Memories of longleaf

I think most old people worry about losing their mental capacity.  I know I do (BTW, I have long since given up on that physical capacity worry). I seem to have a good memory for things that happened decades ago, but worry that I am not learning new ones.

My forestry enterprise gives me hope. I take constant joy in just doing it, but there is more.  I have learned a lot about forest ecology in the last years that I am sure I did not know before.  In other words, my old brain has assimilated new knowledge and practice significantly different from what I was doing for the last 30-40 years.

When I learn something new, my mind defaults into two assumptions. First is that everybody knows it and second that I always knew it before.  Both these assumptions are wrong. The first actually has a name. They call it the curse of knowledge. It makes it hard to understand why other people just do not understand as you do. The second is just a syndrome that confuses.

One way to adapt to this human tendency to think you knew more than you did is to keep a journal and to look back over it. Facebook memory section helps by reminding what we doing years back.

At this time in 2016 I was learning about longleaf pine. This is not surprising. What is surprising is what I evidently did not know before then.  My notes are below. When I talk about southern pine ecology, all these facts come easily to me.  They are all mine and I feel like they are things I always knew.  But I did not. The old dog still can learn a few new tricks.

Finished the longleaf pine seminar in Franklin, Virginia

From April 6, 2016

Longleaf used to be the dominant ecosystem in much of the tidewater south and even into the piedmont.  It was an extremely diverse and rich ecosystem, combining a forest and a grassland.  Longleaf pine cannot compete well with other woody plants or even with lots of herbaceous plants.  The seeds will germinate only on mineral soils and the seedlings are easily overtopped.  However, they have one big and decisive advantage.   Longleaf pine is as close to fireproof as a tree can be.   Fire passes over the seedlings and the thick bark of the bigger ones protects them.  That nature range of longleaf corresponds very closely to areas with regular small burns.

Longleaf went into decline because of overcutting (they are great timber trees), because of hogs and more than anything else because of fire suppression.   The overcutting is obvious, and I will explain more about the fire, but what about the hogs?  Hogs were semi-feral in Virginia.  People let their hogs roam and they had big hog roundups.  The hogs ate almost anything, but they were especially fond of longleaf pine seedling, which are especially rich in carbohydrates.  They ate the seedling and rooted around to wreck those they did not eat.

The hogs did damage but longleaf did not return after the hogs were mostly gone because fire was also mostly gone.  Longleaf pine seeds germinate in fall, which is odd for a pine and they will germinate only on mineral soil, which requires a disturbance like fire to get rid of the duff.  Longleaf is one of the few pine species that can grow in the shade, at least for a while, so longleaf forests could be uneven aged, with new pines growing in gaps caused by fires or other natural disturbances.

A longleaf pine stays in the grass stage (you can see in my picture) for at least a couple years and maybe more than seven.  In that time, it does not grow up but it sets down a root system at least six feet deep.  At this stage, it is immune to most fires that will kill hardwoods or loblolly.  This is the secret to its success and lack of fire the explanation of its failure.    The only time the longleaf is vulnerable to fire is when it is three to six feet high.  It has grown beyond the safe and compact size, but still not tall enough to put its terminal buds are beyond the flame reach.

Once it gets to a decent size, longleaf can compete well, but fire is still needed to keep the rest of its ecology healthy and allow for the next generations, so a burn every 2-5 years works well.  A good rotation is to burn after two growing seasons. Do it in the winter, so it is a cooler fire. After that, burn when they are more than six feet high and then every couple of years.  A quicker fire is better, so a header fire is better than a backing fire.

Loblolly grows much faster in the first two years and will out-compete longleaf absent fire.  A loblolly is not fire resistant until it is around eight years old.  Studies show that longleaf catch up with loblolly at about age seventeen and are a little bigger by age twenty-eight.  Longleaf live longer and have a longer rotation.   The oldest longleaf on record was 468 years old.   Loblolly live only half as long and many are in decline even a little more than thirty years.  Nevertheless, loblolly is better if you are interested only in timber income.   The short rotations will usually make more money.  Even though longleaf timber is better, mills are unwilling to pay a premium in most cases.

Observers used to think that longleaf pine preferred sandy and dry soils because that is where they found them.  In fact, they can grow on a variety of soils.  The reason they were found on the poor and sandy sites is because those were the places left after settlers and farmers cleared the better land for agriculture.    Beyond that, longleaf CAN live on poor sites where others cannot do as well.

