Slate’s End of America

Slate is doing a series this week on How America Will End.  Having ended our thought experiment and theorizing ten months ago, we’d like to welcome Josh Levin to the party.

Once again, the best way to read NIJOT is from the beginning in chronological order.  It’s a bit of a slow (and in hindsight innaccurate) start, but things heat-up by Halloween.

If you find our little mindgame interesting, I also suggest you check out the NIJOT reading list on GoodReads (sorry, sign-up required).  I’ll be adding to that in the future where this blog remains more static.  Comments are always welcome, but please stay in the ‘story world’ for dated posts.


The NIJOT Reading List — Part 3 — Being Ready & Rebuilding Civilization

So I’ve spun this yarn about horrible things happening.  Maybe I’ve made the case that it is a plausible scenario (hopefully not probable, but at least possible).

So what do you do?

You can keep involved and try to prevent the bad things from happening.  But you can also be prepared for bad things when they inevitably do happen.  This eclectic mix of books is a place to start:

PREPAREDNESS NOW!: An Emergency Survival Guide for Civilians and Their Families

Boy Scout Fieldbook

The U.S. Army Leadership Field Manual

Standard First Aid

The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – and Why

SAS Survival Handbook: How to Survive in the Wild, in Any Climate, on Land or at Sea

The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual

Getting Out: Your Guide to Leaving America

The Anarchist Cookbook

Art and Science of Dumpster Diving

The Secure Home


That’s the short-term.  But if you were really on your own (like we left the McNeils)…then what?

Food (can you tell my wife compiled much of this?):

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life 

Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times

The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants 

Barnyard in Your Backyard: A Beginner’s Guide to Raising Chickens, Ducks, Geese, Rabbits, Goats, Sheep, and Cows

Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture

Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners

The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control: A Complete Problem-Solving Guide to Keeping Your Garden and Yard Healthy Without Chemicals

How to Grow More Vegetables: And Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine

Storey’s Basic Country Skills: A Practical Guide to Self-Reliance

Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs: Care/Facilities/Management/Breed Selection

Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep: Breeds, Care, Facilities

Storey’s Guide to Raising Rabbits: Breeds, Care, Facilities

Storey’s Guide to Raising Dairy Goats: Breeds, Care, Dairying

Build a Smokehouse: Storey Country Wisdom Bulletin A-81

Making Cheese, Butter & Yogurt: Storey Country Wisdom Bulletin A-57

Home Cheese Making: Recipes for 75 Delicious Cheeses 

Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation

Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods

Solar Food Dryer: How to Make and Use Your Own Low-Cost, High-Performance, Sun-Powered Food Dehydrator

Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables

Putting Food By

Blue Ribbon Preserves: Secrets to Award-Winning Jams, Jellies, Marmalades and More

The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating


Shelter and everything else:

Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-sufficient Living in the Heart of the City

Solar Water Heating: A Comprehensive Guide to Solar Water and Space Heating Systems

The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters

Handy Farm Devices and How to Make Them

The Self-sufficient Life and How to Live It

Wild Color: The Complete Guide to Making and Using Natural Dyes

Biodiesel Basics and Beyond: A Comprehensive Guide to Production and Use for the Home and Farm

You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Start & Succeed in a Farming Enterprise

The NIJOT Reading List — Part 2 — How Did We Get Here?

As I worked on this project, random people stopped me and said “In your blog, that stuff you write, it couldn’t happen like that!”

OK, nobody said that.  I just had that conversation in my own head.  Over and over.

So we tried hard not to wander too far too fast from what we see around us.  Here is a listing of books that talk about the situation we are all in right now.


It Can’t Happen Here!

