Friday. 3/12/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / Andrew Tuck

Smooch operator

There’s nothing like being given the opportunity to pontificate on our every physical interaction to tempt usually staid officials into saying something preposterous. It was a trend exemplified by Anthony Fauci, America’s chief medical advisor, when he averred, “I don’t think we should ever shake hands again.”

Now Thérèse Coffey, the UK’s work and pensions secretary, has entered the pantheon of daftness by declaring that, to slow the spread of the Omicron variant, “there shouldn’t be much snogging under the mistletoe”. For those new to this particular Christmas tradition, it involves asking someone – often a stranger – for a kiss while standing beneath a sprig of the white-berried hemiparasitic shrub.

There are two things to point out here (aside from the fact that you are unwise to kiss any stranger, unless an appearance in court appeals). First is Coffey’s use of the phrase “not much”: what does a moderate amount of snogging look like? And, second, while it may be tempting to believe that mistletoe’s ancient fertility credentials can have a dangerous effect on people’s behaviour, you imagine that it’s an excess of alcohol that should really be avoided if you are trying to avert seasonal flirtations (although, as an avowed supporter of the Campaign for Real Ale, Coffey may find her interests conflicted).

The truth is that we know little about Omicron at this stage and indeed many believe that it will prove to be a milder form of the virus. So while we wait for more evidence, it would be wise for politicians and headline-seeking experts to keep their lips firmly closed, whether beneath aphrodisiac shrubs or in front of TV cameras.

Image: Grab

Business / Southeast Asia

Super grouper

Singapore-based app Grab went public on the Nasdaq yesterday in a deal that valued the company at about $40bn, making it both the world’s largest-ever special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC) and the largest-ever US listing by a Southeast Asian company. Grab is dubbed a “super-app” for the wide range of services it provides, including ride-hailing, food delivery, financial payments and insurance. About 25 million people across Southeast Asia are regular users. Its rivals include Sea, which is also based in Singapore and trades on the New York Stock Exchange, and Indonesian super-app Gojek. All three have seen off competing US and Chinese technology imports and been lauded as the region’s first bona fide, homegrown technology giants, attracting hefty international investment. Grab has declared its ambition to expand to new global markets, where its homegrown diversification success could see it outflank other delivery service providers.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / USA

Grounds for a halt

The US government is on the brink of a federal shutdown despite reaching a deal yesterday on a stopgap bill that will fund the government until February. Several Republican senators are threatening to block the bill in protest over president Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for large employers, which they say is unconstitutional and will cost the country jobs. Under the proposed rules, businesses with more than 100 employees would have until 4 January to guarantee that staff are either vaccinated against coronavirus or agree to submit a negative test before coming to work.

Lawmakers have until midnight tonight and require a unanimous vote from the Senate in order to make today’s fiscal deadline. If Congress can’t reach a decision, the government could be forced to suspend federal services and furlough workers. Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (pictured) has repeatedly insisted that if the federal government comes to a standstill, it will be a “Republican, anti-vaccine shutdown”. But it will also be a major disappointment for a president who made bipartisan appeal a large part of his pitch to the electorate.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Australia

In on the act

Lawmakers in Australia’s Parliament House (pictured) have passed a “Magnitsky-style” bill that will allow the government to freeze and seize the assets of foreign nationals who have broken international law. The legislation takes inspiration from the US’s Magnitsky Act, a law named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died in a Moscow jail in 2009 after uncovering endemic tax fraud committed by Kremlin officials. Since its creation, similar legislation has been enacted in the UK, Canada and the EU, and was recently used to sanction four Chinese officials in connection with human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Australia’s law goes further than any other by legislating for asset seizure and the barring of entry to cyber attackers. By bringing its sanction regime in line with Western allies, Australia is not only proving its firm commitment to the rules-based international order but completing a pivot away from China, its former key trading partner.

Image: Triennale Milano

Art / Italy

Close quarters

Italian architect Stefano Boeri, president of the Triennale di Milano, told journalists yesterday of the “huge collective effort” required to make the latest exhibition at the museum a reality. He wasn’t exaggerating. For the past few months curators have been painstakingly dismantling and moving the interior of a Milan apartment to the Triennale. Casa Lana (pictured), the apartment in question, belonged to lithographer and printer Giovanni Lana. It was created in the mid-1960s by famed architect and designer Ettore Sottsass, the leading light of the Memphis movement. Opening today, Ettore Sottsass: Structure and Colour is part of a series of exhibitions dedicated to the architect. It will showcase the rigorous research that was a trademark of Sottsass’s work, from colourful 3D sketches to paintings. But the icing on the cake is the chance to walk around Casa Lana, admire its furnishings and imagine what it might have been like to live among them.

Image: Shutterstock

M24 / The Foreign Desk

Queen’s gambit

Barbados has officially removed Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state after 55 years living independently from the UK. The divorce was amicable among all parties and opens the door for more member states to do the same. Andrew Mueller explains how, and when, that might happen.

Monocle Films / Global

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