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International Briefs

International Briefs
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Literary Legend

He stood on the shoulders of literary giants, after all, he discovered and published most of them—Michael Ondaatje, VS Naipaul, Ryszard Kapuscinski, Haruki Murakami, Gabriel García Márquez, Salman Rushdie, Kazuo Ishiguro, Stieg Larsson (the Millennium trilogy), John Le Carre, Toni Morrison, Pope John Paul II, Patti Smith, and even low-brow but hugely successful books like Fifty Shades of Grey.

Ishiguro, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, once said: “There are some very good publishers in this world. Sonny Mehta is a great one.” Mehta, who passed away last week aged 77, was considered the world’s best publisher. His 32-year tenure at Alfred Knopf, after publishing stints in London, earned him that reputation when his discerning eye and love of literature inspired him to commission writers who would go on to earn fame and nine Nobel prizes. He published Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children when at Picador, and the author recalls “how great Sonny’s editorial skills were. We went through the draft line by line, and he wanted clarifications, demanded more depth and improved the text beyond all measure”. Mehta leaves behind his wife, Gita, sister of the Odisha Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik, and a son, Aditya.

The Ultimate List

There’s one year-end list everyone who is anyone reads; it is ex-US President Barack Obama’s favourite books, music and shows over the past year. His picks showed his intellectual depth and eclectic tastes. Most interesting were his list of the best music he heard in 2019, which, apart from the usual suspects—Beyonce, Solange, Frank Ocean—had an artist from India, Prateek Kuhad. Kuhad gained popularity and fame for his composition cold/mess which went viral after its release in 2018, and was the song picked by Obama. Kuhad has moved from playing single-stage music at indie concerts to global concert tours, without making much of an im­pact in the country of his birth. Now, with Obama’s endorsement, he is poised to be a big music star.

After the list came out, Kuhad’s cold/mess has been trending in America and elsewhere as music fans download his releases. The singer/ composer was blown away. On his Facebook page, he said: “This just happened and I don’t think I’ll sleep tonight. Totally flipping out. I have no idea how cold/mess even reached him but thank you @barackobama, thank you universe I didn’t think 2019 could’ve gotten better, but damn was I wrong. What an honour.” Obama’s best books list also included another Indian connection—Delhi-based William Dalrymple’s The Anarchy, a riveting story of the rise of the East India Company.

A Unique Safety Net

When Swedish tech-giant Ericsson was forced to lay off thousands of local workers in a cost-cutting exercise, there were no protests or strikes. That is largely due to the country’s unique Job Security Council, TRR. In Sweden, employers pay part of their salary to the councils, which acts like an insurance policy against unexpected retrenchment, till they find a new job. Which is why Sweden’s workforce barely ever experiences the stress and trauma of losing a job.

The councils are run in a 50-50 partnership between employers and trade unions. For businesses and government, the system makes it easier for Swedish businesses to get rid of jobs made redundant by technology. That also explains why Sweden has the highest re-employment rate in the developed world. The councils also provide professional coaches who retrain and counsel workers to help them find jobs matching their skills and needs. In some cases, Swedish workers have seen their earnings actually rise after being laid off.

The Great Merger

The big buzz in the global tech world is the proposed merger of the technology that drives the messaging apps, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger, all owned by Facebook. The proposal was revealed in a leaked memo but insiders have long known that it was one of Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg’s secret projects. Once the leak was out, Zuckerberg admitted that the project was on, saying it would make it easier for users to send posts between the three platforms.

Experts point out that the move will create a unified tech behemoth which increases the risks of privacy breaches and makes it more difficult to take any action against any of the three in case of legal infringements. Already, US senators have argued that Facebook wields too much power and influence, while The Wall Street Journal reported that the Federal Trade Commission may intervene to prevent the apps being integrated. Zuckerberg has already testified once before the US Senate Committee on the usage of personal data by Facebook in relation to the Cambridge Analytica data breach.

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