One thing I learned this year | Monocle

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I learned that courage is contagious

by Ana Maria Archila

The US campaigner found herself in the global spotlight when she intervened in the appointment of a supreme court judge.

This year I learned two lessons that will guide me through the darkness of this moment in our country’s history. First, courage is contagious. The more we see people pushing past fear and pain to do something difficult, the more we feel emboldened to do so ourselves. Second, telling our own stories is a generous and courageous act. We need them to connect with each other across our perceived differences. And ultimately, we need them to make our democracy work for us.

These lessons came to me in a concentrated form on 28 September. That day, I, along with Maria Gallagher, a young woman who is, like me, a survivor of sexual assault, intercepted Republican US senator Jeff Flake in a lift at the Senate building, minutes after he had announced his intention to support the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court.

Maria and I had just met. We didn’t know anything about each other except that we were there to protest Kavanaugh’s nomination to the vacant seat on the Supreme Court. And yet here we were, two strangers making a demand of a senator to look us in the eye, listen to our stories, and reckon with the message his vote would send to women and survivors of sexual assault across the country.

Our voices were loud, forceful, filled with emotion and determined to make this powerful man connect with us and examine his role as a leader in this historic moment. A video recording of our interaction with the senator was broadcast on news programmes almost immediately and seen by millions around the world online.

Prior to that week, I had never told my story publicly or identified myself as a survivor of sexual abuse. I didn’t know how to integrate what had happened to me as a child into my life as an adult and for more than 30 years I kept quiet in an effort to protect people who love me from my pain and shame. And then Dr Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of assaulting her when they were teenagers, told her story. She was doing so to protect our country and, following her testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, thousands of women began to tell their stories.

A few days prior to my encounter with Flake, I stood in front of his office with hundreds of people and uttered words I had kept quiet for decades: “I was five, he was 15.” I told a few adults at the time and they didn’t believe me. At five, I understood the lesson that women and girls are not believed. I now have two children and I do not want them to learn that lesson. I need their experience to be different.

What women have done in this historic moment is to weave a supportive fabric that helps us share the burden of our pain. These accounts should act like a mirror to allow our country to see itself and ask the question: is this who we want to be? Do we want to continue to be a place where the voices and experiences of women are dismissed? Or can we take a leap forward through our pain and bend the arc of history towards justice?

Later that day, as the Senate Judiciary Committee prepared to vote on moving Kavanaugh’s nomination forward to a confirmation vote by the entire Senate, Flake had a change of heart. He told the committee that he would vote in favour of Kavanaugh’s appointment only if the fbi re-examined Dr Blasey Ford’s allegations against him. I was stunned. People gave Maria and I direct credit for this apparent about-turn by the senator, saying that our stories, our pleas to him, had had a direct impact on what was certainly one of the most consequential moments of his political career.

Ultimately Flake voted to support Kavanaugh’s nomination. In my opinion, Flake squandered an opportunity to rise to the moment by offering a model of how to use power, to repair the harm being done in the US, instead of reaffirming a culture that values men above women and enables sexual violence. He failed. The millions who believe that we all deserve dignity didn’t fail. The Kavanaugh fight was as much about protecting our rights and the people we love as it was about the soul of our country.

Despite politicians’ inability to lead we are forcing a reckoning and lighting the way through this darkness with our stories. We will continue to breathe new life into our democracy and bring a new country into existence one story at a time.

I learned that Britain is a divided nation

by Gina Miller

The UK businesswoman is fighting to hold the government to account about Brexit. And she’s been targeted ever since.

On a Tuesday in spring 2018, I was opening my personal mail as I sat at my dining table with the family. There were bills, the odd party invite plus a torrent of letters from people affected by Brexit and the widening divisions in our country. On this occasion there was a handwritten note from a Polish mother-to-be living in England whose words made me shiver. She wrote of being kicked to the ground by strangers who shouted, “We don’t want any more of you bastards here.”

