January 26, 2009
by Ben McGrath
SECTION: FACT; American Chronicles; Pg. 41 Vol. 84 No. 46
LENGTH: 7208 words
A year and a half ago, with real-estate prices falling, Dmitry Orlov, a forty-six-year-old software engineer from Leningrad, sold his apartment in the Brighton section of Boston, along with most of its contents, and bought a sailboat-an old sharpie made from Douglas-fir marine plywood, on which he and his wife, Natasha, a literary translator, now live, debt-free. They rent a slip at the Constitution Marina, near the Boston Naval Shipyard, and he walks to work at a nearby advertising agency. For errands, Orlov rides a bicycle, which he sometimes parks on deck. It's been a long time since he owned either a car or a television ("When I'm in front of one for five minutes, I think it's lying to me and I want to take wire cutters and clip the power cord"). He has outfitted the boat, which is named Hogfish, with solar panels and six months' worth of propane, and figures he can store an equivalent supply of rice and beans down below. "It's basically a survival capsule," he said recently.
Orlov moved to the United States when he was twelve, and
returned to the Soviet Union for the first time in 1989, shortly after
his uncle, a political prisoner under the Andropov regime, was
released. During his second trip back, in 1990, the country was
suffering from a fuel shortage, and he financed a road trip to the
medieval towns of Pskov and Novgorod with a trunk full of vodka,
trading half-litre bottles for ten litres of gasoline from
black-marketeers along the way. (This was just after Gorbachev's
anti-alcoholism campaign, and Orlov capitalized on a death in the
family by redeeming a funeral's worth of vodka coupons.) The only
comparable resource seemed to be bluejeans, of which he'd brought only
one pair. No one wanted rubles. He internalized the lesson for future
reference: "When faced with a collapsing economy, one should stop
thinking of wealth in terms of money."
In 2006, Orlov published an online manifesto, "The New Age of Sail," in which he extolled the virtues of what might be called bourgeois survivalism. "She must look like a proper yacht, and not a shanty boat or a barge, because she must give coastal property owners no reason to complain to the harbormaster about the ugly thing spoiling their precious view," he wrote. "She should give the impression that she is sailed by people of obvious quality and distinction, of the sort that snooty coastal property owners might want to invite over for gin-and-tonics and to catch up on the goings on in San Tropez." Life on a boat has the additional benefit, he wrote, of providing "isometric exercise similar to a Pilates workout," because of the constant jostling of the sea. "People who live aboard are rarely overweight."
Hogfish, whose hull is trimmed red and gray, looks the bourgeois part; aside from the solar panels and bicycles, it is indistinguishable from the weekend yachts cruising in and out of Boston Harbor throughout the warmer months. Regarding the domestic considerations of the transition to aquatic sustainability, Orlov said, "I think my wife is very realistic, but I can't say that she's all that in favor of it. We're doing it in stages." For now, he keeps a ten-horsepower Yamaha outboard motor handy, in case of emergency or faint breeze, and just before Thanksgiving he installed an on-demand hot-water system to take the bite out of a coastal New England winter. He plans, meanwhile, to establish a trading network along Lake Champlain for transporting Vermont apples and maple syrup to farmers' markets in New York City, and hopes to be able to undercut diesel trucks on price when the oil market resumes its upward swing. "We don't have a long wait before sail-based transport is the only option," he said, anticipating more dire environmental conditions. (From the manifesto: "In the future, I expect coastal property owners to get downright excited when they see any sailboat, whether it looks fashionable or not, paddle out their leaky canoes, and try to barter jewelry, silver cutlery or pretty seashells for the things they desperately need.") Should the trading not suffice, and the need to raise chickens arise, they'll set sail and relocate to a more rural base of operations, where Hogfish, which has a flat bottom, can double as a trailer home.
