What to watch for today
The final trading days of 2015. US stocks are up slightly on the year, but many other asset classes—from the Brazilian real to natural gas—had a rough time of it. Trading over these last four days is expected to be tepid (paywall). Expect most fluctuations this week to be attributed to investors taking profits and losses for tax purposes, whether or not that’s actually the cause. It’s going to be a quiet week.
Burundi peace talks in Uganda. Heads of rival factions will seek a political solution to the escalating violence that’s erupted since Burundi president Pierre Nkurunziza said he’d run for a controversial third term. Meanwhile divisions have appeared over who should supply troops for the African Union’s proposed military intervention.
Evacuations for Syrian opposition fighters. The UN and other organizations are transporting hundreds of wounded Syrian rebel soldiers and their families to Lebanon and Turkey. The evacuations are part of a UN-led ceasefire, but it’s unclear how long they will hold.
Over the weekend
Japan and South Korea agreed to stop sparring over WWII “comfort women.” Japan formally apologized for enslaving Korean women as sex workers during the second world war, and pledged 1 billion yen ($8.3 million) to a fund for the victims. The two countries described the issue as “irreversibly” resolved.
Iraqi forces retook Ramadi from ISIL. The military said it was back in control of the Anbar province’s capital, which was the Islamic State’s “biggest prize of 2015.” The offensive in Ramadi began last week and culminated on Sunday with the seizure of a government complex. It’s the Iraqi military’s first major victory since its devastating 2014 collapse.
China got a new license to pry. A new law passed by the Chinese legislature on Sunday will give the government sweeping new powers under the auspices of fighting terrorism. The law has been criticized as overreaching by human rights advocates, business groups, and the United States.
Heavy rainfall flooded northern England. In parts of York, Leeds, and Manchester, the British Army assisted in the evacuation of thousands of people whose homes flooded from heavy rain and rising rivers. Rails were shut down as the police warned against flood “sightseeing.”
Tornadoes killed at least 11 people in Texas. Twisters tore through the Dallas area over the weekend. Last week, tornadoes killed at least 18 people in Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Extreme weather across the US, including unseasonably high temperatures on the east coast, is being attributed to El Niño.
Israel postponed a rate change. The country’s central bank said it will continue to hold its interest rates near zero, despite the US moving in the opposite direction. It will instead aim to boost the economy by weakening the shekel.
American painter Ellsworth Kelly died at age 92. The artist was known for spare, abstract work (paywall) consisting of single geometric shapes.
Quartz obsession interlude
Haroon Moghul on the future of Islam in the West. ”Long before ISIL became the watchword on everyone’s lips, before Islamophobia had become the platform of too many Western political parties, I attended a gathering of Muslim leaders in the Middle East. The reason I recall this to you is because the point of this gathering was to bring top minds together to discuss our common challenges… Unity shouldn’t mean unanimity: Down that road lies dictatorship and extremism. Unity should mean a desire for ongoing and accelerating cooperation in ways that are tangible, realistic, and productive.” Read more here.
Matters of debate
Afghanistan’s justice system isn’t becoming more just for women. Following the brutal public lynching of Farkhunda Malikzada, hundreds marched in solidarity. Months later, justice has not been done (paywall) despite the more than $1 billion spent by the US to improve legal protections for women
To keep their guns, Americans will have to learn to live with fear. In the past, terrorism has been met with action while mass shootings have been met with prayers—and renewed lobbying from gun advocates. If terrorists act like mass shooters, however, Americans may have to adjust to a bitter new normal.
Christianity’s best chance at a resurgence lies in Africa. Still the world’s most popular religion, Christianity has been steadily declining across Europe and North America. Meanwhile, sub-Saharan Africans are some of the faith’s most devout followers.
Saving drug users may mean allowing them to use drugs. US lawmakers passed a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill last week, including a rider that restores the possibility of federal funding for needle exchange programs. For both drug users and those who advocate for them, this is a huge step, but there’s still more to be done.
You can dial the wrong number from space. British astronaut Tim Peake sent an apologetic tweet on Christmas Eve after accidentally dialing a random homeowner on Planet Earth. He’d been trying to reach his family from the International Space Station.
A new airplane could ease jet lag. Airbus’s A350 XWB jets come equipped with LED lighting designed to imitate normal shifts in sunlight.
Ancient Egyptians had their own version of Hong Kong. Now underwater, the ancient city of Naukratis was once a major Greek trading hub.
You don’t need pork to make bacon. For those who keep kosher, beef, lamb, and duck will do the trick just fine.