. The United States will still be compelled to keep a check on Russia’s moves in Europe just as Moscow will maintain its levers across several theaters, from cybersecurity to arms control to proxy wars in the Middle East. Though Trump’s administration may change the tone of the conversation and broach the topic of tactical concessions, Russia will still be driven by an unrelenting distrust of Western intentions that will keep defenses up on both sides. Nonetheless, the very notion of a private bargain developing between Washington and Moscow will inject uncertainty into long-standing collective security arrangements as the European Continent is undergoing another Machiavellian moment in history where the assertion of state interests is breaking the bonds of its flawed union.

An Unlikely Precedent

Despite the changes that Trump will doubtless bring to the presidency, his foreign policy is not as unprecedented as the world’s pundits may claim. The bridge between President Barack Obama’s foreign policy doctrine and the one evolving under Trump is not entirely sturdy, but the foundation is there. As president, Obama was a realist. He considered it his mission to rebalance the United States after the country had overextended itself fighting wars in the Islamic world. His resistance to expanding U.S. military commitments in the Middle East was deeply ingrained; as he said in an interview in The Atlantic, “it is literally in my DNA to be suspicious of tribalism.” He held strong convictions that the United States would once again be trampled under a sectarian horde in the Middle East if it tried to extend its ambitions beyond the more immediate and visible threat of the Islamic State. He also pressured even close U.S. allies such as the United Kingdom to pay their fair share in security commitments because, as he put it, “free riders aggravate me.” Obama was a follower of 20th-century American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who held a rather Hobbesian view of the world as a struggle among self-interested groups. (It was Niebuhr who wrote, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”) The current president built a foreign policy on extreme restraint while addressing his own set of geopolitical anachronisms: the United States’ relationships with Iran and Cuba.

But Obama, unlike Trump, applied an internationalist lens to his realist views. He wanted his allies to pay their share but was resolute in keeping the U.S. security umbrella over their heads. He viewed foreign trade as a means to build alliances and contain conflicts. Still, protectionism was already well underway during Obama’s tenure. Since the 2008 financial crisis, the United States has led G-20 countries in carrying out discriminatory trade measures on selective industries (particularly metals), according to a report by Global Trade Alert. At the same time, Obama saw that the world was changing with technology and that old jobs would give way to advances in manufacturing. He preferred to think in longer horizons, at times to his own detriment: For Obama, the long-term impact of climate change was existential compared with the short-term threat posed by the Islamic State.

By contrast, Trump’s realism is steeped in nationalism and tends to be more myopic in assessing threats. His solution to displaced American labor is to punish foreign trade partners rather than to retool the workforce to adapt to demographic and technological change. Under Trump, climate change concerns will take a back seat to the more immediate desires to ease regulations on business. Rather than play a restrained globalist role, the next president would sooner respect countries’ rights to defend themselves, irrespective of the long-term consequences of undermining time-honored collective security arrangements. Though a departure from an already defunct two-state solution in Israel’s favor acknowledges the current reality, it also risks further destabilizing the balance of power in the Middle East as Turkey continues its resurgence and multiple civil wars rage on. A short-term escalation with Beijing over trade and Taiwan could cost Washington a much bigger strategic discussion over China’s attempts to achieve parity with the United States in numerous spheres, from cyberspace to the seas.

Keeping the World on Its Toes

Perhaps the greatest difference between the Obama and Trump foreign policies lies in what may be Trump’s biggest virtue: his unpredictability. Obama has been criticized as overly cautious in his foreign policy and thus too much of a known entity for U.S. adversaries. Trump, on the other hand, gives the impression that he is willing to throw caution to the wind and rely on instinct in shaping foreign policy. This matters immensely for U.S. allies and adversaries alike that have to be kept on their toes in developing their long-term strategy while avoiding the unexpected with the world’s superpower.

Regardless of who occupies the presidency, the United States’ strong geopolitical foundation gives it options. As opposed to more vulnerable countries in less forgiving locales, the United States, buffered as it is by two vast oceans, can debate the merits of isolationism and intervention. George Kennan, a diplomat during the Cold War era, may have captured the immense power of the country’s unpredictability best:

“[American democracy is like] one of those prehistoric monsters with a body as long as this room and a brain the size of a pin: He lives there in his comfortable primeval mud and pays little attention to his environment; he is slow to wrath — in fact, you practically have to whack his tail off to make him aware that his interests are being disturbed; but, once he grasps this, he lays about him with such blind determination that he not only destroys his adversary but largely wrecks his native habitat.”