Since we began our work of holding the government to account over its Brexit plans, I’ve become accustomed to receiving shocking letters, many of which have been threats to harm myself and my family. But this letter still alarmed me. This year I have become more aware than ever of the emotional impact of this policy. There is rage, terror and dread but, crucially, there is determination. Reading that letter reminded me there is so much work to do to create a healthy society that we should all wish to live in.

That this matters to me so much shows that I am my father’s daughter. He was Doodnauth Singh, who became attorney general of Guyana. I am a female image of everything he believed in: the rule of law, a fair society, social justice and the idea of never taking anything for granted.

Last year I sat in the UK’s High Court leading a case against the government to uphold our parliamentary sovereignty and demand that MPs were given the right to debate Article 50. Since then I have learned first-hand about the divisions in our country. I now regard the misogyny, intolerance and racism that I face from my opponents as an occupational hazard.

Since I fought and won that case – in the High Court and then on appeal in the Supreme Court – I have often wondered how Brexit changed my life. Like most campaigners and activists, I did not just wake up on 24 June 2016 and decide to put my head above the parapet for the sake of it. I have been a campaigner for transparency for nearly 30 years. It is in my blood.

So when Theresa May called the general election in 2017 and the country was facing the prospect of a landslide majority government, my heart sunk. I knew that victory of the scale she wanted would be akin to an authoritarian regime. The Conservative party was increasingly in the grip of a right-wing ideology and Jeremy Corbyn, when it came to Brexit, wasn’t doing much in the way of opposing.

Something had to be done so I launched the biggest tactical voting campaign seen in the UK. Our efforts led to May not getting the victory she sought; indeed, her majority was reduced. Then came the announcement of the £1bn bung to the dup. Again, I questioned with my legal team in exchanges with the government’s lawyers whether such a payment would require parliamentary approval. And again the MPs rubber-stamped the government’s actions and passed the Confidence and Supply Agreement payment.

It is my conscience that does not allow me to turn a blind eye. It is concern, too, for my children whose lives will be affected by the decisions being taken in relation to how we leave the EU. When I see bullying, dishonesty and self-interest that will result in pain, I simply have to get involved.

My new campaign,, is about explaining how Brexit is going to impact on ordinary people. I have travelled the UK and listened to stories of despair and hatred, and how children were being involved in this. Some were asked by classmates if their parents will be jailed for being foreign, and some were scrubbing their skin because they’d been called “dirty” due to their mixed race.

I am a firm believer that decency prevails. I wish there was no need for End the Chaos but the more I learn, the more I realise there is.

I learned that great architecture is under threat

by Thomas H Collins

He fought, and partly lost, the fight to save a post-modernist icon. But now he knows who is – and isn’t – going to help.

For several years I worked at Rizzoli Bookstore in Manhattan and would often eat my lunch in the public plaza at 550 Madison Avenue – the former at&t Building, designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee. While sitting there I came to admire the warmth of the building’s Stony Creek granite. The most unforgettable area, though, was the building’s lobby – or it was until it was shamelessly razed earlier this year.

The drama of the at&t Building occurs at its base, which makes the lobby’s demise all the more heartbreaking. Originally surrounded by generous pedestrian arcades, the lobby was an architectural tour de force and one of the best postmodern interiors in New York. It was frequently included in surveys of architecture and interior design as a decisive departure from modernist precepts of its era. Its jewel-box interior perfectly encapsulated Robert Venturi’s maxim that “less is a bore”.

Witty, brash and decadent, the lobby abounded in playful touches. As its centrepiece Johnson appropriated Evelyn Beatrice Longman’s heroic statue “Spirit of Communication” from the top of at&t’s former headquarters. After Sony replaced at&t in 1994, the open-air arcades were enclosed with retail and Longman’s statue moved to New Jersey. But the lobby remained a time capsule of 1980s pomo design.

