Fiction takes its time: Arundhati Roy on why it took 20 years to write her second novel

The author of The God Of Small Things talks about political activism and why she fled India to finish her new book

When Arundhati Roy completed her new novel, her first in 20 years, she told her literary agent, I dont want all this bidding and vulgarity, you know. She wanted interested publishers to write her a letter instead, describing how they understood her book. She then convened a meeting with them. OK, her agent prompted afterwards. You know what they think. Youve met them. Now decide.

Oh no, she told him. Not yet. First Ill have to consult. He was puzzled. You consult me, right? No, I have to consult these folks. You know, the folks in my book. So the author and her agent sat together in silence while she asked the characters in her novel which publisher they liked the best. When Roy announced their choice, her agent pointed out that his bid was half what other publishers were offering. Yes, she shrugged. But they like him.

Seeing my expression as she relates this, Roy starts to smile. Everyone thinks I live alone, but I dont. My characters all live with me. Theyre always with her? Oh yes. As soon as I shut the door, its, So what did you think of that person? Idiot, right? Will she ask them how this interview went after I leave? She looks surprised Id need to ask. Yes, of course.

To many of Roys literary admirers, her work over the past 20 years has been something of a puzzle. Is she really a literary figure, or was her first novel a sort of fluke? Roy was 35 when she published her debut, The God Of Small Things, to rapturous acclaim. A semi-autobiographical tale of an Indian family fading into decline, fractured by tragedy and scandal, it won the Booker prize, sold more than 8m copies in 42 languages, and transformed an unknown screenwriter into a global celebrity, tipped as the new literary voice of a generation. In the 20 years since then, Roy has published dozens of essays and non-fiction books, made documentaries, protested against government corruption, Hindu nationalism, environmental degradation and inequality, campaigned for Kashmiri independence, Maoist rebels and indigenous land rights, and featured on Time magazines list of the worlds 100 most influential people. To her political fans, she is the radical left voice of principled resistance; to her critics, the worst sort of adolescent idealist: unrealistic, self-indulgent. She has faced criminal charges of contempt and sedition, been imprisoned, and fled India briefly last year in fear for her life. She has not, until now, however, published another word of fiction.

Arundhati
Winning the Booker prize for The God Of Small Things in 1997. Photograph: Getty Images

In 2011, she hinted at a second novel under way, but as the years passed and none materialised, for some it became increasingly implausible to consider Roy a literary writer at all. Where the voice in The God Of Small Things was subtle and allusive, her non-fiction writing and political activism have often been criticised as strident in tone, and simplistic. I hadnt been sure which voice to expect when we meet in a London hotel to talk about the new novel, The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness.

Roy is swathed in pale pink linen, draped around her upper body like a sari over rolled up jeans, open-toed sandals and bright red nail varnish; she moves with arresting grace, and speaks softly. At 55, she retains an impish air of ingenue about her, and the quiet mischief in her smile suggests a certain pleasure in her own troublesome single-mindedness; she likes to talk in elliptical sentences that often tail away into elegant gestures or playfully knowing expressions. On the question of whether or not she is a literary writer, she says, To me there is nothing higher than fiction. Nothing. It is fundamentally who I am. I am a teller of stories. For me, thats the only way I can make sense of the world, with all the dance that it involves.

She began her second novel, she thinks, 10 years ago, but isnt sure (I dont really remember; I mean, its so esoteric) and allowed no thought to how long it took to complete. Her literary agent knew her too well, she grins, to waste his time trying to hurry her up. Her essays and articles have been written to deadlines precipitated by events military action, court judgments and so forth whereas the fiction just takes its time. Its no hurry. I cant write it faster or slower than I have; its like youre a sedimentary rock thats just gathering all these layers, and swimming around. The difference between the fiction and the non-fiction is simply the difference between urgency and eternity.

She knew she didnt want to write God Of Small Things 2, but whereas her debut was inspired by the narrative of her family childhood, her second is autobiographical in a different sense, this time capturing the sensibility and habits of her adult life. I wanted to write where Im just drifting around, the way I do in Delhi, in mosques and strange places, as I have all my life. Just delighting in all the crazies and the sweethearts, and the joy in the saddest places, and the unexpectedness of things. No one is too lowly to escape Roys interest or company; I never want to walk past anyone; I want to sit down and have a cigarette and say, Hey man, whats going on? How is it? That is, I think, the book.

