Tuesday. 31/3/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Tomos Lewis

Is there anybody out there?

Things didn’t go particularly smoothly for Joe Biden as the first virtual town hall meeting of his ongoing bid to win the Democratic presidential nomination got underway earlier this month. The audio glitched and the live video feed wobbled. Once the technical niggles had settled, the former vice-president appeared in a crisp blue-and-white striped shirt with a small enamel pin of the US flag tacked to the lapel of his blazer.

After a video briefing from the former US surgeon general Vivek Murthy, who is serving on the Biden campaign’s coronavirus taskforce, the floor was turned over to voters who were calling in from across Illinois via phone and video-conferencing systems. Anyone who wanted to ask a question – and was watching via the Zoom meeting app – could click a “raised-hand” button on their screen to be added to the online queue. The questions ran the gamut of Biden’s platform for president, including how he will extend his appeal to those who have voted for his challenger for the nomination, Bernie Sanders; queries about his healthcare proposals; and how he intends to protect endangered species. “I’m sorry this has been such a disjointed effort here, because of the connections,” Biden told his questioners, warmly. “[But] there’s a lot more to say,” he added before signing off.

This is what the campaign looks like now. No door-knocking; no mass rallies; no shaking hands with prospective voters; no meetings with locals at diners or coffee shops. For Donald Trump – without the rowdy, reality-show pomp of his rallies to cover him – voters will focus on his time as president. But Biden faces a challenge that few other presidential hopefuls have had to contend with before: remaining visible. No matter how statesmanlike his response to the coronavirus outbreak might be – is anyone listening to it?

Aviation / Japan

Flying high

The news all but disappeared in the midst of Tokyo’s semi-lockdown and unseasonably late snow but the city’s Haneda Airport has, over the weekend, increased capacity from 80 to 90 flights per hour. Commercial flights now have permission to land over densely populated neighbourhoods of central Tokyo, such as Shibuya and Shinjuku. The change allows planes to land into the wind – the ideal option – when it is blowing from the south. Previously in such conditions, pilots would usually come in from east to west across Tokyo Bay. It’s a positive change, though questions remain about noise and safety as planes fly more directly over the capital. Centrally located Haneda has also opened a smart ¥62bn (€520m) wing at Terminal 2, with a view to raising the number of international flights by 40 per cent. Opened with little fanfare, the expansion should help Haneda rebound when the aviation world returns to business as usual.

Diplomacy / Canada

Key negotiator

Justin Trudeau officially named Kirsten Hillman as Canada’s ambassador to the US last week, making her the first woman to hold the post. Unlike most Canadian ambassadors, Hillman, who had been acting ambassador since August, isn’t a career politician but a lawyer and experienced trade negotiator. She was chief negotiator for Canada’s entrance into the Trans-Pacific Partnership and a key figure in the 13-month USMCA negotiations (known as “Nafta 2.0”) with the US and Mexico.

“She has experience at the highest levels and is highly regarded on both sides of the border,” says Lawrence Herman, an international trade lawyer and senior fellow at the CD Howe Institute. “In Washington, what’s critical for Canada is that the ambassador be seen by the Americans as someone who can pick up the phone and speak to the prime minister. And she can do that. I think that it’s a terrific appointment.”

Transport / Australia

Running for office

The Australian state of Queensland bucked the global trend and held municipal elections at the weekend. The incumbent mayors of its two biggest cities – Brisbane and the Gold Coast – retained their posts, including Tom Tate. His record third term as mayor of the Gold Coast comes partly thanks to his support for an expansion of the city’s beachside light-rail project; every other mayoral candidate supported an enlargement of the city’s inland commuter-rail network. Tate’s victory signals public support for light rail which, although slower than heavy-rail options, allows for more direct and efficient connections with residential neighbourhoods and the city’s crown jewel: the coast. The flagship project is supported by the state too: Queensland’s transport minister, Mark Bailey, reiterated that the proposed route “would travel close to where people already live, work and go to the beach”. Other mayors looking to strengthen links between existing neighbourhoods might consider hopping aboard light rail too.

Media / Global

Changing channels

It comes as no surprise to hear that people are flocking to streaming services during the pandemic but terrestrial television is also seeing a rebound – something of a reversal in fortune compared with recent years. In the US, viewing figures for classic comfort-TV shows, such as NBC’s The Voice and the long-running Survivor on CBS, have risen; the latest season of the latter is up 18 per cent year on year. In Brazil, meanwhile, more people than ever (almost 24 per cent of the national audience) are tuning in to the country’s version of Big Brother. Networks are also paying more attention to children’s shows, especially in countries where schools are closed. Italian broadcaster RAI, for example, has increased such programming significantly. But the terrestrial comeback is not all down to comfort viewing: leaders’ pronouncements, including Emmanuel Macron’s televised speech in France and Boris Johnson’s recent address to the UK (27.1 million viewers), also demonstrate that broadcast television remains a vital part of the global media landscape.

M24 / Meet The Writers

Omar Shahid Hamid

Omar Shahid Hamid is an award-winning Pakistani writer. A serving member of the Karachi Police, he has been actively targeted by various terrorist groups and wounded in the line of duty. He’s hailed for his ability to translate the complexity of life in Pakistan, especially the criminal underbelly of Karachi, into nail-biting crime fiction.

The Monocle Book of Japan / Global

The Monocle Book of Japan

Jump aboard the Monocle Shinkansen and join our team as we go on a hunt for untold stories. Our new book delivers a unique insight into the people, places and products that define Japan, whether you want design inspiration or business nous. Pre-order your copy at the Monocle Shop.

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