Upon learning in 2017 that the lobby and façade would be subject to alterations, I petitioned the city to designate the skyscraper an interior and exterior landmark. Preservationists and architects coalesced to save the at&t Building. We partially succeeded when the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (lpc) designated the building an official individual landmark in July 2018 – but a few months earlier the scaffolding had come down to reveal that the lobby had already been gutted. The developers had obtained demolition permits for it days after the exterior had been initially calendared for landmarking.

While walking by the building two months after my petition, I noticed the windows had been papered over. Last-ditch efforts to save the space went nowhere. Its fate had been decided between the developers and lpc chair Meenakshi Srinivasan, who was recently forced to resign over criticisms of her developer-friendly tenure.

Far from an isolated occurrence, the destruction of the at&t Building’s lobby is part of a larger trend of significant interiors being razed with the support of the lpc. While fighting to save the lobby, I learned that the lpc has no serious desire to see interior landmarks afforded the same protection as exteriors. It’s up to the public to identify and nominate eligible interiors for landmarking long before threats materialise. By highlighting their significance in advance, we can better inform future discussions concerning their appropriate reuse. New York’s postmodern interiors deserve better.

I learned how to be more French

by Sophie Grove

Our senior correspondent now lives in Paris, where she’s having to trade in English irony for searing French directness. And with a pout too.

There is a formula that the English follow when we meet someone new. We smile until our faces ache and recount unfavourable stories about a ruined holiday or a chaotic wedding (sometimes our own). But as I found out when I moved to Paris two years ago, this is not a ritual the French observe. Tell a Parisian you’re terrible at tennis and they ask, “Well, in that case, why do you play?” Nor do they grin. Of course Parisian women smile – but not for no reason. In London if you see, for instance, a fellow mother in the street pushing a baby the same age as yours, you beam with a sisterly solidarity. Not so in the 6th arrondissement, where women often appear a little perturbed if you catch their eye with a knowing glance.

Parisians don’t pretend to be happy when they’re not. They don’t say yes when they mean no. If they feel annoyed they very quickly make it known with plenty of hair-swishing, huffing and shrugging – and, of course, the moue, that sulky pout with a slightly turned down mouth.

For the first year I lived in Paris I have to confess to finding all of the above a little rude. Couldn’t people be a little nicer? But after a year of bouncing about with jolly hellos and self-deprecating japes, I realised I needed to become a little more arch. The French language itself forces a directness; you can be polite but acidly succinct.

So I started curbing my instinct to please. When introduced, I even started experimenting with appearing friendly without cracking a smile (difficult but possible). I was adopting the mores of what Dutch organisational theorist Fons Trompenaars calls a “coconut” culture. Alongside Russians and Germans, he identifies the French as a society that’s hard on the outside (they don’t featherbed first interactions) but once you’re past the brittle exterior they soften. By contrast, Americans and British are peaches: soft and all-encompassing at first but with a hard stone within that’s difficult to break.

Over the past year I have learnt to be brusque. I have learnt to arrive at a party and hold out a little rather than barrelling around with labrador-like enthusiasm trying to “get things going”. I complain in cafés without broiling in embarrassment afterwards. I even occasionally tell people things that they don’t want to hear and meet their reaction with the quizzical nonchalance Parisian women employ.

Without noticing, I’ve started to adopt the French capital’s gestural code. I find a little huffing, head tossing and even the occasional moue useful. I am no longer offended by brusque behaviour from waiters or anyone else and put it all down to culture.

Old habits die hard. I try to be rude but most of the time my instinct to cook up instant rapport (typical “peach” behaviour) kicks in. I search out the funniest person in the room, confide in them and become that most timeless of Parisian clichés: the farfelue foreigner.

I learned how to put all children first

by Jacinda Ardern

New Zealand’s prime minister wants more young people to have the opportunities her new baby will enjoy.

For any new mum, the idea of keeping a tiny human alive is a daunting one. The fact I became a new mum just a little over six months after becoming prime minister still both terrifies and delights me. Terrifying because of how vulnerable babies are; delightful because there is no other experience in the world that matches it.