Until recently, Orlov identified the readers of his book, and
of a blog that he maintains, Club Orlov, as belonging to three basic
cultural categories: "back-to-the-land types," united in their
opposition to industrial agriculture; "peak oilers," who worry about
the shock effects on energy markets of reaching the maximum global
crude-extraction rate; and all-around Cassandras, or "people who
sometimes derisively are called doomers." (The doomers are currently
enjoying a little less derision, which is a mixed blessing, because it
is axiomatic among true believers that mainstream respect means that it
is too late for anything to be done.) But in the past few months,
judging from the e-mails he receives, Orlov has acquired a fourth
audience, composed of financial professionals, who have been, as he
said, "bolstering my gut feeling that the United States is bankrupt." A
number of them have placed orders for multiple copies of his book, and
he took some pleasure in imagining them passing it on to their friends
and families this past holiday season as a grim kind of stocking
Kunstler showed up at my hotel wearing jeans and a bright-red vest over a flannel shirt, with a small hoop in his left ear. He is bald, with a neatly trimmed gray mustache, and walks with a bounding theatricality, perhaps owing as much to his thespian days at SUNY-Brockport, in the late sixties, as to the overwhelming correctness of his warning, back in 2005, about a "worldwide pyramid racket" involving subprime mortgages and what he later called "incomprehensibly abstract mutant financial 'products,' " such as derivatives and credit default swaps. He was also carrying a long umbrella (the forecast was partly cloudy), which he used to prevent me from crossing the street in front of a car that didn't appear to be slowing down. "Fuck you, asshole!" he yelled at the driver, an unwitting enemy combatant in the new class warfare (transportation division) that Kunstler believes will soon have Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton hiding from more than just the paparazzi. Shortly after we turned left onto Broadway, the town's main commercial stretch, Kunstler ran into a couple of acquaintances, a local real-estate developer and the owner of an art gallery that had just shuttered, eating lunch at an outdoor cafÈ. "Your vision is coming true, only through the back door," the developer said, presumably referring to the fact that gas prices-Kunstler is a prominent peak oiler-did not seem to be the catalyst of the current upheaval.
"I'd say an emergency meeting of the G7 is pretty much the front entrance," Kunstler said. "Although who would have thought Iceland would be the first to go?"
Kunstler saw degeneracy everywhere. Stopping in a pharmacy to drop off a prescription for sleeping pills, he was nearly bowled over in a narrow aisle by a heavyset woman, and remarked, "Our fellow-Americans just don't look that healthy." The tattooed arms of a young man standing next to a young woman at a crosswalk qualified him as a "bad boyfriend." (The proliferation of tattoos, Kunstler has written, is "a symptom of the growing barbarism in American life," and the fact that tattoo parlors now rent space on main thoroughfares, like Saratoga Springs' Broadway, rather than in back alleys, is "a harbinger of social dysfunction.") Kunstler showed me a motel at the corner of Broadway and Division Street, near the outdoor cafÈ, that he considered "the most low-quality Western-civilization architecture conceivable." Its name was the Downtowner, although its appearance suggested a Roadsider. "Look at the details," he said. "Look at those stupid mangy little shutters and those horrible windows, and the horrible steel railings and those ridiculous pilasters. Everything about it is just so cheap. And the thing that amazes me is that this is the stuff that we built in the most confident and flush period of our history, in the sixties, when, you know, we were basically ruling the world!" Farther along, we came across a faux-Georgian bank, which he said was "basically fabricated out of the cheapest shit you could possibly get, stuck onto a brick box. Except it's not even a brick box. It's an aluminum-frame box with a brick veneer, meant to visually get across a cartoon idea that this is a plantation house, and therefore a dignified building-you know, with a dignified activity, banking, going on." Hard as it may be to believe, Saratoga Springs rates comparatively well in Kunstler's assessment of America's built environments.
