There is no such thing as society

Margret Thatcher is sometimes praised and often criticized for saying that there is no such thing as society.

This is the whole of what she said, and she was right – “There is no such thing as society. There is [a] living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us [is] prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate.”

I have been reading a lot about emergence and society. Humans are an immensely social species. We are cooperative in ways no other animals are, while (so far) avoiding the tyranny termites, ants and bees. Our conflicts about cooperation are about how much, not if it is going to happen.

Those of us who believe in free market democracy are often accused by progressives and always by socialists of being somehow in favor of a cruel competition. In fact, my views are much closer to a true interactive community than most progressives and all socialists. Community presupposes interactions and reciprocal help and obligations among all members, as Mrs. Thatcher says. Contrary to socialism (or worse) that rely on centralize planning, command and control, free market democracies rely on the people and their emerging cooperation based mostly on free associations among individuals to guide societal change.

Barack Obama drew the ire of many, me included, when he chided successful people by saying “you didn’t build that.” He was actually correct in what he said, but wrong in why he said. it. None of us is independent and almost nobody really wants to be. We live with the accumulated wealth, wisdom and (yes) mistakes of humans who came before us and those that currently share our planet. This is like the fish not knowing he is in water. It does not preclude individual free will, but rather supports it. It also supports our freedom and autonomy. We are in the tapestry and cannot escape, but within that we have choices that make life better or worse for us and for others. We choose. We are not carried along like a cork in a stream, but the most effective decisions are informed by understandings of currents and possibilities.

Some things come easily to us humans. We usually think of those are “natural.” We can easily determine nuances in languages, verbal and non-verbal, that we cannot teach to our most sophisticated computers. Others are harder for us. The math problems that computers can solve in nanoseconds, befuddle most of us. These are learnable, but “unnatural”. And some things we just cannot have, no matter how much we want them. (I always thought that quotation “Some men see things as they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.” was inspirational until you thought about it and saw it was just claptrap) Distinguishing among these things, preferentially choosing natural paths when possible, pushing through the less natural when necessary and avoiding things we cannot have, even if we really want them, is what makes life for individuals and societies better or worse.

So nobody is an island, entire of themselves, but we all have autonomy (if we choose to take it) and we all have contributions to make and enjoy. However, only those who choose the somewhat more difficult path of looking to what they can contribute, rather than what they can have, looking to responsibilities as well as rights, can have the chance of being complete human beings.

I know I make a value judgement here and I am indeed saying that we are not all equal in what we do and the outcomes we seek. I am not saying I always know the right, but I am saying that it is incumbent on all of us to seek it.


Community is important, even if we have to “social distance.”  

I didn’t properly secure my trailer and it came loose. I stopped on the little road on the way to the Freeman place & soon a hunt club member stopped by to help. This was great, since the trailer weighs a lot. We got it attached right and I continued on the the farm. A little while later Mike Raney drove up. Evidently word traveled fast. Mike used to build trailers and he wanted to be sure I was okay. Very nice of him. I am pretty sure that the mishap was human error, i.e. mine. I probably did not batten it down right. It is less than two miles from where I keep the four-wheeler to our Freeman place. Complacency. Mike could find nothing wrong and there was no trouble on the return trip. As I wrote yesterday, I got 385 longleaf seedlings that Dept of Forestry had surplus because Arbor Day activities were canceled. I had a few patches I missed, so was glad to fill in. The ATV is making life a lot easier. The places I needed to plant are not near the road. Absent the ATV, I would have had to carry everything on my back, probably make a few trips. Now I can just load it on the ATV.   My first picture shows my new equipment – trailer and ATV. Next is the fire break. I planted it in clover. I think it just looks good, the strip of green. I planted in my pre-ATV days. It was hard. The bag of clover was 50lbs. Although it go lighter as I progressed, I had to carry it by hand and then spread the seeds. Below is a video of a little stream in an SMZ. Flowing water is just beautiful and it is cool the way the moss and vegetation has grown first. After that are my Dibble sticks. The one is set up for the plugs and the other is a blade. I needed both. The plug is better for what I want to do, but sometimes I need the other to cut through roots and hard dirt. Unfortunately, I lost my bladed stick. I put it down in the woods and could not find it. I am sure it will turn up. I leaned it on the tree, but it no doubt fell down and it is hard to see.  