The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness is exactly that, the sprawling and colourfully populated tale of a transgender woman, who is known in India as a hijra, who leaves home as a child to live in a community of hijrasin the crumbling dilapidation of Delhis old city. Diva-ish yet comradely, defiant and vulnerable, the communitys residents are at once outcasts and objects of transgressively glamorous curiosity. But at 46, Anjum gets caught up in a massacre in Gujarat, after which she resolves to quit the hijra community and re-enter the world. Traumatised but single-minded, she sets up home in a graveyard, and bit by bit builds guest rooms on to the graves, until her Jannat Guest House becomes home to a fabulously outlandish medley of the excluded: untouchables, Muslim converts, hijras, addicts, even an abandoned baby, Zainab, whom Anjum adopts.

Running in tandem is another elaborate narrative, set in and about Kashmir. My preference would have been for the Kashmir story to have been a separate novel altogether, but for Roy the different strands are all congruent, because this is a book about borders. Geographically, Kashmir is riven through with borders, and everybody in the book has a border running through them. So its a book about, how do you understand these borders? And how do you then reach out and say to everyone, Come to Jannat Guest House, you know? Everybodys welcome!

Arundhati
My idea of a nightmare is people standing very elegantly dressed in a room with a drink in their hand. Photograph: Chandni Ghosh

The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness is a riotous carnival, as wryly funny and irreverent as its author. The endless parade of oddballs and eccentrics can get a little exhausting, rather like a party at which new guests keep arriving, but Roys policy of indiscriminate inclusion is not just an editorial choice; it is the literary expression of solidarity, and the fundamental theme both of Roys politics and of the book.

Caste is about dividing people up in ways that preclude every form of solidarity, because even in the lowest castes there are divisions and sub-castes, and everyones co-opted into the business of this hierarchical, silo-ised society. This is the politics of making a grid of class, of caste, of ethnicity, of religion. And then making the grid ever more fine is very much part of how you rule the world, saying, Youre a Muslim, youre a Hindu, youre a Shia, youre a Sunni, youre a Barelvi, youre a Brahmin, youre a Saraswat Brahmin, youre a Dalit, youre gay, youre straight, youre trans and only you can speak for yourself, and theres no form of solidarity being allowed. So what people think of as freedom is really slavery.

Even in modernised contemporary India, she says, fewer than 1% marry outside their caste. What I love about Anjum is that when shes caught up [in the massacre in Gujarat], shes spared because shes a hijra. Having been saved by the very identity that used to exclude her makes her feel solidarity, and want to understand what is going on in the world beyond what she is. And she wants to understand the world when she becomes Zainabs mother, for Zainab. She doesnt accept this grid. She breaks it, and comes out. Roy breaks into a beatific smile. And that, for me, is so sweet.

***

Roy has lived her entire life outside the grid. Born in Meghalaya, India, in 1961, she was the daughter of a faintly scandalous marriage between her upscale Syrian Christian mother and lower status Bengali Hindu father. Just two when it ended, she moved with her mother and brother to Kerala, where her mother set up a school for girls and became known as a human rights activist. Charismatic, indomitable and rather overbearing, my mother is like a character who escaped from the set of a Fellini film, Roy has joked in the past. Although she is obviously a role model, Roy has also joked that when her mother is with her, I feel like we are two nuclear-armed states. We have to be a bit careful.

She studied architecture in Delhi, and married an independent film-maker, Pradip Krishen, but had no interest in the respectable conventions of wifeliness or motherhood. She has always said she spent so much of her own childhood helping her mother to look after the girls at her school that by the time I was 16, I never wanted to see another child again. Her political causes have taken her to live with Indian Maoists in the jungle, visit Edward Snowden in Moscow, campaign against US foreign policy in Afghanistan, protest against Indias nuclear test programme, advocate for the anti-globalisation movement and become the poster girl for Kashmiri independence all of which set her decidedly at odds with mainstream modernising opinion in her home country.

Today, Roy finds herself more at odds with her government than ever before, under the rule of Hindu nationalist prime minister Narendra Modi. People talk about the arrival of Trump in America, then they mention Modi in the same breath. But Modis not the same thing, because, you know, Trump is like the effluent of a toxic factory process, but Modi is the product. Hes the product of this institution called the RSS, a rightwing Hindu nationalist paramilitary organisation that supports the ruling BJP party.