Having Neve has cemented my reasons for being in politics. I’m doing it for her and for every other child growing up in New Zealand. I look at Neve and can’t imagine her growing up in a world where she isn’t free to be a child; in a world where conflict or war deprived her of an education, or where hunger or not having a home was the norm.

She is so incredibly lucky to be growing up in New Zealand but that doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels. Yes, we gave women the vote 125 years ago; yes, we proudly stand by our nuclear-free status; and yes, we’ve had three female prime ministers. Tragically, we still have unacceptable rates of domestic violence.

I look at Neve and I feel a huge sadness that there are babies in this amazing country of ours who won’t make their childhood milestones, who may never see five candles on a cake. I feel a huge duty of care to our children. I’ve said that every child deserves the best start in life and I’ve said I want New Zealand to be the best place in the world to be a child, where every one of them is loved, valued and heard.

That needs buy-in. But it’s a simple concept and one that can be summed up in my 2018 word of the year: “kindness”.

I learned how to save Hong Kong’s trees

by CY Jim

This year a typhoon destroyed 100,000 trees in the city. But this research professor knows how to stop it happening again.

Typhoon kills 100,000. Such shocking news would make the headlines but when the casualties are trees, there is far less coverage. In September, Typhoon Mangkhut struck Hong Kong, although thankfully there were no human casualties. While our grey infrastructure weathered the storm, our green infrastructure was battered.

Official tree losses exceeded 46,000 but the real number is estimated to be double that – urban deforestation on a shocking scale. The destruction has denuded the landscape and reduced the environmental quality of neighbourhoods. As the city laments this loss, it is time to contemplate the future. Lessons learnt could allow us to improve our urban forestry techniques. Climate change is expected to bring stronger typhoons so we need to prime our next generation of greenery to meet these challenges.

Naturally there’s little we can do about the wind. Trunks and branches were snapped by short, sharp and unusually powerful gusts. Many of the collapsed trees remained intact; in other words, the wind did not break them. Instead, they were uprooted. Tackling this “sail effect” is our best option for avoiding devastation.

City trees face the same quality-of-life problem as people: insufficient room. The majority of trees are allocated a shallow patch of soil, which is scant space for a three-storey-high trunk to put down roots. And the soil surrounding plots is compacted to meet road-engineering requirements, stifling horizontal root growth: a vital stabilisation mechanism.

We need to pay as much attention to what lies beneath the surface as the aesthetics above. Recent advances now offer solutions to expand the soil volume. The growth of stable trees is ultimately more cost-effective, easier to maintain and less of a threat to life during the next super typhoon.

I learned that you need to be a team in a crisis

by Giacomo Raul Giampedrone

When the Morandi Bridge collapsed in Genoa the city moved fast – but Liguria’s infrastructure councillor says lessons must still be learned.

I think that the Italian approach to responding to emergencies is unique in the world. The Italian civil defence force is unique because 80 per cent of it is made up of volunteers. The first response – the first 30 days after 14 August – has been a point of pride for the whole country, not just for Liguria. Unfortunately we are used to dealing with emergencies caused by hydrogeological disturbances or seismic risk – Italy will always be subject to these despite huge efforts from its institutions.

You can never be ready for the collapse of a bridge but the experiences of the past have meant that we could deploy a prepared force. This experience has taught us how important it is to have an effective machine in place. We activated our force within 20 minutes of the collapse and now we’re accompanying residents through the process – until there is no longer a need to do so.

The images of the collapse of the Morandi Bridge will remain as the kind of images that mark the history of a country. The collapse of a motorway artery signifies a huge challenge for the future. On the one hand, if you look at it in a negative way, it can appear as the sign of a country that’s decaying; a country that cannot maintain its own infrastructure; and a government and a state that must have an unhealthy relationship with those who need to maintain it. It’s evident it cannot be a country in line with developed western nations. It’s equally as true that out of this immense negativity comes a challenge, which allows us to emerge from the collapse. It wasn’t something unpredictable: there was a responsibility that we all demand should be ascertained in the best of ways. Justice must run its course.

