Wednesday. 29/7/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Steady on

On the website of Germany’s public television show Tagesschau, beneath a report on the country’s leading health expert expressing “concern” about a rise in coronavirus cases, are some helpful links for further reading. “No second wave yet”, ran the headline of the first story suggested, followed by a second headed, “The second wave is already here.”

So which one is it? Germany has been hailed for its exemplary handling of this pandemic. Yet when asked yesterday whether Germany finds itself in a second phase, the best that Robert Koch Institut head Lothar Wieler (pictured) could offer was that he didn’t know… but maybe? Germans are hardly the only ones navigating such mixed messages as we enter this new and even more uncertain phase of the pandemic. Should we go on holiday abroad? If we do, will we have to quarantine when we return? Should we only be travelling if “essential”? And what exactly does that mean anyway? I need a vacation: that certainly feels quite essential.

As the initial shock of the pandemic has faded, many of us are now at the rather strange stage of shrugging our shoulders, making tentative travel plans and heading back to work. We quietly go about our normal business – at least until some breaking news torpedoes our delicate routine and prompts a cry of “For f***s sake!”

There’s a fine line these days between “keep calm and carry on” and exasperation. It’s a line best navigated when the rules of the road are clear; when the government’s advice and the media’s reporting, however uncertain the situation, is at least consistent; when unannounced policy reversals are limited and well reasoned. This week’s headlines (the UK’s full quarantine reimposed on Spain top among them) suggest that we’re falling far short of that standard. Is it really too much to ask?

Defence / Russia & USA

Watch this space

Representatives of Russia and the US have been meeting in Vienna to set out an agenda for regulating the militarisation of space and nuclear arms. The key issue at the conference, which wraps up tomorrow after four days of talks, is the lack of any substantial guidelines on proper conduct in space. The difference, for instance, between dropping some debris and firing a projectile at another satellite isn’t all that clear. The bilateral meeting comes in the wake of US claims that Russian satellites have been firing test missiles in space, which the Kremlin fiercely denies. “The problem is that it’s difficult to say with any certainty that what Russia used was actually a weapon,” says Alexandra Stickings, research fellow for space policy and security at the Royal United Services Institute. “Hopefully we will begin to see agreements on specifics, such as a minimum distance between satellites. This way you could state: once this line is crossed, you become a threat.”

Politics / Thailand

Dissenting voices

Thai prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha (pictured) is facing calls from a small but growing number of pro-democracy activists to resign. The movement’s first big event since the pandemic is planned in Bangkok this weekend and students are primed to lead the way. Chan-ocha, a former general, took power in a military coup in 2014 and later changed the Thai constitution before winning a controversial election last year that resulted in the dissolution of the youth-backed Future Forward party.

“It’s the first time since the 1970s that students have become a force in politics,” says Cod Satrusayang, editor-in-chief of the Thai Enquirer. He believes that the students will need far broader backing, however, to force constitutional reform and fresh elections. “The government is holding all of the cards politically right now,” says Satrusayang. “They are the largest party, the entire senate is on their side and they have all of the guns. There really is no reason for them to be worried.”

Technology / USA

Competitive action

For the first time ever, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Apple’s Tim Cook, Google’s Sundar Pichai and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg will testify at the same US congressional hearing later today. They’ll be answering questions regarding their business practices and allegations that they engage in anti-competitive behaviour. The hearing is supposed to help Congress evaluate whether the country’s antitrust laws need to be modernised for the 21st century – but it inevitably risks descending into a free-for-all. “The questions will be ranging widely from conventional antitrust issues to the misuse of information, to political biases,” says Herbert Hovenkamp, an antitrust expert and professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “There’s way too much stuff for a one-day hearing.” Hovenkamp hopes that at least some time will be devoted to one concerning practice in particular: all four platforms often buy small firms that could one day pose competition. “That is a problem that we need to confront,” he says.

Media / Global

Creative direction

It’s hard to imagine new publications being created out of lockdown but Limbo (pictured) is one such title. The London-based magazine, published by Nick Chapin and edited by Francesca Gavin, is a joyful 176 pages and was founded to operate as a not-for-profit venture to support out-of-work artists and creatives. “We wanted to celebrate the idea of a magazine and what magazines can do,” Chapin tells Monocle, calling Limbo “a mix of a zine and a fashion magazine”. “It is large-format – an interesting juxtaposition of really raw stuff people make at home brought into this really traditional medium.” For the first issue, the title brought in big-name talents including director Andrea Arnold and artist Wolfgang Tillmans. Gavin says that the secret is to mix huge names and emerging talent. “It keeps both angles alive,” she says. For more on Limbo, listen to Monocle’s weekly show about all things print, The Stack this Saturday.

M24 / The Urbanist

Tall Stories 217: The Orelhão

We seek shelter from the Brazilian sun in the shade of a quirky telephone box, the design of which has made its way across South America since its introduction in the 1970s.

Monocle Films / Wales

Made in Wales

From a lavender farm in the countryside to a denim mill revitalising a harbour town, Wales is using its traditions and craft to benefit new industries. Monocle films profiles two inspiring Welsh enterprises that are bringing international success home.

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