The architectural criticism was inextricably linked to our national predicament, because in Kunstler's view the American economy since the Second World War has essentially been one of continuous sprawl-building, made possible by cheap (but diminishing) energy sources, and, given what we've built, it amounts to "the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world." As long-term infrastructure, McMansion subdivisions and the big-box retailers that service them are only worth the scraps that can be salvaged by scavenging, he contends, and when oil stops allowing people to indulge the current fantasy, Bergen and Fairfield Counties will become Hobbesian slums, highway strip malls will be recolonized by sumac trees, and the hulking sheds formerly known as Kmarts will be good for little more than Pentecostal roller rinks. (Economic collapse bodes well for fundamentalism, as people seek holistic explanations for the wipeout of their savings.)
"We make so many assumptions about the things that we know necessarily continuing to function the way they are now," he said. "I find that hilarious." Take skyscrapers: their efficiencies may become nightmares in a blackout, as the elevators stop working. And when natural-gas reserves are depleted to levels at which pressure falters, the pipes will freeze and burst, the halls will flood, and offices and apartments will become instantly uninhabitable. Large cities will then need to decompress almost overnight, and reconcentrate along their waterways, which offer both potential power sources and shipping routes. The industrial zoning of riverfronts and canals was not an unfortunate accident. Or, put another way, the Gowanus Canal is a model of sustainable urbanism. Goodbye, greenways.
That morning, on his blog, Kunstler had mentioned Nassim
Nicholas Taleb's best-selling book "The Black Swan," about the
inevitability of unforeseeable events, and now he elaborated. "We don't
really know how collapse proceeds," he said. "We have reason to believe
that it can happen pretty rapidly and comprehensibly, in ways that we'd
find shocking and unbelievable until it happens. We're in the middle of
one right now. I mean, you and I are walking happily down a little
alley in a small town, but really around us all kinds of stuff is in
dire trouble-you know, banks in dozens of countries, people in Iceland
are hoarding food. Three weeks ago, none of the people in
ReykjavÌk thought, Oh, on October 13th our currency will be
Our route took us past the stables next to the racetrack,
where the annual yearling auction is held. They had been abandoned for
the off-season, but it was easy to imagine them serving a less
fanciful, year-round purpose with the return of animal labor, another
Kunstlerian forecast. Nearby, the large Second Empire and Queen
Anne-style houses of the East Side Historic District, formerly run down
by a transient college population ("Kids are living there and smoking
bongs, and cats are peeing in the corners," as Kunstler put it), looked
mostly renovated, thanks in part to speculating Wall Streeters who'd
been drawn upstate by the races during the bull market. "Whatever
Morgan Stanley smoothie bought this one, he's got an extra thirty-six
thousand dollars sloshing around in his pocket, saying, 'Oh, it'd be so
nice to have a little masonry fantasia on the lawn,' " Kunstler said,
noting an unfinished stone wall in someone's front yard-now a fossil of
gentrification. "We can't predict how households are going to be
organized. One possibility is you'll be renting out rooms to boarders.
Another possibility is that there are so many unemployed people they
actually start working as servants again." Echoing Mark Twain, Kunstler
sometimes says that history doesn't exactly repeat itself, but it
As it happened, not only did it not rain while Kunstler and I were walking around Saratoga Springs but the Dow Jones gained nine hundred and thirty-six points. "What does the headline say? 'ECONOMY FIXED'?" Kunstler asked, eying my complimentary USA Today, when we met for breakfast the next morning. (It read "BIGGEST BOUNCE EVER.") He declared the rally a "dead cat's bounce," and repeated a joke that he'd made the day before, involving orders from the Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson, to his underlings, to "buy the Dow," in order to stave off consumer panic. "Let's say that lending is reÎstablished," he said. "What for? For people to buy more suburban houses? I don't think so. For people to buy more flat-screen TVs on their credit cards? I don't get what they think they're going to be re-starting. We're way overretailed. We don't need a single extra souvenir-spoon shop in America." He added, "I think what we're seeing, really, is unfortunately another false euphoria."