The Morandi Bridge was Genoa’s bridge, Liguria’s bridge. Anybody who’s ever lived in Liguria has been on that bridge because it connects the east to the west of the city, and it connects the airport to the biggest commercial port in the country. We all died on that bridge. It was every Genoese’s bridge – we all identified because it could have been any of us. The emotional charge we bring with us is unexplainable but it was displayed through the dignity with which the Genoese faced this tragedy.

What feels like a tragedy has also led us to a series of considerations on the impact this infrastructure had on our city. We need to exploit this phase for a conceptual rethinking. The Polcevera Valley needs to get out of the labyrinth it fell into. Now a more difficult and delicate phase begins: we need to go forward. We need to think of a modern bridge, a new bridge for the redemption of our country.

Even after constructing the bridge, Genoa still has a shortage of infrastructure. We’ve missed opportunities and if there is one lesson to learn, it’s that we need to work more as a team. We need to obtain results we often couldn’t get because of extenuating, endless debates that, unfortunately, Italy is all too used to.

I learned that Pyongyang is not going to give up its nuclear weapons

by Robert E Kelly

A respected voice on Korean relations, this professor of political science at Pusan National University thinks the North is not as compliant as Trump hopes.

This has been an important year of engagement with North Korea but we learned that Pyongyang will not be giving up its nuclear weapons. Before Donald Trump’s presidency, previous US leaders were broadly comfortable with the decades-old US-South Korea policy of containing, deterring, isolating and sanctioning North Korea. After South Korea’s miracle growth of the 1960s and 1970s, North Korea remained an asymmetric low-intensity threat to South Korea, but declined as a strategic one. That is, North Korea could use terrorism and harassment against South Korea but not seriously threaten its existence. Similarly, North Korea was never a serious threat to the US. The US and South Korea could safely hem North Korea into its corner and move on.

The maturation of the North Korean nuclear programme changed that. Barack Obama was the last US president who could defensibly kick the North Korean problem down the road after making reasonable, but ultimately failed, efforts to fix it. As Obama told Trump on entering the White House, North Korea’s serious nuclear and missile programmes were likely to be the biggest foreign-policy headache of his presidency.

Trump seemed to grasp that significance but his approach has been as erratic and inconsistent as his personality. In 2017, Trump famously promised that “fire and fury” would “totally destroy North Korea” if Kim Jong-un did not undertake denuclearisation. In 2018, Trump has U-turned with little explanation, declaiming most recently that he “loves” Kim because he writes Trump “beautiful letters”.

Through all the ups and downs of Trump’s efforts to bully Kim and then flatter and draw him out, the North has not engaged in anything like meaningful denuclearisation. The North has made minor concessions to keep the detente rolling. But the North has always sought to give only the absolute minimum to prevent a breakdown in process and it has repeatedly left itself opt-outs in the language of this year’s agreements.

The North’s concessions have not pertained to strategic nuclear and missile issues. Instead it has made minor gestures such as family reunions, hostage releases or returning US war remains, which effectively change the subject from strategic to humanitarian issues. These are good moves that we most definitely want to see – but they are minor and we should not concede much to get them.

Our real concerns are missiles, nuclear warheads and human rights, on which the North’s record is the worst in the world. There has still been no real movement on these issues. The North is dancing around them, asking for political and economic concessions for its minor moves. The most basic step the North would need to make for movement on denuclearisation is to simply provide an inventory: how much fissile material and how many missiles? They have resisted even that.

It is possible that Trump and South Korea’s detente-oriented president Moon Jae-in still have tricks up their sleeve. Trump appears to be dangling more meetings between him and Kim as an incentive, while Moon is promising sanctions relief and aid. Perhaps these will convince North Korea to get serious on strategic issues but Pyongyang has refused to seriously negotiate nukes and missiles with Trump. Nuclear weapons are very attractive for national security, especially for a loathed state like North Korea. It seems unlikely they will ever give them up.

