Wednesday. 28/12/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Christopher Lord

On stable ground

No one believes me when I say it now but I swear that I called it. Before the US midterms, over dinner with American friends, I would suggest that November’s elections would go far more smoothly than the meltdown that many news outlets were anticipating. US institutions are sturdier than that, I’d say, and the election deniers are more fringe than Twitter makes them seem. All of this was typically shouted down as fresh-off-the-boat thinking, suffused with British optimism. Yet since the midterms went off without too much upset – aside from technical hiccups in Arizona, which failed to start any fires – there’s been a fresh breeze in the air that America needs to harness in 2023.

With less than two years to go until the presidential election, the narrative must move on from the existential, “democracy on the ballot paper” stuff that has dominated so far. Americans are exhausted. They appear to be fatigued with Donald Trump and his accompanying chaos too. If the former president continues his descent into the fringe, then the rocky road to the election in 2024 will be about who can project the better picture of stability. The argument must be made with policy and economic stewardship.

To that end, Joe Biden’s Democrats must become better messengers. Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, has compared the infrastructure bill in scope to Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal but many Americans would be at a loss to pinpoint how it’ll improve their lives. The Republicans need to listen to the electorate again, rein in the loonier wing and communicate tangibly how things can be made better. On both sides of the Atlantic, it feels as though the age of the political chancer is coming to a close. That doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll get better leaders but I think that voters want plans and solutions, and less drama, knowing that there are even greater economic headwinds to come. But perhaps that’s my British optimism again.

Christopher Lord is Monocle’s US editor.

Image: Reuters

Diplomacy / Iran

Worlds apart

The death knell for Iran’s nuclear deal with Western powers might have finally been sounded. Last week a video surfaced of Joe Biden (pictured) declaring, in off-hand remarks at a closed-door event in November, that the deal was “dead” – but also that the development wouldn’t be announced. His revelation came, ironically, just as Iran signalled that negotiations were heading in a positive direction. The seemingly contradictory rhetoric actually makes sense: Iran suddenly has interest in a deal that would lift some economic sanctions at a time when its brutal crackdown on protests and support for Russia’s war in Ukraine have further isolated the Islamic regime. These are both good reasons for the US, by contrast, to stop negotiations in their tracks. The EU has sought to keep nuclear talks separate from the myriad other problems that the West has with Iran but this tactic looks increasingly untenable. As the domestic situation in Iran spirals out of control, such realpolitik has its limits.

Image: Getty Images

Migration / Romania

All for one?

The war in Ukraine brought Europe together in a manner that few would have expected but it hasn’t prevented schisms on critical aspects of EU policy. Earlier this month, Austria’s chancellor Karl Nehammer unilaterally vetoed Romania’s entry into the bloc’s border-free Schengen zone; Romania recalled its ambassador to Vienna as a result. The veto came over concerns about illegal migration from the Balkans: Nehammer has demanded a more comprehensive EU asylum policy before Schengen is expanded further.

Last week, Marcel Ciolacu, president of the Romanian parliament’s Chamber of Deputies, upped the pressure on Austria by pointing to his nation’s crucial role in the Ukraine conflict and arguing, in an open letter to Nehammer, that he was the one undermining Europe’s collective security. “Austria’s rash and ill-defined decision weakens not only our region but Europe as a whole, while encouraging the forces aligned against us,” he wrote. Hyperbole, perhaps, but European unity is a fragile thing; it remains under the microscope heading into 2023.

Image: Shutterstock

Energy / Global

Balance of power

Alternative-energy advocates haven’t had to work very hard to make a case for their favoured power sources recently – except, of course, advocates of nuclear, which remains the most controversial of the low-carbon energy sources, largely because of Chernobyl and Fukushima. Nuclear power plant architect Iain Macdonald believes that historic disasters have distorted the world’s view of what he says is a relatively safe process. “When I read the Massachusetts Institute of Technology [MIT] report on Fukushima, the actual facility came out very well,” he tells Monocle.

As a member of MIT’s Advanced Nuclear and Production Experts Group, Macdonald has been working on the design of small nuclear batteries that could be used to power thousands of homes or several office blocks. For him, it’s about dispelling the notion that any nuclear reactor is a ticking time bomb. Amid the growing clamour for low-carbon energy, the nuclear lobby’s persuasiveness needs powering up. Macdonald believes that he knows how to achieve this.

To read more about the push for a better reputation for nuclear energy, pick up Monocle’s December/January issue, which is out now.

Image: Getty Images

Society / Japan

Minding their language

As the year draws to a close, the annual rankings of books, films and music are landing. In Japan, however, among the most popular rankings is publisher Jiyu Kokumin Sha’s list of the words and phrases of the year. The judges whittled it down to 30 contenders before coming up with a final selection, a mixed bag that includes kokusogi (state funeral), a hot topic after the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the assassination of former prime minister Shinzo Abe; Yakult 1000, the name of a probiotic drink that has been a huge seller; and kitsune dansu (fox dance, pictured), which is performed by the cheerleaders of the Nippon Ham Fighters baseball team to the tune of Ylvis’s 2013 hit “The Fox” and loved by the home crowd.

But the winner was Murakami-sama, the nickname of Munetaka Murakami, the 22-year-old batter for the Yakult Swallows baseball team who hit 56 home runs this season. The contest helps to publicise the 2023 edition of the publisher’s best-selling Basic Knowledge of Modern Terminology, which is a must for anyone wanting to keep up with the latest additions to the Japanese language.

Image: Alamy

Monocle 24 / The Urbanist

Christmas in the city

We visit Europe’s best Christmas market in Tallinn, discover a US town that has been dubbed “Christmas City” since the 1930s and get a letter from our resident grinch, Andrew Mueller. Plus: Andrew Tuck and Carlota Rebelo go head to head in the festive edition of our second annual quiz.

Monocle Films / Skelleftea

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A new electric flight school in Sweden is inspiring a future of emission-free aviation. Monocle takes to the sky, tries out the first fully electric plane to be approved for use in Europe and hears how Skellefteå has become a hotbed of green start-ups.

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