Friday. 28/2/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Tomos Lewis

Old-school influence

On Wednesday afternoon in Charleston, South Carolina, Jim Clyburn, a civil-rights hero and popular, long-serving member of Congress, announced his endorsement for president. “I know Joe,” Clyburn said of former vice-president Joe Biden (pictured, on right, with Clyburn). “But more importantly, Joe knows us,” he added, referring to the community within which he is a towering figure and still enormously influential: South Carolina’s large African-American populace.

Clyburn’s endorsement is much sought-after in presidential elections (Bill Clinton reportedly telephoned the congressman in protest after learning that Clyburn was endorsing his wife’s rival, Barack Obama, in 2008). It is hugely important for Biden, who has effectively staked his entire campaign on tomorrow’s primary in South Carolina, where about 60 per cent of the Democratic electorate is black.

There will be many who find this targeting of demographic blocks – characterising them as monolithic voting groups – problematic. While Biden, for example, has deep political roots in black communities throughout the US, it’s unlikely that he would have been quite as swift to head to South Carolina and as dismissive of Iowa or New Hampshire (which are largely white) had he done well in those states.

Distilling voter groups into blocks is understandable in a country as large and diverse as the US but those blocks contain nuances. Reflecting those details will be crucial for Democrats in a crowded field – and more importantly in the campaign against Donald Trump. Bernie Sanders’s surprising victory with moderate and Latino voters of all ages in the Nevada caucuses last week proved that point. Whatever happens in South Carolina, the eventual Democratic nominee will have to appeal to a broad sweep of the electorate.

Politics / Tunisia

Art of compromise

After months of political wrangling, Tunisia’s parliament yesterday finally backed a new big-tent coalition government to be led by Elyes Fakhfakh (pictured), a former tourism and finance minister. The deal is notable for many reasons. First, because the country’s largest party, the Islamist Ennahda, has supported the coalition despite not getting approval to lead its own government earlier this year (its leader Rached Ghannouchi highlighted this “ability to manage discord” in agreeing to the coaltion). Second, because failure would likely have forced new elections that a country already getting impatient with democracy might struggle to handle. And finally, the deal could unlock loan talks with the IMF to ease an economic crisis. There’s still a tough road ahead for this fledgling democracy but its ability to reach a last-minute compromise (something many democracies around the world struggle to achieve these days) should be praised, rather than quashed at the outset.

Intelligence / Europe

Undercover academy

On Wednesday officials from 23 European nations (including the UK) gathered in the Croatian capital Zagreb to commit to creating the first European College of Intelligence (read: spy school). The idea was originally floated by French president Emmanuel Macron in 2017 and is intended to change what French officials have called a “weak” intelligence-sharing culture in Europe in the context of the US’s increasing isolationism. The academy wouldn’t share hard intelligence but it would open a way toward sharing techniques and practices across the continent by inviting academics and intelligence officials to join seminars and lectures held two to three times a year. “Finding unity on shared concerns is very hard,” Michael Clarke, former director of Rusi, tells Monocle 24’s The Globalist. “But getting together is a first step toward that.”

Culture / Africa

Global watchlist

Netflix has long commissioned non-English-language programmes to expand its international appeal, but its latest venture is a big step towards opening up a vastly under-represented film market. Today the streaming giant releases Queen Sono (pictured), its first ever African production. The South African spy thriller is one of a number of productions from the continent that are due for release over the next year – look out for high-school drama Blood and Water and Zambian animated series Mama K’s Team 4. The film industry is on the rise across Africa – particularly in Nigeria, where “Nollywood” has evolved from making low-cost, lo-fi features to high-quality dramas that are being presented at international film festivals. Netflix stands to benefit from growing its subscriber base in Africa – but more importantly this is a win for a scene that’s finally getting a global platform.

Design / USA

Restoring Wright

There is a certain weight of expectation that accompanies restoring a Frank Lloyd Wright building – but it’s unlikely to prove too daunting for New York multidisciplinary architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Best known for the High Line and The Shed in its own city, the studio has also made a name for itself working on historic arts venues, from MoMA and Lincoln Center to this latest project: the Kalita Humphreys Theater in Dallas, Lloyd Wright’s only public building in Texas. The work will be led by Charles Renfro (a native Texan), who will oversee a master plan that includes new buildings and a link from the site to a nearby walking trail to shield the theatre from its surroundings. “Our approach will seek to slow the site down,” says Renfro. “[The theatre] has been overwhelmed by parking lots and roadways.” No signs that the mega-firm has any intention of slowing down itself.

M24 / On Design Extra

Fungus among us

How can nature help us when it comes to building products that last? Enter seaweed, silk and cellulose. And how about a few design tips taken from the humble mushroom? Monocle 24’s Christy Evans unearths some answers.

Monocle Films / Global

Monocle preview: March issue, 2020

Why Austria? This landlocked central European nation is quietly offering global lessons in everything from diplomacy to design – not to mention dining. Our dedicated special takes an in-depth look into its Alpine attractions, entrepreneurial clout and hands-on craft culture. Our journalists reveal how the Habsburg’s changed history and how the nation is setting an example for the rest of the world.

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