I learned that retail still works – and to say ‘no’ slower

by Carla Sozzani

The founder of 10 Corso Como believes physical shops are a positive force, which is why she’s just opened in New York.

From opening 10 Corso Como in New York, I learnt that you should never say no immediately. It took me a long time to say yes to this project and actually, I was totally wrong: I should have said yes earlier. Sometimes we don’t think enough. We just say no.

I never really thought about opening in the US. I was so concentrated on Asia; we’re in Shanghai and Seoul and my dream was to open in India. I was not thinking about New York. I didn’t know the area (Manhattan’s Seaport District) and what I had seen was a presentation about everything that was going on at the pier. Kris Ruhs, who is my partner and an artist, is the creative force behind 10 Corso Como. He’s from New York and he said, “Carla, that area is fantastic, all the artists were there in the 1960s.” So we finally went there. And then when I saw it, I felt like I was kind of home.

When 10 Corso Como opened in Milan it was also in an area where people said, “Why do you go down there?” In Seaport, the fish market is so amazing and historical. The buildings are low and the pier gives a lot of energy. It was love at first sight.

It took a couple of years from when we made the agreement to when we opened because of the permissions, but also the time Kris and I took to think how to divide and fill the place. There’s lots of Kris’s craftsmanship in there. At 10 Corso Como, each location is different and there’s so much art and so many handmade things, not just factory-made furniture. I love the process of building something from nothing. It’s more interesting than the result.

Now the hard part is coming: we need to keep the momentum going. At the beginning it’s successful because of curiosity. Then it’s up to us to build a following. It took three years for 10 Corso Como in South Korea to become successful. In New York we are thinking about what the next exhibition will be, a book signing, a new menu, a fashion pop-up, a film screening. It’s important to offer a new experience.

Retail struggles are a global problem. I was never worried about these problems because it’s always been difficult. And 10 Corso Como is not only selling jackets and sneakers. There are so many different aspects: the gallery, bookshop, restaurant. Fashion is part of the puzzle but it’s not the centre. We try to create a promenade through different senses and, with the internet, people need a place where they can sit and talk. The internet brings isolation.

I can see that in the past two years here in Milan, people are getting together and putting down their phones. A balance is going to come. You need to share with people; isolation is not in human nature.

I learned that my job had changed when terror struck

by Malcolm Johnston

The ‘Toronto Life’ features editor thought he had seen it all until Alek Minassian drove a van into pedestrians. It was a life-changing moment.

I’m 35 years old and have been a magazine editor for the last 10. By the time Alek Minassian, a 25-year-old software and mobile-app developer, drove a van onto a pavement on 23 April, killing 10 pedestrians and wounding 15, I’d been working in the industry for 29 per cent of my life, so I’d seen a few things. I’d never seen this.

When Toronto is not being mentioned as the place where weed is legal or the mayor smoked crack, it’s being lauded as some kind of joyous multicultural meet-up where everyone gets along. Like most stereotypes, that notion glosses over Toronto’s complexities. Toronto is flawed and messy in the way that every modern city is. What is true, however, is that Torontonians have been insulated from the kind of mass-casualty event that’s become too frequent in the US and Europe. Or, rather, we had been.

When the news broke, I read that a driver had lost control of his vehicle and that a few pedestrians had been injured. It sounded like an accident – heartbreaking and regrettable, but there is plenty of both every day in a city of three million. But the news kept coming. There were casualties; many of them. Eventually we learned that eight of the 10 people killed were women, that the driver was part of a group of men who fraternised online and called themselves “incels”, short for “involuntary celibates”, and that this killing spree may have been an act of vengeance on women who had denied him sex.

As a city we were now members of a club into which London, Nice, New York, Barcelona and Berlin had already been grimly inducted. Minassian’s rampage was an attack on freedom, an affront to the fragile notion that Torontonians can walk on a sunny spring day without fear.

