Monday, April 25, 2011

beautiful one day, perfect the next

I kind of forgot how beautiful Tasmania is. Well, not totally forgot... just a little bit forgot. Humdrum, every day life squeezed my memories into a small, hard knot at the back of my mind.

I still notice life's sprinklings of beauty - those hundreds-and-thousands-like moments of sparkle. Ethereal autumn evening light, the cute sideways turn of an inquisitive chicken's head, the crunchy goldenness of turning leaves, the snap of fresh home grown beans, or the achievement of getting up and down hills under my own steam. I gather in those snatches of splendour and hold them close; sustenance for the less gossamer moments of otherwise ordinary days.

I've just had two perfect days spent out of town, and I am once again caught in the thrall of Tasmania. So incredibly dazzling. We meant to make plans for an Easter break, but we never got around to it. Then last week, friends phoned and invited us to join them on a trip out west. "Of course," we hastily replied, and yesterday we set off for Tullah.

Never heard of it? Neither had I really, but what a find. Tullah is a former mining and hydro town. It's a sleepy little place now, with an air of being forgotten - empty shop fronts, and deserted streets - but there's a good fast food store, and a comfortable, friendly lodge which provides accommodation and basic meals. Oh, and there's the scenery.

Lake Rosebery

Mount Murchison

Mount Farrell at dusk

There's more to Tullah than boating and fishing, which is good, since I am not into either popular Tassie pursuit. I'm more a nature loving bush walker, though even this is stretching the truth. I haven't done a bush walk for... I can't remember my last bush walk.

Anyway, yesterday we walked to Montezuma Falls. You get pretty big bang for your buck, which is to say, for not much effort you are regaled by beauty. The three hour return walk follows an old mine tram path. There's not much evidence of the tram track any more, except for a crumbling wooden bridge or two, but the track is easy and mostly flat, through enchanting rainforest and moss and dappled light, and you can see where workers of old have chipped their way through solid rock.

The roar of the falls becomes louder and louder until, at last, you are standing at the base of the falls, and its fine spray cools you as you drink it all in. The better view of the falls is to be had from the swinging suspension bridge - cross it if you dare!

That was to be the extent of our Tullah bush walking, but we stumbled across another three hour walk, and our legs didn't feel too bad after Montezuma Falls, so this morning we climbed Mount Farrell. Almost. We were a bit short on time, so we waved at the summit from about 200 metres away and enjoyed the fabulous views from a slightly lower rock.

Montezuma Falls was an easy walk. Mount Farrell required a bit more exertion, about 5oo metres climb over three kilometres with plenty of boggy track to negotiate, but it too gave huge rewards for a very reasonable amount of effort. After an hour and a half we were at the 'peak', looking out on Lake Rosebery and Tullah in one direction, and all the peaks of the Cradle Mountain - Lake St Claire National Park in the other. Absolutely stunning.

There's no forgetting how beautiful Tasmania is after this one. Once my legs stop aching (bush walking uses different muscles to bike riding it would seem) I'll still be feasting on the memory of these scenes.

Mount Murchison

Lake Mackintosh
(one of those bumps on the horizon is the back of Cradle Mountain)

I was there! Frank was too.

Surely I'm one of the most blessed and privileged people on earth to live in the midst of such wonder!

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

flat earth news

To date, 2011 has been my year of 'meaty' reading, but the more I shovel into my head, the more seems to fall out. So here I present a book review of sorts, in an effort to see if I can make the good stuff stick.

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon a blog called 'The Failed Estate: Rejuvenating Journalism in a Jaded Age'. Stumbled upon may not be quite the right description, since the path started somewhere in twitter, deliberately moved to Larvatus Prodeo and possibly Grog's Gamut, before I came across a judicious link to The Failed Estate. The instant I arrived, I ate it all up. Here was analyses and critique of the shallow pap daily served up as news, and I was comforted to realise I am not the only one who is totally disenchanted with the state of today's media.

Amongst the scrutiny of programs and events, Mr Denmore referred to a 2008 book titled Flat Earth News by Nick Davies. I was pretty excited to discover the library did indeed have a copy, and I only had to wait a week or two before I had it in my hot little hands.

The premise of the book is that the majority of global media news is of dubious origin. Beginning with a review of the promulgation of the exaggerated threat of the millennium bug, Davies unpacks how many of the news stories we read are just plain untrue. In the case of the millennium bug, small time computer specialists in Canada announced there was a small chance the millennium may cause computer glitches in some old systems. Their warnings went unheeded, so they upped the anti and exaggerated the threat in order to ensure their message was heard. From there the story grew and grew... and grew, until some governments spent millions of dollars in order to safeguard their countries against what turned out to be a non-existent threat.

According to Davies, the story was fuelled by a feedback system, or 'echo chamber'. The media reported the threat, secondary sources joined in, businesses saw an opportunity to get money for computer upgrades, governments decided it was safer to over react than fail to act. Eventually people who really had no idea, but assumed the story was true because the media was reporting it, joined the band wagon and repeated the dire predictions of disaster. The media merrily reported this next wave of warnings, before finally religious nutters and kooks joined the fray and we all filled our bath tubs with water and stocked up on canned food.

The millennium bug turned out to be a bad worm, but it highlighted the state of global media - and it is not good. As little as 12% of the news stories we read are original pieces written by journalists who have investigated their story and verified the facts. The rest are a combination of wire agency reports, official government statements, PR releases and even 'strategic communications' that can only be described as propaganda (especially considering how many of the stories turn out to be false). Stories so gained may have been rewritten, but many are plugged holus-bolus into our news, ready for us to swallow them whole. Davies labels the whole process 'churnalism'.

Meanwhile the media work with a host of unwritten rules, such as 'go with the moral panic' and 'give them what they want'. One rule which particularly annoys me is 'always give both sides of the story'... even if one side is patently false (I'm talking to you, climate change deniers). I imagine the best stories combine several rules: 'always give both sides of the story' plus 'go with the moral panic' plus 'run cheap stories'. Yes, climate change deniers, I'm talking to you again. And maybe Fukushima nuclear story peddlers as well.

Who is to blame for this? According to Davies, it's a systemic problem, but rather than deliberate mind control and manipulation by media moguls, commercialism seems to be at the core of it. Fewer reporters are forced into producing more and more stories in less and less time in order to meet the media company's demand for greater output and higher profit. And all the while, accuracy and truth are sacrificed.

Davies details some pretty horrific (that may be an overstatement, but I was horrified) examples of journalistic failure, particularly in relation to the Iraq weapons of mass destruction saga, and the consequent war based on false information.

Flat Earth News was a fascinating, gripping, stomach churning reading. I've consequently cut back on reading and watching the news because I have no way of figuring out what is truth and what are lies. My New Internationalist subscription has suddenly taken on a new sheen, but even they bring their own unacknowledged brand of bias to stories.

I leave you with a pithy quote before I return 'Flat Earth News' to the library.

The media's rules of production 'tend to generate an account of the world which, while claiming the virtues of objectivity, generally suffers from these three weaknesses which are fatal to truth telling: an arbitrary selection of subjects, which fundamentally distorts reality by systemic omissions; routine use of a host of factual claims which are frequently unreliable and sometimes false; and the steady imprint of a political and moral consensus which tends to reflect the values only of the most powerful groups in the surrounding society.' (p113-114)