Early last year, student protests broke out in universities across India over the hanging of a Kashmiri separatist about whom Roy had written in support. The police came and [the students] were arrested, and they were jailed, and they were showing up in court. The thugs were going into court, beating up everyone. People were being lynched, beaten up. And suddenly one night on the main news channel, the news anchor goes, Yes, these are students, but whos the mind behind them? Whos the person whos written this, this, this? Its Arundhati Roy, you know. The mobs were overrunning the courts, saying, Shes the one whos written all this stuff. And because I was working on the book, and I knew I was so close to finishing, I just bought a ticket and left, came here to London. I felt highly ashamed of myself.

Because shed fled? Yes. I came here because I had this thing that I had been protecting. I was working on the book, and so close to finishing. So I left. I was here in absolute despair and fear and shame.

Roy checked into a London hotel. It was the first time she had taken refuge abroad from political violence, but her legal battles in Indias courts have been going on for 20 years, becoming a sort of relentless judicial soundtrack to her life. She references them with an eye-rolling air of exasperation. The God Of Small Things features sexual intercourse between twin siblings, and when it was first published, five lawyers got together and filed a case saying that I was corrupting public morality, criminal offence and blah, blah, blah. In 2002, Roys campaign against the Narmada dam project in Gujarat led her to be ruled in criminal contempt, and she was jailed for a symbolic day. In the past, she has also been charged with sedition, for criticising Indias policy towards Kashmir, and now faces an ongoing charge of contempt for an article she wrote in defence of a professor who uses a wheelchair, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for anti-national activities; the case has been working its way through the Indian courts with unending monotony.

Ah, the contempt case. She grimaces. You see, the thing about this case is its not the punishment; its the process that is the punishment. One of the standard ways of harassing people is theyll file cases in 100 towns against somebody and then its: Appear here, go there, got to have a lawyer, have you filed this affidavit? This is their strategy with everyone [whom the state wants to silence]. Everywhere writers are being punished by mobs, by caste groups so its just a very turbulent time in which to put the boat in the water, you know.

Arundhati
Leading an anti-nuclear march in 1998. Photograph: Raveendran/AFP/Getty Images

I ask if shes anxious about the possibility of legal action against her new novel. Given that prime minister Modi might see himself in one of the characters, a lawsuit must be unlikely to come as any great surprise. Oh, God knows. If one character says something, theyll say, She said it! So its like, how can you? The sentence falls away into silence. I dont really want to talk about this because I dont want to be self Again, she breaks off. Maybe nothing will happen, you know. Maybe they will leave it. She pauses, then half-laughs: Theres the other thing, which is that it might have nothing to do with anything, but people think, If I do something to her, my name will be in the papers.

What does she mean? Well, if some idiot on the street files a case against me, he will become a celebrity. When she had to visit a town to hear a contempt case against her, The guys who organised the case came and gave me flowers. They were so happy, as if, you know, Look! Here, weve got her! And it goes on and on. Her lawyers wont accept money from her, because they love me. But imagine if I was a poor person: how would you do it? How do you go to this town, that town, appear here? You would stop writing. Thats what you do.

From all the political and judicial animosity, Id formed the impression that Roy must be some sort of persona non grata in India, but she says nothing could be further from the truth. In her daily life, she never meets anyone who regards her as unpatriotic. No! Absolutely not. Its the opposite. This claim is difficult to verify or dispute. Thousands of adoring admirers gather to hear her make speeches all over the world, but when I ask where she feels the greatest sense of like-minded support, without hesitation she replies, Oh, India. Without a doubt. Im not some lone person. I function within a huge river and stream and a rising, rushing current of solidarity.

That said, men have been sent to attack her home. But, she chuckles, They go and break up the wrong house. Yes, thats happened a couple of times. She doesnt have any sort of formal security, because I find that more threatening. For me, everybody the cab drivers, the cigarette sellers, the stray dogs those are my security. There are many street dogs who sleep on my stairs she chuckles again who look very fierce, though theyre not.

Roy had been completely unprepared for the attention the success of her first novel would bring. The downsides were serious. I did reach a point where I thought, am I going to really regret having written this book? I was never a person who thought, now that Im famous, Ill go live in London or New York and live the dream. She laughs. Im a social cripple in a cocktail party. My idea of a nightmare is people standing very elegantly dressed in a room with a drink in their hand. Im just like, urghh!

Asked how much money The God Of Small Things made, she becomes vague. I dont know. Whatever it sold, it sold, you know. I dont know those calculations. But the money was a real problem for me at first. She has been living off the royalties ever since it was first published, but has still given the vast majority of it away. Having never wanted to be a philanthropist, and feeling uncomfortable in the role, she figured out how to do it by delegating to others, who take care of the royalties distribution. Yes, because giving it away can be a full-time job, if youre not doing it just to feel saintly. She wont go into details, but says shes devised a system whereby the money is never even hers in the first place. I dont even use the words, Give my money away, you know. We have a way in which it isnt even mine any more, and then its just done, and its done in solidarity.