Everybody wants to be a farmer at 5pm, but nobody wants it at 5am. That is the saying. I don’t work nearly as hard as most farmers, and I did not get up that early, but it was a hard day of planting. I also planted pollinator habitat. My last picture is lunchtime rest. Chrissy made a little pavilion area with a nice recline folding chair. That is my selfie.

Out in the woods and man's search for meaning

You cannot get much more socially distant than when you are out planting trees with nobody for acres. Dept of Forestry had an extra box of longleaf, since they cancelled Arbor Day plantings. I have some blank spaces for trees, so I was happy to get them. It is a little late to plant longleaf, but I expect most will do okay. It is supposed to rain tonight and then next week.

Forestry has been declared an essential industry (where do you think all that toilet paper and disposal masks are supposed to come from?) You cannot work from home. Virtual trees don’t really grow. Of course, what I am doing is for 20 years from now. Presumably, people will want toilet paper in those days too.

I am also planting pollinator habitat. There were lots of bubble bees flying around, no doubt looking for flowers. My flowers will not be of any immediate help to these guys, but they will come on line in a couple months.

Anyway, glad to be down on the farms.

I listened to “Man’s Search for Meaning” audio book while planting trees. It is by a guy called Viktor Frankl. He was a Jewish psychiatrist, who ended up in Auschwitz during the Holocaust. The book talks about that in some detail, but his main point is overcoming hardship, even the most extreme sort that he experienced.

Frankl explains that you cannot control what happens to you, but you have a choice of response. He reject the idea that people are determined. He says that people need to have meaning in their lives, but each person needs to search for it. If you search for happiness you will never find it. Happiness is a side effect of the search for meaning, the desire to do the right thing and then doing it.

It was well worth listening. I read the book back in the 1990s, while preparing for my posting to Krakow. I sure did not enjoy the tales of the camps, but I cannot but admire this man’s morality and resilience. His lessons are valuable. We have choices. We should take our search for meaning seriously, but most other little problems in life do not much matter.
He made a good point re collective guilt. He did not believe in it. Individuals can be guilty. They do not get it from group membership. Frankl gave an example of a woman who asked him how he could write in German after what he had been through. He asked her if she had knives in her kitchen. When she answered in the affirmative, he asked her how she could use knives when so many people had been killed by knives. She got the point.

My first picture is me out standing in my field, planting trees. Next is one of the little longleaf growing after the fire. I worried about them, but almost all seem to have survived. Last picture is a tree-eye view of me planting. I was actually trying to take the picture of the burned pine in picture #2, but the phone was still on selfie mode. I thought this was a good picture to balance. Two pictures do not look good on Facebook. Three is a better balance.

Hate the president if you want, but do not underestimate America

Winston Churchill supposedly quipped that Americans always do the right thing … after they have tried everything else. I do not see that as an insult, and I am do not think Churchill did either.

America has always relied on a decentralized system with distributed decision-making. Much of what other countries do with central authority is done in the USA by state or local authorities, or by the people themselves individually or in voluntary cooperation. It is an emergent system, and emergent systems are hard to understand, so they are often dismissed.

It is not true that in emergent systems nobody is in charge and it certainly is not true that people are not working together. In fact, emergent social systems are often more tightly coordinated than hierarchical ones. They are just harder to diagram. It is also not true that nobody is in charge, but rather that authority is fluid.

Historians, like I was, we hate emergent systems because we cannot put them into our narratives. The narrative is that the king or the leader make a plan and then others carry it out. We often name whole ages after a particular leader. Leadership is important, but the leader is part of the emergent system too. The plan is important, but the it really works only as part of an emergent system.

The USA has been better than most in recognizing & harnessing emergence, but even we feel uneasy about it.

Let me bring all this to current events. Many of you reading this hate Trump with significant passion. You should get over that, but if you cannot at least recognize what is happening during this current COVID-19 crisis.

Everybody is feeling confused and nobody knows exactly what to do because that is at this point unknowable. I know that our central planners hate this idea even more than they hate Trump, but it is true. The fact that we do not have one central plan does not mean that we have no plan.

We have a wonderful plan and an even better process. Lot of people are making decisions about things they know about and this distributed decision-making has been producing an emergent and adaptive plan.

