Thursday. 9/6/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Uncomfortably numb

Virginia Tech was once the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history; 32 people were killed by a lone gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, in April 2007. (It would be surpassed nine years later by the shooting at a nightclub in Orlando). I remember arriving at the scene as a young reporter and being struck most by the media circus – the lines of satellite trucks that had descended on this once-quiet university campus in Blacksburg. The students’ union tried to have the media banned from the campus after outlets published the shooter’s video manifesto and I caught a few seasoned journalists jawing and joking with each other – a perhaps inevitable coping mechanism when covering such shootings regularly.

Fast-forward 15 years and we’ve all become similarly numb. The mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, last month sparked the usual outpouring of sadness and anger, and frustrated demands for action. This week has seen testimony in Congress from victims of previous deadly incidents. A bipartisan group of senators are also hopeful of reaching a deal by tomorrow that tinkers around the edges, tightening background checks for younger gun buyers and encouraging states to adopt “red flag” laws to strip gun owners of their weapons if they’re deemed to pose a threat. Of course, none of this will stop the next mass shooting from happening. Guns are far too entrenched in American society – along with the belief, shared by many, that owning a gun protects you from crime rather than causing harm.

If there is any hope of fundamental change, we all have to avoid shrugging our shoulders and retreating to our respective corners when such atrocities occur. We could do worse than to pay closer attention to the communities affected and how they come together in these times of grief; attending a candlelit vigil of the students at Virginia Tech (pictured) was one of the most moving experiences of my life. Unlike those seasoned journalists I saw when I arrived, I resolved to never become desensitised.

Christopher Cermak is Monocle’s news editor and a regular presenter of ‘The Briefing’ on Monocle 24.

Transport / Sweden

On the charge

Summer plans for travellers around the world face a degree of jeopardy, with staff shortages sparking a wave of flight cancellations. On top of that, fuel price hikes spurred by the Russia-Ukraine war means that air travel will get more expensive. In Sweden, one business is helping to get a jet-fuel-free future off the ground. The Green Flight Academy, which operates out of Skellefteå Airport in the northern county of Västerbotten, is the world’s first flight school to offer training on electric aircraft and is profiled in our June issue, which is out now. Electric aeroplanes are relatively unproven as workhorses – battery-powered range currently allows only about 45 minutes of flying time – but many firms around the world are working towards solutions that could allow airliners to fly further without jet fuel. Green Flight Academy has decided that the technology is advanced enough for them to forge ahead. “It’s really exciting with all this technology that’s developing,” Johan Norberg, head of training, tells Monocle. “That’s why I said ‘yes’ to this job.”

For more on the fast-moving world of mobility, pick up a copy of Monocle’s June issue on newsstands or subscribe so that you never miss one.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Belgium & DRC

Making amends

Belgium’s King Philippe received a red-carpet welcome when he landed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) this week for a historic visit. The brother of Philippe’s great-great-grandfather, King Leopold II, oversaw the brutal colonial rule of the central African nation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, running a system of violent forced labour and pillaging natural resources. In 2020, King Philippe (pictured, with the queen) expressed his “deepest regrets” for the “wounds of the past”. DRC president Felix Tshisekedi’s invitation suggests a willingness to develop a mutually beneficial relationship.

Also on the agenda is the restitution of Congolese artworks and artefacts; King Philippe brought a traditional mask with him as a first symbolic gesture. With the legacy of racism still prevalent – a 2019 UN report found it to be “endemic” in Belgian institutions – those “wounds of the past” will take some time to heal. The monarch must handle this trip sensitively if he wants the two countries to forge closer ties.

For more on King Philippe’s visit, tune in to this morning’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Getty Images

Defence / China & Cambodia

Sea change

Work began on a Chinese-funded upgrade of Cambodia’s largest naval base yesterday in a move that highlights Beijing’s growing influence in the region. The developments to the Ream base will allow larger ships to dock and The Washington Post reports that it will house a Chinese fleet following the renovation – despite assurances from both countries that it will not. The base has long been a point of contention for the US and Cambodia, considering its location in the Gulf of Thailand and proximity to the contested South China Sea. Other nations have taken notice too: Australia’s new prime minister, Anthony Albanese, voiced his concerns this week during a tour of Indonesia. Chinese officials are already talking up the Sino-Cambodian “iron-clad partnership” and, though it’s not assured, it seems unlikely that Beijing would upgrade the base without getting something in return. What China actually wants – and how Western nations will respond – is the real question.

Image: Andrea Pugiotto

Design / Italy

Milan for the masses

The world’s largest furniture company, Ikea, is shoring up its design credentials at Milan’s Salone del Mobile fair with a six-day programme at a giant facility in the Tortona district. The Ikea Festival is a refreshing counterpoint to exhibitions that focus on furniture at the premium end of the market. “Salone has been very traditional and has not tried to reach a new crowd,” says Marcus Engman, Ikea’s chief creative officer. “That’s what we are trying to do here.”

Having top designer names involved helps, as well as a party line-up featuring acts such as Italian rapper Ghali. Rotterdam-based designer Sabine Marcelis will be there showcasing the lighting collection she has developed for Ikea, which launched yesterday, around the idea of enhancing and celebrating light in the home. “My approach was to create very minimal designs that could be manufactured in an optimal way,” she says. “I wanted the pieces to speak to people with different tastes and from different places so that they became much more about function.”

Image: Amelia Claudia

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