Tuesday 14 March 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Tuesday. 14/3/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Ruters

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Trading places

When Joe Biden (pictured) announced the Finishing Trades Institute in Philadelphia as the location for his annual budget speech last week, I was intrigued and decided to attend. I’ve written about the importance of trades schools, which are common in Europe but often overlooked in the US, at various points in my career while working for German news publications. Yet in his 50-minute speech, the president mentioned the institute and its apprenticeship programme only once, almost as an afterthought. He spent far more time defending a policy that would bring back manufacturing jobs from overseas by forcing federal contractors to “buy American”.

The oversight was a shame. The Finishing Trades Institute offers one of the country’s foremost “earn-to-learn” apprenticeship programmes; its assistant director of education, Erin O’Brien-Hofmann, says that it’s the “gold standard”. Students get paid to work as painters, drywall finishers and glaziers and emerge after four years with an associate degree. The number of registered apprenticeships has grown by almost two thirds in the US over the past decade and one of the less heralded aspects of Biden’s latest budget is the allocation of more than $630m (€587m) for apprenticeships, on-the-job training schemes and community colleges.

Hoffman acknowledges that there’s still a stigma attached to apprenticeships and trade schools in the US, especially when compared to universities. It would help the cause of organisations such as the Finishing Trades Institute if Biden used his bully pulpit to support the idea. The culture wars in the US have sadly entered the world of education, whether it’s arguments about teaching critical race theory in schools or the alleged liberal bias of universities, which has resulted in some conservatives warning their children against going to college. But the value of apprenticeships, as an alternative to university education, is something that both sides can readily agree on. Why don’t we finally give them the credit and backing that they deserve?

Image: Getty Images

Geopolitics / Czech Republic

Good neighbours

The Czech Republic’s new president, Petr Pavel, embarked on his first foreign trip yesterday, aiming to strengthen alliances in Central and Eastern Europe. Following Czech tradition, the first destination on his itinerary is Slovakia. He arrived there yesterday to take part in various ceremonial activities with his Slovak counterpart, Zuzana Caputova (pictured, centre, with Pavel). Pavel will then head to Poland on Thursday, before travelling to Berlin and Brussels. Relations between Warsaw and Prague have been frosty since a 2021 dispute over a coalmine built near the Czech border. Pavel will be hoping to ease tensions, a task that might be made easier by his vocal support for Ukraine. Where his populist predecessor, Milos Zeman, spent much of his time courting Russia and China, Pavel is a former Nato general and a staunch supporter of the military alliance – and he will be eager to communicate this to the rest of Europe.

Image: Reuters

Society / Japan

Undercover reporting

Japan moved a step closer to normality yesterday with new coronavirus guidelines that reframe mask-wearing as largely optional. The country never imposed firm rules about masks but they were recommended and almost universally adopted. Pupils at schools won’t be required to wear them when the new academic year begins in April; domestic airlines have also announced that donning a face covering will be a matter of personal choice for passengers.

There are, of course, exceptions; after almost three years in which masks have been ubiquitous, the government is proceeding with caution. It will continue to ask people to cover up when visiting hospitals or using crowded public transport and convenience-store employees will be expected to wear masks even if customers don’t. There will also be polite requests to put them on in venues that have large numbers of senior patrons, such as kabuki theatres. Despite the new guidelines, there was no noticeable change on the streets of Tokyo yesterday. People of all ages appear to be wearing their masks for now. Many are also using them to help them cope with this year’s high cedar pollen levels.

Image: Shutterstock

Diplomacy / Nicaragua

Divine intervention

Nicaragua has threatened to sever diplomatic ties with the Vatican. In an interview with Argentinian news outlet Infobae on Friday, Pope Francis (pictured) described the Central American nation as a “crude dictatorship” and its president, Daniel Ortega, as “unbalanced”. Two days later, Nicaragua’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it would suspend relations in response.

This is the latest flare-up in an ongoing dispute between the Church and Ortega’s government; the Pope’s comments followed last week’s shuttering of universities in Nicaragua with Catholic ties and the imprisonment of the bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando José Álvarez, in February. The Holy See’s embassy in Managua has now been ordered to close, an unprecedented development in the modern history of the Church. Only God knows what will happen next.

Image: Heatmap

Media / USA

Warming signs

Heatmap News, a media platform dedicated to covering issues related to climate change, launched in New York last week. Once considered a fringe concern, environmentalism has become a pressing issue around the world over the past few decades. Heatmap hopes to capitalise on this shift by offering readers perspectives on subjects such as foreign affairs, business and culture through the lens of the climate crisis.

“A good example of a similar publication is Wired in the 1990s,” Nico Lauricella, Heatmap’s editor in chief and CEO, tells The Monocle Minute. “It gave its readers insight about a particular issue, technology, but also products and stories related to it.” The platform uses a subscription model, priced at $7.99 (€7.45) a month or $79 (€74) a year. “It’s the best financial model because you have a direct relationship with your reader,” says Lauricella. Heatmap will also raise revenue through advertising. It has a strict policy of refusing to work with companies that profit from fossil fuels.

Image: Alamy

Monocle 24 / The Urbanist

Good sports

What roles do stadiums, parks and clubrooms play in our built environment? We look at the intersection between sports and city planning, delve into the US pickleball craze and explore Argentina’s sports clubs.

Monocle Films / Sweden

Sweden’s Arctic: green innovation

Norrbotten in Sweden is blessed with natural resources but more recently has been turning heads because of its growing roster of innovative start-ups. We bear witness to the region's effort to change heavy industries into clean businesses.


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