Tuesday. 19/10/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

As good as his word

“I’ll only talk to him if it’s about the school.” That was the message relayed to me a few weeks ago by the dean of the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership in New York. Such limitations, as a journalist, can be frustrating, but in the case of Powell it revealed something about who he was. Despite his achievements, the former secretary of state, who died yesterday aged 84 due to coronavirus-related complications, rarely sought the limelight and was wary about wading into contemporary politics. But ask him to talk about children and education? Well, then he was in.

I had also been told by his spokeswoman that the interview would be a brief phone call so that I could add a quote to my story about the school. But by the end of it Powell had been on the line for more than 30 minutes and began asking me questions. I told him that my mother was from New York and he responded, “Oh, you’re one of us!” He was charming and genuine, making me feel at ease throughout – a demeanour that reminded me why he was once considered a potential candidate for US president.

This was a man who held the highest military leadership position in the US (chairman of the joint chiefs of staff) and became the first black secretary of state, under George W Bush. His association with the Iraq War probably ended any presidential ambitions but his was, nonetheless, an illustrious career that left him an elder statesman figure and expert on many subjects. Near the end of his life, rather than relitigating the past, he was most animated when talking about the importance of education and finding ways for children, particularly those from underprivileged backgrounds, to succeed.

Powell also spoke passionately to me about the importance of family, praising his own Jamaican parents and community in The Bronx for their determination to see him go far. “I always remind myself that I’m a minority, the son of immigrants who never would have dreamed of graduating from college,” he said. He praised the army for helping to instil a sense of purpose, while acknowledging it wasn’t necessarily the path for everyone. He hoped his own success story would inspire subsequent generations. “It shows what’s possible if you stick with it,” he said. “That’s the military education I provide to my kids – and yes, I call them my kids. I also called my soldiers my kids.”

I feel honoured to have been able to interview him just a few weeks before he died. Whatever your politics, he was that rare breed of leader with a genuine sense of civic duty. It’s something that these days appears all too rarely on the public stage.

Cermak’s interview with Colin Powell appeared on Wednesday 6 October 2021 on Monocle 24’s ‘The Monocle Daily’.

Image: Shutterstock

Politics / Japan

Same difference

Campaigning begins today in Japan ahead of a general election on 31 October. The new Japanese prime minister, Fumio Kishida (pictured), dissolved parliament last Thursday, granting representatives the shortest campaign season in the country’s postwar history. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has dominated Japanese politics for the past seven decades and Kishida is banking on the extra boost of being a fresh face. But the public seems less convinced. The latest poll at the weekend showed that while support for the LDP is running at just under 30 per cent – the largest of any party – nearly 40 per cent of voters remain undecided. And while Japan is likely to stick with the LDP, its people evidently crave a change of political direction: nearly 70 per cent said that they wanted a move away from the policies of Kishida’s LDP predecessors. The prime minister is hoping that his pledge to push for fairer wealth distribution alongside growth will appeal to an electorate that has consistently signalled that the economy is among its top priorities.

Image: Étienne Tordoir / CatwalkPictures

Fashion / France

Dressed for success

The winners of this year’s International Festival of Fashion, Photography and Accessories in Hyères, southern France, were announced on Sunday. The 10 finalists at the festival’s 36th edition included up-and-coming designers and photographers, with British designer Ifeanyi Okwuadi taking home the grand prize. A North London tailor of Sierra Leonean and Nigerian descent, Okwuadi showed a military-inspired menswear collection called Take the Toys from the Boys (pictured).

Inspired by the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, established as a protest against nuclear weapons in 1981, the pieces mixed stern designs with buttons in the shape of small cars. “It’s quite comical to have something that’s stereotypically intended for war – due to its silhouette and design – with a playful provocation,” said Okwuadi. One of the oldest and most prestigious international fashion competitions in the world, the Hyères festival is famous for catching talent early: previous winners include Anthony Vaccarello, now creative director at Saint Laurent, and Viktor & Rolf. We expect Okwuadi will also be one to watch.

Image: Alamy

Transport / Finland

Fast forward

A high-speed railway line between Finland’s current and former capital cities, Helsinki and Turku (pictured), has proceeded from the theoretical to the actual as planning began on the 300km/h connection. Although the Turun Tunnin Juna Oy (Turku one-hour train) will in fact take 75 minutes, it will still reduce the present two-hour journey, marking a significant improvement on commuting time between Helsinki and Turku – a pressing issue given skyrocketing rent and property prices in the former.

The line will be the first in a series of high-speed routes between major Finnish cities and the planning phase is scheduled to end in 2023, with a completion date set for the early 2030s. The final cost of upgrading the entire national network has been estimated at between €5bn and €7bn, which will be split 51:49 between the national government in Helsinki and regional legislature in Turku, with support from the EU Connecting Europe Facility, a funding instrument for promoting growth and competitiveness between cities in the bloc.

Image: Shutterstock

Space / Russia

Shooting stars

A Russian film crew has returned to Earth after filming the first feature-length movie in space. Over the course of 12 days, actress Yulia Peresild (pictured) and director Klim Shipenko shot scenes for the film Challenge on the International Space Station. “This is the real thing,” space scientist and journalist David Whitehouse told Monocle 24’s The Briefing yesterday. “The plot involves an astronaut who requires urgent medical attention in space.” The film is the latest milestone that can be added to a long list of firsts for Russia’s space industry: the Soviets sent the first satellite, dog, man and woman into orbit. “They’re feeling pretty smug and proud of themselves for having done it first,” said Whitehouse. “I’m sure that Russia considers it money well spent.”

Monocle 24 / The Monocle Weekly

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Film / Culture

The art of restoration

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