I detect nothing inauthentic about her humility or frugality, but that is not to say that Roy is wholly without ego. She tells a faintly humblebrag anecdote about going for a mammogram in Kerala and being shaken to receive a call summoning her to the hospital. I was like, shit. Then, when I got there, it was only, Can I have your autograph? It was like the whole hospital had gathered. Its so weird.

And she takes evident pleasure in her self-image as a somewhat ungovernable eccentric. I have friends who know that when Im writing, quite a few times my house nearly caught fire because Im like, I cant cook, I cant go out OK, let me boil an egg and then I forget and the whole thing is on fire and the egg is a little black lump. So theyll say, OK, well just send you some food. She beams.

Roy separated from her husband years ago, but the two have never divorced, and she says she considers him and his two daughters, now long grown up, family, even though she lives alone in Delhi. The couple had no children, a decision she has never regretted. I dont consider myself a wife, but Im technically married. She pauses and grins. But then, even when I was married, I didnt consider myself a wife. Its all a bit random.

When I arrived, my first impression had been of someone so resoundingly literary in disposition that the 20-year hiatus from fiction felt baffling. As she says herself, I think my brain is only that of a fictional writer.

By the time I leave, Ive started to wonder how much, if anything, Roy ever makes up. The cast of The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness may be more extremethan most fictional characters, but Roys great gift is less in dreaming them up than in taking the trouble to see them all around her.

When people say this business of shes the voice of the voiceless, it makes me crazy, Roy snorts. I say, Theres no voiceless, theres only the deliberately silenced, you know, or the purposely unheard. Perhaps she has been able to survive without fiction for so long because the life shes been living has resembled the fantastical richness of a novel. Roy may not be a hijra who lives in a graveyard, but the voice of Anjum is unmistakably hers.

Yes, she nods contentedly, I do live a very unorthodox life.

Are we talking Anjums level of unorthodox?

Well, yes, I mean, I have friends who are from everywhere, you know. Women who think of themselves as men, boys who are gay. A friend overhead a conversation between a young couple on a bus in Delhi one day, she tells me, beginning to smile. The boy, the friend duly reported back to Roy, was confiding in the girl: All I want is to be Arundhati Roys wife. Her face lights up with delight and she laughs. I just love all this kind of lovely muddle of stuff.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/may/27/arundhati-roy-fiction-takes-time-second-novel-ministry-utmost-happiness

Waste-free living: from gadgets that list themselves on eBay to lidless bottles

Our throwaway habits are wreaking havoc on the planet. Here are six ideas from designers working to reduce waste in our everyday lives

Modern life is wasteful. From the plastic packaging that fills our kitchens and ends up in our oceans to the 40m tons of e-waste we generate per year, our throwaway culture is alive and kicking. And its wreaking havoc on the planet.

But a host of designers, researchers and startups are on the case, coming up with new ideas to cut waste and make life more efficient. Here are six of our favourites.

1) Use Me/Lose Me

Use
Photograph: IDEO

What if that sandwich maker gathering dust at the back of your cupboard could list itself on eBay? Thats the vision of design consultancy IDEO, which has come up with a proposal for getting unloved appliances back into circulation, saving materials and money and diverting e-waste from landfill. The Use Me/Lose Me service would monitor your appliances via web-connected chips and if anything went unused for too long, ping you a text with its likely market value. By replying to the text, you would authorise it to upload the products details on to an auction site and manage the sale, payment and shipping process leaving you just to remove it from the cupboard and take it to the front door, says IDEO portfolio director Chris Grantham. The key question, he says, is: How can we make this easier than remembering to go to the dump on a Saturday?

2) Bottles without lids

Nepenthes
Photograph: Marilu Valente

When designer Marilu Valente set out to reduce waste in personal care packaging, she found inspiration in the shape of the carnivorous Nepenthes plant. Her resulting bottle design aims to tackle the problem of small, hard-to-recycle bits of plastic which often end up in landfill, or waterways, by doing away with the need for a separate lid. Instead of a cap, the bottles flexible, slender spout plugs into a cavity on the side, sealing the container when its not in use. Nepenthes, which is currently just a prototype, also unplugs at the bottom, making it easy to clean and reuse, says Valente. The self-funded designer, who has not yet settled on a material for the concept, says she is in talks with mould manufacturers and has been approached by personal care brands.

