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Quartz Daily Brief—Europe edition—Russia’s emergency hike, UK bank stress, 2014’s worst investment, McDonald’s rations fries

By Richard Macauley

What to watch for today

John Kerry tries to mollify the Palestinians. The US secretary of state will attempt to convince the Palestinian Authority not to push for a UN security council resolution giving Israel a two-year deadline to pull out of the West Bank.

British banks get their stress test results… Imagine the UK with collapsing house prices, rising inflation, and rocketing unemployment. The Bank of England’s ”simulated market tantrum“ will most likely become a yearly event.

…And a look at UK inflation rates. The consumer price index for November is expected to continue a long trend of slowing growth. Look for core CPI for the real picture, excluding volatile energy prices.

The Fed meets. The US central bank’s policy committee begins its two-day monthly confab to discuss when to start raising interest rates next year. Separately, Sweden’s Riksbank is expected to announce it’s keeping benchmark rates at zero.

General Electric talks 2015. Top executives meet investors to provide their outlook for the coming year. The firm is still slowly rebuilding its shareholder dividends  after slashing them during the financial crisis.

While you were sleeping

Russia’s central bank took emergency measures. In a surprise overnight move, the bank yanked interest rates to a shocking 17%, from 10.5%, after plummeting oil prices sent the ruble tumbling. The biggest Russian interest rate hike since 1998 will squeeze an economy that is already suffering from Western sanctions and low oil prices.

The US finally got a surgeon general. Vivek Murthy was narrowly approved by the US Senate, in a hard-fought confirmation process that was opposed by the gun lobby, leaving the post vacant since July, 2013. Murthy, whose c0-founded a doctor group advocating gun safety, will serve a four-year term as the nation’s top doctor and public health advocate.

Sony was warned about hacks a year ago. The Hollywood studio which had reams of sensitive information published online was told that hackers were mining data on a regular schedule late last year, according to Bloomberg. Contractors discovered the security breaches while patching up holes from a 2011 hack on Sony’s PlayStation network.

China’s factory activity shrank. HSBC’s flash purchasing managers’ index fell to a lower-than-expected 49.5 in December (paywall), below the 50 mark that separates contraction from expansion. Analysts blamed weak domestic demand, which adds further pressure on the government to boost stimulus measures.

British Telecom is in talks to buy EE. The UK’s largest mobile operator, part-owned by Orange France and Deutsche Telekom, is in talks to be acquired by Britain’s former telecom monopoly for £12.5 billion ($19.5 million). Combined, they would be a force to be reckoned with, though any deal is sure to raise concerns with competition regulators.

Rio’s Olympic waters are not fit for sporting events. A superbug resistant to antibiotics and that can cause urinary and other infections is present in seawater where sailing and windsurfing events are planned for the 2016 Olympic Games. A lot of Rio de Janeiro’s sewage is dumped into waters nearby.

Quartz obsession interlude

Matt Phillips on the worst bet investors could have made this year. “There was plenty of ugliness to be found in the markets this year. Ukranian and Venezuelan sovereign debt. High-yield, energy-related corporate bonds. Argentine pesos. Russian rubles. Greek stocks. But none of these investments has been as atrociously awful as bitcoin, the heavily hyped crypto-currency that stormed onto the financial scene in the last few years, threatening to disrupt the cornerstone of global finance that is fiat currency.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

“Uber rapes” aren’t Uber’s fault. India’s lax attitude toward sexual assault and taxi licensing is the real problem.

Russia’s economy is doomed. Like the USSR, it’s only as strong as the price of oil.

The space race is over. The next phase of exploration will be a global collaboration, not a contest.

Journalism is permissible thievery. Publishing the stolen Sony documents is problematic but necessary. 

Surprising discoveries

Alpha males prefer spicy food. Men with a taste for chiles have higher levels of testosterone.

McDonald’s Japan is rationing french fries. It will only sell small portions—though an unlimited number of them—due to a potato shortage caused by a labor dispute at US West Coast ports.

Canada’s navy is on the wagon. Booze on boats was banned due to drunken misconduct aboard the HMCS Whitehorse.

Denmark claims to own the North Pole. An uncharacteristically belligerent move from a generally peace-loving nation.

Don’t forget to see your doctor. Highly-educated but forgetful people are at a higher risk of stroke.

Comets are extremely gray. The first color photos of Comet 67P are in, and they look exactly like the black-and-white ones.

Click here for more surprising discoveries on Quartz.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, spare navy rum, and awkward marriage proposals to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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