Monday. 29/3/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Alamy

Opinion / Nic Monisse

Corridors of power

Architecture has long been used as a tool to communicate the intentions of political regimes. From the 14th-century frescoes depicting good governance in Siena’s parliament building to Australia where, until recently, its government showed the power of the people by allowing citizens to walk onto the roof of parliament.

So when Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (pictured) announced in 2015 that he would be moving the country’s political centre to a new location, 40km east of Cairo, optimists hoped that the government might physically build in a representation of a more stable and open country. Its new government structures could be forward-thinking and transparent, with generous, public-facing windows into parliamentary chambers and seating that forces partisan groups to sit in arrangements that might promote collaboration. But a recent announcement from Sisi that all architectural designs of the new administrative capital will reflect the “richness and greatness of Egypt’s past” means that such an approach is unlikely.

Reading between the lines, it seems that the new capital’s buildings will be monumental, be classical in form, and exude power by using solid materials that lack any visible or physical transparency. Such an approach recalls Donald Trump’s mandate that new federal buildings could only be neoclassical in style – a misplaced edict that was undone by Joe Biden earlier this year. For Sisi it’s also a missed opportunity to present a better face to the world and for the people of Egypt to finally have a government that might better represent their democratic desire.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / USA

Reckoned in command

Joe Biden has tasked vice-president Kamala Harris (pictured) with finding a way to stem the rising numbers of economic migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border. Such high-profile assignments for VPs can be tricky: succeed and you likely share credit with the president; fail and it forms an indelible part of your political legacy. Here’s how Harris’s three predecessors fared when asked to step up.

Dick Cheney: Don’t mention the war
Cheney’s eight years as George W Bush’s deputy are often described as a co-presidency that set the mould for the heightened responsibilities of modern-day vice presidents. But it’s his role in the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq that ultimately made him the least popular vice-president on record. He left office with an approval rating of an unlucky-for-some 13 per cent.

Joe Biden: Poor gun control
Biden was a key foreign-policy figure under Barack Obama but he was also tasked with overseeing gun reform following the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012. Obama bet on Biden’s senate background and gravitas to shift momentum in an intractable debate. Success ultimately eluded him but it clearly didn’t hurt his political fortunes.

Mike Pence: Coronavirus to the rescue
Trump tasked his vice-president with leading the White House’s coronavirus task force amid widespread criticism of his administration’s hands-off approach to the pandemic. Trump soon soured on the idea, wanting some of Pence’s perceived success in securing vaccines for himself. We all know what happened next.

Image: Alamy

Health / Gibraltar

Rocking in the free world

Residents of the small British overseas territory of Gibraltar on Spain’s southern coast are once again allowed to visit pubs, restaurants and even barbers. The territory’s vaccination programme, fittingly dubbed “Operation Freedom”, is expected to complete its mission of administering two doses to every willing adult resident before the month is out. Progress is admittedly easier when your population is only 33,000 but the territory’s vaccine drive has even crossed the border into neighbouring Spain, where 10,000 people have been offered extra doses.

When asked his advice for other countries, Gibraltar’s chief minister Fabian Picardo keeps it simple. “People should take the vaccine as soon as it is offered,” he tells The Monocle Minute. “Science will guide the way out of this pandemic.” Some added incentive: Gibraltar’s football team will play a World Cup qualifier against the Netherlands in front of 600 spectators tomorrow night and ministers have been busy tweeting photos of themselves enjoying wine and food with groups of friends. Freedom never looked so good.

Image: Fuminari Yoshitsugu

Transport / Ontario

Point and shout

When passengers board or leave train carriages in Ontario in future they’re likely to see an attendant step out of the train, point in both directions and call “clear” as they check for hazards, be it debris on the tracks or a passenger running late. That’s because Ontario’s transit agency Metrolinx recently announced that it is introducing the ancient Japanese practice of shisa kanko (pointing and calling), which Japanese train conductors and platform attendants (pictured) have been employing for nearly a century. Research has shown that the practice makes operators more focused by engaging their brain, eyes, hands, mouth and ears at once, helping to reduce mistakes and ensure a smooth running of the network. Metrolinx hopes that implementing the practice will improve door operations and platform safety. The initiative comes as Ontario’s regional public-transit system is going through its largest expansion in history. Passenger-focused initiatives like this can help point transit in the right direction.

Image: Katharina Schelling / Swiss Alpine Museum

Culture / Switzerland

Hidden peaks

You wouldn’t think that North Korea and Switzerland have much in common but in fact they share a love of mountaineering. That’s why a Swiss film crew travelled to several mountain ranges in North Korea, from Kumgangsan at the South Korean border to Paektu, which crosses the Chinese border and is the highest peak in northeast China. The goal was to capture a different version of life in a mostly unknown society and the results are on display at the Swiss Alpine Museum in Bern until 3 July 2022. “We saw hiking groups in shorts, sometimes quite loud and cheerful,” says Beat Hächler, curator of the exhibition and director of the museum. “It had almost an Italian touch.” The exhibition displays 40 individual conversations, offering a glimpse into the life of teachers, ski instructors and other people living around the mountain ranges. The plan is to invite the South and North Korean embassy delegations to the exhibition – separately, of course, but at a time of renewed tension it might yet offer an opportunity for connection across the Korean peninsula.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Eureka 237: Nyyukin

Vera and Philippe Henco are the founders of Nyyukin, a jewellery brand based in Düsseldorf inspired by modern graphic design. Manufactured in Germany, Nyyukin’s bracelets are a marriage of cutting-edge technology and traditional craftsmanship. The brand’s pieces are made using 3D-printed titanium and stainless steel for the base and polyamide for colourful, interchangeable inlays. It was launched out of the couple’s design studio KittoKatsu with the help of their friend Johannes Hundt, who has almost 40 years of industry experience.

Monocle Films / Global

Making a point

In a competitive world driven by technological advances some artisan producers are staying resilient and challenging the mass-production industry. Monocle Films visits entrepreneurs in Istanbul, Cape Town and Mallorca who champion the art of craft.

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