Wednesday 10 April 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 10/4/2024

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

The Great Communicator: Ronald Reagan in 1983

Image: Alamy

Diplomacy / Ali Borhani

War of words

When it comes to diplomacy, it is hard to ignore the influence of language and the significant weight that words carry. The essence of international relations and peace depends on how we debate, deliberate and de-escalate. Yet we live in an era where the essential decorum in political vocabulary is deteriorating.

In the West, people have become increasingly sensitive about how they wish to be identified and addressed. But the way in which leaders conduct their global discourse has become ever more reckless. Comparing speeches by, say, Ronald Reagan during the height of the Cold War with those by Joe Biden and Donald Trump today – calling other heads of states dictators, thugs and criminals – can be very telling.

As civilised eloquence in our international disagreements and disputes rapidly evaporates, we are tap-dancing on a minefield of an emerging multipolar world order. Superpowers are competing to train large language models – known as LLMs – (the engines of artificial intelligence) but what’s missing from the picture are leaders with “lustrous linguistic mastery”.

During his State of the Union address in 2002, George W Bush used the phrase “axis of evil”. Almost a quarter of a century later, the US is struggling with the Axis of Resistance (the so-called Iranian-led military coalition in the Middle East). What about an “axis of dialogue and decorum?” Ententes cordiales are made of words.

Talk is cheap, dialogue is priceless and decorum is non-negotiable. Perhaps it’s time for Western populations, who put much attention on their individual sentimentalities, to place equal importance on eloquent leaders representing them.

Ali Borhani is the managing director of 3Sixty Strategic Advisors Ltd and co-founder of BRI Dialogues. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

The Briefings

Image: Getty Images

Economy / Zimbabwe

Out with the old, in with the gold

Zimbabwe has a new currency. Its government has scrapped the local dollar and introduced Zimbabwe gold (ZIG) in an attempt to curb the rate of inflation, which is currently the world’s highest. “This is a new gold-backed and foreign reserves-backed currency, which means that it’s linked to gold and the going exchange rate on the market,” Tinashe Murapata, a Harare-based economic analyst, tells Monocle Radio’s The Globalist.

The government is hoping that the new currency will be a way out of the country’s worst economic crisis in years. “A lot of people will trade with it because interest rates have fallen from 130 per cent to about 20 per cent,” says Murapata. While the decision might seem positive at first, experts warn that there is no guarantee that Zimbabwe gold will remain stable. “The central bank governor said that there is enough gold to back 300 million new ZIGs, which is obviously not enough. But it is a start.”

For more on what the new currency means for Zimbabwe’s economy, listen to Tuesday's edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle Radio

Urbanism / South Korea

Tip top

The dearth of trash cans in Seoul is gradually being rectified by the city’s metropolitan government. Bin numbers have been falling year on year, causing residents and tourists to complain about litter and odours. In response, 30 new bins have been installed in high-traffic areas this week. It is part of the wider “Design Seoul 2.0” initiative, which aims to create a more “vibrant and enjoyable” urban environment. The initiative is focused on elevating the city’s image and special attention has been given to the bins’ design. There are two types: one with minimalist flowing curves and the other featuring Seoul’s iconic smile motif. The plan is to extend the project across the city and add more than 2,500 bins to the streets by 2025.

Image: Getty Images

Transport / France

Ticket to ride

In an effort to replicate the success of Germany’s countrywide Deutschlandticket, France will launch a similar rail pass in July. Despite Emmanuel Macron promising an analogous system, the French project has been criticised for falling short. As in Germany, it will cost €49 a month and be valid on all intercity train journeys.

But, after months of negotiations with regional mayors, the French version will only be available to passengers aged 27 and under and will exclude Paris, the wider Île-de-France region and the country’s high-speed TGV trains. Despite under-delivering, the first year will be a test to see whether the scheme could be expanded in the future.

Beyond the Headlines


Seat at the table

After months of preparation, press releases and invitations streaming through inboxes, Salone del Mobile is now only a matter of days away. To help make sense of the world’s biggest furniture fair, and the corresponding Milan Design Week, you can read our dedicated Salone del Mobile Special newspaper, which hits newsstands today. Here are three things we learned while putting it together.

1. Outdoor furniture is good business
After booming during the pandemic, the outdoor-furniture sector remains strong. Poliform, which launched its debut outdoor collection last year, is expanding its offering, while Italian furniture firm Poltrona Frau has developed a special leather for its outdoor wares to withstand the elements.

2. When it comes to kitchens, learn from the pros
Boffi is celebrating its 90th anniversary. We celebrate with a report on the brand’s growth under CEO Roberto Gavazzi and artistic director Piero Lissoni. At the helm for more than 30 years, the duo have helped to reinvent the modern kitchen, with islands and stainless steel, by drawing inspiration from the lines of professional chefs.

3. Fashion is still a winner
The crossover between furniture and fashion continues this year, with the likes of Bottega Veneta teaming up with Cassina and Prada hosting Prada Frames, a series of talks on the future of design. It is further recognition that creativity need not be siloed, with cross-disciplinary work opening up new ideas.

Top brass: Saxophonist Kamasi Washington

Image: B+

Monocle Radio / Monocle on Culture

Spring preview

Toby Earle, Susannah Butter and Natty Kasambala join Robert Bound in the studio to discuss the best forthcoming releases of this season in TV, books and music. These include the latest work from one of the UK’s most popular romantic novelists, a new album from Kamasi Washington and a drama starring Kate Winslet as the leader of an unnamed Central European nation.


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