You could argue that false despair has the more established track record. Thomas Malthus first lent philosophical legitimacy to the apocalyptic inklings of religious prophets with his "Essay on the Principle of Population," in 1798, and secular doom booms have tended to coincide with periods of political upheaval or economic breakdown ever since. The year 1968 brought not only rioting in Paris and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy but the founding of the Club of Rome think tank, with its "Predicament of Mankind" ("If something is to be done it needs to be done now-for otherwise we might be confronted by that ultimate experience: N-E-V-E-R"), as well as the publication of Paul Ehrlich's "Population Bomb." Ehrlich predicted that by 1980 there would be few snooty coastal property owners for the likes of Dmitry Orlov to worry about offending, so bad would be the stench of rotting fish from pesticide runoff.
When I first spoke with Kunstler, by phone, he asked me to imagine the situation in Europe a hundred years ago. "If you said, 'The coming century is going to be a horror show,' you would have been met with disbelief," he told me. "This is the beautiful epoch! We've got elevators and airplanes and motorcars." But both sides would have ended up with defensible cases. Elevators and airplanes and motorcars were followed by still more innovations, like the polio vaccine and the personal computer-which itself became the source of amplified millennial alarm, via the Y2K bug. In April of 1999, Kunstler wrote, "It seems to me that the Y2K problem is so broad, systemic, and unprecedented that imagining its repercussions calls for something besides conventional thinking." He also said, "Y2K is going to rock our world." The actual interruptions barely registered, and from Kunstler's vantage point this can be attributed to a rare reverse-Cassandra effect, in which crisis was narrowly averted because people actually listened to the alarmists and took precautions.
At breakfast, he said that we "misuse the word 'innovation' because it has overtones of magic and the supernatural," and brought up a talk he'd given at the TED Conference-Technology, Entertainment, and Design-in Monterey, in 2004, on the tragedy of suburbia. ("We have about thirty-eight thousand places that are not worth caring about in the United States," he'd told the audience, while showing a slide of a bleak intersection separating a Wal-Mart from a Target. "When we have enough of them, we're going to have a nation that's not worth defending.") A video of the speech has been viewed more than thirty-five thousand times on YouTube, and it ranks among the top fifteen "most persuasive" talks in the TED annals, as judged by visitors to the conference's own Web site, but Kunstler's memory is of being upstaged by an "idiot" inventor's plans to develop a flying car-of being met, in effect, with disbelief. "These were presumably the best young minds of American business, of entrepreneurial, high-tech corporate activity," he said. "And so the consensus among them was that the most interesting and exciting and important thing was flying cars. That shows you where our heads are at. These are the kinds of delusions that bring a society down."
A couple of local businessmen were seated at a table nearby.
One of them got up to leave, and said, "Good to see you, Jim."
T he Malthusian movement has expanded with time into a kind of peaknik diaspora. Peak oil and peak carbon (i.e., global warming) are the heavies, with the most obviously compelling claims on our attention, and the greatest number of advocates; their relative standings swing in rough accordance with the price of gas and the latest hurricane news. Smaller contenders like peak fish and peak dirt have their devotees as well, and are in some ways more pleasing to contemplate, because they are based on the idea that the path to destruction begins not in the Earth's atmosphere or crust but at the surface, with salmon and topsoil mites. The bailouts in the wake of the subprime defaults, however, have arguably thrust a new concern to the front: peak dollars, or the point at which the system breaks down through the simple printing of paper money. (A corollary, peak debt, was coined in 2006 by a former Cisco employee named Jaswant Jain, who calls himself the Prophet of Doom and Gloom, and who first observed the deleterious effects of unrestrained borrowing as an eight-year-old in a village near the city of Jodhpur, where debt-ridden Brahmins appeared worse off than solvent untouchables.) Viewed from this perspective, Ben Bernanke and Hank Paulson represent substantially greater threats-to the developed world, at least-than Hummers and chemical fertilizer, and we had better start preparing ourselves for a Zimbabwe experience, or, as Jim Sinclair, a currency and commodities trader in Sharon, Connecticut, likes to say, a "planetary Weimar Republic."
