Quartz Daily Brief—Egypt’s referendum, whiskey deal, shark prevention, redhead sex appeal

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What to watch for today

One more time. Egypt begins holding its two-day referendum on a new constitution. A large turnout and yes vote would bolster the military regime which ousted democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi in July. The government has warned of stiff reprisals if Islamist Morsi supporters protest during the voting.

A look at the banks’ books. Large US financial firms JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo report fourth-quarter earnings, as the US earnings season gets going in earnest.

Is European industrial production becoming an oxymoron? Industrial production dropped sharply in October in the euro zone, compared to the year. Today’s November data should shed some light on whether Europe will be able to stay out of recession for long.

How merry was Christmas, really? US retail sales figures for December could confirm that American consumers have a bit of spring in their step.

While you were sleeping

A whiskey deal went down smooth. Closely-held Japanese beer and whiskey giant Suntory agreed to buy Beam Inc., the maker of bourbons such as Maker’s Mark and Jim Beam, for $16 billion including debt. The rationale? Japan has an aging and shrinking population, so companies have to look abroad for growth.

And speaking of Scotch… The UK said it will stand behind existing British debt if Scotland votes for independence. The move was meant to quell questions about who will pay for what, in the run-up to Scotland’s independence vote, scheduled for September.

Goodbye to Arik. Dignitaries attended the burial of former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, who had spent the last eight years of his life in a coma after a stroke.

Investors gave Italy its best-ever deal. Despite its economic woes, the country sold €4 billion ($5.5 billion) of three-year bonds at a record low rate of 1.51%, in further evidence that investors are suddenly going crazy for risky euro-zone debt.

Someone finally bid for Time Warner Cable. The long-expected move on the US’s least liked cable company came from Charter Communications, which offered $61.3 billion including debt. It’s part of a long-running rivalry between three families questing for industry domination.

Google bought itself a Nest egg. The internet giant paid $3.2 billion for Nest, which makes internet-connected household devices (so far, a thermostat and smoke alarm). In doing so, Google bought itself a foothold in what should be a massive industry, the creation of a smart electrical grid.

Quartz obsession interlude

Gwynn Guilford on why an Australian program targeting lethal sharks won’t make humans safer. “By making them unable to move enough to breathe, both nets and drumlines almost always kill any sharks who become ensnared. But despite the decades-long history of Queensland’s and New South Wales’ shark control programs, it’s not clear that the logic behind them—kill big sharks, stop the attacks—actually works.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Football players today are better athletes than they used to be. But they’ve become so perfect that they’re boring (paywall).

Science is too fixated on machines and data. Scientists are forgetting their most important tool: The big idea.

Don’t tie pay to performance reviews. It creates a “blame-oriented culture.”

Nobody knows whether to buy or sell US stocks. But the weak start for 2014 is making some nervous.

Surprising discoveries

Alexander the Great died from toxic wine. If he was poisoned, it wasn’t arsenic that did in the empire builder at the age of 32.

Redheads are less attractive—genetically speaking. As perhaps the most visible highly recessive gene, red-headedness could signal a lack of genetic mixing, which may be an evolutionary turnoff.

An app that could help you spot sex offenders. It sounds like a really bad idea.

Best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, shark corralling schematics, and ancient toxicology reports to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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