Aside from being the title of Sinclair Lewis’s fiction from the 1930’s, this is also the primary argument against a coup in the USA.  I hate to tell you, it has already been tried:

The Plot to Seize the White House: The Shocking True Story of the Conspiracy to Overthrow FDR

War is a Racket: The Anti-War Classic by America’s Most Decorated General 


The Bush Administration’s Abuse of Power:

Law and the Long War: The Future of Justice in the Age of Terror

Torture Team: Rumsfeld’s Memo and the Betrayal of American Values

Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army

The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration

Torture and Democracy

Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone

Bush’s Law: The Remaking of American Justice

Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy

The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals

Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency

The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America


American Unpreparedness in a Changing World:

The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States

Open Target: Where America Is Vulnerable to Attack

The Edge of Disaster: Rebuilding a Resilient Nation

Your Government Failed You: Breaking the Cycle of National Security Disasters

The Post-American World

Memo to the President Elect: How We Can Restore America’s Reputation and Leadership 

The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World


Peak Oil:

Hubbert’s Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage

Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert’s Peak 

Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy

The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century 


Gloabl Warming, Food Security, and Other Threats:

The Omnivore’s Dilemma

An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It

The Great Warming: Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations

The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution–and How It Can Renew America


Americans in Bubbles and Echo-Chambers – Talking Past Each Other:

Just How Stupid Are We?: Facing the Truth About the American Voter

The End of America: A Letter of Warning To A Young Patriot

Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries

The Divided States of America?: What Liberals AND Conservatives are Missing in the God-and-Country Shouting Match!

The Big Sort (a Slate Blog)

The NIJOT Reading List — Part 1 — Fiction

I’ve never been confident that the link in the Blogroll properly fed people to the GoodReads account I set up in connection with this project.

If you have been there, then this may be a bit redundant.  I’m starting with the fun stuff — fiction.


Forty Signs of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below, & Sixty Days and Counting (Kim Stanley Robinson): This series has been called by one of my friends “Global Warming:  The Series!”  A tipping point in global warming has been reached and our heroes are scientists and politicians (mainly scientists) in Washington, DC trying to find a way to reverse the effects of global warming or at least mitigate the disasters it will cause.  I liked it because it didn’t fall into an Armageddon-like all-or-nothing solution.  Things changed, a lot, and people found themselves adjusting – sometimes badly – but still adjusting to the new normal.  I also think the politics of the later books reflected a lot of the climate campaigns happening now.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (Max Brooks):  Mel Brooks‘s son decided that he liked zombie movies and wrote a semi-serious guide for what to do if caught in a zombie outbreak.  He followed that up with World War Z, a much better book purporting to be the notes gathered by a journalist researching the aftermath of a global zombie apocalypse.  Yes, zombies aren’t real, but to paraphrase the guys at Zombie Squad, if you are ready to have your friends and neighbors come after you to eat your brains, you’re probably ready for most disasters.  Brooks makes a compelling case that the U.S. and the world is not prepared for disasters, large or small, that are likely to come our way.

Oil Storm – film (James Erskine, director):  Oil Storm was probably the most direct inspiration for NIJOT.  The movie was a fictional documentary on the effects of a cascade of events that cut-off much of the oil supply to the United States in the Fall of 2005.  The first event was a fictional Hurricane Julia striking the Louisiana oil hub at Port Fouchon.  The story proved scarily prescient when Hurricane Katrina just narrowly missed fulfilling Julia’s role.  The movie focused on both the high-level politics and the effects on everyday life that an oil crisis could cause.

Night Watch (Terry Pratchett):  Although this story is set in Pratchett’s ever-popular Discworld fantasy setting, this book has some very real and harrowing lessons about revolution, authoritarianism, and abuse of power.  Sam Vimes is Pratchett’s avatar of Rule of Law and this book shows why such a rule is so important.  An MIT acquaintance said that this is the best book on fascism ever written in the English language.

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (Robert Heinlein):  If you can get by the dated looks at technology and Heinlein’s inevitably strange sexual politics, this book is an entertaining primer on revolution and colonial independence movements.

1984 (George Orwell):  Welcome to the surveillance state.

It Can’t Happen Here (Sinclair Lewis):  I’m ashamed to admit that I have yet to get my hands on Lewis’s story of the fragility of democracy in America.  The 1930s are gone, but Lewis’s assertion that “When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross” is still chillingly accurate.

Space Wars: The First Six Hours of World War III (Willliam Scott, Michael Coumatos, and William Birnes):  This one I’m a little ashamed to admit to having read.  The prose and characters are worse than the worst Dale Brown thriller.  That said, the plot is based off of actual war-gaming scenarios and shows just how vulnerable the new information economy is.

