Quartz Daily Brief—Ukraine seeks ex-president, HSBC falls short, UK entices Scotland, electrifying birth control

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What to watch for today

The UK encourages Scotland to stay. Prime minister David Cameron will unveil measures that could result in a huge windfall for North Sea oil and gas producers—but it will only work if Scots vote against independence in September.

Italy approves its latest PM. Matteo Renzi, the third consecutive Italian prime minister to be appointed, not elected, will outline his policies and face a vote of confidence after he was sworn in on Saturday.

Greece appeals to its creditors, meeting with the troika of international lenders to discuss economic reforms in the hopes of unlocking another round of financial aid (paywall) without having to make new spending cuts.

US military cutbacks. Defense secretary Chuck Hagel wants to reduce troop numbers to their lowest level since the early 1940s, impose higher healthcare fees, and cut soldiers’ housing allowances.

Over the weekend

Ukraine would like a word with Viktor Yanukovych. Parliament issued a warrant for the former president, whose location is unknown, for the mass killing of protesters last week. Meanwhile, acting president Oleksander Turchinov will meet with EU leaders to discuss an economic assistance package, and Russia alleged that the new government seized power illegally.

HSBC’s big miss. Europe’s biggest bank posted a 9% increase in full-year profits but that was significantly lower than analyst estimates, as revenues and cost savings both fell short of expectations. HSBC played down concerns that volatility in emerging markets will hurt its business.

China maintained its growth view. Finance minister Lou Jiwei said that the Chinese economy can sustain growth of between 7% and 8%, and dismissed recent financial product defaults as not a “big problem.” Separately, January real estate prices climbed yet again, but government efforts to cool down the market slowed the increase slightly.

More violence in Thailand. A bomb blast killed at least three people, including two young children, at an anti-government protest in a popular shopping neighborhood in Bangkok. Demonstrators are continuing their months-long bid to unseat prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Netflix ponied up for faster streaming, agreeing to pay Comcast for a direct connection to its broadband network and cutting out intermediaries that led to a 27% decline in streaming speed since October.

Wearable technology: not so wearable. Fitbit voluntarily recalled its wristband activity trackers after 1.7% of users complained of skin rashes. The company blamed allergic reactions triggered by either the nickel in the device or the adhesive that holds the band together.

Sheldon Adelson touted casinos in Japan. The chairman of Las Vegas Sands “will spend whatever it takes” to develop a gambling project in one of the largest untapped markets in the world.

Jason Collins made sporting history. The 35-year old basketball player became the first openly gay male player in a  major US professional sport, when he took to the court Sunday under a 10-day contract with the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets.

Quartz obsession interlude

Tim Fernholz on whether the capture of the world’s most powerful drug trafficker will change anything. “[Guzmán]’s life’s work has been to build the Sinaloa cartel into the world’s most efficient drug business, with billion-dollar revenues to rival Western blue-chip companies; he earned comparisons to CEOs for mastering the art of supply chain management, exploiting the massive demand for illegal drugs in the United States and Europe. … But it’s precisely this level of sophistication that has experts predicting the Sinaloa cartel will survive its mastermind’s detention; if Guzman is the Steve Jobs of coke, he probably groomed a Tim Cook to take his place.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

The media’s quest for objectivity is failing readers. Facts are meaningless (and boring) without the context of “intelligent bias.”

Italy’s fashion reflects its changing politics. Designers ditched sex appeal for mature confidence (paywall), just as the country unveiled its first ever half-female cabinet.

Climate change could kill the Winter Olympics. In just a few decades, some previous venues—including Sochi—will be too warm to host the games.

Pain is an essential part of sports. Enduring suffering is both a tactical advantage and a sign of achievement.

Surprising discoveries

There’s a condom that gives you electric shocks. It’s supposed to be quite nice, actually.

Earth’s oldest fragment is a blue gemstone. The 4.4 billion-year-old zircon crystal was found at an Australian sheep farm.

How Olympic time-keeping works. When a fraction of a second determines the winner and loser, precision is key.

The family that WhatsApps together stays together. The messaging app knits together a far-flung clan spread over four continents.

Robots will be smarter than humans within 15 years. So says Google’s director of engineering.

Drama or rom-com?  Hollywood is making a movie about the unlikely friendship between Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong-un.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, Rodman-Kim screenplays and electric condom designs to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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