Despite all the gnashing of teeth and screaming, the USA is doing well in addressing this crisis. You need not credit Trump. In fact you should NOT credit him. The American nation is greater than the American government and the American government is greater than the current occupant of the WH, whoever that is.

What we have is bench strength and institutional resilience. Lots of people are thinking about the problem and coming up with lots of solutions. None of these will work to solve the problem, but together they can adapt one. This solution will not be perfect because we can always imagine something better than anybody can achieve, but it will very likely be better than any alternative.

It is tempting to demand THE plan, but better to have many options and make choices from that. None of us really knows much of anything, but all of us together know quite a lot.
When a treatment is found for COVID-19, American science will be a big part of that. The same goes for a vaccine. Everybody kind of knows this, no matter how much we pretend otherwise.

Hate the president if you want, but do not underestimate America.

Drinking our part against the Corona virus

I am doing my part, even if it costs me some money and mild headaches in the morning.
Chrissy and I like to go to Blackfinn. It is right across the street from us and we especially enjoy eating and drinking out on the patio when the weather cooperates. We know some of the waiters by sight and they know us. They seem content with our tipping policy. Since it takes similar effort to serve a high priced meal as a low one, we have a minimum tip policy of $15 for any check up to $50. This can make a couple beers pretty expensive, but we can afford it.

We cannot eat or drink at Blackfinn anymore, but we are still patronizing the carry out. We are not buying any more canned beer for the duration of this Corona crisis, but rather will get the growler from Blackfinn. The guy there says that they need to empty their barrels and we are willing to shluck down what we can.

Espen bought the growler bottle a couple years back. The guy at Blackfinn told us that they no longer sell them, but they are willing to refill them.

We are currently trying to finish off their Blackfinn Pilsner barrel.

Someday, I expect that Blackfinn will erect a statue of me to commemorate my heroism in schlucking all that beer, risking the personal hardship of headaches and morning sluggishness for the team. Maybe the statue will be very small, maybe made of plastic, an improvised action figure, but a tribute nevertheless.

Anybody who lives near me is welcome to come and help. They have to sit six feet away, but I will provide the beer. We can sit on our deck outside.

My first picture shows me with the growler on the deck. Next is the Lincoln Memorial. Alex sent me the picture. He went down there yesterday to see Mr. Lincoln and be inspired. He kept his distance from others. I have never seen the monument so empty. Last picture is my great-grandfather Haase. I do not recall his first name. Chrissy is doing a lot of house cleaning, seeing as how she is stuck in the house. She found this among the old pictures. It is sort of relevant today.

Great-grandpa was from the old Kingdom of Prussia, from Pomerania. He immigrated to the USA maybe around the 1870s, after being discharged from the Prussian navy. Who even knew they had a navy? The family story is that his father had owned a distiller, but lost his business because he loved his product too much. Anyway, great grandpa felt opportunities in the USA were better, but he never lost his respect for the King of Prussia, and the Kaiser of a United Germany. The Kaiser was not very popular in the USA during World War I.

Great grandpa evidently never got the word and used to voice unpopular sentiments, something like, “the Kaiser is gonna kick Mr. Vilson’s ass,” maybe not his exact words, but you get the idea. The old man evidently went to a local tavern for his daily beer. They filled a bucket he brought along. The story is that he was saying his usual things when someone tossed some old bread into his beer bucket. Not an extremely hostile reaction, since he lived in a predominantly German community, but the story was passed down, maybe apocryphally, to my mother and to me.

On the picture, the old man looks like s sharecropper. Family lore tells me that his trade was a shoemaker. I have no real evidence.

Memories of the working class

An old picture reminded me of my working days at Medusa Cement on KK Avenue in Milwaukee.

In the original posts I wrote that I did not know who the people in the wedding picture were, beyond my father. I learned a little more. The guy in the picture is Frank Radomski. He was one of my fathers best friends. They knew each other as young men and my father helped Frank get a job at the cement company, where they worked together for three decades.
I got to know Frank when I worked a the cement company. He was in charge of filling the bags that we loaded onto trucks and pallets. Our job was hard; his was boring. Imagine sitting all day attaching bags to a funnel and then kicking them down the belt with your left foot, and doing this for twelve hours a day.