Aloofness in international affairs is a geopolitical luxury, but it cannot be taken for granted. That may be the basis for the Trump doctrine.

Top of Form

The Trump Doctrine: A Work in Progress is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

———-End of Republished Essay on the Evolving “Trump Doctrine”———

I hope this was enlightening and hopefully a little calming.  We, as a country, need to rapidly get over our emotional paralysis and work together.  When Obama took office the left accused the right of refusing to cooperate in anything leading to a gridlock that was bad for the country.  Well, now the shoe is on the other foot and what remains to be seen is whether the left will act as they said the right should have done, or whether they will simply now repeat the old ills they once excoriated and take us into the tragically flawed state of playing tribal level “payback” and thereby guarantee the failure of us as a nation among nations.

Time will tell…



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Get a Grip Folks!!!

I’ve pretty much stayed silent during the last months of the election cycle, watched in amusement as people remained absolutely confident in the outcome even while nearly every other prediction proved to be in error, and then were stunned down to their toes at the actual outcome.

And I’ve watched them noisily loose their collective minds.

I know that sadness, disbelief, anguish, agony, fear, and anxiety seem to have gripped the very marrow of the bones of so many of you on Facebook since the election; I know too that some have now entertained hatred on a level they previously excoriated others for having, and I know that now, a month after the election it is a fundamentally visceral surprise that the sky has remained pretty much safely overhead, at least thus far. Pretty Amazing.

Meantime in the working parts of the country, a different attitude seems to be taking place as evidenced in the latest release of the Gallup polls. Here are two examples;

The first is a poll taken of small business owners that, we pretty much all agree, is the real backbone of the country. The “Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index” finds that small business owners are more optimistic about the economic future than at any point since January of 2008. Hmmm… interesting date stamping don’t you think?

The second is an equally surprising and fascinating poll reversal. Through October of 2016 the “U.S. Economic Confidence Index” had hovered at the lowest point since 1970 slogging along at -12 to -14. But in this week’s results, that same index was at +8, which is unchanged from the nine-year record high recorded the prior week. I know +8 is, itself, not a spectacular number to boast about, but leaping from -12 to +8 is at least something positive for the first time in a very long time. Strange; that doesn’t seem to fit the narrative of doomsday so many have embraced.

So my point is this. It seems to me we – the citizens — have a pretty simple choice facing us. Nothing on the horizon or in the works seems likely to effect the outcome of the election vis-à-vis who will be the next President. So regardless of our political orientation we can either do as HRC herself asserted (admittedly when she thought she was going to win) and accept the results and work together for the good of the country trying to help make it a success even as the “loyal opposition” or, we can continue to wring our hands, get even more creative at trying to find a scapegoat for the results, totally high center on somehow eliminating the evil Trump Demon from the scene (as some have even suggested doing it literally would be a good thing) and thereby losing our focus on the real dangers facing us on the world’s economic and geopolitical stages.

Hillary wisely accepted the concept of once again demonstrating an orderly handing over of power, one of the unique hallmarks of the American experiment that has happened, even in the face of extremely hostile party oppositions until now. If we set the precedent of overturning that history and showing the world we are willing to spit in the face of the founders and their recipe for the government’s successions, I think we risk doing far more damage to the country in the long run than the current President Elect could manage even if he wanted consciously to ruin the country.

While we might have been quick to denigrate and demonize those who felt the same angst at the election of our last President because they read his book and were terrified his “fundamental” remaking of America was in concert with the “Dreams of His Father” which would take us in a very different direction, and were opposed by many, we have to understand that as we failed to understand the serious reservations some held then about President Obama, we are likewise failing to understand the real worries that gave rise to the results of the election and to the changes in those Gallup polls.   We can continue to hide behind the false flags and red herring scapegoats of racial and various “phobic” name calling, feel extraordinarily smug because our choir is all singing the same tune and congratulating our fellow choir members on their erudition and insight, and be totally blindsided by some of the real disasters lurking in the wings.

Our choice… and our consequences to own and accept.

That does not by any means, mean that when we oppose real proposed policies (unlike assumptions as to what those policies yet unmade might be) we should quietly accept it. We should exercise our right to protest peaceably but loudly and vocally such things as offend our own philosophies. But we should do it within the constraints the Constitution has spelled out for us. The provisions to change laws and even Constitutional provisions themselves are enumerated clearly. Suggesting it would be good if someone whacked the President by one means or another is not helpful and does not go very far toward making that opposition sound like it is to be respected and taken seriously.