My first picture shows a burned over area planted with longleaf seedlings.  You cannot see the seedlings, but this is the environment they need.  The next picture is four years later. This is a bit of a problem. They missed the burning after two growing seasons and the competition has gotten out of hand. They cannot burn now because the longleaf are in the vulnerable stage.  It can still be salvaged, but it is not good.

The third picture shows South Quay Sandhills Natural Area and one of the only remnant stands of indigenous Virginia longleaf.  This is where the seeds come from for longleaf planting in Virginia. Virginia does not grow the seeds.  They are sent down to North Carolina.  They do it for Virginia, since they currently have more experience.  The last picture shows the cones of the longleaf (big) and loblolly. It also shows the sands and weak soil.  The reason the longleaf are still here is that the soils do not support agriculture or competitors. The trees in picture #3 are about eighty years old. They are so small because of those soil conditions, but they may be the progenitors of trees all over Virginia. Sometimes it is lucky to be poor.

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Kettle Moraine Camping

I still get the Story Worth Questions, even if I do not always write answers. This one asked me to describe my first camping trip. It is below.

The first time I went camping was in when my HS friend Dwayne Gorgon and I rode bikes up to Kettle Moraine State Forest.  It was a big adventure for me, more of one than the actual travel would justify.  It was not really all that far, a day trip, but a big deal then.

It was a hard trip for me at that time.  My relationship with Dwayne was a little odd. He was a swim team colleague. We started out together and we used to practice together summer mornings at Kosciuszko Park.  I was a significantly better swimmer and our abilities diverged in our junior and senior years.  I think he felt it unfair that we worked out the same, but I got better.  On the other hand, he had a better bike and I think he was a better bicyclist than I was.  It is the kind of rivalry that both spices and sours relationships among teenage boys.  I tried not to lord my abilities over him, but I think that made it worse for him.  Dwayne was less circumspect in showing he was faster on the bike.

Kettle Moraine is glaciated landscape, that produced wave-like topography.  The country trunk roads did not flatten the hills or go around them, so you got a lot of ups and downs.  To going down is not usually worth the coming up.  You peddle as fast as you can down the slope, but it is never enough to get back up the other side.  Crossroads are a complicating factor.  Roads tend to cross at the bottom on hills and in those days often featured four way stops.  That means you come down fast on one slope and you are supposed to stop before starting up the other.   There was not much traffic on those roads, so we tended not to stop.  It was scary, however.  You could not see over the hills or around the curves, so you always worried a bit that a car would come along.

We ended up at the campground not very much before dark.  There is a little poignancy to this story, in that I tried to call home from the phone booth, charges reversed in those pre-mobile phone days. It still made a big difference to me that my parents knew of my exploits, especially my mother.  My father answered and said that my mother had already gone to bed.  Odd. Turned out that she had gone into the hospital.  She would never come home.  She knew this was going to happen, but she also knew that we had long planned the trip and did not want to ruin it for me.  My mother did not want me to see her in her declining condition and did not want my sister or me to visit.  We thought she would be home soon, but we never saw her again.  But this was in the future on that night.

That night was the first time I saw the milky way.  Milwaukee was darker in those days, but still had streetlights enough to obscure the milky way.  I was amazed by the stars, the three-dimensional vastness.  But it seemed that the mosquitoes were as common as the stars.  We were unprepared for camping (a persistent theme in my camping experience).  The mosquitoes tormented us until the wind picked up sometime in the pre-dawn darkness.  The wind the blew the mosquitoes away also blew in storm clouds and they dumped heavy rain on us as we rode back home.

It had been a hot ride up; it was cold and wet on the way back.  It did not rain all the time. It just rained hard when it rained.  In the open country, you could see the rain coming, but could do nothing to avoid it.  I was exhausted by the time I got home and went to be early.  I still recall my dreams, well images from the dreams.  They were letters, like F, HH etc.  Wisconsin’s county trunk roads have letters not names.

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Social isolation walk

Chrissy & I did our socially isolated walking today. There are lots of people out walking in the parks and trials of northern Virginia. People keep their distance, but smile as they walk withing six feet of each other.

It makes me think about the future of dense cities. We have a lot of space available in our urbanized suburb. People who live densely packed in high rises really do not have the going out options. Will this affect people’s choices about where they choose to live? Will suburbs and rural areas be the new destinations of choice?

