Thursday, January 19, 2023

What Lies Beyond

Campaigners protesting on the Blachford estate.

In England at present there is a furor over the right to what is called 'wild' camping i.e. outside managed campsites. The location for a keenly watched legal contest about the right to camp is storied Dartmoor, a national park where, as is usual there, some land is owned privately. I am familiar with Dartmoor Park as, when long ago in Bristol University’s Officer Training Corp, we roamed the moor’s roads in army trucks searching for a good pub to finish off the day's exercise. I did not then realize that much of the park was actually private land. The British public’s use of ‘rights-of-way’ footpaths over private land, a right stretching often as far back as the Middle Ages, is an oft-contested issue in such a crowded island, but this enthusiasm for camping out wherever is not something I recall from childhood.

On the formerly British lands across this continent there is a tradition of accepting walkers and campers on owned landscape where the right of passage has been legislated, negotiated or at least verbally accepted. Canada beyond the farmed lands very largely belongs to the government in right of the Crown. On occasion it leases parcels of land for settlement or minerals extraction, but otherwise one is free to roam, and to camp when distance or preference requires it. 

Until I became elderly I did a great deal of camping across Ontario, Quebec and the contiguous USA. Our two children regard the experience as being among the best times of their youth. It is a fine way to get a feel for Mother Nature up close and personal. For example my daughter recalls opening our house trailer door one morning to find herself face to face with a curious bear cub when camping in a remote provincial park way up north in Ontario. Out bike riding on rough trails in the bush I had on occasion truly close encounters of a bear kind in suddenly confronting a large adult out ‘berry picking’. Perhaps the most thrilling experience of wilderness travel is, while canoe camping, hearing wolves howl across the water at night, the eeriest wild sounds I’ve ever known. 

The right to ‘roam free’, whether in an often densely populated and heavily managed landscape such as Britain or in a wilder and much wider land such as ours, is, it seems to me, a key requirement in satisfying our innate urge to wander and to see what’s over the horizon. Ratty in the much-loved book Wind In The Willows is my prototype for this very human sensibility. New World lands like the one I choose to live in were created from this urge. Many of our most revered historical heroes were those who just had to see what lay ‘beyond’



Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Americans Love News (Though Putin Does Not)


A recent report,, from Oxford University and Reuters on the state of public confidence in journalism in six developed nations rates the public in the USA as having an especially low (and declining) trust in media as a source of valid information. 

Lacking an imperial overlord to manage national information transmission, the USA has always had a highly localised journalistic landscape. As Indian land became colonies, then, with westward expansion post-independence, territories and eventually states, news reporting was very much a regional matter. When radio arrived there were no central government networks created from the get-go like the CBC, BBC, ABC, JBC and so on throughout the British Empire. US radio was and has remained largely regional. While national radio and TV networks like NPR, PBS, NBC and Fox eventually developed there, much of the news content was and still is locally focused. In recent times a few quality US newspapers (NY Times, Washington Post) have developed a national following, but content about the USA emphasizes its source region (e.g. the NYT I get to read is the Great Lakes version).

Thus I find the Reuters report inadequate as it features centralized and geographically small nations such as the UK and Finland alongside vast and decentralized media environments like Brazil and the USA. Until the widespread  availability of digital media only a generation or so ago, populations across a large federal nation without national (and usually government supported) broadcast media were treated to greatly varying versions of what constituted news. This seems to have remained so even though other regions’ news is now accessible digitally. This may well be because many people in a country of large and varied territories don’t often visit or even care much about what distant regions think of as important. In the USA and it seems Brazil that has translated in recent years to a distrust of information deriving from afar, especially where it is seen as emanating from an elite centre. Even here in Canada where both the French and English media tell much the same story across the land, some communities, especially in Alberta and Quebec, distrust news they see as deriving from Ottawa-based outlets.

I know the USA well, having lived next to it or, for a few years, in it and having worked there frequently for over 50 years. Americans have been and still are are voracious consumers of news. They just don’t believe what doesn’t emanate from their own ‘tribe’. The creation of online media has massively enhanced the opportunities for extremists of all stripes to extend the boundaries of what constitutes broadcast news and opinion. Paradoxically (?) this has led to a widespread distrust of media in general in the democracies, especially in the USA. It's just too bad that isn't also true of today's Russians! But of course full control of information is a seminal requirement for any lasting autocracy.