I did not support or vote for Mr. Trump (not that anything other than a Democratic Party vote actually matters here in California). I think there are, based on listening closely to his own words (not someone else’s interpretation or spin on them) some legitimate concerns for his ideas in conflict with my own political philosophies. But I do not recall ANY president about which I could not say that.  However as with President Obama, the resolution of those differences is not likely to come from demonization and scurrilous labeling. It will come only from objective, level headed, calm, and considered debate in front of the whole “body politic” or it will be seen as the childish whining that it is and not taken seriously except by other members of the choir.

Once again, our choice… and our consequences.

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Posted by on December 13, 2016 in Uncategorized


The Iron Mistress:  Bowie & His Knife Revisited 

It still amuses me that despite having two blogs; this blog on – usually – political and social issues, and my other blog ( on – usually – photo and photo education issues, one of the most viewed posts of either blog had nothing to do with either main topics but instead is one from this site on knives, discussing specifically the pros and cons of Bowie styled knives.  Click here to read it: (  That post was written to answer a question from a previous more generealized post on knives and knife sharpening and uses for different designed blades.  And because I was bored with politics and am a student and aficionado of the American frontier and old west, it was a fun diversion for me.  Characters who were larger than life even back then in their own time fascinate me, in no small measure because even the “normal” folks of their time were so vastly tougher than we are. What were the people THEY thought were tough like? Too many soft sheets separate our generations and every time some experiment is conducted to see how modern people fare trying to live the lives of ordinary folk back then, the moderns fail miserably.

I also had no idea that people these days were so interested in knives, especially THE one belonging to Colonel James Bowie, late of Texas by way of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas.  And now, over a year since I wrote and illustrated that post, I received another question from a viewer who somehow stumbled across and read my comments on Bowie knives.

The reader asked a very legitimate question.  He asked how I could write so specifically about a knife style that was based on a near mythical knife that had never been illustrated.  No one, he correctly pointed out, knows exactly what the famous knife actually looked like since although there are lots of examples of large knives from that period, there were no drawings or paintings (photography was not available at the time) showing Bowie and his knife together.

The questioner is correct and that fact in itself is interesting since it was part of Bowie’s persona and legend and many other portraits of the time show individual males with their weapons.  In fact, over time, it was clear that during his life Jim Bowie owned and used several different large knives from several sources and the knife that started his reputation as a knife fighter at the “Sandbar Fight” was a gift from his brother Rezin, and was NOT the blade that later became famous in its own time.  It almost certainly was not the blade Bowie had when he fell at the Alamo or even after its famous use on the sandbar..  Why do I think this?

Big knives were common and not the stuff of news stories; knife fights were common — there were even schools, especially in New Orleans, like fencing academies, that taught various styles of knife fighting.  We do not know if Bowie ever attended one or if his fighting style followed one or another approach, in fact other than for the results in terms of wounds to opponents, we know almost nothing about how he used his knife or knives in various encounters.

Additionally, dueling was increasingly frowned on officially but it was still a common way to settle affairs of honor. Rarely were the weapons used set out for special comment like Bowies knife had been. (The  growing illegality of dueling was why the fight took place on a sandbar: it was an impermanent feature in the river and therefore in no one’s official jurisdiction.)  Rezin’s knife was beautifully made but it was not the sort to inspire legend.  That took a different and unique type of weapon.

It should be noted that some historians believe ALL of Jim Bowie’s knives were designed by Rezin but if so there is no hard evidence to support it and a lot of anecdotal evidence to contradict it. Resin cashed in on his brother’s growing reputation at every opportunity including designing and selling knives as “Bowie’s” knives. No one knows for sure, however, but history seems to not support Rezin as the prime designer of the knives that came to be called “Bowie knives” even though he likely DID design the knife Jim used at the Sandbar fight.

So who cares?  Well does it not seem odd that we know so little about what is arguably the most famous real weapon wielded by a real person in history? Yes, this is a bit of historical trivia with little or no modern relevance.  But try to tell me you would turn down a chance to recover, say, Excaliber! The Bowie Knife as an archetype has become a sort of American “Excaliber,”  a legendary blade wielded by a mighty and perhaps mythical warrior. But Bowie and his knife were real.