In my time at Toronto Life we had never switched-up a cover story so late in the game: six days out from our send-to-press date. As a monthly, we usually have the luxury of time. But in this instance it was gone. We couldn’t produce a deeply reported piece on Minassian or dive into the perverse universe of “incels”. What we could do was find the dozens of bystanders who helped in whatever way they could during and after the horror.

I dispatched two writers to Yonge Street and Finch Avenue, the intersection where the attack took place, each with a photographer. They were to speak to as many people as they could. My instructions were probably unnecessary: be fearless and forthright but be courteous, be human. If someone doesn’t want to talk, respect those wishes and walk away. Sitting at my desk, I was optimistic yet hesitant of the stories they would find.

Within hours, my uncertainty was gone. My writers delivered stunning first-hand accounts of bystanders who’d administered cpr, whispering comforting thoughts as people slipped away. They told of storeowners who had sheltered witnesses. Of the chief surgeon who had orchestrated the medical response and the chaplain who had comforted the families. Of the florist who gave away flowers to mourners headed to the memorial that had sprung up near the scene. And of the violinist who played there in the rain.

A city under siege produces beauty in direct proportion to trauma. Later, once the issue hit newsstands and our inbox was flooded with appreciative notes, I learned that my job had changed. Editing a city magazine is not just about trend pieces, celebrity profiles, and restaurant and real-estate coverage. Occasionally the job is about confronting the realities of a world at war with itself and trying to endure it alongside our readers.

The stories we collected became our cover piece, a mosaic of bravery and compassion. I am still reminded that Toronto is not the harmonious wonderland it’s often made out to be, but we have our moments.

I learned that the political zombies are back

by Gianni Riotta

The Italian journalist laments the new enemies, the ‘living dead’ who are threatening our social order – and they’re closer than we think.

I hate zombie films, even when they reach cult status like George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead from 1968. This year taught me that I should have watched the entire Romero saga: six zombie films up to 2009. I would have been ready for the return of the far right in eastern Europe, anti- Semitism in Germany and the shunning of non-Italian kids in a school cafeteria in Lombardy. The living dead are back.

Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s new president, deserves to win 2018’s Zombie award for his quotes: “The only mistake of the dictatorship was just torturing but not killing”; “I would never rape you because you don’t deserve it” (said to federal deputy Maria do Rosário); “I would be incapable of loving a gay son... I prefer that he die in an accident than show up with some guy with a moustache.”

As a boy I was taught a clear lesson: “You are lucky because your generation will be spared the scourges of war, disease, ignorance and dictatorship.” In Italy, where I grew up, and western Europe, zombies were banned: the vampires of fascism, nationalism and racism spiked in the heart with a silver nail. Now I read about the new Italian government debating if vaccines should be mandatory for children. The undersecretary of education blames growth for our misery. It’s the last developed country to still be lagging behind since the financial crisis. The deputy prime minister, stunned by media criticism, calls to muzzle journalists, despite Article 21 of the constitution shielding the free press.

In his book Everybody Lies, social-data analyst Seth Stephens-Davidowitz chronicles his bafflement when he finds out how often Americans search the web for racist sentences. I reproduced his technique on Italian Google Trends and was shocked: using racist slang, many Italians search for derogatory statements against southerners, Sicilians, Neapolitans, gypsies and North African immigrants.

When Donald Trump was just a feisty tycoon boasting of being a political leader, I wrote a column for The Atlantic titled “I Know Fascists; Donald Trump is no Fascist”. I stand by my point. Fascism is not returning, Stalinism is not returning. We are not endangered by the KGB; it’s fake news on digital platforms that are our new evils. Mao’s Great Leap Forward 2.0 will not starve Chinese children: instead they have to fear Xi Jinping’s plan for digital surveillance.

In 2018 I learnt that zombies are back. I now miss the monsters of yesterday. We are the zombies so we have to fight the enemy among ourselves and in ourselves.

