Monday. 14/2/2022

The Monocle Minute

Leaving Ukraine

As embassies call on their citizens to leave Ukraine, the nation’s government has urged calm and demanded evidence that an invasion is truly imminent. For more on the shifting mood in Kyiv, listen to Chris Cermak’s report on today’s episode of The Globalist on Monocle 24.

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Josh Fehnert

Losing the remote

Before and during the febrile early months of the pandemic, the World Health Organization (“Who?” many asked ironically) was busy making uncontroversial pronouncements for the greater good – then seeing them roundly ignored. So, now older and wiser and cowed by the experience of coronavirus, might the world heed its take on what could help and harm us next? Not quite. The WHO’s latest report on the deleterious effects of remote working are in the process of being overlooked.

The new paper sets out some of the growing body of evidence suggesting that teleworking can be terrible for us, personally, socially and physically. Perhaps that’s not a revelation to anyone forced to labour from their living room for the past two years – a child in one ear, a balking boss in the other and a cricked neck from hours working at the kitchen table. But all this bears repeating as companies consider whether they ever need to bother seeing their staff again.

For many, that shift to homeworking hasn’t been the sunny, freeing, flexible or fun experience that some firms would like to frame it as (the same ones flogging their offices and trimming their overheads). Nor has the experience meaningfully reduced traffic, emissions or unnecessary journeys; instead, in many places it has sapped our economies, hobbled our high streets and addled our inboxes.

A totally remote experience also glosses over the value of human interaction, our ability to create some physical boundaries between work and leisure, and the spontaneity that comes with being a human in the world, rather than being a face on a screen or a voice at the end of a tightly scheduled conference call. Blindly adopting the home-working model is a threat to our health; even the WHO now says so. What the report doesn’t get into is that it can be a pain in the arse as well as an ache in the lower back.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Brazil

Strange bedfellows

The insistence of Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro (pictured) to go through with a trip to visit his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow today has drawn ire from his country’s media and its international allies. US diplomats have suggested that the visit signals tacit support for Putin’s aggressive posturing on the Ukrainian border. Nonetheless, Bolsonaro has not wavered, justifying the trip by saying that Putin “is a conservative”. Even his supporters are confused. “If you look at the last opinion polls in January and February, it looks like he’s going to lose October’s election,” Richard Lapper, associate fellow at Chatham House and author of Beef, Bullets and Bible: Brazil in the Age of Bolsonaro tells The Monocle Minute. “Bolsonaro is a very unpopular, isolated figure at the moment and this seems like an odd choice.” The move could also be about Joe Biden, says Lapper: “You know how the saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

Image: Alamy

Culture / Portugal

Brothers in arts

Portugal and France’s centuries-old bond has received another boost. This weekend marked the opening of the inaugural “cross-cultural season” between the two nations at the Paris Philharmonie (pictured). The initiative was first announced in 2018 by Portugal’s prime minister, António Costa, and Emmanuel Macron. Over the next nine months, more than 480 cultural events will take place across 55 locations in Portugal and 84 in France. The range is vast, varying from exhibitions to film screenings, live music and theatre. The latter is almost an exchange programme between institutions: the resident team at Portugal’s Teatro Municipal do Porto will take over the schedule at France’s Théâtre National de la Danse and vice versa. Almost two million Portuguese citizens call France their home – the largest Lusophone diaspora in Europe – so a standing ovation for the initiative is all but guaranteed.

Image: Alamy

Media / Turkey

Foreign influences

Three international news outlets (Voice of America, German state-funded broadcaster Deutsche Welle and Euronews) could be banned in Turkey this week following an order from the country’s Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK). The threat is predicated on regulation that came into effect in 2019 that requires media providers to apply for licences from the body in order to maintain their online presence. The RTUK is expected to publish a detailed notice of the decision on its website today. Thereafter, the websites will have 72 hours to gain a licence or face a ban.

Given the influence that president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (pictured) and his government have over mainstream Turkish media, many in the country have turned to international channels such as these for their news; these outlets have in turn invited scorn for their supposedly negative coverage of the state. “The only surprising thing about this decision is that it did not come sooner,” Hannah Lucinda Smith, Istanbul-based author of Erdoğan Rising, tells The Monocle Minute. “The thing that all these foreign outlets have in common is that they publish Turkish-language versions, meaning that they have become rare sources of alternative information to the propaganda that is pumped out by the rest of the Turkish media.”

Image: Getty Images

Urbanism / India

Common sense

A dearth of urban planners in Chennai (pictured) has meant that construction agencies run by the state of Tamil Nadu, of which Chennai is capital, are turning to unqualified professionals for advice, leading to poorly thought-out developments. Thankfully, the national ministry of housing and urban affairs has introduced a requirement for government bodies to only use qualified planners on future projects. However, while this move is positive, it doesn’t address the lack of planning expertise in Chennai, with urbanists based in the city now weighing in with solutions. Among the strongest proposals is one backed by KP Subramanian, a former professor of urban engineering at Chennai’s Anna University, to create a common pool, or “cadre”, of planners that can be deployed to work on a project-by-project basis. “There are haphazard developments lacking any planning initiative taking place,” Subramanian told local media. “Creating a common cadre may resolve such issues.” For other cities facing similar shortages, it could be a model to copy.

Monocle Films / Global

Monocle preview: February issue

Monocle’s 150th issue is a humour special that also includes an interview with Finland’s prime minister Sanna Marin and celebrates ambitious city halls that inspire the metropolises they serve. Order your copy now at The Monocle Shop.

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