What to watch for today
A not-so-busy Black Friday. US retailers are forecast to sell $9.1 billion worth of goods, nearly a fifth less than two years ago, and—for the first time in a decade—less than on “Super Saturday,” the one before Christmas. Still, forecasts for the overall holiday shopping season are optimistic (paywall) as the economy rebounds.
Iraq’s parliament debates belt-tightening. Lawmakers will discuss a more austere 2015 budget, approved by the government, that allows for a lower price of oil, Iraq’s main source of revenue. That’s particularly tough while the country is trying to rebuild from its wars while also fighting the Islamic State insurgents.
The NYPD holds a wake amid a crackdown. The New York City Police Department will hold a wake and memorial for Rafael Ramos, one of the two officers assassinated on Dec. 20. Police have arrested seven New Yorkers for making threats to cops, including for messages they posted on Facebook.
While you were sleeping
Asia marked the 10-year anniversary of a deadly tsunami. A decade ago today, an earthquake beneath the Indian Ocean triggered a massive wave that killed 226,000 people in a dozen countries. They were remembered in prayer services and memorials in Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and elsewhere. The region is better prepared today to deal with natural disasters, the United Nations said.
Militants attacked an African Union base in Mogadishu. Somalia’s al-Shabaab said they were targeting a Christmas party when they attacked the base, where gunfire and explosions were heard. The building abuts the airport and also houses the UN headquarters in Somalia. Nine people, including five attackers, were killed.
Vladimir Putin stole Christmas. While insisting the collapse in the ruble is over (paywall), the Russian president told his ministers not to take the standard 12-day break for the New Year and Orthodox Christmas in January. “We cannot afford this long holiday, at least this year,” Putin said in a televised government session. “You know what I mean.”
China is relaxing its lending rules. The central bank will reportedly change the rules (paywall) on how banks count their deposits, allowing them to lend more. It’s one of several measures it’s taking to try to boost the slowing economy.
The Interview showed without incident. The movie that Sony Pictures had to pull after threats from hackers eventually went live in 300 independent US cinemas, sometimes to sold out crowds, as well as online. Here’s a roundup of the reviews, which include “mediocre,” “awfully stupid,” and “torture from almost start to finish.”
Hackers attacked the XBox and Playstation networks. A group called Lizard Squad said it was behind the attack, which meant thousands of users of Microsoft’s and Sony’s gaming platforms couldn’t spend Christmas Day blowing each other up in virtual worlds.
Quartz obsession interlude
Zach Wener-Fligner on the NASA satellite that’s changed how we see earth. “Terra was meant to last six years when launched. A decade and a half later, its still alive and kicking…. In 15 years, the Earth Observing System has collected some amazing data, enabling some fascinating images and visualizations of the Earth—and how humans impact it.” Read more here.
Matters of debate
Pope Francis is the most popular pope of modern times. His clear communication and disgust with Catholic church’s power games have made him stand out.
Video games should be an Olympic sport. They’re highly competitive, they require lightning-quick reflexes, and the crowds love them.
Italy doesn’t make anything anymore. The country’s iconic brands have been gobbled up by neighboring countries (paywall) or multinational corporations.
The US should let kidnap victims’ families pay ransoms. At the very least, it shouldn’t criminalize those who try to negotiate.
Tunisia shows democracy is possible in the Middle East. It’s obtained a peaceful handover of power, a constitution, and an assembly—all within four years.
The new normal for American families. Just 46% of children in the United States live with two parents of the opposite sex who are in their first marriage.
You can put a price on anything. One man in the US state of Vermont is growing spiderwebs which he then frames and sells for between $30 and $40.
Tall teenage boys are less depressed. A survey of over 14,000 adolescents came to the conclusion that they are ”perceived as leaders by their peers” (paywall).
Russian shoppers can now protest with their feet. A Moscow shopping mall has installed doormats emblazoned with the US flag (video).
The caffè sospeso is making a comeback. A Naples, Italy tradition dating to WWII has been revived, thanks to tough economic times—coffee drinkers buy strangers a cup (paywall).
Click here for more surprising discoveries on Quartz.