Generation Jobless

The CBC’s Doc Zone has put out a documentary about the situation of recent University graduates in Canada. It’s called Generation Jobless.

You can watch it online here.

I have only seen the trailer so far, but it’s interesting. An institution essentially run by the Baby Boomer generation is paying attention to the reality that young people have faced for years now. Statistics, typically counting those under 25 as youth, show that in Canada and many other countries, the unemployment rate for youth is double that of the general population.

I personally know more than a handful of young people who graduate with a Bachelor’s degree, fail to find any worthwhile work, and go on to grad school. I would hate to see what kind of debt they are left to deal with once emerging out of academia.

The general atmosphere at skillshare meetings has been very DIY. We are teaching each other pretty successfully as young people. What we are learning may not land us jobs, but it will improve our lives. Gardening will give us peace of mind – and tasty salads. Learning to repair things will help us keep our expenses minimal. Working on electronics and programming will help us become reliant on ourselves and not large corporations for the technology we are interested in. Knitting, making slings, juggling, unicycling – all these are pretty cheap ways to keep ourselves entertained compared to going to the movies. Well, unicycling does require a bit of investment in materials up front…

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Links of the week

I’ve been busy, so updates have been slow – my apologies.

Here are two very cool links for the moment:

Directory of Open Access Journals.

Free, full text, quality controlled scientific and scholarly journals, covering all subjects and many languages.

Because learning is a skill – especially free learning. Speaking of which – have you visited the library recently? If you want some interesting books, the Foxfire series is great. About life in rural Appalachia (the south). It’s hit-or-miss, but some real gems are in there.

And the website No Tech Magazine has a description of an earthen solar cooker. Curious little thing. I wonder if you could do solar cookers in an Ottawa winter!

Bonus: a quote from a short article:

We’ve lost certain skills because machines and cheap services do things we don’t want to do. Some adults don’t know how to cook anything worthy of serving to someone else. Grown men have have childlike handwriting. Almost nobody knows how to wait.

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A new skill and a foraging book

I’m busy this morning darning some socks. Darning socks is a lot easier than I thought it would be. Still, it takes some time.

There are a few ways to do it and innumerable Youtube videos out there to guide you. The method I use is:

  1. Insert light bulb into sock under hole. This stretches out the hole.
  2. Stitch horizontally across the hole.
  3. Turn 90 degrees and stitch vertically across the hole.

I’ll report back after some wear and tear to show how my handiwork holds up.

So last week I picked up an interesting book: Stalking the Wild Asparagus, by Euell Gibbons. From the front cover:

A delightful book on the recognition, gathering, preparation and use of the natural health foods that grow wild all around us. The lore contained in here can turn every field, forest, swamp and vacant lot and roadside into a health-food market with free merchandise.

And delightful it is. The diagrams are hand-drawn, so this doesn’t make it much of a practical book for a beginner city-dweller like me. I would have a hard time identifying plants from the descriptions in this book.

But, if you know what a few plants look like, this book has a lot of recipes in it. Many of them even recommend using bacon or bacon fat. As a bonus, the stories that the author includes about some of the adventures he has finding the plants are rather entertaining. The section in the end about preparing frogs and crayfish are particularly amusing. Not a bad read, I have to say.

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The Technological Society

As with the last book reviewed, this post is about the book half-read.

In The Technological Society, Jacques Ellul meticulously goes through the effects of “technique” on society.

Book Cover

He is very quick to point out that “technique” is not machinery or anything we would call technology. Instead, it is almost an entity, standing outside of human relations and human control. It is the sum of all of the “most efficient” means that society is determined by: policing, propaganda, workplaces, schooling, etc.

The techniques which result from applied science date from the eighteenth century and characterize our own civilization. The new factor is that the multiplicity of these techniques has caused them literally to change their character. Certainly, they derive from old principles and appear to be the fruit of normal and logical evolution. However, they no longer represent the same phenomenon. In fact, technique has taken substance, has become a reality in itself. It is no longer a means and an intermediary. It is an object in itself, an independent reality with which we must reckon.

I am going to quote also here a passage where Ellul discusses tools and skills:

Man tended to exploit to the limit such means as he possessed, and took care not to replace them or create other means as long as the old ones were effective… This was also true industrially. Society was not oriented toward the creation of a new instrument in response to a new need. The emphasis was rather on the application of the old means, which were constantly extended, refined, and perfected.

The deficiency of the tool was to be compensated for by the skill of the worker. Professional know-how, the expert eye were what counted: man’s talents could make his crude tools yield the maximum efficiency. This was a kind of technique, but it had none of the characteristics of instrumental technique. Everything varied from man to man according to his gifts, whereas technique in the modern sense seeks to eliminate such variability. It is understandable that technique in itself played a very feeble role. Everything was done by men who employed the most rudimentary means. The search for the “finished,” for perfection in use, for ingenuity of application, took the place of a search for new tools which would have permitted men to simplify their work, but also would have involved giving up the pursuit of real skill.

