Tuesday. 5/5/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

You be the judge

Covering high-court cases is one of the more humbling experiences I’ve had as a journalist. Those I have reported on have ranged from listening to US Supreme Court justices consider Washington’s right to ban handguns to the German Constitutional Court debating whether the European Central Bank could do “whatever it takes”, as it had proclaimed, to prop up southern European economies during the continent’s debt crisis. It’s easy to feel completely out of your depth listening to the back and forth of an oral argument in cryptic legalese. And yet, as I strained to pick out the “quotable moments”, I couldn’t help but feel intensely aware of the weighty matters being discussed; decisions with massively far-reaching implications for politics, business and society.

The next challenge would be to convert that legalese into an article that was readable, engaging and captured the importance of the moment for a public that couldn’t attend (bar a few hundred in the public galleries). Well, this week I don’t have to: the broader US public can now take in the experience for themselves. With justices stuck at home like the rest of us, the US Supreme Court (pictured) held oral arguments via teleconference for the first time in its history yesterday and allowed anyone to listen in.

At stake on Monday was the tricky question of trademarks in the internet age – specifically whether the website Booking.com has the right to lay claim to such a generic name. More cases are in the pipeline: mark your calendars for 12 May when the court considers whether Donald Trump is required to hand over his tax returns. It’s a worthwhile experience for lawyers and non-lawyers alike. After all, this is where history is made – and you can listen to it all from the comfort of your sofa.

Defence / Japan

Keeping the peace

Three years ago, Shinzo Abe said that he hoped to amend Japan’s pacifist constitution by 2020 to give the country’s sizeable Self-Defense Forces a more explicit legal footing. And though it remains one of Abe’s key goals before he steps down in September 2021, coronavirus has brought the possibility of constitutional reform to a standstill. In a video message to pro-amendment supporters this weekend, Abe expressed his regret but added that there was “no wavering in my resolve”. More critically for the prime minister, the public is lukewarm on the whole idea. In an annual poll published by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, 72 per cent said that there was no need to rush the matter and 64 per cent favoured keeping the constitution as it is anyway. With Japan’s state of emergency extended until 31 May, constitutional reform remains firmly on the back burner.

Education / Italy

Testing times

Though Italy’s lockdown is finally being eased somewhat this week, regular school lessons have been postponed until September. But pupils’ education won’t be completely halted this summer. From 17 June high schools will host exams for the 463,000 students currently in their final year. The schools will be adapted for the times: written tests will be skipped in favour of an hour-long individual oral exam (only 10 people will be allowed in a classroom at any given time, including the candidate, examiners and witnesses). The importance of holding these exams in person goes beyond making sure that pupils don’t cheat on their laptops. The Maturità (Maturity) as it’s known in Italian – and the night immediately preceding it – enjoys its own folklore in Italian society, inspiring songs and films aplenty, including the 2006 teen comedy Notte Prima Degli Esami or Night Before the Exams (pictured). Sitting the Maturità isn’t just about getting a grade, it’s a ritual that pinpoints the bittersweet transition from youth to adulthood – and rituals never fare well in a digital format.

Music / Latin America

Making it their own

This week the international recording industry association IFPI issued its annual report on the state of the music business. Total music revenues worldwide rose 8.2 per cent to $20.2bn (€18.5bn) in 2019, with streaming on the rise in most markets and sales of physical music in decline (albeit at a much slower rate than in past years). When you look at the world picture, Latin America is once again the region with the highest growth. Its three largest markets – Brazil, Mexico and Argentina – all posted double-digit growth, with a whopping 40 per cent jump in sales in the latter. Iñigo Zabala, president of Warner Music for Latin America and Iberia, credits part of the growth to the ability of artists such as Colombian singer J Balvin (pictured) to assimilate musical tastes from elsewhere. “We take on board the influence of what is happening around the world and we Latinise it: we Latinise hip-hop; we Latinise pop; we Latinise rock,” he says.

Design / China & Denmark

Best in showroom

While many of the top furniture brands in Europe are manufacturing again, the challenge of reopening showrooms, letting clients get up close and personal before making that premium purchase, remains. So discerning eyes in the trade might have looked with envy to Shanghai, where Danish furniture brand Gubi has collaborated with Chinese lifestyle firm Beast to launch Gubi House in a recently restored 100-year-old mansion (pictured). In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak in China, this remarkable showroom – in scale and spectacle – is now fully open to the public. It also highlights the importance that the Chinese market now holds for the wider design industry as the West waits for restrictions on retail spaces to be relaxed. Italy’s premium furniture companies have made inroads in eastern markets in recent years. Now the more minimalist stylings of Scandinavian firms are catching on too.

M24 / The Menu

In praise of eating out

As many are longing for restaurant meals under lockdown, we hear from William Sitwell, who has released a book about the (surprisingly) long history of eating out. Also in the programme: South Korean chef Cho Hee-sook, who’s been ranked best in Asia, plus a new initiative supporting restaurants in Germany and Switzerland.

Monocle Films / Armenia

Yerevan's open doors

We shine a spotlight on entrepreneurship in Armenia. Yerevan’s boulevards are lined with magnificent Soviet architecture but venture beyond the imperious façades and you’ll find a busy start-up scene and well-funded art centres. Armenia shows how a small nation can benefit from building strong ties to its powerful diaspora.

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