One thing we have more than enough of is deer. We see dozens every time we walk around. I never see so many when I go down to the farms. Suburbs are wonderful habitats for deer, squirrels, doves, some sorts of hawks, rabbits, geese and foxes – too wonderful.

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Boozy plans

I have big plans for my social isolation down on the farms. As I wrote elsewhere, I have planted my seeds & trees and it is too early to cut the weeds. My new idea – a split rail fence. I have a bunch of logs left over from the last harvest and I can drag them out with my ATV. I am not talking a long fence, mind you, just enough to look cool and give me lots of good exercise and a project to do. If old Abe can do it with those primitive tools at his disposal, I can do it.

Now, I do question my current motivation. Yesterday was a “beer free day” down on the farms. Today I am back home & this day is not. I noticed that my estimation of the ease of my projects increased with each once of the golden liquid. I admit that I may not finish, but I figure I can start.

How hard can it be? I have an axe and I used to know how to use it. The logs are pre-cut and dried out.

I have a theory about boozing and America’s expansion. Imagine the situation on the frontier in Tennessee. The local guys are consuming the local corn improved into a liquid form and they start to talking about adventure in Texas. They have heard of it but they do not know too much about the details. How hard can it be? Sure enough, there are dangerous Comanche and it is not part of the USA, but – hey – how hard can it be?

Before they know it, some are hold up in the Alamo and others are shortly avenging them at San Jacinto. This was repeated a thousand of times, big and small, all over the West, and the places where these guys went became the United States of America.

I told the people of my district that I would serve them as faithfully as I had done; but if not, they might go to hell, and I would go to Texas.

I know this sounds disrespectful, but I think we underestimate this sort of motivation.

Scientists now think that beer was invented before bread, and there is certainly no doubt that whiskey was important on the American frontier. The plans made under the influence are sometimes fulfilled as commitment extend beyond.

I pity the fools who drink so much that it ruins their lives, but similarly I pity those who have never partaken and never understood that their contemplation has more than one speed, and the forward and backward are not the only options.

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Nothing urgent

I really did not have urgent work to do. I am kind of between projects. I planted all the seeds and trees I have. It will be useful for me to use my cutter to clean up brambles near my young longleaf, but there is not much sense in doing that now, since they are just now coming up and will grow back the day after I am done if I cut them now.
I am stiffer today than usual, despite not much work done. I think I may be in danger of overdoing because I get much less exercise in my daily life, now with gyms closed and social distancing making keeping me at home, sitting around.
My real reason for going down to the farms was just to be there. I am very socially isolated on the farms, so I can feel virtuous for distancing. Of course, no doubt I take a big risk with self-service gas 🙂
It is a long drive, but I have audio books. I finished “Extreme Economics,” a very good book and started another “The Narrow Corridor.” It is a lot easier to drive now, since there is much less traffic and gas is a lot cheaper. I can usually just do cruise control the whole way. The only bad part, and maybe it is just my perception, is that trucks are driving faster and more like they always do on I-81. Maybe the lack other traffic enables and emboldens them.
My first picture is me “working”. I have a nice lounge chair there these days. The cycle of life is interesting. Babies & old me look pretty much alike. Of course, most babies do not have beards. Next picture is the view from the chair. The other two pictures are from my cypress area. These were planted in 2012. I think this corridor is very pretty. They remind me of tamaracks back in Wisconsin. You have to wear muck boots, but besides that is is easy. going.
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Funding conservation

Wonderful good news for our North American forests. The American Forest Foundation (AFF) & the Nature Conservancy (TNC) are partnering to facilitate better conservation practices on private land, and Amazon has signed up with a $10 million grant to help fund the project starting in Vermont and Pennsylvania, an investment that will help remove over 18 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – equivalent to 46 billion miles driven by an average passenger vehicle.

Follow this link.

Family forests

Families and individuals in the eastern USA own more forests land than government or big firms. I do not think most people are aware of this. It means that most conservation is done on private forest lands, like mine that I write about so often.

Conservation, however, costs money, both in actual outlays of cash and in money lost by not taking the most cash you can get from your land. This is a tradeoff that most forest landowners are willing to make. Sustainability requires we balance the economic, ecological and social factors in any enterprise. Besides forest products, well-cared-for forest land produces clean water, wildlife habitat and natural beauty. Everybody enjoys the ecological and societal benefits, but the economic costs fall on the landowners.

It is like all of us enjoying a fine meal and a stranger picking up the check, nice but we probably cannot count on a free ride forever, not because he does not want to but rather because he cannot afford to keep it up.

