Quartz Daily Brief—Europe and Africa edition—Democrats debate, Saudi stocks plummet, pizza slicing theory

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What to watch for today

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 begins on Tuesday. World markets are off to their worst start in more than four decades, but forum founder Klauss Schwab is optimistic that technology could bring us together.

Will Beijing’s currency prop work? The central bank said it would introduce a reserve requirement ratio for some banks dealing in the offshore yuan. It hopes that would reduce liquidity in the currency and end a massive selloff by speculators.

It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the US. Most financial markets are closed to mark the 30th anniversary of the holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader. But fewer than half of US workers will get a paid day off.

Over the weekend

The West dropped economic sanctions against Iran. The US and EU unfroze over $100 billion in overseas Iranian assets and allowed the country to export oil freely, after inspectors certified that Iran had complied with the terms of a landmark nuclear deal. A day later, Iran released four US citizens in a prisoner swap.

US Democratic presidential hopefuls debated. Gun control and health care were the main points of contention between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, in the final debate before a crucial vote in Iowa. Clinton, who aligned herself closely with president Barack Obama, also accused Sanders of threatening to damage Obama’s progress.

The Saudi stock market nosedived. 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.

Taiwan elected its first female president. Tsai Ing-wen, the pragmatic leader of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, trounced her opponent from the relatively pro-Beijing Nationalist party. Beijing warned Taiwan to abandon its “hallucinations” of independence.

Ebola resurfaced in Sierra Leone. Tests revealed that a 22-year-old woman who died last week was suffering from the viral disease. That led to more than 100 people being quarantined, just days after the World Health Organization said that West Africa was clear of Ebola.

Quartz obsession interlude

Olivia Goldhill hunts down the missing “u”s in American English (“color” vs. “colour,” for instance): “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.

Bernie Sanders’s ideas don’t fit with US political reality. There’s no way his ambitious projects could make progress in the nation’s divided government.

Surprising discoveries

Shanghai’s largest vacant building is a Pentagon-shaped shopping mall. It’s even bigger than the original in Washington.

There is a subset of mathematics devoted to slicing up pizzas. Monohedral disc tiling” produces an unlimited number of equally-sized pieces.

Women instinctively guard their sexual partners from others who are ovulating. Humans are subconsciously aware of each other’s fertility.

It’s really difficult to play guitar in space. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield says weightless strumming is a lot harder than it looks.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, orbital guitar solos, and pizza theorems to You can follow us on Twitter for updates throughout the day.

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