The Monocle Minute

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Today’s top stories, opinion and opportunities
Tuesday 10 May 2016

Image: Takuma Kimura

Signal failure

Since the late-March launch of the Hokkaido Shinkansen, Japan’s national newspapers have made much of the new high-speed train’s empty seats. Why spend more than four hours getting from Tokyo to Hakodate by train when there’s an 80-minute flight? And the Shinkansen line isn't expected to reach Sapporo, Hokkaido’s biggest city, until 2030. The investment in – and lukewarm reception for – the Shinkansen so far have been a drag on operator Hokkaido Railway's finances: in the just-ended fiscal year through March, operating losses exceeded ¥3.8bn (€28.3m) and president Osamu Shimada warned of bigger losses this year. (Ongoing fallout from a 2013 freight-train derailment scandal hasn't helped the company either.) Perhaps the only good news lately is that passenger numbers on long-distance express lines during Golden Week (28 April to 8 May) were up by 17 per cent from last year.

Image: Anwar Amro/Getty Images

Beirutis baffled

For the first time in six years, Lebanon headed to the polls this weekend, with many voters in Beirut hoping for a clean slate in municipal ranks amid an ongoing rubbish crisis. They were left dissatisfied: the status quo continues as the Future Movement-backed electoral list won, scuppering a popular grassroots coalition of fresh-faced independents. With widespread support, many are asking how this coalition could have been trounced at the ballot box but Lebanese law stipulates that only those with “roots” in the city – often determined by where your father was born – can vote in local elections. Turnout in Beirut hovered around a dismal 20 per cent. With so many non-Beirutis living, working and studying in the capital, denying these citizens a say on who is running their city is counterintuitive at a moment when Beirut needs all the civic engagement it can get.

Image: Leon Neal/AP Images

Scare tactics

Was he courting the headlines or simply allowing himself an innocent rhetorical flourish? At London’s British Museum yesterday David Cameron set out his latest case for the UK remaining in the EU with a speech emphasising security. He briefly conjured the image of “serried rows of white headstones” in war cemeteries and asked if Brits could be sure of “peace and stability on our continent”. Sure enough, a clutch of newspapers splashed the shocking news that the prime minister was warning of “war and genocide” and the Brexit debate reached a frenzied new pitch. But regrettably in all the noise Cameron’s otherwise reasoned and rational arguments were ignored. The front pages play into the hands of those who want to leave the EU, who will pounce on any opportunity to accuse the prime minister of scaremongering, a tactic that they themselves are often quick to employ.

Image: Adrian Scottow

In-Seine idea?

Inner-city swims can work wonders for quality of life but urban rivers seldom fulfil their morale-boosting potential. Few would find a dip in the Seine an enticing prospect but Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo hopes to use the river as a springboard to boost her city's Olympic bid. Hidalgo had previously mentioned that she would like to see the Seine used for strokes and crawls – and now that Paris is bidding against Rome, Los Angeles and Budapest to host the 2024 Games, her plans will become a formal proposal to be handed to the city council later this month. Water-quality improvement measures would turn the river into the setting for swimming in the triathlon event, as well as the 10km open-water swim. Laudable as it is, Hidalgo's intention to keep sections of the river open to the public after the games (should Paris win the bid) will still have to be put to the legacy test: many cities’ attempts to sustain their Olympic promises post-games have famously flopped. Only time will tell if Hidalgo's idea can hold water.

From Monocle 24

Image: Thomas Hanses

The great Eurovision invasion

Last week it was announced that the final of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest would be broadcast in the US for the first time, with LGBT network Logo airing the competition. We speak to Broadcast magazine’s Peter White to find out why it’s taken 61 years, why they have decided to air it now and whether the US is ready for Eurovision.

From Monocle Films

Hidden depths: Trabzon

The people of this Turkish city are tough, patriotic and proud of their culture, be it guns or folk dancing. We look at the region’s tourism industry and find out what's holding it back.

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