Monday. 6/7/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Tomos Lewis

Election watch: Primary objectives

Despite calls to scale back Washington’s showpiece Fourth of July celebrations this past weekend, the show went on. A military flypast paid its aerial tribute and fireworks pocked the sky, seen by a smaller number of invited guests and greater numbers than usual watching from home. For Donald Trump, it was a rare chance to appear in public at a time of festivity, even as the country continues to be wracked by protest (an “angry mob” in Trump’s words) and a deepening pandemic nightmare in his southern heartland – despite his insistence Saturday that the country has “learned how to put out the flame”.

Although last week’s unexpected bounceback in the number of new jobs created in the US brought some cheer, polling at the national and, more significantly, state level suggests that Trump now has a mountain to climb ahead of election day in November. Couple that with being outpaced by his rival Joe Biden for the second straight month in the fundraising stakes, and the challenge to Trump’s re-election is sharpening.

So, what to watch out for this week? Keep an eye on two primaries – in New Jersey and Louisiana. Both states have expanded absentee-voting, which is favoured by younger, more left-leaning voters, among whom turnout on election day is historically low. The Republicans in those primaries will face a test of the appeal of running on Trump’s popularity – candidates who did so in North Carolina and Kentucky’s congressional primaries two weeks ago fared poorly. Should the Trump name start to become a negative, even in primary races that are led by the Republican base, it really would mark a shift.

Of course, nothing is set in stone, with four months to go until election day. We can be assured that Trump will cleave himself to the message that his passionate voter base responds so favourably to – that it’s all still to play for.

Check back for regular instalments of the Monocle Minute “Election Watch” series in the weeks and months ahead.

Politics / France

Unknown leader

One of the hallmarks of this global pandemic has been that placing health experts and technocrats at the forefront of countries’ responses has generally worked better than letting political calculations lead the way. In France it was Jean Castex (pictured), a longtime public servant and mayor of the southern city of Prades, who was tasked with planning the government’s (relatively successful) exit strategy from lockdown. And this week he steps further into national prominence after his surprise appointment as prime minister on Friday by president Emmanuel Macron. Castex, in a weekend interview, said there was “no time to waste”; he’ll reveal his cabinet today, followed later this week by his government’s platform and the conclusion to a much-anticipated two-month review of the national healthcare system. Speculation is that Macron’s choice of a relative unknown signals his desire to centralise decision-making during his remaining two years in office. But if this pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that politicians benefit from having effective technocrats as their right-hand men (or women).

History / Australia

Name dropping

A reappraisal of the monuments to US confederates and European colonial monarchs has extended all the way to remote Western Australia. The state government last week announced that the King Leopold Ranges (pictured) – a vast sweep of hills located some 27 hours’ drive north of Perth – are to be renamed the Wunaamin-Miliwundi Ranges. The new title is a combination of place names in two local languages (the hills spread more than 500km across several Aboriginal countries). Bizarrely, the 19th-century Belgian monarch never visited the southern continent, yet his name was chosen as a tribute to his “interest in exploration” by an expedition that was “discovering” Western Australia for the British colony in 1879. Despite this tenuous link, the renaming process has taken more than a decade to enact – but the speedy conclusion in recent weeks could pave the way for prompt and appropriate renaming elsewhere. With several ranges in the state named after other colonial European royals, such as Sweden’s King Oscar, perhaps Western Australians can expect more changes soon.

Hospitality / Switzerland

Key change

Hoteliers from Athens to Palma are beginning to get an idea of what the summer tourism season will look like. Among them is entrepreneur and philanthropist Nachson Mimran, chairman and creative director of The Alpina Gstaad – a five-star hotel in the popular mountain resort town in Switzerland’s Bern Canton – that opened its doors again on Friday. Mimran used the lockdown to think about how to further incorporate products and ideas from ventures he backs (mostly tied to To.org, a foundation for sustainable goods and services started with his brother Arieh in 2013). This includes bio-fabrication – panels made from mushrooms for sound or thermal insulation they are experimenting with – or a surfboard they 3D-printed at the hotel using recycled plastic. “Bringing in these experiences within a five-star category comfort can be a bit disarming for some of our more traditional clientele,” says Mimran. “But the clients we are satisfying today are curious beyond our imaginations – and it is our role to continuously anticipate that curiosity in areas that are aligned with our values.”

Culture / Global

Kiss off

Today marks International Kissing Day, a yearly celebration of all things osculatory. And yet, the prominence of the humble peck has rescinded in recent months with the spread of coronavirus. Even Amsterdam’s red-light district issued a set of no-smooching, no-heavy breathing guidelines to its patrons upon reopening last week. But forget about the beast with two backs for a moment; what does this mean for amour? “I’m very much pro-kissing,” says Laura Mucha, author of Love Factually, “but most research shows that while kissing is important for sparking passion, physical connection in the early stages of romantic relationships can often blind people to problems of long-term compatibility.” So, perhaps laying off the tonsil tennis for a little while longer might just mean a better match once the game is back in play. “And if you just need a little intimacy, perhaps try a cuddle with your housemate,” says Mucha. For more from the author, listen to the most recent episode of Monocle Reads.

M24 / Eureka

Akt

Co-founders of Akt, Andy Coxon and Ed Currie met in 2015 when they were both dancers. They wanted to create a natural deodorant that actually worked. Their product is a balm, applied like a lotion, which comes in an aluminium tube with recyclable packaging and includes ingredients such as mandarin, petitgrain, cedar and eucalyptus.

Monocle Films / Japan

The international icon: Kengo Kuma

The beauty of Japanese design has won fans around the world but it takes great panache to translate it to large-scale projects. We sit down with architect Kengo Kuma in his Tokyo office to talk about the recently completed Japan National Stadium. It’s a building that has given a new lease of life to traditional craftsmanship and stimulated local economies.

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