Setting aside for this discussion the inconvenient truth that James Bowie was a land speculator, slave owner and trader, timber seller, gambler, notorious hot head as if the term were created to describe just him, and part time con man and scoundrel whose legend and general personal reputation was saved for posterity largely by having the good luck to die at the Alamo, what remains accepted is that his knife and his fighting prowess were legendary in his own time and that by all accounts he was essentially fearless.

As it is with following gunslingers from Hickock to Hardin, real and pretend historians get apoplectic over how many fights – if ANY – he actually had or used his knife beyond the first very heavily documented one on the sandbar outside Natchez. He came from a well-to-do family but could have become even richer in his own time just licensing his blade design.  But there were no such “intellectual property” protections available then and as his reputation grew, every knifemaker in the country was inundated with requests for a knife “like Bowie’s.”

And yet, strangely, there are a couple of drawings/painting of him, one even holding a sword… but not one of him with his knife… or ANY knife. In fact in all of his writings, Jim Bowie himself never mentioned a knife of any sort.  The only paper evidence that Jame Bowie ever even owned a knife is a store receipt from 1823 in the Cris Nolen collection and from four years before the sandbar fight..

So what did the knife, especially the last one, the one he had with him at the Alamo, look like?  We know he had one since surviving women wrote in their journals about Col. Bowie and his knife.  But no one took the time to describe it.

Perhaps because big knives were so common at that time that even if it had a unique design the assumption was that it was not the knife per se that won the fights but the person wielding it.  We think of knives as weapons of last resort today, but in the era of unreliable one-shot firearms they were higher in the order of selection.  If, in the middle of a fight you carefully aimed your one shot firearm and heard a click instead of a bang, without a backup you were likely in for a very bad day.  Not until the era of repeating and reliable firearms did the knife lose its status as a primary weapon.  Jim Bowie did indeed, at the Sandbar, take a knife to a gunfight, but for most humans today that would be a terribly desperate action.

Because of their importance as tools and weapons, Bowie (and his family) commonly gave knives as presents or as trade and a number of those have been passed down through the families of the recipients.  They are of several blade designs although multiple examples look very much like the Collins/Musso/Hibben knives (a Hibben version is shown below).  There is even an old image of an unknown man (below right) holding a knife that is almost a dead ringer for those knives including the brass back..

old photo from a painting of an unknown individual holding a

old photo from a painting of an unknown individual holding a “Bowie knife.” Note the resemblance to the Collins/Musso/Hibben blades. (Any of you history buffs know who this is?)

(I do not know who that portrait is of?  It does not look like James Bowie at least based on other portraits, or of Rezin Bowie either.  If anyone knows — and why he might be holding a Bowie knife — please let me know. Today, with our modern attitudes playing down the concept of exceptional people, we often credit the tool with the users’ success and so are interested in it thinking that if only WE had that gun, camera, car… knife… we could do what they did,  so we focus more on that tool than the user and their skills.  And so an interest in and countless arguments have ensued over just what that knife looked like.  And enormous amounts of effort have been spent trying to find an example, perhaps THE example — THE knife itself — to end the discussion.

Some claim we will never know the answer — which is good for maintaining the argument.  Others claim we already have it and just won’t accept it or at least those with a different idea about what it “must” be like won’t accept it and thereby crush their fondly held theories.  There are a couple of interesting possibilities.

Phil Collins, the musician, is an avid follower of all lore involving the Alamo.  He possessed the largest collection of Alamo artifacts in the world and recently donated them to the Alamo museum.  In his travels he came across a very old knife in a museum that was said to have been THE knife taken off of Bowie’s body by one of Santa Anna’s soldiers, handed down through the family and finally sold.  This is not the first or only such claim for the knife in some family collection, but this knife is more like what one would expect and that knife looks very much like the 1830’s pattern Bowie by Gil Hibben shown in the previously noted post and below and in the portrait to the right.

And it also looks like the knife now owned by John Musso, a Hollywood art director which has “JB” engraved on it and has been mineral tested and dated to the 1830s.  If course there was no properly credentialed provenance for either so no one knows with absolute certainty that either specific example was Bowie’s own knife (and in fairness, Musso has never claimed that the knife he acquired was, in fact, owned by Jim Bowie).  Both of those knives, however, nearly identical in appearance, were well made while some others claiming to be THE KNIFE were pretty crude by comparison.  It is unlikely that Bowie, who was not poor by any means, would accept a poorly made knife — or anything – much less inscribe it as his own.