The Long Road Home: One Step at a Time and The War Within: One More Step at a Time (Gary Trudeau):  Tudeau maimed one of his characters that we had all known for so many years and then took his audience through the process of coming to grips with that injury and what it means to come back from war.

Into the Forest (Jean Hegland):  There’s never really an explanation of what is happening in the outside world as the two teenage girls in the center of this book are forced to make do on their own.  Things just slowly come apart until the very idea of security and home is being questioned.

World Made By Hand (James Kunstler):  The author of The Long Emergency takes his theories of where the world is headed and places it in the lap of a semi-autobiographical character living in a post-Peak Oil upstate New York.  Pompous and elitist as hell, but still a good read.

Roll Credits

Hello all and welcome as I finally break the fourth wall.

For those not sure, yes, NIJOT is offically complete as a story.  It was always concieved of as a one-year project, and I think we got everything into the story that we intended to.

I’d like to extend some special thanks, especially to my wife who pushed me to try this in the first place instead of just talking about “wouldn’t it be neat if…”  As you know, she quickly got wrapped up in the project more directly and added a much-needed home-front perspective.  As you don’t know, she was the one who pushed and prodded to make sure that the gaps between posts weren’t a whole lot longer.

The characters presented in NIJOT were often based off of or mixtures of actual people we know here in the Davis Square area.  This became less and less true as the story progressed, but I’d like to thank my friends and family for the inspiration they provided.

I’d like to thank those of you who joined in the project by adding your in-story comments.  In particular, Peter Stinson (who I swear I have never met before this project started) both commented and drove a fair bit of traffic our way.  Other folks at the Alternate History discussion boards gave some needed feedback and support.

That said, the comments are now open for out-of-story questions, discussions, and abuse.  What did you all like?  What didn’t you like?  What was plausible?  What was absurd?

On a technical note, if anyone knows how to re-arrange the posts in WordPress to allow for easier reading in the order posted, please shoot me a note.  Now that the day-by-day portion of the project is over, I’d like to make it easier for folks to read the ‘archives’ in the proper order.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Everything we can pack is packed.  We’re keeping both cars in the garage until after midnight (zero-dark early hours Clark calls it – must be a military thing).

We’re signing off here.  This going to be the last post here for a long time, probably ever.  I don’t see us getting a landline phone to the cabin anytime soon, let alone a cable-modem.  I’m not sure that many folks will miss us.  There are bigger things to worry about than just another refugee family.

Refugee — there’s a word that just has a dark hole at it’s center.  We’re leaving home, leaving a place we’ve come to love, a house that we worked hard to buy and where our daughter took her first steps.  And we’re not handing it over to some other family to build their dreams in.  We’re locking it up, leaving most of our stuff, and running.  

The locks won’t last long.  Somebody will break in and clean out anything they think is valuable.  Our furniture, our library, hell the flooring, will probably get turned into kindling this winter.  God I wish we could bring more books…books are civilization (along with hot water).

Nope, eventually the skeleton of this place will become a home for someone new…someone more desperate than us.  I still have the paperwork to claim this place, but it won’t be ours anymore.

And for all that, I sill feel guilty for all we do have.  When I was out haggling for gas this afternoon I saw one of the other Davis-area Dads.  I can’t remember his name, I suck at names, but he’s Connor’s Dad.  Beats me what he was looking for or buying or scrounging.  I was tempted for a second to invite him and his boy along with us to the woods.  April could have a playmate that way.

But we already have five people going to a cabin built for maybe three.  We don’t know if we have enough food for ourselves for winter.  We can’t play at charity.  You don’t reach out for a drowning man unless you are damn sure of your footing on solid ground.  Otherwise you both drown.

I tried getting touch with the rest of my family down in CT.  ‘All lines are currently busy.’  A medic-type down at the Convention Center said she’s with the Red Cross and will get word about Gil down to Liz.  I can’t imagine her going far from her little beach-community, her people, and her grandchildren.  They’ll find her, and she’ll get by.

The saying is that there is a Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.”  I don’t want interesting anymore.  Let me just look out for my own.  Chop wood, carry water.  Let my fences make good neighbors and may my fences be far off.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I feel like a thief. 

