Monday. 8/6/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Augustin Macellari

Under the weather

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Brits will inevitably, at some point over the course of a conversation, discuss the weather. In the pantheon of national stereotypes, it’s a challenge to find one that rings truer. But even as a glorious spring seems to be giving way to a radiant summer (this past weekend in London notwithstanding), an interloper has encroached upon our beloved talking point.

Over the past few months coronavirus has become ubiquitous both in conversation and news coverage. That’s fair enough: the pandemic and its fallout are “unprecedented”, as we’ve so repeatedly been told (please feel free to get in touch if you’d like to read my 10,000-word screed on the laziness of this platitude) and it’s understandable that it has dominated our cultural bandwidth. But what about the weather? Indulge me.

Towards the end of last week, a top climate scientist called for greater investment in climate modelling. He cited the, ahem, “unprecedented” disparity between a dismal February and a delightful May: they were, respectively, the wettest and sunniest ever recorded in the UK. Although the Met Office, the country’s weather service, remains resistant to the suggestion that climate change is definitely to blame, it feels as though an opportune moment to remember that as horrible as the coronavirus pandemic is, it’s hardly the only existential threat that society is facing.

As a firmly committed catastrophiser, it has been a relief to forget about the climate crisis for a time – even if it has been replaced in my imagination by the imminent extinction of humanity by deadly plague. But with other urgent issues forcing themselves into the public consciousness over the past week – most notably the protests in Hong Kong and the US – it’s worth remembering that other conversations still need to be had. God, beautiful day, isn’t it?

Society / USA

No easy fix

The US is certainly no stranger to civil unrest sparked by police brutality. Following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by officers in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, Barack Obama established the Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Chaired by former Washington police chief Charles H Ramsey (pictured), it focused on ways to eliminate racial bias in police forces. “In many communities, especially communities of colour, there’s no trust,” Ramsey tells (The Foreign Desk)[https://monocle.com/radio/shows/the-foreign-desk]. He argues that more needs to be done than simply repair the fractured relationships between some communities and their police forces. “We’ll make a mistake if we think that the only thing we need to do is focus on police reform. We need to look at the whole criminal justice system: prosecution, courts, corrections. It won’t happen overnight and could be a generation before you really see it. But it’s possible and we can make it happen.”

Diplomacy / Switzerland

Chink of light

With no diplomatic presence in Iran, the US relies on Switzerland to represent its interests; its neutrality and impartiality has long played a key role in maintaining communication between nations at odds. Last week the Swiss helped to broker an exchange that saw the release of US navy veteran Michael White, who had been detained since 2018. In return Majid Taheri, an Iranian-American doctor imprisoned in the US for violating sanctions, will be allowed to visit Iran. It marks a reprieve for the two nations, which have seen relations deteriorate since the US abandoned the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. “A Swiss diplomat once said: ‘When two countries go to war, the first thing they do is sever all lines of communications. Then it takes countries like Switzerland [to] act in between,’” Benno Zogg, senior researcher at the Center for Security Studies, told (The Briefing)[https://monocle.com/radio/shows/the-briefing/2237]. The latest exchange “comes down to Switzerland’s reputation as this impartial mediator that doesn’t have any immediate interests in the Middle East”.

Construction / Australia

Home economics

Australia has launched a policy to stimulate the nation’s once-lucrative, now-ailing, construction industry by offering cash to homeowners to renovate their pads; pool additions, sadly, aren’t covered. Now it’s true that Aussies, who enjoy the world’s largest house size per capita, absolutely love a “reno”. But critics say that this move is simply throwing cash to the country’s rich: to qualify for the AU$25,000 (€15,000) bonus, your total renovation costs must exceed AU$150,000 (€92,000). It’s a shame that the Australian government didn’t give this one a bit more thought: by announcing efforts to improve social housing and ease homelessness alongside this move, they could have easily won some kudos for being creative. After all, the core economic policy is sound. Still, there is some opportunity for redemption here: many smart Australians will use this money to add climate-preserving features to their homes, such as solar panels, water-collection features and better insulation.

Transport / Global

Head case

As more people turn to commuting by bicycle in the aftermath of the pandemic, safety is the biggest concern for rookie riders. And for London-based Hexr, which produces custom-made 3D-printed helmets, the release this month of its new smartphone app couldn’t be timed better. In the past a scan of a customer’s head would have to be done in person by a retail partner, something which hasn’t been possible under lockdown. But now people can use their phone to order the helmets, which are made from recycled castor-bean oil. “The fitting process takes nearly a million measurements of your head to then craft a safe helmet,” says co-founder Jamie Cook. But the firm is not just for road warriors: Cook says that Hexr is in the process of licensing its technology to be used elsewhere, including for military use, motorcycling and construction.

M24 / The Stack

Shreeji

The great newsagent in London’s Chiltern Street is open again with a new look. We speak to its owner – and Monocle friend – Sandeep Garg.

Monocle Films / Global

The beauty of stairs

Staircases can trigger conversations, provide a sense of arrival and dazzle with ingenuity, so why are they often overlooked?

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