3) DIY plastics recycling

Precious
Photograph: Precious Plastic

If Dutch designer Dave Hakkens gets his way, all of us could soon be turning plastic packaging into new products via home or community-based plastic recycling machines. His open-source Precious Plastic device is designed to give ordinary people around the world the tools to turn plastics lying around their neighbourhoods into useful and valuable items, from clipboards to bowls. Hakkens shares blueprints, step-by-step instructions and useful templates online to help people build and operate the machines, which he says are easy to assemble using basic tools and low-cost materials. The technology, which was highlighted in a recent report on digital disruption by UK innovation foundation Nesta, can be used to start a business, he says and he wont be asking for a share of the profits.

4) Tabletop composting

Biovessel
Photograph: Bionicraft

Taiwan-based startup Bionicraft wants to encourage urban dwellers living in small spaces to put their food scraps somewhere more useful than the bin. Its indoor, table-top ecosystem uses earthworms to turn food waste into soil, which is then used as a bed for plants, or can be removed for use in other plant pots. The system, is able to process up to 3kg of food waste per week, says founder Brooklyn Chao, who hopes it will also remind people to reduce waste by planning their meals better. Chaos team raised around $60,000 (46,000) on Kickstarter to fund project development and the first production batch, priced at $169 a go, will be ready to ship soon, says Chao.

5) Fruit-protecting plasma

Apeel
Photograph: Lerina Winter/Winter Creative

Also taking on the food-waste challenge are startups and researchers promising to radically extend shelf life. California-based Apeel Sciences is touting an invisible, tasteless and edible substance made from waste farm produce such as banana peel and broccoli stalks, which it says can roughly double the life of avocados, mangos and citrus fruits by providing a protective layer against oxidation and transpiration. Meanwhile, Australian researcher Kirsty Bayliss has found a way to use plasma technology already established in medicine and dentistry to ward off mould from fresh produce and grains. In lab tests the technique, which uses an electrical charge to generate the plasma, doubled avocado shelf life to 10 days, says Bayliss. She is hoping to trial the approach at scale in the avocado industry and expects eventually to develop a small device for use at home, or by smallholder farmers, with a price tag of around $100.

6) Single-use shampoo pods

Nohbo
Photograph: Nohbo

When 14-year-old Benjamin Stern saw a video of a turtle snarled up in plastic waste, he decided to start a business focused on getting unnecessary plastics out of the bathroom. Now 18, the CEO of Nohbo is four years and a couple of prototypes into his project to develop packaging-free, single-use shampoo portions for travellers and hotels. First designed as a hard ball which lathered on contact with water, Nohbo had to be redesigned after some of the first commercial batch broke apart during shipping last year, says Stern. The latest version is a shampoo pod, encased in a film made from water-soluble polymer PVOH. The company aims to release the new line in Autumn this year, says Stern.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/may/27/waste-free-living-gadgets-list-themselves-on-ebay-lidless-bottles-design

If you’re reading this, you should probably update your LinkedIn profile

Image: Abscent/shutterstock

Okay, so youve created a LinkedIn profile with your name, current job and title. Youve got a thorough and well-formatted Word Doc resume, ready to hand off to hiring managers. Done, right? Wrong. Youre missing the point of LinkedIn if you think having a print resume, and a short LinkedIn profile is the entire arsenal your job search requires.

Keeping your LinkedIn up to date is something that requires little time, but may end up having big benefits. Any recruiter can tell you that they are constantly on LinkedIn looking for quality candidates. Hiring managers will check your LinkedIn before bringing you in for an interview. Beyond the job search, having a stellar online profile can help build your professional network, add to your personal brand and may even up your industry credibility.

So what should I update?

Lets start with a good photo! In this case, that means a picture of you, without sunglasses or a hat, or your pet/roommate/current boyfriend. While having a professional headshot is preferred, reading some pro tips online about how to get a well-lit photo, and then enlisting a friends help can result in a great solo photo. Remember that the image youre projecting here is for your business network – so save the shot of your cute Coachella outfit for Instagram.

Now, take a look at your accomplishments and interests. As a recent grad, including your sorority or fraternity leadership position will help hiring managers see your credibility as a leader, even without extensive full time work experience. However, if youve been working for over a decade, it might be wise to leave off that award Panhell gave you back in college. Including internships, volunteer experience, or TA work as a recent grad is also a great idea.

