Friday. 5/7/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Robert Bound

Off to the funny farm

After 67 years, Mad magazine’s August issue will be its last guffaw (from then only “best-of” editions of old material will be published). That bad-taste exemplar of the seamy side of the American Dream – the rust on the Chevy’s tailfin, the severed finger in the ice-cream sundae – has penned its final pun. Poor little Alfred E Neuman, that Rockwell-gone-wrong, all-American brat of a cover star, has grinned his gap-toothed last.

It’s the done thing to say that it’s the end of an era, another piece of print sucked into the vacuum of the digital black hole – but it’s also true. Mad made the running in the mid-1950s when the waspish asides of college radio nerd-jocks was king. Surely Howard Stern would listen with interest. Mad would then inherit a mock-your-elders editorial ethic from the UK satire boom of the 1960s and add extra teenage “sickness”. Saturday Night Live comics would have been dead in the water without Mad’s formative buffoonery, while the title’s commercial policy lived up to its name: they sold no ads for 44 years, lest taking money from the corporations they lampooned seem hypocritical.

Was it a kids’ magazine read by adults or an adults’ magazine read by kids? We’ll never agree. But we can say that its influence outgunned its circulation (even though it reached more than two million at its mid-1970s peak). We raise a middle finger in salute; that April 1974 cover was Mad’s offensive apogee, after all.

Geopolitics / Japan & South Korea

Trading insults

Japan and South Korea – neighbours, security allies and key trading partners – are locked in a trade dispute. Yesterday Tokyo imposed tougher export controls on three chemicals produced by Japanese companies that South Korean technology giants such as Samsung and LG rely on to make semiconductors and smartphones. Seoul in turn threatened to file a complaint with the WTO. The tit-for-tat is the latest development in an ongoing spat that, until this week, had little to do with the two sides’ ¥9trn (€73bn) in annual trade. Tokyo appears to be retaliating to the Seoul court ruling that last year ordered Japanese companies to pay compensation to the South Koreans forced to work for them during the Second World War. With neither side likely to blink, further escalation is likely.

Energy / Canada

Oiling the wheels

Canada may finally have a buyer for its Trans Mountain oil pipeline, which carries crude oil from Alberta to British Columbia. Project Reconciliation, an indigenous-fronted consortium, is today expected to make a CA$6.9bn (€4.7bn) offer for a majority stake in the pipeline, which the Canadian government bought from gas company Kinder Morgan last year. The Houston-based firm threatened to axe an expansion that’s expected to triple the pipeline’s flow of crude oil – and revive the struggling industry – due to nationwide protests and opposition from the BC government over environmental concerns. However, Project Reconciliation sees the pipeline as a chance to provide jobs and revenue to indigenous communities that have been historically excluded from profiting from Canada’s natural resources. The deal may be a boon for Trudeau’s re-election campaign too: buying the pipeline drew criticism from environmentalists but oil revenue flowing to indigenous communities, rather than a corporation, could calm the storm.

Retail / Global

Space age

We know e-commerce has hastened the decline of shops, leaving high-street storefronts empty. Less well known is another bricks-and-mortar venture that e-commerce has sparked: the warehouse boom. Zalando, the German fashion e-commerce giant, has announced it will open an enormous “fulfilment centre” near Rotterdam in 2021, to account for its orders in western Europe. The move chimes with a spike in demand for warehouses on city fringes as online players scurry to find spaces that will hold vast amounts of stock close to their customer bases. The outskirts of Madrid are peppered with such sites, as are the suburbs of New Jersey. While these facilities are good for employment rates (the Zalando factory will accommodate 1,500 workers), there’s a troubling side-effect: the urban life of our metropolises – at least when it comes to retail – is being sapped from city centres and deposited in sleepy suburbs.

Society / Switzerland

Well received

Switzerland has been named the best place for expatriates to live and work. It’s displaced Singapore after the city-state’s four-year run at the top of HSBC’s annual report, which surveys 18,000 expatriates in 163 places across 33 countries. It isn’t surprising that the Alpine nation has climbed up the ranks but its meteoric rise – up from eighth place last year – certainly is. High salaries play a part but political and economic stability are key factors in its success. In contrast, uncertainty over Brexit saw the UK tumble to 27th place and languish in the bottom three for both economic and political stability. Switzerland has worked hard to market itself as a financial hub – but can it stay top of the pile? Talking up its soft attributes (access to nature, facilities for families and superlative transport links among them) would surely help.

M24 / Monocle on Design

Extended play

A look at the Berlin playgrounds that are keeping younger residents happy and healthy.

Film / Czech Republic

Speciality retail: Prague

Prague butcher Naše maso has married traditional know-how with contemporary design to create a culinary destination in the Czech capital. This month’s specialist retailer tells us about his special cuts and meaty passions.

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