Monday, June 15, 2015

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Friday, June 5, 2015


When George W. Bush began talking about taking military action against Saddam Hussein, I thought it was not a good idea, but not for any of the reasons I typically hear bandied about by those who criticize the decision. Saddam was not a nice man, but he maintained stability in the region. By toppling him we would destabilize the region, and we would have to make a long-term, South Korea-esque  commitment to keeping stability. We change leadership every four years, and I doubted the stick-to-it-iveness of subsequent administrations.

Every action has unintended and unanticipated consequences, and toppling Hussein was no exception. The unanticipated consequence was the complete collapse of the Iraqi government. With Hussein gone, the government just vanished and there was no centralized leadership to deal with—we were confronted with the unappealing prospect of trying to oversee the building of a new government out of chaos and anarchy. In many ways the situation we confronted was like the situation confronted by the Romans in Iberia after the Second Punic War. When the Romans destroyed the Carthaginian government in Iberia they created a power vacuum that it took 40 years and gallons of Roman blood to fill. The early Romans, however, never lacked stick-to-it-iveness and they ultimately prevailed. In Iraq we never intended to create a power vacuum, never expected to have to pay the bill in time and blood to fill it, and not even the Bush Administration was willing to voice a commitment to seeing the job through to the end.

The unintended consequence was the increasing militancy of Iran. Look at a map. Iraq is to the west of Iran, and Afghanistan is to the east. After the invasion of Iraq the U.S. Military occupied both countries. Put yourself in the shoes of the Iranian theocracy. America has taken down a dictatorship to your immediate west and a theocracy to your immediate east. Do you feel threatened? What are the two classic responses to threats? Flight or fight. Flight is impossible, so what is left? The Iranian government begins to [1] figuratively pound its chest and threaten the threatener (us) and [2] work to undermine our increasingly feeble efforts at reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I didn’t see either of these consequences coming. All I foresaw was the need to invest years and years of effort into the reconstruction of Iraq and the basic unwillingness of subsequent administrations to make that investment.  I, like everyone else, am better at hindsight than foresight. You don’t, however, need 20/20 hindsight to see that if we had maintained an adequate troop commitment to Iraq that ISIS would never have blossomed and grown.

Bush sowed the seeds of anarchy by invading Iraq, and Obama cultivated them by allowing the rise of ISIS. Bush’s mistake was to create a situation which required a commitment so lengthy and costly that subsequent administrations would be unwilling to follow through. We had a pretty good handle on things when Bush left office, but we would lose it if troops were withdrawn on the unrealistic timetable the Bush administration had set. Obama’s mistake was sticking to the unrealistic timetable. Somebody somewhere had to be telling him that if we did, things would go to Hell in short order. He had two options [1] stick to the unrealistic timetable and blame Bush for the resulting chaos, or [2] step up to the plate and stay the course. We have ISIS terror cells in the USA today because Obama took Option [1].

Wednesday, June 3, 2015


My wife, Lane, loves birds and birdhouses, and during the summer our back yard is full of birds eating from her feeder and nesting in the half dozen birdhouses dotted about the back yard. A few years ago Lane's sister gave her an ornate birdhouse as a birthday gift. It looked to me like a birdhouse that you would put up on a mantelpiece as a decoration, but Lane wanted it in the back yard. We stuck it on a pole, and it has been occupied every summer since. I don't know how it lasted so long. It wasn't made of durable wood, and it was put together with long staples.

This year it was on its last legs, and Lane asked me if I could make another one just like it. "I don't know," I said, "I can give it a try." My carpentry skills are not the best in the world, and I am certainly no architect. I took the birdhouse apart and used it as a pattern to make the replacement.

There are two things about building that I have trouble with--the concepts of "square" and "level." I can usually accomplish whatever building project I undertake, but the finished product will not stand close scrutiny. That was the case with Lane's replacement birdhouse. It looks fine from a distance, but don't get too close.

You can tell from this picture that my skills as a photographer rival my skills as a carpenter.

Birds don't really care how ornate a birdhouse is, and if you have a modicum of mechanical ability you can knock together a perfectly serviceable birdhouse from scrap lumber. Over the years I've made probably two dozen or so rough-and-ready birdhouses from scrap lumber.

Here's how the most mechanically challenged do-it-yourselfer can make two simple birdhouses from a 1x6x8 board and some deck screws.

The minimum tools you'll need are a variable speed drill,

a hole saw (size 1.25" or 1.5"),

a speed square,

a screwdriver, and a saw. A chop saw is best if you, like me, have trouble making a square cut with a hand saw.

Next best is a miter box and a miter saw.

The following directions presuppose a roof with a 22.5 degree slant. You can make the roof with any slant you want, or even no slant at all. You will have to adjust the length of the front door of the birdhouse to accommodate any slant other than 22.5 degrees.

Mark off six inches on the end of 1x6. Set the chop saw to 22.5 degrees, and cut the wood so that the short side of your cut is six inches. Cut the angled end of the board off at six inches, and you should have two identical pieces 6" on the short side and approximately 8.75" or so on the long side. Cut off two more pieces four inches long. Rip (cut lengthwise) one of the four inch pieces so that it measures 4x4.75". Go back to your board and make two more cuts. Make the first an 8" cut and the second a 8.5" cut. Rip the 8.5" piece to a width of four inches. The resulting pieces will look like this:

Take one of the angle cut pieces and fasten it to the 4x4.75 piece. Make sure the four inch side is fastened to the angle cut piece. Fasten it flush to the six inch side of the angle cut piece.

Now fasten the 4x6 inch piece to the 6" side of the angle cut piece like this:

Now fasten on the other angle cut piece:

If the boards aren't warped, the 4x8.5 piece should fit snugly in the open front of the birdhouse:

You're going to fasten this piece at the top with only two screws, which you're going to try to place in exactly the same spot on both sides. This will give you a kind of a garage-door effect where you can swing the front of the birdhouse open to clean it out after the birds have abandoned their nest:

Now take the 8" piece and screw it on to make a roof:


Now take the hole saw and drill a hole in the middle of the front of the birdhouse, add a perch, and you're ready to go. You can make a perch from almost anything. the finished birdhouse below has a hex bolt for a perch:

You really don't need a perch, but if you decide to add a perch, make sure it is something durable, or it will rot and fall away rather quickly.

A word about using the screws: For size, 1 5/8" to 2" screws work fine. Always drill pilot holes for the screws, and make sure the holes are roomy. If you don't use pilot holes, or if the pilot holes are too small, you will split the wood. To make absolutely sure you don't split the wood, don't use the drill to drive the screws up flush. Use the drill to drive the screws in most of the way and snug them up flush with a screwdriver. Use no more than two screws per side when joining the wood pieces together.

A word about making angle cuts: You don't have to make them if you don't want to. A flat roof will work just fine.

When you get through, you'll have enough wood left over to make another birdhouse.