Monday. 15/2/2021

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Remorse code

My very first week in journalism was a real trial by fire. As a junior reporter in Washington for German news agency DPA International, I was sent to cover the 2006 sentencing trial of Zacarias Moussaoui. The French national is sometimes known as the 20th hijacker, and pleaded guilty to conspiring to kill Americans in the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington in 2001.

Two things stuck with me from that trial. First, the heartbreaking visuals, including people jumping from windows of the World Trade Center. These played on the emotions of the jury but also served to create a court record of what happened on that fateful day. And second, the verdict itself: Moussaoui was not sentenced to death, as prosecutors had sought. It was a verdict that reinforced the independence of the US justice system, which in this case put emotion to one side and examined the evidence.

I found myself thinking back to that trial in recent days as I watched Donald Trump’s second impeachment. Like then, the visuals of the US Capitol insurrection were tragic and served to build a record of what happened that will serve a purpose long after the trial is over. I also couldn’t help but compare the two verdicts: this entire episode (admittedly a political trial and not a courtroom one) has felt like the opposite of the solid exercise in US justice that I witnessed at the start of my journalistic career.

So what’s the epilogue? Moussaoui, who is serving life in prison, showed no real remorse for his actions at the time of the trial but he did take responsibility. He even renounced terrorism in a court filing last year, proclaiming “unequivocally my opposition to any terrorist action, attack, propaganda against the US”. By contrast, I doubt that Donald Trump will ever accept responsibility for his actions; unless, perhaps, he is held accountable in criminal or civil court, as the Senate’s top Republican Mitch McConnell suggested on Saturday. If not, I expect he’ll soon repeat his unfounded allegations that November's election was fraudulent. What’s worse is that the US will have to remain vigilant against future attacks as a result. That’s the real miscarriage of justice.

Diplomacy / Finland & Russia

Show of strength

Finland’s foreign minister Pekka Haavisto is due to meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov (pictured, on left, with Haavisto) in St Petersburg today. Although Finnish politicians are used to dealing with their eastern neighbours, the country’s foreign ministry has reportedly been preparing for today with extra care. Helsinki understands that, this time, Haavisto will be seen to represent not only his own country but also the EU. And there’s a lot of work to be done after EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell’s recent visit to Moscow, which was widely seen as a disaster and humiliation for the bloc. Borrell was criticised for failing to stand up to Russia and defend the EU’s interests, as well as being blindsided by Moscow’s decision on the day to expel three diplomats. The Finns, by contrast, are preparing for their foreign minister to be challenged by Lavrov and know it’s of crucial importance that Haavisto doesn’t also appear soft.

Society / Hong Kong

Ploughing on

Though Hong Kong’s Chinese New Year celebrations throughout the weekend will continue today, they have been muted affairs due to ongoing lockdown restrictions. But Hong Kongers will be rewarded for their patience this week: the city’s residents will be able to dine at restaurants again. After more than two months of restrictions in response to the fourth wave of coronavirus infections, which hit the city last December, the Hong Kong government has announced that pandemic restrictions will be relaxed from Thursday.

Businesses, including gyms and beauty parlours will be allowed to reopen, while restaurant opening hours can be extended by four hours to 22.00. While many might have lamented the fact that they were not able to go out for an evening meal or host large Chinese New Year celebrations, as is the custom, relaxing restrictions after the biggest social event of the year is likely to be a wise move. It is a reward for good behaviour that also ensures that Hong Kong can start the year of the ox safely.

F&B / Switzerland

Knives out

Keeping restaurants and hotels closed is not just economically draining but also leaves apprentices without much-needed practical training. Now Zürich’s hotel and hospitality associations and the city authorities are helping to bring young people back into professional kitchens. Apprentices will be offered free courses to catch up and refresh skills that they haven’t had a chance to practise in months, with costs covered by the government and associations. “We want to do everything we can to ensure that the coronavirus crisis does not also become a personal crisis for young people,” says Paul Nussbaumer, a member of the association’s board. Together with the creation of a new employment centre, Nussbaumer and his colleagues are also hoping to help young people who have lost their jobs to find new ones. The main goal, of course, is for the industry to be ready when customers return to tables.

Urbanism / Manchester

Sleeper hit

Spending the night under a railway arch in Manchester might not sound like a dream for many but a proposed development beneath the city’s train tracks is an attractive proposition for the city’s rough sleepers. Embassy Village will offer that most priceless of assets: their own front door. Smartly repurposed from shipping containers by Jon Matthews Architects, 40 rent-free apartments (and a village hall) will be available to those seeking work and accommodation, reducing pressure on councils. This “housing-first” model is well established in Scandinavia but it’s the first such project on British shores. “Embassy Village will teach residents the life skills they need to become independent and start contributing to society again,” says its co-founder Sid Williams. “Our approach is to formally end homelessness from day one.” The pandemic has wiped out many shelters and those that remain only provide day-to-day relief for Manchester’s more than 5,000 homeless people. Projects like Embassy Village aim to eradicate their need for good.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Eureka 231: Piglet

Jessica Mason is the founder and CEO of Piglet, a linen bedding and sleepwear brand that she launched in 2017. Jessica started her career in marketing and PR, working in London and Dubai for brands including Aēsop and Ray-Ban, experience which has come in handy in growing her own brand. Jessica recounts the growth of Piglet from its modest beginnings at her parents’ home in Sussex to breaking into the US market.

Monocle Films / Sweden

The secret to building affordable homes

As part of our 'Secret to...' series we visit the architecture practice of Andreas Martin-Löf, which is reinventing residential housing in Stockholm.

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