Thursday 4 January 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Thursday. 4/1/2024

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

Floods in the city of Derna, Libya, which were caused by Storm Daniel in September 2023

Image: Alamy


Animal instincts

From “a canary in the coalmine” (an early warning of a potential hazard) to “a red herring” (strategically placed information to mislead and distract from actual threats), animal analogies often crop up in security analysis. Among the most commonly used are “black swan” and “grey rhino” but their meanings are often confused. The original definition of a black swan is an unforeseeable event with significant effects on international and domestic politics. Grey rhinos refer to obvious risks that we acknowledge but tend to ignore.

Unlike black swans, grey rhinos are not totally unexpected but merely underestimated. This doesn’t make them less impactful. Coronavirus, climate change and the risk of Hamas to Israel are classic examples of grey rhinos – well-known threats that we ignored for too long. Other rhinos on the horizon include the unfreezing of conflicts in the Balkans, the de-dollarisation of the world economy and the collapse of regimes in places such as Iran or Algeria. We need to have plans in place for all of them.

Despite the clear logic, the terms still get mixed up. Most people tend to take every sudden development as a black swan but the truth is that many of these events are grey rhinos that we have ignored. Much of the popularity of the black swan is down to yet another animal analogy, namely “the elephant in the room”. This refers to pressing, often uncomfortable matters that we choose to avoid in the hope of escaping their consequences. The aversion to confronting things head-on makes the black swan an attractive concept for those who would like to pretend that there was no way of seeing a particular challenge coming. At the Munich Security Conference, we usually don’t let them get away with it.

Benedikt Franke is vice-chairman and CEO of the Munich Security Conference, which will take place between 16-18 February 2024. This piece features in Monocle’s December/January issue and is part of our 2024 Security Survey. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.


Image: Jun Michael Park

Defence / South Korea

Leading the charge

Seoul refuses to send lethal weapons to Ukraine, hoping to avoid provoking Russia – a key ally of its belligerent neighbour, North Korea. But the war has nonetheless been a boon for South Korean defence exports. Hanwha Aerospace, the country’s largest defence contractor, has seen a record demand for its wares in the past 18 months.

Particularly popular is the K9 Thunder, a self-propelled howitzer that can manoeuvre on rough terrain. Founded in 1952 as Korea Explosive Company, a purveyor of gunpowder and dynamite, Hanwha appears unfazed by potential imitators, especially in the inflation-battered West. Whereas larger arms exporters struggle with cost overruns and production delays, the company has been expanding its portfolio and absorbing rivals. With geopolitical tensions heating up this year, the company is set to open a new assembly line in April and increase capacity by 320 armed vehicles a year.

For more on South Korea’s arms industry, pick up a copy of Monocle’s December/January issue, which features our global security survey for 2024.


Social network

Brazil loves soap operas but it has recently found itself gripped by a new kind of narrative format: audio. The country is now the world’s third-largest consumer of podcasts, while listener numbers across many platforms are on the rise. Leading the charge is Rádio Novelo. Founded in Rio de Janeiro in 2019, the production company is Brazil’s largest producer of narrative podcasts. In just four years, it has produced a multitude of stories that provide insight into the nature and fabric of Brazilian society. Though Rádio Novelo is a young business, creating imaginative audio narratives is its main priority. According to the company’s president, Branca Vianna, this is what enabled her start-up to grow so quickly. “Nobody here wants to triple the number of podcasts that we make or double the amount of staff,” Vianna tells Monocle. “All we want is to help our team to stay creative so that we can continue producing what we think will enrich conversation and debate here in Brazil.”

For more on Rádio Novelo, pick up a copy of ‘The Forecast’, which is available on newsstands and online now.


Warm wishes

In a former 17th-century school by Amsterdam’s peaceful Herengracht canal, you’ll find the headquarters of knitwear label Extreme Cashmere. Founder Saskia Dijkstra decided to create the label in 2016 after spending 20 years working for a Hong Kong manufacturer and sourcing yarns for brands such as Jil Sander and Joseph. “I decided that it was time to establish a brand that made no concessions,” Dijkstra tells Monocle.

Image: Sara Meinz
Image: Sara Meinz

Today the label’s classic knits, which include its signature, long-sleeve unisex Crew Hop sweater, are sought after by its clientele, who Dijkstra meets in person at the brand’s boutiques in Amsterdam and St Moritz. Extreme Cashmere’s aim is to ensure that its signature material, which has been a winter essential for thousands of years, continues to appeal to the modern dresser. “There’s a little bit of magic in cashmere,” she says.

For more on Extreme Cashmere and other specialist artisans, pick up a copy of Monocle’s winter-themed newspaper, ‘Alpino’, which is out now.

Beyond the Headlines

Image: Getty Images

Q&A / Guillaume Bardet

Sacred vision

Guillaume Bardet’s design career has spanned a residency in Villa Medici in Rome to work with Hermès and displays at Le Corbusier’s Couvent de la Tourette near Lyon. Now he has been selected to create liturgical furnishings for the new interiors of Paris’s Notre-Dame Cathedral following the fire in April 2019. Here he talks to Monocle about his aesthetic inspirations and what he aims to achieve with his designs.

Given the perennial element of this commission, what forms and aesthetics inspired you?
When you’re in a cathedral such as Notre-Dame, which is more than 800 years old, you’re obliged to embrace the past, the present and the future. You’re also expected to work in three temporalities. The forms are about removing everything that isn’t necessary and arriving at forms that we know.

What did you look to for reference?
I love going into churches. I have an encyclopaedic understanding of formal liturgical furnishings. So I used that for the proposal. The pieces have to speak very evidently to Catholics but they also need to resonate with the millions of non-Christians who visit Notre-Dame. It’s less about religious belief than belief in humanity in its smallness and its grandeur – the human drama.

Do you remember your first visit to Notre-Dame?
When I was really young and living in Normandy, I went with my grandmother who was Parisian. Notre-Dame was part of my landscape of the city. I didn’t often go inside because it was always so busy but I always saw it. I will always remember my visit to Notre-Dame in January 2023 among all the scaffolding. That will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Read our full interview with Guillaume Bardet in the latest issue of ‘The Forecast’, which is available on newsstands and online now.

Image: Shutterstock

Monocle Radio / The Foreign Desk

Looking back at 2023 – and ahead to 2024

We look back at the big events of 2023 and peer ahead at next year. Andrew Mueller speaks to Yossi Mekelberg, Latika Bourke and Yassmin Abdel-Magied.


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