Quartz Daily Brief—Europe Edition—Italian cliffhanger, Iran talks, Nook’s future, Syria

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What to watch for today

Italy tries to work out what next. With all the election votes counted, Italy faces an unprecedented hung parliament, after a massive protest vote against outgoing prime minister Mario Monti’s austerity reforms. No governing coalition is likely to emerge, which means an electoral re-run—for which no law even exists yet—and weeks if not months of instability and uncertainty, both for Italy and for the euro zone, the fate of which depends partly on Monti’s reforms.

How the music industry is doing. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry releases its annual “Digital Music Report“. Last year the industry shrank at the slowest pace in nearly a decade, suggesting that the worst depredations of piracy are ebbing. In other news from the 20th century, RadioShack reports Q4 earnings.

Iran comes clean on its nuclear program. Haha, no. But it does resume the six-party talks about its nuclear program today in Kazakhstan. With the economy in a shambles and a presidential election due this year, concessions from Iran may be hard to come by.

How will BlackBerry’s Z10 do in India? The new top-of-the-line smartphone goes on sale, for slightly less than Apple’s iPhone. BlackBerry badly needs to win some customers in a country where high-end smartphones aren’t already ubiquitous.

Will Ben Bernanke keep the faith? The Federal Reserve chairman’s half-yearly testimony to the US Senate will be closely watched for hints of any course changes on quantitative easing, about which some Fed board members are getting increasingly nervous.

While you were sleeping

Will Barnes & Noble ditch the Nook? The struggling bookseller is considering a proposal by Leonard Riggio, its founder, to buy its retail assets. But even he didn’t want Nook Media, the division that makes the e-reader, adding fuel to reports that the company might stop making it.

Global markets took a beating. With markets squeamish about Italy’s election, the S&P 500 had its biggest drop yesterday since November and currency trading was also on the rocks. This morning, fears about Europe sent the yen soaring and knocked down the Nikkei. Markets in Hong Kong, Australia and the rest of Asia also looked fragile.

Obama appealed to states to help stop the sequester. Speaking to state governors, the US president distributed a state-by-state list of cuts in an attempt to shore up support and put pressure on Congress to act before the automatic budget-trimming kicks in. He has about 72 hours.

Syria said it would talk to rebels. Walid al-Mouallem, foreign minister of an increasingly precarious Syrian state, said during a Moscow visit that Syria is open to discussions with the armed opposition, although it would also continue to fight “terrorism.”

Rajat Gupta must pay Goldman Sachs $6.2 million. A US court ordered the former Goldman director convicted of insider trading to reimburse the bank for part of his legal expenses. But the bank still has to keep paying the rest of his legal bills while he appeals his conviction.

Quartz obsession interlude

Christopher Mims on how to persuade people that it’s OK to wear computers on their faces. “Since Google launched its reality-augmenting Project Glass in June, it’s been pretty much impossible find a picture of Google co-founder Sergei Brin in which he’s not wearing the futuristic eye-piece […] Intentionally or not, Brin is constantly projecting the image of a rich, famous, vigorous alpha-geek whom others might want to imitate.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

The US budget picture isn’t that bad. Seriously.

Having kids makes you miserable. Though hearing “I wub you” makes you forget about it.

Carried interest is a sop to super-rich financiers.  A Rothschild says enough is enough.

China should look to Japan for guidance. Japan’s per capita GDP is about 10 times higher than China’s.

Al-Qaeda is nothing more than a name. And the US is going to fight it forever.

Surprising discoveries

To fight an invasion of snakes, Guam will airdrop poisoned mice on the island.

The average American in colonial times consumed the equivalent of five to six gallons of pure alcohol every year (compared to 2.3 gallons today).

The International Herald Tribune is rebranding as the oxymoronic International New York Times.

“How to Sharpen Pencils” and “Lofts of North America: Pigeon Lofts” are contenders for Oddest Book Title of the Year.

Correction. In yesterday’s newsletter we referred to BP as “British Petroleum”, which it hasn’t been called since 1998.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, strange book titles and pictures of yourself wearing Google Glass to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates during the day.

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