Tuesday. 3/3/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Fiona Wilson

Surprised and confused

It’s been a week of mixed messages in Japan. Until a few days ago, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (pictured) was under fire for his low-key response to the coronavirus crisis, accused of playing down the situation to minimise the damage to the economy (and the forthcoming Olympics). On Thursday, he then took everyone by surprise – including his ministry of education, it seems – by requesting that all public schools close from yesterday until the start of the new school year in early April. Working parents were left with no time to sort childcare arrangements and roared their disapproval. Where exactly did the government think these 13 million children were going to go during the shutdown? A number of local governments said there wasn’t enough time to prepare for the closures.

Abe appeared in a televised news conference on Sunday, asking for public co-operation (although still failing to explain the rationale for closing all schools) and announcing a subsidy programme for workers and businesses. Nonetheless the result has been confusion: most schools closed yesterday but some have kept facilities open for children whose parents can’t look after them. In Shimane prefecture, where no cases of coronavirus have been diagnosed, schools have stayed open. For parents, the period of idleness will not be helped by the closure of museums, zoos and every other attraction to which children are usually taken during the school holidays. Better planning and a clearer explanation of the public benefits would surely have made this abrupt decision more palatable.

Generally there is more caution than panic in Japan. Olympic preparations continue even as gatherings of any size are being discouraged. These are trying times – but Japan got through a dauntingly difficult period after the earthquake in 2011. It will weather this too.

Elections / USA

Expect the unexpected

It’s Super Tuesday in the US – the day when 14 states hold primaries to choose a Democratic nominee to take on Donald Trump in November’s presidential election – and it is set to be the most unpredictable in recent memory. Joe Biden’s landslide win in South Carolina on Saturday has single-handedly revived his campaign, prompting the surprise withdrawals of former mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar and re-asserting the former vice-president as the leading moderate alternative to the progressive platform of Bernie Sanders, the current frontrunner. But another centrist former mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has staked his entire campaign on Super Tuesday, spending record sums on television advertising, which could eat into Biden’s support. “I think a majority of people want a centrist Democrat to win the nomination,” says Democratic voter Gary Smith, a writer in Charleston, South Carolina. “We need a couple of the centrists to take a step back, so that we can consolidate the vote.” This process started with Buttigieg’s exit but could begin in earnest after the dust settles tonight.

Fashion / France

Damp but undimmed

A rain-drenched edition of Paris Fashion Week wraps up today with shows by Chanel and Louis Vuitton. Although the mood has been a bit off (many editors and buyers left early or didn’t come and some events, such as the APC show, were cancelled due to coronavirus), Paris is still the fashion week with the highest number of heavyweight luxury brands – and many of them have delivered. Hermès’s collection was bright and desirable (pictured), while Jonathan Anderson brought his artistry to Loewe.

Climate-change issues are also being acknowledged by the industry with increasing urgency – and this movement has continued in Paris. At Balenciaga, the most talked-about show of the week so far, models in big-shouldered coats and capes splashed down a runway that had been flooded with water as fires blazed on LED screens overhead. It was a pointed comment on environmental disasters – and a reminder of how powerful a runway show can be.

Transport / Thailand

Making tracks

The Thai government has outlined plans to spend US$21bn (€19bn) on an expanded rail network that befits Bangkok’s plans to open south-east Asia’s largest train station in 2021. The project will build upon existing high-speed rail projects – currently under construction – that will better link Thailand with China, Malaysia and Singapore. It could result in a marked shift in the way people move around south-east Asia: Bangkok’s central location in the region, coupled with faster trains, could potentially make travel by rail more competitive and convenient than via air corridors. South-east Asia’s trains have long been the poor cousin of their counterparts in Europe, where high-speed rail is still competitive despite the proliferation of budget airlines.

Music / Europe

Beyond ballads

Eurovision fans are buzzing as most countries have now submitted their entries for this year’s show (currently still scheduled to take place 12 to 16 May) in Rotterdam. There are whispers that Lithuania could be a strong contender with its sleek beats (think: Billie Eilish’s catchy “Bad Guy”) and choreography. For the cool crowd, Iceland impressed with the synthy “Think About Things” by Daði og Gagnamagnið. It’s a catchy tune and the retro jumpers the band wears could be the fashion trend of the event. Italy is always one to watch (three top-five finishes in the past five years) and is going with “Fai Rumore”, a classic ballad by Diodato (pictured). Ukraine’s return to the competition is welcome with the electro-folk “Solovey” by Go_A. There’s also some classic Eurovision fare ranging from the Metallica-esque beats of the Georgian act to a Serbian version of the Pussycat Dolls. Stay tuned for more updates from our M24 team and Eurovision correspondent Fernando Augusto Pacheco.

M24 / Monocle On Culture

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

We discuss female relationships, the queer gaze and the beauty of Céline Sciamma’s latest film. Ben Rylan is in conversation with Karen Krizanovich, Caspar Salmon and Chiara Rimella.

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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