Monday 14 August 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Monday. 14/8/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Christopher Lord

Ghost in the machine

Regulators in San Francisco have given the green light to two self-driving taxi companies, Cruise and Waymo, to roll out large fleets of autonomous vehicles (AVs) across the city. Both firms have already been testing and operating AVs on San Francisco’s hilly streets but so far only in limited numbers and at certain hours of the day. The decision to expand these to 24-hour services has been heralded as a milestone in the march of artificial intelligence (AI). Several other US cities, such as Austin and Atlanta, are also revving their engines to have driverless cabs on their streets.

Cruise and Waymo promise cheap rides that are safe for passengers but there are still bumps in the road ahead. San Franciscans complain that AVs are stopping in the middle of intersections; firefighters claim that they have been in their way during emergencies. Meanwhile, anti-AV activists have been disabling vehicles by covering their sensors with traffic cones and believe that the city’s authorities have got carried away with AI, which is currently the talk of the town.

Last year, I tried to take a Waymo while reporting in Mesa, Arizona, the initial test-bed city for its autonomous taxis. After 45 minutes of waiting in the desert sun, there was still no sign of my ride – customer service, of course, couldn’t call the cab to check what was wrong, so eventually I gave up and ordered a different taxi (one driven by a person). Waymo’s service, I’m told, has markedly improved since then. But while a robo-taxi might not expect a tip or force you into meandering cabbie chitchat, it also won’t lend a hand with heavy luggage or wait around to make sure that you have arrived at the right house. You’re not being a Luddite if you prefer the human touch when you’re trying to get around.

Christopher Lord is Monocle’s US editor. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

Image: Alamy

Aviation / Mexico

Flight risk

Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has announced that a new military-run airline is set to launch later this year. The news comes off the back of the state’s purchase of the now-defunct airline Mexicana de Aviación, which declared bankruptcy in 2014 – a deal that also includes three buildings and a flight simulator. While Obrador hopes that reviving the airline will increase low-cost flight options in the country, some critics have questioned his increasing reliance on the military.

In July the president announced that Mexico’s armed forces would be taking control of the capital’s main airport, with plans to replicate the scheme across the nation. But many are sceptical that increasing the army’s influence on Mexican aviation will help the sector to take off. The creation of a new airline will no doubt have some positive effects, expanding the number of routes available and making Mexican aviation more accessible for tourists. But when it comes to tackling the sector’s corruption, management and financial problems, finding a solution might be more complicated than it seems.

Image: Shutterstock

Tourism / Greece

Chair force one

The proliferation of sunlounger rentals on Greece’s beaches has triggered a beach-towel revolt as residents push back against the unlawful privatisation of coastal spaces. The grass-roots “towel movement” on Paros and other Greek islands champions free access and challenges the practice of hiring out loungers and umbrellas, often at exorbitant costs. Notably, a luxury lounger on Paros can fetch as much as €120 a day. Some tourist areas in Greece prohibit beach access to those who refuse to pay or can’t afford sunlounger rental fees.

Despite some opposition, the towel movement has quickly taken significant strides. Its progress was underscored last week when Greece’s finance minister, Kostis Hatzidakis, pledged to step up inspections and identify illegal operations. Other recent successes include the removal of beach umbrellas and sunloungers from Santa Maria beach and legal actions against rental profiteers, signalling a potential shift in the tides.

Image: Getty Images

Q&A / Iryna Nykorak

Dressed to the hilt

Ukrainian MP Iryna Nykorak is the founder of Arm Women Now, a social initiative that works to provide women who serve in the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) with military uniforms. Here, Iryna tells us more about the project.

Monocle: What prompted you to start the initiative?
Iryna Nykorak: Ukraine has more than 60,000 women currently serving in its armed forces, which is an extremely high number. But in April 2022, I realised that there was no uniform specifically designed for women, which was surprising because war is the only instance in which it matters how a woman is dressed: a comfortable uniform is key to survival.

M: How easy was it to achieve your goal?
IN: We started out as an NGO in very close communication with the AFU. We took their recommendations into consideration when designing the uniforms’ pattern. We also learnt from international experience, mainly from the US, British and even the Israeli armies, and tried to make something that was both comfortable and functional, while taking into account female physiology. We designed tactical underwear and body armour, and tested them in combat missions on the front line. Before the full-scale invasion, women in the army were receiving men’s underwear and uniforms, meaning that in 95 per cent of cases, the clothes had to be hemmed. If Ukraine wants to be part of Nato, we need to do more for equality in the army.

M: What plans do you have next?
IN: We will continue to provide our female defenders with uniforms, thermal underwear and other protection until the Ministry of Defence can take over the project. Though our initiative has been a success, I want to insist on gender-oriented budgets in the AFU, the Ministry of Defence, the National Guard and other organisations such as the National Police and Border Guards. Women are serving in every state authority as snipers, sappers, combat medics and in intelligence. They are sleeping in trenches and doing the same hard work as men.

For the full interview with Iryna Nykorak, listen to the latest episode of ‘Monocle on Saturday’ on Monocle Radio.

Image: Shutterstock

Society / Rome

Shifting sands

The banks of the Tiber river in Rome have seen empires and kings but these days visitors are crowding the shore near the Marconi bridge to sip a cold spritz and dip their toes in the water. Rome recently hit a new record summer temperature, with 41.8C recorded in July. For those who are unable to beat the heat, Tiberis, the city’s riverside beach, offers some much-needed respite.

The 10,000 sq m space is open for its sixth summer in a row and provides sandy solace for residents and tourists alike, complete with sunloungers and umbrellas. Beach volleyball, children’s activities, pilates and yoga classes are also available during the day, while the evening festivities include live music and drinks to enjoy as the sun sets on the Eternal City.

For more sunny stories, pick up a copy of our summer newspaper, ‘Mediterraneo’, which is on all good newsstands now.

Image: Alamy

Monocle Radio / The Concierge

Hong Kong and Big Mamma Group

Monocle’s editorial director, Tyler Brûlé, joins us on the line from Hong Kong to discuss the best that the city has to offer. Plus: we speak to the CEO of Big Mamma Group, Victor Lugger; Ed Stocker is at Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg; and our correspondents from around the world answer your questions, from Brazil to New Zealand.

Monocle Films / Design

Glassblowing with Michael Ruh

Nature is a key source of inspiration for glass artist Michael Ruh, who has hand-crafted pieces for leading architects and brands, such as Fortnum & Mason. We visited his south London studio as production was underway for a new commission for The Birch Hotel to hear about his design process.


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