Tuesday 14 February 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Tuesday. 14/2/2023

The Monocle Minute

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Opinion / Andrew Mueller

Something in the air

On 4 February the US Air Force (USAF) shot down a Chinese spy balloon after it had spent some days adrift across the American continent. It seemed like a rogue occurrence, with something for everyone: excitable conservative media enjoyed a full-blown Chicken Little freakout; online japesters relished imagining a balloon-shaped victory mark painted on the side of an F-22. Since then, three more objects have been downed over Alaska, Canada’s Yukon territory and Lake Huron in Michigan.

If anybody is certain what any of them were, they are being cagey about saying so. It seems likely that General Glen VanHerck, commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command, will be remanded for further media training after his response to a question about the possibility of extraterrestrial marauding (“I haven’t ruled anything out”) made managing the story even more difficult. General VanHerck did, however, note that the three most recent objects downed by USAF pilots were not balloons, which prompts the question: what were they? It is not the first time that this has been asked. In January, the US Department of Defense’s All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office, which investigates UAPs, or unexplained aerial phenomena, acknowledged 510 such queries – 366 of them received since August 2022.

“If you’re carrying out surveillance, I’d be surprised if anyone did it so overtly,” says Matthew Powell, teaching fellow in Strategic and Air Power Studies at RAF College Cranwell and the University of Portsmouth. “So perhaps these are attempts to test American reactions without risking too much or a means of putting pressure on Washington and testing boundaries.” And perhaps the USAF’s purported befuddlement is also a bluff, designed to keep the visitors coming. The target practice might come in handy.

Andrew Mueller is a contributing editor at Monocle. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

Image: Shutterstock

Diplomacy / Iran

Joining forces

Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, arrives in Beijing today to begin a three-day trip to China, during which he is expected to sign a number of co-operation agreements with Xi Jinping. The visit, apparently made at the Chinese president’s behest, shows a further deepening of the relationship between the two nations, both of which have joined Russia in seeking to forge an alliance to counter the West. Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, announced in September that his country would seek to join the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO), a security body dominated by China and Russia that aims to act as a counterweight to Western influence in Central Asia. This came alongside an increase in sales of Iranian oil to China and Iranian arms to Russia. Raisi (pictured) will also be hoping that his strongman image abroad will help to quell months-long anti-government protests at home, which continued over the weekend despite the official marking of the 1979 Islamic Revolution’s 44th anniversary.

Image: Shutterstock

Infrastructure / India

Modi of transport

India’s vast landmass dominates the subcontinent to which the country gives its name but poor infrastructure makes it feel even larger. A new eight-lane expressway between India’s capital, New Delhi, and economic centre, Mumbai, hopes to remedy this. Stretching almost 1,400km across five states, the road is expected to halve the current travel time between the two cities to 12 hours.

The first stage of the expressway, 246km of road between New Delhi and Jaipur, was inaugurated on Sunday by Narendra Modi, who declared the project “a sign of developing India”. It follows the government’s announcement earlier this month of a 33 per cent increase in infrastructure spending. Modi is expected to open at least a dozen more major transport projects in the coming months, including railways, motorways and ports, all aimed at boosting India’s burgeoning economy.

Image: Getty Images

Cinema / France

Big cat hunting

The French minister of the armed forces, Sébastien Lecornu, has lambasted the negative portrayal of his country in the latest instalment of the Disney-owned Marvel’s blockbuster Black Panther franchise. Lecornu accused the makers of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever of misrepresentation, referring to a scene in the film that depicts French armed mercenaries appearing before the UN after attempting to plunder resources from the fictional African kingdom of Wakanda.

The squabble underscores Paris’s increasing sensitivity regarding its image in its former African colonies: governments in Mali and Burkina Faso have recently demanded the withdrawal of French troops from their countries. France’s recent efforts to smooth relations with its former colonies include a diplomatic charm offensive by Emmanuel Macron, who embarked on a three-nation “Françafrique” tour last summer. Paris will hope that this prevents any future unsavoury cinematic portrayals.

Image: Shutterstock

Environment / Japan

Sneezy does it

Japan’s hay-fever season has begun. Every year from early February, millions of Japanese are afflicted with itchy eyes and runny noses caused by a reaction to pollen. The Japan Weather Association said that hotter temperatures last summer have caused higher than usual pollen levels, which is likely to make spring 2023 particularly bad for hay-fever sufferers.

Due to its abundance, pollen updates are reported on national weather bulletins in Japan and many shops stock nasal sprays, masks, goggles and decongestants to combat the effect of the fine particles. Public information campaigns instruct sufferers of how to keep symptoms at bay: don’t hang laundry outside; shake off coats and jackets before coming indoors; and make liberal use of gargles and eye drops. If this fails, state-of-the-art air filters are advertised on television; alternatively, head north to Hokkaido, where pollen quantities will be slightly lower than usual.

Image: Getty Images

Monocle 24 / The Big Interview

Marjorie Margolies

The former US congresswoman, Emmy award-winning journalist and women’s-rights activist sits down with Christopher Cermak to discuss motherhood and the arc of her remarkable career in politics.

Monocle Films / Skelleftea

Inside Sweden’s electric flight school

A new electric flight school in Sweden is inspiring a future of emission-free aviation. Monocle takes to the sky, tries out the first fully electric plane to be approved for use in Europe and hears how Skellefteå has become a hotbed of green start-ups.


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