Wednesday. 16/9/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Nic Monisse

Hell on wheels

I’ve ruined many a family holiday through my own oversights. There was the time that I misunderstood “twin bed” – I thought it meant two bedrooms – and found myself top-to-tail with my dad in a European single; and the occasion when we arrived at the airport on the correct day and month – but a year early. However, I take no responsibility for a tainted tour of Lisbon last summer, which was ruined by the city’s fleet of scooters. I spent most of the time tripping over them or complaining about how a jumble of the discarded contraptions had blemished my pictures of the city’s tiled buildings.

My experience is typical of the battle against scooters that cities have been fighting for the better part of two years. That’s why the removal of such vehicles from the streets of Dallas has largely been heralded as a good thing. Although many people rejoiced, others were disappointed. In unwalkable cities such as Dallas, scooters have sometimes offered people the chance to comfortably conquer the proverbial “last mile”. Which begs the question: is there a way in which scooters could actually be good news for a town, if managed correctly?

The solution might be simple: do away with the dockless concept and have defined areas in which they can be parked. This could stop the two-wheeled terrors clogging the path of those with prams and wheelchairs, and prevent more family holidays from being ruined. Some problems remain, though: how to deal with chumps riding them at ridiculous speed? Would a tripwire be too extreme?

Politics / Thailand

Rallying point

Bangkok is bracing for more pro-democracy demonstrations this weekend. The student-led movement plans to repeat its calls for constitutional reform and an end to the government of prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha (pictured), a former general who took power from the democratically elected Yingluck Shinawatra in 2014. Saturday’s march will be loaded with symbolism: the date marks the anniversary of a previous military coup against Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin, and the selected site, Thammasat University, was the scene of a deadly crackdown against the last big student movement in 1976. This time, Prayuth has publicly stated that he will allow the demonstrations to go ahead, although authorities have also begun targeting the movement’s leaders. Scenes of unrest could precipitate a change of government – but not the kind that protesters have in mind. A new royalist general is expected to take charge of the Thai armed forces at the end of this month, prompting speculation about a coup against Prayuth.

Defence / Middle East

Arm in arms

The two “normalisation agreements” that Israel signed with the UAE and Bahrain in Washington yesterday aim to mark the formal end to tensions between Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and the two Arab nations. And there was one surprising defence-related element that might have helped this deal over the line. Though not formally part of any agreement, much has been made of an advanced weapons package of F-35 stealth fighters and EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft that the UAE has reportedly been promised by the US.

Despite some grumblings in Israel, the likely sale has more to do with another regional power perceived as a threat to all three signatories: Iran. “It suggests that the US wants something to shift quickly in defence terms,” Robert Fox, honorary fellow of the Strategy and Security Institute at Exeter University, tells The Monocle Minute. “This gift is a signal to hostile regional powers that the UAE is now a powerful military player – and it’s exactly where the US needs it to be.”

Migration / Europe

Lots to settle

Fires that devastated the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos last week have left more than 12,000 refugees without shelter. Now some European countries have pledged to share the burden. This includes a commitment from Angela Merkel to bring 1,500 people – mostly vulnerable families with children – to Germany. But such offers are the tip of the iceberg. Greece has long demanded that other EU countries accept thousands of refugees whose asylum claims have been approved. “Keeping asylum seekers on an island is symptomatic of a Europe that is unable to craft an equitable solution around burden-sharing and what role, if any, Europe is to play in the global protection regime,” says Hanne Beirens, director of Migration Policy Institute Europe. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen will take the first step later this month when she unveils a new EU migration and asylum pact. But will it spur any of the EU’s 27 member states into action?

Society / USA

Creative spark

How do you keep employees motivated and engaged when working from home? It seems that it’s not as easy as some initially thought. US bank JPMorgan has reversed its stance on remote working, telling its senior traders and sellers to return to the office from next week, with a view to having 50 per cent of its New York staff back in. The reason, according to internal findings reported by Bloomberg, is a drop in productivity over the past few months that was blamed in part on the lack of “creative combustion” – corporate-speak for people talking to each other and sharing ideas. Here at Monocle we can certainly vouch for the need for spontaneous interactions to foster new story ideas, something that’s hard to recreate over a video call. JPMorgan’s findings make it clear that it’s not just journalists who can benefit from a bit of water-cooler chat to stay creative.

M24 / The Urbanist

The Kowloon Ventilation Building

We look to one of the more mundane structures in Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District that still manages to catch the eye from across the water.

Monocle Films / South Africa

Cosy Homes: Die Es

We pay tribute to South African architect Gawie Fagan, who has died aged 95, and revisit the family home he designed and built with his wife Gwen. Located on a dramatic spot between Table Mountain and the Atlantic Ocean, Die Es is an ode to vernacular architecture with a difference. Tune into the interview with the architects to find out more about this remarkable residence that epitomises their creative approach.

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