What to watch for today
Thailand shutdown. Anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban and hundreds of thousands of followers are blockading intersections and government buildings across Bangkok in an attempt to oust prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The capital suffered a drive-by shooting of protesters over the weekend, and 14,000 police have been deployed.
Iran’s role in Syria. US secretary of state John Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov meet in Paris to discuss whether Iran could still play a role in Jan. 22 peace talks on Syria.
Over the weekend
China’s on-again, off-again IPOs. Five firms delayed their plans for the country’s first initial public offerings in 15 months after regulators unexpectedly announced plans to scrutinize them more closely.
Indonesia’s mineral export ban. The government wants to boost the economy by forcing miners to refine unprocessed ore before it is taken out of the country, but the move has sent the prices of metals skyrocketing.
India triumphs over polio. The UN is set to certify that the country has been polio-free for three years, which Bill Gates described as “quite phenomenal.”
Chemical spill in coal country. Hundreds of thousands of West Virginians marked the fourth day without access to clean tap water following the leak of a chemical used in coal production.
Volkswagon bets on US SUV. The German automaker will design a sport-utility vehicle to suit American tastes and invest $7 billion in the North American auto market.
Iran’s nuclear program will freeze in a week. Under the terms of the deal agreed upon by world powers in November, Iran will halt enrichment of uranium above 5% purity, and neutralize stockpiles of particularly pure uranium. In return, certain sanctions on Iranian trade in gold, precious metals, petrochemicals, and autos will be suspended.
Quartz obsession interlude
Gideon Lichfield on how his cousins remember the late Israeli leader Ariel Sharon, who forced them out of the Gaza Strip. “Still, there was a religious subtext to the settlers’ view of themselves. They frequently described Gush Katif in Hebrew as a gan eden, a Garden of Eden. They talked about ‘waiting for a miracle’ to save them. And instead of hitnatkut, or ‘disengagement’—the antiseptic, Orwellian term coined by the government and adopted by the media—they called their impending departure a girush, ‘banishment,’ a biblically charged word reminiscent of the flight of Adam and Eve. Except that, unlike Adam and Eve, they believed they had committed no sin.” Read more here.
Matters of debate
Really, ladies first. Stephanie Coontz says that aiding women in the workplace isn’t “reverse sexism” as men’s rights activists claim.
Gay marriage is about freedom of religion. When you take away religious motivation, arguments against same-sex marriage don’t make any sense.
The Internet has liberated language from the elite. As foretold by the late David Foster Wallace, the strictures of the establishment stylebook now seem untrustworthy.
Vikings had their own version of chess. “Hnefatafl” taught Norsemen how to triumph even when outnumbered and far from home.
Brains are still faster than supercomputers… A blindingly fast Japanese computer took 40 minutes to model one second of human neural activity.
…But they need to be cleaned out regularly. New research suggests that a good night’s sleep scrubs the brain free of waste, much like cleaning a fish tank.
Weed that won’t get you high. Researchers are working to provide a buzz-free alternative to medicinal marijuana cardholders who don’t care to alter their state of mind.
Singapore slings whisky. The city state imports the most Scotch per capita, by a staggering margin.