Wednesday. 27/5/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Tyler Brûlé

Safe to shop?

What was your first waking thought today? Did you sit up against a mountain of pillows wondering what you might wear on a conference call? Did you reach for your phone to check whether you can fly to Mykonos in mid-July? Or perhaps you pulled the duvet up above your nose as you pondered whether it’s ever going to be safe to venture out in a world in the grip of a virus? For anyone who caught Boris Johnson’s Monday briefing on the reopening of retail in the UK, you might want to stay in bed and settle in for a long deep slumber because shopping looks dangerous – for shop owners more than customers.

Rather than benchmark against other enlightened nations, the UK has cooked up its own rule book on how consumers should gently venture back to the shops. The headline: look but don’t touch. Indeed, you’re better off staying at home and continuing to order online because the rules are so heavy-handed and out of order that it will make a Saturday in the shops anything but joyful: dressing rooms should be avoided and only used for people trying on protective garments, while items that invite touching should be roped off or placed inside a hermetically sealed bubble.

As many countries make confident, inviting steps to help their citizens (and neighbours) to reopen their economies, the UK government and many media outlets have found themselves stuck in a “is it safe?” narrative that has created a climate of fear, bewilderment and frustration. Companies are struggling to get staff to go back to work as workplaces might not be safe, the education sector is dealing with similar issues and retailers are threatened with fines and jail sentences if they fail to create a safe environment for shoppers. The UK government needs to recognise that the world is full of risk and reframe its communications, allowing for businesses to reopen in an economically sustainable manner and consumers to decide whether they want to go out and shop, rather than allowing heavy-handed health-and-safety guidelines to destroy life on the street.

Justice / Canada

Decision trap

Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou (pictured), who was arrested in Vancouver in 2018, has reason to be optimistic ahead of today’s pivotal ruling from the British Columbia Supreme Court on her extradition to the US. The decision hinges on the issue of “double criminality”: an alleged wrongdoer can only be extradited if the crime in question would be considered an offence in both countries. Meng is accused of committing fraud by lying about a Huawei subsidiary’s alleged violation of US sanctions on Iran. But as Canada had no equivalent sanction in place against Iran at the time of arrest, Meng’s defence team says that there are no grounds for extradition. If the judge rules against Meng, a second round of hearings will begin in June. But if the ruling is in Meng’s favour, and provided the prosecution doesn’t appeal, she could be freed. Expect the Canadian court’s decision to provoke anger either way – from China if she is extradited and from the Trump administration if she isn’t.

Aviation / Germany

Braced for trouble

Lufthansa has become the latest airline to secure a bailout but the conditions that Berlin and Brussels have imposed on the €9bn package could be challenging. While the German government will take a 20 per cent stake in the airline, Handelsblatt says that the European Commission (which is yet to approve the bailout) could force the German flag carrier to hand some of its landing slots – even those at its key airports of Frankfurt and Munich – to other airlines.

The dogfight has put Lufthansa’s management and unions, who were previously at odds over wage disputes, on the same page. The pilots’ union is asking the EU not to make the airline’s post-pandemic ride any bumpier than it will be already. Perhaps it has a point: if coronavirus wasn’t anybody’s fault, is it right for the EU to take the opportunity to remake the aviation industry as it pleases?

Nature / Global

Call of the wild

It has become a trope of the pandemic for people to celebrate the return of animals to empty towns and cities, from goats on the streets of Llandudno in Wales to dolphins in the Italian port of Cagliari. Author and religious scholar Alan Levinovitz says that this love of nature has become something of a replacement religion. “People are looking at nature as the kind of perfect original system in that if you obey it, you will be healthy and happy,” he says. In his new book Natural, Levinovitz argues that we can appreciate nature without worshipping it. “It’s easy to romanticise living in a state of nature when you don’t actually live there, when you have [access to] books and medicine and electricity,” he tells Monocle’s The Briefing. “Humans can interact with nature and be a part of nature – even with technology.” That’s worth remembering as we emerge to reclaim our cities from roaming animals in the coming weeks.

Design / Australia

Strong foundation

Western Australia formally launched its search for a new state architect this week as Geoff Warn’s seven-year term came to an end. Whoever the regional government chooses to fill the position will be responsible for the region’s buildings and cityscapes, providing design and strategic advice to policy-makers. And while the role’s reach is largely dependent on the public and political appetite for civic projects, Warn’s tenure saw him oversee initiatives that are likely to shape the state’s development for decades. Between being the founder of a design studio and a professor at Perth’s Curtin University, Warn introduced new residential design guidelines and advised on the construction of a stadium (pictured) and state museum. His successor will also be well placed to add their own touch to the ambitious expansion of Western Australia’s urban rail network. Interested parties should tidy up their portfolio in the coming weeks: applications close on 17 June.

M24 / Monocle on Culture

What’s the future of music magazines?

As some publications are suspended and others in danger of being discontinued, we explore how the music press is holding up during the pandemic – and why it’s important that we keep it going. Robert Bound speaks to Stuart Stubbs, editor of ‘Loud and Quiet’ and Laura Snapes, deputy music editor at ‘The Guardian’.

Monocle Films / Switzerland

Swiss spectacle: Fête des Vignerons

We clink glasses with wine-makers at a once-in-a-generation festival in the otherwise tame town of Vevey. Fête des Vignerons is a parade of Swiss viticulture wisdom complete with cows, costumes and carousing.

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