What to watch for today
US Democrats debate. Hillary Clinton faces off for the fourth time against socialist challenger Bernie Sanders in an increasingly competitive presidential primary. Clinton holds a commanding lead nationwide, but it’s nearly a dead heat in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
The global business glitterati arrive in Davos. Fire up the private jets: Attendees of the World Economic Forum are heading to Switzerland ahead of the annual confab, which officially begins on Tuesday. World markets are off to their worst start in more than four decades, and WEF founder Klauss Schwab is warning of further disruption from the “Fourth Industrial Revolution.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It’s the 30th anniversary of the holiday to honor the slain civil rights leader—established in no small part by the efforts of Stevie Wonder—and most US financial markets are closed. But only 37% of US workers will get a paid day off.
Over the weekend
The West dropped nuclear sanctions against Iran. International inspectors certified that Iran has complied with the terms of a landmark nuclear deal, prompting the US and EU to unfreeze $100 billion in Iranian bank accounts cash and allow Tehran to freely export oil. A day later, Iran released four US citizens, including Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, in a prisoner swap.
The Saudi stock market took a nosedive. Plunging oil prices, exacerbated by a glut of Iranian oil, cast a gloom over Saudi investors and drove shares down by 6.5%. The Saudi Tadawul All-Shares Index is down more than 20% in 2016.
A missing Hong Kong bookseller re-appeared to confess to an 11-year-old crime. Gui Minhai, a China-born Swedish citizen, was reportedly preparing to publish a book about the love life of Chinese president Xi Jinping when he went missing in October. Four of his colleagues are also missing, in an ongoing scandal that has raised tension between the Beijing and the semi-autonomous city state.
Taiwan elected a female academic as its new leader. Tsai Ing-Wen trounced her opponent from the pro-Beijing Nationalist Kuomintang party, becoming Taiwan’s first female president. Beijing warned Taiwan to abandon its “hallucinations” of independence.
The EU central bank is investigating high levels of worthless bank loans. The ECB is asking euro zone banks to quantify how many loans are unlikely to ever be repaid, especially in Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Italy. A 2014 survey estimated that banks held €932 billion ($1.02 trillion) in non-performing loans.
Quartz obsession interlude
Olivia Goldhill hunts down the missing “u”s in American English: “English has used both endings for several centuries. Indeed, the first three folios of Shakespeare’s plays reportedly used both spellings equally. But by the late 18th and early 19th centuries, both the US and the UK started to solidify their preferences, and did so differently.” Read more here.
Matters of debate
The Agricultural Revolution was history’s biggest fraud. The average farmer worked harder than the average forager, and got a worse diet in return.
The world should bring Vladimir Putin in from the cold. Japan’s Shinzo Abe argues for re-engaging with Russia (paywall) to tackle crises in the Middle East.
Impulsive people may have less free will. Our brains prepare for action before we “decide” to act.
There is a subset of mathematics devoted to slicing up pizzas. “Monohedral disc tiling” produces an unlimited number of equally-sized pieces.
An Italian concentration camp is being revamped as a luxury resort. Mussolini’s forces killed more than a hundred captives at the Mamula Fortress in Montenegro
Women instinctively guard their sexual partners from others who are ovulating. Humans are subconsciously aware of each other’s fertility.
Death didn’t prevent David Bowie from getting his first #1 record… “Blackstar,” released just before the musician’s death, debuted at the top of the charts.
…And it’s really difficult to play guitar in space. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, known for his cover of Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” says weightless strumming is a lot harder than it looks.