…When there is an abundance of instruments that answer all needs, it is impossible for one man to have perfect knowledge of each or the skill to use each. This knowledge would be useless in any case; the perfection of the instrument is what is required, and not the perfection of the human being… Human skill, having attained a certain degree of perfection in practice, necessarily entails improvement of the tool itself… But traditionally the accent was on the human being who used the tool and not on the tool he used.

Overall, this is a dense, yet highly illuminating book. Great for anyone who wants to learn in depth about society. It can take very pessimistic tones at times, yet never stoops so low as to make crude anti-modern remarks. The author seems determined to pursue his analysis of the situation as he finds it, without resorting to exhortation or polemic.

And all of this was written more than fifty years ago!

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Links of the Week

It’s December, so what better thing to think about than plants and gardening?

No, seriously. This year was the first year I had my own planter garden growing. It took me a while to plan it!

So now, when you go home for the holidays, remember to borrow a book about gardening off someone. Then when February-March rolls around and it’s time to buy seeds, you won’t be lost.

Brassica? What’s a brassica?

So here are a few plant-related links:

Plants for a Future has a lot of information about “edible and otherwise useful” plants.

Practical Plants: same deal. Great information here too.

Less directly-related to growing: Hidden Harvest Ottawa is a group aiming to pick fruit and nuts from trees around Ottawa. They also have surveyed the city and mapped a few trees!

And to sprinkle some variety on the links today, here are two forums:

PaleoPlanet Forums and BushcraftUK. I’ve looked around, but not very thoroughly – still! – these two sites look like they have a lot to offer if you want to learn some woodsy crafts!

That’s all for now, folks! I’ll be less busy in the next while and I’ll keep updating this blog in a regular-like fashion, okay?

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Tales from the Wild Wood

For the last little while, I’ve been watching an interesting show: Tales from the Wild Wood.

It’s a six-part series presented by Rob Penn. Here he is hanging out next to a chainsaw:

In this show, he’s taken over 50 acres of woodland, very Britishly named Strawberry Cottage Wood, trying to turn it into a viable economic enterprise.

He’s brought in pigs to clear the land, thinned the wood to allow new trees to grow, sold some lumber to a few artisans, and trapped squirrels (they kill trees). All in all, pretty entertaining. It’s enlightening watching someone learn from scratch about the history of the place.

One highlight for me was when the psychological value of the woodland becomes clear. Robb had recently lost his father, and he finds sitting and reflecting in the land he’s managing as part of a healing process. He speaks to someone who’s trying to restore a forest to its original condition who finds the same healing quality in his work.

The other highlight is when Rob goes to examine a plantation that is very forward-looking. In a sense, all tree plantations have to think decades in advance – trees don’t grow in one fiscal quarter. The experimental plantation plants new species of trees in British soil, to see how they do while the climate changes. A worker mentions that Britain will experience a climate similar to southern France by 2080. Rob mentions how he finds comfort in the idea of someone walking through the wood he’s restoring in a hundred years.

It’s not often you see anybody try to learn such a complex thing from scratch. This is a great series. Comment and I’ll see if I can’t arrange for you to find an episode or two.

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The Localization Reader

This is not a very good review of The Localization Reader. More like a few notes.

For a better review, click here.

The Localization Reader

Right, so now onto a few short notes.

It’s interesting that the book’s subtitle is Adapting to the Coming Downshift. Somewhere in there, the editor notes that the word “Downshift” was chosen because “Collapse” sounds too scary.

Joseph Tainter, in one excerpt (from “The Collapse of Complex Societies“), discusses how long, maybe even multi-generational social collapses can actually benefit societies as a whole, as they become simpler and less energy is devoted to maintenance of social structures. Not the most pessimistic of conclusions, coming from a book on collapse.

My favourite so far is a chart on fossil fuel use. I couldn’t find the exact one on the Internet, but here’s something close:

Energy Curve History

That’s it. Fossil fuels will be a brief spike in the long history of the world. We remember the Romans, the Greeks, and other ancient peoples. One day, we will be remembered as an ancient people.

I derive a curious sort of motivation from these long time perspectives and these society-wide sweeping arguments. It’s too easy to get caught up in the modern world. Then you forget that humans did wonderful things when the only sources of power were wind, water, muscle, and little else. When skills were passed down from generation to generation with absolute reassurance that they would be passed down again. Macro-scale perspective, if you breathe deep, is not so bad.

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