Wednesday. 18/8/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Alexis Self

Moment of truth

In the internet era, one of the worst things you can be is “fake”. This label is bestowed whenever words fail to align with actions (even if the infraction is fairly minor) and is hard to remove. Celebrities are scared of being labelled as fake; politicians are terrified. However, while the former react by arraying a phalanx of PRs to distribute morsels of information to hungry journalists, the latter dial up the rhetoric to ensure that voters know they are acting purely in their nation’s interests.

This week Joe Biden doubled down on the seemingly disastrous decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan. He claimed that it had never been the intention for American forces to oppose any Taliban advance. As for the Afghan people, rather than having the rug pulled from under their feet, Biden suggested that its government and army had been offered all the resources and assistance to put up a fight, and had failed.

His bullish tone caused dismay in Brussels, where EU leaders lined up to condemn the speech. But if their outrage is genuine, one might well ask where they’ve been for the past few years, or indeed decades. When Trump declared in his inauguration speech that he would always make decisions with “America first”, he was merely giving maladroit expression to centuries of implicit American policy.

That the leader of any country is always ultimately thinking of its best interests should never come as a surprise. Whether it’s due to economic pressure, voter discontent, combat fatigue or a combination of all three, the US no longer sees its role as that of global police officer. Both Biden’s withdrawal decision and his speech make that explicit. And for all his mistakes, at least the president can’t be accused of being fake.

Image: Getty Images

Elections / Germany

Vote of no confidence

Postal voting for Germany’s September federal election began earlier this week. But polls show that many conservatives in the country are unhappy with the candidate chosen by the CSU/CDU, a ​​centre-right alliance between the Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union in Bavaria. A recent survey shows that almost 63 per cent of conservative voters want to see CSU party leader Markus Söder compete to replace Angela Merkel, rather than the CDU’s Armin Laschet (pictured), who has been struggling to gain momentum with his campaign. Yet Söder himself has now ruled out the option, saying “the ballots are printed, the posters are pasted – it has been decided”. Laschet is now under increasing pressure to reinvigorate his faltering campaign with just weeks to go.

Image: Getty Images

Policy / Hong Kong

Going nowhere

Hong Kong’s latest attempt at opening up to international travel is about to come to an abrupt end. From Friday, most residents returning to the city must once again quarantine for at least 14 days in a hotel. Meanwhile, almost all non-residents are back on the no-entry list. This comes after the government shelved a pilot scheme that had briefly allowed fully vaccinated travellers, armed with a valid antibody-test certificate, to cut their hotel stays down to one week. All it took for this latest policy U-turn was for one resident to return from the US and test positive for coronavirus after leaving quarantine. Hong Kong has had no local cases for months but the government is sticking steadfastly to its zero-tolerance approach. The news will come as a blow to residents who have risked foreign travel in the past few weeks. It will also deter many others from leaving the city – unless they have no plans to return.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Italy

Turning the tide

You know it’s summer in Italy when political stunts hit the beach. The past few years have seen the far-right Lega Nord leader, Matteo Salvini, touring the packed summer beaches of southern Italy in full-on campaign mode in an effort to garner not only sandy selfies but also a few extra supporters. This week, more Lega candidates took their campaigning to the seaside ahead of regional elections in early October, flying helicopters over various beaches in Calabria and raining down surgical masks tucked into plastic bags bearing the party’s logo. But it appears that Lega has been burned by this sunny stunt: nearby residents (and presumably voters) have complained that many of the plastic-swathed masks blew straight into the sea.

Urbanism / Norway

Take the plunge

To celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Norwegian town of Arendal in 2023, architecture firm Snøhetta is transforming the town’s Knubben harbour bath. The current concrete structure was built on the waterfront in 1937 and Snøhetta’s initial idea was to simply restore it. However, structural problems forced the team to build an entirely new facility. The architects have now revealed their design, which is inspired by the glacier-carved rocks common in this part of the Norwegian coast. It will feature a diving platform to replace the original that was demolished in the 1980s, as well as an open-air stage, restaurant and concert area. Though restoration efforts are in many cases rightly commended for preserving local heritage, sometimes a fresh new approach is required to ensure that a building is fit for purpose. In this case, a considered design with the community in mind may be just what is needed to bring people flocking back to this part of the waterfront.

M24 / The Chiefs

Mark Carney

Monocle’s editorial director Tyler Brûlé joins economist Mark Carney to get a macro view on global economic recovery as the world gets back on its feet.

Monocle Films / Global

Time to collect

From design to art, magazines to furniture, we all know the pleasure of collecting. But how do we ensure that passion beats pure investment? This was the question that Robert Bound posed to the speakers at the Monocle Quality of Life Conference in Vienna in 2016.

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