Friday. 3/5/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Robert Bound

Hot under the collar

The problem for aficionados of disaster porn is that sometimes even rolling news shuts up and goes away. Handily, Fremantle Productions has just secured global rights to a standalone hour-long documentary called Notre Dame: In Flames. It’s a “minute-by-minute account of before, during and the aftermath”, surrounding an event that soon became a war of worthiness between some of the world’s richest men, umpired by a president of notorious unpopularity. Today President Macron is due to host a meeting of EU culture ministers with the aim of setting up a “co-operation mechanism” to pool resources and protect “European heritage”.

Well, he could start by laughing off suggestions that Notre Dame be rebuilt to accommodate “multi-faith areas”. Really, Notre Dame’s restoration should be a God-given open goal for a president who can’t stop having unpopular ideas in public (see getting rid of the École Nationale d’Administration, which he attended). The fire was telegenic and Fremantle’s programme will hit home. Far more epic will be the politics of choosing how and by whom the cathedral is restored – but just try training a camera on that.

International relations / Russia, USA & Venezuela

Fighting talk

As unrest in Venezuela intensifies, the crisis is threatening to escalate tensions between Russia and the US. In a phone conversation on Wednesday, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov (pictured) warned US secretary of state Mike Pompeo against Washington taking any further “aggressive steps” in Venezuela. A day earlier, Pompeo had accused Moscow of persuading Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro to abandon a plan to leave the country as opposition leader Juan Guaidó attempts to unseat him. Russia, which has previously supplied the South American country with weapons and loans, rejects the allegation. Maduro has the backing of the country’s military and seems to be staying put for now. But history shows us that few leaders caught between Washington and Moscow have had things their own way.

Elections / Thailand

Courtly complication

As Thailand prepares for the official coronation of King Maha Vajiralongkorn tomorrow, the royal palace will be rushing to cater for a late-breaking VIP guest: the new queen. The king, also known by the title King Rama X, married General Suthida Vajiralongkorn, the deputy head of his personal security force, in a surprise ceremony on Wednesday night. This love story – and the monarchy in general – might serve as a welcome distraction to Thais but the levity will be short-lived. The results of March’s election – the first under the constitution drafted by the ruling military junta – are due on Thursday and will do far more to define the country’s future than the royal couple.

Military / Canada

AI, ahoy!

An artificial-intelligence assistant may soon be coming to Canadian warships. The Boatswain’s Mate – a collaboration between IBM and Lockheed Martin – will complete voice-activated commands and speed up navy operations. It’s part of a larger trend, in that militaries around the world are exploring how artificial intelligence might be used to free personnel from mundane tasks and improve efficiency. And a voice assistant may prove particularly useful for Canada as it struggles with naval recruitment. The technology won't be tested upon Canadian ships for at least another year but if it's well executed it could help to mitigate those staffing shortages.

Politics / China

Toe the line

History is written by the winners – and in China that means the Communist party. Tomorrow government officials will celebrate the 100th anniversary of a student protest in Beijing that sparked the beginnings of the May Fourth Movement. Ahead of the anniversary, president Xi Jinping made a speech extolling youthful patriotism while omitting any mention of the movement’s support for democracy. Xi has built his popularity by stoking nationalist fervour, although Chinese patriotism must play second fiddle to party allegiance. “Chinese youth in the new era must obey the party,” he said earlier this week. An even starker historical whitewash will occur a month from now when the 30th anniversary of the bloody Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 will pass without any official mention.

M24 / The Urbanist

Urban air mobility

This week we look to the sky. Monocle’s Americas editor at large Ed Stocker reports from Aerial Futures in Boston, where experts gathered to discuss everything from cargo drones to urban-mobility design.

Monocle Films / Global

Seamless moves

When it comes to moving people effortlessly through and between cities, who is getting it right? And how do we make cities where mobility works for young and old alike?

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