Tuesday. 27/10/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Tyler Brûlé

Change the record

For the past seven months I’ve been waking up with Victoria Sutter – I know, I’m as surprised as you are, dear reader! Some days we’re awake at 07.00. Other mornings, for a bit of variety, it’s 07.30. If we’re feeling particularly decadent it can even be as late 09.00 but that’s usually on a Saturday or Sunday. As relationships go, it couldn’t be more harmonious as there’s always a cappuccino and blood orange juice on the bedside table long before she speaks. And then, just like clockwork, I hear her voice at the top and bottom of every hour. And, without fail, I will start my day with Victoria talking about the “koh-row-nah veer-uss”.

By now you will have deduced that I’m not sharing a bed with Victoria but she does occupy my airspace as she reads the morning news bulletin on NRJ Radio in Zürich. Agreed, it’s perhaps not a leading force in global news gathering but it does have a poppy playlist and it keeps me connected to what’s happening in Switzerland – less so beyond. Yesterday I woke up with Victoria talking about the “koh-row-nah veer-uss”. But instead of going along with the bulletin, I found myself searching for something to hurl at the radio. It might have been that it was bucketing down outside; it could have been her signature, laboured pronunciation; or perhaps it was the sense of frustration and helplessness that comes with knowing that you’re about to have some basic freedoms curbed or be completely shut down.

Tomorrow, Switzerland is likely to follow its neighbours by implementing a fresh set of measures to control the spread of the virus. At the time of writing, all kinds of potential recommendations are flying around: masks outdoors in residential areas, curfews, smaller gatherings, and so on. For the past week, the federal government and domestic media have been building the country up into a proper froth as infection numbers have been hitting new highs and virologists (the professional and the armchair variety) have been attempting to score points by asking unhelpful questions – “Why didn’t you pay more attention in July?” “Why didn’t you hire more contact tracers in August?” “Why did you reopen clubs and bars?” – and coming up with solutions that, so far, don’t seem to be working.

There have been many crossroads in dealing with this pandemic but now, with shorter days in the northern hemisphere, there’s a real fatigue setting in. Governments need to back added prevention measures with facts – maybe even some romance. It’s very hard to sell a near round-the-clock mask requirement to a nation when numbers continue to rise in countries that have already been living with such measures for more than a month. It’s harder still for health ministers to talk of overloaded intensive care units when populations heard this the first time around and then witnessed empty field hospitals. And then there’s the Stockholm approach (and now Washington), where the narrative can best be summed up as: the virus clearly cannot be controlled so let’s live with it as best we can, find solutions for treating it and hope for a vaccine as swiftly as possible. Madrid, Paris, London and Rome cannot afford to push further without losing control of the message and, ultimately, the overall mission. Will there come a point when leaders might have to admit that locking down the young, the elderly, the entrepreneurial and the sunshine-loving was a mistake?

Elections / Seychelles

United approach

Seychelles’ opposition party won an election on Sunday for the first time since the country gained independence from Britain in 1976. On his sixth attempt, Wavel Ramkalawan ascended to presidency with a landslide victory, ousting incumbent Danny Faure of the United Seychelles party, which has been in power for 43 years. This tourism hotspot, an archipelago of 115 islands with a population of just 100,000, has been shaken by the pandemic. And though it remains the second-wealthiest nation in Africa by GDP per capita, the starved tourism industry has highlighted the deep-set inequalities of its society and fostered resentment against a political system that many blame for being slow and complacent. Ramkalawan stressed the need to “reconcile our people to go forward” as he gave a speech on Sunday alongside Faure, his political rival. “People were desperate for change,” says Will J May, a journalist for the Today in Seychelles newspaper who attended Sunday’s transition. “It was good to see such a straightforward handover.”

Diplomacy / Middle East

Aide memoire

Emmanuel Macron’s stand against radical Islam after the beheading of a French school teacher just outside Paris has prompted a backlash from parts of the Arab world. But there is one Muslim leader who remains keen to tout French influence. Lebanon’s Saad Hariri (pictured) was tapped by the country’s parliament to form a government last week, just a year after stepping down in the face of mass protests over corruption and economic mismanagement.

With the nation still in turmoil following the blast in Beirut, Hariri’s position is tenuous. So it’s hardly surprising that he vowed to form a government of non-partisan technocrats to carry out economic and political reforms as part of “the French initiative road map” proposed by Macron. While Hariri’s return was almost certainly not part of the French president’s initial vision for Lebanon, the new prime minister would do well to keep France on side if he hopes to repair relations with the Lebanese public – and foreign donors.

Media / USA

Frontline reporting

With just one week to go until the US presidential election, you would be hard-pressed to find many Americans who haven’t decided on their preferred candidate – indeed, tens of millions have already cast their votes. But what about all the down-ballot candidates for Congress and the many state races up for grabs? And who’s keeping watch to ensure that the voting and counting of ballots goes off without a hitch? This is where state and local newspapers still shine by analysing regional races and closely monitoring election outcomes. “There are only a handful of people whose job is to focus on whether and how people are allowed to vote in Pennsylvania – a state that could decide the election and where the rules can help determine who wins,” says Jonathan Lai, who reports on voting rights for The Philadelphia Inquirer. “It is a huge responsibility.” Read more about these pivotal outlets in Monocle’s November issue, which is out now.

Society / Global

Play it again

An iconic title is making a return to newsstands this week with the relaunch of Playgirl magazine, which last published an issue in 2015. The new annual print edition aims to pay homage to the title’s roots in the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s: it will still feature discussions on politics, power and sexuality, not to mention the return of the nude male centrefold featured in the original. But there will also be a modern twist: the first cover of the relaunch features actress Chloë Sevigny photographed when nine months pregnant by photographer Mario Sorrenti. The magazine’s editor in chief, Skye Parrott, tells Monocle that the original 1970s magazine “was quite smart, political and provocative. I want to do all of this through a modern lens.” Listen to the full interview in the next episode of The Stack, Monocle 24’s weekly show about magazines.

M24 / The Big Interview

Jane Fonda

The Academy Award-winning actor and legendary campaigner talks to Tomos Lewis about the importance of protest, using her celebrity platform for social change and why she is inspired by a new generation of activists.

Gunsan: building on the past

Natives and newcomers to Gunsan in South Korea are creating quirky bars, art spaces and a bright future for this charming outpost.

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