Friday. 5/3/2021

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Carlota Rebelo

In profile

I’m not sure when or where it started but any slight mention of the word “census” has me shouting, “I love them.” There’s just something about the gathering of data on the world’s population, using a clear and concise set of questions, which I find fascinating. It’s one of the most trusted and accurate sources of information about us human beings, providing a unique view on the size, composition and defining characteristics of a town, country, continent – anything.

So it’s no wonder that over the past week I’ve been eagerly watching my letterbox waiting for the 2021 UK Census invitation pack to arrive, so I can dutifully fill it in on census day, 21 March. The word itself derives from the Latin censere, meaning “estimate”, which was a method actively used by the Romans to determine taxes and to draft men into the military service. But its origins go back even further. The ancient Egyptians used it and so did King David; it’s believed that the Bible’s Book of Numbers is named after the counting of the Israelite population during the exodus from Egypt. The world’s oldest surviving census data was recorded more than 4,000 years ago in China. Fast-forward to today and it’s an established exercise that many nations enter into every 10 years. (The lucky souls in Japan, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and Canada get one every five years instead.)

This year’s census is particularly important: the world has changed massively over the past decade and these results will be crucial to understanding the real impact that the pandemic has had on the global population – and how health and education services might need to adapt as a consequence. Some countries have been forced to delay their counts as the pandemic has turned them into a logistical nightmare but others such as the UK are embracing a digital approach. This will be the first time that I’ll be filling in the census form in a different country as an immigrant, and I can’t wait. It’s time to stand up and be counted.

Elections / Mexico

Model citizen

Non-politicians running for office have become increasingly common in the US over the years, from Ronald Reagan and former California “governator” Arnold Schwarzenegger to Donald Trump. But could the phenomenon be spreading south to Mexico? This week, Lupita Jones (pictured) – a former Miss Universe from 1991 – said that she has accepted an invitation to run for governor in the northern state of Baja California. Jones also founded the company that still produces Mexico’s national beauty pageant and has authored four books. She will be representing Va por México, the left-right coalition of the three main opposition parties (the PRD, the PAN and the PRI) that is looking to sweep aside the incumbent Morena party, which holds the presidency. The state president of the PAN party called her “tenacious, intelligent, capable and persevering”, and Jones will be hoping that her lack of political experience plays well with the electorate in June’s vote. Part of her pitch is that she doesn’t have the “bad habits” of politicians – make of that what you will.

Politics / Hungary

Breaking ranks

It really was just a matter of time: the Fidesz party of Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán (pictured) has pulled out of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the largest political grouping in the European Parliament. The move was very much in the vein of “you can’t fire me, I quit”, after the EPP last week changed its own rules to make it easier to suspend an entire party, rather than just individual parliamentarians.

Many EPP members are convinced that Orbán has violated the EU’s rule of law, undermining the independence of Hungary’s judicial system and press. Such a divergence of beliefs hardly make for a happy marriage. But that doesn’t make this separation a positive development: the EU is once again in serious danger of fracturing and unless it wants Hungary to follow the UK out of the door, it will need to find a better way to keep the country and its people on side.

For more on this story, tune in to today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Design / Global

No-go logo

When Amazon trialled a new app icon earlier this year (pictured, on left), many were quick to point out that the jagged blue tape above the signature arrow resembled a toothbrush moustache poised above a smile – bringing to mind the dictator linked with such a whiskered image. Amazon fixed the less-than-positive association this week on a new design (pictured, on right) but we couldn’t help wondering: what other companies have seen design adjustments backfire?

  1. A US$10m rebranding effort by HSBC was needed in 2009 to correct an agonising copy error. The alluring tagline “Assume Nothing” had been unfortunately translated as “Do Nothing” in a number of countries – hardly the best image in the middle of a global financial crisis.

  2. When the UK’s Office of Government Commerce (OGC) released its logo in 2007 it had little idea of the water-cooler titillation to come. When the initials were typeset vertically in the chosen font on office stationery, many saw the letters as a little man busying himself with something, ahem, rather unsavoury.

  3. Where is a magazine for travellers, found in hotel lobbies around the world. But on two occasions it has positioned a woman’s head to obscure much of the middle “e” on its front cover. Let’s just say the cranium did all the work of the asterisk in “wh*re”.

F&B / Japan

Street eats

Japan’s food-truck business has been growing for years (see Monocle’s coverage from two years ago) but it has received an extra boost in the pandemic. The giant House Foods Group, which manufactures and sells spices, seasonings and prepared foods, is going all in. It has been in the market since September 2019 and has already sold about 35,000 lunches from food trucks at eight locations in Tokyo. This week, the company announced plans to scale up its fleet, with the goal of renting the trucks out to small-business owners and chefs who would otherwise struggle to make that initial investment. House Foods Group says that it’s eyeing a stake in a market that could grow to ¥800m (€6.2m) in annual sales over the next 10 years. Although the wider food and drink industry is suffering massively during the pandemic, it’s great to see some companies shifting gears and looking for creative solutions.

M24 / The Menu

Food Neighbourhoods 224: Recipe edition, George Mendes

The Michelin-starred American-Portuguese chef shares a recipe for a Goan seafood dish and a cocktail to match.

Monocle Films / Indonesia

Making it in Jakarta

Indonesia’s bounteous resources make it the perfect place for entrepreneurs to set up camp. We meet four enterprising Jakarta residents, who tell us how they are taking advantage of the opportunities in this chaotic city.

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