Thursday. 4/6/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Tomos Lewis

Biden’s race relations

In a speech in Philadelphia on Tuesday, Joe Biden, the Democratic party’s presumptive presidential nominee, addressed the unrest that has roiled US cities for more than a week. He accused Donald Trump of fanning “the flames of hatred” and exacerbating divisions rather than seeking to heal the systemic racial inequalities laid bare by George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and the national upheaval it has sparked.

This moment marks a shift in profile for the former vice-president. Biden has struggled during the coronavirus pandemic to run a presidential campaign from the confines of his home. But the demonstrations (and the tentative lifting of stay-at-home restrictions) have brought him out and into the national conversation once again. Biden’s relationship with many African-American communities runs deep and, while Trump has threatened cities with military intervention, Biden has sought to speak directly to those for whom the stakes in the demonstrations are highest, to listen and to look them in the eye.

But it’s a delicate moment for Biden too. While it was the support of South Carolina’s black Democratic voters that revived his faltering presidential campaign in February, a recent radio interview in which he said that African-American Trump voters “ain’t black” drew widespread criticism. Pressure is also mounting on him to choose a black vice-presidential nominee (Biden has already vowed to choose a woman as his running mate). This too is sensitive, though the current strong support for him among black voters could allay concerns within his campaign that accusations of tokenism will follow if he makes that choice.

Trump won the presidency in 2016 by driving down voter turnout (outside of his own passionate base). Biden’s challenge will be to counter that this time around. How the past week’s demonstrations will translate on election day in November is impossible to say. But the past week has shown how high the stakes of that vote are.

Diplomacy / Libya

Peace of work

Libya’s warring factions this week agreed to resume ceasefire talks. While the decision has been welcomed by a number of regional players, including the UAE and Egypt, it’s also being treated with a healthy amount of scepticism. “Libyans have seen [these] promises about negotiations to agree a ceasefire so many times before but they ultimately break down and we’re still in the middle of this grinding stalemated war,” Mary Fitzgerald, journalist and Libya expert, told The Briefing. Still, Fitzgerald suggests that there could be an opening this time, if only because the primary instigator of Libya’s civil war, Khalifa Haftar, has lost ground recently in his year-long effort to take the capital, Tripoli. “He’s really on the back foot and some of his forces have retreated in recent weeks, including a whole host of Russian mercenaries who have been fighting for him,” says Fitzgerald. Whether that’s enough of a reason for him to make peace remains an open question.

Transport / Tokyo

Moving with the times

In a city that famously relies on packed commuter trains, the Tokyo metropolitan area has been forced to rethink its transport strategy due to the coronavirus pandemic. According to a recent survey, nearly two thirds of Tokyo-based companies now allow their employees to commute by bicycle, up from 26 per cent in February. The reason for the past reluctance? Big corporations have traditionally cited safety concerns about their employees cycling to the office: workers are much less likely to have an accident on public transport than when on a bike in busy traffic. The lack of cycle lanes in the capital has long been a headache but Tokyo’s metropolitan government had already planned to double the length of its lane network from 112km in 2011 to 221km by the end of this year and was eager to continue expanding the cycling infrastructure next year. Now the pandemic might further accelerate that move to a healthier and greener urban lifestyle.

Infrastructure / Russia

Broken connection

One of Russia’s most isolated cities has found itself cut off from central Russia. The north-western port city of Murmansk suffered a bridge collapse across the Kola River during flooding last week, severing its only rail connection with the rest of the country. Passenger and cargo transportation has been suspended, severely impacting Russia’s largest coal company, Suek, which co-owns the city’s port and relies on the bridge to ship coal across the country. A temporary structure could be erected in a matter of weeks but would struggle to handle rail traffic; the region’s governor has promised to fast-track existing plans for a new bridge but it’s still likely to take six months or more. Murmansk’s governor admitted that the bridge’s support pillars had “barely been strengthened” in the past 90 years; that should serve as a reminder for authorities everywhere to maintain their infrastructure.

F&B / France

Pint au chocolat

Ordering a pain au chocolat in Toulouse would raise a few eyebrows. Why? Because this most classic of French treats is known to residents as a chocolatine. Proud of this unique nomenclature, the city’s Ice Breaker Brewing company has launched a new chocolatine stour (pictured), utilising unsold pastries from the nearby boulangeries. How do you integrate these sweet treats into the brewing process, you ask? “We turn the chocolatines into a concentrate and remove a maximum of fat,” says Anne-Sophie Bigot, co-founder of Ice Breaker Brewing. “In the end the concentrate brings a lovely chocolaty, pastry-like taste to the beer.” The brewery has called this particular beer Nothing Toulouse – a nod to its efficient use of food waste. “It literally means nothing to lose – everything can be recycled,” says Bigot.

M24 / Monocle On Design

Meet your makers

Monocle’s Josh Fehnert talks to our Tokyo bureau chief, Fiona Wilson, about how traditional crafts can help us to rethink manufacturing moving forwards. Plus: we hear from the visionaries behind furniture brands Another Country and Living Edge, from London and Australia respectively.

Film / Czech Republic

Speciality retail: Prague

Prague butcher Naše maso has married traditional know-how with contemporary design to create a culinary destination in the Czech capital. This month’s specialist retailer tells us about his special cuts and meaty passions.

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