Tuesday. 25/2/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Proportional response

Two stories struck me on Monday. The first was an alert issued by the World Health Organisation, which said that coronavirus still falls short of being a global pandemic but urged countries to enter a “phase of preparedness”. It seemed that there were two ways to interpret such a warning: the BBC chose the headline, “World should prepare for pandemic”. Perhaps it’s better to keep our wits about us and go with the less sexy, “This is not yet a pandemic and we still have time to get this under control.” As Dr Chris Smith emphasised on The Briefing(https://monocle.com/radio/shows/the-briefing/2163) yesterday, the key going forward will be to slow the rate of infections – allowing time for better preparedness – rather than to stop infections outright.

The second story stems from the US presidential race and the Democrats’ caucus in Nevada over the weekend. Candidate Pete Buttigieg, who came in third behind Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, issued a letter alleging voting “irregularities” and requesting a review of the results. Such language and actions matter. Is Mayor Pete really alleging some kind of purposeful manipulation? Or, more likely, were there some honest-mistake discrepancies in the always-chaotic caucus nomination process?

It’s in fearful times like ours that politicians and journalists have a special responsibility to keep things in perspective. Sowing the seeds of panic (about coronavirus) and doubt (about the integrity of US elections) is easy; undoing their effects is far harder. A good reason for us all to try our best to keep things in perspective.

Politics / Germany

Poll axed

German chancellor Angela Merkel’s troubled Christian Democratic party (CDU) is in turmoil. The centre-right party, which is searching for a new leader, is reeling after posting its worst-ever election result in the city-state of Hamburg over the weekend, garnering just 11.2 per cent of the vote. If there is a silver lining, it’s that it still tops national polls, even though the party can’t decide on a successor to Merkel. The centre-left Social Democratic party (SPD), which won in Hamburg thanks to popular mayor Peter Tschentscher (pictured), remains mired in a national slump, while the Greens – heirs apparent to the SPD – don’t seem able to take the top spot in polls. All of this gives the CDU time to right the ship: elections for a new leader are set for April. The party had better get it right this time if it hopes to govern past Merkel’s fourth (and final) term.

Elections / Bolivia

Open to debate

Bolivia’s general election on 3 May will be hotly contested – a new batch of polls suggests that support for the current transitional government is falling. Bolivia has been through some dramatic changes in recent months following the resignation of Evo Morales (pictured) in November after a disputed election the previous month; he had been in charge for nearly 14 years.

Opposition senator Jeanine Áñez took over as interim president but the limelight doesn’t appear to be helping her: she is currently third in the polls behind Luis Arce, the former economy minister and Morales’s preferred candidate, and the centrist former president Carlos Mesa. It’s a sign that, though Morales himself might not be on the ballot in May, his supporters aren’t going anywhere. Still, it could be tough for Arce to win outright; if he doesn’t take a majority in the first round, other candidates could rally behind his opponent in a run-off.

Culture / Japan

On-screen chemistry

Relations between Japan and South Korea, fragile at the best of times, have been under particular stress since a diplomatic dispute about Japanese compensation for colonial labour was worsened by a tit-for-tat trade spat last year. The unlikely bright spot on the horizon is Parasite, the Oscar-winning social satire from South Korea. Japanese audiences have embraced the film since its widespread release on 10 January: it has topped the box office and is now the highest-grossing South Korean film ever released in the country. Director Bong Joon-ho and one of the film’s stars, Song Kang-ho (both pictured, Bong on left), spoke to reporters at the Japan Press Club on Sunday. “I’ve come to Tokyo because I want to express my appreciation for the interest that all the filmgoers have shown,” said Bong. Popular culture – from TV dramas to pop music – has always been a strong link between the two countries; Parasite shows yet again that it can be a more effective diplomatic tool than the usual political rhetoric.

Urbanism / Buffalo

Move with the times

Officials in Buffalo, New York, are beginning to plan for a future of roads dominated by driverless cars. Starting today the city is hosting a week-long series of workshops in partnership with the US advocacy group Congress for the New Urbanism to develop a policy ensuring that public spaces aren’t compromised by new mobility solutions. There’s an urgency to this work. “You don’t want to do this kind of problem-solving when [the technology] is right at your door,” says the congress’s president Lynn Richards. “Then you’re just reacting to those changes.” Being unprepared – and reactive – can be disastrous for cities and their public spaces; you only have to look at the issues caused by the unexpected rise of the e-scooter for evidence. Other city halls should ride in Buffalo’s slipstream and do some future mobility planning of their own.

M24 / On Culture

Steve McQueen at Tate Modern

We discuss the new show of the artist and filmmaker, Steve McQueen, and revisit an interview with the man himself.

Monocle Films / Global

Winter Weekender 2020: St Moritz

After our successful Bavarian outing last year, we’re back with another alpine adventure. Join us for two days filled with inspiring debates, Swiss hospitality and – if you like – a spot of skiing too. Find out more and book your ticket for the Winter Weekender here.

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