Friday. 4/9/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Aarti Betigeri

Testing public trust

How do you measure success in combatting a pandemic? Most would say it’s simple: a glance at the numbers should reveal just how effective a country has been in staving off the worst of coronavirus. By that metric Australia has been doing reasonably well. But the non-fatality costs are starting to add up: with about 7.5 per cent of Australians currently out of work, the government this week announced that the country is now officially in recession for the first time in almost three decades. For a fiscally conservative leadership, the news has come with a major loss of face.

Australian governments at both national and state level generally enjoy a high degree of public trust but this is starting to ebb away as people question how the bad decisions were made. Quarantine hotels have been a particular sore point as security lapses (including contracted workers having sex with guests) led them to become spreaders of infection instead. On the economic side, quick decisions made at the start of the pandemic to boost welfare payments also had a positive reception but six months in and with Australians staring down the barrel of further job losses and pain, uncertainty and anxiety rule the airwaves.

Fresh regional lockdowns and strict border controls, including caps on the number of people flying in and with almost no one allowed to leave, are causing alarm. Confusion over messaging – health decisions are left up to individual states while the national government appears to be itching to return to normal economic activity – hasn’t helped either. And though opinion polls have remained reasonably steady, state elections in Queensland next month will act as a first indicator of whether public trust is indeed unshakeable – and whether an uneven handling of the pandemic is enough to get you re-elected.

Politics / Russia

Toxic shocks

Russian and Soviet-allied intelligence services have certainly had form when it comes to silencing detractors (if the allegations, all of which Russia denies, are to be believed): Bulgarian playwright Georgi Markov was assassinated in London with an umbrella tip containing ricin in 1978; Alexander Litvinenko also died in the city after being poisoned by radioactive polonium in 2006; and Boris Nemtsov was shot dead near the Kremlin in 2015. However, use of the nerve agent Novichok has had more variable outcomes. Former spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury (pictured) and, more recently, Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny have both survived after being exposed to the military-grade weapon. “It’s deadly even at tiny doses,” says Monocle 24’s health and science correspondent, Dr Chris Smith. “Nevertheless you do need a toxic dose to guarantee it will kill you. A smaller amount might maim and disable but not kill.” Though it would be a perilous tactic, it’s not inconceivable that Russia’s spy agencies are intentionally using Novichok as a warning shot – rather than a fatal blow.

Diplomacy / Taiwan

Identity politics

Taiwan’s current passport could easily be mistaken for that issued to Chinese citizens: “Republic of China” (the island’s official title) is emblazoned across the top in English. So the unveiling this week of a redesigned passport, which has “Taiwan” enlarged in English lettering and “Republic of China” dramatically shrunk, should bring some clarity, according to Sonya Dyakova, who runs a visual communications agency in London.

“The new passport [pictured] is an improvement, purely from a graphic design point of view and not a political one,” she told Monocle 24’s The Globalist. Of course, politics is never far from consideration in Taiwan: the redesign comes as it showcased an exemplary pandemic response – as outlined by its foreign minister, Joseph Wu, in Monocle’s June issue – that stood in sharp contrast to China’s more clandestine approach in the crucial early stages. Against that background, the passport redesign represents one more way in which the Taiwanese can hold their heads a little higher when they’re next greeted by airport security.

Design / Denmark

Homeware upgrades

Copenhagen’s 3 Days of Design, which is running in the Danish capital until tomorrow, has found companies making a conscious effort to breathe new life into some design classics. Established Danish furniture name Fritz Hansen has worked with Italian tastemaker Carla Sozzani to develop a lush new range of colours to apply to its Arne Jacobsen Series 7 chair (pictured), designed in 1955 and still much loved. And Bang & Olufsen used the industry event to take the idea of longevity further, launching what it calls its Classics pilot; the company is restoring and upgrading audio systems that it created as far back as the 1970s. Product manager Mads Kogsgaard Hansen says it’s a reaction to the home-entertainment industry increasingly focusing on short-life products. “Understanding how to extend the lifespan and relevance of audio products helps us to define principles for long-lasting craftsmanship and timeless design,” he tells Monocle. “That has environmental benefits for our future products as well.”

Fashion / Hong Kong

Slow time

Fast fashion is on its way out and a slower approach is increasingly winning the day. Quality, craftsmanship and sustainability are what emerging designers are turning to – and Asia is no exception. Hong Kong is home to the world’s largest sustainable fashion-design competition, a platform that has been promoting change-makers for the past 10 years.

This year the Redress Design award for the menswear category went to Vietnamese designer Ngoc Ha Thu Le and her collection inspired by Japanese-style Americana. Her street-style-inflected pieces (pictured) include cargo trousers, puffer jackets and shirts handcrafted using secondhand materials and natural dyes. “My collection shares the attitude of fashion archivists who treasure each garment, appreciate the craftsmanship, view it as an artefact of its age and customise their clothing using handmade techniques,” Thu said during the award presentation. Designers such as Thu are a sign that Asia is creeping up the fashion ranks – while making the industry more sustainable.

M24 / Paul Rusesabagina’s arrest

Foreign Desk Explainer

Paul Rusesabagina, the inspiration for the film ‘Hotel Rwanda’, has been arrested by the Rwandan government on charges of terrorism – but could dissent be his real crime? Andrew Mueller explores president Paul Kagame’s history of silencing critics.

Monocle Films / Global

The Chiefs: Monocle summit in St Moritz

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