Frank was very nice to me, probably because he liked my father, but he was generally a nice guy. I was young and not as nice to him as he deserved. My co-workers at the end of the line, the ones who loaded the bags that Frank filled, disparaged Frank. They call him the dumb Pollack, ironic since about half the cement company’s workforce was Polish, like my father, John Domelski and … well … me party. They criticized him when the bags were too full or not full enough. Guys working in hard and boring jobs can be very cruel to each other, maybe because nobody wants to be there. You look forward to leaving and dread coming back, so maybe you take it out on your fellow workers.

Frank was no great intellect. In fact, he was noticeable not smart. As I said, I was not as nice to him as I could have been, but I did try. My father told me to talk to him and I tried, but it was tedious for me and I think for him. Frank’s nickname was “Hud”. My father told me that he got that nickname as a young man when they used to play baseball. They used to call him Houdini because of his skill at stealing bases. It was hard to picture the Hud I knew ever being able to do that or ever being young at all.

Frank retired a couple years before my father gave it up. We went to his retirement party. It was a sad affair. Frank was ready to retire. His health was not good. But he was sad to go. His job was, IMO, one of the worst possible – physically hard at least for one arm and one leg, environmentally unhealthy (lots of dust), and intellectually enervating – but Frank evidently liked it.

When the cement would stop flowing through the ducts, Frank would shut down the line and pound on the duct with a mini-sledge hammer. My co-workers would yell “bang-bang Frank’s silver hammer,” riffing off the Beatles song. The boss, a big guy called John Broderick, gave Frank that hammer at his retirement party.

This upset my father. He complained all the way home that it was no way to treat a man who had given so much of his life to the company. I did not see it the way my father did. I understand it better now. My father was actually talking about himself. He was could see the end of his own working life – his own productive life – and it bothered him that what his lifelong friend had to show for it was an old hammer.

I could not have known it at the time, but I was working in the twilight of working-class Milwaukee. In 1970, we were a working city, with lots of jobs, lots of industrial feeder shops and a hard-working blue collar outlook. Our breweries were world class. Our steel helped build the world and the cement my father and others filling into truck was building the Interstate system. A guy could graduate HS, get a job and start a family. Ten years later, we were one of the buckles on the rust belt.

Harvest on Diamond Grove

What I want to emphasize here is that crystal clear water in the video. This is the stream down the hill from our harvest, shown in the other pictures. Loggers in Virginia protect the waters of the Commonwealth and my stream management zones make sure of that.

Other photos show my thinned trees. The Diamond Grove place is the first one. We bought it in 2005. You could not see the little trees, since they were dominated by the grass and brambles. Now it is their first thinning.

I take a lot of satisfaction in this harvest. My “hobby” makes some money, supports some jobs and goes into useful products.

And I just love my forests.

Owning the land and being responsible for deciding what to do has changed how I look at the woods. I used to see what was there in front of me, i.e. trees as they were. Now my mind’s-eye view has grown to encompass past, present and future forests, i.e. I remember it was and think of what will be.

Trees are more than wood and forests are more than trees, so I also think about the animals, plants besides trees, flowing waters and living soil – the alpha and omega.
Our forests in Virginia are sustainable, but that is not good enough. We are working toward regeneration, making our forest ecosystems healthier year-by-year, decade-by-decade.
Other pictures show Chrissy on the ATV. She enjoyed riding around. Last two pictures are the harvesting being done by Kirk McAden’s company. Chrissy asked me how I know what to do with our forests. I told her that I don’t know, but I trust people, like Kirk, who do.
That is another thing about being a forest owner. You become intensely interested in the biotic communities on your land AND the human communities that use it too.

Using the disc

I used my new machines to disc and then I planted pollinator mix on Brodnax & Freeman. The Brodnax situation is special. I planted the pollinator mix where the HS kids will plant trees this upcoming Saturday. This used to be a deer plot, which is why it is so flat and clear. I am making two assumptions. The first is that the trees (they are planting loblolly) will not be significantly harmed by the grass and forbs and second that it will be 6-8 years before the new canopy closes. By that time, we will likely have harvested the trees around this place and the seed bank will have spread there.  