We have muddied the water with all this attempt to find THE knife as a sort of historical Holy Grail, but the people of the time knew what a Bowie knife was.  And it scared them so much that in many places they were banned and killing a another man with one, even if the opponent was armed, was a prima facie case of murder.  C’mon now, that has to be some incredible hunk of steel!  Below is Gil Hibbens’ modern handmade copy of one of the better candidates for Bowie’s own knife.

Gil Hibben Bowie is a neaar match for the Collins and Musso found knives, It has a 14

Gil Hibben “Alamo” Bowie is a near match for the Collins and Musso found knives and the knife in the old photo above, It has a 14″ blade with brass blade catcher, sometimes called a “parry bar.” This knife epitomizes the “Texas” style Bowie and many feel it would have been the style of knife Bowie had with him at the Alamo .  The stars on the cross guard were commonly stamped into the weapons of officers in the Texas Army.  Houston or Austin commissioned Bowie as a Colonel and it is known that he did lead men into battle in the Texas war of independence before the Alamo, so the rank was more than an honorary one. On top is an early Buck 110 folding hunter with an obviously Bowie inspired blade. I thought they made a good pair to photograph together.and to provide a sense of scale.

To add to the confusion, although the knife was loosely described a number of times in period newspaper accounts… those accounts vary in details.  Additionally other famous knife makers of the day including Searles of Baton Rouge and Schively of Philadelphia made versions for customers based on tales of “Bowie’s knife” and the English knife makers of Sheffield, who made some of the most sought after cutlery in the U.S. at the time, produced quite a variety of so-called Bowie knives sold in large numbers to frontiersmen of the mid to late 1800s and even early 1900s, some even marked  “Bowie.”

Among the most common styles was a pattern with a shallower but longer clip or “swedge” that extended back of the clip along the spine or back of the blade.  That style is now known as the “I*XL” style Bowie and was incredibly popular, In fact the Sheffield Bowie knives were for a spell England’s second major export item shipping all over the world.

Here below is a more modern adaptation of the I*XL Sheffield pattern.  This knife, made by Schrade with a 12 inch blade is a very strong working knife, extremely sharp yet easy to handle. The tip is inline with the grip axis.  I’ve not seen old examples of double hilt knives (though there may be some) though it is more prevalent in modern knives.  It significantly improves the grip on an already heavy knife. As I noted in the first post, this is a knife I often have lashed to a backpack or otherwise had handy when heading into seriously off-trail areas.This knife will — and has — made short work of making a shelter or a fire.

A Schrade Bowie with 12

A Schrade Bowie with 12″ Shefflield I*XL inspired blade. As a working knife not a fighter there is no brass blade catcher on the spine.  The sub-hilt Micarta grip is a modern addition but it significantly improves handling and control of this heavy working blade.  This is a really serviceable tool but Bowie probably never saw a blade that looked like this.

Another style somewhat between the Hibben and the Shrade/Sheffield styles came after the turn of the century from Cooper knives, one of the oldest continually manufactured custom knives known. Beginning in 1924 Cooper who made incredibly popular knives for outdoorsmen, farmers and ranchers, patented a process to seal the grip and tang to avoid moisture seeping into the spaces and rotting the handles which were often wood and prone to cracking.  Now however a “Cooper Style” knife refers more often to the sealing process than any specific blade design.  Steve Voorhis makes a “Texas/Alamo” style Bowie though with a narrower blade with less of a full “belly” than Hibben’s.  It more closely follows the original Cooper style and as with all of his knives, it is a mirror-finished beauty.

Custom Steve Voorhis Cooper Style Bowie with 13.5

Custom Steve Voorhis Cooper Style Bowie with 13.5″ blade.The mirror finish blade and nickle bolsters and guard are reflecting the perfect blue skies of southern California.  I’d heard of Steve Voorhis’s knives before and this one lives up to his sterling reputation as a master bladesmith.

As an aside, I recently read the opinion of an armchair outdoorsman who waxed poetically about how anyone going into the woods with a knife bigger than a folding knife or small belt knife was a “fool” — his word.  Goodness knows I’ve done some foolish things in my life, of that there is no question.  But I’ve been on my share of survival outings, some lasting several weeks, and I’ve made fires and shelters with little knives and big ones from skinnning knives to machetes and including with that Schrade shown above.  I can assert categorically it was easier and faster to do so with that Schrade.  And if there had been any sense of urgency (weather or medical issue) mandating the need for the fire and shelter quickly, I would far rather have that big Bowie than just my Swiss Army knife or even a small belt hunting/skinning knife.  But that is getting me off track and away from the question at hand…

Old Jim, looking down from that great land office in the sky, must be quite amused.  He was the namesake for arguably the most well-known knife in history and yet, my questioner is quite correct: no one can say with any certainty what it actually looked like.

