Wednesday 8 February 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 8/2/2023

The Monocle Minute

The US president Joe Biden delivered his first State of the Union address since the midterm elections, promising job growth, new infrastructure and economic stewardship under his administration. But how has it gone down with Americans? To hear our analysis, tune in to Monocle radio: The Globalist is live at 7am GMT (8am CET).

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / James Chambers

Clearing the air

Bangkok has been blessed with perfect park weather for weeks now – but hold off on booking a flight just yet. When I look at the blue skies outside my window, not all is as it seems. Air-monitoring apps in the Thai capital have been flashing red, prompting schools to close and city hall to encourage working from home – a tough ask coming so soon after the pandemic. Most people I talk to are fed up with remote working and would rather put on a surgical mask and chance their arm (and lungs) at the office.

Face coverings were already starting to become commonplace in Bangkok before coronavirus came along. The fear of inhaling hazardous fine dust particles is likely to see this coping mechanism endure. Air pollution – euphemistically referred to as “haze” – is a fact of life in many Asian cities; a seasonal event much like flooding. The levels of fine particulate matter tend to peak at this time of year for many reasons, including low-pressure weather systems and farmers burning fields. Officials around the region like to point fingers at neighbouring countries and blame the weather gods. Thailand is no different.

A general election is expected in May and voters around the country are currently spewing venom. But political parties expect the problem to soon blow away for another year, clearing the field for a debate about the health of the economy. Such narrow views are clearly out of step: when education is interrupted and workers are urged to stay at home, the environment is already an economic issue. Left untreated, Thailand’s toxic-air problem could seriously affect tourism revenue and create an expensive health crisis. The next government can’t afford to be complacent.

James Chambers is Monocle’s Asia editor.

Image: Shutterstock

Diplomacy / Global

Pitching in

Across Turkey and Syria, rescue efforts continue to free those stuck under rubble following Monday’s huge earthquakes, which have claimed the lives of more than 5,000 people. The international community has come together with offers of help and an extraordinary number of aid workers are arriving every hour. But some nations can provide specific advice as well as raw manpower. Japan, for example, has dispatched its Disaster Relief Team, which has learnt from similar incidents, while South Korea’s contingent (pictured) is internationally renowned for its expertise in such areas. Ukraine has sent a team to assist with clearing debris based on its recent experiences dealing with the aftermath of Russian attacks. The mayor of Tirana knows what this moment feels like: Albania’s capital was struck by a 6.4 magnitude earthquake in 2019. “The first phase is search and rescue,” Erion Veliaj tells The Monocle Minute. “This is followed by dignified grieving, where the role of the mayor is to be comforter-in-chief.” Tirana has almost finished rebuilding neighbourhoods, schools and other public buildings. The mayor’s advice to Turks and Syrians? “Build back better.”

Image: Getty Images

Science / UK

Put to the test

In a letter published yesterday in British newspaper The Times, the presidents of four European science academies and Nobel laureates including geneticist Paul Nurse (pictured, on right, with Boris Johnson) urged the UK to prioritise rejoining the EU’s €95bn Horizon research programme. Before Brexit the UK was a leading member of the initiative, which facilitates collaboration across Europe and was an important source of funding for the country’s academic scientists.

Britain has long sought continued partnership with Horizon as an associated member but its chaotic wrangling with the EU over issues such as the Northern Ireland Protocol turned membership into a bargaining chip, delaying the process for two years. This has “damaged science across Europe”, argue the letter’s authors. With the Northern Ireland dispute finally inching towards a resolution, now is the time to revive scientific collaboration between the UK and the rest of Europe. After all, as microbiologist Louis Pasteur said more than a century ago, “Science knows no country.”

Image: Farhad Rahman / Dhaka Art Summit

CULTURE / Bangladesh

Strong language

Bangladesh’s premier art prize, the Samdani Art Award, has announced its first-ever joint winners. Purnima Aktar and Md Fazla Rabbi Fatiq were selected from a shortlist of 12 emerging contemporary artists. Aktar’s installation (pictured) features paintings with motifs of mythology, Mughal miniatures and folk art, while Fatiq’s photography addresses social, geographical and political issues.

The biannual prize, presented at the Dhaka Art Summit, supports the creativity and development of Bangladeshi artists and architects aged between 20 and 40. “Both artists have a distinctive storytelling language that speaks to our complex entanglements with the planet and our shifting relationships to land,” Diana Campbell, the Samdani Art Foundation’s founding artistic director, tells The Monocle Minute. “This language also draws viewers in, inviting them to slow down, look more closely and read between the lines.”

Image: Reuters


Raising the drawbridge

After years spent focusing on the coronavirus pandemic and then having to address Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, the EU’s member states are once again turning to the issue of migration. Italy’s prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, will reportedly ask the bloc to send more money to Africa when its leaders gather in Brussels tomorrow. She is expected to argue that the extra funding should be spent on improved border controls and fighting human trafficking, as well as education and jobs in the continent.

Italy isn’t the only country making demands related to the movement of people: Austria, for example, has been pushing for the EU to fund a fence at the Bulgaria-Turkey border. Meanwhile, Denmark is considering the idea of opening migrant-reception centres outside the EU and, on Monday, the European Commission gave Libya the first of five EU-funded patrol boats to help prevent refugees and migrants from crossing into Europe. Long divided over the topic, the continent seems to be collectively hardening its stance on migration.

Image: Louise Morris

Monocle 24 / The Entrepreneurs

Brand Britain special

What does “Brand Britain” mean today and what comes next? An audience of students, brand leaders, investors and other stakeholders gathered in London to hear from writer Ekow Eshun, Belstaff CEO Fran Millar, Rapha founder Simon Mottram, the academic dean of Central Saint Martins, Rebecca Wright, Nc’nean founder Annabel Thomas and Monocle’s Josh Fehnert. Devised and hosted by Bob Sheard, co-founder of the agency Fresh Britain, the event explored what the UK’s national brand means for businesses operating in its slipstream.

Monocle Films / Lisbon

Meet the Photographers: John Balsom

The Jogos da Lusofonia are an Olympics-style sporting event for people from the world’s Portuguese-speaking nations. We dispatched John Balsom – a photographer known for his powerful portraits – to the 2009 games in Lisbon. In our latest film, Balsom shares his memories of the assignment and how he captured such a fast-paced sports story on vintage film cameras. Discover more with The Monocle Book of Photography, which is available to buy now.


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