September 1, 2014

We have moved into the beach house. Most of our belongings are in storage, so it wasn't much of a move. There's still some unpacking and reorganizing to do.

This is not to say that it hasn't been hell around here. Let's take appliances, for instance. The Home Depot appliance guys showed up on Thursday. They had two vent hoods on the truck—one that I wanted, one that I had cancelled. I had five back-and-forth grumpy phone calls with the guy who was supposed to install the vent hood before I figured out that he was planning on installing the vent hood that I did not want. Not only had they failed to cancel the hood, they had failed to cancel its installation.

Then there's the dishwasher. They brought the wrong installation kit. The dishwasher is now sitting in the garage, waiting for a guy who's supposed to show up tomorrow with the right installation kit.

And the stove. They delivered the wrong stove, so I sent it back. They say they'll be back Thursday to try again. In the meantime, mealtime means the microwave and the Hasty Bake.

We kept the existing refrigerator. It seems to be working for now. We also brought over our refrigerator from the bungalow, which used to be our garage 'frig at the ranchito. It's back to being a garage 'frig again. Because there are few outlets in the garage, we had to place it where a car should be.

Yesterday I decided to put some tools and stuff in the garage cabinets. After looking at the garage cabinets, I ended up spending the day tearing them off the wall and replacing them with new cabinets that I fetched from Lowe's. Working in the garage on a 98-degree day is my idea of fun. I tore down three cabinets and only replaced two, which let me put the garage 'frig in the gap where the missing cabinet had been. Now we should be able to get one car in our two-car garage. I doubt that we will be able to clear all the crap out of the other parking slot ever. Because Jeanne has not sold her little red roadster, it will go into the garage and our two main cars will sit in the driveway waiting for the next hail storm.

Our lives are many things. Boring is not one of them.

September 1, 2014

I listened to Zbigniew Brzezinski postulate about ISIS yesterday. He tended to think of the situation in a political science and international relations sort of way, focusing on the fact that they may call themselves a state but they are not, thus state-to-state approaches are ineffective. I'm not sure what difference that makes; it's sort of like Henry Kissinger's musings about the crumbling world order—interesting in a theoretical way, but not particularly helpful in real time.

Everyone says that we must build a coalition. Most envision the application of American air power. Most contemplate military support for natural enemies of ISIS. No one in their right mind is calling for American ground combat troops. Everyone from George Will to John Kerry is calling for the countries in the region to handle the ground work. Iraq, Syria, and the Kurds are always mentioned, though it's hard to figure out how we could support Syria with a straight face. Lately we're hearing more about the responsibilities of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and even Iran.

While some people want to act faster than others, and some would throw more weight around than others, everyone's formula boils down to limiting the role of our anticipated coalition to providing air power, money, weapons, and financial interference. Here's the problem with that approach: it won't work, because the regional militaries can't or won't get the job done. Even if we manage to push ISIS underground, they will surface again unless and until we have made certain that they are very dead and that their philosophies have died with them. Relying on regional armies is at best a tactical solution aimed at regaining control of the lost territory; it does not address the strategic goal of stamping out extreme Islamic militants and their twisted world view. It doesn't even address the middle-ground issue of establishing responsible and reliable governments and security forces in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Egypt, Somalia, and South Sudan—a middle ground that may by itself be beyond our ability.

If we had a strategic plan, which we do not, it would involve applying a wide range of pressures and incentives for decades. It would not begin with taking back the Mosul dam or re-entering Fallujah yet again; it would begin with a massive scorched-earth campaign against ISIS and other Islamic extremists, evolving into nation-building on a staggering scale.

We do not have the stomach for that. We have allowed—and caused—the situation to deteriorate beyond a condition that we have the will or ability to repair.

August 30, 2014

And this is what passes for leadership in today's America (from The Hill):

President Obama on Friday said social media and the nightly news are partly to blame for the sense that “the world is falling apart.”

"I can see why a lot of folks are troubled," Obama told a group of donors gathered at a Democratic National Committee barbecue in Purchase, N.Y.

But the president said that current foreign policy crises across the world are not comparable to the challenges the U.S. faced during the Cold War.

Acknowledging "the barbarity" of Islamist militants and Russia "reasserting the notion that might means right," Obama, though, dismissed the notion that he was facing unprecedented challenges.

“The world’s always been messy ... we’re just noticing now in part because of social media,” he said, according to a White House pool report.

“If you watch the nightly news, it feels like the world is falling apart,” said Obama.

The president acknowledged that conflicts in the Middle East posed difficulties, “but it’s been challenging for quite a while,” he said.

“We will get through these challenging times just like we have in the past,” Obama added.

August 30, 2014

In today's New York Times, John Kerry argues the need for building a consensus and coalition to counter ISIS on many fronts: "a global coalition using political, humanitarian, economic, law enforcement and intelligence tools to support military force." "Coalition building is hard work," he says, "but it is the best way to tackle a common enemy." He sees a lengthy process of meetings with NATO and Middle Eastern powers. He sees the upcoming U.S. presidency of the U.N. Security Council as an opportunity to advance the agenda.

