Tuesday. 30/11/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Trial and error

Two years into the pandemic, it’s striking just how knee-jerk and seemingly unprepared we still appear to be when things change and yet another new variant emerges. It’s also notable how quick we are to start apportioning blame while saving our own skins and battening down the (always leaky) hatches.

Borders are once again being closed, even as we acknowledge that any new variant has breached those borders in the time it took us to identify it, as did every one of its predecessors. This leaves southern Africa suddenly isolated and angry, with good reason. Politics is at play too. The idea that the UK poses any greater danger than Germany flies in the face of reason – both have reported a few cases of the new variant. And yet Switzerland was quick to impose a 10-day quarantine on arrivals from one country and not the other. Remainers might say that the UK had it coming but even Brexit doesn’t justify such contrasting treatment.

And then there’s the finger pointing. Wealthy nations are now being blamed for failing to help vaccinate the developing world. It’s an inequity that is morally distasteful and should be rectified, yes, but let’s not pretend that this would have stopped further mutations when we still continue to have tens of thousands of daily cases across Europe, offering the virus ample opportunity to refashion itself to better breach our defences. Clearly it knows nothing of politics and blame.

Yet we have made progress in one sense. Instead of “the South Africa variant”, as it would have been called a year ago, we have Omicron, which at least stops us from blaming countries directly. Still, if a new naming convention is the best improvement we can come up with in two years, we have an incredibly long way to go before learning to live with coronavirus for good.

Image: Alamy

Politics / Honduras

Restoring balance

Xiomara Castro is expected to become the first female president of Honduras. Following Sunday’s election, the leader of left-wing opposition party Libre holds a commanding lead. Castro’s victory will mark the left’s return to power for the first time since 2009, when a coup toppled the government of her husband, Manuel Zelaya.

The ensuing years under Porfirio Lobo Sosa and then Juan Orlando Hernández of the right-wing National Party have been marked by a succession of scandals and a closely contested election in 2017, after which accusations of voting irregularities led to protests across the country. Castro (pictured) ran on an anti-corruption platform, declaring that her government would be one of reconciliation. Let’s hope that’s the case for the polarised Central American nation.

Image: Getty Images

Transport / Boston

Economy drive

Boston’s newly sworn-in mayor, Michelle Wu, is proposing an expansion of fare-free services along several of the city’s most popular bus routes. The programme, which is expected to be voted in by councillors at a city hall meeting tomorrow, will run for two years and be funded by $8m (€7m) of federal pandemic-relief funds. The move is expected to drive up rider numbers and increase access to transit – but Boston shouldn’t pump the brakes on other improvements to its bus network as a result. Cities that have opted for free transit models in the past have found that although rider numbers increased, usage is still largely dependent on having bus routes that get people where they need to go. With this in mind, Wu would be wise to make sure that Boston’s buses are still serving areas of demand.

Business / Japan

Really fast food

Japan is getting used to the idea of unmanned shops – mainly convenience stores. But a new salad shop has taken the concept further: as well as no staff, it has no tills either. At Crisp Station, which sells boxed salads in the business district of Marunouchi, diners can choose from eight different kinds of meal, all at the same price. Rather than paying on the spot, customers shell out for the food with a simple tap of their phone. The idea comes from Crisp, the start-up behind the popular Crisp Salad Works chain. Hiroshi Miyano, the company’s president, believes that people were wasting precious moments waiting to pay for lunch. While office workers rushing through their lunch break might save a few minutes, here’s hoping that it doesn’t shortchange those working alone or the elderly, who might already be starved of interaction. Perhaps Crisp Station could deploy staff to strike up a conversation with their customers instead.

Image: Getty Images

Media / Hong Kong

Suspended animation

Disney+ might have arrived in Hong Kong but some of the streaming services’ key content has not. In what appears to be one of the first instances of a major US-based media platform censoring content in the city, the company has pulled – or never released – an episode of The Simpsons.

The episode in question is from 2005 and features Tiananmen Square with a sign in it that reads: “On this site, in 1989, nothing happened.” The episode’s non-appearance on Disney+ follows the passing of a Hong Kong law last month that bans broadcasts running anything that’s contrary to the interests of Beijing. Although this hasn’t resulted in any other content that satirises China being pulled from platforms, the move by Disney+ could signal the beginning of the process and the gradual enclosure of China’s “Great Firewall” of media censorship around the island.

M24 / The Stack

Flamingo Estate and ‘Idler’

We speak with Richard Christiansen from home-and-garden brand Flamingo Estate in Los Angeles, who just launched the publication Fridays From the Garden with his imprint Flamingo Editions. Plus: Tom Hodgkinson from Idler magazine on his new book An Idler’s Manual.

Monocle Films / Sweden

Sweden’s Arctic: green innovation

Norrbotten in Sweden is blessed with natural resources but more recently has been turning heads because of its growing roster of innovative start-ups. We bear witness to the region's effort to change heavy industries into clean businesses.

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