Quartz Daily Brief—Europe and Africa edition—Apple Watch debut, Microsoft’s cloud cushion, Comcast backs down, bees’ pesticide buzz

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What to watch for today

The Afghan Taliban launches its spring offensive. The militant group announced it will commence its seasonal attacks, pledging a particularly bloody fighting period as NATO troops pull back from the region.

Europe’s finance ministers meet in Riga. They will discuss whether Greece and its lenders can reach a debt deal, as the country tries to cobble together the €770 million ($825 million) due next month to the IMF.

The 100th anniversary of the Armenian massacre. Although many governments and scholars regard the killing of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 as genocide, the differing opinions of Turkey, the Vatican, Germany, and the US, among others, continue to cause controversy.

The captain of a migrant smuggling ship faces justice. The Tunisian captain of the boat that capsized off the coast of Libya last weekend and killed hundreds of migrants will emerge from detention in Italy, along with a Syrian crew member, to stand before a judge on human trafficking charges.

While you were sleeping

The Apple Watch hit the market with a low-key launch. A small crowd lined up at some of the Japanese retailers that are stocking the watch, along with a handful of high-end fashion boutiques around the world. But Apple’s own retail stores aren’t yet selling the smartwatch, and most online pre-orders have not yet arrived.

Microsoft was cushioned by the cloud. Higher revenue from it Surface tablet and cloud computing services helped the tech giant post better-than-expected first-quarter earnings of $5 billion, though that was a 12% decline from the previous year. Sales of Windows to PC makers fell by 20%.

Google reported a mixed quarter. The internet giant’s 11% rise in ad revenue and first-quarter net income of $3.59 billion fell short of expectations. But the company’s shares rose 3.5% as the market concluded that Google isn’t losing out as badly as expected in the transition to mobile search.

Currency changes slammed América Móvil’s profit. The Mexican telecom company said first-quarter revenue rose in line with expectations as the company grew its data and TV subscriptions across Latin America. But $1 billion in adverse currency fluctuations contributed to a 41% fall in first-quarter net income compared to a year earlier, to 8.2 billion pesos ($540 million).

Comcast dropped it Time Warner Cable acquisition.  Regulators had signaled their intention to block the combination of America’s largest and second-largest cable companies. Comcast now plans to walk away rather than put up a fight.

The US admitted that its drone strike killed two hostages. The White House said it was responsible for accidentally killing (paywall) two hostages in January, an American and an Italian, who were being held by Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. US president Barack Obama said he takes full responsibility.

Loretta Lynch became the US attorney general. She is the first black woman to hold the post, following a five-month delay by the US senate to confirm her nomination. Lynch will replace Eric Holder, who has served since 2009 and resigned last September.

Quartz obsession interlude

Nicola Twilley and Cynthia Graber on flavors made by designer yeast. “In the 19th century, scientists began to understand how to synthesize flavor chemicals, whether from plants or from byproducts of coal processing, to evoke familiar flavors. While the technology to evaluate the flavor molecules of a particular food have become increasingly sophisticated in the past century, the basic concept of synthetic flavor has remained unchanged. Until now.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Citizens who film police misconduct should be paid. It’s a risky business, and we need to encourage more witnesses.

Narendra Modi needs to modernize India fast. The apparent suicide of a farmer in New Delhi is the latest proof.

Europe shouldn’t seal her borders. It must have the moral convictions to face down its xenophobic fringes.

Don’t outsource your trust to Facebook and Google. Accessing sites with their logins is convenient but dangerous.

Surprising discoveries

The US has a strategic raisin reserve. Since World War II, the government has seized grapes from farmers without paying them.

US real estate is worth $23 trillion. All the land in California is worth $3.9 trillion; Vermont, just $44 billion.

China is trying to ban strippers at funerals. The culture ministry claims they corrupt the social atmosphere.

Bees are hooked on pesticides. According to researchers, the nicotine-like chemicals may give bees a slight “buzz.”

US soldiers are testing out ray guns. The hand-held weapons are designed to destroy electronic components, not blow them up.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, funeral striptease routines, and honeybee 12-step programs to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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