The Monocle Minute

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Today’s top stories, opinion and opportunities
Tuesday 2 August 2016

Image: Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images

Shift in tone

As the country with Europe's largest Turkish diaspora, it’s no surprise that Germany has been caught up in the turmoil afflicting its most troublesome ally – but the extent is startling. On Sunday close to 40,000 protestors hit the streets of Köln in support of president Recep Tayyip Erdogan; Turkish authorities were outraged when German courts denied Erdogan the right to address the crowds via a live video broadcast. Earlier that day Turkey’s foreign minister threatened to terminate the country’s refugee pact with the EU unless the latter agreed to visa-free travel for Turkish citizens by October. Germany has responded firmly: a representative of the Christian Social Union party said it will not react to “threats and ultimatums” and that the negotiations are not taking place in a “Turkish bazaar”. Behind closed doors, however, Angela Merkel will be deeply concerned by Turkey’s belligerent new tone and its willingness to jeopardise already teetering relations.

Image: PA Images

Show of arms

The jury is still out on whether Russian athletes will be on the starting line at the Rio Olympics this Saturday. But that isn’t stopping the country from competing in a very different olympiad. This year’s International Army Games, which run until 13 August, are held between Kazakhstan and Russia and feature a line-up of 22 nations, many with questionable human-rights records (big showings here from Belarus, Iran and Zimbabwe). About 3,000 troops compete in a showdown of the sharpest snipers, a “tank biathlon” and even a cook-off to find out who has the best field cooks. Curiously, Greece is the only Nato member to participate this year; we can assume that Turkey, currently purging coup-plotters in its armed forces, was a little too busy to attend.

Image: Kenneth Tsang

Lights out

Hong Kong’s tumultuous streets are as busy on the ground as they are above it, where neon-lit advertising boards cling to high-rise buildings. Some consider this urban foliage iconic, others an eyesore. Either way it could soon be lights out for these illuminated signs, many of which have been erected illegally. Wan Chai and Mong Kok ⎯ two particularly bright spots ⎯ are among six neighbourhoods to have caught the eye of development secretary Paul Chan and a crackdown is underway. The government’s unfavourable view of this above-street clutter follows the launch of a voluntary charter earlier this year aimed at tackling the city’s appalling light-pollution levels: 4,000 signatories pledged to switch off non-essential lighting after 23.00. As the lights go down things are looking up for Hong Kong’s stargazers.

Image: Sebastien Bozon/GettyImages

Touch wood

Japan’s push for builders to use domestically grown trees, planted more than half a century ago, is being taken to the next level. Architect Kengo Kuma’s design for Japan’s new National Stadium calls for outer walls made of Japanese cedar and pillars of Japanese larch. But that’s not enough. Now the country’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is looking into the possibility of using wood for the 80,000 spectator seats. The ministry began accepting proposals last week for wooden seats that would be as durable as terrace furniture. No all-year-round outdoor stadium in Japan has wooden seats but industry officials say that with existing technology it’s a possibility. The challenge comes in convincing a sceptical public that the extra cost – the stadium’s budget is now ¥155bn (€1.3bn) – would bring long-term economic benefits.

From Monocle 24

Image: Alexandre Chassignon

Demise of the sequel film

This year cinemas have seen a plethora of sequels and nearly all of them have flopped. We ask why audiences are sick of things returning, striking back and getting revenge, and why Hollywood needs to get creative to secure bums on cinema seats.

From Monocle Films

Boosting Houston

The Texas energy capital has a huge oil-driven economy and business infrastructure. As it welcomes a growing number of entrepreneurs, we document the changing city of Houston.

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