Economist 12/15/17

  1. The philosophical gap between America and Europe is as wide as the Atlantic: on the old continent, safeguarding of personal data is considered a human right; on the new, it is seen mainly as consumer protection. Today this divide is likely to be set in legal stone: after four years of negotiations, European Union officials are expected to agree on a tough new privacy law. Online firms will have to be more diligent in getting users’ consent. Fines for carelessness (bad luck, some argue) will be hefty, probably up to 4% of global revenues. Such provisions will make it no easier for the EU and America to agree on a new transatlantic data-transfer pact to replace one the European Court of Justice struck down in October.
  2. A LONG time ago, the three actors who portrayed the primary “human” characters in the original Star Wars trilogy—Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) and Harrison Ford (Han Solo)—went into the roles as relative unknowns, but emerged as superstars. They have not starred together since, but are reunited in the “The Force Awakens”. Mr Hamill and Ms Fisher have enjoyed few screen successes between them, though the latter has enjoyed success as a bestselling author and Hollywood script doctor.Mr Ford went on from Han Solo to embody the equally swashbuckling hero Indiana Jones, and Rick Deckard the replicant-hunting antihero of “Blade Runner”.
  3. Given what a cramped, miserable experience flying has become, you can hardly blame the masses if they turn up in tracksuits and flip-flops.That much is true even of first-class cabins. But not, it seems, of first-class lounges. Yesterday, Qantas barred Kevin Pietersen  an England cricketer, from entering one of its lounges as he flew from South Africa to Australia.Qantas decided back in April to police the smartness of passengers using its ground facilities. According to its website, it wants to ensure that attire is “smart casual”.On the one hand, Mr Pietersen is right: as a customer he pays tens-of-thousands of dollars to sit at the front of Qantas’s planes, and that should entitle him to do pretty much anything he likes, beyond endangering safety and upsetting fellow passengers. But on balance, the Australian carrier has more of a right to impose its own standards.
  4. John Kerry’s visit to Moscow on December 15th, as he tries to prepare the ground for a third round of Syrian peace talks in Vienna, scheduled to open on January 1st, is a case in point. Mr Kerry’s hope is that at this meeting of the euphemistically named, 17-nation International Syrian Support Group (ISSG), agreements will be reached on a general ceasefire and a timetable for political transition.Last week, Saudi Arabia sponsored a conference of rebel groups in a bid to form as united a front as possible. Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, were not invited to Riyadh, but Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam, two powerful armed factions with Salafist roots, were. The Americans have not yet decided whether outfits of their ilk should be represented. But the Russians are clear that they should not be, and have called upon Washington to end its policy of “dividing terrorists into good guys and bad guys”.For their part, the Russians seem confused about how to treat the West’s preferred group, the Free Syrian Army (FSA)(which is fighting Mr Assad’s Russian- and Iranian-backed forces).
  5. THIS Christmas, booksellers are featuring several memoirs by rock musicians in their product queues. The authors are not all household names, yet new volumes by Elvis Costello (an English singer-songwriter, pictured), Chrissie Hynde (of The Pretenders), Patti Smith (a New York musician), Carrie Brownstein (of Sleater-Kinney) and others have already made it onto the year’s bestsellers lists.If rock ‘n’ roll has waned on the pop charts for more than a decade, why would the personal histories of artists who hail from the heydays of terrestrial FM radio and MTV matter to readers in 2015? One answer lies in the book-tour trend, in which such authors trek across America and Europe signing copies of their hardbacks, narrating slideshows about their childhoods and performing acoustic songs in front of sold-out crowds. The release of so many memoirs is more than an attempt to cash in on nostalgia.Songwriters are storytellers, and each in their way, these memoirists seem to enjoy prose as much as music and lyrics.

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