Also, if youre trying to build up your client base, reach out to recent customers whove had positive experiences for a short quote. Having reviews isnt a deal breaker, as your experience should speak for itself, but having a few positive reviews (especially from influential people) wouldnt hurt.

How much do I put on here?

While it is definitely important to list all of your experiences, its not necessary to have long winded text under each one. A LinkedIn profile is like an online resume. Having key experiences clearly highlighted with an easily digestible amount of information will do you, and hiring managers, a favor. Save a longwinded story – even about a win – for an interview.

Your wins should stand out with specific numbers and details. Include dollar amounts or percentages wherever relevant. Be sure the numbers are the same on your resume though… saying one thing online and another in print is a good way to quickly lose credibility.

LinkedIn isnt just about job experiences

One area to not skimp on is adding your interests, volunteer positions, charity work and any boards you may sit on. Showing what you do outside of work can, and should be a part of your LinkedIn profile. People are more likely to respond to a networking request if they have a sense of who you are beyond your current and past titles.

If youve received a prestigious award or have a special achievement under your belt, put it on LinkedIn! Hiring managers want successful people on their team. Clients want to work with people who have proven records. Whether youre looking for a job, or trying to build up your client base, showing your past successes can be a winning move.

Extra Credit

If youre looking to build up your personal brand or want to establish credibility in your industry beyond your daily work try writing articles on LinkedIn. Besides being a modern Rolodex full of promising candidates, people are using LinkedIn to keep a pulse on industry trends.

Follow companies and people whose work you admire, and keep track of their recent posts in your feed. If you aspire to become a thought leader yourself, start with writing about a job experience or an industry trend youve noticed. You never know, you may end up becoming one of the people that others follow for advice!

Carolyn Betts Fleming is the Founder and CEO of Betts Recruiting, the leading global recruitment firm specializing in matching revenue-generating talent with the worlds most innovative companies.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/05/25/you-should-probably-update-your-linkedin-profile/

Walkers Crisps social media campaign for free soccer tickets takes a dark turn

Gary Lineker smiling with Walkers Crisps.
Image: REX/Shutterstock

What started innocently enough as a giveaway of free soccer tickets to the UEFA Champions League final took a turn for the worse thanks to a handful of online trolls.

Walkers, the snack company that brings the UK its flavored crisps and other treats, started a social media campaign Thursday, asking fans who wanted to win tickets to tweet a selfie with the #WalkersWave hashtag.

The tweets were turned into a video of former soccer player Gary Lineker waving the “selfies” in front of the background of a stadium.

But trolls quickly realized the selfies weren’t being closely vetted before getting on screen, so everyone from serial killers to convicted felons to communist dictators made it onto the site with the sportscaster unwittingly waving the disturbing faces.

The images were also beamed onto big screens in Cardiff city center, according to users on Twitter.

The company put out an apology Thursday and said they had shut down the campaign, while Lineker himself referenced the issue in a tweet.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t screenshots and tweets that show how disastrous the social media stunt became. Some of the videos that made it through included images of serial killer Harold Shipman, accused sexual predator Rolf Harris, and sex offender Jimmy Savile. Another featured Joseph Stalin.

At least the “wave” selfie of former Vice President Joe Biden’s smiling face isn’t as as gruesome as the others.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/05/25/walkers-crisps-social-media-campaign-trolls/

Peloton’s connected bike business is now worth $1 billion

At-home exercise has always been a weird but lucrative market. Why do you think you’ve seen Bowflex commercials for the past three decades?

And where there’s money, there are tech companies looking for their piece of the pie. Enter Peloton, a four-year-old startup that sells internet-connected stationary bikes tied to a livestreamed subscription workout experience.

Peloton is now worth about $1.25 billion thanks to its latest round of funding. That makes the at-home connected-bike company the latest unicorn, or private company worth $1 billion or more.

Peloton has $325 million in fresh capital from this new round, with money coming from a variety of name-brand investors, including Wellington Management, Fidelity Investments, and Kleiner Perkins. Comcast NBCUniversal also got in on the action.

Peloton bikes go for $1,995 (plus $250 for delivery and set up). Bike owners can then pay $39 per month for spin classes, which are livestreamed to the HD screen attached to the machine.

Image: Peloton

Those live classes pull in data collected by the bikes and compare it against other riders, for the full experience at home.

If that doesn’t sound cheap, it’s because it isn’t. Peloton isn’t positioning itself as a cheap alternative. It’s a high-end system meant for people who don’t have the time or patience for the gym. Think Equinox for you at home.

