Quartz Daily Brief—Americas edition—Apple Watch debut, Samsung ramps up, designer yeast flavors, 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 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.

American Airlines reports earnings. The world’s largest passenger carrier is expected to post strong first-quarter numbers. Investors will also want to know its plans for the summer travel season, as the strong dollar curbs demand from non-US travelers. Xerox and Infosys are also due to release quarterly results.

While you were sleeping

Samsung ramped up Galaxy S6 production. Higher-than-expected demand for the company’s new curved-screen S6 Edge prompted it to open a third screen factory sooner than planned, boosting production to 5 million per month from 2 million previously.

Reckitt Benckiser had a healthy quarter. The British owner of Durex condoms and Mucinex cold medicine’s first-quarter sales rose 5% to £2.2 billion ($3.3 billion) on a like-for-like basis, due in part to strong US demand for its flu remedies.

AstraZeneca’s earnings soured. The UK pharmaceutical company’s first-quarter core net earnings fell 7% from a year earlier to $1.4 billion (paywall) after rivals launched alternatives to its popular stomach acid pill, Nexium. AstraZeneca’s numbers still narrowly beat expectations, and management tried to focus investor attention on its pipeline of cancer drugs.

The Apple Watch hit the market with a low-key launch. A few high-end fashion boutiques around the world are stocking the watch, though supply is severely limited, along with specialty retailers like Tokyo’s Bic Camera, which drew a small crowd. But Apple’s own retail stores aren’t yet selling the smartwatch, and most online pre-orders have not yet arrived.

Armenia marked the 100th anniversary of a massacre. Commemorations began in the capital Yerevan to remember the killing of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915, which many governments and scholars regard as a genocide. But the differing opinions of Turkey, the Vatican, Germany, and the US, among others, continue to cause controversy.

BAE Systems mulled a sales of its US operations. Europe’s biggest defense contractor has hired external advisers to evaluate some of its US units, including IT, technical, and mission support for the US government. Lower government spending has changed the contractor business, but BAE says it is aware of several interested parties.

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.

Zero-rating is the wrong way to bridge the digital divide. Offering free access to a small sliver of the internet would do more harm than good.

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

Being too handsome can hurt your career. Some attractive men are perceived as a threat by the executives in charge of hiring them.

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

China is trying to ban strippers at funerals. They are brought in by grieving families to boost attendance.

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 disable electronic components, not blow them up.

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

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