However there is one blade design that became so associated with the Bowie type that most non-collectors or historians upon seeing it would immediately say was obviously a Bowie knife because they have seen it over and over in the movies and on television playing its role as The Bowie Knife.  In the early 1950s Warner Brothers bought the rights to the recently published book on Bowie’s life by Paul Wellman titled “The Iron Mistress.”  The book is a good read, unflinchingly depicts the sordid side of Bowie’s life by accepting the sensibilities of the early 1800s southern states.  A little more squeamish about things and far more politically correct than the author, and needing more of a love interest for its story arc, Warner Brothers produced a movie of the same name, “The Iron Mistress,” with Alan Ladd as Bowie. They ended the story before his death at the Alamo in order to concentrate on the love(s) of his live using the knife as a backdrop and supporting character.  It was released on 1952.

But THE KNIFE could not be ignored as a major part of any story about Bowie but, as we noted, no one knew for sure what it looked like.  So Warner’s  prop master, Arthur Rhoades and John Beckman, the Art Director, buried themselves in research, studying all they could of period accounts of the weapon as well as seeking out examples of so-called Bowie knifes of the era from private collectors and even the Smithsonian. Phil Collins’s knife had yet to be discovered so there was no actual knife existing in 1951 that claimed to be Bowie’s own.  The closest were copied and recopied patterns from James Black and family, who made the thing in the first place according to most historians, and nearly endless Sheffield versions. Marketed as “like Bowie’s” there were myriad American and British-made Bowie style knives that flooded the various collections.

Many of the Sheffield Bowies, though very well made, had a narrower blade.  They could be sleek and “pretty” (if a tool designed to remove an oppponent’s body parts can be called pretty) and were quite lethal but they didn’t “look” so intimidating.

Here is another example of a derivative pattern from the Sheffield Bowies that is a gorgeous Rosewood handled Damascus steel knife, but despite the fact that it is strong and hair-shaving sharp, it is not all that scary looking.  It is also not a true Bowie knife, it has a clip blade but the clip is not sharpened and the tip is not in perfect alignment with the grip axis.  I did not highlight it in this photo but the back has some custom file work that is decorative but would be a barrier to penetration in a fight.   This is more of a big outdoorsman’s camp/hunting knife than the true Bowie.

A Demascus hammer welded blade, 11

A Damascus hammer welded blade, 11″ in the I*XL sheffield bowie style. Not a true Bowie but a petty blade that takes a wicked edge.

However, for the movies especially, Bowie’s blade needed that intimidation factor… in spades.  Armed with that intensive research and informed by the needs of the viewing public to be awed by “The Knife”  Beckman designed and Rhoades made the “Iron Mistress” knife.  I’ve not read whether or not they ever anticipated the public response to it but it was immediate.   When in the movie Bowie/Ladd picked it up from the maker, Black, and held it up for the camera, it instantly became the iconic Bowie knife for generations of movie goers and old western buffs.  If it was not what Bowie’s knife actually looked like it certainly should be… it had the visceral feel of the knife that made Bowie famous – and infamous as a ruthless duelist known mostly for disemboweling or decapitating opponents with his knife.  His was a knife that when displayed, according to some period accounts, brought several fights to a halt before they even started. Given the alcohol-soaked realities of the frontier, that had to be some knife.

For a moment try to put yourself into the mind of a potential antagonist facing Bowie.  Here was a man whose common reputation was that against all odds he ended deadly bloody knife fights with minimal injuries to himself and maximum injuries to his opponents.  All the papers carried lurid accounts of opponents being disemboweled or beheaded.  Almost every one in those days had been injured at one time or another and knew what it felt like to receive a cut.  But this blade was different

You could imagine that devilish tool raking along an arm or leg or side and parting flesh like a razor, except a lot deeper.  And there you stood with your hunting knife and a blade of maybe 7-9 inches.  Knife fighting was no elegant enterprise like dueling with epees or rapiers.  Knives were and are brutal awful tools with minimal finesse; like dueling with cutlasses or battle axes. And there you are, staring at a man reputed to be adept at carving body parts like a Christmas turkey.