Sinclair is king of the goldbugs-an intermediate class of
doomer that can't quite embrace a currency in drugs or booze-and proof
that, as Dmitry Orlov suspected, some of the most vociferous dystopians
these days wear banker's collars and vote Republican. He is fond of
quoting Milton Friedman ("Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary
phenomenon"), and made his fortune by selling out at the top of the
last recession-driven gold boom, in 1980. This time, in the midst of
what he calls a "great economic drama," he's not selling; he is the
chairman of a publicly traded mining interest in Tanzania, and in April
he offered to bet a million dollars against any takers that the price
of gold bullion, which was then trading at about nine hundred dollars
an ounce, would reach $1,650 by the second week of 2011. He
communicates with what he calls his CIGAs-Comrades in Golden
Arms-through a Web site, jsmineset.com, on which he posts daily blitzes
of commentary with headers like "What Happens in Iceland Doesn't Always
Stay in Iceland," and answers readers' questions. Those questions now
number as many as seven hundred a day. Sinclair asks that CIGAs use
sixteen-point type when e-mailing him, for easier scanning. A widower,
he writes and works from his home, a thirty-eight-acre compound he
calls Sunnyfield Farms that is protected by motion sensors, and
features its own apple orchard, an indoor shooting range, two electric
generators, four wells, and storage capacity for tens of thousands of
gallons of fuel and water.
My Dear Friends,I am absolutely sick to my stomach. I am
grateful that I am 67 years old because I fear for my children and
grand children.How can they maintain the principles taught to them in a
degraded, sinful and sociopathic world?The world is crying out for
relief from a financial world akin to Caligula's rule of Rome.
My Dear Extended Family,Things are now 'Out of Control.' . . . Now we enter the Collapse of Confidence period. . . .This broken glass cannot be put back together. It is heart rending to see a picture of GM autoworkers holding a prayer meeting for their retirement funds. The retirement money was never funded.
Collapse makes good sport for amateur historians, and as many would-be pundits raced backward through the bearish landmarks of American financial history-1998, 1987, 1974, 1929, 1907, 1873, 1837-in search of an impressively jarring analogy for current events, Nassim Taleb, the "Black Swan" theorist, was busy rereading Cicero and Herodotus ("the ancients saw things very clearly"), and thinking more along the lines of 483 B.C., when Xerxes ordered the waters of the Hellespont whipped, out of frustration over the destruction of his bridges. Xerxes' superstitious arrogance, Taleb felt, was no different from our own scientific arrogance, which had been building steadily since the Enlightenment, to the point where investment bankers believed they could eliminate the consequences of risky behavior through the use of complex mathematics. "We're just puppets to the gods," he said. "The gods don't want us to be too ambitious, too aggressive. The gods just want us to be subservient to nature. Leave the planet the way we got it."
Taleb is not anyone's idea of a permaculturalist. A former hedge-fund manager, he lives in Larchmont, and flies frequently to Europe and the Middle East. But he has mostly lost interest in finance-even discounting outright frauds like Bernard Madoff, he says, "the stock market is a mild Ponzi scheme"-and now considers himself primarily a philosopher of randomness, consumed by the limitless possibilities of black swans, or what Donald Rumsfeld called unknown unknowns. He liked to shock friends who asked him about the election last fall by explaining that it didn't matter whom you voted for, and what better proof of this could there be than that George W. Bush had just nationalized the banking industry? "George Bush!" he'd say. "The system will take us where it wants us to go, which is to blow up. Next time, it's going to blow up much bigger."
