Tuesday. 31/8/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Alamy

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Terrorist reorganisation

I like to think of myself as a New Yorker – sort of. My mother was born in Brooklyn and I have family on Long Island. Though I haven’t lived in the city since I was four years old, New York has always maintained a special place that I can’t quite explain. When the September 11 attacks took place in 2001, I was living in Europe but still it felt personal – not to mention I had been visiting just two weeks before.

During most of my visits over the past 20 years I’ve made a point of heading to the site of the Twin Towers, watching its evolution in stages. From the clean-up operation to the giant building site, to the beautifully crafted memorial (pictured), the incredibly moving museum and eventually the shiny new skyscrapers and shopping malls. Every trip has felt emotional in a different way and visiting last week, for the first time in three years, was affecting for just how normal the area has become – all rebuilt (bar one still-pending skyscraper) with everyone going about their business.

I realise that I’m nearly two weeks early for a column about the attacks that took place 20 years ago. But as the US is due to officially pull out of Afghanistan today – leaving Afghans behind fearing for their future amid a Taliban takeover and the terrible suicide bombings of last week – my thoughts are with the residents of New York too. Outside Afghanistan, New Yorkers just might be the ones who will look on with the most feeling (and fear) if there’s any sense that terrorist groups of the kind that carried out the attacks are re-establishing a foothold in Afghanistan. We owe it to New Yorkers to ensure that doesn’t happen.

Image: Getty Images

Sovereignty / Poland

Rules of law

It’s a simple question: does EU law have primacy over those of its member states? For the EU, the answer is yes. But Poland and its prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki (pictured) aren’t so sure. As its constitutional court prepares to rule on the question, the government is pressuring it to find that the country’s constitution sits above all else. The ruling, expected today, is part of a long-running dispute between Brussels and Warsaw over questionable judicial reforms – but it’s also about sovereignty. EU members sign up to a set of common rules and laws that they must accept and respect. The primacy of the EU courts was arguably a crucial factor in the UK’s vote to leave the bloc in 2016. Poland has every right to do the same but let’s hope that voters get a say in the matter, instead of a hasty exit orchestrated by judges.

Image: Getty Images

Technology / California

Perfect pitch

Mainstream music-streaming apps may offer millions of tracks but they lack search engines that work well for classical fans. Searching by album, artist or song isn’t enough for those looking for a particular conductor, soloist or orchestra. So, in 2017, Amsterdam-based firm Primephonic launched a streaming service exclusively for classical music, with exceptional search parameters and higher-resolution audio. It became a highly regarded, if niche, success.

Yesterday, Apple announced that it has acquired Primephonic and will incorporate it into Apple Music. Primephonic subscribers will be refunded for their current subscription and given six months of Apple Music for free. They will be able to transfer playlists and gain access to even more classical music than Primephonic had, with no price premium for higher-quality tracks. Oliver Schusser, who runs Apple Music, promises “a superior experience, because we’re building on what Primephonic has done”. Will classical devotees be happy scrolling past Justin Bieber to reach Berlioz and Bach? It depends how harmonious Primephonic’s second movement turns out to be.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Israel

Common ground

The fact that Israel’s new prime minister Naftali Bennett openly opposes a two-state solution doesn’t bode well for a revival of peace talks with the Palestinians. And yet a surprise meeting on Sunday night between Palestinian National Authority president Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli defence minister Benny Gantz (pictured) marked the first such high-level, in-person encounter between the two sides since 2010. The focus, rather than on the peace process, was on the nuts-and-bolts issues of economic recovery, renewing work permits and improving security. “The good news is that they’re co-ordinating on some serious issues that need to be worked out,” Allison Kaplan Sommer, journalist for Haaretz, told Monocle 24’s The Briefing. “On the other hand, it doesn’t look like this is any kind of first step towards a peace process or breakthrough in the establishment of a Palestinian state.” Still, it’s a start: even the sceptical Bennett has said that strengthening the Palestinian economy is in Israel’s interest.

Image: Getty Images

Business / China & USA

Along for the ride

Universal Studios theme park in Beijing held its first press preview over the weekend ahead of its grand opening in September. It’s the fifth Universal resort worldwide and the largest of its kind, having cost a staggering 50bn yuan (€6.7bn) to build. Theme parks can be an effective soft-power tool (Hong Kong’s Disneyland attracted 6.5 million visitors in 2019) but whether Universal’s investment will pay off remains uncertain. Young Chinese consumers are increasingly rejecting US brands and culture in favour of homegrown options. Whereas the likes of Transformers (an American movie franchise that has a whole section of the park dedicated to it) used to top Chinese box offices, similar Hollywood blockbusters have now been overtaken by domestic films. The likes of McDonalds and Nike are also seeing a fall in their market share. Businesses looking to bloom in this ever-expanding market face a tricky time navigating between upholding values and offering what this demographic really wants from the West.

Image: BBC/World Productions

M24 / Monocle on Culture

Autumn on screen

TV critics Scott Bryan and Inkoo Kang join Robert Bound to round up the best programmes hitting televisions this season in the US and UK.

Monocle Films / Japan

The price of silver

Producers and retailers of luxury goods are waking up to the power of affluent seniors. We travel to Japan to meet the brands that are wise to the trend.

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