Monday. 9/3/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

False alarms

There’s a sad truth about the human mind and conspiracy theories: our memory of them is extremely sticky. Studies find that debunking them can even be counterproductive, as people remember the conspiracy and forget the debunking. What does seem to work is confronting the conspiracy head-on rather than passively, and doing so with a credible source (preferably someone from the believer’s own camp or ideology).

So it is all the more disappointing when responsible media outlets get this balance wrong. Take a story last week on Vox, entitled, “The Democratic Party’s Risky Bet on Joe Biden”. The piece focuses not on the objectively perilous aspects of his candidacy (age, history, proneness to gaffes) but on a Trump-peddled conspiracy: that the former vice-president was soft on corruption in Ukraine because his son, Hunter (pictured, on right, with Biden), worked for the country’s gas company, Burisma. The article acknowledges that the claim is “obviously, risibly false” (Biden actually cracked down on corruption in Ukraine while in office) but notes it is being exploited by his opponents – and is thus a weakness.

From a political standpoint there’s some truth to this: Donald Trump has turned the Ukraine focus onto Biden to such a degree that it’s having an impact on voters. But nowhere does this Vox article mention just how deplorable this state of affairs is, and that such false narratives need to be pushed back on aggressively, credibly and repeatedly. Instead, readers are left with a sense that the Ukraine affair is a reason to vote against Joe Biden and for his opponent in the Democratic nomination race, Bernie Sanders.

Is this really what we’ve come to? Treating conspiracy theories as a political weakness? The sad reality is there will be plenty of media outlets intentionally peddling false narratives in the coming months. Which is all the more reason for responsible ones to work tirelessly to counteract them.

Diplomacy / Canada

Power trip

Today is the final day of former Canadian prime minister Joe Clark’s week-long tour of Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt and Qatar. As Justin Trudeau deals with challenging domestic matters, including climate strikes related to Canada’s energy policy, Clark (pictured) has been enlisted as “special envoy”. His role? To bolster the country’s campaign to win one of two temporary seats up for grabs on the UN Security Council this June, for which it’s in competition with Norway and Ireland. But it’s “probably too little too late,” says Dr Bessma Momani, a political scientist at the University of Waterloo in Ontario. Not only has Canada committed fewer resources to the region but, she says, “human rights aren’t at the top of the list for many of these countries and Canada is coming in with lofty goals: a feminist foreign policy and a human rights-centric agenda”. The motives behind Canada’s campaign are also partly self-serving: diplomats hope that more regular contact with China can help navigate a tough period in bilateral relations.

Fashion / Global

Growing trend

Jonathan Anderson, one of the fashion industry’s most acclaimed talents, has a big week ahead. The Northern Irish designer (pictured) is already celebrated for bringing a cool, crafty edge to historic Spanish luxury brand Loewe. But his own brand, JW Anderson, is growing too. This week the 12-year-old label known for its agenda-setting aesthetic – it has championed gender fluidity and interesting silhouettes for years – is launching its latest collaboration with Japan’s Uniqlo.

This ongoing partnership has introduced the London-based brand to a mainstream audience via clothes that feature some of Anderson’s trademarks but are more accessible to high-street shoppers. Meanwhile, a JW Anderson flagship will open on Wardour Street in London’s Soho on Thursday. This new space, on one of the UK capital’s busiest stretches, will amplify the brand's presence. Let Anderson’s reign continue.

Urbanism / Washington

Car and away

Last week Washington’s city councillors backed a new bill that offers employees the chance to trade in subsidised car parking for cash, as part of a deal between businesses and city hall. If supported in a secondary vote (which seems likely), it will allow those who don’t drive to work to claim $270 (€237) of additional monthly income. The bill continues a shift away from policies that incentivise driving; the US capital already offers subsidies for using public transport and has eliminated minimum parking requirements in neighbourhoods well served by transit. It’s hoped that such moves will reduce congestion by coaxing people out of their cars and onto the city’s footpaths, bike lanes and metro instead. Other metropolises will be keenly following these incentive programmes. Perhaps a carrot, rather than a stick, will be a more effective way to reduce car pollution in our cities.

Society / UK

Fur-ocious competition

Every dog has its day, apparently, and while the rather sullen tone of recent news might suggest otherwise for most, it was certainly true for one actual canine in the UK’s second city of Birmingham yesterday. Maisie, a wire-haired dachshund, was awarded the title of best in show at Crufts, a British dog show (and national institution) that has run since 1891. Anyone who’s seen 2000’s mockumentary classic Best in Show will be familiar with the idiosyncrasies of pet owners who groom, preen and primp their pedigree chums in the hope of satisfying exacting judges – and Crufts is no exception. But while the show has attracted some controversy for its obsessive pursuit of the perfect pooch, it’s worth pawsing over its international dimension. With competitors from more than 55 countries, Crufts is a truly global event. Call it wet-nosed diplomacy.

M24 / Meet The Writers

Isabel Allende

Georgina Godwin meets legendary Latin American author Isabel Allende, a spiritual magic-realist writer and champion of feminism, who shares insights into her many great books and the creative process of writing.

Monocle Films / Finland

Icebreakers: rescue know-how

Finland has obvious natural advantages that have helped it become an icebreaking powerhouse but the country’s dominance in the field is startling. We travel to the Bay of Bothnia to bear witness to the beginning of the icebreaking season.

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