Funds for conservation

TNC and AFF are addressing this issue by making funds available to family landowners to carry on the conservation they want to do, and we all want them to do. Incentives for conservation practices are not new and their history has not always been exemplary. Let me tell you about why I think this time is better, based some on my own role.

I am president of the Virginia Tree Farm Foundation (VTFF), the Virginia affiliate of the American Tree Farm Foundation in turn affiliated with the AFF, discussed above working with TNC. Sorry for the long provenance, but I needed to make the connection.

Land management plans – looking at big ecology

In Virginia, the VTFF foundation encourages conservation on family forest lands and certifies forest land. We are essentially the only practical way a small holder can get his land certified. Small landowners (and we are not always talking very small >500 acres are big for a city boy like me, small when it comes to timber) have often been unable to use conservation programs because of administrative costs. If you own a small place, the cost of registering and reporting may well exceed any revenue you get for being a good steward. Most of us still do it, mind you, but we can do less. I have been able to do institute a regime of patch burning, for example, because I got an NRCS grant. It is something I wanted to do, something great for wildlife and the environment, but not something I could justify spending thousands of dollars of my family’s money on something they could never recover. I was eager to do the needed work and did not mind spending some money, but absent the grant, I could not have done it. Lots of conservation is like that.

A land bank, Virginia and beyond

The AFF/TNC plan would work regionally. Landowners could enroll their land and get resources to do needed conservation, with the upfront and admin costs defrayed by AFF/TNC. Even better, the land is aggregated in an ecological region. The best analogy for this is a bank deposit. Banks make loans to a family that want to buy a house. No individual bank depositor would have the resources, expertise or time to make the loan, but when the deposits are aggregated, it works. Similarly a family that enrolls their land may be unable to keep it locked up for decades, but they can “deposit” their land and allow firms, like Amazon, to “buy” conservation from the group, knowing that individuals may enter or leave.

We are doing right now doing a land management plan in Virginia east of the Blue Ridge, soon to be expanded to the whole of the Old Dominion. This will take into account Virginia’s ecological regions and allow certified landowners to commit their land to conservation w/o losing control over it. It is a win for them, for the firms involved for the environment and generally. Virginia’s plan will be ready by the end of this year. I am 100% behind this and my small part in making this happen is one of my life’s legacies.

Better to light one candle than to curse the darkness

Our efforts will not solve the climate problem or make conservation work always and everywhere, but it is a big step forward, at least in each of our states. I am much enamored with the process. It is persuasive not coercive, which mean that those who participate will be partners, not subordinates. We will get the benefit not only of their work, but also of their innovation, expertise and local knowledge and passion for their land. They will not do what we plan; they will do better.

These are the first steps on a path whose end we cannot know, and a journey will never complete. That means we will never lack for something useful to do.

I like that.

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Forestry folk invented social distancing

Forestry folk invented social distancing, so it is easier for us to adapt to the steps needed to address the Covid-19 crisis. I am not an extrovert, but I miss the routine social interaction, having a beer with friends of just the serendipity of talking to strangers I meet.  This has made my tree farms even more important and I have been using work on them as a form of therapy during social distancing. And with the solitude, I have had more time to think about what I mean when I say I am “working on the farm.”


I enjoy the work although not ever minute doing it. Tree planting is a good example. Pushing through the brambles and the briars, carrying the seedlings, and just poking that dibble stick into the ground thousands of time is an experienced better remembered than lived. And it seems like the best way to make it rain is to go out and plant trees. Much of the work on tree farms is like that.  When I am out doing it, I cannot wait to get done; when I am done, I cannot wait to get out doing it again.

The joy of planting trees comes not from the tedious repetition. The joy is in our minds when we contemplate the past and imagine the future. Tapping into the majestic flow of nature helps with insights for us short-lived mortals about the unknown past to the unknowable future. It is a spiritual type of practical activity.

The American Tree Farm System was created in 1941 to help ensure the future wood supply, an important, practical and prosaic goal that the America forest industry has achieved. Kudos forestry USA. The USA has more timber growing today than at any other time in more than a century.

I think we now need to move beyond this “tree crop” idea. Trees are more than wood and forests are more than trees. When I go to my tree farms, I am pleased to see so much timber. If not for income from selling timber, pulp, and pellets, I could not afford to own my land, and I am glad that the products of my land support local jobs and contribute to the general welfare.  But if income was my only goal, I sure would not own a tree farm. I am typical of a Virginia tree farmer in that our surveys show that most of us are looking for something more than money from our land.

