Monday. 29/4/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Peter Firth

Biden. His time?

Joe Biden has a problem with punctuality. When he worked in the Obama administration, the former vice-president had a reputation for showing up late to meetings in the White House. Tardiness isn’t a good look for statesmen but in Biden’s case no one really minded. “He’s just incredibly warm,” Amy Pope, who was deputy homeland security advisor at the time, tells The Briefing. “He was the kind of guy who was always late to every meeting because he was in the next room chatting up someone’s granny or getting to know someone’s child or connecting on sports. He has an incredibly diverse background and loves people.”

This sort of thing is refreshing. But it won’t be enough for Biden to position himself as the antidote to the embittered state of US politics. He must sharpen up and learn from the mistakes of his previous campaigns to beat his Democratic contemporaries to the post – and to wrest swing states from Donald Trump should he emerge as the party’s candidate.

Today Biden makes his first public address since announcing his intention to run to an audience of union workers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It will be a litmus test of Biden’s suitability for the role of commander in chief. Democrats will hope that it’s a case of cometh the hour, cometh the man.

Media / China

Positive spin

In China, when Xi Jinping speaks, the media listens – it is run by the state, after all. But will that trend spread to news outlets in other countries too? The Chinese Communist party has established the Belt and Road News Network, an alliance of 182 news outlets in 86 countries. At its first council meeting, Xi said that he wanted to see the media in countries taking part in the Belt and Road Initiative telling positive stories about China’s grand infrastructure project. But the move has worried journalists and media-watchers about the spread of propaganda. In South Africa, Chinese state-owned corporations control 20 per cent of the Independent news outlet. Few would want to see that kind of influence exerted elsewhere.

Urbanism / Los Angeles

Treading a new path

Fighting climate change requires us to rethink how cities are built and the materials used to build them. In an attempt to cool its streets and reduce the greenhouse effect, Los Angeles is starting at the bottom: with the material used for its pavements. Asphalt absorbs heat and raises the surrounding temperature so the city’s Bureau of Street Services has steadily covered pavements with a new surface that stays cooler in the sun. Town hall has dabbled with the idea since 2015 but is now undertaking the experiment on a large scale: by June three neighbourhoods will have cooler pavements covering up to 12 blocks, with another 1,500 blocks set to follow in the next 10 years. Los Angeles is often seen as the home of fresh ideas; now it has a practical plan to take the heat off its residents.

Elections / India

Modi makes his move

The epic seven-phase election in India will resume today, the fourth day of voting before it concludes on 19 May. While the logistics of mobilising the electorate in the world’s largest democracy are undoubtedly fiddly, authorities seem optimistic about the count; votes will be tallied and results declared on 23 May. So far, things are looking rosy for incumbent prime minister Narendra Modi. Cross-party co-operation – the opposition’s only hope to unseat him in his Varanasi constituency where he enjoyed a lead of more than 300,000 votes in the 2014 election – failed to materialise. Never one to miss a trick, Modi has also capitalised on last weekend’s appalling attack in Sri Lanka; having recast himself as the country’s watchmen, he’s positioned his party as a bulwark against the threat of terror.

Environment / Global

Rebels with a cause

Last week saw an end to the Extinction Rebellion climate protests in London, with 10 days of demonstrations and blockades culminating on Thursday with a “closing ceremony” in Hyde Park. While the protests may have spurred discussion around climate change, Ben Page, chief executive of research firm Ipsos Mori, told The Briefing that the topic is still far down the list of things worrying the public. “In Britain only 16 per cent of us say it’s the biggest issue facing the country. But when you get to South Africa it’s only 3 per cent and in Brazil, where the rainforest is, it’s only 4 per cent.” While the topic has clearly impassioned protesters, these results show there’s still a long way to go when it comes to convincing the wider world of the very real threat of climate change.

M24 / The Big Interview

Pipilotti Rist

Rist’s video and installation art is known across the world for its bold, resonant and often funny style. With a major retrospective of her work open at Copenhagen’s Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Monocle 24’s Augustin Macellari sat down with the Swiss artist to discuss everything from colour and collectivism to austere white walls in contemporary homes and galleries, and the importance of a good music collection.

Film / 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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