Wednesday. 4/5/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Legal trouble

It’s one of the contradictions of a liberal democracy that, while we believe that voters have the right to decide who governs them, we consider the independence of courts to be essential to the smooth functioning of the system. It’s why any elected governments that seek greater control over their judiciaries – here’s looking at you, Poland and Hungary – are ominously warned of the slippery slope to autocracy that follows.

How do you achieve that independence? By keeping electoral politics out of it. Judges nominated to Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court, for example, require a two-thirds majority of lawmakers to be approved, making it almost impossible for one political party to control the process. The UK takes nominations out of politicians’ hands altogether: the Supreme Court’s 12 justices are appointed by an independent commission. This, in turn, breeds legitimacy. We trust that judges are impartial arbiters of the law and we accept their decisions as a result.

By contrast, the US Supreme Court nomination process has gone dangerously off the rails. The court’s current six-three conservative majority is hardly reflective of a country that has elected Democratic presidents in five of the past eight elections. Rather, it was engineered by Republican lawmakers who have dangerously politicised the nomination process (not that Democrats are free of blame for politicising the process).

This is the backdrop for this week’s leak of a draft decision by the Supreme Court ending the constitutional right to abortion, which – if approved as expected in the coming months – would end nearly 50 years of precedent. The ruling would also hand conservatives the biggest judicial victory of their lifetimes. But at what cost? Judicial independence? A functioning democracy? That’s a very slippery slope indeed. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle must work to reform the nomination process and take themselves out of the equation before it’s too late.

Image: Getty Images

Media / Russia

Insider’s view

“During four years at RT, I learned a lot about how to be a journalist – and more about how not to be one,” writes an anonymous reporter in Monocle’s May issue. The RT in question is the media organisation formerly known as Russia Today, a Kremlin-funded TV channel that has been banned in most of the EU after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, due to its jingoistic propaganda and bellicose support for the Putin regime. Our undercover former employee disagrees with that ban, arguing that it goes against the tenets of free speech championed by the West, while also detailing the disorder and toxicity at the heart of the channel. There are sinister trips to Crimea after its 2014 annexation and orders to collect as much clickbait-type content as possible, including from a micro-penis pageant in New York (yes, that’s a thing). It’s a riveting read that offers something missing from so much coverage of the Kremlin’s propaganda machine: a proper insider’s account.

Subscribers can read the full report in our out-now May issue. Subscribe to Monocle today for a lively, independent and upbeat view on the world.

Image: Orbital Assembly

Hospitality / Space

Celestial folly

In certain strange orbits, the idea of space tourism is all the rage, with a proliferation of new projects getting in on the act – and astronomically over-promising what they can deliver. The US-based Orbital Assembly is the latest space company to make wild-eyed claims, unveiling a concept for two new space-station hotels. The smaller one, housing 28 people, should be operational in 2025.

“To get these hotels to work, you have to have supply chains; you have to get the equipment to space; you have to make sure it works; you have to maintain it; you have to have people going up and down all the time; and you have to be sure that it’s safe,” space scientist and author David Whitehouse told Monocle 24’s The Briefing. “That is not something you can do in a couple of years.” We’re all for creative hospitality concepts at Monocle but, considering the safety issues, it’s perhaps best not to rush the final frontier for the sake of publicity.

Image: Shutterstock

Urbanism / France

Quiet protest

Noise meters (akin to speed cameras) installed in Paris earlier this year have muted the once-revving mopeds that punctuated France’s capital before the pandemic but a new racket is permeating the night: people. While the reclamation of street space for hospitality is generally considered a positive outcome of coronavirus restrictions, the newly buzzing terraces are giving some residents sleepless nights. The hum of hospitality has been a problem for years in the 11th arrondissement, which boasts the densest spread of bars of any Parisian district, but it has grown markedly worse of late: complaints to the mayor’s office rose nearly fourfold from 2020 to 2021. Pressure groups such as Réseau Vivre Paris! and Droit au sommeil (Right to Sleep) are gaining traction with calls to scale back pedestrianisation. We suggest a middle-ground that encourages respect for neighbours and doesn’t allow the changes of the past few years to be framed as a misstep – because that really would be something to lose sleep over.

Image: Justine Trickett/British Library

Culture / UK

Read all about it

Breaking the News, a new exhibition at the British Library, explores the power of the media industry and the journalists behind it, from influencing elections to turning ordinary people into overnight sensations. It also covers pertinent issues such as when news veers into becoming propaganda and how much power editors have over which stories they choose to spotlight. With the UK’s largest collection of news articles already located at the library, the exhibition analyses coverage of some of the UK’s biggest stories of the past 500 years, from reports about Jack the Ripper to the war in Syria. “It’s an advertisement to news itself,” curator Luke McKernan tells Monocle. “We wanted to show stories that made us drawn to the news. We also reflect all the ways that news comes to us, from newspapers to radio and, more recently, social media.” The London exhibition runs until August, with pop-ups at more than 30 libraries across the country.

Listen to an interview with McKernan on this Saturday’s edition of ‘The Stack’ on Monocle 24.

Image: STARZPLAY

Monocle 24 / Monocle On Culture

What to watch

Critic and broadcaster Scott Bryan and Inkoo Kang of The Washington Post talk all things TV with Robert Bound. We discuss the best shows on the small screen today, including Gaslit (pictured), as well as what’s coming up. Expect everything from crime, cooking and comedy to dinosaurs.

Monocle Films / Finland

The home of the Finnish art scene

We tour the breathtaking studios of artists’ residence Lallukka in Helsinki, which hasn’t changed its purpose since it was completed in 1933. The landmark functionalist building offers spaces at low rents so that its tenants can focus on one thing: making art.

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