Wednesday. 28/8/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Andrew Mueller

In the dock

Australia’s parliament is considering reforming its question time. It’s a parliamentary ritual observed by a few democracies: a fixed spot, usually weekly, in which senior ministers and the prime minister field questions from their fellow parliamentarians, whether friendly or hostile. In the countries that observe question time – Canada, the UK, Japan, New Zealand and Finland, among others – it is generally the case that both politicians and public profess to hate it.

The politicians say – usually by way of rueful admission in their memoirs – that they dislike question time because it is a nerve-wracking ordeal in which one false word could see them beclowned on the evening news and social media. The public claim that they hate question time because it is a raucous, indecorous bear pit. Both are reasons to hope that Australia does not reform question time out of existence.

Politicians should have their wits tested: such a regular going-over makes it much harder for outright duds, dingbats and dunces to get to the top. And publics should see their leaders – and those who would lead them – passionate and partisan in defence of their ideas. Question time may often bring out the worst in politicians but it also, sometimes, brings out the best.

Diplomacy / Russia and Ukraine

Swap meet

Russia and Ukraine plan to exchange prisoners of war by the end of the week. The number of individuals and their identities have been kept secret but they are most likely Russian insurgents who fought in eastern Ukraine and Ukrainian military and paramilitary personnel detained on Russian ground, such as the 24 sailors arrested off the coast of Crimea in 2018 when their ship was seized by the Russian navy. Whoever they are and in what number, the international community agrees that any exchange would warm relations between Moscow and Kiev, potentially paving the way for bilateral talks to resolve the ongoing skirmishes on the Russia-Ukraine border.

Urbanism / Global

Greener pastures?

According to the UN, 70 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. But some of the world’s largest and most famous urban areas are struggling to sustain their growth: the populations of Paris and New York both dipped last year. The Paris Urban Planning Agency predicts that the number of inhabitants in the French capital will continue to shrink over the next six years. London’s growth held firm thanks to immigration, though it’s uncertain what will happen after the UK leaves the EU. So why are people leaving? A lack of affordable housing and the rise of short-term lets have left cities feeling all too expensive; a cheaper, simpler life in towns or the countryside seems more appealing. Successful cities must remind people that they are home to the ambitious and optimistic in order to prevent the best minds turning tail.

Security / Hong Kong

Digging their heels in

There is no end in sight to the stand-off between the Hong Kong government and protesters, who continue to oppose the anti-extradition bill. The weekend’s violent clashes marked a significant milestone: the unrest has outlasted 2014’s Umbrella Movement, which saw pro-democracy activists occupy the streets for 79 days. Chief executive Carrie Lam has affirmed that she will not bend to protesters’ demands, nor will she declare a state of emergency that would pave the way for intervention from Beijing. Meanwhile a new academic term gets underway next week, with schools and universities preparing for a citywide student boycott. Memories of the Umbrella Movement’s failure to establish a real democracy in Hong Kong are likely to stiffen protesters’ resolve in the coming weeks.

F&B / France

Toast of the town

Some forms of alcohol seem to go hand in hand with perceived moral and social disintegration. So it was in the early 1900s with absinthe, which was banned in France, Switzerland, the US and a number of other countries at that time. Since then, the reputation of the drink – made from anise, fennel and wormwood – has recovered. The ban was lifted most recently in France in 2000 and, this week, the EU granted French absinthe geographic protection. This means that any bottle branded Absinthe de Pontarlier must have been produced according to traditional practice in the commune of Pontarlier, an area of the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region on the border with Switzerland. The decision is a good one. As the market leans towards weaker beverages, those keen to preserve the heritage of this storied and excellent drink ought to be supported.

M24 / The Menu: Food Neighbourhoods

Athens, Chalandri

We head to the elusive northern suburb of Chalandri in Athens to find out how it went from shopping cluster to food hub in a matter of years.

Monocle Films / Japan

End of an era

We look back at the hushed world of the iconic Hotel Okura in Tokyo. Monocle Films was granted exclusive access to capture the gracious ways of this much-loved modernist gem just before it was demolished in 2015 to give way to a new iteration of the building.

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