It’s worked. Peloton has something of a cult following that’s not terribly different to how people speak about in-person cycling classes like Soul-Cycle.

The company has grown quickly and was named Crain’s fastest-growing company in New York of 2015.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/05/25/peloton-newest-unicorn-1-billion-valuation/

Target backs mattress startup Casper in a bid to catch up with online rivals

Image: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Target is betting big on mattresses in the mail.

The big box chain is investing $75 million in bedding delivery startup Casper as it looks to bolster its e-commerce offerings in the face of the tanking brick-and-mortar market, Recode reported Thursday.

A source familiar with the deal confirmed that amount.

Casper has sought to upend a $14 billion industry with foam mattresses that are folded into ultra-compact packages for shipping. Before now, it’d raised nearly $70 million in venture capital.

Target was reported to be considering a billion-dollar acquisition of Casper earlier this month, but talks seem to have fallen through. The fast-growing startup was last valued at more than $500 million in 2015.

“Target invested in Casper because we believe in their team, their ideas and their vision for reimagining sleep,” a Target spokesperson said.

The investment seems to be part of Target’s bigger push to regain some of the ground it’s lost as online shopping and bargain retail competitors ate into its market share.

The company has also locked down partnerships with online-only shaving brands Harry’s and Bevel that give it exclusive rights to sell their products in stores.

Beyond digital partnerships, Target is launching a series of new in-house clothing and home brands in coming months in a bid to reclaim the cheap-chic cachet on which the retailer first made its name.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/05/25/target-invests-in-casper/

Zuckerberg touched on income inequality, Beyonce and Trump in his Harvard commencement speech

Mark Zuckerberg shed tears, threw shade, and got (mildly) political in a commencement speech to his alma mater on Thursday.

The Facebook CEO and Harvard dropout touched on everything from income inequality to Beyonce to Donald Trump (though he danced around referring to the president by name).

Fresh off a cross-country road trip of staged meet-and-greets, the billionaire seemed genuinely excited to return to the school where he first conceived of Facebook.

“If I get through this speech, it’ll be the first time I actually finish something at Harvard,” Zuckerberg said.

Before imparting any wisdom to the class of 2017, though, Zuck wanted to set the record straight on a few things regarding The Social Network, the Aaron Sorkin movie that unflatteringly dramatized his time at the college.

“That movie made it seem like [Facebook predecessor] Facemash was so important to creating Facebook,” he said. “It wasn’t.”

He got in another dig at his Hollywood portrayal later in the speech.

“No one writes formulas on glass,” he said. “That’s not a thing.”

Zuckerberg tried for the nth time to shut down speculation that he’s mulling a presidential run earlier this week.

That didn’t stop him from regaling graduates with campaign-ready anecdotes from his recent great American road trip.

Zuckerberg seemed most moved by a story he told about an undocumented student mentee. Recounting the uncertainty the high schooler felt about the future, he teared up in a rare public display of emotion.

Immigration was one of several political issues on which Zuck opined. He pushed for exploring a universal basic income a policy stance in vogue right now for Silicon Valley moguls and warned of a future of automation.

And what’s a tech think-fluencer speech these days without some veiled Trump disses.

Interspersed among the weightier topics was some Beyonce fandom.

Of course, there were some Facebook plugs specifically the company’s much-trumpeted community compact a.k.a the Zuckerberg manifesto.

The rows of ceremony higher-ups flanking Zuckerberg, whose fashion sense was dated by a century or two for the occasion, didn’t escape anyone’s notice.

Besides all that, there was plenty of boilerplate commencement speech fare to go around.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/05/25/zuckerberg-speech-highlights/

Glitch hits Pension Regulator website – BBC News

Image copyright DWP
Image caption Adverts featuring a giant hairy monster were used to raise employer awareness

Thousands of small businesses ordered to register for auto-enrolment pensions face fines after part of the regulator’s website crashed.

An online server at the Pensions Regulator has been faulty since Wednesday at least, the BBC understands.

Some of the businesses concerned could face fines as a result of missing registration deadlines.

The regulator said any difficulties would be taken into consideration.

However, it could not guarantee that all fines would be waived, a spokesman said.

One business owner told the BBC he had been trying to register since Monday, but that the server had been down since then.

His deadline is less than a week away.

Small and micro businesses – those with between one and 49 employees – are having to sign up for auto enrolment pensions.

Under the law, anyone who pays an employee over the age of 22 more than 10,000 a year has to provide a pension.

