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It is surprising that Monocle magazine’s love affair with New Zealand and Australia – and Waiheke Island, in particular – was not based on any personal experience of its founder and editor, French-Canadian Tyler Brulé, until this year.
He was in Auckland a few weeks ago and I heard him speak at advertising agency Colenso BBDO on the Monocle brand and businesses, which comprise a media operation and an advertising/design agency.
Brulé became wealthy by founding another magazine, Wallpaper, and selling it to Time Inc. To do well in the media business, you need an appetite for risk, do something unique and don’t fall prey to fads.
Monocle magazine has done this by targeting global travellers with a yen (literally) and capacity for the good life and where to find it.
Its formula is to take “an optimistic positive view of the world” that looks for the best places to take a business and find the hottest, most interesting things available.
“We’re not chasing numbers,” he says, “and we don’t do reader surveys.” He likens a £150 a year subscription to joining a club (“ no matter where you are”).
To Brulé, critical journalism is the easy option as it provides no solutions. A glance at the daily press, even as Auckland basks in its best summer in memory, confirms his view.
On his return to London, Zurich or wherever he calls home, Brulé had time to dash off a Fast Lane column for the Financial Times that was published last weekend under the title, “Which city wins my Valentine?”
No prizes for the answer. It was, he explains, an appreciative love letter to Auckland (“a city still on summer holiday but also getting on with work at the same time.”) shared with all his Financial Times readers.
It’s not the first time Brulé has been effusive: In January, after his first visit here, he wrote to both Australia and New Zealand, praising the Antipodean way of life and calling for Great Barrier Island to be made a Unesco heritage area to protect “bach life.”
Of course, Brulé has plenty of advice for both countries, mainly in providing more treats for the international jetset, such a luxury class hotel, first class cabins on Air New Zealand, more long-haul routes to exciting places and better use of local architectural talent.
Auckland, of course, could do this and more; Metro magazine has led a charge for many improvements (sadly, mostly ignored), while Queen St on the dot of 5.30pm becomes a shopping desert despite thousands of tourists, cruise passengers, students and office workers thronging the footpaths.
An extension of shopping hours would be a good start and bring immediate benefits (in Asia, most retail transactions occur after 6pm) as well as reduce transport congestion by spreading the rush hour.
Stealing as a way of business
Surprisingly, Brulé is not impressed with the internet or websites. Monocle is in no danger of going on to the web, which as a publisher Brulé finds inflexible, time-wasting and notoriously difficult to change.
His view is not shared by the revelations this week that for seven years the People’s Liberation Army has had a whole building in Shanghai dedicated to hacking hundreds of corporate websites in the US and around the world.
According to Mandiant, the network security firm that conducted the investigation, the Chinese have stolen huge amounts of data and proprietary information.
As one of the victims, the Wall Street Journal, puts it:
“The world has never seen a state devote such large resources to siphoning off data from private companies to advance a broad range of national interests, political and economic. China's penchant for online theft and sabotage could change the world economic order.”
It is unlikely this will be allowed to continue on without a response from the West. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who recently visited both China and North Korea, is writing a book that says China's hacking and control over information make it dangerous.
More worrying, the Journal notes,
"The effect could be to drag the West back to a world in which companies and states must work hand in glove instead of at arm's length."
But what can be done to stop this large-scale, state-backed cheating?
Apart from better defences, the Journal hopes China's behaviour will prove self-defeating and while the US government has yet to come up with anything robust, though Iranian-style “targeted sanctions against individuals and institutions will probably be needed.”
Bootlegging and braggadocio
In Iran, meanwhile, the Argo phenomenon, heading to its climax in Monday’s Oscars (where I still tip it to win best film), has turned into a fullscale diplomatic cause célèbre.
While we already know an Iranian version of the Argo and the US Embassy hostage drama is being produced, the New York Times reveals the Islamic government flew in 130 foreign guests for an “anti-Hollywoodism” conference, where one local participant was quoted as saying:
“We Iranians look stupid, backward and simple-minded in this movie [Argo]. Hollywood is not a normal industry; it’s a conspiracy by capitalism and Zionism. We need to come up with an answer to this and other films.”
Good luck to them, as they will need it.
The dissident director, who remains under house arrest in Teheran, and his long-time collaborator, Kambuzia Partovi, made the film secretly in defiance of a ban by the Tehran authorities.
Incidentally, the Western delegates to the Tehran conference included campaigners against too much sex in movies. But one of interest was French lawyer Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, who married the terrorist Carlos the Jackal (Ramirez Sanchez) in a prison ceremony in 2001.
The French-made miniseries Carlos, shown at last year’s International Film Festival in its feature-length version, is available on DVD in both versions and well worth watching.