Whereas Kunstler worries about being marginalized because of an association with "whack jobs" and their fringe ideas (he complains of being "pestered incessantly with conspiracy nutcases"), Taleb wonders how serious people can fail to understand how crazy the world really is. "I got two million e-mails from people saying, 'You're right,' " Taleb said. "About a million people read my book before the crisis, but nobody got protection!" He calls the new book he is working on, for which he received a reported four-million-dollar advance, "my mission to discredit most of organized knowledge." Like Ralph Waldo Emerson, who responded to the crash of 1837 by writing of the "good" in "such emphatic and universal calamity as the times bring," Taleb sees reason for encouragement in, for instance, the rapid shrinking of certain institutional endowments: "Universities will have less funding, so economists will lay low and won't burden us with as much nonsense." (If his own position as Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering at N.Y.U.'s Polytechnic Institute is jeopardized, so be it.)
Taleb's perspective is not for the anxious or weak-willed. In an effort to protect yourself from too much dependence, you begin with the certainty that a side effect of globalization is "fragility": a problem in Icelandic banks depresses the lobster-fishing market in Maine. ("Everybody should be told that Thomas Friedman is dangerous to society.") Capitalism itself, through the relentless pressure of quarterly reports, introduces too much efficiency and socially destabilizing leverage, so you recommend a reversion to something like an Islamic banking system, in which debt-based lending is forbidden, or at least heavily discouraged. (Taleb grew up in Lebanon, where an ongoing civil war had the beneficial effect of dissuading people from trusting banks.) You begin to question the Internet, which represents "one degree of complexity too much to handle," and advocate withdrawing from "the idiotic race" for a life of maximum inefficiency and leisure. You start to sound almost like a fellow-traveller of Ted Kaczynski. ("Kaczynski on suburbs and cars was remarkably prescient. His ecoterrorism was extremely poorly received by many people, and he was deranged. The association with his character is not a happy one. Sometimes you have movements that have to start somewhere.") In short, "You end up with antiquity," he said, a new Classical age. "I'm becoming obsessed with my idea."
It is an obsession that can overtake one's experience of daily events, and can hint of a bridge-and-tunnel apocalypse. I spoke with Taleb a few times by phone, and at a certain point in one conversation I couldn't hear him over the sound of a loud and sustained horn-his car horn, I soon learned. "You have to blow the horn so the guy comes," he said. He was on his way from Larchmont to Greenwich Village to have lunch with a friend, and was stuck at the entrance to the Henry Hudson Bridge, in an EZ-Pass lane that wasn't moving.
More honking. "Now it looks like all the EZ-Passes are stuck, in three lanes," he said. "So it's a computer glitch-classic. I'm going to be late to lunch-my first time being late since January of 2007." Here, it seemed, was a micro case study of global collapse at work: an unexpected breakdown in a typically efficient system rendering the contingencies of even the most cautious citizens moot, and concluding in a disorienting din.
A lone toll taker attended to the problem, accepting cash
from one of the lead cars, and afterward the line began to move more
steadily, which caused Taleb to reconsider his initial diagnosis of the
problem. "Is it a random event that three people are stuck paying cash
in EZ-Pass lanes?" he asked, as he inched closer to the tollbooth.
"Let's see if mine works.
The convention's opening speaker was a trend forecaster named
Gerald Celente, who registered the domain name panicof08.com in the
fall of 2007, anticipating what he called "an economic 9/11." "We're
the only country in the world that has these things called self-storage
units, where people have so much junk they have to move it off site,"
he said. "Well, guess what. Self-storage is going to live up to its
true name, as people decide to move into those." He warned of an
emergency bank holiday soon after Inauguration Day, and predicted tax
revolts within the next two years.
Celente was followed at the podium by Kirkpatrick Sale, who has a running ten-thousand-dollar bet with Kevin Kelly, a founding editor of Wired, that a convergence of crises-financial, environmental, political-will render entire continents unlivable by 2020; Chellis Glendinning, the author of "My Name Is Chellis and I'm in Recovery from Western Civilization," who had flown in from New Mexico; and Lynette Clark, the chair of the Alaskan Independence Party, to which Todd Palin belonged for seven years. Assuming Alaska has not achieved nationhood by 2012, Clark, a U.S. Air Force veteran who now calls herself "an Alaskan, not an American," intends to support a Sarah Palin Presidential run, and her popularity with the crowd in Montpelier served as a reminder that this is a revolution as yet untroubled by Bolshevik-Menshevik-style squabbles. ("That's the exciting thing about collapse-the breaking down of barriers and definitions that just don't work anymore," Carolyn Baker, the author of the forthcoming book "Sacred Demise: Walking the Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization's Collapse," told me.)