In our modern world we automatically think of a firearm as more deadly than a knife but FBI statistics do not support that idea.  To the contrary, within its range, an edged weapon is statistically far more lethal than a firearm. According to those FBI statistics, 10% of attack victims who are shot will die of their wounds, but 30% that were stabbed will die.  According to Darren Laur, an expert on edged weapons and tactics, in a comprehensive multi-country study, “Knife attacks were found to be exceptionally accurate, to penetrate deeper that some bullets, creating remarkably permanent cavities and rip through numerous organs in one stroke.”

So here then, Bowie’s adversary is facing a person who has been here before as evidenced by, the planted, balanced stance that lets him advance or retreat easily, his knife hand and arm cocked back, the point of his knife never leaves a line to your throat and his eyes never waver from watching for any twitch or movement that will trigger that cocked arm and its cold steel. and that knife… dear God that awful knife… A thought starts down in your toes and quickly infiltrates all the fibers in your body: first it whispers then it silently screams at you that this is a huge mistake and you think of an urgent need to be somewhere — ANYWHERE else.  You did not have to be a coward to size up this unflinching man and his massive blade to think better of going ahead with the fray.

Now here, folks, with the Iron Mistress, is what a Bowie knife should look like.  It met all the design criteria we have come to accept:  the point is in line with axis of the grip for thrusting. It had a sharpened recurved scythe-like clip for “rib tickling” and eliminating the need to turn the knife into a blade edge up position for fighting (though in the movie Bowie/Ladd does needlessly turn the knife main blade up in a fight probably for effect), and a long, thick, heavy blade that could easily chop through muscle and bone.  Rhoade’s version did not have the swell and “belly” of Collins’s find or Hibben’s version (which are probably more accurate), nor did it have the “Spanish Notch” often mentioned in old descriptions of Bowie’s actual knife. But it had its own vicious “look.”

It was not quite as big as those found versions from Collins and Musso (the blade was 11+ inches instead of 14,)  but in the hands of the actor it was designed for, Alan Ladd, who was not a large man himself, it looked plenty big.  And plenty intimidating. (Interestingly the posters and one sheets of the film REDUCED the size of the knife in Ladd’s hand… I’ve never understood why unless to downplay the violent aspects and build up the love interest with Virginia Mayo).  And it still would be more than a match for some punk’s switchblade or balisong in the hands of someone who knew how to use it.

This movie version of the knife was a somewhat brutish, inelegant design that seems purpose built to carve opponents into spaghetti with frightening ease.  The design effect, more pointed cleaver than hunting knife, was softened by giving it a mirror polish.   That prop knife (and its trick special effect siblings) became so associated with the Bowie character that Warner Brothers, whose prop department owned it, used it in several Warner movies featuring Jim Bowie (played by Sterling Hayden and Richard Widmark) and even rented it to Disney for “Davy Crockett” with Kenneth Tobey as Bowie and then to DesiLu studios for the pilot of the TV series about Bowie starring Scott Forbes. It is a trick version of that same knife that opened each episode of the series as it was thrown at and stuck in a doorway. It should be noted that in the movie, Bowie/Ladd throws his knife away leaving it to viewer speculation what he ended up carrying at the Alamo.

Answering a flood of requests, Warner Brothers commissioned a commemorative limited edition of 200 fully functional copies of their now famous contribution to the Bowie lore (which sold out almost immediately) and famous knife makers like Bo Randall, Gil Hibben and Jimmy Lile (first Lile then Hibben made the knives for the Rambo series of films and who claimed their interest in knifemakng came from the Iron Mistress) to Steve Voorhis have made versions of the Iron Mistress that are still in demand.  And since most have accepted that Bowie’s real knife is lost to history, the arguments now have centered on whether the Iron Mistress pattern is good or bad, whether it looks like the real one or not.

So… OK, OK, if we don’t know for sure what the real knife looked like, what does the famous/infamous Iron Mistress look like? I can hear the question filtering through cyber space: “Are you going to quit talking about it and show it to us?”  Alright, since you asked so nicely, I’ll show you…  The knife below is one of that limited edition of 200 knives. Except for lacking the escutcheon plate it is identical to the movie knife and is a fully functional, extremely sharp knife made of 5160 steel.  There are a number of better made versions by custom knifemakers, indeed I have one by Steve Voorhis that is in all ways a superior knife.  But this knife in the photo below is one of the commissioned limited edition knives, so I am please to have it in my collection.

