Monday. 1/3/2021

The Monocle Minute

OPINION / Tomos Lewis

At his word

For Joe Biden, the priorities in the opening weeks of his presidency haven’t just been the big and obvious challenges currently roiling the US, namely curbing coronavirus and rebooting the economy. The devil is also in the details. Since taking office in January, in addition to the flurry of executive orders, several changes have been quietly made to one notable area: the language of government.

It started with the White House relaunching a Spanish-language page on its website that was set up in the days of George W Bush but discontinued by the Trump administration. Also gone is much of the vocabulary woven through the administration of his predecessor: the Department of Homeland Security has reportedly replaced the phrase “illegal alien” with “noncitizen”; the Department of the Interior has capitalised the “T” in “Tribal” to refer to Indigenous stakeholders in US land issues (a preference among many Indigenous communities). Imagery has shifted too: the homepage of the Bureau of Land Management has changed from a vast monolithic wall of coal to a vista of a stream wending its way through a green valley.

Language as intention is nothing new. Canada’s government, for example, changed the official name of key departments in 2015, adding “Climate Change” to the environment ministry’s title and renaming the foreign affairs ministry “Global Affairs Canada”. Such changes set a tone and lay out a starting point from which all other business is done. But a quiet shift in vocabulary is only as effective as the action and tangible impact it brings with it. Donald Trump, whatever opinion one might hold of him, turned much of his divisive rhetoric into action during his term. Biden, too, will have to ensure that the ambition of his presidency is fulfilled in both word and deed.

Politics / Germany

Joined-up thinking

Germany’s Die Linke (“The Left”) party elected new leaders for the first time in nine years this weekend. Once a force in the formerly communist east, Die Linke has lost its lustre in recent years and is polling below 10 per cent nationally. Many eastern voters defected to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), while nationally the Greens have picked up the left-wing mantle. Now Janine Wissler and Susanne Hennig-Wellsow (pictured on left, with Wissler), Die Linke’s first all-female leadership duo, hope to steer their party back to relevance – but first they’ll have to get along with each other. Wissler is a left-wing firebrand who only recently renounced her membership of the party’s “Marx21” wing. Hennig-Wellsow is a moderate and open to joining a “red-red-green” national coalition with the Greens and Social Democrats. For such a three-way coalition to have any hope of unseating the ruling Christian Democrats after September’s federal elections, the left must settle its own identity questions first.

HEALTH / Philippines

Drug problem

The Philippines is Southeast Asia’s hardest-hit nation in terms of coronavirus cases and deaths. It was also the last to get any vaccines. Yesterday, the first 600,000 doses of the Sinovac-Biotech vaccine, donated by China, finally arrived in Manila after receiving emergency approval last week, and will be rolled out today. Pfizer-Biontech and Oxford-AstraZeneca have also promised the country 117,000 and 5.5 million doses respectively, but delivery has been delayed by demands that the Philippine government sign indemnification clauses freeing the companies of liability from adverse consequences.

There’s scepticism about Sinovac too. Although president Rodrigo Duterte is mostly betting on the Chinese vaccine, the country’s Food and Drug Administration says that it won’t allow medical frontline workers to have it. Getting vaccinations underway is essential to reviving the Philippine economy, which shrunk 9.5 per cent last year. But the early challenges, together with the lingering controversy over deaths resulting from Sanofi’s dengue vaccine Dengvaxia a few years ago, risk undermining public trust at a critical time.

Business / Canada

Retail boost

The retail industry needs all the help it can get at the moment. Canadian e-commerce investor Clearbanc last week launched a platform called ClearAngel, which will invest more than CA$100m (€65m) in early-stage companies while also connecting them to manufacturers, wholesalers or advisers. Clearbanc has already helped more than 4,000 companies, including bed-linen maker Piglet. Founder Michele Romanow (pictured), who is also a co-host on CBC’s Dragons’ Den, says that a sure ticket to growth in the future will involve a combination of strong in-store and online offerings. She highlights Piglet as a brand using that mix effectively to work its way into top retailers. But while e-commerce is booming, Romanow says that physical retail remains as important as ever. “We’re craving curation in a very different way and have understood how small businesses have given life to our streets and communities,” she tells Monocle 24’s The Entrepreneurs. “I think we will value them in a completely different way.”

For more from Michele Romanow on the future of retail, tune in to ‘The Entrepreneurs’ this Wednesday on Monocle 24.

CULTURE / UK

Midlands modern

A surprising new initiative in Coventry, a city in the English Midlands, could have other municipalities across Europe taking note. After a branch of Ikea closed, the city council was eager to find something new to fill the space. At the same time, the British Arts Council needed a new home for a collection of more than 8,500 works. So this week Coventry City Hall announced plans to transform the former Ikea property (pictured) into one of Europe’s largest cultural centres by 2023, leasing the space to the Arts Council. The city is also in talks with Coventry University, which wants to use some of the space for its art students. “This is our way of bringing life back into the centre,” says Jim O’Boyle, Coventry’s city services councillor. With the UK tiptoeing out of the pandemic, such projects are a good example of how to turn empty shops into something desirable for the long term.

M24 / The Menu

Success in tough times

We look at the valuable lessons that the hospitality industry has learned from the past 12 months. Plus: US chef Andrew D’Ambrosi’s new culinary concept in one of the most beautiful corners of the UK.

Monocle Films / Australia

Sydney Residence: Harry and Penelope Seidler House

Far removed from the skyscrapers and residential towers for which architect Harry Seidler became known, the house he designed with his wife is governed by Bauhaus aesthetics that are just as forward-thinking today as they were in the 1960s. Monocle Films visits Penelope Seidler in her dream home.

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