Thursday. 9/5/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Robert Bound

Ministry of truth

It’s 70 years since 1984 was published but its author’s name still has cachet in his native UK. On Tuesday the longlists for the Orwell Foundation prize for journalism, political writing, political fiction and “exposing Britain’s social evils” were announced.

The western world, at least, is at a point of political, social and technological flux and the entrants have all risen to the challenge of explaining that change, mostly without resorting to lazy Orwellian themes. Some of the titles – Isabel Hardman’s Why We Get the Wrong Politicians and Jamie Bartlett’s The People vs Tech among them – set the tone immediately. Sam Byers’s excellent UK dystopia Perfidious Albion and Chris McGreal’s American Overdose, a cold-turkey account of the US opioid crisis, are among the best of the fiction and non-fiction categories. Most grown-up UK newspapers and news magazines are represented too.

In the media world there is always a snide remark or two aimed at a prize that is big on social and political ills but small on fun. Even so, we’d recommend a good look at this year’s list with a view to a nourishing trip to the newsstand or bookshop. The world is a bit nuts but we’re all in it together.

International relations / US & Iran

High stakes

Donald Trump caused dismay among the international community a year ago when he pulled the US out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and reintroduced sanctions on the country. Yesterday Iranian president Hassan Rouhani announced a reciprocal measure by reneging on some of the terms agreed between Iran and the six world powers that remain committed to the deal. While this doesn’t mean that Rouhani will be producing weapons-grade plutonium in the short term, it marks a further ratcheting up of tensions, and Iran will be hoping that its announcement will incentivise members of the pact to exert pressure on Washington to lift sanctions. Now artful diplomacy is required from key members of the treaty – such as the EU and the UK – to temper the enmity on both sides.

Manufacturing / UK

Grease the wheels

Amid the uncertainty of Brexit, most car companies have put the brakes on their manufacturing operations in the UK. Jaguar Land Rover announced significant cuts to its workforce in January and Nissan U-turned on manufacturing plans in Sunderland soon after. Ford also axed 400 jobs in a Wales production plant. But there are faint signs that all is not lost. Yesterday Swedish luxury electric carmaker Polestar – owned by Volvo and Chinese firm Geely – announced the opening of its new research and development centre in Coventry. Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath brushed off any Brexit-associated drawbacks of operating in the UK, citing the country’s engineering talent as the main incentive for launching the new plant there. It won’t redress the balance but for UK manufacturing it’s a snippet of welcome news.

Environment / Japan

The heat is on

The Japanese environment ministry is ramping up its annual “Cool Biz” campaign in anticipation of another fiercely hot summer. The initiative is designed to cut emissions by tempering the use of air conditioning in offices when temperatures rise. Dress codes are relaxed so that workers can wear lighter clothes, rather than broiling under suits and ties. This year the initiative is moving into department stores with 200 shopping locations joining in. The ministry has also advocated the use of “green curtains” – plants grown on the side of buildings that deflect the sun’s rays. Under the Paris Agreement, Japan has until 2030 to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 26 per cent. With heatwaves occurring with increasing frequency, keeping citizens cool appears to be a mounting challenge.

Art / Venice

Pride of place

At the Venice Biennale, it takes a lot of effort for new exhibitors to stand out. This year, though, Ghana appears to be making a decent fist of it: rather than settling for an offsite space, it has bagged itself a pavilion right in the middle of the Arsenale. The position is no accident: it’s an example of the desire to put African art at the centre of the discourse at the European fair. “For me it was really important for Ghanaian art to be at the centre and not at the margins,” says Nana Oforiatta Ayim, the pavilion’s curator. “[We want] there to be an equality of expression and not for African art to be in a ghetto somewhere.” Her savvy pick of artists (in addition to the pavilion’s position) should achieve exactly that.

M24 / Global

The Golden Age of Aviation

A new series from Monocle 24 chronicling and celebrating all that was good about commercial-airline travel in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. We’ll hear about technological developments and engineering innovators, meet the fearless individuals in boardrooms and cockpits who defined a new era of travel, learn about the storied brands that embodied the essence of the golden age and talk with the marketers that sold the world a dream.

Film / New Release

The Monocle Guide to Shops, Kiosks and Markets

Retail, we’re told, is in big trouble. But shops and markets have been bringing people together for centuries and we resolutely believe that they are here to stay. Turn to our latest book to see why.

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