In a statement the the Pensions Regulator said: “We are aware of a technical issue affecting some functionality on our website.

“We are working hard to resolve the issue as soon as possible.

“Anyone with concerns about their automatic enrolment pension duties should contact our helpline on 0345 600 1011. Each case will be discussed on an individual basis.”

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Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-40051306

Jared Kushner says he will cooperate with Russia inquiry after reports he is under scrutiny

Investigators were focused on meetings Kushner held with Russian officials last year as part of inquiry into Russian interference in 2016 election, sources said

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner said he would cooperate with any investigation into the Trump campaigns ties to Russia following reports that he is under FBI scrutiny.

Multiple news outlets reported on Thursday that investigators were focused on a series of meetings that Kushner, Donald Trumps son-in-law, held with Russian officials last year as part of the inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Mr Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings, attorney Jamie Gorelick said in a statement on Thursday. He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry.

The Washington Post first reported last week that investigators had identified a current White House official as a significant person of interest, a major development following the news that former FBI director Robert Mueller would be acting as a special counsel to investigate Trumps connections to Russia.

Press secretary Sean Spicer did not deny the news reports at the time, and on Thursday, the Washington Post and NBC News reported that Kushner was a focus of the FBIs case, citing anonymous sources familiar with the investigation. The Guardian could not independently confirm the reports.

The naming of Kushner in connection with the FBIs investigation is significant, though the scope of the inquiry into the husband of the presidents daughter, Ivanka Trump, is unclear. Kushner has not been accused of wrongdoing and is not the central focus of the investigation, the Post said.

The White House did not comment further on Thursday.

It emerged last year that executives of Vnesheconombank (VEB), a Russian bank, had talks with Kushner. The White House aide also held a meeting with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the US. Former national security adviser Michael Flynn resigned in February after it emerged that he had misled vice-president Mike Pence about the nature of his conversations with Kislyak.

Kushner is currently being investigated because of the extent and nature of his interactions with the Russians, the Post reported.

The FBIs investigation is also reportedly continuing to focus on Flynn and Trumps former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who has had extensive business dealings for Russian proxies in Ukraine. Manafort has denied wrongdoing. Flynn is facing subpoenas from the US House and Senate and has refused requests for documents by invoking his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination.

Kushner is in a different category than Manafort and Flynn in the investigation, according to NBC News report.

Last month, the New York Times reported that Kushner omitted meeting with Russians on security clearance forms.

Earlier this month, Kushners family was forced to apologize for mentioning his name while urging Chinese investors to pour money into a US real estate project, raising concerns about a possible conflict of interest.

Trump recently fired FBI director James Comey, later admitting he was he thinking of this Russia thing when he decided to sack him. Trump had also reportedly urged Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/may/25/jared-kushner-trump-russia-investigation-fbi

Barack Obama due in Edinburgh for charity fundraiser – BBC News

Former US president Barack Obama is due in Edinburgh later to address philanthropy and business leaders at a charity event.

The dinner at the EICC is thought to be one of his first major addresses since his term as president came to an end.

Tickets for a table of 10 at the event are understood to have cost about 5,000.

All of the cash raised will be split between children’s charities in Scotland and the Obama Foundation.

Security is expected to be tight in Edinburgh as police step up resources around major events in the wake of the Manchester bombing.

Comedian Kevin Bridges, singer Annie Lennox and Scottish band Texas will provide entertainment at the event and young people will also be involved.

Thirteen-year-old Mila Stricevic, from Glasgow, will read a poem after winning a schools competition.

Harry Potter prize

And schools have been taking part in a competition to win a table for 10 at the event.

Auction prizes include two walk-on parts in the next Fantastic Beasts film from the Harry Potter franchise, and the naming rights to the Gleneagles Hotel American bar.

The event at the EICC in Morrison Street is being organised by The Hunter Foundation.

The charity was set up by leading businessman and philanthropist Sir Tom Hunter.

The Hunter Foundation has previously arranged for US politicians and actors including Bill Clinton, Leonardo DiCaprio and George Clooney to come to Scotland.

Last year, Leonardo DiCaprio travelled to Edinburgh to speak at the Scottish Business Awards at the EICC.

Announcing Barack Obama’s visit in April, Sir Tom said: “From the south side of Chicago to the White House has been an epic, historic journey and it will be a true honour to hear that story from the man who made that journey.

“We are both truly proud and delighted to be hosting the 44th president of the United States in Scotland at this event.”

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Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-edinburgh-east-fife-40046279