For me that something is being part of a community. My land’s biotic communities are the basics, but I also enjoy being part of the greater local community and the forest community worldwide I love the trees and I love the wood in buildings. This is our community too.

In this time of covid-19 isolation, I know that I am part of many communities, so I go alone into the woods and am reminded.

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Social distancing walk

Doing the social isolation walks in Virginia’s beautiful spring weather. I have never seen so many people out walking. Everyone keeps their distance, but we still feel friendly. Most people smile and wave, as we yield the path to one another.

My picture is one of the big white oaks at Navy Federal grounds. There are maybe a dozen of them and they are at least 130 years old. I am reasonably sure of that estimate, since I counted the rings on the stump of one that they cut down in 2013 (although I think that the downed oak was a big red oak, not white, I figured the same generation.) I have included pictures from that sojourn seven years ago.

I like to come back to the same places to appreciate the changes. I recall that long walk back i 2013. I was still recovering from that peripheral artery problem and it hurt to walk. I am much better now. I stamp my memory on the land I walk on, even if only I know about it. It is a source of connections and joy for me. I have “relationships” with trees and landscape in Milwaukee that go back more than half a century.

Tomorrow I plan to socially isolate down on the farm, & I am going to camp out for the first time on my land. I don’t expect it to be comfortable, but I have been meaning to do it for a long time.

I do not like to camp. I used to do it a lot because I do like to be in nature. In those days, that was the only way for me. I had no car so was was not mobile nor could I afford a hotel. Both those things are changed now. I usually stay at Fairfield in about 20 miles from my land. But in this time of social isolation, I figured I might not.

Anyway, I will be in the Internet shadow tomorrow. I may check from my phone, but if you don’t hear from me, I am in the woods.

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COVID-19 and the Northern Border

I participated in a Wilson Center Webinar “COVID-19 and the Northern Border” on April 14, 2020.  It was a follow up/update to Wilson Center’s publication “Reports from North America’s Borders: Experts React to New COVID-19 Travel Restrictions.”   The panel was introduced by Wilson CEO Jane Harman and moderated by Chris Sands, Director of the Canada Institute. Panelist included:  Alan Bersin, Global Fellow, Mexico & Canada Institutes, Wilson Center; Former Assistant Secretary for International Affairs and Chief Diplomatic Officer for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Policy; Kathryn Friedman, Global Fellow, Canada Institute, The Wilson Center; Research Associate Professor of Law & Planning at the University at Buffalo; Laurie Trautman, Global Fellow, Canada Institute, The Wilson Center; Director, Border Policy Research Institute Western Washington University & Solomon Wong, President and CEO, InterVISTAS Consulting Inc.

Notes from each participant are included below.  They were in general as upbeat as you could expect given the nature of the crisis.  The good news is that the closing of the border was done with consultations between the USA and Canada and carried out in the spirit of cooperation and mutual respect, bred of long and trusting relationships.

Canada and the USA agreed to temporarily restrict all non-essential cross-border travel for the first time since September 11, 2001.  The agreement restricts travel for tourism and recreation but allows business travel crucial to our integrated supply chains.  Until the closure, $2.7 billion worth of goods crossed the Canada-U.S. border every day.

Please refer to the earlier comments of participants hereYou can also watch the event at this link.

Alan Bersin – Global Fellow, Mexico & Canada Institutes, Wilson Center; Former Assistant Secretary for International Affairs and Chief Diplomatic Officer for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Policy

Governments Canada and USA agreed on how to let goods pass, if not people, so not like 9/11.  Not unilateral.  Ended up with a North American approach.  First time we had something like this. Also, not indefinite shutdown.  USA and Canada announced 18 March for 21 March with review a month later.  This was an orderly shutdown and not a complete one.

Recognized importance of keeping supply chains.  Public health concerns well balanced with economic ones.  People cooperating.  Not much confusion or anger.

Question is how to restart economy.  We can say that instead of being a source of grief and conflict, it may be a bright spot, as way to help the general restart of economy. An example for good.

Re 3M exporting masks to Canada.  Trudeau called the WH and it was changed. There was talk about barring PPE for export but explicit exception for Canada and Mexico.

It is working well because of relationships and trust and confidence built over a long time.

