Thursday. 12/9/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / James Chambers

Protests, a parade and some perspective

My neighbourhood in Hong Kong is going to kick off tonight. Tai Hang’s narrow streets will be full of screaming, smoke, loud bangs, banners and huge crowds. There’s going to be a riot – but there’s no reason for alarm. The city is about to celebrate the mid-autumn (or “mooncake”) festival and Tai Hang’s fire-dragon procession is one of the highlights: three nights of parades, hundreds of performers, thousands of incense sticks and far, far too many firecrackers.

Amid the ongoing anti-government protests, it’s easy to forget that life goes on as normal for most people. Families will gather for a festive meal and try to avoid talking about politics. We’re not on permanent lockdown – far from it – although anyone watching events unfold from afar can be excused for thinking so. In fact, even living here can feel like an alternative reality: I was taken aback one Sunday morning to spot a Dantean inferno on the cover of a local newspaper accompanied by the headline: “The night the city burned” (an exaggeration to say the least).

Yes, protesters have been lighting a few fires recently. It’s a worrying escalation but it’s also important to maintain some perspective. Hong Kong is still a safe city and the protestors are well behaved. When the smoke clears in Tai Hang, attendance at this year’s parade will almost certainly be down but the show – and the city – will go on. The fire-dragon dance began as a way of warding off bad luck; Hong Kong could use some good fortune right now.

Transport / Germany

Empty tank?

In a sign of the headwinds facing the car industry, Frankfurt’s International Motor Show opens today with significantly fewer exhibitors, amid growing tensions over carbon emissions. Some 30 major carmakers have stayed away, including three of the world’s biggest: Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi, Toyota and General Motors. That’s partly due to cost-cutting: global sales are expected to slip to 78.3 million this year from 83 million in 2018, while the US-China trade war is weighing down worldwide manufacturing. Those attending are focusing on launching electric models, such as Volkswagen and its new, compact ID.3. But with environmental protests against the show planned this weekend and the EU’s tougher CO2 emissions rules set for 2021, are motorshows of this nature reaching the end of the road? It might be time for participants and organisers to consider a U-turn.

Geopolitics / Turkey

On the borderline

Recep Tayyip Erodgan has completed an about-turn over Turkey’s handling of the Syrian refugee crisis. Over the past eight years Turkey has welcomed millions of refugees across its border with Syria – a nation in the midst of a humanitarian crisis – but earlier this week the president announced plans to send a million back. The intention is to shift the dispossessed into the zone controlled by the US and Kurdistan, found along the border between the two countries. “This will be extremely difficult,” said Ayla Jean Yackley, a freelance journalist who has reported from Istanbul for about two decades, speaking on Monocle 24’s The Briefing. “The idea that the US would welcome one million refugees is unlikely – and it doesn’t solve the problem for the refugees either.”

Culture / The US

Ongoing exposure

The death of US photographer Robert Frank has been making headlines around the world and his loss is being felt most acutely in his hometown of New York, where he moved from his native Switzerland in 1947. His most famous body of work remains, unquestionably, The Americans: a 1950s roadtrip of images often focused on the country’s poorest and least represented (in these times of Trump, more relevant than ever). Although his shoes are arguably impossible to fill, documentary photography in the US is alive and well: LaToya Ruby Frazier’s The Last Cruze – documenting the lives of workers who lost their jobs at a General Motors plant in Ohio – is testament to that and opens at Chicago’s Renaissance Society on 14 September. Frank would approve.

Society / Global

The machines are coming

What comes to mind when someone says “robots”: futuristic and possibly malevolent machines or Metal Mickey? Either way, robots are closer to becoming a reality than you might think, as Sony’s new installation shows. It’s called Affinity in Autonomy and has moved from Milan’s Salone del Mobile to the V&A museum for the London Design Festival. Among the exhibits is Pendulus, a robotic pendulum that detects when a person is close by and reflects this in the way it moves. It’s a way of demonstrating autonomous movement and shows how robots will be able to interact with us. “It’s a glimpse into a future where intelligent technologies and creative design merge into our lives on an emotional level," says Phillip Rose, director of Sony Design Centre Europe. "Since inception nearly seven decades ago, our innovation has been led by the doctrine, ‘Do what has never been done before.’” Bottom line: it looks amazing, Metal Mickey is nowhere to be seen and you can catch it at the V&A from 14 to 22 September.

M24 / Foreign Desk Explainer

What do Moscow’s elections tell us about Putin’s grip on power?

Last weekend’s municipal elections in Moscow shouldn't have made international news. However, due to some less-than-subtle silencing, imprisoning and broad-daylight beating of the opposition, Vladimir Putin made sure they did. Did the protests, and significant losses at the ballot box for Putin’s supporters, mark a shift?

Monocle Films / Global

New-generation animators

Mike Mills explains how he spun recollections from his childhood into his new film, ‘20th Century Women’, starring Annette Bening. Plus: ‘Thumbsucker’ author Walter Kirn and we write a letter of appreciation to Ferris Bueller’s sidelined sister.

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