My first picture is my area I plowed and planted. The HS kids will also plant under those trees we burned too hot. Next picture is a big white oak. We got poor survival of the 2016 longleaf right next to that tree. I was going to replant, but decided to let around ten acres become an oak-pine forest. I have planted some oak trees, but I am also going to allow natural regeneration from trees like that one. Picture #3 is from the Brodnax SMZ. I just think it is pretty. The penultimate picture is my new Coke holder on my ATV. Last is Loves at Exit 104. I didn’t get a good picture. Too dark. I wanted to take the picture because of the very rapid gas price decline. Gas cost $1.95 at Exit 104. It was only $1.85 in Petersburg.

Harvesting Diamond Grove

The crews are working hard on thinning the Diamond Grove unit. It will change the face of my first forest. The size of the trees is surprising.  When I see them being harvested and look at the thinned places, it is hard to believe that these were the little trees that could not even peek above the grass in 2005.

I think some of our management helped. We did pre-commercial thinning and applied biosolids in 2008. I think that contributed to the forest health now. Biosolids are great. Unfortunately, we cannot get them anymore in Brunswick. We are too far from the big cities.

I looked over the activities and talked to Kirk McAden  and Nick for a long time, until I realized that I was subtracting value and got out of the way. I look forward to seeing it when it is done. I will plant grasses, flowers and clover on the landing zones.

To get out of the way and still do something useful, I went over to Freeman. I have a discer for my ATV and I tried it out. It works well. I want to replant some of the place that got grubbed up over the winter. The discer will make that happen.

My first two pictures are the harvest.  Picture #3 shows the thinned forests. It is much better.  It was too dark and a mess of vines. The vines will be back and I will need to fight them, but this thinning is a good thing. Penultimate picture is my new discer.
I have a question, maybe somebody here knows.  I had trouble getting the discer on the machine. I had to drive onto a log to get the back high enough. Is there a better way?
Last picture is one of my little longleaf.  We planted those last winter and I was afraid that the fire would kill them. This one looked dead, but you can see in the middle that it lives.

Thinning on Diamond Grove prep day

They are getting the equipment in position to thin 110 acres on the Diamond Grove place. This was my first forest. I feel very strongly about all my forest units, but his one is special as the first. When I got it, I could not even see the trees over the tops of the grass and brambles. I worried about that. Since I was inexperienced in forestry, I was afraid I bought some unproductive land. (BTW, if you are looking to buy rural land and hear it described as “sportsman’s paradise” it won’t be good for anything else.)

But the place is good for growing trees and it is now ready for its first thinning.
Kathryn-Kirk McAden is doing the job. I trust him and his crews. They did very good jobs on our other places. My conditions special but not very unusual. I want it thinned to 80 basal area with paths cut along the stream management zones, so that we can more easily burn when the time comes. I asked the loggers to be very careful with the SMZs. These are some of my favorite places. If practical, I would like them to take out some of the big loblolly in the SMZ so that that it can transition to hardwood, as it is already doing. “If practical” means those they can get up w/o tearing up the soil of much impacting other trees.

They will also be especially careful around the wildflower meadows. This is another reason to trust Kirk. He is the one who planted those with the Southeastern pollinator flowers and warm season grasses, so he knows where they are and why they are important.
We are clear cutting 3.5 acres of damp (but not SMZ) land near Diamond Grove Road. I asked to leave a small “beauty strip” along the road, so it looks better. Loblolly does not grow well in that damp place and it has become a mess of brambles, invasive vines and multiflora rose. Better to start over with bald cypress, which I will do next spring, maybe a few tupelo and swamp white oak. Not sure yet. I think I will plant 8×10 or 544 trees per acre. I am not sure about silviculture for cypress in Virginia, so I have the added joy of learning from experience.

It will also be interesting to see changes in water patterns. When you thin, more water flows into the streams and dew ponds. It can make a significant difference. The amphibian population will rise next season.

I am going to go down tomorrow to look around and “consult.”

We didn’t cut anything last year, and I do not have any plans to cut again until 2022, so I want to enjoy this experience.

After the cut, I want to do an under story burn of most of the acreage. Probably in February, just before I plant the cypress.

All the pictures are from my files, i.e. not taken currently. My first picture is beech in the SMZ. I would not want those impacted by the logging. Next is one of the meadows, followed by the loblolly. The woods is way too dark. Thinning will make it healthier and more wildlife friendly. Penultimate picture show Diamond Grove Road when the bridge washed out. It does not flood that much every year, but every few years water gets about to where the road is closed. That explains why cypress are better below that. Last is the planning map I made last year.