But I’m a mother and I’m happy to shoulder that guilt.

Avery gave it up last night. Apparently we were one of the last kitchens in the city to stay open — everyone else shut down three nights ago. We’ve been so consumed by trying to find Gil — and then finding Gil — that I failed to notice. Avery called me at about 11 o’clock last night. I was still numbly moving around the condo, just moving with no purpose, when I got the call. 

She was shutting the kitchen down and handing out all the food in the warehouse. She wanted to give the folks who had worked there first pick.

Dad and I got in the Passat and loaded up. Mostly rice and beans, about 250 lbs. of flour, a case of dried powdered milk, several boxes of carrots and sweet potatoes and onions. Some of the peach preserves and apple butter and even the pickled beans. Every single scrap of chocolate and sugar I could find. There was a whole pig’s worth of cryo-vacced primals that I strapped to the roof. I also took the pressure cooker, the Hobart mixer, a couple of knives, and every bloody fucking one of those tomatoes that I canned. 

I can’t believe that was only a month ago.

Driving back through the ghostly streets gave me a bone-deep chill. The riots down in Southie were too far away to hear, but I could see the dull red glow of the fires off the low-slung belly of the clouds. I was driving, Dad was riding shotgun — literally. He was crouched in the passenger’s seat with the double barrel cocked and held across his chest. The same man who had stopped me from firing just a few nights ago was ready to shoot. Happily, there wasn’t a soul in sight. 

We’re leaving. 

Paul and I and my folks talked about it until late at night, after I got back with the food. The violence in Southie has stayed contained so far, but with the kitchens shut down, the shooting war in Connecticut and the Berkshires, and the city a target for the US forces, it’s just not safe here. And winter is coming.

It’s 80 degrees today, but the London plane trees are starting to show yellow around the edges and it got down into the 40s a few nights ago. Unless there’s a massive relief effort, the city is going to be a humanitarian disaster this winter — there won’t be heat or food for all these people. We’re very well stocked, thanks to my efforts and last night’s raid on the warehouse. 

But that just makes us a target here. Already we get looks from some of our condo neighbors. We’ve seen evidence of someone trying to jimmy our storage locker open. Two of the chickens have gone missing. And it’s still September. In the cold heart of February, I get the feeling we’d be murdered in our sleep for the food in our kitchen. 

With my folks here, we can pile into two cars and bring up as much food as humanly possible to the cabin in the woods. We’ve got food, water, and fuel up there. I planted potatoes back in the spring that should be ready soon, plus there’s a giant wood lot filled with plenty of deer and dead falls, and, most importantly, a scarce population that entirely used to self reliance.

I doubt any fighting will make it to the North Woods. We’ll be able to hunker down for the winter. 

Paul has already gone out to trade some things for enough gas to make it up there. Mom offered up her jewelry but Paul said that our liquor cabinet would be worth more. I insisted on keeping a pair of vodka bottles, but he’s been in and out all morning, taking a bottle of brandy and coming back with a five-gallon can, going out with three litres of wine and coming back with a gerry can. 

Dad’s been doing guy things out in the back with the cars. Mom’s been taking care of April while I gather up heavy blankets, first aid supplies, tools, that sort of thing. She looks white faced and pinched. She’s worried about her dogs. They are huge and eat a lot. We don’t know if we can take them. I know she loves them like her children but if it’s a choice between feeding my mom’s two dogs and feeding my daughter, the matter is simple. 

Dad just came in. He traded the cryo-vacced pig primals for a car trailer to hitch to his SUV. That doubles our carrying capacity. We may be able to take some of the books.

April has been very quiet, very still. She occasionally asks about Paw Paw, sniffles, and then goes and sits in a corner with her stuffed rabbit. Right now she’s asleep in my bedroom so I can pack up her room. Going through her toys to pick out what we’re going to take has been tough — we only have so much room, both in the car and in the cabin. I want to sit and hold her, to croon songs and read to her, to hold her and promise everything will be okay. 

But I feel guilty already for taking a few moments here to rest and get my thoughts together and to tell you all, our friends, that we’re leaving. April will have all winter to heal, in the quiet woods. Right now I need to think about surviving. 

Paul’s back. I gotta go.