The Iron Mistress. This is 1 of 200 limited edition copies of the knife fromr the Iron Mistress Movie commissioned by Warner Brothers. The edition sold out almost immediately. The knife appeared in 4 moovies and a television series as THE Bowie knife and is what generations of fans think of as the quintessential Bowie knife even though it is probably not exactly what Jim Bowie's famous knife actually looked like. This has a nearly 12

The Iron Mistress. This is 1 of 200 limited edition copies of the knife from the 1952  “Iron Mistress” Movie starring Alan Ladd as Jim Bowie. commissioned by Warner Brothers. The edition sold out almost immediately. The knife appeared in 4 movies and a television series as THE Bowie knife and is what generations of fans think of as the quintessential Bowie knife even though it is probably not exactly what Jim Bowie’s famous knife actually looked like. This has a nearly 12″ blade and is shaving sharp. The blade, like that in the movie, is mirror polished and in this shot is reflecting the clouds overhead.

It may have no resemblance to Bowie’s real knife but nevertheless it remains what, to many people, is the quintessential Bowie knife.  But before it is dismissed entirely as a modern invention, as some modern “experts” are quick to do, log onto Youtube at for a video on Bowie’s sandbar duel and more data on period Bowie knives.  At 09:39 of that video the camera is panning across a display case of period knives and there in the case, 3rd and 4th knife up from the bottom on the right side of the case, are two spitting images of the Iron Mistress blade design.  HMMMMmmmmmmm…

So to answer the question, while it is true we have no renderings of Bowie’s actual knife and no defendable provenance for found knives that may or may not be his, it remains one of the more interesting mysteries from the early days of the American frontier.  But since large knives were a common adornment of frontiersmen and outdoorsmen throughout the 18th and 19th century, we do know what came to be commonly accepted as a design reflecting Bowie’s knife created circa the late 1820s (The Sandbar fight was in 1827).  The knife he used in that fight was certainly technically a “Bowie knife” since it was made by a family member (Rezin Bowie) and worn by and used by his brother Jim Bowie.  But it was basically a well adorned straight bladed butcher knife (in the early 1800s any large knife was generically referred to as a “butcher knife” regardless of design or actual purpose) and it is possible we actually have that knife or a twin still being displayed. It is very different from what we now call a Bowie Knife.  As his brother’s fame grew, Rezin cashed in on it and had many finely wrought knives of HIS knife’s pattern made and distributed as gifts calling them, accurately, “Bowie’s Knife.”  After all, he was as much a Bowie as Jim was.

But as brother Jim’s legend grew and the concept developed and solidified a very different blade design emerged to lay claim on the “Bowie Knife” title.. Being big did not make it a Bowie; having a clip point did not make it a Bowie, having a sharpened false edge did not make it a Bowie.  It was a unique combination of these characteristics and others that made it a Bowie knife.

It was a large heavy bladed knife (10″-14″ in blade length) but not just any large knife would meet the criteria.  To properly be called a Bowie knife the clip of the blade was 1/3 to over 1/2 of the total blade length and was sharpened, usually showing a recurve (though some examples were more straight), It needed a good thickness (1/4 inch or more).for strength and to avoid breaking against an opponent’s blade but did not rely on a fuller (often misidentified as a “blood groove”) to stiffen and strength the blade, Its tip or point was inline with the grip axis to facilitate thrusting, The balance is slightly forward of the guard to facilitate cutting and chopping strokes and frequently a soft brass bar was soldered or welded to the back of the unsharpened blade starting at the hilt to help slow or parry an opponent’s blade. And it had a cross guard sufficient to protect your hand from an opponent’s blade sliding down your blade during a parry.  This created a knife that was both frontier tool chest AND a deadly fighting weapon sometimes of first resort when your single shot smokepole either misfired or was quickly empty while the enemy was still coming at you. Black claimed the characteristics noted above were an accurate reflection of the knife he made, but that is the only word we have for it.  And we even have others claiming that Black did NOT make the famous knife but some other knife for Bowie.  Good grief…!!!

So whether or not ol’ Col. Jim ever had or even ever saw a knife like that is open to speculation.  But if not, I think he would have loved it and wanted one for his own.  But as to historical accuracy for ANY of these designs, we simply do not know.  All we can do is the best research we can, factor in what we know about the grim business of fighting with knives, and then, like everyone else… guess.


Posted by on September 24, 2015 in Uncategorized


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