In the same edition of the Times, John McCain and Lindsay Graham urge more immediate action: "The president clearly wants to move deliberately and consult with allies and Congress as he considers what to do about ISIS. No one disputes that goal. But the threat ISIS poses only grows over time. It cannot be contained. It must be confronted. This requires a comprehensive strategy, presidential leadership and a far greater sense of urgency. If Mr. Obama changes course and adopts a strategic approach to defeat ISIS, he deserves support."

On Radio Hillary this week, a couple of experts explored the advantages of tightening nooses around ISIS finances. They bank their money somewhere, and they sell their oil somewhere, and we should neutralize the threat by cutting off its funding. That is probably worth doing, but it isn't going to solve the problem. I think we're going to have to kill those guys. We need to kill a whole bunch of them. That's the simple truth. Any other approach would be a delaying tactic at best.

Right now we have the largest number of radical Islamists we have ever seen gathered into military units within a defined region. They have transportation corridors, supply lines, logistical infrastructure, armories, and massed troops. They resemble an army more than any radical Islamists ever have. Allah's fighters have emerged from the mists. They stand proudly in the streets. They man artillery batteries on ridges. They attack in convoys. Is this a strength or a weakness?

I say it makes them easier to kill, and we need to get after it right away. Once we attack, they will disperse. We must pursue. We must contain them; we must block their escape. We must not allow another Tora Bora. We're going to have to weed them out of cities. Think Falluja over and over again, perhaps for decades. And once we take the next Falluja (or the original one), we cannot allow a weak, negligent, corrupt government to hand it back again.

Is this a strategy that the Iraqis, Kurds, and Syrians can execute with our air support and advice? I don't think so. Will we accept direct involvement of our military on the ground? I don't think so.

We can eliminate the threat only if President Obama steps up and leads us in a deeply unpopular direction. Neutralization of ISIS will require Obama to change course and make an uncharacteristically bold, economically hazardous, and militarily unpredictable decision to send the troops back into the most futile, disheartening, frustrating, confounding, treacherous, regrettable battlefield we have known. I submit that we can succeed in that context only if we loosen our restraint and attack in the manner of Israelis or Russians. There will be a gruesome amount of collateral damage. We will kill many innocents to reach the enemy. This will not look like our recent conflicts; it will look like World War II. Carpet bombing, artillery assaults, and firestorms.

Would Obama do that? Would we consent? I don't think so. Instead, we will recalculate the amount of damage to our own people and property that we are willing to accept. We will submit to a larger measure of risk. There will be another 9/11; this time we will not do so much damage in response.

August 30, 2014

Henry Kissinger in the Wall Street Journal:

"To play a responsible role in the evolution of a 21st-century world order, the U.S. must be prepared to answer a number of questions for itself: What do we seek to prevent, no matter how it happens, and if necessary alone? What do we seek to achieve, even if not supported by any multilateral effort? What do we seek to achieve, or prevent, only if supported by an alliance? What should we not engage in, even if urged on by a multilateral group or an alliance? What is the nature of the values that we seek to advance? And how much does the application of these values depend on circumstance?

"For the U.S., this will require thinking on two seemingly contradictory levels. The celebration of universal principles needs to be paired with recognition of the reality of other regions' histories, cultures and views of their security. Even as the lessons of challenging decades are examined, the affirmation of America's exceptional nature must be sustained. History offers no respite to countries that set aside their sense of identity in favor of a seemingly less arduous course. But nor does it assure success for the most elevated convictions in the absence of a comprehensive geopolitical strategy."

August 28, 2014

We're still agonizing over the cost of renovating the bungalow (planned outcome pictured). We wanted to spend $X and predictably the quote came in at 150% of $X, even after we downsized our plans. I predict that the final cost of the whole package will be at least 175% of $X.

We wouldn't mind paying that much for a condo in Santa Monica, except that you can't get a condo in Santa Monica for that. More realistically, we wouldn't mind paying that for a condo in Austin, but we don't want to live in Austin. We've gone through that a hundred times, and we went through it again last night. Houston, Denver, Boulder, Kansas City, Khartoum, Mars....

The problem is that the bungalow will be grossly overpriced for the neighborhood. $X was a little bit of a stretch; the numbers we're looking at now just don't make any sense at all. I can identify only one other house in the neighborhood that is so stupidly overbuilt.

Here's where I finally came out. We would pay that much money for a house we liked in any of the locations I mentioned above, but we'd rather live in Boerne. So why wouldn't we be willing to pay that much to live in the house we want, on the lot we want, in the city we want? Because we'll never get the money back? Hell, we never get our grocery money back, either.

I'm going to hold my nose and jump in.

August 28, 2014

August 27, 2014

Met with a contractor this morning and gave the bungalow renovation/expansion a green light. Construction should start before mid-September. Finally.

We move to the beach house Friday.