Clark-or Yukon Yonda, as she is known in her home village of Fox, north of Fairbanks-wore a grizzly-bear claw on a chain around her neck and gold nuggets for earrings. "When we need to pay a bill, we dig a hole in the yard and get the yellow rocks out," she said. "It's the most sustainable way." She and her husband, Dexter, met while prospecting. They refer to their home as the Biosphere, make wine from rhubarb and raspberries, and have a house pig, Rosie, but they also enforce a strict "no trespassing" rule against stray animals-caribou, lynx, squirrels-that wander across their property line, which is one of several reasons that she always packs a Colt .45. Dexter is on the village Roadkill Committee. "When a moose gets killed on the highway, we go out, gut it, skin it, and disperse that meat through the community," she said.
The speeches were accompanied by comic and musical interludes from the Bread & Puppet Theatre, whose members wore bear costumes and danced around with plungers, and by the singing of the Vermont secession anthem: "It's Vermonters to the lifeboats, this is a sinkin' ship . . ." For lunch, I joined Rob Williams, a co-founder of the Vermont Yak Company ("Once you go yak, you never go back") and his friend Andrew, a bearded Ben & Jerry's employee, at a cafÈ downtown called That's Life Soup. Andrew and I ordered Yahoo President Obama Election Stew. Williams, who also edits a bimonthly newspaper called Vermont Commons: Voices of Independence, opted for the vegan chili. He is what Vermonters call a flatlander; before going yak, he spent eight years in New Mexico, where, as he explained, "there's not enough water to go around." Depending on the foreclosure rate, his migration may turn out to have prefigured an exodus from the so-called sand states of the Southwest, which Kunstler sees as likely targets of Mexican reconquista.
During the afternoon session, the founder of the Second Vermont Republic, a retired Duke economics professor named Thomas Naylor, who wore a green jacket, like a winner at Augusta National, offered his best pragmatic rationale for a successfully "genteel" coup. "Vermont has nothing, O.K.?" he said. "We have no big cities. We have no big buildings. We have nothing. Suppose the red-state, nuclear-armed army were to attack us. What would they do? Burn the sugar maples?" The tricky part comes during Stage Two: teaming up with New Hampshire, Maine, and the Canadian Maritime Provinces to form a "pretty little country about the size of Denmark." He'd call it New Acadia. (Even secessionists are not immune from the temptations of expansion.) Naylor, who likens globalization to the Tower of Babel, refers to New York City as "the great Satan," which, by his own admission, may explain the fact that his son is enrolled at the New School and living in the financial district.
Any good political convention has its breakout star-its Obama of 2004-and my internal polling mechanism pointed to Dennis Steele, a fifth-generation Vermonter and father of two, from the town of Kirby (pop. 500). Steele runs a Web site called chessmaniac.com, and was one of the last to speak. He wore a jean jacket and a Ron Paul cap over his longish hair, and taunted the presiding governor of the state of Vermont, Jim Douglas, for not venturing down the hall to acknowledge the insurrection. "This will be remembered as the most important movement in recent world history," Steele said, and quoted the great revolutionary Ethan Allen ("The Gods of the hills are not the Gods of the valley"), whose name, if Kunstler's predictions are to be trusted, may yet be liberated from an association with upholstered living rooms. Steele announced the formation of a new Green Mountain Brigade, and held up a petition with thirty-eight signatures that he'd collected: Kirbyites for a free Vermont. "That's the first step of the revolution, besides drinking raw milk," he said.
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