Supply chains v human traffic

A weak point has been sharing information about supply chain integrity.  In future will need more information developed and exchanged.  New techniques in information technology will allow us to share information w/o comingling, which might compromise sensitive or proprietary information.

Recognize the importance of North America.  Use C-19 experience to think about how North American can work even better.

Kathryn Friedman – Global Fellow, Canada Institute, The Wilson Center; Research Associate Professor of Law & Planning at the University at Buffalo

Buffalo-Niagara Passenger traffic down 98%, bus traffic down 99.6%.  28-30% commercial traffic down.  Industries that rely on cross border (mostly tourism) are badly hurt.

People mostly abiding by rules.  On the USA side, there is not much problem.  On Canadian side harder. People who work in the USA must quarantine when they come back.

USA-Canada – shows how a good relationship can work.  We always have to “weed the garden” but the system is working well.

Laurie Trautman – Global Fellow, Canada Institute, The Wilson Center; Director, Border Policy Research Institute Western Washington University

In NW not many workers pass back and forth.  Concerned that Canadian discretionary spending will not be back very quick.  Canadians buy gas, get their Amazon purchases etc.  Flow of American going north was much smaller and they were not shopping much.

Hopes this crisis shows the importance and effectiveness of working of the border.

Solomon Wong – President and CEO, InterVISTAS Consulting Inc.

Passenger traffic almost gone, but decline not so much, since cargo has filled some of the void.  Delta etc are converting to cargo very rapidly.  Moving medicines and perishable good.

Some experience with SARS and MERS, so they can better adapt to risks.   Air travel has been a conduit for super spreading.  Flights from China are coming back.  Flights from China to Vancouver have been full, still not going back.

Role of big data – finding asymptomatic carrier of disease is fundamental challenge.  The undiscovered territory is what can be done with large data.  In China they can check where you went.  Lots of potential privacy issues.  Chinese less concerned with these issues.

Lots of room to grow.  Do not focus only on tech or too much on tech.  People and process matter.


Jane Harman kicked off.   Have we learned lessons since 9/11 re other countries?

Wong – lesson learned is that people need to be reassured. If there are too many different forms, too much complexity, it makes people afraid.

Friedman – Maybe cannot handle other countries as easily as Canada.  Our countries are extraordinarily integrated. No other place is like that.

How will restriction complicate supply chains and family reunification.

Trautman – trucks are still moving.  Changes in demand are affecting more than peculiar border issues.  For example, Washington State processes oil and ships back to Canada. They are doing less, since there is a big drop in demand.

Friedman – family visits are still problems due to quarantine.

Have you heard timeline for more stringent measures?

Bersin  – had not heard of more stringent. April reassessment will identify what worked and what did not, maybe develop best practices.  Tension between more bureaucracy and more local initiative. So are is working okay.

We will need to resume step by step.  Border can be crucible for opening other sectors, based on data.  Mechanisms still not up to do this.

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America emerges

The news seeping out now is that the USA had enough ventilators and ICU beds. In fact, we have more ICU beds both in absolute total and per capita than any other country and there are no reports of anybody being denied a place.

Better in our minds

We can always imagine better and we always fear worse. This is part of human nature. We need to resist letting our projections & projections become the narrative. We cannot let the imagined perfect be the enemy of the actual good, nor let our crazier fears determine our reactions to real situations.

The American reality is always less good than we can imagine, but usually better than things we have seen.


Experience shows that our big and diverse country requires diverse and distributed decision-making. This means that we almost always come up with optimal (for the real world) solutions, but it also means that success will not be equally distributed. Over the long run, and even the medium one, it means that the general level has improved more than had we determined the one “best.”

Adaptive and flexible beat the one right thing

Adaptive and flexible systems, as ours is, just outperform command and control in complex and uncertain situations in all but the shortest of time frames. Their problem is with the narrative, again a feature of human nature. We think in terms of stories with somebody doing something leading to results. The problem is that in a distributed decision system nobody is in charge of the whole thing and solutions emerge not from the mind of a signal leader, but rather from the interaction and relationship of many minds, often coordinated by networks we cannot see, run by nobody. Embracing this has been a secret of American success that has perplexed the world, and most of us, for around 250 years. It is counter-intuitive to think that we do not need a central leadership.

e pluribus unum

We must resist our intuition on this. One people, one country, one leader appeals emotionally to many people, but recall where the slogan comes from and that is sounds even better when shouted in German.

The better slogan is out of many – one.

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