I learned that journalists are being murdered in western democracies

by Dr Courtney C Radsch

In Malta the advocacy director at the Committee to Protect Journalists saw the new bloody reality for reporters.

I arrived in Malta and headed directly to the Great Siege monument, which has become the site of protest memorials to murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Well, until it was boarded up to prevent the tributes. Even as I lay my sign demanding justice in front of the monument, I knew it would be removed that night.

I learned this year that even journalists in peaceful democracies are at risk of murder. Caruana Galizia ran a blog, Running Commentary, that delved into corruption, organised crime and political intrigue. In October 2017, she was assassinated by a car bomb; I was in Malta for the anniversary of her murder as part of an international delegation of press-freedom organisations.

Following her assassination, another journalist in the EU who was investigating political corruption, Jan Kuciak, was shot in Slovakia. And the police in Bulgaria are investigating whether Viktoria Marinova, a journalist whose last interview was with a pair of reporters investigating corruption related to EU funds, was raped and murdered in relation to her work.

At least 28 of the 45 journalists murdered so far this year were murdered because of their work, significantly more than the 18 murdered in 2017. The toxic mix of organised crime and EU membership has led to damning investigations that have revealed passport-for-cash schemes, the misuse of EU subsidies and the manipulation of public procurement contracts.

Since 2014, Malta has had a passport-for-cash scheme whereby the rich can buy citizenship that grants them access to the rest of the EU. Not long before her assassination, Caruana Galizia alleged that the prime minister, his chief of staff and the former energy minister were tied to offshore accounts used for the sale of Maltese passports – one of the nation’s most important revenue streams – and large payments from Azerbaijan. They deny those allegations.

Since there has been no conviction of the masterminds behind the murders of Caruana Galizia and Kuciak we do not know which, if any, investigation may have led to their assassinations. But we do know that more must be done to protect journalists who are reporting on organised crime and working on sensitive and politically explosive investigations, both at the national and EU level.

We also know that Caruana Galizia, Kuciak and Marinova all had ties to the Maryland-based Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, an investigative reporting platform. Its reporting has led to investigations, arrests and assets seized, underscoring the impact of networked reporting. Networked journalism means that those who murder journalists will not succeed in killing the story. So even if the Maltese authorities sweep away the protest memorials, they will not sweep away Caruana Galizia’s memory or her investigations. Killing a journalist will not kill a story.

I learned to find happiness in failure

by Nathan Green

His restaurant was a triumph but that didn’t stop it closing. And he couldn’t be happier.

This past year has arguably been the toughest and most stressful of my life. In September I closed my British restaurant Rhoda in Hong Kong, a place that I named after my grandmother. I thought the business meant everything to me. It was my chance to break out on my own after working 20 years for other people. But I came to realise that my culinary freedom had become a knife at my throat.

It’s been surreal since I shut the kitchen. So many people have offered me financing for a new venture or roles in restaurants. You would have thought this would be any chef’s dream but the reality is I couldn’t open a restaurant any better than Rhoda. We achieved top reviews from food critics and we were booked out months in advance.

Rhoda got better over time so the downturn in trade wasn’t because of the quality of our food or service. Hong Kong is a funny city. A taxi ride of five minutes is too far for a restaurant, yet a sizeable chunk of Hong Kong will get on a plane and fly to Tokyo for sushi. After facing up to this, shutting the doors became the only option.

Our industry is drastically changing. Restaurants are disposable fashion: diners are only interested in eating at the new place for one Instagram post. The way people are dining has also changed, at least in Hong Kong. There is no middle market in this city. It’s either a cheap place or dining out on Michelin stars. On top of this, the introduction of Deliveroo and Netflix has had an effect on local appetites.

I decided I needed to change my career goals before I put myself into an early grave. I now find myself working at one of the best hotels in the world, surrounded by people who believe in me. I’m less stressed and I spend more time with my wife and kids, and less time on comparing my life to those around me. It’s the happiest I’ve been in years.

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